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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Strategic Autonomy vs NAM

  • Early this year, our PM attended the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) virtual summit, after previously skipping two summits.
  • Not attending that last few summits, had signalled India’s sudden departure away from NAM and having adopted the policy of multi-alignment.
  • This has raised eyebrows of those who still believe in the true spirit of Non-Alignment of which India has been the champion for a long time.
  • The question of strategic autonomy is in limelight since the 2+ 2 talks between India and the US.

Exploring India’s role in the launch of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) during the Cold War and its relations with participant countries today is pivotal to understanding ‘ India’s idea of strategic autonomy.

What is NAM?

  • The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a forum of 120 developing world states that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc.
  • After the United Nations, it is the largest grouping of states worldwide.
  • Drawing on the principles agreed at the Bandung Conference in 1955, the NAM was established in 1961 in Belgrade, SR Serbia, and Yugoslavia.
  • It was an initiative of then PM Jawaharlal Nehru, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Indonesian President Sukarno, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito.
  • The countries of the NAM represent nearly two-thirds of the United Nations’ members and contain 55% of the world population.

Membership of NAM

  • Membership is particularly concentrated in countries considered to be developing or part of the Third World, though the NAM also has a number of developed nations.

At that point in time, reason behind NAM creation

  • Non-alignment, a policy fashioned for the Cold War, aimed to retain the autonomy of policy (not equidistance) between two politico-military blocs i.e. the US and the Soviet Union.
  • The NAM provided a platform for newly independent developing nations to join together to protect this autonomy.
  • NAM was thus similar to neutrality in a sense of not taking sides, but with the difference that if their decisions and actions coincide with one of the fighting blocs, it is their own preference, their own worldview, not supporting the bloc who has similar standings.

Relevance TODAY

  • Since the end of the Cold War, the NAM has been forced to redefine itself and reinvent its purpose in the current world system.
  • In the years since the Cold War’s end, it has focused on developing multilateral ties and connections as well as unity among the developing nations of the world, especially those within the Global South.

Fading significance of the NAM

  • The policy of non-alignment lost its relevance after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of unipolar world order under the leadership of the US since 1991.
  • De-colonization was largely complete by then, the apartheid regime in South Africa was being dismantled and the campaign for universal nuclear disarmament was going nowhere.
  • Freed from the shackles of the Cold War, the NAM countries were able to diversify their network of relationships across the erstwhile east-west divide.

India and the NAM

  • India played an important role in the multilateral movements of colonies and newly independent countries that wanted into the NAM.
  • India’s policy was neither negative nor positive.
  • Country´s place in national diplomacy, its significant size and its economic miracle turned India into one of the leaders of the NAM and upholder of the Third World solidarity.
  • The principle of ‘acting and making its own choices’ also reflected India’s goal to remain independent in foreign policy choices, although posing dilemmas and challenges between national interests on international arena and poverty alleviation.
  • Namely, the economic situation with the aim to raise the population’s living standards challenged the country’s defence capacity and vice versa. Preserving the state’s security thus required alternative measures.
  • Wars with China and Pakistan had led India to an economically difficult situation and brought along food crisis in the mid-1960s, which made the country dependent on US food.
  • India’s position was further complicated due to agreements with the Soviet Union about military equipment.
  • This placed India again in a situation where on one hand the country had to remain consistent on the principles of NAM while on the other hand to act in a context with fewer choices.

The guiding principle of NAM should be repurposed as a balance between ‘Global value consensus’,‘Freedom of Alignment’ and ‘Neutrality’.

What is meant by Strategic Autonomy?

  • Strategic autonomy for India denotes its’ ability to pursue its national interests and adopt its preferred foreign policy without being constrained in any manner by other states.
  • In its pure form, strategic autonomy presupposes the state in question possessing overwhelmingly superior power.
  • This is what would enable that state to resist the pressures that may be exerted by other states to compel it to change its policy or moderate its interests.
  • Today’s ideation of ‘strategic autonomy’ is much different from the Nehruvian era thinking of ‘non-alignment’.
  • Strategic autonomy is today a term New Delhi’s power corridors are well-acquainted with. It is an issue & situation-based, and not ideological.

Beyond Power-Politics nexus

  • Strategic autonomy for India is both about power-politics and responsibilities.
  • India’s quest for strategic autonomy is more about justice in terms of creating the international system where all states’ voices will be heard and decisions are made on value-based consensus.
  • Such an idea is often misunderstood and confused with ‘opposing some states and allying the others.’

What dictates India’s alignment now?

India acknowledged the importance of economic growth as a factor in domestic poverty alleviation and for the realization of national interests in the international arena.

(1) National security

  • China’s rise and assertiveness as a regional and global power and the simultaneous rise of middle powers in the region mean that this balancing act is increasing in both complexity and importance, simultaneously.
  • China’s growth presents great opportunities for positive engagement, but territorial disputes and a forward policy in the region raise concerns for New Delhi, particularly in the Indian Ocean and with Pakistan.

(2) Global decision-making

  • Another distinctive feature of India’s foreign policy has been the aim to adjust international institutions consistent with changes in international system.
  • The support for strengthening and reforming the UN as a multilateral forum, restructuring the international economic system and preserving independence in its decision-making has become an integral part of India’s foreign policy.

(3) Prosperity and influence

  • India’s 21st century’s strategic partnerships with two of the biggest economies, the USA and EU rely heavily on trade and technology cooperation.
  • In addition, the partnership with the USA has touched the boundaries of strategic issues like cooperation on counter-terrorism, defence trade, joint military exercises, civil nuclear cooperation and energy dialogue.

(4) Multi-polarism

  • Another means to execute India’s foreign policy strategy of autonomy has been forming extensive partnerships with other emerging powers.
  • India has been an active G4 country speaking for the reform of the UN Security Council and having been elected seven times as a non-permanent member.
  • As a result, there is an overlap of countries in different platforms, as can be seen in cases of India’s partnership with BRICS, SAARC, etc.
  • The purpose of India is to increase the participation and share of developing countries in global policy-making.

Benefits out of strategic alignment

  • India needs investments, technology, a manufacturing ecosystem to employ millions of its young population and improve its living standards.
  • It requires advanced weapons and technologies for its military. India is ambitious and wants to be a great power and the US and the Western world recognise this and are willing to partner India.
  • US along with France, are India’s principal backers in the UN Security Council and also support its membership in it.
  • The Quad of India, US, Japan and Australia is also slowly institutionalizing the multilateral partnership that is committed to an open, secure, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

China’s “not-peaceful rise”

  • India is a long term rival for China, which does not want India’s rise. It wants to keep India boxed into South Asia, and tries to keep it off balance using Pakistan which it arms and supports.
  • It has made inroads into the region using the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It continues to block India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and continues to needle in the UNSC over Kashmir.
  • We all know the recent heat up after Ladakh standoff. It occupies parts of Indian Territory and also claims the entire state of Arunachal.

Hence, the Non-alignment is difficult because,

  • We have to safeguard ourselves from a power which has trampled upon all her neighbours most blatantly and the whole world has seen and withstood them with deafening silence.
  • China has kept our territory since 1962 violating all international norms and we could do nothing with this diplomatic tool called Non- Alignment.
  • Any policy formulation has to serve the national interest.
  • The US prefers its partners to pay for and manage their own security, but collaborate in all possible ways — weapons sale, sharing civil and military arsenals, diplomatic support, intelligence sharing etc.
  • It will be pragmatic to take advantage of the great power rivalry by suitably aligning with a power that India can derive maximum benefit from.

But Wait, NAM still matters!

(1) Global perception of India

  • India’s image abroad has suffered as a result of allegations that creep into our secular polity and a need arises to actively network and break out of isolation.
  • India’s partnership with America faces an uncertain future in the post-pandemic period ahead of the regime change under Joe Biden.
  • Indeed, India is overtly keen to upgrade a quadrilateral alliance with the US, Japan and Australia — but there too, we’re all dressed up and nowhere to go. There is no concrete commitment yet.
  • We can sense the growing proximity between the NAM member countries and China.
  • As it is, one-half of NAM comprises members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which remains highly critical of the plight of Indian Muslims.

(2) For the Impulsive U.S.

  • For India complete dependence on the U.S. to counter China would be an error.
  • As the U.S. confronts the challenge to its dominance from China, the classical balance of power considerations would dictate accommodation with Russia.
  • A strong stake in India’s relations with the US could reinforce Russia’s affinity for China.
  • Russia, these days looks less pragmatic to see Indian ties with its rivals as a joint venture, not an alliance in which they could pursue shared objectives to mutual benefit.

Importance of NAM: As power booster for multilateralism

The NAM  can never lose its relevance because-

Cold War has revitalized with time: Critics of NAM who term it as an outcome of the Cold War must also acknowledge that a new Cold War is beginning to unfold, this time between the US and China, which if reflected in Trade War, Protectionism, Indo-Pacific narrative, etc.

NAM provides a much bigger platform:  NAM becomes relevant to mobilize international public opinion against terrorism, weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), nuclear proliferation, ecological imbalance, safeguarding interests of developing countries in WTO (World Trade Organization) etc.

NAM as a tool for autonomy: NAM’s total strength comprises 120 developing countries and most of them are members of the UN General Assembly. Thus, NAM members act as an important group in support of India’s candidature as a permanent member in UNSC.

A podium for India’s leadership: India is widely perceived as a leader of the developing world. Thus, India’s engagement with NAM will further help in the rise of India’s stature as the voice of the developing world or global south.

NAM for multilateralism:  Though globalization is facing an existential crisis, it is not possible to return to isolation. In the world of complex interdependence, countries are linked to each other one way or another. With rising threats such as climate change, terrorism, and receding multilateralism, the global south and NAM countries find themselves in a precarious condition.

NAM as a source for soft power: India can use its historic ties to bring together the NAM countries. India’s strength lies in soft power rather than hard power. Therefore, NAM cannot be based on the current political structure where military and economic power is often used to coerce countries.

NAM as a tool for institutional reforms: Global institutions such as WTO and the UN are facing an existential crisis because only a few nations dictate their functions. India can use the NAM platform to push for reforms in these institutions for a more equal and democratic world order.

Elasticity is the guiding principle of diplomacy.

– Anonymous

Way Forward

In the post-COVID-19 world, India will have to make a disruptive choice — of alignment.

  • In the threat environment marked by a pushy China, India should aim to have both- American support and stay as an independent power centre by cooperation with middle powers in Asia and around the world.
  • Complete dependence would be detrimental to India’s national interest such as its ties with Iran and Russia and efforts to speed up indigenous defence modernization.
  • Rather than proclaiming non-alignment as an end in itself, India needs deeper engagement with its friends and partners if it is to develop leverage in its dealings with its adversaries and competitors.
  • A wide and diverse range of strategic partners, including the U.S. as a major partner is the only viable diplomatic way forward in the current emerging multipolar world order.

Conclusion

Though sections of the Indian establishment still want to reinvent non-alignment under ever new guises, India is showing signs of pursuing strategic autonomy separately from non-alignment.

  • India continues to practice a policy of non-alignment in an attempt to maintain sovereignty and oppose imperialism.
  • Indo-US ties are complementary, and a formal alliance will only help realize the full potential of these relations.
  • India, thus, emphasizes the relations with the region and emerging powers not only in terms of economic development but also as actors with similar understandings and expectations of the world system.
  • In some way, the relations can be described as expectations without expectations. States interact with each other in expectations to change the international system, but without expectations to ‘ally or oppose.’
  • India believes in making value-based decisions and maintains its coherent foreign policy. As it is familiar with the phrase ‘multi-vector’ foreign policy, it is high time to maximise its potential.

References

https://www.dailypioneer.com/2020/state-editions/the-question-of-strategic-autonomy.html

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/raja-mandala-alliances-and-strategic-autonomy-indian-foreign-policy-5538447/

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/what-is-in-a-nam-and-indias-alignment/article32555378.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/under-biden-unfurling-indias-foreign-policy-concerns/article33062436.ece

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] US and Indian Election System: A Comparison

India and the US are the two largest democracies in the world but the electoral systems of the two countries are poles apart. While the Indian system is charmingly simple, the US system is extremely complex and confusing. Let’s have a look at that:

A Brief about the US parliamentary system

  • The senate of the US is the upper house of the legislature. This senate, together with the United States House of Representatives forms the United States Congress.
  • The Senate has several powers, which include confirming appointments of federal judges, cabinet secretaries, other federal officials, military officials and ambassadors.
  • The Senate is also known as the world’s greatest deliberative body.

Must read:

The Process to become POTUS

(1) Primary and Caucuses

Before the general election, most candidates for president go through a series of state primaries and caucuses. Though primaries and caucuses are run differently, they both serve the same purpose. They let the states choose the major political parties’ nominees for the general election.

  • In general, primaries use secret ballots for voting. Caucuses are local gatherings of voters who vote at the end of the meeting for a particular candidate.
  • Then it moves to nominating conventions, during which political parties each select a nominee to unite behind.

(2) National Convention

After the primaries and caucuses, most political parties hold national conventions.

  • Conventions finalize a party’s choice for presidential and vice-presidential nominees. To become the presidential nominee, a candidate typically has to win a majority of delegates.
  • This usually happens through the party’s primaries and caucuses. It’s then confirmed through a vote of the delegates at the national convention.
  • But if no candidate gets the majority of a party’s delegates during the primaries and caucuses, convention delegates choose the nominee. This happens through additional rounds of voting.
  • The candidates then campaign across the country to explain their views and plans to voters. They may also participate in debates with candidates from other parties.

(3) Electoral College

  • When Americans go to the polls in presidential elections they’re actually voting for a group of officials who make up the electoral college.
  • ‘Electoral College’ is the term given to the body of individuals who are selected or elected to be “electors”.
  • These electors then vote for the president and vice president of the US.
  • The electoral college meets every four years, a few weeks after election day, to carry out that task.
  • To win, a presidential candidate has to just attain a simple majority of 270 electoral votes.

How does it work?

  • The number of electors from each state is roughly in line with the size of its population.
  • Each state gets as many electors as it has lawmakers in the US Congress (representatives in the House and senators).
  • California has the most electors – 55 – while a handful of sparsely populated states like Wyoming, Alaska and North Dakota (and Washington DC) have the minimum of three.
  • There are 538 electors in total.
  • Each elector represents one electoral vote, and a candidate needs to gain a majority of the votes – 270 or more – to win the presidency.

Electing the ‘Electors’

  • Unlike India, it’s not just one election but a bunch of simultaneous elections in the US.
  • In many states, a voter will be choosing not just the US president but 20 different contestants on a single ballot.
  • These include the member of the US Senate and the House of Representatives, state senate, governor, state attorney general, Supreme Court judge, among others.

Election Management

  • There is no centralised election management body like the Election Commission in India.
  • All 50 states, and within these, more than 3,000 counties have different management bodies.
  • The date of the election is fixed — the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November — since 1845.

(4)General Elections

  • The General Election refers to the voting process in which every US citizen who is at least 18 years of age can vote to chose the President.
  • Unlike in most elections, the person who becomes president is not necessarily the candidate who wins the most votes on Election Day.
  • Instead, voting for the president of the United States takes place in two-steps.
  • First, voters cast ballots on Election Day in each state.
  • In nearly every state, the candidate who gets the most votes wins the “electoral votes” for that state, and gets that number of voters (or “electors”) in the “Electoral College.”
  • Second, the “electors” from each of the 50 states gather in December and they vote for president.
  • The person who receives a majority of votes from the “Electoral College” becomes President.

Winning the elections

  • To win the US presidential election, one needs 270 electoral college votes, an absolute majority of the 538 electors.
  • The complexity of the election process and the multiplicity of authorities is a perfect breeding ground for confusion.
  • This, however, is perhaps the first time that a candidate — Donald Trump — has cast aspersions on the legitimacy of the election even before the first vote has been cast.

A comparison with India

(1) Election Management

  • There is no centralised election management body like the Election Commission in India.
  • All 50 states, and within these, more than 3,000 counties have different management bodies.
  • The date of the election is fixed — the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November — since 1845.

(2) Electorates

  • Unlike India, it’s not just one election but a bunch of simultaneous elections in the US.
  • In many states, a voter will be choosing not just the US president but 20 different contestants on a single ballot.
  • These include the member of the US Senate and the House of Representatives, state senate, governor, state attorney general, Supreme Court judge, among others.

(3) Political parties

  • The most important aspect of the difference between electoral process in India and USA comes from the nature of their party systems.
  • It is common knowledge that there are two dominant parties in the USA political scene with polar different ideologies, viz. the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
  • Although the Libertarian Party, Green Party, and other smaller parties exist, they are considered to be independent entities as they are outliers and cannot quite compete with the two major ones.
  • India, however, has many parties that operate on the state level and only a few that successfully operate on the national level.

(4) Electoral College

  • The onus to register as a voter lies on the voter and it is neither compulsory to register nor to vote.
  • The last date for registration varies from one month prior to the poll to the same day (polling day).
  • Any person turning 18 even on polling day is eligible to register.
  • The voter identification system varies too — from different photo identity proofs to self-authentication without a photo.

(5) Voting systems

  • The voting systems are diverse — voting at polling stations on poll day, early voting in person, absentee voting by mail.
  • The ballot design varies from state to state. Voting technology varies from direct recording electronic voting machines (like Indian EVMs) to paper ballots (marked by pencil or pen).
  • But scanning is invariably used to facilitate counting. Some states have the VVPAT — Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail.
  • The hours of voting are longer — 13 hours — as compared to minimum eight hours (usually nine) in India.

(6) Voters’ turnout

  • The turnout in the last presidential election was 61.8 per cent (compared to India’s 66.8 per cent). With low registration, this effectively means that less than 45 per cent of eligible Americans voted.
  • Voting demographics show that older people — 65 plus — tend to vote more than 18-24 year-olds by as much as 25 percentage points.
  • People with more education and income vote more than the less endowed.
  • Similarly, women vote in larger numbers. Blacks and Hispanics vote less because of lack of interest.

(7) Election regulation

  • The US has two federal bodies — the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC).
  • But both of them together do not add up to anything as powerful or effective as the EC in India.
  • In fact, they have no control over the election administration. Its role is confined to federal campaign finance regulations.
  • The EAC was created back only in 2002 to provide funding to states for upgrading their registration and voting systems besides establishing minimum voter identification standards. Its decisions are, however, not binding.

References

https://www.usa.gov/election#item-212585

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/us-presidential-elections-hillary-clinton-donald-trump-india-election-system-4030161/

https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/10-point-guide-to-us-election-and-how-its-different-from-india-1622424

https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/donald-trump-joe-biden-us-presidential-election-america-india-election-commission-1738184-2020-11-05

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Fiscal Stimulus & COVID

“In an economy that is overleveraged to historic proportions, economic stimuli may not do the trick.”

– Kenneth Eade

Several governments across the world have announced fiscal stimulus measures to help their respective economies stay afloat. India, with large swathes of people facing the risk of infection, has nothing significant so far to show to the world.  The government and the RBI are still weighing their options to hand out a stimulus.

What is a Fiscal Stimulus?

A ‘stimulus’ is an attempt by policymakers to kick-start a sluggish economy through a package of measures. A monetary stimulus will see the central bank expanding money supply or reducing the cost of money (interest rates), to spur consumer spending. A fiscal stimulus entails the Government spending more from its own coffers or slashing tax rates to put more money in the hands of consumers.

Need for a fiscal stimulus

With monetary policy, both conventional and unconventional, having reached the limits of its effectiveness in most of the advanced industrial countries, the only instrument left for boosting demand is fiscal policy. There are calls for a government stimulus package to revitalize the economy.

 (1) Powering the Demand

  • When demand in an economy stays weak for long, businesses stop investing in new projects, unemployment rises, income shrinks and consumer confidence wanes. This prompts consumers to retreat further.
  • A stimulus could shot to consumer spending; it revives business confidence, restarts projects, creates jobs and sets off a virtuous cycle of feel-good, demand and growth.

(2) Boosting the Employment

  • Many people have lost their jobs or seen their incomes cut due to the coronavirus crisis.
  • Unemployment rates have increased across major economies as a result.

(3) Risking away the recession

  • The IMF says that the global economy will shrink by 3% this year. It described the decline as the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
  • If the economy has to grow, it generally means more wealth and more new jobs and more spending, which is difficult without a stimulus package.

(4) Business resumption

  • The COVID-19 pandemic came as a major blow to almost every sector of our economy and has created a credit-crunch. With most business permanently shut, others are crippled and reluctant to resume their business.
  • Almost all manufacturing industries were affected by the crisis. Pharma was actually identified as one of the very few “winners”, while motor vehicles were (and continues to be) one of the biggest “losers”.

Precautions necessary before ANY stimulus decision

Today’s stimulus measures have understandably been rolled out in haste — almost in a panic — to contain the economic fallout from the pandemic. Bad policies can contribute to inequality, sow instability, and undermine political support for the government precisely when it is needed to prevent the economy from falling.

 (1) Fear of liquidity trap

  • During periods of deep uncertainty, precautionary savings typically rise as households and businesses hold on to cash for fear of what lies ahead.
  • A liquidity trap is a situation in which, “after the rate of interest has fallen to a certain level, liquidity preference may become virtually absolute in the sense that almost everyone prefers holding cash.
  • Without a massive injection of emergency liquidity, there probably would have been widespread bankruptcies, losses of organisational capital, and an even steeper path to recovery.

(2) Inflationary outcomes

  • The fiscal response is driven by the need to arrest a major slowdown in economic growth.  However, there could be medium-term risks to the future inflation path, in the absence of timely fiscal consolidation.
  • A sudden spike in demand is highly inflationary in nature.

(3) Strain on the exchequer

  • Fiscal stimulus is warranted especially expenditures on health, food and income support for vulnerable households, and support for businesses.
  • This is likely to have a considerable impact on the government exchequer and the overall expenditure of the government on key sectors.

(4) Deterioration of public finances

  • India’s fiscal deficit in 2019-20 stood at around Rs 7.7 lakh crore, i.e. 3.8% of GDP. Hence, India’s fiscal room to opt for a massive stimulus appears much more limited.
  • Any aggressive stimulus spending will not only result in a surge in India’s gross public debt but will also negatively impact its credit ratings, highlighting the country’s fiscal conundrum.

India’s response to pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare our pre-existing fault lines and exposed the country to an unprecedented crisis. This situation has led to bold policy measures by governments at all tiers.

