Exam oriented articles and editorials from newspapers (7-13 January 2018)

Articles in this column 

1. Supreme Court does right to make playing of the national anthem before a film optional
2. On cigarette packs, size of the warning matters
3.The national waterway project will ruin Ganga
4. Health must find its way into all State policies
5. Allowing construction around protected monuments could wreak havoc on them
6. A blueprint for India’s ‘Smart Villages’
7. Pakistan: Humanitarian gesture or tactical move?
8. Differences between PMI and IIP
9. To enable the police force, revisit the constitutional arrangement. Union government must also own its responsibility in the matter.
10. Female genital mutilation continues in the Bohra community. The  government can use its influence with the sect to end the practice.
11. India must hasten to bring in an anti-torture law.
12. Indian universities must address 21st century needs, catch up with the world
13. It is the responsibility of civil society organisations and the media to educate young people.
14. Future of India-Israel relations
15. It has never been more important to move from managing disasters to managing the risks which drive them
16. Digital revolution is forcing experience-based businesses to change. Fostering collaboration and relationships is future
17. The discovery that bugs, Meltdown and Spectre, have been in computer chips for 20 years now, has shaken up cyberspace
18. The decision to allow 49% foreign stake in Air India sets the stage for its privatisation
19. Science spend has plateaued at 0.69% of GDP: DST report
20. Roads must be kept out of wildlife corridors to protect tigers and other animals
21. The UIDAI exposé is another reminder of the need for a robust data protection law
22. How single-origin coffees in India disappeared

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1. Supreme Court does right to make playing of the national anthem before a film optional

By making it optional for cinema halls to play the national anthem before every show, the Supreme Court has at last removed the coercive element it had unfortunately introduced by an interim order in November 2016. Laying down a judicial rule that the anthem must be played on certain occasions in specific places, in the absence of any statutory provision to this effect, was unnecessary and opened the court to charges of over-reach. With the Centre saying this directive could be placed on hold, and that it would set up an inter-ministerial committee to recommend regulations for the presentation of the national anthem, the court has said it is not mandatory to play it in cinema halls. The panel will also suggest changes in the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, or in the Orders relating to the anthem issued from time to time. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, one of the three judges on the Bench, had at an earlier hearing doubted the wisdom of asking patrons of cinema to visibly demonstrate their patriotism each time they entered a theatre to watch a film, remarking that there was no need for an Indian to “wear his patriotism on his sleeve”. He had asked at what point would such “moral policing” stop if it were to be prescribed that some kinds of apparel should not be worn at the movies as they could amount to showing disrespect to the national anthem. The court’s order also had some unintended, but not unforeseen, consequences. The audience began looking for signs of ‘disrespect’ and there were reports of vigilantism, with people beaten up or harangued for not standing up.

Even those who contend that “constitutional patriotism” and the demonstration of respect for the national anthem require the framing of such mandatory measures cannot explain why cinema houses should be singled out or why such rules shouldn’t apply to other halls or enclosures where meetings and performances take place. This is not to suggest that symbols of national honour are undeserving of respect. Neither is it to question the idea that citizens must show due respect whenever the anthem is played or the flag is displayed. But as the Bench has pointed out, “the prescription of the place or occasion has to be made by the executive keeping in view the concept of fundamental duties provided under the Constitution and the law.” In a mature democracy, there is really no need for any special emphasis, much less any judicial direction, on the occasion and manner in which citizens ought to display and demonstrate their patriotism. If rules are needed for the purpose, it is for Parliament to prescribe them by law. As subscribers to common democratic ideals, citizens should be presumed to have a natural respect for symbols of national honour, and should not have to be made unwilling participants in a coercive project.

                                                                                                                                                            (Source: The Hindu)

2. On cigarette packs, size of the warning matters

-In a setback to the country’s $11 billion tobacco industry, the Supreme Court has put on hold a lower court’s order that overturned rules demanding larger health warnings on cigarette and bidi packages. Last month, the Karnataka High Court had struck down a central government rule mandating that 85% of a tobacco packet’s surface be covered in health warnings, up from 20% earlier. The decision comes as a relief for health advocates and the Union health ministry who say bigger health warnings deter tobacco consumption.

-Introduced in April, 2016, large pictorial warnings were just one part of a combination of tobacco-control measures – which included raising taxes and banning the advertising of tobacco, smoking in public spaces and sale to minors — introduced in the country over the past decade. Protesting the health warning measures, the cigarette industry briefly shut its factories in 2016. A government survey conducted by the Union Ministry of Health last year said 62% of cigarette smokers and 52% of bidi smokers had been compelled to think about quitting because of large warning labels on both sides of the packets

-Tobacco use is the second largest cause of early death and chronic diseases worldwide. In India, it causes 100,000 deaths every year, leading to one in 20 deaths in women and one in five deaths in men, according to the Global Burden of Disease study published in The Lancet in 2015. Besides being oblivious to the risks associated with tobacco use, a majority of consumers of bidi and chewing tobacco, from economically weaker sections, are not aware of anti-tobacco campaigns. Larger images on both sides of the packet can be an effective weapon to communicate health risks to these people, and induce them to quit. Conversely, reducing the size of warnings will be a retrograde step in the fight against health hazards caused by tobacco. In the case of pictorial warnings on cigarette packs, what you see is what you may get. (The Hindustan times)

3.The national waterway project will ruin Ganga

-On January 3, the Centre approved the ₹ 5,369-crore Jal Vikas Marg Project (JVMP) for enhanced navigation on the Haldia-Varanasi stretch of the National Waterway-1 (NW-1). Finance minister Arun Jaitley had announced the JMVP in the Budget Speech in July 2014. The project is expected to be completed by 2023 and the Centre claims will provide an alternative mode of transport that is supposed to be environment friendly and cost effective. This assessment, however, only takes into account the direct costs incurred by transporters: the cost of running the barges and maintaining the terminals. It does not account for the monetary value of the environmental costs that are imposed upon society.

-The project falls in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and major districts under its ambit are Varanasi, Ghazipur, Ballia, Buxar, Chhapra, Vaishali, Patna, Begusarai, Khagaria, Munger, Bhagalpur, Sahibganj, Musrhidabad, Pakur, Hoogly and Kolkata. The river Ganga meanders across the landscape and spreads over its riverbed making pools and shallow areas. Fish and turtles lay eggs in these shallow areas. But thanks to dredging, which is already being done in the Ganga under the National Waterway-1 project, the river is now channelised in one deep channel.

-The river no longer meanders and no longer has pools and shallow areas, destroying the habitat of fish and turtles. The stretch of the Ganga near Varanasi has been declared as a turtle sanctuary and studies in other countries indicate that large numbers get hit by fast-moving tourist boats because turtles move slowly. The stretch of the Ganga near Bhagalpur has been declared a wildlife sanctuary for the conservation of the Ganges Dolphin. This animal does not have eyes. It navigates and catches its prey by the sound made by the movement of other aquatic creatures. The plying of large barges will create a high level of sound and make it difficult for them to survive. The paint on ships and barges will also pollute the water. The carbon dioxide released by the ships will be is absorbed more by the water because of its proximity and this too pollutes the river.

-A Report by the US-based Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy says that transport of cargo by barges on the Mississippi waterway is economical only because it is not taxed while user fees are charged from rail and road transport. The National Waterway-1 will be no different. The small direct benefits from cheaper transportation will indeed accrue to the people but so will the large environmental costs. (The Hindustan times)

4. Health must find its way into all State policies

-India is at the crossroads of its journey to provide healthcare to its 1.3 billion people. While major achievements in the past decade include big reductions in maternal and under-5 mortality, elimination of polio, maternal and neonatal tetanus and guinea worm disease and significant expansion of community-based health services, several challenges remain. The most pressing one is dealing with the growing number of people with non-communicable diseases, like hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and chronic lung disease. These conditions now account for more than 60% of the disease burden and premature deaths. Diabetes and hypertension are no longer diseases of the elderly. They strike the young, affecting productivity and economic growth of the country.

