There are two aspects to the news- knowing the headline and understanding the intricacies of it. We at The Connectere focus on both. While The First Forum edition gives a brief about the headlines, The Weekly Analysis Edition is meant to educate the reader on what do various news mean and what are their intricacies. This initiative is meant to educate the reader on how to understand the important news. In the Thirty Second Edition we are covering the following news:
- The U.S. sues search giant
- Longstanding Assam – Mizoram dispute
- Thailand anti-government protests
- The (food) grain of Punjab’s own Farm Bills
- Govt waives interest on interest for loans up to Rs 2 cr
The US sued Google accusing the $1 trillion company of abusing the dominant position to maintain a monopoly in the market. Eleven U.S. states had joined the Department of Justice in the antitrust lawsuit against Google. The suit emphasises on particularly two things: search services and search advertising. This is the biggest antitrust lawsuit in the last two decades and could force changes to parts of a $1 trillion company that has become all but synonymous with the internet and assumed a central role in the day to day lives of billions of people around the globe.
Google dominance in web search, digital advertising, and smartphones’ software is the primary interest to lawmakers and regulators. The company processes around 90% of online searches in the United States and prevent rivals from gaining a meaningful audience. Hence, it has been accused of hurting competitors by giving priority in its search results to its products. Critics also complain tech giants take content from publishers and other websites and use it as a prepared answer directly in search results, rather than simply providing a list of links that send users to other sites. The DOJ lawsuit says Google harms rivals by cutting “exclusionary” deals with phone makers including Apple and Samsung to be the default engine on devices. It is a part of a strategy to lockup search distribution. The suit also gives new details about Google contracts with other complaints about maintaining its dominant position. For example, Google pays Apple $8bn to $12bn in ad revenue a year to make a google search the default on Apple devices.
Google denied it has engaged in anti-competitive behaviour. Hence, it called the lawsuit “deeply flawed” adding that people use Google because they choose to be – not because they are forced to be – not because they can’t find alternatives. On the other hand, rivals say Google gives an unfair edge over the market. US Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen said, “If that happens, Americans may never get to see the next Google”. This antitrust suit is the most significant legal challenge to a major tech giant in the decade and comes as US authorities are increasingly critical of the business practices of Google. They’re feared that if the government doesn’t enforce the antitrust laws to enable the competition, we could miss the next wave of innovation.
Assam – Mizoram boundary dispute once again came into the limelight following the violent clashes between the states in an area that spotlights the long-standing interstate boundary issue in the Northeast region. The boundary dispute between the two states has been simmering for more than 50 years now. Recent clashes twice over the territory between the residents of Assam and Mizoram broke down the status quo and allegedly constructed some temporary huts. People from Mizoram’s side went and set fire to them. This turns out to be a violent clash between them. According to an agreement between the government of Assam and Mizoram some years ago, the status quo should be maintained in no man’s land in the border area. However, clashes have erupted from time to time over the issue.
No breakthrough has been achieved in ground-level talks to resolve the interstate border dispute where several people were injured in a clash over the issue last week. This northeast complex boundary dispute between present-day Assam and Mizoram, 165km long today, dates back to the colonial era when Mizoram was known as a district of Assam existed since the formation of Mizoram as a full-fledged state in 1987. Several dialogues held to resolve the border dispute have yielded little results. The boundary between the states follows naturally occurring barriers of hills, valleys, rivers, and forests and both sides have attributed border skirmishes to the perceptional difference over the imaginary line. Villagers in Mizoram and Assam, not fully aware of the boundary demarcation would often cross over to either side for various purposes. And now Mizoram has hardened its stand on the rift and has said it will get essential supplies from neighbouring countries like Myanmar if the blockade of Assam is not eased.
The Mizoram, however, chose to describe the incident as a fight against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and not an Assam versus Mizoram issue. Assam is committed to restoring normalcy in the interstate border area. The MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) has asked Assam and Mizoram to maintain peace and display no aggressive posturing violence clashes that took place at the border between the states. And the central government is committed to resolving the border dispute and hopeful to bring a permanent solution by next year.
A few days back, Thailand’s government had declared a state of emergency, banning all public gatherings and censoring the media, to tackle the growing anti-government protests in the country. Most of the protesters are young people and it has been a leaderless protest largely like the Hong- Kong protests. While it was joined by some groups like Free Youth Movement, Bad Student movement of high schoolers, the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration who have been active participants of the protest. The latest cause that triggered anti-government protests was when last year the courts banned the most vocal opposition party. Recently, the government seems to have relented and lifted the emergency, saying that it wants to hear the concerns and demands that the students have however, it is believed it has been done to just buy time. The king has made no public comment on it although he did make a sign of support for former junta leader Prayuth and also lauded a royalist demonstrator who had defied protesters.
