The News Editorial Analysis 25th Jan 2022

The News Editorial Analysis 25th Jan 2022

The News Editorial Analysis 25th Jan 2022

India, Israel mark a major milestone

India and Israel started a series of events to celebrate three decades of diplomatic relations, which began in 1992. The Monday event launched the logo for the 30th anniversary featuring the Star of David and the Ashoka Chakra — symbols that appear on the flags of the two countries.The 30th anniversary will be marked with a series of events and high level visits spread across the year. A visit from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was expected in January but it is likely to take place later this year because of the pandemic situation in India.

In conjunction

Individual obligation is meaningful only when rights are guaranteed by the stateThe evolution of a democratic society is centred around the expansion of rights — civil, political, economic and cultural, leading to the empowerment of people. Democratic nations respect individual and group rights for moral and instrumental reasons. Duties, both legal and moral, are cherished in order to reinforce those rights. The obligations of the individual to the collective must be understood in that context; rights and duties complement each other, just as responsibility comes with freedom. Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to suggest a dichotomy between the rights and duties of citizens when he said last week that the country had wasted a lot of time “fighting for rights” and “neglecting one’s duties”. His speech was not the first time that he or other Hindutva protagonists have called for a foregrounding of duties over rights. Service and the sacrifices of nameless and faceless nation-builders have formed the bedrock of the modern Indian Republic, but their sacrifices were indeed for rights, dignity and autonomy. Any notion of rights and duties being adversarial or hierarchical is sophistic. The Indian Constitution enshrines equality and freedom as fundamental rights, along with the right against exploitation, freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights, and the right to constitutional remedies. The deepening of Indian democracy has led to an expansion of rights — education, information, privacy, etc. are now legally guaranteed rights. The state’s fidelity to these rights is tenuous at best. Citizens are generally duty-bound to protect the integrity and the sovereignty of the country, and this is true for India though there is no conscription. Other constitutional duties expected include a duty to promote harmony and brotherhood, and to develop scientific temper, humanism and a spirit of inquiry.Any shift in state policy emphasis from rights to duties will be absurd and a disservice to many for whom the realisation of even fundamental rights is still a work in progress. An enlightened citizenry is critical to progress and good governance. But duty is not something that the citizens owe to the state. The obligation of individual citizens to the collective pursuit of a nation can be meaningful when their rights are guaranteed by the state. The citizen has a right to use a public road, and a duty to obey traffic rules. The right and the duty are meaningful only in conjunction. The Prime Minister’s comments come against this backdrop — formal and informal restrictions on the rights of citizens are on the rise along with coercive powers of the state. The emphasis on duty along with the de-emphasis of rights also raises the spectre of a descent into pre-Republican norms in social relations. The celebration of India as a traditionally duty-driven society carries with it the inescapable connotation of an exploitative division of labour and norms that are antithetical to constitutionalism. Needless to say, that is not progress.

Dealing with the macroeconomic uncertainties

The Union Budget needs to maintain an accommodative fiscal stance to support the sustainability of economic growth Macroeconomic uncertainties are mounting. Against the backdrop of possible interest rate hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve and the taper tantrum, there is pressure on the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to increase its interest rates to prevent capital outflows. The monetary policy corridor is still “accommodative” to support the growth recovery. Globally, central banks have started increasing the interest rates. However, we need to wait for the Monetary Policy Committee meeting in February 2022 to understand the RBI’s decisions regarding policy rates.

