Newspaper notes for UPSC 23-07-18

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July 30 NRC list only a draft: Rajnath

  • Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Sunday that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam, to be published on July 30, was only a “draft” list.
  • He added that even after the NRC was finalised, there was no question of putting anyone in detention centres as people could appeal before the Foreigner’s Tribunal.
  • His statement comes amid apprehensions expressed by several groups that the NRC was being used by the government for “religious polarisation” and several residents would end up in detention centres if their names did not figure in the draft list.
  • The NRC is being updated in accordance with the Assam Accord signed on August 15, 1985. The entire process is being carried out as per the directions of the Supreme Court which is constantly monitoring the process.
  • Government wants to make it clear that the NRC is only a draft. After the publication of the draft, adequate opportunity for claims and objections will be available. All claims and objections will be duly examined. Adequate opportunity of being heard will be given before disposal of claims and objections. Only thereafter will the final NRC be published.

What is Assam Accord?

  • The Assam Accord (1985) was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed between representatives of the Government of India and the leaders of the Assam Movement in New Delhi on 15 August 1985.
  • The accord brought an end to the Assam Agitation and paved the way for the leaders of the agitation to form a political party and form a government in the state of Assam soon after.

Watershed development projects lagging behind badly

  • Irrigation projects of the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) may have taken the spotlight in the Prime Minister’s speech during Friday’s no-confidence motion debate in the Lok Sabha.
  • However, a less well-known but vital component of that scheme is watershed development, which is lagging behind badly, according to a Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) report.
  • The report was first tabled last July, not a single one of the 8,214 projects sanctioned between 2009 and 2015 at a cost of Rs. 50,740 crore had been completed, said the Standing Committee on Rural Development.
  • In its response, the Department of Land Resources (DoLR) had updated that 849 projects in 11 States were completed by October 2017, but admitted that 1,257 projects had not even completed the initial step of preparing detailed project reports (DPRs) at that point.
  • The Committee submitted its final report to Parliament last week. Terming the pace of development of the scheme as “lethargic”, the Committee urged the DoLR to “go all out on a war footing scale for the expeditious completion of the remaining projects.”

What exactly is watershed development?

  • It’s all about making running to water stop and standing water to sink inside,” was the succinct definition offered by Dr. Ch Radhika Rani, who heads the Centre for Agrarian Studies at the National Institute for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRD&PR), an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Rural Development.
  • “It is the only option for rainfed areas… for water conservation and recharge, and to prevent soil degradation.” Within the site of a watershed development project, a ridge is identified and structures such as check dams, percolation dams, ponds and channels are built from the ridge to the valley.
  • Projects take four to seven years to complete, according to the scheme’s guidelines. In the long-term, results are impressive a May 2018 evaluation study of MGNREGA’s (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) water and land management projects, a chunk of which are implemented in convergence with the PMKSY’s watershed component. About 78% of beneficiaries saw an increase in the water table, while 66% also reported benefiting from better availability of fodder, thanks to such water conservation works.
  • Despite huge government investments, watershed development benefits are not becoming sustainable in the long-term because, while the physical structures may get built, the governance structures are missing.”
  • She explains that when the groundwater table increases as a result of watershed management projects, farmers in the area go for water-intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane and drain it again. “The government can implement a project through its agencies or through an NGO, but once they finish, who remains to sustain it?” If local Panchayati Raj leadership and watershed user associations are not strengthened and empowered, any benefits will be cyclical and short-term only.

WCD to move proposal to amend POCSO Act

  • The Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry is set to move a proposal before the Cabinet this week for enhanced punishment in cases of sexual assault of male
  • The Law Ministry has cleared the proposal to amend the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, for enhancing punishment in cases of sexual assault against young boys.
  • The move is being seen as an effort to bring in a gender-neutral law while dealing with cases of sexual assaults.
  • Boys who are sexually abused as children spend a lifetime in silence because of the stigma and shame attached to male survivors speaking out.

