Private telecom players hike rates, prepaid users to be hit
Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio announce up to 40% increase. The era of low tariffs for Indian consumers seems to have ended as major telcos — Vodafone Idea Limited (VIL), Bharti Airtel Limited and Reliance Jio — have increased tariffs by up to 40% for prepaid customers.
While VIL and Sunil Bharti Mittal-led Bharti Airtel have decided to hike the tariffs with effect from December 3, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio has decided to implement the hike from December 6.
90% of market
The three telecommunication giants together account for over 90% of India’s 1.18 billion mobile subscribers, with the market share of around 30% each split evenly among them. “New plans will be available across India starting 00:00 hours of December 3, 2019,” a Vodafone Idea statement said.
Bharti Airtel’s statement read: “Airtel’s new plans represent tariff increases in the range of a mere 50 paise/day to ₹2.85/day and offer generous data and calling benefits.”
Both Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel announced new prepaid plans starting with options of 2 days, 28 days, 84 days and 365 days validity and prices starting from ₹19 and going upto ₹2,399. Reliance Jio is yet to announce its new plans.
Reliance Jio’s new tariffs will be priced 40% higher, but the company promises to offer 300% more benefits to its customers. “Jio will be introducing new all-in-one plans with unlimited voice and data. These plans will have a fair usage policy for calls to other mobile networks. The new plans will be effective from 6th December 2019,” the company said in a statement.
The hike in tariffs comes after VIL and Bharti Airtel posted record quarterly losses of ₹50,922 crore and ₹23,045 crore respectively owing to an adverse Supreme Court ruling on the adjusted gross revenue (AGR).
Both Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel also have an outstanding debt of over ₹1 lakh crore each.
According to government data, the liabilities in the case of Bharti Airtel add up to nearly ₹35,586 crore, of which ₹21,682 crore is the licence fee and another ₹13,904.01 crore is the spectrum usage charge (SUC) dues (excluding the dues of Telenor and Tata Teleservices). Vodafone Idea has an estimated liability of ₹44,150 crore post the Supreme Court order and made provisioning of ₹25,680 crore in the second quarter this fiscal.
Commenting on the hike, Chief Marketing Officer of Bharti Airtel Shashwat Sharma said the operator’s new mobile plans offered “tremendous value” and “a superior network experience” on the 4G network.
Operation ‘Clean Art’ to crack down on illegal trade in mongoose hair
In first pan-India operation, raids carried out in U.P, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Kerala, 49 arrests made and 27 cases registered
On October 24, 2019, about 200 officials, including policemen, gathered at Sherkot in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district.
It was a planned raid, not to apprehend criminals, but to check on organized factories that were making paint brushes with mongoose hair.
By the end of the day, ten manufacturing units in Sherkot were raided and approximately 26,000 brushes and over 100 kg of raw mongoose hair was seized. About 26 people were arrested in connection with illegal trade in mongoose hair.
Raids were carried out not only in Uttar Pradesh, but also at Jaipur in Rajasthan, Mumbai and Pune in Maharashtra, and in Kerala, on the same day.
“Operation Clean Art was the first pan India operation to crack down on the smuggling of mongoose hair in the country. There are six species of mongoose found in India and we have mostly recovered [in the raids] grey mongoose [hair],” H. V. Girisha, Regional Deputy Director, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), New Delhi, told The Hindu.
Mr. Girisha said that an adult mongoose yields over 30-40 gm of long hair, from which only 20-25 gm of “brush-making hair” is recovered. Operation Clean Art was conceived by WCCB with the singular aim of ensuring that the mongoose hair brush trade be closed down across the country.
Describing the making of brushes with mongoose hair an “organised crime”, the official said most of these animals were poached by “hunting communities” across the country.
Jose Louies, Deputy Director and Chief-Wildlife Crime Control Division, Wildlife Trust of India, also involved in Operation Clean Art, said the entire operation across the country yielded 54,352 brushes and 113 kg of raw hair.
About 49 arrests were made and 27 cases were registered under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).
“Art is supposed to be something unique and evoke the best among people. Why should there be cruelty and criminality involved in the process of creation of art? Art should be clean and artists should take a pledge that they will not use brushes made of mongoose hair,” Mr. Louise said.
