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Merger of Dena, Vijaya with BoB: With the merger, effective from April 1, Bank of Baroda (BoB) will become the country's third-largest bank after State Bank of India and ICICI Bank. The merger has been designed to make BoB a globally competitive lender post merger. The amalgamation of BoB, Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank has moved a step forward with the Alternative Mechanism (AM) headed by Finance Minister, giving its in-principle approval for the structure of the amalgamation. The other members of the AM were Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal. The aim is to create a mega bank that would be sustainable and whose lending ability will be far higher. As per the in-principle approval, BoB will be the 'transferee bank' and Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank will both be the “transferee banks”. This would mean that BoB will retain its brand identity while the other two Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank will cease to be separate legal entities. The Centre has gone in for an amalgamation that involved two strong banks and a weak bank, thus avoiding the merger of two weak banks. The envisaged amalgamation will be the first-ever three-way consolidation of banks in the country, with a combined business of 14.82 lakh cr. The merger would be through share swap, which will be part of the scheme of amalgamation. Once the amalgamation of BoB, Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank is completed, the number of state-run banks will come down to 19. The amalgamation will create an IT outsourcing opportunity worth about 1,000cr instantly, in terms of integrating the different technology stacks used by these PSU lenders. As a part of the amalgamation, core banking or form integration will be the first step and will be followed by integration of applications related to human resources and treasury, apart from product-focused APIs (Application Programme Interface). In the next three to five months, the work on assimilation of branches, customers, branches and employees will be done. As for technology integration, all three of them are on Finacle platform. While BoB has recently migrated to version 10 of the software, other two banks are on the 7th version. The signage (commercial/ public display signs) will remain same for Vijaya and Dena for two-three months for the benefit of customers. The merger further will allow the combined entity under BoB more lending power, giving it a global competitive identity. As per the approved plan, there will be no effect on employees' services and working conditions and no retrenchment will happen in future.
PM-KISAN Scheme: Budget 2019 has been a big bang in many ways. The PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana (PM-KISAN), a straight income transfer to farmers, is a small beginning of the universal basic income (UBI) that found mention in the Economic Survey 2016-I7. The Niti Aayog policy paper on Doubling Farmers Income estimates that around one-fifth of farm households remain below the poverty line. Furthermore, this proportion varies hugely across states. Taking cognisance of the agricultural distress due to low incomes, a committee was set up to double farmers' income in a period of five years, ie by 2022-23. In this move to increasing farmer income, the PM-KISAN Scheme announced in the Union Budget 2019-20 represents an important step. While the Scheme increases the average income of small and marginal farmers, it has the biggest impact on reducing the uncertainty faced by these farmers. In the interim Budget on Feb 1, the Centre announced the Rs.75000cr PM-KISAN scheme, under which Rs.6000 per year would be disbursed in three equal installments to over 12cr small and marginal farmers having a cultivable land of 5 acres or less. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Feb 24 inaugurated its implementation in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, during which 1.01cr farmers received a total of 2,021cr. Benefit of over 5.215cr was transferred directly into the bank accounts of more than 2.6cr small and marginal farmers within 37 days of announcement of the scheme. The data uploaded on the PM-KISAN portal till Feb 24 had been considered for transfer of the first installment and the second installment date is from April 1. An assured income can also encourage farmers to boost productivity and help them earn more. The cash received, if invested in agriculture for higher returns, will be a support to the credit and insurance systems and promote agricultural growth in the country. With the support of a minimum income, youths from farm households may be inspired to start enterprises or take time out for higher training or even look for higher paying non-farm jobs. As a positive side-effect, the assured income also makes it easier for small and marginal farmers to get institutional loans, especially from Microfinance Institutions and Self-Help Groups. A loan waiver, in comparison, may act as a temporary healer to the farmers but its reach to small and marginal farmers is under doubt, given that small and marginal farmers take more than 50 per cent of their loans from non-institutional sources as evident from data from Agricultural Census, 2015-16. Thus, this income support scheme underlying PM-KISAN, which is specifically targeted at the small and marginal farmers, is a critical step in supporting the constituency that is entrusted the responsibility of feeding 125cr mouths. PM-KISAN is a good beginning−the only thing is that it needs fine-tuning.
