Type: oped-snap


Foreign Policy Watch: India-China India & Neighbours

[op-ed snap] China’s weapons of trade war

Context:

  1. China exports more to the US than the US exports to China
  2. That makes US President Donald Trump so furious that he may be willing to start a trade war over it

Trade war:

  1. Trump has levelled tough protectionist threats against China
  2. As he attempts to consolidate his presidency, he is unlikely to back away from them
  3. And with the Communist Party of China’s 19th National Congress set to take place in Beijing in November, Chinese leaders are unlikely to yield to US pressure

Who will be hurt:

  1. A trade war would undoubtedly hurt both sides
  2. But US has more to lose. If nothing else, the Chinese seem to know precisely which weapons they have available to them
  3. China could stop purchasing US aircraft, impose an embargo on US soybean products, and dump US Treasury securities and other financial assets
  4. Chinese enterprises could reduce their demand for US business services, and the government could persuade companies not to buy American
  5. The bulk of numerous Fortune 500 companies’ annual sales come from China nowadays—and they already feel increasingly unwelcome
  6. An escalating trade war, with each side erecting symmetric import barriers, would fuel inflationary pressure in the US, potentially driving the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates higher and faster than it would otherwise
  7. Together with diminished growth prospects, this would depress equity markets
  8. Declining employment and household income could lead to a sizeable loss of gross domestic product (GDP) in both the US and China

America’s main jobs supplier:

  1. Beyond being America’s second most important trading partner, China is America’s main jobs supplier
  2. A trade war could thus cost the US millions of jobs
  3. If China switched from Boeing to Airbus, for example, the US would lose some 179,000 jobs
  4. Reduction in US business services would cost another 85,000 jobs
  5. Soybean-producing regions could lose some 10% of local jobs if China halted imports

Key components:

  1. Though the US exports less to China than vice versa, it is China that controls key components in global supply chains and production networks
  2. Consider the iPhone. While China provides just 4% of value added, it supplies the core components to Apple at low prices
  3. Apple cannot build an iPhone from scratch in the US, so it would have to search for alternative suppliers, raising its production costs considerably
  4. This would give Chinese smartphone businesses an opportunity to seize market share from major players
  5. Today, 80% of global trade comprises international supply chains
  6. Declining trade costs have allowed firms to splinter their production lines geographically, with goods processed and value added in multiple countries along the chain
  7. If China threw a handful of sand in the gears of these chains, it could disrupt entire production networks, doing serious damage to the US

Exchange rate:

  1. Meanwhile, Trump will continue to accuse China of manipulating its exchange rate, ignoring the recent downward pressure on the renminbi (which indicates that the currency was actually overvalued)
  2. Both Japan and Switzerland have engaged in outright currency intervention in recent years, and the US itself may well join their ranks, when the strong dollar’s impact on US export competitiveness becomes untenable
  3. In any case, China can probably forget about achieving “market economy status” under World Trade Organization rules until after Trump is out of the White House

Steps US might take:

  1. The trade confrontation between the US and China will also affect bilateral investment flows
  2. The US may cite national security concerns to block Chinese investments
  3. It may also stop government purchases from Chinese companies like Huawei, and force Chinese firms and wealthy individuals to reduce investments that have hitherto bolstered US asset prices
  4. A high-quality US-China bilateral investment treaty would create a level playing field for American companies, giving them better access to China’s large market
  5. But those talks will invariably be pushed back, while disputes over intellectual property rights and cyber security will be reinvigorated

Conclusion:

For the past five years, China has sought to establish a growth model that is less reliant on exports and more reliant on domestic consumption. But China often needs a crisis or an external shock to drive reform. Perhaps Trump is that shock. While his policies will be bad for China in the short term, they may also provide the impetus China needs to stop subsidizing exports and perpetuating distortions in the domestic economy. If this happens, China may actually emerge from the era of Trump better off than before.

Note4Students:

The op-ed is important for an understanding of the US-China economic situation and the expected Trade war in the current global situation.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries Explorations in S&T

[op-ed snap] Life elsewhere

The discovery:

  1. Discovery of seven Earth-size extra-solar planets, or exoplanets, orbiting a dwarf star about 40 light years away
  2. Unlike earlier discoveries of exoplanets, all seven planets could possibly have liquid water- a key to life as we know it on Earth- with three planets having the greatest chance
  3. This is by far the largest collection of Earth-like planets in the habitable ‘Goldilocks’ zone of a star- neither too close nor too far from a star, which raises the possibility of liquid water being present on the surface
  4. Less than a year after scientists announced the discovery of three planets orbiting the dwarf star, the team found four more through intense searches

Who found them and how?

  1. Using several ground-based telescopes, including a 20-day continuous monitoring using the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Spitzer Space Telescope
  2. Since the dwarf star is much cooler than the Sun, the dimming of light each time a planet passes or transits before the star could be easily recorded from Earth unlike in cases when planets transit a Sun-like bright star
  3. The initial discovery of three planets was made using the Chile-based Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope, the exoplanet system is therefore called TRAPPIST-1

The exoplanets:

  1. Unlike in the case of our solar system, the planets have apparently formed far away from the star and gradually migrated towards it
  2. They share a similar formation history with the Galilean moons, which migrated towards Jupiter after formation
  3. Another major difference in comparison with the solar system is the tight packing of the seven planets around the star
  4. The closest planet in the TRAPPIST-1 system takes just 1.5 days to complete an orbit and the farthest one takes 20 days
  5. The orbital period of the planets is also similar to the Galilean moons
  6. Mass estimates suggests that the inner six planets might have a rocky composition
  7. While the one with a low density may have a volatile composition due to the presence of an ice layer or atmosphere
  8. The composition of the atmosphere can be identified by measuring the wavelength characteristics of light

Further steps:

  1. A fair possibility of liquid water being present on at least three planets
  2. The focus is now on deciphering the climate and chemical composition of their atmosphere
  3. As a first measure, scientists are keen to know if the planets are Earth-like, by ruling out the presence of hydrogen gas enveloping them
  4. TRAPPIST-1 system is close by and the star is cool enough it would be easier to decipher the various critical features of the planets
  5. If there is life on these planets, we would know this in about 10 years

Note4Students:

The search for extraterrestrial life has just become more focused. The information is very important for Prelims.