Restrictions on foreign media in J&K not new

  • Rules for foreign journalists to travel to restricted areas are not new and they were reiterated most recently in December 2016.
  • The comment came following media reports that suggested that foreign correspondents were finding it difficult to visit Kashmir because of newly introduced “rules”.
  • A stern letter from the External Affairs Ministry on May 22 to all foreign media bureaus based in Delhi reminded them of restrictions imposed by the 1958 guidelines for travel of foreigners to parts or all of Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, J&K, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Nagaland and Andaman and Nicobar.
  • According to one journalist who travelled to the Kashmir Valley four times last year, requests to travel have now been pending with the External Affairs and Home Ministries for more than a month, which is making it difficult for them to plan coverage of the situation in the State.
  • It is understood that the government has been particularly careful about permitting travel to J&K after the publication of the UN’s Human Rights Council report in June, the first of its kind, that slammed India over alleged violations in J&K as well as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, advising India to remember its promises on “self-determination” to the population in Kashmir.

Avoid delay in relaying news of detention

  • Administrative laxity should not be the reason for delaying the news of detention of a person under the National Security Act to the State government concerned, the Supreme Court has held.
  • The SC bench said that “Any delay between the date of detention and the date of submitting the report to the State government, must be due to unavoidable circumstances beyond the control of the detaining authority and not because of administrative laxity.”

Army to get artillery guns from September

  • From September, the Army will be inducting two types of artillery guns into its arsenal. These will be the first induction of heavy artillery since the Swedish Bofors guns imported in the 1980s.
  • The Army will start taking delivery of the K9 Vajra-T tracked self-propelled artillery guns from South Korea.
  • At the same time, it will also receive four M777 ultra-light howitzers from the S.
  • K9 Vajra-T is a 155-mm, 52-calibre self-propelled artillery gun with a maximum range of 40 km, customised from the original K9 Thunder gun. The fire control system has been customised for desert conditions to the requirements of the Army. The first 10 guns will be imported from South Korea and the rest manufactured by L&T in India.
  • In 2016, India signed a deal for 145 M777 ULHs with the U.S. under the Foreign Military Sales programme at a cost of $737 million. The M777 is a 155-mm, 39-calibre towed artillery gun and weighs just four tonnes, making it transportable under slung from helicopters.

Mattis seeks waivers from sanctions

  • S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has sought waivers from sanctions on some countries making a transition from their military dependence on Russia, asserting that it will allow them to build closer security ties with America and strengthen U.S.’ allies in key regions.
  • His statement did not mention India, but for all practical purposes he has been seeking waivers for India from the punitive Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, under which sanctions kick off on countries that purchase significant military equipment from Russia.Though the Act targets Russia, it is having its unintended consequences on India, which is planning to buy five S-400 Triumf air defence systems.
  • Last week, several U.S. lawmakers had said that they were working to get CAATSA waivers for India.

IBC: UN model eyed for cross-border norms

  • The government is looking at the possibility of adopting a United Nations legal model for cross-border insolvency cases as it works on strengthening the insolvency resolution framework.
  • The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) has sections pertaining to cross-border insolvency matters but are yet to be made operational.
  • The Insolvency Law Committee, headed by Corporate Affairs Secretary is studying the feasibility of introducing cross-border insolvency provisions.
  • He also noted the existing Code provides for two sections — 234 and 235 — relating to cross-border insolvency, which allows the Centre to enter into an agreement with a foreign country for enforcing the provisions of the Code, which is considered insufficient and time-taking.
  • An official said in case the UN model is adopted for cross-border insolvency matters, then sections 234 and 235 could be dropped from the Code as they pertain to only bilateral pacts.

