Climate change deniers

The passage of the Keystone XL pipeline bill, the first priority of the new U.S. Senate controlled by Republicans, hit a roadblock on January 27 when the Senate managed to muster just 53 votes in its favour, seven shy of the 60-vote threshold to limit debate. The nearly 1,900-km-long proposed pipeline, which will transport 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta’s (Canada) vast oil sands to Nebraska, is a highly controversial project. Unlike conventional crude, mining and turning tar sands into oil is highly carbon-intensive and hence has far worse consequences for global warming. It is for this reason that President

Barack Obama had threatened to veto the bill. But the bill produced some interesting results before it reached the stage when the Senate voted on it. For the first time, the Republicans’ slowly but surely shifting position on climate change became evident. When the first measure — climate change is real and not a hoax — offered as an amendment to the legislation that will pave the way for the Keystone XL pipeline project was put to vote on January 21, except for one Republican the entire Senate agreed that climate change is for real. Interestingly, Republican Jim Inhofe, the veteran climate change denier in the Senate, was one of those who voted for the amendment. For him, the hoax was that “some people think… they can change climate”.

Though a majority of the Senators also agreed that humans are singularly responsible for climate change, two crucial amendments that pointed a finger at humans failed to cross the 60-vote threshold. While an amendment affirming that humans contributed to climate change was just one short of 60, the third amendment, that “human activity ‘significantly’ contributes to climate change”, got only 50 votes; just five Republicans voted for it. Apparently, the emphasis on human contribution turned out to be the sticking point. The Senate has till date refused to widely agree that man-made climate change is real. Despite a body of evidence unequivocally proving that human activity has been the causal factor for climate change, the deniers are in no mood to change their stand. So long as policymakers fail to acknowledge the havoc created by human activity, there is little possibility that anything substantial will be done to address it. The consequences will be terrible and irreversible if ideology continues to stand up to science. With reckless emission of greenhouse gases continuing, the Earth is already on “track to warm by 3.6° Celsius”, as the International Energy Agency estimated last year. This is way beyond the goal of limiting the increase in global average surface temperature to 2°C above the pre-industrial level.

Nuclear deal no cause for celebration

Any understanding between Narendra Modi and Barack Obama on circumventing the Indian nuclear liability law to protect American reactor suppliers should be a matter of concern

At their recent meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama discussed methods of circumventing the Indian nuclear liability law to protect American reactor suppliers from the consequences of accidents caused by design defects. Although public details are scarce, if they have indeed reached an understanding on the issue, then this is not a cause for celebration; it should be a matter of deep concern.

The importance of supplier liability is illustrated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. When the reactors were hit by the tsunami that year, the weakness of the General Electric (GE) Mark I design was cruelly exposed. The reactors’ inadequate containment was unable to prevent the spread of radioactivity when the cooling systems failed and pressure built up inside the reactors. Although this design defect was first noted about 40 years ago, just as the Fukushima reactors were commissioned, the industry resisted regulatory changes that could have ameliorated the disaster.

Framework of impunity

The Japan Center for Economic Research estimated that the cost of cleanup at Fukushima may reach $200 billion. A 2013 expert study “Accounting for long-term doses in worldwide health effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident” published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science estimated that the disaster may lead to about a thousand excess deaths due to cancer. However, it is unlikely that GE will ever be held accountable for its poor design choice. Under Japanese law, the supplier is indemnified from liability for an accident. This is the framework of impunity under which nuclear suppliers like to operate.
Legal indemnity for suppliers creates a “moral hazard”— encouraging suppliers to take excessive risks since they don’t have to pay for the consequences. The case of GE not strengthening the Mark I containment is not an exception. The Presidential commission appointed to study the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster, which saw a partial nuclear meltdown, pointed out that the supplier, Babcock and Wilcox, was already aware of design defects that contributed to the accident, but never bothered to resolve them.
Nevertheless, suppliers have ferociously defended their privilege of being free of liability, and they exerted tremendous pressure on the Indian government when the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act was framed in 2010. Contrary to the industry’s propaganda, this is not a “tough” law. Indeed, several clauses in the law were directly lifted from an annex to the “Convention on Supplementary Compensation,” created by the U.S. government to benefit its nuclear industry.
The law channels primary liability for an accident to the operator — the public sector Nuclear Power Corporation of India — and caps it at Rs. 1,500 crore. This overrides the absolute liability judgment of the Supreme Court, passed after the Bhopal gas leak disaster, which had no such limit. The cap is about a thousand times smaller than estimates of the damage that a serious nuclear accident could cause. Therefore, the law is designed to protect the financial interests of the operators and the supplier; victims or the taxpayers will simply have to bear costs beyond this cap.
Multinational suppliers are unhappy because a relatively minor clause allows the operator to recoup this compensation. By the scales of nuclear commerce, the amount of money involved is minuscule. A single reactor may cost up to an estimated Rs. 60,000 crore — 40 times the maximum amount the supplier could be liable for. The figures of each unit have been arrived at from studying plants under construction in Finland and France. If imposing liability on suppliers leads to cost increases, it can only mean that they are using the law as an excuse to escalate prices.
A close reading of the statements made by advocates of their interests reveals what suppliers are really concerned about: the Indian law could set a precedent that could undermine the iniquitous international system of impunity that they enjoy. “If litigants were able to file suit against suppliers, essentially it could destroy the whole industry,” declared Ashley Tellis, an American negotiator for the nuclear deal.
The United Progressive Alliance government repeatedly tried to subvert the law, earning a sharp rebuke from Arun Jaitley who wrote in 2013 that “a leopard never changes its spots. The government’s intention to dilute the right of recourse … [has] continued.” He should explain why his own government is pursuing a similar policy. The current proposal of using a “legal memorandum” to reinterpret the law is similar to the UPA’s attempt to sign away its “right of recourse” on various pretexts.

