High noon  (The Hindu)

It’s time to reimagine South Asia  (The Hindu)

Opacity in the banking sector  (The Hindu)

 

High noon

(The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of India Meteorological Department’s forecast.

(GS paper III)

Overview

 

  • A spike in summer temperatures in India is not new, but some scientists contend that a half-degree rise in average temperature in recent decades has resulted in a higher probability of extreme heat waves and caused a lot of deaths. 

 

  • The India Meteorological Department’s forecast of above-normal maximum and minimum temperatures across the country during the pre-monsoon March-May period is a timely alert for State authorities to review their preparedness. Even a marginal rise above the normal will lead to enormous heat stress for millions of Indians, given the deprived conditions in which they live.

 

Assessment

 

  • The average temperatures from March to May across North India are likely to be above normal by more than one degree Celsius, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said in its seasonal forecast.

 

  • According to the MeT office, average temperatures in Delhi, along with neighbouring states of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, can soar over 1.5 degrees Celsius above normal levels. It projected maximum rise of more than 2.3 degrees higher than usual temperatures in hilly states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The temperature rise is likely to be moderate in south India and four north-eastern states.

 

  • There are distinct groups at particular risk for health-related problems during a heat wave, such as senior citizens and people with pre-existing disease, mental illness or disability, which prevents them from being able to care for themselves. It is the responsibility of governments to ensure that community-level interventions are taken up to help vulnerable groups.

 

  • The advent of hot weather this year is marked by temperatures rising between 1.6° Celsius and 5° C above normal in States such as Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh; other northern, central and eastern States also show a small increase from March 1. Of course, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and parts of Rayalaseema have begun the season with a slight decrease in minimum temperatures, and will possibly have less oppressive temperatures in coming weeks.

 

  • For most other States, though, the summer of 2018 may pose a public health challenge, for which they must prepare with the experience gained during the many previous heat waves. One scientific estimate of annual mortality attributable to heat waves between 2010 and 2015 ranges between 1,300 and 2,500.

 

  • A heat event thus has serious implications for public health, as it can lead to fatal heat stroke in a small percentage of people, while many more could encounter exhaustion, cramps and fainting.

 

Way ahead

 

  • The World Health Organisation recommends that countries adopt heat-health warning systems, including daily alerts to ensure that people are in a position to deal with adverse weather, starting with reduction of exposure.

 

  • Water stress is a common and often chronic feature in many States: arrangements should be made to meet scarcity. There is some hope that the southwest monsoon this year will benefit from an expected moderate La Nina condition in the equatorial Pacific, marked by cooler-than-average sea surface temperature.

 

  • Taking the long-term view, India has to pursue mitigation of greenhouse gases vigorously, since there is a perceived link between increases in average temperature caused by climate change and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

 

  • It is vital for governments to ensure that all stakeholders, including the health-care system, are prepared to deal with the phenomenon.

 

Question- The India Meteorological Department in its recent seasonal forecast mentioned the above-normal maximum and minimum temperatures across the country, in this context discuss the serious implications of heat wave, also highlight some measures.

 

It’s time to reimagine South Asia

(The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of why we need to reimagine South Asia.

(GS paper II)

Overview

 

  • Despite being neighbours, India and Pakistan are among the least integrated nations in the world. Because of their unending mutual hostility, South Asia too has become the least integrated region in the world. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is in a coma. Sadly, the most populous region in the world has also remained home to the largest number of poor people in the world.

 

  • There is “blind nationalism” in Pakistan and “Pak-phobia” in India, which have stood in the way of citizens.

 

Assessment

 

  • The two countries, which were part of a single seamless socio-economic and cultural entity before 1947, have now completely drifted apart.  For example- there are no direct flights between their capitals New Delhi and Islamabad, the frequency of Delhi-Lahore and Mumbai-Karachi flights have become minimal, the Mumbai-Karachi ferry service (the two port cities, once part of a single province, are closer to each other than either Mumbai and Delhi or Karachi and Islamabad) was stopped after the 1965 war.

 

  • In the age of information revolution, the number of phone calls between Indian and Pakistani citizens is negligible, mostly out of fear of being questioned by their respective security agencies. At less than $3 billion annually, trade with Pakistan accounts for a meagre 0.4% of India’s growing global commerce.

 

  • On the Indian side, it will be said that terror and trade cannot go together. The government has raised the bar higher -terror and talks cannot go together. On the Pakistani side, resolution of the Kashmir issue has become a precondition for any substantial bilateral cooperation.

 

  • But is the status quo is not benefiting either country, except to those arrogant ultra-nationalists who think India now has a seat on the global high table and hence need not care for Pakistan, and to those narrow-minded Pakistani patriots who think they need not care for India, since they now have two protectors -China and the Muslim Ummah.

 

China factor

 

 

  • China, of course, has become a new factor influencing India’s negative attitude towards Pakistan, both among policy-makers and the common people. Indian Army chief’s egregious remark, being ready for a simultaneous two-and-a-half front war with Pakistan and China (the “half front” being our own alienated people in Kashmir) has helped solidify an impression that our two large neighbours can never be friendly towards India.