An index to determine the value of coal blocks

  • Major changes in the coal block auction system have been suggested by the high-powered committee set up last year to review the current process.
  • The recommendations, submitted this month, rest on four tenets —
    • ensuring transparency and fairness,
    • equity,
    • early development of coal blocks and
    • simplicity of implementation of the recommendations.
  • These suggestions coincide with the opening up of the coal sector for commercial mining.
  • The proposed changes aim at introducing flexibility in the number of bidders, penalties for defaulting on milestones (and revoking bank guarantees), project execution, and relaxation to captive miners to sell some of the coal in the market. The panel has recommended developing a Coal Index for determining the value of blocks and a revenue-sharing model with the States. Currently, the valuation is on the basis of the notified price of Coal India Ltd.
  • The committee has suggested scrapping the current practice of cancelling an auction if the number of bidders drop below three, saying that a single-bid should be accepted if biddings failed to find eligible bidders, provided the offered price was benchmarked to the reserve price.
  • If accepted, the changes would mark a major shift in the current system which was put in place after the cancellation of 204 coal-block allocations and introducing a system of auctioning the mineral blocks.
  • Triggering euphoria and intense competition since their introduction, the e-auctions failed to sustain interest after several blocks were taken at high prices.
  • Even companies which bought the blocks found it cheaper to import coal to meet their requirements rather than developing the mines.There were no takers for subsequent blocks, forcing the Centre to do a rethink.

What is the GDP deflator?

  • The GDP deflator, also called implicit price deflator, is a measure of inflation. It is the ratio of the value of goods and services an economy produces in a particular year at current prices to that of prices that prevailed during the base year.
  • This ratio helps show the extent to which the increase in gross domestic product has happened on account of higher prices rather than increase in output.
  • Since the deflator covers the entire range of goods and services produced in the economy — as against the limited commodity baskets for the wholesale or consumer price indices — it is seen as a more comprehensive measure of inflation.
  • GDP price deflator measures the difference between real GDP and nominal GDP. Nominal GDP differs from real GDP as the former doesn’t include inflation, while the latter does.
  • As a result, nominal GDP will most often be higher than real GDP in an expanding economy.
  • The formula to find the GDP price deflator: GDP price deflator = (nominal GDP ÷ real GDP) x 100
  • Changes in consumption patterns or introduction of goods and services are automatically reflected in the GDP deflator. This allows the GDP deflator to absorb changes to an economy’s consumption or investment patterns. Often, the trends of the GDP deflator will be similar to that of the CPI.
  • Specifically, for the GDP deflator, the ‘basket’ in each year is the set of all goods that were produced domestically, weighted by the market value of the total consumption of each good.
  • Therefore, new expenditure patterns are allowed to show up in the deflator as people respond to changing prices. The theory behind this approach is that the GDP deflator reflects up-to-date expenditure patterns.
  • GDP deflator is available only on a quarterly basis along with GDP estimates, whereas CPI and WPI data are released every month.

Fukushima’s nuclear imprint found in California wine

  • Ever since a huge earthquake off the coast of Japan sent a tsunami crashing into a nuclear plant in Fukushima, setting off one of the world’s worst nuclear crises, scientists have been uncovering the radioactive legacy of the 2011 disaster.
  • The government warned about contaminated seafood around Japan, and toxic water, sludge and rubble. More frighteningly, radioactive wild boars marauded Japanese towns and attacked people.
  • Now a group of French nuclear physicists say they have stumbled on Fukushima’s signature in Northern California wine.
  • Wines made around major nuclear events, including U.S. and Soviet nuclear tests during the Cold War and the Chernobyl accident, should show higher levels of radioactive isotopes, called cesium-137, according to the researchers. The man-made isotope cannot be found in nature and would be present only at certain levels after the nuclear events.
  • Ingesting cesium-137 can result in an elevated risk for cancer, but the level of radioactive material from Fukushima in food and drink in countries outside Japan has been too low to result in a health hazard, according to the World Health Organisation.

Editorials and Opinions :

Dealing with the Taliban hand

  • Less than a year after U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled his new Afghanistan policy, last August, it lies in tatters.
  • His Afghan policy was going to be robust. As he put it, “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”
  • He blamed Pakistan for giving safe haven to “agents of chaos” and later cut off security assistance to Taliban’s greatest benefactors and backers.
  • Now the next thing we know, about 17 years after invading Afghanistan to rid it of the Taliban, the white flags are out, and the S. is setting the stage for direct talks with the very enemy it vowed to vanquish. True, we have to weigh this against previous attempts at dialogue with the Taliban which ended in failure. The problem is that this time the U.S. may want the talks to succeed, which means handing Afghanistan over to the Taliban and their chief backers, the Pakistanis, beribboned and gift-wrapped.

