1. Warming warning
India must invest in infrastructure that boosts defence against disasters.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has issued its annual update on its projections for temperature trends in the next decade. The prognosis, expectedly, is worrying. The annual mean global near-surface temperature for each year between 2023 and 2027 is likely to be 1.1°-1.8°C higher than the average from 1850-1900. There is a 66% chance that the global near-surface temperature will exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, in at least one year before 2027 though it is unlikely that the five-year mean will exceed this threshold. The 1.5°C threshold, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly said, is one that is best left unbreached to avoid the disastrous consequences of global warming. While world leaders at climate summits are in agreement, few of their actions are consistent with keeping temperature-rise within this rubicon, with current climate policies poised to heat the globe beyond 2°C by the end of the century.
At least one of the years, the WMO adds, from 2023 to 2027 will be the hottest on record — exceeding the 14.84°C reported in 2016 (it was about 0.07°C warmer than the previous record set in 2015). The five-year mean for 2023-2027 was very likely to be higher than that in the last five years (2018-2022). The oceans too are on fire. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is likely to be positive in December to February 2023-24, meaning that the Central Equatorial Pacific Ocean is likely to be at least half a degree, more likely over a degree above what is normal. India is bracing for this El Niño during the monsoon, with the India Meteorological Department already indicating that monsoon rainfall will be on the lower side of ‘normal’. The El Niño “will combine with human-induced climate change to push global temperatures into uncharted territory”, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a press statement in the context of the update. Hotter oceans also mean stronger cyclones. Cyclone Mocha, which barrelled through Myanmar this week and claimed at least 60 lives and wrought severe damage, ended up being stronger than what was initially estimated. The WMO update does not have specific inputs for India; however, the overall trend in indicators suggests that India, dependent as it is on rain-fed agriculture and with its long coastline, will be severely tested due to changes in the global climate. India’s abilities at forecasting cyclones and weather anomalies have improved but developing resilience is far more challenging. Greater investments in bolstering disaster-related infrastructure are the need of the hour.
2. Elections and the airwaves
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a roadshow ahead of the Karnataka elections, in Bengaluru.
Why are political parties provided free airtime on public broadcasters during elections? How does the scheme work and how does it benefit a political party? How does the Election Commission distribute time vouchers to parties without any bias?
The story so far:
In the recently-concluded Karnataka Assembly elections, political parties were provided free airtime on public broadcasters, All India Radio (Akashvani) and Doordarshan during elections. The allotment was available to six recognised national parties — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Indian National Congress (INC), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the National People’s Party (NPP), the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and one recognised State party, the Janata Dal (Secular). The parties were allocated a base time of 45 minutes and additional slots based on performance in previous polls. A total of 630 minutes of free airtime was issued under this allotment.
What is the rationale of the scheme?
The facility to provide free airtime for political parties during elections was given statutory basis through the 2003 amendment to the Representation of People Act, 1951. The Supreme Court, in its famed judgment (The Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting vs Cricket Association of Bengal and ANR, 1995), held that airwaves are public property and its use should serve the greater public good. Elections being the lifeblood of a democracy, the misuse or abuse of airwaves to gain unfair electoral advantage is a key regulatory apprehension of governments around the world.
In the U.S., for example, the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the electronic media in the country, devised the fairness doctrine to keep electioneering on the airwaves equitable. The now defunct fairness doctrine placed a positive obligation on broadcasters who carry political content of one candidate on its programme to extend the same to another candidate in the electoral fray.
In the U.K. too, political parties are allocated designated slots by Parliament, called the party political broadcasts (PPBs) to convey important political information to the people. The British Communication watchdog, Ofcom, is responsible for ensuring that PPBs are included in every licensed public service television channel and commercial radio services. Similar requirements are adopted in Singapore, Brazil and Japan.
What is the working of the scheme?
In the Karnataka elections, the BJP received 167 minutes of broadcast time on both DD and Akashvani, while the Congress got 174 minutes and the JD(S) got 107 minutes. Time vouchers are distributed by a lottery system by the Election Commission in a transparent process to obviate any preferential treatment in getting primetime slots.
The transcripts of political parties are vetted to ensure that they adhere to relevant codes. These codes proscribe any content which are inter alia critical of other countries, attack religions or other communities or incites violence and personal attacks. In case of any disagreements over the content of the script as vetted by the public broadcaster, it is referred to an Apex Committee comprising members from Akashvani and DD whose decision is final.
In the Indian media landscape, due to the pattern of ownership of media houses, the public generally identify a broadcaster as being affiliated with one political party or the other.In this regard, State-sponsored airtime provides more diversity and colour to the electoral process.