Back2Basics:

  1. An exoplanet or extrasolar planet is a planet that orbits a star other than the Sun.

Galilean moons:

  1. The Galilean moons are the four largest moons of Jupiter—Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto
  2. They were first seen by Galileo Galilei in January 1610, and recognized by him as satellites of Jupiter in March 1610
  3. They are the first objects found to orbit another planet
  4. Their names derive from the lovers of Zeus
  5. They are among the largest objects in the Solar System with the exception of the Sun and the eight planets, with radii larger than any of the dwarf planets
Policy Wise: India’s Health Sector Health, Education & Human Resources

[op-ed snap] Ageing with dignity

Context:

  1. India’s celebrated demographic dividend has for decades underpinned its rapid economic progress
  2. A countervailing force may offset some of the gains from having a relatively young population: rapid ageing at the top end of the scale

Cause of concern:

  1. This is a cause of deep concern for policymakers as India already has the world’s second largest population of the elderly, defined as those above 60 years of age
  2. This 104-million-strong cohort continues to expand at an accelerating pace, it will generate enormous socio-economic pressures as the demand for healthcare services and tailored accommodation spikes to historically unprecedented levels
  3. It is projected that approximately 20% of Indians will be elderly by 2050, marking a dramatic jump from the current 6%

Health and social care:

  1. However, thus far, efforts to develop a regime of health and social care that is attuned to the shifting needs of the population have been insufficient
  2. More mature economies have created multiple models for elder care, such as universal or widely accessible health insurance, networks of nursing homes, and palliative care specialisations, it is hard to find such systemic developments in India
  3. Experts also caution that as the proportional size of the elderly population expands, there is likely to be a shift in the disease patterns from communicable to non-communicable, which itself calls for re-gearing the health-care system toward “preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative aspects of health”
  4. Advocacy and information campaigns may be necessary to redirect social attitudes toward ageing, which often do not help the elderly enjoy a life of stability and dignity

Realities of ageing:

  1. The ground realities faced by the elderly include abandonment by their families, destitution and homelessness, inability to access quality health care, low levels of institutional support, and the loneliness and depression associated with separation from their families
  2. On the one hand, the traditional arrangements for the elderly in an Indian family revolve around care provided by their children
  3. According to the National Sample Survey Organisation’s 2004 survey, nearly 3% of persons aged above 60 lived alone
  4. The number of elderly living with their spouses was only 9.3%, and those living with their children accounted for 35.6%
  5. Many among the younger generation within the workforce are left with less time, energy and willingness to care for their parents, or simply emigrate abroad and are unable to do so, senior citizens are increasingly having to turn to other arrangements
  6. In the private sector, an estimated demand for 300,000 senior housing units, valued at over $1 billion, has led to a variety of retirement communities emerging across the country, in addition to innovations in healthcare delivery for this group
  7. Yet the poor among the elderly still very much depend on the government to think creatively and come up with the resources and institutions to support their needs

Note4Students:

The ageing population is indeed a concern for the society. The topic is important for Mains, where you might be asked to give suggestions on improving the condition of ageing population and socio-economic changes that need to be brought in the country for them.

Women Empowerment: Policy Wise Social Justice

[op-ed snap] A battle lost?

Context:

  1. The right thing to do for any politician seeking to embark on change is to not give in to resistance after making the decision
  2. R. Zeliang stepped down as the Chief Minister of Nagaland, had taken the bold decision to conduct long-pending urban local body elections on February 1 with 33% reservation for women in accordance with the 74th Amendment to the Constitution

Opposition to the move:

  1. The move, predictably, resulted in strong opposition from tribal groups who sought to use the issue of Naga autonomy as a ploy to resist it
  2. Zeliang should have stuck to his government’s order and sought more public acceptance by rallying the many in favour – in particular, Naga women who would have finally got their constitutionally mandated stake in local governance
  3. Instead, he chose to take a U-turn and termed the implementation of the decision as “null and void”, emboldening tribal organisations to demand his resignation
  4. Following a series of agitations by two tribal groups: the Joint Coordination Committee and the Nagaland Tribes Action Committee, Mr. Zeliang finally resigned, but not before some drama was played out in the ruling Naga People’s Front

Pressurized to resign:

  1. It was clear that Mr. Zeliang was being pressured to resign not just by status quoists among tribal groups but also by his rivals in the NPF
  2. Some legislators were seeking the return of the former Chief Minister and MP, Neiphiu Rio, who had been suspended from the party last year on grounds of “anti-party activities”
  3. Immediately, in what is now becoming a routine act in Indian politics following any intra-ruling party intrigue, the legislators were taken to a resort in Kaziranga and confined there to prevent defections
  4. Fearing a split, Mr. Zeliang resigned, and the party’s senior leader and supremo Shurhozelie Liezietsu was nominated as the 11th Chief Minister of the State by 42 of the 49 NPF legislators
  5. Just before Mr. Liezietsu was sworn in on Wednesday the agitation was called off by the tribal organisations, signalling an end to this round of turmoil

Challenges for the new government:

  1. The NPF-led coalition under the leadership of Mr. Liezietsu has its task cut out
  2. It must focus its energies on the Naga peace process, which remains unresolved despite the reported signing of an accord between the Centre and insurgent groups in 2015

Going against the status quo to take a progressive decision is always a difficult endeavour in politics or in government. Such decisions yield enthusiastic support from those in favour of change; at the same time, they invite strong responses from reactionary sections. We still live in a patriarchal world, where men hardly want to give space to women.

Note4Students:

There will be no direct question on this issue but it is important to see how a 33% reservation for women that is provided by the law, can upturn the ruling party.

