Current affairs-October -16





1.         ǿ   WHAT IS INDUS RIVER TREATY 1-6
2.         ǿ   RIGHT TO PRIVACY 6-7
3.         ǿ   DEATH IN CUSTODY 7-8
5.         ǿ    PARIS   CONVENTION 10
6.         ǿ    DEFENCE 10-11
7.         ǿ    DOLPHINS AND WATERWAYS 11-12
8.         ǿ    DALITS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES 12-13
9.         ǿ    MISC 14
10.     ǿ    TAMILS AND SRI LANKA 14-15
11.     ǿ    A VANISHING TRICK 16-17
12.     ǿ    ECONOMIC 17-18
14.     ǿ    CAUVERY DISPUTE 18-19
16.     ǿ    A CITY DIED 19-20
17.     ǿ    MONTREAL PROTOCOL 20-21
18.     ǿ    INTERNATIONAL (Road Map) 21-22
19.     ǿ    SCIENCE (Climate talks) 22-23
20.     ǿ    SHIFTING PARTIES 24-25
21.     ǿ    UCC 25-26
23.     ǿ    PERSONAL LAWS 26-27
24.     ǿ    CASE OF BRITAIN EXIT 27
25.     ǿ    SCIENCE 27-28
27.     ǿ    AFGHANISTAN 29
28.     ǿ    FAREWELL TO NAM 29-30
29.     ǿ    POST US WEST ASIA 30-31
30.     ǿ     SINGUR & LAND RULING 31-33
31.     ǿ    MISC 33
32.     ǿ    SCIENCE 33-34
33.     ǿ    CHINA & BRAHMAPUTRA 34-35
34.     ǿ    SPECTRUM CONUNDRUM 35
35.     ǿ    ROSETTA 36
36.     ǿ    AFGHANISTAN 36-37
37.     ǿ    OPEC 37
38.     ǿ    NHRC 37-38
39.     ǿ    MAKING BOOKS 38-39
40.     ǿ    SEEDS OF DISCONTENT 39-40
42.     ǿ    SAARC 42-43
43.     ǿ    KIGALI DECIDES HFC FREEZE 43-44
44.     ǿ    DYLANS NOBLE 44-45
45.     ǿ    INDIAN DEMOCRACY 45
46.     ǿ    MISC (NIXON UP) 45
47.     ǿ    IMPORTS FROM CHINA 46
49.     ǿ    CHINA AT CROSSROADS 47
50.     ǿ    COLD WAR 47-48
51.     ǿ    MISC 48
52.     ǿ    SCIENCE 48-49
53.     ǿ    WTO RULING 49-50
54.     ǿ    ZUCKERBERG 50
55.     ǿ    CHINA MARRED 51
56.     ǿ    DICV 51-52
57.     ǿ    GST 52-53
58.     ǿ    GIVING AFRICA 53-54
59.     ǿ    RAILWAYS ON TRACK 54
60.     ǿ    NATIONAL 54-55
61.     ǿ    SCIENCE 55
62.     ǿ    FOREMOST PLACE 55-56
63.     ǿ    CENSOR HEAT 56
64.     ǿ    BRICS 56-57
65.     ǿ    CASE OF EXCESS 57-58
66.     ǿ    NATIONAL 58-59
67.     ǿ    MORAL COMPASS 59-60
68.     ǿ    NATIONAL 60-64
69.     ǿ    INTERNATIONAL 64-65
70.     ǿ    NATIONAL 65-66
71.     ǿ    SCIENCE 66
72.     ǿ    NATIONAL 66-72
73.     ǿ    INTERNATIONAL 72-73
74.     ǿ    NATIONAL 73-75
75.     ǿ    ECONOMY 75
76.     ǿ    NATIONAL 75-79
77.     ǿ    WIND POWER 79-80
78.     ǿ    OLD LINKS 80-81
79.     ǿ    NATIONAL 81-84
80.     ǿ    SCIENCE 85-86
81.     ǿ    NATIONAL 86-89
82.     ǿ    INTERNATIONAL 89-92
83.     ǿ    NHRC 93-94
84.     ǿ    COOL THE WORLD 94
85.     ǿ    PARIS CLIMATE 95
86.     ǿ    NATIONAL 95-99
87.     ǿ    CACOPHONY 99-101
88.     ǿ    NO SHORT CUT 101
89.     ǿ    OPEC’S ROLL 102-103











  • What is Indus river treaty?

The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank (then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development). The treaty was signed in Karachi on September 19, 1960 by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru and President of Pakistan Ayub Khan.

According to this agreement, control over the three “eastern” rivers — the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej — was given to India, while control over the three “western” rivers — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum — to Pakistan. More controversial, however, were the provisions on how the waters were to be shared. Since Pakistan’s rivers flow through India first, the treaty allowed India to use them for irrigation, transport and power generation, while laying down precise regulations for Indian building projects along the way. The treaty was a result of Pakistani fear that, since the Source Rivers of the Indus basin were in India, it could potentially create droughts and famines in Pakistan, especially at times of war.

Since the ratification of the treaty in 1960, India and Pakistan have not engaged in any water wars. Most disagreements and disputes have been settled via legal procedures, provided for within the framework of the treaty. The treaty is considered to be one of the most successful water sharing endeavours in the world today, even though analysts acknowledge the need to update certain technical specifications and expand the scope of the document to include climate change.[3] As per the provisions in the treaty, India can use only 20% of the total water carried by the Indus River.

How it functions?

The countries agree to exchange data and co-operate in matters related to the treaty. For this purpose, treaty creates the Permanent Indus Commission, with a commissioner appointed by each country. It would follow the set procedure for adjudicating any future disputes arising over the allocation of waters. The Commission has survived three wars and provides an ongoing mechanism for consultation and conflict resolution through inspection, exchange of data and visits.

 India’s grouse


Jammu and Kashmir, State Assembly has often complained about the treaty being “unfair”. At present, India has access to the use of three “eastern” rivers of the Indus — the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, while it is allowed limited use of about 20 per cent of the three ‘western’ rivers — the Indus (Sindhu), Chenab and Jhelum.


  • How the Indus Treaty was signed

Amongst the more prominent of the problems that bedevilled relations between India and Pakistan was the Indus Waters dispute. This was a legacy of the Partition. The line dividing the two Punjab’s cut right across the Indus canal systems developed over a hundred years. Pakistan found that the headwaters of the main canals were on the Indian side of the border. All the five tributaries of the Indus also originated in India and flowed through Indian territory in the upper reaches. Even before Partition, Sindh and Punjab had witnessed wrangles over the sharing of the waters of these rivers.

The situation worsened after the holocaust of the Partition. There were hysterical cries in Pakistan for taking up arms to defend their rights over the waters. Fortunately, an arbiter came forward in the garb of the World Bank that eventually succeeded in thrashing out a settlement. The main credit should go to Eugene Black, the World Bank president.

Demarcating boundaries

While the negotiations about the sharing of the canal waters were going on, officials from both countries were grappling with the demarcation of boundaries that had defied solution all those years. These disputes had arisen over the interpretation of the award of Radcliffe. Two teams were sent out by India to tackle the thorny problem [in 1959]. The discussions the Indians held with their Pakistani counterparts were in a spirit of friendship and cordiality hitherto unheard of in Pakistan. To a large extent, this was due to the fact that the leaders of the respective teams were old friends and college mates from pre-Partition Lahore. The leader on the Indian side was Sardar Swaran Singh; General Khalid Shaikh led the Pakistani team. Once these two men established their rapport, they left the details to their principal advisors: on the Indian side M.J. Desai, and on the other side Sikander Ali Baig. Once it was established that the main purpose of the exercise was to achieve maximum agreement and that neither side was out to steal an unfair advantage, it was easier to work out a solution. It was found that neither India nor Pakistan had an overwhelming case to be made on its stand on a particular dispute. One side gracefully conceded the other’s claim were valid, and that was that. In this way the two negotiating teams were able to settle a number of irritants in this field and pave the way for a period of real détente between the two countries.

However, some [issues] proved to be intractable. One of these was the dispute regarding the Rann of Kutch. As neither side gave way, it was decided to leave it for further negotiations through routine diplomatic channels. Subsequently, Pakistan was to take the law into its own hands and send a raiding force into the territory only to be halted by Indian Army units. The dispute was then put to international arbitration, as a result of which India agreed to give up a part of the disputed area to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Ayub Khan had taken another bold step. This was the decision to stop over at Palam airport in New Delhi [in September, 1959] during one of his periodic visits to Dacca, to meet the Indian Prime Minister. He was no doubt prompted to do so by Rajeshwar Dayal, the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan who had received prior approval from Delhi. The Pakistani President deserves full credit for following it through with good grace and aplomb. The Palam meeting, that lasted for nearly two hours, went well. At the end, a brief statement was issued in which the leaders emphasised the need to conduct relations in a rational and planned manner. It was also agreed that outstanding issues should be settled in accordance with justice and fair play, in a spirit of friendliness and cooperation. Later, when speaking to the Press, Ayub Khan stressed the need for re-appraisals, for forgetting and forgiving, and for a more realistic and rational approach to settling disputes that had tarnished relations between the two neighbour states. For a few moments, the ice seemed to be broken. Right-thinking people on both sides appeared to heave a sigh of relief.

  • Nehru’s visit to Pakistan

Soon it was clear that bigger things were in the offing. The protracted negotiations about the distribution of the canal waters were drawing to a close. The agreement on the canal waters was the biggest single achievement to date between the two countries, and it was decided to have it signed with due pomp and show. This provided an appropriate opportunity for the Indian Prime Minster to reciprocate Ayub Khan’s stopover at Palam and to demonstrate the friendly relations that were developing between the two countries. The historic visit of Pandit Nehru from September 19 to September 23, 1960, was to be his last visit to Pakistan.

While the arrangements of the visit were under discussion, Rajeshwar Dayal had to leave Pakistan. The task of organising Panditji’s visit fell on my shoulders. Fortunately, I had very able colleagues to help me.

Prime Minister Nehru’s visit commenced on a rather low key. The welcome at Karachi was formal and correct, but not enthusiastic. The decorations along the route from the airport to the presidential palace were minimal. By contrast, a lot of the local populace had gathered along the streets to have a glimpse of Panditji. But they did not cheer him. It was evident that the military authorities had ordained it that way.

The same evening was the signing of the Indus Waters Treaty. This was done with due decorum and solemnity. Nehru signed on behalf of India, Ayub Khan on behalf of Pakistan, and William Iliff, the vice-president of the World Bank, on behalf of the Bank. The treaty was based on the principle that after a transitional period of 10 years, extendable to 13 at the request of Pakistan, the three eastern rivers, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, would be exclusively allocated to India, while the western rivers, Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, would be allocated exclusively to Pakistan except for certain limited uses by India in the upstream areas. During the transition period, Pakistan would undertake a system of works, part of which would replace from the western rivers such irrigation uses in Pakistan as had hitherto been met from the eastern rivers. While the system of works was under construction, India would continue to supply water from the eastern rivers according to the agreed programme. The Indus works programme was estimated to cost around $1,070 million, of which $870 million was to be spent in Pakistan. It was a colossal undertaking.

Once the signing ceremony was over everyone breathed a sigh of relief. What had been an insurmountable problem was out of the way. Could one proceed to other items on the agenda? This was the nagging question that troubled the advisers on either side. Panditji had brought a team of advisers that included Desai, the Commonwealth Secretary, an able administrator, and a tough negotiator. Ayub Khan had great respect for his abilities.

However, the discussions that followed proved to be desultory and unproductive. It was clear that neither side was prepared for any major concessions. We talked primarily of trade between the two countries and for cooperation in economic spheres. A number of ideas were thrown out. Ayub Khan in a generous mood offered to divert the waters of the Indus River to the parched areas of Rajasthan by erecting a barrage in the lower reaches of the river; also to supply the Sui natural gas from Baluchistan to the Bombay area.

The Indian side in its turn agreed to consider sympathetically the proposal enabling Pakistan to run a through-train across India connecting Lahore and Dacca. Even cooperation and co-ordination in the military fields came under discussion. India expressed concern about Chinese activities on the northern border of Kashmir and emphasised the concern they felt about a possible threat to Pakistan also from them.

Ayub Khan, without batting an eyelid, shook his head gravely and promised to study the question with his military advisors. Little did the Indian side suspect that Pakistan would be handing over to the Chinese sizeable chunks of the territory in the northern part of Kashmir in return for China’s support of Pakistan’s claim for the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir.

In fact, all our bilateral discussions and grandiose schemes came to practically nothing because of Pakistan’s insistence that India should make substantial concessions with regard to Kashmir. Thereby ended another chapter in the unfulfilled agenda of cooperation between India and Pakistan.


Under the present circumstances, what can India do to achieve strategic & political goals?


The government has decided to build more run-of-the-river hydropower projects on western rivers, to exploit the full potential of 18,600 MW (current projects come to 11,406 MW) and to expedite the construction of the Pakal Dul, Sawalkot, Bursar dams in Jammu and Kashmir A decision has been taken to review restarting the Tulbul navigation project that India had suspended after Pakistan’s objections in 1987.

  1. LOW INTENSITY “water wars” can take place, putting a sense into pakistastan’s wayward thinking. “Concerns over water security are brewing. Some say that there will be wars between countries over water,” adding that scientists must come up with solutions to ensure that water can be used more efficiently and land used better to improve crop varieties.
  2. MAKE GOOD THE LAPSES – The treaty has not consideredGujaratstate in India as part of the Indus river basin. The Indus river is entering the Great Rann of Kutch area and feeding in to Kori Creek during floods. At the time of the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960, the Great Rann of Kutch area was disputed territory between the two nations which was later settled in the year 1968 by sharing total disputed area in 9:1 ratio between India and Pakistan. Without taking consent from India, Pakistan has constructed Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) project passing through the Great Rann of Kutch area with the assistance from the world bank. LBOD’s purpose is to bypass the saline and polluted water which is not fit for agriculture use to reach sea via Rann of Kutch area without passing through its Indus delta. Water released by the LBOD is enhancing the flooding in India and contaminating the quality of water bodies which are source of water to salt farms spread over vast area.  The LBOD water is planned to join the sea via disputed Sir Creek but LBOD water is entering Indian territory due to many breaches in its left bank caused by floodsGujarat state of India being the lower most riparian part of Indus basin, Pakistan is bound to provide all the details of engineering works taken up by Pakistan to India as per the provisions of the treaty and shall not proceed with the project works till the disagreements are settled by arbitration process


1. From the rivers flowing in India, India got nearly 33 million acre feet (MAF) from eastern rivers whereas Pakistan got nearly 125 MAC from western rivers. However India can use the western river waters for irrigation up to 701,000 acres with new water storage capacity not exceeding 1.25 MAF and use the rivers for run of river hydro power generation with storage not exceeding 1.6 MAF and nominal flood storage capacity of 0.75 MAF.

2. The water allocations made to the J&K state of India are meagre to meet its irrigation water requirements whereas the treaty permitted enough water to irrigate 80% of the cultivated lands in the Indus river basin of Pakistan.

3. The storage capacity permitted by the treaty for hydro power generation is less than the total annual silt that would accumulate in the reservoirs if the total hydro potential of the state was to be exploited fully. Ultimately, J&K state is bound to resort costly de-silting of its reservoirs to keep them operational. Whereas Pakistan is planning to build multipurpose water reservoirs with massive storage for impounding multiyear inflows such as 4,500 MW Diamer-Bhasha Dam, 3,600 MW Kalabagh Dam, 600 MW Akhori Dam project with huge population resettlement. Pakistan is also losing additional benefits by not permitting moderate water storages in upstream J&K state whose water would be ultimately released to the Pakistan for its use and avoid few dams requirement in its territory. It is totally unfounded that water deluge / flooding from the reservoirs by the upstream state would cause any appreciable damage in the Pakistan territory after passing through the steep valleys of J&K state.


  • The best among limited options

In the early dawn of September 18, Pakistani irregulars belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) attacked an Army camp in the Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir, killing 18 jawans and inflicting grievous casualties on many more. The fidayeen were able to breach the Line of Control as also the camp’s security, employing a combination of incendiary grenades and close-quarter weapons to inflict heavy casualties.

Questions are being raised as to how this could happen when Jammu and Kashmir was on maximum alert — this being one of the worst periods in the State’s history since the 1990s. This is, however, not the time for introspection on security breaches and failures; there are far more serious matters on hand.

Uri and the UN

The Uri attack had an eerie similarity to the attack on the Pathankot Air Force base in January this year, in which seven security personnel were killed. Lessons from that incident obviously have not filtered down. What is significant is that the JeM was responsible for both attacks. The JeM — even more than the Lashkar-e-Taiba — is the handmaiden of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It obeys implicitly, and acts directly on, the directions of the ISI. There is, hence, a message in the latest attack, coming as it does straight from the deepest recesses of the ‘Pakistani Deep State’.

The timing is hardly fortuitous. The carefully planned attack — with intelligence obviously provided by the ISI — was timed to coincide with the debate in the UN General Assembly (featuring both Pakistan’s Prime Minister and India’s External Affairs Minister), thus helping rivet world attention to an otherwise hardy annual event. Whatever be the nature of evidence produced by India, Pakistan will still remain in denial.

The question is: quo vadis, India-Pakistan relations? Tensions remain high on both sides. All of India feels that mere impotent rage and euphuistic excesses are insufficient. There is clamour for action, all the more because the present government had come into office promising strong action against Pakistan after accusing the United Progressive Alliance government of pusillanimity vis-à-vis the neighbour. The shoe is now on the other foot, and the wearer is since learning where the shoe pinches.

Words options & actions

Strong words had similarly accompanied the attack on the Indian Parliament (2001) and ‘Operation Parakram’ (2001-02) in the wake of the Kargil conflict. Policymakers at that time had been compelled to step back subsequently on account of the prevailing international climate.

India faced a similar dilemma following the multiple terror attacks in Mumbai city on November 26, 2008, in which over 170 people were killed. Pakistan’s perfidy was clearly proven in this instance, following the live capture of one of the attackers. Yet — and despite the fact that many of the attack victims were foreigners — deciding on a coherent response that would adhere to international ‘best practices’ had proved difficult.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (at the time headed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) had examined and considered several options. It was not pusillanimity, but mature judgment based on a cost-effective analysis, that led to the withholding of ‘direct action’ in the form of an overt attack on Pakistani targets. A mature nation like India could hardly afford to function like a ‘rogue state’, viz. Pakistan.

Mature response the Key

The need for caution is even more imperative today, as not only is the world more interconnected and events in any one region do have a geopolitical impact, but the stakes for India as one of the world’s leading economic powers have become considerable. It is, hence, necessary to temper the voices being heard about paying Pakistan back in its own coin, that strategic restraint is passé, and that the government must exercise the military option. Many former members of the armed forces are seen indulging in rhetoric that verge on ‘jingoism’. This could prove dangerous at a time when emotions are running high. Pakistan’s military is anxious to engage in a conflict not so much to assess its own capabilities, but to gauge how soon the world and its allies like China would step in and internationalise the conflict, including issues such as Kashmir.

The foremost issue before India, at present, would thus be whether to maintain diplomatic relations with Pakistan at the existing level or not. It is important to recognise, however, that while we can choose our friends, we cannot select our neighbours. Once diplomatic relations are broken, healing the rift will become still more difficult.

The next issue for India would be whether it is possible to impose a heavy economic burden on Pakistan. The inherent weakness in any such step is that few nations would be willing to follow India’s lead and, treating Pakistan as an outcast, impose an economic blockade on that country. Pakistan has every reason to be certain that China would not go along with any such Indian initiative. Apart from this, Pakistan’s importance vis-à-vis China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, and the criticality of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in China’s overall geostrategic plans make it highly unlikely that China would take sides against Pakistan. Other Asian nations, including members of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), may also be less than willing to take sides in a conflict of this kind.

Utmost care again needs to be taken when considering any military option. Pakistan may be a ‘basket case’ approximating to North Korea, but like the latter it is a ‘militarised’ state which has ‘nuclear teeth’. In 2008, India did not exercise the military option not due to any fears of a possible nuclear conflict, but because of the futility of resorting to any such step as it was likely to be indeterminate. The decision to eschew the military option was based on mature consideration of all facts available at that time. In retrospect, it greatly added to India’s prestige, instead of the country being equated with a ‘rogue state’ like Pakistan. India also won the ‘perception war’, gaining international support and sympathy, while Pakistan was consigned to the position of an ‘international outcast’.

Sober reflection not Strike

Sub-military options available to India to put pressure on Pakistan are not too many. In 2008, after the Mumbai attacks, similar suggestions had been made by some experts from outside the government. These were not considered viable, as merely hitting a few terrorist training camps inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was hardly likely to hurt Pakistan. At the time, India lacked the capability to carry out spectacular raids like the one by the Israel Defense Forces at Entebbe and German GSG 9 forces in Mogadishu in the 1970s or the taking out of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad by the U.S. Navy SEALs in 2011.

The reality is that India’s security agencies, including the armed forces, still do not have adequate capabilities of this kind — notwithstanding claims to the contrary. The Army, the Navy and the Air Force do have their Special Forces, but unlike the U.K.’s Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS), the Green Berets and SEALs of the U.S., Germany’s GSG 9 and Russia’s Spetsnaz, these are primarily intended for military operations ‘behind the lines’ during a period of war. They are not capable of any independent operation. The Special Frontier Force has some capability for very limited operations and in specified circumstances. The National Security Guard, though raised as a counter-terrorist force, is not in the same league as the GSG 9.

All this should induce sober reflection. India is, of course, in a position to engage in a ‘water war’ with Pakistan, to deprive Pakistan of water from the Indus river. This would, of course, mean reneging on India’s international obligations under the Indus Waters Treaty.

Perhaps, India’s best option would be to engage in cyber sabotage and cyberwarfare, hiding behind the plausible deniability available in such attacks. Our capacity in this area is considerable, and it should be possible to engage in extensive cyber sabotage and cyber warfare to bring Pakistan to its knees. This may be worth examining, instead of adopting ‘tit for tat’ methods with a ‘rogue’ nation.


  • The two NSAs must meet

The fidayeen attack, reportedly by Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists, on an Army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday morning is a very serious provocation. As we know, Pakistan does this periodically, whether it was theKaluchak attack of May 2002 or the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. In fact, the Kaluchak attack was very similar — the death toll crossed 30, and in fact, families of officers and jawans too were killed. That attack, in the summer of 2002, broke the proverbial camel’s back.

The background to the Uri attack is the high-pitched rhetoric from the Pakistani establishment, and it is interesting to note that this change came in the wake of the Panama Papers exposure that weakened Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif politically. Till then there was a good chemistry between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Sharif. The Panama Papers isolated him politically, and made him vulnerable vis-à-vis the military. Subsequently, you heard uncharacteristically aggressive rhetoric from him on Kashmir, and on Burhan Wani’s killing. It seemed to go against the grain, and that he was under pressure was evident. To this escalation in rhetoric, India brought up Baluchistan.

Raising the stakes

For whatever reason, Pakistan has chosen to dangerously raise the stakes with the Uri attack. It is the worst attack on the Indian Army by Pakistan-backed terrorists since Kaluchak more than a decade ago, and the Prime Minister had no option but to say that the strike would not go unpunished.

Looking at past provocations, such as Kargil and the Parliament and Mumbai attacks, we have often used diplomatic pressure, and on most occasions it has worked. After Uri, Mr. Modi has said India will isolate Pakistan internationally, and there is some merit in going down that route. For instance, after the Parliament attack of December 2001, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government downgraded diplomatic relations with Pakistan. This option is now on the table.

There is also talk of a surgical strike. These things have been thought of in the past too, and obviously this is a call the government has to take, all things considered. However, here two things are not in India’s favour. One, relations with Pakistan is already not good; and it may sound strange to say this, but surgical strikes work when bilateral relations are better.

Two, we currently have a mess in Kashmir. Normal life has been thrown out of gear for more than two months, the death toll continues to rise, and the government and security forces are not able to break the cycle of protests. The fallout of rising bilateral tensions would be to encourage the boys — or militants — in south Kashmir. Kashmir needs to be dealt with separately, not in conjunction with our relationship with Pakistan. We have already wasted too much time, and containment is never going to be enough. We did contain the situation in the 1990s. But there cannot be a solution through containment by the security forces. It’s a political matter. All this is an aside, and may not be directly related to our response to Uri, but it is part of the backdrop.


Better sense needed

The fallout of Uri is not looking very good, and I hope better sense will prevail in Pakistan. There is talk of the DGMOs (Directors General of Military Operations) talking, but that is a formality. Information may be shared, but as we saw after the Pathankot attack earlier this year, and after the Mumbai attacks, nothing is likely to come out of this.

There is a more serious dialogue needed. I am, instead, hopeful that the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of both countries are talking to each other. This is a serious juncture, and I would hope that they will meet somewhere — it does not have to be in the media spotlight. India has some stern lecturing and questioning to do. Pakistan has some explaining to do, and the onus is on Islamabad to help us all get out of a mess that is of their making. The two countries have already done away with the backchannel — the NSAs, who reportedly have a good rapport, are the only backchannel of sorts that we still have. They must meet. And after that New Delhi must do what it has to do.

After the Mumbai attacks, there were reports that the Director General, Inter-Services Intelligence, would be sent to India. Even at the time, the idea seemed a bit unrealistic, and eventually he did not come. But had he come, it might have soothed public opinion. Something out of the usual, out of the ordinary, is needed today.

Meanwhile, suggestions that the Prime Minister should call off his scheduled visit to Pakistan for the SAARC summit are premature. There is plenty of time to take a considered view on that. This is not the right time.

Uri, however, is a reminder that India needs a long-term strategic policy on Pakistan. And in the immediate aftermath, the government should do what it needs to do, without saying too much — else, things you may have nothing to do with get attributed to you.

By holding a meeting on the Indus Waters Treaty and scheduling another later this week on MFN (Most Favoured Nation) status to Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has signalled his intent to examine all the non-military options before the government for a strong response to the Uri attack. “Blood and Water cannot flow together,” he is reported to have said. However, after the meeting, officials made it clear that the IWT will hold, at least for the moment. Instead, the Centre drew up a list of measures to optimise use of the Indus waters, that India has so far failed to do. The fact is that abrogating the IWT is a non-starter as an option, and the holding of the meeting at this juncture ill-considered. For one, it confused the message in Mr. Modi’s Kozhikode speech, appealing to Pakistani citizens’ better instincts to “wage a war on poverty”. More important, the 1960 treaty for the Indus and five tributaries flowing from India to Pakistan was brokered by the World Bank (then, the IBRD), and has held through wars and conflicts along the Line of Control. Revoking it would threaten regional stability and India’s credibility globally. It remains unclear what India intends to do with the “western” rivers in question beyond the short-term plan to irrigate Jammu and Kashmir’s fields better. Dams required to hold the course of the tributaries of the Indus to alter water levels to Pakistan dramatically would take more than a decade to build. Given the environmental and geopolitical consequences of such actions, they are unlikely to elicit any international funding.

It is clear that the Centre didn’t think through its next steps when it declared with a grand flourish, amplified by frenzied television headlines, that the Prime Minister would “review” the Treaty. But it did limit the potential damage by bringing down the heated rhetoric with a rational analysis on the Treaty. It would be wise if India proceeds with a sense of pragmatic caution in making further statements on Pakistan — for instance, revoking the MFN status will hardly punish Pakistan’s economy given the low levels of bilateral trade. Terrorist attacks such as the one at Uri require a combination of measured but firm responses, rather than weighing every option in full public view. India cannot also ignore the fact that the Uri attack has exposed the need to shore up its defences. As India has realised time and again, its response to provocation must carry the message that the country is dependable and not given to irrational, irresponsible actions that its neighbour is often prone to.



Towards a database nation—is govt putting national security at risk?

Q. Is govt. moving for database management without putting proper institutions in place and should people believe in its ability and planning?

Q. What US experience tells us?

Q. Too much data access by govt. signals the end of democracy and institutions?


Although criminalisation of speech is distressing, other corrosive threats to our democracy and liberty are surging unnoticed and unchecked. There has been a sharp rise in state surveillance, government collection of data and government aggregation of big data sources. It appears that we are thoughtlessly mutating into what Jack Balkin calls the “National Surveillance State”. This is a governance form in which governments use surveillance, data collection, data mining and other such invasive methods to prevent crime, terrorist attacks and to deliver welfare services.

No one seems to have noticed that the Central Monitoring System (CMS) is already scanning our communication in real time in Delhi and Mumbai; or that the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), which links multiple government databases, aggregating all kinds of information, will be operational next year. No one has asked whether Aadhaar, with its access to our biometric identification and its connection with all kinds of databases from banking to health and scholarships, will be a part of NATGRID.

We have no idea how secure these databases are and have given no thought to what will happen if someone hacks them or misuses the sensitive information contained in them. Although major data breaches have been reported from entities ranging from the U.K. government to Adobe, Sony and Ashley Madison, it has not yet occurred to us that creating these databases means risking data breaches.

Government surveillance—is right to privacy under threat?

It is the nature of politicians and governments to seek and consolidate power. Indian politicians and the Indian government are no different. Our National Intelligence Agency, precursor of the infamous Intelligence Bureau, is older than the British MI6. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is alleged to have put President Giani Zail Singh under surveillance, and reports indicate that this extended to having his office bugged.

The imbalance of power created by the state’s attempts at treating citizens like pawns is dangerously magnified by advances in digital technology that allow for easy monitoring of communication and access to large amounts of data. It has not helped that the Indian judiciary was short-sighted in its approach to phone tapping in the nineties. It responded to large-scale, unfettered government surveillance with weak safeguards that became obsolete very fast.

The problems with this have been highlighted in a piece by Arun Jaitley, the current Union Finance Minister, when the previous government was in power. He wrote “every citizen in India has a right to privacy”. In his powerfully argued piece, Mr. Jaitley pointed out that even access to citizens’ call data records violates privacy since it reveals their relationships and potentially confidential transactions.

This year, the CMS is actually being used to monitor our communication in Delhi and Mumbai, and its reach will be expanded gradually. This system has never been discussed meaningfully with the public, and no efforts have been made to explain what safeguards prevent its misuse.

In response to questions in Parliament, Law and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has clarified that law enforcement agencies get access to intercepted communication on a near-real-time basis through the CMS. He has also made it clear that such interception will take place secretly, without the involvement of the telecommunications service provider, eliminating the only third party that ever had any idea of government excesses in this context.

This creates two potential problems. One, of course, is that the state will use the system for surveillance excesses as it has done in the past. The other is that whoever actually executes the ambiguous ‘automated process’ through which the government accesses our communication in real time may abuse this access to private information for personal gain.



Government databases

In addition to the CMS, the government has spent approximately Rs.150 crore from 2009 onwards on the NATGRID, which is supposed to offer law enforcement agencies data access to 21 providers such as airlines, banks, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, railways and telecommunications operators by 2017. NATGRID is classified among the ‘intelligence and security’ organisations and is exempted from the Right to Information Act.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor asked about potential parliamentary scrutiny of NATGRID in 2015, and the government responded saying it considers the current oversight mechanism adequate.

In the meantime, the controversial Aadhaar project is functional without any meaningful public debate or cost-benefit analysis. The identity number is being pushed aggressively by the government. For example, citizens are pressured to enrol by making critical services contingent on Aadhaar numbers. Most people would enrol if told that their bank account, pension, scholarship, driving licence or voter identification card is in jeopardy.

It makes matters worse that people are lining up to add their children to this database. Given that no one can opt out of the database once enrolled, this is a very serious human rights violation. It does not offer adults a way to withdraw consent and does not offer the next generation the opportunity to reverse their parents’ decisions.

A dark future

It appears that we are travelling fast towards a complete transformation into a National Surveillance State. This journey may be irreversible. However, there is a lot that we could have done, and that we can do, to mitigate the imbalance of power created in this state.

We have had no public debate about the effectiveness or safeguards created for NATGRID and Aadhaar. We have put our children’s personal information in these databases without any information about the resilience of these databases in the face of sophisticated cybercriminals. We have not asked how easily they may be hacked, and what the consequences will be if our data are compromised or misused.

Even the United States lets its citizens know when public databases are breached. Aadhaar and NATGRID might be hacked several times a year for all we know; no one is obligated to tell us. The government wants to add our travel and bank information to these databases, and is pressuring all the phone manufacturers to integrate with them. This renders us powerless and steps around our painstakingly crafted civil liberties to hand control of our lives and information back to the state.



·         Death in custody is a crime against humanity? Biggest democracy on the planet is among the best and biggest perpetrators of crimes against humanity?

·         Explain the case of toothless tigers e.g. national human rights commission (NHRC), JUDICIARY & can these institutions be relied upon to safeguard the rights of citizens against the states, discuss.

·         HAS justice delivery system failed in India?

·         Preventing death in custody



Seven weeks after a 25-year-old inmate allegedly hanged himself in the Puzhal Central Prison in Chennai, P. Ramkumar, the sole accused in the murder of Infosys techie Swathi, also allegedly committed suicide in the same prison by “pulling and biting into a live electric wire”.

The Puzhal prison complex was inaugurated in 2006 by the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, with the promise of making it a model for reform. It has become notorious, however, for being a den of drugs and a place where mobile phones are frequently seized.

The Puzhal prison isn’t alone.

From 1995 to 2014, 999 suicides were reported inside Indian prisons. Tamil Nadu alone has seen 141 of them. The State houses less than 4 per cent of the country’s prisoners, yet it accounts for 14 per cent of suicides inside prisons. With such a poor track record, the State machinery should at least deliberate possible solutions.

Is Tamil Nadu the bad apple or is the entire orchard rotten? Data show that in the last 20 years, three inmates on average have been found dead daily in Indian prisons. In 2014, there were five deaths every day, so 35 deaths in a typical week. Two of these deaths were suicides. In the same period, the death rate inside prisons rose by 42 per cent. Ninety per cent of these deaths were recorded as ‘natural’, but what constitutes ‘natural’ in a custodial set-up is questionable.

 Violation of rights

The numbers show that the prison department is ill-equipped to protect the health and safety of inmates. Little public scrutiny in jails provides the possibility of violation of basic rights. It is only when violations result in deaths that questions are raised, and even then only cursorily.

This perfunctory attention to prisons helps overlook the fact that deaths are the consequence of the everyday reality of prison life. Inmates live in despair of little or no contact with the outside world, are denied the basic desires to eat or wear clothes of their choice, to forge relationships. They wait for basic medical needs, their movements are restricted, and they are frustrated as they know nothing about their cases. As they are not taken to court often, they miss the chance of meeting a judge, their lawyers, and families. There is also lack of a mechanism to hear their complaints.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. As an undercover operation in Uttar Pradesh’s Kasna Jail showed recently, abuse takes place in prisons. Extortions, corruption, and torture are common.

The only way to thwart what goes on in these institutions is to make them accountable. Prison monitors are mandated to regularly visit jails, listen to prisoners’ grievances, identify areas of concern, and seek resolution. These visitors include magistrates and judges, State human rights institutions, and non-official visitors drawn from society.

However, an upcoming Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative study (CHRI), ‘Looking into the haze — a study on prison monitoring in India’, shows that not even 1 per cent of Indian jails are monitored. In Tamil Nadu, according to recent media reports, most prisons await appointment of non-official visitors. As per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures for 2014, just 500 inspections were made across the 136 jails in Tamil Nadu, perhaps by the official visitors. This means that there were less than four inspections per jail in an entire year.

The Supreme Court last year ordered the Centre and the States to install CCTV cameras in all the prisons in the country. CCTV cameras serve two purposes: they bring on record incidents that could otherwise be suppressed, and play a preventive role in violation of rights, as the fear of facing consequences for the same would increase under vigilance.

However, Ramkumar’s death remains a mystery despite the Puzhal prison installing CCTV cameras. This is because the alleged suicide occurred near a water pot in the dispensary block where no cameras were placed. So, while the court’s order was a step in the right direction, it fell short by not formulating guidelines for implementation.

                                      Suicide is a critical problem in prison complexes — in the last 20 years, the suicide rate (suicides per lakh population) in prisons is recorded at 15.4. A person is 1.5 times more likely to kill him or herself inside jail than outside it. In Tamil Nadu prisons, the suicide rate is higher than 40.

Providing counselling to inmates is crucial for them to deal with the ordeal they undergo in custody. But are prisons prepared for this? Tamil Nadu prisons have only sanctioned 105 correctional staff. Less than half the positions are filled. Out of the 13 psychologists sanctioned, only eight have been hired. With around 16,000 prisoners, this translates to one psychologist for every 2,000 inmates.

After Ramkumar’s death, the DG (Prisons) announced that a magisterial inquiry will be ordered. But does that mean anything? The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has expressed concern in the past about post-mortem reports “appearing to be doctored due to influence”. There is no information in the public domain about the details of these reports, whether the magistrate visited the death scene, what evidence was gathered, the time taken for the inquiry, the outcome, and whether prison officials were charged or found guilty.

                                      Saving lives — The prison department is mandated to report all cases of custodial death to the NHRC within 24 hours of their occurrence. But the prison department data collated by the NCRB and the NHRC data don’t match. Also, almost half of the unnatural deaths in prisons are reported as ‘others’ by the NCRB. It is important that these ‘others’ be demystified.

While the liberty of a person inside custody can be curtailed according to “procedures established by law”, it cannot be stretched to extinguish life itself. The NHRC has repeatedly issued guidelines to prevent and respond to custodial deaths. It is time for the State governments to start taking these guidelines seriously. If the state works to promote communication between the inmates and his family and lawyer, increase conjugal visits, ensure adequate trained prison staff, and open up the prison to civil society, we might be able to save some lives. If not, we know who is responsible for the next suicide inside our jails.


  • Time to decongest our prisons

The overcrowding of prisons in the country is a long-standing problem that is seldom addressed effectively. Even though the Supreme Court has, from time to time, raised the issue of prison reforms in general, and that of overcrowding in particular, measures to decongest jails have been sporadic and half-hearted. The issue is once again in the news, with the Supreme Court bemoaning that prison in Delhi and nine States have an occupancy rate of 150 per cent of their capacity. The average occupancy in all jails in the country was 117.4 per cent, as of December 31, 2014. What makes the picture bleaker is that there is little change even though the court has passed a series of interim orders to the States on measures to decongest prisons. In particular, the court had on February 5 and May 6 this year spelt out steps that the authorities should take to reduce prison occupancy. Cramped conditions in prison militate against the prisoner’s right to good health and dignity. Further, as pointed out by the amicus curiae in this case, an excessive prison population creates problems of hygiene, sanitation, management and discipline. Of equal concern are the available staff strength and the level of training they receive.

It is unedifying to note that not one State or Union Territory has bothered to prepare a plan of action, as directed by the court five months ago, to reduce crowding and to augment infrastructure so that more space is available to each prisoner. The court received some information about proposals for constructing additional jails, but has found that these are only ad hoc proposals, with no indication of either a time frame or the resources provided for building these facilities. The court’s sense of disquiet is understandable, as many States seem to ignore the obvious mismatch between the extent to which they keep the law and order machinery active and the space and resources provided for those jailed under such action. Last year, it was found that a little over two-thirds of India’s prisoners were under trials. Poverty remains the main reason for this, as most prisoners are unable to execute bail bonds or provide sureties. Since 2014, there is some effort to invoke Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, under which under trials who have completed half of the maximum jail term specified for their offences may be released on personal bonds. But much more needs to be done. Failing to address the problem of crowded jails may prove costly for the administration of criminal justice.



·         The case against simultaneous polls

Toothless CAG, self serving police and CBI, Idea of simultaneous polls is like destroying one more pillar of accountability of our public representatives?

Though spoken about for quite a few years, simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies seem to be fast on their way to becoming a matter of national concern. This proposal is not only being discussed in the television studio, but even the Central government is seeking inputs from ordinary citizens through a website about its desirability and related questions.

The online public consultation will last till mid-October, and it is likely that there will be overwhelming support for this proposal because of the argument put forward in favour of it: simultaneous elections will save a lot of money and will help the government carry forward the developmental project without many hindrances. The real question, however, is not of desirability; it is one of feasibility. Can simultaneous elections for both the Central and State legislatures be implemented given the federal nature of Indian democracy guaranteed by the Constitution?

The question of cost

No one can deny that a huge amount of money is spent in conducting elections in India, both by the candidates themselves and political parties as well as the government (the Election Commission of India). Though there is a legal limit on how much money a candidate can spend on his campaign from his own sources, most spend as much as they can in the belief that this would help them reach out to a larger number of voters, thereby increasing their chances of winning.

However, the argument in favour of simultaneous elections does not seem to be based on saving the money spent by political parties and candidates, but by the Election Commission. There is hardly any doubt that the fewer the number of elections, the lesser would be the expenses. But then, elections are the lifeblood of democracy. If Lok Sabha and Assembly elections happen to coincide, it is a natural process. But if it is imposed only to reduce the number of elections and cut costs, it is highly undesirable, because it privileges monetary concerns over democratic principles.

Simultaneous elections resulting in better governance is another argument that has been put forward. The contention is that with multiple elections, the Model Code of Conduct is in force for much of the time, which prevents the government from initiating new projects and ultimately slows down development work. While this is true, in order to overcome this problem, it may be more useful to make changes in the Model Code of Conduct to allow the government to initiate projects and programmes till a reasonable period (maybe till the notification of elections) instead of the existing scenario where the code comes into force the day the elections are announced. One should not also forget that there is a provision in the Model Code of Conduct that the government can consult the Election Commission about policy decisions and if the decisions are not likely to have any implications for the electoral outcome, the Commission can permit the government to take those decisions.

Also, in the normal course, the code should apply only to the State where Assembly elections are to be held. There is no logical reason why governance in the rest of the country, and at the Centre, should come to a standstill, unless the so-called policy decisions are intended to be taken to influence the electoral outcome in the State where elections are to be held. In this case, it is not the holding of the election that stops governance, but the suspect intentions of those who are supposed to govern.

Undermining the federal structure

The argument, or slogan, of “one country, one election” is misleading. What this label overlooks is that while India is undoubtedly one country, the Constitution also recognises the existence of 29 States which have a constitutional status of their own in matters of elections and government formation. “One country” does have “one election”, and that is for the Lok Sabha. The seeming intention to force all States, and sometimes it has even been mentioned all Panchayats, not only seems impractical but also a step in the direction of moving the country towards becoming a unitary state rather than a federal one that the Constitution envisages. India has a federal structure and a multi-party democracy where elections are held for State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha separately; the voters are better placed to express their voting choices keeping in mind the two different governments which they would be electing by exercising their franchise. This distinction gets blurred somewhat when voters are made to vote for electing two types of government at the same time, at the same polling booth, and on the same day. There is a tendency among the voters to vote for the same party both for electing the State government as well as the Central government. This is a rule rather than an exception, not based on assumption but on evidence.

The empirical evidence

If we consider elections from the 1989 general election onwards, there have been 31 instances of holding simultaneous elections for State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha in different States: Andhra Pradesh (1989, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014), Odisha (2004, 2009 and 2014), Karnataka (1989, 1999 and 2004), Sikkim (2009 and 2014), Tamil Nadu (1989, 1991 and 1996), Maharashtra (1999), Assam (1991 and 1996), Haryana (1991 and 1996), Kerala (1989, 1991 and 1996), Uttar Pradesh (1989 and 1991), West Bengal (1991 and 1996), Arunachal Pradesh (2009 and 2014) and Telangana (2014).

When simultaneous elections for the Assembly and the Lok Sabha were held in these States, in 24 elections the major political parties polled almost a similar proportion of votes both for the Assembly and the Lok Sabha, while only in seven instances was the choice of voters somewhat different. It was noticed thrice in Tamil Nadu (1989, 1991 and 1996) when the votes polled by the Congress and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam were different for the Assembly and Lok Sabha. The other similar examples are from Arunachal Pradesh during the 2004 and 2014 elections (when the Bharatiya Janata Party polled more votes for its Lok Sabha candidates compared to those for its Assembly candidates), in Haryana during the 1996 elections and in Andhra Pradesh in 2014.

During the same period, when in many States the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections were held at different times, the electoral outcome (votes polled by different parties) of the two elections has been different.

While there are various ifs and buts before this may be finally implemented — including the feasibility of constitutional amendments of the kind which this may require, State governments agreeing to the untimely dissolution of the Assemblies, the question of what happens if a government falls without completing its term, and several such issues — if simultaneous elections were to become a reality, it would go against the political diversity which is essential for addressing the social diversity of India.




·         Joining the climate high table

The Centre’s decision to ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change on October 2 is a welcome affirmation of India’s commitment to join the global community in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As an emerging nation with a large number of people living without access to electricity, India’s predicament of having to generate more energy for poverty eradication while simultaneously curbing GHGs is universally acknowledged. But there is no denying that the country has adopted an approach that is predicated on a much-too-high use of fossil fuel-based technologies. This needs to be addressed as all nations look towards the next phase, when the climate agreement comes into force. There is near certainty that the decision made in Paris will become operational before the deadline for signatures set for April 2017: 61 country-parties responsible for 47.79 per cent of emissions have ratified it so far. What remains is for individual countries in Europe, and the European Union, to review their commitments after Brexit, and sign up to reach the target of 55 per cent of total GHG emissions. India’s decision to join, overcoming a reticence that was apparently linked to the failure to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group, is commendable. It would, in any case, have come under pressure to do so since the Paris process is sure to move ahead with Europe’s entry.

With climate commitments becoming almost inevitable, a national consultative process on low carbon strategies cannot be delayed. In order to comply with the Paris process, every aspect of energy use would need precise measurement in the years ahead, which several sectors of the economy are ill-equipped to do at present. Upgrading the electricity grid to take in higher volumes of renewable power is an urgent necessity if India is to realise the national goal submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to install 100 gigawatts of solar power capacity by 2022. A bold new policy on urban design to curb emissions from buildings and transport has to be written into all relevant legislation. Such far-reaching steps can be taken only with the active participation of State governments, many of which remain on the periphery of the discussion. That needs to change, and a blueprint for action has to be drawn up, if a convincing case is to be made for assistance from the $100 billion a year that the rich countries are to put together by 2020. Fundamentally, national policy should mandate even higher levels of taxes on fossil fuels and transfer the benefits to eco-friendly options, be it solar panels, efficient light bulbs, bicycles, green buses/trains, and greening initiatives.





·         Rafale takes flight at last

The signing of the Inter-Governmental Agreement between India and France for 36 Rafale multirole fighter jets brings to an end 17 months of hard bargaining, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to dump the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender and the announcement during his visit to Paris last year of direct purchases. The first such major acquisition in almost two decades, it comes as a breather for the Indian Air Force, which has been facing depleting fighter strength. As Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar pointed out, given its technological superiority the Rafale will augment the IAF’s capability. The weapons package, which includes the Meteor radar-guided Beyond Visual Range air-to-air missile, considered best-in-class with a range of over 150 km, and the Scalp long-range air-to-ground missiles with a range of 300 km, will help maintain the IAF’s air superiority as they have no equivalents in the region. Given the technological sophistication and the long range, the Rafales are expected to play a lead role as nuclear delivery platforms in India’s second-strike capability, replacing the Mirage 2000 fighters.

The acquisition will cost the exchequer €7.87 billion, or about Rs.59,000 crore, which is a high price compared to $10.5 billion approved for 126 fighter jets under the original MMRCA deal in 2007. The basic aircraft costs about €91 million, which is high in comparison to other contemporary four-plus generation aircraft. The Centre has claimed savings of several million in the hard bargain, but the Defence Ministry would do well to share more information in Parliament. It is unclear why the government decided to buy just 36 fighters, which creates logistical and operational complications and pushes up the overall cost for reasons of economies of scale. In fact, India’s is now one of the most diverse air forces, with Western and Russian- origin aircraft with Indian and other systems incorporated in them. The IAF has been attempting to narrow the diversity to optimise utilisation and bring down the cost of operations. The current trajectory of procurement indicates that those plans may be on hold. The government is scouting for another fighter to be inducted in large numbers and produced in India under the ‘Make in India’ initiative. In the years to come, the indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft Tejas and the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft from Russia will join the force, adding to the diversity. While the Rafale deal is a welcome step, it is high time India made procurements based on a long-term integrated plan.


·         Falling behind schedule

Current educational attainments remain far from adequate for the enhancement of personal well-being and social progress, according to a report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Immigrant populations are especially disadvantaged, an area that deserves particular attention given the recent scramble for shelter and succour among millions of refugees. The findings in the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2016 report make for sober reading all round, viewed against data on the many rewards individuals and societies are able to reap when endowed with higher qualifications. For instance, people with a master’s degree stand a close to 90 per cent wage advantage in the 35 countries of the OECD. Correspondingly, their governments receive over a lifetime about €100,000 in taxes and social contributions more than they invest on a graduate. There has been a 4 percentage point increase in the rate of enrolment in tertiary education in the decade ended 2014. These are encouraging facts; the logical case therefore should be for greater public investment in this sector. But across the spectrum the trend is clearly in the opposite direction. While the report shows an 8 per cent rise in real-term spending per child in the five years up to 2013, it also notes a 14 per cent increase in private expenditure in the region in the same period. Private spending by students and households is estimated at some 30 per cent in the tertiary education sector alone. This has to be viewed against the backdrop of the relentless regime of economic austerity in the years following the financial crisis, with serious implications for equity and the knowledge economies of the future.

A broader issue mentioned in the report, which covers besides OECD members, partner-countries including India, is the likelihood that states may not be able to realise the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal pertaining to the provision of quality education. This concern is echoed in the UNESCO 2016 report. The need to achieve the targets relating to SDG 4, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, cannot be overstated, given that it is the pivot on which the realisation of several other fundamentally important developmental objectives remains. Indeed, almost the entire success of the 2030 agenda rests squarely on the education target. The objectives of reduction of poverty, alleviation of hunger, expansion of employment, empowerment of women and gender equality are all influenced by the qualifications and skills that men and women possess. And of course at another level, without an educated and empowered populace, the dream of an enlightened, more tolerant and peaceful world would forever remain elusive.


·         National waterways project threatens Gangetic dolphins: Conservationists

Scientists and wildlife conservationists are seeing red over the threat posed to Gangetic river dolphins by the National Waterways project. The animal is protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and is a declared endangered species.

The development of the Ganga for shipping is seen by wildlife conservationists as the single-largest threat to the survival of the species, whose numbers are declining in most parts of their natural habitat, according to Rashid Raza, project scientist, Wildlife Institute of India. This is mainly due to construction of dams and barrages on the river, he says.

India has a huge untapped potential of inland waterways and the Centre plans to develop a 1600-km waterway between Allahabad and Haldia for inland transportation under a Rs. 4200-crore World Bank-aided project as the National Waterway 1.

Massive plan

The first phase of the project spanning 1300 km, now under implementation, is from Varanasi to Haldia. It envisages improving the navigability of the river as it passes through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

The NW1 is seen to have a potential to emerge as the logistics artery for northern India, while reducing the congestion on this high-traffic transport corridor, project documents say. However, this stretch is also home to the endangered dolphin.

River dolphins are found in the Ganga and the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a membership union of government and civil society organisations, listed it as endangered in 1996. There are around 2,500 of the dolphins and the figure is diminishing, says Dr. Raza, Aside from losing habitat to increased developmental work on the river, the dolphins also suffered due to depletion of prey base, accidental mortality in fishing nets and accidents with vessel propellers.

“The large-scale modification of the river, the proposed movement of numerous ships, may well sound the death knell of the species,” says Dr. Raza. The species are practically blind, and rely on bio-sonar method to move around. The ships’ noise-levels would disrupt the ability to navigate, and find prey,” he elaborated.

IUCN concerned

It may be mentioned here that in May 2016, the IUCN too had expressed its concerns to the Union Environment Ministry on this matter. To tackle the threat to dolphins and three other species , the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest Conservation launched in 2016 the Endangered Species Recovery Plans for four species of global importance. This included dolphins and had a purse of Rs. 100 crore.

When contacted, Arnab Bandhyopadhay, lead transport specialist and the leader of the World Bank team working on the project, admitted that the Gangetic dolphin is an iconic animal and said the World Bank and the IWAI were “cognisant of the need to ensure that critical aquatic life in the Ganga isn’t unduly impacted” by the project.

Listing some of the measures included as safeguards, he mentioned issues like minimising dredging (contracts offer incentives for this), restriction on cargo vessels movement through protected habitat areas through river monitoring systems and installation of sound mufflers to reduce underwater noise.

The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), in its official response, reiterated these points saying that these were part of the mitigation measures recommended by a consortium of consultants.

It said that nesting grounds, breeding and spawning grounds of dolphins would be identified and project activity minimised in those areas.

Sceptics, however, doubt whether this will lessen the threat faced by the dolphins.

We have been documenting the impact of dredging of the river bed for the NW1 at Bhagalpur in Bihar. We find that river dolphins get highly stressed because of the dredging activity — both because of the sediment being dislodged, creating disturbances, and the noise of the machines,” said Nachiket Kelkar, an ecologist studying dolphins in the Ganga. He said that while the World Bank had some safeguards, it needed to be seen how they were implemented.

The World Bank suggested that barrages may not be the main reason behind the decline in dolphin population, as they were nearly extinct in Nepal and Bangladesh rivers where there are no barrages. They attributed the decline to direct killing for oil, accidental killing due to impact of fishing and separation of wetlands from river with embankments.

Moonlight sonata: fish’s nocturnal ‘singing’ secrets revealed

In one of the marvels of nature, males of a fish species called the plainfin midshipman that dwells in Pacific coastal waters from Alaska to Baja California court females during breeding season using a nocturnal “love song” with an otherworldly sound.

Scientists have wondered what makes these fish sing only at night. A study published on Thursday provides the answer.

Laboratory experiments showed that the fish’s vocalization, a low-frequency hum like a foghorn, is controlled by a light-driven internal clock and the hormone melatonin, known to govern sleep and wake cycles, researchers said.

“They are among the vocal champions of the marine environment along with whales and dolphins,” said Cornell University professor of neurobiology and behaviour Andrew Bass. “The production and hearing of vocal signals plays a central role in their social interactions and reproductive behaviour.”

The plain fin midshipman, up to 15 inches (38 cm) long, generally has an olive-brown colour. Its name comes from rows of bioluminescent organs on its underside that reminded early observers of the buttons on a midshipman’s uniform.

Males migrate during the late spring and summer from deep offshore sites into shallow intertidal waters, where they build nests beneath rocky shelters.

Throughout the night, they produce hums by vibrating a gas-filled bladder within their abdomen to attract females to their nests to spawn. One hum can last almost two hours. Neighbouring males often hum together in a chorus.

Ni Feng, who led the study in Bass’ lab at Cornell and now is a Yale University postdoctoral researcher, said the study, published in the journal Current Biology, and involved wild-caught fish kept in rooms where lighting could be controlled.

In constant darkness, the fish hummed pretty much on schedule, thanks to their internal clock, or circadian rhythm. In constant brightness, a condition that lowers melatonin production, humming was suppressed. When kept in constant light but given a melatonin-like substitute, they continued to hum, though at random times of the day.

Melatonin keeps day-active birds quiet at night and helps humans fall asleep but has the reverse effect in the midshipman fish.




·         Pushback against civil liberties

It is the sense of impunity nurtured by caste hierarchy that prepares the social ground for the “shockingly cruel and inhumane” crimes against Dalits called atrocities. It is this impunity that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (henceforth PoAA) criminalises. And it is the desire to defend the same impunity that motivates recent demands for the dilution or even repeal of the PoAA. To examine the validity of these claims, we must first understand the very different relationships that caste has with the Constitution, society, and state.



The Constitution is a portrait of the nation as it would like to be rather than as it actually is. Therefore, it is obliged to regard aspirations as achievements, uncertain journeys as assured arrivals. Beginning with the Preamble, where it presumes that “we, the people” are indeed a unified and homogenous collectively, the Constitution proceeds to treat hoped-for outcomes as though they were established facts. This is not a defect — the Constitution is required to reflect the republic in the best possible light, and is at its most majestic when doing so. However, this also means that the Constitution is unable to directly confront obstinate realities like caste that flout its fundamental tenets, because acknowledging caste amounts to confessing that the republic is more desire than reality.

So, when the Constitution is forced to deal with caste, it does so with an averted face, allowing it only an inferential, shadow-like presence. But it also manages to be obliquely eloquent about what it cannot face. For example, caste makes its first entry in Article 15 rather anonymously, as one among many sources of discrimination. But this is compensated by Sections 2(a) and 2(b) which prohibit discriminatory restriction of access to (respectively) “shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment” and “wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort…”. Why is it necessary to explicitly prohibit discrimination in access to both modern and traditional facilities already declared to be for the public? Or take Article 17, which abruptly announces that “Untouchability” is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. What does this capitalised word stand for and why must it be quarantined in quotes? The answer, of course, is caste, which is an absent presence in the Constitution, addressed only as an exceptional or special circumstance.

                                         DISCRIMINATION ANOTHER WAY TO DOMINATE — The PoAA, 1989, and its older sibling, the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, are “special laws” located at the strategic sites where the Constitution’s default setting of caste-blind formal equality must be changed to address the reality of substantive inequality. All citizens are not equally at risk of being subjected to the acts specified in the sub-sections of Section 3(1) of the PoAA, such as being forced to “drink or eat any inedible or obnoxious substance” (i); have “excreta, waste matter, carcasses or any other obnoxious substance” dumped in their premises or neighbourhood (ii); or being paraded “naked or with painted face or body” (iii), and so on. If there exist specific groups of citizens who have repeatedly suffered such gross violations of the fundamental right to dignity, then surely the republic owes them the protection of special laws like the PoAA.

