Money for fuel subsidy could finance water and electricity for all(Essay,Economy,DTE)

Around 18 per cent of India’s fossil fuel subsidies could provide universal access to sanitation
A new study has found that if the subsidies given to fossil fuels were instead redirected to infrastructure development, it would free up enough funds to provide universal access to water, sanitation and electricity.

The study uses fossil fuel subsidies from 2011, which amounted to US $550 billion per year globally, as the standard based on which to make calculations. While evaluating the costs of providing universal access to water, sanitation, electricity, telecommunication and paved roads, researchers argue against the fear that removal of fossil fuel subsidies would worsen the living conditions of the poorest by making energy more expensive.

According to the study, “universal access to water for all people on the planet could be achieved by investing $190 billion, $370 billion could cover universal access to sanitation, and $430 billion could finance access to electricity”. If these costs are distributed over the next 15 years, they add up to just a fraction of the $8.2 trillion that would be allotted for fossil fuel subsidies in the same time period.

Researchers found that while universal access to water, sanitation and electricity through subsidies is relatively inexpensive to achieve, providing universal access to telecommunication and paved roads would be more complicated. For several countries that have large access gaps in telecommunication and paved roads, the required investment to provide universal access would exceed the savings achieved by fossil fuel subsidy reform.

With regard to India, researchers have noted that while providing access to the 370 million people that lack accessibility to electricity could be covered by investment that would be less than 6 per cent of the country’s fossil fuel subsidies, providing telecommunication services would require investments considerably higher than savings made through the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. About 18 per cent of the country’s fossil fuel subsidies would be able to provide for universal access to sanitation.

The study highlights that “redirecting fossil fuel subsidies to infrastructure investments could, at least for some countries, close a large share of current infrastructure access gaps, in addition to the indirect benefits of economic efficiency and environmental improvements”. But researchers have also sounded a note of caution that their analyses would only hold true if there was a gradual and natural decline of subsidies and simultaneous implementation of infrastructure-building initiatives at national levels. The absence of the latter could cause some people to be affected by higher energy prices while missing out on increased infrastructure access during the transitional period of infrastructure development.

The study comes only a couple of months before members of the UN assembly in New York deliberate over Sustainable Development Goals for the period 2015-2030. Earlier this month, world leaders and delegates met in Addis Ababa to discuss ways to finance projects covered under the Sustainable Development Goals programme.




Transforming the Fight Against Poverty in India(Essay)

Transferring cash to poor families, on the condition that their kids attend school and get vaccinations, has been shown to be an effective way to reduce poverty and improve human health and well-being. Latin America is widely recognized as the pioneer of large-scale conditional transfer programs, starting with Mexico in the late 1990s and expanding across Brazil over the past decade.

Now these programs have the potential for making a serious dent in poverty in India. Under the acronym JAM — Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, Mobile — a quiet revolution of social welfare policy is unfolding. Jan Dhan is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship program to give poor people access to financial services, including bank accounts, credit and insurance. Aadhaar is the initiative to issue unique biometric identification cards to all Indians. Together with mobile money platforms, they will enable the state to transfer cash directly to those in need — without the money going through intermediaries that might take a cut.

India, the world’s largest democracy, is also the world’s largest poor country. The legitimacy of any elected government turns on its ability to provide for the poor. As such, both our federal and state governments subsidize a wide range of products and services with the expressed intention of making them affordable for the poor: rice, wheat, pulses, sugar, kerosene, cooking gas, naphtha, water, electricity, fertilizer, railways. The cost of these subsidies is about 4.2 percent of India’s gross domestic product, which is more than enough to raise the consumption level of every poor Indian household above the poverty line.

Sadly, government provision of these subsidies is associated with significant leakages. For example, as much as 41 percent of subsidized kerosene, which poor families use to light their homes, is “unaccounted for” and is probably lost to the black market. Dealers sell it on the side to middlemen who mix diesel into fuel and resell it, which is bad for both health and the environment.

Furthermore, some subsidies benefit those who do not need them. Power subsidies, for example, favor the (generally wealthier) two-thirds of India who have access to regular grid-provided electricity, and, in particular, wealthier households, which consume more power.

Why, then, do product subsidies form such a central part of the Indian government’s antipoverty policies? Subsidies are a way for states that lack implementation capacity to help the poor; it is easier to sell kerosene and food at subsidized prices than to run effective schools and public health systems.

The three elements of JAM are a potential game-changer. Consider the mind-boggling scale of each element. Nearly 118 million bank accounts have been opened through Jan Dhan. Nearly one billion citizens have a biometrically authenticated unique identity card through Aadhaar. And about half of Indians now have a cellphone (while only 3.7 percent have land lines).

Here’s one example of how these three elements can be put to work.

The Indian government subsidizes households’ purchases of cooking gas; these subsidies amounted to about $8 billion last year. Until recently, subsidies were provided by selling cylinders to beneficiaries at below-market prices. Now, prices have been deregulated, and the subsidy is delivered by depositing cash directly into beneficiaries’ bank accounts, which are linked to cellphones, so that only eligible beneficiaries — not “ghost” intermediaries — receive transfers.

Under the previous arrangement, the large gap between subsidized and unsubsidized prices created a thriving black market, where distributors diverted subsidized gas away from households to businesses for a premium. In new research with Prabhat Barnwal, an economist at Columbia University, we find that cash transfers reduced these “leakages,” resulting in estimated fiscal savings of about $2 billion.Continue reading the main story
RECENT COMMENTS

CL 1 day ago

This sounds like open season on people’s autonomy and privacy and a hidden neoliberal agenda to force Indians to give up their common…
mary rao 2 days ago

I am wondering-If people are provided with cash through bank accounts, what is to stop an irresponsible/selfish family member from using the…
banzai 2 days ago

This sounds like a great way to cut out thw middle man and reduce corruption. NGOs have been doing something similar (Conditional…
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The scope for extending these benefits is enormous. Imagine the possibility of rolling all subsidies into a single lump-sum cash transfer to households, an idea mooted decades ago by the economist Milton Friedman as the holy grail of efficient and equitable welfare policy. JAM makes this possible.

To realize the full benefits of JAM, the government needs — and has begun — to address both “first-mile” and “last-mile” challenges.

The “first-mile” challenges are identifying eligible beneficiaries and coordinating between states and government departments. To deliver means-tested benefits via cash transfers, the government will need a way of identifying the poor and linking beneficiaries to their bank accounts. Further, eligibility criteria and beneficiary rosters vary, and technology platforms, where they exist, may not be seamlessly interoperable. Hence the need for an extensive coordination exercise under the national government, which can incentivize states to come on board by potentially sharing fiscal savings with the states.

