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Current Events 19 March 2016



19 MARCH 2016


SC allows display of photos of CMs, Ministers in public ads

In a major relief to various States including poll-bound West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Assam, the Supreme Court modified its earlier order and allowed photographs of Chief Ministers, Governors and Ministers to be carried in public advertisements.

The court, in its verdict last year, had held that only the President, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India could feature in government advertisements.

The decision was later challenged by the Centre and seven States. “The exception carved out in paragraph 23 of the judgment dated May 13, 2015 permitting publication of the photographs of the President, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the country, subject to the said authorities themselves deciding the question, is now extended to the Governors and the Chief Ministers of the States,” a Bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi said.

The Bench, also comprising Justice P.C. Ghose, said: “In lieu of the photograph of the Prime Minister, the photograph of the Departmental [Cabinet] Minister/Minister in-charge of the concerned Ministry may be published, if so desired.” — PTI

Punjab House passes resolution against SYL

A day after the Supreme Court ordered status quo on land meant for the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal, the Punjab Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution, moved by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, declaring that “the canal will not be allowed to be constructed at any cost and under any circumstances.”

The Supreme Court’s order came after Haryana alleged that attempts were being made to alter the use of the land by levelling it in many parts of Punjab.

A press communication issued by the Punjab government said that while moving the resolution in the Assembly,

Mr. Badal said he “would rather make the supreme sacrifice than allow the canal to be built as it deprives the people of Punjab of their legitimate rights over their river waters…”

Committing his party and government to the strongest measures needed to protect the interests of the people, Mr. Badal appealed to Punjabis to prepare themselves for tough battles ahead.

We would protect and safeguard with all the might at our disposal the river waters of the State. We will not accept under any circumstances any decision coming from any quarter which seeks to deprive our people of their legitimate rights over Punjab’s river waters by violating the nationally and internationally accepted riparian principle,” Mr. Badal said.

He said the SAD-BJP government had neither accepted in the past nor would accept any decision taken at any level to take away “our vital river waters from Punjab.”

He said there was consensus that Punjab did not have even a single drop of water to spare. Hence, there had never been any need to construct the canal.

On other hand, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar described the resolution as violation of the Supreme Court’s order and hoped that the court would take a serious note of it.

The press release issued by the Haryana government said that while replying to the discussion on the Governor’s address during the ongoing session of the Assembly, Mr. Khattar said that in light of the Supreme court’s decision to maintain the status quo, Haryana would present its case in the court along with the resolution passed by the Punjab Assembly.

Later, talking to reporters, Mr. Khattar said: “It appeared the issue now raised by Punjab was aimed at gaining mileage during the ensuing elections.” He said the issue belonged to Haryana and not to Punjab as the Presidential Reference had been pending for the last several years and the Haryana government had pleaded for its early hearing. “As the Supreme Court accepted the request of Haryana, the nervousness of Punjab was revealed. Now, it is between Supreme court and the Punjab government, and Haryana has no role in it,” Mr. Khattar said. Mr. Khattar said Haryana would do everything possible to get its share of the Ravi-Beas waters through the SYL canal

The cyber threat is very real

The debate in Parliament on the Aadhaar Bill, 2016, is quite revealing. Concerns expressed that the Bill contained certain provisions [Section 29(iv) and Section 33] that provide avenues for ‘surveillance’ of citizens require a discussion to remove any lingering suspicion about the government’s intentions.

The parliamentary debate reminds us of concerns expressed in the United States following whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelations of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) retention of American metadata. Mere assurances that the Aadhaar Bill contains provisions to bar sharing of biometric information and that the Unique Identification Number is limited to establishing identity will not suffice. In the U.S., concerns expressed were less about misuse and more about the NSA collecting and having in its possession large amounts of metadata which could be misused. A debate could remove latent suspicions.

The issue of privacy vs. security is a ‘hot’ subject around the world. The controversy in the U.S. surrounding Apple Inc.’s refusal to break the encryption on an iPhone that belonged to a terrorist — following a demand by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a variant of this debate, which in this case involves cryptography. While the FBI is insistent that Apple provide ‘backdoors’ that would let the FBI circumvent encryption, the information security community stands firmly behind Apple.

Cyberspace under relentless attack

Cyberspace is today a shorthand for the myriad computing devices that constitute the Internet. The proliferation of autonomous systems, however, posits not merely new advances but also new threats. By 2020, online devices are projected to outnumber human users by a ratio of 6:1. The next impending wave — the Internet of Things — is expected to ring in even more fundamental, technical and societal changes.