No tangible benefits

The most baffling feature of the current agreement is that it holds no tangible benefits for India. The United States has offered to sell two reactor designs — both of which are expensive and untested. The Westinghouse AP1000, which has been chosen for Mithi Virdi (Gujarat) is not in commercial operation anywhere and has encountered difficulties wherever it is being built. At Plant Vogtle, in the U.S. state of Georgia, Westinghouse and its partner Georgia Power have sued each other for a billion dollars over cost increases and delays. Even in China, the AP1000 has been delayed by about two years because of problems with reactor coolant pumps.
Even less can be said for GE’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR), selected for Kovvada (Andhra Pradesh). After years of questions about ESBWR’s steam dryer, the design obtained regulatory approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission — the first step before construction can commence — only in September 2014. There are no firm orders for the ESBWR.
The Vogtle plants were initially estimated to cost about $7 billion apiece. Even accounting for lower construction costs in India we showed — in a detailed study “Cost of Electricity from the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant” published in the Economic and Political Weekly — could translate into electricity tariffs that are as high as Rs. 15 per unit. If the government is looking for cheap electricity to promote development, importing American reactors hardly seems like a smart choice.
Last week, the residents of Mithi Virdi wrote an open letter to Mr. Obama and Mr. Modi reminding them that the “gram panchayats of four most-affected villages … [have] passed a resolution declaring the entire … region as [a] nuclear free zone.” The leaders of the “world’s largest democracies” face a clear choice. They can channel billions of dollars into nuclear corporations by sacrificing safety and economic prudence. Or they can heed the democratic voices from Mithi Virdi and cancel these unnecessary deals.

Food insecurity acts

The Shanta Kumar Committee’s recommendations to unbundle the Food Corporation of India are in tune with U.S.-led demands raised in the World Trade Organization

The Shanta Kumar Committee report, released last week, on a range of issues relating to procurement, storage and distribution of food grains is not only deeply flawed in its reading of the situation on food security, but also short on facts. It was prepared under the guidance of the Prime Minister’s Office.
For example, the report asserts that only six per cent of all farmers have benefited from Minimum Support Price (MSP) through sale of food grains to an official procurement agency, according to data of the National Sample Survey Organisation’s 70th round. But analysts have found discrepancies between the survey’s estimates of the food grains sold to official procurement agencies and the actual amount of grains procured by official agencies for that year.

For kharif, the NSSO survey estimates that 13 million tonnes were sold to a procurement agency while the actual procurement that year by government agencies was 34 million tonnes. For rabi, the gap is even larger: 10 million tonnes estimated in the survey while the actual amount procured by an official agency was 38 million tonnes.

Selling at distress prices

Why did the Shanta Kumar Committee overlook these possible underestimates? Was it just to arrive at the sensational figure of six per cent and then argue that since only six per cent of farmers get the benefit of MSP and procurement, why have the Food Corporation of India (FCI) at all?
But there is another way of looking at it. It is true that large numbers of farmers are deprived of the benefits of MSP. It is not because they do not want to sell to the procurement agencies but because they do not have access to official procurement centre, which are set up only in selective States and regions. The majority of farmers sell at distress prices which push them deeper into debt. For this large section of rural India, reforming the system would mean a substantial increase in the number of procurement centres and easier access, so as to enable it to benefit from MSP.
As soon as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assumed office, the first thing it did was to bring down the rate of increase of MSP to just about three per cent over the previous year — this when the prices of farm inputs have increased phenomenally.
Some States under pressure from Kisan movements decided to give a bonus over and above the MSP to help farmers. The Modi government stepped in to “punish” such States. It decreed that it would not procure any food grains over and above the requirement for the Public Distribution System (PDS) from such States which gave the farmers a bonus.
Confronted with the Central government’s policy, the Chhattisgarh government, for example, which had given such a bonus, issued a circular that it would procure only 10 quintals of paddy per acre from individual farmers. Andhra Pradesh has also limited its procurement. Thus, open-ended procurement which ensured India’s food security and farmer security is now in the process of being whittled down while the rate of increase of MSP is delinked from the increases in the cost of production and adequate profit margins. This is in contrast to the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendation for MSP to be calculated at the cost of production plus 50 per cent profit, to keep agriculture viable.
The immediate impact in Chhattisgarh has been distress sales by farmers to private traders who can dictate prices, buoyed by the assurance from the government that it would not procure more grains.
The Shanta Kumar Committee report takes these dangerous steps further by advocating limited procurement as the officially declared policy.
This is directly linked to its recommendation to scrap the existing Food Security Act (FSA). The Committee wants to reduce the coverage from 67 per cent to 40 per cent of the population. It also wants to double the prices that these food grains are to be sold at under the present Act by linking the price to the MSP. This means resurrecting the fraudulent and discredited Above Poverty Line and Below Poverty Line estimations and depriving equally poor people of subsidised grains. In fact, as the Left has consistently argued and fought for, it is only a universalised PDS that can meet the requirement to make India hunger-free. The Shanta Kumar Committee wants to eliminate even the inadequate provisions under the existing FSA and push the country back to the worst days of food insecurity.
Ironically, such a recommendation comes at a time when the United Nations agencies monitoring country-wise performances towards meeting the Millennium goals have praised India for its reduction of malnutrition, giving credit for this to food security systems like the “ICDS [Integrated Child Development Services] as well as the public distribution system.” In spite of the reduction, which brings India from the “most alarming category” to the “seriously affected” category, the country is still home to the largest malnourished population in the world; its rank in the Global Hunger Index at 55 out of 76 emerging economies is only slightly ahead of Pakistan and Bangladesh but worse than Sri Lanka and Nepal.
As in the case of procurement, the Modi government has started to subvert the FSA in the case of implementation too. The FSA became law in September 2013. More than a year later, it is being implemented in only 11 States. The Central government has excluded 25 States and Union Territories from the ambit of the Act. According to a release on November 28, 2014, these States and Union Territories “have not completed the preparatory measures required for the implementation of the Act.” It was further stated that “the Central Government extended the deadline for the implementation of the Act by another six months, namely till April 2014.”
The Government of India has no right to make the implementation of the Act conditional to “preparedness” on the basis of parameters it has decided arbitrarily. There is no such legal provision in the Act, nor is there any legal deadline. But the official release reflects clearly the present government’s hostility towards taking any responsibility for food security. This is also reflected in the allocation of food grains. If the FSA is to be implemented, then according to the calculations of the Food Ministry, the allocations will go up to 550 lakh tonnes of food grains compared to the pre-FSA allocations in 2012-2013 of 504 lakh tonnes.

