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Current Events 16 March 2016



16 MARCH 2016

A dispute that begs resolution

The dispute may have its origin in just a pile of firewood, but the Sir Creek stand-off’s lingering legacy is turning out to be one of India’s biggest security headaches, with policymakers yet to come up with a nuanced response to it. 

The Sir Creek dispute between India and Pakistan, which got its name from the British representative who negotiated the original dispute over firewood between the local rulers, is now turning out be more than just an unresolved border. The 96-km estuary between India and Pakistan, cutting through where Gujarat State and Sindh province meet, has had a dramatic impact on Indian security, though it’s always been seen to be relatively simple to resolve. 

With both countries unable to agree on the exact boundary, the differences flow into the Arabian Sea creating a vast stretch of disputed water, where fishermen’s misery, terrorist designs and global drug syndicate interests are all converging. 

Pakistan claims the entire Sir Creek based on a 1914 agreement signed between the government of Sindh and rulers of Kutch. India claims that the boundary lies mid-channel, as was depicted in a map in 1925 and implemented with pillars placed to mark the boundary. 

Over the years, the creek has also changed its course considerably. If one country agrees to the other’s traditional position, then the former will end up losing a vast amount of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) rich with gas and mineral deposits. A country has special rights to EEZ under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that includes exploration and use of resources there including via deep sea mining, in which there have been exciting new breakthroughs.

Catch-22 for fishermen 

Because of various factors, the Sir Creek area is also a great fishing destination for hundreds of fishermen from both India and Pakistan. In the desperation for a great catch, many of their boats stray across the perceived boundaries, and they end up being arrested by the other side.In the summer of 2015, when Pakistan released 113 Indian fishermen, they brought along an appeal from 18 others who have been languishing in a Karachi prison for more than two years. 

According to Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s foreign affairs adviser, Islamabad has sent a memorandum to India to give a concrete shape to the understanding reached between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Sharif in Ufa last year about releasing fishermen within two weeks arrest. Mr. Aziz told Pakistan’s Senate recently that 1,530 Indian fishermen have been released in the past five years, while India has freed 380 Pakistanis. According to his estimate, another 457 Indians remain in Pakistani jails, many of them fishermen caught in the choppy waters off Sir Creek. He added that 460 Pakistanis were in Indian jails, 113 of them fishermen.

Occasionally, fishermen fall prey to deadlier forces than just the rival nations. One such instance occurred in November 2008, when 10 terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Taiba left in a Pakistani boat for Mumbai. They captured an Indian fishing vessel, Kuber, off Sir Creek, and used it to attack Mumbai. Of course, the disputed nature of the sea off the area was one of the reasons why the terrorists decided to capture the boat there.

Exploiting blurred boundaries

When the Indian Coast Guard claimed that a Pakistan fishing trawler went up in flames off Gujarat coast on January 1, 2015, the official stand was that it was linked to some terrorist mission. It soon became clear that the official claims were full of loopholes, and that the boat may have been part of a drug syndicate that exploits the blurred maritime boundary. The two Thuraya satellite phones that were tracked by Indian agencies continued to be active even after boat went up in flames, raising questions not only about Indian claims, but also about the spread and network of the groups operating in those disputed waters.

Officials who have monitored phone conversations in the disputed waters off Sir Creek say the cartels make it a point to transact their business in the disputed waters, so that they are beyond the reach of both Indian and Pakistani agencies. Indications are that it is mostly drugs that they are trading, and the quantity and frequency show that the area could be among the world’s most active for trading centres.

There are ominous signs that India has learnt precious little from the harrowing experience of 26/11. Starting some time in November last year, at least eight Pakistani fishing vessels have washed ashore on the Indian side in the Sir Creek area. There is much speculation, but no clarity. One of the possibilities is that the boats could have been used by drug syndicates.

When Pakistan recently alerted India about a possible terror threat, it was said terrorists may have sneaked across through the Sir Creek area.

On August 10, 1999, just a month after the Kargil war, an Indian fighter plane shot down a surveillance aircraft of the Pakistan Navy, killing all its 16 occupants. India said the Pakistani aircraft was deep inside its boundary; Pakistan disputed the claim. It was flying over Sir Creek.

There are enough red flags being raised in Sir Creek, and the disputed seas off it. It is for India to grab the earliest opportunity to find a solution to what is a low-hanging fruit among the many India-Pakistan bilateral disputes.

