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The HINDU Notes – 02nd January 2018

visionias.net/2018/01/the-hindu-notes-02nd-january-2018.html

‘U.S. foolishly gave money to Pakistan’


President Trump threatens to stop aid

•Pakistan was U.S. President Donald Trump’s target of ire on January 1 as he threatened
to stop U.S. aid to Islamabad.

•“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the
last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as
fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No
more!,” he tweeted on Monday morning.

•In recent years, Washington has tightened the purse strings on aid, demanding more
action against terror networks operating from Pakistan.

•In August 2017, the Trump administration kept $255 million in military assistance in
suspension even as it demanded specific action against terrorists.

•Mr. Trump’s tweet followed a New York Times report last week that the administration was
planning to deny aid under the State Department’s assistance programme, known as
Foreign Military Financing.

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Pak. calls meeting

•Pakistan PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi met Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif and called a
special meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday. Speaking to Geo TV, Mr. Asif said: “We have
already told the U.S. that we cannot do more.... We are willing to give account for every
penny the U.S. has given us in the war against terrorism. President Trump is making
Pakistan a scapegoat for its own failures in Afghanistan.”

Seize the Asian century: why India and China must take the
lead
The old economic order is dead, but India and China must take the lead to preserve its
successes

•Eighteen years ago, as the millennium drew to a close, the annual ministerial meeting of
the World Trade Organisation in Seattle in the U.S. was derailed by the fury of thousands of
street protestors denouncing the forces of globalisation and the governments which
represented them. Last month, at the dusk of 2017, a ministerial meeting of the WTO in
Buenos Aires, Argentina ended in a whimper with the U.S. leading a general apathy
towards free trade and globalisation. Perhaps 2017 will be remembered as the year when
the liberal economic consensus on free markets and globalisation was finally buried in its
homelands, the U.S. and U.K. One wonders though what the street protesters of Seattle
make of the cast of characters administering the last rites to the “Washington Consensus”.
Not Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez or even Lula da Silva but instead a Republican President
of the U.S., who also happens to be a billionaire, and a powerful faction of the Conservative
Party of the U.K. For the global Left, the “victory” must be bittersweet.

Three decades of success

•For ordinary citizens of the world, the ideological and policy shifts in the advanced
economies, particularly post-Trump America and post-Brexit Britain, are likely to be more
bitter than sweet. Consider the view from emerging economies. No other period in human
history has seen as many people lifted out of absolute poverty as in the three decades
since the mid-1980s. That is largely because the world’s two most populous nations, China
and India, made rapid strides in terms of economic growth in this period.

•China, which embraced openness and internal reform more vigorously than India, has
been the bigger beneficiary. India, with its limited openness and gradual internal reform
process, registered lower growth than China but higher growth rates than any other point in
its history. It would be cynical to say that the forces of globalisation and free markets have
only enriched a minority in these countries. The fact is that more than half a billion people
have been lifted out of poverty in a single generation by the very forces that are now being
buried in the countries of their origin.

•This is not to argue that there were no flaws in the system. The role of Wall Street and
global finance in bringing disrepute to the system is well known. That is what precipitated
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the 2008 financial crisis which sowed the seeds for a backlash. But curiously, politics has
chosen to target free trade and free (only relatively) movement of labour, soft targets
compared to the powerful world of finance. There is a grave danger for both emerging
economies and advanced economies with this form of backlash.

•In the advanced economies, it is convenient to blame free trade for job losses in
manufacturing, without commenting on the huge benefits such trade has brought for
consumers who are clearly better off as a result of cheaper products and services. It is easy
to target immigrants without acknowledging the huge value-add they bring to the host
economies. Think of the number of foreign-born persons in top positions in American or
British academia or in Silicon Valley. Without them, the U.S. (even the U.K.) would not be
so wealthy. Any sustained backlash against free trade and immigration will ultimately hurt
the economic and geo-political interests of the U.S. and the U.K.

•Still, the advanced economies may be wealthy enough to delay the day of reckoning. For
countries like India and several other emerging and developing economies, a closed world
means missed opportunities and a longer journey out of poverty for those who continue to
remain poor. They have the most important stake in ensuring that the world doesn’t return
to wealth-destroying autarky.

