Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India- Sri Lanka Fishermen Issues

2 days back, an article in Hindu caught our eyes. It was – “Indian trawlers are back, say Sri Lanka’s fishermen”. This is not a new issue, in fact, this news piece has it’s own way of making it back to the headlines again and again.

The conflict has also strained both countries’ bilateral ties, with talks at the highest levels and among fisher leaders on both sides proving futile for years.

So, today let us look at this news from a holistic point of view, through this edition of Burning Issue.

  • Indian boats have been fishing in the troubled waters for centuries and had a free run of the Bay of Bengal, the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar until 1974 and 1976 when treaties were signed between the two countries to demarcate the maritime boundary — the ‘International Maritime Boundary Line'(IMBL).
  • However, the treaties failed to factor in the hardship of thousands of traditional Indian fishermen who were forced to restrict themselves to a meager area in their fishing forays.
  • The small islet of Katchatheevu, hitherto used by them for sorting their catch and drying their nets, fell on the Lankan side of the IMBL.
  • Fishermen often risk their lives and cross the IMBL rather than return empty-handed, but the Sri Lankan Navy is on alert, and have either arrested or destroyed fishing nets and vessels of those who have crossed the line.

The Palk Bay

Historically, the shallow waters of the Palk Bay and geographical contiguity between India and Sri Lanka facilitated the movement of ideas, goods, and men.

  • The Palk Bay, a narrow strip of water separating the state of Tamil Nadu in India from the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.
  • The bay, which is 137 km in length and varies from 64 to 137 kilometers in width, is divided by the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
  • Bordering it are five Indian districts and three Sri Lankan districts.

Its significance

  • The bonds of ethnicity, language, and religion helped fishermen lead the lives of harmonious coexistence for several centuries.
  • Frequent migrations between India and Sri Lanka through the Palk Bay took place. Intermarriages were common.
  • However, over the last several decades, internal and bilateral relations have suffered from a range of issues from coastal insecurity to overfishing.

End of the civil war

  • The region has become a highly contested site in recent decades, with the conflict taking on a new dimension since the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009.
  • Now the livelihood of Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen was at stake, thus, the Sri Lankan navy expanded and become more vigilant.
  • In India, the fisheries dispute chiefly began with an internal debate about sovereignty related to the ceding of the island of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka.
  • The problem got exacerbated by the tension between fishermen practicing traditional fishing and those using trawlers.

What are the issues here?

The various dimensions of the fishermen issue between India and Sri Lanka can be encapsulated as follows:

1) Issue over Sovereignty

  • The maritime boundary agreements of 1974 and 1976 delimited international boundaries in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal, respectively.
  • They were concluded by the two governments in the name of good neighbourly relations, but they did not reflect realities on the ground because the people concerned, namely fishermen, were not consulted.
  • The principle of national sovereignty underpinned both agreements.
  • A close personal relationship between both prime ministers, Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, facilitated the successful conclusion.
  • However, from the perspective of Tamil Nadu, the ceding of the island of Katchatheevu in the Palk Bay to Sri Lanka was a grave mistake.

2) Poaching and Trawling

  • Fueling the dispute over Katchatheevu is the overuse of mechanized trawlers in the Palk Bay, the damaging environmental and economic effects of trawling.
  • To increase productivity and boost exports, the government of India embarked on a radical transformation of fishing techniques. The result was the introduction of trawlers.
  • Quick returns from prawns attracted many from non-fishing communities to invest in this profitable venture. As a result, numerous fishermen became wage labourers.
  • Trawlers have since been referred to as the “hoovers of the shelf bottom” and “bulldozers mowing down fish and other benthic species.
  • After their introduction, the Indian side of the Palk Bay quickly became devoid of fish.

3) Tougher laws

  • After some respite in the last couple of years, Sri Lanka introduced tougher laws banning bottom-trawling and put heavy fines for trespassing foreign vessels.
  • Crossing the IMBL poses a greater threat as Sri Lanka has amended its Foreign Fisheries Boats Regulation Act to increase the fine on Indian vessels found fishing in Sri Lankan waters to a minimum of LKR 6 million (about ₹25 lakh) and a maximum of LKR 175 million (about ₹17.5 Crore).

4) Fisherman’s concerns

  • There is a depletion of fisheries on the Indian side, so Indian fishermen cross into Sri Lankan waters thus denying the livelihood of their counterparts.
  • They deliberately cross the territorial waters even at the risk of getting arrested or shot dead by the Sri Lankan Navy.
  • Sri Lankan fishermen across Palk Bay are concerned over similar depletion on their side (where there is a ban for trawlers) because of poaching by their brethren from Tamil Nadu.
  • Apart from enforcing the trawler ban, the Sri Lankan Navy has also stepped up the monitoring of coasts, especially those that are proximate to India. The idea is to prevent any movement of remnant militants back into the island.

Implications on the fishermen

  • The ongoing dispute has escalated tensions between those fishermen using traditional methods and those using mechanized methods, as well as increased the infringement of territorial boundaries.
  • According to the government of Tamil Nadu, the sufferings of Indian Tamil fishermen is a direct consequence of ceding Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka and sacrificing the traditional fishing rights enjoyed by Indian fishermen.
  • In a defiant speech on August 15, 1991, Jayalalitha called on the people of Tamil Nadu to retrieve the island.

Averting a Crisis

  • The underlying issues of the fisheries dispute need to be addressed, so that relations between fishermen and their governments, between Tamil Nadu and New Delhi, and between Tamil Nadu and Colombo do not reach a crisis point.
  • Immediate actions should be taken to begin the phase-out of trawling and identify other fishing practices.
  • Katchatheevu Issue: The unilateral abrogation of the maritime boundary agreement on India’s part would cause irreparable damage to India’s image. Need to stay away from politics here.

Alternative solutions

  • Leasing: Two courses of action exist: (1) get back the island of Katchatheevu on “lease in perpetuity” or (2) permit licensed Indian fishermen to fish within a designated area of Sri Lankan waters and vice versa.
  • Licensing: The second course of action would persuade Colombo to permit licensed Indian fishermen to fish in Sri Lankan waters for five nautical miles from the IMBL.
  • There is precedent in the 1976 boundary agreement, which allowed licensed Sri Lankan fishermen to fish in the Wadge Bank (a fertile fishing ground located near Kanyakumari) for a period of three years.
  • Reconsidering old agreements: A window of opportunity opened at the end of India–Sri Lanka foreign secretary consultations in July 2003, when the Sri Lankan government agreed for the first time to consider proposals for licensed fishing. This can be revisited.

Looping in fishermen themselves

  • Though the idea of meetings among fishermen was conceptualized way back in 2003, it was not pursued seriously.
  • Arranging frequent meetings between fishing communities of both countries could be systematized so as to develop a friendlier atmosphere mid-seas during fishing.
  • Starting ferry services between India and Sri Lanka can improve people to people linkages. Mutual recognition of each other’s concerns and interests can improve the relationship between both countries.
  • Media personnel can be invited to witness those practical issues confronted by the fishermen in each country. This would make a qualitative difference in reporting.

Way Forward

  • Action should be taken immediately to end the use of mechanized trawlers within one year, and the government should implement a buy-back arrangement as soon as possible.
  • Through incentives and persuasion, fishermen from the Palk Bay could be encouraged to switch over to deep-sea fishing in the Indian exclusive economic zone and in international waters.
  • Social security reforms for the fishermen community is necessary to empower them.
  • Diversification of livelihood options of fishermen.
  • Improving the fishing industry by itself like there is huge untapped potential for processed foods which will not only boost infrastructure in this sector but also reduce wastages.

Conclusion

The success of diplomacy lies in converting a crisis into an opportunity. If New Delhi and Tamil Nadu are determined, they can create a win-win scenario in the Palk Bay.

Overall, if the fishermen issue is not approached holistically, the marine frontiers between India and Sri Lanka will remain fishy and troubled. Ultimately, India must view the Palk Bay region as a common heritage of the two countries and project this vision.

 

 

 


References

https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/indian-trawlers-are-back-say-sri-lankas-fishermen/article32024955.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/why-are-several-tn-fishermen-in-trouble-with-the-sri-lankan-navy/article22716002.ece

https://carnegieindia.org/2016/09/09/india-sri-lanka-fisheries-dispute-creating-win-win-in-palk-bay-pub-64538

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/peace-at-bay-why-the-india-lanka-fishing-issue-continues-to-fester/articleshow/72349257.cms

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0974928417749643

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Education in Times of COVID-19

 

Many countries are suggesting various levels of containment in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With these worries, schools and universities are closing down and moving abruptly to online platforms and remote education. This sudden change has us asking, “Is the education system in India on a verge of collapse?”

Context

Sometime in the second week of March, governments across the country began shutting down schools and colleges temporarily as a measure to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. It’s been almost four months. The debate over future of education has led to various concerns among students, parents, educational institutions as well as policymakers.

Social distance and Education

Schools, Colleges and various Institutes across the globe are simply instructed to limit the exposure of susceptible student population. This includes measure such as-

  • School closures
  • Postponing/rescheduling examinations
  • Cleaning and sanitization of premises
  • Consideration of long-term contingency

How Education has been impacted so far?

1) Delays

  • Standardized testing and school admissions are being delayed across the country.
  • Some states have opted to cancel or delay standardized testing, while others are thinking of extending the school year due to delays and many missed days of school.

2) Challenges for staff and students

  • Adaption issues: As school and university staff learn how to convert their lessons to online platforms, both students and staff are learning how to deal with remote learning and communication.
  • Overnight change: Though technology has already had a big hand in most school affairs, the new dependence on technology for every aspect of education is forced to occur overnight.

3) Learning impairments

  • Lack of concentration: Younger children, as well as specially-abled students, find it difficult to concentrate on full capacity with online educational tools.
  • Young children need the assistance of in-person instruction and may find it difficult to concentrate on a typical frontal class conducted on a computer.
  • Specially-abled ones: Students with special needs, who also rely on in-person instruction, may find it especially difficult to switch to online platforms.
  • These difficulties may require a more unique approach to online learning or may demand the extra assistance of parents as these students navigate a new educational paradigm.

4) Fear of dropouts and child labour

  • Disadvantaged, at-risk, or homeless children are more unlikely to return to school after the closures are ended, and the effect will often be a life-long disadvantage from lost opportunities.
  • A livelihood loss for low earning families has drawn severe triggers for dropouts and child labour as well.

5) Productivity and employment

  • The pandemic has significantly disrupted the higher education sector as well, which is a critical determinant of a country’s economic future.
  • A large number of Indian students—second only to China—enroll in universities abroad, especially in countries worst affected by the pandemic, the US, UK, Australia and China.
  • Many such students have now been barred from leaving these countries. If the situation persists, in the long run, a decline in the demand for international higher education is expected.
  • Recent graduates in India fear the withdrawal of job offers from corporates because of the current situation.

6) Strain on the health-care system

  • Women make up almost 70% of the health care workforce, exposing them to a greater risk of infection.
  • They often cannot attend work because of childcare obligations that result from school closures.
  • This means that many medical professionals are not at the facilities where they are most needed during a health crisis.

Consequences: A setback beyond closures

  • Children have fewer opportunities of learning from home. Further, closure of schools is likely to lead to parents missing work, in order to stay at home and take care of the children.
  • This also affects productivity, incurs a loss in wages, consequently affecting the community and the economy as a whole.
  • Midday meals: Schools in India also have a social element attached to them. With closed schools, the health and nutrition of students will be affected, especially schedule caste and scheduled tribes.

Response to the Crisis

The Indian government has taken cognizance of the untapped potential of e-learning.

E-VIDYA: The one-nation-one platform facility through the PM E-Vidya platform and a dedicated channel for students from Class 1 to Class 12 will liberalize distance and online learning regulatory framework. Moreover, emphasis on community radio, podcasts, and customized content for differently-abled will enable more inclusivity into access to education.

Rise of MOOCS: The UGC has encouraged them to adopt massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered on its SWAYAM platform for credit transfers in the coming semesters.

Encouraging VidyaDaan: The Union HRD Ministry has e-launched VidyaDaan 2.0 program for inviting e-learning content contributions. ‘Vidya Daan’ is a digital program to enable contributions to improve teaching & learning.

Distant Learning has its limitations

In India, 320 million students have been affected by COVID-19 school closures. Needless to say, the pandemic has transformed the centuries-old, chalk–talk teaching model to one driven by technology. Online learning has become a critical lifeline for education, which has its inherent limitations.

1) Digital illiteracy and Lack of technology access

  • “Online teaching” ignores India’s immense digital divide—with embedded gender and class divides.

  • Digital illiteracy and lack of access to technology or fast, reliable internet access prevent students in rural areas and from disadvantaged families.
  • It is an obstacle to continued learning, especially for students from disadvantaged families.

2) Unequal access to educational resources

  • Lack of limitations and exceptions costly paid courses can also have an impact on the ability of students to access the textbooks and materials they need to study.
  • Several initiatives are now being taken by the government to grant that students and teachers can have access to open educational resources or understand copyright limitations.

3) Nutrition and food insecurity

  • Nutrition plays a critical role in cognitive development and academic performance for children.
  • Many children rely on free or discounted meals at schools or the food under the Midday Meal Scheme.
  • When schools close, nutrition is especially compromised for children.

4) Passive learning

  • India is a country where the backbone for online learning is not yet ready and the curriculum was never designed for such a format.
  • The sudden shift to online learning without any planning has created the risk of most of our students becoming passive learners and they seem to be losing interest due to low levels of attention span.
  • We are now beginning to realize that online learning could be dull as it is creating a new set of passive learners which can pose new challenges.

Lessons learned during the Lockdown

While lamentable, the disruption to education systems worldwide offers valuable lessons and provides a unique opportunity to reimagine education, the curriculum, and pedagogy.

The current system gives a disproportionate emphasis on information transfer and not the knowledge.

1) The digital divide needs to be bridged

  • Technology has the potential to achieve universal quality education and improve learning outcomes.
  • But in order to unleash its potential, the digital divide (and its embedded gender divide) must be addressed.
  • Digital capabilities, the required infrastructure, and connectivity must reach the remotest and poorest communities.
  • Access to technology and the internet is an urgent requirement in the information age. It should no longer be a luxury.

2) The curriculum needs a revamp

  • While teachers are struggling to learn digital ways of communicating with their students, it is clear that we need to pay close attention to what we teach.
  • This crisis is teaching us that curricula must be grounded in students’ realities, cultivating critical, creative, and flexible thinking, resilience, and empathy in students.
  • Developing a symbiotic relationship with our environment has taken on a new urgency, and teachers must help students think about their relationship with the universe and everyone and everything in it.
  • Now is the time for governments to integrate such a curriculum into the national curricular framework.

3) A wider cadre of teachers need to be created

  • This crisis is forcing teachers to reinvent their roles from that of transferring information to enabling learning.
  • The shift to distance learning has afforded many opportunities to teach differently, encouraging self-learning, providing opportunities to learn from diverse resources, and allowing customized learning for diverse needs through high-tech and low-tech sources.

4) Empowering the community with resources

  • Continuing education amid school closures has also taught us an important lesson about the role of the community in teaching our children.
  • Improving the education system requires a decentralized, democratic community-based approach, where community ownership of education is cultivated.
  • Important for this is the hiring of local teachers (with adequate Dalit and female representation), which increases teachers’ accountability to children’s families and their ability to empathize with students’ lives.

UNESCO recommendations

The UNESCO has made these recommendations for engaging in online learning:

  • Develop distance learning rules and monitor students’ learning process: Define the rules with parents and students on distance learning. Design formative questions, tests, or exercises to monitor closely students’ learning process.
  • Examine the readiness and choose the most relevant tools: Decide on the use of high-technology and low-technology solutions based on the reliability and availability of resources. This could range through integrated digital learning platforms, video lessons, MOOCs, to broadcasting through radios and TVs.
  • Ensure inclusion of the distance learning programmes: Implement measures to ensure that students including those with disabilities or from low-income backgrounds have access to distance learning programmes if only a limited number of them have access to digital devices.
  • Prioritize solutions to address psychosocial challenges before teaching: Create communities to ensure regular human interactions, enable social caring measures, and address possible psychosocial challenges that students may face when they are isolated.
  • Plan the study schedule of the distance learning programmes: Plan the schedule depending on the situation of the affected zones, level of studies, needs of students’ needs, and availability of parents.
  • Provide support to teachers and parents on the use of digital tools: Organise brief training or orientation sessions for teachers and parents as well, if monitoring and facilitation are needed.
  • Blend appropriate approaches and limit the number of applications and platforms: Blend tools or media that are available for most students, both for synchronous communication and lessons and for asynchronous learning.
  • Define the duration of distance learning units based on students’ self-regulation skills: Keep a coherent timing according to the level of the students’ self-regulation and abilities especially for live-streaming classes. Preferably, the unit for primary school students should not be more than 20 minutes, and no longer than 40 minutes for secondary school students.
  • Create communities and enhance connection: Create communities of teachers, parents, and school managers to address a sense of loneliness or helplessness, facilitate sharing of experience and discussion on coping strategies when facing learning difficulties.

Way Forward

A multi-pronged strategy is necessary to manage the crisis and build a resilient Indian education system in the long term.

Immediate measures like Open-source digital learning solutions and Learning Management Software should be adopted so teachers can conduct teaching online.

The DIKSHA platform, with reach across all states in India, can be further strengthened to ensure accessibility of learning to the students.

It is important to reconsider the current delivery and pedagogical methods in school and higher education by seamlessly integrating classroom learning with e-learning modes to build a unified learning system.

There is an information explosion in India. It is important to establish quality assurance mechanisms and quality benchmark for online learning developed and offered by India HEIs as well as e-learning platforms that are experiencing a boom.

Conclusion

Online classes are no substitutes for classroom lectures for a variety of reasons. The digital divide is one off the reason. Surely, it should be built as a complementary tool.

 

 

 


References

https://government.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/education/covid-19-pandemic-impact-and-strategies-for-education-sector-in-india/75173099

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2020/05/14/covid-19-in-india-education-disrupted-and-lessons-learned/

http://confluence.ias.ac.in/the-impact-of-the-coronavirus-sars-cov-2-on-the-education-sector-in-india/

https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/featurephilia/story/covid-19-4-negative-impacts-and-4-opportunities-created-for-education-1677206-2020-05-12

http://bweducation.businessworld.in/article/Decoding-COVID-19-Impact-On-Indian-Education-/05-06-2020-194419/

https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/impact-of-coronavirus-on-education/

https://www.indiaeducation.net/resources/articles/impact-of-coronavirus-on-education.html

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] US Visa Ban and its Impact on India

We have been having a bad summer! The Nepalese have face-palmed us, the Chinese have taken our territory and let not forget the Covid crisis. Now Donald Trump has dealt a blow to thousands aspiring for a career in the US.

The US administration extended the 60-day ban on immigration and non-immigrant worker visas till the end of 2020. Popular work visas including the much-coveted H-1B and H-2B, and certain categories of H-4, J, and L visas would also remain suspended until December 31.

Apart from the suspension of these work visas, the executive order signed by Trump has also made sweeping changes to the H-1B work visa norms, which will no longer be decided by the currently prevalent lottery system. The new norms will now favour highly-skilled workers who are paid the highest wages by their respective companies.

What are H-1B, H-2B, L and other work visas?

  • In order to fill a vacuum of highly-skilled low-cost employees in IT and other related domains, the US administration issues a certain number of visas each year which allows companies from outside the US to send employees to work on client sites.
  • Of these work visas, the H-1B remains the most popular among Indian IT companies.
  • The US government has a cap of 85,000 total H-1B visas for each year.

Here are the visas that have been put on hold till December 2020:

1) H-1B visa

What is it: The H-1B visa category covers individuals who “work in a speciality occupation, engage in cooperative research and development projects administered by the US Department of Defense or are fashion models that have national or international acclaim and recognition.”

Who’s covered: The H-1B is most well known as a visa for skilled tech workers, but other industries, like health care and the media, also use these visas.

2) H-2B visa

What it is: According to USCIS, the H-2B program allows US employers or agents “to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs.”

Who’s covered: They generally apply to seasonal workers in industries like landscaping, forestry, hospitality and construction.

3) J-1 visa

What it is: The J-1 visa is an exchange visitor visa for individuals approved to participate in work-and-study-based exchange visitor programs in the United States.

Who’s covered:
The impacted people include interns, trainees, teachers, camp counsellors, au pairs and participants in summer work travel programs.

4) L-1 visa

What it is: The L1 Visa is reserved for managerial or executive professionals transferring to the US from within the same company, or a subsidiary of it. The L1 Visa can also be used for a foreign company opening up US operations.

Who’s covered: Within the L1 Visa, there are two subsidiary types of visas

  • L1A visa for managers and executives.
  • L1B visa for those with specialized knowledge.

The story of work visas

  • The 1952 scheme: Since it was started in 1952, the H-1 visa scheme has undergone many changes and revisions to allow or disallow certain categories of skilled workers in the US, depending on the economic situation of the country.
  • Harnessing the technology boom: The technology boom coupled with the arrival of the internet and low-cost computers in developing nations such as India and China saw a large number of graduates willing to work at relatively low costs in the US.
  • This is often the win-win situation for both the employer in the US and the employee.
  • Bypassing Americans: However, it has since often been criticised for sending low-cost workers to the US at the expense of domestic workers.

Trumps in ‘The Protectionism’

  • Donald Trump coming to power: In January 2017, after taking over as the president of the US, Trump had hinted that the low-cost workers were hampering the economy and undercutting jobs of citizens.
  • Delivering election vendetta: The US had then hinted at reforming the “broken” H-1B visa system.
  • COVID uncertainties: Trump seized the opportunity provided by the economic contraction due to Covid-19 by first banning the entry of non-immigrant workers till June 23, and then extending it till December 31.
  • Sudden unemployment: The White House reasoned that the ongoing pandemic has “significantly disrupted Americans’ livelihoods”, to the extent that the overall unemployment rate quadrupled between February and May 2020 to a little over 13%.

Motive behind the visa ban

  • Breaking the chain: The ban implies that U.S. firms or others with U.S. operations who rely on skilled foreign nationals working in the U.S. will be unable to make new hires as long as the ban stands.
  • Looming slowdown: Many firms are unlikely to do any hiring at this economically depressed time.
  • Upcoming elections’ agenda: As per popular opinion, this is a method by the US President to reach out to the voter base.
  • Yet again- ‘America first’: Trump would take all moves to build political capital in the name of the “America First” mantra — a foregone conclusion given his outspokenness on the subject to date.

Who all does it impact?

  • The visa ban means those who do not have a valid non-immigrant visa as of June 23 and are outside of the US, will not be allowed to enter the country until December 31.
  • Workers in essential services in the food sector have been given some reprieve, and their entry shall be decided by the consular officer of immigration services.
  • H-1B, H-2B, J and L visa holders, and their spouse or children already present in the US shall not be impacted by the new worker visa ban.
  • H-1B visas are generally approved for a period of three years for a person, but many visa holders change employers to extend their US stay.
  • Foreign nationals outside the US, who were to begin work on an H-1B visa or even L-1 visas (intra-company transfer) – but do not as yet hold a valid visa, as well as dependents who were to accompany them (be it spouses or dependent children) will have to wait longer, till the ban expires.

Will Indian corporations be hit?

This visa ban come at a crucial inflexion point for the Indian economy when restrictions on the movement of people and goods slowly will be lifted after India passes its peak viral case numbers. This would create a knock-on effect from IT to other sectors.

1) IT sector

  • Indian IT companies are amongst the biggest beneficiaries of the US H-1B visa regime and have since the 1990s cornered a lion’s share of the total number of visas issued each year.
  • As of April 1, 2020, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had received about 2.5 lakh H-1B work visa applications, according to official data.
  • Indians had applied for as many as 1.84 lakh or 67 per cent of the total H-1B work visas for the current financial year ending March 2021.
  • India’s IT services exports to the U.S., which depend significantly on the H-1B visa, have been an important constituent element of bilateral economic trade.
  • Though the large Indian IT companies have cut down their dependency on H-1B and other worker visas by hiring as much as 50 per cent of staff locally, they still rely on these visas to keep costs in check.

2) Highly skilled workers

  • Favouring highest-paid worker could result in a significant impact on margins and worker wages of Indian IT companies which send thousands of low-cost employees to work on client sites in the US.
  • This, in turn, impacts their remuneration in the long term.

Silver lining

  • Newer opportunities for Indian high skilled workers in the IT sector in other countries outside of the US will be explored after this ban.
  • H1B1 has drawn away from the best talent from India for decades. This move may cause reverse brain gain for better growth of the Indian tech industry.
  • These would in turn benefit innovation, R&D for nurturing the growing start-up sector in India.
  • Most of the companies have become capable of handling their work remotely in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has provided resilience to the Indian tech sector against international mobility restrictions.
  • With this ban, already employed skilled workers from India may get higher salaries which in turn would increase the inflow of remittances.

Criticism within the US

  • Google CEO Sunder Pichai has expressed disappointment over the proclamation, and said he would stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all.
  • He said that immigration has contributed immensely to America’s economic success, making it a global leader in tech, and also Google the company it is today.
  • The ban on issuing visas will harm employers, families, universities, hospitals, communities, and delay America’s economic recovery.

