Showing posts with label The Hindu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Hindu. Show all posts

Dead letter: On Chile referendum


Last year, when Chile was shaken by mass protests, the conservative President, Sebastián Piñera, agreed to hold a referendum on rewriting the country’s Constitution, introduced during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, in a bid for calm. On Sunday, 78% of Chileans voted in favour of replacing the charter, which the protesters say was the main hurdle in introducing social and economic reforms, with a new document. Since its transition to democracy in 1990, Chile has amended the Constitution — principally written by the Pinochet-aide, Jaime Guzmán, and approved in a fraudulent plebiscite in 1980 — to take away many of its anti-democratic features. But the document, which has enshrined the conservative free-market philosophies of the Milton Friedman school, stayed on. It allowed the private sector to thrive and helped the economy expand. But it also led to the concentration of wealth in a minuscule minority, triggering social tensions. Protests erupted last year over a small rise in metro fares but it soon snowballed into a public agitation demanding reforms — an abolition of the private pension fund system, implemented by Gen. Pinochet, an increase in investments in education and health care, and a strengthening of the rights of the indigenous communities. The protesters also demanded an overhaul of the Constitution as it was impossible to introduce far-reaching reforms with the current charter. With Sunday’s plebiscite results, they have won the first stage.

Replacing the Constitution is going to be a two-year process. Next year, Chileans will elect a 155-member Assembly to draft the new document, which will then be put to a plebiscite in 2022. Half the delegates will be women. Political factions are still debating whether seats in the Assembly should be reserved for the indigenous groups. It may not be a smooth process given that different political factions represent different ideas and interests. The new Constitution is also expected to be a heated political issue, with the general elections next year. But despite the political and procedural challenges, it offers a fresh opportunity for Chile to say goodbye to a dark era. Gen. Pinochet came to power in 1973 after a U.S.-backed coup against Chile’s elected President, Salvador Allende. In the 17 years he was in power, Pinochet, who died in 2006, unleashed a reign of terror, resulting in the executions of thousands and the detention and torture of many more. The biggest problem with the present Constitution has been its origins. Now, through a democratic process, Chileans can bury the document and introduce a legitimate charter, which is an imperative for any modern democracy. It also offers them an opportunity to right the systemic wrongs of the past and chart out a more inclusive economic and social system that works not just for the government elites and the business classes but also for all Chileans.

Courtesy - The Hindu.


Compound conundrum: On interest waiver

The Centre’s scheme to bear the difference between the compound interest and simple interest on retail and MSME loans availed by borrowers whose aggregate outstanding borrowings were less than ₹2 crore between March 1 and August 31, has come not a day too soon. In spelling out the norms for lenders to identify eligible beneficiaries and then ensure that the extra ‘interest on interest’ be refunded by November 5, the government has clearly been spurred by the Supreme Court’s admonition to expedite relief to small borrowers. With the top court having pointedly referenced the approaching festival of lights when it said “the common man’s Deepavali” was in the government’s hands, the Centre has ended up setting a really tight deadline of less than two weeks for banks and NBFCs to credit the differential amount to the borrowers’ accounts. The lenders have their task cut out to make sure that they pick out all the eligible loans — education, housing, consumer durables, automobiles, consumption, credit card borrowings, as well as credit provided to MSMEs — and that the borrowings had not turned into non-performing assets as on February 29. They will then have to refund the difference between the compound interest charged for the six-month period and the simple interest. In making all the specified borrowers eligible for the ‘ex-gratia’, the government has sought to ensure equity between those who may have availed of the repayment moratorium and others who had opted to continue to service their borrowings.

The move, however, has understandably evoked both relief and some disquiet. Retail borrowers, especially those who continued to meet their EMI commitments notwithstanding the disruptions caused by the pandemic and lockdowns, stand to marginally benefit from the government’s payment and will be a relieved lot. On the other hand, MSMEs may find the assistance far too small to make a material difference, given the scale of economic hardship they have had to endure — from demand destruction, to material and labour shortages and regulatory woes. Given that these businesses provide substantial direct and indirect employment and also generate valuable tax revenue, it would have made far greater economic sense for the government to have categorised them separately. The additional fiscal impact should be seen against the benefit that would accrue were even a reasonable number of these enterprises to remain viable and resume their contribution to the national economy. Also, the ₹2-crore limit for retail loans provides succour to not just ‘vulnerable’ borrowers but creates a moral hazard by benefiting the well-heeled too. All eyes will now be on the Court when it resumes hearing the matter next month.

Courtesy - The Hindu.


