More than a third of the world’s population, or 2.6 billion people, live in nations and territories gripped by repression, corruption and human rights abuses, with the worst being Syria, Tibet and Somalia, an advocacy group said.
The year 2015 – shaped by mass migration, crackdowns on dissent, xenophobia and terror attacks – marked the 10th straight year of decline in global freedom, according to an annual report by the Washington-based Freedom House.
Worldwide, 86 nations and territories were designated free based on their political rights and civil liberties, 50 were deemed not free, and 59 were partly free, it said. The bulk of those deemed unfree were in the Middle East and North Africa, where 85 per cent of the population lives with repression; sub-Saharan Africa where 20 regimes earned the not free ranking; and Eurasia, where no country was listed as free.
The report singled out the United States – while free – as slipping, citing “a disturbing increase in the role of private money in election campaigns”, legislative gridlock, a lack of openness in government, racial discrimination and a dysfunctional criminal justice system.
Freedom declined in 72 countries in 2015, the most since the 10-year slide began. There were gains in 43 countries, with upward trends in Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, which all held elections.
The slowdown in the Chinese economy and lower commodity prices took a toll, said Arch Puddington, vice president for research at Freedom House and co-author of the report. “In many countries with authoritarian governments, the drop in revenues from falling commodity prices led dictators to redouble political repression at home and lash out at perceived foreign enemies,” the report said, adding that “democratic countries came under strain from terrorist attacks and unprecedented numbers of refugees – problems emanating from regional conflicts such as the Syrian civil war.”
Notable for the year was a lack of progress for women, the report said. Citing Saudi Arabian women participating in elections and an end to adultery as a crime in South Korea, it said: “The very limited steps that were hailed as victories... demonstrated just how low the bar has gotten in evaluating progress toward gender equality.” Rounding out the dozen nations and territories with the worst scores were North Korea, Uzbekistan, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Western Sahara, Sudan, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Saudi Arabia.
The Islamic State (IS) is plotting “Mumbai-style” terrorist attacks directed at soft targets such as public places and restaurants in Europe, and in France in particular, the European Union police agency Europol warned.
Europol chief Rob Wainwright said that the IS had “developed a new combat style capability to carry out a campaign of large-scale terrorist attacks on a global stage — with a particular focus in Europe”.
Releasing a new Europol report on counter-terrorism, he said the terror group has “a willingness and a capability to carry out further attacks in Europe. All national authorities are working to prevent that from happening”.
The report warned that “IS is preparing more terrorist attacks, including more “Mumbai-style” attacks, to be executed in member states of the EU, and in France in particular”. It said the attacks will be primarily directed at soft targets, because of the impact it generates. “Both the November Paris attacks and the October 2015 bombing of a Russian airliner suggest a shift in IS strategy towards going global,” it added. “In selecting their targets, local IS commanders are believed to enjoy tactical freedom to adapt their plans to specific local circumstances, adding to the difficulty for law enforcement to detect such plans and identifying the people involved at an early stage,” the eight-page report said.
Nine militants carried out multiple terror attacks in Paris in November last year that killed 130 people. It said the modus operandi in Paris and Mumbai attacks were similar. The chosen targets in both cities included restaurants and cafes and centres of entertainment, guaranteeing high impact in numbers of fatalities and in the level of attention generated, the report said. In Mumbai there were 10 attackers, in Paris nine. The Mumbai attacks resulted in 166 deaths while the Paris carnage killed 130 people.
The Europol warning comes at a time when the IS has released a strongly defiant new beheading video, showing the nine ‘Paris attackers’ and threatening an attack on the UK. The 17-minute video, dubbed ‘Paris Has Collapsed’, features the final words of the killers behind the Paris attacks last November and shows footage of the Big Ben, Tower Bridge and Trafalgar Square as well as British Prime David Cameron and House of Commons Speaker John Bercow.
The UK-related images are shown towards the end of the clip, which predominantly focuses on the Paris attackers. The video seemingly aims to show that the Paris attackers, some of whom had French and Belgian passports, had trained in IS-held territory before carrying out Paris attacks.
