Right To Privacy

Breach of trust

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Breach of privacy in sharing of call record data of citizens.

Context

In bypassing established protocol to seek call details of citizens en masse, the government violates SC guidelines.

What is the issue?

  • Departure from stringent protocol: The Cellular Operators Association of India has reported mass requests from the government for mobile call detail records (CDRs).
    • Which is a serious departure from the stringent protocol established by the UPA government following an uproar in 2013 after prominent politicians were found to be under unauthorised surveillance.
  • Records of all customers: Records have been sought for all consumers on certain dates in parts of Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.
    • In the case of Delhi, records were sought for the last three days of campaigning before assembly elections, while the anti-CAA protests were at their peak.
  • How the data was requested? Requests were delivered by local offices of the Department of Telecommunications, taking advantage of a condition in licences granted to operators, which permits the DoT to inspect their CDRs, which go back one year.

Breach of many requirements and norms

  • A serious breach of privacy: These requests depart from established protocol and international expectations on multiple counts, and amount to a serious breach of privacy.
  • What is the protocol for requesting CDR information? A CDR request is supposed to be sanctioned by the home secretary and handled by a police officer of the rank of SP or above,
    • But in this case DoT offices were used.
  • The requirement of informing magistrate was not fulfilled: The requirement to report CDR requests on a monthly basis to the district magistrate was not complied with.
  • No reason was offered: Most importantly, no reason was offered for snooping on the traffic of citizens.
  • Surveillance must be specific and purposive: It is generally understood that communications surveillance must be specific and purposive, and must not trespass on the privacy of the innocent.
  • Invasion of privacy of all citizens: Indiscriminate mass surveillance of communications invades the privacy of all citizens to the detriment of public trust. In this case, it was for purposes which are not verifiably honourable, since the government has chosen not to reveal them.

Why the CDR data matters if it is metadata only?

  • Combining CDR with other data gives more information: CDRs are all metadata and no content. They do not reveal any words uttered or messaged.
    • But combining the metadata with phone location data reveals a lot about connections between specific people and the actions that they take.
  • Multi-dimensional map of human activity: If data is available at scale, as was the case here, it is possible to build a multi-dimensional map of human activity, and correlate it with real events.
  • This would disturb the balance of information power between the citizen and the state, and amount to a breach of privacy.

Conclusion

If the government needs CDR data for a legitimate purpose, it should have no objection to following the rule-book scrupulously. And if there is a reason for sidestepping protocol in a sensitive matter, it should explain why.

Issues related to Economic growth

Triggering a Global Financial Crisis

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Suggestions to avoid next global financial crisis.

Context

Although we could not have predicted it, Covid-19 was not the reason, but just the trigger for the ongoing financial crash as all we needed was the proverbial straw to break the finance sector’s back

Economic sudden stop

  • Not just any trigger: Covid-19 was not just any trigger as it gave birth to the concept of the economic “sudden stop.” When the global equity markets dropped on 31 January 2020 following the WHO declaration of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern, El-Erian (2020) warned the investors on 2 February 2020 that they should snap out of the “buy the dip” mentality.
    • Pointing out two vulnerabilities, namely structurally weak global growth and less effective central banks, he introduced the concept of “sudden stop” economic dynamics.
  • What is sudden stop? It can be considered as an abrupt onset of a deep recession.
    • Supply and demand shock: In the case of Covid-19, it is a sudden stop of economic activity resulting in supply and demand shocks to the global economy as major cities in infected countries, more than 100 and counting, are put on lockdown.
    • And, add to that the deepening oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
  • On 8 March 2020 in New York, the futures markets opened and oil futures (both Brent and WTI) are trading about 21% down, gold is above $1,700 per ounce, and all United States (US) equity index futures are trading about 4% down.
  • Long terms treasury yield at historical lows: What is worse is that with the long-term US Treasury yields at their historical lows (10-year yield below 0.5% and 30-year yield below 1%), the capital markets are frozen (not to mention many oil projects that will go bust at these prices).

Disorderly non-financial private sector debt leading to dire consequences

  • A disorderly global non-financial private sector debt deleveraging, which is likely to lead to deep global debt deflation, followed by a recession (and possibly a depression).
    • Which could result in creating financial and economic instabilities, and further tensions in international relations with dire consequences for emerging and developing countries, not to mention developed countries.
  • Difference in developed and developing countries debts: While in developed and high-income developing countries, the non-financial private sector is more over-indebted, in middle-income and low-income developing countries, the public sector is more over-indebted.
  • Impact on developed economies: Given that the global non-financial private sector debt deleveraging has already started, the public sector debts of the developed and high-income developing countries will also go up and the governments’ ability to rescue their economies will also decline in these countries.
  • Impact on funding for climate change: Furthermore, this will severely constrain the governments’ ability to spend on climate change-related projects to address the potentially catastrophic effects for many years to come, diminishing our hopes to make the necessary investments and innovations to address the now existential climate crisis on time will diminish.
  • The corona factor: The measures we have to take to control the spread of Covid-19 before a cure is found will further challenge the financial system, as people stop earning an income and businesses go bankrupt.

Way forward

  • Three authorities solution: In the suggested framework, there would be three authorities to maintain a deposit account at the central bank in each country
    • 1. A deleveraging authority for leverage reduction.
    • 2. Lastenausgleich (based on German Currency Reforms) authority for capital levies.
    • 3. Climate authority for financing needs in developing national climate plans.
    • These national authorities should be globally coordinated through the appropriate United Nations agencies.
  • Control the three authorities: The Lastenausgleich authority would be under the finance ministry, whereas the deleveraging and climate authorities would be not-for-profit corporations promoted by the government.
  • Capitalisation issue: The government would capitalise the deleveraging and climate authorities by the Treasury-issued zero-coupon perpetual bonds.
  • The deleveraging authority would then sell its equalisation claims to the central bank in exchange for an increased balance in its deposit account at the bank, while the climate authority would wait until the deleveraging concludes.
    • Further, the climate authority would not be allowed to open deposit accounts to its borrowers to ensure that it would be a pure financial intermediary, not a bank.
  • Framework: Assuming that a globally agreed-upon debt reduction percentage that would bring the global non-financial sector leverage well under 100% is determined and that all countries agree to act simultaneously, the framework is as follows
    • (i) the financial institutions comprising the banks and non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs) write down all the loans and debt securities on both sides of their balance sheets by the required percentage;
    • (ii) the deleveraging authority compensates the banks and NBFIs for the loss if any; and
    • (iii) the deleveraging authority pays each qualified resident their allocated amount less than the debt relief if any.
    • If an NBFI gain after the above debt reduction, it should owe equalisation liabilities to the deleveraging authority of its jurisdiction.
    • Note that as all debts mean all debts, public sector debts will also be written down by the same percentage except the official debts of the sovereigns that fall out of the scope of our proposed framework and should be handled by other means.
  • After deleveraging: After deleveraging the balance of the deleveraging authority account at the central bank goes down whereas the total balance of the bank accounts (reserves) at the central bank goes up by the total payment made by the deleveraging authority.
    • Hence, the base money goes up by the total payment of the deleveraging authority.
    • Since NBFIs and residents cannot maintain deposit accounts at the central bank, they have to be paid through a bank which creates deposits for the NBFIs and residents against reserves.
    • Hence, the broad money goes up by the amount of the payment to the NBFIs and residents.
  • Issue of multi-currency balance sheet: One issue is that in many countries, the bank and NBFI balance sheets are multi-currency balance sheets.
    • However, the deleveraging authority payments are in domestic currency, which may create currency risk for some banks and NBFIs.
    • Backed by the central banks, the globally coordinated national deleveraging authorities should stand ready to intervene to avoid potential crises.
  • Condition to spend on climate bonds: The authorities would require their domestic banks and other financial institutions to spend an internationally agreed-upon percentage of their newly found money, if any, after the deleveraging on the interest-bearing, finite-maturity bonds the national climate authorities would issue.
    • Since the promoter of the climate authority is the government, the bonds of the climate authority would have the same credit with the government bonds, and the central bank would accept the climate authority bonds in its open market operations.
  • Climate authority bonds as reserves: Therefore, the climate authority bonds would be the main tool to manage the reserves and deposits created through the equalisation claims.
    • In addition, the climate authority bonds could be used for the greening of the financial system through the investment of foreign exchange reserves of the central banks proposed by the Bank of International Settlements (BIS 2019).
  • Progressive wealth tax collection: Lastly, equipped with a “globally coordinated wealth registry” (Stiglitz et al 2019), the Lastenausgleich authorities would collect progressive wealth taxes from the owners of real and non-debt financial assets for the equalisation of burdens.
    • While a part of these taxes could be used to retire some of the equalisation claims and the corresponding reserves and deposits created in the deleveraging process, another part could be transferred to the climate authorities, and the rest could be spent in the interests of the society.

Blockchain Technology: Prospects and Challenges

India can use Yes Bank debacle to chase China in Crypto

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Is cryptocurrency solution to bad governance in the banking system in India?

Context

There’s an opportunity to stabilize the financial system and prevent a rival power from widening its lead.

The backdrop of YES bank failure time for cryptocurrency

  • Perfect time for cryptocurrency: Confidence in the Indian financial system has been breaking down for some time. Instead of trying to restore trust, it may be time to require less of it — with the help of an official rupee cryptocurrency.
  • The last straw: The collapse of corporate lender Yes Bank Ltd. was the last straw, which failed in slow motion in full view of authorities.
    • Depositors have been assured that their $20 billion-plus in stuck funds will be released after a rescue by the government-controlled State Bank of India.
    • What could be the impact on the sentiment of the people? While that may help prevent widespread panic, even temporarily stopping people from accessing their funds would mean that from now on, not all savings and current accounts will be treated by individuals and businesses as a perfect substitute for cash.

Why it would be costly and difficult to revive the public faith?

  • It will be both difficult and costly to revive the public’s dwindling faith.
  • Nationalisation not an option: A nuclear option is to nationalize the banks and non-bank finance firms that provide $1.75 trillion in annual funding. Doing so would be a doomed throwback to the late 1960s when India lurched toward stultifying socialist-style state controls.
  • Corruption in banking won’t go away: Similarly, it would be unrealistic to assume that the Yes Bank embarrassment would trigger an improvement in the status quo.
    • Deep crony-capital relationship: The crony-capital relationships between financiers and borrowers in India are steeped in its colonial history.
    • Basel III won’t solve the problem: Putting on the gloss of Basel III capital requirements, which are supposed to make lenders less prone to failure, doesn’t make corruption in banking go away.

Can cryptocurrency be an answer?

  • It offers hope: Blockchain technology, which the Indian establishment is trying to snuff out in finance, offers hope. Government should consider official crypto to obviate the need for trusted intermediaries, which are in short supply, anyway.
  • China expected to launch digital currency: Before the coronavirus outbreak, China was widely expected to start its own central bank digital currency this year.
    • But India’s need is greater, and its motivation very different from Beijing’s desire to shake the hegemony of the dollar.
  • After the Yes Bank debacle and botched rescue, deposits in India will probably gravitate toward four or five large lenders, whose managers may be emboldened to make risky bets with other people’s money. The remaining banks will struggle for liquidity. A perennially unstable credit delivery network will always be one misstep away from the next blowup. While every country has its share of manias, panics and crashes, to be gripped by absolute financial mistrust every few years is not an environment where growth can flourish.
  • Opportunity to think afresh: Earlier this month, India’s highest court set aside the Reserve Bank of India’s directive that asked banks to not offer services to cryptocurrency traders and exchanges.
    • A legal defeat has provided the opportunity to think afresh.
    • But in parallel, the government is considering a blanket ban on private virtual tokens. The crypto activity could get slammed again.
  • Possibility of misuse: To be sure, one popular use of technology is money laundering.
    • But to kill the industry and send practitioners packing would be to lose out on a valuable innovation at a time when India needs to build on the globally recognized successes of its digital payments industry, which has gained users’ trust just as banks and shadow banks have lost it.