Mediation in Ayodhya: The Supreme Court of India recently referred the Ayodhya matter for mediation. Litigation over the Babri Masjid site and its environs has been pending for several years. Public opinion is divided on this Supreme Court decision. There are some who welcome it in the hope that there will be a peaceful resolution of the long-pending, and at times bloody, dispute. Others feel that the Supreme Court is using mediation as a ruse to avoid the onerous task of deciding the vexatious issue. The court has appointed a panel of three mediators to steer the process. All three are men of eminence. The chairman, Justice FMI Kalifulla, has served at the Supreme Court with distinction. Sreeram Panchu is a senior advocate who has pioneered mediation as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism in this country. Sri Sri Ravishankar has come a long way from his initial days with Mahesh Yogí. Incidentally, all are from the state of Tamil Nadu as their place of birth. The panel has to hold sittings in Faizabad and submit a status report within four weeks and try to resolve the issue within eight weeks. At first blush, the Ayodhya dispute seems to be an intractable one which simply cannot be resolved through a good-faith process like mediation. First and foremost is the highly emotive nature of the dispute with millions of people being passionately moved to taking conflicting stands based on faith and religious belief on the one hand and legal rights on the other, Secondly, it has huge political ramifications as political fortunes have been made or unmade on this issue. Is it possible at all to work through these seemingly impregnable layers to find common ground and build consensus? More than 25 years ago, the Supreme Court hearing the previous round of the Ayodhya case 'wondered' why the parties could not come to a negotiated settlement of the dispute. However, No attempts at mediation were ever made. A Supreme Court judgment on the Ayodhya conundrum is unlikely to result in a solution. Rather, it is more likely to exacerbate existing fissures in our society. If the title is vested in the Hindu side, it may well be seen as another instance of an organ of state succumbing to Majoritarianism. If the title is vested in the Muslim side, it is unlikely that the mosque can be rebuilt without major repercussions on the ground. Still, mediation appears to be the most suitable course. This is the first attempt that has been made at professional mediation. One hopes that the parties concerned approach with open hearts and find a solution that leads to lasting peace. Considering that mediation seems to be a better and more appropriate method to resolve this protracted conflict, it now depends on the good faith participation of the interested parties.
SC Order on Forest Rights Act: On Feb 13, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court (SC) passed an interim order in an ongoing case involving The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, also known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA). The court directed various state governments to ensure the eviction of forest dwellers whose claims to rights over forest land (as granted by the Act) had been rejected. After the order was made public on Feb 20, reports indicated that more than one million indigenous people and other forest dwellers−some of India's most vulnerable and marginalized citizenswere under imminent threat of eviction. What was the case before the court? At its core, it had nothing to do with evictions. In 2008, soon after the passage of the FRA, which recognized the rights of Aadivasi’s, Indigenous, and other traditional forest dwellers over forest land, some conservation groups challenged its constitutional validity. That dispute has now been pending for the last 11 years. Later on SC stayed the eviction action called against 11.8lakh forest dwellers, whose claims over forest land have been rejected. The recent SC order comes in the backdrop of the Union government moving a petition seeking a stay on the original order that called on states to file affidavits explaining why evictions in cases where claims were rejected_ have not been carried out yet and also to ensure that eviction is made in cases, where eviction orders have attained finality. The SC's previous order was passed on Feb 13 in view of the FRA which was enacted to legally grant forest rights to Schedule Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs), including the responsibility for "sustainable use" of forest resources so as to strengthen forest conservation programmes while also ensuring the livelihood and food security of forest dwelling communities. The FRA also entitles communities and protects claims over their generational land. It also entitles land claims and seeks to grant the first time negotiating power to the tribal communities. The bench acknowledged there's a need to "delve into whether due process was followed by gram sabhas and state authorities” before the final rejection of claims also stated that "the mighty and the undeserving" who have encroached forestlands would have to face appropriate measures that legal processes entail, i.e., eviction in case where claims are rejected. This is noteworthy because one, there is a possibility that there may be loopholes in the processes that are currently in place to reject a claim, and two, that the degradation of forestland is an imminent ecological threat. A member of the SC bench also specifically reiterated that encroachment of forestlands is "a serious problem". The FRA law was drafted from the point of view of both forest conservation and the preservation of livelihood.
