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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Anti-defection Law under Spotlight

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Context

We all aspirants are closely observing what has been happening in the state of Maharashtra.

Now the rebel leader has moved the Supreme Court against the disqualification notice issued by the deputy speaker to him and some other rebel legislators, calling the action “illegal and unconstitutional” and seeking a stay on it.

What is Anti-defection Law?

  • The Anti-Defection Law under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution punishes MPs/ MLAs for defecting from their party by taking away their membership of the legislature.
  • It gives the Speaker of the legislature the power to decide the outcome of defection proceedings.
  • It was added to the Constitution through the Fifty-Second (Amendment) Act, 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi was PM.
  • The law applies to both Parliament and state assemblies.

Cases consider under the anti-defection law

The law covers three scenarios with respect to shifting of political parties by an MP or an MLA.

(1) Voluntary give-up

  • The first is when a member elected on the ticket of a political party “voluntarily gives up” membership of such a party or votes in the House against the wishes of the party.
  • Such persons lose his seat.

(2) Independent members

  • When a legislator who has won his or her seat as an independent candidate joins a political party after the election.
  • In both these instances, the legislator loses the seat in the legislature on changing (or joining) a party.

(3) Nominated MPs

  • In their case, the law gives them six months to join a political party, after being nominated.
  • If they join a party after such time, they stand to lose their seat in the House.

Covering independent members

  • In 1969, a committee chaired by Home Minister Y B Chavan examined the issue of defection.
  • It observed that after the 1967 general elections, defections changed the political scene in India: 176 of 376 independent legislators later joined a political party.
  • However, the committee did not recommend any action against independent legislators.
  • A member disagreed with the committee on the issue of independents and wanted them disqualified if they joined a political party.
  • In the absence of a recommendation on this issue by the Chavan committee, the initial attempts at creating the anti-defection law (1969, 1973) did not cover independent legislators joining political parties.
  • The next legislative attempt, in 1978, allowed independent and nominated legislators to join a political party once.
  • But when the Constitution was amended in 1985, independent legislators were prevented from joining a political party and nominated legislators were given six months’ time.

Powers to disqualification

  • Under the anti-defection law, the power to decide the disqualification of an MP or MLA rests with the presiding officer of the legislature.
  • The law does not specify a time frame in which such a decision has to be made.
  • As a result, Speakers of legislatures have sometimes acted very quickly or have delayed the decision for years — and have been accused of political bias in both situations.

Issues with the Anti-defection cases these days

  • Generally, when doubts are cast on the CM that he has lost the majority, the opposition and the Governor would rally for a floor test.
  • Now, this may seem like an administrative act. But loopholes around the law has brought politics into the picture. Let us understand the various ground situations involved:

1) Defection proceeding

  • A Supreme Court Bench is scheduled to hear an appeal filed by the Rajasthan Assembly Speaker’s office challenging the State High Court order to defer anti-defection proceedings against former Deputy CM.
  • The petition said the HC has crossed its jurisdiction by asking the Speaker to put off his decision on the disqualification notices issued to dissident MLAs.
  • The High Court’s interim order granting extended time to rebel MLAs to file their replies to anti-defection notices amounted to a violation of Article 212 (courts not to inquire into the proceedings of the legislature).
  • The petition said that judicial review of ongoing anti-defection proceedings was limited.
  • The petition referred to the Constitution Bench judgment of the top court in the Kihoto Hollohan case in 1992 in this context.
  • Judicial review cannot be available at a stage prior to the making of a decision by the Speaker/Chairman and a prior action would not be permissible.
  • Nor would interference be permissible at an interlocutory stage of the proceedings, the verdict says.

2) Summoning the house

Rajasthan Governor returning the fresh proposal by the state Cabinet – seeking to convene a session of the Assembly has raised fresh legal questions on the powers of the Governor. But a Constitution Bench judgment of the Supreme Court has held that a Governor is bound to convene a meeting of the Assembly for a floor test on the recommendation of the Cabinet.

  • Article 174 of the Constitution gives the Governor the power to summon from time to time “the House or each House of the Legislature of the State to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit…”
  • However, the phrase “as he thinks fit” is read as per Article 163 of the Constitution which says that the Governor acts on the aid and advice of the cabinet.
  • Article 163(1) essentially limits any discretionary power of the Governor only to cases where the Constitution expressly specifies that the Governor must act on his own and apply an independent mind.
  • The Supreme Court in Nabam Rebia and Bamang Felix vs Deputy Speaker (2016) expressly said that the power to summon the House is not solely vested in the Governor.
  • The court has highlighted that Article 163 of the Constitution does not give the Governor a “general discretionary power to act against or without the advice of his Council of Ministers.
  • The discretionary powers are limited to specified areas like giving assent or withholding/referring a Bill to the President or appointment of a CM or dismissal of a government that has lost confidence but refuses to quit, etc.

3) Floor test

  • Now, we know that the Governor cannot refuse the request of the Cabinet to call for a sitting of the House for legislative purposes or for the chief minister to prove his majority.
  • In fact, on numerous occasions, including in the 2016 Uttarakhand case, the court has clarified that when the majority of the ruling party is in question, a floor test must be conducted at the earliest available opportunity.
  • In 2016, the Supreme Court in Nabam Rebia and Bamang Felix vs Deputy Speaker expressly said that the power to summon the House is not solely vested in the Governor.

4) Time Limit for defection plea

  • The Anti-defection law does not specify a time period for the Presiding Officer to decide on a disqualification plea.
  • Given that courts can intervene only after the Presiding Officer has decided on the matter, the petitioner seeking disqualification has no option but to wait for this decision to be made.

5) Deciding on merger or split

  • The Tenth Schedule of the Constitution prohibits defection to protect the stability of governments but does not prohibit mergers.
  • Paragraph 4(2) of the Tenth Schedule, dealing with mergers, says that only when two-thirds of the members agree to “merge” the party would they be exempt from disqualification.
  • The “merger” referred to in Paragraph 4(2) is seen as a legal fiction, where members are deemed to have merged for the purposes of being exempt from disqualification, rather than a merger in the true sense.
  • Major political parties argue that a state unit of a national party cannot be merged without the party being merged at the national level.
  • However, the Tenth Schedule identifies this dichotomy between state units and national units.
  • As per Paragraph 4(2), “merger” of a party means merger of a legislative party of that House and not the national party.

Yet another feature: ‘Resort’ Politics

  • The sight of legislators being packed off in luxury buses, and lodged in comfortable, even luxurious, hotels and resorts, has become a common feature of Indian politics.
  • It usually happens when a state government is in crisis, when a crucial election for a Rajya Sabha seat is underway and numbers are fluid, or when a rebellion is underway to change the regime in a state.
  • A political party — or the rebel faction — then rushes to consolidate the legislators who are in its favour.
  • The objective is to ensure that these legislators don’t succumb to temptations and inducements offered by the other side, and instead, remain under constant surveillance.
  • The method then adopted is to lock them in, till the crisis is resolved one way or the other.

What we can learn from the ongoing situation?

As recent events have made clear, however, the Tenth Schedule is no longer an effective check on the phenomenon of defection, and an urgent reconsideration is required. There are a few reasons why this is so.

1)  Loopholes are present in the law itself

  • The first is that the defecting MLAs have found a way around the restrictions in the Tenth Schedule.
  • Instead of formally “crossing the floor” or voting against their party in a confidence motion, they resign from the party.
  • This brings down the party’s strength in the House, and the government is toppled.
  • A few months later, when by-elections are held, the same MLAs then stand for election on the ticket of the opposition party and are returned to the assembly.

2) Judiciary can ‘conditionally’ intervene

  • Unfortunately, in their recent judgments, the courts have failed to stop defection practices (although, arguably, the language of the Tenth Schedule does not leave much room to the judiciary).
  • No matter how well-drafted a constitutional provision is, ultimately, its implementation depends upon constitutional functionaries acting in good faith.
  • As BR Ambedkar pointed out soon after the framing of the Constitution, every constitutional text can be subverted if those charged with running the affairs of government are inclined to do so.

3) Political commitment is under question

  • In recent times, it has become clear that the major constitutional actors involved in times of constitutional instability — i.e., the governors and the speakers — do not act in good faith.
  • In every constitutional crisis over the last few years, governors/speakers have acted like partisan representatives of the political party that appointed them, and have flouted constitutional conventions with impunity.
  • Instances include decisions regarding which party to call first to form the government in a hung house, to order — or refusing to order — floor tests to prove majorities.

4) Horse-trading persists in Indian politics

  • More recently, the Rajasthan High Court effectively injuncted the Speaker of the Rajasthan Assembly from acting upon disqualification notices, despite clear SC precedent to the contrary.
  • It can be pointed out that horse-trading of legislators persists.
  • It has been widely reported that huge sums of money are offered to MLAs to desert their parties and bring down the government.

5) Role of Legislators is being compromised

  • The anti-defection law has restrained legislators from effectively carrying out their functions.
  • In a parliamentary system, legislators are expected to exercise their independent judgement while determining their position on an issue.
  • The choice of the member may be based on a combination of public interest, constituency interests, and party affiliations.
  • This fundamental freedom of choice could be undermined if the member is mandated to vote along the party line on every Bill or motion.

6) Accountability of the government is compromised

  • The anti-defection law deters legislators from holding the government accountable for its actions.
  • One of the key features of parliamentary democracy is that the government is accountable for its decisions.
  • However, the anti-defection law deters a legislator from his duty to hold the government accountable, by requiring him to follow the instruction of the party/coalition on almost every decision.

7) Overall decision making is hindered

  • The anti-defection law leads to major decisions in the legislature being taken by a few party leaders and not by the larger body of legislators.
  • This implies that anyone who controls the party leadership can issue directions to all legislators.
  • Thus, voting in the House will be as per the wishes of a few party leaders/ coalition leader rather than the beliefs of all legislators or the need for urgency.
  • Consensus if often dictated against which democratization within political parties is sought.

8) Clueless voters are the ultimate losers

  • The anti-defection law breaks the chain of accountability between elected representatives and the voter.
  • The legislator would have to justify his decision if he differs from such a view.
  • If he dissented from the party line, he would lose his seat and would be unable to work for the citizens’ interests on other issues.
  • This further reduces the accountability of elected representatives to citizens.

Article 164(1B)

  • A member of the Legislative Assembly of a State or either House of the Legislature of a State having Legislative Council belonging to any political party who is disqualified for being a member of that House under paragraph 2 of the Tenth Schedule shall also be disqualified to be appointed as a Minister under clause (1) for duration of the period commencing from the date of his disqualification till the date on which the term of his office as such member would expire or where he contests any election to the Legislative Assembly of a State or either House of the Legislature of a State having Legislative Council, as the case may be, before the expiry of such period, till the date on which he is declared elected, whichever is earlier.

Need for urgent attention to Article 164(1B)

  • This allows for the toppling of governments by inducements of various kinds.
  • The motivation is that a fresh election allows the disqualified member to be re-elected.
  • He then becomes a member of the assembly once again, as its term is not over and can also be appointed a minister.
  • Under Article 164(1B), such a defection has no real consequences.

Way forward

  • Ensure impartiality of Speaker: Speakers, when elected must resign from the party to which they belong.
  • At the end of their term, there should be a cooling-off period before they can become members of any political party.
  • Omit Paragraph 4 through Amendment: Paragraph 4 of the Tenth Schedule should be omitted by moving a constitutional amendment.
  • Make disqualification for 5 years: All those disqualified under paragraph 2 of the Tenth Schedule should neither be entitled to contest elections nor hold public office for five years from the date of their disqualification.
  • Article 164(1B) should be omitted by moving a constitutional amendment.
  • Set time limit to decide petition for disqualification: All petitions for disqualification of members under paragraph 2 of the Tenth Schedule should be decided, by adopting a summary procedure, within a period of three months.

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Blasphemy and Hate Speeches

Context

  • The debate surrounding the comments by some political spokespersons has put the spotlight on the need for anti-blasphemy law which deals with criticism of or insults to religion.
  • Presently India does not have a formal legal framework for dealing with hate speech concerning any particular religion.

What is Blasphemy?

  • Blasphemy is one of the world’s most abused law when it comes to suppressing the voices of communities, rationalists as well as at many times scientists.
  • It is often regarded as a reasonable restriction over the freedom of speech and expression.
  • It many a times is also regarded as a hindrance in the development of a scientific temper among people.
  • It also a methodology of imposing the religious beliefs and virtues of one community over other.

A backgrounder

  • Being a society with mostly Hindu population, India never saw a legislation against blasphemy till 1927.
  • Prior to independence, in the fog of communal tensions, a Pamphlet was published by Mahashay Rajpal.
  • It sparked controversy, with the members of Muslim community seeking punishment for Rajpal as it was a violent attack over the religious sentiments of Muslims.
  • Eventually Rajpal was acquitted because of the lack of any blasphemy law in India, only to be murdered in 1929.

Beginning of legislation

  • The British colonial government eventually in the time of need, amended the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and added the Section 295(A) in the year 1927.
  • The Section even after the partition of India, is present in the Indian Penal Code, 1860, as well as in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

What is Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)?

  • Section 295A, define the contours of free speech and its limitations with respect to offences relating to religion.
  • It prescribes punishment for deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.
  • It calls for imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both.
  • It has been invoked on a wide range of issues from penalizing political satire and seeking bans on or withdrawal of books to even political critique on social media.

Chapters to penalize religious offenses

Section 295A is one of the key provisions in the IPC chapter to penalize religious offenses. The same chapter includes offenses to penalize:

  1. Damage or defilement of a place of worship with intent to insult the religion (Section 295)
  2. Trespassing in a place of sepulture (burial) (Section 297)
  3. Uttering, words, etc, with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person (Section 298) and
  4. Disturbing a religious assembly (Section 296)

Frequency of use

  • The state often invokes Section 295A along with 153A of the IPC, which penalises promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.
  • It acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony and Section 505 of the IPC punishes statements conducing to public mischief.

What about online hate speech?

  • In cases where such speech is online, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was invoked.
  • However, in a landmark verdict in 2015, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A as unconstitutional on the ground that the provision was “vague” and a “violation of free speech”.
  • However, the provision continues to be invoked.

Issues with such laws

  • The broad, vague terms in the laws are often invoked in its misuse.
  • Lower conviction rates for these provisions indicate that the process — where a police officer can arrest without a warrant — is often the punishment.
  • Critics have pointed out that these laws are intended for the state to step in and restore “public order” rather than protect free speech.

Voice for Anti-Blasphemy Laws

(1) Sacrosanctity of Religions

  • Most of the religions establish in the mind of people, the sacrosanctity of God as well as the religion itself.
  • Scholars in the past have held that the God is above and beyond the scope of any question or doubt.
  • Acts such as impunity, apostasy and blasphemy have been held to be grievous offense, penalty of which at many times can be death.

(2) Enforcement of Religious Sanctions

  • For example in Afghanistan the Constitution declares Islam to be the official “religion of the state”.
  • It goes on to stating that no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion.
  • For issues on which the Constitution and Penal Code are silent (including conversion and blasphemy), courts rely on Shari’a.

(3) Stable Governance

  • Sometimes religion is not a purely personal affair but is the foundation of the state, a vector of spiritual civilization affecting not only the feeling and thoughts, but also the actions of human beings.
  • Hereby it can be understood that Religion affects the actions of human beings, thus requires a protection legally as a moral & social value that drives a human, leading to a stable society and better governance.
  • The responsibility to protect religious sentiments of others later transforms into a legal duty when the state recognizes the Right to Religion.

(4) Reasonable Restriction for Harmony

  • Most of the countries implement Blasphemy laws as a reasonable restriction for the maintenance of communal harmony.
  • Not to forget the fact that the Section 295(A) was introduced in the IPC, 1860 to put a hold on a series of communal violence provoked by the use of blasphemous statements.
  • Thus the British governments’ aim of introducing 295(A) was to put the reasonable restriction of the freedom of speech for the maintenance of order in the society.

Issues with Anti-Blasphemy Law

Throughout the world there have been numerous oppositions against blasphemy laws which at points have succeeded at points have not.

(1) Lack of a definition for term Religion

  • Blasphemy has been described as irreverence towards God or Religion, however the term Religion itself lacks a proper definition for itself.
  • Belief in God which may unite Judaism, Islam and Christianity, is clearly insufficient as a definition, because some religions, such as Hinduism are arguably, Polytheistic.
  • Definition that depends upon a belief on God or Gods would similarly fail to include Buddhism, as it doesn’t include belief in a God.

(2) Freedom of Religion

  • Many jurisdictions have tried to define the term religion through commentaries or judgments.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its article 18 also protects Atheistic and Non- Theistic views in order to broaden the term Religion.
  • If the term Religion is broadened enough to include Atheism, then it also comes under the purview of Freedom of Religion and the practicing Atheism may fall under the category of Blasphemy at many instances.
  • Apart from Atheism, many religions also come a lot of time in conflict with other religions, at many times which may lead to blasphemy.

(3) Curb on freedom of speech and expression

  • Freedom of Speech and expression is a fundamental right in the constitution of various countries including India and also is a Human Right.
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in its article 19 states that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.
  • This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice and the right to hold

(4) A Tool for Oppression

  • Blasphemy for a very long time has been seen as a tool for the majority to oppress the minority. One of the best example for it is in Pakistan and the Saudis.
  • Their laws puts immense restrictions on non-Muslims and slightest defiance invites sentences such as beheadings.
  • The ratio of Muslims to non-Muslims among blasphemy defendants illustrates the extent to which these laws are used to persecute religious minorities.

(5) Promotes Violence

  • The allegations of blasphemy at multiple occasions leads to violence and extremism and have been used by vigilante groups and non-state actors to justify and instigate incidents of interreligious violence.
  • The Constitutional Court review of Blasphemy laws in Indonesia led to mass protests with hard lined groups threatening the petitioners.
  • The petitioners had asserted that the law had played an instrumental role in creating sectarian tensions and religious conflict rather than preventing them.
  • This has been the umbrella under which various militant groups attack, burn and destroy others.

(6) Hurdle in development of scientific temper

  • A large number of incidents have taken place across the world where a rationalist has faced a threat for questioning religious doctrines and has been persecuted under the blasphemy laws.
  • It is to be noted that astrologer Galileo Galilei was put under house arrest for supporting Heliocentrism as opposed to Geocentrism in the Bible.
  • These were some of the arguments against Blasphemy laws in various countries, which may or may not applicable in other countries as well.

India’s considerations for such laws

(1) Nature of the State and Society

  • It is not the business of the government to supress real or imaginary attacks upon a particular religious doctrine.
  • India is a secular state by the virtue of its constitution. A secular state is neither a supporter of religion nor irreligion.
  • However the imposition of a penal provision that acts as an anti- blasphemy law is a biasness against the irreligious, as discussed earlier the practice and propagation of irreligion may amount to blasphemy for few religions.

(2) Violation of Freedom of Speech and Expression

  • Throughout the history of Independent India, the section has been defined as a reasonable restriction over freedom of speech to secure public order.
  • In the Ramji Lal Modi case the court had held that the Constitution in Article 19(2) permits the state to restrict freedom of speech and expression in interests of public order.
  • In the light of above state case laws, Free speech gets a wider scope.
  • However, in practical approach, the idea of an imminent lawless action makes it very difficult in the case of Blasphemous acts.
  • It is quite unpredictable as to what statement containing elements of blasphemy has the capability to spark off violence.

(3) Promotion of Violence & Victimhood

  • The IPC sections also incite the display of wounded feelings.  More than this, the law encourages or generates specifically violent displays of wounded feelings.
  • The provisions main objective was to prevent violence.
  • Say, a ban on a book under Section 295(a) requires a strategy and being violent is the first part of it as it is the clearest proof that the sentiments of a class of citizens of India has been outranged.

(4) India’s International Responsibility

  • As stated earlier, the International Covenant for civil and political rights in its article 19 makes it a duty of every country to ensure its citizen’s right to freedom of Speech and expression.
  • It also states that any sort of blasphemy law is a clear violation of the Article 19.
  • Hence, since India has ratified the above mentioned Covenant it is its duty to abolish any such laws

(5) Question of Malice

  • The section 295 (A) has put emphasis only on those act which are done with an element of malice in it, punishable.
  • However what is to be looked into is the fact that, when it comes to the malice, proving it is a complex and difficult issue, and in India the disposal rate of cases are very slow.
  • Most of the times, such cases take a very long time & surpass the duration of the punishment itself.
  • The element of Malice was added to make sure that any necessary or constructive criticism doesn’t get restricted.

Way forward

  • Laws should be made with an objective to punish miscreants and curb their objective and not to protect the religion from them.
  • One and only one sustainable solution to this is to make the society tolerable, and for that education is the key.
  • This will provide for a society which will respect the right to express thoughts and right to speech and at the same time, respecting all religions, minorities and their beliefs also.
  • It has to be kept into mind that the concept of blasphemy was a concept developed and fit for a pre-modern society, led by a government that is not secular and democratic.

Conclusion

  • To conclude, these words by Ludwig Feuerbach are appropriate, “God is not liable to offence; and even if he were offended, He would not under any circumstances wish the punishment of his offenders.”
  • Public order only can be censored. Hereby the only incitement that has to be there is an incitement of violence. This is where the laws of Blasphemy and hate speech differs.
  • However, blasphemous statements are that doesn’t contain elements of hate or violence is left at the level of tolerance for a section of society.
  • This becomes even weaker due to the presence of Blasphemy laws.