Impact on bilateral ties

  • An internal matter for the US: The freezing of non-immigration work visas is more of a US election-related issue rather than an indication of any mutual problems between India and the US.
  • India & the US share global strategic partnership, based on shared democratic values and similarity of interests on bilateral, regional and global issues.
  • However despite this strong bond and despite hectic talks at diplomatic levels between India and the US, the Trump administration decided in favour of implementing the ban.
  • The issue becomes a sensitive one as US cooperation becomes strategically necessary for India amid its border tensions and skirmishes with China.

Way Forward

  • For its benefits, the US should amend the H-1B programme, not end it.
  • Immigrants have played a crucial role in making the USA a global leader in cutting edge technology.
  • Suspending the visas will only weaken the USA’s economy and its health care workforce at a time when there is a need to strengthen both.
  • Politics should not trump smart policy and the ingenuity of migrant workers should be harnessed to revive an economy in dire straits.

Conclusion

  • India needs to keep the US on its side for strategic and security reasons.
  • But the immediate future of the relationship depends on the upcoming US presidential elections.
  • If India-US relationship is a defining one for this century, as PM Modi has said, the visa ban decision should not let this sour in.
  • Lastly, we can conclude that the US has maligned its image of being the global ambassador of Liberalism.

 

 

 


References

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/us-h1b-visa-suspension-india-it-companies-6471966/

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/the-hindu-explains-how-will-the-us-visa-ban-impact-india/article31935322.ece

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/nri/visa-and-immigration/trumps-h1-b-order-makes-it-impossible-for-many-indians-to-return-to-their-lives-in-the-us/articleshow/76663260.cms?from=mdr

https://www.theweek.in/news/biz-tech/2020/06/23/how-will-trump-H1B-visa-ban-affect-indians.html

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Rajya Sabha and Its Functioning

The Rajya Sabha elections were recently concluded. Leaving aside the tussle for majority in Rajya sabha(to get bills passed), this body has been in news for many reasons. One of the primary debate also questions the very need of an upper house. So, in today’s article we will talk about THE House of elders. The voting procedure, functions and analysis on it’s present need – yes! everything is written below.

The Rajya Sabha

  • The Rajya Sabha or Council of States is the upper house of the bicameral Parliament.
  • It currently has a maximum membership of 245, of which 233 are elected by the legislatures of the states and union territories using single transferable votes through Open Ballot.
  • The President can appoint 12 members for their contributions to art, literature, science, and social services.
  • Members sit for terms lasting six years, with elections every year but almost a third of the 233 designates up for election every two years, specifically in even-numbered years.

A Historical background

  • The Rajya Sabha came into being on April 3, 1952, and held its first session on May 13 the same year.
  • The Constituent Assembly, which was formed in 1947, after the adoption of the Constitution became the Provisional Parliament and made laws till 1952.

Before its existence

  • The central legislature that came into being under the Government of India Act, 1919 was bicameral.
  • Under 1919 Act, Council of States had 60 members and Legislative Assembly had 145 members.
  • The membership and voting norms for the Council of States were restrictive. These restrictions meant only wealthy landowners, merchants and those with legislative experience could enter it.
  • Women could neither vote nor seek membership.
  • The Government of India Act, 1935 proposed an elaborate and improved version of the second chamber, but this never materialized.

Elections to the Rajya Sabha

Qualifications

Article 84 of the Constitution lays down the qualifications for membership of Parliament. A member of the Rajya Sabha must:

  • Be a citizen of India; Be at least 30 years old. (Article 84 constitution of India)
  • Be elected by the Legislative Assembly of States and UTs by means of the single transferable vote through proportional representation.
  • Not be: a proclaimed criminal, a subject of an insolvent, of unsound mind.
  • Not hold any other office of profit under the Government of India.
  • Possess such other qualifications as may be prescribed in that behalf by or under any law made by Parliament.

In addition, twelve members are nominated by the President of India having special knowledge in various areas like arts and science. However, they are not entitled to vote in Presidential elections as per Article 55 of the Constitution.

Election procedure

  • Candidates fielded by political parties have to be proposed by at least 10 members of the Assembly or 10% of the party’s strength in the House, whichever is less.
  • For independents, there should be 10 proposers, all of whom should be members of the Assembly.

Voting procedure

  • Voting is by single transferable vote, as the election is held on the principle of proportional representation.
  • A single transferable vote means electors can vote for any number of candidates in order of their preference.
  • A candidate requires a specified number of first preference votes to win. Each first choice vote has a value of 100 in the first round.
  • To qualify, a candidate needs one point more than the quotient obtained by dividing the total value of the number of seats for which elections are taking place plus one.
  • The formula simply is [(Number of MLAs X 100) / (Vacancies + 1)] + 1.

Example: If there are four seats and 180 MLAs voting, the qualifying number will be 180/5= 36 votes or value of 3,600.

Note: The Rajya Sabha polls have a system of the open ballot, but it is a limited form of openness. There is a system of each party MLA showing his or her marked ballots to the party’s authorised agent (called Whip), before they are put into the ballot box.

The NOTA option has been struck down by the Supreme Court in RS elections.

The Power Equation: Lok Sabha Vs Rajya Sabha

The Indian Constitution provides for parity of powers between the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in law, making an exception in some cases.

The Money Bill or Finance Bills can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha which only can approve the Demands for Grants.

On the other hand, the Rajya Sabha has some special powers as requiring adopting a resolution allowing Parliament to legislate on subjects in the State List and creating All India Services, besides approving proclamations of Emergency and President’s Rule when the Lok Sabha is dissolved.

Renowned British philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill as early as in 1861 said in his great treatise Considerations on Representative Government that management of free institutions requires conciliation; a readiness to compromise; a willingness to concede something to opponents and mutual give and take. Truly, Rajya sabha plays this role in Indian legislature.

In detail: Powers and Functions of the Rajya Sabha

1. Legislative Powers:

  • In the sphere of ordinary law-making, the Rajya Sabha enjoys equal powers with the Lok Sabha. An ordinary bill can be introduced in the Rajya Sabha and it cannot become a law unless passed by it.
  • In case of a deadlock between the two Houses of Parliament over an ordinary bill and if it remains unresolved for six months, the President can convene a joint sitting of the two Houses for resolving the deadlock.
  • This joint sitting is presided over by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. But if the deadlock is not resolved, the bill is deemed to have been killed.

2. Financial Powers:

  • In the financial sphere, the Rajya Sabha is a weak House.
  • A money bill cannot be introduced in the Rajya Sabha. It can be initiated only in the Lok Sabha.
  • A money bill passed by the Lok Sabha comes before the Rajya Sabha for its consideration.

3. Executive Powers:

  • Members of the Rajya Sabha can exercise some control over the ministers by criticizing their policies, by asking questions and moving motions etc.
  • Some of the ministers are also taken from the Rajya Sabha. The PM can also be from Rajya Sabha if the majority party in the Lok Sabha may elect/adopt him as its leader.

4. Electoral Powers:

  • The Rajya Sabha has some electoral powers also. The elected members of the Rajya Sabha along with the elected members of the Lok Sabha and all the State Legislative Assemblies together elect the President of India.
  • The members of the Rajya Sabha Lok Sabha together elect the Vice- President of India.
  • Members of the Rajya Sabha also elect a Deputy Chairman from amongst themselves.

5. Judicial Powers:

  • The RS acting along with the Lok Sabha can impeach the President on charges of violation of the Constitution.
  • The RS can also pass a special address for causing the removal of a judge of the Supreme Court or of any High Court.
  • The charges against the Vice-President can be levelled only in the RS.
  • The RS can pass a resolution for the removal of some high officers like the Attorney General of India, Comptroller and Auditor General and Chief Election Commissioner.

6. Miscellaneous Powers:

The Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha jointly perform the following functions:

  • Approval of the ordinances issued by the President,
  • Ratification of an emergency proclamation,
  • Making any change in the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, and
  • Making any change in the qualifications for the membership of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

7. Exclusive Powers

The Rajya Sabha enjoys two exclusive powers:

(i) The Power to declare a subject of State List as a subject of National Importance:

The Rajya Sabha can pass a resolution by 2/3rd majority of its members for declaring a State List subject as a subject of national importance. Such a resolution empowers the Union Parliament to legislate on such a state subject for a period of one year. Such resolutions can be repeatedly passed by the Rajya Sabha.

(ii) Power in respect of Creation or Abolition of an All India Service:

The Rajya Sabha has the power to create one or more new All India Services. It can do so by passing a resolution supported by 2/3rd majority on the plea of national interest. In a similar way, the Rajya Sabha can disband an existing All India Service.

Limitations to its powers

The Constitution places some restrictions on Rajya Sabha; the Lok Sabha is more powerful in certain areas as such:

1. Money bills

  • A money bill can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha by a minister and only on recommendation of President of India.
  • When the Lok Sabha passes a money bill then the Lok Sabha sends money bill to the Rajya Sabha for 14 days during which it can make recommendations.
  • Even if Rajya Sabha fails to return the money bill in 14 days to the Lok Sabha, that bill is deemed to have passed by both the Houses.

Also, if the Lok Sabha rejects any (or all) of the amendments proposed by the Rajya Sabha, the bill is deemed to have been passed. Hence, Rajya Sabha can only give recommendations for a money bill but Rajya Sabha cannot amend a money bill.

There is no joint sitting of both the houses with respect to money bills, because all final decisions are taken by the Lok Sabha.

2. Joint Sitting of the Parliament

  • Article 108 provides for a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament in certain cases.
  • Considering that the numerical strength of Lok Sabha is more than twice that of Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha tends to have a greater influence in a joint sitting of Parliament.  A joint session is chaired by the Speaker of Lok Sabha.

Joint sessions of Parliament are a rarity, and have been convened only three times in last 71 years, for the purpose of passage of a specific legislative act, the latest time being in 2002:

  • 1961: Dowry Prohibition Act, 1958
  • 1978: Banking Services Commission (Repeal) Act, 1977
  • 2002: Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002

 3. No confidence motion:

    • The Union Council of Ministers is collectively responsible before the Lok Sabha and not the Rajya Sabha.
    • Lok Sabha alone can cause the fall of the Council of Ministers by passing a vote of no-confidence.

Rajya Sabha: A destructionist?

  • An analysis by the Secretariat revealed that the productivity of the Rajya Sabha till 1997 has been 100% and above and the past 23 years have thrown up a disturbing trend of rising disruptions.
  • This decline is primarily on account of disruptions forcing cancellation of Question Hour frequently. Disruptions also dent the quality of law-making as seen in passing of Bills without discussion sometimes.
  • However, the Rajya Sabha is proving to be more and more a ‘deliberative’ body with increasingly more time being spent on this function.
  • According to various members of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha has done nothing except stalling legislative works and causing policy paralysis in the country.
  • For critics, the Upper House serves no purpose as its members are not directly elected and hence are not accountable to the people.
  • Rajya Sabha often has members from the party defeated in various elections, or are from political families, and due to political differences, they do not allow passage of important bills.
  • So many extra members are an added burden on exchequer which can be done away with.
  • Politics of boycotting and creating ruckus in the house and toeing on the party-line even on the issue that won’t attract disqualification provisions is a worrying thing.
  • At the same time, in terms of working, Rajya Sabha does not have sufficient powers in financial matters to bring any change and they are without any direct public interaction. Hence its purpose in modern democracy seems outdated.

Importance of Rajya Sabha and Why It Should Continue

  • According to President Radhakrishnan, there are functions, which a revising chamber like Rajya Sabha can fulfil fruitfully. Parliament is not only a legislative but a deliberative body. So far as its deliberative functions are concerned, Rajya Sabha has made very valuable contributions time and again.
  • It’s true that party dynamics affects the working of Rajya Sabha. But in democracy passion often defeat the normal rationality. Thus a revising house is needed to check such adrenal rush.
  • While the argument of members not able to win in direct elections holds true, but retaining talent is essential for any democratic system. Losing valuable talent during election fervours has mostly been corrected by Rajya Sabha. It has also given entry to other experts like scientist, artist, sportsmen etc that can rarely face the electoral politics.
  • While Lok Sabha have members for each state, the Hindi belt domination is a constant theme. Hence other state interests, like those in North East, have always been taken up by the Rajya Sabha.
  • While it can’t bring no confidence motion or amend money bill, its role in checking arbitrariness of government, as reflected in Land Ordinance, is necessary in democracy. Besides its special role in All India Services, legislation in State List too necessitates its existence.
  • Men and women of prodigious talent and calibre have adorned the benches of the upper house and have contributed significantly towards realising the vision of the founding fathers of the Constitution.
  • A permanent Upper House is also a check against any abrupt changes in the composition of the Lower House.
  • Rajya Sabha has continuity and is a permanent house.
  • Unlike Lok Sabha, it cannot be dissolved by anyone. Thus it has, time and often, carried out some administrative functions even when the lower house is dissolved. It has members with experienced players while there may be new entrants in the Lok Sabha.

By virtue of this, Rajya Sabha can’t be said to be ‘obstructive’.

Conclusion

A study of the powers of the Rajya Sabha leads us to the conclusion that it is neither a very weak house like the British House of Lords nor a very powerful house as the American Senate. Its position is somewhat mid-way between the two. It has been less powerful than Lok Sabha but it has been not a very weak or insignificant House.

Instead of engaging in the debate of if we need upper house or not, more constructive outlook would be improve it’s functioning. Clearly, the recommendations are present from NCRWC to 2nd ARC. The need is implementation and political support.

 

Try this question from our AWE Initiative:

How far do you agree with the view that Rajya Sabha has done nothing exceptional in last 70 years except stalling work and therefore it should be abolished? (10 Marks)


References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajya_Sabha

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/explained-how-are-elections-to-the-rajya-sabha-held/

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/comment-do-numbers-matter-in-rajya-sabha/article31569127.ece

https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/political-science/rajya-sabha-functions-and-powers-of-the-rajya-sabha/40342

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India’s Ailing Health Sector and Coronavirus

Healthcare is LITERALLY the talk of the town right now. But for all the wrong reasons. Whether it is the lack of beds/ventilators or high cost of treatment, COVID has amplified our present deficiencies.  Like rest of the world, Indians are for the first time so singularly focused on healthcare and public health amid this pandemic. And everyone suddenly wants to fix healthcare!

Confucius, it is said, once observed, “a seed grows with no sound, but a tree falls with huge noise. Destruction has noise, but creation is quiet”. As we all know, the world is at a crossroads. With COVID-19, many of our beliefs and the systems we follow are bound to change OR even get collapsed!

Healthcare in India: A Background

  • The Indian Constitution has incorporated the responsibility of the state in ensuring basic nutrition, basic standard of living, public health, protection of workers, special provisions for disabled persons, and other health standards, which were described under Articles 39, 41, 42, and 47 in the DPSP.
  • Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides for the right to life and personal liberty and is a fundamental right.
  • Public Health comes under the state list.
  • India’s expenditure on healthcare has shot up substantially in the past few years; it is still very low in comparison to the peer nations (at approx. 1.28% of GDP).

All-time Paradoxes of Indian Healthcare

(1) Healthcare is a fundamental right, but it is not fundamentally right in India:

The Supreme Court has held healthcare to be a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The expenditure on healthcare is one of the lowest in the world, lower than nations with similar economic growth rates. Though our economy has grown robustly post-liberalization, investment in healthcare has consistently hovered around 1% of the GDP. In the 2020-21 Budget, it was 1.02% of overall expenditure.

(2) Sector attracts investments, but delivery remains contentious:

India’s healthcare sector has attracted a steady stream of investments, albeit at the higher end of the value chain — the secondary & tertiary care. Lack of penetration, inflated billing, opaqueness in diagnosis, and poor quality of service has ensured that most Indians get treated below the standards prescribed by the WHO.

(3) Among the cheapest in the world, yet unaffordable for most locally:

Healthcare in India is cheap. For example: Compared to India, the cost of a knee replacement treatment is over twenty times more in the US and double in Malaysia. Yet India has one of the world’s highest rates of out-of-pocket spending in healthcare. There are millions in India who cannot afford these procedures in their own country.

(4) Less than one doctor for 1,000 patients, but medical tourism booms:

India treated 3.6 lakh foreign patients in 2016 and the country’s medical tourism market is expected to grow to $7-8 billion by 2020. The doctor-patient ratio in India is less than the WHO-prescribed limit of 1:1000. There is a dearth of medical schools and clinicians.

Most hospitals in India are overburdened, understaffed, and ill-equipped. However, all this has not prevented the private healthcare sector to establish sophisticated medical tourism facilities on the plank of ‘world-class service at low cost’.

(5) Stark divergence in healthcare outcomes within the country:

Healthcare being a state subject, the healthcare outcomes have remained divergent based on the quality of the state administration. While North India is the most populated part of India, it has one of the most undeserved healthcare infrastructures in the country.

Is India prepared to face this pandemic?

  • Current health infrastructure in India paints a dismal picture of the healthcare delivery system in the country.
  • Public health experts believe that India is ill-equipped to handle such emergencies. It is not prepared to tackle health epidemics, particularly given its urban congestion.
  • Post unlock, the spread is at a galloping rate.
  • The slum clusters all around the cities and the unhygienic growth, poor waste disposal system will only aggravate the situation.

History shows us that “blame” has been a standard human response during pandemics.

These are some issues surfaced during this pandemic ………..

(1) Poor Infrastructure

  • In the 2019 Global Health Security Index, which measures pandemic preparedness for countries based on their ability to handle the crisis, India ranked 57, lower than the US at 1, the UK at 2, Brazil at 22, and Italy at 31.
  • This is well revealed through indicators like hospital beds per 1,000 people.
  • As per the OECD data available for 2017, India reportedly has only 0.53 beds available per 1,000 people as against 0.87 in Bangladesh, 2.11 in Chile, 1.38 in Mexico, 4.34 in China, and 8.05 in Russia.

(2) Fewer doctors per thousand

  • The WHO mandates that the doctor to population ratio should be 1:1,000, while India had a 1:1,404 ratio as of February 2020.
  • In rural areas, this doctor-patient ratio is as low as 1:10,926 doctors as per National Health Profile 2019.

(3) Denial of healthcare

  • Despite private hospitals accounting for 62 percent of the total hospital beds as well as ICU beds and almost 56 percent of the ventilators, they are handling only around 10 percent of the workload.
  • Private hospitals are reportedly denying treatments to the poor. Cases of overcharging patients are also being reported in private hospitals.
  • This is seen in Bihar, which has witnessed an almost complete withdrawal of the private health sector and has nearly twice the bed capacity of public facilities.

(4) Discrepancy in Testing

  • India continues to test less than it should in a post-lockdown scenario where testing is one of the most obvious ways to flatten the curve.
  • The Supreme Court, after ruling on April 8 that private labs should conduct free testing, modified its decision five days later to fix the rate of one of the most dependable tests at Rs 4,500.

(5) Negligence for mental healthcare

  • The tragic death of an actor and the gloom of the Covid-19 pandemic have led to much-needed conversations on mental health in the country.
  • Mental health problems were already a major contributor to the burden of illness in India which usually gets unnoticed.
  • The widespread anxiety due to lockdown has frustrated the laborers, farmers, and various vulnerable sections to a great extent due to the fear of impoverishment and loss of livelihoods.

Need of the hour: A tectonic overhaul

(1) Universal health coverage

  • Access to healthcare in India is not equitable—the rich and the middle class would survive the COVID-19 or any other crisis but not the poor.
  • As part of the SDGs, all countries have pledged to deliver universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030.
  • This includes India. But, sadly, nearly 50 percent of the world’s population lacks essential health services.
  • If any good comes out of this crisis, then it will be India waking up to the reality that investing in health is not a luxury. It is a basic need.

(2) Increasing healthcare professionals in numbers

  • India has handled the COVID-19 pandemic exceptionally well. However, considering the rise in the number of infections, India is in dire need of more medical staff and amenities.
  • If India wants to achieve a 1:1,000 ratio, it will need an additional 2.07 million doctors by 2030. For this, the government needs to increase its spending on the health sector.
  • It needs to aid attempts at constructing new medical institutes.

(3) Revamping medical education

  • If the government wants to stay successful in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, it needs to rapidly build medical institutions and increase the number of doctors.
  • Once COVID-19 is under control, we need to consider the psychological and professional impact of the pandemic on medical professionals.

(4) Helping the downtrodden

  • How the poor are going to manage without, or even with, any government insurance scheme is a big question.
  • Rather than dumping them on government hospitals only, the private hospitals should be held accountable to take on their treatment.
  • They can make up for the loss by cross-subsidizing treatments of patients with premium insurance policies.

(5) Enhancing pandemic preparedness

  • With COVID-19 we risk once again falling into the trap of a narrow vertical disease-specific approach.
  • Decades of global health experience have revealed the limitations of narrow “vertical” disease-based programs.
  • However, there is a need for recognition to combine vertical programs with “horizontal” health system strengthening.

(6) Optimum use of technology

  • The COVID-19 crisis has elevated the importance of digital tools and e-health.
  • There is a growing use of mobile apps, online consultations, e-pharmacies, and other tools.
  • These are all welcome and must be leveraged.

(7) Looping-in private players

  • For too long, India has allowed the private health sector to grow, with little regulation.
  • The lack of alignment between the public and private sectors has been clearly exposed to COVID-19 testing and treatment in India.
  • Time is ripe to loop in private players and promote the industrialization of health-sector.

(8) Learning from the successes

  • With crumbling health infrastructure due to overburden, India’s preparedness for handling this epidemic has become a major challenge.
  • The world along with India being no exception has responded with extraordinarily aggressive measures such as phased lockdowns, Bhilwara Model, Pathanamthitta Model, Taiwan model, etc.
  • The success of these models is attributed to various best practices which are were implemented days before the thought of nationwide lockdown was incepted.

Kindly refer for various success models:

[Burning Issue] Success stories in handling COVID-19 crisis

 

Way Forward

  • The aerial spread of the pandemic post unlock poses a threat of rapid dissemination but it can still be contained with an efficient response that combines effective public health, microbiological, clinical, and communication responses.
  • While our laboratory network has improved somewhat, but much needs to be done to improve the community facing primary health services and risk communication to the public.
  • Kerala’s success in responding swiftly and smartly to the outbreak should be a role model for other states.

Conclusion

India’s healthcare system is too small for such a large population. There seems to be a long battle ahead. The public healthcare system cannot be improved overnight. The country needs all hands on deck during and after this crisis—both public and private sectors must work together and deliver universal health coverage for all citizens.

Ultimately, the onus of governance always rests with the government, which needs to set standards, invest resources, ensure quality, and strategically purchase services from the private sector, as needed.

 

 

 


References

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/coronavirus-epidemic-healthcare-system-public-hospitals-6449264/

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/india-health-sector-education-coronavirus-medcine-6449332/

https://www.cnbctv18.com/views/can-the-coronavirus-crisis-guide-india-towards-an-equitable-robust-health-system-6076701.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6166510/

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/healthcare/biotech/healthcare/five-paradoxes-of-indian-healthcare/articleshow/65159929.cms?from=mdr

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issues] Eclipses This Year

 

On June 21, 2020 India witnessed an Annular solar eclipse. Solar Eclipses have caused fear, inspired curiosity, and have been associated with myths, legends, and superstitions throughout history. Take for example myth 101: Don’t eat food. Why? Let’s leave the myths and superstitions behind and discuss the science behind eclipses.

 

In the clouds of this pandemic, we are witnessing some spectacular celestial dances this year. Beginning with the Super Pink Moon and Lunar Eclipse this year, we recently witnessed the breathtaking ‘Ring of Fire’ Solar Eclipse.

What are Eclipses?

An eclipse takes place when one heavenly body such as a moon or planet moves into the shadow of another heavenly body.

There are two types of eclipses on Earth: an eclipse of the Moon and an eclipse of the Sun.

[I] A Lunar Eclipse

  • The moon moves in an orbit around Earth, and at the same time, Earth orbits the sun. Sometimes Earth moves between the sun and the moon.
  • When this happens, Earth blocks the sunlight that normally is reflected by the moon. (This sunlight is what causes the moon to shine.)
  • Instead of light hitting the moon’s surface, Earth’s shadow falls on it. This is an eclipse of the moon — a lunar eclipse.
  • A lunar eclipse can occur only when the moon is full. (But not every full moon is also a lunar eclipse. Can you guess why?)

Observing a Lunar Eclipse

  • A lunar eclipse can be seen from Earth at night.
  • A lunar eclipse usually lasts for a few hours.
  • At least two partial lunar eclipses happen every year, but total lunar eclipses are rare.

There are two types of lunar eclipses: total lunar eclipses and partial lunar eclipses.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon and the sun are on exact opposite sides of Earth. Although the moon is in Earth’s shadow, some sunlight reaches the moon.  The sunlight passes through Earth’s atmosphere, which causes Earth’s atmosphere to filter out most of the blue light. This makes the moon appear red to people on Earth.

A partial lunar eclipse happens when only a part of the moon enters Earth’s shadow. In a partial eclipse, Earth’s shadow appears very dark on the side of the moon facing Earth. What people see from Earth during a partial lunar eclipse depends on how the sun, Earth and moon are lined up.

In a penumbral lunar eclipse, only the more diffuse outer shadow of Earth – the penumbra – falls on the moon’s face. This third kind of lunar eclipse is much more subtle, and much more difficult to observe than either a total or partial eclipse of the moon.

