1. ‘Record’ FDI inflows, yes, cause for celebration, no
The inflows during 2020-21 have not been in sync with the Government’s priorities for economic recovery
In an otherwise gloomy economic scenario, one area of cheer for the Government has been the numbers on inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI). In a recent press release, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry announced that “India has attracted highest ever total FDI inflow of U.S.$81.72 billion during the financial year 2020-21 and it is 10 percent higher as compared to the last financial year 2019-20”. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) reported that the equity component of inflows was over U.S.$61.4 billion, a 19% increase over the U.S.$51.7 billion received in 2019-20. The credit for this record level of inflows was given to FDI policy reforms, investment facilitation and ease of doing business.
Taken on their face value, these numbers are indeed creditable, especially given that global FDI inflows in 2020 had declined by 42% over the level in 2019, and inflows to developing countries had fallen by 12%. However, if we consider the disaggregated data on inflows into India, the reality of foreign investors’ participation in the Indian economy seems a sharp contrast to what the Ministry has presented.
RBI data as a pointer
The RBI provides a useful disaggregation of total inflows of foreign capital into India. This shows that net of repatriation/disinvestment, FDI inflows had declined by 2.4% in 2020-21, as compared to the previous year. This was due to a 47.2% increase in repatriation/disinvestment, which had reached a record level of U.S.$27.0 billion. The RBI reports yet another disquieting aspect of foreign capital inflow in 2020-21, a high increase in portfolio investment, fuelled entirely by a 69-fold increase in the participation by foreign institutional investors (FIIs), totalling U.S.$38 billion. This was the second highest level of FIIs’ involvement in India, after they invested U.S.$42 billion in 2014-15. Surely, sustained sizeable repatriation of the long-term FDI, together with a large increase in speculative capital does not bode well for an economy looking to recover from an economic slump.
Who the recipients are
Analysis of FDI inflows remains largely incomplete without referring to the largest recipients of FDI, which is possible using the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade database. Currently, data for the first three quarters of 2020-21 are available, during which 86% of the equity inflows for the financial year were received. This data shows that three Reliance Group companies, namely Jio Platforms, Reliance Retail Ventures and Reliance BP Mobility, together received U.S.$27.8 billion or, 54.1% of the total equity inflows during the three quarters. Other large recipients, though with far lower shares, were Schneider Electric India, Byju’s, ArcelorMittal India, GMR Airports and Amazon Seller Services.
More than U.S.$20 billion of promoter’s shares in Jio Platforms, currently having the largest wireless subscriber base in India, were sold to 14 foreign investors, including Facebook, Google, KKR & Co., Qualcomm and a number of financial investors and sovereign wealth funds. A major part of the funds was meant to facilitate Reliance Industries to withdraw its investments already made in the form of Optionally Convertible Preference Shares. This, therefore, amounted to indirect acquisition of shares held by Reliance Industries. While the entire investment in Reliance Retail was by financial investors, viewed in the context of Reliance Group’s expansion through acquisitions (e.g. Future Group and Urban Platter) the end use of the inflows becomes obvious. Again, bulk of the investment into Reliance BP Mobility was through the acquisition route.
Facebook’s entry in Jio Platform offered two significant benefits to the foreign partner; one, to substantially expand its social media reach by piggy-backing on Jio Platforms and, two giving Facebook a share in India’s rapidly expanding e-commerce business through Jio Mart. Following the Facebook deal, Reliance announced its partnership with Google for building an Android operating system, by selling 7.7% in Jio Platforms. Facebook’s shareholding was pegged at 9.9% possibly because the International Monetary Fund (and also the RBI) stipulates that if a foreign investor holds 10% or more of voting shares in a company, the investor “exercises a significant degree of influence on its management”. Interestingly, Jio Platforms remains “Indian controlled”, even though two major American companies now own nearly 18% of its shares.
Acquisitions lie behind other major inflows as well: Schneider Electric’s acquisition of L&T’s Electrical & Automation business, ArcelorMittal’s acquisition of Essar Steel, and Byju’s acquiring a number of companies including Akash Educational Services. GMR’s deal with Groupe ADP of France paved the way for a foreign government-controlled company to have a say in India’s aviation infrastructure. It may be pointed out that the RBI’s data on acquisition-related inflows grossly underestimate the extent to which foreign investors have taken over existing businesses.