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Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Elections to the Rajya Sabha

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Context

Elections to the Rajya Sabha were recently concluded in some states.

In this article, we will discuss and analyse the journey, significance and achievements of the Upper House of Parliament – Rajya Sabha.

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 house?

  • 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.

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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India’s Afghan Outreach and Taliban

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Context

  • For the first time since the Taliban takeover on 15 August 2021, India has sent an official delegation to Afghanistan.
  • India discussed a host of issues that included resumption of stalled infrastructure projects, activation of diplomatic ties, and restarting the issue of visas for Afghan students and patients.

Points of Discussion

  1. Has India officially recognized the Talibans?
  2. Tashkent held recently meet excluded Pakistan. Is Pakistan out of the Afghan security scenario?

Highlights of the discussion

  • With this, it appears that the Indian is now less divided about the need to engage formally with the Taliban and prevent Afghan people getting marginalised.
  • Afghanistan is vital to India’s strategic interests in the region where the people’s (and even Taliban’s) affection for India is legendary.

Expected outcomes of the meet

  • Recognition of the Taliban government is not on the cards yet.
  • The visit may have paved the way for the reopening of the Indian embassy, albeit a downgraded one.

India and Taliban: A quick timeline of engagement

  • Initial reluctance: From 1996 to now, India’s journey from first opposition, then diffidence to engaging with the Taliban is in no small measure a story of India’s problematic relationship with Pakistan.
  • Beginning of Kashmir Insurgency: In 1996, when the Taliban fought their way through warring mujahideen factions into Kabul for the first time, in India, fearing a spillover on Kashmir insurgency (there was indeed some).
  • 1999 hijacking: During the hijacking of IC814, when the Pakistani hijackers took the plane to Kandahar, the then ruling Taliban acted as a support arm of the hijackers.

Since then, any engagement was a standstill.

When did India reach out to the Talibans?

  • 9-11 terror attacks: After 9/11, under the US umbrella, India invested money and energy into the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
  • But by 2010, with increasing doubts about the US continuance, India was again considering reaching out to the Taliban.
  • New Delhi did not want to be left out or marginalised in the Afghanistan of the future.
  • After the execution of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, the Obama Administration was getting ready to declare an end to the war.

Since then, the way was paved for the talks.

How did its neighbors capitalize on the Afghan Crisis?

  • Pakistan had delivered the Taliban to the Trump Administration for talks.
  • Russia was backing the Taliban fully as the future ruler of Afghanistan, seeing in this sweet revenge for its own defeat in Afghanistan by US-financed, Pakistan-trained mujahideen.
  • Iran was also glad at America’s defeat at the hands of the Taliban.
  • China leveraged its relationship with Pakistan to get a foot into Kabul.

India’s considerations: Counter-intuitive timing

  • Radicalism: India’s cautious opening to the Taliban has come at a time when the group has made it clear it has not changed from its previous satanical radicalism.
  • Restrictions on women: This has increased, from not being allowed to attend school to curbs on free movement in public spaces and at work.
  • Patronage to terror outfits: Taliban continues to remain close to Al-Qaeda, with a significant presence of its multinational fighting force in Afghanistan.
  • Threats in Kashmir: They also flag the JeM and LeT training camps in Nangarhar and Kumar, close to the Pakistan border.

Why is India engaging with the Taliban now?

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  • Reducing Pakistan’s footprint: It is time to de-hyphenate Pakistan from the Taliban, especially as the Pakistan security establishment is finding the going tough with the Kabul regime.
  • Inducing political insight: Another reason advanced for India’s change in policy is that the Taliban in power are more divided than they were as a fighting force.
  • Averting another crisis: This situation may provide room for a layered political and diplomatic engagement with different actors.
  • Eliminating terrorism: It has also helped that the Taliban have made no hostile statements on Kashmir since taking over in Kabul.
  • Afghanistan impacts India’s security: It has, in the past, provided space to al Qaeda with which the Taliban had a special relationship. Afghanistan has an ISIS presence too.
  • Humanitarian assistance: India aims at facilitating humanitarian assistance through international organizations, and paving the way for access to consular services.
  • Protecting its investment: India built vital roads, dams, electricity transmission lines and substations, schools and hospitals, etc. Total assistance is now estimated to be worth well over $3 billion.

Way forward

  • An engagement with the Taliban would at least give an opportunity to convey Indian concerns directly.
  • The visit has encouraged those elements within the group who wish to open up its diplomatic choices.
  • All in all, the sooner India establishes a permanent presence in Kabul the better for the pursuit of national interests in the external sphere.
  • This is not an exercise in evangelism but the cold and undeterred pursuit of interests, which often requires supping with the devil — of course, with a long spoon.

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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Sex Work as a Profession

Context

  • In a significant order recognising sex work as a “profession”, the Supreme Court has directed that police should neither interfere nor take criminal action against adult and consenting sex workers.
  • A recent Bollywood movie is also nowadays perceived as an ode to sex workers honouring their struggle and spirit.

Sex Work in India

  • It is said that sex work is the oldest profession in the world.
  • In India, their presence can be dated back to ancient times with scriptures mentioning their presence.
  • In later times, such women were considered the wives of a temple deity or a Devdasi, who saw their god in all their lovers.

So, where does India stand?

  • Prostitution is not illegal in our country, but soliciting and public prostitution are.
  • Owning a brothel is also illegal, but because places like GB Road are already in place, these laws are rarely enforced.

Legality check

  • According to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), prostitution in its broader sense is not really illegal per se.
  • But there are certain activities which constitute a major part of prostitution that are punishable under certain provisions of the act, which are:
  1. Soliciting prostitution services in public places
  2. Carrying out prostitution activities in hotels
  3. Indulging in prostitution by arranging for a sex worker
  4. Arrangement of a sexual act with a customer

Sex Work, not Prostitution: Making the difference

  • Sex workers are adults who receive money or goods in exchange for consensual sexual services or erotic performances, either regularly or occasionally.
  • The term “sex worker” recognizes that sex work is work.
  • Prostitution, on the other hand, has connotations of criminality and immorality.
  • Many people who sell sexual services prefer the term “sex worker” and find “prostitute” demeaning and stigmatizing, which contributes to their exclusion from health, legal, and social services.

How did the term ‘Prostitution’ materialized in India?

  • In the 1800s, it is reported that the British military established and maintained brothels for its troops to use across India.
  • A report by the BBC states that the girls, many in their early teens from poor, rural Indian families, were recruited and paid directly by the military, which also set their prices.
  • The British have long gone, but the earned infame continues in the country at prime locations of major cities such as GB Road (New Delhi), Budhwar Peth (Pune), Kamathipura (Mumbai) etc.
  • While some estimate that there are around 8,00,000 sex workers in India, the actual number could be as high as 20 lakh across the country.

Perspectives on Sex Work

Perspectives on sex workers’ rights generally fall into two categories.

(1) Feminist perspective

  • It assumes that all people involved in sex work have been coerced, bribed, blackmailed or forced into the trade.
  • No woman could “choose” to be in sex work, and making money from sex thus becomes synonymous with sexual exploitation.
  • Following this perspective, the only approach to giving sex workers their rights is to “free” them from the flesh trade.

(2) Legal-rational (Modern) perspective

  • It perceives sex work as legitimate business and expects to be treated as such.
  • Viewing sex as business provides a basis for organizing to solve many of the problems associated with commercial sex work.
  • They constitute an integral part of India’s informal sector economy.

Various issues faced by Sex Workers

(1) Various violence faced

  • Physical violence: They are often subjected to physical force such as- being slapped, pushed, shoved, hit, being kicked, dragged, beaten up and mutilation of genitals.
  • Sexual violence: Rape, gang rape, sexual harassment, being physically forced or psychologically intimidated to engage in sex or subjected to sex acts against one’s will or that one finds degrading or humiliating.
  • Psychological violence: Being insulted by labelling derogatory names; being humiliated or belittled in front of other people; being confined or isolated from family or friends; being threatened with harm to oneself or someone one cares about; verbal abuse etc.

(2) Lifetime issues

  • Stigma and Marginalization: Sex work is not treated as work, but as a dirty and immoral lifestyle threatening to taint the “innocent” public.
  • Lack of access to justice: Their uncertain status in law result in judgments that often mark sex-workers as criminals and repeat offenders.
  • Social and civil exclusion: For sex workers, the State is an instrument of violence; feared, rather than seen as protectors of rights.  
  • Identity crisis: Most sex workers hide their identity and origin. They are often raided from their premises and are unable to return to their residences.
  • Denial of basic amenities: Due to this discrimination, women in sex work have been denied safety, proper healthcare, education and, most importantly, the right to practice the business of making money from sex.
  • Risks of violence: People in sex work are not only at a higher risk for violence, but they are also less likely to get protection from the police—often the very perpetrators of this violence.
  • Marginalization: Illiteracy, ignorance and fear of the medical establishment make it difficult for women to access healthcare.

(3) Human-rights abuses

Human-rights violations that should be considered in conjunction with violence against sex workers are:

  1. Money extortion by Police and Goons
  2. Denied or refused food or other basic necessities
  3. Refused or cheated of salary, payment or money that is due to the person
  4. Forced to consume drugs or alcohol
  5. Arbitrarily stopped, subjected to invasive body searches or detained by police
  6. Arbitrarily detained or incarcerated in police stations, detention centres and rehabilitation centres without due process
  7. Refused or denied health-care services
  8. Subjected to coercive health procedures such as forced STI and HIV testing, sterilization, abortions
  9. Deprived of sleep by force

Why is it a vicious trap?

  • The stigma against a woman in sex work is not limited to the woman herself; it carries down to her children, regardless of their own professions or lifestyles.
  • Children of sex workers repeatedly report discrimination, ostracization and isolation felt on account of their mothers’ work.
  • Many are embarrassed by their home lives.
  • This has had significant effects on their education, as the drop-out rate in this community is particularly high.
  • Children abandon school for myriad reasons, ranging from exam performance to harassment by teachers and classmates.
  • Undoubtedly this harassment leads to lower self-esteem and a lack of motivation in school.

Debunking myths about Sex Work

Popular media fuels the image of women as either overly sexual outcastes who threaten the very structure of Indian family life. Indian laws and policies regarding sex work are crafted from a moralistic standpoint and people involved in sex work are defined by—and treated as— their “immoral” profession.

In fact, women in sex work cannot be put into a box.

  • While there are certainly victims of trafficking in sex work today, the majority of women in sex work consent to doing it.
  • They have decided that making money from sex is a lucrative option for them and their families.
  • But traditionalists cannot divorce sex from its sacred and religious implications. Tawaif and Devdasi system is a testimony to this.

Why sex work is not recognized/promoted in India?

  • A victimless crime: Prostitution creates a setting whereby crimes against men, women, and children become a commercial enterprise. It is an assault when he/she forces a prostitute to engage in sex scenes.
  • Evils of institutionalizing: Even with the decriminalization of prostitution, women and even children can still suffer from violence and physical abuse. People who are into this profession are prone to rape.  
  • Sexually transmitted diseases: Even if a worker is being tested every week for HIV, she will test negative for at least the first 4-6 weeks and possibly the first 12 weeks after being infected. This means that she can be a silent vector of the deadly virus.
  • Encourage human trafficking: Human trafficking, especially of girl children, is rampant in our country. With poverty driving some parents to sell their kids to sexual predators is alarming and if prostitution will be legal, more children will be coerced to be sex workers.

Various policy moves

(1) Ujjwala Scheme

  • The Ministry of Women and Child Development implements the Ujjawala Scheme.
  • It is a comprehensive scheme for prevention of trafficking and rescue, rehabilitation and re-integration of victims of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.
  • The protective and rehabilitative homes provide basic amenities such as food, clothing, medical care, legal aid, education for rescued children and vocational training to provide them alternate livelihood options.

(2) Protection against forceful sex work

  • The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986 is an amendment of the original act.
  • As per this act, prostitutes are to be arrested if they are found soliciting their services or seducing others.
  • Furthermore, call girls are prohibited from making their phone numbers public.
  • They can be punished for up to 6 months along with penalties if found doing so.

(3) Constitutional safeguard

Article 23 of the Indian Constitution, amended in 2014, includes the following provisions:

  1. Prohibition of human trafficking and forced labour.
  2. Traffic in human beings and bears and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with the law.
  3. Nothing in this article precludes the State from imposing compulsory service for public purposes, and the State shall not discriminate solely on the basis of religion, race, caste, or class, or any combination thereof, in imposing such service.

Why they are still excluded in India?

  • No documentation of socio-economic status: Stigma related to their work and identity and the migratory nature of work prevents sex workers from accessing identification documents, essential to accessing entitlements. They are yet to have Aadhaar Cards.
  • Denial of formal education: Residence proof, father’s name and caste, and the ration card are some documents required for getting their children registered in schools.
  • Food insecurity: The Public Distribution System (PDS), meant for people below the poverty line to access food items cheaply, needs supporting proof of sex workers being below poverty line.
  • Denial of safe environment and labour protection: Sex work happens in informal settings and is an occasional form of income or a long term occupation. This includes access to benefits, legal redress for workplace grievances, adequate health and safety regulations.

Recent Supreme Court Directive: Key Takeaways

(1) Recognition to profession and personal dignity

  • Sex Work is a profession whose practitioners are entitled to dignity and equal protection under law.
  • Criminal law must apply equally in all cases, on the basis of ‘age’ and ‘consent’.
  • It need not be gainsaid that notwithstanding the profession, every individual in this country has a right to a dignified life under Article 21 of the Constitution, the court observed.
  • The order was passed after invoking special powers under Article 142 of Constitution.

(2) Cautions to Police

  • It is clear that the sex worker is an adult and is participating with consent, the police must refrain from interfering or taking any criminal action.
  • The Bench ordered that sex workers should not be “arrested or penalised or harassed or victimised” whenever there is a raid on any brothel.
  • Since voluntary sex work is not illegal and only running the brothel is unlawful.
  • Basic protection of human decency and dignity extends to sex workers and their children, the court noted.
  • A child of a sex worker should not be separated from the mother merely on the ground that she is in the sex trade, the court held.
  • Further, if a minor is found living in a brothel or with sex workers, it should not be presumed that the child was trafficked.

(3) Taking cognisance of sexual crimes against sex workers

  • The court ordered the police to not discriminate against sex workers who lodge a criminal complaint of offence committed against them is of a sexual nature.
  • Sex workers can also be victims of sexual assault should be provided every facility including immediate medico-legal care.
  • The court said media should take “utmost care not to reveal the identities of sex workers, during arrest, raid and rescue operations.

What will change if the Policymakers endorse the Court’s direction?

  • Sex workers will be accorded equal legal protection.
  • If a sex worker reports a criminal/sexual or other type of offence, the police will take it seriously and act in accordance with the law.
  • If a brothel is raided, the sex workers involved will not be arrested, penalised, harassed, or victimised.
  • Any sex worker who is a victim of sexual assault will be given all of the same services as a survivor of sexual assault, including immediate medical attention.
  • Provisions similar to those of Transgenders will be extended to sex workers.

Sex work in other countries

Some countries choose to outright ban the practice, while others have attempted to regulate prostitution and provide health and social benefits to sex workers.

Here are a few examples of countries where prostitution is legal:

  • New Zealand: Prostitution has been legal since 2003. There are even licenced brothels operating under public health and employment laws, and they get all the social benefits.
  • France: Prostitution is legal in France, though soliciting in public is still not allowed.
  • Germany: Prostitution is legalised and there are proper state-run brothels. The workers are provided with health insurance, have to pay taxes, and they even receive social benefits like pensions.
  • Greece: The sex workers get equal rights and have to go for health checkups as well.
  • Canada: Prostitution in Canada is legal with strict regulations.

Way forward

  • Decriminalization: It is a prerequisite to ensure the physical and emotional inviolability of sex workers, their right to life, right to freedom of labour, health and reproductive and sexual rights.
  • Trafficking and should not be conflated with sex work:  Trafficking of Adult Persons and Trafficking of Children should be dealt with under two separate laws to ensure that consenting adults are not infantilised and children are given justice.
  • Rehabilitation with consent: Shut down compulsory detention or rehabilitation centres for people involved in sex work. Instead, provide sex workers with evidence-based, voluntary, community empowerment services.
  • Participation in policy making: Ensure participation of sex work organisations in drafting/ amending laws, policies and programs relevant to them and in its eventual implementation process as the govt did for Transgenders.
  • Policing reforms: Sensitivity to issues faced by sex workers should be made a part of training for police personnel, public prosecutors and the judiciary in partnership with community organisations of sex workers.
  • Human rights protection: Strengthen National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and increase their accountability to respond to complaints or initiate suo moto action reports of violence against sex workers.
  • Access to justice: Ensure Free Legal Services are available in rural areas for sex workers and offered by lawyers who have been trained in issues faced by sex workers.

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Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Power Crisis in India

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Context

  • India is facing one of the worst power crises in its History and the scariest point is that this power crisis is not something that rarely has been haunting almost every year for 10 years now!!
  • As a result, businesses all across the country are facing lakhs and even crores of losses due to power shortage!! and at the macro level, the economy of India itself is taking a hit!!

A layman’s analysis

  • When we say power crisis you might think maybe India does not have enough energy source!!
  • But the fun fact is that India has the 5th largest coal reserve globally with 9.5% of the entire world’s coal reserve right here in our country itself!!
  • We have so much coal that with the existing energy demands, these reserves can power India for 111 years!!
  • Also the completion of universal household electrification has been a huge achievement.

So the question is:

  1. Inspite being one of the largest coal reserve why is India facing a power crisis?
  2. What are the factors that cause this to happen every single year?

Power value chain in India

  • The first thing we need to understand is the power value chain in India and how energy actually comes from the coal mines to your laptop.
  • This value chain includes four major steps:
  • Producers who mine and refine fuels
  • Power generation
  • Electricity transmission
  • Electricity distribution (Discoms)
  • The value chain starts with the energy producers who mine and refine fuels that are used in electricity production this includes all types of energy sources like coal gas oil or even nuclear based fuels.
  • The fuels are then delivered to the generation facilities where the electricity generator uses the fuel to drive a generator to produce electricity and then to dispatch it to a transmission and distribution system or Discoms.
  • This system distributes the electricity to consumer locations through a transmission and distribution grid.

India’s dependency on Coal

  • As of September 2021, thermal power comprised 60% of India’s installed capacity in power generation.
  • Coal-based power generation, with a capacity of around 210 gigawatts (GW) of the total 396 GW, accounts for about 53% of India’s total power capacity as on March 2022.
  • India imports about 20% of its thermal coal requirements.

Why is there a Power Shortage?

  • India was recently hit by a power crisis when the daily peak power shortage rose to 10,778 MW and the energy deficit reached 5% at the national level.
  • Some states experienced steep deficits of up to 15%.
  • Consequently, discoms resorted to load-shedding, resulting in long hours of outage for many households and rationed supply for economic activities.
  • Depleting coal supplies at thermal power plants has resulted in this crisis.

(1) Largest share in energy basket

  • Coal is the most important and abundant fossil fuel in India. It accounts for 55% of the country’s energy needs.
  • Coal demand is driven by the rising population, expanding economy and a quest for improved quality of life.
  • Currently, India doesn’t have a feasible replacement of Coal Based Thermal Energy in near future.

(2) Demand for power has soared

  • For instance, New Delhi’s peak power demand touched 5,460 megawatts (MW) recently, the highest ever in April’s first fortnight.
  • This was due to severe heatwaves all across the nation.
  • Several states, including Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Telangana, and Maharashtra, are facing power outages.

(3) Lack of coal availability in stock

  • The coal stock with power generation companies (gencos) is not adequate to meet the rising demand.
  • Normally, a power plant must maintain 26 days of coal stock.
  • However, at present, several power plants are reporting critical levels of coal stock.
  • Data from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) shows that 97 power plants out of the 173 have critical levels of coal inventory.
  • These have an average of 28% of the stock compared to the normal scenario.

Stress on Power plants

  • There has been a moderation in coal supply towards certain gencos because of the overdues or delays in the payments.
  • As a result, discoms/state governments will either have to absorb the cost burden with increased imported coal-based generation.
  • This however has to be passed on the same through tariff hikes which never happened in India.
  • Inspite, DISCOMS constrained to offtake power, resulting in load shedding, which has been visible in a few states recently.

Major reason: Underperformance of Coal Sector

  • The state power distribution companies (discoms) have also not been able to clear their dues to power generation companies.
  • According to the government’s PRAAPTI portal, distribution companies faced financial liability of nearly Rs 1 lakh crore.
  • The challenges facing the finances of the distribution companies have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crises.
  • The impact of the nation-wide lockdown in 2020, which shuttered commercial and industrial enterprises was severe for their finances.
  • Revenues from historically subsidizing consumers decreased, even as supply to subsided consumers, agricultural and residential consumers, either increased or remained the same.
  • Indian railways owing to no reception of payment from DISCOMS stopped or reduced coal supplies.

Factors attributing to the deteriorating finances

[1] Lack of Cost-reflective Tariffs

  • The costs of supplying high-voltage consumers is significantly less than that of supplying to lower voltage consumers
  • The complexity of tariff determination is accentuated by the existence of multiplicity of categories in the tariff structures, with numerous subcategories and slabs.
  • There is significant variation in this between states.

