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Current Events 30 March 2016



30 MARCH 2016


Haryana passes Jat quota Bill

The Haryana Assembly  passed the Haryana Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admission in Educational Institutions) Bill, 2016, to provide reservation for Jats and five other communities in government jobs and education.

Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar introduced the Bill to give statutory status to Backward Classes Block ‘A’, Backward Classes Block ‘B’ and Backward Classes Block ‘C’.

The Bill proposed to give reservation to Jats and five other castes — Jat Sikhs, Rors, Bishnois, Tyagis and Mulla Jat/Muslim Jat — by constituting a new classification Block ‘C’ in the Backward Classes category.

Mr. Khattar had promised to give reservation to the Jats and others by bringing in the Bill during the budget session, following the violent agitation that paralysed the State for over 10 days.

A government release said the Bill provides for an increase in the percentage of reservation in the Schedule I, II and III for Class I and II posts for BC ‘A’, BC ‘B’ and BC ‘C’ from 10 per cent, five per cent and five per cent to 11 per cent, six per cent and six per cent respectively.

It was also decided to increase the existing reservation for the economically backward persons in the general caste category in Class I and II posts from five per cent to seven per cent.

The Bill states that notwithstanding anything contained in it, the government may provide horizontal reservation for such category or categories of persons within the Backward Classes, as it may deem necessary from time to time.

Mr. Khattar later told reporters that the government had fulfilled its promise. “This Bill would enable the members belonging to six communities to get reservation in government services and admission to educational institutions,” he said.

The Chief Minister said the provisions of reservation would be implemented immediately after the Governor’s assent to the Bill. “A request would also be made to the Central government to include this Act in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution. We have not only maintained the reservation provisions of BC-A and B categories, but also extended some more benefits to them through this Bill.” Mr. Khattar said a notification enhancing the reservation under Economically Backward Class would be issued shortly.

The Assembly also passed the Haryana Backward Classes Commission Bill, 2016, for setting up a permanent mechanism and give statutory status to the Haryana Backward Classes Commission, after a gap of 24 years. The Commission shall examine requests for inclusion or exclusion of any class of citizens as a Backward Class and hear complaints of over-inclusion or under-inclusion of any Backward Class and tender such advice to the State government, as it deems appropriate.


Uttarakhand HC orders floor test, allows disqualified MLAs to take part

Granting the former Uttarakhand Chief Minister, Harish Rawat, a chance to prove his majority in the Assembly, the Uttarakhand High Court  ruled that fresh voting must take place on March 31 when “the vote of confidence will be put to floor test.”

Mr. Rawat moved the High Court in Nainital against the imposition of President’s Rule, and the hearing was carried on to Tuesday. The court ruled that all 70 MLAs, including the nine rebels who were suspended  by the Speaker, must vote, and the floor test shall decide whether Mr. Rawat would be reinstated. However, the rebels would vote separately under the supervision of an observer appointed by the court.

A senior government official told  that the Home Ministry is certain on moving the court but undecided whether it will “petition the High Court or the Supreme Court.” “It is the prerogative of the President, which is a constitutional authority. The courts cannot interfere with his decision,” said the official.

Harish Rawat feels vindicated

Former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat said  he felt vindicated by the High Court ordering a floor test. “The High Court’s decision shows the Central government was wrong [in persuading the President to impose Central rule on the State]. The Governor had ordered that I prove majority in the Assembly on March 28. But President’s Rule was imposed to prevent me from proving majority in the House.”

Taking a dig at the BJP, he said the High Court had, through its decision, challenged the BJP’s practice of ‘toppling’ State governments. “The trend of dismantling governments shall stop after this judgment and the High Court has ensured that the other States will not have to undergo this trauma,” he said. The High Court ruled that the nine rebel MLAs who were suspended  by the Speaker shall also vote in the Assembly.


Govt. draws flak for decision to allow U.S.- trained patent examiners

Humanitarian aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has questioned the Indian government’s decision to have patent officers trained by the United States Patent & Trademark Office after the recent controversy over compulsory licensing. The government gave private, verbal assurance to U.S. industry lobby groups — the U.S. India Business Council (USIBC) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — that it would not use ‘compulsory licensing’ for commercial purposes, indicating that the Indian patent office won’t readily give out patents to domestic pharma companies for low cost generic versions of patented drugs.

Rights-based access campaigners say that the USIBC, which receives funding from multinational pharmaceutical companies, has been conducting training sessions for Indian patent examiners. It is likely to orient them to the narrative of Big Pharma, they fear.