Pegged to reforms

•However, before batting for openness abroad, emerging economies need to put their
houses in order. For many emerging economies, particularly China and India, the backlash
against free markets isn’t likely to stem from external considerations (free trade or free
movement of labour), but from a free market system at home that has been vitiated by
crony capitalism. It isn’t surprising that the leaders of both China and India, President Xi
Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have devoted a considerable amount of political
capital to combat corruption and root out entrenched vested interests. It isn’t an easy task
and it won’t happen overnight but the battle against corruption and cronyism is a critical
element in retaining the legitimacy of an open market economy which has delivered more
prosperity than any alternative system in the last hundred years. In India, the battle against
graft has to be accompanied by an attempt to improve state capacity, because there are
certain critical functions which only the state can perform.

•Reform at home must be accompanied by a willingness to open up to the rest of the world.
China has been aggressive about exports and about attracting foreign investment but has
been more protectionist about imports (particularly services and agricultural goods) and its
state-owned enterprises. India has never quite embraced an export-oriented development
strategy. Somehow the point that the domestic market is large enough has won the
argument even when it is apparent that the global market is several times that size. Just the
global market for merchandise trade is $18 trillion, almost nine times the size of India’s total
GDP. India needs to capture a much larger share of that market than its present 1.6%
share. India also needs to capture a greater share of foreign investment. But for that to
happen, it needs to give up its traditionally defensive posture on trade in particular. The
opportunity has never been better as China’s wages rise and it reorients its economic
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strategy from primarily an export-led growth to a more consumption-driven economy.

•India and China hold the key to the emerging global political economy. Joining the U.S.
and other advanced economies in closing up will only lead to slower growth. The challenge
for India and China, as the two fastest growing major economies, is to engage with each
other and with other willing partner nations, particularly in the East Asia and the Pacific
region (including advanced economies like Japan and Australia), to maintain openness and
embrace globalisation. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is one
forum where this engagement can happen. India can engage on free trade and free
investment in other groups like the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) and BIMSTEC
(Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Bhutan) and via these groups
with the entire ASEAN region.

•The scenario is set for an Asian century. But for it to materialise India, China and the rest
of the region need to look beyond rivalry and defensiveness to explore the possibilities of
economic integration as the West, so dominant for the last two hundred years, marginalises
and isolates itself. That is the promise of 2018 and beyond.

U.S. has drastically cut aid to Pakistan


From $2.177 billion in 2014, it came down to $526 million last year

•U.S. President Donald Trump’s New Year tweet is indicative that his administration is not
satisfied by Pakistan’s response on terror. A month ago, U.S. Secretary of Defence James
Mattis had told Pakistan during a visit that it “must redouble its efforts to confront militants
and terrorists operating within the country”, according to a Pentagon statement.

•There was significant scaling down of U.S. assistance to Pakistan in the later years of the
Barack Obama administration. From $2.177 billion in 2014, it came down to $1.604 in 2015
and $1.118 billion in 2016. In 2017, it was $526 million.

•The U.S. has also made disbursement of Pentagon’s Coalition Support Funds (CSF)
conditional.

•CSF pertains to reimbursement to Pakistan for its logistical and operational support for
U.S.-led military operations.

•In 2015, $300 million of the CSF was tied to a certification requirement that Pakistan was
taking adequate action against the Haqqani network. That component increased in the
following years — in 2016 it was $350 million out of $900 million and, in 2017, it was $400
million out of $900 million.

•The Obama administration did not certify in Pakistan’s favour in 2015 and 2016. A decision
by the Trump administration for 2017 is pending.

•The defence budget for 2018 reduced the CSF allocation to $700 million and tied half of it
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to action against the Haqqani Network. A recent congressional move to include Lashkar-e-
Taiba also in the same category of certification requirement was dropped after the
Pentagon resisted it.

•Unveiling his strategy for Afghanistan in August 2018, Mr. Trump had censured Pakistan
and named India as a partner. “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens
for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and
beyond,” he had said.

Unseemly haste
The triple talaq Bill and the fantasy of legislative-judicial collaboration

•On December 28, the Lok Sabha passed the ‘triple talaq’ Bill — the Muslim Women
(Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill — following a day of engaging discussion. It will soon
be tabled in the Rajya Sabha. The legislation was mooted in the aftermath of the Supreme
Court’s judgment in August declaring that the practice of instant triple talaq was not
constitutionally protected and would have no legal effect. At first glance, these
developments come across as a classic example of collaboration the between the
branches of government. The Supreme Court made a decision, the government
conceptualised a Bill to reinforce the court’s decision, and Parliament is now in the process
of enacting that Bill into law. However, this narrative collapses when the issue is considered
more closely, as the Bill is at odds with the very judgment that it purports to reinforce.

