The HINDU Notes – 10th January 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 10th January 2019

📰 Parliament passes Bill to provide 10% quota for poor

A day after Lok Sabha approved The Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Rajya Sabha passed the law with 165 voting in favour and 7 against

•Parliament on Wednesday cleared the Constitutional Amendment Bill guaranteeing 10% quota in education and employment to economically weaker sections in the general category, following an approval by the Rajya Sabha.

•The Upper House nod came following an over nine-hour-long heated debate, during which the Opposition accused the government of bringing the Bill in haste with an eye on the coming Lok Sabha election.

Walkout by AIADMK

•The AIADMK staged a walkout vehemently opposing the move, while some other political parties, including the DMK, the Left and the AAP demanded that the Bill be sent to a Select Committee.

•DMK’s Kanimozhi, supported by several members, sought a division of vote on her motion for referring the Bill to a Select Committee. However, it was defeated with just 18 votes in favour. Then the CPI and the AAP members walked out in protest.

•The Bill was passed with a majority of 165 against seven votes. It will be now sent for Presidential assent.

•The Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill was introduced by Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot, who later in his reply said that the existing reservation to the SCs, STs and OBCs would not be touched by the amendment.

•Clarifying the Bill’s provisions, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the reservation would be applicable to jobs in both Central and State governments, adding that the legislation gave powers to States to determine the economic criteria for identification of beneficiaries. He responded to the Opposition’s charge of political intent by terming the government move a “slog-over six”, with many more to come.

•Earlier, during the debate, Congress leader Anand Sharma said provisions under Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution were for the backward and weaker communities. In the past, attempts were made twice to extend reservation beyond their scope, but the Supreme Court struck them down. The same happened in several States.

•Stating that it took the BJP-led government over four years to bring the Bill in the last session, Mr. Sharma questioned the circumstances and the manner in which it was taken up — pointing out that the party had lost recent Assembly polls in five States. Also questioning the economic criteria set for extending the quota, he said not many people would benefit from it especially when the government had failed to create enough jobs.

•Mr. Sharma also asked the government to extend parliamentary session further to bring in the Women’s Reservation Bill for passage.

•Member Kapil Sibbal listed three hurdles that the law would have to surpass. There was complete non-applicability of mind on the government’s part, its constitutionality could come under judicial scrutiny and that the implementation part was not clear, he said.

•Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav demanded 54% quota for OBCs, as the government had now opened up the doors by breaching the 50% cap fixed by the Supreme Court. Although he supported the Bill, he said the Centre had failed to even provide proper reservation to the SC, ST and OBCs. “When there are no jobs, what is the meaning of reservation?,” he said.

•Derek O’Brien of the TMC accused the government of cheating the poor and the youth. “The Trinamool Congress is disgusted. We are angry that Parliament has been disrespected, completely disrespected and this is the wrong method which has been used here,” he said, stating that it was a political move by the government in the face of a projected poor performance in the coming Lok Sabha elections.

•Referring to various government schemes, the TMC leader said they were all “Cheat India” and the proposed law was yet another attempt to mislead people.

•Stating that the Bill had been brought without any empirical basis, AIADMK’s Navaneethakrishnan quoted a Supreme Court order, stating: “A Backward Class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion. It may be a consideration or basis along with and in addition to social backwardness but it can never be the sole criterion”. He said the Bill trampled upon the rights of people in Tamil Nadu, which already had 69% reservation.

•Mr. D. Raja also questioned the haste with which the Bill was brought in. He said it was signed on January 7, introduced and passed by Lok Sabha on January 8 and then taken up in Rajya Sabha. He dared the government to bring reservation in the private sector. BSP’s Satish Chandra Misra said the Bill came after the meeting of his party supremo and Samajwadi Party chief for a possible pre-poll alliance in Uttar Pradesh.

•About 40 members of various parties participated in the debate, which culminated in the Bill being passed within 48 hours of being introduced in the Lok Sabha.

