📰 THE HINDU – CURRENT NOTE 03 February
💡 The triple agenda – Budget 2017
A paradigm shift in Budget 2017 in multiple ways:
- It seeks to reconcile the consequences of international headwinds with domestic economic compulsions. The international headwinds of rising protectionism, reinventing globalisation and interest rate behaviour by leading central bankers necessitate adherence to continued macroeconomic stability.
- Mitigating the consequences of demonetisation particularly employment in the informal sector and lifting sagging investors’ sentiment would,inter alia, need fresh stimulus. Stimulus both in terms of regulatory framework, ease of doing business and enhanced public outlay.
Triggering green shoots:
- Markets have applauded the budget package in no uncertain way.
- A sharp decline in corporate rate taxes for small and medium industries, which covers 97% of all corporates, would enhance their profitability and trigger investment green shoots. This would be supported by enhanced agricultural credit, crop insurance, rural skill development leading to significant rise in rural demand.
- The Finance Minister mentioned the FRBM Committee’s recommendation on optimum debt to GDP ratio for India of 60%, consisting of 40% for Central Government and 20% for State Governments.
- The provision of ‘escape clause’ suggested by the Committee which has an upper ceiling of 0.5% of GDP in any fiscal year.
- A fiscal target of 3.2% was fixed instead of 3% to provide for “higher public expenditure in the context of sluggish private sector investment and slow global growth.
- The centerpiece of the macro stability is adherence to the path of fiscal consolidation. Debt and not fiscal deficit, is being recognised as the principal stabilisation anchor.
- Markets have perceived this as government’s decisive commitment towards macroeconomic stabilization. This has spurred investor sentiment, found favour with rating agencies and augurs well for congruence of monetary and fiscal policy.
- Other initiatives like, encouraging labour intensive industries, going beyond leather and textiles packages, by taking a fresh look at the regulatory framework for labour and to harmonize their conflicting regulations.
- The recommendations of the Vijay Kelkar committee on a new act for dispute resolution as well as an ombudsman is sought to be implemented through an amendment to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1997 will help in strengthening innovative financing and public private partnership.
💡 A season to repair relations
- The relations between the two Asian giants have looked tired and worn in recent months.
- China’s obduracy on India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) bid, its incomprehensible stand on the listing of known terrorist-progenitor Masood Azhar under the U.N. Security Council’s 1267 Committee, the deployment of Chinese military and engineering assets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are all pointers to a complex and tension-riddled relationship.
Absence of trust:
- The border areas between the two countries have remained conflict-free, the Line of Actual Control continues to be subject to conflicting interpretations by both India and China and the scene of intermittent transgression.
- The Chinese Ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, recently put forward some suggestions for improvement of bilateral ties between China and India.
- He suggested a ‘friendship and cooperation treaty’ and a free trade agreement (FTA) to boost bilateral relations and joining of hands on China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, and added that the time is ripe for both countries to reap some ‘early harvest’ outcomes (based on negotiations held so far) on the unresolved boundary question.
- These statement came after strategic uncertainties generated by the advent of Donald Trump’s administration in the U.S. and his unabashed negativity towards China and intention to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese goods in Taiwan. Further U.S concerns over threats against China’s building of artificial islands in the disputed areas in the South China Sea.
- The ‘early harvest’ concept relating to the boundary may have been broached in some form or other by the Chinese side. Sectors of the boundary, like Sikkim and the middle sector (Uttarakhand/Himachal Pradesh), are by and large free of the disputes that one sees in the western (Jammu and Kashmir) and eastern (Arunachal Pradesh) sectors. But ‘solutions’ that segment the border instead of ensuring an overall comprehensive settlement of the boundary may be difficult to accept, especially for India.
About Ji Xianlin Centre for India-China Studies:
Ji Xianlin Centre for India-China Studies established at the University of Mumbai. Ji Xianlin was one of China’s foremost modern Indologists and a protagonist of friendship and civilisational understanding between India and China.
Devil in the detail:
- Panchsheel Agreement of 1954 outlined the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence but also tied up the status of Tibet.
