The Hindu: November 4, 2015 01:29 IST
There is a dangerous game of perceptions being played between India and Nepal, and the death of a young Indian in the Nepali police crackdown on Madhesi protestors must come as a wake-up call to both New Delhi and Kathmandu on the urgent need to end this standoff. For starters, while the Nepali government has every right to deal with internal unrest as it sees fit, it should be aware of the trans-national consequences of its action in Birgunj, given the open border that India and Nepal have enjoyed for decades. The new government of K.P. Oli has shown some desire to reach out to the protestors in the Terai, but its efforts, both on talks and on discussing constitutional amendments, are far slower than what is necessary to calm the situation. At the same time, it is doing nothing to quell the perception that India is responsible for all of Nepal's problems. Despite talks with the Indian government in New York and New Delhi, Mr. Oli's government continues to rake up at international forums, including the United Nations, what it calls "India's blockade". The latest statement by the Home Ministry in Kathmandu, alleging that India practically caused Monday's crackdown on the protestors by pressuring the government to clear the passage for Indian trucks stranded on the Nepali side, is aimed at fuelling the narrative that has led to raging anti-India sentiments in the Kathmandu valley. This is hardly the first time such sentiments against India have been whipped up, and the only lesson that has been learnt is that the longer the strain in ties persists, the more a land-locked nation like Nepal suffers. While it is hoped the Chinese offer of oil will ease the immediate crisis for Nepal, it is hardly a long-term and cost-effective solution for the country, and the government would be wise to not try to play regional rivalries in the present scenario.
For its part, New Delhi has to realise that its tough Nepal policy has no takers and requires a drastic change, not just in deed but in word as well, as the perception that it is 'squeezing' Nepal persists. Despite the government's denials, few are willing to believe that it is helpless in ensuring smooth supplies to Kathmandu. The stand seems particularly hollow when one considers how swiftly the Indian armed forces mobilised in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake this April to reach Nepal's most remote areas and provide relief. At the same time, the government must consider whether its persistent messaging on supporting Madhesi rights in the Nepal Constitution is inciting Indian citizens, like the ones who got caught in the Birgunj crackdown, to assist or join the protests in any way. As the crisis across the border escalates, the government must see that it too will be singed by the fires within Nepal, and both sides must work together quickly to quell them.
A stalemate or deadlock between two equally matched opponents in a dispute or conflict.
Put an end to (a rebellion or other disorder), typically by the use of force.
Severe measures to restrict or discourage undesirable or illegal people or behavior.
(of a boat, sailor, or sea creature) left aground on a shore.
Force (a part of one's body or oneself) to make a strenuous or unusually great effort.
Having a hole or empty space inside.
In a swift manner; "she moved swiftly"
The Hindu: November 4, 2015 01:20 IST Bumps on the super-highway
The evolution of the internet from a forum for communication and commerce to a medium of free exchange of opinion and views has been so rapid that the nearly ubiquitous worldwide network of computers is now almost an extension of social life for many on the planet. It is therefore a discomfiting fact that despite the communitarian growth of the internet, the threats to freedom of expression on the medium, such as content takedowns, online surveillance and other forms of state control, have increased in the past year. A report on "Freedom on the Net", released by Freedom House, the U.S.-based, government-funded organisation, points to the overall decline in internet freedom following a country-wise analysis of 65 nation-states. Freedom House's reports in the past have been subjected to criticism for its perceived "bias" towards the U.S. and regimes friendly to it. But the "Freedom on the Net" report is fairly comprehensive in its categorisation of online freedom and curbs on it through different mechanisms adopted by nation-states.
The alarming conclusion of the report is that countries, irrespective of developed or developing status, are adopting more and more invasive means of censoring content, including techniques such as disruption of information networks and intrusive surveillance of the internet. These were self-evident from the revelations by the U.S. fugitive and whistleblower Edward Snowden, who pointed to the expansive surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency. While the revelations raised awareness about the use of dragnet surveillance by the world's leading powers, they have not resulted in substantive curbs on the practice. The U.S. recently passed a law that provided some limits on call-records monitoring and added some checks on wire-tapping and other means of surveillance, but did not go far enough to curb the dragnet surveillance by the NSA. This has worldwide implications as the domain naming system and root servers are still largely controlled by
agencies of the U.S. government. Fourteen of the 65 countries surveyed by Freedom House have passed laws to expand surveillance on their own citizens. Beyond surveillance, other forms of content takedowns and artificial "firewalls" have also hampered freedom of expression on the internet, with China being an extreme example that imposes wide-ranging blocking based on keywords and specific sites. India too remains a "partly-free" country with respect to internet freedoms, and these could be chalked to the intermediary impositions and content takedowns ordered frequently by State governments. Reasonable restrictions on the internet are of course legitimate on a country-by-country basis as there are varying interpretations of liberties due to cultural and socio-economic factors. But the underlying mean needs to remain the reasonable expression of free speech on the internet. At least in the case of India, civil society has its task cut out to ensure that this is done both legislatively and juridically.