[II] A Solar Eclipse

  • Sometimes when the moon orbits Earth, it moves between the sun and Earth.
  • When this happens, the moon blocks the light of the sun from reaching Earth.
  • This causes an eclipse of the sun or solar eclipse.
  • During a solar eclipse, the moon casts a shadow onto Earth.

There are three types of solar eclipses.

The first is a Total Solar Eclipse

A total solar eclipse is only visible from a small area on Earth. The people who see the total eclipse are in the centre of the moon’s shadow when it hits Earth. The sky becomes very dark as if it were night. For a total eclipse to take place, the sun, moon and Earth must be in a direct line.

The second type is a Partial Solar Eclipse

This happens when the sun, moon and Earth are not exactly lined up. The sun appears to have a dark shadow on only a small part of its surface.

The third type is an Annular Solar Eclipse

An annular eclipse happens when the moon is farthest from Earth. Because the moon is farther away from Earth, it seems smaller. It does not block the entire view of the sun. The moon in front of the sun looks like a dark disk on top of a larger sun-coloured disk. This creates what looks like a ring around the moon.

During a solar eclipse, the moon casts two shadows on Earth. The first shadow is called the Umbra. This shadow gets smaller as it reaches Earth. It is the dark centre of the moon’s shadow.

The second shadow is called the Penumbra. The penumbra gets larger as it reaches Earth. People standing in the penumbra will see a partial eclipse. People standing in the umbra will see a total eclipse.

Observing a Solar Eclipse

  • Solar eclipses happen once every 18 months.
  • Unlike lunar eclipses, solar eclipses only last for a few minutes.

Why don’t solar eclipses happen at every New Moon?

To Go With 4

The reason is that the Moon’s orbit tilts 5° to Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Astronomers call the two intersections of these paths nodes. Eclipses only occur when the Sun lies at one node and the Moon is at its New (for solar eclipses) or Full (for lunar eclipses) phase. During most (lunar) months, the Sun lies either above or below one of the nodes, and no eclipse happens.

[III] Planet Transits

When a planet comes between Earth and the Sun, it is called a transit. The only 2 planets that can be seen transiting the Sun from Earth are Venus and Mercury because they are the only planets that orbit inside Earth’s orbit.

From 2000–2199, there will be 14 transits of Mercury. However, Venus transits are even rarer with only 2 this century, in 2004 and 2012.

 


Before we end our article on eclipses, we leave you with some previous years’ questions to try:

 

Q. 1) On 21st June, the Sun: (CSP 2019)

(a) Does not set below the horizon at the Arctic Circle

(b) Does not set below the horizon at Antarctic Circle

(c) Shines vertically overhead at noon on theEquator

(d) Shines vertically overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn

 

Q.2) Variations in the length of daytime and night time from season to season are due to: (CSP 2013)

(a) The earth’s rotation on its axis

(b) The earth’s revolution around the sun in an elliptical manner

(c) Latitudinal position of the place

(d) Revolution of the earth on a tilted axis

 

Q.3) Consider the following:

  1. Electromagnetic radiation
  2. Geothermal energy
  3. Gravitational force
  4. Plate movements
  5. Rotation of the earth
  6. Revolution of the earth

Which of the above are responsible for bringing dynamic changes on the surface of the earth? (CSP 2016)

(a) 1, 2, 3 and 4 only

(b) 1, 3, 5 and 6 only

(c) 2, 4, 5 and 6 only

(d) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6

 

Q.4) A person stood alone in a desert on a dark night and wanted to reach his village which was situated 5km east of the point where he was standing. He had no instruments to find the direction but he located the polestar, the most convenient way now to reach his village is to walk in the- (CSP 2012)

(a) facing the polestar

(b) opposite to the polestar

(c) keeping the polestar to his left

(d) keeping the polestar to his right


References

https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/eclipse-information.html

https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/nasa-knows/what-is-an-eclipse-58/

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/ring-of-fire-solar-eclipse/

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/what-is-lunar-eclipse/

https://www.celestron.com/blogs/eclipse-watch/frequently-asked-questions-about-solar-eclipses

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Blockchain Technology and COVID-19

 

The coronavirus has impacted countries, communities and individuals in countless ways, from school closures to health-care insurance issues, not to undermine loss of lives. As governments scramble to address these problems, different solutions based on blockchain technologies have sprung up to help deal with the worldwide crisis.

 

What is Blockchain Technology?

Simply, blockchain is decentralized, distributed and public digital ledger.  Blockchains is a new type of network infrastructure (a way to organize how information and value move around on the internet) that create ‘trust’ in networks by introducing distributed verifiability, auditability, and consensus.

Blockchains create trust by acting as a shared database, distributed across vast peer-to-peer networks that have no single point of failure and no single source of truth, implying that no individual entity can own a blockchain network, and no single entity can modify the data stored on it unilaterally without the consensus of its peers.

New data can be added to a blockchain only through agreement between the various nodes of the network, a mechanism known as distributed consensus. Each node of the network keeps its own copy of blockchain’s data and keeps the other nodes honest – if one node changes its local copy, the other nodes can reject it.

imagine a blockchain as a ledger—because that’s essentially how most blockchains function. Each block of data represents some new transaction on the ledger, whether that means a contract or a sale or whatever else you’d use a ledger for.

Interestingly, blockchains leverage techniques from a field of mathematics and computer science, known as cryptography, to sign every transaction (e.g. the transfer of assets from one person to another) with a unique digital signature belonging to the user who initiated the transaction.

Blockchains and Cryptocurrency – How it all began?

A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for security.  The Bitcoin protocol is built on the blockchain.

  • Bitcoin is an example of electronic or digital currency that works on a peer-to-peer basis.
  • Bitcoins can be sent digitally to anyone who has a bitcoin address anywhere in the globe. One person could have multiple addresses for different purposes – personal, business and the like.
  • A bitcoin is not printed currency but is a non-repudiable record of every transaction that it has been through. All this is part of a huge ledger called the blockchain.

There’s also a new cryptocurrency called Libra rolled out by Facebook.

  • Initially, blockchain technology was linked to cryptocurrency only but today it’s application are widespread.

Various uses of Blockchain in fighting COVID-19

Blockchain could be used to improve a variety of healthcare-related processes, including record management, healthcare surveillance, tracking disease outbreaks, management crisis situations and many more.

1) Tracking Infectious Disease Outbreaks

  • Blockchain can be used for tracking public health data surveillance, particularly for infectious disease outbreaks such as COVID-19.
  • With increased blockchain transparency, it will result in more accurate reporting and efficient responses.
  • Blockchain can help develop treatments swiftly as they would allow for rapid processing of data, thus enabling early detection of symptoms before they spread to the level of epidemics.

2) Donations Tracking

  • As trust is one of the major issues in donations, Blockchain has a solution for this issue.
  • There has been a concern that the millions of dollars being donated for the public are not being put to use where needed.
  • With the help of blockchain capabilities, donors can see where funds are most urgently required and can track their donations until they are provided with verification that their contributions have been received to the victims.

3) Crisis Management

  • Blockchain could also manage a crisis situation. It could instantly alert the public about the Coronavirus by global institutes like the WHO using smart contracts concept.
  • Not only it can alert, but Blockchain could also enable to provide governments with recommendations about how to contain the virus.
  • It could offer a secure platform where all the concerning authorities such as governments, medical professionals, media, health organizations, media, and others can update each other about the situation and prevent it from worsening further.

4) Securing Medical Supply Chains

  • Blockchain has already proven its success stories as a supply chain management tool in various industries; similarly, it could also be beneficial in tracking and tracing medical supply chains.
  • Blockchain-based platforms can be useful in reviewing, recording, and tracking of demand, supplies, and logistics of epidemic prevention materials.
  • As supply chains involve multiple parties, the entire process of record and verification is tamper-proof by every party, while also allowing anyone to track the process.

6) Education

  • ‘Certificates’ are a means of verifying the credentials of individuals across domains and geographies. A paper-based certification is fallible to manipulation and susceptible to fraud.
  • The blockchain-based SuperCert promises anti-fraud identity intelligence blockchain solution for educational certificates.
  • The immutability feature of blockchain ensures that tampering of certificate is not feasible – both the content of the certificate and the identity of the certificate holder.

7) Finance

  • Blockchain integration in financial transactions will not only save time and money, but it will also make the transaction processing and authentication process much more seamless.
  • Furthermore, Blockchain can be an excellent tool to monitor money laundering and black money accumulation – since all transactions are permanently stored on the Blockchain network, every transaction is accountable.
  • Blockchain is also capable of dealing with issues like double spending and unauthorized spending.
  • With Covid panic on use of cash currency, here one may find alternatives too.

Various Challenges in adopting Blockchains

Any transformative technology, in its initial stages of development, as it moves out of the research/development phase to first few applications to large scale deployment, faces several challenges.

  • There is no confidence in the technology: It is still an innovation. Building trust in the network represents a challenge for blockchain.
  • High costs and complexity of blockchain.
  • Lack of understanding comes next as many executives have a vague understanding of blockchain and the changes it will bring. Many still connect it only with cryptocurrencies management.
  • A general lack of standards is also a problem. Blockchain-specific vocabulary is insufficient; its terminology is both scarce and new.
  • A lack of general regulation is a problem. The Supreme Court of India has ruled against a decision imposed by the country’s central bank nearly two years ago that stifled crypto trading in Asia’s third-largest economy.
  • Vague data regulation in countries due to poor laws and policy is one more issue.
  • Lack of blockchain talent: Whenever a groundbreaking technology emerges, the developer community needs time and resources to accommodate the new demand.
  • Energy consumption The majority of blockchains present in the market consume a high amount of energy. It requires high amounts of computation power to solve a complex mathematical problem to verify and process transactions and to secure the network. Add to this the energy needed to cool down the computers, and the costs increase exponentially.

Blockchain: the India imperative

India has a unique strategy for the Government to take the lead in creating public digital infrastructure and allowing private sector innovation to leverage Blockchain for further development.

NITI Aayog has released recommendations to establish India as a vibrant blockchain ecosystem. The suggested recommendations include:

  • Regulatory and policy considerations for evolving a vibrant blockchain ecosystem
  • IndiaChain: Creation of a national infrastructure for the deployment of blockchain solutions with inbuilt fabric, identity platform and incentive platform
  • India as blockchain hub: promotion of research and development in blockchain, in addition, to focus on skilling of workforce and students
  • Procurement process for government agencies to adopt blockchain solutions
  • Cryptocurrencies for India: Pegged stable coin for Indian Rupee for seamless exchange for blockchain solutions. This may be in conjunction with the need for re-evaluating cryptocurrencies.

Way Forward

  • Although India is still at the nascent stage in exploring Blockchain technology, it holds is immense potential for Blockchain applications.
  • The key lies in overcoming the challenges faced during the early adoption phase – if we can get past the obstacles in the initial stage, Blockchain tech can be put to good use to strengthen the Indian economy.
  • The days of blockchain application have just begun and as with any new technology, blockchain will hit a few roadblocks especially with the government’s regulators across the globe.
  • As the true essence of blockchain application is to take the power away from the hands of the powerful by decentralizing information and handing it over to the people- democracy in true sense.
  • Nonetheless as with any movement, if people see the value the technology brings into their lives they will rally behind it and blockchain application will become mainstream in most industries in the coming years.

Conclusion

By providing help in the COVID-19 crisis and recovery, blockchain can play a pivotal role in accelerating post-crisis digital transformation initiatives and solving those problems highlighted in the current system.

However, at the present moment, blockchain is not the panacea of all the problems. While the promise and potential of blockchain are undoubtedly transformative, it is still in the nascence of its evolution.

Keeping a tab on this technology and our capacities is the right direction we can head towards.

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India-Nepal Border Row

Culturally speaking, India and Nepal share a great people to people interaction. But lately the two countries have been in news not for the camaraderie they share but the border tensions. Like China was not enough! In this article, we provide the explanation of the map related row that’s been brewing up. Also, a general outlay of the bilateral relation is discussed to provide a better understanding for your preparation.

Context

Construction of an 80-km-long road through the Lipulekh Pass got the 2 Himalayan neighbors into the fighting arena. The road was constructed with the purpose to reduce the travel time for Indian pilgrims visiting the religious shrine at Kailash-Mansarovar in Tibet. Nepal claims it to be violation of it’s borders.

But first some geography – Lipulekh Pass

  • In Uttarakhand, Lipulekh Pass comes under Chaudans valley of Dharchula, a sub-district of Pithoragarh district in the Kumaon region where it links with the Byash Valley of Nepal and with Tibet, an Autonomous Region of China.
  • The famous pilgrimage to Mount Kailash that is also known as Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, traverses from this pass.
  • The 17,000-feet high Pass is located close to the disputed Kalapani area, which is claimed by both sides.

So, what is the issue?

  • The inauguration of the “new road to Mansarovar” on May 8 by India’s defence minister has strained the relations between Nepal and India.
  • While India argues that Kalapani is a part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district, Nepal claims it falls in its Darchula district.
  • The 1816 Sugauli Treaty between Nepal and British India placed all the territories east of the Kali (Mahakali) river, including Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipu Lekh at the northwestern front of Nepal, on its side.
  • Lipu Lekh pass is 4 km northwest and Limpiyadhura 53 km west of Tinker pass.
  • The borders of Nepal, India and China intersect in this area.
  • Given the situation in 1961, Nepal and China fixed pillar number one at Tinker pass with the understanding that pillar number zero (the tri-junction of Nepal, India, and China) would be fixed later.

The Treaty of Sugauli

  • Treaty of Sagauli, (March 4, 1816), an agreement between the Gurkha chiefs of Nepal and the British Indian government that ended the Anglo-Nepalese (Gurkha) War (1814–16).
  • By the treaty, Nepal renounced all claim to the disputed Tarai, or lowland country, and ceded its conquests west of the Kali River and extending to the Sutlej River.
  • Nepal remained independent, but it received a British resident with the status of an ambassador to an independent country rather than of the controlling agent of the supreme government in an Indian state.

Why is Lipulekh important for India?

  • For India, the Lipulekh pass has security implications. After its disastrous 1962 border war with China, it was concerned about a possible Chinese intrusion through the pass and has been keen to hold on to the strategic Himalayan route to guard against any future incursions.
  • The link road via Lipulekh Himalayan Pass is also considered one of the shortest and most feasible trade routes between India and China.
  • The Nepalese reaction would probably have triggered in response to Chinese assertion.

What is Nepal’s saying in all this?

  • Nepal claims Kalapani is a part of its territory, based on the Sagauli Treaty signed by Nepal’s Gurkha chiefs and British India on March 4, 1816, to end their three-year-long Anglo-Nepalese War.
  • It asserts that it ceded control of the areas west of the Kali River, as well as the disputed Tarai, but retained stretches east of the water body, including Limpiyadhura, Kalapani, and Lipulekh as per the agreement.
  • In 2015, Nepal had also expressed its disagreement over India and China agreed to include Lipulekh Pass as a bilateral trade route in a joint statement during PM Modi’s visit to Beijing.

Indian stance

  • Nepal surrendered a part of its western territory in 1816 after its forces were defeated by the British East India company.
  • The subsequent Sugauli treaty defined the origin of the Kali river as Nepal’s border point with India. But the two countries differ on the source of the Kali river.
  • India argues that the exact coordinates of the river were not mentioned in the treaty and claims that improved survey techniques have redrawn the map in the years since.

So has China been meddling?

  • The suspicion in Delhi is Kathmandu’s new-found confidence is because of Chinese backing.
  • The Indian army chief, General MM Naravane, has said publicly that Nepal “might have raised this problem at the behest of someone else” – an indirect reference to alleged Chinese interference.
  • And some mainstream right-wing media in India have called Nepal “China’s Proxy” for raising the border issue. The remarks did not go down well in Kathmandu.

Solving border disputes

  • Assuming that there is political buy-in from the leadership on both sides, the one workable solution is to seek some form of co-management or shared sovereignty for the disputed territory.
  • There are many bold possibilities: maybe there could be a joint deployment of military and police forces, as during the 1960s on the Nepal-China border.
  • Given the trade potential, both countries could also consider establishing a special economic zone.
  • Finally, it is in the interest of both that Indian and Nepali pilgrims can use the improved infrastructure in the Kalapani region to reach Mount Kailash.
  • The next steps should be approval of the strip maps by the respective governments (that of the Nepalese Government is still awaited), the resolution of the differences of opinion over Kalapani and Susta, and speeding up the erection of damaged or missing border pillars.

Various facets of India-Nepal ties

1. Cultural ties

  • While enjoying their own peculiarities, both India and Nepal share a common culture and ways of life.
  • Religion is perhaps the most important factor and plays a predominant role in shaping the cultural relations between these two countries, marked by a cross country pilgrimage on Char Dham Yatra, Pashupatinath Temple and some Buddhist sites.
  • A considerable section of Nepalese comprises of Madhesi population which has familial & ethnic ties with states of Bihar, UP.

2. Strategic ties

  • Nepal is a buffer state between India and China.
  • Several Nepali Citizens are also deployed in Indian defence forces as well.

3. Political ties

  • Constitutional turmoil is not new in Nepal. India has played a vital role in the democratic transition in Nepal against the monarch King Gyanendra.
  • Nepali Congress (NC) is one of the country’s oldest parties which supports relations with India, but the communist parties show a tilt towards China.

4. Economic ties

  • Nepal is an important export market for India.
  • Himalayan rivers flowing through Nepal can be used for Hydroelectric power projects which will benefit border states of UP, Bihar and other adjacent areas.
  • There are three major water deals between Nepal and India, namely the Kosi Agreement, the Gandak Treaty and the Mahakali Treaty. India also exports Power to Nepal.
  • Also, Nepal is the largest borrower of Indian Currency in South Asia.

India’s importance to Nepal

  • India is the nearest foreign employer to Nepali Citizens, which provides various avenues of work and ease in assimilation into a foreign culture.
  • Nepal’s reluctance to Mandarin has overturned several Nepali students into Indian universities.
  • India is the only potential neighbour who could harness Nepal’s hydropower.
  • Moreover, Indian tourists are the major movers of Nepal’s tourism sector.

Major Irritants in bilateral ties

1) Nepali nationalism and Anti-India sentiments

  • Anti-India Sentiment in Nepal is largely politically motivated as it is wrongly perceived as India’s backing to Monarchy.
  • The widening gap in understanding each other’s concerns has helped feed Nepali nationalism and create a dense cloud of distrust and suspicion between the two countries.
  • The gap widened after India chose to impose an economic blockade in response to Nepal’s sovereign decision to promulgate a democratic constitution.

2) China factor

  • Increasing Chinese presence in Nepal is one of the major concern for India. China’s move to extend the rail link to its border with Nepal can reduce its dependence on India.
  • Fundamentally these Chinese agencies are building up anti-India sentiments in Nepal.
  • Nepal’s assent for “One Belt One Region” (OBOR) initiative of China is viewed by India with suspicion.
  • Nepal has been slowly fallen prey to China’s inroad debt trap policy.

3) India has ignored the changing political narrative for long

  • The reality is that India has ignored the changing political narrative in Nepal for far too long.
  • For too long India has invoked a “special relationship”, based on shared culture, language and religion, to anchor its ties with Nepal.
  • The 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship which was sought by the Nepali authorities in 1949 is viewed as a sign of an unequal relationship, and an Indian imposition.

4) Open borders

  • The issue of open borders has also been a point of debate in Nepal in recent years- Nepalese people argue that India is benefiting more from it than Nepal.
  • It has an open border with India which leads to problems such as illegal migrants, counterfeit currency entry, drug and human trafficking.

5) Madhesis Issue

  • Madhesis share extensive cross-border ethnic and linguistic links with India. India’s involvement in Nepali politics and the upsurge in Madhesi have deep roots in history and unless resolved.
  • Madhesis protest and India’s blockade soured the relations for the worst.

Way Forward

  • The onus is on India to rethink on a long-term basis how to recalibrate its relationship with Nepal provided Nepal should not ignore its relations with India.
  • Broader engagement from both sides is essential towards finding a solution that satisfies both sides.
  • There are many possible modalities. Maybe it could include joint military deployment, special access rights for Nepali citizens or even a free-trade zone with China.
  • The India-Nepal border issues appear more easily solvable, so long as there is political goodwill and statecraft exercised on both sides.

The way to move forward is to formally approve the strip maps, resolve the two remaining disputes, demarcate the entire India-Nepal boundary, and speedily execute the work of boundary maintenance.

Conclusion

The Indian road was not built overnight and the Nepal government was surely aware and monitoring the situation in Kalapani over the preceding months and years.

But now the row appears to have reached an impasse. The Nepal PM’s earlier remarks on a solution, with possible road leasing to India, is a welcome step towards de-escalation. As both countries are laying claim to the same piece of land, the time has come for both countries to sit for talks to solve this issue.

But since then, we have only seen repeated moves from both sides that have raised the temperature, further politicized the issue and thus made the dialogue more difficult. Nepal’s earlier demands were focused on the withdrawal of troops from Kalapani; its recent position now includes the insistence of Limpiyadhura as the headwaters.

India may continue to defuse the crisis through back channels but this is no longer sustainable as the dispute had become a “permanent irritant” after Nepal’s new map.

Based on their history of friendly relations and driven by pragmatism, it should not be difficult for India and Nepal to think out of the box and find a practical solution. Delhi and Kathmandu could lead the way to liberate the subcontinent from the sovereignist, nationalist and territorial logic that continues to leave everyone in the region worse off.

 




References

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/india-nepal-border-dispute-200528085916240.html

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-52967452

https://theprint.in/talk-point/nepal-map-row-has-india-provoked-kathmandu-or-is-china-instigating-trouble-for-new-delhi/426470/

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Nepal

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Tropical Cyclones and India

 

WMO has applauded the India Meteorological Department’s forecast and updates on super cyclone Amphan as “best practice” as the weather office made a series of predictions that correctly anticipated the path of the cyclone and the associated wind speed.

The Indian subcontinent is one of the worst affected regions in the world. The subcontinent with a long coastline of 8041 kilometres is exposed to nearly 10 per cent of the world’s tropical cyclones. Of these, the majority of have their initial genesis over the Bay of Bengal and strike the East coast of India. On an average, five to six tropical cyclones form every year, of which two or three could be severe. More cyclones occur in the Bay of Bengal than the Arabian Sea and the ratio is approximately 4:1. Cyclones occur frequently on both the coasts (the West coast – Arabian Sea; and the East coast – Bay of Bengal).

Context

The Indian Ocean has made its mark on the global news cycle this year.  The year 2019 was one of the most active North Indian Ocean cyclone seasons on record. There were eight cyclonic storms in and around India—the highest number of cyclones in a single year since 1976.  With Amphan and Nisarga, the year 2020 is also on the same line. The Arabian Sea, usually not known to be prone to cyclones, has had four major cyclones in a few months.

What are Tropical Cyclones?

A Tropical cyclone is an intense circular storm that originates over warm tropical oceans and is characterized by low atmospheric pressure, high winds, and heavy rain.

  • Cyclones are formed over slightly warm ocean waters. The temperature of the top layer of the sea, up to a depth of about 60 meters, need to be at least 28°C to support the formation of a cyclone.
  • This explains why the April-May and October-December periods are conducive for cyclones.
  • Then, the low level of air above the waters needs to have an ‘anticlockwise’ rotation (in the northern hemisphere; clockwise in the southern hemisphere).
  • During these periods, there is an ITCZ in the Bay of Bengal whose southern boundary experiences winds from west to east, while the northern boundary has winds flowing east to west.
  • Once formed, cyclones in this area usually move northwest. As it travels over the sea, the cyclone gathers more moist air from the warm sea which adds to its heft.

Destruction caused by Cyclones

Cyclones are disastrous in many ways. They do more harm than any good to the coastal areas.

1) Strong Winds

  • Cyclones are known to cause severe damage to infrastructure through high-speed winds.
  • Very strong winds which accompany a cyclonic storm damages installations, dwellings, communications systems, trees etc., resulting in loss of life and property.

2) Torrential rains and inland flooding

  • Torrential rainfall (more than 30 cm/hour) associated with cyclones is another major cause of damages. Unabated rain gives rise to unprecedented floods.
  • Heavy rainfall from a cyclone is usually spread over a wide area and cause large scale soil erosion and weakening of embankments.

3) Storm Surge

  • A Storm surge can be defined as an abnormal rise of sea level near the coast caused by a severe tropical cyclone.
  • As a result of which seawater inundates low lying areas of coastal regions drowning human beings and life stock.
  • It causes eroding beaches and embankments, destroys vegetation and leads to the reduction of soil fertility.

Some (unexpected) benefits

Although Tropical cyclones are known for destruction they cause, when they strike they also bestow certain benefits to the climatic conditions of that area such as

  • Relieve drought conditions
  • Carry heat and energy away from the tropics and transport it towards temperate latitudes
  • Maintain a relatively stable and warm temperature worldwide

Management of Cyclones in India

In 2005, the country introduced new laws to set up what’s called the National Disaster Management Authority, a central agency charged with one thing: responding to and minimizing the impact of disasters.

A year later, in 2006, India established a National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), a specialized corps of highly trained men and women focused on disasters such as cyclones and earthquakes. It’s now comprised of almost 25,000 personnel.