The shade of grey: On FATF's mandated tasks

The decision by the Paris-based watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force, last week to retain Pakistan on its greylist has clearly disappointed the Imran Khan government. His cabinet had projected confidence that the country would be taken off the greylist — monitored jurisdictions on terror financing and money laundering activities — having been cleared on 21 of the 27 mandated action points. Pakistan will now face international strictures on its markets and on its ability to procure loans until the next FATF plenary in February 2021, by which time it is expected to complete the six pending issues. A bigger problem for Islamabad was that Turkey was the only other country in the 39-member FATF to push for Pakistan to be let off, by making a suggestion that the last six points be cleared by an “on-site” visit by an FATF team. The proposal was dropped when even other traditional backers of Pakistan such as China, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia did not support it. Clearly, Pakistan has little option but to complete its tasks in the next four months, which include: more action against UNSC-banned terrorists and terror groups, action against charitable organisations (Non-Profits) linked to these banned entities, tracing fugitive terrorists and pursuing convictions against them, revising the list of banned entities under the Anti-Terrorism Act to reflect all those banned by the UNSC, and cracking down on other channels of terror financing through narcotics and smuggling.

For those in New Delhi watching the outcome of the FATF decision, there are some broader dividends to consider from this process. To begin with, the fact that the FATF has retained Pakistan on the greylist for the third time this year, and not automatically downgraded it to the blacklist (with Iran and North Korea) when its deadline for action ended in September 2019, has ensured the pressure has continued to make Pakistan accountable on terror. The Khan government has been forced to make a real legislative push to bring Pakistani anti-terror laws in line with international standards, while, at least for the interim, also ensuring sufficient pressure on groups such as the LeT and the JeM that target India, to refrain from public comments and publicly raising funds. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s support to the U.S.-led Afghan process and talks with the Taliban are crucial to the peace process, and the FATF process has made Islamabad more amenable to helping Afghanistan. It remains to be seen if the actions it takes will permanently change Pakistan’s course in supporting and sheltering cross-border terror groups. India’s eventual goal is not just in stopping attacks by these groups, but for Pakistan to fully dismantle the infrastructure of terror in the understanding that it is in Pakistan’s own interests to do so. It is hoped that the prolonged FATF process will enable this realisation in Islamabad.

Courtesy - The Hindu.


The many lessons from COVID-19

The global pandemic is marching on. As I had said at the JRD Tata Oration, hosted by the Population Foundation of India on its 50th anniversary, of the lessons I have learned over the last nine or 10 months, the most important one is the significance of investing in public health and primary healthcare. Countries that invested in primary healthcare over the past decade or two are reaping the benefits now. Another lesson is the positive role of science and scientists. The global collaboration between scientists to take forward advances in knowledge so that science is continuously informing our response to the pandemic has been encouraging.

Gendered impact

In India, the pandemic has had a differential impact on women. Despite gaps, India had seen progress in maternal mortality. There have been significant gains in infant mortality, institutional births and replacement level fertility. However, there is still a high unmet need for family planning and improved access is required to contraceptive services and safe abortions. A recent modelling study showed that because of the reduction in coverage of essential services, the prevalence of wasting in children could increase by 10% to 50%. There could also be 60% more maternal deaths because interventions like the administration of uterotonics and antibiotics, and clean birth environments, are no longer available.

COVID-19 has also disrupted the education system. It has also adversely affected access to nutritious food as a huge number of children depend on school meals.

Another worrying development is the surge in domestic violence. In India, a third of women said that they had previously experienced domestic violence, but less than 1% sought help from the police. Governments can include response to violence against women in the package of essential services.

Many women have lost their work and livelihoods. More women than men work in the informal economy and therefore their income fell by over 60% during the first month of the pandemic. In India, the number of women and girls living in extreme poverty is expected to increase from 87 million to 100 million.

A few months ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasised the importance of gender analysis and gender-responsive public health policies. One of the major issues is the lack of availability of data that is disaggregated by sex and age. We also do not have data on violence against women and children. We have urged WHO Member States to collect data, report and analyse it, disaggregated by sex, and include responses to violence against women as an essential service.

Over 70% of countries reported partial or complete disruption of immunisation services. Other services disrupted include diagnosis and treatment of non-communicable diseases, cancer diagnosis and treatment, family planning, contraception, antenatal care, malaria and TB case detection, treatment facility-based births, and urgent blood transfusions, as well as emergency surgery. This will have a huge impact. On the one hand, essential services have to be provided; on the other hand, we must ensure financial protection. This can be guaranteed only if there is either a health coverage scheme, like Ayushman Bharat, or through private health insurance.