Many contradictions

•The statement of objects and reasons accompanying the Bill indicates that it is meant to
give effect to the court’s judgment, which it claims had failed to produce any deterrent effect
in reducing the practice of triple talaq across the country. The purpose of the court’s
judgment was disarmingly simple: to deprive talaq-e-biddat of recognition in the eyes of the
law. That remains the case irrespective of the frequency with which it is exercised. To
speak of “illegal divorce”, as the statement does, is therefore a contradiction in terms –
triple talaq is simply not a divorce in the first place.

•The Bill then proceeds based on this mistaken premise. Although it confirms that
pronouncements of triple talaq are void, it goes further by criminalising the utterance of
triple talaq. A victim of triple talaq, the Bill says, is entitled to a subsistence allowance and
custody of minor children. These provisions belong to a Bill that regulates divorce, not
marriage. A victim of triple talaq remains married to her husband. As a wife (rather than an
ex-wife), she should be entitled to far more than mere subsistence. The question of custody
does not arise where the couple remains married.

•The linchpin of the Bill is the criminalisation of triple talaq with a penalty of imprisonment of
up to three years. This also undercuts one of the important effects of the Supreme Court’s
judgment. Until the judgment, there was an asymmetry between the authority conferred
upon the words of a Muslim man as opposed to a Muslim woman. By indicating that Muslim
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men lacked the power to divorce their wives through triple talaq, the Court diminished that
asymmetry. This Bill accentuates it once again and puts men at the centre of legislative
policy, by triggering a number of legal consequences upon the utterance of those words.

•The alacrity and speed of Parliament’s response to the Supreme Court’s judgment is
remarkable. One of the significant questions that arose before the Court was whether it
would be appropriate to defer to Parliament on this issue. While the two judges in the
minority favoured imposing a six-month injunction to enable Parliament to enact legislation
on the subject, the judges in the majority specifically chose not to do so. As one of the
judges in the majority noted, “it is not for the courts to direct” the enactment of any
legislation.

Telling comparisons

•The fact that the Supreme Court did not direct Parliament to enact legislation does not
preclude it from doing so. However, it is interesting that Parliament and the government
have responded in a matter of months in the context of a conscious decision not to direct
any legislative response. A similarly swift response followed the Supreme Court’s judgment
in the Shah Bano case over 30 years ago. In contrast, governments have failed to respond
— or have taken an agonisingly long period of time to respond — to judgments
recommending legislative action. The best example is the Vishakha case, where legislation
on sexual harassment at the workplace was enacted no less than 16 years after the Court’s
advice to Parliament. A recommendation from the Court in 1995 to amend the rules of
evidence to better address cases involving custodial deaths has still to be implemented.

•Overall, the attempt to ride on the coattails of the Supreme Court’s judgment is misplaced.
A further round of litigation seems inevitable if this Bill were to be enacted, and there is an
even chance that the court may decide that a law criminalising the use of three words
violates the right to equality under the Constitution. The moral of the story is not dissimilar
to the 2G case. Not everything that is arbitrary or unlawful is, or in this case should be,
criminal.

IPFT delegation to meet Rajnath Singh, BJP top brass over


Tipraland demand
•A 10-member delegation of Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) would leave for
New Delhi on Tuesday to hold talks with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and the top
brass of BJP over its contentious separate state demand.

•Sources in BJP and IPFT said meetings would help them forge an electoral alliance in
ensuing Assembly election slated for next month.

•N.C. Debbarma, president of IPFT, last week led a delegation to Guwahati to hold dialogue
with BJP’s Tripura poll in-charge and Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. The meeting,
however, was inconclusive as the BJP reiterated its stand against separate State demand
though a decision was taken to hold further discussions in New Delhi.
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•“Meetings will take place on Wednesday. Leaders of all fronts of IPFT are in the delegation
for Delhi,” Mr. Debbarma told The Hindu on Monday.

•Twenty seats in 60-member Tripura Assembly are reserved for tribals and the BJP is
trying to work out coalition with a common tribal platform consisting of IPFT, Indigenous
Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT), National Conference of Tripura (NCT), and an IPFT
faction led by former MLA Rajeshwar Debbarma to take on the CPI(M) in Assembly polls.
Of them IPFT visibly stands strongest as it gained support of a large number of tribals with
its separate state or ‘Tipraland’ plank.

•The IPFT mooted vision to convert the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council
(TTAADC) into Tipraland – a separate State for indigenous people. One third population in
Tripura is tribal and the TTAADC consists of three-fourth geographical area of the State.

•Mr. Debbarma conceded that Tipraland issue has been the bone of contention in way of
electoral understanding with BJP as the latter categorically opposed any move to divide
Tripura on basis of ethnic identity. “However we are open to discussions with BJP
leadership on every issue and we are responding to their calls”, he added.