The mongoose is listed in Schedule II Part 2 of the Wildlife Protection Act and any smuggling or possession of its body part is a non-bailable offence.
Persons using brushes made of mongoose hair should be aware of it, he added.
For about 150 kg of mongoose hair, at least 6,000 animals would have been killed, Mr. Louise said.
There have been instances in which mongoose hair has been transported using courier companies. • Postal authorities are also trying to involve the Postal Department to spread awareness and identify illegal trade in wildlife.
There is also a campaign on social media where concerned organisations are urging artists to take a pledge to refrain from using brushes made of mongoose hair.
Well-known sculptor and painter Bimal Kundu said the reason painters prefer brushes made of mongoose hair is because they are superior and hold colour better.
“I completely endorse the idea that painters should shun brushes made of mongoose hair because animals are being mercilessly killed in the process of making such tools,” Mr. Kundu said.
“But, the alternatives available in the market are not of good quality. More research should be done to make paint brushes that fit the requirements of an artist,” the Kolkatabased artist said. •Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is a statutory multi-disciplinary body established by the Government of India under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, to combat organized wildlife crime in the country.
The Bureau has its headquarter in New Delhi and five regional offices at Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Jabalpur; three sub-regional offices at Guwahati, Amritsar and Cochin; and five border units at Ramanathapuram, Gorakhpur, Motihari, Nathula and Moreh.
Under Section 38 (Z) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, it is mandated to collect and collate intelligence related to organized wildlife crime activities and to disseminate the same to State and other enforcement agencies for immediate action so as to apprehend the criminals; to establish a centralized wildlife crime data bank; co-ordinate actions by various agencies in connection with the enforcement of the provisions of the Act; assist foreign authorities and international organization concerned to facilitate co-ordination and universal action for wildlife crime control; capacity building of the wildlife crime enforcement agencies for scientific and professional investigation into wildlife crimes and assist State Governments to ensure success in prosecutions related to wildlife crimes; and advise the Government of India on issues relating to wildlife crimes having national and international ramifications, relevant policy and laws.
It also assists and advises the Customs authorities in inspection of the consignments of flora & fauna as per the provisions of Wild Life Protection Act, CITES and EXIM Policy governing such an item.
In November, French President Emmanuel Macron created a political stir with a far-reaching interview in which he declared that “Europe is on the edge of a precipice”, unable to cope with the political challenges of the
U.S. Pursuing ‘america first’;
A resentful russia on its border; and
A china determined to emerge as the new global power.
Coming after the European Union (EU) meet in October and prior to the upcoming North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit (scheduled to take place this week), Mr. Macron’s interview gave a wake-up call to the EU and reminded it that the bloc can no longer be an economic giant and a political dwarf.
The EU’s precursor, the European Economic Community (EEC), was established in 1957, following the Treaty of Rome. Consisting of a homogeneous group of six countries (Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands), it quickly formed a customs union.
Five of these six nations were also founding members of NATO, which had been set up in 1949.
The next stage was the Treaty of Maastricht, signed in 1992 to reflect the realities of a post-Cold War Europe and a unified Germany. It helped create the Euro and, later, also pushed the eastward expansion of the EU.
The Treaty of Lisbon in 2007 marked another political evolution, giving the EU a stronger legal character by introducing a permanent President of the European Council and strengthening the position of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
These were steps towards a nascent European sovereignty but ended up exposing weaknesses in the project. Today, the EU’s 28 member states are a heterogeneous lot, unlike the original six; and a key member, the U.K., is already sitting in the departure lounge. The idea of Europe with a “variable geometry”, proposed during the hasty expansion during the 1990s to accommodate differences is now a clear sign of political disunity.
Meanwhile, NATO has 27 European member states (plus Canada and the U.S.) and most, but not all, are EU members. NATO’s major expansion took place post-Cold War when the Baltic states and a number of East European countries joined.
The Eurozone consists of 19 (out of the 28) EU members while the Schengen common visa area covers 26 European countries. And then, there is the 31-member European Economic Area, composed of the EU-28 and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
The Council of Europe in Strasbourg was set up in 1949 to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law and currently has 47 member countries, including the 28 EU nations. Rounding up, there is the 57-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, established originally to promote confidence and security building measures, which now also has the mandate of free elections, open media and human rights.
