SEBI proposes relaxed norms for infrastructure investment trusts

To make it easier to raise funds for infrastructure projects from capital markets, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on Thursday proposed to relax its norms for Infrastructure Investment Trusts (InvITs) by lowering the sponsors’ mandatory holding to 10 per cent and by allowing greater operational flexibilities.

Under the proposed norms for InvITs, a new investment product for arranging long-term financing for infrastructure projects, SEBI has suggested allowing such trusts to invest in two-level SPV (special purpose vehicle) structure.

Currently, InvITs can either hold infrastructure assets either directly or through an SPV, in which such a trust holds control. It has been now proposed to allow InVITs to invest in a holding company which would further invest in other SPVs.

Source: TH

#2015, #21, #august

Govt. Chest Clinic gets Digital Radiography System

The installation of the fully computerised Digital Radiography System at the Government Chest Clinic in Puducherry is expected to help in early detection of diseases like tuberculosis, while bringing down costs of diagnosis and ensuring ease of maintaining records.

The monitor displaying the image of a patient’s x-ray and the newly-inaugurated Digital Radiography System (right) at the Government Chest Clinic in Puducherry. Photo: S.S. Kumar

The Digital Radiography System was inaugurated at the Government Chest Clinic, a tertiary care institution, by Chief Minister N. Rangasamy on Thursday, and is the first-of-its-kind in a unit of the Puducherry Government.

Some of the advantages of the new system include saving of time as the X-ray image can be sent directly to the doctor’s computer and the film need not be developed in every case.

The X-ray report can also be sent by email. Importantly, the provision to zoom into the X-ray image and its superior clarity will help detect minute issues thus aiding faster diagnosis in tuberculosis and respiratory system disorders, said Dr. S. Govindarajan, State Tuberculosis Control Officer.

The Digital Radiography System is a retrofitted unit, which caters specifically to chest X-ray, said Arun, technical specialist. While a regular unit can cost around Rs. 90 lakh, this has cost around Rs. 32 lakh because of the retrofitting, he said.


The unit has a capacity of 300 patients a day.

The inauguration was also attended by Dr. K.V. Raman, Director, Department of Health and Family Welfare Services.

The Revised National TB Control Programme (RNTCP) has seen the rate of tuberculosis cases fall from 140 per one lakh of population in 2006 to 96 per one lakh of population last year in the Union Territory of Puducherry, said Dr. Govindarajan.

At present, 1400 people are diagnosed and treated for TB every year in the UT, with 30,000 being screened every year, he added.

Last year, around 20 cases of Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) were detected in Puducherry.

Source: TH

#2015, #21, #august

HIV-related viruses infected primates 16 million years ago

Researchers studied the evolution of on an antiviral gene called TRIM5 in African monkeys.

A western lowland gorilla, cools down by water mist sprayed into its enclosure during a hot summer day at Prague Zoo, Czech Republic

Viruses closely related to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that may cause AIDS, have infected primates in Africa for as long as 16 million years, says a new study.

“Lentiviruses closely related to modern SIVs (simian immunodeficiency virus) were present in Africa and infecting the ancestors of cercopithecine primates as far back as 16 million years ago,” the study noted.

Interested in the history of lentiviruses – the group of retroviruses to which HIV and its simian (monkey) relatives, the SIVs belong – Welkin Johnson, from Boston College, US, and colleagues studied the evolution of on an antiviral gene called TRIM5 in African monkeys.

TRIM5 is part of a group of antiviral genes called “restriction factors,” which have evolved to protect host cells from infection by viruses. The human version of TRIM5 does not interfere with——and therefore not protect against——HIV, but many monkeys have TRIM5 variants that do render HIV harmless and are therefore immune to HIV/AIDS, the study said.