•The IPFT chief, who retired as Station Director of All India Radio Agartala a decade ago,
said his party will contest Assembly elections with or without BJP. “If we have to fight alone,
we would put up candidates in more than 50 seats and we are confident of winning a
number of seats”, he stated.

One register to count them all — how the NRC fares


Assam is the only state to have its own register of citiznes

•Millions of people in Assam on Sunday lived through the “the stroke of midnight”, to use
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s immortal words, as the Assam government published the first
draft of an updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) of the State. While the document is
meant to establish the credentials of a bona fide citizen, there are several questions
surrounding the NRC. Here is a brief list of FAQs on the NRC.

Why was it necessary to bring out an NRC in Assam?

•The NRC is being updated in Assam to detect Bangladeshi nationals, who may have
illegally entered the State after the midnight of March 24, 1971, the cut-off date. This date
was originally agreed to in the 1985 Assam Accord, signed between the then Rajiv Gandhi
government and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU).

•However, successive State governments failed to achieve much progress in detecting and
deporting foreigners as set out in the Assam Accord. In 2005, another agreement was
signed between the Centre, the then Tarun Gogoi government in Assam and the AASU
where it was decided to update the NRC that was first published after the Census data of
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1951 in post-Partition India.

•Though the Gogoi government had started the NRC update as a pilot project in some
districts, it was stopped after violence broke out in some parts of the State.

•In July 2009, Assam Public Works (APW), an NGO, petitioned the Supreme Court for
identification of Bangladeshi foreigners in the State and deletion of their names from the
voters’ list.

What will happen to those persons who don’t find their names in the draft register published
on Monday?

•The list published on Monday is the first draft of the updated NRC. Another list is expected
by February-end or early March, with more names and details.

•However, if a citizen’s name is missing, he or she can file an objection and request that the
name be included after submitting the requisite documents to the NRC centre or online on
the website www.nrcassam. nic.in

Is there a possibility of violence in the State if a large number of people don’t find their
names in the register?

•The Assam government did fear violence and hence requisitioned over 20,000 paramilitary
personnel and requested the Army to be on standby to deal with any law-and-order issue.

•However, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said people, irrespective of their caste or
religion, had taken part in the process and expressed confidence that the NRC update will
not result in violence.

•The security challenge, however, will emerge only when the process of updating the NRC
gets completed and a large number of people are left out.

Is the NRC a court-mandated exercise?

•Yes, the publication of the first draft of the NRC by December 31, 2017 was ordered by the
Supreme Court.

•The top court has been hearing this case since July 2009 when Assam Public Works
moved court to intervene in detecting and deporting Bangladeshis.

Should persons of Assam living in other parts of the country also have their names in the
register?

•NRC is a process by which a bona fide Indian citizen can be distinguished from a
foreigner.

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•If a person from Assam is living or working in another part of the country, it is advisable to
get oneself registered and establish one’s legacy as an “inhabitant” of Assam.

NRC wins consensus, but not Citizenship Bill


AGP has threatened to snap ties with BJP if the Centre grants citizenship to Hindu
Bangladeshis who have entered Assam illegally post-1971

•There has been political consensus in Assam that an updated National Register of
Citizens, as mandated by the Supreme Court, will help identification of Bangladeshi
migrants, who are staying illegally in Assam after the midnight of March 24, 1971, and their
expulsion in accordance with the Assam Accord. However, the actual number of illegal
migrants in the State will not be known till the claims and objections of all those excluded in
the final draft are settled by the NRC authorities.

Migration after marriage

•The verification of the NRC for the subsequent draft will also decide on the applications
from 29 lakh women, who have submitted certificates issued by Gaon (gram panchayat)
secretaries and executive magistrates to support their claim of residency after migration
post-marriage. The Supreme Court allowed these documents after setting aside an order of
the Gauhati High Court which declared these documents “invalid” and “ineffective in the
process of the verification of claims for inclusion in NRC”.

•The Supreme court, however, clarified: “The certificate issued by the G.P. secretary, by no
means, is proof of citizenship. Such proof will come only if the link between the claimant
and the legacy person (who has to be a citizen) is established. The certificate has to be
verified at two stages. The first is the authenticity of the certificate itself; and the second is
the authenticity of the contents thereof. The latter process of verification is bound to be an
exhaustive process in the course of which the source of information of the facts and all
other details recorded in the certificate will be ascertained after giving an opportunity to the
holder of the certificate.”

