The News Editorial Analysis 4th Jan 2022

The News Editorial Analysis 4th Jan 2022

The News Editorial Analysis 4th Jan 2022

More than 40 lakh adolescents get first shot of COVID vaccine

The News Editorial Analysis 4th Jan 2022

Indigenously developed Covaxin administered; second dose after 28 days

More adolescents in the 15-17 age groups received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on the first day of the vaccination drive for the cohort till 8 p.m., Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya tweeted on Monday.

According to the CoWIN dashboard, more than 49 lakh in this age group have registered for the vaccine so far. The vaccination programme, carried out in consultation with schools, is being held at hospitals and health centres. Covaxin, an indigenous COVID-19 vaccine, will be administered in this age group in two doses with a gap of 28 days.

“Only Covaxin is approved for less than 18 years. The 18+ (i.e. born in 2004 or before) — are eligible for all vaccines, including Covishield. For 15-17 years (born in 2005, 2006, 2007), they are eligible only for Covaxin. Validations in place in CoWIN,” Vikas Sheel, Additional Secretary, Health Ministry, said.

In Delhi, vaccination for more than 10 lakh adolescents began at 159 centres on Monday, official sources said. A Delhi government spokesperson said a total of 20,998 children were vaccinated on the first day till 6 p.m. More than 54,000 got their jab on the the first day of the vaccination drive in Haryana.

Nine dedicated centres The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has designated nine vaccination centres where students can either walk in or pre-register online. The BMC aims to vaccinate nine lakh students in this drive, which was virtually launched by Maharashtra Tourism and Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray. A large number of students from various civic schools arrived at the jumbo centre in the Bandra Kurla Complex to get vaccinated.

In Pune, the vaccination for adolescents commenced at 40 centres, Suryakant Devkar, chief immunization officer, Pune Municipal Corporation, said. At several centres, teenagers were offered flowers, pens and masks after vaccination. Each centre has been provided 250 doses of Covaxin. Half of these vaccine doses will be given to the children registering online, and the rest will be for on-the-spot arrivals, the official said. In Tamil Nadu, where Chief Minister M.K. Stalin launched the COVID-19 vaccination for children, a total of 3,03,499 children were vaccinated till 6 p.m. on Monday. A total of 33,46,000 children in the 15-17 age group are eligible to get vaccinated in Tamil Nadu. Districts such as Madurai, Salem, Cuddalore, Kanyakumari, Villupuram, Kallakurichi and Tiruvannamalai accounted for coverage of over 10,000 children each on the first day.

As many as 38,417 children in Kerala received the vaccine, on Monday, from a target population of 15.34 lakhs. Thiruvananthapuram had the maximum number of children – 9,338 – receiving the vaccine. As many as 551 vaccination centres had been set up across Kerala.

To avoid confusion, the vaccination centres for children sported pink sign boards to distinguish them from the vaccination centres for adults. At the end of the day, none of the centres had reported any adverse events following immunization, State Health Minister Veena George, said.

In Telangana, Health Minister T. Harish Rao, who participated in the launch event at the Primary Health Centre (PHC), Banjara Hills, said the online registration system is being followed as the density of the beneficiaries is high in municipal corporations and online registrations will ensure less crowding at the vaccination centres. It is estimated that 18.70 lakh children in the age group 15-18 years will receive the vaccine.

The Karnataka government, which had planned to vaccinate 6.38 lakh children, was able to meet 65% of its target. Camps were organised in schools and pre-university colleges across the State. In Bengaluru, 29,423 children were vaccinated. There were many cases of students who could not get the first shot as they had forgotten to bring parental consent forms or other documents such as identity cards. Lakshadweep Islands Administrator Praful Patel launched the COVID-19 vaccination drive for children at a function held at the Government Girls Senior Secondary School, Kavaratti. Vaccination for the 15 to 17 years age group began in all the 10 inhabited islands. A total of 3,469 children have been identified as the target group.

China constructing bridge on Pangong lake in Ladakh

It will bring down time to move troops and equipment

China is constructing a bridge in eastern Ladakh connecting the north and south banks of Pangong Tso (lake), which will significantly bring down the time for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to move troops and equipment between the two sectors, two official sources independently confirmed on Monday.