The findings appeared in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

Source: TH

#2015, #21, #august

Aadhaar may soon replace roll numbers

Officials told to ensure all students apply for Aadhaar by the end of August

Students may soon end up using Aadhaar numbers instead of their roll numbers for examinations going by a circular from the Department of School Education and Literacy under the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Despite the Supreme Court verdict that Aadhaar card should not be made mandatory to get government subsidies, the MHRD is pushing all State governments to ensure that all school students apply for Aadhaar.

Based on a letter issued by MHRD, the State Education Department on Monday issued a notice to its officials directing them to order heads of government and aided schools in Karnataka to ensure students apply for an Aadhaar by the end of August.

Earlier, the Director of Department of School Education and Literacy wrote to the Secretary of Primary and Secondary Education, Karnataka, requesting the State government to implement Aadhaar among students.

Source: TH

#2015, #21, #august

UNSC: India eyes support from Pacific Island nations

Competition from China may throw a spanner in the works

Support for India’s claims for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council will be high on the agenda at the second Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) summit that will be addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Jaipur on Friday.

On Thursday, addressing the heads of the Pacific Island nations who are in New Delhi for the summit, President Pranab Mukherjee said: “UNSC reform and expansion will be discussed and concrete proposals are expected to be considered in the forthcoming UNGA session next month. An inter-governmental negotiating text is already on the table, for which India needs their support.”

Of the 14 Pacific Island nations, 12 have a vote in the United Nations, and India asserts it has “firm stated commitment of support” from at least 10 of these. According to MEA sources, of these two countries (that are yet to back India’s claim) one supports the G4 resolution, which indirectly supports the Indian position, while the other is yet to announce its stand.

Culture connect

New Delhi is banking on old, cultural ties with these nations, especially Fiji, which wields considerable influence in the region, and has a significant percentage of population that is of Indian descent, to garner support.

“While there hasn’t been much coordination on issues at the U.N., we hope the FIPIC conference will see a strengthening of coordination on the U.N. floor,” High Commissioner of Fiji, Yogesh J. Karan toldThe Hindu . However, it remains to be seen which country the FIPIC block would choose if the vote came down to a contest between India and China, which is a closer neighbour with heavy investments in infrastructure in the islands.

Source: TH

#2015, #21, #august

Govt. considering Bill to ensure right to services

 The Union government is considering a Bill to guarantee time-bound delivery of services, called the Right to Services Act, on the lines of the Acts already in place in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Union Law Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 10 suggesting such a Bill be prepared at the Central level.

Top sources in the government have confirmed that the Bill is now under the “active consideration” of the Personnel and Public Grievances Ministry.

“[The] government as a major service delivery agency does not enjoy a great reputation among citizens. People are generally unhappy about the government’s service delivery mechanism on account of delayed services, lack of accountability and transparency as well as poor quality of services delivered,” Mr. Gowda wrote in his letter.

He gave the example of Sakala, a service delivery programme in Karnataka launched when he was the Chief Minister and which covers 11 departments and 151 services routinely provided from a single portal.

Track work flow

Not only can one apply for services through the portal but also track the work flow; a system of fines has been put in place in case of a delay without reason.

The programme relies heavily on e-governance and e-tracking of service requests, delays and reasons for delay, something that the Modi government has been advocating for some time.

“This Bill would be important in curbing petty corruption in delivery of government services, some of it can be seen in the States where it has been implemented and also in places such as the passport office, where processes have been streamlined,” a top government official said.

“For the ordinary citizens the corruption one faces while applying for things like a driving licence or a scholarship for a student or ration card is the only interface with the government of the day. The efficacy of the government is reflected in the ease with which these services are rendered,” said the source.

The UPA government, too, had a similar Bill, called The Right of Citizens for Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievance Bill, 2011, which had been introduced in the Lok Sabha but it subsequently lapsed.

While Mr. Gowda has advocated the adoption of the Sakala model for enacting the Bill, there are several versions available in various States.

