GM Mustard – Pros & Cons | RSTV

Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has given the green signal for commercial cultivation of GM mustard in the country with certain conditions. Developed by Delhi University, the GM Mustard will be the first edible GM crop of India. Several groups have been opposing the GEAC’s decision as it might affect allied agricultural activities and health of the people as per the protesters.

Pros

  • India’s dependence on edible oil imports makes it necessary to harness GM-mustard. About $12 billion is spent by India annually on import of edible oil.
  • Local crop developers can more easily develop different varieties of hybrid mustard, like GM cotton, and confer traits like pest resistance and potentially improving yield.
  • A system of genes from soil bacterium that makes mustard have been used by the scientists. This is generally a self-pollinating plant and is better suited to hybridization than current methods.
  • DMH-11 is claimed to be one of the promising technologies to improve mustard yield in India, which has been almost stagnant since the last two decades.
  • As the population will increase, India will have to increase its productivity of oilseed crops.

Cons

  • There are social and economic concerns attached to any technology as well. In this case, farmers especially in Punjab and other mustard growing areas have said that they don’t need new varieties. They need better policy, pricing and to rationalize the input costs against the cost which they get after selling it in the markets. If these problems cannot be solved, bringing in another technology might not solve the problem.
  • Its impact on health of the people, environment, soil, groundwater or food chain is not known yet. The glufosinate-based herbicide to which the proposed GM mustard is tolerant will also have adverse impacts on health. An herbicide-tolerant crop promotes constant exposure to a single herbicide which eventually results in weeds becoming resistant.
  • GEAC needs to be transparent about this decision and put it in the public domain that on what grounds it has approved GM mustard for citizens to analyse and stay aware whether it is good for them or not. If there is a lack of trust on the part of people who are to use it, it will be like forcing something upon them. India is a signatory to Cartagena Protocol on biosafety where it has committed to public participation in decision making.
  • Allowing the cultivation of GM mustard would lead to a direct attack on women involved in the mustard crop weeding.
  • There has to be strong liability laws if there are any environmental hazards or if something goes wrong in future. These laws are not there in India at present.
  • The pesticide industry’s efforts to influence policymakers and regulators have obstructed reforms globally. Their business model aims only at making profit.

Conclusion

Agriculture is a state subject therefore; it is important for the Centre to take into consideration the views of State Governments as well. It is expected that the Supreme Court will ensure protection of Indian consumers and farmers as giving a nod to GM mustard will pave the way for clearance to other GM crops as well whether the impact is good or bad. The issue is sensitive to society as it involves the health of large population, therefore adequate arrangements must be made to ensure thorough discussion and exchange of views between the scientific community before a formal launch of the product.

Air India Disinvestment | LSTV

Union Cabinet recently approved the disinvestment plan for Air India and its five subsidiaries. It is seen as one of the boldest reforms by the Government till date. It is being hoped that the decision will attract a positive response and will revive Air India which is otherwise ailing under a burden of huge debt and inefficiency.

Background

  • India is supposed to displace UK as the third largest aviation market by 2026 according to IATA. India’s air passengers will grow to 442 million by 2035 and Air India surrendered profitable routes to private carriers.
  • Air India’s market share today is around 14% while the debt is Rs 55,000 crore approximately. Air India is surviving on a bailout package of Rs 30,000 crore spread over 10 years. Bailout package was announced by UPA Government in 2012. NDA Government has continued with the annual equity infusion in Air India.

Need of disinvestment

The carrier has already been surviving on a bailout package. Last month, the NITI Aayog in its report had recommended the disinvestment of Air India therefore, the decision is very much in sync with NITI Aayog’s view. This decision does convey to the investors that India is serious about reforms and will not throw good money into something not working out well.

Solution adopted by Government

  • Civil Aviation Ministry was exploring all possible options for the ailing state run airline but no other options were found feasible, hence the Government decided to create a Group of Ministers tasked to deliberate upon the disinvestment process. The group is named as Air India- Specific Alternative Mechanism and it will be headed by the Finance Minister. The panel will decide on the extent of divestment and mode of carrying it out.
  • NITI Aayog is looking into the disinvestment issue, including a possible strategic sale.

Significance

Government money can be much better utilized to fund important social and infrastructure programmes that are actually in need of capital every year.

