Having announced its decision to sell Air India, the government is making arrangements to do so. The move itself has come after multiple efforts by successive governments to resurrect the national airline. Though there has been news of it finally turning in an operating profit under a determined CEO, its debt, reportedly a staggering $8.5 billion, must weigh on the minds of a public drawn into a discussion of its future
When the public sector does not serve the public interest, it becomes a millstone around our necks
It is unfortunate that so iconic an entity, once feistily steered by J.R.D. Tata, has met this fate, but it is not uncommon in the history of India’s public sector.
1950s: Attempt of the trasformation of the economy
To understand this ending we would have to start at the beginning, and that was with the transformation of the economy attempted in the 1950s.
The mixed economy: criticized at the start
By design, the public sector was to exist along with a private one resulting in what had been referred to as ‘the mixed economy’
Neither capitalistic nor communism: To those hankering after institutional purity this was no more than a joke, an arrangement that had strengths of neither full-bodied American-style capitalism nor of out-and-out Soviet-era communism.
We know better now: Half a century later, the Soviet empire imploded and for a brief moment in 2008, the American one teetered on the brink, having been taken there by its vanguard, finance capital.
- We can now see that the mixed economy, combining the public and private sectors, is superior to one located at either extreme.
The Question arises
So if the public sector is a force for the good, why is it that we see Air India, and a section of the rest of the Indian public sector, in so unsound a financial condition?
Public sector was healthy initially
In its early days, the public sector had been quite healthy.
- Under Nehru, India’s economy rose spectacularly and public investment was the principal engine of growth in that remarkable phase.
- As for the public sector as a whole, during the Nehru era its savings had grown faster than that of the private corporate sector. Actually, to an extent India’s public sector had financed itself.
HMT’s initial success
Nehru’s speech at the inauguration of the second plant of the Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) in Bangalore in 1962 is instructive in this regard
- He congratulated the workers of HMT for having produced a second plant entirely out of the surplus of the first one
Rationale for India’s public sector
In one stroke, this conveys the rationale imagined for India’s public sector at the moment of its conception
- It had been imagined as a source of investible funds for the public purpose
- Underlying this was the belief that the private sector may not generate the necessary surplus, especially if the economy was not first quickened through public investment.
Private sector did well too
It is noteworthy that in the heyday of the public sector, India’s private corporate sector had not done badly at all
- Its investment rose at least much as that of the public, demonstrating that claims of its suppression due to the licence-permit raj are exaggerated
- It is perhaps not known widely enough that in the Nehru era India grew faster than China
What went wrong then?
So if the public sector had such a central role in lifting India out of a morass, why are we where we are today? Why is Air India awaiting the gavel?
This has entirely to do with politics.
The Politics using public sector as an instrument for its gain
- Politics underwent a sea change in the second half of the 1960s and with this the de facto status of the public sector was to change
- It became the handmaiden of Indira Gandhi’s attempt to gain absolute control
- Performance no longer counted and the public sector was now validated by its very existence.
- Intimation of the changed policy stance appears in the form of an entry in an ‘Economic Survey’ from the 1980s emphasizing that a large section of employees of the public sector were those absorbed from loss-making units
The case of Air India is symbolic
Lots of substitutes: Today there is no dearth of air-travel service providers in India, and the public airline reportedly has less than 15% market share.
Turnaround in Kerala
Meanwhile, an effort to turn around the public sector has come from a unlikely section.
- The Communists of Kerala, prone to rationalising inefficiency when it suits their politics, have now embarked upon a revival of the State’s public sector undertakings.
- This has met with success in a short time, with at least some loss-making units turning profitable
- The parlous state of public finances may have forced this political party’s hand but the move itself shows maturity.
The public sector would be a jewel when worn in the public interest. When it is not, as was the case with Air India, it turns into a millstone (each of two circular stones used for grinding corn) around our necks.
Education is a fundamental right for those aged between six and 14 years, but there has hardly been a coordinated effort to better the lot of teachers who teach these children
For years, certain institutions which impart teacher training courses have failed to get the necessary recognition from the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE)
- The future of those who graduate from such institutions, which are funded by the Central/ State government or Union Territory administration concerned, has been in jeopardy
The NCTE (Amendment) Bill, 2017
The Amendment Bill, pending in Parliament, endeavors to make those studying in such institutions, or those who have graduated from such institutions, eligible for teachers’ jobs. The Bill was tabled by the Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Development
Provisions it seeks to amend
- It seeks to amend the provisions of the NCTE Act, 1993, which was enacted to provide for the establishment of a NCTE
- Section 14 of the 1993 Act provides that every institution offering a teacher education course has to obtain recognition from the Regional Committee. Section 15 says that any recognised institution that intends to start any new course or training in teacher education has to obtain permission from the Regional Committee concerned
The amendments include
- Granting retrospective recognition to institutions funded by the Central or State government or the Union Territory administration, and as may be notified by the Central government, which offered teacher education courses on or after the appointed day till the academic year 2017-2018
- Proposal to amend Section 15 to grant retrospective permission to the new course or training in teacher education offered by the institutions, as may be notified by the Central government, on or after the appointed day till the academic year 2017-18
The right to life includes the right to live with dignity. But when there is pain is there dignity?
