·         Rafale takes flight at last

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

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


·         Falling behind schedule

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

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