Perhaps alluding to these large cases of inflows, the RBI commented in its Annual Report thus: “Even though FDI inflows were stronger in 2020-21, their distribution was highly skewed. The coefficient of variation of FDI flows (based on transaction size) was larger during the pandemic period, implying concentration in distribution. The lower incidence of transactions points to the underlying weakness in FDI inflows during the year. Without the top five FDI deals, FDI inflows during 2020-21 would have declined by about a third of their level a year ago”. The RBI is entirely correct in its observation that without the large inflows mentioned above, there is a serious question mark over FDI inflows. In the absence of large inflows, FDI equity inflows suffered a precipitous fall in Q4 of 2020-21, the second lowest inflows in Q4 since 2014-15 barring 2016-17.
Although the RBI has expressed its optimism that “[G]oing forward, the pipeline of FDI for 2021-22 could be supported by the thrust given to PLI and domestic growth prospects”, the nature of the bulk of the “investments” which involved a mere transfer of shares without creating productive assets in the country perhaps belies the expectation that FDI can contribute to the revival of the economy. This view is reinforced by the fact that contrary to the Government’s expectations of a larger magnitude of inflows into the manufacturing sector, this sector received just 17.4% of the total inflows during 2020-21.
To the services sector
The services sector attracted nearly 80% of the total inflows with information technology enabled services (ITeS) being the largest component, accounting for over 47% of the inflows thanks to the RBI’s classification of Jio Platforms as “Other information technology and computer service activities”. Wholesale and retail trade were the other prominent ones. According to the RBI, non-acquisition-related inflows into the manufacturing sector were the lowest in 2020-21 even in absolute terms, over the past five years. They were U.S.$6.7 billion in 2020-21, as compared to U.S.$12 billion in 2016-17, and were lower than even the previous year’s amount of U.S.$8.2 billion by 1.3%. Quick calculations based on the RBI data (which are gross underestimates) show that 34.9% of the reported inflows into the manufacturing sector were acquisition-related.
Clearly, FDI inflows have not been in sync with the government’s priorities for the post-COVID-19 economic recovery: the AatmaNirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan, anchored on the revival of the manufacturing sector through the Performance Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme. When this is the situation, ‘record’ levels of FDI inflows during 2020-21 cannot be a cause for celebration.
Foreign Direct Investment
- FDI is the process whereby residents of one country (the home country) acquire ownership of assets for the purpose of controlling the production, distribution and other activities of a firm in another country (the host country).
- It is different from Foreign Portfolio Investment where the foreign entity merely buys stocks and bonds of a company. FPI does not provide the investor with control over the business.
- Flows of FDI comprise capital provided (either directly or through other related enterprises) by a foreign direct investor to an enterprise.
- FDI has three components, viz., equity capital, reinvested earnings and intra-company loans.
- Equity capital is the foreign direct investor’s purchase of shares of an enterprise in a country other than its own.
- Reinvested earnings comprise the direct investors’ share (in proportion to direct equity participation) of earnings not distributed as dividends by affiliates, or earnings not remitted to the direct investor. Such retained profits by affiliates are reinvested.
- Intra-company loans or intra-company debt transactions refer to short- or long-term borrowing and lending of funds between direct investors (or enterprises) and affiliate enterprises.
- Routes through which India gets FDI:
- Automatic Route: In this, the foreign entity does not require the prior approval of the government or the RBI.
- Government route: In this, the foreign entity has to take the approval of the government.
- The Foreign Investment Facilitation Portal (FIFP) facilitates the single window clearance of applications which are through approval route.
Automatic Route FDI
In the automatic route, the foreign entity does not require the prior approval of the government or the RBI.
- Medical devices: up to 100%
- Thermal power: up to 100%
- Services under Civil Aviation Services such as Maintenance & Repair Organizations
- Insurance: up to 49%
- Infrastructure company in the securities market: up to 49%
- Ports and shipping
- Railway infrastructure
- Pension: up to 49%
- Power exchanges: up to 49%
- Petroleum Refining (By PSUs): up to 49%
Government Route FDI
Under the government route, the foreign entity should compulsorily take the approval of the government. It should file an application through the Foreign Investment Facilitation Portal, which facilitates single-window clearance. This application is then forwarded to the respective ministry or department, which then approves or rejects the application after consultation with the DPIIT.