The Indian fiscal response is thus much weaker than what has been seen in advanced economies, but it is broadly in line with the average for emerging markets.

FISCALMONETARY
Economic Relief Package under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana worth Rs 1.75 lakh crore (roughly 0.8% of the GDP).Repo rate and Reverse Repo rate reduced to 4.4% and 4% respectively on March 27 in an effort to boost liquidity into the system.
Direct food, cooking gas and cash transfers to selected sections of the lower-income households.Liquidity measures worth Rs 3.7 trillion via Long Term Repo Operations (LTRO) and a reduction of 100bps in Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR).
Insurance coverage for workers in the healthcare sector and wage support to low wage workers in terms of benefits for those currently working, as well as those who might lose their jobs.Provided relief to customers and lenders by granting a 3-month moratorium on loan repayments. SEBI has also relaxed its norms related to debt default on rated instruments.
Additional Rs 150 billion (roughly 0.1% of GDP) to be devoted to health infrastructure. Several measures to ease tax burden, including postponing compliance deadlines.Second round of measures which include Rs 50,000 crore liquidity for NBFCs and MFIs via TLTRO 2.0, Reverse Repo rate reduced to 3.75% to kickstart investments, WMA limit for state governments increased.

PM also announced Rs. 20 lakh crore packages for farmers, cottage industry, MSMEs, labourers, middle class etc., titled the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan in various tranches. These measures contain both fiscal and monetary measures combined into a single package.

International experience with the stimulus

India has surpassed almost all others in the stringency of its containment measures. However in terms of expenditure, India’s response isn’t that promising.

  • India’s fiscal stimulus to date, estimated at ₹1.7 trillion, is less than 1% of the country’s GDP, which is paltry compared to the magnitude of stimulus injections undertaken by many East Asian countries such as Japan (20%), Malaysia (16.2%) and Singapore (12.2%).
  • Even, Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Egypt, all while averaging less stringent measures than those in India, have announced stimulus measures that are as large or more substantial, as a share of GDP.
  • Countries have also significantly expanded coverage of their cash transfer programmes from pre-COVID-19 levels; Bangladesh and Indonesia have increased the number of beneficiaries by 163% and 111%, respectively. Indonesia’s cash schemes now cover more than 158 million people (or 60% of the population).
  • Developing countries are resorting to drastic means to finance COVID-19 responses. Actions so far include the amendment of legal budget limits and the enhanced issuance of bonds — including a ‘pandemic bond’ by Indonesia.
  • Many developing countries have a dual strategy of providing immediate aid to workers who have been laid off and feeding poor families, while also trying to keep firms afloat. Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and China have all announced tax relief — in the form of deferments or reductions — for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in hard-hit regions.
  • Brazil has also created a $10 billion (₹760 bn) programme to allow businesses affected by COVID-19 to reduce workers’ salaries and hours by up to 70%, with the government partially compensating workers for up to three months.
  • One important omission from the Indian response is such direct wage support for micro, small, and medium enterprises, which account for the bulk of employment.

While we might not be able to match these advanced economies in terms of financial resources, we can implement policies on a similar scale.

“It is important that we note the weaknesses in our financial system, and work toward implementing solutions before the next crisis roars.”

Analysis of India’s response

The whole world is commending India’s efforts and bold initiatives that have prioritized “life over livelihood”. Based on the figures, it is safe to say that India has spent a lot less, especially on the fiscal front in terms of stimulus packages introduced by governments, as compared to other countries.

One might argue that these responses cannot be compared to each other due to two main reasons.

  1. First, the number of cases as well as the rate at which they are increasing is much less in India due to the early implementation of lockdown.  
  2. And second, India’s economy is much more different than the ones whose data has been mentioned above, so it is not at all necessary for the same measures to be effective for our country as well.

However, the economic crises faced by all these countries do share some common ground. Here’s what we can derive from this data:

1) Sectors like small businesses and MSMEs have been adversely affected by this crisis in all countries irrespective of how developed they are. India is yet to address their issues directly; hence, a strong assumption is that we will soon see measures from the government’s side to provide them with some relief.

2) India’s healthcare system is hardly as developed and advanced as in the above-mentioned countries. And yet, the amount these countries have allocated to this sector is much higher.

3) Unemployment is on the rise everywhere. A report by the ILO said that more than 40 crore Indian workers in the unorganised sector are expected to lose their jobs. Hence, printing more money in order to give it directly to people in these times as income, something which is already being done in countries like the US and UK, is worth considering for India as well.

4) Special focus has been given to worst affected industries like airlines, travel and e-commerce in these countries. We are yet to see something similar in India.

Moving ahead: India needs to spend more

  • Under the ambit of fiscal policy, first, the government should front-load its $250 billion spending plan under the National Infrastructure Pipeline.
  • Second, it should announce a sizeable package to compensate, at least partially, the irrecoverable loss of income suffered by the Indian industry, be it big, small, or medium.
  • Third, this is an opportunity for India to position itself as the next global manufacturing hub in sectors such as textiles, food processing, pharma, and metals (particularly steel). Trade, tax and investment policies should be calibrated accordingly to achieve this.

Under the ambit of monetary policy, following steps can amplify the impact of fiscal measures.

  • First, banks must extend term loans and working capital to Indian industry with a government backstop for the first loss up to 25%.  The government needs to provide credit protection to the banking system.
  • Second, banks should have discretion and flexibility to undertake loan restructuring aimed at ensuring the stability of operations across several sectors.
  • Third, a sharp reduction in lending rates is imperative. While the policy rate has fallen by 210 basis points, transmission to industry has been less than 60 basis points.
  • Fourth, banks must defer loan and interest payments by at least one year, as industry needs time to generate free cash flows.

Three T’s for optimum impact

To have the greatest impact with the least long-run cost, the stimulus should be timely, temporary, and targeted.

  • Timely, so that its effects are felt while economic activity is still below potential; when the economy has recovered, the stimulus becomes counterproductive
  • Temporary, to avoid raising inflation and to minimize the adverse long-term effects of a larger budget deficit, and
  • Well-targeted, to provide resources to the people who most need them and will spend them: for fiscal stimulus to work, it is essential that the funds be spent, not saved.

We can hope that the above steps are taken expeditiously and translated into action on the ground to reboot the Indian economy at the earliest.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the ongoing debate might be a misleading factor to judge our response to this crisis. And it definitely doesn’t mean what we’re doing is enough. This crisis happens to be an uncertain and unprecedented one; holding back on spending clearly doesn’t seem to be an option for the Indian government right now.

Maintaining the overall fiscal discipline, the government must not worry about the fiscal deficit, as reviving the economy is the need of the hour, even if it comes at the cost of high inflation, though such an outcome is unlikely.


References

https://www.livemint.com/opinion/columns/opinion-stimulus-is-the-need-of-the-hour-for-a-reboot-of-economic-activity-11587924077595.html

https://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/which-economic-stimulus-works-120060901820_1.html

https://www.cbgaindia.org/study-report/numbers-edge-assessing-indias-fiscal-response-covid-19/

https://thewire.in/economy/liquiduty-fiscal-stimulus-covid-19-relief

https://bfsi.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/policy/india-v/s-the-world-response-to-the-coronavirus-economic-crisis/75284378

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-covid-19-fiscal-response-and-indias-standing/article32154153.ece

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India’s push for a Gas-based Economy

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has last month approved ‘Natural Gas Marketing Reforms’, taking another significant step to move towards a gas-based economy.

What is Natural Gas?

  • Natural gas is a fossil fuel source consisting primarily of methane. It is the cleanest fossil fuels among the available fossil fuels.
  • It is used as a feedstock in the manufacture of fertilizers, plastics and other commercially important organic chemicals as well as used as a fuel for electricity generation, heating purpose in industrial and commercial units.
  • Natural gas is also used for cooking in domestic households and a transportation fuel for vehicles.

Natural gas scenario in India

The share of domestic gas and imported RLNG was about 48% & 52% respectively. The City Gas Distribution (CGD) accounts for the largest consumption of natural gas followed by fertilizers, power and other industrial sectors.

(1) Domestic Gas Sources

  • The domestic gas in the country is being supplied from the oil & gas fields located at western and southeastern areas viz. Hazira basin, Mumbai offshore & KG basin as well as North East Region (Assam & Tripura).

(2) Import of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

  • In order to meet the gas demand, LNG is imported through the Open General License (OGL) in the country.  At present, India is having six operational LNG regasification terminals at Dahej, Kochi, Mundra, Ennore etc.

Gas Pipelines

  • Gas Pipeline infrastructure is an economical and safe mode of transporting natural gas by connecting gas sources to gas-consuming markets.
  • An interconnected National Gas Grid has been envisaged to ensure the adequate availability and equitable distribution of natural gas in all parts of the country.

Why go for Natural Gas?

  • Energy Efficient: Natural gas produces more energy than any of the fossil fuels in terms of calorific value.
  • Cleaner fuel: Natural gas is a superior fuel as compared with coal and other liquid fuels being an environment-friendly, safer and cheaper fuel.
  • Economy of use: Natural Gas (as CNG) is much cheaper compared with petrol or Diesel.
  • Emission commitments: India made a commitment to COP-21 Paris Convention in December 2015 that by 2030, it would reduce carbon emission by 33%-35% of 2005 levels.
  • Diverse applications: Natural gas can be used as domestic kitchen fuel, fuel for the transport sector as well as a fuel for fertilizer industries and commercial units.
  • Supply-chain convenience:  Natural Gas is supplied through pipelines just like we get water from the tap. There is no need to store cylinders in the kitchen and thus save space.
  • Pacing up the progress line: On the global front, switching to natural gas is bringing commendable results. The latest report released by IEA shows that the electricity produced by natural gas worldwide was more than that of coal for the first time ever.

Various govt. initiatives

India’s quest to increase the share of natural gas in the overall energy mix hinges crucially on two factors: (1) Development of pipelines and (2) Hassle free exploration. In this regard, the govt. has taken several measures.

  • The Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP) is a policy indicating the new contractual and fiscal model for the award of hydrocarbon acreages towards exploration and production (E&P).
  • The govt. has envisaged developing and expanding the National Gas Grid. At present about 16,788 Km natural gas pipeline is operational and about 14,239 Km gas pipelines are being developed.
  • The Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga (PMUG) pipeline project currently under will provide connectivity to another flagship project, the North-East Gas Grid.
  • The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, which aims to provide free cooking gas connections to poor families is also a roaring success.
  • Moreover, India is constantly moving to revive the 1,814 kilometre-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) transnational gas pipeline which is in shamble for years.

What are the Natural Gas Marketing Reforms?

  • Gas-based economy implies gas as the main commercial energy source in the energy mix of an economy.
  • The reforms aim to provide a standard procedure for the sale of natural gas in a transparent and competitive manner to discover market price by issuing guidelines for sale by the contractor through e-bidding.
  • This will bring uniformity in the bidding process across the various contractual regimes and policies to avoid ambiguity and contribute towards ease of doing business.

Components of the policy

  • The objective of the policy is to prescribe standard procedure to discover market price of gas to be sold in the market by gas producers, through a transparent and competitive process.
  • It would permit affiliates to participate in bidding process for sale of gas and allow marketing freedom to certain Field Development Plans (FDPs) where Production Sharing Contracts already provide pricing freedom.

Objectives of these reforms

These reforms will build on a series of transformative reforms rolled out by the Government in last several years. These reforms in gas sector will further deepen and spur the economic activities in the following areas:

  • The whole eco-system of policies relating to production, infrastructure and marketing of natural gas has been made more transparent with a focus on ease of doing business.
  • These reforms will prove very significant for Atmanirbhar Bharat by encouraging investments in the domestic production of natural gas and reducing import dependence.
  • These reforms will prove to be another milestone in moving towards a gas-based economy by encouraging investments.
  • The increased gas production-consumption will help in the improvement of the environment.
  • These reforms will also help in creating employment opportunities in the gas-consuming sectors including MSMEs.
  • The domestic production will further help in increasing investment in the downstream industries such as City Gas Distribution and related industries.

Making it happen 

  • The government brought a series of reforms in the Gas sector and as a result investment of more than Rs. 70,000 crore is being made on the East coast very recently.
  • Gas production from the East coast will contribute to Atmanirbhar Bharat by meeting the increasing energy needs of the country.
  • The domestic gas production has complete marketing and pricing freedom. All discoveries and field development plans approved after 28 Feb 2019 have a complete market and pricing freedom.

Better done than said …… Overcoming challenges

  • Lack of infrastructure:  India has enough storage capacity of the current state of domestic consumption of natural gas. However, to fill the entire energy bucket, we need to increase energy storage.
  • Import dependence: Energy consumption in India is growing at 4.2 per cent per annum, which is the fastest among major economies of the world. Presently 52% of our domestic consumption relies on imported LNG. Moreover, the global disruptions in the import supply-chain can wreak havoc as the general hikes in Diesel prices do.
  • Safety concerns: The global oil and gas market remains vulnerable to a wide range of risk factors, including natural disasters, major technical accidents, and geopolitical tensions among others.
  • Domestic issues and delays: Petroleum including gas falls under the Union List. Pipeline laying has faced land acquisition challenges due to local farmers’ protest and unviable routes causing major project delays.
  • Underutilization: GAIL is getting hit over the scarcity of domestic natural gas leading to underutilization of its 11,500 km of the pipeline network. Its network is operating at an average of 47% capacity.
  • Less-feasible power alternative: Within the power sector, natural gas has received little traction primarily because the per-unit cost of electricity generated by a gas-fired power plant in India is higher than that from fossil fuels such as coal.
  • Ecological concerns: Offshore drilling operations can possibly affect fish, lead to a build-up of heavy water contaminants, disorient whales and sea life that rely on sonar for navigation and exacerbate the risk of oil spills.
  • Energy Trilemma: In order to build a strong basis for prosperity and competitiveness, India must balance the three core dimensions of the energy trilemma: affordability and access, energy security and environmental sustainability.

Way forward

  • A shift to a gas-based economy has to ensure both availability and affordability. Availability may be ensured by increasing production or import, developing the requisite delivery infrastructure — terminals, stations and pipelines.
  • The current gas market is dominated by countries such as the US, Qatar and Russia. India must make use of these multiple gas production centres and ensure a balanced geographical portfolio of imports to ensure a robust and secure natural gas strategy as it does for Oil.
  • India will have to embark on a balanced approach to develop indigenous gas resources, maybe through technology-intensive deeper drilling techniques and large scale import tie-ups.

Conclusion

  • It is evident that clean energy transitions are underway – and it’s also a signal that we have the opportunity to meaningfully move the needle on emissions through more ambitious policies and investments.
  • But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as governments do play an important role in the growth of the energy sector in any country. Given the fact that the market in India is still nascent, there is always this concern of how effective these measures can be.
  • With domestic production of gas stagnating and consumption growing at a CAGR of 4.5 per cent, there’s still a long way to go for transforming the economy to a gas-based one.

References

http://petroleum.nic.in/natural-gas/about-natural-gas

https://www.financialexpress.com/economy/modis-gas-based-economy-dream-to-help-cut-global-emissions-heres-how-india-can-end-coal-legacy/1865302/

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/how-india-is-unbottling-the-gas-economy/article32984963.ece

https://www.indiainfoline.com/article/news-sector-oil-gas/great-business-opportunity-for-indian-industry-to-participate-in-making-gas-based-economy-120110500417_1.html

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/on-road-to-a-gas-based-economy/article25765361.ece

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India’s quest for Zero Hunger

Food has deep ties to culture, religion, ethnicity and most Indians regard food as sanctified or holy. We celebrate, mourn, express, entertain, donate and thrive on the food, boasting of countless regional delicacies, inherited recipes, as we continue to seek pride in our spicy curries and rich sugary deserts.

The latest Global Hunger Index 2020 study does not make for cheery reading for India. The study has placed India 94th out of 107 countries in terms of hunger, locating it in the ‘severe’ hunger category. This puts India alongside the poorest African nations.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI)

  • The GHI has been brought out almost every year by Welthungerhilfe lately in partnerships with Concern Worldwide since 2000; this year’s report is the 14th one.
  • The reason for mapping hunger is to ensure that the world achieves “Zero Hunger by 2030” — one of the SDGs laid out by the UN.
  • A low score gets a country a higher ranking and implies better performance. It is for this reason that GHI scores are not calculated for certain high-income countries.
  • Each country’s data are standardised on a 100-point scale and a final score is calculated after giving 33.33% weight each to components 1 and 4 and giving 16.66% weight each to components 2 and 3.

GHI composition

India’s performance this year

  • In the 2020 GHI, India ranks 94th out of the 107 countries with sufficient data to calculate 2020 GHI scores.
  • With a score of 27.2, India has a level of hunger that is serious.
  • The situation has worsened in the 2015-19 period, when the prevalence of child wasting was 17.3%, in comparison to 2010-14, when it was 15.1%.
  • India fares worst in child wasting (low weight for height, reflecting acute undernutrition) and child stunting (low height for age, reflecting chronic undernutrition), which together make up a third of the total score.
  • In the region of the south, east and south-eastern Asia, the only countries which fare worse than India are Timor-Leste, Afghanistan and North Korea.

Worse among its neighbours

  • As per the study, roughly 14 per cent of the country’s population remains undernourished.
  • To put this into perspective, China and Brazil, perhaps the only two countries with populations comparable to India’s had under-nourishment rates under 2.5 per cent. 
  • India has improved its rank by 8 positions from last year but still sits behind the majority of its South Asian neighbours – Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
  • Only Afghanistan, ranked 99th, is worse off than India. 

The starvation challenge

  • According to ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’ report compiled by the FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, India was home to 189.2 million (28 per cent) of the 673 million undernourished people in the world as of 2017-2019.
  • It also accounted for 28 per cent of the world’s stunted (low height-for-age) children under the age of five, and 43 per cent of the world’s wasted children (Low weight-for-height). 
  • In terms of overall undernourishment, 14% of India’s population does not get enough calories, an improvement from almost 20% in 2005-07.
  • From a productivity standpoint, India ranks 158 (out of 195) in the Lancet human capital study owing to the anaemic, underweight or obese workforce.

Why are we still battling hunger? 

Often consumption of egg is as big a taboo as beef is, while one can consume sugar (ending up with diabetes) all day long and be religiously compliant.

  • There is an interesting difference observed between child wasting in South Asia and the poorer nations of Africa, according to researchers.
  • African babies are usually healthy at birth, but as they grow up into their toddler years, undernourishment starts to kick in.
  • South Asian babies, on the other hand, show very high levels of wasting very early in their lives, within the first six months.
  • This reflects the poor state of maternal health, more than anything else.

(1) Poor Maternal health

  • Mothers are too young, too short, too thin and too undernourished themselves, before they get pregnant, during pregnancy, and then after giving birth, during breast-feeding.
  • Almost 42% of adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have a low body mass index (BMI), while 54% have anaemia.
  • Almost 27% of girls are married before they reach the legal age of 18 years, and 8% of adolescents have begun childbearing in their teens.
  • Almost half of all women have no access to any sort of contraception. These poor indicators of maternal health have dire consequences for the child’s health as well.

(2) Poor sanitation

  • Poor sanitation, leading to diarrhoea, is another major cause of child wasting and stunting. At the time of the last NFHS, almost 40% of households were still practising open defecation.
  •  Only 36% of households disposed of children’s stools in a safe manner. One in 10 children under the age of five suffers from diarrhoea.

(3) Food insecurity

  • Low dietary diversity in India is also a key factor in child malnutrition.
  • Although India has overall food security with record levels of foodgrain production in recent years, access to healthy food is still difficult for poor households.
  • A recent study showed that three out of four rural Indians cannot afford the cheapest possible diet that meets the requirements set by the government’s premier nutrition body.

(4) Poverty

  • Almost 50 million households in India are dependent on these small and marginal holdings.
  • Though we have surplus food, most small and marginal farming households do not produce enough food grains due to cash crops production. 
  • The relative income of poorer section of people has been on the decline due to many factors (say COVID). This has adverse effects on their capacity to buy adequate food.

(5) Livelihood loss

  • The emaciated rural livelihoods sector and lack of income opportunities other than the farm sector have contributed heavily to the growing joblessness in rural areas.
  • The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2017-18 revealed that rural unemployment stood at a concerning 6.1 per cent, which was the highest since 1972-73.
  • The kinds of work a section of people has been doing are less remunerative or there is less opportunity to get remunerative works.

(6) Dietary habits

  • Indian diets typically involve copious consumption of staples such as rice and wheat, with limited dietary diversification toward micronutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and animal products.
  • The vegetarian vs non-vegetarian identity is usually determined by religion, irrespective of body type and nature of work.
  • Even when people have enough money they tend to gravitate towards expensive food and indulging in calories, like modern confectionary or fats.

(7) Policy failures

  • The national food security approach has been hung up in a ‘defeat the famine’ mode, which aims to provide gross calorie availability via the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
  • The MGNREGS continue to be the lone rural job programme that, too, had been weakened over the years through great delays in payments and non-payments, low wages and reduced scope of employment.
  • The public distribution system (PDS) fair price shops often fail to function due to supply delays.
  • While this stable and subsidised policy has helped counter the problem of absolute hunger, it limits the food choices and does not provide the needed nutrients and micro-nutrients.

What can be done?

Below are some multidimensional ideas which have proven to be effective over the past century across countries that can be helpful.

(1) Diversify food basket

  • The recent agro reforms which promote contract farming and scraps the archaic colonial tyrannical essential commodities act seem to be policy steps in the right direction.
  • States level agro agencies need to ensure effective implementation of these reforms and assist with appropriate means to cover for the need for fruits, micro-nutrients, pulses.

(2) Harness the legacy ICDS

  • India’s 1.4 million Anganwadi workers – the core component of the nation’s Integrated Child Development Services – play a vital role in ending the cycle of undernourishment witnessed particularly in rural areas.
  • There is a real need to further empower these workers towards improving the overall nutritional status of the country.
  • Allowing these workers to leverage digital technologies, for instance, in creating awareness over basic health and nutrition, could prove to be an invaluable intervention that leads to much-improved outcomes. 

(3) Go beyond PDS stuffs

  • Learning from other low-income societies with successful micro-nutrient based interventions, we need to redefine the scope and mechanism of the PDS programmes to extend beyond funnelling cheap or free grains and generate higher fidelity using the vast local network.
  • Promising lessons can be seen in Mexico’s distribution system of nutrition pouches and the SMS-based digital PDS in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh where the distribution involves pulses and millets in addition to rice and salt.

