1. Modi releases aid for farmers
Economic indicators in a better position than in pre-COVID era, says PM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday released over ₹20,900 crore to more than 10.09 crore farmers across India as the 10th instalment of financial aid under the PM-KISAN scheme.
Mr. Modi released the amount to beneficiaries at an event held through video conference.
Speaking on the first day of 2022, his 35-minute address was also a report card of the performance of his government over the past one year.
The economic indicators, Mr. Modi said, are in a better position than in the pre-COVID era. Foreign direct investment and GST collections are high. The growth rate, he said, is more than 8%. He applauded the 42 unicorn firms that came into existence during the pandemic.
The year 2021, Mr. Modi said, will be remembered for the country’s fight against the pandemic but equally it will also be remembered for the government’s effort to bring in reforms. “In 2022, we have to increase our pace,” he said.
He also spoke at length about all the government policy initiatives in the farm sector. He did not though speak about the controversial farm laws that his government was forced to repeal following sustained agitation by agricultural groups.
Efforts to handle COVID
The Prime Minister also spoke about India’s efforts to deal with the pandemic. “Could any one imagine a country as diverse as India administer 145 crore doses of COVID vaccine? Who would have thought that India could make a record 2.5 crore vaccine in a day,” he said. During these tough pandemic years, he said, 2 crore households have got piped water connection.
Under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) scheme, a financial benefit of ₹6,000 a year is provided to the eligible farmer families, payable in three equal instalments of ₹2,000. The money is transferred directly to the bank account of the beneficiaries.
During the virtual event, the Prime Minister also released an equity grant of more than ₹14 crore to about 351 farmer producer organisations (FPOs), benefiting 1.24 lakh farmers. He stressed the effectiveness of the FPOs which he said, has helped in bringing down the input cost. The FPOs, he said, also give a better bargaining power to the farmers.
The virtual event was attended by nine Chief Ministers, several Ministers from various States, and representatives of agricultural institutions.
On the occasion, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said on the first day of the New Year 2022, around ₹20,900 crore is being transferred to about 10.09 crore beneficiaries. He also said the PM-KISAN programme was launched as part of the government’s effort to help double the income of farmers.
The ninth instalment of PM-KISAN was released in August 2021.
With the released latest tranche, the total amount provided under the scheme has touched about ₹1.8 lakh crore.
PM-KISAN scheme was announced in the February 2019 Budget. The first instalment was for the period December 2018 to March 2019.
The Government with a view to augment the income of the farm families is implementing a Central Sector Scheme, namely,”Pradhan Mantri KIsan SAmman Nidhi (PM-KISAN)”. The Scheme is in effect from 01.12.2018.
With a view to provide income support to all land holding eligible farmer families, the Government has launched PM-KISAN. The scheme aims to supplement the financial needs of the farmers in procuring various inputs to ensure proper crop health and appropriate yields, commensurate with the anticipated farm income.
Eligibility – It will be given per year to all landholder farmers’ families in the country except,
- All Institutional Land holders.
- Farmer families in which one or more of its members belong to following categories,
a) Former and present holders of constitutional post.
b) Former and present – Ministers/ State Ministers, MPs & MLAs
c) Former and present Mayors of Municipal Corporations, Chairpersons of District Panchayats.
d) All serving or retired officers and employees of Central/ State Government Ministries /Offices/Departments and its field units Central or State PSEs and Attached offices /Autonomous Institutions under Government as well as regular employees of the Local Bodies.
e) All superannuated/retired pensioners whose monthly pension is Rs.10,000/-or more (Excluding Multi-Tasking Staff / Class IV/Group D employees)
f) All Persons who paid Income Tax in last assessment year.
g) Professionals like Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, Chartered Accountants, and Architects registered with Professional bodies and carrying out profession by undertaking practices.
Conditions of the scheme:
- The amount will be given in three instalments of Rs.2000 each.
- The amount will be transferred directly to the bank account of beneficiaries through Direct Benefit Transfer to ensure transparency and save time for the farmers.
- The changes in land records after February 1, 2019 shall not be considered for this scheme.
- State Government and UT Administration will identify the beneficiaries.
- The cash transfer is not linked to the land size and hence it becomes an income supplement to landowning households.
- However, it has left the landless tenants out of its scope.