-The world has pledged to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030. This includes not only treatment of diseases, but preventive and promotive health services, as well as palliative care and rehabilitation. The WHO report on Making Fair Choices on the Way to Universal Health Coverage says that to achieve UHC, countries must advance in at least three dimensions: Expand priority services; include more people; and reduce out-of-pocket payments. In each of these dimensions, countries are faced with a critical choice: Which services to expand first, whom to include first, and how to shift from out-of-pocket payment toward prepayment? A commitment to fairness — and the overlapping concern for equity — and a commitment to respecting individuals’ rights to healthcare must guide countries in making these decisions.

-A good example of targeted essential services is the Janani Suraksha Yojana that provides free maternity care and cash incentives to poor women to deliver in government health centres. The next steps are to improve quality of care; detect complicated pregnancies earlier; provide for emergency caesarean section and blood bank facilities in district hospitals; and expand the coverage to include deliveries in accredited private and not-for-profit hospitals.

-Many states have launched health insurance schemes that mainly cover tertiary care services. However, the bulk of out-ofpocket expenditure occurs on outpatient visits and on diagnostic tests and drugs.

-India’s dilemma is to expand the coverage of essential or high-priority health services to the entire population on the one hand, and also to meet the demands of various patient groups who legitimately want the best treatment available for their medical conditions.

-When setting national priorities, reasonable decisions and their enforcement can be facilitated by robust public accountability and participation mechanisms. While the available evidence may not be perfect, one cannot always wait for this to be generated; decisions need to be based on the impartial scrutiny of available data. These mechanisms should be institutionalised. A strong system for evaluation is needed to promote accountability and participation and is indispensable for effectively pursuing UHC.

-India’s vast network of pharmaceutical manufacturers and biotech companies provide opportunities to manufacture biosimilars and novel treatments at reasonable cost. Similar to the Hepatitis C story, in which big pharma giants voluntarily licensed their patents and transferred technology to several Indian generic companies and brought down the cost of treatment to less than 0.5% of what it had been, it should be possible to do this for many more therapies. Not only would Indian patients benefit, but this could be a game changer for patients living (and currently dying) with these diseases in many low- and middle-income countries. Access to good quality, affordable medicines is an important aspect of UHC.

-Finally, an upgrade of the skills of healthcare workers will be necessary. Health staff at sub-centres (now to be called health and wellness centres) should be able to treat simple diseases, refer those with serious symptoms as well as provide preventive and promotive healthcare.

-These are a few steps which are needed to achieve the goals, which are enunciated in the National Health Policy 2017. One hopes that in 2018, health truly finds its way into all policies — whether they are made by the ministry of food processing, agriculture, environment, road transport, housing or commerce. A good healthcare system can only provide solutions to problems. Their prevention, however, depends on determinants (air, water, nutrition, sanitation) that are outside the health ministry. (The Hindustan times)

5. Allowing construction around protected monuments could wreak havoc on them

-In a country with as rich a history as India, the protection of monuments and sites of archaeological importance should be a priority. But the amendment to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (AMSAR), which was passed in the Lok Sabha last week (and has not yet been introduced in the Rajya Sabha), belies that priority. The amendment will allow construction of public infrastructure – highways, bridges and airports – within 100 metres of monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The original Act, which was passed in 2010, prohibited any construction within 100 metres of a historical building or place.

-This move will affect the aesthetics of monuments and also put a lot of strain on some ancient sites. Modern infrastructure projects such as highways and bridges have been known to be responsible for weakening foundations of ancient monuments that they are built around, and there is a high risk of losing important archaeological material to disruptions caused by construction.

-Given the sorry state of many conservation efforts in the country and the rampant encroachments on spaces occupied by monuments (a 2013 Comptroller and Auditor General of India report found that 546 of the 1655 monuments surveyed had been encroached upon), such an amendment will only open the door to more damage to important historical sites and less concern for conservation efforts.

-Protected monuments are a national treasure, and the government needs to do more to protect them, instead of diluting even existing minimum standards. The need of the hour is to ensure that development projects, modern infrastructure and the interests of builders are not allowed to play havoc with buildings of historical importance. (The Hindustan times)

6. A blueprint for India’s ‘Smart Villages’

-Sometime in early 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet put forth a plan for upgrading a cluster of 300 villages to ‘Smart Villages’. Christened as the Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission, after the founder of the Jan Sangh, the project aimed to develop the first phase by 2019. A sound plan, considering that at least 833 million, about 68%, of Indians are living in rural areas. And one that can be easily realised in a developing setting such as India’s, according to Yousef Khalili, head of Smart City Digital Transformation Consulting Unit at NXN Group.

-For Mr. Khalili, one of the architects of the Smart Dubai projects, Smart Villages is an idea that’s close to his heart. “The baseline for smart communities is always constant, whether it is a city or a village. It’s how you use technology to better the lives of people,” he explains in an interview.

-For India, Mr. Khalili recommends starting with the challenges that are presented for such a project. “The stress points of a city are very different from that of a village; and the quality of their life is perhaps the most prominent challenge in rural areas. Here, we are talking about demands of basic decent life conditions — education, health care, environment and employment among others,” he elaborates.

-Mr. Khalili says one should not look for the typical solutions that governments often resort to which have had little success over decades. “If a government aspires to focus on education, instead of budgeting for an expensive school infrastructure, they could create units for smart learning in digital classrooms.”

-When pointed to the obvious drawback that most villages lack the kind of Internet connectivity required, Mr. Khalili strikes back with complementary solutions. “I feel it is much more scalable as a solution to offer remote education within villages if the governments were to collaborate with private investors.” In India, he believes, the private sector is not assured of return on investments. “The government here needs to step up [its part], and implement a national programme whereby they take their infrastructure to the villages in exchange for subsidised markets and revenue shares,” he recommends.

-“[The] same framework would apply for health care,” he says, adding that access to technologies in health care needn’t affect the budget set aside for emergencies. “The government can offer tele-medicine and mobile clinics in the village.” Since India is an agrarian economy, Mr. Khalili recommends services aimed at farmers. “Apart from the consultation and support services, an exchange or an online platform could be set up at village centres that allows the farmers to sell their crops at the best prices,” he suggests. “It will bring transparency.”

Business model: However, even with pragmatic, yet lofty ideas, Mr. Khalili is aware that realising them would require more than just good intentions. At his previous position with Cisco as well, Mr. Khalili had worked extensively on a project focussing on India as a landscape to launch Smart Villages. “After six months of study, I realised why such a project was unable to take off in the real world,” he explains. “I believe that despite all the wishful thinking and good intentions, the business model or the lack of one was not cracked.” The government alone cannot bear the financial costs of the project, and the private sector doesn’t see the revenues for them, he says.                                                                                                                                          (Source: The Hindu)

7. Pakistan: Humanitarian gesture or tactical move?

-Pakistan called it a humanitarian gesture when it allowed the wife and mother of Kulbhushan Jadhav to meet him in prison on December 25. India’s Deputy High Commissioner J.P. Singh was also present at the meeting. Some expected that the meeting would ease the tensions between the two sides over Jadhav, who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court over spying and terror charges. But in reality, the meeting turned out to be a point-scoring match for both sides.

-India alleged that Jadhav’s wife and mother were mistreated by Pakistani authorities. His wife’s jewellery and shoes were taken off. The jewellery was returned but the shoes weren’t. Pakistan’s intelligence officials claimed they suspected that a chip was installed in the shoes for recording. The shoes were “fixed” at the Indian High Commission before the meeting, they said. Pakistani authorities made sure that the meeting got enough media publicity, which they hope they can use at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which is hearing the case. In May last year, the ICJ stayed the execution of Jadhav, pending a final decision.

-Baqir Sajjad, a diplomatic correspondent for Dawn , who was at the Foreign Office at the time of the meeting, said the initial statement by Pakistan that this would not be the last meeting between Jadhav and his family was overshadowed by allegations and counter-allegations. “I fear there will be no more meetings between Jadhav and his family,” he said.

-The decision to grant access to Jadhav’s family was taken after much deliberation at the office of Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf in October when officials of the Foreign Office, the Law Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the military met. Following the ICJ stay, two proposals were discussed — one was to allow consular access for Jadhav and the other was to grant permission to his family to meet him. The first proposal was ruled out. Consular access will be the last option, said officials. “Pakistan can destroy the case at the ICJ by allowing consular access ahead of the judgment. India’s case is based on the premise that Pakistan is not granting consular access,” Tariq Mehmood, former Supreme Court Bar Association president had said.