But why do such groups exist in the first place? They exist because of the social relations promoted by caste. The atrocities that invite interventions such as the PoAA are made possible by caste society’s ability to sustain specific types of relationships, or mutually oriented attitudes and conditions. On the one hand, Dalit castes are forcibly invested with enduring social vulnerability vis-à-vis castes higher up in the hierarchy, especially those dominant within a region. On the other hand, dominant castes are allowed to acquire, and to eventually take for granted, a socially sanctioned sense of impunity with respect to Dalits castes. When the dominant caste feels it has little prospect of economic and social mobility, its self-esteem and identity become increasingly dependent on the unequal relationships it maintains with subordinated castes. In such situations, the Dalits-dominant caste relationship turns into a zero-sum game where any real or imagined improvement in the lives of Dalits is seen as a reduction in the social distance separating the two groups, thereby implying a decline in the status of the dominant castes.

                                                  CASTE VS STATE — The state is simultaneously the child of law and society as well as the mediating link between the two. Because of its idealistic orientation, the Constitution — mother of all laws — is external to society and has a largely exhortatory relationship to it. The state depends on the Constitution for its legitimacy, but the Constitution also depends on the state for the actualisation of its ideals. Since it is regulated by politics which in turn is rooted in society, and since its personnel are themselves members of society who embody the prevalent social prejudices, the state is strongly influenced by society. But because it is institutionally bound to obey the Constitution, the state cannot always be guided by the dominant social prejudices of the day; rather, it must at least occasionally rise above these prejudices to perform its constitutional duty. In sum, the caste-state relationship is necessarily ambiguous because the state is itself a differentiated and plural (rather than homogenous or monolithic) entity, capable of acting in a wide variety of ways with respect to caste.

Returning now to the demands for restraining or removing the PoAA, we can begin to decipher what is happening. Both in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, the two States where it has been voiced, the demand is coming from political parties representing regionally dominant castes. Both States have seen the emergence (or re-emergence) of Dalit assertion following some upward mobility. This has enraged the dominant castes, leading them to argue that the PoAA is being “misused”. The misuse argument is so popular that it can be called a syndrome, or “a characteristic combination of opinions, emotions or behaviour”. It has been used against every special scheme or law intended to empower vulnerable groups, including reservations, laws against dowry, sexual harassment and rape, and even the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). In each case, it is alleged that the “genuinely deserving” never benefit and that the “vast majority” of cases are fake.

                                                       UNDERDOGS THE PREDATORS –    Since any law can be “misused”, it is not the potential for misuse but its actual occurrence and frequency that matter, and this needs to be established through credible evidence. No such evidence-based claims have been made as yet. On the contrary, reports from activist groups show that it is hard for ordinary Dalits to get cases registered, and extremely difficult to get them placed under the PoAA. But to be fair, the misuse argument is not always meant to be taken literally; it also acts as proxy for the more general perception that Dalits are no longer underdogs and may be turning into predators. This impression is confirmed when we recall that the Pattali Makkal Katchi leader, Dr. S. Ramadoss, reinforced his demand for dilution of the PoAA with the allegation that Dalit boys were luring non-Dalit girls by wearing “jeans, T-shirts and fancy sunglasses”. In Maharashtra, recent calls for reviewing the PoAA issued by the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party have intensified after the rape-murder of July 13 in Kopardi (Ahmednagar district) in which the victim is dominant caste and the accused are Dalits.

While there is no reason to doubt that Dalits, like any other caste group, could become efficient oppressors if given the chance, the obvious question is if they are in fact getting the chance. Going by the nationwide evidence on the frequency of atrocities on Dalits, the shoe still seems to be firmly on the other foot. Ahmednagar district alone has witnessed three atrocities on Dalits in the past three years (Sonai, Kharda and Javkheda). Meanwhile, as the first anniversary of the Dadri lynching approaches, let us also spare a thought for vulnerable groups who do not have, and will probably never have, the constitutional protection of special laws.






·         Neglect may wipe out oldest finger print bureau

On March 14, 2015 a group of men climbed over the boundary wall of a convent school in Ranaghat in West Bengal’s Nadia district, overpowered the security guard, and ransacked an almirah containing valuables. The miscreants then raped one of the resident nuns — she was 72-years-old — and vanished into the night. Days after the horrific incident, there were no clues on which the perpetrators were. All the investigators had to go by was grainy CCTV footage and the probe was going nowhere.

The State government wanted the CBI to take over but this was refused. Help came from the Finger Print Bureau, which was able to collect 11 prints from the almirah using graphite powder. The first arrest came two weeks later, once the finger prints helped ascertain the identity of the accused.

Many breakthroughs

Fingerprints have led to many such breakthroughs. An expert described how a couple of years ago a murder were solved with only one fingerprint. One night hired miscreants broke into the house of an elderly woman who lived alone in Birbhum’s Bolpur. None of the neighbours or people in the locality had seen anybody going in or out of the house. The police could find no evidence, there were no suspects.

The Finger Print Bureau was called in and they found that the house had been wiped almost clean of any fingerprint traces. Almost clean, for they found one single fingerprint on the door that the criminals had forgotten to remove as they left. Additionally, it was found that the victim had lent a big sum of money to a local businessman. The fingerprint did not match his, but the police were able to find similar samples from his residence, which led to the case being solved and the hired killers were eventually arrested in Delhi.

Champions of the method

There is a lot more that West Bengal’s finger print bureau can claim credit for. It was set up in 1897 by Edward Richard Henry, who served as the Inspector General of the Bengal Province and later went on to head the Metropolitan Police in London. Henry championed the fingerprinting technique to identify criminals.

Kolkata’s Finger Print Bureau is considered one of the oldest in the world. Sir Henry, who is also credited with having introduced police dogs and type writers at New Scotland Yard, headquarters of the London Metropolitan Police, first published his classic “Classification and Use of Finger Prints” in 1900.

There is an apocryphal story: Sir Henry described his system of classification of finger prints to the British Association when it met at Dover in 1899.

Sir Henry is said to have illustrated his talk with the case of Charan, who had been charged with murder and theft in 1898. A calendar bearing “two faint brown smudges” was found at the scene. These were later identified as finger impressions of the accused, Charan, though he claimed only to be a witness to the crime.


                                                But here is the twist: While the finger print bureau gets scant attention from the government, West Bengal is ranked 17th in terms of cognizable crimes per one lakh population , recording more crime than Uttar Pradesh and Bihar among 29 States and seven union territories as per latest NCRB report.

To cope with this crime rate, the Bureau, crammed into mere 400 sq feet in Bhawani Bhavan, the headquarters of the West Bengal CID with only eight staff is nearly moribund. A retired former director of the Bureau functions as Officer on Special Duty (OSD), leading the Bureau assisted by a senior finger print expert. Five sub inspectors and one inspector, trained to do the work of experts, complete the list. The sanctioned strength? According to experts it is 41 — 12 senior finger print experts, 28 junior finger print experts, and one director.

As per the latest report of the Finger Print in India for 2015, released a few days ago, West Bengal was able to record only 238 finger prints from across the State while Uttar Pradesh 3972, Tamil Nadu 3248, Rajasthan 5,881 and Maharashtra over 11, 095 finger print slips. The State data base has 42,639 ten-digit fingerprint slips of convicted persons.

A senior IPS officer says that while technologies have advanced and the detection and identification of body fluids at a crime scene have opened new options the west, in India finger print technology continues to play an important role. “We do not have laboratories of the West, so have to depend on finger prints,” he said.



·         Travails of a war-torn people

On September 21, 2013, tens of thousands of Tamils living in Sri Lanka’s heavily-militarised north decisively voted in the long-delayed provincial elections. They had waited for two and a half decades to make their voices heard and elect their own government.

Despite the promise of development and election handouts from then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, they gave the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) a massive mandate, with C.V. Wigneswaran becoming the Chief Minister.

Expectations & disappointments– It is three years since the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) came to power and it has been an abysmal failure. The NPC is yet to put forward a vision for economic development and has hardly legislated the statutes needed to move the wheels of its administration.

It has merely been a talk shop with resolutions and statements. Its notorious genocide resolution a month after regime change in Colombo last year, apparently passed to mobilise international actors, in effect polarised the country and undermined the new political space for reconciliation. The sad reality is that the NPC has lost its credibility with the local population.

The defeat of the Rajapaksa regime opened the space for public discussions and even widespread protests in the militarised North, but democratisation with progressive social engagement and meaningful political representation are not in sight. Even as polarising Tamil nationalist mobilisations dominate regional politics, the economic travails of the dispossessed people continue.

In Colombo, the TNA voted with the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government on the 2016 Budget. However, very little has been delivered to the war-torn regions, other than the meagre allocation of SLR14 billion (Rs.6.5 billion) to the Resettlement Ministry, a mere 0.5 per cent of total budget expenditure. A donor conference to be held in Tokyo in June this year for reconstruction of the North and East was quietly cancelled without comment.

A Cabinet decision a year ago to build 65,000 houses in the North and East was manoeuvred by the government to purchase prefabricated steel houses worth $1 billion from ArcelorMittal, a multinational company. The project is on hold following concerns about the motives of the decision-makers when locally preferred cement houses would have cost half as much while boosting northern industries and local labour.

The North presents a veneer of development, with shiny-black roads, supermarkets and financial institutions stacked in every town. But the reality is that if one travels a few hundred metres into the by-lanes, deprivation and poverty are all too visible. There are increasing reports of suicide linked to heavy indebtedness, and of women caught in a web of exploitative microfinance schemes.

These desperate conditions are linked to falling incomes and crippling livelihoods, particularly in the predominantly agriculture and fisheries sectors. In the war-torn regions, household incomes are by far the lowest in the country. In Mullaitivu district, which was razed to the ground in the last phase of the war, median per capita income is SLR4,683 (Rs.2,157) per month with half the district’s population living on less than $1 per day, according to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2012/2013. District-level data indicate 15 per cent unemployment in Jaffna, with close to 90 per cent of them comprising youth between the age of 16 and 36.

The economic crisis in the North is linked to the political malaise in the country; the political vision for substantive reconstruction is missing. Extreme Tamil nationalism and Sinhala Buddhist nationalism have the common goal of rejecting a political solution; one for its separatist goal and the other for its majoritarian agenda. After decades of engaging a polarised polity, neither Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party nor the faction of President Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party seem to have the courage and imagination to provide the direction to substantively address the national question.

“The politics of the Federal Party led by R. Sampanthan and, for that matter, the more extremist Tamil nationalism promoted recently by Chief Minister Wigneswaran, along with his coterie of losers from the last parliamentary elections,are unable to address the fascist legacy of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Lack of critical reflection about the armed struggle and the LTTE’s suicidal politics is perhaps the single biggest impediment to rejuvenating Tamil politics. Indeed, rebuilding relations with the Muslim minority would require addressing the brutal attacks against them and their eviction from the North by the LTTE in the 1990s. TNA parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran has been a notable exception in critiquing the LTTE and recognising Muslims’ grievances, only to be unfairly attacked by the Tamil media and nationalist diaspora groups.

Contributing to the malaise is the taboo of discussing caste relations that are reconsolidating in the North after the war. In Jaffna district, for example, about 10 per cent of households do not even own the small plots of land necessary to qualify for post-war housing grants, and the bulk of them belong to oppressed caste communities.

The government-initiated Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reform created a glimmer of hope with submissions from broad sections of society. However, its report in May 2016 seems to be all but forgotten with the ongoing constitution-making process limited to a few parliamentarians and “experts” in Colombo. It has also become an exercise in political management in response to the Rajapaksa camp’s chauvinist majoritarianism push.

A constitution drafted under such a shroud of fear is bound to fail as it does not challenge the very forces that have resulted in the need for a new constitution. And the liberals in Colombo are twisting their tongues to justify a unitary structure of the state, which inevitably centralises power in Colombo to the detriment of meaningful devolution of power.

Given the devastation and a generation lost to the war, another insurrection in the north is highly improbable. However, the failure to address local grievances coupled with the manipulation of centralised state structures, may lead to violence and riots in pockets, and aggravate the continuing ethnic polarisation.

Almost two years after the inspiring democratic change of regime, Sri Lanka has descended to politics as usual. The need of the hour is a movement for social justice combining calls to address the grievances of minorities with demands for decent economic life for the citizenry at large. It is such inter-ethnic movements that can also address the social and economic travails of the war-torn people.





  • Railway Budget, a vanishing trick

So finally, the almost century-old practice of presenting a separate Railway Budget ahead of the General Budget is to be dispensed with from the next financial year (2017-18), and the Railway Budget “merged” with the General Budget. The Union Cabinet has just cleared the proposal.

What are the reported reasons for this merger? According to earlier media reports, a separate Railway Budget is being dispensed with so that the Indian Railways need not pay the annual dividend to the Government of India on the budgetary support given each year, saving the financially stressed Railways about Rs.10,000 crore annually; over the years, the Budget has been misused by politicians as a populist platform to enhance their own image; no other Ministry has a separate budget and the practice exists in no other country today; the Bibek Debroy Committee has recommended discontinuance of a separate Rail Budget and it is part of the Prime Minister’s reform programme. Besides, it is a colonial legacy.

A point particularly stressed by the Finance Minister in the press conference announcing the Cabinet decision was that the Railways’ share in the General Budget has progressively reduced over the years, making a separate budget an anachronism.

Each of these “reasons” does not present the true or complete picture. It is necessary to separate fact from fiction.



  1. There have been sporadic calls in the past for doing away with a separate Railway Budget for various reasons, but the matter was never pursued seriously. One of the more publicised reasons is that it will free the Railways of the obligation of paying the annual dividend, as mentioned earlier.
  2. This is only partly true. The dividend is paid not only on the budgetary support extended during a year but also on the total “capital at charge” which includes the gross budgetary support (GBS) of previous years.
  3. By this merger, a “loan-in-perpetuity” is converted to a grant. Shorn of officialese, it is a loan waiver; and loan waivers are granted to individuals or institutions in extreme financial distress — something not to go to town about.

In popular imagination, the Railway Budget was seen as a grand spectacle, with the Railway Minister using it as a platform for populism and political grandstanding. What is not appreciated is that the Budget is not merely a statement of allotment of funds to various projects and programmes, unlike other ministries, but comprises a fairly detailed performance review, physical and financial, of the previous year and prospects for the current (Budget) year. Perhaps nowhere in the world is a political functionary called upon to present a financial report card of the country’s largest public undertaking in the full glare of publicity. A separate post-Budget discussion in Parliament on the Railways, as indicated by the Finance Minister, is no substitute, as the focus most likely will be on allotments to various projects, not on financial performance.

Talking of populism, the recent announcement by the Finance Minister of the proposal to set up a new Railway zone to placate a State government as part of a “special package” is proof that it is possible to be “populist” outside a separate budget.

                                  Why should there be a separate budget for the Railways? The fact is that the Railways is indeed unlike any other Central ministry in size and scope: It is an operational ministry; it earns as well as spends, unlike other ministries that only spend. Its gross earnings (Rs.1.68 lakh crore in 2015-16) are among the highest for any Indian organisation, public or private; it has a staff strength (13.2 lakh) that exceeds that of the Indian Army; it fully meets the pension liabilities of its retired employees (13.8 lakh) out of its own earnings unlike other ministries; it follows an accounting practice, though not up to the standards of a purely commercial establishment, that has a number of features of a commercially-run organisation. So, if the Railways is to be treated like other ministries, will the government also fund its pension liabilities which are estimated to be about Rs.45,500 crore in 2016-17? That should be some “savings” indeed!  the most misquoted reason given for the merger is that the Bibek Debroy Committee has recommended it. That is being economical with the facts. The committee has recommended it not as a stand-alone step, but as part of a slew of measures such as: complete overhaul of the project financing architecture of the Railways involving ruthless weeding out of unviable/long-pending projects; comprehensive accounting reforms; separation of infrastructure and operations; and setting up of a rail regulatory authority. Pending these steps, each of which is a major project in itself (some politically sensitive), the move to give a hasty send-off to the Railway Budget is perplexing.

                                   The Railway Budget is indeed a colonial legacy; but so are English, the Railways, Rashtrapati Bhavan and the sedition law. Enough said. All this is not to say that the Railway Budget is a holy cow that cannot be touched. Far from it. The question is not “why”, but “why such a hurry to bury it”?


                                                             The answer, in one word: Obfuscation. By all accounts, the Railways’ financial position is precarious due to the triple whammy of a fall in revenues, a sudden spike in expenditure due to implementation recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission, and an increasingly unsustainable interest burden on market borrowings. A separate Budget would have meant having to openly declare an operating ratio in excess of 1.0 (in layman’s language, that means one is living beyond one’s means): not a very good advertisement for a system that aspires to have high-speed tilting Talgo trains shortly and Bullet trains in the not-too-distant future. So why not banish and “vanish” the Railway Budget into anonymity as one of the myriad annexure in the General Budget and earn a fat “bonus” of about Rs.10,000 crore in the bargain? A smart move indeed! It seems now the Budget is more valuable dead than alive. However, what should be a matter of serious concern to the aam aadmi is that the Railways’ finances are sought to be shored up, not by improving efficiency, increasing revenues and cutting costs, but through a dexterous bureaucratic sleight of hand, taking cover behind the smokescreen of “reforms”.

Finally, a suggestion to the government: Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater; table an annual “Indian Railways Report” in Parliament on the lines of the Economic Survey prepared by the Chief Economic Advisor under the Ministry of Finance. That will signal reforms with transparency.



  • The economy on a road to nowhere

As the Narendra Modi government inches towards its halfway mark, its economic philosophy stands revealed. This appears to consist of aiming at some ideal institutional architecture while leaving economic forces to play out on their own. The criterion of macroeconomic stability, defined mainly by inflation kept within a range, completes the picture. Underpinning such an approach is the premise that the potential of the economy, reflecting the chosen acts of private agents, not only cannot be improved upon by the government but its realisation could actually be stymied by intervention. This is a well-known position in the canon of Anglo-American economics tending towards the view that market outcomes are the best. The maxim ‘minimum government is maximum governance’ could legitimately claim to be its progeny.

                                        Life in slow lane —  How, it may be asked, has this philosophy served the economy? We could start with growth. Since May 2014, growth has accelerated but at a much slower rate than that it already had commenced upon in 2013-14. India today is the world’s fastest growing economy but this we owe to the fact that China has slowed more than India has. India has not exactly surged to number one position. But more importantly, the government has not so far been able to achieve the substantial quickening of the economy that Mr. Modi had promised at election time. The government has on occasion extolled its record in maintaining macroeconomic stability. This is indeed correct. Inflation has declined but this only reflects a downward trend that had started in 2013-14. The government would also no doubt like to take credit for sticking to the pre-announced fiscal consolidation path. The fiscal deficit has steadily declined since May 2014. The Finance Minister’s public statements suggest that he treats this as a significant achievement of his government. Actually, it typifies the search for the ideal architecture without sufficient concern for outcomes. The truth is that this government had inherited an economy with quite rapidly accelerating growth and steadily declining inflation. It has barely managed to maintain this scenario. The promised resurgence has not materialised.

It is with respect to investment that the government’s record is uninspiring. Far from having been able to instil confidence among private investors, the government has been unable to stem a decline in capital formation — as a share of output — in progress for at least half a decade. On its part the government takes recourse to the figures on foreign direct investment (FDI) to signal the effectiveness of its policies. Data from the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion show that in the year just passed, the economy attracted increased FDI up to 29 per cent in dollar terms. While this is impressive, and to be welcomed, it is important to have a sense of what it amounts to. In the year 2014-15, FDI amounted to a mere 4 per cent of total capital formation in India. So, while FDI is to be encouraged, its ability to make a significant contribution to growth is limited. On the other hand, over 75 per cent of capital formation is undertaken by the domestic private sector. Any significant change in the investment scenario would depend upon the actions of this segment.

                                       Is this the right time to pursue fiscal consolidation— Right now private investment is very likely being restrained by the weak balance sheet of firms. The flip side of this is the high level of non-performing assets (NPAs) of the public commercial banks. Forcing these banks to lend would be poor policy. But it is not clear whether everything that can be done to lower the lending rate is being done. After all, consumer price index (CPI) inflation, the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) preferred inflation index, is trending downward and there is a case for lowering lending rates. But the RBI has now been put into the straitjacket of inflation targeting and can no longer respond to considerations of output. This leaves fiscal policy as the only instrument with the government.

The government, however, is reluctant to use it to increase aggregate demand for fear of deviating from its fiscal consolidation path. It is of course possible to step up public investment by trimming subsidies. Here the National Democratic Alliance government’s approach is cravenly political, and no different from that of its predecessor, the United Progressive Alliance. It is reluctant to be seen as cutting subsidies even when it is clear that a rupee-for-rupee swap in certain subsidies for public capital formation is likely to be beneficial for both growth and welfare. The fertilizer subsidy presents the most obvious instance. It has done little to stem the rise in food prices while continuing to take up precious fiscal space. There is a strong case for reviewing its continuation, at least in the present form. Well-designed empirical research alone can settle the matter of its desirability, and one hopes the government will provide this in time for its third annual Budget.

                                  The inspiration- NITI Aayog Lecture on Transforming India –

An object of this government’s admiration, aspiration and agenda has been revealed to us in the choice of speaker for the first NITI Aayog Lecture on Transforming India. It chose Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore who was earlier its Finance Minister for close to a decade. A trained economist with considerable international exposure, Mr. Shanmugaratnam typifies the Singapore model, which recognises the value of high human capital in its leadership, something that India has not seen since the time of Jawaharlal Nehru. Prime Minister Modi is right to have invited this global leader to participate in a brainstorming on how to transform India, thus drawing much-needed attention to the achievements of Singapore. Though its cultural policies may not be to everyone’s taste, the economic transformation that this tiny state has so quickly wrought is most impressive indeed. There is an astounding presence there of public capital in the form of infrastructure, the most egregious of which is public housing which hosts over 80 per cent of the population. Along with its approach to political freedoms, Singapore’s record is closer to that of socialist planning rather than free-market capitalism. Its government has not hesitated to intervene in the economy but its interventions have been made with a finesse that has yielded substantial returns. It is ironic that a government that had so ceremoniously replaced the Planning Commission must simultaneously seek clues from the history of a country transformed by economic planning.

There is one specific area in which our own government may learn from the Singapore experience. The government there had instituted a provident fund to which all workers and employees have had to contribute. These contributions ensured a rise in the saving rate which in turn was a source of funding for public investment. In the muddled discourse on fiscal policy in India today, the reigning argument appears to be that a fixed private saving rate sets the limit for the attainable fiscal deficit. This overlooks the possibility of raising the private saving rate, which is precisely what the Singapore government had done early in its history, enabling it to achieve a scale of public capital formation that truly distinguishes it from India. All indications are that the present government of India is striving to replicate Singapore’s institutional architecture, as in laws governing business, rather than the transformative role of public investment that turned a fishing village into a global destination for FDI. What other conclusion can be drawn from the fact that in the Budget for 2016-17 the increase in the allocation for capital expenditure amounted to a mere 2.3 per cent, with inflation running at around 4 per cent per annum?

                                         BLEAK AGRICULTURAL ZONE— A sector that is unlikely to be well served by the philosophy than an economy left to its own devices will achieve its potential is agriculture. Three of the past five years in India have been years of poor agricultural performance, reflected in persistent food price inflation. We are very likely witnessing creeping climate change with direct consequences for production. The advisory from most funds in the financial sector is that the economic outlook this year will depend upon the monsoon. It is surprising that the imperative of drought-proofing an increasingly vulnerable Indian agriculture hardly figures in the public discourse on the economy when it is of no less importance than rolling out the Goods and Services Tax. Nothing short of a transformation akin to the Green Revolution can achieve this, and the States would have to be on board. The present government has had little to say on the matter so far.

By disbanding the Planning Commission, the Centre has lost a long-standing conduit to the States whose planning boards did have at least a titular connection to the former.



  • Current account moves into surplus, raises export concerns

India’s current account moved in to surplus in the April-June quarter of the current fiscal year, after a gap of 9 years, a senior Finance Ministry official confirmed. Slow growth in imports, reflecting the persisting weakness in the investment sentiment, tipped the account, he explained. The current account was in surplus last in the January-March quarter in the year 2007.

The official data for the current account position during the April-June quarter is scheduled for release by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) later this month. A surplus is expected to bolster the rupee, which could render India’s already subdued exports less competitive.

RBI intervention

Speaking to The Hindu, the Ministry official said that if a surplus were reported, the RBI could be expected to intervene in the foreign exchange markets to prevent the rupee from strengthening too much.

The Federation of Indian Export Organisations has called for addressing the ‘overvalued’ rupee in discussions with the Union Commerce Ministry, saying Indian exporters were out-priced in the global market.

Exports to the U.S., India’s largest export destination, fell 1.1 per cent in April-July 2016 against the corresponding quarter in the previous year. In the same period, imports from China, the largest exporter to India, fell 7.4 per cent.

$2-bn surplus

“Following a moderate current account deficit of $.4 billion, or (-) 0.1 per cent of GDP, in the January-March quarter, we expect current account to come in at a surplus of $2 billion or 0.4 per cent of GDP in April-June quarter,” a research report from financial giant Citigroup noted on Friday.

The report projected a broadly balanced current account in the July-September quarter. The forecast follows the release of the August trade data. Remaining almost unchanged in the last three months, India’s trade deficit reached $7.7 billion in August, significantly lower than the average monthly trade deficit of $9.9 billion seen in the last fiscal year.

In August, exports contracted for the second consecutive month after expanding for the first time in 19 months in June. Although exports contracted only 0.3 per cent (over August 2015), to $21.5 billion, imports contracted 14 per cent to $29.2 billion.

A current account in deficit reflects that the imports of goods, services and investment incomes into the economy outstripped the value of its exports.


  • Managing the Cauvery dispute

Judicial intervention often resolves questions that the executive finds too sensitive to handle. By directing the Centre to constitute a Cauvery Management Board within four weeks, the Supreme Court has created space for the water-sharing dispute to be handled in a scientific and responsible manner by a legally constituted technical body. The board, assisted by a regulation committee, is the mechanism prescribed by the Tribunal in its final order for implementing its award. It will be a technical body consisting of irrigation engineers and agronomists, and will have independent members as well as representatives of the basin States. It can formulate the manner in which water should be shared in a season of distress. The court’s intervention also exposes the helplessness of governments at the Centre in handling inter-State issues. It is part of a long historical pattern. It was at the instance of the Supreme Court that the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal was formed more than a quarter century ago; and again, it required court orders to pave the way for an interim award to be passed in 1991, and for it to be notified in the Gazette of India later. It took another order for the Tribunal’s final award of 2007 to be notified in 2013, six years later. The court has done a significant service in nudging the Centre to provide a legal and technical framework for the equitable distribution of water.

This is not the first attempt to create an institutional mechanism. In 2013, the Centre notified the formation of a ‘Supervisory Committee’ consisting of the Secretary, Union Water Resources Ministry, as chairman, and the Chief Secretaries of the basin States as members. That the latest decision of the Supervisory Committee, which directed the release of 3,000 cusecs of water for 10 days to Tamil Nadu, did not find favour with either State shows the difficulties involved in managing inter-State disputes even through an institutional mechanism. The Supreme Court, too, has intervened to double the quantum of water to be released. All this shows that apart from permanent mechanisms, technical panels and seasonal adjudication, a spirit of accommodation is required among the basin States. Also needed is a clearer appreciation of the fact that the entire water yield in the Cauvery basin is not enough to provide for the requirements of both States. It is time for Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to take a hard look at their agricultural economies: the area under cultivation, the number of crops per year and the water-intensive nature of the crops. Unless these are adjusted to suit the water availability, such disputes will keep surfacing.



  • China caught in a corridor of uncertainty

China’s comments after the Uri attack amount to Beijing’s admission of deep strategic interest in the Kashmir region, experts and diplomats told The Hindu. Describing the attack as “shocking”, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed “sympathy” for the victims and asked for “relevant parties” to create a favourable environment which will secure CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

“China is unable to appreciate India’s concerns about constructing important projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that is historically part of India. Beijing is following a contradictory policy by declaring that the CPEC should be safe while not doing more to stop terror strikes that originate from Pakistan to attack Afghanistan and India,” said Shashank, former Foreign Secretary. China’s statement regarding the Uri attack reveals the fact that Beijing is willing to stake its diplomacy for the major projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, he said.

China on Monday had said, that CPEC which passes through PoK is aimed at bringing development to the entire South Asia region.

“The goal of the CPEC is to serve the region by facilitating better development of regional countries. Naturally, relevant parties are required to make concerted efforts to ensure a safe, sound and favourable environment for the CPEC. As I said earlier we have been following the tension in this region, including in Kashmir recently. The Chinese government holds the position that all relevant parties can join hands to resolve these issues through friendly consultation and uphold regional peace and security, as this is in the fundamental and common interests of all regional countries, China, Pakistan and India included,” said Lu Kang, Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

By tying up the Uri attack with concern for CPEC, Beijing has shown that its views on terror are shaped by its evolving interests in the South Asian region, Mr. Shashank said. “China wants to build its One Belt One Road (OBOR) but other countries especially India will not sacrifice their core interests for Beijing projects,” Mr. Shashank said.

However, experts also cautioned that China too has reasons to be worried by terrorism from Pakistan which has spread to the Xinxiang province of China. “China too has its concerns regarding Pakistan’s ‘deep state’ which supports terrorism. However China plans to engage them with a regional strategic perspective as it does not consider the threat to be its biggest challenge,” said Dr. P. Stobdan of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses.

India’s efforts to blacklist terror plotter Masood Azhar at the U.N. for the Pathankot attack of January 2 could not succeed due to the “technical hold” that China placed on India’s move at the UN. Diplomats say that India’s plans to eliminate cross-border terror is unlikely to succeed without China’s support at the UN


  • When a city dies

People on vehicles, one behind the other, for long stretches on end. Standing up on the bike or leaning out of the car trying to find a way out of the mess. Somebody cuts in front of you, gobbles up the little space that you had for a second. A car aggressively from the side road almost scraping the paint off your breath. Another car decides to do a U-turn in a place where even a crow will have to hop and skip. Cars and buses parked on the one-lane road, indifferent. And we are all waiting, miles behind, waiting, waiting.

Cities die. When a red signal light means Go For those who are impatient or who don’t care. Who will also not care what happens to those vehicles and people who have to avoid crashing into them. It is no longer the lawbreakers, the history-shelters. It is you and it is me, in fancy cars or fancier bikes or women with children in front, in their dainty Scooty.

Cities die. When anger begins in traffic jams knowing that all it needs is just a simple solution. It stares at all of us in our faces but we are tired. We know what to do and will mutter inside the car but all that we will do is to nudge an inch here and steal a foot there.

When anger builds up

Cities die. When anger builds up in the market, in shops, in schools. When every moment of doing something is filled with aggression, with sudden uncontrollable rage. When different faces and languages seem like the enemy at the gate. When different customs begin to take on the images of an invading force. When every man is the criminal, the cop and the judge all rolled into one, into one politician. We know these truths well, truths so jaded that they no longer can cause action.

Cities die. When we all realise that nothing is what it is, nothing will ever be what it was. When we know that nobody will do anything about any of this. All we can do is leave earlier and come back later, but it is the same later, now slowly eating into the whole day and soon into the whole night.

Cities die. Because we just don’t care. And when we care, we don’t know what to do. And when we know what to do, we are too tired to move. Or we are stuck with breathing problems or mosquito love bites of all kinds. Or we are busy on iPhones and extraterrestrial messages beamed through dangling wires from our ears.

We die when our cities die. Children have no grounds, have lungs filled with such residual poison that they may as well enjoy a smoke. When they are so scared of water that doesn’t taste of plastic bottles. When going to school makes it seem as dangerous as a hike to the misty mountains.

Adults die in ambulances that make noise but do not move. And when they do get to hospitals, the doctor is stuck somewhere else. The BP machines have gone out of sync and the whole city is going into cardiac arrest. And yet we watch, there is nothing we can do.

A burning city

Cities die when young men on motorbikes with flags they have rarely seen come and ask you, what are you? They asked that then, when they saw people who did not look like them. They asked them, are you from China, and then said, oh, you are from the Northeast. And they beat them up so that trains that left the city were filled with young men and women trying to find a space in which they could squeeze their fear.

It was the turn of the Northeast then and now it is (once again) the turn of their favourite neighbours. The boys are back on the bikes again, the flags are out with a little bit of oil stain, but the question remains the same. One group is standing around a traffic junction, trying to burn a tyre. When a city is already burning, what is a tyre or two? They say they want justice. A courageous old man asks them, what justice are you seeking for? And they reply, this is all we will say for 200 rupees.

When aliens take over

Cities die when the poor selling drying vegetables on the streets look around constantly in fear. They too would like to be like us, enjoy a holiday and get aroused watching television news, incessantly fuelling their collective anger. They can speak all languages but they know they will be beaten and their produce thrown on the street. We can see that too, we who watch from our barred windows from across the street. We know too that there is nothing we will do, that all of us are anyway nothing more than numbers that have stopped meaning anything to anybody anywhere.

Cities die when all the rage about small little things becomes a rage about all things around us. Every little thing creates anger, depression, asthma, dengue, and gastroenteritis. Like a zombie film, the city seems to have been taken over by aliens, who call dose dosha, who eat rice with a spoon, and think that the city is ‘cute’. Friends who used to meet from across the city have gone back to burrow into their houses and flats. Or they go in search of malls near their houses so they don’t have to travel. We will meet some other time, in other cities that are not yet dead.

Cities die. This city dies and we are all watching, waiting. For those of us who remember this city when it was young, innocent, welcoming, and had real gardens instead of fake ones in IT La-La land, this is all nostalgia. With nostalgia, at least you have a vision of what can be. But now even that future is gone, dying in little bits of anger that builds up at every street corner, at every puddle on the street. When the future dies, the city is already dead.



  • Will the Paris Pact succeed like the Montreal Protocol?

On September 21, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is organising in New York a ratification ceremony for the Paris climate agreement, inviting countries that haven’t endorsed it till now to do so. The buzz among climate treaty watchers and international diplomats is that this rush to push the agreement through is with an eye on the approaching U.S. elections, as a Donald Trump victory could upset the apple cart for global climate action. Though the U.S. and China, the two top global greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters, ratified the treaty at the recently concluded G20 summit, implementation is possible only once the agreement is ready to enter into force. And that won’t happen until 55 countries, accounting for 55 per cent of the global GHG emissions, ratify it.

                                          THE MONTREAL PRECEDENT — Back in 1987, on September 16, when 197 member nations of the UN signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, little would they have anticipated that in three decades the purpose for which they were signing the pact would begin to bear fruit: the ozone layer, which at that time was discovered to have a big hole in it due to ozone-depleting chemicals being widely used, is now beginning to show signs of healing. Researchers believe that the size of the ozone hole has shrunk by around 4 million sq km since 2000 and is not as deep as it used to be, thanks to the collective efforts of nations to cut the use of chlorofluorocarbons and other dangerous gases.

The Montreal Protocol offers a model of a successful environmental treaty that brought nations together to act swiftly on protecting the ozone layer. Next month, nations that are party to the protocol will get together in Kigali, Rwanda, to discuss the phasing down of hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs) as the next step towards addressing ozone depletion, also necessary to curb global warming. According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an HFC phase-down could prevent warming of up to 0.1°C by 2050 and warming of up to 0.5°C by 2100, offering one of the most cost-effective climate mitigation strategies available to the world today.

REPLICATING SUCCESS — The more pertinent question is whether the Paris Agreement could succeed similarly in plugging greenhouse gas emissions, though it has a much bigger goal to chase. The Montreal Protocol had to address the use of ozone-depleting substances in select industries where they were widely used whereas the Paris Agreement has to address the challenge of reducing dependence on fossil fuels that continue to be the world’s primary source of energy, a tall order.

The experience of implementing the Montreal Protocol offers several lessons which can lead the climate treaty to success. For starters, unlike climate change, the science behind ozone depletion was contested at the time when the protocol was signed. It was only eight years after the Montreal Protocol came into being that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Paul J. Crutzen, Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland brought global validation for their work on the formation and decomposition of ozone in the atmosphere. But that did not stop the countries that were party to the protocol from taking necessary action. However, despite the scientific evidence in support of global warming and climate change, signatories to the Paris treaty have much scepticism to overcome before meeting its goal of keeping global warming levels less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Mr. Trump, the U.S. Republican presidential nominee, has dismissed climate change as a hoax, vowing to remove his country from the Paris climate accord, while commentators have referred to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s proposed action plans on climate change as inadequate. The experience with the Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997 shows that if the U.S. wants, it can topple international efforts to fight climate change — though the then President, Bill Clinton, had signed the protocol in 1997, the U.S. Senate did not approve it, and eventually other major GHG emitters abandoned it as well.

Besides political will, there is the question of funding as well. Industrialised countries had committed in Cancun in 2010 to provide funds rising to $100 billion per year by 2020 for a Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help developing countries invest in green energy and prepare for extreme weather events. However, the GCF has so far raised only $10 billion, and allocated money to only about eight projects since it was first set up.

With the latest addition of Micronesia, 28 countries responsible for over 40 per cent of GHG emissions have ratified the Paris Agreement. But a closer look at the list of countries shows that small countries, especially island nations, with low GHG emissions and high risk of climate catastrophe, have been more prompt. The UNFCCC is confident that more top emitters, including the EU, would soon join the treaty. But the truth is, even after ratification, the pledges made by signatories to the Paris Agreement would be insufficient to keep global warming levels below the danger threshold, as per the UN’s own estimates.

The latest report from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies shows that August 2016 was the hottest month on the planet, about 0.16°C warmer than the previous 2014 record. So even as we celebrate the relative success of the Montreal Protocol in fixing the ozone layer today, the real lesson that the experience offers the world is that a stitch in time saves nine.



  • An overlapping roadmap

In September last year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which were laid out in the document, ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. There are 17 SDGs with their associated 169 targets, developed as the next step in the evolution of what were previously known as the Millennium Development Goals. Countries are now formulating indicators to track their progress towards the targets. The SDGs broadly relate to human dignity, prosperity, protecting the biosphere, and promoting peace and security. While these goals have been accepted in principle, they have also been criticised from various quarters for being too large in number, and too wide or too limited in their scope. Reaching the targets will also be difficult because there are no specific funds that have been set aside to attain them. International development aid, public and private funds, a redesign of tax structures, and other international mechanisms have been discussed and may be considered by individual countries as sources of finance for these targets.

Interconnected Goals

India has an enormous but also an opportune challenge ahead of it with regard to the SDGs. This is because the SDGs essentially encompass India’s overall development agenda since they include health and food, cities and infrastructure, energy access, poverty and inequality, water, sanitation, climate change, consumption and ecosystems.

The interconnected nature of the SDGs makes them complex, but also demonstrates complementary benefits from specific goals and targets. For instance, clean drinking water and sanitation would enhance health, leading to improved nutrition and well-being. Sustainable consumption and production would reduce the use of materials and energy, leading to mitigation of greenhouse gases, and should improve local ecosystems because of the relation between consumption and natural systems. It was earlier agreed that since climate change, the 13th SDG, is under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the targets for this goal would be determined by the Convention. This safeguards the protections and responsibilities that stem from the UNFCCC.

The former CEO of NITI Aayog is reported to have said regarding the difficulty of reaching the SDGs that lack of data has already made it difficult to attain the goals of the 12th Five Year Plan. In addition to paucity of funds, difficulties of data availability and poor capacity at various levels are likely to hamper India’s progress towards the SDGs.

But the SDGs are global objectives that signal what is important for human well-being, and they incorporate many of the lessons learned from decades of development (sustainable or otherwise). Besides, the specific domains that the SDGs target align almost exactly with the objectives of India’s Five Year Plans and government schemes. Thus, while attaining all the SDGs on time may be near impossible, there are several cross-cutting tasks that can be addressed. These include identifying what data we already have used or could use, finding proxies, setting up new institutions (policies, rules and regulations), improving Centre-State coordination to reach the goals, and building capacity.

SDgs and Climate Change

As many are aware, South Asia, especially India, is one of the region’s most vulnerable to climate change because of its high population, vast and diverse ecologies, and long coastline.

Actions that will reduce this vulnerability are tightly related to strategies for sustainable development. For example, the first SDG, ending poverty in all forms by 2030, is of fundamental importance for India, which had about 20 per cent of the world’s poor in 2011. Numerous studies have shown consistently that poverty increases vulnerability to climate change. If we begin to address aspects of poverty by understanding its multidimensional and dynamic nature, we may begin to improve current living conditions and increase resilience to global warming. Similarly, making our cities sustainable, setting up better sanitation facilities, reducing consumption, making drinking water and energy services accessible to all, and so on, would contribute significantly to improving resilience to global warming. Many of these would improve system-wide energy efficiency, which would of course reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainable development alone is not sufficient for climate adaptation. The latter also requires information on global warming impacts expected in a region along with knowledge of specific actions that would enable us to live in a warmer world. Building climate change resilience, which improves our adaptive capacities or removes limitations to adaptive capacities, is part of sustainable development.

The disaggregated impacts of future climate change in peninsular India are extremely difficult to predict because of monsoon variability. Regional climate models and approaches to downscale global predictions have been inadequate and only show the general likelihood of more intense rainfall in shorter periods in fairly vast areas, with drought elsewhere due to decrease or variability in precipitation. Overall, these changes will increase the vulnerability of local populations to flash floods, soil erosion, long-term freshwater shortages and declining agricultural yields. Beyond that, it is difficult to tell from current models whether a particular region will be drought-prone or have excess precipitation. In the absence of such detailed information, climate adaptation in India will need to first focus on sustainable development, in order to build climate resilience. Apart from a few exceptional cases, such as sea level rise, where we know the effects and need to plan for its numerous impacts, focussing on sustainable development first is a useful strategy. Sustainable development thus provides an important framework for policymakers and others to understand better how climate change can be mainstreamed into development planning in each sector.



  • India to push for funds at climate talks

A day before India ratifies the Paris climate agreement, Environment Minister Anil Dave confirmed at a press briefing that there was no link between India ratifying the deal and its membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and emphasised that India would push for finance and technology from developed countries at the forthcoming talks in Morocco.

“There is no connection between ratification and membership [of the Nuclear Supplier Group]. Before ratifying the deal we wanted to have wide consultation and that when the deal was executed, things should be clear from India’s view,” he said. “That was cleared and now we have signed it.”

PM Narendra Modi announced in Kozhikode on September 25 that India would ratify the Paris climate deal. The ratification document will be submitted Sunday evening (IST) at the offices of the UN Secretary-General by Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, o his representative said environment ministry officials.

It is still unclear what led India to dramatically alter its position from mere weeks ago. NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman, Arvind Panagariya had, at the G20 summit in China last month, said that India “wasn’t ready” in terms of the domestic actions that were required to ratify or at least commit to ratify [the Paris deal] within 2016.”

After India’s bid to enter the NSG was rebuffed by China at Seoul in June, the Ministry of External Affairs had said, “An early positive decision by the NSG would have allowed us to move forward on the Paris Agreement.”

Technology transfer

Mr. Dave said at the forthcoming climate talks in Morocco in November, India would stress most on trying to operationalize the $100 billion corpus — called the Green Climate Fund — that has been committed by developed countries to aid policy, projects and technology transfer to buffer against the impact of climate change. Only a fraction of it has been pledged so far.

India will also set up a ‘pavilion’ at the climate talks in Morocco to showcase Gandhiji’s ‘low carbon lifestyle.’ India would push, Mr. Dave said in a statement, for developed countries to make good on their prior commitments on finance and technology. “So far we have got only $ 2 million of the $10 million committed this year,” he said. “Hardly any money has come and that’s going to be the focus of our negotiations.”

The funds will help nations work on fulfilling their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) which aim to reduce carbon emissions through a host of solutions. Mr. Dave said that India has already completed 12 per cent of all pre-2020 Intended National Determined Contributions (INDC), or the road map by which it will make good on its commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

As part of its INDC plans, India had promised to bring down its emissions intensity, or emissions per unit of the GDP, by at least 33 per cent by the year 2030 as compared to 2005 levels.

The announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Kozhikode that India will now ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change as early as October 2 must surely occasion widespread surprise in India’s polity. The haste is particularly strange considering that the European Union and a number of other developed nations have not yet ratified the agreement.

A sudden U-turn

Less than three weeks earlier, Arvind Panagariya, NITI Aayog vice-chairman and the Prime Minister’s sherpa at the G20 summit in China, had indicated in a post-summit briefing on September 5 that India had resolutely opposed any reference in the final communiqué to a definite timeline of ratification of the agreement. The ostensible reason was that while India planned to ratify the agreement at the earliest, it also needed time because “we were not ready yet in terms of domestic actions that are required for us to ratify or at least commit to ratify within 2016”. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar was even more explicit in his press briefing on June 7 at the release of the joint communiqué of U.S. President Barack Obama and Mr. Modi in Washington. He emphasised, “We have to look at a range of issues, some of them are regulatory, and some of them are possibly legal. The concerned Ministries are examining that.”

Following such statements little has been done to inform Parliament, civil society or the people at large what these detailed considerations were that the government considered so relevant. As long as ratification was awaited, one could have hoped that a process of consultation would be initiated. But the abrupt volte-face by the government clearly needs some serious explanation. The suggestions made to an international audience that fulfilling India’s commitments based on its current Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) would require matching domestic legislation or changes in regulatory mechanisms clearly demand that the government at the Centre make clear domestically the implications for development that these commitments would have. It is also worth bearing in mind that developmental needs and people’s aspirations are not the sole concern or prerogative of the Central government — a substantial part of it is also borne by State governments and local self-government authorities in urban and rural areas. At the very least this would appear to call for widespread consultations and taking on board all, even if the constitutional prerogative for treaty-making rests with the Centre.

Need for an INDC RELOOK?

There can be little doubt that India will have to eventually ratify the Paris Agreement. But it is not bound to convert all of the INDCs that it has submitted to the final Nationally Determined Contributions that would be written into the treaty. This in fact provides India considerable room following Paris for a deeper look away from the pressures during the run-up to the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21). However, there is little or no evidence that the government plans any such reconsideration. That such reconsideration is merited is clear from the emerging consensus among climate scientists that the 1.5°C “aspirational” target is well-nigh unachievable while even 2°C will be very difficult. Such goals can therefore only be achieved by turning the pressure on countries like India, since it is we (and several other smaller developing countries) who have yet to build for the future and erase our development deficits, and it is we who will need the flexibility of continued greenhouse gas to achieve these goals. Such a heavy burden is not faced by developed countries and China while at the same time the latter has safeguarded emissions linked to its current energy and industrial infrastructure. There is time therefore for India to reconsider what part of its INDCs to retain and whether to hedge India’s future by declaring a long-term budget for India’s cumulative emissions (or any other measure serving the same end). The latter would serve to safeguard against attempts to make India, as a result of accepting these temperature goals through ratification, bear the brunt of the burden of achieving them. However, instead of attending to this issue, the government has been keener to link the ratification of the Paris Agreement to membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). After the Seoul meeting of the NSG, India had stated that it had hoped for membership of the NSG to take forward the process of ratifying the agreement. The ham-handed attempt to leverage NSG membership using the ratification issue has not worked and the clarification by the United States, after Mr. Modi’s announcement, that there is no such linkage suggests that Washington had called Delhi’s bluff. Linking the ratification to the difficulties of NSG membership, arising as much from our strategic nuclear obsessions as from our need for energy, points to a deplorable lack of perspective in judging the long-term priorities for the Indian people.

India’s climate policy has been constantly hobbled by this and other strategic concerns, whatever the dispensation in New Delhi. Successive governments have all along declined to step forward with a proactive policy to protect India’s critical long-term interests. The honeymoon of the Kyoto Protocol, with emission targets only for developed nations, and seen by Delhi as the model for a long-term agreement, was obviously too good to last. Subsequently India’s policy has always been too little, too late, and at Paris, the Modi government only carried forward the accumulated legacy of the past in climate policy, without a new and sustainable approach at the critical juncture. One may even argue that at Paris the government was more sinned against than sinning. But its careless and compromising handling of the post-Paris scenario has taken away that indulgence, and handling that has resulted in pushing India to the point of seriously foreclosing its options within the emerging global climate.



  • Shape-shifting parties

Politics in Arunachal Pradesh has taken a new turn in the context of the mass migration of 43 Congress MLAs, including the Chief Minister Pema Khandu, to the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), part of a regional front led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress’s strength in the Assembly is now reduced to one as former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki has chosen to remain in the party. . The 60-member State Assembly has a strength now of 57 — the status of two MLAs, Wanglam Sawin and Gabriel D. Wangsu, is pending with the Speaker over contentions over the disqualification issue, and Kalikho Pul, the former Chief Minister, is no more — and the emergence of the PPA as the single largest party is a political victory for the BJP.

Timeline of crises

The course of events can be seen as a logical continuation of political developments taking place in the border State since December 2014, when Nabam Tuki dropped Kalikho Pul, the Health and Family Welfare Minister, in a cabinet reshuffle. Amid growing dissident party activities in the State, which posed a challenge to the government, the Congress expelled Kalikho Pul on allegations of anti-party activities in April 2015. In the beginning of the year, the BJP orchestrated defections in the ruling Congress and there was political instability in the State which culminated in the resignation of the Nabam Tuki government and the House being kept under suspended animation. Subsequently, President’s Rule was imposed under Article 356 and on the recommendation of the Union Cabinet citing constitutional breakdown in the State. On February 19, 2016, dissident Congress leader Kalikho Pul finally formed the new government with outside support of the BJP. Although the Congress had the support of 47 MLAs in the House, 21 of them supported Pul who later formed the PPA.

However, in a major setback to the BJP and the Centre, the Supreme Court, on July 13, ordered restoration of the Congress government under Nabam Tuki, saying the “clock should be turned back”. It quashed the decision of Governor J.P. Rajkhowa in February this year as a violation of the Constitution. The order was met with jubilation by the Congress which termed it as the victory for democracy in the State and a setback for the BJP’s effort in trying to dislodge Congress regimes across India. However, the Governor set July 16 as the deadline for proving the government’s majority in the Assembly though Mr. Tuki sought at least 10 days time. Though he was confident of winning the trust vote by appealing to the dissident party MLAs to support his government in the confidence motion, the central leadership sensed danger. On the eve of the trust vote, the party decided to change its Chief Minister taking into account of the mood of the dissident MLAs.

The replacement of Mr. Tuki by the young Pema Khandu, son of former Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, not only saved the Congress government but also put hurdles before the BJP-orchestrated defection. The truce within the Congress in Arunachal Pradesh was considered to be a personal setback for the BJP’s Amit Shah, Himanta Biswa Sarma and Kiren Rijiju and their destabilising strategy towards Congress regimes in the region. However, the change of guard temporarily solved the political crisis for a while in the aftermath of the reinstatement of Mr. Tuki. After a gap of two months, the State once again witnessed more political drama with the switchover, posing a challenge to the central leadership of the Congress. Interestingly, it has also come as a morale booster to the BJP.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP has a history of orchestrating defections in the Congress, bringing down Congress regimes, supporting rebel leaders to form a government with its outside support, and also merging splintered political factions with the BJP. Perhaps, the party’s first ever attempt to destabilise Congress governments in the Northeast goes back to 2003 with the Arunachal Pradesh experiment. In July that year, during the Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, dissident Congress leader Gegong Apang toppled the Mukut Mithi-led Congress government and became the Chief Minister under the newly floated United Democratic Front (UDF), which later merged with the BJP. However, in 2004, when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government came to power at the Centre, Mr. Apang rejoined the Congress and contested the next election under the Congress symbol.

Steady inroads

After this failed experiment, the BJP built up a strong base in Arunachal Pradesh, making inroads into the electoral base of the Congress. In the 2004 general election, the party could win both seats in the State with a vote share of 53.85 per cent. In the subsequent general election of 2009, the party lost to the Congress and its vote share reduced to 37.17 per cent. In the 2014 general election, it wrested one seat from the ruling Congress with a vote share of 46.62 per cent. In the State Assembly election held along with the general election in 2014, the BJP won 11 seats with a vote share of 30.97 per cent. In 2009 it could secure only three seats. The Congress won 42 seats with a vote share of 49.9 per cent, the PPA five seats, and independents two.

The BJP’s effort now to install a PPA-led government has to be seen in the larger context of its politics in the region. Though the BJP’s attempt to dislodge the Congress government began soon after the general election in 2014, it accelerated following the Assam Assembly election. The newly floated North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) has been trying to dislodge Congress governments by encouraging defections and offering positions and money to the MLAs to achieve Mr. Shah’s goal of a “Congress-free” Northeast. The current political developments have bearing on Congress-ruled Manipur and Meghalaya where the BJP, under NEDA, appears to be in the mood for dislodging governments.



  • Equality before uniformity

Two intertwined topics that have recently reclaimed their place in news headlines are the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), and Muslim women’s rights, or rather wrongs. A Law Ministry note prepared for the Law Commission declares that the three impediments to legislating a UCC are “separatism, conservatism, and misconceived notions about personal laws”. The note is unambiguously clear as to which personal laws are getting in the way — those protected by their minority status, that is, Muslim personal law. However, Muslim personal law has also been in the news independently of the UCC issue — because of the PIL supporting Shayara Bano’s demand for the repeal of unilateral divorce (or triple talaq), and the responses this has received.

Comparing Hindu and Muslim women

During the 1990s, the idea of a UCC was extensively criticised by women’s groups who feared the unspoken intentions of the Hindu Right in advocating it. An influential strand of argument questioned public perceptions and assumptions about personal law, namely: Hindu personal law has been successfully reformed; in sharp contrast, Muslim law remains unmodified and imposes the worst vulnerabilities on Muslim women; therefore, Hindu personal law should be made the basis for a UCC. There was much to be questioned in such assumptions. For instance, it was pointed out that, historically, Muslim personal law was way ahead of its Hindu counterpart since marriage was understood to be a contract between individuals with built-in provision for divorce, while Hindu law languished within notions of sacrament, the absence of personhood for Hindu wives, the vagaries of the Hindu Undivided Family, and so on. Much was made of a Census study on marriage and polygamy (which had been cited in the famous ‘Towards Equality’ report of 1974 on the status of Indian women) which showed that the incidence of polygamy (usually bigamy) was in fact greater among Hindus than Muslims. Moreover, such wives had no rights under the reformed Hindu law, unlike the rights available to Muslim women under polygamy.

Now that we are once again faced with the spectre of a UCC being foisted on us, this represents an opportunity to take stock from where we are today. We believe that there are three main lessons to be learnt from our recent past. First, we must stop making dubious comparisons between Muslim and Hindu women. Having studied the comparative data on polygamy that continue to be cited, we noticed the following. One, the data come from a special sample survey conducted by the Census of India in 1960 of one lakh women, which is explicitly acknowledged to be a non-representative sample — that is, it may be suggestive, but cannot stand for entities like India, Hindu women or Muslim women. Two, the survey includes women who were married between 1940 and 1960 — which means that 15 of these 20 years were prior to the enactment in 1955 of the Hindu Code Bill that outlawed polygamy. And three, the overall incidence of polygamy reported for Hindu and Muslim women is 5.7 per cent and 5.6 per cent, respectively. In short, these data do not prove that there was more bigamy among Hindu women than Muslim women even in 1960, let alone in more recent times. (We may note in passing that the authors of the ‘Towards Equality’ report were particularly concerned about the high incidence of polygamy among tribal groups, where rates were increasing over time and had reached 18 per cent during 1951-60.)

The steady slide of Muslim women

Nothing is gained today by simply asserting that Hindu women are worse off than their Muslim counterparts — such careless claims may come back to haunt us in future. Yes, honour killings are sanctioned by khap panchayats in the very Hindu State of Haryana; but the khap campaign to amend the Hindu Marriage Act to enforce gotra and caste prohibitions has failed. Moreover, there is growing evidence that women are claiming their inheritance as daughters under the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, particularly in regions (such as Haryana) where land prices have shot up, and the support of in-laws is forthcoming. While it is nobody’s case that Hindu law has been successfully reformed, decades of Hindu majoritarianism may well have benefited many upper-caste Hindu women, including in courts of law. In contrast, the status of Muslims as delineated in the Sachar Committee report a decade ago is likely to have declined further given their increased marginalisation in social, economic and political terms, making it almost certain that Muslim women are on average worse off today than they were just 10 years ago.

The second lesson from the past decades is that we must learn from and support much more broadly the struggles that have been waged since the 1980s by a wide variety of Muslim women’s organisations. A range of organisations emerged between 1984 and 2013, including Awaaz-e-Niswaan, Muslim Women’s Rights Network, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), and the Bebaak Collective, to name only a few. They speak in many voices and have different viewpoints. Undoubtedly some do argue that the only available option today is to work for personal law reform “from within”. But this is by no means the only position. In any case, the distinction between what is “internal” and “external” to personal laws is not always clear. For example, while unilateral triple talaq is viewed as being contrary to true Islamic principles by many theological schools, polygamy is considered to be part of mainstream Islam. Yet there are organisations asking for the abolition of polygamy, thus pushing the outer boundaries of personal law reform. Moreover, Muslim women’s organisations have also been demanding economic and political rights. In sum, if a common code is impossible to argue for today, it is not because Muslim women are better off with their existing personal laws, but because of the extreme insecurity and precariousness of Muslim lives and livelihoods in contemporary India. This was shared at a recent national convention organised by the Bebaak Collective, “Muslim Aurton ki Awaaz: Sadak se Sansad Tak”, attended by over 500 Muslim women and others in New Delhi on February 27-28, 2016.

Resisting statist agendas a new

The third lesson is that feminists must remember and recover the creativity and energy of the 1990s. While being trapped in a reactive relationship to the state with respect to the UCC, feminists and women’s organisations did much more in the 1990s than simply resist majoritarianism agendas. Despite bitter and acrimonious debates, many creative alternative visions emerged of how genuine equality could be brought into the realm of family life and related institutions. In the decades since, we have been exploring rights in intimate relations, rights in economic and political spheres more generally, and observing the innovative use of secular laws by minority groups, such as the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007 for adoption of children by Muslims and Christians. Today, we must revive and re-energise these visions and reassert our refusal to think within the confines of statist agendas.

It is amply evident that the Law Ministry’s note on the UCC does not venture beyond the old desire for uniformity, and barely finds room for equality. This makes it all the more imperative to nurture and promote alternative perspectives — diverse voices must be empowered to enter public discourse, whether or not the state is ready to listen. After all, the common goal is gender justice, whether it is uniform or plural.