[2] Distorted Cross-subsidies

  • Households and agricultural consumers paying less than the average cost of supply and to make up for this, tariffs for commercial and industrial consumers are higher.
  • In developed countries, high voltage industrial consumers have the lowest tariff reflecting lower costs.
  • This increases industrial competitiveness by lowering energy costs.
  • DISCOMs in states with poor industrialization tend to correspondingly have larger losses.
  • Increased domestic consumption due to expanded electrification and rise in per capita incomes and increased agricultural consumption due to increased demand for irrigation have not been matched by a similar growth in subsidizing consumers.
  • Consistent losses have meant that distribution companies do not have the financial capacity to invest in necessary capital expenditure, resulting in paying consumers needing to invest on their own in independent sources of power.

[3] Misaligned Political Incentives and Mismanagement

  • The govt could have declared the extent to which tariffs would become lower as AT&C losses were brought down.
  • Consumers would pay more than necessary to the extent AT&C (Aggregate Technical & Commercial) losses were higher.
  • De-metering of agricultural consumption has been another example.
  • It is considered to have encouraged ‘a culture of unaccountability in the sector, leading to theft and line losses being hidden within the agricultural category’.
  • There are also electricity bills waivers as populist election freebies.

[4] Lack of Regular Tariff Increase

  • Another major cause of the high financial losses has been that tariffs do not increase commensurate to increase in costs in many states.
  • Since the 1990s, revenue recovered by DISCOMs had been, on average, 30% lower than the cost incurred.
  • This resulted in approximately Rs 1.15 lakh crores of costs, which were not recovered through tariffs.
  • Due to a variety of reasons, including state government interventions or a lack of preparedness, DISCOMs do not file petitions in a timely manner.

[5] Delays/non-payment of Subsidy Amounts and Dues by States

  • The rapid rise in subsidized consumers and increased populist announcements of greater subsidies have meant an increase in the requirement of subsidies from the state governments.
  • Delays in release of subsidies, as well as underpayment of committed subsidies impact the ability of DISCOMs in managing operating costs.
  • Moreover, since the fraction of the cost structure meant to be covered by subsidy payments has risen.
  • Also, government departments often also do not release payments for outstanding dues in a timely manner.

Various policy measures

[1] 2001 Scheme for Repayment of SEB Due

  • The first bailout package was intended as a one-time settlement of outstanding dues till September 2001.
  • Based on the recommendations of the Committee constituted under Montek Singh Ahluwalia, in May 2002, the government circulated a tripartite agreement between the RBI, Central and State Governments.
  • States were to implement reforms such as setting up SERC, metering distribution feeders, and improving revenue realization, in exchange for which 60% of interest/surcharge on delayed payments was waived for participating states

[2] 2012 Financial Restructuring Plan (FRP)

  • The states were unable to turn around the fortunes of their electricity boards as required by the financial restructuring plan (FRP) finalized in September 2012.
  • This was because of reasons such as low tariff increases, slow progress in reducing losses, higher electricity purchase costs and crippling debt.
  • The scheme has been availed by Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
  • This is the second such bailout for the Indian distribution sector.
  • Some states including Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have also not converted outstanding state government loans into equity—another requisite.

[3] 2015 Ujwal DISCOMs Assurance Yojana (UDAY)

  • The UDAY scheme was introduced with the objective to improve the operational and financial efficiency of state DISCOMs.
  • The scheme allowed state governments to take over 75% of outstanding DISCOM debt over two years.
  • Incentives offered to participating states included access to additional/priority funding through Central Government schemes such as DDUGJY, IPDS, Power Sector Development Fund (PSDF).
  • This however could not alter the situation on the ground.

[4] Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan Package

  • This was a part of the package announced to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.
  • It infused liquidity support of Rs 90,000 crore in the form of concessional loans from Power Finance Corporation and Rural Electrification Corporation.
  • It provided for rebates by Central Public Sector Gencos to DISCOMs; and relaxation of conditions of existing loans and relief from certain late payments and surcharges were announced.
  • The borrowing limits for states were also relaxed, with part of the increased borrowing linked to reforms on power distribution.

[5] Reforms-based Result-Linked Power Distribution Sector

  • Launched in July 2021, the RDSS is the latest of many central government grant-based programmes towards electricity distribution network investments.
  • It has an outlay of Rs 3 lakh crore for five years.
  • Half of the outlay is for better feeder and transformer metering and pre-paid smart consumer metering.
  • The remaining half, 60 percent of which will be funded by central government grants, will be spent on power loss reduction and strengthening networks.
  • RDSS stipulates universal pre-paid metering but post-paid options may be suitable in many contexts.

  What are the recent reforms in Coal Sector?

  • Commercial mining of coal is allowed, with 50 blocks to be offered to the private sector.
  • Entry norms will be liberalized as it has done away with the regulation requiring power plants to use “washed” coal.
  • Coal blocks to be offered to private companies on revenue sharing basis in place of fixed cost.
  • Coal gasification/liquefaction to be incentivized through rebate in revenue share.
  • Coal bed methane (CBM) extraction rights to be auctioned from Coal India’s coal mines.

Averting the power crisis: A way forward

(1) Ramp-up domestic coal production

  • The efforts are being taken to fill the shortage of coal from domestic mines and to do so the government is working closely with coal producing companies to ramp up domestic production of coal.

(2) Reduce demand-supply mismatches

  • Load shading is not new to India. Rationing of power supply in rural and semi-urban areas will be the immediate solution for the power distress in industrial areas.

(3) Rationalize the coal imports

  • India will need to amplify its imports despite the financial cost. The gap in the coal demand after domestic production has to be filled by the imports from Indonesia and Australia.

(4) Focus on Hydro-power generation and natural gal

  • India has the immense potential in the Hydro-power generation and is among the most important sector for generating electricity after thermal power plants. There could be a larger role for natural gas to play, even with global prices currently surging.

(5) Increasing the share of Renewable energy

  • Experts advocate a mix of coal and clean sources of energy as a possible long-term solution. It’s not completely possible to transition and it’s never a good strategy to transition 100% to renewables without a backup.
  • Long term investment in multiple power sources aside a crisis like the current one can be averted with better planning.

(6) Increased coordination

  • There is need for closer coordination between Coal India Limited – the largest supplier of coal in the country and other stakeholders.
  • For now, the government is working with state-run enterprises to ramp up production and mining to reduce the gap between supply and demand.

(7) Decentralized power generation

  • The main issue is that we are dependent on large, centralized power generation.
  • The only way our power sector can absorb shocks better is if large power plants are augmented by decentralized generation sources at village level.
  • This can be a template for better resilience to future power crises.

(8) Coal stocking norms

  • To avoid such a crisis situation in future, the Ministry of Power has worked out a strategy which includes tweaking the coal stocking norms. If the power plants do not follow them, then there will be a penal provision.
  • To overcome the storage issue in the generation of electricity from renewable sources, the government is working on a provision for creating more storage facilities in the grid.

Conclusion

  • India can learn a lesson from Europe’s power crisis. While Europe has gas power plants to stand in, India doesn’t have similar options.
  • As we move more towards greening our power sources, we need to provision for paying for standby thermal generation to avoid a mega-crisis.
  • Adequate liquidity for backup reserve capacity needs to be planned and provisioned for.
  • Probably, the present situation is a good opportunity to rethink and fine-tune the energy policy without further delay.
  • Bits and pieces reforms will not work anymore, as the chain has to been broken and a complete overhaul is required.

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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Abortion Debate

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Context

  • Around 36 million women across the US are on the verge of losing their right to legal abortion.
  • A draft document, leaked a couple of weeks ago, suggests that the Supreme Court has decided to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion across the country.

What will be the implications if Roe v Wade is struck down? How will the decision reverberate around the world? Let us analyse.

The Roe vs. Wade case: Upholding the Right to Abortion

  • Roe, short for Jane Roe, is the pseudonym for a Texas woman who in 1970 sought to have an abortion when she was five months pregnant.
  • Texas then had ban on abortions except to save a mother’s life. The case then went to the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS).
  • The 7-2 majority opinion of the SCOTUS written in 1973, paved the way for the recognition of abortion as a constitutional right in the US considering foetal viability.

[Foetal viability is the point at which a foetus can survive outside the womb, at the time considered to be around 28 weeks, but today is closer to 23 or 24 weeks owing to advances in medicine and technology.]

Right to Abortion Judgment: Key takeaways

Based on the Roe vs Wade case, the framework of regulations that applied towards the right to abortion:

  1. Almost no limitations could be placed on that right;
  2. Only limitations to abortion rights that were aimed at protecting a woman’s health were permitted; and in the third trimester,
  3. State governments had greater leeway to limit the right to abortion except for cases in which the life and health of the mother were endangered.

What is the debate?

The abortion debate is the ongoing controversy surrounding the moral, legal, and religious status of induced abortion.

The sides involved in the debate are the self-described “pro-choice” and “pro-life” movements.

  1. Pro-choice emphasizes the woman’s choice whether to terminate a pregnancy.
  2. Pro-life position stresses the humanity of both the mother and foetus, arguing that a fetus is a human person deserving of legal protection.

Ethical questions raised

(1) The primary questions

The moral debate about abortion deals with two separate questions:

  1. Is abortion morally wrong?
  2. Should abortion be legal or illegal?

(2) The secondary questions

But those two questions don’t end the debate.

  1. If we conclude that abortion is not morally wrong, that doesn’t mean that it’s right to have an abortion;
  2. We need to ask whether having an abortion is the best thing (or least bad thing) to do in each particular case.
  3. If we conclude that abortion is morally wrong, that doesn’t mean that it’s always impermissible to have an abortion; we need to ask whether having an abortion is less wrong than the alternatives.

Why is there a possibility of the judgment being overturned?

  • Foetuses feel the pain: If the foetus is beyond 20 weeks of gestation, gynaecs assume that there will be pain caused to the foetus.
  • Biblical gospel: The Bible does not draw a distinction between foetuses and babies. By the time a baby is conceived, he or she is recognized by God.
  • Abortions cause psychological damage: Young adult women who undergo abortion may be at increased risk for subsequent depression.
  • Abortions reduce the number of adoptable babies: Instead of having the option to abort, women should give their unwanted babies to people who cannot conceive. Single parenthood is also gaining popularity in the US.
  • Cases of selective abortion: Such cases based on physical and genetic abnormalities (eugenic termination) is overt discrimination.
  • Abortion as a form of contraception: It is immoral to kill an unborn child for convenience. Many women are using abortion as a contraceptive method.
  • Morality put to question: If women become pregnant, they should accept the responsibility that comes with producing a child. People need to take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences.
  • Abortion promotes throwaway culture: The legalization of abortion sends a message that human life has little value and promotes the throwaway culture.
  • Racial afflictions: Abortion disproportionately affects African American babies. In the US, black women are 3.3 times as likely as white women to have an abortion.

Arguments in favour for Abortion Rights

  • Upholding individual conscience and decision-making:  The US Supreme Court has declared abortion to be a fundamental right guaranteed by the US Constitution.
  • Reproductive choice empowers women: The choice over when and whether to have children is central to a woman’s independence and ability to determine her future.
  • Foetal viability occurs post-birth:  Personhood begins after a foetus becomes “viable” (able to survive outside the womb) or after birth, not at conception. Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy, not a baby.
  • No proof of foetal pain: Most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception. The cortex does not become functional until at least the 26th week of a foetus’ development.
  • Preventing illegal abortions: Access to legal, professionally-performed abortions reduces maternal injury and death caused by unsafe, illegal abortions.
  • Mother’s health: Modern abortion procedures are safe and do not cause lasting health issues such as cancer and infertility.
  • Child’s health: Abortion gives pregnant women the option to choose not to bring fetuses with profound abnormalities to full term.
  • Prevents women’s exclusion: Women who are denied abortions are more likely to become unemployed, to be on public welfare, to be below the poverty line, and to become victims of domestic violence.
  • Reproductive choice protects women from financial disadvantage: Many women who choose abortion don’t have the financial resources to support a child.
  • Justified means of population control: Many defends abortion as a way to curb overpopulation. Malnutrition, starvation, poverty, lack of medical and educational services, pollution, underdevelopment, and conflict over resources are all consequences of overpopulation.

Indian Case: Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act

  • Abortion in India has been a legal right under various circumstances for the last 50 years with the introduction of Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in 1971.
  • The Act was amended in 2003 to enable women’s accessibility to safe and legal abortion services.
  • Abortion is covered 100% by the government’s public national health insurance funds, Ayushman Bharat and Employees’ State Insurance with the package rate for surgical abortion.

The idea of terminating your pregnancy cannot originate by choice and is purely circumstantial. There are four situations under which a legal abortion is performed:

  1. If continuation of the pregnancy poses any risks to the life of the mother or mental health
  2. If the foetus has any severe abnormalities
  3. If pregnancy occurred as a result of failure of contraception (but this is only applicable to married women)
  4. If pregnancy is a result of sexual assault or rape

These are the key changes that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021, has brought in:

  1. The gestation limit for abortions has been raised from the earlier ceiling of 20 weeks to 24 weeks, but only for special categories of pregnant women such as rape or incest survivors. But this termination would need the approval of two registered doctors.
  2. All pregnancies up to 20 weeks require one doctor’s approval. The earlier law, the MTP Act 1971, required one doctor’s approval for pregnancies upto 12 weeks and two doctors’ for pregnancies between 12 and 20 weeks.
  3. Women can now terminate unwanted pregnancies caused by contraceptive failure, regardless of their marital status. Earlier the law specified that only a “married woman and her husband” could do this.
  4. There is also no upper gestation limit for abortion in case of foetal disability if so decided by a medical board of specialist doctors, which state governments and union territories’ administrations would set up.

Way forward

  • A search for the middle path perhaps the right of a woman to choose what to do with the foetus has to be balanced with the right of the foetus to survive.
  • It is only that a foetus does not have the ability to exercise an option while the person who carries it does.
  • There could be no two opinions that a victim of rape shall be allowed the choice to abort.
  • Rather than banning abortion, lawmakers must focus on counselling, employment security, social welfare, and financial support to persuade pregnant women to give birth to their children.
  • We must achieve some degree of protection for the unborn by obtaining voluntary recognition of personal responsibility and respect for the personhood of the unborn.

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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Energy Transition & Challenges

Context

  • India has set ambitious targets towards the achievement of the dual goals of climate action and sustainable development through its nationally determined contributions and energy access commitments.
  • As India starts a new decade of energy transition, it is an opportune time to assess where India stands in achieving its targets as well as to identify the key challenges being faced during this transition.

What is Energy Transition?

  • Energy transition refers to the global energy sector’s shift from fossil-based systems of energy production and consumption — including oil, natural gas and coal — to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, as well as lithium-ion batteries.
  • The increasing penetration of renewable energy into the energy supply mix, the onset of electrification and improvements in energy storage are all key drivers of the energy transition.
  • Regulation and commitment to decarbonization has been mixed, but the energy transition will continue to increase in importance as investors prioritize environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors.

Ongoing Energy Trends

  • Global oil production has been basically static: Some areas are in an irreversible productive decline (e.g., the North Sea) while others, mainly the continental US, are experiencing a true renaissance in the production of petroleum liquids owing to the exploitation of oil shales.
  • Worldwide mineral production is generally static: The mining industry is facing the problem of diminishing ore grades for most minerals and the consequence is the need of more energy to maintain the same levels of production.
  • Agriculture is facing an energy problem: Agriculture is heavily dependent on fossil fuels for powering agricultural machinery, for the supply of fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation. The increasing prices of fossil fuels are being reflected in higher prices for all agricultural products.
  • Nuclear energy faces considerable difficulties: The past decade had seen a minor renaissance in the start of the construction of new plants, although still in numbers insufficient to replace the old plants being retired.  
  • Renewable energy is seeing an explosive growth worldwide:  The energy produced by the new renewables is still a minor fraction of the total of the world primary energy production, but it has been growing at exponential rates that, so far, show no sign of abating.
  • Focus on energy efficiency: We see an evident trend towards higher efficiency in both production and end uses of energy. It is a trend particularly evident in the residential sector, with buildings that reduce energy consumption by means of better insulation, high efficiency lighting, and more.  
  • Crunches for Fossil Fuels: We are facing more and more difficult times in maintaining the current system based on fossil fuels. The combined effects of depletion and of climate change are pushing humankind in undue energy anxiety.

India’s Energy Transition: Context- Setting

(1) Ambitious Target

  • India’s energy transition is characterized by its ambitious targets.  By the year 2022,
  • India seeks to provide all households in the country 24×7 power.
  • By 2022, India also seeks to install 175 GW of new renewable energy (RE) in the country.

(2) NDC Commitments

  • India in its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) committed to three targets, which are to be achieved by the year 2030.
  • First, by 2030, 40% of India’s cumulative electric power installed capacity will come from non-fossil fuel-based energy sources.
  • Second, India will reduce the emission intensity of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 33–35% (vis-à-vis 2005 levels).
  • Third, India will create an additional carbon sink of 2.5–3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (through additional forest and tree cover).

(3) Current RE Capacity

  • India is world’s 3rd largest consumer of electricity and world’s 3rd largest renewable energy producer with 38% of energy capacity installed in the year 2020 (136 GW of 373 GW) coming from renewable sources.
  • Many states are still at early stages of developing their renewable energy capacity.
  • This is important to consider as India seeks to add more RE capacity in the coming months and years.

() Leadership

  • India is also showing global clean energy leadership through initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance, which has more than 70 member countries.
  • This is yet to materialize in its full capacity.

Various challenges

(1) Slowdown in the RE Tendering Process

  • India’s RE growth was at the slowest pace in the past 4 years.
  • There were several reasons for this, including the trends seen during the process of auctioning RE capacity.

 (2) Renewable Purchase Obligations as a Ceiling

  • One of the mechanisms for promoting the installation of RE capacity in India has been the stipulation of targets for a mandatory minimum purchase of a certain percentage of RE by utilities.
  • This is known as a Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO).
  • Many states has been asked by its regulator to curtail further procurement of solar energy from large-scale projects.

(3) Financial crunches  

  • When DISCOMs face cash flow issues, this results in RE producers also facing a liquidity crisis. Public sector banks are hesitant to grant loans to RE projects.
  • Not many private sector banks are forthcoming with loans.
  • Additionally, the interest rate of existing loans to RE companies has also witnessed a rise in recent months.

(4) Policy Uncertainty

  • Experts emphasize the importance of policy certainty for the enforcement of contracts and for the rule of law.
  • The value of the certainty of contracts and the importance of consistency and stability in rules and policy cannot be overstated in the energy sector in India.
  • Similar concerns have been raised by RE companies over the uncertainty over import duties, particularly for solar cells.

(5) Burden of demands

  • Much like China, India is finding itself in a precarious position.
  • To meet its high electricity demands, India has had to increase its reliance on fossil fuels while still developing its national grid to cope with expected surges in power demand.

(6) Others

  • High initial cost: While the coal-based power plants require an initial investment of about Rs. 4 crores per MW, the investments for solar and wind energy is far higher.  
  • Weather-dependency: Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, tide, etc., are dependent on weather conditions. If the favourable weather conditions are not available, it becomes inefficient and unfeasible.
  • Topographic barriers: Most renewable energy plants occupy large areas of space. This brings in the issue of the cost of the vast land area and other issues related to land acquisition.  
  • Threats to ecosystem: The turbines have caused noise pollution and are also killing birds while functioning. Ex. Decline in bustard population in Rajasthan.

Various govt. initiatives

  • Separate ministry: India is the first country in the world to have an exclusive ministry that is involved in the promotion and development of renewables – the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).
  • Nation Green Corridor Programme: This project aims at synchronizing energy that is produced from renewable energy sources with conventional stations.
  • National Clean Energy Fund: It is the fund created using the carbon tax for backing research and development of innovative eco-friendly technologies.
  • Draft National Wind-Solar Hybrid Policy: Through this policy, the government seeks to promote new renewable energy projects and hybridization of the existing ones.  
  • National Offshore Wind Energy Policy: This involves the utilization of India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for the development of offshore wind farms up to 200 Nautical Miles from the baseline.
  • Grid Connected Solar Rooftop programme: It involves the installation of solar panel at the rooftops of the residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings.
  • Small Hydropower Programme:  The potential of this programme is about 20,000 MW and it is mostly in the Himalayan States where the rivers are abundant and in States which have sufficient irrigation canals.
  • National Solar Mission: It is a part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change. It is an initiative to promote solar power in India.  .
  • Pradhan Mantri- Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan: PM- KUSUM aims at providing financial and water security to farmers by means of utilizing solar energy capacities of 25,750 MW by 2022.

Way forward

  • Ensure equity: It must be ensured that the opportunities of India’s transition are shared fairly throughout society — and workers and communities are not left to face the challenges alone.
  • Make it people-centric: To achieve the trifecta of jobs, growth and sustainability, India must strive to put people at the centre of its energy transformation.
  • Provisions for coal-dependent regions: New jobs would need to be found over time for the coal miners affected by the changes, as well as for people who work in the fossil fuel power plants that will close down.
  • Transition funds: Policymakers must earmark special“transition funds” to help coal-dependent regions, some of which are among India’s poorest.
  • Increase investment by rationalizing energy subsidies: Energy subsidies must be rationalized and directed towards those who need them most.
  • Finance mobilization: Fiscal resources freed up through subsidy reform should then be invested in clean energy solutions, especially in underdeveloped regions and marginalised communities.
  • Community participation: While India’s energy transition will create many new jobs, the limited participation of women in the growing green workforce must be addressed.
  • Engage youth: Engaging the youth is critical to ensure that the energy transition is sustainable, inclusive and enduring.