Factors to consider while disinvestment

  • To get the best return out of disinvestment, the Government needs to allow both domestic and foreign buyers to bid freely for stakes. For this to happen, the government will have to streamline its FDI policy so that foreign investors can buy a stake in Air India.
  • The Civil Aviation Ministry has also made a case for the sale of non-core assets first to pay off existing creditors, so that the airline becomes more attractive to private buyers.
  • The Government might also separately go for strategic disinvestment of Air India’s three profit-making subsidiaries – (MRO subsidiary) Air India Engineering Services Limited, (Ground handling subsidiary) Air India Transport Services Limited, and Air India Charters Limited.
  • The Ministerial group is also considering hiving off Air India’s assets and a portion of its non-aircraft debt to a special purpose vehicle (SPV) as a first step in this direction. It is also to be seen howthis disinvestment impacts UDAN.

Conclusion

The need of the hour is a good evaluation of Air India’s balance sheet and a practical plan to make the public-sector carrier attractive to any prospective buyer, whether foreign or domestic.

To listen to the full debate on LSTV Click Below
 

Pak-Saudi Security ties in a Churn (RSTV Debate)

Pak-Saudi Security relationship seems to be undergoing a reset. Last year, former Pakistani Army Chief General Raheel Sharif was selected by Riyadh as the commander of the Saudi-led alliance of Muslim majority countries, ostensibly aimed at counter-terrorism. The alliance is meant to essentially target the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who are active on the Saudi borders. Then came the news last week since denied that Pakistan would send a brigade strength of combat troops to Saudi Arabia for deployment along its southern borders in the ongoing conflict with Yemen. Islamabad and Riyadh have had a close security relationship. Not only does the Pakistan army regularly train the Saudi soldiers, experts estimate that there are as many as 70,000 Pakistanis serving across the Saudi military services. Pakistani combat troops have been sent to Saudi Arabia in the past also in 1979 after the attack on the Grand Mosque Complex of Mecca and during the First Gulf War when the Saudis feared an attack by Saddam Hussein. In 2015, Saudi Arabia requested Pakistan to join an Arab-military coalition against the Houthi rebel movement in Yemen. However, the Pakistan Parliament voted to remain neutral in the conflict. Let us see if the Pakistanis are reconsidering its position on joining the Riyadh-led alliance against the Houthis and if so, why is there a churning in Pakistan on this issue and what does it mean for the Gulf region?

What are the factors that have shaped and continue to shape the Pak-Saudi Security Relationship?

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy a very close relationship to the extent that at one moment there was a suspicion that Saudi Arabia is financing the nuclear programme of Pakistan (members of the Saudi Royal Family are the only ‘foreigners’ who are allowed to visit the nuclear facilities of Pakistan). In the 1980s, when Saudi Arabia procured the Chinese CSS-2 missiles, the speculation was rife that this procurement is senseless unless they are armed with nuclear weapons. Hence, it was argued that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons would be made available for Saudi Arabia in the time of crisis. Pakistani troops have also served in Saudi Arabia to accord protection to the Saudi Royal family. Saudi Arabia has recognised Taliban regime and financed Madrasas (a college for Islamic instruction) all over Pakistan to spread Wahhabism (identified as the main source of global terrorism by European Parliament).

Today Saudi Arabia is constrained heavily in its fight against the Houthi-rebels of Yemen (allegedly supported by Iran). In fact, there have been instances of serious attacks along the southern borders of Saudi Arabia by the Houthis. Saudi Arabia’s army is incapable of fighting a serious war effectively (forget the Guerrilla warfare) and it exists only on papers. Therefore, Pakistan becomes very valuable in this regard.

Pak-Saudi Security | Why Saudi Arabia selected General Raheel Sharif as the commander of the alliance of Muslim countries?

It could be regarded as a precursor to Saudi Arabia’s hope of obtaining combat troops from Pakistan in its fight against the Houthi rebels. Although there are some inhibitions inside some quarters of Pakistan over General Raheel Sharif taking over the job offered by the Saudis, there is no rejection/acceptance till now.

There was an ‘anger’ in Pakistan regarding Saudi’s request for combat troops in 2015 was not only on substantive grounds (non-meddling in the Saudi-Iran affairs) but also on procedural grounds. The procedure in which Saudi Arabia requested Pakistan to send combat troops to Yemen forced few sections in Pakistan to feel the vassal status of Saudi Arabia vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Pak-Saudi Security | Would Pakistan send troops to Saudi Arabia? What could be the consequences of such an involvement?

A newspaper in UAE leaked the Saudi-Pak plan to cooperate via troops in combating the Houthi problem which has reached to the doors of Saudi Arabia. Defence Minister of Pakistan has denied the reports of such cooperation. Pakistan may be hedging in this arena taking into account the Iran factor.

