the hindu: November 18, 2015 01:13 IST
France's 'war' on terrorists
French President Francois Hollande has said that he will soon meet his Russian and American counterparts(a person or thing having the same function or characteristics as another प्रतिरूप), Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, respectively, in an effort to settle on a united campaign to defeat the so-called Islamic State. It is unfortunate that it took a series of terror attacks on Paris that killed at least 129 people for world leaders to consider coordination among themselves in the fight against ISIS. Though the French government has initiated a massive(imposing in size or bulk or solidity शक्तिशाली) mobilisation(act of marshaling and organizing and making ready for use or action जुटाना) of security personnel at home and stepped up( to increase) bombing targets in Raqqa, the so-called capital of the "Caliphate(A caliphate is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph —a person considered a political and religious successor to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad , and a leader of the entire Muslim community.)", what would matter eventually in the fight against ISIS is the resolve of the major world powers to formulate a coordinated strategy that's not driven by their own narrow geopolitical ambitions(a cherished desire महत्त्वाकांक्षा) but by a common goal of defeating the jihadists. To be sure, France has to first tackle(accept as a challenge) the challenges it faces at home. The immediate need is to tighten the loose ends in security and intelligence. Going by the statements of senior Ministers, the Hollande administration is already at it. This is the second time in the year that Paris is being targeted by terrorists. After Friday's attack, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said most of those implicated(bring into intimate and incriminating connection चक्कर में डालना) in the strikes "were unknown to our services", in an apparent(clearly revealed to the mind or the senses or judgment प्रत्यक्ष) admission of a major intelligence lapse(a mistake resulting from inattention गलती ). Paris, along with other European capitals, should also prevent right-wing groups from utilising the post-attack scenario to the benefit of xenophobic(suffering from xenophobia; having abnormal fear or hatred of the strange or foreign ) politics. Because if the latter gains political capital out of this chaos(a state of extreme confusion and disorder अस्तव्यस्तता), that would only sharpen(give a point to तीव्र करना) the dividing cultural lines in European society — which will not be in the interest of the continent.
More important, France faces tough choices in the war against Islamic State in Syria. Its initial response — to bomb Raqqa — was on expected lines. Even the ISIS militants saw it coming after the Paris attacks, and they left all major command positions in the cities under their control. It has been proved again and again that air strikes alone will not weaken terrorists' hold over territories. Raqqa itself is an example. The eastern Syrian city was bombed by the Americans, the Russians, and now the French. Still it's the capital of the 'Caliphate'. If France believes enhanced (increased or intensified in value or beauty or quality) air strikes will weaken ISIS, it could well be proved wrong, while the mindless(not mindful or attentive नासमझ) bombing may actually drive more people towards ISIS. A more effective strategy appears to lie in reorienting the French government's policy towards Syria. Instead of trying to topple(fall down, as if collapsing गिरा देना) the Bashar al-Assad regime, Paris and other Atlantic capitals along with their Gulf allies should work towards finding a political settlement to the Syrian civil war. They should also offer support for the forces battling ISIS on the ground, such as the Shia militias and Kurdish rebels, besides the Syrian and Iraqi national armies. Unless there are simultaneous(occurring or operating at the same time एक साथ हुआ) efforts to stabilise Syria and take on ISIS on the ground, the status quo(the existing state of affairs यथा स्थिति) is likely to remain.