Higher Education Policies Health, Education & Human Resources

[op-ed snap] Learn the lesson

Context:

The Ministry of Human Resource Development has steered India back to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which it had declined to participate in after a disastrous performance in 2009

PISA:

  1. PISA is a global evaluation of 15-year-olds conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development to gauge mathematical, scientific and reading skills of school students
  2. It is a research exercise generating data which can be compared across borders
  3. Of the 74 nations participating, India was close to the bottom of the barrel
  4. While PISA is not a contest, it does have one competitive aspect

PISA is an indicator:

  1. It is a reliable indicator of the future intellectual capital of participating countries
  2. It is a function of projected GDP, a reflection of the future wealth of nations
  3. A country hoping to win the global GDP race should regard PISA as a target
  4. And it should try to correct the structural imbalance that this test for schoolchildren draws attention to
  5. India swears by universities and IITs, but it is happy to let primary and secondary schools, which form the bedrock of the education system, plod along with teaching methods that are decades old

Why did India opt out?

  1. The UPA government had quit the field in high dudgeon, complaining about questions being set “out of context” in relation to the Indian socio-cultural milieu
  2. Indeed, an Indian student may find it more comfortable to do sums using mangoes rather than avocados for units
  3. But the argument can be taken only thus far, for the context of math and science is the universe and its contents
  4. Besides, a test involving European motifs which Indian students could not engage with should have been just as inscrutable to Mandarin readers
  5. The phenomenal success of Shanghai’s students suggests that the problem lies in India

Facing the loss:

  1. Finishing last should not be read as losing face, but rather as an opportunity to improve teaching methods and school systems by intelligent comparison
  2. If Singapore’s systems work better, what prevents Indian school boards from emulating them?
  3. India lost out by boycotting PISA in 2012 and 2015, when Asian countries like China, South Korea and Singapore surged ahead
  4. India need not have missed the bus, but the HRD ministry tried to change the benchmark to fit the country, rather than trying to change the country’s teaching system to fit the benchmark

The NDA government has done well to seek to return to PISA’s global testing system. But the crucial reform still lies ahead: PISA data must be used to improve the school system.

Note4Students:

The information is important for both Prelims and Mains.

Policy Wise: India’s Health Sector Health, Education & Human Resources

[op-ed snap] Necessary limit

Context:

  1. Capping the prices of medical stents, which are used to treat coronary artery disease, by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA)
  2. It is an extreme regulatory measure necessitated by the market failure that afflicts the overall delivery of health care in India

Importance of this step:

  1. Rising costs have led to impoverishment of families and litigation demanding regulation
  2. Given the overall dominance of private, commercial, for-profit health institutions, and the asymmetry confronting citizens, correctives to bring about a balance are inevitable
  3. Two important pointers to the need for cost regulation are available from research published in The Lancet in December 2015:
  • Nearly two-thirds of the high out-of-pocket expenditure on health incurred by Indians went towards drugs;
  • Even the meagre research data available showed that there was irrational use of medical technologies, including cardiac stents and knee implants
  1. Regulated prices can, therefore, be expected to make stents more accessible to patients who really need them, helping them avoid using up the weak insurance cover available
  2. It will also reduce the incentive for unethical hospitals to use them needlessly

Importance of stents:

  1. There are over 60 million diagnosed diabetics in the country
  2. And the average age at which the first heart attack strikes Indians is 50, a decade earlier than people in developed nations
  3. At appropriate prices, and with a health system that pools the cost among all citizens, it would be possible to provide access to stents and other treatments for all

Market-determined pricing:

  1. Health-care providers often demand market-determined pricing of medical technologies on the ground that newer ones will not be available under a regulated regime
  2. In the case of cardiac stents, this argument does not hold water since stakeholder consultations held by the NPPA in January revealed that there are ‘huge unethical markups’ in the supply chain
  3. It would serve the cause of medical innovation if costing is transparent, and a system of risk pooling is introduced to help patients get expensive treatment without high out-of-pocket spending

Improving access to medicines:

  1. It was estimated five years ago by the Planning Commission’s expert group on universal health coverage that raising spending on public procurement of medicines to 0.5% of GDP (from 0.1%) would provide all essential medicines to everyone
  2. What is necessary, is, a two-pronged approach to improve access to medicines and technology
  3. The Centre should monitor expenditures jointly in partnership with the community, use regulation where needed, and raise public spending on health
  4. Well-considered price control is a positive step, but more needs to be done
  5. The latest measure provides an opportunity to expand the availability of stents, and by extension angioplasty procedures, in the public health system
  6. District hospitals should offer cardiac treatments uniformly. This should be a priority programme to be completed in not more than five years

Note4Students:

The op-ed is important for question on healthcare in Mains.

Foreign Policy Watch: India – EU India Beyond its Neighbours

[op-ed snap] Marching to be counted

Context:

  1. 1daywithoutus, a day of action taking across the U.K. to celebrate the contribution made by immigrants, from outside and within the European Union (EU)
  2. Anti-immigrant sentiment brewing up in Britain too

The Brexit effect:

  1. While anti-immigrant sentiment has been a long-standing aspect of British politics, it’s been on the increase since June 23 last year, when Britain voted to leave the EU, with hate being directed across communities, and not just at EU citizens
  2. There’s been an upsurge of verbal attacks on the Indian community, particularly outside London, says Harsev Bains of the Indian Workers’ Association
  3. According to data compiled by the news agency Press Association, three-quarters of Britain’s 44 police forces reported a record number of hate crimes in the three months after the Brexit vote, with even cosmopolitan London recording 3,356 cases
  4. The Independent reported that police forces across the country are preparing themselves for a rise in racially or religiously motivated crime after the government triggers talks to exit the EU next month
  5. Even the white immigrants are being asked to leave the country

Contribution of immigrants:

  1. The contribution of immigrants to the U.K. is hard to dispute
  2. According to a report published earlier this week by the think-tank, the New Economics Foundation, British daily GDP would take a 4% hit if migrant workers stopped working for a day, costing the economy £328 million
  3. While 26% of those working in the health-care sector were born abroad, in other sectors such as food and hospitality, the figure is even higher, according to the NEF
  4. International students make up 20% of the student population in the U.K., according to the National Union of Students

Suggestions:

  1. There are suggestions that better control of Britain’s borders would improve public services, health care and education
  2. That debate has continue to persist, with the government insisting that the public’s hope of controlling immigration was a key takeaway from the referendum
  3. The tough rhetoric on immigration has not been confined to the Conservatives
  4. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the party was “not wedded” to the principle of freedom of movement within the EU, while Deputy Leader Tom Watson recently told the BBC that the party was considering a number of options on post-Brexit immigration, including some form of regional immigration controls

Steps taken in this direction:

  1. The government has confirmed its willingness to sacrifice single market access to the EU in order to be able to control its borders
  2. Britain has also tightened controls for non-EU migrants, raising salary thresholds for work visas, while there has been talk of further controls of the student visa system
  3. The Health Secretary has even called for the NHS to be self-sufficient in doctors from within the U.K. by 2025
  4. The government has refused to guarantee the rights of EU nationals already in the U.K., insisting that it would not be able to do without guarantees from Europe on the rights of Britons there

The 1daywithoutus event follows close on the heels of the Day Without Immigrants protest in the U.S. With anti-immigrant tensions showing little sign of waning in the West, the call for such movements highlighting the role of immigrants is likely to grow.