📰 Judicial evasion and the status quo: on SC judgments

In high stakes cases, the Supreme Court must ensure that judgments are timely and clear

•On October 26, 2018, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice of India, was confronted with a straightforward legal question: whether the decision taken by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Central government to divest Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Alok Verma of his powers and functions was legally valid. The question was a straightforward one, because it required the court to interpret three legal instruments: the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act (that brought the CBI into existence), the CVC Act, and the Supreme Court’s own prior judgment in Vineet Narain.

•The counsel for Mr. Verma argued that the DSPE Act made it clear that the CBI Director had a guaranteed, two-year tenure, and could not be transferred without the consent of a high-powered committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Chief Justice of India. This interpretation of the Act was buttressed by the Supreme Court’s exhortation, in Vineet Narain, that the Director must be protected from political influence. The Attorney-General, on the other hand, argued that the committee’s role was purely recommendatory, that the power vested with the Central government, and that in any event Mr. Verma had not been “transferred”.

•As the Supreme Court itself acknowledged, what was at stake was a “pure question of law”. Yet this pure question of law took six hearings and more than two-and-a-half months to resolve, and yielded an unclear decision where the court agreed with the principal legal contentions of Mr. Verma, but passed a judgment whose ambit left everyone scratching their heads.

Judicial evasion

•The Alok Verma Case — or “CBI vs CBI”, as it has come to be popularly known — reveals some of the pathologies that have plagued the Supreme Court’s conduct in recent high-profile cases. As indicated above, when Mr. Verma approached the court, the legal question was straightforward: were the CVC and the Central government authorised to divest him of his functions as CBI Director? It was a question that, when the court finally got around to it, took it no more than eight pages to answer.

•Why then did the case take six hearings and two-and-a-half months? A perusal of the Court’s orders reveals the following: on August 26, the court directed that the CVC finish its pending investigation against Mr Verma, under the supervision of a retired Supreme Court judge. On November 16, the court received the CVC report in a “sealed cover”, and allowed Mr. Verma to respond (also through a sealed cover). On November 20, the court passed a cryptic order stating that “for reasons that need not be recorded, we are not inclined to afford the parties a hearing today”, and adjourned the case to November 29. It was reported that the Chief Justice was “annoyed” that some of the contents of the “sealed cover” had been leaked. On November 29, the case was listed for hearing final arguments, which then took place on December 5 and 6. The court reserved its judgment on December 6, and finally delivered it January 8.

•It should be clear from the record that there were two parallel proceedings taking place in the Supreme Court. The first was Mr. Verma’s original challenge to the process of his divestment — that came up before the court in October, and was heard in December. The second — which occupied the court through the month of November, and through the now familiar, depressing cycle of “sealed covers” — was the substance of the allegations against Mr. Verma, that the CVC and the government were claiming justified his divestment. However, if Mr. Verma was correct in his claim — and the Supreme Court finally held that he was — then the substance of the allegations against him was irrelevant to his legal challenge against his removal.

•Effectively, therefore, by mixing up the two questions, the Supreme Court dragged on for months a case that could have been decided within days. And this was of crucial significance: Mr. Verma retires at the end of January. It is questionable what, precisely, does it really mean for the Supreme Court to “reinstate” him midway through January.

•This is not the first time that an important, time-sensitive case has been dragged on in a manner that materially affects the situation of the parties. In the Aadhaar challenge, for example, the case was finally heard six years after it was filed, effectively allowing the government to present a fait accompli to the court. This is “judicial evasion”: the court avoids deciding a thorny and time-sensitive question, but its very refusal to decide is, effectively, a decision in favour of the government, because it is the government that benefits from the status quo being maintained.

Strange fetters

•In the Alok Verma case, the Supreme Court finally returned a clear finding that the CVC and the Central government had acted outside their jurisdiction in divesting Mr. Verma. However, the court then went on to also hold that the correct authority — the high-powered committee — would have to consider the allegations against him, and decide on the case within a week. In the meantime, Mr. Verma was restrained from taking “any major policy decisions”.

•As a matter of law, this is strange. Mr. Verma’s challenge, to recall, was that his divestment was procedurally flawed. The Supreme Court’s limited remit was to decide that question. It was not for the court to then direct the committee to consider the case against Mr. Verma. Still less was it for the court, after holding that Mr. Verma’s divestment was invalid in law, to place fetters on his powers as the Director, thus presumptively placing him under a cloud of suspicion. All this suggests an attempt to chalk out a “middle ground”, which would be appropriate for a durbaar engaging in informal dispute resolution. It is not appropriate, however, for a Constitutional Court that is tasked with providing clear answers to the legal questions before it.