The Hindu: November 18, 2015, 01:10 IST
The case for the Rajya Sabha
Another parliamentary session will be upon us in 10 days' time. Both the government and the Opposition must be bracing(imparting vitality and energy स्फ़ूर्तिकारक) for a stormy winter sitting. Besides routine obstructions(any structure that makes progress difficult अवरोध) in both Houses, the National Democratic Alliance is certain to be confronted(oppose, as in hostility or a competition सामना) once again with the inescapable(impossible to avoid or evade) reality that it is woefully (in an unfortunate or deplorable manner खेदजनक ढंग से)short of a majority in the 245-member Rajya Sabha. We may hear yet again the now-familiar lament(a cry of sorrow and grief शोकगीत) that the 'indirectly elected' Council of States is preventing the government of the day, with a comfortable majority in the 'directly elected' House of the People, from implementing its legislative agenda. However true this may ring to those worried by parliamentary logjams(any stoppage attributable to unusual activity अड़चन) and those eager to see important legislative work getting done, the tendency to question the wisdom of having a bicameral(composed of two legislative bodies) legislature of the sort the Constitution provides ought to be avoided. Voices questioning the power of the Upper House to stall(a tactic used to mislead or delay रोकना) legislation passed by the Lok Sabha have been frequently heard under the present regime. Three months ago, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley called for a debate on whether an indirectly elected body could hold back reforms that had the approval of the elected majority in the Lok Sabha. Others have questioned what they term the Elders' veto power. Is there really any necessity for reform in the role assigned to the Rajya Sabha? A clear understanding of its functions and relevance would make it clear that there is none.
Having a second chamber is not merely(and nothing more केवल) for ensuring(make certain of सुनिश्चित करना) checks and balances in the system. It is a mechanism devised(arrange by systematic planning and united effort योजना बनाना) to give the constituent States of the Union a say in running the country's affairs. A permanent Upper House is also a check against any abrupt(exceedingly sudden and unexpected असंगत) changes in the composition(a mixture of ingredients संघटन) of the Lower House. At the same time, the Constitution preserves(keep constant through physical or chemical reactions or evolutionary changeसंरक्षित करना) the primacy(the state of being first in importance प्रधानता) of the House of the People in money bills. Nor can the Upper House vote on demands for grants. In the event of a disagreement between the two Houses on a bill, the option of a joint sitting of both chambers is available. However, this will not apply to a money bill or a Constitution amendment. This constitutional scheme should not be trifled(consider not very seriously हलकी बात) with just because of a political stalemate(a situation in which no progress can be made or no advancement is possible गतिरोध) between the principal parties. Any such attempt would dilute(reduced in strength or concentration or quality or purity कमज़ोर करना) the country's federal character and weaken the ties between the Centre and the States. Governments that are keen(having or demonstrating ability to recognize or draw fine distinctions इच्छुक) on specific legislative measures must make pragmatic(concerned with practical matters व्यावहारिक) concessions and should adopt political moves to get them passed, instead of hoping that the numbers should always favour them. After all, multi-partisan cooperation is written into the idea that the Constitution can be (modified for the better सुधरा हुआ)only with a two-thirds majority in Parliament. It is equally true that far-reaching economic and social legislation ought not to be held hostage(a prisoner who is held by one party to insure that another party will meet specified terms बंधक व्यक्ति) to any partisan blockade(prevents access or progress नाकाबंदी ) by the Opposition. What ought to change is not the system but the confrontationist politics that makes inefficient and partisan( devoted to a cause or partyपक्षपातपूर्ण )use of it.
Reorganise, don't reshuffle
There are widespread expectations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will effect a significant reshuffle(a redistribution of something फेर-बदल करना) of the Union Cabinet before the winter session of Parliament begins next week. The speculation(अनुमान ) about the nature of the changes and the ministers who will be impacted has intensified(made more intense तीव्र) in the wake of the electoral (something that results in something that results) in Bihar. Taking into account the political messages that emerged from that outcome, there are likely to be three sets of factors that will influence the decisions. First, the prime minister might want to signal his discomfort with aggressive Hindutva rhetoric(using language effectively to please or persuade शब्दाडंबरपूर्ण) by dropping ministers who have been vocal proponents of it. Second, he may want to reward a few ministers who have performed relatively well over the past year by elevating them or giving them more significant portfolios. And, third, he might want to penalise(inflict punishment on दण्ड देना) non-performers and induct some new, young blood.