•The publication of the first draft of the NRC came close on the heels of ruling coalition
partner Asom Gana Parishad threatening to snap ties with the ruling BJP if the Centre
pushed for passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 that seeks to grant
citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis, who have entered Assam illegally post-1971.

•All Opposition parties, including the Congress and the All India United Democratic Front,
and student and youth organisations have opposed identification of illegal migrants on the
basis of religion. They have demanded withdrawal of the Bill on the ground that if made
into an Act, it would render the updated NRC and the entire process of updating the
citizenship register infructuous.

•With the BJP pushing for passage of the Bill,the question of identification of foreigners in
accordance with the Assam Accord may not be answered even after the final draft is
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published.

Clash mars bicentenary of Bhima-Koregaon battle


Arguments over hoardings snowball into stone-pelting; over 10 vehicles torched

•Pune: The bicentenary celebrations of the 1818 battle of Bhima-Koregaon were marred by
a clash between two groups on Monday. The incident occurred at around 11.30 a.m. when
people were heading towards Koregaon Ranstambh (victory pillar) in the village.

•The police said altercations over some hoardings resulted in stone-pelting, and torching of
over 10 vehicles. “The situation was immediately brought under control. Measures have
been taken to prevent the spread of rumours on social media, and a number of villages like
Sanawadi, Vadhu-Budruk and Shikrapur along the highway have been sealed,” said a
police officer.

•The police blocked the traffic on the Pune-Ahmbednagar highway for sometime following
the incident. The traffic was resumed in evening. “More police personnel, including
companies of the SRPF, have been deployed to avoid any untoward incident,” the officer
said.

•Some members of Bhima-Koregaon Shauryadin Prerana Abhiyan, a committee that


conducted Elgaar Parishad on Sunday, in which Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani and Radhika
Vemula participated, alleged that the clash was provoked by right-wing outfits.

•“The successful conclusion of Elgaar Parishad at Shaniwar Wada Fort has irked several
Hindutva outfits. We have strong reasons to believe that almost 3,000 right-wing activists
were behind the clash to disrupt the Koregaon-Bhima celebrations,” alleged Santosh
Shinde of Sambhaji Brigade, one of the members.

•Lakhs from the Dalit community visited Koregaon Ranstambh (victory pillar) in the village
on Monday. The memorial is dedicated to the battle of January 1, 1818, where 500 soldiers
of the untouchable Mahar community fought alongside the English to defeat the 28,000-
strong army of Peshwa Bajirao II, thus ending the Peshwai domination.

Understanding secularism in the Indian context


Our Constitution doesn’t acquire its secular character merely from the words in the
Preamble, but from a collective reading of many of its provisions, particularly the various
fundamental rights that it guarantees.

•There was a point of time, perhaps, when we might have taken the idea of a secular,
pluralistic India, tolerant of all sects and religions, as a position set in stone. But, incidents,
especially since the early 1990s, have radically altered both reality and our imagination.
That certain groups, including many within the political party presently in power at the
Centre and in many States, actively believe in a different kind of India is today intensely

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palpable. Against this backdrop, statements made on December 24, in a public address, by
the Minister of State for Employment and Skill Development, Anantkumar Hegde, scarcely
come as a surprise.

Secularism and us

•“Secular people,” he declared, “do not have an identity of their parental blood.” “We (the
BJP),” he added, “are here to change the Constitution,” making it quite clear that in his, and
his party’s, belief secularism was a model unworthy of constitutional status. Since then, the
ruling government has sought to distance itself from these comments, and Mr. Hegde
himself has, without explicitly retracting his statements, pledged his allegiance to the
Constitution and its superiority. But the message, as it were, is already out, and its
discourse is anything but opposed to the present regime’s larger ideology. Indeed, Mr.
Hegde’s comments even mirror those made on several occasions by people belonging to
the top brass of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, who have repeatedly stressed on
what they view as their ultimate aim: the recognition of India as a Hindu state, in which
secularism lies not at the Constitution’s bedrock, but entirely outside the document’s aims
and purposes.

•The reactions to Mr. Hegde’s speech have been manifold. Some have welcomed it, as a
call for debate, while others have viewed it as the ringing of a veritable alarm bell. Those
on the far right in particular, though, have embraced the message, and have gone as far as
to suggest that India has never been a secular state, that the Constitution, as it was
originally adopted, did not contain the word “secular”, which was inserted into the Preamble
only through the 42nd amendment introduced by Indira Gandhi’s government during the
height of Emergency rule. They also point to B.R. Ambedkar’s pointed rejection of
proposals during the Constitution’s drafting to have the word “secular” included in the
Preamble. Given that the Constitution is mutable, these facts, in their belief, only buttress
arguments against the inclusion of secularism as a constitutional ideal.

