The HINDU Notes – 09th February 2018 - VISION

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Friday, February 09, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 09th February 2018

πŸ“° India rejects Maldives offer

‘As concerns not met’, New Delhi refuses to meet special envoy

•India rejected an offer by Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen to send a special envoy to discuss the ongoing emergency in the country, calling instead on the embattled President to first address its concerns over the suspension of constitutional rights in the Maldives. The response indicates a growing strain in ties between New Delhi and Male.

•President Yameen has sent special envoys to what he called “friendly countries” — China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

•Sources confirmed that New Delhi had rejected the offer of an envoy because of protocol and scheduling reasons, but also because the government was unhappy with Mr. Yameen’s declaration of emergency and the military crackdown that followed. “We have not seen any real action on the concerns stated by the international community and India,” sources told The Hindu.

πŸ“° In different courts

Selective judicial activism is now seen as the dominant force against democratic representation in Pakistan

•Nawaz Sharif is not giving up. The deposed former Prime Minister of Pakistan, who has been debarred (perhaps for life) from public office by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, is not just fighting back, but has been reinvigorated by the huge public response that he has been receiving in jalsas across the country, as he takes his case to the people with elections due in the next few months. While there is still some confusion whether Mr. Sharif has been barred for life or for a number of years, and the stipulated time period is under review by the Supreme Court, he continues to posit the superior judiciary against the people, particularly the voters who brought him to power in 2013. His main argument has been that his dismissal is an affront to the will of the people, and that the Supreme Court has delegitimised their democratic voice.

Recent disqualifications

•It is not only Mr. Sharif who has been removed from the Prime Minister’s Office by the Supreme Court in recent years — in 2012 so was Yousuf Raza Gilani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who had been elected following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, when the PPP formed the government in 2008. Moreover, following Mr. Sharif’s ouster in July 2017 and his diatribe against the judiciary, in the last few days, one Senator of his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), has also been disqualified for making statements against Supreme Court judges. And two ministers have been issued notices for contempt of court, and asked to present themselves at the Supreme Court to explain themselves, also for making statements against the Supreme Court judges. For the moment, selective judicial activism has replaced military interference and adventurism as the dominant force against democratic voice and representation on the political map of Pakistan.

•With Pakistan dominated by the military for many decades, all conspiracy theories regarding changes in government, or the dismissal of Prime Ministers, naturally land on the military’s door. Hence, many retired generals and analysts stated, without offering any proof, that Mr. Sharif's dismissal by the Supreme Court was on the behest of the military, rather than a decision made independently by the court. While the military may not have been unhappy with the decision, such speculation takes away all independent agency being exercised by a Supreme Court which has found a new life and mission over the last decade.

•In the past when the military has rightly been seen as Pakistan’s main anti-democratic institution, it had always been the Supreme Court which provided constitutional cover to military regimes. Under a notion of the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’, the Supreme Court legitimised the three military takeovers — in 1958, 1977 and 1999. Each time, while the military regime differed as did its actions, the Court came to support such anti-democratic intervention, allowing ample space for military rule in Pakistan. For almost all of Pakistan's history, the Supreme Court has been complicit in military rule in Pakistan. Some lawyers, who have analysed the role of the judiciary since 1947, have made the argument that this support has not been simply on account of military pressure, but because the judges of the superior court themselves, and independently, shared the same world view as the military and were happy to articulate their position when called upon.

Inflexion point?

•This view changed when Pakistan’s last military general-president, Pervez Musharraf, trampled on the toes of the judiciary, dismissing the Chief Justice of Pakistan in 2007. Since then, following great popular support, the judiciary had acquired considerable respect for its independence and pro-democratic position and statements, declaring on numerous occasions that it would never again support or condone a military takeover. Whether this is simply bravado or a genuine sign of independence affirming a born-again judiciary has not, as yet, been put to the test, and we will not know unless something to the effect takes place. Yet, as the possibility of a military intervention — at least in the form of a direct military takeover — recedes, one does find the revived institution of the judiciary flexing its muscles demonstrating considerable confidence and much independence.

•This confidence is also being manifest by a hyperactive judiciary taking up suo motu cases largely seen to be in the public interest. Recent interventions have been made on a number of rape cases, of those regarding the disappeared, and even in cases of extra-judicial killings. While some lawyers have criticised this recent activism by the Supreme Court on account of it undermining the overall legal process and procedures and its many associated institutions, and have made the valid argument that only a few high-profile cases are selectively chosen, the first port of call for anyone with a grievance of any kind is now the Chief Justice of Pakistan himself, who is asked to intervene directly. Such activism has made the judiciary immensely popular in the public mind.