Shift to direct cash transfers

According to the Ministry’s food grains bulletin till December 2014, allocations to the States were just 388 lakh tonnes of food grains. This is roughly the same as it was the previous year, before the Act was passed. In other words, the Modi government has already stayed the implementation of the FSA. It is preparing to shift to direct cash transfers for a more restricted number of families.
The Shanta Kumar Committee’s recommendations to unbundle the FCI, allowing the free play of market forces in procurement and storage of food grains, and restricting the FSA are in tune with the demands raised by the western world led by the U.S. in the World Trade Organisation against India’s systems of procurement, storage and distribution. The India-U.S. agreement to end the stalemate in the WTO process is clearly premised on the changes being suggested by the Committee.
The government can be expected to try and bulldoze the required amendments to the FSA through Parliament using its majority. But undoubtedly it will face the resistance of the people.

Choosing satyagraha over spectacle

This Republic Day had two sets of tableaux, one enacted on Rajpath, and the other more elaborate as the tableau of security. Yet, as spectacles, Mr. Obama will be forgotten while the satyagrahi’s acts of conscience and courage will prompt us to rethink history

The ritual of political spectacles creates its own frenzy of anticipation. U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to India was expected to create a sense of magical politics before it faded into banality. For all the hysteria of expert commentary, no new regime of intellectual property is going to emerge, and no nuclear deal will have the qualities of transparency both sides will demand. But there was a second

piece of drama which was relevant to the themes of the visit. Mr. Obama was searching for a new compact to fight terror. The second event challenged the security discourse he was urging by talking of peace in a different language. This was Irom Sharmila’s decision to continue her fast after the High Court had cleared her of charges of suicide.

Sharmila’s fast, one of the classic acts of satyagraha in history, has often been read as a local event. For all its drama, it is seen as a footnote to the problems of the so-called North East, a local struggle in Manipur. Yet, politics has a way of transforming itself from a local anecdote to a national symbol. Sharmila’s years of fasting, protesting against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) is relevant for a world which is combating terror. Terror today is not an act confined to rebels and insurgents. Terror is also a part of the policy of the state. AFSPA, formalised by Parliament in 1958, has destroyed the normalcy of Manipur. Sharmila’s fast began as a simple, naive act of protest by a young girl who decides to refuse food till AFSPA is repealed. She was protesting against the rape and murder of Manipuri women by an Army which used the law to commit atrocities with impunity. Over the years, the simple message of courage has made Sharmila’s act, a major message of non-violence today.
Terror and satyagraha

Terror today dominates state politics, immobilising democracies which are addicted to the security discourse. When the state mirrors the violence of the terrorists, a political impasse is born. Sharmila shows that satyagraha might be an answer to the indignity of terror. Satyagraha can fight terror and shame it into civility. Let us first examine the contrast.
Terror is contemptuous of the body, indifferent to the suffering of the victim. Satyagraha uses the body as the vehicle of truth and uses suffering to create compassion. It offers the dignity of vulnerability to the indifference of terrorism.
Terror paralyses through anonymity. It is always masked. Satyagraha is always a face which seeks to communicate. Terror paralyses discourse while satyagraha opens up conversation. A Gandhi would always talk to his oppressors while IS would at most “telegram” its ownership of the act of violence. Satyagraha seeks the ethics of responsibility. Terror owns the act of violence but disowns the responsibility for it.
Terror emphasises invulnerability. Satayagraha begins from vulnerability. Terror paralyses agency and satyagraha seeks to revive it. Watching Sharmila, one senses the vulnerability of a fragile woman and yet the strength of agency which has survived over decades.
Terror creates shock but no surprise. It fuses politics and technology into repetitive acts of cannibalising bodies. The satyagrahi is constantly inventing. Terror destroys normalcy while the satyagrahi seeks to restore normalcy and in pondering over its delights. Irom Sharmila insists that when AFSPA is repealed, she will marry a man she loves and live an ordinary life.
The satyagraha speaks truth to power while terror seeks to challenge power through violence. The women of Manipur know that insurgence is no answer to development. They are not looking for mock heroics but the ordinariness and everydayness of life and its rituals.
Satyagraha seeks justice. Terror, at the most, can speak the language of revenge. In fact, terror depoliticises politics by invoking the redundancy of security discourse, while satyagraha is an invitation to politics, to its constant reinventions. The satyagrahi summons speech while terror invites the constant noise of violence.
In terms of drama, satyagraha is the politics of theatre, but terror has no real sense of dialogue, drama or spectatorship. The protests of the women of Manipur standing naked before the Assam Rifles headquarters saying, “Rape us too” conveys drama while bin Laden, for all the publicity, conveys no sense of speech, no inventiveness of language, no sense of surprise. The redundancy and the excess of terror elude drama. Terror destroys storytelling while satyagraha unfolds as an epic story.
The message of Irom Sharmila is the message of Václav Havel, of Mahatma Gandhi, of Martin Luther King; that out of vulnerability can come the agency which emancipates, which understands the other as it battles him.
No understanding

