Going universal (TH Op)
Karnataka does well to finalise the road map to ensure universal health coverage
Karnataka’s move to amend the law governing private medical establishments is a logical step in its plan to provide universal health coverage in the State
Basic components of Healthcare Reform
- Laying down standards
- Containing treatment costs
- Mandating transparency
- Creating a binding charter that empowers patients
The transition to universal health access, provided free at the point of delivery, must be a national priority as it is the key Sustainable Development Goal relating to health to be achieved by 2030
Steps taken by Karnataka at present
Karnataka is pursuing needed reform in some of the areas covered by the expert panel, notably on containing the cost curve in establishments that operate for profit and where patients with state-supported insurance get treated
Steps need to be taken in future
- The task before Karnataka now is to come up with an essential health package consisting of treatments available to all and to devise ways to charge users based on the ability to pay
- Capping costs for those who use such facilities is important, given that out-of-pocket expenditure on health in India is extremely high
- Regulation of prices for some drugs may have had a moderating effect, but much work remains to be done to streamline processes to achieve centralised procurement and free distribution of essential medicines to all
- Karnataka’s decision to set up a regulator for government hospitals is a response to the criticism that nothing is being done to raise standards in these institutions and bring in accountability
- Ideally, all health institutions participating in a universal access programme should be governed by common regulations, for which national, State and district-level authorities are the answer. Such a comprehensive approach can eliminate fragmentation of functions
- Also, the public health approach at the primary level should not be lost sight of, while focussing on reform of hospital-based care
- National schemes aimed at reducing the burden of infectious and non-communicable diseases, and improving the health of women and children, should continue to receive top priority
Can a healthy diet stave off tuberculosis? The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) will monitor 2000 TB patients in Jharkhand and additionally ensure that they are well fed to determine the extent to which a good diet can influence tuberculosis treatment
Due to the infectious nature of tuberculosis, the study is also designed to test if the villages where the patients reside also show a decline in disease incidence
The department is drawing inspiration from an experiment in the early 20th century in England, where tuberculosis patients — in the absence of viable drugs — were given a nutritious diet. The overall health in the community vastly improved as the patients got better and spread less disease to family and neighbours
Link to RNTCP
The Health Ministry is mooting a proposal to provide cash assistance of ₹ 5,000 to those affected by TB
RNTCP (Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme)
Under the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP), Government is committed to end tuberculosis by 2025
The strategies adopted for this purpose include:
- Strengthening and improving quality of basic TB services
- Addressing TB HIV co-infection, other co-morbidities and MDR-TB
- Targeted interventions in the vulnerable population
- Integrating newer molecular diagnostics for TB in the health system for early diagnosis of TB
- To leverage Information Communication Technology (ICT), Enhanced Private Sector Engagement, Nikshay and E Nikshay etc
The word is combination of two Hindi words NI and KSHAY meaning eradication of tuberculosis.
- To monitor Revised National Tuberculosis Programme (RNTCP) effectively, a web enabled and case based monitoring application called NIKSHAY has been developed by National Informatics Centre (NIC)
- This is used by health functionaries at various levels across the country in association with Central TB Division (CTD), Ministry of Health & Family Welfare
- NIKSHAY covers various aspects of controlling TB using technological innovations
- Apart from web based technology, SMS services have been used effectively for communication with patients and monitoring the programme on day to day basis
- Developed by: The system has been developed jointly by the Central TB Division of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and National Informatics Centre (NIC) and it was launched by the Government of India in June 2012
- Features & Benefits
- The innovative IT application of NIKSHAY makes it possible for the grass-root level healthcare providers to track every TB patient.
- The most significant feature of NIKSHAY is that it promotes the use of Information Technology at sub-district levels.
- Video based training module 2 has been developed in Hindi and English with message from ex-Deputy Director General(TB) emphasising the importance of NIKSHAY in eradication of TB from India
- NIKSHAY has been implemented at national, state, district and Tuberculosis Unit (TU) levels.
Objectives of Nikshay
- Establish real-time TB surveillance through Case-Based-Web-Based electronic recording and reporting
- Monitoring of TB Patients Treatment
- Develop and make available TB notification and registration system for both public and private sector
- Improve quality care by health service providers
- Support treatment of patients & Reporting of cases
- Increase transparency & accountability
- Provide follow up Alerts for adherence
- Providing required data for planning at National & State levels
- Provide TB related information on epidemiological / social impacts
- Acc. to WHO report death from tuberculosis in India saw a 12% decline from last year and the number of new cases, or incidence, saw a 1.7% decrease
- With 2.79 million new cases in 2016, India continued to be the largest contributor to the global burden with up to a quarter of the 10.1 million new cases of TB
Politics and Padmavati(TH Ed)
Letter from Salman Rushdie
In February 1989, days after Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran had issued a fatwa against him for his novel The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie published an open letter to Rajiv Gandhi, then Prime Minister
- He reminded the Prime Minister that his book had already been banned in India in October 1988, under the Customs Act, and that while issuing the curb on its import the Finance Ministry clarified that the “ban did not detract from the literary and artistic merit of Rushdie’s work”. “Thanks for the good review,” wrote Rushdie, adding that it appeared “as if your Government has become unable or unwilling to resist pressure from more or less any extremist religious grouping”
Recalling the letter
It is worth recalling that letter, as it provides a benchmark to map the race to the bottom in the current row over Padmavati
Disregard of SC judgement
The actions of the Chief ministers and those batting for a ban on Padmavati are in complete disregard of the Supreme Court judgment in S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram that the state cannot cite concerns about a “hostile audience” in curbing freedom of expression
The issue here is no longer Padmavati or its artistic merit. What is of real concern is the state functionaries ignoring their constitutional responsibility in upholding free expression, and placing themselves alongside those out to intimidate, and release sectarian furies
Change in the number of assembly seats for Sikkim
What has happened?
The Home Ministry has proposed an increase in the number of seats in the Sikkim Assembly from 32 to 40. The expansion will be the first since the State merged with India in 1975
Source: The Hindu
A petition was moved in the Supreme Court that Limboo and Tamangs were not adequately represented in the Assembly and the apex court on January 4, 2016 directed the Home Ministry to take necessary action
Why the seats are being increased?
- Accommodating Limboo & Tamang communities: The seats are being increased to accommodate people from the Limboo and Tamang communities, notified as the Scheduled Tribes in Sikkim in January 2003
- Of the eight seats proposed to be increased, five will be reserved for Limboo and Tamangs
Present situation: Now, Sikkim has 12 seats reserved for Bhutias and Lepchas, two for the Scheduled Castes, one seat for the Sanghas and 17 general seats
- As per constitutional provisions, the total number of seats for STs should be in proportion to the population
- Amendment to RPA Act:
- There will be amendments to the Second Schedule to the RP Act, 1950, whereby total seats in Sikkim Legislative Assembly will be 40 in place of existing 32, reserving five seats for Limboo and Tamang, while retaining existing reservations for Bhutias, Lepchas, Scheduled Castes and Sanghas
- Section 5A of the RP Act, 1951 will be amended to provide “that in case of a seat reserved for Limboo and Tamang tribe, he is to be a member of Limboo and Tamang tribe specified in the Representation of Sikkim Subjects Act, 1974 and elector or an assembly constituency in the State
As per the Delimitation Act, 2002, the number of seats in an Assembly of any State can only be readjusted on the basis of the first census conducted after 2026
- Although, final order made by the Delimitation Commission could not have been challenged by any court, but the special constitutional provision to Sikkim allows government to make the change
Bamboo is no longer a tree, legally
What has happened?
After 90 years, the bamboo has legally ceased to be a tree with the government, amending the Indian Forest Act and axing the bamboo — taxonomically a grass — from a list of plants that also included palms, skumps, brush-wood and canes
According to the estimates chalked out by Niti Aayog the domestic production of bamboo is only sufficient for half of the demand in the country. Therefore there is an immediate requirement to increase production of quality bamboo to meet the enhancing demand of bamboo in other section of the society apart from elevating bamboo related traditional industry as well as bamboo enterprises. Hence, this recent amendment by promoting the cultivation of bamboo in non-forest areas aims to achieve the “twin objectives” of
- Increasing the income of farmers, and
- Increasing the green cover of the country
Bamboo grown in the forest areas would continue to be governed by the provisions of the Indian Forest Act
- For several years now, the classification of the bamboo as a tree meant that it couldn’t be easily transported across State borders
- It also required permits from village councils and couldn’t be cultivated in non-forest areas
This will now create a viable option for cultivation in 12.6 million hectares of cultivable waste land
- Promote cultivation: It will encourage farmers and other individuals to take up plantation/block plantation of suitable bamboo species on degraded land, in addition to plantation on agricultural land and other private lands under the agro-forestry mission
- Removal of ambiguity: Amendment will remove the ambiguity on the status of bamboo and will bring it in harmony with the related Forest Rights Act. Tribals have a right to forest produce but its earlier classification posed problems, which will now be eliminated
Though the country has 19% share of the world’s area under bamboo cultivation, its market share in the sector is only 6%. At present, it imports timber and allied products, such as pulp, paper, and furniture. In 2015, it imported about 18.01 million cubic metres of timber and allied products worth ₹43,000 crore
Bamboo in India
13% forest area is comprised of bamboo. More than 137 species of bamboo is grown in the country which are used for 1500 diversified utilities
- National Bamboo Mission (NBM): Keeping in view the possibility of, economic utilization of bamboo, government of India initiated National Bamboo Mission (NBM) – A centrally sponsored scheme under Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare in 2006 for overall development of bamboo sector
- The Scheme will be implemented by the Division of Horticulture under the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation in the Ministry of Agriculture
- NBM was renamed as National Agro-Forestry & Bamboo Mission (NABM) in 2017
- National Mission on Bamboo Applications (NMBA): Department of Science and Technology (DST) has implemented the National Mission on Bamboo Applications (NMBA), during the Tenth Plan, to provide impetus to the bamboo sector and facilitate realisation of its considerable potential
- It was implemented as a Technology Mission under the Technology Information, Forecasting & Assessment Council, an autonomous institution of DST
- After successful interventions in the Tenth Plan, the Mission was approved for continuation during the entire Eleventh Plan period and subsequently also for 2012-13 and 2013-14. NMBA ceased to exist as a Mission in 2013-14.
Aims and objectives of NMBA:
- develop value-added bamboo based products, practices, technology and processes
- promote innovative design capability and fabrication techniques
- improve industry-lab-user linkages
- develop small and medium enterprises
- empower people and communities
- skill development
Parliament Winter session: Bill to grant NCBC constitutional status to be re-introduced in Lok Sabha (IE)
Granting of constitutional status to NCBC
What has happened?
Following the impasse over the Bill to grant constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) in the last session of Parliament, the Union government is set to reintroduce the Bill in the Lok Sabha in the forthcoming Winter Session.
The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Third Amendment) Bill, 2017
- Bill passed by LS: The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Third Amendment) Bill, 2017 to bring NCBC, set up in 1993, on a par with National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), was passed by the Lok Sabha
- Amendment to Clause III: When the Bill was brought before the Rajya Sabha during Monsoon Session, the Opposition managed to pass a crucial amendment to Clause III.
What was the amendment?
- The amendment expanded the three-member commission to five so as to give representation to a woman and a person from minority community and mandated that all five members should necessarily be from Other Backward Classes (OBC)
- Another amendment sought to protect the federal structure by giving states a significant role in making recommendations to the list
In the end, the government decided to put the Bill to vote after dropping Clause III. With separate versions of the Bill being passed in the two Houses, it will now have to be passed once again in Lok Sabha
Will the amendments be included in the bill to be introduced in LS?
Sources in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which is responsible for drafting the legislation, however, indicated the original Bill may be reintroduced.
The NCBC currently plays a recommendatory role to the government on inclusion or exclusion of a community in the Central list of OBC. The proposed legislation will allow the NCBC to look at grievance redressal and safeguarding the interest of OBCs, powers that until now vested with the SC Commission
Panel to examine sub-categorisation
Cabinet has approved setting up of a commission to examine sub-categorisation of 5,000-odd castes in the central list. The five-member panel is headed by former Delhi High Court Chief Justice G Rohini
- Time till January: It has time till January 2018 to submit its report on further classifying OBC based on degrees of social and educational backwardness with the stated purpose of ensuring a “more equitable distribution” of reservation in central government jobs and educational institutions
What is NCBC?
The Supreme Court of India in its Judgment dated 16.11.1992 in Indra Sawhney & Ors. Vs. Union of India and Ors, directed the Govt. of India, State Governments and Union Territory Administrations to constitute a permanent body in the nature of a Commission or Tribunal for entertaining, examining and recommending upon requests for inclusion and complaints of over-inclusion and under-inclusion in the list of OBCs
- NCBC Act: Pursuant to the direction of the Supreme Court, the Government of India enacted the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993 for setting up a Commission at National Level viz. “National Commission for Backward Classes” as a permanent body
- The Act came into effect on the 2nd April, 1993
- Members: Section 3 of the Act provides that the Commission shall consist of five Members, comprising of
- A Chairperson who is or has been a judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court; a social scientist
- Two persons, who have special knowledge in matters relating to backward classes
- Member-Secretary, who is or has been an officer of the Central Government in the rank of a Secretary to the Government of India
Concerns regarding changes introduced in IBC code
What are the concerns?
- Disruption: Changes will cause disruption in pending proceedings because earlier the resolution plan had to qualify for consideration. Now, the bidder has also to qualify
- If the total time of 270 days has lapsed in these cases or no bidder comes forward, the debtor will be pushed into liquidation
- In cases, where the creditors have not approved the criteria for inviting of bids by the resolution professional, their approval would have to be obtained
- Unduly harsh: Amendments are being viewed as unduly harsh because an account has turned non-performing, does not render its promoter dishonest. Every default cannot be equated to malfeasance (wrongdoing)
- Identification of wilful defaulters by banks: Identification of wilful defaulters has been left to the banks. Though this might be on the basis of RBI guidelines, the risk is that the promoter will challenge it in court and seek stay of insolvency proceedings till the challenge is decided. It is possible that the court does not stay the insolvency process and the promoter loses his company. But later, if the bank’s decision is found to be illegal by the court, the promoter would become entitled to claim damages from the bank
- Foreign bidders at advantageous position: The amendments place foreign bidders in an advantageous position as the concept of wilful defaulters may not exist in other countries and the disqualification criteria in corresponding situations may also be different or even harsher. This will pose a challenge for resolution applicant in determining eligibility of foreign bidders
Introduction of a new section to IBC
What has happened?
President has given his assent to the Ordinance approved by the Union Cabinet to amend the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) to strengthen the regime
What does the ordinance aims at?
- Safeguards: The Ordinance aims at putting in place safeguards. How?
- By prohibiting wilful defaulters, those associated with non-performing assets (NPAs), and the habitually non-compliant, from regaining control of the defaulting company or stressed assets through the back door in the garb of being a ‘resolution applicant’
Who is a resolution applicant?
A resolution applicant means any person who submits resolution plan to the resolution professional
- Prevent misuse of IBC: It aims to prevent unscrupulous, undesirable persons from misusing the IBC
- Ineligible persons: A new section has been introduced in the IBC that makes certain persons ineligible to be a ‘resolution applicant’
Who are these ineligible persons?
- Wilful defaulters: Those being made ineligible include “wilful defaulters, those who have their accounts classified as NPAs for one year or more and are unable to settle their overdue amounts include interest thereon.”
- The ineligible persons also include those who have executed an enforceable guarantee in favour of a creditor, in respect of a corporate debtor undergoing a Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process or liquidation process under the IBC
- Also ineligible are those who are promoters or in management of control of the resolution applicant, or will be promoters or in management of control of corporate debtor during the implementation of the resolution plan, the holding company, subsidiary company, associate company or related party of the above referred persons
- Punitive measures: A fine of not less than Rs 1 Lakh but it may extend to Rs 2 Crore
- Checks against ineligible persons: Committee of Creditors (CoC) will ensure the viability and feasibility of the resolution plan before approving it
What happens to the resolution plans submitted before the ordinance?
- CoC shall reject a resolution plan, which is submitted before the commencement of the Ordinance but is yet to be approved, and where the resolution applicant is not eligible as per the new norms
- In such cases, on account of the rejection, where there is no other plan available with the CoC, it may invite fresh resolution plans
Impact of these changes
- Strengthening of formal economy: Actions against defaulting companies, as well as weeding out of unscrupulous elements from the resolution process “would help strengthen the formal economy and encourage honest businesses and budding entrepreneurs to work in a trustworthy, predictable regulatory environment
What is an ordinance?
An ordinance is an executive order issued by the President of India that holds the same force and effect as an Act passed by the Parliament
- Article 123: The President has the power to issue ordinances under Article 123 of the Constitution. In reality, it is the Union cabinet that forwards proposals for issuing ordinances to the President who merely gives his assent
When are ordinances issued?
An ordinance can be issued only when both Houses of Parliament, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, are not in session. It is meant as a last resort and not a tool to replace the power or functioning of Parliament. Also, ordinances should, generally, be issued only on pressing issues or issues that require immediate consideration that cannot wait for Parliament to assemble and consider the bill
- Reality: In reality, many times ordinances are issued by the government for lack of consensus in Parliament. If there is a possibility of a bill not being passed in the current session of Parliament, government can take the ordinance route pending its approval by the Parliament during a later session
Validity of an ordinance
An ordinance, once issued, is valid for six weeks from the date when the next session of Parliament starts. During this period, Parliament can either pass the ordinance turning it into an Act or disapprove the ordinance
- If the ordinance is not passed by Parliament, it can be re-promulgated or re-issued by the President (meaning government)
- There is no limit on how many times an ordinance can be re-issued but as per ruling of the Supreme Court, it cannot be re-promulgated endlessly without getting it to vote in the Parliament or Legislature
- The President can during this period, at any time, withdraw the ordinance
- In AK Roy vs. Union of India (1982) while examining the constitutionality of the National Security Ordinance, 1980, which sought to provide for preventive detention in certain cases, the Court argued that the President’s Ordinance making power is not beyond the scope of judicial review
- In T Venkata Reddy vs. State of Andhra Pradesh (1985), the Court held that the motives behind the exercise of this power cannot be questioned, just as is the case with legislation by the Parliament and state legislatures
- In DC Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar (1987), the Supreme Court held that courts could strike down re-promulgated ordinances
India has, since 1998, signed “strategic partnership” agreements with 30 countries and organisations, ranging from Afghanistan and ASEAN to Uzbekistan and UAE
What does the term ‘strategic’ means in international relations?
The term “strategic” in international relations implies a convergence of interests in areas of security, economics and foreign affairs
Indian maritime outreach to US
It is a trilateral naval exercise involving the United States, Japan and India as permanent partners
- Started as a bilateral exercise: Originally a bilateral exercise between India and the United States, Japan became a permanent partner in 2015
- Past non-permanent participants are Australia and Singapore
- Began in 1992: The annual Malabar series began in 1992 and includes diverse activities, ranging from fighter combat operations from aircraft carriers through Maritime Interdiction Operations Exercises
Author appreciates the current policy dispensation of the present government wherein ‘Look East’ was replaced by ‘Act East’ but he goes further and states that SAGAR should now be the recurring theme in Indian maritime diplomacy
What is SAGAR?
It is a phrase which means Security and Growth for All in the Region. Region here refers to the IOR
What is IOR?
The Indian Ocean Rim is a region comprised of the states whose shores are washed by the waters of the Indian Ocean. The region is home to about two billion people
IOR Countries Source Wiki
- It is a region of much cultural diversity and richness – in languages, religions, raditions, arts and cuisines. The countries of the Indian Ocean Rim vary considerably in terms of their areas, populations and levels of economic development
- They may also be divided into a number of sub-regions (Australasia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia and Eastern & Southern Africa), each with their own regional groupings (such as ASEAN, SAARC, GCC and SADC, to name a few)
Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA)
The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is an international organization with 21 Member States – Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, UAE and Yemen
Author states that government need to bear in mind that while visionary leaders may strategise on a grand scale, their policies will be only as good as the implementation on ground by bureaucrats, technocrats and diplomats
Coining of the term Indo-pacific
The term Indo-Pacific was coined by young IN captain, Gurpreet Khurana, in a 2007 essay, wherein he visualised the linking of the Indian Ocean with the Western Pacific, across the Malacca Straits, to form a seamless economic and security continuum
- It was offered as an alternative to the “Asia-Pacific” paradigm which included only Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands, and terminated at the Malacca Straits, leaving out India. Despite the scepticism of Indian diplomats, the term seems to be here to stay
Quad: What is it?
India-Australia-Japan-US quadrilateral (or Quad) dialogue has been referred to as Quad
Necessity of the Quad
- Ensuring the safety of international shipping involves anti-piracy operations, maritime interdiction and cooperative maritime domain awareness
- Natural calamities and man-made crises may call for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, non-combatant evacuation, and search and rescue operations
As, no single nation or navy can hope to provide all this, therein comes the utility of the Quad
Holding off China: Revitalizing our defence
Author states that China need not worry about the Quad and it is quite possible that the Quad might include other members in future but at the same time following needs to be done by India to rise up to China,
- India must boost its military muscle by urgently modernizing the armed forces
- India must attain true “strategic autonomy” through an infusion of advanced technology for its defence-industrial complex
Quad confusion (TH Op)
More than 10 days after the Quadrilateral meeting, or ‘Quad’, involving secretary-level officials of India, Japan, Australia and the U.S., the dust is yet to settle on just what was decided among them
The differences in statements show that the countries lack a common aim
Four separate statements
A cursory look at these statements reveals the basic differences in intent: while all four referred to keeping a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, the Ministry of External Affairs statement did not mention upholding “maritime security” as an objective, while the statements of the U.S., Australia and Japan did. Similarly, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs made no mention of enhancing “connectivity” as an aim, which the other three did
Effect: The Quad is yet to decide what its real aim is: maritime security, connectivity, countering China’s moves in the Indo-Pacific and on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), or a combination of all three.
Only India openly in opposition to BRI amongst the Quad members
- U.S. President lavished praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping and the two signed a slew of agreements, including one for a joint fund for the $40 billion Silk Road Fund meant to finance BRI projects
- Despite all the concerns expressed by the countries of the Quad, India remains the only one to openly oppose the BRI
On the maritime front: India is the only country in the Quad that is not part of a military alliance
India declined Australia’s request to join the Malabar exercises, and just days before the Quad, it was said there were no plans for joint patrols with the U.S., or any country that is not a “maritime neighbour” of India, which would rule out Australia and Japan too
Effect: If India’s intentions are only to patrol the Indian Ocean part of the Indo-Pacific, it remains to be seen what reciprocal value the Quad would have
Where the government stands on India’s position in the world?
How would India explain not joining a security cooperation arrangement within the Quad, even though it joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation this year?
Giving in to demands for greater engagement in the East with the Quad will need to be calibrated with concrete outcomes on India’s concerns with terror from Pakistan, and a free hand to pursue ties with Iran.
Reaching out to neighbours (TH Op)
As ASEAN celebrates 50, reflections on SAARC’s failed decades
SAARC: A Failure
It has been unable to integrate the region through trade and connectivity and continues to be stuck in the quagmire of regional politics and rivalry and stagnates from historical distrust and old animosity
Study in contrasts
- Expansion of Mandate
In its first two decades, ASEAN focussed on a limited range of issues, but over time its mandate expanded and now includes climate change, disaster management, counterterrorism, drugs and human trafficking
- Dispute Resolution
The Philippines-Malaysia dispute over Sabah, was resolved peacefully by the founding members who found a peaceful mechanism to mitigate opposing claims
- Booming Trade
- ASEAN has grown rapidly and it has focussed on promoting rapid economic growth and modernisation
- It has created the Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA), which ensures liberalisation and protection of cross-border investments operations, together with best practices for the treatment of foreign investors and investments.
The Federation of ASEAN Travel Associations (FATA) has called on the ASEAN nations to waive entry requirements amongst the member states
- Rail link from Singapore to Kunming
A feasibility study has been conducted on the development of a rail link from Singapore to Kunming in southern China to enhance seamless connectivity among the ASEAN nations to boost intraregional trade and people-to-people connectivity
- Tourism Projects
Projects aimed at promoting the region as a tourist destination have also been undertaken.
- Political squabbles, deep mistrust and military conflict between India and Pakistan have frustrated regional cooperation
- Lost Potential: Ind/Pak Hostility
India boycotted the 19th SAARC summit as a result of the Uri terrorist attack, with Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan following suit, eventually resulting in cancellation of the summit
- Stalled Trade
- Trade amongst the SAARC members stands at 3.5% of their total volume of trade
- Initiatives under the South Asian Free Trade Association have failed to make much headway
- Subregional initiatives like the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicle Agreement also have stalled
- Partial Visa Exemption
SAARC Visa Exemption Scheme only allows certain categories of dignitaries to be exempt from visas, excluding ordinary citizens from accessing unimpeded travel in the region
- Difficult Travel
It is difficult for Indians to enter Pakistan and vice versa. Even citizens of other SAARC countries who have visited either India or Pakistan before and now wish to travel to the other face hassles during visa issuance by either country
- Infrastructural problems
SAARC infrastructural problems plague connectivity
Sub-regional short-cuts at the cost of jeopardising the regional vision for unity
India is trying to exert leadership by forming subregional initiatives BIMSTEC and isolate Pakistan
Such attempts have not been witnessed in ASEAN
- When ASEAN was criticised for taking in Myanmar in spite of its military rule, the grouping emphasised the importance of keeping open the channels of communication and engagement as a better means to influence the regime
- Bilateral bickering never got in the way of trade and travel
ASEAN: ahead on Political & Economic fronts also
- On the political and economic continuum, ASEAN has behaved pragmatically and sensibly whereas South Asia has been bogged down by bilateral animosity and the bitter legacy of partition
- ASEAN members have avoided showing outward hostility against each other and have tried to resolve differences through dialogue, engagement and cooperation
Unless there is a serious and concerted effort by the political leadership of SAARC, led primarily by India and Pakistan, to revitalise the regional body, it will continue to be what it always has been: a utopian idea existing only in summit documents.
Bangladesh to return 6,00,000 Muslim refugees to Myanmar; process expected to start in two months
Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed a memorandum of understanding on the return of Rohingya people who fled the Rakhine state in the wake of a military crackdown
Points Rejected by Myanmar
- Bangladesh wanted a time frame for the beginning and end of repatriation which Myanmar did not agree to
- Dhaka also sought the involvement of UN agencies in the verification process, which was also rejected by the other side
Joint working group
The two countries agreed to form a joint working group at the Foreign Secretary-level to start the repatriation process
U.S., in what appeared to be a policy reversal, called the military operation in Rakhine “ethnic cleansing” and threatened targeted sanctions against those responsible for it
Rights groups have raised concerns about the process, including where the minority will be resettled after hundreds of their villages were razed, and how their safety will be ensured in a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is surging
The new bipolarity in Asia (TH Op)
Having one set of nations ranged against China is not going to be easy in the prevailing
Backdrop: The Dichotomy in the global order today
President believes in a world governed by self-interest, with little room for shared responsibility, or lofty ideas about the spread of democracy
In contrast, Chinese President is taking the high road, disdaining the transactional approach favoured by the U.S. President
Instead, he is projecting himself as a firm believer in globalisation and free trade
Today, the US President confronts major opposition to his policies within the U.S.
The Chinese President’s grip on China is, if anything, stronger than before.
The Quadrilateral: Indication of an Anti-China Coalition Rising
- US seeks to create a coalition of all those willing to align with the it against China’s expanding ambitions and its inexorable march towards dominance in Asia
- Talks held recently at the level of officials between the U.S., Japan, Australia and India (the Quadrilateral) are seen as an indication of this
- It marks an important shift in India’s attitude, and could be a prologue to what is in store
More Countries to Join
As China’s expansionist attitudes intensify, more countries in East and Southeast Asia are expected to align with the Quadrilateral group of countries e.g. Vietnam could be one such country, but quite a few other countries in the region could follow suit
India and US: Deepening ties
The recent ASEAN & APEC meetings provided a further glimpse of attitudinal changes that are in the making
- India and US announced that the two countries were prepared to work together for the future of Asia
- It is, perhaps, for the first time that India has indicated a resolve to align openly with the U.S. to tackle broader issues in the Indo-Pacific region
- Indian PM asserted that India will stand by ASEAN in its quest for a rules-based regional security architecture
- This can again be interpreted as implicit criticism of China’s attitude and stance with regard to disputes in the South China Sea
Picking up the gauntlet (armored glove)
- The recent 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress placed special emphasis on a strong military “capable of winning wars”
- The deliberations left little room for any adjustment or compromise to accommodate the concerns of other countries of Asia, or for that matter the U.S
- The deliberations of the Party Congress have further emboldened China to pursue its preferred course of action.
Apart from its massive military build-up, China is positioned most advantageously as far as economic aspects are concerned
- It is today the most important trading partner for over 90 countries
- It is a major lender across the world
- Its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has caught the imagination of the world, including that of Europe. While the economic benefits of the BRI are still in dispute, most countries of Asia and Europe, including many of India’s neighbours, do not seem to have a problem with the BRI
Sustaining bipolarity against China difficult
- Support for BRI
Latent concerns about Chinese expansionism have not prevented several Asian nations from endorsing and backing the BRI
- No criticsm for China on siding with Pakistan
Most Asian nations also show no inclination or desire to blame China for siding with Pakistan, which continues to shelter high-ranking global terrorists, including Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar
- Luring with Money
China, for its part, has embarked on a charm offensive to win the support of Asian nations through lavish aid offers and other financial inducements
- Deals with US
Even US President, during his recent visit to China, seemed to have softened his criticism of China, after China produced some attractive mega deals
All this only exposes the vulnerabilities of bipolarity in the extant situation today.
- It has lately taken up issues well beyond South Asia, such as North Korea and China’s actions in the South China Sea
- Currently, India is emerging as one of the countries in the region firmly committed to freedom of navigation and over-flight, and for unimpeded commerce based on the principles of international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea
- This puts it in direct confrontation with China, as also in opposing China’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific.
- The Quadrilateral idea with India’s implicit acceptance of the concept, is likely to further irk China.
China is almost certain to take effective steps to break this so-called encirclement (the Quadrilateral), and use both force and inducements to win more and more Asian countries to its side. The consequences of this could be quite significant for peace and stability in the Asian region.
Modi calls for sharing of information and coordination among nations and creation of cyber warriors to ensure safety
The Global Conference on Cyber Space (GCCS), attended by delegates from 131 countries
Key Points from PM’s address: Striking a balance
- Possible to strike a balance between privacy and national security.
- Need to ensure that vulnerable sections of our society do not fall prey to the evil designs of cybercriminals.
- One of the major focus areas should be the training of well-equipped and capable professionals to counter cyber threats
- Need to ensure that cyber-protection becomes an attractive and viable career option for the youth
- Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance (UMANG) mobile app was launched, after nearly a year it was announced
- The application will provide over a hundred e-government services to citizens
- Developed by: Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and National e-Governance Division (NeGD) to drive Mobile Governance in India.
- UMANG service has been made available on multiple channels like mobile application, web, IVR and SMS which can be accessed through smartphones, feature phones, tablets and desktops.
Partnership of ideas (IE)
Digitisation provides an opportunity to strengthen industry-academia ties.
The new challenge will be to motivate young minds to innovate, especially in keeping with the demands of industry. This brings collaboration to the forefront
With the new age economy powered by digitisation and disruptive technologies, the industry-academia relationship is undergoing a rapid transformation.
- Incubators & Accelerators
As we move to multidisciplinary job roles, corporates now support incubators and accelerators instead of grants to academic research
One of the best examples in India is the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE), supported by the Centre, state governments and industry, to promote innovation.
Also, post-recruitment on-the-job training is giving way to apprenticeship for hands-on training.
The government’s recent drive to enhance the scope and scale of apprenticeship through the NAPS (National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme) is a step in the right direction.
A Long way to go still
- Other than a few islands of excellence (mostly IITs and IISc), research in India degenerates into academic sloth with little encouragement from industry or government
- In terms of funding, industry contribution to research even at the IITs is, at 10-15 per cent, far below global standards
- Effect: In the absence of an active interface between industry and academia, the chances of innovative ideas being absorbed for commercial exploitation are low
This impacts the country’s global competitiveness and its place in the global knowledge economy.
Four Pronged Approach needed
India needs to achieve global standards in universities’ governance
- Universities need to be given academic, administrative and financial autonomy to evolve as functional ecosystems of research, innovation and entrepreneurship
- It is extremely important to harness the budding entrepreneurial energy of students for greater socio-economic development
- The autonomy door shall also open much more space for innovative industrial tie-ups.
Breadth of research collaborations needs to expand to cover a respectable percentage of the total institutions
- At least 100 institutions should be actively engaged as “research” institutions, up from the current 10 (mostly IITs and IISc)
- Funding on merit: One way to enable such an expansion is to open research funding to all eligible institutions on merit instead of limiting all public funding to government institutions. States should chip in: Individual states have to evolve their own vision so that some state universities are prepared to take on sector-specific research complementing their industrial clusters
Apprenticeship needs to catch up
- India has only 30,000 enterprises registered for taking apprentices compared to Germany which has more than 2,00,000 enterprises for apprentices. The apprenticeship drive is an effective means of promoting industry academia collaboration.
- Early Start Needed
The spirit of research and innovation needs to be inculcated at an early age at the school level to build a strong base for illuminated industrial minds
- Tinkering Labs: The setting up of “tinkering” labs at 1,000 schools under the Atal Innovation Mission through the efforts of the government and the private sector is an excellent initiative in this regard.
- Scaling up needed: However, we need to scale-up such initiatives a thousand times more to create a great impact
China, for instance, has installed 3D printers in all its elementary schools to prepare a generation adept at using next-generation technology.
Quantum increase in funding to research needed
India commits just 0.8 per cent of its GDP in PPP terms to research compared to 2.7 per cent, 2.9 per cent and 2.1 per cent by innovation hubs like the US, Germany and aspiring powers like China
The PM’s recent announcement to provide Rs 10,000 crore to top 20 public and private universities over the next five years to make them world class research universities is an excellent initiative
Monetising intellectual property at Universities
In terms of funding support from industry, India’s average industry income per academic is less than one-fourth of the top performing countries — Germany, the US and China
This can be addressed by promoting a culture of monetising intellectual property at our universities
Multiple academic and socio-economic objectives can be targeted through this partnership
The culture of industry and technology can best be harnessed at the university level which can seamlessly create a fusion of ideas. We must not miss the bus this time.
The hungry nation (IE)
Global Hunger Index offers a needed reality check for India’s big power aspirations.
- India’s international financial rating was recently upgraded by Moody’s recognising the reforms and structural changes initiated by the present government
- A recent survey of the Pew Research Center refers to the immense popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi within the country — clearly indicating the high expectations citizens have of him
Effect: Both pieces of news have been rightly welcomed in the country
However, the nation can’t pick and choose
It can’t say that all favourable reports are true, but deny the existence of unfavourable reports
The unfavorable Sides
For instance, the Pew Research Center, some time back, had concluded that Indian school standards are among the worst in the world
Global Hunger Index (GHI)
- The Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) released the 2017 Global Hunger Index (GHI), in which India ranks 100 among the 119 countries studied
- The country’s rank, in fact, had fallen by three places compared to 2016
- In the 2017 Hunger Index, India falls behind war-ravaged Iraq, and the international “outcast”, North Korea
- Only two countries in Asia — Afghanistan and Pakistan — are below India in the ranking. India is now ahead of only countries such as Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Chad and Yemen, all “one-party” democracies otherwise seen as dictatorships
A World Bank report referred to the illiteracy rates in India
ASER has consistently referred to abysmal primary and secondary schooling standards; repeated studies on nutrition, and child mortality in India establish the critical situation in this regard
The nation should stop fooling itself
The countries at the top of every economic and social index in the world are closely identified with high-quality education, public health and nutrition.
Critical Situation: Reasons
These are the wages of a corrupt political system, where the spoils were appropriated by a select few who ran the country during the past five decades, pursuing disastrous policies, deliberately with poor implementation to suit the needs of the ruling classes
- Major economic policies have been ushered in in the recent past
- Demonetisation symbolises the formal recognition of black money — no country can afford to have a parallel economy eating its vitals
- The GST, with all its teething problems, can transform the economy within five years
- The Digital India programme, despite its current tardy implementation, can turn the administration efficient.
Can’t ignore the common man
- Even a superpower will not remain stable if the bottom 25 per cent of its population lives in penury
- There is not enough recognition of the power of the informal sector, currently numbering six crore, as a change agent, and the critical importance of making resources available to them at non-usurious rates
- There is no awareness that primary and secondary education can be a major change agent in 10 years, if there is genuine reform. In short, with the technology available today, the country can be transformed in ten years — but this can’t be done just by speeches, and with good intentions alone.
It is the social sectors — education, public health, nutrition etc — which need the direct attention of the highest manager of the country. Policies concerning these sectors need to be reformed and necessary resources have to be provisioned to usher in change