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‘A party getting 51% mandate in polls doesn’t mean the 49% must remain silent’

A dissenter is not an anti-national. Holding a contrary view to that of the government does not make one an anti-national, according to Supreme Court judge Justice Deepak Gupta.

Justice Gupta made the observation during a lecture organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association on “Democracy and dissent” on Monday. His speech received a standing ovation.

Rise in sedition cases

Justice Gupta red-flagged the hike in sedition cases against activists, lawyers and students and branding voices of dissent as “anti-national”.

Expressing dissent to government’s policies did not amount to acting against the nation.

“There have been many recent incidents where people dissenting have been slapped with terms like anti-national... Majoritarianism is an anti-thesis to democracy...,” he said.

A political party getting 51% mandate in the polls did not mean the other 49% of the country ought to remain silent for the next five years. “A democracy is for 100% of the people. Government is for everyone. Everyone plays a role in democracy,” he noted.

Justice Gupta’s words are significant against the background of protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in various parts of the country, most prominently at Shaheen Bagh in the national capital.

Rule of law

His observations follow shortly after Justice Arun Mishra accoladed the “versatile genius” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “think globally and act locally” at an international judges conference on Saturday.

Justice Gupta said governance did not mean carrying out the whims of a few, but following the rule of law. The government was not always right. Citizens had the right to come together, protest and dissent peacefully.

950 girls for 1,000 boys better than national average

The female sex ratio in Telangana has shown a marginal decline till January end in 2019-20 as compared to the 12-month period of the previous year though the figures are far better than the national average.

The performance of key indicators of Health Management Information System of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suggests that against 957 girl children born in Telangana in 2018-19 for 1,000 boys, the birth rate of girls in 2019-20 was 950. The national average of girl children was 925.

A total of 5.3 lakh children, both male and female, were born in Telangana in 2018-19 and 4.82 lakh till January this year.

Still births

Of concern was the increase in reported still births by over 450 this year but this was attributed to the role of institutional deliveries following the implementation of KCR kits programme of government. The deliveries at government hospitals went up after the programme was launched, which resulted in recording all cases of still births. Otherwise, they went unnoticed at private hospitals.

The highest number of girls were born in Khammam and Peddapalli districts in both the years. The lowest was in Yadadri-Bhongir district this year. The number of girl children born in Khammam in 2018-19 was 1,057 but it rose to 1,177 this year. On the other hand, their rate slid from 1,031 last year to 1,012 this year in Peddapalli.

Superintendent of a hospital said the craving for a baby boy in small family norm drove the parents to discourage girl children. Hence, the problem of foeticide. A business community only wanted male children while another community sought large size of families irrespective of sex. The prospect of shelling down huge amounts as dowry in marriage was another factor which went against girls.

In fact, a matrimonial service invited applications to fix marriage alliances only if the parents of girls owned property worth ₹2 crore and had a monthly income of ₹2 lakh. The year 2019-20 also saw an increase in maternal deaths after delivery and abortions. Medical fraternity has generally welcomed abortions as a tool for population control, but they were also a result of unwanted pregnancy.

Kisan Samman Nidhi will benefit only 12 crore people; Centre urges West Bengal to join scheme

Safety assured: The scheme gives land-owning farmer families an annual sum of ₹6,000. File PhotoD_K_Kishan Rao

One year after the launch of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, the Centre has revised the farmer income support scheme’s beneficiary target down to just under 12 crore from 14 crore.

In fact, empirical evidence suggests that saturation level will reach around 10 crore families. So far, almost 8.5 crore farmers have benefited.

Speaking at an event to mark the first anniversary, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar pointed to West Bengal and Bihar as the major culprits for the lag. While the West Bengal government has refused to join the scheme at all, the Bihar government’s approach of waiting for applicants means more than 60% of potential beneficiaries are yet to register.

The scheme, which gives land-owning farmer families an annual sum of ₹6,000, was launched in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and new registrations have slowed after the election.

The Centre’s beneficiary estimate of 14 crore was initially based on the number of landholdings recorded in the agricultural land census.

The revised estimate of 11.97 crore is based on the 9.84 crore who have registered themselves on the portal so far (although only 8.45 crore have received money so far), plus an estimated 2.13 crore beneficiaries left out, mostly from West Bengal and Bihar. However, “empirical evidence suggests that saturation level will reach around 10 crore farmer families,” according to a presentation made at the event.

‘No reply from Bengal’

Mr. Tomar pointed out that of West Bengal’s 70 lakh farmers, 10 lakh have already self-registered through an online process.

However, they cannot receive the cash benefit until the database is verified by the State government, he said.

“Officials have approached the State government about this many times and I have also written to the Chief Minister twice, urging the State to join the scheme. But we have not received any reply as yet,” Mr. Tomar said, pointing out the State’s economy would stand to benefit with a potential annual payout of ₹4,000 crore if all the State’s farmers registered themselves for the scheme.