Cyberspace was primarily intended as a civilian space. It has, however, become a new domain of warfare. Well before the Stuxnet cyberattack (2010) on an Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz — that was seen as a kind of ‘shot across the bow’ in the opening rounds of the cyber conflict, and demonstrated that the Internet had become a ‘free fire zone’ (and that a cyberattack could be almost as lethal as a nuclear one) — there were other instances of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure. In 2007, Estonia was almost brought to its knees through a cyberattack, presumed to be by Russian hackers.

The past few years have seen successful attacks against the best-guarded installations of advanced nations. In the past two years alone, reports have been doing the rounds of cyberattacks on the Pentagon computer network in the U.S., including by the Islamic State, to gain access to the personal data of several hundreds of U.S. military personnel. The past year also witnessed a devastating attack on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. It is evident that no rule of law exists in cyberspace. The domain has already become a dangerous place.

Threats in cyberspace have waxed and waned over the years. Among the more common types of cyberattacks perpetrated by state-sponsored agencies are ‘Distributed Denial of Service’ attacks targeting critical networks. In the 1990s, ‘malware’ and ‘viruses’ were the big threats. ‘Worms’ took over in the early 2000s (Stuxnet was among the best known). A few years later, ‘spyware’ became a big thing (BadBIOS, Bitter Bugs, Heartbleed and Bash were among the most notorious). Today ‘cloud security’ is the issue. By 2020, security teams would need to determine what additional security mechanisms like encryption and authentication will be needed to check penetration and hacking.

Securing cyberspace not easy

Securing cyberspace will, however, be hard. The architecture of the Internet was designed to promote connectivity, not security. Cyber experts warn that nations that are unprepared to face the threat of a cyber 9/11. The more technologically advanced and wired a nation is, the more vulnerable it is to a cyberattack.

Cybersecurity has an interesting parallel to terrorism. Both are asymmetric. Ensuring security of data, information, and communication is considerably harder than hacking into a system. The attacker has an inherent advantage in both conventional terrorism and cyberattacks. In the case of state-sponsored attacks, the challenges are of a much higher magnitude.

Defence against cyberattacks is becoming increasingly difficult. This was highlighted at the recent RSA Conference 2016 in the U.S. — the RSA is the gold standard of cybersecurity. The meet acknowledged that “adversaries” (or hackers) were becoming more creative and more sophisticated. At the same time, the industry faced a real shortage of cybersecurity talent. RSA president Amit Yoran said there are no “silver bullets” in cybersecurity. Other experts observed that the answer lay in ‘bleeding edge technology’ and ‘big data analytics’, a customised approach to specific challenges and a radically new system and data protection architecture that could turn asymmetry on its head.

The aphorism that one needs to be ahead of the curve is relevant to the technology world as a whole. Cybersecurity is somewhat unique, and rests on the fundamental pillars of mathematics and computer science. The need is to accelerate the pace at which cybersecurity specialists are produced, to meet the growing threat — one estimate puts the approaching cybersecurity talent shortage at “almost two million people worldwide”.

Fortifying our cybersecurity

The cyber threat to India must not be minimised. The number of attacks on security, military and economic targets is going up. India remains vulnerable to digital intrusions such as cyberespionage, cybercrime, digital disruption and Distributed Denial of Service.

Given the many existing cyberwarfare scenarios, not excluding a coordinated cyberattack that could sabotage multiple infrastructure assets, erecting proper defences is vital. Anonymity and low cost have meant that even small disaffected groups — apart from hostile states and official agencies — could resort to cyber techniques. It is even possible to conjecture that terrorists could explode improvised explosive devices (IEDs) using a remote connection in cyberspace.

Advances in software are beginning to allow users to browse the Internet anonymously, bouncing actions through ‘encrypted relays’. This prevents eavesdropping, determining what sites a particular user is visiting or who the users of a particular site actually are. This could pose security problems.

The spectre of growing cyberthreat demands changes in the attitude of users of systems, a proactive approach to investment in hardening systems, better training in computer security practices, and careful engineering of things to be connected to networks. Almost certainly it would mean that certain critical computers and controls are unhooked from the network, a practice known as ‘air gapping’. Policy formulation will need to be supported by a legal framework, leading to greater cyber resilience and crisis responsiveness.