•In the past, it has always been the military which determined what is permissible as public discourse, always reacting to criticism against it, claiming that views against the actions of the military and criticism of it are some form of anti-nationalism, or anti-patriotic. The fact that the military has been publicly criticised — by scholars, social media participants and politicians — in recent years gives some indication of the relative denuding of power and hegemony of the military in Pakistan. The rise of the judiciary as an alternative, perhaps parallel, institution in terms of dominance needs to be seen in this light. Yet, when it comes to decisions which are clearly seen as ‘political’, there has been criticism, notably from Nawaz Sharif and members of his party, that the judiciary, like the military before it, has been partisan and selective in its treatment of democratic and political activism and points of view. Moreover, having gained such dominance, the claim is also made that it is now the judiciary which reacts with a heavy hand to criticism against its decisions, curtailing freedom of expression, suppressing voices which have differences of opinion. The people’s verdict in support of or against Nawaz Sharif is expected later this year, and if he were to win again, the Supreme Court’s decision is bound to come into conflict with the democratic choice of who the voters want as their Prime Minister.

The Musharraf test

•Public discourse now pivots around this new-found ambition of the judiciary, although it has been often suggested that it is still a junior partner of the military, and doing the latter’s bidding. The one key case on which such allegations rest is General Musharraf’s treason trial. While Prime Ministers have been debarred and dismissed, and Ministers and Senators hauled up in front of the court, an undertrial military dictator is absconding with much ease and living in luxury abroad. Failing to address this key case makes one suggest that it seems that the judiciary has been more concerned with the contempt of court, rather than the contempt of the Constitution. Perhaps the key test of how independent the judiciary really is, whether its pro-democracy credentials are substantive and how much respect and trust it truly deserves, rests on how the Musharraf case is addressed.

πŸ“° ‘Russian military relations with Pakistan very minimal’

•Russia’s new Ambassador to India Nikolay Kudashev takes over at a tough time for bilateral ties. In his first interview since taking over, Mr. Kudashev said that the priority for New Delhi and Moscow would be sealing several defence agreements this year, but the bigger priority would be reaching out to the next generation of Indians and Russians to broaden cooperation.

Where are India-Russia ties today, given all the changes in the world, and how will both countries address the reports of a “drift” between them?

•In 2017, all Ministers on the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) visited Russia. Our leaders met five times in the last three years. So it is fair to say that President Putin and Prime Minister Modi have established a very special relationship. They personally manage our bilateral ties. On the drift, it is not that we are running apart from each other. There are new opportunities coming up our way and sometimes we are lagging behind them. The key to our new successes may lie to the extent of our interest of our young generation in contributing to our joint projects and bilateral relations.

Is India-Russia military cooperation keeping pace, given India’s move to diversify its hardware procurement?

•This is one of the pillars of our strategic cooperation both sides are deservedly proud of. This year we expect the nodal points of our defence cooperation to be the signing of contractual obligations of anti-aircraft systems S-400, Ka-226T helicopters, and joint manufacture of frigates. The issue of joint development and manufacture of the Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) is also on the agenda, as is the supply of Mi-17 helicopters and upgrade of Mig-29 fighters. So we have very ambitious plans. If you ask me what defines the quality of our cooperation, it is that the Russian side is a pioneer of ‘Make in India.’ Almost all new projects envisage a very high level of localisation. To be honest it’s hard to tell what is it that we are not making in India and not making with India!

Do you worry about competition from other foreign collaborations in the nuclear sector?

•Speaking about U.S. and French companies, we are not afraid of normal, fair competition. Despite all the talk, the Russian side and the Russian company Rosatom is the only enterprise that has been doing business in India for decades, producing energy for India. The only thing which is unacceptable to us is the language of sanctions and discrimination, the language which our partners (U.S.) are increasingly using against us. This is nothing but an attempt to undermine our strategic partnership with India including in such strategically important sectors like military and technical cooperation, energy and nuclear energy.

On Afghanistan, is there any common ground between India and Russia today, given Indian opposition to Taliban talks, and Russia-U.S. differences on the way forward?

•Many talk of the contradictions in the Afghanistan policy of India and Russia. To my mind this is artificial. Both India and Russia need a peaceful and democratic Afghanistan free from terrorism, crime and drug trafficking. However, according to the U.S. policy, Russia stands as a revisionist state and a threat for U.S. and its allies. I hope that you won’t connect Indian policy with such views of the U.S. leadership.