The “last-mile” challenge arises because cash transfer programs risk excluding genuine beneficiaries if they do not have bank accounts. Indeed, even if they have an account, they may live so far away from a bank — India has only 40,000 rural bank branches to serve 600,000 villages — that collecting benefits is arduous. Extending financial inclusion to reach the remotest and poorest will require nurturing banks that facilitate payments via mobile networks, which has achieved great success in countries such as Kenya. India can then leapfrog from a bank-less society to a cashless one just as it went from being phoneless to cellphone- saturated.

Over all, JAM offers substantial benefits for government, the economy and especially the poor. Government finances will be improved because of the reduced subsidy burden; at the same time, government will also be legitimized and strengthened because it can transfer resources to citizens faster and more reliably. Experimental evidence from the world’s largest workfare program — the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme — found that delivering wages via a biometrically authenticated payment system reduced corruption and enabled workers to receive salaries faster. With the poor protected, market forces can be allowed to allocate resources with enormous benefits for economywide efficiency and productivity enhancement. The chief beneficiaries will be India’s poor; cash transfers are not a panacea for eliminating their hardship, but can go a long way to improving their lives.




Bibek Debroy: The railways – Palimpsest(Essay, Economy,Transport)

How many railway stations are there in India? Oddly enough, the answer isn’t straightforward, because there isn’t an unambiguous definition of “station”. How does one count a halt, which may be because of operational reasons and not commercial ones? Does one have a handle on the number of abandoned stations? How does one count a station that has two different gauges passing through? And have you heard of Srirampur and Belapur stations in Maharashtra? On one side of the track, the station is called Srirampur. On the other side, it is called Belapur.

Therefore, though the “official” IR (Indian Railways) figure on number of stations is 7,112, a figure that is 8,000-plus isn’t necessarily wrong. Not all stations are equally important and there is a classification from A1 to F. This is a precise definition, but we needn’t get into that. Suffice to say, A1, A and B stations are more important than the others. A1 and A categories add up to 407. If we wish to prioritise resources spent on station development, these are indeed the ones we should focus on. The station with the most annual revenue is CST Mumbai, followed by Dadar.

Let’s think of a railway route as a track that takes us from point X to point Y. Some stations are junctions, in the sense that more than one route passes through that station. To be called a junction, the norm is that at least three routes must pass through the station. A junction leads to additional problems of switching and signalling.

Roughly, there are around 300 railway junctions. Which junction has most routes passing through? Obvious responses about a busy railway station won’t work. “Busy” originating or terminating stations aren’t junctions. Actually, Mathura is the junction with most routes (six broad gauge, one metre gauge) passing through. Roughly, a cluster of 23 ordinary stations will have a junction, because that’s when one will confront another route. There are exceptions like Nagpur and Ajni stations, where distance between the two stations is only three kilometres. But in general, the distance between two stations is between six and eight km and the distance between two junctions is between 100 and 150 km.

To make the point, I am going to use a simple example. Think of a single line track between two ordinary stations. At any specific point in time, only a single train, moving in either of the two directions, can be on that track.

In jargon, in this simple example, that track between two stations is called a block section. Time will be spent on decision-making and the operating of signals, on the driver’s perception and response, and on the train clearing that block section. Let’s say 10 minutes for all this. What’s a reasonable speed for this train? Remember this isn’t a Shatabdi or a Rajdhani. It stops at both stations.

The answer is that anything more than 30 km/hour is impossible. If for computational simplicity if we take the distance between two stations as 10 km, half an hour per train (adding the 10 minutes). Thus two trains per hour, 48 trains per day, even if one ignores time required for maintenance of track. That’s the capacity of this block section.

I recently met a MP who wanted more stops, more trains and greater punctuality. That’s a logical impossibility. Out of 1,219 block sections on IR, 233 are at between 100 and 120 per cent capacity, 193 at between 120 and 150 per cent capacity and 66 at more than 150 per cent capacity.

This is especially serious on the high-density network, that between the metros. If you want more, and faster, trains between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, that’s never going to a problem, not today. But that’s not where people want more trains. There is an unaddressed issue of unviable routes. There are routes on which there are few trains. There is Ledo and there is Tundla. Within Delhi, there are stations on Delhi Ring Railway.

But for the high-density network, options are limited. Here are some:

(1) Use technology to improve efficiency, including signalling. (Automatic signalling can de facto increase capacity by splitting the block into segments.)

(2) Reduce stops between junctions, so that throughput of trains through ordinary stations is faster.

(3) Back-of-the-envelope, badly-strained capacity is probably around 5,000 km of track. At Rs 10 per km, find the required Rs 50,000 crores. But since these capacity constraints are on high-density networks, they don’t fit the category of national priority projects and GBS (gross budgetary support) won’t be available for this.

(4) While one figures out how to find resources, rationalise the number of trains. I said rationalise, I didn’t say eliminate. Ignoring freight trains, does one need 13,000 passenger trains every day? Why have passenger trains with rakes of eight or nine coaches? Such a merger and consolidation has already been carried out for goods trains, and some doubled trains have more than 120 wagons. If all trains (segregated into three groups: Rajdhani/Shatabdi/Duronto, mail/express, and ordinary) have a template of 24 coaches, there will be no additional shortages because of consolidation. One should probably start with the Allahabad-Kanpur-Varanasi-Mughalsarai stretch – symptomatic of capacity problems, since every day 400 trains pass through this stretch.

But IR is reluctant to touch (1) and (2) – and can’t find the non-GBS of Rs 50,000 crores.



We don’t want no education…(Hindu,Essay,Education)

Political independence would amount to little if Indians do not have an education that develops cognitive means, an ethical sensibility and a historical understanding. Recent events suggest that the political class does not want such an education for young Indians

Higher education in India is once again in the news, though not for the most attractive of reasons. Recently, the heads of more than one of the country’s best known institutions have either resigned or been sacked following differences with the government. There are reports that the position of a vice chancellor of a prominent university is under threat. However, these instances are no more than shocks to the widespread despondency amidst the public over the state of this branch of Indian society.
Pulapre Balakrishnan
Some time ago, the then Minister for Human Resource Development, Arjun Singh, had announced to a national meeting of vice chancellors that higher education in India was like a “sick child”. That he was partly responsible for its state, having directed it to expand by 50 per cent within three years as part of the Congress Party’s response to the Mandal Committee Report, was perhaps less of a failing on his part than the failure to initiate a diagnosis of the affliction. Were this done at that time, at least some of the subsequent damage could have been averted.
Not world class