Inflationary pressures

Inflationary pressures are also high. In India, the wholesale price index (WPI) inflation rose to a record high of 14.32% in November 2021 as per the data released by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The WPI decreased slightly to 13.56% in December 2021. The consumer price index (CPI) inflation now is 5.03%, though that is still within the comfort zone of the inflation targeting framework envisaged in India’s new monetary framework. The official nominal inflation anchor in India is 4%, with a band of variations of +/- 2. It has been argued that the inflation we are currently experiencing is transitory in nature due to supply chain disruptions and volatile energy and food prices.Absorbing the excess liquidity that was injected to stimulate growth as part of the pandemic response is crucial to reversing trends in non performing assets (NPAs). The RBI Financial Stability Report, published on December 29, 2021, revealed a possible worsening of the gross non performing asset (GNPA) ratio of scheduled commercial banks — from 6.9% in September 2021 to 9.5% by September 2022 — under a “severe stress scenario” estimates.The RBI has not yet formally announced any “normalization” procedure, though absorption of excess liquidity was attempted by increasing the cut-off yield rate of variable rate reverse repo (VRRR) to 3.99%, and curtailing the government securities acquisition programme.

Interest rates structure

The structure of interest rates is also a matter of concern. The call money market rates are below the repo rate. The bond yields are increasing ahead of the Union Budget 2022-23. The cut off yield rate of 10-year benchmark bond is as high as 6.63%. The rise in bond yields will result in higher borrowing costs for the Government.Given these macroeconomic uncertainties, maintaining an accommodative fiscal policy stance in the upcoming Union Budget for FY23 is crucial for a sustainable recovery. The fiscal deficit as a percentage of GDP rose to 9.5% in 2021–22 (revised estimates). The RBI estimates suggest that revenue deficit pre-empted about 70% of the gross fiscal deficit during the period 2018-19 to 2019-20, and increased further to 79% in 2020-21 (revised estimates) and 76% in 2021-22 (Budget estimates).Any attempt at fiscal consolidation at this juncture employing capital expenditure compression rather than a tax buoyancy path can adversely affect economic growth. Public investment — infrastructure investment in particular — is a major growth driver through “crowding-in” of private corporate investment.Omicron is a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is still not over. Public spending on healthby the Union government is still below 1% of GDP, though the estimate has increased from 0.2% of GDP in 2020–21 (revised estimates) to 0.4% of GDP in 2021-22 (Budget estimates). Strengthening investments in the health-care sector is crucial at this juncture as a prolonged lockdown can accentuate the current humanitarian crisis and deepen economic disruptions.Bringing down the fiscal deficit now can be detrimental to economic growth recovery. The plausible “fiscal risks” arising from the mounting public debt and deficits need to be tackled with a medium-term road map of fiscal consolidation, as instantaneous deficit reduction can affect the sustainable growth recovery process.When credit-linked economic stimulus has an uneven impact on growth recovery, the significance of fiscal dominance cannot be undermined. We argue that the upcoming Union Budget for 2022-23 should maintain an accommodative fiscal stance in order to support the sustainability of the economic growth process and also for financing human development, which is crucial in the time of a pandemic.

Address unemployment

Rising unemployment needs to be addressed through an urgent policy response that strengthens job guarantee programmes. The welfare models of the Government in providing food security to poor households and designing gender budgeting in energy infrastructure are also welcome. However, we need to go further to strengthen social sector policies in the time of a pandemic. To deal with these issues and more, maintaining an accommodative fiscal policy stance in the upcoming Union Budget for 2022-23 is crucial.The advance GDP estimates released by the National Statistical Office on January 7, 2022, revealed that India’s GDP growth rate will be 9.2% in FY22. In FY21 it was 7.3%. However, this growth estimate is lower than that published by the RBI in December 2021, which was 9.5%. The growth in nominal GDP is estimated to be 17.6%. These GDP estimates published ahead of the announcement of the Union Budget 2022-23 are significant as they will be used for projections — including those for the fiscal deficit — in the upcoming Budget. How India emerges from the pandemic to meet these estimates will depend largely on an accommodative fiscal policy stance when monetary policy has limitations in triggering the growth recovery.