Even if the troops are sent for ‘emergency deployment’ in Saudi Arabia i.e. to play the defensive role and protect the vital security interests of Saudi Arabia’s territory, the sole purpose would be to extract money via grants and soft loans. Saudis would be happy to do the same, especially when they are getting cheap sources of security at the time of dwindling economy as compared to the costly Western forces in the region.

The implication of such an involvement of Pakistan would be that it would find itself enmeshed in the Sunni-Shia conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Shias in Pakistan are being already targeted by the Sunni extremist groups and it cannot afford to alienate a large section of its population (Shias hold significant positions in Pakistan Army also) further by entering into such an alliance. But the relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia-UAE grouping have already deteriorated in the past few years, so it is in a dilemma over its future course of action.

Pakistan is also unsure of gaining gravitas in American calculus as a regional power by what they perceive to be serving the strategic goals of the United States in the Gulf region.

Pak-Saudi Security | Why Saudi Arabia needs Pakistani troops when it can get mercenary contractors from the West?

One of the reasons could be the diversification strategy on part of the Saudi Kingdom to divert away from their security dependence on the West and look for cheaper alternatives to it. The sheer competence of Pakistan Army in the region could be another factor for Saudi shift towards Pakistan in this situation of war. As discussed earlier, this relationship also goes back to decades of security cooperation. This close security cooperation makes it imperative for the Gulf to prefer Pakistani troops in the event of a security need.

Pak-Saudi Security | Repercussions on Iran-Pakistan relationship

If Pakistan decides to send the troops to Saudi Arabia, it could disturb the relationship between Iran and Pakistan. It is doubtful if Pakistan can afford to lose a significant partner like Iran in the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Pakistan became the surrogate of Saudi-Iran proxy war through the sectarian conflicts in the 1990s and this is the real danger that Pakistan perceives to be repeated again, in the case of its involvement in the Yemen affairs.

Pak-Saudi Security | India factor in Pakistani calculus

Pakistan is worried about the closeness developing between the Gulf countries and India in the last few years with respect to economic and security interests, especially with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan has a traditional policy to isolate India and complicate its relationship with these countries. Contrary to the popular perception, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has managed to penetrate the Gulf region with his skilful diplomacy and secured a strategic leverage vis-à-vis Pakistan in terms of a developing security relationship with the region. Gulf countries have successfully managed to put the predominance of Islamic factor behind the contours of their relationship with India and are managing to cooperate effectively with India as against their traditional position. Gulf countries and most importantly the UAE is seriously looking towards India for defence and security cooperation to signal Pakistan that they may end the monopoly of Pakistani security umbrella in the region.

Pak-Saudi Security | Conclusion

It would be interesting to see how Pakistan decides to sail across the Arabian Sea to reach the Gulf of Aden through a tightrope diplomacy. Would it be able to prepare an effective solution to escape out of the zero-sum game between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

To See the Full RSTV Debate Click Below : 

 

NITI Aayog – Vision for New India (RSTV debate)

Recently the 3rd meeting of the NITI Aayog’s Governing Council was held at Delhi. With an aim to transform India (as called by the Prime Minister), the NITI Aayog has envisioned an aspiring agenda for the country to be achieved by the year 2032.

NITI Aayog | Agenda for 2032

  • As we know that the five-year plans have now been replaced by a three-year action plan which will be sub-part of a 7-year strategy which itself would be a sub-part of realising a 15-year long term vision for the country.
  • The targets set by NITI Aayog for the next 15 years include a threefold rise in country’s GDP, Rupees 2 lakh increase in per capita GDP of the country and other necessary facilities for people such as electricity, housing with toilets and digital connectivity for all people in the country with a fully literate population having unhindered access to healthcare and most importantly, ‘a clean India with clean air and water’.

NITI Aayog | Analysis

  • The immediate requirement of NITI Aayog should have been to identify the immediate challenges that our country is facing to realize a developmental vision, rather than writing a manifesto-like document for coming years such as consistent poverty in the country and global environment that may affect regional inequalities among many others. Real challenges should be addressed after taking a 360-degree view of the issues around us.
  • It is not a herculean task for India to receive 8% GDP growth rate because in the last 25 years, the average growth rate was 6.7% of GDP. When our economy is consistently increasing at a sustainable pace, we need to bring few issues under our focus –
  • Inclusive growth can be achieved by providing education for all, skill development, healthcare facilities and raising expenditure on rural infrastructure to fill the concerned gaps.
  • Resilience in the path of realisation of development by strengthening our public institutions, regulatory environment, banking system and management of our natural resources.
  • Government has promised clean and quality air which is enshrined in the NITI Aayog’s agenda but this objective stands contradictory to the aspiration which envisions a private car or two-wheeler for every citizen in the country. At a time when the world is moving towards maximising environment friendly public transport and eco-friendly approach towards energy consumption, this step looks retrograde.