-But even Pakistan’s decision to allow Jadhav’s family to meet him has been questioned by some analysts. “Jadhav is not a diplomat, nor a person who arrived in the country on a visa. He is a terrorist. We were not under any compulsion to grant any sort of meeting,” said Maria Sultan, head of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute. Jadhav was arrested by Pakistani authorities in March 2016. In video footage released by Pakistan, he confessed to carrying out terrorist activities and espionage in the restive Balochistan Province and Karachi. India has dismissed all charges.

Zero-sum game: Despite Pakistan’s claims that Jadhav was tried in accordance with the law of the land, he is unlikely to be executed in the near future. “Currently, his appeal against death sentence is pending before the Army chief. Even if that is rejected, he can move the Supreme Court and also appeal to the President of Pakistan,” a lawyer associated with the case said.

-As of now, Pakistan’s focus is on the case at the ICJ. It will face a setback if India manages to prove that Jadhav was a retired Navy official. But even if the ICJ rules in favour of India, Jadhav may not be freed immediately, say experts. “Jadhav will again be tried by Pakistan. For India, it’s is a zero-sum game, said Mr. Mehmood.

                                                                                                                                                       (Source: The Hindu)

8. Differences between PMI and IIP

The PMI for December 2017 has come in at an all-time high of 54.7 which has brought significant cheer to the economy. This comes on the back of smart growth witnessed in the core sector, of 6.8 per cent in November, which augurs well for a higher IIP growth rate. In these rather less than bright times, there is a tendency to pick up any such signal and extrapolate the same to the macro level to indicate that a turnaround, albeit a sharp one, has taken place. But what exactly does this PMI connote?

ELEMENTS IN PMI

-Purchasing Managers’ Index is calculated on the basis of information received from companies on various factors that represent demand conditions. It is very different from industrial production which is indicative of actual production.

-The PMI takes in responses from a company on a monthly basis on whether there has been improvement, deterioration or no change for a set of parameters relative to the previous month. Five questions have to be scored in this manner: new orders (weight of 30 per cent), output (25 per cent), employment (20 per cent), supplier’s delivery (15 per cent) and stock of purchases (10 per cent). This questionnaire is administered to 500 private sector companies and the comprehensive score is arrived at. The public sector is left out.

-Intuitively, it can be seen that the purpose of the PMI is to indicate some degree of confidence level in manufacturing based on this representative sample of companies. While the reference is to the previous month, the methodology involves adjusting for seasonal influences. The answers are tabulated in terms of the proportion of respondents who say yes, no and no-change with weights of 1, 0 and 0.5 being attached to the three responses.

-This is done for all the five parameters and a weighted average is taken to arrive at the score. Hence if all say no change then the score would be 50; and if all said yes, the score 100. If everybody says there is deterioration, then the score would be zero. Typically a score of above 50 is looked at positively while anything less than 50 would be a marked deterioration.

-The IIP is measured as comprehensive production across the industrial sector and is a comparison over the previous year; hence in a way it takes care of seasonal factors. While the December PMI number of 54.7 can be interpreted as a case of the sample companies feeling they were better off than in November, the IIP growth rate for December would be reckoned over the same month in 2016.

-Therefore, a comparison between the two is really not appropriate as the basis for comparison is different. However, as the PMI is released on the first of every month and the IIP is known on the 12th, the PMI score is assumed to be a precursor to the IIP. But, is there a strong relation between the two variables?

POOR CORRELATION WITH IIP

-The coefficient of correlation between changes in PMI (month-on-month) and industrial growth rate (y-o-y) for the last five years was 0.25. The coefficient for the same when reckoned on m-o-m basis with growth in IIP was 0.15. (The coefficient of correlation states whether or not there is a strong association between two variables i.e. if PMI changes by a certain amount will IIP also move commensurately in the same direction).

-Hence the relationship between the two variables is quite low and insignificant. If the same is calculated for the absolute value of PMI and IIP growth on either ‘y-o-y’ or ‘m-o-m’ basis, the results are less satisfactory at 0.18 and 0.06 respectively. Hence, statistically a high or low PMI number does not tell us anything about the IIP growth number, however compelling it may seem.

-The reasons for this are the following. First, a sample of 500 companies is too small to be representative of what is happening at the aggregate level. Also as these companies would tend to be the bigger ones, the SMEs would be left out. The IIP is more comprehensive in coverage. Second, the responses are of an ‘either or’ variety and hence is not graded to any number. If the increase is of say 20 per cent, it would be given the same weightage as 2 per cent growth as the answer is only in the affirmative of the parameter being better. Therefore, there would be an inherent bias in the final numbers that are tabulated.

PMI NOT RELIABLE

-Third, even if one were to force a comparison between the two indices, the PMI has only one component, output, which can be related with IIP and has a weight of just 25 per cent. Therefore, at the aggregate level the PMI could be scoring well on orders, stocks, employment or suppliers’ delivery but scoring low on output.

-Fourth, even with the PMI new orders increasing, it would not necessarily mean that output would increase in a subsequent period. Fifth, the exclusion of the public sector is significant as there is a very high contribution by this segment, especially in capital goods and infra areas.

-Last, since July when GST has been introduced, there have been significant disruptions in the production cycles of companies. As there was some ambiguity in the input tax treatment, companies had gone in for de-stocking prior to the introduction of GST. Subsequently there was the emergence of festival demand which pushed up production. Presently companies are getting back to their normal stock levels and are hence increasing their output. This has causes some degree of volatility in the production cycles.

-To conclude it may be said that the PMI is not a leading indicator of the state of industry which is better represented by IIP growth. While the IIP growth calculation has its challenges, the fact is that this number is also used for calculating GDP when reckoning the contribution from the unorganised sector. The sample used by the PMI is not known, but a guess would be that it includes the larger companies, which are also the ones likely to report their conjectures on a monthly basis and could be biased. But nonetheless, there is room for both concepts in the set of economic indicators that have to be tracked continuously. (Source: The Business line)

9. To enable the police force, revisit the constitutional arrangement. Union government must also own its responsibility in the matter

-The Directors General of Police from all over the country gathered for an annual conference at Tekanpur (Gwalior) from January 6 to 8, 2018. The conference was attended, among others, by the prime minister and home minister. No other PM has given so much time to police matters or interacted with the police leaders of the country in the manner the present prime minister has done. He attended the conclaves in Guwahati, Rann of Kutch and will now be participating in the deliberations in Gwalior. Ironically, however, the government is yet to take any bold initiatives to transform the colonial police structure of the country into a progressive, modern force sensitive to the democratic aspirations of the people. The PM’s concept of having a SMART police remains a pipe dream.

-The failure to reinvent the police is to be attributed largely to the constitutional arrangement which places the police and law and order in the “state list”. The founding fathers of the Constitution could not visualise the tremendous changes that would take place in the coming decades, particularly in the domain of internal security, necessitating a concurrent role for the Centre in police and matters of law and order. It is high time that the constitutional arrangement is revisited.

-This is, however, not to absolve the Union government of its responsibility in the matter. The Police Act Drafting Committee, headed by Soli J. Sorabjee, had prepared a Model Police Act as far back as 2006. It was expected that the UPA government would legislate on the subject and that its initiative would be followed up by state governments, at least in those states where the same party was in power. However, nothing of the kind happened and the Ministry of Home Affairs is still fiddling with the Delhi Police Bill.

-With the Centre not showing the expected interest and not giving any directions to the state governments, the provincial satraps went berserk, passing laws legitimising the status quo or issuing executive directions violating the letter and spirit of the Supreme Court’s directions of September 22, 2006. More than a decade has passed but the states continue to drag their feet in implementing the judicial directions. Monitoring by the SC has also cooled off and the case was not even listed during the tenure of the two previous chief justices.