For example, the NPP, which was a rank outsider in the Karnataka elections, was afforded the same base time of 45 minutes as the INC and the BJP. Since the content being aired has to adhere to specific codes, it upholds the principle of fair play.
The guidelines by the Election Commission of India (ECI)also require that a maximum of two panel discussions are also aired by Akashvani and DD. These discussions provide an excellent platform for parties, both big and small, to debate and criticise each other’s policies and manifestos, and in general promote an informed citizenry.
What are the operational challenges?
The fact that the scheme is available to national and recognised State parties may attract arguments that it is not truly equitable. In light of the recent retraction of the national party status for the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), this observation becomes important. However, the ECI is constrained by the considerations of practicality and the fact that airwaves are not an infinite resource.
The Apex Committee comprises officials from Akashvani and DD and are expected to sit in review of their own decision in case of conflict with the political party on the content of the transcript. This leaves scope for conflicts of interest and therefore, a more representative committee may be constituted.
There are also calls for extending the provision to cover private broadcasters akin to the fairness doctrine of the U.S. A designated slot may be mandated for private channels to air content equitably and provide a platform for smaller parties and candidates. The political broadcast may be clearly differentiated from regular news broadcasts and programmes.
The 2024 General Elections will witness unprecedented levels of electioneering in the media. As spaces for sober, fair, considered and thoughtful debates shrink in a frenzy to grab attention, it is imperative that airwaves are used to nourish and enrich the Indian democracy and set standards for other electoral democracies.
In the recently-concluded Karnataka Assembly elections, political parties were provided free airtime on public broadcasters, All India Radio (Akashvani) and Doordarshan during elections.
Time vouchers are distributed by a lottery system by the Election Commission in a transparent process to obviate any preferential treatment in getting primetime slots.
The transcripts of political parties are vetted to ensure that they adhere to relevant codes. These codes proscribe any content which are inter alia critical of other countries, attack religions or other communities or incites violence and personal attacks.
3. What are RBI regulations on green deposits?
What does the framework say? Can green deposits help the environment in any way?
The story so far:
Last month, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) came up with a regulatory framework for banks to accept green deposits from customers. Under the new framework, banks that accept green deposits will have to disclose more information on how they invest these deposits.
What are green deposits?
Green deposits are not very different from the regular deposits that banks accept from their customers. The only major difference is that banks promise to earmark the money that they receive as green deposits towards environment-friendly projects. For example, a bank may promise that green deposits will be used towards financing renewable energy projects that fight climate change. A bank may also avoid using green deposits to invest in fossil fuel projects that are considered harmful to the climate. A green deposit is just one product in a wide array of other financial products such as green bonds, green shares, etc., that help investors put money into environmentally sustainable projects.
What does the RBI’s regulatory framework say?
The RBI’s framework for the acceptance of green deposits lays down certain conditions that banks must fulfill to accept green deposits from customers. Firstly, banks will have to come up with a set of rules or policies approved by their respective Boards that need to be followed while investing green deposits from customers.
These rules need to be made public on the banks’ websites and banks will also have to disclose regular information about the amount of green deposits received, how these deposits were allocated towards various green projects, and the impact of such investments on the environment. A third-party will have to verify the claims made by banks regarding the projects in which the banks invest their green deposits as well as the sustainability credentials of these business projects.
The RBI has come up with a list of sectors that can be classified as sustainable and thus eligible to receive green deposits. These include renewable energy, waste management, clean transportation, energy efficiency, and afforestation.
Banks will be barred from investing green deposits in business projects involving fossil fuels, nuclear power, tobacco, gambling, palm oil, and hydropower generation.
The new rules are aimed at preventing greenwashing, which refers to making misleading claims about the positive environmental impact of an activity. For example, a bank may advertise that their green deposits will have a huge positive impact on the environment, while the actual impact may be minimal. A bank could also invest in projects that are not environment-friendly, perhaps because such projects offer higher returns, under the guise of green investing.
Will green deposits help depositors/investors and the environment?
Depositors who care about the environment may get some satisfaction from investing their money in environmentally sustainable investment products. However, there are challenges, for the range of projects in which green funds can be invested by the bank is limited by design.
When it comes to protecting the environment, green investing enthusiasts believe that putting money into green projects may be one of the best ways to help the environment. Critics, however, argue that green investment products are often just a way to make investors feel good about themselves and that these investments don’t really do much good to the environment.
Noted finance expert Aswath Damodaran, for instance, calls green investing “a feel-good scam” that enriches only consultants.
Second, in a complex world where any action involves second-order effects that are difficult to see, it can be extremely hard to know if a project is really environmentally sustainable.