Somewhere in this multiplicity, the EU lost its political moorings. Originally, it was a grouping of West European democracies committed to closer economic ties, with NATO as the security provider. Liberal democracy was integral to EU membership. Greece joined the EEC in 1961 but was suspended in 1967 after the military coup. Spain’s request in 1962, under General Francisco Franco, for membership was rejected. Eventually, Greece applied again in 1975 and was admitted in 1981, while Spain and Portugal joined in 1986. Today, Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary (which joined in 2004) proudly claims to represent an “illiberal democracy”. Right-wing populist leaders in other European countries have also become more vocal and visible in recent years and many of them would like to retrieve sovereignty back from Brussels.
NATO’s diminishing role
Mr. Macron’s blunt assessment was that the U.S., which guaranteed West European security during the Cold War, can no longer be relied upon to play the same role because its priorities are changing.
He cited President Donald Trump’s recent unilateral decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as an example, since it was taken without consultation or coordination with NATO allies. Further, it gave another NATO member, Turkey, the licence to undertake military operations in Syria, creating tensions with NATO allies operating in the area. In Mr. Macron’s words, Europe is seeing the “brain death” of NATO.
NATO was never a grouping of equals. The U.S. always contributed the larger share and underwrote European security. Out of NATO’s common budget of approx. $2.5 billion, the U.S. contributes 22%, Germany around 15% and France and the U.K. more than 10% each. However, in terms of defence budgets, there is significant disparity, which makes NATO completely dependent on the U.S. for airlift and space-based assets.
The U.S. spends 3.6% of its GDP on defence, amounting to a whopping $700 billion with most major European countries spending between 1% and 2%. In 2014, after considerable prodding by the U.S., members had agreed to bring up their budgets to 2% of GDP by 2024. At present, among major countries, only the U.K. spends 2% of its GDP on defence. France is at 1.8% and Germany at 1.2%.
These variations were accepted as long as the U.S. and Europe enjoyed political convergence but now rankle Mr. Trump, who has taken a transactional approach and, according to Mr. Macron, “does not share our idea of the European project”. In any case, there are historical shifts under way, with the U.S. less engaged in West Asia on account of becoming self-sufficient in hydrocarbons, and focusing more on the Indo-Pacific. Consequently, the U.S.’s commitment to NATO is undergoing a change and the Europeans need to recognise it.
The way ahead
Mr. Macron’s words were called “drastic” by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, though she had echoed similar sentiments two years ago after a difficult G7 summit in Sicily when she urged Europeans “to take our fate into our own hands” because “the era in which we could fully rely on others is over to some extent”.
Yet, the way ahead is not clear. Mr. Macron’s suggestion for a rapprochement with Russia to prevent it from getting closer to China makes Poland, Czech Republic and the Baltic countries nervous.
China has already driven a wedge in the EU with 14 EU countries, including Italy, now part of Belt & Road Initiative. In 2012, China began its dialogue with East European countries in the 16+1 format; out of the 16, 11 are EU states and 13 are NATO members. This has made it impossible for the EU to take a common approach on issues like 5G and Huawei, while allowing China to selectively increase investments in critical areas in European countries to which France and Germany are now waking up. Even after taking a unified stand to preserve the Iran nuclear deal following the U.S.’s unilateral exit more than 18 months ago, the EU failed to deliver on its assurances to provide concrete relief to Tehran against U.S. sanctions.
The problem is that NATO provided security on the cheap and now, when Mr. Trump questions the utility of NATO, it only exposes differences between Europeans who want to develop greater military and diplomatic heft and others (the Baltic nations and East Europeans) who fear this will loosen ties with the U.S.
In today’s uncertain times, the EU stands for a rules-based order but as Mr. Macron rightly pointed out, the EU can only emerge as a strategic actor once it is able to assert sovereignty over its political, diplomatic and security decisions. Perhaps, the time for it has come as the Anglo-Saxon influence over Europe recedes with Brexit and the rise of Mr. Trump.