Note4Students:

You may not be directly asked questions on this issue, but it is an important one and you should be well aware of it.

[op-ed snap] Lending a hand, filling a gap

Context:

  1. The world’s governments have agreed on an ambitious agenda to transform our world by 2030, adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  2. SDGs aim to ensure no one is left behind, and everyone benefits from development efforts

Agenda 2030 is unprecedented in scope and significance:

  1. The SDGs are multi-dimensional and interconnected, and the scale of the challenge at hand is vast
  2. Realising these 17 goals will require deep commitment, trillions of dollars in investment, and innovative ideas and approaches
  3. It will also require institutions and individuals to bring together the very best they have to offer in order to achieve this shared vision of prosperity for all

Steps towards SDGs:

  1. Many of the central and state governments’ existing flagship schemes and policies, and their strategic vision for achieving prosperity for all, link clearly to the SDGs
  2. Crucial to the world meeting the SDGs by 2030 will be our ability to build opportunities for meaningful collaboration between all stakeholders, including governments, businesses and community organizations
  3. It is therefore important to develop creative models that can strategically harness financing for development, private capital and philanthropic funds to bridge the gap between the quantum of funds required and public funds
  4. Investment from the private sector into social development is an important piece for solving the financial puzzle, particularly when it comes to mobilising capital to maximise development spending in priority areas for the government
  5. India’s philanthropic and business sectors can play a critical role in supporting and accelerating ongoing work in these areas
  6. Renewed commitment, coordination and alignment between the government and the philanthropy sector could well bring much-needed funds to the table, as well as contribute technical knowledge, skills and energy for development programmes
  7. Philanthropy can also complement efforts underway to forge more partnerships and blended financial models to achieve the SDGs. India has already adopted an innovative method of getting businesses to pitch in through the new Companies Act

Reports:

  1. The India Philanthropy Report 2015 tracks the growth of philanthropy in India, paints a very encouraging picture
  2. Since 2009, India has added more than 100 million private donors, and they are contributing to a wide array of causes
  3. According to the Asia-Pacific Wealth Report 2016, the number of high net worth individuals in India has grown faster than in other developing countries
  4. This, and India’s impressive economic growth, suggest plenty of untapped potential to unlock funds for social development

Philanthropy Platform:

  1. The SDG Philanthropy Platform, soon to be launched in India, is an initiative of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the Foundation Center and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
  2. Already operational in seven pilot countries (Colombia, the US, Indonesia, Kenya, China, Ghana and Zambia), it aims to bring the philanthropy sector into the partnership of those addressing the world’s grand challenges as identified by the SDGs
  3. The platform stems from the notion that only a collective push and deeper partnerships can achieve lasting systemic change
  4. This means expanding and deepening strategic collaboration with the private sector across multiple SDGs while increasing awareness of the benefits of greater coordination among private and public donors, and between donors and grantees

Case Studies:

  1. In Kenya, for instance, the platform facilitated the creation of the Kenya Philanthropy Forum (KPF)
  2. The KPF was instrumental to the Kenyan government’s recognition of the need for more and better data to be shared by development partners across sectors, which led to the creation of the Kenya Data Forum
  3. In Colombia, the platform fostered a collaboration between the government and other partners to create a database that tracks social initiatives led by foundations, community groups and other stakeholders
  4. The map allows both foundations and governments to customise and manage projects, design and monitor indicators, and track in real-time the progress of projects
  5. This effort is being deployed as a powerful and transformative tool in the peace-building process that is now at the core of the Colombian government’s agenda

In India:

  1. The platform could also work as a targeting mechanism at the national, state or city level and help build capacity, which can aid funders to make grants with greater confidence and impact
  2. For India, this could help businesses identify credible development partners and ensure that their funds are properly utilized
  3. By mapping intervention data, the platform will promote innovations and avoid duplication
  4. It will also accelerate development spending, and target it where it is most needed, where it will have the maximum impact on the ground
  5. The platform could similarly help India realise its enormous contribution to solving global development challenges and employing creative technological solutions
  6. Shepherding the achievements of the SDGs is an enormous task that requires the involvement of every sector and each level of society.

Note4Students:

There can be a direct question in mains on assessing SDGs and the progress.

Back2Basics:

Philanthropy:

  1. Philanthropy etymologically means, the love of humanity, in the sense of caring, nourishing, developing, and enhancing what it means to be human
  2. In this meaning, it involves both the benefactor in their identifying and exercising their values, and the beneficiary in their receipt and benefit from the service or goods provided
  3. A conventional modern definition is “private initiatives, for the public good, focusing on quality of life,” which combines an original humanistic tradition with a social scientific aspect developed in the 20th century
Judicial Pendency Constitution

[op-ed snap] Guilty until…

Context:

  1. Delhi court’s acquittal of two persons accused of involvement in the 2005 serial blasts in the city
  2. It brought an end to their long incarceration
  3. However, it brings to light another instance of unconscionable miscarriage of justice in this country

Accuse is acquitted:

  1. Additional Sessions Judge Reetesh Singh acquitted the two men — Mohammad Hussain Fazli and Mohammad Rafiq Shah — of all charges
  2. The court found no evidence to link the third accused, Tariq Ahmed Dar, to the blasts, though it convicted him for being a member of a terrorist organization
  3. At one level, the judgment is a reassuring affirmation of the independence at the lower rungs of the Indian judiciary