NITI Aayog | Primary sector development

Development of agriculture should be focused on –

  • Enhancing productivity
  • Land leasing reforms
  • Remunerative prices
  • Risk management
  • Second Green Revolution in eastern India

NITI Aayog |  | Fiscal situation

  • The combined expenditure of Centre and States would rise by almost 92 lakh crore rupees to reach 130 lakh crore rupees by the financial year 2031-32.
  • India’s urban population would rise by 22 crore and reach around 60 crores by that time.
  • NITI Aayog also projects per capita income in the country to rise by 2 lakh rupees up to 3,14,667 rupees approximately.
  • Hence, the economy is expected to grow three-fold in the next 15 years. If the economy grows at an 8% average rate of GDP for the next 15 years, our nominal GDP will reach almost 469 lakh crore rupees by the year 2030 (around USD 7.25 trillion).

NITI Aayog | Social situation

  • NITI Aayog has also come up with indices to measure states’ performance in the field of health, education and water management. This will help states to measure the results of various social programmes and compete with each other and simultaneously share best practices and innovations in line with cooperative yet competitive federalism.
  • It has also suggested to club various social programmes and various centrally-sponsored schemes under 28 umbrella projects. For example – The panel has suggested few changes in Swachh Bharat Mission and other flagship schemes like skill development, poverty measurement and Atal Innovation Mission (AIM).

NITI Aayog | Conclusion

Soviet form of central planning may have its limitations but yearly targets and monitoring mechanisms can help the Government to better streamline plan performance for the ambitious goals set out by NITI Aayog. Unwavering political will and public support from all quarters will be the prerequisites to realise the true potential of the aforementioned ambitious targets.

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Ban on Beacon – Lal Batti | LSTV

Recently, the NDA Government has done away with the beacon lights – Lal Batti for VIPs (from May 1st,2017). The Cabinet decision is in sync with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s view of abolishing the VIP culture of red beacon lights and sirens. Supreme Court in many occasions in the last 7 years has actively directed several governments to check this unnecessary practice.

Lal Batti | What does the order say?

Five categories of officials including the President, the Vice President, the Chief Justice of India, the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Prime Minister will also not be allowed to use red beacons after the decision is implemented along with other Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and their respective Cabinet ministers, bureaucrats and judges of the High Court and other subordinate courts. However, the blue beacons will be allowed to operated albeit on emergency vehicles.

Lal Batti | Background

  • In 2013, the Hon’ble Supreme Court termed the use of beacons by government officials and ministers as ridiculous and labelled it as synonymous of power while clarifying that only Constitutional authorities should be allowed to use it.
  • The first debate on the flashing and non-flashing variety of red and blue beacon lights was started by the Supreme Court in 2010. It continued to direct the concerned authorities regarding the use and misuse of beacon lights by the constitutional and non-constitutional authorities, respectively.
  • In 2013, the Supreme Court prepared a restricted list for the use of red beacons for those who hold a Constitutional Similarly, blue lights were allowed for emergency and ambulance services. Henceforth, the State governments were asked to frame guidelines to implement the court order. But the implementation as we know, remained incomplete and merely on the paper.

Lal Batti | Impact on VIP Culture

The usage of red beacon (both flashing and non-flashing variety) was a baggage of colonial past. In India, the beacon turned into a symbol of VIP racism and public servants used it to signal their aristocratic status in the society to which they serve. It was the legacy of a feudal mentality of those serving the colonial Government who treated the native people as slaves.

In modern democratic era, vehicles with beacon lights have turned irrelevant, rather offensive to the society. We have often seen that even junior politicians and officials misuse the beacons to show off their political strength, especially in smaller towns and rural areas. Therefore, this recent decision could be regarded as a welcome step by the Government in order to terminate the VIP culture by reducing the gap between the ruler and the subjects.

Lal Batti Ban | Advantages

  • In continuance of the feudal mentality, the abuse of beacons made ourroads less convenient and more dangerous for the common people. There have been multiple cases of road mishaps due to the speed of these VIP cars. But now, every person will be on the same page, or every person will be a VIP (as per the Prime Minister) J
  • In India, one of the biggest cause of traffic jams were these beacon-fitted vehicles where the occupants of these vehicles forced the common people on road to wait for them while they pass the road. Fortunately, this matter will come to an end.
  • As the real people who need protection from beacon lights are those who need emergency services or perform emergency services like fire brigade, ambulance and police. The rest of the VIP racism costs direct and indirect costs to the public exchequer and it is often seen that this patronage is extended to many politicians with criminal background.