We now see regular exercises and a growing Russian military cooperation with Pakistan. Why has Russia shifted its stand on not dealing with Pakistan in the past?

•Our relations with Pakistan in the military sphere are of a very minimum nature, and are strictly limited to anti-terrorism operations, and are not comparable in any way to the scope of our relations with India. Most importantly, our ties with Pakistan cannot be viewed as an attempt to change the regional strategic balance.

If countering terrorism is the objective, will Russia give India its support at the UN’s Financial Action Task Force later this month when India and several other countries are keen to corner Pakistan especially on groups that target India (Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed)?

•Eventually our decision will depend on how weighty and substantiated the proof for Pakistan’s involvement in financing terrorism will be. To corner Pakistan is not our policy. We believe that the settlement of all issues with Pakistan depends on political dialogue. I will even take the risk to suggest that this comes from the Indian idea of a comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan. But it is not my intention to comment on issues that are of Indian sovereignty.

Are there any talks for an India-Russia logistics support agreement on the lines of the Indo-US LEMOA to enable the use of each other’s bases?

•I believe for us with a 60-year-old history of military exchanges, the issue of logistical agreement is a long past idea. We have moved beyond that a long time ago. For a very long time we have been training and conducting drills. We have started tri-service drills. We have been cooperating for a long time on military infrastructure construction.

πŸ“° A disquieting silence

In the Rohingya crisis, India has ceded the diplomatic high ground to China

•Since late last year, the crisis facing the Rohingya, Myanmar’s predominantly Muslim minority group, has spiralled out of control and sent over 650,000 of the community fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape violent attacks in Rakhine state on the border. The actions of soldiers against the Rohingya in Myanmar bear the “hallmarks of genocide”, said a UN Special Envoy on Human Rights. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

•Yet India, which has a proud, if patchy, history of helping resolve crises in the subcontinent, has done little more than send basic aid including 500 tonnes of rice, pulses, cooking oil, tea, noodles, mosquito nets, and biscuits. Other than inking an “agreement” with Naypyidaw that normalcy and development would be promoted in the restive Rakhine state, New Delhi’s only public position has been to announce that it intends to send the nearly 40,000 Rohingya in India back to Myanmar.

•Roughly half of this displaced community have been accepted as refugees for the last decade and a half, and previous governments did not appear to find them to be a security threat. Could it be sheer coincidence that as the Myanmar government’s crackdown was unleashed on this vulnerable group, there has been increasingly strident talk in India of the Rohingya being susceptible to radicalisation?

•Without proof of this alleged radicalisation being made available publicly, we must conclude that the talk of deportation may be little more than political posturing in tune with the tenor of our times. It is in that context that the comment of the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, has to be viewed. He said: “As far as we are concerned, they are all illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is an illegal immigrant has to be deported.”

•While India argues that it is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which forbids a country that accepts asylum seekers from returning them to a country where they face persecution and worse (the concept of non-refoulement), it does not follow that sending the Rohingya back to certain death is acceptable.

•Myanmar has neither said nor done anything to indicate that it is willing to recognise the now stateless Rohingya as citizens with basic rights, the first step to giving them a secure future. Instead, the Army Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, refers to Rohingyas as “Bengalis”, maintaining that they “are not natives”.

•In terms of regional geopolitics, India has ceded the diplomatic high ground to China, never famous for welcoming refugees. Beijing has stepped firmly into the breach, brokering the broad outlines of what it hopes could be a solution.

•With China taking a lead in bringing Myanmar and Bangladesh together in exploratory talks for the eventual return of the Rohingya, South Block must realise that both Dhaka and Naypyidaw are paying more attention to Beijing than they are to New Delhi.

πŸ“° Cease fire

India and Pakistan must restore calmalong the LoC and International Boundary

•The 2003 ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan is now alive only in the breach, with violations intensifying in number and much damage to life and livelihood along the border. The drift can only be arrested through high-level political intervention to save this very significant bilateral agreement between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. In the latest incident, four Indian soldiers, including an Army Captain, were killed in the Bhimber Gali sector in cross-border firing that went on through most of Sunday. These casualties are a natural extension of what has been unfolding along the International Boundary as well as the Line of Control for the past several months. As a result, 2017 has turned out to be the worst year since the agreement brought calm to the border 15 years ago. The ceasefire agreement had resulted in a dramatic drop in military casualties, and thousands of border residents had been able to return home from temporary shelters on both sides. It is important to see the 2003 agreement in the immediate context of the time. It came just four years after the Kargil war, and soon after India and Pakistan almost went to war following the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament. The agreement was historic, and a triumph of diplomacy — Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali announced a unilateral ceasefire on the Line of Control on Id; India suggested including the Siachen heights, and the ceasefire was eventually extended to the International Boundary. It was the high point of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s premiership, and his successor, Manmohan Singh, heeded the legacy.