“On the north bank, there is a PLA garrison at Kurnak fort and on the south bank at Moldo, and the distance between the two is around 200 km. The new bridge between the closest points on two banks, which is around 500 m, will bring down the movement time between the two sectors from around 12 hours to three or four hours,” one of the sources said. The bridge is located around 25 km ahead of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the source stated.

The construction had been going on for some time and it would reduce the overall distance by 140-150 km, the other source said.

Earlier, the PLA had to take a roundabout crossing the Rudok county. But now the bridge would provide a direct axis, the first source said, adding that the biggest advantage with the new bridge was the inter-sector movement as the time would come down significantly. “They need to build piers for the bridge, which has been under way,” the source stated.

The bridge is in China’s territory and the Indian Army would have to now factor this in its operational plans, the source noted.

India holds one-third of the 135-km-long boomerang-shaped lake located at an altitude of over 14,000 feet. The lake, a glacial melt, has mountain spurs of the Chang Chenmo range jutting down, referred to as fingers.

The north bank, which has much higher differences in perception of the LAC than the south bank, was the initial site of the clashes in early May 2020, while tensions on the south bank flared up later in August.

The Indian Army got tactical advantage over the PLA on the south bank in August-end by occupying several peaks lying vacant since 1962, gaining a dominating view of the Moldo area. On the north bank too, the Indian troops set up posts facing PLA positions on the ridge-lines of Finger The Indian Army got tactical advantage over the PLA on the south bank in August-end by occupying several peaks lying vacant since 1962, gaining a dominating view of the Moldo area. On the north bank too, the Indian troops set up posts facing PLA positions on the ridge-lines of Finger 4. In February 2020, as part of the first phase of disengagement, both sides agreed for complete disengagement on the north and south banks. The Indian Army has a permanent position near Finger 3, the Dhan Singh Thapa post, while the PLA has a base east of Finger 8. The south bank leads to the Kailash range and to the Chushul sector. Since the August action, China has taken up construction of alternate roads away from our line of sight, a defence official stated. As reported by The Hindu last June, China had intensified construction work behind the main confrontation points in Aksai China.

A satellite image of the area put out by an open source intelligence analyst with Twitter handle @detresfa_ shows a bridge like structure between the closest points of the two banks.

In a separate incident of a video by Chinese media showing PLA soldiers with a map in Galwan on January 01, an Army source said it was not in the location of the clash last year or the buffer zone set up after the first phase of disengagement. “It appears to be propaganda. The place [clash site] doesn’t have any markings as shown in the video,” the source added

A sobering reminder to the powers that be

The present masters of the nation’s destiny must remember the solemn assurance their tallest ever leader made in 2003

It was September 2003 and leading English daily of India was celebrating its 125th anniversary in Chennai. Inaugurating the grand event, the Prime Minister of the day, the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee said: “… In spite of the unfortunate aberrations, whose recurrence must be prevented, India will always remain an open, inclusive and tolerant nation, with the freedom of faith guaranteed to all not only by the statute book but also by the living traditions of this ancient civilization.”

A leader, his assurance

He was referring to some ghastly incidents of violence against the two largest minorities in the country witnessed during those days in various regions. The gentle Head of the Government, endowed with exemplary political wisdom, was assuring the nation with confidence that those were just aberrations not to last long, and that the country would soon return to its age-old traditions of pluralism and religious tolerance. Vajpayee’s party had lost at the elections next year but, after a gap of a full decade, returned to power with a bang. Would anyone among the present masters of the nation’s destiny remember the solemn assurance their tallest ever leader had graciously extended to the nation? Vajpayee did not live long enough to witness the “living traditions of this ancient civilization” being thrown into the dustbin of history. Unfortunately, even his sad demise did not act as a sobering reminder to the powers that be for the need to translate his pious hope into the ground reality of the day.

In retrospect, Vajpayee wanted the country to religiously continue treading the path it had chosen for itself while throwing away the yoke of colonial rule in 1947. In the year following the advent of independence in India, the United Nations had proclaimed a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, affirming in its preamble that all members of the world body that had been set up to strive for peace across the globe had “pledged themselves” to the “promotion … and observance” of all the ideals enshrined in that so-called “Magna Carta of Humanity”. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights had asserted at the outset that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” In the coming years, its implications and demands were spelt out in the minutest details in the two International Human Rights Covenants of 1966, later suffixed with several follow-up instruments like the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981) and the Declaration on the Rights of Minorities (1992).

