‘Tsunami’ of e-waste rolling out over the world(DownToEarth, environment , )

Annually, one million people die from occupational poisoning, says UNEP chief

UNEP PhotoPhoto: UNEP
The head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Tuesday stressed the need to limit the use of dangerous chemicals and electronic waste. He said this at a Conference of Parties to three major Conventions on the subject being held in Geneva.
UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said the “tsunami of e-waste rolling out over the world” accounts for a large portion of the world’s non-recyclable “waste mountain” and needs to be dealt with immediately.  “Never mind that it is also an economic stupidity because we are throwing away an enormous amount of raw materials that are essentially re-useable,” Steiner told journalists at the convention.
He said that the amount of some materials found in unused electronics exceeds the amount still in the ground and he looked to the potential of the Basel Convention to help access “urban mines” by working to better inform people of how to dispose of their e-waste.
He pointed out how materials used in production of various items are extremely poisonous. “Annually, one million people die from occupational poisoning,” Steiner said. “This is something that is, in this day and age, not only unnecessary it’s really intolerable. And this is why the sound management of chemicals is something that has brought governments, civil society but also the private sector and the chemical industry together.”

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Will Real IP Policy Stand up? ( Intellectual property.,GS paper 3 ,Indian Express )

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his desire to see India adhere to “global” IP standards. The United States Trade Representative (USTR) was quick to latch on to this, noting in its latest Special 301 report: “The United States also welcomes April 2015 statements made by Prime Minister Modi recommending that India align its patent laws with international standards and encourages India to expeditiously undertake this initiative.”

All of this raises the question: What exactly are these “global” standards? If it is the WTO-TRIPS standard, the only real global IP standard in existence today, then India is already compliant. But if, by “global” standards, the prime minister means those prescribed by big pharmaceuticals and their host countries (the US and the EU) then we are way off the mark.
To add to the confusion, a few months ago, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had affirmed that there was no way India would budge under US pressure and change its law. More recently, she attempted to project Modi’s statement as meaning that India is already compliant with international standards — an incredulous stretch.
Double talk notwithstanding, the Americans appear appeased — this year’s Special 301 report records with glee India’s efforts at improving its IP image. The USTR appears particularly pleased with the government constituting an “IP think tank”, which has been mired in controversy domestically, owing to allegations that some of its members were picked on the basis of their links to the ruling dispensation, not for their expertise in IP-related matters.
The USTR has also commended the general drift of the draft IP policy published by the think tank. For the most part, however, the Special 301 report this year simply rehashes what was said in previous years: that the US is unhappy with India’s patent regime particularly because of Section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act and our rather stellar success in curbing the vice of evergreening. And that in the realm of copyright and trademark enforcement, India needs to do a lot better, particularly since the estimated losses to the national economy from counterfeiting and piracy is a whopping $4.26 billion, a figure arrived at by the International Chamber of Commerce. Given the difficulty of valuing something as intangible as intellectual property, a problem that routinely causes our judges to skirt the issue of IP damages, the fact that industry associations are able to assign figures with such accuracy is miraculous.
Unfortunately, as in previous years, the USTR got it wrong in a couple of places. It admonishes Indian law for shortcomings that it does not suffer from. The report notes that India does not offer adequate protection for trade secrets and shelters them only through contract law.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Our courts have invoked the common law of trade secrecy and breach of confidence to protect trade secrets when appropriate.
The report is also replete with powerful paradoxes. It lauds the constitution of our IP think tank as the example of a transparent process when it has been anything but.
On a positive note, the report should be praised for its policy recommendation on one issue. As in previous years, it rightly notes that India cannot have its cake and eat it too. On one hand, India takes a strong stand on access to medicine when it comes to calibrating the extent of IP rights. On the other, it imposes some of the highest tariffs for incoming medicines and medical devices.
Overall, the Special 301 report appears milder in tone than in previous years. This could be because of the diplomatic gains made by Modi. Whether the cosy camaraderie with the US will ultimately swing Indian IP law in favour of American business interests remains to be seen — what one says in a public display of diplomatic affection is one thing; what goes on behind closed doors during policymaking is quite another.
The government speaking in two tongues — to appease a trading partner on one hand, and a domestic constituency on the other — has complicated matters. Will the true IP policy please stand up?