However, while all this is well and good, in a situation in which there are strong perceptions that the government is already in a rut(a settled and monotonous routine that is hard to escape) as far as the structural reform agenda is concerned - and after only 18 months - it is questionable whether merely shifting of a few ministers is going to provide a solution. First, there aren't that many great performers in the Cabinet and it makes little sense to swap portfolios between indifferent performers. Second, and more fundamentally, the nature of structural reform is intrinsically(intrinsicallyसहज रूप से) multi-jurisdictional, cutting across several ministries at once. In the absence of an effectively coordinated decision-making process, reforms run aground because one or more ministries are unable to provide the necessary support. So, if and when the PM decides on a Cabinet restructuring (reshuffle is too (pallid कमजोर) a term), he must take into account its implications for the structural reform programme. When the government came into office, there was much talk about the realignment of ministries into clusters(a grouping of a number of similar things एकत्र करना) of closely interrelated domains, precisely with the objective of better coordination on policy and more efficient implementation. Unfortunately, with the prominent exception of the energy sector, in which power, coal and renewables were unified under a single minister, the overall Cabinet structure remained virtually(in essence or effect but not in fact in essence or effect but not in fact लगभग ) unchanged. There were also some obvious anomalies(असंगति), like the micro, small and medium enterprises portfolio being given to a minister of Cabinet rank, while the industry and commerce portfolio was given to a minister of state.
If the government is serious about providing renewed momentum(an impelling force or strength आवेग ) to its reform agenda, aligning the Cabinet structure with policy and implementation priorities is a necessary step. This is about more than just creating groups of ministers; it is about giving competent and effective people unambiguous(clear) oversight of interrelated domains. Thus, the transport sector could be brought under an integrated ministry with a Cabinet minister, assisted by ministers of state in charge of railways, roads, shipping and civil aviation. Similar integration could be looked at for the energy, agriculture and social sectors. After its recent election victory in Singapore, the long-ruling Peoples' Action Party appointed a number of its senior-most ministers from the previous government as deputy prime ministers, each of whom was allocated oversight, coordination and mentoring responsibilities for broad domains - economics, international affairs, social welfare, infrastructure and so on. While a large number of deputy prime ministers may not sit well with the Indian system, there are lessons to be learnt from the way in which the Singapore government is now visualising ministerial roles and responsibilities. It is time to think out of the box here as well.
Mani and manners
Mani Shankar Aiyar and Narendra Modi aren't the best of friends. But it is lamentable(bad; unfortunate निराशाजनक) that Aiyar, a Rajya Sabha member who has also been minister in the previous UPA dispensation, has chosen to parade(a visible display प्रदर्शन) his antipathy(a feeling of intense dislike शत्रुता ) to Modi in the most undiplomatic manner, on a public platform. His classist(Bias based on social or economic class.) remark during the 2014 general election deriding(treat or speak of with contempt ताना देना) Modi for being a chaiwala in the past was criticised by almost everyone, including his own party, the Congress. Yet, Aiyar prefers to be carefully careless about civilities when he has to speak on PM Modi's policies.
Aiyar plumbed(completely; used as intensifiers एकदम) a new low when he told the anchor of a Pakistani television show on Tuesday that Modi has to be removed from office for India-Pakistan relations to improve. "Pehle toh Modi ko nikal do," he said, when asked for suggestions to take the peace process forward. Aiyar should know that Modi is a democratically elected leader. The people of India have given him the mandate(a document giving an official instruction or command सौंपना) to form a government and make public policy. Aiyar or anyone can criticise the government, but to insist on a public forum that peace between India and Pakistan is contingent(possible but not certain to occur निर्भर) on the ouster(the act of ejecting someone or forcing them outअधिकार छीन लेना) of the country's prime minister is not just distasteful, but also disrespectful to India's democratic tradition. His cynical(believing the worst of human nature and motives; having a sneering disbelief in e.g. selflessness of others स्वार्थी) view that peace has no chance for the next four years, since Modi will be in office, is no different from the belief shared by Hindutva hardliners that talks with Pakistan are not just undesirable but also impossible. Aiyar has the reputation of being a Pakistan expert and his views are taken seriously in that country. As a self-confessed campaigner for peace on the subcontinent, Aiyar must ask himself if his loose comments on Modi will help further the dialogue process between the two neighbours.