Out-of-pocket payments cause about 100 million to fall into extreme poverty every year, and 800 million globally spend more than 10% of their household budget on healthcare. The World Health Organization has been urging countries to ensure financial protection and effective coverage of health services.

The effective coverage index is a useful measure of the quality of health services — it looks at the provision and efficacy of services in terms of health outcomes. This metric suggests that 3.1 billion people worldwide would still not be covered if we continue to do what we’re doing. The index enables us to move away from just measuring process towards measuring outcomes. Many countries do not have the data systems to be able to accurately measure both mortality and the incidence of certain diseases. India needs to invest more in its vital registration system.

What can we do better?
Many countries have moved to digital technology, especially using platforms to provide telemedicine, for example, to overcome the problem that people could not meet physically. Platforms like ECHO have been used in many States to train healthcare workers and the government’s e-Sanjeevani platform is enabling telemedicine appointments.

We now have a national digital health blueprint and a road map. We want to move towards electronic and portable health records. It is important to think about not only data governance principles, but also new ways of collecting, using and sharing data, enabling local, contextualised decision-making.

We also need to think about working with the private sector, which is already playing a very big role in technology. But we need to think about technologies that are considered public health goods. At the Aravind Eye Hospital in Puducherry, for example, they did an experiment with shared medical appointments. This seemed to result in better health outcomes as well as higher productivity, apart from reducing costs and saving a lot of time for doctors.

We need to further integrate social protection systems, food systems and health systems in order to really have an impact on nutrition. India has done much to ensure these services, but it needs to expand these to protect its most vulnerable population groups. We must ensure that the pandemic does not further increase food insecurity.

False or misleading information leads to harmful behaviours, and mistrust in governments and the public health response. In the last eight months we have done an incredible amount of work with many tech companies. But infodemic management is not straightforward; it is linked to people’s beliefs and behaviour. Therefore, we’ve set up a behavioural insights group to provide advice on behaviour change.

We often think about health as purely as delivery of services to take care of the sick. The risk factors and the social and environmental determinants of health, such as the quality of water and air impact our health. But investments here are much more difficult as they lie outside the health sector. It is a question of all arms of the government looking at the impact of their policies on health.

Empowering our frontline health workers will yield rich dividends. We need to invest in them to ensure that they have the tools they need, receive regular training and mentoring, and are well paid.

We need to invest in strong institutional mechanisms and capacities in our regulatory bodies, research centres and public health institutions. We have seen so much fear, stigma and discrimination circulated on social media. This must be countered by health literacy.

India is on the path to investing in Universal Health Coverage. Financial resources are very important for this, but we also need investment in human resources and to engage and empower communities. A health system cannot only be about the supply side. It has to keep in mind how to involve citizens and the people it is trying to serve and have them involved in developing the services that we are bringing to them.

Soumya Swaminathan is Chief Scientist at WHO

Courtesy - The Hindu.

At 75, the UN needs a rebirth Sreeram Chaulia

October 24 marks the diamond jubilee of the United Nations. But far from joyous celebration, it is an occasion to sombrely reflect on why the UN is stagnating at 75 and how it can regain its lost lustre.

Although much has changed in the international system since 1945, the world body continues to see a tussle between ‘principle’ and ‘power’. On the one hand, the UN represents hopes of a peaceful and just world order through multilateral cooperation, abidance by international law, and uplift of the downtrodden. On the other, the institution has been designed to privilege the most powerful states of the post-World War II dispensation by granting them commanding heights over international politics via the undemocratic instruments of veto power and permanent seats in the Security Council (UNSC).

Arguably, if the great powers of that period were not accommodated with VIP status, we may have seen a repeat of the ill-fated League of Nations. Keeping all the major powers inside the tent and reasonably happy through joint control over the UNSC was intended to be a pragmatic step to avoid another world war. Presumably, the collective command model of big powers built into the UNSC is one of the reasons why there has been no third world war.

A model that didn’t work

But this model has also caused havoc. Almost immediately after the UN’s creation, it was pushed to the verge of irrelevance by the Cold War, which left the UN little room to implement noble visions of peace, development and human rights. It was only in the uncontested post-Cold War political milieu, when the liberal sole superpower, the U.S., strode like a colossus, that the UN could spring back to life and embark on a plethora of peacekeeping missions, nation-building interventions and promotion of universal human rights. In the U.S.-led ‘new world order’ of the 1990s, it appeared as if the problem of ‘power’ cutting out ‘principle’ had been resolved under the benign hegemony of a Washington that would be the flag-bearer of UN values.

However, that golden age of the UN was too deceptive to last. We are now past the unipolar moment and the ghosts of the Cold War are returning in complex multi-sided avatars. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has labelled the present peaking of geopolitical tensions as a “great fracture”. The phrase ‘new Cold War’ is in vogue to depict the clash between China and the U.S. Tensions involving other players like Russia, Turkey, Iran and Israel in West Asia, as well as between China and its neighbours in Asia, are at an all-time high.

The recrudescence of the worst habits of competitive vetoing by P-5 countries has prevented the UNSC from fulfilling its collective security mandate. So dangerous are the divisions and their spillover effects that Mr. Guterres has lamented that “we have essentially failed” to cooperate against the immediate global threat of the pandemic. He has also rekindled the old maxim, “The UN is only as strong as its members’ commitment to its ideals.”

Obstacles to reforms

But apart from rivalries of member states, there is a larger underlying problem. At the core of the paralysis of the UN is the phenomenon of P-5 countries (China, France, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S.) blocking reforms. Outmoded procedures based on the discriminatory original sin of superior prerogatives to P-5 countries have to be discarded. Why should expansion of the UNSC require consensus of the P-5? In the 21st century, why should there be veto power in anyone’s hands? If a simple majority voting method could replace the P-5 consensus method, the obstacles to UNSC reforms would reduce.

On the 75th anniversary of the UN, there must be a global push against ossifying ‘rules’ which have privileged ‘rule’ of the few over the many. That is the only way to restore some balance between ‘power’ and ‘principle’ and ensure a renaissance of the UN.

Sreeram Chaulia is Dean, Jindal School of International Affairs

Courtesy - The Hindu.


Taking on the Centre: On States rejecting farm laws

Punjab’s efforts to enact State amendments to override the effects of the Centre’s new agriculture laws epitomise the difficulties in managing the conflict between liberalising the farm sector and protecting the small and marginal farmer from the agonies of the transition. The issue also flags the consequences of not having a wide and informed debate before introducing far-reaching changes. Punjab has been the hub of the opposition to the Centre’s legislative exercise to change the basics of trade and commerce in agriculture. The Akali Dal, the main opposition in the State, eventually withdrew its Cabinet minister and later walked out of the NDA government at the Centre. Punjab argues that the central Acts would cause “grave detriment and prejudice” to agricultural communities. The Bills cite an agriculture census of 2015-16 to argue that 86.2% of farmers own less than five acres — a majority of them less than two acres — and that with limited or no access to multiple markets, they would be handicapped while negotiating fair price contracts with private players. Making efforts to buy farm produce at less than the MSP or harassing farmers in a bid to persuade them to enter into such contracts have been sought to be made punishable offences, with a jail term of at least three years. The Bills also seek to overturn the Centre’s move to remove the fee on trade and transactions that take place outside markets functioning under APMCs.

A key issue raised by Punjab’s proposed amendments is whether they are legally valid and where they stand in the teeth of the Centre’s legislation. States can indeed amend central laws enacted under the Concurrent List, subject to the condition that provisions repugnant to the parliamentary Acts will have to get the President’s assent, without which they do not come into force. The Punjab Bills note that agriculture is under the legislative domain on the States, as the subject falls under the State List in the Seventh Schedule. The Centre has enacted its farm sector Bills by invoking Entry 33(b) in the Concurrent List, which concerns trade and commerce in, and production, supply and distribution of, “foodstuffs”. By stretching the entry’s meaning to include agriculture, Parliament has managed to pass laws in the domain of the States. In these circumstances, States aggrieved by the farm sector laws will either have to go the Punjab way to adopt Bills that would require presidential assent, as Rajasthan has decided to do, or challenge the validity of the central laws in the Supreme Court, as Chhattisgarh is said to be considering. Whatever the outcome, clear from the groundswell of opposition across the country is that a cavalier and centralised approach to issues that affect millions of farmers ill-serves a diverse country.

Courtesy - The Hindu.


Hitting where it hurts: On U.S. B-1 business visa curbs

The Trump administration has once again tightened the screws on the country’s immigration system in a manner that is likely to directly impact Indian companies contracting with American firms for on-site work. This week the State Department proposed to stop issuing temporary or B-1 business visas relating to occupations normally classified as falling under the H-1B speciality or skilled visa category. The argument is that under the guise of the business-related entry of personnel, companies were sending their technology professionals for short-term stays to work on U.S. jobs, potentially undercutting the wages and employment prospects of U.S. workers. The proposed policy action, just ahead of the November 3 presidential election, is significant for following closely on the heels of other, similar moves to tighten restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals, including raising the minimum salaries payable to those applying for H-1B visas and to stop the issuance of such visas entirely until December 31, 2020. Taken together, it would be reasonable to expect a painful economic fallout on legal skilled migration from India. For example, the analysts predict that Mr. Trump’s June 22, 2020 ban on new H-1B visa issuance could impact up to 219,000 workers, who would be unable to take up potential jobs in the U.S.

To date, there has been no retaliatory policy from India, at most perhaps diplomatic parleys where South Block has sought to emphasise that technology and innovation via the trade in services remain a key pillar of the bilateral strategic partnership and highly-skilled Indian professionals working in the U.S. help bridge the skill gap there, imparting a technological and competitive edge. In the backdrop of the steady clampdown on visa issuance is Mr. Trump’s rhetoric on protecting U.S. jobs from foreigners, especially in cases where lower wages drive substitution effects. The pressure on the White House to increase the cadence of the drumbeat for this form of “protectionism” has risen owing to the pandemic’s job-killing effects. U.S. joblessness spiked to an unprecedented 14.7% in April 2020. While it has dropped off since then, the country has entered the final phases of electoral campaigning, which has seen sharp attacks by Democratic challenger Joe Biden on Mr. Trump’s alleged failure to mitigate the economic crisis. When considered alongside the fact that Mr. Trump is steadily losing ground in federal and regional opinion polls, it is hardly surprising that areas of legal migration, including skilled workers entering the U.S. via the H-1B programme, have become policy targets for the White House. It would be wise for Indian IT firms and others seeking to send their employees to the U.S. for short-term work to assume that regardless of who wins the election, it will be a long time, if ever, before they can hope to return to business as usual.

Courtesy - The Hindu.


A new dimension: On India-U.S.-Australia-Japan Quadrilateral

In what will be seen as a significant shift of the government’s posture towards the India-U.S.-Australia-Japan Quadrilateral (Quad), Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat stated on Thursday that India believes the Quad would be a “good mechanism” to “ensure Freedom of Navigation Operations” (FONOPs) in the Indian Ocean and surrounding oceans including the Indo-Pacific. Unless he misspoke, the suggestion is that India is now prepared to join Quad military patrols, which marks a departure from its earlier reticence and public statements by the leadership. The Indian Navy has not taken part in any joint patrols outside of the Indian Ocean, and even within it, held its first one, with France, only recently. In terms of the engagement with the Quad, India has not yet formally announced a decision to include Australia in the annual Malabar exercises with the U.S. and Japan, although it is expected to do so. However, the move from conducting exercises together to joint operations would take time, something that makes the CDS’s assertion significant. It is easy to surmise that his contention that the Quad operations are needed to ensure there is no “fear of any other nation singularly trying to dominate the oceans”, is a veiled reference to China. It is also clear that the LAC tensions and clashes, as well as the PLA’s refusal to implement border agreements, have convinced New Delhi that new strategies will be required to deal with Beijing. While India continues to engage China diplomatically, and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh have spoken of the importance of a resolution through talks, there is no doubt that an outcome of the tensions will be a strengthening of India’s ties with global powers such as the U.S., as well as formations like the Quad. An indication of this is the government’s plans to host a ministerial-level meeting of the Quad in the next month, possibly when the India-US “2+2” meet of Foreign and Defence Ministers is held.

While India considers its options, it is necessary to remember some of the reasons for its reticence in terms of militarising the Quad in any way. Prime Minister Modi said in 2018 that India sees the Indo-Pacific as a “geographical concept”, not a “strategy or a club of limited members”, and it would be important to know whether that formulation has changed. India is the only Quad member not already tied in a treaty alliance with the others, and Mr. Jaishankar’s statement that India would never be part of any “alliance system” would run counter to what the CDS suggests. Finally, India is the only country in the Quad that shares a land boundary with China, and it is unclear how the militarisation of the Quad in Indo-Pacific waters would alleviate the territorial threat it faces. If, however, New Delhi’s view of its Quad engagement has shifted, clarity and an expansion of Gen. Rawat’s statement are essential.

Courtesy - The Hindu.


Appropriate strategy: On India banning more China apps

The blocking of a hundred more Chinese mobile applications suggests that the Indian government, not for the first time in recent months, wants to make it amply clear that it will not shy away from leveraging its position as a massive market for technology in dealing with potentially dangerous geopolitical issues. Since June, when border tensions between India and China turned ugly, the government has till now stepped in thrice to block many Chinese applications in one go. In the latest such decision, on Wednesday, it blocked 118 apps, including the widely popular gaming app, PUBG, as well as WeChat Work and Baidu, owing to these being “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of State and public order”. Over 200 Chinese apps, which were accessed by millions of Indian users, have been blocked in all till date. The decision has been taken based on several complaints, a press release said, of these apps “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India”. It could be argued that loss of access to the Indian market will sharply affect the ambitions of the Internet giants emerging from China, but it remains to be seen if this tech-side intervention is effective as a counter in a geopolitical fight. Also, how far can India go to keep the Chinese players, who are well entrenched in the global tech supply chain, off the Indian market without prejudicing its own growth?