Taliban on the rebound

  • The new American move comes at a time when the Taliban ranks have swelled since the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation pulled out in 2014 and they seem to be surging ahead in many parts of the country.
  • It comes after the U.S. stopped releasing figures for the territories or populations under Taliban control, or the numbers of their fighters. It comes at a time where the data and assessments on the strength and the combat capabilities of the Afghan military and police are no longer readily available.
  • It comes when the UN grimly noted — late last year — rising opium production.opium production in Afghanistan had increased by 87% to a record level of 9,000 metric tons in 2017 compared with 2016 levels. The area under opium poppy cultivation had also increased to a record 328,000 hectares in 2017, up 63% from 201,000 hectares in 2016.
  • It comes at a time when a strategy that relies mostly on counter-terrorism operations — the vastly reduced number of troops (less than 15,000).
  • It comes after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani literally sued for peace, saying that he was prepared to recognise the Taliban — previously referred to as terrorists — as a legitimate political group, offered to release Taliban prisoners. and proposed dialogue.
  • Pakistan’s game and India: new Afghanistan policyhas not resulted in many critical primary military and strategic objectives being realised, the denial of safe havens (mostly in Pakistan) to the Taliban, the reduction of their fighting capability, and to effectively dis-incentivise Pakistan’s zeal and ability to nurture the Taliban.
  • It has also helped Pakistan that the American President, no stranger to U-turns, has turned spectacularly fickle so far as Afghanistan is concerned.
  • What matters is this: what the Taliban, and thus more importantly, Pakistan, are able to wrest from the negotiating table. Withdrawal of the remaining international troops will be the main aim.
  • At the end of it, the Taliban and other Pakistani proxies, who have orchestrated a string of deadly attacks on Indian interests with a view to deter New Delhi, will have the run of what passes for a country; a nation that has not yet been built.
  • Where would that leave New Delhi? The American move comes when there is pressure to limit any kind of engagement with Iran, which would have been a logistical pivot for further inroads into Afghanistan. Already, with the exit of Hamid Karzai, the strategic comfort that New Delhi had in Kabul stands diminished, and by extension, the kind of intelligence operations New Delhi may have had the option to conduct with deniability. Pakistan’s aim will be to reverse all the gains India has made at great cost over the years in Afghanistan. With strategic depth in Afghanistan that Pakistan has dreamt of becoming a reality, Islamabad will have more room to incubate and move around the various anti-India groupings, including those active in Kashmir With the prospect of the Taliban slouching towards Kabul to be born again, most of New Delhi’s bets may be off.

Sunlight and shadow

  • The move by the NDA government to amend the far-sighted the Right to Information Act, 2005 aims at eroding the independence of the Information Commissions at the national level and in the States.
  • The proposed amendments show that the Central government seeks control over the tenure, salary and allowances of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at the Centre, and the State Chief Information Commissioners.
  • Such a change would eliminate the parity they currently have with the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners and, therefore, equivalence with a judge of the Supreme Court in matters of pay, allowances and conditions of service. The Centre will also fix the terms for State Information Commissioners.
  • This is an ill-advised move and should be junked without standing on prestige.
  • Need to Strengthen it : If at all, the law needs to be amended only to bring about full compliance by government departments and agencies that receive substantial funding from the exchequer, and to extend its scope to more institutions that have an influence on official policy.
  • The Supreme Court has held the right to information as being integral to the right to free expression under Article 19(1)(a); weakening the transparency law would negate that guarantee.
  • In its rationale for the amendments, the Centre has maintained that unlike the EC, Information Commissions are not constitutional bodies but mere statutory creations under the law. This is a narrow view.
  • Issues with RTI Implementation: A recent public interest petition filed in the Supreme Court by the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information pointed out that the Central Information Commission has over 23,500 pending appeals and complaints, and sought the filling up of vacancies in the body.
  • In many States, the Commissions are either moribund or working at low capacity owing to vacancies, resulting in a pile-up of appeals.
  • The challenges to the working of the law are also increasing, with many State departments ignoring the requirement under Section 4 of the Act to publish information suo motu . The law envisaged that voluntary disclosure would reduce the need to file an application.
  • Since fines are rarely imposed, officers give incomplete, vague or unconnected information to applicants with impunity.
  • Proposals to make it easier to pay the application fee, and develop a reliable online system to apply for information, are missing. These are the serious lacunae.
  • Attempts were made by the UPA government also to weaken the law, including to remove political parties from its purview. Any move to enfeeble the RTI Act will deal a blow to transparency.

