The News Editorial Analysis 16th Dec 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 16th Dec 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 16th Dec 2021

₹76,000 crore push for semiconductor makers

“The India Semiconductor Mission will be led by global experts in semiconductor and display industry. It will act as the nodal agency for efficient and smooth implementation of the schemes on semiconductors and display ecosystem,” it added.

Trusted sources of semiconductors and displays had strategic importance in the current geopolitical scenario and were “key to the security of critical information infrastructure”, the government said.

“The approved programme will propel innovation and build domestic capacities to ensure the digital sovereignty of India. It will also create highly skilled employment opportunities to harness the demographic dividend of the country,” it added.

Announcing the scheme at a press briefing, Electronics and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said electronics manufacturing in the country had increased to $75 billion over the past seven years and was expected to reach $300 billion in the next six years. The “chips to start-ups” programme would develop 85,000 well-trained engineers, he said.

Semiconductor designers would be given the opportunity to begin start-ups. The government would bear 50% of the expense under the design-linked incentive scheme. The entire programme would lead to 35,000 high-quality direct jobs and indirect employment for 1 lakh persons.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said the scheme was expected to attract investment of ₹1.67 lakh crore and lead to production worth ₹9.5 lakh crore.

Mixed signals

Pandemic imperatives require diversification of supplies but protectionism is no answer

At a time that India is looking to impress upon the world that it is strongly positioned as well as willing and able to become a more reliable supply chain partner for them than China has been proven in recent times, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s remarks on Tuesday about globalisation are worth taking note of. The pandemic experience creates a case for ‘shorter’ supply chains with more ‘national’ capacities, he said, before chiding globalisation ‘Gurus’ for advocating open markets without acknowledging geopolitical motivations. That he cited the example of India’s health-care supply chain vulnerabilities being exposed after the onset of COVID-19 makes it clear his broader message was aimed at China on whom India relied too much for critical pharma and health-care imports, and continues to run up large trade deficits with. Tapping the receding global sentiment for China, and the dangers about depending on limited, even if hugely efficient, supply chains, is a sensible ploy gaining resonance. Earlier this month, Australia’s Special Envoy to India Tony Abbott accused China of ‘weaponising trade’, losing its credibility and blocking trade flows. That Mr. Abbott, a former Australian Prime Minister, who had himself signed a free trade pact with China, is now pushing hard for a trade deal with India as an ‘obvious trustworthy substitute’ for global supply chains, is an admirable endorsement of official tact.

However, Mr. Jaishankar also went on to term the idea that ‘other people can … operate in your economy on terms which are advantageous to them’ as ‘ridiculous’ and argued that there was no need to be defensive about ‘protectionism’. Perhaps, he was addressing the reiterated discontent about some of India’s broader market access reluctance, based on recent supply chain shocks in sectors ranging from semiconductors to commodities. But this broad-brush messaging against globalisation is troublesome, particularly when other Cabinet members are taking pains to convey to investors and potential FTA partners that the Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign is not a protectionist platform. Such mixed signalling may also unnerve negotiating counterparts and stakeholders for similar deals with the UAE, Canada, the EU and those involved in the revived India-U.S. Trade dialogue. There is no denying that the world is yet to get a fair global trade order through the WTO, or the immediate pandemic imperatives require diversification of supplies and scaling up of domestic capacities to build some resilience. But protectionism is not the answer as India itself will argue with countries where it seeks market access; and globalisation per se cannot be pooh-poohed even as India continues to gain from it through rising exports. Just because of the pandemic, the world will not become less interdependent as it is simply not possible for everyone to make everything. As former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said, citing China and Singapore’s examples: ‘… a nation that shuts its door to the world is bound to fall behind.’ India would be well-served if the focus is on grabbing the opportunities the world is throwing up, while holding back lamentations for private conversations.