Lal Batti Ban |Principle of equality

Rule 108 of Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 deals with use of red, white and blue lights on vehicles. Rule 108-1 (III) says that the Centre and the states can specify dignitaries who can use such beacons on their (official) vehicles. It is a central rule that is being abolished from the rule book by this recent cabinet decision.

By removing this provision, the Government has moved forward towards equality. It will discomfort a minority of people with feudal leverages but it will surely delight the majority of people who will find a sense of relief out of the abolishment of this VIP racism.

Lal Batti | Conclusion

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been attributing himself as the ‘Pradhan Sevak’ of India. This move portrays the sentiment that every Indian is a VIP. The strong political shown by the government through this step will surely bring a change in our society and hopefully in our feudal mindset of colonial era.

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Bangladesh's PM Sheikh Hasina's visit | RSTV

Bangladesh’s PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India and her meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given the much needed fillip to the bilateral foreign economic policy. India reiterated its binding commitment to support the economic development of Bangladesh.

PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit | Highlights

PM Modi reiterated India’s willingness to partner Bangladesh in its endeavour to develop sectors like energy, infrastructure, science and technology, e-governance and other emerging high technology areas. Towards this, India committed a third line of credit of US$ 4.5 billion for development of a number of projects in the areas of port construction, railways, roads, airports, power and energy, telecommunications and shipping. This is in addition to the US $2.86 billion worth lines of credit provided to Bangladesh earlier to augment its capacities in key infrastructural sectors and the fully funded grants-in-aid which India has extended to various public welfare projects.

PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit | Cooperation in energy supply

One of the priority sectors identified was to integrate the power and energy supply networks of both the countries and the two leaders agreed to promote joint ventures in the field of energy. It was decided to explore the possibility of gas grid interconnectivity and build an LPG pipeline that will serve the needs of Bangladesh as well as the North Eastern Region of India. The Indo-Bangla Friendship Pipeline from Siliguri to Parbatipur for supply of High Speed Diesel to Bangladesh is being supported by India as a grant-in-aid project.

PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit | Fostering connectivity

To foster connectivity along the waterways, both countries have decided to operationalize the Coastal Shipping Agreement signed in June 2015, commence trans-shipment of goods through the Ashuganj River Port under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT) and a MoU on passenger and cruise vessels was inked. The MoU on Development of Fairway from Sirajganj to Daikhowa and Ashuganj to Zakiganj on Indo-Bangladesh Protocol will help reduce logistics cost of cargo movement to northeast India and also reduce congestion through Siliguri’s ‘chicken’s neck’ corridor. The trial run of passenger train between Khulna and Kolkata and the new bus service between Kolkata-Khulna-Dhaka would further people-to-people contacts. These connectivity initiatives apart from providing development dividends, would feed into the new paradigm for sub-regional cooperation.

To further people-to-people contact, it was agreed to revise and revamp the Memorandum of Understanding on Border ‘Haats’ (markets – remember this for Prelims). During the visit of the Bangladesh Prime Minister, the Indian private sector pledged investments of over US$ 9 billion in Bangladesh.

PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit | Participation in multilateral initiatives

Both countries actively encourage these initiatives under the South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC), Bangladesh Bhutan India and Nepal and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). The various transit and connectivity agreements shall facilitate movement of goods from different parts of India to the North-East through Bangladesh and drastically cut down upon the time and costs for such transportation.

PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit | Economic cooperation

Although the current levels of bilateral trade stands at close to USD 6.7 billion, there is potential for massive growth. Both countries have decided to boost trade and ease doing business by removing a gamut of non and para tariff barriers including port restrictions and upgrade the infrastructure of the Land Customs Stations and Integrated Check Posts.

Trade and industry along both sides of the border has evinced interest on the bilateral economic relations. This could lead to joint ventures in niche areas like exploration of hydrocarbons, marine resources and deep sea fishing in the Bay of Bengal. The Indian Prime Minister is of the opinion that Bangladesh should also develop along with India. He shares the same dream for Bangladesh as he has for India.

PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit | Conclusion

Shared economic prosperity and connectivity are the two dominant themes poised to take Indo-Bangladesh bilateral economic relations to a new high. This also holds the promise of accelerating regional and sub-regional economic growth and usher in far reaching welfare benefits for both neighbours. An all-encompassing partnership is a must to accelerate bilateral economic growth. This was succinctly reflected in the joint statement issued during the summit level meeting which labelled the Indo-Bangladesh relations as one of ‘fraternal friendship’ geared to promote regional connectivity and development.

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Australian PM Visits India | RSTV

Aiming to give new impetus to India – Australia ties, the Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull made his first-ever official visit to India. In addition to meeting the Indian dignitaries, and holding delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Turnbull visited Mumbai for interaction with captains of Indian industry.

Australian PM | Highlights of the visit

  • During the Australian PM visit, the two sides inked six Memoranda of Understanding on combating international terrorism and transnational organized crime; climate change and wildlife protection; health and medicine; civil aviation security; space technology, and sports. Hence, Turnbull’s visit demonstrated the growing convergence in national priorities of India and Australia, which are working closely in fighting multiple common challenges ranging from terrorism and piracy to climate change and pollution.
  • Both India and Australia have been victims of terrorism in their territories and elsewhere. Showing their firm resolve to fight the menace, the two sides inked MoU on cooperation in combating terrorism. Stressing on the need to take urgent steps to counter and cap the spread of radicalism and terrorism, they emphasised on the need for greater understanding and coordination among the intelligence, law enforcement, and security agencies.
  • India-Australia cooperation in civilian nuclear energy holds immense significance as it would help fight climate change in addition to helping India meet its energy demands. In that context, Prime Minister Modi appreciated the passage of the Civil Nuclear Transfers to India Act in the Australian Parliament. Commercial export of Australian uranium to India is likely to commence soon.
  • Appreciating India’s efforts to cap climate change and pollution through International Solar Alliance, Turnbull expressed Australia’s willingness to join the alliance.
  • MoU on health and medicine, and sports cooperation, signed during Turnbull’s visit, have the potential to add a strong dimension to India-Australia cooperation. India could learn a lot from Australian best practices in these fields.

Australian PM | Defence ties

With the 2014 India-Australia bilateral Framework for Security Cooperation functioning as the cornerstone of bilateral defence and security cooperation, India-Australia security ties are poised to graduate to the next level with the inaugural secretaries’ defence and foreign affairs dialogue in the “2+2” format, to be held in late-2017. Notably, India already has such a dialogue mechanism with Japan.

Australian PM | Maritime security cooperation

  • India and Australia are on the same page in comprehending the volatile strategic equilibrium in Indo-Pacific, and thus appreciate the need for a peaceful and rule-based order.
  • As responsible stakeholders in the region, Delhi and Canberra respect the maritime legal order based on the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, and stress upon the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight.
  • Promoting region-wide dialogue is critical, and India-Australia-Japan Trilateral dialogue aims to serve that purpose. It is aptly complemented by India-Japan-US trilateral dialogue.
  • The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and other multilateral security groupings such as ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus, and the East Asia Summit provide the two countries with avenues to tackle transnational traditional and non-traditional security threats.

Australian PM | Areas of cooperation

  • Australia supports India’s claim to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and APEC, in addition to supporting India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Australia Group, and the Wassenaar Arrangement.
  • People to people linkages are critical in strengthening bilateral relations. India is the third largest source of immigrants for Australia, which is also home to nearly 450,000 Indians, and around 46,000 Indian students studying in Australia.
  • Australia’s New Colombo Plan is an enabler for the young Australians to build knowledge base on India. Signing of the two implementing arrangements between ISRO and Geoscience Australia for space cooperation signals that robust linkages in the field of higher education and skills development have the potential to bring bilateral ties to new heights.

Australian PM | Taking forward economic ties

  • Prime Minister Turnbull has promised to constitute an ‘India Economic Strategy to define a pathway for the Australian business community to collaborate with India on its reform agenda’.
  • Australia-India CEO Forum would also help strengthen trade ties.

Australian PM | Conclusion

In summation, Prime Minister Turnbull’s India visit added a new milestone to India-Australia ties; a visit that will be remembered for India and Australia’s sincere attempts to bring their politico-diplomatic and strategic visions in sync with each other.

RSTV | The Big Picture: Takeaways from Turnbull’s India visit

 

Farm Loan Waivers | RSTV

Recently, the RBI Governor sounded alarm over the state governments policy of Farm Loan Waivers. He called for a consensus to do away such populist politics to avoid damaging the national economy. This statement was made in respect of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s announcement of waiver of 36,000 crore rupees of farm loan which could trigger similar policy actions by the Punjab and Maharashtra governments in the near future due to political pressure.