Sakala has the distinction of having won the Prime Minister’s Medal for Excellence in Public Administration. While officials did not specify when the draft would go to the Cabinet, it is considered an idea close to the Prime Minister’s heart.

 Source: TH

#2015, #21, #august

Banks for the unbanked

For the first time in India’s banking sector, the Reserve Bank of India is giving out differentiated banking licences. The in-principle go-ahead given on Wednesday to 11 ‘payments banks’ is, by the RBI’s own admission, an experiment — the latest in a long series of attempts to take banks to the unbanked. The push towards financial inclusion started with the nationalisation of 14 commercial banks in July 1969 through the Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Ordinance, 1969. Then a second round came in 1980, involving six more commercial banks. With a view to economically mainstreaming rural areas, the Indira Gandhi government established regional rural banks by means of an ordinance in 1975. But even 45 years later, all these attempts have had little success in expanding banking coverage to the desired extent and scale: only 7 per cent of India’s villages have a branch of a rural or commercial bank. The policymakers seem now to have finally understood that banking inclusion cannot be just one among many businesses of a bank: it has to be the core business. The licensing condition that puts a Rs. 1-lakh cap on deposits that payments banks can receive from customers defines the market they will target — primarily the unbanked population. The RBI expects payments banks to target migrant labourers and the self-employed, besides low-income households, offering low-cost savings accounts and remittance services so that those who now transact only in cash can take their first step into the formal banking system.

Going by the international experience, this innovation of basically transforming a citizen’s mobile phone into a stripped-down bank branch has a greater chance of success. The initiative takes Vodafone’s M-Pesa closer to the version that is working successfully in Kenya, where payments on this product constituted about 30 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2014. Similar products in India so far were essentially mobile applications dependent on tie-ups with banks to make cash withdrawals and interest payments. The licence frees these companies to provide such services on their own. The greater operational flexibility will enable them to draw in more customers. Their operations could now become more cost-effective as the licence-holders will be banks in their own right, albeit without the provision to extend loans to individuals. If they indeed succeed in becoming the target market’s chosen mode of financial transactions, this technological solution could also turn out to be a major step in achieving a truly cashless economy. So, while this is a bold move, and underscores that the RBI is anything but conservative, it is ironical too that the cycle of experiments that started with the 1969 round of nationalisation has now come full circle. The responsibility of financial inclusion is now almost entirely entrusted to the private sector.

Source: TH

#2015, #21, #august

All is not smooth on the Silk Road

 A new deepwater port that is planned in Myanmar could provide a big boost to the China-backed Maritime Silk Road (MSR) initiative. Yet, the problems being encountered in setting up the port at Kyaukphyu also show that overcoming ‘soft’ impediments posed by a downturn in China-Myanmar diplomatic ties, issues of human displacement, and environmental protection are equally important to reap the full benefits of this mega project. The Hindu has learnt that ambitious plans are afoot to develop the Kyaukphyu, which, once set up, will become Myanmar’s sole deepwater port. The port, at Ramree Island in the Bay of Bengal, will become operational when the first deep sea berth is set up in 2020. Five other berths will be added in the following decade.

The second phase of the project will commence in 2030 and four additional berths will be added in the remaining six years. “The Yangon port will become saturated by 2020 and therefore establishment of the Kyaukphyu port has become urgent,” said Kyaw Hlaing, president and research director of Myanmar Survey Research, in a conversation with The Hindu . Mr. Hlaing pointed out that once the port clocks a handling capacity of 7 million twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) containers, it “will play very significant role in Maritime Silk Road and it will be a game changer for the region, especially for Southwest Provinces of China.”

Inspired by the successes of Shanghai and Guangzhou, the Chinese have emerged as the architects of MSR, which will cover coastal zones that spread from parts of the Pacific and Indian Ocean rims to stretches along the Mediterranean coast.

The project has the potential to generate millions of jobs through development of ports, marine industry, industrial parks, smart cities, as well as tourism and entertainment centres along a vast Eurasian maritime space.

