1. Cheetah boom
Cool cats: Siyaya, one of the cheetahs translocated last September from Namibia to the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, gave birth to four cubs. They were spotted by officials on Wednesday. This is the first cheetah birth in India after the species was declared extinct in 1952.
2. SC slams ‘silence of state’ on ‘vicious circle’ of hate against minorities
Centre pushes back and asks the court why it did not take suo motu cognisance of a video clip of Kerala child; Justice Joseph stresses the need to separate religion and politics and adds that hate speech strikes a mortal blow to dignity
The Supreme Court on Wednesday slammed the “silence of the state” on spiralling incidents of hate speeches made against minority communities, including Muslims.
However, the Centre pushed back, and asked the court why it did not take suo motu cognisance of a video clip from Kerala showing a child being made to threaten Hindus and even Christians.
When a Bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna asked the Maharashtra government for an explanation about hate speech incidents in the State, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta asked the court to take a moment and see what was happening in other States such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
“A spokesperson of the DMK party says that if you want equality you should butcher all the Brahmins…. No FIR has been registered. He continues to be a spokesperson of the party… Now, please hear this clip from Kerala. This is shocking. It should shock the conscience of this court. A child has been made to say this. We should be embarrassed. He says ‘Hindus and Christians should prepare for final rites’,” Mr. Mehta addressed the court.
“Yes, we know,” Justice Joseph responded. “Then Your Lordships should have taken suo motu cognisance,” Mr. Mehta said.
Justice Joseph said the country was caught in a “vicious circle of hate” and the solution lay in expunging religion from politics. “The moment religion is separated from politics, all this will stop,” Justice Joseph said.
But Mr. Mehta refused to agree that hate had anything to do with politics. “No, this has everything to do with politics. Politicians make use of religion,” Justice Joseph stood firm.
Justice Nagarathna said hate speeches have made cracks in the idea of fraternity. She said hate speeches were made by “fringe elements” of all sides who have “no stuff in them”.
“When Vajpayee and Nehru spoke, people came from rural areas to hear them… Unfortunately now, people with no stuff in them, fringe elements from every side are making these hate speeches… where are you taking India? Now are we going to start taking contempt action against every person in India… where are we taking this court… is there no restraint on freedom of speech… If there is intellectual deprivation, you can never take this country to the number one position in the world. Intellectual deprivation comes only when there is intolerance, lack of knowledge and lack of education. That is where we should concentrate first… We should as a society take a pledge to restrain ourselves from saying these things,” Justice Nagarathna said. Justice Joseph said “before we think of trying to be a superpower, we should first follow the rule of law”. The court said hate speech strikes a mortal blow to dignity.
“The most important thing is dignity. If it is demolished on a regular basis… look at the statements being made ‘Go to Pakistan’… They are people who chose this country. They are like your brothers and sisters. Remember what you pledged in school ‘All Indians are my brothers and sisters… Maybe I am too old-fashioned… I am retiring in four months, turning 65… Seventy-five years ago we as a nation started a journey. Our objective was to be a country that will follow the rule of law… We should never go down to that level of hate,” he said.
3. Army to get satellite, will help provide mission critical data
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has signed three contracts worth ₹5,400 crore — two with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) worth ₹2,400 crore for procurement of Automated Air Defence Control and Reporting System ‘Project Akashteer’ for the Army and Sarang Electronic Support Measure (ESM) systems for the Navy. Another ₹2,963-crore contract is with NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), a Central Public Sector Enterprise under the Department of Space, for an advanced communication satellite, GSAT 7B, for the Army.
“The geostationary satellite, being a first-of-its-kind in the five-tonne category, will be developed indigenously by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO),” a Ministry statement said. The satellite will considerably enhance the communication capability of the Indian Army by providing mission critical beyond line of sight communication to troops and formations as well as weapon and airborne platforms, it stated.
The contract for ‘Project Akashteer’ is worth ₹1,982 crore.
Contract worth ₹2,963 crore entered into with NewSpace India Ltd. to develop the satellite
4. ‘No evictions for Great Nicobar project’
In November 2022, the project received Stage 1 clearance to divert 130.75 sq.km. of forest land for the purpose.
Government says 7.114 sq. km of tribal reserve area is proposed to be utilised for the project, but that is subject to protection of interests of tribespeople; L-G of Andaman and Nicobar Islands has constituted a committee to review impact of project
The Union government will not allow the displacement of tribespeople to make way for the ₹72,000-crore Great Nicobar island project, the Tribal Affairs Ministry told the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
The project, being implemented by the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO), includes a transshipment port, an airport, a power plant, and a greenfield township.