•But what statements such as those made by Mr. Hegde don’t quite grasp is that our
Constitution doesn’t acquire its secular character merely from the words in the Preamble,
but from a collective reading of many of its provisions, particularly the various fundamental
rights that it guarantees. Any move, therefore, to amend the Constitution, to remove the
word “secular” from the Preamble, before we consider whether such a change will survive
judicial review, will have to remain purely symbolic. Yet, Mr. Hegde’s statements
nonetheless bear significance, for they exemplify the confidence that he has in the broader
project that is already underway. The endeavour here is to steadily strike at the secular
values that the Constitution espouses, to defeat it not so much from within, but first from
outside. Negating this mission requires sustained effort, not only in thwarting any efforts to
amend the Constitution, if indeed they do fructify, but, even more critically, by working
towards building a contrary public opinion, not through rhetoric, but through facts, by
reaffirming our faith in constitutionalism, and in the hallowed values of plurality and
tolerance that our democracy must embody.

Inbuilt freedoms
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•Now, it is certainly true that the Constituent Assembly explicitly rejected a motion moved
by Brajeshwar Prasad from Bihar to have the words “secular” and “socialist” included in the
Preamble. But this was not on account of any scepticism that the drafters might have had
on the values of secularism. Quite to the contrary, despite what some might want us to
believe today, the assembly virtually took for granted India’s secular status. To them, any
republic that purports to grant equality before the law to all its citizens, that purports to
recognise people’s rights to free speech, to a freedom of religion and conscience simply
cannot be un-secular. To be so would be an incongruity. Secularism, as would be clear on
any morally reasonable analysis, is inbuilt in the foundations of constitutionalism, in the idea
of a democracy properly understood. In the case of our Constitution, it flows from the series
of fundamental rights guaranteed in Part III. How can a person be guaranteed a right to
freedom of religion without a concomitant guarantee that people of all religions will be
treated with equal concern?

•To fully understand what secularism in the Indian context means, therefore, we must read
the Constitution in its entirely. There is no doubt that within the Assembly, there existed a
conflict between two differing visions of secularism: one that called for a complete wall of
separation between state and religion, and another that demanded that the state treat
every religion with equal respect. A study of the Constitution and the debates that went into
its framing reveals that ultimately it was the latter vision that prevailed.

•As the political scientist Shefali Jha has pointed out, this constitutional dream can be best
comprehended from K.M. Munshi’s words. “The non-establishment clause (of the U.S.
Constitution),” Munshi wrote, “was inappropriate to Indian conditions and we had to evolve
a characteristically Indian secularism… We are a people with deeply religious moorings. At
the same time, we have a living tradition of religious tolerance — the results of the broad
outlook of Hinduism that all religions lead to the same god… In view of this situation, our
state could not possibly have a state religion, nor could a rigid line be drawn between the
state and the church as in the U.S..” Or, as Rajeev Bhargava has explained, what
secularism in the Indian setting calls for is the maintenance of a “principled distance”
between state and religion. This does not mean that the state cannot intervene in religion
and its affairs, but that any intervention should be within the limitations prescribed by the
Constitution. Sometimes this might even call for differential treatment across religions,
which would be valid so long as such differentiation, as Mr. Bhargava explains, can be
justified on the grounds that it “promotes freedom, equality, or any other value integral to
secularism.”

•We can certainly debate the extent to which the state intervenes in religious matters, and
whether that falls foul of the Constitution’s guarantees. We can also debate whether an
enactment of a Uniform Civil Code would be in keeping with Indian secularism or not. But
what’s clear is that a diverse, plural society such as India’s cannot thrive without following
the sui generis form of secularism that our founders put in place.

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•It might well yet be inconceivable that the government chooses to amend the Constitution
by destroying its basic structure. But these are not the only efforts we must guard against.
We must equally oppose every move, every action, with or without the state’s sanction, that
promotes tyrannical majoritarianism, that imposes an unreasonable burden on the simple
freedoms of the minority. We can only do this by recognising what constitutes the essence
and soul of the Constitution: a trust in the promise of equality. What, we might want to
keeping asking ourselves, does equality really entail? What does it truly demand?

Tourist entry banned at National Park


•The Bhitarkanika National Park in Odisha’s Kendrapara district will be out of bounds for
tourists for a week in view of for the annual census of estuarine crocodiles.

•The forest department has imposed a seven-day ban, starting January 3, to prevent noise
pollution during the headcount operation of the reptiles, Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar
Mangrove (wildlife) division, B.P. Acharya, said.