Indian Express :

Why the EU is upset with Google

  • The European Commission’s €4.3-billion (around $5 billion) penalty on Google last week may not financially hurt the technology company that is sitting on over $100 billion in cash reserves, but it could bring about changes in the way the Android ecosystem functions, and create a precedent for other antitrust cases against Google.
  • EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said Google has imposed three types of restrictions on Android device manufacturers and network operators to ensure that traffic on Android devices goes to the Google search engine.
  • One, asking device manufacturers to preload the Google Search app and Chrome browser as a condition for licensing Google’s Play Store. As a result, Google Search and Chrome were installed on practically all Android devices sold. Pre-installation can create a status quo bias… (There is) evidence that the Google Search app is consistently used more on Android devices, where it is pre-installed, than on Windows Mobile devices, where users must download it.
  • Two, the Commission has said that Google “granted significant financial incentives to some of the largest device manufacturers as well as mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed Google Search across their entire portfolio of Android devices”. This significantly reduced their incentives to pre-install rival search apps. However, it said that by 2014, Google had stopped the practice.
  • Three, the antitrust body said, Google had not allowed “forked” versions of Android to pre-install Google’s proprietary apps, including Google Search and Play Store. Android being an open-source operating system, it has its code published by Google online whenever a new version is released.
  • In June 2017, the EU fined Google €2.42 billion for prioritising its own services on the search platform, thus giving itself an advantage over third-party service providers.
  • Closer home, the Competition Commission of India in February fined Google Rs 136 crore for unfair business practices in the Indian online search market. The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal stayed the ruling on Google’s appeal, but asked it to pay 10% of the penalty.
  • Criticism: There is no clear alternative to Android. Had the Commission’s determination been made even five years ago, it would have opened a door of opportunity for others.
  • Insisting that Google allow forked versions of Android, could lead to a deteriorated consumer experience.
  • By maintaining a combination of strict standards over the way the operating systems are designed and providing its own bouquet of basic apps, Google has been able to control the experience of Android users.

Swarajya to Surajya

  • July 23 is a special day as it marks the birth anniversary of two of the most illustrious freedom fighters — Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Chandra Shekhar Azad.
  • Tilak was a passionate patriot who awakened the national consciousness through his speeches, writings and actions. He firmly believed that the lack of unity and national pride were the main reason for India being subjugated by colonial powers.
  • Azad’s life is a saga of total identification with the cause of the country’s freedom and the willingness to make the supreme sacrifice for it.
  • Perhaps the time has come for every Indian, particularly the youth, who comprise the majority of today’s population, to develop the fervour of a fearless revolutionary like Azad and the zeal and commitment of a nationalist like Tilak to meet the challenges the country is facing on various fronts.
  • Millions of selfless Indians participated in the freedom struggle and were led by courageous leaders like Azad and nationalists like Tilak. Azad plunged into the freedom struggle in his teens and daringly told the magistrate at Varanasi when he was arrested along with other boys that his name was “Azad”, father’s name “Swatantra” and that his address was jail. He was given a punishment of 15 lashes. Freedom of the motherland was the sole objective for Azad, who hailed from an indigent family. While he was a revolutionary to the core, Azad led a disciplined life and was unflinchingly upright in terms of his principles and values till the very end.
  • Tilak’s celebrated slogan — “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it” — made him immortal in the annals of history. He was a scholar and social reformer, who stood against dowry, the marriage of girls before the age of 16 and favoured prohibition. He was a strong advocate of swadeshi and used cultural events like the Ganesha festival for political awakening during the freedom struggle. He likened our nation to a tree, of which the original trunk is Swarajya, and its branches, swadeshi and boycott.
  • The painful truth is that 70 long years after attaining Independence, the country is still saddled with the problems of poverty, illiteracy, drinking water, electricity, housing shortage, sanitation, gender discrimination and a glaring urban-rural divide, which, if not bridged at the earliest, will hamper India’s progress. We can no longer afford any full stops in India’s growth story.
  • The country cannot be allowed to be pulled apart by social, communal or regional dissensions, which is what the adversaries of India want.
  • Today, India is the sixth largest economy in the world and has the potential to become a developed nation and one of the top economies in the next 15-20 years. We can achieve the goal if we collectively display the will to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, urban-rural divide, ensure top priority to agriculture, education, health and industry and empower the vulnerable sections.
  • From Swarajya as our birthright, let us move to Surajya as our fundamental right — that will be our real homage to these great freedom fighters.