- Broadcasting Content Services: 49%
- Banking & Public sector: 20%
- Food Products Retail Trading: 100%
- Core Investment Company: 100%
- Multi-Brand Retail Trading: 51%
- Mining & Minerals separations of titanium bearing minerals and ores: 100%
- Print Media (publications/printing of scientific and technical magazines/speciality journals/periodicals and a facsimile edition of foreign newspapers): 100%
- Satellite (Establishment and operations): 100%
- Print Media (publishing of newspaper, periodicals and Indian editions of foreign magazines dealing with news & current affairs): 26%
Sectors where FDI is prohibited
There are some sectors where any FDI is completely prohibited. They are:
- Agricultural or Plantation Activities (although there are many exceptions like horticulture, fisheries, tea plantations, Pisciculture, animal husbandry, etc.)
- Atomic Energy Generation
- Nidhi Company
- Lotteries (online, private, government, etc.)
- Investment in Chit Funds
- Trading in TDR’s
- Any Gambling or Betting businesses
- Cigars, Cigarettes, or any related tobacco industry
- Housing and Real Estate (except townships, commercial projects, etc.)
2. Energy inefficiency can short circuit cooling India
As Indian homes will be a key site where future cooling demand will play out, awareness of energy efficiency is crucial
More frequent and intense heat waves are expected with a rise in global temperatures due to climate change. In the last three decades, there have been 660 heat waves across India causing 12,273 deaths (https://bit.ly/3pXxtNj). India, with currently low penetration levels of air conditioners (ACs), will likely require substantial cooling services to keep citizens healthy and productive. The India Cooling Action Plan projects the number of room air conditioners to become about four times in the next 10 years, and about 10 times in the next 20 years, making India the world’s largest energy user for cooling.
Here lies a conundrum. Cooling will likely be at the forefront of India’s adaptation to climate change, but if cooling needs are met with inefficient ACs, it could be the bane of India’s mitigation efforts. Indian homes will be an important site where this conundrum between cooling needs and potential emissions will play out. Despite its clear importance, the implications of an increase in residential cooling demand have not been carefully examined. Estimates of AC ownership and usage, the two factors which will determine the extent of future cooling demand, have little empirical backing. We know little about what cooling appliances people seek, and how and why people make their purchase decisions. The pursuit of energy efficiency, too — for instance, who buys efficient technologies and why — remains underexplored.
Delhi survey results
In a recently published paper (https://bit.ly/3vBtTtu) in the Environmental Research Letters, my colleagues and I look at household cooling patterns, and unpack household characteristics that are leading to increased use of air conditioners and adoption of energy efficient choices. The findings are based on a door-to-door household survey in areas of Delhi, with above average levels of AC penetration.
We find that the desired levels of cooling vary greatly even among relatively homogenous communities. In Delhi’s wealthy neighbourhoods, 43% of the households own an AC, 39% own coolers and 18% only have a fan. Further, the way households use ACs also differs quite a bit. While most households use an AC for three to four hours a day during peak summer months, about 15% use ACs for over eight hours a day. It is interesting to note that the India Cooling Action Plan in its estimation of residential cooling demand, assumes that an average household uses an AC for eight hours a day, which as per our study seems to be an upper bound. People prefer different AC set-point temperatures, again indicative of varying perceptions of thermal comfort. Half of the households set their ACs between 24°C-26°C, and 27% prefer their AC temperature to be between 21°C-23°C. This wide range of preferred AC temperatures have important implications on energy demand requirements, as every 1°C increase in AC set-point temperature can lead to additional 6% energy savings .
Unfortunately, energy efficiency does not feature as a priority in the purchase of cooling appliances. Only 7% of the households have an energy efficient (star-rated) fan, and 88% of the coolers are locally assembled. Most people prefer to buy a three-star AC, and less than 20% of AC-owning households bought the highest rated five-star AC.