-The result is utter confusion at the ground level. Earlier, we had one police act for the entire country. Now we have a plethora of laws enacted by 17 state governments and different sets of executive orders issued by the remaining state governments. The Centre continues to procrastinate and has yet to approve a model police act. No wonder the internal security situation continues to be grim and the police performance leaves much to be desired. The National Security Strategy document of the US clearly states that “our strategy starts by recognising that our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home” and that “what takes place within our borders will determine our strength and influence beyond them”. Our policymakers have yet to appreciate this simple truth. The steps which are absolutely essential to strengthen the internal security apparatus of the country are not being taken and only cosmetic improvements are made. The police, if it is to meet the expectations of the people, must be insulated from external pressures. Only then will it be able to uphold the rule of law.

-It is remarkable that the Indian Police Service (IPS), despite the constraints under which it functions, has played a stellar role in the past. Andhra Pradesh was able to clear the Naxals in the state thanks to its Greyhounds. The terrorist movement in Punjab was comprehensively defeated in spite of the support it was getting all along from across the borders. The Tripura insurgency was squashed. Terrorism in the Terai area of Uttar Pradesh (geographically larger than Punjab) was stamped out in just about one year. And yet, the IPS was never given its due place of honour in the government hierarchy. This has severely constrained the initiative of its officers and affected their performance.

-There are about 24,000 police stations and outposts across the country. The total strength of the state police is nearly 2.26 million. It is a formidable strength which covers the entire geographical stretch of India. This force is today performing at hardly 45 per cent of its potential, mainly because it is short of manpower, has poor infrastructure, and has no functional autonomy. Imagine this force performing at 80 to 90 per cent of its capacity, which is not difficult to achieve. It would make such a difference. People would feel safer and happier. The internal security problems — the Maoist insurgency, Kashmir imbroglio, Northeast separatist movements, terrorist threats, etc — would be contained and lose their sting.

-Police duties are arduous in any country. However, they are perhaps the toughest in India. More policemen die in the performance of their duties every year in the country than in all of Europe. It is high time that policepersons are recognised for the enormously difficult and hazardous duties they have to perform.

-All services perform important functions. However, it must be recognised that without the police ensuring good law and order in the country, the other services would find it difficult to operate. We are proud of the fact that India is among the fastest growing economies in the world, but the economic superstructure could collapse if the law enforcement apparatus does not rise to the occasion in the face of a challenge, as happened in Haryana where the reservationists inflicted more damage than what the combined forces of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad could have done. The democratic structure may also crumble one day if the policeman has to salute the criminal politician instead of putting him behind the bars. The stakes are too high. The police must get its due and must be enabled to perform its mandated functions.                  (Source: Indian Express)

10. Female genital mutilation continues in the Bohra community. The  government can use its influence with the sect to end the practice

-With the passing of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, or the Triple Talaq Bill as it is popularly referred to, the NDA government is claiming to be a champion of women’s emancipation. It is, however, ironic that the Bill comes in the midst of another, rather overlooked, development — an ongoing case in the Supreme Court (SC) on whether Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), practised among the two lakh-strong Bohra Muslim community, be banned.

While a survey, conducted by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, has shown that of 4,710 Muslim women from the economically weak strata, 78 per cent had been given unilateral divorce by their husbands, a petition by Speak Out on FGM has stated that at least 90,000 women from the Bohra Muslim community — across all economic strata — have maintained that they have been cut and want the practice to end. In response to a writ petition seeking a ban on the practice, the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) held that there is no official data or study that supports the existence of FGM in India. The ministry, in a recent affidavit filed in the SC, said,”It is respectfully submitted that at present there is no official data or study (by NCRB etc) which supports the existence of FGM in India.”

-The reply comes as a shock since Minister Maneka Gandhi had, in an interview to a national daily on May 29, 2017, said “We will write to respective state governments and Syedna, the Bohra high priest, shortly to issue an edict to community members to give up FGM voluntarily as it is a crime under IPC and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. If the Syedna does not respond, then we will bring in a law to ban the practice in India.” Following the interview, Speak Out on FGM, a group of Bohra women trying to stop FGM, reached out to her. While she initially said that she would issue an advisory against the practice, later, she stopped responding to their mails.

-The Bohra ritual of FGM or khatna involves snipping off the tip or hood of a young girl’s clitoris, which is defined by the WHO as Type I FGM or clitoridectomy. This is done when a Bohra girl turns seven, in a clandestine manner by midwives or doctors in Bohra-run hospitals. It is, according to members of the sect, rooted in the patriarchal belief that the sexuality of girls needs to be curtailed so that they do not become “promiscuous” and is done to “tamper a woman’s sexual desire”.

It should be noted here that khatna is performed on young minor girls who do not have the freedom to choose and whose bodies are violated despite there being a huge outcry against this practice across the world. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. The practice also violates a person’s right to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

-More than 23 countries have banned FGM and made it a punishable offence. Countries like the US, UK, France, Australia, Sri Lanka have been extremely proactive in punishing the perpetrators of this practice. However, many under the umbrella organisationDawoodi Bohra Women’s Association For Religious Freedom, have countered the horrific tales and maintained that khatna is performed as part of a religious belief and causes no physical harm. “Female circumcision performed by DawoodiBohras is absolutely harmless. There are no ill effects,” a doctor associated with the organisation has maintained. But on December 18, 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus a Resolution which reaffirms its call to ban FGM worldwide. Further, ending FGM is a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of the UN and India stands committed to it. To stop the practice in India, all the community needs is a nod, either from the religious leadership or the Union government. The volte-face of the WCD Ministry has left everyone baffled, because most were hoping that with a green signal from the Centre, the practice may come to an end, more so since the Bohra religious leadership is seen to enjoy a good relationship with the present government.   (Source: Indian Express)

11. India must hasten to bring in an anti-torture law

-In his new year message, UN Secretary-General António Guterres referred to the pervasive and large-scale infraction of human rights across the world as a global challenge that defies our vision of a humane and just world order. The message is particularly relevant for us. This is because the torture of individuals in state custody remains a brazen human rights abuse that mocks our governance even as we claim human dignity as the end objective of the Indian state, with the Supreme Court affirming it as “an intrinsic value, constitutionally protected in itself” (Puttaswamy, 2017, M. Nagaraj, 2006).

Cause for concern: As we move into the new year with hope in the future, we must pause to reflect on whether in our approach towards eliminating torture as an affront to human dignity, we have been caught between legislative lassitude and judicial abdication. I do confess to a disappointment while propounding the necessity of a purposive and comprehensive anti-torture legislation through a public interest litigation. The necessity to move the highest court arose because even years after India became a signatory to the Convention Against Torture in 1997, we have not been able to ratify it or have in place a domestic legislation to effectuate the right to life with dignity read into Article 21 of the Constitution. In a departure from judicial precedents established in Vishakha (1997), D.K. Basu (1997), Vineet Narain (1997), Association for Democratic Reforms (2002), Swami Achyutanand Tirth (2016) and the Triple Talaq (2017) case, the Supreme Court refrained from exercising even its limited nudge function to prompt the government into bringing the necessary anti-torture law. Acts of custodial torture continue to defy constitutional diktat and mock the Supreme Court’s declaration of torture as “…synonymous with the darker side of human civilization, is a naked violation of human dignity…” (D.K. Basu, 1997). The recent Constitution Bench judgment in Puttaswamy (Supra), citing its earlier judgments, reaffirmed that torture infringes on human dignity which is “inalienable and inseparable from human existence”.

Baffling stand: The court’s disinclination to exercise its expansive review jurisdiction for enforcing the non-negotiable right to dignity in the face of legislative and government inaction is inexplicable given the court’s activism as sentinel on the qui vive qua enforcement of constitutional rights. And this despite the 2010 recommendation of the Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha supported by the National Human Rights Commission, the Law Commission of India and repeated assurances given on behalf of the Indian government at the UN Universal Periodic Review. The court remained impervious to its own jurisprudence expounded in Puttaswamy and NALSA (2014), among others, that unless there is a manifest intent expressed to the contrary, domestic laws should be aligned with the international legal regime on the subject. Those facing criminal trials and extradition proceedings abroad including Abu Salem, Kim Davy, Jagtar Singh Johal and others have questioned the country’s investigative and criminal justice system in the absence of an effective and enforceable law against custodial torture. The damning slur on the nation’s trial process and commitment to the rule of law itself was also not enough to move the court to exercise its “suggestive” jurisdiction. It seemed legitimate to expect the highest constitutional court to inspire legislation that would vindicate the ethic of human rights as it has done so often in the past. Its decision, to the contrary, in a petition seeking a comprehensive legal framework against torture betrays, with respect, judicial inconsistency and an irrational flexibility destructive of legal certitude necessary for law to serve a stabilising function in our polity.

