29th APRIL 2016
GS II: BILLATERAL-(INDIA-CHINA)
India cancels visas for 2 more Chinese dissidents
The Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed that two more Chinese activists, Ray Wong, and Lu Jinghua, had been denied visas, preventing them from attending an anti-Beijing event at Dharamsala.
Earlier New Delhi had cancelled the visa for prominent Uighur-Chinese dissident Dolkun Isa, who was also to attend the event.
Officials said the cancellations came after the MHA introduced new checks to plug loopholes in the electronic visa system.
Lu Jinghua, a prominent activist for democracy in China, tweeted in protest, on Thursday after she was stopped from boarding an Air India aircraft from New York City for the event which is underway in Dharamsala.
So far four pro-democracy activists including Mr Isa have had their valid e-visas cancelled. after they were issued valid e-visas.
“We have received some information from the Ministry of Home Affairs on both these cases. In so far as Lu Jinghua is concerned, her documents were illegible and there were inconsistency with the purpose of her visit. Insofar as Ray Wong is concerned, there was data inconsistency in his documents. As such visas were not issued to both these individuals,” said Vikas Swarup, the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs.
Officials said the cancellations were made after the MHA introduced new checks to plug loopholes in the electronic visa system. Earlier, the e-visa system of the MHA would only scan the internal “blacklist” leaving out Interpol data which would create considerable confusion in issuance of visas in sensitive cases.
Officials said the new move would streamline the e-visa system through an integration of the domestic blacklist with Interpol data, which will ensure more vigorous checks.
“Earlier we were only checking the blacklist maintained by our intelligence agencies before granting the E-TV, now we will also factor in Interpol's data,” said the official.
GS III: ECONOMY-RBI
Peer-to-peer lending to come under RBI purview
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) released a discussion paper on peer-to-peer (P2P) lending in which it proposed to regulate the business by classifying the players as non-banking finance companies.
P2P lending is a form of crowdfunding; an online platform that matches lenders with borrowers in order to provide unsecured loans.
The borrower can either be an individual or a business requiring a loan. A fee is paid to the platform by both the lender and the borrower.
The central bank has proposed a minimum capital requirement of Rs 2 crore, and wants players not to offer any extraordinary returns.
The discussion paper said: “Considering the present stage of development, the platform could be registered only as an intermediary, that is, the role of the platform would be limited to bringing the borrower and lender together without the lending and borrowing getting reflected on its balance sheet.” It is proposed that the platform will be prohibited from giving assured returns.
The central bank also said confidentiality of customer data and data security would be the responsibility of the platform.
The RBI has also proposed that funds will have to move directly from the lender’s bank account to the borrower’s account to obviate the threat of money laundering.
“P2P lending platforms may be prohibited from promising or suggesting a promise of extraordinary returns, which implies some form of guarantee of returns to lenders,” it said. The RBI, which for the first time has proposed to regulate this growing sector, has sought comments by May 31.
With a view to ensure there is “enough skin in the game” at a later date, the RBI document said leverage ratio may be prescribed so that the platforms do not expand with indiscriminate leverage.
Since the P2P platforms are run by individuals, proprietorship, partnership or limited liability partnerships, and do not fall under RBI purview, the discussion paper suggested it is essential that P2P platforms adopt a company structure, RBI said. No entity other than a company can undertake such activity, the RBI said.
According to the data released by Peer to Peer Finance Association, the cumulative lending through P2P platforms globally, at the end of Q4 of 2015, had reached 4.4 billion pounds. In India, P2P lending platforms are largely technology companies registered under the Companies Act.
GS II: EDUCATION
MoI issue: RSS-BJP at loggerheads again
The battle between RSS-led Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) and the Goa BJP government over continuation of grants to English-medium primary schools of the Arch Diocese reached a new flash point on with the Goa RSS chief, Subhash Velingkar, stating that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was an independent organisation and had no authority for appointments or dismissals.
Speaking at a press conference , Mr Velingkar said that Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar and Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had urged the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national president Amit Shah to rein him in.
He went on to say that the question of anybody from among the RSS higher-ups speaking to him on this issue did not arise as he was not toeing the policy of the RSS which had been articulated clearly by a resolution passed by RSS Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS) stating that it was “ fully supportive of the study of various languages, including foreign languages, but for natural learning and to enrich cultural moorings, education, particularly elementary education, should be in the mother tongue or in state languages recognised in our Constitution”.
He reiterated that this resolution was passed on March 15, 2015, on the concluding day of the RSS three-day annual meeting of ABPS, the highest body for policy formulation and decision-making of RRSS, at Reshimbagh in Nagpur.
Lashing out at the Goa BJP government for failing to stop the grants of the 127 English-medium schools which the BJP had categorised as ‘minority schools’, Mr Velingkar, along with his colleagues, declared that the BJP government, which had gone back on its pre-election promise, would face more heat.