  • Polygamy no longer progressive, SC told

Polygamy may have been “progressive and path-breaking” centuries ago, but not now when women and notions of gender justice have evolved, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Friday.

If Muslim countries, where Islam is the State religion, have disregarded polygamy and triple talaq, why should India, a secular country, continue to deny Muslim women their rights under the Constitution, the Centre asked.

It said that there was no legal bar against abolishing polygamy and triple talaq, given the “march of time and the need for social reform”.

“It may be true that only some women are directly affected by a polygamous marriage, but the fact remains that every woman to whom the law applies lives under the fear, threat or prospect of being subject to these practices, which impacts her confidence and dignity,” the Centre said in an affidavit.


‘Undesirable cannot be essential’

The government listed names of “theocratic States”, which Pakistan at the top, followed by Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Iran, who have “regulated” their divorce law and polygamy in order to show that these are not “essential religious practices” that are beyond reform.

The government was responding to a nearly 70-page affidavit filed by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) in the Supreme Court. The Muslim body had strongly batted in support of the unilateral right of Muslim men to pronounce oral divorce through triple talaq, saying that as men, they were better at controlling their emotions, unlike women. The Board has also said that polygamy prevents illicit sex and protects women.

The government pointed to how the AIMPLB had also referred to triple talaq and polygamy in the Supreme Court as “undesirable”. The Board had told the SC that though practices like triple talaq and polygamy were “undesirable”, their hands were tried because the Sharia permitted these practices.

“No undesirable practice can be elevated to the status of an essential religious practice,” the Centre countered the Board.

Concern for women

It said “any practice that leaves women socially, financially or emotionally vulnerable or subject to the whims and caprice of men folk is incompatible with the letter and spirit of Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution”.

The government said Muslim women, merely by virtue of their religious identity and the religion they profess, cannot be relegated to a status more vulnerable than women of other religious faiths.

The Centre sought the Supreme Court to answer “whether in a secular democracy, religion can be a reason to deny the equal status and dignity available to women under the Constitution of India”.

“Behind the preservation of personal was the preservation of plurality and diversity among the people of India. The question arises as to whether the preservation of such diverse identities can be a pretext for denying to women the status and gender equality they are entitled to as citizens,” the Centre said.



  • Personal laws and the Constitution

The Centre’s categorical stand that personal laws should be in conformity with the Constitution will be of immense assistance to the Supreme Court in determining the validity of practices such as triple talaq and polygamy. By arguing that such practices impact adversely on the right of women to a life of dignity, the Centre has raised the question whether constitutional protection given to religious practices should extend even to those that are not in compliance with fundamental rights. The distinction between practices essential or integral to a particular religion, which are protected under Article 25, a provision that seeks to preserve the freedom to practise and propagate any religion, and those that go against the concepts of equality and dignity, which are fundamental rights, is something that the court will have to carefully evaluate while adjudicating the validity of the Muslim practices under challenge. From the point of view of the fundamental rights of those affected, mostly women, there is a strong case for these practices to be invalidated. The idea that personal laws of religions should be beyond the scope of judicial review, and that they are not subject to the Constitution, is inherently abhorrent. The affidavit in which the All India Muslim Personal Law Board sought to defend triple talaq and polygamy is but an execrable summary of the patriarchal notions entrenched in conservative sections of society.

This is not the first time that aspects of Muslim personal law have come up for judicial adjudication. On triple talaq, courts have adopted the view that Islam does not sanction divorce without reason or any attempt at reconciliation, and that talaq would not be valid unless some conditions are fulfilled. There are judgments that say the presence of witnesses during the pronouncement of talaq, sound reasons for the husband to seek a divorce and some proof that an attempt was made for conciliation are conditions precedent for upholding a divorce. The present petition before the Supreme Court seeks a categorical ruling that talaq-e-bidat — an irrevocable form of triple talaq that is permitted but considered undesirable in Islam — is unconstitutional. There are many who contend that instant divorce is not allowed, and that the triple talaq has to be spread over a specified time period, during which there are two opportunities to revoke it. Only the articulation of the third makes it irrevocable. It should be possible for the court to test these practices for compliance with the Constitution.



Unity and cohesion were conspicuously absent at the Bratislava castle where the EU 28 minus 1 met to discuss the post-Brexit world. Nobody is harbouring any illusions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker admitted that the EU is in an ‘existential crisis.’ Brexit is only the latest symptom of the fear and discontent that have spread across the continent, fuelled by the migrant crisis, Islamophobia, Eurozone woes and terrorist attacks. Friday’s meeting was organised by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, that provides strategic direction to the EU, in order to ‘diagnose’ the situation and to forge a united path forward. This is not going to be an easy task given that the bloc is split into factions, mainly around issues of economics and migration.

‘The Bratislava Declaration’ offers a road map for the next six months, on migration, border security, counter-terrorism, defence and economic and social development, providing political backing to measures announced by Mr. Juncker in his State of the Union address in Brussels. Europe is much like a stack of Jenga blocks at present. Each move needs precision and care in order to preserve the integrity of an increasingly tenuous union. The declaration identifies various areas for action. Some of these are likely to find wide acceptance, such as funding for strategic investments across the region, establishing a common capital market across the EU and acquiring advanced traveller information to secure borders. Other areas, such as migration, are more contentious. Hungarians will participate in a national referendum in October to decide whether they will accept the recommended share. The EU must find a creative, humane and effective solution to receive and resettle refugees. Another contentious proposal is the European army. Mr. Juncker had proposed that member-states move towards pooling and centralising their defence and diplomatic resources. While there may be advantages with regard to defence procurement and operational efficiency and capabilities, it is exactly this kind of a ‘more Europe’ response to a problem that has left EU member-states and citizens disenchanted and fearful of what they see as Brussels’s overreach. Brussels will do well to heed the lessons of Brexit. This can be done in at least two ways. First, by focussing on the big picture and on areas where it has a comparative advantage while letting national governments take the lead in others. Second, by encouraging members to engage more rigorously with their citizens on EU issues — explaining policies and their outcomes, collecting feedback, and inviting ideas. These steps will go a long way towards, to use Mr. Tusk’s phrase, not letting this crisis go to waste.



  • Invasive Giant African Land Snail sighted at Goa University

The Goa University campus at Taleigao plateau near here could be showing indicators of impact of gross human interference in the natural ecosystem as it has become a nursery of Giant African Land Snail (GALS), listed in the world’s top 100 invasive species.

On the footpath that links the campus to the Management Department of the University campus, Dr. Nandkumar M. Kamat, Asst. Professor, Department of Botany, at the varsity came across juveniles or young specimens of the species slowly crawling to reach the other side. The professor said several of them were found dead or crushed last month.

“Now it is clear that these were just baby GALS. Their giant parents were located today,” Dr. Kamat told The Hindu on Saturday.

“Is it global warming… local impacts of global climate change?…whether GALS would spread from Goa university campus to surrounding villages… young conchologists and gastropod scientists have scope to do further research,” Dr. Kamat opined.

The professor spotted two giant specimens of 11-cm long exotic invasive species of the snail, that bears the biological name Achatina fulica , second time in the University campus on Saturday morning. Earlier, young specimens of GALS were spotted inching their way across the footpaths at night even as several of them got crushed, he said.

‘Double the size’

“This indicates that GALS is alive, reproducing and dispersing from the campus. Specimens this year are double the size of what was found last year in the same area,” the researcher said.

GALS ranges from 7 cm to 20 cm in length and the Goan specimens are identical at 11 cm in length.

Ecologically, the species are dangerous as they reproduce faster and take over entire ecosystems, this becoming a menace to crops,” Dr. Kamat said, adding that research on GALS is being carried out by ManeethaT.K, Research Scholar, Forest Health Division, Kerala Forest Research Institute at Thrissur Kerala. Dr. Kamat said he has already informed the Kerala research institute about the finding.

Two GAL’s specimens have been documented and preserved for anyone to study them at the Mycology bio-safety lab of Department of Botany of the Goa University.



  • A blow for the right to knowledge

In its much awaited judgment in the Delhi University photocopying case (The Chancellor Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford v. Rameshwari Photocopy Services), the Delhi High Court has dismissed the copyright infringement petition initiated in August 2012 by three publishers (Oxford, Cambridge and Taylor & Francis) against a photocopy shop located in the premises of Delhi University. This case, which was being closely tracked by students, teachers and the publishing industry alike, was seen as one with immense significance for questions of access to knowledge. While initially involving only the publishers, the photocopier and the university, the case also saw intervention petitions being filed by a student group (Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge) as well as by teachers and academics (Society for Promoting Educational Access and Knowledge). While the publishers made the argument that the creation of course packs and the photocopying of academic material for the same amounted to an infringement of the exclusive copyright of the authors and publishers, the defendants argued that the reproduction of materials for educational purposes fell within the exceptions to copyright under Section 52(1)(i) of the Copyright Act.


Not a moral right

In his considered and sharply reasoned judgment, Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw examines the gamut of arguments made by both sides and arrives at the conclusion that copyright is a statutory right and not a natural right, and hence any right that is granted to owners is also limited by exceptions carved out by law. The nature of Section 52 of the Copyright Act is such that any act falling within its scope will not constitute infringement. Section 52(1)(i) allows for the reproduction of any work i) by a teacher or a pupil in the course of instruction; or ii) as part of the questions to be answered in an examination; or iii) in answers to such questions.

The crux of the dispute was about whether course packs fall within this exception. The petitioners tried to provide a narrow reading of the section, claiming that at best what the section allows for is the provision of materials in the course of a lecture and spatially restricted to a classroom. The court, while rejecting this claim, argues that “instruction” cannot be narrowly understood and, through a historically informed reading of the phrase “in the course of”, concludes that instruction includes the entire ambit of pedagogy from the creation of syllabus to teaching and provision of reading materials.

It then locates the question of education within a changing technological environment, and argues that “when an action, if onerously done, is not an offence, it cannot become an offence when, owing to advancement in technology doing thereof has been simplified”. To make this point, Justice Endlaw contrasts his own experiences as a law student where photocopying was very limited and studying entailed students copying by hand, scribe like, pages after pages of books. Photocopiers have just made the task simpler and faster, but if the act of copying for a particular purpose is itself not illegal, and “the effect of the action is the same, the difference in the mode of action cannot make a difference so as to make one an offence”.

For Progress

In a clear statement of the philosophical basis of copyright law, Justice Endlaw rejects the populist and unidimensional assumption that copyright is about the protection of the property rights of owners. He notes instead: “Copyright, especially in literary works, is thus not an inevitable, divine, or natural right that confers on authors the absolute ownership of their creations. It is designed rather to stimulate activity and progress in the arts for the intellectual enrichment of the public. Copyright is intended to increase and not to impede the harvest of knowledge. It is intended to motivate the creative activity of authors and inventors in order to benefit the public.”

If copyright was always about maintaining a balance between competing ideas of private and public interest, the Delhi High Court has restored to copyright jurisprudence a clear mandate for the future, one which is cognisant that the end goal of technology is the improvement of our lives (material and intellectual) and “no law can be interpreted so as to result in any regression of the evolvement of the human being for the better”.

Global implications

The judgment has immense consequences beyond India and is a bold articulation of the principles of equitable access to knowledge — and one that deserves to be emulated globally. For a while now, the globalisation of copyright norms through international law (Berne Convention, TRIPS Agreement) has been accompanied by the globalisation of copyright standards that have primarily emerged from the global north. Aggressively pushed by the copyright lobby, such as Hollywood, the music industry and the publishing cartels, copyright law had effectively been hijacked by narrow commercial interests (albeit always speaking in the name of authors and creators). Thus even when it came to discussing fair use and exceptions and limitations, countries have found them constrained by judicial precedents from the U.S. and elsewhere that have defined quantitative restrictions on photocopying.

In a radical move, the Delhi High Court has concluded that if Indian law makers have allowed through statute for the reproduction of a copyrighted work in the course of instruction, it has done so on the basis of purpose (teaching) and with the conviction that this does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interest of the author. Further, this flexibility is provided to it through international law, and it is not the place of courts to impose artificial restrictions by way of quantitative limits. Justice Endlaw, while arriving at this conclusion, is acutely aware of the specific needs of countries like India where libraries and universities have to cope with the needs of thousands of students simultaneously, and it would be naïve to expect every student to buy copies of every book.

An interesting question to consider is whether the judgment effectively makes a clear distinction between fair dealing on the one hand (which is subject to doctrinal tests such as the Three-Step test), and in the copyright act in India governs personal use including research versus a clear statutory exception for educational use. This aspect of the judgment could almost be read as an instructional manual for countries who find themselves straitjackets under international copyright laws, and yet want to ensure the greatest flexibility in the way that they design a system that addresses their specific needs.
HOW CAN THE PUBLISHER’S RESPOND –While this judgment delivers a terrible blow to the publishers, the crucial question is, how will they respond?

  1. Readers access to publications might be curtailed in future and certain publications will deem it fit not to publish but can be read online at a fees.
  2. Publications of new materials will significantly reduce, as pure economics fails to work out.
  3. As buyer numbers fall prices will rise for buyers
  4. Knowledge stock of community falls.


                  Judgement is grievously wrong – courts cannot understand and study the far sighted effects ,they are there to decide the matter at hand and not to complicate them further, it is not their domain neither their area of expertise, but when community and lawmakers avoid taking decisions, the society can rejoice for today at the cost of the future.



  • Coherence in the neighbourhood

Over the past week, India played host to Afghanistans President Ashraf Ghani and Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, visits that marked a repair of relationships with both countries. Mr. Prachanda’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was cordial, and though no large announcements were made, the message that’s gone out is that both countries wish to put the bitterness of the past year and the economic blockade behind them. New Delhi is acutely conscious of Mr. Prachanda’s challenges: a potentially shaky tenure in office given his coalition’s narrow majority, the difficulty in building a two-thirds consensus for the constitutional amendments he has committed to, as well as the massive task of reconstruction after the April 2015 earthquake. As a result, it didn’t force him to commit on a timeline for amendments demanded by Madhesi and other groups that feel marginalised by the new Constitution. The joint statement referred to Mr. Modi welcoming “the ongoing efforts of the Government of Nepal to take all sections of the society on board for effective implementation of the Constitution,” but it didn’t mention the word amendment. India instead focussed on delivering on its own promises to Nepal, including hydropower and highways infrastructure projects. This shows a maturing of New Delhi’s position, since the phase of stern statements against the Koirala and Oli governments on the Madhesi issue.

With Mr. Ghani, the outreach began a year ago, after it became clear that Afghanistan had lost confidence in Pakistan’s ability to bring the Taliban to book or to the table for talks. Moreover, the U.S., Afghanistan’s biggest security provider, made a shift in its old policy of cutting India out of the security equation, and actively encouraged New Delhi to help provide military assistance to Kabul. Even so, during Mr. Ghani’s visit, India opted for a less overt approach to Afghanistan’s ‘wish list’ of helicopters, tanks and ammunition assistance, with the joint statement and agreements signed merely mentioning their “resolve to counter terrorism and strengthen security and defence cooperation as envisaged in the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement.” Mention of Pakistan’s support to terrorist groups was muted as well. However, Mr. Ghani did give a scathing account of Pakistan’s actions at a speech at a Delhi think tank later. The Afghan and Nepali visits had another common thread, of landlocked countries in need of road and railway trade routes. It is hoped that, going forward, India will take a leadership role in maximising their options, as it has done with Afghanistan through the Chabahar port project in Iran.



  • Farewell to NAM

A summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) without the Indian Prime Minister is like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark and that is what was enacted in Venezuela recently. The only other time when an Indian Prime Minister stayed home was in 1979, when the historic Havana summit took place. Prime Minister Charan Singh’s absence, however, had nothing to do with NAM; this time, the absence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a political message.

Sources close to the Prime Minister have taken pains to explain that his absence was deliberate as he did not find NAM to be important enough for him to spend a couple of days in distant Venezuela. Therefore, the explanation given by the head of the Indian delegation, Vice President Hamid Ansari, that the summit was not a conference of Prime Ministers and, therefore, Indian participation was adequate did not carry conviction.

Flawed assumptions about NAM

Non-alignment has not been in the vocabulary of Prime Minister Modi. He has been on a quest for selective alignments to suit his needs for India’s development and security. His advisers have now begun to rationalise India’s distancing from NAM. One argument is that NAM did not have any binding principles and that it was a marriage of convenience among disparate countries. This argument arises from the narrow, literary interpretation of non-alignment. Many commentators had felt, right from the beginning, that the word ‘non-alignment’ conveyed the wrong notion that it was not aligning with the power blocs and that the be-all and end-all of non-alignment was to remain unaligned. But the quintessence of non-alignment was freedom of judgment and action and it remained valid, whether there was one bloc or two. Seen in that context, non-military alliances can also be within the ambit of non-alignment, which was subsequently characterised as ‘strategic autonomy’. In other words, India does not have to denounce non-alignment to follow its present foreign policy.

Another argument being heard is that NAM countries did not come to our help on any of the critical occasions when India needed solidarity, such as the Chinese aggression in 1962 or the Bangladesh war in 1971. Even in the latest struggle against terror, NAM has not come to assist India in any way. But the whole philosophy of NAM is that it remains united on larger global issues, even if does not side with a member on a specific issue. India itself has followed this approach, whenever the members had problems with others either inside or outside the movement. NAM positions have always been the reflection of the lowest common denominator in any given situation.

That NAM has no ideal or ideology as a glue is a wrong assumption. Though the criteria for NAM membership are general, anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism and anti-racism were essential attributes of NAM countries. There was a consensus on nuclear disarmament also till India broke ranks by keeping out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The diversity reflected in both Singapore and Cuba being NAM members has been its strength. Therefore, Egypt signing the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1978 or India signing the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in 1971 did not result in any disruption of membership.

A heritage we can leverage

All said and done, the golden age in India’s foreign policy was in the first 15 years after Independence, when NAM provided a constituency for India because of our non-violent victory over the British and the leadership it provided to the newly independent countries. Our problems were different from the small and impoverished nations that thronged the movement, but Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision and statesmanship inspired them. We did not seek to resolve our problems through the machinery of dispute resolution in NAM, but actively assisted those who sought such assistance. India led the NAM effort to resolve the Iran-Iraq dispute.

As expected, political issues continued to engage NAM and we benefitted from its activism occasionally. In fact, it was through NAM that we operated to counter the efforts to expand the UN Security Council by including just Germany and Japan as permanent members. NAM submitted its own proposal and ensured that no quick fix was permitted.

The question we need to ask is whether our continued involvement with NAM would stand in the way of our 21st century ambitions. The very informal nature of NAM permits members to operate individually. It also has the facility of members reserving their positions, as we did on the non-proliferation positions of NAM. Our new nearness to the U.S. is not a red rag in NAM and our ability to be helpful in formulating U.S. policies gives us an advantage. No NAM country may agree to isolate Pakistan, but the NAM forum will be an effective instrument to project our anti-terrorist sentiments.

NAM is particularly important in elections at the UN, including the possible identification of new permanent members of the Security Council. The NAM position may not be decisive, but in the normal process of consultations, every grouping will get its own weight age and it is convenient to have a lobby behind us. NAM today, like the Commonwealth has always been, is a heritage we need not discard.

The decision to say farewell to NAM is very much in keeping with the new transactional nature of the foreign policy we are developing. NAM was a part of our larger vision for the world, but today it is seen as inconsequential to our present preoccupations. This transformation will not be lost on the world community.



  • A post-American West Asia?

Seven and a half years ago, while addressing an audience of 3,000 people in Cairo University, Barack Obama offered a “new beginning” to the Islamic world, sought to overcome “years of mistrust” and threw his weight behind the Israel-Palestine peace process. Though he didn’t lay out any policy paradigm, hopes were high that the new U.S. President would correct the mistakes of his predecessors and open a new chapter in America’s relations with West Asia and North Africa. With only months left for Mr. Obama to leave the White House, has he radically altered U.S. foreign policy?

Those who believe he did, including both his critics and defenders, list several reasons. Mr. Obama made peace with Iran, a country whose leaders still call America “the Great Satan”; his administration went beyond the traditional equations of America’s alliances in the region by being critical of Israel and ignoring Saudi Arabia’s concerns over the Iran deal; he drew down troops from Iraq; and he refused to attack the Syrian regime despite enormous pressure both from his domestic critics and regional allies. These have prompted some to call Mr. Obama an ideological liberal committed to peace, while others say the U.S. retreated from West Asia under his watch.

Iraq and Iran

Compared to the administration of George W. Bush, Mr. Obama’s approach was certainly different. Mr. Bush was a more aggressive (and less strategic) player who did not have to deal with any major regional challenges other than the ones he helped set off. On the other side, Mr. Obama inherited a war in Iraq, a dangerous stalemate in Iran, and growing threat of jihadist from several countries in the region. And, not to forget, the Arab protests and crises in its aftermath. In the larger scheme of foreign policy, the Obama administration also had to deal with a rising, ambitious China and a resurgent, vengeful Russia. So a new policy paradigm was inevitable.

Take the case of Iraq. The war had turned unpopular in America during Mr. Bush’s presidency itself. It was Mr. Bush who set a December 2011 deadline to withdraw “all U.S. forces” from “all Iraqi territory”. Mr. Obama stuck to the plan — he drew down the troops, but retained the leverage over Iraqi politics by other means — because winding down a disastrous, unpopular war in West Asia fit into his foreign policy narrative of regaining the trust of the Islamic world and giving greater attention to other challenges. The U.S. withdrawal came under major criticism only after the Islamic State (IS) took over Iraqi cities in early 2014. Critics say the withdrawal was too early and put Iraqi security at risk. But such arguments overlook the fact that Iraq witnessed sectarian civil war and massive bloodshed in 2006-07 at the peak of the American invasion. So the presence of U.S. troops per se doesn’t deter jihadist violence in the country. On the other side, there are several reasons, such as the sectarianism of the Iraqi government and the chaos in Syria, that led to the rise of the IS.

America’s Iraq war and the rise of Shias to power in Baghdad had made Iran’s regional presence stronger. Therefore, even as administration officials said all options were on the table in tackling the Iranian nuclear crisis, the only viable option Mr. Obama had was diplomacy. So he employed a carrot-and-stick approach — imposing stringent sanctions while simultaneously offering an olive branch to Iranian rulers. It worked as the Iranians, already strained by economic pains and fears of a public unrest, responded positively. Here the key criticism is that the deal makes Iran, which is at odds with America’s two greatest allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia, stronger. But Mr. Obama did not fundamentally alter America’s traditional alliances in the region with the Iranian deal.

True, the agreement and the subsequent removal of sanctions make Iran a stronger power. But it has delayed Iran becoming a nuclear country at least by 10 years, leaving Israel the only nuclear-armed state in the region. And to mollify Israel’s concerns, the administration tactically turned a blind eye towards Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinians. Since 1967, this is the first administration that hasn’t let even a single resolution critical of Israel pass the UN Security Council. Besides, Washington recently announced a $38-billion military aid package to Israel for 10 years, the largest of its kind. Mr. Obama did the same with the Saudis, offering them a $60-billion arms deal at a time when Riyadh was bombing Yemen.

A balancing act

This offshore balancing was evident in Mr. Obama’s Syria policy as well. His critics would say his reluctance to interfere in Syria has deepened the country’s crisis. But that argument is ahistorical. Mr. Obama is not a president ideologically opposed to military interventions. He used force in Libya, and is partly responsible for the chaos it is now going through. Mr. Obama’s dictum is to use force if the risks are minimal. Attacking Libya was a relatively less risky business, but Syria is different. It’s located at the heart of West Asia, is an ally of Russia and a closer partner of Iran. Any direct attack on Syria will escalate the crisis dangerously. On the other side, the picture on a post-Bashar al-Assad Syria has never been clear as the regime’s opponents still remain a divided lot and include deadly jihadists as well. Mr. Obama avoided only a direct confrontation. The U.S. has been actively present in the Syrian crisis from the very beginning through its proxies. Still, the key reason the U.S. and Russia were negotiating a ceasefire was that sections of the anti-Assad rebels were supported and controlled by the Americans, like the Assad regime is backed by the Russians.

If one were to piece together these bits into a larger picture, it would show Mr. Obama as a President who used direct force when it was less risky, championed diplomacy when no other options were available, resorted to proxy wars when American interests were at stake and continued to defend the aggressions and human rights violations of U.S. allies in the region. This is hardly idealism. Nor does it reflect any new beginning to the people in the region. America is not retreating from West Asia either. What Mr. Obama has done is to restore the ruthless realism of Cold War politics in America’s West Asia policy, taking the reckless aggressor back to a multifaceted hegemony.



  • The salience of the Singur verdict

On August 31, the Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Yadav v. State of West Bengal delivered one of the most momentous decisions of the year. It invalidated the expropriation of land in Singur by the erstwhile Left Front government in Bengal, and ordered that the acquired properties be returned to their original landowners. In their separate judgments, Justices Gopala Gowda and Arun Kumar Mishra diverged on critical questions of law. But crucially they agreed on the core issue at stake: the government’s acquisition of land for the purported use by Tata Motors Limited to construct a car factory, they held, was in violation of the procedural mandates of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Today, this colonial-era law might stand repealed by the loftily named Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013 (LARR Act), but still, the court’s ruling, especially Justice Gowda’s judgment, ought to resonate with significance. For it raises important concerns about the extent of the state’s supposedly sovereign power to acquire property, and the nature of what constitutes a “public purpose” permitting such taking.

Working around the law

Under the 1894 statute there were broadly two forms of recognised expropriation: one, acquisition for public purpose for governmental use, and two, forced transfer of land from private individuals to corporations for the latter’s commercial use. In the case of acquisitions intended to benefit companies, a special procedure was prescribed in Part VII of the Land Acquisition Act, which incorporated additional safeguards to ensure that governments don’t abuse their avowed power of eminent domain.

Curiously though, when in 2006 the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led regime in West Bengal acquired a tract of nearly 1,000 acres of land in Singur, a town located in the State’s Hooghly district, the government altogether ignored the binding requirements of Part VII. Instead, it acquired these lands, which were specifically identified by Tata Motors for constructing a manufacturing plant that would produce the Nano, envisioned as the world’s cheapest car, through a State-owned entity, the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation. At the time, the government argued that this acquisition was in furtherance of the State’s new industrial policy, and since the plant would create jobs for hundreds of people it also fulfilled a public purpose. In 2008, the Calcutta High Court agreed with the State. But many small and marginal farmers, who had refused to accept compensation, filed appeals in the Supreme Court.

Property rights and the state

India’s constitutional history is littered with contests such as these, over the scope of an individual’s right to property. In its original form, the Constitution, through Article 19(1)(f), guaranteed to all citizens a freedom, subject to reasonable restrictions in public interest, to acquire, hold and dispose of property. Concomitantly, in Article 31, it also vested in the state an explicit power to expropriate property for a public purpose by paying compensation to the landowner, provided such acquisition was backed by suitable legislation. The promise that these rights provided enabled the judiciary, in the immediate years after the Constitution came into force, to review virtually every act of acquisition. But judicial interventions only further strengthened the government’s resolve to dilute property rights, through measures that were meant to enable the state to bring about greater equality in land ownership.

Ultimately, in 1978, Parliament enacted the 44th amendment to the Constitution and, through it, obliterated both Article 19(1)(f) and Article 31, consigning, in the process, the right to property to a mere non-fundamental status. The ostensible reason for this amendment was the need to provide the state with wide latitude to enable it to achieve land reforms. But the changes had the effect of only further nurturing a culture of inequality. As the continued use of the 1894 Act has shown us, both the Union and the various State governments have routinely acquired land for the benefit of private industry, always couching their laws though in the Orwellian language of “public purpose”. Inevitably, these acquisitions have tended to work to the benefit of the rich, often at grave costs incurred by small farmers.

The latitude of ‘public purpose’

For its part, the Supreme Court, encumbered by accusations of excessive intervention, has been happy to allow this expansion of the state’s power of eminent domain. It has generally ruled that even a token contribution by the government towards the cost of acquisition is sufficient to escape the requirements of Part VII. Preposterously, in one such case, the court held that “the contribution of Rs.1 from the public exchequer cannot be dubbed as illusory so as to invalidate the acquisition”. Matters reached a crescendo when in 2003, the court found that an acquisition of land to establish a “diamond park”, comprising various units for cutting and polishing diamonds, was valid as it would generate a “good deal of foreign exchange” and would create “employment potential”. In the ultimate analysis, the court wrote, “what is considered to be an acquisition for facilitating the setting up of an industry in private sector could get imbued with the character of public purpose acquisition if only the Government comes forward to sanction the payment of a nominal sum towards compensation.”

Therefore, when hearing the challenge of the farmers who had lost their lands in Singur, the Supreme Court was faced with a mountain of precedent that had allowed a precipitous expansion of the meaning of public purpose. While Justice Mishra accepted the erstwhile CPI(M)-led government’s argument to the limited extent that the expropriation was intended for the benefit of the public — in line with previously decided judgments — Justice Gowda was far more suspicious. Through a scrupulous analysis of Cabinet memoranda and letters exchanged between the State government and Tata Motors, he concluded that the lands in question were acquired solely for the benefit of the company. Hence, the attempt by the government to circumvent the special procedures of Part VII through a claim that the lands were acquired in public purpose, in Justice Gowda’s ruling, was a colourable exercise of power. “Such an acquisition, if allowed to sustain,” he wrote, “would lead to the attempt to justify any and every acquisition of land of the most vulnerable sections of the society in the name of ‘public purpose’ to promote socio-economic development.”

To a limited extent, some of the concerns that Justice Gowda has raised have already been allayed by the enactment of the LARR Act in 2013. The statute not only defines public purpose with greater clarity, but also mandates that where acquisitions are made for the benefit of private companies, the prior consent of at least 80 per cent of the affected landowners ought to be secured. But this legislation doesn’t negate the value in Justice Gowda’s judgment, not least because the power to make laws on acquisitions vests both with the Union and the State governments.

A judgment as guiding light

As events since 2013 have shown us, not only is the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government keen on rolling back some of the benefits that the central law offers, several States — Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Gujarat, among others — have already either amended the new law or enacted legislation of their own, creating sui generis processes that permit takings even in the absence of a direct public purpose. In other States such as Telangana, plans are afoot to amend the land law in such a manner as to do away with the requirement of consent when acquiring property for private companies so long as the acquisition is for a public purpose.

Many of these State laws offend the Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment, but unless the courts make express declarations to such an effect, they are likely to be widely deployed to acquire land by eschewing the LARR Act and by extending the meaning of public purpose to absurd lengths. Particularly since the 44th amendment to the Constitution, different governments in India have behaved with an apparent belief that their authority is boundless. Possession of land is taken on a whim, payment of compensation, often a meagre amount, is routinely delayed, and public hearings prior to any acquisition, if conducted, are treated as inconvenient formalities.

The LARR Act was never going to be a panacea to all these evils; it’s barely revolutionary when you consider that it does little to topple the state’s supposed sovereign hold over all land. But in comparative terms it is certainly a progressive legislation. At the very least it redefines the manner in which the state ought to exercise its immense power to take property. The effort by different State governments to negate this enactment’s core promise is therefore a matter of regret. When viewed thus, Justice Gowda’s judgment has to be seen as not only a positive affirmation of the law, but also as one that could guide the Supreme Court towards interpreting the Constitution in its finest light.

There is nothing implicitly wrong in adopting a welfare-based conception of the right to property, where the state sees it as its duty to regulate ownership of land, among other resources. After all, in every state where a right to property is considered sacrosanct, those classes of people without property have little to benefit from. But what we have today in India is a selective preservation of property rights, where the least advantaged amongst us also bears the greatest burden in terms of relinquishing ownership of land. No reasonable theory of justice can validate this terrifying anomaly.



  • Stamping down on prejudice

The revival of the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014, and the Union Cabinet’s approval for provisions that make discrimination against people living with the virus punishable, are positive steps. Such laws, however, can only deliver benefits within the overall constraints imposed by an underfunded public health system. Where the legislation can make some difference, with active monitoring by HIV/AIDS support groups, is in ensuring that acquiring the infection does not mean an end to education, employment, access to housing and healthcare due to discrimination. The success of the anti-discrimination aspects hinges on the readiness of governments to accept the inquiry findings of ombudsmen, to be appointed under the law, and provide relief. Since the new law is intended to both stop the spread of the disease and help those who have become infected get antiretroviral therapy as well as equal opportunity, it will take a high degree of commitment to provide effective drugs to all those in need. In August, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare put the number of people getting free treatment nationally at 9,65,000, of which 53,400 are children. This must be viewed against the most recent estimate last year, that 2.1 million people live with HIV in India, of whom 7,90,000 are women. Regional variations in access to diagnosis and treatment must be addressed.

The legislation and the structure of complaints redress that it proposes should provide some relief to thousands of families that face discrimination in admitting children to school, an infected individual getting a job, or treatment in hospital. Unlike many other diseases, however, HIV/AIDS has received global attention and funding, thus building up pressure on governments to come up with supportive policies. Communities will now have the opportunity to ensure that the strongest element of the prospective law, assuring confidentiality of HIV status, is enforced. A breach could invite imprisonment and a fine. Yet, the proposals approved by the Cabinet fail on one important count: the insurance industry is allowed to use actuarial calculations to limit access to products to people with HIV. The Centre’s initiative is palpably weak, since a universal system would not discriminate against people with any form of illness, and would fully embrace the goal of health and welfare for all. National AIDS Control Organisation data for 2015 indicate that while there is an overall decline in HIV prevalence among visitors to antenatal clinics, there was a rise in nine States. The government must get down to business and close such gaps.



  • New species of Pika discovered

Scientists claim to have discovered a new species of Pika, a mammal belonging to the rabbit and hare family ( Lagomorpha ), in the Himalayas in Sikkim. After six years of research, a team of international collaborators, led by scientists from Bengaluru’s National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) announced the discovery.

The team published their findings in the JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution in September. “Discovering a new mammal in 2016 from a hotspot like the Himalayas proves that we need to conduct much more research in the region,” said NCBS scientist and first author Nishma Dahal, who hails from Sikkim.

Distinct tissues

The team collected fecal pellets and tissue samples of what they expected to be the Asian Pika and found them to be “quite distinct from all other species”.

“We needed international collaboration to confirm the tissue samples were different from all existing species,” Ms. Dahal added.

Pikas are members of the rabbit family and live in the mountains or in temperate regions. The common name “pika” is used for any member of the Ochotonidae family. According to Ms. Dahal, Pikas do not hibernate unlike other mammalian species inhabiting such cold climates.

“Pikas are a keystone species and ecosystem engineers, and studying their evolution can shed more light on the Himalayan ecosystem,” said Uma Ramakrishnan, whose laboratory at NCBS led the study. Although the animal looks similar to the Moupin Pika, genetically it is completely different. “There are specific differences which are not visible in physical observation and only on closer study. But genetically it is very different, and we are proposing to elevate the sub-species to a different species,” said Ms. Dalal.

Ecological niche

The discovery points to the need for more research on Himalayan ecology and the importance of international collaboration in validating new research. The research began as a study of the impact of climate change on the Himalayan biota. “Back when NCBS got funding from the Department of Biotechnology in 2010, research on the American pika was making news. Few lower elevation populations were reported to have gone extinct and that was corroborated to increased temperature in those regions,” said Ms. Dahal. This led the team to study the Asian pika .

Researchers from the Zoological Museum of Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia; Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China; Stanford University, Stanford, USA, collaborated in the research.


  • Centre to flag H1-B visa curbs

India is likely to raise its concerns in an upcoming meeting with the U.S., over a proposed legislation seeking to impose greater costs on firms that temporarily hire highly skilled foreign workers.

The development comes in the backdrop of the U.S. Presidential election campaign where claims of local unemployment due to immigration and outsourcing have become a topic of debate.

During the forthcoming U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum (TPF) meet, New Delhi is expected to take up the Indian IT industry’s concerns about the proposed ‘Protect and Grow American Jobs Act’ that was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in July.

The proposed legislation is also called the ‘Issa’ Bill as “the bipartisan legislation” was introduced by U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa, aiming to “stop the outsourcing of American jobs by companies abusing the H1-B visa program.”

The House Judiciary Committee is to vote on the Bill that is being opposed by the Indian IT sector (the main users of H1-B visas), the apex IT industry body Nasscom and the US-India Business Council (an advocacy body for boosting US-India business ties).

India had in March said it had initiated a World Trade Organisation dispute proceeding against the U.S. for increasing fees on H1-B and L-1 non-immigrant visas.

“The Issa Bill is a bigger issue than the (H1-B and L-1) visa fee hike,” USIBC President Mukesh Aghi said in an interview. “If it becomes a law, it will kill the Indian IT industry. We are campaigning with (U.S.) Congressmen and Senators to convince them not to support the Bill. However, it is election season and logic does not prevail.”

The current H1-B norms under the (U.S.) Immigration and Nationality Act require H1-B ‘dependent’ companies (those with over 50 full-time equivalent employees of which 15 per cent or more are on H1-B visas) to submit certain documents.

Troublesome paperwork

However, firms are currently granted exemptions to ease their documentation-related troubles. They need not go through the troublesome paperwork if the potential H1-B employee has an equivalent of a Master’s degree or higher and he or she is paid at least $60,000 annually.

The ‘Issa’ Bill aims to do away with the Master’s degree exemption (as “they are easily obtained by foreign workers”) and hike the minimum annual salary threshold from $60,000 to $100,000 with an inflation adjustment. The new Bill seeks to “make it much harder for firms to bring in workers at a salary that could undercut American jobs.”

Sources said the Indian government and the IT industry had taken up the issue with U.S. government officials and businesses at a meeting of the bilateral working group on IT & communication technology. However, they were told that while the U.S. government understands the concerns, nothing can be done to prevent the US legislators from bringing up such Bills.

Industry sources said they fear further tightening of the Issa Bill as some American politicians recently claimed that it had left loopholes that the H1-B users can take advantage of. Referring to the recent debate on the Bill which allowed the $100,000 minimum annual wage threshold mentioned in it included ‘cash bonuses’, some U.S. legislators said this provision could be misused as often, bonuses are conditional on some goals being achieved. This could mean that the H1-B user firms might get away with actual lower annual wages.

Also, some legislators have demanded a higher minimum threshold since average annual IT salaries in urban areas exceed $100,000 and could therefore lead to locals with higher salaries being replaced by foreign workers.



  • China blocks tributary of Brahmaputra

China has blocked a tributary of the Brahmaputra as part of a major hydro-electric project, whose construction began in 2014.

The state-run Xinhua news agency is reporting that the blockage of a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo river is part of China’s “most expensive” hydro project.

The Brahmaputra in its upper reaches is called Yarlung Zangbo, after it originates from the Angsi glacier in western Tibet, southeast of Mount Kailash and Mansarovar Lake.

Indus treaty review coincidence

China’s move coincides with the debate in India on the re-calibration of Indus water flows into Pakistan following a cross-border raid in Uri that killed 18 Indian troops.

According to Xinhua, China’s action on Friday falls within the parameters of the larger Lalho project that began in 2014. The project on the Xiabuqu in Xigaze, also called Shigatse, involves an investment of $740 million, the head of the project’s administrative bureau was quoted as saying.

The multipurpose enterprise, which includes construction of two power stations with a combined generation capacity of 42 MW, was scheduled for completion in 2019. Its reservoir is designed to store up to 295 million cubic meters of water and help irrigate 30,000 hectares of farmland, Xinhua reported.

Impact on India

Shigatse, a railhead of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, is a few hours driving distance away from the junction of Bhutan and Sikkim. It is also the city from where China intends to extend its railway towards Nepal.

It is as yet unclear whether the dam will have any impact on water flows towards India and Bangladesh — the two riparian states that are drained by the Brahmaputra.

So far, China has maintained that its dams do not restrict the flow of water towards India as they are based on run-of-the river principle.

Ambitious hydro power plans

China’s 13th five year plan has proposed significant hydropower expansion along rivers that also originate in the Tibetan plateau. Although the plan does not mention any river specifically, it is anticipated that the new dams are envisaged along the Yarlung Zangbo, Lancang (Mekong) and Nu (Salween), all originating in the Tibetan plateau.

Analysts say that aware of the downstream impact of dams along trans-boundary rivers, the plan document underscored need to “scientifically develop and harness international rivers” and “deepen cooperation with other riparian countries / along the rivers.”

In March, Minister of State for water resources Sanwar Lal Jat issued a statement expressing India’s concerns over the impact of dams constructed by China.


2013 MoU

India and China have set up an Expert Level Mechanism on trans-border rivers. In 2013, they signed a memorandum of understanding on trans-border rivers, under which China has been supplying data to India on water flows.



  • No takers for 700 megahertz, auction bids top Rs.53,000 cr.

The government received bids worth more than Rs.53,000 crore on the first day of the biggest ever auction of the country’s telecom spectrum, according to sources. A total of 2,300 MHz of spectrum worth Rs.5.6 lakh crore has been put up for sale.

On Saturday, five rounds of bidding were completed. No bids were received for the much-touted 700 MHz band, which is being put up for auction for the first time.

While 700 MHz is considered most suitable for offering high speed broadband services, industry players have been complaining about its high pan-India reserve price of about Rs.11,500 crore per MHz.

Hence, analysts were expecting a muted response for this band.

Maximum interest was seen in the 2,100 MHz, 2,300 MHz and the 2,500 MHz bands.

Limited bidding was also witnessed in the 1,800 Mhz Band.

Seven firms

                             Seven firms — Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular, Reliance Communications, Aircel, Reliance Jio Infocom, and Tata Teleservices —are in the fray to acquire spectrum in seven bands — 700, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1,800 MHz, 2,100 MHz, 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz.

The auction will resume on Monday morning and each round will last for an hour.

According to research agency CRISIL, the telecom firms are expected to fork out about Rs.1 trillion (Rs.1 lakh crore) to buy spectrum at the auctions.

The government had raked in Rs 1.1 lakh crore from the last spectrum auction held in March 2015. It had sold spectrum across 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1,800 MHz and 2,100 MHz bands

“The auction is on expected lines – there was no bidding on 700 MHz and 1,800 MHz saw interest in the circles where there is some shortage.

“We should see some intensity over the next day or so and closure of the auction within the next week.”

Reliance Jio

The auctions are happening close on the heels of the commercial launch of Reliance Jio, which has stirred a storm in the India telecom sector with its very competitive prices.

As incumbents fight to retain customers, the focus is on good quality services amid frequent call drops and slow data speeds. The spectrum won via the auctions, which is an Internet-based online process, will be allotted for a time frame of 20 years. The centre had fixed a reserve price of Rs.2,873 crore for spectrum in 1,800 MHz band, Rs.3,341 crore for 900 MHz, Rs.5,819 crore for 800 MHz, Rs.3,746 crore for 2,100 MHz, Rs.11,485 crore for 700 MHz.





  • What Rosetta mission uncovered

Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft, due to switch off on Friday after a 12-year odyssey, carried eleven scientific instruments to sniff and photograph a comet from all angles.

After arriving in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, it launched Philae, a separate lander, which itself had 10 hi-tech gadgets, including cameras, X-ray scans, radio wave probes and a drill that never deployed.

Together, the robot explorers have advanced our understanding of comets — of which there are billions — believed to be leftovers from the birth of our Solar System some 4.6 billion years ago.

“Nobody had any idea comets can be so weird until Rosetta got there,” said Fabio Favata of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) robotic exploration directorate.

What the mission found:

Expecting to encounter something roughly the shape of an American football, scientists were flabbergasted to observe through Rosetta’s cameras that 67P resembled a rubber bath duck with a distinct “body” and “head”, and a crack through its “neck”.

Some scientists have since postulated that this shape was not created by erosion, but a low-velocity impact billions of years ago between two objects which fused.

This all suggests the comet was formed in a young, outer part of our Solar System that was much less densely packed with bodies than previously thought.

If not, 67P “is so fragile it should have been clobbered by something else and broken apart,” ESA senior science advisor Mark McCaughrean said.

This affects our understanding of planetary formation, thought to have happened when ice and dust debris, swirling around in a proto-planetary disk around an infant Sun, collided and stuck together, growing bigger and bigger over time.

Comet’s surface

The comet’s surface was another surprise. It was less “fluffy” and much harder than expected, which contributed to Philae bouncing several times after its harpoons failed to fire on landing.

The comet had much less water ice than thought, was littered with pebbles and rocks ranging in size from a few centimetres across to five metres, and pocked with deep craters. The surface is rendered super-dark and non-reflective by a thin layer of dust.

Oxygen molecules

Scientists were astonished to find oxygen molecules in the gassy halo around the comet, and said they appeared to be older than our Solar System.

Scientific models had previously calculated that oxygen as a molecular compound on its own would not have existed at the time the comet was formed, as it would have bonded with other elements like hydrogen.

So, how the comet got its oxygen remains a mystery.

67P has organic molecules, many different ones — including amino acids, which are the building blocks of life as we know it.

This discovery supports the hypothesis that comets may very well have helped spark life on Earth by delivering organic materials when they slammed into a young planet that was basically molten iron.

Water, on the other hand, is unlikely to have come from comets of 67P’s type, the mission found.

Water of different ‘flavour’

The water on Rosetta is of a very different “flavour” than that on our planet, with three times more deuterium, a heavy hydrogen isotope.

Analysing the comet’s chemical signature, Rosetta scientists concluded it probably smells like a noxious mix of rotten eggs, horse urine, alcohol and bitter almonds.

“If you could smell the comet, you would probably wish that you hadn’t,” the ESA team said at the time.

Philae’s magnetometer found that, surprisingly, 67P has no measurable magnetic field — throwing into question another key theory on the formation of solar system bodies. It implied that magnetism played no part in debris in the early Solar System clumping together to form planets, comets, asteroids and moons.

Scientists expect that the data extracted by Philae and Rosetta will keep them busy for decades to come.

“The metaphor I used at the beginning was that Rosetta would be the key that would unlock the treasure chest to the secrets of the Solar System. I think… we found the key, it’s on the floor and it’s in pieces.



  • Ghani formalises peace deal with ‘Butcher of Kabul’

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani formalized a controversial accord with one of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords on Thursday, a deal the government hopes will lead to more peace agreements.

Surrounded by hundreds of Afghan officials, many former warlords and rivals themselves, Ghani signed a pact that opens the door to the militant faction of Hezb-i-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, playing an active role in politics.

Despite the rhetoric of unity, Hekmatyar was not present and addressed a gathering in Kabul in a recorded video message, appearing by himself to sign the document in a small room.

With this agreement, I hope to put an end to the current crisis in the country,” Hekmatyar said in his message.

“I call on all sides to support this peace deal and I call on the opposition parties of the government to join the peace process and pursue their goals through peaceful means.”

A controversial figure from the insurgency against the Soviets in the 1980s and the civil wars of the 1990s, Hekmatyar has been designated a “global terrorist” by the United States, which has been leading an international military mission in Afghanistan for the past 15 years.

                                   “We hope that the day comes when foreign interference has ended, foreign troops have departed fully from Afghanistan, and peace has been achieved,” Hekmatyar said.

Hekmatyar, who served as prime minister in the 1990s, before the rise to power of the Taliban, has long been known as close to neighbouring Pakistan.

His faction of Hezb-i-Islami has played a relatively small role in the current conflict, in which the Taliban have a leading role in battling the Western-backed government in Kabul.

But government officials hope the accord will be a first step toward eventually making similar peace deals with the Taliban and other groups.

“This is a chance for the Taliban and other militant groups to show what their decision is: To be with people and join the respected caravan of peace, like Hezb-i-Islami, or confront the people and continue the bloodshed,” Ghani said.

Peace talks with the Taliban, the largest insurgent group, have yet to get off the ground, but both sides have said they are open to the idea.

Human rights groups as well as many Afghans expressed dismay that Hekmatyar is unlikely to face any punishment for his alleged role in past abuses, including firing rockets into civilian areas during a civil war in an attack that killed and injured thousands of residents.

Hekmatyar’s return “will compound the culture of impunity”, said Human Rights Watch researcher Patricia Gossman, who called it an “affront” to victims of abuses when the initial deal was struck last week.



  • OPEC agrees on modest oil production curbs

OPEC agreed on modest oil output cuts in the first such deal since 2008, with the group’s leader Saudi Arabia softening its stance on arch-rival Iran amid mounting pressure from low oil prices.

“OPEC made an exceptional decision today … After two and a half years, OPEC reached consensus to manage the market,” said Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, who had repeatedly clashed with Saudi Arabia during previous meetings.

He and other ministers said the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would reduce output to a range of 32.5-33.0 million barrels per day. OPEC estimates its current output at 33.24 million bpd.

“We have decided to decrease the production around 700,000 bpd,” Mr. Zanganeh said.

The move would effectively re-establish OPEC production ceilings abandoned a year ago.

However, how much each country will produce is to be decided at the next formal OPEC meeting in November, when an invitation to join cuts could also be extended to non-OPEC countries such as Russia.

Many traders said they were impressed OPEC had managed to reach a compromise but others said they wanted to see the details.

“This is the first OPEC deal in eight years! The cartel proved that it still matters even in the age of shale! This is the end of the ‘production war’ and OPEC claims victory,” said Phil Flynn, senior energy analyst at Price Futures Group.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Tuesday that Iran, Nigeria and Libya would be allowed to produce “at maximum levels that make sense” as part of any output limits.



  • Muzaffarnagar riot victims upset with NHRC

The victims of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots have demanded an apology from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for its report on the alleged “exodus” of Hindu families from Kairana town in Uttar Pradesh. They have also demanded immediate withdrawal of the report.

“The NHRC had never bothered to talk to us once in these three years. Now, it has produced a report in which it is painting us as criminals,” said Shauqat Ali who had fled his village in 2013 when his family was attacked and settled in Kairana.

Citing 24 unnamed witnesses, the report, released on September 21, 2016, stated: “Youths of the specific majority community [Muslims] in Kairana town pass lewd/taunting remarks against the females of the minority community…”

At a media interaction in New Delhi, activist Farah Naqvi said: “How can a body like the NHRC indulge in such communal stereotyping of the kind used to create tension and stoke riots? Its report is not based on facts. Instead of investigating the living conditions of the riot victims, it is branding them as criminals…” The report said the resettlement of 25,000-30,000 Muslims in 2013 had changed the demography of Kairana in favour of Muslims, leading to the “Muslim community becoming the more dominating and majority community.”

Human rights activist Harsh Mander contested these claims. He said Kairana had already been a Muslim-majority town, with 80 per cent of the residents being Muslims, as per the 2011 census. “For quite some time, the NHRC has been passive in the face of increasing communal atrocities. But this report suggests it has now become an active participant in spreading communal disharmony. It is setting a dangerous precedent of giving a communal colour to law and order problems. It ill befits a statutory body to produce such a report,” he said.

The Shami-based activist Akram Chaudhury of Afkar India said: “It is untrue that 25,000 Muslims have resettled in Kairana after the riots. Only 270 families, or at the most 2,000 Muslims, have moved here. How can the addition of 2,000 Muslims to an already Muslim majority of 80,000 change the demography?”

Pointing out that the NHRC had never used the word ‘exodus’ to refer to the 70,000 internally displaced persons of Muzaffarnagar, Ms. Naqvi said: “It is strange that the NHRC gives credence to rumour-mongering by calling the fictitious departure of 346 people an “exodus”. It must apologise to the Muzaffarnagar riot victims and withdraw this mischievous report.”



  • Making books accessible to all

Today is an important day for blind and other print-disabled people across the globe, as it marks the entry into force of an international treaty designed to help deliver specially adapted texts to those affected by a range of disabilities that interfere with the effective reading of printed matter.

It is called the Marrakesh Treaty and today I am calling on other countries to follow India’s lead — as the first nation to join the so-called ‘Books for Blind’ treaty and then as a trailblazer in implementing the pact that will benefit not only India’s visually impaired citizens but millions more around the world.

According to the World Health Organisation, some 285 million people worldwide live with visual impairments. Meanwhile, the World Blind Union estimates that children who are blind have a less than 10 per cent chance of going to school — a situation that could be improved if schools had ready access to texts adapted for use by visually impaired children.

India, leading the way

The Marrakesh Treaty represents a significant step towards making books available to everyone, by easing the creation and transfer across national boundaries of texts in accessible formats such as Braille, audio, or large print. With access to information and educational materials, blindness need no longer be a barrier to learning, employment and full participation in society.

So far, 22 countries have joined the Marrakesh Treaty, but many more are needed: each new nation that joins brings along not only a population in need, but a wealth of printed matter that can more easily be made accessible in other countries.

Joining the treaty is the easy part, however. Ensuring that books become widely available to people who are blind or print-disabled takes perseverance, patience, and logistical effort.

First, the books need to be adapted into accessible formats either by libraries for the blind, organisations serving the print-disabled, or at the source by publishers (including Departments of Education) so that the texts can be “read” using assistive technology on computers, phones or electronic Braille devices. Once produced, these accessible books need to be distributed to the people that need them, including to populations that may live far from major urban areas.

These are common challenges in many countries and India has been a leader, having in June 2014 become the first country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty. And it did not stop there. India has not delayed in readying itself to ensure the Marrakesh Treaty benefits its people.

For example, the ‘Accessible India Campaign’ has provided a nationwide flagship campaign for universal access for people with disabilities. And India has begun implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty through a multi-stakeholder approach, which includes collaboration among key players such as government ministries, local champions like the DAISY Forum of India, and the private sector. This led to the launch in August of India’s largest collection of online accessible books called “Sugamya Pustakalaya”, which counts 2,00,000 volumes.

Building an accessible book bank

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a United Nations organisation based in Geneva, administers the Marrakesh Treaty and leads an alliance of private and public partners known as the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), which was established in June 2014 to support the goals of the treaty.

The ABC has established a centralised electronic multilingual catalogue of accessible books produced by libraries for the blind around the world. Through the ABC Book Service, which is free, organisations serving the print-disabled can supplement their collections of accessible books from their counterparts in other countries.

The ABC Book Service can assist in preventing the same book from being produced in accessible formats by more than one library, thereby avoiding duplication. It is hoped that Sugamya Pustakalaya will soon become a member of the ABC Book Service, thereby joining an international library-to-library service managed by WIPO in Geneva. Nineteen libraries for the blind from 16 countries are already participating in this service, and I am happy to announce today that over 1, 00,000 loans have now been made to visually impaired individuals around the world through the participating organisations.

ABC is continuing to establish projects in India, including by training publishers, libraries and NGOs in the production of accessible books, as well as providing funding to produce educational materials in accessible formats. Without these materials, students either cannot access their curriculum or are dependent on books being read aloud to them.

In addition to implementing projects in India, ABC has also established training and technical assistance projects in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and it is estimated that 88,500 students with visual impairments in these four countries will benefit from ABC projects in the upcoming year. ABC plans to extend its capacity-building programmes to Africa and Latin America, helping ensure that these transformative uses of technology can boost access to books for people who are blind or print-disabled around the world.

Today, as the Marrakesh Treaty takes effect in India and elsewhere, India’s multi-stakeholder approach provides an excellent model for other countries to follow. WIPO looks forward to many more countries implementing the Marrakesh Treaty so that print-disabled people around the world can benefit from the new avenues to access now available to Indians.



  • Seeds of discontent?

On September 5, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) released an “Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety” for genetically modified (GM) mustard on its website, and gave the public a month to respond with comments and concerns. This review report was put together by an expert sub-committee of the ministry’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). The public consultation is likely to be the penultimate step before the government takes a final decision on what might become India’s first GM food crop — Bt cotton seeds, though also crushed for edible oil, were not explicitly approved as food; Bt brinjal is unlikely to emerge out of the moratorium issued by former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh any time soon.

GM mustard represents the culmination of over a decade of painstaking work by a team of Delhi University scientists led by the noted biotechnologist, Deepak Pental. Mustard, a self-pollinating crop, is difficult to hybridise, that is, cross-pollinate. Pental’s team has genetically modified an Indian mustard, Varuna, and an East European mustard line in order to cross-pollinate them. They have sought permission to commercially release the resultant hybrid named DMH-11, and to use the two GM parental lines for developing new hybrids. They claim that by virtue of being a hybrid (rather than a GM crop), DMH-11 yields about 30 per cent more than a reference mustard variety. Given India’s huge import bill for edible oil, they argue, this effort to boost mustard yields must be welcomed. Indeed, this may well be a moment for us to appreciate government-led scientific efforts — except that the case for GM mustard is not as straightforward as the government makes it seem.

Bio safety and socio-economic impact

GM mustard is resistant to the herbicide glufosinate, and thus a herbicide-tolerant (HT) crop. A farmer growing DMH-11 can potentially get rid of weeds with a blanket spray of glufosinate (sold in India by Bayer under the brand name Basta), which will kill all the plants except the mustard crop. The technical expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court in an ongoing public interest litigation (PIL) concerning GM crops had found HT crops “completely unsuitable in the Indian context” in its final, majority report. The principal reasons were that herbicides adversely impact the vast constituency of manual labourers, for whom weeding provides livelihood, and generate selective pressure for the emergence of herbicide-resistant or “super” weeds. The aforementioned MoEFCC review report on GM mustard makes light of these concerns, and simply notes that farmers are not “required to spray herbicide” on GM mustard fields — which is neither here nor there.

Second, there are concerns that the yield advantage of GM mustard has been over-estimated by comparing it with dated mustard reference varieties. Sharad E. Pawar, Fellow of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, has analysed the yield data of DMH-11 and shown that it has “no yield advantage over varieties and hybrids released in recent years”; a view also held by the government’s own Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research.

Transparency and public participation

These and other concerns (such as over gene flow, impact on biodiversity) might have been addressed if the government had made public the details of its case for GM mustard — and by “making public”, I mean making its case freely and widely available, even to those who cannot access websites or read English. However, having uploaded the review report, the MoEFCC has made the primary data on agronomic and biosafety assessment available only to those who can visit the GEAC secretariat in New Delhi by prior appointment during working hours before October 5.