•Now, as the two countries are caught in a spiral of almost daily exchanges of fire along the border, there is a danger of political rhetoric acquiring its own momentum. Already, 2017 has been the worst year along the border since the ceasefire came into force, with at least 860 incidents of ceasefire violations recorded on the LoC alone. By way of comparison, in 2015 there had been 152 incidents, and in 2016 there were 228. January 2018 recorded the highest number of ceasefire violations in a month since 2003, according to estimates. According to data mentioned in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, between January 18 and 22, 14 people including seven civilians were killed and over 70 were injured in firing from the Pakistan side along the International Boundary in Jammu, Kathua and Samba districts as well as along the LoC in Poonch and Rajouri districts. Thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their border homes. Peace on the border is difficult to achieve at the tactical level by military leaders. Restoring the ceasefire requires real statesmanship, not brinkmanship.

πŸ“° SC flags exclusions under Aadhaar

Govt. obliged to ensure entitlements irrespective of authentication methods: court

•The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the government and UIDAI whether it was not their obligation to ensure that ordinary people, especially pensioners and the marginalised sections, were able to access their entitlements till an “adequate mechanism” for authentication of identity under the Aadhaar Act is put in place.

•Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, one of the judges on the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra hearing the challenge to the Aadhaar law, was responding to Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who read out a communication by the Cabinet Secretary in December last year, informing that possession of Aadhaar is enough to access entitlements if online authentication is not feasible.

Nationwide problems

•“This shows that the Cabinet Secretary, as late as this, perceived a countrywide problem,” Justice Chandrachud reacted.

•But the government insisted that the law does not exclude anyone from accessing their entitlements merely because of authentication failures by fingerprint and iris scanners.

•Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, on the five-judge Constitution Bench, termed exclusion of people from their rightful entitlements because of biological reasons like old age was of a “permanent nature” unlike exclusion due to infrastructural failure like lack of electricity, Wi-Fi or biometric scanners in certain regions of the country. The latter can be remedied, while the former cannot, the judge pointed out to the government.

•The court was hearing submissions by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, on behalf of petitioners, that Aadhaar was a scheme which “works against people like the poor, the marginalised and the old who already have entitlements.”

•He submitted that the elderly were unable to get their pension because the scanners were unable to read or scan their fingerprints or irises.

•“Nobody is being excluded. It is enough to furnish proof of Aadhaar number wherever infrastructure is not functioning. That is what the government wants,” senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, for UIDAI, countered by reading out provisions from the Aadhaar Act.

Lack of awareness

•“But many people are illiterate and may not know about these provisions. You (government) have to take care of them,” Justice A.K. Sikri, on the Bench, reacted.

•Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal intervened to say that there was no need for an interim order as the government had extended the deadline for Aadhaar linkage to subsidies, benefits and services to March 31, 2018. Chief Justice Misra said there was no need to pass any interim orders for now and the hearing should proceed. “We are not taking any note of that,” Chief Justice Misra said.

πŸ“° Should States have their own flags?

It would strengthen the federal structure andserve as a symbol for a more specific identity

•The committee constituted in Karnataka to design a flag for the State is said to have finalised a design. The flag is reportedly a tricolour, modifying the popular yellow and red one seen in the State. Since the proposal has given room for questioning the legal sanctity of such an exercise by the State government, it is appropriate to ask: do existing laws prevent this? The answer is no.

•Under the Constitution, a flag is not enumerated in the Seventh Schedule. However, Article 51A ordains that every citizen shall abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag, and the national anthem. There is no other provision regulating hoisting of flags, either by the States or by the public. It is clear that there is no prohibition under the Constitution to hoist any flag other than the national flag.

•Parliament has framed legislation regulating the hoisting of the national flag. One is the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950. The other is the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. In the former, the statutory prohibition is only against “use for any trade, business, calling or profession, or in the title of any patent, or in any trademark of design, any name or emblem specified in the Schedule”. Under the 1971 Act, there is no prohibition against any State hoisting its own flag. What is prohibited under this Act is insulting the national flag by burning it, mutilating it, defacing it, etc.

No prohibitions in law

•Even the Flag Code of India, 2002 does not impose prohibitions on a State flag. On the contrary, in the provisions regarding hoisting of the national flag by the general public, private organisations, educational institutions, etc., the Code expressly authorises the flying of other flags under the condition that they should not be hoisted from the same masthead as the national flag or placed higher than it. By implication, the Code provides space for a State flag as long as it does not offend the dignity and honour of the national flag. Similarly, the Code explicitly authorises (with restrictions) the flying of flags of other countries and also the flag of the United Nations. When flags of other countries are allowed to be flown along with the national flag, the above provisions cannot be read as imposing a prohibition on having or flying a State flag.

•In India, State boundaries are demarcated on the basis of linguistic homogeneity. This has naturally generated aspirations in the States for promoting their own languages and cultures. It is, therefore, natural for them to have symbols to recognise, protect and promote their own languages and cultures. A flag, which is both a benediction and a beckoning, serves this purpose better than any other symbol.

•Having a separate flag is not going to be an affront to national integration. On the contrary, a separate flag for each State would strengthen the federal structure and serve as a symbol for a much more specific identity.

•In India, even the Army, Navy, Air Force, and paramilitary forces have separate flags. They use these regularly in all their official functions, in national parades, and on Republic Day.

A democratic right

•All the 50 States in the U.S. have separate and distinct flags, apart from the national flag. In the U.K., the political units of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have their own flags without offending or affecting the integrity of the U.K. Karnataka is justified and constitutionally empowered to adopt its own flag to uphold the pride of the State without infringing the law. Democracy and federalism are essential features of the Constitution and are part of its basic structure. It is the democratic right of Karnataka to assert its identity through a separate name, emblem and flag.

πŸ“° SC to handle Ayodhya title dispute only as a ‘land issue’

Bench led by CJI refuses to entertain any third party intervention in the issue

•The Supreme Court on Thursday exhorted parties in the 70-year-old Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute to treat it merely as a “land issue”.

•Indicating it would not be swayed by the history of religious conflict and violence associated with the Ayodhya site, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra addressed a tense and crowded courtroom, saying, “Please treat this as a land issue.”

Three-way partition

•The Hindu parties and sects involved in the dispute believe Lord Ram was born on this land. Kar sevaks razed the 15th century Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.

•In September 2010, a three-judge Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court directed a three-way partition of the disputed site in Ayodhya. But this judgment led to appeals and cross-appeals filed by parties in the Supreme Court. On Thursday, the court warded off third-party intervenors, who said they wanted in as the Ayodhya appeals dealt with an issue which impacted the nation. But the Bench, also comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer, firmly told them that these were appeals and cross-appeals filed in land suits, and parties concerned were quite capable of arguing them without any third-party interventions.

•When senior advocate C.U. Singh, representing some “prominent names”, reminded the court that these Ayodhya appeals had come to the limelight because of an intervenor, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, Chief Justice Misra brushed it aside, saying “how do I know? The case was posted to this Bench by my predecessor [J.S. Khehar]”.

πŸ“° ‘No curtailment in demand for funds under MGNREGA’

•The Centre told the Supreme Court on Thursday that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was a “demand-driven scheme” and it has not curtailed the demand for funds made by the States.

•Attorney General K. K. Venugopal told a Bench comprising justices Madan B. Lokur and N. V. Ramana that there were no instances where the Centre has either capped the number of days of employment under the Act or not released funds to the States.

πŸ“° A boost to rural entrepreneurship

Why amendments were made to the NABARD Act

•The amendments passed by Parliament to the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) Act, 1981 support the government’s push to boost the rural and agricultural sector. The amendments recognise the vital role of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), as defined under the MSME Development Act of 2006, in rural entrepreneurship and are intended to make financing easier for them.

•The 1981 Act was enacted to establish a development bank to provide and regulate credit and other facilities in order to promote and develop agriculture, small-scale industries, cottage and village industries, handicrafts, and allied economic activities in rural areas.

•In March 2017, the Finance Ministry listed a slew of factors which necessitated amendments to the 1981 Act.

•In the statement of objects and reasons for the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Amendment) Bill of 2017, the government explained that with its expanding activities, NABARD needed to be provided with additional equity from time to time to enable it to meet its objectives of promoting rural development and sustainable rural prosperity. It said certain existing commitments of NABARD relating to the long-term irrigation fund and enhanced refinance support to cooperative banks required urgent infusion of equity.