One of the deficiencies of higher education in the country, identified by the government itself, is that its colleges are nowhere to be found in the global league tables. While rating need not bother us unduly, we must recognise that absence from the shortlist of Indian universities tells us something about the production of globally recognisable knowledge in this country. Had we chosen to ignore the global pool of knowledge, this would be of no concern. But, we cannot state this to be the case, as we drink deeply at this very pool. The fact is that in the production of knowledge globally, we are mere spectators, admiring the pirouette or applauding the tightrope walk, participating at best as cheerleaders. While I can say little with any confidence about the natural sciences, of economics it can be said that there is very little that is original being done here. Where we can speak of theory and methodology as being relatively independent, it is not only that we rely on theory developed in the anglophone world but even the empirical methods are often outdated, despite the fact that unlike in the past they are now quite easily accessible. Global best-practice methodologies are more accessible today because we are by now a far richer society compared to say the 1950s, and information and the software for processing it are no longer out of reach. Of course, this is very likely not the case in the applied sciences where material resources are still prohibitively expensive. Think “large hadron collider”.
Spending on education

It would be difficult to make the case that higher education in India has been starved of resources in the aggregate. A shift in public expenditure towards higher education had commenced in the 1950s, even though the social returns to primary education were very likely higher than the social returns to the tertiary. By the early 20th century, the ratio of public spending on higher education to that on schooling was by far the highest in India (UNESCO: ‘Global Education Digest’). It is interesting that in Japan, the government spends more per capita on schooling than it does on university education. Yet, Indian academics have migrated even to Japan to carry on their professional life despite the obvious linguistic hurdles. By the late 1960s, Amartya Sen was already writing about the high opportunity cost of starting universities in India and had suggested that higher education in India was being expanded largely only in response to middle-class pressure.
Quality control

Even though the expansion of higher education had commenced in the 1950s, a difference marks that phase when compared to the past decade or so, when the next major round of expansion — notably the near doubling of the number of Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) — was initiated by the Centre and in some States. At the beginning, the human capital necessary to operate the system was not in such short supply as it is today. Quality control was relatively less constrained. But more importantly, there was a recognition that there was no point in expanding education without assuring its quality. Egregious instances of this are the heads of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the atomic energy complex being personally headhunted by Nehru. Today, it is not only that the human capital is in relatively short supply, but the political leadership valorises access at any cost. Expansion has become the raison d’être of the public presence in higher education and the querying of the quality of education is discouraged as elitism. This is no more than sentimentality when it is not disingenuous.
In today’s age, the production of knowledge needs governance exactly as does any other activity with social consequences. If the quality of higher education in India is to improve, the focus of the governance must be on research and learning outcomes. Poor outcomes which are to be identified as poor quality of the education make a mockery of the expansion of higher education whether by the state or the private sector. The state offering poor quality higher education with much fanfare is the moral equivalent of ostentatiously inviting hungry people only to feed them leftovers. The private sector in India is often not far behind in promising the moon but leaving students with little to show. This has been flagged as rampant in so-called professional education. Shailendra Mehta has written a paper titled “Why is Harvard #1?” putting it down entirely to governance. While there is no reason whatsoever for India to emulate Harvard in all its aspects, we may yet want to pay some attention to its governance model if we aspire to ever play in the top league of global knowledge production.
While the consequences for quality of a reckless expansion are quite easily seen, that of another subtle but definite trend is less easily discerned. The latter may have had an important role in killing-off our universities. This is a political development which has two aspects to it, namely the adoption of a corporate-centric approach by governments and the spread of illiberalism within society. The connection between these two developments is far from obvious but one thing is clear. It is that the rise to dominance of a politics incorporating both these elements is not helpful to the pursuit of knowledge. It has led to a sort of “closing of the Indian mind” once open to myriad influences and mindful of the virtues of truth and beauty. Going back a little further, we can see the vestiges of such mindfulness in our spectacular achievements in fields as diverse as philosophy and architecture. One does not have to agree fully with the poet Keats when he had declared that the link between truth and beauty is all there is to know to acknowledge that such an awareness must infuse our higher education enterprise! If you think “truth and beauty” is for the birds, you may want to read the astrophysicist S. Chandrashekar on “Motivation in science”. The severely bureaucratised environment in India’s universities has managed to expunge all creativity from the system.
Politically driven

When social forces act to snuff out a vibrant and free-spirited learning environment, we are largely in the hands of the political class, for it is this class that wields the levers of power that can counteract the reaction. But when the political class abets these very forces, we are left pretty much in the lurch. There is something of this kind at work in India today.
First, for decades now, members of the political class have been very heavily invested in the profitmaking segment of higher education. Private engineering, medicine and management education have offered full-time politicians a happy hunting ground. Naturally, there has been no concern for knowledge creation here. On the other hand, the archipelago of Central higher education institutions has been treated as a handmaiden to advance party-political agendas. This has been the case under both the fronts that have ruled India over the past decade-and-a-half. The initiatives have ranged overmaking an IIM education virtually free, to expanding enrolment without any concern for the consequences.
Almost a century ago, Kalidas Bhattacharya, a philosophy teacher in Calcutta, delivered an address to his students which was published as a tract named “Swaraj in Ideas”. Though the address must itself be seen in the context of the Indian national movement, its message remains as fresh as ever. Bhattacharya had argued that political independence by itself would amount to little if Indians did not have the mental capacity to imagine a world in relation to their own needs. The prerequisite for this is the development of cognitive means, an ethical sensibility and a historical understanding. This alone can be called an education. We watch with shock and awe as everything handed down from Delhi of late suggests that the political class don’t want one for our young. Higher education in India is being throttled by the regulator, and no one is screaming murder.
(Pulapre Balakrishnan can be reached at www.pulaprebalakrishnan.in)
Keywords: Higher education, human capital, Indian universities, education budget, IIT



Focus must be on children ‘left behind’, says UN study(DTE,)

According to a UNICEF report, despite achievements, millions of children live in poverty and die before the age of five, miss schooling and suffer from chronic malnutrition

The UN agency warns that progress eludes nearly 6 million children, who die every year before they reach their fifth birthday (Credit: Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava)
The UN agency warns that progress eludes nearly 6 million children, who die every year before they reach their fifth birthday (Credit: Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava)

The 11th edition of Progress for Children: Beyond Averages, a UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) report card on child-related Millenium Development Goal (MDG), warns that the focus must be on disadvantaged children, who continue to face unequal opportunities across the world.

“As the global community comes together around the sustainable development goals [SDGs], we should set our sights first on reaching the children left behind as we pursued the MDGs,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake says in the foreword to the report.

According to the UNICEF report, despite some achievements, millions of children live in poverty and die before the age of five, miss schooling and suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Not a rosy picture

The UN agency warns that progress eludes nearly 6 million children, who die every year before they reach their fifth birthday. Also, 289,000 women die every year while giving birth and 58 million children do not go to primary school.

“The MDGs helped the world realise tremendous progress for children—but they also showed us how many children we are leaving behind,” Lake adds in the press release of the report. “The lives and futures of the most disadvantaged children matter—not only for their own sake, but for the sake of their families, their communities and their societies.”

