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Detailed News Articles: 29 April 2019

1. Corridor linking India, Myanmar no longer under BRI framework

Details:

  • Citing “sovereignty” concerns, India, for the second time, has not officially participated in the BRF, as CPEC—a flagship of the BRI—passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
  • India’s decision to skip the BRF may have led to the exclusion of the Bangladesh- China- India- Myanmar (BCIM) Economic corridor from the list of projects covered by the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) umbrella.
  • South Asia is covered by three major undertakings—the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), the Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, including Nepal-China cross-border railway, as well as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor:

  • The 2800 km BCIM corridor proposes to link Kunming in China’s Yunnan province with Kolkata, passing though nodes such as Mandalay in Myanmar and Dhaka in Bangladesh before heading to Kolkata.
  • Significantly, a report titled, “The Belt and Road Initiative Progress, Contributions and Prospects,” released by the Leading Group for Promoting the Belt and Road Initiative of the Communist Party of China (CPC) does list the BCIM as a BRI project.
  • Over the past five years or so, the four countries [of the BCIM] have worked together to build this corridor in the framework of joint working groups, and have planned a number of major projects in institutional development, infrastructure connectivity, cooperation in trade and industrial parks, cooperation and opening up in the financial market, cultural exchange, and cooperation in enhancing people’s wellbeing,” says the report.

China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC):

  • The CMEC will run from Yunnan Province of China to Mandalay in Central Myanmar. From there it will head towards Yangon, before terminating at the Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) on the Bay of Bengal.
  • The 1,700-km corridor provides China yet another node to access the Indian Ocean.
  • Last September, the BRI had got a high octane boost when Myanmar — facing the heat from the West because of the Rohingya refugee crisis — inked an agreement with Beijing to establish the CMEC.
  • The CMEC will also reduce Beijing’s trade and energy reliance on the Malacca straits — the narrow passage that links the Indian Ocean with the Pacific.
  • Chinese planners worry that the military domination over the Malacca straits of the United States — a country with which it is already engaged in a trade war — can threaten one of China’s major economic lifeline.

Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan connectivity network:

  • The Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan connectivity network starts from Chengdu, from where it is linked to Tibet by the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, or the Sichuan-Tibet Railway.
  • The Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan connectivity network is listed by the annex
  • It is proposed that the railway from Tibet will be further extended to Kathmandu, via Ya’an, Qamdo, Lhasa and Shigatse.
  • Chinese planners visualise that that railway will be eventually connected with the Indian railway network, linking China and India across the Himalayas.

Associate Professor of China’s West Normal University, had said that, “The CMEC was proposed during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Myanmar in November 2017, because India has not been acting on the BCIM sub regional cooperation proposal. So it is better for China to go for bilateral cooperation with Myanmar and simultaneously wait for India’s participation.”

2. Downbeat diesel – on Maruti Suzuki’s decision to eliminate diesel models

Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest passenger vehicle manufacturer, has decided to eliminate diesel models from April 1, 2020, when the Bharat Stage VI emission standard is introduced. Maruti Suzuki’s decision makes it clear that in spite of being a strong past performer, diesel is riding into the sunset as far as the personal vehicle is concerned. This outcome should be welcomed for the positive impact it will have on air quality and public health.

Background:

  • Bharat stage emission standards are emission standards instituted by the Government of India to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles. The standards and the timeline for implementation are set by the Central Pollution Control Board under the Ministry of Environment & Forests and climate change.
  • The standards, based on European regulations were first introduced in 2000.
  • Progressively stringent norms have been rolled out since then. All new vehicles manufactured after the implementation of the norms have to be compliant with the regulations.
  • In 2016, the Indian government announced that the country would skip the BS-V norms altogether and adopt BS-VI norms by 2020.
  • In its recent judgment, the Supreme Court has banned the sale and registration of motor vehicles conforming to the emission standard Bharat Stage-IV in the entire country from April 1, 2020.

Current scenario:

  • Automotive emissions, especially in congested cities, have risen due to steady economic growth, proliferation of vehicles and more vehicle kilometres travelled.
  • In Delhi, for instance, the effect of shifting the three-wheeler and bus fleet to Compressed Natural Gas during a four-year period from 1998 improved air quality, but the gains were quickly negated by a rise in overall vehicle numbers, especially those run on diesel, besides a rise in other sources of pollution.
  • Marking the steady deterioration in air quality, one study found that people on the road in Delhi had 1.5 times greater exposure to the city’s average ambient air pollution
  • Diesel emissions pose hidden hazards, too. Besides the harmful fine and ultra fine particulates that they contain, the vehicular exhaust adds to ground-level ozone formed from nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons combining in the presence of sunlight, seriously harming respiratory health.

