News & Events
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1. Technical glitch no act of God, NSE
Many investors have lost a lot of money on account of the ‘technical glitch’ that disrupted trading for around four hours on National Stock Exchange (NSE) on Wednesday. If investors lose their shirts on account of their mistakes, they can be asked to lump it. When they make losses because of ‘technical glitches’ at the broker’s end, often the brokers have been asked to compensate their clients. But when the exchange is the cause of the loss, there is no provision as of now for the exchange to compensate investors. NSE does not exactly struggle below the poverty line. It had an EBIDTA of Rs 2,053 crore and profit after tax of Rs 1,426 crore, in 2019-20. Why cannot this exchange have an investor protection fund, supplemented by insurance policies, to compensate for losses attributable to its faults?
The second question is, how come such a vital part of India’s financial infrastructure is vulnerable to periodic technical glitches? Some vague noises about telecom failure have been made. But multiple redundancies have to be built into the connectivity infrastructure of something like the nation’s premier stock and commodities exchange. Sophisticated cyber subversion is possible, even if not the reason in the present case. A thorough review of what led to the failure on Wednesday and those in the past must be carried out, accountability fixed and systems strengthened. Some of the investor loss could have been minimised if the decision to extend trading had been communicated to brokerages in advance, so that they would not rush to close open positions on BSE. If the trading window and associated operations had been shifted forward by a few hours and brokerages told that their members could square their open positions during this period, the scale of disruption could have been lowered. A related question: is gross asymmetry in volumes between the exchanges a systemic risk?
We have a regulator rather than a set of laws to guide conduct on the market precisely to enable real-time corrective intervention. What was Sebi doing during the glitch and its aftermath?
2.Leverage tech for migrants’ sake
A NITI Aayog subcommittee is drafting a National Action Plan for Migrant Workers. Thoroughness, rather than speed, should be its goal. India’s extant law on migrant workers has proved toothless in providing welfare or relief in times of crisis. Armed as migrant workers are now with unique identifiers and mobile phones, digitisation of government services and payment systems open up new possibilities in devising welfare and advancing rights.
The subcommittee draws members from various ministries, NGOs and civil society organisations, making for a multifaceted plan. The subcommittee should take on board the inclusion of migrant workers in the labour codes and its rules, or the decision to have all-India ration cards and the government’s plan to build and provide affordable rental homes. Ensuring minimum wages, provisioning of healthcare, a social safety net that will protect workers while transiting from one job to another, retirement savings and protection of political rights by enabling their right to franchise are important challenges. The overhauled labour codes envisage minimum wage for all and retirement savings for informal sector workers and gig workers. These ideas must be given practical form. Healthcare provisioning must build on existing provisions: how can workers access benefits under Ayushman Bharat in states that do not subscribe to the programme? The right to vote must be secured by inclusion in the voters’ list of local residence and/or remote voting in the home constituency.
Portability and connectivity of over a billion mobile phone numbers, besides Aadhaar-based verification and payments, offer clear proof of the ability to routinely tap a nationwide database to provide services. It must be leveraged.
3.Wounded vanity: The state harms its moral authority by misusing sedition to incriminate dissidents
The Delhi session’s court order granting bail to climate activist Disha Ravi ends the trauma of jail for the 22-year-old. The ten days she endured in custody on the basis of “scanty and sketchy evidence” raise questions of Delhi police. It struggled to present any evidence in court that could link Disha to the Republic Day violence or make a cogent case for saying that Disha’s actions were tantamount to inciting violence. Further, additional sessions judge Dharmender Rana’s 18-page order peppered with insightful observations also offers good reasons to junk sedition laws.
With police and prosecution harbouring no compunction presenting dissent as crime, the safeguards against sedition are failing. Judge Rana writes: “Perusal of the said ‘toolkit’ reveals that any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent. In my considered opinion, citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic nation. They cannot be put behind bars simply because they choose to disagree with state policies. The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of governments.” By invoking sedition indiscriminately, including against idealistic young activists, government harms its own moral authority.
