1. RBI has permitted banks from 18 countries to trade in rupee: Centre
Trade in local currencies have been mooted as a solution to avoid the current wave of wartime international sanctions.
The central bank granted nod to domestic and foreign authorised dealer banks in 60 cases for opening special vostro accounts for settling payment in rupee, says Minister in the Rajya Sabha in response to a question by a BJP member
Banks from 18 countries have been permitted by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to open special vostro rupee accounts (SVRAs) for settling payments in Indian rupees, the government told the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
In response to a question from Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP, Union Minister of State for Finance Bhagwat Kishanrao Karad said the SVRAs could be set up by banks of partner countries by approaching authorised dealer (AD) banks in India that may get permission from the RBI after the due procedure.
Mr. Karad informed that as per records, the RBI had granted approval to “domestic and foreign AD Banks in 60 cases for opening SRVAs of banks from 18 nations — Botswana, Fiji, Germany, Guyana, Israel, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, New Zealand, Oman, Russia, the Seychelles, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda and the United Kingdom”.
Of the 18 countries mentioned in Mr. Karad’s response, Russia has been vocal in using trade in local currency for the overall process of “de-dollarisation”. But India has been supporting the idea of trade in local currency mainly to boost exports.
The process of SVRAs began in July 2022 when the RBI announced that, “it has been decided to put in place an additional arrangementfor invoicing, payment, and settlement of exports/imports in INR [Indian rupees]”.
The announcement came against the backdrop of the commodities crisis triggered by the Western sanctions against Russia after President Vladimir Putin launched the “special military operation” against Ukraine in February 2022. Trade in local currencies have been mooted as a solution to avoid the current wave of wartime international sanctions that are hampering supply chains and global trade flows.
In the past one year, India has finalised trade pacts with partner countries such as the UAE and Australia and begun negotiation with others such as the U.K. and the EU while making inroads for the national currency in bilateral and global trade.
“RBI has also issued FAQs on its website. RBI has clarified matters related to operationalisation of SRVAs through the said FAQs, which are available to banks, importers and exporters,” Mr. Karad said in the Rajya Sabha.
2. House panel on Tribal Affairs apprehensive about PM-PVTG outlay without population data
Weeks after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a ₹15,000-crore expenditure outlay for the Prime Minister’s Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PM-PVTG) Development Mission, the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment on Tuesday expressed disappointment that such a massive budgetary allocation had been planned when even the Ministry of Tribal Affairs does not have data on PVTG populations in several States and Union Territories.
The House panel, headed by BJP MP Rama Devi, in its report on the Demands for Grants of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, said, “The Committee are rather apprehensive on the enhanced budgetary allocation for PVTGs and its utilisation by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs as data on population of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) in several States/U.T.s is still not available with them.”
The panel noted that Ministry officials informed members that for PVTGs, an annual expenditure of ₹5,000 crore had been planned — to be spent over the next three years. The officials also said that the States and Union Territories had been asked to carry out baseline surveys and that this exercise was now under verification process.
“The Committee feel that this should have been done earlier because they strongly believe that in the absence of correct details of the population of PVTGs, the financial allocation for the Scheme may not bear the desired results,” the panel noted.
The House panel also noted that an evaluation study had revealed that PVTG data are absent in many States and UTs, including for Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which the panel members recently visited, and where six of seven Scheduled Tribes groups fall under the PVTG categorisation.
The panel also pointed out that the government had been able to spend just ₹6.48 crore for the development of PVTGs in 2022-23, out of an initial allocation of ₹252 crore, and said that estimates had to be reduced significantly in the financial years 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23.
Expressing hope that the PM-PVTG Development Mission had the potential to rejuvenate a “crumbling scheme”, “if implemented with the requisite push”, the panel said it expects the Ministry to frame the modalities, guidelines and SOPs expeditiously, and also sought regular updates on the same from the Ministry.
On 2023-24 allocation
On the Tribal Affairs allocation of over ₹12,000 crore made in this year’s Budget Estimates, the committee said it appreciated this increase.
However, it noted that in the past three financial years, Tribal Affairs ministry’s allocation has consistently reduced from BE stage to RE stage, and cautioned that the same not be repeated this year.
3. OBC panel does not have caste census data, says govt.
The commission was formed in 2017 by the Union Social Justice Ministry to sub-categorise the nearly 3,000 caste groups that are currently listed as Other Backward Classes on the Central list
Even as experts have said that it will be impossible to conduct an accurate sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBC) groups without some form of a caste census, the Union government on Tuesday informed the Lok Sabha that the Justice G. Rohini Commission, which is looking into the sub-categorisation, has been working without the data from the previous Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) conducted in 2011.
