dec-feb national

  • Five airports to go ‘tag-free’ for hand baggage

If you have had to go back to security from the boarding queue of a flight because your hand baggage did not have the stamped tag, there is relief coming at five airports.

The hand baggage tags will not be necessary as the Civil Aviation Ministry has ordered that they could be done away with, on a pilot basis, at Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore airports.

“We recently issued orders to do away with stamping of hand baggage tags at the time of security screening. The practice will be introduced on a pilot basis at five airports and if successful, may be expanded to other airports across the country. This will save passengers’ time while boarding and will not be a security hassle in any manner,” Civil Aviation Secretary R.N. Choubey told The Hindu on Wednesday.

A week from now

The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which looks after security at airports, is likely to implement the move within a week, Mr. Choubey said.

In India, all cabin baggage must carry a tag which is rubber-stamped by security personnel once the baggage goes through the security scanner. This practice is not followed in the United States and European countries.

The move has been welcomed by representatives of air passengers, as it would speed up boarding. “There are many first-time fliers who are unaware of the need for baggage tags. They stand in the security queue only to be told much later, either by a fellow passenger or security personnel, that tags are required. Such passengers go all the way back to the airline counter to collect the tag, which leads to delays,” said D. Sudhakara Reddy, national president of Air Passengers’ Association of India.

Mr. Reddy said the move may also reduce CISF deployment at airports because there are guards deployed at boarding gates who verify the stamp on the tags. A lost tag currently requires the passenger to contact security personnel at the scanner.

 

  • Goa’s Serendipity festival to celebrate diversity in art

The Serendipity Arts Festival (SAF), a stellar 8-day event, has announced a line-up of 33 global artists who will showcase their work in Goa from December 16-23. The rich culture and history of Goa is expected to provide the perfect backdrop for the grand festival.

SAF will present over 40 projects and exhibitions featuring noted artists like Kabi Raj Lama, Bandu Manamperi, Lisa Stertz, Escif, Billy Chang, S.P. Pushpakanthan and Paquito Gonzalez.

‘The Young Subcontinent’ project will showcase the works of 24 young artists from across the South Asian subcontinent. Well-known artists Kabi Raj Lama, Kishor Kayastha and Mekh Limbu will be participating in the project from Nepal; S.P. Pushpakanthan, Sussiman Nirmalavassan, Isuru Kumarasinghe and Halik Aziz come from Sri Lanka; Jeanno Gaussi, Mariam Ghani and Zainab Haidary take part from Afghanistan; and Farzana Urmi arrives from Bangladesh. These artists have worked through the year to create a diverse range of visual artworks they will display here. Their work is also expected to respond to the idea of the subcontinent, the nations that constitute it, their socio-political and cultural conditions, and their shared histories.

‘A Tale of Two Cities’

‘A Tale of Two Cities’ facilitates established artists of India and Sri Lanka to engage in an investigative and research-based art-making process, together re-looking the socio-cultural and historical dynamics of two cities, Varanasi and Anuradhapura. The project hopes to provide an opportunity for artists to connect from both countries and share their interests in understanding each city in its historical as well as contemporary contexts, which would reveal new possibilities to work on their art. This project will involve five reputed artists from Sri Lanka, namely, Jagath Weerasinghe, Anoli Perera, Pala Pothupitiya, Pradeep Chandrasiri and Bandu Manamperi.

‘Lucid Dreams’ will be a curated collection of live performances by national and international artists that blurs the lines between visual and performing arts to create an immersive space for audience engagement.

Artists will present both long and short duration live works over the course of eight to nine right from the opening day of the festival. These will be unchoreographed, unique pieces composed live and in situ by each artist. Germany’s Lisa Stertz, France’s Uriel Barthelemi, Italy’s Virginia Zanetti and Bangladesh’s Yasmin Jahan Nupur will be seen performing for this project.

‘Open Site’

‘Open Site’ will bring international street artists to the public spaces of Goa. It is an attempt towards dissolving boundaries — between nations, States and, even more importantly, between people and art. The project aims to make an intervention that gently provokes the public to imagine their lives in a broader socio-political domain. International street artists such as Roa, a muralist from Belgium; Escif, a graffiti artist from Spain; and NeMo, a street artist from Italy, will use Goa as their canvas to reach out to larger audiences through their thought-provoking pieces.

‘Satrangi’

‘Satrangi’ is an experimental dance project that will showcase six dancers from across the world who pursue different techniques and styles but come together to explore various vocabularies through a collaborative piece. The project has been designed with the vision to promote sharing and appreciation across the cultures. The idea is to break the invisible barrier across various styles and bring performers who are otherwise competitors together as a team to work on a phenomenal dance routine. International artists such as Billy Chang, Alesandra Seutin and Subhash Viman will be seen performing a dance routine, and Eugene Skeet will help compose music for the project.

‘Caravaan – The Gypsy Trail’, is a project that endeavours to fuse these individually popular and flamboyant folk traditions showcasing Spanish flamenco artists (guitar and percussion) such as Jose Bolita, Paquito Gonzalez and Osam Ezzeldin. This will be a musical exploration of that ancient link between these two traditions, designed around the theme of a people in search of new lands and the breaking of all boundaries.

“The international artists represented at the festival bring a diverse range of practices and conversations to the table. Instead of simply showcasing arts from around the world, our international projects involve these artists by truly engaging with our unique cultural context of the subcontinent,” said Ms. Preeta Singh, festival director.

SAF will be a multi-disciplinary arts event that will celebrate diversity in art with a special focus on music, dance, theatre, crafts, visual arts, culinary arts and photography. It will be the first edition in a long-term cultural project that hopes to affect positive change in the arts in India on a large scale, says Ms. Singh.

 

 

 

 

  • Three years after the Koushal judgment

December 11, 2016 marks three years from the day on which the Supreme Court delivered amongst its most widely criticised judgments since the turn of the century: Koushal v. Naz Foundation. With the stroke of a pen, India’s LGBT community was cast back into the shadows of illegality after a judgment of the Delhi High Court, reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, was reversed in appeal. The process was as painful as the outcome, for the Supreme Court observed that the LGBT community was a “minuscule” minority that did not deserve the court’s time or protection.

Despite the court’s observations, there was little doubt about whether this judgment represented the collective view of the judiciary. In an article published in this newspaper two years ago, I explained that courts across the country had begun narrowing the impact of the decision in the months after it was made. The Gujarat High Court intelligently skirted the Supreme Court’s decision on Section 377, holding that the State government’s failure to grant a tax concession to a film depicting homosexuality was unconstitutional. In the National Legal Services Authority case (2014), the Supreme Court held that hijras and transgenders should be treated as a ‘third gender’ for accessing public services. Following on from this judgment, the Allahabad High Court decided that transgenders would be entitled to be treated as the “head of a household” under food security legislation. News reports indicate that these changes are being mainstreamed across government departments. A ‘third gender’ option is now available in railway reservation forms, ration card applications, passport applications, and Life Insurance Corporation proposal forms.

As Koushal has been gradually discredited in India, courts from around the world have followed. After the Koushal judgment, Indian lesbian and gay couples filed applications in different parts of the Commonwealth claiming refugee or protected status. These couples argued that requiring them to return to India would raise a well-founded fear of persecution and violate their human rights.

In two cases in Britain, lesbian couples from India claimed that they should not be deported home, for they would suffer a risk of persecution or serious harm if they revealed their identities to their families or local communities. The Koushal judgment was cited as an example of the contemptuous attitude towards the LGBT community in India. The courts in both cases acknowledged that Koushal did not accurately capture the state of the law in India. In one case, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales held that the judgment was under reconsideration, and a successful challenge “would result in the December 2013 Supreme Court judgment being set aside and remade by a different constitution of the Court”. It also observed that the National Legal Services Authority judgment — decided “just a few months” after Koushal — would likely be indicative of the approach that the Supreme Court would adopt in the future.

Similarly, in an Australian case decided in 2016, a gay man claimed that deportation to India would compel him to alter his behaviour in ways that would conflict with his sexual orientation. Koushal was again cited in support of the claim. The Australian Administrative Appeals Tribunal held that while negative attitudes towards homosexuality persisted, there were “signs of increasing tolerance” towards the LGBT community in India.

Overruled in practice

On the one hand, these cases confirm that Koushal stands virtually overruled in practice, and will continue to be disregarded within, and outside, India. This is a valuable outcome and a demonstration of the rights-protecting role that courts can perform within the formal constraints of their constitutional authority. On the other hand, however, a closer examination of the cases indicates that a formal overruling of the Koushal decision would further precipitate decisive shifts in social mores. The British courts arrived at their decision in the knowledge that the lesbian couples were well educated, were in a position to sustain themselves without family support, and could relocate to Indian cities in which their identities would be more widely accepted. Despite its finding that attitudes towards the LGBT community were changing in India, the Australian tribunal eventually disallowed the deportation of the gay man, on the basis that he was psychologically vulnerable, and would not be equipped to manage the fear of possible violence from police and local communities.

The Supreme Court should formally recognise what Indian courts, as well as courts from other parts of the Commonwealth, have implicitly acknowledged. No matter how well intentioned, courts are also capable of violating constitutional rights — and that the Supreme Court did just that on December 11, 2013.

 

  • Labour Ministry kept in the dark over made-ups sector labour reform package

The Union Cabinet’s decision to make employees’ contribution to Employees Provident Fund (EPF) optional in the made-ups sector on Wednesday took the Union labour ministry by surprise as officials said they had not been not consulted on the matter.

A senior labour ministry official said the Cabinet note wasn’t moved by the labour ministry. “We were not consulted on this matter,” said another ministry official.

In June this year, the Centre had proposed making EPF optional for textile and apparels workers earning less than Rs.15,000 a month as a part of a special package for the garments sector. Now, the Cabinet has extended this proposal to the made-ups manufacturing sector. Made-up products like towels and bedsheets form the second-largest employer in the textiles sector following apparel.

Draws flak

The decision is a part of reform measures approved by the Cabinet to boost employment generation and exports in the made-ups sector. These measures, however, will be embedded within the approved budget of Rs.6,006 crore for the apparel package.

The EPF exemption has already drawn flak. Terming the move ‘a retrograde step’, Subramanyam Sreenivasaiah, CEO, Ascent HR, said it went against the much-talked about objective of moving towards a ‘pensionable society’. “For one, this is an exemption given to one sector to the exclusion of others. For another, it defeats the very EPF principle of providing future protection.” EPF, according to him, is the lone state-initiated cover available in the Indian context for employees. The policy uncertainty, he said, wasn’t good for the economy.

Act amendment

However, a top EPFO official said that the move to make the EPF contribution optional for workers in the made-ups sector will require amendments to the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act of 1952.

At present, EPF contribution is mandatory in all factories employing 20 or more workers. Both employer and employee compulsorily contribute 12 per cent each of the latter’s income towards EPF.

Mr. Sreenivasaiah also pointed to flip-flops in decisions vis-a-vis employer contributions and EPF withdrawals. If “take-home pay” were to guide EPF option for employees, there were several spheres within the economy when an employee got less than Rs.15,000 a month, he said. “Why then they aren’t given that option to opt out of EP?” he asked.

 

  • Curbs on vehicle traffic through Kawal tiger reserve go

Soon after resolving to lift restrictions on vehicular traffic through the Kawal Tiger Reserve, the Telangana government is ironically set to pat itself on the back for its “support” to conservation at the Conference of Parties-13 at Cancun in Mexico.

Environment and Forest Minister Jogu Ramanna, who chaired the meeting of the State Board for Wildlife three days ago, where decisions of far-reaching consequences were taken, will attend COP-13 from Friday. He will make a presentation on the government’s efforts to protect the environment.

Among the decisions taken at the meeting was the resolution to lift curbs on the flow of heavy vehicle traffic through the tiger reserve. Environmentalists say the move will nullify all that was achieved in terms of tiger conservation.

In fact, conservationists question the very validity of the meeting as it was not chaired by Board Chairman, Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao.

“The gaur or Indian bison, now found only in Kawal in entire Telangana, will go extinct,” opined a conservationist as he dwelt on the controversial move. “Restoration of traffic will effectively fragment the core area and the gaurs will die while crossing the road to reach Godavari river, which they do invariably,” he explained.

The bison constitutes the main prey for tigers and its presence gives much hope for tiger conservation. Kawal has about 250 of these wild animals.

‘Alternative route’

“The government can develop the Tapalpur-Kalamadugu road along Godavari as an alternative as it does not disturb the tiger reserve,” suggested former Jannaram Wildlife Divisional Officer G. Rama Krishna Rao.

 

  • ‘Declare India country with FGM prevalence’

As many as 30 women from the Dawoodi Bohra community have petitioned the United Nations demanding that India be recognised as a country where Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is practised.

The petition by the group called ‘Speak Out on FGM’ on Thursday states that due to the secrecy around it, the act is ignored by the government and there is no data on FGM from India.

‘Practice continues’

“We have been raising our voices for long but the practice continues. There has been barely any change on the ground level as the government has not responded to our pleas. If the U.N. stands with us, the government will automatically take note,” said Masooma Ranalvi, a 50-year-old publisher from Delhi and a member of ‘Speak Out on FGM.’ “Many African countries have stopped the practice after U.N. intervention. We hope to have a similar change in our country,” she added.

The World Health Organization defines FGM or Female Circumcision as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Termed khatna or khafz in India, it is commonly practised among the two-million strong Dawoodi Bohra community.

“For hundreds of years, this practice is being continued under a shroud of secrecy and silence. No one outside of the Bohra community even knew of its existence. Even today, young Bohra girls aged 7, or even younger, are taken secretly and subjected to FGM/C,” the petition states.

“At least 80 per cent of the Bohra girls are subjected to this act of violence. Unless the government stands behind us, the brutal act will continue,” said Ms Ranalvi, who was subjected to FGM at a very young age. But she ensured that her daughter, 22, was not put under the knife.

Since the group of like-minded women got together in 2015 under ‘Speak Out on FGM,’ they have taken up several campaigns to reach out to the community. They started with the very first petition which was named after their group that received 80,000 signatures.

Another campaign called ‘Not My Daughter,’ started in April this year, had over 150 Bohra mothers and fathers pledging that they will not put their daughter through the suffering.

A recent campaign called ‘Éach One Reach One,’ along with another group called Sahiyo, aimed at reaching out to at least one Bohra woman to have a conversation about khatna. The group has also reached out to the clergy in the community, including its religious head Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin.

‘Extremely uncouth’

“I feel that the parents have absolutely no right to tamper with their children’s body. Male circumcision is a common practice but there is some evidence to show its medical benefit. In females, there is absolutely no benefit. In fact, the act of female cutting is carried out with an idea of reducing sexual pleasure or reducing libido in women,” said Ahmedabad-based gynecologist Sheroo Zamindar, who was cut at an early age.

  • Dress code back in Padmanabhaswamy temple

Reviving the traditional practice of wearing dhothi over churidar, a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court has put on hold the order of the executive officer of Sree Padamanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram allowing churidar-clad women devotees into the temple.

The Bench, considering a writ petition filed by four devotees challenging the executive officer’s order, on Thursday ordered that the status quo prior to the order be maintained for the time being. The court pointed out that that M.P. Parameswaran Namboodiri, tantri of the temple, was of the opinion that the situation prior to the executive officer’s order should be continued.

The dress code

The temple’s dress code for women allows them to be clad in sari, dhoti or skirt, according to their age. Young girls below the age of 12 are allowed to wear frocks. Men are allowed to wear only dhotis with or without angavastra. But women devotees wearing pants and churidar cover it with a dhoti to enter the temple.

With the executive officer’s order triggering a controversy, the administrative committee had frozen the order. The petitioners alleged that despite the administrative committee’s decision, women wearing churidars were allowed onto the temple premises.

The Bench observed that the administrative committee for controlling the affairs of the temple had been appointed by the Supreme Court. It was led by the Thiruvananthapuram District Judge. The committee had decided that that the age-old tradition could not be changed without wider consultations.

The court pointed out that in view of the tantri’s opinion, the situation prevailing before the executive officer’s order should be continued for the time being. The petitioners pointed out that the executive officer had not considered the opinion of the tantri while passing the order.

  • Threat of JE diminishing in Malkangiri district

No new patient with encephalitis syndrome has been admitted in Malkangiri district headquarter hospital in the last four days, hinting that the threat of Japanese Encephalitis (JE) is diminishing in this remote tribal district of Odisha.

As per reports, during past three months around 120 children have died due to lethal viral disease JE or by consumption of beans of Cassia occidentalis locally known as ‘bada chakunda’. Anthraquinone, a toxin found in Cassia occidentalis was also alleged to be cause of encephalopathy and deaths among children.

To prevent deaths of children, administration had decided to transport any child suffering from encephalitis syndrome to the district hospital as early as possible. For the first time in last three months, no new patient with such syndrome has been admitted in the district hospital. “It is surely a spark of hope for all in the district including government officials, physicians, health workers, teachers, anganwadi workers, ASHA volunteers, panchayat bodies, social workers and even security personnel, who have worked relentless since September to check encephalitis deaths of innocent children in the district”, said Malkangiri collector K.Sudarshan Chakravarthy.

As per the office of Chief District Medical Officer (CDMO), Malkangiri, the 15-day-long mass vaccination of children is continuing successfully in the district since December 5. Initially, children of all major schools in the district are being vaccinated.

In the next phase, all other children would be vaccinated through grassroot level community approach. A total of 2,18,027 children are to be vaccinated against JE in the district.

  • Last man to walk on moon is dead

U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to set foot on the moon, died on Monday at the age of 82, NASA and his family announced.

Cernan was the spacecraft commander of Apollo 17 — his third space flight and the last U.S. manned mission to the moon — in December 1972. “We are saddened by the loss of retired NASA astronaut Gene Cernan,” the U.S. space agency said on Twitter.

“Even at the age of 82, Gene was passionate about sharing his desire to see the continued human exploration of space and encouraged our nation’s leaders and young people to not let him remain the last man to walk on the moon.”

To the stars

The space community quickly took to Twitter to pay tribute to Cernan. “Saddened by the loss of pioneer, fellow naval aviator, astronaut and friend Gene Cernan #RIP #lastmanonthemoon,” said retired American astronaut Scott Kelly.

“Ad Astra, Gene,” tweeted NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre, using a Latin phrase meaning “to the stars.”

The footprints Cernan left on the moon’s surface remain visible more than four decades later. “I’d just like to record that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow,” he had said as he left the moon.

 

 

 

 

  • Don’t let messengers shoot themselves

How India treats its armed forces is rarely revealed by soldiers at the lowest ranks. Little attention is paid to serious concerns about the systems of military justice. While delays in the judicial system are notorious, delays for the armed forces can turn fatal in the form of suicide and fratricide (also called “fragging” — where a serviceman kills his brothers-in-arms). Answers in the Rajya Sabha and to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, from 2003-2013 (data for some years are missing), state that there have been at least 1,666 suicides in the armed forces and 109 cases of fratricide.

 “An army marches on its stomach”, a quote famously attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, was unwittingly brought into the spotlight by Border Security Force (BSF) constable Tej Bahadur Yadav’s videos about tasteless dal and half-burnt parathas. However, this has not been the first time that food has left a bad taste for the military justice system. In 1985, Signalman Ranjit Thakur refused food while serving 28 days’ imprisonment for overriding the hierarchy and making representations directly to senior officers about ill treatment. A summary court martial was conducted for his act of disobeying the order to eat. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year rigorous imprisonment, dismissal from the Army, and disqualification from civilian service. Fortunately for him, the Supreme Court found this sentence to be grossly disproportionate and reinstated him with full pay and benefits.

Existential questions

The BSF’s woes extend much further than merely bad food. The force has faced existential questions ever since it sought legislative recognition. Introducing the Border Security Force Bill, 1968, the then Home Minister, Yashwantrao Chavan, told the Rajya Sabha: “Popularly it is called Border Security Police, but its function is not policing, it is something more than that. Though it is functioning on the borders, it is not the Army. The task of this Force is such that it is something between the Army and the Police Force.” In the now-forgotten traditions of parliamentary debate, opponents of the Bill asked why there was nothing in the Bill requiring the force to serve on the “border”, or why a central police force which was “neither fish nor fowl” was necessary when police was a State subject.

A concern amongst even the Bill’s supporters was that there was a disparity between the Army and the BSF in terms of pay, service conditions, grievance redress mechanisms and deployments to forward areas. Rejecting these concerns and refusing to refer the Bill to a Parliamentary Select Committee, the Bill was passed and independent India’s first paramilitary force was born. The concerns of stepmotherly treatment in service conditions exist even today across all paramilitary forces in India as later videos by other servicemen have demonstrated.

Today, no less than seven paramilitary forces exist, each created with less parliamentary debate than the previous one. These forces are all under the Home Ministry in contrast to the Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard which are under the Defence Ministry. The Assam Rifles has changed hands between Home, External Affairs and Defence Ministries and is currently under the Home Ministry while under the Defence Ministry’s operational control.

The military justice system does not believe that it is required to be equal for all and creates peculiar distinctions between the Army, Navy and Air Force on the one hand and the paramilitary forces and the Coast Guard on the other.

The Armed Forces Tribunal came into being in 2007, 25 years after the Supreme Court made scathing remarks about the military justice system in Lt. Col. Prithi Pal Singh Bedi v. Union of India (1982) for not having even one layer of judicial scrutiny, for unchecked command influence in decision-making, and for absence of recorded reasons in final judgments. In 1999, the Law Commission’s 169th Report stated that disciplinary and service matters required quick resolution and proposed a special tribunal for the military and paramilitary forces. However, the Armed Forces Tribunal Bill was steered through Parliament only by the Defence Ministry, leaving paramilitary forces, even the Assam Rifles and the Coast Guard, outside the tribunal’s purview.

Despite court martial systems within the military being reformed and judicial scrutiny now being available, paramilitary forces continue to follow a court martial-like system called the Security Force Court with less legal safeguards than those found inadequate by the Supreme Court. Yet, like in court martial proceedings, penalties including the death sentence can be imposed. With no process of appeal other than statutory petitions, often before the Home Minister, the only recourse left is expensive and time-consuming writ petitions. Even here, the fundamental rights of armed forces personnel are expressly limited under Article 33 of the Constitution which makes approaching civilian judicial systems a challenge.

The system under the Army, though, is also not foolproof. In at least one case of fratricide, the serviceman concerned is languishing in jail for 25 years awaiting a decision on the sentence. The case has gone from an Army court martial to the Supreme Court and all the way back again to the Armed Forces Tribunal.

In a written answer before the Rajya Sabha, the Home Minister (MoS) in 2012 said that the reasons for suicide and fratricide amongst paramilitary forces are “…personal/domestic problems, illness, mental stress, alcoholic dependence, marital affairs and financial crisis of concerned individual. Despite taking all necessary steps, some discontented individuals are not able to control their emotions and tend to take such extreme steps due to the above said reasons.” The Minister also stated that better dispute resolution, communication facilities in field areas, yoga, and increased interaction between jawans and officers were part of the 14 measures undertaken to boost morale.

Affecting troop morale

The secrecy surrounding these issues is curious. A report by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis titled ‘Addressing Stress-Related Issues in the Army’ quotes two studies, one on stress management and the other on suicide and fratricide, both conducted by the Defence Institute of Psychological Research under the Defence Research and Development Organisation. When the issue was being examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, just one copy of each of these the Defence Institute of Psychological Research marked “secret” was submitted to it. When the committee asked why it should not be published, the government’s reply was that sensationalisation or selective publicity of these reports would affect troop morale.

In the BSF constable’s case, the Home Ministry is in damage control mode. While it has made statements about rationing policies and operational control of the post by the Army, no further comment has been made except that the constable has a history of drunkenness and insubordination. The Ministry would do well not to shoot the messenger, but instead focus on taking steps to prevent messengers from paramilitary forces from shooting themselves.

 

 

 

  • Voting in a season of discontent

The dates for the election to the Manipur Legislative Assembly have been announced. Polling will be in two phases, on March 4 and March 8. Results will be declared on March 11. A fortnight ago, there was speculation that the election may be preceded by a spell of President’s Rule in the wake of the indefinite economic blockade by the United Naga Council (UNC), a civil organisation in Manipur which claims to be the apex body of all Naga tribes in the State, but these have since been put to rest.

Blockade numbs Manipur

The blockade is now two and a half months old and Manipur continues to reel under the effect of shortages of many essential commodities, petrol and cooking gas in particular. Petrol stations are shut, but whenever there is some indication that some of them have been replenished for rationed distribution, miles-long queues of vehicles form outside them, sometimes overnight. The market understandably is sluggish and prices of commodities have gone up. Daily wage earners are the hardest hit. Demonetisation has made their trauma even worse. Thankfully, Imphal valley is a fertile, rice-growing region, ensuring that the people have not gone hungry. Had it been otherwise, there would have been mayhem on the streets by now.

Election pundits have been busy interpreting how this sorry state of affairs would play out in the March election. The foremost questions are: Would the hardships caused by the blockade turn the people against the ruling Congress? Would the Bharatiya Janata Party’s challenge become any more formidable because of it?

Significance of Assembly composition

The Manipur Assembly has 60 seats. Of these, 40 represent the valley inhabited predominantly by non-tribal Hindu Meiteis; 39 of these are for the general category and one is reserved for Scheduled Castes. The BJP had hoped it would be able to reap a harvest here, partly because of the community’s religious affiliation. Twenty seats represent the hills and 19 of these are reserved for Scheduled Tribes, after the Kangpokpi constituency in the erstwhile SADAR (Selected Area Development and Administrative Region) hills came to be de-reserved to accommodate its sizeable population of Nepalis. Of the 20 hill seats, Nagas normally hold sway in 11 to 12. The rest are generally won by Kukis and aligned tribes.

Given that the BJP government at the Centre is holding peace talks with the Naga militant group, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), the party’s State unit was hoping that it would be able to win a majority of the Naga seats as well with the blessings of the militant group. Its main rival here is the Naga People’s Front, which too would be vying for the NSCN(IM)’s support. The Congress, which once had a lion’s share of the Naga seats, has, in the past few months, been marginalised as the NSCN(IM) and Naga organisations such as the UNC are opposed to it. Many Naga Congress MLAs and former ministers thought it prudent to resign from the party ahead of the election wishing to retain their seats. In Nagaland, the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and the BJP are allies.

Electoral master stroke?

However, the UNC’s blockade — which began on November 1 in anticipation of the Manipur government giving in to the long-standing demand for upgrading the SADAR and JIRBAM subdivisions to full-fledged districts — has upset these equations radically. This became even more so after the government, at a cabinet sitting at midnight on December 8 to defy the UNC’s coercive protest, created not just the two districts the UNC was opposed to, but seven by splitting seven of the State’s nine districts.

The UNC considers four of the seven split districts to be a part of the ancestral Naga homeland and was quick to accuse the Manipur government of splitting this homeland, although, as the government contends, how districts can split people is incomprehensible. This is particularly so because the Assembly and parliamentary constituencies have remained untouched.

The worry of the BJP’s State unit amid the current ethnic polarisation is how proximity to the NSCN(IM), an organisation avowed to the dismemberment of Manipur to form a sovereign Greater Nagaland, and the UNC (which many consider to be a surrogate of the former) may alienate its support base in the valley where 40 seats are at stake. The Congress Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh’s move in this sense may be an electoral master stroke, not for the splintering or otherwise of any homeland, but for leaving rival BJP on the horns of a dilemma.

This dilemma is visible in the State unit’s muted response to the blockade question, probably not wanting to offend its Central leadership now holding talks with the NSCN(IM). Under the circumstances, if nothing happens to change the nature of this polarisation, there can be no doubt that the Congress’s position is strong in the valley, and the Chief Minister and his team may have found a way to overcome the anti-incumbency burden of having been in power for 15 years continuously.

Other than the valley seats, the Congress will also command sympathy in many Kuki constituencies. It may still win two or three Naga constituencies which had always been its strongholds if voters are not allowed to be totally coerced by the militants. In the party’s favour too is the fact that the State unit of the BJP does not have any charismatic leader who can jolt the confidence of the Congress even at this late stage.

Fluctuating loyalties

But things can change in the run-up to the March election. This happened in the Assam election of April 2016, and even more dramatically in Arunachal Pradesh later the same year, where the BJP installed its governments in both States. In Assam it wrested power from the Congress but only after wooing many Congress leaders to its camp before the election. In Arunachal Pradesh, it did this by engineering the defection of almost the entire lot of MLAs from the ruling Congress after the election. In Manipur too, such a scenario is not impossible to think of. Here too, the BJP is in a position to take advantage of the psychology of weak and dependent Northeast States of feeling safer by being on the side of the party in power at the Centre. There is always the feeling here, among political leaders as well as electorate, that the clearance of projects and Central assistance in lean times will always be smoother if the party that rules the Centre also rules the State.

There is one more factor that has determined party loyalty. The ceiling on ministry size for small Northeast States fixed by the anti-defection law is 12. This includes the chief minister. Those in the ruling Congress, and indeed the contender BJP, who are unsure of making this elite 12 will begin looking for greener pastures. This will also be an opportunity for smaller parties such as the Trinamool Congress to enlist potential winners. Irom Sharmila’s brand new party, the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), has shown no interest in this kind of politics, but its idealism is still too nascent to generate the kind of wave that wins elections.

  • Alarming rise in forest fires, says panel report

With fires raging across Central Indian forests and the Himalayan Pine forests, the frequency of such blazes has risen by a drastic 55 per cent in the past year.

The number has touched 24,817 in 2016, a “really alarming” rise, from around 15,937 fires in 2015, says the report by Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, headed by Rajya Sabha MP Renuka Choudhary, submitted on December 16. The committee has suggested a national policy on managing forest fires.

The increase is seen even though 2015, considered a drought year, had seen a decline in frequency of forest fires of around 16 per cent.

The three central States of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh contribute a third of the forest fires. Madhya Pradesh has seen a nearly ten-fold increase, from just 294 in 2015 to more than 2,600 in 2016.

The committee was formed after a series of devastating forest fires earlier this year, including the prolonged one that charred 4,000 hectares of forest land across 13 districts of Uttarakhand.

Clearing pines to save forests

The report primarily focuses on the prevention and containing of fires in the Himalayan forests spread across Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir. In Himachal and Uttarakhand, over 17,502 acres have been ravaged this year due to forest fires — a rise of over 171 per cent.

Here, accumulated Chir pine needles — which are inflammable due to their high-resin content — are believed to be a “prominent factor in occurring and spreading of forest fires”.

The committee has recommended the procurement of sweeping machines to clear roadsides of Chir pine needles, while advocating large-scale incentives and programmes (including under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) to collect pines for use as fuel, and other incineration.

More drastically, the Uttarakhand government has suggested thinning of pine reserve forest areas to “reduce the biological load”; while the report suggests replacing these forests with “broad-leaf” plants.

The committee has also observed that a large number of posts of front line forest staff were lying vacant, while, fire-fighting equipment is rudimentary in many cases.

 

 

 

  • Revisiting a passage from India

January 9 commemorates the day Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa in 1915, after honing satyagraha, or peaceful protest, against the colonial and racist regime there. In 2002, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to celebrate it annually by holding events including bestowing awards on prominent members of the Indian diaspora. The 15th edition of Pravasi Divas this year is now on in Bengaluru.

When as Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates in 2002 I was asked to recommend one name for the Pravasi awards, I refrained from doing so, fearing a single pick from many deserving ones might create speculation regarding my motives and heartburn among those bypassed. Since then it seems the process has gone the way of the Padma awards, where hectic lobbying and politics trump merit.

“Diaspora” is an omnibus phrase which brackets people of Indian origin who have emigrated since the 19th century to all corners of the world. Roughly it falls into two categories: pre- and post-Independence. The latter further subdivides into migration to the West, including Australia and New Zealand, and workers in the West Asian countries — numbering over seven million — who began flocking there following oil cartelisation by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries after the Arab-Israel war of 1973 and the steep rise in oil prices.

The Indians in West Asia

The last can be examined first. The earnings bonanza allowed the hereditary rulers of West Asia to unleash a spending and construction boom. Despite cycles of economic expansion and contraction, as oil prices rose or fell, the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have learnt to live with the perils of single commodity dependent economies. Some such as Dubai, with almost depleted oil reserves, have remodelled themselves as entrepôt for regional trade and a destination for tourism and convivial living, besides emerging as a financial centre. Both Abu Dhabi and Qatar are modelling themselves as centres of culture and sports, civil aviation hubs and more spartan living. They also have poured earnings each year into sovereign funds to act as a cushion during the low oil price years.

But they face two new challenges. One, the shale oil revolution in the United States combined with slower global growth and environmental concerns may have already pushed the world into a post-OPEC phase and perennial low oil prices. Two, the entire region to the west of India up to the Mediterranean is now swept by Shia-Sunni contestation and the challenge posed by radical Islam. Thus instability may persist for decades.

Therefore, Indians in GCC countries, ranging from skilled and unskilled workers to those holding executive jobs or running businesses, may have to face more challenging circumstances of economic slowdown, “Arabisation” or more jobs to locals, and threats from terror-related events. Indian workers, particularly the vast majority from Kerala, are still the favoured ones of the locals but are under pressure from more skilled workers from countries such as the Philippines or cheaper labour from Nepal, etc. In India, the Union and State governments have failed to upgrade skills of Indian workers going to West Asia. Congress-led governments have been particularly guilty, allowing the Kerala lobby in the Union cabinet to drive India’s GCC policy. Often ministers have had kin located there, compromising their ability to act independently.

As a rising power, India’s prestige suffers when its citizens are seen doing menial jobs. Moreover Indian strategic options get limited fearing reprisal against workers. That is why for decades India has let its citizens be subjected to local labour rules that are medieval and regressive, such as employer seizing the travel documents of the worker on arrival. Similarly, it should not require tweets to the Minister of External Affairs to get simple consular acts performed. Their safety and security as indeed sanctity of their contracts must be addressed by local missions, which should be accountable for any slip-ups.

Triumph over adversity

India has a largely positive record dealing with the diaspora that left India as indentured labour in the 19th century — in the period from 1833 to 1917 — particularly for the Caribbean where labour shortages ensued following the abolition of slavery. Coincidently, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, J.S. Khehar, hails from East Africa.

The expulsion of Indians from Uganda by Idi Amin in the 1970s tested Indian diplomacy and its ability to protect the diaspora. India passed the buck to Britain as the guarantor of their safety as most held British documents. Mauritius, with Indians constituting the largest group and 48.5 per cent of the population being Hindus, has seen the community consolidate political power, with strategic support from Indian governments. Located strategically in the Indian Ocean, this country has been an asset for India, safeguarding the Southern maritime flank. Contrariwise, India was unable to support 49 per cent of Indo-Fijians in their desire for a multi-ethnic government when, in 1987, Lt. Col. S. Rabuka overthrew the elected government. Their numbers have shrunk since then.

Persons of Indian origin have headed governments in some Caribbean countries such as Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, the two nations with huge Indo-Caribbean populations. Generally, Indian policy in the past has been to not be seen as meddling in their internal affairs sensing that it may be counterproductive. Two vital links have been religion and cricket. But India has been unable to build on that base by boosting investment and business links and better connectivity. That raises the question, which even China is beginning to pose now: to what extent would India be willing to go to protect the diaspora when it runs into political turbulence in their countries of abode?

A blur between loyalties

Finally, the issue of diaspora in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada. With rising numbers and greater earnings, they are becoming more proactive to rally in support of Indian interests. Their lobbying in the U.S. with politicians worked famously to swing the Congressional vote for the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal in 2006.

While the U.S. leads as the country with the highest number of Indian origin persons numbering around four million, the U.K. and Canada are next with 1.45 million and 1.2 million, respectively. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been active in spreading its message of Hindutva in all of them. During NDA-I, the Vajpayee government even unprecedentedly appointed a special ambassador in the U.S. for diaspora affairs, raising protocol issues with the U.S. State Department. Thus he had to be located in New York with notional attachment to the Indian mission to the UN, as no country will accept two ambassadors.

That absurdity died with that government, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Madison Square Garden show took the same to another level. There was a blurring between the loyalties that Indian origin persons holding U.S. nationality owe to their adopted nation and their innate love for India. The danger with this kind of public and Hindutva-fed ritual is that it may create a majority community backlash and divide the diaspora.

For instance, Sikhs are the largest component of the diaspora in Canada, at 34 per cent compared to 27 per cent Hindus, with the rest being Muslims and Christians. That is why Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joked that he had more Sikhs in his cabinet — this includes his Defence Minister — than Mr. Modi. Sikhs are at the number two spot in the U.K and the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal estimates that there are 15.6 million persons born in India living abroad. This number has grown by 17.2 per cent since 2010. The Chinese diaspora is 50 million strong, with 32 million settled in Southeast Asia. For China, this community became the bridge to integrate their economy to global supply chains once Deng Xiaoping opened Chinese doors in the 1980s. They also funded investment in Chinese economic zones.

Undoubtedly, the Indian diaspora’s remittances in the past have been of vital assistance to Indian foreign exchange reserves. But the challenge now is to go to the next stage — of harnessing not just their financial but also their intellectual capital. The Modi government needs to market not Hindutva-laced faux nationalism but a new way of dealing with each of the three groups — wisely, pro-actively, and in a secular non-jingoistic tone.

 

 

  • How India lobbied Moody’s for ratings upgrade, but failed

India criticised Moody’s ratings methods and pushed aggressively for an upgrade, documents reviewed by Reuters show, but the U.S.-based agency declined to budge citing concerns over the country’s debt levels and fragile banks.

Winning a better credit rating on India’s sovereign debt would have been a much-needed endorsement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic stewardship, helping to attract foreign investment and accelerate growth.

