Front Page / NATIONAL [The Hindu]
- NGT raps Environment Ministry
- Ban on import of exotic skins
- Be mindful of speedy justice: HC
- SC asked to resolve conflict over ‘rape’ definition in two laws
- How will EC decide on the party symbol row
Editorial/OPINION [The Hindu]
ECONOMY [The Hindu]
- Export infrastructure scheme on the anvil
- ‘Repayment of micro loans hit by note ban’
- New norms likely for top PSU bank posts
Front Page / NATIONAL [The Hindu]
 NGT raps Environment Ministry
A Bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said that the MoEF had not “applied its mind” while amending a notification published on December 9, 2016, exempting construction projects from the process of environment impact assessment (EIA) and prior environmental clearance.
What had MoEF done?
The MoEF, in a recent notification, had exempted real estate projects from obtaining prior environmental clearance.
- It had even put in a “self-declaration” clause for smaller projects (less than 20,000 sqmetres). For bigger projects, the environmental clearance (EC) and building permission would be given by urban local bodies as part of an “integrated format”.
The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by the Society for Protection of Environment and Biodiversity, which sought directions for the notification to be quashed on the ground that it contravened provisions of the EIA notification, 2006, and the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
- Allegation: The plea alleged that the notification tried to “circumvent” the EIA Notification, 2006, in the name of “ease of doing business”.
Earlier, the green panel had refused to stay the December 9 notification and issued notices to the Ministries of Environment and Forests and Urban Development, seeking a reply before January 4.
What is Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)?
It is the process by which the anticipated effects on the environment of a proposed development or project are measured. If the likely effects are unacceptable, design measures or other relevant mitigation measures can be taken to reduce or avoid those effects.
 Ban on import of exotic skins
In a landmark decision that will spare the lives of tens of thousands of animals from the exotic leather industry, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade has banned the import of skins of reptiles and fur of minks, foxes and chinchillas.
Issue: Cruelty to animals
What are animal rights bodies saying about the decision?
Animal rights bodies have hailed the decision by the Centre to ban such imports, saying that the country is now emulating other nations across the world in adopting “cruelty-free” alternatives to exotic skins
The notification issued on January 3 comes in the wake of campaigning for a ban by People for Animals (PFA), Humane Society International/India (HSI/India) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
- Union Cabinet Minister of Women and Child Development wrote to the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Commerce and Industry on banning import of exotic skins
- The Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change, and the Animal Welfare Board of India had supported the ban proposal
 Be mindful of speedy justice: HC
Delhi High Court observed that “courts, while endeavoring to deliver speedy justice, must not hand out hasty decisions without any concern for justice” and that docket explosion is a problem for the judicial system to contend with but does not concern the individual litigant who comes to court seeking justice.
A pretty straightforward article. It elaborates on the concern of Delhi HC that speedy justice doesn’t mean handing out hasty decisions which might lead to aggravation of justice.
Give it a go-through once
 SC asked to resolve conflict over ‘rape’ definition in two laws
An exception to Section 375 (rape) in the IPC allows a man to go scot-free despite having sex with his 15-year-old ‘wife’.
In a petition before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, the BachpanBachaoAndolan, an organisation run by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, said an estimated 47 per cent of children in India were married off before they turned 18, according to the United Nations. It further said that,
- IPC condones rape: The IPC condones the rape of a 15-year-old by her husband despite the fact that the more recent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) of 2012 qualifies those aged below 18 as ‘children’
Penal provisions in POCSO
POCSO has specific penal provisions against ‘penetrative sexual assault’ and ‘aggressive penetrative sexual assault’ on children below 18.
- Section 6 of the Act enunciates the punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault as rigorous imprisonment of not less than 10 years to life imprisonment. Mr. Satyarthi wants the apex court to clear the anomaly in law. The IPC terms children as those aged under 15 years while POCSO terms children as those aged under 18.
Despite being a child by definition (under the age of 18), provisions of POCSO are not applied. Reason: The benefit of a Special Act (POCSO) is not afforded to children when they are in married relationship but over the age of 15. Therefore, a child’s status as a child till she attains the age of 18 is denied to her once she is forcefully or otherwise wed.
- Problem with POCSO: Under POCSO, children under age of 18 years are protected but if a child is wed or forcefully married then provisions of POCSO do not apply.
- Problem with IPC: Under IPC, anyone of 15 years of age or above 15 years of age is not deemed to be a child.
Why this petition?
Penal provisions for child rape are stricter. Hence, the petitioner wants the provision under IPC to be amended and age be increased to 18 years of age.
Directions by the SC
The apex court directed the government to address the issue within four months. The Bench asked Mr. Satyarthi to approach the court on the same grounds for immediate resolution if he is not satisfied with the government’s response.
 How will EC decide on the party symbol row
The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 empowers the EC to recognise political parties and allot symbols. Under Paragraph 15 of the Order, it can decide disputes among rival groups or sections of a recognised political party staking claim to its name and symbol.