Details:

  • This move taken by Maruti Suzuki mirrors emerging global trends.
  • Although diesel has powered India’s commercial transport segment for decades, its fortunes are declining for several reasons, beginning with the narrowing of the price differential with petrol.
  • It has lost its shine in Europe, the world’s biggest market for diesel cars where sales of even well-known marques have fallen during 2018 by 20%.
  • In a variety of mandated and suggestive ways, car-owners are being nudged towards petrol and alternative fuels.
  • The diesel emissions data scandal involving carmaker Volkswagen dismayed many consumers.
  • Given the prevailing economics and diesel’s reputation as a dirty fuel that adds to pollution from cars, buses and freight vehicles, auto companies see a weak business case to upgrade them.

Way forward:

  • The national plan to shift to higher quality BS VI grade fuels may offer some mitigation of pollution, but that can only be a respite.
  • Improving air quality in the cities requires a transformative planning approach guided by the singular objective of reducing the use of polluting vehicles.
  • Such a policy would prioritise less-polluting and alternative fuels for vehicles, but more important, encourage walking, cycling and using public transport.
  • This is the direction that many world cities are taking.
  • Paris, Madrid and Athens have announced a prohibition on diesel vehicles by 2025, while London has made it more expensive for older vehicles to enter the city.
  • India has to chart its own equitable and accessible green path.

3.  An ineffectual angel – On SC’s role in ensuring free and fair elections

Background:

  • The transition from a colonial regime to a democratic republic was one of the most singular achievements in Indian history.
  • Herculean efforts went into pulling off independent India’s first general election.
  • By stipulating in the Constitution that elections must be conducted on the basis of universal adult suffrage, the framers of our Constitution transformed an entire population from subjects to citizens in one sweeping stroke.
  • It was an achievement that many doubted would be possible.

Editorial Analysis:

  • At the heart of this achievement is the citizen’s right to vote.
  • It is through the vote that the democratic legitimacy is periodically renewed and the foundations of the republic remain stable.
  • But it is not simply the act of voting that is enough: rather, voting must take place as part of a free and fair election. There must exist a number of institutional factors and conditions, all of which, taken together, culminate in that final act of the voter casting the ballot.

Steps taken by the Supreme Court in the past to ensure free and fair elections:

  • The Indian Supreme Court has recognised this basic principle.
  • In many judgments over the years, the court has set out the enabling conditions that guarantee that voting remains a meaningful activity.
  • These include, for example, the citizen’s right not to be arbitrarily denied the vote (the court has, therefore, held that voting is a fundamental freedom guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution);
  • The right to know (thus, requiring compulsory declaration of certain information by candidates);
  • The right to a secret ballot (that has prompted the court to order the inclusion of a NOTA, or None of the Above option).

As the Supreme Court has reminded us many times, public faith in the electoral process is crucial to the continued survival of republican democracy, and it is these institutional safeguards that come together to ensure it.

Judicial inaction:

  • Like with any other competitive process, the ground rules that constitute the framework of the competition must be enforced by an impartial umpire. It is here that the role of an independent judiciary is crucial.
  • While in popular imagination, the primary role of the courts is to protect the fundamental rights of individuals against the state, another — equally critical — task of courts is to ensure that the ground rules of electoral competition, which are necessary to ensure free and fair elections, are maintained.
  • It is not a task that can be left to political actors, and can, in essence, only be performed by the judiciary.
  • This, therefore, is an arena where courts have to be even more vigilant than usual, because what is at stake is the foundational legitimacy of democracy itself.
  • In this context, the recent conduct of Indian courts reveals an unfortunate gap between judicial rhetoric and actual enforcement.
    1. The right to know: this much-vaunted principle, which has repeatedly been accorded pride of place by the Supreme Court, was flagrantly violated when the government introduced the electoral bond scheme. The electoral bond scheme allows limitless, secret donations to political parties, including (and especially) by corporations. It denies to voters the knowledge of who funds the people who ask for their vote. The electoral bonds scheme was challenged immediately after it came into force; the Supreme Court, however, held off on hearing the case until a few weeks ago, and then it postponed the case to after the elections, citing a paucity of time. In the meantime, significant sums of anonymous donations have come in through electoral bonds.
    2. The secret ballot: During this election season, Maneka Gandhi’s threat to Muslim voters to vote for her or else she would refuse to help them after she was elected, raised eyebrows across the country. However, it has been demonstrated that political parties are now able to determine voting outcomes at the level of individual booths. This destroys the very concept of the secret ballot, and makes threats like the ones Ms. Gandhi delivered extremely credible and capable of distorting the electoral process.
    3. Totalisers: When a case was filed before the Supreme Court in 2018 asking for the use of totaliser machines in elections — that would restore the secrecy of the ballot — the court dismissed it without even according it a hearing. Totaliser is a proposed mechanism in the voting machines in India to hide the booth-wise voting patterns. A totaliser allows the votes cast in about 14 polling booths to be counted together. At present, the votes are tallied booth by booth.
    4. The freedom to vote: This election season has seen multiple complaints from voters who have found their names deleted from electoral rolls, without intimation or a chance to be heard. However, this is not new. The issue of voter deletions surfaced late last year, especially in the context of Assembly elections in Telangana, where the Election Commission of India (EC) itself admitted to the existence of the problem. It was alleged at the time — and has subsequently been established through detailed investigative reporting carried out by The Huffington Post — that the EC was using an un-audited de-duplication software, alongside (unauthorised) Aadhaar linking, to “cleanse” the electoral rolls, but the result, instead, was to remove a very large number of genuine voters. Accordingly, late last year, Srinivas Kodali, a Hyderabad-based technologist, filed a case before the High Court, asking that the EC be required to reveal the source code of the algorithm it was using, and open it up for auditing. Months have passed, the general election has come, but the High Court has failed to decide the petition.
    5. Public faith in the electoral process: the Opposition parties filed a petition before the Supreme Court to verify 50% of the EVMs using the voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines. The EC’s only objection to this was that it would increase the time of counting by six days. One would imagine that a six-day increasing of the counting period, in the context of a seven-phase month-and-a-half-long general election, is a small price to pay for maintaining public faith in the electoral process. However, with three phases of the election having come and gone, the court is yet to even decide upon the petition.