- The 1993 and 1996 agreements on peace and tranquility and confidence-building in the India-China border areas reiterated the five principles and also spoke of the non-use of force and the concept of mutual and equal security.
- A treaty of friendship and cooperation may only be an inventory of good intentions but not a transformative document.
- Trade between India and China has grown to an annual volume of $70 billion (2015-16). India has made a strong pitch for Chinese investments under Make in India in infrastructure development, solar energy and smart cities.
- An FTA that is goods-centred will obviously not benefit India given the huge trade in goods imbalance that favours China. An FTA that is comprehensive, covering goods and services, cross-border investment, R&D, standards and dispute resolution would be worth exploring.
💡 U.K. lays out Brexit plan, to leave single market
- The British government has published a white paper setting out the 12 principles that will govern its negotiations with the European Union (EU) as it prepares to leave the union. The paper was published the day after MPs voted by a large majority to triggering Brexit talks. The legislation will continue to progress through the House of Commons and the Lords.
- The 75-page document elaborates on 12 principles that Ms. May pointed out in her January speech, including providing “certainty and clarity” by pledging a white paper on the Great Repeal Bill that will convert the body of EU law into domestic law.
- The paper also outlines plans to forge “ambitious free trade relationships across the world”, including with India.
- It also covers issues such as the transitional arrangements — and a phased process of implementation — for exiting the union. It reiterates plans to leave the EU customs union and single market, and reach new agreements that would ensure as “free and frictionless” trade in goods as possible.
Vote on legislation:
- The British government looks set to comfortably meet its plans of triggering Brexit talks by the end of next month, after winning a clear majority in a vote for the Bill in the House of Commons.
- MPs voted by 498 to 114 to support the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.
- The legislation will now pass to the committee stage where amendments will be considered and then voted on. The bill will also have to make its way through the House of Lords, where it is expected to face considerable opposition.
- This will give the government the parliamentary approval necessary to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that gives EU members a two-year period to withdraw.
- The government was forced to bring the legislation in Parliament after the Supreme Court held that the executive’s prerogative was not sufficient, and only Parliament could authorise it to trigger Article 50.
💡 Donald Trump puts Iran on notice
- The U.S. said it was“putting Iran on notice” for conducting a ballistic missile test that it described as a violation of a UN resolution.
- The official, who did not want to be named, indicated that the Trump administration would put its entire weight behind Saudi Arabia and the UAE, while upending the breakthrough with Iran, a key foreign policy achievement of the previous Obama administration.
- He said Iran’s obligations under the nuclear deal would stay intact, even as the U.S. considers new punitive measures for missile test and other activities.
💡 RBI cautions against virtual currencies
- The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has cautioned the users, holders and traders of virtual currencies (VCs), including Bitcoins, about the potential financial, legal and security risks.
- “RBI advises that it has not given any licence/authorisation to any entity / company to operate such schemes or deal with Bitcoin or any virtual currency.
- As such, any user, holder, investor, trader, etc. dealing with virtual currencies will be doing so at their own risk”, it said.
💡 Customs law reform seeks flyers’ records
- All airlines flying to and from India will soon have to compulsorily submit passenger records to the government a few days in advance of every flight departure or arrival, according to an amendment to the country’s customs law proposed in the Finance Bill of 2017 tabled in Parliament.
- Airlines will be fined Rs. 50,000 for not submitting the information on time, as per the proposal to insert a new Section 30A and 41A in the Customs Act, 1962, to make it “obligatory” for airlines to give “passenger and crew arrival manifest” and “passenger name record (PNR) information” to the customs authority before arrival or departure of the flight to, or from India.
- The Central Board of Excise and Customs would be authorised to decide the kind of passenger information that needs to be submitted by the airlines.
- At present, airlines are required to submit basic details of passengers such as their name, date of birth, nationality, among other things to customs authority.
- The final passenger information has to be submitted 15 minutes before the flight takes off.
- With this move, India will join a select international league of 15 countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, which ask airlines to submit PNR details of passengers to government authorities.
- This is also a subject of a new European Union Regulation and most EU states are planning to introduce PNR requirements. Even Indian airlines are required to submit the PNR data of passengers to such countries typically three days before the flight, up until the day of travel.