•In any event, what exactly is a “major policy decision”? What did the court mean when it said that Mr. Verma’s role would be “confined only to the exercise of the ongoing routine functions without any fresh initiative”? None of these is a legal term, and the lack of clarity only raises the spectre of fresh litigation, thus further hamstringing Mr. Verma for the remainder of his tenure.

•This, once again, is familiar: in the Supreme Court’s Aadhaar judgment, although private parties were banned from accessing the Aadhaar database, the ambiguity in the court’s holding meant that different parties interpreted the judgment differently — leading to an amendment to the Aadhaar Act that attempts to circumvent the judgment by letting in private parties through the backdoor. This is, once again, a reminder that — much like judicial evasion — ambiguity is not neutral: it primarily benefits the party that has the power to exploit it, and that party is invariably the government.

Setting deadlines

•During the Constituent Assembly debates, there was a proposal that all cases involving fundamental rights be decided within a month. The fear was that the more time the court took, the more the government would benefit from the status quo. Recent events have confirmed this fear. In high stakes cases, time-sensitive cases, the court must ensure two things: that the judgment is timely, and that the judgment is clear. The Alok Verma case demonstrates how, when the court fails to do so, it abdicates its role as the sentinel on the qui vive, and allows the government to get away with abuse of law.

📰 The Great Game is not a zero-sum deal: on handling Afghanistan

India and China can work together, bilaterally and in multilateral groupings, to build a secure Afghanistan

•There is an air of uncertainty about the U.S.’s intentions in Afghanistan. The likelihood of an American pullout raises the spectre of instability in Afghanistan, South and Central Asia. If this happens, security could hinge on efforts made by regional powers to stabilise Afghanistan. Could China emerge as the power broker in Afghanistan? And could India help enhance Afghanistan’s security?

•Like India, China never had any intention of contributing troops to NATO’s anti-Taliban campaign. But as Asia’s strongest power and challenger to the U.S., China will shed no tears if the U.S. reduces its military strength or calls it a day after 18 years of a protracted and indecisive war in Afghanistan.

Vital to development

•Sharing part of a border with Afghanistan, China has a great interest in its stability. China would be adversely affected by war and chaos, which could spill over into north-western China, Pakistan, and Central Asia. As all these areas are vital in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), peace in Afghanistan is critical.

•Over the last decade, China has gained considerable economic and diplomatic influence in Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, made China the destination of his first official trip abroad in October 2014. China then announced its intention to build regional consensus on Afghanistan’s security.

•It has joined the U.S. and Russia in several peace talks with the Taliban and is part of the four-nation Quadrilateral Coordination Group (with Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S.). It is giving military aid to Afghanistan, with the express intent of fighting terrorism and increasing security cooperation.

•Despite the prevailing instability in Afghanistan, China has used diplomacyand finance to appear influential and generous. It has invested in projects such as mining, roads and railways, and health. A rail link, completed in 2016, and running from far eastern China via Uzbekistan to the river port of Hairatan in northern Afghanistan, could reduce the time taken to make shipments, from six months by road, to just two weeks. Infrastructure problems have halted work on the railway for a while, and the three countries are in talks to resume operations.

•China’s diplomacy has highlighted its contacts with all parties to the conflict and enhanced its status as a power broker. In 2012, it brought Afghanistan into the regional diplomatic processes by giving it observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). At the 18th SCO summit at Qingdao, China, in 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared China’s readiness to train 2,000 law enforcement officers ‘for all parties’ in the next three years. The initiative was welcomed by Central Asian countries. For example, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which share a border with northern Afghanistan, are concerned about the Taliban and other terrorist groups becoming powerful in Afghanistan, and posing a threat. The SCO’s programme for 2019-21 also calls for combating terrorism, and generally enhancing security cooperation.