The limits of MSP

  • Coordination is needed amongst Union ministries that deal with agriculture, food, food processing, fertilisers, water, rural development and trade. This will enable a holistic approach to agriculture and farmers’ incomes. The process can start with the creation of an agri-council/cabinet.
  • The need for such coordination was also echoed in the recently released OECD-ICRIER (2018) report on “Agricultural Policies in India”. This should involve a focus on long overdue agri-marketing reforms and revisiting the Essential Commodity and APMC Acts to “get the markets right”.
  • Getting the markets right will ensure better and stable prices to farmers, as well as consumers, and also augment farmers’ incomes in a sustained manner.
  • Government has increased the MSPs of 14 kharif crops to at least 50 per cent above paid out costs of farmers, including the imputed cost of family labour (Cost A2+FL). There is no economic rationality in fixing MSPs at 50 per cent plus cost A2+FL. This MSP is purely a “political price,” keeping in mind the coming elections.
  • A professional advisory body, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), has toed the government line. It has bypassed its own terms of reference (ToR) that require it to look at demand and supply, domestic and international prices, costs, inter-crop price parity, etc while recommending MSPs.
  • when professional bodies start recommending what the government of the day wants, bypassing their own ToR, two things happen: First, the credibility of the institution takes a hit, pushing it to irrelevance; and second, the government never gets the right professional advice, and in the political cacophony, it becomes prone to making economic blunders. The case of the kharif MSPs is somewhat similar.
  • The  question is whether these MSPs can be effectively prices of most kharif crops are well below the announced MSPs. Ensuring that farmers really get these MSPs will require a major coordination between the Centre and states.
  • Our take on this is that no matter how hard the government tries, it cannot procure even 25 per cent of the production of various kharif crops, except in paddy and cotton, as a robust procurement system does not exist for other crops.
  • Third is the cost of this scheme. In the case of paddy alone, the government will incur an extra food subsidy bill of Rs 12,000-15,000 crore due to increased procurement, which we expect to be anywhere between 38-40 million metric tonnes (MMT).
  • The grain stocks are already brimming and the Food Corporation of India is saddled with 65 MMT as on July 1. This is 58 per cent higher than the current buffer stock norms.
  • It is widely recognised now that higher MSPs are likely to make our rice exports globally uncompetitive, leading to further accumulation of stocks at home, and greater economic inefficiency.
  • Comparison: China also raised MSPs of wheat, rice and corn substantially above world prices, leading to grain stocks piling up — they touched 300 MMT in 2016-17. But China is learning from its mistakes and since 2014, it has been reducing its MSPs for rice and wheat. It has removed corn from price support. On input subsidies, it has moved towards direct income support on a per hectare basis.
  • Wisdom lies in learning from the mistakes of other countries. India needs to recognise that adressing farmers’ woes by raising procurement prices can have a limit imposed by global prices, especially in a situation of surplus production.
  • Time has come for India to devise an income policy (DBT) for farmers. In that context, Telangana’s Rythu Bandhu scheme with direct investment support is interesting. It can be refined and made WTO compatible.
  • The bottom line is switching from price policy to income policy approach to redress farmers’ distress.