Despite having a National Cyber Security Policy (2013), risks to our critical infrastructure remain. The Policy Framework details a series of policy, legal, technical and administrative steps, with a clear delineation of functional responsibilities among the stakeholders. In spite of instituting a National Cyber Security Coordinator (2014), internecine rivalries between the National Technical Research Organisation (the nodal agency for cybersecurity) and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology impede cooperation. Unwillingness on the part of defence and intelligence agencies to integrate their own cyber defence and cybersecurity strategies with the national strategy acts as a roadblock.

The earlier the weaknesses in our cybersecurity defences are rectified, the better prepared would we be to face ongoing challenges. China has already announced plans for comprehensive digital surveillance. China’s emphasis on ‘cloud computing techniques’, and the involvement of its Ministry of State Security in this endeavour, suggests that it is preparing for all-out offensive cyber operations. India would be a prime target.

Nations are generally chary about acknowledging their role in offensive cyber operations. The Central Intelligence Agency and the NSA of the U.S. do admit to having engaged in full spectrum offensive cyber operations. The U.S. even acknowledges having brought down ‘jihadi sites’.

The battle between attackers and the attacked is becoming still more asymmetric. Faced with potentially new cyber onslaughts, the danger to India’s economic and national security is going up in geometrical progression. To be forearmed, with both offensive cyber operations and strengthened cybersecurity, is essential.

Experts unsure if El Nino will fade away

A good number of meteorologists expect the monsoon in 2016 to be normal, though they are unclear whether the El Nino — a weather anomaly blamed for back-to-back droughts over India since 2014 — will completely fade away during the crucial rain months from June to September.

El Nino refers to an anomalous heating up of the waters in the central-eastern regions of the equatorial Pacific and implies a consistent, average rise in temperature of 0.5 degree Celsius above normal. Historically that translates to the monsoon drying up over India six in 10 years.

Conversely, the La Nina, or an anti-El Nino, when waters in the same regions dip at least 0.5 degree Celsius and generally considered favourable for the monsoon, is only expected to set in after September, says an update by the U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “A transition to ENSO-neutral is likely during late Northern Hemisphere spring or early summer 2016, with close to a 50 per cent chance for La Niña conditions to develop by the fall,” the organisation said in a statement.

The India Meteorological Department is expected to announce its first monsoon forecast later next month.

Meteorologists said that “Nino neutral” conditions were likely to prevail during the crucial months of July and August that accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the monsoon rainfall. “Nino neutral (when sea surface temperatures are close to normal) can be a mixed bag for Indian monsoon,” said Sivananda Pai, chief meteorologist, IMD, “but generally an El Nino year is followed by normal monsoon.”

To be sure, 2015 was only the fourth time in a 100-year span that El Nino-like conditions raged on for two consecutive years.

Mr. Pai said key weather parameters needed to prepare the forecast would only be available by March-end and it was yet “too early” to decide how the monsoon would pan out. In April, the IMD traditionally forecasts if the monsoon is likely to be normal and it generally updates this figure around June.

OCI cards enough to visit India

The Indian diaspora will no longer have to get a visa affixed on their passports every time they travel to India as the Union government has decided to do away with the process.

The government has decided that since the categories Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) were merged last year, the OCI card will suffice to enter the country and hence would require no visa.

Carrying a passport will, however, be mandatory, an official said.

Till now, every OCI card holder also had to get a visa affixed from the Indian High Commission whenever they planned a visit to India. Now, only the OCI card will be needed,” a senior government official said.

The government is also planning to make arrangements to print OCI cards at a few big missions like the U.K and the U.S., countries where many Indians reside.

The OCI card bears certain security features that cannot be tampered with and are made after several layers of checks.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in 2014 that the PIO and OCI would be merged for the benefit of the diaspora.


The government amended the Citizenship Act last year and a notification was issued to merge the two cards.

The earlier deadline to migrate from PIO to OCI was January 2016, but now extended to June 30.

An official explained that the move would also help create a database of the Indian diaspora as a consolidated figure is not present with the government.


“Keeping in view the promise [made by PM Modi in the USA and Australia in 2014], an ordinance was promulgated on January 6, 2015 whereby the eligibility and additional benefits of the PIO card have been incorporated in the OCI card and certain other relaxation to OCI card holders have been given by amending the Citizenship Act, 1955. The PIO and the OCI cards used to exist simultaneously, leading to a lot of confusion among the PIOs residing abroad,” an official said.