Article is a straightforward read presented in a simple question and answer format.
Give it a go-through once
Editorial/OPINION [The Hindu]
 Reading between the lines
The Supreme Court verdict on electoral malpractice ensures that future legal challenges to election victories based on identity politics will walk the fine line of text, context and subtext.
Article talks about the recent judgement of SC, specifically the Abhiram Singh v. C.D. Commachen, wherein it was held that an appeal for votes during elections on the basis of religion, caste, race, community or language, even that of the electorate, will amount to a ‘corrupt practice’ and call for disqualification of the candidate
Note: This issue has already been covered in proper detail in the 9pm Brief dated 4th January, 2017. Any new point, if present in the article, has been included here
• Author states that the minority judgement pointed out that a broad or purposive interpretation might fall afoul of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution
• It further cited that departing from a literal or strict interpretation would mean unsettling the law accepted over several decades and that the Supreme Court had no such strong reason to do so
The rationale behind including the word “his” in RP Act
Author states that the rationale behind the addition of the word “his” in the section 123 (3) of RP Act was to prevent an electoral candidate to create enmity between two communities or vilification of another language.
 Keeping the streets safe
There is the other factor of inadequacies of police leadership that have become glaring over the years
Issue: Recent molestation incident in Bengaluru on New Year’s Eve & consequent apathy displayed by Bengaluru police in tackling the entire situation
What could have been done?
The local police stations could have possibly made an assessment late in the afternoon so that extra policemen could have been directed to localities where the crowds were pouring in. There was therefore an element of failure on the part of city police intelligence
What should be done?
- Restructuring existing police arrangements: Author states that what is required now is to restructure existing police arrangements for special occasions such as New Year celebrations
Why police didn’t use force against anti-social elements?
Author states that police were reluctant to use force against anti-social elements. Reasons could be,
- A long chain of command: Unless specific orders are given from the commissioner itself, cops shy of using strong methods
Reason: The cause for above state of affairs is the host of judicial enquiries and complaints against police. Even if government uses force, the opposition makes an issue out of it, in spite of the fact that the ground situation warranted such an action
A weak leadership: Author states that the police looks up to Chief minister or Home minister of a state for even routine field decisions. Even if there is a CM who stays away from field affairs, a weak DGP or Police Commissioner takes no chances. Granting more autonomy to police is futile in the presence of such hesitant DGPs
- Public pressure: it is only strong public opinion that can bring a sea change to the styles of policing. In the Bengaluru incidents, the citizenry has a significant role to play by bringing enough pressure on the government to identify the accused and bring them to book. If they do not rise to the occasion, not much will happen.
- Sensitizing the police: Day-to-day interaction on the subject between the higher echelons and policemen at the grass-roots level will help. Senior police officers need to visit stations and talk to the constabulary who actually are at the ground level when unruly incidents happen.
ECONOMY [The Hindu]
 Export infrastructure scheme on the anvil
The Centre will tie up with the States to soon roll-out a new scheme called ‘TIES’ — or Trade Infrastructure for Export Scheme — to boost export infrastructure
Since most States wanted a Central scheme that supports export infrastructure, government is formulating a scheme to provide financial support and supplement the efforts of States to create export infrastructure.
Upgrading Indian roads carry nearly 65 per cent cargo against the global trend where railway is the major contributor. Therefore the States should focus on improving the last mile connectivity of major exporting hubs to Inland Container Depot/Ports. Quality of roads including their load bearing capacity should be upgraded for smooth transit of export goods.
Why state should co-operate in setting up of common facilities like testing labs?
Pointing out that about 150 Sanitary &Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) measures (or norms on food safety and animal & plant health standards) and a similar number of Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) notifications (including mandatory and voluntary standards) were being issued by World Trade Organisation-member countries each month. Around 50-60 per cent of these measures have the potential to impact India’s trade
Therefore, the States should cooperate with the Centre for setting up common facilities like testing labs and training institutes as well as to ensure packaging and storage support to the Indian industry.
So far only 17 States (of the 29 States and seven Union Territories in the country) have prepared their export strategy
Need to diversify
There is a need to diversify our services exports. Areas like medical tourism, nursing and healthcare, education, audio-visual media have an excellent potential that can be harnessed. For this, we need to develop the right competencies like language skills for the East and North East Asian markets
Logistics Performance Index
Meanwhile, the Centre has decided to soon bring out a Logistics Performance Index to rank states on steps taken to facilitate trade and improve logistics.
- North-East Corridor: Measures in the pipeline include expediting the proposal for a north east corridor to improve connectivity with south East Asian countries and exports to that region
 ‘Repayment of micro loans hit by note ban’
A CRISIL study showed that 9 per cent of micro enterprises are facing trouble servicing debt and paying salaries and unorganised players are expected to suffer most due to lower growth expectations.
Give the article a go-through once
 New norms likely for top PSU bank posts
The Banks’ Board Bureau is working to ensure that leadership roles in state-run banks would only be given to those with at least six years of service left, in order to ensure accountability of their actions.