A masterpiece of wisdom

When the celebrated Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the United Nations, the newly freed India was in the midst of writing its Constitution for the future. Its noble architects, all highly enlightened leaders of the day, infused the letter and spirit of that masterpiece of human wisdom into its preamble under which the people of India “solemnly resolved” to secure to all its citizens justice, equality and liberty of all kinds and to promote among them all “fraternity assuring the dignity of individual and unity of the nation”. The details of these prefatory pledges were elaborated upon and fortified in Part III of the Constitution on people’s Fundamental Rights. Before too long it was realized by experience that there was a pressing need to alert the people of the country, both the rulers and the ruled, also to their constitutional duties to the nation and the society. Part IVA was then added to spell out citizens’ Fundamental Duties — joint and several. The foremost among these sacred obligations were, and remain, “to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions” and “to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities.”

Now, so many years after the beginning of the constitutional era, many deeply patriotic citizens of the country see the prevailing ground situation as an antithesis of the Constitution. They have begun wondering if that magnificent charter of governance “enacted, adopted and given to ourselves” two years after Independence was just an Interim Constitution to be replaced in the coming years with a brand new unwritten one drawn on diametrically opposite lines. Have we, they are asking, really decided to completely abandon our old commitments and allegiance to the international human rights instruments and to kick out our constitutional pledges to preserve religious pluralism and maintain the citizens’ dignity, equality and fraternity?

An inoperative IPC

Long before the advent of Independence, India had enacted and given to all its inhabitants an Indian Penal Code with a full-fledged chapter on “Offences relating to Religion” laying down penalties for outraging religious feelings, insulting religion or beliefs, disturbing religious assemblies, wounding religious feelings, and other nefarious activities of the sort. Why are, one may ask, these provisions of the Code lying totally inoperative while many people are openly flouting them in broad daylight? Television and newspapers regularly report how some of them, masquerading as saints, keep throwing dirt on the founder of the second largest religion of the contemporary world seen by its over two billion followers across the globe as the most highly revered figure next only to God. Does not all this attract application of the IPC offence of outraging religious feelings? And when some of them cross the limits to incite people to commit atrocities against, and even mass-killing, of the second largest group among the nation’s citizenry, is their audacity not covered by any provision of our Penal Code or by any other law of the country?

The election law of India laid down in the Representation of the People Act of 1951 declares “promoting or attempting to promote feelings of enmity or hatred” on grounds of religion, etc. between different classes of citizens “in connection with election” to be a punishable offence (Section 125). Referring to it, an eminent apex court judge of the past, the late V.R. Krishna Iyer, had once observed: “It is a matter for profound regret that political communalism is foliating and flourishing largely because parties and politicians have not the will, professions apart, to give up the chase for power through politicizing communal identity.” It is indeed saddening that, while the election law with its aforementioned penal provision remains intact, this lament of a deeply concerned jurist-judge seems to have become a permanent feature of political discourse across the country.

‘Golden thread of unity’

The top court of the nation has in fact been constantly spelling out for us, from the very beginning, the meaning and implications of the road map the Constitution of the country had laid for us soon after Independence. In the case of Ahmedabad St. Xavier’s College vs the State of Gujarat (1974), a large Bench of the Court had observed: “India is the second most populous country of the world. The people inhabiting this vast land profess different religions and speak different languages. It is a mosaic of different religions, languages and cultures. Each of them has made a mark on Indian polity and India today represents a synthesis of them all. Despite the diversity of religion and language there runs through the fabric of the nation the golden thread of a basic innate unity.”

Twenty years later in the cause célèbres captioned S.R. Bommai vs Union of India (1994), an even larger Bench of the Court had proclaimed that “Constitutional provisions prohibit the establishment of a theocratic State and prevent the State from either identifying itself with or otherwise favouring any particular religion” and “secularism is more than a passive attitude of religious tolerance. It is a positive concept of equal treatment of all religions.”

Fading ‘light’

Announcing the tragic demise of the Father of the Nation on January 30, 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru had said: “The light has gone out of our lives; that light will be seen in this country and the world will see it for that light represented something more than the immediate present; it represented the living, the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom.”

On that sad day, year after year since then, sirens have been blaring out in government offices and educational institutions alerting us to remember the teachings of that extraordinary leader who had played the key role in our struggle for Independence. But do we still have the will and the determination to let India remain what the Father of the Nation wanted it to be, then and always in future? Do we remember our first Prime Minister’s optimism that the Mahatma’s light “will be seen”? And, do we care for the solemn assurance given to the nation by another great Prime Minister of the country, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in 2003 that “India will always remain an open, inclusive and tolerant nation”? Are there any answers?

India Rights record, America’s blinkered vision

Washington’s diplomatic embrace is providing New Delhi a certain immunity from international criticism. Recent Indian foreign policy has a chequered record, the vacillations over the Taliban resuming control in Afghanistan being one instance. But it cannot be denied that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been remarkably successful in maintaining cordial Indian relations with Washington under United States President Joe Biden despite overt wooing of former President Donald Trump.

Accommodating view

India is considered a critical ally by the United States, the only designated Major Defence Partner, and Ambassador-Designate to India Eric Garcetti told the Senate, “Few nations are more vital to the future of American security and prosperity than India,.”

In Delhi last October, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, said of India’s purchase of Russian military equipment, “We’ve been quite public about any country that decides to use the S-400. We think that it is dangerous and not in anybody’s security interest,” but our authorities did not think it necessary to rebuke her for flagrant discourtesy on Indian soil.

For what American Defence Minister Lloyd James Austin III called “shared values”, Washington takes an accommodating view of widespread Indian downgrades in indices considered credible in assessing democratic norms and human rights. Like Israel, India finds that Washington’s embrace provides a certain immunity from international criticism.

The U.S. State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices itself last March recorded “significant human rights issues” in India, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, violence against minorities, unjustified harassment of journalists, and censorship and blocking of websites. India is rated poorly by the U.S.-based Freedom House which called it ‘partly free’, Sweden’s V-Dem Institute which dubbed it an ‘electoral autocracy’, The Economist’s Democracy Index and the Stockholm Institute for Democracy which India had helped to establish.

A year ago, India ranked 142 in the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has for successive years recommended that India be listed as a ‘country of particular concern’ due to its treatment of Muslims and Christians, and India is ranked in the Open Doors World Watch List for ‘extreme’ Christian persecution below Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. government has ignored all these findings to the dismay of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists due to Narendra Modi’s positioning India as an indispensable partner, and his government has no sympathy for NGOs, portraying their conclusions as biased and uninformed.

The world media

Diplomacy does not proceed according to ethical standards; nor does the global media. Six dying in a gust of wind in Australia and six in an Illinois warehouse collapse make headlines, while reports that every 25 minutes an Indian woman commits suicide, 48 persons dying in a volcanic eruption in Java and 208 in a typhoon in Philippines are not newsworthy. Nor is the current heroic popular demand in Sudan for a democratic government.

In past times, third world leaders in countries such as India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Nigeria tried to create a rival media platform, and Qatar, China and Russia started 24-hour news channels but cannot match the resources and reach of the entrenched, West-dominated English-medium news ecosystem which includes soft power assets such as music, film and culture. Hence, the Central Intelligence Agency is portrayed as all-knowing, despite its abject failures in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Iraq’s nuclear weapons and the Afghan army’s capabilities.

World news is curated by a handful of western capitals, the ‘read outs’ being for the domestic audience, which can enjoy the U.S. and its allies forever fulminating against opponents who meekly submit to the diatribes. Threats of “massive consequences and severe economic cost” against Russia by G7 countries and the European Union are blandly announced without reference to what might be Russia’s concerns for its own security. A boycott of the Winter Olympics in China by irrelevant western officials is heralded, but no boycott is threatened of the Football World Cup at Qatar, an absolute monarchy where there are scant civil and political rights, workers rights are negligible and homosexuality is deemed illegal.

The West’s instrument of choice for penalizing political adversaries is this: unilateral sanctions of dubious legality in international law. No audit has ever been taken of the immense suffering these sanctions inflict on innocent civilians.

The U.S. Treasury lists 36 groups of multiple sanctions, the latest of which is a typically insensitive measure against seven Bangladeshis, including the police chief, just before the 50th anniversary of that nation’s liberation from American ally Pakistan.

On the U.S.

For the world’s oldest democracy to arbitrate on fundamental rights of others is ironic for a country where in 12 months ending March 2021, its police murdered 37 African-American people per million against 15 per million whites, when African-Americans comprise only 13% of the population. The Summit For Democracy hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden was predictably confused about its participants because not every democracy is liberal and not every society considered liberal is fully democratic. Meaningful summits should be global in attendance and concentrate on pressing problems such as inequality, climate change and arms control on earth and in space.