RBI Governor said that these Farm Loan Waivers entail ‘transfers from taxpayers to borrowers’.

Farm Loan Waivers | Issues of farmers

Due to various reasons, farmers have failed to manage their expenditure which calls for borrow money from moneylenders at extremely high rates because they are ineligible for bank credit due to their membership of informal sector. Although not the only one, indebtness is a major reason for farmer suicides in India.

Other reasons include

  • Fragmented land holding
  • Depletion of water table level
  • Deteriorating soil quality
  • Rising input costs and less output
  • Low productivity
  • Vagaries of monsoon

Farm Loan Waivers | Analysis

  • Many economists like RBI Governor calls this idea as both bad politics as well as bad economics because it may win public support for political parties in the short run but is not sustainable in the long run.
  • The immediate as well as long term effect of waiver of loan is sensed by hampering of credit climate which will be counterproductive not only for the state but for the entire credit market of the economy.
  • A pragmatic policy would have been the adoption of a set of measures suggested by the Swaminathan Committee Report.
  • The other point of view says that on an average, the income of farmers is so low that their daily survival has become difficult. Therefore, farm loan waivers are becoming a necessity because under the garb of deep rooted issues of agriculture, the sufferings of the farmers cannot be ignored.
  • As per the 59th NSSO survey, approximately 40% of farmers’ are averse to the idea of farming and would quit it at the earliest opportunity. Therefore, it could have a severe impact on nation’s food security.

Farm Loan Waivers | Word of caution

  • The proposed national agricultural markets are yet to be linked to provide seamless access to formal credit and ultimately fair market price for farmers’ produce.
  • Farm loan waivers may act as a temporary cushion and can prove to be a moral hazard in future because the both the beneficiary and non-beneficiary farmers who would actually be able to pay their loans on time might not pay it expecting a similar waiver.
  • Similarly, the banks may become wary in providing loans to the poor farmers who actually need the credit to meet even their routine expenses. If this happens, politicians may find it suitable to adopt the politics of freebies continuously. Ultimately, such waivers will add to the NPAs of the banks and it will cost taxpayers to inject capital to these banks in the form of recapitalisation by the Government.

How to make agriculture sustainable?

  • Reducing inefficiencies and increasing income
  • Providing protection through insurance schemes
  • Better risk management and more efficient agricultural markets
  • Subsidies should be directed towards the farmers not the companies.

Farm Loan Waivers | Conclusion

Farm loan waivers are only the temporary cushions that may help the farmers to survive in the short term, but the issues in agriculture need sustainable and creative engagement through which the surplus farm workers sector can be accommodated in more productive sectors through skill training and education, thereby making farming more profitable and sustainable for all the concerned stakeholders.

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Tribunal Reorganisation | RSTV

In what might be creating huge uproar in the Parliament, the Government has proposed a large scale Tribunal Reorganisation by seeking to reduce the number of these quasi-judicial bodies and bring uniformity in the service conditions of their officials.

The amendments proposed under the Finance Bill will alter several laws and allow the Government to set a criterion for the appointment and removal of the chairperson, the vice-chairperson and other members of the tribunals, and decide on their terms of service.

Details of reorganisation

  • The Competition Appellate Tribunal is proposed to be merged with the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal.
  • The Cyber Appellate Tribunal and Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal is proposed to be merged with the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal.
  • The Industrial Tribunal is also proposed to perform the functions of the Employees Provident Funds Appellate Tribunal and
  • The Copyright Board is proposed to be merged with the Intellectual Property Appellate Board.

Need and impact

  • India has a vast number of tribunals to look into appeals made by the orders of specific regulators. Hence, post-merger, the Government will have to ensure specialisation in tribunal functions, the absence of which will lead to overlapping of powers and confusion.
  • It might lead to overburdening the tribunals with more cases than it their capacity to handle.
  • It might expedite administrative purposes which will speed up dispute resolution and curb wasteful expenditure on the resolution of disputes.
  • It is argued that allowing the executive organ of the state to determine appointment, reappointment and removal of members might affect the independent functioning of Tribunals themselves. Currently, these administrative rules, such as appointment eligibility, remuneration, and the like, were governed by the respective statutory acts and provisions rolled out by the concerned ministry. Hence, it could also pose a conflict of interest in cases where the executive is a litigant.
  • Moreover, parity in administrative rules could help in streamlining the functioning of these quasi-judicial bodies (tribunals) and ensure that vacancies do not stymie the functioning of the tribunals.

