1. Constitutional bodies fighting corruption under attack, says PM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday launched a scathing attack against what he termed conspiracies by forces within and outside the country to undermine constitutional institutions that were cracking down on corruption and the corrupt.
Addressing BJP leaders and cadre at the inauguration of an extension of the party headquarters here, he said India’s march towards development and the strong governance agenda were based on the foundation of constitutional institutions, but attempts were being made to defame these institutions.
“Today, when India is on its way to realise its full potential, it is doing so on the basis of a strong foundation. That foundation is our constitutional institutions. That is why, to stop India in its growth trajectory, this foundation is being attacked and efforts are on to defame them by forces within and outside country… their credibility is being sought to be finished. When investigative and enforcement agencies act against those wrapped in corruption, these agencies are attacked, when courts give verdicts inimical to such people, courts and the judiciary are attacked,” Mr. Modi said.
“Corruption has harmed the country a lot, like termites it has hollowed out the country, the people see how previous governments handled action against corruption as a mere formality, and how in the last nine years, the campaign launched by the BJP against corruption has shaken the roots of corruption ,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s speech was alluding to accusations against his government of vindictive action against political rivals, and his response included data on the action taken in corruption cases.
Mr. Modi added that under the UPA, ₹22,000 crore was the amount that was looted from banks and the perpetrators had fled abroad, but that under the BJP government, ₹30,000 crore had been recovered by seizing the property of these perpetrators.
The sharp attack by the Prime Minister came as Parliament continued to see a face-off between the BJP and the Opposition over the Adani issue and the disqualification of former Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi after he was convicted in a case of criminal defamation by a court in Surat.
Mr. Modi termed the BJP the only pan India party at this time and lauded party workers for the expansion of the BJP’s political footprint. He especially mentioned the recent victories of the BJP in the three north-eastern States and said the BJP was still the “number one” party.
2. Govt. circumspect over plan to introduce Gir lions in Kuno
Introducing lions from Gir in Gujarat into Kuno National Park may create tension between the pride and the cheetahs imported in the past few months from Namibia and South Africa, the government told the Supreme Court on Tuesday. The government said it needs six months to re-examine whether members of the Asiatic lion population “thriving” in Gir need to be translocated to Kuno in Madhya Pradesh. “In order to provide the cheetahs a stress-free environment for successful establishment of the founder populations, it is not appropriate to introduce one more large carnivore species [lions] in the area immediately,” the government said in an affidavit.
3. Prices of essential medicines set to see a hike from April 1
Major rise: Annual hikes in the prices of drugs listed in the National List of Essential Medicines are based on the WPI.
Painkillers, anti-infection drugs, cardiac drugs, antibiotics to get dearer; surge brought on by a sharp rise in Wholesale Price Index; pharma body cites annual change of 12.12% in WPI in 2022
Prices of 384 essential drugs and over 1,000 formulations are set to see a hike of over 11%, due to a sharp rise in the Wholesale Price Index (WPI).
The price surge to set in from April 1 will mean that consumers have to pay more for routine and essential drugs, including painkillers, anti-infection drugs, cardiac drugs, and antibiotics.
Annual hikes in the prices of drugs listed in the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) are based on the WPI.
In its communication dated March 25, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority said the annual change in WPI was 12.12% for the calendar year 2022. Last year, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) announced a 10.7% change in the Wholesale Price Index (WPI).
Every year, the NPPA announces a change in the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) in accordance with the Drugs (Price Control) Order, 2013, or DPCO, 2013.
‘To ensure supply’
A senior Health Ministry official said that the price hike was to ensure that there would be no shortage of medicines in the market, and that manufacturers and consumers mutually benefit. “Manufacturers will not sell at a loss and we must ensure a steady supply of essential medicines in the country. Additionally, the prices are allowed to rise in a controlled manner,” he said.
The source added that previously when a 10% hike was allowed, several manufacturers kept the rate under 5% because of market forces. “We are expecting a similar trend with this hike as well,” he added.
Malini Aisola, co-convener of the All India Drug Action Network, a group that works to promote affordable healthcare, expressed concern that the new WPI would trigger increases in the ceiling prices under the DPCO provisions for fixing prices for scheduled formulations.
“The increase is the highest seen since the DPCO 2013 came into force and this is the second year in a row that the WPI is higher than the annual permitted price hike for non-scheduled formulations (10%). Because such a drastic hike will distort the price control in place on essential medicines, the government should intervene in the interest of maintaining the affordability of these drugs. Such high back-to-back price increases are undermining the purpose of price fixation of essential medicines,” she added.
4. Australian technology may help generate power from defunct gold mines in KGF
Digging deep: Some of the KGF’s deepest mines run nearly 3,000 metres.
An Australian renewable-energy company’s unique scheme to generate electricity may resuscitate the fortunes of one of India’s iconic but defunct gold mines, namely the Kolar Gold Fields (KGF), in Karnataka.