North Korea ‘tests’ hydrogen bomb, ups regional tension
North Korea announced that it tested its first hydrogen bomb, a major leap in its nuclear program that promptly drew international condemnation.
The statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, said the nation has “proudly joined the advanced ranks of nuclear weapons states” and is “equipped with the most powerful nuclear deterrent”.
The announcement came soon after a magnitude-5.1 earthquake was reported by the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) 30.4 miles from the city of Kilju, North Korea, where the country’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site is located. That is the same area where North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.
The USGS put the depth of the earthquake at six miles below the surface, but the South Korean geological agency said it was near the surface.
A hydrogen bomb is generally considered to be more powerful than a typical nuclear explosive. Also called a thermonuclear bomb, it uses fusion in a chain reaction to create a more powerful detonation than a typical atomic bomb, which uses fission. A hydrogen bomb uses an atomic bomb inside its core to set off fusion reactions that have a devastating effect.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye called for a swift, accurate analysis of the North’s claim. “It’s not only grave provocation of our national security, but also an act that threatens our lives and future. It’s also a direct challenge to world peace and stability,” she said. She said the South will sternly deal with any additional provocation by the North, and ordered the military to maintain readiness in cooperation with U.S. troops.
A television anchor in North Korea said in a propaganda-heavy statement that the North tested a miniaturized hydrogen bomb, elevating the country’s nuclear prowess “to the next level” and providing it with a weapon against the U.S. and others.
The Obama administration has been ‘re-balancing’ U.S. forces to the Asia-Pacific region in part to deal with North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missileprogrammes. “We condemn any violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and again call on North Korea to abide by its international obligations and commitments,” said Ned Price, the spokesman for the National Security Council. “We have consistently made clear that we will not accept it as a nuclear state. We will continue to protect and defend our allies in the region, including South Korea, and will respond appropriately to any and all North Korean provocations.”
“We condemn any violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions and call again on North Korea to abide by its international obligations and commitments,” the U.S. said. “We stand with Japan and our other allies in solidarity against North Korean provocations, and we will work closely with them in the coming days.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in an annual New Year’s speech that the country was ready for war if provoked by “invasive” outsiders, but did not repeat past threats to use the country’s nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.
The test marks another big step toward Pyongyang’s goal of building a warhead that can be mounted on a missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
The test drew immediate reaction from North Korea’s neighbours. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the test represents a threat to Japanese security and is “totally intolerable”. He said Japan “strongly condemns” the test and would have a “firm response”. China, North Korea’s main ally, said it “firmly opposed” the test.
Experts believe that North Korea may not have conducted a hydrogen bomb test because the estimated explosive yield of six kilotons and magnitude of 4.8 quake were a fraction of the hundreds of kilotons of explosive yield that a typical successful hydrogen bomb test would have. In fact, the last nuclear test carried out by North Korea in 2013 yielded 7.9 kilotons and a magnitude 4.9 quake was reported.
Robert Kelly, associate professor of political science and diplomacy at Pusan National University, in South Korea, said he is not convinced that the test represents a hydrogen bomb and said the footprint more closely resembles that of the 2013 atomic bomb test. “Hydrogen bombs are an order of magnitude more powerful in the amount of energy they release. They are fusion weapons... it would be a major upgrade if they managed to pull it off,” he said.
He added: “North Korea makes all sorts of claims and there is no reason, given their history of lying and dissembling, to take them at their word. I am waiting for definitive word from the South Korean and or American governments.”
North Korea is believed to have three types of operational ballistic missiles, with a maximum range of 1250 kilometres. That’s enough range to hit targets in South Korea and Japan, including the massive U.S. military bases in both countries. The North also is believed to be working on two types of long-range missiles that could hit targets in the U.S. territory of Guam, and in Alaska and Hawaii.
Pyongyang is thought to have a handful of crude nuclear weapons. The United States and its allies worry about North Korean nuclear tests because each new blast brings the country closer to perfecting its nuclear arsenal.