(4) Biofortification of food

  • “Hidden hunger,” or micronutrient deficiency, that inhibits proper growth and development of the human mind and body, affects a large section of the Indian population.
  • Plenty of studies across the world show that bio-fortification can turn out to be an extremely cost-effective solution to improving households’ diet. 
  • Biofortification can be a key food-based approach to tackle malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency, especially among the poor who cannot afford high-value foods.

(5) Empower the mother, before all

  • Studies have indicated that one of the chief determinants of malnutrition is that of the mother’s education.
  • India has made some headway in improving female literary, but as of 2015-2016, only 13.7 per cent of women had, reportedly, received higher education – a startlingly low figure.
  • A lack of basic facilities like separate female toilets in schools, along with the large distances between girls’ homes and schools are key factors that contribute to the high dropout rates witnessed among young females. 

Way forward

  • To begin with, small steps can be taken to deal with the crisis. The government may create provisions to supply cooked nutritious food to the vulnerable section of society.
  • This has to be done in addition to the existing provisions of healthy diets from Anganwadi and schools through mid-day meals for children, mothers and students.
  • Rural employment schemes such as MGNREGA should be given a boost to increase employment and wages.
  • Finally, a strong inverse correlation exists between female education and under-nutrition, indicating that facilitating women’s education could have significant multiplier effects.
  • This can be reflected not just on food security, but in child feeding practices and sanitation.

Conclusion

  • Malnutrition continues to be the largest underlying epidemic in our society. In India, the Covid-19 containment measures have brought out the multi-dimensionality of India’s diverse food challenges.
  • The problem does not seem limited to the countryside and gets further complicated in developed areas which perceivably have enough food on the table.
  • For decades, India has accorded the highest priority to building roads and highways and power generation, considering these sectors are critical for economic growth.
  • Time is now ripe, in bridging the divide between short-term relief and long-term development goals for which food security is the important milestone.

References

https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/the-hindu-explains-the-chronic-battle-with-malnourishment/article32937615.ece

https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/food/global-hunger-index-why-is-india-trailing–73920

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-road-to-zero-hunger-by-2030/article32865528.ece

https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-exacerbates-indias-hunger-problem/a-55299109

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Uproar over AP CM’s letter to CJI

The judiciary is weakened by the very act of publication when legal remedies are not accessed. When that happens, ‘We the People’ are the losers.

Andhra Pradesh CM has stirred a hornet’s nest by writing to the Chief Justice of India complaining about a Supreme Court judge for allegedly influencing posting of cases in the State High Court. The alleged Judge is slated to be the next Chief Justice of India, and some judges of the AP High Court has opened the proverbial can of worms. This has led to a tricky situation.

Confronting the judiciary: With alleged Misconduct

  • He alleged that some High Court judges are hostile to his government and are deliberately striking down his regime’s decisions and orders.
  • In effect, he has accused many judges of misconduct, corruption and political bias.
  • Such an open conflict between the judiciary and a Chief Minister is without precedent.
  • In view of the above, the CM urged the CJI to consider initiating steps to ensure that the State’s judicial neutrality was maintained.

How are allegations of misconduct against judges dealt with?

  • The Constitution protects the independence of judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court by making them removable only through a long process of impeachment.
  • However, not all forms of misconduct will warrant impeachment. There could be other kinds of impropriety too.
  • There are times when serious complaints of this sort are received, and the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is called upon to examine them.
  • Since 1997, judges have adopted an ‘in-house procedure’ for inquiring into such charges.

Handling the complaint

  • The complaint by the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister will have to be examined by the CJI from the perspective of whether it can be rejected as baseless, or it requires a deeper investigation.
  • In details annexed to his letter, the CM has cited several writ petitions in which adverse orders were passed against his regime.
  • Therefore, a key question would be: do the charges pertain merely to the merits of judicial orders, or are they serious enough to warrant a probe?

Consequences of this Letter

(1) Impacts on Democratic Functioning

The confrontation and mistrust between two the organs of the state are not conducive for the smooth working of democracy.

(2) Politicization of Judiciary

The serious accusation by a sitting CM brings out to the foreground the weakness of Judiciary. Similar kind of charges might be levelled by opposition parties when it comes to power. All this leads to the undue politicization of the sacrosanct Judiciary.

(3) Scandalization of the Courts

Every judgement delivered the judges involved in this controversy will be questioned which is not good even from Institutional perspective. Such type of allegations and counter allegation will create doubts in minds of Public about the ability to get justice from formal system.

(4) Surpassing the limited propriety

The limits of propriety are being stretched, as the allegations have taken distinctly political overtones. It is disturbing enough that some judicial orders are seen in a political light, or lend themselves to such an interpretation. It becomes quite ominous if these charges give rise to open threats and abuse.

(5) Unclear charges

The problem is that allegations of possible judicial bias, which are difficult to establish, are combined with those of misconduct, a serious charge. Regardless of what happens, it may end the recriminations. India can ill-afford a public perception that judges have strong political loyalties.

(6) Public disclosure has led to media trials

The letter and its public disclosure have somehow compromised the dignity and independence of the apex court. This has also interfered with administration of justice and scandalized the court in the eyes of the people by sensationalizing the issue.

(7) A case for constitutional impropriety

Article 121 and Article 211 of the Constitution expressly bar the Parliament and State Legislatures to discuss the conduct of any Judge. The Constitution confers such immunity having regard to the onerous responsibility of judges in discharging constitutional functions. However, it is subject to a decision by the CJI on the touchstone of the applicable contempt laws in the country.

(8) A bigger dilemma

This case is not just about accused judge or the charges levelled against him and his judgements. It is equally about the duty and responsibility of CJI to stand like a shield not only to safeguard the honour and reputation of a brother judge but also to protect the institutional integrity of the highest forum of justice in the land.

A trial of the Judiciary itself

  • The Supreme Court has not been immune to serious blows and allegations from within and without.  The institution has been more fragile ever since the press conference addressed by four former judges.
  • There is a rise in personal attacks through the captive or the social media which can be a devastating weapon of disinformation against a judge who cannot mount a counterattack on the same platform.
  • Their aim, more often than not, is not to point out flawed judgments or administrative failures, but rather to weaken the judiciary and bend it to their own narrow interests.
  • The attacks have snowballed during the last six years. The courts, strong and invincible as they may look from the outside, have preferred caution rather than aggressive responses.

Why Judiciary must probe the case?

Whether the writing to CJI is in itself wrongdoing or is making it public an act of contempt of the court — may differ. But, the more important question is whether the CJI should examine the matter or just dump it.  Here are the five reasons for the CJI to take a serious look into the matter. 

(1) Credibility of the Institution

The credibility of the institution of judiciary is of paramount importance. Involved persons are mortals and temporary. But, the institutions are permanent. 

(2) Maintaining the Public faith

An open hearing is the character of the adjudication process. Whether the CM’s decision to make his letter to the CJI public is acceptable or not is a different debate altogether.  That doesn’t mean his complaint loses its relevance and the obligation of the Supreme Court to inquire into it is annulled.

(3) Every case isn’t an attack on Judiciary

The complaint should not be treated as an attack on the judiciary, as he categorically named the judges in his letter to the CJI. The Constitution of India has envisaged action against judges for judicial ‘misconduct’, according to Article 124(4).

(4) There exists an established mechanism

The Supreme Court announced a mechanism in 2015 for receiving and considering complaints against judges. Any person can complain against the judges. A three-member committee must be constituted.  This committee can either reject the complaint; or may recommend to the Parliament to initiate proceedings of impeachment if the contents of the complaint are of very serious nature.

(5) Upholding the Constitution

The judiciary draws its powers from the Constitution and magnificence from the unflinching faith of the people. The CM is a Constitutional Head vested with specific powers and responsibilities. He holds an important constitutional position and that in itself is the basis of the complaint. The CJI should give importance to what was said in the complaint rather than who lodged it.

(6)Test of the grievance redressal mechanism

 How the CJI & SC is going to handle this case will set a precedent to deal with the misconduct of Judges in future. If the process is not robust, fair & transparent then the calls for greater executive control on Judiciary will increase to the scale of the pre-NJAC verdict.

The solutions do not lie in token one-rupee fines but in balanced and calibrated action.

Way forward

Since we all have a vested interest in an independent and impartial judiciary, for that effective remedies for judicial misbehaviour must be found.

  • It is nobody’s case that the judiciary is immune from the investigation into misbehaviour and misconduct, the question is who has the power and the authority to investigate serious misconduct by a sitting judge.
  • Misbehaviour by judges is too serious an issue to experiment with. It needs clear mechanisms of accountability to the general public.
  • The right thing would probably be for the honourable CJI to order an inquiry into the letter in accordance with the apex court’s internal procedure.  
  • Opportunistic attacks on the judiciary must be discouraged.  On the other hand, effective remedies for judicial misbehaviour must be found, for which the impeachment is one of the option to consider.
  • In a longer run, the judiciary, civil society and the political class must come together on a common platform to devise a systematic approach in which adhocism; favouritism and impunity are kept at an arm’s length.
  • There is a need for lawful creation of an arrangement and structure which are fair, impartial, just, constitutional, and safeguard the separation of powers.

Conclusion

  • Aspersions and allegations against them ought not to be made lightly for sensationalism without substantive and positive evidence. Nothing short of the faith of the people in the judiciary and the rule of law is at stake.
  • A fair, independent judiciary whose integrity is unimpeachable is the bedrock of the Indian democracy, and the CJI must save it by taking up this issue. With the spirit of everyone is equal before the law.
  • The Judiciary owes it to its own institutional history to keep its unblemished character supreme and its dignity sacrosanct, as it is an exemplar of democratic values.

References

https://thewire.in/law/andhra-cm-jagan-declares-war-on-justice-ramana-next-in-line-to-be-chief-justice-of-india

https://www.dailyo.in/politics/chief-justice-of-india-andhra-pradesh-high-court-jaganmohan-reddy-justice-nv-ramana/story/1/33759.html

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/after-jagan-letter-to-cji-need-free-judiciary-it-is-for-a-judge-to-withstand-pressure-says-justice-ramana-6762198/

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/unpleasant-spectacle-the-hindu-editorial-on-jagan-mohan-reddys-complaint-against-supreme-court-judge/article32856516.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/the-hindu-explains-what-can-cji-bobde-do-about-charges-levelled-against-judges-by-the-andhra-pradesh-chief-minister/article32883894.ece

https://www.indialegallive.com/column-news/bobdes-burden/

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] 15 Years of Right to Information

“Information is the currency of democracy.” – Thomas Jefferson

Fifteen years have passed since the Right to Information Act, 2005 was enacted.   With this Act, India took a step forward to move away from the colonial system of arbitrary government to an era of more transparent and accountable government.

What led to the introduction of RTI in India?

There has been a variety of internal and external pressures on governments to adopt RTI.

(1) Corruption and scandals

The crisis brought into the force due to lack of transparency in the working of the government.  A series of transactions were done by the government which came under the preview of the corruption.

(2) Modernization and the Information Society

The expansion of the Internet into everyday life has increased the demand for more information by the public, businesses and civil society groups. Inside the government, the need to modernize record systems and the move towards e-government has created an internal constituency that is promoting the dissemination of information as a goal in itself.

(3) International pressure

The international community has been influential in promoting access to information. The World Bank, the IMF and others have pressed countries to adopt laws to reduce corruption and to make financial systems more accountable.

(4) Wider recognition of Public Interest

  • Public interest is a nebulous concept, not defined in any freedom of information laws, understandably so, as it is a very subjective concept, differing from country to country, on the basis of their governmental framework, socio-economic scenario and development complexities.
  • Balancing these strategic concerns with the public interest, therefore, depends on the particular country, the genuine interest of the people accessing that information and the legitimate national interest.

The Right to Information

  • RTI is an act of the parliament which sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.
  • It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
  • Under the provisions of RTI Act, any citizen of India may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within 30.
  • In case of the matter involving a petitioner’s life and liberty, the information has to be provided within 48 hours.
  • The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to proactively publish certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.

Governing of the RTI

The Right to information in India is governed by two major bodies:

  1. Central Information Commission (CIC) – Chief Information commissioner who heads all the central departments and ministries- with their own public information officers (PIO)s. CICs are directly under the President of India.
  2. State Information Commissions (SIC)– State Public Information Officers or SPIOs head over all the state department and ministries. The SPIO office is directly under the corresponding State Governor.

State and CIC are independent bodies and CIC has no jurisdiction over the SIC.

(1) Central Information Commission

  • The Commission consists of a Chief Information Commissioner and not more than ten Information Commissioners.
  • At present (2019), the Commission has six Information Commissioners apart from the Chief Information Commissioner.
  • They are appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committee consisting of the PM as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and a Union Cabinet Minister nominated by the PM.
  • The CIC/IC shall hold office for such term as prescribed by the Central Government or until they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. They are not eligible for reappointment.

Power and functions

  • It is the duty of the Commission to receive and inquire into a complaint from any person regarding information request under RTI, 2005.
  • The Commission can order an inquiry into any matter if there are reasonable grounds (suo-moto power).
  • While inquiring, the Commission has the powers of a civil court in respect of summoning, requiring documents etc.

(2) State Information Commission

  • The Commission consists of a State Chief Information commissioner and ten State Information Commissioners.
  • They are appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of the committee consisting of the CM as Chairperson, the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly and a state Cabinet Minister nominated by the CM.
  • They should be a person of eminence in public life and should not hold any other office of profit or connected with any political party or carrying on any business or pursuing any profession.
  • Terms of service are similar to that of CIC.

Powers and functions

  • The commission submits an annual report to the state government on the implementation of the provisions of this act. The state government places this report before the state legislature.
  • The commission can order an inquiry into any matter if there are reasonable grounds. It has the power to secure compliance of its decisions from the public authority.
  • It is the duty of the commission to receive and inquire into a complaint from any person.
  • During the inquiry of a complaint, the commission may examine any record which is under the control of the public authority and no such record may be withheld from it on any grounds.
  • While inquiring, the Commission has the powers of a civil court in respect of summoning, requiring documents etc.

Constitutional backing of the RTI

  • The Indian constitution has an impressive array of basic and inalienable rights termed as fundamental rights contained in part-III.
  • These include the right to equal protection of the laws and the right to equality before the law, the right to freedom of speech and expression also the right to life and personal liberty.
  • Since RTI, is implicit in the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, it is an implied FR.
  • These are backed by the right to constitutional remedies that is, the right to approach the supreme court and high court under Article 32 and 226 respectively in case of infringement of any of FRs.
  • The state is not only under an obligation to respect the FRs of the citizens but also equally under an obligation to ensure conditions under which the right can be exercised.
  • The objective of the right to information act is to protect these constitutional rights.

Efficient government can not be run, by its mystic Babus but from the enlightened participation of its populace in public affairs.

Benefits of RTI

  • Greater accessibility of information: A person can seek information from any public authority in the form of copies, floppy disks, sample material etc under RTI.
  • Efficient governance: RTI Act helps us in knowing the efficiency of the government functioning.RTI has become a reality consistent with the objectives of having a stable, honest, transparent and efficient government.
  • Citizen’s participation: Information under RTI can be sought easily by requesting the public officer and assistant public officer in any public authority.
  • Government obligation: Obtaining information from any public authority is obligatory for them.
  • Maintenance of public record: Under RTI Act, it is the duty of public authorities to maintain records for easy access and to publish within 120 days the name of the particular officers who should give the information and in regard to the framing of the rules, regulations etc.
  • Empowerment of Citizens: Every citizen has been empowered to be informed about anything that affects their life directly or indirectly.

Limitations to the RTI

(1) Not an absolute right

  • As no right can be absolute, the Right to Information has to have its limitations.
  • The RTI and Right to Privacy are, therefore, not absolute rights, both the rights, one of which falls under Article 19(l)(a) and the other under Article 21 can obviously be regulated, restricted and curtailed in the larger public interest.

 (2) Subjected to restrictions

  • The RTI, being integral part of the right to freedom of speech, is subject to restrictions that can be imposed upon that right under Article 19 (2).
  • The revelation of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with other public interests.
  • Section 8 of the RTI Act, 2005 primarily deals with the exceptions to the said conferred right.
  • The usual exemption permitting Government to withhold access to information is generally in respect of matters such as- national security, international relations etc.

(3) Limitations under the rules

  • Rule 4 of RTI Act puts word limit (No. of words needed in different language is different to express the same idea) as 250 words.  Word Limit, The Hidden power of Information Officer, is the cause of rejection of application.
  • Rule 16 of RTI Act 2005 stats that the proceedings pending before CIC shall abate on the death of applicant. This limitation may hide the corruption & also be misused by corrupt people which lead to murder of applicants.

(4) Only information already available on record is accessible

  • The RTI Act provides access only to that information which existent and available in records of the public authorities.
  • Therefore, it does not cast an obligation on the public authority to collect and collate any non available information and then furnish it to the applicant who has requested for it.

(5) Certain information may constitute contempt of court

  • Any information, the disclosure of which is expressly barred by any Court of law or tribunal or, which may constitute contempt of Court under the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, cannot be released.
  • Thus, where a matter is sub judice and no order or judgment has been passed by the court/tribunal, any disclosure of information pertaining to such matter is not permissible.

(6) Information causes a breach of privilege

  • The Constitution of India provides some privileges to the Parliament and the State Legislature, so it is clear that such information cannot be issued by the public authority.
  • Certain information cannot be disclosed, if it would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature.
  • But, any information relating to any occurrence, event or matter which has taken place, occurred or happened 20 years before the date on which any request for information is made shall be provided.

(7) Information relating to Intellectual Property and trade secrets

  • Any information, including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property cannot be disclosed.
  • Such disclosure would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.

Challenges in exercising

(1) Information explosion

Different types of information is sought which has no public interest and sometimes can be used to misuse the law and harass the public authorities e.g. asking for desperate and voluminous information.

(2) Popular (mis)use

Some chauvinists file RTI to attain publicity. It is often used as a vindictive tool to harass or pressurize the already burdened public authorities.

(3) Rising cases of non-disclosure

Some provisions of Indian Evidence Act provide to hold the disclosure of documents.  Similar is the case with the Official Secrets Act, 1923. OSA provides that any government official can mark a document as confidential so as to prevent its publication.

(4) Limited ambit of RTI

While the office of the CJI is now under the RTI’s ambit, the CBI is exempt. The CBI, which is an agency that is often engaged in investigation of corruption cases, is today included in a list of exempt organisations in which most of the others are engaged in intelligence gathering.

(5) Threats to whistleblowers

There are rising cases of intimidation, threat and murders of RTI activists. There are no safeguards against the victimisation of the person who makes the complaint.

(6) Legacy issue of Pendency and backlogs

A recent study by NGO Satark Nagrik Sangathan has pointed out that more than 2.2 lakh cases are pending at the Central and States ICs. Maharashtra had the highest number of pending appeals, with over 59,000 cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh (47,923) and the CIC (35,653).

Significance of RTI

  • The RTI Act, 2005 did not create a new bureaucracy for implementing the law. Instead, it tasked and mandated officials in every office to change their attitude and duty from one of secrecy to one of sharing and openness.
  • RTI has been seen as the key to strengthening participatory democracy and ushering in people-centred governance.
  • Access to information has empowered the poor and the weaker sections of society to demand and get information about public policies and actions, thereby leading to their welfare.
  • It showed an early promise by exposing wrongdoings at high places, such as in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games, and the allocation of 2G spectrum and coal blocks.

Way Forward

It is well recognized that RTI is pathbreaking, but has not proved sufficient, to improve governance in its capacity due to various shortcomings.  We need to improvise a lot on various parameters as discussed under:

Speedy disposal: The increasing backlog of cases is exacerbated by the fact that most Commissions are functioning at reduced capacity. The government must ensure the timely appointment of chiefs and members of ICs.

Prioritization of cases: There should be a prioritization of cases dealing with information related to life and liberty. Information regarding matters like food distribution, social security, health and other priority issues should be proactively disclosed.

Digitalization: Governments should put in place a mechanism for online filing of RTI applications and bring all authorities under one platform.

Reducing technicalities: The technicalities of filing an RTI application should be more simplified. The literacy rate of rural India is quite low and thus they find it quite difficult to comply with the procedural.

Protecting whistleblowers: There is an urgent need to protect the whistle blowers who are targeted or attacked so easily. The impending bill should be passed or else an ancillary strict measure should be taken in this regard.

Final words from ARC reports:

The report of the second Administrative Reforms Commission entitled, “Right to Information – Master Key to Good Governance” recommends that the Official Secrets Act, 1923, should be repealed, as it is incongruous with the regime of transparency in a democratic society. This recommendation should be adhered to.

Conclusion

  • In spite of the above-discussed deficiencies and apprehensions, the RTI has unquestionably proved to be one of the significant milestone and a major step towards ensuring the participatory and transparent development process in the country.
  • Currently, the RTI Act in India is passing through a decisive phase, much more needs to be done to facilitate its growth and development.  
  • The stricter implementation of this law not only depends on the political will but also on active civil societies.
  • Mere protest against the lack of implementation of this law alone is not sufficient, one needs to encourage this initiative taken, for the law to grow and mature.
  • A lot more needs to be done to usher in accountability in governance, including protection of whistleblowers, decentralization of power and fusion of authority with accountability at all levels.

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References

https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/147275/11/11_%20chapter-7.pdf

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-concerted-attack-on-rti/article32846738.ece

https://cic.gov.in/sites/default/files/Neeraj%20assignment-converted.pdf

https://www.civilsdaily.com/burning-issue-rti-amendment-bill/

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] CRISPR Technology and Associated Concerns

The CRISPR-Cas9 system has revolutionized genetic manipulations and made gene editing simpler, faster and easily accessible to most laboratories.

To its recognition, this year, the French-American duo Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna have been awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for chemistry for CRISPR.

Gene editing using CRISPR technology

  • The CRISPR is an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, developed in the year 2012
  • CRISPR has made gene editing very easy and simple, and at the same time extremely efficient.
  • The technology works in a simple way — it locates the specific area in the genetic sequence which has been diagnosed to be the cause of the problem, cuts it out, and replaces it with a new and correct sequence that no longer causes the problem.
  • The technology replicates a natural defence mechanism in some bacteria that use a similar method to protect it from virus attacks.