Apart from institutional measures, there are many structural and non-structural measures  that have been taken for effective disaster management of cyclones:

  • The structural measures include construction of cyclone shelters, construction of cyclone-resistant buildings, road links, culverts, bridges, canals, drains, saline embankments, surface water tanks, communication and power transmission networks etc.
  • Non-structural measures like early warning dissemination systems, management of coastal zones, awareness generation and disaster risk management and capacity building of all the stakeholders involved.
  • These measures are being adopted and tackled on State to State basis under National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP) being implemented through World Bank Assistance.

Issues in cyclone mitigation

  • Post than pre focus: Disaster management in India is largely confined to post-disaster relief works. It is more about management than loss prevention.
  • Population: One-third of the population in India lives in the coastal area. Most of them are marginalized people who are ill-prepared and unable to cope up with a disaster.
  • Poor response: The warning of a cyclone is not properly communicated between the concerned agencies. In many cases, the warning is not taken seriously by the agencies which cause delayed effort for the prevention of a disaster. This was evident in the recent Ockhi cyclone disaster.
  • Lack of awareness: among people about the impact and magnitude of the disaster. Also what to act during and post disasters.
  • Coordination Issues:There is also a lack of coordination between the local communities for search and rescue missions. Also poor coordination state and center coordination and its agencies.

What measures need to be taken for mitigation?

Pre Disaster

  • Provide cyclone forecasting, tracking and warning systems
  • Construction of cyclone shelters, cyclone-resistant buildings, road links, bridges, canals, drains etc.
  • Establishing Early Warning Dissemination System (EWDS) and Capacity building for coastal communities.

During disaster

  • Cautionary advice should be put out on social platforms urging people to stay safe
  • The perception of people decides the intensity of the disaster. If people take necessary proactive steps to deal with disaster then even the severe disaster can be dealt with minimum damage.
  • Delivery of food and health care via mobile hospitals, with priorities to women child & elders.
  • Protection of the community and their evacuation and quicker response.

Post-disaster

  • It is vital that the learning from each event is shared nationally, and the capacity of officials and communities to manage disasters built continuously.
  • Among the securities available to individuals in many countries is insurance against property losses. Viable policies should be made available in India too.
  • Providing alternative means of communication, energy and transport just after the disaster.

Odisha’s success in handling Cyclones

  • In the year 1999, Odisha faced a super cyclone which took almost 15000 lives. Since then, it started to build a robust disaster management system priority basis.
  • As the extremely severe cyclone Amphan inched closer, the Odisha government rolled up its sleeves and took all precautionary measures, including the evacuation of the people to meet its zero causality target.
  • Just as the IMD issued the warning, the Odisha government began its cyclone preparations which included evacuation, movement of people in low-lying areas and kutcha houses to cyclone shelters, safeguarding Rabi crops in mandis, deployment of ODRAF, NDRF teams, among other measures.

Let’s learn from Odisha success Model

1. Build a relief infrastructure

  • Until 1999, Odisha didn’t have a well laid out plan for disaster management. Two months after the cyclone hit, the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority was set up, and plans put in place.
  • Around 900 cyclone shelters have been built in vulnerable pockets of the state, with systems in place for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people.

2. Accurate early warning systems

  • The IMD has built an effective service to predict accurate timings of cyclone formation in the Bay of Bengal and when it will make landfall along India’s coastline.
  • This early warning system enables the state to be disaster-ready and to minimize the loss of lives. It’s then crucial that people follow the protocols in place when the warnings come in.

3. Clear communication plan

  • Roughly 2.6 m text messages were sent to locals in the clear language before cyclone Fani hit, keeping those potentially affected alert.
  • Regular press briefings were made by officials to update people of the approaching cyclone.
  • People were repeatedly advised over all forms of media not to panic and given clear “do and don’ts”. This helped in the record evacuation of 1.2 m people to safe buildings.

4. Effective co-ordination of groups

  • Preparations to fight the onslaught should involve a number of government agencies, as well as local community groups and volunteers working together.
  • The government’s disaster response forces were pre-positioned in vulnerable locations, food packets for air-dropping were made ready for air force helicopters to drop to people.

5. Protecting natural defenses

  • Mangroves as usual acted as a natural shield against the impact of cyclones and floods on the coastal areas.
  • Activists have been fighting for the cause of natural protectors like mangroves and salt pans even as flooding incidents regularly occur in the coastal region.

India in line with Sendai Framework

Preparedness to manage disaster risks is a continuous and integrated process resulting from a wide range of risk reduction activities. The preparedness not only involves coordinated planning, and reduces duplication of disaster response efforts but also increases the overall effectiveness of such efforts.

  • The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction is the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda, with seven targets and four priorities for action.
  • It is a 15-year; voluntary, non-binding agreement that recognizes that the state has the primary role to reduce disaster risk but that responsibility should be shared with other stakeholders including the local government, the private sector, and other stakeholders.
  • In cyclone disasters (like Amphan, Fani), India presented a good example of its disaster preparedness and compliance to the Sendai Framework.
  • Zero casualty policy and the pinpoint accuracy of the IMD’s early warning system helped to reduce the possibility of deaths.

Way Forward

  • India’s improved and timely forecast for cyclones gives the government opportunity and time to prepare and manage.
  • Better linkages between sectoral ministries and national disaster management authorities needed in countries when it comes to assessing disaster risks.
  • It is important to acknowledge the problem beyond disaster management framing and should be framed as an adaptation need.
  • Now the imperative for India is not only to have infrastructure that is resilient, functional and that can bounce back after a disaster, but also to have infrastructure withstand and be operational during a crisis.
  • For this India need to employ more technology, strict following of command structure, and most importantly the participation and cooperation of local communities in the affected area.

 

Conclusion

With the advent of climate change, tropical cyclones are not going ‘anywhere’, rather they are poised to become more frequent and accompanied by increased intensity. Regardless of state support and administrative help, people themselves have to step up to create local solutions using their own practices.

In this regard, it is necessary to find ways to prevent the cyclones from becoming an unmanageable national disaster.

 




References

https://ncrmp.gov.in/cyclones-their-impact-in-india/

https://vikaspedia.in/social-welfare/disaster-management-1/natural-disasters/cyclones

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/what-are-tropical-cyclones-and-super-cyclones/article31657893.ece

https://scroll.in/article/963805/lessons-from-cyclones-amphan-and-nisarga-for-indias-disaster-management-plan

https://ndma.gov.in/en/2013-05-03-08-06-02/disaster/natural-disaster/cyclones.html

https://theconversation.com/indias-cyclone-fani-recovery-offers-the-world-lessons-in-disaster-preparedness-116870

https://india.mongabay.com/2020/06/leverage-improved-forecast-to-deal-with-disasters/

https://www.preventionweb.net/educational/view/5482

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Reorienting MGNREGA in times of COVID

 

Termed in a moment of hubris by present government as ‘“a living monument of UPA’s failures”, the government has fallen back on this Scheme in this moment of crisis. This piece is an attempt to understand the silent success of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) which was allegedly dying a slow death.

Context

Due to the sudden lockdown and resultant job losses, over 1 crore people have returned to their homes, some walking hundreds of kilometres, others using all conceivable means of transport. A sizeable number may take several months to return to the cities and towns to earn a living. This extraordinary scenario of a pandemic poses a formidable challenge for the governments of the ‘home states’ to arrange suitable job opportunities for securing their livelihoods.

In this bleak scenario, MGNREGA is providing a ray of hope.

The mighty MGNREGA

  • The MGNREGA stands for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of 2005.
  • This is labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘Right to Work’.
  • The act was first proposed in 1991 by P.V. Narasimha Rao.

The objectives of the MGNREGA are:

  • To enhance the livelihood security of the rural poor by generating wage employment opportunities.
  • To create a rural asset base which would enhance productive ways of employment, augment and sustain a rural household income.

Anyways, what is so Unique about it?

  • MGNREGA is unique in not only ensuring at least 100 days of employment to the willing unskilled workers, but also in ensuring an enforceable commitment on the implementing machinery i.e., the State Governments, and providing a bargaining power to the labourers.
  • The failure of provision for employment within 15 days of the receipt of job application from a prospective household will result in the payment of unemployment allowance to the job seekers.
  • Employment is to be provided within 5 km of an applicant’s residence, and minimum wages are to be paid.
  • Thus, employment under MGNREGA is a legal entitlement.

Constitutional goals of MGNREGA: The idealistic edge

1) Implementation of DPSP

  • The MGNREGA aims to follow the DPSPs enunciated in Part IV of the Constitution of India.
  • The law by providing a ‘right to work’ is consistent with Article 41 that directs the State to secure to all citizens the right to work.
  • The statute also seeks to protect the environment through rural works which is consistent with Article 48A that directs the State to protect the environment.
  • It also follows Article 46 that requires the State to promote the interests of and work for the economic uplift of the SCs and STs and protect them from discrimination and exploitation.
  • Article 40 mandates the State to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.
  • Conferring the primary responsibility of implementation on Gram Panchayats, the Act adheres to this constitutional principle.

2) Implementation of FRs

  • In accordance with the Article 21 of the Constitution of India that guarantees the right to life with dignity to every citizen of India, this act imparts dignity to the rural people through an assurance of livelihood security.
  • The FRs enshrined in Article 16 of the Constitution of India guarantees equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.

The REAL Issues crippling MGNREGA

On ground, policies and schemes do depart from their idealistic purposes. Go through these Issues to understand HOW?

1) Insufficient budgetary allocations – No Money!

  • MGNREGA’s success at the ground level is subject to proper and uninterrupted fund flow to the states.
  • Increase in the nominal budget but actual budget (after adjusting inflation) decreased over the years.
  • Rs 61,500 crore has been allocated for the MGNREGA for the year 2020-21, down by more than 13 per cent from the total estimated expenditure for 2019-20 which was at Rs 71,001.81 crore.

2) Approved Labour Budget Constraints

  • The Centre through the arbitrary “Approved Labour Budget” has reduced the number of days of work and put a cap on funds through the National Electronic Fund Management System
  • According to Ne-FMS guidelines, states won’t be allowed to generate employment above the limits agreed by Approved labour Budget.

3) Not so attractive wages rate

  • Currently, MGNREGA wage rates of 17 states are less than the corresponding state minimum wages.
  • The ridiculously low wage rates have resulted in a lack of interest among workers in working for MGNREGA schemes, making way for contractors and middlemen to take control, locally.

4) Delay in wage (Not so attractive) payments

  • Under the MGNREGA, a worker is entitled to get his or her due wages within a fortnight of completion of work, failing which the worker is entitled to the compensation.
  • As of 2016-17, the total amount of wage pending is Rs. 11000 crore.
  • Even the Gram Rozgar Sevak, who is the backbone of the entire scheme, who works part-time, living in the same village, does not get paid on time.

5) No-work situations are rising

  • None of the states was able to provide full 100 days employment as mentioned in the scheme.
  • Even though the scheme aims at providing 100 days of guaranteed employment, below 50 days of employment was actually provided an average at an all-India level in FY 18.

6) Data manipulations by authorities

  • A recent study has found that data manipulation in the MGNREGA is leading to gross violations in its implementation.
  • Numerous ground reports across the country suggest that because of a funds crunch, field functionaries do not even enter the work demanded by labourers in the MGNREGA database.

7) Non-purposive spending and corruptions

  • Many works sanctioned under MGNREGA often seem to be non-purposive.
  • Quite often, they are politically motivated hotspots to create rampant corruption by dominant sections of the local population.
  • Even social audits of such projects are locally manipulated.

8) Workers penalized for administrative lapses

  • The ministry withholds wage payments for workers of states that do not meet administrative requirements within the stipulated time period (for instance, submission of the previous financial year’s audited fund statements, utilization certificates, bank reconciliation certificates etc).
  • There is no logical or legal explanation for this bizarre arrangement. It is beyond any logic as to why workers would be penalized for administrative lapses.

9) Genuine job cards being deleted

  • Genuine job cards are being randomly deleted as there is a huge administrative pressure to meet 100 per cent DBT implementation targets in MGNREGA.
  • In states like Jharkhand, there are multiple examples where the districts had later requested to resume job cards after civil society interventions into the matter.

10) Too much centralization weakening local governance

  • A real-time MIS-based implementation and a centralised payment system has further left the representatives of the Panchayati Raj Institutions with literally no role in implementation.
  • It has become a burden as they hardly have any power to resolve issues or make payments.

11)  Local priorities being ignored

  • MGNREGA could be a tool to establish decentralized governance. But, with the administration almost dictating its implementation, it is literally a burden now for the people and especially for the local elected representatives.
  • The Gram Sabhas and gram panchayats’ plans are never honoured. This is a blatant violation of the Act as well.

Dark Knight Rises: MGNREGA in times of COVID

Within days, India has realized, political friend and foe alike, right-wing egotist and left-wing activist alike, that the world’s largest social welfare scheme, operationalised by UPA 1 in 2006 is a rare lifeline, almost as if designed for times of extreme adversity.

The importance of the MGNREGA scheme is now accepted by one and all. No wonder that with its hands tied due to Covid-19 crisis the state governments are struggling to ensure remunerative work in villages for the large workforce.

The central government, too, after considering all options and in order to provide job support to the large workforce which has or is reaching native villages, has acted rationally and announced another Rs 40,000 crore allocation for the MGNREGA scheme.

Highest registrations

  • MGNREGA data shows that job demand this May was the highest in eight years even as all the data for May is still pouring in.
  • Over 45 crore person days have been generated (2.63 crore households and 3.6 crore individuals have worked) in the 45 days of 2020-21 since works began on April 20.
  • Traditionally, the months of May and June have always witnessed the highest NREGA work demand because is the lean agriculture season after Rabi harvest and before Kharif sowing.

Only viable option available

  • MGNREGA appears to be the primary hope of sustaining livelihood in almost all states the during a time of massive reverse migration due to the lockdown imposed in light of COVID-19.
  • MGNREGA is the only viable option at present to provide relief and work to the labourers.

Some innovation in MGNREGA that can go a long way

1) Looping in the skilled worker

  • First, there is a suggestion to use it to meet the wage cost of their employment in small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
  • Accordingly, skilled migrant workers may be placed in SMEs and their wages would be charged to MGNREGA.

2) Including farm related works

  • In the last few years, un-remunerative prices of several crops have been the root cause of widespread agrarian distress.
  • The suggestion is to allow farmers to employ MGNREGA workers in agricultural operations like land preparation, sowing, transplantation of paddy, plucking of cotton, intercultural operations and harvesting of crops etc. so as to reduce the cost of cultivation.
  • The idea is to pay part of the wages of labour in agricultural operations from MGNREGA.

3) Increasing the number of Work Schemes

  • Currently, there are only 2-3 work schemes (say PMAY) running per panchayat, which is leading to the crowding of workers at worksites.
  • To prevent this and to ensure that all willing households are able to access employment through NREGA, the number of schemes needs to be increased, and 6-8 schemes must be introduced in each village.

4) Paying Workers Immediately

  • Rural households urgently need cash-in-hand, and so the emerging demand is for immediate payment to workers. NREGA payments are frequently delayed by weeks or months.
  • Given the circumstances, such delays will be entirely counterproductive.
  • It is recommended that in remote areas, wage payments should be made in cash, and paid on the same day.

5) Modify Daily Workloads

  • In compliance with COVID-19 guidelines, workers are wearing masks and other forms of face protection.
  • NREGA works typically involve hard physical labour and workers are finding it challenging to breathe comfortably while working.
  • Consequently, for as long as workers are required to wear masks, the daily volume of work assigned to them must be reduced.

6) By increasing Wages

  • If NREGA wages are to effectively support rural households as they cope with this crisis, they must, at a minimum, be at par with states’ agricultural wages.
  • For example, the Government of Odisha has increased the daily-wage rate for unskilled manual work under NREGA to INR 298 per day in its 20 migration-prone blocks.

7) Increase budgetary allocations

  • The central government’s budgetary allocation of INR 61,500 crore to NREGA for FY 2020-21 is inadequate..
  • An additional Rs 1 lakh crore needs to be allocated so that NREGA can act as a safety net and help rural households cope with the devastating impact of the lockdown.

Way Forward

  • Large scale social security programmes like MGNREA are subjected to undergo several stumbling blocks in the times of ongoing pandemic.
  • Government and NGOs must study the impact of MGNREGA in rural areas so as to ensure that this massive anti-poverty scheme is not getting diluted from its actual path.
  • Since the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment is going to persist in 2020-21, government can ensure more effective implementation and strengthening of the oversight of MGNREGA through mandated social audit.
  • The scheme is not only an ocean of possibilities for the jobless migrants, but it has also given the Central government a chance to get a second bite at the cherry after the devastating economic and job creation figures now officially out for FY 2019-20.

At this point in time what is needed is neither dismantling of the programme nor its slow suffocation.

Conclusion

This week the entire nation saw how teachers in Jaipur started working as MGNREGA labourers amid the pandemic. Unfortunate and not to be celebrated, it nevertheless underlines the importance of MGNREGA as a ray of hope amidst extreme darkness.

This article has attempted to convey the transformative power of MGNREGA, particularly at a time of economic stress.

To be clear, MGNREGA cannot substitute deeper and systemic efforts to generate jobs; nor can it address structural weaknesses in the economy. The need of the hour is for the Government to place MGNREGA at the heart of its strategy to tackle this economic emergency.

The Economic Survey of 2019-20 suggested that MGNREGA offers an early warning signal to detect rural distress. We can help by changing the narrative that has for too long maligned MGNREGA.

We must view MGNREGA as an opportunity and explicitly include it in a broad-based strategy to tackle the current economic crisis.

 

Think!

If the idea is to provide work to anybody demanding it, there should, in principle, be no restrictions on the kind of activities allowed under this scheme. If higher material component helps in building more assets with durable quality, why cannot these projects qualify under the MGNREGA? Why tie it down to particular “permitted works”? What stops MGNREGA labour from being used even to undertake railway or national highway work?




References

https://thewire.in/government/mgnrega-wage-payment-delays

https://www.theindiaforum.in/article/continuing-relevance-mgnrega

https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/economy/mgnrega-is-failing-10-reasons-why-62035

https://thewire.in/economy/mgnrega-rural-india-farmers

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/mgnrega-demand-rural-labours-migrant-workers-coronavirus-6441371/

https://www.thequint.com/news/india/how-nrega-can-help-rural-areas-in-times-of-covid-19-distress

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] COVID-19 and its Impact on Agriculture

Farmers in India constantly battle against skewed monsoon and erratic rainfall, extreme natural events, interrupted supply chains and rising inflation. Like this was not enough. These troubles now are supplemented this year by the COVID induced lockdowns and the heralding Locusts Attack!

God bless our Annadatas!

Context

The start of the coronavirus pandemic has coincided with the peak harvesting season. As the markets are locked down, there is a threat to the crop in over 100 lakh hectares in the country.

Even among the different segments, the impact varies widely among different regions and among producers and agricultural wage labourers. This impact will reverberate across the larger economy and will linger longer than a few months.

Issues surfaced after COVID pandemic

In spite of all the measures and in view of continuing restrictions on movements of people and vehicular traffic, concerns have been raised regarding negative implications of COVID19 pandemic on the farm economy. The immediate problems in agriculture at the moment are primarily categorized under two heads:

A. Impact on Global Agriculture

 

1) Crop production and availability of seeds

  • For crop production, the largest part of the seeding process will be almost unaffected between now and the summer.
  • So there would be no impact as such on seeds availability for now.
  • But if the same scenario continues till year end, then surely seed availability can be an issue.

2) Fertilizers shortage

  • Due to global trade disturbance, farmers are facing the shortage of agricultural inputs like fertilizer and pesticides.
  • In a shorter span, there is little shortage to be expected.
  • In the longer term, the delivery of fertilizer via international markets may become a problem since some of the production plants in China have been shut down.

3) On food production and distribution

  • Most of the countries have taken measures such as home confinement, travel bans and business closure to control the rate of infection.
  • Agriculture produce is mostly perishable in nature, so farmers are compelled to hold their unsold produce for a longer period of time.
  • This has led to a reduction in food quality as well as an increase in the cost of production.

4) On livestock

  • Different agricultural sector such as  livestock and fishery have been hit hard by the pandemic.
  • In India, COVID-19 has caused a higher impact on livestock farming due to limited access to animal feed and a shortage of labour.
  • For example, the travel ban has affected the delivery of breeding stock of poultry.

5) On workers

  • Agricultural workers in low and middle-income countries lack proper health services and social protection and due to little saving or no saving.
  • Many informal workers in agriculture are obligate to work for their sustenance despite the self-isolation protocol during COVID-19 pandemic.

6) Impact on food demand and food security

  • The demand for food has affected due to reduction in income and purchasing capacity.
  • Panicked Consumers are stock piling the foods which in turn has affected the food availability and price.
  • Due to the decline in international trade, disturbance in food supply chain and food production, food insecurity may arise.

B. Impact on India

Agriculture contributes about 17 per cent to Indian GDP. Agriculture, with its allied sectors, is the largest source of livelihoods in India. 70 percent of rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood.

1) Peak harvest with no procurement

  • This is the peak of Rabi season in India and crops like wheat, gram, lentil, mustard, etc. (including paddy in irrigated tracts) were at a harvestable stage or almost reaching maturity.
  • This is also the time when the farm harvests reach the mandis for assured procurement operations by designated government agencies.

2) Labour unavailability due to reverse migration

  • The non-availability of labour has hurt operations in many parts.
  • Consequently, the shortage of migrant labour has resulted in a sharp increase in daily wages for harvesting crops.
  • Some parts of agriculture that have the luxury of deploying technology for harvestings, like Paddy and Wheat, are relatively more insulated since they often do not have to depend on large numbers of manual labour.

3) Fall in prices

  • Agricultural prices have collapsed due to lack of market access including the stoppage of transportation and closure of borders.
  • The rise in labour costs and lack of access means that farmers are staring at huge losses and hence allowing crops to rot in the fields, a better ‘stop-loss’ mechanism.

4) Scarcity of public goods

  • Making the food grains, fruits and vegetables and other essential items available to consumers, both in rural and urban areas, is the most critical challenge.
  • Transportation of public distribution system (PDS) items to last-mile delivery agents, by both rail and road, has been severely impacted in the beginning.

5) Restrictions on Sale

  • There were self-imposed restrictions on the inter- and intra-State movements of farmers/labourers, as well as harvesting and related farm machines.

6) Disruptions in supply-chain

  • The absence of transport facilities clubbed with vigilant blocking roads has a limiting effect on the movement of migratory harvest labour and agri-machinery.
  • Also, trucks and tractors are not inclusive of ‘farm machinery’ by definition..

7) Lockdown induced debt and Cash Flow Constraints

  • The most important issue that farmers have to surmount is the problem of repaying their crop loans, gold loans and other informal debts.
  • Crop loans are repaid between April and May and a fresh loan is granted at the onset of a new season.
  • Any failure to do so will mean that they will be forced to borrow money from the informal sector at high rates of interest for the new season.

 

Impact on Food Security

  • Border closures, quarantines, and market, supply chain and trade disruptions are restricting people’s access to sufficient/diverse and nutritious sources of food, especially in countries hit hard by the virus or already affected by high levels of food insecurity.
  • In slowdown times, as demand for food will decrease over the next months, prices should go down in 2020, and this will have a negative impact on farmers and the agricultural sector.
  • As of now, disruptions have been minimal as food supply has been adequate and markets have been stable so far to meet the ongoing demands (though skewed)..

Indian response to Covid: Agriculture version

The Center and State Governments have worked in harmony to redress the grievances of farmers. Both have introduced a series of measures every day such as subsidies, including crop insurance to farmers, free flow of agricultural credit, unemployment allowance to rural landless/migrant workers under MANREGA, etc.

The govt. is using every arrow in its quiver to ensure the health of farmers by continuously sensitizing the farmers about working in fields with covered faces while maintaining social distancing.

In order to reinforce a zero hurdle harvest season, the govt has exempted the movement of farm machinery from lockdown.

1) Reforms in e-NAM

  • The new features of National Agriculture Market platform were introduced as a welcoming move to decongest mandis.
  • They aim to strengthen agriculture marketing by reducing the need for farmers to physically access the wholesale mandis for selling their harvested produce.

2) Technological support

  • Kisan Sabha App developed by CSIR to connect farmers to supply chain and freight transportation management system was recently launched to support farmers during the lockdown.
  • The app aims to provide the most economical and timely logistics support to the farmers and increase their profit margins by minimizing the interference of middlemen and directly connecting with the institutional buyers.
  • Kisan Rath app was also launched to facilitate farmers & traders in searching for transport vehicles for movement of Agriculture & Horticulture produce.

3) Boost to Contract farming

  • Various states have promoted innovative model allowing investors and farmers to enter into an agreement for contract farming in view of the continuing uncertainties due to the pandemic.
  • For example, the Consumer-Farmer Compact in Telangana has been ensuring food availability and access in COVID-19 times.
  • In this system, the consumers support farmers with their agricultural needs; in return, farmers ensure consumers are able to access food in a hassle-free manner.

4) Allocations for direct transfers

  • Increasing the allocations for DBT to farmers through PM KISAN and including everyone who is actively undertaken during the lockdown.
  • This has helped most farming families to be partially compensated for the losses seen in months of March and April.
  • It has provided them with some cushion against the deflationary effect seen on farm-prices due to the prolonged lockdown.