Walk the talk: The Prime Minister must surely know that when the dignity of a large section of its citizens is denuded, a diminished nation in default of its international commitments cannot expect to have its voice heard with respect in the chanceries of the world. The Vice President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, M. Venkaiah Naidu, who believes that human rights are guaranteed “…because of being a part of our DNA… ”, must walk the talk, also because a 2010 unanimous recommendation of the Rajya Sabha’s Select Committee proposing an anti-torture law remains unimplemented. The Attorney General likewise owes a moral responsibility to the nation in supporting the proposed dignitarian legislation against torture which is unburdened by a partisan political agenda. After all, it was his assurance to the court that the government was seriously considering the October 2017 recommendation of the Law Commission in support of a standalone anti-torture law which persuaded it to dispose of the petition without suggestive observations that would have strengthened a compelling constitutional cause with the court’s moral authority. Parliamentarians who are privileged to represent the concerns of the people must keep faith and ensure the passage of a humanitarian law.

-Whether or not the court was right in abdicating jurisdiction to enforce a dignitarian constitutional value in the premises aforesaid is best left to be determined at a later date, considering that the court itself has repeatedly disavowed any claim to infallibility. In the meanwhile, we must strive to set higher standards of accountability for our constitutional functionaries in 2018. I wish to be able to remember this year as one in which we invested our democracy with dignity in an inseparable coalescence, when hope triumphed over despair and sensitivity prevailed over apathy. This year should be the year of a fulsome affirmation of our right to question, lest our silence be seen as acquiescence in constitutional aberration. Let us keep digging in for the values that define our nation.

(Source: The Hindu)

12. Indian universities must address 21st century needs, catch up with the world

-As government plans to make India a veritable global growth hub, a critical area where it needs to devote additional resources is education and technical training. In a rapidly changing global economy, factors of production are being increasingly automated, with economic values progressively shifting from manufacturing to innovation. These fast-paced changes have already created significant disruptions in labour markets worldwide. The retrenchment trend witnessed in the IT sector last year exemplifies this. So India’s higher education sector really needs to prepare its youth for jobs of the future.

-In this regard, the All India Higher Education Survey recently unveiled by the HRD ministry makes for worrying reading. According to it, India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) – which is used to determine the total enrolment in undergraduate, post-graduate and research-level studies in the age group of 18-23 years – has marginally gone up to 25.2% in 2016-17 from 24.5% in 2015-16. This is far behind countries like China which has a GER of 43.39%. Quantity aside, the quality of Indian higher education also leaves a lot to be desired. Although the total number of universities went up from 799 in 2015-16 to 864 a year later, these are hamstrung by a surfeit of regulation and a deficit of governance.

-While efforts like the Indian Institutes of Management Bill granting functional autonomy to IIMs and a competition to identify 20 Indian universities that have potential to become world class are welcome, what’s needed is a complete re-imagination of higher education. Universities can no longer be seen as instruments of disbursing political patronage.Research and training need to be closely linked to industrial needs with greater collaborations across varsities encouraged. It’s time to unshackle higher education and make institutes global in outlook and relevant in deliverables. (Source: The Times of India)

13. It is the responsibility of civil society organisations and the media to educate young people.

-January 12 was the National Youth Day, celebrated on the occasion of the great youth icon Swami Vivekananda’s birthday. Around this day, the nation must take stock of the status of the youth of the country, on whom depends the future of our democracy.  January 1, 2018, marked a very important day for Indian democracy. On this day, people born in the 21st century became eligible to vote. The prime minister had this very thought in mind when, in the last session of ‘Mann kiBaat’ for 2017, he focused on and encouraged the youth to participate in huge numbers in the voting process.

-He urged all youths turning 18 by January 1 to enroll as voters so that they can be active participants in the Indian democracy in the following year and the years to come, telling them that their votes would be the bedrock of a New India. He also suggested holding a mock parliament, comprising youths selected from every district, to come together to deliberate on the various issues the country faces today. Specifically addressing youths aged 18-25, the prime minister, calling them the “New India Youth”, urged them to participate in the Indian democracy and make it corruption and casteism free.

-Over the years, the PM has time and again reiterated the role that the youth have to play in shaping a new and better India. That makes PM Modi one of the few politicians who has understood the importance of youth power.  The role of the youth in shaping the course of any democracy is undeniable. More than 50 per cent of India’s population is below the age of 25, and more than 65 per cent below 35. Given that democracy is the will of the majority, and the majority of India’s population — nearly 400 million voters — is the youth, it is essential to look at the way this majority can be harnessed to participate in democracy and contribute towards the development of the country. One of the most important ways is by exercising their right to vote.

The right to vote is not just a right enjoyed by every individual over the age of 18, it is also a responsibility to make an informed and responsible choice and to bring to power the most well-suited candidate. For a long time, there has been a trend to vote for people who give the maximum amount of freebies in return. Instead of following this path, the youth must make a conscious decision to vote on the basis of the agenda of the candidates and their past work.

-It is only when the youth become aware of the problems that the country is facing and choose the candidate who is most likely to bring about a change, that the right representatives will come to power and India’s future will be in safe hands. The task is not a long and tedious one. All it requires is a bit of effort to look at all the contesting candidates, their histories and their agendas and vote for the one that they deem the most fit to govern the country. Several websites are making this task easier by simplifying the analysis of the comparative performance of the competing candidates.

In my book, An Undocumented Wonder: The Making of the Great Indian Election (2014), I had pointed out that the youth, who should be the most important participants in the Indian democracy, are mostly absent from the daily discourse on democracy. While they are visible at protest marches, in cricket grounds, at music concerts, cultural events, and can be seen blocking roads, stopping trains, throwing stones, burning tyres and raving and ranting against corruption and bad governance, when the time comes to actually participate in the decision-making process and change the system and its culture by electing the right leaders, most of them disappear.

-When I started my tenure as the chief election commissioner, I was distressed to find out that the voter enrolment ratio amongst the 18-20-year-olds was as low as 12 per cent. We in the Election Commission decided to make this issue our top priority. -Through a programme called Youth Unite for Voter Awareness (YUVA), we argued that the best way to convert a country’s demographic dividend into democratic dividend is through the mass participation of youth in elections. National Voters Day (NVD), celebrated on January 25, 2011, was launched as an annual event dedicated to youth.

-This seeks to create an enlightened movement of voters who see voting as an opportunity to bring about change, who are aware of their role and are neutral with respect to caste, religion, community or other identity differences, those who have their own views about a party and its performance and change their preference from election to election if needed. The NVD not only encourages the youth to enrol in huge numbers and vote without fail but also seeks to involve them in increasing awareness amongst other voters.

-Democracy cannot survive without both citizens’ participation and politicians’ accountability. Since the politicians would do nothing to inform the youth about the socio-economic problems facing the nation today and only exploit them, it is the responsibility of civil society organisations and the media to educate young people about the issues involved and their high stakes in the fruits of development.

It is important to remember that instead of always pontificating to the youth about their role and responsibilities, political leaders should remind themselves of their own role to fulfil the needs and aspirations of the youth, particularly with respect to jobs. If their expectations are not met, a backlash is unavoidable. Once the youth become restive, chaos cannot be far behind. (Source: The Indian Express)

14. Future of India-Israel relations

-India is all set to set to host Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his delegation; their four-day visit starts January 14.

-This is only the second visit by an Israeli prime minister after a gap of 15 years since Ariel Sharon in 2003. The visit is significant especially after India voted in the UN General Assembly last month against recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

-The impending visit clears apprehensions of a road block in India-Israel relations. The two prime ministers are expected to discuss various issues ranging from agriculture and water, to cyber security, healthcare and security.

Big delegation: A 130-member delegation is accompanying the Israeli prime minister, constituting businessmen from 102 Israeli companies. The primary focus of this delegation would be to boost economic ties between the two countries.