•The government reasoned that as the current authorised capital of NABARD is fully paid-up, there was a need to increase it to enable the Central government to infuse additional equity as and when required.

•The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) holds 0.4% of the paid-up capital of NABARD. The remaining is held by the Central government. This causes conflict in the RBI’s role as banking regulator and shareholder in NABARD, the statement said.

•The government said its focus was on the employment potential in rural areas, medium enterprises, and handlooms. It proposed to include these enterprises in the ambit of refinance activities of NABARD.

•The NABARD (Amendment) Bill, 2017 provides for empowering the Central government to increase the authorised capital of NABARD from Rs. 5,000 crore to Rs. 30,000 crore in consultation with the RBI. The amendments primarily seek to transfer the RBI’s balance equity of Rs. 20,000 crore in NABARD to the Central government.

πŸ“° Big discoveries have small origins

One route to help the cause of science is to provide more funds for small-scale research projects

•In a rather belated official admission that scientific and technological innovations underpin economic prosperity, the Economic Survey, released ahead of the Budget, carries an entire chapter on transforming science and technology in India. It calls for doubling research and development expenditure from its current level of about ₹1 lakh crore, amounting to 0.8% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Even if instantly doubled through a miraculous diktat, it would still lag behind China, Israel, Japan and the U.S., each spending more than 2% of their GDP on research. For long, attaining the 2% GDP level had remained elusive for Indian science, but this is only a part of the story.

Diminishing funds

•The other critical part, diminishing funds for exploratory small-scale science research, escapes attention in the din of the debate based on comparative GDP figures. Seminal innovations often result from the efforts of scientists working alone or in small groups with a tight budget rather than in well-funded mega projects. In 2012, the discovery of Higgs boson (‘God particle’ in popular media) at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Geneva, hit the world’s headlines. With $1 billion annual expenditure, CERN’s work is big science by any yardstick. Yet, Higgs boson had its humble origins in seminal theoretical works of several scientists, including Peter Higgs, working independently. Even the $100 billion enterprise Google began as an innovative mathematical idea of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, funded by modest grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), at Stanford University.

•Today, the global market for Raman spectrometers is about $1.2 billion. In 1928, C.V. Raman spent about ₹200 on his laboratory-built spectrometer that heralded the era of Raman spectroscopy as an analytical tool and also brought to India its first science Nobel prize. Through the 1960s, Vikram Sarabhai was experimenting with simple sounding rockets that ultimately grew into the Indian Space Research Organisation of today, that we can justifiably be proud of. Time and again, small science projects have demonstrated the potential to emerge as harbingers of technological changes. Debates based on gross budget figures and GDP benchmarks miss the fact that over the years, funding for smaller, as opposed to large-scale big ticket, projects are dwindling.

Reading the fine print

•Consider the fine print in this year’s Budget. Of the ₹27,910 crore allotted to science ministries, ₹900 crore, or 3.22%, is earmarked for basic science projects to be disbursed as competitive research grants by the statutory body, Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB). In comparison, the apex body for medical research in the U.S., the National Institutes of Health, alone disbursed $25 billion as research grants in 2017, representing 36% of the country’s non-defence science budget. This figure can be higher if combined with the contribution of other agencies such as the NSF. The U.K.’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council distributes nearly 10% of the research budget as grants. Clearly, India’s provision for competitive research grants needs upward revision.

•In India, as elsewhere, a significant fraction of the science budget goes to mission-oriented projects in the areas of defence, space, nuclear and environmental sciences. The mission-oriented work in these areas need not be diluted to favour small research grants. The operational missions are important but so is the research ecosystem that provides human resources and feeds the innovation pipelines connected to these missions. Throttling smaller-scale research is akin to cutting off the innovation pipelines. Enhanced competitive research grants for the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, and universities will help address the needs of a larger pool of scientific talent outside national labs and bring in returns by way of publications, patents and innovations that can meet immediate needs.

A glimmer of hope

•Remarkably, the Economic Survey too has flagged this issue and recommends that India “gradually move to have a greater share of an investigator-driven model for funding science research”. It also talks of the “need to expand with more resources and creative governance structures”. Nearly every big science venture of today began as a budding small idea yesterday. It is imperative to incentivise the small ideas as some of them might ultimately scale up to join the big league. One route to help the cause of science is by provisioning more funds for small-scale research projects as well. The Economic Survey offers that glimmer of hope.

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