Dealing with Pakistan

•If the U.S. withdrawal exacerbates conflict, southern Russia will also face the threat of an extremist spillover. Therefore, Russia and its Central Asian ‘near abroad’ would be willing to expand their cooperation with China to curb insecurity. How will China deal with Pakistan, its all-weather friend which trains and exports extremists across the Durand Line? Pakistan has become a crucial link in the BRI. And China has reportedly invested billions in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which cuts across disputed territory in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

•Since 2011, China has continually blamed Pakistan for exporting extremists to Uighur in Xinjiang, and for extremist attacks on Chinese workers in the CPEC area. But these incidents have not affected their friendship. Could China have some leverage over Pakistan? Pakistan remained the largest recipient of Chinese arms imports (2013-17). Would China’s strategic and economic interests prompt it to press Pakistan to stop exporting terrorists across the Durand Line? These are the big questions.

•India supports China’s role in international negotiations on Afghanistan, the activation of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group and other mechanisms of dialogue and cooperation for restoration of peace and development in Afghanistan.

•For its part, India has certainly contributed much ‘soft power’ ranging from telecommunications to education, Bollywood movies and pop music. The building for the National Assembly was built with Indian assistance to support Afghanistan’s democracy. Indian reconstruction largesse, amounting to some $3 billion, has earned it goodwill and popularity.

Sitting across the table

•India, which has been against holding talks with the Taliban for a long time, finally sent two retired diplomats, at the ‘non-official level’, to join them at the Moscow peace parleys in November last year. But India’s lengthy absence from regional diplomacy has resulted in its limited contribution to the negotiations that are necessary to stabilise Afghanistan.

•The Afghan government would like to see India-China economic cooperation in Afghanistan that could boost progress and enhance human security. Last October, in a first, India and China started a joint training project for Afghan diplomats. They could expand cooperation by facilitating Afghanistan’s full membership of the SCO.

•China’s leadership role of the SCO and contacts with all parties (the U.S., the Taliban, the Afghan government, Pakistan, Russia and the five Central Asian states) could give it a vantage in crafting a regional solution on Afghanistan. That should not prevent India and China from working together, bilaterally and in the SCO, to build a secure Afghanistan.

📰 Korean consensus? : on Kim Jong-un’s visit to China

Kim Jong-un’s visit to China is likely to force next steps after the Singapore summit

•The visit to China of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at the invitation of President Xi Jinping, is significant for two distinct reasons. It is evidence of the continuing calm in the Korean peninsula for nearly a year since the thaw between Pyongyang and Washington that culminated in the Singapore summit in June 2018. The meeting also coincides with the resumption of trade negotiations this week between U.S. and Chinese delegations in Beijing. Expectations are that the dialogue between the regional neighbours could impact the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies. Whereas Mr. Xi is keen on securing sanctions relief for Mr. Kim, U.S. President Donald Trump will be equally eager that his peace deal continues to resonate in the region and beyond, notwithstanding the practical hurdles it has encountered. The Xi-Kim meeting cannot have overlooked the stalled progress on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula that Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump agreed on in Singapore. The American and North Korean leaders have in recent days reiterated their willingness to schedule another bilateral summit, a hope they have held out for months. But unlike the ambiguous promises issued in the Singapore declaration, Mr. Kim now wants to talk specifics. This could raise the stakes beyond diplomatic niceties and sound bites. In his New Year address, he emphasised the easing of economic sanctions as a priority, on which Beijing’s diplomatic clout could prove critical despite the lack of movement on the nuclear question. In that speech, Mr. Kim also insisted on a permanent end to the annual joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. Another demand was for multilateral negotiations to declare a formal end to the Korean war in place of the truce that has obtained since 1953. The latter issues have acquired greater weight in view of the ongoing rapprochement between Seoul and Pyongyang. This is exemplified by their decision to convert the Demilitarised Zone that separates the two countries into a peace park, and to disarm the joint security area.