Free head count

•“There will be a prohibition on the entry of visitors to the national park area during this
period to ensure smooth and disturbance-free head count operation of saltwater
crocodiles,” Mr. Acharya said.

•The objective is to keep the place free from human interference when the meticulous
exercise is underway, officials said.

Ideal picnic spot

•The 145-sqkm Bhitarkanika National Park, located in the delta of rivers Brahmani,
Baitarani and Dhamara, is an ideal spot for camping, trekking and picnic.

The money trail: on the need for investor awarenesss on


cryptocurrencies
•The Finance Ministry’s warning to potential investors in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies
has come at a time when a new, seemingly attractive investment area has opened up that
few have enough information about. The price of bitcoin, the most popular of all
cryptocurrencies, not only shot up by well over 1000% over the course of the last year but
also fluctuated wildly. One of the main reasons for this volatility is speculation and the entry
into the market of a large number of people lured by the prospect of quick and easy profits.
The government’s caution comes on top of three warnings issued by the Reserve Bank of
India since 2013. Investment in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies increased tremendously
in India over the past year, but most new users know close to nothing of the technology, or
how to verify the genuineness of a particular cryptocurrency. A number of investors,
daunted by the high price of bitcoin, have put their money into less well-established and
often spurious cryptocurrencies, only to lose it all. Even some private cryptocurrency
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operators in India have gone on record saying that as many as 90% of the currencies are
scams.

•The use value of cryptocurrencies — both as a medium of exchange and as a store of


value — is still being explored. Global tech firms such as IBM are developing their own
cryptocurrency platforms to speed up cross-border transactions in a secure and transparent
manner. At the same time, countries like South Korea and the U.S. are intensifying
regulatory scrutiny of the market. South Korea, where bitcoin became something of a craze,
recently proposed legislation to either heavily regulate exchanges or ban them. In the U.S.,
in November, a court ordered a popular cryptocurrency platform to hand over information
related to 14,000 accounts to the Internal Revenue Service, undermining the anonymity the
digital currencies offer. In all this, India must be careful to differentiate between
cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology they are based on. Cryptocurrencies may
or may not emerge as a useful tool, especially since the government may not want to
encourage the proliferation of anonymous, non-fiat currencies as its anti-black money fight
intensifies. But blockchains, basically digital ledgers of financial transactions that are
immutable and instantly updated across the world, are worth looking at as aids to ease
doing business. They have the potential to greatly streamline payment mechanisms and
make them transparent. As Ajay Tyagi, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of
India, said, blockchain technology is useful and should not as yet have regulatory
oversight. The inter-ministerial panel on cryptocurrencies will take a call on their future.
Meanwhile, the government is correct in underscoring the ‘caveat’ in caveat emptor.

Real Estate Act yet to show teeth


Only 20,000 projects registered; only six States have permanent authorities

•Only 20,000 housing projects have been registered under the Real Estate (Regulation and
Development) Act, 2016, six months after the legislation seeking to protect the interests of
homebuyers came into force last May. This is just a fraction of the under-construction and
proposed housing projects promoted by private developers.

Six months on

•The Act was initiated by the previous United Progressive Alliance government and passed
by Parliament in 2016 and notified in May 2017. The developer has to declare to buyers
detailed information such as dates on which various government clearances are secured,
floor plans, carpet area, progress in construction, and so on.

•All real estate projects have to be registered with the Real Estate Regulatory Authority
(RERA). However, the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry says only six States have set up
permanent authorities, while 23 have set up an interim ones.

•The low registration of projects can be explained by the fact that many States have rules
that favour private developers. For example, Gujarat, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have
exempted ongoing projects from RERA. Similarly, in Karnataka, projects that are 60%
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complete have been kept out of RERA. In Maharashtra, the rules say that if any building in
a project is completed, then it need not be registered.

•“The real estate market is in a slump. The low registration of the projects can be partially
explained by the twin factors,” an official said.

‘IBBI registration must for asset valuation’


Norms for professionals from April 1

•Professionals carrying out asset valuations under Companies Act and Insolvency and
Bankruptcy Code will have to get themselves registered with Insolvency and Bankruptcy
Board of India (IBBI) from April to conduct such activities, an official statement said on
Monday.

•“With effect from April 1, 2018, for conducting valuations required under the Companies
Act, 2013 and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, a person is to be registered with
the IBBI as a registered valuer,” the Ministry of Corporate Affairs said in a statement.