Conclusion

  • There is no doubt that ambitious RE and climate targets have pushed India well on its way to a clean energy future.
  • However, more needs to be done to help India achieve its potential.

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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Wheat Exports Ban

Context

  • India has banned exports of wheat effective immediately, citing a risk to food security.
  • This is partly due to the war in Ukraine and as a scorching heatwave curtailed output and domestic prices hit a record high.
  • The price which was already high in the wake of Russia’s invasion of major wheat exporter Ukraine — jumped to 435 euros ($453) per tonne as the European market opened.

Do you know?

India is the second-largest producer of wheat in the world, with China being the top producer and Russia the third-largest — Ukraine is the world’s eighth-largest producer of wheat.

India’s Wheat Exports

  • Modi’s goal of India becoming a major wheat exporter hinged on the opportunity presented by the war.
  • While India has been the world’s second-largest producer of the commodity, most of it was used domestically.
  • Its share in the global wheat exports has been only around 1%.
  • It hoped to considerably plug the deficit created by Russia, which accounts for 30% of the global wheat exports.
  • To some extent, Indian wheat exports did rise. Countries like Egypt and Turkey, besides others in Asia, tapped India following the onset of the war.

Top wheat exporters globally (in million metric tons):

Top wheat exporters globally (in million metric tons):

Why did India ban the export of wheat?

  • Harvest reduction due to heatwaves: Heatwaves in the latter part of March, especially in northwest India, impacted production of foodgrains.
  • High inflation: Record retail inflation has punctured India’s export hopes.
  • Food security: While wheat prices are up nearly 20%, prices of essential food items such as flour have risen nearly 15% last year.  

China’s factor in the export ban

There is also China factor behind the sudden decision to ban the export of wheat.

  • China is using this opportunity to hoard wheat. It is importing wheat on a large scale to store it to disrupt the global market soon.
  • China can store the wheat for a short time and divert it to its allies in the coming days or sell it at a higher price.
  • By hoarding it, China can effectively control the market prices of wheat globally.
  • With its huge foreign exchange reserves, China can purchase the wheat stocks at a higher price, only to control the wheat market in the coming days.
  • This will hinder smaller and vulnerable developing countries from buying the necessary wheat.

Inherent challenges to India’s wheat exports

  • Logistics challenges: Logistical challenges such as congestion at ports and unavailability of train rakes are major infrastructural bottlenecks for wheat exports from India.
  • Cost efficiency: Unless seamless infrastructural facilities and timely and cheaper modes of transport are available in the coming days, India may find it difficult to make significant inroads into the wheat export market.
  • MSP factor: India’s export competitiveness is influenced by the Centre’s MSP.  Due to high MSP, India has remained a rather small player in the export market, even when thousands of tonnes of grains rot in the FCI warehouses.
  • High procurement costs: The inefficiency associated with open-ended procurement of wheat in quantities far in excess of our normal requirement is well known. The policymakers justify it on the ground that it ensures farmers get remunerative prices.
  • Government interventions: Wheat, being an essential commodity, is prone to frequent government interventions in terms of export bans and imposition of higher import duty. This creates market distortions.
  • Climate change: Many challenges confront Indian wheat export, not the least of which is global warming and climate change. Whether deliberate or out of ignorance, many experts overlook the well-recognised fact that Indian wheat is at the limit of heat tolerance.
  • Low acreage under wheat crop: At about 33 million hectares, the area under wheat cultivation is perhaps reaching a saturation point. There is a case for shifting a part of the wheat area in Punjab and Haryana to other crops such as oilseeds and pulses.

What about government procurement?

  • Dip in procurement: This year the government’s wheat purchase has seen a dip owing to several reasons from lower yield to higher market prices being offered by private traders.
  • Costlier than MSP: A large quantity of wheat was being bought by traders at a higher rate than the minimum support price (MSP).
  • Stock hoarding: Farmers and traders are holding on to some quantity of wheat, expecting higher prices for their produce in the near future.

Is India staring at a food shortage?

  • No. India’s grain stocks are well above the buffer levels and the decision to regulate wheat exports was taken largely to check prices and curb hoarding.
  • The public distribution system PDS would be run smoothly in the country.
  • However, the government has replaced wheat with rice in the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana scheme for 2022-23.
  • The effort clearly is a response to the reduced availability of wheat.

What has been the global reaction to the ban?

  • Global wheat prices rose nearly 50% since the start of this year as supplies from Russia, the number one wheat exporter, and Ukraine, number six, were hit.
  • Agriculture ministers from G7 condemned India’s decision to withhold wheat exports amid a global grain shortage.
  • India was expected to fill the gap created because of the Ukraine war.

How will the ban affect India’s neighbors?

  • This ban has widely deemed a failure for India’s soft-power, geopolitical standpoint.
  • Even with the ban, there is a window open for neighbouring countries.
  • The export will be allowed to other countries “based on the request of their governments”.
  • This window is crucial for Sri Lanka because the country is facing an economic crisis.
  • Wheat exports will be allowed in cases where an irrevocable letter of credit has already been issued.
  • Also, Bangladesh and Nepal have traditionally relied on Indian wheat.

What is the impact on farmers and traders?

  • Missed opportunity: The ban has deprived Indian wheat traders the opportunity to gain from the global grain shortage.
  • No profitmaking: It may have an unfavourable impact on wheat farmers too.

Issues with the ban

  • This ban has impacted the credibility of India as a reliable supplier of anything in global markets.
  • It conveys that we don’t have any credible export policy as it can turn its back at the drop of a hat.
  • More interestingly, it also reflects a deep-rooted consumer bias in India’s trade policies.
  • It is this consumer bias that indirectly becomes anti-farmer. This ban deprives farmers from profit-making.
  • It only shows the hollowness of agri-trade policies and dreams of doubling agri-exports.
  • The export ban also reflects poorly on India’s image in playing its shared global responsibility amid the Russia-Ukraine war.

Way forward

  • Balancing between food security and ensuring better returns to farmers through exports is a delicate act.
  • India’s wheat export ban will not help tame inflation at home.
  • The Government could have announced a bonus of Rs 200-250/quintal on top of MSP to augment its wheat procurement.
  • The govt could have calibrated exports by putting some minimum export price (MEP).

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Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Problem of Undertrials in India

Context

  • In India, about 75 percent of the total number of prisoners are undertrial.  More than 3.5 lakh undertrial prisoners are lodged in jails across the country and awaiting trial.
  • Recently, PM also raised the issue of undertrial prisoners in jails in a conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts.

Undertrials in India: A backgrounder

Who are the undertrials?

  • An undertrial is a person who is being held in custody by a court of law and is awaiting trial for a crime.
  • The 78th Report of Law Commission also includes a person who is in judicial custody on remand during investigation in the definition of an ‘undertrial’.

Constitutional protection for Prisoners/Undertrials

  • ‘Prisons/persons detained therein’ is a State subject under Entry 4 of List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India.
  • Article 39A of the Constitution directs the State to ensure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity and shall, in particular, provide free legal etc.
  • Article 21 says, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”.

Vital stats

  • Over three-fourths of all those in jail, the undertrials amount for the highest proportion of 75% in at least a decade.
  • These facts emerge from data given by NCRB and analysed by India Justice Report, 2020.
  • High rate in Sensitive Areas: Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir reported the highest share of undertrial inmates of the total prison inmates, followed by Bihar, Punjab and Odisha and Maharashtra.  
  • Majority belong to marginalized groups: Two in three prisoners under trial belong to SC, ST or OBC caste groups, data show. Two in five undertrial inmates were educated below grade X and more than a quarter were illiterate.
  • Longer spend in Jails: Nearly 2% of the undertrials in 2020 had spent over 5 years in confinement, up from 1.5% in 2019. Overall, 29% of all the undertrials had spent over a year in prison.
  • Young population behind bars: Among the undertrial inmates, 49% are between 18 and 30 years of age, but among convicts, only 29% fall in this age group. Further, 50% of the convicts are aged between 30 and 50 years.

Plight of under-trials: Various challenges faced

(1) Abuses faced in jail

  • Prison violence: Prisons are often dangerous places for those they hold. Group violence is also endemic and riots are common.
  • Physical mishandling: Physical mishandling by jail officials is no rare phenomena in India.
  • Extra-judicial torture: No conduct of the prison authority is criminalised and it grants them immunity and presumes their good faith in acts of extreme neglect that could and do result in the death of inmates.

(2) Criminalizing impacts

  • Impact of inmates: Circumstantial and young offenders often turn into full-fledged criminals when subjected to prison conditions.
  • Criminalization by labelling: It is an often given quote, ‘prisons are Universities of crime where people go in as under-graduates and come out with PhDs. in crime.’ Ex. Drug abuse in Jails

(3) Health problems

  • Prevalent un-hygiene: Most of the prisons face problems of overcrowding and shortage of adequate space to lodge prisoners in safe and healthy conditions.
  • Medical history gets ignored: People are cramped in with each other in unhealthy conditions, infectious and communicable diseases spread easily. Ex. Spread of TB

(4) Human rights violation

  • Taboo over mental illness: Though miniscule, mentally ill prisoners constitute another percentage of population, which is largely ignored and forgotten by both the outside world and those inside.
  • Delayed family planning: Undertrials also faces physical separation with their spouses resulting into delayed family planning.

(5) Suffering of the families  

  • Livelihood crisis: In the absence of the main bread winner, the family is many a time forced into destitution with children going astray.
  • Social stigma and boycott: This combined with the social stigmatization that they face, leads to circumstances propelling family towards delinquency and exploitation by others.
  • Exploitation: The dominant class often take advantage of this situation to exploit the remaining family members to the fullest possible extent. This can take the form of rape or forced prostitution.

Social aspects of the issue

  • Hostility from the law: Criminal Law of India is a replica of colonial times. It is hostile to the poor and the weaker sections of society.
  • Caste prejudices and over-policing: This exists for certain communities due to important social factors behind the significant presence of marginalized caste groups in jails.
  • Rich vs. poor divide: This has resulted in rich people escaping law and the jail is more often full of the unprivileged class of society.
  • Justice delayed: Undertrial prisoners often get neglected in jail for many years, in many cases it exceeded the maximum sentence for the crime which they had committed.

Specific problems faced by under-trial prisoners:

  • No Right to Speedy Trial : It is recognised by the Supreme Court in Hussainara Khatoon vs. Home Secretary, Bihar. This is violated due to protracted delays due to:
  • Systemic delays.
  • Grossly inadequate number of judges and prosecutors.
  • Absence or belated service of summons on witnesses.
  • Presiding judges proceeding on leave.
  • Remands being extended mechanically due to lack of time and patience with the presiding judge.
  • Inadequacy of police personnel and vehicles which prevents the production of all prisoners on their due dates.
  • Right to bail is denied even in genuine cases: Even in cases where the prisoner was charged with bailable offence, they are found to rot in prisons due to exorbitantly high bail amount.  
  • Non-compliance by the officials: Undertrials become prisoners of the whims and fancies of individuals’ official’s attitude.
  • Politicization of trial:  Prisoners right to effective Legal Aid is also violated due to politicisation of as many lawyers are hired on political consideration.

Way forward

  • Separation prisons: Undertrial prisoners should be lodged in separate institutions away from convicted prisoners.
  • Non-branding as criminals: There should be proper and scientific classification even among undertrial prisoners to ensure that contamination of first time and petty offenders into full-fledged and hard-core criminals.
  • Separate courts for certain offences: Institutions meant for lodging undertrial prisoners should be as close to the courts as possible.
  • Limited extension of remands: This has to stop which are also given merely for the sake of the convenience of the authorities.  
  • Investigation reforms: Police functions should be separated into investigation and law and order duties and sufficient strength be provided to complete investigations on time and avoid delays.
  • Decriminalization of certain offences: There should be a progressive and massive decriminalization so that many of the wrongs, which are given the status of crimes. Ex. Sedition Law
  • Going digital: Computerise the handling of criminal cases and with the help of the National Informatics Centre, develop programmes that would help in managing pendency and delay of different types of cases.
  • Associated judicial reforms: There should be an immediate increase in the number of judges and magistrates in some reasonable proportion to the general population.  

Conclusion

  • Justice Krishna Iyer in the Constitutional Bench judgment in Sunil Batra (I) v. Delhi Administration (1978), held the humane thread of jail jurisprudence.
  • This principle now seems long due in India’s case.
Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] IPO of the Life Insurance Company (LIC)

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Context

  • India’s biggest public issue, the Life Insurance Company initial public offering opened to primary markets on Wednesday.
  • The government has fixed the LIC IPO price band at Rs 902 to Rs 949 per equity share, announcing Rs 60 discount to the policyholders and Rs 45 discount to LIC employees.
  • The total value of LIC IPO is set at Rs 21,000 crore, making it India’s biggest public issue to date.

Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC): A Backgrounder

  • LIC is an Indian state-owned insurance group and investment corporation owned by the Government of India.
  • It was founded in 1956 when the Parliament of India passed the Life Insurance of India Act that nationalized the insurance industry in India.
  • Over 245 insurance companies and provident societies were merged to create the state-owned LIC.

Beginning of Life Insurance in India

  • The Oriental Life Insurance Company, the first company in India offering life insurance coverage, was established in Kolkata in 1818.
  • Its primary target market was the Europeans based in India, and it charged Indians heftier premiums.
  • Surendranath Tagore had founded Hindusthan Insurance Society, which later became Life Insurance Corporation.
  • The Bombay Mutual Life Assurance Society, formed in 1870, was the first native insurance provider.

Nationalization in 1956

  • In 1955, parliamentarian Feroze Gandhi raised the matter of insurance fraud by owners of private insurance agencies.
  • The Parliament passed the Life Insurance of India Act on 19 June 1956 creating the LIC which started operating in September of that year.
  • It consolidated the business of 245 private life insurers and other entities offering life insurance services; this consisted of 154 life insurance companies, 16 foreign companies and 75 provident companies.
  • The nationalization of the life insurance business in India was a result of the Industrial Policy Resolution of 1956, which had created a policy framework for extending state control over at least 17 sectors of the economy, including life insurance.

Present capital base of LIC

LIC is India’s largest financial institution, and if LIC shares are listed on stock exchanges, it could easily emerge as the country’s top listed company in terms of market valuation, overtaking current leaders Reliance and TCS.

The corporation, which started its business with around 300 offices, 5.7 million policies and a corpus of INR 45.9 crores (US$92 million as per the 1959 exchange rate of roughly ₹5 for US$1), had grown to 25,000 servicing around 350 million policies and a corpus of over ₹800,000 crore by the end of the 20th century.

  • From its creation, LIC, which commanded a monopoly of soliciting and selling life insurance in India, created huge surpluses and by 2006 was contributing around 7% of India’s GDP.
  • As of 2019, LIC had toa tal life fund of ₹28.3 trillion.
  • The total value of sold policies in the year 2018-19 is ₹21.4 million.
  • LIC settled 26 million claims in 2018-19. It has 290 million policyholders.

LIC: A milch cow for the government

  • India’s top insurer: Governments have long shied away from considering listing India’s top insurer.
  • Participation in Capital Market: It has played a role in supporting the markets by buying shares during major sell-offs and also shares of state-owned companies during divestment and when investor participation has been weak.
  • Heavy investments in G-Secs:  It is also the largest investor in government securities and stock markets every year.
  • Infrastructure funding: LIC also has huge investments in debentures and bonds besides providing funding for many infrastructure projects according to its Annual Report for 2017-18.

What is an IPO?

  • IPO means Initial Public Offering. It is a process by which a privately held company becomes a publicly-traded company by offering its shares to the public for the first time.
  • Offering an IPO is a money-making exercise. Every company needs money, it may be to expand, to improve their business, to better the infrastructure, to repay loans, etc.
  • A private company, that has a handful of shareholders, shares the ownership by going public by trading its shares.
  • Through the IPO, the company gets its name listed on the stock exchange.

Initial Public Offerings (IPO) of LIC :

A big-bang announcement

  • The government could start by initially selling a small tranche of the government-controlled institution through an IPO, and subsequently dilute the government’s holdings.
  • The IPO is likely to fetch a huge premium as LIC currently has a small equity base.
  • In the Budget of July 2019, the government had announced a proposal to make minimum public holding of 35 per cent for listed companies.
  • The government had listed the shares of General Insurance Corporation and New India Assurance through IPOs three years ago.
  • Public listing of LIC will lead to more disclosures of investment and loan portfolios and better governance, with greater transparency and accountability.

How will the IPO go?

  • The government will have to amend the LIC Act first before taking the Corporation public.
  • LIC is currently under the supervisory oversight of the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority of India (IRDAI), but it is governed by The LIC Act of 1956,
  • The act enables it to obtain a special dispensation in several areas including higher stakes in companies beyond the limit set by the IRDAI.
  • Under Section 37 of The LIC Act, the government has guaranteed the sum assured with bonus in all LIC policies to ensure the availability of financial security to the family of the deceased.

Implications of LIC IPO

  • It seems like the government is trying to make the most of the brand value of LIC, given that it is one of the few remaining profit-making entities owned by the state.
  • Will the listing of LIC, which is the country’s largest financial institution with assets under management of close to ₹30 trillion, do any good to its policyholders?

Let’s have a look:

(1) Listing will boost LIC’s efficiency and thereby policy returns

  • As a 100% government-owned entity, LIC’s financial health is largely outside the scrutiny of the financial markets.
  • Unlike unit-linked insurance plan investors, who have a clear visibility on the daily performance of underlying funds, the endowment policyholders’ visibility is limited to annually declared bonuses.
  • Listing will allow analysts to monitor LIC’s governance. LIC will come under Sebi’s direct watch and will have to comply with the requirements meant for other listed firms.
  • Such compliance is likely to strengthen its overall corporate governance, financial and investment discipline.
  • Over time, this will increase its efficiency and it may deliver higher returns to policyholders.

(2) Peers will be under pressure to improve pricing and features

  • Any company going public is good news for stakeholders since it ensures higher transparency, better governance, more disclosures and scrutiny from the investors.
  • However, LIC is not a typical company. LIC has in the past invested in the equity markets to stem its fall.
  • After being listed, LIC will be answerable to public shareholders and, hence, will be a prudent investment decision, which is good for policyholders.
  • LIC will also become more competitive. This will put pressure on its peers to innovate, benefitting policyholders in terms of pricing, product features and services.

(3) Less govt interference will be a positive for LIC’s financial health

  • For LIC, it will be a significant task to enhance the quality of asset management given that the government sometimes is reliant on it to bail out PSUs, without delving deep into the fiscal prudence of these assets.
  • Being under scrutiny, the quality of asset management by LIC will be enhanced as the government’s influence on its asset management will reduce.
  • Further, LIC services a few state-sponsored schemes which have underwriting challenges on the commercial front.
  • In a nutshell, with less federal interference, LIC will be more accountable with strong governance protocols, which will be a positive for its financial health.

(4) If the sovereign guarantee continues, policyholders won’t perceive risk

  • So far, LIC has operated almost like a mutual insurance company by passing on most of the earnings to the policyholders and keeping very little as profits, despite having a massive operation.
  • The listing of LIC is a positive move which will result in transparency of the corporation in public view, sparking renewed interest in the insurance industry in international markets.
  • Government-owned General Insurance Co. of India is already listed, so the process and transparency will not be any different.
  • As long as sovereign guarantee over the maturity proceeds and sum assured continue, policyholders won’t perceive any risk.
  • The return on policies may have to be moderated to boost profitability and technical reserves in the face of shareholder and analyst scrutiny.
  • It is not clear how much of the company will be diluted. So, the opportunity for the general public to pick up equity in LIC in the IPO may be limited.

Challenges posed by this IPO

(1) Structural challenges

  • LIC can even evolve into a bank like many of its global peers like Axa, Berkshire, and Munich Re.
  • But even after the listing, the LIC stock will still be controlled by the Indian government.
  • And, it will continue to exercise some amount of control.
  • So, investors in LIC might face what those of PSU banks do – be a part of poor governance, bad decisions — despite controlling 70% of the country’s banking system.

(2) Market hurdles

  • LIC’s own issues are not the only challenge the company would face in going public. It also remains to be seen if the Indian share market is ready to absorb such a large public issue.
  • Whilst it will definitely help deepen the markets, given that SEBI regulations need a minimum dilution of 10 per cent to the public, it is unclear if there is enough liquidity for such a large sized IPO.
  • Additionally, LIC has been a port of call for various PSU fund raises in the past.
  • Once a behemoth the size of LIC goes for listing, it will be interesting to see if other private life insurance companies will still be able to attract funds at expected valuation.

(3) Impact on growth

  • The size of the IPO will determine the extent of liquidity it will suck out, but Indian markets do not have depth to take the issue of a very size.
  • Critics argue that it’s too early for LIC to go public. LIC could see plenty of high growth despite the ongoing slowdown in the economy.