The location of the Kyaukphyu port in the Bay of Bengal is of immense strategic significance, as it can service trade not just with China’s Yunnan province — in itself a gateway to Vietnam and Laos besides Myanmar — but also parts of India. In fact, the natural harbour of Kyaukphyu at one time aided the rice trade between Kolkata and Myanmar.

The port will indeed help China avoid the ‘Malacca trap’ by channelling trade through networks that would bypass the U.S. dominated Malacca straits — the narrow passage between Malaysia and Sumatra that links the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. For China, avoiding the Malacca straits has become particularly urgent, as the U.S. has strengthened its military presence in the Pacific under its ‘Asia Pivot’ doctrine.

The Kyaukphyu deepwater project is part of a larger developmental framework that includes the establishment of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), with a vision of fostering a ‘mini-Singapore’ in Myanmar’s impoverished Rakhine State.

China is already leveraging the Kyaukphyu area for its energy security, by avoiding Malacca straits for some of its oil and gas shipments. A pipeline that transits oil, mainly sourced from West Asia, is already in place.However, the fate of the rest of the infrastructure that will firm up the Kunming-Kyaukphyu channel of the MSR continues to hang in a balance.


As Myanmar opens out to the rest of the world, including the West, the once-thriving ties between Myanmar and China seem to have taken a hit, obstructing big infrastructure projects. It is now obvious that the Myanmar government has, for the moment, scuttled a proposed rail project that would have linked Kyaukphyu port with border town of Muse, prior to its eventual extension to Kunming. “The MoU for the rail project that was signed in 2011 expired last year. But with the development of the port and the SEZ, connectivity would be required. So, in the future, we may also consider the construction of the rail,” observes Mr. Hlaing.

The Myanmar government’s earlier decision in 2011 to suspend work on the 6,000 megawatt China-funded Myitsone hydropower dam had already signalled the growing dissonance in Sino-Myanmar ties.

Nevertheless, some green shoots have emerged, suggesting that diplomatic relationship between the two countries maybe on the mend. Last month Myanmar authorities, in a goodwill gesture, unexpectedly released 155 Chinese nationals who had been earlier detained for illegal logging. Party-to party-relations between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Myanmar’s influential National League for Democracy (NLD) party have been activated. They were in fact on the top of the agenda, when the NLD leader and Nobel icon Aung San Suu Kyi visited Beijing in June.

Nevertheless, the Kyaukphyu project may have to overcome environmental and human displacement concerns. Complaints abound about low compensation paid for land acquired for the SEZ. There are also fears that without vocational training, outsiders would benefit more from the jobs that the project would create. These criticisms once again underscore the point that the compelling economic logic of MSR-linked projects, including Kyaukphyu, can prevail only when an integrated approach, respectful of local conditions and premised on a lawful grassroots-level dialogue, is pursued.

Source: TH

#2015, #21, #august

New payments banks will revolutionise system: Rajan

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Dr. Raghuram Rajan, on Thursday said payments banks are an add-on to the banks rather than competitors. “Payments banks will be feeders into the universal banks… payments banks can’t do some thing universal banks can do.”

Dr. Rajan also said that introduction of payments banks will revolutionise banking, make it very exciting for customers and existing lenders will have to improve service to retain depositors. RBI granted ‘in principle’ approval for payments banks to 11 entities.

“Universal banks have to provide full service. Banking will become more competitive and interesting,” said Dr. Rajan.

Addressing the 2nd Banking & Economics Conclave 2015, organised by State Bank of India here, Dr. Rajan urged real estate developers to reduce prices from the current levels. “I do believe that real estate developers, who are sitting on unsold stocks, should reduce prices on unsold stocks,” the RBI Governor said. “It differs across the country. We need the market to clear up…don’t need a situation where prices are high and demand doesn’t pick up. It will be a big help to the sector because once there is a sense that price itself has stabilised then more people will be willing to buy.”