Our terrorists and our security discourses seek only dominance and control, not understanding. The discourse that Mr. Obama spouts shows little understanding of the evils enacted by the U.S. Narendra Modi shows little sense of the suffering of the North East. In fact the term North East is itself a violence to the diversity of communities in the area. The women of Manipur are asking for the gift of normalcy, the right to everydayness which allows a citizen to pursue life and liberty.
In fact, my mind was toying with the idea that Obama-Modi would enact their lifeless politics on Republic Day. Their battle hymn of the republic seeks deals about nuclear energy, defence and intellectual property. Think of these negotiations along with the tableaux of militarism that the Indian state presented on January 26. This Republic Day had two sets of tableaux, one enacted on Rajpath but the more elaborate one is the tableau of security, the seven rounds of security cordons that protected Mr. Obama. At this moment one realises the voyeurism of India in seeking the same securitarian pomposity as the U.S. Yet, as spectacles, Mr. Obama will be forgotten while Sharmila’s acts of conscience prompt us to rethink history.
Sharmila too talks of development but it is the story of village and family, of craft and biomass societies confronting the new developmentalist state.
New kind of democracy

Security, and its sibling, terror, create spectacles while satyagraha unfolds as a drama. Imagine for a moment that one narrowed such drama to a spectacle of tableaux on Republic Day. Imagine a Republic Day without the military, the uniforms and the preening aircraft. Think of our satyagrahis as a tableau of events beginning with Gandhi and Ghaffar Khan. Add to it Mahasweta Devi, the Bengali writer, talking of bonded labour like a sad old aunt. Think of Aruna Roy leading the protest of the poor of Rajasthan, demanding a right to information. Imagine the displaced survivors of the Narmada Dam sitting immersed in water to remind India that development is a kind of amnesia. Think of Ela Bhatt of SEWA claiming that world peace begins with women’s work. Add to it the protest of Manipur and of Irom Sharmila sitting quietly, giggling over one of her drawings and surrounded by security guards. Such tableaux make words like security, development, sovereignty empty. They seek to create a new kind of democracy.
The juxtaposition of two news events this week showed us the possibility of two kinds of politics. Thereports of Irom Sharmila hardly extended to a paragraph; an indifferent footnote in some newspapers. The Modi-Obama serenade, with its chorus of commentary, swallowed our newspapers, where even attention went into First Lady Michelle Obama’s dress. I do not think there was a photograph of Irom in any newspaper. I think The Telegraph was possibly the one newspaper that reported the struggle in detail.
As I sat and wrote this article on a cold winter’s day, while roads all over Delhi were blocked in a display of efficiency, I wondered who would survive as history; who would be the greater exemplar of politics and the politics of hope that democracy creates.
Would it be Narendra Modi and his dreams of India as Prussian state? Was it Mr. Obama, the President, who promised so much and offered so little, desperate to create a few crumbs of history by clinching a nuclear deal with India? Or would it be Irom Sharmila and her craft of peace, seeking normalcy, an ordinariness in a society which prefers the state as a constant spectacle, and where politics is a continuous act of conspicuous consumption in terms of security, luxury and the pomposity of power? To me, the quietness of Sharmila wins over the noise of the Modi-Obama political machine.
As a satyagrahi, I am sure Sharmila would have liked to send them a greeting card, inviting them to come to Manipur. I think it is the Irom Sharmilas, the Mahasweta Devis and the Ela Bhatts who have to colour the imagination of India and take it beyond the triteness of state politics. The storyteller has to return to narrate these events, for what goes as news today is a travesty of peace and history.

‘America can be India’s best partner’

Dynamism has resulted in a stunning achievement in India…. Strongest when we empower youth, says Obama

The following are the excerpts from US President Barack Obama’s address to a select gathering at Siri Fort in New Delhi on the concluding day of his three-day visit on January 27:

Namaste! Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, to all the students and young people who are here today, to the people of India watching and listening across this vast nation – I bring the friendship and the greetings of the American people. On behalf of myself and Michelle, thank you so much for welcoming us back to India.  Bahoot dhanyavad….

It has been a great honour to be the first American President to join you for Republic Day.  With the tricolour waving above us, we celebrated the strength of your constitution.  

We paid tribute to India’s fallen heroes.  In the parade, we saw the pride and the diversity of this nation – including the Dare Devils on their Royal Enfields, which was very impressive.  Secret Service does not let me ride motorcycles….   

My commitment to a new chapter between our countries flows from the deep friendship between our people. I recognised India with the first state visit of my presidency – where we also danced to some pretty good Bhangra.    For the first time, we brought Diwali to the White House.    

On our last celebration here, we celebrated the Festival of Lights in Mumbai.  We danced with some children.  Unfortunately, we were not able to schedule any dancing this visit.  Senorita, bade-bade deshon mein, you know what I mean.    And there is another link that binds us.  

More than 100 years ago, America welcomed a son of India – Swami Vivekananda. And Swami Vivekananda, he helped bring Hinduism and yoga to our country.  And he came to my hometown of Chicago.  