•A government notification in October had delegated powers and functions to the IBBI
under Companies Act and designated it as the authority under the Companies (Registered
Valuers and Valuation) Rules, 2017.

Necessary qualification

•As per the notification, a valuer needs to have necessary qualification and experience, be
a member of a recognised valuer organisation and should be registered with IBBI to carry
out such activities.

Ancient jumping genes may give corals new lease of life


Retrotransposons could help the algae adapt more rapidly to heat stress

•Scientists have identified a gene that improves the heat tolerance of the algae that live
symbiotically with coral species, and could potentially help the corals adapt to some
warming.

•Symbiodinium is a unicellular algae that provides its coral host with photosynthetic
products in return for nutrients and shelter.

•However, high sea temperatures can cause the breakdown of this symbiotic relationship
and lead to the widespread expulsion of Symbiodinium from host tissues, an event known
as coral beaching. If bleached corals do not recover, they starve to death, leaving only their
white, calcium-carbonate exoskeleton.

•Now, researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in

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Saudi Arabia have identified special genes, called retrotransposons, which could help the
algae adapt more rapidly to heat stress.

•During their study, most genes commonly associated with heat stress were turned off,
while a small number of retrotransposons were turned on.

•The team suggests that the activation and replication of Symbiodinium’s retrotransposons
in response to heat stress could lead to a faster evolutionary response, “since producing
more mutations increases the chance of generating a beneficial one that allows the
symbionts to cope better with this specific stress,” Aranda said.

‘Alternative drugs for mild infection the way’


Study suggests non-antibiotic therapies

•Developing alternatives to antibiotics for small infections could prevent bacteria from
developing drug-resistance and help humans win the battle against superbugs, scientists
say.

•It has been widely reported that bacteria will evolve to render antibiotics mostly ineffective
by mid-century, and current strategies to make up for the projected shortfalls have not
worked.

•Doctors are often quick to prescribe strong antibiotics for mild infections, helping bacteria
evolve resistance to even the most potent drugs.

•One possible problem is that drug development strategies have focused on replacing
antibiotics in extreme infections, such as sepsis, where every minute without an effective
drug increases the risk of death.

•However, the evolutionary process that brings forth antibiotic resistance does not happen
nearly as often in those big infections as it does in the multitude of small ones like sinusitis,
tonsillitis, bronchitis, and bladder infections, according to researchers from the Georgia
Institute of Technology in the U.S.

Antibiotic prescriptions

•“Antibiotic prescriptions against those smaller ailments account for about 90 percent of
antibiotic use, and so are likely to be the major driver of resistance evolution,” said Sam
Brown, an associate professor at Georgia Tech.

•Bacteria that survive these many small battles against antibiotics grow in strength and
numbers to become formidable armies in big infections, like those that strike after surgery.

•For example, E coli is widespread in the human gut. While some strains secrete enzymes
that thwart antibiotics, others do not.
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•A broad-spectrum antibiotic can kill off more of the vulnerable, less dangerous bacteria,
leaving the more dangerous and robust bacteria to propagate.

•Often, superbugs have made their way into hospitals in someone’s intestines, where they
had evolved high resistance through years of occasional treatment with antibiotics for small
infections. Then bacteria have infected patients with weak immune systems.

•Furious infections have ensued, essentially invulnerable to antibiotics, followed by sepsis


and death.The researchers proposed a different approach. Developing non-antibiotic
therapies for strep throat, bladder infections, and bronchitis could prove easier, thus
encouraging pharmaceutical research.

Google’s new AI system can articulate like humans


‘Tacotron 2’ delivers speech that matches human voice

•In a major step towards its “AI first” dream, Google has developed a text-to-speech artificial
intelligence (AI) system that will confuse you with its human-like articulation.

•The tech giant’s text-to-speech system called “Tacotron 2” delivers an AI-generated


computer speech that almost matches with the voice of humans, technology news website
Inc.com reported.

•At Google I/O 2017 developers conference, the company’s CEO Sundar Pichai announced
that the internet giant was shifting its focus from mobile-first to “AI first” and launched
several products and features, including Google Lens, Smart Reply for Gmail and Google
Assistant for iPhone.

•According to a paper published in arXiv.org, the system first creates a spectrogram of the
text, a visual representation of how the speech should sound.

•That image is put through Google’s WaveNet algorithm, which uses the image and brings
AI closer than ever to mimicking human speech. It can easily learn different voices and
even generates artificial breaths. “Our model achieves a mean opinion score (MOS) of 4.53
comparable to a MOS of 4.58 for professionally recorded speech,” the researchers were
quoted as saying.

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