EU, Turkey reach deal on refugees

European Union negotiators and Turkey reached a provisional deal to halt illegal migration flows to Europe and European Council President Donald Tusk recommended that the 28 leaders approve the text without changes.

After talks between an EU team led by Mr. Tusk and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the source said Mr. Tusk had reconvened an EU summit to endorse the results.

A senior EU official said Mr. Davutoglu had indicated Ankara would accept the proposal if the EU leaders approved it.

Under the pact, Ankara would take back all undocumented migrants who cross to Greece, including Syrians, in return for the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and rewarding it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.

Refugees who arrive in Greece will be sent back to Turkey once they are registered and their asylum claim is processed, an EU official said.

While the talks were under way, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused the EU of hypocrisy over refugees, human rights and terrorism after a few dozen supporters of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) set up protest tents near the EU summit centre.

The EU summit discussions exposed considerable doubts among member states and EU lawyers over whether a deal could be made legal under international law or workable.

Hence, the EU leaders insisted that Ankara change its rules to extend international standards of protection to non-Syrian migrants, a condition for Greece to be able legally to return asylum seekers to Turkey.

Turkey’s four-decade-old dispute with Cyprus had been a key stumbling block. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades insisted there could be no opening of new “chapters” in Turkey’s EU talks until Ankara allows Cypriot traffic to its sea and airports - a result of a refusal to recognise the Cypriot state.

An EU official said they would open chapter 33 on budget policy and would accelerate preparations for negotiations in other areas.

The EU also agreed to accelerate disbursement of €3 billion already pledged in support for refugees in Turkey and to provide more funds once Ankara came up with projects that qualified for EU assistance.

Niti Aayog task force backs ‘Tendulkar poverty line’

A panel tasked with devising ways to reduce poverty has backed the controversial `Tendulkar poverty line’, which categorised people earning less than Rs. 33 a day as poor, on the ground that the line is primarily meant to be an indicator for tracking progress in combating extreme poverty. The line is not meant to help identify those to whom government benefits need to be distributed, it said. The report of the Niti Aayog’s Task Force on Eliminating Poverty, which was leaked, argues that the poverty line is not the basis of identification of the poor in India. Instead, it is the BPL Census on the basis of which state governments identify the poor. The latest of these is the Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011.

Since what represents a basic necessity would vary from person-to-person, the report contends, the final decision will have to give adequate attention to the fact that the objective behind a poverty line is to track progress in combating extreme poverty and not identification of the poor for the purposes of distributing government benefits.

It makes sense to set the poverty line at a level that allows households to get two square meals a day and other basic necessities of life.

A Committee chaired by former Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council and the National Statistical Commission, the late Suresh Tendulkar, computed poverty lines for 2004-05 at a level that was equivalent, in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, to one U.S. dollar per person per day, which was the internationally accepted poverty line at that time.

The PPP model refers to a method used to work out the money that would be needed to purchase the same goods and services in two places. Across countries, this is used to calculate an implicit foreign exchange rate, the PPP rate, at which a given amount of money has the same purchasing power in different countries.

Mr. Tendulkar, computed poverty lines for 2004-05 at a level that was equivalent, in PPP terms to Rs 33 per day.

Based on the Tendulkar panel norms, the Planning Commission had announced that in absolute terms the number of poor stood reduced from 40.7 crore to 35.5 crore during the period 2004-05 to 2009-10 and and 26.9 crore in 2011-12.

Following criticism of these estimates, the UPA Government had in May 2012 set up the five-member expert group, headed by the then Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council C. Rangarajan, to revisit the way poverty is estimated.

In the report Dr. Rangarajan submitted to the Union Planning Minister Rao Inderjit Singh in July 2014, it was suggested that persons spending below Rs 47 a day in cities and and Rs 32 in villages be considered poor.

The report has also recommended sweeping changes to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for allowing use of the programme’s funds to pay for labour on private farms. Another of its suggestion for eliminating poverty within 5-7 years is modest cash transfers to the poorest five families in every village to be identified by Gram Panchayats. It has also said that the Aadhaar accounts will give government an “excellent” database to assess the total volume of benefits accruing to each household, “which can pave the way for replacing myriad schemes with consolidated cash transfers, except where there are compelling reasons to continue with in-kind transfers.”

An official source told reporters that the Aayog will seek the views of states on the suggestions in the report after which the Task Force’s final recommendations will be submitted to Prime Minister.

Sir Andrew Wiles has been awarded the Abel Prize by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters for his proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, which he published in 1994.


































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