Large-scale adoption of efficient cooling appliances will be essential to providing the required thermal comfort in a low carbon manner. We find that low levels of energy efficiency awareness are a major bottleneck that hinders the purchase of more efficient appliances. A third of the households did not know of the Star Labelling programme, which is a government programme mandatory for refrigerators and air conditioners. Of the households that had heard of the programme, only half of them understood what it meant. We find that it is this set of informed households that are more likely to own a higher efficiency AC, and also likely to use the appliance efficiently. Higher upfront cost and low market availability of more efficient air conditioners (four-star and five-star) are other reasons for buying a less efficient AC. We find that many households also use alternative cooling strategies to keep cool, with the use of a fan being the favourite non-AC cooling option, and use of non-energy cooling methods such as natural ventilation being a common practice. Households using such non-AC cooling methods were found to use their AC for fewer hours.
The impending cooling demand transition in India offers a potential advantage. Because a majority of investments in cooling technologies, infrastructure, and behaviours are yet to be made, there is a unique opportunity to lock-in energy efficient consumption patterns. Awareness campaigns on the benefits of energy efficiency along with subsidies and financial incentives that help with the higher upfront costs can help drive up the adoption of more efficient technologies. Encouraging the use of passive cooling alternatives including energy efficient building designs can help provide the desired thermal comfort with reduced dependence on energy intensive cooling technologies.
3. A seesaw of science and pseudoscience
India is drifting rapidly towards a state of ignorance even as it aims for development
Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems thoroughly modern. But he also appears to be steeped hopelessly in superstition. He promotes the exploration of the moon, orders the most sophisticated fighter jets, launches the first bullet train project, boasts about India being a vaccine ‘powerhouse’ that supplies vaccines to the world — all products of modern science. But he also simultaneously plumps for pseudoscience. He invokes cosmic energy to drive out the SARS-CoV-2 by exhorting the public to beat gongs and blow conches at auspicious hours based on ancient numerology; he does not pull up his Cabinet colleagues when they launch a yoga guru’s concocted COVID-19 medicine, drugs that have no clinical evidence of trials and have been condemned by the Indian Medical Association. Mr. Modi speaks glowingly of India’s scientific accomplishments in its mythic past and cites, for example, the elephant head transposed on Lord Ganesha as great strides in plastic surgery, long before the West invented it.
Nobel-winner physicist Richard Feynman coined the term ‘cargo cult science’ to describe all kinds of pseudoscience that passed off for science over the ages — ancient superstitions, black magic, voodoo, witch doctors, astrology, mind reading, ESP (extrasensory perception), expanded consciousness, aphrodisiacs made from rhino horns, and other debatable ideas. He spoke of a ‘Cargo Cult’ of people, the South Sea islanders in the Pacific, who, during the world war, had seen planes landing and delivering cargos. After the war, they wanted to receive similar gifts from the skies. So they prepared landing strips to resemble runways, set up flares on either side, made wood pieces that looked like headphones, stuck bamboo stakes to resemble antennas, and waited for planes to land to deliver the goodies, the cargo. They waited and waited and repeated their exercise by adjusting the sticks and flares but the planes did not land. They were missing something. They did everything right. But there were no planes. They were changing the form but not the substance. “We really ought to look into theories that don’t work, and science that isn’t science,” said Feynman. “Cargo cult science” was his phrase for research that mimicked science. Despite never seeming to yield verifiable results, it garnered public acceptance because it seemed to possess the semblance of rigorous methodology.
A slew of offerings
India has a surfeit of charlatans — godmen and ‘sadhus’ of various hues, dieticians of native foods who have morphed into self-anointed doctors, and quacks who have turned apothecaries and practise various alternative medicines. Traditional practitioners have set up labs on a limited scale for analysing blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and equipment like X-ray machines and ECGs on the lines of western medicine to acquire the veneer of science that gives them credibility. They peddle everything from esoteric diets to cow dung and cow urine, as ‘cure-alls’ for all ailments, including the COVID-19 infection, which has ravaged the country. They offer various things to the rising middle class, from Vedic medicines, which promise immunity and boost potency to increase libido, to ‘instant nirvana’.
It can’t be denied that home remedies are often beneficial. If one has a bad cold, a concoction of crushed black pepper and turmeric boiled in milk will do wonders. A terrible bloated stomach can be eased by buttermilk garnished with garlic and ginger. Corns in the feet can be managed without surgery by applying fresh lime and wrapping the affected parts in a ripe banana peel.