2. India gifts 5 lakh doses of Covaxin to Afghanistan
Wheat and medicines will also be sent as part of the humanitarian aid programme to the Taliban-ruled country
India began the New Year by handing over half-a-million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Afghanistan on Saturday. The consignment is part of a gift of million doses, the supply of which will be completed within the coming weeks. The humanitarian aid was flown to Kabul by a flight of Iran’s Mahan air.
India will also send wheat and medicines, as part of the humanitarian aid programme.
“The Government of India is committed to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghan people consisting of food grains, one million doses of COVID vaccine and essential life-saving drugs,” a press release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said. Saturday’s delivery is the second time in a month that India has provided aid to the Taliban-ruled country. On December 11, India sent the first consignment of 1.5 tonnes of medicines.
Appreciating India’s gesture, Taliban’s “Permanent Representative Designate” to the United Nations, Suhail Shaheen told The Hindu, “Our people are passing through a critical time now, we welcome and appreciate humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan by your country. It is a positive humanitarian step.”
Pakistan, Iran, the UAE, China, Russia and Qatar are among the countries that supply medicines and aid to Afghanistan.
India supplied COVID-19 vaccines to Afghanistan in February 2021 but the latest delivery is the first time since the Taliban’s arrival in August.
“In the coming weeks, we would be undertaking the supply of wheat and the remaining medical assistance. In this regard, we are in touch with UN agencies and others for finalising the modalities for transportation,” an official press statement declared.
Following the takeover by the Taliban, Afghanistan’s health infrastructure was crushed by the exodus of educated and trained medical personnel as well as a lack of supplies. One of the key concerns for the administration of vaccines in Afghanistan will be the condition of the facilities that will store the perishable consignment.
Indira Gandhi hospital
But sources expressed confidence that the vaccines will be kept at the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul which still has the facilities for storing vaccines in optimum conditions.
India has not formally recognised the Taliban administration of Kabul as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan and has been demanding that the international community go slow in granting de jure status to the new rulers who unleashed a violent campaign for two decades against successive governments of Afghanistan under former Presidents Ashraf Ghani and Hamid Karzai and the U.S.-led foreign forces.
However, since last September, New Delhi has been urging the international community to ensure delivery of humanitarian goods to ease the suffering of the common people who are facing the dual crisis of breakdown of governance and economy as well as the exhausted health sector in Afghanistan.
India Afghan Relationship post Taliban Occupation
The internationally-recognised Afghan government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA), led by President Ashraf Ghani, collapsed with the capitulation of the Afghan armed forces against a marauding Taliban militia. The armed forces and a government built over 20 years withered away ahead of the scheduled withdrawal of the US-led forces.
The US military presence in Afghanistan, and its mission to democratise that country, have come to a chaotic and humiliating end. India had developed close ties with the IRA during the period of reconstruction. India provided strong support to the Afghan armed forces with training and weaponry. The close ties with the IRA had put India at odds with the Taliban. When the Biden administration reiterated earlier this year that the US resolved to completely withdraw from Afghanistan, the policy options before India narrowed.
The Taliban, which refers to its regime as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), is an Islamist religious-political movement and militant organisation. The Taliban are regarded by many governments around the world, including India, and by the United Nations as terrorists. It is one of two entities claiming to be the legitimate government of Afghanistan, alongside the internationallyrecognised IRA.
The US-led alliance invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to bring to justice the perpetrators of the 9/11 terror attacks in the US and to deny safe haven to terrorism in Afghanistan for all time to come. The US was able to displace the Taliban from power by early 2002 and brought forth a democratic process while the country remained plagued by an insurgency led by the Taliban. After pouring billions of dollars and holding multiple elections since 2001, Afghanistan is back to square one, with the potential of becoming a hotbed for global terror once again.
India had backed the Northern Alliance that had politically and militarily opposed the Taliban regime from 1996-2001. After the overthrow of the Taliban regime, India invested approximately $3 billion in developmental assistance in Afghanistan — with the Afghan parliament building and the Afghan-India Friendship Dam being the showpieces. India has been home to a significant Afghan student population, many under government sponsorship. As we wait for the Taliban-led government to be formally announced, India should look to engage with them constructively, despite the issues of international recognition. Several countries have been unequivocal in their stance of not recognising a Taliban-dominated government in Kabul. India, with due circumspection, should consider official recognition of a Taliban-dominated government in a gradual manner.