- Global airline body International Air Transport Association (IATA) has asked the government to hold consultations with the airlines and follow United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organisation Standards and Guidelines on PNR data.
💡 Andhra Pradesh working on system to DNA-tag convicts
- The Andhra Pradesh government plans to bring in legislation that will allow the State police and investigating agencies to collect and store DNA samples in a centralised database.
- The move has come in for close scrutiny, as the Centre first prepared a draft bill on the issue in 2012, but the legislation ran into severe opposition from activists on the ground that it violated privacy. It has since been on hold.
- The Centre’s Human DNA Profiling Bill, 2015, was prepared by the Department of Biotechnology and the Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA-Fingerprinting and Diagnostics but is yet to be cleared by the Union Cabinet.
- Several organisations and individuals, however, raised concerns that the bill gave sweeping powers to government to mine the database and use it for purposes beyond just solving crime.
Highlights of the Human DNA Profiling Bill:
- The bill proposes to allow collection of samples from private parts of human body for DNA profiling and data preservation with the approval of a regulatory body.
- It suggests that a National DNA Profiling Board and a National DNA Bank be set up in Hyderabad, with every state having a regional DNA data bank. The DNA Data Bank would maintain records of samples found at crime scenes, or from suspects, offenders, missing persons, volunteers, etc.
- The bill also makes it clear that no DNA Laboratory shall undertake DNA profiling without the prior approval of the DNA Board.
- If a foreign country requests DNA profiling, the DNA Bank will coordinate through CBI or a concerned department.
- The bill mandates that the DNA profiles or samples be kept confidential, and they should be used only for establishing identity of a person and nothing else.
- Government investigation agencies and judiciary, among others, can seek information from Data Banks. For unauthorized use of data, a stringent punishment is provided.
💡 Budget a major disappointment for SC/STs’
- The move to do away with the sub-plans for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) following the merger of the Plan and Non-plan expenditure has resulted in severe shortfall in allocations for schemes dedicated to SC/ STs, according to the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and tribal rights activists.
- With the Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan (SCSP) and the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) allocations turning into ‘Allocations for welfare of Scheduled Castes’ and ‘Allocations for welfare of Scheduled Tribes’ in the 2017-18 Budget, the government was expected to follow the Jadhav Guidelines, which had laid out the percentage amounts for welfare schemes targeted to SCs and STs.
- These had recommended 4.62% of the total budget expenditure (equivalent to the 16.6% of the erstwhile Plan expenditure mandated for SCSP) for SC allocations, and 2.32% of total budget expenditure (equivalent to 8.6% of the Plan expenditure mandated for TSP) for ST allocations.
- For the 2017-18 Budget, this works out to Rs. 96,847 crore for SCs and Rs. 49,992 crore for STs. But in reality, the total allocation for SCs this year was only Rs. 52,393 crore, while STs received only Rs. 31,920 crore.
- “Contrary to the claim that this is a pro-Dalit and pro- Adivasi budget, it has actually reduced the total schemes for SCs from 294 to 256, and those for STs from 307 to 261.
- “A critical scheme for rehabilitation of bonded labourers – the bulk of whom are SCs and STs – has been scrapped, while funding has been severely slashed for the National Scheduled Caste Finance Development Corporation (NSCFDC) and therehabilitation scheme for manual scavengers,” said Mr. Abhay Xaxa, a tribal rights activist.
- “Also, the total allocation for Dalit-Adivasi women amounted to only 0.99% of the total Gender Budget categorisation, with budgeted expenditure on schemes for SC and ST women forming only 1.19% of SC schemes, and 1.68% of ST schemes respectively.”
- Also, there is a backlog of Rs12,000 crore that is due as scholarship to Dalit and Adivasi students.
💡Scientist says international journal violated ethics on Bihar’s ‘litchi disease’ report
- The scientist who investigated the mystery disease that proved fatal for many 15-year old children in Muzaffarpur, Bihar at the instance of the State government has raised ethics issues about the way the research has been published by the journal Lancet Global Health on January 30.