A hiccup that makes renewable energy unreliable, from solar or wind power, is that there is no power during nights or windless days. Green Gravity’s idea is to address this challenge by relying on low-tech gravity.
Their plan is to find defunct mines, which often go hundreds or even thousands of metres deep, and haul a ‘weighted block’ — this could be as much as 40 tonnes — up to the top of the mine shaft using renewable power during the day when such power is available. When backup power is required, the heavy block will fall, under gravity, and the ensuing momentum will power a generator via a connected shaft. The depth to which the block can slip can be determined via a braking system, thus giving control on the amount of power that can be produced. The same principle underlies the ‘pumped hydropower’ storage.
Using weighted blocks means that decommissioned mines can be put to use and the environmental costs and challenges of moving water up can be avoided, Mark Swinnerton, founder and CEO, Green Gravity, told The Hindu. “By using gravity as the fuel, we dispense with consuming the critical water, land, and chemicals which other storage technologies rely on.” He added, “At mines such as at Kolar, you can produce up to 100 or even thousands of megawatt-hours of power.”
5. ‘China ramping up bailout packages to Pak., Sri Lanka and other BRI countries’
China has handed out $240 billion worth of bailout loans to 22 developing countries at risk of default over the past two decades, with the trend accelerating in recent years, a report said on Tuesday.
Almost all the funds went to Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Turkey — mostly low- and middle-income nations that have received Chinese loans for infrastructure development, according to the study.
The 40-page report by the U.S.-based research lab AidData, the World Bank, the Harvard Kennedy School and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy showed bailout loans had accelerated between 2016 and 2021, with Beijing doling out 80% of its rescue lending in that period.
Around the world, BRI nations have come under strain as soaring inflation and interest rates, compounded by the lingering impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, have hurt their ability to repay debts.
China says more than 150 countries have signed up to the BRI, a trillion-dollar global infrastructure push unveiled by President Xi Jinping a decade ago.
Beijing says the initiative aims to deepen friendly trade relations with other nations. But critics have long accused China of luring lower-income countries into debt traps.
“China has developed a system of ‘Bailouts on the Belt and Road’ that helps recipient countries to avoid default, and continue servicing their BRI debts, at least in the short run,” the report said.
In comparison to the International Monetary Fund and the vast liquidity support extended by the U.S. Federal Reserve, China’s bailouts remain small but are growing quickly, according to the report.
6. India under fire at WTO for avoiding questions on MSP
India is the first to invoke the Bali ‘peace clause’ to justify exceeding its subsidy ceiling
India has come under fire at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for avoiding questions raised by members on its minimum support price (MSP) programmes for food grains, particularly rice, where subsidies have breached prescribed limits. Some countries have alleged that India did not give sufficient replies to their concerns.
Members such as the U.S., Australia, Canada, the EU, and Thailand, said at a WTO agriculture committee meeting on Monday, that India must reply to questions asked on its public stockholding (PSH) programmes at the committee, according to sources. “India, however, stuck to its guns and insisted that it provided the best possible information and clarifications at the consultations held with interested members based on available information,” said a source.
India’s MSP programmes are under scrutiny as it is the first country to invoke the Bali ‘peace clause’ to justify exceeding its 10% ceiling (of the total value of rice production) for rice support in 2018-2019 and 2019-2020.
While the ‘peace clause’ allows developing countries to breach the 10% ceiling without invoking legal action by members, it is subject to onerous conditions such as not distorting global trade and not affecting the food security of other members.
7. India urges G20 meet to find ways to reduce widening trade finance gap
Barthwal cites Asian Development Bank estimates showing the trade financing shortfall has risen to $2 trillion; Commerce Secretary emphasises need for cooperation among member countries to tackle the key issue, bats for faster digitalization.
The first Trade and Investment Working Group (TIWG) meeting under India’s G20 Presidency started in Mumbai on Tuesday with Commerce Secretary Sunil Barthwal emphasising the need for trade finance cooperation among members to help reduce the widening trade finance gap.
“Trade finance gap is widening.” Mr. Barthwal said, speaking at the International Conference on ‘Trade Finance, organised by the Export Credit Guarantee Corporation of India (ECGC) and India’s EXIM Bank. “As estimated by ADB, the gap which was $1.5 trillion in 2018 has now increased to $2 trillion,” he added.
Observing that it was the right time to discuss the issues facing trade finance, the Commerce Secretary underscored the importance of finding the right solutions.
Panelists discussed the role banks, financial institutions, development finance institutions, and export credit agencies could play to identify gaps and address challenges in trade finance amid the uncertain global trade landscape.
The need to accelerate digitalisation and the adoption of fintech solutions for improving access to finance, was also stressed.
“Digitalisation of international trade is possibly an effective solution towards achieving cost reduction in trade and trade finance,” the Commerce Ministry said in a statement. “The challenges to be addressed in digitalising trade were identified as international cooperation in harmonising definitions, standards and data sharing across the borders digitally,” it added.