Govt fights Opposition over Arunachal Pradesh in SC
The Central Government submitted in the Supreme Court its response on a petition filed by Congress challenging Arunachal Pradesh Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa’sreport recommending the imposition of President’s rule in the party-ruled state and subsequent presidential proclamation.
The Central Government filed its response in pursuance to the constitution bench’s January 27 direction asking it to file its reply on the petition filed by Congress’ chief whip in the Arunachal assembly, Rajesh Tacho.
Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Madan B. Lokur, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and Justice N. V. Ramana, are hearing a bunch of pleas challenging the role of Governor in the ongoing political crisis in Arunachal Pradesh.
On January 27, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had told the court that while deciding to impose President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh, the Central Government had relied upon the Governor’s report and other inputs.
Mr Rajkhowa on January 28 submitted to the Supreme Court, in a sealed cover, his reports to the Central Government on the political crisis in the northeastern state including the one in which he recommended President’s rule be imposed. In his reply to the apex court, he had claimed that former chief minister Nabam Tuki and his ministers had made it impossible for him to discharge his duties. He accused Mr Tuki of communal politics by provoking local tribesmen and funding public protests to seek his ouster. He also alleged that he was abused, threatened and nearly assaulted by some ministers. He also claimed that he and his family feared for their lives because of the actions of Tuki and his supporters.
Meanwhile, Tuki has filed a fresh petition in the Supreme Court challenging the promulgation. President Pranab Mukherjee had given his assent to Union Cabinet’s decision to impose the President’s Rule in Arunachal Pradesh. The six month mandatory period to have an Assembly session in the state had lapsed on 21st January.
Islamabad takes action only against anti-Pak terror outfits
Pakistan is not focusing on taking action against terror groups operating on its soil, that pose a threat to both India and Afghanistan, a top US official has said.
“They (Pakistan) have focused more on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan than they have on external terrorist actors that’s threatened their neighbours, whether Afghanistan or India,” Richard G. Olson, Special U.S. Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr Olson, who till recently served as U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan for three years, was responding to questions from Senators on the continued existence of safe havens for terrorists inside Pakistan. “I think there is increasingly a recognition on the part of the government of Pakistan that there is significant bleed over between the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban. This is one of the motivations for their desire to that it is no longer so simple for them as it may have been in the past even if they in principle agree to distinguish between good and bad Taliban. And that creates an opportunity that we will want to pursue as much as possible,” he said.
Mr Olson said terror has always been at the centre of dialogue between the two countries, adding that in all discussions the U.S. asks Pakistan to take action against the Haqqani network and Taliban. “There was no conversation that I had with the security establishment in Pakistan that did not include a very direct, very frank discussion about, specifically the Haqqani network, but the Taliban in general,” he said.
The United States will continue to have those very frank discussions, he said, adding that Pakistan has acted in a significant way against its internal terror threats. “It has largely cleaned out North Waziristan Agency, something we have long desired. It’s free establish to control over most of North Waziristan,” he said.
FDI inflows into India double in 2015
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows into India nearly doubled in 2015 while the U.S. emerged as the top host country for FDI last year, the UN’s trade agency has said.
Global FDI flows ‘unexpectedly’ increased significantly by 36 per cent, according to the annual report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
“Global FDI unexpectedly increased significantly to U.S.$1.7 trillion and this is closer to the pre-crisis level and it is the highest since the global financial and economic crisis,” UNCTAD said.
Developing economies, as a whole, saw their FDI reaching a new high of U.S.$741 billion — 5 per cent higher than 2014, the report said. Asia remained the largest FDI recipient region in the world, surpassing half a trillion U.S. dollars and accounting for one-third of the global FDI flows, it said.
The U.S. bounced back as the top host country for FDI in 2015 with FDI worth U.S.$384 billion, the report said. The US is followed by Hong Kong (U.S.$163 billion), China (U.S.$136 billion), Netherlands (U.S.$90 billion), the UK (U.S.$68 billion), Singapore (U.S.$65 billion), India (U.S.$59 billion), Brazil (U.S.$56 billion), Canada (U.S.$45 billion) and France (U.S.$44 billion) as the top 10 FDI host economies of the world.