Implications for deposit in the aftermath of Yes bank debacle

  • Deposits may gravitate towards big banks: After the Yes Bank debacle and botched rescue, deposits in India will probably gravitate toward four or five large lenders, whose managers may be emboldened to make risky bets with other people’s money.
    • The remaining banks will struggle for liquidity.
  • Next blowup: A perennially unstable credit delivery network will always be one misstep away from the next blowup.
  • Impact on growth: While every country has its share of manias, panics and crashes, to be gripped by absolute financial mistrust every few years is not an environment where growth can flourish.

Possible pathways for central banks digital currency

  • Pathways suggested by BIS: After surveying 17 projects around the world — from Norway and Sweden to China, Cambodia and South Africa — the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has identified four possible pathways for a central bank digital currency.
  • Starting point- Rupee token: Of the pathways suggested by the BIS, a rupee token that doesn’t require the holder to have an account with anyone but has value guaranteed by the Reserve Bank of India could be a starting point.
  • Who should enable the fund transfer? Cryptography (“I know a secret, therefore I own the funds”) rather than an account relationship (“I am who I say I am, therefore I own the funds”) would be used to enable transfers.
    • Later, the RBI can open up the validation of transactions to authorized parties on distributed ledgers.
  • What is the current system and issues with it? Currently, a deposit holder has to rely on everyone from the bank’s management and board to the auditors, the rating firms and the regulator to do their jobs.
    • When they all fail, as in the case of Yes, the bank’s chequebook, ATM card, and online banking password cease to generate liquidity.
    • Deposits stop being the same as cash, even if the state guarantees their safety.
    • It would be far less painful if deposit owners only had to trust the RBI, not as a banking regulator but as a money-printing authority that could never run out of resources to settle its IOUs.

Conclusion

  • China’s ambition challenge dollars position as a reserve currency: China wants the yuan to take over from the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. A tech-enabled global alternative to the greenback — of the kind that Facebook Inc.’s proposed Libra had threatened to be — would have been an obstacle. Hence, Beijing accelerated its tokenized currency initiative.
  • India should jump the bandwagon: India needs to jump on the bandwagon for self-preservation. If the RBI doesn’t make easy-to-transact digital rupees available and leaves ordinary folks at the mercy of poorly run and supervised banks like Yes, people would rather store their wealth in Silicon Valley-sponsored tokenized money — or Beijing’s digital yuan — whenever they arrive.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

The ambit and the limits of ‘diaspora diplomacy’

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Indian diaspora and limits on its ability to influence.

Context

It is necessary for New India to look at the political choices of Indian migrants abroad through a more realistic lens.

Indian diaspora

  • Largest diaspora and highest remittances: India has the world’s largest diaspora, about 17.5 million and receives the highest remittance of $78.6 billion from Indians living abroad (Global Migration Report 2020).
  • Impact of the diaspora back home: Members of the diaspora, often seen as more “successful” and therefore more influential, can have a big impact on their relatives back home.

Certain wrong premises: The promise of the diaspora’s dual power is based on certain faulty premises.

1. Transferability of vote: To start with, the transferability of votes has not yet been proven conclusively.

    • It is necessary and timely that the government re-analyses the benefits accrued from the diaspora’s political presence through a more realistic lens.
    • One obvious reason is that the Indian community isn’t large enough to make a difference in the voting patterns in any of these countries.
    • The second is that the population that comes out for the rallies doesn’t represent the entire diaspora.

2. Not necessarily support the government: The second issue is that politically active members of the Indian diaspora don’t necessarily support the Indian government’s actions, and often because they are of Indian origin, hold the government in New Delhi to higher standards than they do others.

  • Concern over CAA and Kashmir Issue: The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairperson for Asia, Ami Bera, voiced his concerns quite plainly about Kashmir and Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) during a visit to India last month.
  • Criticism of the government actions: The sponsor of the U.S. House resolution on Kashmir (HR745) Pramila Jayapal; co-chair of U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s campaign Ro Khanna; and former presidential contender Kamala Harris, have all been openly critical of the government’s actions.

What should the government do? The conclusion for the government is that it cannot own only that part of the diaspora that supports its decisions, and must celebrate the fact that members of the Indian diaspora, from both sides of the political divide, are successful and influential.

3. Diaspora as a factor in bilateral relation: The government must ensure that its focus on the diaspora doesn’t become a factor in its bilateral relations.

  • While it is perfectly legitimate and laudable to ensure the safety and well-being of Indian citizens in different parts of the world, it must tread more lightly on issues that concern foreign citizens of Indian origin.

4.Introduction of India’s internal politics:

  • The introduction of India’s internal politics into this equation is another new angle, one that led the British Foreign Office to remonstrate with India about interference last December.
  • Politically affiliated Indian diaspora chapters are now also playing old India-Pakistan fault-lines amongst immigrants, which in the past were fuelled by Pakistani agencies.
  • In California primaries this month, local “Hindu-American” groups protested against Democratic candidates like Ro Khanna for joining the Congressional Pakistan caucus and for criticising New Delhi’s actions.

5. Impact on diaspora:

  • Conflating POI with citizens of India: The government must consider the impact that policies conflating the PIOs with Indian citizens could have on the diaspora itself.
  • Ability to assimilate: Most immigrant Indian communities have been marked by their ability to assimilate into the countries they now live in.
  • Much of that comes from a desire to be treated as equal citizens, not as immigrants, while a few also have bad memories of anti-immigrant sentiments in the 1960s and 1970s in Europe and the U.S. when they were targeted and accused of “divided loyalties”.

Conclusion

Laying claim to diasporas kinship and culture and taking pride in their success is one thing. It would be a mistake to lay claim to their politics, however.

 

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Positive response

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- India's handling of coronavirus pandemic.

Context

Cooperation between the Centre and the States in dealing with the threat of the virus is commendable.

Hope in dealing with the pandemic and India’s response to the pandemic

  • What is the best response?  World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic, Secretary-General offered hope: “If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilise their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.”
  • The advantage with India: India, with 70-odd cases, has the advantage, and commendably, the central and state governments have reacted rapidly to the developing pandemic
  • Equally importantly, they have set aside the acrimony over the CAA-NRC question and pulled together, without the need for external urging.
    • Because everyone realises that COVID-19 is everyone’s problem.
  • Steps taken by the government: No visas are being issued, screening is in progress, health education messaging is visible, public gatherings are sharply reduced and there is no sign of the wearying political blame game which generally besets such challenges.

No room for complacency

  • Display of political will: The secretary-general has also cautioned that while many nations can avoid the pandemic, the operative verb is not “can” but “will”. The Indian response has displayed political will, but there is no room for complacency.
  • Fear of the unknown: This is the first coronavirus to reach pandemic levels. For at least 18 months, no vaccine can be market-ready. At least until the summer, there will be insufficient information about the behaviour of the organism in the wild. Wisely, Homo sapiens fears the unknown.
  • Caution is the best prescription: Until we learn more about the nature of the beast, abundant caution is the only credible prescription.
    • Isolation at the focus of the response: At present, the focus of the response is isolation (including self-isolation) and the maintenance of sanitation barriers. Schools have been closing down, some workplaces are screening staff, and people are discouraged from leaving home without a compelling reason.
    • However, outside the controlled conditions in homes and hospitals, maintaining the patency of the sanitation barrier requires extraordinary vigilance and self-control.

Status of healthcare infrastructure

  • The readiness of healthcare facilities: In the case of breaches — a few oversights or accidents are inevitable — the readiness of healthcare facilities would become a serious factor in controlling mortality.
  • Variation in states’ preparedness: The quality of the states’ level of preparedness and the quality of health services varies. While Kerala efficiently controlled the Nipa virus, Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, has failed to contain annual outbreaks of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome for over a decade.
    • And the capital’s initial failure in the face of seasonal waves of lethal mosquito-borne diseases cannot be forgotten.
  • Rural cluster-most vulnerable: How much less protected would a rural cluster be, serviced by a poorly equipped primary health centre?

Conclusion

If community transmission becomes commonplace, it would become a difficult battle. Hence, the sanitation barrier remains the most reliable epidemiological response. If the government has to resurrect primordial provisions from the era of bubonic plagues to keep it patent, so be it.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Ruling against judicial transparency

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Transparency in judiciary under RTI

Context

A recent Supreme Court verdict has barred citizens from accessing court records under the RTI Act.

What does the judgement say?

  • No access to court records through RTI: In its recent decision, in the Chief Information Commissioner v. High Court of Gujarat case, the Supreme Court, regrettably, barred citizens from securing access to court records under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
  • Access to record through rules of High Courts: Instead, the court held that such records can be accessed only through the rules laid down by each High Court under Article 225 of the Constitution.
    • The Registry of the Supreme Court was litigating a similar case (Registrar, Supreme Court of India v. R.S. Misra) before the Delhi High Court for several years.
  • Separating the administrative and judicial side: Though the particular decision taken earlier this month does not preclude the application of the RTI Act to the administrative side of the court, it does firmly slam the door shut on accessing, under the RTI Act, the millions of court records filed on the judicial side.

Why access to judicial records matters?

  • For holding the police accountable: A significant number of decisions taken by the courts influence our daily life. Every prosecution before a criminal court is essentially an opportunity to hold the police accountable just as every writ petition is an opportunity to hold the government accountable.
  • Opportunity to learn about commercial translations: A significant number of commercial lawsuits are opportunities to learn more about corporations and the manner in which commercial translations are executed in the country.
  • Policy decision impacted by the judiciary in PIL: In cases of public interest litigation, where the courts indulge in policymaking on the basis of the report of an amicus curiae or an expert committee set up by judges.
    • The reports of these committees are not accessible to third parties, though they may be impacted by these decisions, because they form part of the court record and are hence outside the purview of the RTI Act.
  • No question of confidentiality: There is no question of arguing for the confidentiality of these records because it is by now a well-recognised principle that all judicial proceedings must take place in open court, unless prohibited by law for reasonable purposes.

The overriding section of RTI act- Section 22

  • The Supreme Court’s verdict in this case hinged on Section 22 of the RTI Act which states that the RTI Act shall override any other law to the extent that the latter is inconsistent with the former.
  • The Section states: “Act to have an overriding effect — The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923), and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act.”
  • Non-obstante clause: A clause such as Section 22 is known as non-obstante clause and is a common drafting device used by legislatures to permit certain actions regardless of what is mentioned in existing legislation.
  • Drafters aware of the possible conflict: The wording of the provision reveals that the drafters of the RTI Act were clearly aware that it may conflict with other laws and wanted to ensure that the procedure under the Act overruled the procedure in existing legislation.
    • Despite this crystal-clear wording of Section 22, the Supreme Court and, on previous occasions, the High Courts, have concluded exactly the opposite.

Three steps to the courts reasoning 

  • No inconsistency: It concludes that there is no inconsistency between the RTI Act and the court rules.
    • This is factually incorrect because the Gujarat High Court Rules unlike the RTI Act require the submission of an affidavit stating the purpose of seeking copies of the pleadings.
    • The RTI Act requires no reasons to be provided while seeking information.
  • Issue over non-obstante clause: The court argues that “A special enactment or rule cannot be held to be overridden by a later general enactment simply because the latter opens up with a non-obstante clause unless there is a clear inconsistency between the two legislations.”
    • But that is exactly the point of an non-obstante clause.
    • The accompanying factual inaccuracy, is its conclusion that there is no inconsistency between the Gujarat High Court rules and the RTI Act.
  • Section 22 can’t be read to imply repeal of the laws: The third limb, of the court’s reasoning was its conclusion that Section 22 could not be read in a manner to imply repeal of other laws, such as the Gujarat High Court Rules.
    • The court states that if the intention was to repeal another law, the legislature would have specifically stated so in the RTI Act, as was done in Section 31 when the RTI Act repealed the previous Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
    • This reasoning is bewildering because it would render non-obstante clauses entirely useless.

What is the issue arising out of this judgement?

  • From a citizen’s perspective, this decision is problematic for two reasons.
    • Not all High Courts allow access to all: Most High Court Rules allow only parties to a legal proceeding to access the records of a case. Some High Courts may allow third parties to access court records if they can justify their request.
    • This is entirely unlike the RTI Act, where no reasons are required to be provided thereby vastly reducing the possibility of administrative discretion.
    • Logistical difficulties: The second reason this judgment spells bad news is that unlike the RTI Act, the procedure under the Rules of most High Courts is challenging from a logistical perspective, apart from lacking in any significant safeguards.
    • An application under the RTI Act can be made by post, with the fee being deposited through a postal order.
    • The procedure is simple enough to enable most citizens to file RTI applications by themselves.
    • Not so for the procedure under the High Court Rules.
    • Most courts require the physical filing of an application: Most High Courts and the Supreme Court require the physical filing of an application with the Registry, and a hearing before a judge to determine whether records should be given.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court fails to understand that the judiciary’s track record of transparency is vastly inferior when compared to other arms of the state. In today’s world where every public institution is striving to become more transparent, the continued resistance from the judiciary to making itself transparent in a meaningful manner will have an eroding effect on its legitimacy.

Oil and Gas Sector – HELP, Open Acreage Policy, etc.

 How the country should make the most of a second oil windfall

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- How the government should utilise the windfall from fall in the oil prices?

Context

Amid the coronavirus scare came India’s silver lining in the form of a failure of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and Russia to reach an agreement on oil production cuts.

Reasons for Russia’s decision and its aftermath

  • Why Russia declined to sign the agreement: Russia declined to cut its oil supply with an intention to compete with the US shale industry.
  • Start of the price war: Consequently, a price war has started as Saudi Arabia plans a big increase in its oil supply. Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s largest oil exporter, has started offering unprecedented discounts in Europe, the Far East and the US to increase its supplies at the cost of other oil producers.
  • Immediate fallout: An immediate fallout of the Russia-Opec meeting was a 9% fall in oil prices on Friday. Monday saw a sharper drop.

Supply and demand shocks and implications for India

  • The demand shock: The impact of Covid-19 will be felt on the global demand for oil, too, as a dramatic increase in Covid-19 cases has put further downward pressure on demand for commodities, including oil.
  • Thus, both supply and demand shocks have coalesced to roil the crude oil market.
  • How much was the drop in price: Since the start of the year, oil prices have fallen by about a third.
    • Prices may drop further under the weight of the twin assault of higher supply and lower demand.
    • It is, therefore, not a stretch to expect oil prices over the coming financial year to be lower than they were in the previous two.
  • Implications for India: This has positive implications for India’s economy and policymaking, as it comes at a time when it has embarked on an uncertain and hesitant recovery.

Opportunity for India

  • Precarious fiscal situation: The growth slowdown in the last two years has resulted in a precarious fiscal situation because of tax revenue shortfalls.
  • Implications of the fiscal constraints: A direct casualty is the ability of the government to spend or meet its fiscal commitments in the form of budgetary transfers to states, payment of dues and compensation for revenue shortfalls to state governments under the goods and services tax (GST) framework.
  • Constraints holding back the government from offering stimulus: Budgetary constraints combined with the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act have held the government back from fully offsetting a private sector demand slowdown with its own spending.
  • Opportunity in the low oil prices: Low oil prices offer an opportunity to raise some revenue and improve its fiscal balance.

Way forward

  • First- Passing half the benefit to consumers: As oil prices slide below levels in the previous two years and also below the price of India’s oil basket of $65 per barrel reportedly assumed for 2020-21, there’s an opportunity to pass on about half the benefit of lower global prices to consumers, while the other half can be used to shore up revenue by levying higher excise duty.
    • The Union government did something similar between 2014 and 2016.
    • Improving the fiscal health: It used low oil prices to improve its fiscal health, as the budget deficit it inherited from the previous government was higher than what the official figures suggested.
  • Second-Revenue generated should be used to clear dues: The additional tax revenue thus generated through higher excise duty should be used to clear all dues of the central government, whether to private companies, state governments, or others awaiting tax refunds.
    • Putting cash back in the hands of households and small businesses will go a long way in maintaining the growth of domestic demand, besides improving the credibility of the Union government as a trustworthy counter-party.
  • Third-Fiscal leeway: The potential excise duty windfall from oil prices could come in handy for the government to provide relief to beleaguered telecom companies.
    • The government will have fiscal leeway to allow a staggered and a longer schedule for the payments they have to make, arising out of the Supreme Court ruling on adjusted gross revenues.
    • The telecom growth story is an important component of the broader India story, and the sector needs an urgent breather to ensure we are adequately prepared for a 5G roll-out, whenever it happens.
  • Fourth-Recalibrate: A slowdown in economic activity, which is inevitable with restrictions placed on mobility and human interaction, will have adverse fiscal implications.
    • Tax collections will decline. So will remittances from Indian workers in the Gulf, if that region is buffeted by oil and virus shocks.
    • Hence, the quantum of the windfall from lower oil prices will need to be constantly re-assessed and fiscal strategies recalibrated.
  • Fifth-Hedging against the higher prices: Even as it should nimbly take advantage of the lower prices now, the government should seriously consider hedging against possible higher oil prices in the medium- to long-term through appropriate instruments available in financial markets. This idea should be extended to hedging against a fall in the rupee relative to the US dollar too.
  • Finally-Consider assembling the crack team: It may be worthwhile for the government to consider assembling a crack team of former and current bureaucrats, who have proven their mettle in different crises and in different sectors, to advise it on policy measures that should be adopted in these extraordinary times. Much policy innovation and courage, combined with integrity, will be needed for India to emerge stronger from 2020. For the country’s leadership, there isn’t much to lose from breaking free of old policy and behavioural shackles.

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

The role of women in developing a knowledge economy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 1- Empowerment of women is necessary to achieve the aim of $5 trillion economy.

The role of women in developing a knowledge economy

Context

Indian economic success requires scientific skills that can foster a knowledge economy, the emergence of which depends on how gender-balanced the workforce is.

Half the scientific potential squandered

  • The requirement of the skilled workforce: A rapidly growing India requires a highly skilled technical workforce that is crucial for developing a knowledge economy.
    • Unfortunately, half the scientific potential of India—women in science—is squandered.
    • Women make up only 14% of the 280,000 scientists, engineers, and technologists in research and development institutions across the country, according to a recent study.
  • Several barriers in careers: Today, fewer women apply for or hold key scientific positions as several barriers prevent them from progressing in their careers, in comparison with their male counterparts.

Several unacknowledged factors that disadvantage women

  • There is widespread frustration experienced by women, who find it difficult if not impossible to fulfil their scientific potential.
    • Even today, several factors that disadvantage women are not acknowledged widely enough.
  • What are the difficulties faced by women: Peer-reviewed research reports have indicated that women-
    • Scientists earn less.
    • Have less prestige within departments.
    • Have less lab space.
    • Are offered inadequate jobs on graduating with science degrees and have more teaching responsibilities.
    • They also face greater difficulty in receiving grants and therefore apply for fewer grants in the first place.
  • Imperative to tackle issues: It is imperative to tackle these issues with vigour if India is to take its rightful place among developed nations.

Lack of informal networks

  • Women tend to lack access to informal networks that provide opportunities to work in high-profile projects.
    • Which include attending conferences abroad or on-the-job opportunities.
  • How it affects them? They lack the work experience that would enable them to rise up the ranks and provide access to the wide range of developmental models that could build the credibility they need to advance.

Importance of mentor

  • Performance assessment is now an integral part of an organization’s performance management systems, implemented as companies move away from the age-old concepts of training and skill development.
  • How mentors matters? Mentors often help build confidence as well as professional identity in protégés and offer access to developmental opportunities, allowing individuals to demonstrate their ability and gain trust.
    • Mentors keep information channels open and provide feedback on performance in crucial times.
    • It has been noted that almost every successful woman has had a mentor at some time.

How organizations work culture matters?

  • Unepathetic culture: Organizations often define success by the willingness of their employee to work for long hours and prioritize work over everything else—a “live to work” ideal, generally regarded as more masculine.
    • Group membership as criteria leads to discrimination: When women feel selected or assessed on the basis of group membership rather than their work record and abilities, they experience gender discrimination.
    • Women feel that an unempathetic culture is one of the most significant barriers to their advancement.
  • Gender bias as a major career obstacle: A study highlighted that only 3% of women surveyed regarded family responsibilities as their most serious career obstacle, while 50% cited gender bias.
    • Only 7% of female employees surveyed reported leaving the organization for family reasons, whereas 73% reported leaving because they saw limited opportunities.
    • Quit rate: The quit rates for women were significantly lower in organizations that provided better training and promotion opportunities.
  • The need for the employee-friendly policies: In recent years, we have witnessed an increase in the number of women with children who participate in the country’s paid workforce.
    • An organization’s culture has a significant impact on those who work within it.
    • Unfortunately, not many organizations have revised their work policies or employee expectations to enable women to strike a balance between their work and family responsibilities.
    • Flexible policies: For instance, the internet and telecom revolutions have enabled organizations to introduce employee-friendly policies such as Flexi-work hours and work-from-home that have significantly transformed workplace practices.

Way forward

  • Need for the realisation of the full potential of women: Science needs the best scientists, and a knowledge economy needs a gender-balanced workforce. This can only be attained by realizing the full potential of women.
  • Reach out to young girls: Apart from being wasteful and unjust, the under-representation of women in science threatens the goal of achieving excellence in the field. To tackle this, we must set an ambitious target of reaching out to 1 million young girls each year and encourage them to take up science and make a difference.
  • Convention of women: A national convention of women in science must be held annually, with a specific focus on discussing and building general awareness around the major challenges that women face.

Conclusion

We must mobilize all our resources if India aims to be a $5 trillion economy. The gender imbalance in science and technology is a looming challenge and threatens to weaken our country’s competitive economic position. By addressing these concerns, we can empower and motivate more women to join scientific fields, unlock India’s full potential, and develop the country to become a knowledge economy.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

After the Trump visit

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- India-US relations.

Context

President Trump’s visit had the right optics. Attention must now turn to India-US priority areas.

What were the mutual gains and highlights of the visit?

  • Security: Homeland Security is an American expression. For us to own it shows our concerns on cross-border sponsored terrorism.
  • Nuclear technology: Our nuclear VVER power plant technologies are state of the art and of Russian and French design.
    • Fast breeder: Good, but one more is better. We are well on the way to the fast breeder on the thorium route and these nuclear turbines are an essential step.
    • Unlimited thorium: We don’t have much uranium but unlimited thorium, so in the long run, apart from solar, this is the energy future.
    • Insurance obstacle resolved: Obviously, the insurance obstacle, as to who will bear the cost of insurance against disaster damage, which the Americans were raising earlier, has been resolved.
    • We have to build nuclear power to provide the initial feedstock for the thorium-based reactors.
  • No progress on trade pact: There are obviously differences between the two nations on the trade pact.
    • There is “progress”, but otherwise, we don’t know the way forward. Since the event was Ahmedabad-based, Amul is invading America and dairying is real politics.
  • US concerns over Kashmir issue: The US concern on Kashmir and minority rights is real.
    • If the largest foreign office establishment in the world is raising issues through their chief, let’s not bury our head in the sand.
    • Our defence minister expressing sadness at former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir being in detention was a gesture to the US President’s stand on pursuing solutions.
  • The bipartisan foreign policy of India shifting: The Americans generally rally behind the President on foreign policy.
    • We are more advanced now and have kicked a bipartisan approach to foreign affairs.
    • Seven decades of a bipartisan policy are thrown away without a word in explanation.

Challenges to the rights in India

  • Every right is tampered with. Your religion, your identity in a country that never questioned it, you name it, it’s in question.
  • Multiple identity cards not accepted: The Aadhaar card, passport, ration card, election card are not enough. One office doesn’t accept another’s card, even if they carry the same information.
  • A study on a ration card and election cards: A study funded by the Canadian IDRC showed the poor only keep under lock and key the ration and election cards. One saves them from starvation, the other gives them dignity. At least once every five years, the mightiest knock at their door. We must not destroy, we must build.

Conclusion

There are obviously differences between the two nations on the trade pact. But apart from trade, there are many areas the cooperation on which can benefit both the countries.

 

 

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

Skill her, skill India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Schemes for women empowerment.

Mains level : Paper 2- Various measures and schemes by the government for women empowerment.

Context

On March 8, we honour and celebrate women on the occasion of the International Women’s Day. Women in our country are making strides in social, financial and political fields.

Women breaking the barriers

  • Women working for the development of the country: Be it the 1857 mutiny for India’s freedom or the struggle for Independence, our women have always made India proud.
    • Even today, women are performing their duties with full devotion for the development of the country and upliftment of society.
    • They are working efficiently in various fields, such as academics, literature, music and dance, sports, media, business, information technology, science and technology, politics and social development.
  • Breaking barriers in various fields: Indian women from metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai are breaking barriers in fields ranging from politics to the corporate sector.
  • Giving society a new direction: Women are giving society a new direction through their leadership and critical participation in panchayat elections.
    • Increasing awareness and clear intentions are the reason behind women strengthening economic, social and cultural establishments.
    • This is very important for a democratic system.

Female participation in the corporate sector

  • IT sector participation: There is a constant evolution of female participation in the corporate sector. Female participation is constantly increasing in the Information Technology sector.
  • Presence in other areas: Along with the IT sector, the presence of women is also increasing in the banking and finance sector.
    • Last year, the Indian Space Research Organisation decided to hand over the command of Chandrayaan-2 to two women, and these women also played a key role in the mission.

Government schemes for women empowerment

  • Our government is running many schemes for women’s empowerment such as the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Mahila E-haat Scheme, Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, Sakhi Yojana, Ladli Yojana, Digital Laado and the Swachh Bharat Mission.
  • Government is also working extensively on women’s nutrition.
  • Multiple ministries working on the same: The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Women and Child Empowerment, and Human Resource Development are working closely in this regard.
  • Identification of skill set: We know that every person has a unique skill-set. What is needed is a mechanism to ensure that that skill-set is identified and honed in the best possible way.
    • The government need to ensure that all women in our country from different occupations are trained in their respective skill-sets and are employable.
  • Government need to put to best use their skill-set to become self-employed entrepreneurs and progress.
  • Around 68.12 lakh women in India have been trained under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikaas Yojana 2.0.
  • Under the Jan Shikshan Sansthan Scheme, around 08 lakh women have been trained in the 2018-2020 period, while 38.72 lakh women have been trained in Industrial Training Institutes (ITI).
    • At present, there are 18 National Skill Training Institutes across the country to train women. Special batches are being conducted to provide basic, theoretical and advanced training to women.
  • Making progress in non-traditional skills: It is a matter of joy and pride that while women in India are studying electronics, fashion design, technology and business management, there are also those who hone their new-age skills in artificial intelligence, data analytics, 3D printing, etc.
    • Along with traditional skills like beauty, wellness and healthcare, women are also progressing quickly in non-traditional skills such as electronics and hardware.

The role of various missions in strengthening women’s skill

  • The National Rural Livelihood Mission has strengthened women’s skills and prepared them for employment.
  • Training for self-employed tailors, beauty therapists, customer care executives, hairstylists, yoga trainers, etc. are being carried out in the Prime Minister Skill Centres.
  • Women playing a significant role in various missions: Very soon, one will get to see women playing significant roles in central government schemes such as the Ayushman Bharat Yojana, Swachh Bharat Mission and Smart City Mission.
    • By joining these missions, women will make a huge contribution in giving a new shape to society.
    • In fact, in the creation of a New India, women’s education and skill development are going to be critical.
  • In the last few years, the central government has rolled out various schemes that have emboldened the women of our country and taken them on the path of self-reliance and security.

Conclusion

The efforts of our government have created a milieu of trust in the women of our country. They are confident that the country’s government machinery is standing by them by creating an atmosphere of respect and development for women. In the past few years, our government has made massive advancements in providing education and honing skill-sets. We pledge to make sure that these efforts reach each and every Indian woman.

 

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

Teaching the teacher

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Need to reform the teacher education system in India.

Context

Our teacher education system must be aligned with global standards.

Learning crisis and teacher vacancies in India

  • Teacher education as a status check on schooling education: Comparable to the role of a thermometer in diagnosing fever, an assessment of the quality of teacher education can be a status check on the schooling system.
    • Teachers remain at the heart of the issue, and translating schooling into learning is a critical challenge.
  • The gravity of learning crisis: The learning crisis is evident in the fact that almost half of the children in grade 5 in rural India cannot solve a simple two-digit subtraction problem,
    • While 67 per cent of children in grade 8 in public schools score less than 50 per cent in competency-based assessments in mathematics.
  • Teacher vacancies: India is dealing with a scenario of significant teacher vacancies, which are to the tune of almost 60-70 per cent in some states.
  • In fact, there are over one lakh single-teacher schools present across the country.
  • Excess teachers produced by TEIs: On the other hand, there are 17,000-odd Teacher Education Institutes (TEIs) that are responsible for preparing teachers through programmes such as the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed), and Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed).
    • 19 lakh teachers every year: Taking their sanctioned intake into account, at full operation, these TEIs could generate over 19 lakh freshly trained teachers every year as against the estimated annual requirement of 3 lakh teachers.
    • To put things in perspective, currently, there are about 94 lakh teachers across all schools in India.
    • Every year, the teacher education system could, therefore, be producing one-fifth of the total number of school teachers.

The quality aspect of the teachers

  • Poor quality teachers: Not only are these TEIs generating a surplus supply of teachers, but they are also producing poor-quality teachers.
  • Pass percentage in eligibility test below 25%: Besides it being reflected in the dismal state of learning across schools, the pass-percentage in central teacher eligibility tests that stipulate eligibility for appointments as teachers has not exceeded 25 per cent in recent years.
    • This begs a pertinent question — how did we get here?

What are the reasons for such problems?

  • The answers lie in:  The inadequacies of planning, regulation, policy and organisational structures.
  • The role and issues in NCTE: The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) and its four regional committees (north, south, east and west), established by statute, are responsible for teacher education in India.
    • Toothless in terms of powers: The Act assigns disproportionate power to the regional committees which grant programme affiliation while the Council has been rendered toothless.
  • Proliferation of sus-standard TEIs: Perverted incentives, widespread corruption and commercialisation have resulted in a massive proliferation of sub-standard TEIs.
    • In fact, while most of these TEIs are financially unviable, some function out of tiny rooms with duplicate addresses, and a few could even be selling degrees at a fixed price.
    • No system to ensure the entry of meritorious: These institutes function in isolation from the rest of the higher education system, and there is no system to assess and accredit them. Consequently, there is no systemic sieve to ensure the entry of only motivated and meritorious individuals into the teacher education space.
  • Disparity regional spread of TEIs: A more granular look reveals disparities across regions and programmes offered.
    • One-third in UP: Almost one-third of the TEIs are concentrated in Uttar Pradesh.
    • In fact, Ghazipur, a district in UP with a population of around one lakh, has a whopping 300 TEIs.
    • Approximately half of the total TEIs are in the northern region with Rajasthan having the second-largest number of institutes.
  • Poor planning: While there are about 17 recognised teacher education programmes, a majority of TEIs offer only B.Ed and D.El.Ed programmes.
    • This reinforces the point of poor planning as the country is actually facing a shortage of subject teachers in secondary schools and teacher-educators for whom a Master of Education (M.Ed) degree is a requisite (offered in less than 10 per cent of the TEIs).
  • Outdated curriculum: Adding to the mix of challenges is an outdated teacher preparation curriculum framework that was last updated over a decade ago.
  • Regulation by multiple agencies: On the governance front, multiple agencies have oversight on teacher education.

Way forward

  • Collect the credible data: Any reform initiative must be built on credible data.
    • No data available: To date, there is no accurate real-time database of the number and details of teacher education institutes, students enrolled and programmes offered.
    • How the data can be helpful? Such data could be used to create a comprehensive plan for the sector, devising the optimal number of TEIs, their regional spread and programme-wise intake.
    • One cannot but underscore the significance of proper planning. The teachers will concur.
  • Develop the system of assessment and accreditation: An accurate system of assessment and accreditation must be developed to ensure high-quality teacher education.
    • The National Accreditation and Assessment Council (NAAC), responsible for quality-standards in higher education, has only covered 30 per cent of all institutes since its establishment back in 1994.
    • Given the extensive landscape of the teacher education sector alone and current capacity constraints, it is necessary that multiple accreditation agencies be empanelled.
    • A common accreditation framework should be designed through a consultative process including all relevant stakeholders to facilitate its wider acceptability.
    • A transparent and credible system of accreditation could form the bedrock for weeding out substandard TEIs and propelling quality improvements in the rest.
  • The curriculum of global quality: Core determinant of quality is the curriculum which must be regularly revamped and revised to ensure that our teacher education system is aligned to global standards.
    • Ideally, given that teacher education requires a good mix of curricular inputs and good-quality pedagogy, experts are rightly advocating for a shift towards integrated four-year subject-specific programmes to be housed in multidisciplinary colleges and universities.
    • In the first phase, these may be initiated in select central and state universities.
    • Potential to outsource teachers: This could also potentially serve as an avenue for India to outsource its surplus high-quality teachers to over 70 countries that face a teacher shortage.
  • Administrative will and execution: Finally, reforms must be driven by administrative will and executed through a well-established governance mechanism, clearly establishing ownership and accountability for set work streams across multiple agencies.
    • The draft National Education Policy presents a ray of hope.
    • Its vision to restore integrity and credibility to the teacher education system needs to be translated into effective action.

Conclusion

India is estimated to have the largest workforce within the next decade. This means that a population bulge is on the cusp of entering the higher education ecosystem now. The pressing need of the hour is to focus on providing the best quality teacher education to those who aspire to build the future of this country.

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Pieces of peace

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- US-Taliban Pact- Involvement of Pakistan and consequences for India.

Context

“Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” between the US and Taliban signed on February 29 in Doha, is just another piece in the overall strategy of the US for Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s support to the Taliban and unchanged Afghan policy of the US

  • Continuation of the same hard-nosed policy: While rolling out the Afghan policy in August 2017, it was emphasised by the current US dispensation that it was making amends to the Afghan strategy of the previous dispensation.
    • In reality, it has been a continuation of the same hard-nosed line.
  • How Pakistan supported the Taliban? The US and allies had got a rude shock when it dawned on them that between 2001 and 2008, the Taliban had used training and recuperation centres in Pakistan to regain domination over most parts of Afghanistan.
    • Benefiting from the Coalition Support Fund: Pakistan had actively aided the Taliban and al Qaeda (AQ), while continuing to benefit from handsome Coalition Support Funds and a seat at the “high table”.
    • Support of the Pakistan Army: All failures were blamed on inadequate numbers of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which were ill-equipped to challenge the Taliban, backed by a professional Pakistan Army.
    • Misdiagnosed cause: The Obama administration diagnosed that lack of governance, corruption and fragmented polity were other key factors.

What was the comprehensive Afghanistan Strategy?

  • COIN doctrine and “troop surge”: A comprehensive Afghanistan strategy review led to replicating its “troop surge” strategy, which was believed to have succeeded in Iraq, leading to total withdrawal of US troops (December 2011).
    • At the heart of the troop surge was the Counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine of the US Field Manual.
  • COIN plus CT: The military strategy in Afghanistan was split into COIN plus CT (Counter Terrorism) objectives.
    • The Taliban movement was treated as an insurgency.
    • What was involved in COIN: The COIN efforts entailed protecting population centres and highways, building numbers and capability of the ANSF to take on insurgents, with emphasis on good governance and support for reconstruction.
    • It also included reconciliation and reintegration of lower to mid-level willing Taliban.
    • The UN designations of Taliban and AQ were separated to pave the way for “peace talks” with Taliban commanders who were tired of fighting.
  • What this strategy achieved? The US-led ISAF troop surge helped create time and space to build and strengthen the ANSF over three times and succeeded in pushing the Taliban back to outlying areas.
    • Even today these territorial gains have not been reversed, except in some areas.
    • As the ANSF gained strength and depth, the US led-ISAF mission became a NATO led-Resolute Support mission.
  • How changing geopolitical circumstances increased challenges? The CT effort yielded rich dividends for the US and allies, in the Af-Pak region and even beyond.
    • The rise of ISIS: From the build-up of ISIS in 2014 to the loss of its Caliphate in 2019 and recently to the killing of General Solemani, the CT challenges of the US and allies in the Af-Pak region and periphery have become graver than ever.
    • These elements had a bearing on the Afghan strategy rolled out in August 2017.
    • Good progress was made in building up the ANSF, with a strong focus on three key elements — Special Forces, Air Force, and Afghan Intelligence (NDS).

The US withdrawal

  • Objectives of the withdrawal: Emphasising that “consequences of a rapid exit were predictable and unacceptable”, it outlined two key objectives —
    • Preventing a resurgence of safe havens that threatened the security of Afghanistan and the US interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    • Preventing terrorists from getting nukes or nuclear material which could be used against the US or elsewhere.
  • What is the recalibrated strategy: The “recalibrated” strategy envisaged following-
    • Time-bound but condition-based withdrawal.
    • Support for the Ghani government.
    • ANSF to take on the Taliban.
    • Talks with the Taliban and for Pakistan to demonstrate commitment on dismantling safe havens that threatened US objectives.
    • Overall, the strategy remained the same, except for the withdrawal of the US from a role in nation-building.
  • What are the results of the strategy? There has been a greater emphasis on the strengthening of ANSF.
    • The regular assessments by the US show an increasing role and success of the Afghan Special Forces.
    • The Air Force and the NDS in playing the lead in keeping the Taliban from running over capitals.
    • By and large, the ANSF have been successful in maintaining the balance and the Taliban-control has not slipped to 2009 levels.
    • In the meantime, US forces have dropped to 10 per cent of the peak (in 2011).
    • With the re-election of President Ghani, it is assured that the US line of thinking will prevail over the Afghan government.
    • Role of Pakistan in the process: On its part, Pakistan has demonstrated its intent by delivering top-rung Taliban, including Mullah Baradar in its custody since 2010, and Anas Haqqani released as part of the process, for the talks.
    • Even if there is no comprehensive ceasefire or full withdrawal ever, Pakistan is unlikely to be blamed.

What Pakistan achieved from the peace process?

  • Return of Afghan refugee: Pakistan has been rewarded in more ways than one. It managed to return lakhs of Afghans.
  • Fencing on the eastern border of Afghanistan: It builds a fence along the eastern parts of Afghanistan to prevent cross-border attacks.
  • Targeting the key TTP leaders: Pakistan got the US and Afghan forces to target key TTP leaders, starting with TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah in June 2018.
    • Since January this year, three top TTP leaders have been killed in Kabul and Kunar.
    • This has also helped build the Pakistan narrative that Afghan soil is being used to target Pakistan.
  • Changing the international narrative in its favour: Even though it is facing “calibrated” heat on FATF sanctions, Pakistan has managed to change the international narrative in its favour.
    • The 24th report (July 2019) of the UNSC monitoring committee has stated, “Al Qaeda continues to cooperate closely with LeT and the Haqqani Network”, but there is no reference to LeT or Haqqani in the 25th report (January 2020).
    • This report has also asserted that ISIL-K has established informal contact with other terrorist groups, including Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, TTP and Lashkar e-Islam.
    • Meanwhile, these groups regularly attack Pakistani posts along the Afghan border.
    • All key anti-Pakistan groups are now being categorised as ISIL-K supporters, even though Pakistan has run the so-called Daesh networks in eastern Afghanistan for years.
    • The UNSC reports also highlight the positive role of Taliban in targeting ISIL-K.

Conclusion

  • The election in the US has bearing on the process: In an election year, the US needs to show that it is not fighting someone else’s battles and is making “sincere efforts” at peace-making.
    • The “Agreement” demonstrates sincerity.
    • At the same time, the US has to continue steering the Afghan strategy to keep terror networks in check.
    • The peace process has already created a comfort-loving, globe-trotting leadership in the top echelons of the Taliban, who would continue to talk, even if the current Agreement falters.
  • Pakistan is again sitting on the high table: As the LeT and Haqqani networks go missing from UN reports and JeM chief Masood Azhar and pro-Pak TTP leader Ehasanullah Ehsan go conveniently “missing” from Pakistan soil, the pressure on Pakistan has eased.
    • The new non-state entities backed by Pakistan, such as the AQIS and ISKP/IS-Kashmir/IS-Hind will become more visible.
    • The rank and file of LeT, JeM, HUJI etc can easily be transferred to these new entities, while many more can be recruited under new banners.
    • Online propaganda of these entities, including in Indian languages, is already visible and likely to escalate.

 

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Climate change and geopolitics converge to yield locust swarms

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Protecting Indian agriculture against the locust attacks.

Context

Abnormal rainfall in the Arabian desert and an effect of the Yemen war have revived a menace that could hit Indian crops

Butterfly effect- a fitting metaphor for locust attack

  • What is the butterfly effect? The butterfly effect occurs when a trivial cause, such as a butterfly fluttering its wings somewhere in an Amazon rainforest, triggers a series of events that end up having a massive impact elsewhere.
    • Edward Lorenz, the American meteorologist who coined the phrase in the early 1960s, came up with it while building a mathematical model to predict weather patterns.
    • Fitting metaphor: It is a fitting metaphor to explain a “plague” that is currently destroying vegetation and livelihoods in East Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Iran, Pakistan and India.

The impact of the locust attack in the world

  • Impact in Africa: Several countries in Africa and Asia have been dealing with “the curse of good rains”: Massive swarms—called “plagues”—of the desert locust.
    • Swarms as large as 2,400 sq. km, comprising 200 billion insects, have already damaged over 70,000 hectares of crops in Kenya and around 30,000 hectares in Ethiopia.
  • Last month, Pakistan declared a national emergency over locusts.
  • Impact in India: In India, several districts in Gujarat and Rajasthan have been affected.
    • Rajasthan has announced a compensation of ₹13,500 per hectare to affected farmers.
    • While locust swarms continue to plague African countries, for now, the outbreak has tapered down in India with swarms headed back towards Sindh and Balochistan.
  • Possibility of return of the locusts: The expectation is that the locusts will be back in June, by which time their numbers would have grown fivefold.

What are the locusts and how they form swarms?

  • Solitary creature: The brown-coloured desert locust usually lives as a solitary creature in the desert and bushlands.
  • Transformation and swarm formation: When several of them gather in close proximity, they undergo a dramatic physical transformation, change colour to black and bright yellow, become gregarious, and start moving around in swarms.
  • Contribution of moisture and temperature: Locusts lay their eggs a few inches under the soil in the presence of moisture, which hatch faster under higher temperatures.
    • Similarly, the flightless nymphs mature faster under warmer conditions and, within weeks, turn into adults that can form swarms of hundreds of millions of insects that can fly over 100km per day.
  • The scale of destruction: Each locust can eat its own body weight—around 2-3 grams—every day.
    • Which means that a swarm can consume hundreds of tonnes of vegetation that it encounters every day.

Change in the behaviour pattern

  • Limited to recession areas: Normally, desert locusts are limited to a recession area enveloping the African Sahel to the west and Rajasthan to the east.
    • After international preventive control measures started in the 1940s, the intensity and spread of these swarms reduced, resulting only in regional plagues.

What contributed to this year’s infestation?

  • Two factors contributed to this year’s infestation:
    • Abnormal weather conditions.
    • Region’s geopolitics.
  • Abnormal weather conditions: In 2018, two cyclones a few months apart delivered rain to the Rub al Khali, the remote desert called the “Empty Quarter” of the Arabian peninsula.
    • The resulting ephemeral lakes created new breeding grounds for the desert locust in a poorly monitored region.
  • Region’s geopolitics: Insecticide spraying operations were not conducted because of the war in Yemen.
    • The breeding continued before the swarms crossed the Gulf into Iran and the Red Sea to Ethiopia and Somalia in the Horn of Africa.
    • Here, too, conflict and political unrest limited control operations, leading to further breeding.
  • Another cyclone in 2019: In December 2019, another cyclonic storm hit the Horn of Africa, creating conditions for yet more breeding.
    • Today, the situation is dire in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, and is worsening in Uganda and Tanzania.

How affected countries are responding to the infestation?

  • Pakistan declared national emergency: Across the Persian Gulf, the Pakistani provinces of Balochistan and Sindh were initially affected, and when Punjab was hit, the government declared a national emergency and approached China for assistance.
  • How India is responding? Across the border, several districts in Gujarat and Rajasthan were affected and neighbouring states, including Uttar Pradesh, are now on alert.
    • Cooperation between India and Pakistan: Despite political tensions, Indian and Pakistani locust control officials met almost once a month over the second half of 2019 to exchange information, if not coordinate control efforts.
    • So far, India’s surveillance, preparedness and response have been competent and effective.
    • The national Locust Warning Organization was set up in 1939 and is well connected to international institutions created to manage locust risks.
    • It publishes weekly bulletins and even has a Twitter handle.
    • Bulletins show when locusts were detected, the location, extent and tonnage of insecticide sprayed and the risk of future infestation.
  • China’s preparedness: China is largely protected against locust plagues by geographical barriers, but is relatively vulnerable in the Xinjiang region.
    • Past similar event: Faced with a similar situation a couple of decades ago, the Chinese government had deployed hundreds of thousands of ducks that would eat the locusts in response to the blowing of a whistle.
    • Reports in the Chinese media indicate that Beijing plans to do the same this year.

 The immediate concern in India

  • Factors that could worsen the problem: Climate change, with higher temperatures and changes in the Indian Ocean Dipole, could worsen the locust problem for India in coming years.
  • The problem could overwhelm the capacity to control: The immediate concern is that by June 2020, there will probably be extraordinarily large swarms in India and that these could overwhelm the country’s current capacity to control them.
    • Preparedness measures by the government: The Union government is procuring additional spraying equipment and planning helicopter and drone-based control operations should the need arise.
    • Containing the swarms at India’s border states is crucial, as India’s agricultural heartland lies just beyond.

Conclusion

The government should take stock of its preparedness to deal with the imminent locust attack in June take necessary actions to deal with the menace as it could threaten India’s food security and economy.

 

 

 

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

State lethargy amidst cough syrup poisoning

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Need of the policy and standard guidelines for the drug recall.

Context

A few days ago, 12 children died in Udhampur district of Jammu due to poisoned cough syrup (Coldbest-PC).

Fourth mass glycol poisoning

  • What was the cause of the poisoning? A team of doctors at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh, attributed the deaths to the presence of diethylene glycol in the cough syrup.
  • What is Diethylene glycol? It is an anti-freezing agent that causes acute renal failure in the human body followed by paralysis, breathing difficulties and ultimately death.
  • This is the fourth mass glycol poisoning event in India that has been caused due to a pharmaceutical drug.

Measures required and example from the US

  • Preventing further deaths: The immediate concern for doctors, pharmacists and the drug regulators should be to prevent any more deaths.
    • The only way to do so is to account for each and every bottle of the poisoned syrup that has ever been sold in the Indian market and stop patients from consuming this drug any further.
  • The US example in such case: United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), in 1937, when the United States faced a similar situation with glycol poisoning.
    • Tracking down every bottle: Entire field force of inspectors and chemists were assigned to the task of tracking down every single bottle of the drug.
    • Even if a patient claimed to have thrown out the bottle, the investigators scoured the street until they found the discarded bottle.
    • This effort was accompanied by a publicity blitz over radio and television.
  • What is being done in India? We do not see such public health measures being undertaken here.
    • Seriousness not communicated to the pubic: Authorities are simply not communicating the seriousness of the issue to the general public.
    • A general statement: At most, the authorities in Himachal Pradesh (H.P.), who are responsible for oversight of the manufacturer of this syrup, have made general statements that they have ordered the withdrawal of the drug from all the other States where it was marketed.
    • Lack of transparency: There is no transparency in the recall process and information about recalls and batch numbers is not being communicated through authoritative channels.
    • No public announcement by the DCGI: There is no public announcement by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), which is responsible for overall regulation of the entire Indian market.
    • The suspect product, although manufactured in H.P., has been sold across the country.
    • The website of the DCGI, which is supposed to communicate drug alerts and product recalls, has no mention of Coldbest-PC as being dangerous as of this writing.

Need for the recall policy

  • No rules or binding guidelines on recall: One of the key reasons why the DCGI and state drug authorities have been so sloppy is because unlike other countries, India has not notified any binding guidelines or rules on recalling dangerous drugs from the market.
  • Warnings to the DGCI on lack of framework: The 59th report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health as well as the World Health Organization (in its national regulatory assessment) had warned the DCGI on the lack of a national recall framework in India.
    • A set of recall guidelines was drafted in 2012 but never notified into law.

Conclusion

The drug regulator needs to take the urgent steps to avoid the repeat of such tragedies in the future and formulate a policy on the drug recall at the earliest.

Issues related to Economic growth

Is RBI raising systemic risks by pushing retail credit?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3-Is RBI raising systemic risks by pushing retail credit?

Context

Credit driven growth may not lead to sustainable growth.

Credit driven economic boom

  • RBI and govt. acting in line: Both the government and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) have acted in line with their stated commitment towards the defined fiscal and monetary stability framework.
    • Given the pressures of a dwindling growth rate and limited fiscal and monetary elbow room, this is commendable.
  • Growth without increasing systemic risk: It is critical that the decisions taken to revive growth have a high likelihood of success without increasing systemic risk in the medium to long run.
    • Recent push may add to systemic risk: In this context, it may be argued that RBI’s recent push for retail credit growth would add to systemic risk, while the benefits for India’s gross domestic product growth (GDP) may be limited.
    • Credit-driven economic booms always end in economic misery.
  • Credit is a necessary evil: To pump-prime an economy, very few tools exist other than credit.
    • Thus there is all the more reason to handle it with care. In current economic growth frameworks, economic growth requires
    • Quite often, credit creation is the ultimate source of capital.
    • If the government spends by increasing its fiscal deficit, government debt increases. If the private sector borrows to invest and kick-start growth, its leverage increases.
    • What could be the best source of credit? The best use of credit is when it is used to finance real assets in the economy.
    • Creation of financial asset: When credit does not create real assets, it inevitably creates financial assets such as bonds held by investors, loans held by banks, or accounts receivables held by firms.
    • The precursor to a crisis: An overabundance of financial assets created by credit is a precursor to a crisis.

How types of loans matters for growth and risk of the system

  • How money is used matters for reviving sustainable growth: Taking a consumer loan to splurge on a vacation or celebratory dinner does very little to support long-term growth. It creates economic activity only in the immediate period.
    • Which sector should be pushed to ramp up credit and how that money is used become important if reviving sustainable growth is the objective.
  • In a paper titled Who Gets The Credit And Does It Matter, Thorsten Beck et al studied the growth dynamics of 45 countries for the period from 1994 to 2005.
    • Only loans to firms contribute to growth: The paper concluded that only loans to firms are linked to GDP growth, the argument being that firms use credit to increase their capital stock, and thus, real assets.
    • Loans to households do not add substantially to growth: Loans to households, while having desirable social outcomes in terms of boosting consumption and allowing households to tide over short-term cash flow mismatches, do not add to sustainable GDP growth.
    • It is debatable whether consumer loans need a push at all.
  • Retail and household debt growth
    • Retail loan growth, while currently below its 2016 peak of 20%, has been managing to grow at around 15%.
    • Household debt: In December 2019, RBI cautioned lenders on household debt levels and the associated risk on retail loans.
    • Relation with banking crisis: Higher growth in household debt is associated with higher chances of a banking crisis (Household Debt And Monetary Stability, IMF, 2017).
  • Consumer loans not always add to capital stocks: Another kind of consumer loan, the home loan, need not always add to incremental capital stock. Given how slowly the supply of homes responds to demand in the short term, excess credit supply is known to add to the risk.
    • Of course, consumer loans such as education loans, which upgrade human resources, are a notable exception.
    • In fact, mortgage booms have played key roles in most credit blow-ups.
  • Surprising steps by the RBI
    • Risk weight of consumer loans lowered: Surprisingly, RBI reduced the risk weight for consumer loans other than credit card debt from 125% to 100% in September 2019.
    • Waiver to CRR requirement: Recently, RBI decided to waive lenders’ cash reserve requirement against new exposure to home, auto and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) loans.
  • Futile attempts to revive commercial lending:
    • Home loan growth was hovering around 15% for the last two years.
    • Commercial credit growth falling: Growth of commercial credit (loans to industry and services as per RBI), which last exhibited 20%-plus growth in June 2012, has been falling.
    • Since 2016, its annual growth averaged around 6%, with a strong downward trend observed since March 2019.
    • Efforts to revive commercial lending have not borne fruit.
    • Misplaced belief needs to be relooked: This misplaced belief—“if not commercial, let retail loans revive the economy”—needs to be re-looked.
    • The simplistic understanding that any credit uptick can revive the economy needs to change.
  • What retails at best can achieve? India’s retail credit push, if successful, may at best check the downward trend in GDP growth.
    • The argument that it will revive growth is based on optimism.
    • The assumption here being that consumption will drive the current capacity utilization of 69% to somewhere above 85%, which will trigger capital expenditure.
    • This assumes that the consumer loan boom, already a decade old, will continue for another 3-4 years.
  • Chances of household balance sheet weakening: In an environment of low job growth, it is difficult to see how household leverage will not increase.
    • If capacity utilization does not pick up sufficiently to revive growth, then along with banking and corporate balance sheets, household balance sheets will also be weakened.
    • Over the next 3-5 years, the downside of RBI’s retail push appears at least as significant as the upside.

Conclusion

  • Polity stability needed: The government and RBI must make more determined efforts to revive corporate activity. Policy stability and confidence in the business environment may push commercial credit better than mere interest rate cuts.
  • Need to increase government spending: Among the options available, using good old government spending to stimulate infrastructure spending, and eventually, the economy, appears to be a wiser option.

 

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Still no finality, the third time round

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Bodo peace accord, issues involved.

Context

There are indications that the new Bodo accord does not spell closure of the statehood movement by Bodo groups.

Power-sharing experiment under the Sixth Schedule

  • Sixth Schedule expected as a panacea: The experiment of power-sharing and governance under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution was expected to be the panacea of the ethno-nationalist identity questions in the Northeastern States.
  • Complexities of exclusion: Euphoria, as well as anger over the third Bodo Accord, have, however, held the mirror reflecting the complexities of exclusion of communities in such ethnocentric power-sharing and governance model.

Specifics of the new Accord

  • The new Accord was signed by the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), United Bodo People’s Organisation and all the four factions of the insurgent outfit- National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) with Delhi and Dispur on January 27.
    • It promises more legislative, executive and administrative autonomy under the Sixth Schedule to Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and expansion of the BTC territory in lieu of statehood.
  • The Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), the autonomous region governed by BTC, will be known as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) after demarcation of the augmented territory.

The emergence of the faultlines in the new Accord

  • What went wrong in the previous Accord? The previous Bodo Accord signed by the erstwhile insurgent outfit, Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) with Delhi and Dispur on February 10, 2003, led to the creation of the BTC as a new experiment of territorial autonomy under the Sixth Schedule.
    • No assent by the Governor to any BTC legislation: The constitutionally mandated legislative power of the BTC has been reduced to a farce as the Assam Governor has not given assent to any of the legislation passed by the BTC Legislative Assembly.
  • Intensification of demand for Kamatapur State: Bodo groups have suspended their statehood movement.
    • The new Bodo Accord has triggered the intensification of the movement for Kamatapur State by organisations of the Koch-Rajbongshi community.
    • Overlapping territory: The territory of the demanded Kamatapur State overlaps with the present BTAD, proposed BTR and demanded Bodoland.
  • Demand for ST status: Clamour for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status by the Koch-Rajbongshis, Adivasis and several other non-ST communities has also grown.
  • Faultlines over ST status: Deeper ethnic faultlines in an ethnocentric power-sharing model will become exposed when the Koch-Rajbongshis and the Adivasis are granted ST status, as promised by the government.
    • For, the reservation of seats of BTC is for the STs and not exclusively for the Bodos.
    • The new accord has no clear answer to such critical questions.
    • In BTAD, the ST communities account for 33.50% of the total population and the Bodos account for over 90% of the ST population in the BTAD.
    • The ST populations are an overwhelming majority in territories overseen by nine other autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura.
  • Minority governing majority: Such a demographic composition in the BTAD has allowed the space for political mobilisation of other non-Bodo communities.
    • It also allowed the articulation of the campaign that the BTC is a faulty model as it allows the minorities to govern the majorities.
    • Exclusion demand: The organisations of these communities have been demanding exclusion of villages with less than 50% Bodo population from the BTAD.
  • Counter argument by Bodos: Bodo organisations have a counter-argument that non-Bodo is a political identity construction articulated to capture power in the BTAD by certain political forces.
  • The new accord promises to increase the current strength of BTC to 60 from 40 but “without adversely affecting the existing percentage of reservation for tribal[s]”.
  • Constitutional provision for dealing with such situations: Sub-paragraph 2 of the first paragraph of the Sixth Schedule provides that, “If there are different Scheduled Tribes in an autonomous district, the Governor may, by public notification, divide the area or areas inhabited by them into autonomous regions.”
    • However, constitutional amendments were made following the previous Bodo Accord to ensure that this provision shall not apply in respect of the BTAD.
  • What could be the solution to the present situation? The provision of setting up regional autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule can be explored to create the space for communities aggrieved by exclusion from the power-sharing model of BTC.

Provision of commission

  • The new accord promises to appoint a commission by the Assam government.
    • What the commission will deal with? It will look into the demands for inclusion of villages with ST majority and contiguous to the BTAD, and exclusion of villages which are contiguous to non-Sixth Schedule areas and have majority non-ST population.
    • However, the core area of the BTAD will continue to have many villages with majority non-ST population which were included for contiguity.

Evaporating of euphoria over the accord

  • Failure in uniting the four factions: Euphoria among the Bodos over the accord is also fast evaporating with efforts to unite all the four factions of NDFB having turned futile.
    • The factions are divided into two camps.
    • The new accord will be the pivot of political mobilisation in the BTAD during the forthcoming BTC elections due in April.
  • Revival in homeland demand: A shift in the political equilibrium in the BTC resulting from a likely expansion of the ST list in Assam has the potential to keep the Bodos out of power in the BTC and push Bodo organisations to revive their homeland demand

Conclusion

Peace will continue to be fragile in Assam’s Bodo heartland until an all-inclusive power-sharing and governance model is evolved under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule.

 

 

 

 

Police Reforms – SC directives, NPC, other committees reports

Cop out in Delhi

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Need for the police reforms.

Context

Political parties across the spectrum escape the blame for continuing to use the police as an instrument to further their political agenda.

The backdrop of violence in protest against CAA in Delhi

  • The culmination of dithering by police: It was the culmination of weeks of dithering and selective action on the part of the Delhi Police in dealing with those agitating against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
  • No preventive action is taken: No preventive action appears to have been taken, and when the national capital was rocked by agitators in different areas the police appeared to have been caught by surprise.
  • Hesitation in acting against the rioters: There appeared to be hesitation on the part of the police in taking firm action against the rioters who continued to be on the rampage, destroying public and private property.
    • There was a disturbing scene of a rioter openly brandishing his firearm at a policeman.

Disturbing patterns in the Police actions

  • Delhi Police- The extremes of action and inaction: The Delhi Police is the best-resourced police in the country.
    • It is looked upon as a model by state police forces across the country. Its response, in fact, shows a disturbing pattern.
    • There have been extremes of action and inaction.
    • Forcible entry: In Jamia Millia Islamia, the police is alleged to have entered the campus forcibly and roughed up students after their march against the CAA turned violent.
    • Inexplicable delay: In JNU, there was an inexplicable delay in responding to violence by a group of outsiders within the campus.
  • Bengal Police-Turning blind eye to rioters’vandalism: In West Bengal, with Mamata Banerjee leading the charge against the CAA, the message to the police was clear.
    • They turned Nelson’s eye to rioters’ vandalising government and private property; the Eastern Railways alone suffered a loss of Rs 72.19 crore.
  • Uttar Pradesh Police- Excesses committed during protests.
    • In UP, where over 20 people were killed, the Allahabad High Court has called for a detailed report on the alleged police excesses.
  • Karnataka Police- Over-zealousness.
    • In Karnataka, the High Court has blamed the Mangaluru police of “over-zealousness” in dealing with the anti-CAA protests.
  • Party bias in the Police actions: Police response invariably reflects the bias of the ruling party.
    • The partisan police response to situations, which were strikingly similar, has caused dismay and consternation among the people.
    • One must get to the root of the problem.

Observations and the Supreme Court guidelines

  • National Police Commission observation: The National Police Commission recorded as far back as 1979 that “the present culture of the police system appears a continuation of what obtained under the British regime when the police functioned ruthlessly as an agent for sustaining the government in power”.
    • In such a situation, the Commission went on to say, “police find it difficult to play their lawful role and make their performance acceptable to the people at large”.
  • The Supreme Court directions: The Supreme Court issued a set of six directions in 2006 to state governments with a view to transforming the ethos and working philosophy of the police.
    • Setting up the State Security Commission: The SC’s most important direction was about setting up of a State Security Commission with a view to insulate the police from external pressures.
    • It is true that several states have enacted laws purportedly in compliance with the Supreme Court’s orders.
    • Recommendation not supported in letter and spirit: But these acts, as their critical examination reveals, violate the letter and spirit of the judicial directions. The old order continues for all practical purposes.
  • The Justice Dhingra Committee report on anti-Sikh riots: In its recently released report on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the report slammed the Union government and the Delhi Police.
    • It observed that a large number of crimes remained unpunished for the simple reason that there was “lack of interest shown by the police and by the authorities in handling these cases as per law or to proceed with the intention of punishing the culprits”.
    • The effort of the police and the administration “seems to have been to hush up the criminal cases concerning riots”.

Way forward

  • Implement the recommendations of NPC: It is unfortunate that the NPC recommendations have not been acted upon even after the Supreme Court’s directions. No wonder, in the recent agitation in different states, the police have acted in the manner they did.
  • Interference of the political parties need to be reduced: The police are, no doubt, to blame for not being able to function in an objective and impartial manner. There is definitely a failure of leadership also. The political leadership need to ensure the autonomy of the police.
  • Role of media: The media cannot escape its responsibility for treating the police as a convenient punching bag from time to time and not taking up the cause of police reforms as aggressively as it should be doing.
  • Introspection by the Supreme Court: The Supreme Court would also need to introspect as to why the implementation of its directions has been so ineffective.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Terms of transaction

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- India-US relations, contradictory impulses in the US policy and what future holds for India in the present scenario.

Context

Trump administration seems supportive of India as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, while also counting gains for itself.

No substantive outcomes of the visit stated

  • Neither side has so far publicly touted any major substantive outcomes of the visit.
  • Creation of positive atmosphere: To create some positive atmospherics, the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security just gave final approval to $3 billion worth of pending contracts to purchase military helicopters from US companies Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
    • Missile defence system sale: The US Administration, on its part, informed Congress of its willingness to authorise the sale of another $1.8 billion worth missile defence system.
    • The move is indicative of the US’s growing willingness to allow higher technology defence equipment to India.
  • Placing India at level (STA-1) similar to its closest allies: The Trump Administration has gone farther than its predecessors in the technology levels it is willing to offer.
    • Including Guardian drones in 2017, and placing India at STA-1 level, similar to its closest allies and partners.
  • The expected MoUs: The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs indicated on February 20 that five MoUs can be expected, inter alia,-
    • On intellectual property.
    • Trade facilitation and
    • Homeland security.
  • Making sense of the US’s actions in the present context: There will also be the regulation joint statement.
    • Analysing in greater details: This time, the statement will be parsed in more than usual detail for indications of future direction and intent for the partnership.
    • It is the time when the US has been talking of “Make America Great Again”, advocating for sovereignty and nationalism.
    • The US is also decrying-Alliance commitments, Readying to sign an agreement with the Taliban by month-end leading to a drawdown of US troop presence.
    • Yet, it is articulating repeatedly about India being a lynchpin of its “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”.

No development on the limited trade front

  • No progress on limited trade package: The two countries have not been able to finalise even a “limited trade package”, which has been under discussion for two years.
  • Gaps between the expectations: Obviously, there is a gap between what India can accommodate, and what the US negotiators want for their own political reasons.
  • The Trump administration has taken several steps that have negatively impacted India.
    • It has imposed additional tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from India, ostensibly on national security grounds.

Contradictory impulses

  • The above action flies in the face of citing strategic partnership and convergence in Indo-Pacific strategy.
  • GSP withdrawal: It has withdrawn hitherto available GSP benefits from certain categories of labour-intensive Indian products.
  • Labelling India a ‘Developed’ country: The US has taken India out of its list of “developing” countries, lowering the threshold for countervailing trade action.
  • Against the spirit of the beneficial rise of India: These actions go against the grain of the US articulation that it sees the rise of India to be in US benefit.
    • Treating the trade deficit with China and India on equal footing: It also does not make sense when India is an overall trade deficit country.
    • Even though it has a $20 billion surplus with the US which pales compared to China’s $350 billion surplus.
  • Unprecedented actions against the closest allies: Trump has taken unprecedented action against the closest US allies.
    • He has also repeatedly publicly ridiculed Indian tariffs, claiming recently that India has not treated the US fairly.

What the future holds for the India-US relationship

  • Is the US “all-weather” partner: Given the contradictory impulses, it would be fair to ask what the future holds for the India-US relationship, and where would the Trump visit and its aftermath take us.
    • Can India consider the US a reliable and “all-weather” partner, or be constantly juggling convergences and divergences?
  • The factors that affected relationship: Historically, four factors have affected the India-US relationship at any point of time:
    • US global posture and priorities.
    • Strength of bilateral relations.
    • The role assigned to Pakistan in its global objectives.
    • The strategy towards China.

Evolution of India-US relationship

  • Under Democrat Presidents
  • Roosevelt Period: During the Second World War, Roosevelt pushed Britain to grant independence to India, facilitated a separate official Indian representation in Washington through an Agent-General since 1941.
    • But did not go far enough fearing disruption of the necessary wartime alliance. In the post-war period.
  • Truman Period: Truman spoke of partnering with developing countries for their industrial and scientific progress.
    • He welcomed Indian PM Nehru for an acclaimed visit in 1949.
    • But initiated the Cold War containment strategy against the Soviet Union, and the assessment of newly independent countries from that lens.
  • Kennedy Period: He was extremely supportive of democratic India’s economic assistance requirements, and for military assistance during the 1962 China conflict.
  • Carter Period: Carter, wedded to human rights issues, acclaimed India’s post Emergency elections.
    • But was critical on non- proliferation differences.
  • Clinton Period: Clinton stabilised the relationship after the dissonance and sanctions following our 1998 nuclear tests.
    • And gave full support to India’s position during the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan.
  • Obama Period: He came out in support of India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council, and declared India a Major Defence Partner, enabling higher-level technology authorisations.
  • Under Republican Presidents
  • Eisenhower Period: Eisenhower embraced and armed Pakistan in its CENTO and SEATO military alliances.
    • India as a bulwark against China: He emphasised food and economic assistance to India seeing it as a democratic bulwark against a Communist China.
    • First-ever visit to India by the US president: He made a successful first-ever visit of a serving US President to India, welcomed also by a 5 lakh crowd in Connaught Place.
  • Nixon Period: He visited India for a day in 1959, was upset with Indian criticism of his Vietnam military offensives.
    • Sided completely with Pakistan during the Bangladesh crisis of 1971.
    • He sent the US seventh fleet into the Bay of Bengal to pressurise India and sought to reorder the global balance by outreach to China through a secret Kissinger visit that year.
  • Reagan Period: He explored economic and scientific cooperation with India, but was absorbed with Pakistan’s support in pushing the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.
  • George W Bush Period: George W Bush transformed the relationship with the civil nuclear cooperation agreement of 2008.
    • Perceiving again the technological, military and political challenge to the US from a rising China.

Conclusion

It is clear that India’s interests have been impacted a bit by party orientation on issues, but more by the overall global circumstance. Under the present circumstance, therefore, India will have to deal with a transactional administration, supportive of strengthening India as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, but also counting the gains for itself.

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

An agenda for Modi-Trump

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3-Security cooperation with the US, security concern for India over the US withdrawal from the Middle East.

Context

With the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan and other regions, India must think about its new role in the region.

The US plans for Afghanistan and the Gulf-cause of concerns for India

  • Why it matters? Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be eager to get a first-hand briefing from the US President on his plans for the Af-Pak region and the Gulf.
    • These two regions are vital to India’s economic, political and military security.
  • End of an important era in northwestern frontier: The impending withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and the downsizing of the American security role in the Gulf region mark the end of an important era in India’s northwestern frontiers — both land and maritime.
  • Can India overcome the past reluctance? The question is whether Modi and Trump can overcome the past reluctance in both capitals to collaborate in the regions west of India.
    • Suitable for both the countries: There is a good fit between-
    • America’s downward adjustment in the region under Trump, and-
    • India’s ambition to play a larger role in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

Broad understandingIndo-Pacific and extending it to the West

  • Development in the last three years: Over the last three years of the Trump presidency, Delhi and Washington had developed a broad understanding of how to secure the Indo-Pacific that the US had defined.
  • Need to extend the same to Western Indian Ocean: Officials in Delhi frequently complained that these common perspectives did not extend to the Western Indian Ocean.
  • In recent weeks, though, senior US officials have said the Indo-Pacific region extends to the east coast of Africa.
    • Question of strategic cooperation: Extending Indo-Pacific is not a question of defining geography but finding ways to secure common ground through strategic cooperation.

Elevation of South West Asia to the top of America’s security concerns

  • Filling the vacuum created by the British Empire: As the sun set over the British empire in the east after a century and a half, the US stepped in to fill the breach.
    • What began as a cautious entry into the Indian Ocean became a full-blown military power projection at the end of the 1970s.
  • Other events that played an important role? The dramatic rise in oil prices, the Islamic Revolution in Iran and its threat to export it to the Arab World, and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, saw the elevation of South West Asia to the top of America’s security concerns.
  • Events after Gulf War: The First Gulf War during 1990-91 saw the US intervene to restore the sovereignty of Kuwait that was swallowed by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
    • 9/11 attacks: The terror attacks on September 11, 2001, invited a ferocious response from the US that ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.

The Iraq and Afghanistan war-Endless wars

  • Costly failures: Notwithstanding the initial successes in both Afghanistan and Iraq, there is a growing consensus in the US that these occupations have been costly failures.
    • Trump has been among the first political leaders in the US to call these wars initiated by a Republican predecessor in the White House as “stupid”.
    • The promise of ending the endless wars: During his presidential campaign in 2016 and since Trump has promised to end the “endless wars” in the Greater Middle East and bring the boys back home.
    • It is an idea that has found considerable resonance among Democrats.
  • Focusing on great power competition instead of small wars: While the security establishment is not willing to give up, US is now focusing more on the great power competition with Russia and China than the small wars that had preoccupied it over the last three decades.
  • The Oil factor: The steep decline in US energy dependence on the Gulf, too, has reduced the salience of the region in Washington.

Three consequence of the change in the US policy

  • Cutting down the military commitments
    • The Middle East and Africa: Trump has been cutting down military commitments in the Middle East and Africa.
    • His officials are about to sign an agreement with the Taliban that provides for American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
    • Maritime front: On the maritime front, Trump has called on all major powers, especially those importing oil from the Gulf, to contribute to the security of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.
  • How it matters for India?
    • Challenges of limiting the consequences: The challenge for Indian policymakers has been to limit the consequences of what seems a definitive turn in US policy.
    • Chance to extend the own role: It should also be about seizing the possibilities for expanding India’s own role in the western marches of the Subcontinent.
  • To expand its role Delhi needs to make a few important shifts in its own thinking.
    • One, it must overcome the still powerful belief in sections of the Indian establishment that the US-Pakistan relationship is unchanging.
    • The US tilt toward India and away from Pakistan: Over the last two decades, there has been a tilt in US policies away from Pakistan and towards India.
    • For instance, the US pressures on Pakistan to vacate the Kargil heights, an exclusive nuclear exemption to India and efforts to rein in Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism during the Obama years.
    • Support in Trump period: Trump went further to acknowledge that Pakistan is part of the problem in Afghanistan and turned up the heat on Pakistan’s support for terrorism.
    • He has supported India’s efforts at the UNSC to bring Masood Azhar to book in the face of Chinese resistance.
    • Helped India isolate Pakistan at the Financial Action Task Force.
    • Prevented the UNSC from discussing Kashmir.
    • But India must also recognise: That there will be a measure of cooperation between the US and Pakistan.
    • Delhi’s focus should, instead, be on expanding its own security cooperation with the US in the troubled lands to the west of India.
  • India needs to prepare for a larger security role in Afghanistan
    • Question of being at the next-door: Trump has been asking a simple question: If India is next door to Afghanistan, should it not be doing more for Afghan security?
    • Need to explore the options: The NDA government has stepped up security assistance to Kabul. As Afghanistan enters a turbulent phase, regional and other powers are bound to fill the vacuum left by the US.
    • There are many options–  between doing nothing and sending the Indian army into Afghanistan- that Delhi and Washington could discuss.
  • Need to increase Naval activity
    • Increased role as regional security provider: Delhi has already stepped up its naval activity within the Gulf and beyond as part of its emergence as a regional security provider.
    • Cooperation with others: Effectiveness of India’s role will rise manifold if it acts in concert with the US and other partners.
    • Modi and Trump could begin by laying the political foundation for such cooperation.

Conclusion

At the beginning of Trump’s term, sceptics dismissed the prospects for India-US security cooperation in the eastern Indian Ocean and the Pacific, but progress has been steady. That cooperation can and must be extended now to the Western Indian Ocean.

 

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Gearing up to fight the next big viral outbreak

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Preparing healthcare system for viral outbreaks.

Context

India is ill-prepared to deal with the new strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that is causing worldwide panic. Policymakers must take forceful action to prevent the spread of the new virus and heed the urgent warnings of global public health professionals about new pathogens.

No country is adequately prepared

  • Finding of the Global Health Security Index: The World Health Organization (WHO)’s Global Health Security Index finds that no country is adequately prepared.
  • It assesses 195 countries across six categories
    • Prevention
    • Early detection.
    • Rapid response.
    • Health system quality.
    • Standards.
    • Risk environment.
  • India’s dismal rank: India is ranked 57th.
    • That the country scores around the global average is no comfort, because the global average is a low 40.2 out of 100, and India’s score is 46.5. (For the record, the U.S. is ranked first and China 51st).

Four-point health agenda

  • The prospect of new outbreaks puts four items on the health agenda in the spotlight that require both immediate and longer-term action:
    • Early detection and prevention.
    • Better collaboration across health service providers.
    • More investment in health systems; outcomes, and education; and-
    • Better care of the environment and biodiversity, which directly affects people’s health safety.

Thailand’s outstanding example

  • Sixth rank on Health Security Index: That Thailand is ranked sixth in the Health Security Index- the highest ranking for an Asian country.
    • The rank says a great deal about the country’s track record in disease prevention, early detection, and rapid response linked to investments in its public health system.
    • When the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), also caused by a coronavirus, broke out in 2015, Thailand quickly notified the WHO of its first confirmed case and acted transparently to arrest the spread.
    • This is in stark contrast to delayed notification by China’s officials of the recent outbreak.

India’s record in past outbreaks

  • Underscoring inadequacies: The influenza A (H1N1) outbreaks since 2009 in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and other States have acutely underscored the need for better detection, awareness of symptoms and quarantining.
  • Protocols for surveillance: Clearer protocols for all three types of surveillance are needed in all States.
    • And these protocols need to be communicated to health professionals at all levels and the public in local languages.

Conducting stress tests on health system

  • Countries need to do the stress tests for their preparedness to deal with health emergencies.
  • Exposing the crucial gap: Each State in India should do this to expose crucial gaps in areas such as-
    • Adequacy and supply of diagnostic equipment.
    • Health facilities.
    • Hygienic practices, and-
    • Prevention and treatment protocols.
  • Ensuring strong supply chains: Queues of desperate shoppers trying to buy hand sanitizer, face masks and other protective products in Hong Kong and China highlight the need for strong supply chains for products that people need during health emergencies.

The partnership between countries and with the private sector

  • Partnership to ensure supply chains: Partnerships between private and public sectors, and between countries– that can sustain supply chains and bolster the medical capacity of countries struggling to cope.
    • Collaborative approach in Asia: In Asia, collaborative approaches exist, for example, for combating tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria.
  • Need to do more: More is needed to tackle health emergencies on the scale of recent outbreak, particularly on funding.
    • Emergency loan option: There could be an emergency loan facility, with a “deferred drawdown option” as the World Bank uses for disasters, natural or health.
    • The loan option can help augment own resources in times of a public health catastrophe.
  • Investment is the best defence: But the best defence of all is to invest more, and more efficiently, in health and education to prepare populations and strengthen health services.
    • Low health expenditure: Health expenditure by the government in India is less than 5% of Gross Domestic Product, which is low for a middle-income country.
    • Spending at that level limits, among other things, the availability of health professionals during crises.
    • According to WHO, India has only 80 doctors per 1,00,000 people.

Investment in health, education

  • Kerala’s experience: Kerala’s experience in 2018 with the deadly Nipah virus showed the value of investing in education and health over the long term.
  • What measures were taken in Kerala? The availability of equipment for-
    • Quick diagnosis.
    • Measures to prevent diseases from spreading and-
    • Public information campaigns- all helped to keep the mortality rate from the Nipah virus relatively low.
    • Having capable public health professionals helped in the information exchange with WHO and other international bodies.

The relation between environmental degradation and health

  • A new dimension of new pathogens: One of the many dimensions of new pathogens that is getting increased attention is the link with environmental degradation.
  • The relation between pollution and viral respiratory infection: The interaction between particulate matter from pollution and viral respiratory tract infections, especially in the young and the elderly, as well as the malnourished, has been increasingly noted in epidemiological studies.
    • Many of the highest air pollution readings are being recorded in Indian cities.
  • Most vulnerable country: An HSBC study of 67 countries ranks India as the most climate-vulnerable one because of the impact of severe temperature increases and declines in rainfalls.
    • Reasons for vulnerability: The effects of such occurrences are magnified by the high density of the country’s population, the sheer number of people in harm’s way, and the high incidence of poverty.
    • Research is increasingly connecting global warming to vector-borne viruses.

Conclusion

The dangerous trend for disease spillovers from animals to humans can be traced to increased human encroachment on wildlife territory; land-use changes that increase the rate of human-wildlife and wildlife-livestock interactions; and climate change. Protecting the precious biodiversity should be a priority.