UNICEF says that at the current rate of progress, failure to reach disadvantaged children will have dramatic consequences, resulting in the death of 68 million more children under five from preventable causes by 2030. According to the report, open defecation will also pose serious risks to children’s health.

The report shows that children belonging to low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are less likely to be breastfed as compared to children from developed nations.

Notable successes

It is not success has not been achieved, but there is still a long way to go. Among other good things, under-five mortality rate has dropped by more than half—from 90 per 1,000 live births to 43 per 1,000 live births. The UNICEF report says that underweight and chronic malnutrition among children under five has decreased by 42 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively.

“The target of universal primary education has not been met in 2015, but the number of out-of-school children has lowered from 106 million to 58 million. South Asia has shown major progress in this category,” the reports points out.

Another good thing is that the gap between the poorest and the wealthiest are narrowing. In many countries, greater gains in child survival and school attendance are being witnessed in poorest households.

Living under the shadow

Poverty-stricken children continue to suffer though statistics show a fall in stunting rate, child mortality and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS since 1990. “The outbreak of Ebola has put 9.8 million children and young people under 20 years at risk,” the report says.

Although child marriage decreased from 33 per cent in 1990 to 25 per cent in 2010, population explosion hinders the progress. “More than 700 million women were married as children in 2015, the number can go up to 950 million by the year 2030,” the report adds.

An estimated 230 million children around the world currently live in countries affected by armed conflicts. This prevents their access to nutrition, health, education and safety. Many get displaced or are forced to flee which makes them vulnerable to exploitation, violence and abuse, UNICEF warns.

With the deadline of the MDGs set for this year-end, UN member states are crafting a new set of targets known as SDGs.

“The SDGs present an opportunity to apply the lessons we have learned and reach the children in greatest need—and shame on us if we don’t,” Lake adds. “For greater equity in opportunity for today’s children means less inequality and more global progress tomorrow.”




The Noodle Muddle(EPW,Food)

The essential discussion should be about the poisons in our food chain.
The Maggi Noodles controversy has triggered a much-needed debate on food safety standards in India. Unfortunately, as with most such debates, attention tends to focus on the specifics, in this instance the culpability of the multinational company Nestle in marketing a product that allegedly contained not just monosodium glutamate (MSG) but also contained lead above permissible levels, instead of discussing how and why this happens.
The question of whether Nestle was negligent about the quality of its product, and deliberately mislabelled it as not containing MSG when it apparently did, is still being debated as the tests on the product varied from one government certified laboratory to another. Rather than establish conclusively that its product was safe, the company chose to withdraw it. Yet, the problem is far from resolved and many questions remain unanswered. If, as some laboratory tests proved, the noodles did have higher than permissible levels of lead, how did this happen? Was it through the wrapping, which is outsourced by Nestle to another company, was it due to the water used in manufacturing the product or from the machines used to manufacture it? Apart from the lead, did the company add MSG to the product but claim it did not, knowing India’s lax regulatory regime? Or did the tests show up other types of glutamate that are present in the ingredients but are not necessarily MSG? These are questions that need to be answered as the issue is not just about the culpability of this one multinational but any number of other companies, including Indian companies, that could face similar challenges if their products are tested.
The second, and related, aspect is the promotion of such products as healthy, and targeting them at children. Maggi Noodles has conducted a particularly aggressive advertising campaign using well-known actors to promote the product as convenient, tasty and a healthy snack for children. Even if the product did not contain MSG or lead, is it really a “healthy” snack? The consumption of such convenience foods and other junk foods and their link to obesity and other health problems in children has been a subject of much debate in the West. In India, the opening up of the economy has brought with it “global” aspirational products leading to a switch from traditional and healthy home-cooked foods to such instant products.
The results are now evident in the levels of under-nutrition in children who are being fed a diet of such junk. One must remember that the promotion of such foods is not very different from the selling of infant formula in the 1970s, incidentally by Nestle, as the best way for mothers to ensure that their babies are healthy. What happened was precisely the opposite. From safe breastfeeding, mothers switched to infant formula. Only after doctors across the world launched a campaign against Nestle did the company change its marketing strategy and acknowledge that there was no substitute for breast milk.
Apart from the specifics of the Maggi issue, one crucial aspect of this debate is that of food safety standards in India and the regulatory system, evidently something of a work in progress. A multitude of laws dealing with food standards was finally brought under one law, the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. Two years later, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) was established and only in 2011 were the regulations put in place. Although there are five central food-testing laboratories and government and private accredited laboratories in all states, many of these are poorly equipped and inadequately staffed. Despite these constraints, once in a while, they manage to catch an offender. But for every Maggi Noodles caught there are scores that get away.
However, the problem is not limited to packaged goods. Every year, an inestimable number of people, including young children, fall ill or die because they consume food that is either substandard or is contaminated. Milk, fruits, vegetables or meat are loaded with all manner of contaminants from pesticide residues to trace metals. In fact, what is missing in the discussion is the source of the contamination. Over the years, there have been numerous incidents of pesticide residues found in bottled drinks and in milk. The link to the overuse of pesticides and the resultant contamination of soil and water is more than obvious. Yet, this aspect remains unchanged, and if anything, has become worse. Similarly, lead finds its way into the food chain because of the careless processes involving recycling of lead-based products and the continuing use of lead in paint and in water pipes. While it is important to focus on contamination of foods and possible deliberate neglect, we also need to tackle the source of contamination. The grim reality is that poisons have infected the entire food chain. Regulations alone will not curb food contamination unless we look closely at the process of food production in this country.



Mastering the drill of democracy(Essay,HInduEditorial)

The Emergency is a distant memory today because the nation’s collective spine did not bend, the media stayed unbent and the judiciary remained independent. Yet we have to be wary of the robotisation of our minds into a ‘yogic’ acceptance of one drill — majoritarianism

The human mind connects the seemingly unconnected but, as one invariably discovers, tellingly.

When I saw and read reports of our Prime Minister heading the great Yoga Day assemblage on what used to be called King’s Way, now Rajpath, in our national capital, I thought of two ‘unconnected’ persons. The first was Tsar Nicholas I (1796-1855). And the second was Indira Gandhi. Both were ‘strong’ personalities credited with ‘an iron will’, exemplars of dogged determination, single-minded purpose. But the similarities did not end there. Both disliked dissent and suppressed it.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi
But why did the yoga procedures of that day remind me of them? Tsar Nicholas had faced a revolt the very day he ascended the throne. He crushed it ruthlessly but also set up, reflexively, the largest and most insidious system of spies and informers Russia had known. He also developed another very particular fascination. This was for things martial, for watching and enjoying drills. “It was specially at large-scale military reviews,” says his biographer Riasanovsky, “that Nicholas I experienced rapture, almost ecstasy.” Nicholas I is said to have been a handsome man, attentive to physical fitness and to how he appeared, in terms of looks and attire, to others. Quite logically for him, the Tsar regularly, almost compulsively, arranged for parades by uniformed men standing in chessboard order, moving and marching in brassy orchestration. Tsar Nicholas came, in fact, to be called ‘drill-master’. The size of his empire grew with the shape of his army, though he suffered serious reverses, and economic stagnation. This did not trouble him, for he could get in the drills he saw, his ‘ecstasy’.