Equally serious is the fact that withholding the full biosafety dossier violates the government’s own commitments given to the Supreme Court on April 8, 2008 in the hearing on the aforementioned PIL. Consequently, we do not know, for example, if sociologists considered the impact of GM mustard on agricultural labourers; or if ecologists, toxicologists and nutritionists investigated the wider impact of potential glufosinate use on mustard fields. In April and again in August, the Central Information Commission ordered the MoEFCC to release complete information on GM mustard and other GM crops. The Commission also ordered the GEAC to disclose the agenda and full, detailed minutes of its meetings, which the Ministry had stopped doing since 2012. The Ministry continues to disregard these orders.

Thereby, the MoEFCC is reducing public participation to a farce. Denying citizens a voice in this matter is all the more serious considering that no labelling regime is in place in India. That is, if commercialised, citizens will not have the choice of opting out of GM sarson da saag, for instance.

Perhaps, developers of GM mustard and the government fear that releasing the bio safety dossier will lead them down the path of Bt brinjal, but this fear is misplaced. The government is within its rights to take a strategic decision to commercialise GM mustard despite opposition, but this cannot come at the cost of transparency and fidelity to the law. At the minimum, the full bio safety dossier for GM mustard must be uploaded on the Ministry’s website, the GEAC should disclose its full agenda notes and minutes for each of its meetings, and the window for public consultation should be extended beyond 30 days.

As the distinguished biotechnologist, mustard-breeder, and former Director-General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research V. L. Chopra wrote some years ago, greater transparency and wider public participation may be the most effective way of “allaying fears and building confidence” in our regulatory institutions.



  • A silence that’s deafening

If any political leader or pundit were to have said, even just four months ago, that lakhs and lakhs of Marathas were going to mobilise and march across Maharashtra, week after week, from Parbhani in Marathwada to the so-called “intellectual and knowledge capital” Pune, nobody would have believed that prognosis. Nobody, not even the powerful Maratha leadership, including the ‘strongman’ of Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar, had seen the turbulence beneath the superficial and deceptive calm in the community. Now it is obvious that the frustration and anger among the Marathas has been brewing intensely.

Most people outside Maharashtra do not understand the difference between the two phonetically similar sounding terms, Maratha and Marathi. Why, even the metropolitan Mumbaikar cannot comprehend the distinction. The broadcast media and panel pontiffs too are confused by the sudden tsunami-like Maratha marches, which they cannot simply ignore because of their sheer size and breadth. Indeed, the mobilisation is so grippingly picturesque that television cameramen and anchors cannot underplay it by pretending that Kashmir and the Cauvery water crisis are far more important!

The class divide among Marathas

The Maratha caste can be broadly compared with Jats in Rajasthan and Haryana or Patidar-Patels in Gujarat, primarily farmers. They are one-third of the State’s population and Marathi is their mother tongue, though not exclusive to them. Within the community, there is a hierarchy observed very diligently, particularly when it comes to matrimony. However, irrespective of social hierarchy, they are all directly connected with agriculture, sons of soil, as it were. But there is another hierarchy, that of class. There are four class divisions.

The elite Marathas are directly related to power or power centres — ministers, chairmen of commissions, various boards, directors in cooperative banks, board members of sugar cooperatives, zilla parishad or gram panchayat chiefs, and so on. These Marathas are seen to not distinguish between the private and public.

The class just below them is the rich farmer, “bagayati” or cash crop farmer. They are powerful because they command respect on account of their wealth, which also gives them status and authority in the villages. They are not in political power directly, but they have political heft across parties as they finance candidates.

Next in the hierarchy comes the small or middle peasant, who survives on a season-to-season basis, is dependent on the vagaries of nature, is anxious about the monsoon, takes small loans to run the farm or for wedding expenses, and commits suicide if harassed by the bank or moneylender. The middle peasant aspires to be a rich farmer, and hence imitates the lifestyle of the well-off farmer. When he fails to live up to his projected image, distraught, he hangs himself.

The lowest and the last layer is that of the landless peasants and agricultural labourers who depend on government employment guarantee schemes and other benefits.

The only bond among this four-layered class structure is of caste. Being Maratha gives them a feeling of difference from the ‘other’ and an illusion of being important.

The power elite have everything going for them. The rich farmer’s main worry is that he is not getting cheap labour because of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. His economic interest pits him against his Maratha brethren because of the class distinctions. The real frustration is among the small/middle farmers, the vast section of landless farmers and/or agricultural labourers. A young person among the lower classes of Marathas has had no opportunities for higher education, no possibilities of migrating to the cities for a better future, and certainly no avenues to new kinds of jobs — in the information technology sector, for instance. Unemployment, declining agriculture, compounded by severe drought and devastating floods, have threatened his very survival.

For the past two years these suffering classes waited with great expectation for “Achche Din”. They had voted against the Congress because their condition saw no improvement during the years of Congress rule. They thought Narendra Modi would provide what the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance did not. Now, there’s disillusionment.

Searching for an object of ire

Thus, multiple frustrations got accumulated and mixed up. But who should be held responsible? The Marathas are in power from sugar cooperatives to Mantralaya, the administrative headquarters of the State government. All parties, from the Congress, NCP, to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena have large contingents of Marathas. In assemblies and local self-governments there is Maratha domination. And yet the lower- and middle-rung Marathas feel isolated, neglected, marginalised in the job market and denied opportunities in higher education.

The reservation policy gave Dalits an advantage vis-à-vis Marathas in getting admission in reputed colleges. Ironically, many of the State’s private colleges and deemed universities are owned, run and managed by the Maratha power elite! Moreover, the sub caste, or parallel caste, Kunbi, was included in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservation category. That, too, has fuelled the demand for reservation among other larger Maratha groupings. The disgruntled Maratha youth, instead of wagging an accusing finger at the power elite of their own caste, began to see an enemy in the Dalit community, the ‘beneficiaries’ of the reservation policy.

The brutal rape and murder of a Maratha girl in July by a few Dalit youth in Kopardi village of Ahmednagar district provided these marginalised Maratha youth an opportunity to direct their wrath against the Backward Castes and OBCs. Though none of the recent Maratha marches have witnessed any diatribe against the Dalit community, the underlying message is that the mobilisation is targeted against the Dalits. Since the NCP founded and led by Mr. Pawar has the largest Maratha following, many commentators believe that he and his party are behind the movement. The Maratha elites are happy to face this charge, because they get credit for channelling the discontent when they are at best only supporting from behind the scenes what is essentially a spontaneous expression of mass (and class) frustration.

In the past it was the Brahmin (caste and class) that was the ‘enemy’ of the Marathas (self-declared Bahujan). The Dalits and OBCs too regarded Brahminism as the main ‘enemy’. Demographically, this upper caste had just about 4 per cent presence in society but dominated education, bureaucracy, media and other institutions of power. That domination was sharply reduced following reservation, and a section of the Marathas too entered the corridors of power and influence. But still there were the vast armies of lower- and middle-end Maratha youths deprived of participation in the mainstream economic, political and cultural affairs. Around 200 Maratha families have kept the reins of power in their hands, claim organisers of the protest movement.

Rage of the have-nots

As stated in the beginning, the marches are a reflection of the massive crisis in the agricultural economy of Maharashtra. That is the reason the demand for the implementation of reports of the M.S. Swaminathan-led National Commission on Farmers between 2004 and 2006 has acquired importance in this agitation. The farmer is denied competitive prices for his produce, affordable prices for the input elements, relief and support during drought, famines and floods, and help from financial institutions when it is the need of the hour.

This hapless and helpless small and middle farmer is seeing around him the new wealth, new opportunities, new jobs, new lifestyles that he too aspires to. The urban haves and rural haves have cornered the new wealth, making him the new poor. The new poverty is not poverty imposed on him by nature or overall backwardness; it is enforced by the ruling class and the ruling government and the ruling establishment. He knows who the ‘enemy’ is: it is in his neighbourhood and his community. That is why all the marches are silent protest processions, perhaps. The marches are disciplined, clean, huge and silent, with massive participation from women of all age groups and girl students who are angry because they feel the future is being snatched away from them.

The silence of the lakhs of marchers is deafening and the elite — Maratha or Brahmin or Dalit — are feeling threatened. It is a silent political bomb ticking and could explode anytime, devastating all that we think is stable and settled.



Politics cannot be studied as a mere set of facts as if they are little nuggets to be polished and examined on their own. Politics needs frameworks which provide ways for interpretation and understanding. One senses the need for this when one watches the sudden explosion of upper caste agitations. An ethnography of these demonstrations alone is not enough. One has to see them as statements of values, of the manner in which democracy is seen and assessed. One can see three visions of democracy contesting and overlapping with each other.

A politics of anxiety

The early socialist vision saw democracy as a place where rights to quality were worked out, where the marginal and minority groups used the democratic process to be empowered as citizens. Such a vision is captured in the careers of B.R. Ambedkar and Ram Manohar Lohia. The second kind of vision inaugurated after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power was a majoritarianism vision, where electoralism was a consolidation of numbers. The transition from democracy as a value to a fact of demography becomes obvious here. There is a third kind of contest emerging where democracy, like the market, becomes a competitive game, where right loses to might and democracy becomes a fragile Hobbesian word.

Here the battle is not for justice to the downtrodden but a search for consolidation and privilege. Quotas and reservation no longer embody a search for justice, but an interest group politics where the powerful seek to accumulate more power. There is a mirror inversion of concepts like justice, victimhood, fairness as these same concepts are used by higher castes in a new “Alice in Wonderland” way, where they insist words mean what they say.

There is a politics of anxiety played out by the upper class who see democracy not as a framework of universal values but as a basis for consolidating a parochial world. The contrast is stark between a Dalit or tribal battling for rights and the demands of upper castes such as Patels, Jats and Marathas. The logic of the scripts and the nature of political dramas is radically different. First, the Dalits’ protests for rights have the character of an appeal. They are seeking to go beyond deprivation. The upper caste protests convey a sense of threat, of aggression and violence. For Dalits, democracy is a value; for upper castes it appears relevant as long as it sustains them instrumentally in power. If democracy does not work, it can be discarded like an old piece of tissue or a rag.

The body languages of the two dramas are different. One acts as a shareholder threatening to sell his shares or dismiss the directors if the firm fails to show profit. The marginal’s speak the language of suffering, deprivation and pain. The dominant castes utter the language of privilege, of consolidation. Rights meet a mentality of consolidation. One creates a politics of consensus, protest and persuasion, the other engages in a game of threat, preferring democracy as a zero-sum game. The Dalit fighting for rights still upholds the universality of citizenship. The dominant castes insisting on consolidating their privileges reduce democracy to the worst kind of parochial politics, a bullyboy spectacle which makes democracy appear empty and ironic. One sees this drama enacted with ruthless clarity in the recent protest of Marathas.

Their political script is simple. On Sunday, September 11, lakhs of Marathas poured out into the streets of Pune, paralysing the city. They had two demands. The first was a demand to repeal the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and the second a demand for a greater share in the reservation. The power of the Maratha groups is seen not only in their hold on the city but also in the indirect endorsement of Sharad Pawar, the Maratha leader, and Raj Thackeray, chief of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. An endorsement of the two leading godfathers of Maharashtra speaks of the sheer power of the community.

And of atrocity

Central to the first of the demands is what one calls the politics of atrocity. Critical to this is a categorical act of denial of caste atrocity. The scenario of violence is typical and predictable. A Dalit youth is usually stoned or lynched on grounds of suspicion. His alleged crime is an illicit relationship with an upper class/caste girl. When investigated, the allegations hide deeper conflicts over grazing land. Such Gairanland often cultivated by landless Dalits has now been regularised by the Maharashtra government.

The upper castes feel the Atrocities Act is often misused and want it repealed. Yet what few talk about is a stranger legal battle where upper castes in turn file counter-cases of robbery and dacoity embroiling Dalits in the entrails of law. What is clear in discussions about these battles is that there is little respect for the rule of law. By turning the question of atrocity into a law and order problem, Marathas hope to get the Act repealed.

There is a strange reversal of victim logy with upper castes almost amnesiac about their own atrocities and vigilantism. They are demanding justice for a 14-year-old girl who was raped and killed allegedly by three Dalit youths. It is almost as if history is inverted and the roster of atrocities against Dalits forgotten.

A misleading silence

The second demand is that Marathas as a caste community be brought under the reservation category. It is almost bizarre to watch a dominant community with roughly 33 per cent of the population — and which has electorally dominated State politics, virtually controlled the powerful cooperative movement — now play helpless and vulnerable, demanding reservation. As a wag put it, they are demonstrating a politics of anxiety about their various fiefdoms, signalling a future decline in power. The electoral frame which they dominated almost zero-sum style is now fragmenting as Other Backward Classes and Dalits enter the power game. It is an attempt to buy insurance for the future realising full well that the current quotas are a bit inelastic and that the Supreme Court has not looked kindly at their demands.

Currently the protests involve a series of silent marches as a statement of their problems. But the silence is misleading. What one senses behind it is the need to use violence to reassert power. One senses that a dominant caste community which feels threatened acts as if it is far more vulnerable than the communities it has exploited. There is a double danger here. First, that the silence so far is staged and temporary. Second, it is clear that what is being signalled is the possibility of violence as dominant groups which lorded over electoral democracy now feel threatened. It is not rights one is worried about but the very fabric of democracy. An electoralism which tends to go beyond the constitutional rules of the game negates democracy.

Such an attitude is not peculiar to the Maratha struggle. A contempt for law and order, the threat of violence and the rise of violence have marked all these dominant caste battles. The horrendous violence inflicted by Jats on other communities and on property was the hallmark of the recent struggles for reservation in Haryana. The second factor which has not been fully investigated or publicised is the full involvement and connivance of the local police in the agitation. It is almost as if law and order and justice are the preserve of dominant castes. Democracy as an aberration cannot or should not alter the dominant structures of power radically.

Between the appeals and protests of Dalits and tribal’s and the arrogant demands for continued dominance lies the new problematic form of democracy in India. Democracy as a way of life is threatened by electoral democracy as a rule game. First, majoritarianism threatens the pluralism of Indian democracy. Second, dominance of castes in the system threatens any hope for rights, for a more equalitarian system. The challenge of the future lies in how democracy reinvents itself to handle these two contradictions. Otherwise, India faces the final irony — that of democracy as a mechanism quietly corroding the institutional values of democracy as a value system.



  • Mission ‘SAARC minus Pakistan’

By pulling out of the SAARC summit in Islamabad, the government is trying to achieve two ends: sending a tough message in the wake of the Uri attack in which 18 soldiers were killed, but also that it is going ahead with its plan for ‘SAARC minus Pakistan’ instead. The fact that India did not pull out alone but that Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan also did so, citing the same reason as India, was a significant step in that direction for the grouping, officials say.

If you heard the PM’s speech in Kathmandu [November 2014], he made it very clear that we would like to go forward with regional connectivity and other initiatives with all SAARC member countries if possible, and with only some if necessary,” MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said on Wednesday.

“So if there is one country that doesn’t want to be part of the initiatives, then we have no choice but to work with those who share our vision,” he added, pointing to the motor vehicle movement agreement, railway linkages, and the SAARC satellite programme for which all SAARC countries apart from Pakistan have signed up. With Afghanistan, which cannot be accessed by land, the two governments have discussed a separate “air corridor” for cargo.

A bigger articulation of that vision is expected in mid-October, when India hosts the BIMSTEC outreach summit on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Goa. The initiative for Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal is expected to see proposals on transport as well as electricity and broadband connectivity being discussed.

This week, another grouping of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka met for the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) programme in Delhi to release the first SASEC Operational Plan 2016-2025. SASEC’s lead financier, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), has already approved about 40 infrastructure and IT projects worth about $7.7 billion.

Bilaterally too, India has been busy with its ‘SAARC minus Pak’ programme. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Modi played host to his Nepal counterpart Prachanda and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, while Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe is expected in Delhi from October 4-6.

However, analysts say India’s push for a South Asian isolation of Pakistan is also driven by the fact that it received less than expected support on the world stage and at the UN General Assembly for the Comprehensive Convention on International Terror (CCIT), which it had hoped to corner Pakistan, and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj referred to her disappointment over that in her speech.

India also received criticism at the UN Human Rights Council over Kashmir, although Pakistan failed to have any resolutions or references passed against India.

Pakistan’s line of action

However, Pakistan continues to receive support from several other countries outside of the SAARC, most notably China, and also has a new relationship with Russia that conducted its first-ever military exercises in Pakistan just days after the Uri attack. Iran too sent four naval warships to the Karachi port to participate in a Passage exercise (PASSEX) this week.

The US, which joined many countries to condemn the terror attack in Uri, also issued statements calling on India and Pakistan to resume dialogue, an outcome that now seems as remote as the rescheduling of the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad any time soon.



  • Kigali makes history with HFC freeze

Countries came to an agreement in Kigali on Saturday to phase out a family of potent greenhouse gases by the late 2040s and move to prevent a potential 0.5 degree Celsius rise in global temperature by the end of the century.

Hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs) are a family of greenhouse gases that are largely used in refrigerants in home and car air-conditioners. They are currently the world’s fastest growing greenhouse gases, with emissions increasing by up to 10 per cent each year. They are one of the most powerful, trapping thousands of times more heat in the Earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2).

In all, 197 countries, including India, China and the United States, agreed on Saturday to a timeline to reduce the use of HFCs by roughly 85 per cent of their baselines by 2045.

The agreement is significant in that it amends the 1987 Montreal Protocol, initially conceived only to plug gases that were destroying the ozone layer, to now include gases responsible for global warming. This has been the turf of agreements such as the recently ratified Paris agreement that pushes countries to cap global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” by 2100.

As per Saturday’s agreement in Kigali, all countries are in one of three groups with different timelines to go about these reductions. The richest countries, including the U.S. and those in the European Union, will freeze the production and consumption of HFCs by 2018, reducing them to about 15 per cent of 2012 levels by 2036. China, Brazil and all of Africa, will freeze HFC use by 2024, cutting it to 20 percent of 2021 levels by 2045.

                                    India is part of a group that will only be freezing HFC use by 2028 and reducing it to about 15 per cent of 2025 levels by 2047.

This however hasn’t been explicitly spelt out by India’s negotiators. In a press statement, Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave only said “We were flexible, accommodative and ambitious. The world is one family and as a responsible member of the global family, we played our part to support and nurture this agreement.”

Unlike the more glamorous Paris agreement that will come into force by 2020 and doesn’t legally bind countries to their promises to cut emissions, the amended Montreal Protocol will bind countries to their HFC reduction schedules from 2019. There are also penalties for non-compliance as well as clear directives that developed countries provide enhanced funding support estimated at billions of dollars globally. The exact amount of additional funding will be agreed at the next Meeting of the Parties in Montreal, in 2017. Grants for research and development of affordable alternatives to hydro fluorocarbons will be the most immediate priority.

The details of this will be worked out in subsequent meetings of the countries committed to the Montreal Protocol agreement.

“India gets to participate in a positive global climate action, while gaining time to allow its heating, ventilation and air-conditioning sectors to grow and refrigerant manufacturers to find a comfortable route to transition and cost of alternatives to fall,” said Lekha Sridhar, a policy analyst with the Council on Energy, Environment and Water.



  • Learning with Bob Dylan

It’s interesting to see so many people care about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, people who otherwise never seem to have engaged with his work or have had scant respect for him; it’s as if this suddenly validates him as an artist in their eyes.

And of course, there are people who are trashing this choice and wondering if this opens the door for lyricists to win the most prestigious literary prize in the world (“What, even Anand Bakshi is eligible now?” being the most memorable query on that front).

Meanwhile, fans of Haruki Murukami, Don DeLillo, Milan Kundera and PhilipRoth are dismayed, and Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh postulates that this is an “ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”

Fair points, no doubt.

But let’s collate. In 2004, when St. Andrews, the oldest university in Scotland, bestowed an honorary degree on Dylan (his second, after the one from Princeton University in 1970), he was asked on stage what his songs were about. Dylan dead-panned: “Some of them are about three minutes and some are about five minutes.” This sits neatly with a famous 1965 interview moment where, in answer to the question, “Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer or a poet?” he replied, “Oh, I think of myself more as a song and dance man, y’know.” The consistency of thought over the decades reveals a great deal about how Dylan sees himself and his art.

Mythologizing lyrics 

Dylan is the greatest creator of songs in human history, if volume, influence, innovation and longevity are prime factors. There is little to argue about there. (But some still do, and I envy them for the time they have on their hands.) But —and this is the relevant departure here — this is not because of his lyrics.

Song lyrics are not meant to be poetry; they may have a lot in common with poetry but fundamentally, the two are different art forms. Otherwise, what stops the finest musicians of our age from teaming up with the greatest contemporary poets and producing unalloyed masterpieces? Has it happened even once in popular music? And if Dylan were primarily a lyrics-writer — like, say, Robert Hunter or Bernie Taupin — do you honestly believe his words would have had anywhere near the same impact? Finally, how many people do you know who read Dylan purely as poetry, as text?

Bob Dylan’s greatness as a songwriter is about how he expressed himself through song. This is self-evident really: that searing sensibility crackling through the ether, where the power of his harmonica complemented that uniquely straining voice delivering those words while guitar chords lurked beneath. Those words are less notable as autonomous poetry than as navigation points for the song as a whole, rhythmically and thematically (a very significant and noticeable role). This may seem blasphemous, but many of his famous lines could easily perhaps be interchanged with others, and no one would really miss them, given the weight of that sensibility, if the familiar words were not lodged in listeners’ heads. It’s not the words themselves that are indispensable; in song, their power lies elsewhere.

There is no doubt that Dylan redefined the scope of the popular song with his own influences: classicist poetry at first, then the Beats and the symbolists (ArthurRimbaud remained a big influence for a long time) in a manner no one has done. And sure, his lyrical expressions often led the way in his own process, but that is as significant to his listeners as whatever else may have inspired him: his Muse or the light falling on the wall or his favourite cushion.

Scholars of all hues have compared Dylan’s lyrics with poetry in the past, with John Keats, WilliamBlake, T.S. Eliot and the Ancient Greeks, most notably the former professor of poetry at Oxford University, Christopher Ricks, in his 2003 book Dylan’s Visions of Sin. It has never been a particularly well-received argument (it is amusing to see indigenous versions of that, with wholly borrowed ideas, proliferate now in the Indian media) because it was devoid of the big picture.

In The New Yorker there is a piece on Leonard Cohen by David Remnick (“Leonard Cohen makes it darker”, October 17, 2016 issue), in which Dylan is quoted as saying, “When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius.” It is a pity not enough people talk about Dylan in that context; there is much, much more to speak of here. (Though Bruce Springsteen did say something very similar about Dylan just last month while promoting his book Born To Run.)

Melody as the mainstay

Dylan’s significance has to be seen in that context. The BBC announced that the ‘folk singer’ had won the Nobel Prize, but Dylan was a folk singer only till early 1965. Most people only seem to remember lyrics from that fledgling part of his career as an artist. Some may remember his seminal folk-rock phase, but how many quote lyrics from his post-accident phase? From his country-rock, confessional, born-again or 1980s phases? Or after he crossed middleage and wrote some of the greatest songs on mortality? There are too many people who claim to be Dylan fans but who haven’t heard his music post-1975 and have no interest in doing so. I’d just submit here that anyone who does not enjoy 2012’s “Tempest” or, indeed, the best music from his later years, is not really a Dylan fan because he or she hasn’t travelled with that unique sensibility and gone into places no one else can take you. They are fans of a kind of nostalgia or the literary quality that Dylan provided in the 1960s or 1970s, but they are not really Bob Dylan fans.

This is where this prize starts making sense. The Nobel citation specifically praises Dylan for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” It does not mention lyrics or words but poetic expressions, which is what song writing is. Dylan used words prominently (but, again, not merely for poetic meaning) to transform an entire art form, not once but several times, and produced some of the greatest songs in history, dozens of which have not dated or stopped influencing other artists. By honouring this quality, the scope of the Nobel Prize in Literature has actually been expanded. Which is not a bad thing in these rapidly changing multimedia times, is it?

With all the criticism pouring in about the prize, this feels like 1965 all over again, when Dylan plugged in his electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival to boo and a famously disapproving Pete Seeger. It’s just another paradigm shift by Bob Dylan.

Personally, while it is irritating for me that Dylan will now be more associated with lyrics than ever before, at least it is satisfying to see him soar over all his peers, comprehensively and definitively.

No musician is winning this prize again anytime soon as no one else has transcended his or her medium quite like Dylan.



  • ‘We are becoming an elections-only democracy’

“Seventy years after India’s independence, we are freer than when the British left our soil but perhaps much less free than what the framers of our Constitution had hoped we would be,” said historian Ramachandra Guha( writer of india after gandhi).

 ‘India at 70: A Historian’s Report Card’

“We have falsified the pundits who said we’ll break up but we still have much more work ahead of us,” he added and concluded that as a “nation-state, India is 80 per cent successful but as a democracy, perhaps only 50 per cent. “My worry is that we are not so much an electoral democracy as much as an elections-only democracy. You win an election and you think you are immune to criticism for the next five years. That was true of the UPA and that was true of the NDA.”

“But democracy is about continuous reflection and interrogation, not just in Parliament. Look at the suppression of our civil society today. The deficiency of our democracy is manifest in the widespread corruption of our political class, the deterioration of our public institutions, particularly our shocking failure in providing quality education and health to our citizens,” he said.

In his lecture, Mr. Guha examined the 70-year history of Independent India through the four principles of Mahatma Gandhi’s Swaraj — non-violence defined as political freedom; Hindu-Muslim unity defined as cultural freedom; abolition of untouchability defined as social justice; and swadeshi defined as economic freedom. While the holding of free and fair elections was a remarkable achievement of Independent India, its record in terms of nurturing freedom of expression evoked concern, he said. In terms of social justice, Mr. Guha argued that the one community that was worse off today was the adivasi community. He lamented the degradation of environment undertaken in the name of growth.

He said the country’s report card on religious freedom was mixed. While Muslims were free to practise their religion, studies had shown that they suffered disproportionately during riots, Kashmir being the single exception. Rajiv Lochan, CEO, Kasturi and Sons Ltd., presented the concluding remarks.



  • Modernised museum brings Nixon up close and personal

Gone are the long rows of wood-framed display cases sprinkled with campaign paraphernalia and lengthy narratives about President Richard Nixon.

Instead, the renovated Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum tells the former president’s story through larger-than-life photographs, interactive touch screens and video of Nixon’s speeches and his eventual departure from the White House. The museum reopened on Friday following a $15 million makeover aimed at bringing the country’s 37th president closer to younger generations less familiar with the Watergate scandal and his ground-breaking trip to China.

“It just wasn’t technologically savvy, and we needed to bring it into the 21st century,” said Michael Ellzey, the library’s director.

The overhaul also brings the 18,000-square-foot museum completely into the fold of the National Archives, which assumed control of the Yorba Linda library in 2007 and inherited exhibits designed by a foundation run by Nixon’s supporters that were seen by many as too partisan.

It is one of 13 presidential libraries that were built with private money and turned over to the National Archives to administer. In Nixon’s case, forming such a partnership was delayed for years by disputes over the records after his resignation and concerns the California site inaccurately portrayed history.

While the section devoted to Watergate was redone in 2011, those focused on the Vietnam War, U.S.-Soviet relations and domestic policy had not been upgraded since 1990. The texts of the new exhibits were reviewed by a panel of four historians chosen by the National Archives.

The Nixon Library, for many years, wanted to present an image of Nixon that was one produced by his friends,” said David Farber, a University of Kansas professor. “The new library is much better. They’re willing to concede there are a lot of controversies about the Nixon presidency.”



  • Can’t ban all imports from China: Centre

India can’t impose a blanket ban on all imports from China, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Friday.

But it is possible to introduce anti-dumping duties and safeguard mechanisms on certain products to protect consumers and producers based on factual evidence, she said.

Her remarks assume significance in context of a growing popular clamour to boycott Chinese goods in view of its stance on India’s security concerns. Though trade between the two Asian economies declined from more than $72 billion in 2014-15 to $70.7 billion in 2015-16, India’s trade deficit with China rose to $52.68 billion from $48.48 billion in 2014-15.

Whatever the reason, we don’t have any mechanism to stop imports from just one specific country. Today, reason may be A, B or C and if we want to stop imports from just that country, this is not possible,” Ms. Sitharaman said in response to a query on curbing imports from China.

“A blanket ban on all imports from a country through a single instrument is impossible,” she said.

Anti-dumping duties

“But if some imports from that country have to be deterred, because it is giving too much subsidies on these products or if there are quality issues, then we have some instruments to stop such imports,” she said, referring to tools such as anti-dumping duties, safeguard measures and import standards to keep out lower quality goods.

“Wherever industry or consumer lobby with information and facts about standards not being followed or products being unsafe and could hurt our children and consumers, then we can invoke standards and stop such imports,” the minister explained. “But you can’t put anti-dumping duty on all products of a country,” she emphasised.

As per the procedure for imposing anti-dumping duties, affected industries have to give the government data on the imports of specific products with the tariff codes.

“Then we investigate and if facts are proven, then those items, we can impose an anti-dumping duty,” Ms. Sitharaman said.

Market access

The minister held ‘intense’ bilateral negotiations with her Chinese counterpart on allowing Indian IT and pharma companies to access the Chinese market, which she stressed can have a ‘substantial, considerable and desirable’ impact on addressing the trade imbalance between the two nations.

“I have been raising these issues since June 2014 but today, I am happy to say that the minister did take cognisance of all of them, explained some and said he will do the maximum to open markets within China,” the minister said.

The Chinese are interested in generic drugs from Indian producers but haven’t yet made it easy for such firms to operate there. “”Our pharma companies have been recognised by the US FDA and EU authorities… why would it take so long for Chinese authorities to do so?”



  • Israel cuts ties with Unesco over Jerusalem draft resolution

Israel suspended cooperation with Unesco on Friday, a day after the U.N. cultural agency adopted a draft resolution that Israel says denies the deep, historic Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem.

Unesco’s draft resolution, sponsored by several Arab countries, uses only the Islamic name for a hilltop compound sacred to both Jews and Muslims, which includes the Western Wall, a remnant of the biblical temple and the holiest site where Jews can pray. The validated resolution is expected early next week, but the wording is unlikely to change.

Israelis and many Jews around the world viewed it as the latest example of an ingrained anti-Israel bias at the UN, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett informed Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova of Israel’s decision on Friday. “Following the shameful decision by Unesco members to deny history and ignore thousands of years of Jewish ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount [called Al-aram al-Sharif in Arabic], I have notified the Israel National Commission for Unesco to suspend all professional activities with the international organisation,” Mr. Bennett said.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, with sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in the 1967 war. Palestinians claim the territory as part of their future state, and its fate is a central dispute

Jews refer to the hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s Old City as the Temple Mount, site of the two Jewish biblical temples. Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. It is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. “The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city,” Ms. Bokova, the head of Unesco, said in a statement.




  • In Xi’s China, can Mao, Marx and Confucius mix?

Not far from the blustery pass of Lou Shan Guan, where a famous battle was fought during the course of the Long March — cranes are working overtime to build a brand new museum, carved out of the lush green slopes of Daloshan mountains.

Over the course of a several months, the state-of-the-art museum will replace the existing wooden double storey structure, of considerable vintage, where exhibits marking the decisive battle are currently displayed.

But this is not the only museum, being built on President Xi Jinping’s watch to lionise the Long March — the epic trek undertaken by the Red Army during the Chinese civil war. Threatened by almost certain annihilation, the Red Army broke through a siege enforced by an alliance of the Kuomintang (KMT) and local warlords. The jaw dropping trek of 12,000 km in the line of fire, over snowy mountains and turbulent rivers, in which hundreds of thousands perished, nevertheless succeeded in preserving the Red Army’s fighting core. In turn, it paved the way for China’s liberation in 1949, and the emergence of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The Long march also elevated Mao Zedong, as the unrivaled leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

South of Lou Shan Guan, less than two hours driving distance away, is the city of Zunyi. Last year, another imposing museum marking the achievements of the Long March was inaugurated here. Zunyi, in Guizhou province became famous in January 1935, when a conference of top 18 CPC functionaries, and representatives from the Moscow based Communist International, was held in the city. During the meeting held in a merchant’s house-an elegant fusion of western and Chinese architectural styles-Mao’s line to advance the Long March prevailed, overriding the strategic orientation of Otto Braun, the German deputed by the Comintern, and the Bolshevik trained Wang Ming, his close ally.

The sprawling new museum, a stone’s throw away from the conference site, narrates the story of the Zunyi conclave, the defining battles of the Long March, and rich biographical details of its leaders.

But in Xi Jinping’s China, the return to Maoist roots-sans the painful Cultural Revolution of the sixties and seventies– is not the only game in town for winning the battle for hearts- and-minds, especially of young Chinese, widely exposed to western culture and values. Well aware of the seemingly seductive charms of democracy, human rights, and colour revolutions, which could permeate in China, President Xi, not taking any chances, is fortifying credible soft-power, which includes a selective revival of Confucian moral values.

Hewn out of a green hillside, a vast center for Confucian learning, visible from far on account of a 30 foot high statue of the ancient philosopher has been opened in Guiyang, the provincial capital of Guizhou. The site set amid a sprawling wetland park, is further south of Zunyi, where memories of Mao are kept studiously alive.

The Confucian Academy is now managed and funded by the local government. It provides free lectures on Confucian philosophy, and has the infra for Confucian scholars to live and work. Provincial officials attend regular courses at the school. The decision to open the facility is a logical fallout of President’s thinking of fusing Confucius with Mao and (Karl) Marx, in order to realise the home-grown “Chinese Dream”.

                                        “To solve China’s problems, we can only search in the land of China for the ways and means that suit it,” Mr. Xi told the 25-member Politburo in October last. He added: “We need to fully make use of the great wisdom accumulated by the Chinese nation over the last 5,000 years.”

Consequently, the CPC has publicly called upon officials, to learn about Confucius and other classical Chinese thinkers. The return to classical thought has echoed in the education ministry, which has decided to encourage inclusion of classical literature in school curriculums.

But President Xi’s novel experiment is still a work-in-progress. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the education ministry slammed a Shanghai school for making 700 children kneel before their parents, as an enforced and excessive mark of reverence. A Beijing school was reprimanded for going overboard on teaching girls “traditional female virtue.” Analysts say that a lengthy process of trial and error appears likely before a new national doctrine, brought about by merger of socialist egalitarian ideas with elements of China’s ancient political culture, can be defined.



  • A return to Cold War tensions

A big foreign policy challenge awaiting the next U.S. President is the frosty relationship with an angry, resurgent Russia. Talk about a post-Cold War partnership between the world’s two greatest military powers is now a thing of the past. It looks like a throwback to the Cold War days with Russia and the U.S. fighting a proxy war in Ukraine, leading two competing military operations in Syria and raising allegations and counter-allegations on a host of issues, ranging from human rights violations and breaking international norms to interfering in each other’s domestic politics. Tensions came to a head this month when the U.S. pulled out of talks with Russia over the Syria conflict. This was immediately after President Vladimir Putin abandoned a key nuclear disarmament treaty with Washington, demanding the removal of sanctions on Moscow. If the belligerence and intransigence both countries display are any indication, international politics is set to get a lot more murky. There could be several triggers for this escalation, but the real problem is that the Cold War-era mistrust between Washington and Moscow was never really buried. Friction has been increasingly evident on the watch of President Putin, as he pursues an aggressive foreign policy framed around what he regards as Russian interests. This happened in Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014 and Syria the year after. In turn, the Obama administration’s coercive diplomacy in dealing with Russia’s aggression has widened the rift. The suspension of Russia from the G8 moved Moscow farther away from the West, while sanctions negated the goodwill built, since the 1990s, between Moscow and the West.

To be sure, Russia is a shadow of what the Soviet Union was at its peak. Its economy is struggling in the wake of the slump in oil prices. Its currency is in a free fall. Its geopolitical influence is largely limited to the Central Asia and Caucasus. And its foreign policy doesn’t have any high moral ground—the interference in Ukraine was a direct threat to the modern international system, while in Syria it’s defending a brutal regime that’s accused of killing its own citizens. But in an international system largely dominated by the U.S., Russia, still an extremely consequential military power, remains the key player whose cooperation is necessary to resolve several of today’s crises. Treating it as a “rogue” nation or trying to isolate and weaken it through sanctions and other means could only be counterproductive. The Iran nuclear deal shows that even the most complex international issues could be resolved if Russia and the U.S. work together with creative diplomacy. Ideally, that should set the model for U.S.-Russia partnership.



  • Goa to celebrate ‘the pao’ at three-day bakers’ fest

Most people usually wake up to the alarm, but what Goans wake up to is the honk of the poder, or traditional baker.

Blessed by tradition, Goa boasts of a large variety of breads, complete with their unusual nomenclature. Celebrating this staple food item and the people behind the craft of bread-making, it will celebrate the Poderachem Fest (traditional bakers’ feast) from October 1 to 3.

This festival will be attended by bakers from across the State to showcase the variety of breads and will also feature cultural programmes.

Into its second year, the three-day event will be held at the Socorro Church Gardens in north Goa, about 10 km from here. There will be stalls dedicated to chouris/pao, roast beef/pie, fish cutlets/mundo, chau/kanknna, chicken/rolls, mincemeat potato/katre, chilly fry /pao , sorpotel/ sanna and chonne ros/poie. Other local delicacies such as omlette-pao and cutlet-pao will also be served and sold at the festival.

The popularity of the Goan bread has travelled beyond its borders, so much so that “pao” is now incorporated in food items across the country: missal pav, pav bhaji, vada pav, maska pav, cutlet pav and so forth.

“The event is being held to pay tributes to Goan pao and the Goan bakers and convey their noteworthy contribution to the culture of the place,” Mario Fernandes, one of the organisers of the event, told The Hindu here on Tuesday.

“Goan pao — the crisp, aromatic, traditional leavened, oven-baked Goan bread — unites Goa every morning. There are villages where the crows might be waking to the ring of the poder making his door to door delivery visits at the crack of dawn,” said Nandkumar M. Kamat, an assistant professor at the Goa University who, in 2010, who headed a State government-appointed Task Force Committee (TFC) to frame an appropriate scheme and package for protection and support for traditional occupations of Goa.

Becoming extinct

The tradition, many here lament, is fast becoming extinct with the proliferation of of new modern state-of-the-art bakery in this tourist state, which happens to be an erstwhile Portuguese colony which has preserved some of its traditions, cuisines and cultures. “Given a choice, many would prefer the pao, fresh and locally made, instead of the sliced bread,” said Dr. Kamat.

Bakers’ plight

Talking about the plight of the bakers, he said many of them still continuing to bake in their congested, hazardous, unhealthy and unhygienic old premises, which reminded one of scenes from Charles Dickens’ novels. Theirs is an institution that has managed to survive against all odds and by weathering unfair competition., he added.

The TFC put the number of local bakers at around 1,000.

The TFC has recommended that since Goan bread was local heritage and met the nutritional demand of lakhs of people, it was important to support the local bakers through a package which included subsidy on raw material purchases, on electric baking ovens to save firewood, on power and water tariffs, a group insurance cover for families and considering the importance of micro-enterprise involved in door-to-door supply of local bread.



  • By Jupiter! Proof of water plumes on moon

More evidence of possible water plumes erupting from the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has been spotted using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the U.S. space agency said Monday.

Europa, one of more than 50 moons circling the gas giant, is considered by NASA as a “top candidate” for life elsewhere in the solar system because it is believed to possess a massive, salty, subsurface ocean that is twice the size of Earth’s.

The latest finding has given scientists fresh hope that a robotic spacecraft could one day fly past these potential plumes and learn about their contents without having to drill kilometres deep into the moon’s icy shell.

“Today, we are presenting new Hubble evidence for water vapour plumes being expelled from the icy surface of Europa,” William Sparks, astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore told reporters on a conference call.

Using ultraviolet images taken by Hubble, a space telescope that was launched in 1990, the potential plumes are seen around the southern edge of Europa and appear as “dark fingers or patches of possible absorption,” Mr. Sparks said.

Three separate occasions

They were spotted on three separate occasions over the course of 15 months in 2014 when scientists observed Europa passing in front of Jupiter. The potential plumes were only observed three out of 10 times when Europa passed by Jupiter, suggesting that the eruptions are intermittent, he said. They also appeared to emerge near the same places, mostly along Europa’s southern edge, where a previous team of scientists in 2012 — using a different instrument aboard Hubble — detected evidence of water vapour reaching more than 160 km into space.

“If plumes exist this is an exciting finding because it potentially gives easier access to the ocean below,” said Mr. Sparks.

However, he cautioned that more evidence is needed for scientists to be certain, whether by more Hubble observations, or by some independent observing technique.

“I do want to stress that the observations are at the limit of what Hubble can do,” he added. “We do not claim to have proven the existence of plumes but rather to have contributed evidence that such activity may be present.”

Future mission

NASA announced last year that it intends to send a robotic spacecraft, equipped with a suite of scientific instruments, to circle Europa in the 2020s. This mission will not seek to find life, but will measure the habitability of Europa, to see if conditions exist that could sustain living organisms on the moon which orbits Jupiter every three and a half days.

Last year, data from Hubble confirmed that Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede, has an underground ocean that with more water than Earth’s, broadening the hunt for places in the solar system where life might be able to exist.


  • Cheap method to make graphene nanosheets

By using a simple, inexpensive and quick process, researchers from the University of Madras have been able to produce a monolayer or a few layers thick graphene nanosheets from graphite material without using any strong oxidising or reducing agents. The results were published in the journal Materials Letters.

Among several techniques adopted to synthesise graphene from graphite, the liquid phase exfoliation methods have been found to be facile and cost-effective.

Yet, the use of strong solvents and relatively low yield has turned out to be major drawbacks, limiting its utilisation in the large-scale production of graphene.

“Commercialisation of high-quality graphene sheets calls for the exploration of a simple, effective, and inexpensive method for its engineering and environmental applications,” says Dr. S. Balakumar, Director of the National Centre for Nanosciences and Nanotechnology, University of Madras.

Dr. S. Balakumar and one of his students, M. Balasubramaniam, used ultrasound along with water, glacial acetic acid (CH3COOH), which is a mild solvent, and ethanol (C2H6O) to exfoliate graphite into graphene sheets.

Additional energy

While electrostatic bonds between the cleavage planes do not allow the acid to get in, supplying additional mechanical energy in the form ultrasonic waves enables the organic acid to penetrate deeper into the graphitic flakes and exfoliate the individual layers of graphene.

“Probe sonication is an effective method for the exfoliation of molybdenum sulphide, another material similar to graphite. It is likely that in presence of molecules like acetic acid, exfoliation of graphite is effective,” according to Prof. T. Pradeep from the Department of Chemistry, IIT Madras, who wasn’t involved in the research.



  • A case for accepting the WTO ruling

The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Appellate Body has declared certain domestic content requirements (DCRs) in India’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) illegal. Under JNNSM, whose goal is to make India “a global leader in solar energy”, the government enters into long-term electricity purchase contracts with eligible solar power developers (SPDs), assuring them guaranteed prices for 25 years. This government-procured electricity is then sold to distribution companies who, in turn, sell it to consumers. However, only those SPDs who source certain types of solar cells and modules domestically are eligible. The objective evidently is to favour domestic solar cells and modules over imported ones. It was this DCR measure that the U.S. challenged in the WTO. There are three dimensions in this case that need a closer look: the legal issues, environmental impact, and India-U.S. trade relations.

Legal issues

Subject to limited exceptions, the WTO treaty prohibits countries from discriminating against goods based on origin or destination. This core non-discrimination commitment is given effect through several legal provisions, including the one that outlaws domestic laws that make it necessary for an enterprise to purchase or use products of domestic origin to obtain an advantage. According to the Appellate Body, India’s DCR measure in JNNSM violates this rule and the general prohibition against discrimination between imported and domestic products.

India argued that its DCR measures should be excused because they fall under three exceptions. The first is under Article III.8 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) that renders the rule against discrimination inapplicable to government procurement. The Appellate Body rejected this. Relying on the previous WTO jurisprudence in Canada, the Renewable Energy/Canada — Feed-in Tariff Programme case, it held that for a measure to fall under Article III.8, the product procured should be in a competitive relationship with the product being discriminated against. Since the government procured electricity while the discrimination was against solar panels, this test of competitive relationship is not satisfied.

The second is under Article XX(j) of GATT that allows a country to adopt measures ‘essential’ to the acquisition or distribution of products in general or local ‘short supply’. India argued that since the domestic production of solar modules is limited, these products are in ‘short supply’. The Appellate Body disagreed and held that whether a product is in ‘short supply’ has to be determined by looking at supply from all sources, not just domestic. On this basis, the Appellate Body said there is no shortage of supply of solar panels.

The third is under Article XX(d), which allows countries to adopt measures ‘necessary to secure compliance with laws or regulations’ that are not inconsistent with GATT. However, India failed to show a domestic law or an international legal norm with direct application in India, compliance with which necessitated the DCR.

Environmental impact

Two questions are pertinent here. First, does this ruling stifle India’s efforts to move towards clean energy? No, because the ruling is not against JNNSM but only against use of DCR measures. So, the government can continue with JNNSM by allowing the SPDs the free choice to either import solar cells and modules or buy from domestic industry.

                                           Second, does this ruling reflect WTO’s bias towards free trade over environment? No, because Article XX of GATT clearly recognises a country’s sovereign right to regulate not just for environmental objectives but also for health, public morals, and so on. However, the WTO treaty limits the policy choices available to WTO members as to how to achieve these goals. The fundamental principle is that inequitable costs of pursuing these goals should not be unilaterally transferred to other WTO member countries. So, for example, if multiple options are available to achieve an environmental purpose, the least trade restrictive one that is reasonably available to the state must be chosen. Similarly, to pursue environmental objectives, a country cannot adopt measures that result in arbitrary or unjustified discrimination or constitute disguised restriction on trade.

India-U.S. trade relations

Today, India-U.S. trade stands at over $100 billion annually. Both countries aspire to increase this to $500 billion by “breaking down barriers to movement of goods and services”, as stated in the India-U.S. Joint Statement of June 2016. However, the solar panel case paints the opposite picture where new barriers are being erected. In fact, it is not just this dispute. Currently, in four ongoing disputes at the WTO, the two countries accuse each other of raising trade barriers.

One, India has recently, similar to the US challenge, filed a case against the U.S. at the WTO challenging the DCRs and subsidies provided by eight U.S. states in the renewable energy sector. India should have done this when the U.S. challenged India’s DCR measures in 2013. That might have given India some scope to negotiate for a bilateral settlement. Two, in March this year, India filed a case against the U.S. for its alleged violation of its WTO commitments by imposing increased fees on certain applicants for L-1 and H-1B categories of non-immigrant visas. Three, the U.S. has requested the WTO to allow it to suspend concessions to the tune of $450 million annually against India for India’s alleged failure to comply with the WTO ruling in the poultry case. India’s ban on imports of poultry products from the U.S. on concerns related to Avian influenza was held illegal by the WTO in 2015. Four, in another 2014 case related to imposing countervailing duty measures by the U.S. on certain hot rolled carbon steel flat products from India, India accuses the U.S. for not complying with the WTO ruling yet.

The solar panel case is a sober reminder that India should not pursue protectionist measures outlawed by the WTO under the garb of pursuing clean energy goals. India should comply with this ruling. Else, under WTO law, the U.S. will erect new trade barriers against India. Compliance will be in India’s interest because mandatory domestic sourcing irrespective of costs might make solar power generation unfeasible, thus impairing India’s own objective. India should not commit the mistake of replacing the illegal DCR measures with WTO-prohibited subsidies to safeguard solar manufacturing, as the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has indicated, because these subsidies might trigger more WTO cases against India. Interests of domestic solar companies need to be divorced from clean energy goals.



  • Zuckerberg, Chan pledge $3 bn to end disease

Face book CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a goal that’s even more ambitious than connecting the entire world to the internet: He and his wife want to help eradicate all diseases by the end of this century.

Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are committing $3 billion over the next 10 years to accelerate basic scientific research, including the creation of research tools to yet-undiscovered techniques they hope will ultimately lead to scientific breakthroughs, the way the microscope and DNA sequencing have in generations past.

The goal, which they are unlikely to live to see accomplished, is to “cure, prevent or manage all disease” in the next 80 or so years. They acknowledge that this might sound crazy, but point to how far medicine and science have come in the last century with vaccines, statins for heart disease, chemotherapy, etc.

                                   “So if you even just assume that we’ll be able to continue to make progress on that same trajectory, then that implies that by the end of this century we will have been able to solve most of these types of things,” Zuckerberg said in an interview. He and Chan have spent the past two years speaking to scientists and other experts to plan the endeavour.

Through their philanthropic organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the commitment includes $600 million to fund a new research centre in San Francisco where scientific and medical researchers will work alongside engineers on long-term projects spanning years or even decades. The goal is not to focus narrowly on specific ailments, such as bone cancer or Parkinson’s disease, but rather to do basic research.

Chan’s work as a pediatrician seems to be a big driver in the couple’s decision to take up this cause.

“I’ve been with families where we’ve hit the limit of what’s possible through medicine and science,” Chan said. “I’ve had to tell families devastating diagnoses of leukemia, or that we just weren’t able to resuscitate their child.”

The couple spoke with The Associated Press in their home in Palo Alto, California, where their infant daughter, Max, had just woken from a nap. Their dog, Beast, came by to sit briefly during the 25-minute interview.

Zuckerberg and Chan hope that their effort will inspire other far-reaching efforts and collaboration in science, medicine and engineering, so that basic research is no longer relegated to the margins.



  • Section of Great Wall of China marred in name of restoration

Chinese officials are being pilloried over the smoothing-over of a crumbling but much-loved 700-year-old section of the Great Wall of China a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the name of restoration.

The widely mocked project involved an 8 km unrestored Xiaohekou section of the wall that has become known as the “most beautiful wild Great Wall”.

Defensive works and guard towers were knocked flat as part of the project, officially launched to prevent further deterioration caused by the elements. Reports said sand and other materials were poured on top, protecting it but giving it the appearance of an elevated bike path running through steep forested hills.

The head of the Liaoning Provincial Antiquities Bureau, Ding Hui, was quoted by the newspaper Beijing News on Wednesday as saying the work was completed two years ago over the course of three months as part of a government restoration plan.

“It really was an ugly repair job,” Ding conceded.

The wall section built during the Ming Dynasty in 1381 lies in Liaoning’s Suizhong county along the border with Hebei province.

‘Approved by the govt.’

An official reached by phone at the government’s Culture Bureau in Huludao city, which oversees Suizhong, said he had been told the restoration plan had been approved at the central government level by the State Administration of Cultural Relics.

                                          “The old wall was badly damaged over a long period of history and the restoration work was aimed at preventing it from falling apart and being washed away by the rain,” said the official, who like many Chinese government bureaucrats declined to give his name because he wasn’t authorised to speak to the media.

Many of the reports on the restoration lamented its inconsistency, with different materials, including lime, mortar and concrete, used in different places.


  • Daimler India to unveil sub-9 tonne truck soon

Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV) Pvt Ltd., will roll out Bharat Benz-branded medium-duty sub-9 tonne truck from its Oragadam plant near Chennai next year and plans to enter markets such as Peru, Chile and Mexico.

The project titled Titan would be the third product from the stable and would be in 6-9 tonnes category, said Marc Llistosella, head of Daimler Truck Asia at a round table with Asian journalists.

“The heavy-duty truck generation is full-fledged and now we have all the products on stage from 6 tonnes to 49 tonnes. We can now start selling in other markets and expansion is going on,” he said.

The company has so far sold 49,000 units made at the Oragadam plant, including exports of 7,000 units, over four years.

“We are currently at 52,000 or 53,000 units. It is quite an achievement in four years,” he said referring to the truck output.

The company is expanding its dealership network in the country, he said. It has more than 100 sales touch-points in India. “We have now started the third wave of dealership in rural areas where there is growth,” he said.

DICV exports trucks under the Fuso brand in Africa and the Middle-East. It has plans to enter other markets such as Peru, Chile and Mexico, Mr. Llistosella said. By the end of 2016, it would be present in 30 markets and add 10 more markets by 2017, according to him.

2017 break-even

DICV is aiming to achieve break-even by the third quarter of 2017, said its CEO and Managing Director, Erich Nesselhauf.

According to him, the Indian economy was ‘extremely’ challenging. “We are ready to do anything to achieve break even. But, there are four challenges to achieving it – GST, BS IV, the scrap page scheme and overloading. All these things we are ready with. But we have to synchronise it. A delay of few months in implementation of GST will be good.”

Sales affected

Wolfgang Bernhard, Member of Board of management Daimler AG, said that the sales volumes of DICV in India had been affected due to ‘uncertainty’ around the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the BS-IV norms.

Though the company started Q1 of this fiscal with a 26 per cent rise in sales, he said that the uncertainty impacted the Q2 performance. Sales contracted about 0.3 per cent for DICV in the two quarters put together.

The second quarter was not good as the Indian government announced GST without naming the number (rate of GST) and the date when it takes effect. This has caused risks and uncertainty in marketplace. Buyers are postponing their decisions,” he told reporters.

“Therefore, our request to the Indian government is to remove this uncertainty as soon as possible, and to please tell us the number and date Right now, Indian market is declining We are (in the same position as) last year. All the good prospects have been wiped out,” he said.



  • Something for everyone

A landmark meeting of 33 people is currently under way in New Delhi. This is the meeting of the newly constituted Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council, comprising representatives of the 29 States, two Union territories, and the Finance Minister along with his deputy. The GST Council will lay the foundation for the future of India’s cooperative federalism. Can a nation with an extremely diverse and dissimilar set of States amicably transition to a ‘one nation, one tax’ GST regime is the $250 billion (of indirect taxes) question.

Rainbow nation

The GST Council has a minister representing the median 30-year-old matriculation-educated Tamilian, earning roughly Rs.1.4 lakh per annum. It also has a minister representing the median 19-year-old primary school-educated Bihari earning a mere one-fourth of her fellow Tamilian. The Finance Minister of Maharashtra representing one-seventh of the entire country’s GDP will attempt to strike a fair deal on equal terms with the minister representing Sikkim with less than 1 per cent of Maharashtra’s GDP! Neither the European Union nor the United States nor even China exhibit such stark contrasts in demographics, human development and economic parameters across their large provinces as India. In this context, this transition to a uniform GST regime is both extremely audacious and laudable. Reconciling diverse preferences of all the member States of the GST Council to determine a uniform set of indirect taxes across the nation is a ‘Mangalyaan’ task. But it is possible to accomplish this mission by adhering to some basic guiding principles. We present below a five-point thematic framework for the GST Council. But first, it is essential to remove some misplaced notions around GST.

One, the revenue neutral rate (RNR) is a utopian chase. It is best to acknowledge that under a new GST regime, it is impossible to predict how tax collections will be in the short and longer term. It is futile to agonise over an exact rate at which there will be no loss of tax revenues for all the States.

Two, fear of loss of revenues to large States due to a lower GST rate is exaggerated. Large States can also benefit from a significantly higher share of service tax revenues to their kitty under the destination-based GST regime.

Three, it is a false notion that high GST rates will not affect the poor since half of the consumption basket is not taxed. This assumption, that the government knows precisely what the poor and rich consume, is bizarre and outdated. The government decides that regular biscuits is an ‘essential’ good and is not taxed while cream biscuits is a ‘luxury’ good that is taxed at the highest rate. Meat may be a ‘non-essential’ food item for the poorer Bihari but ‘essential’ for a richer Keralite. Given India’s stark economic diversity, there are no uniform standards for the poor across the country.

Five guiding principles

The five guiding principles for a possible consensus on GST:

One, forget RNR, instead guarantee a minimum for each State: States are bound to be apprehensive about potential revenue losses in this transition to a GST regime. The leaders of these States have budget commitments to keep and elections to fight. Guaranteeing the States a minimum amount of GST revenues will relieve them of the risks of tax buoyancy. Every State can be guaranteed a minimum combined GST (Central and State GST) revenues for a period of five years or a State election, whichever is earlier. This minimum revenue formula should include all of the State’s 2015-16 non-petroleum, non-sin goods indirect tax revenues.

Two, keep it small and simple: A simple and low standard GST rate should be set to incentivise tax compliance and boost overall tax collections. In order to minimise overall inflationary impact, the standard GST rate slab should be 15 per cent, equal to the current services tax rate including all cesses. There can then be a slab for low rate, a merit rate and a high de-merit rate. It is then up to the GST council to categorise goods and services into these four slabs.

We acknowledge that a guaranteed revenue stream and a minimum GST rate can be potentially hazardous to the Centre’s fiscal situation. In the impossible trinity of keeping rates low, reimbursing States and keeping fiscal prudence, it may be worth relaxing fiscal discipline, as an investment into the future of a smooth functioning GST.

Three, no more State-specific tax incentives; increase threshold for exemption: Different States have different thresholds under which businesses are exempt from State taxes. Typically for large States, any business with an annual turnover of less than Rs.10 lakh is exempt. Since a uniform GST will remove the States’ ability to attract new businesses with tax incentives, there is an understandable fear of new job creation in the more developed States. Raising this threshold for GST exemption from the current average of Rs.10 lakh to, say, Rs.40 lakh can incentivise existing small businesses to grow faster, thereby creating new jobs. While outwardly, this may seem unfair to the smaller States, they may actually stand to gain in the longer run as this can attract larger businesses to smaller States where land and labour are ostensibly cheaper.

Four, minimal categories of exemption: Petroleum and petro products along with sin goods such as alcohol and tobacco are already exempt from the current GST law, allowing States to levy appropriate taxes on these goods. With a guaranteed minimum GST revenue for each State for a certain period and an overall low GST rate, it is in both the interest of the States and the Centre to then not allow for any more goods or services to be exempt from GST.

Five, incentivise States for GST collection: The key to a successful GST regime is increased tax revenues to States failing which it is bound to get fractious in the years to come. Since GST is a destination tax concept, it is best to give each State the greater responsibility to collect both Central and State GST taxes within its State. The more the States collect, the more they get back.