-Over the last 25 years, bilateral trade between the two countries has increased from $200 million to more than $4 billion (excluding defence) in 2016-17. Still, given India’s large market and huge consumer base, the numbers are low compared to India’s economic relations with other countries.

-The businessmen from Israel would certainly be looking to tap the existing potential within Indian markets and increase trade numbers. Several MoUs are expected to be signed in the fields of oil, gas, renewable energy and cyber security, among others.

-Special emphasis would be given to boost the tourism sector so as to make both India and Israel a lucrative destination for tourists from both sides.

-Apart from that, cooperation in the technology sector would be a key area to look for, especially after the Cabinet approved the MoU between India and Israel on the “India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund” which was concluded in July 2017 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel.

-With this, the techno-economic collaborationis expected to increase significantly. Other than the warmth shared between the leaders, this visit may be a good opportunity for businessmen from both sides to interact with and understand each other, and bridge the cultural gap that exists, and which often proves to be a hindrance in setting up good business relations.

-Trade, technology and tourism would be the three key areas in India-Israel economic relations in times to come. India already has robust defence ties with Israel; this is expected to strengthen further. Currently, India is the largest arms buyer from Israel; trade is to the tune of approximately $600 million.

-If defence ties keep increasing at the same rate, Israel may replace Russia as India’s largest arms supplier. Last year, India signed the biggest weapons deal in Israeli defence history, which is nearly $2 billion. This mega deal will provide India with an advanced defence system of medium-range surface-to-air missiles, launchers and communications technology.

Ultimate hospitality: The Indian government is all set to reciprocate the red carpet welcome extended to Narendra Modi when he visited Israel last year.

-Other than economics, the Palestine issue is likely to be discussed between Modi and Netanyahu. India has been trying hard to balance its current relationship with Israel with its historical support to the Palestinian cause. This delicate balancing by New Delhi is very necessary and is in India’s best interest. Any significant change from India’s current stance seems improbable right now.

-The good thing is that Israel seems to understand India’s position, which is a sign of maturity. This could lead to a healthy and strong relationship between these two major powers in the international system.

-What Israel means to India would be clearer when Modi and Netanyahu jointly address the inaugural session of the 3rd Annual Raisina Dialogue (which is India’s premiere foreign policy conference) on January 16. This will be the first time a foreign head of government will speak at the Raisina Dialogue.

-To conclude, this visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu could prove to be a significant landmark in India-Israel relations. With expectations running very high among the supporters of Indo-Israeli relations for a fruitful dialogue to be conducted between the two sides, the picture would be much clearer over the next week.

                                                                                                                     (Source: The HinduBusiness line)

 

15. It has never been more important to move from managing disasters to managing the risks which drive them

-Over the last 20 years, India has led the world in reducing loss of life from disasters. Learning from the 1999 super cyclone that claimed about 10,000 lives, Odisha and other states on the shores of the Bay of Bengal have avoided large-scale loss of life from major cyclonic storms.

-An even greater threat to human life and critical infrastructure is posed by the fact that 59% of India’s landmass is prone to earthquakes. One of the worst such events of recent times was the Gujarat earthquake in January 2001 which took some 20,000 lives, affected 16 million people and caused damage and economic losses in the region of U$6.6 billion.

-The scale of that tragedy led to the adoption by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) of a zero tolerance approach to avoidable deaths. In a world where disasters cost the global economy $520 billion every year and push 24 million people into poverty, it has never been more important to move from managing disasters to managing the risks which drive them. These risks include poverty, bad planning, lack of building codes, destruction of protective ecosystems, climate change and population growth in disaster-prone areas.

-In June 2016, the prime minister announced the adoption of India’s first national disaster management plan which is based on the priorities for action of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction: understanding disaster risk in all its dimensions, strengthening disaster risk governance, investing in disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness, and building back better in the post-disaster reconstruction phase.

-This important initiative coupled with India’s commitment to implementing the Paris Agreement on climate, has done much to raise the profile of efforts to reduce disaster losses. It has also heightened the interest of governments in collecting the necessary data on disaster losses to better inform investment decisions in resilient infrastructure. This data will also be important in establishing base lines for measuring progress on reducing disaster losses.

-It is estimated that Asia will need investments to the tune of US$1.7 trillion per year between now and 2030 to maintain growth, eradicate poverty and to act on climate change.

-India’s advocacy for adoption and implementation of the Sendai Framework will bear fruit in saved lives, secure livelihoods and a better quality of life for all.  (Source: The Hindustan times)

16. Digital revolution is forcing experience-based businesses to change. Fostering collaboration and relationships is future

-Year 2011 was the last time we recall having witnessed a heated discussion on the merits of a ‘product versus services’ economy. The topic, then, seemed fresh and well-researched. However, we soon started to hear about the importance of building personalised experiences to stay relevant in the new ‘Experience’ Economy — or like its popular term, the digital economy.

-Come 2018, we’re bang in the middle of that predicted experience economy; watching businesses — large and small — invest healthy sums into modelling unique experiences for customers. This pace of change, a move through two different economies, in a span of barely seven years, is astonishing. In the near future, we believe, that change may come at an even greater stride.

-If organisations want to continue to remain relevant, building personalised experiences alone is not going to help. Have you noticed how consumers have started to become increasingly focused on the relationships they share with service providers? Think: how many times have you gone back to a particular place for the same service? Why do we keep going back? It is possible that we keep returning because of the connections we have built with these service providers.

Ties that bind : In fact, it is very likely that we are on the brink of the next big economic wave — the relationship economy. A relationship economy is built on ‘trust’ between a service provider, their consumers and their partners. How is it going to come into existence? We believe that the advancements we have made in certain technologies are leading to this shift in economy.

-Recent scientific milestones such as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), Programmable Matter and Quantum Computing are examples at the tip of the iceberg of these advancements. Once these technologies become commercially available, there will be a paradigm shift from an ‘experience’ economy to a relationship-fuelled economy.

-How are these technological advancements leading to a shift in economy? Take Google’s online game, ‘AlphaGo’, for instance, which is based on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). It is remarkable how a machine can replicate the fullest form of human intellect, so much so that it has become unbeatable. It can predict all possible moves thanks to the deep learning algorithms in place.

-When we start to use AGI as virtual assistants, we will no longer need to rely on humans for routine tasks. A self-driven car, for example, can drop your child at school every day. When this happens, the only missing element will be a basic human connection.

Form factor: Another technological advancement is the research on programmable matter by Carnegie Mellon University and Intel Labs, among others. This research studies the use of nanotechnology to enable objects to change their original form, based on its user’s need. This technology can be used with applications like, self-growing and contracting furniture, buildings changing their own shapes and even automobiles changing their own dimensions when required.

-Once again, we will be able to master our own experiences — but what about our basic need for human interaction? Imagine being able to inject yourself with a new skill when you require it. If you’ve seen Matrix, this becomes easier to visualise. With the advent of quantum computing, applications involving telecommunications, personalised healthcare will soon be able to function devoid of human interference. In fact, companies such as IBM, Microsoft and D-Wave are already making significant investments in this technology.

-When the relationship economy kicks in, survival of any organisation will depend on whether it is able to foster relationships; not only with its stakeholders, but also amongst them. Here are a few recommendations to help do this:

Bringing customers together: Mahindra & Mahindra, through its initiative ‘Trringo’, has created a call centre platform, which allows farmers to rent out their machinery to fellow farmers whenever not in use. ShareGrid and Boatbound, two US companies, have also started similar initiatives. Similarly, businesses will have to adopt newer technologies to enable clients to interact and be comfortable, so that they can complement each other when the need arises. They may even prefer to repeat collaborations in which they experienced ‘friendly’ gestures in the past.

Bringing together employees: There are a multitude of people joining social networking applications. Many organisations have, in some form, enabled social communication tools such as Slack or Yammer, to facilitate internal collaborations. Yet, only a few of them have used it successfully. Isn’t this a resource we need to exploit a little more in our work environments?

-This will make it easier to share information, on platforms employees are already comfortable with, in the new relationship economy. Charlene Li, in a recent HBR article, stresses the importance for leaders to promote social communication by actively listening, sharing and engaging with their teams on these platforms.