Issues

  • There are concerns regarding the fact that Competition Appellate Tribunal (COMPAT) is unfit to merge with any other tribunal as it is carries too much specialisation under its arms and deals with complex issues. Either dissolving COMPAT or merging it with the NCLT could defeat the focus of competition law in the country.
  • Likewise, the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal is proposed to be merged into the Telecom Dispute Settlements and Appellate Tribunal, which appears incongruous at the outset itself.
  • Increasing control of the executive over tribunals will be contrary to the spirit and values laid down by the Supreme Court to ensure fairness and jurisprudence. Section 179 of the Finance Bill transfers massive powers from the Parliament to the Centre.

Conclusion

Although, there is no harm in reorganizing the tribunals, it must be done after careful scrutiny to make them better streamlined. It should not be made another point of conflict between the executive and the judiciary, as the latter might feel that the former is exercising overreaching powers over the state functions.

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India's Oil Strategy | LSTV

India’s Oil Strategy is mainly dependent on the Oil Needs of the country. India depends on imports to meet 80% of its oil needs largely from OPEC’s production. India’s energy import bill is close to 150 billion dollars and may double by 2030. According to International Energy Agency, India’s demand for oil is also expected to expand to 10 million barrels per day by 2040 that means India may become the fastest growing crude oil consumers in the world in the next 23 years.

India’s Oil Strategy| Background

It was in 2003 that India started development on a strategic crude oil reserve. Later Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Ltd (ISPRL) to serve as the controlling government agency for the strategic reserve. It has facilities located at Mangalore, Padur and Visakhapatnam (total capacity of nearly 5.3MMT). These are the natural cavern or concrete tanks. Crude oil from the reserves are to be released by an empowered committee constituted by the government, in the event of any supply disruptions from abroad.

India’s Oil Strategy | Government initiatives

  • Development of small oil and gas field is crucial for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to reduce oil imports by as much as 10% by 2022 and thereby, making further reduction of such imports to half by 2030.
  • The Union Cabinet has approved awarding 31 newly discovered small oil and gas fields in its first auction in 6 years. The idea is to entrust more of these blocks to new entrants in order to boost local production.
  • According to the Director General of hydrocarbons, the awarded blocks will boost India’s oil output by as much as 15000 barrels of oil per day and gas production by 2 million standard cubic metres a day.
  • During his budget speech this year, the Finance Minister said that the Government wants to create an integrated public sector oil major as part of the PSE reforms in order to match the performance of international and domestic private sector oil and gas companies. The merger if done will make it a bigger and broader asset base. This will attract more investment. It will give the oil sector the financial muscle to take up huge capacities of drilling and storage which is very important as India has very little storage capacity. Piping capacities within the country is also less. This will also help to curb the oil volatility in terms of pricing and availability. ONGC is a producer, MRPL is a refiner, HPCL has good marketing strategies therefore, if they are merged together, there will be an integrated supply chain. Companies functioning in bits and pieces will not be able to compete globally

India’s Oil Strategy |  Focus on two issues

  • Issue of Energy Security – China’s domestic demand may grow by 0.4 million barrels a day this year and by 0.2 to 0.3 million barrels a day next year. Therefore, China on one hand has taken advantage of the fall in international oil prices and went ahead with the massive stock piling plan, India on the other hand has not done much to improve its oil storage capacity due to political indifference. US also invested hugely in oil resources. Since India buys oil from international market at the last minute at the time of crisis, it further adds to volatility in prices. Tank farms for storage of oil near ports might be beneficial because it will lead to quick storage and will not take years to create those storages. A good connectivity to major consuming centres through pipelines is also required for both strategic and commercial storage.
  • Issue of merger of oil companies – India is not geologically endowed with oil resources to meet its requirements. There is no method of development at present that is independent of energy sector. Skill, technology and resources are required to match with the global competition. Indian companies as compared to global companies of US, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia etc are very small. Therefore, merger is important.

India’s Oil Strategy | Conclusion

Countries like USA, Japan, China have already built up large strategic reserves. In contrast, India is lagging behind due to delays in funding, land acquisition and other bureaucratic delays. IEA has predicted that by 2020, India could well be the largest oil importer, increasing the country’s vulnerability to threats of physical supply disruptions and to sharp price fluctuations. In such a scenario it becomes urgent on part of India to utilise the fast diminishing low oil cost window lest it becomes too late even to redeem cost spent on building these reserves. India needs to have its own energy security and storage system. Apart from oil, India also needs to look into its gas reserves because it is the eco-friendliest source of energy among fossil fuels.

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