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Showing posts with label English Editorial. Show all posts
Showing posts with label English Editorial. Show all posts

CBSE’s decision to rationalise syllabus is welcome | HT Editorial

 
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)’s decision, on Tuesday, to rationalise 30% of the syllabus for classes nine to 12 is welcome. Directed by the Union ministry of human resource development (HRD), this move is on account of the Covid-19-induced lockdown that forced schools to shut and shift classes online. The pandemic forced rigid educational institutions to adapt rapidly, to precarious circumstances. It pulled students out of schools for extended periods (schools will not open before July 31). It created a learning imbalance, as students have unequal access to online learning. CBSE’s move will lift a burden off the shoulders of students and teachers in the immediate term, allowing them to pay more attention on the quality of learning, rather than the quantum of course work. It will also ease the strain on teachers who have been scrambling to ensure course completion, exam schedules and virtual class attendance. Other boards must now follow suit and reduce the syllabus too.

However, CBSE has either entirely deleted chapters or removed some topics such as democratic rights, federalism, citizenship, gender, religion, nationalism, and secularism from the curriculum. These issues form the bedrock of democratic societies and students need to learn about these. To be sure, these deletions are a part of an overall reduction in the syllabus and to suggest that there is a political subtext to it would be a leap without full evidence. But, perhaps, a condensed version on critical themes can be formulated to ensure that students pick up the basics, without getting overburdened.
Courtesy - Hindustan Times.
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रक्त प्लाज्मा से दूसरों का जीवन बचाएं : Punjab Kesri Editorial


 भले ही भारत में कुछ ऐसी स्वैच्छिक संस्थाएं हैं, जो रक्त प्लाज्मा दान करने का कार्य कर रही हैं। यहां तक कि कुछ लोगों ने रक्त प्लाज्मा की सुविधा से अपने मरीजों को लाभ भी पहुंचाया है। कुछ अमरीका में रहने वाले भारतीयों द्वारा कोरोना वायरस पीड़ितों के लिए रक्त प्लाज्मा की व्यवस्था करने हेतु कई संस्थान बनाए हैं,

भले ही भारत में कुछ ऐसी स्वैच्छिक संस्थाएं हैं, जो रक्त प्लाज्मा दान करने का  कार्य कर रही हैं। यहां तक कि कुछ लोगों ने रक्त प्लाज्मा की सुविधा से अपने मरीजों को लाभ भी पहुंचाया है। कुछ अमरीका में रहने वाले भारतीयों द्वारा कोरोना वायरस पीड़ितों के लिए रक्त प्लाज्मा की व्यवस्था करने हेतु कई संस्थान बनाए हैं, क्योंकि यह एक थैरेपी है जो कइयों की जिंदगियों को बचा सकती है। भारत में निश्चित रूप से भारतीय रैडक्रॉस संस्था है जो लोगों को रक्त प्लाज्मा के लिए प्रेरित कर रही है कि जो लोग इस बीमारी से सफलतापूर्वक लड़कर ठीक हो गए हैं, वे उन रोगियों के लिए अपना प्लाज्मा दान करें जो अब भी गंभीर रूप से पीड़ित हैं। इसके परिणामस्वरूप कुछ और लोग सामने आए हैं जिन्होंने रक्त दान भी किया है, परन्तु ऐसे लोग उंगलियों पर गिने जा सकते हैं जिन्होंने स्वेच्छा से स्वस्थ होने पर अपना प्लाज्मा दान किया है। उल्लेखनीय है कि एक व्यक्ति का प्लाज्मा दो रोगियों की जान बचा सकता है। 

तो कइयों का यह सोचना है कि कोविड-19 महामारी के दौरान रक्तदान करना ठीक नहीं। इसी कारण राजधानी दिल्ली में ब्लड बैंक खाली पड़े हैं, क्योंकि संक्रमण के डर के चलते स्वैच्छिक रक्त प्लाज्मा दान करने की संख्या में गिरावट आई है। उल्लेखनीय है कि दिल्ली सरकार ने भी कुछ दिन पूर्व रक्त प्लाज्मा बैंक शुरू करने का निर्णय लिया है। परन्तु ऐसा नहीं है क्योंकि प्लाज्मा केवल वे लोग दान कर सकते हैं जो कोरोना वायरस की चपेट से स्वस्थ होकर लौटे हैं और उन्हें ये बीमारी कुछ साल तो दोबारा नहीं हो पाएगी। उनके रक्त में वे एंटीबॉडीज हैं जो दूसरों को भी बचा सकती हैं और उन्हें भी सुरक्षित रख सकती हैं। ऐसे में रक्त दान देने से कतराना एक डर से अधिक कुछ नहीं। 

जबकि डाक्टरों ने स्पष्ट रूप से अनेकों निर्देश दिए हैं कि किन हालात में कौन-कौन प्लाज्मा दान दे सकता है। ‘‘यदि किसी का भी जीवन बचाने का मौका आए तो चूकना नहीं चाहिए।’’ यह कहना है उस अमरीकी महिला का जिसने सबसे पहले स्वस्थ होने पर अपना प्लाज्मा दान किया इसी सोच के अंतर्गत शायद न्यूयॉर्क के अस्पतालों में रक्तदान करने के लिए अनेकों ने अपने नाम रजिस्टर करवा रखे हैं तो अब क्या भारतीय दया,दान और उम्मीद की किरण जताने से पीछे हट जाएंगे। 


 सौजन्य - पंजाब केसरी।

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A crash to watch : LiveMint Editorial

According to data issued by the Amfi, net flows into equity funds crashed 95% in June to under ₹240.6 crore, while debt funds had a similar tumble, falling to ₹2,862 crore


Indian stock markets have rebounded from their lows, but mutual funds saw a massive drop in inflows last month. According to data issued on Wednesday by the Association of Mutual Funds in India, net flows into equity funds crashed 95% in June to under ₹240.6 crore, while debt funds had a similar tumble, falling to ₹2,862 crore. A relief, though, was that the money went into systematic investment plans (SIPs), which fell only a marginal 2.4% to ₹7,927.1 crore last month. SIPs make up a large chunk of India’s retail outlay on shares.

Overall, market participants seem to be in a purchase mode. The BSE Sensex rose 7.7% in June. Share prices have been on an incline, a rally that largely seems to be led by foreign portfolio inflows. With cheap money available in the West, it was inevitable that some of it would go into Indian equities. Usually, retail investors join such rallies, even if they look fragile. But this time, many of them seem either short of money or were unwilling to put more of their savings into relatively risky assets. Some have been liquidating their mutual funds to make up for income shortfalls. Others may simply have chosen to book profits.


Courtesy - Livemint
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Days of disengagement: On India-China LAC standoff :The Hindiu Editorial

As India and China disengage militarily, they must slowly seek to rebuild trust in ties
After two months of stand-off along the LAC, news that India and China are discussing a full disengagement must be welcome relief. But it must be tempered by caution until all details of the plan to de-escalate troops and tensions are clear. The conversation between the Special Representatives, India’s NSA Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on Sunday, which led to the announcement, has given hostilities a necessary pause. While the statements made in New Delhi and Beijing were not identical in language, they largely conveyed a consensus to restore peace and tranquillity at the LAC. The next step will be to see their agreements carried out and to ensure that Chinese troops withdraw as promised on each of the three points discussed: Galwan, Hot Springs and Gogra. This is easier said than done, as it was during a disengagement verification operation by the Indian troops that the Galwan clash is believed to have occurred. After this, similar exercises will have to be undertaken for other points along the LAC. Disengagement and de-escalation must be accompanied by defined “end-points” for troops to withdraw to, to ensure they do not reoccupy positions vacated. Monday’s statements have also set out a course of engagements — these include diplomatic and military parleys, meetings of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs, and further talks between the Special Representatives. The government should inform the country about the progress as well as considered measures such as “buffer zones”, the patrolling-free period, and the reasons for the decision to pull back Indian troops in the areas of disengagement. The government must also continue to work towards its stated goal of restoring the “status quo ante” or the position of troops to the situation in April, before the mobilisation began. Else, Prime Minister Modi’s strong words at Leh last week will have little meaning.

With disengagement under way, there are other important steps to consider. This was the first time the LAC has seen such casualties in over four decades, and the governments cannot put aside the violent Galwan clash. For this a full inquiry is needed of the build-up to the clash and the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers. The government must consider whether it will continue its course of economic counter-measures against China, including the banning of apps, investment restrictions, and an import slowdown. There is also the question of whether high-level contacts, such as the informal summit between Mr. Modi and Chinese President Xi will be resumed; the leaders have not communicated directly during this crisis. As a process to restore peace begins, restoring “status quo ante” in bilateral trust may be more difficult for the foreseeable future. But, in small steps over time, India and China must return to a more balanced relationship.