A matter of untruth

  • Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as the Word of the Year 2016. If a choice has now to be made of the term that has captured the public consciousness in the last two years, it would most probably be “fake news”.
  • The term resonating so deeply across the world at a time of grave crisis for democracies due to the loss of credibility of the political class and the media.
  • Today’s Frankenstein monster with its lethal arsenal of entertainment, manipulated news, propaganda and plain rubbish has supplanted the traditional social and cultural institutions as the primary mineral resource for our politics, our prejudices, in fact our world view.
  • Disinformation, distortion, exaggeration and plain falsehoods pervade cyberspace, cable, newsprint and the air waves, mainly sourced from our politicians and media. A frightening new dimension has been added by the ubiquitous social media.
  • People now freely choose news and views that align with their identities and world view, the truth be damned. It would be no exaggeration to state that our country today is a truth-impaired, “fake news” Republic.
  • We are in a dangerous place. The universal liberal values of tolerance, inclusion and equality are under grave threat in the face of a creeping majoritarian impulse that is not only undermining our hard-fought freedoms and values but dividing our people by targeting those who are seen as inimical to the right-wing ideal of a supremacist Hindu Rashtra of Hindutva. A deepening cultural mutation is destroying institutions vital to the democratic project. For Muslims and Christians, the country is a minefield of uncertainty, anxiety and fear.
  • A particularly worrying feature of the present times is that violence against vulnerable sections, In these dark times, we need a fearless, honest and independent media more than ever before, but what we have is a largely submissive fourth estate that has been equivocal and even complicit in its response. Instead of focusing on the real issues of the people, large sections of the media are guilty of acting as conduits for government propaganda and feeding the self-delusion of the powerful.
  • The ubiquitous social media has become a prime instrument of political and cultural power. It has also, unfortunately, been a lethally effective participant in this erosion of social cohesion and solidarity. It is being used with deadly effect to spread the poison of hate and violence.
  • It is true that across the world the cosmopolitan spirit is being throttled by hyper-nationalism, xenophobia and racism. There is a clear tectonic right-wing shift and a deep distrust of the liberal values of tolerance, inclusion and equality as one country after another has become an “illiberal democracy” where a shrill nationalism has subsumed democratic values.
  • Sadly, in our country, there are but a handful of newspapers, TV channels and fact-checking websites ploughing a lonely furrow, dissenting and exposing the undemocratic ways and venality of the political elite and corporate buccaneers. The rest have failed in their responsibility as conscience-keeper and whistle blower of society.
  • The great crisis that the world faces today is the crisis of truth. And it is the media, in tandem with the politicians, that has seriously undermined the value of truth as the quintessential obligation in all human interaction. Stephen Colbert, the American comic, has coined a deeply meaningful term “truthiness” to describe what people think is right and true even if unrelated to facts, essentially falsehood masquerading as truth.
  • Increasingly, “truthiness” has pervaded our thinking. There is now the very real danger that the power of truth has been irreparably diminished by an enveloping “truthiness” engendered by the media and the political class.

A good score, but… Scrap­ping ‘no de­ten­tion’ in schools is just the be­gin­ning