And there, at a great gathering of religious leaders, he spoke of his faith and the divinity in every soul, and the purity of love.  And he began his speech with a simple greeting:  “Sisters and brothers of America.” So today, let me say:  Sisters and brothers of India – my confidence in what our nations can achieve together is rooted in the values we share….  

Having thrown off colonialism, we created constitutions that began with the same three words – “we the people.”  As societies that celebrate knowledge and innovation, we transformed ourselves into high-tech hubs of the global economy.

Together, we unlock new discoveries – from the particles of creation to outer space – two nations to have gone to both the Moon and to Mars. And here in India, this dynamism has resulted in a stunning achievement.  

You’ve lifted countless millions from poverty and built one of the world’s largest middle classes.

And nobody embodies this progress and this sense of possibility more than our young people.  Empowered by technology, you are connecting and collaborating like never before – on Facebook and WhatsApp and Twitter.  And chances are, you’re talking to someone in America – your friends, your cousins.  

The United States has the largest Indian diaspora in the world, including some three million proud Indian-Americans.    And they make America stronger, and they tie us together – bonds of family and friendship that allow us to share in each other’s success.

For all these reasons, India and the United States are not just natural partners.  I believe America can be India’s best partner. Of course, only Indians can decide India’s role in the world.  

But I’m here because I’m absolutely convinced that both our peoples will have more jobs and opportunity, and our nations will be more secure, and the world will be a safer and a more just place when our two democracies – the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy – stand together.

America wants to be your partner in igniting the next wave of Indian growth.  As India pursues more trade and investment, we want to be first in line.  We’re ready to join you in building new infrastructure – the roads and the airports, the ports, the bullet trains to propel India into the future.  

We’re ready to help design “smart cities” that serve citizens better, and we want to develop more advanced technologies with India, as we do with our closest allies…

Greater role for India

The United States welcomes a greater role for India in the Asia Pacific, where the freedom of navigation must be upheld and disputes must be resolved peacefully….  To ensure international security and peace, multilateral institutions created in the 20th century have to be updated for the 21st.  And that’s why I support a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.     

Of course, as I’ve said before, with power comes responsibility.  In this region, India can play a positive role in helping countries forge a better future, from Burma to Sri Lanka, where today there’s new hope for democracy.  With your experience in elections, you can help other countries with theirs.  With your expertise in science and medicine, India can do more around the world to fight disease and develop new vaccines, and help us end the moral outrage of even a single child dying from a preventable disease.…  

We are strongest when we see the inherent dignity in every human being.  Look at our countries – the incredible diversity even here in this hall.  India is defined by countless languages and dialects, and every colour and caste and creed, gender and orientations.  And likewise, in America, we’re black and white, and Latino and Asian, and Indian-American, and Native American.  Your constitution begins with the pledge to uphold “the dignity of the individual.”  And our Declaration of Independence proclaims that “all men are created equal.”

In both our countries, generations have worked to live up to these ideals.  When he came to India, Martin Luther King, Jr was introduced to some schoolchildren as a “fellow untouchable.”  My grandfather was a cook for the British army in Kenya.  The distant branches of Michelle’s family tree include both slaves and slave owners.  When we were born, people who looked like us still couldn’t vote in some parts of the country.  Even as America has blessed us with extraordinary opportunities, there were moments in my life where I’ve been treated differently because of the colour of my skin. 

Identity and inequality

Many countries, including the United States, grapple with questions of identity and inequality, and how we treat each other, people who are different than us, how we deal with diversity of beliefs and of faiths.  Right now, in crowded neighbourhoods not far from here, a man is driving an auto-rickshaw, or washing somebody else’s clothes, or doing the hard work no one else will do.  And a woman is cleaning somebody else’s house.  And a young man is on a bicycle delivering lunch. 

A little girl is hauling a heavy bucket of water.  And I believe their dreams, their hopes, are just as important, just as beautiful, just as worthy as ours.  And so even as we live in a world of terrible inequality, we’re also proud to live in countries where even the grandson of a cook can become President, or even a Dalit can help write a constitution, and even a tea seller can become Prime Minister.…   

Our nations are strongest when we see that we are all God’s children – all equal in His eyes and worthy of His love.  Across our two great countries we have Hindus and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, and Jews and Buddhists and Jains and so many faiths.  And we remember the wisdom of Gandhiji, who said, “for me, the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree.”  

Our freedom of religion is written into our founding documents.  It’s part of America’s very first amendment.  Your Article 25 says that all people are “equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.”  In both our countries – in all countries – upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government, but it’s also the responsibility of every person.

In our lives, Michelle and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith.  But there have been times where my faith has been questioned – by people who don’t know me – or they’ve said that I adhere to a different religion, as if that were somehow a bad thing.  

Around the world, we’ve seen intolerance and violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to be standing up for their faith, but, in fact, are betraying it.  No society is immune from the darkest impulses of man.  And too often religion has been used to tap into those darker impulses as opposed to the light of God.

Three years ago in our state of Wisconsin, back in the United States, a man went to a Sikh temple and, in a terrible act of violence, killed six innocent people – Americans and Indians. And in that moment of shared grief, our two countries reaffirmed a basic truth, as we must again today – that every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.   

The peace we seek in the world begins in human hearts.  And it finds its glorious expression when we look beyond any differences in religion or tribe, and rejoice in the beauty of every soul.  And nowhere is that more important than India.

Nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld.  India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith – so long as it’s not splintered along any lines – and is unified as one nation.