A false conflation between duties and rights

Allowing the language of fundamental duties to subsume political debates would hit the moral principles of the republic

Should our rights coalesce with our duties? In recent times, it has been something of a constant refrain of the governing class to advocate an integration of duty with right. By duty here they do not mean the concomitant obligations that spring out of constitutional promises, but a set of ideals that were written into the Constitution during the acme of the Indira Gandhi-imposed Emergency. In their belief, these otherwise non-binding obligations — the “fundamental duties” as Article 51A describes them — ought to be treated on a par with, if not superior to, the various fundamental rights that the Constitution guarantees. In an inversion of the well-known dictum, they see duties, and not rights, as trumps.

Voices and opinion

On Constitution Day last month, many Union Ministers used the occasion to underline this proposal. The Minister of Law and Justice, Kiren Rijiju, claimed that our country can be made great only “if we create a balance between fundamental duties and fundamental rights.” The Minister for Culture, G. Kishan Reddy, took this thought further still. “Today, on Constitution Day, it is important that we emphasise our fundamental duties for the growth and progress of our country,” he wrote in the Hindustan Times. “If deeper roots have to be established in a diverse and democratic country such as India, citizens will have to converge their inalienable fundamental rights with their fundamental duties.” What is more, the link between fundamental rights and duties, according to him, was not merely a constitutional debate but a “civilisation discussion” — whatever that might mean.

To be sure, it is a basic proposition that all rights come with duties. But those duties are quite distinct from the meaning ascribed to them in the popular discourse. When a person holds a right, she is owed an obligation by a duty-bearer. For example, when citizens are promised a right against discrimination, the government is obliged to ensure that it treats everybody with equal care and concern. Similarly, the guarantee of a right to freedom of speech enjoins the state to refrain from interfering with that liberty.

It is only in this sense that rights and duties go together. But the government’s position proposes something rather more ominous. It puts forward an idea that our rights ought to be made conditional on the performance of a set of extraneous obligations. This suggestion is plainly in the teeth of the Constitution’s text, language, and history.

Rights, limitations

The Constituent Assembly was clear in its belief that the Constitution’s emphasis must always rest on individual dignity. That is, the Constitution’s chief purpose must be to preserve and guarantee basic human rights, to equality, to autonomy, and to liberty, among others. To the framers, the very idea of deliberating over whether these rights ought to be provisional, and on whether these rights ought to be made subject to the performance of some alien duty, was repugnant to the republic’s vision.

But the importance placed on every person’s ethical independence did not mean that rights were seen as absolute warrants. After all, Part III of the Constitution, in which our fundamental rights are nestled, contains within it a set of limitations. However, none of those restrictions places a burden on citizens to perform duties as a condition for the enforcement of rights.

The Constitution’s framers saw the placing of mandates on individual responsibilities as nothing more than a legislative prerogative. Any such imposition would have to conform to the language of fundamental rights, but Parliament was otherwise free to dictate personal behaviour. For example, the legislature could impose a duty on individuals to pay a tax on their income, and this duty could be enforced in a variety of ways. If the tax imposed and the sanctions prescribed were reasonable, the obligations placed on the citizen will be constitutionally valid.

Many duties

In this manner, Parliament and the State legislatures have imposed a plethora of duties — duties to care for the elderly and for children; duties to pay tolls and levies; duties against causing harm to others; duties to treat the environment with care, the list is endless. What is critical, though, is that these laws cannot make a person’s fundamental right contingent on the performance of a duty that they impose. A legislation that does so will violate the Constitution.

Now, no sensible person is arguing that duties of this kind are unimportant. To sustain our society, to live peacefully together, we must take seriously our civic responsibilities. But any talk aimed at making these obligations central, and at melding our rights with duties, is aimed only at undermining the Constitution. That this is so is clear from the history of fundamental duties in India.

In its original form, the Constitution did not enlist any obligations that an individual was bound to follow. The fundamental duties that are now contained in Article 51A were introduced through the infamous 42nd constitutional amendment. The Swaran Singh Committee, which was set up during the Emergency, and which recommended the insertion of the clause, also suggested that a failure to comply with a duty ought to result in punishment. Ultimately, the amendment was introduced after the binding nature of the clause was removed, but its intention was clearly expressed in the then Law Minister H.R. Gokhale’s assertions that the provision would have “a sobering effect” on the “anti-national” and “subversive” sections of society.