•Formal negotiations between North Korea and the U.S. have made little headway since the Singapore summit. Access to North Korea’s nuclear installations has proved elusive to U.S. officials. The sudden cancellation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang last August was an indication of the stalemate. A North Korean test of a new tactical weapon in November was seen as a way to pressure Washington for concessions, if not a return to the hostile posturing of previous years. The uneasy calm that has been sustained on the peninsula for over a year now is no doubt a respite from Pyongyang’s successive nuclear tests to rattle the U.S. mainland. But Washington is impatient for information on the North Korean weapons stockpile. Pyongyang is anxious about sanctions relief. Something has to give.

📰 A question of citizenship

What is the Bill about?

•More than 33 years after an anti-foreigners’ agitation from 1979 to 1985, Assam is in turmoil again — this time because of the Modi government’s bid to get the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed in Parliament. Assam and the rest of the Northeast shut down on Tuesday after the Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha.

•Seeking to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955, the Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016 for granting citizenship to minority Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who came to India on or before December 31, 2014 due to religious persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The Bill requires such immigrants to spend at least six years to be eligible for citizenship, instead of 12 years as is currently applicable.

Why is there opposition to the Bill in Assam?

•The Assamese and other indigenous communities in Assam say that the Bill is against the spirit of the Assam Accord as well as the National Register of Citizens being updated. The Assam Accord, signed in August 1985, prescribed March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for detecting and deporting illegal migrants irrespective of religion. The same date applies for NRC inclusion. Some locals argue that the Bill, if passed, will make those who entered India after March 1971 eligible for citizenship overnight. They say that Assam has been bearing the burden of migration even before 1971, and cannot accept any more people.

What is the BJP’s stand?

•The BJP says India was divided on the basis of religion and the country has to create space for the non-Muslim victims of Partition facing religious persecution in the neighbourhood. Muslims comprise 34% of Assam’s population. The BJP is believed to have gone ahead with the Bill despite opposition after “testing the waters” with the December panchayat polls, when it won an unprecedented 41% of the seats. This implied that the issue had little or no impact on the voters.

Who will benefit?

•The BJP has given the issue a communal edge by arguing that 17 Muslim-majority Assembly seats should not go “Jinnah’s way”. But it is not clear if this can be done by granting citizenship to a large number of Bengali Hindus among the 40.07 lakh people left out of the NRC. The BJP is clearly eyeing the votes of Bengali Hindus, who were once a Congress vote bank, comprising less than 10% of Assam’s population of 3.29-crore. Many Bengalis, however, feel the Bill will do them more harm than good, specifically if 1951 is taken as the base year by the Assam government for a move to define who are ‘Assamese’ and ensuring political, land and other rights for only “sons of the soil”.

What may be the political fallout?

•The Asom Gana Parishad has pulled out of the alliance with the BJP. Other regional allies of the BJP are unhappy with the Bill and could take a call with the Lok Sabha elections drawing near. But regional parties in the Northeast are usually dependent on the party or coalition in power at the Centre, and their decision may depend on the trend post-elections.

📰 The space race: on China's moon mission

China’s recent achievement could trigger yet another rivalry with the U.S., this time in outer space

•There are several reasons why China’s achievement in landing a spacecraft on the far side of the moon could trigger a rivalry with the U.S. in outer space. For starters, China’s January 3 landing on the mysterious “dark” side of the moon, the first by any country, gives Beijing a leg up on Washington over big ticket space exploration. Unlike the near side, the far side of the moon is shielded from radio transmissions from earth. The Chang’e-4 mission got around the problem of lack of communication with those on earth by using a relay satellite. The data that China obtains on the moon’s craters could help it acquire an edge over other countries, including the U.S., in the highly competitive domain of space research.

•The Chinese could also steal a march over the Americans by launching advanced rockets, which would explore new frontiers in space. Unlike earth, the moon has an abundance of helium-3. In the far future, this can serve as the ideal fuel to power a new generation of spaceships, with the moon as the launchpad, instead of earth.

•The Chinese may have also taken the lead over peers in exploring the possibilities of human habitation on the moon. The Yutu-2, the rover of the ongoing Chang’e-4 mission, is programmed to explore the South Pole-Aitken Basin. This vast impact region, 13 km deep and 2,500 km wide, has copious reserves of ice. The promise of water has persuaded international space scientists to peg the site as suitable for a permanent lunar outpost, which is on China’s radar.

•The promise of the moon’s natural resources can add another layer of rivalry between the Chinese and the Americans. Space exploration buffs have considered asteroids as lucrative sources of precious metals such as gold, platinum, silver and iridium in the future. But if the relatively more accessible surface of the moon could yield precious resources, the race for lunar colonisation would begin, providing China a substantial early-mover edge.

•So far, NASA has congratulated its Chinese counterpart on the impressive success of the Chang’e-4 mission. But its graceful applause is unlikely to yield step two: an offer of active space collaboration between the two countries. The popular mood within Washington’s political class has been soured by the sentiment to contain China’s rise. In China, an intense techno-war, furthered by the U.S.-inspired arrest in Canada of the scion of the telecom giant, Huawei, has bruised the country’s nationalistic psyche.

•A new generation of Chinese and American peace advocates, global citizens and cyber-activists have their task cut out — to step up their game and prevent outer space from becoming another arena of a budding Cold War between Washington and Beijing.

📰 A ‘bio-safe’ way to fight mosquitoes

Scientists block a protein that causes the female insects to lay defective eggs

•Scientists in the United States said on Tuesday they had taken a major step toward developing a “mosquito birth control” drug to curb the spread of malaria and other killer diseases blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths a year.

•Researchers at the University of Arizona said they had discovered a protein unique to female mosquitoes which is critical for their young to hatch.

•When the scientists blocked the protein, the females laid eggs with defective shells causing the embryos inside to die.

•The team said developing drugs which targeted the protein could provide a way to reduce mosquito populations without harming beneficial insects such as bees.

•“It’s an important discovery,” said Roger Miesfeld, head of the university’s department of chemistry and biochemistry. “We’re certainly excited about it ... This gets around mosquito resistance and also has a much better chance of being bio-safe [than other methods].”

Big threat

•Mosquitoes are one of the world’s deadliest insects, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) which has warned that global progress against malaria is stalling.

•The disease infected around 216 million people in 2016, killing 445,000 of them, predominantly babies and young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Other diseases spread by mosquitoes include Zika, chikungunya, yellow fever, West Nile virus and dengue, which has risen 30-fold in recent decades, according to the WHO.

•“Once we knock down this protein, the mosquito no longer makes viable eggs even after multiple blood feedings so ... birth control is a great way to describe it.”

•He said he hoped the discovery could lead to the development of a new generation of insecticides in five years.

•These could then be applied onto bed nets.

📰 Talks at ISC need to be vetted by serious committees: Venkatraman Ramakrishnan

The meeting needs to become smaller in order to be better organised; eminent scientists who come should be required to stay the whole time

•Nobel Laureate Prof. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, who attended the Indian Science Congress held in Mumbai in 2015 and called it a “circus” as very little science was discussed, is annoyed at the outrageous statements made by a few speakers at this year’s Congress. In an e-mail interview, he talks about the steps needed to restore respectability to the ISC.

Responding to a question from an Indian journalist, you had commented that the Indian Science Congress was a “circus”. What made you say that?

•The Indian Science Congress is too large and unwieldy, and the result is a slightly chaotic atmosphere. It is far too big for younger unknown scientists, let alone students and research fellows, to get to know senior scientists or even each other.

•One thing I particularly disliked was that they fly top international scientists business class and put them up in 5-star hotels with a car and chauffeur at great expense, but then shepherd them away in VIP tents where their interactions with young scientists are limited. The large size also means the quality of the talks is extremely uneven. This is not even counting those few talks that are simply outrageous, pseudoscientific nonsense.

Do you think the idea of the Congress catering to a wide audience (school students to scientists) is the basic problem?

•In principle it is not a bad idea to have a broad meeting. However, its size needs to be restricted and interactions across disciplines and generations maximised.

Are you aware of any national science meeting that is inaugurated by a politician or where the main focus is on this event?

•This may well be unique to India and could actually be a good thing if used well because it signals support for science from the highest levels. Currently there is too much politics among the organizers and scientists, and a lot of jockeying for “who gets to sit on the dais when the PM speaks”. It is also not clear that there is sufficient two-way conversation between the Prime Minister and the scientific community or whether something actually emerges from the Prime Minister’s visit that affects the course of science.