And it’s when all Indians, whatever your faith, go to the movies and applaud actors like Shah Rukh Khan.  And when you celebrate athletes like Milkha Singh or Mary Kom.  And every Indian can take pride in the courage of a humanitarian who liberates boys and girls from forced labour and exploitation – who is here today – Kailash Satyarthi, our most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace.  

Diversity is our strength

So that’s what unifies us:  Do we act with compassion and empathy?  Are we measured by our efforts – by what Dr King called “the content of our character” rather than the colour of our skin or the manner in which we worship our God?  In both our countries, in India and in America, our diversity is our strength.  And we have to guard against any efforts to divide ourselves along sectarian lines or any other lines.  

And, finally, our nations are strongest when we empower our young people – because ultimately, you’re the one who has to break down these old stereotypes and these old barriers, these old ways of thinking.  Prejudices and stereotypes and assumptions – those are what happens to old minds like mine. I’m getting grey hair now.  I was more youthful when I first started this office.  And that’s why young people are so important in these efforts.

Here in India, most people are under 35 years old.  And India is on track to become the world’s most populous country. So young Indians like you aren’t just going to define the future of this nation, you’re going to shape the world. Like young people everywhere, you want to get an education, and find a good job, and make your mark.  And it’s not easy, but in our two countries, it’s possible.

Remember, Michelle and I don’t come from wealthy backgrounds or famous families. Our families didn’t have a lot of money.  We did have parents and teachers and communities that cared about us. And with the help of scholarships and student loans, we were able to attend some of best schools of the world.

Without that education, we wouldn’t be here today.  So, whether it’s in America, or here in India, or around the world, we believe young people like you ought to have every chance to pursue your dreams, as well. 

We are all “beautiful flowers from the same garden…branches of the same majestic tree.”  And I’m the first American President to come to your country twice, but I predict I will not be the last. Because, as Americans, we believe in the promise of India. We believe in the people of India.  We are proud to be your friend. We are proud to be your partner as you build the country of your dreams.

Czar Putin’s Next Moves

 Last March, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, supposedly in defense of Russian-speakers there, was just like “what Hitler did back in the ‘30s“ — using ethnic Germans to justify his invasion of neighboring lands. At the time, I thought such a comparison was over the top. I don’t think so anymore. I’d endorse Mrs. Clinton’s

comparison purely for the shock value: It draws attention to the awful things Putin is doing to Ukraine, not to mention his own country, whose credit rating was just reduced to junk status.

Putin’s use of Russian troops wearing uniforms without insignia to invade Ukraine and to covertly buttress Ukrainian rebels bought and paid for by Moscow — all disguised by a web of lies that would have made Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels blush and all for the purpose of destroying Ukraine’s reform movement before it can create a democratic model that might appeal to Russians more than Putin’s kleptocracy — is the ugliest geopolitical mugging happening in the world today.
Ukraine matters — more than the war in Iraq against the Islamic State, a.k.a., ISIS. It is still not clear that most of our allies in the war against ISIS share our values. That conflict has a big tribal and sectarian element. It is unmistakably clear, though, that Ukraine’s reformers in its newly elected government and Parliament — who are struggling to get free of Russia’s orbit and become part of the European Union’s market and democratic community — do share our values. If Putin the Thug gets away with crushing Ukraine’s new democratic experiment and unilaterally redrawing the borders of Europe, every pro-Western country around Russia will be in danger.
“Putin fears a Ukraine that demands to live and wants to live and insists on living on European values — with a robust civil society and freedom of speech and religion [and] with a system of values the Ukrainian people have chosen and laid down their lives for,” Natalie Jaresko, Ukraine’s finance minister, told a Ukraine seminar at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week.
The U.S. and Germany have done a good job organizing the sanctions on Russia. While the Obama administration recently decided to deploy some American soldiers to Ukraine in the spring to train the Ukrainian National Guard, I’d support increasing our military aid to Ukraine’s Army now so it can better defend itself from the estimated 9,000 troops Putin has infiltrated into Ukraine.
Ukraine also needs $15 billion in loans and grants in the next year to stabilize its economy, in addition to its bailout from the International Monetary Fund. Ukrainians had dug themselves into a deep, deep hole with their 20-plus years of industrial levels of corruption from a series of bad governments after Kiev became independent of the Soviet Union. The reason for hope is that the revolution and latest elections in Ukraine have brought in a new generation of reformers, who are rapidly transforming ministries and passing tax and transparency regulations. They are actually welcoming hardheaded, good-governance benchmarks as a condition for Western aid. But if they deliver, we must deliver.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has been traveling across Europe this week in part to lock in the aid package for Kiev. The U.S. has committed its share, but the European Union is still balking a bit. Putin’s aim is to sow enough instability that the West will hold back aid so the Ukraine reformers will fail to deliver and be discredited. That would be a shame.
Global financier George Soros, who’s been helping foster Ukrainian reform, told the Davos gathering that “there is a new Ukraine that is determined to be different from the old Ukraine. … What makes it unique is that it is not only willing to fight but engage in executing a set of radical reforms. It is up against the old Ukraine that has not disappeared … and up against a very determined design by President Putin to destabilize it and destroy it. But it is determined to assert the independence and European orientation of the new Ukraine.”
Ukraine could also impact the price of oil. The two biggest actors who can shape that price today are Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman, and Russia’s czar, Putin. If the Saudis decide to cut back production significantly, the price of oil will go up. And if Putin decides to fully invade Ukraine, or worse, one of the Baltic states, and test whether NATO will really fight to defend either, the price of oil will go up. With his economy in shambles, Putin’s regime is now almost entirely dependent on oil and gas exports, so he’s really hurting with the oil price collapse. The odds of Putin fully invading Ukraine or the Baltics are low, but do not rule out either.
Triggering a big geopolitical crisis with NATO is an easy way for Putin to shock the oil price back up. Putin’s covert Ukraine interventions up to now have not succeeded in that. In sum: Today’s oil price will be most affected by two men — King Salman and how he uses his spare capacity to produce oil and Czar Putin and how he uses his spare capacity to produce trouble.