Bringing business partners together: In the new relationship economy, success will follow those businesses that allow suppliers and partners to come together and collaborate. We believe, snags in maintaining consistent quality, optimising supply chains and improving process efficiencies can be achieved, if organisations provide their business partners with a non-threatening forum, to share best practices between each other. Frequently highlighting how each vendor is adding value to the larger ecosystem, will boost the business in the long haul.

-Technological advancements are inevitable, but are organisations doing enough to leverage them to foster relationships? As General Motors’ Edward Whitacre popularly puts it “…we are 100 per cent in charge of how we respond to challenges that come our way”. Is India Inc listening? (Source: The Business line)

17. The discovery that bugs, Meltdown and Spectre, have been in computer chips for 20 years now, has shaken up cyberspace

-There is likely to be a fresh debate across the world over the wisdom of individuals and corporations investing so much time and money on strengthening cyber security. Optimism over the efficacy of well-conceived security measures is likely to yield place to resignation and regretful cynicism because of certain recent happenings.

Totally bugged: The immediate context is the claimed chance discovery of two bugs in computer chips designed by eminent leaders in the field such as Intel, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and ARM (Advanced Risk Machines). These bugs are suspected to have holes in them, which have the potential of compromising vital data by allowing access to total strangers.

It all started with news trickling in that some reputed chip manufacturers were busy fixing patches for their products used by machines all over the world. What surprised many observers was that such patches, normally used for taking care of vulnerabilities in applications, were now being used for mending defects in computer chips. This was perhaps one of few occasions when repair work seemed to be shifting from application shortcomings to hardware vulnerabilities.

-After some initial guesswork, the big picture started emerging. It became known that the villain was the faulty design of chips by manufacturers, who were hitherto known for their unerring skill and professionalism.

-The preliminary finding of those who were tasked to probe reported shortcomings was that chip designers had possibly slipped up sacrificing security for speed. The complaint was that designers, either on instructions from corporate bosses or otherwise, began concentrating more on satisfying the customers’ craving for speed of execution of their commands, even if this meant a slight compromise of security.

– The question is: Do you want your intelligence apparatus (Intelligence Bureau, the CIA and the UK’s MI5) to be fast in purveying information, or would you like them to be dead accurate in preparing analyses, even if it means a loss of speed?

-It is the common belief of professionals that an intelligence agency cannot all the time be both swift and correct. This is because field operatives, if they want to be useful to their consumers, cannot lose time verifying the credibility of a piece of vital information collected by them, before actually passing it on to higher formations. This perhaps was the dilemma that confronted computer chip designers and those who paid them for their work.

Old news: The two bugs we are talking about here have been named ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’. It has been admitted that these bugs were were not a wholly new phenomenon. One estimate (wired.com) puts it as twenty years old. Interestingly, four groups of researchers (including those from Graz University of Technology in Austria) are said to have independently stumbled on this within a short span of time, opening up a flood of speculations and theories. Was this accidental or was it an earlier cover-up that could not be hidden any longer?

Each of the three researchers from Graz University wrote proof-of-concept codes, and, much to their consternation, found their worst fears confirmed. They could see that sensitive personal data, including their browsing history, private email conversations, etc, started appearing on their codes. When alerted by the Graz team, the principal chipmaker, Intel, gave no impression of being surprised or agitated.

-After a week-long silence, they admitted they were aware of the problem and were working on plugging the hole.

-According to security experts, Meltdown enables hackers to steal information by breaking the hardware barrier between applications and a computer’s core memory. On the other hand, Spectre could trick even error-free applications to surrender information. The belief is that the vulnerability of Meltdown could be fixed with some intelligent effort. Spectre is relatively more difficult to use, and is more complicated to fix. It is expected to pose a long-term problem.

-A slowdown of computers is a distinct possibility. This is because many operating systems require assiduous separation of application and kernel memory. This perhaps is a lesser evil than the labour and cost involved in changing a whole set of hardware.

-The basic point is that there is no room for complacency, just because there are no known reports as yet that Meltdown and Spectre have caused any major damage. However, the large-scale publicity they have received can give an idea or two to those looking for opportunity. Hopefully, they won’t! (Source: The Businessline)

18. The decision to allow 49% foreign stake in Air India sets the stage for its privatisation

-The Union Cabinet has approved a series of changes in foreign direct investment norms as the government prepares to enter the last lap of its economic policy-setting phase ahead of the 2019 election. Key among these was the decision to allow up to 49% overseas ownership, including by a foreign airline, in Air India. This comes just a little more than six months after the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs gave its nod for a strategic disinvestment of the airline. The relaxation in ownership norms clears the decks for possible bidders such as the Singapore Airlines-Tata combine and Jet Airways — with its overseas equity and route partners — to make a more detailed commercial assessment of the investment opportunity the state-owned flag carrier presents. For the fiscally constrained government, the decision couldn’t have come sooner. With the Union Budget due soon and the government woefully short of its budgeted strategic disinvestment goal for the current financial year — as of end-November, only 28% of the targeted ₹15,000 crore had been realised — the hope must be for an accelerated timetable for the stake sale. Still, the fulfilment of a necessary condition for a strategic sale doesn’t automatically become sufficient grounds for a successful privatisation. Given the carrier’s accumulated debt of about ₹50,000 crore and the fact that the interest of potential investors is likely to be focussed on Air India’s lucrative long-haul international routes and its fleet of more than 40 wide-bodied aircraft, disinvestment will be neither easy nor guaranteed. At the very least, the government needs to set a clear, unambiguous road map for the sale process.

-The other reform cleared by the Cabinet was the crucial decision to put 100% FDI in Single Brand Retail Trading under the ‘automatic’ route, accompanied by the long-sought relaxation of mandatory local sourcing norms. This had been a major issue with potential investors including Apple, which had repeatedly urged the government to take a more benign view given the level of technological advancement incorporated in its products and the difficulty in finding local sources of supply at the requisite scale. The five-year holiday on the 30% local-sourcing requirement is expected to give companies setting up shop here adequate time to identify, train and even technologically assist in the creation of local supply chains. If this decision was going to be made, it is surprising it was not done in November 2015, when the Centre changed tack and opened up single brand retail to 100% FDI. An early decision would have helped, given the sector’s potential for job-creation and technology upgradation. Still, better late than never. (Source: The Hindu)

19. Science spend has plateaued at 0.69% of GDP: DST report

-India’s spending on scientific research, as a percentage of GDP, has been steadily declining from its peak of 0.84 per cent in 2008-09 and has been stagnant at 0.69 per cent during the last three years, according an official publication released recently.

-But in terms of funds released, India’s gross expenditure on research and development (GERD) has been steadily increasing over the years, and has tripled in a decade from ₹24,117 crore in 2004-05 to ₹85,326 crore in 2014-15. It was estimated to be ₹1,04,864 crore in 2016-17, according to Research and Development At a Glance 2017-18, published by the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

-In terms of purchasing power parity, India’s spending on scientific research went up 20 per cent from $40.2 billion in 2009-10 to $50.3 billion in 2014-15. It was estimated to go up to $55 billion in 2016-17. India’s per capita R&D expenditure, on the other hand, has increased to ₹659 ($10.8) in 2014-15 from ₹217 ($4.8) in 2004-05.

-Among BRICS countries, India was ranked at the bottom in terms of percentage of GDP spent on R&D. China, which was at the top, spent 2.05 per cent of its GDP on research in 2014, distantly followed by Brazil (1.24 per cent), Russia (1.19 per cent) and South Africa (0.74 per cent).

-All developed countries, on other hand, set aside more than 2 per cent of their GDP for scientific research, said the DST document.

-In 2016-17, private enterprises spent ₹43,995 crore, close to 42 per cent, on R&D, while Central government agencies accounted for 47 per cent of GERD. State governments and institutions of higher education shared the balance.

-In 2013, India was ranked sixth among countries in terms of number of publications even though it stood at seventh position in terms of number of science and technology personnel employed. As on April 1 2015, nearly 14 per cent of S&T personnel in the country were women.