Future scope of reforms

1) Focussing on Alternative Market Channels

  • The alternative market channel works on the principles of decentralisation and direct-to-home delivery.
  • The idea is to create smaller, less congested markets in urban areas with the participation of farmers’ groups and Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs) so that farmers have direct access to consumers.
  • It may provide a valuable option against the lockdown when efforts to avoid crowding in the wholesale markets are likely to continue.

2) Reforming APMC

  • With these reforms, the government has also set in motion plans to dismantle the decades-old monopolies of state-run APMCs, that were often blamed for unfair trading, and had become a barrier for farmers to get a fair price on their produce.
  • There is an urgent need for abolishing or reframing the APMC Act and encourage direct buying of agri-produce from farmers/farmer producer organisations (FPOs).
  • The companies, processors, organised retailers, exporters, consumer groups, that buy directly from FPOs need not pay any market fee as they do not avail the facilities of APMC yards.

3) Designating warehouses as markets

  • The warehouse receipt system can be scaled up.
  • The private sector should be encouraged to open mandis with modern infrastructure, capping commissions.

4) Logistics transformation

  • To sustain the demand for agricultural commodities, investments in key logistics must be enhanced.
  • Moreover, e-commerce and delivery companies and start-ups need to be encouraged with suitable policies and incentives.
  • The small and medium enterprises, running with raw materials from the agriculture and allied sector or otherwise, also need special attention so that the rural economy doesn’t collapse.

5) Institutionalizing farm labour

  • To obviate the immediate concerns of the scarcity of farm labour, policies must facilitate easy availability of machinery through state entities, Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) or custom hiring centres (CHCs) with suitable incentives.
  • It is also suggested to explore leveraging NREGS funds to pay part of the farm labour (with farmers paying the balance wage amount) to lessen the monetary burden on the farmer while ensuring wage employment to the landless labourers and workers.

6) Expanding institutional lending

  • As the Kharif (rainy/wet) season is fast approaching, institutional lending of crop loans should be expanded and facilitated for smooth (and sufficient) flow of credit to borrowing farmers.
  • Agri-inputs – seeds, fertilizers, agro-chemicals, etc. – have to be pre-positioned for easy availability. The private sector must play a significant role in necessary policy support.

Future of Agriculture in India

Indian agriculture is in a way, a victim of its own past success – especially the green revolution…..

1) Farming as a Viable Livelihood

  • Agriculture is dying, not as in the production of food but as a desirable profession.
  • One bad yield, whether due to errant rains, pests, etc., and most farmers have no buffer available.
  • The last point worth considering is that food and agriculture are not the same. Expenditures on food span the value-add, including processing, preparation, service in restaurants, etc.
  • Farmers in India merely get paid for their product and not for the food we eat.

2) Rainbow revolution holds the key

  • The first major barrier to overcome is declining productivity.
  • Data reveals that India’s average yield of cereal per hectare is far less than that of many countries. Further, there is a huge inter-regional variation.
  • In order to cross the declining productivity barrier, there is a need to herald a rainbow revolution by making a shift from the wheat-rice cycle to other cereals and pulses.
  • However, this is not sufficient and has to be complemented with a huge investment in public infrastructure.

3) Per drop more crop

  • The second major barrier is the scarcity of two major resources for agriculture – cultivable land and water.
  • While the cultivable land per person is declining because of the fragmentation of farms due to the rising population.
  • India also has much less per capita water available  as compared to other leading agrarian countries.
  • Given this scenario, it is time to make a shift to micro-irrigation so that the efficient and judicious use of scarce water resources can be made.

4) R&D is the future

  • One of the major barriers to boosting farm productivity is the lack of new technologies and major breakthroughs post the green revolution.
  • While the National Agriculture Research System played a major role in the green revolution, in recent years there hasn’t been any major breakthrough in research.
  • One of the main reasons for this is the lack of financial resources.
  • There has also not been any major contribution from the private sector towards research and development.
  • The government should thus woo private players by giving them incentives to play a major role in agricultural research and development.

Way Forward

  • With a burgeoning population, there is a corresponding rise in food demand in India.
  • A post-COVID situation offers that unique opportunity to repurpose the existing food and agriculture policies for a healthier population.
  • India, being trade-surplus on commodities like rice, meat, milk products, tea, honey, horticultural products, etc. may seize the opportunities by exporting such products with a stable agri-exports policy.
  • Development of export-supportive infrastructure and logistics would need investments and support of the private sector that will be in the long term interests of farmers in boosting their income.
  • This is indeed good news in the COVID scenario, assuming agriculture can practice largely unscathed.
  • Designing agricultural policies, post-COVID scenario, must include these imperatives for a food systems transformation in India.
  • Immediately, the govt. should focus on the coming Kharif cropping season, especially ensuring timely availability of seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, credit and other inputs.

Conclusion

Structural reforms such as land leasing, contract farming and private agricultural markets, etc. have long been advocated to bring enhanced investments into the agriculture sector and to push its growth. However, there has not been the uniform implementation of these legislations by State Governments and so the full potential of the sector is unrealized. These reforms need significant political will.

The end of the lockdown will not end the problems. On the contrary, they are likely to be compounded at the onset of the new agricultural sowing season. There is a greater need for government support in the form of support for other agricultural inputs. Lack of any relief will only make the agricultural crisis worse. The need of the hour is to maximise possibilities of agriculture, which has demonstrated its utility and resilience in trying times.

 

 

 




References

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/alleviating-the-farmers-pain/

https://www.icrisat.org/containing-covid19-impacts-on-indian-agriculture/

https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/covid-19-impact-on-agriculture-varied-and-devastating-828390.html

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/india-agriculture-sector-crisis-corona-impact-on-farmers-niti-aayog-6392233/

https://www.civilsdaily.com/story/agricultural-marketing-reforms/

https://thewire.in/agriculture/what-is-the-future-of-agriculture-in-india

http://www.fao.org/2019-ncov/q-and-a/impact-on-food-and-agriculture/en/

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] National Security Law debate in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is burning again. Last year it was Fugitive Offenders Amendment bill, now it’s National Security Law. This anthem bill criminalises insulting China’s national anthem. No, this is not like the same dictum given to us by Supreme Court to stand up in multiplexes. But people actually fear that this law will take away Hong Kong’s basic freedoms.

Context

Chinese lawmakers have approved a proposal for sweeping new national security legislation in Hong Kong, which democracy advocates say will curb essential freedoms in the city.

About Hong Kong

  • A former British Colony and Autonomous Territory: Hong Kong is an autonomous territory, and a former British colony, in southeastern China.
  • It became a colony of the British Empire at the end of the First Opium War in 1842.
  • Sovereignty over the territory was returned to China in 1997.
  • Special Administrative Region (SAR): As a SAR, Hong Kong maintains governing power and economic systems that are separate from those of mainland China.
  • The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration guarantees the Basic Law for 50 years after the transfer of sovereignty.
  • It does not specify how Hong Kong will be governed after 2047.
  • Thus, the central government’s role in determining the territory’s future system of government is the subject of political debate and speculation in Hong kong.

The ‘Basic Law’

  • One country, two systems: Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China.
  • It has observed a “one country, two systems” policy since Britain returned sovereignty to China on July 1, 1997, which has allowed it retain certain freedoms, the rest of China does not have.
  • Basic Law: It is governed by a mini-constitution called the Basic Law – constitutional document is a product of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
  • Under this, China promised to honour Hong Kong’s liberal policies, the system of governance, an independent judiciary, and individual freedoms for a period of 50 years from 1997.

Why is Hong Kong fuming?

  • The handover agreement gave Hong kong special freedoms of press, speech, and assembly for at least 50 years.
  • These freedoms stand in stark contrast to China’s strict censorship and Jinping’s tight grip on power, which have seen dissidents jailed and interrogated in secret prisons.
  • This is why protesters here are desperate to protect their freedoms — because they fear Hong Kong to become just another Chinese city under Xi’s rule.

China vs. Basic Law

  • Mini-constitution: Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, says that ultimately both the leader and the Legislative Council should be elected in a more democratic way – but there’s been disagreement over what this should look like.
  • China dominated system: The Chinese government said in 2014 it would allow voters to choose their leaders from a list approved by a pro-Beijing committee, but critics called this a “sham democracy” and it was voted down in Hong Kong’s legislature.
  • Issue: The new proposal is also controversial because it is expected to circumvent Hong Kong’s own law-making processes – leading to accusations that Beijing is undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Why Hong Kong matters for China?

  • Legitimacy to PLA: The handover of Hong Kong by Great Britain was a major achievement of the CCP and had helped boost the party’s legitimacy.
  • Extending nationalism: The handover strengthened nationalism debates within Chinese society and was perceived as righting the wrongs of the century of humiliation.
  • Since 1978, the basic tenet of the CCP has been reform and liberalisation of the economic sphere and command and control of the political sphere.
  • Political reform (So-called): Today, after more than 40 years of reform, mainland China is yet to witness any breakthrough in political reform.
  • Beijing expects other countries to acknowledge that there exists only one China.

The National Security Law

  • Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong has to enact a national security law “to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, and subversion against the Chinese government.”
  • When the Hong Kong government first tried to enact the law in 2003, the issue became a rallying point for the city-wide protests which occurred that year.
  • Since then, the government has steered clear of introducing the legislation again.

Unrest in Hong Kong

  • Banning Sedition: The new law would ban seditious activities that target mainland Chinese rule, as well as punish external interference in Hong Kong affairs.
  • Many expect a revival of the protests that rocked the city last year.
  • China, on the other hand, has sought support and understanding of India and other countries for its controversial decision as a precautionary measure.

Rise of Taiwanese aspirations and Domino Effect

  • The upsurge in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement is more closely linked to the developments in Taiwan than is commonly acknowledged.
  • The Taiwanese election results have given hope to the pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong.
  • However, to imagine that Beijing will stop interfering in the territory’s domestic sociopolitical space is perhaps over-optimistic.
  • National unity and the “One China Principle” are core issues of the Chinese communist party (CCP).
  • Hong Kong, however, is already seen as a part of China under the “one country, two systems” formula.

implications of the Security Law across the globe

China’s authoritarianism stands exposed in Hong Kong and its assertiveness seriously damages its soft power. The developments in Hong Kong, therefore, have global consequences for Beijing’s search of power and legitimacy.

On Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong is a global financial hub – so a hit to its economy affects business worldwide as well.
  • Experts warn that if the unrest continues, international companies could look to pull out of Hong Kong and relocate their branches elsewhere.
  • The stock market would likely crash, followed by the housing market. A mass exodus could follow, and other countries could see migrants’ incoming from Hong Kong.
  • Many Hong Kongers hold foreign passports, a legacy of 1997, and it is easy for them to move overseas.
  • On a more abstract level, some people have framed the unrest as a tug-of-war between Chinese authoritarianism and the Western ideals of freedom and democracy.

India’s concerns

  • India and Hong Kong have signed a double taxation avoidance agreement (DTAA).
  • It gives protection against double taxation to over 1,500 Indian companies and businesses that have a presence in Hong Kong.
  • Hong Kong is similarly host to a large number of Indian companies and professionals in banking, IT and shipping.
  • India was Hong Kong’s third-largest export market (after China and the US) in 2017 and Hong Kong was India’s third-largest export market (after the US and the UAE).
  • Hong Kong has a very well established Indian diaspora and has much wealth and business influence within the territory.

India and Chinese diplomatic take(Informal take)

  • Possibly due to its leadership’s idolization of communism, India for long-neglected the basic principle of reciprocity in its relationship with China.
  • India has consistently upheld the “One China” policy. It was one of the first countries to recognise Tibet as a part of China.
  • Today, India is a democracy and only has to deal with the Kashmir issue.
  • But China is facing resistance movements in Tibet, Xinjiang and Southern Mongolia. Hong Kong and Taiwan, too, remain a concern for Beijing.
  • This makes Delhi’s One-China policy lopsided in terms of diplomacy.
  • China expects India to remain silent on 60 per cent of the contested area under China’s territorial control, and also Hong Kong and Taiwan, while China refuses to stand with India only on Kashmir.

Way forward

  • China and India should never let their differences shadow the overall bilateral ties and must enhance mutual trust.
  • India’s firm military and diplomatic posturing for the ongoing border dispute has made it clear to Beijing that India is in for the long haul.
  • Given its own problems at home and the focus on Hong Kong over the coming days, de-escalation on its borders with India suits China well.

Conclusion

China under Xi’s leadership is one of the most assertive and aggressive powers the world has encountered in a long time. Hong Kong’s protest has been continuing for a long time now. Not just Hong Kongers but even India feels the heat of Dragon’s assertiveness on borders. No one knows the result yet but it is going to be long fight that is for sure.

 



References

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/how-china-is-seeking-more-control-on-hong-kong/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-48607723

https://www.epw.in/engage/article/hong-kongs-basic-law-and-history-popular-protest

https://swarajyamag.com/world/as-china-seeks-support-on-hong-kong-india-has-the-opportunity-to-revive-relations-on-new-terms

https://www.livemint.com/Politics/IiMAWzG8C7MRi85S9OSoUO/Hong-Kong-can-be-Indias-gateway-to-China-Gautam-Bambawale.html

https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/china-revisionism-hongkong-india-borders-67086/

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Rise of Economic Nationalism

“Globalization presumes sustained economic growth. Otherwise, the process loses its economic benefits and political support.”

Paul Samuelson

Context

Guess what Corona virus pandemic did that even Soviet union could not? It has shown the world decaying of the capitalist system. Spread of the virus has lead to various forms of lock downs across the globe. This caused multiple problems in economic globalisation to erupt, which made each country look to the protection of its “own” economy. Now this funda of “own” economy and local over global is what we will focus upon. So stay tuned.

Is it the end of Globalization?

Globalization As We Know It Is Dead - Bold Business

One of the devastating impacts of Covid-19 will be that nations are going to look even more inwards. Rather than look beyond its borders, nations will focus on their narrowly-defined national interests.

  • Reflecting on the debate on globalization, one may wonder whether the world was entering a new, uncharted territory or if Covid-19 was simply accelerating a push-back against globalization that has been taking place for some time with the rise of economic nationalism across countries.
  • Here’s a hint: Globalization has undeniably been in retreat for some years now and the coronavirus pandemic is likely to exacerbate this process.

Dawn of Economic Nationalism

What is Economic Nationalism?

  • Economic nationalism, also called economic patriotism and economic populism, is an ideology that favours state interventionism over other market mechanisms.
  • It connotes not only controls of external relations, but also to mobilize internal resources.
  • It tends to see international trade as zero-sum, where the goal is to derive relative gains (as opposed to mutual gains).

What happens in a nationalist economy?

  • Economic nationalism tends to emphasize industrialization (and often aids industries with state support), due to beliefs that industry has positive spillover effects on the rest of the economy, enhances the self-sufficiency and political autonomy of the country, and is a crucial aspect in building military power.
  • It imbibes policies such as domestic control of the economy, labour, and capital formation, even if this requires the imposition of tariffs and other restrictions on the movement of labour, goods and capital.

Its evolution – A walk into the past

  • References to economic nationalism appeared initially in the years following World War I when the international economy was subjected to high stress arising out of the economic and political dislocation inherited from the war.
  • A similar explanation of the term followed after the Second World War.
  • In this period, economic protectionism was seen as an alternative to revive damaged economies after the world war.
  • The role and status of the ‘state’ emerged to be essentially important in managing economic affairs. The Soviet Union presented a model where state planning was central.
  • Under this model where the state has been the prime facilitator of, means of production and distribution, the public, as well as the private sector, growing at the same rate.
  • This model consolidated the idea of economic nationalism against that of western inherited capitalism.

Facets of Economic Nationalism: “ME FIRST”

Proof that economic Nationalism existed way before the COVID era.

1) American Protectionism

  • America First: USA remains the main proponent of economic nationalism, under the “America First” doctrine of the Trump administration.
  • US-China Tussle: Trade war had been launched through the imposition of tariffs and China’s plan for economic and technological development had been declared an existential threat to US national security.
  • It has been accompanied by a series of bans on Chinese telecom companies and the launching of a global campaign by the US to have its allies exclude the Chinese company, Huawei, from the development of 5G networks.

2) Chinese Expansionism

  • China’s strategy is, of course, no different than the one pursued by the US.
  • Backed by its great economic and military might, China seeks to achieve the same objectives using its economic prowess and its pole position in the global manufacturing chain to achieve the said objectives.
  • The ambitious ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ is the testimony of its economic nationalism.

3) EU contractionist tendencies

  • Brexit: Classic example of economic nationalism.
  • Europe, too is taking a turn towards economic nationalism.
  • Many EU countries have been vocal as saying “in the long term we cannot depend on Asia, on China for goods that are strategic for us, whether in the aerospace or medical sectors or in other supply chains.”

4) India’s ‘self-reliance’ Mantra of being ‘Vocal about Local’

  • When PM romped to a massive and decisive victory in 2014, neo liberal globalists believed that India would unflinchingly embrace globalisation and undertake economic reforms.
  • Indeed, at global forums, India often batted for economic globalisation, slammed rising trade protectionism.
  • The late Arun Jaitley, in his 2018 budget, admitted to this when he made a “calibrated departure” from the decades-long policy of cutting tariff rates.
  • But there has been a bit of economic nationalism here as well.
  • The resolve to augment domestic manufacturing in India – ‘Make in India’ campaign is a case for local over global.
  • Earlier, India chickened out at the last minute from joining the 16 members RCEP agreement to protect local industry.
  • Likewise, the central government has decided that it will not buy goods or services valued less than 200 crore rupees from global companies.
  • The recent amendment of the FDI rules by India so as to discourage Chinese investment in India – something that may not be consistent with India’s WTO obligations – also smacks of protectionism.

Why there is a rise in the popularity of Economic Nationalism?

  • Not all countries benefited equally from the economic liberalism of the 1990s. It had its winners and losers.
  • National economic recoveries, i.e., nationalistic interests, have proved out to be paramount in the worldwide pandemic.
  • Economic nationalism to some extent can provide the framework within which economic development is possibly providing a way for savings to accumulate and investment to grow.
  • Goods when made locally help to protect local entrepreneurs, reduce imports and one can attract foreign investment.

Issues with Economic Nationalism

  • Becoming too nationalistic at the expense of one’s trading partners can be counterproductive.
  • It is an approach that creates conflict. Being more nationalistic tends to be a zero-sum game in an increasingly interdependent world economy, where countries depend on other countries for their economic and political and national security well being.
  • When companies cooperate, they can become more competitive.
  • When they are more competitive, they hire more workers, pay higher salaries, and otherwise contribute to economic growth.
  • ‘Vocal about local’ epitomizes this trade protectionism and pushes a flawed and oversimplified economic logic that domestic manufacturing can be resurrected by actively encouraging (even forcing) customers to buy products ‘made in India’.
  • However, the policy measures adopted to achieve this goal are unsound as they mark a relapse to protectionism.
  • India’s economic experience of the first four decades after independence amply demonstrates that a protectionist and a highly controlled economic model do not yield a competitive and proficient manufacturing sector.

Analysis from India’s perspective

The government evidently wants to strengthen local businesses and make them globally competitive so that India can become the next manufacturing hub, like China. The prime minister has perhaps taken the disruption caused by the pandemic as an opportunity to push India towards developing its manufacturing prowess and emulate China’s export-driven rise.

Economic Nationalism – chequered past in India

  • Era of license-permit raj, umbrella of protectionism and import substitution lead to lack of competition and inefficiency in domestic businesses.
  • The economy suffered a distortion that led to eventual bankruptcy and brought India to the brink of defaulting on international debt obligations in 1991.

Is India ready to go down that path again?

  • If localisation is an increasingly popular global policy response to the lessons taught by the pandemic, it is not clear how India may suddenly become the next manufacturing powerhouse.
  • India doesn’t already dominate global supply chains, lacks the manufacturing prowess of China and is faced with a world where countries are busy ring-fencing risks and pulling up the drawbridge.
  • The danger is that in its push towards becoming more self-reliant and promotes domestic manufacturing; India may end up taking an even more unequivocally protectionist turn.

Some problems to solve before we head to the nationalist road

Problem I- India’s inherent- Investment problem

  • Today, globalisation is seen from the lens of the recipients of foreign investments.
  • The receivers of foreign inflows are at the centre of things, the nuclei around which capital revolves.
  • The power of FDI destinations will grow in the near future, as MNCs try to combat the twin pressures of protectionism and localisation.
  • To achieve its ambitions, nations will simultaneously try to woo foreign investment despite the growing nationalism.
  • In fact, economic xenophobia will become the means to do so in perverted and inverse globalisation.
  • As was the case with Make in India—and now Make in Thailand and Make in Vietnam—nations will want MNCs to invest capital and introduce technology in faraway destinations.

Problem II- Structural Reforms And Labour Lessons needed

  • To cast a ‘nationalistic’ obligation on them to boost domestic industry instead of undertaking reforms that would improve the domestic industry’s competitiveness is fallacious.
  • Moreover, to expect the world to buy goods ‘made in India’ when we close our markets to foreign goods would be like living in a fool’s paradise!
  • The coming decade will be dominated by automation, robotics, AI, 3D printing and smart techniques that will aid economic nationalism, protectionism and localisation.
  • This marks the end of the ‘Age of Industrial Revolution’, and ushers in Industry 5.0.
  • Post-crisis, nations will seek opportunities to reform and change labour as well as laws that govern it. Some, like India, will hope to please businesses at the expense of labour.
  • Recently several states increased the work hours in factories and made it easier to sack workers and more difficult to form trade unions.

Way Forward

  • India should work to strike a balance between making itself an integral part of the global supply chain (like China) while promoting local industries and empowering small businesses so that they can compete with the world’s best.
  • The focus must be making India a very competitive nation so that our local companies, products and services are purchased by the domestic consumers as well as enthusiastically by consumers around the world.
  • One aspect of being resilient is that our local companies are as competitive as possible.
  • India’s competitiveness will be unshackled not by clamping down on imports and asking consumers to go local, buy local and promote local.
  • Rather, small businesses and local producers will become more efficient and even globally recognised in a competitive environment aided by a government that makes doing business easier.
  • Until that transformation happens the argument that we can suddenly become world-beaters by turning self-sufficient is not convincing.

For the World to do better,

  • The rhetoric of global power cannot suddenly change to the globe of power.
  • Squeezing the global economy through individual version of protectionism is lethal at the moment.
  • The world may not spend time deliberating the merits and demerits of globalization after the pandemic is contained. But, it should work together for a common and larger objective and approach for all.
  • Only structural reforms, not the dismantling of present architecture  can do best to resolve these issues.
  • India and other developing countries should  work together to reform the present WTO structure for everyone’s  benefit and particularly for the ones which are disadvantaged.
  • The need of the hour is to explore the relationship between comparative advantage and optimal trade policy where all countries are relatively benefited.

Conclusion

Nationalist moves are crucial because they will allow nations to reduce dependence on exports and foreign markets, curtail imports or foreign suppliers and enhance economic nationalism through local consumption of domestic goods and services.

But obviously we do not want trade wars. Covid has also taught us the necessity of international collaboration and co-operation. Unlike US and China, India cannot afford to pursue such obscure economic approaches. We may end up making a terrible mistake if we consider international trade to be a zero-sum game.

Instead of turning its back on globalisation, India should play a leadership role in strengthening the international economic architecture, which populists in the West want to demolish, premised on a win-win relationship that produces mutual prosperity and global peace.

 

Try this:

Q. Dadabhai Naoroji was the first to realize the significance of Economic Nationalism in the early phase of nationalists awakening. Elucidate.




References

https://www.firstpost.com/india/is-this-government-pushing-india-back-to-the-indira-era-idea-of-economic-nationalism-will-work-only-if-backed-by-structural-reform-8377681.html

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/04/21/pers-a21.html

https://thewire.in/political-economy/can-india-compete-with-china-in-the-post-covid-19-world https://thewire.in/economy/india-global-trade-vocal-about-local

https://www.orfonline.org/research/post-covid-nations-will-look-inwards-india-should-look-at-neighbourhood-ex-nsa-66318/

https://www.opindia.com/2020/05/china-australia-usa-netherlands-japan-kazakhstan-kyrgystan-economy-manufacturing-coronavirus/

https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/business-news-why-china-india-will-suffer-the-worst-economic-disaster-in-almost-a-100-years/303222

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India-China Skirmish in Ladakh

“Hindi Chini bhai bhai” – The tale of these brothers is filled with so much action and drama that it can give Bollywood writers a run for money. See, border issues is never easy to resolve, never has been and never will be. Pangong Tso or Doklam – All point to Troubled LAC and an aggressive neighbour, which is a tough combination for India. Let’s dive into this article to learn about the border skirmishes.

Current Incidents

On May 5, around 250 Indian and Chinese army personnel clashed with iron rods, sticks, and even resorted to stone-pelting in the Pangong Tso lake area of Ladakh, in which soldiers on both sides sustained injuries. In a separate incident, nearly 150 Indian and Chinese military personnel were engaged in a face-off near Naku La Pass in the Sikkim sector on May 9. At least 10 soldiers from both sides sustained injuries.

After Chinese accusation of Indian Army’s border transgressions and strong Indian pushback, Ladakh has become a new festering point for the Sino-Indian relations.