Fr Mousinho de Ataide of BBSM countered an argument reportedly put forward by BJP Goa leaders in New Delhi that the Goa BJP government should be allowed to continue its policy of grants to English-medium primary schools.
“If we do not give primary education to our children in Indian languages (Konkani in Goa) then we, particularly the minorities, will drift from our culture. I am of the opinion that primary education in English would be harmful for the children of minorities in particular,” said Fr Ataide. The BBSM, which had a public meeting in the Mandrem constituency of Chief Minister Parsekar last week, condemned the high-handed attempts made by the government.
GS III: SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY (IRNSS)
Last satellite of India’s regional navigation system launched into orbit
India’s own navigational system, the set-up for which was completed with the launch of the seventh and final satellite, will be called NAVIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation), Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced after the launch.
The seventh and final satellite of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System, the IRNSS 1G, was launched into a sub geosynchronous transfer orbit with a perigree (nearest point to earth) of 284 km and an apogee (farthest point to earth) of 20,657 km. The satellite was launched on board the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which took off from the Sriharikota launch pad at 12.50 p.m.
With this launch, the IRNSS constellation of seven satellites is now complete. This will allow the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to focus on the process of designing front end chips which will receive the navigational signals sent out by the satellites. The system will be similar to the Global Positioning System (GPS) operated by the United States with 24 satellites and the Glonass, Galileo and BeiDou systems of Russia, Europe and China respectively.
All satellites will undergo stabilisation testing and verification of their performance over the next few months before being pushed into use, according to ISRO officials.
An area of 1,500 km from Indian boundaries will be covered under the navigational system. The Prime Minister invited other countries to make use of this system as well. “We have seven neighbours who rely on technology provided by other countries. They can use Indian services if they want,” he said in a video message addressed to ISRO engineers.
With an accuracy of better than 20 m being claimed by ISRO, the navigation system will be offered as an open or Standard Positioning Service and a superior, coded military Restricted Service.
“We are now one of five countries with our own navigational system. Today we are free of dependence on other countries for navigation. Our planes will be able to land with ease and accuracy, we can plan disaster relief better and with our own technology,” a proud Mr. Modi said.
Explaining the name NAVIC, Mr. Modi said the system was dedicated to India’s mariners and fishermen who have been navigating using the sun and stars as waypoints for hundreds of years. “They have shown strength and determination in venturing out to sea for so many years. We have named this system for them, the ‘naviks’ (mariners),” he said.
GS III: SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY-(SMARAC CITIZEN APP)
ISRO app to protect heritage, aid architects
Architects and real estate developers who plan to construct buildings close to national monuments can soon download a new mobile app named Smarac Citizen, which will grant them construction permits within a few minutes.
Based on a proposal from the National Monuments Authority (NMA), the app has been developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), containing the maps of 3,686 Centrally-protected monuments across the country.
Earlier, the NMA had to send teams to the areas close to historic monuments, where developers sought construction permits.
The teams had to ensure that permits were granted only to projects beyond 300 metres from the outer boundary of a monument.
‘Process made easy’
“The process — from application for permission to survey — took at least five months,” said Navneet Soni, who heads the NMA.
“But now, we have empowered people with the app, which will help them get permits at the click of a button.”
Apart from easing the process of obtaining construction permits, the app will help the NMA keep a tab on encroachments around monuments.
“The app will tell you how far new constructions are from any particular protected monument,” said Mr. Soni.
“For example, if someone wants to build a skyscraper in front of the Qutub Minar, the app will inform us and we will not let that happen.”
For Anupam Bansal, a Delhi-based planner at Abard Architects that deals with institutional constructions, the app will help decide the height of the buildings according to the air rules set by the Airports Authority.
“It will also give you the elevation — the height of the site with respect to mean sea level. It will help architects not only for the NMA approval, but also for the approval of the Airports Authority of India.”
GS III: SECURITY
India wants UN to declare more JeM men as terrorists
Unfazed by China placing a “technical hold” on classifying Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Masood Azhar as a terrorist by the sanctions committee of the United Nations, India is ready with cases of other JeM individuals to place before the panel.
India believes that China, by siding with ally Pakistan, is turning a multilateral issue into a bilateral one given that the JeM is known to have interests beyond South Asia and was listed as a terrorist group by the U.N. in 2001 due to its linkages with al-Qaeda and Taliban.
“The cases of more individuals linked to the Jaish will be taken before the sanctions committee to designate them as terrorists,” a senior official dealing with the issue told The Hindu on Thursday.
“The Chinese don’t look good by siding with the Pakistanis on the issue. After all, we are talking about designating individuals. It is not a government-to-government issue at all,” the official said.
Also, the Indian action to designate Azhar as a terrorist was co-sponsored by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, revealing that Delhi was not alone in its efforts.
A “technical hold” on designating Azhar was placed by the Chinese earlier this month.
Simultaneously, India is engaging China on Azhar by talking to Pakistan at the just-concluded Foreign Secretary-level interaction in Delhi. China had publicly suggested that India hold direct talks with Pakistan on the issue.
