The HINDU Notes – 27th February
📰 THE HINDU – CURRENT NOTE 27 February
💡 Jaishankar to visit U.S. this week
- Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar travels to Washington D.C. to meet senior U.S. officials this week.
- Jaishankar is expected to discuss the way forward in bilateral ties, including a possible visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the U.S. in the next few months.
- The visit also comes days after an Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s killing in an alleged hate attack shooting in Kansas.
- During their telephone conversation last month, Mr. Trump invited Mr. Modi to Washington. The two leaders are also expected to meet on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Germany in early July.
- In the past few weeks, India has expressed concern over the Trump administration’s moves to curtail immigration, which include making visas more stringent and cutting down on non- Americans being hired by U.S. companies.
- On January 31, a Bill was moved to double the salary qualifications required for H1B immigrants, of which Indians constitute 60-70%.
- While Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his U.S. counterpart James Mattis reaffirmed their commitment to advancing the cooperation institutionalised under the Major Defence Partner (MDP) status, so far there has been little clarity on the direction and focus areas under the new administration, and the signing of ‘foundational agreements’ that the Obama administration had negotiated.
💡 MoP for judicial postings set to gain final shape
- The Supreme Court Collegium is engaged in exhaustive consultation to finalise the long pending Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for appointment of judges and draft clauses which once created an im-passe between the highest judiciary and the government.
- The MoP draft was handed over to the Collegium by the government in August 2016. But no progress was made in resolving the differences till J.S. Khehar took over as Chief Justice of India.
- Chief Justice Khehar has repeatedly given positive signals — once in open court and again at a function last week — that he would have the MoP finalised soon, possibly by February- end.
- The clauses in the draft MoP, like the executive’s prerogative to reject judicial candidates recommended by the Collegium on the ground of “national security,” are no longer a roadblock.
💡 No progress made on food security for Nagada tribals’
- Eight months after the death of 23 malnourished children in Nagada village of Odisha’s Jajpur district made headlines stirring the State government into action, no visible progress has been noticed on the food security front, alleged social activists after visiting the remote tribal habitats.
- Food insecurity leads to malnutrition and chronic hunger which result in starvation deaths. Due to abject poverty, the Juang people of Nagada village continue to suffer from hunger and malnutrition, a social activist asserted.
- To check malnutrition, the government has taken numerous steps starting from healthcare to providing nutritious food to the children. There has been improvement in health of some malnourished children. We, however, found that many tribals have returned to old food practice of taking salt and jungle leaves.
- Due to lack of income, they cannot purchase vegetables and other nutritious food. Thus the community continues to suffer from food insecurity. The team has recommended that the government undertake income generating activities for the tribals.
- “Goat rearing, poultry and other agriculture and allied activities should be taken up for generating income of villagers,” said the activists.
- They also suggest that the government continue providing nutritious food as many children in the village were still suffering from malnutrition. “Villagers are still not getting safe drinking water. The government agency concerned should be directed to expedite its work and ensure provision of drinking water immediately,” the activist demanded.
💡 Railways to roll out high speed indigenous rakes
- The railways will soon manufacture its own train sets that can run at a maximum speed of 160 kilometre per hour, after its global bid in this regard failed to elicit positive response.
- Aptly named ‘Train-2018’, the first train set — a rake without a separate locomotive — is expected to be ready by March next year and likely to be pressed into service in Delhi-Lucknow or Delhi-Chandigarh sector.
- A train set, much like a Delhi Metro rake, comprises of many coaches that are individually powered by a propulsion system, eliminating the need for locomotive.
- Aiming to offer both comfort and pace to passengers, the project will roll out semi-high speed, 16-coach train sets with quicker acceleration and world-class passenger amenities.
- For the first time in Indian Railways, these train sets will have automatic plug type doors that will open and close at stations, wide windows for panoramic view, and ergonomically designed seating.
- Equipped with bio-toilets, all coaches in the fully AC train set will be inter-connected so that passengers can move from one coach to other with ease.
- Train-2018 project aims to manufacture two train sets at the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) near Chennai on a pilot basis, in collaboration with foreign players on transfer of technology basis, for which the ICF has floated a fresh global tender.
- The railways had floated a global tender for procurement- cum-maintenance and manufacture of 15 train sets with 315 coaches in June, 2015. Though five bidders had qualified for the initial round, they did not find the offer viable and asked for raising the tender size to 1,000 coaches.
💡 SEBI for overhaul of board governance
- Markets regulator SEBI is in favour of a major overhaul of the way boards of listed firms discharge their duties, including for appointment and removal of directors, and also wants their audit committees to be empowered to identify future risks.
- There is also a need for “greater tolerance” and transparency in discussions and decisions taken at the board level and by various board committees of listed companies, but the regulator would prefer them to adopt best global practices in this regard voluntarily rather than being dictated to do so with a new set of stringent rules, an official said.
- While a ‘guidance note’ was issued last month by the Securities and Exchange Board of India on board evaluation at listed companies, there is a view that SEBI should come out with a new set of regulations to ensure greater compliance.
- The move assumes significance in the wake of the recent boardroom battle at the Tata group and the controversy surrounding thereported differences between some promoters and the top management at Infosys — both of which played out in a big way in full public glare and forced SEBI and the government to keep a close watch to safeguard the interests of minority investors and other stakeholders — as also the message going to the foreign investors.
- The regulator’s International Advisory Board (IAB) was set up in 2011, to advise SEBI on best global regulatory practices and evolution of various policies.
- The IAB suggested that a matrix of expertise may be introduced to make the boards diverse, balanced and in tune with the requirements for effective functioning of the company. It has also called for “full transparency” in board appointments and removal process.