On Disha collaborating with Greta Thunberg and Canadian pro-Khalistani activist Mo Dhaliwal, the judge noted that India’s 5,000 year civilisation was never averse to ideas from varied quarters. “In my considered opinion, the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience. There are no geographical barriers on communication,” said Rana, quoting the Rig Veda verse: “Let noble thoughts come to me from all directions.” Indeed, youngsters like Disha taking up activism and living this Rig Vedic ideal isn’t surprising. Cataclysmic climate change knows no national borders and will impact young people the most.
Judge Rana’s concern over further restricting Disha’s liberty “on the basis of propitious anticipations” speaks to recent cases of prolonged incarceration on tenuous grounds. Supreme Court’s observation in the bail hearing of DHFL promoters Kapil and Dheeraj Wadhwan – that agencies are satisfied with keeping people behind bars “for some days” instead of fast trial and conviction – also points to warped priorities. A reputed US digital forensics firm’s report of incriminating documents allegedly planted through malware to implicate accused persons in the Elgar Parishad case calls for speedy trial, or alternatively bail. As Justice Chandrachud observed while granting Arnab Goswami interim bail in Mumbai police’s abetment to suicide probe: “Liberty survives by the vigilance of her citizens, on the cacophony of the media and in the dusty corridors of courts alive to the rule of (and not by) law.”
4.Steep decline: As BJP sweeps Gujarat civic polls, Congress cedes even the opposition space
In a clean sweep in the Gujarat civic polls, BJP won all six municipal corporations in the state by picking up a mammoth 483 out of the 576 available seats. This marks a gain of 94 seats for the party from 2016, an exceptional feat given that it has been in office for more than two decades in the state. Concurrently, Congress received a drubbing at the polls, winning just 55 seats – down from 176 five years ago – and failing to even open its account in Surat. But the real surprise has been debutant AAP’s performance which won 27 seats in Surat, emerging as the main opposition in that municipal corporation.
This is a win for AAP which till now has largely been seen as a party with little influence outside Delhi. True, AAP’s gains in Surat have come at the expense of Congress. In fact, a similar situation unfolded in Ahmedabad’s two Muslim-dominated wards of Jamalpur and Maktampura where Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM – also contesting for the first time – won seven of the eight seats previously held by Congress.
Congress today faces a double whammy. While its minority appeasement baggage weighs it down in direct contests with BJP, its inability to sort out its central leadership woes is hurting its base. Sans clear direction from the top, Congress leaders and workers are left feeling listless, making them vulnerable to poaching, defections and resignations as recently seen in Puducherry – where the only Congress government in south India fell. Unless Congress can offer a strong leader at the top who can motivate the party, its base will continue to crumble – with BJP enjoying rich dividends and the crumbs going to regional outfits.
5.A welcome step on vaccination | HT Editorial
After the peak of the first Covid-19 wave, the seven-day average of new cases (also known as the case trajectory) dropped to the lowest on February 11 across India, when it touched 10,988. Since then, it has started rising again, and touched 13,253 on Tuesday — a jump of 21%. This is, at present, fuelled by a handful of states. In Maharashtra, the case trajectory has gone up 143% in the same time period; in Punjab, daily cases have increased 66%; in Madhya Pradesh, by 56%; and in Jammu and Kashmir, by 40%.
As alarm grows over what appears to be the beginning of India’s second Covid-19 wave, the Union government on Wednesday lifted some key restrictions to speed up vaccination and expand the parameters of who is eligible for inoculation. From next month, the drive has been opened to people above 60 and those above 45 with comorbidities. Significantly, the government has also allowed that vaccines — which will be given free at all State-run facilities to those eligible under these new criteria — can be administered for a price at private hospitals to those who can afford them. This is a welcome first step towards opening up the vaccination drive — both in terms of private sector involvement, and providing access to vulnerable groups other than health care and frontline workers — at a time when there is a drastic need to scale up.