Constitution Bench to decide on National Court of Appeal

Noting that equal access to justice for all is a fundamental right under the Constitution, the Supreme Court decided to set up a Constitution Bench to debate the establishment of a National Court of Appeal (NCA) with regional benches to act as final courts of justice in criminal and civil cases.

By deciding to form a Constitution Bench in this case, the Supreme Court, facing thinning judicial strength made worse by growing pendency, stepped into uncharted territory on the basis of a petition filed by Chennai-based lawyer .Now the apex court would judicially pronounce on whether there is a need to bifurcate the higher judiciary, with the Supreme Court exclusively hearing constitutional and public law cases.

Apex court seems to introspect on its own role as the single, final court situated in the national capital dealing with an increasing load of cases — from criminal and civil appeal to constitutional questions of law. Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur said it was time to debate if the Supreme Court was too burdened to provide equal justice to all.

The Supreme Court, under the stewardship of Chief Justice T.S. Thakur, has sent a clear signal to the government and lawmakers that it intends to push hard and pronounce a judgment on the constitutional viability of having an NCA. A verdict in favour of NCA would act as a great influence on Parliament to amend the Constitution itself to make room for NCA.

When met with objections from Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi that a National Court of Appeal is “neither permissible nor desirable”, Chief Justice Thakur strongly countered whether the government has failed to see how cases lie pending in an overburdened Supreme Court for eight to 10 years. The Bench asked whether such delay was not a violation of a citizen’s fundamental right of ‘access to justice’ under the Constitution.

The Bench, also comprising Justice U.U. Lalit, asked amicus curiae Venugopal and Mr. Rohatgi to prepare questions for reference to a Constitution Bench to decide on, including whether a judicial decision on the NCA would affect the basic structure of the Constitution and amount to “tinkering” with it.

Remarking that “mundane” matters from bail pleas to dishonoured cheques to traffic violations flood the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Thakur said 98 percent of the work time of the Supreme Court judges are spent on dismissing these cases.

Mr. Venugopal said that the case of Ireland which enacted the law for NCA in 2013 after six years’ debate.He said access to justice is proportionate to distance. “Of 10 cases in the Supreme Court, 9.5 are from the Delhi High Court because of the proximity. Kerala is only 2.5 out of 10,” the amicus submitted.

Mr. Rohatgi said the NCA “in the middle between the High Courts and the SC is a dilution of the judiciary.”

Turning to frack tech, U.S. oil drillers plumb the depths

Fifty-stage frack jobs. Fifteen-foot cluster spacing. More than 2,000 pounds of proppant concentrate per foot.         

Top U.S. shale producers are pushing fracking technology to new extremes to get more oil out of their wells, as they weather lower-for-longer oil prices.While the impact of the techniques may be scarcely noticeable on the current U.S. output with so few wells in operation, it could mean drillers are able to accelerate production more fiercely than ever once prices recover.The hunt for the next big technology to transform the process of fracking is still on, with companies looking at methods such as using carbon dioxide to coax more oil out of wells that have already been hydraulically fractured.Commentary from executives in recent weeks suggests they are doubling down on existing accomplishments and innovations to boost production.

Pioneer Natural Resources is increasing the length of stages in its wells, Hess Corp is raising the total number of stages, EOG Resources is drilling in extremely tight windows, while Whiting Petroleum Corp and Devon Energy Corp have loaded up more sand in their wells, fourth-quarter earnings call comments show.

Sector experts say these techniques could boost initial output per well by between 5 and 50 per cent, demonstrating the resilience of the industry. Pioneer company plans to cut spacing between clusters, or small perforations that provide fluid and sand access to the formation, to as little as 15 feet — a move it said would have been "unheard of" in the past.For a typical well in the Bakken, a jump to 15-foot spacing could easily boost initial output by as much as 50 per cent

Upgrading high grading

Drillers have already idled slower rigs, shifted crews and high-speed rigs to "sweet spots" with the most oil during the punishing 20-month price rout.With the major shale companies ready to crank up the spigots if oil prices recover to $40-$45 a barrel, the latest steps are all the more significant.For many, efforts to boost production while keeping costs in check are already paying off.