In its finally adopted form, Article 51A encouraged citizens to perform several duties: among others, to cherish and follow the noble ideals that inspired the national struggle for freedom; to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India; to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so; to protect and improve the natural environment; and to safeguard public property.

When the Emergency came to pass, these directives were largely seen in innocuous terms — for one, they were considered too vague to make any meaningful difference. But today, when our popular discourse veers towards a need to place an emphasis on duty over right, the Constitution’s basic ethos once again comes under threat. What these demands overlook is that the social revolution that the Constitution was meant to herald was underpinned by a belief that it is only a guarantee of rights — unimpeded by duty — that could help usher India into a free and egalitarian future.

Questions to ask

This is not to suggest that human rights are by themselves sufficient. The philosopher Onora O’Neill has argued with some force that we would do well to discuss the precise nature of duties that rights create. Unless we do so, our charters of human rights may not by themselves be enough.

For example, we may want to ask ourselves if the promise of a right to free expression imposes on the state something more than a duty to forebear from making an unwarranted restriction on that liberty. Does it require the state to also work towards creating an equal society where each person finds herself in a position to express herself freely? Similarly, does the right to life include within it a positive obligation on the state to provide shelter, livelihood, and health care?

When we speak about the importance of obligations, it is these questions that must animate our discussions. Should we instead allow the language of fundamental duties — as contained in Article 51A — to subsume our political debates, we would only be placing in jeopardy the moral principles at the heart of India’s republic.

Suhrith Parthasarathy is an advocate practising at the Madras High Court

A thorn in Pakistan-Bangladesh relations

The News Editorial Analysis 16th Dec 2021

Five decades after Bangladesh’s victory in 1971, an apology from Islamabad for events of the period is overdue

December 16, “Bijoy Dibosh”, is celebrated in Bangladesh as the day marking the country’s formal victory over Pakistan after then chief of the Armed Forces of Pakistan, General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, surrendered with 93,000 forces to joint forces led by the Bangladeshi freedom fighters, popularly known as “Mukti Bahini” and the Indian armed forces. The systemic ignorance towards and disrespect of the civil and political rights of then East Pakistan’s Bengali population by their counterparts in West Pakistan sparked mass protests in March 1971 which ultimately ended in a brutal conflict. Over three million Bangladeshis lost their lives and thousands of women were subjected to assault. As Bangladesh commemorates 50 years of its historic victory, it is worth revisiting exactly why Pakistan’s leadership has remained hesitant so far to offer a formal apology to those aggrieved and what this means for the future of Bangladesh-Pakistan relations.

Broken pledges

The humiliating nature of the defeat left strong feelings within Pakistan’s military establishment, reflected in the increase in the country’s defence budget — from $635 million to over $1 billion by the end of the 1970s. Despite then Pakistan leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto being fully aware of the scale of atrocities committed, according to the Hamoodur Rahman (former Chief Justice of Pakistan) Commission Report from July 1972, Pakistan put forth a carefully crafted “forgive and forget” narrative during the tripartite agreement in 1974. This was the first instance when Islamabad came close to acknowledging excesses committed by “some” of its armed forces and promised to hold them accountable at war crime tribunals that led to Bangladesh handing over hundreds of Prisoners of War as a reconciliatory measure. Five decades later, however, none has been brought to book.

During the state visit of former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to Bangladesh in 2002, he expressed regret for the death en masse in 1971 while visiting a national war memorial but fell short of the formal apology that Bangladesh has been seeking. Despite acknowledging a susceptibility to official state propaganda that branded Bengali demonstrators of the 1970s as “terrorists, militants, insurgents, or Indian-backed fighters” in his autobiography from 2011, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has toed the official state narrative on the issue.

Pakistan has attempted to gesticulate its intent to strengthen diplomatic relations and economic ties with Bangladesh in recent years without necessarily making the concerted efforts needed for reconciliation. Largely perceived to be under control of the armed forces, Pakistan’s official position and narrative on the events of 1971 are a fair distance from case studies elsewhere. Particularly after Pakistan’s Foreign Office dismissed Bangladesh’s fresh demands in 2009 for an apology for the atrocities committed in 1971.

Unwise moves

Opposed to Bangladesh’s independence, the Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing, Islami Chatro Shangha, along with splinter groups such as the Razakar, al-Badr, and al-Shams were among the local outfits that aided Pakistan’s armed forces. After coming to power in 2009, the current Bangladesh government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has prosecuted and in some cases executed senior leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami which did not go very well with their counterparts in Pakistan’s political establishment. In particular, the resolution by Pakistan Parliament led by MP Sher Akbar Khan in 2016 protesting hangings of war criminals of 1971 drew sharp reaction and protest from Bangladesh. In 2015, the University of Dhaka cut off ties with the Pakistani establishment in protest against the cold-blooded assassination of numerous prominent intellectuals, academicians, and thinkers of Bangladesh on December 14, 1971 just few days before the country formally earned victory.

In May 2021, 113 years after Germany’s colonial government massacred approximately 80,000 Herero and Nama people in Namibia between 1904-08, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas acknowledged it as a “genocidal” event, seeking forgiveness and offering $1.35 billion to spend on development projects over 30 years.

Nazi war criminals accused of participating in the Holocaust continue to stand trial and any attempt of denial is met with punishment. Pakistan’s attempts at whitewashing their responsibility for 1971 have been criticised and Prime Minister Hasina has shared with the Pakistani High Commissioner to Bangladesh how it is difficult for Bangladesh to forget about atrocities by Pakistan in the 1971 war.

Country comparison

Bangladesh’s progress in the last 50 years has been remarkable in key performance indicators such as exports, social progress, and fiscal prudence, all of which eclipse Pakistan’s growth during the same period. Bangladesh’s GDP growth, for example, stands at 7.9% while Pakistan is at 1.5%. Bangladesh’s GDP per capita had grown by 9% in 2020 rising to $2,227 while Pakistan remains at $1,543. Bangladesh’s export volume and foreign exchange reserves are almost twice as that of Pakistan’s as well as its position on the global passport index, microcredit financing, and women’s rights.

In literacy, Pakistan lags behind with 58% to Bangladesh’s 75%. In 1971, Pakistan and Bangladesh remained neck-and-neck on fertility rates — seven live births per woman. Today, according to the World Bank, Bangladesh’s fertility rate stands at 2.01 while Pakistan is at 3.45, indicating the enormous progress the former has made.

Safety and security remain pressing concerns as well. Pakistan has lost many civilians to terrorist attacks between 2000 and 2019. Concerns of terrorism, radicalisation, and extremism continue to hurt Pakistan’s potential and credibility, making it unsafe to travel to, and in many instances unattractive to trade and invest. On the other hand, Bangladesh has been praised for its tough stance against any form of fundamentalism and radicalisation and boasts a moderate Muslim majority country with liberal and progressive socio-cultural values.

For a new chapter

For Pakistan to bury its past to start a new chapter in its relations with Bangladesh, taking responsibility and ensuring accountability for events of the period is a critical first step. Expressing hope and sincerity for reconciliation and friendship stands hollow without any mention of 1971. Before one can start forgetting, one has to be able to forgive. How can Bangladesh forget when Pakistan has not even offered an apology which could have started the healing process for a country which saw millions die, thousands assaulted and where there was much shedding of so much blood and tears in the process? This is a much needed step to heal historical wounds and help both countries forge better diplomatic and economic relations in the coming days for realising a shared vision for the region’s future.

The price of food must figure in the policy

An agricultural policy must ensure that farming is profitable but not at the cost of a high price of food

The showdown between the farmers and the Modi government may have ended, but the essential challenge of public policy for agriculture remains. This is the high price of food. For decades now, the price of food has not figured much in agricultural policy, when, actually, it should be the central focus in the presence of poor households. Successive governments have instead showcased the minimum support price (MSP) they have offered to the farmers and the subsidy they have incurred in making a limited complement of food available to the consumer though the public distribution system (PDS). The now-repealed farm laws themselves were projected as a means of raising farm revenues via higher prices. But what was left unsaid was that a higher price of food increases poverty, especially as the rice and wheat supplied through the PDS constitute only a part of the total expenditure on food of the average Indian household.

The rising price of food in India

That a high price of food can trigger economic insecurity for the individual is widely understood but what is not immediately apparent is its economy-wide ramification. For the household, a high price of food crowds out expenditure on other items ranging from health and education to non-agricultural goods. This prevents the market for non-agricultural goods from expanding. The expansion of this market is necessary for the non-agricultural economy to grow.

This was one of the first discoveries in economics, made by the English economist David Ricardo about two centuries ago. Ricardo had prophesied that due to the scarcity of good quality land, the cost of production of corn, that is wheat, in England was set to rise, leading in turn to its rising price. The consequence of this was to be not only a certain worsening living standard for the working class but also a thwarted industrialisation, as the market for industrial goods could not grow. What he failed to predict was the tremendous increase in agricultural yield that was to come about in the country with the Industrial Revolution. The rising yield ensured that the price of food was kept in check and the demand for industrial goods was not cramped. In fact, the price of food in England was not merely kept in check, its price relative to that of other goods actually declined. This pattern of a declining trend in the relative price of food has been the experience of all economies that have grown richer.

An indication of the elevation of the price of food in an economy is the share of food in a household’s budget. In a global comparison we would find that this share is very large for India. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (2016) show that this share ranges from over 30% for India to less than 10% for the U.S. and the U.K. The figure for China is around 20%. More interestingly, we find that countries with higher per capita income have a lower share of food in consumption expenditure. This is in line with Ricardo’s understanding of how economies progress i.e., as food gets cheaper, growth in the non-agricultural economy is stimulated. The fact that the richest countries of the world have been able to produce food cheaper over time suggest that such a mechanism has been at work. It is something that we have paid scant regard to in India. Indeed, agricultural policy in India has remained quite unaccountable in the face of a rising relative price of food. For instance, the relative price of food has risen over 50% since 1991. The experience of food becoming more expensive over time is out of line with the global experience of development. When the success of the 1991 economic reforms is recounted, this contrasting experience in India never makes the news. Sections of the media too appear to prefer sensationalising a small rise in the administered price of cooking gas while remaining silent on the rising price of food. Arguably, the high price of food has been a factor in the disappointing lack of expansion of the manufacturing sector in India despite repeated efforts to bring it about.

Both from the point of view of food security for low-income households and the dynamism of the non-agricultural sector, agricultural policy cannot ignore the price at which food is produced. This is not to ignore the role of factors across the supply chain beyond production. We know of the wastage due to the lack of proper transportation and cold storage facilities, both of which lower the effective supply and keep prices high. But the fact of low agricultural yield in India by comparison with the rest of the world has been known for long, and little is done about it. India has had an effective MSP policy for the major crops for over 50 years; how giving it a statutory status now can change this feature is not obvious. A superior management of soil nutrients and moisture, assured water supply and knowledge inputs made available via an extension service would be crucial.

As agriculture is, unlike industrial production, an activity that is affected by fluctuation in the weather, it is risky. Given the importance of food for our survival, this justifies public intervention in agriculture. The issue is the design and scale of this intervention. In the mid-sixties, when India was facing food shortage that could not be solved through trade, a concerted effort was made to raise domestic agricultural production. The intervention succeeded in raising food production but it came with collateral damage. It introduced the strategy of ensuring farm profitability though favourable prices assured by the state. Further, it entrenched the belief that it is the farmer’s right to have the state purchase as much grain as the farmer wishes to sell to the state agency. This has resulted in grain stockpiles far greater than the officially announced buffer-stocking norm. Rising public stocks suggests that the intervention has succeeded in raising the price beyond what would have been generated by the market. These stocks have often rotted, resulting in deadweight loss, paid for by the public though taxes or public borrowing. Finally, with all costs of production reimbursable and all of output finding an assured outlet, supply has outstripped demand. This has led to an unimaginable pressure on the natural environment, especially water supply. There has been a prediction from credible sources that Punjab faces the prospect of desertification fairly soon.

Protect the interests of the poor

India needs an agricultural policy that ensures that farming is profitable but this cannot be at the cost of a high price of food. The ‘food problem’ should no longer be seen only in terms of the availability of food from domestic sources. Too high a price of food, reflected in a high share of food in household expenditure, is another dimension of the problem. This has not received the attention that it deserves, with governments pointing to the existence of a PDS. But a PDS is a roundabout and costly way of delivering food security. Raising yields will ensure profitability without raising producer prices, which will inflate the food subsidy bill. When negotiating with the farmers, the government must protect the interests of the poor of India.

Nod to extend irrigation scheme for five years

Only 46% of PMKSY projects completed

The Cabinet has given its approval to extend its umbrella scheme for irrigation, water supply, ground water and watershed development projects for another five years.

Less than half of the identified irrigation projects have been completed since the scheme — Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) — began in 2015, according to Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

The extension of PMKSY till 2026 will cost ₹93,068 crore, benefit 22 lakh farmers and fund dams critical for water supply to Delhi and five other States in the upper Yamuna basin, said an official statement from the Cabinet Committee for Economic Affairs.

“In 2015-16, 99 projects were identified which were completed more than 50% but had been pending for years. Of the 99 projects, 46 have been completed. The rest of the projects will be completed by 2024-25,” Mr. Shekhawat told journalists after the Cabinet decision.

The additional irrigation potential creation target over the next five years is 13.88 lakh hectares.

SC rejects Maharashtra plea for census raw data

Centre says SECC data collected in 2011 is ‘inaccurate and unusable’; court slams the State saying it can’t promote confusion

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the law negated a caste census and “the Constitution believes in population and not in caste or religion” even as the Centre insisted that data collated during a Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) in 2011 was “fraught with mistakes and unusable” for any purpose whatsoever.

The court’s oral observations came moments before it dismissed a writ petition filed by Maharashtra to direct the Centre to part with the raw data collected in the SECC-2011. The State stated it wanted to use the data for implementing reservation to the Other Backward Classes (OBC) in its local body polls.

“The law is that there should be no caste census.. The Constitution believes in population, not in caste or religion,” the court addressed the Maharashtra counsel, senior advocate Shekhar Naphade.

‘Executive act’

“Caste, religion, all come within the spectrum of census. They [Centre] are showing extreme reluctance to pass on the data [SECC] to us,” Mr. Naphade submitted.

The Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, clarified to the court that the SECC was not a “census” undertaken under the Census Act of 1948 by the office of the Registrar General of India. It was an “executive act”, independent of the census exercise, and done on the orders of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The SECC was organised not as an OBC survey but to get the caste status of all in the country in order to improve the delivery of targeted benefits.

An affidavit filed by the Social Justice Ministry in the Supreme Court in September maintained that a caste census of the Backward Classes was “administratively difficult and cumbersome”. The Centre had clarified in the affidavit that “exclusion of information” regarding any other caste – other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes – from the purview of the census is a “conscious policy decision”.

The Centre’s position in court had come amid a growing clamour by political parties for a caste-based census, and the ruling BJP’s silence.

Senior advocate P. Wilson, who is also a Rajya Sabha member and advocate for an intervenor in the case, said ₹4,893 crore and two years were spent on the SECC.

Maharashtra said the State had a right to know about the data collected in the SECC, regardless of whether the census was done on the basis of an executive fiat or under the Census Act. Mr. Naphade said the Centre ought to produce the Ministry order for conduct of an SECC.

‘Can’t issue mandamus’

But the court observed that it cannot issue a mandamus to produce the raw data if the SECC was inaccurate and had no “force of law”.

“The affidavit [of the Centre] emphatically states that the data which is collated is not accurate and is unusable for any purpose whatsoever. If that is the stand taken by the respondents [Centre], we fail to understand as to how mandamus can be issued to the respondents to permit State of Maharashtra to use the data for any purpose. Such a direction, if issued, would lead to more confusion and uncertainty which cannot be countenanced,” the court noted in its order.