“He [Indian Foreign Secretary] also brought up the listing of JeM leader Masood Azhar in the U.N. 1267 Sanctions Committee,” an official statement said after the talks, a reference that tells the Chinese that their request has been complied with.
On Pakistani response to the Azhar issue at the talks, a South Block official said: “They heard us out.”
A “technical hold” in the 15-member sanctions committee remains valid for six months following which a decision to block or proceed with the proposed action must be conveyed to the secretariat.
GS II: GOVERMENT PROJECTS
Over 200 Govt. projects hurt by time, cost overruns
The cost of 238 major projects of the union government have almost doubled from the original estimate of Rs.2.4 lakh crore to Rs. 4.6 lakh crore, according to latest official data. The number of projects exceeding the budget surged 43 per cent by March 2016 over a period of four years, the data on projects costing Rs.150 crore or more showed.
Most cost and time-overruns pertained to the infrastructure sector with the Railways contributing 68.5 per cent of projects overshooting the budget as on March 1, 2016, up from 56 per cent four years ago.
The power sector contributed the next-highest with 9.4 per cent as on March 1, 2016, down marginally from the 10.5 per cent as on April 1, 2012.
The road sector contributed 7.7 per cent of projects facing cost-overruns as on March 1, 2016.
“The causes for time and cost overruns are project-specific, depend on a variety of technical, financial and administrative reasons, and differ from project to project,” Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Statistics and Programme Implementation V.K. Singh informed the Lok Sabha.
The Ministry monitors the central sector infrastructure projects costing Rs 150 crore and above on the basis of information furnished by project implementing agencies
Infrastructure projects running into delays and cost overruns because of bureaucratic snarl-ups is not uncommon in India, where the problem has been compounded in recent years by an economic downturn that crimped finances as well as snags in completing land acquisition.
Historically, the railways announced more projects than it has funds available for. One can now hope, with better project management being spoken about, these would be issues of the past,
“Railway projects are stretched across long distances, and they involve land acquisition. Often, it involves making a choice between taking a shorter route and saving time and cost or opting for the longer route and increasing the construction time period and the costs.” Such choices are politically sensitive. There is substantial uncertainty which causes time and cost overruns.
Land acquisition, delayed clearances and financial constraints have plagued road building.
In the power sector, projects are facing delays, mainly due to forest clearance, right of way and land acquisition issues.
Original project estimates should ideally include the original cost as well as the expected cost escalation in the event of delays.
Steps such as on-line computerised monitoring system, setting up standing committees in ministries for fixation of responsibility for time and cost overruns, regular review of infrastructure projects by concerned ministries are among the steps taken to ensure timely and cost effective completion of projects, the Minister informed.
Besides, Central Sector Projects Coordination Committees have been set up in states under the chief secretaries for removal of bottlenecks and for facilitating the speedy implementation of major projects.
To expedite completion of delayed road projects, various steps have been taken, which include streamlining of land acquisition, environment clearances, exit for equity investors, premium re-schedulement, securitization of road sector loans, close coordination with other ministries, revamping of dispute resolution mechanism, frequent reviews at various levels
Mr. Deep Mukherjee, senior director at India Ratings and Research Pvt. Ltd., however says, “Not all government projects are meant to be commercially viable. What one needs to aim for is efficiency.”
GS II: INTERNATIONAL(INDIA-CHINA-PACIFIC NATIONS)
‘India not competing with China in the Pacific’
The first ever state visit by an Indian head of state to Papua New Guinea began with remarks by President Pranab Mukherjee brushing aside a suggestion that India was in competition with China in the Pacific region. He also voiced the hope that his visit will be a precursor to intensified economic and security cooperation with the Pacific island nation.
In an interview to the Post Courier, a newspaper here, he(President Pranab Mukherjee) said “India doesn’t see itself in competition with any other country in this regard”, after talking of maritime security, terrorism and piracy being major concerns to India and Papua New Guinea. He also said India was ready to cooperate with Pacific Island countries in protecting their Exclusive Economic Zones.
Mr. Mukherjee had a busy day with bilateral talks with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, and later spoke at a banquet hosted by the Governor-General, Sir Michael Ogio. Although building trade relations was high on the agenda, the larger message was that India is eager to deepen its engagement with all Pacific Island countries.
In a speech at a banquet hosted by the Governor-General, Mr. Mukherjee made a pointed reference to Papua New Guinea’s natural resources and said there were many opportunities waiting to be seized as both countries had prioritised sustainable use of ocean and marine resources. He also underscored that the untapped potential of India’s ties with Pacific nations was not limited to Papua New Guiena.
On Friday, India and Papua New Guinea are due to sign an MoU on cooperation in health and pharmaceuticals. Under the agreement, doctors and nurses from the island nation will be trained in India, and Indian physicians, nurses and trainers would be deputed to Papua New Guinea. India will also pledge support to establish a pharmaceutical production unit here to meet the demand for life-saving medicines.