It took three years post-Independence for the Constituent Assembly to draft the Constitution of India that has remained the edifice on which the Republic of India still stands firm. The GST Council has a similar weight of responsibility in cementing the economic unity of India on a seemingly shaky pluralistic foundation. It is an onerous task that deserves debate, discussion and consensus.


  • Giving Africa its due

The Population Reference Bureau (PRB) in Washington, D.C. recently released its latest estimates of global, regional and country population numbers and population growth projections. They are sobering. Our world is estimated to currently host 7.4 billion people, and this is projected to rise to 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.9 billion in 2050.

Don’t blame it on ‘them’

By any reckoning 9.9 billion is large, and these global numbers naturally make many people apprehensive about things like the earth’s carrying capacity and environmental sustainability. Even if the discussions around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) skirt the ‘population question’, there is no shortage of groups and agencies and private conversations virtuously horrified by the prospect of so many more of ‘them’. Because of course, it is ‘them’ that mess up the earth, never us.

Sometimes, the ‘them’ refers to the poor and the uneducated in one’s own backyard (in India, for some reason, it is the apparently unbridled fertility of domestic workers that we most frequently shake our heads over); at other times, it’s the multiplying hordes in other parts of the world. These days, the disaggregated figures on population growth lead to the greatest finger-pointing at Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa. And there is a correspondingly large industry devoted to spreading contraception in that region.

Giving African women (and men) the same access to voluntary birth control that those in most other parts of the world have is of course a good idea from the point of view of women’s reproductive health and rights. But as far as the relationship between population and the SDGs goes, perhaps the gaze should turn elsewhere.

It is true that PRB estimates that Africa’s population will reach a whopping 2.5 billion by 2050. Asia’s will rise to 5.1 billion and Europe’s will fall from 740 million to 728 million. Asia will look gross, but it is already very large and the expected increase is of only (only!) 900 million. It is Africa that will be bounding forward in growth terms – almost doubling its numbers between now and 2050.

So it is Africa that is the most worrying, at least a first glance. But only at first glance. The PRB factsheet has some other very interesting data that should divert us from Africa’s population size and growth to focus a little more about what is happening elsewhere. Take just two examples below.

One of the central reasons for caring about population size is because it affects population density, and population density is a good measure of the pressure on resources; in Malthusian language, it is a very good indicator of the strains on food production. But the latest figures suggest that many of the countries in Africa are not really ‘over-populated’ by this measure: population densities in several of these countries are around or less than 500 persons per square kilometre of arable land. Compare this to figures of closer to a thousand in Asia (China: 1296; India: 846) or West Asia (Saudi Arabia: 1033; Jordan: 3543) or Latin America (Venezuela: 1149; Colombia: 2899) or even many of the rich island states (U.K.: 1047; Japan: 2958; South Korea: 3396).

If malnutrition and under nutrition levels are high in Africa (and they are), it is not because of population impacting the land available for agriculture.

A second frequent reason for disquiet about population is for its presumed impact on the environment. Population size is an important factor in the old I = f(PAT) equation which states that environmental impact is a function of population, affluence and technology. Without going to the trouble of quantifying these components, the PRB data on one important variable are telling. The factsheet tells us what percent of total energy consumption in a country comes from renewable resources.

Sustainable consumption

The African countries, especially the Sub-Saharan ones, are the least blameworthy in this respect — the majority of them get 75 per cent or more, often as high as 90 per cent or more, of their energy from such renewable resources. Compare this to the alarmingly low figures (in spite of much publicity and advocacy around the question of carbon emissions) for the rest of the world — a mere 4 per cent of energy use in the U.K. is from renewable sources; in Russia, it is 3 per cent, in Australia 8 per cent, in the U.S. 8 per cent. Ninety per cent or more of the energy consumption from this second group comes from non-renewable sources. If campaign promises are to be believed, a Republican President in the U.S. will mean even less interest in reducing dependence on coal and other carbon spewing non-renewables.

African women need access to good contraceptive services for reasons of autonomy, health and human rights. But the population growth in that region, even as it outpaces every other part of the world, cannot be blamed for the food or environmental problems of Africa or the rest of the world.

Alaka M. Basu, a professor in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University, is currently Senior Fellow, United Nations Foundation.


  • Getting Railways on track

That it took 69 years after Independence for India to merge the Railway Budget with the Union Budget is an indication of how difficult it can be to junk colonial-era traditions that may have outlived their utility. In 1924, when the first Railway Budget was presented, the Railways entailed more funds than India’s expenditure on all other aspects of administration combined. So it made sense to present a separate Budget. That equation changed long ago, and now the Railways’ outlay is just 6 per cent of the total expenditure proposed in the Union Budget for this year. In fact, revenues from the domestic aviation business are more than the Railways’ traffic earnings. Nearly Rs.2.5 lakh crore has been planned this year as defence expenditure, but it found little mention in the Finance Minister’s Budget speech. Yet, the ritual of the Rail Budget has continued even as the economy opened up over the past 25 years. A key reason that it lingered so long is India’s fractured polity and the tendency of coalition partners to demand Railways as a juicy portfolio with its possibilities for populist posturing and patronage. With the luxury of a majority in the Lok Sabha and a Railway Minister like Suresh Prabhu who has refused to use the Rail Budget as a launch pad for new trains and railway lines, the NDA has thrown its weight behind a plan that takes away the annual temptation to make the Railways a vote-magnet.

India’s annual economic jamboree will now be over in two days — the tabling of the Economic Survey followed by the Union Budget — instead of three. Railway Ministers will no longer need to conjure up fancy and often regurgitated promises about new, improved services for passengers without charging them the operational costs of reaching their destination. The pressure to hold commuter fares has skewed the Railways’ freight rates, year after year. Indeed, the change is already being felt; tweaking of tariffs outside the Budget has begun. Consider the changes in coal freight and the introduction of flexible pricing on premium passenger trains. However, the Centre needs to now seriously consider setting up an independent tariff regulator to depoliticise fares. New lines and trains should be determined by economic viability rather than the constituencies covered. Initiatives such as demand-driven clone trains must be deployed to boost earnings, and the Rs.37,000-crore tab on social obligations, including concessional ticketing, must be borne by the exchequer. The Railways’ accounts need to be cleaned up and made bankable. Scrapping the Rail Budget is a good starting point to fix the fading utility. Bringing it back safely on track will take a lot more doing, and undoing.



  • SC to hear plea on destroying Maggi noodles past expiry date

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a plea by Nestle India for permission to destroy over 500 tonnes of recalled stock of Maggi noodles past their expiry date.

A Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and C. Nagappan will hear the petition on September 30, while asking the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to file its response by that time.

Nestle said huge quantities of noodles are stored in 39 locations all over the country. Over 38,000 tonnes have already been incinerated as of September 1, 2015 following the due process agreed with the food regulator. Continuing to store massive quantities of noodles past their shelf life may prove to be a hazard to health.

But the FSSAI counsel submitted that the destruction of stocks can also be construed as destruction of evidence, especially when the matter is pending in the apex court.

On April 5, a Mysuru-based government laboratory had given its test report on Maggi noodles in a sealed cover to the apex court. On January 13, the apex court had asked the Mysuru lab to clarify whether the test reports relating to lead and glutamic acid in Maggi noodles were within permissible parameters under the law.


  • Bar Council to varsities: Set age limit for law courses

The Bar Council of India (BCI), a statutory body under the Advocates Act of 1961 mandated among other functions to represent bar and set standards on legal education including grant of recognition to universities/colleges, has asked vice-chancellors/registrars/principals to ensure that no person above the age of 20/30 years secures admission for a three/five year undergraduate law course respectively.

A BCI circular on September 19 acquired further significance as the Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed petitions challenging Maharashtra’s Common Entrance Test (CET) for law.

On August 29, the apex court had issued notice asking both the Bar Council of India and the Maharashtra government to file a response.

In its circular addressed to chiefs of law universities and colleges, the Council has made out a case that Clause 28 of Schedule III of Legal Education Rules 2008 which deals with age restriction for taking admission in LL.B course, which was scrapped by the body in 2013 but restored by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court in 2015, stands revived after the Supreme Court had refused to entertain in December 2015 a special leave petition by it challenging the High Court verdict.

Many petitions since 2013

The subject on whether there should be a bar on the age at which a person can pursue any law course has been a matter of myriad petitions before several courts since 2013.

The dispute is over the validity of a Government of India gazette notification in March, 2009 stating that the upper age limit for admission in LL.B three year course was 30 years and for LL.B five year course was 20 years.

As per Clause 28, upper age-limit for admission in LL.B three year course was 30 years and for LL.B five year course was 20 years.

In 2013 the BCI had withdrawn Clause 28 vide resolution No. 200/2013 thereby age restriction was removed for admission in LL.B three year and five year course.

The withdrawal was challenged before the Madurai Bench of the High Court of Madras which held that withdrawal of Clause 28 by the BCI was illegal.

Subsequently, Bar Council of India challenged the decision of the High Court of Madras before the Supreme Court.

The apex court dismissed the Special Leave Appeal in November 2015.



  • Haunting sounds recorded from Jupiter’s aurora

Scientists have recorded haunting sounds cast by Jupiter’s auroras, captured by NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft during its first full orbit around the king of planets.

The radio emissions cast by Jupiter’s auroras — light shows similar to the northern and southern lights on Earth — were recorded by an instrument, called Waves, as the Juno spacecraft travelled about 4,100 km above Jupiter’s swirling clouds. Those emission recordings were then converted into sound files by researchers at University of Iowa (UI).

The emissions from Jupiter were discovered in the 1950s but had never been analysed from such a close vantage point, according to NASA.

“Jupiter is talking to us in a way only gas-giant worlds can,” said Bill Kurth, research scientist at the UI.

“Waves detected the signature emissions of the energetic particles that generate the massive auroras that encircle Jupiter’s north pole,” said Mr. Kurth. “These emissions are the strongest in the solar system. Now we are going to try to figure out where the electrons that are generating them come from,” he said.

The scientists want to learn how electrons and ions are accelerated along magnetic field lines above Jupiter to eventually collide with the atmosphere, creating the bursts of light that become the auroras.

To do that, the Waves instrument will sample plasma waves along different segments in the magnetic field lines with each of its orbits around Jupiter.

Mr. Kurth likened plasma to a stringed instrument. “If you pluck a string on a violin, the string vibrates. The vibrating string is like the plasma itself; in the plasma it is the charged particles that are moving,” he said.

Yet those radio waves cannot be heard. Instead, they need to be “downshifted” to the audio range and then compressed to turn multiple hours of measurements into an abbreviated soundtrack, Mr. Kurth said.


  • Foremost place for Buddhism in new Constitution, says Ranil

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recent remarks that Buddhism would be given the foremost place in Sri Lanka’s new Constitution have sparked concern among sections.

“As a state, the President, I and all of us protect Buddhism, not through words, but through action,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said recently, the State-run Daily News newspaper reported.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said all political parties and religious leaders across faiths had “no issue in giving priority to protect Buddhism in the country.” He added the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main political grouping here representing Sri Lanka’s northern Tamils, agreed to retain those articles protecting Buddhism in the existing Constitution unchanged.

Exclusionary move

However, TNA parliamentarian and senior human rights lawyer, M.A. Sumanthiran, said he would oppose such a move. “If equality is a provision, then you cannot give primacy to one religion,” he told The Hindu on Wednesday. Terming the move “exclusionary”, he said while the TNA would not mind “some kind of recognition to Buddhism or Buddha’s teachings”, giving the religion the foremost place, explicitly, was discriminatory.

Buddhists are Sri Lanka’s majority religious group, accounting for about 70 per cent of the island’s population. Hindus are the largest religious minority, constituting 12.6 per cent of the population, while Muslims and Christians, respectively, make up 9.7 per cent and 7.6 per cent.

Following the January 2015 Presidential elections that brought about a regime change in Sri Lanka, the country embarked upon drafting a new constitution that, a section of lawyers and civil society hoped, would be “secular”.

Mr. Wickremesinghe’s remarks have made evident that the newly-elected government would retain the special place given to Buddhism in the 1972 and 1978 constitutions.

Senior constitutional lawyer Jayampathy Wickramaratne, who currently chairs a government-appointed committee to guide the Constitution-making process, said Sri Lanka is a “secular state” on the basis that there is no state religion. “To that extent, giving Buddhism the foremost place does not necessarily make the Constitution anything other than secular,” he told The Hindu.




Debate on secularism

If a country does not have an official state religion, it is secular, Mr. Wickramaratne said, giving examples. “India does not have a state religion, so it is secular. But Islam is the state religion of Pakistan, therefore Pakistan is not a secular state.”

The debate over giving primacy to Buddhism in the Constitution comes amid concerns over apparently growing religious intolerance and alleged Sinhala-Buddhist colonisation in post-war Sri Lanka.

Cautioning that “such an exclusionary” provision might spark tensions and old fears, Mr. Sumanthiran said it should be remembered that it was a similar constitutional provision that privileged one language over the other that eventually became a cause for Sri Lanka’s civil war.

“It was a turning point. That happens when you give the foremost place to one religion or language,” he added.



  • Porkalathil Oru Poo’s release prospects wither with censor heat


The Madras High Court has upheld the decision of the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) to deny certification to Bengaluru-based filmmaker K. Ganeshan’s Tamil film Porkalathil Oru Poo (A flower in a battlefield). The film’s script is based on the life of slain LTTE journalist Isaipriya, who was allegedly raped and killed by the Sri Lankan armed forces during the final stages of the civil war in 2009.

Originally, in May 2015, the Central Board for Film Certification had refused to clear the film for screening. Later, in August last year, the FCAT denied certification for the film holding that it was replete with terrorism, violence, sexual perversions and degradation of women, reflecting adversely on the Sri Lankan administration and army, and is therefore likely to affect the friendly relations with the island nation. This, after Mr. Ganeshan agreed to make some cuts and mute certain dialogues in the film.

The filmmaker moved the court challenging the FCAT’s decision. However, by an order dated September 29, Justice T.S. Sivagnanam has upheld the appellate tribunal’s decision.

Family too objects

Incidentally, Vetharanjani and Dharmini Vahisan, mother and sister of Isaipriya respectively, were also opposed to the release of the movie. “Isaipriya has been portrayed as a militant. The theme of the movie is entirely based on family members and they are the characters in the film. It is petitioner’s own creation and imaginary commercial story and he has done so only for the personal gain,” they had argued.

Ganeshan, who said that he was inspired to make a film about Isaipriya after he saw the Channel 4 documentary ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’, argued that his film was based on published facts. “I tried a lot to make sure that Isaipriya’s mother and sister watched the movie. I even went to England with the film; but it didn’t happen,” he claimed.

The filmmaker admitted that he was ready to make changes to ensure that the film was cleared. “According to the suggestion made by the CBFC and FCAT, I reduced the duration of the sexual assault scenes in the climax by six minutes. They also wanted me to remove (Tamil Nadu Chief Minister) Jayalalithaa’s speech about a resolution related to Sri Lanka which runs for 18 seconds in the beginning of the film, which I didn’t accept,” he said.

“I had even said that I will remove the claim ‘based on true events’ and even change the names of the character. Still, it didn’t work,” Mr. Ganeshan added.



  • The alphabet soup at Goa

The annual BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Goa on October 15-16 is undeniably the main course but hidden in the main course is a set of ingredients with an independent chemistry, the IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa), along with the plat d’accompagnement, BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), that has as much potential as the main course. South Block will need to use this opportunity to respond to the current realities in India’s north and west, even as it consolidates India’s diplomatic push east and south, while opening new avenues for engaging its western partners in innovative ways.

The American factor

Even a cursory reading of India’s foreign policy under Mr. Modi reveals an unmistakable shift of its locus westward. A concrete manifestation of this shift is the vigorous engagement with the U.S. on defence, counterterrorism, as well on global-commons issues such as climate change. Both countries find themselves now (more often than not) speaking in the same voice, articulating the same objectives, and confronting similar challenges, be it the rise of Islamist terror or Chinese ambivalence towards a rules-based order.

Arguably and beyond the ‘values’ discourse, this deep engagement with the geographical west is a lynchpin of the Indian strategy towards being a putative great power seeking to shape international norms in the 21st century. Even so, it cannot and should not disengage with other powers such as China and Russia, howsoever different their value systems may appear today. They are in one instance a large neighbour with historical antipathy, and in the other India’s only resort to strategic arsenals and high technology pursuits.

There is also genuine convergence in certain areas — such as non-interventionism and on political-economy issues, between India and China and India and Russia. In the case of China, the tyranny of bilateral disputes (mostly on the strategic side) has prevented both countries from exploring much common ground. And with Russia, the U.S.-India entente is being understood by Moscow as a substantial shift in the intent of India towards the bilateral relationship. In fact, there seems to have been a serious underestimation in both capitals of the drift in the India-Russia relationship. Perhaps the Uri terror attack was an important moment for both to realise that extent.

This is where BRICS comes in. Through the presence of two other actors, Brazil and South Africa, not party to complicated triangular geopolitical dynamics, India in BRICS seeks to downplay its bilateral disputes with China and engage with it on issues where there is space for beneficial cooperation. The China relationship today is heading south, and with effort, it may at best become a well-managed one. With Russia on the other hand, India needs to use this summit meet and the BRICS engagement to reclaim its traditional space and reassure the Kremlin that Moscow is India’s foremost global partner.

The decision to invite BIMSTEC countries, in place of SAARC, to the BRICS summit is clearly a decision that relocates India’s ‘neighbourhood first’ policy to its east. With this decision, Mr. Modi seeks to bring his neighbourhood policy, India’s ‘act east’ policy, and its global governance goals, engaged with through the BRICS, in sync with each other. Brazil, Russia and South Africa have very limited in-roads into the Bay of Bengal littorals and may discover merit in engaging with this community. By playing the role of a ‘sincere interlocutor’ between BRICS and BIMSTEC, India stands to gain influence in both (despite China’s growing presence) as a benign transcontinental bridge.

The IBSA potential

This BRICS summit will also be an occasion for the three democracies in that grouping to meet on the sidelines and plot their future course. IBSA is in many ways more organic than BRICS. Beyond the shared commitment to democracy, the three countries are truly southern and developing economies and have the potential to emerge as a marquee example of south-south cooperation of emerging liberal economies across three continents. Without the presence of two military/economic behemoths, IBSA is a grouping of equals, more than BRICS can ever be. However, IBSA, it seems, struggles to excite either South Africa or Brazil, who feel sated in the presence of China and Russia at the BRICS.

This can be changed. Going forward, IBSA should engage with both the U.S. and one European power, like Germany, to promote a true concert of democracies across each continent, bringing advanced economies alongside emerging ones. At a time when illiberal impulses are in ascendancy, IBSA in tandem with the U.S. and the sole resurgent European power, Germany, can emerge as strong defenders of the rules-based open order across political and economic spaces.

Brazil and South Africa have had differences with China in the past over Beijing’s heavy-handed economic policies. Brazil, under its new president Michel Temer, wants to pivot back to its traditional economic partners, the U.S. in particular. This bodes well for IBSA to emerge as a liberal bridge between the north and the south. Put differently, the antidote to the common (if somewhat misplaced) perception of BRICS as a pawn in the grand strategy of China and Russia lies within BRICS itself, the IBSA. Along with BIMSTEC, IBSA points to the multiple collateral possibilities at Goa, and to a new moment that may see recalibration of Indian foreign policy.



  • Contracting a case of excess

In the years since the financial crisis of 2008, there have been periods of outrage every time there is news of a banker being paid a large bonus. How could those who seemingly caused the crisis continue to be paid exorbitant sums, especially when their actions have led to such huge losses for others?

Bonuses are built into their contracts. That is, bankers are simply being paid what has been agreed beforehand. So the real question is, how could bankers be given employment contracts that involve large bonuses despite adverse performance? Is this wrong? If so, how do we prevent this from happening again? A study of the work of this year’s Nobel laureates in economics might prove instructive. The 2016 Prize has been jointly awarded to Prof. Oliver Hart of Harvard University and Prof. Bengt Holmstrom of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They have been felicitated for their contributions to contract theory.

The optimal contract

Contracts are legally binding agreements governing who will do something in exchange for something under some circumstances. Employment contracts are best seen in the context of principal-agent problems.

In this case, shareholders of a bank (the owners, or principal) employ bankers (agents) to run the bank. Shareholders are interested in returns. However, it is the banker who is responsible for the day-to-day decisions that generate those returns. In turn, the banker is to be compensated for his or her services.

Typically, the principal cannot observe the agent’s effort. If agents are offered a fixed salary regardless of effort, there is not much incentive for hard work. We see this in government jobs. Thus, in many industries, including banking, we instead see performance-based pay, where better outcomes for the shareholder (greater returns) are to be rewarded with better compensation for the banker.

There are other tricky aspects too. The owners might be keen on long-term performance, but if bankers’ pay is tied into the short-term share price, this might generate a conflict of interest. Bankers might work to boost the immediate share price at the cost of long-term investment.

In other contexts, the outcome of the efforts of the agent might not be measurable. Teachers, for example, are instrumental in the overall development of students, which is hard to measure. However, scores on tests are easy to measure. A contract that links teachers’ pay to only measurable outcomes might lead to teachers focusing on tests alone, ignoring more general learning. What is an optimal contract under such circumstances? First, the bad news: Professors Hart and Holmstrom established that there can be no perfect contract. However, their large body of work showed ways to improve outcomes.

Lessons from Laureates

In a seminal co-authored work in 1979, Prof. Holmstrom argued that if agents are paid based on the share price of the company alone, rises and falls in their pay might actually be determined by dumb luck. Instead, their pay should also be linked to external outcomes (to the relative share price against other similar companies, for example). This leads to better measures of relative performance, and therefore effort.

Of course, this is when effort is measurable, and can be linked to performance — both dubious propositions in the case of banking. In many other industries, though, such as manufacturing, it works.

In any event, the implication of this result is immediate: the harder it is to observe the manager’s effort, the less the manager’s pay should be based on performance. In particular, in high-risk jobs, payment should skew in favour of a fixed salary, while stable jobs should attract performance-based pay. Wall Street’s signature achievement was in persuading regulators that its bankers were in a low-risk environment, with contracts designed accordingly, when in truth they were gambling with vast sums of borrowed money. No wonder the incentives were so spectacularly misaligned.

Often, however, parties cannot specify detailed contract terms in advance. Nobody knows what will happen, and so outcomes cannot be specified. This is the problem of incomplete contracts, and Prof. Hart’s biggest contributions lie in this area, also with relevance to financial markets.

In several co-authored papers, Prof. Hart argued that a contract that cannot explicitly specify what the parties should do in future eventualities must instead specify who has the right to decide what to do when the parties cannot agree. Depending on the eventuality that arises, the party with the corresponding decision rights has more bargaining power, and can secure a better outcome for itself. Decision rights thus substitute for performance-based pay.

The upshot of Prof. Hart’s work, particularly as it relates to bankers, is that bankers should hold decision rights when performance is good, but the rights should favour shareholders when performance deteriorates. Crucially, a Hart contract should see banker pay slashed when outcomes are adverse. With great upside should come at least some downside.

But while shareholders in American banks have belatedly woken up, and banker bonuses have occasionally been reduced, punishment is still rare. Compensation almost never decreases. And in any case, it is too late to modify existing contracts.

In other work, Prof. Holmstrom studied the trade-off between complete insurance contracts and the resulting moral hazard. A car owner who knows that she will receive a full payout in case of damage might not be as careful as she would be if she were liable. Socially optimal contracts ensure that the car owners too have skin in the game, as it were, by being made to pay a part of the cost.

Another application of Prof. Hart’s theory of incomplete contracts is the question of whether providers of public services, such as schools, hospitals, and prisons, should be privately owned or not. Such situations lead to a trade-off between investments in quality and cost reduction.

Prof. Hart’s work suggested that the private sector might focus too much on cost reduction, but proper contracts can provide incentives for quality as well. The public sector, on the other hand, has little incentive to do either.

Several of Prof. Hart and Prof. Holmstrom’s insights have indeed found their way into modern contracts. But the example of Wall Street suggests that regulators must pay more attention to their findings, particularly in high-risk industries.

But it also begs the question: what is an optimal contract for a regulator? If we are lucky, we won’t have to wait until the next crisis to find out.

Madhav Raghavan is a PhD in quantitative economics from the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi, and specialises in markets for education and employment.



  • Towards a kerosene-free India

After the success of Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)/cooking gas, the government has now decided to launch DBT for kerosene (DBTK), starting with pilots in the State of Jharkhand. While the move is well-intentioned, it may not be simple to implement at scale, and may even fail to eliminate the diversion of subsidised kerosene that it intends to.

The biggest hurdle is the lack of a streamlined and unified digital consumer database, which formed the backbone of the robust and rapid implementation of DBT for LPG. Here, the entire database across India was managed by just three public sector oil marketing companies, which are directly under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. This enabled easier coordination for a nationwide rollout of the scheme. In comparison, the database of subsidised kerosene beneficiaries falls under the Public Distribution System (PDS), which is managed and maintained by each State government. Coordination among the large number of State-level actors, especially in the case of a non-digitised PDS beneficiary database, can create barriers. While e-PDS is being implemented across India, a digital PDS beneficiary database is not yet available for all the States to enable implementation of DBTK.

The second hurdle is the political economy associated with subsidised kerosene. While the Centre burns the fiscal impact of subsidy, the States determine who gets the subsidy and to what extent — in terms of the quantum of subsidised kerosene. This is an important political currency for State governments. Thus, political alignment of States to buy into the idea of DBTK is critical in ensuring effective implementation of the scheme. The good news is that many States have expressed interest in conducting the pilot, which reflects the remarkable efforts made by the Centre towards aligning the States, including those governed by the Opposition.

Issue of diversion

However, even if the government overcomes these hurdles, a major drawback is the limited ability of DBTK to reduce incentives for diversion. Currently, subsidised kerosene is mainly diverted as a substitute or as an adulterant to diesel. Given the significant Central excise and State taxes on diesel, its market price remains much higher than the unsubsidised price of kerosene. Analysis by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) shows that unless the government restructures the market price of kerosene, the price differential between unsubsidised kerosene and diesel would be in the range between Rs.18 and Rs.32 per litre — varying across States. Such an incentive would still be significant for middlemen as well as end consumers to divert the fuel as diesel substitute.

Another challenge is in ensuring that the subsidy is accessible to its major beneficiaries — poor households. The Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) has succeeded in providing bank accounts to a substantial number of households, accessing the subsidy amount is still not easy for several poorer households, who may, at times, lose their potential day wage in withdrawing this subsidy from far-located bank branches.

While the pilots will provide valuable insights to the government in assessing DBTK’s impact on kerosene diversion and on households, it is important to devise a more pragmatic and sustainable solution to reform kerosene subsidy, improving both the welfare of poor beneficiaries as well as the effectiveness of the fiscal expenditure.

Promoting alternative fuels

The CEEW’s analysis of National Sample Survey Office data highlights that kerosene is predominantly used as a lighting fuel in rural India, with less than 1 per cent of households using it as a primary cooking fuel. In urban-poor households, it is used for both lighting and cooking. A recent report by the CEEW shows how shifting from kerosene to alternatives such as solar-assisted solutions for lighting and LPG for cooking could be economically beneficial for both the government as well as households. The shift would provide households with much better end-services and avoiding the adverse health impacts associated with kerosene use. Our analysis suggests that such a transition could result in an annual saving between Rs.8,000 and Rs.12,000 crore to the exchequer. Moreover, there is a bottom-up demand for such a change. The largest energy access survey in India, conducted by the CEEW and Columbia University, U.S., shows that 78 per cent of rural households in six major States are willing to adopt solar-based lighting solution in lieu of a reduction in their kerosene subsidy.

As LPG is a clean and efficient fuel, it is rational to continue subsidising it for the underprivileged who cannot afford it otherwise. However, with energy security and clean energy access high on India’s priorities, we must look beyond kerosene to provide cooking and lighting solutions to poor households, while ensuring affordability, reliability and universal availability of these alternatives. The government has been persistently focussing on structural reforms in various sectors of the economy, and moving away from subsidised kerosene, and envisioning a kerosene-free India would be one such visionary step.


  • Resetting the moral compass

A Norwegian diplomat and politician, Trygve Lie, who was the first Secretary-General of the United Nations (1946-52), famously described the post as the “most impossible job on earth”. The ninth UN Secretary-General, António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, will assume office on January 1, 2017, at a time when the world is dangerously poised, the multilateral system anchored in the UN is being tested as never before, and the organisation looks ineffective on the pillar of peace and security. This was the pillar which provided the rationale for its establishment, to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, the organisation’s impressive contribution in other areas such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, climate change, human rights and humanitarian work, up to a point, apart.

Impeccable credentials

The good news is that the man who will assume stewardship of the UN comes with excellent credentials, a wealth of experience, and is best qualified not only amongst the slate from which he was elected but, in terms of experience and suitability, perhaps amongst all those who have occupied this high office. If anyone has a fighting chance to be an effective and secular pope, Mr. Guterres has probably the best chance.

I first witnessed his performance as a statesman and public figure when, as a young Joint Secretary on the West Europe desk, I had the privilege of accompanying the then President of India, K.R. Narayanan, on a state visit to Portugal in September 1998. Mr. Guterres was the Prime Minister of Portugal (1995-2002). Several years later, when I was serving as Permanent Representative of India to the UN in Geneva, he was appointed, in June 2005, as the tenth UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Most Permanent Representatives interact with heads of international organisations on a regular basis. A few weeks into his new job, I found myself, in sad circumstances, addressing, along with him, a memorial service for my childhood friend Rajiv Kapur who died whilst serving the UNHCR on a mission in Colombo. Even in those early days of interaction with him, the man’s empathy, maturity and humanity stood out.

Mr. Guterres was appointed the UNHCR following allegations of sexual harassment levelled against his predecessor Ruud Lubbers, a former Dutch Prime Minister, by several women members of the UNHCR staff. Quite apart from these allegations, Mr. Lubber had lost the support of most of the Permanent Representatives on account of what was regarded as an arrogant and supercilious attitude. Mr. Guterres was a refreshing change. A few days into his new job, he delineated his first substantive statement: “What really matters is delivering protection and solutions to those who need it.” He was already a champion of gender equality, five years before UN Women was established. He said the UNHCR must be a pioneer in gender equality and concerns for women, children and other vulnerable groups. “My vision for protection at UNHCR is to erase the separation between protection and operations,” he said.

Fast forward 11 years — after the Security Council decided by acclamation in a closed-door session on October 5 to recommend his appointment, this is what he had to say: he would show “the humility that is needed to serve, and especially to serve those that are most vulnerable”, the victims of conflict, terrorism, human rights violations and poverty.

A consensus foretold

Rewind back to the election process. Appearing in a ‘town hall’ format meeting organised by Al Jazeera on July 12, 2016, it was clear that in terms of popular support amongst member states, standing as a global statesman and what can only be described as ‘popular acceptability’ amongst member states, Mr. Guterres was clearly pulling ahead of the dozen or so candidates in the field. After the third straw poll, I had in fact written for an Indian wire service that “barring some completely unforeseen development(s), Guterres is likely to be the ninth Secretary General of the United Nations”. This was a good one month prior to his election following the sixth straw poll.

Mr. Guterres was in fact the only candidate who, apart from impressive performances in public appearances, consistently polled more than the threshold of nine votes out of 15 required in the six straw polls. In fact, in the last round, he polled 13 ‘encourage’ votes, no ‘discourage’ votes, with two undecided. This round had the negative or veto votes of the permanent members clearly indicated. The next three candidates got seven each, well short of the required nine with six or more negative votes, including vetoes. The five women candidates failed to get the required traction within the UN Security Council.

Other contenders

The campaigning had indicated a fairly strong demand for regional rotation and a candidate from Eastern Europe. That plus a strong push for breaking the glass ceiling and a woman Secretary-General after 71 years of the UN’s existence focussed attention on the need for a woman candidate from Eastern Europe. The candidature of Irina Bokova initially seemed a possibility. Viewed by one permanent member as being too closely identified with Russia, her candidature failed to take off.

It was mistakenly believed that Russia would insist on a East European, that it would not agree to the former Prime Minister of a country that was a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and that there was scope, Mr. Guterres’s impressive showing in the straw polls notwithstanding, for another woman candidate from Eastern Europe, Kristalina Georgieva, to be introduced.

Information in the public domain indicates that egged on by one permanent member of the Security Council, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke about it to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 meeting in Hangzhou, China. In fact, on September 7, Russia issued a statement regarding Ms. Merkel trying to influence Bulgaria to replace Ms. Bokova as its candidate in favour of her compatriot, Ms. Georgieva. The rest is history.

The hurriedly introduced candidature of Ms. Georgieva, aimed at derailing the candidature of Mr. Guterres, proved counterproductive and the latter surged ahead. The U.S. Permanent Representative’s statement summed it up: “In the end, there was just a candidate whose experience, vision and versatility across a range of areas proved compelling.” Moreover, his being a feminist and asserting that the UN must be at the forefront of efforts of the international community for gender equality reassured many.

The ninth UN Security-General will be the first former head of government to assume the office. In addition, he has handled a major UN agency, the UNHCR, for 10 years. He is expected to reinforce the UN’s enormous convening power, strengthen its moral authority and hopefully swing the pendulum back to diplomacy with an emphasis on mediation and prevention and away from the disastrous last five years that have resulted in the unravelling of countries due to the “use of force”.



  • Ghana decides to relocate Gandhi statue

India said it will take up concerns over campaigns against Mahatma Gandhi in a few African countries, after the Ghanaian government decided to move his statue from the University of Ghana, Legon campus, bowing to pressure from academics who accused the Mahatma of being “racist”.

“A decision has been taken by the Ghanaian Foreign Ministry that instead of locating it (statue) in the university which is obviously more excitable to move it to a safer place. They have issued a very, very good press statement highlighting the role of Mahatma Gandhi urging the people to focus on how the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi and he as an individual were shaped over a period and not focus on the excerpts from some of his earlier writings,” said Secretary (West) Amar Sinha, indicating the issue would be taken up with South African and Ghanaian leaders bilaterally.

The Ghanaian government’s decision is particularly embarrassing as the statue of the Mahatma was unveiled as a gift from President Pranab Mukherjee in June this year. Since then, professors and students collected signatures for an online petition where they called on the University of Ghana to do the “honourable thing” by removing the statue, citing statements that Gandhi had made in the 1890s that were seen as racist, communal and casteist. “How will the historian teach and explain that Gandhi was uncharitable in his attitude towards the Black race and see that we’re glorifying him by erecting a statue on our campus?” the petition said.

Explaining its decision, the Ghana Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it wished to end the acrimony of the past few months, and decided to relocate the statue for “its safety” as the controversy generated over the Mahatma had become a “distraction” from historically strong ties between India and Ghana.

“The unfortunate verbal attack on Mahatma Gandhi is effectively an attack on an Indian Nationalist Hero and icon who is revered and cherished by over one billion people who are either citizens of India or persons of Indian descent,” said the statement from the MFA, adding that “the Ministry is urging Ghanaians to look beyond the comments attributed to Mahatma Gandhi and acknowledge his role as one of the most outstanding personalities of the last century.”

In a letter made available to The Hindu last week, the Mahatma’s grand-daughter Ela Gandhi, a peace activist and former South African MP had written that “The claims made that the statue is unacceptable based on opinions expressed by a few scholars who have interpreted some quotes he made in his younger days and in the context of the work he was doing at the time and the ethos in the country,” she had written, pointing out that some of the words and terms used like ‘Kaffir’ for the “non-believers” or African natives was in common parlance at the time. “If they do not want his statue then by all means remove it,” she had added, referring also to a similar movement in South Africa, “But I would suggest very humbly do not discard the notion of nonviolence, of compassion of ubuntu and of respect for fellow human beings and for nature and the whole of the universe simply because these were the ideals Gandhiji stood for and was assassinated for.”

The visit of South African President Thabo Mbeki may also see some reference to efforts to reverse the anti-Gandhi sentiments in various African countries. But the bigger worry for the government is that the disquieting trend to discount Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy in Africa could also harm ties with the continent only a year after India hosted the Africa summit, and in a year both President Mukherjee and PM Modi made extended visits there.


  • Before he became Mahatma

Gandhi scholars generally see his political work in South Africa (1893-1914) as but a prelude to the remarkable role he played in reshaping the politics of the Indian freedom struggle. In recent years, however, a flurry of writings on Gandhi, some authored by known South African scholars, has catapulted to the centre stage of Gandhiana his ‘racist’ attitude towards Africans and Coloured people, exclusion of this segment from the political struggles that he organised, his failure to form political alliances with all oppressed people, his sexual preferences, and his imperial patriotism. How do we begin to reconcile these insights with the widely held belief in India and abroad that Gandhi is a Mahatma?

A telling contradiction

We can follow different paths to address this contradiction in Gandhi’s thought. We can, for instance, shrug off the problem by quoting the poet Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am vast, I contain multitudes.” Gandhi certainly contained multitudes, he held odd views on social relations, his defence of the caste system is unjustifiable, and he was eccentric to a fault. But he also had an extraordinary gift for understanding the political significance of the moment, and grasping it. He lived a life of contradictions, as we all do.

Alternatively, armed with numerous cups of tea as Munna Bhai did in the marvellous film Lage Raho Munna Bhai , we burrow into dusty volumes of his letters and writings, acknowledge he was wrong at that moment of his life, and cite him to establish self-correction in his later life. The project is tiresome but doable. Thereby we follow the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, who in the 1960s pointed out an ‘epistemological break’ in Marx’s thought, and distinguished between the ‘young’ and the ‘mature’ Marx. We can accordingly speak of a ‘young’ and a ‘mature’ Gandhi.

Or we can focus on the historical context of his remarks. The Cambridge historian Quentin Skinner suggests that before we judge words spoken in the past, we must know what they signified then. In the work The Prince (1513), the Florentine philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli advises the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici, thus. A prince, he said, must know when not to be virtuous. For these words, Machiavelli has been slammed throughout history as the teacher of evil, and as immoral for separating, as he did, ethics and politics. Prof. Skinner asks us to consider what virtue meant in 16th century Florence. At that time virtue signified either a life devoted to reflection in the Platonic sense, or a life lived in accordance with the tenets of Christian morality. Lorenzo de’ Medici, destined in Machiavelli’s view to unite a fragmented and conquered Italy, needed a different set of virtues. He had to possess pagan virtues of honour, valour, and courage. Virtue held different implications in the public sphere compared to the private sphere. Consider the time Gandhi lived in settler-dominated South Africa. Dominant linguistic conventions sanctioned the use of derogatory terms for non-whites. Indians, for instance, were called coolies. Gandhi erred because he did not question a practice that violated his own understanding of what human beings are due.

Does it really matter if Gandhi statues and photographs are removed, if M.G. roads are renamed, or if our present government tries to depoliticise a politically subversive leader by designating October 2 as Swachh Bharat? Gandhi, who wielded the broom with some dexterity, would not have minded. As Munna Bhai’s inner-self manifested as Gandhi’s apparition instructs him, do all this, just keep my teachings in your heart.



At this time in Africa

But there was a time when African freedom movements drew upon Gandhi; today, nationalist Africans attack him. Therefore, none of the paths suggested above might help us to reconcile the contradiction in Gandhi’s ideas or mollify our African friends. Witness the extent of anger. In June 2016 a Gandhi statue was installed in the University of Ghana during the visit of President Pranab Mukherjee. Soon thereafter a number of academics, students, and artists demanded the removal of the statue. Last year an online campaign ‘Ghandimustfall hashtag’ gained traction, even as his statue in Johannesburg was vandalised in April during a rally against ‘Gandhi the racist’.

This anger is understandable. There was a time when Indian leaders were committed to solidarity with other postcolonial countries. Today as Indian industrialists/entrepreneurs compete with China to appropriate land and resources in Sub-Saharan Africa, we see the rise of resentment against the new colonisers. Therefore, Gandhi, who inspired Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, and Kwame Nkrumah, is now unacceptable to many Africans. The exploitation of vulnerable countries by India, an emerging power, has bred a rather bitter harvest.

We can ask why something said or done a hundred years ago still has the power to evoke offence. Arguably, a reinvented nationalism that has swept the world as ‘hatred of the other’ revisits the past to identify those who belong, and those who do not. In parts of Africa, Gandhi is clearly perceived as someone who came in from the outside, and began to mobilise an otherwise disparate community of Indians: indentured labour, Memon and Bohra merchants locally called Arabs, and other Indians against discriminatory laws. He was indifferent to the plight of African and coloured people.

But that was not his project. Gandhi entered South Africa as an inexperienced and brief-less lawyer to assist a case involving two prominent Memon traders. At that time of his life, a 24-year-old Gandhi believed that the British Empire would ensure the freedom of its subjects in an oppressive settler colony. He supported the British in the Boer war (1899-1902), and raised a unit of stretcher bearers to accompany troops to the front. He expected the British to reciprocate by protecting Indians. His hope was belied, and Gandhi the imperial patriot was transformed into Gandhi the leader who touched the hearts and minds of millions. He learnt the grammar of anti-colonial nationalism in exile, and amidst oppression, much as Irish immigrants became Fenians on American soil.

His idea of India was expansive and included all Indians wherever they may work; the fulcrum remained a territorial entity called India. In a farewell address he gave to a Gujarati audience on July 9, 1914, he said: “For me there can be no deliverance from this earthly life except in India. Anyone who seeks such deliverance must go to the sacred soil of India. For me, as for everyone else, the land of India is ‘the refuge of the afflicted.’” His project simply did not include Africans and coloured people, even though they were oppressed.

The task Nehru took up

Gandhi failed to grasp the importance of an alliance between oppressed groups. That task was taken on by his heir Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru learnt the virtue of solidarity by participating in the ‘Congress of Oppressed Nationalities’ in Brussels in February 1927. The 1927 congress was the precursor of the Bandung Conference in 1955. In The Color Curtain , Richard Wright wrote of the 1955 Conference, which excluded the West, thus. “Only brown, black and yellow men who had long been made agonizingly self-conscious, under the rigors of colonial rule, of their race and their religion could have felt the need for such a meeting. There was something extra-political, extra-social, almost extra human about it, it smacked of tidal waves, of natural forces… And the call for the meeting had not been sounded in term of ideology. The agenda and the subject matter had been written for centuries in the blood and bones of the participants.”

Gandhi would have approved, because in his later life he came to believe that the ‘other’ is a part of ‘us’. By then African sensibilities had been wounded. Gandhi has to be faulted for this lack of understanding. Perhaps it is time for Gandhians to apologise to South Africans and atone for the ‘sins of their fathers’.


  • Chittoor’s euthanasia seekers

For three generations Jalla Ramanappa’s family did not have a girl child. In a country where the premium on the male child knows no bounds, the Jalla family’s wish for a girl was unusual. But when his sister-in-law delivered the first baby girl followed by the arrival of his own bundle of joy, Gynana Sai, on October 10, 2015, celebrations erupted in the Jalla household.

My brother had a son and a daughter and I and my wife yearned for a complete family like his. Our prayers were answered when Gynana was born, a year after my son Sai Teja’s birth,” says Ramanappa, a farm labourer-turned-salesman. He and his elder brother, Jalla Srinivasulu, a teacher in a private school, got married to two sisters, and live in a modest two-room house in a remote tiny village abutting the first railway station in the area that lent it the name RS Kothapalli in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh.

Even as celebrations were on their came the tragic news that Gynana was down with jaundice. Doctors at the Desai Hospital in Madanapalle town 30 km away — where she was born — and family elders told Ramanappa and his wife Saraswathi that it is a usual occurrence in newborns, from which they recover in a few days. Days turned into months. There was no sign of improvement. The infant would cry endlessly with stomach pain and pass white stools as soon as her mother fed her milk.

Ramanappa soon quit his job in Bengaluru that fetched Rs.10,000 a month to assist his wife in taking care of Gynana. They carried the infant from one hospital to another, first in nearby Madanapalle, then Tirupati and finally Benguluru. It was at the M.S. Ramaiah Hospital in Bengaluru that her disease was diagnosed as biliary atresia, a rare life-threatening condition in which the bile ducts inside or outside the liver do not have normal openings. The hospital performed the “Kasai procedure” — a way to surgically bypass the ducts and prevent liver damage — but after spending Rs.5 lakh, much of it loan raised against their two-acre land, and five months’ stay in Bengaluru, the parents realised that the medical intervention did not work. She was referred to a Narayana Hrudalaya Hospitals, also in Bengaluru, where the doctors told the couple that liver transplantation was the only way out.

The estimate: Rs.15.60 lakh, plus more on post-operative care and follow-up, a huge amount for a salesman who had run into debts and was struggling to make ends meet. Caught between the impossible task of raising the money and having to see Gynana suffering, the brothers decided to approach a local court seeking mercy killing of the eight-month-old infant. “It was a hard decision but we were left with no option. We just could not see her suffer like that,” says Srinivasulu.

In their heart-wrenching petition in Telugu filed before the Junior Civil Judge, Thamballapalle on August 23, 2016, Ramanappa and Saraswathi narrate their struggle for existence with meagre earnings, the suffering of their daughter and her life-threatening disease; how their life revolved round hospitals for months together: “After Narayana Hrudayalaya gave the estimate of about Rs.30 lakh, including post-operative care for a long period, and a deadline of two months for the transplant to be carried out, we tried our best to pool resources. But it was nowhere near the target amount. We expected the government to come to our rescue but there is no hope so far. Governments change seeking votes from people every five years but they don’t even take care of basic necessities like health. We have tapped every source from officials to political leaders to non-governmental organisations. We realise it is beyond our means. On the other hand we are unable to see her suffering. Hence we request your permission for her mercy killing. We leave her at your feet to decide her fate.” The court turned down the petition for euthanasia, asking them to approach the district court or the High Court in Hyderabad.

The couple’s traumatic story and the way their petition drew media attention in Andhra Pradesh eventually forced Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu to order State financial assistance for Gynana’s liver transplant. The Global Hospital in Chennai was picked for the operation. In the run-up to D-Day, August 6, Ramanappa maintained a stringent regimen of diet and exercise to lose 10 kg so as to be able to donate part of his liver to his child. The liver transplant was successful, and doctors say she is now on the road to recovery ahead of her first birthday on October 10.

Madanapalle, an area of darkness

Ramanappa is fortunate that his euthanasia petition jolted the state machinery into enabling a new lease of life for his daughter, but the same cannot be said of others in the arid Madanapalle division of Chittoor district which is witnessing a disturbing trend. At least two other parents in the last three months — and three more in the past — were pushed, under similar tragic circumstances, into moving the courts to seek administered death for their ailing children. The unusual string of petitions have collectively brought to the fore the region’s dry landscape-driven poverty, legal limitations in entertaining them, the choices before poor parents of terminally ill children, health-care delivery for the poor, the sad state of primary health care in remote rural areas, the dubious role of corporate hospitals, the lack of health insurance mechanisms and the State’s pathetic support system for vulnerable sections.

The Madanapalle revenue division forms the tail-end of western Chittoor, bordering the drought-prone Anantapur and Kadapa districts and Karnataka. A major portion of this largest administrative unit in Andhra Pradesh comprising 31 mandals (tehsils) is arid and covered by granite formations. There is 80 per cent deficit rainfall on average in the division from January to September, triggering drought year after year and deepening rural poverty, with some parts of Tamballapalle Assembly constituency almost presenting a desert-like spectacle. With no perennial river flowing and farmers depending only on rain and groundwater — a resource that keeps shrinking — large stretches of agriculture lands are left barren. There is no paddy or sugar cane cultivation, only vegetables and groundnut. Landless poor dominate the division while agriculture labourers turn construction workers for survival and keep migrating to Bengaluru and other cities for work. The rich landlords prefer to stay in Tirupati, Chennai and Bengaluru to do business and enable their children to pursue their studies and career. There is no proper health-care facility and people depend mostly on quacks or travel to Madanapalle town or Tirupati for better treatment.

The shrinking health cover

A World Bank study in 2012 found that health spending was one of the important causes of poverty in India: “The country’s public financing for health care is less than one percent of the world’s total health expenditure, although it is home to over 16 per cent of the world’s population. Families meet almost 70 per cent of their health expenses out of their own pockets, placing considerable financial burden on poor households, often pushing them deeper into poverty.” Another study found that 35 per cent of the poor Indian households incurred “catastrophic health expenditure” — the spending on health that threatens the household’s capacity to maintain a basic standard of living. Add to this the declining expenditure on health as a percentage of gross domestic products over the years and we have a situation where the poor have increasingly shrinking access to health-care services.

Ironically the World Bank, in its report, bracketed Andhra Pradesh with a few other States where it noticed a significant increase in the population covered by government-sponsored health insurance schemes in the country in the five years preceding 2012. That was the time the then Chief Minister, the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, launched the Rajiv Aarogyasri Community Health Insurance Scheme — a scheme still being continued under the current Telugu Desam Party-led government albeit with a new name, Dr. NTR Vaidya Seva. Though the list of diseases covered is pretty long, some relating to cancer have been left out. Another drawback is the insurance cap of Rs.2.5 lakh. The Government of India’s redesigned Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, aimed at providing protection to Below Poverty Line households from financial liabilities arising out of health issues that involve hospitalisation, too touches the fringe of the problem with its Pushed into death petitions
Take the case of B. Boddappa, a barber by profession. Shifting from Dinnepalli village to Punganur town to be able to admit his four-year-old son Mahesh in a good school, he was shattered when he came to know that he suffered from blood cancer. From high fever to diagnosis of the dreaded disease, all it took for Mahesh was just three to four months. “We have gone through hell. We kept shuttling from hospitals in Madanapalle to Hyderabad to Bengaluru and then finally to Vellore. We ran up a debt of Rs.2 lakh for his treatment. I earn about Rs.250 working in a hair salon from morning till evening and my wife earns Rs.150 a day working as a labourer in the local grain market. From where can I raise the Rs.15 lakh cost estimated by Christian Medical College and Hospital (CMC) Vellore? I begged and borrowed and then simply gave up and approached the court as a last resort.”

In his petition before the Junior Civil Judge, Punganur, on August 8, 2016, he lucidly elucidates why he favoured death for his son: “It all started three months ago with his bleeding nose. We took him to a hospital in Tirupati. They conducted tests and referred him to Basavatarakam Indo-American Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Hyderabad. After seeing the medical report they turned us away saying there is no treatment. Then we went to Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health in Bengaluru where the doctors, after treating him for a month, asked us to go to CMC Vellore. It was there that it was confirmed as blood cancer requiring Rs.15 lakh for treatment. For a poor barber with meagre earning this is a tall order. I have already run into a debt of Rs.2 lakh. Please understand my helplessness and my mental agony. I pray with tears in my eyes to allow him to die.”

“Yes, for those who have not gone through the daily suffering, it appears cruel but what should we do in such a situation? We could neither see the pain of our dear one nor could we pool money even to make an attempt to save him,” says Bodappa’s wife, Narsamma. The local media, as in Gynana’s case, highlighted Mahesh’s plight but it came too late and the boy lost his battle with cancer in Bengaluru in August. At their two-room tenement in Punganur, the alphabet and numerals scribbled on the walls remind the grief-stricken couple of how poverty crippled their efforts to save the light of their lives.

  1. Narayana of Madanapalle town, whose teenage daughter Reddi Madhavi is virtually on the deathbed after suffering from blood cancer for a year now, faces a similar predicament. “I have run into a big debt, spending about Rs.6 lakh on her treatment in hospitals in Tirupati, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Now a hospital in Bengaluru wants us to get Rs.6 lakh more for her treatment. I have two more children to take care. I and my wife work as labourers and together earn about Rs.500 a day and we just can’t imagine raising that kind of amount. Nor can we see Madhavi’s daily battle with cancer any more. Show mercy on us and allow us to take her life,” he said in his petition before the Second Additional District Judge, Madanapalle, on July 4, 2016.

Unlike other judges who turned away the petitioners with oral orders, the Madanapalle judge wrote down the reason for rejecting the plea. “This court has no jurisdiction to entertain this application and they are directed to approach proper forum/court along with supporting documents.” Madhavi, who was studying in Class XI when cancer struck, says she is determined to fight the disease and complete her studies if help comes through. But Narayana has run from pillar to post in vain.

“Petitions seeking mercy killing form only the tip of the iceberg. We know of about a hundred cases of patients suffering from serious diseases committing suicide simply because they were unable to bear medical expenditure. With its vast machinery, the government alone can come to their rescue,” says K. Dhanasekaran, who runs Rural Organisation for Poverty Eradication Services (ROPES) with wife Sreelatha. The Chittoor-based NGO has so far referred over 1,000 patients suffering from cancer and liver, kidney and lung ailments to hospitals in big cities.

Chittoor District Collector Siddharth Jain feigned ignorance over distressed parents approaching courts with death-seeking  petitions. He said he would respond after getting inputs from the concerned departments. Even after a four-day wait he did not respond while two parent-petitioners said they had indeed approached him for financial assistance. The District Medical and Health Officer, Dr. Vijaya Gowri, who took charge recently, too appeared clueless. All that she had to say was this: “Since there is no legal sanction for euthanasia in India, there is no point in entertaining such petitions.



  • A Nobel push for peace in Colombia

In a long year of war and strife, it is a silver lining that the Nobel Committee in Oslo was spoilt for choice in deciding upon the recipient of the 2016 Peace Prize. A landmark nuclear deal brought a peaceful closure to Iran’s purported nuclear weapon ambitions and paved the way for better relations between Tehran and the West, making the key negotiators leading contenders for the Prize. The yeoman efforts of the White Helmets of Syria, a group of local volunteers in Aleppo and other parts of war-ravaged Syria who help rescue people injured or stranded in bomb attacks in war zones, merited recognition. But the ending of one of the longest-running civil wars was the achievement that got the highest recognition by the Committee. The Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 has been awarded to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos after his government painstakingly concluded negotiations by signing an accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), winding down hostilities in a 52-year-old civil war. The accord, signed on September 26, 2016, provided for the disbanding of FARC militants and for the rebels to join the political process as a routine political party, besides conceding demands by FARC to address inequities in Colombia’s rural areas through development programmes and land distribution. FARC also agreed to dismantle drug production facilities in areas in its control which had helped finance the war against the Colombian government. This was a landmark accord that provided an opportunity not just for peace but also for better prospects in the war against drug production and trade in Colombia.

Merely a week after the accord, the government received a setback as its attempt to get the accord ratified through a referendum failed. About 50.23 per cent of the voters who turned out (the turnout was less than 40 per cent) voted against the peace agreement. Both the government and FARC have ruled out a return to war despite this setback, and even the advocates of the “no” vote, including former President Álvaro Uribe, have sought fresh negotiations for what they deem to be a better accord. The Nobel committee recognises that despite the setback there is the need for a broad-based dialogue to further the peace process. In doing so, it has provided Mr. Santos the persuasive pulpit he had lost following the referendum. The award should enable his government to seek a renewed accord that does not militate against the previous one and seals a durable peace. The Peace Prize is a testimonial to the patience required to bring about closure to complex, long-running conflicts. In this case at least, it is well-deserved.


  • The lure of the exotic and esoteric

If “wonderful discoveries happening in biology” had acted as a trigger for Nobel Laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan to switch from physics to chemistry, the nearly matured and well-established field of chemistry failed to enthuse Yoshinori Ohsumi, and he shifted to biology. Autophagy — a fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components — was known long before he ventured into the field, but it was his paradigm-shifting research that revealed the importance of this fundamental process that comes into play every other minute. His seminal work helped reveal that vacuoles in yeast and lysosomes in human cells are not just garbage bins but recyclers and fuel producers. Right from the stage of embryo development to countering the negative effects of ageing, autophagy plays an important role. As in the case of many Laureates, Dr. Ohsumi’s initial years were more than frustrating, but he prevailed. His approach to science is an antithesis to what is generally seen in today’s young researchers, and that precisely is what helped him break new ground and bag the Nobel Prize this year — only the third Laureate since 2010 to not share the Prize for Physiology or Medicine with others.

But lysosomes and other cellular bodies would be severely impacted if molecular machines in our body failed to work synchronously to carry materials around in a cell and for several other functions. Though not as elegant as the molecular machines at work inside us, the work done by Jean-Pierre Sauvage, J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa, the winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, has set the ball rolling in the endeavour to realise Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman’s dream more than 50 years ago of building very small machines. Though very primitive at this point in time, science will see one of the biggest revolutions when the cogs and cranks of their work are finally put together to build machines on a nano scale; nanomachines will find applications in diverse fields, from medicine to electronics. Much like the nano machines of tomorrow, David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz’s theoretical explanations for exotic states of materials by using topological concepts will give birth to a completely different class of products. This year’s Nobel-winning physicists, they predicted the exotic behaviour that other scientists later found at the surface of materials and inside very thin layers, such as superconductivity and magnetism in extremely thin materials. Physicists are now looking beyond the ordinary to find new and exotic phases of matter that change in a stepwise fashion.



  • Nitish urges PM to overrule clearance for GM mustard

Amid reports of clearance given to GM mustard by a government panel, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has sought intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to overrule the approval considering its ill effects on human health.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Kumar has sought Modi’s intervention to immediately overrule the clearance to GM mustard seeds given by a technical panel of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee.

He expressed apprehension that approval to GM mustard would open a gate to several genetically modified food crops being developed by public as well private-research bodies like GM rice, maize, rice, brinjal, wheat, tomato among others which are at various stages of approval process.

Mr Kumar said GM mustard was a herbicide tolerant (HT) crop.

Any gene making the plant resistant to a herbicide locks farmers into using select brands of agro-chemicals. The full adverse implications of HT crops are apparent world over.

“It is unclear why this herbicide tolerant (HT) GM mustard, which seeks to promote itself as a hybridisation technology, is even being considered by the Government of India when we already have non-GM hybrids available?” he wondered.

He said, “I had already written to Union forest minister in January, 2016 pointing out that when the interested parties have failed to win the confidence of the farmers of the country, they are pushing the technology through public institutions. It is surprising that this so called public sector GM mustard came into being a year after a MNC’s GM mustard was rejected by the Indian regulators in 2002.”

Strongly opposing genetic modification of crops, the Bihar Chief Minister told the Prime Minister that Bt cotton, which had been cultivated in the country for 15 years now demonstrated amply that GM was a failed technology.

“Bollworm, a cotton pest for which GM technology was brought in for pest control has developed resistance against the Bt cotton and is able to survive and wreak havoc on Bt cotton crop. Thousands of farmers have incurred losses in the country due to this,” he told the Prime Minister in the letter.

Reminding Mr Modi about stress given by him on cooperative federalism and need to uphold federal policy, he said, “This issue of GM crops is an important area where this has to be demonstrated urgently.”

“If the Government of India approves GM crops such as GM mustard which is an important crop for States like Bihar, the State will not be able to escape the consequences of the technology as we are also the leading producer of honey in India and honey production depends on mustard crop,” he said.

He urged the Prime Minister to see that no decision on GM crops should be taken in haste, which can harm the interest of farmers and the people of India at large.

The interested parties are trying to push in an unproven technology. The States must have a decisive say in the use of the technology and any dubious technology should not be thrust on the farmers,” he said.

“The government of India should mandatorily consult and seek no objection from the state government before conducting field trials of any GM crop,” Mr Kumar urged Mr Modi.

He also sought the Prime Minister’s intervention to see that the attempt to commercially release genetically modified mustard variety in the country should not proceed any further without prior consultation and consent of the state government.



  • 3 share Chemistry Nobel for molecular machines

A trio of French, British and Dutch scientists won the Nobel Chemistry Prize on Wednesday for developing molecular machines, the world’s smallest machines that may one day act as artificial muscles to power tiny robots or even prosthetic limbs.

Jean-Pierre Sauvage of France, J. Fraser Stoddart of Britain and Bernard Feringa of the Netherlands “have developed molecules with controllable movements, which can perform a task when energy is added”, the jury said.

Inspired by proteins that naturally act as biological machines within cells, these synthetic copies are usually constructed of a few molecules fused together.

Also called nano machines or nanobots, they can be put to work as tiny motors, ratchets, pistons or wheels to produce mechanical motion in response to stimuli such as light or temperature change.

Molecular machines can move objects many time their size. The three laureates will share the eight million Swedish kronor (around $933,000) prize equally.

The first step towards a molecular machine was taken by Mr. Sauvage in 1983, when he succeeded in linking together two ring-shaped molecules to form a chain.

Mr. Sauvage (71) is currently the director of research emeritus at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

The second step was taken by Mr. Stoddart in 1991, when he threaded a molecular ring onto a thin molecular axle and demonstrated that the ring was able to move along the axle.

Mr. Stoddart (74) is a professor of Chemistry at North western University in the U.S.

Mr. Feringa (65) was meanwhile the first person to develop a molecular motor — in 1999 he was able to make a molecular rotor blade to spin continually in the same direction.



  • UN court rejects disarmament case against India

The United Nations’ highest court on Wednesday rejected nuclear disarmament cases filed by the Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands against Britain, India and Pakistan, saying it did not have jurisdiction.

The International Court of Justice ruled that the Marshall Islands had failed to prove that a legal dispute over disarmament existed between it and the three nuclear powers before the case was filed in 2014, and that “consequently the court lacks jurisdiction.”

It took a casting vote by the court’s President Ronny Abraham to break an eight-eight deadlock between the 16 judges on the question of jurisdiction in the case against Britain.

In the cases against India and Pakistan, the margin was nine-seven.

Phon van den Biesen, a Dutch lawyer who represented the Marshall Islands, said he was deeply disappointed by the rulings.

“If the court keeps creating this sort of threshold, what is the court for?” he said. “It’s a dispute that is clear to all of the world except for eight judges here.”

Mr. Abraham acknowledged that the Marshall Islands had a particular interest in nuclear disarmament “by virtue of the suffering which its people endured as a result of it being used as a site for extensive nuclear testing programmes.”

At hearings in March, Marshall Islands representative Tony deBrum said he watched one of the U.S. nuclear tests in his home country as a 9-year-old boy while fishing with his grandfather.

“The entire sky turned blood red,” he told judges in an emotional speech. He said some of his country’s islands were “vaporised” by the tests.

The Marshall Islands originally filed cases against all nine nations that have declared or are believed to possess nuclear weapons: the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. But only the cases against Britain, India and Pakistan got to the preliminary stage of proceedings.

In a landmark 1996 advisory opinion, the court said that using or threatening to use nuclear arms would “generally be contrary to” the laws of war and humanitarian law. But it added that it could not definitively rule on whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be legal “in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a state would be at stake.”

The judges in 1996 also unanimously stated that there is a legal obligation “to pursue in good faith” nuclear disarmament talks.


  • Three shades of denial

Denial seems to be everywhere these days. Sceptics profess a healthy instinct to question everything, not least the utterances of those in power. Others lament what they see as an increasingly post-factual age, where sowing doubt and spreading disinformation has become a strategic art in itself, mastered by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Outlandish claims stand through sheer force of articulation, whether Donald Trump’s disavowal of his birtherism or, in my home country, Brexiteers’ wild promises of repatriated cash from Europe. But it may be worth unpacking the different flavours of denial witnessed in the past few days in India, for they have very different implications.

A week ago, on the morning of September 29, India’s Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) stated that the Indian Army had conducted “surgical strikes” on sites “along” — not across — the Line of Control (LoC). That remains the only explicit claim made by the government, though ministers have referred to troops crossing the LoC. Every other splash of colour, from the depth of penetration, to the calibre of rockets employed, to the use of satellites, lacks the imprimatur of a public statement whose withdrawal would cause serious embarrassment and a loss of credibility.

On the days after

As we saw in the hours and days after the raid on Abbottabad in 2011, background briefings throw up inconsistencies and hagiographic embellishments, even where the basic facts are roughly correct. Osama bin Laden did not use his wife as a shield nor brandish a gun, both details that were widely reported on May 2. After India’s raid in Myanmar in June 2015, anonymous sources similarly duelled over details. It is telling that some of those most sceptical about the details of India’s strike are journalists with decades of experience with the armed forces, familiar with the idiosyncrasies of off-record sources, and with a keen sense of how the fogs of war and politics can combine.

At the same time, there are reasons to be even more sceptical of Pakistan’s insistence that nothing, beyond routine shellfire, occurred overnight on September 28. Pakistan’s case appears to be that the LoC is impermeable, but we know this to be nonsense from the history of tactical raids in both directions. Such raids were commonplace before 2003, and some resumed a decade later. Pakistan itself has acknowledged some of these in its complaints to the United Nations, and Indian officials have tacitly owned up. Given that many of them painted India in a less than favourable light, they can hardly be written off as PR stunts. If that is so, then the idea of shallow incursions, perhaps a trivial distance across the LoC if not the claimed several kilometres, should be intrinsically plausible. Pakistan has ferried journalists to the spots where it says nothing occurred, and local residents’ accounts are not without value, but we have seen from its handling of drone strikes that such areas can be quickly sanitised and manipulated by the army. Moreover, Rawalpindi’s flurry of military activity — understandable, indeed prudent, in the circumstances — belies its public insouciance.

New Delhi’s modest public claims deserve scrutiny and corroboration, but those scornful of the very possibility of a raid are wilfully ignorant of LoC precedent. No matter. This sort of denial is a stabilising force. India made a deliberate choice to help Pakistan save face. It framed its strikes as pre-emption rather than reprisal, focussed on militants over the Pakistan Army, and kept public statements to a minimum. Video footage or photographs would give credibility to India’s claims, but they would also make it harder for Pakistan to disclaim the need for a response. The government may yet succumb to temptation, but discretion is often the better part of de-escalation. Had India acted as it did after the Myanmar raid, it is difficult to imagine that National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Nasser Khan Janjua would have found the political space to speak and agree to a reduction in tensions, as they have done.

Denial through hyperbole

This brings us to a second sort of denial. If denial through disavowal is steadying, then denial through hyperbole is less so. “Indian troops were like Hanuman who did not quite know their prowess before the surgical strikes,” boasted Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. His remarks were both crass and wrong-headed. He too is in denial — about the meaning of the strike. The raid is plausible precisely because of its precedent. It did not cross Pakistani nuclear redlines, because it was in keeping with the hitherto private signalling that went on between the front line forces over the past two decades, rather than some act of unparalleled mountain-lifting

True, published accounts suggest a novel degree of integration between the human and technical intelligence, the army, and the political leadership. If corroborated, this is an important development, given what the Kargil Committee Report described as the “lack of inter-agency coordination [and] lack of coordination between the Army and the agencies”. The reported use of satellite imagery is a mark of how significant India’s emerging space capabilities may come to be. And the geographic scope of the raids, a couple of hundred kilometres apart from each other, would also be indicative of careful preparation and coordination. But these refinements simply aren’t fundamental rupture with the past, at least not in terms of the cost imposed on Pakistan. And that, surely, is the point.

There is a qualitative difference between a low-level, tactical raid on minor outposts a short distance from the LoC and a large-scale assault on the headquarters of the organisations that continue to attack India. These are deeper inside Pakistan, closer to major population centres, and far larger in size. They cannot be reached on foot, as was done last week according to the most detailed accounts. While India has some night-flying capability, the introduction of airlift on a meaningful scale presents more severe challenges. India reportedly kept attack helicopters ready at four bases in Kashmir in case the September 28-29 operation turned sour. Would such safety nets be available if commandos were near the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s headquarters in Muridke, 30 km inside undisputed Pakistani territory? “No helicopters, no integration, no intelligence, no training and no operational concept,” claimed Rear Admiral Raja Menon on the morning of the raid. Set aside the braying triumphalism, and it remains too early to conclude that he was wrong. Intelligence on launch pads is not the same as intelligence on the movements of Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders. Airlift to the LoC isn’t the same as getting stealthily across it.

Instrument of the state

And then we come to a third sort of denial, which is perhaps the most dangerous of all. The chest thumping in some parts of the Indian media is dangerous, because it exaggerates capabilities, underplays risks, and substitutes strategy with emotion. But far worse is the systematic denial that the terrorist groups that operate on Pakistani soil are, at root, instruments of the state.

When Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif described the Uri attack as an “inside job”, “self-generated by India”, he was feeding a ruinous culture of self-deception that should concern us far more than an over-caffeinated Indian news anchor confusing reality with Rambo. Freud would have had little trouble grasping Mr. Asif’s classic psychological projection: attributing to others that which can’t be accepted as part of oneself. This sickness is contagious. Monday’s joint resolution by Pakistani parties — including the PML, PPP and MQM — furiously rejected “false claims of cross-border terrorism”. So there we are. India conducted a non-existent raid to avenge a false flag attack perpetrated by non-existent terrorists who, if they existed, would have non-existent ties to the state. It’s enough to provoke an existential crisis in the best of us. Denial may have spared us escalation, for now, but it continues to sow the seeds of a larger crisis still.



  • Disquiet over Cauvery’s flows

When the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) proposed the setting up of a Cauvery Management Board, it did so for very good reasons. During monsoon deficit years, the pattern of flows in the different sub-basins will not match the schedule of water deliveries worked out on the basis of normal year readings. The CMB was conceived as a body that would monitor the storage position in the Cauvery basin and the trend of rainfall, and assess the likely inflows for distribution among the States. The tribunal was emphatic in its final award: the CMB is integral to the resolution of disputes, between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and also Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu and Kerala, over the schedule of releases for irrigation downstream. For the Central government to now oppose the setting up of the CMB, taking cover under Article 262 of the Constitution and the provisions of the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 that forbid the Supreme Court from intervening in inter-State water disputes is little more than a streak of twisted logic. Indeed, the Section of the 1956 Act that gives the orders of tribunals set up by the government under it the same force as an order of the Supreme Court is being invoked not to strengthen the orders of the Cauvery tribunal but to subvert one of its crucial recommendations. The Supreme Court’s direction to the Centre to constitute the CMB was in keeping with the tribunal order, and not in contravention of it, as the government was trying to make it appear.

The fact that the Centre did such a hasty U-turn on the CMB while making its submission in the Supreme Court suggests that political factors may have been at play. The Assembly election in Karnataka, where the BJP has high stakes, is less than two years away. In contrast, Tamil Nadu, where the BJP has no real base, has recently concluded its election. If there is a good legal argument against the setting up of the CMB, it is that a larger, three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court is already seized of the matter. Tamil Nadu’s plea to constitute the CMB had been clubbed along with the main appeal filed challenging the 2007 final award of the CWDT. In the short term, the Supreme Court’s acceptance of the suggestion that a “technical team” visit the Cauvery basin and report back on the ground realities seems to be the only certain way of depoliticising the dispute. But any long-term solution will necessarily have to be on the basis of the well-thought-out recommendations of the CWDT, and the mechanism provided for the sharing of waters in a year of distress.


  • The battle over Bt cotton

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) breed controversy like no other. Little wonder then that Monsanto’s much-maligned Bt cotton has spawned the mother of all intellectual property (IP) disputes in India, involving at least 15 different proceedings in various courts, government agencies and tribunals at last count.

Most proceedings appear to have come at the behest of certain seed companies led by Nuziveedu. Its founder, Prabhakar Rao, is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that these seed majors beget a better deal than what they bargained for when they first contracted with Monsanto to licence its proprietary GM technology.

A recent controversy centres around which of the two IP regimes governs the dispute: the Patents Act or the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFRA). To me, this appears to be a false dichotomy and a red herring of sorts. Both these legislations apply and one does not necessarily trump the other. But first a word about the technological underpinnings of this dispute, so this point about co-existence can be appreciated better.

Monsanto and patent protection

Monsanto patented a number of components related to Bt cotton, a biotech invention involving the infusion of the Bt gene into the cotton genome. Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria whose genome codes for a protein that kills the bollworm, a pest that has perennially plagued the cotton plant. The patent does not cover the plant itself, as plants and animals are ineligible for patent protection in India, as are ordinary biological processes for creating them. However, microbiological processes (such as methods of creating transgenic varieties) and microorganisms (such as new and inventive transgenes and their constructs) are patentable under the terms of the Indian Patents Act, and Monsanto’s patents cover most of these components. It bears noting in this regard that Bt cotton technology was never static, but evolved over time to cater to the pest resistance that soon developed. While the technology pertaining to Bollgard-I was never patented in India (since this technology was discovered prior to India’s undertaking of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS commitments), Bollgard-II was, and it is this technology that is in dispute.

Using the patented technology, Monsanto created a host of donor Bt cotton seeds and distributed them to seed companies under specific agreements mandating the payment of royalties (trait fees), etc. Seed companies in turn used these donor seeds to intrigues the desirable genetic trait (bollworm resistance) into their own specific hybrid varieties by backcrossing.

Monsanto’s patents cover various components of the technology embedded in the donor seeds handed out to seed companies (the new man-made transgene, the DNA construct and the method of creating the new cotton genome). Any seed company that uses this donor seed and creates a new plant variety is entitled to register such variety under the PPVFRA.

This new plant variety registration, however, does not extinguish Monsanto’s upsteam patent rights. Neither does the patent right override the plant variety protection. They co-exist. As such, seed companies cannot commercialise their hybrids without a patent licence from Monsanto, in much the same way that Monsanto cannot sell or distribute these hybrids without permission from the seed company. If Monsanto refuses to licence the seed companies, they can move for a compulsory licence (CL) under the Patents Act, provided they satisfy the terms of Section 84, which states that a CL could be granted if the patented invention is exorbitantly priced or not available in reasonable quantities to the public or is not being worked in the territory in India.

But this licence application has to be under the terms of the Patents Act, and not the PPVFRA. Given this clear-cut demarcation, one wonders what the legal fracas is all about!

Unless of course one were to invalidate Monsanto’s patent. If news reports are to be believed, there are pending invalidity proceedings before both the IPAB (Intellectual Property Appellate Board) as also the DIPP (Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion).

At cross-purposes

The DIPP proceeding is a particularly interesting one, given that Section 66 of the Patents Act has been invoked, an exceptional provision that provides for revocation on grounds that the patent is “mischievous to the state or generally prejudicial to the public”. The key contention appears to be that the patent is no longer effective, given the pest resistance that developed over time. A ground not likely to pass muster with a court of law, given the rather high bar for invoking Section 66. Quite apart from the fact that it appears a tad bit paradoxical that while one wing of the government (the Ministry of Agriculture) has recently issued a draft notification qualifying GM technology as an industry “standard” that must mandatorily be licensed on FRAND (Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) terms to as many seed companies as possible, another one (DIPP) insists that the technology is useless!

More surprising is the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture, with no proven expertise or jurisdictional competence over patent issues, would go out on a limb and suggest (in an official draft notification no less) that Monsanto’s patents over upstream GM technology must necessarily yield to downstream plant variety rights.

Whatever be our personal predilections against GMOs, it is a matter of deep concern that government agencies appear to be flouting the rule of law with impunity. While there may be merit in regulating GMO patents, this must be done after following due processes under the law, through the relevant competent authority (such as the Patent Office), and not through abusive lawmaking designed to seemingly favour one set of stakeholders who are essentially engaged in a private commercial dispute.

More importantly, one wonders why the government chooses to concentrate all of its eggs in the Bt cotton basket. Particularly so when its own institutes contend that even Bollgard-II technology is soon succumbing to progressive pest resistance.

Shouldn’t our government be encouraging a diversity of approaches in Indian agriculture, entailing both GM technology and the more traditional processes that have stood the test of time? More so, when nature has taught us time and again that the best of technologies can never really match up to the wisdom of an innate evolutionary process.

In fact, if it wishes to be a bit radical, the government could even encourage what maverick scientists did in Assam recently, when they encouraged farmers to reimaging beetles (that destroyed crops) as protein-laden delicacies to be consumed with relish. And this leaves us with just one real question in the end: can the bollworm be barbecued?


  • All about means and ends

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is not only a pioneering livelihood security programme but also a great example of proactive disclosure of information through its Management Information System (MIS). It is the first transaction-based real-time system for any public works programme in the country that is available in the public domain. There has been a digitisation of all the processes in MGNREGA — right from a worker registering demand for work, to work allotment, to finally getting wages for completed works. Another notable feature of the MIS is the availability of information through online reports at various levels of disaggregation. This has enabled any citizen to monitor the implementation of the programme and has consequently charted a new paradigm of transparency since the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The sheer scale of information available on implementation is also no mean achievement. Individual worker details from around 2.5 lakh gram panchayats are available in the MGNREGA MIS.

While this system is certainly a great feather in the cap of a transparent democracy, it is critical to understand its current shortcomings and possible ways to improve its functioning.


To begin with, the MIS is accessible only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Indian Standard Time. This is a huge impediment for collaborative work across time zones.

Second, it does not provide any data dictionary. A data dictionary is a repository of all the names of variables/columns used in various reports, containing a brief explanation of its meanings. Such a dictionary is crucial so that any citizen accessing the online reports can understand the content in them. As things stand, unless somebody has spent a lot of time in rural areas, it is difficult to comprehend the details of many reports.

Third, the nomenclature of the column names in the online reports is not consistent. The same column name is labelled differently in different reports. For instance, what is referred to as the Payment Date in the report of weekly works (‘Mustroll Report’) is known as the Second Signatory Date in a report titled ‘FTO Second Signatory’. Payment Date is also a misnomer as it does not refer to the date on which a worker gets paid. Although obfuscation of the column names may not be intentional, it nevertheless becomes excruciating for any citizen or researcher to make meaningful sense of the reports.

Fourth, some obvious worker-centric links in the data structure are missing. For example, every household that does MGNREGA work has a unique job card number. This number is crucial to get work. Upon completion of a work week, a Funds Transfer Order (FTO) is generated containing the details of each job card holder’s earned wages. On the MIS, there is no clear link between these two crucial pieces. As such it becomes difficult to follow the trail of each job card holder from the time of work demanded to getting the wages.

Passing the baton of accountability

While computerisation of all transactions is a welcome move, officials are passing the baton of accountability. One should be mindful that an information system doesn’t end up controlling the legal rights. There are several situations when a written request for work by a worker is not entered in the MIS till funds for work allocation are made available from the Centre. This is illegal as the Act mandates provision of work within a stipulated time of requesting for it. Similarly, the generation of the FTO is withheld till funds for wage payments are released. There are other instances when the FTO is not generated if a worker fails to furnish his or her Aadhaar number. Some are harder to locate as there is no paper trail or stated intention but realised only retrospectively once the workers are affected. There are other such examples illustrating how the IT infrastructure becomes a tool prioritising administrative needs as opposed to being a programme enabler. In this regard, it is instructive to recall the phrase “code is law” popularised by the Harvard Law professor, Lawrence Lessig. Code, as in software, and code, as in law, can both be instruments of social control. To quote him: “We can build, or architect, or code cyberspace to protect values that we believe are fundamental. Or we can build, or architect, or code cyberspace to allow those values to disappear. There is no middle ground. Code is never found; it is only ever made, and only ever made by us.”

Technological architecture can also be used to perpetuate falsehoods. For instance, consider the flawed mechanism of the calculation of delay compensation when wages are not paid on time. Ideally, the compensation should be calculated from the 16th day of completion of a work week till the day on which the workers actually receive their wages. However, the compensation is computed based on the payment date, which, as we have mentioned, is not the date on which the wages get credited into the workers’ accounts. The difference of the two calculation methods run into crores of rupees that rightfully belong to the workers. While the automated calculation is a progressive measure, its basis must be correct and transparent. The fact that even with the flawed calculation no compensation has been paid corroborates that technology can be a strong aid but not a replacement for accountability.

The MIS is a powerful mechanism to have an evidence-based discourse for monitoring basic services. But a governance framework for the MIS needs to be put in place that lays out the minimum standards and accountability of the Ministry managing the system. Such a framework must be built in consultation with all concerned parties and should follow the provisions of the law (both MGNREGA and RTI). The system design choices should reflect the values of the worker-centric programme and hence principles need to be followed for compassionate design. Otherwise, we fear that technology is dictating administrative choices, akin to the phrase “architecture is politics”.


  • Crossing an uncertain Rubicon

Old hands at the Intelligence Bureau (IB) have a riveting narrative, and even if parts of it are apocryphal, it’s still telling. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee knew that if the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001 went unchallenged, it would send out wrong signals and engender other attacks. The evening of the attack, he got a briefing with a view to strike targets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir; the IB had selected 12 targets and the Air Force was ready. The strikes would be punitive, short, sharp, one-off. After that, the terrorists and their backers would no longer launch attack after taunting attack on India without fear of reprisal. Mr. Vajpayee was evidently interested.

The Intelligence Bureau’s plan

Those days, the Air Force was sourcing satellite images of one metre resolution from IKONOS of military targets in Pakistan. Using these images, the Air Force generated three-dimensional models of the terrain and fed them into a flight simulator. And pilots would simulate bombing runs, releasing laser-guided bombs on the targets, which they would reach by contour flying. Mr. Vajpayee was told the Air Force could hit targets as small as 10 metres by 10 metres. The hit would be so precise that the surrounding structures would still be standing afterwards. Critically, there were no schools, hospitals, or places of worship near the prospective targets. In 15 minutes it would be all over, the planes would be out and back on the tarmac, whether they flew from Srinagar or Avantipur.

The next morning the IB briefed Mr. Vajpayee. Four of the targets were big buildings Lashkars operated from, sprawled over five acres in the outskirts of Muzaffarabad, where 200 terrorists were reportedly being trained. There were some Al-Badr camps, a Hizbul Mujahideen camp inside the town, and a building where the Jaish-e-Mohammed ran a guest house. In fact, only the previous week, a trusted agent had confirmed the operational details as well, both on the map as well as on the three-dimensional mock-up. The IB didn’t want to be lured into attacking targets that were emptied of terrorists at the last minute and replaced with innocent civilians; dirty tricks are part of the intelligence game.

All Mr. Vajpayee had to do was to call in the strike. The timing looked right, the provocation couldn’t be graver. Americans would have winked. After the World Trade Centre had been brought down, the U.S. was in the middle of a massive military campaign swarming Afghanistan. U.S. President George W. Bush had briefed Mr. Vajpayee on this when they met on November 9, 2001, in the Oval Office. Mr. Vajpayee had taken the opportunity to point out that there were in Afghanistan many terrorist camps in which groups inimical to India were being trained and indoctrinated to carry out attacks against India.

In the event, on December 14, Mr. Vajpayee hesitated, and did not cross the Rubicon. Perhaps it is not right to compare the scale of what would have been achieved if Mr. Vajpayee had decided to strike then with what happened on September 28-29. It certainly doesn’t look as though a single night’s extremely modest military exertions have fixed the terrorism problem with Pakistan, as is being witnessed in Baramulla. Over many years, the U.S. and the coalition of the willing threw all they had and more into Afghanistan and Iraq, and look what they have left us. And Pakistan is not Afghanistan, it has an endless capacity to innovate on such matters.

Breaching the threshold of tolerance

Pakistan has seen worse, far worse. For example, when the Indian Army was kept mobilised, revved up, and on the start line for 10 long months during Operation Parakram, did it achieve what the policymakers started out to do? Not one in India’s list of ‘most wanted’, which we brandished daily, did Pakistan give up. It is unclear if massing 5,00,000 troops even brought down infiltrations.

Consider the evidence. The Kaluchak attack of May 2002, when terrorists stopped a bus and shot and killed 31 people, came even as the troops had been mobilised, a sort of dare that could not possibly get more provocative. A couple of months later, on July 13, terrorists walked into Qasim Nagar in Jammu, lobbed grenades and shot 29 people dead. Nine Amarnath Yatra pilgrims were shot while they were asleep near Pahalgam in August that year. It wasn’t until October that India finally ordered demobilisation. Never once did Pakistan breach India’s threshold of tolerance.

Had Mr. Vajpayee gone ahead and struck at Muzaffarabad, Pakistan would have by now have made sure that in and around every terror training camp there are schools, hospitals and places of worship to ward off such adventurism; that launch pads move farther from the Line of Control and merge seamlessly with the more dense civilian habitations. The “surgical strikes” consequently won’t goad the Pakistan military into announcing a VRS for its terrorists. Pakistan has demonstrated a capacity to hit at even heavily fortified targets with troubling ease — Pathankot, for instance. It won’t take much for them to recalibrate and range further afield. Will New Delhi be able to manage the consequences of anything it starts? That has always been the question.


  • In black and white

The Centre’s move to mop up black money from the economy by giving taxpayers amnesty to declare undisclosed past income by paying tax on it at an effective, slightly high rate of 45 per cent has yielded a surprisingly positive dividend. The four-month window granted for evaders to come clean opened sluggishly, but eventually over 64,200 assessees disclosed undeclared assets worth at least Rs.65,250 crore. Stern warnings from the Prime Minister himself about tough action and possible jail terms for those who failed to declare their ‘cartloads’ of black money may have added punch to the Finance Ministry’s pitch. The haul is considerably higher than the Rs.4,164 crore in assets and black money held abroad disclosed under a similar arrangement with a higher tax rate in 2015. This time, the tax department rightly focussed on demystifying and propagating the scheme, so potential beneficiaries were reassured that they would not be persecuted. The almost Rs.30,000 crore in taxes being raked in provides a cushion for the Centre on the fiscal deficit management front since it hadn’t set any explicit revenue expectations from the scheme.

The final stocktaking is still on, so the record collections under this scheme, vis-à-vis similar endeavours in the past, could rise further. The Centre, however, must not consider this the end of its campaign on black money. To put things in context, the average undisclosed income per taxpayer under the scheme stands at Rs.1.01 crore; and though the disclosures are nearly double those in the last income amnesty scheme (around Rs.33,700 crore), nearly two decades have passed since then, making comparisons misleading. The tax department is aware that Rs.65,250 crore is just the tip of the iceberg — it had sent seven lakh letters to suspected evaders based on information on about 90 lakh high-value transactions that took place without PAN card details. The tax department must crack down on such evaders and spruce up its data-mining methods to expand the country’s shallow tax base. While the department’s efforts have revealed undisclosed income of over Rs.58,000 crore in the last two and half years, and more is being pursued from tax havens where Indian holdings have come to light, all of this is akin to treating the symptoms without addressing the root cause. If the Centre is serious about attacking India’s thriving black economy, it needs to be bold and, for starters, make electoral funding transparent, curb the misuse by the wealthy of tax-free income sops for farmers, and encourage cashless transactions.



  • The elusive peace in Colombia

Colombia has missed, narrowly, an opportunity to end its five-decade-long civil war. Had a majority of the electorate voted ‘yes’ in Sunday’s referendum on a peace agreement reached between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), it would have immediately set in motion the process of disarming the rebels. But the accord was rejected by a razor-thin majority, throwing the future of peace — and war as well, which both the government and the rebels had declared over — into uncertainty. It is not difficult to understand popular anger against FARC. The rebel group is accused of massacres, trading in illegal drugs and running extortion rackets. Over 52 years, the conflict has claimed 220,000 lives and displaced about six million people. A dominant section of Colombia’s political class, led by former President Álvaro Uribe, was actively campaigning for a ‘no’ vote. Mr. Uribe had charged President Santos with handing Colombia over to FARC. The main criticism is that “justice” is being sacrificed for achieving “peace”. Under the terms of the current agreement, most of FARC’s rank and file would be allowed to lead civilian lives. The leadership will be judged in special tribunals with reduced sentences.

With all its imperfections, this was the best opportunity in decades to end a war in which both sides have committed terrible crimes. While the atrocities committed by FARC are well-documented, government troops and the army-backed right-wing paramilitaries stand accused of excessive use of force, turning the Colombian countryside into a war zone. Where President Santos differed from his predecessors was in the realisation that there was no military solution to this conflict, leading to negotiations with the rebels four years ago with Cuba’s mediation. The ‘no’ vote doesn’t necessarily mean that the country will be pushed back into war. Both President Santos and FARC chief ‘Timochenko’ have said they would continue efforts to make peace. But it is not clear what options they have but to renegotiate a fresh deal and put it to another referendum. That means the government and the rebels may have to go through another round of tortuous talks. While reaching a new agreement has its own challenges, it is plausible for both sides, having established goodwill and trust over the past four years of negotiations, to look for creative diplomatic solutions to end the war for good. The Colombian government should also try to win over the opposition, which would strengthen its appeal to the public for a deal. The alternative to peace is to send FARC back to the jungles and risk a potential resumption of the war.


  • A lost opportunity

Years of negotiation in Havana, Cuba, brought the government of Colombia to a peace deal with the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). A 52-year civil war tore through this northernmost country of South America, taking at least a quarter of a million lives and displacing over six million people. No one was immune from the violence. Families had someone who had either been killed in the fighting or who wore the colours of the army, the FARC, or the right-wing paramilitaries. “In this house everything is ruin,” wrote the poet María Mercedes Carranza. “In this house we are burned alive.”

On September 26, the government and the FARC rebels signed an agreement based on the negotiations in Havana to end the war. The landmark accord would bring the FARC fighters out of the forest and into the political process. Crimes committed during the war — by all sides — would be forgiven in the name of peace. The government promised to set aside three million hectares to distribute to landless peasants and small landholders. The FARC would receive funds to help it become a political party, and the government promised to reserve seats in the Congress for it.

To ratify this agreement, the government agreed to hold a referendum on October 2. Few expected the turnout to be as low as it was — under 40 per cent, fewer than the percentage that came to the polls in 2014 to elect Colombia’s current President, Juan Manuel Santos — and for the vote to go against the peace agreement. The outcome was very close: 50.23 per cent voted no, and 49.76 per cent voted yes.

Split wide open

Polls showed that the ‘yes’ vote would win easily. The government, the FARC, the Catholic church and most civil society organisations backed the ‘yes’ vote. President Santos said he had bargained for the best deal possible.

The President had been the Defence Minister under the previous President, Álvaro Uribe, and had helped prosecute the war against the FARC and other guerrilla groups. Both Mr. Santos and Mr. Uribe knew about the crimes committed by their military. In 2008, Mr. Uribe dismissed 25 military officers, including three generals, for the assassination of young people who had been recruited in Bogotá’s slums. These officers had been trained at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the troops had been armed under the U.S. programme called Plan Colombia. Hundreds of extrajudicial killings had been admitted by Mr. Santos when he was Defence Minister. Reports emerged that the government had dispossessed, often at the barrel of a gun, mainly Afro-Colombians from the interior in order to facilitate the palm oil sector. This ‘ethnic cleansing’ had become normal from the government’s side.

                                             In the lead-up to the referendum, the FARC leadership travelled across the country to apologise for crimes that their fighters had committed, massacres that they agreed had been unnecessary on political and military grounds. For instance, the FARC commander Ivan Marquez pointed to the 2002 Bojaya massacre of 119 civilians (48 of them children) and offered “an infinite apology”. This was one of many such incidents.

Mr. Uribe, now a Senator, campaigned viciously against the deal. He argued against allowing the FARC impunity for such massacres and mused about dealing a death blow by military means against the guerrilla group. His party and his allies suggested that the peace deal would deliver Colombia to the communists and to those who supported a progressive social agenda, including gay rights.

In Mr. Uribe’s hometown of Medellin, the leader of the ‘no’ campaign was Jhon Jairo Velásquez, the hit man of the late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. These were the kinds of people who canvassed against the deal. It was a dirty campaign, vilifying President Santos for his ‘betrayal’ and calling the FARC “narco-terrorists” who needed to be eliminated. Anger that the deal had been negotiated seemingly without democratic oversight was fodder for some who instinctively would have recoiled against bringing the FARC above ground. Human Rights Watch’s Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco suggested that the deal should be disregarded because it gave immunity to the FARC rebels. This was context that moved the slim majority to vote against the accord.

Colombian activists who supported the deal say that the turnout was low for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most significant reason is the lack of enthusiasm about the peace agreement in the first place. Hurricane Matthew’s rush to the Colombian coastline certainly played a role in dampening turnout on the coast, where the ‘yes’ vote would have been strengthened. Places which had experienced the worst of the war — in the interior of the country — voted heavily for the agreement, while Medellin voted ‘no’. The town of Bojaya voted overwhelmingly (95.76 per cent) for the agreement. They knew what the vote would mean.

Peace or war?

When the referendum’s result broke, Mr. Uribe took to the airwaves with a more conciliatory tone. He knew that he had found a seat at the table. No longer was his tone towards the FARC harsh. “We ask that there is no violence,” said the Senator, “that the FARC are protected and that they cease all crime, including drug trafficking and extortion.” It was important for Mr. Uribe to make the point that the vote was not against peace or for war, but that it was for a different kind of peace. He appears statesmanlike, even though his agenda is narrow.

Both President Santos and the FARC signalled quickly that the vote would not lead them back to war. The FARC’s leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, aka Timochenko, said that “peace would triumph”. He pledged that the FARC would “maintain its desire for peace” and would use “words as arms to build the future”. Mr. Santos called for an all-party discussion towards restarting the negotiation.

Mr. Uribe will play an oversize role in the new deliberations. He will seek to get more concessions from the FARC. Fighters of the FARC have been eager for the peace process to come into play. They are exhausted by the fighting and had wanted to return home. The morale of the FARC is low, but that does not mean that it would be willing to concede on questions of prosecution for its leadership and fighters.

Gloom prevails across the country. If the vote had gone the other way, Colombia might have shown the world that even intractable civil wars can come to an end. It would have been a message to Syria and to the Congo, a message of the power of negotiation towards a new civic compact. But this did not come to pass. Even as President Santos and the FARC leadership try to maintain their optimism of a deal, the return of Mr. Uribe suggests that Colombia might turn its back on a real peace.



  • ICAR discusses ways to improve agriculture output in Punjab and Haryana

Farm research body ICAR on Monday discussed ways to boost agriculture output and overcome deteriorating soil health and depleting ground water table in Punjab and Haryana with state officials and scientists.

In a two-day regional committee zone meeting called by ICAR here, the challenges being faced in agriculture sector in three states — Punjab, Haryana and Delhi — were discussed in detail with representatives of each state.

“This region contributes 20 per cent of food grain to the national pool. Presently, the major issues affecting agriculture in this region are deteriorating soil health, depleting ground water, diversification and climatic changes leading to declining profits for the farmers,” Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Director General Trilochan Mohapatra said in a statement.

He emphasised the need to develop appropriate resource conserving technologies and promotion of drip irrigation besides frost and salt-tolerant wheat, rice and mustard varieties suitable for this region.

He urged all the participating Vice-Chancellors, Directors and Senior Officers from state departments to prioritize research and development programs targeting farmers’ needs.

Punjab Assistant Chief Secretary (Development) Nirmaljeet Singh Kalsi said farmers distress is rising and an immediate help is required to keep the youth engaged in agriculture, the statement said.

ICAR Secretary Chhabilendra Roul said that policy makers need to be sensitized as the country does not have effective procurement policies.

“We have to influence the policy makers otherwise second green revolution cannot be achieved,” he noted.





  • Physics Nobel shared by three, one half by one and the other by two

The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2016 has been divided, one half awarded to David J. Thouless, the other half jointly to F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.”

Announcing the Prize on Tuesday in Stockholm, a statement by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said that “This year’s Laureates opened the door on an unknown world where matter can assume strange states. They have used advanced mathematical methods to study unusual phases, or states, of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids or thin magnetic films. Thanks to their pioneering work, the hunt is now on for new and exotic phases of matter.”

Last year, Physics Nobel was awarded to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. MacDonald for their work with neutrinos.


  • To be truly transparent

The Constitution of India gave the higher judiciary another important function in addition to adjudication of disputes: to regulate the executive and legislature to stay within the bounds of their powers — to prevent the executive from violating the laws, the Constitution and the fundamental rights of people guaranteed by the Constitution, and the legislature from violating the Constitution. The Supreme Court was anointed the final arbiter of the Constitution, and in 1973, in the landmark Kesavananda Bharati case, it held that even a constitutional amendment could not violate the basic structure of the Constitution.

For this reason, the independence of the judiciary from the executive and legislature has been regarded a cornerstone of the Constitution, and the Supreme Court has held it as an inviolable part of the basic structure of the Constitution. It is on this basis that the Supreme Court, in the Second Judges Case in 1993, took over the power of appointing judges from the executive to itself, holding that the government’s primacy in appointing judges would also compromise the independence of the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary was seen not just as functional independence but independence in manner of appointments.

Opacity in appointments

Since then, a collegiums of three/five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court have had the decisive say in selecting judges to the Supreme Court/high courts. This creative reinterpretation by the Supreme Court of the Articles of the Constitution dealing with appointment of judges has improved independence of the judiciary, inasmuch as judges appointed subsequently are less liable to be politically partisan or be influenced by the executive. It has, however, not fully solved the problem of independence, since judicial independence is also compromised by the lure of post-retirement jobs in commissions and tribunals, in the hands of the executive, or the permission for foreign trips for judges, also in the hands of the government.

When the power to appoint was with the government, especially in the later years, the government often used it to appoint politically partisan or subservient judges. Also, since there was no transparency, appointments were often arbitrary and nepotistic. With appointments taken over by the judiciary, the government’s ability to influence the appointments and thus appoint politically partisan or pliable people got reduced, but the problem of nepotism and arbitrariness continued. The collegiums also did not lay down any criteria for appointments or any method for evaluating candidates on those criteria. It also did not lay down any system for transparency in appointments. Thus, appointments continued to be made in an arbitrary and nepotistic manner with the people not being informed about who was going to be appointed and on what basis. Earlier it was said that in order to become a judge, one did not need to know the law but the law minister. It is now said that one need not know the law but the existing collegiums of judges to become a judge.

In order to regain some control over appointments, the government introduced the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act. This Act provided for a selection committee of six people, which included three senior-most sitting judges of the Supreme Court, the Law Minister, and two persons to be selected by a committee of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. It also provided that the Secretariat of the Appointments Commission would be in the Law Ministry. It further provided that any two members of the NJAC could veto the recommendation of the other four.

Government vs judiciary

Experience has shown that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition (who also hopes to become Prime Minister) are usually in agreement about appointing weak and pliable people to regulatory institutions and those who select members of such institutions, in order to weaken regulation of the political class. There was thus justified apprehension that the NJAC would dilute independence of the judiciary by giving the government a significant say in appointments. Therefore, the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional validity of the amendment introducing the NJAC as well as the NJAC Act on the ground that it diluted the independence of the judiciary which was part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

However, the Supreme Court did not take this opportunity to lay down any system of transparency in selection of judges. On the other hand, it left it to the government to devise a memorandum of procedure for selecting judges, which would have to be approved by the Chief Justice of India. This has resulted in the government trying to introduce clauses that could enable it to veto any recommendation on national security considerations. The memorandum of procedure is therefore stuck, with no agreement in sight between the government and the Chief Justice of India. The government is using this to delay appointments recommended by the collegiums. Judicial appointments have thus become hostage to the fight between the government and the judiciary on who should control appointments.

Need for a full-time body

The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms has for long recommended that selection to the higher judiciary must be made by a full-time (not ex officio) body, which is independent of the government and the judiciary and which goes about the selection in a rational and transparent manner. The business of selecting hundreds of judges in a year to the higher judiciary, if done properly, would require at least a thousand candidates to be considered and comparatively evaluated over multidimensional criteria in a fair and rational manner. This would require a full-time body, which could devote itself to this process, with a large secretariat. The job cannot be done by an ex officio body of judges and the law minister, who are extremely busy persons.

There also needs to be some transparency in the selection to prevent arbitrariness or nepotism. Minimum transparency would require that the criteria for selection of judges be made known, the comparative evaluation of candidates also be made known, and names of shortlisted/selected candidates announced before appointment, so that those who have relevant information about the candidate can send it to the appointing authority. Basic criteria to judge the competence of a candidate should include integrity, competence, judicial temperament, common sense and sensitivity towards the problems of the common man, among others. A system modelled on the British Judicial Appointments Commission, which follows a method to evaluate candidates based on predetermined and set criteria, is well worth considering.

The members of the selection authority could be retired judges or even laypersons and should be selected by a broad-based selection committee in which the government and the judiciary play a role, but not a dominant one. It is only such an independent full-time body that can be expected to select judges in a fair and rational manner.

End the turf tussle

While the Right to Information Act made the judiciary a public authority, the judiciary has stymied the right to information vis-à-vis itself and consistently refused to disclose information on its administrative or judicial functioning. Information on judicial appointments and pending judgments has been refused by the Supreme Court, that has challenged every decision of the Central Information Commission asking it to disclose such information.

Appointments to the higher judiciary are too serious a business to be left to people who do not have any time and who function without any system or transparency. It is imperative that a system for selection of judges be put in place and a full-time independent body be constituted to ensure that only those persons who are in tune with the egalitarian constitutional philosophy, and who have some sensitivity and understanding about the common people of the country are appointed.

The road to securing judicial accountability is long and hard, but proper accountability for such a powerful and vital organ like the Indian judiciary is essential for the survival of the rule of law and democracy in this country. The time has come for the people of the country, who are the real stakeholders in an honestly functioning judiciary, to assert themselves and demand for such a body to be appointed and this scuffle over judicial appointments to be laid to rest.

Prashant Bhushan is a public interest advocate and convener, Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms.



  • Bolstering growth amid risks

The Monetary Policy Committee’s decision, at its maiden meeting, to cut the benchmark repurchase (repo) rate by 25 basis points held no surprise for markets. What had been on watch was the language of the policy statement, the extent of consensus in the committee and the manner in which the new Reserve Bank of India Governor and chairman of the MPC, Urjit Patel, presented the central bank’s positions. Articulating the main concern that informed the newly constituted rate-setting panel’s rationale for reducing interest rates, Mr. Patel said the global demand environment was clearly looking far bleaker than previously anticipated, with the forecast for world economic growth set to be downgraded further. The focus, he signalled, therefore needs to remain on supporting the domestic economy through an accommodative monetary stance. That the MPC has opted to lay primacy on ‘supporting growth’ while keeping its sights firmly trained on the RBI’s central remit to target a medium-term retail inflation objective of 4 per cent, within a band of plus/minus 2 per cent, bodes well. Decision-making by committee is never easy, and given the short time the MPC had since its constitution last month, the lucidity of the policy statement shows its six members have hit the ground running. While the minutes of the meeting — that will reveal each member’s arguments — will become available on October 18, all six voted for the rate cut. The decision reflects the broad consensus that the risks to growth from global uncertainty and financial markets volatility remain high, especially ahead of the U.S. presidential election, and that a rate stimulus was warranted given the recent slowing in retail inflation.

Even as it expects an improvement in the outlook for food inflation on the back of increased sowing and supply management measures undertaken by the government, the MPC has been cautious in flagging the risks to the trajectory for price gains. In the panel’s opinion, the main factors that could play a contributory role in furthering a fresh ‘cost spiral’ would be the higher house rent allowances mandated by the Seventh Pay Commission, the increase in minimum wages and the possible spillovers through minimum support prices. Multiple factors augur well for the outlook for both the industrial and services sectors. But the worsening trade demand could offset the gross value added (GVA) momentum, the MPC noted, while retaining the RBI’s GVA growth forecast of 7.6 per cent. That the panel has made a decisive start to rate-setting through deliberation is clear; how it weathers harsher domestic and external challenges, should they emerge, remains to be seen.





  • Clinching the N-deal with Japan

India has completed agreements for civil nuclear cooperation with 11 countries so far, including the U.S., Russia, Australia, Canada and South Korea, but the upcoming agreement with Japan could be the most significant. Japan is the only country to have been the victim of a nuclear attack, and its decision to sign an agreement with India, a country that has not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), would be a first. Reservations in Japan against nuclear energy have hardened after the Fukushima accident. Tokyo’s support to the deal so far is therefore an indication of the importance it accords to relations with India. For India, the civil nuclear agreement with Japan is especially important for the message of trust it would convey to Nuclear Suppliers Group members in a year the country hopes to have its admission accepted. Japan’s support at the NSG has been particularly marked. In fact, India and Japan share many multilateral platforms, including membership of the G-4 group that is knocking at the UN Security Council’s door for reform. Beyond symbolic reasons, Japanese nuclear energy technology and safety parameters are widely considered to be cutting-edge, and many critical parts needed for Indian reactors are made by Japanese manufacturers. These will not be available to India until the agreement is done. Although India has even considered trying to manufacture them locally, there won’t be alternatives to Japan for several years. Even the U.S. civil nuclear deal, that is yet to be actualised, is contingent on the deal with Japan, given that the current discussions for six reactors in Andhra Pradesh are with Westinghouse, which is owned by the Japanese company Toshiba.

It may appear baffling why the deal has taken so long to negotiate. The main sticking point has been India’s refusal to sign the NPT, as it considers the treaty unfair to the developing world. This is why New Delhi is keen on ensuring that in the haste to seal the deal by the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Japan this winter, it doesn’t give in to pressure to adhere to anything more than its own self-declared moratorium on testing. The Japanese insistence on a “nullification” clause that the agreement would cease as soon as India tests, will be judged with this balance in mind. Particularly post-Fukushima, Japanese manufacturers will also be expected to be more generous with India on the liability issue, given their own experience with the enormous cost of cleaning up. As always, and even more so than with the India-U.S. agreement, the devil will be in the detail of the final draft.


  • India, Algeria mull fertilizer JV

India’s keen desire to initiate a joint venture arrangement with Algeria for a multi-billion dollar fertilizer plant located in the North African country seemed to have moved to the front burner on Wednesday following a meeting here between Algerian Minister for Industry and Mining and the Indian Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilizers Mansukh L. Mandavia.

India, which has up to 96 per cent phosphate dependency, with the volumes running to some six million tonnes a year, is seeking a 49 per cent share in an Algerian block that has a capacity of six billion tonnes with 26 per cent to 50 per cent phosphate content.

“But this will take time,” one official said, adding a note of tentativeness. For, a whole basket of issues needs to be discussed and tied up, and multiple Indian companies will need to come together in the effort, including in engineering terms. A consortium approach will need to be devised.

Indian Ambassador Satbir Singh spoke to The Hindu explaining India’s potential stakes in such a project and putting the issue in perspective in the context of Indian efforts over a period of time for cooperation with other countries in securing the country’s fertilizer economy, especially in relation to phosphatic fertilizers. India has ongoing arrangements and cooperative ventures in this field with neighbouring Morocco but on a much smaller scale than what is in prospect in Algeria.

For India, such a project will have major favourable food security implications and could ease the fertilizer subsidy burden as well. India currently imports raw phosphate resources from a number of African countries including Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt and Syria, as also from Russia, Canada and Israel among others.

No specific agreements were signed at the end of Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s three-day visit to Algeria on Wednesday, but the process of giving a governmental push to the project had truly started, an informed official said.

India’s aspirations in Algeria also span the information technology, pharma and space sectors. India believes there are good prospects for diversified expansion across sectors.

Automobile assembly

India’s bilateral trade with Algeria currently stands at $1.5 billion a year with the trade balance in Algeria’s favour given India’s import of oil and gas. The major item of exports from India has been automobiles, although qualitative restrictions have now kicked in. Algeria instead seeks assembly on its shores.

Saris constitute another interesting item of Indian export to Algeria. They are today an essential part of the trousseau for a typical Algerian bride.

“Overall, the [Vice-President’s Algeria] visit could be termed ‘a good start’,’’ Secretary (West) Sujata Mehta told media persons on Tuesday. She added that the keywords of the visit can be said to be renewal and reinvigoration: it spells making contact with an old friend. Yet, there is a need to reconfigure the relationship in contemporary mode, she asserted.





  • Compulsory voting is not practical in India, says Zaidi

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi on Wednesday said the idea of compulsory voting has not been found so practical in India, but comparative benefits of compulsory voting and education-led mobilisation of voters will be worth examining again.

“The issue of compulsory voting as prevalent in some countries has been a matter of discussion earlier. But we will like to hear others,” said Dr. Zaidi, on the first day of a three-day global conference on “Voter Education for Inclusive, Informed and Ethical Participation.”

In response to a private member’s Bill on compulsory voting, introduced in the Lok Sabha, the government had also said it would not be possible to bring in such a law that punishes those who do not vote.

Dr. Zaidi said many democracies around the world are facing declining voter turnout and increasing apathy to vote among specific groups of people.

The CEC said the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation project has over the years given creditable gains in a relatively short period of time. “In the areas of enrolment, turnout, women’s voting and youth participation, the achievements have been praiseworthy. However, the jewel in the crown was the 66.4 per cent voter turnout in an electorate of 834 million in the national elections held in 2014, which is the highest voter participation in the last six decades,” he said. Most significantly, women’s participation was at a record high of 65.6 per cent, Mr. Zaidi added.


  • Questions of compensation

India is quite a paradox. There is excessive chest-thumping for our men and women in uniform on the one hand and pride in laying constant siege to the benefits and legal rights of those very personnel whom we superficially cheer while on parades on the other.

And bearing the brunt of this all are our disabled soldiers. The deleterious effect the stress and strain of military service has on a soldier’s health is a universally recognised phenomenon. In fact, most nations go out of the way to make the lives of their troops more comfortable — as seen in rising payouts for their loss of health. However, India has the distinction of exhibiting utter disdain towards the cause of disabled soldiers. At a very rudimentary level, for example, one has defence services accountants asking how ailments such as heart disease, neurosis, backache, seizures — common in civilians too — can be affected or aggravated by military service.

The service-disability connection

It is not difficult to discern that a highly unsettled and regimented life, away from family most of the year, and at times under the shadow of the gun, the inability to cope with domestic commitments, and a lack of community living, sexual fulfilment and physical proximity, curtailed freedoms and rights, can all lead to an aggravation of common medical conditions. The life of military personnel or even paramilitary troopers who are on duty almost 24 hours a day and who require permission to use even a washroom or visit a market after signing multiple registers, cannot be compared with civilians who live with their families and have fixed and reasonable working hours in a week.

Disability rules in India and other democracies are balanced and work on the presumption of a military service-disability connection. But the army of accountants and financial wizards often rejects such disability claims leading to numerous instances of judicial intervention. When disability benefits are awarded by courts and tribunals, there is more shock in store. The Ministry of Defence appeals against the claims of disabled, at times over amounts as little as a few hundred rupees. Between 2012-2013, 90 per cent of all appeals filed in the Supreme Court by the Ministry of Defence were against disabled soldiers. The efforts of the Defence Minister to control the litigation malaise are being met with strong resistance from the official-legal ecosystem which thrives on the miseries of disabled soldiers.

Paring pension rates

A recent example was the recommendation made in the Seventh Central Pay Commission to slash disability pension rates. The observation was that as there was an increase in the percentage of disabled officers in the defence services vis-à-vis the lower ranks, benefits needed to be slashed from the “percentage of pay system” to a “slab system” which would be more equitable for ranks other than officers. The recommendation was that from the current formula of “30% of pay for 100% disability”, the disability element should now be granted at the fixed rate of Rs. 27,000, Rs.17,000 and Rs.12,000 for Commissioned Officers, Junior Commissioned Officers and Other Ranks respectively for 100 per cent disability, and proportionately reduced for lesser disability. Surprisingly, no such corresponding “equitable” change was recommended for civilian disability pensioners, including those from the Central Armed Police Forces, who continue to receive benefits on the basis of “percentage of pay”.

Statistically, there is a higher probability of officers incurring disability than jawans since the latter start retiring in their 30s after about 15-plus years of service. Officers retire in their 50s after a service period spanning 30 years or more. It shocks one that those who are maimed and infirm have to bear insults when instead there should be concern about the rise in stress and strain and a deteriorating health profile among defence personnel.

The recommendation was made suo-motu based on data by the Defence Accounts Department to the commission and without being authenticated by the defence services. No opportunity was granted to discuss the issue. The accounting jugglery is even more jarring since the slab system would result in a better payout only to those rare cases where those in the lower ranks are medically boarded out at the start of their careers, while it results in a loss to all jawans who are released on completion of regular service terms. In the higher ranks, the difference is more glaring. A Lieutenant General who is 100 per cent disabled and drawing a disability element of Rs.52,560 as of December 31, 2015, would now get Rs.27,000 on January 1, 2016. His civilian counterpart, on a par earlier, would now get Rs.67,500. While the pay commission has handsomely increased all pensions, which includes civil disability, it has slashed those for military disability; in some instances by more than half. The fact that vested interests have twisted the issue on social media citing ‘government sources’ makes this even more unfortunate.

What is the use of all the pomp and show at military displays or basking in the glory of our military achievements if we cannot take care of our disabled soldiers? They may form a minuscule percentage, but they certainly deserve much better.


  • The bonding in Benaulim

The BRICS Summit 2016 held in Goa was significant for a number of reasons. First, the previous summit at Ufa caused an India-Pakistan distraction as it was held back-to-back with the summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which incidentally both South Asian neighbours joined as members. The short-lived thaw between them also commenced at Ufa. The Goa summit was held at a time when the divide between them was wider than ever since 2001.

Second, it was the 15th anniversary of the creation of the original BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China, with South Africa joining later), inspired by banker Jim O’Neill’s envisioning four dominant emerging economies of the 21st century as drivers of growth. Two of them, India and China, continue to deliver on that promise, albeit with diminished vigour as an economic slowdown set in globally. However, the other three — that is, Brazil, Russia and South Africa, being commodity exporters — have been hobbled by shrunk demand. Some are thus uncharitably calling BRICS a wall of loose bricks.

Third, the growing strategic convergence between Russia and China and perceptible drawing closer of India and the U.S. raises the issue whether a grouping can flourish if strategic perceptions between the more powerful members are dissonant. The China-Pakistan full spectrum alliance also is an inhibiting factor for India, a clear example of which is Chinese protection to Pakistani terrorist leaders by putting on hold their listing by the UN Security Council. Russia seemed to warm up to India after the hefty arms deal. The deal delivered S-400 missiles which alter the balance of air power in India’s favour as they can engage Pakistani planes well before they can enter Indian airspace. Russia also made supporting sounds on India’s cross-Line of Control “surgical strikes”. But has India paid a strategic price by letting some language slip into the Goa Declaration which is clearly anti-U.S. and its allies?

Pulling in all directions

What was novel was India involving the BIMSTEC nations, consisting besides India of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Sri Lanka, as part of the BRICS outreach. It was a clever way to disassociate from Pakistan, which would have had to be invited if SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) was the logical regional grouping to be at the summit.

BIMSTEC has been envisioned to bridge SAARC and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). It also uses the eastern part of SAARC that is not stymied by India-Pakistan differences. The intent, as stated in the Goa Declaration, is to “explore trade and commercial ties” between BRICS and BIMSTEC. This argument requires closer scrutiny. China borders Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. While in Nepal India has so far been able to balance Chinese economic ingress, in Myanmar China dominates with big-ticket infrastructure projects involving energy and import of Myanmar’s commodities such as wood, semi-precious ores, etc. Bhutan so far has allowed India primacy in trade and economic relations.

In fact, the hydroelectric projects in Bhutan are an example of bilateral cooperation that benefits both countries. The earlier system of financial grants to sustain the Bhutanese government has been transmuted into investment-led aid to create projects that give financial returns to Bhutan and assured power to India. Nepal has traditionally been chary of accepting a similar arrangement, pleading loss of valuable arable land if hydroelectric projects are to be set up.

As regards Bangladesh, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Goa after a visit there. A proposal for a corridor linking Bangladesh and China via India and Myanmar (BCIM) has been on the table for a while. It could become an outgrowth of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. India has, however, been sceptical of its benefits, seeing it as possible encirclement by China since the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to India’s west would link Gwadar with Xinjiang. Bangladesh has also been wooed by Russia earlier with a loan offer of $11.4 billion to set up two nuclear power plants. Earlier, Japan put $6.7 billion on the table for an LNG terminal and coal-fired power plants in Bangladesh. President Xi topped it, coming with $40 billion infrastructure finance. The last time a Chinese president visited Bangladesh was in 1986, and with considerably less money in the pocket.

What possible synergy Brazil, Russia and South Africa can bring to BIMSTEC is not obvious. Thailand is within the U.S. strategic footprint and after the passing away of their revered king, there is likely to be drift for some time. Myanmar would like to balance China’s predominance by reaching out to the U.S., other western powers and India. Sri Lanka is anyway doing deft balancing between China and its near neighbour India and the West.