In Bihar, the potential beneficiaries number 158 lakh. However, only 59.7 lakh farmers have uploaded their data on the PM-KISAN portal so far. “The State has adopted a beneficiary application-based approach, which is delaying identification and upload,” said the presentation.

It is likely to replace defence as vital link, amid rising American oil imports

Dharmendra Pradhan

Energy deals are expected to be a key part of discussions between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday, with talks over India’s increasing imports of American oil and gas, a clean energy deal including an MoU on building pipeline infrastructure for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) between American oil company ExxonMobil, gas transportation technology company Chart Industries and PSU Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL).

However, a much-publicised agreement for Indian PSU Petronet to invest $2.5 billion in American LNG Company Tellurian will not be ready for signing, company officials said. On Monday, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan met U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette for discussions on the upcoming agreements. “We jointly reviewed the ongoing Strategic Energy Partnership between our two countries and agreed to take it to the next level,” Mr. Pradhan said in a tweet.

In 2019, India increased its intake of oil from the U.S. to about 1,84,000 barrels per day (bpd), a four-fold jump over 2018, and up from zero imports just four years ago.

Some of the increase is due to the fact that India had to slash imports from Iran and Venezuela under threat of sanctions from the U.S., but officials say the U.S. has tried to compensate by subsidizing oil transport costs.

India is now the world’s third largest oil importer, and it is estimated that every $1 change in the price of oil internationally has a $1 billion dollar impact on India’s energy bill.

Business leaders also say that oil and gas is gaining salience in the relationship.

“Energy will soon take over from defence as the strongest link in the Indo-U.S. relationship,” said president and CEO of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) Mukesh Aghi, who hosted Mr. Pradhan and Mr. Brouillette for an energy roundtable on Monday. However, he warned that the U.S. would not continue to subsidise oil transport and logistical costs for India, and India would have to “scale up” its imports to make up the difference.

The Tellurian deal for future LNG imports will not be ready for an agreement during the visit, said a spokesperson. Tellurian’s Chairman Charif Souki and President and CEO Meg Gentle are in Delhi to “progress the discussions with Petronet and have had some crucial meetings toward that end,” Tellurian spokesperson Joi Lecznar confirmed to The Hindu.

While a trade deal under negotiation for nearly two years is not expected to be finalised during the Trump-Modi talks, sources suggest the presence of Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — credited with pushing through trade negotiations with China to a Phase-one deal — may also play a role in nudging the India-U.S. trade talks to a conclusion.

U.S. President spoke of improving ties with Islamabad at Ahmedabad rally

On the mend: President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan meeting in Davos in January. REUTERSREUTERS

Addressing a huge crowd at the Motera stadium on Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump lauded India’s democratic traditions and values, promised to provide the country the “best and most feared military equipment” and reaffirmed the commitment to fight terror together.

The President also referred to Washington’s relationship with Pakistan, which he described as “a very good one”. “...We are beginning to see signs of big progress with Pakistan,” he said.

It is interesting that Mr. Trump chose to reaffirm Washington’s improving ties with Pakistan at a public meeting in Ahmedabad with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It may not be an accidental reference.

An irritant

The Trump administration and Islamabad have made sustained efforts in recent months to improve bilateral ties, despite India’s earnest attempts to isolate Pakistan over its support for terrorist groups operating from its soil. While both sides sit together for bilaterals on Tuesday, the Pakistan factor may continue to be an irritant.

Mr. Trump’s visit to India happens at a time when the U.S. and Taliban are observing a seven-day period of violence reduction in Afghanistan. If the test period passes without any major violent incident, both sides are expected to sign a peace agreement under which the U.S. would pull out its troops.

Pakistan had played a critical role in facilitating direct talks between the insurgents and the Americans. And if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, it will directly strengthen the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which means Pakistan’s profile in Afghanistan will be lifted. This would leave the U.S. overly dependent on Pakistan to shape Afghan politics in the future.

After the February 2019 Pulwama attack and the subsequent dogfight between India and Pakistan, Islamabad has made efforts to charm the Trump administration. When Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Washington in July 2019, Mr. Trump offered mediation between India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir crisis — he practically endorsed the Pakistani position as India has always maintained that Kashmir is a bilateral issue.

A few days prior to the visit, General Mark Milley, the highest ranking officer in the U.S. military, had said U.S. “interests are better served if the country maintains strong military ties with Pakistan”. In December 2019, in a move that endorsed Gen. Milley’s views, the U.S. decided to resume its military training programme for Pakistan.

Barring the court cases against Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed and his associates over money laundering and terror financing, Pakistan hasn’t taken any major hard measure against terror infrastructure in its soil. But by mid-2019, the U.S. had already started changing its approach.

Washington and its allies, along with China, raised no adverse remark on Pakistan during the review meeting earlier this month of the Financial Action Task Force. India has been pushing to blacklist Pakistan, which would invite sanctions to its financial system. But the Beijing review meeting decided against the blacklisting.

The biggest challenge before the Indian side, while pushing to deepen ties with Washington, is to reconcile with the Pakistan factor or find ways to skirt or address it.

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