India’s Presence at OIC: What a turnaround it is for the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), which had disinvited India from its inaugural summit in 1969 at the behest of Pakistan, to the just concluded session wherein it invited India's External Affairs Minister (EAM) Sushma Swaraj to deliver the inaugural address! Swaraj addressed the inaugural session of the 46th OIC meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers on Mar 1, 2019, in Abu Dhabi as a "guest of honour" invited by this year's OIC host country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The OIC cannot any longer disregard India, which has the third largest Muslim population in the world. Moreover, the OIC, which has consistently toed the Pakistani line on Kashmir, for the first time heard in full India's fight against terrorism being sponsored from across the borders. Swaraj said India is a fountain of knowledge, a beacon of peace and a source of faiths and traditions and home to religions from the world and now one of the major economies of the world. The moment was phenomenal for the first time India attended a gathering of the grouping, which states that it works to "safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony". It is good to see wisdom dawning on the OIC to include countries with large Muslim populations in it. In all, 185mn Muslims live in India, while their number is just 10mn more in Pakistan, and in Indonesia 222mn. Lack of OIC membership has been preventing India from engaging more meaningfully with the organization even though India has fairly robust relations with most member States. Several non-Muslim States have secured observer status. The most recent of them is Russia, which came on board as an observer in 2005 with Putin declaring that Russia was a Muslim power that desired to play a role among Muslim countries However, there is always a problem with the OIC, which recognizes Kashmir as a disputed territory and seeks self-determination and resolution of Kashmir in accordance with the UN resolution. India has fairly succeeded now in preventing Pakistan from blocking its attendance. During the plenary session, India was able to voice its concerns with respect to the menace of terrorism. Pakistan should heed to India's concerns with respect to terrorism, which find similarity with those of its other two neighbors, Afghanistan and Iran. With mushrooming concerns like the rise of Islamophobia, cross-border terrorism, extremism, and instability in the world order, the OIC has become more relevant than ever before. Active engagement in the grouping by India, home to around 10 per cent of the Muslims in the world, can add more substance to the existence and working of the OIC.
Second US-N Korea Summit: US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met a in Vietnam for a second summit on Feb 27-28. The meeting ended with no joint agreement due to differences over how a much sanctions relief North Korea should receive in return for its limited flexibility in steps taken for nuclear disarmament. The main reason for the failure of the talks was a deal proposed by North Korea. It offered a complete dismantling of the Nyongbyon nuclear complex under US inspection-the research and production facility at the heart of the country's atomic development. In return, the North asked the US to lift sanctions on it. Washington understood Pyongyang was requesting the lifting of all sanctions something the US couldn't accept. North Korea asked the US to lift the articles in its sanctions resolutions that hamper the country's economy and people's livelihood. They are five of I1 sanctions which were imposed on North Korea and adopted in 2016 and 2017. Trump did not want what he called a "bad deal." Experts on North Korea agree that Kim is likely to be very disappointed with the failure to reach an agreement. North Korea probably thought it could strike a deal with the US as it stopped nuclear and missile tests that it had spent a long time developing and it expressed its intent to completely abandon its key Nyongbyon nuclear facility. Kim had failed to consider Trump's current position in the US. Trump could have been harshly criticized by US citizens if he had signed a partial denuclearization deal, as it is widely believed North Korea also has other nuclear facilities. If Trump had agreed to lift the sanctions, he would have had to persuade other countries in the UN Security Council to also agree. North Korea's goal is to normalize ties with the US and get the US troops to withdraw from the Korean Peninsula. At their first summit in June 2018, the country won a promise from the US to guarantee its security, so the North appears to now be prioritizing its economy. A South Korean government sponsored research institute estimates North Korean trade with China dropped more than 13 percent in 2017, That is believed to be due to sanctions. Kim apparently wanted to successfully negotiate with the US to show the people his power. Economic issues also dominated his New Year's address Trump has now learned North Korea is not impressed by talk of reform and modernization, and it simply wants to keep its nuclear weapons and to get sanctions removed. He says US policy has been based on offering incentives and promising North Korea a better future if it denuclearizes. Both sides now clearly understand their differences and they have finally reached a real starting point for talks. One thing, however, for sure is that Kim still sees Trump as his best bet for getting a deal.