Since storming to power in 2014, Modi has unveiled measures to boost investment, cool inflation and narrow the fiscal and current account deficits, but his policies have not been rewarded with a ratings upgrade from any of the “big three” global ratings agencies, who say more is needed.

Assuage concerns

Previously unpublished correspondence between India’s finance ministry and Moody’s shows New Delhi failed to assuage the ratings agency’s concerns about the cost of its debt burden and a banking sector weighed down by $136 billion in bad loans.

In letters and emails written in October, the finance ministry questioned Moody’s methodology, saying it was not accounting for a steady decline in India’s debt burden in recent years. It said the agency ignored countries’ levels of development when assessing their fiscal strength.

Rejecting those arguments, Moody’s said India’s debt situation was not as rosy as the government maintained and its banks were a cause for concern, the correspondence seen by Reuters showed.

Moody’s and one of its lead sovereign analysts, Marie Diron, declined to comment on the correspondence, saying ratings deliberations were confidential. India’s finance ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Arvind Mayaram, a former chief finance ministry official, called the government’s approach “completely unusual.”

“There was no way pressure could be put on rating agencies,” Mr. Mayaram told Reuters. “It’s not done.”

Bad loans

India has been the world’s fastest growing major economy over the past two years, but that rapid expansion has done little to broaden the government’s revenue base.

At nearly 21 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), India’s revenues are lower than the 27.1 percent median for Baa-rated countries. India is rated at Baa3 by Moody’s, the agency’s lowest notch for debt considered investment grade.

A higher rating would signify to bond investors that India was more creditworthy and help to lower its borrowing costs.

Moody’s representatives, including Ms. Diron, visited North Block, the colonial sandstone building in the Indian capital that houses the finance ministry, on Sept. 21 for a discussion on a ratings review.

Moody’s explanation

The atmosphere at the meeting with Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das, one of the ministry’s most senior officials, and his team was tense, according to an Indian official present, after Ms. Diron had told local media the previous day that a ratings upgrade for India was some years away.

On Sept. 30, Moody’s explained its methodology to Indian officials in a teleconference.

Four days later, the finance ministry sent an email to Ms. Diron questioning Moody’s metrics on fiscal strength. The government cited the examples of Japan and Portugal, which enjoy better ratings despite debts around twice the size of their economies.

“Given that countries are on different stages of economic and social development, should countries be benchmarked against a median or mean number (as is done by Moody’s)” the email asked.

In India’s case, “while the debt burden lowered significantly post 2004, this did not get reflected in the ratings,” the ministry argued.

New Delhi urged Ms. Diron to look at improvements in the factors — better forex reserves and economic growth — that Moody’s had considered when handing India its last ratings upgrade in 2004.

In a reply the next day, Ms. Diron said that, not only was India’s debt burden high relative to other countries with the same credit rating, but its debt affordability was also low.

  • An equal music, a beautiful society

A recent event in Delhi brought together two Indian winners of the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award, Bezwada Wilson and T.M. Krishna, in a wide-ranging conversation about freedom of expression, nationalism and inequality, issues of pressing concern. Both were outspoken against a growing majoritarianism, and passionate about building an egalitarian and just society through their respective fields. Wilson, 50, national convener of the Safai Karmachari Andolan, is a campaigner against manual scavenging; and Krishna, 40, is a prominent exponent of Carnatic music and a public intellectual.

The two men share a commitment to free speech and equal citizenship, to addressing entrenched forms of exclusion, discrimination and violence based on caste, to democratic rights and the Indian Constitution. They come from absolutely unrelated areas of engagement, and from personal backgrounds that are far apart, but what is remarkable is how they converge in their social activism as well as their shared ability to communicate clearly and forcefully with large audiences. The Magsaysay Award jury was astute indeed in recognising the laudable public spiritedness of both Wilson and Krishna, and their common concern with the problem of caste.

The annihilation of caste

Manual scavenging — including the removal, carrying and disposal by hand of human excrement, and the physical cleaning of latrines, sewers and septic tanks, a task invariably assigned to Dalits (including men, women and children) — has been targeted for eradication since Gandhi came back to India a hundred years ago. It was the Mahatma who began to insist, in the face of tremendous resistance, that all his family members and associates, regardless of caste, class and gender, clean toilets themselves. An Act of Parliament in 1993 officially banned the employment of manual scavengers and the construction of dry latrines. And yet it continues today, perpetuating the most extreme forms of indignity and oppression, causing disease and death, reducing life expectancy, and making the occupation of thousands of Indian citizens a living hell.

Wilson has been campaigning to put an end to this abominable practice for close to thirty years. The turning point for him was around 1990-91, the birth centenary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (1891-1956), that brought the life and work of the great Dalit leader back into the mainstream of national consciousness and forced the government of the day to implement the Mandal Commission Report, expanding the scope of affirmative action against caste-based social inequality. How can India proceed with its ambitious economic and political agendas for growth, change and prosperity, Wilson asks, when such an archaic form of caste discrimination, a kind of slavery and a form of torture, continues to exist and to ruin countless Dalit lives?

Krishna comes at caste from the direction of the arts, particularly Carnatic music, for almost a century now the preserve of elite urban Brahmin men — whether as composers, singers, musicians, accompanists or listeners — in Chennai and other artistic capitals of southern India. He has been arguing that what is now considered Carnatic classical music and what is now called Bharatanatyam classical dance were both originally the provenance of women, especially temple dancers and courtesans, and of non-Brahmin “holding communities” like the Isai Vellalars. These groups were sidelined and their art forms taken over by socially dominant Brahmin practitioners and patrons, who cleansed the music and dance of their vernacular, erotic, demotic and popular character, and reinvented them as classical, religious, refined and urbane. The temple courtyard and the noisy village square gave way to the kutcheri and the sophisticated concert hall as performance spaces, which closed their doors to ordinary people.

In 2015 Krishna announced his decision to stop performing in the December concert season — in the Tamil month of Margazhi — of Chennai, even though he has been the star of this vaunted annual cultural event from a young age. He now organises a new winter-time music festival in the small fishing village of Urur-Olcott Kuppam in Chennai, teaches music and performs free concerts at corporation schools, trains girls and women in Carnatic vocal and instrumental music, and extends the ambit of his pedagogic outreach to tribal, rural and marginalised communities. He has also expanded the repertoire of music that he himself sings, including modern Hindustani and Bengali forms. Most recently he has made joint appearances with the Jogappas, a transgender community of devotional folk performers, associated with the goddess Yellamma, from northern Karnataka and contiguous parts of the Deccan (Andhra and Maharashtra), unimaginable in the hallowed halls of classical music for the Carnatic orthodoxy.

Self-purification and self-respect

Krishna and Wilson — together, as a pair — remind one of the late D.R. Nagaraj’s insightful formulation of “self-purification” and “self-respect” as the two modalities of a moral resistance to caste, especially untouchability, flowing from Gandhi and Ambedkar, respectively. According to Nagaraj, the caste Hindu and especially the Brahmin self must purify or purge itself of its impulse to exclude or hurt the untouchable, while the Dalit self must assert its intrinsic worth and inalienable dignity even in the face of relentless discrimination.

Krishna, constantly aware of and critical about his own birth, training, conditioning and privilege, has been advocating strenuously that Carnatic music “de-Brahminise” itself, undertake some “social re-engineering” as an act of self-purification to render itself less unequal and more inclusive. The arts are after all a microcosm of society, reflecting and even amplifying its inequalities. Wilson meanwhile states unequivocally that if the Constitution guarantees the self-respect of Dalits, then an abhorrent demeaning practice like manual scavenging simply cannot be allowed to persist in today’s India.

But what is more striking than this obvious dialectic of self-purification and self-respect, which can be traced back to Gandhian and Ambedkarite stances on caste, is how both Krishna and Wilson in their own ways struggle to actualise what Ambedkar called “social endosmosis”. This is the natural flow and exchange of ideas, values, practices, knowledge and energies between and across groups that Ambedkar lamented could not occur in the rigidly stratified and segregated Hindu social order. The traditional caste system controls social reproduction through strict endogamy, and places nearly insurmountable taboos on cohabitation, commensality and other forms of conviviality and commerce between different castes.

Ambedkar and ‘social endosmosis’

Untouchability may have been outlawed through Article 17 of the Indian Constitution, but that is only the most extreme way to keep human beings and fellow citizens apart. In fact, Indians of different castes even today seldom eat together, live together, inter-marry or in other ways participate in each other’s life-worlds across the invisible yet impenetrable barriers of caste. As Krishna has shown, in a manner that is all the more effective for being so blunt, we can’t even sing together, an indicator of how little we hear the speech, the pain, the yearnings, the silences of others.

No aspect of life in India from the exalted heavens of the classical arts to the most mundane pits of bodily waste can escape the totalitarian structure of caste: this was Ambedkar’s rage against varnaashramadharma, the total society. From music to excreta, everything is segregated, violating the basic principle of equal citizenship. Having Krishna and Wilson come together on a common platform exemplifies what Nagaraj characterised as the necessity for modern Indians to address, simultaneously, “the beauty and the horror” of caste. “My journey began from the question of beauty,” Krishna said. “What is beauty?” For a moment this seems like a strange way to begin thinking about the cultural politics of Carnatic music, or indeed any other art form, but it turns out to be an enormously productive line of inquiry. As Wilson points out, an equal society is the most beautiful thing that human beings could make.

Why can’t scientists, planners and bureaucrats come up with a way to end forever the scourge of manual scavenging, Wilson demands, not just a moral and political alternative but a technological and policy solution? Krishna’s path has been more challenging to interpret as a radical move in the politics of aesthetics. In systematically educating himself and us about the actual historical origins and forgotten trajectories of Carnatic music; in abandoning the highest prosceniums for unexplored spaces and unexpected audiences; in opening himself to the sounds and rhythms of every kind of community populating the hum and hubbub of India; in learning to listen and unlearning how he was taught to sing, he has indisputably transformed himself as an artiste.

Articulate to a fault, Krishna reflects, writes, lectures and teaches continuously about what he is doing. But even if he were not to talk about it explicitly, any sensitive listener can hear in Krishna’s voice as it continues to evolve, over the past couple of years especially, a note of compassion, empathy and sweetness that deepens immeasurably the musical experience for singer and audience alike. This is not just amazing virtuosity, which he has had from the very beginning. It is, rather, the sound of virtue itself, the profoundly moving melody of an ethical music. Is there only suffering for the Dalit condemned to manual scavenging, Wilson was asked. “The fight for justice is itself the greatest happiness,” he answered.

 

  • Time to repeal the FCRA

In early November, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs rejected the licence renewal applications, under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 (FCRA), of 25 non-governmental organisations (NGO). That means these NGOs can no longer receive funds from foreign donors. Many of the affected organisations were rights-based advocacy groups, with some involved in human rights work.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has defended its action by claiming that these organisations had violated FCRA norms by engaging in activities detrimental to public interest. But its decision has drawn criticism from different quarters.

Civil society members have issued statements condemning the move, charging the government with “abuse of legal procedures”. Opposition MPs from six political parties have written to the Prime Minister questioning the government’s motives, and termed it “a decision motivated by the politics of vendetta, victimisation and an effort to bully them into silence”. The National Human Rights Commission has issued a notice to the Home Ministry, observing, “Prima facie it appears FCRA licence non-renewal is neither legal nor objective and thereby impinging on the rights of the human rights defenders in access to funding, including foreign funding.”

Despite the censure, the NDA regime has shown no signs of relenting. This mass cancellation of FCRA licences is not the first time that the legislation has been used thus. In 2015, the Home Ministry had cancelled the FCRA licences of 10,000 organisations. Prominent international funding agency Ford Foundation, the environmentalist group Greenpeace, and human rights advocacy group Lawyers Collective have all been targets of FCRA-linked curbs on their activity, suggesting a larger pattern in the way the state has used this law.

The origins of the FCRA

The original Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act was enacted in 1976 by the Indira Gandhi-led government during the Emergency. It prohibits electoral candidates, political parties, judges, MPs and even cartoonists from accepting foreign contributions. As the inclusion of ‘cartoonists’ under its ambit suggests, the intent was to clamp down on political dissent.

The ostensible justification given for the law was to curb foreign interference in domestic politics. This was the Cold War era, when both the Soviets and the Americans meddled in the internal affairs of post-colonial nations to secure their strategic interests. Amid suspicions of the ubiquitous ‘foreign hand’ stoking domestic turbulence, the FCRA was aimed at preventing political parties from accepting contributions from foreign sources.

As the years passed, India seemed to overcome its suspicion of the ‘foreign hand’. It embraced foreign funding by opening up the economy in 1991. The Indian state had no problem accepting contributions from foreign donors such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. With the state wooing foreign investment, Indian businesses, too, helped themselves to foreign funds. And so did our political parties, despite the FCRA, 1976, expressly prohibiting them from accepting money from ‘foreign sources’.

Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress were pulled up by the Delhi High Court in 2014 for violating the FCRA by accepting contributions from the Indian subsidiaries of the London-based multinational, Vedanta. It ordered the government and the Election Commission to take action against both the parties. To no one’s surprise, the BJP-led NDA government did not take action against the BJP. Nor did it do so against the Congress, which, as the leading Opposition party, did not think it appropriate to protest this flagrant flouting of a judicial directive.

Instead, earlier this year, the government quietly introduced a clause in the Finance Bill that amended the relevant section of the FCRA, 2010, so that what was hitherto a “foreign company” now became an Indian company. This amendment was introduced with retrospective effect — a brazen attempt to legitimise the FCRA violations of the two parties. This amendment has also opened the doors for all political parties to accept funding from foreign companies, so long as it is channelled through an Indian subsidiary.

It may be pertinent to point out here that it was the Congress, under the stewardship of Manmohan Singh, that replaced the original FCRA, 1976, with a more draconian version in 2010. But why the new law? To answer that question, we need to consider the differences between the two legislations.

The new FCRA

Human rights activist Venkatesh Nayak draws attention to three changes that render the new Act more stringent than the old one. Firstly, FCRA registration under the earlier law was permanent, but under the new one, it expired after five years, and had to be renewed afresh. This instantly hands the state a whip with which to bring errant organisations to heel.

One may recall that earlier this year, 11,319 NGOs lost their FCRA licences without the government having to either examine their records or suspend their registrations individually — their licences simply expired as the deadline for renewal passed.

Second, the new law put a restriction (50 per cent) on the proportion of foreign funds that could be used for administrative expenses, thereby allowing the government to control how a civil society organisation (CSO) spends its money.

The third and most important distinction is that while the 1976 law was primarily aimed at political parties, the new law set the stage for shifting the focus to “organisations of a political nature”. The FCRA Rules, 2011, framed by the United Progressive Alliance government, has served the NDA well as a manual on how to target inconvenient NGOs, especially those working on governance accountability. It helpfully enumerates the kind of organisation that could be targeted under the FCRA as “an organisation of a political nature”.

The list is revealing: trade unions, students’ unions, workers’ unions, youth forums, women’s wing of a political party, farmers’ organisations, youth organisations based on caste, community, religion, language and “any organisation… which habitually engages itself in or employs common methods of political action like ‘bandh’ or ‘hartal’, ‘rasta roko’, ‘rail roko’ or ‘jail bharo’ in support of public causes”.

Institutionalising double standards

Put simply, a political class that has no qualms taking money from foreign sources, that amended the FCRA to let itself off the hook for past violations, that opened the doors for all political parties to accept foreign funding, that paved the way for Indian businesses to access foreign capital, is now anxious to prevent CSOs from accessing foreign funds because some of them question its policies in a democratic battle to protect constitutional rights and entitlements.

Last April, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association undertook a legal analysis of the FCRA, 2010. He submitted a note to the Indian government which stated unambiguously that the FCRA provisions and rules “are not in conformity with international law, principles and standards”.

The UN Special Rapporteur’s argument was fairly straightforward. The right to freedom of association is incorporated under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. Access to resources, particularly foreign funding, is part of the right to freedom of association. While this is not an absolute right and is subject to restrictions, those have to be precise, and defined in a way that “would enable a CSO to know in advance whether its activities could reasonably be construed to be in violation of the Act”.

The report says that restrictions in the name of “public interest” and “economic interest” as invoked under the FCRA rules fail the test of “legitimate restrictions”. The terms are too vague and give the state excessive discretionary powers to apply the provision in an arbitrary manner. Besides, given that the right to freedom of association is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 20), a violation of this right also constitutes a human rights violation.

Does all this mean that the FCRA should be repealed? If yes, how then do we monitor the foreign funding of NGOs?

Of course, NGO funding needs to be regulated. One cannot deny that corrupt NGOs exist, or that unscrupulous NGOs that receive foreign funds may serve as conduits for money laundering. But there are better ways to address these concerns than an FCRA that institutes an ‘Inspector Raj’ for the NGO sector.

In fact, a seven-member task force was set up way back in 2009 to create a national-level self-regulatory agency, the National Accreditation Council of India (NACI), that would monitor and accredit CSOs. It was to be an independent, statutory body along the lines of the Bar Council. The task force submitted its report to the Planning Commission in September 2010. It was never heard of again. Instead, what we got in September 2010 was a more aggressive FCRA. Perhaps it is time to repeal the FCRA and revive the idea of an autonomous, self-regulatory agency for CSOs.

 

 

  • Agni-V test-fired again from mobile-launcher

The test-firing of India’s most formidable ballistic missile, Agni-V, from the Abdul Kalam Island, off the Odisha coast on Monday, was an unalloyed success, signalling that India’s nuclear deterrence capability has come of age.

This is the fourth success in a row for Agni-V, which can carry a nuclear warhead weighing about 1.5 tonnes over a distance of 5,000 km and plus. “There were no issues at all in the flight,” officials of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said. Agni-V is a product of the DRDO.

It was the second time that Agni-V was fired from a canister mounted on a massive TATRA truck parked on the Island. A gas generator at the bottom of the canister kicked out the long-range, three-stage, surface-to-surface missile that weighed 50 tonnes, was 17 metres long and had a two-metre diameter. The previous Agni-V flight from a canister was on January 31, 2015. A missile launched from a canister mounted on a road-mobile launcher gives it operational flexibility. This means it can be fired from a road in a city, after stopping the traffic, giving reduced reaction time. The missile can be made vertical in three minutes and the launch takes a few more minutes. After the lift-off, the truck can speed away.

  1. Satheesh Reddy, Director General (Missiles and Strategic Systems), DRDO, said, “Today’s Agni-V flight met all the mission objectives and proved many indigenous technologies and capabilities.”

The lift-off took place around 11 a.m. As Agni-V vaulted out of the confines of the canister, it rose to a height of 20 metres. Then the first stage motor kicked in and the missile soared to an altitude of 600 km and struck a parabolic path.

The two stages jettisoned and the missile accelerated as it plunged towards the earth. Its re-entry systems worked perfectly. The heat-shield made of carbon-carbon composites and encasing the dummy warhead, withstood a temperature of about 4,000 degrees Celsius. The on-board computer guided the missile towards its impact point in the Indian Ocean. After a 20-minute flight, it fell near the Australian waters.

The bouquet of five Agnis form the bulwark of India’s nuclear deterrence capability. While Agni-I has a range of 700 km, Agni-II 2,000 km, and Agni-III 3,000 km, Agni-IV can take out targets 4,000 km away.

 

 

  • Chronicle of a conflict foretold

The tragedy of the current communal flashpoint in Manipur is that for a long time there has been a sense of foreboding that things were headed this direction, and few did anything about it. What is surprising is the blindness on the part of all involved in the business of peace-making, and those waging supposedly people’s struggles, to the fact of a peculiar geographical destiny which has bound and still binds much of this troubled frontier, and that any effort to break this unseen bondage will likely result in deadly conflicts. This has been particularly true of multi-ethnic and multi-religious Manipur. Indeed, if geography predetermines conflicts as Robert Kaplan explains in The Revenge of Geography, Manipur would be a fine demonstration of this theory.

Thankfully, no ethnic carnage has happened. Although there have been pockets of arson and violence, there have been no human casualties, which gives hope that better sense can still hold. There are also signs now that the immediate cause for the heightened ethnic tension — that of the indefinite blockade along Manipur’s two major lifelines, the Imphal-Dimapur road and the Imphal-Silchar road, imposed by the United Naga Council (UNC) since November 1 — may end soon. Following commendable groundwork done by a group of citizens calling themselves the Goodwill Mission, the UNC has indicated on Monday that it is open to talks with the Manipur government on the matter. The latter on its part had extended invitations to the former for such talks on several occasions. The Central government too has woken up to the reality and has finally decided to send 4,000 paramilitary troops to open the highways in case the blockade remains.

Root of the crisis

The roots of any conflict can never been in black and white, but if a single overwhelming reason for the current crisis is to be identified, it is the primeval notion of an exclusive ethnic homeland so current in places like Manipur. The belief is that such homelands are a given and have existed since time immemorial. Communities who claim to be natural heirs and custodians of these homelands think of others as aliens. The trouble is, those thus excluded, as all traditional ethnic communities, have their own notions of homeland, and these more often than not overlap, and sometimes completely, with the ones in which they are supposed to be aliens. Depending on the state of economic bases of the communities in question, these homeland notions understandably vary. For instance, settle agriculturists, shift cultivators and hunter gatherers will have different relationships with land. Nagas, Kukis, Meiteis and many other smaller ethnic groups in Manipur are thus in a web of overlapped homelands. Under the circumstances, the unanswered question is, whose homeland is to be given precedence, especially when they overlap? The lack of courage and imagination on the part of the enlightened civil society as well as governments to address this question is what keeps places like Manipur perpetually on the edge.

Furthermore, these homelands have undergone a great deal of skewing with the advent of modern land revenue administration, brought in by the British beginning 1826. The clear-cut division between the hills and plains in Assam and Manipur is one of these. After the Treaty of Yandaboo, 1826 that concluded the Burmese occupation of Assam and Manipur, the British annexed Assam and made it a province of Bengal, but left Manipur as a protectorate state. No sooner, the British realised the need to demarcate revenue from non-revenue lands in Assam and came up with the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation in 1873, by which an Inner Line was drawn roughly at the base of the hills surrounding the revenue-earning fertile Assam valleys. The non-revenue hills beyond were left unadministered, except for occasional punitive expeditions to punish tribes who raided the plains in the lean seasons.

This segregation of the hills from the plains continued till the time of Indian independence. In the Government of India Act, 1919, the hills beyond the Inner Line were termed as Backward Tracts and continued to be left unadministered. In the Government of India Act, 1935, these Backward Tracts were redesignated and clubbed into two categories: “excluded areas” and “partially excluded areas”. The excluded areas were to remain unrepresented in the provincial assembly and governed directly by the Governor of the province. The partially excluded areas were to have some representations in the provincial government through representatives appointed by the Governor.

Although the British did not draw an Inner Line in Manipur, they brought in the tried and tested non-revenue space management norms from Assam. They left the fertile and intensely cultivated revenue lands of the Imphal valley to be administered under modern revenue norms while the sparsely populated non-revenue hills were generally left unadministered, but under the charge of the British Political Agent in the then kingdom, in his official capacity as the President Manipur State Darbar. This pattern of administration soon came to be institutionalised and was retained after independence. Today, the Imphal valley is under the modern revenue administration as defined by the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, introduced while it was still a Union Territory in 1962, but not the hills, where customary laws continue to shape administrative norms. In the valley, the state is deemed to own all lands, and individual owners lease their small possessions and pay taxes in return. However, this principle of eminent domain is disputed in the hills.

Different interpretations

Viewed against this backdrop, the UNC blockade should be open to different interpretations. The UNC was demanding an assurance from the Manipur government that what they deem as their ancient homeland — or Nagalim, reflecting the vocabulary of the Naga militant group, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) — will not be divided into districts without their consent. In particular, they did not want the Kuki-dominated Sadar Hills given this status, as they consider Kukis as migrants who settled in their land and who can only be their tenants. The Manipur government, which was expected to create this district together with Jiribam, a small enclave of predominantly non-tribal population, deferred the decision in the wake of the UNC protest, but a December 8 midnight cabinet meet, for whatever its wisdom, decided to go ahead and create not just these two districts but five more by splitting altogether seven existing districts, thereby stiffening the UNC’s blockade stance.

What then can be the way forward? First and foremost, conflict resolution in such a scenario cannot be a bilateral matter between the Central government and any single party, as it seems to be the case in the ongoing Naga peace talks. A chain can be as strong as the weakest link, and the Centre will have to look for a broader and more inclusive solution to suit what essentially is a multilateral issue. Second, everyone will have to agree to a shared homeland. The lofty goal of “shared sovereignty” and “competencies” being negotiated between the NSCN(IM) and the Centre cannot be the solution to the problem of the region unless this sharing extends to all other stake holders.

 

 

 

  • Neither cultural nor revolutionary

We live in ironic times where the establishment quotes Bob Dylan, an anti-establishment figure. Last month, the Prime Minister cited lines from Dylan’s song, The Times They Are A-Changin’ including “And don’t criticise/ What you can’t understand”, ostensibly targeted at the critics of demonetisation.

Demonetisation is an event of biblical proportions. But even as its economic consequences are discussed, what goes unnoticed are the new cultural imaginaries that are sought to be put in place. Rather than see demonetisation as only an economic measure to curb corruption, the government wants to usher in “a behavioural change at all levels of society”, which is a part of “the grand ‘cultural revolution’ that the PM is working on” (M. Venkaiah Naidu in The Indian Express, Nov. 29).

The problem is that this cultural revolution is neither cultural nor revolutionary. Culture becomes a mere appendage to technological transformations which still mask material exploitation. In this cultural revolution, the government still needs lucky draw contests (and prizes worth Rs. 340 crore) to incentivise digital payments and behaviourial change. Also, the revolution will be ushered in through an executive fiat from above rather than it emerging organically from the people.

Emptiness of words

Technology is the fulcrum of the new cultural revolution. As the Prime Minister puts it, in ‘Digital India’, “your phone is your wallet.” But when Dylan becomes yoked to the project of Cashless India and Digital India, culture becomes instrumental and hollow. Otherwise, how is The Times…, reflecting the American youth’s anger against imperialism perpetrated by their own government, quoted by a government that has come down heavily on dissent?

The cultural revolution is supposed to completely overhaul the system. In a reference rich with religio-cultural symbolism, the Prime Minister calls demonetisation a “yagna against corruption, terrorism and black money.” There is, of course, tremendous hardship for the people. But he asks them to endure it to make the nation great and modern. Remarkably, in this vision, there are no cultural revolutions to annihilate caste, the most important barrier to India becoming modern. Nor there are yagnas against class and gender exploitation.

In this cultural revolution without culture, anything goes, so the Prime Minister can wish that “the youth seize the moment and be the winds of change” even after his government has virtually criminalised any youth politics unpalatable to the state. Or a Union Minister can also quote Dylan to critique patriarchy in Muslim community, but not patriarchy among Hindus.

No critical pedagogy

Such a conjuncture is itself a result of India’s failure to build a critical pedagogy. Instead of questioning the fundamental bases of exploitation, the entire pedagogy has been built on a technocratic understanding of society catering to building “meritorious” citizens, a society which merely reinforces existing hierarchies. In this pedagogy, as the philosopher Ivan Illich put it, “medical treatment is mistaken for healthcare, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work.”

It is on this ground already ploughed by conformist currents that the seeds of the new cultural revolution are sown. How else does one explain sections of the most “educated”, including in the bureaucracy, with a bird’s-eye view of governance, seeing demonetisation as a panacea to all our ills? The crux of technocratic thinking is to paper over systemic causes of issues such as poverty and prescribe technological fixes.

The root cause for our misery in this technocratic vision is a culture steeped in corruption. While there is truth in this, the decadent culture is not caused by the ruling classes in general, but only, as a government representative puts it, “encouraged by Congress and its friends all these years in power.” Again, the accumulation of privilege by the upper castes/classes or of the state-sanctioned plunder of public wealth, forests, minerals, etc. by the ruling classes goes unmentioned.

When one identifies the problem as such, the solution can only be superficial. Demonetisation becomes a magic wand to end corruption. When the Prime Minister tells a rally that the rich are queuing up at the houses of the poor to seek their help in depositing black money, he is not referring to the ultra-rich in India. So, the cultural revolution is already making a distinction between the rich themselves.

In this cultural revolution, culture becomes a mask to hide fundamental material realities. Thus, it does not tell us that the top one per cent of people own 58.4 per cent of the country’s wealth. When the bottom 50 per cent own only 2.1 per cent of the wealth, how does the promised manna of a few thousand rupees in Jan Dhan accounts alter anything?

The staggering levels of inequality have very little to do with black money held in high denomination notes, but are a result of a skewed distribution of wealth, resources and power legally enforced. That among the prominent economies of the world, India is only second to Russia, which is known for its mafia capitalism, in terms of the wealth owned by the top one per cent says something about our rapacious model of development, especially under liberalisation.

The cultural revolution does not tell us that the revenue foregone by the government in corporate income tax, excise and custom duty since 2005-06 is Rs. 42 trillion — an amount which can fund the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act for over 100 years! Neither does it tell us that state-owned banks have written off Rs.1.14 lakh crore of bad loans from 2013 to 2015 or that just two corporate houses alone owe over Rs.3 lakh crore in debt to the banks.

The tragedy is that the questions not asked by the cultural revolution are left unasked by popular discourse. And they will not be until we are prisoners of what the cultural theorist Henry Giroux calls as the “relentless activity of thoughtlessness” fostered by dominant power through its cultural apparatuses. What they do is to transform the genuine aspirations of the people for equality, a corruption-free society and anger against the existing system into sanitised expressions like demonetisation which do not fundamentally challenge the system.

It is in the absence of a genuine cultural revolution that we have reached a conjuncture in which a nation as diverse and unequal as India is asked to place its hopes on an individual leader as a talisman for a cultural revolution. A cultural revolution in which mobile phones will herald a corruption-free society. To unveil this cultural revolution, we need to go back to deciphering Dylan ourselves.

  • Clock of ageing may be reversible, shows study

At the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, scientists are trying to get time to run backward. Biological time, that is. In the first attempt to reverse ageing by reprogramming the genome, they have rejuvenated the organs of mice and lengthened their life spans by 30 per cent.

The technique, which requires genetic engineering, cannot be applied directly to people, but the achievement points toward better understanding of human ageing and the possibility of rejuvenating human tissues by other means. The Salk team’s discovery was reported in the Thursday issue of the journal Cell.

Leonard Guarente, who studies the biology of ageing at MIT, said, “This is huge”, citing the novelty of the finding and the opportunity it creates to slow down, if not reverse, ageing. “It’s a pretty remarkable finding, and if it holds up it could be quite important in the history of ageing research,” Mr. Guarente said.

The finding is based on the heterodox idea that ageing is not irreversible and that an animal’s biological clock can in principle be wound back to a more youthful state.

Accumulation of changes

The ageing process is clock-like in the sense that a steady accumulation of changes eventually degrades the efficiency of the body’s cells. In one of the deepest mysteries of biology, the clock’s hands are always set back to zero at conception: However old the parents and their reproductive cells, a fertilised egg is free of all marks of age.

Ten years ago, the Japanese biologist Shinya Yamanaka amazed researchers by identifying four critical genes that reset the clock of the fertilised egg.

Fresh approach

Yamanaka’s method is now routinely used to change adult tissue cells into cells very similar to the embryonic stem cells produced in the first few divisions of a fertilised egg.

Scientists next began to wonder if the four Yamanaka genes could be applied not just to cells in glassware but to a whole animal. The results were disastrous. As two groups of researchers reported in 2013 and 2014, the animals all died, some because their adult tissue cells had lost their identity and others from cancer. Embryonic cells are primed for rapid growth, which easily becomes uncontrolled. But at the Salk Institute, Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte had been contemplating a different approach. He has long been interested in regeneration, the phenomenon in which certain animals, like lizards and fish, can regenerate lost tails or limbs. Cells near the lost appendage revert to a stage midway between an embryonic cell, which is open to all fates, and an adult cell, which is committed to being a particular type of cell, before rebuilding the missing limb.

This partial reprogramming suggested to him that reprogramming is a step-wise process, and that a small dose of the Yamanaka factors might rejuvenate cells without the total reprogramming that converts cells to the embryonic state.

With Alejandro Ocampo and other Salk researchers, Mr. Belmonte has spent five years devising ways to deliver a non-lethal dose of Yamanaka factors to mice. The solution his team developed was to genetically engineer mice with extra copies of the four Yamanaka genes, and to have the genes activated only when the mice received a certain drug in their drinking water, applied just two days a week.

The Salk team worked with mice that age prematurely, so as to get quick results. “What we saw is that the animal has fewer signs of ageing, healthier organs, and at the end of the experiment we could see they had lived 30 per cent longer than control mice,” Mr. Belmonte said.

Improved organ health

The team also saw improved organ health in normal mice but, because the mice are still living, could not yet say if longevity was extended.

Mr. Belmonte believes these beneficial effects have been obtained by resetting the clock of the ageing process. The clock is created by the epigenome, the system of proteins that clads the cell’s DNA and controls which genes are active and which are suppressed.

Only in the past few years have biologists come to realise that the state of the epigenome may be a major cause of ageing. If the epigenome is damaged, perhaps by accumulating too many marks, the cell’s efficiency is degraded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • China slams India over invite to the Dalai Lama

China has slammed India for inviting the Dalai Lama for a function in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and urged New Delhi to respect China’s “core interest” in order to avoid “any disturbance” in ties between the two nations.

In a strongly worded response to a question, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “Recently in disregard of China’s solemn representation and strong opposition, the Indian side insisted on arranging for the 14th Dalai Lama’s visit to the Indian presidential palace, [and] participation in the event with the Indian President and meeting with President [Pranab] Mukherjee.”

The spokesman asserted that Beijing was “strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed to that”. The Dalai Lama was present in the opening session of the “Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit”, organised by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s Children’s Foundation on December 10.

Mr. Geng said the “Dalai Lama is in political exile and has been engaged in anti-China separatist activities with the attempt of separating Tibet away from China under the cloak of religion”. He added that China was firmly opposed “to any form of contact between officials of the other countries with him”.

“We urge the Indian side to see through the anti-China separatist nature of the Dalai Lama clique, fully respect China’s core interest and major concerns, take effective means to remove the negative impact caused by the incident so as to avoid any disturbance to China-India relationship,” he said.

India’s stand

The Government of India sought to play down the comments, saying the event the Dalai Lama had attended was not a “political” one. “His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a respected and revered spiritual leader. It was a non-political event organised by Nobel laureates dedicated to the welfare of children,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said on Friday. India has always resisted Chinese criticism of the Dalai Lama’s movements, and maintains that he does not undertake any political activity in India.

This is the fifth time that China has expressed its annoyance in the past few months. Earlier, Chinese government spokespersons objected to the Dalai Lama’s visits to Arunachal Pradesh, Mongolia and the U.S., as well as the government’s permission to the Karmapa Lama to travel to Arunachal as well.

China’s strong objections towards the perceived promotion of Tibetan separatism coincide with its rejection of remarks by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump questioning Washington’s unqualified endorsement of Beijing’s sovereignty over Taiwan.

Global Times, the daily affiliated with the Communist Party of China, took exception to the statement by Mongolian Ambassador to India Gonchig Ganhold seeking New Delhi’s financial support to override Ulan Bator’s economic difficulties. Mongolia’s crisis followed its reception of the Dalai Lama last month, apparently triggering a slew of economic measures by Beijing against Ulan Bator.

  • Deborah rewrites record

She competed with borrowed cycle yet Deborah towered over her rivals in her favourite 500m Individual Time Trial event and breezed to a new record on the second day of the 69th senior, 46th junior and 32nd sub-junior National track cycling championship held at LNCPE, Velodrome here on Thursday.

Though not happy with the cycle she was riding Deborah clocked 36.377s to improve her own mark (36.470) set last year. Deborah was paired with international Kezia Varghese for the event. However, Kezia, who is nursing a neck injury which she got during training, was not at her best to push the girl from Andamans.

Deborah showed her class in the event by finishing nearly two seconds ahead of Kezia who won the silver in 38.358s. Anu Chutia (Assam) came third in 39.567s.

Deborah rode with a cycle borrowed from SAI centre in Car Nicobar where she has been training for the last one month. “The cycle I use in Delhi is a different one and obviously better than the one I was riding here. This cycle was a bit big for me. However, I am satisfied with my performance as I had little competition here,” she said after the event.

The day’s competition witnessed a flurry of records. Sahil Kumar (Haryana) and Sanu Raj (Services) broke the existing meet in the boys’ under-18 1000m time trial event. The promising Esow of Andaman and Nicobar set a new mark in the 500m Individual Time Trial in the boys’ under-14 section.

Aleena Reji (Kerala) and Mayuri Lute (Maharashtra) set new marks in 500m Individual Time Trial event in the girls’ under-18 and under-14 sections respectively.

At end of competition on the second day, Kerala was leading the points table with 34 points followed by Manipur with 26 points. Andaman & Nicobar Islands is in third position with 16 points.

The results:

Men: 1000m Individual Time Trial: 1. Vikaram Duhan (RSPB) (1:08.988), 2. Ranjit Singh (SSCB), 3. Ranjit Singh (Haryana).

Boys: Under-18: 1000m Individual Time Trial: 1. Sahil Kumar (Haryana) (1:07.902: NMR; OR: 1:10.932, Amarjeet Singh, Punjab, 2013). Under-14: 500m Individual Time Trial: 1. Esow (A & N) (34.577: NMR; OR: 36.014, Esow, A & N, 2015), 2. Y. Rojit Singh (Manipur), 3. Maurya Pawar (Maharashtra).

Women: 500m Individual Time Trial: 1. Deborah (A & N), (36.377: NMR; OR: 36.470, Deborah, A &N, 2015).

Girls: Under-18: 500m Individual Time Trial: 1. Aleena Reji (Kerala) (37.803: NMR; 0R: 37.908, Deborah, A &N, 2013.