It is difficult to argue against decisions that are taken on the plank of national security, especially one arrived at by invoking the government’s power under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, a section upheld by the courts previously. But it would be well argued that the Indian approach should have followed due process, where the focus was on ensuring compliance with the law. Instead, the Indian response to complaints has been to straight away block these apps en masse. Meanwhile, millions of Indians who were engaging with these platforms, some gainfully, have to scramble for alternatives. To add to this, the data protection law, a dire need in this age, is not yet there. All this does not bode well for a country with aspirations of global leadership of tech, an industry which thrives on global networks and rules. Ironically, China, which for years has unleashed widespread censorship of information and kept apps from outside off its Internet, has found a rare chance to take the moral high ground. It has criticised India’s move, accusing it of “abusing the concept of national security”. The last thing India needs is to be compared with China as far as its Internet regulation goes. It certainly needs a more considered approach to tech regulation.

Courtesy - The Hindu.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Promise and delivery: On India’s first COVID-19 vaccine : The Hindu Editorial

India’s first indigenous COVID-19 vaccine (COVAXIN) developed by a Hyderabad-based company in collaboration with the ICMR is all set to be tested on humans. The permission from the Drugs Controller General of India to carry out phase-1 and phase-2 human clinical trials was based on the safety and efficacy results of studies on mice, rats and rabbits. The phase-1 trial of the candidate vaccine using inactivated (killed) novel coronavirus will begin this month to test its safety. The virus used for developing the vaccine was isolated by the Pune-based National Institute of Virology from samples collected in India. Meanwhile, a Pune-based company is all set to manufacture two-three million doses of the University of Oxford vaccine if the results of its phase-1 clinical trial, which are expected in the first week of July, are encouraging. Millions of doses more will be manufactured if the results of the combined phase-2/3 trial are reassuring. In addition, the two companies are collaborating with universities and a biotechnology company to develop three more vaccines. With the pandemic raging and no antivirals available to treat severe COVID-19 patients, a vaccine that is even partially effective and protects for about a year will be in demand. Thus, an indigenous vaccine will mean guaranteed availability for Indians, while a significant percentage of the Oxford vaccine manufactured in India will be earmarked for local consumption. This is one reason why many countries are earnestly attempting to develop a vaccine. According to WHO, 17 candidate vaccines are in various stages of a human clinical trial, while 132 are in a pre-clinical trial stage.

On June 25, China’s CanSino Biologics COVID-19 vaccine, became the first off the block when it was approved for use by the military for a period of one year. The phase-1 and phase-2 trials found the vaccine to be safe with a “potential to protect” against the disease. It is unclear if the vaccination will be optional or mandatory. While this is not the first time that countries have made vaccines under development available to the military even before the completion of the trial, there is growing concern that speeding up vaccine development by bypassing certain crucial stages of the trial process may prove counterproductive. In a poll in the U.S., one-third have said they would not get immunised against COVID-19 even if a vaccine was widely available and affordable. While many expect science to find a quick-fix, experts envisage 12-18 months to get a vaccine commercialised, if at all. But that timeline is already seen as aggressive. If scientists develop a safe, efficacious vaccine soon, public trust in science could grow substantially but there would be serious consequences if it fails, particularly on the safety aspect. Regulatory agencies have a responsibility to ensure COVID-19 vaccines deliver what they promise.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

Striking a blow against Assam’s inclusive ethos : The Hindu Editorial

Manoranjan Pegu
The Assam government recently decided to promulgate a law to make the Assamese language compulsory in all schools, both public and private, including the Kendriya Vidyalayas, from Classes I to X. The State Governor has already given a formal assent to the Cabinet’s decision. However, the law will not be applicable in Barak Valley, Bodoland Council and other Sixth Schedule areas, where Bengali, Bodo and other indigenous languages will take precedence. The ‘Assamese nationalists’ are of course happy. Some are even demanding for it to be made compulsory in the exempted areas. However, none of them is talking about what effects it will have on communities such as the Misings, Deoris, Rabhas and the other smaller tribes and their mother tongues.