Source: TH

#2015, #21, #august

The politics of parliamentary paralysis

The near washout of the monsoon session of Parliament brought back memories of the 2010 winter session. Only, the protagonists have now switched sides. In 2010, it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), sitting in the Opposition benches, which was the main player in disrupting Parliament over the 2G scam. Now, it’s the Congress, with far fewer members in the Lok Sabha but significantly more in the Rajya Sabha, which has managed to stall Parliament. While the government and the Opposition traded charges and the public bemoaned the deadlock, we must not lose sight of one important fact: disruptions are now very much a part of established parliamentary practice in India. Trying to wish disruptions away is unrealistic; trying to minimise them is in the best interests of democracy and deliberation. Both the government and the Opposition have signally failed in the latter.

The first thing to note is that disruptions and disorderly scenes in Parliament are not of recent vintage. As far back as 1952, the Preventive Detention (Amendment) Bill — according to the journalist B.G. Verghese — brought about “an unprecedented hullabaloo”. Again, in the third Lok Sabha, in 1963, when the Official Languages Bill was introduced, there were strong protests by some Opposition members which a newspaper described as the first time that such “disorderly scenes” were witnessed in the House. Two members, including Swami Rameshwaranand of the Jan Sangh, had to be forcibly ejected by the watch and ward staff. That such behaviour was rare at the time was apparent from Nehru’s comment: “I do not know if that gentleman has the least conception of what Parliament is, what democracy is, and how one is supposed to behave or ought to behave.” That year, some members had tried to disrupt the President’s address to the two Houses, considered a sacrosanct feature of Parliament. This too was strongly disapproved of by Nehru, who said, “This Parliament is supposed not only to act correctly but lay down certain principles and conventions of decorous behaviour.”

‘Politics in the raw’

As I had highlighted in an article of mine published in 2012, from the fourth Lok Sabha — the first without Nehru present in the House — walkouts and disruptive behaviour became more common. Former Secretary-General of the Lok Sabha and author of a multi-volume book on Parliament, Subhash C. Kashyap, points out, “The fourth Lok Sabha period may be remembered for the fundamental changes in the idiom, the style and culture of parliamentary politics. Hereafter, it was politics in the raw with much of masks and gloves off.” Such disruptions became frequent since the 1970s, with a veteran journalist noting that “bedlam in both Houses has by now become a daily routine, rather than an exception to the rule.” Even someone as eminent as the Communist MP, Hiren Mukherjee, wrote in a report on the conduct of members during the President’s Address: “If… circumstances happen to be somewhat abnormal in the country, it might conceivably be the duty of Opposition parties in Parliament to focus attention on the people’s discontent even on such an exceptional occasion.”

House composition and debate

It is true, however, that the time lost to disruptions has dramatically increased in the last two decades. In the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-14), when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in government, as much as 40 per cent of the total time was lost to disruptions, making it the least productive Lok Sabha ever. Indeed, there has been a secular rise in the time lost due to disruptions in the last five Lok Sabhas.

There are several reasons for this. The first is the change in parliamentary culture. In the first decade of Parliament’s existence, there was a fair degree of homogeneity in the composition of the House, with many of the leading MPs having been schooled in the traditions of British parliamentary practice. This was as true for Nehru as it was for Opposition MPs such as Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and Hiren Mukherjee. Besides, the Congress’s formidable majority in the early years of Parliament meant that the Opposition never really had the numbers to seriously challenge the government. Hence, an Opposition legislator of the time ended a debate in Parliament with the words, “We have the arguments. You have the votes.”

The adherence to British parliamentary norms gradually broke down from the 1970s, which was also the time the Congress lost its dominance. The composition of the House became even more heterogeneous — in terms of both caste and class — completely transforming the tenor and idiom of debates. This process was hastened in the late-1980s, which saw the establishment of coalition politics as well as new political forces, particularly the sharp rise in the number of representatives from the Other Backward Classes, unleashed by the Mandal Commission report. The changed composition and diversity of Parliament had a significant impact on parliamentary culture, which was far more permissive to disruptions and protests inside the House.