From home remedies to Ayurveda, there are many cures that work for illnesses. Alternative medicines from other parts of the world, including treatments from medicines used by tribal communities, have been useful and passed down from generations. But their limitations have to be recognised and acknowledged. Modern medicine, an offshoot of science that questioned existing beliefs and practices, discovered the method of experimentation to find out whether medicines worked, and if they did not, it encouraged exploring new ideas. This was the beginning of the scientific age.
Scientific progress has been possible only because the great men of science acknowledged their ignorance and were not afraid to question; each generation added to the fount of knowledge because they left the door to the unknown ajar. However, pseudoscientists are a danger to society because they are cocksure of their belief systems. They are not comfortable with doubts and uncertainties. It is alright to be not sure because certainty shuts all doors to corrections and blocks progress, which can be fatal for a civilisation.
Returning to the subject, one is compelled to wonder whether Mr. Modi is a man of science or pseudoscience. Why is he pushing both at different times and on different occasions? If it is a political strategy with an eye on the electorate to appease the public, both the modern and the rational, the traditional and the superstitious, it has not, going by the recent State elections, yielded the expected results. His mixed messaging, mystic symbolism and mythic metaphors are incongruous with the image of a leader in a hurry to propel India to a technologically advanced nation alongside the modern developed economies of the world. While Mr. Modi’s loyalists — both within the saffron fold and on the fringes — are wreaking havoc and showing India in a bad light as a country of obscurantists lost in ignorance and superstition and going back to the Middle Ages, his administrators and scientists at the helm of policymaking are paralysed by the predominance of regressive orthodox forces and are unable to give impetus to scientific advancements and infrastructural progress to lead India into the comity of developed economies. India, hitherto a rising power, suddenly seems a foundering ship adrift on the seas of pseudoscience amid a huge calamity.
The Indian civilisation, from its known beginnings, has served as a quest for knowledge for people to explore the deep meaning of life and existence. It is a great adventure of ideas in the history of the human spirit stretching back three thousand years. “Nothing is more sacred to man than his own history … For us Indians, a study of Upanishads is essential, if we are to preserve our national being and character,” said Indian philosopher and former President S. Radhakrishnan. He added, “There is much in our past that is degrading and deficient but there is also much that is life-giving and elevating. If the past is to serve as an inspiration for the future, we have to study it with discrimination and sympathy … While the fundamental motives, the governing ideas which constitute the essential spirit of our culture are a part of our very being, they should receive changing expression according to the needs and conditions of our time.”
Mr. Modi must heed the above words. Modern science is not antithetical to Indian thought. The spirit of enquiry, embracing new ideas and evolution through acquiring new knowledge is at the core of our being from the Upanishadic times. Without losing time, Mr. Modi must steer the nation back on to the path of science.
4. Higher education and COVID-19
Institutes should be given financial assistance to create safe campuses for students and staff
Milind Kumar Sharma
The state of campuses of higher education institutes in India is at its nadir currently. The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic brought the entire country to its knees and people struggled to access basic healthcare facilities. But there is still a lack of serious consideration for the safety of campuses, which may be among the most vulnerable sites for the spread of infection at the community level. Apart from routine advisories in the form of notifications for standard operating procedures, protocols or guidelines issued from time to time at the apex level by the University Grants Commission (UGC), and at the State level by the respective Education Departments, nothing concrete has been done on the ground.
Campuses that house hostels, libraries, common rooms-cum-washrooms, canteens, auditoriums, gymnasiums, playgrounds, administrative offices, staff rooms, guest houses and staff quarters, besides classrooms and laboratories, require resources to change and modify their current settings for COVID-19-appropriate behaviour. Taking the ‘business-as-usual’ approach could lead to risking the lives of both students and employees on a very large scale. On May 10 this year, the UGC suggested a slew of measures that higher education institutes should adopt to fight the COVID-19 crisis. It recommended, inter alia, constituting a task force and setting up helplines, roping in counsellors and mentors for providing mental health support and enabling the well-being of all stakeholders, and creating a team of well-informed volunteers trained in life skills, including the NCC and the NSS. However, it did not mention the means and mechanisms for training the workforce for these specialised tasks. In the absence of that, such measures remain empty efforts.