Background:

  1. The explosions, in a bazaar outside the New Delhi railway station, in a bus, and in the Sarojini Nagar market, came just before Deepavali
  2. It killed 67 and injured more than 200 people

False Trails:

  1. It must invite a response from the state to inquire into and address the processes that keep investigating agencies and prosecutors so determinedly on false trails
  2. The frightening monotony with which Indian agencies have been failing to professionally investigate terrorism cases, and are accused of framing innocents, should jolt the system
  3. The court said the prosecution had “miserably failed” to prove its case regarding who carried out the October 29, 2005 bomb blasts
  4. It noted that the prosecution failed to establish a link between Dar and the other two Kashmiris accused
  5. This is not the first time that investigation into a terror case has fallen flat in a court of law; nor is it the only instance of the Indian security agencies being accused of framing innocents
  6. The judgment is a telling commentary on India’s faulty counter-terror posture, one that demands a holistic overhaul

Not the first time:

  1. There is a long list of terror attacks in which the security establishment failed to carry out a scientific probe and ended up framing innocent persons
  2. The Malegaon blast of 2006, the attack on Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad in 2007, the Samjhauta Express attack of 2007 have all seen the investigating agencies flailing to find the guilty
  3. Such incompetence has grave implications for India’s preparedness to avert terrorist strikes
  4. It is from credible clues gathered during investigations into an attack that agencies pick up the trail to active terror groups, sleeper cells, and so on

Lives of innocent people ruined:

  1. Moreover, this incompetence often swallows the lives of innocent persons
  2. In this case, Mohammad Rafiq Shah was just another college student in Srinagar when he was detained in 2005, while Mohammad Hussain Fazli was a struggling carpet-maker
  3. It is difficult to imagine what could be done to compensate them for their long, unjust incarceration
  4. A reform of the investigation processes should, however, frame the state’s response to the verdict.

Note4Students:

It may not be a direct question, but it is important to know about this prevailing issue of (in)justice; especially when there have been questions raised on effectiveness of criminal justice system in India.

Higher Education Policies Health, Education & Human Resources

[op-ed snap] A new divide in class

Context:

  1. The idea of high-quality knowledge products available at ridiculously low prices like 1 lakh, is seductive to our governments, for whom being digital is to be progressive and who see professors and higher education as liabilities to be got rid of
  2. Our colleagues in high-end institutions like MIT and Harvard tell Third World youth that since your universities would never be able to appoint excellent academics as teachers, it would be better for you to register with start-ups like MITx, get access to the lectures of the brightest minds on earth and get credentials bearing their stamp
  3. The governments are envisioning a world without teachers, but apparently, not without knowledge

Online courses:

  1. Companies like Udacity, Coursera and Edx, which started producing massive open online courses (MOOCs) five years ago, presented themselves as benevolent knowledge givers helping educationally malnourished Third World countries
  2. All you needed was an internet connection
  3. Sceptics of MOOCs warned they were not going to remain free
  4. Capitalism, after all, is not a philanthropic project

Democratic learning:

  1. What could be more democratic than deciding your own pace and having the freedom to choose from thousands of courses milling around in the digital world
  2. But these companies did not leave it to the judgement of students and teachers: They started lobbying with governments and university leaders in the US and outside to include them in their formal curriculum
  3. A licence fee was required
  4. Some succumbed, others resisted

A utopian thought:

  1. The faculty of San Jose State University wrote that the thought of the exact same social justice course being taught in various Philosophy departments across the country is downright scary — something out of a dystopian novel
  2. Departments across the country possess unique specialisations and character, and should stay that way
  3. Universities tend not to hire their own graduates for a reason. They seek different influences
  4. Diversity in schools of thought and plurality of points of view are at the heart of liberal education
  5. One-size-fits-all, vendor-designed blended courses should not become the norm
  6. Two classes of universities will be created: One, well-funded colleges and universities in which privileged students get their own real professor
  7. Other, financially stressed private and public universities in which students watch a bunch of video-taped lectures and interact, if indeed any interaction is available on their home campuses, with a professor that this model of education has turned into a glorified teaching assistant
  8. Public universities will no longer provide the same quality of education and will not remain on par with well-funded private ones
  9. Teaching justice through an educational model that is spearheading the creation of two social classes in academia thus amounts to a cruel joke

Democracy in education:

  1. Do our departments have the guts to exercise their agency in the face of a government order?
  2. All the universities fell in line when the UGC dictated that they had to use syllabi prepared by it, allowing only 20% local content
  3. We do not also have heads of institutions like Teresa A. Sullivan, President of the University of Virginia, who preferred to resign rather than bow down to the pressure by her governing board to introduce more market-savvy, cost-cutting measures. She was brought back after the university community rose up for her

There is nothing democratic about MOOCs; all that this seeks to do is to create two very distinct sets of higher education institutions. One would hire the best minds and manufacture MOOCs with their help; the other would consume the high-quality product they market.

Note4Students:

The opinion expressed is that of the author, which may not always match general perception. Note the critical points on MOOCs for Mains.

Indian Economy – Growth Estimates Economic Planning

[op-ed snap] In India, diverging incomes despite equalising forces

Context:

  1. If India has to do well, the States as a whole must do well
  2. It also requires that large differences in economic development between them must narrow over time
  3. Economists call this narrowing — reduction in relative disparities — “convergence”

Economic Survey:

  1. In the 2000s, while standards of living (measured in terms of Gross State Domestic Product or consumption) per capita increased in all the States, the disparities among them also increased
  2. In other words, there was divergence across the States instead of convergence
  3. The first puzzle stems from the international comparisons: across countries disparities are declining in contrast to India
  4. The second puzzle is a temporal one: the tendency towards disparities within India has been strengthening, not weakening, over time

Bucking a global trend:

  1. Convergence occurs when a State that starts off with a lower level of per capita GDP sees faster growth of per capita GDP in the future so that it catches up with better-performing States
  2. Poorer countries are catching up with richer countries, the poorer Chinese provinces are catching up with the richer ones
  3. But in India, the less developed States are not catching up; instead they are, on average, falling behind the richer States
  4. Internationally, growth rates of per capita GDP widened at least since the 1820s with poorer countries growing slower than richer countries, leading to the basic divide between advanced and developing countries
  5. Since 1980 this long-term trend was reversed and poorer countries started catching up with richer ones
  6. In stark contrast, there continues to be divergence within India or an aggravation of regional inequality
  7. But things changed for both the world and China in the 2000s; however they did not change for India
  8. This was despite the promise that less developed States such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh had started improving their relative performance
  9. But the data show that those developments were neither strong nor durable enough to change the underlying picture of divergence or growing inequality

How does Convergence happen?