Banks promise to earmark the money that they receive as green deposits towards environment-friendly projects.
Banks will have to come up with a set of rules or policies approved by their respective Boards that need to be followed while investing green deposits from customers.
The new rules are aimed at preventing greenwashing, which refers to making misleading claims about the positive environmental impact of an activity.
4. ‘Operation Dhvast’: three held after NIA holds raids in States
NIA team arrives to conduct raid at a location at Moga in Punjab on Thursday.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has arrested three persons in connection with the raids conducted on Wednesday as part of a nationwide drive codenamed ‘Operation Dhvast’, in terrorist-gangster-drug smugglers network cases.
In a coordinated crackdown with the police in Punjab and Haryana, the NIA raided 129 of the total 324 locations.
Following the searches in the two States, besides Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chandigarh and Madhya Pradesh, the agency has taken into custody Parveen Wadhwa from Bhiwani (Haryana), Irfan from New Seelampur (Delhi) and Jassa Singh from Moga (Punjab).
“Parveen Wadhwa was found liaising with certain notorious gangsters, including Lawrence Bishnoi, in jail. The NIA seized weapons from the house of Irfan, who is also associated with such gangsters. Jassa Singh was working at the behest of Canada-based ‘listed terrorist’ Arsh Dhalla,” said an agency official.
According to the NIA, Parveen Wadhwa was in regular touch with Lawrence Bishnoi and his gang members named Deepak aka Tinu and Sampat Nehra, along with other associates. “He was working as their special messenger from inside jails,” said the agency. The latest searches were part of the continuing NIA action against terror networks as well as their funding and support infrastructure.
5. Bring back Kohinoor from the U.K., parliamentary panel notes in its report
The crown of the British monarch sporting the Kohinoor.
Nothing prevents India from seeking the return of the Kohinoor, a diamond which left Indian shores in the early 1850s and is currently embedded in the crown of the British monarch, a Parliamentary Standing Committee deliberating on heritage theft has noted in its report.
The report on “Heritage theft — the illegal trade in Indian antiquities and the challenges of retrieving and safeguarding our tangible cultural heritage” was adopted last Monday by the Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture headed by YSR Congress Party MP Vijay Sai Reddy.
The committee began its deliberations on the subject with Culture Ministry officials, who reportedly said that while efforts were being made to bring in stolen artefacts, the case of Kohinoor is contentious since it was surrendered by Maharaja Dalip Singh as part of the 1849 peace treaty with the British.
Ministry officials noted that India does not have legal competence to demand the return of the diamond. Under the provisions of the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972, the Archaeological Survey of India takes up the issue of retrieval of only such antiquities that have been illegally exported out of the country.
The Culture Ministry’s stand is consistent with its 2016 affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, where it had said that the diamond cannot be reclaimed as it was given as a gift. However, in the face of public outrage, the Ministry backtracked and issued a vague statement: “With regard to the Kohinoor diamond too, Government of India remains hopeful for an amicable outcome whereby India gets back a valued piece of art with strong roots in India.”
The Ministry of External Affairs, which was represented by the Secretary, Economic Relations, said that all efforts were being made to bring back the Kohinoor diamond, though no details were provided to the committee on what these steps were.
To cap the deliberations, the panel also met Law Secretary Niten Chandra to understand if the case could be legally pursued. Sources said Mr. Chandra had informed the panel that “a combined reading of Articles 7 and 15 of the 1970 UNESCO convention indicates that the convention does not prevent state parties from entering special agreements for the restitution of removed cultural properties”.
Based on the deliberations, the panel has urged the Ministry of Culture to “follow global practice and make all efforts to ensure precious historical artefacts are returned”.
6. ‘Rohingya refugees in India under arbitrary detention, denied exit permissions’
India is not allowing exit permissions for Rohingya refugees who have completed refugee status determinations with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and “gained approval from third countries for resettlement”, says a new report titled “A shadow of refuge: Rohingya refugees in India”.
The report, jointly prepared by The Azadi Project, a women’s rights non-profit, and Refugees International, an international NGO that advocates for the rights of stateless people, was released in New Delhi on Thursday.
The report notes that “instead of refusing exit visas, India can help facilitate more resettlement opportunities” by advocating for resettlement in ally countries and other European nations at forums such as the G-20 summit. On the one hand, they are disallowed from leaving when they get a chance to resettle in another country; on the other, the Rohingya in India are vilified as “illegal migrants”, face growing “anti-Muslim and anti-refugee xenophobia”, and live under constant fear of being deported back to Myanmar.