The abysmal financial state of higher education institutes, especially State-run universities, combined with a lack of will on the part of State governments already overwhelmed by the vaccination drive, has exacerbated the situation. Reports of deaths of several teachers in prominent universities highlight the loss of the national intellectual capital and scholarship.
The UGC in its order dated November 5 last year listed guidelines for colleges to reopen post the lockdown. It recommended that State governments estimate and prepare for the required procurement of essentials, such as disinfectants and face masks, in each of their districts and zones in consultation with higher education institutes; it also asked them to draw out a plan for distribution. Universities and colleges were instructed to ensure a sufficient supply of these items to students, faculty and staff. The UGC also suggested that higher education institutes set up on-campus facilities for the isolation of symptomatic persons and for quarantining of those who were in contact with infected persons. Alternatively, they could tie up with State-run hospitals or other approved premises, as suggested by local authorities, for providing essentials to quarantined or isolated persons.
The need for quick action
But these measures are far from reality. Explicit budgetary allocations for higher education institutes for COVID-19 management were found to be missing in the States’ annual budgets. This apathy on the part of institutes and policymakers (both at the Central and State levels) could endanger lives and may lead to a complete shutdown of academic activities in the time to come.
It is incumbent upon the UGC to direct State governments to generously provide financial assistance to higher education institutes for managing the COVID-19 crisis. The resources could come from the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) for the year 2021-22, which was released by the Department of Expenditure at the recommendation of the Ministry of Home Affairs much before the normal schedule, in view of the extraordinary public health crisis.
5. India to launch deep ocean mission
With Cabinet nod, it is poised to be among the few countries that can launch underwater missions
The Union Cabinet has approved the long-pending deep ocean mission, which among other things involves developing a submersible vehicle that will allow a crew to plunge 6,000 metres into the ocean and hunt the floor for precious metals. If this works, India will be among a handful of countries able to launch an underwater mission at such depths.
In the works since 2018, the mission is expected to cost ₹4,077 crore over the next five years. The estimated cost for the first phase of three years (2021-24) would be ₹2,823.4 crore. The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) will be the nodal Ministry implementing this multi-institutional mission.
There are six components to the programme. A manned submersible will be developed to carry three people to a depth of 6,000 metres in the ocean with a suite of scientific sensors and tools. An integrated mining system will be also developed for mining polymetallic nodules at those depths in the central Indian Ocean. “The exploration studies of minerals will pave way for the commercial exploitation in the near future, as and when commercial exploitation code is evolved by the International Seabed Authority, an United Nations organisation,” says an accompanying press note.
The second component involves developing Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services, which entails developing a suite of observations and models to understand and provide future projections of important climate variables on seasonal to decadal time scales.
The next component is searching for deep sea flora and fauna, including microbes, and studying ways to sustainably utilise them. The fourth component is to explore and identify potential sources of hydrothermal minerals that are sources of precious metals formed from the earth’s crust along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges. The fifth component involves studying and preparing detailed engineering design for offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) powered desalination plants.
The final component is aimed at grooming experts in the field of ocean biology and engineering. This component aims to translate research into industrial applications and product development through on-site business incubator facilities.
The Deep Ocean Mission was in 2019 envisaged as a ₹8,000 crore mission, as The Hindu has earlier reported. India has been allotted a site of 75,000 square kilometres in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) by the UN International Sea Bed Authority for exploitation of polymetallic nodules (PMN). These are rocks scattered on the seabed containing iron, manganese, nickel and cobalt.
Being able to lay hands on a fraction of that reserve can meet the energy requirement of India for the next 100 years, say officials at the Earth Sciences Ministry.
6. Karnataka legislature tops with 31 sitting days
Study says it passed 61 Bills in 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown, which affected the functioning of the legislatures of several States last year, had an apparently marginal impact on the working of the Karnataka legislature, if the number of sitting days is an indication.
Compared with its average number of sitting days of 32 from 2016 to 2019, the Karnataka legislature, which is bicameral, met on 31 days last year, the highest for any State in 2020, according to a study that covered 19 States.