Innovation must for quality healthcare

Drugmakers must adopt adopt world-class manufacturing practices and operate in ethical manner

The recent meeting saw the government, regulators, captains of the pharmaceutical industry, pharma associations and healthcare professionals from across the country converged on one platform. 
The theme ‘Make, Develop and Innovate in India’ generated animated discussion around what India needed to truly become a ‘Pharmacy to the World’.  

The conclusion was unanimous and all the stakeholders agreed that if intent is to become action, then the time is now! The need of the hour is a collaborative approach that will ensure patients’ access to innovative medicines while supporting the government’s goals of bringing growth to India through research, innovation and manufacturing.

While India has made rapid strides in economic growth and lifted millions out of poverty, progress in improving health outcomes has been slow.  In its recent assessment of the Indian economy, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) identified India’s poor health outcomes as one of our major developmental challenges.

We are hopeful that the government will prioritise healthcare, strengthen infrastructure and focus on skill development.  The government must increase healthcare budgets from the current 1 to at least 2.5 per cent in the next two years.   Access to healthcare extends beyond the cost of medicine, to the proximity, quality and functionality of the infrastructure that supports that access.

More than affordability, the barrier to access is the inability to pay out-of-pocket and the lack of insurance cover.  Implementing the promised Universal Health Assurance programme will help benefit patients and increase access.

Creating a healthy India requires balancing the need for innovation with the necessity for more affordable medicines, within a robust IP environment.  Pro-innovation policies and increased access to medicines are not mutually exclusive, but must go hand-in-hand for the benefit of patients.  

Research cannot be allowed to stop! India should favour an innovative environment that supports research and development of new medicines, within India and around the globe. Patent protection is necessary for continued investments in innovative life-saving drugs. Innovation and patenting processes together form the key elements of a modern, self-confident economy.

Quality is another big concern. Patients need to be assured that their medicines conform to prescribed standards and that manufacturers adopt world-class manufacturing practices and operate in an ethical business environment.  

We constantly read about the recalls and bans of sub-standard drugs from the US and European markets. We can no longer ignore the urgent need for stringent and non-negotiable quality framework.  The pharmaceutical industry must focus not only on manufacturing the latest medicines, but on establishing and ensuring adherence to the highest quality standards for every drug sold.

Collective responsibility

The healthcare industry has a collective responsibility towards all patients and must guarantee that we deliver ‘responsible healthcare’. This can happen only when our entire healthcare eco system complies with global good manufacturing practices and stringent ethics codes. 

The government’s declaration of its Uniform Code of Pharmaceuticals Marketing Practices (UCPMP) becoming a formal code, effective January 1, 2015, is a very welcome move. India is a critical market in the global pharmaceutical ecosystem.

A number of factors put India in a strong position to become a leading global innovator of new medicines, within an environment that rewards innovation.  We have much to be proud of: the Indian pharmaceutical industry is the third largest in the world by volume; it is the second highest foreign exchange earner in the world; and it is a generics powerhouse.  

Drug development is really the cutting edge of pharmaceuticals and here we have very little to show.  The reasons for this are complex, but we will certainly go far in realising our potential to be a global leader in R&D if we are able to ensure a robust protection of intellectual property. 

If we are able to protect our innovators and creators, we will create and attract world class R&D as well as create and sustain high quality jobs. This will help take us closer to the stated objective of ‘Make, Develop and Innovate in India’ and closer to attaining our goal of turning India into one of the world’s leading destinations for end-to-end drug discovery and innovation by 2020.

Any long-term solution to India’s healthcare challenges will require a holistic approach and a critical evaluation of our existing systems. The industry is more than willing to support the government and help address the nation’s healthcare challenges.  The time is right, the time is now!

(The writer is Director General, Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India

Has Modi succumbed US’ pressure on patents?

Prime minister’s statement, agreeing to implement recommendations of India-US joint working group on intellectual property, would make medicines unaffordable for millions of needy, say health activists

 Foreign MNCs will benefit from the move, leaving Indian generics in the lurch, say activists (Photo by Ankur Paliwal)Foreign MNCs will benefit from the move, leaving Indian generics in the lurch, say activists (Photo by Ankur Paliwal)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stand on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) became clear when he assured Barack Obama that his government is ready to follow the recommendations of the US-India joint working group. Modi made this statement on Monday while addressing the CEO Forum at the Siri Fort auditorium in Delhi.
Stating that IPR is an important issue, he said all countries of the world should together find a “solution” to it. Health activists, who have been critical of US pressure on India to lower patent guards, said use of the word “solution” means Modi has succumbed to US pressure and that this can have adverse impact on millions of people in the developing and under-developed world who cannot afford patented, expensive medicines.