Do you see a sharp decline in the level of discourse since 2015 as pseudoscience gets discussed?

•I have not done a comparison. However, why doesn’t the Prime Minister or other high officials speak out against this?

If there a few things that can be changed to make the Indian Science Congress respectable, what would you say are the most important ones?

•The meeting needs to become smaller in order to be better organized. I think eminent scientists who come should be required to stay the whole time, and give at least two-three talks, including one to the Children’s Science Congress, which I found to be the best part of the Science Congress.

•The meeting needs to be smaller and depoliticised. They should abolish people sitting on the platform for the Prime Minister’s speech — this dais nonsense is a particularly Indian disease. The talks need to be vetted by serious committees with the appropriate expertise. If despite the careful vetting, someone begins to spout nonsense, they should be ejected by the chair of the session.

📰 Why Adam Smith favoured public education

Contrary to popular opinion, he was not a free market apologist

•The authority of Adam Smith is frequently invoked by supporters of the free market, who argue for extending the market forces to all conceivable goods and services and eliminating any kind of government intervention in markets. However, Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations make it clear that he was not a laissez faire or free market capitalism apologist.

Favouring liberal capitalism

•Smith favoured liberal capitalism over the extant socio-economic arrangement (elements of feudalism and mercantilism). While feudalism was characterised by the rule of the nobility/landowners, mercantilism was characterised by state monopoly over trade. The East India Company was an example of the latter. It is in this historical context that Smith called for the state to withdraw its monopolistic interventions in both external and internal commerce.

•Contrary to public opinion, Smith presupposed the government provision of legal infrastructure, defence, transport infrastructure and education for the proper functioning of liberal capitalism. For him, the responsibility of providing institutions “for promoting the instruction of the people” is one of the chief duties of the state. The state, he said, must undertake this responsibility just as it accepts responsibility “for protecting society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies”.

•The appropriators of Smith also forget his telling commentary on the role of power in society. One aspect of this relates to the power employers have over workers. The second aspect relates to the inequality of power, expressed in the form of status and ranks.

•Modern appropriators of Smith also make abundant use of the “invisible hand” metaphor. But Smith used this metaphor only once in Wealth of Nations, and twice in his other writings in different contexts.

•The self-interested individual in the Wealth of Nations is embedded, as it were, in the society Smith described in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which is characterised by good moral sentiments: “All the members of human society stand in need of each other’s assistance, and are likewise exposed to mutual injuries. Where the necessary assistance is reciprocally afforded from love, from gratitude, from friendship, and esteem, the society flourishes and is happy.” Indeed, the Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments are complementary texts.

Education is not a commodity

•Smith conceived of education in a broad manner. Education for him not only includes the “study of wisdom” but also the learning of good moral sentiments such as virtue, sympathy, gratitude and benevolence. Since Smith considered education as central to a flourishing society, he did not treat it as a commodity. He argued that the costs of education should be such that “even a common labourer may afford it”. In the Wealth of Nations, he said: “For a very small expence the publick can facilitate, can encourage, and can even impose upon almost the whole body of the people, the necessity of acquiring those most essential parts of education.” This dispels the myth of him being a champion of private education.

•Almost all popular commentaries on Smith’s economics highlight the role of division of labour or technological progress in the growth of an economy. The growth enhancing effects of division of labour via increasing labour productivity are an important part of Smith’s growth account. But Smith understood the central consequence of division of labour on the workers: repetitive work numbs their minds and negatively influences their capacity to make prudent decisions. Therefore, the “education of the common people requires, perhaps, in a civilized and commercial society, the attention of the publick.”

•Smith advocated accessible education for the entire class of workers, which constitutes the majority of the population. In fact, he advocated compulsory education for them so that it offsets part of the debilitating effects from the division of labour. Smith also believed that education would empower the citizens to make wise decisions which contribute to the “safety of the government”. Yet another reason is that education positively affects customary wages, which over time, would increase workers’ real wages.

•It would therefore be wise to take heed of Smith’s views on education, which comprise both the learning of “wisdom” and “moral sentiments”, and not only strengthen but also expand India’s public education system.

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