Dissonance in the Declaration

The Goa Declaration, inter alia, reiterates the importance of maintaining multilateral trading systems. It repeats the mantra that the world needs to transition to a “just, democratic and multi-polar international order based on the central role of the United Nations”. It then intones with a call for a “fair and equitable international order”. Then follows a peculiar sentence rejecting “continued attempts to misrepresent the results of World War II”. In fact, it is China intruding into the South and East China seas and Russia trying to recover the sway it had in the Soviet era in East Europe and Central Asia that are quarrelling with the U.S., Japan and ASEAN in the east and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in the west, respectively. The part of post-World War II order that India does not like are the Bretton Woods institutions, that is, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and the UN Security Council membership structure, where the permanent five members indeed reflect a bygone power order — but not the rest of the post-World War II order that has been replaced by the post-Cold War dispensation. Why then did India let this notion embed itself in the Goa Declaration? The line would be read carefully in Tokyo and Washington.

Similar dissimulation surfaces over the Syrian imbroglio. Russia being a prime participant in the Syrian fighting, BRICS needed to extract a more specific undertaking about a ceasefire to enable food and medical help being extended to huge numbers of trapped civilians. But what emerges is condemnation of military interventions in other countries in breach of their sovereignty. Of course Russia would point out that the U.S. is supportive of Saudi Arabian intervention in Yemen where Saudi aerial bombing is in its 19th month. Recently the mistaken bombing of a funeral hall resulted in loss of 140 innocent lives. Nevertheless it raises the question whether India is reverting to anti-West language that used to be normal at Non-Aligned Movement summits. Is there danger of BRICS with closer Sino-Russian convergence and South Africa-Brazil passivity being led by the nose by the former to reflect their world view?

Need for a steady strategy

Also BIMSTEC already has strong Sino-Indian competition for influence. If anything, India should welcome diversification of that by encouraging other players like Japan and the U.S. as it cannot by itself balance China. There is much emphasis in the Goa Declaration on multipolarity. That would hardly be enhanced by BRICS, which is really a Sino-Russian strategic grab disguised as a benign emerging economies’ initiative.

Thus while India needs selective alignment to replace non-alignment as economic and political power is redistributed globally, it cannot allow deft balancing to degrade into opportunistic and sequential agreeing with whichever world leader is in town. That is why, as Henry Kissinger, the modern day Chanakya, wrote, good strategy can brook poor tactics but poor strategy cannot be redeemed.


  • Milk from Tasmanian devils could fight superbugs: Study

Mother’s milk from the marsupials known as Tasmanian devils could help the global fight against increasingly deadly “superbugs” which resist antibiotics, Australian researchers said on Tuesday.

Superbugs are bacteria which cannot be treated by current antibiotics and other drugs, with a recent British study saying they could kill up to 10 million people globally by 2050.

Scientists at the University of Sydney found that peptides in the marsupial’s milk killed resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant golden staph bacteria and enterococcus that is resistant to the powerful antibiotic vancomycin.

The researchers turned to marsupials like the devil — which carry their young in a pouch after birth to complete their development — because of their biology.

The underdeveloped young have an immature immune system when they are born, yet survive growth in their mother’s bacteria-filled pouch.

“We think this has led to an expansion of these peptides in marsupials,” said University of Sydney PhD candidate Emma Peel, who worked on the research published in journal Scientific Reports from Naturepublishing group.

“Marsupials have more peptides than other mammals. In the devil we found six, whereas humans have only one of this type of peptide.

Koalas too?

“Other research in other marsupials has shown that tammar wallabies have eight of these peptides and opossums have 12,” said Peel, adding that studies into koala’s milk had now started.

The scientists artificially created the antimicrobial peptides, called cathelicidins, after extracting the sequence from the devil’s genome, and found they “killed the resistant bacteria… and other bacteria”.

They are hopeful marsupial peptides could eventually be used to develop new antibiotics for humans to aid the battle against superbugs.


  • In Germany, communities reap wind power rewards

Germany is expanding its renewable energy capacity through wind parks owned by the community, a model that has made the small investor a partner in its transition away from coal and nuclear plants.

Individuals can put in as little as 500 euros, going up to 10,000 euros, and reap a return from the Burgerwindparks in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s northernmost State facing the windy North Sea. Last year, the State produced renewable energy equivalent to what it consumed.

“These energy parks are expensive and you get bank credit for half to one third of the cost. The rest is collected from the people,” says Robert Habeck, Minister for Energy, Agriculture and Rural Areas for Schleswig-Holstein, and a well-known face in German politics from the Greens party.

Community wind parks make it impossible for “one very rich person to buy up the entire venture,” Dr. Habeck said in an interview here.

“You draw circles around the park, say, ten circles with one kilometre between each. In the first circle, residents who are neighbours to the wind park have the first option to invest,” he explained.

Once enough money has been collected, investments could stop at the fourth level; if not, they could go on. If not successful, the process begins again at level one, this time open to big investors.

The political project, the Minister said, was to get rid of nuclear and coal power plants, and produce all energy through renewable sources.

Dr. Habeck was in Chennai, leading a 15-member wind energy delegation attending an expo in Mumbai organised by Husum Windmesse of Germany, which aims to build a platform for renewable energy firms in India.

Energy and environment activists here told the Minister that they saw renewable energy projects as driven by big firms and capital investment, “not for the people but for the firms.” Schleswig-Holstein’s community model could be a solution, Dr. Habeck proposed, adding, “this way, they don’t consider wind parks as an occupation by big companies, the hedge funds or the ‘evil’ government.”

                                    The German Minister said it was possible to put in big central coal or nuclear power plants using the police. But if a government was installing 5,000 windmills, it would not be possible to protect them using the police, should people oppose them. Building trust was crucial.

Germany was clear that it would shut down its last nuclear power plant by 2021-22 and was discussing ways to get rid of coal-based power plants. In the next 20 to 30 years all these plants would come down, and no new coal or nuclear units were built. Those older than 40 years had earned their money and were not needed.

The Minister said carbon capture and storage for coal plants was possible, but affected efficiency and raised costs. “It is cheaper to build solar power plants,” he said.

Balancing act

Moreover, although Europe, especially northern Europe and the U.S., had a responsibility to curb carbon emissions, the CO2 thus removed should not be produced by China and India.

Acknowledging India’s growth concerns, he said it was commendable that plans for four ultra mega coal power plants, each of four Gigawatts were given up, with a focus on renewable.

Both Germany and India had missing distribution cable grids. In Germany renewable power was produced in the north while the south lacked it. In India most wind mills were in the south, while big consumption centres were in the north.

Dr. Habeck said he was glad India accepted the Paris Agreement. It had forced the European and US governments to do the same.

Also, the tsunami and the 2015 floods were landmark events.

“I think climate change is real. It is coming now and we have to do something about it.” India and other countries had every right to achieve economic growth, to eliminate unemployment and poverty, but they also had an obligation to stop burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide.

“If all Indians have cars like Germans do, we have a really big climate problem. Every Indian has the right to move from one place to another. But if you are going to do what we have done, and China and Brazil do the same, we can’t stop climate change.”


  • Reinventing old links

The India-Russia summit in Goa on October 15 was high on both symbolism and substance. The joint dedication by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin of Unit 2 of the Kudankulam power plant and the “pouring of concrete” for Units 3 and 4 projected a unique partnership in nuclear energy: eight years after India’s foreign collaborations in civil nuclear energy were legitimised, Russia remains the only foreign country involved in nuclear power production in India. Mr. Modi invoked a Russian proverb to reaffirm India-Russia friendship in a changing world: “An old friend is better than two new ones.” The informality of a one-to-one conversation of the leaders over lunch also showcased the intimacy of relations.

Pillars of the partnership

The bilateral agreements and the joint statement contained significant substance. The three defence cooperation projects are notable, not only for their functional importance, but also for the speed of their progress from announcement to agreement. The decision to jointly manufacture Kamov Ka226T helicopters in India was announced in 2014, an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) was concluded in 2015, and a shareholders’ agreement was signed in Goa. The S-400 air defence system and building of naval frigates have taken an even shorter time from conception to IGA. This is a refreshing departure from the glacial progress of most defence projects. Two other decisions could have a far-reaching impact on India-Russia defence cooperation: the establishment of a ministerial-level Military Industrial Conference to identify new projects and resolve pending issues, and a Science and Technology Commission to facilitate development and sharing of cutting-edge technologies.

These agreements consolidate Russia’s position as India’s principal defence partner. Over the past 10 years, Russia provided 70 per cent of India’s defence imports; the U.S. was next with 14 per cent. About 70 per cent of our weapons and equipment are of Russian or Soviet origin. Diversification of defence acquisitions will necessarily be an extended process. The Russian partnership has a role even in this process: it can be leveraged to increase benefit from other partnerships. Whether it is technology or other support, the Russian benchmark is what other partnerships will be pressed to match. The more we raise this benchmark, the more we benefit.

The effort to strengthen non-defence pillars of the India-Russia partnership shows progress. Agreements for Units 5 and 6 in Kudankulam are under finalisation and six more units are in the pipeline. There are major developments in hydrocarbons: in the last four months alone, Indian companies have invested about $5.5 billion in the Russian oil and gas industry. Equally significant is the acquisition, by a consortium led by Russian oil major Rosneft, of about 98 per cent of Essar Oil and its Vadinar port in a cash deal worth $13 billion. A joint fund of $1 billion, equally shared by Russian sovereign fund RDIF and our National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), is to promote investment in infrastructure and technology projects. The agreement for information security cooperation should enable India to benefit from Russia’s globally acknowledged expertise in cyber technologies. There has been a significant increase in university exchanges and joint science and technology research projects funded by the two governments.

Areas that need improvement

As yet, however, the effort to broad-base the India-Russia economic partnership has not percolated fully to our private sector industry, whose attitudes are shaped by some experiences of the past and unflattering images of Russia in the international media. The popular narrative of a floundering Russian economy distorts reality. International Monetary Fund (IMF) statistics highlight some strong fundamentals of the Russian economy: a healthy current account surplus, low unemployment (under 6 per cent), undervalued corporate stocks and external sovereign debt of only 13 per cent of GDP. The IMF has progressively upgraded its outlook on the Russian economy, now predicting growth of over 1 per cent in 2017.

There is also misinformation about sanctions. The sanctions against Russia bind only a few countries — G7 and the European Union — and are specific in their application. European businesses have found channels to circumvent them. Recent investments in Russia by our hydrocarbons companies have also shown the way. The RDIF-NIIF fund provides an opportunity to cast off misconceptions about the Russian economy and sanctions.

The joint statement declares “zero tolerance for direct or indirect support of terrorism”, stressing the need “to deny safe havens to terrorists”. In Afghanistan too, it calls for eliminating “terror sanctuaries, safe havens and other forms of support to terrorists”. The target of these references is clear.

Russia reaffirmed support for India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council. India “recognised” Russia’s efforts for a political settlement in Syria. The call for full implementation of the Minsk Agreements of February 2015 echoes Russia’s position on Ukraine.

Diplomatic norms preclude public airing of areas of “concern” in the relationship that were discussed in the closed-door meetings. On the Indian side, these relate to aspects of Russia-China relations and Russia-Pakistan defence links — dramatically highlighted by joint military drills barely a week after the Uri attack. India’s Foreign Secretary confirmed in his press briefing that India received satisfactory assurance that Russia will not take any step detrimental to India’s security interests. The joint military drills have been privately explained by Russians as inspired by elements inimical to India in the Russian establishment. India cannot accept this explanation, even if it is true. As a former Indian Foreign Secretary wrote recently, this action is as provocative as a joint India-Ukraine military exercise near Crimea would be to Russia. Ways have to be found to prevent such crossed wires. On Russia’s arms supplies to Pakistan, the CEO of Rostec, the apex holding company of the Russian defence industry, confirmed publicly that besides four Mi-35 helicopters, no other military equipment supply to Pakistan is in the pipeline. While welcome, this assurance needs a continued reality check.

The pursuit of strategic interests in the global geopolitical environment dictates alignments along multiple axes. Russia pursues a “multi-vector” foreign policy, dealing with countries of widely divergent perspectives. Contacts with Japan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are examples. The partnership with China and dalliance with Pakistan are part of this mix. Equally, India is broad-basing its international engagement to maximise its room for manoeuvre.

This new dynamic has not diminished the political and strategic relevance of India-Russia relations. India-Russia, India-U.S.-Japan and India-West Asia alignments are not mutually exclusive. Some strands of cooperation from these alignments could intertwine, since there are common interests across them.

A frank and continuous high-level dialogue, reinforced by regular backchannel communications, should ensure that each partner remains sensitive to the core concerns of the other and discordant public messaging is avoided.



  • Changing the course of the planet

After seven years of negotiations, on October 15, 197 countries reached a historic agreement in Kigali, Rwanda, to amend the Montreal Protocol and phase down hydro fluorocarbons. HFCs are refrigerant gases used for commercial, residential and automotive purposes (and in other applications) but are hundreds to thousands of times more potent that carbon dioxide. They were meant to replace HCFCs in order to protect the ozone layer but their global warming potential (GWP) has increasingly become a matter of concern in climate negotiations. The Kigali Amendment is one that could avoid global warming by up to 0.5° C. What did India gain? What should India do?

The Kigali Amendment is not as ambitious or as flexible as desired. Earlier proposals from North America, Europe and Small Island States had demanded a 2021 freeze date for HFCs for all countries. India wanted a 2031 freeze date. Eventually, developed countries agreed to an earlier baseline (2011-13) and freeze year (2019). For most developing countries (including China), the baseline was set at 2020-22 with 2024 as the year to cap HFC use. But India and a few other developing countries got a later baseline (2024-26) with HFCs freezing only in 2028. By not satisfying all the demands of all the countries, the Kigali Amendment signals a good compromise. But before any blame is attributed (or credit claimed), it is important to understand why India demanded differentiated treatment.


Why latitude for India

India and China are the only developing countries that manufacture HFCs. But China’s output is much bigger given its significantly larger share of the global air conditioner market. Even in 2050, India’s HFC emissions under business as usual would have been 7 per cent of the world total against China’s 31 per cent. Moreover, according to analysis by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), India’s A/C market and HFC consumption picks up only after 2025. So, differentiation with China, which will witness rapid emissions during 2015-2030 (and has to act sooner), was warranted. The deal accounts for differences in current consumption, future growth and overall income levels.

Action prior to 2028 would have imposed additional costs of currently much more expensive alternative refrigerants. In the residential sector, the only viable alternative is propane (R290). The other alternative is R32, although it too has a relatively high GWP of 675. Hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) blends remain expensive. HFO1234yf (an alternative for mobile air conditioning) is anywhere between four and 10 times more expensive than the current gas in use. HFO1234ze, which can be used in some commercial applications, is cheaper but for other types of commercial A/Cs there are no viable alternatives.

The cost burden is not merely of alternative refrigerants but includes the one-time cost of product redesign, servicing equipment, training of servicing personnel, and per unit equipment costs. In the lead-up to the Kigali meeting, a $53-million philanthropic initiative was launched for energy efficiency measures in developing countries as a complement to shifting to HFC alternatives. While welcome, the actual costs of transition would be much higher. A CEEW-International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis study found that for India, economy-wide costs of an HFC phase-down could be €12 billion (sum of undiscounted costs, 2015 prices) under the original Indian proposal and €34 billion under the North American proposal between 2015 and 2050. India wanted extra time until more information became available.

                               The agreed decision requires the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund to cover incremental costs related to production, consumption, servicing and patents. But it is unclear how much of the total costs will get covered until the guidance document on calculating costs is prepared.

Another concern for India was access to technology. Many alternative gases are not manufactured in India currently, although firms are moving in that direction. Ideally, if more (patent-free) alternatives emerged, and their prices fell rapidly, India should be prepared to voluntarily begin a phase-down even earlier, despite the later date it has secured in the negotiations.

The other aspect of technology is the need to test alternatives under India’s high ambient temperature conditions. Testing for some chemicals has already begun but further verification was necessary before India could firmly commit. This is one reason why, in September, India announced a domestic, collaborative R&D programme to develop next-generation, sustainable refrigerants.

Gains from Kigali

Overall, India’s primary gain is that it has once again demonstrated willingness to be part of a multilateral climate deal while being able to secure a differentiated outcome for itself. The deal allows India’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) sector to grow while giving time to refrigerant manufacturers to shift to alternatives. Second, a review of technological options is also envisaged so that India is not left stranded in 2028. Third, despite the three baselines, the bulk of global HFC emissions starts getting phased down earlier, delivering a massive gain for the fight against climate change. Fourth, the deal is legally binding, and failure to act could invite non-compliance proceedings, making it a more effective deal than the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

It is important to recognise how research, analytics and consultations can help to move the needle and change the course of the planet. Until two years ago, India was unwilling to even negotiate HFC phase-down under the Montreal Protocol. Extensive research within India combined with several rounds of consultations between government, industry and civil society helped to prepare the ground for a more informed and proactive approach to the negotiations. The narrative of the global HFC negotiations also shifted, from merely ambition to include economy-wide costs, differentiation, and high growth rates. Rather than rest on negotiated laurels, Indian industry now has to recognise the shifts in global markets, invest in technology and nudge consumer behaviour towards more efficient and less damaging refrigerants. The international result is welcome; attention now shifts to domestic action.


  • Rise of the garrison state

Reacting to the militaristic and fascist tendencies prevalent during the interwar years, American political scientist Harold Lass well wrote in 1941: “We are moving toward a world of ‘garrison states’ — a world in which the specialists on violence are the most powerful group in society.” Fortunately for us, we do not inhabit a world of “garrison states” today. However, tendencies associated with the garrison state have cropped up in several societies from time to time in various measures, and when unchallenged, they have weakened the democratic ethos of free societies. Some of the recent developments in our country should prompt us to ask whether we are moving towards a society where the specialists on violence (that is, military) and the associated narratives would occupy a disconcerting central place in our political imagination.

The war on dissent

Statements made by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons and senior Union Ministers in the wake of the so-called ‘surgical strikes’ seem to suggest that questioning the Army or its actions, such as demanding evidence corroborating these strikes, are anti-national acts. Union Minister Uma Bharti argued that those seeking evidence of the strike should accept Pakistani citizenship, a euphemism for “you are a Pakistani agent”. Indeed, today asking critical questions about national security issues, be it the Kashmir uprising or Naxal insurgency, is seen as both abhorrent and anti-national. Open dissent against national security policies is worse — it’s sedition.

What is even more troubling is that many among the professed guardians of the open society — the media — are buying into this narrative for their own selfish reasons, even as the country’s liberal elite is slowly caving in. While some sections of the media argue that when the Director General of Military Operations said so, there is no need for any evidence because we have complete faith in our Army, others insist that politicians should not take credit because it was an Army action. Both have got it wrong. Citizens of a modern democracy can, and should, question all instruments of the state. The Army is merely an instrument of the state and the government of the day utilises it to meet its policy objectives: there is no ‘Army action’, it is the government of the day that acts. It’s a different matter whether the government should be advertising it the way it has been for electoral gains. Curiously, however, the same government that takes credit for the ‘Army action’ chooses to hide behind the Army’s morale to deflect allegations of human rights violations committed by the very same Army.

We are witnessing the rapid emergence of a militarised political environment in which political discourse is easily cast in a militarised language. Our popular culture is increasingly reflecting it, and some TV channels have even set up ‘war rooms’ in their studios besides mimicking the military jargon!

Socialisation of danger

There is an ever-strengthening claim made by our leaders that the nation is under threat from multiple sources, internal and external. Shrill narratives about danger, enemy and ‘the other’ are the new normal in the nation’s life. And in dangerous times as these, we have a duty to come together to fight our enemies. Even Pakistani artists are a danger to the country: mind you, some of these messages are not coming from government agencies alone. This coincides with a disquieting rise of aggression around us at every level: against dissent, minorities, and anyone with a liberal world view. Gandhi and his non-violence are passé. There is a constant manufacturing, labelling and categorising of the nation’s ‘enemies’ — from those seeking evidence for the surgical strikes to the young dissenters in Jawaharlal Nehru University. True, attacks on our forces in Kashmir have been on the rise, so are the anti-India slogans in the Valley, but we should never ask why since doing so would weaken the morale of our forces ‘who keep us safe while we sleep’. Why is it that we are so easily, and readily, seduced by the rhetoric of war and retribution?

When there is danger all around us, dissent is deviant behaviour, and there is a heightened pressure to fall in line with the mainstream security narratives. Human rights activists are declared as working against the interest of the country and it is indeed an anathema to critique the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or such ‘special laws’. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s habit of running down dissenters is akin to what Lasswell calls “the ceremonialising tendencies of the garrison state”. Moreover, there is growing restriction of civil and political liberties in the name of security, and ‘outlawing’ of dissent by imposing sedition charges or travel restrictions on activists or those questioning ‘the narrative’. “Those questioning the government are soft on terror” sounds worryingly similar to what Joseph McCarthy used to say in the 1950s: “Democrats are soft on Communism”. In today’s India, even senior Congress politicians, who are no bleeding hearts, are accused of being soft on terror and disrespectful of the Army! This is daylight governmental sing of thought.

The ‘specialists on violence’ are the new-age intellectuals of national security — civilians lack of ‘expertise’ in these matters. Retired generals, some of whom unhesitatingly take partisan political positions, are the last word on national security today. Even if we were to ignore that issues of war and peace are too important to be left to the generals, is taking partisan political positions in full public view in keeping with the professionalism and the sensitive positions they once held? There was a time when retired diplomats dominated our national security discourses: today the generals are replacing the diplomats perhaps because the times we live in demand aggression, not diplomacy. This shift is unmistakably reflective of a larger transformation underway in the country to opt for coercion over negotiation.

In a country where we (literally) worship anyone from a film star to a politician, the warrior is the new kid on the block: politicians have long lost credibility and many of our leading stars have ‘dubious origins’. Paradoxically, for our patriotic middle class, military is actually the ‘desirable other’ who we should worship though they won’t be enlisted: why else is there such shortage of officers in the Army! ‘Warrior worshipping’ for us is another way of expressing our allegiance to the nation, and those that don’t will be forced to say ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’, at the least.

Despite being the ‘specialists on violence’, the military is also said to have a very ‘fragile’ morale. Morale is key to the garrison state, and the military is at the centre of this enterprise. The military, therefore, not only should not be criticised, but we should not even bat an eyelid when they err, like all of us do in our respective professions, because they happen to have a fragile morale. Doesn’t morale also come from proper training, equipment, professionalism and adequate monetary compensation? Morale, embellished by the official propaganda machinery through the manipulation of emotions, is often overrated and misunderstood: in a democracy everyone is subject to scrutiny and criticism, and if you don’t like it, that’s too bad. This doctrine of ‘military infallibility’ needs to be challenged for our own good: what we need are more professionally trained soldiers, not infallibility, for military is merely an instrument of the state, not the nation’s soul. Moreover, it is misleading to argue that there is some essential contradiction between sacrifices of soldiers and human rights of civilians: there isn’t.

Meaning of national security

The most significant indication of a garrison state is the militarisation of national security. For a garrison state, national security defined in militaristic terms would be the ultimate value to be preserved. Thankfully we haven’t gone that far yet, and we will survive the ‘surgical strikes’ though not without the adverse impact of seeking militarised solutions for political and social challenges. The problems with militarising national security are many: national security is far more complex than what military solutions can hope to resolve, and the state could use military tools (tools of violence) to confront non-military challenges. As a nation, we can’t afford to place a militarised response over political ones. We need to forsake our fixation with the ‘Army will fix it’ notion, be it during floods or when hapless children fall into uncovered borewells. Our neighbouring country is still suffering for having made that choice.

Despite its long-term adverse implications, the garrison state narrative comes with undeniable political benefits for the political class. Militaristic narratives undoubtedly help the BJP and its ideological fountainhead, the Sangh Parivar, some of whose leaders have historically entertained such discourses in keeping with their fascination for Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. In more practical terms, the BJP has managed to use the military as a convenient political tool for electoral and publicity purposes, thereby enhancing its political clout. It has learnt the fine art of firing from the soldier’s shoulder: when under fire for its policies, the BJP diverts criticism towards the Army and calls you anti-national for criticising the Army.

In the meantime, of course, the real and genuine problems of the military continue to be ignored. Take, for instance, the demeaning sahayak system in the Army where soldiers are tasked to do household work for officers. What we need to ensure is that the soldiers on the ground, the ones standing on guard duty for 15-16 hours, are well looked after, rather than worshipped. Moreover, once Mr. Parrikar gets some free time from calling out the ‘anti-nationals’, he should concern himself with the much-needed reform of the country’s crumbling higher defence management structures.

Hardly anything that this government has done so far indicates that it is serious about modernising the Indian military or strengthening the country’s defence preparedness. Well, why should it when cheap political dividends can be made by merely massaging the military ego?


  • Evacuating patients

The tragic death of at least 22 people and injuries caused to dozens of others in the SUM Hospital fire in Bhubaneswar on Monday throws up the question: what lessons were learnt from the AMRI Hospital fire in Kolkata that claimed over 90 victims five years ago? Was the hospital fire fighting system activated immediately and were emergency measures taken to evacuate patients? These and other aspects of the incident must be addressed by an impartial investigation. If each deadly fire in a medical facility provided lessons in hindsight, India’s hospitals should be witnessing fewer events annually, with a sharp decline in casualties. That would follow the global trend, as causes of hospital fires are understood better, and regulations tightened for safety of patients, their families, visitors and staff. There is also insight within the country on why fires in hospitals could be particularly fierce. One study by IIT Kharagpur engineers points to enrichment of the local environment by oxygen leaks, which sets off fires in thin plastics. The National Building Code is specific, requiring hospitals to have horizontal evacuation exits for bedridden patients and sprinkler systems for structures of specified height, which would cover most medical institutions.

Prevention of fires and emergency response are not high priorities in India, viewed by the Centre as a municipal function under State governments. With a steady decline in the enforcement of urban regulations and building plans, fire risks have multiplied in public buildings. It will take enormous political will and active judicial oversight to enforce best practices and rein in violators. Meanwhile, patients and visitors could get a modicum of risk protection and suitable compensation if all institutions offering any form of medical care are compulsorily required to be insured against disasters. Such a regulation would make a hospital insurable only if it installs good quality fire warning and control systems. There are reports that not enough could be done in the SUM Hospital fire to move patients away quickly, as the blaze spread and affected vulnerable people receiving intensive care. It is also believed there were not enough ambulances available to shift the patients out. Such evacuation is not the responsibility of the hospital alone, it is also the local administration’s. Looking ahead, the Centre and State governments should address fire risk in medical institutions as a top order priority. This can be achieved by understanding the hazard, adopting the right infrastructure, enforcing the building code, and holding frequent fire drills to do things correctly in an emergency.


  • The Kerry effect: Centre lifts curbs on fund transfers by NGO

The Centre has allowed U.S.-based NGO, Compassion International, to disburse funds to ten NGOs in India, months after it was put on the government’s watch list after security agencies reported that it was funding Indian NGOs involved in religious conversions. The move comes after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had expressed concerns over the treatment of the organisation with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during his India visit in September.

As reported by The Hindu on September 9, Mr. Kerry’s request was the highest level at which the NGO issue was ever taken up bilaterally since the Union Home Ministry placed it under the prior referral category on March 28, cancelling its ability to transfer funds directly to NGOs in the country.

Following observations made by Mr. Kerry, the External Affairs Ministry had also written to the Home Ministry and asked the latter to reconsider its decision.

We are not removing Compassion International from our watch list; we are only allowing some NGOs to receive funds from them. Each application will be scrutinised before the money is disbursed to them,” said a senior Home Ministry official. Another official said Compassion sought permission to fund around 250 NGOs this financial year. “Curiously all the 250 NGOs Compassion wants to fund are Christian NGOs. We have done our investigations and found that several of them were using these funds to convert people to Christianity. Following this, we decided to place it under scrutiny,” said the official.

Lawmakers’ plea to Modi

Earlier three U.S. Congressmen and a senator from Colorado, where Compassion International is headquartered, had, in a letter addressed to the Indian Embassy in Washington and copied to the Prime Minister, said the action putting funding for the Christian advocacy group on a “prior referral” basis was crippling the NGO’s working.

In all, there are 21 foreign donors under the government’s scanner right now. Of these, eight were put under the prior-permission category during UPA government and the remaining 13 after the NDA came to power. Since the NDA came to power, the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) licences of around 10,000 NGOs have been cancelled.



  • China sends two astronauts to live on its space laboratory

China launched two astronauts into space on a spacecraft that will dock for a month with a new experimental space station — in a giant leap for the country’s space programme.

The Shenzhou-11 mission, China’s sixth manned spacecraft, took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in inner Mongolia in northern China aboard a Long March-2F carrier rocket. It will dock with the Tiangong-2 (which means ‘Heavenly Palace’) space station module.

The two astronauts will remain aboard for 30 days in preparation for the start of operations in six years.

The two astronauts on board are Jing Haipeng, 49, who has already been in space twice, and 37-year-old Chen Dong.

New milestone

Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his congratulatory message, said the Shenzhou-11 mission with Tiangong-2 “marks a new milestone in our manned space flight mission in China.”

Jing Haipeng will turn 50 during his time in space.

“It is any astronaut’s dream and pursuit to be able to perform many space missions,” Mr. Jing told a briefing on Sunday.

Gen. Zhang Youxia, chief commander of China’s human space programme, declared the launch of Shenzhou-11 “a complete success”.

Tiangong-2 is China’s second experimental space station module, an upgraded habitat with improved life support systems, power, communications and research equipment.

The current U.S.-led International Space Station is expected to retire in 2024, which means that China will be the only nation left with a permanent presence in space.

During the 30-day mission, Mr. Jing and Mr. Chen will carry out a number of medical and space science experiments, as well as test various systems on the Tiangong-2 module, Xinhua news agency reported.

According to Space Flight Insider, the Shenzhou-11 crewed vehicle has a mass of about 8.1 metric tonnes and is composed of an orbital module, a return module, and an engineering module. Although developed indigenously by China, the spacecraft’s design is based on the Russian Soyuz capsule.

The two-person crew will probably return to Earth on November 14.

Shenzhou-11, together with Tiangong-2, will bring the nation closer toward building its own permanent space station. They will enable testing of key technologies before sending a larger module into orbit.

The station is expected to be built sometime between 2018 and 2022.

“With the establishment of its own space station, which is expected around 2020, China will carry out manned space missions on a regular basis, with spacecraft launched several times a year, instead of once every several years,” Space Flight Insider quoted Zhang Yulin, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of China’s manned space programme as saying.

Boost to industry

According to a Russian space expert, Alexander Zheleznyakov, manned space missions could help push the development of other industries, as space projects involve new materials, advanced application programmes and innovative technical solutions, including cutting-edge results in many areas, Xinhua reported.

Another prominent Russian space expert, Igor Lisov, said with the achievements made, China could now test technologies for cargo spacecraft docking, life support system operation and water recycling, among others, so as to ensure a long-term continuous operation of its space station in future with less dependence on replenishment from the Earth.

Shenzhou-11 was developed to support China’s manned space lift programme. The first Shenzhou spacecraft was sent into space in November 1999. It was an unmanned automated test flight, as were the next three Shenzhou missions conducted between January 2001 and December 2002.


  • To have wings is to have faith

With my fighter flying days behind me, I am not only able to look at the profession more objectively than earlier but also talk about it with more candour. I would have said “write dispassionately”, but one just cannot be dispassionate about any kind of flying, least of all fighter flying.

Coming from a small-town, middle-class family in the pre-Internet era, I did not know much about the Indian Air Force or the armed forces in general. It was just this urge to soar into the blue yonder beyond that made me con my parents into letting me join the National Defence Academy. Many well-wishers did try to dissuade me, telling me I did not have the required aggression, or the so-called “killer spirit” that they thought a fighter pilot should possess. Luckily, I knew better. The first time I looked down at my college’s sports fields from the cockpit of the National Cadet Corps glider, I knew this job was not so much about aggression as it was about passion. It was about freedom.

Fighter pilots have been called modern-day gladiators, the last of the lone warriors. But the truth is that a fighter pilot is anything but a warrior. He is just someone who gave into his inner child. He does what he does, not to satiate a desire to vanquish but to soar above such petty desires. The ferocity he brings to his job is not the cold fury of a warrior but his desire to excel. As he manoeuvres to get on his adversary’s tail, he is only competing with himself. He is always analysing his every move, every turn, and trying to best his own “score”. When you see a fighter pilot with an intense look on his face, his hands mimicking the flight of an imaginary aircraft, you know he is analysing a flight or preparing for one. Lack of preparation for a flight can be lethal — for the pilot in actual ops and for his ego in peacetime.

Given a chance, a fighter pilot would spend an evening drinking with the guy he shot out of the skies in the morning. He would complement the adversary on a flight well flown, quiz him on his aircraft and manoeuvres, and revel in his compliments. The aircraft swooping and gliding in a dogfight may seem like they are engaged in a duel, but they are actually enacting a ballet. A ballet choreographed by years of training and executed by instinct. Yes, instinct, for the situation in the air is so fluid that nothing and nobody can prepare you for every eventuality. Ultimately, it may come down to what is called “seat of pants” flying. But reverting to instinct rather than training does not count as lack of a professional attitude.

Most fighter pilots are not bothered about a professional attitude towards flying because they don’t know of any other attitude. While the land (and sea) lubbers only see the glamour, aggression and risk in this line of work, the fighter pilot sees none of these. He does not even see a line of work. For the biggest punishment you can give a fighter pilot is to stop him from flying.

No reprimands, no pay cuts or loss of seniority. Just take away one flight from him.

Longing to soar

As you see him gazing longingly at the departing aircraft, you know there is no remorse greater than that of a grounded pilot. This love becomes evident at the Air Force flying academies. The cadets who sought doctors’ prescriptions to escape the rigours of the tough training at the National Defence Academy, suddenly start shying away from the doctors at the flying academies. The medical certificate they now seek from the doctor is not for an illness, but for fitness. Though proceeding for a flight without adequate preparation could invite strict disciplinary action from the instructors, even an ill-prepared trainee would rather proceed for the flight and face the music later rather than forgo a day’s flight. As they say, once you have tasted flight, you will always walk with your eyes skywards, for that is where you have been and that is where you want to be.

Having seen death at close quarters so very frequently, these pilots remain cheerful, carefree spirits, revelling in the present with no regrets about the past, and nary an apprehension about the future. What is seen by many as a violent, aggressive profession is actually filled with so much nobility that leaves but little space for petty feuds.

Maybe I am being a tad melodramatic. Maybe someday I will be able to shake off this stupor and pen a few real-life anecdotes from my days spent with a jet strapped onto my back. But for now, nostalgia does wear rose-tinted glasses. Or blue tinted, for the flyboys!



  • Reimagining BRICS

With India announcing that all five BRICS member states are united in acknowledging the global threat posed by terrorism, and that those who support terror are as much a threat to us than those who perpetrate acts of terror, the eighth BRICS summit came to an end on Sunday in Goa. The BRICS agenda moved forward a bit with the BRICS leaders united in their “view to establish the BRICS Agriculture Research Platform, BRICS Railway Research Network, BRICS Sports Council, and various youth-centric fora” and agreeing “to fast track the setting up of a BRICS Rating Agency” based on market-oriented principles to “further bridge the gap in the global financial architecture.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the Goa declaration laid down “a comprehensive vision for our cooperation and coordination, within BRICS and on international issues.” But it was clear from the way India shaped the agenda of the Goa summit that Mr. Modi was working towards a different end game this time, looking beyond the immediate BRICS mandate.

Focus on terrorism

The Prime Minister’s focus, by and large, remained on the issue of terrorism. Without naming Pakistan, he used the BRICS platform to refer to the country as the “mother ship of terrorism”, and forcefully argued that a “selective approach against terrorism” would be both futile and counterproductive. In more ways than one, he made it plain to his BRICS partners that this is an issue on which India feels rather strongly and that “BRICS needs to work together and act decisively to combat this threat.”

This message was primarily aimed at China, a country with which India has had differences on the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism against India. Mr. Modi was not very successful in convincing the Chinese leadership to change Beijing’s stance on Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar, who India believes was behind the Pathankot attack this year and the Parliament attack of 2001. China had recently put a technical hold once again at the United Nations and prevented Azhar from being designated a global terrorist, despite JeM being a UN-proscribed terror group.

Recognising the limits of bilateral Sino-Indian engagement, India seems to have now decided to use the leverage of a multilateral platform to put China on notice. New Delhi would be hoping that, by suggesting that “those who nurture, shelter, support and sponsor such forces of violence and terror are as much a threat to us as terrorists themselves”, it might eventually succeed in pressurising China to alter its position. However, with China refusing to budge, it is now hoped that Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who the leaders decided would travel to India again, would meet National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and discuss the issue further.

The other change that India introduced to the BRICS agenda was also significant as it underscored India’s changing priorities. India used the summit to reach out to its neighbours by initiating the BRICS-BIMSTEC outreach. Founded in 1997, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) now includes Nepal and Bhutan apart from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Set up with the objective of enhancing technological and economic cooperation among South Asian and South-east Asian countries along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, it has been neglected so far by its members.

New Delhi has now decided to lead the regional economic cooperation efforts against the backdrop of Pakistan’s marginalisation in South Asia. The cancellation of the SAARC summit in Islamabad, with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan deciding to stay away like India, has galvanised New Delhi’s efforts to look at new ways to foster regional cooperation. India’s outreach to BIMSTEC during the BRICS summit is an important signal that New Delhi is serious about its role as a facilitator of economic cooperation in South Asia.

Bilateral ties with Russia

Finally, India used the Goa summit to re-galvanise its long-standing partnership with Russia, which was in danger of losing direction. Russia’s decision to hold military exercises with Pakistan did not go down well with India at a time when it was seeking to diplomatically isolate Pakistan after the Uri terror attacks. Russia, for its part, has been concerned about India’s tilt towards the U.S. In Goa, the two states reaffirmed the strategic nature of their friendship once again. India signed three major deals worth billions of dollars with Russia: five S-400 Triumf air defence systems, four stealth frigates, and a joint venture to manufacture Kamov-226T utility helicopters in India.

Recognising the limits of the BRICS mandate at a time of slowing economies and growing intra-BRICS political divergences, India has tried to reimaging the multilateral forum to serve its larger strategic ends. For Mr. Modi, BRICS is an important platform to showcase to his domestic critics that his foreign policy remains independent of, and not subservient to, the U.S. He has cleverly used the BRICS platform to position New Delhi’s priorities on to the agenda of the forum. How far he succeeds in achieving Indian objectives will determine Indian investment in BRICS in the future.


  • Court orders and reluctant governments

“In a Government of laws, existence of the Government will be imperilled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously…(G)government is the potent and omnipotent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example… if the Government becomes a law breaker it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man (or woman) to become a law unto himself (or herself); it invites anarchy.” — Justice Louis Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court in Olmstead et al v. United States, 1928.

The initial obstinate reluctance of the Karnataka government to comply with successive orders of the Supreme Court relating to the Cauvery river water dispute and later its resentful compliance exposes one of the confounding fault lines of constitutional governance. What is a court to do when governments dig in their heels and refuse to comply with its orders? Though in the Cauvery water dispute case, the looming disaster of the breakdown of constitutional machinery sticks out like a sore thumb, it is unfortunately not a sole aberration but symptomatic of a larger malaise that is growing every day. Courts are increasingly flooded with contempt petitions against the government/state authorities for wilful disobedience of orders of courts with no prospects of the deluge abating in the near future.

Fixing accountability

Court orders have the impelling force of rule of law and foundational constitutional values that governments must respect in order to preserve the ever fragile fabric of constitutional democracy. However, given the stark reality of increasing hostility to court orders, either belligerent or subdued, how are courts to deal with such situations within the framework that the law affords them?

The answer would well be that first, courts must realise that so long as they look at the government as an amorphous body of unspecified and unspecifiable individuals, we are never ever going to find a solution to this problem. Any redemption from the current situation is possible only if personal responsibility for obedience/disobedience of court orders is fixed on specified officers or individuals in government, political or bureaucratic.

Increasingly we find that systems within the nation are unable to find agreed solutions to vexatious problems within their own fold. Society is unable to decide what its reaction should be to homosexuality; religious groups are unable to find solutions within their fold even with respect to disputes relating to faith; science is unable to find solutions to disputes about what constitutes scientific evidence to uphold a particular claim; varied claims such as these come knocking at the doors of courts. What these contestants before courts must realise is that once an argument is decided by a court of law, then that particular argument gets replaced by judicial fiat. And unless it is appropriately modified in a manner known to law, the court’s fiat must be implicitly obeyed.

Legal precedents

The First Law Commission constituted after coming into force of the Constitution observed, “It is now increasingly necessary to abandon the lingering fiction of a legally indivisible state, and a federal conception of the crown, and to substitute for it the Principle of legal liability where the state, either directly or through incorporated public authorities, engages in activities of a commercial, industrial or managerial character. The proper test is not an impractical distinction between government and nongovernmental function but the nature and form of the activities in question.”

                                         Recalling and applying this principle, the Supreme Court in Lucknow Development Authority (LDA) v. M.K.Gupta (1993) held, “Public authorities acting in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions oppressively are accountable for their behaviour before authorities created under the Statute like the commission or courts entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining the rule of law.” In that case the Supreme Court directed the LDA to pay compensation to the aggrieved consumer and further directed that the amount must be recovered from the officer responsible for the default who must be identified. Proceeding on similar lines the Supreme Court has recently fined the Health Minister of the Delhi government Rs.25,000 for not complying with its orders.

The directions of the Supreme Court in the Cauvery river water dispute will be obeyed only if responsibility is fixed on specified officers — political or bureaucratic — of the government for complying with the orders. Adequate protection may be provided to such officers or officers from the Central government may be appointed with court directions to assist in the compliance of court orders. However, mere court fiats without fixing responsibilities for compliance can never produce the desired results in such sensitive matters. Governments will proceed to disobey them, impervious to the wise caution of Justice Brandeis, little realising that in doing so they would be sowing the seeds of anarchy.


  • Only about terrorism?

Over a period of 48 hours, India hosted leaders of the five-nation BRICS as well as the seven-nation BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), which together represent two-thirds of humanity and more than a quarter of the world’s growth. While BIMSTEC has geographical moorings, BRICS is a unique organisation of countries that came together in 2006 not because of geography, history or wealth, but because of their promise as key “emerging economies”. While the promise has faded, their ability to grab the world’s attention and challenge the “old order” is still unmatched, as Russia, India, China, Brazil and South Africa remain leaders in their respective regions. What they say on financial systems, development initiatives, sharing of resources like water, oil, precious minerals and land, as well as battling climate change and poverty has a wide-ranging impact. It is, therefore, unfortunate that the outcome of the BRICS summit and the outreach to BIMSTEC countries has been popularly condensed into what they had to say on a single issue: terrorism, with only a few paragraphs out of the 109-para Goa Declaration dominating the discourse. The domestic context is partially responsible. Even before the Uri attack, New Delhi had embarked on a diplomatic mission to “isolate Pakistan” by raising the issue of terrorism emanating from its soil at international fora — the campaign escalated after the deaths at the Uri Army camp. As a result, India’s interventions at the G-20 summit in China, the ASEAN summits in Laos, the UN General Assembly, the Non-Aligned Movement meet in Venezuela, and elsewhere resounded with outrage with Pakistan’s continued cross-border adventurism.

Given this success, New Delhi would have done better to bring the spotlight in Goa back to its own declared goals of building economies and bringing prosperity in the region. A united message to the rich world on a more equitable distribution of global resources, deployment of the New Development Bank and climate change was in order. However, in his speech on the outcomes of the BRICS deliberations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to anchor his remarks on concerns about cross-border terrorism that weren’t entirely reflected in the final Goa Declaration. Officials may well explain it away as a lack of consensus in the grouping, suggesting that China influenced the moderation of the eventual text. However, the single-issue focus also reflects a failure on the part of the Centre in forging a larger, more broad-based narrative to match the scale of the gathering hosted in Goa.


  • What the state cannot bear to hear

The recent arrests of several people in Tamil Nadu on charges of spreading rumours about the health of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa are a cause for serious concern. While the State police might have its reasons to worry about threats to public order in the wake of wild rumours circulating on social media, arresting so many people reflects a heavy-handedness and a failure to distinguish between unfounded speculation and motivated trouble-mongering. Nearly a month after the Chief Minister’s unfortunate hospitalisation on September 22, the people of Tamil Nadu know very little about her health, other than the details released through sparsely-worded hospital bulletins. Given that there has been no official word from the State government, it is not entirely unnatural that her extended stay in hospital has led to people speculating about her ill-health — some of them owe allegiance to rival political parties. To arrest people on charges of posting WhatsApp or Facebook messages is a gross abuse of authority. Not surprisingly, it has led people to believe that such action betrays the State government’s desperation to prevent any conversation that is at odds with the overly cheerful statements put out by AIADMK functionaries and sanitised press releases. If the government is keen on curtailing rumours, it would do better by keeping people updated regularly on the broad state of the Chief Minister’s health, a matter that is a source of concern for all well-meaning people in the State.

The arrest of two employees of a bank in Coimbatore is particularly unsettling, as the police went solely by the word of an AIADMK functionary. Neither the CCTV footage nor the testimony of other bank employees suggests any attempt on the part of those arrested to disrupt public order or, even, spread rumours. Even if the two employees did speak of the Chief Minister’s health condition, the conversation constituted a private exchange — it cannot be compared to posts on social media, even if many of these posts were just as innocuous. If causing public unrest is the real concern, what are the police doing about the thousands of AIADMK workers who are making a public ritual of their prayers and offerings for the Chief Minister to return to good health? Criminal intimidation, public mischiefs are sections of the law that have been used by police, at the behest of overenthusiastic political bosses, on the basis of a mistaken sense of personal loyalty to Ms. Jayalalithaa. At a time when there is a groundswell of sympathy for Ms. Jayalalithaa’s condition, and hope that she recovers from her illness, such acts don’t reflect well on those currently in charge of the State administration.


  • Kolkata celebrates botany legend Janaki Ammal

Nearly sixty years after she organised the Botanical Survey of India (BSI), botanists and scientists from different disciplines are celebrating the contribution of E.K. Janaki Ammal , the pioneer whose contribution to Indian botanical research remains mostly unknown outside academic circles.

The scientist is credited with putting sweetness in our sugarcane varieties, speaking against the hydro-electric project in Kerala’s Silent Valley and with the phenomenal study of chromosomes of thousands of species of flowering plants titled The Chromosome Atlas of Cultivated Plants, which she co-authored with biologist C.D. Darlington.

“At a time when the country is focussing on educating the girl child, we must not forget scientists like Janaki Ammal who choose a life of scholarship over marriage. She was one of the first women scientists to receive the Padma Shri way back in 1977,” BSI Director Paramajit Singh told The Hindu.

Mr. Singh said when the BSI developed a new gallery, it decided to host a year-long exhibition on the life and works of the woman botanist. Interestingly, the exhibition has been housed in the same building where Janaki Ammal worked for several years as the head of the BSI.

Six large blow-ups on her life and her contributions to science, along with several letters presenting anecdotes and highlighting the difficulties the woman scientist had to face during her time, come to the fore at the exhibition.

In one of the letters, dated September 25, 1953, Janaki Ammal wrote to a fellow scientist that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Scientific Research of the Government of India had accepted her scheme for the reorganisation of the BSI.

Science historians say it was following her memorandum that the BSI was reorganised into four regional centres: Coimbatore (1955), Pune (1955), Shillong (1955) and Dehra Dun (1956), with their headquarters at Calcutta. A number of communications with scientists and officials highlight her struggle to establish herself as a scientist in what was a male-dominated discipline.

The exhibition always provides certain anecdotes, like how she met Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on a flight and he persuaded her to come back to India in 1948.

A peek into the life of the scientist, who died on February 7, 1984 while working in her research lab at the University of Madras at 87, is also provided through a number of photographs of her family and friends and colleagues.



  • ‘Ivory’ craze pushes Borneo icon to brink

A striking bird with monochrome plumage and a formidable “beak”, the helmeted hornbill is being hunted to extinction, one of the latest victims of a thriving global trade in exotic wildlife.

For decades, poachers in Borneo’s western forests focussed on capturing orang-utans and sun bears, but in the past few years, a surge in demand for hornbill “ivory” has pushed the avian species to the brink. The product has become so popular in China, where wealthy collectors are keen to show off their status by acquiring rare or unusual animals, that it is fetching up to five times the price of elephant tusk on the black market. “The demand for these luxury items is just going through the roof,” Chris Shepherd, from wildlife trade watchdog TRAFFIC, said.

                                       Poachers aren’t interested in their brilliant plumage or large bills, but a helmet-like block of reddish-gold keratin at the front of the skulls known as a casque.

It’s this soft, ivory-like substance that’s carved by craftsmen in China into luxury ornaments, statues and jewellery — trendy top-shelf trinkets that have soared in value as so-called “red ivory” has grown more prestigious. Experts say a single casque can fetch up to $1,000, eclipsing the average black market price of traditional “white” ivory sourced from elephant tusk several times over.

‘Systematic slaughter’

Researchers say thousands of these majestic birds have been killed in half a decade alone as demand for red ivory has taken off.

Yokyok Hadiprakarsa, a leading expert in helmeted hornbills, estimates as many as 500 were killed every month in 2013 — or 6,000 annually — just in West Kalimantan, a jungle-clad province in Indonesia’s half of Borneo.

Helmeted hornbills had been traditionally hunted in the past by Borneo’s indigenous tribes, but never at levels that posed any conservation risk. This “complete, systematic slaughter of the species” came virtually out of nowhere, Mr. Shepherd said. It wasn’t until 2011 that red ivory first began showing up on websites catering to Chinese buyers and at wildlife markets along the country’s borders, such as in Myanmar and Laos.


  • Para gliders fill Bali’s skies for new world record

More than 100 multi-coloured par gliders filled the sky over Indonesia’s Bali island on Sunday, as they set a new world record for the largest number of gliders flying at the same time.

They set off from rugged cliff tops and flew high into the azure sky, floating over the sea and red-roofed villages. About 120 par gliders took part, more than the 99 involved in the previous world record, which was also set in Bali in 2009.

“The site here [in Bali] is perfect, and the circumstances,” said Frits Brink, from the Federation Aeronautique International.


  • An onerous task ahead

The European Union’s ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement has nudged it beyond the required threshold — ratification by more than 55 Parties to the Convention accounting for at least 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This will ensure that the Agreement will enter into force, or become part of international law, on November 4, 2016. Many leaders have praised the speed at which the ratification process moved forward. Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that she viewed this accelerated process as an expression of the importance that countries attach to climate change.

The Paris Agreement, in contrast with the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, makes all countries responsible for reducing GHGs instead of just the rich or Annex-1 countries, which are responsible for the bulk of the total GHG concentrations in the atmosphere. Individual countries are now responsible for implementing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), goals that each country developed and submitted to the UNFCCC before the Paris Conference of Parties (COP) last December. Most of the pledges, including India’s, are partly or entirely conditional on financial support for their implementation.

Support for building capacity 

The thorny question that remains is, what are the implications for an agreement that enters into force without the support needed to implement it? Rich countries are supposed to make available $100 billion annually by 2020 for climate-related projects in poor countries. There is little sign of any significant progress towards this goal. We are therefore at a point where support for building capacity to achieve the NDC goals requires the same level of international pressure and enthusiasm that was demonstrated in ratifying the Paris Agreement.

The governing body of the Paris Agreement will hold its first meeting at the COP in Marrakech in November 2016. This is referred to as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA). In fact, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) still has a number of tasks ahead of it for implementing the Agreement. The APA has been mandated to prepare for the entry into force of the Paris Agreement and also for convening the CMA.

Coincidentally, another big news was announced recently: the earth’s atmosphere has exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2).CO2 concentrations have been steadily going upward since humans began removing fuel from below the ground and using it to fire up the industrial revolution. There are small annual fluctuations in these concentrations, which are usually at their lowest after the summer as vegetation in the Northern hemisphere absorbs the atmospheric gas. In autumn, as leaves fall, the CO2 levels begin to increase.

Over the past few years, several places in the world have recorded concentrations above 400 ppm, but this September, when concentrations should generally be lowest for the year, the values have remained above 400 ppm; the world as we know it has changed indefinitely. The scientific community has generally regarded a GHG concentration of 350-400 ppm as the maximum level needed for a safe climate. James Hansen from Columbia University wrote nearly a decade ago: “Pale climate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm, but likely less than that.” Other scientists have in the past suggested that 400 ppm be treated as a safe threshold, but also note that the last time the earth’s atmosphere saw such concentrations was over two million years ago, when sea levels were 6 metres higher than they are today.

No matter what the magic figure, these higher concentrations of CO2 and other GHGs are trapping more heat and we are getting close to average warming by 1.5ºC over pre-industrial levels. A group of seven leading scientists produced a brief report in September this year called “The Truth about Climate Change.” They explained that with the high levels of GHGs already in the atmosphere and the slow but perceptible response of the climate system, we can expect average global temperatures to rise by 1.5ºC in the 2030s and cross 2ºC as early as 2050, which is well within the lifetime of many people alive today. The current NDC pledges made by the countries of the world, as ambitious as some of them are, will not be sufficient to put us below the 2ºC target.

Transformational change 

Given the enormous scale of the challenge, it has become clear to many who have been working for long in the domain that tinkering at the edges to tackle climate change will be inadequate. What is needed is a significant shift in human behaviour and economic systems, which are closely tied with atmospheric systems and the future of our planet. In other words, a transformational change, a system-wide modification in social, economic and technological institutions will be necessary.

Currently, about 82 per cent of the world’s energy comes from burning fossil fuels. This is used in different sectors and entails the upstream production of electricity, petrol, diesel and other forms of usable energy. Improving efficiencies of energy production and use, and increasing the contribution from renewables are major improvements, but the world will have to go to “net zero” emissions over the next few decades in order to avoid exceeding a 2ºC rise by mid-century or soon thereafter. These changes will need to take place while the lives of the poor in developing nations continue to improve, the world population increases, and we also adapt to living in a warmer world. In the last three years, global emissions, which were rising at around 4 per cent per year, have slowed to under 1 per cent growth, but it is both a scientific and social challenge to expect global emissions to peak very soon and go down to zero and remain there.

The dim source of light in this otherwise grim picture is that transformational change may in fact be taking place now in several small isolated communities around the world. These are eco-villages and transition towns (although they also go by other names) where renewable alone are used, people track all their emissions, and try to build communities while adopting simpler and less consumerist lifestyles.

Further, on October 15, a global agreement was reached to limit the use of hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used mainly as refrigerants and are powerful GHGs. According to estimates, this agreement could help avoid about 0.4ºC warming until 2100. But HFCs are a small proportion of GHGs and broad change of the scale that is required severely tests our imagination. It is only possible if social movements, civil society organisations, legal systems and political leaders work together. Such single-minded purpose across nations rich and poor, weak and strong, is only possible if there is a sense of oneness, of global solidarity, to address climate change. Whether such transformation is possible in our lifetimes remains to be seen.


  • Finest songwriter, but Nobel Laureate?

When the Nigerian, Wole Soyinka, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, V.S. Naipaul commented that the Nobel Prize Committee was “pissing on literature… from a great height.” In three decades since, the committee has worked its way to even greater heights to perform the same act. My generation grew up on Bob Dylan; most of us can quote him with greater ease than we can Shakespeare or the Bible. Heroes of our youth winning the best that mankind have to offer ought to somehow validate us. Yet it is more embarrassing than uplifting.

Highbrow and lowbrow

It is easy to see this as a highbrow versus lowbrow argument, but there’s more. Popular culture is seen as lowbrow, literature as highbrow. The labels nourish each other, bringing the other into sharper focus (although not always with better understanding) by providing the counterpoint. Occasionally, highbrow kicks its shoes off, lets its hair down, reaches below and pulls up lowbrow. This is a concession from the exclusive to the egalitarian; from quality to equality.

In art, kitsch was thus elevated. In movies, the work of Alfred Hitchcock was given a similar boost by the critics of Cahiers du cinema .

Dylan may be the finest songwriter of this or any other generation, with sheer longevity and volume of work placing him above Woody Guthrie or Leonard Cohen. But literature?

 The Swedish Academy has played it safe by implying that though Dylan’s lyrics may be poetry, it is the whole caboodle — the music, the social commentary, the public performance that mattered. “And he’s a very interesting traditionalist, in a highly original way,” it said, “Not just the written tradition, but also the oral one; not just high literature, but also low literature.” The defensive tone cannot be missed.

The Committee could not give the award to Homer, so they gave it to Dylan instead. This puts the singer in the same literary class as W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner, and above Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Jorge Luis Borges, James Joyce and Joseph Conrad who were not thought good enough.

The response in the literary world has been interesting. Older writers like Salman Rushdie, Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison have welcomed it. Hari Kunzru’s reaction is typical of the young: “This feels like the lamest Nobel win since they gave it to Obama for not being Bush,” he tweeted.

This is the battle between cool and uncool. It is un cool to suggest that a musical icon is no literary giant, however attractive his lyrics and however haunting his music. It is cool to admit that sure, Dylan could not have written Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 or anything by Philip Roth or Haruki Murakami, and ask, “But then could any of these writers have written ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ or ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’?”

In one corner, therefore, are the yeasayers, those who believe the time had come to honour Dylan (who has been on the fringes of Nobel Prize discussions for some time now) and in the other are the naysayers who think that the committee has opened the floodgates to everybody who has ever put pen to paper, including writers of detective fiction and advertisement jingles, and art critics. This can be cause for both encouragement and despair. The individual can hope — the system has been tweaked to make it less elitist. Justin Bieber can start dreaming.

There are always two ways of justifying the Nobel Prize, and not just in literature. “If someone like x could win it, then surely y is no worse,” goes one, and you can fill in the names of x and y (Sully Prudhomme and Pearl Buck?). The other is the “affected millions of people” argument. The Committee, for so long allergic to the popular writer (Graham Greene didn’t win because he was seen as too popular, too well known), has now swung to the other extreme and picked someone who is not only popular and well known, but may not be a writer even. “If Dylan’s a poet,” wrote Norman Mailer years ago, “then I am a basketball player.”

Dylanologists beg to differ. The best known, Christopher Ricks, former professor of English at Cambridge University and then professor of humanities at Boston University, has compared Dylan to the great poets. In Dylan’s Visions of Sin , Ricks has drawn parallels between Dylan’s ‘Lay, Lady, Lay’ and John Donne’s poem ‘To His Mistress Going to Bed’. Dylan’s ‘Not Dark Yet’ has been compared to Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’.

What Dylan thought of himself

Which is all good fun, of course? Ricks, and Greil Marcus, another academic, have been beating Dylan’s drum as have a host of lesser known critics and writers. Some have made a virtue of Dylan’s appropriation of others’ works, saying there is a long tradition of borrowing in art, literature and music. Life and art, Dylan himself once said, are a matter of interpretation, not fact. His best line about his own work was in response to someone who asked him what his songs were about. “Some are about three minutes and some are about five minutes,” he replied, suggesting, as he often did, that he personally didn’t take this “voice of a generation” business too seriously.

If it were left to him, he’d probably sit down to write another poem/song along the lines of ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m only Laughing — all the way to the bank and the pantheon of literary heroes).’

Roth and Rushdie, Oates and Murakami, Don DeLillo and Ngugi wa Thiong’o are probably working furiously on their first rock albums now.


  • The good, the bad and the in-between

In this age of instant communication, innuendos travel fast and seem to have universal appeal. The term “presstitute” has travelled all the way from New Delhi to Cincinnati in the U.S. A field report by Politico’s Ben Schreckinger was disturbing: “As the Republican nominee has resorted to more extreme denunciations of the press in recent days, his supporters have followed suit. Chants of ‘CNN sucks’ have become commonplace at Trump’s rallies this week and members of the travelling press were called ‘whores’ and ‘press-titutes’ as they filed out of a Thursday afternoon rally in West Palm Beach.” This raises some fundamental questions. Is the media a monolith? What distinguishes a responsible media organisation from its sensationalist sibling? Is it fair to shoot the messenger if the message is bad?

A concurrent reading of four developments over the last fortnight — a Nobel Prize announcement, a new series in Columbia Journalism Review titled “Media in the Age of Trump”, the retirement of an excellent reporter who used tried and tested methods for his investigations, and a court conviction of another reporter who adopted means that were neither fair nor ethical — seems to provide answers to these questions.

There was wide coverage of Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2012, a promising young writer, Jonah Lehrer, of The New Yorker magazine used Bob Dylan’s iconic status to manufacture quotes. His book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, was released with much expectation in 2012. However, The Tablet magazine soon revealed that Mr. Lehrer had fabricated quotes of Bob Dylan. After an initial denial, Mr. Lehrer accepted that he had indeed lied, and had to quit The New Yorker. His publishers pulled out the book from the shelves. David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, issued a statement: “This is a terrifically sad situation, but, in the end, what is most important is the integrity of what we publish and what we stand for.”

At a deeper level, Bob Dylan represents an inspiring American public discourse, which includes Edward Murrow’s powerful television shows, the Pentagon Papers, and the Watergate investigations. “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it,” said Mr. Murrow while exposing Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. The Columbia Journalism Review is exploring how that vibrancy gave way to Donald Trump. In the first article of the series, Lee Siegel argues that the present phase “is without historical analogy, and therefore without precedents to navigate by.” According to him, the reach of the Internet and the spread of social media have created a situation where entertainment masquerades as information. Mr. Siegel’s conclusion is rather chilling: “It is long past time to stop covering the culture as a click-baiting set of diversions, and to start seeing it for what it has become: the breeding ground for a growing political malaise. The Apprentice, it turns out, was a political event.”

Nick Davies, The Guardian reporter who meticulously investigated and wrote about, between July 2009 and July 2011, the phone hacking journalism practised by Rupert Murdoch’s News of The World (NOTW), retired after 40-plus years of excellent journalism. The Leveson Inquiry that looked at the culture, practice and ethics of the press was a direct result of Mr. Davies’s work. He was one of the earliest media commenter’s to warn about the methods adopted by NOTW’s star investigative reporter, Mazher Mahmood, who called himself ‘Fake Sheikh’ and often used subterfuge as a journalistic tool. Early last week, Mr. Mahmood was convicted by a British court for tampering with evidence in the collapsed trial of the singer Tulisa Contostavlos.

An interesting piece of information that was cited at the Leveson Inquiry provides the yardstick that separates a respectable publication from a popular rag. It was an article by Michael Williams, the former news editor of The Sunday Times, for the British Journalism Review. Mr. Williams wrote: “I summarily dismissed a reporter [Mazher Mahmood] who was caught trying to cover his mistakes by offering a financial bribe to the staff in the newspaper computer room to falsify his copy… Shortly afterwards he went seamlessly on to a senior job at our sister paper, the News of the World, where his ‘scoops’ were celebrated. This autumn he was re-hired by The Sunday Times as an ‘undercover reporter’. All corporate memory of scandal had been erased.” Even the conviction did not pose any ethical and moral dilemma for his employers. The Financial Times report read: “Mahmood’s employer News UK, which owns The Sun, the newspaper for which Mahmood was working at the time of the sting on Ms. Contostavlos, said it was ‘disappointed by the news’ of his conviction.”

The response of The New Yorker to Mr. Lehrer’s fabricated quotes and News UK’s response to Mr. Mahmood’s conviction give us an idea about different ethical standards within the news media environment. It is unfair to use “media” as an umbrella term to denote all news organisations. One way to break the ‘hold-all’ term blackening the entire profession is to have a proper media beat in our daily coverage. While it covers the other three estates rather extensively, the media’s coverage of its own affairs as the fourth estate is minimal. For instance, this newspaper carried a very strong editorial, “Media, where is thy sting?” in 2012 on L’affaire Naveen Jindal versus Zee network. After four years, we still have no clue about the status of the investigation.




For over three years now communal politics has been on the upswing in Uttar Pradesh. With Assembly elections due in early 2017, the communal pot has been stirred up again in this crucial State. Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the Centre, polarisation on issues such as ‘love jihad’, ‘ghar wapsi’ and the beef ban have become a regular feature of political mobilisation in Uttar Pradesh and the country at large. The urge to engage in a politics of polarisation must be understood in the context of the Muzaffarnagar violence of 2013, which worked to the party’s benefit in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Its impact can be seen from the fact that BJP leaders who were implicated in the violence were given tickets and they won their seats with large margins. For the first time, not a single Muslim candidate was elected to Parliament from the State even though Muslims constitute over 19 per cent of its population and over 30 per cent of the population in quite a few districts of western Uttar Pradesh.

THE DOUBTFUL EXODUSa justification for riots ?

In June, the BJP’s Lok Sabha Member of Parliament Hukum Singh released a list of 346 members of Hindu families that had allegedly fled Kairana town in Shamli district of western Uttar Pradesh due to persecution and pressure fearing atrocities at the hands of Muslim criminals and extortionists. (The chief complainant is an accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar violence.) BJP President Amit Shah called the allegations of a Hindu exodus an ‘eye opener’ at a public rally in Allahabad, and he later cautioned that “UP should not take Kairana lightly”. Aligarh’s BJP MP Satish Gautam declared that there is a need to find out about “other Kairanas”. It is clear from these statements that the ruling party is not averse to using the issue as a plank for political mobilisation even though it could aggravate social tensions in the region.

However, the forced exodus claim was denied by the State government and the district administration. Several investigative reports by the media, notably in The Hindu, The Indian ExpressHindustan Times and Quint, also exposed these claims. They found it to be exaggerated and false as many of the people had migrated for various reasons and some had done so in search of better opportunities. In short, the Kairana exodus was dismissed as a non-event until it was revived by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). In response to a complaint filed by Monika Arora, a Supreme Court advocate, and a vocal and active member of the BJP, the commission constituted a team from its Investigation Division to look into the complaints of exodus of Hindu families from Kairana due to fear of criminals.


The NHRC report released on September 21 observed that these allegations are ‘serious’ and that several Hindu families have migrated because of the worsening law and order situation after victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots settled there. It stated that: “In 2013, the post-rehabilitation scenario resulting in resettlement of about 25/30 thousand members of Muslim community in Kairana Town from district Muzaffarnagar, UP, the demography of Kairana town has changed in favour of the Muslim Community becoming the more dominating and majority community. Most of the witnesses examined and victims feel that the rehabilitation in 2013 has permanently changed the social situation in Kairana town and has led to further deterioration of law and order situation.”

The report came to this conclusion on the basis of verification of six victims/persons and telephonic verification of members of four displaced families in three randomly selected residential localities, which makes it a total of 10 out of the 346 cases of migration from Kairana for reasons of insecurity.

Overall, the NHRC report provides no substantive authentication of its controversial findings; furthermore, it provides no details of the total number of families who migrated from Kairana, the specific time frame for when these families left and the exact reasons behind their decision to do so. The five-page report comprises brief statements on the criminal incidents given by select witnesses. There is no evidence in the report that these crimes were committed by displaced people who had settled in Kairana, even though the report asserts that the presence of Muzaffarnagar riot victims has changed the demography of Kairana and this has led to a further deterioration of law and order in the town. This is a conjecture, not a fact; there is no factual evidence to establish a connection between the presence of internally displaced persons and the increase in incidents of crime mentioned in the report. In any case, there is no corroboration to back the figure of 25-30,000 Muslim victims having settled in the town.

The impression conveyed by the report that only members of the majority community are impacted by the faltering law and order situation in western Uttar Pradesh is deeply flawed. The attempt to paint a largely criminal phenomenon with a broad communal brush without citing any independent and credible evidence is surprising from an institution mandated to investigate human rights violations. Sure enough, the labelling and stigmatising of the minority community in this manner has dismayed civil society activists and victims of the Muzaffarnagar violence who have demanded a withdrawal of the ‘partisan and prejudiced’ report. Social activist Farah Naqvi, who has been working for the rehabilitation of the people displaced by the Muzaffarnagar riots since 2013, called the NHRC report nothing more than “communal rumour-mongering”.


JUSTIFICATION OF FAULT IS A DOUBLE FAULT–The 2013 communal violence had initially displaced over 75,000 people. A 2016 report, Living Apart: Communal Violence and Forced Displacement in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, based on detailed ground-level research done by the non-governmental organisations Aman Biradari and Afkar India, found 50,000 people still scattered all over Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and other districts, of whom nearly 30,000 victims were in 65 internally displaced people colonies. According to the report, 270 families (approximately 2,000 people) had settled in Kairana. It found that even after three years, riot victims are living in ghetto-like resettlement colonies with little support from the State administration. It further notes that the Uttar Pradesh administration not only failed to rehabilitate riot victims displaced from their homes and villages, it also actively encouraged Muslim refugees, who used to live in Hindu majority villages, to resettle in Muslim-majority colonies, thus escalating the social divide.

Curiously, the large-scale displacement caused by communal violence in 2013 did not lead to any investigation or recommendations by the NHRC. But the Commission saw it fit to investigate the exodus of 346 people, and what’s more, recommend the formation of a high-level committee of the Government of U.P. “to meet each of the displaced families from Kairana Town now living in districts Dehradun, Panipat, Muzaffarnagar, Roorki, Karnal, etc. of Uttarakhand and Haryana in order to redress their grievances and facilitate their return to Kairana, if so desired…” It did not make the same proposals for the rehabilitation of over 75,000 people displaced from Muzaffarnagar in 2013.

Even though communal mobilisation and internal displacement is a process that still continues in many parts of western Uttar Pradesh, it finds no mention in the NHRC report. It is mentioned only in relation to the displacement from Kairana for which the NHRC blames those who are themselves displaced by communal violence. In so doing, it displays a complete lack of sympathy for people who have been affected and displaced by violence. Rather than supporting them, what the report has in effect done is to double their victimisation by tagging them as people whose presence “has led to further deterioration of law and order situation”.

TARNISHING A LEGACY– The NHRC has played a critical role in investigating violations of human rights in the country. ‘In 2002, the Commission, under former Chief Justice J.S. Verma, was the first public body to visit Gujarat after the riots, and it subsequently moved the Supreme Court to transfer cases outside the State to secure a fair trial’. This legacy creates unparalleled social expectations but it also invites civil society scrutiny from national and international actors for any potentially detrimental action by the apex body. Its neutrality is critically important because that is what gives its reports and decisions credibility as a record of ground reality, without serving any person or party’s interest. Its impartiality has been undermined by the decision to investigate an exodus list supplied by a political party with a clear stake in upping the communal ante ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections. In the event, the report vindicated the ruling party’s claims but it compromised its own autonomy and non-aligned status. This is an inevitable consequence of interpreting broader societal trends like migration and security through a communal prism, which sets a perilous precedent of giving an ethnic colour to law and order problems.

The idea of the NHRC as an unbiased arbiter in conflict situations is widely perceived as essential to the promotion and protection of human rights in our democracy. As an icon of independence, the legitimacy and credibility of the NHRC or of any human rights body rest on its ability to address the problems relating to human rights in a society generally, and not those of a particular community. The public needs to have the confidence that the Commission will investigate cases of rights violation without fear or favour. Hence, the effectiveness of human rights commissions depends on how a particular commission locates itself in a society and is able to confront the issues before it. Majoritarianism is a real issue in India today. It has led to legitimate fears about this creed dictating policy and compromising the functioning of public institutions; in this scenario, it is the responsibility of rights watchdog institutions to prevent this tendency from dominating institutions. For a democracy to thrive, institutions like the NHRC have to play a counter-majoritarianism role.


  • Cool the world

Although it took seven years to come to fruition, the Kigali agreement to amend the Montreal Protocol and substantially limit the emission of hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs) that contribute to global warming represents major progress. The important role played by this group of chemicals, used in refrigeration and air conditioning, is evident from the scientific estimate that without a mitigation plan, HFCs could warm the world by an additional half a degree Celsius by the end of the century. As with other such global compacts on environmental matters, India pressed for a more lenient deadline at the Rwanda negotiations. Ultimately, it agreed to start freezing HFC use in 2028, four years later than its peer club countries China, Brazil and those in Africa, and achieving maximum reduction by 2047, two years after they do. In welcome contrast, however, India has ordered the manufacturers of HFC 23 — a by-product of another chemical used in refrigerant gas manufacture and with a staggeringly high contribution to global warming — to now capture and dispose of it at their own cost. The decision is of particular significance, considering the expansion of refrigeration and air conditioning in India with a rise in incomes, leading to higher levels of HFC release into the atmosphere.

One of the questions before India in its implementation of Montreal Protocol commitments is the need to align its goals for ‘Make in India’ with green technologies in order to remain competitive in global markets. Inducting alternatives to HFCs, such as hydrocarbons, ammonia and carbon dioxide, in the relevant industries should happen sooner than anticipated and possibly become even attractive as the cost of technologies falls. The changeover is actually an opportunity to achieve a leapfrog effect. The imperative, in any case, should be environmental. It is worth recalling that the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer adopted in 1985 (operationalize later by the Montreal Protocol) followed a phase when major producers of chlorofluorocarbons, the earlier generation of refrigerants, tried to discredit the link between the chemicals and the developing problem of the ozone hole. Persistent and credible science, however, swayed public and political opinion in favour of a phase-out of CFCs. As with the Paris Agreement on climate change, which is strengthened by the Kigali amendments, developing countries will legitimately expect rich countries to aid them as they seek to acquire green technologies for industrial use. Given the impact of global warming, countries and people who have historically never been part of the problem should not have to argue their case for liberal assistance.


  • India ratifies historic Paris climate deal at U.N.

India ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change by depositing the instrument of ratification with the United Nations on Sunday, the 147th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. A special event was organised to mark the occasion, also observed as the International Day of Nonviolence, at the UN headquarters.

India is the 62nd country to ratify the agreement. The agreement will enter into force one month after 55 countries that account for 55 percent of global emissions ratify the agreement. “With today’s action by India, which accounts for 4.1 per cent of the emissions, the Agreement only needs slightly more than 3 percentage points to reach the 55 per cent threshold,” a UN statement said. At least 14 other countries, representing at least 12 per cent of global emissions, have committed to ratifying the pact before the end of the year.

Living through an age of triumphant industrial capitalism, Gandhi had warned of the dangers posed by the unbridled exploitation of natural resources. Speakers at the event recalled Gandhi’s vision that foresaw the pivotal role environment would occupy in development debates decades later.

“Looking back, many now regard him as an avid and early environmentalist. Encapsulating the whole idea of sustainable development more than seven decades ago he had said, “The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our fore fathers but on loan from our children. So we have to handover to them at least as it was handed over to us,” said Syed Akbaruddin, Permanent Representative of India to the UN, after handing over the instrument. President of General Assembly Peter Thomson said Gandhiji would have applauded the UN efforts to make development sustainable and equitable. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said the message of nonviolence is as relevant today as it was during Gandhi’s lifetime and lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his commitment to environment.

A UN postal administration stamp to honour singer M.S. Subbulakshmi was also released during the function. Carnatic singer Sudha Raghunathan and team performed at the event. Dr. Subbulakshmi performed at the UN in 1966.

Mr. Modi’s announcement last month on India’s decision to ratify the agreement was a sudden turnaround from its earlier position that the domestic process was incomplete. To meet the national commitment made under the agreement, India has to implement an array of standards in its energy production and emission monitoring. India had also linked the ratification of the treaty to its admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Getting the agreement implemented is a key strategic objective that President Barrack Obama has set for himself before he leaves office in less than four months.



  • NGO promoting clean energy bags UN climate solutions award

An Indian NGO, Swayam Shikshan Prayog, has bagged a UN climate award for 2016. The NGO, which trains women to become clean energy entrepreneurs across Maharashtra and Bihar, is one of the 13 projects to be recognised at the forthcoming UN climate summit in Marrakesh, Morocco, in November.

In an official release, the UNFCCC, the nodal UN climate body, has applauded the project for building a rural distribution network of 1,100 women entrepreneurs facilitating access to clean energy, water and sanitation products and services in several communities.

Prema Gopalan, co-founder of Swayam Shikshan Prayog, who has worked for 10 years in the clean energy sector, told The Hindu that many of the women in her NGO hail from the Marathwada drought-hit areas and have attained a new identity as a result of their entrepreneurial work.

“They have learnt to be better community leaders. The initiatives they have undertaken are both sustainable and scalable,” she said. The NGO, founded in 1989 in Mumbai, has received financial support from the Maharashtra government, USAID, Miseorer, Europe, and CSR funds from HSBC and Alstom, till now.

With India ratifying the Paris agreement on Sunday, Ms. Gopalan highlighted the importance of micro-level, scalable initiatives to help the rural population contribute to India’s ambitious renewable energy target. India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), submitted to the UNFCCC, speak of increasing the share of renewable energy in India’s energy mix to 40 per cent by 2030.

“While the government only eyes big-ticket projects when it comes to renewable energy it should also look at the potential of reaching out to the vast rural population through small initiatives such as these. It requires marrying the government’s livelihood missions with that of new and renewable energy,” Ms. Gopalan, who is also an Ashoka Fellow since 2003, said.

Easy access

Nita Tanwade, 36, one of the rural entrepreneurs who works with the NGO told The Hindu that over 2000 families in her village Sawargaon in Tuljapur taluk have purchased solar lights and cook stoves from her. “For several hours in a day, people in my village suffered power cuts. Many couldn’t afford to get an electricity connection,” she said and recalled that villagers had contributed funds to install solar lights at the home of an elderly couple.

For those who cannot afford to buy the solar lamps, priced between Rs. 500 to 700 and the cook stoves that cost between Rs. 2500-3000, Ms. Tanwade said she sold it to them on credit and the villagers paid her back in monthly instalments.

The use of woodfire for cooking in rural areas has been identified as one of the primary causes of indoor air pollution, which contributes to global warming, and also causes respiratory illnesses. According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2015, 67 per cent of the population in India depends on traditional biomass for cooking, which, in absolute numbers, works out to 841 million people in the population.

Ms. Gopalan said that the UN climate award is a global recognition for replicable models on clean energy that can help put an end to India’s biomass dependency. The UNFCCC release cites how through the promotion of clean cook stoves by women entrepreneurs, over 200,000 women and households now save almost 100 tonnes per day of fuel wood. “Maharashtra has started allowing women to even supply excess solar energy to the grid. If all Indian states adopt such enabling policies, India can soon become self-sufficient in energy, the clean way.”


  • Indian-origin teen wins Google Science Fair prize

A 16-year-old Indian-origin South African teen has won a $50,000 scholarship, the grand prize at the annual Google Science Fair for her work using orange peel to develop a cheaper “super-absorbent material” that helps soil retain water.

Kiara Nirghin, a Grade 11 student at private school St Martin’s, submitted her project titled ‘No More Thirsty Crops’ which was aimed at tackling the severe drought plaguing South Africa.

Her solution to the problem of drought uses orange and avocado fruit peel that is normally discarded.

The Google Science Fair is a programme for budding scientists between the ages of 13 to 18, who are invited to solve the world’s biggest challenges using science and technology.

“I have always had a great love for chemistry since I was young. I vividly remember at the age of seven experimenting with vinegar and baking soda solutions in plastic cups,” Ms. Nirghin said in her submission, in which she cited a renowned Indian scientist as her greatest inspiration.

“M.S. Swaminathan has always been an inspiration of mine as he truly believed in the necessary movement of not only India but the whole world towards sustainable agricultural development,” she said.

“I hope to one day become a scientist specialising in agricultural science and also become a molecular gastronomist,” she added. Ms. Nirghin explained how she had found an alternative in the fruit peel to super-absorbent polymers (SAPs), which absorb and carry about 300 times their weight in liquid relative to their own mass.

“These SAPs are not biodegradable, are costly and full of acrylic acid, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals. During more research on the topic, I found that natural occurring polymers exist in most citrus fruits,” Ms. Nirghin said.

After 45 days of experimentation, Ms. Nirghin was successful in creating a low-cost super-absorbent polymer, made out of waste products from the juice manufacturing industry. This polymer is biodegradable, can retain large amounts of water, keep soil moist and improve crop growth without regular water supplements.

The young scientist is convinced that her mixture will assist farmers in drought-hit areas.


  • Prognosis is good for India’s organ transplant programme

India’s still nascent organ transplant programme is making progress, and it’s not just things like life-saving traffic green corridors that are smoothening out the wrinkles. Efforts to increase the knowledge base are taking off and crucial policy decisions are taking shape, triggered by recent events in organ transplants.

On October 5, officials of the National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation (NOTTO), National Informatics Centre (NIC) and other stakeholders will meet to draw a road map for documenting patient progress, networking all transplant hospitals of the country and also figure out the official policy to treat out-of-turn requests for organs.

It’s not enough to have a database of donor pledges. A critical new initiative plans to map post-transplant survival rate of patients. “The NIC is developing a national registry of organ and tissue donors,” Dr. Anil Kumar, nodal officer, NOTTO, told The Hindu. “It is partly developed and is accessible through the NOTTO site. The registry will help in maintaining data and surveillance, but we also want it to be used for academic research and to study outcome. After the transplant, patients have to be followed up and even that data should be fed, which will help figure out the post-transplant survival rate.”

The Indian Society for Organ Transplant (ISOT) started work on a similar registry a few years ago. Narayan Prasad, secretary of ISOT, said, “The sole aim of this registry was to see the outcome of the transplant, but only few centres shared their data. Doctors and hospitals resisted it.” As Professor of Nephrology at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow, Dr. Prasad said he had himself been recording this data since 2004.

If NOTTO is successful, it could possibly be a larger collation than ISOT’s, given that 125 hospitals are linked to the NOTTO registry that the NIC is developing. But it’s an ambitious plan. Those in the field point out that most transplants are taking place in private hospitals, and until the government makes it mandatory for them to share data, they will remain cagey.

Family ties

About 10 days ago, approvals had to be issued overnight by Union Health Ministry officials to allow a brain-dead man’s kidney to be donated to his brother, who had been on dialysis for two years and was at number 162 in Mumbai’s waiting list for kidneys. The approval helped him jump the queue.

“There was a similar case in Tamil Nadu two or three years ago when a near relative had sought an organ of a loved one. We gave it,” said J. Amalorpavanathan, convener, Tamil Nadu Cadaver Transplant Programme. He, however, said such cases were rare and could be dealt with locally on a case-by-case basis. So did it need a policy change? “Of the 800 donations since 2008, there was just one such request. The local committee can take a call on such cases,” he said.

“This case was a coincidence where one brother was dying and another was on dialysis,” Dr. Kumar said. “It was an emotive issue. And it is natural for any family to feel like this.”

He said such demands could be made in the future — and approvals could be restricted to allow near relatives of a brain dead patient to get organs — but there is a need for a discussion on what the policy should be regarding requests by distant relatives.

“NOTTO may have to modify the policy [on cadaver organ donations] and we are discussing it as a follow-up to the Mumbai case.”

The concerns

Officials say that while the national registry will have robust data of donors that can be viewed by all hospitals, and where they can feed in details of patient progress, there are concerns ranging from maintaining donor confidentiality to ensuring that it is an inclusive exercise.

Sunil Shroff, managing trustee of Mohan Foundation, Chennai, said, “These are wonderful initiatives,” but felt the need to look at larger policies in detail. He said that there was no compulsion for State governments yet to share their data: “A national task force should be set up for their implementation.”

Besides, the network that the government is creating is not as inclusive as it should be. “There are only 200-300 licensed hospitals to harvest organs and do transplants,” Dr. Shroff noted, saying that he, for instance, had received calls from places such as Nainital where a family wanted to donate an organ but didn’t know how to go about it.

In short, the steps that the government is making are progressive, but there is still a lot to be done.


  • Breaking out of election mode

There is no greater need today than for the country to vigorously pursue and implement the idea of ‘one nation, one election’. With India on the cusp of achieving rapid economic growth, we must ensure that development on all fronts is not hampered by frequent elections.

The idea of reverting to simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies was rightly mooted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the cycle of continuous elections was not only affecting the developmental process and good governance, but also forcing the political class to typically think in terms of immediate electoral gains rather than focus on long-term programmes and policies for the overall progress of the nation and its people.

No harm to federal structure

The Prime Minister’s idea has also been endorsed by the Election Commission. The Chief Election Commissioner, Nasim Zaidi, recently observed that holding elections simultaneously would certainly save money, time and energy, and ensure effective governance. Even as a national debate is raging, with many political parties and the Election Commission favouring the conduct of elections together to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, some people are falsely arguing that such a move would affect the federal polity and democracy of the country. Nothing can be more far-fetched than this.

The fears that holding simultaneous elections would affect the federal nature of the Indian polity appear to be completely unfounded. As a matter of fact, it would help in better coordination between the governments at the Centre and in various States, rather than moving the country towards becoming a unitary state. Did the holding of simultaneous elections between 1952 and 1967 (when this cycle was broken for politically motivated reasons) in any way make the country a unitary state at that time? Is there any evidence to this effect for anybody to draw such a conclusion?

India’s parliamentary democracy, based on strong constitutional principles, is mature enough not to slip into a unitary model just because of simultaneous elections. The country will achieve progress and remain strong only when the Centre and States act as equal partners, irrespective of the political differences of those governing at the national and regional levels.

Holding simultaneous elections would make our democracy stronger and healthier as it would provide a level playing field to all the players across all States rather than giving an advantage to a few players here and there due to their political equations with the party in power at the Centre.

Politically savvy voters

Although some data might show that there has been a tendency among voters to choose the same party at the Centre and in the States during simultaneously held elections in the past, it is politically naïve to simply infer that this would be the general trend whenever polls are held. India’s vibrant political diversity is too good to allow same party domination always at the Centre and the States.

Besides, there is also talk that national issues would dominate the agenda of the political parties, particularly pan-India parties, during simultaneous elections, while relegating State and regional issues to the background. That kind of thinking is tantamount to straitjacketing the Indian voters, who I think are politically quite savvy to decide what lies in their best interests, irrespective of the various methods adopted by both national and regional parties to woo them.

It must be remembered that President Pranab Mukherjee also articulated his views in favour of holding simultaneous elections. While replying to a question from a student during a special class held to mark Teacher’s Day at the Rajendra Prasad Sarvodaya Vidyalaya in Rashtrapati Bhavan, he observed: “Throughout the year, some election or the other is happening and regular work comes to a standstill with the code of conduct being implemented. This doesn’t only stop work in the State but also in the Central government.”

He said the idea of holding all elections together was emerging among political parties and added: “The Election Commission can also put in their idea and efforts on holding the polls together and that will be highly beneficial.”

Reducing expenditure

While the cost of holding Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the present disaggregated form was estimated to be around Rs.4,500 crore, it has been reported that the Election Commission, in its views submitted to the Law Ministry, put the likely cost of holding simultaneous elections at over Rs.9,000 crore.

A Parliamentary Standing Committee, which also backed the holding of simultaneous elections, had cited several reasons for exploring the feasibility. Apart from reducing the massive expenditure involved in conducting separate elections every year, it was pointed out that “the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct puts on hold the entire range of development activities of the Union and State governments. Frequent elections lead to imposition of MCC over prolonged periods of time leading to policy paralysis and government deficit.”

In fact, veteran Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had earlier suggested holding concurrent elections, and had also taken up this issue with the President at that time.

The advantages of holding simultaneous elections far outweigh the disadvantages as the process would not only vastly reduce the burden on the exchequer, but put an end to the practice of frequent deployment of police and other government staff on election duty in different States.

No doubt, conducting concurrent elections is a humongous logistical task in terms of deployment of personnel, EVMs and other material. But the time has come to make a beginning and ensure political and administrative stability both at the Central and State levels for the country to march unhindered on the path to progress.

Once a political consensus is built on the issue, constitutional amendments could be put in place for fixed tenure of the legislative bodies and the process kick-started. That thousands of people gave suggestions on the MyGov Web portal supporting the idea for holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies is itself a pointer that the time has come for carrying out the much-needed electoral reform.


  • The street is no place for dogs

Every day, India wakes up to horrific stories of attacks on people by street dogs and equally horrific acts of cruelty towards dogs.  There is extreme polarisation on this issue between the advocates of human rights versus animal rights. The lack of a critical and scientific analysis is glaring.

A dog is considered to be man’s best friend, but there is, unfortunately, a dark side to having dogs on streets. More than 20 million people in India are bitten by dogs, and 20,000 die because of rabies, annually. Dogs also directly kill a dozen or more people, mostly children, every year.

Confused legislation

India, with the third highest dog population in the world, has some confused legislation to deal with this problem. In 2001, the Ministry of Culture issued the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, or the ABC rules, under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA Act). According to the ABC Rules, the population of street dogs must be controlled with sterilisation surgeries and these dogs are to be released from where they were caught.

However, these ABC Rules contravene the PCA Act in several places. Take Section 2(f) of the PCA Act, for instance, where an  owner of an animal “…includes not only the owner but also any other person for the time being in possession or custody of the animal, whether with or without the consent of the owner.” This means that once municipal authorities and animal welfare organisations pick up free roaming dogs from the streets (and these dogs are unclaimed by anyone), they lawfully become the owners of those animals.

Further, Chapter 3, subsection 11 of the PCA Act clearly lists the responsibilities of owners and makes it an offence to “abandon any animal in circumstances which render it likely that it will suffer pain by reason of starvation or thirst”, or “wilfully” permit any animal that is “affected with contagious or infectious disease or, without reasonable excuse, permits any diseased or disabled animals… to die in any street.”

By the logic of this subsection, the biggest offenders under the PCA Act are the state and animal welfare organisations themselves as they capture and then release dogs back on the streets. While the ABC Rules are silent on who is ultimately responsible for these animals, the PCA Act is clear.

There are also contradictions within the ABC Rules. Subsection 7(9) states: “…female dogs found to be pregnant shall not undergo abortion (irrespective of stage of pregnancy) and sterilisation and should be released till they have litter.” This means that the law meant to control stray dog populations suggests that dogs should be born on the streets!

Commendably, India became one of the first countries globally to provide rights to domestic animals so that they may be protected against cruelty. However, the ABC Rules, in requiring the release of unclaimed dogs to an unsupervised life on the streets where nobody is held responsible, directly undermine the spirit and the letter of the law.

An exalted position

These self-contradictory rules place street dogs in an administrative grey zone. They are not owned by anyone but are not wildlife either. Municipal and State authorities are duty-bound to control any animal, whether mosquitoes or rats, that can spread diseases to humans (under various Municipal Acts). However, ABC Rules prohibit the confinement or killing of dogs unless they are mortally wounded or sick. But what is bizarre is that the rules also forbid euthanising suspected rabid animals. Instead, they demand that these dogs be kept in isolation till they die a “natural” but slow, horrible death. Thus, neither people nor dogs are protected. Such an exalted position is not given to any other animal in India.

This extreme level of protection for dogs is unheard of even in countries with strict animal welfare laws. The removal and euthanasia of unwonted dogs is routinely practised throughout the developed world. For example, in 2013, the Humane Society of the U.S. reported euthanasia of 3.4 million unwonted dogs and cats in the USA. In the U.K., an owned dog that is considered dangerous can be “destroyed” and the owner penalised or jailed. These laws accept that the welfare of companion animals is best served in homes rather than on the streets.

Belling the wrong dog

What is the cost of the dog problem in India? Other than the terrible human costs associated with direct and indirect fatalities, the treatment of 20 million bite cases annually runs to hundreds of crores of rupees, and results in the loss of 38 million man-hours (2003 survey). A large number of vehicle accidents result from collision with or avoidance of dogs. The cost of the ABC programmes implemented across the country alone runs into several crores, but this is just a drop in the bucket compared to what it would actually cost to fix the problem.

The ABC programme as implemented will not result in bringing down the dog population in India for several reasons. One, it is logistically and operationally challenging to sterilise 50 millions dogs. Two, unsterilised dogs will always “spill over” into areas where sterilisation has been done. Three, the infrastructure needed for such large-scale surgical interventions do not exist. Instead, shady NGOs currently keep and operate on dogs in deplorable conditions. These are examples of real animal cruelty.

For more than a century, India has swung wildly between wanton killing of dogs and extreme “pro-life” interventions. It has never framed a rational, scientifically valid, and widely implementable dog ownership or population control strategy. We need to make a decision; to call dogs our best friends should mean that we don’t abandon them on streets. The street is no place for a dog — both for the welfare of humans as well as for dogs.



Two recent developments bring home the increased opaqueness in our public affairs: the secrecy surrounding the health of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, and the details regarding the “surgical strikes” by the Indian Army across the Line of Control (LoC). These developments have opened the door to look at many professional difficulties confronting journalists.

One of the most frustrating elements in the two issues at hand is the impenetrable iron curtain that denies space for journalists to carry out the act of verification. While the people holding offices of power and responsibility are maintaining a studied silence (as in the case of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and her Cabinet), those in charge of the “surgical strikes” are unusually garrulous without providing any evidence for their claims. Neither the silence nor the excessive sound bites without convincing proof are good for democracy. The lack of a credible information flow has only opened the tap for rumours, speculations, even panic.

Right to privacy versus public interest

Importance of credible information

The “surgical strikes” across the LoC belongs to a category where almost all the big words and phrases have to be invoked — national interest, security, strategic depth, second strike capability, media as force multiplier, futility of restraint, use of force when diplomatic initiatives fail, no other alternative for a nation state, and offence as deterrence — yet there is no clarity on what happened. I belong to a small section influenced by Stephen Dedalus of James Joyce. Two memorable sayings of this alter ego of the Irish master in Ulysses are: “I fear those big words which make us so unhappy” and “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

I was pleased to see The Hindu’s editorial on this breach of restraint of the Indian state. First, the terms “surgical strike” and “pre-emptive strike” were used within quotation marks rather than as a statement of fact. Second, it flagged the major consequence of this act by saying, “India’s next steps, post-Uri, are in uncharted terrain, with New Delhi abandoning the self-proclaimed policy of ‘strategic restraint’ adopted in the face of earlier provocations by terrorists believed to be backed by Pakistan.” The editorial further said that “the Centre will need to articulate what it regards as the new normal — and indeed, how it hopes, or plans, to dissuade Pakistan from escalating the situation in turn.”

The “surgical strikes” were India’s response to the Uri attack and this has an uncanny similarity to Operation Parakram, which was launched after the terrorist attack on Parliament House in 2001. In 2004, General Padmanabhan, who led the Indian Army during Operation Parakram, explained in an exclusive interview to this newspaper that the “problems with India’s military doctrine, and a lack of clarity within the Union Cabinet and on its war objectives may have undermined Operation Parakram at the very outset”. It is worth remembering the casualty figures that were given by the then Defence Minister, George Fernandes, to the Indian Parliament: “The number of Army personnel killed or wounded in Jammu and Kashmir and the western sector during the mobilisation, Operation Parakram, from December 19, 2001 to October 16, 2002, was 1,874.”

The disturbing question for journalists in these two cases is the lack of credible and trustworthy information, which in the case of Ms. Jayalalithaa is spreading panic, and in the case of the “surgical strikes” foments jingoism. Journalism cannot be a collateral damage in a country that enacted the Right to Information Act more than a decade ago.




Our Constitution shares something with Leo Tolstoy. ‘War and peace.’ Those three words, written exactly like the title of his classic novel, comprise Entry 15 in the Union List of our Constitution. In mindscapes as ordinary as mine, this simply means that the Union of India, and the Union of India alone, can decide when to declare war, when to return to peace.

We are almost at war. “Almost” because war has not been declared by the Union Government or the President who, contrary to popular belief, is not ‘Supreme Commander of the Armed forces’ but in whom the supreme command over our armed forces vests. The point of this quibble is that the President in declaring war (if and when he does) acts on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.

Wars, declared or undeclared, in India or by India are the work of the Prime Minister of the day. That is the first thing about any ‘India war’.

A short history of India’s wars

We have been at war five times before. And all but once with the same country, Pakistan. In 1947-48, 1965, 1971, 1999. Was war ‘declared’ in all those four cases?

War could not be formally declared in 1947-48 which was Prime Minister Nehru’s India-Pakistan war; there was no time. The second India-Pakistan war, Prime Minister Shastri’s war, also started on August 5, 1965 without a formal declaration of war.

The 13-day, third India-Pakistan war of 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s war, started officially when on the evening of December, 3 1971, the Pakistani Air Force struck eleven airfields in our north-west, including Agra. Addressing the nation over All India Radio that evening, she said the PAF air strikes were a declaration of war against India, and the Indian Air Force responded with initial air strikes that very night.

In the last of the series, in May-July 1999, the Kargil war of Prime Minister Vajpayee, unleashed by Pakistan soldiers infiltrating into the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC), took us by utter surprise, even disbelief. We were in the war before we could declare it. Declared in terms of Entry 15 or not, all four were wars. And they were wars linked for all time, for the better or worse, with the Prime Ministers of the day.

We are now on the threshold of war. Prime Minister Modi’s war. Tolstoy’s phrase in the Union List beams red to show danger, green as if to say ‘Go Ahead’. As citizens of India, we must trust that such a war, if it does take place, will be justified, will be fought clean, and will put cross-border terrorism in its place.



But before that happens, and while there still is time, we have to ask ourselves: What did the four previous wars achieve?

In the first of the Indo-Pakistan wars in 1947-1948, estimates say, Indian losses were 1,500 killed and 3,500 wounded, and Pakistani losses were 6,000 killed and 14,000 wounded. Nehru’s army taught Pakistan a tough lesson but with international pressure mounting and Governor General Mountbatten turning internationalist, Nehru agreed to a ceasefire. Pakistan gained roughly a third of the former State, a net gain for the new nation. India retained a truncated Valley, Ladakh and Jammu. Who won, who lost that war?

In the second war, the fatalities were 3,000 Indian soldiers, 3,800 Pakistani soldiers. India held Pakistani territory in solid bulk, Lahore being but a knuckle away from Indian control. But the Tashkent Declaration signed by Prime Minister Shastri and President Ayub Khan got Indian and Pakistani forces to pull back to their pre-conflict positions, pre-August lines. Who won, who lost?

In the third war, in 1971, what did India win and Pakistan lose? India won self-confidence, Pakistan lost East Pakistan. India won Bangladeshis’ appreciation, Pakistan lost their companionship. In the process, Pakistan had 8,000 killed and 25,000 wounded and even victorious India had 3,000 dead and 12,000 wounded. In the Shimla Agreement, Bhutto agreed to recognise an independent Bangladesh, even as Indira Gandhi agreed to return all the more than 90,000 Pakistani soldiers taken prisoner by India in the 13-day war. Bangladesh today is friendly to India. But this does not mean that it will always be inimical to Pakistan. Who won, who lost?

Estimates differ wildly but it is believed that in the Kargil war of 1999, Pakistan lost close to 1,000 soldiers and India 550, many of them senior officers. Pakistan had to abandon the Indian points it has got hold of.

It would be sobering to acknowledge the net gains of the four wars that could be termed ‘positive’. One, thanks to India’s active reflexes, Pakistan has understood that its provoking of India by crossing the border or the LoC does not, and will not, work for it.

                                       Two, thanks to India’s active and pro-active reflexes, Bangladesh is on the South Asian map, a permanent rebuff to the Two Nation Theory.

Three, the Tashkent Declaration (1966) and the Shimla Agreement (1972) have shown war as wrong-headed, peace the only condition for the two neighbours to live with each other. Prime Minister Vajpayee’s readiness for a dialogue with Pakistan both before and after Kargil, and Prime Ministers Gujral and Manmohan Singh striving for a détente have been influenced by Tashkent and Shimla, the latter being cited in narratives more than the former because it is a signed and ratified agreement.

Are these three results of the four wars active on India-Pakistan minds today? They are not.

We should remind ourselves that two Indians — Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi who were no wimps — signed parchments in which the following was said:

“The Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan agree that both sides will exert all efforts to create good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan in accordance with the United Nations Charter. They reaffirm their obligation under the Charter not to have recourse to force and to settle their disputes through peaceful means.” (Tashkent Declaration, January 10, 1966).

“The Government of India and the Government of Pakistan are resolved that the two countries put an end to the conflict and confrontation that have hitherto marred their relations and work for the promotion of a friendly and harmonious relationship… respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. (Shimla Agreement, July 2, 1972).

Prime Minister Vajpayee’s nod for an agreement on a ceasefire on the Line of Control in 2003 carried Tashkent and Shimla forward. This was the first time that India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire that covered the International Border, the LoC and the Siachen Glacier in Jammu and Kashmir.

What is the difference between the time when Nehru, Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Vajpayee followed the ‘War’ prerogative in our Union List with the ‘Peace’ prerogative in the same and agreed to what they agreed to, and now?

Terror was known then, terror is known now, but in more ferocious and ingenious avatars. And in both countries, intolerance has come to be anointed. That — intolerant frenzy — is being excavated by hawks to fuel a war-psychosis even before war is declared or erupts.

In Pakistan, hawks in the military and clergy have found in terror groups their best grime-handler. In India, Hindutva has found in Pakistan-harboured terror groups their best friend-in-enemy’s garb.
FUELLING HATRED –Terror and Hindutva do each other’s work for them. They offer to a credulous and suspicious public in both countries an alternative patriotism, which is hatriotism — hatred of the other country, its majority religion. The two have a common enemy: liberal secularism, pluralism, concord. They use a common weapon: incitement. They use a common fuel: fanaticism. They would die without the other.

They feed on and feed each other’s mistaken, misguided, misleading nationalisms.

India and Pakistan are being drummed into war-mindedness, not in the sense of a readiness to face war should it happen, but in the sense of wanting a war. This is the difference.

George Perkovich said as far back as 2003 — in the Vajpayee era — “Pakistanis cite the RSS and VHP as proof that Hindus are out to destroy Muslims and, of course, Pakistan. The RSS and VHP, of course, use the prominence of Islamist parties and terrorist organisations in Pakistan as proof that Muslims are evil… The only way for India to liberate itself from Pakistan is through pluralist liberalism, not cultural nationalism.” He can say, and we should say to ourselves, the same today.

But we should do more. We should trust our Prime Minister, whose mind is so difficult to fathom, to remember what Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Vajpayee did in 1965, 1971 and 1999, respectively, but also how they followed that up with moves that placed war in the doghouse.

This is not to exculpate terrorism. It is to not oblige it by overreaction and self-destruction. M.K. Narayanan’s sage advice in these very columns two weeks ago must be heeded by New Delhi.

There is no such thing in war, declared or undeclared, as tit for tat, and that is that. Surgical strikes can be expected to be followed by post-surgical complications. Who will pay for them? Those who gloat over the ‘fitting reply’? Certainly not. Those who describe that as ‘the rise of a new India’? Most certainly not.

                             FIGHT FOR PEACE— Soldiers, brave-hearts, trained to fight and be prepared to die fighting, will fight the war if it comes. And we will, as we must, honour them. But while they do their duty by war, we must do ours by peace. Remembering that ‘War and Peace’ are one single entry in the Union List, we — you and I — must fight another war. And that is the war against war-mongering, a war against the psychology that glorifies war, that makes nuclear warheads of our minds. We must step out of the queue for sectarian hatred and line up with that for secular intelligence. We must declare war against the un-entered Entry that seeks to displace ‘War and Peace’, which is ‘War and Polarisation’. We must expunge it.


  • No short cuts in Maharashtra

The immediate provocation for the series of rallies in the name of Maharashtra’s numerically dominant Marathas might appear to be the rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl in Ahmednagar district. All the three accused so far in the case are Dalits. While the protesters have demanded justice for the victim, their rallies have been used as a pretext for Marathas to reiterate a long-standing demand for reservations under the Other Backward Classes category and for scrapping the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. The Marathas’ demand for reservations mirrors similar ones made recently by Patidars and Jats in Gujarat and Haryana, respectively. As with Patidars and Jats, the demand for inclusion in the OBC quota is fuelled by anxiety about relative economic backwardness among a large cross-section of Marathas. Their inability to move up the economic ladder and the lack of adequate opportunities in a sluggish agrarian economy has been key factors in the agitations for reservations. Yet, the demand for reservations for Marathas, traditionally seen as “upper castes”, goes against the spirit of affirmative action that has guided eligibility for quotas in Central and State lists. Marathas are a dominant caste and play a central role in electoral politics as well as the political economy of the State. In any case, it has been judicially established that economic criteria alone cannot be taken as determinants of backwardness. The Bombay High Court had stayed an order by the previous Congress-NCP government for 16 per cent reservations for Marathas in educational institutions and jobs over and above the almost 50 per cent quota for SC/STs and OBCs put together.

The other key demand in the Maratha agitations, for the scrapping of the POA Act, seems to be clearly directed at perceived Dalit assertion. Such demands have been voiced in the past too by political groups representing landed backward classes in States such as Tamil Nadu. The implementation of the POA Act has been sketchy across India, and Maharashtra is no exception. Conviction rates remain low, even if reporting of crimes against SCs and STs and their registration have increased, as a result of increasing awareness among Dalits and Adivasis of their legal options. Indeed, there is a case for better implementation of the Act, certainly not for its scrapping. It is therefore disturbing that political parties are trying to appropriate the seemingly spontaneous protests for any electoral dividends. The Devendra Fadnavis-led government would be well-advised to address the State’s agrarian distress and need for more job creation, instead of opting for short cuts such as expanding reservations, which in any case may not ultimately pass judicial scrutiny.


  • OPEC’s roll of the dice

What is opec?

Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC,  is an intergovernmental organization of 14 nations, founded in 1960 in Baghdad by the first five members, and headquartered since 1965 in Vienna. As of 2015, the 14 countries accounted for an estimated 43 percent of global oil production and 73 percent of the world’s “proven” oil reserves, giving OPEC a major influence on global oil prices

OPEC’s-members   are AlgeriaAngolaEcuadorGabonIndonesiaIranIraqKuwaitLibyaNigeriaQatarSaudiArabia (the largest producer), United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. Two-thirds of OPEC’s oil production and reserves are in its six Middle Easter ncountries that surround the oil-rich Persian Gulf

What they have done?

Member countries have reached an agreement at the extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, in Algiers, to trim the cartel’s collective output by about 700,000 barrels a day, in an effort to balance supply and demand in the global oil market.

Why markets are surprised?

It was well-acknowledged that the group needed to take decisive action to staunch the two-year-long slide in global crude prices, that saw Brent prices more than halve from about $103 a barrel in end-August 2014 to $45.45 a barrel on September 1 this year. Still, it was unclear if there could be a meaningful consensus on production cuts among disparate member-countries — which included the small-yet-prosperous West African country of Gabon, crisis-hit Venezuela, and fractious West Asian nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. That the 56-year-old grouping arrived at an agreement, albeit after leaving a decision on country-specific production targets to November, reflects just how desperate the situation had become for most oil-producing economies. The output cut, announced for the first time in eight years, is a tacit admission by the group’s largest producer Saudi Arabia that its ‘pump-at-will’ approach has hurt its economy as much, if not more, than the pain it may have caused North American oil producers, including U.S. shale interests that the policy largely sought to target.

While the big U.S. shale producers have resiliently hung on and even begun investing in new acreage this year, Saudi Arabia found itself with a huge hole in its budget. A fiscal deficit of 16 per cent of GDP in 2015 that is projected to slightly narrow to about 13 per cent this year forced spending cuts, including on wages and fuel subsidies. This year the kingdom was driven to make its first overseas borrowing in more than a decade, a five-year $10 billion loan. With the economy’s growth set to slow to about 1 per cent in 2016, it had few options but to return to the main fuel of its economic engine, crude oil. Given the country’s involvement in conflicts across the region, both openly as in Yemen and tacitly as in Syria, its rulers have possibly realised the need to squeeze more revenue out of every barrel of oil. OPEC reportedly made a concession to Iran in order to win its involvement in the deal by exempting it from immediate production caps. With demand growth for petroleum slowing far more rapidly than previously predicted, the success of the production curbs in reviving oil prices will significantly hinge on cartel discipline — something that has often been lacking in the past.



  • 2 years on, Swachh Bharat yet to reach Bhalswa

As smoke rises from the burning garbage, Bhalswa may as well be on a different planet than the manicured lawns of Lutyens’ Delhi where Union Ministers will mark the second anniversary of the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission on Sunday.

On the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the nationwide cleanliness drive on October 2, 2014.

The goal was a ‘clean India’ by 2019 – the 150th birth anniversary of the father of the nation.

Two years since its launch, Swachh Bharat has not reached the outskirts of the Capital, where a mountain of garbage at the Bhalswa sanitary landfill site continues to grow, and burn.

The 40-acre landfill operated by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation exceeded its intended capacity years ago.

Along with the South Delhi Municipal Corporation’s Okhla landfill and the East Delhi Municipal Corporation’s landfill at Ghazipur, the Bhalswa site continues to grow upwards.

Delhi produces an average of 8,360 metric tonnes (MT) of municipal solid waste (MSW) every day – nearly all of it is dumped at the landfills unprocessed.

Slow progress

While the civic bodies of Delhi have made efforts to improve processing, with waste-to-energy plants at Timarpur-Okhla, Ghazipur and Narela-Bawana being set up, the progress has been slow. For instance, the North Corporation’s Narela-Bawana plant was supposed to start operations in 2013, but it is still only in trial phase, a spokesperson said.

When it comes to alternatives to the dumping grounds, the civic bodies have not had much success.

Vijay Prakash Pandey, the Leader of the House of the North Corporation, admitted that fires did erupt “routinely” on the Bhalswa landfill, but the civic body had no other option but to continue dumping garbage there.

“We don’t have any other land. Where we got some land, residents protested. No one wants a landfill near their house. We also have a lack of funds,” said Mr. Pandey.

He added that the North Corporation was in the process of improving garbage collection.

The civic body’s garbage collection contract had been at the centre of a controversy earlier this year when then-Mayor Ravinder Gupta and the rest of the BJP leaders in the corporation publicly disagreed on how much it should cost to lift trash.

The infighting led to the contract being put on hold and the existing contractor being given extensions. Mr. Pandey, however, said that the new proposal that should be drawn up in a month would improve sanitation.

Waste processing

The SDMC has already embarked on its project to improve trash collection. Starting with the Central Zone, the corporation will outsource the process of collection from street-level, processing through compactors and transportation to the landfill. On Saturday, Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung inaugurated five of the fixed compactor transfer stations.

With all four zones of the SDMC to follow, Shailender Singh, the chairperson of the corporation’s Standing Committee, said there would be a “revolutionary change” in garbage collection in the next six months.

“The compactors will squeeze the garbage, making it easier to transport. We have been trying to improve our collection, but floating the tender takes time,” said Mr. Singh.

Overflowing dhalaos

The slow process of getting projects approved has also hit plans to construct more public toilets. With the east and north corporations facing a cash-crunch, the collection of garbage from dumps or dhalaoshas also suffered. The president of the East Delhi RWAs Joint Front, B.S. Vohra, said that while residents welcomed the idea of the Swachh Bharat Mission, the “implementation has been poor”.

“Next to nothing has changed on the ground. In fact, earlier the dhalaos would be cleared twice a day, but now we are lucky if they are cleaned even once. Garbage is always overflowing on to the roads,” said Mr. Vohra.

In fact, the EDMC fell from rank 47 in 2014 to 52 in the 2016 Swachh Bharat rankings. However, there was some hope, with the SDMC and North Corporation improving from 47 to 39 rank and 47 to 43 rank respectively.

The New Delhi Municipal Council, where the corridors of power are, improved from rank seven in 2014 to four in 2016. On Sunday morning, when Union Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu flags off the NDMC’s ‘Swachhta Rally’ at the lawns of India Gate, the fires of Bhalswa will be miles away.




1.         ǿ   WHAT IS INDUS RIVER TREATY 1-6
2.         ǿ   RIGHT TO PRIVACY 6-7
3.         ǿ   DEATH IN CUSTODY 7-8
5.         ǿ    PARIS   CONVENTION 10
6.         ǿ    DEFENCE 10-11
7.         ǿ    DOLPHINS AND WATERWAYS 11-12
8.         ǿ    DALITS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES 12-13
9.         ǿ    MISC 14
10.     ǿ    TAMILS AND SRI LANKA 14-15
11.     ǿ    A VANISHINH TRICK 16-17
12.     ǿ    ECONOMIC 17-18
14.     ǿ    CAUVERY DISPUTE 18-19
16.     ǿ    A CITY DIED 19-20
17.     ǿ    MONTREAL PROTOCOL 20-21
18.     ǿ    INTERNATIONAL (Road Map) 21-22
19.     ǿ    SCIENCE (Climate talks) 22-23
20.     ǿ    SHIFTING PARTIES 24-25
21.     ǿ    UCC 25-26
22.     ǿ    NO LONGER PROGESSIVE 26
23.     ǿ    PERSONAL LAWS 26-27
24.     ǿ    CASE OF BRITAIN EXIT 27
25.     ǿ    SCIENCE 27-28
27.     ǿ    AFGHANISTAN 29
28.     ǿ    FAREWELL TO NAM 29-30
29.     ǿ    POST US WEST ASIA 30-31
30.     ǿ    LAND AND SINGUR 31-33
31.     ǿ    MISC 33
32.     ǿ    SCIENCE 33-34
33.     ǿ    CHINA & BRAHMAPUTRA 34-35
34.     ǿ    SPECTRUM CONUNDRUM 35
35.     ǿ    ROSETTA 36
36.     ǿ    AFGHANISTAN 36-37
37.     ǿ    OPEC 37
38.     ǿ    NHRC 37-38
39.     ǿ    MAKING BOOKS 38-39
40.     ǿ    SEEDS OF DISCONTENT 39-40
41.     ǿ    CASTE PROBLEM IN MARATHA 40-42
42.     ǿ    SAARC 42-43
43.     ǿ    KIGALI DECIDES HFC FREEZE 43-44
44.     ǿ    DYLANS NOBLE 44-45
45.     ǿ    INDIAN DEMOCRACY 45
46.     ǿ    MISC (NIXON UP) 45
47.     ǿ    IMPORTS FROM CHINA 46
49.     ǿ    CHINA AT CROSSROADS 47
50.     ǿ    COLD WAR 47-48
51.     ǿ    MISC 48
52.     ǿ    SCIENCE 48-49
53.     ǿ    WTO RULING 49-50
54.     ǿ    ZUCKERBERG 50
55.     ǿ    CHINA MARRED 51
56.     ǿ    DICV 51-52
57.     ǿ    GST 52-53
58.     ǿ    GIVING AFRICA 53-54
59.     ǿ    RAILWAYS ON TRACK 54
60.     ǿ    NATIONAL 54-55
61.     ǿ    SCIENCE 55
62.     ǿ    FORE MOST PLACE 55-56
63.     ǿ    CENSOR HEAT 56
64.     ǿ    BRICS 56-57
65.     ǿ    CASE OF EXCESS 57-58
66.     ǿ    NATIONAL 58-59
67.     ǿ    MORAL COMPASS 59-60
68.     ǿ    NATIONAL 60-64
69.     ǿ    INTERNATIONAL 64-65
70.     ǿ    NATIONAL 65-66
71.     ǿ    SCIENCE 66
72.     ǿ    NATIONAL 66-72
73.     ǿ    INTERNATIONAL 72-73
74.     ǿ    NATIONAL 73-75
75.     ǿ    ECONOMY 75
76.     ǿ    NATIONAL 75-79
77.     ǿ    WIND POWER 79-80
78.     ǿ    OLD LINKS 80-81
79.     ǿ    NATIONAL 81-84
80.     ǿ    SCIENCE 85-86
81.     ǿ    NATIONAL 86-89
82.     ǿ    INTERNATIONAL 89-92
83.     ǿ    NHRC 93-94
84.     ǿ    COOL THE WORLD 94
85.     ǿ    PARIS CLIMATE 95
86.     ǿ    NATIONAL 95-99
87.     ǿ    CACOPHONY 99-101
88.     ǿ    NO SHORT CUT 101
89.     ǿ    OPE’S ROLL 102-103