Under-16: 500m Individual Time Trial: 1. Mayuri Lute (Maharashtra) (39.577: NMR; 0R: 42.164, Jashanjit Kaur, Punjab, 2012).

  • Forbes India GDP data sparks debate

Even as a report in the Forbes magazine suggested that the Indian economy had overtaken that of the U.K. in absolute size, an analysis of the GDP (gross domestic product) data by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Centre and the currency data from the central banks of the two countries shows a different picture.

The Forbes report, authored by a former McKinsey consultant who is now studying at the Tsinghua University, says that the U.K.’s GDP in 2016 was 1.87 trillion pounds, which, given the 20 per cent decline in the value of the pound over the course of 2016, translated to $2.29 trillion.

The report puts India’s 2016 GDP at Rs.153 trillion which is $2.30 trillion at an exchange rate of Rs.66.6 to the dollar.

GDP figures

While the GDP figure cited for the U.K. is corroborated by data from the IMF and the currency rate of 0.81 pounds to the dollar used in the calculation is backed by data from the Bank of England, the data for India does not add up.

“There were basically two considerations, the nominal value of GDP of both the countries and the currency exchange rates,” said D.K. Srivastava, Chief Policy Advisor, EY India.

“Our estimates show that the GDP for 2016 would be Rs.149 trillion. We are looking at the provisional actuals of last year and applying our estimate of the growth rate.”

The IMF, in the October 2016 edition of its World Economic Outlook, estimates India’s GDP for the year at Rs.122.15 trillion, far lower than the Rs.153 trillion assumed in the Forbes report.

Even looking at Indian sources, the combined GDP over Q1 and Q2 of this financial year, as reported by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, was Rs.71.5 trillion. If, for ease of calculation, this is doubled to arrive at the full-year figure, then the total works out to only Rs.143 trillion.

Of course, simply doubling the GDP in Q1 and Q2 is inaccurate but it becomes more so this year due to the expected dampening effect on the GDP growth due to demonetisation of high-value currency notes announced on November 8, the impact of which is expected to be felt in the second-half of this financial year.

The final dollar value of the GDPs of the U.K. and India is based on the currency exchange rate used by the Forbes contributor in his calculation.

Even a minor inaccuracy here can change the final outcome by a significant amount.

Exchange rate

The Forbes report assumes an exchange rate of 0.81 pounds to the dollar. According to data from the Bank of England, the exchange rate was an average of 0.80 on December 16, the date the report was published.

Using the author’s own U.K. 2016 GDP figure of 1.87 trillion pounds, this works out to $2.33 trillion, larger than what the author estimated the Indian economy to be.

The Reserve Bank of India notified Rs. 67.78 as the exchange rate to the dollar on December 16, 2016.

Even assuming that the Forbes report’s 2016 GDP figure for India is correct, converting it at the RBI exchange rate yields a GDP size of $2.26 trillion, again smaller than all estimates of the U.K. economy.

“Our estimate is that India is still smaller than the U.K. but it might overtake it at market exchange rates by the next financial year,” Mr. Srivastava said.

“However, what is material is that in purchasing power parity terms, India is much higher than all economies except the U.S. and China.”

 

 

  • After Mongolian incident, Chinese daily counsels India on Dalai Lama

In tune with an assurance China has received from Mongolia that it will no longer welcome the Dalai Lama, the Global Times newspaper, affiliated with the Communist Party of China (CPC), has counselled India not to leverage the Tibetan spiritual leader to undermine Beijing’s core interests.

An op-ed in the daily on Thursday noted that the “Mongolian Foreign Minister Tsend Munkh-Orgil said Tuesday that Mongolia will not allow the Dalai Lama to visit the country, even in the name of religion, thus settling a one-month stand-off between Mongolia and China.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Wednesday also stated that the “Chinese side sets store by the explicit statement made by the Mongolian Foreign Minister.”

“Tibet-related issues concern China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and bear on China’s core interests. China’s position on Tibet-related issues is resolute and clear. It is hoped that the Mongolian side will learn lessons from this issue, truly respect China’s core interests, honour its commitment and strive to improve China-Mongolia relations,” it added.

The Global Times article sought to link the Mongolia’s subsequent problems with Beijing, following the visit to Ulan Bator, with the presence of the Dalai Lama at a function in Rashtrapati Bhavan earlier this month.

“Indian President Pranab Mukherjee met with the Tibetan separatist in exile in India this month, probably as moral support to Mongolia, which mired itself in diplomatic trouble after receiving the Dalai Lama in November.”

‘Shortsighted vision’

The op-ed slammed India for not recognising “the gap between its ambition and its strength”. “Sometimes, India behaves like a spoiled kid, carried away by the lofty crown of being ‘the biggest democracy in the world’. India has the potential to be a great nation, but the country’s vision is short-sighted.”

  • Syncretism by the seaside

Now that he has opened his cultural account with a “virtual” appearance at the Coldplay concert in Mumbai, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should take a much-needed break from the tedium of daily governance to “really” visit the Kochi-Muziris Biennale currently under way. Here are six good reasons why.

Commingling of cultures

A visit to the Biennale, and more properly Kochi during the Biennale, will reveal that cities can be made ‘smart’ through other means than technobabble. Cultural events, especially on a scale and of a class such as the Biennale, with national and international participation and sponsorship, end up creating a new cultural commons, rather than stealing the old as was recently attempted in Bengaluru. The artworks might puzzle, titillate, outrage and awe, but the public is challenged to think not just about the artefacts and experiences on offer, but about the setting. Long months of planning result in near perfect technical arrangements for uninterrupted viewing pleasure in derelict yards, abandoned warehouses, or dark godowns. The site and its histories (from the ancient Muziris to the modern shipyard) are interlayered so that the public is offered a viable, enjoyable and inescapably pedagogic cultural experience. Above all, the Biennale has been “owned” by a large proportion of the local population, and not only because they benefit economically.

The thoughtful visitor will also be able to explore an aspect of city life that thrives in a place like Kochi, and is seriously threatened in most other regions of India: the art of accommodation (not referencing here the many homestays and B. & B.s that have burgeoned in this seaside town). Kochi, as many writers including Ashis Nandy have pointed out, has a long pre-history of accommodating peoples of different regions, both from the hinterland and across the seas. The commingling of several religions, this “alternative cosmopolitanism” includes, unusually, Judaism. Though not unmarked by conflictual pasts, in this small space several faiths have taken root, as if declaring the incompleteness of any one religion: no religion is without its lacks, none without its uniqueness and achievements. Even the vestiges of such values are to be prized in the scenario shadowed by the darker preoccupations of the majority of Indian cities, namely, linguistic nationalism, communal antagonism and fierce battles over who may be defined as “sons of the soil”. Kochi’s ability to assimilate its immigrants into its linguistic cosmos is in sharp contrast to many other cities of that size. The resolutely bilingual exhibition, as well as its volunteers and guides, makes both insider and outsider feel at home in the new world of art.

The Biennale is as good a time as any to revisit the growing “common sense” of the place occupied by meat and fish in the Indian menu. From the brisk breakfast to the dawdling over dinner, Kochi’s cuisines are merely a reflection of what preoccupies most people of Kerala: the vital necessity of meat/fish from dawn to dusk and every meal in between. Poverty, rather than proscription, may more severely dent the prospects of heartier participation in such an unembarrassed meatarian culture.

In Kochi during the Biennale, one might, temporarily at least, flee the claustrophobic correctness that marks our public life, on the one hand; on the other, escape from “guilded honour shamefully misplaced… And art made tongue-tied by authority,

And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill” (Shakespeare’s sonnet 66).

Amiably adjacent are works of anger, pain, irreverence, critique, folly, playfulness, worshipfulness, though not of a kind currently fashionable. The Biennale spells out not only the end of work as we knew it (how many foundries, factories, occupations, and indeed sites of work — Kochi itself — are mourned and memorialised here!) but the beginning of new, dangerous and uncertain beginnings of art and work practices. Such an assemblage/curatorial venture would not have been possible without the close collaboration of state and market. But such exuberance would not have been enabled without bringing to life the maverick, the eccentric, the outsider and non-conformist. Even the local artistic opposition to the early pioneers found a space on the walls of Fort Kochi, in 2014, this time as artistic graffiti.

Of prospects and paradoxes

Long before the Father of the Nation had been turned into a social worker with a broom, and before his glasses had been made the official “effigy” of Swachh Bharat, swachhness had been quietly practised in places like Kochi in Kerala. What accounts for that culture of cleanliness when social divisions are probably no less marked than elsewhere in India? What prospect of this flourishing within the new plastic-wrapped economies? It is hard to predict, but for now at least, Fort Kochi presents not just a near immaculate city setting, but heralds the possibility of new and comforting civilities, where the unpredictability of the encounter with strangers is welcomed, not feared.

Coming at this momentous period in our Republic’s history, Kochi presents both the paradox and the prospect of the digital future. In a city laid low by the crumbling of earlier worlds of labour and economies, the Biennale presents a moment to recoup a living, to make a quick buck, to squirrel away some small fortune. Demonetisation could not have happened at a worse time. To be fair, there were no anxious lines before the ATMs as in many other Indian metropolises. But equally, at a time when there is a deluge of visitors from all parts of India and elsewhere, few establishments accepted plastic.

No marks for guessing that this was not an aesthetic preference. As many hoteliers who politely refused the card revealed, digital payments combined with the near impossibility of obtaining money from the banks (working capital) equals financial unviability. Workers and fisherfolk could not be paid, and neither could transporters. Hard cash alone could solve this liquidity crisis.

No city, no public event, is without its conflicts, its darker moments, its bitter exclusions, its recognisable weaknesses. This was demonstrated quite forcefully by the Commonwealth Games and its shameful heritage. “We are like that only.” Or are we? Kochi, or more properly Fort Kochi, and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is a memorable, if small and temporary, glimpse of the possibilities of another contemporary, another present.

  • Blue ice, a rare occurrence: Airline

Airlines have said it is not possible to empty toilet tanks in mid-air as claimed in a petition before the National Green Tribunal.

An AirAsia India spokesperson said: “AirAsia India lavatory waste draining and disposal is outsourced to Globe Ground India (GGI). They collect the waste from the aircraft and dump it in an airport-designated waste dumping location.”

A Vistara spokesperson said the airline follows the procedures as per the Aircraft Maintenance Manual according to which waste is to be emptied into specialised waste carts.

“All necessary health, environment and safety procedure are taken while carrying out these activities,” the spokesperson said, adding that emptying toilet tanks is not possible mid-air in modern pressurised aircraft.

Jet Airways said ‘blue ice’, a term used for frozen sewage material leaked mid-air, as a “rare occurrence” which signifies “a leaking toilet system, leading to the formation of accumulation of ice in high altitude.”

‘Standard checks done ’

The airline conducts standard checks that include removing the waste from the aircraft and taking it to the designated waste-disposal system after every flight, a spokesperson said.

In its order, the NGT had asked the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to issue a circular to all airlines using the Delhi airport to ensure that they do not release any waste while landing or taking off at the airport or near it.

It also asked the aviation regulator to impose an environmental compensation of Rs. 50,000 per violation of the circular and submit a quarterly report to the tribunal.

The petitioner had told the court that excreta fall due to “evacuation of the aircraft toilet canisters while flying on the houses of people” living in residential areas near the airport.

“There is one exterior lever outside the aircraft and only the ground crew can operate the valve that opens the tank while the plane is on the ground,” said Bimal K. Srivastava, retired General Manager at Airports Authority of India, who has done extensive research on ‘blue ice.’ He added that “under no circumstances” can a pilot empty the storage tank during the flight.

 

  • Rajiv Shah is Rockefeller’s first Indian-American head

On Thursday, the Rockefeller Foundation, one of the largest and most influential philanthropies in the United States, was to name Rajiv J. Shah, a trustee, as president. He was to succeed Judith Rodin, who has been holding the post for 12 years.

The appointment was to make Mr. Shah one of the most powerful forces in charitable giving, overseeing a foundation that donates roughly $200 million each year and corrals governments, companies and organisations to contribute money and resources in tandem.

Founded in 1913

At 43, Mr. Shah is the youngest person and the first Indian-American to lead the Rockefeller Foundation, which has gained stature in recent years through some prominent projects but has sometimes been criticised as being more interested in its publicity than its grantees.

Founded in 1913 by oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, the foundation says it has given away the equivalent of more than $17 billion in today’s dollars.

Much of the foundation’s work concerns improving health and well being in Africa, aiding economic development in impoverished areas and developing strategies to combat climate change. It was these diverse causes that attracted Mr. Shah to the job. With advanced degrees in medicine and health finance from the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Shah worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for nearly a decade, rising to be director for agricultural development.

From 2009 to 2015, he ran USAID, leading the response to disasters including the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. After leaving the agency, he founded Latitude Capital, a private equity firm focused on emerging markets.

In those roles, Mr. Shah said, he came to understand the power of public-private partnerships, a strategy that Ms. Rodin has embraced at the Rockefeller Foundation.

 

  • Export infrastructure scheme on the anvil

The Centre will tie up with the States to soon roll-out a new scheme called ‘TIES’ — or Trade Infrastructure for Export Scheme — to boost export infrastructure, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Thursday.

She said the States must develop their own export strategy in alignment with the national foreign trade policy, as well as enhance co-operation with Central agencies to set up common facilities for testing, certification, trace-back, packaging and labelling.

Ms. Sitharaman was addressing the second meeting of the Council for Trade Development and Promotion, attended by ministers and senior officials from the States and Central government Ministries. “Since most States wanted a Central scheme that supports export infrastructure, we are formulating a scheme to provide financial support and supplement the efforts of States to create export infrastructure. I hope we can soon achieve a consensus for the roll out of this scheme, which is very aptly titled as TIES. This would surely strengthen our ties with the States.”

Road quality

S.C. Ralhan, president of the apex exporters’ body Federation of Indian Export Organisations, said: “Indian roads carry nearly 65 per cent cargo against the global trend where railway is the major contributor. Therefore the States should focus on improving the last mile connectivity of major exporting hubs to Inland Container Depot/Ports. Quality of roads including their load bearing capacity may be upgraded for smooth transit of export goods.”

Pointing out that about 150 Sanitary & Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) measures (or norms on food safety and animal & plant health standards) and a similar number of Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) notifications (including mandatory and voluntary standards) were being issued by World Trade Organisation-member countries each month, Ms. Sitharaman said: “Around 50-60 per cent of these measures have the potential to impact India’s trade.”

Therefore, she said, the States should cooperate with the Centre for setting up common facilities like testing labs and training institutes as well as to ensure packaging and storage support to the Indian industry. So far only 17 States (of the 29 States and seven Union Territories in the country) have prepared their export strategy, Ms Sitharaman said and told the remaining States/UTs to expedite their export strategies. On services, she said IT and ITeS had an overwhelming predominance in India’s services exports but were largely restricted to the U.S. and EU markets and are therefore vulnerable to changes imposed by these two trading blocs.

‘Need to diversify’

“There is a need to diversify our services exports. Areas like medical tourism, nursing and healthcare, education, audio-visual media have an excellent potential that can be harnessed. For this, we need to develop the right competencies like language skills for the East and North East Asian markets,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Centre has decided to soon bring out a Logistics Performance Index to rank states on steps taken to facilitate trade and improve logistics. Measures in the pipeline include expediting the proposal for a north east corridor to improve connectivity with south east Asian countries and exports to that region.

 

  • New norms likely for top PSU bank posts

The Banks’ Board Bureau is working to ensure that leadership roles in state-run banks would only be given to those with at least six years of service left, in order to ensure accountability of their actions, the organisation’s Chairman Vinod Rai said on Thursday.

Mr. Rai also said that public sector bank employees’ compensations would become more competitive in 2017-18, with increases in the variable pay component.

Instilling accountability

“An attempt will be made to introduce accountability in the system, to ensure that you appoint a whole time director or a CEO (chief executive officer) at an age where he has got a minimum of six years more to go in the institution so that he can be held accountable for the decision,” Mr. Rai said while speaking at an Assocham event.

The former Comptroller General of Accounts said that the main principle behind banking management should be transparency in the accounting process and transparency in the decision making process.

“In some ways the compensation package of these public sector institutions needs to be improved,” Mr Rai said while speaking at an Assocham event.

“We may not be able to do much about the fixed component but we can change the variable component. From the next financial year, we should be able to introduce bonuses, E-sops, and performance linked packages. The idea is to provide monetary and non-monetary incentives to attract professionals.”

Mr. Rai added that these incentives would apply to positions across all levels, not just to the middle and senior management.

Filling up vacancies

He also said that the Banks Board Bureau is in the process of filling up vacancies in the top management of the public sector banks.

“We are looking for the right people, and we are trying to ensure that we choose the best and not the second-best,” he said.

“We are in the business of trying to collate people who are from different walks of life and who will be willing to join boards of PSBs and be able to provide that kind of expertise which these banks have not had in the past and the effort is to ensure that it is these boards which run the banks.”

Corporate debt

Mr. Rai said that the Corporate Debt Restructuring Cell was created with noble intentions in the early 2000s, but it soon found itself unable to cope with the high volume of stressed assets in the system.

He said that while there were innumerable cases where project reports were inflated, balance sheets were manipulated and funds siphoned off, there was an equal number of cases where irresponsible or lazy lending took place, where due diligence was not performed and supervision was perfunctory.

 

 

  • Once a TADA detenu, now a VIP guest

Once branded a Khalistan terrorist with alleged links to Naxals and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, former Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) detenu Amarjeet Sohi will be welcomed officially in India now as a privileged guest next week to attend the Vibrant Gujarat summit as Canada’s Infrastructure and Communities Minister.

Gujarat officials said Mr. Sohi will lead a delegation to the bi-annual investors summit in Gandhinagar.

In 1988, as a 24-year-old youth activist, Sohi, who belonged to a family in Sangrur and had emigrated to Canada, returned to take part in a theatre programme in Bihar on land rights, when he was arrested under the dreaded TADA.

Police in Azadbhiga accused him of being a Khalistani, who had come to recruit Naxal fighters for the cause.

Eventually, Mr. Sohi’s release was helped by the Amnesty International and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), who sent testimonies in his favour. However, Mr. Sohi, who has been back to India several times since his release and still has family in Punjab, has said he bears no “ill will” towards the authorities in India.

Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs said there would be no problem with Mr. Sohi’s past for his first official visit either. “There are no cases against Mr. Sohi and no issue regarding his visit,” an official said.

He will arrive in Delhi on January 9, and then travel to Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar where Canada is one of the partners in the Vibrant Gujarat Summit. Officials said he will visit Mumbai and possibly travel to Punjab to meet family members as well.

Mr. Sohi’s visit will be one of a series of ministerial trips ahead of an expected visit by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sometime in March. Another Sikh minister, Harjit Sajjan, who is the Defence Minister, is also expected to visit in the next few weeks. Mr. Trudeau’s Cabinet includes four Sikhs, leading him to quip once that he had “more Sikhs in his Cabinet than [PM] Modi does.”

As an immigrant, Mr. Sohi’s story is of particular interest in Canada, as he drove a municipal bus for years before he was elected as a City Councillor.

He has also spent much of his time on “promoting socially inclusive communities”, the Gujarat government’s literature on him records.

He also kept his theatre activism going and staged a play about the Komagata Maru incident where 350 people, mostly Sikhs, died aboard a ship of refugees that was refused permission to enter by Canada in 1914.

 

  • Teaching peace to humanity

What is the priority of pedagogy for peace in the 21st century? Do we teach cultures and philosophies of peace at schools and universities around the world only to start new wars and conflicts? Is education for peace still a top priority in universities and colleges? And finally, does education help us to live a peaceful life and to bring peace around the world? These questions need to be in our awareness on a daily basis. Only then can we treat people, nature and most life itself in a more empathic manner.

In this light, education by definition is an ethical enterprise. In other words, education is more than a way of being; it is an art of becoming. It is not only a process of nurturing the human soul, as the ancient Greeks understood it through the notion of paideia, meaning the acquisition and transmission of excellence, but also what philosopher Bertrand Russell defines as “a certain outlook on life and the world.” The ancient Greeks understood paideia as the essence of culture and communication in a good society. The aim of paideia, Aristotle argues in Politics, is to enable members of a community to decide the political organisation of society. Therefore, we need to assess the paideic dimension of peacebuilding. This describes the ethical and spiritual foundations of the process of rebuilding peace in or among societies.

Not just about security

As such, peacebuilding is not only about the security-sector reform of a society emerging from conflict; it is the medium- to long-term process of educating humanity with a special focus on the importance of promoting peace. In other words, in a world truly concerned about the happiness of future generations, peace and the process of taming violence in and among societies are continual, concrete, and the daily results of education as a learning process. In this process, the importance of autonomy and the nobility of spirit, which are primarily intellectual virtues, cannot be underestimated. Therefore, the main concern of education is to engender a certain character in human beings and to teach them the nobility of spirit and the moral common ground of actions. If that is the case, the aim of education is not solely an academic pursuit; it is a pursuit of moral wisdom.

Immanuel Kant, in his Lecture Notes on Pedagogy, says the aim of education “must be the moralisation of man”. The educational theory advocated by him is closely related to his belief in the moral progress of humanity which is a self-articulated and self-realised process of attaining intellectual maturity. However, Kant considers this self-educating process of humanity as a slow and gradual cosmopolitan process. “Our only hope,” affirms Kant, “is that each generation, provided with the knowledge of the foregoing one, is able, more and more, to bring about an education which shall develop man’s natural gifts in their due proportion and relation to their end, and thus advance the whole human race toward its destiny.”

There was a time when education was the highest task of human culture. However, in today’s world we have become dulled to what it means to be fully cultured or well-educated. Our modern world is without a vision of human society encompassing these two experiences. Likewise, peace, as a dominant idea for moral education in the past, has gradually experienced its isolation in the two fields of politics and international relations. As a consequence, the peacekeepers of today are diplomats and soldiers. Moreover, the peace education promoted today by institutions such as UNESCO and the UN General Assembly is far from being sufficient to prepare the future generations against war and violence.

As a matter of fact, teachers and educators teach values such as fairness, compassion, truth and freedom to Others, but they also confront these values while transmitting them in classrooms. Furthermore, every form of value education is the foundation for mutual evaluation of moral and social principles. To transmit moral, political and social values from one generation to another is not an ideological process. Schools and universities are not supposed to be ideological institutions where individuals learn to become loyal and obedient. Here resides the difference between Tagore’s Santiniketan and Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party. While Tagore invites us to consider the nature of education through a conscious relationship with nature and creativity, and as a path to bridge the gap between the educated and those who have not been educated, Nazi officers like Adolf Eichmann carried out mass murders while never permitting their consciousness to rise above the level of following rules and obeying orders.

Looking for moral leadership

Building peace and transcending regional and global conflicts cannot be left entirely to the action and volition of political leaders. What is necessary herewith is not political governance, but moral leadership. Moreover, moral leadership cannot prevail by instrumental reason, namely, to work with the elements as means to an end. What we need here is a massive pedagogical enterprise as a mode of “cultivation” of humanity. The effort to peacebuilding is, therefore, accompanied with a freedom from prejudice, exclusion and domination. An essential part of a definition and practice of a culture of peace is through education of non-violence that develops the quest for mutual understanding. This raises questions concerning the value of civic upbringing, as an individual process and as a process that a community goes through. Here education is not about learning facts, but to cultivate one’s judgment in order to be able to distinguish between the mediocre and the spiritually noble. If this is how things are in the context of the political, then education is not about repeating and imitating the already inherited values that are collectively accepted, but also about being able to create new values and norms in an autonomous way. It is certainly not ideological, but philosophical since it is exploration of constantly new questionings and a reactivation of the process of thinking. Such a process is an effective strategy for peacebuilding in today’s world where pedagogy for peace is not something that is currently articulated and practised by the mainstream politicians, practitioners and researchers of international relations.

 

  • SC asked to resolve conflict over ‘rape’ definition in two laws

A chink in the colonial-era Indian Penal Code (IPC) condoning sexual intercourse and exploitation of a 15-year-old child ‘wife’ has been brought to the Supreme Court’s attention.

An exception to Section 375 (rape) in the IPC allows a man to go scot-free despite having sex with his 15-year-old ‘wife’.

This exception ensures that he will not be charged with rape even though child marriage is a crime.

Nobel Peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi, through his organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan, appealed to the Supreme Court on Thursday for help to end this “statutorily-backed” crime against children.

In a petition before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, the organisation said an estimated 47 per cent of children in India were married off before they turned 18, according to the United Nations.

The illegal practice was a serious deterrence to the physical, social, psychological and moral well-being of children.

The petition said the IPC condones the rape of a 15-year-old by her husband despite the fact that the more recent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act of 2012 qualifies those aged below 18 as ‘children’.

POCSO has specific penal provisions against ‘penetrative sexual assault’ and ‘aggressive penetrative sexual assault’ on children below 18.

Section 6 of the Act enunciates the punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault as rigorous imprisonment of not less than 10 years to life imprisonment. Mr. Satyarthi wants the apex court to clear the anomaly in law. The IPC terms children as those aged under 15 years while POCSO terms children as those aged under 18.

Status denied

“Despite being a child by definition (under the age of 18), provisions of POCSO are not applied. The benefit of a Special Act (POCSO) is not afforded to children when they are in married relationship but over the age of 15. Therefore, a child’s status as a child till she attains the age of 18 is denied to her once she is forcefully or otherwise wed,” the BBA contended.

The apex court directed the government to address the issue within four months. The Bench asked Mr. Satyarthi to approach the court on the same grounds for immediate resolution if he is not satisfied with the government’s response.

  • 25 held for trespassing into Fazilka jail

The Punjab police have arrested 25 people including the jail Superintendent for trespassing into Fazilka prison to allegedly meet inmate Shiv Lal Doda, considered to be close to Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal.

Disclosing this here on Thursday, ADGP (elections) H.S. Bhawra said that on the directions of the State Election Commission, surprise raid was conducted on Wednesday night at Fazilka and Amritsar jails.

“During the checking police arrested 25 people,” he said, adding that Fazilka jail SP Jashandeep Singh has also been suspended.

The Election Commission had directed the home department to conduct a probe into the matter and submit it’s report within four weeks.

Mt. Bhawra said that during checking police found 24 people holding a meeting inside the visitor’s meeting room of the jail with Doda, a liquor baron.

Cash, mobiles seized

The police also seized Rs. 3.28 lakh, some mobile phones and impounded seven vehicles, he said. Doda and his nephew Amit are facing charges of criminal conspiracy and murder for allegedly killing a Dalit youth named Bhim Tank last year.

Meanwhile, Aam Aadmi Party accused the SAD-BJP government for mounting atrocities on Dalits and shielding the culprits.

State party convener Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi took serious note of the arrest and slammed the State government over it.

He said that Fazilka jail incident is an eye opener of SAD patronage of culprits.

Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal who was considered close to Doda had tried to protect him in the Bhim Tank murder case and a case of murder was registered only after the Dalit community protested on streets, Ghuggi said. SAD had promoted the anti-Dalit sentiment in Punjab during its ten year rule. The Dalits in Punjab lived on margin all that years even as fate of farmers is not different, he said.

State Congress chief Amarinder Singh demanded immediate dismissal of the Badal government, saying it had been completely exposed in the Fazilka jail incident, where a known henchman of Home Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal was caught holding a kangaroo court on yesterday along with two dozen other Akali-linked criminals.

Lashing out at the “brazen display of money and muscle power and the complete breakdown of the law and order” in the State, Amarinder Singh demanded imposition of President’s Rule to hold free and fair elections in the State. The incident has thoroughly exposed the complicity of the Badal family and their associates in the rampant crime mafia in the State, he said. “It is important to find out how all that money and weapons entered the jail premises,” he asked.

  • Trade costs of India remain high: UN body

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) said international and intra-regional trade costs of India remained higher compared with the trade costs of best-performing economies in Asia and the Pacific, although a declining trend has been observed since 2009.

However, it said in addition to India’s robust economic growth and large domestic market, the Government’s “Make in India” initiative and easing of FDI regulations for about 15 sectors including aviation, defence and pharmaceuticals may contribute to the FDI attractiveness of India. On the other hand, overseas investment from India contracted considerably by 36 per cent, which may reflect FDI diversion as Indian investors start to invest more at home than overseas, ESCAP said in its recently released Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report 2016.

Five-year FDI

FDI inflows to India expanded by 10 per cent on average during 2010-2015, while in 2015 inflows recorded an even stronger expansion at 27.8 per cent, which was significantly higher than the Asia-Pacific region’s average 5.6 per cent, ESCAP said. The services, construction development, computer software and hardware, and telecommunications sectors attracted the highest investments, it added.

Asia-Pacific trade flows were wavering amid sluggish global economic and trade growth, downward movement of world commodity prices and an uncertain policy environment, the report said. Sluggish growth in trade is expected to continue through to the end of 2016. In 2015, Indian goods exports shrank by 17.2 per cent, which was close to twice as much as the Asia-Pacific region decline of 9.7 per cent, it said. However, it added that India was the largest partner with several economies in South Asia, such as Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Since India is the fastest-growing emerging economy, it is somewhat expected to start filling the void in demand for intraregional exports that will emerge with the rebalancing of China’s trade patterns, the report said.

Rebounding somewhat, exports from Asia-Pacific are expected to increase by 4.5 per cent and imports by 6.5 per cent in developing countries of Asia and the Pacific in 2017, but the Report forecasts more modest growth in exports and imports in volume terms, at 2.2 per cent and 3.8 per cent, respectively, ESCAP said in a statement.

Restrictive policies

A worrying trend on another front is the increased usage of restrictive trade policies, especially non-tariff measures, within the Asia-Pacific region, which is partly driven by past distortive trade measures and current excess capacity in several key sectors, ESCAP said. Additionally, the region is seeing a proliferation of preferential trade agreements (PTA), with Asia and the Pacific rim contributing to almost 63 per cent of world PTAs, curbing a momentum towards region-wide free trade, it added.

The report revealed that the region had improved its market share in the commercial services trade, with the services trade more than doubling between 2005 and 2015, from just under $600 billion to close to $1,400 billion.

These aggregates, however, conceal the fall in the region’s export and import of services by 4.5 per cent and 4.9 per cent in 2015, respectively, compared with the previous year, mainly due to persisting economic uncertainty resulting in the global decline in merchandise trade and a depressed demand for the services sector including transport.

  • Agriculture spurs GDP growth to 7.3%

GDP growth accelerated in the second quarter of this financial year to 7.3 per cent on the back of a stronger performance in the agriculture sector, official data released on Wednesday showed. Gross value added for the second quarter grew by 7.1 per cent.

While GDP growth quickened in the second quarter from the 7.1 per cent seen in the April-June quarter, GVA growth slowed from the 7.3 per cent registered in that period. Both GDP and GVA growth were slower in the second quarter of this financial year as compared with the same period in the previous year, having registered a growth of 7.6 per cent and 7.3 per cent respectively.

Experts, however, predict that the next two quarters of the year will see subdued growth even as government officials declined to comment on the short-term future citing unavailability of data on the effect of demonetisation on the economy.

Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian, however, highlighted some cause for optimism.

“Nominal GDP growth picked up a fair amount, accelerating from 10.4 per cent in the first quarter to 12.1 per cent in the second quarter, showing some signs of the underlying strength of the economy,” Mr. Subramanian said while speaking to reporters at North Block.

‘Two halves’

“Expect this year to be a year of two halves as the drive to demonetise is likely to impart a negative bias to the numbers in the near term,” Anis Chakravarty, Lead Economist, Deloitte India said. “Overall, while the high frequency indicators for November still aren’t available, we could witness a negative impact on full year GDP of around 30-50 bps from our earlier estimate of 7.6 per cent.”

The agriculture sector buoyed overall growth, registering a 3.3 per cent GVA growth rate in Q2 of this financial year as compared with 1.8 per cent in the previous quarter and 2 per cent in Q2 of 2015-16.

Sown area

“Agriculture did a little better than last year, largely due to the improved monsoon,” Chief Statistician TCA Anant said while announcing the data. “Sown area has improved and therefore the first advance estimate for agriculture has led to a rise in the second quarter estimate of GDP.”

The manufacturing sector saw a significant slowdown in the growth of its gross value added, registering a growth of 7.1 per cent in Q2 of this financial year as compared with 9.1 per cent in the first quarter, and 9.2 per cent in Q2 of 2015-16.

Manufacturing slowdown

“Manufacturing has shown a slowdown in growth,” Mr. Anant said. “This is in large measure because at this stage in GDP computation, the only indicators which are available to compute GVA and GDP in manufacturing are the IIP and the quarterly estimates filed by small number of companies which file advance estimates. Both of these sets of indicators show slower growth.”

“Within manufacturing, the poor performance of the IIP is due to very poor performance in fabricated metal products, furniture manufacturing, and apparel, all of which play a major role in the informal manufacturing sector,” he added.

The mining and quarrying sector contracted by 1.5 per cent in Q2 compared with a contraction of 0.4 per cent in the first quarter and a growth of 5 per cent in Q2 of 2015-16. The contraction this year was mostly due to the base effect, Mr. Anant said.

Mining contraction

“Mining and quarrying has come in worse than last year and this has been shown in the IIP figures,” he said. “Throughout, mining and quarrying has come in negative. Please understand this is on the back of a very sharp increase in mining and quarrying activity in 2015-16.”

There were, however, some downsides to the data, Mr. Subramanian pointed out.

“Private investment is down substantially, which needs to be watched,” he said. “And some of the growth in GDP is on the strength of government spending.”

Gross fixed capital formation, a proxy for private sector investment, was only 29 per cent of GDP in Q2 of this financial year as compared with 32.9 per cent in the same quarter of 2015-16. Government final consumption expenditure, on the other hand, was 13 per cent of GDP in the second quarter of this financial year compared with 12.1 per cent in the previous year.

“Growth continues to be driven by consumption expenditure and higher spending by the government to aid recovery,” Mr. Chakravarty of Deloitte India added. “That said, given the latest move to demonetise along with limited room for government spending, the outlook for the current year seems grim.”

Fiscal deficit

A separate data release by the government showed that the fiscal deficit in October stood at 79.3 per cent of Budget Estimates down from 83.9 per cent in September.

Total revenue receipts as of October accounted for 50.7 per cent of Budget Estimates for the full year, up from 41.2 per cent in September. Total expenditure as of October accounted for 58.2 per cent of Budget Estimates up from 52 per cent in September.

“Both tax and non-tax revenue collections jumped during the month of October,” Richa Gupta, Senior Economist, Deloitte India said.

“It is important to note that the government has not fallen back on expenditure and has a higher level of planned expenditure as compared to the same period last year,” Mr. Gupta said.

  • Confessions of a bird man

I cannot think of a morning without birds. I always need a piece of nature, before my coffee and the newspaper. If the first two are odes to culture, birds capture nature for me. Between walking and watching birds, my sense of the cosmos is renewed. There is an everydayness to birds which is fascinating. For me they do not merely greet the morning, they are the morning. They are the morning rituals of play and therapy where nature reminds you of the enchantment of life. There is an eccentricity about each of them that I found fascinating.

My bird of the month is the stork. For gluttons, they are graceful in fight and walk and I confess I find their watch therapeutic. The stork walking the grass, stacking worms has a touch of the comic. It seems to be perpetually rehearsing its steps, imitating itself to see if it can do better. If they realise the lawn is being mowed, they dance in anticipation reeling deliriously behind the lawnmower celebrating the new harvest of life to be consumed.

Next to them, the crow is an everyday affair. To call or suggest a flock of crows insults their singularity. A crow, at least in relation to a spectator, is an individualist, an egotist, a performer. The crow reminds me of an everyday philosopher at work; whether it is teasing a trail of water out of a half-punctured pipe or playing near a dustbin, there is a touch of the experimentalist to the crow. A delightfully urban bird that charmed the cartoonist R.K. Laxman into drawing it. The crow is animation incarnate, a living cartoon looking sceptically at itself.

The language of kinship

Recently, an American lawyer narrated a legal battle around crows to me. The population of the Hawaiian crow, Alala, once virtually ubiquitous, had been drastically reduced to a mere 21. Stunned by the decimation, Hawaiians argued that merely being labelled an endangered species was not adequate, the Alala should be given the rights and status of a person. I sensed the beauty of the argument.

I sensed this same feeling when tribes in Arunachal Pradesh objected to a hydroelectric project on the Tawang river, contending that the river was a nesting ground for black-necked cranes. The crane, the tribe believed, was a reincarnation of the sixth Dalai Lama. The court upheld the claim, sensing in a deep way the relation between survival and the sacred, hinting that in a way the language of rights is a poor language for the sacrament.

I realise Aesop and the Ramayana might have done more to save birds than any legislation. Myths and festivals do more to sustain birds and other species than legislation. Legislations are contracts, they deal with ownership and property. Myths tap into the unconscious. Rituals play into the tacit understandings of a society. I still remember a Pongal festival where a wide variety of rice was cooked. My sisters used to teach me to make little rice balls, spread them out on a banana leaf, and then remind me “one was for the sparrow, the other for the crow”. These childhood rituals of affinity and caring did more for me than any later culture in ecology. As a child, I always thought that birds were ritual time keepers announcing the rhythms and seasons of nature.

I loved watching birds in flight. They choreographed the sky, mapped out a dream time as a child watched them. Birds in flight suggested deeper mysteries about migration and evolution that one dreamt about. I am glad my generation was allowed its sense of mysteries and riddles. Big questions were not downloaded in instant time and riddles reduced to information — one sat and chewed on them.

There was only one bird I was never fond of, and it was the pigeon. The pigeon somehow never seemed a fact of nature. It seemed native to the urban habitat. It seemed at home in flats, on pipes, creating nests and muck, little imitations of urban life I could not quite appreciate. I was envious because the pigeon loved the innards of houses and the city. Its addiction for the urban put me off.