  • Last week, the Lok Sabha ap­proved an amend­ment to the Right to Ed­u­ca­tion (RTE) Act, which man­dates free and com­pul­sory ed­u­ca­tion for chil­dren be­tween six and 14 years. The amend­ment scrapped the so-called “no de­ten­tion” pol­icy, which en­sured that no stu­dent could be held back (or failed) in a class un­til the end of el­e­men­tary ed­u­ca­tion (that is Stan­dard 8th).
  • The lat­est amend­ment was a sig­nif­i­cant change since the no de­ten­tion pol­icy was one of the fun­da­men­tal pil­lars of the RTE Act when it came into ef­fect al­most a decade ago. The idea be­hind pol­icy was to curb the sharp dropout rates in el­e­men­tary ed­u­ca­tion. It was ar­gued that stu­dents drop out of school be­cause of sheer de­mo­ti­va­tion when they fail in a class and that they should not be pe­nalised for the fail­ures of their teach­ers and lack of ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties in schools.
  • The scrap­ping of no de­ten­tion makes em­i­nent sense. While dropout rates un­der the ear­lier sys­tem did fall, it led to fall­ing stan­dards of ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment. This re­flected in sur­veys con­ducted by in­sti­tu­tions such as the Pratham Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion. The An­nual State of Ed­u­ca­tion Re­port (ASER) showed that read­ing lev­els for class V stu­dents were un­changed be­tween 2011 — two years af­ter the pas­sage of the RTE Act — and 2016.
  • For stu­dents of class VIII, the same met­ric wit­nessed a small de­cline over the same pe­riod. Though en­rol­ment was high, at over 96 per cent, stu­dent did not learn much.
  • The ill ef­fects of the no de­ten­tion pol­icy were not lim­ited to just class VIII. It was found, as the ASER 2017 showed, that the lack of ed­u­ca­tion at­tain­ment meant that stu­dents in the age group of 14 to 18 strug­gled with foun­da­tional skills such as read­ing a text in their own lan­guage or solv­ing a sim­ple arith­metic di­vi­sion.
  • This poor un­der­stand­ing among stu­dents, in turn, led to a sharp spike in dropout rates in classes IX and X. The gen­eral con­clu­sion that emerged is that in the ab­sence of de­ten­tion, stu­dents had no real mo­ti­va­tion to learn any­thing, nor did the teach­ers have any rea­son to make stu­dents un­der­stand.
  • The hope now is that such a trend would be re­versed and both stu­dents and teach­ers would have a rea­son to fo­cus on im­prove­ment. How­ever, as it hap­pened with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the no de­ten­tion pol­icy, the re­ver­sal of it, too, faces the same set of long-stand­ing sys­temic lim­i­ta­tions.
  • These in­clude poor teach­ing stan­dards, in­ad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture fa­cil­i­ties, lack of mon­i­tor­ing mech­a­nisms, skewed pupil-teacher ra­tio, etc. If a crit­i­cal mass of good teach­ers has to be built, the only way out is to make sweep­ing changes to the way In­dia se­lects and trains teach­ers.
  • For ex­am­ple, a math­e­mat­ics test con­ducted on teach­ers showed that most of them could not even do sim­ple maths; and 64 per cent could not give a cor­rect ti­tle to a para­graph in a lan­guage com­pre­hen­sion test. Another re­port said over 99 per cent of Bach­e­lor of Ed­u­ca­tion (BEd) grad­u­ates failed to clear the Cen­tral Teacher El­i­gi­bil­ity Test.
  • Un­less these as­pects are ad­dressed, merely hold­ing ex­ams at the end of the year and de­tain­ing ill-pre­pared stu­dents will serve only a lim­ited pur­pose.

IndAS109 norms

  • The ac­count­ing stan­dard IndAS109 which sets out the ac­count­ing treat­ment for fi­nan­cial in­stru­ments will need to be ap­plied for the ac­counts be­gin­ning April 1, 2019, which is less than a year away. It is the equiv­a­lent of IFRS9 which was adopted in­ter­na­tion­ally a year ear­lier from Jan­uary 2018. That means that In­dian com­pa­nies have a year more still to get ready and that they can see some­thing of the im­pact else­where be­fore­hand.
  • It is fair to say that the im­pact on banks will be great­est and most sig­nif­i­cant, given the pre­dom­i­nance and scale of the fi­nan­cial in­stru­ments in their bal­ance sheets. How­ever, ev­ery com­pany us­ing IndAS will be af­fected to some ex­tent, be­cause the def­i­ni­tion of fi­nan­cial in­stru­ments is very wide and cov­ers trade debtors and cred­i­tors, cash, loans and in­vest­ments for ex­am­ple.
  • For banks the big­gest im­pact of IndAS109 is likely to be the change in the cal­cu­la­tion of pro­vi­sions against loan loss and the higher level of them. IndAS109 uses an ex­pected loss model which in­evitably in­cludes more for­ward­look­ing in­for­ma­tion.
  • All loans have to in­clude both those losses which have al­ready oc­curred plus the ef­fect of events ex­pected over the next 12 months. If there has been sig­nif­i­cant credit de­te­ri­o­ra­tion then the full life-time losses have to be pro­vided for right away.

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