(4) Fears of disclosure

  • The company’s books and operations have been opaque for far too long but it is trusted by 250 million policyholders.
  • It could have been the saviour for many more listed state-owned companies, but the government has decided to sell the golden goose itself.
  • LIC is also famous for investing millions whenever stock market tanks, just to prop it up.
  • But once it is listed in the market, these tricks will be impossible to execute. The disclosures will lead to a lot of discontents due to NPAs.

(5) Investors trust

  • Being one of the biggest financial institutions of the country, the move to privatise LIC will shake the confidence of the common man and will be an affront to our financial sovereignty.
  • The very purpose of LIC to provide insurance coverage to socially and economically backward class at a reasonable cost will be defeated and motto will change from service to profit.
  • The sovereign guarantee element currently enjoyed by each LIC policyholder might cease to exit after the IPO. Some policyholders may then find it hard to trust LIC.

Way Forward

  • LIC is all set to see significant disruption. The scale of that disruption would be unprecedented within the organization and outside.
  • Over the years, LIC has become ‘the lender of last resort’ to the Government of India.
  • Confronted with an unprecedented fiscal deficit and worried by an economy in crisis, the government has to find resources.
  • This disinvestment is also a preferred option for ideological and practical reasons.
  • The government could utilize the money gained by selling off its stakes to improve services in public goods like infrastructure, health and education.
  • However, listing LIC wouldn’t be an easy task and calls for a political will.
  • In the new avatar, LIC would have to benchmark itself against private insurers and global insurance giants.

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Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] National Language Debate

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Context

  • With over twenty regional languages, each with its own culture and history, language was always going to be a tricky issue for India.
  • Remarks by a notable Hindi actor to the effect that Hindi is the national language of India has sparked controversy recently over the status of the language under the Constitution.
  • The trigger for the argument was when Kannada film industry celebrated the nationwide success of a blockbuster movie.
  • The actor said in its response that Hindi was no more a pan-India language.

“The wordplay between Rajbhasha and Rashtrabhasha often spark such debate out of sheer negligence over their meanings.”

Hindi: A Backgrounder

‘Hindi Hai Hum, Watan Hai Hindustan Humara…’, for most of us, an everlasting childhood memory is standing in an assembly queue and singing the couplet (Sare Jahan se achha, Hindustan hamara) written by Muhammad Iqbal.

  • At that time we never thought of the real idea behind Hindustan.
  • In the post-Westphalian or rather European conception of the nation-state, language has been the driving factor for the formation of a separate country altogether.
  • This came as a major challenge in the constituent assembly, because, unlike in Europe, it was impossible to theorize India’s linguistic diversity which ultimately accumulated under a single national identity.

Mahatma Gandhi’s view on Hindi

  • In 2019, Home minister Amit Shah had invoked Mahatma Gandhi while backing the government’s idea that Hindi should be the identifying language of India.
  • However, researchers believed that Gandhi kept changing his position.
  • After 1942, Gandhi seemed to stress the adoption of Hindustani, a fusion of Hindi and Urdu, not Hindi, as the unifying language of the masses.

“We need also a common language not in suppression of the vernaculars, but in addition to them. It is generally agreed that that medium should be Hindustani – a resultant of Hindi and Urdu, neither highly Sanskritized, nor highly Persianized or Arabianized.” (Young India, 1925)

Hindi, Hindustani or English? The Constituent Assembly Debates

  • At the time, most countries defined their nationhood through a common language and so during the Constituent Assembly debates, the question of a national language was tied closely with a desire for national unity.
  • Initially, Hindustani, with its hybrid of Hindi and Urdu, was a viable option.
  • Writing in an essay in 1937, Jawaharlal Nehru termed Hindustani a “golden mean.”
  • However, after Partition, the debate changed. Instead of Hindustani, Hindi (bereft of its Urdu influence) was being put forward as a potential national language.
  • But the opposition to Hindi as a national language from representatives from southern states was fierce too.

TA Ramalingam Chettiar representing Madras in the Constituent Assembly in September 1949, said,

“We have got languages which are better cultivated and which have greater literature than Hindi in our areas. If we are going to accept Hindi, it is not on account of the excellence of the language. It is merely on account of the existence of a large number of people speaking Hindi.”

What is the status of Hindi?

  • Finally, the Constituent Assembly adopted what was known as “Munshi-Ayyangar Formula.”
  • According to this, Hindi in the Devnagari script would be the official language of the Union.

Official, not national

  • English would continue to be used for all official purposes for the next 15 years, to enable a smooth transition for non-Hindi speaking states.
  • The deadline was 26 January 1965.
  • Under Article 343 of the Constitution, the official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script.
  • The international form of Indian numerals will be used for official purposes.
What is the Eighth Schedule?
The Eighth Schedule contains a list of languages in the country. Initially, there were 14 languages in the schedule, but now there are 22 languages.There is no description of the sort of languages that are included or will be included in the Eighth Schedule.

Evolution of the Language Debate

  • There have been some developments in the language debate since 1965.
  • In 1968, a National Policy on Education was adopted.
  • It presented a three-language formula, according to which, in non-Hindi-speaking states, Hindi should be studied optionally along with English and the regional language.
  • The 1968 NPE was ostensibly updated in the Draft New Education Policy 2019, where Hindi was proposed to be taught mandatorily in schools in non-Hindi-speaking states.
  • The proposal sparked outrage, especially in southern states like Tamil Nadu.

What is the Three-language formula?

  • Since the 1960s, the Centre’s education policy documents speak of teaching three languages — Hindi, English and one regional language in Hindi-speaking States, and Hindi, English and the official regional language in other States.
  • In practice, however, only some States teach both their predominant language and Hindi, besides English.
  • In States where Hindi is the official language, a third language is rarely taught as a compulsory subject.

Why has language become a sensitive issue?

  • Self-identification: A strong identification with one’s regional language and an underlying fear of homogenisation is at the heart of the national language question in India. An individual conceptualises and communicates his thoughts in a language, enabling him to be an active part of society.
  • Language defines primary group: People identify with one another based on language, thus giving them a primary group. A nation is the largest primary group that once can address.
  • Learning abilities at stake: The dangers of imposing a language are manifold. It can affect the learning ability of non-native speakers thereby affecting their self-confidence.
  • Threats to endangered languages: It can also endanger other languages and dialects and reduce diversity.
  • Threats to diversity: National integration cannot come at the cost of people’s linguistic identities. Language is integral to culture and therefore privileging Hindi over all other languages spoken in India takes away from its diversity.
  • Promises made by Constituent Assembly: Then PM Pt. Nehru had promised that Hindi would only serve as a linking language and it would not be imposed on non-Hindi speaking states as long as they were against it.

Benefits of having a national language

  • Wide range of speakers: Hindi is still the most widely spoken language in the country with an estimated 258 million people declaring that Hindi is their native language and millions more comfortable with Hindi.
  • Language as a unifying language: A complete usage of Hindi language whilst respecting the various native languages would also ensure better coordination and cooperation among all the states and act as a strong unifying factor and eliminate all regional differences.
  • Reputation at international fora: When countries like Germany, Japan, France, Italy etc. use their respective language as a medium of communication even during International forums not only has the reputation of those countries have greatly enhanced but also those languages have gained a huge reputation worldwide.

Issues with Hindi

  • Inherent opposition to Hindi: The Constituent Assembly was bitterly divided on the question, with members from States that did not speak Hindi initially opposing the declaration of Hindi as a national language.
  • Fear of imposition: Opponents were against English being done away with, fearing that it may lead to Hindi domination in regions that did not speak the language.
  • Symbol of identity politics: The approach towards linguistic policy seems to be driven more by the politics of identity than values of aspiration or accommodation.
  • Favour for majoritarianism: The primary argument in favour of Hindi has been reduced to assertions of slim majoritarianism.
  • Few speakers, still dominant: Even then, there are concerns about the claim based on mere numerical strength, as only 25 per cent of Indians seem to recognise Hindi as their mother tongue (Census 2011).
  • Demographic barriers: Today nearly 35% of people are migrating daily for work. In such a situation, we have to conceptualise a new form of language identity for our states.
  • Economic barriers: Any idea of one link language, whether Hindi or English, will be economically disastrous for India. It will slow down migration and reduce the ease of capital flow.
  • Multiple dialects: Only five states in India have Hindi as their’ native language’. However, in those states, too, the dialects of Hindi are associated with locals and their communities.

Why Hindi cannot be the national language?

  • Multiple dialects: Hindi has largely been influenced by Persian — and then English, among other languages. Also, when the languages were enumerated, Hindi subsumed Bhojpuri, which is spoken by a little over five crore people.  
  • Inefficacy of Sanskrit: There were demands to make Sanskrit the official language, while some argued in favour of ‘Hindustani’.
  • Issue over Script: There were differences of opinion over the script too. When opinion veered towards accepting Hindi, proponents of the language wanted the ‘Devanagari’ script to be adopted both for words and numerals.

Why this issue needs a rational consideration?

  • Linguistic chauvinism: Various policies on language have been framed both by the central and state governments that have been termed as forms of linguistic chauvinism.  Ex. Obsession for Marathi in Mumbai
  • Secular fabric under threat: The states’ fear of the central government’s ideology of monopolising faith, education, and language will adversely affect the Indian political system, which is based on pluralism and accommodation.
  • Monolingualism can prove disastrous: If there is a mechanical and monolithic idea of unity followed by any entity, such an entity generally generates great hostility beyond its immediate borders.  In neighbouring Bangladesh – then East Pakistan – the language movement against the imposition of Urdu on Bengali speakers was a key driver of Pakistan splitting into two nations.

Way forward

  • Language as a skill: Language should be looked at as an important skill to operate in a world which is more connected today than at any other point in time.
  • Language not a cultural burden: A united nation has to have space for diversity. India is united in its diversity. Diversity is a great philosophical idea and should never be seen as a cultural burden.
  • Linguistic heritage needs priority: This is not to contend that our linguistic heritage should be neglected or trivialised. Our metropolises must be recognised as multilingual entities.

Conclusion

  • National integration in a multilingual country does not require the imposition of one official language.
  • At the same time, the convenience, in fact the necessity, of having one or more languages as the official language for centre-state and inter-state communication for political, economic, legal and even social reasons cannot be disputed.
  • Politics over language would never end until India truly attains the ideal federal structure.
Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India-EU Relations

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Context

  • President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen was on two–day official visit to India.
  • She has heaped all praises for the robustness of Indian democracy. She went on to say that ‘World Watches When Indians Cast Their Vote’.
  • Both sides are expected to review the progress on various aspects of the relationship and further intensify the multifaceted partnership with EU.

About European Union (EU)

  • The EU is a political and economic union of 27 member states that are located primarily in Europe.
  • The union and EU citizenship were established when the Maastricht Treaty came into force in 1993.
  • The EU grew out of a desire to strengthen international economic and political co-operation on the European continent in the wake of World War II.
  • It has often been described as a sui generis political entity (without precedent or comparison) with the characteristics of either a federation or confederation.
  • The eurozone consists of all countries that use the euro as official currency. All EU members pledge to convert to the euro, but only 19 have done so as of 2022.

Members of the EU

  • Through successive enlargements, the European Union has grown from the six founding states (Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) to 27 members.
  • This entails a partial delegation of sovereignty to the institutions in return for representation within those institutions, a practice often referred to as “pooling of sovereignty“.
  • In the 2016 ‘Brexit’ referendum, the UK voted to leave the EU. The UK officially left the EU in 2020

India-EU Relations: A Backgrounder

  • It’s been 60 years since India accredited its first ambassador to the European Economic Community (EEC), the organisation that served as embryo for the European Union.
  • Back then, India was a protectionist economy trying to move away from the British colonial era while the EEC consisted of just six European countries.
  • Today, the relations between the EU and India are defined by the 1994 EU–India Cooperation Agreement.
  • India and the EU became Strategic Partners” in 2004.

[A] Political Partnership

  • The Joint Political Statement signed in 1993, opened the way for annual ministerial meetings and a broad political dialogue.
  • The Cooperation Agreement signed in 1994 took the bilateral relationship beyond trade and economic cooperation.
  • A multi-tiered institutional architecture of cooperation has since been created, presided over by the India-EU Summit since 2000.
  • Today EU stands as a major reference for India’s legislative process in the field of Data security and privacy.

[B] Economic Ties

  • Bilateral trade: The EU is India’s largest trading partner, while India is the EU’s 9th largest trading partner. It is the second-largest destination for Indian exports after the United States.
  • Investment: The EU’s share in foreign investment inflows to India has more than doubled from 8% to 18% in the last decade. This makes the EU an important foreign investor in India.
  • Preferential treatment: India is the benefactor of the unilateral preferential tariffs under the EU Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP).
  • Energy: Both sides have finalised civil nuclear cooperation agreement after 13 years of negotiations called as the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM). It involves collaboration in the civil nuclear energy sector.
  • Development cooperation: Over €150 million worth of projects by EU are currently ongoing in India. European Investment Bank (EIB) is providing loans for Lucknow, Bangalore, and Pune Metro Projects.

[C] Defence & Security

  • EU and India have instituted several mechanisms for greater cooperation on pressing security challenges like counterterrorism, maritime security, and nuclear non-proliferation.
  • Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region in New Delhi (IFC-IOR) has recently been linked-up with the Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSC-HOA) established by the EU Naval Force (NAVFOR).

 [D] Climate Change

  • EU and India also underline their highest political commitment to the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC despite US withdrawing from the same.
  • India-EU Clean Energy and Climate Partnership was agreed at the 2016 Summit – to promote access to and disseminate clean energy and climate friendly technologies and encourage R&D.
  • Energy cooperation is now ongoing on a broad range of energy issues, like smart grids, energy efficiency, offshore wind and solar infrastructure, and research and innovation.
  • EU and India also cooperate closely on the Clean Ganga initiative and deal with other water-related challenges in coordinated manner.

[E] Research and Development

  • India-EU Science & Technology Steering Committee meets annually to review scientific cooperation.
  • Both have official mechanisms in fields such as Digital Communications, 5G technology, Biotechnology, artificial intelligence etc.
  • ISRO has a long-standing cooperation with the European Union, since 1970s. It has contributed towards the EU’s satellite navigation system Galileo.

Major limitations to the ties

  • Deadlock over BTIA: The negotiations for a Broad-based Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) were held between 2007 to 2013 but have remained dormant/suspended since then.
  • Export hurdles: Indian demands for ‘Data secure’ status (important for India’s IT sector) to ease norms on temporary movement of skilled workers, relaxation of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS), etc. stands largely ignored.
  • Trade imbalance: This heavily leans towards China. India accounts for only 1.9% of EU total trade in goods in 2019, well behind China (13.8%).
  • Brexit altercations: In the longer term of balancing of global powers, a smaller Europe without the key military and economic force UK, is much weaker in the wake of an ambitious China and an increasingly protectionist US.
  • EU primarily remains a trade bloc: This has resulted in a lack of substantive agreements on matters such as regional security and connectivity.
  • Undue references to sovereign concerns: The European Parliament was critical of both the Indian government’s decision to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in 2019 and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
  • China’s influence: EU’s affinity lies with China. This is because of its high dependence on the Chinese market. It is a major partner in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Ukrainian war: EAM S. Jaishankar’s witty reply about EU’s oil import from Russia has not been welcomed across the EU. It still expects India to criticize Russia.

EU’s interests in India

  • Reducing dependence on China: It is necessary for both sides as it is making them highly vulnerable to Chinese aggression.
  • Western lobby: EU acknowledges its supply chain’s vulnerability, the risk posed by overdependence on China, and the need to strengthen the global community of democracies.
  • Healthcare: The on-going pandemic has shown the need for cooperation in global health. India and the EU have called for a reform of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
  • Perception of India as a huge market: EU still largely perceives India as huge market rather than a partner.
  • Promotion of multilateralism: Both sides are facing issues related to US-China trade war and uncertainty of the US’ policies. They have common interest in avoiding a bipolarised world and developing a rules-based order.

India’s stakes in EU

  • Global leadership vacuum: Retreat of the U.S. from global leadership has provided opportunities for EU- India cooperation and trilateral dialogues with countries in the Middle Fast, Central Asia, and Africa.
  • Chinese Aggression: China’s increasing presence in Eurasia and South Asia is creating similar security, political and economic concerns for Europe and India.
  • Fall of the conventional global order: Trade war, crumbling WTO and break down of TPP etc. has made EU understand the economic importance of India.
  • BREXIT: Brexit is pushing India to look for new ‘gateways’ to Europe, as its traditional partner leaves the union. A renewed trade and political cooperation are the need of the hour.
  • Conformity over Indo-Pacific: The Indo-Pacific is the main conduit for global trade and energy flows. Rule-based Indo-pacific is of everyone’s interest with EU no exception.

Way forward

  • A close bilateral relation between India and the EU has far-reaching economic, political and strategic implications on the crisis-driven international order.
  • Both sides should realise this potential and must further the growth of the bilateral ties with a strong political will.
  • As highlighted by EU strategy on India 2018, India-EU should take their relations beyond “trade lens”, recognizing their important geopolitical, strategic convergences.
  • India can pursue EU countries to engage in Indo-pacific narrative, geo-economically if not from security prism.
Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] China’s Debt Trap Diplomacy

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Context

  • Sri Lanka continues to grapple with its worst-ever economic crisis as it has defaulted on all of its external debt of about $51 billion – after running out of foreign exchange for imports, calling it the last resort.
  • So while domestic policies are largely being seen as reasons for Sri Lanka’s economic collapse, many also blame China for the unprecedented crisis in the island nation.
  • Defaults over China’s infrastructure loans to Sri Lanka, especially the financing of the Hambantota port are being cited as factors leading to the crisis.

In this article, we will try and understand China’s lending model and the reasons it is coming under increasing criticism from low & middle-income countries against unsustainable debt.

American statesman John Adams, who served as president from 1797 to 1801, famously said, “There are two ways to conquer and enslave a country: One is by the sword; the other is by debt.” China, choosing the second path, has embraced colonial-era practices and rapidly emerged as the world’s biggest official creditor.

What is Debt Trap Diplomacy?

  • Loans to repay loans: The debt trap is a situation where one is forced to over consume loans to repay your existing debts.
  • Political leverage is exploited: Debt-trap diplomacy is a term in IR which describes a creditor country or institution extending debt to a borrowing nation partially, or solely, to increase the lender’s political leverage. The term was coined by an Indian academic Brahma Chellaney.
  • IMF and Chinese tools of coercion: Although the term is most commonly associated with China, it has also been applied to the International Monetary Fund (IMF); both allegations, however, are disputed.

Features of such diplomacy

  • Lending is initially very indiscriminate
  • Terms of the loans are often not publicized
  • More conditional loans are offered to repay and restructure old debts
  • Such loans benefit the lender by undue exploitation of the borrower
  • Interest rates are hefty and unrealistic
  • It seeks sovereign guarantee and sovereign leases
  • Default leads to geo-strategic overtakes ex. PLA Navy being deployed at Hambantota Port

Roots of such policy

  • There are many cases of countries in the 19th and early 20th century, the high-water mark of European colonialism and imperialism, using debt-funded infrastructure projects to embark on rapid modernisation.
  • For instance, the French-led design and construction of the Suez Canal.
  • It involved the issuing of £3.3 million’s worth of Egyptian bonds in 1863 on behalf of the Egyptian Khedive.
  • In return Egypt, committed to provide labour and a 99-year operational lease to France (much similar to the terms of Hambantota Port).
  • One of the earliest successes of China’s debt-trap diplomacy was in securing 1,158 square kilometers of strategic Pamir Mountains territory from Tajikistan in 2011 in exchange for debt forgiveness.

Sri Lankan Case

  • Using its own brand of “strategic investments” China is now forcing smaller states to abide by its dictates.
  • Sri Lanka’s case is a text-book example of the Chinese modus operandi in pursuing its strategic interests.
  • In July 2017, the Sri Lankan government and CMPort (China Merchants Port Holdings Company), a state- owned Chinese company, signed an agreement.
  • It granted China a 99-year lease of the Hambantota harbour and 15,000 acres of land in exchange for $1.2 billion.

How does China seek to achieve this?

  • Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): The BRI is a trillion-dollar initiative, which makes large-scale loans available to countries seeking to build infrastructure projects.
  • Ignorance to creditworthiness: Instead of first evaluating a borrower country’s creditworthiness, including whether new loans could saddle it with an onerous debt crisis, China is happy to lend.
  • Secrecy of negotiations: The China allegedly keep negotiations very secret and non-competitive pricing of projects.
  • Bidding is closed-door: Contracts go to Chinese state-owned or state-linked companies which charge significantly above-market prices.
  • Bribing of the govt: China also shows up with bribes to senior leaders in countries, in exchange for infrastructure projects.

Worst outcomes

  • Sri Lanka: It was forced to hand over control of the Hambantota port project to China for 99 years, after it found itself under massive debt owed to Beijing.
  • Pakistan: It is literally sold to into the hands of the China over the development of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
  • Gulf region: Similarly, in exchange for relief, China constructed its first military base in Djibouti.
  • India: SL allowed China control over a key port positioned at the doorstep of its regional rival India, and a strategic foothold along a key commercial and military waterway.