In response to a question from Trinamool Congress MP Sushmita Dev, Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Bishweshwar Tudu said that a total of 7.114 sq. km of tribal reserve area will be utilised for the project.
In November 2022, the project had received Stage 1 clearance from the Union Environment and Forest Ministry to divert 130.75 sq.km. of forest land for the purpose.
However, the Tribal Affairs Ministry said that the utilisation of tribal reserve area will be subject to the interests of the local tribespeople living in the area, especially the Shompen tribe, which is classified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG).
In its reply, the government said the utilisation of the tribal reserve area will be subject to the following conditions: “The interests of tribal population especially Shompen, a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group are not affected adversely; strict implementation of the provisions of Protection of Aborigine Tribe (PAT) Regulation to protect the interest of the Shompen; the displacement of tribals will not be allowed; and eco-tourism will be regulated in an effective manner.”
Further, the government said that the Lieutenant-Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands had already constituted an Empowered Committee to obtain views and consultations on the impact of the project.
5. Trade deficit with China crossed $71 bn in first 10 months of FY23
India’s trade deficit with China touched $71.56 billion in the first 10 months of 2022-23, just $1.7 billion short of the record high of $73.31 billion in 2021-22, data shared by the Commerce Ministry in the Lok Sabha show.
Responding to a query from MP Manickam Tagore on whether the trade deficit with China had been increasing every year, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Anupriya Patel said that the trade deficit with China had progressively decreased every year from 2017-18 to 2020-21. “It increased in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21,” the Minister added.
“The trade deficit with China in 2004-05 was $1.48 billion, which increased to $36.21 billion in 2013-14,” Ms. Patel said in reply to another MP’s query.
“Against this massive increase, the trade deficit with China has since increased by only about 102% to $73.31 billion in 2021-22,” Ms. Patel said, contrasting the numbers under the present government with that clocked under the previous one.
Most of the imports were capital goods, intermediate goods and raw materials and were used for meeting the demand of fast expanding sectors like electronics, telecom and power, she said.
6. No charge on normal UPI payments: NPCI
The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) on Wednesday clarified that the interchange charge of 1.1% on merchant transactions exceeding ₹2,000 done using Prepaid Payment Instruments (PPI Wallets) on UPI would ‘only be applicable for PPI merchant transactions and there would be no charge to customers’.
“It is further clarified that there are no charges for the bank account to bank account based UPI payments” or normal UPI payments, the NPCI added in a statement.
PPI Wallets had been permitted to be part of the interoperable UPI ecosystem, NPCI said.
“We believe this is a positive development for the Indian economy and the banking system as a whole,” said Rajsri Rengan, India Head of Development, Banking and Payments, at FIS.
7. SEBI pushes norms to ensure better disclosures, boost transparency
Eye on investor: SEBI chairperson Madhabi Puri Buch unveiled norms to mitigate credit risk and protect investors’ funds.
Market regulator’s board clears reforms aimed at better protecting investors’ interest; from October 1, 2023, top 100
listed companies must confirm or deny price sensitive market rumours; SEBI allows PE firms to own stakes in AMCs
The Securities & Exchange Board of India on Wednesday moved to improve disclosure norms and transparency by mandating that large listed companies must confirm or deny price-sensitive market rumours, and in the case of material board decisions disclose them to exchanges within 30 minutes.
To bring more transparency and to ensure timely disclosure of information by listed entities, SEBI made it mandatory for the top 100 listed companies by market capitalisation to verify, confirm or deny or clarify any market rumours. This would come into effect from October 1. And the top 250 listed entities by market value, would need to adhere to the norm by April 2024.
The markets regulator also made it mandatory for upstreaming of clients’ funds by stock brokers and clearing members to clearing corporations, a move aimed at protecting retail investors’ funds.
“This will mitigate credit risk on intermediaries and risk of potential misuse of clients’ funds,” SEBI chairperson Madhabi Puri Buch told reporters after a board meeting.
Ms. Buch declined to comment on the issues concerning the Adani Group, observing that the matter was in the Supreme Court and that the apex court had asked SEBI to submit a report on the status of the investigation to the committee set up by the court.
SEBI has also now allowed Private Equity (PE) firms to own stakes in Asset Management Companies (AMCs) that operate mutual funds.