Narayan Lavate (88) and Iravati Lavate (78) from Maharashtra say that they do not wish to be a burden on society in their old age. They don’t have children and their siblings are no more, they say. They argue that spending the country’s scarce resources on keeping them alive, the old and ailing alive, is a criminal waste. This is simple logic. They also ask: What is the point in wasting money in treating old-age ailments when one has to eventually die?
The Lavates’ request is unlikely to be heeded as India is not comfortable with the idea
- Article 21 of the Constitution gives me the right to life, but I also interpret it as giving me the right to take away my life
- The right to life includes the right to live with dignity
- When you are in pain, that dignity is lost and you are forced to rely on your kith and kin for support.
Shouldn’t be an offence
- Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code prescribes punishment for attempting suicide. It is an offence, but it should not be one
- You could die, but if you survive, you should get counselling, not go to jail.
A demand driven by logic
Cultural backwardness: The couple sees the aversion to euthanasia in India as a sign of the country’s “cultural backwardness”.
- Logic not spirituality: According to Iravati, their desire to die is driven by logic, not spirituality. There is no point in living only because a legal system demands it, she says
- At the same time, they are averse to the idea of committing suicide, which is an offence in India. What if something goes wrong, they wonder
No one ready to pay attention to their request
But no one is ready to pay attention to their request. After writing letters to various Chief Ministers, legal experts like Ram Jethmalani, and Members of Parliament, all of which did not yield results, they have now written to President Ram Nath Kovind, hoping for a favourable response to their plea of “mercy death” or physician-assisted suicide.
Highly unlikely that the State will agree
- The path-breaking judgment in Aruna Shanbaug v. Union of India (2011) brought the issue of euthanasia into the public domain
- But unlike the Lavates, Aruna was in a permanently vegetative state since the brutal sexual attack on her in 1973 by a ward boy in Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial Hospital where she worked as a staff nurse.
The 2011 judgment helped to push the debate to the extent of permitting passive euthanasia for terminally ill patients under the strict supervision of the High Court, in consultation with a team of doctors treating the terminally ill patient
Only passive euthanasia allowed
Passive euthanasia means withdrawing life support to induce death in a natural way
In contrast, active euthanasia means injecting legal drugs to induce death. This is not permitted in India and so the Lavates’ request is unlikely to be heeded.
Should we allow living wills?
But their letter to the President has opened up a new debate in this area. So far, the debate has been confined only to people who are terminally ill.
Countries like Canada have given legal recognition to the concept of a “living will”, where people lay down directives in advance on how they should be treated if they end up in a vegetative state
SC to take decision
- Now an important question before the courts is whether the law should allow living wills.
- The Supreme Court is likely to take a decision on living wills in 2018, even as a draft Bill on withdrawal of life support to patients with terminal illness is under consideration.
The Bill, however, deals only with terminal illness
If it is allowed or legalised, there will be no limits to its abuse in India and elsewhere
Euthanasia is allowed in some countries of the European Union — Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium
- In Belgium, euthanasia is allowed in the case of terminally ill children
- In Switzerland, it is allowed only in the case of advanced malignancy or in the case of intractable pain and suffering
Clearly, even there, euthanasia is not for everybody.
- This is a complex issue in every society and the chances of its misuse are high. That’s why it is not accepted as a way of ending the lives of mentally alert and reasonably healthy persons.
A big no for the mentally alert
In the Aruna Shanbaug case, which generated a lot of debate, we have to bear in mind that Shanbaug was not in a position to take any decisions herself
For terminally ill it can be debated
In the case of terminally ill patients who are provided with expensive health care, whose families know that the patients are unlikely to return to normalcy or near-normalcy, and given the economic burden on the family and on society to treat these patients, euthanasia could be debated.
But euthanasia for those who are mentally alert, though physically disabled, is a big no
Misuse will be high
- Euthanasia in that form cannot be allowed or legalised because the probability of its misuse — whether it is demanded for property, money, or because of animosity among family members — is very high
- Usually such killings are classified as homicide, and if the perpetrators are caught, they are punished. Imagine the consequences of legalising this
Debating passive euthanasia
Passive euthanasia is partly permitted and implies withdrawing life support when a person is not mentally alert
- Mental alertness is assessed by the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score, which tells us the level of consciousness
- In normal individuals, the score is 15, and for those who are brain dead, it is three
- A GCS score of less than eight means that the patient is not conscious, her airway is threatened, and her chances of recovery are less.
- But if the GCS score is three, the possibility of recovery is practically zero unless there is a miracle
- The Lavates are physically fit
- Nobody should or can allow them to die
- They can help society in many ways
This can only be debated in the context of those suffering from terminal diseases, in critical care units, facing multiple organ problems — where the courts have ruled that life support can be withdrawn only when the chances of return to life are negligible.
No legislation lays down procedure to permit a person to take her own life
The right to life is an old debate.
In case of the Emergency
When the Supreme Court heard the challenge to the imposition of Emergency, it rejected the argument that in India, the right to life available to a citizen flows from Article 21 of the Constitution, and that if such an Article were to be deleted or suspended, the citizen would have no right to his life under law.
The right to life
The right to life was made more sacrosanct and, over the years, has been seen as a basic feature of the Constitution, thereby making it both fundamental and permanent.
Relinquish only in accordance with the law: The significance of this is that if one relinquishes the right, one can do so only in accordance with procedure established by law
Example: Imposing death by way of capital punishment is an example of the right to life being terminated in accordance with the procedure established by law.
Unlawful act: To terminate life, even one’s own life, were it to be done without the authority of law, would amount to an unlawful act.
In fact, an attempt to commit suicide is a crime under the IPC.
- At the heart of the legal problem is the fact that there exists no legislation laying down the procedure to permit a person to take her own life.
- The absence of any law governing the subject results in people taking recourse to courts to seek ‘permission’ to end their own lives, or the lives of others over whom they have some control.
- What happens now is that the courts are called upon to decide, without having the benefit of legislation to guide their decision-making
- They rely on facts and the call of their conscience
- Such ad hoc decisions suffer from arbitrariness and uncertainty — two qualities that make for bad law.
The right to choice
There is another legal dimension to this debate.
Right to live, with dignity
- Taking away life is often related to the inability of the affected or concerned individual to live with dignity.
- For instance, thousands of farmers in Vidarbha took their lives when faced with a dehumanising existence. The right to life under Article 21 has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as the right to live with dignity.
- When a person chooses to end her life because she can no longer live with dignity, the question to be asked is not whether she can waive her constitutional right to life, but whether she has a right to choice.
- The debate extends to whether the fundamental right to life extends to the right to choice, because, after all, there is no overt act required to be performed to live life
- The more abstract jurisprudence content that arises is whether there is a right to choose at all, and if there is, will it govern the right to life or be subservient to it.
The courts are yet to come up with an answer
From a single leader gracing Republic Day, India has pulled off a diplomatic coup of sorts by having as many as 10 leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), for January 26 this year
- The presence of the entire ASEAN leadership for Republic Day is a sign that the decades-old bond between India and the regional grouping has reached a new strategic level
- Former external affairs minister Natwar Singh said “We have hosted multiple heads of states as in 1983 when we hosted the NAM summit and more recently in the India-Africa Summit. But this event is unique as it comes in the context of major changes in the regional order”
R Day parade
- An important aspect of the R-Day parade this year is the focus on showcasing indigenously developed military platforms for the visiting heads of state. This is significant as India is now trying to significantly beef up its military sales as part of its defence diplomacy and wants to showcase these platforms to ASEAN countries
- In line with this, BrahMos supersonic missiles, Akash Surface to Air Missile (SAM), and Netra Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&C) are part of the military component of the parade
China on Thursday cautiously welcomed India’s invitation extended to the heads of ASEAN and offered Beijing’s “constructive” participation for promoting the overall development of the region
- China is open to all countries developing friendly relations. So, we are okay with India developing friendly and cooperative relations with ASEAN countries
- China and India share a lot of common interests. China would like to enhance coordination and cooperation with all countries including India to steer the economic globalization towards benefiting world economic growth and well-being of all countries
China & ASEAN
China’s ties with ASEAN have been on the upswing with trade expected to reach $1 trillion by 2020. India’s trade with ASEAN in 2016-17 stood at $70 billion
Official level talks with leaders from ASEAN countries held on the sidelines of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit
- Identity security
- Military cooperation, and
- Bilateral financial support
- The issue of security identity cards for the citizens, on the line of the Aadhaar card of India also came up during the bilateral discussion with Philippines
The security scenario in the Rakhine province was also discussed between Prime Minister Modi and Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar. Both sides discussed the housing project that India would build to rehabilitate the Rohingya
ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit
Issues addressed in Joint declaration (Delhi Declaration)
- A joint mechanism to ensure safety and freedom of navigation in the maritime domain
- Significance: The statement on the maritime mechanism is significant as it is the first time that India has taken up forming of a special maritime mechanism with all the ASEAN heads of states at a single summit
- It indicated at common concern regarding the South China Sea and reaffirmed the “importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability, maritime safety and security, freedom of navigation and overflight in the region, and other lawful uses of the seas and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce
- Counter terrorism: supported a common approach to counter terrorism and sought a “comprehensive approach to combat terrorism through close cooperation by disrupting and countering terrorists, terrorist groups and networks, including by countering cross border movement of terrorists and foreign terrorist fighters and misuse of Internet including social media by terror entities
- Out of all the countries of ASEAN region, Philippines had the most serious threat from the Islamic State in the last few years and the bilateral discussion focused on this aspect
Why Maritime Diplomacy is integral?