-India awarded 27,327 PhDs in 2014-15 of which 15,426 were from science and technology streams. India ranked third in terms of number of S&T PhDs, after China (30,017) and the US (26,520).

During 2015-16 a total of 46,904 patents were filed in India. Out of which 13,066 (28 per cent) patents were filed by Indian residents.

Patents sealed: The number of patents sealed the same year was 6,326, of which 918 patents were granted to Indian residents. As of 2015-16, there were 44,524 patents in force in India – 37,217 by foreigners and 7,306 by Indian residents. (Source: The HinduBusinessline )

20. Roads must be kept out of wildlife corridors to protect tigers and other animals

-The tragic death of Bajirao, one of India’s breeding tigers from the Bor reserve in Maharashtra, on a highway is a reminder that building unsuitable roads through wildlife habitats has a terrible cost. Losing a charismatic tiger in its prime to a hit-and-run accident is an irony, given that it is one of the most protected species. Successive Prime Ministers have personally monitored its status. Yet, the fate of the big cat, and that of so many other animals such as leopards, bears, deer, snakes, amphibians, butterflies and birds that end up as roadkill, highlights the contradictions in development policy. It is inevitable that new roads are built, but good scientific advice to keep them out of wildlife corridors is mostly ignored. The sensible response to the growing number of roadkills should be to stop road construction in wildlife habitat and reassess the impact. After all, protected areas are just 4% of the land. India is committed to such an approach under Article 14 of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Centre and the National Highways Authority of India have been repeatedly advised by the National Board for Wildlife, as well as independent researchers, to realign or modify sensitive roads. They should heed their sound advice.

-An assessment by the Wildlife Institute of India states that tigers in at least 26 reserves face the destructive impact of roads and traffic. The National Tiger Conservation Authority should insist on modification of existing roads to provide crossings for animals at locations identified in various studies. A more robust approach would be to realign the roads away from all such landscapes. Users can be asked to pay a small price for the protection of vital environmental features, and more areas for nature tourism can also raise revenues. This would ensure that tigers and other animals are not isolated, and can disperse strong genetic traits to other populations. In one well-studied case of two populations of breeding tigers in the Kanha-Pench corridor, which also forms part of the sensitive central Indian belt, scientists commissioned by the Environment Ministry found that a national highway could block flow of genes between regions. The remedy suggested for NH7 was a combination of realignment and creation of long underpasses for animal movement. That is the sustainable way forward, and the Centre should order the modifications without delay wherever they are needed. It would be consistent with the Wildlife Action Plan 2002-2016 announced by Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister. Also, curbs should be imposed on traffic on existing roads passing through sanctuaries. This can be done using speed restraints and by allowing only escorted convoys, with a ban on private vehicular movement at night. Restrictions should be applicable to religious tourism as well. Without a determined effort, roadkill will severely diminish India’s conservation achievements.

(Source: The Hindu)

21. The UIDAI exposé is another reminder of the need for a robust data protection law

-Undercover investigations or so-called sting operations occupy a complex and problematical ethical space in journalism, but it is impossible to fault The Tribune’s exposé, published after accessing Aadhaar’s database of names, numbers and addresses. To begin with, the public interest — which lay in showing how easily the database could be breached and drawing attention to the existence of an organised racket to facilitate this — far outweighed, or more than compensated for, the act of unauthorised access, in this case secured on payment of a few hundred rupees. The investigation was written up in the best journalistic tradition — it focussed on how the data were being mined for money, it did not leak any Aadhaar numbers or other details to establish this, and it sought and received a response from shocked officials of the Unique Identification Authority of India before going to print. So it would have been a travesty of justice if The Tribune and the reporter who broke the story were treated as accused in the case where the charges include cheating under impersonation. It would have amounted to more than shooting the messenger. It would have constituted a direct attack on free public-spirited journalism and dissuaded attempts to hold public authorities and institutions accountable for shortcomings and promises.

As for the FIR filed against the journalist, the UIDAI has clarified it needed to provide the full details of the incident to the police and that this did not mean “everyone mentioned in the FIR is a culprit…” In response to widespread disapproval of the prospect of a case being registered against the journalist, the Delhi police have belatedly clarified that they would focus on tracing those who sold the passwords to enable access to the information. Given the noisy hubbub and the misinformation about what was breached, it is perhaps important to stress that the encrypted Aadhaar biometric database has not been compromised. The UIDAI is correct in stating that mere information such as phone numbers and addresses (much of which is already available to telemarketers and others from other databases) cannot be misused without biometric data. The suggestion that the entire Aadhaar project has been compromised is therefore richly embroidered. But even so, it is obligatory for those who collect such information — whether it is the government or a private player such as a mobile company — ought to see that it is secure and not used for purposes other than that for which it was collected. In this digital age, a growing pool of personal information that can be easily shared has become available to government and private entities. India does not have a legal definition of what constitutes personal information and lacks a robust and comprehensive data protection law. We need to have both quickly in place if the Supreme Court’s judgment according privacy the status of a fundamental right is to have any meaning. (Source: The Hindu)

22. How single-origin coffees in India disappeared

-Under the Constitution, agricultural income can be taxed by the State and not by the Centre. However, in the case of tea, the Centre contended that there was a substantial manufacturing process involved in the production of tea; hence, income from tea could not be classified as fully agricultural income and that a part of the income had to be taxed as central income.

-This was done under Sec 8 of the I-T Act, which stated that due to the manufacturing activity involved, 40% of the income would be taxed by the Centre.

-In 2002, the Centre then followed the same logic and introduced Sec 7 & 7B for rubber and coffee respectively. It decided to partially tax the agricultural income from both commodities, claiming there was manufacturing activity involved.

-Where coffee is cured or hulled before being sold, manufacturing activity was involved and hence 25% of the income was to be taxed by the Centre.

-Curing is a process by which raw coffee is converted to green beans ready for roasting. Substantial machinery and effort is involved but the actual cost of curing works out to about ₹2 per kg for a product worth about ₹200 per kg, or 1%. The Centre thus claimed the right to tax 25% of the agricultural income from coffee.

-How did this lead to the end of single-origin coffees from India?

Rise of raw coffee: Once this legislation was enacted planters, started selling uncured coffee instead of cured coffee. The coffees were sold in raw coffee form which is a ‘bulk’ coffee. Soon, a vibrant, active, regular and credible market for raw coffee developed. Today, the farm gate prices are quoted mostly for raw coffee. When raw coffee is traded, the criteria looked at is moisture content, appearance and outturns, not so much the cup taste. Overnight, the charm of producing a fine cup disappeared.

Good bulks at the least cost of production became the norm. The coffee was then bought by curers, exporters and domestic roasters, who cured, graded and bulked the coffee according to customer requirements. In the process, the origin of the coffee got lost.

-The production of fine coffees takes a lot of effort; while the extra input and efforts are certain, the rewards are uncertain. There is a considerable marketing effort involved and the price realisations are uncertain.

-In such a scenario, most growers will be reluctant to pursue fine coffees when they know that they fall within the jurisdiction of an income tax officer.

-Though today there is no agricultural income tax, central income tax can also be avoided. As a result, one finds that most of the fine coffee awards are won by corporates, who have the administrative capacity to deal with the extra headaches.

-Just before the enactment of the rule 7B, pooling of coffee was abolished and free open market sales began. The first coffee auctions were opened for growers. This was an opportunity to sell their coffees after curing in the name of the estate and an opportunity for buyers to buy single-origin coffees.

-It was the ideal platform for promoting single-origin coffees. Then came Rule 7B and the sellers disappeared. The auctions never recovered from this setback.

Low-hanging fruit: The Finance Minister often talks of reducing complexity in income tax rules; deleting this rule is one of the easiest steps he can take.

-Using an appropriate cliché, it is “one of the lowest hanging fruits” he is ever likely to find. This is a rule that brings little revenue, may be even no revenue, but destroys a beautiful business. We hope he picks this ripe coffee cherry at the earliest. And, if he is a coffee drinker himself, he will find he has many fine single-origin coffees from India to choose from.                                                                                                                     (Source: The Hindu)

 

(These articles are complied by GSTIMES.IN, from different newspapers published this week. Only  articles relevant to civil services examination have been presented here for the benefit of aspirants.)