While rejecting Maharashtra’s plea, the court clarified that the State could pursue other remedies permissible in law. It noted that merely because Maharashtra was obliged to comply with the “triple test” requirement before enforcing the reservation for OBCs in the local bodies did not mean that the Centre could be ordered to share information which it itself had classified unusable. The State could not be allowed to employ wrong data in the SECC for reservation in its local body elections.

‘Ensure medical-grade oxygen plants are fully operational’

Centre says that sufficient quantity is of critical importance

The Health Ministry has directed that States should schedule and conduct mock drills of all installed and commissioned pressure swing adsorption (PSA) oxygen generating plants which are a source of medical-grade oxygen. This it said is to ensure that the plants are in fully operational status, so that the oxygen with the required quantity, pressure and purity reaches the intended patients at their bedside.

These drills are to be completed by the end of December and report submitted to the Ministry through designated portals for live tracking and monitoring of the functional status of the equipment. States have also been requested to complete the pending oxygen audit reports and submit them through the designated portal by the end of December.

States have now been asked to review and monitor the status of the PSA plants, oxygen concentrators, ventilators, cylinders, liquid medical oxygen (LMO) plants and medical gas pipeline systems (MGPS) on a daily basis to ensure that the gap between the equipment and systems delivered to the districts and installed at the healthcare facilities is reduced to zero. ECRP-II funds have been sanctioned to States for installation of LMO storage tanks and MGPS.

Putin, Xi cement partnership in face of Western pressure

China backs Russia’s push to get security guarantees from the West, says Kremlin

Russia and China should stand firm in rejecting Western interference and defending each other’s security interests, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping agreed in a video call on Wednesday.

Their conversation, eight days after Mr. Putin spoke to U.S. President Joe Biden in a similar format, underscored how shared hostility to the West is bringing Moscow and Beijing closer together.

“At present, certain international forces under the guise of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ are interfering in the internal affairs of China and Russia, and brutally trampling on international law and recognised norms of international relations,” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Mr. Xi as saying.

“China and Russia should increase their joint efforts to more effectively safeguard the security interests of both parties.”

Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters that Mr. Xi had offered support to Mr. Putin for his push to obtain binding security guarantees for Russia from the West, saying he understood Moscow’s concerns.

He said the pair also expressed their “negative view” of the creation of new military alliances such as the AUKUS partnership between Australia, Britain and the United States and the Indo-Pacific ‘Quad’ of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S.

Mounting pressure

The call highlighted the ways in which Russia and China are drawing on each other for mutual support at a time of high tension in their relations with the West. China is under pressure over human rights and Russia is accused of threatening behaviour towards Ukraine.

The Kremlin said Mr. Putin briefed Mr. Xi on his conversation with Mr. Biden. “A new model of cooperation has been formed between our countries, based, among other things, on such principles as non-interference in internal affairs and respect for each other’s interests,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Xi.

U.S. tests laser weapon in West Asia

USS Portland test-fired the system against a floating target in the Gulf of Aden

The U.S. Navy announced on Wednesday it tested a laser weapon and destroyed a floating target in West Asia, a system that could be used to counter bomb-laden drone boats deployed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

The test on Tuesday saw the USS Portland test-fire its Laser Weapon System Demonstrator at the target in the Gulf of Aden, the body of water separating East Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.

The Navy’s West Asia-based 5th Fleet described the laser as having “successfully engaged” the target in a statement. Previously, the Portland used the laser to bring down a flying drone in May 2020.

The Gulf of Aden sits along the southern coast of war-torn Yemen, which has been at war since Iranian-backed Houthi rebels seized its capital, Sanaa, in 2014. A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict in March 2015 but the stalemate conflict has dragged on for years, becoming the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and killing an estimated 1,10,000 people.

The war also has bled into the surrounding waterways, like the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb, which connects the sea to the Gulf of Aden. These waterways lead to the Suez Canal and onto the Mediterranean Sea, making them crucial for international shipping and global energy supplies.

The Houthis have deployed drone boats into these waters, which can be piloted remotely and sent up to a target before detonating. These boats are suspected of being built with Iran’s help.

The Portland, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, has its home port in San Diego. The ship is deployed as part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group that’s now in West Asia.


The News Editorial Analysis 15th Dec 2021




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