The USIBC training module, a patent examiner in the Mumbai patent office said, was helping Indian examiners assess applications of life saving pharmaceutical products. “We have training by senior examiners from US PTO. Sometimes these training sessions are 3-6 days, sometimes they last six months. We have had officers sent from India to the U.S. for training. Our examiners usually learn as much as they can from the U.S. but try not to compromise our policy on Section 3(d). There is no doubt a clash of interest but these decisions are taken at a policy level.” Despite repeated attempts, O.P. Gupta, Controller General of Patents, Trademarks and Design was unavailable for comment. “This,” Leena Menghaney, South Asia head of the MSF’s Access Campaign, said, “allows the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, which wants a more favourable patent regime to influence India’s patent office decisions.” The MSF maintains that this is a part of the U.S. policy to single out India — the world’s principal producer and supplier of quality generic medicines — for lax enforcement of intellectual property.The Indian FDA has independent regulatory pathways to register low cost generic versions of new drugs, which has led to millions of people living with HIV receiving treatment supplied by Indian manufacturers. The U.S. pharmaceutical industry, backed by the USTR, wants Indian authorities to relax their patent examination system and is now even training patent examiners,” Ms. Menghaney added.


Reliance JV with Rafael for air-to-air missiles

Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence Ltd signed a deal with Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd to set up a joint venture company in India. They will be venturing into the highly specialised areas of air-to-air missiles, air defence systems and large aerostats, and will oversee projects worth $10 billion (over Rs 65,000 crore) in 10 years.

The project will have an initial capital outlay of more than Rs1,300 crore, excluding the cost of technology. Reliance Defence will have 51 per cent holding in the venture and Rafael 49 per cent, going by the guidelines issued by the government.

The strategic partnership with technology power house and one of the world leaders in defence technologies, Rafael Advance Defence Systems, will mark the entry of Reliance Defence in the complex field of air-to-air and air defence systems manufacturing in India,” said a company statement. The joint venture will give a big boost to the field of indigenous production and development of high precision and state-of-the-art weapon systems in India.

Job creation

The new venture will be located at Dhirubhai Ambani Land Systems Park at Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and will generate more than 3,000 highly-skilled jobs.

Rafael has products such as Python and Derby in the air-to-air missiles system, Spyder range in air defence systems, and the Barak missiles family of surface-to-air missiles in the short- and medium-range. Rafael has already provided large aerostat systems to the Indian Air Force for meeting its surveillance, reconnaissance, communication and intelligence needs. The two companies will offer the entire range of products in these fields to the Indian Armed Forces.

“Rafael is also willing to offer solutions through the joint venture even for the ongoing ‘buy global’ programmes where it is currently competing, in line with ‘Make in India’ initiatives, of the Indian Government,” the statement said.

Growth opportunity’

Reliance Infrastructure board said new high-growth opportunities in the defence sector, arising from the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skill India’ policies, serve vital national priorities and have several attractive features. Reliance Defence has industrial licences for the full spectrum of military platforms and is the fastest emerging private sector enterprise in the development, manufacture and supply of defence aerospace, land and naval platforms and equipment.


Anti-lock braking system a must for two-wheelers

The government has made it compulsory for all two-wheelers, which account for the highest share of accidents in the country, to either have the anti-lock braking system (ABS) or the combined braking system (CBS) by April 2019.

Two-wheeler manufacturers will have to fit the equipment for the existing scooter or bike models available for sale in the market by that time, and for all new models they plan to introduce from April 2018.For two-wheelers with an engine capacity above 125 cc, fitting the ABS will be compulsory and for those with capacities at or below 125 cc, auto manufacturers will have an option to provide either the ABS or CBS. 

The cost of two-wheelers is likely to go up between Rs.4,000 and Rs.6,000 as a result of the new norms notified by the Road Transport and Highways Ministry.

Two-wheelers are the most vulnerable among road users. According to official estimates, in 2014, 29.3 per cent, (or about 40,000 users), of 1.39 lakh people killed on roads were two-wheeler users — the highest share followed by cars, jeeps and taxis (22.7 per cent) and trucks and tempos (19.7 per cent).

The ABS, which helps riders maintain stability without skidding while applying the brake, will be mandatory for mopeds as well, which are typically bikes without gears.

The CBS distributes the pressure, applied on the rear wheel, to the front wheel minimising the possibility of a road accident.

However, the move will have no impact on the existing vehicles that ply on road.

The draft notification, issued by the government in August last year, had made CBS compulsory for two-wheelers at or below 125 cc and ABS for two-wheelers above 125 cc.

“As it would require a major design change, we have given the automobile industry time till April 2019,” said a senior Road Ministry official.

At present, ABS needs to be compulsorily fitted in tractors carrying hazardous goods or liquid petroleum gas, double decked transport vehicles and buses that ply on All India Tourist permit.

Interestingly, the norms make the ABS mandatory for a distinct category of motor cycles with maximum speed of 45 kmph and engine capacity of less than 50 cc.


Centre gives nod for 100% FDI in e-commerce retail

The government  allowed 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) through the automatic route in the marketplace model of e-commerce retailing, bringing in long overdue clarity on FDI policy for the sector as well as definition of marketplace format.