Working of CRISPR

  • An RNA molecule is programmed to locate the particular problematic sequence on the DNA strand.
  • A special protein called Cas9, often described in popular literature as ‘genetic scissor’, is used to break and remove the problematic sequence.
  • A DNA strand, when broken, has a natural tendency to repair itself. But the auto-repair mechanism can lead to the re-growth of a problematic sequence.
  • Scientists intervene during this auto-repair process by supplying the desired sequence of genetic codes, which replaces the original sequence.
  • It is like cutting a portion of a long zipper somewhere in between and replacing that portion with a fresh segment.
  • Because the entire process is programmable, it has remarkable efficiency and has already brought almost miraculous results.

A promising technology for the future: With many Applications

The gene-editing technology has opened up a vast window of opportunity.

  1. Human health: In the last six years, the tool has enabled scientists to edit human DNA in a dish and early-stage clinical trials are being attempted to use the tool to treat a few diseases, including inherited disorders/diseases and some types of cancer.
  2. Agricultural productivity: The tool is being extensively used in agriculture. It is being tried out in agriculture primarily to increase plant yield, quality, disease resistance, herbicide resistance and domestication of wild species.

How safe is CRISPR?

  • Last year, a study by Stanford University, U.S., found that the CRISPR-Cas9 system introduces unexpected off-target (outside of the intended editing sites) effects in mice.
  • There is a growing fear that the CRISPR system is being prematurely rushed for clinical use lingers.
  • Some researchers have highlighted that CRISPR-Cas9-edited cells might trigger cancer.
  • Another study found that both the mouse and the human gene-edited cells suffered from large DNA deletions far from the intended editing sites.

Issues with CRISPR

The many potential applications of CRISPR technology raise questions about the ethical merits and consequences of tampering with genomes. 

1) Ecological dis-equilibrium: An introduced trait could spread beyond the target population to other organisms through crossbreeding. Gene drives could also reduce the genetic diversity of the target population. There is a danger that CRISPR’s affordability and efficiency could run roughshod over long‐standing and valid concerns about the generation and release of GMOs.

2) Threats to species: There is another, potentially much more dangerous and controversial, application of CRISPR, namely to potentially eradicate disease by eradicating disease vectors and invasive species. Such methods could effectively destroy an entire species and could have significant environmental consequences.

3) Germline editing concerns: Making genetic modifications to human embryos and reproductive cells such as sperm and eggs is known as germline editing. Since changes to these cells can be passed on to subsequent generations, using CRISPR technology to make germline edits has raised a number of ethical concerns.

4) Biosafety concerns: It is not unreasonable to think that, in the wrong hands, CRISPR could be used to make dangerous pathogens even more potent. There exist some concerns about the accidental or deliberate release of GE microorganisms or viruses into the environment.

5) Regulatory bypass: Editing the genomes of crops and trees is not new, and debates over the pros and cons of genetically modified (GM) plants have gone on for decades. What makes CRISPR different from other methods of agricultural genetic engineering is that it no longer requires the insertion of foreign DNA into the plant. Hence traditional GM crops/organisms would no longer classify as transgenic.

Ethical concerns

  • In November 2018, a Chinese researcher in Shenzen created an international sensation with his claim that he had altered the genes of a human embryo that eventually resulted in the birth of twin baby girls.
  • This was the first documented case of a ‘designer babies’ being produced using the new gene-editing tools like CRISPR.

1) Safety

Due to the possibility of off-target effects (edits in the wrong place) and mosaicism (when some cells carry the edit but others do not), safety is of primary concern.

2) Informed Consent

Some people worry that it is impossible to obtain informed consent for germline therapy because the patients affected by the edits are the embryo and future generations. Bioethicists also worry about the possibility of obtaining truly informed consent from prospective parents as long as the risks of germline therapy are unknown.

3) Justice and Equity

As with many new technologies, there is concern that genome editing will only be accessible to the wealthy and will increase existing disparities in access to health care and other interventions. Some worry that taken to its extreme, germline editing could create classes of individuals defined by the quality of their engineered genome.

Regulation in India

  • In India, several rules, guidelines, and policies are notified under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 to regulate genetically modified organisms.
  • The above Act and the National Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical and Health Research involving human participants, 2017, by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and the Biomedical and Health Research Regulation Bill implies regulation of the gene-editing process.
  • This is especially so in the usage of its language “modification, deletion or removal of parts of heritable material”.
  • However, there is no explicit mention of the term gene editing.

Way forward

  • CRISPR technology continues to mature, and existing systems are being engineered to contain innovative capabilities.
  • The potential benefits of such revolutionary tools are endless.  Currently, this is difficult because many international laws discourage or ban such research and/or inhibit its funding for certain types of investigation.
  • Thus, wide spread and reliable data about benefits and risks are unavailable.
  • Going forward, many support establishing an organization that will decide how best to address the aforementioned ethical complexities.
  • Many countries have advocated for the development of an international and interdisciplinary “global observatory for gene editing.”
  • However we must not forget that the risk cannot be justified by the potential benefit.

Conclusion

  • Genetic ‘determinism’ holds that the DNA sequence is the prime cause of all human traits, normal and abnormal (health and disease). We should do away with this idea, very first.
  • It will take years before the CRISPR system is ready for prime time and clinical use.
  • An important issue in its research is that benefits must be greater than risks. Here greater attention needs to be placed on risks, since they may damage living beings or the environment.
  • Concerning its regulation, it is time for our policymakers to come up with a specific law or put out guidelines for conducting gene-editing research giving rise to modified organisms.
  • The principle of solidarity and consideration of the public good deserve far greater consideration in making sure that these rapid advances become shared benefits for all. This should be our ultimate goal.

Try this question from our AWE initiative:

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References

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/nobel-prize-in-chemistry-for-crispr-technology

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/scissoring-the-dna-the-hindu-editorial-on-2020-nobel-prize-for-chemistry/article32806854.ece

https://www.embopress.org/doi/full/10.15252/embr.201541337

http://www.bu.edu/khc/files/2018/10/CRISPR-Ethics-reading.pdf

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Paytm vs Google App Store Row

The altercation between technology giant Google and fintech major Paytm has brought the global debate around app store monopolies to India.

  • Paytm has been at odds with Google ever since the tech giant removed its apps.
  • Earlier this month, Paytm announced the launch of its Android Mini App Store to support Indian developers to take their innovative products to the masses.
  • Now this move has brought Google and Apple’s duopoly over being the only marketplaces for applications on their mobile operating systems into question.

The Beginning of Row

  • Paytm received communication from Google that their ‘Paytm Cricket League’ feature violated Google Play Store’s policies.
  • Hence, the payments and financial services app Paytm was temporarily removed from the Google Play Store.
  • Paytm in turn, removed the cashback component of the feature in an effort to meet the Play Store policy requirements.
  • And the app was back within a few hours.
  • According to Google, the features were akin to promoting gambling. Paytm has now blamed Google for not offering a level-playing field.
  • The issue escalated after Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS) asked for clarity from the Google on what is allowed on the Play Store for the fantasy sports industry.

Surpassing Google’s monopoly: What is the Mini Apps store?

  • Mini apps are a custom-built mobile website that gives users app-like experience without having to download them, which would greatly benefit millions of citizens to save their limited data and phone memory.
  • From an infrastructure perspective, the Mini App store will enable small developers and businesses to set up low-cost, quick-to-build mini-apps which can be built using HTML and JavaScript technologies.
  • For those joining the platform, Paytm will provide a listing, distribution of these mini-apps within our app without any charges.

The ‘Price’ of getting listed on Google Play Store

The row has brought to the fore Google’s Play Store monopoly and its power to pull down apps that it feels violates its rules.

  • Google’s Android OS currently commands over 90 percent share of the Indian smartphone market.
  • Among the primary reasons is the market dominance of Google’s Android Operating System (OS), which comprises the Play Store.
  • There is a growing sentiment among many Indian startup founders is that Google is abusing its dominant market position to squeeze revenues out of startups and imposing hard conditions on them.
  • This is in order to avail the benefits of being listed and discoverable on the Play Store.

The major concerns of the Indian startup community are:

(1) Billing System:

  • Google has declared its intention to start billing apps for in app purchases, such as subscriptions, virtual coins and other special paid features.
  • This is done with objective to enforce the 30 percent commission it seeks from apps on Play Store.

(2) Dominance

  • Google’s dominance in the Operating System (OS) market and by extension, its app store, has led to arbitrary imposition of rules or restrictions.
  • Simply put, for many startups, the cost of being outside of the Play Store’s network is too prohibitive.

(3) Conflict of interest

  • Google being the platform for apps in India via its Play Store is also only opportunist player in the app ecosystem.
  • It is allegedly hindering others ability to acquire new customers through the “dominance” of their country’s digital ecosystem.
  • Google has a hammerlock on the Android ecosystem in India and this monopoly means companies like Paytm have to rely on Google playing fair with its rivals.

(4) National security

  • There is a risk for Indian startups if the US does to the Indian startup ecosystem, what it did to Huawei.
  • This could be a national security issue in turn for India.

(5) Unfair trade practices

  • Google was found guilty of abuse of dominant position and unfair trade practices by the European Commission for its strict and biased user policies.
  • It is already under investigation by the Competition Commission of India after an unidentified party complained the company was “unfairly” promoting Google Pay in India.

Making the monopolist accountable: A not-so-feasible option

  • Taking on a giant like Google in the Indian courts involves the hefty court and legal fees, and the battle will be incredibly long drawn.
  • It’s very easy to show that Google is dominant. But under the Competition Act, one has to show that what Google is doing is unfair trade practice or it’s an abuse of dominance.
  • Indian developers might have to fight a concurrent case in the US court as well which will indecisively rule in favor of the Google.

Way forward

  • Google’s presence in India’s digital ecosystem is only set to increase with the internet giant planning to invest $10 billion in the country over the next five to seven years.
  • All of this places a heavy responsibility on Indian regulatory authorities to implement tough oversight measures to ensure Google and other players don’t steam-roll the competition in India.
  • Presently it is upto the regulators to ensure ‘app neutrality’ in India.
  • A possible viable option for startup founders are other indigenous app stores like that of Indus OS, a Samsung-backed third-party store, has over 100 million monthly active users.

Conclusion

  • These days, there is a growing demand within the political sphere regarding data localization in India. Foreign firms are mandated to store payments information of users locally in India.
  • And India is not even that open anymore. It has also banned more than 200 Chinese apps in recent months. But with Google’s case, there can be no leap forward.
  • Policymakers need to wake up to obvious conflicts of interest in the internet domain which need to be regulated with a measure of sophistication.
  • Regulators need to stay ahead of the curve, as the country pivots decisively towards a digital economy.

References

https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/the-inside-story-of-how-paytm-google-fiasco-unfolded/story/417052.html

https://www.thequint.com/explainers/explainer-paytm-mini-app-store-google-android-play-store-meity-indian-startups

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/editorial/controversy-over-google-and-paytm-underlines-the-challenge-policymakers-face/article32679063.ece

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] New Labour Laws

  • The Parliament has passed new versions of three labour codes — Industrial Relations Code Bill, 2020, Code on Social Security Bill, 2020 and Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code Bill, 2020.
  • The Code on Social Security 2020, which received the Presidential Assent on 28 September 2020, subsumes major regulations relating to social security, retirement and employee benefits.

What is Social Security?

  • Social security is “any government system that provides monetary assistance to people with an inadequate or no income”.
  • It refers to the action programs of an organization intended:
  • to promote the welfare of the population through assistance measures guaranteeing access to sufficient resources for food and shelter and
  • to promote health and well-being for the population at large and potentially vulnerable segments such as children, the elderly, the sick and the unemployed

Why need Social Security?

  • India has a very basic social security system catering to a fairly small percentage of the country’s workforce.
  • Traditionally, Indians relied on their extended families for support in the event of illness or other misfortunes.
  • However, due to migration, urbanization, and higher social mobility, family bonds are less tight and family units much smaller than they used to be.

Social Security System in India

  • India’s social security system is composed of a number of schemes and programs spread throughout a variety of laws and regulations.
  • Keeping in mind, however, that the government-controlled social security system in India applies to only a small portion of the population.
  • Furthermore, the social security system in India includes not just an insurance payment of premiums into government funds (like in China), but also lump sum employer obligations.

Generally, India’s social security schemes cover the following types of social insurances:

  • Pension
  • Health Insurance and Medical Benefit
  • Disability Benefit
  • Maternity Benefit
  • Gratuity

While a great deal of the Indian population is in the unorganized sector and may not have an opportunity to participate in each of these schemes, Indian citizens in the organized sector (which include those employed by foreign investors) and their employers are entitled to coverage under the above schemes.

Code on Social Security 2020

The 3 bills which were passed are

  1. Industrial Relations Code, 2020
  2. Code on Occupational Safety, Health & Working Conditions Code, 2020 &
  3. Social Security Code, 2020

All the labour laws (29 in number) being amalgamated into 4 labour codes are :

Name of the Code Amalgamated laws
Wage Code  4 laws – The Payment of Wages Act, 1936 The Minimum Wages Act, 1948 The Payment of Bonus Act, 1965 The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976
IR Code  3 laws – The Trade Unions Act, 1926 The Industrial Employment (Standing orders) Act, 1946 The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
OS Code  13 laws – The Factories Act, 1948 The Plantations Labour Act, 1951 The Mines Act, 1952 The Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955 The Working Journalists (Fixation of Rates of Wages) Act, 1958 The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961 The Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966 The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 The Sales Promotion Employees (Conditions of Service) Act, 1976 The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 The Cine-Workers and Cinema Theatre Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1981 The Dock Workers (Safety, Health and Welfare) Act, 1986 The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996
Social Security Code  9 laws – The Employees’ Compensation Act, 1923 The Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 The Employees Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 The Employment Exchanges (Compulsory Notification of Vacancies) Act, 1959 The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 The Cine Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1981 The Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996 The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008

Here are the key features of these bills:

 (A) Social Security Code, 2020

  • The facility of ESIC would now be provided in all 740 districts. At present, this facility is being given in 566 districts only.
  • EPFO’s coverage would be applicable to all establishments having 20 workers. At present, it was applicable only on establishments included in the Schedule.
  • Provision has been made to formulate various schemes for providing comprehensive social security to workers in the unorganised sector.
  • A “Social Security Fund” will be created on the financial side in order to implement these schemes.
  • Work to bring newer forms of employment created with the changing technology like “platform worker or gig worker” into the ambit of social security has been done in the Social Security Code.
  • Provision for Gratuity has been made for Fixed Term Employee and there would not be any condition for minimum service period for this.
  • With the aim of making a national database for unorganised sector workers, registration of all these workers would be done on an online portal and this registration would be done on the basis of Self Certification through a simple procedure.

 (B) Occupational Safety, Health & Working Conditions Code, 2020

  • Free health checkup once a year by the employer for workers which are more than a certain age.
  • A legal right for getting Appointment Letter given to workers for the first time.
  • Cine Workers have been designated as Audio Visual Worker so that more and more workers get covered under the OSH code. Earlier, this security was being given to artists working in films only.

(C)  Industrial Relations Code, 2020

Efforts made by the Government for quickly resolving disputes of the workers include:

  • Compulsory facility for Helpline for redressal of problems of migrant workers.
  • Making a national database of migrant workers.
  • Provision for the accumulation of one day leave for every 20 days worked when work has been done for 180 days instead of 240 days.
  • Equality for women in every sphere: Women have to be permitted to work in every sector at night, but it has to be ensured that provision for their security is made by the employer and consent of women is taken before they work at night.
  • In the event of the death of a worker or injury to a worker due to an accident at his workplace, atleast 50 % share of the penalty would be given. This amount would be in addition to Employees Compensation.
  • Provision of “Social Security Fund” for 40 Crore unorganized workers alongwith GIG and platform workers and will help Universal Social Security coverage
  • Occupational Safety & Health Code to also can now over cover workers from IT and Service Sector.
  • 14 days notice for Strike so that in this period amicable solution comes out.

Now let’s look up at the various loopholes of these Bills one by one:

A. The Code on Social Security, 2020

  1. No robust entitlements:
  • To begin, the Code does not emphasise social security as a right, nor does it make reference to its provision as stipulated by the Constitution.
  • In addition, it does not stipulate a clear date for enforcement, which will leave millions of workers vulnerable without clear social protections.

2. No universalization

  • A model scheme covering the issues such as education, health, social security, pensions and other benefits which can assure a dignified life for workers.
  • It is essential that social security protections be made universal for the entire Indian workforce, i.e. that such protections be universal.
  • Instead of this, the Code makes arbitrary categorizations that will leave millions of working poor out of its protections. While the Code defines multiple categories, most definitions are ambiguous.

3. Migrant workers find NO special mention

  • Interstate migrant workers should have been mentioned as a separate category with the establishment of a sizable Welfare Fund with contributions by sending and receiving states and employers.
  • Given the particular distress faced by such workers in the last few months, there are no provisions established for migrant workers who face very specific vulnerabilities.
  • There is not even a provision for the portability of social security which takes into account their continuous movement within the country.
  • There is no consideration for unemployment protection for unorganised workers, which is particularly important at times of great recession and crisis.

4. Pro-employer

  • Finally, the Code makes it easier for employers to flout legally required social protection for workers.
  • For instance, there is no stringent penalty for non-contribution of Provident Fund dues by employer/contractor.
  • As an effective deterrent and policy tool to ensure timely payment of dues, penal provisions should be incorporated for large employers who have the capacity to pay regular Provident Fund contributions.

B. The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020

  1. Ignores key economic activities
  • The Code excludes many branches of economic activities, most notably, the agriculture sector which employs more than 50% of total working population of India.
  • Further, the employees in other unorganised sectors such as small mines, hotels & eating places, machinery repairs, construction, brick kilns, etc find no mention.
  • Also those employed as informal workers in organized sectors, including new and emerging sectors such as IT and IT enabled services, digital platforms, e-commerce, have also not found coverage under the Code.

2. Ambiguous occupational safety

  • It is appalling that the Code has got away by not fixing any responsibility on employers with respect to safety and health.
  • It does not specify even minimum standards for Occupation Safety and Health, or daily and weekly working hours and everything has been delegated to the Central government to be stipulated through notification.
  • A minimum Occupation Safety and Health standard should have been specified in the Code itself.

3. Issue of fair treatment

  • The Code does not contain any provisions for equal treatment for contract labour that perform work of a similar nature as that of permanent workers in the same establishment.
  • Contract labour that is engaged in similar work in the same establishment should have been treated on par with permanent workers in the matter of wages and other conditions of employment.

C. The Industrial Relations Code, 2020

  1. Restrictions on ‘Freedom of Association’
  • The definition of strike has been broadened to include “the concerted casual leave on a given day by fifty percent or more workers employed in an industry”.
  • This constrains workers’ ability to participate in collective bargaining processes and demonstrations.
  • Beside this, there are several restrictions made on right to strike – workers will be subject to penal sanctions for the mere fact of organizing or participating in a peaceful strike.
  • Imposing such sanctions on strikes that are justified amounts to a grave violation of the principles of freedom of association.

2. Definitional issues

  • The definition of “industry” includes terms like “charitable”, “philanthropic”, “social”, etc. which are undefined and can be misused.
  • A manufacturer of sanitary pads or toilet paper, for instance, may claim to be a social activity and therefore not an industry.
  • The change in the definition of “wage” is either the result of muddled thinking or made with malicious intent.
  • It will have the effect of reducing retrenchment compensation, subsistence allowance etc., which is deplorable.

3. Fixed-term contracts

  • There is an institutionalization of “fixed term contracts” as tenure of employment.
  • Workers employed on a fixed term basis may be terminated on the completion of their contract, even while there is an actual need for their services.
  • In other words, they may be terminated from service without any just and reasonable cause. This will further create instability and massive labour market unrest.
  • The fixed term employment does not guarantee the right to receive notice or wages in lieu of notice prior to the termination of services.

Conclusion

  • The government needs to work more to recognise that focusing on economic growth without redistribution of wealth leads to jobless growth and socially unaccountable prosperity.
  • Every law has to aim to maintain the best possible balance between competing interests and should try to give as much comfort to the weaker of the two sides, as much possible in the larger interest of our nation.
  • Ultimately these laws will be as good as their implementation, mere letters of law have no meaning.
  • The government has to ensure that they are implemented with honesty and integrity, then only the country will be able to achieve the desired goal of speeding up economic growth and unleashing the untapped potential of thousands and thousands of our industries, businesses and entrepreneurs to take the nation to new heights.

References

https://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/code-social-security-2020

https://www.financialexpress.com/money/the-code-on-social-security-2020-how-will-this-new-labour-code-benefit-employees-workers/2098269/

https://scroll.in/article/973877/why-the-new-labour-codes-leave-workers-even-more-precariously-poised-than-before

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Agricultural Reform Bills, 2020

Farmers in Punjab and Haryana have been protesting against 3 ordinances promulgated by the Centre back in June this year.  After the Monsoon Session of Parliament began this week, the government has introduced three Bills to replace these ordinances.

What are these ordinances?

  1. The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020;
  2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020; and
  3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 (It is the Bill replacing the third that has been passed in Lok Sabha)

Let us study their key features:

(1) The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020

  • Trade of farmers’ produce: The Ordinance allows intra-state and inter-state trade of farmers’ produce outside: (i) the physical premises of market yards run by market committees formed under the state APMC Acts and (ii) other markets notified under the state APMC Acts.  Such trade can be conducted in an ‘outside trade area’, i.e., any place of production, collection, and aggregation of farmers’ produce including (i) farm gates, (ii) factory premises, (iii) warehouses, (iv) silos, and (v) cold storages.
  • Electronic trading: The Ordinance permits the electronic trading of scheduled farmers’ produce (agricultural produce regulated under any state APMC Act) in the specified trade area. The following entities may establish and operate such platforms: (i) companies, partnership firms, or registered societies, having permanent account number under the Income Tax Act, 1961 or any other document notified by the central government, and (ii) a farmer producer organisation or agricultural cooperative society.
  • Market fee abolished: The Ordinance prohibits state governments from levying any market fee, cess or levy on farmers, traders, and electronic trading platforms for the trade of farmers’ produce conducted in an ‘outside trade area’.

(2) The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020

  • Farming agreement: The Ordinance provides for a farming agreement between a farmer and a buyer prior to the production or rearing of any farm produce.  The minimum period of an agreement will be one crop season, or one production cycle of livestock.  The maximum period is five years, unless the production cycle is more than five years.
  • Pricing of farming produce: The price of farming produce should be mentioned in the agreement.  For prices subjected to variation, a guaranteed price for the produce and a clear reference for any additional amount above the guaranteed price must be specified in the agreement.  Further, the process of price determination must be mentioned in the agreement.
  • Dispute Settlement: A farming agreement must provide for a conciliation Board as well as a conciliation process for settlement of disputes.   If the dispute remains unresolved by the Board after thirty days, parties may approach the Sub-divisional Magistrate for resolution.  Parties will have a right to appeal to an Appellate Authority (presided by collector or additional collector) against decisions of the Magistrate.  Both the Magistrate and Appellate Authority will be required to dispose of a dispute within thirty days from the receipt of application.  They may impose certain penalties on the party contravening the agreement.

(3) The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020

  • Regulation of food items: The Essential Commodities Act, 1955 empowers the central government to designate certain commodities (such as food items, fertilizers, and petroleum products) as essential commodities.  The Ordinance provides that the central government may regulate the supply of certain food items including cereals, pulses, potatoes, onions, edible oilseeds, and oils, only under extraordinary circumstances. These include (i) war, (ii) famine, (iii) extraordinary price rise and (iv) natural calamity of grave nature.
  • Stock limit: The Ordinance requires that the imposition of any stock limit on agricultural produce must be based on price rise.  A stock limit may be imposed only if there is: (i) a 100% increase in the retail price of horticultural produce; and (ii) a 50% increase in the retail price of non-perishable agricultural food items.

A Backgrounder: Long awaited APMC reforms

  • Agricultural markets in India are mainly regulated by state Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) laws.  APMCs were set up with the objective of ensuring fair trade between buyers and sellers for effective price discovery of farmers’ produce.
  • APMCs can:
  • regulate the trade of farmers’ produce by providing licenses to buyers, commission agents, and private markets,
  • levy market fees or any other charges on such trade, and
  • provide necessary infrastructure within their markets to facilitate the trade

Issues with the APMCs

  • The Standing Committee on Agriculture (2018-19) identified some issues includes: (i) most APMCs have a limited number of traders operating, which leads to cartelization and reduces competition, and (ii) undue deductions in the form of commission charges and market fees.
  • Traders, commission agents, and other functionaries organise themselves into associations, which do not allow easy entry of new persons into market yards, stifling competition.
  • The Acts are highly restrictive in promotion of multiple channels of marketing (such as more buyers, private markets, direct sale to businesses and retail consumers, and online transactions) and competition in the system.
  • During 2017-18, the central government released the model APMC and contract farming Acts to allow restriction-free trade of farmers’ produce, promote competition through multiple marketing channels, and promote farming under pre-agreed contracts.

Why were the ordinances promulgated?

  • The Ordinances collectively seek to-
  • facilitate barrier-free trade of farmers’ produce outside the markets notified under the various state APMC laws
  • define a framework for contract farming and
  • impose stock limits on agricultural produce only if there is a sharp increase in retail prices
  • The three Ordinances together aim to increase opportunities for farmers to enter long term sale contracts, increase the availability of buyers, and permits buyers to purchase farm produce in bulk.

Causes of nationwide dissent

(1) No consultation with stakeholders

  • The attempt to pass the Bills without proper consultation adds to the mistrust among various stakeholders including State governments.
  • The ruling government could have waited for the Parliament session, held discussions with all political parties before arriving at a decision.
  • Farmer organisations see these Bills as an attempt to weaken the APMCs and eventual withdrawal of the Minimum Support Prices (MSP).

(2) Issue over trade and MSP guarantee

  • While farmers are protesting against all three ordinances, their objections are mostly against the provisions of the first.
  • Their concerns are mainly about sections relating to “trade area”, “trader”, “dispute resolution” and “market fee” in the first ordinance.
  • In effect, existing mandis established under APMC Acts have been excluded from the definition of trade area under the new legislation.
  • According to the ordinance, any trader with a PAN card can buy the farmers’ produce in the trade area.
  • In the present mandi system, arhatiyas (commission agents) have to get a licence to trade in a mandi.
  • Critics view the dismantling of the monopoly of the APMCs as a sign of ending the assured procurement of food grains at minimum support prices (MSP). To the Centre’s ‘one nation, one market’ call, critics have sought ‘one nation, one MSP’.

(3) Legacy concerns

  • The Bills gives no assurance to the poor, small and marginal farmers of India (constituting over 85 per cent of India’s farmers) of protection of their interests, their livelihoods, and their future.
  • Critics argue that such legislation will let the farmers falling into the clutches of the monopolistic big corporates.
  • Lofty recommendations have been made several times in the past, including by the Swaminathan Committee, which suggested the removal of the mandi tax, creation of a single market and facilitating contract farming
  • However, no efforts have taken place for implementing these basic reforms over the years.

(4) Fear of food insecurity

  • Punjab CM, on the easing of regulation of food items, said, it would lead to exporters, processors and traders hoarding farm produce during the harvest season, when prices are generally lower, and releasing it later when prices increase.
  • This could undermine food security since the States would have no information about the availability of stocks within the State.

(5) Constitutional issues raised

  • Since agriculture and markets are State subjects – entry 14 and 28 respectively in List II – the ordinances are being seen as a direct encroachment upon the functions of the States and against the spirit of cooperative federalism enshrined in the Constitution.
  • The Centre, however, argued that trade and commerce in food items is part of the concurrent list, thus giving it constitutional propriety.
  • The bills invite valid opposition: one, infraction of the states’ right to decide on intra-state commerce in agriculture, and two, officer-led dispute settlement outside the ambit of judicial review.

What are the promising features of these bills?

  • The new legislations would create an ecosystem where farmers and traders would enjoy the freedom of choice in the sale and purchase of agri-produce.
  • It would also promote barrier-free interstate or intrastate trade and commerce outside the physical premises of markets notified under the state agricultural produce marketing legislations.
  • The bills would also open up more choices for farmers, reduce marketing costs and help them in getting better prices.
  • At the same time, it would also help farmers of regions with surplus produce to get better prices and consumers of regions with shortages, lower prices.
  • The bill has also proposed an Electronic Trading Transaction Platform to ensure seamless electronic trade and the farmers will not be charged any cess or levy for sale of their products under this Act.
  • Interestingly, the bill aims for ‘One India, One Agriculture Market’ and also creates additional trading opportunities outside the APMC market yards to help farmers get remunerative prices due to the additional competition.
  • The new laws are not shutting down APMC mandis, nor are they implying that MSPs will not be functional.
  • This would supplement the existing Minimum Support Price (MSP) procurement system, which also provides a stable income to farmers.

Still, why are the farmers fuming?

There has been bipartisan consensus over the last two decades or so—both the UPA and the NDA governments have tried and failed to convince state governments to reform APMC Acts, notwithstanding periodic manifesto promises and model APMC Acts.

They failed with all approaches, trying to link financial support to agriculture based on reforms. The present crisis created the perfect window to usher in these transformative reforms.

People on both sides of the divide are saturated with such reformative measures and have arrived at the commonsensical benefits that would be ushered in as well as the risks.

What lies ahead

  • Accelerating research and academic excellence can bring in the ‘best in class’ technologies and can multiply farmers’ incomes.
  • As far as the commission agents are concerned, the governments should work on a clear roadmap to modernize them by facilitating them in providing value-added services. They could be leveraged to set-up grading and sorting, warehousing, cold chains and food processing infrastructure. This way, it is a win-win-win for the state government, farmers and the commission agents.
  • Soil health improvement and water conservation measures should be the top priority for the governments to enhance farm productivity.
  • Similarly, by diversifying into high-value crops such as vegetables and fruit, India could become the food- processing hub for the world. Farmers have to be made part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem (FaME—Farmers as Micro-Entrepreneurs).

Conclusion

  • A lot of the success of these bills depends on trust and consensus. In the end, what will determine the results of this latest set of reforms will be their implementation.
  • There is genuine uncertainty over what private procurement will mean. Will it mean greater corporate power over farmers, possibly unhealthy monopolies or duopolies? Will they be harder to negotiate with than a state monopoly?
  • Leveraging the reforms and moving forward rather is the most feasible solution than to protest amid the pandemic.
  • What farmers need and are asking for is legally guaranteed remunerative prices. If the Bills are perceived of good intent, then the government should not shy away from a proper parliamentary scrutiny of all its details.
  • Political parties that are opposing these Bills should coordinate better keeping farmers’ interests in the forefront, and not their party politics.

References

https://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/farmers-produce-trade-and-commerce-promotion-and-facilitation-bill-2020

https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-the-farm-bills-and-quandary/360640

https://frontline.thehindu.com/cover-story/article31951413.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/explainer-why-are-the-agriculture-bills-being-opposed/article32618641.ece

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Quashing of the Question Hour

In view of the pandemic and a truncated Monsoon Session, Parliament has said no to Question Hour and curtailed Zero Hour. The opposition MPs have criticised the move, saying they will lose the right to question the government. A look at what happens in the two Houses during Question Hour and Zero Hour:

What is Question Hour?

  • It is during this one hour that Members of Parliament ask questions of ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries.
  • The questions that MPs ask are designed to elicit information and trigger suitable action by ministries.

And what is Zero Hour?

  • While Question Hour is strictly regulated, Zero Hour is an Indian parliamentary innovation.  The phrase does not find mention in the rules of procedure.
  • The concept of Zero Hour started organically in the first decade of Indian Parliament, when MPs felt the need for raising important constituency and national issues.
  • During the initial days, Parliament used to break for lunch at 1 pm. Therefore, the opportunity for MPs to raise national issues without an advance notice became available at 12 pm and could last for an hour until the House adjourned for lunch.
  • This led to the hour being popularly referred to as Zero Hour and the issues being raised during this time as Zero Hour submissions.

A historical backgrounder

  • The right to question the executive has been exercised by members of the House from the colonial period.
  • The first Legislative Council in British India under the Charter Act, 1853, showed some degree of independence by giving members the power to ask questions to the executive.
  • Later, the Indian Council Act of 1861 allowed members to elicit information by means of questions.
  • However, it was the Indian Council Act, 1892, which formulated the rules for asking questions including short notice questions.
  • The next stage of the development of procedures related to questions came up with the framing of rules under the Indian Council Act, 1909, which incorporated provisions for asking supplementary questions by members.
  • The Montague-Chelmsford reforms brought forth a significant change in 1919 by incorporating a rule that the first hour of every meeting was earmarked for questions. Parliament has continued this tradition.

How is Question Hour regulated?

  • Parliament has comprehensive rules for dealing with every aspect of Question Hour.
  • And the presiding officers of the two houses are the final authority with respect to the conduct of Question Hour.
  • For example, usually Question Hour is the first hour of a parliamentary sitting.

What kinds of questions are asked?

  • Parliamentary rules provide guidelines on the kind of questions that can be asked by MPs.
  • Questions have to be limited to 150 words. They have to be precise and not too general.
  • The question should also be related to an area of responsibility of the Government of India. Questions should not seek information about matters that are secret or are under adjudication before courts.
  • It is the presiding officers of the two Houses who finally decide whether a question raised by an MP will be admitted for answering by the government.

How frequently is Question Hour held?

  • The process of asking and answering questions starts with identifying the days on which Question Hour will be held.
  • At the beginning of Parliament in 1952, Lok Sabha rules provided for Question Hour to be held every day. Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, had a provision for Question Hour for two days a week.
  • A few months later, this was changed to four days a week. Then from 1964, Question Hour was taking place in Rajya Sabha on every day of the session.

How does Parliament manage to get so many questions answered?

  • To streamline the answering of questions raised by MPs, the ministries are put into five groups.
  • Each group answers questions on the day allocated to it. For example, in the last session, on Thursday the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Labour, Housing, and Youth Affairs and Sports were answering questions posed by Lok Sabha MPs.
  • This grouping of ministries is different for the two Houses so that ministers can be present in one house to answer questions.
  • MPs can specify whether they want an oral or written response to their questions. They can put an asterisk against their question signifying that they want the minister to answer that question on the floor.
  • These are referred to as starred questions. After the minister’s response, the MP who asked the question and other MPs can also ask a follow-up question.
  • Seasoned parliamentarians choose to ask an oral question when the answer to the question will put the government in an uncomfortable position.

How do ministers prepare their answers?

  • Ministries receive the questions 15 days in advance so that they can prepare their ministers for Question Hour.
  • They also have to prepare for sharp follow-up questions they can expect to be asked in the House.
  • Government’s officers are close at hand in a gallery so that they can pass notes or relevant documents to support the minister in answering a question.
  • When MPs are trying to gather data and information about government functioning, they prefer the responses to such queries in writing.
  • These questions are referred to as unstarred questions. The responses to these questions are placed on the table of Parliament.

Are the questions only for ministers?

  • MPs usually ask questions to hold ministers accountable. But the rules also provide them with a mechanism for asking their colleagues a question.
  • Such a question should be limited to the role of an MP relating to a Bill or a resolution being piloted by them or any other matter connected with the functioning of the House for which they are responsible.
  • If the presiding officer allows, MPs can also ask a question to a minister at a notice period shorter than 15 days.

Have there been previous sessions without Question Hour?

  • Parliamentary records show that during the Chinese aggression in 1962, the Winter Session was advanced.
  • The sitting of the House started at 12 pm and there was no Question Hour held. Before the session, changes were made limiting the number of questions.
  • Thereafter, following an agreement between the ruling and the Opposition parties, it was decided to suspend Question Hour.

Why did the government cancel the Question Hour?

  • The delay in holding the monsoon session due to consistent lockdowns has halted the passing of several bills and financial grants due to budgetary overlays.
  • The limited consultation with Opposition leaders, the dismissive approach to Question Hour without bearing better fruits is one of the decisive factors for the termination of this session.
  • The continued practice of pushing forward bills without committee scrutiny and the use of ordinances for issues that are not emergencies that require executive action all add to this impression.

Why is the Question Hour necessary?

  • The Question Hour has deepened the parliamentary accountability of government.
  • The Government is put on its trial during the Question Hour and every Minister whose turn it is to answer questions has to stand up and answer for his or his administration’s acts of omission and commission.
  • Through the Question Hour the Government is able to quickly feel the pulse of the nation and adapt its policies and actions accordingly.
  • It is through questions in the Parliament that the Government remains in touch with the people in as much as members are enabled thereby to ventilate the grievances of the public in matters concerning the administration.
  • Questions enable Ministries to gauge the popular reaction to their policy and administration.
  • Questions bring to the notice of the Ministers many loopholes which otherwise would have gone unnoticed.
  • Sometimes questions may lead to the appointment of a Commission, a Court of Inquiry or even Legislation when matters raised by Members are grave enough to agitate the public mind and are of wide public importance.

Though not enough productive

  • The Rajya Sabha’s research wing has pulled out statistics from the last five years which reveal that nearly 60% of the time allotted for the hour has been lost due to disruptions.
  • Between 2015-19, Rajya Sabha held a total of 332 sittings.
  • Out of the 332 hours available for Question Hour (one hour per sitting), only 133 hours and 17 minutes were spent raising questions and obtaining oral replies from the concerned Ministers.

Criticisms of the move

  • The move to hold parliament session with question hour seems to be guided by the view that Parliament is a forum transaction of government business.
  • The latest move downplays Parliament’s role as a platform for the people’s representatives to ask questions and the Opposition to hold the government to account.
  • Importance of zero hour and question has become very crucial at this juncture, as in in the name of controlling the Covid pandemic, the executive is appropriating more powers, So many guidelines, rules and regulations have been issued without the sanction of Parliament.
  • There has been greater tendency on the part of the Government to short circuit debate and deliberation.

Way forward

  • One can imagine innumerable ways in which proceedings in Parliament could be modified to reduce the necessity to touch surfaces and to maintain social distance.
  • The pressing need is for the parliamentarians and the ministers to re-configure themselves.
  • One of the recommendations made by Justice Chagla was that “in a parliamentary form of Government, Parliament should be taken into confidence by the Minister at every stage, and all the relevant materials must be placed before it.”
  • Hence there can be no way ahead without holding the very instruments of democratic functioning.

Conclusion

  • Asking questions is the very essence of democracy.  National parliaments do not dispense with questions even at the time of war.
  • Democracy is judged by the debate it encourages and sustains. The government in a democracy performs to honour its manifesto and the Opposition questions to underscore its own.
  • The questions are asked from civil society platforms, the mass media, community gatherings and ultimately within the highest temple of democracy, the legislature itself.
  • If questions are disallowed in Parliament, many more will be asked outside it. If the questions can lead to greater unity of national purpose, the government will do itself and the nation a great injustice by attempting to stifle them.
  • Cancelling Question Hour erodes constitutional mandate of parliamentary oversight over executive action. However, it is a test of time which will prove the efficacy of this decision in the coming future.

References

https://www.prsindia.org/media/articles-by-prs-team/expert-explains-what-are-question-hour-and-zero-hour-and-why-they-matter

https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/what-a-parliament-session-without-question-hour-would-mean

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/60-of-question-hour-lost-due-to-disruptions/article32515906.ece

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/parliament-session-coronavirus-question-hour-6582129/
https://www.livelaw.in/columns/importance-of-question-hour-in-a-parliamentary-democracy-162728
Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India’s GDP Contraction

India’s GDP for the period April to June 2020 has contracted by 23.9 percent. In other words, the total value of goods and services produced in India in April, May and June this year is 24% less than the total value of goods and services produced in India in the same three months last year.

What is worse is that, because of the widespread lockdowns, the data quality is sub-optimal and most observers expect this number to worsen when it is revised in due course.

India’s GDP numbers

Almost all the major indicators of growth in the economy — be it production of cement or consumption of steel — show deep contraction. Even total telephone subscribers saw a contraction in this quarter.

Chart 1: India’s GDP story since economic liberalization. Source: McKinsey and Express Research Group.

Chart 2: Percentage change in key indicators. Source: Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation

What contributes to India’s GDP?

GDP measures the monetary value of all goods and services produced within the domestic boundaries of a country within a timeframe (generally, a year).

In any economy, the total demand for goods and services — that is the GDP — is generated from one of the four engines of growth.

  1. The biggest engine is consumption demand from private individuals like us. Let’s call it C, and in the Indian economy, this accounted for 56.4% of all GDP before this quarter.
  2. The second-biggest engine is the demand generated by private sector businesses. Let’s call it I, and this accounted for 32% of all GDP in India.
  3. The third engine is the demand for goods and services generated by the government. Let’s call it G, and it accounted for 11% of India’s GDP.
  4. The last engine is the net demand for GDP after we subtract imports from India’s exports. Let’s call it NX. In India’s case, it is the smallest engine and, since India typically imports more than it exports, its effect is negative on the GDP.

So total GDP = C + I + G + NX

Tap to read more about:

National Income Determination, GDP, GNP, NDP, NNP, Personal Income

Now, look at Chart 4. It shows what has happened to each of the engines in Q1.

Chart 4: Engines of growth falter. Source: MoSPI and Express Research Group

Reasons for GDP contraction

The biggest engines, which accounted for over 88% of the Indian total GDP saw a massive contraction. They are as follows:

  1. Private consumption — the biggest engine driving the Indian economy — has fallen by 27%.
  2. Investments by businesses: The second biggest engine — investments by businesses — has fallen even harder — it is half of what it was last year same quarter.
  • Net export demand: The NX has turned positive in this Q1 because India’s imports have crashed more than its exports. While on paper, this provides a boost to overall GDP, it also points to an economy where economic activity has plummeted.
  • Govt. Expenditure: Data shows that the government’s expenditure went up by 16% but this was nowhere near enough to compensate for the loss of demand (power) in other sectors (engines) of the economy.

Issues with govt. expenditure

  • Even before the COVID crisis, government finances were overextended.
  • It was not only borrowing but borrowing more than what it should have. As a result, today it doesn’t have as much money.
  • It will have to think of some innovative solutions to generate resources. Chart 4 by McKinsey Global Institute provides ways in which an additional 3.5 per cent of the GDP can be raised by the government.

Why can’t the government just spend to revive growth?

  • First, in all likelihood, temporary incomes coupled with job/income uncertainty will induce precautionary savings without any impact on growth.
  • Second, the fiscal situation was weak even before the pandemic. With revenues having cratered, funding of additional expenditure is through higher borrowings.
  • Any incremental debt should be seen in the context of future investments being hampered due to current consumption.

Implications of GDP decline

  • With GDP contracting by more than what most observers expected, it is now believed that the full-year GDP could also worsen.
  • A fairly conservative estimate would be a contraction of 7% for the full financial year.
  • Chart 1 puts this in perspective. Since economic liberalisation in the early 1990s, Indian economy has clocked an average of 7% GDP growth each year. This year, it is likely to turn turtle and contract by 7%.
  • The worst affected were construction (–50%), trade, hotels and other services (–47%), manufacturing (–39%), and mining (–23%).
  • It is important to note that these are the sectors that create the maximum new jobs in the country.
  • In a scenario where each of these sectors is contracting so sharply — that is, their output and incomes are falling — it would lead to more and more people either losing jobs (decline in employment) or failing to get one (rise in unemployment).

Impact on Economy

The impact of an economic contraction on an average individual isn’t always in a direct way, like job losses or salary cuts. There are indirect ways as well. Let’s take a look at this pointwise.

  • Many companies are encouraging their employees to work from home. This has an impact on those working in the surrounding informal sector leading to a loss of economic activity.
  • If people cut down on consumption, it basically means they are spending less than before. This works in various ways. First, businesses, on the whole, see a fall in revenues and a fall in profits. Hence the employees are bound to be impacted.
  • Many businesses, in order to stay afloat, have fired employees. Some have cut salaries. Some others have rescinded on the job offers they made.
  • Even businesses that are on a strong wicket have given only bare-minimum increments to their employees this year.
  • Further, many big businesses have publicly announced that they are putting all their expansion plans on the backburner currently. If businesses don’t expand, then a fresh set of jobs don’t get created and hence expenditure.

Getting recovered: Way forward

Thinking beyond stimulus

To achieve a stipulated economic growth, the government needs to start addressing some of the traditional sore points such as the large infrastructure deficit, the weak financial sector, archaic land and labour laws, and the administrative and judicial hurdles.

  • It is easy to prescribe abandoning fiscal prudence or ‘printing money’ to fund spending. But the risk is high compared to the reward.
  • This sets the base for any kind of “stimulus” — it should be well-targeted and have a large multiplier effect.
  • Instead, they argue, that India needs to broaden its consumer base beyond the top 10- 20 per cent of the population to improve long-term growth prospects.
  • This cannot happen with regular doses of consumption stimulus but through creating steady and well-paid employment for the bottom and middle segments.