8. EDITORIAL-1: India’s DPIs, catching the next wave
There is more to be tapped in the country’s digital public infrastructure (DPI), which has paved the way for greater economic freedom for citizens.
India’s digital public infrastructure (DPI), loosely the India Stack and more, is a marvel of our times, shaped in a unique partnership between governments (Union and States), regulators, the private sector, selfless volunteers, startups, and academia/think tanks. Engendering sustained collective action at scale between so many disparate entities itself is magical and the outcomes are India’s answer to Web 3, perhaps even superior in many ways.
Much has been spoken and written about India’s DPIs, and as such, this article does not seek to repeat all of that, but instead about what is coming next, and who is driving it. What began as a foundation with Aadhaar created by Nandan Nilekani and R.S. Sharma in 2009 has led to many more Lego blocks, coming on top of it, and on its side, to create a superstructure which delivers consistent, affordable, and across-the-board value to citizens, government and the corporate sector — wherever it gets used imaginatively.
The rebirth of Aadhaar happened in 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave it a canvas far wider and bigger than what was originally envisaged, and enabled it to become the rocket ship to launch good governance on. Today, over 1,700 Union and States government schemes ride atop it.
Aadhaar and the private sector
The judgment of the Supreme Court of India had affirmed privacy to be sacrosanct, and led to anunintended slowdown of the opening of Aadhaar to the private sector to unlock its value even further. The rapid adoption and attendant visible ease of doing business in day-to-day transactions for citizens, has now led to a gradual opening of Aadhaar, beginning with voluntary usage, for various private sector applications.
Aadhaar holders can voluntarily use their Aadhaar for private sector purposes, and private sector entities need not seek special permission for such usage. Also, between government departments (intra- and inter-State) Aadhaar data can be shared, but with the prior informed consent of the citizen. Banks and other regulated entities can store Aadhaar numbers as long as they protect it using vault and other similar means, as in Unique Identification Authority of India security regulations. A new private sector-friendly UIDAI is racing ahead to incentivise Aadhaar usage, to become richer and more meaningful.
These three changes will lead to the next leap frogging of the India Stack as a whole, under a rare alignment of a dynamic political executive and inspired volunteers. Proof that this is work in progress is that Aadhaar authentications have shot up to 2.2 billion per month, and the cumulative number over the past 12 years has crossed 100 billion. Taking just one example, the Goods and Service Tax Network (GSTN) and then account aggregator could not have happened without an Aadhaar number and Permanent Account Number (PAN) database existing. Thus, the Lego blocks keep building one on top of the other.
DigiYatra and DigiLocker
Think of the kind of greenfield market innovation on top of Aadhaar which it can potentially create or unlock. The United States CLEAR programme (an expedited airport security/airport identity verification process) is now active at 51 airports with about 15 million members at a cost of $369 per annum for a family of four. In contrast is a slightly different variant, the DigiYatra, which is totally free of cost for the Indian traveller. Digi Yatra is a Biometric Enabled Seamless Travel (BEST) experience based on a facial recognition system (FRS), again through a partnership between industry and government, which ensures seamless identification of passengers at key check points such as airport entry, security check and boarding gate clearance. The pilots have shown that about two lakh passengers have utilised this successfully. Air passenger traffic in India was estimated to be over 188 million in airports across India in the financial year 2022, out of whom over 22 million were international passengers. When Digi Yatra reaches a third of them, it will lead to further second order effects and more innovation.
Take DigiLocker, one of the least known DPIs, which today has 150 million users, six billion stored documents, and done with a tiny budget of ₹50 crore over seven years. Plans are afoot to expand it to many countries around the world, and with this microscopic budget. When one applies for a passport now, one need not even upload any portable document format (PDF) any more or submit some notarised papers. A simple consent on the passport application form allowing it to fetch the relevant data from DigiLocker does the magic. Zerodha, Upstox, RazorPay, Equal and many other insurance and fintechs would not exist today but for the DigiLocker APIs, for their Know Your Customer/Client happens through it, almost instantly.
Here is another example. When DigiLocker was used in a Karnataka Police recruitment drive to verify the academic credentials of candidates, it led to the process being cut down by about six months.
Today, it is a travesty that there is no single portal where industry can see all the necessary (and many unnecessary) compliances, whether at the Union or the State level. If an Enterprise DigiLocker can be created, then it can lead to as many downloads of PAN, GSTN and the other documents as needed by multiple departments across many States, saving huge costs and headaches for businesses.