As per the guidelines issued by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) on FDI in e-commerce, foreign direct investment has not been permitted in inventory-based model.

At present, 100 per cent FDI is permitted in B2B (business-to-business) transactions under the automatic route.

The marketplace model has been defined as providing an “information technology platform by an e-commerce entity on a digital and electronic network to act as a facilitator between buyer and seller.”

These guidelines are expected to bring in more FDI into the sector that attracted maximum inflow of such investments in 2015, Akash Gupt, Partner and Leader Regulatory at PwC said.

DIPP said that the e-commerce marketplace may provide support services to sellers in warehousing, and logistics., order fulfilment, call centre, payment collection and other services.

However, such entities will not exercise ownership over the inventory.


Decline of pollinators threatens food supply

Most of our staple food crops such as wheat, rice, sorghum, barley and maize do not require animals for their pollination. However, wild pollinators play a very important role in the production of other crops such as some pulses, sunflower seeds, cardamom, coffee, cashew nuts, oranges, mangoes and apples. An army of more than 20,000 species of pollinators including birds, bats and insects service these crops. For most of our food crops, though, the most important pollinators are the thousands of species of bees. The annual economic value of the crops pollinated by animals worldwide is estimated to be between $235 billion and $577 billion (in 2015).

The wild pollinators are declining, and their loss will imperil our food supply, warns a recent United Nations report, based on the global assessment of pollinators by an international team of more than 75 scientists from different parts of the world, including India. The large scientific panel was brought together by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES). Endorsed by the governments of 124 countries, the report was released last month in Kuala Lumpur.

Created in 2012 by more than 100 governments, the IPBES seeks to provide scientific information about biodiversity and ecosystem services to policymakers of the member countries. The IPBES, with its secretariat in Germany, is administered by the UN, including the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

IPBES define ‘ecosystem services’ as it include fresh water; fertile soil; wild plant resources such as foods, fibres, medicinal plants and the wild relatives of crops; wild pollinators and the natural enemies of crop pests; carbon sequestration from the atmosphere; and the important spiritual, aesthetic and recreational values of nature.

The IPBES was established as an intergovernmental body akin to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Reports of the IPCC have become the basis of policies on climate change. It is assumed that the IPBES will have the same impact on policymaking as the IPCC.

Indian context

According to the IPBES report, the pollinator declines are well-documented in North America and Europe but have not yet been well-researched in other parts of the world.

In India, the important pollinators of food crops are various species of honeybee, Apis, such as A. Dorsata, A. Cerana, A. Florae, A. Andreniformes and A. Laboriosa. The European honeybee, A. Mellifera, also pollinates many crops and fruits such as apples.

Many of these pollinators are declining.Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) have been monitoring the abundance of colonies of the giant Asian bee, Apis Dorsata, in Biligiri Rangana Hills near Mysore. The number of bee colonies has shrunk significantly over the last decade. Many other researchers have also reported a decline in the number of honeybee colonies in India.

In the Himalayas, apple yields in recent years have decreased. The decreases have been attributed to reduction in the number of bees, but the exact causes of low yields are not known. In general, for the country as a whole, we have a very poor knowledge of the pollination systems of our animal pollinated crops, and how best we can manage the pollinators for optimal yields.

How are our wild and managed pollinators responding to ongoing loss and fragmentation of natural habitats? What are the effects of widespread pesticide use? Is climate change implicated in the spread of new diseases among honeybee colonies? These questions cannot yet be answered, but they may all be factors in the loss of pollinators documented in the IPBES report.

And this is a potential crisis not only for biodiversity but also for our agricultural economy. The economic stakes are huge. The value of animal-pollinated crops in India is in the tens of billions of dollars. Poor management of our pollinator species may be leading to lower crop yields and to losses of hundreds or thousands of crores annually. Compared with this, our level of investment in research on pollinators has been negligible.

What should be done?

The IPBES report makes a number of recommendations to restore the integrity of pollinators: improvements in the science of pollination, better land management, strong regulations underlying pesticide use, and restoration and protection of habitats for wild pollinators. Above all, there is an urgent need for monitoring wild pollinators, and for strengthening the governance of natural assets.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has recently launched a programme to establish a network of Indian Long Term Ecological Observatories (I-LTEO) to monitor the country’s ecosystems. The I-LTEO network offers tremendous opportunities to monitor wild pollinators.

But pollinators span wild and managed habitats, agricultural and urban landscapes. Pollinators in urban areas can service and enhance food production in peri-urban areas. Wild biodiversity, including pollinators, must become a significant component of future ‘smart cities’.

This brings us to a key point regarding pollinators: it is not only the science that requires attention. Policies and governance for managing landscapes — natural, agricultural, urban — are equally important. The IPBES assessment serves notice to government agencies that they must rethink conventional sectoral approaches and narrow disciplinary perspectives. There are many factors involved in the complex environmental challenges threatening human security today. Only well-integrated approaches can successfully address them.

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