Present, appearing, or found everywhere.
Make (someone) feel uneasy or embarrassed.
A stone or concrete edging to a street or path.
(especially of plants or a disease) tending to spread prolifically and undesirably or harmfully.
Causing disruption or annoyance through being unwelcome or uninvited.
A net drawn through a river or across ground to trap fish or game.
Hinder or impede the movement or progress of.
Draw or write with chalk.
States abusing law
Last Friday, the Tamil Nadu police arrested the folk singer S Kovan on charges of sedition. The 52-year old Mr Kovan had recorded hard-hitting songs pointing a finger at the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa - and her government, of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham or AIADMK - of profiting from the sale of liquor in the state's chain of alcohol shops under the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation, or TASMAC. There are about 6,800 state-run alcohol shops in Tamil Nadu, and TASMAC earned just under Rs 24,000 crore a year in 2013-14. Mr Kovan, an outspoken Dalit rights activist, has sympathised with other hot-button issues before the prohibition movement, but his songs on alcohol attacking Ms Jayalalithaa have touched a particular nerve, with his supporters saying they have been seen over 400,000 times on YouTube. It is, however, entirely questionable as to whether they constitute sedition.
Mr Kovan's arrest under Section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code, which lays out the penalties for sedition, is a reminder that this colonial-era law is prone to misuse. Police who wish to take a dissenter into custody frequently use the latitude the law grants them. This is in spite of judgments of the Supreme Court that have strictly circumscribed the limits of sedition, given the Constitution's guarantee of free speech. Yet chief ministers across the country have used their control of police forces and the inherently draconian nature of the sedition clause to harass, arrest, and incarcerate dissenters. Ms Jayalalithaa has used the provisions of the same law to arrest Mr Kovan. Recently, public outrage forced Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to announce that he was scrapping a government order that empowered the state police to invoke sedition against "whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representation, is critical of politicians, elected representatives belonging to the government". Ironically, this mandate was handed to the police following a demand from the Bombay High Court that the government frame clearer guidelines on the use of the sedition clause; the impetus for that demand from the court was the dismissal of the sedition case brought against the cartoonist Aseem Trivedi by the previous state government, during which the judges pointed out that there was in that case "no allegation of incitement to violence or the tendency or the intention to create public disorder". In Gujarat, the leader of the Patidar agitation, Hardik Patel, was arrested on sedition charges soon after he was released on bail in a case filed against him on another charge. Earlier, in Gujarat, under Narendra Modi's leadership, several journalists were arrested on sedition charges that were later squashed.
The sedition law, as the courts worry, is near-impossible to implement without slipping into arbitrary quashing of dissent. Station officers in the police have the right to pick sections of the penal code they wish to use in an arrest, and sedition is a particularly easy choice when it comes to dealing with dissenters - even if those cases are thrown out years later. But the temptation to use this clause to incarcerate those who criticise the police or the government of the day continues to prove irresistible. Like many other parts of India's penal code, the sedition law was drafted for a very different time, when India was a colonised country. More than six decades years after independence, police and criminal-law reform is overdue. It is wise to start with the sedition law, which is so regularly and easily abused.
Conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.
A person who dissents.
(of laws or their application) excessively harsh and severe.
Imprison or confine.
The force or energy with which a body moves.
Crush or squeeze (something) with force so that it becomes flat, soft, or out of shape.
Reject or void, especially by legal procedure.
Hold or express opinions that are at variance with those previously, commonly, or officially expressed.
Too attractive and tempting to be resisted.
Taiwan, Chinese presidents to meet for first time since 1949
China confirmed on Wednesday that President Xi Jinping will meet this weekend with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou in a historic first culminating nearly eight years of quickly improved relations between the two sides.
News of the meeting on Saturday in Singapore from the Chinese Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office came hours after the Taiwanese side announced the meeting earlier on Wednesday.
The two would be meeting in their capacity as 'leaders of the two sides' of the Taiwan Strait, office director Zhang Zhijun was quoted as saying in a news release posted on the office's website.
That appeared to afford them equal status, possibly an effort to blunt criticism from the pro-independence opposition in Taiwan who accuse Ma's Nationalist Party of pandering to China's ruling Communists.
"This is pragmatic arrangement given the situation of the irresolution of cross-strait political differences and one of the one-China principle," Zhang said.
Presidents of the two sides have not met since Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists lost the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists and the Nationalists rebased in Taiwan 160 kilometers (100 miles) away in 1949. The two sides have been separately ruled since then with Taiwan evolving into a freewheeling democracy.