💡 Telangana, U.P., may get cargo airports
- The Centre is considering a proposal each from Telangana and Uttar Pradesh for setting up a ‘dedicated cargo airport.’
- Telangana wants a dedicated cargo airport to be built in northern Hyderabad, while Uttar Pradesh is seeking the green signal to construct one such airport in the western part of the state, official sources said.
- The Airports Authority of India (AAI), subject to the Centre’s approval, would facilitate the construction of such dedicated cargo airports once the sites and plans are finalised, and after finding that the same would be geographically suitable for air transportation. To ensure commercial viability for airlines, the other pre-requisites for a dedicated air cargo airport include that:
- Requiring the site to be a ‘consumption cluster’ — where there is a huge demand for consumer-based goods.
- Requiring the site should also be an ‘industrial cluster’ — where there are many goods manufacturing units and a huge industrial base.
- The site should also have well-connected rail, road and airport network for multi-modal transport connectivity.
- The site shouldalso be able to handle large aircraft for transporting cargo in large volumes and for airlifting purposes.
- According to World Bank data, air transport-freight (volume of freight, express, and diplomatic bags carried on each flight stage – that is, operation of an aircraft from takeoff to its next landing) is measured in metric tonnes times kilometres.
- Air transport-freight for India grew from 96.3 million tonne-km in the year 1970 to 1,833.8 million tonne-km in 2015 (it was 1,851.3 million tonne-km in 2014).
💡 China’s ‘neighbouring base’ in Djibouti worries U.S.
- United States and China are about to become neighbours in this sun-scorched patch of East African desert.
- China is constructing its first overseas military base in Djibouti — just a few miles from Camp Lemonnier, one of the Pentagon’s largest and most important foreign installations.
- With increasing tensions over China’s island-building efforts in the South China Sea, U.S. strategists worry that a naval port so close to Camp Lemonnier could provide a front-row seat to the staging ground for U.S. counterterrorism operations in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.
- Established after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Camp Lemonnier is home to 4,000 personnel.
- Some are involved in highly secretive missions, including targeted drone killings in West Asia and the Horn of Africa, and the raid last month in Yemen that left a member of the Navy SEALs dead.
- The base, which is run by the Navy and abuts Djibouti’s international airport, is the only permanent U.S. military installation in Africa.
- Beyond surveillance concerns, U.S. officials, citing the billions of dollars in Chinese loans to Djibouti’s heavily indebted government, wonder about the long-term durability of an alliance that has served Washington well in its global fight against Islamic extremism.
- Chinese officials play down the significance of the base, saying it will largely support anti-piracy operations that have helped quell the threat to international shipping once posed by marauding Somalis.
- In addition to having 2,400 peacekeepers in Africa, China has used its vessels to escort more than 6,000 boats from many countries through the Gulf of Aden, the Ministry said.
- China’s military has also evacuated its citizens caught in the world’s trouble spots. In 2011, the military plucked 35,000 from Libya, and 600 from Yemen in 2015.
- Beijing also said that China was not budging from its “defensive” military policy and that the base did not indicate an “arms race or military expansion.”
- S. officials say they were blindsided by Djibouti’s decision, announced last year, to give China a 10-year lease for the land..
- It helps that the Chinese are paying $20 million a year in rent to the country, on top of the billions they are spending to finance critical infrastructure, including ports and airports, a new rail line and a pipeline that will bring desperately needed drinking water from neighbouring Ethiopia.
💡 Greece in trouble again
- The future of Greece’s €86 billion bailout — the third since the 2010 debt crisis — hangs in the balance in the absence of crucial backing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and with three European Union (EU) member states going to polls this year.
- Athens has to repay a loan instalment by July in order to avail of the next part of the rescue funds under the terms of the 2015 deal. To cross that hurdle, the Greek government has to satisfy the demands of both the creditors of the eurozone and the IMF.
- There is uncertainty about the outcome, with the EU and the IMF at loggerheads over the health of the Greek economy and Athens unwilling to adopt a single euro more of austerity than what was agreed.
- The rift is centred around a recent report by the IMF describing Greece’s public borrowings as being on an “explosive path”. The report further pointed out that the bailout target of a budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP was unrealistic, and reiterated the need for urgent debt relief.
- The IMF conceded that its 24-member executive board was divided over the issue after angry European reactions to these findings. But it did not back down on its repeated calls for at least partial debt forgiveness for Greece.
- Significant also was the division on display between the EU states and other countries on the IMF’s assessment of the Greek economy. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Euro group of finance ministers, labelled the depiction as too pessimistic and the figures as outdated. He pointed to Greece’s impressive growth in recent quarters, accompanied by buoyancy in tax revenues. His strong criticism was echoed by fellow finance ministers of the single currency bloc, including Euclid Tsakalotos of Greece. The IMF’s demand that Parliament pre-legislate additional measures that would come into force should the country once again fail to meet fiscal targets has raised the hackles among Greek legislators.
- Paradoxically, the IMF’s sober assessment of the Greek economy makes any substantial participation on its part in the rescue effort all the more untenable. Conversely, the credibility of the current bailout programme depends critically on direct involvement, including financial contributions from the body.
- Germany and other northern European creditor countries are especially concerned about the difficulty of garnering domestic political support in the absence of more direct backing from the IMF.
- For now, Athens must pin its hopes on winning wider support for the IMF’s strong advocacy for debt relief, which is itself a significant shift from the stiff fiscal terms the organisation had set in the initial years of the euro zone crisis.
- Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has often emphasised the common destiny of the Greek people inside the EU. He is equally alive to the potential populist nationalist backlash in the upcoming elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany.