Please Help Sampadkiya Team in maintaining this website

इस वेबसाइट को जारी रखने में यथायोग्य मदद करें -

-Rajeev Kumar (Editor-in-chief)

Showing posts with label The Indian Express. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Indian Express. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Everyone’s war (The Indian Express)

Written by Raghu Raman

The mindspace of every citizen is seized with the pandemic in their professional and personal remits. Bureaucrats, administrators and political leaders are occupied coordinating resources and few have the bandwidth to focus on the socio-economic onslaught that is yet to come. But this fog of chaos must not obscure the strategic dangers looming over the horizon.

There has always been a stark imbalance between the law and order situation in India and government’s wherewithal to address the same. This pandemic will wreck the already fragile equilibrium between order and disorder. It is only a matter of time before desperation drives the have-nots to express their anger and frustration unlawfully. Already, petty theft and crimes are escalating. Reports of looting lifesaving resources by citizens signal signs of a breakdown. The problem will be exacerbated because of depletion of police forces and their distraction from regular policing and administrative activities. Once this imbalance begins, the slippery slope can end in civil unrest quickly.

The relationship between order and disorder in a society is delicate. Governance is based on covenants promising solace to law-abiding citizens and retribution to law breakers. No government can govern without this pact because even the strongest has less than 10 million armed forces and police personnel to address national security and law and order for 1.3 billion people. Also, our security forces, like our health, hygiene and other frontline workers are not an inexhaustible or an untiring resource.

Consider the security personnel, for example. India has about 1.5 million personnel in its armed forces who are already under heavy commitment in our western and eastern fronts. Additional troops have been pinned down in Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370. The situation of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) is probably worse. They have been shunted around the country chasing one assignment after another with no respite, leave or downtime. And because of the exposure in their work, state police personnel have been ravaged with a disproportionate percentage of COVID cases. The efficacy of these organisations will further diminish when their (already understaffed and overworked) strategic and operational leaders start succumbing. There is simply no capacity to spare if the security or the law and order situation starts to deteriorate.

Bereaved, afraid and frustrated citizens transform into angry mobs mercurially. Millions of citizens have been pushed into poverty adding to abject inequity. Even as the middle class is struggling for air and medicines, millions of poor are compelled to migrate yet again because they face starvation in addition to COVID. As James Baldwin pointed out, the most dangerous creation of any society are people who have nothing more to lose. No covenant of governance can hold if the majority feel crushed by inequitable treatment, they will hit back. It might feel safe and insulated inside the gated communities but opulence cannot withstand the rage of the deprived for long.

If we are waging a war against the pandemic then we must remember that war is too important a business to be left to generals or for that matter politicians. The pandemic is arguably the biggest crisis faced by our nation. And the only silver lining in a national crisis is that common citizens take it upon themselves to assist each other and contribute to the war effort — as witnessed in the first migration of workers when hundreds of volunteer groups helped total strangers. While the government may formulate macro-level policies like imports of oxygen and medicines, it’s the sheer selfless energy and ingenuity of ordinary citizens which provides last-mile connectivity and succour to the suffering. And that is where the battle to take back control from the pandemic must begin.

India’s haves must open their coffers in direct action to help the have-nots. The new vaccination policy offers an opportunity for every individual to assist those less privileged by paying for their dosages, thus relieving pressure on the state resources needed for millions more. Rich corporates, religious and quasi-religious entities must open their reserves and put cash in the hands of the lowest strata using instruments like salary advances, interest-free loans and donations. Institutions like the NCC and volunteer students must be trained in first-response treatments on a mission-mode timeline. Idle capacity, like private buses, private aircrafts and unoccupied buildings, must be commandeered for the war effort. Retired personnel from the armed forces, civil and allied services should be recalled to augment administrative bandwidth especially at headquarters.

If the COVID onslaught were to be compared to a type of war, it would be what the army calls FIBUA, or fighting in built-up areas. These kinds of operations are not won by overwhelming weaponry or resource superiority. Instead, they are fought doggedly, street to street, house to house and room to room, until control is wrested back from the enemy. So, instead of waiting for some overarching silver strategy, we need to fight the pandemic with thousands of imaginative ideas and small operations to defeat it at the local level. This is indeed every man’s war.

  The writer is founding CEO, NATGRID.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


The first fast (The Indian Express)

Written by Sameena Dalwai

In Ramzan, as the day passes without food and water, we enter a most vulnerable state.

I started fasting this Ramzan for the first time in my life. It was an experiment in putting mind over matter and as a mark of solidarity with fasting in Africa, Arabia and many countries of Asia. For years I had wondered: Why would a religion make its people starve and suffer? The answer was clear by the end of my day of fasting. It teaches humility and gratefulness that is at the heart of Islam. Karen Armstrong, the historian of comparative religions, offers theological and practical insights about Islamic practices. She reminds us that the word Islam in Arabic means “total surrender” — to that one God, who is creator, provider and destroyer.

When Muhammad, a merchant from Mecca, first received the call from Al Lah (The God) in 612 AD, he was meditating on the problems that plagued Arabia, where tribal warfare and bloodshed was on the rise and religiosity had deteriorated to mere ritualism. His people, the Quraish, were a proud tribe that ruled the city of Mecca. In early 7th century Mecca, the rich clans occupied the land around the Kaba and the poor lived on the outskirts of the city. The infirm, orphans and widows were exploited, the weak viewed with disdain. Ideas of honour were inflated. Any slight, real or imagined, would invite blood feuds. We use the word jahil in Hindi/ Urdu for an ignorant person. Muslims understand it as the pre-Islamic “time of ignorance” or jahiliyyah.

The new religion of Muhammad urged its followers to follow jilm, an ancient Arab virtue, which meant living life temperately, responding patiently and peacefully. The biggest struggle, jihad, is with one’s own self, as one must fight anger and arrogance lurking within oneself. The Prophet proclaimed after winning a skirmish with a Quraish caravan once, “We are returning from the lesser jihad (battle) and going to the greater jihad”, referring to the immensely difficult struggle to reform their own society and hearts. This idea of inner transformation seems to resonate with Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha that urges individuals to win their opponents with patience, compassion and self-suffering.

Self-suffering is integral to surrender. In Ramzan, as the day passes without food and water, we enter a most vulnerable state. A glass of water becomes more valuable than piles of gold. Men and women, rich and poor, master and servant all experience hunger pangs, a parity of experience that can shatter arrogance. When we are hungry and thirsty, we tend to think of those who are poor and have no food. We feel obliged to share our good fortune and pay jakaat/zakat. What does the obligation to pay jakaat mean for current times? In Arabia, when food was scarce and survival tough, food could suffice as jakaat. But as modern Indians, we can pay for the education of children or finance projects that help intergenerational mobility of lower classes of all religions, not just Muslims.

Many may be surprised to realise that Prophet Muhammad did not use the word kaffir for non-believers or non-Muslims. He called the previous prophets, Moses, Abraham and Jesus, his brothers. He was aware that all Abrahamic religions are genealogically bound. Then who were the Kaffirs? The word kufr means defiant ingratitude. It applied to the Prophet’s own people, the Quraish, who wanted to continue the life of jahiliyyah and whose hearts were locked or sealed against the new message of humility.

Jahiliyyah and kafirun are very much present in our times. From those running the Islamic State, using violence to terrorise and torture, to those showing off their wealth by lavish iftaar parties. Several people in all religions, nations and political parties have their hearts sealed against appeals of equity and justice.

In Mecca, the new religion of Islam became popular amongst women, youth, slaves and weaker clans. Arabia had the same custom of killing infant daughters that India struggles with even today. The first pledge the new converts took was of no lying, no stealing, no infanticide. They freed their slaves. The call for prayer from the first mosque in Medina was given by a former slave. They treated the weak and infirm with respect and care.

Today when I see Hindu and Muslim mothers lighting candles to Mount Mary, and people of all faiths kneeling before Haji Ali, I remember that Karl Marx said religion is the “opium of the masses’ but also the “sigh of the oppressed”.

  The writer teaches at Jindal Global Law School.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Saturday, April 24, 2021

Coping with Covid (The Indian Express)

Written by Vikram Patel

We must all pray that the lethality of this mutant child is lesser than that of its parent and that the vaccines being rolled out will offer similar levels of protection. 

Like the actor Bill Murray in the popular film Groundhog Day, I feel as if I am trapped in a parallel dimension, witnessing a recurrent nightmare. Just when I had thought that India had escaped the dreaded second wave, the sequel which makes the first hit resemble a mere trailer has well and truly landed on our shores. I was wrong, of course, as was our political class and most of our population, lulled into a smugness as we fooled ourselves into believing we were the outliers. How I wish that speculation had been true. What might explain this exponential descent into death and despair? While complacency in adhering to masks and physical distancing might have played a role, it seems increasingly likely that this second wave has been fuelled by a much more virulent strain. If that’s the case, we must all pray that the lethality of this mutant child is lesser than that of its parent and that the vaccines being rolled out will offer similar levels of protection.

No matter what the final analysis of this second wave of the epidemic will tell us, we now bear witness to unimaginable horrors unfolding across the country. It is harrowing to witness the phenomenal gains India had made in securing control over the first wave being totally squandered, leaving one with the gnawing feeling that we have learned nothing. How else can any of us explain the sheer madness of proceeding with elections and monumental religious gatherings in the midst of a deadly surge. Now, as the tsunami sweeps across the land, there is little we can do to stem its tide, other than adhering to the behaviours we have long known, and often neglected. You know the drill, but it still bears repeating: Wear a correctly fitted mask, avoid crowded situations and get vaccinated. If we must close sectors of our society down, we must do so thoughtfully to avoid the horrors which accompanied the first lockdown. And we might begin with doing away with the term “lockdown” itself, as awful as the equally terrifying term “social distancing”, and request our fellow citizens to “stay at home”. But this sleight of words doesn’t alter the fact that this policy will have a devastating effect on many groups in our country.

Foremost on this list are the hundreds of millions of people who rely on daily wages to put food on the table. For many of these people, who had just begun to see a light at the end of the dark tunnel as their livelihoods picked up with the decline of the first wave, the return of the epidemic may well be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. We must remember that “deaths of despair” led to an unprecedented reduction in the life expectancy of working-age Americans after the financial crisis of 2008; the crisis facing India looks infinitely more daunting. Next on the list are our children, who have not seen the inside of a school for a year and who had ached to return to the comfort of a place where they would play, meet friends, learn and eat a nutritious meal. The damage that school and college closures have played on the learning potential and mental health of this generation is incalculable for the impacts will only become visible in the years ahead. Third, we must attend to the needs of mothers and people who struggle with other diseases to avert adding to the mounting Covid-related mortality due to reduced access to essential health care.

We know what we need to do to address the needs of each of these groups. For daily-wagers and small businesses, this is the moment for a transformative stimulus bill, on par with the visionary legislations passed by the Biden administration and other countries, to provide immediate cash transfers which can cover basic needs for at least the next three months. For our children, we must prioritise teachers and parents of school-going children to get vaccinated so that they can safely reopen schools, practising physical distancing by holding staggered classes outdoors or in well-ventilated classrooms, easy to do in our climate. The fact that we opened hotels and casinos before schools is a jarring reminder of how unthinking we have been with regards to the well-being of our children; schools must always be the last to close and the first to open.

For those who suffer other ailments, we must make sure that all emergency clinical services are kept open as before, and deploy the opportunities offered by telemedicine for continuing routine care. In my mind, the second wave offers a historic opportunity for the private sector to play a role which contributes to a national mission, as it has done for the production of vaccines, working in a coordinated manner with the public sector to cover all the healthcare needs of the communities they serve. Perhaps, this could be the first concrete step towards a mutually beneficial partnership for both sectors to realising the aspiration of universal health coverage.

This is a moment of truth for India. We must set aside recriminations and partisan thinking. The time for accountability will come in due course. For now, let’s be clear that even if all of us are fastidious about wearing a mask and the government massively increases vaccination coverage, the epidemic will take its course and there is little, short of another brutal lockdown, which will modify this likelihood in any significant way. We must remain hopeful that this wave will pass in a matter of months, thanks to its lightning spread across the country, and that our frontline workers will find every drop of superhero blood to help the sick. The immediate, most pressing, need of the hour is that we ensure the economic security and well-being of the vulnerable, whom we abjectly failed the last time. We can no longer blame our ignorance on this occasion.

The state must act quickly, purposefully and with generosity. This means not just money, but also genuine compassion. I think I speak for every Indian to pray to our leaders, across the political spectrum, to put aside their differences and stand together, in solidarity, with the powerless and vulnerable so that, when the dust has settled, they are not left fatally wounded.

 The writer is The Pershing Square Professor of Global Health at Harvard Medical School, and a member of the Lancet Citizen’s Commission on Re-imagining India’s Health System.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


A court in crisis (The Indian Express)

Written by Dushyant Dave  

On April 24, Justice N V Ramana will be administered the oath of office by President Ram Nath Kovind. Justice Ramana will swear in the name of god/ solemnly affirm to “bear true faith and allegiance to Constitution of India as by law established; uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India; duly and faithfully and to the best of [his] ability, knowledge and judgement perform the duties of the office without fear or favour, affection or ill-will and uphold the Constitution and the laws”. The framers of the Constitution understood the importance of the oath of office of judges of the Supreme Court of India (SC) and carefully designed its language. The words, “without fear or favour” to “uphold the constitution and the laws” are extremely significant and stress the need for a fiercely independent court. Article 50 of the Constitution provides: “The State shall take steps to separate the judiciary from the executive in the public services of the State.” In the Constituent Assembly debates, K T Shah, perhaps fearing for the future, moved an amendment on December 10, 1948, to this Article proposing a “separation of powers as between the principal organs of the State, viz., the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial.”

He feared that “…so long as you have not merely the combination of the Judiciary and the Executive, but also the possibility of translation from a high judicial office to an equally high or sonorous executive office; so long would your Judiciary be open to suspicion, so long your administration of justice would suffer by personal privileges or personal ambitions, and so long, therefore, you will not be able to maintain your civil liberties to the degree and in the manner of purity that is highly desirable in a country like this.”

Shibban Lal Saxena said: “In regard to this, I heard one of the most eminent authorities in the Assembly say ‘Today the High Courts are not independent; they are influenced by the political consequences of their actions’… I hope in future our Supreme Court will be free from these influences and that they will do what is necessary and observe the principles inherent in this Constitution.” B R Ambedkar rejected this, assuming separation as a foregone conclusion. On May 24, 1949, while debating Article 103 (Now Article 124), Ambedkar rejected the amendments suggested by the members stating that the “judiciary decides cases in which the Government has, if at all, the remotest interest, in fact, no interest at all. The judiciary is engaged in deciding the issue between citizens and very rarely between citizens and the Government. Consequently, the chances of influencing the conduct of a member of the judiciary by the Government are very remote”.

History shows that even a great man can be wrong. Today, the judiciary, especially the SC, is called upon to decide a large number of cases in which the government has a direct interest. These can be politically sensitive cases too.

The Chief Justice of India is the first amongst the equals but by the virtue of his office assumes significant powers as the Master of the Roster to constitute benches and allocate matters. The SC has re-affirmed this position in a rather disappointing decision in Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms v. Union of India, (2018) with Chief Justice Dipak Misra presiding. The result has been catastrophic. Many matters were either treated casually or deflected for no reason from serious hearing.

The SC is expected to seek strict accountability from the legislature and executive and any infraction of the Constitution and laws must be corrected. Yet, this is not happening. A country of billion-plus needs its highest court to stand for the people, not seemingly for the executive of the day. Perhaps, judges need a gentle reminder that the Preamble to the constitution begins with the words, “We, the people of India…. enact and give to ourselves this Constitution”. The power of the judges comes from the people, like the executive and the legislature.

On the eve of the appointment of Chief Justice S A Bobde, I had written in an article (‘Raise the bar’, IE, November 6, 2019 ) about the hopes and fears arising from his appointment. My hopes have been dashed and fears have come true.

The judiciary is besieged by inherent and fundamental challenges. Millions of pending cases, quality of judges and their decisions, organisational issues and its integrity and impartiality, need urgent attention. Yet, in the last two decades precious little has been done. Justice is eluding the common man, including the vulnerable sections of society as Justice Ramana observed.

The new Chief Justice must seriously introspect and review the actions of his immediate predecessors, free himself of the bias in constituting benches and allocating cases and take concrete steps to revitalise the administration of justice. Only then will the rule of law be restored and the Constitution served. In the NJAC judgment (2015), Justice J S Khehar observed that “it is surprising that the Chief Justice of India on account of the position he holds as paterfamilias of the judicial fraternity, and on account of the serious issues that come up for judicial adjudication before him, which have immeasurable political and financial consequences, besides issues of far-reaching public interest, was suspected by none other than Dr B R Ambedkar…” Khehar then asked a rhetorical question: “Was the view of the Constituent Assembly, and the above-noted distrust, legitimate?” I do not doubt that the conduct of Chief Justices in the recent past has justified that distrust. Let us hope the new Chief Justice makes serious efforts to prove otherwise.

 The writer is a senior advocate, Supreme Court, and former president, Supreme Court Bar Association.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Monday, April 19, 2021

Questions in a surge (The Indian Express)

Written by Kaushik Das Gupta 

Health worker in PPE suit treating Covid-19 patients at an Isolation center in New Delhi on Saturday. Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

This time, last year, India was under a lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a televised address during which he issued several messages of caution. He talked about the need for extreme vigilance and underlined the salience of physical distancing and use of masks — points he would reiterate several times later in the year. A less remembered part of the PM’s speech was a note of comparison with countries more prosperous and resourceful than India. Even these countries are struggling to control the novel coronavirus, he said.

The country pushed back the virus through a combination of measures that restricted people’s movement — their socially and economically crippling effects are now well-documented — the skill of its medical professionals who took on the virus under conditions that demanded unprecedented mental and physical resolve, and a panoply of arrangements to augment the health infrastructure. Medical protocols evolved and policymakers made innovative interventions at times — the Delhi government’s home-care initiative for less serious patients that took the burden away from hospitals and quarantine facilities was one such initiative. A notable feature of the fight was also the use of makeshift facilities — stadiums, hotels, banquet halls were turned into COVID-care centres.

Healthcare facilities are strained again, a year later, with the virus striking back with a vengeance. Several state governments, including those in Maharashtra and Delhi, are back to mobilising “temporary” reinforcements.

The panic that has set in the past few weeks occasions a recall of the well-known criticisms and warnings – admissions too — about India’s health infrastructure deficit. There is little doubt that the crown-shaped virus has become multiple times more infectious compared to last year. But scientists had always cautioned about the microbe’s arbitrary ways. With governments scrambling for medical facilities, oxygen cylinders, ventilators and critical drugs such as Remdesivir, the question that must be asked is: Was the unpredictability factor sufficiently appreciated, when we decided — rightly so — to live with an adversary that is known to make its way insidiously, with most hosts not even showing symptoms?

A virus hijacks its receptor’s cells to make copies of itself. But reproductions are not always perfect. Many of these mutations have little effect on the tiny entity’s capacity to infect humans. Some of these errors even make the virus more benign. But some changes make it more adept at jumping from one host to the other. In September last year, as India’s first wave was peaking, scientists in the UK warned of a mutant 50 times more transmissible — implying that the microbe could cause many more deaths if left uncontrolled. By the end of the year, more than 4,000 people in different parts of Europe had been infected by this mutant.

Early this year, evidence began to surface of the more prolific versions of the virus sneaking into India. In January, double mutants, now known as B.1.617, were found in samples collected in Maharashtra, a few weeks before India’s worst-affected state began to report reversals of the gains made last year. But there was no conclusive evidence that these specimens were typical of the recent surge in the state. And the jury is still out, about three months later, even as the Pune-based National Institute of Virology has found B.1.617 in 60 per cent of the specimens collected from Maharashtra. The specimen size is too small to show that B.1.617 is now the predominant coloniser. Meanwhile, there is evidence of this fast-spreading mutant in samples from Delhi, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh as well.

Scientists say that constant analysis of the virus’s genetic information, combined with epidemiological data, is crucial to providing real-time knowledge about the pathogen’s vagaries. Interestingly, both the UK and India were alert to this imperative in the early days of the pandemic. India’s enthusiasm, however, seems to have flagged — less than 1 per cent of COVID-positive specimens are subjected to genomic sequencing — while the UK was able to use this tracking method to alert the world about the changes in the virus’s biology. Globally, though, the deployment of this technology has been patchy. But as a Lancet editorial in February pointed out, “the fact that Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, and Sierra Leone have a higher rate of genome sequencing than France, Italy, or the USA, suggests that wealth is not the only determinant of capacity”. India, too, it seems, has not made optimum use of its facilities. The Delhi-based Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology is reportedly analysing less than 30 per cent of the samples it is equipped to study.

Last week, Home Minister Amit Shah belatedly admitted the possible role of mutants in the surge. “Scientists are studying it,” he said. The health ministry, however, remains obstinate about the country’s inoculation strategy, framed when the pandemic was receding. That time it had rightly talked of prioritising frontline workers, senior citizens and those with comorbidities. With the virus taking on menacing proportions, the government tweaked the priority criteria to include all people above the age of 45. It has also granted emergency use approval to vaccines that have received the nod of the US, UK, Japan and the WHO. But the primary challenge of India’s inoculation project was always going to be the pace at which it shields a substantial section of its population to reduce the severity of COVID — this challenge has intensified with the second wave.

Last month, US President Joe Biden pledged to amass enough vaccine stocks to inoculate every American by the end of May. In India, in contrast, states have begun to complain of vaccine shortage. Though the Centre vehemently denies such claims, the CEO of the country’s leading vaccine manufacturing company first asking for Rs 3,000-crore to ramp up production capacity and then pleading with Biden to end the embargo on raw materials needed to produce the shot aggravates the miasma, and invites questions: Is the government postponing the use of the Rs 35,000-crore allocated for vaccine development in the current Budget? Has it been shy in using its good offices with the US to intercede on behalf of the country’s vaccine manufacturing companies?

India’s scientific expertise and its vaccination manufacturing capacity were, rightfully, touted as its best bet in the battle against the virus. Have we used these capacities to the optimum, given institutions enough support? Did we learn the right lessons last year? Answers to these questions hold the key to lifting the gloom that has overtaken the country.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


An unfair tax proposal (The Indian Express)

Written by Suranjali Tandon 

The US Treasury building in Washington.

The US Treasury’s call for a global minimum tax has received global endorsement. It is being proposed that the race to the bottom for corporate tax rates be reversed. While in principle it is sound policy to remove preferential rate structures for companies, one must inquire into what stakeholders mean when they say that a company must pay its fair share of taxes, and more so to whom.

The Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) programme was initiated in 2013 to curb practices that allowed companies to reduce their tax liabilities by exploiting loopholes in the tax law. Big tech companies, for instance, were able to plan activities such that physical presence was not necessary to operate in large markets such as India and profits could be relatively easily relocated to low-tax jurisdictions through financial manoeuvres.

The OECD co-opted countries in the framework by suggesting that a consensus-based outcome would be superior to a patchwork of independent changes. Developing countries weren’t sure if they would receive the right to tax the mobile incomes of tech companies. Addressing this concern, the OECD published a policy note that bifurcated the challenge into two pillars. Pillar one was to address the issue of reallocation of taxing rights whereas all remaining BEPS issues would be addressed by pillar two.

In October 2020, when blueprints of the proposals were released, experts pointed to their complexity. Most contentious is that only a fraction of the profits will be allocated to markets. While the blueprints are undergoing consideration, the tax base of countries, including India, remains exposed to the risk of under or non-taxation.

To fix this, countries have implemented a digital services tax on revenues. In response, the US launched, in 2020, inquiries under the Trade Act 1974 and is now proposing tariffs as means to curb the proliferation of such measures. Departing from the Trump regime, the Biden administration has assured its participation in finding a consensus-based solution. However, at a recent presentation, the US Treasury suggested that it will apply the pillar one proposal to top 100 companies and will not accept any result that is discriminatory to US companies. The US now supports a simplification of the proposal. However, it remains to be seen how the final version pans out for markets such as India.

Shifting to pillar two, it is now being proposed that the US corporate tax rate be raised to 28 per cent. However, the raising of the tax rate is to be read alongside the proposals under pillar two, which seek to achieve a harmonisation of rates across the world.

It is being suggested that a minimum tax rate be defined for the world. This would require consensus on what the effective tax rate companies must pay. This minimum rate is not yet defined, but once this rate is fixed, a multinational enterprise’s effective tax rate in each jurisdiction will be compared with the minimum and where a lower rate is paid, a top-up tax will apply. But who gets to tax the remaining profits? As per the current design, the country where the ultimate parent entity resides is where the tax is first applicable. Given that nearly 30 per cent of the Forbes 2000 companies are in the US, the implementation of this proposal best serves the needs of the US.

For India, committing to such a global standard needs to be assessed carefully, especially since the proposal will apply to companies with global revenues above Euro 750 million. Moreover, India has witnessed a consistent rise in the effective tax rate which is now close to 26 per cent.

The call for a minimum tax may be seen as US correcting for the slippages in its own tax laws and as a means to finance the $2 trillion spending programme. For the rise in US tax rates to pay off, it requires other countries to reform their tax systems accordingly and, most importantly, allow for the taxation of incomes that are perceived to be undertaxed. India has, over the past few years adopted legal measures to tax incomes of companies that avoid residence in India. It is perhaps time to reflect if the two pillars of international tax reform are meant to support the super structure of developed countries.

 The writer is assistant professor, NIPFP.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Get farmer numbers right (The Indian Express)

Written by Harish Damodaran 

How many farmers does India really have? The Agriculture Ministry’s last Input Survey for 2016-17 pegged the total operational holdings at 146.19 million. The NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey of the same year estimated the country’s “agricultural households” at 100.7 million. The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) has around 111.5 million enrolled beneficiaries, with an average of 102 million-plus getting payments during 2020-21.

India’s official farmer population, in other words, is anywhere between 100 million and 150 million. But how much of this comprises actual farmers? Agricultural households, as per NABARD’s definition, cover any household whose value of produce from farming activities is more than Rs 5,000 during a year. That obviously is too little to qualify as living income.

A “real” farmer is someone who would derive a significant part of his/her income from agriculture. This, one can reasonably assume, requires growing at least two crops in a year. The 2016-17 Input Survey report shows that out of the total 157.21 million hectares (mh) of farmland with 146.19 million holdings, only 140 mh was cultivated. And even out of this net sown area, a mere 50.48 mh was cropped two times or more, which includes 40.76 mh of irrigated and 9.72 mh of un-irrigated land. Taking the average holding size of 1.08 hectares for 2016-17, the number of “serious full-time farmers” cultivating a minimum of two crops a year — typically one in the post-monsoon kharif and the other in the winter-spring rabi seasons — would be hardly 47 million. Or, say, 50 million.

The above figure — less than half or even a third of what is usually quoted — is also consistent with other data from the Input Survey. These pertain to the number of cultivators planting certified/high yielding seeds (59.01 million), using own or hired tractors (72.29 million) and electric/diesel engine pumpsets (45.96 million), and availing institutional credit (57.08 million). Whichever metric one considers, the farmer population significantly engaged and dependent on agriculture as a primary source of income is well within 50-75 million.

The current agriculture crisis is largely about these 50-75 million farm households. At the heart of this is the absence of price parity. In 1970-71, when the minimum support price (MSP) of wheat was Rs 76 per quintal, 10 grams of 24-carat gold cost about Rs 185 and the monthly starting pay for a government schoolteacher was roughly Rs 150. Today, the wheat MSP is at Rs 1,975/quintal, gold prices are Rs 45,000/10g and the minimum salary of government schoolteachers is Rs 40,000/month. Thus, if 2-2.5 quintals of wheat could purchase 10g gold and pay a government primary schoolteacher’s salary in 1970-71, the farmer has to now sell 20-23 quintals for the same. Fifty years ago, one kg of wheat could buy one litre of diesel at MSP. Today, that ratio is upwards of 4:1.

The absence of farm price parity didn’t hurt much initially when crop productivity was rising. Pre-Green Revolution, wheat and paddy yields in Punjab averaged 1.2 and 1.5 tonnes per hectare, while trebling to over 3.7 and 4.8 tonnes, respectively, by 1990-91. The output gains reaped by farmers from planting high-yielding varieties more than offset the lower price increases in their produce relative to that of other goods and services.

Since the 1990s, yields have further gone up to 5.1-5.2 tonnes/hectare in wheat and 6.4-6.5 tonnes for paddy. But so have production costs. In cotton, maize, vegetables, milk and poultry products, farmers experienced both yield gains (from Bt and hybrid seeds technology, drip/sprinkler irrigation, laser levelling, crossbreeding and improved agronomic and feeding practices) and favourable prices (on the back of growing domestic incomes and export demand) during the first 15 years or so of this century. The last five-six years, however, have seen prices of these crops come under relentless downward pressure. This, even as costs — whether of diesel, pesticides and, more recently, non-urea fertilisers — have escalated.

The demand for making MSP a legal right is basically a demand for price parity that gives agricultural commodities sufficient purchasing power with respect to things bought by farmers. It is coming mainly from the 50-75 million “serious full-time farmers” who have surplus to sell and with real stakes in agriculture. They are the ones whom “agriculture policy” should target. Most government welfare schemes are aimed at poverty alleviation and uplifting those at the bottom of the pyramid. But there’s no policy for those in the “middle” and in danger of slipping to the bottom.

An annual transfer of Rs 6,000 under PM-Kisan may not be small for the part-time farmer who earns more from non-agricultural activities. It is a pittance, though, for the full-time agriculturist who spends Rs 14,000-15,000 on cultivating just one acre of wheat and, likewise, Rs 24,000-25,000 on paddy, Rs 39,000-40,000 on onion and Rs 75,000-76,000 on sugarcane. When crop prices fail to keep pace with escalating costs — of not only inputs, but everything the farmer buys — the impact is on the 50-75 million surplus producers. They have seen better times, when yields were on the rise and the terms of trade weren’t as much against agriculture.

Any “agriculture policy” has to first and foremost address the problem of price parity. Should this be ensured through MSP-based procurement, paying the difference between MSP and the market price, or simply per-acre transfers? Would farmer interest be even better served by the government guaranteeing a minimum “income” rather than “price” support? These are details that can be worked out once there is clarity on the number of farmers for whom crop prices actually matter.

Subsistence or part-time agriculturalists, on the other hand, would benefit more from welfare schemes and other interventions to boost non-farm employment. Even within farming, the opportunities for them aren’t in regular crop agriculture. A one-acre farmer can rear five cows and sell 30 litres of milk daily from three at any given time. The same small holding can, alternatively, house a broiler farm with up to 10,000 birds and six batches being sold in a year.

Whether it is crop, livestock or poultry, agriculture policy has to focus on “serious full-time farmers”, most of them neither rich nor poor. This rural middle class that was once very confident of its future in agriculture today risks going out of business. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

 The writer, national rural affairs and agriculture editor for The Indian Express, is currently on sabbatical with the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

An aggressive vaccination drive holds the key to economic revival (The Indian Express)

Written by Sajjid Z. Chinoy

The dramatic resurgence of COVID-19 in India risks reshaping the domestic macroeconomic narrative. Till a month ago, the focus was on assessing the nature of the economic recovery from the first wave, and its implications for fiscal and monetary normalisation. That narrative, however, risks being disrupted by fast-moving developments on the virus front.

India’s daily new cases have surged past 1,50,000, much above the first peak, a pattern similar to the US, UK, South Africa and Brazil, where second waves had much higher amplitudes. In India’s first wave, the increase from 50,000 to about 1,00,000 cases took about 50 days; in the second wave, it’s taken just 13. To start with, the second wave was more concentrated, with Maharashtra accounting for 60 per cent of cases. But its share has now dropped to below 40 per cent. While the top five states still account for about 65 per cent of cases, the reproduction (R) factor in almost 10 states is estimated to be two or higher, creating risks for a wider and more rapid spread, if unaddressed.

While case fatality ratios are lower, the sheer speed of the second wave has meant the elevated “denominator” is putting pressure on some healthcare systems. Therefore, even as policymakers are understandably reluctant to impose blanket lockdowns — given the associated economic disruptions — they may have no choice but to impose local or regional circuit-breakers to ward off pressure on the healthcare infrastructure. A series of local lockdowns have been announced in recent days, and more can be expected, reflected in the Oxford Stringency Index — a measure of restrictions on activity — jumping by almost 30 per cent over the last week.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


The wellness workforce (The Indian Express)

Written by Preeti Sudan 

A graffiti in New Delhi (Express photo/Amit Mehra)

The National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions Bill, 2020 (NCAHP) was passed by Parliament in March. It’s a historic event for two reasons. First, it is not every day that we see unanimous support for legislation. Second, the impact of this legislation on the health workforce and healthcare denotes a paradigm shift.

Initial efforts at regulating allied health professions were participatory, beginning in the early 1990s. After numerous consultations with key stakeholders, the first draft Bill was uploaded on the health ministry’s website in 2015, inviting public comments. The overwhelming number of responses triggered another, more intensive process of public consultations, expert meetings, reviews, and discussions with stakeholders, including states. Building consensus on a range of provisions in the Bill was no mean feat. The revised “Allied and Healthcare Professions Bill” was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December 2018. The health department-related parliamentary standing committee made 110 recommendations. The government accepted 102 recommendations unequivocally, and six with slight modifications, resulting in the NCAHP, 2020.

This legislation provides for regulation and maintenance of standards of education and services by allied and healthcare professionals and the maintenance of a central register of such professionals. It recognises over 50 professions such as physiotherapists, optometrists, nutritionists, medical laboratory professionals, radiotherapy technology professionals, which had hitherto lacked a comprehensive regulatory mechanism.

An important feature of this Bill is the classification of allied professionals using the International System of Classification of Occupations (ISCO code). This facilitates global mobility and enables better opportunities for such professionals, potentially benefiting around 8-9 lakh existing allied and healthcare-related professionals.

The Act aims to establish a central statutory body as a National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions. It will be supported by 10 professional councils to frame policies and standards, regulate professional conduct, prescribe qualifications, create and maintain a central register.

The government has taken all possible measures to incorporate the demands and recommendations of states. Thus, the Bill has the provision for state councils to execute major functions through autonomous boards. The state councils are the implementation agencies while the National Commission is the overarching body devising policies.

Global evidence demonstrates the vital role of allied professionals in the delivery of healthcare services. The demand for such professionals is high. They are the first to recognise the problems of the patients and serve as safety nets. Their awareness of patient care accountability adds tremendous value to the healthcare team in both the public and private sectors. The passage of this Bill has the potential to overhaul the entire allied health workforce by establishing institutes of excellence and regulating the scope of practice by focusing on task shifting and task-re distribution.

There has been a paradigm shift in perception, policy, and programmatic interventions in healthcare delivery in India since 2017. Being healthy was largely understood as not being sick or getting treated when sick. Curative healthcare received substantially greater attention than preventive and promotive aspects. Ayushman Bharat as a programmatic intervention, with its two pillars of Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs) and Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), operationalised certain critical recommendations of the National Health Policy, 2017, emphasising wellness in healthcare. With PMJAY, the neediest are protected from catastrophic expenditure as the government became a payer of hospital expenses for 50 crore people, and India took the first step towards delivering comprehensive primary healthcare with HWCs, that provided services that addressed major causes of morbidity and mortality.

The stress of modern lifestyle, rapid urbanisation, rising chronic non-communicable disease burden, and an increasing proportion of elderly from 5.3 per cent in 1950 to an estimated 10 per cent in 2020 and expected to increase to 19 per cent by 2050), have necessitated a change in delivering healthcare. Caring for patients with mental conditions, the elderly, those in need of palliative services, and enabling professional services for lifestyle change related to physical activity and diets, all require a trained, allied health workforce. The NCAHP is not only timely but critical to this changing paradigm.

  The writer is former Union secretary, health and family welfare

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


American fleet and Indian waters’ (The Indian Express)

Written by Manish Tewari  

India and US were involved in a joint naval exercise, along with navies of Japan, France and Australia in the eastern Indian Ocean region, in the La Pérouse exercise between April 5 and April 7. (Source: Twitter/@USNavy)

The United States of America has always basked in its bluntness and candour. However, what it did recently is something of an “achievement” even by its own tone-deaf standards.

On April 7, the US Navy put out a rather quixotic announcement on the official website of its Seventh Naval Fleet stating that one of its ships, USS John Paul Jones, had asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands inside India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), without requesting Delhi’s prior consent. It went on to declare that the freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements.

Several elements of the Seventh Fleet entering Indian waters without permission touch on emotive issues for India with attendant overtones of patriotism. The fact that these FONOPs have happened earlier does not, in any manner, normalise what happened on April 7 — or, for that matter, why the Seventh Fleet courted ignominy half a century ago.

Herein hangs a tale. As the Indo-Pakistan conflict over the genocide in the then East Pakistan looked inevitable, US President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser (NSA) Henry Kissinger decided that if push came to shove, they would weigh in on West Pakistan’s side. This was notwithstanding the fact that the US administration was fully cognizant of the grave human rights violations being perpetrated by the Pakistani army in the east of the country.

Consistent with the plan in November 1971, Henry Kissinger advised his Deputy NSA General Alexander Haig to direct the US Navy to keep an aircraft-carrier-led task force ready for deployment in the Indian Ocean.

As the tide of war turned against Pakistan, US Navy’s Task Force-74 of the Seventh Fleet led by the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise was ordered to sail at battle speed into the Bay of Bengal from the Gulf of Tonkin where it was then deployed for operations in the Vietnam war. Concurrently, the British Navy also dispatched a naval group led by the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle towards the west coast of India.

An audacious and coordinated “grand bluff” to intimidate India was thus operationalised. British ships in the Arabian Sea would engage Indian naval assets, thereby providing a distraction for the US Task Force-74 to make a dash for the coast of East Pakistan to reinforce the pulverised Pakistani positions. The objective being to force an immediate ceasefire and stop Dhaka from falling into Indian hands.

Obviously, this caused great consternation in India. Articulating India’s position, Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram thundered: “Even if the US were to send the 70th fleet, we would still not be deterred”.

However, on the ground, the situation was grim. Facing the British and the American Armada was Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet commanded by its aircraft carrier Vikrant with barely 20 light fighter aircrafts. The Indian Air Force would provide the rest of the muscle.

Invoking the Indo-Soviet Treaty signed on August 9, 1971, India requested the Soviet Union for help to call out the Nixon-Kissinger chicanery. The Soviets responded with alacrity. The 10th Operative Battle Group (Pacific Fleet) commanded by Admiral Vladimir Kruglyakov slipped anchor at Vladivostok and in double quick time reached the Bay of Bengal. The Soviets stared down the Anglo-American flotilla and the rest is history. However, the American perfidy at that critical moment is indelibly imprinted in the collective Indian psyche.

Since then, India and the US have become friends if not allies. The Quad between US, Japan, Australia and India is plugged as the fulcrum of a future Asian NATO. India and US have signed foundational agreements for better interoperability between their respective militaries. Since the Indian nuclear tests of 1998, there has been better appreciation of each other’s strategic imperatives. The US, by its own admission, has supported India logistically in eastern Ladakh.

However, it seems the understanding has not permeated deep enough to understand each other’s psyche, if not sensibilities. In the fiftieth year of the creation of Bangladesh, to sail a Seventh Fleet vessel in defiance of Indian law through our EEZ, and then advertise it is downright obtuse, if not intended to send out a message to India and the larger Indo-Pacific region. For the manoeuvre is not as innocent as it is being made to look.

The Joe Biden administration’s appreciation of the Indo-Pacific and India’s place in it is very different from that of its predecessor. While Trump saw India as an important instrument to counter the growing Chinese influence in the region, President Biden has a more nuanced, if not a softer, approach towards Beijing. The manner in which FONOP was broadcast is obviously to smoothen ruffled Chinese feathers over similar operations in the South China Sea that the US has been regularly undertaking.

Given that India and China are still locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation in eastern Ladakh, such posturing by the US does not augur well for India. Even our “time-tested ally” Russia wants to balance its position in South Asia given our “closeness” to the US, as evidenced by the Quad and our approach to Afghanistan that is more aligned to the US position than what Moscow is proposing. India will do well to weigh its options far more carefully. A stitch in time saves nine.

 The writer is a Congress leader, lawyer, MP and former Union Information and Broadcasting Minister.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Swimming above the wave (The Indian Express)

Written by Sonal Varma , Aurodeep Nandi 

With the daily run-rate of cases surpassing the first-wave peak, it’s no longer just a wave, but a potential tsunami.

As India’s economy embarks on a new financial year, a dark cloud is on the horizon: The second wave. Every day brings further reconfirmation that the second wave is no longer a Maharashtra-centric phenomenon. With the daily run-rate of cases surpassing the first-wave peak, it’s no longer just a wave, but a potential tsunami. Yet, there is a silver lining — the number of daily deaths is currently around half of what it was during the first wave peak, offering some relief to the health infrastructure, and consequently reducing the urgency of states to rush into lockdowns. However, as cases rise, this relief may prove short-lived.

The second COVID-19 wave comes at a time when India’s economy has made a resilient comeback. But with the spectre of lockdowns again looming large, how much does the second wave threaten this recovery?

There are a few reasons why we aren’t raising a panic at this point. First, the lockdowns are far more benign than they were during the first wave. While select contact-based services and transportation are likely to be hit, they remain operational at lower capacity levels. The rest of the economy — agriculture, industry and even services such as construction, communication, trade — should remain largely unaffected. Our estimates suggest that the sectors “at-risk” account for less than 6 per cent of the economy. Second, firms and consumers have rapidly adjusted to the new normal and the relationship between (lower) mobility and (weak) economic activity has been weakening over time.

The ultra-high frequency data for March and early April, released since the renewed lockdowns were announced, seem to largely corroborate this. While power demand, ozone concentration levels, and railway freight revenues have remained relatively resilient, there is a dip in driving congestion and railway passenger revenues. Google retail and recreation mobility, while mostly holding up on aggregate, have shown greater drags in Maharashtra, and a slow moderation in states like Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The Nomura India Business Resumption Index, our weekly tracker of the pace of economic activity normalisation, is tracking around 9 percentage points below normal after almost returning to pre-pandemic levels in end-February. Hence, the second wave has resulted in a marginal hit to services activity, but the goods sector continues to recover.

There are bright spots to look forward to over the coming quarters. First, the pace of vaccinations is likely to accelerate further — we estimate that India is on track to vaccinate 40-45 per cent of its population by end-2021. As vaccinations pick up, they are also likely to result in an “ultimate unlock” of the economy as the services sector bounces back. Second, we expect a synchronised global growth recovery to begin in Q2, led by the US, which should have some beneficial growth effects on India. Historically India’s growth cycle has moved in sync with the global cycle due to trade and investment linkages. And finally, the lagged impact of easy financial conditions on the resilient formal sector households and firms is still to play out.

We expect real GDP growth to remain positive and rise further in Q4 2020-21. However, a worsening second wave implies that sequential momentum in Q1 2021-22 would likely be weaker, although year-on-year growth will still be above 30 per cent this quarter and overall growth in 2021-22 should be above the RBI’s projection of 10.5 per cent.

Nevertheless, there are risks and uncertainties to monitor. The virus could mutate and the speed of vaccinations could waver. Higher commodity prices-led terms of trade deterioration could squeeze firms’ profit margins and/or consumer real incomes, if passed on. Higher US yields and the risk of capital outflows could prematurely tighten domestic financial conditions.

Over the medium term, it remains to be seen if India’s fiscal activism will lead to a revival of the private capex cycle or if firms’ remain focused on debt deleveraging. With the smokescreen of forbearances finally lifted, this year will present a clearer picture of the extent of balance sheet scarring.

These factors weighed on the RBI during its April policy meeting, where it maintained policy rates and its accommodative stance, without changing its GDP growth outlook for 2021-22, while projecting headline inflation above 5 per cent for most of the fiscal year. To manage the yield curve, it is now experimenting with Federal Reserve-styled Quantitative Easing. It is a tough juggling act — to support growth with ample liquidity, manage long term yields, and yet stave off the inflationary impulse by-product. One of the balls has to eventually drop.

As for what happens next, we believe the RBI is particularly monitoring two dials on its dashboard: One, the economic impact of the second wave and two, whether cost-push pressures lead to higher core inflation. While the second wave has rapidly rivalled the first wave in terms of its magnitude, unlike the first tsunami, growth should have a much firmer footing this time around. There may be a few uprooted trees, but the foundations of the cyclical recovery are likely to remain strong, in our view. Once these risks recede, we expect a clear signal on policy normalisation to emerge with a higher weight to inflation, relative to growth. We expect explicit liquidity normalisation (implicit has already started, in our view), the policy stance to shift to “neutral” from “accommodative” in July-September, the normalisation of the policy corridor to take place in Q4 2021 (via a 25 bps reverse repo rate hike) and 50 bps worth of repo rate hikes in the first half of 2022. This gradual normalisation of liquidity and policy, alongside absorption of government borrowing, will call for careful communication and deft policy manoeuvring.

 Varma is chief economist for India and Asia ex-Japan, and Nandi is India economist at Nomura.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Creating drivers of change (The Indian Express)

Written by Yoginder K. Alagh

What are the big events and trends in the last half century that we must recollect as the nation celebrates the 75th anniversary of its Independence? A recent book by the retired Economics Services Officer, K L Datta, Growth and Development Planning in India, documents this journey from a policymaker’s perspective.

I was fortunate to be in the driver’s seat for a substantial part of that journey. I spent 19 years of my career at the Planning Commission, first planning the country’s food and energy reliance and then sustainable rural development that required engagement with the land, rivers, soils and climates of our country. Later, I stewarded the country’s premier university as it entered the select category of the world’s top hundred universities.

Datta was a colleague at the Planning Commission, who worked with me to define poverty. In this article, I cite his account, in which he has been generous to me. After finishing his IES training, Datta opted for the Planning Commission and was sent to me to decide if we would accept him.

I reportedly grilled the young recruit for three hours on his statistical training (I do not actually “grill” anybody, but we could have had a good discussion) and then asked him to join work, giving him a “brief” to work on defining poverty and frame it in an analytical context. A poverty line (Rs/person/day) was defined by a group of eminent economists in the early Sixties. Its report was not available, and its methodologies weren’t clear. I wanted some solid research that accounted for consumer behaviour in rural and urban areas and informed Datta that R Radhakrishna and Atul Sarma at the Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research in Ahmedabad had worked on the issue. They got on the job and the taskforce I chaired defined a line which separated the non-poor and the poor in urban and rural areas. The report was discussed and validated in 1979. The approach used in the report defined the Official Poverty Line (OPL), which lasted for a decade.

When a later term as Planning Commission member came to an end, I wanted the OPL changed since it had served its purpose. In response, the Lakdawala Committee was set up. The committee’s report, submitted in 1993, updated the poverty line according to prices. In 2009, the Suresh Tendulkar committee did the same but applied the OPL urban line for both urban and rural areas. I was, at times, a spectator to all this, but did not always keep quiet. I got a polite hearing, being the granddaddy of the process but nobody was willing to tamper with the “Alagh Poverty Line” — it was rejigged, not drawn afresh.

In 1979, we wanted to change the world that we had inherited. India’s food production was stagnating, and the Hudson Institute in the US had predicted that millions would die. We built a model based on data to give us the drivers to change that. Datta describes all that. In 1979, I was asked by the World Bank why we had not only met our original target of producing 125 million tonnes of grain — which five years earlier they had called the dreams of the wild-haired boys of India’s Planning Commission — but also surpassed it in two years. I said Indira Gandhi — who was then in the Opposition – had supported us. I also pointed out jokingly that coming from Ahmedabad I made sure there were “reserves”.

Datta gives the insider’s story. His account ends with the Planning Commission being abolished and rules-based resource allocation given up by the NDA government. In a chapter, Datta expresses his anguish at this development. My only hope is that somebody out there reads his book and takes action to build a road map for the implementation of the farm laws.

 The writer, an economist, is a former Union minister

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


How to defeat the virus and build a COVID-free India (Outflanking the virus) (The Indian Express)

Written by Shashank R Joshi 

A health workers takes a swab sample for Covid-19 testing (File Photo)

One of the smallest accidental wildlife viruses has spiralled and disrupted the planet and India is no exception. Unfortunately, after our first wave with multiple peaks, which varied according to time, mobility, population density and migration, argumentative Indians still want to rebel against the virus. It’s time we all came together to fight the sinister ravages of this tricky ever-changing RNA virus, which is slow mutating compared to its flu counterparts, but leaves a bad aftermath.

Once our first wave abated, everyone thought COVID-19 had departed and we faltered by letting down our guard in terms of masking and adherence to COVID-appropriate behaviour. This was boosted by a false confidence due to lower number of cases and fatalities. Large gatherings suddenly sprang up, and with the vaccine coming in, people got carried away. The COVID-19 virus battle is much more in the mind than in the body. A strong and resilient, strict and firm mindset is needed, not a rebellious, revengeful, reckless and careless one. Fatigue can’t be an excuse either, neither can self-confidence. India has enough masks, which is still the strongest vaccine, independent of the variants that may emerge.

The second surge started very subtly from small, less exposed population clusters in some districts from where it has rapidly spread to the rest of India. Clearly, in the second wave, we are seeing a more transmissible strain, possibly less virulent. It is a work in progress for genomic scientists and public health experts to delineate if it’s an imported strain from the UK, South Africa or Brazil or a home-grown mutant. Public health policing will still be the same but due to its rapid spread, possible evasion of RT-PCR testing or immune escape, it can have serious implications in the long run and we need to generate some high quality science data to understand this.

The current second wave pattern shows large clusters of invisible or asymptomatic COVID-19 cases which are in the community and which need to be contained. The symptoms of fever, dry cough, breathlessness are still very much around but lack of smell or taste, diarrhoea and others have crept up. COVID-19’s changing colours and unpredictable nature makes it difficult to recognise red flags for determining deterioration. The simplest and easiest test is to measure the oxygen saturation on a simple pulse oximeter and after a 6-minute walk record the reading — if it is below 94 per cent or shows a fall of 3 per cent you need to contact a health care facility and provider to seek oxygen, steroid and supervised care. Most asymptomatic cases or mild cases need to be vigilant, especially in the second week, as they suddenly get the “happy” hypoxia and worsen.

Clearly, we need to focus on saving lives and, without panic, organising digitally or physically supervised medical health care. Our health care facilities need to triage the most deserving cases and avoid asymptomatic or mild symptomatic cases in hospitals so we can keep beds for the most deserving cases. COVID-19 care is about close monitoring, right timing of the right medicine, prone position with breathing exercises including pranayama, oxygen and steroids in the moderate to severe cases under supervision. Most treatments like plasma, Remdesivir or others either don’t work or at best improve recovery by a day or two but don’t save lives. Every COVID-19 case should remember it’s a two-week time-table and be rested for at least two to three weeks based on medical advice.

We have unfortunately an overload of information that is not peer reviewed and misleading. Simple life-style measures like eating on time, eating slowly, eating right with exercises, adequate sleep and positive thinking contribute immensely to COVID-19 recovery. In pandemic times, we need to use our resources judiciously as our labs and radiology systems are overwhelmed just like our hospitals and staff. So test under appropriate advice and don’t panic on reports, but take prudent action under advice. Timing is crucial so that there is no delay in red flagging the serious cases.

The vaccine is the new mantra after COVID-appropriate behaviour of mask, distancing and sanitising. The vaccine’s primary goal is to protect the most vulnerable from death and severe diseases. These are all first generation rapidly developed vaccines which are all in research mode. All vaccines are safe, except a few contra-indications which your doctor will identify, like anaphylaxis. India is the vaccine pharmacy of the world and has developed some high-quality vaccines which are homegrown, some that are yet to become available. India led the world in polio and small pox and will do so in COVID-19 too. We should be proud of Indian science and the teams which have made this possible. India is part of the global alliance for vaccines and deserves congratulations for rising above vaccine nationalism by exporting them and fulfilling its global obligations.

We need to vaccinate all vulnerable groups which can succumb to COVID-19 independent of age, but we must also follow vaccine discipline. Our vaccine approach is calibrated, but soon will become more open and inclusive. The current focus is on saving the lives of the most vulnerable. We may need to innovate strategies to vaccinate, like using family doctors or paediatricians’ clinics or mobile vans or vaccine camps as well as avoid wastage by including exceptions in a mindful way.

Vaccines confer protection from disease but not necessarily infection. So post vaccine, even after full doses, we need to mask, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, distance and sanitise. We shouldn’t unmask while speaking, try to avoid crowds when eating. We need to use safer masking strategies like doubling up, using mask braces, ensuring that it is tight and well fitting. There has to be zero tolerance for violators of COVID norms, behaviour and protocols and we need to have a single-minded determination to conquer this nasty virus. We need to clear the virus from our environment using mind and body strategies and build a strong COVID-free India.

 The writer is consultant endocrinologist, Lilavati Hospital, and member Covid-19 Task Force, Maharashtra. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2014.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Friday, April 9, 2021

World according to women (The Indian Express)

Written by Ambika Vishwanath

On March 31, the World Economic Forum released its annual Gender Gap Report 2021. India had slipped 28 spots to rank 140 out of the 156 countries covered. The index is based on four dimensions, where political participation maintains the largest gap globally, worse than the 2019 edition of the report. Within the 156 countries covered, women hold only 26 per cent of parliamentary seats and 22 per cent of ministerial positions. India in some ways reflects this widening gap, where the number of ministers declined from 23.1 per cent in 2019 to 9.1 per cent in 2021. The number of women in Parliament stands low at 14.4 per cent.

In a time when 104 countries still have laws preventing women from certain types of jobs, and over 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not punishable, a gendered approach has to be mainstreamed into broader policy objectives. This means going beyond conventional considerations of development assistance and domestic policies to include core areas of foreign policy, economics, finance, trade and security. This also means that along with increasing representation, women and marginalised sections of society need to have a voice to provide alternative perspectives to policy making.

A feminist foreign policy as a political framework explores this very realm, first introduced and advocated by Sweden in 2014. Feminist approaches to international affairs can be traced back to the 1980s. In many ways this translated to a bottom-up development approach, especially with a donor-based mindset that benefitted the recipient, albeit often with caveats. While this slowly changed in the 1990s, core areas of security and diplomacy were still the domain of men, and remain so. The realisation that it is not only necessary to include women in peacebuilding and peacekeeping but the wider gamut of diplomacy and foreign and security policy is growing, with data indicating that the inclusion of diverse voices makes for a better basket of options in decision making and is no longer simply a virtuous standard to follow.

Since Sweden embarked on this path, several other countries — Canada, France, Germany and, more recently, Mexico — have forged their own, adopting either a feminist foreign policy or a gendered approach to aspects of policy making. However, the current conversation around a feminist/gendered foreign policy is still largely in small circles in North America and Europe. Greater diversity in thinking will allow for a global policy to be tailored and thus operationalised in a wider geography, accounting for vastly divergent social norms and practices, and lived histories.

As a non-permanent member of the UNSC and recently elected to the UN Commission on the Status of Women for a four year term in September 2020, India has a key role to play. Gender considerations in India’s foreign policy are not new. Though located largely under the development assistance paradigm and peacekeeping, these have been incredibly successful. From 2007 when India deployed the first ever female unit to the UN Mission in Libya to supporting gender empowerment programmes through SAARC, IBSA, IORA and other multilateral fora, our programmes have been targeted at making women the engines for inclusive and sustainable growth. Many of our overseas programmes in partner countries have a gender component, as seen in Afghanistan, Lesotho and Cambodia. At home, 2015 saw a gender budget exercise within the MEA towards development assistance.

What is needed is a more formal designed approach that goes beyond a purely development model to wider access, representation and decision making. The WEF report and other similar indices is a call to do better on the domestic front; no matter how “feminist” our foreign and security policy might be, without balance at home it will not last.

In September 2020, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador T N Trimurti said our election to the CSW was a “ringing endorsement of our commitment to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in all our endeavours”. We must now go further to sensitise and shape global discussions around gender mainstreaming. Our gender-based foreign assistance needs to be broadened and deepened and equally matched with lower barriers to participation in politics, diplomacy, the bureaucracy, military and other spaces of decision making. In doing this, India can easily claim a new unique feminist foreign policy adding to and smartly shaping the global conversation.

 The writer is co-founder and director, The Kubernein Initiative.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Layers of counter-insurgency (The Indian Express)

Written by Sajid Farid Shapoo

States must do more to synergise their efforts by launching coordinated operations, thereby denying Maoists any space for manoeuvrability.(Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

The killing of 22 security personnel by Maoists in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh serves as a grim reminder that left-wing insurgency continues to be one of the biggest internal security threats for the country. Initial reports suggest that security forces in Chhattisgarh had launched a massive operation on April 4, after there were intelligence reports about the presence of top Maoist commander Hidma along with 60-70 Maoists in and around Tekulugudam Hill in Bijapur. As the forces reached the top of the hill and were combing through the intended “target” (Tekulugudam Hill), they came under heavy fire. It was then the forces realised that they had walked into a trap. The initial assessment indicates that there were around 300 Maoists, which included men and women belonging to the local tribal militia.

In the past few years, Maoist violence seemed to have been on a downward spiral. The government has, in fact, had some major successes in the form of arrests and surrender of important Maoist leaders. The figures associated with the key indicators of violence like the number of incidents also support the contention that “insurgency is on the downward spiral”. However, some experts believed that it was too early to sound the last post and cautioned that this drop could be the result of a “tactical withdrawal” by the Maoists, something which they have done in the past as well. The attack should thus serve as a wake-up call to those who had begun to get complacent about the Maoist threat. It appears that Maoists continue to hold on to their key strengths which include: (i) a robust and efficient intelligence network; (ii) the devolution of authority to local commanders; (iii) an ability to quickly readjust their strategy; (iv) extensive support from local tribes and the ability to organise them into a tribal militia for short-term tactical purposes and (v) domination of the local landscape.

This brings us to the most important question about the nature of the Counterinsurgency (hereafter COIN) strategy, which governments both in the states and at the Centre are adopting or should adopt. Debates about the utility of different COIN models in the Indian scenario have continued since India began dealing with its first full-blown insurgency in Nagaland in the 1950s. One school believes that given the Maoist insurgency posturing itself as a “people’s war”, the mandate is for a people-centric approach of “winning hearts and minds” that is built on the notions of competitive state-building to address economic and governance deficiencies.

The other school argues that an enemy-centric approach predicated on kinetic operations is best suited for the Maoist insurgency, where the fear of the population seceding from India is remote. The success of the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh in curbing the Maoist problem is often attributed to this enemy-centric approach. However, there is robust scholarly work available that shows that the Andhra government based its COIN strategy on a judicious mix of the enemy-centric and population-centric approaches. The successes achieved by the Greyhounds, Andhra’s elite special forces, could only be consolidated through the robust implementation of short-gestation-period developmental works in the Maoist-affected rural areas. Moreover, the erstwhile state is also the first state to have a comprehensive surrender-cum-rehabilitation policy.

After the 2014 guidelines of the central government were brought out, many states have crafted attractive surrender and rehabilitation policies. Odisha, for one, seems to have achieved fair success in its surrender policy but this was possible only after successful kinetic operations against Maoists. It is fair to say that a surrender and rehabilitation policy only works when there is sustained military pressure on the Maoists.

Another important question is whether the government should keep the option of talking to Maoists open. Debates about negotiating with insurgents and terrorists are often met with anger and, at times, disgust, at the possibility of sitting across a table from individuals who were responsible for some horrific violent acts. The US government had to share a table with the Taliban, which played host to al Qaeda as the latter prepared to kill thousands of innocent Americans. The willingness to talk to rebel groups seems to incentivise insurgents and may demonstrate that violence pays. Yet, time and again, governments face the distasteful reality of engaging with groups that have been involved in violent attacks against their forces and citizens. History is replete with examples that show the goal of ending terrorist violence or bringing an end to civil war invariably involves negotiating with the enemy, even the worst ones. And Maoists may not fall under the “worst” category, as successive governments have labelled them as “misguided” youth. Even the present central government’s surrender policy guidelines are aimed at bringing these “misguided” youth into the mainstream.

In the last decade or so, insurgency-affected states have started to undertake serious efforts to defeat the Maoist insurgency. Most of these states have raised special forces on the lines of Greyhounds, and are being given rigorous training in “counter-guerrilla” tactics and jungle warfare. A Maoist guerrilla can only be countered by a state guerrilla. The operating environment of these special forces has to demonstrate the employment of superior tactics to defeat the insurgents, something which at times seems lacking. Besides, the Maoists have mastered the art of exploiting the grey zone areas. The jungles around the interstate borders have always been the preferred hiding spaces for the Maoists. Soon after decimating the top state Congress leadership in Darbha in Chhattisgarh in 2013, the assault group moved to the Chhattisgarh-Odisha border to avoid any kind of kinetic response from the Chhattisgarh police. States must do more to synergise their efforts by launching coordinated operations, thereby denying Maoists any space for manoeuvrability. These efforts need to be supplemented by well-crafted development schemes. Proper implementation and timely disbursal of benefits add to the credibility of the government policies. It is also important to segregate the population from the insurgents both operationally and ideologically. The hawks and the doves need to be viewed and treated differently.

Indian counterinsurgency has to work with a dual objective of defeating the insurgents militarily and fully quell the insurgent impulses. This will need institutional overhauls. The conflict over the distribution of resources can be mended with economic development, but the bigger challenge would be to create a system where the tribal population feels that the government is representative, not repressive. Opening negotiation channels and policies like surrender and rehabilitation can give such a representative sense to the rebels that the government cares for them if they (rebels) are willing to shun the violent path. Lastly, the asymmetry in the distribution of power cannot solely be ironed out by just economic policies, it is critically important to create a system where the distribution of power is not controlled by the traditional elite.

 The writer is a senior IPS officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre and a PhD scholar in Security Studies at Princeton University. Views are personal.


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Portion control (The Indian Express)

Written by Thomas Zacharias

The problem of food waste is a relatively modern one. India is an ancient civilisation and we have been prudent about food for millennia.

Recently, on a food research trip to the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, I watched a rather extraordinary traditional ritual. The entire mountain village of Satta in Tons Valley came together to slaughter, cook and honour a goat they had raised as a community for close to a year. Every part of the animal from head to tail was turned into something useful or delicious. Nothing was wasted. The community’s frugality is in stark contrast to how meat is consumed in most parts of urban India today, where the prime cuts are usually prized.

The problem of food waste is a relatively modern one. India is an ancient civilisation and we have been prudent about food for millennia. Our parents and grandparents, too, once approached food and cooking with the same prudence. Yet, somewhere along the way, we lost sight of this “waste not, want not” mentality.

Nearly 40 per cent of the food produced in India is wasted every year due to fragmented food systems and inefficient supply chains — a figure estimated by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). This is the loss that occurs even before the food reaches the consumer.

There is also a significant amount of food waste generated in our homes. As per the Food Waste Index Report 2021, a staggering 50 kg of food is thrown away per person every year in Indian homes. This excess food waste usually ends up in landfills, creating potent greenhouse gases which have dire environmental implications. Meanwhile, we continue to be greenwashed into amassing more “organic” and “sustainable” products than we really need.

This has been a problem for decades, and is worsening with time. It was only when the COVID-19 pandemic came along in 2020 that many of us began taking note. Affluent Indians were suddenly inconvenienced by things otherwise taken for granted, like procuring groceries or worrying about how long their supplies would last. We came to realise that the food we eat goes far beyond the few bites it takes for us to finish it. We started becoming more conscious of our food choices.

The pandemic not only exposed the problems on food waste but also compounded them. In the wake of the lockdown imposed last year, surplus stocks of grain — pegged at 65 lakh tonnes in the first four months of 2020 — continued to rot in godowns across India. Access to food became extremely scarce for the poor, especially daily-wage labourers. Although essential commodities were exempt from movement restrictions, farmers across the country struggled to access markets, resulting in tonnes of food waste. Meanwhile, instinctive hoarding by the middle class disrupted the value chain, further aggravating the situation.

So how can we, as individuals, bring about change? The astonishing statistics of food waste attributed to households and their irresponsible consumption patterns means that change needs to begin in our own homes. Calculated purchasing when buying groceries, minimising single-use packaging wherever possible, ordering consciously from restaurants, and reconsidering extravagant buffet spreads at weddings can go a long way. At the community level, one can identify and get involved with organisations such as Coimbatore-based No Food Waste which aim to redistribute excess food to feed the needy and hungry.

A strong sense of judiciousness in how we consume our food is the next logical step. We must attempt to change our “food abundance” mindset to a “food scarcity” one, working our way towards a zero-waste end goal. And for the food that is left behind? Feed someone else or, at the very least, compost it so it doesn’t end up in landfills. Be open to incorporating nose-to-tail cooking when it comes to meat and seafood (fish head makes a fantastic curry!). The roots, shoots, leaves and stalks of most vegetables are perfectly edible. Regional Indian recipes like surnoli, a Mangalorean dosa made with watermelon rind, or gobhi danthal sabzi made with cauliflower stalks and leaves in Punjab, are born out of the ideas of frugality and respect for our food. Bengalis adopt a root-to-shoot philosophy throughout their cuisine — thor ghonto is a curry comprising tender banana stems, while ucche pata bora are fritters made with bitter gourd leaves.

You can start with influencing simple decisions about your own food consumption, and then get people in your immediate community to join. Acquaint yourself with and support initiatives proactively working towards reducing food waste, such as Adrish, India’s first chain of zero-waste concept stores, which is focused on getting people to shift from harmful, artificial consumption to an eco-friendly, zero-waste lifestyle. Incidentally, adrish translates to “mirror”. And a long, hard look at ourselves and the way we consume is, perhaps, what we need right now to begin making even a small difference.

 The writer was, until recently, chef partner, The Bombay Canteen, Mumbai

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

Copyright © संपादकीय : Editorials- For IAS, PCS, Banking, Railway, SSC and Other Exams | Powered by Blogger Design by ronangelo | Blogger Theme by