Bumpy road ahead

  • Firstly, in the months to come, private consumption will improve and so will investment as a result. But it will take a while for both consumption and investment to reach pre-COVID-19 levels.
  • With Covid-19 now spreading at the rate of more than 85,000 cases per day, it is no longer just an urban India phenomenon. As it spreads to semi-urban and rural India, it will impact consumption, though not in the same negative way as it did during total lockdowns.
  • To ease the pressure on consumption, banks have cut interest rates in the hope of people and businesses borrowing and spending more. People and businesses borrow and spend more when they are confident about their economic future. Right now, the confidence has to be instilled.
  • The government can reduce the GST burden. What it loses out in taxes per unit of sales, it will make up for in volume. The government, for its part, needs to step in and spend more, in the process create some economic activity.

Not letting a good crisis go to waste

  • To conclude, it is worth saying that if all problems had solutions, they wouldn’t be called problems in the first place.
  • The government being clearly tied on spending-more front, it can possibly push in more economic reforms at this point of time.
  • One area that clearly needs reform is the GST system, which instead of freeing up the Indian economy has acted in a negative way. Another area that clearly needs reform is India’s public health infrastructure.
  • While these reforms may not lead to immediate benefits they will work well for the economy in the longer-term, something which we shouldn’t miss out on with the current focus on Covid-19.
  • Beyond that, there isn’t much that the government can do. Also, it is worth remembering here that the Indian economy was already in trouble before the pandemic struck.

Conclusion

When incomes fall sharply, private individuals cut back consumption. When private consumption falls sharply, businesses stop investing. Since both of these are voluntary decisions, there is no way to force people to spend more and/or force businesses to invest more in the current scenario.

  • For achieving rapid growth at a sustainable rate, India needs the government to invest in raising the productive capacity of the economy. The government will have to strike a combination of the two policy approaches:
  • The first is the process of “Unlocking”. It has been observed that with the economy moving from the stage of a total lockdown to a gradual opening up of the windows has reflected in the macro-economic numbers such as the Index of Industrial Production (IIP).
  • The second factor which will play a role in the economy’s growth prospects in the coming months is the possibility of a revival package from the government. This can be a course changer for the growth trajectory.
  • To boost growth presently, there should ideally be some additional capital expenditure by the government which goes beyond what has been provided in the budget. By increasing capital expenditure, the government can begin a virtuous cycle of creating assets as well as providing employment.

 


References:

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/gdp-contraction-23-9-the-economics-behind-the-math-6578046/

https://www.deccanherald.com/business/economy-business/gdp-contraction-no-easy-solutions-but-a-chance-for-deep-economic-reforms-883234.html

https://www.newslaundry.com/2020/09/04/explained-how-will-indias-gdp-contraction-impact-you

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Fiscal Council in India: Certain solution in uncertain times

The impact of COVID-19 on the economy is devastating and the government is forced to opt to borrow for spending more in order to support vulnerable households and engineer economic recovery due to the after-effects of COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.

The BI highlights the need for bipartisan, independent Fiscal Council to report and analyse FRBM discrepancies and inaccurate fiscal projections.

COVID Times: Fiscal situation and its unpredictability

  • The fiscal deficit of the Centre in 2019-20 as estimated by the Controller General of Accounts (CGA) was 4.6%, 0.8 percentage point higher than the revised estimate.
  • For 2020-21, even without any additional fiscal stimulus, the deficit is estimated at about 7% of GDP as against 3.5% estimated in the Budget due to a sharp decline in revenues.
  • The consolidated deficit of the Union and States could be as high as 12% of GDP and the overall debt could go up to 85%.

What is the Fiscal Council?

  • A Fiscal Council is an independent fiscal institution (IFI) with a mandate to promote stable and sustainable public finances.
  • They aim to provide nonpartisan oversight of fiscal performance and/or advice and guidance — from either a positive or normative perspective — on key aspects of fiscal policy.
  • These institutions assist in calibrating sustainable fiscal policy by making an objective and scientific analysis.

Important tasks of these IFIs: 

  1. Independent analysis, review and monitoring and evaluating of government’s fiscal policies and programmes
  2. Developing or reviewing macroeconomic and/or budgetary projections
  3. Costing of budget and policy proposals and programmes
  4. Presenting policymakers with alternative policy options

Voices for a Fiscal Council

  • The 13th Finance Commission recommended that a committee be appointed by the Ministry of Finance which should eventually transform itself into a Fiscal Council.
  • The FC expected it to conduct an annual independent public review of FRBM compliance, including a review of the fiscal impact of policy decisions.
  • The FRBM Review Committee too made a similar recommendation underlining the need for an independent review by the Finance Ministry appointing the Council.

Tap to read more about the FRBM Act:

Explained: Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act

Why need a fiscal council?

(1) Burgeoning deficits

  • For the current year, even without any additional fiscal stimulus, the deficit is estimated at about 7% of GDP as against 3.5% estimated in the Budget due to a sharp decline in revenues.
  • The consolidated deficit of the Union and States could be as high as 12% of GDP and the overall debt could go up to 85%.
  • Thus, it is necessary that the government must return to a credible fiscal consolidation path once the crisis gets over.

(2) Transparency issues

  • Besides large deficits and debt, there are questions of comprehensiveness, transparency and accountability in the Budgets.
  • The practice of repeated postponement of targets, timely non-settlement of bill payments and off Budget financing to show lower deficits has been common.
  • The report of the CAG of India in 2018 has highlighted various advances done to keep the liabilities hidden.

(3) Fiscal discipline

  • Many economists have faulted the government’s fiscal stance, arguing that this is no time for restraint; the government should spend more to stimulate the economy by borrowing as may be necessary.
  • In 2017, the N.K. Singh committee on the review of fiscal rules set up by the finance ministry suggested the creation of an independent fiscal council that would provide forecasts and advise the government on whether conditions exist for deviation from the mandated fiscal rules.
  • Also in 2018, the D.K. Srivastava committee on fiscal statistics established by the National Statistical Commission (NSC) also suggested the establishment of a fiscal council.

Fiscal Council can be a game-changer. How?

  • Watchdog of public finance: An unbiased fiscal scrutiny will help raise the level of debate and brings in greater transparency and accountability.
  • Highlights populist measures: Accurate costing of various policies and programmes can help to promote transparency over the political cycle to discourage populist shifts in fiscal policy and improve accountability.
  • Public awareness: Scientific estimates of the cost of programmes and assessment of forecasts could help in raising public awareness about their fiscal implications and make people understand the budget.
  • Rule of law maintenance: The Council will work as a conscience keeper in monitoring rule-based policies, and in raising awareness and the level of debate within and outside Parliament.

Challenges meddling between

1) Lack of Political Will

  • Back in 2003 when FRBM was enshrined into law, it was thought of as the magic cure for fiscal ills.
  • The FRBM enjoins the government to conform to pre-set fiscal targets, and in the event of failure to do so, to explain the reasons for deviation
  • The government is also required to submit to Parliament a ‘Fiscal Policy Strategy Statement’ (FPSS) to demonstrate the credibility of its fiscal stance
  • However, there is a lack of in-depth discussion in Parliament on fiscal stance and the submission of the FPSS often passes off without even much notice.

2) Adding up more to the accountability of the Govt.

  • Fiscal council will give macroeconomic forecasts which the Finance Ministry is expected to use for the budget, and if the Ministry decides to differ from those estimates, it is required to explain why it has differed.
  • Besides, forcing the Finance Ministry to use someone else’s estimates will dilute its accountability.
  • If the estimates go wrong, the Finance Ministry will simply shift the blame to the fiscal council.

3) Fiscal Bias

  • Governments that are unsure of being re-elected may ignore the long-term consequences of fiscal deficits and use generous fiscal policy to increase their chances of re-election.
  • This may be possible because voters tend to see the short term benefits they can gain from a reduction in taxes and an increase in public spending but are not always fully aware of the possible long-term costs of this.
  • This may explain why unsustainable deficits are not systematically punished by voters

4) Duplication of Work

  • As of now, both the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and RBI give forecasts of growth and other macroeconomic variables, questions will be raised about the need for Fiscal Council’s projections
  • Another argument made in support of a fiscal council is that it will act as watchdog & prevent the government from gaming the fiscal rules through creative accounting.
  • However, there is already an institutional mechanism in form of CAG to do the job of auditing & fiscal watchdog of government spending.

Way forward

  • When the markets fail, governments have to intervene. Whenever governments seem obstructed, it is here that we need systems and institutions to ensure checks and balances.
  • In that respect, a Fiscal Council is an important institution needed to complement the rule-based fiscal policy.

Alternatives to the situation

  • We can expect the CAG to scrutinize the budget after it is presented to Parliament for its fiscal stance and the integrity of the numbers, and give out a public report.
  • The CAG’s office will provide the secretarial and logistic support to the committee from within its resources.

Global examples

  • The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is a non-departmental public body funded by the UK Treasury, that the UK government established to provide independent economic forecasts and independent analysis of the public finances.
  • We can have a similar official watchdog at our behest!

Conclusion

  • Of course, a fiscal council is not a ‘silver bullet’; if there is no political will, the institution would be less effective, and if there is political will, there is no need for such an institution.
  • That is also true of the FRBM Act. While we cannot state that the FRBM Act has been an unqualified success, it has also not been an abject failure either.

 

 


References

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/india-does-need-a-fiscal-council/article32432565.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/do-we-need-a-fiscal-council/article32046204.ece

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

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Free Speech Vs. Contempt of Court

Power of judiciary lies neither in deciding cases, nor in imposing sentences, nor in giving punishment for its contempt, but in the trust, confidence and faith of the general public. Criticism is important for it helps to give us a new perspective and opens our eyes to things we may have overlooked or never considered.

But where do we draw the line between Contempt and criticism? Contempt of court is back in the news. This follows the initiation and conviction of contempt proceedings against a veteran advocate-activist by the Supreme Court of India, on its own motion.

What is Contempt of Court?

  • Contempt of court, often referred to simply as “contempt”, is the offence of being disobedient to or disrespectful toward a court of law and its officers in the form of behaviour that opposes or defies the authority, justice and dignity of the court.

History behind ‘Contempt’

  • The concept of contempt of court is several centuries old.
  • In England, it is a common law principle that seeks to protect the judicial power of the king, initially exercised by him, and later by a panel of judges who acted in his name.
  • Violation of the judges’ orders was considered an affront to the king himself.
  • Over time, any kind of disobedience to judges, or obstruction of the implementation of their directives, or comments and actions that showed disrespect towards them came to be punishable.

Entry into our legal books

  • There were pre-Independence laws of contempt in India. Besides the early High Courts, the courts of some princely states also had such laws.
  • When the Constitution was adopted, contempt of court was made one of the restrictions on freedom of speech and expression.
  • Separately, Article 129 of the Constitution conferred on the Supreme Court the power to punish for its contempt.
  • Article 215 conferred a corresponding power on the High Courts.
  • The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, gives statutory backing to the idea.

What are the types of Contempt?

In India contempt of court is of two types under the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971:

  • Civil contempt: Under Section 2(b), civil contempt has been defined as willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or another process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
  • Criminal contempt: Under Section 2(c), criminal contempt has been defined as the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:
    1. Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or
    2. Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or
    3. Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

WAIT, What accounts for the scandalizing of the Judiciary?

  • Making allegations against the judiciary or individual judges, attributing motives to judgments and judicial functioning and any scurrilous attack on the conduct of judges are normally considered matters that scandalise the judiciary.

What is not contempt of court?

  • Fair and accurate reporting of judicial proceedings will not amount to contempt of court.
  • Nor is any fair criticism on the merits of a judicial order after a case is heard and disposed of.
  • The Contempt Act was amended in 2006 to introduce truth as a valid defence if it was in the public interest and was invoked in a bonafide.

Since we are done with what is not contempt, let us look at what constitutes contempt.

Necessary ingredients for Contempt of Court in India

1) Interference with Administration of Justice

  • In Brahma Prakash Sharma v State of UP, the Supreme Court had held that in order to constitute the offence of Contempt of Court, it was not necessary to specifically prove that an actual interference with the administration of justice has been committed.
  • The Court held that it was enough if a defamatory statement is likely or in any way tends to interfere with the proper administration of justice.

2) Scandalizing the Court 

  • In the case of PN Dua v Shiv Shankar and others, the Supreme Court held that mere criticism of the Court does not amount to contempt of Court.
  • The Court observed that in a free marketplace of ideas, criticisms about the judicial system or Judges should be welcomed, so long as such criticisms do not hamper the administration of justice.
  • In the case of Baradanath Mishra v, the Registrar of Orissa High Court the court held that a common form of such contempt is the vilification (personal abuse) of the judges.

3) Interference with due course of Justice

  • In Pritam Lal v. High Court of M.P the Supreme Court held that to preserve the proceedings of the Courts from interference and to keep the streams of justice pure, it becomes the duty of the Court, to punish the contemner in order to preserve its dignity.
  • No one can claim immunity from the law of contempt if his act or conduct in relation to Court interferes or obstructs the due course of justice.

Issues with the Contempt

Contempt is not just associated with judiciary, we have heard or read about journalist or cartoonist arrested for contempt of parliament. Now in general, Use of contempt power has the following issues:

1) Curb on Civil Liberties

  • A law for criminal contempt gets in conflict with India’s democratic system which recognises freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right.
  • In this manner, the judiciary draws resemblance with the executive, in using laws for a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
  • Former Justice of Supreme Court, V.R. Krishna Iyer, famously termed the law of contempt as “having a vague and wandering jurisdiction, with uncertain boundaries; contempt law, regardless of the public good, may unwittingly trample upon civil liberties”.

2) Ambiguity of the concept

  • The definition of criminal contempt in India is extremely wide and can be easily invoked.
  • Also, suo motu powers of the Court to initiate such proceedings only serve to complicate matters.
  • Further, the Contempt of Courts Act was amended in 2006, to add truth and good faith as valid defences for contempt, but they are seldom entertained by the judiciary.

3) Fair criticism is justified

  • In S.Mugolkar v. Unknown (1978), the Supreme Court held that the judiciary cannot be immune from fair criticism.
  • It held that contempt action is to be used only when an obvious misstatement with malicious intent seeks to bring down public confidence in the courts or seeks to influence the courts.

4) Obsolete ideology

  • The punishment for contempt could procure submission but not respect for the judicial institution.
  • Already, contempt has practically become obsolete in foreign democracies, with jurisdictions recognising that it is an archaic law.
  • For example, England abolished the offence of “scandalizing the court” in 2013. Canada ties its test for contempt to real, substantial and immediate dangers to the administration. American courts also no longer use the law of contempt in response to comments on judges or legal matters.

 

Need for the Contempt provisions: Arguments in favour

https://d18x2uyjeekruj.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/cont.jpg

1) Upholding the constitution

  • The powers of contempt of the Supreme Court and High Courts are independent of the Act 1971, that is, drawn from the Constitution.
  • So to delete the provision relating to ‘criminal contempt’ particularly ‘scandalizing of courts’ will have no impact on the power of the Superior Courts to punish for contempt in view of their inherent constitutional powers, as these powers are independent of statutory provisions.

2) Ensuring Safeguards for Judiciary

  • The Judiciary is the guardian of rule of law in India and it needs to be made sure that it is protected with all kinds of problems that do or might hamper the fluent administration of justice.
  • The provision of powers to punish for contempt is significant for ensuring such respect of the Judiciary. Such kind of power is necessary to prevent interference with the course of justice and the authority of the court.

3) Protecting public faith in Judiciary

  • Amendment in the definition of contempt may reduce the overall impact of the law and lessen the respect that people have for courts and their authority and functioning.
  • Also by abolishing the offence in India would leave a legislative gap.

4) Impact on Subordinate Courts

  • The Constitution allows superior courts to punish for their contempt. The Contempt of Court Act additionally allows the High Court to punish for contempt of subordinate courts.
  • Thus, if the definition of contempt is removed, subordinate courts will suffer as there will be no remedy to address cases of their contempt.

5) Fair criticism is not contempt

  • The 1971 Act contains adequate safeguards to exclude instances which may not amount to criminal contempt” as defined under Section 2(c) of the Act 1971.
  • It means that not all cases of contempt are considered.

“Let me say at once that we will never use this jurisdiction as a means to uphold our own dignity. That must rest on surer foundations. Nor will we use it to suppress those who speak against us. We do not fear criticism, nor do we resent it. For there is something far more important at stake. It is no less than freedom of speech itself.”

– Lord Denning

Way forward

  • The Law Commission has held that there is a need to retain the provision regarding the contempt of courts. However, it also recommended the definition of contempt should be restricted to civil contempt, i.e., willful disobedience of judgments of the court.
  • The contempt of court should not be allowed to be used as a means to prevent criticisms.
  • In recent times, it is more important that courts are seen to be concerned about accountability, that allegations are done by impartial probes rather than threats of the contempt action, and processes are transparent.
  • If the contempt has to continue, a review mechanism within the judiciary should be there as a safeguard against judicial tyranny.

In an era in which social media are full of critics, commentators and observers who deem it necessary to air their views in many unrestrained and uninhibited ways, the higher judiciary should not really be spending its time and energy invoking its power to punish for contempt of itself.

Conclusion

  • Globalized human society as a singular entity and individual societies are moving towards the consensus of a world where an individual has greater autonomy, rights and dignity.
  • Healthy and constructive criticisms are the necessary features for the development of democracy.
  • In this perspective focus should be given precedence over ‘dignity of court’, but not blindly.
  • In this backdrop, there is a need to revisit the need for a law on criminal contempt, where India can learn from Britain which abolished the offence of scandalizing the judiciary as a form of contempt of court in 2013 based on the fact that the law was vague and not compatible with freedom of speech.

Also read:

Office of the Attorney General and its role in contempt cases


References

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-chilling-effect-of-criminal-contempt/article32198138.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/the-hindu-explains-what-is-contempt-of-court/article32249810.ece

https://www.prsindia.org/report-summaries/review-contempt-courts-act-1971

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1311828

https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-contempt-of-court-respect-constitution-power

http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-2638-contempt-of-court-a-comprehensive-analysis.html

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/scandalising-as-contempt-the-hindu-editorial-on-proceedings-against-prashant-bhushan/article32198126.ece

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy, 2020

The realities of International relations has ensured that the importance of hard power never diminishes. From China to USA, military power has time and again seen research, innovations and reforms. It is true if India wants to see itself as a hard power then innovation is the keyword. More precisely, indigenous production!  

In order to provide impetus to self-reliance in defence manufacturing, multiple announcements were made under ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Package’. The next step is a draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy 2020 (DPEPP 2020) formulated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

With this edition of Burning Issues, let us look more closely into this policy, some challenges and solutions.

History bears testimony to the fact that all nations with a strong military-industrial complex had a strong military force, resulting in a strong and vibrant foreign policy to stand comfortably amongst the comity of nations.

Why the fuss about Indigenization?

1) Reducing import dependence

  • India was the world’s second-largest arms importer from 2014-18, ceding the long-held tag as the largest importer to Saudi Arabia, which accounted for 12% of the total imports during the period, says 2019 SIPRI report.
  • Pakistan stood at the 11th position, accounting for 2.7% of all global imports.
  • Such higher import dependency leads to increase in the fiscal deficit.

2) Security Imperative

  • Indigenization in defence is critical to national security also. It keeps intact the technological expertise and encourages spin-off technologies and innovation that often stem from it.
  • Indigenization is needed in order to avert the threats associated with the frequent ceasefire violations like that of the Uri, Pathankot and Pulwama attacks.
  • India is surrounded by porous borders and hostile neighbours need to be self-sufficient and self-reliant in defence production.

3) Economic boost

  • Indigenization in defence can help create a large industry which also includes small manufacturers.
  • Example: USA has a strong defence industry with cmpanies like Lockheed martin contributing to economic growth as well.

4) Employment generation

  • Defence manufacturing will lead to the generation of satellites industries that in turn will pave the way for a generation of employment opportunities.
  • As per government estimates, a reduction in 20-25% in defence-related imports could directly create an additional 100,000 to 120,000 highly skilled jobs in India.

It was the military industrial set-up of Germany that enabled it to launch its offensive practically against the entire western world both in World War I and World War II.

Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy, 2020

The DPEPP 2020 is envisaged as overarching guiding document of MoD to provide a focused, structured and significant thrust to defence production capabilities of the country for self-reliance and exports.

The policy has laid out the following goals and objectives:

  1. To achieve a turnover of Rs 1,75,000 Crores (US$ 25Bn) including export of Rs 35,000 Crore (US$ 5 Billion) in Aerospace and Defence goods and services by 2025.
  2. To develop a dynamic, robust and competitive Defence industry, including Aerospace and Naval Shipbuilding industry to cater to the needs of Armed forces with quality products.
  3. To reduce dependence on imports and take forward “Make in India” initiatives through domestic design and development.
  4. To promote the export of defence products and become part of the global defence value chains.
  5. To create an environment that encourages R&D rewards innovation creates Indian IP ownership and promotes a robust and self-reliant defence industry.

The Policy brings out multiple strategies under the following focus areas:

  1. Procurement Reforms
  2. Indigenization & Support to MSMEs/Startups
  3. Optimize Resource Allocation
  4. Investment Promotion, FDI & Ease of Doing Business
  5. Innovation and R&D
  6. DPSUs and OFB
  7. Quality Assurance & Testing Infrastructure
  8. Export Promotion

Outlined strategies:

1) Procurement Reforms

  • A Project Management Unit (PMU) will be set up for the development and production of technologies involved, life cycle costs and maintenance requirements of platforms, equipment and weapon systems.
  • It also aims to move away from licensed production to design, develop and produce indigenously.
  • It also aims to own the design rights and IP of the systems projected in the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) and a Technology Assessment Cell (TAC) would be created.
  • The TAC would also assess the industrial capability for design, development and production, including re-engineering for production of major systems such as armoured vehicles, submarines, fighter aircraft, helicopters and radars with the major industries in the country.

2) Indigenization And Support to MSMEs/Startups

  • The indigenization policy aims to create an industry ecosystem to indigenise the imported components (including alloys and special materials) and sub-assemblies for defence equipment and platforms manufactured in India. 5,000 such items are proposed to be indigenised by 2025.
  • More than 50 startups are currently developing new ‘fit-for-military-use’ technologies/products.