What is Bank Board Bureau?
Banks Board Bureau is an autonomous body of Union Government of Indiatasked to improve the governance of Public Sector Banks, recommend selection of chiefs of government owned banks and financial institutions and to help banks in developing strategies and capital raising plans.
Article details the proposed steps to increase accountability in the public sector banking system.
- Ensuring accountability: An attempt will be made to introduce accountability in the system, to ensure that you appoint a whole time director or a CEO (chief executive officer) at an age where he has got a minimum of six years more to go in the institution so that he can be held accountable for the decision
- Incentives: From the next financial year, introduction of bonuses, E-sops, and performance linked packages could happen. The idea is to provide monetary and non-monetary incentives to attract professionals. These incentives would apply to positions across all levels, not just to the middle and senior management.
- Running the banks: People from diverse fields of expertise would be roped in to be the members of the Board Bureaus of Public Sector Banks (PSBs). It would be ensure that these Boards run the banks.
 We are all accountable
Blame the nation as a whole for the poor implementation of demonetisation.
Article is pretty straightforward and a light read. Author has stated that if demonetization has failed it is not the sole failure of the government but also our own.
Give it a go-through once
 Let the budget be
Opposition to advancing the Union budget on account of assembly elections is misplaced
What has happened?
A united Opposition has approached the Election Commission (EC) seeking postponement of the presentation of the Union Budget for 2017-18 till the completion of polls to the five state assemblies, for which the schedule has already been announced.
Doling out sops
The primary argument given by these parties is that the government would use the budget, which it wants to present on February 1, to dole out various sops to “allure” voters while these polls are held between February 4 and March 8.This, they say, would give an unfair advantage to the ruling party at the Centre.
Author suggests that there is no empirical evidence of such fickle voter behavior so as to be swayed by populist schemes and announcements
Right to make announcements
Author presents us with a question that,
Can a popularly elected government at the Centre be denied the right to make announcements, populist or otherwise, during its tenure just because of state-level elections?
It is known that when Model Code of Conduct is in place, government cannot make any new announcements and governance comes to a standstill. So, author presents us with a thought provoking question,
Should policy paralysis for these months be a prerequisite for the holding of free and fair elections? Surely, this is not what the drafters of our Constitution had in mind.
 How to go about chasing black money
The focus of any sustainable reform of the taxation structure must be on reducing flows of tax evasion, not going after existing caches of black money.
Issue: Tackling the menace of black money
Focus on the flow
In the first paragraph, author states that the flow of tax evasion every year is what should be the focus of any drive targeting black money, rather than the caches accumulated from past tax evasion meaning government should focus on curbing the ongoing tax evasion every year rather than paying attention towards the accumulated wealth from past tax evasion
Reason: Bcz those who had large amounts of unaccounted wealth moved to financial form of assets from physical assets like cash or gold or real estate. Loans were given to large construction companies which could not access the formal financial market.
Problem: Such companies faced problem in accessing formal credit because we have been unable to develop bond markets in the country as we should have. Even borrowers would prefer the bond market as lending rates are quite high through unofficial channels
What should be done?
Author states that Bond markets today call for a whole ecosystem, with credible rating agencies to give lenders the confidence to move into that disintermediated financial space, instead of just being risk averse and placing their savings with banks or other aggregators like the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC).
In between the article, author throw light at the problems being faced by mobile wallets. Article on Digital payment systems have been covered in detail in many briefs. You can refer those.
Tackling Black money
- Utilizing existing databases: Author states that government needs to focus on big fish when tackling with the menace of black money. Utilizing already existing databases like Aadhaar and database of high-end luxury car owners, which is maintained by motor vehicle department of every state (PAN number is mandatory for such transactions) can help tax authorities to reign in the corrupt
- Presumptive tax: Author states that presumptive tax methods can be employed as has been done by many other countries successfully.
For example: Israel:
- For a big purchase like a yacht or a luxury car by a moneyed immigrant, there would be a presumptive taxable income estimated at some multiple of the value of the transaction
- Restaurant owners would be taxed on a presumption of taxability based on capacity.
- The formula was arrived at through discussions with restaurant associations on what seemed fair, and was not contestable
- Those that did not meet the presumptive income had to pay the tax anyway, and eventually closed down
- The presumptive tax worked as an efficiency incentive. Most of all, these methods are survey-based and formulaic, and thus prevent tax terrorism
- Expenditure on high-end weddings: Author points out that the expenditure on high-end weddings can be tracked via purchase and lease of devices utilized in such weddings and the amount of electricity consumed from the grid.
Solution:A simple administrative requirement for PAN numbers attached to electricity dues or leasing of generators would have led to higher revenue for both the income-tax department and power distribution companies.
Author concludes by saying that unless our taxation system are reformed, there is nothing demonetization can do for tax revenue
Read More: Presumptive tax
 Charting our artificial intelligence future
In the great software of the universe, we will remain a beautiful bug, and AI will increasingly become a normal feature.
Give it a go-through once