A deeper look into reasons of present tensions

  • The stand-off in Galwan valley, according to reports, was triggered by China moving in troops and equipment to stop construction activity by India.
  • Delhi claims that it was well within India’s side of the LAC. The LAC was thought to be settled in this area which has not seen many incidents in the past, but China now appears to think otherwise.
  • The northern bank of Pangong lake has, however, been a point of contention where there are differing perceptions of the LAC.
  • The Sikkim incident is unexpected as the contours of the LAC are broadly agreed to in this sector.
  • Unofficial reason: The broader context for the tensions appears to be a changing dynamic along the LAC, as India plans to catch-up in improving infrastructure there.

Some old bruises in border relations

  • India and China do not have a well-defined border, and troop face-offs are common along its 3,500 km Line of Actual Control (LAC), though not a bullet has been fired for four decades.
  • After the 1962 Sino-Indian war, one of the longest standoffs between the Indian and Chinese armies happened at Sumdorongchu (near the Bhutan tri-junction) in 1986, when the troops had an eye-to-eye stalemate.
  • In 2017, at Doklam, near the same Bhutan tri-junction, the troops of India and China were engaged in a 73-day stand-off, triggering fears of a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

The Gandhi-Deng bargain

    • A year after a military skirmish between India and China in the Sumdorong Chu Valley in Arunachal Pradesh, then PM Rajiv Gandhi visited his counterpart Deng Xiaoping in Beijing to mend ties.
    • The two leaders agreed to establish a forward-looking relationship but border dispute were temporarily set aside.
    • The reason for this pragmatism was rooted in economic and strategic factors: Both China and India needed a stable external environment to promote domestic economic development.
    • China was already a decade into the dramatic economic reforms that Deng had initiated, while Gandhi’s India had also embarked on a similar path.
    • The Gandhi-Deng bargain paved the way for a number of border management agreements (including the 1993 and 1996 agreements related to confidence-building measures.

Then, Why do face-offs occur so frequently?

  • Basic: Face-off and stand-off situations occur along the LAC in areas where India and China have overlapping claim lines. The LAC has never been demarcated.
  • The boundary in the Sikkim sector is broadly agreed but has not been delineated.
  • Face-offs occur when patrols encounter each other in the contested zones between overlapping claim lines.
  • Protocols agreed to in 2005 and 2013 detail rules of engagement to prevent such incidents, but have not always been adhered to.

What are the various sectors on the India-China border?

  • The border can be broadly divided into three sectors—Western, Middle and Eastern.
  • The Western sector, which includes Ladakh, is governed by the Johnson Line, making Aksai Chin (controlled by China) in Jammu and Kashmir contested territory for India.
  • The Middle sector, consisting of Uttarakhand and Himachal, is relatively tranquil. Even map exchanges between the two countries have taken place, based on a broad understanding of borders.
  • In the Eastern Sector (where Indian controls territory based on the MacMahon Line), China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of southern Tibet, while India contests it.
  • The MacMahon Line was drawn at the tripartite 1913-14 Simla Convention attended by British India, Tibet and China; the problem: Tibet is involved and China is not a signatory to this pact.

LAC: Why no solution yet?

  • It’s not like nothing has been done!
  • Maps have been exchanged in the Middle Sector, but the exercise fell through in the Western Sector where divergence is the greatest.
  • China has rejected this exercise, viewing it as adding another complication to the on-going boundary negotiations.
  • India’s argument is rather than agree on one LAC, the exercise could help both sides understand the claims of the other, paving the way to regulate activities in contested areas until a final settlement of the boundary dispute.

Also, Chinese transgressions are frequent: Dragon’s aggressiveness

  • A higher number indicates that the Chinese soldiers are coming to the Indian side more often, and their movements are being observed and recorded by the Indian soldiers.
  • This can be seen as an indicator of increased Chinese assertiveness.
  • Since 73-day Doklam standoff on Sikkim-Bhutan border in 2017 there had been no major standoff.
  • PM Modi and President Xi met in Wuhan, following the Doklam crisis, and passed some instructions.

Wuhan Coziness turned sour

  • Modi and Xi had met for their first informal summit at Wuhan in April 2018, where the two leaders had issued strategic guidance to their respective militaries.
  • These guidelines aimed to strengthen communication in order to build trust and mutual understanding and enhance predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs.
  • They had also directed their militaries to earnestly implement various confidence-building measures agreed upon between the two sides, including the principle of mutual and equal security.
  • But the latest border issues show hollowness of such talks.

International forces in this bilateral ties

  • In addition to the border dispute, some of the core issues in the Sino-Indian rivalry include Tibet (the presence of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government-in-exile), the burgeoning China-Pakistan partnership, and the two countries’ overlapping spheres of influence in Asia.
  • These issues have become more salient in the context of the two countries’ simultaneous but asymmetric rising power.
  • In addition to accruing power domestically, India is also building strong strategic partnerships with China’s other rivals, especially the US and Japan.
  • Meanwhile, a rising China has stabilized its northern borders with Russia and is working to undermine the US primacy in the East Asian maritime (particularly the South China Sea).
  • This basically leaves only one border issue with a rival unresolved: namely, the Sino-Indian border.
  • It is hardly surprising that it is exerting periodic pressure on India along this front—a trend that is only likely to escalate.

India should not fear. Why?

To be sure, China’s regional aggression is COVID-proof. From Japan to Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Taiwan, everyone has had to push back against Beijing’s marauding missions.

1) India can retaliate

  • India, while still under-resourced, is no longer a pushover, having emerged stronger and wiser from the Depsang incident of 2013, when Chinese troops pitched tents to establish their control over the area.
  • India and China are both nuclear-armed countries with strong militaries.
  • India has been building a road along the Galwan River to Daulat Beg Oldie that would improve India’s access to the Karakoram Highway, as well as 61 border roads with a total length of 3,346 km across the Himalayan frontier.
  • The Indian Air Force’s capabilities have improved as well.

2) China is wooing its people

  • Presently, China is in the midst of its annual “2 Sessions” of the CPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Process) and NPC (National People’s Congress), where the ruling sentiment is how China is being bold and tough.
  • Hong Kong was an example of that sentiment. It is likely the India moves may be related. No softening or reasonableness can be expected from China until the NPC ends.
  • China is, as usual, changing the ground realities to influence a future boundary agreement.

The ground realities before we think settlement

  • India sees China as occupying 38,000 sq km in Aksai Chin. In the east, China claims as much as 90,000 sq km, extending all across Arunachal Pradesh.
  • A swap was hinted at by China in 1960 and in the early 1980s, which would have essentially formalized the status quo.
  • Both sides have now ruled out the status quo as a settlement, agreeing to meaningful and mutual adjustments.
  • At the same time, the most realistic solution will involve only minor adjustments along the LAC, considering neither side will be willing to part with territory already held.

Way forward

  • India and China should grasp the current situation as an opportunity to revive the stalled process of clarifying the LAC.
  • Clarifying the LAC may even provide a fresh impetus to the stalled boundary talks between the Special Representatives.
  • Beyond the posturing, both sides know a final settlement will ultimately have to use the LAC as a basis, with only minor adjustments. Only a settlement will end the shadow boxing on the LAC.
  • With both countries in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, the time to push for a settlement to a distracting, protracted dispute is now.

Conclusion

  • The issue is basically the fundamental difference in how both sides view the boundary question.
  • India insists that its relations with China won’t improve until the border dispute is resolved.
  • But China differs here.
  • In some sense, Beijing appears to view an unsettled border as holding some leverage with India, one of the many pressure points it could use to keep India off-guard.
  • But for now, India should resist the Chinese design which could have disastrous consequences for India’s defence and strategic interests. Lastly, Diplomatic channels is always a better option than skirmishes on the borders.

 

 

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issues] Atmanirbhar Abhiyan Package

 

Today we decode parts of the “20 lakh crore” Economic Package.

Fair warning though. It’s a long  journey to walk!

  • The COVID-19 pandemic and the prolonged national lockdown have brought the Indian economy to a standstill.
  • The various announcements made by the Finance Minister concluded the relief measures undertaken in five tranches by the government as part of the economic package announced by PM Modi for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

Impacts of COVID-19 on Economy: Broad Picture

Given an uncertain future for the rest of the year, it can be clearly seen that the Indian economy is contracting.

  • That is, it will produce less in 2020-21 than it did in 2019-20. This means the Gross Value Added across sectors — agriculture, industry and services — will fall.
  • As incomes fall, three things will happen.
  • One, individuals will cut down their expenditure. In particular, all discretionary expenditure — be it an additional pack of cigarettes or a new car or a house — will come down sharply.
  • Two, seeing overall demand fall, businesses, which were already not investing, will likely postpone their investments further.
  • Three, the government revenues will take a massive hit. This means that if the government wants to maintain its level of fiscal deficit (the gap between what it earns as revenues and what it spends), it will have to cut its overall expenditure this year.
  • These three types of “expenditures” — by individuals, businesses and government — essentially make up the GDP of India.
  • There is a fourth component called net exports (that is, the net of exports and imports), but with the global demand plummeting as well, this too is unlikely to help matters.

Atmanirbhar Bharat: With a special package

  • PM has announced a special economic package and gave a clarion call for Self-reliant India.
  • This package, taken together with earlier announcements by the government during COVID crisis and decisions taken by RBI, is to the tune of Rs 20 lakh crore, which is equivalent to almost 10% of India’s GDP.
  • The package will also focus on land, labour, liquidity and laws. It will cater to various sections including cottage industry, MSMEs, labourers, middle class, and industries, among others.

Complete details of the package

First Tranche: Rs 5,94,550 crore

  • The first set of relief measures announced by Nirmala Sitharaman focused on enabling the Indian economy’s backbone – MSMEs that employ around 11 crore people and have a GDP share of approximately 29 per cent.
  • Out of the 16 announcements made by the minister, six were dedicated to the MSME segment to infuse liquidity.
  • This included Rs 3 lakh crore collateral-free loans and Rs 50,000 crore equity infusions for MSMEs through Fund of Funds.
  • Liquidity relief measures worth Rs 30,000 crore were also announced for NBFCs, HFCs etc. and Rs 90,000 crore for power distribution companies.
  • The minister also advised states and regulatory authorities for extending the registration and completion date of real estate projects under RERA to de-stress developers and ensure completion of projects for home buyers to get their booked houses on time.

Second tranche – Rs 3,10,000 crore

  • FM’s second tranche of measures catered to migrant workers and street vendors.
  • The minister introduced ‘one nation one ration card’ to allow migrant workers to buy ration from any depot in the country.
  • A special credit facility of Rs 5,000 crore was announced to support around 50 lakh street vendors who will have access to an initial Rs 10,000 working capital.
  • The minister also said that close to Rs 2 lakh crore will be given to farmers through Kisan credit cards while 2.5 crore farmers, including fishermen and animal husbandry farmers, would be able to get institutional credit at a concessional rate.
  • The government allowed states to fund the food and shelter facilities to migrant workers from the disaster response fund that would cost Rs 11,000 crore to the centre.

Third tranche – Rs 1, 50,000 crore

  • The third tranche of the measures worth Rs 1.5 lakh crore focused on the agriculture and allied sectors including dairy, animal husbandry and fisheries as the government announced steps to strengthen the overall farm sector.
  • Sitharaman announced Rs 1 lakh crore agriculture infrastructure funds for farm-gate infrastructure including using it for setting up cold chains and post-harvest management infrastructure.
  • Other key announcements made by the minister included Rs 20,000 to be provided to fishermen through PM Matsya Sampada Yojana, and Rs 10,000 crore to formalize micro food enterprises.
  • Rs 4,000 crore for herbal cultivation, a Rs 15,000 crore Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund, Rs 500 crore for bee-keeping related infrastructure development were other packages announced by the minister.

Fourth and fifth tranches – Rs 48,100 crore

  • The fourth instalment comprised of reforms for sectors including coal, minerals, defence production, air space management, airports, MRO, distribution companies in UTs, space sector, and atomic energy.
  • She announced easing utilization of the Indian air space to reduce air travel cost.
  • The minister also announced the commercial mining in the coal sector and privatizing discoms in metros to streamline their functions for better accountability.

  • The minister allocated an additional Rs 40,000 crore for the MGNREGA for job creation in India’s hinterland. The government had earlier allocated Rs 61,000 crore in the budget for this financial year.
  • She also announced the formulation of a new Public Sector Enterprises Policy that would allow for consolidation of the PSU firms in strategic sectors.
  • Each sector would have up to four such firms while state-owned enterprises will be privatized.

Is this a new package?

  • The PM did not give the details, but he specified that this calculation of Rs 20 lakh crore includes what the government has already announced and the steps taken by the RBI.
  • This means the total amount of additional money — that is over and above what the government would have spent even in the absence of a COVID crisis — will not be Rs 20 lakh crore. It would be substantially less.
  • PM has included the actions of RBI, India’s central bank, as part of the government’s “fiscal” package, even though only the government controls the fiscal policy and not the RBI (which controls the ‘monetary’ policy).
  • A rough estimate suggests that the RBI’s decisions have provided additional liquidity of Rs 5-6 lakh crore since the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

What is the approach adopted?

  • The measures taken up are largely in line of –

1) Giving a strong supply-side push by boosting the availability of capital on easy terms

2) Keeping income and wage support schemes to the minimum

3) Empowering constituencies ranging from farmers and workers to businesses

  • Above all, the government seems to be keen on keeping the damage to the fiscal as low as possible.
  • The fiscal impact of the Rs. 20-lakh crore packages is estimated by economists at between 2-3% of GDP.
  • This includes withdrawals from provisions already made in the Budget for this fiscal.

Idea behind the Atmanirbhar

  • The pillar on which the package rests is liquidity support so that businesses can be revived. This, in turn, is expected to set the economic cycle back in motion.
  • The option of a demand-side stimulus through a resort to deficit financing seems to be reserved for a future date.
  • This could be in case if the infection does not subside or a second wave begins prompting another lockdown.

Significance of self-efficiency and self-reliance

  • Global supply chains have been disrupted and all nations have become preoccupied with meeting their own challenges.
  • The importance of local manufacturing, local market and local supply chains was realized during the pandemic time. All our demands during the crisis were met ‘locally’.
  • Now, it was a ripe time to be vocal about the local products and help these local products become global.
  • For instance, the supply chain and global manufacturing controlled by Chinese economy got disrupted due to COVID. Thus there is a need to become self-reliant for essential goods and service like N95 masks, ventilators etc.
  • Restrictions on travel and mobility have meant tight controls over the flow of goods, services and labour across international, state and district borders.
  • The international economic order is changing; the possibility of greater economic cooperation is diminishing. So the emphasis should be on the need to leverage India’s inner potential.
  • The Self-Reliance neither signifies any exclusionary or isolationist strategies but involves the creation of a helping hand to the whole world.
  • This is neither an economic nationalism or a rejection of globalization, but a call for a new form of globalization — from profit-driven to people-centric which takes into account the needs of labours, vulnerable and have nots.

Positives of the package

In the numbers provided, the government has tried to project a ‘maximum bang for minimum buck’ approach.

Most support measures have translated into forms of regulatory relief, broader liquidity support or are reflected in its contingent liabilities, rather than in the form of explicit budgetary support.

It seems the Union government has very craftily used the COVID-19 pandemic crisis to plough through long pending, deep-rooted structural reforms. That should be welcomed.

Other welcome moves

  • The government has done well in increasing the budget for MGNREGA by two-thirds, adding another Rs. 40,000 crore.
  • With migrants now returning to their villages, MGNREGA can be leveraged to keep them occupied with meaningful work.
  • The demand of States for higher borrowings limit has also been granted but with clear reform milestones that they have to meet.
  • The government has also used the opportunity to unleash some much-needed reforms in agriculture marketing.
  • The measures also include –

1) opening up more sectors for private participation

2) enhancing foreign direct investment in defence

3) corporatizing the monolith Ordnance Factory Board, and so on

On contract farming

  • The Centre is considering introducing a law on contract farming under the Contract Act of 1872 to enable farmers to directly engage with processors, aggregators, large retailers and exporters in a fair and transparent manner.
  • It would allow private players to invest in inputs and technology in the agricultural sector.

Criticisms of the package

  • Yet, many have openly questioned the ability of this economic package to either provide adequate immediate relief to the most distressed sections of the economy or indeed stem the rapid decline in India’s GDP growth.
  • There are multiple fronts where this package is seen as inadequate. Let us discuss that-

1) Old demand met with conditions

  • The package contains several generic announcements which should ideally, has been a part of a normal economic agenda.
  • The industry has been demanding a package to the tune of 7% to 8% of India’s GDP of over $2.8 trillion since a long time.
  • There was nothing unusual given that similar packages have been announced by other countries to mitigate the damage done to their economies.
  • So, a package of the size of almost 10% of the GDP was offered like a masterstroke but without coming clear on the source of funding and oversight provision.

2) Bluff over MSMEs

  • Since MSMEs have been the hardest hit, being the main employers of industrial workers, their plight is grim.
  • It is small businesses that give traction to entrepreneurial activities in the unorganised sector where migrants from rural India mostly work.
  • The redefinition of MSMEs has been long-pending and cannot be called a reform.
  • There is nothing for the States to look forward to that can serve the immediate purpose.

3) No stakeholders consulted

  • Ideally, after the first round of an insufficient package, the government should have begun consultations with parliamentarians, states and industry representatives to prepare a well-thought-out relief package.
  • States which have been at the forefront of the war against COVID-19 have not been given the required funds to help them cope with the public health emergency.
  • They have however shouldered the high influx of returning migrant labourers from industrial locations.

4) Job losses unaddressed

  • India’s great middle class, which is also suffering, has found no solace either; nor is it likely that they will get anything substantial from this package.
  • A large number of workers in the organised sector are facing heavy pay cuts, job losses, a sharp fall in income, and uncertainty.
  • The expansion of MGNREGA, has a negative aspect, as it could impact labour availability, as rural migrants may not rush back for jobs (construction, transport most impacted).

5) Farmers’ plight ignored

  • The package nowhere mentions resuming normal procurement operations.
  • Farmers are finding it difficult to get the minimum support price (MSP) for their produce; a majority of them are in debt and face many obstacles.
  • Many APMCs are shut with no signs to begin normal operations. Middlemen and Adhatiyas are plunging in to purchase the produces far below the MSP.

6) Migrant workers ignored

  • The first national lockdown was announced in the most dramatic manner late in the evening and without adequate notice.
  • This created panic among migrants and painful displacement began which could have been avoided by offering the industry a timely financial package on the eleventh hour.
  • Economic desperation might leave poor workers with no choice but to return to work. But many of them are truly worried about getting infected.
  • Though Shramik Express trains were flagged off from certain destinations to take back migrant workers to their home States, but there was another shock — the charges levied by the Indian Railways.
  • Now India faces the loss of lives and livelihoods against the backdrop of the ruling dispensation’s apathy towards the poor and the disadvantaged.

7) Healthcare needs more attention

  • Our healthcare delivery system in most States is extremely fragile.
  • One wonders, for instance, whether Bihar can handle the consequences if the virus begins to spread with the return of millions of migrant workers back to the State.
  • Many other States also face a similar plight given the poor state of primary healthcare facilities.
  • The pandemic has exposed a hard truth: most private healthcare providers seem to be incapable of and unwilling to help even during a national crisis.

8) Undue pressure on Banks

  • Indian MSMEs have little access to risk capital, and hence raise it from banks, calling it loans. RBI has lent billions to banks to refinance those loans.
  • It will never get its money back. The FM has, for the first time, showing some awareness of the problem.
  • But the solution is weird. GoI will facilitate— whatever that means — provision of Rs 20,000 crore as subordinate debt. That is debt that does not have to be paid until all other loans have been repaid.
  • In other words, banks will be asked to give loans with an informal guarantee that they are gifts unless the bankrupt firm starts making huge profits someday.

9) Broader reforms lack the spark

  • India’s self-reliance package to match global stimulus numbers is perhaps the driver for the claim of a large package (USD 280bn, 10% of GDP).
  • India does not have fiscal buffers hence a large fiscal stimulus would have been a bold bet – as that could have impacted ratings and currency, if not executed properly.
  • Not much was discussed on land, labour reforms, tax rationalization or on any coherent plan to invite foreign manufacturing.
  • The government’s defence indigenization plan is not new and has been poorly executed in the past and that is also the case with commercial mining for coal.

10) Ignoring demand stimulus

  • The problem with this approach is that there is now a desperate need for demand stimulus; the government has focussed on supply-side push.
  • A strategy to drive consumption may have worked better under prevailing conditions.
  • The options could have been suspending GST for a couple of months or at least cutting rates temporarily, combined with a liquidity boost.

What needs to be done at this immediate hour?

1) Food and cash transfers first

  • The immediate need is to provide free food and cash transfers to those rendered incomeless.
  • Putting money in the hands of the poor is the best stimulus to economic revival, as it creates effective demand and in local markets.
  • Hence, an immediate programme of food and cash transfers must command the highest priority.

2) Revamp MGNREGA work

  • Millions of migrant workers have endured immense hardships to trudge back home, and are unlikely to return to towns in the foreseeable future.
  • Employment has to be provided to them where they are, for which the MGNREGS must be expanded greatly and revamped with wage arrears paid immediately.
  • And permissible work must include not just agricultural and construction work, but work in rural enterprises and in care activities too.
  • The revamped MGNREGS could cover wage bills of rural enterprises started by panchayats, along with those of existing rural enterprises, until they can stand on their own feet.

3) The urban focus

  • In urban areas, it was absolutely essential to revive the MSMEs.
  • Simultaneously, the vast numbers of workers who have stayed on in towns have to be provided with employment and income after our proposed cash transfers run out.
  • The best way to overcome both problems would be to introduce an Urban Employment Guarantee Programme, to serve diverse groups of the urban unemployed, including the educated unemployed.
  • Urban local bodies must take charge of this programme and would need to be revamped for this purpose.

4) The ‘care’ economy

  • The pandemic has underscored the extreme importance of a public health-care system, and the folly of privatization of essential services.
  • The post-pandemic period must see significant increases in public expenditure on education and health, especially primary and secondary health including for the urban and rural poor.
  • The “care economy” provides immense scope for increasing employment. Vacancies in public employment, especially in such activities, must be immediately filled.
  • Anganwadi and Accredited Social Health Activists/workers who provide essential services to the population, including during this pandemic, are paid a pittance and treated with extreme unfairness.

5) Increasing revenue

  • All the tasks mentioned in the package could be financed by printing money. But in the medium term, public revenues must be increased.
  • This is not because there is a shortage of real resources which, therefore, has to take from other existing uses through taxation.
  • Rather, since much-unutilized capacity exists in the economy, the shortage is not of real resources; the government has to just get command over them.
  • A combination of wealth and inheritance taxation and getting multinational companies to pay the same effective rate as local companies through a system of unitary taxation will garner substantial public revenue.

6) Looping in foreign capital

  • It would be argued that this might cause large financial outflows, which the country can ill-afford.
  • Contrarily, even foreign capital is more likely to be attracted to a growing economy than one in sharp decline because of a lack of stimulus.
  • Also, a fresh issue of special drawing rights by the IMF (which India has surprisingly opposed along with the United States) would provide additional external resources.

Conclusion

  • The coronavirus disease pandemic has offered India a valuable lesson on the importance of self-reliance and self-sufficiency that we must aspire to attain the twin goals.
  • Self-reliance will prepare the country for tough competition in the global supply chain, and it is important that the country wins this competition.
  • It will not only increase efficiency in various sectors but also ensure quality.
  • In sum, the package has several notable features not all of which are COVID-19 relief. But, the government has clearly refused to borrow and spend more on boosting demand.
  • If the strategy of boosting supply works, it is fine. However, if it does not work on expected lines, the government will be faced with a bigger problem down the line.

Way Forward

  • Several bold reforms are needed to make the country self-reliant so that the impact of crisis such as COVID can be negated in future.
  • These reforms include supply chain reforms for agriculture, rational tax system, simple and clear laws, capable human resource and a strong financial system.
  • These reforms will promote business, attract investment, and further strengthen Make in India.
  • Local Governments should be playing a key role in supporting the government’s outreach in vast belts of rural India to spread awareness about the coronavirus disease.
  • Local governments can undertake door-to-door campaigns; stitched masks; made hand sanitisers for local populations; and provided support to the local administrative and security machinery in both providing basic services to residents and enforcing the lockdown.

Try this:

Q. The palpable unsustainability of the earlier globalisation surfaced after the COVID outbreak means that growth in India in the coming days will have to be sustained by the home market. Examine.

 




References

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/stimulus-package-a-lost-opportunity-bernstein/story-dedaae4OQjenIjk9oLjm7H.html

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explainspeaking-why-the-atmanirbhar-bharat-abhiyan-economic-package-is-being-criticised-6414905/

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/where-is-health-in-the-stimulus-package/article31609611.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-package-will-migrant-workers-benefit-from-the-centres-measures/article31603590.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-matter-of-relief-on-economic-stimulus-package/article31617547.ece

https://www.financialexpress.com/economy/breakup-of-the-rs-20-lakh-crore-economic-stimulus-package-by-fm-sitharaman/1961843/

https://thewire.in/political-economy/modis-stimulus-package-is-a-gigantic-confidence-trick-played-on-the-people-of-india

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/why-india-needs-to-go-vocal-for-local-stores/articleshow/75812730.cms?from=mdr

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/local-motif-the-hindu-editorial-on-modis-call-for-self-reliance/article31577225.ece

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issues] Fiscal Push for MSME Sector of India (Part I)

The Covid-19 pandemic has left its impact on all sectors of the economy but nowhere is the hurt as much as the Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs) of India. All anecdotal evidence available, such as the hundreds of thousands of stranded migrant workers across the country, suggests that MSMEs have been the worst casualty of lockdown.