Panelists recommended that all nations should endeavour to adopt enabling legislation in the next few years to achieve paperless international trade.
8. EDITORIAL-1: Understanding the street dogs-human conflict
If we claim to be the superior species, we must act responsibly, scientifically and humanely
For about 25,000 years, we have coexisted with dogs. Dogs protect us, and give us emotional support and companionship. They are loyal, friendly and intelligent. We are now witnessing a disintegration of this beautiful bond. Intolerance is growing not only towards dogs, but also cats, cows, birds and other creatures. We then extend the same intolerance towards friends, family, neighbours, co-workers, co-passengers and strangers. It has been proven that when a person is mean to animals, he is also mean to his own species.
Identifying an enemy
Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) are often the instigators of violence. The person who stands for election in these societies knows that he has no real power: no control over maintenance, electricity, building, sale, rent, or water. What he can control is the choice of guard at the gate, and whether dogs should be allowed inside. Power demands that an enemy be identified, so dogs living there peacefully become the target. And by constantly heckling them, we make dogs nervous. Residents have told the police that the child who was bitten to death in Hyderabad would constantly beat and tease three animals. The residents repeatedly warned the child’s father. On top of that, the father, the watchman, had refused to let anyone feed the dogs for three days. Then, the society chairman/secretary targeted the humans who fed the dogs and made the community safe. Then came the mobs, instigated by statements of violence on group chats. When the RWAs go for election, both groups vie with each other on the level of violence they will inflict on animals — whether dogs, cats or pigeons.
Conflicts between humans and dogs are only symptoms of the real problem. Dogs get aggressive when they perceive a threat. They want to protect themselves or their litter from attacks if they are unwell or hungry, have been forcibly relocated, or have witnessed abuse and neglect. This can be remedied if we are kind to them and follow management rules which have been clearly set out by national and State governments and various courts.
During colonial times, dogs and Indians were disallowed from entering areas of privilege. Both were treated with violence and contempt. Street dogs were routinely killed so that their numbers would reduce. That did not work then, and it will not work now. Nature allows animals to have as many offspring and as frequently as there is space in the environment. If there is a vacuum, it will be occupied by a more inconvenient species, such as rats, mice, mongoose and cockroaches. The London Plague of 1665 was a result of the killing of 2,50,000 dogs and cats. The mice population grew, and 70% of the human population was wiped out by the Black Death pandemic. A similar incident happened in Surat not long ago and we had a plague scare as a result of removing dogs.
Indeed the multiplication of dogs on the streets must be curtailed. The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules (ABC Rules) of 2001 have been recommended by the World Health Organization and the World Organisation for Animal Health as the only way to bring about a sustained decline in the dog population, incidence of rabies, and aggression in dogs. However, necessary measures have not been implemented by local authorities to adequately and scientifically manage the street dog population. The lack of budget and infrastructure, the prevalence of corrupt and inefficient practices, and the absence of transparency and monitoring were the challenges for two decades. Recently, the Central government issued a new set of ABC Rules that bridge these gaps. Rather than seeking the removal of dogs, the responsible and effective strategy would be for citizens to demand from the municipal bodies an ABC Programme in accordance with the new ABC Rules of 2023.
Adopt native dogs
A proactive approach would be to encourage the adoption of Indian dogs. If one person out of every 100 people adopts a dog from the street, there would be no dogs on the roads. The fascination for foreign breeds keeps alive the brisk business of cruel puppy mills and dingy pet shops. Most dogs of foreign breeds in pet shops have parvo or distemper and die within weeks. In 2016, the Central government prohibited the import of pedigree dogs into India. In 2017, it notified Rules for strictly regulating dog breeders. In 2018, following a recommendation by the Law Commission, the Pet Shop Rules were notified to prevent the trade of pedigree dogs. Why has Tamil Nadu allowed over 3,000 illegal pet shops and breeders to exist? No attempt has been made to follow the rules. If pet shops are stopped, most dog-related problems will disappear.
Native dogs have better immune systems and make great pets. If a family adopts a native dog or if caregivers feed and socialise with community dogs and help get them neutered, it would be of service to the community. The importance of people who look after native dogs on the streets has been recognised by our courts, such as by the Delhi High Court in Dr. Maya D. Chablani v. Radha Mittal. Also, in the new ABC Rules, community dog caregivers have been granted protection from harassment.
Reports of dog attacks must be tested on the benchmark of proof. Recently, it was reported that two children had been killed by dogs in Vasant Kunj in New Delhi. The Mayor clarified that the autopsy report had not been obtained and that the chances of the children being killed by dogs was slim. But by then, outrageous speculation had already been circulated widely as fact. If we claim to be the superior species, we must act responsibly, scientifically and humanely. Anything else will lead to chaos and misery for all species.