Chinese prophecy of its policy

  • Anti-China sentiments: Communist Party of China calls it a “meme” which became popular due to “human negativity bias” based on anxiety about the rise of China as a global superpower.
  • Obsession for China over the West: Many nations, Pakistan being the best example finds China as an attractive partner for their development.
  • Success of such loans: Most of the debtor countries voluntarily agreed to the loans and had positive experiences working with China.
  • Already existing debt distress: CCP conforms that Chinese loans are not currently a major contributor to the already existing debt distress in Africa.
  • Debt-Restructure Policy: China restructured or waived loan payments for 51 debtor nations (most of the BRI’s participants) without seizing state assets.
  • Case par excellence: Hambantota is an exception for China’s since the project was proposed by former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa, not Beijing.
  • Its borrowers who seek loans: China’s leverage in debt renegotiation is often exaggerated, and was realistically limited in power.
  • Waivers are considered: Considering the particular case of Pakistan, asset seizures are a very rare occurrence, and debt write-off is the most common outcome.

Why do countries go for Chinese offers?

  • Distressed under-developed /developing countries: In retrospect, China’s designs might seem obvious. But the decision by many developing countries to accept Chinese loans was, in many ways, understandable.
  • Negligence by World Bank and IMF: Most developed nations got neglected by institutional investors, since they had major unmet infrastructure needs. Countries that don’t want to go the IMF for a bailout when they’re in trouble, they went to China instead.
  • Former colonists turned blind eyes: Most African and Asian countries turned troubled after de-colonization. Their finances were literally sucked up by colonists in post WW2 recovery.
  • China empathized when nobody else did: So when China showed up, promising benevolent investment and easy credit, they were all in.
  • Blaming Beijing is the easier option:  It became clear only later that China’s real objectives were commercial penetration and strategic leverage; by then, it was too late, and countries were trapped in a vicious cycle.

Do you know?

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the central bank is no more a sovereign bank unlike the RBI. It has now become a commercial bank!

Has India taken any loans from China?

Ans. No. It’s the AIIB Loan.

  • India has not entered into any loan agreement directly with China.
  • However, it has been the top borrower of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multilateral bank wherein China is the largest shareholder (26.6% voting rights) and India is the second (7.6% voting rights). 
  • China’s vote share allows it veto power over decisions requiring super-majority.
  • Loans provided to India could also pave the way for Chinese firms to enter and gain experience in the promising Indian infra market.

Impact of Chinese policy on India

  • Almost all neighbours got lured: Most of India’s neighbours have fallen prey to China’s debt trap, and ceded to China’s $8 tn project – One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR).
  • India’s sovereignty concerns disregarded: CPEC requires India to accept that the Kashmir-controlled Pakistan region, is Pakistan, because that’s where some of the projects are.
  • Perception change against traditional partners: China through OBOR can hence increase India’s political cost of dealing with its neighbours. Ex. Bangladesh now cherishes Chinese affinity more than its liberator.

A critical assessment

  • Of course, extending loans for infrastructure projects is not inherently bad: The projects that China is supporting are often intended not to support the local economy, but to facilitate Chinese access to natural resources, or to open the market for its low-cost exports.
  • Several projects are now bleeding money: In a sense, it is even better for China that the projects don’t do well. After all, the heavier the debt burden on smaller countries, the greater China’s own leverage becomes.
  • Chinese morale are now high enough to prey its small neighbours: China has used its clout to push Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand to block a united ASEAN stand against China’s aggressive pursuit of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
  • China is establishing its monopoly: In financially risky countries, China now demands majority ownership up front. For example, China clinched a deal with Nepal this month to build another largely Chinese-owned dam there, with its state-run China Three Gorges Corporation taking a 75% stake.
  • Debt for a debt has become crème de la crème: In exchange for rescheduling repayment, China is requiring countries to award it contracts for additional projects, thereby making their debt crises interminable.
  • China is becoming increasingly opportunistic and seizing assets: Countries that are not yet ensnared in China’s debt trap should take note – and take whatever steps they can to avoid it.
  • Deadly obligations are pre-conditions: China does obligate the borrower to exclude the Chinese debt from any multilateral restructuring process, such as the Paris Club of official bilateral creditors, and from any “comparable debt treatment.”
  • China has taken over exclusive development rights:  In small island nations, China has converted big loans into acquisition of entire islets through exclusive development rights. It took over a couple of islets in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives and one island in the South Pacific nation of the Solomon Islands.
  • Some developing economies are regretting their decision: Protests have erupted over widespread joblessness, purportedly caused by Chinese dumping of goods, which is killing off local manufacturing, and exacerbated by China’s import of workers for its own projects.
  • Rise of neo-imperialism: By integrating its foreign, economic, and security policies, China is advancing its goal of fashioning a hegemonic sphere through security links. If states are burdened with high levels of debt as a result, their financial woes only aid China’s neocolonial designs.

Do you know?

Yuan is now the official currency of Zimbabwe!

Way forward

  • India needs to loop in: Getting ready to challenge China’s profile by enhancing its own regional role as an economic and security actor is the need of the hour for India.
  • Ring-fencing of its neighbours: India also needs to maintain its influence in the region and counter the growing debt-trap initiatives via cooperative strategies and humanitarian aid, a move aimed to ring-fence its strategic interests.
  • Countering China in maritime sphere: At a time when China is strangling India in the north with its attempts to change facts on the ground, it is imperative for India to strategically think of using the maritime sphere to break Beijing’s growing dominance in its periphery.
  • Alternatives for finances: India needs to push these small countries to improve its ties with the US and the West. The so called ‘assistance’ should be as per international standards or as per the interest rate imposed by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and others.

Conclusion

  • Thus it is very much clear that- China often begins as an economic partner of a small, financial weak country and then gradually enlarges its footprint in that state to become its economic and political master. 
  • Atmanirbharta (Self-reliance) is the key to all such miseries.
Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Demolition of Encroachments

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Context

  • The recent anti-encroachment drive in northwest Delhi’s violence-hit Jahangirpuri has become the latest flashpoint between political parties in the national capital.
  • The matter also reached the Supreme Court, which ordered a stay on the drive.
  • However, dissidents has now put questions over the legality of actions by municipal authorities and the manner in which certain structures were razed to the ground using bulldozers.

A close look at the pertinent legal provisions and constitutional principles involved in issues related to coercive processes against unauthorised constructions and encroachments may help putting the entire controversy in the right perspective:

What is Encroachment?

  • Encroachment is a real estate situation where a property owner violates contractual property rights by unlawfully entering, building, or extending structures onto Public Land without permission.
  • Structural encroachment occurs when a property owner unlawfully builds or extends structures on the Public Land.

Examples of Encroachment:

  1. Unlawfully entering, trespassing, or walking through a property
  2. Building a fence that goes past own property line
  3. Extending structures or buildings onto the public domain (e.g., roads and sidewalks)
  4. Non-government construction that overlaps govt property lines

Why encroachment is a problem?

  • Land is already a scarce commodity: Illicit occupation of public land puts stress on the already declining land resource availability.
  • Encroachment results in constriction of the public spaces: Road is narrowed down since it is occupied by structures supporting the livelihoods of the poor.
  • Public has the right of way: Pedestrians would suffer as people would have fewer spaces to walk. Encroachment on public roads increases the road traffic.
  • Maintenance of civic amenities becomes difficult: Severs, nullahs are chocked up due to encroachment. This creates sanitation and health crisis especially during monsoons.

Genesis of anti-encroachment drives in India

  • Anti-CAA protests: In 2019, after protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) turned violent in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Compensation of public property damage: The CM ordered that compensation from property damage will be extracted from those who participated in the riots, to the tune of Rs 50 lakh.
  • Seizure of properties: He also announced that properties will be seized if people default on these payments.

How is Encroachment Demolition related to Rioting?

  • Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984: This is what governs actions taken against people convicted of rioting. However, this act levies a jail term and a fine on the offenders.
  • Assessment of damages caused: In 2009, the Supreme Court had said that respective high courts can appoint benches to adjudicate on damages during protests and riots.
  • Civil liability against damaging: In 2018, the Supreme Court had said that individuals will invite civil and criminal liability if found guilty of damaging public property. 

What is the communal angle of recent demolition drive?

Ans. State-directed demolition of homes of the alleged rioters

  • The demolition drive was initiated by North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) to demolish the “illegal constructions” of the rioters in Jahangirpuri.
  • Communal violence had broken out in the area when a religious procession, which did not have police permission, clashed with minority community as it went alongside the place of worship.
  • This put a repulsive on other incidents, in Khargone in MP and Khambhat in Gujarat, where communal flare-ups were followed by the state-directed demolition of homes of the alleged rioters.

How did this intimidate minority groups?

Anti-encroachment drives in India are not new. What is new is that the current drives are outside the pale of the law.

  • Actions without notice: Irrespective of the legal status of the settlement, no public authority can demolish buildings without giving the affected parties a chance to be heard.
  • Bulldozing of petty areas: The bulldozer has now become a symbol of brute state power and a revolting mascot to intimidate minority groups in the country.
  • Collective punishment is state tyranny: It conveys the cynical use of brute state power for collective punishment undermining the basic tenets of criminal law.
  • Flawed binary of legality over illegality: The binary of slums settlements has very little meaning in Delhi, and much of urban India, since a majority of the residents appears to be of minority community.
  • Revengeful majoritarian justice: The demolition of homes and shops of alleged culprits of portrays the establishment as a bulldozer state that dispenses revengeful justice.
  • Public endorsement from the far-rights: Worryingly, the new rule of the bulldozer state seems to have some level of public endorsement.

Why impulsive encroachment demolition is a bad idea?

  • Issue of fair trial: From the legal perspective, the concept of a fair trial comes under question, since the government issued those notices before the people accused of participating in the riots were tried by any court.
  • Ambiguity of Public Property Act, 1984: Senior advocates thus said that such a decision is unconstitutional and has no backing from the law.
  • Curbing dissent: They also claimed seizure of property was being used as a means to curb peaceful dissent staged by certain communities.
  • Disregard for the due process of law: Such actions show a blatant disregard for the due process of law and established judicial precedents regarding evictions.
  • Arbitrary actions:  Even before any charges are framed, the executive rather than the judiciary arbitrarily imposes a form of collective punishment upon a whole neighbourhood.
  • Creation of communal disharmony: Petitioners in the case claimed that the demolition drives were communal in nature since they were aimed at the localities of minority communities.

Larger impact: Rise of minority assertion

  • Marginalization and alienation: Minority community in India feels to be increasingly marginalized ever since the reigning in of the right-winged government. They have faced a spike in attacks, hate speech and harassment.
  • Demonizing the entire community: The modus operandi looks similar these days, i.e. to create an event of communal tension and clashes, declare names of rioters in a one-sided way, hence demonizing the community.
  • Rise in collective insecurity: Arbitrarily punitive demolition of this kind using a bulldozer as an extrajudicial threat or extrajudicial punishment is adding fuel to this temptation of insecurity.
  • Communal disharmony: Arbitrary state actions tends to divide people on religious lines– in most cases the minority and to win power on the basis of a religious identity.
  • Threats of radicalization: The poor and marginalized community is often vulnerable to the brisk of radicalization. There is a possibility of its inevitability.

Supreme Court rulings on removal of unauthorised constructions and encroachments

There has been a long line of cases underlining the significance of due process and adherence to the principle of natural justice where people are deprived of their rights to shelter or to earn a livelihood:

(1) Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation Vs Nawabkhan Gulabkhan and others (1977)

  • The top court held that while a notice may not be required in cases of encroachment of recent origin, if a municipal body allows settlement of encroachers for a long time, it must give a notice of reasonable time to such settlers.
  • If the encroachment is not removed within the specified time, it added, the competent authority would be at liberty to have it removed.
  • That would meet the fairness of procedure and principle of giving opportunity to remove the encroachment voluntarily by the encroachers.

(2) Olga Tellis Vs Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985)

  • The landmark verdict acknowledged the right to shelter and the right to earn livelihood as forming part of right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • The apex court rejected the plea of BMC that no notice need be given to slum dwellers since slums were sheer encroachments on public lands.
  • Removal of encroachments without prior notice was arbitrary; the court held that such powers are designed to operate as an “exception” and not the “general rule.

(3) MC Mehta Case (2006)

  • The Supreme Court was dealing with sealing of properties in Delhi on account of unauthorised use of properties (residential properties being used for commercial purposes).
  • It directed that the MCD would first issue public notices in leading newspapers, asking violators to stop misuse of properties within the period of 30 days.

Official justification of the recent demolition drive

  • Anti-encroachment drives were long due: Officials claimed in court, that the demolitions were a part of anti-encroachment drives that had been planned in advance and were not specifically targeting the alleged rioters.
  • Discouraging the ever-increasing Slumization: The non-enforcement of strict regulations against encourages the public for encroachment hence the move was carried out.
  • No communal intent: The demolition drive in New Delhi has bulldozed all illicit constructions irrespective of the encroachers identity since the areas are inhabited by all communities.

Way Forward

  • Prevention of further encroachments: The local authorities and the state governments must become proactive in the prevention of encroachment of public lands.
  • Law abiding citizens: The citizens should abide by the rules and regulations and if they violate the rule of law, the violators should be penalized.
  • Due process of law must be held prime: Respecting the law of the land should be the norm and if there are any deviations the illegal structures should be bulldozed only after following due process of law.
  • Considering involuntary and forceful encroachments: The Supreme Court’s guidelines in the Olga Tellis judgment needs to be imbibed in true spirit.
  • Rehabilitation of slum-dwellers: and not the destruction of slums is the only way forward.

Conclusion

  • Slums and ‘unauthorised’ colonies like Jahangirpuri form the underbelly of India’s capital.
  • The city derives its energy from the thousands of informal workers living in these colonies.
  • It is high time the State recognizes their value and rights. 

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Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Care Economy

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Context

The importance of care work is now widely acknowledged and covered in various international commitments such as the SDGs. However, the investment in the care economy has not matched the pace.

What is the care economy?

  • The care economy includes child care, elder care, and care for people who are ill or disabled and in need of assistance. That care is provided by home-based businesses, care centers, and individuals who work in the homes of those they care for.
  • The 2019 ILO report ‘A Quantum Leap for Gender Equality’ identified unpaid care work as the biggest impediment to women’s formal employment, as it engaged 21.7% of women between 18-54 years of age, as opposed to 1.7% of men.
  • A medium-term plan to increase public investment in care economy infrastructure offers India a credible instrument to meet multiple policy objectives.

Care work and Care Economy

A system that consists of activities and relationships involved in meeting the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of care — remains an integral but undervalued component of economies all over the world, ensuring the welfare of communities. Care work can be direct or indirect, paid or unpaid, short-term (maternity needs) or long-term (care for the disabled and elderly).

Why is there an increasing demand for care work?

  • Individualization– The trend towards a culture of individualization from collectivism will lead to a higher proportion of dependent people.
  • Demographic Transition-  The proportion of elderly people in the population is rising slowly.
  • Climate change- Climate change has caused water scarcity and rural food distress which increases care burden on women and children.
  • The ILO estimates that doubling investment in care relative to 2015 levels would generate 117 million additional jobs by 2030.
  • According to the International Trade Union Confederation (2019), an investment of 2% GDP in care in India would create 11 million jobs, of which 32.5% would be garnered by women.
  • The relational nature of care also implies that these jobs are less likely to be automated.

What is the significance of the care economy?

  • Employment- An analysis by the Women’s Budget Group (2019) showed that if an additional 2% of the GDP was invested in the Indian health and care sector, 11 million additional jobs could be generated, nearly a third of which would go to women.
  • Greater investment in care services can create an additional 300 million jobs globally, many of which will be for women.
  • Development- This will help increase female labor force participation and advance Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8.
  • Lifting burden from women- A combination of childcare infrastructure and parental leave policies will offset the burden on women to facilitate higher maternal employment to population ratio.
  • Reducing Income inequalities- India’s average female daily wage was 59 % of the male wage in 1993-94 and improved to 72 %in 2018-19.
  • Gender-inclusive economic growth- Women’s unpaid work is valued at 3.1% of GDP in India. Recognizing AWWs, ANMs, ASHAs and domestic help (amongst others), as formal sector workers would allow their economic contribution to be counted in the GDP
  • Prevention of “occupational downgrading”- It will help women become less likely to end up with lower pay when looking for flexibility, or part-time roles owing to care work responsibilities.

What is the status of care services?

  • Women’s unpaid work is valued at 3.1% of GDP in India.
  • In recent years, South Asian countries such as India and Bangladesh have begun investing in physical infrastructure which would improve the provision of care services indirectly.
  • India’s Economic Survey 2018-19 anticipates three major shifts in public policy, auguring increased attention to the care economy-
  • Declining working-age population- It has called for suitable regional policies to accommodate inter-State migrant labor, increasing the retirement age in a phased manner, and provisioning pensions and other types of retirement benefits.
  • Declining school-going population- It has shifted the focus of the National Education Policy 2019 on the merger and consolidation of existing elementary schools and emphasizes on quality of school education.
  • An increase in healthy life expectancy has also called attention to developing geriatric care in public health.
  • Maternity leave- India offers 26 weeks of maternity leave, against the ILO’s standard mandate of 14 weeks.
  • Child care- India has a long history of mandating the provision of creches in factories and establishments but there is limited information on its actual implementation.

Gaps in the current policies?

  • Unorganized/ Informal sector- The maternity leave coverage extends to only a tiny proportion of women workers in formal employment in India, where 89% of employed women are in informal employment.
  • Paternity Leave- While increasingly being recognized as an enabler for better balance work and family responsibilities, it is not provided in many countries, including India.
  • Access to quality and affordable care- Quality Services such as childcare, elderly care and care for people with disabilities is a challenge workers with family responsibilities face globally.
  • Implementation gaps- While India has a long history of mandating the provision of crèches in factories and establishments, there is limited information on its actual implementation.
  • Domestic Workers- According to the Government’s 2019 estimates, 26 lakh of the 39 lakh domestic workers in India are female. They also face challenges in accessing decent work.

Way Forward

  1. Comprehensive care policies– Policies that meet SDGs and can be rooted in ILO’s ‘Decent Work Agenda’ principles that begin with recognizing the value of unpaid care work, reducing the drudgery of work, redistributing responsibilities of care work between women and men, remunerating care workers, and representing their concerns.
  2. Strategic Action Plan- In consultation with the relevant stakeholders, the government needs to conceptualize a strategy and action plan for improved care policies, care service provisions and decent working conditions for care workers.
  3. Public good- Care work should be viewed as a collective responsibility and public good.
  4. Investment- Investing in a combination of childcare infrastructure and parental leave policies will have higher maternal employment to population ratio.
  5. Increase spending- India spends less than 1% of its GDP on the care economy; increasing this percentage would unfurl a plethora of benefits for workers and the overall economy.
  6. 5 R framework- The ILO proposes a 5R framework for decent care work centered around achieving gender equality. It urges on Recognition, Reduction of unpaid care work, Redistribution of unpaid care work, Rewarding care workers and decent work and Representation in social dialogue and collective bargaining.

Conclusion

Comprehensive care policies demand increased state involvement in investing, formalizing, and regulating the care economy. In addition to providing care benefits, national accounts should also be sensitive to the contribution of unpaid care to economic growth. Gender-sensitive budgeting, satellite accounts, and tax policy are some of the ways in which economic policy can acknowledge and reward care work. Finally, the state would be an important arbiter in engaging with care workers to realize and expand their rights

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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Artificial Intelligence and Climate change

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Context

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies have been often thought as a gateway to a future written in chrome, operating on a virtual cloud.

Even in Budget 2022-23, AI was described as a sunrise technology that would “assist sustainable development at scale and modernize the country.”

In terms of climate change, AI can prove to be immensely helpful in developing environment-friendly infrastructure, making climate predictions and decarbonizing industries. However, ironically, AI with itself brings an environmental cost to the development of the technology.

What is Climate Change?

  • It deals with the global phenomenon of climate transformation that significantly impacts the earth’s usual climatic conditions (temperature, precipitation, wind, etc.). 
  • They are mainly caused due to human-made activities.
  • The major source of climate change is global warming, which is primarily caused by the greenhouse effect.
  • Rapid urbanization and industrial revolution are the other main causes that lead to the risk of climate change with increased energy demand and production, especially in the form of fossil fuels.
  •  The growing risk of climate change has a disastrous impact on earth organisms, including human beings and earth’s flora and fauna.
  • It further leads to the destruction of the food chain and economic resources.

Social and Economic Impact of Climate Change

  • The cost of adapting coastal areas to rising sea levels.
  • Relocation of whole towns.
  • Shrinking productivity of harvests.
  • Loss of the capacity to work due to heat.
  • More wars to gain access to limited resources.
  • Freshwater will be short in the supply.
  • Spread of diseases due to higher temperatures.
  • Inflation in food and consumer goods.
  • The extreme meteorological phenomenon will cause widespread poverty.

Artificial Intelligence

  • Artificial intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. Specific applications of AI include expert systems, natural language processing, speech recognition and machine vision.
  • In general, AI systems work by ingesting large amounts of labeled training data, analyzing the data for correlations and patterns, and using these patterns to make predictions about future states.
  • AI programming focuses on three cognitive skills: learning, reasoning and self-correction.

How can AI help in the mitigation of Climate Change?