3) Optimize Resource Allocation

  • The share of domestic procurement in overall Defence procurement is about 60%.
  • To enhance procurement from domestic industry, the procurement needs to be doubled from the current Rs. 70,000 crore to Rs. 1,40,000 crore by 2025.

4) Investment Promotion and Ease of Doing Business

  • India is already a large aerospace market with rising passenger traffic and increasing military expenditure, as a result of which the demand for aircraft (fixed and rotary wings) is rising.
  • The opportunities in the aerospace industry have been identified in the following segments – aircraft build work, aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO), helicopters, engine manufacturing and MRO work, line replaceable units, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and upgrades and retrofits.
  • The improvement in market size, demographic dividend and availability of diverse skill sets are evident from India’s ranking in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ (EoDB) report.
  • The investments in the defence sector need to regularly sustain the steady supply of orders.

5) Innovation and R&D

  • Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) has been operationalised to provide necessary incubation and infrastructure support to the startups in the defence area.
  • iDEX would be further scaled up to engage with 300 more startups and develop 60 new technologies/products during the next five years.
  • Mission Raksha Gyan Shakti was launched to promote a greater culture of innovation and technology development and file a higher number of patents in Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). It would be scaled up for promoting the creation of Intellectual Property in the sector and its commercial utilization.

6) FDI limit increased to 74% by automatic route

  • The liberalisation of FDI in defence manufacturing, raising the limit under the automatic route to 74%, has opened the door to more joint ventures of foreign and Indian companies for defence manufacturing in India.
  • It would also sustain domestic industrial activity in the research, design and manufacture of systems and sub-systems.

Challenges in indigenous manufacturing

India has its own set of inherent issues when it comes to indigenous manufacturing:

1) Excess reliance on Public Sector

  • India has four companies (Indian ordnance factories, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL)) among the top 100 biggest arms producers of the world.
  • All four of these companies are public sector enterprises and account for the bulk of the domestic armament demand.
  • Governments usually have tended to privilege Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) over the private sector, despite ‘Make in India’.

2) Policy delays

  • In the past few years, the government has approved over 200 defence acquisition proposals with the transfer of technology provision, valued around Rs 4 trillion, but most are still in relatively early stages of processing.

3) Lack of Critical Technologies

  • Poor design capability in critical technologies, inadequate investment in R&D and the inability to manufacture major subsystems and components hamper the indigenous manufacturing.
  • The relationship between the R&D establishment, production agencies (public or private) and the end-user are extremely weak.

4) Low advantage due to long gestation

  • The creation of a manufacturing base is capital and technology-intensive and has a long gestation period. For a factory to reach optimum levels of capacity utilization, it could take anywhere five to 10 to even 15 years to commence production.
  • By that time newer technologies make products outdated and unable to match with what the enemy may have acquired.

5) ‘Unease’ in doing business

  • An issue related to stringent labour laws, compliance burden and lack of skills, affects the development of indigenous manufacturing in defence.
  • Overlapping jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Industrial Promotion impair India’s capability of defence manufacturing. Due to this, India hasn’t been able to attract decent FDI in defence.

6) Lack of quality

  • The higher indigenization in few cases is largely attributed to the low-end technology.
  • Historically, India has been availing of technology through licence agreements from Russia and a smattering of Western countries.
  • For modern production, none of the entities has granted India the ToT owning to quality standards.
  • For example, Dassault had reportedly expressed its lack of confidence in the manufacturing quality of the HAL when the defence deal was being negotiated.

7) FDI Policy

  • The original equipment manufacturers for setting up a business in India in partnership with public/private players want to have a major say in the management of manufacturing.
  • The earlier FDI limit of 49% was not enough to enthuse global manufacturing houses to set up bases in India.
  • Countries such as China and South Korea on the other hand, have become major manufacturing hubs in aeronautics and shipbuilding technology by being very liberal in their FDI policy.

8) Lower R&D Allocation

  • Besides the FDI policy, inadequate investment in R&D and lip service to technology funding by making token allocations is an adequate commentary on our lack of seriousness in the area of Research and Development.
  • The allocation to DRDO remains sticky – around 6% of defence expenditure through successive parliamentary committees have recommended a minimum allocation of ten per cent.
  • Private sector giants such as the Tata, L&T and Mahindra and Mahindra invest less than one per cent of their turnover in R&D unlike in countries such as France where corporate organisations invest more than ten per cent

9) Lack of skills

  • The second challenge is around talent available for the industry. The current sources of supply of talent are largely from the defence PSUs and user services.
  • Neither are they adequate in quantity nor in terms of skills and quality when evaluated from a perspective of the magnitude of demand arising from the need to build a robust homegrown industry.
  • There is a lack of engineering and research capability in our institutions. It again leads us back to the need for a stronger industry-academia interface.

Along with the policy, what else can be done?

1) Proper implementation of the policy framework

  • A long-term integrated perspective plan of the requirements of the armed forces should give the industry a clear picture of future requirements.
  • The real deal here is implementation and in future promoting forward-looking strategic partnerships between Indian and foreign companies, with a view to achieving indigenization over a period of time for even sophisticated platforms.

2) Boosting MSMEs

  • There is visible incentivisation of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) in many spheres.
  • Their energetic response to the government’s initiatives is seen in their setting up of a Defence Innovators and Industry Association.
  • This bodes well for the future since MSMEs, which are the Tier-II and -III suppliers, are the crucibles of innovation and the true determinants of indigenization.

3) PSUs overhaul

  • The Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) need to revamp their organisational structure.
  • They must unload their bureaucratic burden, cut the red tape and take a leap towards becoming result-oriented, professional organisations.

4) Mandatory Transfer of Technology for Subsystems

  • It is imperative that when India imports any weapon systems, there should be a plan for the ammunition and spares to be eventually manufactured in India so that we are not driven to seek urgent replenishments from abroad during crises.
  • The same goes for repair, maintenance and overhaul facilities for the upgrading of the weapons platforms.

5) 100% indigenization should be the aim

  • There is also thinking within the establishment that ‘Make in India’ means every system is completely built in India.
  • Even a fighter plane like Rafale or Gripen has equipment and systems, which are made outside the country of its origin.
  • India cannot attempt to make them, but that effort should be separated from the main policy which should be looked at from a practical point of view.
  • As and when things materialise, the indigenous sub-system should be added.

A note for private players

  • The private companies will have to acknowledge that they cannot get everything on a platter. They should not limit Make in India to just assembling or manufacturing through tie-ups with foreign players.
  • The private sector will have to invest money in research and stay put for the long haul. As for the government, it must handhold these companies and give them the required support.

 

Conclusion

The government has rightly clarified that self-reliance would not be taken to overzealous extremes. The thrust for indigenous research and development will coexist with the import of cutting-edge military technologies to obviate near-term defence vulnerabilities.

There is still a huge amount of work left.

With the new DPP in place, one hopes that it empowers the procurement process to become election-proof — national security cannot be held hostage to ineffective functioning of personnel who constitute the MoD and the political system.

 


References:

https://www.makeinindiadefence.gov.in/admin/webroot/writereaddata/upload/recentactivity/Draft_DPEPP_03.08.2020.pdf

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/grasping-the-defence-self-reliance-nettle/article31635965.ece?homepage=true

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Defence-preparedness-the-way-forward/article14244118.ece

http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/make-in-india-challenges-before-defence-manufacturing/

https://www.theweek.in/theweek/current/2019/05/25/how-make-in-india-in-defence-sector-is-still-an-unfulfilled-dream.html

https://www.financialexpress.com/defence/recent-reforms-in-the-indian-defence-sector/1977971/

Categories
Burning Issues

Best Practices under Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP)

The Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP) was launched in January 2018 with the vision that renewed focus on interventions in the most backward districts of India. Anchored by NITI Aayog, the programme rests on the three pillars:

  • Convergence (of Central and State Schemes)
  • Collaboration (between Centre, State, District and Citizens)
  • Competition (among the districts through NITI Aayog’s Champions of Change dashboard)

This edition of Burning Issues focuses on Best Practices that have been compiled by the Aspirational Districts Programme team of NITI Aayog under various areas of focus that include-

In the cut-throat competition of civil services, each mark counts. “How can I make my answers different from the lot?”  is every aspirant’s constant worry. One way to do so is by quoting EXAMPLES in your answer. So, scroll down and find a list of contemporary best practices in various social sectors. Use these practices as examples in your mains papers to get that extra edge.

 

[I] HEALTH AND NUTRITION

 

1) Arogya Kunji (Chatra Dist. Jharkhand)

Arogya Kunji initiative is an endeavor to ensure accessibility and availability of healthcare facilities in the district. It aims to extend the outreach and efficacy of timely medical aid and healthcare services in rural areas of this district through medical kits.

2) Centralised Kitchens for Better Nutrition (Nandurbar Dist. Maharashtra) 

In order to tackle deep-rooted problems of Malnourishment and Anaemia in the tribal-dominated district, the District Administration has established a Centralised Kitchen to provide hot and nutritious meals to children in residential schools, also known as Ashram Shalas.

3) Model Anganwadi Centres (Ramgarh Dist. Jharkhand)

The District Administration has established Model Anganwadi Centres across blocks to encourage best practices in management and improve learning outcomes.

These Anganwadis host regular outreach and awareness campaigns in the community to promote better health and hygiene, such as VHSNDs (Village, Health, Sanitation & Nutrition Days) that have been benefiting families across blocks. The Model Anganwadis include an upgraded in-house kitchen where nutritious meals are prepared for children to ensure a balanced diet.

4) ‘Hamar Swasthya’ App (Rajnandangaon in Chhattisgarh)

It helps for early detection of Non-Communicable diseases (NCDs) and registers the medical record of patients so that doctors and health workers have access to the medical history of patients and initiate timely treatment and subsequent follow-ups.

5) Hostels for pregnant tribal women (Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh)

The District Administration has constructed Hostels for pregnant women of these villages. All the frontline workers including ASHAs and Anganwadis are creating awareness among the villagers about these Hostels. Pregnant women are brought to the Hostel one month prior to the Expected Delivery Date (EDD). There, they are provided with home-like care and support along with nutritional food and intensive medical care, under the close observation of gynaecologists.

6) Kanya Taru Yojana (Hailakandi in Assam)

For encouraging Hospital Delivery parents of girl children born in any of the Government Hospitals are gifted with 5 saplings (Coconut, Litchi, Assam Lemon, Guava & Amla).

Parents are asked to take care of the saplings like their daughters. The fruits of the trees can be used to feed the child to develop her immunity through Vitamin C in Amla, fight malnutrition by Coconut and the profits earned from the sales could be redirected to investing in the girl’s education and improving green cover of the district.

[II] EDUCATION

 

1) Aakar Residential School for differently-abled (Sukma in Chhattisgarh)

To ensure inclusion of differently-abled students and to reduce their dropout rates, the District has started Aakar Residential School. The School undertakes other special activities catering to the overall need of these children including therapies for their cognitive development.

2) Bal Sansad (Shrawasti and Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh)

Bal Sansad has been established in more than 3,200 schools across the District of Shrawasti in Uttar Pradesh. It provides a platform to young students to express their views on various issues like family, school, society, good values among other things. Students are not only informed about their rights as a citizen but also encouraged to speak freely about them.

3) BALA- Building as Learning Aid (Shrawasti in Uttar Pradesh)

It is an innovative concept for teaching through child-friendly, learning and fun-based physical environment by building new infrastructure or refurbishing the existing School and Anganwadi buildings. The concept was originally developed by Vinyas, Centre for Agricultural Research and Design with the support of UNICEF. BALA includes the development of the entire physical environment of the School – indoor, outdoor and semi-open spaces.

4) Project Second Innings (Dahod in Gujarat)

Project Second Innings was launched by the District Administration to increase attendance of students in schools and their learning outcomes. Retired teachers voluntarily sign-up for teaching primary and upper primary classes in various subjects including languages and Mathematics.

5) Shiksha Saarthi Yojna (Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh)

Shortage of teachers in schools of rural areas is a major reason for poor learning outcomes. The main reason for the shortage is that teachers from urban areas are unwilling to move to rural areas due to lack of infrastructural facilities. To address this issue and ensure the availability of teachers in primary schools, Shiksha Saarthi Yojna was launched.

After the appointment of Shiksha Saarthis, student enrolments, attendance and proficiency level in all subjects have risen.

[III] AGRICULTURE AND WATER RESOURCES

 

1) Agriculture Entrepreneur Scheme (Ramgarh in Jharkhand)

It is a promising example of coordination between District Administration, CSOs and local citizens to develop a sustainable and scalable model of Agricultural development. The scheme involves imparting training to selected ‘Agri-Entrepreneurs’ for the incorporation of best practices in farming for a cost-effective and profitable model of Agricultural development.

2) Horticulture Price Agreement Initiative (Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh)

To make farming a profitable venture, this initiative was launched. The initiative has forward and backward linkages and guarantees procurement at maximum price & partnership in local microprocessing units for farmers, while generating employment for the local youth. The target groups in this Scheme are small and marginal farmers, families with female heads, families with specially challenged people as head of the family and farmers of deprived castes.

3) Sarvajal Project (Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand)

The project involves the installation of customised and decentralized drinking water solutions.

It leverages technology to bring community-level safe drinking water to the underserved. The solar-powered, cloud-connected water dispensing kiosks installed under the project have enabled citizens residing in remote areas, accessibility to clean palatable water.

4) ‘Taanka’ technique for rainwater harvesting and water conservation (Sonbhadra in Uttar Pradesh)

Taankas are underground rainwater storage tanks up to the capacity of 25,000 litres. This initiative follows the standard rainwater harvesting technique wherein rainwater from rooftops is collected through gutters and then made to pass through a sieve before being stored. Use of taankas has helped the district save enough water for lean summer months when the water demand is at its peak and supply invariably falls short.

[IV] FINANCIAL INCLUSION AND SKILL DEVELOPMENT

 

1) Solar MAMAs (Gumla in Jharkhand)

In the remote district, few hamlets have not yet been electrified due to scattered settlements, difficult topography and challenges of inaccessibility. To mitigate this challenge, the District Administration had organised local women in SHGs and trained them with skills needed for fabrication of solar panels, lights and photovoltaic circuits. These women are fondly addressed as Solar Mamas.

2) Khawa cluster concept (Osmanabad in Maharashtra)

In order to keep themselves afloat during severe droughts, farmers, within a Khawa cluster have come together, as an alternative to selling only milk. Khoya or Khawa (reduced dry milk) as a product has more demand and shelf life than milk and every farmer makes a profit for every litre. Farmers have organised themselves in cooperatives and are pooling their cattle for making Khawa (milk solids) from their daily milk production.

[V] BASIC INFRASTRUCTURE

 

1) Green technologies in Road Construction (Goalpara in Assam)

Depleting natural resources and closure of stone quarries had gravely hampered the progress of all-weather road construction. Despite this challenge, in order to provide all-weather connectivity to citizens, the district adopted various Green technologies for the construction of roads. Through this measure, apart from reducing dependence on natural resources and recycling waste plastic, the district has also been able to bring down the cost of construction and maintenance.

The technologies deployed by the district for construction of roads are-  Waste Plastic Technology, Cell Filled Concrete Technology, Geogrid Technology (Tenax 3D Grids), Cold Mix Technology and Interlocking Concrete Pavement Block (ICBP).

2) ‘Liter of Light’ Portable Lights (Ranchi in Jharkhand)

Here, women of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) are being trained to lighten the lives of villagers in the district by producing portable room lights, designed and developed by the students of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai.

Recycled plastic bottles filled with water and a bit of bleach are fitted into the roof to provide lighting during the day, while at night, the same is upgraded with an LED bulb, micro-solar panels and a battery to provide a low-cost night lighting system.

3) Patsendri: A model colony under PMAY (Mahasamund in Chhattisgarh)

A Model Colony has been developed under the PM Awas Yojana (PMAY), with convergence between various physical work-related schemes and social sector schemes. Further expanding on this initiative, the District Administration has initiated convergence of various social sector schemes in Patsendri, and created a self-sustainable model for capacity building, employment generation, development & positive use of social capital, with a focus on the Patsendri Community.

Firstly, the convergence of schemes has led to the development of a Model Colony, wherein the houses, community hall, drainage, CC road have been built under PMAY, toilets are built under NREGA, electricity connection is provided under the Saubhagya Yojana, transformers, poles, etc. are provided under the Mukhya Mantri Majra-Tola Vidyutikaran Yojana, & water supply is provided under the Nal-Jal Yojana by the Public Health Department.

4) Swajal Water Testing (Barpeta, Assam)

The greatest threat to public health from Arsenic originates from contaminated groundwater. High levels of inorganic Arsenic is naturally present in the groundwater of the Aspirational District of Barpeta in Assam. Contaminated water used for the purpose of food preparation and drinking poses a great threat to the public. With community ownership and through participative planning, villagers, especially women in Barpeta, were sensitized about safe water practices and trained to use Field Testing Kits to ascertain the quality of drinking water.

[VI] GOVERNANCE

 

1) BDO Scorecards (Hazaribagh in Jharkhand)

To motivate the Block Development Officers (BDOs) who are the true foot soldiers of rural development in our country, here the District Administration has taken a first-of-its-kind initiative by devising a ‘BDO Scorecard’ to assess the performance of the BDOs in a transparent manner while taking into account the officers’ self-assessment.

Civil Servants are the first point of contact for citizens with the Government, and a motivated civil service is the best instrument to achieve outcomes desired by the State and society.

2) Lok Sewak App (Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh)

This district has established a new dimension in the direction of good governance by using the Lok Sewak App; an e-attendance and field monitoring tool that uses Geo-tagging technology. Through this App, the district has ensured the presence of Government officials at workplace thereby leading to significant improvement in the quantum and quality of work and facilitating their accessibility to the public.

The App has also ensured the availability of ASHA, Anganwadi workers, teachers and other key frontline workers involved in the implementation of various programmes.

3) Infrastructure Snapshot App (Goalpara in Assam)

Infrastructure Snapshot App, an innovative Android-based mobile application is a one-of-its-kind application developed specifically for the monitoring of Public Institutions like Government Offices, Schools, Health Centres and effective implementation of Government Schemes.

The App has smart features like GPS location-based service to capture current location in both online and offline modes with data sync facility, filing grievances for issues pertaining to infrastructure, recording absence of Government personnel like doctors, teachers, Anganwadi workers, etc. along with pictorial evidence.

The objective of the App is to reduce the gap between the public and the Administration and provide stepping stones for good governance through harnessing ICT.

The App has led to an increment in the resolution of public grievances and fast service delivery to the public. The App has also multiplied the community’s involvement in uplifting and ameliorating the District Infrastructure.

The App also serves as a platform for registering any emergency including disaster alerts, reporting issues pertaining to domestic violence, etc.

4) Maha Land Bank System (Washim in Maharashtra)

This district has created a unique repository of Government Land on a Portal, as a part of a State-wide programme in Maharashtra. The Land Bank serves as a repository of information for taking policy decisions on the allocation of Government Land such as the provision of Affordable Housing, Irrigation, Public Supply, Self-supplied Industries, Aquaculture, Mining, Tree Plantation, etc.

5) Meekosam Meal Scheme (Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh)

Labourers and daily wage workers coming to file their grievances and attend proceedings of the grievance cell, from places as far as 100 km will henceforth not have to return empty stomach.

For a meal worth ` 28/-, ` 10/- is collected from the petitioner and balance ` 18 is directly paid to the owner of the canteen. This initiative has resulted in a sharp rise in the number of petitioners attending grievance cell meetings.

For more insights into other best practices, you can refer to the document below. But the list above is also comprehensive and sufficient for mains exams.

With inputs from:

NITI Aayog Report on Best Practices in Aspirational Districts

 

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] One Year since the Repeal of Art. 370

Exactly a year back, on August 5, 2019, the government of India revoked the special status granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. The move was made on the promise of a better life for every Kashmiri in terms of social and economic parameters.

So, with one year anniversary, it is the perfect opportunity to analyze what the move has meant for the common people. Did it bring them the development as promised? The article looks at some of the changes that the state has seen in the last 1 year, no judgments(promise!).

Background

Read the complete thread here at:

[Burning Issue] Reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir

Visible impacts of the move

(Obviously, the impacts from the repeal of Article 370 cannot be studied in isolation from impacts of COVID in the region.)

(A) Political Impacts

The legal talk

  • The abrogation of special status has extended the reach of Parliament and Indian Constitution over the region in its entirety.
  • The reorganization appendix gives an insight to which former laws passed by the state have been retained, repealed, and which central laws have been extended:
  • Example: 164 laws – 153 state laws and 11 Governor’s Acts – have been repealed; 166 state laws have been retained; 7 state laws have been retained with amendments; 106 central laws have been made applicable.
  • The Right to Information Act, 2005 and the Representation of People Act, 1951 are among the laws being extended to the UT in entirety.

New Domicile Rules

  • This year center came out with a new list of criteria for attaining domicile in J&K.
  • Since then, 4 lakh people in Jammu and Kashmir have been issued domicile certificates.
  • A significant proportion has been given out to those who despite living or serving in the state for years were not considered the residents of the state due to the provisions of Artice 35A, which now stands repealed.

Reduction in Corruption

  • The CMS-India Corruption Study 2017 placed Jammu and Kashmir among the top corrupt states in India, stating that 84 per cent of the people surveyed perceived increased corruption in public services.
  • With corruption almost becoming second nature to the political elites and administrators, the immediate casualty in J&K has been effective governance and justice.
  • This has undermined the trust of the Kashmiris in democracy and shattered their faith in the legitimacy of the politico-administrative setup, posing a direct challenge to peace operations.
  • The situation has relieved(for now) since the abrogation of special status and paves the way for curbing corrupt practices.

(B) Social Impacts

Public perception of the move

  • The abrogation of autonomy without the consent of the Kashmiris has raised the threat perception among the people regarding their identity and culture.
  • The lost ‘autonomy’ and Art. 370 had a symbolic and emotional significance for Kashmir’s people.

New Low in Education 

  • The continued shutdowns and internet blockade has severely affected college and university students and so has the digital learning.
  • College students and research scholars, for instance, have not been able to fill the online forms for competitive exams, scholarship grants and research papers.
  • Most of the hostels in Kashmir University are shut indefinitely.

Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits

  • Construction of 6,000 transit accommodations for accommodating 3000 Kashmiri migrants and 849 flats have been constructed so far.
  • The Centre also reimburses monthly cash relief to the eligible Kashmiri migrants settled in Jammu.
  • Since the year 2014, the monthly cash relief has been enhanced twice i.e. from Rs 6600/- per family to Rs 10,000/- per family in 2015 and to Rs 13,000/- per family in 2018.