The devastating impact of school closure

By closing schools for this long and providing just online education, we have violated children’s rightsAbout three weeks ago, we all wished each other a happy 2022. However, that has remained wishful thinking with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 upending our lives. More than Omicron itself, which is more transmissible than Delta but far milder, the response to the variant in terms of the restrictions that have been imposed on us has once again affected our daily lives. Much has been written about the disproportionate response to Omicron. It stands to reason that if restrictions like night curfews and border checks did not restrict an earlier variant, they will not restrict a more transmissible one.

Abandoning reason

But we as a society abandoned reason long ago, when we decided to close schools for about 20 months. The unreasonable response to Omicron has had an impact especially on children. Schools have become an easy target for politicians: closing them gives them the benefit of being seen as “doing something”, even as being caring and sensitive, to “contain COVID-19”. But this is an emotional reaction and not rooted in reason and fact. Even before the second COVID-19 wave, experts across the board advised that schools should be the last to close and first to open. Ignoring all this advice has brought us the ignoble distinction of being among the countries with the longest school closures during the pandemic. Despite the Omicron surge, most other countries have kept schools open, prioritising the well-being of children.The primary (emotional) “reason” being provided for school closure is to “protect children”. Let us pause for a moment and examine this reason with an analogy. Suppose the government told us that children should no longer travel in cars and on motorbikes, as these are dangerous, what would our reaction be? Surely, we would consider it absurd. Now, data show that the risk of COVID-19 for those under 25 years is much lower than the risk from traffic accidents. So, school closures to “protect children” is as absurd as banning children from travelling in cars.

Are schools super-spreaders? We are told that children could carry the virus from school to elders at home. The scientific evidence for schools as COVID-19 hotspots is very weak. Indeed, studies have shown the opposite. For instance, a study in Spain looked at data from over 1 million children of all ages in schools, and found that the R-value (rate of virus spread) is well less than one for all schoolchildren. Furthermore, the R-value is lower for lower ages, as low as 0.2 for pre-primary children. So, the practice of shutting Anganwadis and primary schools, which many States have done, is unscientific. Sweden never closed its schools for children under 16, and there was no extra risk for teachers compared to other professions. But at this point, one does not need careful studies, but only plain common sense. How can schools be super-spreaders when every other place in India is crowded: banks, markets, buses, trains, airports, and even malls and theatres?


Does online education constitute education? Early on in the pandemic, whether children would be affected by COVID-19 may have been an unknown. But it was always known that online education would be a poor replacement for physical classes, and that children, especially in primary and pre-primary classes, can learn as well as socially and emotionally develop only through human interactions with teachers and peers. Yet, by shutting schools, we have experimented with their lives. The results of this experiment are devastating. A detailed survey report from September 2021 shows the extent of the impact. The reading and writing levels of children have declined, with nearly half of them unable to read more than a few words. More than a third of the them were not studying at all.Even going along with the baseless and implicit assurance that learning issues can somehow be made up at some unspecified future date, mental health issues are deeply concerning. Despite a shorter school closure than India, the U.K. has reported alarming increases in mental health issues among kids. Likewise, the American Academy of Pediatrics called the mental health crisis among children a national emergency. In India, aside from mental health issues, there have been other severe consequences of school closure. Malnutrition is a serious problem; by neglecting mid-day meals, we have worsened it. Decades of progress against the severe malice of child labour has been reversed due to extended school closure. As per the 2011 Census, we had an estimated 10.1 million children in child labour. If we had daily updates on malnutrition or child labour cases, we would probably have paid attention to the plight of India’s children and not closed schools this long.

The vaccination argument

Yet another myth in the context of schools is that they are safe only after children are vaccinated against COVID-19. This too defies logic as schools were open in several other countries even before adults were vaccinated. Some medical professionals have argued that COVID-19 vaccines are necessary for children as otherwise children may carry the infection from school back home to adults. Aside from the obvious ethical question of jabbing children for the benefit of adults, such a stance is also quite unscientific, as it is known now that the current COVID-19 vaccines (even boosters) do not prevent infection or transmission. While no one can argue against a vaccine that is shown to be safe and effective after rigorous trials for children, there is no case for linking schools and education to a vaccine still under clinical trial. There can be no question of emergency authorisation of vaccines for children as there has been no COVID-19 emergency for children. This was indeed the position of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. The government nod for vaccinating children in the 15-18 age group defies explanation.Education is a constitutional right. By closing schools for this long and providing a poor substitute with online education, we have violated children’s right. Everyone must now speak up for children. A group of us has started an initiative, ‘Happy 2022, Happy for Kids Too’, which has been endorsed by various epidemiologists, doctors and educationists. We hope that 2022 and the years from now are normal for children in all respects, including a good school life and happy childhood. Children have needlessly suffered for too long, not from COVID-19 which has thankfully spared them, but from irrational and disproportional restrictions and school closures. We urge all concerned citizens to join the Chain-for-Children’s-Cheer at to make this wish come true.

The implications of China’s bridge across Pangong Tso

The new 330-metre-long bridge over the narrowest part of the Pangong Tso in Eastern Ladakh, under construction by China’s People’s Liberation Army, has caused some consternation on our side. Public knowledge about such things is usually poor because the context is unclear; that is why it is important to know what exactly this is all about.The Pangong Tso is a massive high-altitude lake on the East Ladakh plateau at an average height of 15,000 feet. It is 134 kilometres long and has a maximum width of five kilometres. About 50% of the lake supposedly lies in Tibet with 40% in Eastern Ladakh and 10 km is claimed by both India and China. It’s a military obstacle, meaning that operations from one side to the other can only be done by deliberate bridging or by other means of obstacle crossing. It means that when the PLA was transgressing in the Fingers complex on the north bank of the lake, the Indian Army could not physically interfere or conduct operations such as reinforcement or counter-attacks, from the south bank. Any response would mean swinging around the lake on our side and accessing the north bank. A major time penalty would occur, allowing consolidation time if it wishes to do the transgression again. Alternatively we would have to pre-position troops in fair strength, to cater to some contingencies.The above analogy applies equally to the PLA. When the Indian Army decided to occupy the seven unoccupied heights on the Kailash Range on the night of 29–30 August 2020, a couple of things happened. First, the PLA was completely surprised; it did not expect an aggressive act on the part of the Indian Army due to the largely defensive strategy the country has followed vis-a-vis China since 1962. Second, the heights were all on our side of the undemarcated LAC and the occupation gave the Indian Army the distinct operational and tactical advantage of overlooking the Moldo garrison where the headquarters of the PLA exists—a most disadvantageous situation for the Chinese force. Third, the PLA had sufficient troops to deploy in the areas where it had planned to man transgressions along the LAC but insufficient reserves to respond to contingencies; for that it would need to redeploy troops from one sub sector to the other. In other words, on 29–30 August 2020, the PLA was almost exactly in the situation that the Indian Army was when the Fingers complex got transgressed north of Pangong Tso.The PLA was angry as it was caught napping. It made a few noises by bringing some troops from the Moldo area (right opposite our Chushul area) to threaten our positions with improvised weapons of the Galwan variety. By that time, Indian troops were past masters and psychologically prepared for such an eventuality; they stood their ground without further provocation. For a serious response of a tactical variety, the PLA had to get troops from the north bank, travel almost 12 hours for the 180 kilometres and swing around the lake to get to the south bank where Moldo exists. It was too late; the Indian Army had already consolidated on the Kailash Range heights and only a deliberate counter-attack (an act amounting to war) could evict it from that position of advantage.Probably seeing red and seething under the pressure from higher headquarters, the PLA has decided to build a bridge across the Pangong Tso at a location where the lake is the narrowest, 17 kilometres from the LAC. The obvious advantage of the bridge is that it will cut the distance from Khurnak in the north to Rudok in the south, obviate a full swing around the lake and reduce the time for response to about two to three hours. The Chinese are constructing this using prefabricated concrete blocks and the classification appears to be good enough to sustain crossing by tanks. The road infrastructure in the Rudok area leading to the Moldo garrison is also being improved to cut response time.

Does the above mean that India has forever lost the capability to reoccupy the Kailash Range heights, which it withdrew from after the mutual disengagement in February 2021? The answer is a clear no and that is because the PLA yet does not have troops available to respond immediately should the Indian Army use stealth for occupation. The response time for the PLA has been cut down but it does not necessarily mean that it will respond with counter-attacks or other means of eviction. Any counter-actions by the PLA will mean an immediate progression from ‘No War No Peace’ to simply ‘Hot War’, but more troops would need to be inducted into the theatre for that. It is not certain the PLA actually wants such a situation with all that is happening around its vast borders and Xi Jinping wishing to approach the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party from a position of perception of invincibility of the PLA and the nation.A bridge can change a lot no doubt and in this case, the span near Khurnak is definitely strategic in nature. Yet there is another way of perceiving the PLA’s action and response as related to the construction of the bridge. In its wildest dreams, the PLA may never have imagined that an offensive quid pro quo action would be undertaken by the Indian Army right under its nose—one that would threaten even the headquarters of the PLA in Eastern Ladakh. It had earlier relegated the security of this area to border guards but ratcheted it up by bringing PLA units to friction points. All these years, it was willing to accept the 10–12 hour time span for moving from north to south Pangong Tso. Now it finds it too dangerous to risk; that is because the Indians have become unpredictable and offensive too. In other words, much against what is being written about the offensive nature of the Pangong Tso bridge, it actually amounts to a defensive action by the PLA as a result of the new threat that the Indian Army poses. China undertook ‘initiated friction’ as a strategy to coerce India when it commenced its actions in Ladakh in 2020. The Pangong Tso bridge reflects the Chinese intent towards being far more circumspect in the future if it really wishes to militarily coerce India.

Tripura plea on probe is ‘whataboutery’: Bhushan

It is totally unbecoming of a State government: advocateAdvocate Prashant Bhushan told the Supreme Court on Monday that it was “totally unbecoming” of the Tripura government to indulge in “whataboutery” by asking why the same petitioners seeking an independent probe on violence in the State were silent about violence of a larger scale in West Bengal.“I just have to say this… what the State government said amounts to whataboutery. It does not show the State government in a good light. Whataboutery is totally unbecoming of a State government,” Mr. Bhushan addressed a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.The Tripura government, in its reply to the Supreme Court, had criticised the “selective outrage” of “public spirited” citizens behind the petition represented by Mr. Bhushan. The Tripura government had urged the apex court to dismiss the petition filed by advocate Ehtesham Hashmi, saying the court was being used for an oblique purpose in the name of public interest.Tripura argued that the petitioners did not move a few months back when communal violence hit West Bengal, and suddenly their public sprit was aroused due to some instances in a small State like Tripura. “It is pointed out that such a selective outrage of the petitioner is not presented before this court as a defence but to satisfy this court that under the garb of public interest, the august forum of this court is used for apparently oblique purposes,” an affidavit filed by the State government had said.“It is not a question of one petition or the other but the majesty and sanctity of the proceedings before the highest court of the country. No individual or group of individuals professionally functioning as public spirited persons/groups can selectively invoke the extraordinary jurisdiction of the court to achieve some apparent but undisclosed motive,” the affidavit has stated.Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was not present in the hearing. The court scheduled the case for Monday next week.