  • AI is a disruptive paradigm that has greater potential to assess, predict, and mitigate the risk of climate change with the efficient use of data, learning algorithms, and sensing devices.
  • It performs a calculation, makes predictions, and takes decisions to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
  • By developing effective models for weather forecasting and environmental monitoring, AI makes us better understand the impacts of climate change across various geographical locations.
  • It interprets climatic data and predicts weather events, extreme climate conditions, and other socio-economic impacts of climate change and precipitation.
  • From a technical perspective, AI offers better climatic predictions, shows the impacts of extreme weather, finds the actual source of carbon emitters and includes numerous other reasonable contributions. 
  • This enables the policymakers to be aware of the rising sea levels, earth hazards, hurricanes, temperature change, disruption to natural habitats, and species extinction.

Applications of AI for Climate Change mitigation

The following are the few areas in which AI can directly help mitigate the risks posed by climate change:-

  • AI-assisted prediction models for climate change mitigation
  • Role of machine vision in climate informatics and forecasting
  • Recent trends in AI to reduce carbon footprints for a sustainable environment
  • AI for earth hazard management
  • AI to promote eco-friendly energy production and consumption
  • AI-assisted expert systems for climate change risk prediction and assessment
  • AI-assisted big data analytics Synergy of IoT, big data, cloud computing, and AI techniques in climate change prediction and mitigation
  • Machine learning for a sustainable green future
  • AI in reducing the impacts of global warming
  • Deep learning for sustainable earth surveillance and earth informatics

AI Can Accelerate Our Response to Climate Change

  • Improve Energy Efficiency– According to the Capgemini Research Institute, artificial intelligence should improve power efficiency by 15% in the next three to five years.
  • Optimize Clean Energy Development- AI computational models can find sites for dams that can produce the lowest amounts of GHG emissions.
  • Avoid Waste- Companies, governments, and leaders frequently deploy AI solutions to avoid waste, reduce energy waste from buildings or understand supply and demand.
  • Make Transportation More Efficient- AI is already the technology that powers autonomous vehicles, including shared cars and smart transportation systems in some cities.
  • Tools to Help Understand Carbon Footprint- AI can help build tools to help individuals and companies understand their carbon footprint and what actions they can take to reduce it.
  • Create New Low-Carbon Materials- If AI could develop new materials with similar properties but with a smaller carbon footprint, it could help slow climate change.

What are the Global Trends for the Development of AI Technology?

  • Unfair Start- A few developed economies possess certain material advantages right from the start, they also set the rules.
  • They have an advantage in research and development, and possess a skilled workforce as well as wealth to invest in AI.
  • West vs the World- North America and East Asia alone account for three-fourths of global private investment in AI, patents and publications.
  • Political Advantage- The current state of inequity in AI in terms of governance raises concerns about the technological fluency of policymakers in developing and underdeveloped countries and their representation and empowerment at the international bodies that set rules and standards on AI.
  • Benefits for few- The developing and underdeveloped countries have not been much benefitted by the technology as AI’s social and economic benefits are accruing to a few countries only.

India & AI

  • In Budget 2022-23, AI was described as a sunrise technology that would “assist sustainable development at scale and modernize the country.”
  • Research ecosystem- India has 386 of a total of 22,000 Ph.D. educated researchers worldwide and ranked 10th globally in research.  AI research concentrated mostly at institutes, like IITs, IIITs and IISc.
  • Present Use of AI- Presently, AI is used in India in sectors such as Smart Mobility and Transportation, Healthcare, Agriculture, Education and Smart Cities & Infrastructure.
  • AI adoption across sectors-
  1. COREs– Centres of Research Excellence in Artificial Intelligence will focus on core research of AI.
  2. ICTAI– International Centre for Transformational Artificial Intelligence will provide the ecosystem for application-based technology development and deployment.
  3. AIRAWAT (AI research, analytics and knowledge assimilation platform will be a cloud platform for Big Data Analytics and Assimilation, with a large, power-optimized AI Computing infrastructure using advanced AI processing.

AI in India: Opportunities

AI has the potential to drive growth by enabling:

  • Intelligent automation i.e. ability to automate complex physical world tasks that require adaptability and agility across industries,
  • Labor and capital augmentation: enabling humans to focus on parts of their role that add the most value, complementing human capabilities and improving capital efficiency
  • Innovation diffusion i.e. propelling innovations as it diffuses through the economy

What is the Impact of AI Technology on Climate?

  • Carbon Footprint- The climate impact of AI can be majorly attributed to the energy use of training and operating large AI models.
  • Emissions- In 2020, digital technologies accounted for between 1.8% and 6.3% of global emissions.
  • At this same time, AI development and adoption across sectors skyrocketed and so did the demand for processing power associated with larger and larger AI models.
  • Quantification– A main problem to tackle in reducing AI’s climate impact is to quantify its energy consumption and carbon emission, and to make this information transparent.
  • UNESCO’s Efforts- The idea of sustainability is rapidly entering mainstream debates on AI ethics and sustainable development.
  • Recently, UNESCO adopted the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, calling on actors to “reduce the environmental impact of AI systems, including but not limited to its carbon footprint.”

Way Forward

  • Research: Dedicated studies, more investments in R&D, and better policy interventions are required in this field. AI needs to be developed and deployed so it can meet society’s needs and protect the environment by saving more energy than it expends.
  • Technology + Sustainable Development:  To make sure AI is used to help, and not hinder society, it’s time to merge the two big debates of the present time – digital technology and sustainable development (in particular, the environment). If we use the former to save the latter, this could be the best possible use made out of the resources available to us.
  • Opportunities for the Developing World: Governments of developing countries, including India, should assess their technology-led growth priorities in the context of AI’s climate costs.
  • Recommendation of WEF: The AI developers “must incorporate the health of the natural environment as a fundamental dimension.”

Conclusion

Governments of developing countries, India included, should also assess their technology-led growth priorities in the context of AI’s climate costs. It is argued that as developing nations are not plagued by the legacy infrastructure it would be easier for them to “build up better”. These countries don’t have to follow the same AI-led growth paradigm as their Western counterparts.

It may be worth thinking through what “solutions” would truly work for the unique social and economic contexts of the communities in our global village.

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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India-Sri Lanka Relations

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Context

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis is aggravating rapidly, putting citizens through enormous hardship.

Reasons for the Crisis

The first wave of the pandemic in 2020 offered early and sure signs of distress.

  • In-migration: Thousands of Sri Lankan laborers in West Asian countries were left stranded and returned jobless.
  • Shut-down: Garment factories and tea estates could not function, as infections raged in clusters. Tourism sector to saw a big dip.
  • Domestic job losses: Thousands of youth lost their jobs in cities as establishments abruptly sacked them or shut down.
  • Forex decline: It meant that all key foreign exchange earning sectors, such as exports and remittances, along with tourism, were brutally hit.

Policy failures of the Lankan govt

  • No strategy: The lack of a comprehensive strategy to respond to the crisis then was coupled with certain policy decisions last year.
  • Ill-advised policies: It included the government’s abrupt switch to organic farming —widely deemed “ill-advised”, further aggravated the problem.
  • Food hoarding: The government declared emergency regulations for the distribution of essential food items. It put wide import restrictions to save dollars which in turn led to consequent market irregularities and reported hoarding.
  • Continuous borrowing: Fears of a sovereign default rose by the end of 2021, with the country’s foreign reserves plummeting to $1.6 billion, and deadlines for repaying external loans looming.

Brief background of India-SL relations

  • India is the only neighbor of Sri Lanka, separated by the Palk Strait; both nations occupy a strategic position in South Asia and have sought to build a common security umbrella in the Indian Ocean.
  • There are deep racial and cultural links between the two countries. Both share a maritime border.
  • The India- SL relations have been however tested by the Sri Lankan Civil War and by the controversy of Indian intervention during the war.
  • In recent years Sri Lanka has moved closer to China, especially in terms of naval agreements.
  • India has signed a nuclear energy deal to improve relations and made a nuclear energy pact with Sri Lanka in 2015.

India’s role in the Lankan Civil War

  • In the 1970s–1980s, the RAW and the state government of Tamil Nadu were believed to be encouraging the funding and training for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist insurgent force.
  • In 1987, faced with growing anger amongst its own Tamils, and a flood of refugees India intervened directly in the conflict for the first time.
  • This was after the Sri Lankan government attempted to regain control of the northern Jaffna region by means of an economic blockade and military assaults; India supplied food and medicine by air and sea.

Why did India intervene?

  • Indian intervention in Sri Lankan civil war became inevitable as that civil war threatened India’s unity, national interest and territorial integrity.

Outcomes

  • The peace accord assigned a certain degree of regional autonomy in the Tamil areas with a body controlling the regional council and called for the Tamil militant groups to lay down their arms.
  • Further India was to send a peacekeeping force, named the IPKF to Sri Lanka to enforce the disarmament and to watch over the regional council.
  • The accord failed over the issue of representations. The result was that the LTTE now found itself engaged in military conflict with the Indian Army.

Areas of cooperation

(1) Political Relations

  • Regular Exchange: Political relations between the two countries have been marked by high-level exchanges of visits at regular intervals.
  • Bilateral Cooperation: A joint statement covering all areas of bilateral cooperation, titled ‘MitratvaMaga’ was issued following the Virtual Summit of 2020.

(2) Commercial Relations

  • ISFTA: The India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA) in 2000 contributed significantly towards the expansion of trade in areas such as infrastructure, connectivity, transportation, housing, health, livelihood and rehabilitation, education, and industrial development.
  • Trading Partner: India has traditionally been among Sri Lanka’s largest trade partners and Sri Lanka remains among the largest trade partners of India in the SAARC.
    • In 2020, India was Sri Lanka’s 2nd largest trading partner with the bilateral merchandise trade amounting to about USD $ 3.6 billion.
  • India and Sri Lanka are member nations of several regional and multilateral organizations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme, South Asian Economic Union and BIMSTEC.
  • India is Sri Lanka’s third-largest export destination, after the US and UK.
  • Exports: Sri Lankan exports to India have increased substantially since 2000 when ISLFTA came into force.
  • FDI: India is also one of the largest contributors to Foreign Direct Investment in Sri Lanka. According to BoI, FDI from India amounted to about US$ 1.7 billion during the period 2005 to 2019.

(3) Development Cooperation

  • Grants: The overall commitment by GOI is to the tune of more than USD 3.5 billion.
    • Demand-driven and people-centric nature of India’s development partnership with Sri Lanka have been the cornerstone of this relationship. 
  • The Indian Housing Project: India has so far committed to construct close to 62,500 houses in Sri Lanka, making it one of the largest projects undertaken by GoI abroad. 
  • Emergency Ambulance Service: The Service which was initially launched in July 2016 is now expanded to all the Provinces.
    • At a total cost of more than USD 22.5 million, close to 300 ambulances were provided by GOI under this project.
  • Other Projects: India is also involved in projects for renovation of Palaly Airport, Kankesanthurai Harbor, construction of a Cultural Centre in Jaffna, interconnection of electricity grids between the two countries, construction of a 150-bed hospital in Dickoya and setting up a coal power plant in Sampur as a joint venture between National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).
  • Latest Development: India-SL agreed for joint development of Trincomalee Oil Tank farmed in 2022 after 35 years of wait.

(4) Projects under Lines of Credit

  • Sectors: 11 Lines of credit (LOC) have been extended to Sri Lanka by the Export Import Bank of India in the last 15 years.
    • Important sectors under these LOCs include: Railway, transport, connectivity, defense, solar.
  • Infrastructure: Some important Projects completed are- supply of defense equipments; up-gradation of the railway line from Colombo to Matara; track laying by IRCON on Omanthai-Pallai sector; reconstruction of the Railway line; signaling and telecommunication system; supply of engine kits for buses, diesel locomotives railways, DMUs, Carrier and fuel tank wagons etc.
  • Rehabilitation: A project for the rehabilitation of the Kankesanthurai harbor is being executed under a LOC of USD 45.27 million, bringing immense economic benefits to the Northern region of Sri Lanka.
  • Solar Energy: A US$ 100 million LoC for undertaking solar projects in Sri Lanka has been signed for rooftop solar units for Government buildings, rooftop solar units for low-income families and a floating solar power plant.
  • Security: In 2019, a LOC of USD 400 million for development and infrastructure projects and USD 50 million for security and counter-terrorism were announced.
    • These LOC Agreements are currently under discussion.

(5) Cultural relations

  • India and Sri Lanka have a shared legacy of historical, cultural, religious, spiritual and linguistic ties that is more than 2,500 years old.
  • In contemporary times, the Cultural Cooperation Agreement signed by the Government of India and the Government forms the basis for periodic Cultural Exchange Programmes between the two countries.

(6) People-to-people ties: Buddhism

  • Buddhism is one of the strongest pillars connecting the two nations and civilizations from the time when Emperor Ashoka sent his children Arhat Mahinda and Sangamitta to spread the teachings of Lord Buddha at the request of King Devanampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka.
  • Underlining the deep people-to-people connect and shared Buddhist heritage, the venerated relics of Lord Buddha from Kapilawasthu discovered in 1970 in India have been exhibited two times in Sri Lanka.
  • India in 2020, announced USD 15 million grant assistance for the protection and promotion of Buddhist ties between India and Sri Lanka.
    • It may be utilized for the construction/renovation of Buddhist monasteries, education of young monks, strengthening engagement of Buddhist scholars and clergy, development of Buddhist heritage museums, etc.
  • Transport- In July 2020, the GoI declared the Kushinagar Airport in India, the place of Lord Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana, as an international airport, to allow Buddhist pilgrims from around the world to visit the revered site associated with Lord Buddha with ease.
  • The Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre (SVCC)– since its inception in 1998, is actively promoting awareness of Indian culture by offering classes in Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Hindustani and Carnatic vocal, Violin, Sitar, Tabla, Hindi and Yoga.

(7) Tourism

  • e-Visa- Tourism also forms an important link between India and Sri Lanka. GoI formally launched the e-Tourist Visa (eTV) scheme for Sri Lankan tourists on 14 April 2015.
  • Visa Fee- Subsequently, in a goodwill gesture, the visa fee for eTV was sharply reduced. In 2019, out of the total 1.91 million tourists, 355,000 tourists arrived from India.
  • Sri Lankan tourists too are among the top ten sources for the Indian tourism market.
  • Visa on arrival- On 24 July 2019 Sri Lanka included India in the free visa on arrival scheme and commenced the scheme on 1 August 2019.

Plummeting relations

  • The ties began to worsen between the two since February, 2021 when Sri Lanka backed out from a tripartite partnership with India and Japan for its East Container Terminal Project at the Colombo Port, citing domestic issues.
    • However, later, the West Coast Terminal was offered under a public private partnership arrangement to Adani Ports and Special Economic Zones Ltd.
  • Sri Lanka in a state of economic emergency: Sri Lanka is running out of foreign exchange reserves for essential imports like food. It has recently declared a state of economic emergency.
  • Covid Impact:
    • Sri Lanka increased policy rates after the covid pandemic in response to rising inflation in August 2021 caused by currency depreciation.
    • Tourism sector has suffered since the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 2019, followed by the pandemic.
    • Earnings fell from $3.6 billion in 2019 to $0.7 billion in 2020, even as FDI inflows halved from $1.2 billion to $670 million over the same period.
    • Sri Lanka’s fragile liquidity situation has put it at high risk of debt distress. Its public debt-to-GDP ratio was at 109.7% in 2020, and its gross financing needs remain high at 18% of GDP.
    • Its gross official reserves slipped to $2.8 billion, which is equivalent to just 1.8 months of imports. More than $2.7 billion of foreign currency debt will be due in the next two years.

Major outstanding issues

 Fishing disputes
  • There have been several alleged incidents of Sri Lankan Navy personnel firing on Indian fishermen fishing in the Palk Strait, where India and Sri Lanka are only separated by 12 nautical miles.
  • The issue started because of Indian fishermen having used mechanized trawlers, which deprived the Sri Lankan fishermen (including Tamils) of their catch and damaged their fishing boats.
  • The Sri Lankan government wants India to ban use of mechanized trawlers in the Palk Strait region, and negotiations on this subject are undergoing.
  • So far, no concrete agreement has been reached since India favors regulating these trawlers instead of banning them altogether.
Alleged political interference
  • A media report from Colombo soon after Rajapaksa’s defeat in the January 8 elections of 2015 had said that an Indian Intelligence official was instrumental in uniting rival political parties — the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) — against him during the polls.
  • In October 2018, President Sirisena alleged that Indian intelligence agencies were plotting his assassination.
Katchatheevu Island
  • It is an uninhabited island that India ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974 based on a conditional agreement called “Kachchativu island pact”.
  • Later on, Sri Lanka declared Katchatheevu, a sacred land given the presence of a Catholic shrine.
  • But Tamil Nadu claimed that Katchatheevu falls under the Indian Territory and Tamil fishermen have traditionally believed that it belongs to them and therefore want to preserve the right to fish there.
China factor
  • Sri Lanka has a history of taking independent decisions even if they cause misgivings in India.
  • In the period of low profile relationship between the two nations, Sri Lanka apparently started favoring China over India.
  • China is Sri Lanka’s largest bilateral creditor: China’s loans to the Sri Lankan public sector amounted to 15% of the central government’s external debt, making China the largest bilateral creditor to the country.
    • Sri Lanka has increasingly relied on Chinese credit to address its foreign debt burden.
  • China’s Exports surpasses India: China’s exports to Sri Lanka surpassed those of India in 2020 and stood at $3.8 billion.
    • India’s exports were $3.2 billion.
  • Infrastructural Investment by China: Owing to Sri Lanka’s strategic location at the intersection of major shipping routes, China’s investment stands at $12 billion between 2006 and 2019.
    • Unable to service its debt, in 2017, Sri Lanka lost the unviable Hambantota port to China for a 99-year lease.
    • Sri Lanka passed the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Act, which provides for establishing a special economic zone around the port and also a new economic commission, to be funded by China.
    • The Colombo port is crucial for India as it handles 60% of India’s trans-shipment cargo.
  • Shifting interests due to economic crisis: Sri Lanka’s economic crisis may further push it to align its policies with Beijing’s interests.
    • This comes at a time when India is already on a diplomatic tightrope with Afghanistan and Myanmar.
    • Other South Asian nations like Bangladesh, Nepal and the Maldives have also been turning to China to finance large-scale infrastructure projects.

Why is Sri Lanka important to India?

  • India is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor. Both sides have built upon a legacy of intellectual, cultural, religious and linguistic interaction.
  • Sri Lanka has always been politically and economically important to India given its strategic geographical position in the Indian Ocean. The relationship has been marked by close contacts at all levels.
  • Sri Lanka sits at the epicenter of the arc connecting the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca. An island nation with an economy that’s mainly reliant on tourism and tea exports, Sri Lanka’s blessed geography puts it at a crucial juncture of the busy shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean.
  • India also has a vital strategic stake in Sri Lanka for its own security interests. An unfriendly Sri Lanka or a Sri Lanka under influence of a power unfriendly to India would strategically discomfit India.
  • For the Indian Navy, Sri Lanka is important as the switching of naval fleets from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea and vice versa requires the fleets to go around the island nation.
  • Both countries share a common broad understanding on major issues of international interest and experience common social-political problems relating to community divides.

What does Sri Lanka expect from India?

  • The humanitarian work by Indian agencies like supplies of medicines, doctors and providing refuge to more than 3 lakhs IDP’s during the decade-old civil war has created a sense of mutual cooperation among the countries natives.
  • SL is one of the leading recipients of India’s Line of Credits.
  • India has always rushed for the relief at the first signs of the rains and floods in SL recently. SL still commends the post-tsunami HADR relief operations carried out by India in the end-2004.
  • India’s military, intelligence and security establishment has maintained its relations with its Sri Lankan counterpart, and both sides have been on the same page at all times.
  • The security environment in the neighborhood will be discussed in light of the 21 April Easter Church bombings, and lessons learned from it.
  • India is also the largest provider of defense training programs for Sri Lankan soldiers and Defence officials.

A greater role for India

 (1) Gathering convergence towards SL

  • Delhi needs to invest some political capital in resolving problems such as the long-standing dispute over fisheries.
  • Beyond its objection to China’s BRI projects, Delhi, either alone or in partnership with like-minded countries like Japan, should offer sustainable terms for infrastructure development.
  • Delhi also needs to contribute more to the development of Colombo’s defence and counter-terror capabilities.

(2) Answering the Tamil Question

  • The second structural factor shaping India’s relations with Sri Lanka is the Tamil question.
  • Delhi has certainly learned the dangers of being drawn too deep into the domestic conflicts of neighboring countries.
  • If the new government in Colombo can advance reconciliation with the Tamil minority, it will be easier for India to strengthen ties with the Gotabaya government.

(3) No china factor indeed

  • Labeling governments in Sri Lanka as “pro-China” or “pro-India” is irrelevant. It is evident that China’s economic and strategic salience in the subcontinent is not tied to the regime leadership.
  • Previous Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena who considered as pro-India came to power criticizing the Chinese projects in Sri Lanka, but within two years into power, it extended full backing to the Chinese projects.