Beamed live

A second, and more recent, reason that helped fuel disruptive behaviour and theatrics was the live telecast of proceedings inside the House. Though the Railway Budget and Union Budget were telecast live for the first time in 1992, it was from 2006 that the entire proceedings of the Lok Sabha were telecast live by Doordarshan. While the phenomenon of disruptions predate live telecast of proceedings, live images and the explosion of television channels changed the rules of the game. As Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta point out in an analysis of Parliament: “In part, the overt tumult witnessed in parliament is a rational response by MPs to the incentives created by the media, which gives greater coverage to MPs who engage in this behaviour than those who busy themselves in parliamentary debates… many MPs believe that publicity, even bad publicity, especially if it makes it to the evening news is better than no publicity.”

Over the last 25 years or so, disruptions have got a legitimacy which they lacked earlier. This has meant that both national parties, the Congress and the BJP, along with the regional outfits have been guilty of disruptions at different times. Indeed, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who has been vocal in his criticism of the disruptions by the Opposition, himself had in this newspaper defended such behaviour in his capacity as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha: “Parliamentary obstructionism should be avoided. It is a weapon to be used in the rarest of the rare cases… If parliamentary accountability is subverted and a debate is intended to be used merely to put a lid on parliamentary accountability, it is then a legitimate tactic for the Opposition to expose the government through parliamentary instruments available at its command.”

These words have come back to haunt the BJP. Though Mr. Jaitley and others in the government have justified their own disruptive behaviour when in Opposition, in the cause of serious issues like corruption scandals, they have dismissed the Congress’s tactics as petty and personal. But once disruptions are interpreted as legitimate “parliamentary instruments”, it becomes very awkward to brand someone else’s protests as illegal.

Monsoon session

The Speaker has the power, under Rule 374(A) of the general Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business, to eject and suspend members who disrupt proceedings. And the Lok Sabha Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan, did suspend 25 Congress MPs on August 3 for five sessions. But such disciplinary action, as in the past when MPs have been suspended, often proves counterproductive. In the current instance, it only served to unite the entire Opposition which was prior to that ready to part ways with the Congress on its disruptive agenda.

The Congress leadership saw the controversies around External Affairs and Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and the BJP Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh as an easy and a highly publicised way to enthuse a moribund party. They figured that protests on the floor of the House were likely to get far more media coverage than hitting the streets. Unlike the earlier parliamentary sessions, where the Congress cooperated on certain items of legislation, in the monsoon session it made the mistake of prolonging its disruptive tactics for far too long. In the process, the Congress stalled the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, with which it has no fundamental quarrel, drawing a sharp response from industry. The Treasury benches, particularly senior BJP leaders, did not help matters by indulging in personal attacks against the Congress leadership instead of trying to reach out and craft a workable consensus. The entire episode reflected poorly on the floor management skills of the BJP and its Parliamentary Affairs Minister. It also registered the inability of the BJP to recognise that there is an Opposition, however anaemic, which needs to be brought on board; otherwise even a small Opposition, as has happened on earlier occasions, can hold up Parliament.

Finally, a word about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Despite his dramatic entrance to Parliament on May 20, 2014, when he touched his forehead on the steps of Parliament House, he has been a reluctant parliamentarian at best. His interventions have been few and rarely spontaneous or unscripted; for the entire monsoon session he was silent inside the House. Mr. Modi’s lack of engagement with Parliament is in contrast to Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee who enjoyed the cut and thrust of debate. The absence of leadership, of the sort that a Nehru or Mr. Vajpayee provided, offered fodder to the Opposition and contributed to the parliamentary gridlock.

Source: TH

#2015, #21, #august

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