Data and politics
Statistical data have often been used as a tool to construct the linguistic hierarchy and homogenisation in a region. This in turn becomes an element crucial for constructing and stabilising the regional political economic hegemonies. We have seen that happen in north India with the census-driven communal split of Hindi-Urdu, presuming Muslims to be Urdu speakers, while Hindus to be Hindi speakers. Crucially, this politics marginalised languages such as Magadhi, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Garhwali with their rich literary and linguistic traditions as mere dialects of the Hindi language. And this was a political number game to ensure the dominance of Hindi and Hindi-Hindu elites, nationally.

A similar approach is also evident in Assam. Census data are often used to portray a ‘danger’ to the Assamese language — the ‘infiltration’ of Bengali-speaking communities is considered to be the primary reason. The number of Assamese speakers as per the 2011 Census comes to 48.38% of the population. In 1971, the percentage of speakers was at 60.89%. So, it seems the number of Assamese speakers considerably declined in these four decades. But this data need to be looked at empirically. It has to be noted that most tribal communities speak Assamese but return their own respective languages as their mother tongues. For example, in the Mising tribe, which I belong to, a large majority speak Assamese. This is not because of school education, but mainly because of the fact that Assamese is the dominant market language, at least in the Brahmaputra Valley.

Impact on tribal languages
The imposition of Assamese has had adverse effects on tribal languages, especially on those which do not enjoy any constitutional protection. Tribal languages are generally on a steady decline. For instance, while the Mising tribe reported a rate of increase of 41.13% in the number of speakers in the 2001 Census, by 2011 it was merely 14.28%. Similarly, the Deoris which reported a decadal increase of 56.19% in the 2001 Census, the increase percentage by 2011 had declined to 15.79%. It is to be noted that only the Dibongiya clan of the Deoris now speak the language. The Rabhas community provides for a more curious case. The community reported an increase of 18.23% in the number of speakers in the 2001 Census. By 2011, the number of speakers had decreased to -15.04%, almost completely obliterating the language. Other tribes such as the Sonowal-Kacharis and Tiwas have almost completely lost their languages.

Tribal communities since long have been demanding linguistic and territorial protection and attention from the State government. On October 30, 1985, the government of Assam, in response to a long struggle by the Mising community, through a gazette notification introduced the Mising Language as an additional subject in Classes 3 and 4 in the Mising-dominated areas.

Also, additionally, it was to be the medium of instruction at the primary level. The Assam government was supposed to take up various tasks such as appointing Mising language teachers, translating books into Mising, and also introducing Mising textbooks. But only 230 teachers were appointed till 1994, after which the whole process came to a halt. Further, the agreed upon clause of introducing Mising as the medium of instruction never took off.

Tribal communities have always resisted attempts of forced homogenisation. It was in response to the Official Language Bill in 1960 that the Khasi along with other tribal communities started protesting, ultimately leading to the formation of Meghalaya. The Bodo movement for autonomy also finds its roots in this bill. Tribes have often highlighted that the ‘Assamese nationalism’ discourse was narrow and rarely included other communities. However, tribes such as the Misings, Deoris, Rabhas, etc. have still consistently supported the Assamese movement against the imposition of Bengali language or Hindi in Assam. But in turn they now find themselves consistently marginalised, with their linguistic and cultural heritage derecognised by the State and the hegemonic forces.

The CAA factor
The anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) movement could have been a point of departure in the ‘Assamese Nationalism’ discourse. During the course of the movement, a new definition of ‘Assamese indigenous’ was seen emerging. This definition was inclusive of tribal and other non-Assamese communities and was based on domicile rather than language alone. Demands were raised for protection of indigenous land, culture and languages during the course of the struggle.

However, at the core of the movement, was also the fear of infiltration that the CAA bill promoted. Such fear and insecurity have an immanent tendency to straitjacket heterogeneous aspirations and scuttle the inclusive nature of the movement. The government is in fact manipulating this element of fear by raising linguistic nationalism to weaken the inclusive and anti-hegemonic build-up in the anti-CAA movement in Assam. The timing of the government’s decision to bring in a law making Assamese mandatory in schools clearly exposes its intentions. It was first announced in January 2020.

As a job requirement
Adding to this, the Home Minister of Assam states that the government is also mulling over a separate legislation which will make only those who learned Assamese till their matriculation suitable for government jobs in Assam. These moves are clear indications of a non-inclusive homogenised Assamese nationalism taking precedence over the inclusion of minority linguistic and cultural aspirations. Such a move alienates various linguistic identities such as those of tribes such as the Misings, Deoris and Rabhas, etc. and limits the definition of ‘Axomiya’ to just the speakers of the language. By bringing in such a law, the State government is seeking to overcome the legitimation crisis that its support to CAA had created.

While the tribes acknowledge the threat that infiltration poses to local languages and culture, they are also wary of the Assamese hegemony and homogeneity. This law will only increase the marginalisation of these communities, triggering social conflicts once again. It is time for progressive sections in Assam to go beyond the politics of fear and assert the inclusive ethos of Assam.

Manoranjan Pegu is a trade union activist based in Delhi. The views expressed are personal

Courtesy - The Hindu.

A health emergency: On risk of international spread of poliovirus

Based on the risk of international spread of poliovirus, the World Health Organization announced on January 7 that polio will continue to remain a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) for three months. The decision was taken based on the recommendation of the emergency committee under the international health regulations that assessed the situation last month. The committee arrived at the unanimous decision based on the “rising risk” of international spread of wild poliovirus type-1. Polio was declared as PHEIC in 2014 and has continued to remain one since then. There were 156 cases of wild polio type-1 cases in 2019 compared with 28 in 2018. With 128 cases, Pakistan accounted for the most number of cases, while Afghanistan reported 28 cases. Besides the four-fold increase in cases, there were instances of the wild type-1 virus getting exported from Pakistan to Iran and Afghanistan, as also on the spread from Afghanistan to Pakistan. In addition to the virus causing polio in children, it was found in the environment in Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan. This is particularly a concern as the number of children not vaccinated in Afghanistan has been increasing. In 2018, a total of 8,60,000 children in Afghanistan did not receive polio vaccine due to security threats. The situation did not improve in 2019 and, as a result, a large cohort of children in the southern region of the country remains unprotected. Therefore, even other parts of the country that have been free of the virus in the past are at risk of outbreaks.

An equally disturbing development is on the outbreak of vaccine-derived poliovirus cases in 16 countries; in all, there were 249 vaccine-derived poliovirus cases in 2019. Surprisingly, of them, only 30 were in countries where vaccine-derived poliovirus is endemic. “The rapid emergence of multiple circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type-2 strains in several countries is unprecedented and very concerning, and not yet fully understood,” the committee noted. But, not a single case of vaccine-derived poliovirus was reported from Afghanistan, while Pakistan had just 12 cases. In comparison, the number of cases in Angola was 86 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was 63. While Nigeria reported 18 cases of vaccine-derived poliovirus, not a single case of wild poliovirus type-1 has been reported from the country for over three years; the last reported case was in August 2016. A country is said to have eradicated polio when no new case of wild poliovirus is reported for three successive years. Nigeria is all set to be declared as having eradicated polio this year, and in turn, the entire African region will become free of wild poliovirus.

Eloquently reticent: On validity of J&K curbs

If enunciating the law and laying down norms for the exercise of executive power were the only functions of a constitutional court, the Supreme Court’s verdict on the prolonged lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is indeed admirable. However, the apex court is also a court of justice, one duty-bound to enforce fundamental rights. It cannot limit itself to opinions on the extent to which those rights can be restricted. It has to give effect to the principles it enunciates and rule whether the state violated the fundamental rights of its citizens. The disappointing aspect of the verdict is the court’s failure to give a ruling on the validity of the government’s actions. It fails to hold the government to account for the manner in which it exercised its powers. It states categorically that an indefinite ban on the Internet is impermissible, but fails to direct the restoration of services. When it says Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure “cannot be used as a tool to prevent the legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or exercise of any democratic rights”, it makes a comment worthy of being treasured in these times of frequent resort to that section. Yet, the court does not go beyond directing the authorities to review all their orders and restrictions forthwith.

There are indeed valuable takeaways from the judgment. A key holding is that the use of the Internet as a medium for free speech as well as for trade and commerce is constitutionally protected. It also lays down that any reasonable restriction on fundamental rights, be it an Internet ban or a Section 144 order, will have to survive the test of proportionality, that is, the restriction should be proportionate to the necessity for such a measure. At the same time, it cautions against the “excessive utility” of the proportionality doctrine in matters of national security. Of great value to future challenges to executive action is the principle that there can be no ‘secret orders’. The government is bound to publish all orders it passes regarding such restrictions so that they can be challenged in a court of law. It is here that the verdict acquires another unusual character. Having rejected the government’s stand that it could not produce all the orders on the restrictions imposed since August 4, 2019, the court fails to strike them down on that ground. After all, it concurrently says every order imposing a restriction should state the reason, the exigency that necessitated it and the features that make it clear that it is the least intrusive measure. The absence of such order in the public domain is evidence that the state failed to demonstrate its necessity. It is a sign of the success of the ‘national security’ narrative that undergirds the government’s position on J&K that an apex court judgment in a fundamental rights case appears to have the character of an advisory opinion.
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