22ND FEBRUARY CURRENT AFFAIRS

1. Conclusive Land Titling

 

News: The government’s think tank, NITI Aayog, has proposed a bill on Conclusive Land Titling. The Model Bill on Conclusive Land Titling has been sent to States and Union Territories seeking their comments.

Current system:

  • India currently follows a system of presumptive land titling. This means that land records are maintained, with information on possession, which is determined through details of past transactions.
  • Ownership is established on the basis of current possession. Registration of land is actually a registration of transactions, such as sale deeds, records of inheritance, mortgage and lease.
  • Holding registration papers does not actually guarantee the ownership title of the land.

Proposed system:

  • Under a conclusive land titling system, land records designate actual ownership.
  • The title is granted by the government, which takes the responsibility for accuracy. Once a title is granted, any other claimant will have to settle disputes with the government, not the title holder.
  • Further, under conclusive land titling, the title holder is not in any danger of losing ownership.

Significance of new system:

  • The new system envisages reforming the country’s land markets through a fundamental legal and procedural shift in how land titles are awarded.
  • A conclusive land titling system will drastically lower litigation related to land.
  • Land-related disputes account for two-thirds of all pending court cases in India. Disputes on land or real estate take an average time of 20 years in the courts to be resolved.
  • Currently land titles are based on transactions where people have to keep the entire chain of transaction records, and a dispute on any link in that chain causes ambiguity in ownership.
  • The increased confidence on land ownership documents will allow investors to purchase land for business activities without uncertainty or fear of risk. The long-running court cases currently stifle the appetite for investment in many sectors of the economy.
  • The new system would help end land disputes which create hurdles for infrastructure development and housing construction. The new system would promote an active land market.
  • Conclusive land titling will allow the urban local bodies to collect property taxes more effectively.
  • Ambiguity in ownership also results in a black market for land transactions, which deprives the government of taxes. This would end under the new system.
  • The new system with conclusive land titles would allow the small and marginal farmers to access agricultural credit through formal channels by using their land as collateral.
  • This will allow them to have access to timely and cheap credit.

Challenges:

  • The biggest challenge is that land records have not been updated for decades, especially in rural and semi-urban areas. Unless the land titles are not based on updated records, conclusive land titles could create even more problems.
  • In case of any disputes over the land titles, the onus falls on claimants, many of whom have no access to documentation, to proactively challenge the titling. This could strain them financially.
  • The local governments do not have the resources or manpower to conduct local level surveys to undertake the envisaged process.

 

2. Regulating Bitcoins

 

Background:

  • Recently, Tesla announced that it will soon accept cryptocurrency as legitimate payment for its cars.
  • Mastercard followed by announcing that it will incorporate ‘select cryptocurrencies’ on itsglobal payment network. BNY Mellon, incidentally the US’s oldest bank, announced holding and transferring digital currencies for asset management clients. JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs announced executive positions to look at cryptocurrencies. All of this resulted in a soaring value of Bitcoin, and its younger sibling, Ethereum.

Bitcoins in India:

  • India’s government sought to ban cryptocurrency through a proposed legislation, the Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021. The Bill also provides to also set up a legal structure for an “official digital currency”. The Bill promises to “allow forcertain exceptions to promote the underlying technology of cryptocurrency (blockchain) and its uses.”
  • The way the technology is built, an ownerless, consensus-driven, distributed ledgerlike a blockchain needs cryptocurrency to grease its wheels.
  • India tried to ban cryptocurrency once before, in 2018, before it was reversed by the Supreme Court.

Implications:

  • The banning will kill innovation. India has more than 30,000 blockchain innovators and practitioners.
  • These innovators will now be looking at moving out to friendlier regimes like the US, Switzerland, Singapore and Estonia.
  • International tech companies will freeze blockchain and crypto-exchange investments in India and the step will undermine India’s reputation as a technology hub. India is the second-largest Bitcoin trading nation in Asia, and all those trades will move to overseas exchanges. China has large crypto trading and mining operations, and an Indian ban on Bitcoin will leave that space open for it.

Conclusion

  • No doubt, there are many problems with cryptocurrency—it is volatile, sucks energy, and is often abused by criminals. But the answer is not to ban it, but regulate it.