The US has been demanding new criteria for patents, like data exclusivity (a form of IPR, usually related to medicines wherein data provided by original registrant to regulator is protected to keep out generic competition) and patent linkage, which would make the going tougher for generic drug companies. “There are indications that the Indian government is changing its stand and taking a favourable view to the US-demand for data exclusivity and patent linkage. What is most troubling is that this move would only benefit foreign MNCs, leaving Indian generics in the lurch and risking the health of millions of patients in the bargain,” said Anand Grover, director of advocacy group Lawyers’ Collective.
India has been a critical global supplier of low-priced generic medicines to treat diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, cancer and diabetes, which are among the biggest causes of death and suffering. This was made possible only due to India’s progressive IPR laws. Indian generic medicines have reduced the prices of HIV/AIDS treatment by more than 90 per cent, say experts.
Not only this, many other countries were looking towards Indian IPR policy to overcome problems posed by patents which make drugs unaffordable.
But multinationals enjoying patents on even old drug formulae by repackaging it with slight tweaking have not digested generic solution to unaffordable medicines, say health activists. Influenced by these multi-nationals, the US government has been putting pressure on India to change its IP policies and to limit the use of public health safeguards enshrined in its domestic laws. 
Finally, US got a platform where it could formally put pressure on Indian lawmakers when Modi announced the setting up of the joint working group on IP during his maiden visit to the US in the last week of September, 2014.
Dangers of bilaterals
Experts have been cautioning the Indian government against any bilateral negotiation on IP with the US as it would definitely lead to demands on India to provide for higher standards of IP protection that are not required of India under the existing WTO IP agreement—TRIPS.
Convener of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, Amit Sengupta said, “The institutionalisation of bilateral engagement of IP-related issues provides the US government a platform to push the commercial interests of its corporations.”
Pointing to Modi’s statement to follow the recommendation of the joint working group, he further stated, “It is now clear that the Indian government is willing to sell the interests of Indian patients in order to please US-based pharmaceutical companies. If this is the outcome of President Obama’s visit, then the fears of Indian patient groups and civil society that this visit would adversely affect the health of millions are more than realised.”
Vikas Ahuja of the Delhi Network of Positive People, an NGO, added: “Indian generic medicines are the life-line of millions of patients around the world. US pharmaceutical companies are threatened by our industry and now the Indian government also seems to be bending to their will. Access to affordable generics could be under serious threat if the US companies have their way”.
“It’s ‘acche din’ for the US companies, Modi is selling out on IPR” said Dinesh Abrol, convenor of National Working Group on Patent Laws, an advocacy group. “India is abandoning its well-considered stand that Indian IP policy and laws are TRIPS-compliant and have been devised to balance the public interest and innovators rights. It was a grave mistake to agree to discussing intellectual property as part of a bilateral setup—the US-India joint working group on IP is turning out to be an instrument for the protection of US companies. It is grossly troubling that our Indian CEOs were silent when the US government was pushing its IP practices as best practices for India to follow when they have already failed to promote genuine innovation in pharmaceuticals in the US.”

The Hindu 31st January 2015 epaper

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With Currency Swap, Argentina Becomes Dependent on China

Earlier this month, Argentina received $400 million from the People’s Bank of China as the fourth installment of an $11 billion currency swap agreement with China. In an email interview, Eduardo Daniel Oviedo, professor of political science and international relations at the National University of Rosario in Argentina, discussed Argentina’s relations with China.

WPR: What are the main areas of cooperation between China and Argentina, and what are the areas of contention?

Eduardo Daniel Oviedo: Politics, trade, investment and migration are the main areas of cooperation between China and Argentina. Mutual support on the issues of the Falkland Islands—known in Argentina as the Malvinas—and Taiwan; a strategic defense alliance; growing trade and investment; and the number of Chinese citizens living in Argentina are examples of the progress in the bilateral relationship.

However, there are also issues preventing closer bilateral ties. The center-periphery model—characterized by exports of soybeans and other raw materials from Argentina and imports of Chinese manufactured goods—weakens Argentina’s manufacturing sector. The question of human rights in China is also incongruous with the policies of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and has affected Argentina’s modernization program. Chinese immigration to Argentina has grown rapidly in recent years—the Chinese are the fourth-largest immigrant group in Argentina—but the illegal status of many Chinese immigrants, together with their growing influence, has prompted some backlash.

WPR: How important have the currency swap deals between China and Argentina been for Argentina’s economy?

Oviedo: Faced with its partial isolation from the international financial system, Argentina has used the currency swap with China as a means to stabilize the exchange rate until the end of Fernandez’s term in December 2015. The paradox is that, while Argentina is a food producer that benefited from the recent rise in commodity prices, and China is a growing importer of food, between 2008-2014 Argentina has had a $24 billion trade deficit with China. Over that period, Argentina’s Central Bank reserves decreased by $18 billion.

In short, the trade deficit with China has contributed significantly to Argentina’s dwindling international reserves, causing the devaluation of the Argentine peso. And while the currency swap agreement has stabilized the peso, it has come at the cost of increasing Argentina’s dependence on Chinese capital. If the trade deficit with China continues—it reached $5.8 billion last year—the instability of the Argentine peso will continue, as will dependency on China.

WPR: How important has Chinese investment been to expanding and improving Argentina’s infrastructure?

Oviedo: The Argentine government considers China a key economic partner for the development of infrastructure projects such as the construction of two hydroelectric power plants in Santa Cruz province and the rehabilitation of the national railway network, as well as other mining, renewable energy and hydrocarbon initiatives. These projects take the form of foreign direct investment; the transfer of assets abroad, including Chinese firm COFCO buying the Nidera grain company; tax havens; and public bidding or direct purchases by the government.

In fact, government purchases are included in Article 5 of the Framework Agreement for Economic and Investment Cooperation signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Argentina in July 2014. The agreement has been passed by the lower house of the Argentine National Congress and is awaiting the approval of the upper house, but several members have expressed their opposition. In particular, they oppose terms of the agreement granting exclusive benefits to China and eliminating public bidding requirements, along with its lack of technology transfers.