A power machine

Indira, as a child, loved organising ‘armies’ which grew from a home-game to serious proportions when, still an adolescent, she ‘founded’ the Bal Charkha Sangh and the Vanar Sena to ‘help’ the Congress’s campaigns in Allahabad. Decades later, in 1962, when her noble father — too noble, some may say — as Prime Minister was still coming to terms with the Chinese action, she was at embattled Tezpur, right among Indian jawans, offering them and the people of the area, solidarity and practical help — a semi-military initiative of compelling significance. She was being a ‘drill-master’ too. The moment was epiphanic. But the ‘drill-master’ in her had another dimension. She believed in bringing whatever she had control over into a certain ‘order’, her order. Almost from the day she became Prime Minister, she sensed dissent among senior Congressmen which she proceeded to crush, systematically. She set up an intricate web of informers, political and professional, who helped her retain and tighten her order, her control. The government of India under her became much more than a constitutional entity; it turned into a power-machine, with all its ramifications, particularly the military, the para military set-ups, the police and her network of informants and spies functioning like well-oiled, well-keyed, robots. A great rise took place in the eminence of ‘pure’ and applied science accompanied by a somewhat hush-hush mutuality between the government’s science laboratories and its defence strategists. The spectacular military intervention in East Pakistan leading to the birth of Bangladesh and Pokhran I leading to India’s nuclear weaponisation, had to happen under Indira, the drill-master.

As also, 40 years ago this day, the National Emergency. Paranoia has an ally in megalomania.

But to return, for a moment, to yoga and to last week’s drill-mastering of that ancient science of self-healing.

I do not wish to go as far back as Vivekananda but we do know that Gandhi practised the shavasana and Nehru the sirsasana. Both spoke of the efficacy of the two methods but neither made a shibboleth of it, much less expound it for mass adoption. Baba Ramdev’s public and televised dissemination of yoga turned what was essentially a personal health regime practised by millions in the privacy of their homes or learning institutions into a commodity for mega-consumption, with actual ‘yoga’ products for sale on the sides. The Yoga Day exposition on Rajpath has taken the Baba’s commercial potting of it beyond commodification to what can be called a political massification. Why ‘political’?

Retrieving Bharat

The question takes us back to Nicholas I and Indira Gandhi. Like those two historical figures, Prime Minister Modi has a sense of ‘order’. He backs that up with an attentiveness to his own fitness, punctuality, ‘turnout’. By personally leading, like an adept instructor, the phalanx gathered on the Rajpath lawns, he has choreographed yoga into an opera of mass power. But not just of power as in wholesome personal strength. Rather, power as in a collective mission, a mass drill that goes beyond personal well-being into a national nostrum, a national mission that bears an unmistakable family resemblance to the drills by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. And what is the mission’s message?

Quite simply, this: ‘We have been a weak nation, a nation of do-gooders and pacifists, of men who are afraid of the noise of crackers, the smell of smoke. Men of withered wills and sunken chests. It is time we built up our sinews, physical and mental, time we toned up our tissues, tightened our tendons. We must retrieve Bharat from the shambles that our so-called liberal leaders of the last six decades have left us…They were not leaders but mis-leaders who tell us that being muscled-up is mean, being belligerent is bullying. In fact such peacemakers and liberals are dangerous anarchists. Let us march, not saunter, stand and sit in neat rows, not haphazardly, observe mauna rather than chatter away and if we have to speak, let us speak on the glory of Bharat Mata…’

Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Periyar, Jayaprakash Narayan would have recoiled from the message. They would have seen it as macho, aggressive. And because of the unmistakable Hindutva rhetoric concealed in it, deeply divisive. But Indira Gandhi, I suspect, would have seen it as clever. He is tapping India’s sentiments, tapping them into action, hand it to the man!

Emergency’s script

Forty years ago, the Emergency spoke the same script. Jayaprakash Narayan, campaigning against despotism and corruption, was vilified as an anarchist. His movement was dubbed as anti-national, anti-progress. Dissent became treason, opposition became heresy. And overnight, posters came up: ‘Batein kum, kam ziyadah’ (Speak less, work more). And an old Sanskrit word was set flying on a new political string: Anushasan, discipline. The ‘call of the hour’ was anushasan, with Acharya Vinoba Bhave getting roped into the act to describe the period as ‘Anushasan Parva’, the Discipline Moment. Inevitably, newspapers fell silent, All India Radio became a trumpet. Spies crept out of woodrot to belittle, walls acquired hi-fi ears to betray truth-tellers, corners found whispering tongues. A kind of ‘yoga’ was unleashed — bhayayoga, the yoga of multiple fears in which mauna (silence), sushupti (willed stupor), and savata (immobility) featured strong. And a divinity was ideationally superimposed on pictorial blitzes of the nation’s ‘saviour’, Indira Gandhi.

There were no Yoga Day type drills organised at the time but ‘spontaneous’ rallies were called to hail the proclamation, hail the Emancipator. Even as mass leaders were jailed, sections of the middle class welcomed a sudden improvement in the punctuality of train movements, attendance in government offices, the check on profiteering that followed. ‘Honesty’ at shopfloors and workplaces became visible. But all ‘for the present’, because it was imposed by fiat, monitored by fiat, by fear, by bhayayoga.

Audi alteram partem (Hear The Other Side) is ever a good principle. So, be it said that the Emergency saw a set of wholesome developments, all for reasons of Realpolitik. It made poverty eradication central to our national discourse. It made good governance seem actually realisable. It reset certain governmental priorities. Of which protection of the natural environment was significant. And it made national security a matter of everyone’s, not just the military’s, concern.

But its real legacy has been wholly unintended. It has made India conscious, as never before, of civil liberties, of the right to freedom of expression. The Emergency, by robbing India awhile of the soul of Republicanism, has made it a truer Republic than it was before 1975.

If today we can talk about the Emergency in the past tense, it is because the nation’s collective spine did not go into a forward-bending dhanurasana (bow-position) and because the ‘media vertebra’ , despite censorship, stayed particularly unbent. And because the judiciary, despite the demoralising judgment in ADM Jabalpur v/s S S Shukla retained its core independence, thanks to the conscience-keeping Justice H.R. Khanna.