  1. Convergence happens essentially through trade and through mobility of factors of production
  2. If a State/country is poor, the returns to capital must be high and should be able to attract capital and labour, thereby raising its productivity and enabling catch-up with richer States/countries
  3. Trade, based on comparative advantage, is a surrogate (substitute) for the movement of underlying factors of production
  4. A less developed country that has abundant labour and scarce capital will export labour-intensive goods (a surrogate for exporting unskilled labour) and import capital-intensive goods (a surrogate for attracting capital)
  5. The findings suggest that India stands out as an exception
  6. Within India, where borders are porous, convergence has failed whereas across countries where borders are much thicker (because of restrictions on trade, capital and labour) there is a convergence dynamic
  7. The Economic Survey shows that trade within India is quite high and mobility of people has surged dramatically- almost doubled in the 2000s
  8. These indicate that India has porous borders- reflected in actual flows of goods and people- and that porosity has been increasing
  9. Yet over time, divergence has been increasing rather than narrowing
  10. The driving force behind the Chinese convergence dynamic has been the migration of people from farms in the interior to factories on the coast, raising productivity and wages in the poorer regions faster than in richer regions

A governance deficit?

  1. One possible hypothesis is that convergence fails to occur due to governance or institutional traps
  2. If that is the case, capital will not flow to regions of high productivity because this high productivity may be more notional than real
  3. Poor governance could make the risk-adjusted returns on capital low even in capital-scarce States
  4. Moreover, greater labour mobility or exodus from these areas, especially of the higher skilled, could worsen governance
  5. A second hypothesis relates to India’s pattern of development
  6. India, unlike most growth successes in Asia, has relied on growth of skill-intensive sectors rather than low-skill ones
  7. If the binding constraint on growth is the availability of skills, there is no reason why labour productivity would necessarily be high in capital-scarce States
  8. Unless the less developed regions are able to generate skills (in addition to providing good governance), convergence may not occur

The move towards economic divergence across India in the face of the equalising forces of trade and migration is a deep puzzle waiting to be unravelled.

Note4Students:

The op-ed is important for understanding the economic scenario of the country.

Lodha committee’s recommendations on the BCCI Governance

[op-ed snap] How to fend off bouncers

Context:

  1. The Supreme Court has appointed a four-member Committee of Administrators (CoA) to oversee the overhaul of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)
  2. Having been set a four-week window to observe and initially calibrate the roadmap for the wholesale adoption of the Lodha Committee’s far-reaching recommendations, the newly anointed CoA has just concluded its third meeting on February 17

Implementation:

  1. The mandate for the CoA is clear, but its implementation will be complicated
  2. It needs to achieve the following:
  • Oversee the adoption and implementation of the Lodha Committee directives by the BCCI and the State associations,
  • ascertain and consolidate Indian cricket’s standing in and leverage with the International Cricket Council (ICC),
  • make major decisions related to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and BCCI’s sponsorships, and
  • introduce a governance structure that serves as a sustainable benchmark for how Indian cricket is to be governed

A tough task ahead:

  1. In a span of just a few months, the CoA is expected to accomplish many things
  2. The stated objective of the Supreme Court, the Lodha Committee, and the CoA is to restore the game of cricket to its fans, a laudable intent
  3. The CoA has already begun its work of removing the remnants of the earlier regime
  4. It ordered the closing of the recently opened New Delhi office of the BCCI and relieved the resources of those who had been employed there by the erstwhile administration
  5. It also sent its representative to the critically important ICC meeting where a proposal to overturn the revenue structure was passed by the ICC in a manner that is sure to be adverse to Indian cricket, a loss in revenue estimated to be in the vicinity of ₹3,000 crore over the next six years
  6. What appears to be an opportunistic move against the BCCI has been exacerbated (made worse) by the nascence (origin) of the CoA
  7. The CoA is also likely to face a deluge of queries and complaints from the various State associations who are unsure of, or unwilling to accept, the reforms

The woolly mammoth:

  1. The IPL has been the ignored stepchild since the last season, a victim of the complex interplay that resulted in the BCCI’s metamorphosis
  2. It’s no secret that cricket purists have no love lost for the IPL
  3. But it’s also no secret that the IPL is a major revenue source for the Board and the game-changing differentiator for Indian cricket on the world stage
  4. There are indications that the CoA will mostly maintain the status quo for the IPL this season, given the paucity of time, and the many pending issues that need to be resolved
  5. But 2018 will be the watershed year for the IPL, as its new media rights agreement could set the bar for high-value broadcast deals in global sports
  6. Equally significant will be the return of the two controversial suspended franchises — the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals
  7. It will also be the year that indicates whether or not the IPL teams have been able to generate and retain value, and whether an expansion to more franchises is in the offing

In charge at a tricky time:

  1. Revenue will be the key component that will determine Indian cricket’s leverage and infrastructure
  2. The two most pertinent decisions will therefore be regarding the IPL’s media rights and possible expansion, and the ICC’s revised structure taking away a major chunk of the BCCI’s revenues
  3. The CoA has taken over at a very tricky time for Indian cricket, and although it will have had little to do with the pushback from the ICC, it will nonetheless be judged for it by observers
  4. The CoA faces an immediate roadblock as it seeks to modify the IPL’s Governing Council in line with the Lodha Committee directive that requires a players’ association representative
  5. The association has not even been formed yet, so even for the IPL implementing the Lodha Committee recommendations this season may prove to be logistically impossible

The BCCI’s Committee of Administrators will need to speed up on challenges on many fronts. For now, a dichotomy between power play moves and restoring cricket to the fans in an undiluted form is the immediate takeaway.