A closer look at the anatomy of the MSME sector explains why MSMEs are so vulnerable to economic stress.

Backgrounder: India’s MSME Sector

  • The Indian MSME sector is the backbone of the national economic structure and has unremittingly acted as the bulwark for the Indian economy, providing it resilience to ward off global economic shocks and adversities.
  • With around 63.4 million units throughout the geographical expanse of the country, MSMEs contribute around 6.11% of the manufacturing GDP and 24.63% of the GDP from service activities as well as 33.4% of India’s manufacturing output.
  • They have been able to provide employment to around 120 million persons and contribute around 45% of the overall exports from India.

What are MSMEs? How are they defined?

  • Formally, MSMEs are defined in terms of investment in plant and machinery.

The significance of MSMEs:

The significance of MSMEs is attributable to their calibre for employment generation, low capital and technology requirement.

  • They are also important for the promotion of industrial development in rural areas, use of traditional or inherited skill, use of local resources, mobilization of resources and exportability of products.
  • According to the estimates of the Ministry of MSME, Government of India, the sector generates around 100 million jobs through over 46 million units situated throughout the geographical expanse of the country.
  • With 38% contribution to the nation’s GDP and 40% and 45% share of the overall exports and manufacturing output, respectively, it is easy to comprehend the salience of the role they play in social and economic restructuring of India.
  • Besides the wide range of services provided by the sector, the sector is engaged in the manufacturing of over 6,000 products ranging from traditional to hi-tech items.

Why the MSME sector is important specially for India?

  • The Indian MSME sector provides maximum opportunities for both self-employment and wage-employment outside the agricultural sector.
  • It contributes to building an inclusive and sustainable society in innumerable ways through the creation of non-farm livelihood at low cost, balanced regional development, gender and social balance, environmentally sustainable development, etc.

How many MSMEs does India have, who owns them?

  • According to the latest available (2018-19) Annual Report of Department of MSMEs, there are 6.34 crore MSMEs in the country.
  • Around 51 per cent of these are situated in rural India.
  • Together, they employ a little over 11 crore people but 55 per cent of the employment happens in the urban MSMEs.

  • The numbers suggest that, on average, less than two people are employed per MSME.
  • At one level that gives a picture of how small these really are. But a breakup of all MSMEs into micro, small and medium categories is even more revealing.

What kind of problems do MSMEs in India face?

Given the shape and form of MSMEs, it is not hard to envisage the kind of problems they would face.

  • No/Low Formal registration: To begin with, most of them are not registered anywhere. A big reason for this is that they are just too small. But, as it is clear in a time of crisis, it also constrains a government’s ability to help them.
  • Away from Tax norms: GST has its threshold and most micro-enterprises do not qualify. Being out of the formal network, they do not have to maintain accounts, pay taxes or adhere to regulatory norms etc. This brings down their costs.
  • Lack of Financial buffer: According to a 2018 report by the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank), the formal banking system supplies less than one-third (or about Rs 11 lakh crore) of the credit MSME credit need that it can potentially fund (Chart 5).

  • They don’t have the buffers of the bigger firms or access to cheap capital to help them tide over this period.
  • Bad credit history:

The other big issue plaguing the sector is the delays in payments to MSMEs — be it from their buyers or things likes GST refunds etc. A key reason why banks dither from extending loans to MSMEs is the high ratio of bad loans (Chart 6).

Other problems

  • Long receivables cycles make a mess of working capital management.
  • Limited access to trained labour, technical progress and management support limit their growth.
  • Other common problems faced by small enterprises are related to the availability of technology, infrastructure and managerial competence, and limitations posed by labour laws, taxation policy, market uncertainty and imperfect competition.

Opportunity areas for MSMEs in India

Telecommunications

  • Domestic manufacturing of low-cost mobile phones, handsets, and devices;
  • Manufacturing of telecom networking equipment, including routers and switches;
  • Manufacture of base transceiver station equipment;
  • Mobile customer data analytics – services oriented toward analytical solutions; and
  • Development of value-added services

Healthcare

  • Manufacturing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and face masks, as the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed social behaviour, public health and hospital needs, and created new demand;
  • Manufacturing of low-cost medical devices, and medical accessories such as surgical gloves, scrubs, and syringes;
  • Low-cost surgical procedures to reduce the cost of healthcare;
  • Telemedicine; and
  • Diagnostic labs.

Electronics

  • Domestic manufacturing of low-cost consumer electronics, consumer durables;
  • Nano-electronics and microelectronics;
  • Electronic Systems Design and Manufacturing including semiconductor design, electronic components design and hi-tech manufacturing under India’s ‘National Electronics Mission; and
  • Strategic electronics, as the government is keen on encouraging the domestic manufacturing of products needed by the security forces.

Others

  • Other areas that offer opportunities for MSMEs include information technology, pharmaceutical, chemical, automotive, renewables, gems and jewellery, textile, and food and agriculture.

Part II of the BI will be published shortly…………

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Vizag Gas Leak

  • The Vizag Gas Leak was an industrial accident that occurred at a chemical plant in R. R. Venkatapuram village near Gopalapatnam on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh on the early morning of 7 May 2020.
  • The source of the leak was a styrene plant owned by South Korean electronics giant LG.
  • The leaked gas spread over a radius of about 3 kilometres affecting the nearby areas and villages. The incident had a death toll was of 12 and more than 1,000 people were affected.

What is Styrene?

  • It is a flammable liquid that is used in the manufacturing of polystyrene plastics, fibre glass, rubber, and latex.
  • Styrene is also found in vehicle exhaust, cigarette smoke, and in natural foods like fruits and vegetables.
  • According to The Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules, 1989, styrene is classified as a toxic and hazardous chemical.

What happens when exposed to styrene?

  • A short-term exposure to the substance can result in respiratory problems, irritation in the eyes, irritation in the mucous membrane, and gastrointestinal issues.
  • And long-term exposure could drastically affect the central nervous system and lead to other related problems like peripheral neuropathy.
  • It is, likely, a carcinogenic substance that can react with oxygen in the air to mutate into styrene dioxide, a substance that is more lethal.
  • However, there is no sufficient evidence despite several epidemiology studies indicating there may be an association between styrene exposure and an increased risk of leukaemia and lymphoma.

What are the symptoms?

  • Symptoms include headache, hearing loss, fatigue, weakness, difficulty in concentrating etc.
  • Animal studies have reported effects on the nervous system, liver, kidney, and eye and nasal irritation from inhalation exposure to styrene.

How bad is the situation in Visakhapatnam?

  • It is yet unclear whether the deaths are due to direct exposure to styrene gas or one of its byproducts.
  • However, hundreds of people including many children were admitted to hospitals.
  • The cases are high as the gas leak was only detected at 3 am in the morning, meaning several crucial hours have been lost till safety precautions were taken.
  • More fatally, the gas was leaked while people were fast asleep.

What caused the leak?

  • Styrene monomer was used at the manufacturing plant to produce expandable plastics.
  • The storage requirement of styrene monomer strictly mentions that it has to be below 17 degrees Celsius.
  • There was a temporary and partial shutdown of the plant because of the nationwide lockdown.
  • The leak occurred as a result of styrene gas not being kept at the appropriate temperature.
  • This caused a pressure build-up in the storage chamber that contained styrene and caused the valve to break, resulting in the gas leakage.

Is it under control?

  • The leak has been plugged and NDRF teams moved into the five affected villages and have started opening the houses to find out if anyone was stranded inside.
  • The Covid-19 preparedness helped a lot as dozens of ambulances with oxygen cylinders and ventilators were readily available.
  • The spread of the gas depends on wind speeds. So far it is estimated that areas within a five-kilometre radius have been affected.

What are the safeguards against chemical disasters in India?

The law in India provides protection to victims of such chemical disasters. Here’s a look at some of these provisions:

Scars from the Bhopal Gas Tragedy

  • At the time of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was the only relevant law specifying criminal liability for such incidents.
  • The CBI had initially charged the accused in the case under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  • Soon after the tragedy, which had killed 2,000 people, the government passed a series of laws regulating the environment and prescribing and specifying safeguards and penalties.

Some of these laws were:

1) Bhopal Gas Leak (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985, which gives powers to the central government to secure the claims arising out of or connected with the Bhopal gas tragedy. Under the provisions of this Act, such claims are dealt with speedily and equitably.

2) The Environment Protection Act, 1986, which gives powers to the central government to undertake measures for improving the environment and set standards and inspect industrial units.

3) The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, which is insurance meant to provide relief to persons affected by accidents that occur while handling hazardous substances.

4) The National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997, under which the National Environment Appellate Authority can hear appeals regarding the restriction of areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

5) National Green Tribunal, 2010, provides for the establishment of a tribunal for effective and expeditious disposal of cases related to environmental protection and conservation of forests.

Trial of such cases

  • The legal gains made during the Bhopal Gas Leak, and subsequently with the Delhi Oleum Leakage case, held the principle of absolute enterprise liability for hazardous substances.
  • That is, any manufacturer of hazardous or inherently injurious substance was to be held liable.
  • Any incident similar to the Bhopal gas tragedy will be tried in the National Green Tribunal and most likely under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • If an offence is committed by a company, every person directly in charge and responsible will be deemed guilty, unless he proves that the offence was committed without his/her knowledge or that he had exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such an offence.

India’s handling of industrial disasters suffers from systemic apathy. To respond to the currently unfolding Visakhapatnam Gas Leak effectively and sensitively, it must reflect on and learn from its inadequate handling of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. 

Why the gas leak should set off alarm bells?

Gruesome pictures and videos emerged, showing people having collapsed by the wayside.  It was reminiscent of the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, considered one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

1) No lessons learnt from Bhopal

  • The judicial processing of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy took approximately 26 years to yield a penalty that was not only disproportionate but was in itself a result of a great systemic disservice to those involved.
  • The present regulation imposes no-fault liability on the owner of hazardous substance and requires the owner to compensate victims of accident irrespective of any neglect or default.
  • For this, the owner is required to take out an insurance policy covering potential liability from any accident.
  • The government’s failure in protecting the legal rights of the gas victims is evident from the fact that years after the disaster, the registration of claimants is far from complete.
  • This, however, hindered the ability of survivors to negotiate their own settlements on their own terms.
  • Additionally, by the time the final judgement had been passed, most of the claimants had died.

2) Invisibility of victims

  • As a result of the disorganized response on part of the state machinery, a mass evacuation programme, referred to as “Operation Faith,” was launched in Bhopal.
  • This meant that a significant proportion of the affected population was moved away from the city, making it difficult and almost impossible for following up on health repercussions of the disaster.
  • This invisibilisation of the survivors has become a strategy consistently employed by the state to sweep the enormity of the systemic failure that resulted in the Bhopal disaster, as well as that which succeeded it.
  • Instead of working through the problem of providing medicare, both the state and city governments instead redirected their efforts towards wiping the problem away from the space.

3) Lax regulation continues

  • Usually, in times of crises, governments tighten safety rules and regulations.
  • But as panic over the economy mounts, governments could end up travelling in the opposite direction.
  • The environment ministry has been giving clearances to industrial proposals through video conference for “seamless economic growth” during Covid-19.
  • Lax regimes could become a haven for hazardous industries and sweatshops.

4) Operational security neglected

  • Industries have failed to overhaul its working system urgently, especially that is tasked with safety practices.
  • There are no regulatory measures to ensure safety at two ends—on-site and off-site.
  • The on-site one involves all the safety of the in-house personnel and workers, and the off-site deals with ensuring the safety and well being of the habitats in the surrounding areas as well as the surrounding environment.

5) Multiple Laws with no enforcing agencies

  • One of the most basic and overlooked aspects in the current time is the proper regulatory oversight.
  • The regulators, like SPCBs, are limited in number.
  • Add to it their inability to mount comprehensive and stringent oversight due to budgetary constraints.

6) Poor checks and monitoring

  • Improper inspection and inspection report and show cause notices are not released in the public domain by state pollution control boards.
  • The MoEF&CC gives the authorisation for the hazardous chemical storage, but inspection is done by factory inspector and by SPCB in case of isolated storage i.e. outside the industry.
  • This is very absurd for safety considerations. Inspections are not done properly and are more of “having a look” rather than being a proper verification as per inspection checklist.
  • This overtime perpetuates negligence by the safety personnel leading to accidents.

7) Low or no awareness

  • Having a robust disaster management plan (DMP) is a pre-requisite for every industry. However, the availability of DMP does not suffice the purpose.
  • What is needed most is to communicate the same with the local stakeholders. In the case of the Bhopal gas tragedy, we experienced how such miscommunication can lead to higher human casualties.
  • The plant did have the DMP but it never informed the residents around the plant on the measures to be taken in case of any accident.
  • However, looking at the current accident at Vizag, it seems that no lesson has been learnt from past accidents.

8) Judiciary has failed to relieve

  • The gas leak is just yet another in the long list of such accidents that have happened until now and will happen in the future.
  • So far, the NGT has issued notices to the Centre, LG Polymers India Pvt, Central Pollution Control Board and others in addition to directing LG Polymers India Pvt to pay Rs 50 crore an interim amount for damage to life.
  • There are many other tragedies in the past, where the owners were not held accountable for the damage to life and were let out on bail.

9) Yet no fixation of accountability

  • Fixing accountability for an accident or negligent actions is another aspect of the legal system that we often ignore.
  • A suit is usually against a company involved in an accident. But, in such a situation, we let free the company employed individuals – responsible for negligent behaviour.
  • In some cases, the industry does suspend or terminate their employment but that’s the maximum that it goes to.

Possible solutions

Regulatory: We do not have a strong regulatory body to ensure proper enforcement of laws and regulations related to industrial accidents. The regulators, like SPCBs,  needs to be given a revamp.

Monitoring and Reporting: Improving monitoring both inside and outside the industry and designing a proper protocol for reporting should be undertaken. Relevance must also be given to monitoring and prompt reporting of sudden events that can lead to industrial accidents.

Operational safety: In order to avert the rising number of industrial accidents, a more rational approach is required in terms of implementing the existing policies and practices properly. There are many guidelines and protocols for industrial safety that have been designed based on the outlines given in various acts and rules.

Ensuring thorough capacity building of the employees and management staff – Continually cultivate a safety standard among employees and management staff. Training employees about the importance of following safety measures as often as possible is very crucial. Supplemental training in body mechanics can reduce strain injuries, and keep employees safe during lifting and moving.

Ensuring a strict code and oversight on not taking shortcuts – Accidents happen when employees skip steps to complete a job ahead of schedule. Make sure all instructions are clear and organized to prevent undue mishaps in the workplace.

Employing the use of Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) – FMEA is a structured approach to discovering potential failures that may exist within the design of a product or process. There are various modes by which a process can fail and are called Failure modes that result in undesirable effects. However, FMEA is designed to identify, prioritize and limit these failure modes.

Installation of a proper alert system – This is one of the most essential components of the immediate response protocol and can really help prevent higher rates of fatalities and/or damage.

NDMA guidelines for Industrial chemical disasters

National chemical disaster management guidelines drawn up by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) are as follows:

  • The NDMA guidelines for chemical safety call for harmonization of regulations like land use policy, standardization of national codes and practices and stringent enforcement of safety practices through audits and an inspection system.
  • Industrial units using hazardous chemicals as raw materials will be required to have onsite and offsite emergency plans in place and put them to test by organizing regular mock drills.
  • Given that coordination between the individual units and the local administration is crucial to the management of chemical disasters, the guidelines spell out a key role for the latter.
  • This includes strengthening of state and district mechanisms for accurate and timely dissemination of warning of potentially hazardous gas leaks and chemical spills, GIS-based technologies, and ensuring testing of emergency plans through mock exercises, besides creating awareness and education.
  • The guidelines call upon the industries handling hazardous chemicals to share resources and enter into mutual aid agreements.
  • According to the NDMA, medical preparedness including creation of trained medical first responders, facilities for fast detection and decontamination, mobile hospitals/mobile teams and hospital disaster management plans need to be amalgamated with the preventive strategies to safeguard industrial processes and procedures.

Way Forward

Ensuring public safety, a comprehensive safety audit of all the industries should be taken up and a Standard Operating Procedure should be enforced.

  • Preventing these tragedies is not a one man’s act. It will take the combined effort of competent authorities, the private sector, and society to prevent tragic environmental events from happening.
  • Apart from the regular inspections, one must maintain safety processes internally to help prevent and/or reduce the frequency of natural gas leaks.
  • Most of all, it is important to adhere to environmental norms. Taking environmental safety and public health risks seriously and promoting do-no-harm industrial development can make a big difference.
  • There is a clear need to promote clean development that innovatively addresses potential negative impacts on the environment.
  • To prevent future environmental disasters, all sectors could also do more to integrate environmental emergency preparedness and response activities into strategies and sustainable development programs.
  • Some measures include: Developing policies to ensure that industries operate in accordance with technical and safety standards and allocating resources for risk assessment and monitoring.
  • These measures could make a big difference in people’s health and wellbeing and avoid future tragedies.

 




References

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/vizag-gas-leak-what-is-styrene-gas/

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/how-visakhapatnam-gas-leak-sets-off-alarm-bells-in-more-ways-than-one/articleshow/75648391.cms

https://www.epw.in/engage/article/gas-leaks-industrial-disasters-reflecting-indias


Back2Basics: The Bhopal Gas Tragedy

  • It occurred on the cold wintry night in the early hours of 3 December, 1984.
  • At around midnight, the chemical reaction started in the Union Carbide (India) Limited factory that culminated in the leakage of deadly Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) gas from one of the tanks of the factory.
  • As a result, a cloud of gas gradually started descending and enveloping the city in its lethal folds. And the city and lakes turned into a gas chamber.
  • In the tragedy around 3000 lives of innocent people were lost and thousands and thousands of people were physically impaired or affected in several forms.

What is Methyl Isocyanate?

  • Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) is a chemical that is used in the manufacture of polyurethane foam, pesticides, and plastics.
  • It is handled in liquid form which can be easily burned and explosive. It evaporates quickly in the air and has a strong odour.
  • Its molecular formula is CH3NCO or C2H3NO and its molecular weight is approx. 57.05 g/mol.
  • It is used in the production of pesticides, polyurethane foam, and plastics.
Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Judiciary in Times of COVID-19 Outbreak

 

During the Second World War, when the Luftwaffe (German air force) was wreaking havoc over London with its incessant bombing attacks, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill took cognizance of the heavy casualties and economic devastation. While he was briefed on the casualties and economic collapse, he asked, “Are the courts functioning?” When told that the judges were dispensing justice as normal, Churchill replied, “Thank God. If the courts are working, nothing can go wrong.”

 

 

Context

  • Covid-19 has brought almost the entire world to a near-standstill, and India’s justice delivery system — rarely known for its speed even in the best of times — is no different.
  • Official data shows that while the institution of new cases, both in the higher judiciary and subordinate judiciary, has come down since the beginning of the nationwide lockdown on 25 March, the disposal rate has also been severely affected due to the forced closure of courts.
  • The judiciary has come under immense pressure to innovate during this pandemic so as to balance public health concerns with access to justice.

Background

  • Our Judicial system has been the nation’s moral conscience, speaking truth to political power, upholding the rights of citizens, mediating Centre-state conflicts, providing justice to the rich and poor alike, and on several momentous occasions, saving democracy itself.
  • Despite its achievements, a gap between the ideal and reality has been becoming clear over the years.
  • The justice del­ivery is slow, the appointment of judges is mired in controversy, disciplinary mechanisms scarcely work, hierarchy rather than merit is preferred, women are severely under-represented, and constitutional matters often languish in the Supreme Court for years.
  • As Justice Chelameswar said in his dissent in the NJAC judgment, the courts must reform, so that they can preserve.

Inherent Issues with Indian Judiciary

The Constitution of India, through its Preamble, has guaranteed to its citizens ‘Justice’—economic, political and social. But even after 70 years of independence, achieving substantive justice for the vast majority of the citizens has remained a distant dream. In the specific area of justice delivery system, India is faced with several problems relating to large backlogs and pendency of cases.

Despite the independence of the judiciary from the executive and legislative bodies, the Indian judicial system faces a lot of problems. The major issues that the system faces are:

  • The pendency of cases.
  • Corruption.
  • Lack of transparency (particularly in the appointment of judges).
  • Under trials of the accused.
  • Lack of information and interaction among people and courts.

1) Pendency of cases

  • India’s legal system has the largest backlog of pending cases in the world – as many as 30 million pending cases. Of them, over four million are High Court cases, 65,000 Supreme Court cases.
  • This number is continuously increasing and this itself shows the inadequacy of the legal system.
  • And also due to this backlog, most of the prisoners in India’s prisons are detainees awaiting trial.
  • It is also reported that in Mumbai, India’s financial hub, the courts are burdened with age-old land disputes, which act as a hurdle in the city’s industrial development.

What led to the under-performance of Indian Judiciary?

The issue of heavy arrears pending in the various courts of the country has been a matter of concern since the time of independence. The primary factors contributing to docket explosion and arrears as highlighted by Justice Malimath Committee report are as follows:

  • Population explosion
  • Litigation explosion
  • Hasty and imperfect drafting of legislation
  • Plurality and accumulation of appeals (Multiple appeals for the same issue)
  • Inadequacy of judge strength
  • Failure to provide adequate forums of appeal against quasi-judicial orders
  • Lack of priority for disposal of old cases (due to the improper constitution of benches)

2) Corruption in judiciary

  • Like any other institution of the Government, the Indian judicial system is also allegedly corrupt.
  • There is no system of accountability. The media also do not give a clear picture on account of the fear of contempt.

3) Lack of transparency

  • Another problem facing the Indian judicial system is the lack of transparency. It is seen that the Right to Information (RTI) Act is totally out of the ambit of the legal system.
  • Thus, in the functioning of the judiciary, the substantial issues like the quality of justice and accountability are not known properly.
  • In the recent past, there have been many debates regarding the Collegium system and the new system that the government wanted to introduce for the appointment of judges, the NJAC.

4) Hardships of the undertrials

  • Right to a speedy trial is an integral part of the principles of fair trial and is fundamental to the international human rights discourse.
  • In Indian jails, most of the prisoners are undertrials, which are confined to the jails until their case comes to a definite conclusion.
  • In most of the cases, they end up spending more time in the jail than the actual term that might have had been awarded to them had the case been decided on a time and, assuming, against them.
  • Plus, the expenses and pain and agony of defending themselves in courts is worse than serving the actual sentence. Undertrials are not guilty till convicted.

5) No interaction with society

  • It is very essential that the judiciary of any country should be an integral part of the society and its interactions with society must be made regular and relevant.
  • Lack of faith in a fair and swift judicial system creates a low-trust society.
  • The rule of law and trust are central to enable people in large societies, who do not personally know each other, to live together peacefully and collaborate.

Impact of Coronavirus

 

1) Decline in cases

Don’t go by the number of reduced cases … just imagine the scale of burden on Indian Judiciary due to reduced disposal rate!

  • With only limited benches presiding over select matters daily, cases pending before constitution benches have been put on the back burner.
  • In the entire month of April, 82,725 cases were filed in India’s courts, while 35,169 cases were disposed of.
  • Compare this to 2019, when the average number of cases filed per month was around 14 lakh (total number of cases 1.70 crores), while the average number disposed of per month was 13.25 lakh.
  • In all, there are about 3.23 crore cases pending in the 19,683 subordinate courts in the country, of which 90 lakh are civil cases and 2.32 crore are criminal cases
  • The situation in the high courts’ is no better. Currently, there are over a total of about 48.16 lakh cases including civil and criminal cases.

2) The new normal of Social Distancing

  • Accessibility is a core function of justice – the quality of adjudication in a courtroom is of little utility to potential litigants if they cannot access it.
  • All courts, including the Supreme Court, high courts and district courts, have been operating in a highly restricted manner.
  • Most courts have already decided to persist with the restricted functioning until at least 17 May.

3) Judicial appointments stalled

  • The process of appointment of judges too has been impacted by Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown.
  • Even before Covid-19, over 35 per cent posts in high courts were vacant — out of 1,079 sanctioned posts, 201 permanent ones and 184 additional judges’ positions were yet to be filled.
  • But now, the appointment of over 120 high court judges is pending with the Supreme Court Collegium, while 50-odd fresh recommendations have been made by the various high court collegiums.

4) Quasi-judicial bodies have stopped working

  • What is also perplexing is how proceedings in over a dozen tribunals have come to a grinding halt during the lockdown despite these judicial bodies being equipped with video conferencing infrastructure.
  • The central zonal bench of the National Green Tribunal had been hearing matters through video conferencing for nearly two years but stopped functioning since the lockdown.
  • The public will have to pay a huge price for this stalemate as the NGT had stayed work on some key government-funded projects.
  • With proceedings now on hold, cost escalation for these projects would eventually be passed on to common citizens.