In the fourth quarter, Pioneer slashed stage lengths by 60 per cent, added one cluster per stage, and pumped more fluid — about 36 barrels per foot, up from 30 — in all of its wells.The results are initial production jumped by more than 15 per cent from the prior quarter to 2,200 barrels per day in about 22 of its wells in the Permian, the company said.

A frack stage is a portion of the horizontal section of the well.The larger the number of stages used, the better initial production is expected to be.

Hess' decision to increase stage counts by about 40 per cent to 50, delivered a more than 20 per cent average increase in initial production rates for basically the same cost, the company said.

The costs for producers for these techniques are also dropping dramatically as service providers compete aggressively for the limited amount of work on offer, experts said.

Pounding sand

Others are turning to sand, which is pumped with a mixture of chemicals and water to induce pressure and crack rocks.

The benefit for a company like Devon, which is pumping about 2,500 to 2,700 pounds per lateral foot in some of its wells, could be as much as a 50 per cent rise in initial rates, Besler estimated. The moves highlight that these companies are not yet considering raising the white flag in the face of the downturn.

Quietly, symbolically, U.S. control of the Internet through ICANN just ended

Icann’s running of the Internet finished with a deal to put multiple global stakeholders in charge. Inside, the people who run the Internet’s naming and numbering systems have been meeting with some of the governments who would rather be doing the job themselves.They have agreed on a plan for Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, to end direct U.S. government oversight control of administering the Internet and commit permanently to a slightly mysterious model of global “multi-stakeholderism”.

Though the French government was still seething over a spat about “dot champagne”, it rallied the naysayers the weekend before the official meeting started. Yet the real worry was the United States.

Larry Strickling , assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce has steadily navigated the U.S. government towards fulfilling its original commitment to Icann’s independence.

When Icann was founded in 1998, the plan was to keep its anchoring contract with the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for a year or two, and for Icann to become independent in 2000. But in the meantime, the Internet became just too important for the U.S. to let go of the reins.

Shielded by the U.S., Icann resisted attempts by the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union to take over its job. IANA (the Internet Assigned Names Authority, the part of Icann that deals with country codes, Internet numbers and protocols) went on being part of Icann, even as other countries felt sure the U.S. must be abusing its power behind the scenes. And Icann’s “multi-stakeholder model” evolved; a hodge-podge of different interests, meeting by conference call, email list and in different cities around the world to manage the domain name system.

But as the millions of dollars of business transacted over the Internet became trillions, and the first, second and then third billion people came online, it started to look a bit odd that one government had de jure control of a chunk of the Internet. And that this oversight was done via a procurement contract.

The Internet is run by an unaccountable private company. This is a problem. Even as Icann staff travelled the world saying “we’re just a technical coordination organisation,” having a California not-for-profit organisation run part of the global infrastructure no longer passed the sniff test.

Under pressure from the EU and others, Icann and the U.S. government took small steps, spelling out their relationship in a deceptively simple document, the Affirmation of Commitments, in 2009. Icann and the U.S. would probably have muddled along together for another decade, with the occasional hand-wave towards global accountability. And then Snowden happened.

In September 2013, just months after the first Snowden revelations confirmed long-suspected global Internet surveillance by the U.S., the Internet’s elders rebelled. Technical organisations around the world issued the “Montevideo Statement”. No one was more surprised than themselves when the sleeping giants of technical organisations woke up and growled that the “recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance” had undermined the trust of Internet users around the world. It was time, they said, to hurry up and “globalise the Iana”.

Pharma firms breathe easy after court intervention

A number of Indian and multi-national pharmaceutical companies got temporary relief from the Delhi High Court, which stayed a government order banning nearly 350 drugs on safety grounds. Pfizer also got a similar relief.

Abbott India, the local arm of American pharmaceutical multinational Abbott Healthcare, said that it had obtained an interim injunction suspending the operation of the government notification that prohibited the manufacture, sale and distribution of several fixed dose combinations already approved for use, till the next date of hearing.

Abbott reviewed the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) notification regarding fixed dose combinations and approached the Delhi High Court for relief, as it was not informed, consulted or allowed a representation by the authority for some important products.

The banned Phensedyl received DCGI approval in 1995 and had been on the market in India since the 1980s, the statement said, and claimed that the syrup had been used safely and effectively by physicians and patients alike.Company said that some of the other formulations in our petition are in use globally, including the US, UK and Australia, and are approved by regulatory bodies such as the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration.

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