China insists that the two sides eventually reunite, by force if necessary.
The two sides never talked formally until Ma, the Nationalist president since 2008, lay aside old hostilities to set up lower-level official meetings. China and Taiwan have signed 23 deals covering mainly trade, transit and investment, binding Taiwan closer to its top trading partner and the world's second-largest economy.
Taiwanese presidential spokesman Charles Chen said in a statement on Wednesday that the two would meet in Singapore to exchange ideas about relations between the two sides but not sign any deals
(of a knife, pencil, etc.) having a worn-down edge or point; not sharp.
Gratify or indulge (an immoral or distasteful desire, need, or habit or a person with such a desire, etc.).
Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations
Nov 04 2015 : The Times of India (Ahmedabad)
Clear The Air
India needs concerted policy action to tackle pollution
Every year this season, a blanket of cruddy air envelops cities in north India. This week, stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana has caused Delhi to choke. But through the year construction dust, exhaust fumes from traffic, coal plant and factory emissions, diesel generators and garbage smoke fill the air. While there is greater public awareness of ambient air pollution and its health risks, a comprehensive policy solution remains out of sight.
Air pollution is a mix of ozone, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulates. A 2013 WHO study revealed that Delhi had the world's worst air, in terms of its PM2.5 count the tiniest granules that settle deep in the lungs and bloodstream. This causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and cancers of the trachea and lung. While Delhi is the most monitored spot, 13 out of the 20 cities with the worst PM2.5 counts are in India, including Gwalior, Raipur and Patna.
At one level, this is now being acknowledged as a health emergency . India has seen greater monitoring and analysis in recent years, and is trying out small steps like "green taxes" for trucks, phasing out old vehicles, etc. The problem, though, is that the Central Pollution Control Board cannot take integrated action for cleaner air. The environment and surface transport ministries are involved in fuel standards, state pollution boards with industrial emissions. The US Environmental Protection Agency provides federal coordination on all of these, and also waste disposal, safe detergents and so on. The other problem is a law that is too strict to be effective the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981 criminalises polluters rather than extracting civil penalties, though an amendment is now pending. China has already made radical changes to its energy use and transport and thus a real difference to its air. India doesn't have time to waste.
(of a person or animal) have severe difficulty in breathing because of a constricted or obstructed throat or a lack of air.
Nov 04 2015 : The Economic Times (Mumbai)
Lower Small Savings Interest Rates
Savers must diversify their asset classes
The recent cuts in bank fixed deposit rates are reportedly driving investors to post-office savings schemes. Traditionally , the post office has been a step behind commercial banks. Now, banks have lowered their lending rates following the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) 50-basis-point repo-rate cut in September, and lowered their deposit rates as well. To provide banks a more level playing field vis-à-vis the post office, the government should lower the small savings rates that had been raised, in some cases, last year. Even in other types of small savings such as the Public Provident Fund, all different forms of government borrowings, the rates cannot be out of sync with the yield on government bonds of like tenor. If not, household savings would be mediated to the government at high cost, starving banks of funds to lend to industry .
How are households to get a decent return on their savings in a declining interest-rate regime? Sure, household financial saving gained from returns turning attractive with the moderation of inflation. The RBI's preliminary estimates show household financial saving at 7.5% of the gross national disposable income in 2014-15, up from 7.3% in 2013-14.
Controlling inflation is key . So is di versification of savings across asset classes, to establish different kinds of claims on the productive capacity of the economy .
If some of the savings are deployed in bonds, falling interest rates will no longer mean a one-way change in the return on savings, as bond prices will go up. If companies take advantage of falling interest rates to step up investment and raise profits, equity is the instrument to capture that uptick. The National Pension System is the easiest way for ordinary savers to diversify their asset deployment. It will help if the National Pension System and the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation diversify their investments into real estate, private equity and even venture funds. However, they will have to bear in mind the necessity of keeping fund management costs low, which is the rationale for keeping their equity holdings in index funds.
Intervene between people in a dispute in order to bring about an agreement or reconciliation.
(of a person or animal) suffer severely or die from hunger.
Move (troops) into position for military action.
In an indigenous manner
view on parliament and war: all power to the MPs!
avid Cameron's intentions regarding Syria are as clear as mud. Whispers in and around Westminster led newspapers, including the Guardian, to report that the prime minister had ditched his previous plan to make a push for a bombing campaign. No 10 scrambled to insist that nothing had changed, on the grounds that Mr Cameron had always said that he wanted to act after building a "consensus". But this only underlined how the policy is now being settled by fluid parliamentary arithmetic, which is not currently adding up for the government.
Technically, the ancient royal prerogative to make war remains. But in practice the power, which long ago shifted from the Palace to Downing Street, has now moved again – to the House of Commons. This is a thoroughly good thing, which has been a long time in the making. Parliament has always debated war, but the votes were typically on procedural moves to adjourn, in effect a way of agreeing to hand things back over to ministers.