Krishnan Srinivasan is a former Foreign Secretary

The deafening silence of scientists

Few Indian scientists argue for the freedom of thought and are able to stand up against pseudoscience

In December 1954, Meghnad Saha, one of India’s foremost astrophysicists and an elected parliamentarian, wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, “My request to you is that you do not smother your Desdemonas on the report of men like this particular Iago. I sometimes believe there are too many Iagos about you, as there have been in history about every person of power and prestige”. By referring to the characters in Shakespeare’s Othello, an aggrieved Saha was showing his displeasure at a situation that he perceived to be bad for Indian science wherein the courtship between the state and science was being ruined by the Machiavellian advisers of the then Prime Minister.

A glorious tradition forgotten

We have come a long way from Nehruvian times when scientists could afford to be directly critical of the Prime Minister and still expect to get a pat on their shoulder in return. Over the past few years, a pernicious political landscape that encourages intolerance and superstition has been developed. This has proved to be non-conducive for the time-tested scientific model and freedom of inquiry. For the creation of knowledge, one should be able to think and express them freely. One also needs to have a space for dissent, which is a fundamental requirement for democracies to thrive. Are our scientists vocal enough to argue for the freedom of thought and are they able to stand up against pseudoscience? Their silence has given rise to the perception that they too are complicit in creating an unhealthy atmosphere of ultra-nationalism and jingoism, where the glorious tradition followed by socially committed scientists like Saha is forgotten.

We have seen this lack of reactivity from Indian scientists and science academies on many occasions in the recent past, starting with the conduct of the 102nd Indian Science Congress in 2015. How did a session suffused with extreme nationalism and promoting junk science find its way into this prestigious meet? How was it vetted and approved by a high-profile committee containing the country’s front-ranking scientists? Completely sidelining the real scientific contributions made in ancient and medieval times, ridiculous claims were made in that forum about ancient ‘Bharat’ being a repository of all modern knowledge. Except a few, like the late Pushpa Bhargava, who always fretted about the lack of scientific temper among Indian scientists, most of our leaders in science chose to ignore something that was patently wrong.

Pseudo-scientific remarks by responsible political leaders have continued to hog the limelight ever since. Even when a former Union Minister insisted that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was scientifically wrong, leading scientists remained silent save a few. More recently, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief made a misinformed statement that the DNA of all the people in India has been the same for 40,000 years. His message clearly goes against the proven fact that Indians have mixed genetic lineages originating from Africa, the Mediterranean, and Eurasian steppes. As a part of revisionist history-writing, the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur has now issued a 2022 calendar. The purpose of it is to argue for a Vedic cultural foundation for the Indus Valley Civilisation — a theory that goes against all the available evidence; morphing an Indus Valley single-horned bull seal into a horse will not solve the evidentiary lacuna. A retinue of junk science propagators and new-age ‘gurus’ have been flourishing in this anti-science environment, often marketing questionable concoctions including cow products to cure COVID-19 and even homosexuality, as though it is some sort of disease. Pseudoscience has provided a foundational base for a huge money-making industry that successfully peddles quackery by sustaining and exploiting the people’s ignorance.

Our social and political life resonates uncannily with the fascist era of the 1930s-40s when Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini argued that the “white race” was locked in a deadly demographic competition with races of “lesser purity” whose numbers were growing much faster. It can be instructive in our current political climate to reflect on how science failed as a bulwark against such regressive viewpoints. The science historian, Massimo Mazzotti, at the University of California, Berkeley, ably showed how the fascist regime in Italy, using various intimidation and surveillance tactics, made academic elites toe the official line. The faculties did so without making an actual anti-fascist choice. Instead, they entered the grey zone of cynical detachment. It was due to cynicism and careerism that the scientists of Italy derided racist policies as foolish in private but did not bother to question them publicly. Like Italy, racism and ‘othering’ was very much a part of the political landscape in Germany under the Nazi regime, which saw a big exodus of high-ranking scientists with Jewish tags.

Reasons for toeing the line

As discussed by Naresh Dadhich, an Indian theoretical physicist, in an article, one of the reasons for this acquiescence is that scientific research relies almost entirely on funding from the government. So, a fear of retribution acts against the idea of engagement with society. Another equally valid reason is that our contemporary science researchers remain entirely cut off from liberal intellectual discourse, unlike in the initial years after Independence. For most scientists today, the idea of science as a form of argument remains foreign. For many of them, exposure to the social sciences is minimal at university. They also don’t get trained in a broad range of social topics at the school level.

Globally, STEM students downplay altruism and arguably demonstrate less social concern than students from other streams. The blame squarely lies with the pedagogy followed in our science education system. The leading science and technology institutes recruit students right after school and largely host one or two perfunctory social science courses. Students, thus, mostly remain oblivious to the general liberal intellectual discourse. This issue is of major concern, as the 21st century is witnessing a new rise of illiberal democracy with fascist tendencies that generate intolerance and exclusion in various parts of the world, including India. We are also living at a time when scientific advice is marginalized in public policy debates ranging from natural resource use to environmental impacts.

In the early 20th century, many leading scientists were deeply engaged with philosophy and had developed a distinctive way of thinking about the implications of science on society. They were much more proactive about societal issues. The continuity of that legacy appears to have broken. A cowed-down scientific enterprise is not helpful in retaining the secular autonomy of academic pursuits. To regain this cultural space among younger practitioners, science education must include pedagogical inputs that help learners take a deliberative stand against false theories that could undermine civil society and democratic structures.

C.P. Rajendran is an adjunct professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru and an author of a forthcoming book, ‘Earthquakes of the Indian Subcontinent’. Views are personal

Aiding in governance

The synergy of NGOs, Government and corporates is the holy grail of development.It is well known that the collaborative effort of markets and the Government leads to development of a country. We also know that engaging with communities and non-state informal institutions is as important as working with the Government machinery.

Section 135 of the Companies Act mandates corporates who are beyond a certain level of profits and turnover to pay at least 2% of their net profits before tax to the development space. This law gives corporates the necessary impetus to collaborate with non-state actors like Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). This strengthening of citizenry-private partnerships is a major component of development activities. Non-state actors, because of their depth of engagement with communities, bring patient capital to corporate board rooms and help the state, too, by engaging in welfare activities. This is a classic case of state-driven governance mechanism promoting collaboration among non-state actors.

A key pillar of democratic governance is citizens’ power to question the state. NGOs and voluntary groups/organisations have played a significant role in building capacities of citizens to hold governments accountable. With the Government taking the stand that any action by an NGO which is critical of the government is ‘anti-national’, more so when funded from abroad, the space for foreign grants has shrunk. Hence, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) grants, which wouldn’t necessarily have flowed had it not been for the CSR law, have assumed importance to provide the much-needed sustenance to NGOs and CSOs as key players in non-state governance.

Essential cogs in the wheel

State governance should be evolving in nature. However, the Indian bureaucratic elite have little appetite for risk-taking and innovation because of the constant changing goalposts of their politician-bosses or because the quantum of work is more than what they can efficiently handle. Bureaucrats, therefore, often take recourse to the status quo even if it is to at least get some work done and not stall everything by campaigning for change, especially in the realm of governance. There is also the fear of failure, with its deep-rooted consequence of non-risk-takers smoothly sailing to the top posts. In such contexts, it is the non-state actor who innovates and creates breakthrough models of community engagement. They also become the vehicle to carry the demands of people to formal institutions. We saw this in the case of the Right to Information (RTI) campaign, which became a law after decades-long efforts by NGOs. The law has brought a dramatic change in the degree of transparency in India, with most Government ministries falling under its ambit.

Corporate houses, when implementing their CSR activities, and governments, when executing their flagship projects, especially in the years preceding elections, are aggressive in their targets. But that doesn’t necessarily work in the development sector where change happens at a glacial pace. It is the non-state actors, who know the lay of the land, who bridge the gap between people and firms/state.

It is common knowledge that the District Collector calls on vetted NGOs/CSOs to implement various schemes during the normal course of the day or to step in at short notice when calamities strike. NGOs and CSOs sometimes do the heavy lift and ensure that schemes reach the last person even in the face of disaster. When non-state actors take a large load off the state’s shoulder, the state can focus more on governance.

Research shows that it is the synergy of NGOs, Government and corporates which is the holy grail of development. I have learnt from being on the field that NGOs and CSOs with their penetration are best suited for last-mile delivery of government schemes or implementation of a corporate house’s CSR work, thus nudging one another in the path to a developmental state.