US campaign against Huawei:  It is clear that the US government has made a strategic decision to go after Huawei, the Chinese telecom equipment maker. What is not clear is whether there is a coherent strategy behind this decision. Is the goal to reform and improve Huawei? Or to Destroy it? And is it part of a coherent American strategy to manage the rise of China? If the aim is merely to rein in Huawei, then the US moves against it may attract international support. If, for example, Huawei has violated US law in exporting a sample from a company called Akhan Semiconductor, it deserves to face the full penalties available to American prosecutors. At the same time, Huawei may also be willing to adapt to the best practices and norms governing global multinational corporations. The US is right to highlight a specific security concern about Chinese government control or manipulation of Huawei 5G switching systems. The US warning is asking developing countries: can you trust the Chinese not to spy on you? But most such nations understand that they are already spied on. US whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that the data of the 7bn human beings living outside the US are being swept into the computers of the US National Security Agency and probably into Russian computers, too. As one Asian columnist observed, the US is "having a tough time trying to convince countries that a spying China is more dangerous than a spying America". Even if the US and its allies in the Five Eyes intelligence network (the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) completely opt out of dealing with Huawei, most countries in the world will adopt 5G networks based on Chinese technology. The stakes in this dispute are high. Huawei is one of China's most successful global companies and is set to play a key role in the building of 5G networks around the world. Those next-generation networks are expected to connect everything from smart phones and robots to self-driving cars and internet enabled traffic signals. Any American strategy for managing Huawei should also be consistent with the country's wider strategy for dealing with the rise of China. Undoubtedly, anti-China sentiment has spiked in Washington. But even if the immediate trade war is postponed or resolved, further measures aimed at Beijing are likely to be adopted by US President Donald Trump. Yet while tensions between the US and China will definitely intensify in the coming years, one fundamental question remains: can China's progress towards global economic pre-eminence be stopped? In one way or another, the rest of the world will adapt and make room for China, including for leading Chinese corporations such as Huawei. The US effort to stop the company (and China) will be regarded by others as too little, too late.
Terror Strikes in New Zealand: The recent terror attack targeting people in mosques in New Zealand has shocked people around the world and is the latest mass murder which appears to have religious and political motivations. At least 49 people were gunned down during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch. Dozens more were injured in the Country's worst-ever terror attack. The shock of the attacks was amplified as it occurred in a country of 4.8mn otherwise mostly devoid of social, economic or political turmoil. Long considered a bastion of stability. New Zealand has come face to face with the kind of extremist violence that seems to have become distressingly common elsewhere. It poses a challenge not only for the fresh-faced Jacinda Ardern, touted globally as a model of progressive leadership, but also quite possibly for the country more broadly. An Australian-born former fitness instructor named Brenton Tarrant used Facebook to livestream what appeared to be part of an attack at the Al Noor mosque in a 17-minute video. He also reportedly posted a rambling 74-page manifesto that railed against immigrants as “invaders". In the aftermath of the carnage, some journalists accused major social media platforms of failing to stop the video from spreading. New Zealand has long prided itself as a peaceful outpost in a world increasingly marred by extremist violence, a claim backed by its own statistics as well as international rankings. According to the most recent available data from local authorities, the country witnessed a total of 35 murders in 2017--that's 14 less than the number of people murdered within a few hours in Friday's attacks. And for the past two years, New Zealand has ranked second among 167 nations, behind only Iceland, in the Global Peace Index, which is measured by the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace. In recent years, New Zealand has also emerged as the preferred location for some wealthiest individuals in the world to purchase "bolt homes" places to which they'd escape in the event of an apocalypse. In fact, New Zealand's Parliament even passed a law last year banning most foreigners from purchasing homes there amid a nationwide housing shortage. Yet the attacks may tarnish the country's reputation as the best escape from a turbulent world and perhaps more damaging would be a dent in tourism, which brings in around 17 per cent of New Zealand's annual earnings. As the country languishes in the fallout of the attacks many will likely look to its widely praised prime minister to help heal a wounded nation. Considered immigrant-friendly Ardern recently bumped the country's annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 starting next year. New Zealand under her leadership has earned the admiration of progressive-minded peers around the world.