Note4Students:

The issue is important for mains. Forms part of polity and governance.

Wetland Conservation Biodiversity

[op-ed snap] Smoke on the water

Context:

  1. A lake in Bengaluru on fire, with a massive plume of smoke that could be seen from afar
  2. It is a warning sign that urban environments are crashing under the weight of official indifference

Diminishing green cover:

  1. If wetlands are the kidneys of the cities, as scientists like to describe them, Karnataka’s capital city has entered a phase of chronic failure
  2. No longer the city of lakes and famed gardens, it has lost an estimated 79% of water bodies and 80% of its tree cover from the baseline year of 1973

Issues leading to this problem:

  1. Successive governments in the State have ignored the rampant encroachment of lake beds and catchment areas for commercial exploitation, and the pollution caused by sewage, industrial effluents and garbage, which contributed to the blaze on Bellandur lake
  2. The neglect is deliberate, since some of the finest urban ecologists in the city have been warning that government inaction is turning Bengaluru into an unlivable mess

Solutions to the mess:

  1. It is time the State government took note of the several expert recommendations that have been made, including those of the Centre for Ecological Sciences of the Indian Institute of Science
  2. The priority, clearly, is to end pollution outfalls into the water bodies, which will help revive them to an acceptable state of health
  3. Identifying all surviving wetlands and demarcating them using digital and physical mapping will help communities monitor encroachments
  4. Removal of land-grabbers and restoration of interconnecting channels is crucial to avoid future flooding events

Loss of wetlands:

  1. Loss of natural wetlands is an ongoing catastrophe in India
  2. A decade ago, when the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History released a conservation atlas for all States using space applications
  3. It reported the tragic fact that 38% of wetlands had already been lost nationally; and shockingly, in some districts only 12% survived
  4. The Centre has since issued rules for conservation and management, and chosen 115 water bodies in 24 States for protection support, but this is obviously too little
  5. Moreover, research studies show that the concentration of heavy metals in such sites is leading to bioaccumulation, thus entering the plants and animals that ultimately form part of people’s food
  6. Soil scientists have found higher levels of cadmium in green vegetables grown using water from Bellandur
  7. The collapse of environmental management because of multiple, disjointed agencies achieving little collectively and legal protections remaining unimplemented pose a serious threat to public health
  8. Every city needs a single lake protection authority

India’s worsening air quality is now well documented, and most of its wetlands are severely polluted. Citizens must assert themselves to stop this perilous course.

Note4Students:

The information is important for Mains as well as Prelims.

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China India & Neighbours

[op-ed snap] Speak in our own voice

Context:

  1. In mid-January, a week before he resigned as U.S. Ambassador to India, Richard Verma held an unusual dinner at his residence, inviting the Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju as well as the Sikyong, or Leader of the Tibetan ‘Government in Exile’
  2. What’s more, the dinner follows a series of interventions by American officials on India-China issues in the past few months

Visit to Arunachal Pradesh:

  1. Verma made waves by becoming the first U.S. envoy to visit Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh in October 2016
  2. The visit drew a sharp response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry about “third parties” interfering
  3. His visit followed comments by U.S. Consul General Craig Hall, during a visit to Arunachal, referring to the State as an “integral part of India”
  4. The comment was accurate, and a boost for New Delhi’s claim, but diplomatically speaking, unusually forthright
  5. S. federal government’s religious freedom body (USCIRF) commissioner attended a conference in Dharamsala for Chinese dissidents, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Falun Gong activists
  6. Thomas Shannon, then U.S. Undersecretary of State, visited New Delhi, warning that China’s actions in the South China Sea were “madness” and its next “target” was the Indian Ocean

New Delhi’s role:

  1. In the absence of a pushback from New Delhi, the impression created is that it is allowing, possibly even encouraging, the U.S. to be its voice on what are essentially bilateral issues between India and China
  2. At a time when India and China have had major differences over a series of issues, allowing an external voice into this bilateral equation can only drown out India’s own
  3. Unfortunately the U.S. is not the only country making itself heard in this equation
  4. Australian and Japanese experts as well as Indian think tanks are increasingly articulating the need for their trilateral with India to go further, calling for a strategic “middle power coalition”

Drawbacks of this move:

  1. First, India is not, nor is it likely to be a treaty ally of the U.S., as Australia and Japan are
  2. Second, such a coalition would necessarily be considered a front to counter Chinese maritime hegemony
  3. While Indian naval presence would boost efforts to police the South China Sea, the other members of this coalition would hardly be able to help India on its most prominent frontier with China, the unresolved Line of Actual Control
  4. In short, to allow these so-called middle powers to speak for India is a mistake equal to that of allowing any big power to do the same

Three-and-a-half fronts:

  1. Today, India and China square off or have conflicts on what can be called three-and-a-half fronts
  2. The land front, where they have fought one war in 1962
  3. The maritime front, where the U.S. and its allies want India to take part in joint patrols to confront China’s naval ambitions
  4. India’s neighbourhood, particularly Pakistan, where Chinese investment is altering bilateral equations
  5. And the Tibetan front, which could be considered a half-front

Bilateral relations:

  1. Despite the lows of the past year, including the impasse where India singled out China as the “one country” inhibiting its progress into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, New Delhi and Beijing have kept their bilateral engagement steady
  2. As Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar heads to Beijing this week for the newly created Strategic Dialogue, it would be hoped that relations will be brought to an even more steady bilateral keel, especially as India charts its course in the foreign policy-scape rocked by the uncertainties of the new U.S. Presidency
  3. It would do well by following the Gandhian principle that “true power speaks softly, and has no reason to shout”
  4. Nor does it need to employ the voice of others, or use frivolous pinpricks when serious issues are at hand

Note4Students:

The op-ed is important for Mains. Keep track of this issue and its development.