One of the few positive consequences of the disastrous Iraq conflict was to set a different precedent: Tony Blair decided that he had to go to the Commons and make his case. While Mr Blair dug in against formally rescinding his power to open hostilities, he soon admitted that future governments would have little choice but to consult MPs. Gordon Brown later talked about entrenching parliament's effective new power, before his constitutional interests were overwhelmed by the financial crisis. When Britain waded into Libya in 2011, the Commons did get a substantive vote, though only after the action was under way. Soon after, the cabinet manual was updated to include an expectation that such votes be held "in advance", and the force of that change was seen in 2013 when the House scuppered Mr Cameron's plans to fight President Assad. Today, he harbours ambitions to set the RAF against Assad's enemies in Isis, but he is not going to do anything about them until he is sure he can rally MPs to agree.
This new power of the Commons is not formal yet, and that technical loophole could be exploited one day. Executive overrides, for defensive and perhaps humanitarian emergencies, remain. One can also imagine a belligerent PM who wasn't backed by the House shielding behind the fog of the battle: where, for instance, do special operations end, and war proper begin? Such definitions can matter. In the US, the constitution entrusts the call to declare war to Congress, but several presidents simply fought undeclared conflicts in Korea and then Vietnam.
So there may be prime ministerial wriggle room, but this is still a real change. It is surely an advance for the representatives of the people, who are always consulted on every tweak to a tax rate or legal definition, to have acquired a say on the weightiest matter of state. Parliament may get the big calls wrong – it certainly did in 2003 – but the chances of error should be reduced compared with the old order, where there was no strict requirement to make any case for sending in the troops.
Indeed, one reason why Mr Cameron is struggling at present is because some of his motives for wishing to bomb Syria – strengthening the transatlantic alliance and restoring national prestige – are not things he finds easy to spell out in public. The public case would have to be about the likely consequences, and these – as a shrewd foreign affairs committee report argued on Tuesday – are uncertain at best. A war-weary Commons representing a war-weary country will need a lot of persuading to extend British embroilment in the Middle East. And whatever the merits of the Cameron case, in a democracy, that is exactly as it should be.
Make one's way quickly or awkwardly up a steep slope or over rough ground by using one's hands as well as one's feet.
A right or privilege exclusive to a particular individual or class.
Break off (a meeting, legal case, or game) with the intention of resuming it later.
Sink (a ship or its crew) deliberately.
An ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or a set of rules.
Twist and turn with quick writhing movements.
Feeling or showing tiredness, especially as a result of excessive exertion or lack of sleep.
Carbon emissions tax
AN intriguing idea has just been floated by Mr Sartaj Aziz, two-time former finance minister, to implement a carbon tax in Pakistan of the sort that more and more countries are turning towards to help curtail emissions and generate revenue for mitigation measures required for a changing climate.
The senior adviser has suggested that the tax be applied on all fuel prices, perhaps at the rate of one cent per unit of fuel.
The idea is intriguing because a carbon tax is growing in popularity in many countries around the world, and not just advanced economies. But for the tax to be effective it must be structured to be more than just a revenue measure.
Rather, it should be designed with the aim of encouraging efficient utilisation of hydrocarbon fuels by industry, as well as generating revenues, starting perhaps with power producers since they are by far the largest contributors to the country's total carbon emissions.
A carbon tax has been implemented in many countries — Canada, Chile, Ireland and South Africa to name a few. In almost all cases, the tax aims to incentivise consumers of hydrocarbon fuels to be more efficient in its utilisation.
For power producers, the tax can incentivise them to invest in the maintenance of their furnaces, as well as apply due care to manage the quality of combustion with the aim of reducing the carbon dioxide emissions.
The more they curtail their emissions, the more they stand to save on the tax. Beyond this the tax can also generate revenue earmarked for a special purpose: funding mitigation measures for climate change such as paying for superior forecasting technology for anomalous rain systems, and early warning systems for floods.
Such special purpose levies already exist, from telecoms who are required to contribute to a fund designed for ensuring access to mobile communications in remote areas, to special surcharges to pay for gas infrastructure.
In the past, however, the government has succumbed to the temptation to divert the funds raised through these special levies towards budgetary support, a practice that must be prohibited.
The challenges posed by climate change are no less urgent than the priorities these special purpose funds are designed to serve, and there is merit to the proposal to implement a carbon tax to help pay for the mitigation efforts required. The idea deserves to be explored in greater detail.
Arouse the curiosity or interest of; fascinate.
Rest or move on or near the surface of a liquid without sinking.
The action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something.
Designate (something, typically funds or resources) for a particular purpose.
Fail to resist (pressure, temptation, or some other negative force).
A desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise.