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[op-ed snap] Outer space lessons

Mains : Achievements Of Indians In S&T |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gaganyaan

Mains level : Lessons for Gaganyaan from USA's lunar mission


CONTEXT

In furthering its outer space ambitions, India must study the experiences of other space powers.

Comparison with lunar Mission

  • As scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) work toward ‘Mission Gaganyaan’, to send three Indian astronauts into space, one can’t but make comparisons with the U.S.’s lunar mission in the 1960s.
  • At the time, U.S. President John F. Kennedy made a public statement about his administration’s determination to place an American on the moon by the end of that decade.
  • The U.S.’s objective, therefore, was to have a definite public-relations edge over the U.S.S.R. in the space race, which was marked then by intense rivalry between two Cold War powers
  • A breakthrough in space was thus a matter of prestige.
  • In the context of ISRO’s plan, the prestige value of ‘Mission Gaganyaan’ is sky-high, possibly in the same league as the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Apollo Mission to the moon.

Lessons  From Lunar Mission

1.High Costs –

  • A key lesson for India from NASA’s lunar mission is that a programme of that scale and magnitude often comes at a steep cost, monetary and non-monetary.
  • More than the monetary loss, it is the non-monetary loss that matters more, as it can lend currency to the idea that such a failure indicates a waste of time and resources.

2.Hurting the image of the country –

  • A failed mission deeply hurts the image of the country in the eyes of the outside world.
  • It raises doubts about the capability of the nation-state in question.

 

3. Political Cost  –

  • Politically, a failed mission of such magnitude could give voices in the opposition an opportunity to level criticism, perhaps weakening the incumbent domestically.
  • The diplomatic costs arise from the fact that losses in space missions can seriously impact the future of cooperation between space powers.
  • For instance, during the Cold War, both the U.S. and the then U.S.S.R. exaggerated each other’s failures in space missions considerably in order to influence the overall mood among and inclinations of other nations in their favour.
  • This was most easily achieved by making the rival look as weak as possible. Historically, the media played an active role in participating in such an agenda-driven propaganda.

Conclusion –

  • Outer space is often referred to as the ‘final frontier’ by major world powers, with the prize for conquering it being even more greatness on the world stage.
  • While India’s credentials were bolstered after the successful anti-satellite mission recently, significant success in ‘Mission Gaganyaan’ might provide India with that stamp of authority in outer space that it so keenly desires.
  • For that to happen, the lessons from the experiences of other space powers must be heeded.
ISRO Missions and Discoveries

[op-ed snap] A natural next step

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AUSINDEX

Mains level : India Australia Partnership


CONTEXT

This month was a historic moment in the India-Australia bilateral relationship. Under our joint naval exercise known as AUSINDEX, there was the largest ever peacetime deployment of Australian defence assets and personnel to India.The deepening India-Australia security relationship must be seen against the backdrop of expanding bilateral ties.

AUSINDEX

  • The third iteration of our bilateral naval exercise, AUSINDEX, which has just concluded (April 2-16), builds on a fourfold increase in our defence engagement — from 11 defence exercises, meetings and activities in 2014 to 38 in 2018.
  • The Indian Navy’s Eastern Naval Command hosted an impressive array of high-end Australian military hardware, including the Royal Australian Navy’s flagship, HMAS Canberra and the submarine, HMAS Collins.
  • The Canberra is the size of a small aircraft carrier. She can carry over 1,000 troops and 16 helicopters. These vessels were joined by frigates, aircraft and around 1,200 sailors, soldiers and airmen and women.
  • As well as being Australia’s largest defence deployment to India, the exercise was the most complex ever carried out between  defence forces. For the first time, navies undertook anti-submarine warfare exercises.
  • And in a similar show of trust and cooperation, Indian and Australian maritime patrol P-8 aircraft flew coordinated missions over the Bay of Bengal.

Mark of greater alignment

1.Shared Values –

When Australia’s Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, visited India earlier this year, in January, she emphasised on shared outlook as free, open and independent democracies, as champions of international law, as supporters of an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and as firm believers that ‘might is not right’.

2.Indo- Pacific Region –

  • A key element of Australia’s Indo-Pacific strategy is partnering with India in the vibrant Indian Ocean Region.
  • India is a leader in this region and Australia is a natural partner for addressing shared challenges.
  • Together they  must continue to work together to combat transnational crime, terrorism, people smuggling, and illegal fishing, in order to  enjoy a peaceful and prosperous Indian Ocean Region.

3. Indian Ocean Concerns – As the nation with one of the longest Indian Ocean coastlines and with more than half of our goods trade departing Indian Ocean ports, Australia is committed to addressing humanitarian and environmental challenges inIndian Ocean neighbourhood.

Australia’s initiatives in Pacific –

  • Development Aid- In November 2018 Australia announced the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific. This AU$2 billion initiative will boost Australia’s support for infrastructure development in Pacific countries.
  • Security Relationship –Australia will establish a Pacific Fusion Centre to provide real-time surveillance data for countries across the region as well as enhancing policing and military training both bilaterally and through regional centres.
  • Australia is  building diplomatic and economic relationships with Southeast Asia to build resilience and prosperity in region.
  •  The recently announced Southeast Asia Economic Governance and Infrastructure Initiative, worth AU$121 million, will help unlock Southeast Asia’s next wave of economic growth.

Growing links

  • All this activity is happening against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding India-Australia relationship.
  • People-to-people and economic links are on the rise.
  • The Indian diaspora in Australia is both strong and growing.
  • One in 50 Australians today was born in India; almost 90,000 Indian students studied in Australia last year; and over 350,000 tourists visited Australia from India in 2018.
  • We are working together to see India become a top three trading partner for Australia by 2035.

Way Forward

  • So on the one hand, we should welcome the successful AUSINDEX exercise as a step up in our strategic partnership.
  • At the same time, we should recognise it also as the natural next step in a friendship between Australia and India that is marked by growing trust, understanding and camaraderie.

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Australia

[op-ed snap] In an oil slick

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Impacts of USA's ban on Iran oil on India's Interests


CONTEXT

Faced with the U.S.’s intransigent demand that all countries put a full stop to oil imports from Iran or face sanctions, the Indian government has indicated it will ‘zero out’ oil imports after the May 2 deadline.

What next?

  • Alternative Energy Sources – Statements from the Petroleum and External Affairs Ministries suggest the government’s focus is now on finding alternative sources of energy, and minimising the impact on the Indian market.
  • At last count, India was importing about 10% of its oil needs from Iran, although it had considerably reduced its intake over the last few months.

Reasons

  1. US’s Directions-
  • The U.S. has made it clear that Indian companies that continue to import oil from Iran would face severe secondary sanctions, including being taken out of the SWIFT international banking system and a freeze on dollar transactions and U.S. assets.
  • In response, Indian importers, including the oil PSUs, have decided that sourcing oil from Iran is unviable at present.

2. India’s Interests –

  • As a result, the government is seeking to explain the decision as a pragmatic one, taken in India’s best interests.
  • Officials point to the six-month reprieve, from November 2018 to May 2019, that they received from the U.S. in the form of sanctions waivers to import Iranian oil, and the exemption to continue developing the Chabahar port, as positive outcomes of the negotiations over the past year.

Caving under pressure

  • Such arguments are, however, not very convincing. India has, in effect, now decided to cave in to U.S. pressure on the issue less than a year after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that India would recognise only UN sanctions, not “unilateral” ones.
  • In fact, last February Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s presence in Delhi to increase India’s oil intake from Iran.

Costs Due to ban

  • There are other real costs attached to the U.S. ultimatum that India may have to bear.
  • High Costs – The price of oil has already shot up above the $70 mark in April.
  • The threat to oil shipments – In addition, Iran has threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, a key channel for global oil shipments, which would further lead to inflationary trends, not just for oil but other commodities too.
  • Other Interests – Any direct backlash from Iran for its decision will also jeopardise India’s other interests in the country, including its considerable investment in the Chabahar port, which India is building as an alternative route for trade to Central Asia.

Conclusion

  • In the larger picture, India isn’t just testing its traditional ties with Iran, but also giving in to President Donald Trump’s blatant bullying after his administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Building a counter – Instead of engaging in what appear to have been fruitless negotiations with the U.S. over the past year, India, China, the EU and other affected entities could have spent their time more productively in building a counter with an alternative financial architecture, immune to the U.S.’s arbitrary moves.

[op-ed snap] Terror next door

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Reasons for Serial blasts in Sri Lanka


CONTEXT

The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka could widen ethnic faultlines, threaten to disrupt a decade of calm.

Background

  • Sri Lanka’s decade of peace after the LTTE’s military defeat in May 2009 has been shattered with a diabolical plan to drag the country back into its darkest days.
  • The death toll is nearly 300 from the chain of eight bombings on Easter Sunday targeting churches and hotels across the island nation, worse than anything it has experienced at the hands of the LTTE in the three decades of civil war.
  • The scale and the ferocity of the attack has no precedent in Sri Lanka’s troubled history, one from which it believed it had finally emerged.
  • In the last decade, a generation of Sri Lankans has come of age for whom conflict was history, who have no experience of curfews and emergency regulations or the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
  • Now all this is threatening to engulf Sri Lanka again.

Fault in action on intelligence

  • it is Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s acknowledgment that the country’s security apparatus had “prior information” on the attacks that causes more anguish.
  • The differences between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe appear to have played a good part in the security warning not being taken seriously.
  • The PM has alleged that he was not kept in the loop about the intelligence warnings.
  • If so, the inability of the country’s top functionaries to get along has had deadly consequences. It casts their leadership abilities in extremely poor light. However, the administration has done well to prevent any backlash on the Muslim community.

Reasons for attack

1.Rise of extremism and fundamentalism –

Given that investigators believe this was the handiwork of radicalised local Muslims, there have been straws in the wind of such radicalisation for years, as a reaction to attacks by the LTTE on Muslims through the 1990s, and after the war, to the rise of Buddhist fundamentalism that began targeting Muslims.

2.Spread of Wahabism

Sri Lanka, where nearly 10 per cent of the 22 million population is Muslim, has also not been insulated from the global spread of Wahabism.

3. Politicisation

Mainstream Muslim parties, major players in Sri Lanka’s robust democratic political space, had managed to keep the radicals at bay all these years despite the failure of the political class to repair the ethnic faultlines.

4.Local Grievances

The targeting of Christians, who are an even smaller minority in Sri Lanka than Muslims, and in a manner similar to anti-Christian incidents in other parts of the world, also points to more than a local grievance.

Conclusion

But it seems too early to say if the Easter bloodbath was the handiwork of ISIS, which would be searching for new spaces to compensate for its total loss of territory. Solving these puzzles will help Sri Lanka, also the rest of South Asia, to craft responses that ensure there will be no repetition of this nightmare.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[Op-ed Snap] Sovereignty And A Road

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BRI

Mains level : Wuhan summit alone will not fasten India-China Relationship. Other Stepa are required.


Background

India has, once again, decided to not participate in China’s second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) due on April 25, which is likely to be attended by around 40 heads of government.

Situation after Wuhan Summit

  • The admiration of India’s attempt to engage China through the Modi-Xi Wuhan informal meeting has faded away in recent months
  • For instance, for the fourth time in a row, China blocked India’s bid to designate the Jaish-e-Mohammad Chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the UNSC, the CPEC is going on regardless of India’s stern objections vis-à-vis PoK, and the balance of trade is still hugely in China’s favour.

Loopholes in criticism

  1. High Expectations –
  • First, thanks to the overpublicising of the Modi-Xi meeting, the expectation bar was set to an unrealistically high level.
  • The Wuhan meeting was not about resetting India-China relations. It was an initiative to engage each other in a constructive dialogue.
  • Wuhan and subsequent steps were intended to only manage the differences and prevent relations from getting derailed.
  • The popular perception in the Indian media that because of Wuhan, China would not go ahead with the CPEC or support India on Masood Azhar and the belief in the Chinese media that it would lead India to join the BRI, are misinformed at best.

2. Not a stand-alone dialogue –Second, Wuhan was not a stand-alone dialogue, it was deeply embedded with the Doklam standoff. For the two countries, facing an eyeball-to-eyeball situation in Doklam, Wuhan came as an opportunity to re-start the dialogue.

India’s response to BRI

  • India’s response to the BRF is not linked with the Wuhan spirit.
  • Territorial Concerns – It is deeply rooted in its territorial sovereignty concerns vis-à-vis China and Pakistan. The Chinese investments in Pakistan are complicating the matter with each passing day. India’s main concern remains the much-controversial CPEC that passes through the PoK.

Current Relationship

  • It is clear that China has been selective in addressing India’s concerns, and India too has adopted a similar approach.
  • China is mindful of the fact that without India’s participation, BRI will remain an incomplete project at best.
  • That is perhaps why China is keen to have another Wuhan-like dialogue. We do need more such meetings but only to facilitate the negotiation processes.

Way Forward

  • Pragmatic Approach- Considering the asymmetry in its relationship with China, India needs to continue its pragmatic and balanced policy of engaging China through dialogues while actively looking for ways to deal with the possible scenarios.
  • The institutionalisation of regional groups –The quest to institutionalise the Quad and Indo-Pacific seems to be turning into reality with the restructuring of the MEA’s ASEAN Multilateral Division and the Indian Ocean Region Division into the Indo-Pacific Division.
  • Trilateral Dialogues – Trilateral dialogues and search for avenues to normalise and improve regular healthy conversations with China are the best way forward.
  • Balance of relationships – Self-doubt over peace initiatives or hesitation in moving forward on the Quad are detrimental to India’s interests. One should not happen at the cost of the other. A careful balancing of both tracks will contribute to India’s stronger positioning in the region.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[op-ed snap] Workers and refugees are not criminals

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Refugees are not criminals and they should not be treated in that manner.


CONTEXT

The Mexican border was closed for hours on November 25, 2018 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to the U.S., after a group of migrants, including children and women, in Tijuana reportedly stormed the area.Global political action is required to reinforce the legitimate identity of a worker.

Rise of Xenophobic tendencies

  • Since the 1990s, not just international but even interregional workers have slowly been pushed into the rubric of ‘criminals’.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump is a prime example of this: his victory was largely founded on his ability to depict international workers, particularly those crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, as ‘criminals’.
  • This tendency is present, though in less obvious versions, in almost all developed and developing countries, including the social welfare democracies of Europe.
  • It is also present within nations, as we in India witnessed in the recent ‘Gujarati’ backlash against workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
  •  Politicians can garner extra votes by implicitly or explicitly equating international/interregional ‘workers’ with ‘criminals’, and states can openly devise blatantly differential treatment for them — as the children ripped away from their parents and the workers tear-gassed at the U.S. border can testify. This marks a significant development in recent years.

Reasons for labelling refugees as criminals

Most immigrants crossing a border are law-abiding and industrious workers, not ‘criminals’ — this remains the case today, as it was in the past.

1.Nature of capitalism – It longer needs workers as much as it did in the past.

2.Financial speculation –

  • Financial speculation has increasingly dwarfed international trade from the 1990s onwards.
  • More than that, much of financial speculation is based on factors other than the productivity of a sector.  A world dominated by financial speculation does not need workers in two ways:
  • Financial speculation does not depend on the production of workers.

3. Post-humanism –

  • It is used to suggest a world after human beings, a world run by artificial intelligence.
  • Inevitably, for those in power — either in terms of a monopoly on wealth or a monopoly on knowledge — a world of financial speculation leads to a ‘post-human’ world run by artificial intelligence.
  • Once workers become redundant and numbers are sufficient, then, inevitably, one can think complacently of replacing human intelligence with artificial intelligence.

Conclusion

  • Universal Solution – Solution has to be ‘universal’ and global. Global political action is needed to ensure international working rights, linked to human status and not the caprice of state or capital.
  • Otherwise, as the right to work can currently be ensured only by national governments, it will always be used to define other — ‘foreign’ — workers as actual or potential criminals.
  • The threat of monopoly of corporations– Soon it might well become the monopoly of corporations. It is basically being used to criminalise those workers who are not allowed — by nation-states or neoliberal capitalism or both — the legitimate identity of a worker.
  • And as this is a shrinking identity — there are fewer and fewer active workers under the impact of rampant financial speculation — it simply adds to the official metamorphosis of more workers into ‘criminals’.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

[op-ed snap] LoC trade, in perspective

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LoC

Mains level : Suspending trade across Loc might not prove to be a good idea.


CONTEXT

India last week suspended the cross-LoC trade, alleging misuse of the facility by individuals linked to terrorist groups.

Background

1. Origin of trade – These measures seems to have originated in a four-point proposal for Kashmir that began to get regular airing from about 2005 from then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf. The four points were:

    • The LoC will stay but Kashmiris on both sides will be allowed to move freely back and forth;
    • Self-governance or autonomy to the region, but not independence;
    • Gradual demilitarisation on both sides;
    • A joint supervision mechanism with India, Pakistan and Kashmir represented on it.
  • In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke about “soft borders” and “making borders irrelevant” in Kashmir.
  • On July 7 that year, the Indian Embassy in Kabul was bombed, killing an Indian diplomat and a senior Army officer and several Afghans. The US and India said the ISI was behind the bombing.
  • But the India-Pakistan foreign secretaries’ talks were held as scheduled later that month on July 21 under the composite dialogue format, and they agreed to the opening of trade routes across the LoC.

The two sides then rushed to finalise the details in the following weeks, including at a meeting of the “working group of cross LoC CBMs” on September 22, 2008.

Positive Response

  • Both sides of Kashmir welcomed the opening of the trade routes.
  • PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said at the time “it is a dream come true”, and Sardar Attique Khan, the prime minister of POK, named the day “Youm-e-Karvaan-e-Commerce” (Day of the Caravan of Commerce).
  • The Mumbai attacks put a freeze on India-Pakistan relations, but the cross-LoC trade remained unaffected by that.

Hiccups and demands

  • The agreement was for zero duty trade for a list of 21 items.
  • It ran into problems almost immediately as traders on both sides floundered on currency and communication issues.

1. Establishment of Intra Jammu & Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry (IJ&KCCI) – A chamber of commerce, called the Intra Jammu & Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry (IJ&KCCI), came into existence.

2.Recommendations-

Banking Relations – They pointed to the need for banking relations and mutual acceptance of letters of credit, a communication network, a regulatory network to determine the composition of trade, and a legal network for dispute resolution.

Expansion of list, travel arrangements – The joint chamber recommended expansion of the list of items for trade, facilitation of travel and traders’ access to each other, infrastructure facilities, banking services, use of dual currency of both countries as the mode of payment with the US dollar as the reference point, inclusion of the services sector, and opening of more trade routes.

Complaints – There were complaints that the trade had expanded to include non-Kashmiri goods. The complaints were particularly loud from the traders at Wagah border who catered to the same markets and were envious of the zero-duty cross LoC trade.

Previous suspension

  • Once in 2015, trade was suspended for 40 days after drugs were discovered in a truck from Muzaffarabad.
  • The longest suspension came during the post-Burhan Wani killing agitation in the Valley, for three months.
  • There were other brief spells when trade was suspended, mostly at Chakan da Bagh, on account of heavy cross-border shelling.
  • However, Kashmiris point out that trade has never been suspended for under-invoicing or other such violations at any other port in the country where Customs and other enforcement officials strictly monitor the inflows and outflows, and the same could have been done at the LoC.
  • As for the involvement of former militants in the trade, this was seen as a welcome development towards creating “constituencies of peace” and building stakes for normalcy in the Valley.

Benefits of trade

  • In 2011, a four page report called Intra Kashmir Trade, jointly prepared by the Delhi-based IPCS, Conciliation Resources of London, and the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, said cross border trade had proved it could be insulated from the ups and downs in the India-Pakistan relationship, and had begun to establish a “bottom up” approach to peace-building.
  • Trade has attracted divided families and some former combatants and provided a non-violent and alternative vision for change and conflict transformation,” the report said.
  • It spoke about 40 former militants who had chosen to participate in the economic activity.
  • More than its value in currency terms, the cross Loc trade holds much symbolic value in Jammu & Kashmir, especially in the Poonch-Rawalakot sector, where there are more divided families and villages than at the Uri crossing point.
  • They would be hoping that the current suspension is not permanent.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

[op-ed snap] Capital gains

Mains Paper 3 : issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : OECD

Mains level : Need to bring taxation reforms in face of new challenges


CONTEXT

India’s tax authority is now considering a revamp of the rules for taxing multinational companies as well as digital firms, with a committee of the Central Board of Direct Taxes recommending changes to protect the country’s revenue interests.

Reasons

1. Tax Avoidance – At the core of this move is the issue of taxation rights on income generated by global firms operating across various jurisdictions in an age of digitalisation and profit shifting or tax avoidance strategies marked by exploiting loopholes to transfer profits to low tax destinations.

2. Rise of gig Economy – The rise of the digital and the gig economy in particular, has made the concept of a physical presence as a threshold for taxation redundant, posing challenges to governments and fiscal experts.

3. Recommendations of International groups – The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)/ G-20 Base Erosion and Profit Sharing Project recognises this situation and envisages a global consensus on tax rules by 2020.

It has now forced governments to consider fundamental changes to taxation rules to ensure that tax revenues are not eroded.

Focus Areas of OECD Model

1. A new approach on profit attribution –  Indian authorities, like some of their peers globally, will now have to firm up their approach on profit attribution — the allocation of profits between jurisdictions where customers are located and where factors of production are located and where supply side activities are carried out.

2. Conflict regarding taxation rights

  • The OECD model tax convention favours granting taxation rights to the country of residence of the taxpayer, an approach which India and some other countries do not agree with.
  • Rather, they argue taxation rights should be allowed in jurisdictions where value is created and which contributes to demand by economic activity.

3. Allocation based on variables – The other proposal which is now being considered is a formula for allocation of such taxes among countries based on sales, payroll or wages besides assets and property.

Problems with the OECD Model

1. Discriminatory Taxation – Indian authorities have argued rightly that adopting the OECD model will mean not just losing revenues but also taxing local firms, putting them at a disadvantage compared to their foreign firms, with an adverse impact on competitiveness, demand, revenues and profits.

2.Need for predictability and stability – For a country like India, which needs greater inflow of capital to boost growth and create more jobs, what will count more is not the new formula or rules for taxing cross-broader activities, but the stability and predictability of its tax regime. That’s what foreign investors fret about.

Tax Reforms

[op-ed snap] A bad deal

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LoC

Mains level : Suspending trade across Loc mightnot prove to be a good idea.


CONTEXT

Suspension of LoC trade is a poorly-thought move that shrinks the space for manoeuvre in Kashmir and with Pakistan.

Importance of trade

1.Confidence building In Kashmir – That it was launched at all, and survived the deep freeze of India-Pakistan ties that followed 26/11, growing in value and symbolic importance to Kashmiris on either side of the LoC over the next decade, was due to the all around acknowledgment that Kashmir needs special specific confidence-building measures, and that these need to be kept separate from the India-Pakistan relationship.

2.Symbolic Value – Cross LoC interaction carried huge symbolic value in Kashmir, even though the trade itself has been far below its actual potential, and was tied up with red tape and the absence of banking facilities and telephone connections.

3.High Monetary Value – Moreover, it was being conducted through a barter system, as India and Pakistan could not reach agreement on currency transactions, even though its annual value grew from Rs 1 crore in 2008-09 to over Rs 3,000 crore at the present time.

1.Misuse of trade

  • It is unfortunate that the government has decided to “suspend” this Kashmir-specific confidence building measure now on the ground that it was being misused to push drugs, weapons and counterfeit currency into the Valley from across the border, as well as for trade in goods excluded from the list meant for cross-LoC trade.
  • After all, no trade routes into India are free from misuse.

2.Hawala –

  • Hawala, despite a severe crackdown, continues to exist as a channel through which Indians continue to send and receive money from abroad.
  • In the case of Kashmir, the absence of banking channels must have exacerbated the situation.

Alternatives –

1.Monitoring of trade routes-

  • If the government had apprehensions that the trade across the two sides of Kashmir was being used by terrorist benamis or other unscrupulous elements, the better course of action would have been to monitor the crossing points at Uri and Chakkan da Bagh through which it was taking place four times a week.
  • This is all in a day’s work for customs and other enforcement agencies, and this is how drugs were caught being smuggled in trucks from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Conclusion

1. Signals loss of control – Calling off an entire trade route because it is being misused by some sends out the message that the government has lost control, as with the highway closure.

2. Push to alienation – Plus, drawing increasingly tighter red lines in Kashmir, India only makes it more difficult for itself to get out of the corners it has painted itself into when the time for dialogue comes, as it will eventually.

3. Election motives – But if this has been done to create the impression in the rest of the country in the midst of election season that the government is unsparing with Kashmiris, it can only be described as cutting the nose to spite the face.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

[op-ed snap] Humanise the law

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Forest Rights Act

Mains level : There is a need to tranform present forest law towards partnership and collaboration approach.


CONTEXT

Modernising colonial era laws is a long-delayed project, but the draft Indian Forest Act, 2019 is woefully short of being a transformative piece of legislation.

Need for reforms

1. Colonial Legacy – The original law, the Indian Forest Act, 1927, is an incongruous relic, its provisions having been drafted to suit the objectives of a colonial power that had extractive uses for forests in mind.

2. Ensuring Well being of Forest and forest dwellers – A new law enacted should make a departure and be aimed to expand India’s forests, and ensure the well-being of traditional forest-dwellers and biodiversity in these landscapes.

3. Community-led, scientific conservation – The need is for a paradigm that encourages community-led, scientifically validated conservation. This is critical, for only 2.99% of India’s geographic area is classified as very dense forest; the rest of the green cover of a total of 21.54% is nearly equally divided into open and moderately dense forest, according to the State of Forest Report 2017.

Draft Bill’s Proposals

1.Bureaucratic control of forests

  • The draft Bill reinforces the idea of bureaucratic control of forests, providing immunity for actions such as use of firearms by personnel to prevent an offence.
  • The hardline policing approach is reflected in the emphasis on creating infrastructure to detain and transport the accused, and to penalise entire communities through denial of access to forests for offences by individuals.
  • Such provisions invariably affect poor inhabitants, and run counter to the empowering and egalitarian goals that produced the Forest Rights Act.

Way forward to conserve Forest

1. Importance of Forests – India’s forests play a key role in moderating the lives of not just the adivasis and other traditional dwellers, but everyone in the subcontinent, through their impact on the climate and monsoons.

2. Improvement through collaboration – Their health can be improved only through collaboration.

    • Any new forest law must, therefore, aim to reduce conflicts, incentivise tribals and stop diversion for non-forest uses.
    • No commercial exploitation – This can be achieved by recognising all suitable landscapes as forests and insulating them from commercial exploitation.
    •  Partnership with communities and scientists – Such an approach requires a partnership with communities on the one hand, and scientists on the other. For decades now, the Forest Department has resisted independent scientific evaluation of forest health and biodiversity conservation outcomes.

Weaknesses of present Environment Policy

  •  Weakened public scrutiny – In parallel, environmental policy has weakened public scrutiny of decisions on diversion of forests for destructive activities such as mining and large dam construction.
  • Dilution of public hearings – Impact assessment reports have mostly been reduced to a farce, and the public hearings process has been diluted.

Conclusion

  • The government needs to launch a process of consultation, beginning with the State governments to ensure that a progressive law is adopted by all States, including those that have their own versions of the existing Act.
  • The Centre must hear the voice of all stakeholders and communities, including independent scientific experts.

Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

[op-ed snap] A manifesto for health

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Steps to be taken to improve health care in India.


CONTEXT

Health is making an impact on the political scene, when on the one hand, Prime Minister launches the Ayushman Bharat scheme a year before the elections and on the other hand, the Congress’s manifesto carries the party’s pledge to enact a Right to Healthcare Act.

Current health scenario in the country

  • Stagnated spending – In the past five years, the Union health budget has stagnated in real terms, allocations to the National Health Mission do not cover inflation and there have been avoidable deaths of scores of children in public hospitals in Gorakhpur and other places that can be ascribed to the lack of material and human resources.
  • Failure in regulation – Governments have failed to regulate private hospitals effectively, leading to numerous instances of mismanagement and massive over-charging of patients, such as the tragic case of Adya Singh in Fortis hospital, Gurgaon.
  • Underfunding of the schemes – There are convincing facts which show that the “solution” being offered in the form of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojna is not only seriously underfunded (current funds being less than one-fourth of required) but it will only scratch the tip of the iceberg of healthcare requirements in India.

Proposals to improve Health Sector

  • Right to Healthcare  – Adopting a Right to Healthcare legislation at the Centre and state levels. This would ensure that all residents of the country are entitled to healthcare facilities. Development of asystem for Universal Healthcare (UHC) would be a key constituent of this initiative, which would require expansion and strengthening of public health services at all levels. Private providers would also be involved, as per need, to supplement the public health system.
  •  Increasing the public health expenditure -Increasing the public health expenditure exponentially through taxation. This expenditure should be increased from the current grossly inadequate 1.2 per cent of the GDP to reach 3.5 per cent of the GDP in the next five years, and eventually touch 5 per cent of the GDP in the medium term.
  • Strengthening of public health services – Three, ensuring major reform and strengthening of public health services with increased staff and infrastructure. A key component of this reform would be guaranteed provision of free essential medicines and diagnostics to all patients in public health facilities, by adopting systems for procurement and distribution which are similar to the current models in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Rajasthan.
  •  Health sector human resource policy – there should be a comprehensive health sector human resource policy, which provides upgraded skill training, fair wages, social security and decent working conditions for all public health services staff. The services of all contractual health workers, including ASHAs and anganwadi workers, should be regularised.
  • Community-based monitoring and planning – Community-based monitoring and planning of health services that are being practised in a few states should be upscaled and user-friendly grievance redressal systems put in place to ensure social accountability and participation.
  • Replacing Schemes – the PMJAY component of Ayushman Bharat, which is based on a discredited insurance model, should be jettisoned. Such schemes need to be replaced by the universal healthcare system.
  • Regulations – Private hospitals must be brought under the ambit of regulations by modifying and adopting the Clinical Establishments Act in all states. This legislation must ensure that the Charter of Patient’s Rights is observed, it must provide a grievance redressal mechanism to patients, the rates for services must be regulated and standard treatment guidelines should be adopted in healthcare institutions.
  • Price Regulations – essential medicines and medical devices must be subject to price regulation, based on their manufacturing cost. A Uniform Code for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices should be put in place to curb unethical marketing practices. Manufacturers should be asked, in a stepwise manner, to sell medicines only under their generic name, and doctors should be directed to write generic names of medicines in prescriptions.
  • Focus on vulnerable Sections – These initiatives must be accompanied by measures to ensure that people with special needs — women, children, differently-abled persons, people living with HIV — enjoy appropriate health services.
  • Environment – Traditional social determinants of health such as nutrition, water supply, sanitation and healthy environment must be ensured. There should be plans in place to tackle new determinants like air and water pollution and addictions.

Way Forward

  • Such a paradigm shift towards a rights-based system for universal healthcare, based on massive increase in health budgets and strengthened health systems, is not an unrealistic dream
  • EXAMPLES  -. Several low- and middle-income countries such as Thailand, Brazil and Sri Lanka have such systems in place. 
  • The core ingredient required for UHC is political will. As we prepare to exercise our choice in the elections, we need to boost such political will by supporting parties which have pledged the right to health care to all.

 

 

 

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

[op-ed snap] Hard landing: Jet Airways’ temporary halt

Mains Paper 3 : Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways Etc. |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Need for policy intervention in air transport.


CONTEXT

Jet Airways announced a temporary halt of its operations from Wednesday night as funds to keep the airline going dried up.

Background

  • To the long line of private airline carcasses dotting the bleak landscape of Indian aviation, one more may soon be added.
  • Jet Airways announced a temporary halt of its operations from Wednesday night as funds to keep the airline going dried up.
  • Despite intense lobbying by the bankrupt airline, banks stood firm on their decision to not release emergency funds to sustain operations until a white knight is found.
  • With operations halted and the half a dozen or so planes that were flying till Wednesday grounded, the airline is staring down the barrel, especially because most of its prized departure slots at major airports across the country have either already been or will soon be allocated to other airlines.

Future prospects

  • Jet will be able to regain these slots only if it bounces back before the end of the summer schedule in October.
  • Whether that will happen is now in the hands of prospective buyers, who are said to have evinced interest in buying the airline during the Expression of Interest (EOI) process called by banks last week.
  • The fact that the banks refused to extend emergency support is probably an indicator of the quantity and quality of the EOIs received by them.
  • It is hard to believe that they would not have temporarily supported Jet if the EOIs had been serious.
  • In sum, it does appear at this point that a miracle will be needed for Jet to take wing again.

Reasons for such instances

  • The collapse of Jet has caused turbulence in the market and also raised some serious questions over why the domestic airline industry is proving to be so perilous for enterprises.
  • There have been more than half-a-dozen private airline companies that have fallen by the wayside in the last decade and more, and it is well-known how Air India is propped up with government support.
  • Reckless competition – While it is true that fuel costs, which account for about half of the expenses of running an airline, have been difficult to manage, the fact is that reckless competition is responsible for the sorry plight of the industry.
  • Low Margins – Margins in the airline industry are wafer-thin in the best of times and the combined effect of rising fuel prices and the inability to pass them on to consumers due to competition has proved to be a deadly cocktail.
  • Similar instances – In the race to the bottom, it was Kingfisher seven years ago, Air Deccan and Air Sahara before that, it is Jet now, and who knows which airline could be next. It is notable that airfares have largely stayed stable over several years, benefiting passengers but biting airlines.

Way Forward

  • Stopping undercutting – It is time that airlines took stock of their collective plight and stopped undercutting each other on fares.
  • Centre’s support – The Centre can help too by reviewing fuel taxes and surcharges apart from airport levies, which the airlines complain are too high.
  • After all, a healthy airline industry can only be good for government revenues over the long term.

 

 

Civil Aviation Sector – CA Policy 2016, UDAN, Open Skies, etc.

[op-ed snap] The Lack of a Legal Status for the Model Code of Conduct Leaves Room for Ambiguity

Mains Paper 2 : Governance, Transparency & Accountability, Citizens Charters |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MCC

Mains level : Election commission has been less powerful in controlling misconduct in 2019 General Elections.


Context

For the past few months, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has been brought under increasing scrutiny for its diffidence and deference to the ruling regime. The Election Commission is ceding space to the ruling party instead of innovatively enhancing the residuary powers bestowed upon it by Article 324 of the constitution.

Incidents of concession from ECI

  • Deferral of announcement of dates for the state assembly elections –  The ECI’s deferral of announcement of dates for the state assembly elections in five states in October last year, was largely construed as giving time to the prime minister to complete his public address in Ajmer, before the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) kicked in.
  • EVMs– More recently, the charges of EVM malfunctions and the ECI’s reluctance to check a more substantial proportion of VVPATs.
  • Not restraining political parties – and what appears to be its helplessness in restraining political parties – especially the ruling BJP – from violating the MCC, have diminished the stature of the ECI.

Model code of conduct

  • The MCC is an important mode through which procedural certainty and deliberative content of elections are assured.
  • A ‘firmed up’ MCC authorised by the ECI came into force in 1979.
  • Importance of MCC
    • Despite the fact that it emerged as a moral code for voluntary adherence, over the years the MCC has acquired ‘supplementary legality’
    • Since the MCC itself does not have the force of law, it is enforced through executive decision-making.
    • It remains, therefore, ambiguous and uneven as far as the modality of implementation and certainty of execution, are concerned.
    • Since 1991, the Model Code has come to be seen as an integral part of elections.
    • It was also during this period that the MCC experienced its passage from an ‘agreed set of dos and don’ts’ among political parties, to a measure directed at restraining the party in power.
    • James Lyngdoh, the CEC of India from 2001 to 2004, describes this transition as ‘pitching into the party in power’.

History of bureaucratic neutrality in Elections

  • Amidst allegations of misuse of official machinery by the ruling party, Nehru reminded all political parties to adopt the right means, in order to ensure fairness in electoral outcome. Speaking in Akola, in Maharashtra, Nehru reminded public servants to stay neutral.
  • The Bharatiya Jana Sangha addressed itself to the party in power, through the idiom of civil liberties. Speaking at the All India Civil Liberties Conference in Nagpur on 25th August 1951, Syama Prasad Mookerjee claimed that the protection of civil liberties was a component of free and fair elections.

ECI’s Role in present Elections

  • No legal sanction to MCC – The ECI has remained averse to giving the MCC a statutory character, preferring the advantage of ‘quick’ executive action and also to retain Article 324 as the source of its authority rather than re-assign it to a pre-existing parliamentary statute.
  • Political parties’ disregard –  MCC compliance deficit being witnessed in the 2019 elections reflects the political parties’ disregard towards the MCC, as well as the inability of the ECI to retain its constitutional advantage through constant vigilance and stern action.

Conclusion

  • In the past, successive ECIs have elicited compliance by public censure and invoking sections of the IPC and the Representation of the Peoples Act.
  • Elections have become the site of unprecedented display of money, muscle and technology as power.
  • Its concentration in any party gives it extraordinary and unfair advantage in electoral competition.
  • The ECI must guard against ceding the space which it has extracted and affirmed by innovatively enhancing the residuary powers given to it in Article 324 of the Constitution of India.

 

 

 

 

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] The legacy of Ambedkar

Mains : Indian Constitution - historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fundamental Rights

Mains level : Need for upholding Ambedkar's idea of Social Justice


CONTEXT

Ambedkar believed that unless the moral values of a constitution are upheld, the grandiloquent words in it will not protect the freedom and democratic values of the people.

Ambedkar’s thoughts

  • Ambedkar attached great importance to constitutional morality in the working of the Constitution.
  • He explained this — by referring to Grote, the Greek historian — as paramount reverence for the forms of the Constitution, enforcing obedience to authority acting under and within these forms yet combined with the habit of open speech, of action subject only to definite legal control.
  • Question of whether the President was bound by ministerial advice and could act independently?
    • Ambedkar was of the opinion that the president was bound by ministerial advice, and, Rajendra Prasad, the chairperson of the constituent assembly, had protracted exchanges with Ambedkar on this issue.
    • Ambedkar was of the firm view that “the President could not act and will not act except on the advice of the Ministers.
    • These passages are reproduced in the landmark judgment of our Supreme Court in Shamsher Singh’s case, in which the Court accepted Ambedkar’s view.
    • Fundamental rights
      • Ambedkar was also passionate about the guarantees of fundamental rights being appropriately incorporated in the Constitution.
      • Guarantees of fundamental rights remain ornamental promises unless they can be judicially enforced: With that objective in mind, the draft Constitution provided that a person can move the Supreme Court directly for the enforcement of his or her fundamental rights without going through the high court.
    • On Democracy
      • On the concluding day of the deliberations of the constituent assembly, Ambedkar expressed his misgivings about the successful functioning of democracy in our country.
      • If we wish to maintain democracy the first thing in my judgment we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives.
      • It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha.
      • These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.
    • On Hero Worship -Ambedkar warned that Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.

Social Justice

  • Social justice was Ambedkar’s mission. He fervently believed that mere equality on paper was not sufficient.
  • What was needed was de facto equality, real equality of opportunity for the millions who had been denied it.
  • In ringing tones, on the last day of the constituent assembly, he pointed out the perils of a “life of contradictions”:
  • Cautions against inequality-
    • “How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.
    • We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of democracy which this Constituent Assembly has so laboriously built up.”

Way Forward

  • The anguished questions posed by Ambedkar continue to haunt us.
  • Social justice, the signature tune of our Constitution, still eludes us.
  • The struggle for social justice must continue with determination and its achievement would be the best tribute we can pay to one of the greatest sons of India.

 

 

 

 

Minority Issues – Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] The ethical act of voting

Mains Paper 2 : Governance, Transparency & Accountability, Citizens Charters |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Understanding importance of voting


CONTEXT

Voting is the duty of having to act not for individual benefit, but for the benefit of the larger society.

Human Nature

  • There is a puzzling trait that is pervasive and human.
  • It is that we often judge others with a different yardstick than with which we judge ourselves.
  • This is also part of a deeper human malaise: we think others are wrong and we are right in our beliefs and opinions. Elections exemplify these tendencies very well.

Sentiments during Elections

  • In the time of elections, we repeatedly hear these sentiments about other voters.
  •  Upper classes  – The upper classes will tell you that poorer citizens vote only to get benefits such as cash, clothes, television sets and other consumer goods.
  •  Majority group – The majority group will say that the minorities vote as a bloc since they have all been told whom to vote for.
  • These are seen as examples of voters not doing their duty of voting for the best person, namely, the best political representative who will govern well.
  • Ideological Approach – Those who support a particular party will say something similar about those who are voting for another party.
  • It is as if when people vote for money or as a vote bank, they are not doing what they should. But then it could also be argued that a person who blindly votes for one ideology or another is pretty much doing the same thing.

Getting paid for voting

1.Practice of gettin paid for voting

  • This practice is not only endemic across States but is also done quite brazenly in some places.
  • Party members go house to house and distribute money and other goods. This is done in the open and is a performance in itself.

2.Against Democracy

  • In the case of taking money or goods, voters see elections as a transaction.
  • This goes against a fundamental principle of democratic voting, which is that voting is not a transaction.
  • When we do a job for someone we don’t know, and which benefits that person, we generally expect to get paid for that act.
  • Voting is not a job – Voting is not a job in that sense. It is not a job which is eligible for some compensation.

3.Questions regarding voting

  • Are we voting for our own sake or for the benefit of others?
  • Does voting improve our well-being or that of others, the elected politicians?
  • Or is it that the ultimate purpose of an individual’s vote is to improve the well-being of the larger society?

4.Answers

  • If a person wins because of our votes, then he or she derives enormous benefit from being a member of the legislature.
  • The logic for getting Paid
    • Why can’t the voter who is enabling opportunity for another person’s wealth ask for a share in that wealth? If voters do so, then they are behaving rationally.
    • Giving money to voters is thus like an investment. The amount of payment to voters is really a measure of how much elected representatives hope to make during their tenure!
    • When we vote based on our ideology, we are following the same logic as those taking money.
    • When a group of rich people vote for a person who supports lower taxes, they are doing exactly the same as the poor, since voting is used as a transaction to get something they desire.

Way Forward

  • Voting is not a transaction – The fundamental problem lies in viewing voting as a transaction, the aim of which is to get some benefit for an individual or a group.
  • But we have to recognise that voting is not like any other transaction.
  • Voting is an ethical duty – The duty that is inherent in the act of voting is an ethical duty, not just a constitutional one.
  • It is the duty of having to act not for individual benefit, such as money or ideology, but for the benefit of the larger society.
  • For benefit of the larger society – Such benefit for the larger society will include others benefiting as much as each one of us does through each of our votes.
  • Beyond Self Interest – It is also a recognition that a democratic action like voting is primarily for the good of something larger than one’s self interests.

 

 

 

 

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Indian elections, South Asian concerns

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC

Mains level : South Asian region's want for stability


CONTEXT

The rest of South Asia wants the very best of democracy for India, plus to share in the peace dividend, growth and camaraderie.The level of worry is also at a pitch, for India should be the bulwark against weakening democracy in a world of Bolsonaro (Brazil), Duterte (the Philippines), Erdoğan (Turkey), Putin (Russia) and Trump (the U.S.) not to mention the People’s Republic of China.

The current democratic scenario in India

  • The term ‘world’s largest democracy’ is achieving banality as India gains majoritarian momentum.
  • Centralisation and majoritarianism – Centralised control of society would never be possible in such a vast and variegated society of sub-nationalities.
  • Degradation in quality
    • The high principle and probity of India’s political class, bureaucracy, academia and civil society are now exceptions rather than the rule.
    • India’s Ambassadors are no longer the self-confident professionals we knew for decades, they act today like timid note-takers.
    • Higher education is directed by those who insist that the achievements of Vedic era science included flying machines and organ transplants.
    • Meanwhile, the adventurism that marked economic management, including immiseration through demonetisation, has been ‘managed’ through loyal social and corporate media.

India As an Example for others in Subcontinent

  • Parliamentary democracy – Parliamentary democracy is the governance procedure adopted by each and every country of South Asia, and the Indian practice has always been held up as the example.
  • The professionalism of the civil service – The precedents set by India’s courts are studied elsewhere, the professionalism of the civil service is regarded as the benchmark, and everyone else seeks the aspirational welfare state set in motion in India in the middle of the 20th century.

Neighbour’s Observations

  • Pakistan – Lahore intellectuals watch with apprehension as India copies the excesses of Pakistan’s theocratic state.
  • Bangladesh – Dhaka observers are numbed into silence with New Delhi’s vigorous backing of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed as she constructs an intolerant one-party regime.
  • Sri Lanka – Colombo rides a geopolitical see-saw as New Delhi shadow-boxes Beijing.
  • Nepal –  Kathmandu wonders whether New Delhi has it in itself to concede that the amplified Chinese involvement in Nepal is the result of the Great Blockade of 2015-16.

Challenges

  • India is indeed large and important, but the chest size of a country does not translate into equity, social justice or international standing.
  • Inequality – Because nearly 20% of humanity lives within its boundaries, when India falters, the pit of despair and the potential for violence open up wide and deep.
  • Imagining south asian regionalism in right way
    • The South Asia that New Delhi’s policy and opinion-makers should consider is not the centralised Jambudvipa mega-state of the RSS imagination. Instead, the ideal South Asian regionalism is all about limiting the power of the national capitals, devolving power to federal units and strengthening local democracy.
    • Damage to SAARC -The freeze put by India on the inter-governmental South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is only a cynical means to keep Pakistan out of the club.
    • The sabotaging of SAARC can hardly be considered a victory, for that feather-light geopolitical stratagem fails to consider that regionalism is a potent means to bring economic growth and social justice to India’s own poverty-stricken ‘peripheral regions’ from Assam to Purvanchal to Rajasthan.
    • For its own security and prosperity as well as that of the rest of us, India must re-connect with South Asia.

Way Forward

  • Subcontinental regionalism – Subcontinental regionalism is also important to achieve New Delhi’s ambitions on the world stage, including that coveted seat at the UN Security Council.
  • Think tanks approach -India’s global comeback will start the day New Delhi think tanks begin questioning South and North Block rather than serving as purveyors of spin.
  • Gujral Doctrine – On South Asian matters, they should pull out a copy of the Gujral Doctrine from the archives, to be dusted and re-examined.
  • India that is prosperous and advancing at double digit growth,  would mean much not only for its 1.35 billion citizens, but to the other 500 million South Asians. For its own selfish interests, the rest of South Asia wants India to succeed in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Sealed disclosure

Mains Paper 2 : Executive & Judiciary |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Supreme Court's Judgement is not adequate in maintaining transparency in elections.


CONTEXT

The Supreme Court’s interim order asking political parties to disclose, to the Election Commission in sealed covers, details of the donations they have received through anonymous electoral bonds is an inadequate and belated response to the serious concerns raised about the opaque scheme.

Details of the Judgement

  • The scheme, under which one can purchase bonds of various denominations from a designated bank and deposit them in the accounts of any political party, had been challenged in the apex court a year ago.
  • When the matter was taken up last week, it was considered that the time available was too limited for an in-depth hearing.
  • Maintenance of status quo – The order, unfortunately, preserves the status quo, and any effect that the possible asymmetry in political funding would have on the election process will stay as it is.
  • Availability of donor’s name with EC – The only concession given to those concerned about the dangers of anonymous political funding is that the names would be available with the EC, albeit in sealed envelopes, until the court decides if they can be made public.
  • Large donations to ruling Party – There is some concern that a disproportionately large segment of the bonds purchased by corporate donors has gone to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
  • This donor anonymity may end if the court decides that the EC should disclose the names at the end of the litigation, but the influence such donations would have had on the electoral outcome would remain undisturbed.
  • Bearing on the electoral Process – The court notes in its order that the case gives rise to “weighty issues which have a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country”

Implications of Judgement

  • All it has done now is to ensure that its interim arrangement does not ‘tilt the balance’ in favour of either side.
  • Petitioner’s Argument – The petitioners, the Association for Democratic Reforms, questioned the anonymity-based funding scheme on the grounds that it promotes opacity, opens up the possibility of black money being donated to parties through shell companies and empowers the ruling party, which alone is in a position to identify the donors and, therefore, well placed to discourage donations to other parties
  • Government’s Argument – The government, on the other hand, argued that electoral bonds would prevent unaccounted money from entering the system through funding of parties.

Conclusion

  • Supreme court’s role in maintaining Transparency -For the last two decades, the Supreme Court has been proactive in empowering voters and in infusing transparency in the system.
  • It has developed a body of jurisprudence that says the electoral process involves the voter being given information about candidates, their qualifications, assets and crime records, if any.
  • Therefore, it is disappointing to hear the Attorney General arguing that voters do not have a right to know who funds parties.
  • Now that there is no stay on the operation of the scheme, the court must render an early verdict on the legality of the electoral bond scheme.

 

 

 

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Indelicate imbalance

Mains Paper 2 : Statutory, Regulatory & Various Quasi-Judicial Bodies |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Doordarshan's Biasedness towards Ruling party weakens democratic structure.


CONTEXT

The Election Commission has pulled up Doordarshan for giving twice as much airtime to the ruling BJP as it has given to the most important opposition party, the Congress.

Track Record of Doordarshan in Lok Sabha Elections

  • The portion of the CPM is much worse: It has been allocated only a tenth of the Congress’s airtime and a twentieth that of the BJP.
  • Broadcaster’s Argument – The broadcaster has argued that that it is a reflection of ground realities.
  • The BJP controls more governments and has more legislators across the country — but that cuts no ice.

Harm to free and fair Elections

  • At this time, when voters are exercising their choice, candidates should be given equal opportunity, irrespective of their parties’ legislative strength.
  • Otherwise, the national public broadcaster, funded by the taxpayer and autonomous under the Prasar Bharati Act, would be seen as a captive channel of the ruling party, as it was in Indira Gandhi’s time.

Lessons From other countries

1.USA

  • In the US, an equal time rule for political candidates was spelled out in the Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934, on account of the fear that in its absence, television networks would be able to sway elections simply by blanking out one side.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also imposed a fairness doctrine from 1949 to 2011, which did not apply to candidates but to issues, and ensured that all sides of a debate were equitably represented on air.
  • However, this was withdrawn as an impractical principle, since one side of a debate is sometimes patently absurd.

2.UK

  • In 2014, the BBC Trust in the UK pulled up its journalists for skewing coverage of science issues by, for instance, giving climate change deniers equal representation in debates.
  • But in political matters, it has supported equal opportunity. In 2003, BBC staff were required to reflect “significant opposition to the conflict” (in short, protesters) in coverage of the invasion of Iraq, and “allow the arguments to be heard and tested”.

Way Forward

  • Doordarshan is publicly funded and is insulated from government interference by law.
  • If the apportioning of its airtime is seen to favour the ruling party, it is failing in its duty as a public broadcaster.
  • Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati has spoken of the pressures of competing with commercial channels.
  • The argument is irrelevant, since the primary responsibility of a public broadcaster is not to compete for eyeballs, but to present news and opinions in a balanced manner so that intelligent viewers can make up their own minds.
Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Level-playing field matters

Mains Paper 2 : Constitutional Bodies |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Electoral Bonds

Mains level : How elections can be made more transparent and fair through state fundin of elections


CONTEXT

The finance ministry’s electoral bond scheme has afforded a way to fund political parties without disclosing the donor’s identity. The anonymity provision is antagonistic to transparency — the bonds merely enable an “on-the-books” secretive transfer.

Money power in Current General Election

  • In just 28 days since the announcement of the general election, the Election Commission (EC) has seized cash, drugs, alcohol, precious metals and other items worth Rs 1,800 crore.
  • Compare this to the legal upper limit of expenditure per candidate — Rs 70 lakh.
  • Simple arithmetic would show that the seized amount can fully finance up to five candidates from each of the 543 constituencies.
  • The expenditure in any election is estimated to be several times the legal upper limit.

Need for state Funding of elections

  • Fiscal constraints on electioneering give rise to the problem of unaccounted money.
  • There have been a few solutions.
  • However, all of them are premised on an adverse relationship between accountability and transparency.
  • Alternately, state funding of the recognised political parties and outlawing of corporate funding could be instrumental in making the electoral process fairer and more participatory.

History of introducing State funding of elections

  • In 1962, the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee moved a Private Member’s Bill to prevent electoral donations by corporates.
  • It was argued that since all shareholders need not subscribe to the political endorsement by a corporate, it was immoral to allow donations against their consent.
  • Vajpayee had propositioned that such funding would only serve corporate interests.
  • While all political parties welcomed the bill, the then ruling party did not vote in its favour.

Provision regarding donations

  • Under Section 29B of the Representation of the People Act 1951, political parties are free to accept donations from any person, except from a foreign source.
  • wo inferences can be drawn from this — first, money wields the ability to disrupt political agenda; second, foreign money dilutes electoral integrity.
  • Both reasons would equally be valid for any person who is alien to the election process — a non-voter.

Concerns from Foreign Funding and Corporate Funding

  • The concerns that arise from foreign-funding are equally applicable to funding from corporates, with the distinction that while the former is a jurisdictional alien; the latter, on account of being a non-participant, is an alien. However, party interests deter further expansion in the law.
  • Corporates’ Standing on donations to political Parties
    • Corporates have long defended their political donations on the grounds of freedom of speech.
    • Like citizens, they seek to endorse their economic and political views through contributions to campaign finance. However, casting such a wide net of freedom of speech seems misplaced.
  • Corporates are associations that further economic interests of their members who enjoy a freedom of trade.
  • Since corporates are not participants as voters, they have no claim to freedom of “political” speech and expression.
  • Therefore, while citizen-voters can donate to a political party pursuant to free speech, corporates must refrain from donating to a political party.

Analysis of Electoral Bond Scheme

  • The finance ministry’s electoral bond scheme afforded a way to fund political parties without disclosing the donor’s identity.
  • The ruling party is the main Beneficiary – Of the Rs 2,722 crore donated through the scheme in the last 15 months, almost 95 per cent has gone to the ruling party, which enjoys a 31.34 per cent vote share.
  • The remaining contestants with a 68.66 per cent vote share could only garner 5 per cent funding.
  • The anonymity provision under the scheme is antagonistic to transparency — the bonds merely enable an “on-the-books” secretive transfer.
  • The State Bank as the facilitator would be privy to the details of the depositor and the political party funded, therefore allowing the ruling party to monitor its rivals.
  • What would be unknown to others will be known by the ruling party.

Corporates’ Standing on donations to political Parties

  • Corporates have long defended their political donations on the grounds of freedom of speech.
  • Like citizens, they seek to endorse their economic and political views through contributions to campaign finance. However, casting such a wide net of freedom of speech seems misplaced.

Lessons From the Brazilian Supreme Court’s Verdict  on the corporate donation

  • In 2015, the Brazilian Supreme Court declared corporate financing of elections to be unconstitutional.
  • Right to equality is violated – The court understood that right to equality was essential to ensuring fairness through the extrinsic (fair options between candidates) and intrinsic (fair options between ideologies) conceptions.
  • Because 95 per cent of all campaign finance came from corporates, the courts felt that disclosure norms could only address the extrinsic aspect.
  • Corporate Funding Suppress ideological diversity – Corporates would still be able to collectively suppress certain socio-economic ideologies (welfare measures, controlled economy, wage-labour regulations) to their advantage, by inducing political parties and candidates.
  • So, the electoral contest would not allow certain policies to flourish, irrespective of who won. Outlawing corporate funding was important to ensure the right to equality.

Way Forward

  • In realpolitik terms, there is no incentive for any ruling political party to reform the law as it stands.
  • Even the main Opposition party lives in the hope that it would derive similar advantage when it comes to power.
  • Electoral Funding to EC –
    • Thus, necessity would dictate that the task of electoral funding be given to the EC under Article 324.
    • A fair and transparent manner to finance the political parties would require a censure of unaccounted money and direct donations by corporates and non-voters to political parties.
  • State Funding –
    • State funding of recognised political parties is a viable alternative.
    • A state funding scheme would be viable through the levy of an election cess on the direct taxes.
    • A National Election Fund could be maintained by the EC, into which the proceeds from this cess may be deposited.
    • At the current GDP-Direct Tax ratio and voter numbers, a 1 per cent election cess can fund Rs 500 for each vote cast in elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies.
    • The cess being progressive would spare the poorer candidates from the costs of funding elections.
    • Direct donations to political parties may be permitted only from persons who are entitled to vote. Those not entitled to vote may contribute to the neutral National Election Fund.

Conclusion

  • Donations from corporates into this fund will not distort the election process, but would instead improve the integrity of the peoples’ electoral choice.
  • Parties would be inclined to adopt a more inclusive agenda when in government since more votes will translate into more state funding.
  • Parties will also vie for votes in absolute numbers than merely be the first past the post. Democracy will then truly be of the people, for the people and by the people.
Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Slowing down fast: Industrial growth

Mains Paper 3 : Effects Of Liberalization On The Economy, Changes In Industrial Policy and their effects on Industrial Growth |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Inflation, Index

Mains level : Industrial slowdown and it's effects


CONTEXT

The downturn in industrial activity and the spike in retail inflation pose a policy challenge.

Background

  • Yet another indicator, worryingly, points to the Indian economy slowing down fast.
  • Industrial growth was just 0.1% in February from the year-earlier period, the slowest pace in 20 months.
  • Industrial output had expanded by 6.9% in February 2018.
  • Industrial growth, as measured by the index of industrial production, has been slowing down considerably in recent months, dropping to just 0.2% year-on-year in November.

Sectorwise Decline

  • Manufacturing – Manufacturing, which has a weight of almost 78% in the index, continues to be the biggest drag, with output contracting by 0.3% as compared with an 8.4% jump in the year-earlier period.
  •  Capital Goods  – The largest contributor to the slowdown in February was the capital goods sector, which shrank by close to 9%, with the contraction widening from the preceding month’s 3.4%.

Overall Scenario

  • That the revision in this closely watched proxy for business spending plans has widened, from the 3.2% contraction reported last month, is striking.
  • GDP grew by just 6.6% in the quarter ended December, the slowest pace in six quarters.
  • Forecast – Various institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India and the International Monetary Fund have been lowering their expectations for India’s growth in the coming quarters.
  • Other Growth Indicators – With other economic indicators such as the purchasing managers’ index and high-frequency data like automobile sales also signalling weakening momentum, the overall scenario, when viewed along with the slowdown in industrial output, suggests that a turnaround in economic growth is not in sight.
  • Inflation – Retail inflation as measured by the consumer price index reached a five-month high of 2.86% in March due to the rise in food and fuel prices.
  • While price gains still remain below the RBI’s stated inflation threshold of 4%, the trajectory is hardly bound to be reassuring.
  • The RBI, which has cut interest rates at two successive policy meetings to help bolster economic growth, is likely to be tempted to opt for more rate reductions.

Implications of such a scenario

  • Need for structural reforms – While monetary easing could be an easy solution to the growth problem, policymakers may also need to look into structural issues behind the slowdown.
  • Credit Market Slowdown – The high levels of troubled debt in not just the banking sector but the wider non-banking financial companies are hurting credit markets, and unless these issues can be resolved, no amount of rate cuts would serve as an effective stimulus.
  • To a large extent, the slowdown is due to investments in sectors that turned sour as the credit cycle tightened.
  • A decline in new proposals – In the fiscal year ended March, new investment proposals fell to a 14-year low, says the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.

Conclusion

Easing interest rates without reforms may only help hide investment mistakes instead of fostering a genuine economic recovery.

Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.