[op-ed snap] The fight Pakistan must wage within

Context:

  1. The suicide bombing at the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar at Sehwan is not the first terrorist attack on a place of worship in Pakistan, and is unlikely to be the last
  2. Imbued with their extremist ideology, jihadis have targeted several Sufi shrines all over Pakistan for several years

Jihadi justification:

  1. The jihadis justify their violence against Sufi shrines as attacks against ‘impure’ manifestations of the Islamic faith
  2. Killing ‘unbelievers,’ ‘heretics’ and ‘deviants’ is an integral part of their plan to create a purer Islamic state
  3. The same justification has been used in the past to attack Shias and Ahmadis as well as Pakistan’s Christians and Hindus

Nurtured by Pakistan:

  1. Although jihadi groups were originally nurtured by Pakistan for proxy wars in Afghanistan and against India, at least some jihadi groups consider Pakistanis as legitimate targets
  2. To them Pakistan is as much their religious battlefield as Afghanistan or India
  3. Pakistan would have to delegitimate the jihadi ideology in its entirety to ensure that more extreme offshoots of its protégés do not kill its people

Pakistan’s laxity:

  1. Despite periodic noises about making no distinctions among good and bad jihadis, Pakistan’s leaders have shown no interest in defining all jihadis as a threat to Pakistan
  2. The country’s military still sees terrorism in the context of its geo-strategic vision
  3. The jihadis responsible for attacks within Pakistan are deemed ‘agents’ of Indian intelligence or the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security (NDS)

Military of Pakistan:

  1. For Pakistan’s military, Pakistan has only one enemy and all acts of violence against Pakistanis must be attributed only to that enemy
  2. Fellow Pakistanis vehemently believe that terrorism in South Asia would end if the Kashmir issue was resolved in accordance with Pakistan’s wishes
  3. However, it is to be pondered, that how would it diminish fanaticism of those who kill Shias and Sufis as part of an effort to purify Muslim society

In all four provinces:

  1. Over the last week, jihadi offshoots claiming links to the Islamic State (IS) have demonstrated their capacity to strike in each one of Pakistan’s four provinces
  2. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Taliban, publicly claimed responsibility for some of the attacks and threatened to attack further Shia, Ahmadi and Pakistan military targets as part of its ‘Operation Ghazi’
  3. Simple research on Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and other similar groups reveals that their members are homegrown Punjabi jihadis ideologically convinced of their narrow sectarian worldview
  4. But Pakistan’s reaction to the Sehwan attack was to blame groups ‘based in Afghanistan’
  5. Some were silly enough to suggest that the latest wave of attacks was aimed at preventing the Pakistan Super League (which plays its cricket in Dubai due to poor security in Pakistan) from having its final in Pakistan
  6. There was no attempt to answer the question how Afghanistan-based terrorists could travel vast distances within Pakistan without being intercepted by Pakistan’s security services
  7. After all, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which prides itself at being the ‘world’s best intelligence’ service, shows a high degree of efficiency in dealing with secular critics, ranging from little known bloggers to political activists, but is remarkably incompetent at interdicting suicide bombers

Pakistan unable to intercept terrorists:

  1. The only reasonable explanation for why Pakistan is unable to intercept jihadi terrorists targeting its own people is that the state apparatus does not consider jihadis as the enemy in the same manner as they pursue secular Baloch and Muhajir political activists or other critics of Pakistan’s policies
  2. For decades Pakistan has seen jihadi groups as levers of its foreign and security policy and periodic assertions that the policy has changed have proved wrong
  3. Every step against jihadis is followed by one in the opposite direction
  4. The much publicised ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb’ targeted out-of-control Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan but spared groups based in Punjab and Karachi
  5. Hafiz Saeed’s recent detention was accompanied by blocking action against him and Masood Azhar at the U.N. with Chinese support
  6. It is almost as if the Pakistani state is continuously telling jihadis, “Those of you who do not attack inside Pakistan will not get hurt”

Image play:

  1. For Pakistan’s civil and military elite, the priority is Pakistan’s international image and its external relations, not the elimination of terrorism or confronting extremist ideology
  2. Pakistan’s publicly stated view of its terrorist problem is that it is the victim of blowback from its involvement in the anti-Soviet Afghan Jihad during the 1980s
  3. Former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, described Hafiz Saeed as Pakistan’s hero in a well-known interview
  4. He further argued that Pakistan had “brought Mujahideen from around the world” and “trained the Taliban” at a time when Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani and Osama bin Laden were heroes for both the CIA and the Pakistanis

The version of history:

  1. In this version of history, there is little acknowledgement of Pakistan’s role in allowing the ideology of jihad to flourish and grow for two decades after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and the Americans started telling Pakistan to shut down the jihadi enterprise
  2. Pakistanis spend more energy defending themselves against U.S. and Indian criticism over safe havens for the Afghan Taliban than they do on figuring out how to rid Pakistan of the cancer of jihadi terrorism
  3. Twenty-five years have elapsed since then Secretary of State James Baker threatened Pakistan in 1992 that its support of jihadi groups could result in the U.S. declaring Pakistan a State Sponsor of Terrorism
  4. Over a quarter century, Pakistan has offered excuses and explanations as well as made promises that have not been kept
  5. It has itself faced terrorism, lost lives and fought certain terrorist groups
  6. But its essential policy of using jihadi groups for strategic advantage in the region— in Afghanistan, Jammu and Kashmir and against India — has not drastically changed

For strategic advantage:

  1. In the process of securing strategic advantage, Pakistan has unleashed ideologically motivated groups on its soil that have morphed and mutated over time
  2. While groups such as Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa speak of Pakistan’s national interest, other groups such as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar have an ideological perspective that is not limited by the concept of modern nation states
  3. For them, Pakistan is as dispensable as other states for the restoration of an Islamic caliphate and they have a God-given right to kill those they consider un-Islamic

Reverse the trends:

  1. Pakistan must focus on reversing the extremist trends in Pakistani society
  2. Pakistani authorities, specifically the country’s military leaders, who control its foreign and security policies, need to take a comprehensive approach to shutting down all Islamist militant groups that operate from Pakistani territory, not just those that attack the Pakistani state

Note4Students:

Attacks like the recent one in Sehwan demonstrate, Pakistan’s tolerance for terror groups undermines the country. It corrodes stability and civilian governance, damages the investment climate, and inflicts death and injury on thousands of innocent Pakistani citizens. The op-ed is an important read for understanding the next door neighbor and issues prevailing therein.

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