Courtesy - The Hindiu.
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Late entrant: On Kanye West's entry in U.S. presidential race : The Hindu Editorial


Kanye West might not be serious about his bid, but his candidature will have an impact
Rapper and hip hop star Kanye West has announced that he will join the U.S. presidential race in November, a move that would in theory position him as a challenger to incumbent Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival and former Vice-President Joe Biden. Mr. West has earlier alluded to having presidential ambitions, including when he explicitly indicated, at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, his interest in standing for elections in 2020, and in November 2019, when he spoke about a bid in 2024. Nevertheless his latest declaration — as a vague Twitter post to “realise the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future” — is a bolt out of the blue considering that Mr. West is a self-confessed admirer of Mr. Trump, has no known formal party affiliation or comprehensive policy agenda, and would have to scramble to file the paperwork necessary to get on to the ballot in the less than four months left to Election Day. Little surprise then that his announcement has elicited more confusion than enthusiasm, barring the case of Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk who promised Mr. West his “full support”. Even in the country that has seen a movie star, Ronald Reagan, rise to the highest office in the land, the idea of a rap artist with zero political experience entering the Oval Office must appear far-fetched to many Americans.

There are two interpretations of this odd turn in the presidential campaign. The first relates to a question of tactics. Given the visible West-Trump bonhomie, is it far-fetched to reason that within the campaign Mr. West may serve as an undeclared surrogate for Mr. Trump, perhaps attracting to his campaign significant numbers of undecided or independent voters, even some of minority groups? This might not be so hard to achieve if Mr. West stood for election and, just before November 3, stood down in favour of Mr. Trump, effectively muddying the waters for Mr. Biden. The second is that the age of anti-intellectualism appears to be nearing its zenith in American politics. It is a well-worn adage in the U.S. that people vote based on a candidate’s personality and not their politics. It marks a new phase for this trend if, at this dark hour of racial hatred, physical and economic insecurity on account of the devastating toll of COVID-19, and an accelerating slide in the U.S.’s position as a global leader, the voting American populace is seriously considering placing its faith once again in a property mogul who shot to fame as the star of a reality TV show. The 43-year-old musician with no more than occasional incoherent ramblings to his credit in the field of politics is not the only alternative, however. It is just as well that there is another candidate in the fray.
Courtesy - The Hindu.
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Closed minds: BLM & anti-CAA protests :The Telegraph Editorial

Prabhat Patnaik  
On May 25, in Minneapolis, an African-American arrestee, George Floyd, was choked to death by a white police officer pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck. The whole of America erupted in protests, which targeted not just contemporary racism but also historical icons like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, who had either been slave-owners or openly racist. The statues of Confederate leaders during the civil war, Jefferson Davis and Robert Lee, were brought down. The protests even spread to Britain where the statues of some slave traders were brought down and those of Cecil Rhodes and Winston Churchill had to be protected against a similar fate.

The protesters spearheading this veritable upsurge for social equality were neither charged with sedition, nor held captive under any UAPA-equivalent law. In fact, Donald Trump’s suggestion for using troops against protesters was opposed by the current Pentagon chief, Mark Esper, and his predecessor, James Mattis; the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley, who had accompanied Trump for a photo-op at St John’s Church, just across the White House, after the intervening space had been cleared of protesters, apologized for doing so, pleading lack of prior knowledge that he was being politically used. When right-wing groups wanted to organize counter-protests, they were in general kept completely separate from the protesters to prevent any clashes.

Contrast this with the situation in our own country where a similar movement for social equality, the anti-CAA anti-NRC protest against patently discriminatory laws targeting Muslims, which took every conceivable precaution to eschew violence, is being targeted with a vengeance, with several of its participants being booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and that too after the movement was withdrawn because of the pandemic. Amazingly, virtually every institution of the State, including even those charged with defending citizens’ rights, is conniving with this repression. In fact, it is a sad comment on the pusillanimous complicity of virtually every institution of the Indian State in the executive’s repressiveness that 13 human rights experts attached to various UN bodies felt the need to write a joint letter to the Government of India to release those arrested for the anti-CAA agitation; they accused it of sending a “chilling message” to India’s “vibrant civil society” that criticism of government action will not be tolerated.

But let us leave aside the current repression against anti-CAA protesters. When the protests had begun, the Delhi police had entered the Jamia Millia Islamia campus on December 15, and used tear gas and lathis against students, including even those who were studying in the library. The police are not supposed to enter any university campus without taking the permission of the vice-chancellor; no such niceties were observed on this occasion. The university authorities even lodged an FIR against the Delhi police. The police claimed that some miscreants, who had damaged public property nearby, had entered the campus to avoid capture, and their own actions were only meant to nab them.

Let us momentarily accept this. There can still be no doubt that the brutal and indiscriminate police action inside Jamia led to several innocent students being badly injured. Let alone launching prosecutions against the erring police officers for their high-handedness, the Central government under whom the Delhi police falls, has not even offered any compensation to the injured students. In India where, rightly, the government compensates even those affected by natural calamities, the refusal to compensate victims of wanton and wilful excesses perpetrated by its own forces is an act of blatant discrimination. The National Human Rights Commission, which has just produced a report on Jamia violence, does recommend compensation for injured students; but it wants the Delhi government to make the payment, which is a non-starter. Oddly, it blames students for the police violence and wants the “real actors and motives” behind the protests “uncovered” (The Wire, June 26), as if students are mere manipulable marionettes. 
How do we explain such contrasting responses of the United States of America and India to similar movements for social equality? Some would argue that ‘communalism’ and racism are quite dissimilar, the latter being a legacy of centuries of inhuman imperialist oppression by metropolitan powers of people of the ‘outlying regions’. But while it is true that the histories of the two phenomena are different, the fact remains that the majority of Muslims in India today are among the poorest people in the world. Their victimization is no less odious than that of the blacks in the US; a movement against an obvious instance of such victimization, the Citizen (Amendment) Act, is as deserving of support as the anti-racist movement sweeping America. How then do we explain the difference in attitudes of the two societies?

To say that the US administration is more ‘liberal’ than the Indian one would not do. Cornel West, the philosopher of African-American origin at Columbia, has called Trump a “neo-fascist gangster” in an interview; the fact that he has not been hounded for this remark is not because he is wrong and Trump is indeed more ‘liberal’, but because the US system imposes stricter limits on what Trump can do compared to what the Indian system does on a comparable Indian administration. This only changes our question: why this difference?

One may be tempted to say that while the ‘educated’ in India would fight as hard for social equality as in the US, the ‘people’ here are less ‘enlightened’. This alas is untrue, for the capitulation of all the institutions of the State, which are manned by the ‘educated’, before a communal agenda would be otherwise inexplicable. The problem lies with the ‘educated’ themselves.

John Maynard Keynes, the economist and ‘liberal’ thinker, had set great store by what he called the “educated bourgeoisie” for the defence of liberal values and for a reformed capitalism that he thought was essential for upholding them. At the other end of the political spectrum, Marx and Engels, in The Communist Manifesto, had talked of socialist consciousness — as distinct from trade union consciousness — being brought to the working class by bourgeois intellectuals who had de-classed themselves and seen the “historical process as a whole”. The role of the ‘educated bourgeoisie’, in short, is crucial in any contemporary society; the difference between the US and India with regard to their respective movements for social equality lies, above all, in the fact that the ‘educated bourgeoisie’ in the US has been more punctilious in playing a democratic role than its counterpart in India which, in turn, has to do with the difference in the two education systems.

There is much breast-beating in India about our educational institutions not figuring among the top 200 or so according to some orderings. This is a totally false criterion of excellence; far more crucial is whether our education system imparts to students, not by rote or ritual, the fundamental value of social equality that underlies our Constitution.
Meanwhile, before we accept as the new ‘normal’ a situation where the police enters campuses and beats up innocent students with impunity, where socially-conscious students fighting for equality are put into jails under the UAPA, we must remember that we pride ourselves on being the largest democracy in the world.


Courtesy - The Telegraph.
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Prized and Nobel minds :The Telegraph Editorial

Ashok V. Desai  
Winning the Nobel Prize has been the epitome of intellectual achievement for over a century. Those who win it go to Stockholm to receive it from the king of Sweden (unless they have won the peace prize, which is awarded in Oslo). The ceremony, in my memory (no, I did not go to receive the prize), is unimpressive. The king and courtiers sit on one side in a hall; prizewinners sit on the other side. The name of a prizewinner is announced by a courtier, who also summarizes her — mostly his — achievements. Then the prizewinner walks towards the king, who has meanwhile been given the prize; the king hands over the prize, the prizewinner bows, and goes back to his/her seat. It is nothing compared to the rituals of British monarchy; even a knight kneels before the queen and is lightly tapped with a sword on his shoulder. The best part of the Nobel ceremony is the banquet that follows.

Alfred Nobel’s biography is far more interesting. He manufactured explosives for use in construction. After they killed a number of workers, he invented dynamite, which was much safer. He fell in love with his Austrian secretary, Gräfin (Duchess) Bertha Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau, but she went back to Austria and married someone else. After that he devoted his life to innovation; by the time he died in 1896, when he was just 63, he had 355 patents. To the consternation of his relatives, he left his money to fund prizes for contributors to knowledge. They fought and filed cases; it was 1901 before they could be overcome to set up five prizes — three in the sciences, one for literature, and one for peace, the passion of Bertha.

Nobel Prize winners’ contribution to knowledge is, no doubt, significant according to the experts consulted by Nobel Prize givers; but we do not know what their fellow-scientists — those not consulted — thought of them. The announcement of Nobel Prizes is followed by hagiographic media reports, and some criticism, but it is forgotten in a few days. Whom do scientists think highly of? And how many of them got the Nobel Prize? 

Scientists do not conduct a poll of who amongst them is the best; but an indirect indicator is citations: how often a scientist’s work is referred to by other scientists. Citations were organized for the first time by Eugene Garfield, who was crazy about classification. He collected three degrees — in chemistry, library science and linguistics; in his PhD thesis, he developed an algorithm for converting the names of chemicals into formulas. The problem of organizing citations was first encountered by the legal fraternity; lawyers needed to have a list of all possibly relevant previous cases they might need to refer to in a case. Its solution was created by Frank Shepard, who produced the first list of cases in 1873. The references were printed on stickers, which lawyers could stick in the margins of their case files. Garfield used punch cards normally used in library catalogues, and then started publishing lists. Today it is all computerized, organized and sold for a handsome sum. Citation lists tell us nothing about the content of an article, let alone its quality, but they are the best thing we have.

Amongst the most cited scientists, 11 are physiologists, six chemists, four physicists and three economists. Three of them received the Nobel Prize in 2019: Esther Duflo for economics, John B. Goodenough for chemistry, and Gregg L. Semenza for physiology and medicine. Esther Duflo is well known in India since she is the wife of Abhijit Banerjee. The best introduction to her is what she said about herself once: “What drives me remain simple questions: what makes poor people tick, what keeps them stuck, and how economic policy can help them. This is what helps me get out of bed, even when I am jetlagged and feeling quite sorry for myself.” “She is a quiet person when you meet her,” according to Chiki Sarkar, “but is quick as an arrow.” In her childhood, she read about Marie Curie, who used her Nobel Prize money to buy radium for research (actually, she won two Nobel Prizes, and bought French government’s war loans with the second one). Duflo is a riveting speaker.

John Goodenough is 97 — over twice the age of Duflo. He served in World War II as a meteorologist in the US army. He was awarded the prize for his invention of lithium batteries, which power small devices like shavers and phones. He has all his hair intact on his head. He laughs a lot at his own jokes, even those that are not obvious to others. He thinks dialogue is the key to good research; in other words, research is a communal activity, and involves discussion, both cooperative and competitive.

Gregg Semenza got his doctorate in 1984; since then he has published 405 papers (most of them joint ones) — roughly one a month. He was on the soccer team of Sleepy Hollow High School in New York. He has concentrated on research related to cancer and heart disease; both are leading ailments in the developed world, and attract enormous research and funding.

All three are members of the American academic system, a vast research and teaching industry, which converts its own, government and corporate funds into usable innovations. But there is a difference between Duflo and the two scientists. They have grown up in systems that are older than her; they fitted as cogs in a machine. Duflo initially thought of becoming a historian, and then of joining the French civil service. Then she went to Moscow, did odd jobs as research assistant and thought of a thesis on Russia. She did her first degree in history and economics. Then she went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and did a PhD for which she did a ‘natural experiment’ in Indonesia relating to education and wages. Then she ran into Abhijit Banerjee; together they have done a series of natural experiments related to poverty. 

What I find fascinating about Esther Duflo is that she so often turns to something unexpected. One is never sure what she will take up next in her lectures. It is the same with her research. It is full of surprises. Scientists give dozens of references in their articles; they have to because they are building on the foundations laid by their predecessors and colleagues, and it would be disastrous for them to be seen taking credit for the work of others. Duflo has few references in her papers because there has been little previous work in her line. She is a pioneer. Is she an innovator? Or is economics still an infant science where there is not so much previous research to refer to? Not being addicted to reading academic literature, I cannot give an informed answer. But Duflo has done a great job of studying common people. She should now do another experiment — write for common people. One way to success, according to economists, is to expand the market for one’s products. She should practise what they preach, and turn her economics into fantastic anti-fiction.

Courtesy - The Telegraph.
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Welcome easing of tensions with China : The Economic Times Editorial

The process of disengagement that has started at the Line of Actual Control (LoAC) is welcome. What India needs is not a return to the status quo before June 15, but a more active, persistent campaign to pressure China to abandon its expansionist claims on neighbours’ territory and to settle its border with India. After decades of cautious engagement with China, driven partly by India’s 1962 defeat and partly by the belief that India and China could be partners in essaying the Asian Century, India has begun to script a different approach. This includes stepping up the building and upgrading of infrastructure in border areas, turning down participation in the Beijing’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and passive membership of the trade agreement, RCEP.

New Delhi appears to be finally evolving a China policy that acknowledges Beijing’s expansionist and mercantilist tendencies and that India shares with China a long border that is yet to be settled. This requires India to continue to keep up its efforts vis-à-vis China on all three fronts — military, diplomatic and economic. China may have taken a step back for now, but it does not mean it has given up on its efforts. Eternal vigilance on the borders, not just at the LoAC, is the way forward for India. At the same time, New Delhi must proactively work with partners, those in the neighbourhood, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh, and the global ones, the US, Japan, Australia, South Korea and Vietnam among others, to resist China’s expansionist aims, particularly in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific. India must also strengthen its partnership with France, Germany, UK and the EU, including to promote development in Africa.

Finally, India must focus on building its economic profile not only for building its own resilience but for providing alternatives as the world seeks to diversify supply chains. India must also focus and invest in innovation, entrepreneurship and providing high-end solutions across the spectrum. China must learn to compete while respecting peaceful coexistence.
Ccourtesy - The Economic Times.
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Covid-19 vaccines: Getting it right more salient than fast : The Economic Times Editorial

The World Health Organisation says that at least one of the nearly 150 Covid-19 vaccines being tested around the world should be ready by 2021. Producing a safe and efficacious vaccine, rather than trying to beat myopic deadlines, should be the goal for India and countries across the world that are currently engaged in research and testing of a vaccine for the virus. Science must guide the speed of vaccine research and trials must be conducted with rigour and credible transparency. Faster clearances for initiating trials (read: cutting red tape) is welcome, but giving short shrift to testing protocols or fudging outcomes will have dangerous consequences.

If any agency in India succeeds in making a good and effective vaccine, its image and India’s will get a boost globally. The converse would happen if it produces a bad vaccine that compromises safety. Reportedly, around 21 vaccine candidates are in human trials, including one developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca that is at the most advanced stage — with Phase II/III trials in England and Phase III trials in Brazil and South Africa. Recently, Indian vaccine-maker Zydus Cadila obtained approval to start human trials of a DNA-based vaccine, becoming the second company in India to join the race after Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech that is collaborating with the ICMR to develop a vaccine.

The ICMR should avoid any future controversies over setting arbitrary deadlines for launch of the vaccine. India has enough domestic patients for full-fledged tests. This is vital in the advanced efficacy trials (Phase III trials) when the vaccine is given to thousands of people to see how many get infected compared with the volunteers who received a placebo. Getting it right is more important than getting it fast.
Ccourtesy - The Economic Times.
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Crime and impunity : The Indian Express Editorial

Written by Husain Dalwai , Sameena Dalwai

The brutal torture and death of a father and son in custody in Tamil Nadu brings the issue of police impunity to the fore once again. The deaths were not caused by bullets, which might have been less painful, but by organ damage that shows how merciless the policemen were. The victims were dragged to the police station for a non-violent crime — a civil offence of keeping the shop open longer than allowed — very similar to the George Floyd case in America. But where is India’s Floyd moment?

Earlier this week, the Maharashtra government reinstated four policemen accused in the custodial death of Khwaja Yunus in 2003. Yunus’s mother has filed a contempt of court petition since a suspension done by a court order cannot be legally revoked by the government. Her son, an IT engineer, was taken by the police and never returned. She could not even see his dead body.
 


The family went to the Bombay High Court. A CID enquiry revealed that while the police claimed that Yunus had absconded, he had died in police custody. He was allegedly stripped and beaten on the chest and abdomen with a belt in a lockup. Out of the 14 indicted policemen, only four were charged by the Maharashtra government. The case for murder, voluntarily causing grievous hurt to extort confession, fabricating evidence, and criminal conspiracy, is still pending.

We feel awed and overwhelmed seeing the uproar in the US, followed by rallies in London and Paris in support of Black Lives Matter. This has been long overdue. The US police reportedly shoot and kill around 1,000 black people every year. Racial profiling marks African-American youth as “criminals” and fills American prisons with them. Historically, some of America’s first police units were actual patrols to catch runaway slaves. Later, police units participated in or abetted lynching and enforced Jim Crow laws. Floyd was handcuffed and pushed down on the road with the policeman’s foot on his neck. His last words were “I can’t breathe”.

  
Marathi journalist and writer Samar Khadas wrote a story called Bakryachi Body (The body of the goat) based on the Yunus case. In the story, a Muslim youth is arrested and tied to the chair in the police station. They put a towel on his face and keep throwing water on it. The man struggles, keeps begging, then slowly his pleas and voice become guttural. In the end, only silence. All the while, the policemen are sitting around joking, eating and watching TV.

Successive governments have failed to charge policemen indicted by Srikrishna Commission for their inaction or direct violence in the Bombay riots of 1992-93, for shooting Muslims point-blank, for sending families back to rioters.

This kind of police behaviour often gets justified as “stress” or because “the police are common people too”. This is a twisted argument that allows the police on one hand, to be egoistic, vengeful macho men, and on the other hand, provides them with arms, closed spaces and immunity from consequences.

In India, the structures that enable police brutality date back to the British Raj, when the colonial government used bullets, torture and branding as criminals to discipline the lowest strata of Indians, including tribals, Dalits and Muslims. After Independence, the police departments continued to be brutal, prejudiced and bereft of scientific policing techniques. A survey by Common Cause, a non-governmental organisation, and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) Delhi, showed that 14 per cent of police personnel feel that Muslims are “very much” naturally prone to committing crimes, while 36 per cent feel that Muslims are “somewhat” prone.

This bias comes handy when the current right-wing political regime tries to “teach a lesson” to its political opponents. From Kashmir to Northeast Delhi, from JNU and Jamia to Aligarh Muslim University, we have seen aggressive police actions against protesters.

 

The Hindu-Muslim rift that started before Partition has been successfully fuelled by the right-wing in the past three decades. The “dangerous minority” discourse overshadows that systemic discrimination and economic deprivation of Muslims has resulted in Muslim OBCs (lower castes amongst Muslims) sinking on social and economic indicators — as revealed by the Justice Sachar Committee report in 2006. The propaganda that portrays Muslims as villains creates impunity for the police.

India does not follow the “command responsibility” principle for police chiefs — the commander of forces is not held guilty for failing to curb illegal activities of those in his charge.

Nor does the law permit common citizens to sue a police officer – only the government has that discretion. Governments and superior officers have been alleged to shield the guilty, making the path to justice thorny for the survivors of police brutality.

Black people in the US are now demanding the total dismantling of police departments, not token reforms within existing structures. They have been marching the streets chanting, “I can’t breathe” in memory of Floyd. I can’t breathe also means, “with their foot on my neck, I can’t be free”. I can’t move around, I can’t hold a job, rent a place, pray, go to university. I can’t be a citizen.

Thousands of white people are on the streets of Europe and the US, supporting black people in their demands, saying, “No Justice, No Peace”. Can we hope the Indian majority classes and governments will follow suit?

 Husain Dalwai is a former Rajya Sabha MP and Sameena Dalwai is professor, Jindal Global Law School.


Courtesy - The Indian Express.
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LiveMint Opinion | Importance of insurance sector makes case for independent supervisor

Insurance is a federal subject as it is listed in the Indian Constitution under the 'Union List'. This means that insurance can be legislated only by the central government.

In 1993, with the beginning of liberalisation of the Indian economy, the then government set up a committee under the chairmanship of RN Malhotra, former governor of RBI, to propose recommendations for reforms in the insurance sector. The committee recommended that the private sector be permitted to enter the insurance industry and that foreign companies be permitted to participate, preferably through joint venture with Indian partners. Following the recommendations of the committee in 1999, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) was constituted as an autonomous body to regulate and develop the insurance industry.

The IRDA was incorporated as a statutory body in April, 2000. The key objectives of the IRDA include promotion of competition so as to enhance customer satisfaction through increased consumer choice and lower premiums, while ensuring the financial security of the insurance market.


Indian insurance sector

The total number of insurance companies in India are just 58, of which 24 are life insurers and the rest non-life insurers. The other stakeholders in the Indian insurance market include agents (individual and corporate), brokers, surveyors and third-party administrators servicing health insurance claims. FDI up to 49% is allowed in insurance companies while 100% FDI is allowed in insurance intermediaries.

The measure of insurance penetration and density reflects the level of development of the sector. While insurance penetration is measured as the percentage of the insurance premium to GDP, insurance density is calculated as the ratio of premium (in US $) to the total population (per capita premium).

Insurance penetration in India is only 3.7%, compared to a global average of 6%. The life insurance penetration level is only around 2.75% in India, whereas the non-life insurance penetration is less than 1%. Compared to advanced economies, India lags in terms of density. The global average of density is $682 compared to $74 in India; the highest density in the world is in Hong Kong with $8,863.


Indian demographic aspects of the rising middle class, increasing awareness of the need for protection and a young insurable population will drive insurance sector growth over the next many years.

With the formal opening of this sector only 20 years ago, most of the learnings and business assumptions are from the public sector enterprise. While they have served consumers for long before the sector opened up, it would be fair to mention that they served the consumers when it was “licence raj" and pricing & product choice was determined by the government. The concept of inclusion started only when the sector started having competition and more product choices developed. Also this sector historically built the sector as combination of ‘Protection’ product and ‘investment’ product. This issue of treating and even selling insurance products as “investment product" is not a correct one and the industry needs to understand that the concept of insurance is “to protect". Some of these have led to challenges of mistrust between consumers and the industry.


Functions and duties of IRDA:

The critical regulatory & supervisory functions of IRDA, amongst many objectives it is tasked under the IRDA Act of 1999, are:

-protection of the interests of the policy holders in matters concerning assigning of policy, nomination by policy holders, insurable interest, settlement of insurance claim, surrender value of policy and other terms and conditions of contracts of insurance

-calling for information from, undertaking inspection of, conducting enquiries and investigations including audit of the insurers, intermediaries, insurance intermediaries and other organisations connected with the insurance business

-regulating investment of funds by insurance companies

-regulating maintenance of solvency margins

Philosophy of supervision

The regulatory role is to develop any legislation to address the objectives of rule-making for the sector, including promoting innovation in the industry to address consumer needs. Whereas, the supervisory role is to ensure compliance with rules & regulations and to taking punitive action against any breaches.


A well-run supervision should contribute to the wider financial stability. As more issues keep cropping up about the irregularities in the sector or consumer-trust issues, the need for stronger vigilance and supervision is needed.

Due to the complexity of insurance entities and the nature of long-term monies that they handle, it is important to maintain a tight watch over anything that could bring in a systemic impact to the insurance market. Risk-based supervision might help in this need for early warning system of flagging off potential issues. For an efficient and unbiased Insurance supervision, the supervisory body should be empowered with adequate powers; including the ability to revoke licences and / or merge a weak entity with a stronger one, the ability to change key management of an entity.


An insurance supervisory body should have executive independence and should be seen by the stakeholders as a truly independent and fair entity. Without this, the confidence in the sector consumers seeking redressal and the industry entities wanting to share their learnings would drastically reduce. Also for a good supervisory body, the ability to take punitive action is critical. In short, the stakeholders should see the supervisory body as having authority and the willingness to take bold decisions; which in turn, builds their credibility and reputation.

Supervisory independence:

As a best practice, in case of unified regulatory & supervisory bodies, the teams that handle supervision (which is almost an audit function) are not involved in rule-making function. A strong sense of collaboration between the supervisory and regulatory functions is prime.


Supervisory independence is the core idea for any independent financial supervisor. And to achieve its role, it needs to safeguard the integrity of the supervisory function. An insurance supervisor should be independent in deciding enforcement actions based on rules-based interventions, and for this, statutory protection of supervisors should be established. Supervisory independence should have adequate legal protection for the supervisory cadre and also from political and industry persecution, to ensure that they can take action without fear of legal action being taken.

Case for new-age talent & new-look supervision

From regulatory body’s institutional vintage perspective, IRDA is quite young and has done tremendous work in the short time. It’s also short-staffed to handle the size of potential consumer grievances, given the wide geographic reach, volume of insurance holders and the complexity of this specialised sector.


It is but natural, in early stages of its presence, for a regulatory & supervisory body, to have a large amount of expertise available from those experts, who built this sector as part of the state owned entities. As the industry expands , it would need more openness, in learning from across the industry players and to building additional capability in supervision. The supervisory body needs to invest in latest digital technologies and to keep pace with the industry players. It needs to have global connectedness with insurance regulators around the world as India allows more foreign players to invest into the insurance sector.

This is a good time to bring the concept of separate supervision vertical or to outsource supervision to outside entity owned by the government, when the insurance sector is set to increase its business volumes and the assets under management of its premiums collected. It would be easier to make the switch now when the industry is at the cusp of growth. With bulk of the insurance companies based out of the commercial capital of the country, it might also be efficient to have the supervisory teams located out of Mumbai. A good supervision is not just routine inspection but also advance indications, which being based in commercial capital could help with market inputs and chatter.


The Human Resource initiatives and capacity building generally takes a long time to be efficient, if it is organic way of nurturing those skill sets. IRDA should invest in enhancing its bench strength. Being a regulator and supervisor of a critical sector that is essential part of the Indian financial stability, it is critical to have sufficient number of experts from various functions in its talent pool. It cannot afford to have lesser than requisite talent. Institutionally it might be the right time to allow for lateral hires to bring in requisite skill-set that are unique and contemporary. It has been observed that cross-pollination of talent between regulatory bodies & industry entities, has added value across the sector, as long as nepotism is not allowed.


A recent example of separate regulation and supervision done by separate entities is that of RBI regulating housing finance sector while the National Housing Bank (NHB) supervising the industry. IRDA might want to explore such an idea as an alternate to the option of having policy development vertical separate from supervisory inspection vertical.

To having an independent approach to supervision and regulation, to addressing growing complexities, size and inter-connectedness of larger financial system, and dealing more effectively with potential systemic risks that could arise due to possible supervisory arbitrage and information asymmetry, it might be prudent to have a separate insurance supervisory organisation.

(The author is an independent markets commentator. The views expressed in this article are his own)

Courtesy - LiveMint.
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Get peace in return: ‘Face’ is very important in China. Allow the Chinese to save face : The Times of India Editorials

As if a global pandemic and a severe economic recession weren’t enough, we now have a serious Indo-China border conflict in Ladakh too. Both sides had casualties for the first time in four decades. We lost 20 soldiers, which is heart-breaking and terrible.

Chad Crowe

Multiple sources say China started it all. They made an incursion from the current line of control into the Indian side. To break the precarious balance at the border seemed unnecessary. The loss of Indian lives is also unwarranted. As patriotic Indians, it fills us with rage. A full blown military retaliation may even be what the heart wants. After all, we seek accountability. We also want to send a message that this won’t be tolerated.

Yet, if we listen to our heads too (which we must here), we may realise that a violent retaliation may end up harming us a lot too. More anger isn’t more patriotism. Staying calm and thinking strategically through this situation could serve India much better.

To design a response, it’s important to assess the economic, military and diplomatic might of the two countries. Bravado and love for country is one thing, where India stacks up against China is quite another. China is five times bigger in GDP economy or in per capita income. This massive difference in wealth means they can outspend us. They can also absorb more pain from a war than we can. Pakistan, our regular adversary for instance, has a GDP only one-tenth the size of India. Obviously, the response has to be different in the two cases.

In terms of military, China and India have the second and third largest militaries in the world. China has around 50% more weaponry and manpower, and triple our military budget. At a localised border conflict, we could match up well. However, in terms of the entire defence force, they come out stronger. They pursued economic growth like crazy for the last four decades, and became rich and powerful. We didn’t. Maybe it’s a lesson for us to focus on what finally matters.

Diplomatically, China is currently going through a bad phase. Its image has taken a beating, especially in being seen as the origin country for the coronavirus and being silent about it for too long. China’s recent law to increase its control over Hong Kong is also seen by the West as going back on its word.

Despite China’s current diplomatic woes, the world’s dependence on China is immense. Diplomacy doesn’t work on hospitality or friendly rapport. Diplomacy works on leverage – who does what for who. China offers cheap and reliable factories for the world. India doesn’t (yet). China offers a huge market with high purchasing power. India offers a huge market too, but an average Indian’s purchasing power is one-fifth that of an average Chinese. Eventually, apart from some lip service in India’s favour, few countries will annoy China over some unheard of Galwan valley. The question then is, what should India do?

First, India shouldn’t escalate the military conflict. If we could have 45 years of peace before this event, we can strive for the same in future too. We need to talk to China, and offer something to get something in return. What could that be?

For this, it’s important to understand two aspects of Chinese culture. These are the concepts of face (miànzi) and mutual dependence (guanxi). After having spent over a decade living in that part of the world and dealing with Chinese companies, I can affirm these two concepts drive business and relationships there more than anything else.

Face refers to respect, honour and social standing. You can either ‘give face’ (give people respect and social honour) or make them ‘lose face’ (make them feel ashamed socially). Chinese people will do anything to ‘keep face’. They will feel compelled to retaliate if they ‘lose face’. When we fight with Pakistan we routinely insult, yell and make fun of each other – wearing emotions on sleeves. The Chinese, however, see a brazen public display of emotion as losing face.

However, if we can give the Chinese face (lost globally due to coronavirus), it could earn us something in return. If we stop insulting them, and treat them as an adversary but with respect, we will have a different outcome. We have Pakistan to vent our frustrations on. Don’t do that with China, at least at the government levels. Instead, we can get them face in the world (highlight their efforts post-pandemic to help other countries for instance). In return, we will get assurance of less border conflict. This may work much better than our unchecked aggression.

‘Guanxi’ is usually translated as ‘social connections’ or ‘relationships’. It’s simply, you scratch my back, I scratch yours (finds resonance in India too). What can we do for China? We can help their current image problems. We can occasionally take their side when the US bashes them, and not become too loyal to the US. We can make them feel less threatened about taking manufacturing away from them (many Indian manufacturing plants are Chinese JVs anyway). In return, we would want no trouble at the border – ever, and a public acknowledgement of that.

A non-military approach, which syncs better with Chinese culture will work far better in resolving our disputes with China. Let’s be less angry and more strategic here. Let’s give the Chinese some face and get peace in return.
Courtesy - The Times of India.
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UP’s gun problem: Illegal firearms in the state a serious concern : The Times of India Editorials

At least eight UP police personnel, including a DSP, were killed in an encounter with criminals in Kanpur. The encounter took place when the police team was on its way to arrest Vikas Dubey, a history sheeter facing 60 criminal cases, on the intervening night of Thursday and Friday. Meanwhile, in Delhi a 17-year-old girl and her 15-year-old sister were shot at by two youths outside their house. The older girl’s fiancé suspected her of having an illicit relationship and wanted to kill her – using a pistol purchased from his village in UP’s Badaun for Rs 8,000.

Both cases show that access to illegal guns, especially in the UP-Bihar belt, has become a real problem. While Bihar’s Munger region has long been known for manufacture of illegal guns, over the last few years the trade has slowly shifted to UP’s Meerut area due to sustained police crackdown in Munger. This brings the hub of illegal firearms manufacturing closer to the national capital. In fact, such is the illegal gun problem in the country that in more than 90% of homicides committed using guns, illegal firearms are involved.

India has more than 71 million firearms, the second highest in the world after the US. But only about 10 million of these are licensed and registered. Which means that despite having one of the strictest gun control laws in the world, around 86% of civilian firearms in the country are illegal. Unlike the US, India’s law enforcement mechanism is weak, particularly in a state like UP which is too big for effective administration. And a thriving illegal gun industry further challenges the law and order machinery, allowing criminality to pervade other facets of public life like politics. The UP government must redouble its efforts to bust the state’s illegal gun trade, before it gets completely out of hand.
Courtesy - The Times of India.
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The dame that got it right: Saroj Khan and female sexuality in Hindi films : The Times of India Editorials

  
Female sexuality has always been a tricky thing. While a man’s bare body, bulging muscles or toned abs are fine for display, a woman’s body has had to be just enough clothed and enough bare (and she herself just enough coy and enough of bold), for it to be in the realm of either sensuous or pornographic. It has been a balance that only a few have been able to work out right. And in the world of Hindi films, one name that will always stand forth for how she got that balance right in the making of the greatest female superstars, is Saroj Khan. Saroj Khan’s dance moves were talked about for their sensuousness, sometimes bordering on the erotic. And in them, a positive female sexuality blazed across the screen.

Saroj Khan or ‘masterji’ as she was widely known, had a singular and long career, and it would not be an overstatement to say that she, in a large part, was responsible for shaping the star persona of Sridevi, and to a greater extent Madhuri Dixit, both rising to become stars who could call the shots in a male dominated industry.

The stardom of both Sridevi and Madhuri was created, to a large extent, in and through their dance numbers. And both had prioritised working with Saroj Khan, who helped create for them their most popular song numbers, and most potent of screen spaces. And within these spaces, the female actor came into her own, holding forth a body that was constituted and empowered by a desire that was uninhibited yet sensuous, unabashed but delicate. And wherein femininity was about its openness as much as it was about its suggestiveness.

Saroj Khan choreographed such chartbusters as Madhuri’s ‘Ek do teen’ from her first hit Tezaab, ‘Humko aaj-kal hai intezaar’, ‘Choli ke peeche’ or Sridevi’s ‘Kate nahi katte’, and many more. In her hands, the Hindi film song became a space for critically configuring female sexual desire and indulgence as a compelling, and a ‘done’ thing. And for playing it up for the camera in so direct a manner that it made for a remarkable agency, something quite unprecedented for the Hindi film heroine. In lesser hands, it stood the risk of being less suggestive and more explicit, which might have spoilt it entirely.

Saroj Khan had possibly known only too well that an enduring female assertiveness was best tested and done within the space of a song-and-dance, a space of performance and enjoyment as it were, and somehow standing apart from the main storyline of the movie. Occasionally, it entered a realm of fantasy like in the ‘Kate nahi katte’ number from Mr India. And therein lay its subversive power. And its ability to create powerful fantasies and dreams around these female actors, and enthrone them at a par with their male counterparts. Fantasies that did not simply involve a male gaze of the female body, but of having that gaze returned in a measure that was equal, if not more. The very powerful fantasy of the opposite sex taking over male prerogative and becoming an initiator, of a female body that was sometimes so vibrant that it almost seemed happy to be pleasuring its own self. But at the same time, Saroj Khan knew enough of her own world to keep that sensuality pleasurable and non-threatening, she knew what boundaries must not be crossed.

Saroj Khan was the first lady choreographer to get her due in credits. Not only for her hard work, but because she was a survivor in a male dominated and misogynist industry. And in her leading ladies that legacy of survival and trumping the system reached its culmination. Not for nothing does Madhuri Dixit acknowledge Saroj Khan as her ‘guru’. In that pairing, of teacher and her muse, was achieved the greatest of heights. In Madhuri, Saroj Khan was able to sculpt a persona that was assertive and yet did not challenge status quos, and it became the recipe for their success.

Saroj Khan was no great rebel, and it was possibly because she understood what best served her cause. Through her work, she bent the system and still survived in it.
Courtesy - The Times of India.
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Lessons for India: On Italian marines case : The Hindu Editorials

The long quest for justice for the two Kerala fishermen shot dead by Italian marines from the Enrica Lexie about 20.5 nautical miles off India’s coast in February 2012 has ended in disappointment. An international arbitration court has ruled that India does not have jurisdiction to try the marines, who, it held, were entitled to immunity as they were acting on behalf of a state. The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague admitted that both India and Italy had concurrent jurisdiction in the matter but concluded that the marines’ immunity precluded India’s jurisdiction. In India’s favour, the PCA found that the Italian vessel had violated the right and freedom of navigation of the Indian fishing vessel under UNCLOS, and that the action, which caused loss of lives, property and harm, merited compensation. It asked the parties to consult each other on the compensation due to India as a result. More significantly, the PCA rejected a key argument by Italy that India, by leading the Italian vessel into its territory and arresting the marines, violated its obligation to cooperate with measures to suppress piracy under Article 100 of UNCLOS. This may mean that the arbitration court did not view the incident as one related to piracy at all. The incident had caused national outrage as the public saw these as wanton killings, inasmuch as the circumstances indicated no attempt by the fishing vessel at piracy. The fishing vessel was within the country’s Contiguous Zone and it was quite clear that the offence warranted arrest and prosecution under domestic law.

With the piracy angle ruled out, a regular trial was in order. The Union government should have taken over the prosecution and ensured a quick trial. However, as legal tangles were being sorted out, and India was dealing with the diplomatic fallout, the marines managed to obtain orders to leave the country. The Supreme Court ruled that only the Centre, and not Kerala, can prosecute the marines. A bigger legal issue, which caused more delay, came later. The National Investigation Agency invoked the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, 2002. This caused a diplomatic furore as it provides for the death penalty. The EU threatened to impose trade sanctions. Ultimately, it took time for these charges to be dropped. The PCA’s award, which is final and has been accepted by India, is a huge setback for the expectation that the two marines would face a criminal trial in India. In the end, Italy succeeded in taking the matter out of India’s hands. It should now make good on its commitment to have the marines tried under its domestic laws. The takeaway for India should be the lessons, in the legal and diplomatic domains, that can be drawn from the experience.

Courtesy - The Hindu.
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Bend it like Italy: On flattening the COVID-19 curve : The Hindu Editorials

Five months after WHO declared COVID-19 as a  public health emergency of international concern and three-and-half months after it called the disease a pandemic, its spread does not seem to be slowing down globally. Instead, infections and the death toll continue to rise alarmingly. After a sharp increase in March, the fresh cases reported have steadily increased, breaching the 10 million mark on June 29; the death toll too touched a grim milestone of 0.5 million. With the addition of each million new cases taking fewer days than the previous one, the pandemic is truly accelerating. As if the summer heat has invigorated the virus, June alone accounted for 60% of all cases reported so far. The second half of June has been particularly bad with over 1,50,000 cases reported almost daily. On June 26, 0.19 million new cases were recorded, the highest reported on a single day since the outbreak in China; U.S. (2.7 million), Brazil (nearly 1.5 million) and India (0.6 million) have been driving the spike. On July 1, the U.S. witnessed the single largest spike of nearly 50,000 cases, which is more than the total number of cases reported by Singapore, South Korea and other countries.

As on July 3, India has reported over 0.6 million cases and 18,662 deaths. The acceleration of fresh cases began in the first week of May and increased sharply in June. While Maharashtra has the most cases, infections in Tamil Nadu and Delhi have been steadily increasing. With over 92,000 cases, Delhi has surpassed China (nearly 85,000) while Mumbai (just over 82,000) and Chennai (64,689) are close behind. After months of low testing, Delhi increased the number done per day to close to 20,000 with a concomitant increase in cases to reach a peak of over 3,900 before falling by nearly 40% in the last few days. Though belated, Tamil Nadu began aggressively testing in hotspot areas in Chennai a fortnight ago. Moving from a smaller number of targeted tests to increased community testing about two weeks ago has led to the test positivity rate reducing from 35% to about 20% in certain areas in Chennai. A test positivity rate of about 20% is highly suggestive of community spread in these areas. Equally important is tracing and isolating contacts. Tamil Nadu, however, has the lowest case fatality rate of 1.3% compared with 4.4% in Maharashtra, 3.1% in Delhi, and 5.6% in Gujarat. It is important for every State to take a leaf out of Maharashtra’s book and test large numbers daily unmindful of the rise in fresh cases each day. Dithering on testing, tracing, isolating and treating will inevitably lead to uncontrolled spread and increased deaths, undermining efforts to contain the pandemic. After all, China, Italy, and Spain have demonstrated that it is possible to bend the curve through a comprehensive approach that is centred around testing.

Courtesy - The Hindu.
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Reset rural job policies, recognise women’s work : The Hindu Editorials

Madhura Swaminathan
reverse the pandemic’s gender-differentiated impact
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on women’s work, but as official statistics do not capture women’s work adequately and accurately, little attention has been paid to the consequences of the pandemic for women workers and to the design of specific policies and programmes to assist them.

A survey by the Azim Premji University, of 5,000 workers across 12 States — of whom 52% were women workers — found that women workers were worse off than men during the lockdown. Among rural casual workers, for example, 71% of women lost their jobs after the lockdown; the figure was 59% for men. Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) also suggest that job losses in April 2020, as compared to April 2019, were larger for rural women than men.

The pre-COVID-19 situation
To comprehend the effects of COVID-19 on women workers, we need to begin with the situation before the pandemic. I draw here on the experience of the last 10 years with village studies conducted in collaboration with the Foundation for Agrarian Studies (FAS).


According to national labour force surveys, a quarter of adult rural women were in the labour force (or counted as “workers” in official data) in 2017-18. If we examine data from time-use surveys, that is, surveys that collect information on all activities undertaken during a fixed time period (usually 24 hours), the picture changes radically. There are no official time-use survey data: the National Statistical Office did conduct a time-use survey in 2019 but the results are not available (a previous pilot survey was conducted 20 years ago). I use detailed, village-level time-use surveys from Karnataka, with data for 24 hours a day for seven days consecutively over two agricultural seasons in 2017-18, to illustrate the ground-level situation. Taking time spent in economic activity (or what falls within the production boundary in the System of National Accounts or SNA) and using the standard definition of a worker as one who spent “major time” during the reference week in economic activity, time-use data show that, although there were seasonal variations in work participation, almost all women came within the definition of “worker” in the harvest season.

Crisis of regular employment
These data suggest — and this finding is echoed in observations by women activists — that rural women face a crisis of regular employment. In other words, when women are not reported as workers, it is because of the lack of employment opportunities rather than it being on account of any “withdrawal” from the labour force. This crisis of regular employment will have intensified during the pandemic and the lockdown.

A second feature of rural women’s work, brought to light by gender-disaggregated data at the household level in villages across India surveyed by FAS, is that women from all sections of the peasantry, with some regional exceptions, participate in paid work outside the home. In thinking of the potential workforce, thus, we need to include women from almost all sections of rural households and not just women from rural labour or manual worker households.

A third feature of our village-level findings is that younger and more educated women are often not seeking work because they aspire to skilled non-agricultural work, whereas older women are more willing to engage in manual labour.

A fourth feature of rural India is that women’s wages are rarely equal to men’s wages, with a few exceptions. The gap between female and male wages is highest for non-agricultural tasks — the new and growing source of employment.

Finally, an important feature of rural India pertains to the woman’s work day. Counting all forms of work — economic activity and care work or work in cooking, cleaning, child care, elderly care — a woman’s work day is exceedingly long and full of drudgery. In the FAS time-use survey, the total hours worked by women (in economic activity and care) ranged from 61 hours to 88 hours in the lean season, with a maximum of 91 hours (or 13 hours a day) in the peak season. No woman puts in less than a 60-hour work-week.

Lockdown and jobs
How did the lockdown affect employment for rural women? A rapid rural survey conducted by FAS showed that in large parts of the country where rain-fed agriculture is prevalent, there was no agricultural activity during the lean months of March to May. In areas of irrigated agriculture, there were harvest operations (such as for rabi wheat in northern India) but these were largely mechanised. In other harvest operations, such as for vegetables, there was a growing tendency to use more family labour and less hired labour on account of fears of infection. Put together, while agricultural activity continued, employment available to women during the lockdown was limited.

Employment and income in activities allied to agriculture, such as animal rearing, fisheries and floriculture were also adversely affected by the lockdown. Our village studies show that when households own animals, be it milch cattle or chickens or goats, women are inevitably part of the labour process. During the lockdown, the demand for milk fell by at least 25% (as hotels and restaurants closed), and this was reflected in either lower quantities sold or in lower prices or both. For women across the country, incomes from the sale of milk to dairy cooperatives shrank. Among fishers, men could not go to sea, and women could not process or sell fish and fish products.

Non-agricultural jobs came to a sudden halt as construction sites, brick kilns, petty stores and eateries, local factories and other enterprises shut down completely. In recent years, women have accounted for more than one-half of workers in public works, but no employment was available through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) till late in April. The first month of lockdown thus saw a total collapse of non-agricultural employment for women. In May, there was a big increase in demand for NREGS employment.

One of the new sources of women’s employment in the last few decades has been government schemes, especially in the health and education sectors, where, for example, women work as Anganwadi workers or mid-day meal cooks. During the pandemic, Accredited Social Health Activists or ASHAs, 90% of whom are women, have become frontline health workers , although they are not recognised as “workers” or paid a regular wage.

Effect on health and nutrition
While the lockdown reduced employment in agriculture and allied activities and brought almost all non-agricultural employment to a standstill, the burden of care work mounted. With all members of the family at home, and children out of school, the tasks of cooking, cleaning, child care and elderly care became more onerous. There is no doubt that managing household tasks and provisioning in a situation of reduced incomes and tightening budgets will have long-term effects on women’s physical and mental health. The already high levels of malnutrition among rural women is likely to be exacerbated as households cope with reduced food intake.

A new road map
As we emerge from the lockdown, it is very important to begin, first, by redrawing our picture of the rural labour market by including the contribution of women. While the immediate or short-run provision of employment of women can be through an imaginative expansion of the NREGS, a medium and longer term plan needs to generate women-specific employment in skilled occupations and in businesses and new enterprises. In the proposed expansion of health infrastructure in the country, women, who already play a significant role in health care at the grass-root level, must be recognised as workers and paid a fair wage. In the expansion of rural infrastructure announced by the Finance Minister, specific attention must be paid to safe and easy transport for women from their homes to workplaces.

As the lockdown is lifted, economic activity is growing but the young and old still remain at home. Further, as the COVID-19 infection spreads, given a higher likelihood of cases among men than women, the burden on women as earners and carers is likely to rise. We need immediate measures to reduce the drudgery of care work. To illustrate, healthy meals for schoolchildren as well as the elderly and the sick can reduce the tasks of home cooking.

It is time for women to be seen as equal partners in the task of transforming the rural economy.

Madhura Swaminathan is Professor at the Economic Analysis Unit, Indian Statistical Institute

Courtesy - The Hindu.
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A road less travelled: Lessons from the history of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - The Telegraph Editorial

Military historians know Balakot as the place where the armies of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Syed Ahmad Barelvi fought a major battle in May 1831. The aam aadmi knows Balakot as the place where the Indian Air Force launched a raid on a Jaish-e-Mohammad training camp in February 2019.

This column is set in the same place, although it deals with neither of these major events, but with a third, which happened in between. In May 1939, a great Indian patriot visited Balakot and its surroundings, and left behind an account of the landscape and the people who inhabited it. This is contained in her unpublished diary, a copy of which I found in the archives.

This Indian patriot was originally named Madeleine Slade. The daughter of a British Admiral, she became a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, living with him in his ashrams in Ahmedabad and Sevagram. She changed her name to Mira; and, as a further mark of her identification with her adopted country, went to prison for long stretches during the freedom struggle. As someone who crossed racial boundaries totake the side of the oppressed, Mira Behn has been widely commemorated in the literature on the nationalist movement.

I knew a lot about Mira Behn, but discovered only recently that she had visited Balakot in 1939. At that time, what are now the sovereign, separate, nations of India and Pakistan did not exist. Balakot fell in the North West Frontier Province of British India. The province was home to a group known as the Khudai Khitmatgars, who were led by a follower of Gandhi even more remarkable than Mira Behn. His name was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and he had, by the force of character and example, persuaded the war-like Pathans to embrace the credo of non-violence and inter-faith harmony.

In the spring of 1939, Gandhi sent Mira to the Frontier Province to promote spinning and weaving. It was on this trip that she visited Balakot, travelling there by road from the town of Abbottabad (now famous/notorious as the place where Osama bin Laden was hiding, before he was detected and killed by United States Navy Seals). This is how Mira described the scenery en route in her diary: ‘Round the villages and farms, and along the ravines there are green trees, while the fields, all gently terraced, and forming slopes and curves like the sounds of the sea show a delicate variety of browns and greens, picked out here and there with an emerald rice field. And all this little world surrounded by blue hills and the great snow mountains beyond.’

Halfway to Balakot, Mira and her Khudai Khitmatgar companions stopped for the night. Early the next morning she took a walk. She found that ‘work had already begun in the fields. Treading out of corn, winnowing and ploughing are all in progress. As I was returning home the sweet summer notes of the cuckoo fell on my ear’. 

After breakfast Mira and her companions set off for Balakot. On the way they passed a forest bungalow which she thought ‘a possible place where Bapuji might have some rest and quiet’. It was at a comfortable altitude of 3,900 feet: ‘all alone in the fir woods, with peeps of the snows above and the mountain valleys below, it is certainly a very attractive spot, but water is scarce’. (Gandhi had come to the Frontier Province the previous year, and was contemplating another visit. Although this never took place, it is strange to contemplate that the Mahatma might have taken a health cure in a Forest Bungalow so close to Balakot).

The way to the village of Balakot lay through the valley of the river Kumbar. The road was ‘narrow and rough’, as well as ‘steep and twisty’, and the car found it hard to negotiate the bumps and bends. Mira found the scenery absorbing, though, for the road ran ‘along near the right bank of the river, which is a big torrent, racing and tumbling down from the snow mountains. In its haste, as it rushes over its rocky bed, and dashes against the many twists and turns of its course, it rises into waves as formidable as the Sabarmati in flood. Here and there along its banks and shallows are great tree trunks that have got caught up on their way to the Jhelum, while others more successful pass headlong on down the centre of the stream’.

 Having reached her destination, Mira provided a characteristically vivid picture of the place. ‘Balakot is a large village fitted closely around one side of a little hill like a bee-hive, situated exactly at the entrance to the Kagan Valley. It has no road to it. Only stony foot-paths which are, in parts, more like stairways, and very often have a stream running down them. The bazaar is tightly packed, the roof of the house below often making the terrace of the house above. Among the shop-keepers many Hindus and Sikhs are to be seen’. 

Mira had been told that the Gujjar shepherds who lived in Balakot ‘spin and weave the wool of their flocks into very good blankets’. But, to her disappointment, the Gujjars were not in station, having gone on their annual summer migration into the pastures in the higher mountains. However, seeing her crestfallen look, her escort, a Khudai Khitmatgar leader named Abbas Khan, said he would send a messenger to bring some Gujjars down to the village by the next day. They came, whereupon Mira ‘asked them various questions about their woollen industry’. 

From Balakot, Mira and her escorts proceeded further into the mountains. They halted at a village named Bhogarmang, which had terraced rice fields neatly laid out, as well as weaving and bee-keeping. Mira was impressed by this, ‘but the thing which rejoiced my heart more than anything else in this village’, she wrote, ‘was the living Hindu-Muslim Unity.’ She found that a ‘Hindu family, headed by a dear little old white-haired man, was on the sweetest terms with the young Khans who said that he had been the friend of their Father and Grandfather, and that the two communities had always lived in an atmosphere of mutual aid and consideration’. On hearing this, wrote Mira, ‘the prayer which instinctively rose in my heart was “May no ‘Leaders’ ever reach this little village and spoil its sweet and natural life!”’

This village, a model of Hindu-Muslim harmony, was Mira’s last stop. The next morning she left for Abbottabad. A few weeks later she was back in Sevagram with Gandhi. In September 1939 the Second World War broke out in Europe, changing history forever. Among the consequences of the War for India (and Indians) was a deepening divide between Hindus and Muslims. This was stoked and provoked by the ‘Leaders’ Mira feared; who existed in large numbers in both communities. Over the course of the War, the spirit of communal harmony that had once existed in the Frontier Province broke down completely, with Ghaffar Khan’s party rapidly ceding ground to the rival Muslim League. Although the NWFP did not experience riots as bloody as in the Punjab, after August 1947 the Hindus and Sikhs who lived there had to leave Pakistan and take refuge in India.

The Balakot that Mira visited in 1939 has changed beyond recognition. It no longer has a multi-religious character; instead, it now has a camp to train fighters promoting Islamic fundamentalism. The landscape must surely be very different too; as in other mountain regions in South Asia, the forests would have thinned out rapidly, the charming stone-and-wood houses replaced by ugly concrete structures, and the once thriving traditional crafts on the verge of extinction. 

This column presents a fragment of historical memory, but let me end with a reflection on what the present can learn from the past. There are no more than a handful of Hindus and Sikhs left in the province of Pakistan once known as NWFP, and now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On the other hand, there remains a large (and often vulnerable) Muslim minority in most Indian states. Can one hope that the ‘mutual aid and consideration’ between Hindus and Muslims that Mira once saw around Balakot will be securely established in villages across our country? Or will our ‘Leaders’ prevent it?

 ramachandraguha@yahoo.in
Courtesy - The Telegraph.
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Silence is grey: Whither press freedom? - The Telegraph Editorial

Democracy is not just about ‘being’ a system and how a nation is organized. It is much more about it ‘becoming’ inclusive and accountable to those who constitute the nation. One of the important indicators of the vibrancy of a democracy is the freedom of the media in it, something as important as breath to a living body. While in itself it is no vital organ of the State, its absence can leave the body inert. Two recent reports indicate that the media in India are gasping for breath.

The World Press Freedom Index report put out by Reporters without Borders has India ranked 142nd out of 180 countries covered in 2020. In 2019, it was ranked 140. It observes that globally there is a “crisis caused by growing hostility and even hatred towards journalists”. Placing Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil at the 107th rank and Donald Trump’s United States of America at the 45th rank, it points out that the two leaders “continue to denigrate the media and encourage hatred of journalists in their respective countries”. The press freedom report presents a comparative global view of the media; Getting Away with Murder by Geeta Seshu and Urvashi Sarkar is an India-specific report. It points out that 36 instances of attack on media persons took place during 2019, and 198 between 2014 and 2019. One in every five attacks involved murder. The increasing frequency of such attacks is alarming. Almost invariably, the perpetrators have not been punished. Most cases have not moved past the FIR stage, and only a few have come to a court trial. The report records that the perpetrators of the attacks include “government agencies, security forces, political party members, religious sects, student groups, criminal gangs and local mafias”. 

The media have now become so much of a hazardous occupation. The hazards include physical attacks, threats and trolling in the foulest language, mental torture and lack of adequate legal relief. In such a situation, can the country expect the media to stand up and speak when and what they are expected to? The Constitution does provide freedom of expression as a fundamental right, but it is subject to ‘reasonable restrictions’, an expression that the regime seems to have left to a spacious interpretation. In addition to PoTA, UAPA and the century-old Official Secrets Act in force since 1923, other regulations too are being used to target inconvenient media houses, journalists, cartoonists, writers, film-makers, cinema artists, dramatists, publishers and information activists. Law, which ideally should defend the independence of journalism, is being used to silence it. Besides, extra-legal methods are also being used. If any courageous television or print journalist raises questions, she or he is trolled relentlessly. Ask Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha, for instance. In an ideal democracy, they would have received a Pulitzer-like prize for their courage and depth in writing. What they have received is arrest by the National Investigation Agency. Extending adequate constitutional and legal protection to scribes and questioners could be wished for had wishes been horses. This wish is quickly dashed by an inscrutable delay in criminal investigation and python-slow court procedures. Asha Rajdeo Ranjan has been making futile rounds of the CBI courts to get to the book the killers of her husband, a bureau chief of Hindustan, who was murdered in 2016. One cannot easily forget, alas, that a female court employee, who charged a mighty judge with sexual harassment, was sacked and that her case was heard and dismissed by the very same judge. Is gagging the questioner the new normal in India? 

Recently, Supriya Sharma of the Scroll.in, who filed a story about shortages in food supply, really a humdrum journalistic task, had to face a first information report. The report filed by her was not just about one of those seven lakh nondescript villages where migratory labourers returned after the lockdown to languish. This was a report related to the prime minister’s parliamentary constituency. Staring before her is, possibly, the reward of a jail term. Given this sorry state of those who raise questions and the hazards created for the media as a profession, is it surprising that the media and media persons lie supine? Yet, intimidation by those in power is not entirely new for the media. What is new is the threat posed to it by a fraudulent competitor — fake news. Bolsonaro and Trump alone are not the masters of generating fake news. The present regime in India is a cut above them in doling out to credulous citizens ‘facts’ that bear no rational scrutiny. The media, by nature, are cautious, sceptical and careful in accepting tall claims. Therefore, social media is used for circulating this parallel ‘news’. Ideally, social media should have performed its role as a historical culmination of print and television media, but is being put to use as their adversary.

What should have been respected for its independence as a pillar of democracy is now made to emit trivia flowing out of the regime’s propaganda machine. Television channel news rooms are shrill today because the anchors have lost their own voice. They are busy shouting down dissenting voices rather than raising questions that concern the country and its citizens. The painful loss of nerve by the media in India may be a natural consequence of the prevailing political environment. Far more painful is the citizens’ complicity. Sadly, a large section of India’s citizenry has chosen to remain a mute witness to the silencing of the questioners. In terms of transactions — knowledge and economic — the media are the producers and the citizens consumers of what they produce. However, for safeguarding our democracy, citizens must learn to look at the media as a democratic institution and stand by it when under attack. If the regime’s propaganda divides media and social media, citizens committed to democracy must bring the two together in a complementary relation.

Most citizens appear to have shifted loyalties away from print and TV media and taken to using social media platforms for news and views. They are jubilant that they are no longer mere consumers of media content but its producers. This excitement and the unmatched speed with which the content can be relayed make social media users impervious to the fact that the terrain is constantly assailed by thought viruses. Besides, the technology that provides social media its user control and speed also provides the State a vantage ground for mounting an invasive surveillance. That, too, is aimed at silencing questioning. This may suit a regime in power for one or two terms but is disastrous for our democracy and nation. The situation cannot change unless citizens come forward to actively defend the freedom of media and mind.

The author is a literary critic and a cultural activist; ganesh_devy@yahoo.com
Courtesy - The Telegraph.
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Give GST Council institutional strength : The Economic Times Editorial

Three years after the transition to the goods and services tax (GST), there is a strong case to strengthen the GST Council for the constitutional body to take informed decisions to reform the tax structure, rates and broaden the tax base. A policy paper by the Pune International Centre, The GST Compensation Cess: Problems & Solution, by V Bhaskar and Vijay Kelkar recommends the creation of an independent GST Council Secretariat to offer professional advice on tax matters. It also essentially calls upon the Centre to borrow more to deliver on its promise to compensate the states for five years from 2017-18 for any shortfall in GST collections in relation to the past trend, notwithstanding the fiscal pressures faced by it due to the corona pandemic. Both suggestions make eminent sense.

The council needs neutral, unbiased advice from top-notch professionals in the field. The finance ministry’s budget-making wing on indirect taxes, called the Tax Research Unit, should be brought under the GST Council. Rightly, roping in competent tax-research officers from states, and having a taxation expert of national stature as the Secretary General (currently steered by the Revenue Secretary) will help strengthen the council’s secretariat. GST subsumed 17 central and state taxes and 23 cesses. It creates multiple audit trails on the income and production chain — throwing up voluminous data. Big-data analytics must be deployed to follow these trails to tax potential. The transaction chain of key raw materials such as metals and petrochemicals must be followed up to unearth the value added escaping tax at the moment.

The council should move towards the overall direction to lower and converge rates and prune exemptions that break the GST chain and clutter the tax system. This will minimise classification disputes and make compliance easy. Rate changes should be based on rigorous data analysis. The council must not delay the inclusion of petroleum products, real estate and electricity duty in the GST framework, to widen the tax base, and probably double its current size.
Courtrsy - The Economic Times.
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