The southern State was followed by Rajasthan (29 days) and Himachal Pradesh (25 days). For comparison, Parliament met for 33 days last year.
In 2020, the average number of sitting days for the 19 States was 18, which was 11 less than the four-year (2016-19) average of 29.
Kerala, which had the distinction of remaining at the top in the four years with an average of 53 days, had only 20 days of sittings of the legislature last year, stated the study report, “Annual Review of State Laws 2020,” which was prepared by the PRS Legislative Research (“PRS”), a New Delhi-based think tank.
As regards other southern States, Tamil Nadu had met on 23 days against its four-year average of 35, Andhra Pradesh had met on 12 days (four-year average of 26) and Telangana had met on 17 days (four-year average of 25 days).
After the lockdown, Karnataka’s figure of sitting days of the legislature was 10; Telengana 9; Andhra Pradesh 7; Tamil Nadu 3 and Kerala 2. However, the highest for any State, post-lockdown, was 11 in Chhattisgarh followed by 10 in Himachal Pradesh. Rajasthan, which was the number two State in terms of the overall number of sitting days, had met only on five days after the lockdown.
As for the number of Bills passed last year, Karnataka again topped the list with 61 Bills, followed by Tamil Nadu (42) and Uttar Pradesh (37). For this purpose, Appropriation Bills were excluded.
Among poor performers under this category, Delhi passed only one Bill; West Bengal passed two Bills, and Kerala three Bills.
On the duration of time taken to pass Bills, the previous year saw 59% of the Bills being passed by the legislature of the States on the day of introduction. A further 14% was adopted within a day of being introduced. Only 9% of the Bills was passed more than five days after introduction, some of which were referred to committees for further examination.
In respect of ordinances, data from the 19 States showed that, on average, 14 ordinances were promulgated last year.
7. Biden, Putin hold ‘great power’ summit
The leaders agree to return their Ambassadors to their posts in an attempt to lower tension
Agence France-Presse Geneva
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin concluded their summit meeting on Wednesday between what the American leader called “two great powers,” wrapping up more quickly than expected.
The pair’s second sit-down, with aides present on both sides, lasted about 65 minutes.
That session was to be divided into two parts with a break in between, but concluded without a second part.
The two sides had said they expected to meet for four to five hours but spent less than three hours together, including an opening meeting with just the two Presidents and each one’s top foreign aide.
In a press conference held after the summit, Mr. Putin said they have agreed to return their Ambassadors to their posts in a bid to lower tensions. Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden described Mr. Putin as a killer. U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin plunged into the face-to-face talks on Wednesday at a lush lakeside Swiss mansion, a highly anticipated summit at a time when both leaders say relations between their countries are at an all-time low.
As the two leaders appeared briefly before media at the start of the meeting, Mr. Biden called it a discussion between “two great powers” and said it was “always better to meet face to face.” The meeting in a book-lined room had a somewhat awkward beginning — both men appeared to avoid looking directly at each other during a brief and chaotic photo opportunity before a scrum of jostling reporters.
Mr. Biden nodded when a reporter asked if Mr. Putin could be trusted, but the White House quickly sent out a tweet insisting that the President was “very clearly not responding to any one question, but nodding in acknowledgement to the press generally”.
Mr. Putin ignored shouted questions from reporters, including whether he feared jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The two leaders did shake hands — Mr. Biden extended his hand first and smiled at the stoic Russian leader — moments earlier when they posed with Swiss President Guy Parmelin, who welcomed them to Switzerland for the summit.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin first held a relatively intimate meeting joined by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Each side had a translator for the session, which lasted about an hour and a half. The meeting, after about a 40-minute break, then expanded to include senior aides on each side.
8. China offers glimpse of Tibetan life without the Dalai Lama
The Communist Party has been trying to Sinicise Tibetan life
Associated Press Lhasa
A brisk wind ruffles yellow prayer flags as dozens of Tibetans, some on crutches, circle a shrine in a time-honoured Buddhist ritual. Across the street, a red banner spells out a new belief system, one being enforced with increasing fervour, of China’s ruling Communist Party.