The tension between the tenets of liberty and equality is balanced by fraternity provided by the empathetic NGOs and CSOs in the journey towards a development state. The CSR law has made the corporate world not only clean its own mess but has also created a legal framework for corporates to work with NGOs and CSOs. NGOs and CSOs in India, irrespective of the open hostility of the current dispensation, will play a major role in mobilising citizen action to right various wrongs. They can help contribute to better polity as well as better governance. Most importantly, they have the legitimacy to operate not just as actors who must ride into the sunset after their job is done but to be as integral cogs in the wheel of good governance.

Lijo Chacko is with the Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, U.K. Views expressed here are personals

Centre seeks urgent listing of EWS reservation case today

Challenge to 10% quota has delayed postgraduate medical admissions

The Union government on Monday pressed the Supreme Court to list on Tuesday the hearing of a case raising questions about the ₹8-lakh income criterion for identifying economically weaker sections (EWS) to provide them reservation in admissions and jobs.

Appearing before a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre, made an oral mentioning to urgently list the case on Tuesday.

The case is originally scheduled for January 6. The Centre has filed a committee report in the Supreme Court which supports the ₹8-lakh income threshold as a “reasonable” basis to determine EWS.

All-India quota

The report is the result of the Supreme Court’s repeated grilling of the government, since October, to explain how it zeroed in on the figure of ₹8 lakh as the annual income criterion to identify EWS among forward classes of society for grant of 10% reservation in NEET medical admissions under the all-India quota (AIQ) category. The court was hearing a batch of petitions filed by NEET aspirants challenging a July 29 notification of the Centre announcing a 27% quota to OBCs and 10% reservation to EWS in AIQ.

The Supreme Court’s query was significant as the One Hundred and Third Constitutional Amendment of 2019, which introduced the 10% EWS quota, is itself under challenge before a larger Bench. The amendment is under question for making economic criterion as the sole ground for grant of reservation benefits.

Committee report

On November 25, the Centre had informed the court that it had taken a considered decision to revisit the criterion for determining EWS.

The Union government then formed an expert committee comprising former Finance Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey; ICSSR Member Secretary V.K. Malhotra; and Principal Economic Adviser to the Government of India Sanjeev Sanyal. The committee submitted its report to the government on December 31.

“The current gross annual family income limit for EWS of ₹8 lakh or less may be retained. In other words, only those families whose annual income is up to ₹8 lakh would be eligible to get the benefit of EWS reservation,” the report said.

The committee said the ₹8 lakh criterion strikes a “fine balance” between over-inclusion and inclusion errors.

“The figure ensures that most low-income people who are not required to pay income tax are not excluded and are covered in EWS and at the same time it should not be so high that it becomes over-inclusive by including many incomes tax-paying middle and high income families into EWS. Therefore, considering that the currently effective Income Tax exemption limit is around ₹8 lakh for individuals, the committee is of the view that the gross annual income limit of ₹8 lakh for the entire family would be reasonable for inclusion into EWS,” the report reasoned.

India wants WTO meet on COVID package

Discussions on patent waiver sought

India has sought an emergency meeting of the General Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO) this month in Geneva to deliberate upon the world trade body’s proposed response package, including patent waiver proposal, to deal with the pandemic amid rising coronavirus infections globally, an official said.

The General Council is WTO’s highest decision-making body in Geneva.

Expressing disappointment over no progress on TRIPs (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver proposal to deal with the pandemic, India has called for including this proposal into WTO’s proposed response package.

In October 2020, India and South Africa submitted the first proposal, suggesting a waiver for all WTO members on the implementation of certain provisions of the TRIPs agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19. In May 2021, a revised proposal was submitted. TRIPs came into effect in January 1995.

“We have sought an emergency meeting of the General Council to discuss the WTO’s response package to deal with COVID-19 pandemic including patent waiver proposal. WTO will start its meetings from January 10,” the official said

India wants WTO meet on COVID package

Discussions on patent waiver sought

India has sought an emergency meeting of the General Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO) this month in Geneva to deliberate upon the world trade body’s proposed response package, including patent waiver proposal, to deal with the pandemic amid rising coronavirus infections globally, an official said.

The General Council is WTO’s highest decision-making body in Geneva.

Expressing disappointment over no progress on TRIPs (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver proposal to deal with the pandemic, India has called for including this proposal into WTO’s proposed response package.

In October 2020, India and South Africa submitted the first proposal, suggesting a waiver for all WTO members on the implementation of certain provisions of the TRIPs agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19. In May 2021, a revised proposal was submitted. TRIPs came into effect in January 1995.