The commission, headed by the former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice G. Rohini (retd.), was formed in 2017 by the Social Justice Ministry, in a bid to sub-categorise the nearly 3,000 caste groups that are currently listed as OBCs on the Central list.
The goal was to determine which caste groups had the most access to benefits, crowding out less privileged caste groups.
The commission, initially tasked with submitting its report within 12 weeks, has been given 14 extensions till date, the most recent one being in January.
In response to a question in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday from A.K.P. Chinraj of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), who had asked if the government had shared caste data from the 2011 SECC with the commission, the Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, A. Narayanaswamy, said: “No sir. No such request has been received from Justice G. Rohini-led Comm- ission.”
Reacting to this, Professor Sukhadeo Thorat, former Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Indian Council of Social Science Research, said, “There has to be a study on socio-economic indicators like education, land-holding, poverty and also on levels of discrimination faced by these caste groups. Without this, any such work would not be possible.”
Further, Harish S. Wankhede, Assistant Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Political Studies, noted that developments related to the sub-categorisation panel showed that the government’s intent is to “not let the OBC question come into the spotlight”. “The importance of conducting a socio-economic census of OBCs cannot be understated,” Mr. Wankhede said.
While the commission is yet to submit its report to the government, its preliminary findings had led it to sub-categorise OBC caste groups into four broad categories.
Among these, the existing 27% OBC quota will be divided — with the maximum reservation going to caste groups that have been historically crowded out, and minimum reservation for the dominant caste groups.
4. Australia to buy U.S. nuclear submarines under AUKUS
Ship mates: (from left to right) Anthony Albanese, Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak at a San Diego naval base in the U.S. on Monday.
Albanese calls it the biggest single investment in Australia’s defence capability in all of its history;
UN nuclear watchdog wants to ensure that there are no proliferation risks from the deal
Australia has unveiled plans to buy up to five U.S. nuclear-powered submarines, then build a new model with U.S. and British technology under an ambitious plan to bulk up Western muscle across the Asia-Pacific in the face of a rising China.
The announcement came on Monday at an event at a San Diego, California, naval base where U.S. President Joe Biden hosted Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
With a U.S. Virginia-class nuclear submarine moored behind the trio’s podium, Mr. Biden said the U.S. had “safeguarded stability in the Indo-Pacific for decades” and that the submarine alliance would bolster “the prospect of peace for decades to come.”
As Mr. Biden stressed, Australia, which joined a newly formed alliance known as AUKUS with Washington and London 18 months ago, will not be getting nuclear weapons.
However, acquiring stealthy submarines powered by nuclear reactors puts Australia in an elite club and at the forefront of U.S.-led efforts to push back against Chinese military expansion.
Mr. Albanese said the deal represents the biggest single investment in Australia’s defence capability “in all of our history.”
The submarines are expected to be equipped with cruise missiles that can strike foes from long distances, offering a potent deterrent to would-be attackers.
Mr. Albanese predicted that the wider economic impact at home would be akin to the introduction of the automobile industry in the country after World War II.
Meanwhile, the UN nuclear watchdog on Tuesday said it has to ensure that “no proliferation risks” will come from the deal.
“Ultimately, the agency must ensure that no proliferation risks will emanate from this project,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said. “The legal obligations of the parties and the non-proliferation aspects are paramount,” Mr. Grossi added.
The U.K. and the U.S., both nuclear-weapons states, have to report to the IAEA “international transfers of nuclear material” to non-nuclear-weapon states such as Australia, the press release said.
Deal to be struck
Australia, for its part, will have to make “an arrangement” with the UN watchdog to be able to use nuclear material “such as nuclear propulsion for submarines”, Mr. Grossi stressed.
The Australian government estimates the multi-decade project will cost almost $40 billion in the first 10 years, and create an estimated 20,000 jobs.
Three conventionally armed, nuclear-powered Virginia class vessels will be sold “over the course of the 2030s,” with the “possibility of going up to five if that is needed,” Mr. Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, said.
Britain and Australia will then embark on building a new model, also nuclear-powered and carrying conventional weapons, dubbed the SSN-AUKUS. This will be a British design, with U.S. technology, and “significant investments in all three industrial bases,” Mr. Sullivan said.
5. China says AUKUS deal going down the ‘wrong and dangerous path’
Expressing its “firm opposition” to Monday’s announcement on Australia’s purchase of nuclear-powered submarines, China’s government on Tuesday slammed the Australia, U.S. and U.K. (AUKUS) partnership as going “down the wrong and dangerous path” and undermining international nuclear non-proliferation.