Among the biggest challenges faced by Rohingya refugees in India, who number at least 20,000, is arbitrary detention. Once picked up, they are held in “holding centres” where conditions are “deplorable”, the study says.
Fear of deportation
Actual and threatened deportations have also fostered a sense of fear within the Rohingya community, prompting some to return to camps in Bangladesh. Though the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the International Genocide Convention obligate India not to return the Rohingya to Myanmar, “the Supreme Court accepted the government’s arguments that the Rohingya were a threat to national security and refuses to stop deportation”, the report noted.
The report details the harsh living conditions of the Rohingya in slum-like settlements with no safe running water or toilets, and no access to basic healthcare, education for children, or employment opportunities.
While earlier the UNHCR cards had provided access to some level of education and livelihoods, and to protection from detention and deportation, now the government has taken a stand that “UNHCR refugee status without valid travel documents is of no consequence in India”.
The report also sets out several recommendations. Firstly, it urges India to formally recognise the Rohingya in India as “refugees with a right to asylum rather than as illegal migrants”.
Short of this, the least that India could do is “a simple acknowledgement of residency” by recognising UNHCR cards as “sufficient for accessing basic education, work, and health services or provision of Aadhaar cards to refugees as proof of residency”.
The report urges India to recognise the Rohingya as ‘refugees with a right to asylum’
7. Two dead in sunken Chinese vessel; Indian Navy deploys P-8I for search
Immediate response: The approximate location of the Chinese fishing vessel, Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028, in the Indian Ocean Region. PTI
Two crew of the capsized Chinese deep sea fishing vessel are confirmed dead, the Chinese Ministry of Transport said on Thursday as a multinational effort is racing against time to locate the missing crew. The Indian Navy said that responding to a distress call from the fishing vessel Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028, it had deployed P-8I maritime patrol aircraft on May 17 for search and rescue (SAR) efforts in the southern Indian Ocean Region, approximately 900 nautical miles from India.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the rescue effort in waters located around 5,000 km from Australia and 1,300 km south of Sri Lanka, said that they had identified a large area in the Indian Ocean where they will focus the search. The Australian Defence Force too has deployed a P-8A aircraft for the search.
According to the Chinese ministry, as of 2 p.m. Thursday, 10 vessels, including three Chinese Navy ships and one foreign ship, were involved in SAR efforts, and more ships are scheduled to arrive.
“P8I aircraft have carried out multiple and extensive searches despite adverse weather and located multiple objects possibly belonging to the sunken vessel. As an immediate response, SAR equipment was deployed at the scene by the Indian aircraft on request of PLA(N) (Chinese Navy) ships closing the area,” the Indian Navy spokesperson said on Thursday. The missing crew includes 17 Chinese nationals, 17 Indonesians, and five persons from the Philippines.
Chinese news agency Xinhua, quoting a spokesperson of the AMSA, reported that based on drift modelling, a remote 12,000 sq. km zone has been identified to search for the vessel. “A number of merchant ships and other vessels have been assisting with the search and will continue to do so today. AMSA would like to thank these vessels and their crews for their invaluable assistance,” the AMSA spokesperson was quoted as having said on Thursday. “Australia has been liaising with the Chinese Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, with three Chinese naval ships continuing the search in the area today.”
According to AMSA, the massive search effort was launched after they received a distress beacon signal from the fishing vessel at about 5.30 a.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time on the morning of May 16.
The Indian Navy spokesperson further stated that in a display of India’s obligations as a “credible and responsible partner” for ensuring safety at sea, Indian Navy units also coordinated SAR efforts with other units in the area, and guided PLA(N) warships transiting to the scene of the incident. “Indian Navy continues to remain deployed to provide all possible assistance to the ongoing SAR efforts,” the spokesperson added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Thursday that countries “such as Australia, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Maldives and the Philippines have extended emergency assistance and sent sympathies for the Chinese boat and crew.” “The operation has been commended from various quarters in China and abroad. The Chinese government sincerely appreciates the help from those countries. As we speak, the search and rescue operation is still underway,” he said.
So far, no survivors have been found with extreme weather and rough seas hampering the SAR efforts, which slightly improved on Thursday.
As reported by The Hindu, diplomatic sources said the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region was sharing information on the incident with affiliated partners and agencies.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday “demanded all out efforts in the rescue of the missing people”, state media reported. He also called for “efforts to further strengthen the investigation and early warning of potential safety risks in deep sea operations to ensure the safety of life and property”.
Later in the evening, Chinese Embassy in India acknowledged Indian Navy’s assistance in ongoing search efforts on social media. “Truly appreciate the timely help!,” the Embassy said on Twitter responding to the Indian Navy’s post on its SAR efforts.