“We have sought an emergency meeting of the General Council to discuss the WTO’s response package to deal with COVID-19 pandemic including patent waiver proposal. WTO will start its meetings from January 10,” the official said

RBI approves small, offline e-payments

It aims to promote usage in rural areas

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has come out with the framework for facilitating small-value digital payments in offline mode, a move that would promote digital payments in semi-urban and rural areas.

The framework incorporates feedback received from the pilot experiments on offline transactions conducted in different parts of the country between September 2020 and June 2021.

An offline digital payment does not require Internet or telecom connectivity.

“Under this new framework, such payments can be carried out face-to-face (proximity mode) using any channel or instrument like cards, wallets and mobile devices,” the RBI said.

“Such transactions would not require an Additional Factor of Authentication. Since the transactions are offline, alerts (by way of SMS and / or e-mail) will be received by the customer after a time lag,” it added.

There is a limit of ₹200 per transaction and an overall limit of ₹2,000 until the balance in the account is replenished. The RBI said the framework took effect ‘immediately’.

Unemployment rate spikes to four-month high in December 2021

India’s unemployment rate touched a four-month high of 7.91% in December 2021 against 7% in November and 7.75% in October, data released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) on Monday showed. Urban unemployment rate was 9.30% in December while it was 7.28% for rural areas. In November, the figures were 7% and 8.21%, respectively. 

The last time the unemployment rate soared was in August 2021, at 8.3%. The latest spike seems to be linked to the Omicron-driven Covid surge, according to Yeshab Giri, chief commercial officer – staffing at HR consultancy firm Randstad India. 

“Due to rising Omicron cases, many employees have reverse-migrated to their home towns. Restricted attendance in offices could be the cause of stalling in the hiring plans of many companies across sectors,” said Giri, adding that the overall consumer sentiment has also fallen as people prefer to stay at home.

Sounding optimistic, he said this is a temporary phase.

“Many companies are gearing up to function at pre-pandemic levels and offering greater incentives along with a safe working environment to employees,” he added. 

December usually sees a slowdown in hiring, as the festive season winds down and picks up somewhat during the last week, pointed out Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and executive vice-president at staffing firm TeamLease Services.

She, however, does not think that Omicron influenced the jobless rate as it was only in the last week of December the country saw a spike.

“Besides a natural winding down, there won’t be any knee jerk downgrade in hiring,” she added. 

CMIE’s unemployment data is closely watched as the government doesn’t release monthly figures.

Joblessness in states

Among states, Haryana witnessed the highest jobless rate in December at 34.1%, followed by Rajasthan (27.1%), Jharkhand (17.3%, Bihar (16%), J&K (15%), and Tripura (14.7%).

Social media and the structural diminution of women

The Constitution of India, considered a progressive document if there ever was one, guarantees equal rights to all its citizens, and that presumably includes women. And indeed, India has the glory of putting women at the helm not just in politics but in just about every sphere of life. The virtual world has twisted the terms of engagement, though, giving an unknown quantum of humanity invested with a criminal mindset the licence to operate in public—with little consequence to themselves. 

The social media has never been an easy place for women. Particularly those with a mind of their own, and the means to express it. Even so, the uploading of the photos of 100 influential Muslim women on an app called ‘Bulli Bai’, supposedly for auction, plumbs a never-before depth of depravity. The crude nomenclature itself reflected a debased mindset that has, alas, become easy to flaunt. It took a woman journalist’s FIR, and a larger public outcry, for the IPC to be invoked. The police has sought information from Twitter on the account from which the first tweet on the ‘Bulli’ app was sent out. It has also written to the host platform, GitHub, about the app developer; GitHub has since suspended the app. The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) is now coordinating a multi-city probe. All that is kosher. 

But the fact remains that if unambiguous and exemplary action had been taken against those who floated a similar app called ‘Sulli Deals’ in 2021, there may have been no recurrence. The existence of a repressed, criminal male mind will surprise no woman. It’s the system’s lack of a morally driven punitive structure—and the consequent impunity assumed by the criminals—that is striking these days. There is often a touch of ‘normalcy’ to the structural diminution of the female gender anyway. It is, after all, a time when a 31-member parliamentary committee to decide the marriage age for women has only one woman member!


The News Editorial Analysis 3rd Jan 2022

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