Rural India: An explorer’s paradise, a seeker’s trove

The News Editorial Analysis 25th Jan 2022

Since time immemorial, India has been known as a land of seekers and explorers. Travelling has been more than just a means to unburden oneself, it is a path to wisdom and self-discovery. Our ancient scriptures are full of pearls of wisdom reiterating the importance of travel. The heroes in our ancient epics—Lord Rama, and Arjuna—when exiled, embarked on journeys to previously uncharted territories to observe, learn, assimilate and grow as individuals in the process.This year, we are celebrating National Tourism Day with a focus on rural tourism, local communities and sustainable living. For millennia, India has drawn from the age-old wisdom of her saints and philosophers, and has harmoniously cohabited with nature. Today, the world calls this sustainable living. Keeping the spirit alive and inspiring the world are villages like Dhaj in Gujarat, India’s first eco-village, or God’s Own Garden in Mawlynnong, Meghalaya, which has earned fame as Asia’s cleanest village. The recent declaration of Pochampally village in Telangana by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation as one of the ‘Best Tourism Villages’ stands testimony to the scope of rural tourism in India.Several efforts are underway to further build on this potential and open our rural areas to limitless opportunities. For the first time, India has released a Draft Rural Tourism Strategy, which is giving shape to our efforts. The strategy would not only pave the way for economic development of our villages but also provide fresh energy to our arts and heritage. Through a holistic and sustainable rural tourism strategy, we have the opportunity to fuse Indian hospitality with breathtaking scenery, a symbiotic relationship with nature, and a rich arts, crafts and cultural heritage that our villages can offer.Some of these riches that rural areas have to offer are inhabited by the most marginalised such as tribal and forest-dwelling communities. The strategy therefore aims to couple experiential living and activities in a sensitive manner, keeping the dignity of these communities at the centre. Our aim is to empower these communities economically by skilling them and integrating them into the tourism supply chain so that they can run their own eco home stays, operate logistics services, and act as guides, tour operators, etc. This is the prime minister’s vision: of looking at tourism as a medium that can deliver welfare and prosperity to local communities that directly benefit from the jobs and development opportunities that it offers.

Over the last seven years, several schemes have been implemented to improve tourism services, infrastructure, capacity and skill. Under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme 1.0, projects worth `5,588.44 crore have been implemented, paving the way for a strong tourism ecosystem in the nation. Several rural tourism projects across multiple themes such as Eco Circuit, Himalayan Circuit, Desert Circuit, Tribal Circuit and Wildlife Circuit are helping build robust tourism infrastructure in and around our rural areas. The next version of Swadesh Darshan Scheme will further build on this to give a fillip to eco-tourism projects.However, to completely unlock this potential, there is a need for collective action from the Central and state governments and private stakeholders along with the local communities. We are providing an enabling environment for entrepreneurs and thought leaders from within the host communities to curate their villages as exemplary rural tourism hubs. The enthusiasm from the private sector to come forth and establish innovative projects, set up eco-friendly hotels in rural pockets, build capacities of rural artisans, and lend their expertise to local communities shows that there is a clear demand for such experiences.Today, the world tourism community stands at the cusp of change. Where on one hand the pandemic has pushed the community to rethink travel and alleviate the economic stress, on the other hand, climate change is forcing us to turn towards sustainability. Moving beyond just sustainability, the fraternity is abuzz with concepts such as transformational, positive impact and regenerative tourism. We are witnessing a paradigm shift from an industrial model to a more interdependent, community-oriented and mutually beneficial ecosystem. At this juncture, India has an edge over the world because of our rich cultural heritage and traditional knowledge thriving in our hinterlands. We are now ready to unleash this potential and enlighten our younger generation to the treasure that we hold and also the world at large looking for destinations off the beaten track.In his Independence Day speech of 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted all Indians to visit at least 15 locations by 2022. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this was not possible. However, with more than 160 crore vaccination doses administered, a strengthening of medical infrastructure and a recession of the Omicron variant, there could be an opportunity for travel to resume in 2022 itself. A journey to the rural hinterland to explore the magnificent offerings of our villages could be a worthy resumption to travel. Prospective travellers looking forward to explore this incredible rural India could be well served using this verse from the Aitareya Brahmana of the Rigveda for inspiration: “The feet of the wanderer are like the flower, his soul is growing and reaping the fruit; and all his sins are destroyed by his fatigues in wandering. Therefore, wander!


The News Editorial Analysis 24th Jan 2022


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