Aiyar, an erudite(having or showing profound knowledge ज्ञानी) speaker and writer when he wants to be, would surely know that timing and context are important factors in public debate. Moreover, erudition cannot be a substitute for insight or hide the elitism(the attitude that society should be governed by an elite group of individuals उत्कृष्टता ) evident in his polemics(वाद-विवाद). Personalised attacks on opponents — like the chaiwala remark — did not help his own party in the 2014 general election. In fact, Aiyar's sharp comments, often delightful, have
frequently forced the Congress to disassociate with his views. As the Congress spokesperson advised him the other day, Aiyar ought to "make statements after careful consideration" and stop embarrassing(hard to deal with; especially causing pain or embarrassment (लज्जाजनक) his country, the party and himself.
Nov 18, 2015: The Times of India (Ahmedabad)
Roll It Back
Swachh Bharat cess exemplifies(clarify by giving an example of उदाहरण दे कर समझाना) how the Indian taxpayer is taken for granted
These are taxing times. Finance minister Arun Jaitley's fiscal policy this year has been characterised by a combination of higher tax rates, removal of tax exemptions and a new tax. The latest tax to be introduced is a `Swachh Bharat' cess this Sunday. So successful has Jaitley's strategy of enhancing the tax burden been that indirect taxes this financial year have grown almost twice as fast as his original target in an economy with muted(in a softened tone ठंडा) demand. Jaitley often promises foreign investors a stable and rational tax regime. He should consider extending the same courtesy(respectful or considerate act नम्रता ) to Indian tax payers.
India has an annual budget intended to raise revenues for carrying out basic public welfare functions such as education, health and sanitation. If these have to be funded through additional cesses and surcharges, that raises the question whether normal budgetary revenues are being frittered(spend frivolously and unwiselyगंवाना) away on sops(sops जो वस्तु शान्ति के लिये दी जाये) to vested(fixed and absolute and without contingency अधिकार प्राप्त) interests exemplifying maximum government, minimum governance. There has been a constant increase in collections through different kinds of cess and surcharge. Their collections exceeded Rs 1 trillion in 2013-14, or 13.14% of gross tax revenue.A cess today is levied on an extraordinarily wide range of activities, from salt to "cine workers". The rationale for every additional cess gets more and more unconvincing we need to cease taxation by stealth. Among the problems with the Swachh Bharat cess is that it runs counter to the spirit of cooperative federalism as revenue raised through a cess or surcharge is excluded from the pool that is split between Centre and states. CAG has pointed out that there is inadequate transparency and incomplete reporting in government accounts of the manner in which the money is spent. Jaitley's fiscal policy is also an example of schizophrenia(any of several psychotic disorders characterized by distortions of reality and disturbances of thought and language and withdrawal from social contactखंडित मनस्कता ) in India's economic policymaking.The government constantly urges RBI to cut interest rates to stimulate demand but also follows a tax policy which limits demand.
Given that it imposes an additional burden, a levy should need a powerful reason. A clean energy cess imposed specifically on dirty fossil fuels and ploughed back specifically into clean energy projects makes sense, as it improves our environment. But a cess to carry out a basic function such as sanitation is an example of taking people for granted. It must be rolled back(to return something to someone by rotating it). Indians provide the lion's(big) share of India's savings and investment. They deserve the same consideration as foreign investors.
Nov 18, 2015 : The Economic Times (Bangalore)
Welcome Change in Hydrocarbon Norms
Oil and gas, in for a rough ride, need an extra draw
The mavens(someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field प्रवीण) foresee (realize beforehand अनुमान लगाना)huge displacement of automobiles running on the internal combustion engine with electric vehicles, in only about a decade or so. Solar energy prices are zooming towards, and could well dip below, grid parity. Given this writing on the wall, the small hesitant steps by the ministry of petroleum and natural gas to liberalise norms to step up investment in Indian sedimentary(produced by the action of water तलछटी) basins comes not a day too soon.