Era of social security measures

  • The government introduced an array of insurance schemes including the Atal Pension Yojana in the newly carved Union Territory.
  • The Centre also launched 85 people-oriented development schemes, like PM-KISAN, PM-KISAN-Pension, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, and Stand-Up India in Jammu and Kashmir.

(C) Economic Impact

Agriculture

  • The apple industry in Kashmir, worth INR 80 billion which contributes 8 per cent of J&K’s GDP, has been worst affected.
  • The farmers have highlighted their troubles in selling the produce in the local APMCs.
  • Threats from militants, coupled with the government’s severe clampdown delayed the harvest for over a month, dealing a crippling blow to the industry during the peak harvest season.

Industries

  • Core sectors of the economy of J&K have witnessed a steep decline after the abrogation of Article 370.
  • The communications blockade, curfews, and militant threats has taken a toll on the economy of Kashmir by INR 178.78 billion.
  • More than 90,000 jobs in the sectors of handicraft and information technology have been lost.

Tourism

  • Tourism, which forms 8-10% of J&K’s GDP, is in shambles after the lockdown.
  • Less than 50,000 tourists visited the U.T. between August and December 2019.

(D) Security Impacts

  • According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the lockdown and increase in Army presence led to a decrease in terrorism-related deaths.
  • Lesser fatalities: There has been a decrease in terrorism-related deaths.
  • Youth joining militancy: The number of local recruits has increased. In 2020, until March, 87.5% of the militants killed were locals according to SATP.
  • Border intrusion: Infiltration attempts along the LoC, however, remain high as Pakistan-based terrorist groups continue to try to send more militants in the Valley.
  • Reduced covert attacks: There have been fewer improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and grenade attacks this year.

(E) Geopolitical Impacts

  • The abrogation of Article 370 has also led to the internationalization of the Kashmir conflict.
  • Dividing Ladakh from J&K has not only fulfilled the demands of the people of the region but also has sent a clear message to China that it is an integral part of India where Indian constitution holds despite China sometimes claiming it to be its own territory.
  • Visibly after that, we have witnessed the increased cases of transgression by the Chinese PLA in Ladakh.
  • UNSC has met two times for closed-door meetings on the situation in Kashmir.
  • Pakistan’s quest for garnering Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) support these days is quite prominent than earlier.

Was Art. 370 the real problem?

  • Article 370, over the decades, was diluted many times but despite these dilutions, it bore great symbolic and psychological significance for Kashmiris.
  • It also displayed India’s asymmetric federalism, which granted differential rights to certain federal subunits, often in recognition of their distinctive ethnic identity.
  • For sure, the educational and health sectors in J&K should be have been improved but the reason for the underperformance of the educational and health sectors in Kashmir is not Article 370.
  • While private enterprises could set up industries in the former State on leased land, as they have over the years, acquisition of land by public sector enterprises from outside the State was never a problem.
  • Private investors do not set up shop in Kashmir due to militancy which is a product of an existing conflict; not because of Articles 370 or 35A.

Way Forward

(1) Building trust

  • The foremost challenge for New Delhi is rebuilding trust.
  • To rebuild the trust deficit and to win over the confidence of the Kashmiris, the government must immediately repeal the PSA – which should have become ultra vires, in the first place.
  • This will create a sense of oneness among the Kashmiris and will help change their perception towards New Delhi.

(2) Addressing the distress 

  • Due attention must be given to address rural economic distress created after the unprecedented, unseasonal snowfall in November.
  • The government should compensate all the farmers with a farm credit or a loan waiver as it is done in other states.

(3) Approaching with soft policies

  • New Delhi should ensure that the land’s pluralism is defended by assiduously handling the identity, cultural and religious issues.
  • In the present state of affairs, the political process is being hijacked and political leaders are under detention.
  • The release of the political class will send a positive signal.

(4) Lifting the internet blackout

  • The government must immediately lift the internet blackout in all educational institutions.
  • Prolonging the internet curfew any longer will only alienate the students and the youth, who are already hurt and angered at the Centre’s unilateral action.

(5) Resume educational institutions

  • Without any delay, the Centre must also announce the establishment of modern higher education institutions and IITs in its new UT.
  • Quality manpower is a prerequisite for the promised economic growth of the region.
  • Simultaneously, the Centre should actively help to restore regular functioning of closed educational institutions that have been shut since a year and equip them with all modern scientific facilities.
  • The Centre must also announce a new set of attractive scholarships for Kashmiri students.

Conclusion

Now is the time to renew ties with the region by initiating a series of serious and sincere interlocution measures to win over the confidence of the alienated population.

It is necessary that focus on pressing local issues increases and we nurture new local leadership, so that, the grip of the political elite in the Valley loosens.

Kashmir is known for its glorious past and it is high time that this glory returns to the valley.

 

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] National Education Policy 2020

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Seeking to completely overhaul India’s education system, the Union Ministry of Education, formerly known as the Human Resource Development Ministry, introduced the National Education Policy 2020. The set of reforms encompasses a whole range of ideas and promises, from vocational education through schools to higher studies.

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” – Malcolm X

Backgrounder: Education Policies in India

Education Policy lays particular emphasis on the development of the creative potential of each individual. It is based on the principle that education must develop not only cognitive capacities -both the ‘foundational capacities ‘of literacy and numeracy and ‘higher-order‘ cognitive capacities, such as critical thinking and problem-solving — but also social, ethical, and emotional capacities and dispositions.

The implementation of previous policies on education has focused largely on issues of access and equity. The unfinished agenda of the National Policy on Education 1986, modified in 1992 (NPE 1986/92), is appropriately dealt with in this Policy. A major development since the last Policy of 1986/92 has been the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 which laid down legal underpinnings for achieving universal elementary education.

Evolution of Education Policy in India

  1. University Education Commission (1948-49)
  2. Secondary Education Commission (1952-53)
  3. Education Commission (1964-66) under Dr D. S. Kothari
  4. National Policy on Education, 1968
  5. 42nd Constitutional Amendment, 1976- Education in Concurrent List
  6. National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986
  7. NPE 1986 Modified in 1992 (Programme of Action, 1992)
  8. S.R. Subrahmanyam Committee Report (May 27, 2016)
  9. K. Kasturirangan Committee Report (May 31, 2019)

Some of the major pathbreaking policies and their features:

Earlier major Educational Policies

(Year)

Key Features

1968

  • Based on the report and recommendations of the Kothari Commission (1964–1966)
  • India’s first National Policy which called for a “radical restructuring” and proposed equal educational opportunities
  • It gave the “three-language formula” to be implemented in secondary education

1986

  • Introduced under Rajiv Gandhi’s Prime Ministership, expected to spend 6% of GDP on education for the 1st time
  • It called for “special emphasis on the removal of disparities and to equalize educational opportunity”
  • It called for a “child-centered approach” in primary education, and launched “Operation Blackboard
  • Also called for the creation of the “rural university” model, based on the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi

1992

 

  • 1986 Policy modified in 1992 by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government
  • It laid down a Three – Exam Scheme: JEE/AIEEE/State EEE (Engineering Entrance Exam)

 

 The National Education Policy, 2020

  • It marks the fourth major policy initiative in education since Independence.
  • The last one has undertaken a good 34 years ago and modified in 1992.
  • Based on two committee reports and extensive nationwide consultations, NEP 2020 is sweeping in its vision and seeks to address the entire gamut of education from preschool to doctoral studies, and from professional degrees to vocational training.

Features of the 2020 policy:

1) Languages

  • A perfect mix: The policy raises the importance of mother tongue and regional languages; medium of instruction until class 5 and preferably beyond should be in these languages. Sanskrit and foreign languages will also be given emphasis.
  • No compulsion: The policy also states that no language will be imposed on the students.
  • More to clarify: The government clarified that the language policy in NEP is a broad guideline; and that it is up to the states, institutions and schools to decide the implementation.

2) School education

  • New structure of schooling: The “10 + 2” structure will be replaced with “5+3+3+4”.
  • Reforms in the exam: Instead of exams being held every academic year, school students will only answer three exams, in classes 3, 5 and 8.
  • Novel assessment by PARAKH: Board exams will be continued to be held for classes 10 and 12 but will be re-designed. Standards for this will be established by an assessment body PARAKH.
  • Report cards will be “holistic”, offering information about the student’s skills.
  • Inter-disciplinary approach: This policy aims at reducing the curriculum load of students and allowing them to be more “inter-disciplinary” and “multi-lingual”.
  • One example given was “If a student wants to pursue fashion studies with physics, or if one wants to learn bakery with chemistry, they’ll be allowed to do so.”
  • Software coding: Coding will be introduced from class 6 and experiential learning will be adopted.
  • The Midday Meal Scheme will be extended to include breakfasts. More focus will be given to students’ health, particularly mental health, through the deployment of counsellors and social workers.

3) Higher education

  • Revamped UG/PG courses: It proposes a multi-disciplinary bachelors degree in an undergraduate programme with multiple exit options.
  • MPhil (Masters of Philosophy) courses are to be discontinued to align degree education with how it is in Western models.
  • Increasing GER: A Higher Education Council of India (HECI) will be set up to regulate higher education. The Council’s goal will be to increase the gross enrollment ratio.
  • The HECI will have three verticals: National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC), to regulate higher education, including teacher education, while excluding medical and legal education; the National Accreditation Council (NAC), a “meta-accrediting body”; and the Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC), for funding and financing of universities and colleges.
  • This will replace the existing National Council for Teacher Education, All India Council for Technical Education and the University Grants Commission.
  • The National Testing Agency will now be given the additional responsibility of conducting entrance examinations for admissions to universities across the country, in addition to the JEE Main and NEET.
  • The policy proposes to internationalize education in India. Foreign universities can now set up campuses in India.

3) Teacher education

  • The NEP 2020 puts forward many policy changes when it comes to teachers and teacher education.
  • To become a teacher, a 4 year Bachelor of Education will be the minimum requirement needed by 2030.
  • The teacher recruitment process will also be strengthened and made transparent.
  • The National Council for Teacher Education will frame a National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education by 2021 and a National Professional Standards for Teachers by 2022.

4) Other changes

Under NEP 2020, numerous new educational institutes, bodies and concepts have been given legislative permission to be formed. This includes:

  • National Education Commission, headed by the PM of India
  • Academic Bank of Credit, a digital storage of credits earned to help resume education by utilising credits for further education
  • National Research Foundation, to improve research and innovation
  • Special Education Zones, to focus on the education of underrepresented group in disadvantaged regions
  • Gender Inclusion Fund, for assisting the nation in the education of female and transgender children
  • National Educational Technology Forum, a platform to facilitate the exchange of ideas on the technology used to improve learning

The policy proposes new language institutions such as the Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation and the National Institute/ Institutes for Pali, Persian and Prakrit. Other bodies proposed include the National Mission for Mentoring, National Book Promotion Policy, National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy.

Regulatory cholesterol is the bane of governance in India, with poor outcomes to boot.

An analysis: Hits and misses of the Policy

NEP 2020 is an amalgamation of need-based policy, cutting-edge research and best practices, paving the way for New India.

1) Targets ‘Antyodaya’

With an extensive focus on universalizing access from early childhood to higher education, integrating over two crore out-of-school children, and concerted efforts directed at socio-economically disadvantaged groups, the policy ensures last-mile delivery, embodying “Antyodaya”.

2) A revamped curriculum

  • Through a convergence of efforts and erasing traditional silos in workflows, early childhood care and education will be delivered through a new curriculum as well as a play- and activity-based pedagogy.
  • Along with a dedicated national mission for foundational literacy and numeracy, NEP 2020 will be significant for bolstering the most critical phases of learning, building a strong foundation for education.

3) Departure from the ‘old’ school

  • NEP marks a departure from archaic practices and pedagogy.
  • Revamped curriculum, adult education, lifelong learning and the vision to ensure that half our learners have exposure to at least one vocational skill in the next five years is characteristic of the shift from rote to applied learning.
  • Through a skill gap analysis, practice-based curriculum and internships with local vocational experts, NEP 2020’s “Lok Vidya”, echoes the PM’s clarion call of being “Vocal for Local”.

4) An evidence-based policy

  • With the NITI Aayog’s mandate to facilitate evidence-based policy, there is a strong belief in the fact that what can’t be measured can’t be improved.
  • Till date, India lacks a comprehensive system for regular, credible and comparable assessments of learning outcomes.
  • The MoHRD undertook a rigorous consultation process in formulating the draft policy – “Over two lakh suggestions from 2.5 lakh gram panchayats, 6,600 blocks, 6,000 Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), 676 districts were received.

5) Focus on Teacher’s skilling

  • Teacher education is reimagined with a comprehensive curricular framework, multidisciplinary programmes and stringent action against substandard institutions.
  • Driven by SEQI’s vision for teacher adequacy and transparent systems for merit-based selection and deployment, online systems for teacher transfers and planning will ensure that the right teachers are in the right institutes.

6) Academic credit bank

  • The creation of an academic credit bank, the impetus to research, graded autonomy, internationalization and the development of special economic zones are vital to rebranding India as the higher education destination.
  • Further, multilingual education and efforts to enhance the knowledge of India could restore the country’s educational heritage from the glory days of Takshashila and Nalanda — creating a system that’s modern yet rooted.

7) Departure from over-regulation

  • NEP 2020 makes a bold prescription to free our schools, colleges and universities from periodic “inspections” and place them on the path of self-assessment and voluntary declaration.
  • Transparency, maintaining quality standards and a favourable public perception will become a 24X7 pursuit for the institutions, leading to all-round improvement in their standard.
  • A single, lean body with four verticals for standards-setting, funding, accreditation and regulation is proposed to provide “light but tight” oversight.

8) Getting a job-ready generation

  • With the new policy coming in picture, the school and college education will not only be seen as a facilitator of degree but it will be treated as a medium to build personality and it’ll help the students in their holistic professional growth.
  • The flexibility and autonomy now presented to the future workforce will enable them to explore a variety of options and build more relevant and in-demand skills rather than following traditional career paths.

9) Sweeping in vision

  • Based on two committee reports and extensive nationwide consultations, NEP 2020 is sweeping in its vision.
  • It seeks to address the entire gamut of education from preschool to doctoral studies, and from professional degrees to vocational training.
  • It acknowledges the 21st century need for mobility, flexibility, alternate pathways to learning, and self-actualization.

Issues with the policy

The new policy has tried to please all, and the layers are clearly visible in the document. It says all the right things and tries to cover all bases, often slipping off keel.

1) Lack of integration

  • In both the thinking, and in the document, there are lags, such as the integration of technology and pedagogy.
  • There are big gaps such as lifelong learning, which should have been a key element of upgrading to emerging sciences.

2) Language barrier

  • There is much in the document ripe for debate – such as language. The NEP seeks to enable home language learning up to class five, in order to improve learning outcomes.
  • Sure, early comprehension of concepts is better in the home language and is critical for future progress. If the foundations are not sound, learning suffers, even with the best of teaching and infrastructure.
  • But it is also true that a core goal of education is social and economic mobility, and the language of mobility in India is English.

3) Multilingualism debate

  • Home language succeeds in places where the ecosystem extends all the way through higher education and into employment. Without such an ecosystem in place, this may not be good enough.
  • The NEP speaks of multilingualism and that must be emphasised. Most classes in India are de facto bilingual.
  • Some states are blissfully considering this policy as a futile attempt to impose Hindi.

4) Lack of funds

  • According to Economic Survey 2019-2020, the public spending (by the Centre and the State) on education was 3.1% of the GDP.
  • A shift in the cost structure of education is inevitable.
  • While funding at 6% of GDP remains doubtful, it is possible that parts of the transformation are achievable at a lower cost for greater scale.

5) A move in haste

  • The country is grappled with months of COVID-induced lockdowns.
  • The policy had to have parliamentary discussions; it should have undergone a decent parliamentary debate and deliberations considering diverse opinions.

6) Overambitious

  • All aforesaid policy moves require enormous resources. An ambitious target of public spending at 6% of GDP has been set.
  • This is certainly a tall order, given the current tax-to-GDP ratio and competing claims on the national exchequer of healthcare, national security and other key sectors.
  • The exchequer itself is choked meeting the current expenditure.

7) Pedagogical limitations

  • The document talks about flexibility, choice, experimentation. In higher education, the document recognizes that there is a diversity of pedagogical needs.
  • If it is a mandated option within single institutions, this will be a disaster, since structuring a curriculum for a classroom that has both one-year diploma students and four-year degree students’ takes away from the identity of the institution.

8) Institutional limitations

  • A healthy education system will comprise of a diversity of institutions, not a forced multi-disciplinarily one.
  • Students should have a choice for different kinds of institutions.
  • The policy risks creating a new kind of institutional isomorphism mandated from the Centre.

9) Issues with examinations

  • Exams are neurotic experiences because of competition; the consequences of a slight slip in performance are huge in terms of opportunities.
  • So the answer to the exam conundrum lies in the structure of opportunity. India is far from that condition.
  • This will require a less unequal society both in terms of access to quality institutions, and income differentials consequent upon access to those institutions.

 Making it happen: Way Forward

This ambitious policy has a cost to be paid and the rest of the things dwells on its implementation in letter and spirit.

Public investment is considered extremely critical for achieving the high-quality and equitable public education system as envisaged by the policy, that is truly needed for India’s future economic, social, cultural, intellectual and technological progress and growth.

  • Implementation of the spirit and intent of the Policy is the most critical matter.
  • It is important to implement the policy initiatives in a phased manner, as each policy point has several steps, each of which requires the previous step to be implemented successfully.
  • Prioritization will be important in ensuring optimal sequencing of policy points, and that the most critical and urgent actions are taken up first, thereby enabling a strong base.
  • Next, comprehensiveness in implementation will be key; as this Policy is interconnected and holistic, only a full-fledged implementation, and not a piecemeal one, will ensure that the desired objectives are achieved.
  • Since education is a concurrent subject, it will need careful planning, joint monitoring, and collaborative implementation between the Centre and States.
  • Timely infusion of requisite resources – human, infrastructural, and financial – at the Central and State levels will be crucial for the satisfactory execution of the Policy.
  • Finally, careful analysis and review of the linkages between multiple parallel implementation steps will be necessary in order to ensure effective dovetailing of all initiatives.

Conclusion

India’s political economy has simply not made quality education a top priority. What has changed in the last couple of decades is the explosion of aspiration and demand for education. But that demand has yet to be channelized into institutional change.

Its’ too early to judge

  • This policy is an ambitious and complex document and it has been adopted during a pandemic and a lockdown, which renders discussion and debate difficult.
  • It lays down a roadmap for the next two decades. But, there are many reasons why this policy needs close scrutiny, a full debate, for what it says and what it doesn’t.
  • For instance, what are its implications for the majority of those covered under the acronym SEDGs (Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups) in the text?
  • This is particularly crucial as the document visualizes increased “benign” privatization of education, attempting to distinguish this from commercialization.
  • In a situation of growing privatization and the near-collapse of public institutions of higher education, how these policies will be implemented is a matter of concern.

There is no getting away from the need for a highway and device access for all, to enable the future of learning. The NEP is but one step towards freedom in education. So much, including the concepts of synchronous learning, of batch-processing and of provision as patronage is gone and we must embrace the change.

 


References

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/pib-highlights-of-the-national-education-policy-nep-2020/

https://thediplomat.com/2020/07/indias-new-education-policy-streams-merge-into-a-river/

https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/national-education-policy-the-hits-and-misses

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/national-education-policy-niti-aayog-6536524/

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/an-education-policy-that-is-sweeping-in-its-vision/article32233396.ece

Categories
Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Disputes over Anti-Defection Law

A CM takes oath at 4 am in the morning. MLAs are taken to an unknown destination or a resort with their mobiles and all communications virtually shut! Likewsie, if unconstitutional principles and practices no longer excite the citizens, but some political norms do, then our democracy is in trouble.

Turbulence in governments — involving the “switching of sides” by elected representatives — has been increasingly frequent in recent months.  The ongoing political crisis in Rajasthan is neither new nor uncommon.  The past year has seen the toppling of two state governments in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh amid allegations of political defections and horse-trading. There has also been turmoil in Goa and Manipur.

Over the debate: The 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.

  • The anti-defection law was added to the Constitution through the Fifty-Second (Amendment) Act, 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi was PM.
  • It lays down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection by the Presiding Officer of a legislature based on a petition by any other member of the House.
  • A legislator is deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily gives up the membership of his party or disobeys the directives of the party leadership on a vote.
  • This implies that a legislator defying (abstaining or voting against) the party whip on any issue can lose his membership of the House.
  • The law applies to both Parliament and state assemblies.

Exceptions under the law

  • Legislators may change their party without the risk of disqualification in certain circumstances.
  • The law allows a party to merge with or into another party provided that at least two-thirds of its legislators are in favor of the merger.
  • In such a scenario, neither the members who decide to merge nor the ones who stay with the original party will face disqualification.

To get more details on the evolution of the act, tap here:

Explained: Anti-defection law and its evolution

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.

Way Forward

In sum, therefore, the anti-defection law needs to be improved than repealed.

Over the years, several amendments/recommendations have also been suggested to reform various aspects of the law.  Let’s consider some of them:

Sources: Law Commission, 1999; National Constitution Review Commission, 2002; Law Commission Report, 2015; Law Commission Draft Report, 2018; Dinesh Goswami Committee on electoral reforms, 1990, Halim Committee on anti-defection law, 1998 (from R. Kothandaraman Ideas for an alternative Anti-Defection law, 2006); PRS

Conclusion

We must know that politics has a way of getting ahead of principles and practices, and establishing its own norms. It is important to understand how this growing pattern makes a mockery of Indian democracy, speaks poorly of elected representatives and is an insult to the voter.

Need of the hour is complete revamp of the anti-defection law. As Gandhiji, would put it ‘Politics without principle’, is a sin which should be avoided in all case.

 


References

https://www.prsindia.org/sites/default/files/parliament_or_policy_pdfs/Anti-Defection%20Law%20Intent%20and%20Impact_0.pdf

https://www.civilsdaily.com/story/anti-defection-law/

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/explained-anti-defection-law-and-its-evolution/

https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/why-the-anti-defection-law-has-failed-to-deliver/story-JtDhlEFHZ8VPpnNBD7Fv9J.html

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/getting-ahead-of-constitutional-practices/article32233269.ece