RBI and public debt: 15-yr search for moment of separation (Indian Express ,Economy )

The Indian economy made a decisive structural turn in 1991. Change was manifested in policies, processes, thinking. A new series looks back at events in the transition, their contexts, the men and women who shaped them, and the ways in which they’re playing out now. Every Wednesday, starting today
In 2000, the Reserve Bank of India proposed amendments to its statute, the RBI Act, that could eventually end its role in the management of public debt — and hand the government discretion to assign the job to an independent agency or a new debt office. For years, the RBI has been managing borrowings, or public debt of the central and state governments, besides being a banker to them. In the case of the Centre, this is mandated by law; for states, the RBI acts as per agreements it has signed with them.

Yashwant Sinha, who was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s finance minister from 1998-2002, put a committee of officials from the Finance Ministry and RBI to work on the proposal for a separate public debt office. Senior Ministry officials visited countries such as Sweden, Portugal and UK, which had public debt offices de-linked from their central banks. The idea was to examine if the experience of these countries in managing borrowings — both in local and foreign currency — and issuing debt through a separate agency body reporting to the treasury department or an independent body could be helpful for India.The prevailing philosophy from the late 80s onward has been that central banks ought to focus solely on inflation, leaving functions such as managing debt for the sovereign to a separate agency. This made sense in the backdrop of mounting debt and the East Asian crisis in the late 90s — and the argument, then and now, is that there is an inherent conflict in a central bank trying to control inflation and managing public debt at the same time. The central bank as debt manager would be caught between trying to keep interest rates low to ensure smooth borrowings by the government, and keeping rates higher at times to control inflation.
By the time the officials started work on the report in 2001-02, however, the RBI had flagged a few issues. The critical one, according to the bank, was the overhang of huge borrowings by the government, or the fiscal deficit. The timing wasn’t opportune, and hiving off public debt management from the central bank would mean hampering the RBI’s efforts to manage interest rates, given the level of the fiscal deficit.
There was also a hint of scepticism over the Finance Ministry’s ability to handle the function. As for the Ministry, it had then — as now — argued for a Debt Management Office (DMO), but had found itself up against the central bank headed by Bimal Jalan and his deputy, Y V Reddy.
Interestingly, despite differences, the RBI then did not submit a dissent note, but signalled its disinterest by not sending the bank’s top officials to participate in these discussions towards the fag end. A stand-off was averted because of the equation that Yashwant Sinha shared with Jalan. Sinha would consult Jalan on issues far beyond the domain of the RBI, such as the Budget and fiscal matters, leaning on the Governor’s experience as a former finance secretary and chief economic advisor. In turn, Jalan would informally sound the Minister out on several issues, with both men mindful of the thin line that divided formal and informal consultations on policymaking.
In keeping with their levels of trust, Sinha made the choice to go with the RBI — based on the absence of consensus on a sensitive issue.
And so, what started off as a joint exercise between the government and RBI was reduced, by 2002, to an internal report of the Finance Ministry.
A decade and more later, over 10 committees, including one headed by the current RBI Governor, Raghuram Rajan and  another headed by Justice B N  Srikrishna, have recommended a new debt office. Since then the  arguments haven’t changed much, and there are few changes on the ground.
That’s because over the last 15 years, barring a couple, the government’s fiscal deficit has been high, making it difficult in some ways to ignore the central bank’s preconditions for a separation of debt management. The RBI’s arguments were centered around lowering of fiscal deficit and putting an end to financial repression — or doing away with the practice of state-owned banks being captive buyers of government bonds — before establishing the DMO.
Now, again, the government announced a new Public Debt Management Agency or PDMA, but faltered in not ensuring a wider debate — and perhaps in overlooking legislative issues such as trying to incorporate a new law through the Finance Bill, which is a money bill.
Governor Rajan’s persuasive arguments, and the backing of some lawmakers, too appear to have tilted the balance. What has helped also is word from the central bank that it would help the government over the course of the next year to build the debt management office.
Sadly, the road map, announced last week by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, to establish the new debt office was always an option on the table. Gradualism does pay off sometimes.

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