India would be better off engaging with the Taliban regime instead of an obstinate opposition to the proscribed terror group. The novel approach of promoting a democratic process does not always help in securing India’s interests. After all, India has been engaging constructively with countries such as Myanmar and Iran. Moreover, with the Taliban in power, Pakistan is likely to strategically dominate the region and can potentially use Afghanistan as a base against India — as it has done in the past. Thus, it is in India’s interest to ensure that it has a working relationship with the Taliban regime and also retains its soft power to counter Pakistan’s influence in the region. India has to balance its commitment to a multi-ethnic Afghanistan with the realpolitik of engaging the Taliban regime. The Taliban derives its support from ethnic Pashtuns and has been hostile to other ethnic and religious groups such as Shia Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hindus and Sikhs, amongst others.
Given the Taliban’s extremist past, the Indian government will have to tread carefully while negotiating with the Taliban. The ties between the Taliban and terrorist organisations in South Asia have haunted India, as in December 1999 when an Indian commercial aircraft was hijacked and flown to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Peace in the Kashmir Valley remains a top priority for the Indian government. Pakistan and its religious proxies in Afghanistan have strongly backed the Taliban movement since its inception in the early 1990s in the tribal areas of the Af-Pak border region. India’s outreach to the Taliban will have to carefully offset any anti-India behaviour that Pakistan might force on the Taliban.
Further, China and Russia have displayed a keen inclination to officially court the Taliban after its capture of most of Afghanistan at breakneck speed. Russia and China are looking to secure their interests in Afghanistan, in addition to filling the vacuum created by the exit of US-led security forces. India, like Western democracies, has a tendency to push the democratic value system at the cost of its strategic interests. But now, it is in India’s interest to look beyond the nation-building and democracypromotion paradigms and strive to re-establish a working relationship with the Taliban regime.
3. Military conflict not the answer: Taiwan to China
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen marked the new year with a message for China: military conflict is not the answer.
“We must remind the Beijing authorities to not misjudge the situation and to prevent the internal expansion of ‘military adventurism’,” Ms. Tsai said on Saturday in her New Year’s speech broadcast live on Facebook.
In Chinese President Xi Jinping’s New Year address the day before, he said the complete unification of “the motherland” was an aspiration shared by people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan says it is an independent country and has repeatedly vowed to defend its freedom and democracy.
“Military conflicts would impact economic stability,” Ms. Tsai said.
China- Taiwan relations- Background:
China has claimed Taiwan through its “one China” policy since the Chinese civil war forced the defeated Kuomintang, or Nationalist, to flee to the island in 1949 and has vowed to bring it under Beijing’s rule, by force if necessary.
While Taiwan is self-governed and de facto independent, it has never formally declared independence from the mainland.
Under the “one country, two systems” formula, Taiwan would have the right to run its own affairs; a similar arrangement is used in Hong Kong.
Presently, Taiwan is claimed by China, which refuses diplomatic relations with countries that recognise the region.
Indo- Taiwan relations:
Although they do not have formal diplomatic ties, Taiwan and India have been cooperating in various fields.
India has refused to endorse the “one-China” policy since 2010.
4. What will be the impact of China’s border law?
Why has Beijing renamed several places in Arunachal Pradesh? How has India responded?
The story so far: On December 30, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs said it had issued “standardised” names for 15 places in the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh. The names are to be used henceforth on all official Chinese documents and maps, which show Arunachal as “south Tibet”. India responded to the move saying that “assigning invented names” will not alter the facts on the ground or Arunachal Pradesh’s status as an integral part of India. The issuing of the names came ahead of a new land border law taking into effect on January 1, 2022, which India has also voiced concern about.
What is behind the move to issue ‘standardised’ names?