 

3. Big Tech Challenge

 

Context: Growing dominance of social media giants and challenges involved in regulating them.

Issues involved:

  • Many of the big tech companies were not, as they claimed, mere platforms.
  • This is because they began to curate and generate their own content, creating possible conflicts of interest.
  • There is a suspicion that big tech companies were acquiring more monopoly power leading to lack of free competition.
  • There is a conjunction of technology and finance here. The more companies were valued, the more they needed monopoly rent extraction to be able to justify those valuations.
  • There was anirony in an opaque algorithm being the instrument of a free, open and equitable society.
  • Mixed implications for distribution of wealth
  • While the companies had immense economic impact, their distributive implications were more mixed.
  • They empowered new players, but they also seem to destroy lots of businesses.
  • These companies themselves became the symbol of inequality of economic and political power.
  • Big tech companies set themselves up almost as a sovereign power.
  • This was most evident in the way they regulated speech, posing as arbiters of permissible speech without any real accountability or consistency of standards.
  • The prospect of a CEO exercising almost untrammelled authority over an elected president only served to highlight the inordinate power  these companies could exercise.

Impact on democracy and democratisation

  • The social legitimacy of California Libertarianism came from the promise of a new age of democratic empowerment. But as democracies became more polarised, free speech more weaponised, and the information order more manipulated, greater suspicion was going to be cast on this model. All democracies are grappling with this dilemma.

Big tech in Indian context

  • India will justifiably worry about its own economic interests. India will be one of the largest bases of internet and data users in the world. The argument will be that this should be leveraged to create iconic Indian companies and Indian value addition.
  • India can create competition and be more self-reliant in this space.
  • Pushing back against big tech is not protectionism, because this pushback is to curb the unfair advantages they use to exploit an open Indian market.
  • India can also justifiably point out that in China keeping out tech companies did not make much of a difference to financial flows or investment in other areas.

Way Forward

  • It will be important to distinguish between regulations that are solving some real problems created due to Big tech, and regulation that is using this larger context to exercise more control.
  • It will be easier to address those issues if the government showed a principled commitment to liberty, commitment to root out crony capitalism, an investment in science and technology commensurate with India’s challenges, and a general regulatory independence and credibility.
  • We should not assume that just because big tech is being made to kneel, the alternative will be any better.

 

4. Nurturing Neighbourhoods Challenge

 

News: The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has announced the names of the 25 cities selected for the Nurturing Neighbourhoods Challenge under the Smart Cities Mission.

About the Challenge:

  • It is a3-year initiative that aims to work with Indian cities and their partners to pilot and scale ways to improve public space, mobility, neighborhood planning, access to early childhood services and amenities, and data management across city agencies.
  • It aims to propagate an early childhood centric approach among Indian cities. Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF) and World Resources Institute (WRI) India.
  • Selected cities based on their proposal, readiness, and commitment – will receive technical support and capacity-building to develop, pilot and scale solutions that enhance the quality of life of young children.

Significance:

  • Urban design and city planning play a crucial role in shaping the early years (0- 5 years) of a child’s life –the period most vital for a child’s long-term health and development.
  • It is in Line with the ITCN Framework of the Smart Cities Mission. ITCN refers to the Infant, Toddler, Caregiver-Friendly Neighbourhoods It has the following five objectives pertaining to neighbourhoods – Safe, Playful, Accessible, Inclusive and Green.
  • Promotes Inclusive Development: It promotes inclusive development as it aims to enhance opportunities in urban areas for all vulnerable citizens, especially young children.

Smart City Mission

  • It is an innovative initiative under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local development and harnessing technology as a means to create smart outcomes for citizens.
  • It aims to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of Smart Solutions.
  • It focuses on sustainable and inclusive development and to look at compact areas, create a replicable model which will act like a lighthouse to other aspiring cities.
  • It aims to develop areas step-by-step with the help of following three models:
  1. Retrofitting
  2. Redevelopment
  3. Greenfield
  • The Mission covered 100 cities for the duration of five years starting from the financial year (FY) 2015-16 to 2019-20. It is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme.