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Showing posts with label Hindustan Times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hindustan Times. Show all posts

The Delhi-DC strategic dance | HT Editorial

The most striking element of the latest Indo-United States (US) 2+2 talks is that two senior US ministers flew personally to India during a pandemic and a week before their national elections. This is a testament to the strategic importance Washington attaches to New Delhi. The tangible outcome from these talks was the formal signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Intelligence (BECA). This is the last of four foundational defence agreements between the two countries that allow a much higher level of military cooperation in technology, interoperability, and defence manufacturing.


It is not to New Delhi’s credit that it has taken nearly two decades to sign these agreements, overly worried at false claims these would undermine Indian sovereignty. The US has BECA agreements with 57 countries; so, this is hardly an exclusive arrangement. But it is also true few of these countries have ballistic missiles that can now achieve pinpoint accuracy when heading to their targets by accessing the US’s unparalleled network of military-grade satellites. The Trump administration and the Narendra Modi government have been fast-forwarding the integration of the Indo-Pacific strategies of their two countries. In the past several weeks, there has been an alignment of the Malabar naval exercises with the Quad and India participated in a meeting of the Five Eyes intelligence coalition. The Trump team wanted to go further, but the Indian government has preferred to wait for the next US administration to assume office. There are reasons for this caution, notably the erratic nature of US grand strategy over the past 12 years.


The next step is about taking things beyond guns and gizmos. India needs to leapfrog economically and technologically to become a genuine strategic balancer to China. Washington now talks of internet coalitions and developing supply chains in high-technology products that all exclude China. But this requires the US government to rework its traditional trade negotiations, put pressure on its firms to make that break, and put a strategic touch to its immigration policies. India now talks of an “innovation partnership” that must develop along with all the military-to-military bonhomie taking place. All this will wait until after the US elections, and requires a negotiations format that goes beyond the present 2+2 conversations.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Stay focused on the big picture in Nepal | HT Editorial

India-Nepal ties are back in the spotlight with the visit of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) chief, Samant Goel, to Kathmandu last week. Mr Goel met the Nepali Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli, who has espoused belligerent anti-Indian nationalism for domestic political ends. His visit has drawn up the predictable response in Nepal — of Indian interference in internal affairs — and has also led to criticism of Mr Oli, who is being accused by his critics of now softening up to India.

Two things are noteworthy here. One, R&AW has had a substantial role in the neighbourhood in general and Nepal in particular. It not only ensures that the Indian system is on top of information and changing dynamics, but has been an instrument for action — as is the role of any intelligence agency. Nepal’s politicians criticise it publicly, while seeking to cosy up to it privately. The visit and Mr Oli’s willingness to meet Mr Goel confirms this.

More broadly however, the visit has led to speculation of India-Nepal ties going back to normal, especially since the Indian Army chief is scheduled to visit Nepal next. India has to do business with whichever elected government is in power in Nepal. But at the same time, New Delhi must be careful that “normalcy” in ties should not come at the cost of narrowing down its interests in Nepal. Only a stable, inclusive, democratic Nepal — led by a regime which knows the value of special ties with India and engages with China within certain boundaries — can help keep the regional security environment balanced. Mr Oli has not given signs of doing this. Delhi can remain tactically prudent, but should not lose sight of this long-term goal.


Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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The missing issue in the Bihar elections

The first phase of the Bihar assembly election, the first major polls to be held during the Covid-19 pandemic, is scheduled for Wednesday. All political parties have released their manifestos, making a range of promises — from ensuring employment to distribution of free vaccines for Covid-19, from higher investment in education and health care to farm loan waiver. While all these are important issues, besides perfunctory references, not enough attention has been paid to a critical issue in the state — the annual cycle of floods.



28 out of Bihar’s 38 districts are flood-prone, and the near-annual deluge often destroys infrastructure and the ecological wealth (farm lands and forests), leaving a deep, long-term impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people. This year, at least 8.3 million people in 16 districts were displaced, and many are still living in relief camps. Nearly 7.54 lakh hectares of agricultural land have been destroyed. While the Nitish Kumar government has blamed earlier regimes for weak embankments and corruption, the Opposition has alleged politicisation of relief.


Riverine floods are a natural phenomenon, but destruction by floods is not. In fact, floods were once considered a blessing because they would bring fertile alluvial soil with them. But thanks to a combination of deforestation in the catchment area, human habitation on the river banks and floodplains, encroachment on wetlands, and embankments, they now lead to devastation. It’s a pity that these issues are not being debated more sharply in the election. This reluctance will only normalise the yearly destruction in the minds of the people, generate disillusionment about the responsiveness of the political system at large, and prevent Bihar from finding a comprehensive, ecologically sustainable, solution.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Poor air quality is a danger to public health. Adopt a holistic approach

The State of Global Air 2020 report, which was released on Wednesday, has two warnings for India. First, India recorded the highest annual average PM 2.5 concentration exposure in the world in 2019, and second, the country has had the worst levels of PM 2.5 levels in the world for the last decade

The State of Global Air 2020 report, which was released on Wednesday, has two warnings for India. First, India recorded the highest annual average PM 2.5 concentration exposure in the world in 2019, and second, the country has had the worst levels of PM 2.5 levels in the world for the last decade 

 

The State of Global Air 2020 report, which was released on Wednesday, has two warnings for India. First, India recorded the highest annual average PM 2.5 concentration exposure in the world in 2019, and second, the country has had the worst levels of PM 2.5 levels in the world for the last decade. This runaway pollution is leading to a deleterious impact on the health of the people. In 2019, over 116,000 infants in India died within a month after birth due to exposure to severe air pollution, the report said. This finding is based on research that suggests exposure to polluted air during pregnancy is linked to low weight and premature birth. The report also suggested that long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases, and neonatal diseases in India in 2019. Although the link between air pollution and Covid-19 is not yet fully proven, the report acknowledged that there is evidence linking air pollution with increased heart and lung disease. This means that exposure to high levels of air pollution during winter months could exacerbate the effects of the disease.



In the last few years, there has been increasing scientific evidence of the effect of air pollution on health, pushing the central and state governments — often with the prodding of the judiciary — to take a raft of measures to tackle the menace. For example, the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) has a Graded Response Action Plan since 2017, and there has been talk of implementing a regional “airshed management” plan to curb pollution in the city. The Delhi government is also experimenting with a new organic way of decomposing stubble with Indian Agriculture Research Institute’s “Pusa decomposer”.


Despite these efforts, the Delhi-NCR region’s pollution load has remained high. While one has to accept the city’s geographical location and its meteorological challenges, there are also several man-made factors (other than stubble burning) — vehicular emissions, construction dust, garbage burning — that can be controlled to ensure cleaner air. To do that, there has to be a holistic approach that pushes policy changes in Delhi and its neighbouring states and overcomes the issue posed by the multiplicity of political interests. There must also be monitoring on a real-time basis as well as a strong push towards the behaviourial change of citizens. There is no room for delay, for lives are at stake.


Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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The political twist in the Darjeeling hills

For over a decade, the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), led by Bimal Gurung, has supported the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The quid pro quo was simple. For the BJP, the support of the Nepali-speaking community in the Darjeeling hills helped it make inroads into West Bengal, where it had little presence, and win Lok Sabha elections. For the political leaders of the hills, where a battle for a separate state of Gorkhaland has persisted for three decades, supporting the BJP was seen as a possible avenue to have the Centre on their side when the state government was against them, and either get a new state or wrest more power.

With Mr Gurung declaring that he will no longer support the BJP, and instead back the Trinamool Congress in state elections, the political dynamics have changed. This turn appears to be driven by a set of factors. When the BJP appeared sympathetic to the Gorkhaland movement, it had almost no presence in the rest of Bengal — but this has changed. Given that the mood in the state is against the creation of Gorkhaland, the BJP cannot risk supporting the hills’ quest for self-rule. The BJP was also then in Opposition — but as the ruling party at the Centre, it has to take into account security considerations. Intelligence agencies have emphasised the strategic importance of the Darjeeling-Siliguri belt, and are not comfortable with separate statehood. And finally, the fact that Mr Gurung feels he will be safer, if he has the protection of the state government has tilted the decision despite the Trinamool’s opposition to statehood. But irrespective of the reasons, the loss of GJM as an ally will hurt the BJP in the hills in next year’s polls.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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A new low for Indian television news



Over the past decade, the quality of Indian television news has sharply dipped. This can be traced to an obsession with ratings; a preference for contentious studio discussions and dilution of balanced reportage; a tendency to sensationalise news; and a broken business model.


But, with its reportage on the Sushant Singh Rajput case, Indian TV news has hit a new low. Here is what should have happened — a prominent actor dies by suicide; the media covers his life and legacy; there is a conversation on mental health; there is due investigation; and there is closure. Instead, here is what has happened — a prominent actor dies by suicide; the media decides that it is not suicide but a product of either a deep-rooted conspiracy by an amorphous Bollywood power elite or an outright murder; conspiracy theories are peddled, reputations tarnished, and every norm of reportage is thrown into the bin; public opinion is manufactured; State agencies either willingly or due to this media-generated pressure enter the field; and citizens remain distracted.


This is not to suggest that a fair probe is not needed. But by acting as investigator, prosecutor, and judge, on flimsy grounds, TV news has been irresponsible. Today, they have found one target; tomorrow, it could be someone else. There is no easy solution. Self-regulation isn’t working. But State-regulation could lead to control, which is not desirable. Finding a balance and reining in TV news is now essential to protect individual liberties, prevent mob justice, and have a civilised discourse — all of which are essential in a democracy.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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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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PM Modi has made his choice : Hindustan Times Editorial


On Friday morning, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi shaped India’s future foreign policy and security doctrine for years to come. First, by making an unscheduled, surprise visit to Ladakh at a time when the border stand-off with China, because of Chinese aggression, continues, he sent out a symbolic and political message, both within and outside the country, that India will stand up to defend its territorial integrity, in all circumstances.

But, more importantly, while speaking to soldiers in the frontlines, PM Modi sent out a clear and unambiguous substantive message to China that India, and the rest of the world, will challenge its “expansionism”. By suggesting that either expansionists lose or are forced to mend their ways, the PM was telling China that the era of patience with its predatory tactics is over. By mentioning that India seeks peace — but peace comes from strength and India has done and will do what it takes to build its strength — the PM was telling China not to think that its assessment of the asymmetry of power between the two countries will make India retreat in the face of aggression. By repeatedly highlighting the bravery of soldiers and honouring them, the PM was preparing the Indian armed forces, as well as the rest of the country, for the challenges that may lie ahead. And by acknowledging Ladakh as India’s pride, the people of Ladakh as patriots, and the sites of Ladakh as having witnessed Indian bravery, he was laying an unequivocal claim to the region — all of it — as Indian territory, which is not up for negotiation.

In the face of Chinese attempts to change the status quo at the Line of Actual Control, and the lack of substantive movement through negotiations at the military and diplomatic level, India had a choice. One option was to underplay the incursions, keep the issue in cold freeze, and slowly normalise the India-China relationship. The other option was to recognise the threat, decide to take on the adversary irrespective of potential costs, and reframe the entire framework of the relationship to impose costs on China. PM Modi has made his choice by picking the second option. It is now up to China to decide whether it wants to risk an escalatory spiral at the border and beyond at this juncture, or whether it is willing to restore the status quo and make peace. PM Modi has made it clear that while India hopes for the latter, it is prepared for the former.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.
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Don’t jeopardise forests for mining

The Union ministry of environment, forest, and climate change, whose mandate is to preserve India’s stressed natural wealth, has sought a reassessment of the sustainable mining plan for Saranda and Chaibasa forests in Jharkhand’s Singhum district. Critics suspect this is to facilitate mining. The Saranda forests are India’s largest, contiguous Sal forests spread over 82,000 hectares (ha). The current plan, which was prepared by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education in 2018, said mining should not be allowed in the dense forest. It also said marked out a certain area in the periphery of the forests for mining, but recommended that very dense forests with canopy density above 70% be left untouched.

Other than being a rich biodiverse forest and a huge carbon sink, Saranda is home to a large number of animal, bird and reptile species. While the forest is famous for sal trees, it is also rich in minor forest products. Marginalised tribal communities are also dependent on these forests. However, due to indiscriminate mining, Saranda has lost several plant and animal species.

One key reason why forests areas of the country, which are also mineral-rich, face such threats of destruction is because India, while it pursues its goal of having 33% of its land under forest cover, is yet to have a new national forest policy. This policy can define a “forest”, mark out the inviolate areas , and chart out a proper forest management system. The current National Forest Policy dates back to 1988, and cannot meet current challenges, where the trade-off between economic growth and infrastructure on the one hand, and safeguarding critical natural resources on the other, has only intensified. Additionally, along with assessing the value of minerals in Saranda-type forest areas, the Indian State must also measure the financial worth of the ecosystem services that a forest provides. Instead of looking for ways to facilitate mining, the ministry should focus on designing the new policy framework to protect forests.
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