A person who has recovered from a stroke values the faculties of motor ability, mental comprehension and speech more than one who never lost it.

The Constitution as amended in 1978 has made a proclamation of the 1975 type National Emergency impossible. What we have to be wary of is something as bad — the robotisation of our minds into a ‘yogic’ acceptance of one drill — majoritarianism — and its masterful drill-master.

(Gopalkrishna Gandhi is Distinguished Professor of History and Politics, Ashoka University.)

Keywords: Emergency, Indira Gandhi, Tsar Nicholas I, Narendra Modi, International Day of Yoga, Indian Constitution, majoritarianism, Rajpath, Republicanism




When Even Rape is Legal (hindu editorial,essay)

There is overwhelming evidence to prove that marital rape is the most common form of sexual violence in India. Yet, the government refuses to make it punishable by law
Some debates appear to be timeless. Today’s raging debate on marital rape in India echoes arguments that go back more than 125 years ago to the Phulmani case when a 11-year-old Bengali girl died after being brutally raped by her 35-year-old husband. The colonial government then proposed to increase the age of consent for sexual intercourse for a girl from 10 to 12 years. But some of India’s most prominent leaders opposed the measure, and the Age of Consent Act was passed only in 1891, after much acrimony and argument.
Reflecting on this debate, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said in 1943 (http://bit.ly/17fGw2O): “It is impossible to read the writing of those who supported orthodoxy in their opposition to the Age of Consent Bill, without realising the depth of the degradation to which the so-called leaders of the peoples had fallen… Could any sane man, could any man with a sense of shame, oppose so simple a measure? But it was opposed….” Dr. Ambedkar would have been as appalled by today’s arguments against the criminalisation of marital rape.
A warped defence
According to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which defines “rape” and “consent”, “sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape”. Sexual intercourse can take place with or without consent, but because of the above exception, the latter is legalised within marriage by Indian law.
The warped defence for this exception continues in spite of overwhelming evidence that marital rape is the most common form of sexual violence in India. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) in 2005-06 (http://bit.ly/1n9ub6H) posed questions to over 80,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49, on sexual violence by husbands and other men (http://bit.ly/1KmUmjh). Sensitive questions such as “did your husband ever physically force you to have sexual intercourse with him even when you did not want to?” are difficult to ask in a survey; hence informed consent for the violence module was obtained twice, and trained interviewers were given strict instructions to ensure complete privacy of the respondents. The answers to these questions are available in the last chapter of the NFHS report. (http://bit.ly/1IsAYPH).
Data show that 8.5 per cent of the surveyed women (one in 12) said they had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Almost 93 per cent of these women said that they had been sexually abused by their current or former husbands, while only 1 per cent said that they had been sexually abused by a stranger.
In a recent working paper (http://bit.ly/1e0pIA0), we made a comparison of the above data with the reporting of sexual violence to the police, based on National Crime Records Bureau statistics. The analysis found that less than 1 per cent of the incidents of sexual violence by husbands were reported to the police.
If there is legal backing for marital rape, women who are victims of sexual assault by their husbands have little hope for justice. The exception in the law needs to be repealed urgently, as recommended by the Justice Verma Committee in 2013. The committee argued that the “relationship between the accused and the complainant is not relevant to the inquiry into whether the complainant consented to the sexual activity”. The law on rape in India has evolved to place the burden of proof of consent on the accused, and these provisions are even more important for women facing sexual violence within marriage because married women are more likely to face social sanction for reporting violence. Also, Section 498A specifies only mental and physical abuse under its “definition of cruelty by husbands and in-laws”. An amendment would include sexual abuse.
Positions of political parties
Even though there is little hope from the current government, the political class could do more in this respect. The present controversy was stirred when Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi asked the government if it plans to bring an “amending bill to the IPC to remove the exception of marital rape”, to which the Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary reply was that the government had no plans to do so, as marriage is a sacred institution in India. It is time to ask the government if it at least accepts its own survey’s data on sexual violence by husbands. The opposition, in a majority in the Rajya Sabha, could pass a private members’ bill amending the IPC. Political parties could put the criminalisation of marital rape on their election manifestos.
While the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 provides civil remedies such as shelter homes, medical facilities and monetary relief to victims of sexual violence by husbands, legal clarification will go a long way towards recognising and reducing the problem.
But we would be fooling ourselves if we believe that the problem can be solved merely by removing the marital rape exception. A much bigger challenge is to change the patriarchal social norms. In the NFHS survey, for instance, when the women were asked if wife beating is justified, 54 per cent said they believed it was. Clearly, the law alone cannot change mindsets.
We realised this when we worked with a minor Adivasi mute girl in Madhya Pradesh who was gang-raped. She was covered by many laws: Section 375 and 376 (rape provisions) of the IPC, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POSCO) 2012, as well as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The local police, however, were reluctant to invoke the SC/ST Act, and did not know about the existence of the POCSO Act. Despite its being banned, the girl was subjected to the “two-finger” test in the medical examination. The law is an important means of enabling social change, but without a wider change in social attitudes,it can be quite ineffective.
In 1943, Ambedkar regretted that “political reform” had taken precedence over “social reform”. Despite this, he continued to seek both legal and social changes to improve the lot of India’s Dalits and women. Today, what is getting priority is economic reform, but we would do well to remember Ambedkar’s words from the same address: “Rights are protected not by law but by the social and moral conscience of society… if fundamental rights are opposed by the community, no Law, no Parliament, no judiciary, can guarantee them in the real sense of the word”.
(Kanika Sharma (kanikas764@gmail.com) is the national organiser with the National Alliance for Peoples Movements (NAPM) and Aashish Gupta (aashish@riceinstitute.org) is research fellow at the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics.



Linkages between Extremism and Development(Unacademey Article )

Peace and stability are prerequisites for development and it is the same development which paves the way for the prosperity of a country. The condition of war torn countries involved in years of civil war which are also least developed in nature   (for ex – Sudan, Somalia, Congo) project the relation between lack of development and conflict. However it is not only under development but also the process of development which leads to discontent and unrest which often produces violent results.

Extremism is one such form of internal conflict in which years of injustice, exploitation and humiliation force the people to voice their demands often through violent means influenced by the Maoist ideology (Mao Zedong of China) which justifies the use of violence in order to capture state power and end the structures of social and economic exploitation. In India, the rise of Extremism (also called Left wing Extremism) has become one of the most dangerous internal security threats. The surge in extremism has been linked to the process of development on which India embarked upon after her independence. 
Reasons for the emergence of Extremism in India

1. Land Reforms 

Recognizing the importance of land and its relation with livelihood, the first task which was taken by the Government was land reforms but it has remained an unfinished agenda unfortunately. Zamindari system was abolished but the State governments did not take sincere efforts to implement ceiling laws which meant that there would be no genuine redistribution of land to the landless. The agrarian structure based on land holdings and access to land determined social relations with an added dimension of caste. Since Dalits constitute the largest percentage of landless people, those were the ones who were exploited the most.

In the famous report of the Commissioner of SC/ST in 1988 (28th report), the Commissioner attributed the violence related to both Dalits and STs to three causative factors:
  • Unresolved land disputes related to the allotment of government lands or distribution of ceiling surplus  lands to SC/ST persons. 
  • Tension and bitterness on account of non-payment or underpayment of prescribed minimum wages.
  •  Resentment of upper castes over the manifestation of awareness among the SCs and STs about their rights and privileges as enshrined in the Constitution and various other laws relating to their welfare.
The incident of Naxalbari (1967) which marked the rise of extremism was a response to the failure of land reforms. More than 65% of the population in that area belonged to Schedule Caste and many of them were Adivasis. The clash between sharecroppers and jotedars soon became a flash point and the movement spread like wildfire which was supported and led by intellectuals and college students in West Bengal. 
But this incident and many others that followed it were considered as issues of law and order rather than social and economic issues. According to an enquiry on Naxalism conducted by CPI (M), “Behind the peasant unrest in Naxalbari lies a deep social malady – mala fide transfers, evictions and other anti-people actions of tea gardeners and jotedars. But the Government in West Bengal came up with the legislation ‘Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act’ to deal with the problem of “Lawlessness” and this approach was followed by other states too where Naxalism was spreading its wings. The government failed to understand that social and political movements do not arise out of vacuum but are the results of deep rooted frustration against the exploitative social, political and economic systems.
2.  Development Process and the Spread of Extremism

Our Constitution has stated that the government would work to reduce inequalities (social and economic) and safeguard the entitlements of the poor and marginalized. But so far the development process has only increased inequalities, alienation and even deprived the poor of the resources to which they had access. 
Appropriation of common property resources in the name of development such as forests, water sources and land without taking due consideration of the impact it would have on the lives of thousands of people of which majority are poor, downtrodden and belong to the marginalized section further deepened the divide between the state and its people. The reason that Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa are now the hotbed of Naxalism is that while these states are among the richest states in terms of natural resources but at the same time, the tribals and Dalits who are the inhabitants of these region are still living in abject poverty and deprivation.

In 1986, the National Commission on SC and ST provided a detailed analysis on how the development process had created an adverse impact on the lives of Dalits and Adivasis often resulting in the conviction that relief can be achieved only outside the system by breaking the current order asunder. According to an Expert report by the Planning Commission in 2008 (Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas), Naxalite movements are part of an overall scenario of poverty, deprivation, oppression, and neglect in large parts of the country.
3. Development Deficit and the rise of Extremism

Lack of development is also another major factor for the spread of Left Wing extremism. In the absence of any state machinery mostly in remote areas with difficult terrains (North Eastern states), people come under the influence of local leaders who entice them to violence.
The Constitution provides a separate schedule (Fifth Schedule) for the administration of scheduled areas while the administration of the tribal areas in the State of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram has been provided under the Sixth Schedule.
The Fifth Schedule stipulates that Governors of the states would administer the tribal areas in their respective states by appointing Tribal Advisory Councils. But it has never been applied. In its 1997 Samatha decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fifth Schedule enjoined Governors to bar purchase of tribal land for mining activity by any entity that was not state-owned. But after an appeal filed by the Andhra Pradesh government that it would adversely impact the mining sector, as well as other non-agricultural activities and therefore will hamper overall economic development of the country, Governors were given unfettered authority in the transfer of the lands of the ST community land to the government and allotment to non-tribals, altering the balance of power and undermining the stated goal of tribal autonomy.

In 1996, the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act was enacted. The Act extended the provisions of Panchayats to the tribal areas of nine states that have areas under the Fifth Schedule. But the lack of political will and genuine devolution of power to the local government keeps the dream of development away from them.
Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Rights Act of December 2006ostensibly recognises the right of communities to protect and manage their forests (as does PESA), but only if the state decides whether a certain region is denoted as Village Forest or Reserved Forest. In this process, many communities are evicted without a proper channel of rehabilitation. Though regions enjoy certain degree of autonomy under the Sixth Schedule, the absence of regular elections and local politics further leads to exclusion rather than empowerment.
Taking advantage of the feeling of neglect and under development, leaders with Maoist ideology try to glorify violence in order to get justice. Emergence of groups like – People’s War Group (PWG), CPI (Maoist) have spread their cadre based among youth who indulge in violence in pursuit of state power.
Conclusion
Violence cannot be justified for any reason but in order to deal with the menace of extremism, we must first understand the underlying reason. Deprivation leads to anger and frustration and when people finally take up arms to get their due, it should be seen as a failure of the state to meet the aspirations of its people. Well intentioned and well implemented policies such as OPERATION BARGA launched by the West Bengal government in I978 under which sharecroppers were registered and given permanent and inheritable rights on cultivation of their plots covering a total area of 11 lakh acres not only helped in uplifting the economic condition of the landless poor but also helped in weakening the Naxal movement which had its origin in West Bengal. Extremism/Naxalism is more dangerous than external threat because it is a war within our own people and it cannot be and must not be dealt with counter violence. Supreme Court therefore very aptly delegitimized organisations like Salwa Judum. Recently XAXA Committeein its report advocated the importance of giving more power to Gram Sabhas and preventing land alienation. Empowerment of Gram Sabhas leads to historic decisions such as Niyamgiri Movement, where the tribals denied the permission for bauxite mining. By making the development process more inclusive and participatory, extremism can be eliminated. Moreover, a single model of development in a diverse country like India with linguistic, ethnic, cultural diversity is problematic and hence, there can be numerous versions of development and imposing one single model envisaged at the centre without catering to the voices from the bottom is ought to invite conflict.
Originally Published in Unacademey
This Article was Published At Unacademey



Under-armed and under prepared (Defense,Essay)

Some would argue that India, a country with such a huge number of the poor, should be spending more on development than on defence. But development cannot exclude security imperatives because India is in one of the most hostile nuclear weapon regions of the world

Last week, the government announced the appointment of S. Christopher as the new head of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). His predecessor, missile scientist Avinash Chander, was unceremoniously dumped on January 13 this year, with 16 months still left of his tenure. It took the government over four months to find his replacement. Reportedly, most of the other senior Director Generals of the DRDO are also on extension, unsure of when the axe may fall.
The DRDO was set up in 1958 as the fulcrum of India’s indigenous defence production. However, its performance, or the lack of it, must count as one of the biggest uninvestigated scandals of independent India. Among its notable failures is the production of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which was commissioned over a decade ago but ran years behind schedule with a cost overrun of over Rs.5,000 crore. The aircraft’s Kaveri engine was commissioned over two decades ago; it ran over 15 years behind schedule with similarly high cost overruns. Other projects allocated to the DRDO, such as the Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) System, the naval version of the LCA, the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LRSAM), and the Advanced Lightweight Torpedo (ALWT) have all missed deadlines by several years.
Nothing to cheer about