Kumbh at Prayagraj: Prayag is the sangam (confluence) of three holy rivers -the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati. Bathing here washes away all your sins, the Hindu religion underlines. The Mahakumbh is held here every 12 years. The 2019 affair was actually the Ardh Kumbh. The Government turned it into a grand affair, nevertheless, and gave Prayagraj a makeover. It earmarked rs.4300cr for the event, making it the costliest Ardh Kumbh ever. The event, which started on Jan 15, was organized in an area of 3,200 hectares. In 49 days, more than 20cr pilgrims took a bath there. The government set up nearly 1 Lakh toilets and installed 20,000 dustbins to promote Swachh Bharat. Over 100 artists used buildings of Prayagraj as a canvas and decorated the city under the Paint My City campaign. The roads were widened new trains were introduced and flight travel facilitated. While non-natives (people from nearly 192 countries visited Kumbh) were impressed by the preparations, those who belonged to Prayagraj couldn't believe it was their city. More than 40,000 LED lights were installed this time and more than 20,000 cops were deployed for safety and management of the crowd. Kumbh 2019 secured place in the Guinness Book for the largest crowd management, largest sanitation drive and largest painting exercise of public sites. Kumbh 2019 was as much about politics as it was about religion. Battered after losing Hindi heartland states in Dec 2018, BJP desperately wanted to connect with the masses and Kumbh gave the perfect opportunity. With a lot of help from its parent body the RSS -BJP pulled off the exemplary project. While playing the Hindutva card, it also showed its "perfect" organizational skills. Before people even got a whiff of it, RSS quietly started delegating its workers for the event. The involvement of RSS workers, whose reputation of being strict disciplinarians and remarkable organizers precedes them, served as a boon for state government. This time BJP and RSS decided against restricting Kumbh to religious activities and made it about outreach. This is why "mini Kumbhs" were organized at different places. Yuva Kumbh, Mahila Shakti Kumbh, Sanskriti Samaveshi Kumbh, Sadbhav Kumbh, and Paryavaran Kumbh were organized at Lucknow, Vrindavan, Prayagraj, Ayodhya, and Varanasi respectively. At these events topics like women empowerment and environmental protection got a "Hinduism" touch. Yogi Adityanath's Cabinet meeting at Kumbh and PM Modi's dip helped BJP earn more brownie points. While BJP painted Prayagraj in its colour, other parties failed to cash in on the fervour. The only prominent non-BJP leader seen at the event was SP national president Akhilesh Yadav. While Congress booked two tents, its leaders didn't show up.
Period. End of Sentence Wins Oscar: A film on menstruation and set in rural India, Period. End of Sentence has won the Oscar in the Documentary Short Subject category at the 91st Academy Awards. Award-winning filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi has directed the short film, which has been produced by Indian producer Guneet Monga's Sikhya Entertainment. The film came into being as a part of The Pad Project, started by students at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles and their teacher, Melissa Berton. The documentary feature is set in a Hapur village outside Delhi, where women lead a quiet revolution as they fight against the deeply rooted stigma of menstruation. For generations, these women do not have access to sanitary pads, which lead to health issues and girls dropping out of schools. When a sanitary pad vending machine is installed in the village, the women learn to manufacture and market their own pads, empowering their community. They name their brand FLY. The concept for the film began in a classroom at Oakwood School in Los Angeles, where a group of students decided to make a difference in Hapur. Their crowd funding effort raised $60,000, paying for both the machine installed in Hapur, and the film that documented it. For those of us who are not experts on this subject, the first warning sign of trouble should come from the mixed signals Period sends out. Almost half the film is devoted to introducing viewers to woman after woman, girl after girl in Hapur who freezes, giggles or suffers excruciating shyness when asked about periods. Throughout this segment, the effort is to convince us that women here do not know of sanitary napkins, that the few who do are too diffident to buy them, and that they all opt for makeshift cloth pads made from rags. Landing an Oscar nomination isn't easy. It's not just about making a good film. It's as much about marketing it on the right platforms. Making your film visible in the festival circuit puts it on the map. The more press you generate and the awards you win, the better it is for the film. Other documentary shorts nominated in the category were Black Sheep, End Game, Lifeboat and A Night at the Garden. There has been an increased focus on period hygiene in India, which was also the subject of a mainstream Bollywood movie Padman, starring Akshay Kumar in the lead role in a biopic on Arunachalam Muruganantham, who started making low-cost pads in his village despite being ostracised. India's moment at the Oscars comes exactly a decade after AR Rahman and sound engineer Resul Pookutty won the Academy awards for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009. The Oscar win for Period will no doubt play a part in encouraging more conversations about menstruation. This, however, is no excuse for the means adopted by the film to achieve its goal. The end cannot justify untruths and insensitivity.


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