Dr. John Claims:
- They have done a large case-control study but borrowed all important information connected with the illness from Dr. T. Jacob John, a virologist.
- In 2014 he published evidence of a link between a fruit in Jamaica, the ackee, from the same family as litchi, and a disease called acute encephalopathy in Jamaicans.
- The close clinical similarity between ackee poisioning and the Muzaffarpur illness, where litchi consumption and skipping the evening meal could result in very low blood glucose and acute encephalopathy, leading to seizures and coma, and death in many cases.
Authors refute claim:
There are a few key findings that have not been, to our knowledge, reported previously.
1. The evidence of the metabolites of hypoglycin A and methylenecyclopropylglycine (MCPG) in the specimens of affected children, and the demonstrated metabolic abnormalities that resulted due to the effects of these toxins.
2. A statistically significant epidemiological association between illness and litchi consumption, as well as the modifying effect of the absence of an evening meal.
- In a May 2014 paper in Current Science pointed out that the illness was due to non-infectious encephalopathy and not viral encephalitis as was widely suspected. That it was a form of encephalopathy associated with low blood sugar was again emphasised in an August 2014 paper in Current Science.
- A December 2015 Current Science paper reported presence of MCPG in litchi ; but not MCPG or hypoglycin A in samples of children. But the study strongly suggested the role of MCPG.
💡 Bird lovers help scientists uncover secrets behind evolution of beaks
Finch Bird Study:
- Finches arrived on the Galápagos 2 million years ago; they gained access to a world of new morsels, untapped by other animals. In a relatively short period, 14 species of finches evolved, specializing in different diets through different beak shapes: short for crushing seeds, sharp for catching insects, long for probing cactus flowers and so on.
- The rapid diversification in the presence of new opportunity is called adaptive radiation. Studies of small island bird and lizard populations describe a fast burst of evolution, followed by a slowdown. But broader research has failed to find this fast-then-slow pattern of evolution on a global scale.
- An international team of researchers set out to investigate this seeming paradox through a particular trait: the shapes of birds’ bills. Analysing more than 2,000 species of birds, the researchers suggest in a report published in Nature that even though evolution does not slow down globally, the theory of adaptive radiation holds up.
- In the case of birds, it is not that evolution slows over time, but rather it switches from generating major changes in beak shape to producing smaller iterations of the same basic shapes.
- The scientists were able to infer ancestral bill shapes and rates of evolution going back more than 80 million years by combining these beak shape measurements with the latest DNA-based evolutionary trees.
- Their data suggested that most of the variation we see in beaks today evolved long ago, in a relatively short period of time.
- In Study scientists collected 3D scans of bird beaks from museum specimens representing more than 97 percent of present-day birds. Through a website called Mark My Bird, they asked the public to help mark out specific features on the scans, including the tip, mid-line and curvature of each bill.
- In Hawaii, a single ancestor exploded into at least 54 species of colourful songbirds called honeycreepers. In Madagascar, 22 species of vanga birds emerged. Catastrophes like volcanic explosions possibly opened up opportunities for local evolution as well.
- After this early proliferation, the scientists believe, there was a switch to fine-tuned evolution, which can still be fast-paced. High rates of evolution, comparing sister species, they tend to be very different from one another. But often, the different bill shapes that evolve are similar to those that already exist elsewhere in the world.
- The greatest increase in variation in the early days of birds, rates of evolution stayed relatively stable through time: Isolated groups can still evolve rapidly, just without adding much that is substantially new to the range of bill shapes found around the world.
💡 Gene variants can add 2 cm to your height
- Researchers have unveiled 83 rare gene variants which exert a strong influence on human height, with some capable of adding or subtracting more than two centimetres (0.8 inches).
- The discovery could lead to drugs to make short people taller or vice versa, or tests to identify people at risk of developing growth disorders, the team reported.
- More than 300 researchers from five continents trawled through genetic data from 711,428 people to find the variants.
- Previous research had shown that genetic inheritance determines more than 80 percent of a person’s height.
Genes are sections of DNA which carry codes or instructions to build the proteins an organism needs to function.
- Non-genetic influences include nutrition, pollution and other environmental factors.