The News Editorial Analysis 23 September 2021

The importance of Quad meeting amidst current geopolitical flux.

Rajiv Bhatia writes: Grouping has to fulfil past commitments. Onus is on US to prove that Afghan experience has strengthened its resolve to defend its interests in the Indo-Pacific.

Two meetings of the leaders of a plurilateral grouping within seven months is an exceptional development in world affairs, especially when it involves the US and its three Quad partners — Australia, Japan and India. Why the leaders are meeting again on September 24 and what they hope to achieve are matters of mounting public interest. This first in-person summit is especially significant — set against the backdrop of the Indo-Pacific region grappling with the repercussions of Afghanistan, the growing aggressiveness of China and the formation of AUKUS, a brand-new trilateral security partnership. The leaders’ summit of the Quadrilateral Framework will be hosted by US President Joseph Biden in Washington. It may be of greater substance than the inaugural virtual summit of March 12, because the context of the two summits is significantly different. In March, the Biden administration had just begun its innings; it was struggling to define its China and Indo-Pacific policies, and expectations from the Quad were low. A substantive joint statement, reinforced by a smart op-ed by the four leaders in The Washington Post, drew global attention. Now, three weeks after the chaotic and mismanaged withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, that country’s future and regional security issues are bound to dominate the discussions. The onus is on the US to convince its partners that the Afghan experience has strengthened, not weakened, its resolve to defend its — and their — interests in the Indo-Pacific.The AUKUS — the Australia-UK-US partnership — too will need some serious explaining, particularly to Japan and India, which worry about the emergence of an inner circle (US and Australia) within the Quad, which is now connected to the UK, a non-Quad partner. There are even reports that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may be visiting Washington around the time of the Quad summit.

Indian experts are divided over the impact of AUKUS on the Quad. Some argue that it reduces the Quad’s salience, while others maintain that the Quad is strengthened by the new trilateral. However, a sober evaluation suggests that AUKUS will have both positive and negative implications for the Quad; these will become evident after the forthcoming summit. Another consequential development is the September 16 release of the European Union’s Indo-Pacific strategy. A shorter version presented in April has now been given a comprehensive form. It paints the EU and the Indo-Pacific as deeply connected in diverse realms ranging from trade and investment to security and defense. The EU’s determination to scale up and diversify cooperation with democratic and like-minded nations could be a boost to the Quad, provided the Europeans are ready to stand up to China’s assertive behavior, violations of international law and norms and increasing use of coercion.

Furore over Golwalkar and Savarkar texts reveals our failure to understand purpose of syllabus and pedagogy.

Apoorvanand writes: A syllabus is not a set of propaganda material. When we include readings of different kinds, we expect them to be read and examined critically from all angles.

Kannur University has reportedly decided to drop the writings of V D Savarkar and M S Golwalkar from its master of arts course on Governance and Politics. The university had included portions from Golwalkar’s books, including Bunch of Thoughts, and Savarkar’s Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? in the syllabus of PG Governance and Politics. This course is taught only in Brennen College, under Kannur University, so the syllabus was prepared by the faculty of the Brennan College, which is how it should be.

After opposition by the student wing of the Congress and the IUML, the CPM’s student wing SFI, which was earlier silent on the issue, found the readings unacceptable. The student outfits of the opposition parties agitated, alleging that the university was saffronising the syllabus by including these two ideologues of Hindutva.

The state government led by the CPM sought an explanation from the university. Vice-Chancellor Gopinath Ravindran rejected the charges, saying: “The saffronisation allegation is completely baseless. If you raise such allegations against Kannur University, you can raise similar charges against Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi also. V D Savarkar is included in the syllabus of JNU also.”

CRPF report flags leadership issues in Chhattisgarh operations. They need to be addressed for security of jawans and civilians.

While a more involved leadership on the ground may not be sufficient to deal with both operational and intelligence failures that have led to the deaths of jawans as well as the killing of civilians, it is certainly a necessary first step.