As a child I always felt pigeons were born simultaneously with middle-income housing. Even dogs, stray dogs could not quite compete with pigeons in their addiction to the city.

A composite identity

Watching birds in childhood leaves memory traces behind. Their performance as outlines, stances, tactics remain in one’s head and I later realise I often choreograph the world with prototypes of them in my head. Doing this often I suddenly realise how easily a totemic nature with plants and animals develops. One senses a spiritual double in an animal or bird, an affinity, even a kinship one wishes to articulate in ritual ways. The primordial sense of childhood understands the need for these affinities. They tap into some deeper evolutionary unconscious. In India, a person evolves not just in relation to animals, birds, trees, soils. My genealogy is not complete without my songlines to birds. My identity as genuinely part crane, part crow. I can fully resonate with tribals’ understanding and addressing animals as brother bear. Modern education has amputated these affinities in creating a sanitary idea of citizenship. Today when birds disappear I feel a part of me is already fading away and that I too am doomed to extinction. Yet I cannot speak in the language of sustainability.

The science of extinction I grasp but without mourning, all we have is a pathologist’s report. Without my birds nature becomes a kind of empty time. But as I hear the chorus of sparrows, crows, mynas, cranes welcome the day, while the parrot screeches out a later entry, I feel my sanity returning. I remember a sacred prayer in gratitude realising that as long as birds are out on the grass, to quote a poet, god is not yet tired of the world.

 

 

  • Reeling out patriotism

Why is it always the movies? Take smoking. There are many ways to bring it down. You can stop the sale of single sticks, force people to buy a pack every time they feel like lighting up. You can raise the cost of packs. What we get instead is a disclaimer at the bottom of the screen every time the villain’s henchman is caught chomping on a bidi.

There is an artistic argument against this imposition. Woody Allen refused to allow Blue Jasmine to be screened in India with this disclaimer, saying that “when the scroll comes, attention goes to it rather than the scene”. But brush aside artistry and just consider logic. If the reasoning is that films are widely seen and that this tiny print at the bottom is an educational measure against a harmful act, then why not a disclaimer every time a rape occurs on screen? Or every time a man stalks a woman, trying to get her to reciprocate his love? Or every time thieves hatch a plan to rob a bank?

Popcorn patriotism

And now, the Supreme Court has ruled that the national anthem must be played in cinema halls across the country before a film is screened, and everyone present must stand to pay respect. Forget, for a minute, the arguments about personal choice, about freedom in a democracy. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin put it best in these lines he wrote for the scarily prescient The American President, when an Obama-like liberal finally rose to respond to the accusations of a scaremongering demagogue. “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing centre stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.” That this Utopia is becoming (or has become) a pipe dream is no longer under contest.

But why movies? There are many situations and avenues that warrant the national anthem, if the purpose is indeed to teach people the words. (That is part of the Supreme Court ruling’s agenda.) It makes sense to play the anthem every day at school and college. (Catch them young.) It perhaps makes sense before television news — this is, after all, news about the nation. It may make sense when our cricket team beats England. It may even make sense before certain films — serious films like Swades or Border that deal with “nationalistic” subjects. But how can the compulsory presentation of the national anthem before a Sunny Leone or Salman Khan-starrer be considered a form of respect?

To expect “pride” from a ticket buyer who wants nothing more than to forget his troubles with overpriced popcorn and soda, and a mindless movie, is even more of a pipe dream. One could make the case that we are, in fact, disrespecting the anthem by associating it with a medium that — nine times out of ten — makes no bones about being “commercial”. In other words, after standing up for the anthem, you’re going to be sitting down for a cleavage-popping item number.

Theatre of the absurd

bhajan belongs in a temple, and even if sung or played outside, it retains its reason for being only when it’s a festival or at an event that’s holy and pure, untainted by commercial considerations. The national anthem is not unlike a bhajan. It’s an expression of one’s reverence for the country. It stirs the soul, makes us feel patriotic even when things around us make us angry about the state of the nation. But enforced patriotism is simply transforming a private emotion into tokenistic public spectacle. You stand up not necessarily because you want to, but because if you don’t, you’re likely to labelled a traitor, or worse, screamed at or assaulted by self-styled nationalists, which is what happened at a Panaji theatre in October with poet, disability activist and writer Salil Chaturvedi, who did not stand up for the national anthem because he could not stand up. He was in a wheelchair.

Chaturvedi was quoted as saying, “I just don’t understand why it seems impossible for so many people to express patriotism in a non-aggressive manner.” And there are many ways to prove your love for your country. You could contribute to flood relief or volunteer in a tsunami-stricken area or ensure the domestic help has enough cash till she gets used to plastic — all of this is a form of loving, caring for, respecting the nation. Because a nation is its people. Love Indians, and you love India. But that, apparently, isn’t enough. Now you have to prove it every time you watch Rajinikanth beat up a hundred bad guys. Somewhere, Manoj Kumar is smiling and readying his next script.

 

  • Turning turtle

In September this year, the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Department issued an order that banned all forms of fishing within a radius of 5 nautical miles (9.3 km) at 90 sites along the State’s coastline. It was passed to safeguard migrating olive ridley sea turtles. Extending from January to the end of April, the ban is applicable across eight coastal districts — from Chennai in the north to Kanyakumari in the south.

Is such an extreme measure necessary? Do such bans actually aid the conservation of olive ridleys?

Alarmist accounts

The ban can be traced back to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in the Madras High Court, interrogating the State government’s efforts on turtle conservation. It was filed by the judges themselves (suo motu) who were moved by a newspaper article (January 2015) on the nature of fisheries-induced mortality of sea turtles. But the fact is that when turtles drown in trawl nets, it is incidental and not intentional capture. Further, it is true that thousands of turtles nest between January and March only if one considers the entire coast of Tamil Nadu, not just Chennai. However, the olive ridley is the most common sea turtle species worldwide, so the State constitutes only a small part of their breeding habitat, even on India’s east coast.

The High Court, advised by its amicus curiae, ordered the State government to furnish details on measures it had taken to protect the turtles in Tamil Nadu. Eventually a “standard operating procedure” (SOP) was submitted by the Fisheries Department. Next, the court appointed an independent expert to audit the government’s report. His assessment pronounced the government’s measures as deficient and once again emphasised the significance and decline of the sea turtle population in the State to argue for a more intensive conservation programme. Together, the newspaper article and the audit report helped construct an unwarranted sense of crisis with respect to the olive ridley.

Unfortunately, this resembles the situation in Odisha where some conservationists have raised an alarm for over a decade but turtle populations have remained stable despite the high mortality. But the adversarial approach has only served to set back attempts to hold discussions between fishing communities and conservationists.

Solutions sans imagination

In Tamil Nadu, following the standard, narrow script of wildlife-in-crisis, the audit report made a series of recommendations to severely restrict various fishing operations. However, it did note that the Fisheries Department’s intention to ban all types of craft and gear during the turtle breeding season would “create unnecessary hardship to small-scale fishers”. Instead, the report clearly stated that the ban should apply only to motorised vessels above 10 HP, and larger mechanised ones. But certain conservation groups in the State proposed changes to the SOP that were once again drastic in nature; these include intensive surveillance, patrolling and confiscation of certain gears. There was absolutely no mention of consultation with the affected parties and only a vague recommendation that compensation must be provided.

On the other hand, the regulation of marine fisheries does remain a key issue here. In the 1960s, the State’s Fisheries Department began focussing on increasing production and offered extensive support for mechanised fishing. This created intense conflicts because small-scale fishers found themselves marginalised by the department’s programmes on land and mechanised fishers at sea. It was to protest against such biased policies that the National Fishworkers’ Forum was formed. One of its significant moves was to force the government to pass the Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing (Regulation) Act (TNMFRA) in 1983. The Act restricts the operation of mechanised vessels (over 15 HP) to areas beyond 3 nautical miles (5.5 km) but within the territorial limits, so that coastal waters are reserved for small-scale fishing.

However, in practice, the TNMFRA is poorly enforced and it is militant protests by small-scale fishers in the southern districts of the State that have led to some restrictions on trawling, at least in these areas.

So it seems entirely unjust that this Act is now being used to ostensibly protect turtles and altogether ban small-scale fishing in 90 locations. Again, this situation mirrors Odisha where laws originally created to protect small-scale fishermen were invoked to harass them under the pretext of turtle conservation. A decade of experience there shows that this helps neither fishers nor turtles. Finally, by suggesting that the responsibility of fixing a long-term, complex fisheries problem should be divided between multiple agencies under the umbrella of the Sea Turtle Task Force, conservationists in Tamil Nadu have actually helped to disperse accountability.

Long-term perspective

Due to this narrow focus on a single species and its presumed decline, the Tamil Nadu turtle conservation campaign has missed the opportunity to tackle the underlying problem of faulty fisheries policies and their impact on both the marine environment and the people dependent on them. In addition, by not explicitly acknowledging the rights of small-scale fishers, their long-standing demand for better State regulation of the marine sector and their support for turtle conservation in the past, the campaign has further alienated this community. Even if the ban were to be repealed, the sense of injustice is sharp and will diminish support for turtle conservation. Extreme approaches to conservation have repeatedly proved counterproductive in India. Building community support and driving policy changes that ensure socioeconomic justice may seem like tedious alternatives but they are essential for long-term conservation and sustainability.

  • India’s missing girl children

It is a cruel irony of a fast-growing India that there are fewer and fewer girls as a ratio of total births, as a result of complex factors that include parental preference. New data from the Civil Registration System of the Registrar General of India point to the hardening of the pattern, with a fall in sex ratio at birth from 898 girls to 1,000 boys in 2013, to 887 a year later. This depressing trend is consistent with evidence from the Census figures of 2001 and 2011. What is shocking is that the overall data mask the horror of particular districts and panchayats falling well below the national ratio, especially in the zero-to-six years assessment category. The scourge has, in some cases, prompted the Supreme Court to take note of the situation, and the National Human Rights Commission to ask for an explanation from State governments. In the understanding of the Centre, which it has conveyed to Parliament, girls stand a poor chance at survival because there is a “socio-cultural mindset” that prefers sons, girls are seen as a burden, and family size has begun to shrink. The BJP-led government responded to the silent crisis with the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign, which focusses on the prevention of sex-selective abortions, creation of opportunities for education and protection of girl children. Now that the scheme is set to enter its third year in January, there should be a speedy assessment of its working, particularly in districts with a poor sex ratio where it has been intensively implemented.

A wider assessment needs to be made on why States such as Tamil Nadu with a strong social development foundation have slipped on sex ratio at birth (834), going by the CRS data for 2014. The cradle baby scheme was started in 1992 in Tamil Nadu to raise the survival chances of girl children by encouraging mothers to give them anonymously for adoption. Yet, the latest numbers, together with the persistence of the programme after 24 years, and 260 babies being abandoned in just one centre over a six-year period, make it clear that national policy has achieved little in real terms. Clearly, there is a need to go beyond slogans and institute tangible schemes. Enforcement of the law that prohibits determination of the sex of the foetus must go hand in hand with massive social investments to protect both immediate and long-term prospects of girls — in the form of cash incentives through registration of births, a continuum of health care, early educational opportunities and social protection. Half-measures cannot produce a dramatic reversal of the shameful national record.

 

  • As India goes digital, hacking targets multiply

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter account was hacked and some expletives-laden tweets were posted. A day later, Congress Party’s official Twitter account got breached.

“In either of the case I am certain there is more data in the hands of the hackers than just account access that might be released in due course of time,” said Saket Modi, co-founder of cybersecurity start-up, Lucideus Tech.

At a time when an increasing number of Indians are going digital and doing transactions online, these hacking incidents expose the country’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

In India, there has been a surge of about 350 per cent of cybercrime cases registered under the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 from the year of 2011 to 2014, according to a joint study by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Mr. Modi of Lucideus said the hacking of the social media networks of Mr. Gandhi and Congress Party can be a potential backdoor malware being present on a computer system on which both the accounts might have been simultaneously accessed. He said this can also be a long persistent and targeted attack called ‘spear phishing’. It is an e-mail spoofing fraud attempt that targets a specific organisation or individual. It seeks unauthorised access to confidential data.

Spoofing banks

Researchers in India at cyber security company Fire Eye discovered phishing websites created by cybercriminals that spoof 26 Indian banks in order to steal personal information from customers. FireEye said that it has notified the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team.

“Criminals follow the money, and as more Indians embrace online banking, criminals followed them online,” said Vishak Raman, Senior Director for India and SAARC at FireEye in a statement. He said as the digital economy grows, consumers should be aware of the risks that accompany the convenience. He said the ease of online payments opens new avenues for criminals to trick consumers into divulging their own sensitive banking information.

For instance, FireEye said that it has identified a new domain (csecurepay.com) registered in October this year, that appears to be an online payment gateway. But it is actually a phishing website that leads to the capturing of customer information from 26 banks operating in India. The company said that in this phishing attack, victims are asked to enter their account number, mobile number, email address, one-time password and other details.

Once the information is collected, the website displays a fake failed login message to the victim. The phishing site served fake logins from 26 banks, including large banks such as ICICI, HDFC and State Bank of India, according to FireEye.

Using the registration details of this domain, FireEye security researchers identified a second domain (nsecurepay.com) registered by the same attacker in August. This domain appears to be created to steal credit and debit card information including ICICI, Citibank, Visa and MasterCard and SBI debit card details. But it was observed to be producing errors at the time of discovery, according to FireEye.

Google accounts

Experts are also seeing a shift in the strategy of hackers, who are now targeting mobile devices in order to obtain the sensitive information that is stored on them. Israeli cyber security firm Checkpoint said that its security researchers have revealed a new variant of Android malware, breaching the security of more than one million Google accounts.

The new malware campaign, named Gooligan, roots Android devices and steals email addresses and authentication tokens stored on them. With this information, attackers can access users’ sensitive data from Gmail, Google Photos, Google Docs, Google Play and Google Drive, according to Check Point.

“This theft of over a million Google account details is very alarming and represents the next stage of cyber- attacks,” said Michael Shaulov, Check Point’s head of mobile products in a statement.

Check Point’s Mobile Research Team first encountered Gooligan’s code in the malicious SnapPea app last year.

In August 2016, the malware reappeared with a new variant and has since infected at least 13,000 devices per day. About 40 per cent of these devices are located in Asia and about 12 per cent are in Europe.

Infected app

The infection begins when a user downloads and installs a Gooligan-infected app on a vulnerable Android device, or by clicking on malicious links in phishing attack text messages.

“As part of our ongoing efforts to protect users from the Ghost Push family of malware, we’ve taken numerous steps to protect our users and improve the security of the Android ecosystem overall,” said Adrian Ludwig, Google’s director of Android security. Google said it contacted affected users and revoked their tokens, removed apps associated with the Ghost Push family from Google Play, and added new protections to its verify Apps technology.

  • Sagarmala could deepen India’s trade and investment ties with China

India’s decision to rapidly develop ports, especially along the east coast, and China’s renewed focus on an expansion of its harbours are resulting in an unintended fusion of the Sagarmala initiative and Beijing’s Maritime Silk Road (MSR).

The ports of Krishnapatnam and Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh as well as the Colachel Port in Tamil Nadu are among the new hubs of coastal development, linked with the Sagarmala initiative — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project of having a string of world class ports, enmeshed with well-connected industrial clusters in the hinterland.

“In a way, Sagarmala follows the same model pursued by China, where the coastal centres of the Shenzhen, Shanghai and Guangzhou became engines for opening up a vast hinterland,” says Jithendra Nimmagadda, Chief Operating Officer of Krishnapatnam Port, in a conversation with The Hindu . Mr. Nimmagadda was in Changsha, to convince Chinese businessmen about the Krishnapatnam port as a pivot for promoting India-China trade and investment ties.

The conference was co-hosted by the Indian Consulate General in Guangzhou and the local branch of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT).

Brainstorming session

A feisty brainstorming session that followed, where Chinese entrepreneurs keen to leave a footprint in India probed for distilled practical information, ended with the establishment of a Liaison Office of the China India Business Council (CIBC). The organisation, though formed in 1985 to promote Sino-Indian business ties, had gone into deep hibernation.

But Chinese officials of Hunan Province, of which Changsha is the capital, are now upbeat that the new Liaison office can help revive the apex CIBC. “It would be an interesting idea now to visit Beijing to awaken the CIBC,” observes Deng Luo Xing, a senior CCPIT official based in Changsha.

Unlike India, China is now at the cusp of a second cycle of port-led growth as part of the MSR. An inter-ministerial document on the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, which includes both the land and maritime wings of a massive connectivity plan spanning Asia, Europe and Africa, earmarks some of the lesser-known ports for major expansion.

Apart from Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the document lists Zhanjiang, Qingdao, Yantai and Dalian, as among the shore-based gateways that are set for a facelift.

The Chinese list docks well with some of the harbours, including Krishnapatnam’s, which fall within the Sagarmala blueprint. “The Maersk shipping line has direct connectivity with four ports in China — Shanghai, Qingdao, Zhanjiang, and Nansha. These four ports are directly connected to Krishnapatnam port on a weekly basis,” observes Mr. Nimmagadda.

Though not on the coastline, its integration with a nation-wide rail and road network positions Changsha prominently as one of the pivots of both the MSR, as well as the New Silk Road land corridor.

The city has high speed rail connectivity with the ports of Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. It is also the starting point of trains heading out to Duisburg in Germany—a distance of around 11,000 km — along the Eurasian land corridor.

From the perspective of India, impatient to modernise its railway system, Hunan’s status as the manufacturer of both high-speed and Maglev trains has been a big draw.

“I am extremely happy to note that CRH, the company that manufactures high speed trains, is seriously looking at the Indian market for cooperation,” says Silas Thangal, India’s consul general based in Guangzhou at the seminar.

Cultural ties

Officials in Changsha are also keen to revive cultural ties, with Buddhism—the shared heritage of India and China—as the foundation. “We should be looking at developing the Buddhist circuit with India as our natural partner to add a strong cultural dimension to our growing ties,” says He Jian, chairman of CCPIT in Hunan.

The proposal is echoed by Li Yi Yu, a professor at the Public Management School of Xiangtan University. “Reviving cultural linkages should be a very creative exercise in Hunan, Buddhism is uniquely combined with elements of Confucius thought and Taoism.”

  • Notes for a cashless economy

India’s economic landscape, in terms of everyday transactions, has been transformed, so to say, in one fell swoop. The life of every Indian, from a corporate CEO to a cobbler, has changed like never before ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced the trailblazing decision to withdraw old Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 currency notes from circulation.

The biggest reform, with a purpose

Apart from turning out to be the biggest economic reform in independent India, this revolutionary measure is making it incumbent upon everyone to embrace and promote digital platforms for money transactions. Necessity is the mother of invention, to use a clichéd adage. Herein lies the importance of the crucial and game-changing role the youth and other digitally literate people can play in educating the unlettered and semi-literate men and women in the use of mobiles and digital platforms for money transactions.

The November 8 announcement was basically aimed at eliminating the twin menaces of black money and corruption, apart from dealing a death blow to Pakistan’s terror-funding machine and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)-sponsored counterfeit currency industry. It has also given a god-sent opportunity for providing a huge thrust to the digital economy and reap a bouquet of benefits that would accrue from such an all-encompassing transformation the country is going to witness in the days and months to come. The positive cascading effect would give a major fillip to our formal economy and help improve the country’s GDP in the long run.

There comes a time in the history of a nation when a major shake-up has to be effected by taking a momentous decision to bring about a tectonic shift in the attitudes of people, especially those who have been exploiting and milking the loopholes in the system for begetting illegal and tainted wealth.

Despite having a deep understanding of the temporary difficulties it might cause to the common man, the Prime Minister, in a courageous move, decided to withdraw Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 denominations in view of the gigantic proportions black money was acquiring, leading to a virtual parallel economy. He was also aware of the growing menace of counterfeit currency being pumped into the country from across the border and the sinister manner in which it was being used by terrorists, smugglers, separatists, women and child traffickers and drug dealers. He took this timely and path-breaking decision to prevent the shadow economy from causing any further damage to the country.

Not a sudden decision

The decision was not sudden. Mr. Modi took all the necessary precautions and alerted the nation about the likely stringent measures the government would be taking to unearth black money. Who should fear the consequences of such a historic decision? The answer is simple. Only those in possession of ill-gotten, unaccounted money in our country and those with sinister motives and evil designs across the border.

Soon after the National Democratic Alliance came to power in 2014, the Union Cabinet at its very first meeting constituted an SIT (special investigation team) headed by the former Supreme Court judge, M.B. Shah, to go into the issue of black money.

Similarly, at the very first G20 Summit he had attended at Brisbane in November 2014, Mr. Modi stridently took up the issue of black money with other global leaders. “Increased mobility of capital and technology has created new opportunities for avoiding tax and profit sharing. I urge every jurisdiction, especially tax havens, to provide information for tax purposes in accordance with treaty obligations,” he told the world leaders. This forceful pitch by the Prime Minister led to the inclusion of a clause on combating tax evasion in the final communiqué.

Later, the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015 came into force on July 1, 2015 for disclosure of foreign black money within three months by paying 60 per cent tax.

Other measures include the constitution of a Multi-Agency Group (MAG) on the Panama Paper leaks and the passage of the Benami Transaction Bill, 2015, an anti-black money measure, in the Lok Sabha. India also inked agreements with many countries, including the U.S. to add new provisions for sharing banking information. Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAA) were also signed with countries which were considered safe tax havens such as Mauritius and Cyprus. India also joined the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement on Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information (AEOI) to combat tax evasion and unearth black money. Later the Income Declaration Scheme was announced and, finally, the Prime Minister warned during his “Mann Ki Baat” address to the nation that the time is up for black money hoarders.

Support and the road map

As the country is passing through this momentous phase, marking a tectonic shift, it is our good fortune that most Indians — be they illiterate or literate, rich or poor, rural or urban dwellers — are lending their wholehearted support to the Prime Minister’s drive against black money and corruption. At this juncture, one should salute the common Indian for bearing this temporary inconvenience with fortitude and patience in the larger interest of the country. That people are in sync with the Prime Minister was also reflected in opinion polls carried out by various agencies.

Another testimony of this support was captured in the results of the recently held by-elections in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. In the municipal elections held in Maharashtra and Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power, clearly indicating that the people were willing to suffer temporary pain for long-term gain.

The Prime Minister’s agenda for moving towards digital transfer of money is the need of the hour wherein day-to-day transactions take place without cash. Yes, in a society as layered and complex as ours, the challenges that lie ahead are many, but the road map has been laid out in a statesman-like fashion by the Prime Minister.

The government on its part has suggested various measures for people to move towards a less-cash economy. Transactions in physical currency would gradually come down as more and more people switch over to digital currency.

An important aspect that should be noted here is that India has the highest use of cash in the world, according to MasterCard report. It is apparent that such high use of cash would only strengthen the country’s informal economy, which is not in the larger interest of the nation. Reduced use of cash would choke the grey economy, curb money laundering and result in increased tax collections to the government’s coffers. All this would ultimately benefit the common man, as a less cash economy would plug loopholes in the public system.

Jan Dhan, Aadhar and Mobile

The Prime Minister has steered the country in the right direction for people to move towards digital transactions — right from the launch of the Jan Dhan Yojana to JAM (Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile) and other initiatives, including the Micro Units Development & Refinance Agency Ltd. (MUDRA) Bank, all of which are a demonstration of his commitment towards improving the living standards of every Indian.

With Aadhaar acting as an important link between the people and the government, the common citizen need no longer do the bidding of unscrupulous and corrupt officials to secure what is rightfully his.

A Moody’s report has pegged the impact of electronic transactions to 0.8 per cent increase in GDP in emerging markets as against 0.3 per cent increase in developed markets. People need to make full use of electronic payments as they are faster and easier to trace.

The various options towards a cashless or less-cash economy include Unified Payments Interface (UIP), Bank Card, prepaid cards, using various cards at any PoS (point of sale)/ ATM, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) based mobile banking, Aadhaar-enabled payment system (AEPS) and e-wallet or digital wallet.

As part of the drive to promote digital transactions, the Prime Minister himself conducted a workshop for his personal staff. Various ministries too are undertaking similar workshops for their respective staff.

Eventually, it is planned to ensure that every transaction takes place through the mobile phone. With more than 1,033 million mobile phones in India, including about 250-300 million smartphones, an important requirement is change of mindset among all sections — I am sure every Indian would become part of this awe-inspiring initiative launched by the Prime Minister to take the Indian economy to majestic heights.

  • Due diligence, unsafe drugs

Good intentions alone are not enough to secure the public interest. For governments, the manner in which it is protected is equally vital. The Delhi High Court verdict quashing all notifications banning the manufacture and sale of 344 Fixed Dose Combination (FDC) drugs is a lesson in how not to administer a regulatory law. The ban on combination drugs that have little therapeutic value was undoubtedly done for bona fide reasons. However, the government could not convince the court that the ban was valid despite statutory bodies such as the Drug Testing Advisory Board (DTAB) and the Drugs Consultative Committee (DCC) not being involved in the process. There is little doubt that a number of combination drugs should be taken off the shelf. The government believes, as do many health activists, that some combinations are unsafe and/or promote antibiotic resistance, while others lack particular therapeutic value, justification or advantage. Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw has correctly refrained from going into the merits of the ban, and has chosen to subject to scrutiny the process by which the decision was arrived at. While concluding that the ban was invalid because the power under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act was exercised without consulting the DTAB and DCC, he has found that the government went about the process in a haphazard manner.

Initially it was noted that in the case of FDC drugs for which manufacturing licences were granted by State licensing authorities between September 1988 and October 2012, the process was done without any approval from the Drugs Controller. When they applied afresh to the Centre, on being asked to do so, their applications were not considered by the Drugs Controller; instead, the Centre formed 10 committees. When these panels failed to consider all the applications, another one, the Kokate Committee, was formed. However, this panel went into the question whether these drugs posed a risk to consumers or lacked therapeutic value and justification. Based on its report, the Centre issued notifications banning these FDCs. In effect, the Centre seemed to have delegated its power to ban drugs to a non-statutory committee, when the Act itself provided for expert bodies through which technical aspects of administering the law were to be considered. The government ought to have been more mindful of the processes. It is possible that an appeal will be filed on the legal aspects of the judgment, but the real lesson from the episode concerns governance, and not the law alone.

  • Making of a legislative court

The Supreme Court of India, on November 30, gave an order that the national anthem will have to be played before feature films at cinema halls all over the country, and that those present in these halls are obliged to stand up to show respect. Similar orders on respecting the national anthem have been delivered by two High Courts in recent years. Indeed such an order is not in any way an aberration in the post-Emergency trajectory of the higher judiciary. A few months back, the Madras High Court mandated that Thirukkural be taught in all schools in Tamil Nadu. Currently, in another case, the Supreme Court is considering making yoga compulsory in schools. While patriotism, education and health may all perhaps be desirable goals, what is common here is the court compulsorily prescribing highly specific modes of pursuing these lofty aims. Such judicial decisions have three other common attributes. First, all such cases are in the PIL (public interest litigation) jurisdiction. Second, they rely on Fundamental Duties and/or an expanded notion of Directive Principles, with a barely concealed contempt for Fundamental Rights. Third, the judges do not feel any need to justify their decisions in legal terms.

Invitation to legislate

While PIL was defined by its dilution of locus standi, two new ways of conceptualising standing in PIL were initially envisaged: representative standing and citizen standing. The first would be in a case similar to a class-action suit, except with a non-class member representing the larger group. A petitioner under citizen standing, on the other hand, was to stand for the entire citizenry of India rather than individual victims of injustice. While both categories have been present since the inception of PIL, there has been a definite trend away from representative standing towards citizen standing. A PIL of the kind filed by the petitioner Shyam Narayan Chouksey is of the latter kind and is really an invitation to legislate. In fact, an order of this sort could only be made under the PIL jurisdiction, as it enables any citizen to come to court professing public concern on any issue, asking the court to act upon it. It should also not be surprising that Mr. Chouksey has had repeated success with the same judge over the same issue. The impulse to legislate as well as allegations of soliciting petitioners with their pet issues go back to the hallowed days of PIL under Justice P.N. Bhagwati. Passing far-reaching interim orders without any urgency, like in the anthem case, rather than in reasoned judgments is also unexceptional. Being a frankly legislative court, the Supreme Court does not feel the need to give any reasons, as legal scholar Tarunabh Khaitan has argued. Such are the occupational hazards of PIL.

The order of November 30 declares: “Be it stated, a time has come, the citizens of the country must realize that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to National Anthem which is the symbol of the Constitutional Patriotism and inherent national quality. It does not allow any different notion or the perception of individual rights, that have individually thought of have no space. The idea is constitutionally impermissible.” The only statutory provisions the order relied on are Fundamental Duties. These Duties are, perhaps not coincidentally, currently in vogue even outside the judiciary. Last week, when November 26 was celebrated as ‘Constitution Day’ for the first time, the exclusive focus of the University Grants Commission (UGC) directive to all universities and colleges for the occasion was to make students and teachers engage in activities propagating the Fundamental Duties.

A radical reshaping

No such Duties, however, existed in the original Constitution adopted on November 26, 1949. These provisions were incorporated by the 42nd amendment to the Constitution during the Emergency. It was passed by a Lok Sabha which had already finished its term of five years. This amendment radically reshaped the Constitution, amending as many as 59 Articles. The legacy of the 42nd amendment was partially undone by later amendments. But it could not be repealed in toto, and much of it remains in the Constitution, most prominent being its insertion of ‘Socialist’ and ‘Secular’ in the Preamble. This is unfortunate as the 42nd amendment should be undone in its entirety for the damage it has done to Indian democracy. To take a less conspicuous example, it froze delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies, the logic being States with higher population increase ought not to be ‘rewarded’ with more seats. Population control was thus deemed to be a more important principle than ‘one person, one vote.’ As a result, the average Lok Sabha seat in Rajasthan today represents a much larger population than one in Kerala.

The official aims of the 42nd amendment included giving Directive Principles “precedence over those Fundamental Rights that had frustrated the Principles’ implementation.” Indira Gandhi had carried out a campaign for overriding Fundamental Rights with Directive Principles ever since her electoral victory in 1971. Commitment to Directive Principles was precisely what was implied by her infamous call for a ‘committed judiciary’ during this period. Article 31C was inserted in the Constitution in 1971 through which any law declared to be implementing the socialistic directive principles of Articles 39(b) & 39 (c) could no longer be declared invalid even if they violated Articles 14, 19 or 31. This immunity was extended to all Directive Principles by the 42nd amendment in 1976. A similar immunity was to be granted to laws implementing Fundamental Duties, though this was not carried through. This approach then prevalent was pithily criticised by constitutional lawyer H.M. Seervai: “It was an unfounded assumption… that the Directive Principles were to secure social justice and the Fundamental Rights were mere selfish individual rights.”

An enduring legacy

It is important to understand that this is precisely the implicit logic of the national anthem order this week: pesky Fundamental Rights have to be made subservient to the higher ideals of national integration and/or social revolution. This mode of argument, in which alleged Constitutional goals trump Fundamental Rights, has been embraced by the judiciary and is an enduring legacy of Mrs. Gandhi’s populism of the 1970s. The apotheosis of Directive Principles was accepted in the judicial discourse of the post-Emergency period. While the 42nd amendment to Article 31C was struck down in 1980, even this judgment mirrored Mrs. Gandhi’s language in astonishing fashion.

What makes the order on the national anthem so representative of PIL’s orientation is the fact of its open hostility to the Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution. It has long been a popular misconception that PIL emerged as a corrective to the court’s capitulation to violations of civil liberties during the Emergency. In fact, the post-Emergency court has been steadfast in its support of such state lawlessness. In the infamous Habeas Corpus case of 1976, the court had upheld the constitutionality of the draconian Maintenance of Internal Security Act. Far from departing from this dark legacy, the Supreme Court has since repeatedly upheld an entire alphabet soup of repressive statutes from the National Security Act in 1980 to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in 1997. The populist spirit of the Emergency was never departed from by PIL and is entirely in conformity with its history. The underlying sense of judicial purpose in the post-Emergency period was derived not from entitlements drawn from rights, but from the goals of the Constitution. The courts had implicitly accepted the language of legitimation that Mrs. Gandhi’s formulation of ‘committed judiciary’ offered. As Professor Upendra Baxi pointed out in 1980, the court referred to ‘the people’ more frequently in 1977-79 than in 1950-77.

Even the so-called rights revolution of the post-Emergency court has involved an ever-expanding bunch of unnamed rights flowing from Directive Principles being read into Fundamental Rights. The ‘right to life jurisprudence’ under Article 21 has been extrapolated to include all kinds of socio-economic rights. The only right it seems to exclude is the literal mandate of Article 21, a negative right against any deprivation of life or personal liberty by the state in an illegal manner. While this Article became a receptacle for all manners of positive rights, the all-important civil right it was meant to embody no longer gets the respect it is due. Rights are meant to lead to remedies, but the proliferation of rights under Article 21 exemplifies what legal scholar Clark Cunningham called ‘Rights without Remedies’ and ‘Remedies without Rights’, that is, bare enunciation of unnamed rights without any chance of enforceability and its converse, grant of reliefs like state compensation as largesse without fixing responsibility.

The court’s deference to legislative wisdom in the case of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, abdicating its classic function of judicial review, contrasts neatly with orders such as the national anthem one, where the court happily legislates. With PIL, the post-Emergency Supreme Court is very rarely a court for judicial review and far more often, the court for judicial populism.

  • Democracy, direct to home

Delivering his third Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modihad remarked that he deliberately stayed away from populist measures that deplete exchequers and opted for a culture of governance. His referent point was, obviously, strategies that politicians employ to garner votes. In political theory, however, the term populism originates from the Latin term populous or ‘people’. If we take the political theory of populism as our cue, the Prime Minister appears quite a populist.

Let me hasten to add that in democratic contexts populists are not anti-democratic. On the contrary they claim to be true democrats, obsessed with rescuing democracy from the clutches of incompetent and venal elites. This class, it is alleged, has betrayed the confidence of citizens, and derailed the political system. Arvind Kejriwal does so directly and abrasively. Prime Minister Modi mockingly dismisses the Opposition. Both represent themselves as preferable alternatives to corrupt and non-performing elites. The second rescue operation launched by these leaders is to free popular sovereignty from the mediations of liberal democracy, and relocate the concept in ‘the people’. By appealing to ‘the people’ over the heads of democratic institutions deemed ineffectual and dishonest, populist leaders forge a personal constituency that they can confide in, admonish, and instruct.

Need for checks and balances

The problem is that ‘people’ is not a homogenous unit. The category is divided and hierarchised along the lines of class, caste, religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexual preferences. More significantly, ‘people’ are organised into majorities and minorities, and majorities — as our history tells us — can seriously impair the basic rights of minorities. For this precise reason, liberal democrats fear the ‘brute power’ of majorities and try to curtail the power of elected majorities through constitutions, legislation, judiciaries, and, more importantly, the institutionalisation of a system of checks and balances.

Notably, democracy is not only about a party that has won the largest number of seats taking over state power. It is about protecting the basic rights of all individuals, and, in particular, the rights of vulnerable minorities against depredations of majorities. This is secured through the establishment of procedures and institutions. That is why democratic governance is complex, time-consuming, and demanding. Each proposal has to go through several stages of scrutiny, including debates in the public sphere on the virtues or otherwise of the proposition on offer, before it is transformed into law. The insertion of layers of intermediary institutions that range from elected assemblies to civil society organisations, between citizens and the state, safeguards ordinary citizens against abuses of power.

The populist’s penchant

It is precisely the complicated procedural and institutional aspect of democracy that populist leaders are impatient with. They would rather reach out directly to citizens. There is, of course, nothing wrong with reaching out to people. The problem is that populist leaders show scant respect for the give and take of arguments during processes of decision-making. This can breed ominous outcomes: witness the sharp and painful crisis that followed demonetisation. The eminent statesman of ancient Athens, Pericles, had warned against decisions that do not take the consequences of a particular action into consideration. But populists defy laborious and cumbersome processes involving critique of, reflection on, and modification of proposed policy. They would rather take shortcuts and evoke naïve and simplistic notions of direct democracy. Direct democracy is, however, the ultimate illusion.

Let us not forget that in ancient Athens, participation in direct democracy was confined to property- and slave-owning males, provided they were born in the city-state. The rest were consigned to the lowly category of subjects. In complex societies, direct democracy simply does not work; it slides easily into populism and, worse, into the cult of the leader. Democracy is diminished.

Democracy is doubly diminished when the complexities of public opinion are simplified through the mechanism of snap referendums through the social media. Citizens have the right to debate on the pros and cons of ‘this’ or ‘that’ law, unearth hidden dimensions of issues, highlight grey areas, and propose alternatives. Snap polls that demand a simple answer — yes or no — in effect depoliticise the deliberative capacity of citizens and undermine their competence to skilfully debate all sides of an issue. It is precisely this aspect of deliberative democracy that populists avoid when they ask for instant referendums.

What history tells us

The proposition that populism harms democracy has been amply borne out by our history. Recollect Indira Gandhi, popularly known as the first populist leader in independent India. Taking over the reins of the Congress in adverse circumstances, she set out to consolidate her status. Regional leaders, who till then had wielded considerable influence in the party through a network of ‘big men’, were rendered irrelevant through the Kamaraj Plan, and by the 1969 split in the party. The announcement of radical programmes such as the abolition of privy purses of former princes and nationalisation of banks endeared Mrs. Gandhi to the political public. More significantly, she fashioned a nationwide constituency by detaching parliamentary elections from State Assembly elections. This enabled her to speak directly to citizens, and dispense with the mediation of regional satraps.

Mrs. Gandhi’s charisma, style and oratory gripped popular imagination. But the process of securing acclaim carried heavy costs. Concentration of power in the person of the Prime Minister spectacularly subverted democratic norms. Her call for a committed judiciary and a committed bureaucracy compromised the autonomy of both institutions. The Supreme Court undercut its own status as an impartial institution by supporting the Emergency declared by Mrs. Gandhi’s government.

More significantly, personalisation of power irreversibly damaged the Congress. Till the 1960s, the party was known as one that could skilfully reconcile diverse interests within the organisation. It had perfected the art of compromise. This changed after Mrs. Gandhi’s accession to power. The party was reduced to a group of courtiers paying ritual obeisance to a supreme leader. The Congress is today a pale shadow of what it used to be. Once it was a dynamic party that could mobilise millions, today the fate of the party is tied to the fate of the Gandhi family.

After Mrs. Gandhi, it is Mr. Modi who has caught the imagination of Indians across caste and class. He speaks directly and powerfully to them through the radio, social media, and televised speeches. We, of course, cannot respond to his suggestions. Most of his ministers do not utter a sentence except in his praise, his initiative, his courage, his imagination, and his expertise. What on earth has happened to the norm of collective responsibility, and to the status of the Prime Minister as the ‘first among equals’ in a parliamentary democracy? The BJP has till now privileged ideology and principles over individual leaders. Today the party hangs on to the coat-tails of the Prime Minister.

The BJP is not alone in this. The subordination of regional political parties to populist leaders has cast a shadow on the party system and on democracy. Parties mediate between leaders and citizens because they represent the interests of their constituency. Today parties have become practically irrelevant because the image of the leader looms large over them. This is a serious setback for democracy. A representative party system is infinitely preferable to personalised forms of power. It is time party organisations asserted their identity and control over leaders. Otherwise history will repeat itself not as ‘farce’, but as ‘tragedy’.

  • The message from Amritsar

India hosts the Heart of Asia (HoA) conference this week in Amritsar. It is aimed at speeding up reconstruction in war-torn Afghanistan and bringing peace and normalcy to the nation. It will see participation from 14 states: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates. The HoA process, supported by the wider international community, originated under the aegis of the Istanbul Conference in November 2011, which underscored the need for regional cooperation and confidence-building to resolve underlying problems facing Afghanistan and anchoring the state’s development in a regional environment that is stable, economically integrated and conducive to shared prosperity. New Delhi too has repeatedly underscored the need for improving connectivity in the region to help Afghanistan harness its trade and transit potential.

The Pakistan factor

Yet this conference comes at a time when India is looking to isolate Pakistan regionally and globally. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will jointly inaugurate the ministerial deliberations and try to put up a united front vis-a-vis Pakistan. Afghanistan’s envoy to India Shaida Abdali, in a joint press conference at the Ministry of External Affairs, made it clear that terrorism is the “creation of the region and the solution lies in the region. Therefore the upcoming HoA conference is very well timed.” He went on to suggest that terror must be dealt with effectively, not only for the sake of countries such as India and Afghanistan, but also for people in the country where “terrorism is nurtured”.

Afghanistan has been reviewing its policy towards Pakistan. In his address to a joint session of Afghanistan’s parliament this year, Mr. Ghani had threatened to lodge a formal complaint against Pakistan. In a departure from his earlier stand, he called on Pakistan to forego attempts to bring the Taliban to negotiations and take military action against them. “If we do not see a change, despite our hopes and efforts for regional cooperation, we will be forced to turn to the U.N. Security Council and launch serious diplomatic efforts,” he said. Despite Pakistan’s repeated assertions that it would go after Taliban leaders who refused to engage in the peace process involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, the U.S. and China, negotiations have stalled and deadly attacks in Afghanistan have increased.

Mr. Ghani’s government is struggling to hold key districts and has failed to hold overdue parliamentary elections amid a worsening security situation. U.S. President Barack Obama also decided to draw down troops to 8,400 by the end of his term, a change from his initial target of 5,500, in accordance with the views of the military. It is not clear what a Trump presidency would mean for Afghanistan, but it is safe to assume that Washington now wants to reduce its stake in the country and would like the regional states to do some heavy-lifting.

India’s policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan has also evolved. It has been demanding dismantling of safe havens and terror sanctuaries in the region besides pressing for deeper engagement of various stakeholders for Afghanistan’s stability and security. That’s easier said than done. Indian interests, including its Embassy and consulates, are repeatedly targeted in Afghanistan.

Evolving relations

Mr. Modi’s visit to Afghanistan to inaugurate the new parliament building last year and the decision by New Delhi to gift Mi-24 attack helicopters to Afghan forces are meant to underline India’s resolve to preserve its equities in a troubled neighbour. India also signed the TAPI pipeline agreement to showcase its continuing commitment to Afghanistan’s economic viability. China too is making it clear that it wants to have deeper security ties with Afghanistan, and there are plans to strengthen counter-terror and intelligence cooperation along with enhancing China’s role in the training of Afghan military and civilian personnel. China has become increasingly concerned about its extremists and separatists in Xinjiang, and sees security in Afghanistan as key to stability in China. Whether India and China can cooperate in Afghanistan is anybody’s guess, given China’s deepening ties with Pakistan. Though Beijing has been increasingly keen to see a political settlement in Afghanistan that ensures a stable balance of power, it is nevertheless placed well to deal with the less-than-desirable prospect of a Taliban resurgence.

New Delhi has so far shown an unusual tenacity in its dealings with Afghanistan, and a willingness to move beyond the binary of economic cooperation and military engagement and evolve a comprehensive policy which involves all dimensions of power. This has enhanced Indian credibility in Afghanistan which is a tough country. Only those who are willing to fight on multiple fronts will be able to preserve their leverage.

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  • The heart of the problem

There are good reasons why the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference, part of a 14-nation process begun in 2011 to facilitate the development and security of Afghanistan, is so named. The obvious one is geographical, as Afghanistan lies at the junction of Central, South and East Asia, and also of the ancient trading routes from China and India to Europe. Today it is also a focal point for the region’s biggest challenge of terrorism; some of the far-reaching battles against al-Qaeda, Islamic State, etc. will be decided on the battlegrounds of Afghanistan. For India, putting terror centre stage at the Heart of Asia declaration in Amritsar was thus timely and necessary. In tandem, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi focussed their concerns on cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan, something even Pakistan’s traditional allies at the conference, including China, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey, found difficult to counter. The case Mr. Ghani made was clear: progress and development in Afghanistan are meaningless and unsustainable without peace, and peace is contingent on Pakistan ending support to terror groups such the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba. He dared Pakistan to use its proposed development grant to Afghanistan to fight terror on its own soil.

However, if every window for engagement with Pakistan is closed for India and Afghanistan, the two countries must closely consider what their next step will be. A lack of engagement may, in the short term, yield some pressure on Pakistan’s leadership to act, as it did briefly after the Pathankot attack. But in the long run it may deplete the two countries of their limited leverage as Pakistan’s neighbours. It may, for all the affirmations of mutual ties, also succeed in driving more obstacles to trade between India and Afghanistan. In the past year, the cornering of Pakistan by its South Asian neighbours has only yielded deeper ties for Islamabad with Beijing and Moscow, pushed Kabul closer to Central Asia, and moved New Delhi towards multilateral groupings to the east and south. As a result, the measures India and Afghanistan have envisaged in order to avoid Pakistan, such as land trade from the Chabahar port and a dedicated air corridor between Delhi and Kabul, may prove to be insufficient by the time they are put in place, even as Afghanistan is connected more closely via a rail line from China’s Yiwu and Tehran. The Heart of Asia process thus remains critical to forging cooperation to realise Afghanistan’s potential to be a vibrant Asian “hub”.

  • States need to buck up

Policy priorities evolve or change with time. As we transition from Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are taking policy centre stage in most emerging and developing countries. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is, for instance, a manifestation of this importance. One vexing situation has been the large disparities in access to WASH services across different segments of the population. Worldwide, 663 million people lack access to safe water and 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation. In India, 128 million lack safe water services and about 840 million people don’t have sanitation services. How can this be improved?

Our search for answers began with an analysis of the various WASH policies formulated by the Central and State governments. Specifically, we analysed the robustness of WASH policies that were formulated in the last 15 years. Our assessment of robustness was based on the comprehensiveness of the policy document, that is, whether it clearly specified the following four parameters: the beneficiary segments; the barriers faced by the different segments; the strategies that would be used to improve outcomes; and the type of outcomes, namely, adequacy, accessibility, affordability, and quality and safety. The robustness of the policy was classified as high, moderate, or low depending on how many of the four parameters have been clearly mentioned in the policy. The argument is that policies that are highly robust can be more effective in improving WASH outcomes.

National and State policies

WASH sectors being concurrent subjects, policies have been formulated by the Central government and respective State governments. We compared the national and State policies for their robustness. It would have been expected that State policies would have a higher degree of robustness as they are closer to the site of implementation. On the contrary, we found that WASH policies formulated by State governments have low robustness as compared to that of national policies. The capacity for policymaking of State governments thus needs to be further strengthened.

We also compared the policy robustness of WASH policies from India with 10 other developing countries drawn from Asia and Africa. Results show a substantial scope for improvement in policy robustness for India. Only 22 per cent of the WASH policies from India could be classified as highly robust, whereas of the policies of 10 other developing countries, 75 per cent could be classified as highly robust. While the low proportion for India could be attributed to the large number of State policies in the sample, there is no denying that the comprehensiveness of Indian WASH policies can be further improved. Governments need to realise that it is not just enough to paint a vision of the big picture, and the details glossed over. To ensure effective implementation, there should be a synchronisation of beneficiary segments, barriers, strategies, and outcomes.

Beneficiary segments

Identification of the beneficiary segments is a key component of policy. The grandiose objective of ensuring universal coverage makes great political statement, but to be able to get through the distance demands a certain amount of granularity. The needs and barriers for segments of the population differ and consequently the strategies also need to be customised for the different segments. Therefore, policymakers have gradually moved away from a “one size fits all” approach to a more beneficiary-centric approach.

A traditional approach has been to segment the beneficiaries on the basis of geographical and social context (GSS). Population was therefore segmented as rural, urban, low income and so on. However, of late, segmenting the beneficiaries on the basis of the human life cycle (LCS) is gaining traction. Beneficiaries are thus segmented as children, adolescents, adults, senior citizens, and so on. We analysed the policy robustness for both the GSS and LCS segments. Policies showed a higher degree of robustness for GSS segments as compared to that of LCS segments. Contemporary thinking is that adoption of LCS can significantly help in improving the access to WASH services. However, the Indian policy engine seems to be more attuned to the GSS framework. To be able to achieve our WASH targets, it is imperative that our policies straddle both the LCS and GSS approaches, rather than restricting to the traditional GSS approach.

Enhancing policy robustness

Among the four parameters that influence policy robustness, identification of barriers has been the Achilles heel in a majority of the policies.

Just 11 per cent of the policies that we had assessed have identified the barriers for the different segments. The robustness of policies can be enhanced if more and more policies can focus on identifying the barriers faced by the different segments in accessing WASH services. Needless to say, better identification of barriers would also have a positive impact on subsequent downstream components such as formulation of strategies and outcomes.

To conclude, a job well begun is half done. Policies are like the mariner’s compass to the captains who are in charge of implementation of large developmental programmes. They provide direction to the steering hand and help to keep the course. A more robust policy would help in achieving better outcomes from WASH projects and programmes. Our analysis shows that WASH policies in India definitely need a robustness enhancement. Policy formulation, particularly at the State level, should be strengthened. Emergent paradigms such as LCS should be introduced in addition to the traditional GSS approaches. More importantly, barriers that come in the way of access to WASH services should be given considerable focus, and not relegated to a footnote.

Thillai Rajan A. is Professor, Department of Management Studies, IIT Madras. Email: thillair@iitm.ac.in. Reeba Devaraj is Principal Project Officer, Department of Management Studies, IIT Madras.

  • Grappling with water disputes

A permanent tribunal to adjudicate river water disputes between States will undoubtedly be a vast improvement over the present system of setting up ad hoc tribunals. The Union Cabinet’s proposal to have a permanent tribunal that will subsume existing tribunals is expected to provide for speedier adjudication. But whether this will resolve the problem of protracted proceedings is doubtful. Given the number of ongoing inter-State disputes and those likely to arise in future, it may be difficult for a single institution with a former Supreme Court judge as its chairperson to give its ruling within three years. Secondly, its interlocutory orders as well as final award are likely to be challenged in the Supreme Court. This month, in a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court said it had unfettered power to hear an appeal arising from a river water dispute tribunal under Article 136 of the Constitution. It has interpreted the ouster clause in the Inter-State Water Disputes Act as one that merely bars the court from entertaining an original complaint or suit on its own, but not its power to hear appeals against a tribunal’s decisions. Thus, finality and enforcement of a tribunal’s award may remain elusive. The idea of a Dispute Resolution Committee, an expert body that will seek to resolve inter-State differences before a tribunal is approached, will prove to be another disincentive for needless litigation.

A positive feature of the proposed changes is that there will be an expert agency to collect data on rainfall, irrigation and surface water flows. This acquires importance because party-States have a tendency to fiercely question data provided by the other side. A permanent forum having reliable data in its hands sounds like an ideal mechanism to apportion water. However, a confusing aspect is that benches of the permanent tribunal are going to be created to look into disputes as and when they arise. It is not clear in what way these temporary benches would be different from the present tribunals. A larger and more significant downside to any adjudicatory framework is the refusal or reluctance of parties to abide by judicial orders. Having an institutional mechanism is one thing, but infusing a sense of responsibility in those helming State governments is quite another. What is at stake is not merely a set of competing claims over riparian rights. Water disputes have humanitarian dimensions, including agrarian problems worsened by drought and monsoon failures. Adjudication, by whatever mechanism, should not be at the mercy of partisan leaders who turn claims into dangerously emotive issues. Institutional mechanisms should be backed by the political will to make them work.

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  • India, Indonesia resolve to fight terror

India and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, on Monday decided to expand their defence and maritime security ties and resolved to deal with terrorism.

During the talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the two countries, among the very few fast-growing large economies, also decided to boost trade and investment in the areas of oil and gas, renewable energy, information technology and pharmaceuticals.

The issue of South China Sea figured prominently. In a veiled message to Beijing, both sides said the dispute must be resolved through peaceful means.

Two memoranda of understanding were signed to provide for cooperation in youth affairs and sports and standardisation.

A joint communiqué on combating illegal and unregulated fishing was also firmed up.

In his statement, Mr. Modi said the talks focussed on the full range of cooperation and both countries agreed to prioritise defence and security cooperation and intensify efforts to ensure the safety and security of the sea lanes.

“As the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia stands for democracy, diversity, pluralism, and social harmony. These are also our values. Our nations and societies have nurtured strong bonds of commerce and culture throughout our history,” said Mr. Modii.

Asked whether India raised the issue of its national Gurdeep Singh facing the death sentence in Indonesia on drug charges, officials did not give a direct reply, but said the matter was under the judicial process in that country.

A joint statement said the two leaders condemned terrorism in all forms, saying there must be “zero tolerance” of acts of terror. It said all states must deal with transnational terrorism emanating from their territory through effective criminal justice response. “Both leaders discussed the threat from global terrorism and other transnational crimes and resolved to significantly enhance bilateral cooperation in combating terrorism, terror-financing, money-laundering, arms-smuggling, trafficking in human beings and cybercrime,” it said.

Mr. Modi and Mr. Widodo called upon all countries to implement the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 (banning militant groups and their leaders) and other resolutions designating terrorist entities. This is seen as an apparent reference to China blocking India’s move to get Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar designated as a global terrorist.

In what is seen as a message to Pakistan, the two leaders also asked all nations to work towards eliminating terrorist safe havens and infrastructure, disrupting terror networks and their financing channels and stopping cross-border terrorism.

Underscoring the need to improve connectivity and encourage people-to-people contacts, the two leaders welcomed the Indonesian airline Garuda starting direct flights from Jakarta to Mumbai.

Referring to the South China Sea dispute, in which Indonesia is a party, the two leaders called for resolving the issue through peaceful means and in accordance with the universally recognised principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). “…they urged all parties to resolve disputes through peaceful means, without resorting to threat or use of force and exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities, and avoid unilateral actions that raise tensions,” the statement said.

Both leaders reiterated support for reforms to the U.N. and its principal organs, including the Security Council, with a view to making the the global body more democratic, transparent and efficient.

On boosting defence ties, the two leaders wanted early convening of the Defence Ministers’ Dialogue and the Joint Defence Cooperation Committee (JDCC) meetings to upgrade the agreement on defence to a bilateral defence cooperation agreement. Pointing to the successful completion of the talks between the Staff of the Armies and Navies, they agreed to hold the Air Force Staff talks at an early date. “They also tasked the two defence ministers with exploring collaboration between defence industries for joint production of equipment with technology transfer, technical assistance, and capacity-building,” the statement said.

  • Murder rate declining in India

What you are about to read might make you feel safer. Official data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show that the murder rate in India has been steadily declining over the past two decades.

The murder rate (murders per lakh population) for 64 years (from 1952 to 2015) from the NCRB were compiled by the Clio Infra Project — a project which has collected worldwide data on social, economic, and institutional indicators — and The Hindu . Data show that the rate has declined from 4.6 in 1992, the peak year of violence (in terms of murder rate) to 2.6 in 2015. After a steady rise from 2.7 in 1952 to the highest rate witnessed in the early nineties — with the rate staying between three to four murders per lakh population in the eighties — we are back to low figures.

Among mega cities, Patna turns out to be the least safe, having a murder rate of 11.3 — four times that of the national average in 2015. Meerut, Ludhiana, Faridabad and Agra come next. Kolkata, Kochi and Mumbai happen to be the safest, all having a rate of less than one murder per lakh population.

However, the NCRB numbers are based on FIRs alone. Crimes for which FIRs are not registered are not accounted for in the official data. But unlike other crimes, data for murders are understood to be closer to reality as there is little incentive and possibility in under-reporting murder cases. Further, as compared with other crimes, murders are is less likely to pass unnoticed. A comparison with data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which pegs the Indian murder rate higher than that of the NCRB, after adjusting it for various factors, corroborates the Clio- The Hindu findings. The broader trend remains the same — the murder rate has fallen from 4.3 in 1995 to 3.3 in 2013.

Absolute numbers, however, are still high — 32,127 murders were recorded in 2015, which means 88 people were killed every day.

In fact, murders in 2015 alone were almost similar in number to terrorism-related fatalities in India over the last two decades. As per data from South Asia Terrorism Portal — which compiles figures from news reports and is likely to be an underestimate — 34,691 civilians and security men were killed in terror attacks in India from 1994 to 2016.

The incidents of murder have not changed much. Between 2006 and 2015, the figure was between 32,000 and 35,000. In the decade before, 1996-2005, recorded murder incidents were between 32,000 and 38,000. As per NCRB data from 1952-2015, 1992 saw the maximum number of deaths in one calendar year—40,105.

Further, data from UNODC reveals that the murder rate for India in 2012 (3.5) was almost half compared to the world average (6.2). Among 209 countries for which comparable data was available, India ranked 133 (higher rank means higher murder rate).

In 2015, the major motive of murder was ‘Personal vendetta or enmity’ (4,758 cases), accounting for 14.8 per cent of the total murder cases followed by ‘property dispute’ with 3,540 cases (11.0 per cent).

  • Kolkata-Mizoram trade route to open via Myanmar

A deep water port built in Myanmar’s Sittwe on the Bay of Bengal by India is ready to be commissioned. An inauguration ceremony for this strategically important facility is expected to take place next month, according to Vikram Misri, the Indian envoy to Myanmar.

The Indian achievement pips to the post a Chinese endeavour to create a deep-sea berthing infrastructure and an SEZ further down the Rakhine coast at Kyaukphyu. The two investments are inevitably being seen as the Asian competitors attempting to expand their spheres of naval influence in the Indian ocean region as in the case of Gwadar in Pakistan and Chabahar in Iran being built by China and India, respectively.

Sittwe is the capital of Rakhine State (which has been in the news for the plight of Rohingya Muslims) in south-western Myanmar. It is located at the mouth of the Kaladan river, which flows into Mizoram in north-eastern India.

Construction of the sea port is the first phase of an integrated $500-million project being funded by a long-term interest-free loan provided by India. “Dredging of the river and inland water terminals are included in the plan,” Ambassador Misri said.

India has for years sought transit access through Bangladesh to ship goods to the landlocked north-eastern States. At present, the only route to this region from the rest of India is a rather circuitous one through a narrow strip of Indian territory nicknamed the Chicken’s Neck in West Bengal, sandwiched between Bhutan and Bangladesh.

“The strategic advantage would be that it would significantly lower the cost and distance of movement from Kolkata to Mizoram and beyond,” Mr. Misri said. Once shipments arrive at Sittwe, they will be transferred to smaller freight carriers which would sail upstream into Mizoram.

Geopolitical theatre

The link was conceived by the Manmohan Singh government and work began in 2010. As with other Indian infrastructure ventures in Myanmar, though, the completion target of 2013 was missed.

Nevertheless, the port when unveiled will serve to make a statement in a country long dominated by China, but seen by the Myanmar historian Thant Myint-U, author of the book Where China Meets India, as a geopolitical theatre of competition between New Delhi and Beijing.

Notwithstanding its landslide victory in elections 13 months ago, the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy is constitutionally obliged to co-habit in government with the powerful armed forces, who ruled the nation for 54 years. But both sides are agreed on reducing their dependence on China.

Last month, Japan stepped forward with a $7.7 billion aid over the next five years, making it the biggest donor (India’s assistance under different categories has been to the tune of $1.75 billion). But a senior western diplomat expressed surprise that India didn’t move more aggressively to take advantage of Ms. Suu Kyi taking over the reins.

While foreign ministers from all continents queued up to call on Ms. Suu Kyi after she was appointed State Counsellor in early April, the Indian External Affairs Minister (admittedly hampered by illness) did not visit Myanmar until August.

Mr. Misri is, however, optimistic about a leap forward in the next two-three years. The two countries have exchanged drafts of proposed pacts to open several passport and customs control points on the India-Myanmar border to encourage vehicular traffic, with an aim of flagging them off within six months.

Also on the anvil are 10 border haat points to facilitate local economic activity between Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Myanmar.

Meanwhile, Myanmar Airways International has just supplemented Air India’s twice weekly service between Yangon and Kolkata to double the direct flights between the two cities.

  • India offers tsunami alert system to SCS countries

As part of a soft-diplomacy effort, India is looking to have South China Sea countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines use the tsunami early warning-system developed by India. China, too has been approached, said a senior official in the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), but a deal is unlikely yet.

Since a deadly tsunami struck Tamil Nadu in 2004, India has put in place its own tsunami-alert system over the years that immediately warns concerned authorities in India of any large earthquake in the Indian Ocean and the threat it poses.

However, because of limited data on the historical occurrence of tsunamis, scientists at the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) have developed a technique that uses mathematical modelling to estimate if an earthquake, in India’s oceanic neighbourhood, will result in a tsunami.

The system is also designed to send out a series of graded warnings to warn officials of danger. “There are also sensors lodged on the ocean floor that will measure actual earthquake signals and based on that we can revise our warnings,” said Satheesh Shenoi, Director, INCOIS, “we’ve expanded our modelling capabilities to include countries in the South China sea and so it can be useful to them too.”

India isn’t expecting a commercial deal to result but “fame and leadership” from the effort. “This could help with broader government efforts,” said Mr. Shenoi. The South China sea is a controversial region with China exerting territorial rights over a large part. Some of these territorial claims have been challenged by Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

India so far has only said that all countries must abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which governs how countries must respect international waters and the ocean boundaries of countries. China too is a signatory to this convention.

Another official in the MoES told The Hindu that talks were held with China last year to use India’s early warning system.

“A cooperation agreement was signed last year but it hasn’t moved much,” he added. India already provides earthquake and tsunami-warning alerts to several countries in the Indian Ocean neighbourhood, as do Australia and Japan.

  • ‘More liberal than all other Asian Americans’

Indian Americans, numbering over three million, make up about 1 per cent of the American population. The Other One Percent: Indians in America (Oxford University Press) is arguably the first comprehensive and data-driven account of the “selection, assimilation, and entrepreneurship” of Indians in America. Authors Sanjoy Chakravorty and Devesh Kapur explain the contours of the study, the political and social attitudes of Indian Americans and what their future could be in their host country. Kapur spoke first and Chakravorty supplemented the responses with written inputs. Kapur is Director, Centre for the Advanced Study of India at University of Pennsylvania, and Chakravorty is Professor of Geography at Temple University. The third co-author, Nirvikar Singh, is Professor of Economics at University of California, Santa Cruz.

Why is the book titled the ‘Other’ One Percent?

It’s a question we get asked quite often by our colleagues in India. In a way it is a play on a big trope in American popular culture, which is inequality. There are books and documentaries and social movements that refer to it. It is a play on that title. At one level it is a factual thing, because Indian Americans are one per cent of the total population of America. The other point is that, if you take all Indians anywhere in the world, those in America are richest in that population. This it not to be taken literally, but in a figurative sense. They are the tail end of the income distribution of global Indians. They are the richest. To top it all, they are also the most well-to-do immigrant or ethnic group in America.

Do they have an identity as Indians in America? Or are they Telugus and Tamils, Brahmin and Dalit in America?

Identity is contextual. If you look at surveys and see how they identify themselves, one thing that they rarely do is to call themselves South Asians. Very few Hispanics also identify themselves as such. Country of origin is the most used self-identification. So, a majority of Indian Americans identify themselves as Indians in such surveys. Of course, given that India is a heterogeneous country, you could expect Indian Americans to be heterogeneous. Till the 1990s, if you take Hindi out, Gujarati and Punjabi speakers were the biggest groups. But Telugu speakers are the largest community after Hindi speakers now, and there has also been a rapid growth of Tamil speakers. These groups have the Maratha Sangham, Telugu Association, etc. So that is about a cultural identity, it is not a political identity. On a day-to-day basis, as far as the people they associate with and the food they eat and the culture they consume are concerned, it is very likely that these cultural identities dominate, at least in the first generation. It is also possible to maintain these, to some extent, because our language communities tend to live in separate places — Gujaratis in New Jersey and Illinois, Punjabis in California and New York. But when it comes to a question of India, these communities tend to coalesce around the notion of India. Like it happened during the nuclear deal, they would call the Senators, the Governor, etc. Indians are very good at holding multiple identities.

But your identity is not entirely decided by who you think you are; it is also about who others think you are. For most Americans you are Indian. It is said that Italian as a national identity emerged in the U.S. Italians came here as Sicilians or Venetians. Their regional identity was strong. But here it changed. They became Italian because everyone said so and treated them as Italians. Very similar processes are at work for Indians too. And it has a feedback effect — one begins to see oneself through the eyes of others.

Talking of context, religion is another identity that a majority of Indians might share in America. Is that true?

There is no precise way to gauge that because of the fact that the U.S. census has not asked questions about religious identity from around 1950. Other surveys, such as some by Pew [Research Center], have done so, but not the census. But you can make some reasonable statements about the likelihood. To the extent that higher education has been very important as a route for Indians to come to the U.S., the social groups that are highly represented in higher education in India are more likely to have arrived in the U.S. Some religious and social groups are under-represented in India while some others are over-represented. Upper castes, Christians, Jains are over-represented relative to their share in the population while Muslims and many caste groups are under-represented.

So it is safe to assume that the significant majority of Indians are Hindu upper castes?

Yes. Because the upper castes had better access to higher education.

This election season had a particular context, one that demanded all Americans to think about their identity. A group of Indians defined themselves as Hindus against Islamist terrorism and decided to support Donald Trump. How appealing was that to Indian Americans in voting?

A distinct minority only may have been swayed by it. Of all Asian Americans, Indian Americans were the least likely to support Trump. If you compare with Chinese Americans or Vietnamese Americans, the degree of dislike for Trump was the highest among Indian Americans. There was a small group that strongly liked him, but the intensity of dislike was much higher among the rest. In fact, there is a new survey-based report out recently that says [Hillary] Clinton beat Trump 75-to-19 per cent among Asian Americans — the widest ever margin in a presidential election. We don’t have the precise data on Indian Americans yet, but it is very possible that they supported Clinton by margins similar to [Barack] Obama, which was over 80 per cent.

It looks like questions of identity will continue to dominate American politics and life for some time to come. Would Indian Americans be tempted to accept the notion that this is a Christian country at war with Islam?

Of Asian Americans, Indians were the least likely to say that Muslims should not enter this country. Even on an issue such as affirmative action, even though we expected the upper caste-dominated Indian community to be against it, that was not the case. We think that there are a lot of misconceptions about Indian Americans. Partly these misconceptions, as it was the case with Indians for Trump, are due to the fact that the squeaking wheel gets the grease. The guy who screams and shouts. Everyone wanted to know about Hindus for Trump while nobody wanted to know about the Indians voting for Democrats. Everyone gets the eyeballs with the oddball story. The ordinary person’s viewpoints are rarely taken into account.

The 1 per cent of the population now also has 1 per cent representation in the U.S. Congress, with five Indian American members and the first Senator. Do you think the Indian American community’s influence in the country’s politics will continue to grow?

Moderately, for sure, maybe more. By and large, if you look at the trends, there are far fewer Indian American Republicans than you would have expected and the main reason for that is religion. The only Indian American Republicans of consequence are the ones who either converted to Christianity or were already Christians. There is no way you can stand for governor in a southern American state and win if you are not a Christian. That essentially means that one party becomes your only avenue. That itself is a limiting factor. And race, of course, and the fact that the Republican party is increasingly identified with anti-immigrant positions.

Moreover, Indian Americans are concentrated in some locations: California and the north-east. These are already Democratic States. So if you are heavily Democrat-oriented in a Democratic State, the marginal impact is limited. So, as voters their impact is modest. Because they are articulate and well-educated, they have more influence in staffing in the U.S. Congress and in a whole range of offices in Washington. Electoral office, at least in the foreseeable future, as long as this polarisation continues, may have some natural limits. But there are reasons to think that their political impact may increase, and that is mainly because large cohorts of the second generation, the children of Indian immigrants are beginning to come of age. The second generation is very, very young. Five out of six are less than 25 years old. When these youngsters begin to become politically active, they will do so in an American framework, unlike many Indian-born immigrants who still connect more strongly to politics in India. It is quite possible that we will see more Indian American names and faces in mainstream American politics relatively soon, if not immediately.

What is the Indian Americans’ conception of India?

The media in Delhi and the intellectuals in general are obsessed with the notion that Indian Americans are big supporters of Hindutva. There is a practical question here. Now, one of the largest Indian American groups is Telugu. What is the kind of support for the BJP in Andhra Pradesh? Very little. The BJP is pretty weak in the entire south. The largest numbers of Indians coming now are coming from south India. So we cannot make that correlation easily. Is there a segment that is a strong supporter of the BJP? Yes. Is it a majority view? Unequivocally no. Is there a larger group that supports this particular Prime Minister? Yes. It would be very simplistic to confuse the support for an individual with support for an ideology. Unfortunately we tend to make these equations. It is possible that if the BJP had a leader who did not have the charisma and media management ability than this particular Prime Minister has, it would have only a fraction of the support it currently has. Therefore, we should not mistake the support for an individual for the support for a deeper ideology necessarily. The second generation, of course, does not have much interest in Indian politics.

What does the book say about the social attitudes of Indian Americans?

On almost all issues they are more liberal than all other Asian Americans (compared to, say, Chinese Americans or Vietnamese Americans) and definitely more liberal than the Indians in India. India is a socially conservative place. One area in which Indian Americans are less liberal in comparison with other Asian Americans is in their attitude towards gays. It is below the average. But on all other questions — affirmative action, giving a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, attitude towards Muslims — they are more liberal than other Asians. One thing that stands out, which we think can be called a part of social attitudes, is that they have the lowest rate of divorce. That means they tend to have two incomes per family, and children grow up in two parent households. What it does is, it gives you a household income advantage, which means that your children get better education, which gives you a further advantage that your life’s chances are better. So you find a peculiar link between a social conservative trait and an economic advantage.

What is their attitude on religion?

In this book we don’t dwell much on this question because the U.S. census does not have data on that. Broadly speaking, anecdotally, Sikhs are very attached to their gurudwaras and Indian Muslims go to the mosques where other South Asians go, and not where Middle Eastern Muslims go.

Do they become more religious being here?

There is no evidence to suggest that. You will have to really differentiate that by age and by the cohort of when you came. If you have come at an early stage, when are you are the only person from India around, then the pressure is more to hold on to your culture. When you come in the 2000s, being Indian American is not exotic and you are not the only one around, then it is very light to carry that identity. Older cohorts tended to be more religious, but that may be true in India too and elsewhere, in America and Europe. That is not part of the book, only a conjecture. We suspect is it not greatly different from India. If you ask a 20-year-old IT engineer in Hyderabad, his view will be vastly different from his parents.

What is the key point about Indian Americans that you think stands out in this book?

There are several points we have already mentioned, but an important one we haven’t. That is, the extent of the brain drain from India. If you take the areas of higher education, despite all the rhetorical flourishes about engaging the diaspora, it is actually severely underleveraged. There are 95,000 Indians with PhDs in the U.S. India produces around 25,000 PhDs every year. Assuming that 10 per cent of that is of the quality that is produced here, we are talking about 2,500 annually. So, in some ways, India has gifted the U.S. half a century worth of high-quality human capital. Yet, the whole mindset in India, all the rules and regulations, ensures that instead of attracting as many of them back, keep them away. In the U.S., even with an Indian passport you can work in defence research. Can you imagine this happening in India? All political parties in Indian are complicit. None of them has the vision to leverage the potential of the diaspora.

The U.S. has much higher levels of human capital than India. Therefore, when you have less of a desirable asset, India should go out of its way to attract that asset, but the opposite is happening. While the U.S. continues to get the best talent from anywhere, in India we treat outsiders as threats even though our need is higher. It is the basic openness that we lack. Would the DRDO [Defence Research and Development Organisation] allow someone with an American passport to work with it? The cost of not being open is so high, but we are more worried about the potential risks involved in being open.

Do you think the U.S. system of attracting the best and the brightest will come under strain under Trump?

Some of them will continue. For instance, those who come for research under STEM. Whereas the IT workers who come through Indian firms as opposed to those hired by American companies may face new challenges. The whole business model of Indian companies may come under pressure. By the way, some of this was going to happen anyway, because of artificial intelligence and other technological advancements. But predicting the future is a risky game, especially when there is a new President who takes pride in being unpredictable. There are many interests at work here —Wall Street, the innovation economy, new technologies, the declining economy of deindustrialisation, race, identity — and one suspects that all of them will have wins and losses in the new regime.

  • In rural health care, few good options

Lack of access to public health care is not the only reason why quacks — informal private health-care providers without any formal medical education — continue to flourish in rural India. Most private providers, the bulk of whom lack formal medical qualifications, “exerted significantly higher effort than public providers” and “recommend correct treatments equally often.”

These are the findings of an audit conducted in rural Madhya Pradesh, and published in the American Economic Review (December 2016).

Metrics and findings

For the study, Standardised Patients (SP) or highly trained “fake patients”, were coached to accurately present symptoms like “normal patients” for three different conditions: unstable angina, asthma, and dysentery in a child. They made 1,100 unannounced visits to a representative sample of public and private health facilities in rural Madhya Pradesh to collect data on various metrics. Four major findings were reported.

First, private providers — 70 per cent of whom didn’t have any formal training — spent 1.5 minutes more with patients when compared to public providers. Further, while public providers completed around 15.3 per cent of the checklist which comprised questions and examinations which are considered essential for reaching a correct diagnosis, private counterparts completed 22.30 per cent of the list (7.4 percentage points more), which indicated a higher effort. Note that 30 per cent of the private providers did have formal training. Of the rest who were unqualified and who would be classified as quacks as per norms of the Medical Council of India, a majority reported having received some training, the most common form being an assistant in another doctor’s practice.

Second, both were equally likely to pronounce a correct diagnosis. Data show that 26 per cent of public providers gave a diagnosis, of which 15 per cent was correct. In the private sector, 43 per cent gave a diagnosis of which 13.5 per cent was correct.

The third finding raises concerns: doctors who serve in public facilities as well as in their private clinics, perform better in the latter. The study found that the “same doctors spent more time with SPs, completed more items on the checklist, and were also more likely to offer a correct treatment in their private practices, relative to their public practices”.

Patient cost

Fourth, the per-patient cost of the public health-care system was found to be at least four times when compared to a private system. According to estimates by the study’s authors, the cost per patient interaction in the public sector is around Rs.240 — billed not to the patient but to the exchequer — whereas the per consultation fee was Rs.51 in the private sector. However, as the findings indicate, the higher cost does not translate into better outcomes.

These results may not generalise beyond primary care to tertiary care or for more critical illnesses, but it is still quite crucial as primary care serves as the first step in identifying the need to go to a hospital. For instance, in the case of angina — one of the three conditions for which SPs were coached — it is difficult for patients to know by themselves, without proper medical advice, if there was a need to go to the hospital.

The results suggest that the quality of the public system of health-care delivery is constrained by a lack of enforcement of administrative accountability and inadequate incentives. For instance, doctors are often reported to be missing from the primary health-care centres. These limitations should be taken into consideration as the policy debate focuses on increasing spending and improving access to publicly provided health care. Plus, while there is a resistance to train and provide legitimacy to unqualified private providers, the study notes that “the marginal returns to better training and credentialing may be higher for private health-care providers who have stronger incentives for exerting effort.”

  • From school student to child labour

It has been three years since Ajay (14) was inside a classroom. Like other school-going children of his age he has a strict daily routine. He leaves his home in Krishna Colony, T-Camp in Delhi’s Uttam Nagar, at a quarter to ten every morning. He works at a lemon soda stall till eight in the evening. For his day’s labours, he gets paid Rs.150.

“I give whatever I earn to my mother,” Ajay says. His mother Rekha is a domestic worker. His father Mahesh is a construction worker. The family hails from a village near Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh’s Muradabad zilla. “I studied in a government school in my village until Class V,” recalls Ajay. “But the teacher beat me a lot and I didn’t want to go to school anymore.”

His family moved to Delhi three years ago. With that shift ended Ajay’s schooling. “No government school in Delhi would take me,” he says. And his family, too, was not inclined to stretch itself over his schooling.

Ajay is the oldest of six siblings. “Our household cannot run without at least two people working,” Ajay says. When his mother fell ill and could not go to work for some months, it was decided that he must start working, sealing his transition from school student to child labour.

Active involvement of the community, as mandated by the RTE Act, in auditing access to primary education could prevent cases like Ajay from recurring, point out RTE activists.

The case of Raju Mandal (10), a resident of Surat Nagar-II in Gurgaon, illustrates how migration can impact educational prospects. Raju was a student of Class III in a government school. In 2014, his father Dhananjay Mandal, a daily wager, took his family back to their native village in Malda for two months. When they came back to Gurgaon, the school refused to take Raju back. “His name was struck off the rolls,” says Dhananjay.

“Migrant workers go back to the village during harvest time, or when there is work in another site, or for some family event. They cannot afford to rent a place for their family when they are not in the city. So the entire family moves. Then the child’s schooling takes a hit,” says Dalip Singh of Grameen Vikas Samiti, who runs an informal learning centre. Raju is one of his students.

Clearly, in an age of mass (and circular) migration of labour, the provision of free hostel facilities for children of migrant workers would go a long way in bringing down drop-out rates.

Sabir Ali’s case is more complicated. “The school sent me home because I took too many holidays,” says the 15-year-old, who dropped out in 2013 from a Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya when he was in class VI.

What made him take so many holidays? “I used to keep Roza (fasting) from the morning. My classes were in the afternoon shift, and I found it tough to concentrate. So I would miss school.” Sabir says he asked his parents to transfer him to a morning shift school but they could not arrange it.

 One day when Sabir went to school after missing nine consecutive days, his teacher sent him to meet the principal. The principal gave him some Hindi words to memorise and come back the next day for a test. Only if he passed would he be taken back. “When my father heard this, he said there was no way I could crack this test. He advised me to forget school and start working.” Sabir now works in a food stall selling kachoris. He makes Rs.150 a day.

If Sabir or his parents had received the right inputs and support, it is possible that he might still be in school. “I did not know enough when I missed school,” says the teenager, admitting that he feels a sense of loss when he hears his friend and former classmate talk feverishly about an impending exam. “If I get a chance to study again, I would put my heart into it,” he says, before hurrying off. He is needed at the kachori stall.

  • ‘Welcome winds from across border, retain only fragrance’

Hearing the appeal of international publishing houses, whose lawyers cited foreign laws and statutes to emphasise their case against photocopy, the High Court on Friday cautioned against interpreting and implementing offshore laws in Indian context.

“Whilst it is true that winds from across the border should be welcome in a country, but care has to be taken to retain the fragrance thereof and filter out the remainder. Reference to foreign case law while interpreting a municipal statute has to be done with care and caution. Language used in a statute covering a field of law in different municipal jurisdictions may be different and we caution ourselves that some minor points of details here and there and difference in the language here and there may assume importance,” the Bench of Justices Pradeep Nandrajog and Yogesh Khanna observed.

The debate before the Division Bench focused on the decisions rendered by the courts in United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.

The Bench while deciding the appeal emphasised on equitable access to education and suggested development of “knowledge modules”, like the course packs in the instant case.

‘Education is foundation’

“Education alone is the foundation on which a progressive and prosperous society can be built. Teaching is an essential part of education, at least in the formative years, and perhaps till post-graduate level.

“It is thus necessary, by whatever nomenclature we may call them, the development of knowledge modules, having the right content, to take care of the needs of the learner. We may loosely call them textbooks. We may loosely call them guide books. We may loosely call them reference books. We may loosely call them course packs. So fundamental is education to a society – it warrants the promotion of equitable access to knowledge to all segments, irrespective of their caste, creed and financial position. Of course, the more indigent the learner, the greater the responsibility to ensure equitable access.”

Reproduction or publication?

The Division Bench corrected the reasoning adopted by the single judge order in the case as it noted, “Publication need not be for the benefit of or available to or meant for reading by all the members of the community. A targeted audience would also be a public as rightly urged by the learned counsel for the appellants. But, a publication would have the element of profit, which would be missing in the case of reproduction of a work by a teacher to be used in the course of instruction. That apart, if reproduction includes the plural, it cannot be held that making of multiple copies would be impermissible. It happens in law that footprints of one concept fall in the territory of the other, but that does not mean that the former should be restricted.”

 

 

  • Is photocopying a blessing for students or violation?

Ask Dharam Pal Singh, the owner of Delhi University’s Rameshwari Photocopy Service, about the Delhi High Court’s Friday judgment and he says that he has been doing a service to students by making “course packs” available over the years.

Expensive books

The suggested reading list that is put out for every course by Delhi University, he says, draws from a variety of expensive publications. In fact, in some cases even libraries do not have copies of the books. According to Mr. Singh, only a few chapters are required from every book because of which students find it a waste to buy a book for just a few pages.

The Association of Students For Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK), which was formed in protest against the case on Rameshwari Photocopy Service, welcomed the judgment.

Injunction order

The publishers (Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor and Francis Group) had asked for their case to be restored and for an order of injunction to be passed stopping the production of course packs.

According to the ASEAK, in the context of the Indian Copyright Act, the judgment is a fair, balanced determination of the rights of copyright owners and users.

  • Dylan skips Nobel event, but sends warm words

For Bob Dylan, the nagging question of whether his songs qualify as literature was settled for good on Saturday at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm — and his presence was not required to make the case.

As the always-slippery folk singer forewarned, he was not there to receive the 2016 prize in literature, but he sent a warm, humble statement accepting the honour, which was read by Azita Raji, the U.S. ambassador to Sweden, at an evening banquet in Stockholm.

Invoking William Shakespeare, whom Dylan imagined to have been too consumed with practical matters — “How should this be staged?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” — to bother with whether what he was doing was literature.

Dylan wrote: “I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavours and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. ‘Who are the best musicians for these songs?’ ‘Am I recording in the right studio?’ ‘Is this song in the right key?’ Some things never change, even in 400 years.

“Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, ‘Are my songs literature?’” Dylan (75) concluded. “So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.”

Earlier in the day, the Swedish Academy defended its nontraditional selection of a musician — and a seemingly uninterested one, at that — for the literary honour. (In his prepared remarks, Dylan would acknowledge his own inscrutable silence for two weeks after the prize was announced in October: “I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it.”)

‘Among Greek bards’

In a speech in front of about 1,500 guests, including the Swedish royal family, Horace Engdahl, a member of the Nobel Committee, called Dylan “a singer worthy of a place beside the Greek bards, beside Ovid, beside the Romantic visionaries, beside the kings and queens of the blues, beside the forgotten masters of brilliant standards. If people in the literary world groan,” Mr. Engdahl added, “one must remind them that the gods don’t write, they dance and they sing.”

Mr. Engdahl’s speech was followed by a fittingly imperfect Patti Smith, who delivered an estimable Dylan impression on his 1963 song, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall, but also proved his inimitable nature, flubbing a lyric and halting the performance midway through. “I’m sorry,” she said before resuming. “I’m so nervous.” Still, some in the audience could be seen crying as she finished the song accompanied by a string section.

At the same time, Dylan, who cited only “pre-existing commitments” when he finally declined the Nobel invitation, was being spoken about in near-mythical terms outside of Stockholm, as well.

 

 

  • ‘Nanoceramic’ material for safer, cheaper nuclear reactors

Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have created a nanoceramic material, which may be used in next-generation nuclear reactors that will operate at higher temperatures and radiation fields, producing energy more efficiently and economically.

Tougher under radiation

The material can not only withstand the harsh effects of radiation, but also becomes tougher under radiation, researchers said.

Traditionally, water has been used as the primary coolant in reactors, absorbing the heat released from fission reactions.

Though water poses fewer risks of corrosion damage to materials, there are also limits to the temperatures up to which water-cooled reactors can operate — and in advanced reactors, increasing their temperature is the best way to increase energy production.

New coolants, such as liquid metals like sodium and lead, are effective at much higher temperatures, but also are much more corrosive to the materials from which a nuclear reactor is made. “There is a preferred use of metallic materials for structural components, but many of these materials cannot withstand high-temperature corrosion in advanced reactors,” said Kumar Sridharan, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the U.S.

 

  • Longest tunnel wide open for regular service

Regular rail service through the world’s longest tunnel began on Sunday, carrying passengers deep under the Swiss Alps from Zurich to Lugano.

The famed Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT) had a ceremonial opening in June, attracting European leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande for its maiden ride.

The Swiss national rail service (SBB) had announced that Sunday would mark the start of normal commercial traffic through the 57-kilometre GBT, which took 17 years to build, at a cost of over 12 billion Swiss francs ($11.8 billion).

The Swiss news agency ATS reported that the first regular passenger train to use the GBT pulled out of Zurich at 6:09 am local time (0509 GMT) and arrived in Lugano at 8:17 am, with the tunnel passage shaving a full 30 minutes off the previous travel time for the same route.

It’s Christmas: Rail chief

“It’s Christmas,” SBB chief Andreas Meyer was quoted as saying by ATS after the journey was over.

The ambitious GBT project has won praise across Europe for its pioneering efforts to improve connectivity from Rotterdam to the Adriatic. The Swiss funded tunnel was largely made possible by technical advances in tunnel-boring machines, which replaced the costly and dangerous blast-and-drill method.

  • India has just what hyperloop needs

When Bibop Gresta, chairman and co-founder of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc. (HTT) met Union minister of road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari in the Silicon Valley, Mr. Gadkari mistook him for Tesla Motors Inc.’s founder Elon Musk. Mr. Gresta clarified his identity and now his California-based start-up is in talks with the transport ministry to build the hyperloop transportation system in India. HTT’s system is based on the hyperloop concept, which was envisioned by Elon Musk. It is a new mode of passenger transportation that pushes a pod-like vehicle through a near-vacuum tube at airline speeds. According to Mr. Gresta, India needed such system. He has experienced the country’s transportation problem first-hand when he landed in Bengaluru this month and had to travel by car from the airport. “Oh my God, it was crazy, I took forever. You guys drive like there is no tomorrow,” he said. Edited excerpts.

Why do you want to set up the hyperloop system in India?

India has amazing potentialities right now because it has the right density, the lack of infrastructure and the political willingness to change. This combination of factors could be disruptive in a country that we know would be leading the world in the next few decades. India has everything in terms of the resources and minds. It is a responsibility to embrace innovation because it is the only way to actually fix the problem.

Have you discussed it with the government?

I actually met Mr. Modi (the Prime Minister) in the Silicon Valley and Mr. Gadkari (Union minister of transport and highways). Mr. Gadkari demonstrated a big interest for hyperloop and he also said it publicly. We have had a proposal on his table for a couple of weeks. We had a very long commercial conversation with Mr. Gadkari. He said he wants to do it. He said that he is ready to give us land. So, we have to see if he wants to do it or not.

Considering infrastructure challenges, can it happen in India?

It needs to happen, this is the country that needs it more. How can you fix the problem? It is not building other roads. This system is broken in every possible way. The rails are not a viable way to fix the problem as you see it. They are too expensive and are not profitable and are subsidised by the state. We need a system that can be profitable which is efficient and fast and that is hyperloop and we are ready to build it.

We have read about such systems in science fiction books, how far is it from reality?

We have the technology. We are the only company that owns the trademark hyperloop in 20 countries, including India. We are the only company that has licensed technology tested by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. We have the vacuums made by a labelled company that is the inventor of the vacuum pumps. We have all the elements to build hyperloop. We are not inventing anything new. We are putting together technology that already exists. We are doing it in a very smart and efficient way. We can actually build it right now. There is criticism that you will never be able to build it right away. Well, I have bad news for these naysayers. Hyperloop can be built on top of existing infrastructure like rail, highway and can be built (along)side. For example a highway between Pune and Mumbai… Give us the land and we will build.

Globally over a million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes, can this system save lives?

You have to understand 80 percent of the fatalities are caused by human error. We are completely managed by computers and supervised by humans. Our system implements what we call ‘swarm intelligence’ like the ants or the bees. The ants are capable of forming a line and with antennas and pheromones, they are able to communicate almost at the speed of sound. We are using a similar system. The first capsule analyses the tube and communicates to the next one. It is not only capable of controlling the systems through sensors and the mothership but in the case of lost communications, the capsules are intelligent (enough) to react, slow down and stop. You are always able to stop the capsule and evacuate the people safely.

But don’t you think high-speed trains like in Japan and China make more sense?

You have to imagine, in our system, you don’t need an electrified truck on the ground like the high-speed rail that uses too much energy. It costs too much because you have to bring the system to superconductivity. The hyperloop is a very simple system. Imagine you have a capsule full of people and you put it inside a tube. You evacuate the tube from the air so there is no resistance.

Now you can move the capsule at the speed of sound with very less energy. We are using a combination of renewable energy to produce electricity with the solar panel, the wind and the capsule also generates electricity while moving.

Could you give the cost comparison?

We should talk about where you are building it. Are you building it in Switzerland with mountains, bridges and tunnels or you are building it in a desert? But on average you can talk about $40 million per kilometre compared to high-speed train which costs two times (as much) when we are lucky or six times when we are unlucky like in California.

Are you working with any partners in India on hyperloop technology?

We have 25 people working from India as part of our contribution programme. Besides our own employees, we also have a crowdsourcing approach. We have a community of almost 800 people. We have a programme called the hyperloop academy. We want to launch it in India to allow students to join our team and compete on developing and solving tasks related to the real hyperloop.

  • ‘Time to leave history of coal behind’

Strict emission standards, an enabling regulatory framework, and a high price on carbon are some of the key ways India can boost its natural gas sector, according to the International Gas Union, a non-profit organisation comprising natural gas majors from around the world.

“There is a role for the government in allowing the right regulatory regime to allow the construction of the pipelines that allow gas to be transported from where it is produced to where the markets are,” David Carroll, President of the International Gas Union (IGU) told in an interview. “In addition, the regulation must also allow third-party access in the way one does with power lines or telecom lines to ensure that buyers, sellers and transporters can ensure that the product can move freely without undue barriers.”

The more than 140 members of IGU are associations and corporations of the gas industry representing over 95 per cent of the global gas market, and they work together to help countries like India move towards a higher share of natural gas in their energy mix.

“Another important area to work on is emission standards,” Menelaos Ydreos, Executive Director of Public Affairs at IGU added during the interview. “Be stricter on those so you have to innovate to meet those standards. If coal can innovate to meet them, then more power to them. To the extent that gas can innovate, more power to gas. But that way you are not picking a winner or loser. You are letting the market respond to the requirements. However, the most efficient instrument is to put a price on carbon.”

Coal Conundrum

India’s reliance on coal as a source of energy is normal for a developing economy, Mr Carroll said, but the need to balance economic growth with environmental concerns means that there are significant opportunities in the gas sector.

“Like much of the developing world, you have a reliance on coal,” Mr Carroll said. “Even well developed economies still have coal as a sizeable part of their portfolios, but it has diminished over time. These economies, it’s all they did, burn coal and wood. But it’s an evolution, societies tend to decarbonise as they progress.”

“But if you couple that challenge with tremendous economic growth, population growth, urbanisation and it creates challenges but also opportunities,” he added. “And it certainly creates an environment where a 6.5 per cent to 15 per cent jump is not only achievable but also desirable due to the economic benefits that gas can provide and also the environmental benefits.

Mr Carroll was referring to the Indian government’s commitment to increase the share of gas in the energy mix from the current 6.5 per cent to 15 per cent. The global average share of gas in the energy mix is 24 per cent.

“Domestic production used to meet domestic demand,” Mr Ydreos explained. “While demand has steadily increased, domestic production of gas has declined. And that’s why now India has become an importer of LNG. I think it was largely a mentality of ‘we have a growing economy, we have domestic resources such as coal, and so we’ll use those as we grow our economy’. The difficulty with that is that to continue like that is counter to some of the climate change aspirations and environmental issues in India. It is a historic reason why coal has been preferred, but now it is time that history is left behind.”

However, despite gas’s low share in India’s energy mix compared with developed countries, this aspect is comparable with the energy situation in other developing countries, especially China.

“China is in the same range as India is right now, with a target to reach 10 per cent gas by 2020 and 12 per cent by 2030,” Mr Carroll said. “They are making some quick conversions in cities like Beijing where they are using gas for power production and for transportation because of the severe pollution challenges there. Indonesia and Malaysia have a much higher market share of gas. Brazil is very strong in bio-fuels. Russia is the second-largest gas consumer.”

“What people don’t understand is that of all the gas produced in Russia, 75 per cent is consumed domestically,” Mr Ydreos explained. “The rest is exported. However, in oil, while 75 per cent is exported, only 25 per cent is used domestically.”

Renewable Push

The Indian government has strongly committed to its targets of reducing emissions by 33 per cent by 2030, as set out during the COP21 summit in Paris, and towards this it has initiated a strong push towards a gas-based economy and has also invested heavily in renewable energy. The business opportunities this presents has not been lost on the international business community, according to Mr Carroll. However, he also warned against investing too heavily in renewable energy at a time when the technology is not yet ready.

“You have to bring renewables at the right time so you aren’t trying to bring them to market before they are actually ready,” Mr Carroll said. “In which case you are left with inefficient and costly subsidies for technologies that may be irrelevant in the near future.”

“India has a tremendous potential for solar energy,” he added. “We all realise that we have to stop burning dead dinosaurs to get our fuel. But certain renewables are still going through their cost curves and learning curves to get the required amount of output and to jump into it too big too soon leads to inefficient subsidies.”

Foreign Investment

“My take is that there is tremendous interest in the opportunities for natural gas in India,” Mr Carroll said. “There are opportunities wherever we are seeing a growing population and the vast movement of people into urban environments, and raising standards of living, and the ensuing huge increase in energy consumption. But with that you need to keep in mind the environmental challenges, so natural gas is definitely one of the fuels there, and so are renewables.”

However, despite the sector-specific regulatory hurdles the government can remove, the key to encouraging foreign investment is stability, according to Mr Ydreos.

“Nothing encourages investment more than a regulatory environment that is predictable and is stable and ensures that there is an appropriate risk-reward for the investor,” Mr Ydreos said. “If you want to attract large investment into India, that’s a precondition. That’s what the investment community needs to see.”

Cost Accounting

Overall, while coal is cheaper than gas to produce, it works out to be significantly more expensive when externalities like health costs and environmental costs are worked into the equation.

“If you have two existing plants, a combined cycle gas plant and a coal plant, the coal plant on a marginal cost basis is cheaper,” Mr Ydreos said. “Once you include the externalities, though, such has healthcare costs and climate change impacts, then gas is the more affordable option. In new construction, gas fares better than coal. You can construct much faster, get approvals easier, and the initial capital is less than coal.”

However, even if India ramps up its production of natural gas, it will still need to import gas for the foreseeable future, Mr Carroll said, warning that this must not become an over-reliance on imports.

“You will need to import,” Mr Carroll said. “But I was listening to Prime Minister Modi speaking at the Petrotech conference and he was talking about the strategies for energy. He did talk about plans for enhanced development of India’s gas resources, both conventional, offshore, and potential for shale gas development. There is some early stage development in shale gas, which I know is early, but if it takes off could be a rapidly developing source.”

“At the same time, there is development on your import capabilities both in terms of on-land terminals and floating terminals,” he added. “But clearly work needs to be done on the domestic production side to keep pace, so that you don’t become overly reliant on imports.”

Private investment in the domestic natural gas market is set to increase in the future due to the pegging of the price of natural gas to the international market, Mr Ydreos said.

“The biggest disincentive for domestic production was price,” he said. “That was what kept it suppressed. Now that we have a new pricing scheme in India, now you will see domestic production pick up.”

  • Urbanising India needs sustainable solutions: Otis

Otis India, the subsidiary of Otis Elevator Company, the world’s leading manufacturer of elevators, escalators and walkways, has entered the high-volume elevators market for affordable housing by introducing energy-efficient elevators in the Indian market.

Called Gen2 Core, these elevators can attain a speed of 0.7 metres per second and provides options of machine room or machine-less room arrangements. They are designed for low-rise residential buildings with a height of seven floors.

Affordable homes make up almost 90 per cent of the demand for homes in India and this has become one of the focus areas for Otis, a top official said.

Otis already had been deploying Gen2 technology in elevators for high-rise buildings since 2010 and the Gen2 Core elevators are built on this technology platform.

This product is an upgrade from traditional rope-geared systems to the permanent magnet (PM) gearless-belted technology ensuring energy-saving.

“The Gen2 Core uses Otis’s patented, flexible polyurethane-coated steel belts, the ReGen regenerative drive, which captures energy that is normally wasted during braking and feeds it back into the building’s electric grid, compact gearless machine and pulse monitoring system,” said Sebi Joseph, President, Otis India.

The Gen2 Core, he said, offered the affordable housing segment an elevator that is ‘environmentally responsible’. As India continued to urbanise, it needed sustainable solutions, he said, adding, “The Gen2 offers just that through its energy-saving and space conservation features.”

The Gen2 Core will be manufactured in India at Otis’ facility in Bengaluru with a delivery schedule of five weeks.

Affordable Housing

The current housing deficit in India stands at 19 million units and 95 per cent of this deficit is around the Economically Weaker Sections and Low Income Group segments. This segment is likely to get a boost as the government is aiming to provide housing for all by 2022.

“Affordable homes do not just mean the cost accessibility of the home but also lower operational and maintenance costs. Sustainable features are key to any affordable housing project. This product will help us to penetrate across the country especially into tier-1 and -2 cities,” Mr. Joseph said.

Gen2 Core would cost approximately 15 per cent more compared with products with similar speeds in the market.

India’s new elevator market is estimated at 48,000 units per year and overall, the market is growing by 7 to 8 per cent.

However, Otis India, with a market share in the ‘mid-teens,’ has reported 20 per cent growth in its order book so far this year.

This year the firm bagged new orders from Mantri Developers and Indiabulls, out-bidding rivals. Otis will supply 1,000 elevators and escalators to Mantri Developers for its projects and 37 high-speed elevators, including 18 SkyRise elevators to the Indiabulls BLU Project in Mumbai.

  • Zero import duty on wheat will lead to dumping: Unions

Farmers’ unions and agriculture experts are anguished over the Centre’s decision to scrap the import duty on wheat as they fear that farmers’ income will be affected and they will have to resort to distress sale during the rabi season.

The All India Kisan Sabha said government agencies had failed to procure wheat at the minimum support price (MSP), and without an adequate number of open purchasing centres, farmers are forced to sell their crop at lower prices.

“The decision of scrapping the import duty ahead of the winter wheat crop is aimed at helping agri-businesses by dumping wheat from foreign countries in India,” AIKS president Amra Ram said.

He said that big players in the wheat flour market had been demanding withdrawal of the duty, and this move was to suit their interests.

The Centre recently announced zero import duty from the prevailing 10 per cent to improve domestic availability and check rising prices of wheat and wheat-based products.

“Wheat traders are expecting imports to cross five million tonnes this year. The cost of imported wheat would be far below the MSP of ongoing rabi (Rs. 16,250 a tonne), resulting in crashing domestic wheat prices as the government has no effective procurement mechanism in many States,” he said.

Detrimental step

Nirbhay Singh, leader of the Kirti Kisan Union in Punjab, said, “With easing norms for wheat imports, the government has taken a detrimental step towards farmers’ interest. We have seen it in every season that though the government promises to buy crop at the MSP, yet farmers sell their produce in distress at a lower price for various reasons,” he said.

Agriculture experts also expressed concern over the Centre’s decision and apprehended that the move could badly hurt farmers’ income.

“The government has been saying that wheat sowing has not been impacted by demonetisation and the area of cultivation has increased. If the area has actually increased, and there are no other indications that wheat production will be down in the ongoing season, then why is the government allowing import of duty-free wheat?” asks Ajay Jakhar, chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj.

“It will lead to a drop in wheat price by at least Rs. 250 per quintal in the open market,” he added.

Devinder Sharma, noted agricultural and food policy analyst, said: “Scrapping duty on wheat would be detrimental to Indian agriculture. First, we did it with oilseeds then with pulses and now with wheat. Importing wheat will hurt our farmers.”

  • The blinkering effect of anger

There is a particular blinkering effect to anger that denies space for reason, dialogue, and coexistence. It has a steamrolling capacity to undermine institutions built over time, to describe opinions of people from whom we differ as “naïve stupidity”, and effortlessly create a bipolar world view at a time when we need to retain a sense of multitude with innumerable shades of grey. A good newspaper is a modern-day VIBGYOR disc that rotates in the reverse direction and at a meditative speed to reveal all the colours beneath a seemingly monochromatic white.

Pankaj Mishra in his extended essay, “Welcome to the age of anger” (The Guardian, December 8), points out the contradicting outcomes of a new breed of anger. He writes: “Many people find it easy to aim their rage against an allegedly cosmopolitan and rootless cultural elite. Objects of hatred are needed more than ever during times of crisis, and rich ‘citizens of nowhere’ — as Theresa May dubbed them — conveniently embody the vices of a desperately sought-after but infuriatingly unattainable modernity. And so globalisation, which promotes integration among shrewd elites, helps incite resentment everywhere else, especially among people forced against their will into universal competition.”

I am a daily recipient of anger — some justified and most unjustified — from a section of readers. They see this newspaper’s cosmopolitanism as opposing their sensibilities. The change that has been happening around us at all levels — locally, nationally and internationally — has a strong bearing on our language of public discourse, where anger and animosity are fast replacing inquiry, curiosity and empathy. This is neither a nostalgic recollection of some golden past nor a requiem for the present. It is an assessment.

Diversity a pleasure, not anxiety

I do recognise the power of emotions and that people’s choices and decisions are a product of both emotions and rational thinking. A newspaper is an interactive public space where both emotion and reason play a role to make it magical as suggested by Martha C. Nussbaum. She has wonderfully argued for the love of diversity in one’s fellow citizens. For her, the sense of diversity is a source of pleasure, not of anxiety. Mr. Mishra asks for greater precision in matters of the soul to get our basic bearings: “The stunning events of our age of anger, and our perplexity before them, make it imperative that we anchor thought in the sphere of emotions; these upheavals demand nothing less than a radically enlarged understanding of what it means for human beings to pursue the contradictory ideals of freedom, equality and prosperity.”

As a Readers’ Editor, I do empathise with the justifiable segment that points out errors and factual inaccuracies. We take care to rectify them as early as possible and it is not done in “some obscure pages” as a few insinuate, but in a visible manner in the opinion pages of the newspaper. What is not justifiable is the malicious use of the Corrections and Clarifications column to build a case against the newspaper. This column reflects the newspaper’s ethos, its ethical fibre and its commitment to remain a newspaper of record. The correction is not only published in the print and the Web editions; the actual text is also rectified to give a more accurate picture. If a rare story is wrong, the newspaper has the courage to not only apologise but also take it down from its Web edition and the Internet archives.

This leads to a set of basic questions for which I am searching for answers. Why is the only publication that has a visible mending process targeted? Why should a corrective mechanism be used to attack reporters and the newspaper? Does not the space for post-publication rectification make this newspaper more accountable to its readers than any other media platform in the country? Is it fair to interpret unintended errors as malicious design?

The problem gets complicated with stories that are developing and dynamic in nature. For instance, the newspaper published a story “3 CMs opt out of digitisation panel” (December 2, 2016). It spoke of V. Narayanasamy (Puducherry), Nitish Kumar (Bihar) and Manik Sarkar (Tripura) who turned down the Centre’s invitation to be on the sub-committee of Chief Ministers. Subsequently, the Centre has asked other Chief Ministers to join the panel. Those on the panel now are Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh), Naveen Patnaik (Odisha), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh), Pawan Kumar Chamling (Sikkim), and Devendra Fadnavis (Maharashtra). Mr. Narayanasamy’s name continues to be on the official list though he has rejected the offer. The point of the story was that opposition Chief Ministers did not wish to be on the panel. Now the panel has Chief Ministers belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party and those who are either neutral or supporters of the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. The other members are officials and experts. In this entire development, the headline “3 CMs opt out of digitisation panel” was a sober statement of fact. And it is far from the angry reader’s claim that it was “a screaming headline that tries to undermine the government at the Centre because two of three Chief Ministers mentioned in the report do not figure in the list released by NITI Aayog”.

I believe that the process of sharing the vulnerabilities in the newsgathering and news production process over the last decade in the Corrections and Clarifications column on the opinion pages has not rendered this newspaper weak but has made it a trustworthy public site for information and ideas. When the present wave of irrational anger subsides, I am sure these angry readers, too, will accept the effectiveness of this self-regulating mechanism.

  • Time to blow the whistle

As the nation engages in a doubtful “war on black money”, we run the risk of disengaging ourselves from any action on corruption, the fountainhead of black money. Indeed, we may be moving backwards in the battle against corruption. While everyone is busy debating demonetisation, Parliament is all set to change the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), 1988, into a law that can only be described as Protection of the Corrupt Act. Worse, this move enjoys cross-party support, as in most instances where the political establishment protects itself. All in the name of war against black money, of course.

On the face of it, the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013, which is pending before Parliament, merely proposes some amendments to the PCA. This Bill was first introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2013, during the United Progressive Alliance regime following massive anti-corruption protests. The purpose, ostensibly, was to tighten existing anti-corruption legislation. But it had some worrisome provisions. The real death knell was sounded after the National Democratic Alliance government proposed additional and fatal amendments in 2014. A Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha, comprising members across the political establishment, has already approved these changes. So has the Cabinet. This regressive piece of legislation was to be taken up for passage in the current winter session, now nearly washed out.

Hydra-headed amendments

As it stands now in the version cleared by the Select Committee in August this year, the Bill serves to dilute and defeat the whole point of anti-corruption legislation in more ways than one. It narrows down the existing definition of corruption, increases the burden of proof necessary for punishing the corrupt, makes things more difficult for the whistle-blower, and strengthens the shield available to officials accused of corruption. And it slips in a diabolic clause that would protect the babu-neta nexus from ever facing any serious anti-corruption probe. If this Bill becomes law, our already weak anti-corruption mechanism would receive a fatal blow.

Let us examine how each of these key amendments serves to protect the corrupt rather than prevent corruption.

First, the proposed amendment narrows down the definition of corruption, as demanded by the powerful lobby of civil servants. Section 13(1)(d) of the existing PCA covers various indirect forms of corruption including the obtaining of “any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage” by illegal gratification or by “abusing his position as a public servant”. The present Bill removes this section and replaces it with a truncated definition of criminal misconduct by a public servant: fraudulent misappropriation of property under one’s control, and intentional, illicit enrichment and possession of disproportionate assets. Under this new definition, any benefit that is not economic, that is indirect or that cannot be proven to be intentional fraud will not be punished as corruption. The Law Commission studied this proposed amendment carefully and disagreed with the narrow definition. Instead it proposed an even wider definition. The Law Commission suggested that any “undue advantage” that results from “improper performance of public function or activity” of a public servant should be punishable. Yet the government and the Parliamentary Committee disregarded this suggestion and have obliged the babu lobby.

This is critical, as the existing Section 13(1)(d) is the only provision in the PCA which deals with corruption in high places where, typically, no under-the-table transactions take place. The corrupt public servant usually receives illegal gratification in an extremely clandestine manner such as off-shore transactions or non-monetary considerations such as a better posting, post retirement benefits, etc. All major scams, right from Bofors to the 2G scam, the Commonwealth Games scam, the coal scam, etc. became criminal offences by virtue of this section. This is precisely why a section of bureaucrats has been demanding a deletion of this provision on the ground that it inhibits fearless decision-making that may involve exercise of discretion and bona fide errors. This argument is simply not true. T.S.R. Subramanian, a retired Cabinet Secretary known for his integrity, has repeatedly said that the existing law offers adequate protection to honest officers. It does not punish any bona fide difference or even mistake unless it is a clear abuse of power leading to financial or other gains.

Raising threshold of proof

Second, the Bill makes it more difficult to hold someone guilty of disproportionate assets as it raises the threshold of proof. Under the existing law, the possession of monetary resources or property disproportionate to the public servant’s known sources of income is enough to prove corruption. Now the prosecutor will also have to prove that this disproportionate asset was acquired with the intention of the public servant to enrich himself illicitly. Although the Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha agrees that proving intention should not be made mandatory, we don’t know the government’s final position. Besides this, currently, “known sources of income” are limited only to those receipts which had been “intimated in accordance with the provisions of any law, rules or orders for the time being applicable to a public servant”. This provision was made in 1988 in order to cover an earlier loophole, whereby many accused persons would cite fresh sources of income at the stage of trial, resulting in acquittal in a large number of disproportionate assets cases. Strangely, the government proposes to delete this requirement without any recommendation to this effect from any stakeholder. Thus the big offenders have secured a vital escape route for themselves.

Third, the proposed amendment makes it more risky for a bribe-giver to give evidence against a bribe-taker. Under the existing law, if a person makes a statement during a corruption trial that he gave a bribe, it would not be used to prosecute him for the offence of abetment of corruption. The current Bill omits this provision and proposes that bribe-taking and bribe-giving will be equally punishable. This would obviously deter bribe-givers from appearing as witnesses in cases against public officials.

Admittedly, there is some merit in not granting complete exemption to bribe-givers, but there was no need to do away with it altogether. The government had better options. The report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission has recommended a distinction between “coercive” and “collusive” bribing. Those who are coerced into bribing but report it thereafter should be given some protection. At one stage there was a proposal to give a seven-day window for declaration by the bribe-giver in order to qualify for exemption. But all such ideas were rejected. The final proposal now seeks to punish everyone and thereby reduces the chances of evidence against the bribe-taker.

The fourth change reduces the chances of prosecution of the corrupt. The existing PCA requires the government’s or higher officials’ sanction before any serving public servants can be prosecuted under the Act. The basic idea is to protect honest public officials from harassment, persecution and frivolous litigation. The proposed amendment extends this protection to retired public servants, if the case pertains to the period when they were in office. This seems a reasonable and necessary corollary of the original provision. But it also adds another unnecessary and pointless condition. If a private person approaches the government for sanction to prosecute a public servant for corruption, he would now need a court order to this effect. This additional layer of protection for the accused would discourage victims of corruption and anti-corruption activists from prosecuting corrupt public servants. Clearly, the government is concerned more about shielding government officials than prosecuting the corrupt.

Getting the nod first

And, finally, the most deadly and diabolic provision that the government has quietly slipped in without much public scrutiny. It proposes to insert a new Section 17A that would bar investigating agencies from even beginning an inquiry or investigating the offences under this Act without prior approval. The amendment proposed by the government said this sanction was to be obtained from a Lokayukta or Lokpal. The Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha makes it worse: it shifts the power to give this sanction to an “authority competent to remove” the person from office. Effectively, it means that now, the political masters will decide whether they wish to allow a corruption inquiry against any government employee or not.

This defies logic. As noted earlier, Section 19 of the Act already protects officials from mala fide litigation. If someone wishes to harass an innocent officer without any credible evidence of corruption, the government can refuse to give sanction for prosecution. But why insist on sanction even before an inquiry? Surely, if there is no inquiry, there is no credible evidence. On what basis then would the government (or the Lokpal, if we go by the previous proposal) give or refuse to give the sanction? Or, how would anyone produce evidence to secure this sanction without an inquiry in the first place? Even if the sanction is granted, would it not alert the corrupt official about the impending inquiry and give him time to hide evidence? This diabolic provision can only serve one purpose: make the higher bureaucracy and political bosses the ultimate arbiters in cases of corruption. If a politician wants to protect a corrupt officer, he can not only save him from prosecution (which can be challenged in a court) but also prevent any evidence gathering from taking place.

Reactivating the ‘Single Directive’

The babudom has thus managed to bring back the infamous “Single Directive”. This refers to an older governmental order that no senior officer (of the rank of Joint Secretary or above) could be investigated without permission from the government. In the famous Vineet Narain judgment, the Supreme Court had held this order as illegal, in 1997. The government brought it back, this time as provision of law, in 2003. Finally, as recently as 2014, a Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court held that this provision was unconstitutional, as it violated the right to equality. Such is the power of babudom and its hold over netas that it has managed to bring this immunity clause back for the third time.

As the winter session of Parliament draws to a close, it seems that this Bill may now be postponed to the Budget session. This gives concerned citizens another couple of months to build public opinion against this attempt to protect the corrupt. It is time to revive the anti-corruption movement

  • Ex-CJI calls for more power to human rights panels

Human rights commissions in the country could do with more rights of their own, a former Chief Justice of India suggested on Saturday.

Reliance on State govts.

Speaking at the National Human Rights Commission’s Human Rights Day event here, Justice (retd.) P. Sathasivam, who is now the Governor of Kerala, said the NHRC and State Human Rights Commissions should be able to execute their own orders. At present, the commissions can take up cases of human rights violations and make recommendations for monetary compensation to victims, but have to rely on the respective State government to execute the order.

“The commissions, both national and in States, must have the right to execute their orders,” said Justice Sathasivam, adding that the Protection of Human Rights (PHR) Act, 1993, could be amended to that effect.

According to him, while the NHRC and SHRCs act as civil courts when it comes to summoning witnesses or documents, they lack the power to implement orders that the civil courts have. He referred to the alleged encounter of sandalwood smugglers in Andhra Pradesh where the NHRC had recommended a CBI probe, but the State government moved court. Later, the High Court stayed the proceedings in the case.

Justice Sathasivam also suggested that the NHRC could approach the Centre seeking an amendment in the PHR Act so that recommendations of the commissions are more effective. He added that legal literacy must be advanced in the country.

While Justice Sathasivam highlighted the need for more power to the commissions, others speakers at the event said the panels should focus on protecting the rights of the vulnerable.

Magsaysay award-winner and national convenor of the Safai Karamchari Andolan, Bezwada Wilson, said: “Protection of the rights of the marginalised, including Dalits, Adivasis, minorities and women, is the most important responsibility of the human rights commissions.”

Rampant violations

Mr. Wilson said that human rights violations, such as pellet injuries in Kashmir to the practice of manual scavenging, were still rampant. “The space where you can express your feelings is shrinking,” he added.

NHRC chairperson Justice (retd.) H.L. Dattu, meanwhile, reiterated the need to work towards a “just and equitable society” as per principles of the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948.

  • Media must publish apology to acquitted innocents: Tribunal

The report of the jury that heard the first People’s Tribunal on Acquitted Innocents, held on October 2, 2016, took strong exception to “news coverage which destroys a person’s reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt, without any verdict in the court of law”.

The jury, which was chaired by Justice A.P. Shah, released its report — Towards a Framework for Compensation and Rehabilitation for Victims of Wrongful Prosecution/Conviction — in New Delhi on Saturday.

Holding that sections of the media had devastated lives “through sensationalism and partisan reporting”, the report urged the media to “strictly refrain from pronouncing the suspects/arrestees as guilty”, and to serve as objective institutions instead of becoming “mere handmaidens of investigating agencies”. It called upon publications and news channels that had put out defamatory material to “widely publish unconditional apology to the exonerees”.

Compensation

The People’s Tribunal, which gathered testimonies of several acquitted innocents, and the report of the jury, had been organised by The Innocence Network, an all-India collective that works for the rights of the wrongfully prosecuted or convicted.

Drawing on the principles of public law, the report called upon the government to “grant compensation to the exonerees for the loss and harm caused to them and for violating their right to life and liberty” under Article 21 of the Constitution.

One of the acquitted innocents, Mohammad Amir, a Delhi resident, was falsely accused in 19 terror cases, and had spent 14 years in prison. “The release of this report, coming as it does on International Human Rights Day, is an encouraging sign,” he said.

“It is also timely and relevant in the light of the alleged encounter killing of eight undertrials in Bhopal.”

‘Torture a routine practice’

Releasing the report, Justice Shah said that when a person dies in the custody of the State, the burden to prove their innocence should be on the custodians. “Torture has become a routine and endemic practice in investigative procedure in India,” he said.

“The Prevention of Torture Bill has been languishing in Parliament for more than four years, and no government seems interested in passing it despite India being a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture,” he added.

The report highlighted in particular the case of Nisar Ahmed, an innocent man who was made to spend 23 years in jail, after being convicted on the basis of a piece of evidence that, according to the Supreme Court, ought not to have been admitted in court in the first place. “

The rampant discourse on ‘war on terror’ legitimates the arrests of Muslim youth and grants impunity to investigators,” observed the report.

 

 

  • IBSA meet may see pact to boost trade

The proposal for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between India and the two separate customs unions involving Brazil and South Africa – MERCOSUR and SACU respectively – to boost trade and investment ties, is set to get a leg up with New Delhi likely to accord it priority at the forthcoming IBSA Summit.

Also topping the agenda at the sixth IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) Summit – likely to be held in India in mid-2017 – would be the three IBSA members enhancing contribution to the ‘IBSA Fund’ to support more developmental projects across the world. The summit could also see the three major emerging market economies strengthening trilateral cooperation on renewable energy projects, sources said.

On trade, India has a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with MERCOSUR (a trading bloc and customs union of Latin American nations, including Brazil) and both the sides are looking to expand its coverage. India is also negotiating a PTA with Southern African Customs Union (SACU) that includes South Africa — though only five rounds of negotiations had been held so far, with the fifth round having been held back in October 2010. A PTA between MERCOSUR and SACU had become operational from April this year.

Expanding scope

In the backdrop of these PTAs, the proposal for an India – MERCOSUR – SACU CEPA is to expand the scope of the PTAs from just trade in goods and then convert them into a comprehensive agreement that will also cover investments, trade in services and areas including intellectual property rights and competition laws among others.

“With the Indian Government planning to promote the IBSA grouping in a big way, efforts should be made to bring the proposal for an India-MERCOSUR-SACU CEPA to the level of an IBSA Joint Study Group. The CEPA can help boost intra-IBSA trade and investment ties,” said Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General of the New Delhi-based think-tank RIS. Intra-IBSA trade (export and import) in 2012 was about $50.5 billion, which was only 3.4 per cent of their total trade with the rest of the world. Though the CEPA proposal was mooted in 2007, talks on it have not yet taken off.

IBSA Fund

On the IBSA Fund, the three IBSA member-nations had in March 2005 agreed that each of them will pitch in with an annual contribution of $1 million to the Fund.

Though operational from 2006, the Fund had received contributions of only about $18 million, sources said, adding that the aim was to enhance it soon to $40 million to assist 25 projects every year, especially in least developed countries.

The Fund, managed by the UN office for South-South cooperation in the UN Development Programme (UNDP), is however sector- and region-agnostic.

According to an RIS report, there is a need for national development cooperation agencies of the three IBSA member nations to assume a larger role in development cooperation through IBSA.

“Instead of over-reliance on UNDP, the ABC of Brazil, DPA of India and SADPA (of South Africa) can jointly manage the Fund and the projects,” it added.

The projects completed by the IBSA Fund include those in Burundi (combating HIV/AIDS), Palestine (sports promotion and rehabilitation of cultural/hospital centre), Sierra Leone (human development and poverty reduction), Cape Verde (health care infrastructure, drinking water), Guinea-Bissau (agriculture development), Haiti (solid waste collection), Cambodia (empowering people with special needs) and Vietnam (rice production).

The IBSA Fund also supported Laos in the formulation of projects and Timor-Leste through a technical exchange.

  • 2016 turns third ‘richest’ year for IPOs

The year 2016 was the third-best since 1989 for initial public offers (IPOs) in terms of total funds raised, even though the number of public issues was far less compared with many of the earlier years.

Data from Prime Database, a primary market tracker, show that a total of 25 companies entered the capital market with their IPOs to raise a cumulative sum of Rs.25,163.33 crore in 2016. This is the third-highest quantum raised in a single calendar year after 2010 (Rs.37,534.65 crore) and 2007 (Rs.34,179.11 crore).

Almost double

Incidentally, the funds raised in 2016 were almost double that of the previous calendar year when a total of 21 issues mobilised Rs.13,614.08 crore.

Merchant bankers attribute the trend to the strong profile of the companies that entered the capital market in 2016 along with the huge appetite that both foreign and domestic investors showed for new paper floated by Indian companies even as the secondary markets turned volatile in the last few months.

“There were a lot of good quality, less leveraged companies that launched their IPOs that also led to a trend of issues doing well post-listing,” said Subhrajit Roy, executive director, Kotak Investment Banking.

“Even as the secondary markets went choppy in the recent past, the primary market managed to register traction and perform well in the secondary market as well. The appetite among FIIs continued strong even as they have been net sellers in secondary markets in the last couple of months,” added Mr. Roy.

Some of the large-sized issues that hit the market this year were ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company, L&T Technology Services, PNB Housing Finance, RBL Bank, Mahanagar Gas, Ujjivan Financial Services and Infibeam Corporation.

Interestingly, the year was marked with large-sized offers with the average issue size pegged at approximately Rs.1,007 crore. Prime Database has been maintaining IPO data since 1989 and this is the first time that the average size has crossed Rs.1,000 crore mark.

“Domestic and foreign investors found India a growth market and showed good appetite resulting in the IPOs getting good acceptance throughout the year,” said Ajay Saraf, executive director, ICICI Securities. Even retail investors saw equity as an attractive option at a time when interest rates were falling, he added.

Meanwhile, bankers are hoping that the positive trend will continue in the next year as well though they add that the recent demonetisation move of the government might impact the appetite in certain sectors, especially those that are directly impacted by discretionary spends of consumers.

“The trend should continue in the next year as well though there might be some softening due to the demonetisation factor. Companies from consumer discretionary sector might see an impact though demonetisation has led to a positive shift from unorganised to organised segments,” said Mr.Roy.

Demonetisation boost

According to Mr.Saraf, the demonetisation move might actually boost the investments in equity as more money would come within the formal channel and those with an investment horizon of 4-5 years would look at equity as an attractive investment avenue.

  • Centre to review IT Act to bolster cyber security

The government is mulling a review of the more than 15-year-old Information Technology (IT), Act to strengthen cybersecurity infrastructure, following the push for digital payments post-demonetisation.

“The IT Act came out in 2000. Since then, it has by and large served us well. Now, as we move towards a digital economy, we are reviewing if there is a need to re-look at the IT Act architecture to make it more of a deterrent for cyber criminals,” Minister for Electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

A “closed group”, under IT Secretary Aruna Sundarajan, has been set up to look into various aspects of the Act in line with the changing times.

The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), which will soon issue advisories to all digital payment agencies including banks and e-wallets providers “to harden security walls”, has also set up a separate ‘digital payments’ division under Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) — its cyber security arm — to monitor and strengthen cashless transactions. “All digital payments agencies have been asked to report to CERT-In any unusual activity that they see on their platforms,” Mr.Prasad said. The division was set up after the November 8 announcement withdraw old Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes from circulation.

The Minister said, “We are taking several measures to ensure a resilient system. We will audit IT infra of NPCI… have formed crack teams at CERT-In for immediate response …There are CIOs who have been appointed in every ministry and govt department… We are undertaking massive program to create awareness among administrators, judges etc.”

To strengthen cyber security, the IT ministry had recently approved 26 new posts in CERT-Inand five State CERTs.

The Minister also met senior representatives of the RBI as well as public and private sector banks, and NPCI. While asking banks to incentivise digital payments and transactions, Mr. Prasad said, to address concerns of cyber security, the IT ministry would soon conduct a security drill both for the banks and NPCI.

  • Scams in States’ helicopter deals too?

While investigation into alleged irregularities in the purchase of AgustaWestland helicopters for the Air Force picks steam, Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) audit reports from many States document irregularities in acquisition of helicopters for similar VVIP duties.

A public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed in the Supreme Court, demanding a comprehensive investigation into the purchases by State governments, is slated for a hearing on January 10, though the Central government has opposed such an investigation.

Over the past decade or so, when Indian VVIPs began to use helicopters extensively, the Central government and the States procured expensive and advanced multi-engine helicopters for their brass.

Most expensive

Among the procurements, the most expensive was the purchase of a dozen VVIP helicopters by the Air Force in 2010, in which the CBI has now arrested former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi and others.

Various States also procured helicopters in recent years for the movement of Governors, Chief Ministers and other State-level dignitaries.

Mess in J&K

In an audit report in 2015, the CAG pointed out illegalities committed by the Jammu & Kashmir government in procurement of AgustaWestland’s A-109 E Power helicopter in 2004-05.

The report said the procurement was carried out in a non-transparent manner.

Last year, a CAG report documented irregularities committed by the Punjab government in procuring a Bell helicopter without inviting tenders.

It was in violation of Punjab Financial Rules.

The purchase of an AgustaWestland helicopter by the Rajasthan government in 2005 too faced allegations of lack of transparency. In 2008, an audit report of the CAG said that the State government suffered an unnecessary loss of Rs. 1.14 crore because the helicopter was lying unused for a long time.

Reason: the State didn’t have a trained pilot.

In 2006, the purchase of a VVIP helicopter from AgustaWestland by the Jharkhand government too was carried out without an open tender.

The most damning evidence is in Chhattisgarh. The PIL plea has alleged a criminal conspiracy.

‘Sham tender’

“In the Chhattisgarh deal, a sham tender was called for a particular model of Agusta helicopter in which three companies represented by the same person participated and forged documents were created. Further it is apparent from the record that money over and above the actual price of the helicopter was siphoned off in foreign exchange in certain accounts of banks outside the country,” according to the PIL plea filed by Swaraj Abhiyan led by advocate Prashant Bhushan and others.

Despite recommendation for open tender, invitations were sent to only suppliers of AgustaWestland helicopter, according to State government records submitted in the Supreme Court. A part of the payment was remitted to an account in Singapore, not owned by the company that supplied the helicopter. The Singapore account was controlled by an investment banker.

A limited CAG audit in 2010-11 said that in the Chhattisgarh deal, the State incurred an additional expenditure of Rs. 65 lakh.

The PIL plea has had three hearings, said Sudiep Shrivastav, one of the advocates appearing for the petitioner, who was also a key petitioner in the coal scam PIL petition.

  • The decisiveness of 1971

December 16, 2016 marks the 45th anniversary of Vijay Diwas, the day the Pakistan Army in East Bengal surrendered before Lt. Gen. J.S. Aurora, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Eastern Command, in 1971. A new nation was born after a struggle which lasted but a few months and had its roots in the Pakistan general election of December 1970.

The run-up to war

The Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won a massive majority in the provincial legislature and in all but two of East Pakistan’s quota of seats in the new National Assembly, thus gaining a clear majority. The largest party in West Pakistan was the Pakistan Peoples’ Party headed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who threatened to boycott the assembly and oppose the government if Mujib was invited by Gen. Yahya Khan, then President of Pakistan, to become Pakistan’s Prime Minister despite the fact that he had won an overall majority. Mujib was left with no option but to start a civil disobedience movement; he was soon arrested.

Dark clouds started gathering over India’s eastern border. On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani military junta began a crackdown on the people of East Pakistan. It soon turned into a large-scale genocide. The atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army gave rise to the birth of Mukti Bahini, a potent guerrilla force and the face of Bengali resistance.

By November 1971, the number of refugees from East Bengal in India had reached 10 million. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi rose to the challenge with determination and a renewed confidence acquired after having won a massive mandate in the Lok Sabha elections. Throughout the crisis, she acted not only with immense courage but also abundant caution. She did not want to strengthen the Pakistani propaganda that the movement for autonomy in East Pakistan was nothing but an Indian conspiracy, neither did she want to do anything which would lead to India being accused of violating international law and norms.

In following a policy of restraint, Mrs. Gandhi had two other major considerations. First, if it was to be war, it should come at a time of India’s choosing. She agreed with Army chief Sam Manekshaw that military operations in East Pakistan could not be undertaken during the monsoon. The Himalayan passes too would get snowbound only in winter making it impossible for China to send troops to aid Pakistan. Complementing the Army chief’s view was Foreign Minister Swaran Singh, who advised restraint till all diplomatic options were exhausted.

A strategic and military success

The Prime Minister followed a multi-pronged strategy. She realised that international opinion had to be won over to the cause of Bangladesh and made aware of India’s unbearable burden of refugees. From July to November 1971, Mrs. Gandhi and Swaran Singh globetrotted across the Western world, attempting to build a consensus to force a UN resolution condemning the Pakistani atrocities in Bangladesh. India not only gave sanctuary to the Bangladeshi government-in-exile but also trained and equipped the Mukti Bahini.

To secure itself against a possible U.S.-China intervention in case events led to war, India signed on August 9 a 20-year Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation. The treaty provided for immediate mutual consultations and appropriate effective measures in case of either country being subjected to a military threat.

Mrs. Gandhi, prepared for the war by November-end, was reluctant to take action first, even though December 4, 1971, had been designated as the day the Indian armed forces would directly undertake the liberation of Bangladesh. At this stage, however, Yahya Khan obliged: Pakistan’s air force launched a surprise attack on December 3 on eight military airfields in western India, hoping to inflict serious damage on the Indian Air Force and also internationalise the Bangladesh issue. The bid failed in both its objectives.

India immediately recognised Bangladesh and backed it with strong military action. The Indian strategy was to hold the Pakistani forces in the western sector through strong defensive action, while waging a short, swift and decisive war in the east. The U.S. government moved two resolutions in the UN Security Council proposing a ceasefire and mutual troop withdrawal, but these were vetoed by the Soviet Union. In desperation President Richard Nixon ordered the American Seventh Fleet to set sail for the Bay of Bengal. But India’s ‘iron lady’ was not to be cowed down by any threat. She asked Manekshaw to direct the Eastern Command to speed up operations. The Indian Army, actively assisted by the Mukti Bahini, virtually ran through East Bengal and reached Dacca within 11 days. A defeated and demoralised 93,000-strong Pakistan Army led by Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi was made to surrender on December 16. The following day, the Indian government announced a unilateral ceasefire on the western front.

Pakistan was reported to have lost half its navy, a quarter of its air force and a third of its army. The war stripped the nation of more than half of its population. Bangladesh was founded, and the 10 million refugees returned to their homeland with cries of ‘Joy Indira Gandhi, Joy Bangladesh’. While A.B. Vajpayee, then a 47-year-old parliamentarian, likened Indira Gandhi to “Durga”, The Economist dubbed her “Empress of India”. It was Indira’s, and India’s, finest hour.

  • Free flow of wheat

Centre’s decision to waive import duty on wheat has predictably attracted flak. Opposition parties have questioned the move, which comes days after the government’s assertion that demonetisation of high-value currency notes did not impact the sowing of the rabi crop, with a greater area being cultivated compared to the same time a year ago. Assembly polls are due soon in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, both large wheat-producing States, making this a plausible rallying point for the Opposition. Farmer unions have warned of dumping of wheat stock in India at a time when the minimum support price (Rs.1,625 a quintal) is higher than international prices. This, they argue, could lead to distress sales when the current crop is harvested over March-April. The government, on its part, has noted concerns about the warmer winter forecast, which could affect wheat output and trigger inflation. This February, when prices of food articles that make up 46 per cent of the consumer price index were cooling off, the government expected the trend to continue if the monsoon was normal after two years of drought. Now at year-end, following a normal monsoon, inflation remains under control but wheat prices have been moving up swiftly.

There is no doubt that fiddling too often with wheat import duties — from 10 per cent to 25 per cent, then back to 10 per cent and finally to zero, all within 500 days — sends mixed signals to farmers and traders, though the latter group will be pleased with the duty-free regime. But equally, it is necessary to change one’s mind when the situation so demands, which it currently does. A record global harvest has lowered wheat prices internationally. With a higher MSP, and speculation about a less-than-adequate harvest domestically, the government is obviously keen on avoiding a surge in inflation following the demonetisation process. With imports remaining duty-free, it is now clear to traders that hoarding reserves and profiteering from the systemic stress won’t pay for long, even though it will take a couple of months or so for the first such shipments to arrive from overseas. Farmers busy with the rabi sowing season may not rally to political provocations immediately. But by the time they harvest the crop four months from now, the Centre would be well-advised to spruce up its procurement act, and raise awareness about the MSP mechanism. A longer-term action plan is needed to increase India’s wheat yields, which in most States are lower than in China and Bangladesh.

  • Transformational effect of school planning– Adarsh”

Ram Prasad Bawari (58), a farm labourer near Devgaon village, about 45 km from Jaipur, always wanted his four children to study in a “big” school but until a couple of years ago he had no idea what that might look like.

There were a couple of private schools in the area, whose fees he could not afford, so the Devgaon Senior Secondary School, a government institution, was the only real option.

However, while it had a building and classrooms this school did not function as a school typically would. “Classes were held under the trees because there were no chairs or benches in the classrooms. The children also didn’t have uniforms and our boys used to go in whatever clothes we could give them but it was not appropriate for attending a school,” Mr. Bawari explained.

Much has changed though, over the past year. Primary and secondary schools were bundled into one compound, ever since the school was converted into an “Adarsh” integrated school under a policy introduced last year by the Rajasthan government.

Mr. Bawari points out that since they started sharing space with secondary school students his children now get to study in classrooms with proper infrastructure. He also points with pride to the fact that his children are now wearing uniforms, many of which have been donated to the school by members of the community.

Adarsh, or “ideal,” schools, such as this one, are part of the state government’s effort to ensure that children have access to one institution that offers education from Classes I to XII. They are the pivot around which several new reforms to the education sector in Rajasthan are based.

In areas such as Devgaon, where over 90 per cent of the population is from scheduled castes or scheduled tribes, they are starting to play an important role in restoring faith in the public school system.

This integration initiative has supplied a long overdue effort toward rationalisation of the number of schools in the area. Despite its daunting spatial spread across desert land, the drive to build more schools under programmes such as Sarva Siksha Abhiyan had left Rajasthan with a curious problem of over-access.

There were too many private schools, about 1.83 per gram panchayat, and close to 30,000 of these had less than 30 children attending. By contrast there were not enough secondary schools, only 0.37 per gram panchayat, and several children were getting lost in transit. Ninety per cent of students made it from Class VIII to X while only 49 per cent made it from Class X to XII. Both were below national averages.

Moreover, while there were a total of 87,000 government schools in Rajasthan they fell into a dizzying array of categories – there were those teaching Classes I to V, those teaching I to VII, VI to X, IX to XII or only XI to XII. The various pieces of a vast system were in place but they acted largely as fissiparous parts, not coming together for a more composite idea of improving outcomes. They were also a management nightmare.

“For secondary schools there is a principal who is in charge but primary schools are supervised by block level officers,” explains Naresh Gangwar, the state’s School Education Secretary. “Each of these block level officers in turn had about 250-300 schools to supervise with the result that there was very little actual monitoring. If a parent had a problem with the primary school it would be difficult for him to go and meet the block officer who would have no time,” he adds.

Integrating schools was also an efficient way to solve teacher shortages. A primary school for instance, had an allocation for only two teachers teaching Classes I to V while an upper primary school had an allocation for six. Combine the two in one institution and you could have one teacher for one grade who could target the specific needs of children in their classes.

For the majority of people who live in far flung rural areas, Mr Gangwar points out that the natural preference is to invest in a government school system that they can trust. At the centre of these reforms then, is a re-imagining of what access to quality education means – one school that provides education from Class I to XII under one principal.

Where some schools lack adequate space and physical infrastructure and they have to be shut down in the process of integration, the state government hopes to provide children with travel vouchers, Rs. 25 per day, so that they may travel to an Adarsh school. The eventual plan is to have one such school in every gram panchayat.

It is evident that the scheme is having an impact on the ground. In two years since the policy has been in place, it has seen about 15 lakh students returning to the public school system, reversing the trend of earlier years. Enrolment in senior secondary grades has also increased by over 2 lakhs while 66 per cent of students in the government system are now transitioning to Class XI as opposed to 50 per cent previously.

Importantly, gender parity has improved across all classes going from 0.70 to 0.84 in secondary grades and 0.71 from 0.63 in senior secondary grades.

The success of the Adarsh schools has meant that the Rajasthan government has been able to improve inclusion outcomes without going the way of privatisation.

 

  • Empowering the Right to Education

In 2009 India enacted a landmark legislation promising universal inclusion in primary education, paving the way for more learning opportunities at secondary and higher levels. This legislation, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, effectively made education a fundamental right of every child in the age group of 6 to 14.

Yet six years on from its entry into force, there is still significant debate about the parameters through which that promise is supposed to be realised.

A massive investment push into education infrastructure has seen about 3.5 lakh new schools opened in the past decade under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan so that 99 per cent of India’s rural population has a primary school within a one kilometre radius.

An already high enrolment level, about 95 per cent since 2009, has been supplemented by a 55 per cent decline in dropout rate reported between 2005 and 2014 in the age group 6-14.

Despite significant gains in increasing access to schooling, there are still major glitches in the implementation of the Act.

Earlier this year, Vice-President Hamid Ansari noted that even with the increasing enrolment numbers, India has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world, which is a staggering 6.064 million according to an answer given in the Rajya Sabha by the Union HRD Minister.

 

While enrolment has been a success, school completion rates remain abysmal.

According to a 2015 Brookings Institute report on primary education in India, 29 per cent of children drop out before completing five years of primary school, and 43 per cent before finishing upper primary school. High school completion, according to the report, is only 42 per cent. India’s dropout trends also raise troubling questions about equity: there is a huge difference between urban and rural education, and the education received by the rich and the poor.

 

Of the 6.064 million out of school children, an incredible 4.6 million, or 76 per cent, belonged to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the religious minorities. The RTE promises education of equitable quality in schools meeting certain essential standards but in that crucial parameter of inclusion lies its biggest failing.

Much of the narrative around the RTE and its implementation tended to focus on the 25 per cent reservation of seats for children from disadvantaged backgrounds in private schools.

 

Latterly, it has also focused on the large number of low cost or budget schools that have faced closure for failing to meet infrastructure norms envisioned under the Act. It is important to recognise however, that about 70 per cent of India’s students study in government school and fixing this system – in term of improving infrastructure, teacher quality and targeted learning for children from disadvantaged groups – should be the first step in building a more equitable system.

  • urged to lift limits on stock-holding of pulses

Ahead of the Budget, the India Pulses and Grain Association (IGPA) has urged the government to withdraw the restrictions on stockholding by traders and millers, to ensure smooth supply of pulses in the domestic market.

The Association suggested that the government start selling pulses through the Public Distribution System (PDS) to incentivise farmers to produce more.

In its recommendations for the Union Budget of 2017-18, IPGA has demanded that pulses importers, wholesalers and millers be exempted from stock limits. In September, the government had extended the stock limit on pulses held by traders till for another year to September 2017.

Mr. Pravin Dongre, Chairman of IPGA said: “Our suggestions, if implemented, would streamline the availability of pulses across the country. IPGA is willing to work with the government to ensure adequate availability of pulses throughout the year.”

Mr. Dongre said the IGPA has also urged the government to consider creating a modernisation scheme for pulse mills. “India has over 10,000 pulse mills but less than 10 per cent of the industry has access to adequate scale, modern technology and organised operations,” he said, adding that without the ecosystem for scale and modernisation, the sector will continue to struggle for private capital, remain largely unorganised and technologically obsolete.

“Milling industry needs the support of government, both financial and technical, to build efficiency in the value chain of Dal production and distribution,” he added.

Private sector participation

The IPGA representation also asked for the government to invite private sector participation in creating modern storage infrastructure for pulses.

“In its efforts to build a large buffer stock to ensure steady supply of pulses through bilateral agreements with various countries on overseas farming and imports, private participation is crucial to scale up infrastructure for storage,” said the representation.

  • Nagaland villages show the way to grassroot innovations

While it is common for the people to visit a doctor or apply antiseptic creams on wounds to stop bleeding and avoid infections, many Nagaland villagers simply pluck a “doctor leaf” from a tree to stop the blood flow.

According to the villagers, extract from the leaves of Sayanglaza tree (Eupatorium Odoratum), when applied on the wounds, stops the external flow of blood within no time.

Living in tough terrains and faced with the scarcity of resources, villagers in Nagaland have not only preserved their traditional knowledge but have also adopted many new scientific approaches to make their lives better.

‘No wastage’

Their tradition of “no wastage” and “optimum usage of available resources” brings relief to their otherwise difficult life.

This and many other traditional and new scientific approaches were evident during the 38th Shodhyatra in Nagaland which took place from November 26 to December 2, where 60 ‘ shodhyatris’ from India and foreign countries participated.

“These shodhyatras are organised by SRISTI twice a year to unearth the traditional knowledge and grassroots innovations in remote villages of a particular State and give them the knowledge acquired from the other States of the country,” Professor Anil K Gupta, President, Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions (SRISTI), told PTI.

Traditional knowledge

During the recent Shodhyatra, biodiversity and food recipe competitions were organised to unveil the traditional knowledge of villagers. To encourage the curiosity and creativity among school children, competitions on innovative ideas were also held.

In addition to these competitions, people aged 90 years and above were honoured in their villages.

“In my lifetime, I have seen this first of its own kind of Shodhyatra. These baby steps will be helpful to our younger generation and they will get inspiration from it,” said Nyitsangpa, from village Phirahi, who claims to be 112-year-old.

“These Shodhyatras are management of knowledge for 200 years. By these journeys, we document 100 years old traditional knowledge of our elders, which is going to serve our younger generation for the next 100 years,” Prof Gupta added.

During this journey, machines invented by grassroots innovators were demonstrated before villagers. Bamboo incense stick making machine by L Ralte and L Sailo of Mizoram, hand-operated water lifting device by N Saktimainthan of Tamil Nadu and multi-purpose food processing machine by Dharamveer Kamboj of Haryana were some of them.

Grassroots innovator and farmer Amrut Agrawat (71), who has been President Pranab Mukherjee’s guest for over two weeks in Rashtrapati Bhavan, also participated in the Shodhyatra.

With the conclusion of the Shodhyatra in Nagaland, one cycle of covering each State in the country has been completed and second cycle will begin with Odisha in summer.

 

  • OHRC seeks reports on Chilika Lake tragedy

The Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) directed three top officials, two State government departments and the Chilika Development Authority (CDA) to furnish reports regarding the recent boat tragedy in the Chilika lake that claimed four lives.

In its order on Tuesday, the OHRC sought reports regarding this boat accident from the CDA, Revenue Divisional Commissioner (RDC), southern division, Inspector General of Police (IGP), southern range, Ganjam district collector, departments of ‘Commerce & Transport’ and Tourism. These reports are to be furnished before the OHRC within next three weeks.

On December 10, a fishing boat carrying 29 picnickers and two boatmen from Sabulia on Chilika coast had capsized. Four persons including two children died in the mishap. The boat was not meant to carry tourists. It had holes in it and overloaded, which is suspected to be the reason behind the accident. Initial enquiries have hinted at it.

CDA Chief Executive Officer P. Krishna Mohan after his on-the-spot enquiry had said that lack of proper safety measures and overloading had caused the mishap.

Meanwhile, the owner of the boat as well as his assistant boatman, who is a juvenile, have been taken into custody. The boat has also been seized by the police.

On Tuesday, Khurda Collector and Superintendent of Police reached Barkul on Chilika coast to take stock of the situation of transportation of tourists by boats in the lake. License, registration, insurance and safety measures in these boats were checked. All boat owners were advised to comply with the prescribed norms of safety to transport tourists.

  • RS passes Disabilities Bill with more benefits

The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the Disabilities Bill with the list of ‘disabilities’ expanded from seven to 21 and the quantum of reservation increased for people suffering from disabilities from three per cent to four per cent in government jobs.

In higher education institutions, the quota has been increased from three per cent to five percent.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, moved in the Upper House earlier this month by Social Justice Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot, also gives effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and related matters.

It provides for imprisonment ranging from six months to two years, along with a fine ranging from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 5 lakh, for discriminating against differently abled persons.

“If the Bill becomes a law, it will benefit millions. It recognises that persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities like autism and Down’s Syndrome also have a right to education and employment. We are thrilled that the Bill has been passed after a three-year wait. This is a huge victory for us but we still have to go through the Lok Sabha tomorrow. I hope the same urgency is shown by the government and the opposition there,” said Javed Abidi, director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP).

In the Bill, disability has been defined based on an evolving and dynamic concept and the types of disabilities have been increased from existing seven to 21. The types of disabilities now include mental illness, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, chronic neurological conditions. It also strengthens the office of chief commissioner and state commissioners for Persons with Disabilities, which will act as regulatory bodies.

In a break with disruptions in the Rajya Sabha for almost the entire session, the Opposition itself agreed to get the Bill passed for the benefit of persons with disabilities.

  • In world first

A hospital in northern Italy said on Wednesday it had achieved a world first by successfully transplanting a kidney in the place of the spleen in a six-year-old girl.

The child had been on dialysis since birth because of a rare kidney anomaly and a malformation of the abdominal blood vessels, the Molinette hospital in Turin said in a statement.

The youngster, who was not named, had been unable to either urinate or drink, it said. “In order to create the necessary space for the new kidney, a revolutionary and innovative technique was applied, with the removal of the spleen,” the hospital said.

“The girl is doing very well, she resumed urinating immediately and can finally drink after six years,” the hospital said.

  • ‘Hindus best-educated religious group in U.S.’

Washington: Hindus are the best-educated of all religious groups in North America and Europe, a new study released by Pew Research Centre on Tuesday found.

This is in sharp contrast with the Hindus who live in India, who are among the least-educated of all religious groups worldwide, the study found.

96% have college degrees

Ninety-six per cent of Hindus in the U.S. have college degrees compared to 36 per cent for Christians who are a majority in the country. Among Jews, 76 per cent have college degrees, compared to 54 per cent of Muslims and 53 per cent of Buddhists. “..outside the Asia-Pacific region, where Hindus are a small religious minority, they are much more highly educated —and often are the most highly educated religious group in a particular country.

“For instance, Hindus in the U.S. have 15.7 years of schooling, on average — a full year more than the next most highly educated U.S. religious group (Jews), and nearly three years more than the average American adult (12.9 years).

“Hindus in Europe also are highly educated, averaging 13.9 years of schooling,” the study, titled Religion and Education Around the World, said. “However, Hindus still have the lowest level of educational attainment of any major religious group,” it said.

Globally, Hindus average 5.6 years of schooling and only one-tenth of them have post-secondary degrees. Forty-one per cent of Hindus have no formal education of any kind.

Gender gap

The gender gap in education has been bridged to some extent among Hindus in recent years, but they still have the largest educational gender gap of any religious group.

“On an average, Hindu men have 2.7 more years of schooling than Hindu women, and just over half of Hindu women (53 per cent) have no formal schooling, compared with 29 per cent of Hindu men,” the study said.

  • NSG waiver has attendant risks, govt. tells Lok Sabha

India wants full membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as the current arrangement with the elite club carries “attendant risks”, the government told the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

Minister of Atomic Energy and Space Jitendra Singh said in a written answer that the “waiver” that the NSG gave India “has an element of unpredictability”.

“India is currently engaged in nuclear trade with international partners based on a waiver from the NSG in 2008. The waiver is in the form of a concession without according India the status of a full member and therefore has an element of unpredictability and attendant risks in the long run for India’s long-term nuclear power programme,” said Mr. Singh.

The government’s statement is significant as it is the first time that it has declared the waiver in such terms. The statement prompted former Indian ambassador to the U.S. Shankar Bajpai to question the government’s position. “Our interests were met by the waiver from the NSG which has helped us conduct nuclear trade with other nuclear powers,” said Mr. Bajpai and added, “full membership of NSG is a matter of prestige and not a matter of benefit.”

However, Mr. Singh sought to highlight that membership of NSG would help India access the nuclear supply chain with ease.

“Full membership of the NSG would enable India to have enhanced and predictable global access to nuclear technology, fuel, materials and components required for our expanding civil nuclear programme. It would advance energy security, contribute to India’s growth strategy based on clean energy to combat climate change, and strengthen global nuclear non-proliferation,” said Mr. Singh.

Earlier this year, Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh had updated Parliament about the waiver without referring to it in terms of risk or unpredictability.

Consensus decision

“The NSG took a consensus decision in September 2008 to permit its members to engage in civil nuclear cooperation with India despite India not being a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),” Mr. V.K. Singh had told the Lok Sabha on May 4.

In 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had described the same as a “momentous” decision which would end India’s “isolation” in the global energy market.

India has been trying to upgrade the “waiver” into a full member status and the government accordingly made two attempts this year to become member of the elite organisation. India has been engaging nuclear energy producing countries in civil nuclear deals since getting the waiver.

Mr. Bajpai cautioned that criticising the waiver may not help India engage nuclear powers. “There is no hope for getting NSG membership in the near future as the Chinese have not changed their position,” he said.

The NSG will take up India’s membership issue at its next plenary session in June 2017.

  • Rights for the rightful owners –
  • Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act

On this day 10 years ago the historic Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act was passed in the Lok Sabha. Its conception and passage was the result of the decades of struggles and sacrifices of millions of tribals across India, of their organisations, of numerous activists and intellectuals working on tribal issues, and because of the commitment and efforts of the Left parties.

Attempts at dilution

A century ago colonial chicanery had turned tribal owners of the forests and its resources into encroachers. A decade ago, the Indian inheritors of this legacy of fraud were working against the Bill till literally the last moment. The real encroachers and plunderers of the forests, the mining companies, the private power sector companies, those involved in irrigation projects, the timber and paper industries, the forest resort tourist industry had high stakes in preventing the passage of the Bill. They were in the company of fundamentalist wildlife and environmentalist groups with their close links with the powerful forest bureaucracy. They made a motley though influential crowd and had the ear of very important people in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government hierarchy.

They succeeded in diluting some important recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee on community forest rights, access to minor forest produce and so on. The clause that Non-tribal Traditional Forest Dwellers would have to show evidence of their occupation of the land for 75 years virtually negated the inclusion of these largely poorer sections, many of them Dalits, in the law. The Left had proposed that for these sections the Supreme Court-proposed cut-off year of 1980 would be appropriate, while for tribal communities the cut-off year should be 2005. But at the last moment the government surreptitiously brought in the three generation or 75-year clause.

The Bill with these obnoxious clauses was circulated and listed for immediate discussion and passage. As soon as we saw it, the Chairman of the Select Committee, Kishore Chandra Deo, and I rushed to the chamber of Pranab Mukherjee, then External Affairs Minister, who was the point person for the Bill on behalf of the government in the negotiations with the Left. There was a mini-drama and heated discussion which finally ended with the arrival of the Tribal Affairs Minister, P.R. Kyndiah, who had been summoned by his senior. In the discussions he assured us that he would move amendments to the Bill. At that time there was no choice but to accept the assurance at face value. It had taken more than a year of struggle to finally get the Bill included in the business agenda of Parliament and listed. The powerful lobbies against the Bill would have used our opposition to once again shelve it. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was playing a duplicitous role — its Adivasi MPs supported the Bill while others were dead against it. They ran a campaign among MPs from the Northeast that if passed, the law would legalise encroachment by “illegal Bangladeshis”. This was utterly misleading, but anything was fair in the war against tribal rights.

The missing amendments

The Bill became law, but without the amendments promised. After much discussion and pressure, some of them were included in the Rules. This also was a big struggle and there was a strong group of activists who along with the Left representatives could work out a fairly good set of Rules. It included giving prime importance to the role of the gram sabhas.

In spite of its inadequacies, there can be little doubt that the Forest Rights Act (FRA) stands as a powerful instrument to protect the rights of tribal communities. It is a hindrance to corporate interests to their free loot and plunder of India’s mineral resources, its forests, its water. But the Narendra Modi government is systematically implementing its plan to weaken and dilute the Act in several ways.

New attempts at dilution

First, it has brought a series of legislation that undermine the rights and protections given to tribals in the FRA, including the condition of “free informed consent” from gram sabhas for any government plans to remove tribals from the forests and for the resettlement or rehabilitation package. The laws were pushed through by the Modi government without any consultation with tribal communities. They include the amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act and a host of amendments to the Rules to the FRA which undermine the FRA. The requirement of public hearings and gram sabha consent has been done away with for mid-sized coal mines. BJP State governments and partners in the National Democratic Alliance such as the Telugu Desam Party government in Andhra Pradesh have introduced government orders to subvert the FRA. In Telangana, in total violation of the FRA, the government has illegalised traditional methods of forest land cultivation. The Jharkhand government has brought amendments to the Chotanagpur and also the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Acts which eliminate rights of gram sabhas and permit tribal land to be taken over by corporates, real estate players, private educational and medical institutions in the name of development, without tribal consent. In Maharashtra the government has issued a notification of “Village Rules” which gives all rights of forest management to government-promoted committees as opposed to the gram sabha. This is the law-based offensive.

Second, there is the policy-based war. The Modi government has declared its commitment to ensuring “ease of business”, which translates into clearing all private sector-sponsored projects in tribal-inhabited forest areas. The National Board for Wildlife, with the Prime Minister as Chairperson, was reconstituted, slashing the number of independent experts from 15 members to three, packing it with subservient officials. In the first three months of assuming office, the Modi government cleared 33 out of 41 proposals diverting over 7,000 hectares of forest land. Of this the major share was for Gujarat companies. In two years the clearances for projects have included “diversion” — or more appropriately land grab — to the extent of 1.34 lakh hectares of forest land. In many areas this will lead to massive displacement of tribal communities. In the multipurpose Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh alone, now given a national status by the Central government, 2 lakh hectares of forest land will be submerged affecting around 85,000 families, more than half tribals, including 100 habitations of particularly vulnerable tribal communities. In almost all these projects, the affected tribal families have not yet received their pattas (land ownership documents), one of the conditions set by the FRA. This wilful disregard and blatant violation of the legal protections given to tribals has become the cornerstone of the policy.

Third, there is the deliberate freeze of the actual implementation of the FRA. Neither individual pattas nor pattas for community forest resources are being given. During the UPA-II government the implementation of the Act was virtually hijacked by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and rejections of claims increased. However, now the situation has worsened, and the rate of rejections has gone up during the Modi regime. According to one analysis, between May 2015 and April 2016, eight out of every 10 claims were rejected. This is the ‘Gujarat model’ in operation. The State has one of the worst records in implementation of the FRA. Although 98 per cent of the approximately 1.9 lakh tribal claims had been approved by the gram sabhas, the bureaucrats in the sub-divisional committee and above brought the acceptance down to just 38 per cent. This is in sharp contrast to a Left-led State such as Tripura, where 98 per cent of tribal claims have been recorded and titles given.

Mixed signals from the judiciary

The judiciary has also had a role to play. The same institution, which gave tribals hope through the Samata judgment, the historic Niyamgiri judgment, has also clubbed together a number of hostile petitions to the FRA and is giving them a sympathetic hearing. In January last year the court in an ominous intervention in a writ petition filed by Wildlife Trust of India and others issued notice to all State governments to “file an affidavit giving data regarding the number of claims rejected within the territory of the State and the extent of land over which such claims were made and rejected and the consequent action taken up by the State after rejection of the claims”.

This has rightly been taken by tribal communities and their organisations as a prelude to mass evictions. Maharashtra issued a notification dated April 23, 2015, directing the police to take action against “identified encroachers”, namely those whose claims have been rejected. Till 1985, the department of “Tribal Affairs” was under the Home Ministry. Tribal rights and struggles for justice were viewed as a “law and order issue, always a problem”. Under the present dispensation this retrograde approach seems to have been resurrected.

On the tenth anniversary of the historic passage of the FRA, tribal resistance is growing all over the country to defend their rights under FRA and other related issues.

 

 

  • Two systems, two diverse offerings

For Ajay (7), his school in this remote corner of Kanchipuram district in Tamil Nadu is a lifeline to learning in an otherwise difficult life.

The youngest of three children, Ajay’s father abandoned them, leaving their mother to fend for the family, battling her own poor health.

Each day that Ajay attends Class III at the Panchayat Union Primary School here is a day he cannot help at home, or engage in some form of work, and the pressure on his family is enormous.

Yet when the troubles at home cause him to fall behind in learning the phonetics of the alphabet or basic addition skills using bead counting, he finds succour from his teachers who are patient and always willing to give him the extra attention that he may need in class.

Where inclusion comes first – migration dropouts

This broadly inclusive approach, approximating the American maxim “No child left behind,” is the philosophy underpinning the governance of government schools in Tamil Nadu, and it extends beyond support to children such as Ajay, who are dropout risks owing to the economic circumstances their families.

The government school system in Tamil Nadu has also has excelled in implementing programmes for children who drop out owing to the migration of their parents, according to Pooja Kulkarni, State Project Director for Sarva Shiksha Abiyan (SSA), the vehicle for universalising elementary education, the promise of the Right to Education Act.

An example of tackling this problem of “migration dropouts,” Ms. Kulkarni explains, is the way education officers track migration to the cotton fields of Salem, where agricultural workers from Viluppuram and Thiruvannamalai districts go during the harvest season.

Corresponding to these migration patterns the governments then open non-residential schools in the vicinity of the cotton fields or construction sites, therein also catering to the education needs of out-of-state children coming from as far as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, and Jharkhand.

At each such education centre the typical practice is to engage a temporary “education volunteer” who would be an individual who has passed the Class 12 public examination and procure text books from respective states in a variety of relevant languages.

The public school system here has also made bold strides in pedagogy, moving away from the prior method of learning by rote.

Instead, in the years that neuroscience tells us are the most important for cognitive development primary school students engage with Activity Based Learning (ABL), a structured learning method based on a card-ladder system.

As Sashikumar, a training coordinator for SSA in Kanchipuram explains, there are ten competency milestones a child has to achieve per grade under ABL, and a series of activities is required to reach those milestones. These activities typically including conversations, story-telling, singing, or role-play activities, which are done in a “highly structured manner integrated into the main curriculum”

Notwithstanding these profound strides forward in expanding access to and the quality of primary education, the reach of the government school system competes with that of private schools, and the public system even leans on the private sector in some cases, whose presence is palpable in Vallakkottai, situated as it is, close to the Oragadam Industrial Corridor.

Fourteen gleaming black computers donated by Hyundai corporation stood were proudly displayed by school principal Shaik Mohammed, who also said that the clean, grassy, well-equipped playground on the school premises was set up and maintained by Apollo Tyres Corporation.

Private schools also appeared to be the bane of some school administrators. In a government middle school in nearby Eraiyur some teachers opined that parents tended to place their children in private schools swayed by their offer of school bus services, yet students who had moved back to the government schools from there complained of poor teaching, teachers who beat them, and a lack of learning materials including books.

Why then has Tamil Nadu, similar to numerous other Indian states, witnessed such a strong uptake in private school admissions across the board?

The lure of private schools

Nowhere is this trend stronger than in Chennai.

  1. Vasanthi, who works in the maintenance department of a courier company says that her eight-year-old son studies in Class II in a CBSE private school in the locality.

Where she resides, in the slum clearance board apartments in T. Nagar, many parents like her have admitted their children to private schools in their locality.

“There are lots of extra-curricular activities and we feel that the children can develop better communication skills in english as well. We don’t mind paying the high fees,” Vasanthi says, when asked about her choice of school.

With the number of private schools mushrooming in the state, the queues for LKG admissions outside its gates have been growing with every passing year.

Earlier this year, a reputed school in the city had made an announcement that admissions for LKG in their school had been closed till 2019. This meant that parents could seek admissions only from the year 2020, for children born in the year 2016.

Activists have however raised concerns about the fees charged by private schools in the state with respect to the infrastructure and quality provided, and K.R. Nandakumar, Tamil Nadu Matric, Higher Secondary and CBSE schools association said, “While Private schools are expected to follow the norms set by the State Government and the department, there is no other common government body that is evaluating them on the quality of holistic education provided.”

However, with the quality aspects gaining more focus, an increasing number of private schools in the state have begun to get certifications from the International Organisation for Standardisation.

  1. Narayanan, who runs Change India, an NGO which recently carried out a study on a group of private schools in the city operating over ten branches said that the increasing number of private schools which had violated norms with regard to the minimum land required and other infrastructural facilities, presented a rather grim picture.

“There is a flagrant violation of rules in most of these institutions. Legal compliance should be the first issue which should be tackled followed by regulation of quality,” he observed.

 

 

  • Green panel imposes interim ban on ‘manja’

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday imposed an interim nationwide ban on the use of glass-coated ‘manja’ for flying kites as the sharp string poses a danger to humans, animals and birds.

The green panel said the ban order would apply on nylon, Chinese and cotton ‘manja’ coated with glass. It directed the Manja Association of India to submit a report to Central Pollution Control Board on harmful effects of kite strings.

The direction came after senior advocate Sanjay Hegde and advocate Shadan Farasat, appearing for People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), sought the ban, saying Makar Sankranti was approaching and ‘manja’ would be used for flying kites.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Swatanter Kumar passed the order after noting that ‘manja’ posed a threat to the environment.

The bench also referred to various orders, including the November 2015 order of the Allahabad High Court which banned the use of Chinese ‘manja’ in Uttar Pradesh and sought a ban on the “manufacture, import, sale and use” of the string. The matter was listed for next hearing on February 1, 2017.

The tribunal had earlier issued notices to all the State governments and sought their response on PETA’S plea on the matter.

In its petition, PETA contended that the ‘manja’ posed a grave threat to humans and animals as every year a number of deaths were caused by it. The petition said ‘manja’ also posed a threat when it came into contact with live overhead electric wires, leading to grid failure.

“Due to ‘manja’ being coated with glass, metals and other sharp material, these strings act as good conductors of electricity ,” it said.

PETA averred that children were engaged by the cottage industry to manufacture ‘manja’ which caused respiratory problems.

 

  • Monkey Day has a serious message for children

It is a day to celebrate the world’s mischief makers. About 200 students arrived at the Indira Gandhi Zoological Park here on Wednesday to do just that — show their love for monkeys and other wild animals and talk conservation on World Monkey Day.

16-year-old practice

The 16-year-old practice of dedicating December 14 to primates and other species was a first for the zoo, and it drew students to enclosures housing nearly 100 of them including rhesus monkeys, bonnet monkeys, stump-tailed monkeys, olive baboon, chimpanzee, ring-tailed lemur and marmoset.

“It was exciting. We learnt about their unique features,” exclaimed D. Ishica, a student of KKR Gowtham school.

After the programme, students wanted their family members to adopt some of the animals. The event was conducted by Vizag Zoo Lovers, Paryavarana Margadarsa Vyasakhi and Bapuji Rural Enlightenment and Development Society.

Vizag Zoo Lovers convener Rapaka Manohar said the organisation was trying to convince people to adopt animals and help improve their upkeep.

“I love animals and now I also want to make small contributions along with my friends,” said B. Thanusha of Bhashyam Public School.

Social media campaign

Zoo Educational Officer B. Varalakshmi said such visits enhanced knowledge on wildlife issues among young children.

According to animal lovers, Monkey Day celebrations unofficially began by artist Casey Sorrow when he was studying at Michigan State University in 2000. He jokingly scribbled Monkey Day on the calendar of a friend, which subsequently led to the annual celebration of the day on MSU campus to show love and adoration towards monkeys.

The day’s celebrations was restricted to only the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, and it is turning popular among Third World countries due to campaign by animal lovers through social media.

The zoo launched its adoption scheme in 2000, but it started evoking a good response only in the past three years. HPCL, Pharmagel and Hetero adopted tigers and lions.

 

  • Cyclone Vardah makes little impact on Cauvery inflow

Alhough Cyclone Vardah’s impact resulted in rainfall in some parts of Karnataka, including the Cauvery basin, it was too feeble to record a substantial increase in the storage of Cauvery reservoirs or flow into Tamil Nadu.

KRS levels

The cyclone resulted in additional inflow of about 900 cusecs into the Cauvery reservoirs.

It contributed to the release of 0.48 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu in the last 72 hours, according to sources in the Water Resources Department.

The inflow into the Krishna Raja Sagar (KRS) reservoir increased from 257 cusecs on Monday morning to 890 cusecs by Wednesday evening, a senior officer at the Cauvery Neeravari Nigam Ltd. (CNNL), told The Hindu.

The water level at the KRS at 6 p.m. on Wednesday was 78.88 ft as against the full reservoir level (FRL) of 124.80 feet.

Moderate rainfall

The inflow to Tamil Nadu was due to the moderate rainfall witnessed in the areas in the downstream of KRS and Kabini reservoirs as well as the upstream of the water measuring gauge at Biligundlu, an official of the water resources department said.

However, such a small increase in the inflow into Cauvery reservoirs or release of water to Tamil Nadu would not have a significant effect, since the impact of the cyclone is only a temporary phenomenon, the department said.

 

 

 

  • NGT issues notices to U.P., civic bodies

The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday asked the Uttar Pradesh government why environmental compensation should not be slapped on it for its “intentional” non- compliance of statutory obligations regarding discharge of untreated sewage water into the Ganga.

While issuing a show cause notice to the State government, the NGT said “environment and public health does not fall in its priority list” as it was “undisputed” that no action was taken by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) and municipal bodies to prepare an action plan on cleaning the river.

The UPCCB and municipal bodies of Mirzapur, Chunar, Bhadohi, Fatehpur and Hastinapur were issued show cause notices asking them why environmental compensation should not be imposed on them as they had failed to prepare the plan despite directions issued bythe Central Pollution Control Board.

“At this stage, we are satisfied that non-compliance to the directions contained in the order dated October 9, 2015 is intentional and without any sufficient cause.

Furthermore, the non-compliance is a matter which has to be viewed seriously.

Nothing prevented the respondents, authorities, corporations and bodies, to approach the CPCB and put forward their difficulties, if any, and get the same resolved.

Public health

“It appears that environment and public health does not fall on priority list of all these respondents. Consequently, we issue notice to show cause to the Member Secretary of UPPCB, Commissioner and Executive Officers, Mayor, Chairman and head of the municipality respondents and Secretary of Uttar Pradesh to show cause why they be not directed to pay Environmental compensation for non-compliance of the directions,” a bench headed by NGT Chief Justice Swatanter Kumar said.

It also asked them to show cause why the tribunal should not direct prosecution of all these respondents in accordance with law.

The matter was listed for next hearing on January 27.

The NGT was hearing a plea filed by the CPCB seeking directions to the UPPCB and the CEOs of these five municipal councils to “prepare a plan of action to clean the Ganga and water bodies, ground water and soil in a time-bound manner and recover the cost of preparation and execution of such plan of action from the polluters.”

  • Regional connectivity plan nets proposals to revive 65 airports

Dormant airports such as Hosur, Bikaner, Bidar, Jalandhar, Jalgaon or Jaisalmer may soon start receiving flights as airlines have shown interest in flying out of these airports under the Centre’s ambitious regional connectivity scheme. Passengers may soon be able to fly out of these airports by paying Rs. 2,500 for an hour’s flight.

The Airports Authority of India, which is implementing the regional connectivity scheme, has received 45 proposals from 11 bidders covering more than 200 routes as the deadline for submitting the proposals ended on Monday, the civil aviation ministry said here in a statement.

52 unserved airports

The operators have submitted plans covering 65 airports, out of which 52 are un-served airports which haven’t seen a single flight for more than a year and the remaining 13 are under-served airports where less than seven commercial flight departures take place in a week.

Airlines have shown interest in flying out of underserved airports including Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar in Gujarat, Jorhat in Assam, Kullu in Himachal Pradesh, Diu, Puducherry, Agra in Uttar Pradesh, Pant Nagar in Uttarakhand, Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh and Durgapur in West Bengal.

Some of the unserved airports, proposed to be revived for regional flights, include Bilaspur and Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh, Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, Jeypore and Jharsuguda in Odisha, Jalandhar in Punjab, Kandla in Gujarat, Kolhapur and Latur in Maharashtra.

As per the scheme, the Centre will subsidise the losses incurred by airlines flying out of dormant airports, to allow airlines to charge Rs. 2,500 for an hour’s flight to passengers. About 80% of the subsidy will be collected by charging a levy of up to Rs. 8,500 on each departing flight of domestic airlines and the rest 20% will come from the respective state governments.

The Centre has now invited counter-bids against these initial proposals and will accept them till February 1. The routes or networks would be awarded to bidders who quote the lowest requirement of Viability Gap Funding (VGF) against such routes, the ministry said in an official statement.

  • ‘Demonetisation a reckless move’

The Right to Food Campaign has slammed “demonetisation” as a “reckless move” that “serves no clear purpose and is a major attack on the right to food and the right to life”.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Right to Food Campaign, an informal network of individuals and organisations committed to the realisation of the right to food in India, said that economists of all persuasions have “exposed” the government’s claim that demonetisation would curb black money.

Forgotten decisions

Questioning the government’s seriousness about combating corruption, it observed that three years after the Lokpal Act came into force, no Lokpal has been appointed, the Whistleblowers Protection Act (passed in February 2014) awaits implementation, and the government is still to introduce the Grievance Redressal Bill.

Pointing out that “it does not require a PhD in economics to understand that when the bulk of the population is strapped for cash, economic activity and employment take a dip,” it noted: “Farmers have been dumping vegetables on the roads for want of a remunerative price. Traders and vendors have seen their sales dive, often by 50 per cent or more. Sales of durable goods have crashed across the board. Construction activity has slowed own. And most importantly, workers have been laid off on a large scale.”

Pension, wages woes

Observing that pensioners and MGNREGA workers find it difficult to secure their pensions and wages at the best of times, it said: “Now, with the banking system jammed, millions of them are in danger of their lifeline being cut off for weeks or even months.”

Calling upon the government to compensate the people for the hardships caused by demonetisation, the statement laid out a set of demands — an immediate increase in the annual budget of MGNREGA to Rs.60,000 crore with effect from 2016-17, increase of the Centre’s contribution to social security pension for widows, the elderly and the disabled persons from Rs.200 to Rs.1,000 per month, immediate implementation of the National Food Security Act provisions for universal maternity entitlements (Rs.6,000 per child), immediate central assistance for inclusion of milk, eggs and fruits in school mid-day meals and ICDS, immediate compensation for all families of victims of demonetisation-related deaths, and full disclosure of how, when, why and by whom the decision was made to demonetise.

Food insecurity

The right to food protects the rights of all humans to be free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. It is derived from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which India is a party.

  • Still frowning upon intermarriages

As 2016 draws to an end, it may seem that inter-caste marriages aren’t as uncommon as they used to be. Maybe you’ve even met someone whose spouse is from another religion. Do these salient examples mean that the times are changing? Are the divisions of caste and religion less sharp than they once were?

These are important questions. As B.R. Ambedkar pointed out, the social ban on intermarriage is “the most fundamental idea on which the whole fabric of caste is built up”. Ambedkar, and many others who have studied the stubbornness of caste, think it will only be annihilated when people marry across caste lines.

A new survey called SARI (Social Attitudes Research for India) investigated what people think about inter-caste and inter-religious marriage. SARI uses a sampling frame based on mobile phone subscriptions, random digit dialling, within-household sample selection, and statistical weights to build representative samples of adults 18-65 years old. So far, we’ve interviewed 1,270 adults in Delhi and 1,470 adults in Uttar Pradesh.

Home truths

We asked people whether they would oppose their children or close family members marrying people from other social groups. People from all backgrounds said that they would raise objections to such marriages.

Nearly 50 per cent of the non-Scheduled Caste respondents in Delhi and 70 per cent in Uttar Pradesh said that they would oppose a child or close relative marrying a Dalit. There was even greater opposition to inter-religious marriages. In Delhi, about 60 per cent of Hindus said they would oppose a child or relative marrying a Muslim; a similar fraction of Muslims would oppose a child or relative marrying a Hindu. In Uttar Pradesh, the opposition was even greater: about 75 per cent of Hindus opposed marriages with Muslims, and only a slightly lower fraction of Muslims, about 70 per cent, opposed marriages with Hindus (see graph 1).

The media often covers stories of khap panchayats brutally punishing young people for marrying outside their caste. Yet, for those living in India’s metros, these stories may seem distant or irrelevant to their own lives. Unfortunately, the SARI data suggest that the desire to stop other people from having inter-caste marriages is not as uncommon or distant as we might like to think. The survey asked respondents whether they thought there should be laws to stop marriages between upper castes and lower castes. About 40 per cent respondents in Delhi and more than 60 per cent in rural Uttar Pradesh said that such laws should exist (see graph 2)!

Laws against intermarriage had backers among the lower castes as well as the upper castes. A higher fraction of women than men in each of Delhi, urban Uttar Pradesh, and rural Uttar Pradesh said they would support laws against inter-caste marriage. Women may be more willing to legislate their own beliefs on this topic than men are, or, they may just be less likely to give the interviewer a socially desirable answer.

The idea that laws should prohibit inter-caste marriages was not confined to older generations. The only demographic factor that is strongly associated with support for laws against inter-caste marriage is education.

At every level of education, reported support for these laws is higher in Uttar Pradesh than in Delhi. As with the differences between men and women, there may well be real differences in support for inter-caste marriage bans in these three regions, or it may be that people in Delhi are just more likely to give the answer that they think the interviewer wants to hear.

Although education is associated with fewer people being willing to bring the state into others’ marriage choices, a high fraction of people who had passed Class 10 or higher nevertheless said that they support laws against inter-caste marriage. In Delhi, about 25 per cent of highly educated people said there should be a law against such marriages; in Uttar Pradesh, it is about 45 per cent (see graph 3).

Marriages for unity

The finding that even many educated people think there should be laws against inter-caste marriage raises serious questions about our education system and whether it is doing enough to reduce caste and religious prejudice. It is telling that many of the youth passing out of the premier technical and medical institutions still depend on their parents to choose their spouses.

Of course, in a society that is so divided on caste lines, inter-caste or inter-religious marriages can make a person an outcast among his family and neighbours. He may even be barred from family inheritance. Even when families are not adamantly opposed to an inter-caste marriage, there is a strong belief that it is more convenient to settle down with a socially and culturally familiar person.

Thankfully, despite popular support, no actual Indian law prohibits inter-caste marriage. If anything, on paper, the government approves of these marriages: each year, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment makes available 500 monetary awards to inter-caste couples. The small size of this programme makes it more of a symbolic gesture than an actual incentive, but it is nevertheless a good idea.

The government should be doing much more to promote inter-group marriage and to protect those who seek them. In practice, officials in the courts and the police often enforce divisive social norms rather than enforcing the laws. They may discourage or intimidate couples who try to marry across caste or religious lines. Lack of government support in the face of family disapproval may be one reason why the India Human Development Survey found that only 5 per cent of marriages are inter-caste. Will any political party have the courage to take up support for inter-caste marriages as an agenda item?

 

  • Leap second to be added to final minute of 2016

This year will last a second longer as a “leap second” will be added to the world’s clocks on New Year’s Eve by timekeepers.

The extra second will be inserted at the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Master Clock Facility in Washington, D.C., at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) which corresponds to 5:29:59 a.m. Indian Standard Time on January 1.

Historically, time was based on the mean rotation of the Earth relative to celestial bodies and the second was defined in this reference frame. However, the invention of atomic clocks defined a much more precise “atomic” time scale and a second that is independent of Earth’s rotation.

In 1970, international agreements established a procedure to maintain a relationship between Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and UT1, a measure of the Earth’s rotation angle in space.

The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) is the organisation which monitors the difference in the two time scales and calls for leap seconds to be inserted in or removed from UTC when necessary to keep them within 0.9 seconds of each other. In order to create UTC, a secondary time scale, International Atomic Time (TAI), is first generated; it consists of UTC without leap seconds.

When the system was instituted in 1972, the difference between TAI and UTC was determined to be 10 seconds.

Since 1972, 26 additional leap seconds have been added at intervals varying from six months to seven years, with the most recent being inserted on June 30, 2015.

After the insertion of the leap second in December, the cumulative difference between UTC and TAI will be 37 seconds.

Confusion sometimes arises over the misconception that the occasional insertion of leap seconds every few years indicates that the Earth should stop rotating within a few millennia.

This is because some mistake leap seconds to be a measure of the rate at which the Earth is slowing.

The one-second increments are, however, indications of the accumulated difference in time between the two systems.

The decision as to when to add a leap second is determined by the IERS, for which the USNO serves as the Rapid Service/Prediction Center. Measurements show that the Earth, on average, runs slow compared to atomic time, at about 1.5 to 2 milliseconds per day.

These data are generated by the USNO using the technique of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI).

VLBI measures the rotation of the Earth by observing the apparent positions of distant objects near the edge of the observable universe.

These observations show that after roughly 500 to 750 days, the difference between Earth rotation time and atomic time would be about one second.

Instead of allowing this to happen a leap second is inserted to bring the two time scales closer together.

  • Financial data management body mooted

A committee set up under the Department of Economic Affairs has recommended the creation of a statutory body that will standardise data from all financial sector regulators in a single database and will provide analytical insights based on the data.

The report of the committee to study the financial data management legal framework in India, made public on Thursday, suggests the passage of a Bill in Parliament—the Financial Data Management Centre Bill 2016—to create the statutory body, as recommended by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

“Subject to the provisions of this Act, or any other law for the time being in force, it shall be the duty of the Data Centre to take measures to standardise data from regulators in consultation with the regulators, enable financial service providers to submit data in a standardised electronic format, analyse the data and maintain a financial system database,” according to the proposed Act.

The powers of the Financial Data Management Centre (FDMC) will include the establishment, operation and maintenance of the financial system database along with collecting financial regulatory data and providing access to it. The body will also provide analytical support to the Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) on issues relating to financial stability.

In 2015, when the FSDC first suggested the creation of such a body, the Reserve Bank had objected to sharing company-specific data with the body as it was not statutory in nature, and sharing such data would be a breach of confidentiality.

“In the absence of any statutory or other legal basis which empowers FDMC to compel furnishing of confidential information to it, disclosure of any such information by Reserve Bank may not be justified as it may not fall within the recognised exception of compulsion of law,” the banking regulator had said at the time.

Even the Department of Legal Affairs said that the “majority of the financial sector regulators being statutory in nature, it is not clear from the proposal how the non-statutory FDMC will collect data from such regulators.”

Keeping these concerns in mind, the Department of Economic Affairs re-examined the issue and obtained the Finance Minister’s approval to establish a statutory FDMC, following which a committee was formed to recommend the way forward.

  • Talking to children about untouchability

Many of us, especially in urban areas, think about caste only in the context of reservations or when we come across media reports of Dalits being attacked, as it happened recently, in Una, Gujarat. It may seem that caste hardly plays a role in modern society. People may think: ‘I certainly don’t discriminate based on caste.’ Unfortunately, our research suggests that caste discrimination is far more commonplace than most educated urbanites would care to acknowledge.

We set out to measure attitudes towards Dalits in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh using the same method used to measure social attitudes in other countries for decades: representative phone surveys. A new survey called SARI (Social Attitudes Research for India) uses a sampling frame based on mobile phone subscriptions, random digit dialling, within household sample selection, and statistical weights to build representative samples of adults between 18-65 years old. A small research team carries out the interviews. In Delhi, we interviewed 1,270 adults; in Uttar Pradesh, the figure was 1,470.

What we found about people’s attitudes towards their Dalit neighbours is sobering: among non-Dalit Hindus in Delhi, a third said that someone in their household practises untouchability. In Uttar Pradesh, half of adults said that someone practises it.

How could these numbers be so high? Didn’t Article 17 of the Constitution abolish untouchability? Wasn’t untouchability made punishable under the Untouchability Offences Act, 1955? Hasn’t India had decades of reservations to include Dalits in the government and in schools?

All this is true, yet, when you ask a representative group of non-Scheduled Caste (SC) Hindu adults the question: “Kya aapke parivar me kuch sadasya chuachut ko mante hain? (Do some members of your family practise untouchability?”), many of them unabashedly say “Yes.”

Admitting to untouchability

How many people in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh practise untouchability? Knowing that someone in a household practises untouchability doesn’t mean that she does it. Is it the case that only older people engage in such discriminatory practices?

Unfortunately, that is not what we found. If a respondent said that someone in the household practises untouchability, we asked whether he or she practises it. In Delhi, half the adults in non-SC Hindu households, where someone practises untouchability, said they themselves practise it; in Uttar Pradesh 70 per cent did. The graphic shows that there are actually very few age variations in reported untouchability: in neither Delhi and U.P. are young people much less likely to practise untouchability than their parents or grandparents.

As surprising and disappointing as these numbers are, we don’t think that they capture the full extent of the problem. That is because some people know that it is not politically correct to admit practising untouchability to a stranger. The graphic separating data into Delhi, urban U.P., and rural U.P., gives us some idea of the extent to which answers to this question are affected by social desirability bias.

Even though women and men live in similar households, women are more likely to report untouchability in the household. This suggests that either men are uninformed or they are giving a socially desirable, but incorrect, answer. Women may be more likely to report untouchability where it exists because they are less aware that it is not a politically correct thing to say. Another reason why women may be more likely to report untouchability is it is often practised in the context of food, utensils, and domestic help. Women are more likely to work with food and utensils than men, and so they are probably more likely than men to enforce untouchability.

If we use women’s figures, which are likely more accurate, we find that 40 per cent of non-Dalit Hindu households in Delhi report practising untouchability. In rural Uttar Pradesh, this figure is over 60 per cent! Of course, even this high figure will be an underestimate if some women do not admit to practising untouchability or do not recognise some of the things they do in their interactions with Dalits as untouchability.

Creating awareness in children

Many urban families find themselves talking explicitly about caste only when their children are trying to get admitted to colleges. Some children want to know what reservation is. Why do some social groups have this so-called privilege and not others?

Yet, the fact that women are particularly likely to report practising untouchability, and the fact that mothers are often the first and most influential teachers of their children, suggests that children’s first impressions of caste differences may be ingrained at a much younger age. So, rather than simply denying the existence of untouchability, or hoping it will disappear as this computer-using generation of youngsters becomes more educated than the previous generations, it is time for parents, teachers, and even the government to start talking to children about ending these practices today. Just as children are able to learn to have a separate glass for the maid, they are also able to learn what discrimination is, to understand that it is hurtful, and to have kinder attitudes towards people from different groups. A study of primary school students in the United States found that white students who read about both the accomplishments of and the discrimination faced by black Americans later displayed less biased attitudes towards blacks than white children who had merely read about accomplishments.

To end untouchability will mean that everyone, from government official, to teacher, to young mother has to make an effort. Everyone needs to admit that untouchability is still a widespread problem, not only in rural India but also in urban India. Even people who don’t agree with the practice of untouchability themselves need to talk with children in their lives about where it came from, what it feels like, and how it can be stopped. If they don’t, their neighbours, many of whom do practise untouchability, may end up teaching their children to perpetuate these archaic, hurtful social norms.

Diane Coffey is a visiting researcher at the Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi; Amit Thorat is Assistant Professor at Centre for the Study of Regional Development, JNU. This is the second of a four-part series on prejudice. The first appeared on December 29, 2016.

  • Demonetisation presents an opportunity

A flailing Congress party, after suffering several electoral defeats in many State elections since 2014, has narrowed its focus on to pro-poor and agrarian issues as a way to shore up popular support, a strategy that predated the elections and adopted earlier this decade. The demonetisation issue has given the party an opening to pursue this strategy in a more concrete manner.

On Congress Foundation Day, December 28, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi sent out a clear, unequivocal message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi: his demonetisation decision, far from securing the future of the country’s most vulnerable sections — as he was claiming in his well-publicised, almost-without-a-pause speeches — had actually devastated their lives.

In a brief speech at the Congress headquarters, he asked Mr. Modi to quantify both the economic losses to the country since November 8, as well as spell out how many on the margins had lost livelihoods and, some, even lives. “Demonetisation was done,” the Congress’s vice-president said, “for 50 families at the expense of the poor, small farmers and shopkeepers and the youth.”

He then went on to demand that the government waive all agricultural loans, pay a 20 per cent bonus for farm produce, give all BPL Poverty Line) women ₹25,000, double MGNREGA wages and waive half the income tax and sales tax dues of small shopkeepers.

Tapping a changing narrative

Fifty days after 86 per cent of the country’s currency notes were outlawed at one stroke, the mood in the country is gradually turning sour. Mr. Gandhi’s demands were, therefore, perfectly timed, pointing out that it was time people paused and figured out who had gained and who had lost through the demonetisation exercise.

Equally significant, his message was also in tune with the politics he has been working towards for the last few years, manifestations of which have been visible since 2011. That year, he had stood in solidarity with farmers in western Uttar Pradesh, in Tappal and Bhatta-Parsaul, who were battling land acquisition. In 2014-’15, he led his party’s battle to ensure that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s people-friendly land acquisition law was not changed beyond recognition by the Modi government: the Congress and supporting Opposition parties won that round. More recently, ahead of the Uttar Pradesh polls slated for next year, the centrepiece of his kisan yatra was a promise to waive all farm loans if the Congress is voted to power.

But if there was a clear emphasis in all these actions, there was one problem: just as he did not follow through his U.P. agitation till the 2012 polls, his recent kisan yatra just petered out in mid-October. Mr. Gandhi’s inability to sustain an agitation, even when successful, has been his besetting sin.

A high and low

In 2004, the Congress had countered the BJP’s “Shining India” message with an expansive catchphrase: “Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath.” The aam aadmi was a nebulous figure, but the description resonated not just with the dispossessed and the poor but also struck a chord with the aspirational and, indeed, even swathes of the middle class.The new line worked for the Congress in two successive general elections in 2004 and 2009. But by 2012, the image and fortunes of the UPA government it led began to take a hit.

At the AICC session in Delhi on January 17, 2014, Mr. Gandhi had stressed the need to create a “support base” for the 70 crore Indians who had risen above the poverty line but not yet entered the middle class. He travelled across the country, repeating his concern for “the hands that build the nation” promising them a “new future,” not through handouts but “a basic rights and welfare package” that would go beyond the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act of 2008.

The Congress’s analysis was: one, if most political parties look at voters through the prism of caste or religion, governments divide citizens into BPL and Above Poverty Line (APL). Two, with successive attempts to define BPL turning controversial, and implementation of welfare programmes proving to be less than satisfactory, the government had moved to universal entitlements with exclusions (those who are income tax payees, own a car etc. are not eligible for such benefits). In operational terms, BPL had been phased out. Three, economic liberalisation had increased job opportunities, fuelling migration to cities and swelling the unorganised sector. This sector may have benefited from health, homes and food entitlements, but labour laws did not apply to it. Four, the Congress, using literature on the subject, had calculated that Indians who earned between ₹1,000-₹15,000 per head per month, and fall in this in-between category — christened NRMB (not rich, not middle class, not BPL) for in-house discussion — numbered 70 crore.

By engaging with this section — railway porters, rickshaw wallas, saltpan workers, fishermen, farmers etc. — not defined by caste or religion but by income and aspiration, Mr. Gandhi sought to build a new constituency for the Congress that has seen its core constituencies being eroded steadily over the years.

Another chance

Unfortunately, in 2014, the Congress suffered an ignominious defeat in the general election. But its losses had nothing to do with the direction in which Mr. Gandhi was seeking to take the party; rather, the mood created by Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign provided a perfect launch pad for the BJP that year.

But, today, the ill-effects of demonetisation have provided the Opposition — of which the Congress is the largest party — an opportunity to change the narrative to its own advantage. Parliament’s recent winter session saw an unusual degree of solidarity among Opposition parties on the issue, and if West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had seized the initiative initially, by the end, Mr. Gandhi was well on his way to helming the Opposition’s efforts to corner the government. Unfortunately, he stumbled, not realising that his going with his party colleagues to meet the Prime Minister on the farm loan waiver issue on December 16, would be read as breaking ranks. The other Opposition parties are so annoyed that most of them boycotted his December 27 meeting intended to plan how to carry forward the battle jointly.

Mr. Gandhi’s heart may be in the right place, but he continues to falter on consistency and credibility, and an understanding of how the political game is played. But, it’s still not too late for the Congress vice-president to change his advisers.

  • ‘Sandynallah reservoir should be reopened’

With tourist footfall increasing in ecologically sensitive hotspots such as Avalanche and the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, environmentalists feel the re-opening of the “Old Mysore Road,” bordering the Sandynallah reservoir, will help reduce pressure due to unregulated tourism at the reserve forests.

The Old Mysore Road was laid sometime in the middle of the 20th century to connect Ooty with Gudalur and Mysore. Despite remaining unused for many years , it remains in a good condition, cutting through what is now a beautiful reserve forest near the Sandynallah reservoir that is closed to the public.

Dharmalingam Venugopal, Director of the Nilgiri Documentation Centre, said many roads known as “Coup Roads” were built by the the British to haul cultivated Eucalyptus trees. “Till a few decades ago, it used to be a popular p

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