Need for a change

The pandemic has been changing many aspects of our life and forcing us to innovate or embrace the novel changes. The judiciary is not immune to this change. The time is ripe for the adoption and popularization of online court. But there were several attempts at the adoption of technology in the working of courts even before the pandemic. Time has now come to adopt these technological frameworks on a wider scale.

Alternatives to conventional courts in practice:

  • The Online courts where the judge is physically present in the courtroom but the lawyer or litigant is not.
  • This is the present arrangement, except that now the courtroom is the residential office of the judge, due to the lockdown.
  • And the Virtual courts(VC) where there is no judge, lawyer or litigant and a computer takes a decision based on the inputs of the litigant.

1) Online Courts

  • Amid this pandemic, a few district judges have taken a step forward and recorded the statement of parties in cases of divorce by mutual consent.
  • As of now, several such cases, including those involving NRIs, are dealt with through VC in online courts.
  • Punjab and Haryana judges have gone even further ahead. The online courts record the expert evidence of doctors from PGIMER through VC.
  • This has freed the doctors from time-consuming trips to the courts and has resulted in savings of several crores for the exchequer.
  • The SC hearings use the VIDYO App hosted by the National Informatics Centre. Some platforms like Zoom, WhatsApp, and WebEx are being used in some high courts.

2) Virtual courts

  • A virtual court is a unique contribution of the eCourts Project.
  • A pilot virtual court was launched in August 2018 in Delhi for traffic offences and it has been a great success.
  • Virtual courts have been successfully tried out in Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
  • The virtual court system has the potential of being upscaled and other petty offences attracting a fine such as delayed payments of local taxes or compoundable offences can also be dealt with by virtual courts.
  • This will ease the burden on conventional courts and therefore must be strongly encouraged.

The Supreme Court support for video conferencing

The outbreak of coronavirus or COVID-19 in several countries including India has necessitated immediate adoption of measures to ensure social distancing to prevent transmission of the virus.

  • A bench headed by CJI SA Bobde said that every high court would be authorised to determine the modalities suitable to the temporary transition to the use of video conferencing technologies.
  • All measures taken by the courts, to reduce the need for the physical presence of all stakeholders within court premises and to secure the functioning of courts in consonance with social distancing guidelines and best public health practices shall be deemed to be lawful, said the bench.
  • The top court directed that district courts in each state shall adopt the mode of video-conferencing prescribed by the concerned high court.
  • The concerned courts shall maintain a helpline to ensure that any complaint in regard to the quality or audibility of feed shall be communicated during the proceeding or immediately after its conclusion.
  • The bench directed that courts shall duly notify and make available the facilities for video-conferencing for such litigants who do not have the means or access to such facilities.
  • Until appropriate rules are framed by the high courts, video conferencing shall be mainly employed for hearing arguments whether at the trial stage or at the appellate stage.

The only option lies in technology

  • One way to retain access for most litigants as quarantine, self-isolation and social distancing are being implemented to avoid contracting the deadly virus, is by using technology.
  • Some jurisdictions abroad have the facility to operate online courts and even telephone hearings for non-substantive issues.
  • The importance of allowing technology within the judicial process is already recognised in studies conducted by Indian legal analysts.
  • For instance, DAKSH’s white paper series on a next-generational justice platform moots the idea of re-calibrating the Indian judicial system through a natively digital platform.

Various issues with these courts

  • Unfamiliarity with the medium of communication is the major issue. Judges are simply not used to consciously facing a camera generally and in particular while hearing a case.
  • Similarly, lawyers find it difficult to comfortably argue while seated.
  • Some technical problems in conducting online hearings have also surfaced. The bandwidth is not adequate or stable enough. The picture sometimes breaks or gets frozen and the voice often cracks.
  • Consultations are also a problem: Lawyers occasionally need to consult their client or the instructing advocate; judges also need to consult each other during a hearing.

Lack of a unified portal

  • The Supreme Court initially instructed litigants to use an app called Vidyo. There have been instances of using Whatsapp, Google and Zoom video conferencing tools.
  • These apps raise obvious security and sovereignty questions when used for judicial proceedings.
  • A public function as critical as adjudication cannot rely on third-party proprietary software.
  • The National Informatics Centre will have to create a platform that includes features such as videoconferencing and e-filing.
  • This will benefit not just the judiciary but all other components of the justice system – such as the police, prisons and lawyers – and provide more people more justice more speedily.

Conclusion

  • As a matter of fact, the present system of justice is totally out of place and out of time and tune with democratic procedures and norms that please only a certain section of the society with vested interests.
  • Therefore, there is an immediate need to restructure the entire judicial system to make it answerable to the needs of a democratic, progressive society.
  • The judiciary has a golden opportunity to envisage a justice delivery system that could function unhindered at all levels during any emergency.
  • The online court is one of a number of related justice modernization needs. It may cost several billion and look a massive sum to commit at a time of austerity, but if it succeeds it will save several more billions.
  • This saving will be made by eliminating many of the costs of running a paper-based system using rented premises which look more like shop windows and craft workshops than actual courtrooms.

The inherent issues can be addressed with some simple measures like:

  • For pendency, time-limits should be prescribed for all cases based on priorities. So setting time-standards is essential and it will vary for different cases, and also for different courts depending on their disposal-capacity. Alternative disputes resolution  (ADR) mechanisms should be promoted for out of court settlements.
  • To imbibe transparency, a thorough understanding of the principle of independence of the judiciary and ensuring its accountability is the sole prerogative of the Supreme Court itself. The judiciary should come up with its own solution for transparent functioning and judicial appointments.
  • To make trials speedy, the judiciary must scrutinize the sensitivity of a particular case before taking up for hearing. Fast track courts must be established for varieties of cases.

Way Forward

  • Necessity is the mother of invention – once Covid-19 is contained, the judiciary will be presented with an opportunity to reform the justice system to better serve a public that will desperately need it.
  • The legislative underpinning of the courts’ modernization should begin boldly and immediately.
  • First and foremost, it needs to massively increase the number of leaders and innovators who are addressing issues of law and justice.
  • The coronavirus crisis has encouraged courts around the world to find innovative ways of delivering justice. Courts and their users must ‘seize the moment’.
  • We urgently need a set of new laws and procedural rules for the online courts.
  • We have to create more awareness and understanding and also create platforms and spaces that invite and enable changemakers to come together, dialogue and collaborate to create effective solutions.
  • We must use technology and new media to create a citizens movement by equipping citizens with the knowledge, resources and tools to put pressure on the system to change.
  • The rapidly evolving field of “legal tech” enables us to use emerging technologies like digitization, process automation, data and analytics, AI to completely reimagine how a 21st century, the citizen-centric legal system should work.

 

 




References

https://theprint.in/judiciary/how-lockdown-has-hit-judiciary-in-numbers-april-cases-fall-to-82k-from-14-lakh-avg-in-2019/413666/

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/india-coronavirus-parliament-judiciary-lockdown-6367368/

https://theprint.in/opinion/corona-is-a-wake-up-call-for-indian-courts-they-arent-equipped-to-function-in-a-crisis/389224/

https://www.bloombergquint.com/law-and-policy/how-indian-courts-are-adapting-in-the-times-of-covid-19

https://scroll.in/article/958271/the-coronavirus-pandemic-is-an-unfortunate-opportunity-for-indias-judicial-system-to-modernise

https://indiankanoon.org/doc/32424520/

https://www.magzter.com/article/News/Outlook/Higher-Resolution

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issues] Fiscal Push for MSME Sector of India (Part II)

COVID-19 and MSMEs

  • The MSMEs were already struggling — in terms of declining revenues and capacity utilization — in the lead-up to the Covid-19 crisis.
  • The total lockdown has raised a question mark on workers payment primarily because these firms mostly transact on cash. That explains the job losses.
  • The problem with most small Indian businesses is that they operate on thin margins and don’t have the deep financial resources to survive a significant dip in cash flows.
  • So, when an unexpected event like a lockdown happens and MSMEs can’t sell/produce their goods or services, it also means for many they can’t meet their monthly expenses – this includes costs like paying salaries to their employees.

Fiscal stimulus package to MSMEs under Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan

Finance Minister has announced the first tranche of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan economic package. The main thrust of the announcements was a relief to Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs) in the form of a massive increase in credit guarantees to them.

What is the package about?

Instead of directly infusing money into the economy or giving it directly to MSMEs in terms of a bailout package, the government has resorted to taking over the credit risk of MSMEs.

1) 100% credit guarantee

  • Firstly, it will give a 100% credit guarantee for Rs 3 lakh crore worth of collateral-free loans to MSMEs that were doing fine before the pandemic hit and are now in trouble.
  • This deal will only apply to small businesses that already had an outstanding loan of Rs 25 crore or those with a turnover of less than Rs 100 crore.
  • This doesn’t mean the government is directly infusing Rs 3 lakh crore into India’s MSMEs.
  • Put simply, if an MSME wants to take a loan of Rs 1 crore from a bank now, the Centre is saying that if the business fails to repay that loan, it will step in and make good all of that Rs 1 crore.
  • Thus, banks don’t have to worry about potential NPAs – that headache is transferred to the government.

2) Subordinate debt scheme

  • The second measure is a ‘subordinate debt scheme’ worth Rs 20,000 crore and is mainly for MSMEs who are already struggling with debt and are unlikely to get fresh funding by themselves.
  • This scheme will allow banks and NBCs to give loans to MSMEs which are already deemed as ‘stressed’ and are thus less credit-worthy.
  • For these firms, the government will only provide partial credit guarantee support to banks.

3) Availability of Funds

  • The final step involves the government creating a Rs 50,000-crore fund which will infuse equity into “viable” MSMEs, thus helping them to expand and grow.
  • The Centre will put only Rs 10,000 crore into this and get other PSU institutions like SBI or LIC to help fund the remaining amount.
  • The basic idea behind this is that MSMEs who have been forced into a cash-strapped corner by the national lockdown will be able to apply for some working capital that will keep their businesses afloat until they are able to operate at pre-pandemic levels.
  • By doing this, the government also hopes to protect the employment that MSMEs create and thus save jobs.

4)Other measures

  • There are two other MSME policy announcements – one aimed at bringing more firms into the MSME net, while the other is oriented towards providing a level playing field.
  • The first is defining what the firm gets to be an ‘MSME’ and avail of all the government benefits that are given to that category of business.
  • The criteria have been expanded quite loosely and will mean that companies don’t have to be as small as they were to avail of MSME benefits.
  • Put simply, the government will now subsidize more smaller companies than they used to.
  • Second, there is a change in the definition of an MSME that was pending for long.
  • Now MSMEs will be judged on turnover and there will be no difference between a manufacturing MSME and services MSME.
  • FM also extended the initiation period of fresh insolvency proceedings against MSMEs by six months to up to one year depending upon the COVID situation.

Need for such measures

  • Even before the Covid-19 crisis, Indian government finances were in poor health. This pandemic has meant that government revenues will come under further pressure.
  • For instance, experts are already talking about a GDP contraction of 5% to 10% in the current financial year. It will result in a revenue loss of anywhere between Rs 5 to 7 lakh crore.
  • And yet, this is also the year when employees and firms want the government to help them out financially.
  • Banks, quite justifiably, suspect that any new loans will only add to their growing mountain of non-performing assets (NPAs).
  • So the government was facing an odd problem: Banks had the money but were not willing to lend to the credit-starved sections of the economy, while the government itself did not have enough money to directly help the economy.

  • The solution — credit guarantees — finally chosen by the government is not a new one, because this fiscal conundrum is not a new one either (see chart).

Why Rs 3 lakh crore?

  • The total outstanding loan to MSMEs by the banking and NBFC sector is around Rs 16 to 18 lakh crore.
  • Assuming that 80% of these loans are working capital loans where there would be a 20% incremental funding needs, that gives an amount of approximately Rs 3 lakh crore.
  • So the government is hoping that this credit guarantee will help those MSMEs take out another loan and recover.
  • The hope is that since these MSMEs were able to pay back before the crisis, there is no reason why they cannot after the crisis, provided they are given some extra money to survive this period.

How far will these measures help?

  • The Rs 3 lakh crore credit guarantees are the most substantive announcement as it will most likely have a significant impact.
  • It will help MSMEs pay salaries and keep their heads above the water even as the economy slows down.
  • This measure is expected to help as many as 45 lakh MSMEs.

Issues with the package

1) No banks consulted

  • The scheme for MSMEs has left bankers unhappy as the guarantee is not being offered by the government, but from the credit guarantee trust fund for micro and small enterprises (CGTMSE) instead of being a sovereign guarantee.

2) Criteria of availability

  • The benefits of the package will not be available to businesses which had repayments overdue by more than 30 days as on Feb 29, 2020.
  • Only for the stressed MSMEs and those whose loans have turned bad, a Rs 20,000-crore subordinated debt scheme has been envisaged.

3) Employee’s welfare faintly addressed

  • With the package, the government has mandated MSMEs for paying the wages.
  • The MSMEs are short of revenues to be able to pay the salaries. It has now become a matter of ability to pay.
  • Manpower cost for ancillary suppliers is one of the largest. Not every company has the ability to pay their employees so going forward will be more stressful.

4) Too much of loans

  • The package has offered for taking additional loans, but the MSME sector is already leveraged heavily.
  • At this point, taking additional loans can help with major short term liquidity, but in the longer-term, the companies or the units abilities for repaying these loans is grossly neglected.
  • Also the onus on increasing the competitiveness of MSMEs post the lockdown has been grossly neglected.

Way forward

  • The challenge now is to create a policy environment that will encourage the growth of more MSME that can hold their own in a competitive market.
  • The problems faced by MSMEs need to be considered in a disaggregated manner for successful policy implementation as they produce very diverse products, use different inputs and operate in distinct environments.
  • In general, there is a need for tax provisions and laws that are not only labour-friendly but also entrepreneur-friendly.
  • More importantly, there is a need for skill formation and continuous upgrade both for labour and entrepreneurs.
  • While the government has to strengthen the existing skilling efforts for labour, there is an urgent need for managerial skill development for entrepreneurs running MSMEs — an area that is considerably neglected.
  • Further, the government could consider dedicated television and radio programmes, similar to agriculture, to help educate entrepreneurs running small businesses.

Conclusion

Covid-19 is a crisis with an unforeseeable ending. What is clear though is that the government and businesses—both large and small—will have to work together to ensure the protection of workers, be ready for risk management in terms of phased re-starting of business operations and be prepared and open to structural changes in business activities.

  • Issues related to credit, like adequacy, timely availability, cost and mortgages continue to be a concern for MSME. These enterprises are dependent on self-finance. Profit margins are also low.
  • The government drive for financial inclusion could benefit such entities.
  • The government could consider dedicating specialised financial schemes for addressing difficulties in assessing and providing credit for small enterprises, as also providing a line of credit to firms which are under financial stress.
  • The road ahead remains unclear, but it is likely that the economic damage is already much larger than the measures undertaken so far.
  • A continued focus on reforms and on sustaining India’s growth potential will be critical in preventing macroeconomic instability.

 

 

 




References

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/what-makes-msmes-most-vulnerable-to-covid-19-disruptions/

https://www.cii.in/Sectors.aspx?enc=prvePUj2bdMtgTmvPwvisYH+5EnGjyGXO9hLECvTuNuXK6QP3tp4gPGuPr/xpT2f

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/cibil/articles/msme-sector-panacea-of-all-ills/articleshow/61836122.cms?from=mdr

https://thewire.in/economy/narendra-modi-msme-package-cost


Also read: Various schemes related to MSME Sector

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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Key takeaways from the report on National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP)

As India embarks on its journey of 5 trillion Economy, the importance of Infrastructure cannot be undermined. PM Modi in his Independence Day speech 2019 had highlighted this aspect by allocating ₹100 lakh crore for infrastructure projects over the next 5 years.

The latest move- ‘National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP)’. NIP will help to augment infrastructure and create jobs in the country. The government task force on NIP in its report has projected total investment of Rs 111 lakh crore in infra projects over 5 years.

The emphasis would be on ease of living: safe drinking water, access to clean and affordable energy, healthcare for all, modern railway stations, airports, bus terminals and world-class educational institutes.

 

What is the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP)?

  • NIP includes economic and social infrastructure projects.
  • During the fiscal years, 2020 to 2025, sectors such as Energy (24%), Roads (19%), Urban (16%), and Railways (13%) will amount to around 70% of the projected capital expenditure in infrastructure in India.
  • It has outlined plans to invest more than ₹102 lakh crore on infrastructure projects by 2024-25, with the Centre, States and the private sector to share the capital expenditure in a 39:39:22 formula.

Why the infra sector is given more emphasis these days?

  • Slowdown due to the pandemic is a good time to catch up on infrastructure capacity and increase the expenditure.
  • Infrastructure spending is a critical component of the fiscal stimulus as it has multiplier effects on the economy and job creation.
  • Quality infrastructure is important not only for faster economic growth but also to ensure inclusive growth.
  • Lack of adequate infrastructure not only holds a lack of economic development, but it also causes additional costs in terms of time, effort and money of the people for accessing essential social services.

Key benefits of NIP

  • Economic: Well-planned NIP will enable more infra projects, grow businesses, create jobs, improve ease of living, and provide equitable access to infrastructure for all, making growth more inclusive.
  • Government: Well-developed infrastructure enhances the level of economic activity, creates additional fiscal space by improving the revenue base of the government, and ensures the quality of expenditure focused on productive areas.
  • Developers: Provides a better view of project supply, provides time to be better prepared for project bidding, reduces aggressive bids/ failure in project delivery, ensures enhanced access to sources of finance as a result of increased investor confidence.
  • Banks/financial institutions (F1s)/investors: Builds investor confidence as identified projects are likely to be better prepared, exposures less likely to suffer stress given active project monitoring, thereby less likelihood of NPAs.

Projects included

 

  • The report contains recommendations on general and sector reforms relating to key infrastructure sectors for implementation by the Centre and states.
  • Sectors such as energy (24%), roads (18%), urban (17%) and railways (12%) amount to around 71% of the projected investments.
  • The projects will also be spread across sectors such as irrigation, mobility, education, health, water and the digital sector.

Major constraints in implementation

The major implementation constraints that will be faced possibly in future are:

  • Availability of funds for financing large projects
  • Lengthy processes in land acquisition and payment of compensation
  • Environmental concerns
  • Time and cost overruns due to delays in project implementation and procedural
  • Delays and lesser traffic growth than expected to increase the riskiness of the projects
  • Stalled or languishing projects and a shortfall in funds for maintenance

Highlights of the task forces’ report

Components of Infrastructure Vision 2025

The Taskforce has proposed certain goals, strategies and standards under its Infrastructure Vision 2025. Following are the components of the vision.

(a) Affordable and clean energy

  • Ensuring 24×7 power availability;
  • Reduce pollution through green and clean renewable energy and environment-friendly fuel for transportation.

(b) Digital Services

  • Providing access for all.
  • 100% population coverage for telecom and high-quality broadband services for socio-economic empowerment of every citizen;
  • Digital payments and e-governance Infrastructure for delivery of banking and public services

(c) Quality Education:

  • World-class educational institutes for teaching and research, technology-driven learning meeting GER target of 35 by 2025 as per the draft National Education Policy, 2019.

(d) Convenient and efficient transportation and logistics

  • Roads: Enhanced road connectivity to remotest areas and trunk connectivity through expressways, major economic corridors, strategic areas and tourist destinations. Extensive charging and on-road traction infrastructure for electric vehicles.
  • Rail: World-class stations and fully integrated rail network with inter-modal connectivity to remote regions and close to nil accidents.
  • Air: Airport and related infrastructure to enable international and regional connectivity so as to achieve passenger and cargo traffic on the vision of NCAP 2016. Air connectivity to all Tier II and most Tier III cities.
  • Ports: Port and Waterway infrastructure focused on reducing logistics time and cost for foreign and domestic trade as per the Sagarmala National Perspective Plan 2016.
  • Metro-connectivity: Urban mobility MRTS and bus connectivity within 800 metres of homes in more than 50 cities. High standards of living for citizens by providing metro connectivity in at least 25 cities.

(e) Housing and water supply for all

  • Housing for all by 2022 PMAY negligible slum population.
  • All households to have piped water meeting national standards by 2024.
  • Wastewater recycling and treatment.

(f) Agriculture infrastructure:

  • Increased irrigation and micro-irrigation coverage;
  • Integrated agro logistics systems from farm gate to end consumers storage, processing and packing, transportation, market and digital infrastructure for agriculture produce.

(g) Good health and well being

  • Superior healthcare facilities, electronic health records infrastructure.
  • Superior accessible primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare infrastructure facilities across India to meet NHP 2017 goals.
  • Medical para medical education infrastructure meeting manpower needs by 2020 and CHVs by 2025 as per IPHS norms.

Major area of focus

  • According to the report, India would need to spend $4.51 trillion on infrastructure by 2030 to become a $5 trillion economy by 2025.
  • Of the Rs 111 lakh crore, the plan suggests spending 24 per cent in the energy sector, 18 per cent in roads, 17 per cent in urban infrastructure, 12 per cent in railways, and the rest on airports, agriculture and food processing infrastructure, industrial infrastructure, among others.
  • Healthcare, clubbed with the social sector, ranks alongside ports and airports.
  • The biggest allocations go to power, roads, railways, irrigation, urban and rural infrastructure.
  • The report allocated Rs 3.93 lakh crore to social infrastructure, including higher and school education, health and family welfare, sports and tourism. That’s higher than Rs 3.56 lakh crore proposed in the interim report.

Here are other highlights of the report:

Financing

  • The report suggests forming a steering committee in the Department of Economic Affairs for raising financial resources for infrastructure projects
  • It recommends setting up a well-capitalized credit enhancement fund to improve the rating of projects to easy investments by institutional investors in infrastructure through capital market instruments
  • Channeling resources from the pension and insurance sector into the infrastructure bond market
  • Strengthening the municipal bond market in India
  • Developing infrastructure financing institution IIFCL as a development finance institution in consultation with the Reserve Bank of India
  • The monetisation of assets by government departments and public sector entities to reduce the debt burden and invest in asset creation

Monitoring

  • Creation of a tool to monitor projects under development
  • A steering committee of lenders and equity investors to monitor compliances, resource mobilization and design
  • An empowered committee for clearance of large projects

Health sector

It suggests:

  • Scaling up India’s medical devices and diagnostic equipment manufacturing under “Make in India” initiative
  • Exploring public-private partnership in medical education
  • Use of tele-consultation which will link tertiary care institutions to district and sub-district hospitals which provide secondary care facilities

Various issues with the report

Issue of Finance

  • The report of the Task Force recommends diversifying financing sources, along with strengthening the existing means.
  • The report also suggested for efficient monitoring of project execution and enhancing the execution capacity of private sector participants.
  • It said that necessary steps or initiatives need to be undertaken in order to solve the challenge of stressed assets faced by banks by encouraging usage of innovative mechanisms such as loan securitization, InvITs, etc and increased participation of Infrastructure debt funds (IDFs), DFIs, among others.

Neglecting health sector

  • While the Covid-19 pandemic has bared inadequacies in India’s healthcare, a task force preparing a fresh infrastructure spending road map has lowered allocation to the sector from what is recommended in the interim report.
  • It suggested spending of Rs 1.51 lakh crore in five years ending March 2025 on health and family welfare, according to the final report submitted on April 29.
  • That’s lower than 1.5 per cent of the overall Rs 111 lakh crore infrastructure spending target.
  • The task force’s allocations contrast with its suggestions on improving healthcare infrastructure at the time when COVID-19 is uprooting various inadequacies.

No measure to address Economic slowdown

  • With India already grappling with an economic slowdown and job losses, COVID-19 has struck at the most inopportune time.
  • The countrywide lock down had to be neutralized with some sort of stimulus package. This is where the task force report remains silent.

Conclusion

  • Infrastructure development is the key to economic growth and well-being of the country’s people, as it will propel economic growth, improve quality of life contribute to GDP nationally.
  • Capacity creation and expansion in important segments like roads and highways, power, railways, renewable sector, ports, airports, metros etc, is a must for delivering impressive results.
  • The current buoyancy has not just confined to urban areas but also extended to rural areas and improving the quality of life for the masses.
  • Over the period, formalization of the economy has taken place and any growth now onwards once NIP is in place will be more sustainable, rather than a boom-and-bust process.
  • Therefore, massive infrastructure development through NIP is a sure way of achieving the government’s $5 trillion economy target.
  • This is will give a boost to several sectors, create new jobs directly and indirectly, and eventually boost the commercial market, thereby propelling the country’s economic growth.

Way Forward

  • A country’s level of human and economic development is closely related to its levels of achievement in physical and social infrastructure.
  • While physical infrastructure is an important determinant of domestic production, good social infrastructure is vital for human development as well as economic progress through better educated, better skilled, and healthier citizens.
  • Striking a balance between the two is the real challenge for any government in action.
  • Translating the government’s vision to become a USD 5 trillion economy by 2023-24 may be a formidable task, but is achievable.
  • This should, in the long term address all the issues which are either way hurdled with infrastructural inadequacies.

 




References

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/national-infrastructure-pipeline-nip/

https://www.bloombergquint.com/economy-finance/taskforce-on-infrastructure-cuts-healthcare-allocation-in-final-report

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