“We’ve repeatedly said that the establishment of the so-called AUKUS security partnership between the U.S., the U.K. and Australia to promote cooperation on nuclear submarines and other cutting-edge military technologies is a typical Cold War mentality. It will only exacerbate arms race, undermine the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and hurt regional peace and stability,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in Beijing.
“The latest joint statement issued by the U.S., the U.K. and Australia shows that the three countries, for their own geopolitical interests, have totally disregarded the concerns of the international community and gone further down the wrong and dangerous path. Nuclear submarine cooperation between the U.S., the U.K. and Australia involves the transfer of large amounts of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium from nuclear weapon states to a non-nuclear weapon state, which poses a serious nuclear proliferation risk and violates the purpose and object of the NPT.”
On the three countries’ on Monday committing to follow the highest non-proliferation standards, Mr. Wang said it was “nothing but a high-sounding rhetoric to deceive the world.”
“In essence, itis a move to coerce the IAEA Secretariat into making safeguards exemption arrangements, which would seriously undermine the authority of the body. China is firmly opposed to this,” he added.
The deal, the spokesperson said, would damage the “integrity, efficacy and authority of the NPT”. “The safeguards issues related to AUKUS concern the interests of all member states of the IAEA and should be jointly discussed and decided by all member states through a transparent, open and inclusive intergovernmental process,” Mr. Wang said.
6. WPI inflation eases to 3.85%, manufactured products help
February’s deceleration in wholesale price gains follows January’s rate of 4.73% and December’s upwardly revised 5.02%; base effect also contributes as February 2022 had seen inflation of 13.4%
Inflation based on the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) moderated to a two-year low of 3.85% in February from 4.73% in January, with manufactured products’ inflation cooling from 3% to a little under 2%, and primary articles, food and fuel and power recording milder downturns in the pace of inflation from a month earlier. The base effect also contributed as February 2022 saw a 13.4% pace.
The wholesale inflation rate for December was revised upwards to 5.02% from 4.95%. Fuel and power inflation eased slightly to 14.8%. Inflation measured by the Wholesale Food Index eased to 2.76% from 2.95% in January, the pace of decline slightly higher than witnessed in consumer food prices, which moved from 6% to 5.95% in the same period.
Onion prices continued to fall for the 18th straight month, shrinking 40.1%.
“Amidst a mixed trend in the wholesale prices of essential commodities in the early part of the month, the wholesale price inflation is anticipated to soften to about 2% in March,” ICRA said in a note. “Outlook for food inflation… is clouded by emerging risks such as a potential heatwave and the development of El Nino conditions,” it cautioned.
7. EDITORIAL-1: Inertia, intervention
Legislative inaction on social issues will legitimise judicial intervention
The Supreme Court’s decision to refer to a Constitution Bench the issue of granting legal recognition to same-sex marriages can be seen as an important step towards ensuring gender equality, despite apprehension that it is encroaching on the legislative domain. Petitioners before the Court view the idea of giving of legal status for marriages between people belonging to the same sex as a natural consequence of the 2018 judgment decriminalising homosexuality. The government, however, contends that there is no need to depart from the heteronormative understanding of marriage. And even if there ought to be such a change, it must come from the legislature. The question before the Court is whether it should interpret provisions of marriage laws in India, especially the Special Marriage Act, 1954, as permitting marital unions between same-sex couples. The Act allows the solemnisation of a marriage between any two persons and is used by those who are unable to register their marriages under their respective personal laws. The Union government has argued that the decriminalisation of consensual relations between adults of the same sex has removed the stigma attached to homosexuality, but has not conferred the right of marriage. And that the state is entitled to limit its recognition to marriages involving heterosexual couples. There is no discrimination, it claims, in keeping same-sex couples out of the definition of marriage.
In terms of the equality norm, the central question is not very complicated. It can be recognised that no civil right available to married heterosexual couples ought to be denied to those who belong to the same gender. The incidental consequences on issues of property and succession may not pose insurmountable difficulties. The Centre’s other argument, invoking religious norms and cultural values, against recognising same-sex marriages is weak and inadequate. It is futile to argue that it will undermine faith or rock societal values. The mere fact that many people consider marriage to be a sacrament or a holy union is not enough to deny equal status to the union of people of the same sex or to undermine its essential character as a social and economic contract. Whether the remedy ought to take the form of recognition of same-sex marriages, and, if so, whether it should be through judicial intervention or legislative action, is the question. That the legislature should be involved in bringing about far-reaching changes that may impact the personal laws of all religions is indeed an acceptable proposition. A responsive government that wants to treat this as a matter of policy and not cede space to the courts would act on its own to consider the right of any two people, regardless of gender, to marry or found a family. Legislative inaction on burning social issues will legitimise and invite judicial intervention.