The maritime domain has been in the centre of India’s Act East diplomacy which aims to firm up India’s position in the ASEAN and Asia Pacific region
President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday approved the award of 85 Padma awards. The list of those honored includes music composer-director Ilaiyaraaja conferred with a Padma Vibhushan and sports M.S. Dhoni and Pankaj Advani honored with Padma Bhushan
Dhoni gets Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri for Gond artist Bhajju Shyam
President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday approved the award of 85 Padma awards. The list of those honoured includes music composer-director Ilaiyaraaja conferred with a Padma Vibhushan and sports icons M.S. Dhoni and Pankaj Advani honoured with Padma Bhushan.
Padma Shri: Awarding unsung heroes
The 73 Padma Shri awards include Malaysian dancer-choreographer Ramli Bin Ibrahim, doctor couple Abhay Bang and Rani Bang and Gond artist Bhajju Shyam.
Keeping its promise of honouring “unsung heroes”, the Padma Shri awards celebrate many who served the poor, set up free schools and popularised tribal arts
The Tribal miracle worker
- Lakshmikutty, a tribal woman from Kerala, who prepares 500 herbal medicines from memory and has helped several people bitten by snakes and insects, is among the awardees
- The only tribal woman from her area to attend school way back in the 1950s, Ms. Lakshmikutty teaches at the Kerala Folklore Academy and lives in a hut in a tribal settlement in a forest.
Arvind Gupta, the scientist toy maker
Arvind Gupta, an IIT Kanpur alumnus who inspired generations of students to learn science from trash, has also been honoured. Mr. Gupta has visited 3,000 schools in four decades, made 6,200 short films on toy-making in 18 languages
India’s first para-Olympic gold medalist
Murlikant Petkar, India’s first para-Olympic gold medalist, who lost his arm in the 1965 Indo-Pak war has also been honoured with a Padma Shri
Gond artist honoured
- Internationally-acclaimed Gond artist Bhajju Shyam has also been honoured with a Padma Shri. Mr. Shyam is famous for depicting Europe in his Gond paintings
- Born in a poor tribal family, he worked as a night watchman and electrician to support family before becoming a professional artist
- His The London Jungle Book sold 30,000 copies and has been published in five foreign languages
Kerala’s medical messiah
Kerala’s medical messiah for the terminally ill, M R Rajagopal, is among the awardees. Rajagopal has specialised in pain relief care for neo natal cases.
Plastic road-maker of India
Tamil Nadu’s Rajagopalan Vasudevan, known as the plastic road-maker of India, developed a patented and innovative method to reuse plastic waste to construct roads, has also been given the Padma Shri
Paul Romer stepped down as the World Bank’s chief economist on Wednesday after he came under fire for saying that Chile’s rankings in a closely watched Doing Business report may have been deliberately skewed under socialist President Michelle Bachelet
Global search for new chief economist
Mr. Jim said the World Bank would launch a global search for a new chief economist.
The annual report has long been controversial because it ranks countries based on indicators that grade them on how their government bureaucracies affect — and often limit — their business environment
- Chile currently ranks 55th out of 190 countries on the list, down from 34 in 2014, the year Bachelet took office
- In recent years, its rankings were 41st in 2015, 48th in 2016 and 57th in 2017, the World Bank’s reports show
Mr. Romer told the newspaper that the decline resulted from methodological changes, rather than a deterioration of Chile’s business environment, and may have been the result of the World Bank staff’s political motivations. He told the newspaper he would revise the reports