“Xi Jinping’s new socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics is the guide for the whole party and all nationalities to fight for the great rejuvenation of China,” the sign proclaims in Tibetan and Chinese script, referring to China’s leader, who has sought to put his imprint on virtually every aspect of life across the vast county.
Lately, that has increasingly encompassed religion, both in central China and on its fringes, such as Tibet. The party is pressing a programme to Sinicise Tibetan life to separate Tibetans from their language, culture, and especially, their devotion to the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s traditional spiritual leader who has lived in exile since 1959.
In the sun-drenched courtyard of the Jokhang Temple, one of the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism, the head monk, Lhakpa, said the Dalai Lama is not its spiritual leader. Asked who is, he said: “Xi Jinping”.
The Associated Press joined a rare and strictly controlled media tour to Tibet highlighting what the government describes as the social stability and economic development of the region after 70 years of Communist Party rule. Stops included monasteries, temples, schools, poverty alleviation projects and tourist sites.
That appears to reflect the party’s confidence that it is prevailing in the global battle of public opinion over Tibet.
As a counterweight, Tibet rights groups continue to report detentions, economic marginalisation, a suffocating security presence and heavy pressure to assimilate with China’s Han majority while pledging loyalty to the Communist Party.
In the model village of Baji east of Lhasa, the capital, residents dressed in traditional garments told foreign journalists how poverty alleviation campaigns had changed their lives. “Time has changed, so people’s demands have changed. People needed religious beliefs as their spiritual sustenance in old times, but now we don’t,” said Tsering Yudron, 25, an accountant.
“Tibet has eradicated extreme poverty,” reads a 2019 government report on Tibet. “People now lead better lives and live in contentment. A brand new socialist Tibet has taken shape.”
- Tibet is a region on the Tibetan Plateau in Asia, spanning about 2.4 million km2 – nearly a quarter of China’s territory.
- It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups.
- Tibet is the highest region on Earth, with an average elevation of 4,900 metres. The highest elevation in Tibet is Mount Everest, Earth’s highest mountain, rising 8,848 m above sea level.
Tibet Uprising of 1959
- From 1912 until the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, no Chinese government exercised control over what is today China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
- Many Tibetans insist they were essentially independent for most of that time and have protested what they regard as China’s rule imposed after the People’s Liberation Army occupied TAR in 1950.
- The Dalai Lama’s government alone ruled the land until 1951. Tibet was not “Chinese” until Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marched in and made it so.
- This has often been described by the Tibetan people and third party commentators as “a cultural genocide”.
- The unsuccessful Tibetan Uprising of 1959, in which Tibetans rebelled in an attempt to overthrow the Chinese government, led to the fleeing of the 14th Dalai Lama to India.
Aftermath of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising
- Since the 1959 Uprising, the central government of China has been steadily tightening its grip on the Tibet.
- In Tibet today, there is no freedom of speech, religion, or press and arbitrary detainments continue.
- Forced abortion, sterilisation of Tibetan women, and the transfer of low-income Chinese citizens threaten the survival of Tibetan culture.
- Although China has invested in infrastructure improvements for the region, particularly in Lhasa itself, it has also encouraged thousands of ethnic Han Chinese to move to Tibet resulting into demographic shift.
- The 14th Dalai Lama, continues to head the Tibetan government-in-exile from McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala, India which coordinates political activities for Tibetans in India.
- Dalai Lama advocates increased autonomy for Tibet, rather than full independence, but the Chinese government generally refuses to negotiate with him.
- Periodic unrest still sweeps through Tibet, especially around important dates such as March 10 to 19 – the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising.
Sino-Indian Conflict Over Dalai Lama
- Apart from the border disputes, another major irritant for China has been over the Dalai Lama, who enjoys a spiritual status in India.
- China considers Dalai Lama a separatist, who has great influence over Tibetans. It must be mentioned that Dalai Lama gave up his support for Tibetan independence in 1974, and only wants China to stop repression against the community.
- Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to provide all assistance to the Tibetan refugees to settle in India until their eventual return.
- The Government of India has built special schools for Tibetans that provide free education, health care, and scholarships. There are a few medical and civil engineering seats reserved for Tibetans.
- While India’s role in the rehabilitation of Tibetan refugees has been criticised by China, it has drawn praise from international bodies and human rights groups.