FDI flows to the developed countries bounced back sharply reaching their second highest level ever at U.S.$936 billion.
In Africa, Latin America as well as transition economies there was a decline in FDI last year partly because of stumbling commodity prices and regional instability.
FDI flows are expected to decline in 2016, UNCTAD said. This reflects “the fragility of the global economy, volatility of global financial markets, weak aggregate demand and significant deceleration in large emerging economies,” it said.
Elevated geo-political risks and regional tensions could further amplify these economic challenges, the report said. About U.S.$200-U.S.$250 billion of the U.S.$1.7 trillion global FDI was in the form of reconfiguration of business when companies restructure themselves by changing their headquarters from one region to another due to change in family ownership, avoiding tax or for political reasons. The assets of that company is then counted as FDI in the original country. “If we discount this part of the FDI which reflects corporate reconfigurations then global FDI still increased between 15-17 per cent in 2015 and the main reason for this increase was the sharp growth of cross border mergers and acquisitions (M&As) which increased by 61 per cent,” the report revealed, adding that “FDI flows are not sufficient in productive sector. That’s our major concern”.
India’s FDI investment increased from U.S.$33.9 billion to U.S.$59.4 billion which marks a 75 per cent increase while green field investments have increased from U.S.$25.4 billion to U.S.$64 billion recording an increase of 152 per cent, the report said.
“Measures taken by the government to improve the investment climate have had an impact,” the report stated. “But bear in mind when we talk of greenfield investment we talk about announced deals and that means that actual FDI flows are in the future or in the making. And some of them may not realise also,” the report further said.
However, globally cross-border M&As were largely responsible for the increase in FDI while greenfield investments registered little change in value terms — 0.9 per cent — from 2014. Greenfield investments still remain larger than cross border M&As — this is because of the low level of M&A in 2014.
India lags behind in talent competitiveness
Reflecting an acute shortage of skilled labour force and difficult business conditions, India has slipped 11 places to rank 89th on a global index of talent competitiveness, a list which has been topped by Switzerland.
Switzerland is followed by Singapore, Luxembourg, the U.S. and Denmark in the top five positions on the annual Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTC) released by INSEAD business school in partnership with Adecco Group and the Human Capital Leadership Institute of Singapore.
India’s ranking is worst among the five BRICS countries, with China leading the pack with a global rank of 48. Last year, India was ranked 78th on the index that measures a nation’s competitiveness based on the quality of talent it can produce, attract and retain. It is released every year on the first day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
Stating that India and China remain a net exporter of talent, the study said many emerging countries that have invested in higher education have neglected vocational education. “In both China and India skill shortage in vocational talent shows up clearly in the GTCI scores, as it also does in South Africa. This last year has seen a cooling off in the growth of emerging markets, and indeed we note the relative decline in the talent competitiveness of all BRICS countries except Russia,” the study said.
It noted that this is particularly the case in Brazil, where talent capabilities show signs of weakening on all fronts despite relatively low scores in vocational skills, China continues to strengthen in growing talent. “In India, there are no signs of an improved regulatory and market landscape to enable the ‘Make in India’ campaign. This gap in terms of vocational skills, however, is not limited to BRICS and emerging economies; GTCI data shows that it extends to a number of high-income countries, such as Ireland, Belgium or Spain,” the study noted.
According to the report, another challenge for countries such as China and India is to attract talent from abroad, particularly in the context of large emigration rates of high-skilled people in the past.
“China has a low performance in terms of Attract (71st), and India shows one of the worst scores (103rd) — particularly affected by the lack of international students and, unlike China, by not being able to attract and retain global talent (so being more at risk of a brain drain despite the connection with the diasporas working the IT sector),” it added.
The improvement of India would have the greatest impact in terms of the pool of talent not only in the region but also globally, the report said. The report noted that mobility has become key to talent development and creative talent can not be developed if international mobility and ‘brain circulation’ are not encouraged.