Conclusion:

  • On multiple occasions, over the course of many years, the Supreme Court has boastd about the glories of Indian democracy, the importance of free and fair elections, and the supreme sanctity of the vote.
  • Democracy is a genuine achievement, worthy of pride. It, however, does not sustain itself. The court’s rhetoric has little purpose if, when it comes to the crunch, it evades deciding cases that call for it to descend from the commanding heights of eloquence, and into the weeds of actually enforcing the grand principles of democracy.
  • The voter’s right to know, the secret ballot, and the freedom to vote itself — all these have been undermined to various degrees in the last few years, throwing into serious doubt the freedom and fairness of elections. But on each occasion, when the courts have been called upon to address these problems, they have dodged and ducked the issues, instead of solving them.
  • The rhetoric is beautiful, but without enforcement, the judiciary remains, in the words of Mathew Arnold, “an ineffectual angel beating in the void [its] luminous wings in vain.”

4. Explained: The problem with diesel

Bone of content- BS VI Norms

  • The main reason is not the fuel price differential, but the new emission norms that will come into effect on April 1, 2020 — less than a year from now.
  • The prohibitively high cost of upgrading diesel engines to meet the new BS-VI emission norms is why leading carmakers have pulled the plug on their diesel options.
  • The economics of the conversion does not make it worthwhile to continue with the diesel option after the transition to BS-VI.
  • Also, the sentiment for diesel is not good in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, making it extra uncertain if customers would want to pay the big premium.

Bharat Stage Norms

  • The BS — Bharat Stage — emission standards are norms instituted by the government to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles.
  • India has been following European (Euro) emission norms, although with a time lag of five years.
  • India introduced emission norms first in 1991, and tightened them in 1996, when most vehicle manufacturers had to incorporate technology upgrades such as catalytic converters to cut exhaust emissions.
  • Fuel specifications based on environmental considerations were notified first in April 1996, to be implemented by 2000, and incorporated in BIS 2000 standards.

Implementation history

  • Following the landmark Supreme Court order of April 1999, the Centre notified BS-I (BIS 2000) and Bharat Stage-II norms, broadly equivalent to Euro I and Euro II respectively.
  • BS-II was for the National Capital Region and other metros; BS-I for the rest of India.
  • From April 2005, in line with the Auto Fuel Policy of 2003, BS-III and BS-II fuel quality norms came into existence for 13 major cities, and for the rest of the country respectively.
  • From April 2010, BS-IV and BS-III norms were put in place in 13 major cities and the rest of India respectively.

What changes do the recent BS norms entail?

  • As per the Policy roadmap, BS-V and BS-VI norms were to be implemented from April 1, 2022, and April 1, 2024 respectively.
  • But in November 2015, the Road Transport Ministry issued a draft notification advancing the implementation of BS-V norms for new four-wheel vehicle models to April 1, 2019, and for existing models to April 1, 2020.
  • Soon afterward, however, Road Transport Ministry announced that the government had decided to leapfrog to BS-VI from April 1, 2020, skipping BS-V all together.