In 2017, Chinese authorities first issued six “official” names for places in Arunachal Pradesh. That move was seen at the time as a retaliatory measure after the Dalai Lama visited the State. The new list is more extensive. It has 15 names, including eight towns, four mountains, two rivers and one mountain pass, covering 11 districts in Arunachal from Tawang in the west to Anjaw in the east. Following the issuing of the names, all official Chinese maps will have to mark the locations using the Ministry of Civil Affairs list. The naming is a largely symbolic gesture that will not change facts on the ground. It is, however, indicative of a broader new Chinese approach to territorial disputes. Zhang Yongpan, a leading Chinese expert on border issues at the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the official media that the renaming, coupled with a new land border law, were “important moves made by the country to safeguard national sovereignty, better maintain national security and manage border-related matters at the legal level amid regional tensions, including frictions with India.”
What is the significance of the new law?
Proposed in March 2021, a year into the crisis along the Line of Actual Control, the border law, which took effect on January 1, 2022, lists various responsibilities for civilian and military authorities in China to take steps to “safeguard national sovereignty”. The law has 62 articles in seven chapters, covering delineation and border defence to immigration, border management and trade. The issuing of new names is related to Article 7, which calls for promoting border education at all levels of government. Article 22 calls for the Chinese military to carry out border drills and to “resolutely prevent, stop and combat” what it calls “invasions, encroachments and provocations”.
How will it affect the India-China border dispute?
The broader aim of the land border law, in the view of New Delhi, is to give legal cover and formalise the Chinese military’s transgressions across the LAC in 2020. The border law also appears to give fresh impetus to civilian agencies in China to continue carrying out the construction of infrastructure, including “frontier villages”, in border areas, including some in disputed territories along the border with India and Bhutan, the only two countries with which China has unsettled land boundaries. Under the border village construction plan, launched in 2017, China is building 628 “first line and second line villages” in border areas and moving residents, mainly herders, to live in the new dwellings along the borders with India, Bhutan and Nepal as well.
In November 2021, satellite images surfaced showing a second Chinese cluster of 60 newly built dwellings on what India sees as its territory in Arunachal Pradesh, around 100 km east of another village built in late 2020. The territory in question has been under Chinese control since 1959 and previously had Chinese military installations there, but the civilian constructions were seen as further bolstering Chinese claims and essentially a fait accompli with regard to land that is still disputed and under negotiation by the two sides.
In October 2021, India expressed concern over the new law, saying that “China’s unilateral decision to bring out a legislation which can have implications on our existing bilateral arrangements on border management… is of concern to us”.
5. How will revised IPO rules affect the market?
What do the new SEBI norms state on preferential allotments and price band? Who benefits from the changes?
The story so far: The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on Tuesday came out with some fresh rules for initial public offerings (IPOs).
The new rules will oversee how companies price their shares, how they use the money that they receive from investors, how much of their stake promoters of a company can sell during an IPO, and how soon anchor investors can sell the stakes they picked up before the IPO.
What is it?
According to the new SEBI rules, the price band of an IPO should be set in such a way that the ceiling price is at least 105% of the floor price.
Secondly, companies will not be allowed to use more than 35% of the money that they collect through IPOs to fund the purchase of other businesses, unless they offer sufficient details.
Thirdly, promoters with a stake of over 20% in a company cannot sell more than half of their stake in an IPO.
And lastly, anchor investors will not be able to sell more than half their shares before 90 days from the date of the IPO, against the current time stipulation of 30 days.
Why has SEBI come up with these new regulations?
Stock markets across the world have witnessed a boom in IPO offerings with a record amount of capital being raised by companies. In India alone, capital worth over ₹1 trillion has been mopped up through IPOs this year. It is natural for both the number and the size of IPOs to rise during a bull market. Companies see bull markets, in which usually a lot of investor money is chasing stocks and causing them to be overvalued, as an opportunity to collect the necessary funds for their growth. The owners of many companies may also see the IPO boom as an opportunity to sell their stake in the business at an attractive price.
Notably, a lot of companies that raised funds through IPOs this year, such as Zomato, Paytm etc., are loss-making. This puts investors who have invested in these IPOs at the risk of huge losses if the prices of these shares witness a sharp correction. Paytm, for instance, has lost more than one-third of its value since it was listed for trading. SEBI believes that the new regulations will ensure that promoters of companies will have more skin in the game. Its price band rule, on the other hand, seems to be aimed to tackle the trend among companies of setting a narrow price band for their issues. SEBI believes that a narrow price band impedes the price discovery process.
Will the new regulations help?