The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has an unenviable task in Chhattisgarh and other areas affected by Left Wing Extremists (LWEs). It performs a host of functions, from policing and security duties, to conducting counter-insurgency operations — the latter against an adversary that consists of Indian citizens, often deeply connected to local geography, ecology and with an intimate knowledge of the terrain. Given these persistent challenges, it is disturbing that a CRPF review of the forces based in Chhattisgarh by senior officials has found a significant dip in the quality of operations in the Maoist-violence affected state over the last two years.

As reported by this newspaper, a report based on the review has been sent to Sukma, Konta, Bijapur, Dantewada, Jagdalpur, and Raipur and lays much of the blame for the decline on the fact that the involvement of senior officers at the level of commandant and second-in-command has considerably decreased. It is not difficult to see what a lack of hands-on leadership can lead to — for instance, the report found that there have been slip-ups in setting up tactical resting sites during operations. This, of course, leaves troops open to ambushes, which have led to considerable casualties over the years. Most recently, the Sukma-Bijapur ambush led to the death of 22 security personnel. With over a thousand security personnel killed in the state since 2011, the paramilitary forces can ill-afford a decline in operational leadership. The question of training and leadership in the CRPF also has a grave impact on the communities where they function: Recently, the Justice V K Agarwal report concluded that the eight people, including four minors, killed by the CRPF’s elite CoBRA unit in Edesmetta in 2013 were civilians, and not Maoists as the force had claimed. In 2019, a single-judge commission concluded that the CRPF had killed 17 people, firing unilaterally in Bijapur. In both cases, the incidents were apparent “mistakes”, stemming from a failure of jawans to tell civilians and extremists apart.

While a more involved leadership on the ground may not be sufficient to deal with both operational and intelligence failures that have led to the deaths of jawans as well as the killing of civilians, it is certainly a necessary first step. The CRPF needs a leadership that is more empathetic to its personnel and equal to the harsh circumstances they face. Equally, paramilitary forces must be sensitised to the plight of people in states like Chhattisgarh, who face the brunt of poverty, a security state and Maoist violence.

India must shed obsession with ‘marginal farmers’. Their future lies outside farms — in dairy, poultry, food retail.

Farming is best left to those who can do it well. Better fewer, but better.

An average so-called agricultural household earned a total monthly income of Rs 10,218 during 2018-19 (July-June), of which net receipts from crop production (Rs 3,798) and farming of animals (Rs 1,582) together contributed hardly 53 per cent. The single-largest income source was actually wages/salary, at Rs 4,063. The average farmer, in other words, was more a wage labourer than a seller of produce from his/her land. Out of the country’s estimated 93.09 million agricultural households, over 70 per cent possessed less than one hectare land. It shouldn’t surprise, then, that wages generate up to 60 per cent of their incomes. But the share of agriculture — crop production plus animal husbandry — to total income was higher (about 62 per cent) for households with 1-2 hectares land, rising further to 73, 82 and 91 per cent for those having 2-4, 4-10 and above 10 hectares, respectively.

Simply put, if one considers as farmers only those deriving at least 60 per cent of their overall income from cultivation and rearing of animals, India wouldn’t have even 30 million such homes, going by the National Statistical Office’s Situation Assessment of Agricultural Households report. The 30 million are the ones also possessing one hectare or more land, which is clearly the minimum holding required for agriculture per se to generate a major share of any family’s income. It also means that “agriculture policy” should primarily target these 30 million households. Farm incomes can, realistically speaking, be doubled or tripled only for those truly dependent on agriculture and having enough land to productively deploy labour and capital resources. They must be enabled to do so, through improved access to markets, water, electricity, credit and other productivity-enhancing inputs. The whole focus should be to lower their production costs by raising yields, while simultaneously ensuring higher input use efficiency and minimal environmental footprint.

The question that naturally arises is where does this leave the remaining 60-65 million households — those having less than one-hectare land and “agricultural” only in name? The answer is simple: Their future lies outside the farms. Outside doesn’t necessarily have to be in large industrial centres or cities. It can even be in aggregation, grading, packaging, transport, processing, warehousing and retailing of produce. These activities — plus supply of inputs and services to farms — can generate far many more jobs than in the fields themselves. The government should stop obsessing over “marginal farmers”. The limited land with them can, if at all, be put to better use for dairy, poultry, piggery etc. rather than in regular crop agriculture. Farming is best left to those who can do it well. Better fewer, but better.

Judiciary must re-examine how it has viewed citizenship question in Assam.

Aman Wadud writes: Citizenship is an important right; in fact, the most important right because it is the right to have other rights. But that’s not how the pillars of Indian democracy have treated citizenship.

Earlier this month, a division bench of the Gauhati High Court stated in an order: “… citizenship, being an important right of a person, ordinarily, should be decided based on merit by considering the material evidences that may be adduced by the person concerned and not by way of default as happened in the present case.” The court was hearing the case of Asor Uddin, who was declared to be a “foreigner” by a Foreigners Tribunal through an ex parte order — in absentia. Ordinarily, this should not be big news — citizenship is indeed an important right, in fact, the most important right because it is the right to have other rights. But that’s not how the pillars of Indian democracy have treated citizenship. In Assam, any person, including decorated army officers, can be accused of being a “non-citizen”. Hence, this observation feels like a breath of fresh air.

The Ministry of Home Affairs revealed in Parliament that from 1985 to February 28, 2019, 63,959 people have been declared “foreigners” through ex parte orders by the Foreigners Tribunal in Assam — 62 per cent of the total people declared as “foreigners” in the state.

In a criminal case, however serious the charges might be, the trial doesn’t proceed without hearing the accused. But a person can be stripped of his citizenship in absentia — courtesy, the draconian pre-constitutional Foreigners Act of 1946. If a person sent notice by the tribunal fails to appear before it to prove their citizenship, he is declared a “foreigner’ through an ex parte order. The failure to appear could be driven by several factors — most commonly not receiving the notice, failure to afford legal representation and late issuance of a copy of documents by the executive.

The Foreigners Act’s roots lie in the Foreigners Ordinance, which was promulgated in 1939 to meet the emergency created by the Second World War. The Foreigners Act, 1940, replaced the ordinance — this was wartime legislation. Section 7 of the 1940 Act vested the burden of proof upon the foreigner. The Foreigners Act, 1946, repealed the 1940 Act. The burden of proof remained the same. Thus, a legislation which took birth during the Second World War is now being applied to vulnerable citizens — mostly poor farmers, daily wagers, destitute women, and widows. Moinal Mollah and Jabbar Ali were also declared “foreigners” through ex parte orders. Mollah spent almost three years in detention before getting released, he is now an Indian citizen. Jabbar died in detention as a “foreigner”.

The Foreigners Act was never meant to deal with persons who are considered citizens at one point in time. Section 2(a) of the 1946 Act defines “foreigner” as a person who is not a citizen of India. But almost every person tried by the foreigners’ tribunals in Assam was an Indian citizen, before being accused of being an “illegal migrant” and “doubtful voter or D-voter” by the Assam Border Police and the Election Commission respectively. Both these exercises violate the fundamental right to a fair investigation.

The “burden of proof” has been validated by the Supreme Court in the Sarbananda Sonowal case. Sonowal challenged the Illegal Migration (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983, (henceforth IMDT), before the SC. IMDT emphasised procedural fairness, it had an appellate platform to ensure a fair trial, unlike the Foreigners Act, and the burden of proof was on the state. But the apex court found these procedures “extremely difficult, cumbersome and time-consuming” and held IMDT unconstitutional.

There is no end to where subsequent events proved Sonowal wrong. K K Venugopal argued for the state of Assam in favour of IMDT stating that as mandated in Article 21, no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law and that there has to be a fair procedure for expulsion of foreigners. The Bench rejected this argument by stating that, “This principle can have no application here for the obvious reason that in the matter of identification o a foreigner and his deportation, he is not being deprived of his life or personal liberty.” This is despite the fact that the Foreigners Act has provisions for detention and restriction of movements. Assam started detaining “declared foreigners” since 2010 to deport to the “country of origin” but the failure to deport created a situation of indefinite detention.

The SC on multiple occasions in the Sonowal judgment has stated that there are “millions of illegal Bangladeshi nationals in Assam”. The court came to this conclusion largely based on a 1998 report by former Assam Governor S K Sinha. The report was not based on any scientific and empirical data, but was apparently prepared after inspection of border areas and districts, discussion with the Indian Ambassador in Bangladesh, and talks with political leaders — yes, political leaders. The judgment extensively quotes from the report, including the prediction that the demand for a merger of the Muslim-dominated districts of Assam with Bangladesh is just a matter of time — after 23 years of the Sinha report, that time is yet to come.A search in the legal database Manupatra shows that the Sonowal judgment has been quoted 212 times by high courts across the country and seven times by the Supreme Court: Sonowal has become the jurisprudence of citizenship. If citizenship is an important right, as rightly stated by the Gauhati High Court, the Sonowal judgment should cease to be the touchstone to adjudicate citizenship cases.

Ease of doing business at risk if issue of appointments to tribunals is not resolved.

Chitranshul Sinha write: Only by shoring up the insolvency mechanism and tackling huge pendency of cases can confidence of creditors be restored.

While hearing a challenge to the Tribunal Reforms Act, 2021, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the government of India. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana observed that National Company Law Tribunals (NCLT), and the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) are hamstrung by vacancies not being filled on time.

Where are the high productivity, better quality jobs in India?

Rising unemployment is yet to receive the attention it deserves from government.

India’s unemployment rate in August was 8.3 per cent. This was higher than the 7 per cent recorded in July. But it was better than the 9.2 per cent of June and 11.8 per cent of May 2021. The month-to-month variations notwithstanding, these are all very high unemployment rates.

Partnership with US could help India meet renewable energy targets.

However, the threat of being asked to assume more climate responsibility looms. India shouldn’t take on more commitments that could end up undercutting its legitimate developmental goals.

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry’s India visit reaffirms the changing direction in climate engagements between the two countries after Joe Biden assumed office. The urge to push countries to upscale their global warming mitigation targets has informed much of the Biden administration’s climate diplomacy. But contrary to the fears of some experts, the paradigm shift hasn’t yet translated into increasing pressure on India to add to its Paris Pact commitments. Kerry’s offer of US assistance to help India meet its renewable energy-related targets is a significant step towards defining the contours of this partnership. The Climate Action and Finance Mobilisation Dialogue (CAFMD) launched by the US Special Envoy and Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav, on Monday, will be the vehicle for this collaboration.

The Partnership to Advance Clean Energy inked by the Barack Obama Administration and the UPA government in 2009 mobilised more than Rs 18,000 crore for clean energy initiatives in India. In 2018, the two countries had launched an energy partnership that emphasised renewables and sustainable growth. But CAFMD departs from these initiatives in its link with timebound climate-related goals. The US will give financial and technological assistance to India to achieve its target of deploying 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030. The US Special Envoy has, in the past, indicated his country’s inclination to mobilise a consortium of international investors to fund India’s ambitious renewable energy transition. The outlook on such collaboration brightened a day after CAFMD’s launch with the introduction of the “Prioritising Clean Energy and Climate Cooperation With India Act of 2021” in the US Senate. The legislation seeks to bolster Indo-US clean energy partnership by institutionalising research collaborations between universities in the two countries and promoting intellectual property sharing between Indian and American entrepreneurs.

The US overtures also signal India’s growing heft in climate diplomacy. There is, of course, the realisation that global warming mitigation goals will be impossible to attain without the world’s third-largest emitter on board. But India’s climate standing has also moved steadily northwards since the Paris Pact. As a leader of the International Solar Alliance, Delhi has shown that it can punch above its weight in global climate parleys. However, the threat of being asked to assume more climate responsibility looms. India shouldn’t take on more commitments that could end up undercutting its legitimate developmental goals.

How soon can GDP reach pre-Covid  level?

Aditi Nayar writes: It is unlikely to do so in the coming quarter, although the uptick in vaccinations could impart a positive momentum to the economy.

The distorted base of last year’s restrictive nationwide lockdown has expectedly obscured the challenges wrought by the second wave of Covid-19 in India in the first quarter of the current financial year. India’s real GDP has expanded by a record-high 20.1 per cent (year-on-year) in the first quarter on the low base. However, a more appropriate assessment of the real recovery can be achieved by looking through a pre-Covid lens — that is, comparing the first quarter of 2021-22 with the first quarter of 2019-20.


The News Editorial Analysis 22 September 2021


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