Why are the students protesting?
Young people say they are fed up with an establishment that has undermined their democratic rights and the country’s progress. The protestors in Bangkok and other cities have three main demands: Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha steps down, the constitution be amended to make it more democratic and reforms be made to make the monarchy more accountable. The protesters charge that Prayuth, who was army commander in 2014 led a coup and became the Prime Minister and also returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favour a pro-military party and thus, the protestors say that a constitution written and passed under military rule is undemocratic and needs to be changed. However, Prayuth refuses to step down as the deadline given by protestors passed which has brought the protestors back in action yet again.
The implicit criticism of the monarchy, which protesters believe wields too much power, has irked conservative Thais because it traditionally has been treated as sacrosanct and a pillar of national identity. Thailand’s royal family has been shielded from criticism by a strict lèse majesté law that carries a sentence of up to 15 years.
The democratic voice must be heard in Thai Protests not merely a promise of superficial democracy however, many Thais are worried about what comes next as according to a poll by the National Institute of Development Administration 60% of Thais feared violence between the rival groups or through the intervention of other parties.
Much was made of the Punjab government’s plan to reject the three central laws on Agri markets and provide its own protection to farmers, especially on prices for their produce. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Amendment Bill assumes that the Union Act (APMC Mandi Bypass Act, 2020) would nullify the Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism and would expose farmers to vagaries of market forces so far as their price realization for agricultural produce and fruits and vegetables is concerned. It also proposes to ensure a level playing field for proper protection of farmer interest. Therefore, farmers producing crops other than wheat and paddy like cotton or oilseeds, or even maize for which there is an MSP provision from the Union government can’t expect protection under this Bill.
The state again chooses to depend on the Union government and FCI for its wherewithal and does not care for other crop farmers who grow riskier and high-value crops. The MSP is declared for 23 crops. This means that other crop farmers or those trying to diversify under contract farming would not have the MSP protection of the Bills. Of course, this is a bad proposal per se as contract price can’t be tied to any other price especially, state declared prices as contract prices should be discovered by the two parties. This is so as contracting is also about benefits other than price which could be the yield, cost, or quality of the crop.
The state government has also provisioned for protecting its own revenue from agricultural produce transactions as both the Bills state: “the State Government may, from time to time notify a fee, which shall be levied on a corporate trader and/or on the electronic trading and transaction platform for trade and commerce in a trade area outside the markets established and regulated under the Punjab Agricultural Produce Markets Act, 1961 and this fee shall go towards the fund to be set up for the welfare of small and marginal farmers.” This bill might not be in the best interest of the farmers in the long run and could end up decreasing their income ever further.
The government announced a waiver of interest on interest for loans up to Rs 2 crore irrespective of whether moratorium was availed or not. The Department of Financial Services came out with operational guidelines in the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s direction to implement the interest waiver scheme, which is likely to cost the exchequer Rs 6,500 crore. As per the guidelines, the scheme can be availed by borrowers in specified loan accounts for a period from March 1 to August 31, 2020. Borrowers who have loan accounts having sanctioned limits and outstanding amount of not exceeding Rs 2 crore (aggregate of all facilities with lending institutions) as of February 29 shall be eligible for the scheme.
Housing loans, education loans, credit card dues, auto loans, MSME loans, consumer durable loans, and consumer loans are covered under the scheme. The lending institutions shall credit the difference between compound interest and simple interest with regard to the eligible borrowers in respective accounts for the said period irrespective of whether the borrower fully or partially availed the moratorium on repayment of loan announced by the RBI on March 27, 2020. The scheme is also applicable to those who have not availed of the moratorium scheme and continued with the repayment of loans. The lending institutions after crediting the amount will claim the reimbursement from the central government.
The Centre recently told the apex court that going any further than the fiscal policy decisions already taken, such as waiver of compound interest charged on loans of up to Rs 2 crore for six months moratorium period, maybe “detrimental” to the overall economic scenario, the national economy and banks may not take “inevitable financial constraints”. The top court is hearing a batch of petitions which have raised issues concerning the six-month loan moratorium period announced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.