SEBI’s new rules have been widely welcomed for trying to protect retail investors from risks in the booming IPO market. However, some fear that the new rules may hinder the raising of fresh capital by companies to fuel growth.
For instance, mandating companies to be specific about how they will use the money that they collect through IPOs can affect flexibility as business conditions can change fast in the real world. Further, the restriction on anchor investors can affect liquidity in the market as many large investors may not be willing to hold their investments over 90 days and thus decide to completely abstain from participating in IPOs.
Some critics also raise the question of whether SEBI should be trying to handhold investors at all when it comes to making investment decisions. They believe investors, who have the most to lose or gain from their investment decisions, are best equipped to conduct the necessary due diligence before investing in IPOs. The same goes for how companies decide to price their IPOs. Companies would generally avoid under-pricing or over-pricing their issues since it would affect how much capital they can raise. In fact, setting narrow price bands could be a way to avoid valuation uncertainties that can affect fundraising.
6. Punishing hate speech
Do existing laws cover inflammatory and provocative talk? Should the provisions be made more stringent?
The story so far: A recent religious conclave held in Haridwar witnessed inflammatory and provocative speeches by proponents of Hindutva, many of them leaders of religious organisations. Reports say many of the speakers called for organised violence against Muslims and hinted at a Myanmar-type ‘cleansing campaign’. There was a threat that if the government resisted the formation of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, there will be an ‘1857-like’ revolt against the state. Political parties and concerned citizens have termed these as ‘hate speech’ and demanded legal action against those involved in the propagation of hate and violence.
What is ‘hate speech’?
There is no specific legal definition of ‘hate speech’. Provisions in law criminalise speeches, writings, actions, signs and representations that foment violence and spread disharmony between communities and groups and these are understood to refer to ‘hate speech’.
The Law Commission of India, in its 267th Report, says: “Hate speech generally is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief and the like … Thus, hate speech is any word written or spoken, signs, visible representations within the hearing or sight of a person with the intention to cause fear or alarm, or incitement to violence.”
In general, hate speech is considered a limitation on free speech that seeks to prevent or bar speech that exposes a person or a group or section of society to hate, violence, ridicule or indignity.
How is it treated in Indian law?
Sections 153A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code are generally taken to be the main penal provisions that deal with inflammatory speeches and expressions that seek to punish ‘hate speech’.
Under Section 153A, ‘promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony’, is an offence punishable with three years’ imprisonment. It attracts a five-year term if committed in a place of worship, or an assembly engaged in religious worship or religious ceremonies.
Section 505 of IPC makes it an offence to making “statements conducing to public mischief”. The statement, publication, report or rumour that is penalised under Section 505(1) should be one that promotes mutiny by the armed forces, or causes such fear or alarm that people are induced to commit an offence against the state or public tranquillity; or is intended to incite or incites any class or community to commit an offence against another class or community. This attracts a jail term of up to three years. Under 505(2), it is an offence to make statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes. Under subsection (3), the same offence will attract up to a five-year jail term if it takes place in a place of worship, or in any assembly engaged in religious worship or religious ceremonies.
What has the Law Commission proposed?
The Law Commission has proposed that separate offences be added to the IPC to criminalise hate speech quite specifically instead of being subsumed in the existing sections concerning inflammatory acts and speeches. It has proposed that two new sections, Section 153C and Section 505A, be added.
Its draft says Section 153C should make it an offence if anyone (a) uses gravely threatening words, spoken or written or signs or visible representations, with the intention to cause fear or alarm; or (b) advocates hatred that causes incitement to violence, on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe. It proposes a two-year jail term for this and/or a fine of ₹5,000 or both.
Its draft for Section 505A proposes to criminalise words, or display of writing or signs that are gravely threatening or derogatory, within the hearing or sight of a person, causing fear or alarm or, with intent to provoke the use of unlawful violence against that person or another”. It proposes a prison term of up to one year and/or a fine up to ₹5,000 or both.
Similar proposals to add sections to the IPC to punish acts and statements that promote racial discrimination or amount to hate speech have been made by the M.P. Bezbaruah Committee and the T.K. Viswanathan Committee. At present, the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws, which is considering more comprehensive changes to criminal law, is examining the issue of having specific provisions to tackle hate speech.
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