What has been proposed is upfront(frank and honest निष्कपट) revenue share as a bidding criterion, instead of the present cost-recovery system. The latter method might actually be more sound, but given the level of public trust in systemic integrity, the new method is welcome. But in tandem(one behind the other एक के पीछे एक), we need better availability of geophysical data and empowered regulatory oversight to boost investor interest for revenue-share bids. Also planned is open acreage(an area of ground used for some particular purpose (such as a building or farming कई वर्ग भूमि) licensing, so that potential bidders can `pick and choose', which seems unexceptionable. But the logistics of putting up 9,300 small oil and gas `sectors' for bidding would be long-drawn, if not outright(without reservation or exception स्पष्ट) daunting(discouraging through fear चुनौतीपूर्ण). More important, future gas finds have been promised total pricing and marketing `freedom' to attract investments. But with a limited gas pipe network nationally, market-determined prices per se may well leave the market segmented and largely underdeveloped. We need to reform gas pricing to factor in quotes in the immediate region rather then peg(succeed in obtaining a position स्थिर रखना) the rates to the distant markets in the US and Europe.
The proposal to have a single licence for all types of hydrocarbons like oil, natural gas, coal-bed methane, shale oil gas, etc, is overdue given the change in the energy techno-economic paradigm(a standard or typical example आदर्श) on the cards. The experts are already estimating peaking(the most extreme possible amount or value अधिकतम) of oil and gas demand, and there seems only about a decade-long window of opportunity to rev up(speed up) exploration and production. Estimates suggest there may be one billion tonnes of oil in situ in Indian waters. Yet, the deeper offshore seems the most perspective, for which we need more attractive terms to draw investment, given the likely low oil prices.
THE China-Pakistan Economic Corridor may be a genuine, transformational moment in the country's history, but, as with so much else under the present government, there is far too much secrecy and far too little transparency when it comes to the execution of colossal(so great in size or force or extent as to elicit awe विशाल) infrastructure and energy projects.
The sense that the PML-N government appears to be treating the economic corridor projects as some kind of gift to the nation — from the Chinese via the PML-N government to the Pakistani people — has been re-emphasised by a special bicameral(composed of two legislative bodies) parliamentary committee on CPEC.
Committee chairman Senator Mushahid Hussain announced recently that the committee members will travel to Sindh and Balochistan at the end of the month to inspect for themselves the progress on CPEC-related projects — this after stinging((of speech) harsh or hurtful in tone or character चुभता) criticism by opposition parties and a far from robust(marked by richness and fullness of flavorज़बर्दस्त) defence by government officials of the PML-N's real intentions.
As ever, the crux(the most important pointमूल बिंदु) of the matter remains whether or not the supposedly national CPEC will be used to disproportionately, and unfairly, benefit Punjab at the expense of the other provinces. It is a potentially explosive inter-provincial issue that refuses to go away — and the PML-N must largely be blamed for the continuing political controversy.
Why is the government so loath(unwillingness to do something contrary to your custom अनिच्छुक) to share comprehensive(whole) and up-to-date details on all CPEC-related projects with the public? Government officials may claim that there is an avalanche(too much) of data available, but, in fact, it is an uneven(not even or uniform as e.g. in shape or texture) drip(fall in drops बूँद), drip, drip of information.
For example, why cannot there be a government-run online portal listing the various projects, the sources of funding, the stages of completion and weekly updates to publicly and unequivocally( in an unambiguous manner निस्संदेह) demonstrate that CPEC projects are being pursued(carry out or participate in an activity; be involved in पाने की कोशिश करना) evenly and in a cost-effective manner.
In addition to political speculation about a Punjab bias, there are very real concerns about the costs that CPEC projects will impose on the state.
As a report in this newspaper on Monday emphasised, many of the projects are to be financed by Chinese loans to the federal government that will impose significantly and long-lasting costs on the state. For every dollar that is received as aid or a grant from the Chinese, there appear to be many, many more dollars that will have to be repaid over many years, indeed decades.
Why are the accounting and the long-term costs not being made public by the federal government?
In addition to the issue of overall costs to the state, and, therefore, the taxpayer, there is the question about how much of the spending on CPEC projects will accrue(come into the possession ofजमा करना) to Chinese companies and not to Pakistani talent.
While the political and military leadership have rightly pledged absolute support for the safety and security of Chinese personnel working inside Pakistan, there appears to be very little consideration given to employment opportunities for Pakistani or encouraging private-sector investment.
Local employment and investment should be a central objective of the CPEC projects.