 

 

 

  • If India’s foreign and defence policies proceed on this belief, South Asia is surely heading towards a future of intensified hostilities and conflicts. Arms manufacturers and distant destabilisers will profit by this at the cost of common Indians and Pakistanis, who need employment, education, health care and food-and-environmental security. These needs can be met only through regional cooperation, not regional rivalry.

 

 

  • China become a part of the solution, rather than being perceived as a part of the India-Pakistan problem, India-China-Pakistan cooperation is not only necessary but indeed possible, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) provides a practical framework for such partnership.

 

  • The Indian government’s opposition to the BRI undermines India’s long-term development and security interests. Firstly, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) does not recognise PoK to be Pakistan’s sovereign territory. Article VI in the 1963 China-Pakistan boundary agreement clearly states in that “after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China”.

 

  • Secondly, there is little possibility of India ever getting PoK, or Pakistan ever getting the Indian side of Kashmir, through war or by any other means. Therefore, connectivity, cooperation and economic integration are the only realistic bases for any future India-Pakistan settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

 

  • And thirdly, both China and Pakistan have stated that they are open to India joining CPEC. China has also expressed its readiness to rename CPEC suitably to both address India’s concerns and to reflect the project’s expanded regional scope. Already, Iran, Afghanistan and several Central Asian republics have agreed to join this ambitious regional connectivity project.

 

Way ahead

 

  • A no less seminal benefit for India, by joining the renamed CPEC, it would gain land access, through Pakistan, to Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia and western China. And if our leaders show vision, ambition and resolve, the CPEC-plus-India can be linked to the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor, thus creating a grand garland of connectivity and integration for the whole of South Asia. If 1947 divided our subcontinent, here is an opportunity for India, Pakistan and all other countries in the region to come together and rise in shared progress and prosperity.

 

Question To realise this vision of a resurgent South Asia, two obstacles will have to be removed blind nationalism and the unfriendly designs of extra-regional powers. Examine in context of India-Pakistan relationship.

 

Opacity in the banking sector

(The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of deficiencies in the banking sector.

(GS paper III)

Overview

 

 

  • The recent bank fraud case has once again brought the focus of deficiencies in procedures and supervisory and regulatory controls in the banking sector. However, an equally important aspect that warrants a closer look is the opacity around the functioning of our banks that keeps the public in the dark about the extent and details of wrongdoing.

 

 

Assessment of RTI

 

 

  • The Central Information Commission (CIC) considered appeals from applicants concerning bank regulatory functions after they had been denied information, under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) about these functions.

 

 

 

  • The information sought comprised copies of their inspection reports on banks, details of action taken against banks in breach of the relevant laws and regulations, and advisory notes issued by the RBI to banks and non-performing asset accounts.

 

 

 

  • The denial of information was on the ground that disclosure would prejudicially affect the economic interests of the state by causing loss of public faith in some banks, and that it had been received from the banks concerned in a fiduciary capacity and could not be disclosed to third parties.

 

 

 

  • Overruling this, the CIC ordered the disclosure of a good deal of information; however, its decisions were stayed by High Courts. These decisions of the CIC were considered and upheld by the Supreme Court on the basis of transfer petitions filed by the RBI and NABARD, in its landmark judgment in Reserve Bank of India v. Jayantilal N. Mistry and 10 other cases (December 2015).

 

 

 

  • The court ruled that the regulatory bodies were not in a fiduciary relationship with the banks that had provided the information to them and that by attaching a “fiduciary” label to the statutory duty, they had “intentionally or unintentionally created an in terrorem effect”.

 

 

 

  • The Supreme Court also rejected the ground of information disclosure hurting the economic interest of the country and observed, “RBI’s argument that if people, who are sovereign, are made aware of the irregularities being committed by the banks then the country’s economic security would be endangered, is not only absurd but is equally misconceived and baseless.”

 

 

Way ahead

 

 

  • The judgment has guided subsequent decisions of the CIC, for example the CIC has also directed disclosure of information (amount disbursed, grounds underlying the decision, rate of interest, collaterals obtained, the outstanding amount and steps taken for recovery, etc.) in respect of wilful defaulters and absconders, overriding the ground of the fiduciary relationship of banks with their customers, which is one of the grounds for denial of information under the RTI Act.

 

 

 

  • These decisions are based on Section 8(2) of the Act, which provides that notwithstanding the exemptions from disclosure provided in it, the information can be disclosed if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interest.

 

 

  • Once a fraud on a financial institution has been established or a borrower declared a wilful defaulter or absconds, complete transparency concerning the amount involved as well as the factors and persons responsible for the loss become a matter of larger public interest.

 

  • Transparency in the banking sector is still work in progress, while submitting a list of defaulters who owe more than ₹500 crore each in the course of hearing in the Supreme Court in Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Housing and Urban Development Corporation Ltd., the RBI’s counsel argued that it need not be made public for the present as it was likely to affect third parties and claimed certain amount of confidentiality about the information under the RBI Act.

 

  • There is need to modify some legal provisions which prevents disclosure of full details of loans of wilful defaulters and absconders.

 

Question A well-informed public can serve as a watchdog more effectively than existing banking regulatory bodies. Explain the issue of recent bank frauds and suggest some measures.