Minutes of BS VI

  • Carmakers would have to put three pieces of equipment — a DPF (diesel particulate filter), an SCR (selective catalytic reduction) system, and an LNT (Lean NOx trap) — to meet stringent BS-VI norms, all at the same time.
  • This is vital to curb both PM (particulate matter) and NOx (nitrogen oxides) emissions as mandated under the BS-VI norms.
  • Ideally, the technologies should be introduced in series, and then synergized.

Why the transition is problematic?

  • A practical problem is that while it took as many as seven years for the entire country to shift from BS-III to BS-IV, the attempt this time is to entirely bypass one stage — BS-V — in less than half that time.
  • This makes the switch to BS-VI that much more difficult for both oil companies and automobile makers.
  • The decision to leapfrog directly from BS-IV to BS-VI is what carmakers cite as the reason for the unviability of diesel.
  • While petrol vehicles would also need upgrades to transition, these are limited to catalysts and electronic control upgrades.
  • For diesel vehicles, the upgrades are more complicated and entail higher costs, apart from the technical difficulties in managing the changes.
  • A step-by-step transition would have been easier; now, the entire cost will have to be borne in one go, alongside the operational difficulties of managing the transition.

Various complications

I. Early adaptation of components

  • Carmakers say there are technical constraints in carrying out design changes that will include adapting the three critical components — DPF, SCR and LNT — to conditions specific to Indian driving, where running speeds are much lower than in Europe or the United States.
  • The auto industry argues that the huge improvements in vehicular technology since 2000 have had little impact in India due to driving, road and ambient conditions.
  • So, technically, if the BS-V and BS-VI stages were to be implemented one after the other, diesel cars would have to be fitted with a DPF in the BS-V stage, and with the SCR in the BS-VI state.
  • Now both of these have to be incorporated simultaneously, alongside the LNT.

II. Fuel price gaps

  • Even if these were to be managed, a heavy cost would be involved, which would push up the price of diesel vehicles, and widen the price gap with the petrols.
  • So, for carmakers, skipping the diesel value chain at this point makes more sense.
  • Alongside these constraints, there are also question marks regarding the ability of the oil companies to manage the transition, because refiners were unable to produce the superior fuel in required quantities.

5. RBI extends ombudsman scheme to non-deposit taking NBFCs

  • The RBI has extended the coverage of Ombudsman Scheme for non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) to eligible non deposit taking non-banking financial companies (NBFC-NDs) having asset size of Rs 100 crore or above with customer interface.

What is NBFC?

  • A NBFC is a company registered under the Companies Act, 1956 engaged in the business of loans and advances, acquisition of shares/stocks/bonds/debentures/securities.
  • It does not include any institution whose principal business is that of agriculture activity, industrial activity, purchase or sale of any goods (other than securities) or providing any services and sale/purchase/construction of immovable property.
  • A non-banking institution which is a company and has principal business of receiving deposits under any scheme or arrangement in one lump sum or in installments by way of contributions or in any other manner, is also a non-banking financial company.

About the Ombudsman Scheme

  • The scheme was launched on February 23, 2018 for redressal of complaints against NBFCs registered with the RBI under Section 45-IA of the RBI Act, 1934 and covered all deposit accepting NBFCs to begin with.
  • It provides a cost-free and expeditious complaint redressal mechanism relating to deficiency in the services by NBFCs covered under the scheme.
  • The offices of the NBFC Ombudsmen are functioning in four metro centres — Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi — and handle complaints of customers in the respective zones.
  • The scheme also provides for an appellate mechanism under which the complainant/ NBFC has the option to appeal against the decision of the Ombudsman before the Appellate Authority.

Who are excluded under the scheme?

However, non banking financial company-infrastructure finance company (NBFC-IFC), core investment company (CIC), infrastructure debt fund-non-banking financial company (IDF-NBFC) and an NBFC under liquidation, are excluded from the ambit of the scheme.

Q1) Consider the following statements:
  1. Zoji La seperates Kashmir Valley from Drass Valley.
  2. Zoji La is located on National Highway 1.

Which of the given statement/s is/are correct?

a. 1 only
b. 2 only
c. Both 1 and 2
d. Neither 1 nor 2

Q2) Microliths were most commonly found in:

a. Paleolithic age
b. Mesolithic age
c. Neolithic age
d. Chalcolithic age

Q3) Gandhara School of Art is related to which dynasty?

a. Cholas
b. Kushanas
c. Guptas
d. Greek

Q4) Consider the following statements:
  1. When a President is to be impeached for violation of the Constitution, the charge shall be preferred by the Rajya Sabha only.
  2. The resolution for impeachment of the President has to be passed by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the House.

Which of the given statement/s is/are correct?

a. 1 only
b. 2 only
c. Both 1 and 2
d. Neither 1 nor 2

Thank you!

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