Let us consider just one more metric, namely, the unified payment interface or UPI which is breaking records under the visionary leadership at the National Payments Corporation of India. It has now crossed eight billion transactions per month and transacts a value of $180 billion a month, or about a staggering 65% of India’s GDP per annum. This does beg the question whether the growth of UPI impacts GDP significantly. Or, is it GDP neutral? In other words, does it merely take away a part of the existing payments through UPI transactions? Or, does it allow those who never transacted before to come onto the platform and increase the size of the cake? The jury is still out on this.
India’s DPI marks our second war for independence — economic freedom from the day-to-day drudgery of life and transactions, which has made it become our new business backbone that is powering India towards a $25 trillion economy by the 100th year of our political independence. Imagine what new Cambrian explosion will happen when ChatGPT meets India Stack!
9. India needs public policy education
Public administration should be a compulsory paper for the UPSC exam.
Government policies are pivotal in deciding the future of a country. Good public policies spur economic growth and public welfare and improve ease of living for citizens. However, there is little interest in public policy education in India. Only a small percentage of policymakers — civil service officers — are exposed to the formal study of public policy and public administration. In this context, this article carries a few suggestions which could boost public policy education in India. The phrase ‘public management’ is used to refer to both public policy and public administration.
The Indian bureaucracy has many talented people working at various levels. However, governance is still perceived to be lagging behind private sector management, in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. This is largely due to lack of training in public management. Over a span of 37 years in the civil service, I have observed that many policymakers are under-equipped to develop effective policies. Until the time I went to IIM Bangalore for public policy education, which was after 20 years of service, I was also an intuitive decision-maker. But institutional training in public policy changed the paradigm that I was following in my role.
Paucity of programmes
Most executive jobs in the organised sector are in government or government-owned agencies and require an understanding of public management. However, the supply of formal education in public management is inadequate as compared to business management education. As per data from the All-India Council for Technical Education, there are 3,182 institutions with an approved intake of 4.22 lakh in business management programmes, but only about 130 public, private and not-for-profit universities that offer public administration programmes and only 29 institutes that offer public policy programmes. Of these 29 institutions, 17 are private, four are semi-private, and eight are state-funded institutions. In general, the batch size of public policy courses is 20-60.
The reason why universities don’t have many programmes of public management is because there are few jobs available for people pursuing such courses. The private sector offers limited opportunities in government advisory roles, consulting and Corporate Social Responsibility. For public sector opportunities, students have to go through competitive exams. Therefore, neither educational institutes nor students find any incentive to prefer public management courses in place of technical or management courses that offer lucrative private sector opportunities.
Further, there are very few civil servants who have got exposure to public management before joining service. Most of them undergo the departmental induction training programme which is focused on the role that they play in their department. They do not learn much about how to make good public policies.
There are a few opportunities for in-service officers to study public management in India and abroad. As per the data available of the capacity-building commissions in the 10 years between 2012 and 2021, 194 civil service officers (including 86 from the IAS) went abroad to study public management at the Master’s level. Within the country, there are five institutions in which 194 civil service officers have been sponsored by the government for full-time public policy courses in the last three years. Contrast this with 1.3 lakh Group A officers in the Government of India today.
Given this background, my first suggestion is that public management should be one of the compulsory subjects for the UPSC civil service examination. The introduction of a public management paper can either be a substitute for one optional subject or an additional paper. This will help in multiple ways. First, civil servants who join government would have formal education in public management before they enter service. Second, since about five lakh candidates appear for UPSC civil service every year and each one of them will need to prepare for the public policy paper, this creates an opportunity or incentive for universities and private institutions to offer the subject at the graduate or post-graduate level. Public policy education, research and case studies will get a major boost from this new demand. Third, even if only 10% of UPSC aspirants make it to various government jobs, including at the State level, others who studied this subject for the examination would develop better understanding and sensitivity towards complexities involved in public management, making them better citizens as well as effective private sector managers.
Some may wonder whether it is fair to make aspirants study public policy as a new subject. Yes, it is fair and this should not cause any difficulty. According to data of the last three years of UPSC aspirants, on average, 50% of the aspirants preferred an optional subject other than their graduation subject for the UPSC main exam. This indicates their willingness to learn whatever it takes to succeed in the exam.
The second suggestion is that existing training institutions of the government should have a larger component of public policy as part of induction training. Also, they should build up a case study bank for training.
Third, the government can create certain specialised positions of public policy analysts, to be picked up from the market directly, so that new job avenues for the graduates of public policy programmes can be created.