(4) Harnessing the ray of hope

  • Our challenges in Sri Lanka will continue, but we are off to a good start with the new government.
  • The new president has made repeated statements that his government would like Sri Lanka to be a “neutral country” and that “Sri Lanka won’t do anything that will harm India’s interests.”
  • Gotabaya was also critical of the previous government giving Hambantota Port on a 99-year lease to China.
  • He went on to add that giving land as investment for developing a hotel or a commercial property was not a problem but the strategically important, economically important harbor, giving that is not acceptable.
  • The Rajapaksas have acknowledged that India has not interfered in the recent elections.
  • The first visit abroad by Gotabaya Rajapaksa to India has its own symbolic significance, translating into a diplomatic gesture his statement to the EAM that while China is a trade partner, India is a relative.

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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India-Nepal Relations

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Context

The Prime Minister of Nepal made his first bilateral visit abroad to India since taking his oath in July 2021. The visit was a success in terms of launching connectivity projects and signing Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs). Bilateral dialogues, strengthened economic connections and more sensitization towards the people of Nepal is what India needs to pursue to fulfil the objectives of its ‘neighborhood first policy’.

Historical Background

  • Ancient ties: The relationship between India and Nepal goes back to the times of the rule of the Sakya clan and Gautama Buddha.
    • Initially, Nepal was under tribal rule and only with the coming of Licchavi rule in Nepal did its feudal era truly begin.
  • Cultural relations: From 750 to 1750 AD period saw a shift from Buddhism to Hinduism in Nepal and witnessed widespread cultural diffusion.
    • India and Nepal share similar ties in terms of Hinduism and Buddhism with Buddha’s birthplace Lumbini located in present-day Nepal.
  • India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 forms the bedrock of the special relations that exist between India and Nepal.
  • Nepal is an important neighbor of India and occupies a special significance in its foreign policy because of the geographic, historical, cultural and economic linkages/ties that span centuries.
  • In recent years, India’s relations with Nepal have witnessed some ‘lows’. 
    • The relationship between the two took a nosedive in 2015, with India first getting blamed for interfering in the Constitution drafting process and then for an “unofficial blockade” that generated widespread resentment against India.

Highlights of the recent visit

  • Important Projects in discussion:
    • The operationalization of the 35 kilometre cross-border rail link from Jayanagar (Bihar) to Kurtha (Nepal) will be further extended to Bijalpura and Bardibas.
    • The 90 km long 132 kV double circuit transmission line connecting Tila (Solukhumbu) to Mirchaiya (Siraha) is close to the Indian border.
  • Agreements signed:
    • Agreements providing technical cooperation in the railway sector
    • Nepal’s induction into the International Solar Alliance,  becoming the 105th country to become a signatory to the Framework Agreement of the ISA.
    • Between Indian Oil Corporation and Nepal Oil Corporation ensuring regular supplies of petroleum products were also signed.
  • India called for taking full advantage of opportunities in the power sector, including through joint development of power generation projects in Nepal and the development of cross-border transmission infrastructure.
  • Launch of Indian RuPay card in Nepal: This would open new vistas for cooperation in financial connectivity, and is expected to facilitate bilateral tourist flows as well as further strengthen people-to-people linkages between India and Nepal.

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. India is Nepal’s largest trading partner.
  • 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.
  • Nepal has escalating trade deficit with India. Nepal and India have concluded bilateral Treaty of Transit, Treaty of Trade and the Agreement of Cooperation to Control Unauthorized Trade.

5. Connectivity

  • The 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship was sought by the Nepali authorities in 1949 to provide for an open border and for Nepali nationals to have the right to work in India.
  • The BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) in which Nepal is a partner will permit the member states to ply their vehicles in each other’s territory for transportation of cargo and passengers.

6. Multilateral and Regional Fora

  • Both Nepal and India work in tandem in the United Nations, Non-aligned Movement and other international fora on most of the important international issues.
  • Both the countries have been deeply engaged in the regional and sub-regional frameworks of SAARC, BIMSTEC and BBIN for enhancing cooperation for greater economic integration.

China’s role in Nepal – a matter of concern

  • Once considered a buffer state between India and China, Nepal is now showing an inclination towards Beijing. China is trying to stimulate and tempt Nepal with multiple aids, economic growth and acquisition.
  • China is pursuing a more assertive foreign policy and considers Nepal as an important element in its growing South Asian footprint and being a key partner in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • In 2016, Nepal negotiated an Agreement on Transit Transportation with China and in 2017, China provided a military grant of $32 million to Nepal.
  • In 2019, a Protocol was concluded with China providing access to four seaports and three land ports to Nepal. China is also engaged with airport expansion projects at Pokhara and Lumbini.
  • China has overtaken India as the largest source of foreign direct investment with the annual development assistance being worth $120 million.
  • Recently, the ratification of the Pancheshwar Multipurpose project saw street protests and big-time social media campaigns supported by China.

Indo-Nepal Border Disputes

India and Nepal share about an 1800 Km long border. There are 2 major border or territorial disputes:

1) Kalapani

  • The Kali River in the Kalapani region demarcates the border between India and Nepal.
  • The Treaty of Sugauli signed by the Kingdom of Nepal and British India (after the Anglo-Nepalese War) in 1816 located the Kali River as Nepal’s western boundary with India.
  • The discrepancy in locating the source of the Kali River led to boundary disputes between India and Nepal, with each country producing maps supporting their own claims.
  • However, India has control of Kalapani since the 1962 Indo-Sina War.
    • Kalapani is a valley that is administered by India as a part of the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. It is situated on the Kailash Mansarovar route.

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.

2) Susta Region

  • It is about 140 sq. km of land in Uttar Pradesh at the Nepal border in the Terai area. India has control of the territory. Nepal claims this territory.
  • The change of course by the Gandak river is the main reason for disputes in the Susta area.
  • Susta is located on the bank of the Gandak river.
  • It is called the Narayani river in Nepal.
  • It joins Ganga near Patna, Bihar.

Issue of Simultaneous floods in Bihar and Nepal

  • Some of Nepal’s biggest river systems originate in the Himalayan glaciers which then flow into India through Bihar.
  • During the monsoons, these river systems flood causing many problems for Bihar.
  • It is a necessity that there is process-driven coordination between the Centre and the Government of Bihar to handle the flooding in Nepal’s Terai and North Bihar (largely the Mithilanchal region).

Which are those flooding rivers?

  • Nepal’s three biggest river systems—Kosi, Gandaki and Karnali—originate in the high mountain glaciers, flow through the country and then enter India through the state of Bihar.
  • During the monsoon season, these river systems often get flooded due to heavy rains/landslides in Nepal which create floods in India’s most flood-prone state—Bihar.

Why Nepal is Important to India?

  1. It acts as a strategic buffer against the aggression of China.
  2. The Pakistan factor: peddling of FICN, drugs and terrorism through the Indo-Nepal border. It makes the cooperation of Nepal important.
  3. India and Nepal share common culture: There are huge Nepali communities in Darjeeling and Sikkim. Many marital relations across the border exist.
  4. National Security: There is a lot of interdependence. Gurkha Regiment in Indian Army is known for its valiance.
    • Nepal could play in the hands of China which could be detrimental to Indian interests. Hence they need to be kept as close as possible.
  5. Ministry of External Affairs term India-Nepal Relation as “Roti-Beti ka Rishta” (Relation of food and marriage)
  6. Energy Security: Nepal has the potential of 80 GW of hydroelectricity. But only 600 MW potential is realized so far.
    • Nepal’s lack of cooperation in this regard has hindered development. The surplus could be used for Indian border states.

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 concerns 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 the ‘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

1) Dialogues for Territorial Disputes

  • In the best spirit of friendship, Nepal and India should restart the water dialogue and come up with policies to safeguard the interests of all those who have been affected on both sides of the border.
  • India needs to be a sensitive and generous partner for the neighbourhood first policy to take root.
  • The dispute shall be negotiated diplomatically under the aegis of International law on Trans-boundary Water Disputes.

2) Sensitising Towards Nepal

  • 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.
  • It should maintain the policy of keeping away from the internal affairs of Nepal, meanwhile, in the spirit of friendship, India should guide the nation towards more inclusive rhetoric.

3) Strengthening Economic Ties

  • The power trade agreement needs to be such that India can build trust in Nepal. Despite more renewable energy projects (solar) coming up in India, hydropower is the only source that can manage peak demand in India.
  • For India, buying power from Nepal would mean managing peak demand and also saving the billions of dollars of investments that would have to be invested in building new power plants, many of which would cause pollution.

4) Investments from India

  • The Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) signed between India and Nepal needs more attention from Nepal’s side.
  • The private sector in Nepal, especially the cartels in the garb of trade associations, are fighting tooth and nail against foreign investments.
  • It is important that Nepal conveys this message that it welcomes Indian investments.

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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India-Russia Relations

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Context

Russia’s war on Ukraine has decisively shaped international opinion. Indian foreign policy is also going to be affected in a profound manner.

India-Russia Relation – Background

  • India and Russia have enjoyed good relations since 1947 wherein Russia helped India in attaining its goal of economic self-sufficiency through investment in areas of heavy machine-building, mining, energy production and steel plants.
  • India and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in August 1971 which was the manifestation of the shared goals of the two nations as well as a blueprint for the strengthening of regional and global peace and security.
  • After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, India and Russia entered into a new Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in January 1993 and a bilateral Military-Technical Cooperation agreement in 1994.
  • In 2000 both countries established a Strategic Partnership. In 2010, the Strategic Partnership was elevated to the level of a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership”.

Bilateral Relations and Areas of Cooperation

(1) Political Relations

  • The Annual Summit meeting between the Prime Minister of India and the President of the Russian Federation is the highest institutionalized dialogue mechanism in the strategic partnership between India and Russia. 1
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin held their first informal Summit in the city of Sochi in the Russian Federation on May 21, 2018
  • Russia recently awarded PM Narendra Modi Russia’s highest state decoration – The order of St Andrew the Apostle.
  • Two Inter-Governmental Commissions – one on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC), and another on Military-Technical Cooperation (IRIGC- MTC), meet annually.

(2) Economic Relations

  • Bilateral trade between both countries is concentrated in key value-chain sectors.
  • These sectors include highly diversified segments such as machinery, electronics, aerospace, automobile, commercial shipping, chemicals, pharmaceuticals etc.
  • The two countries intend to increase bilateral investment to US$50 billion and bilateral trade to US$30 billion by 2025.
  • In 2019, total bilateral trade between the two countries from January-September, 2019 stood at USD 7.55 billion.
  • Top imports: Mineral fuels, mineral oils and products, pearls, precious or semi-precious stones, precious metals, nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances, electrical machinery, fertilizers, etc.
  • Top Exports: Pharmaceutical products,        electrical machinery and equipment, organic chemicals, vehicles other than railway or tramway rolling stock, etc.

(3) Defence partnership 

  • India-Russia military-technical cooperation has evolved from a buyer-seller framework to one involving joint research, development and production of advanced defense technologies and systems.
  • The first-ever Tri-Services exercise –‘INDRA 2017’ took place in Vladivostok from October 19 to 29, 2017.
  • It has provided significant enhancement to India’s indigenous defense manufacturing.
  • Some of the major defense collaboration programs are: the BrahMos Cruise Missile program, Sukhoi Su-30 and Tactical Transport Aircraft.

(4) Energy Security 

  • In the Energy sector, Russia has built nuclear reactors in India (Kudankulam reactors), adopted a strategic vision in nuclear energy, and offered oil, gas and investment opportunities in the fuel sector of Russia e.g., Sakhalin I, etc.
  • India and Russia secure the potential of designing a nuclear reactor specifically for developing countries, which is a promising area of cooperation.
  • India’s nuclear power generation capacity of 6,780 MW may increase to 22,480 MW by 2031, contributing to the country’s efforts to turn to green energy.
  • Cooperation between the two countries in energy transformation can be seen from the joint venture between India’s Reliance Industries Ltd. and Russia’s Sibur, the country’s largest petrochemicals producer.
  • Both sides are considering the possibilities of building a hydrocarbon pipeline system, connecting the Russian Federation with India.

(5) Space technology 

  • India and Russia have a four-decade strong relationship in the field of space.
  • The former Soviet Union launched India’s first two satellites, Aryabhata and Bhaskar.
  • Russia has provided India with Cryogenic technology to build heavy rockets. Historically, there has been a long history of cooperation between the Soviet Union and India in space.
  • In Nov 2007, the two countries have signed an agreement on joint lunar exploration.
  • Chandrayaan-2 was a joint lunar exploration mission proposed by the ISRO and the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA).
  • Both are collaborating for the scheduled Gaganyaan Mission.

(6) Global Partnership 

  • Russia has supported India’s bid for a permanent seat in UNSC.
  • It has been favoring Indian entry to the Nuclear Supplier Group.
  • Both countries coordinate each other over various forums including BRICS, SCO, G20, etc.

(7) Cultural Cooperation 

  • From people-to-people contacts (through programs like ‘Namaste Russia’) to sharing educational brilliance of both the countries through institutes like Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Centre, both the countries have had good cultural links
  • There is a strong interest among Russian people in Indian dance, music, yoga and Ayurveda
  • As Russia and India both desire a multi-polar world, they are equally important for each other in fulfilling each other’s national interests. However, due to the changing geopolitical scenario, the relationship between both countries is not as good as it used to be in the cold war era.

Recent trends in bilateral ties

  • Despite the best efforts divergences are growing in this bilateral relationship as the underlying structural changes in the international environment are pulling the two nations apart.
  • Even in the past, the duo have tried to ground their bilateral relations in the wider realities of changing the global balance of power.
  • Now with the US upending the rules of global governance, there is renewed concern that their foreign policies need greater coordination if only to preserve their equities in the global order.
  • India, of course, has a long-standing relationship with Russia but that is undergoing a shift in light of rapidly evolving geopolitical realities.

Bilateral divergence

  • While the top leadership of the two nations have continued to engage with each other, divergences have been cropping up with disturbing regularity.
  • For India, what should be concerning is Russia’s increasing tilt towards Pakistan as it seeks to curry favor with China.
  • Moscow had historically supported New Delhi at the United Nations Security Council by repeatedly vetoing resolutions on the Kashmir issue.

(1) Military-defence Complex

  • Russia is the dominant supplier of arms to India, with the historic military and defence ties between the two countries continuing to serve as one of the cornerstones of the India-Russia relationship.
  • Strains are becoming apparent as India moves further along the path of military indigenization and import diversification.
  • India’s procurement from the US and France has also been seen as a heated divergence between the two.
  • This was a result of the unreliability of Russian supplies, as manifested in late arrivals, defective parts, and perennial conflicts overpricing and warranties.

(2) Cultural Vacuum

  • On an everyday level, while Indian films and yoga are popular in Russia, no parallel exposure to any aspect of Russian popular culture exists among Indians.
  • This is the most woefully neglected aspect of their relationship, suffering on both sides from lack of funding and, no less important, a shortage of political will.
  • Another aspect of ties is tourism which could be much more vigorous between the two countries than present India’s US affinity.

(3) India-US ties

  • Rapidly expanding ties and growing defence relationship between India and US, and India joining QUAD group led by the US has led to a strategic shift in Russia’s foreign policy, pushing it to align with China.
  • The signing of the long-awaited Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and other security related agreements, is set to elevate the bilateral defence partnership and give India access to advanced U.S. defence systems.
  • Another successful deliverable for India is Washington’s solidarity on the issue of terrorism expressed during the talks.
  • The two sides “called on Pakistan to ensure that the territory under its control is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries.
  • However, a closer engagement with the U.S. is a challenge for India, as this relationship is not likely to be a partnership of equals, for the foreseeable future.

(4) One Dimensional Trade

  • India Russia trade has been mostly restricted to defence trade.
  • Other challenges in boosting trade – number of issues that hinder India-Russia trade, like, connectivity issues, distance, weak banking links, cumbersome regulations on both sides and Russia’s restrictive visa regime.

(5) Change in Russia’s foreign policy posture 

  • Russia is tilting toward Pakistan, China, and even recognizing the Taliban.
  • Pakistan – conducted military exercise; signed a military-technical cooperation agreement for arms supply and weapon development.
  • China – increasing strategic military relations between the two nations; Russia selling advanced military technology to China; endorsing China’s One Belt One Road initiative.

(6) Differences over the Indo-Pacific

  • Both India and Russia have a difference of opinion in understanding the concept of the Indo-Pacific.
  • Russia opposes the term Indo-Pacific as the term is primarily a US-led initiative aimed to contain China and Russia.
  • Russia does not accept the concept of QUAD. Instead, Russia supports the concept of Asia Pacific.

Steps taken to address the downturn in the relationship

  • Sochi Informal Summit 2018: The strategic partnership between the two has been elevated into a “special privileged strategic partnership”.
  • Reinforced defense ties: both countries finalized Su-400 air defense systems and nuclear-powered submarine (Chakra III) deal, construction of Ka-226 helicopters in India under the Make in India initiative.
  • Improving Trade Relations: India Russia Strategic Economic Dialogue was started in 2018 to achieve the target of $30 billion investment goal by 2025 between both countries
  • India participated in the Eastern Economic Forum (2020) which aims to support the economic development of Russia’s resource-rich Far East.
  • India has extended a $1 billion line of credit for the development of this region. Also, the proposal for a maritime route between Chennai and Vladivostok has been made.
  • Strengthening Energy cooperation: Cooperation in the development of oil in Russia including its arctic shelf and joint development of projects on the shelf of the Pechora and Okhotsk Seas.
    • For increasing connectivity, both sides called for the development of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).

Potential Areas for Deepening Ties

  • Connectivity: There is scope for improvement in trade between Russia and India if the international North-South corridor through Iran and the Vladivostok-Chennai Sea route can be operationalized.
  • Technology: India can benefit from hi-tech cooperation with Russia in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, outer space, and nanotechnology.
  • Education, R&D: India can also cooperate with Russia on upgrading its basic research and education facilities. 
  • Diversifying Economic Engagement: Apart from traditional areas of cooperation such as weapons, hydrocarbons, nuclear energy, and diamonds, new sectors of economic engagement are likely to emerge – mining, agro-industrial, and high technology, including robotics, nanotech, and biotech.
    • Mutual benefits in the trade of natural resources such as timber and agriculture can also be harnessed.

Why is Russia Important to India?

  • Russia’s status in the international sphere: Russia remains, and will remain a pre-eminent nuclear and energy power and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council
  • Multipolar World Politics: Since the world is becoming increasingly multipolar, maintaining close and strategic relations with Russia and the US at the same time is indispensable for India. A strong partnership with Russia provides India with leverages to deal with other countries.
  • Support for UNSC seat: Russia has stated publicly that it supports India receiving a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. 
  • Counterbalance to China Aggression: India has no option but to have a close relationship both with the US and Russia and to manage its difficult relationship with China. 
    • So long as Russia’s relationship with the West remains strained, Russia will look toward China. So long as Sino-Indian relations remain troubled, Russia’s going into the Chinese sphere of influence will not suit India.
  • India’s energy security: India to look toward Russia as an alternative source of energy supplies as the situation in the Middle East is escalating with threats to essential oil trade routes
  • Important Technology supplier: Russia can help India build its technological potential by providing access to its technologies, especially in defense technology and nuclear technology.

Recent Developments

As Russia declares war on Ukraine, the impact will also be on the recovering economies around the world, including India.

India’s position on the Ukraine issue

  •  New Delhi has taken a subtle pro-Moscow position on the question of Russian attacks against Ukraine.
  • A geopolitical necessity: India’s Russia tilt should be seen not just as a product of its time-tested friendship with Moscow but also as a geopolitical necessity.
  • China problem: India’s problem is China, and it needs both the U.S./the West and Russia to deal with the “China problem”.

Implications of war on Ukraine for India

  • It will embolden China: Russian action in Ukraine dismissing the concerns of the rest of the international community including the U.S. will no doubt embolden China and its territorial ambitions.
  • Sanctions on Russia will impact India’s defense cooperation: The new sanctions regime may have implications for India’s defense cooperation with Moscow.
  • Russia-China axis: The longer the standoff lasts, the closer China and Russia could become, which certainly does not help India.
  • The focus will move away from Indo-Pacific: The more severe the U.S.-Russia rivalry becomes, the less focus there would be on the Indo-Pacific and China, which is where India’s interests lie.

Way Forward

  • India and Russia have to identify their strengths and common concerns like developing joint projects in third countries. 
    • Such as the involvement of India and Russia in the Rooppur nuclear plant project in Bangladesh.
  • Focus on Eurasia: India and Russia have to explore their opportunities in the Eurasian region.
    • India can study the possibility of expanding Russia’s idea of an “extensive Eurasian partnership”.
  • India must take advantage of Russia’s capacity in helping India to become self-sufficient in Defence.
    • For example, India’s collaboration with Russia in the Brahmos Missile made India export such missiles to countries like the Philippines.
  • India needs to balance its relationship between Russia, China, and the US: This is essential after the US conducted a Freedom of Navigation operation (FONOP) in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
  • India has to utilise the scientific and technological base in Russia for the development of India’s problems.
  • Cooperation at Multilateral Forums: strengthening ties through various multilateral organizations including BRICS, RIC, G20, East Asia Summit, and SCO – where avenues for cooperation on issues of mutual importance exist.
  • Engaging Russia in Indo-Pacific narrative: India should pursue and facilitate Russia’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific.
    • Russia’s active engagement in the region would contribute to making the Indo-Pacific truly “free and inclusive”.
  • Prioritizing RIC in Indian Foreign Policy: India must promote mutually beneficial trilateral cooperation between Russia, India, and China, which could contribute to the reduction of mistrust and suspicion between the three countries.

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