Adecco Group CEO Alain Dehaze said the world of work is changing faster than ever, bringing both great opportunities and challenges. “About 200 million people are unemployed and about 1 in 2 jobs are at risk due to automation... Employers should foster talent mobility and invest in hyper-connectivity to capitalise on technology, harness the opportunities offered by the global economy and create jobs,” he added.
More states join UDAY scheme
As many as 15 states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and Maharashtra, have agreed to opt for UDAY scheme, meant for revival of debt stressed power distribution companies (discoms) in the country, Union Minister for Power Piyush Goyal said.
“Within two months of announcement of UDAY (Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana) scheme, more than half of the states of India are on board. A total of 15 out of 29 states are on board for Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojna,” the Power, Coal, New & Renewable Energy Minister said.
With a total of 15 states joining UDAY, 90 per cent of over 4 lakh crore debt of discoms will be covered under the scheme.
The first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) under UDAY scheme will be signed by Power Ministry, the Jharkhand government and state discom JBVNL.
On the issue of restructuring of debt under the scheme, the minister explained that states will own the 75 per cent of debt and issue bonds to pare the loan. Thediscoms will issue bonds with states’ guarantee to raise funds for repaying remaining 25 per cent of the loan and old debt accounts will be paid..
The states which have evinced interest for the scheme include Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat.
The minister said there are some states which are not able to join UDAY because their utilities don’t have separate account for generation, transmission and distribution. Tamil Nadu is one of those states which have a single utility which is into generation, transmission and distribution.
Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana launched
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana wherein the Centre will provide 8,800 crore annually to make up for almost all of the premium for the crop insured, as a move “that will transform the lives of the farmers in a big way”.
Under the scheme Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), the state will also provide a matching contribution while farmers will pay only two per cent of the premium fixed by the insurance company for kharif foodgrains/oilseeds crops and 1.5 per cent for rabi foodgrains/oilseeds crops.
Premium will be 5 per cent for horticultural and commercial crops for both seasons. The scheme will be rolled out from the coming kharif season starting June. After the Cabinet approved the scheme, Mr Modi said, “This is a historic day. I am confident that this scheme, which is inspired by the consideration of farmers’ benefit, will bring about a major transformation to lives of farmers”. The scheme includes successful aspects of the existing schemes and “effectively addresses” whatever was lacking in those schemes, he tweeted. He further said, “The scheme has the lowest premium, it entails easy usage of technology like mobile phone, quick assessment of damage and disbursement within a timeframe”.
The definition of disaster has been expanded to include aspects like flooding of crop and damage after harvest, Mr Modi said, adding ‘special attention’ has been paid to several other aspects. “It is easy to subscribe to the scheme and easy to benefit. So, do join it,” he told the farming community, which of late has seen a spate of suicides.
The government aims to cover 50 per cent of the crop area of 194.40 million hectares in the next three years under the new scheme, from the existing level of around 25 per cent.
Among key features, there will be no provision of capping the premium rate so as to ensure farmers get a higher claim against the full sum insured. At least 25 per cent of the likely claim will be settled directly on farmers’ bank account.
Under the scheme, farmers will get a higher claim for the full sum insured unlike the existing schemes such as National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (NAIS) and Modified National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (MNAIS). The government will use remote sensing and smartphone and other modern technologies for accurate and quicker crop yield estimations. The new scheme will cover yield loss of standing crops, prevented sowing/planting risk, post harvest losses and localised risks, including inundation.
The government aims to increase the coverage to 50 per cent of the total crop area in the next three years, from the current 25 per cent. The Government of India’s expenditure would be 8,800 crore for 50 per cent coverage; also, in the first year in 2016-17, the government will target to cover 30 per cent of the crop area for which the central outgo would be around 5,700 crore. At present, loanee farmers are mandated to take crop insurance cover. The new scheme is open to all farmers irrespective of whether they are loanees or not.
The new scheme is significant as the country is facing drought for the second straight year due to poor monsoon rains and the government wants to enhance insurance coverage to more crop areas to protect farmers from the vagaries of monsoon.
Under the existing crop insurance schemes NAIS and MNAIS, farmers’ premium is up to 15 per cent, but the actuarial premium is up to 57 per cent depending on risky crops and. areas.