The performance of our public sector units handling defence has been equally scandalous. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) could not rectify simple design faults in the HPT-32 basic trainer aircraft, forcing the Indian Air Force (IAF) to import propeller driven trainers. The Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) prototype is nowhere close to flying, and the Light Combat Helicopter and the multi-purpose civilian aircraft, Saras, have forever been in the pipeline. Our ordnance factories are similarly languishing. The Nalanda ordnance factory, in collaboration with an Israeli company, is reportedly only a fourth complete. The commitment to indigenously supply 1,000 T-90S main battle tanks to the Indian Army could not be met because the project failed. Indian-made 125 mm smooth bore barrels for the T-72 tanks also reportedly failed because the barrels blew up during field trials.
The DRDO had set itself the aim of producing 70 per cent of our defence needs by the year 2005. Today, a decade later, its production is still lackadaisically hovering around 30 per cent — and much of what emerges from its factories is put together with “screwdriver” technology. In 2008, the Rama Rao Committee had recommended that the DRDO should only focus on 8 to 10 critical projects of strategic importance. Such recommendations have been thrown to the winds, and the country’s premier defence production company continues to focus its energies on esoteric products like dental implants and mosquito repellents!
As arms importer


To see a nation with global aspirations blundering so egregiously when it comes to meeting critical defence requirements is nothing short of treason. As a result of our woefully inadequate defence production, India has become the world’s largest importer of arms. In contrast, China, with a much bigger arsenal, has dropped to fourth place because its internal defence production has been efficiently upgraded. Apart from the exorbitant burden arms imports place on our exchequer, an overdependence on imports has grave security implications. In his book on the Kargil war, General V.P. Malik, who was then the Army chief, mentions that two years before the Pakistani invasion, the Army had finalised imports of AN/TPQ-37 Firefinder radars from the United States. “Prices were negotiated and just before purchase, DRDO offered to manufacture them at half the price and within two years. The government shot down the army’s plans to buy those radars. In 1999, during the Kargil war, the radars were desperately needed. Neither had the DRDO manufactured them nor could they be purchased from the US (post the 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests there was an arms embargo). Several lives were lost in Pakistan shelling (as a result).”
A decade and more later, nothing had changed. Another Army chief, General V.K. Singh (who is now a Union Minister of State in the government) was compelled to write in March 2012 a letter directly to the then Prime Minister in which he bluntly stated that the war-waging capability of the Army had been “seriously degraded” because of delays in critical procurements. According to him, reserves of vitally needed anti-tank ammunition had fallen below critical levels because the Israeli firm supplying them had been blacklisted because of alleged kickbacks; artillery equipments were stalled for a similar reason, and emergency replacements sought to be obtained from the U.S. Army were still awaiting approval from the Ministry of Defence’s bureaucracy. At that time, the nation was facing a peculiar double jeopardy: we could not produce what we needed internally, and we could not import — in time and efficiently — what we needed to buy from abroad because of a “morality paralysis” that sought to ban every major foreign supplier on the basis of uninvestigated allegations. Obviously, defence purchases must be corruption-free but, equally, defence ministers must have the guts not only to be concerned about their own personal integrity but also about the crucial security interests of the nation.
Comparison with China


Our lack of offensive and defensive weaponry becomes even more glaring when compared with that of our potential enemies. For instance, China’s arsenal of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), battle tanks, latest tactical aircraft and armoured infantry fighting vehicles far outnumber ours, as does its border infrastructure. The importance for us to keep this gap within sustainable limits is self-evident, especially since we cannot rule out a war in the future in which China and Pakistan work in tandem. Opponents of adequate investments in armaments argue that a country with such a huge number of the poor should be spending more on development than on defence. It is the old guns versus butter argument. The obvious riposte to this is that India needs to pursue both development and defence efficiently and it cannot be one or the other. A country’s security is imperilled if its economy is suboptimal and the deprivations of the poor are not attended to. Equally, development cannot exclude security imperatives because we are in one of the most hostile nuclear weapon regions of the world. We have 4,057 kilometres of a disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China; a 778-kilometre-long disputed Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan; a total of 15,106 kilometres of international borders with seven countries, and a 7,516-kilometre long vulnerable coastline. It would be suicidal for any nation to ignore security concerns in such a situation.
The fact of the matter is that we neither pursue development nor security efficiently. China spends more than twice what India does on its armed forces, yet its defence expenditure, as a percentage of its GDP, is lower than that of India (1.3 against 1.89, as per revealed figures). The Chinese economy has grown at a faster pace, and its defence budget, although larger, is more efficiently used. Arms imports have come down dramatically. Russia and Ukraine are the only outside suppliers of China’s weaponry, most of which is now produced at lesser cost at home. If India had pursued its indigenous arms production effectively, we could have had by now one of the world’s largest military-industrial complexes, and could be exporting arms and using that income for development.
Not much impact


The new Bharatiya Janata Party-National Democratic Alliance (BJP-NDA) government came with a muscular resolve to strengthen India’s defence abilities. This resolve was particularly evident in its strident critique of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime. However, for five months after the new government assumed power last year, the country did not even have a full-time Raksha Mantri, with Mr. Arun Jaitley inexplicably holding the dual charge of both finance and defence. The government did announce an increase from 26 per cent to 49 per cent for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the defence production sector but this may not be very attractive to investors who will seek majority control. Moreover, the Defence Technology Commission, set up as a commercial arm of the DRDO to attract investments, is yet to take shape. The “Make in India” slogan for defence production means little unless it is part of a credible policy framework. It is also not known whether the national technology council to be chaired by the Defence Minister with representation by private companies engaged in the production of arms and defence equipment, as was recommended by the Naresh Chandra Task Force, is going to see the light of day. According to estimates, some Rs.30,000 crore is required only to end the perennial shortage of artillery and ammunition. Where is this money to come from if the government’s priorities are to spend double this amount on bullet trains? Important steps also need to be taken to create a more effective procurement policy. The Rafale fighter aircraft deal is, I believe, an outright purchase and does not involve the transfer of technology. And, finally, it is time that specialists from the armed forces have a much greater say in the entire defence production process, but there is no sign that this is happening. The short point is that, whatever the rhetoric, India lacks a strategic mindset to tackle its defence preparedness and this government has been, thus far, not any different, and certainly much too slow in changing past approaches.
(Pavan K. Varma, an author-diplomat, is a member of the Rajya Sabha representing the Janata Dal-United.)
Keywords: DRDO, India’s defence spending