The HINDU Notes – 20th August 2019 - VISION

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 20th August 2019

📰 Delhi High Court seeks Centre's response to plea seeking same legal age for marriage

Petition filed by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay says difference in age for men and women amounts to ‘discrimination’.

•The Delhi High Court on Monday sought response from the Centre on a petition seeking to make equal the legal age of marriage for men and women in India.

•A Bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice C. Hari Shankar gave the direction on a petition filed by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay who claimed that the limit of 18 years for a woman to get married amounts to "blatant discrimination" as men in India are permitted to get married at the age of 21.

•The public interest litigation claimed that the difference in minimum age of marriage for men and women was based on patriarchal stereotypes.

📰 India’s campaign for permanent seat at UNSC slowing down

Diplomats blame China for having quietly carried out a campaign to stop the draft resolution from acquiring speed

•Despite repeated assertions of its right to a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, India’s campaign for expansion of the UNSC has slowed down, available official statements suggest.

•The slow pace is visible in the fact that India’s campaign did not prompt the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to move towards the resolution for expanding the UNSC four years after the General Assembly in a landmark decision in 2015 had declared plans for the same.

•Following the September 14, 2015 decision of the UNGA, the Ministry of External Affairs had stated that the negotiations for a resolution of the UNGA would begin from 2016 but initiatives on the ground narrate another tale.

•India seems to have depended on the argument that it is entitled to a seat at the UNSC because of multiple factors such as population, growing economic stature and growing global responsibilities like peacekeeping.

•Diplomats here suggest that a more aggressive campaign within the organs of the UN is required to push for a UNGA resolution to expand the UN Security Council.

National interest

•One of the key historic reasons for India’s quest for a permanent seat at the UNSC was to ensure protection of national interest in crucial diplomatic moments when the organ takes up contentious issues such as Kashmir.

•Yet, four years after the reform process received an initial boost, India stood outside as the UNSC members met for a closed meeting on Kashmir last week. In recent years, India has insisted on getting bilateral assurance from visiting heads of states and governments, but permanent member countries such as the U.K., the U.S., Russia and France have expressed support bilaterally without actively collaborating with India in the UN for expanding the council.

•Frustration of the Indian diplomats at the slow movement of the process was evident in speeches delivered in meetings in various UN groups.

•Delivering a joint G4 statement on behalf of Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, India’s Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin in 2016 stated that the grouping was eager for a forward discussion.

•“Our group stands ready to discuss the criteria applied to the elections and the voting process of the elections in text-based negotiations,” Syed Akbaruddin had said.

•Yet recent speeches by the diplomat at the “Plenary on the Intergovernmental negotiations on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Council” indicate internal delays and differences among members that is hindering India’s quest.

•Diplomats have blamed China for having quietly carried out a campaign to stop the draft resolution from acquiring speed. Veteran diplomats have said that the latest UNSC meeting on Kashmir which was convened following an initiative from China showed that India will have to show more “stamina” to stop China from using the organ against India’s interest. The issue of expanding the UNSC and the Text Based Negotiation is expected to come up in the next UN General Assembly session in September, which will throw open a new round of multilateral diplomacy.

📰 Energy likely to be on Modi’s agenda at G7 visit

India is a special invitee at the meet

•India remains politically committed to the completion of the Jaitapur nuclear power project, which is being built in partnership with France. A statement regarding the project was made as the External Affairs Ministry announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the outreach session of the G7 meet at Biarritz, France, where India is a special invitee.

•“We are politically committed to completing the Jaitapur nuclear power project as soon as possible. In December 2018, we have signed the Industrial Way Forward Agreement. The techno commercial offer is in active discussion between the technical agencies,” said G. Balasubramaniam, Joint Secretary, Western Europe Division in the Ministry.

•The visit to Biarritz is part of the multi-nation tour that Mr. Modi will undertake from August 23. He will visited the UAE, Bahrain and France. The invitation to visit France was extended by President Emmanuel Macron after Mr. Modi was re-elected to a second term in office.

•At the G7 summit, Mr. Modi is expected to highlight climate change and counter-terrorism with partner countries.

•The interactions with the French leadership is likely to include solar energy and multilateral.

•The Indian leader is expected to hold several bilateral meeting with global leaders, though the Ministry did not confirm the meetings.

📰 Something special: On Narendra Modi's Bhutan visit

India and Bhutan have a good thing going; each must take the other’s concerns seriously

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two day visit to Thimphu affirmed a long-standing tradition between India and Bhutan, where the leaders of both countries have given visiting each other a major priority early in their tenures. Mr. Modi returned a state visit to India by Bhutan Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering in December 2018; this visit was actually delayed to include outcomes such as the inauguration of the 720 MW Mangdechhu hydropower plant. The relationship is indeed built on a traditional closeness, one that is unique in today’s world. Open borders, close alignment and consultation on foreign policy, and regular, open communications on all strategic issues are the hallmark of the relationship that has maintained its consistency for the past many decades. Bhutan’s unequivocal support to India on strategic issues has meant a lot to India on the international stage and at the United Nations. Equally, Bhutan’s leadership has not flinched in opposing threats to India; for instance, the former King’s efforts in 2003 to drive out ULFA rebels or more recently, support for India’s stand against Chinese troops on the Doklam plateau. India’s assistance to Bhutan’s planned economy, to constructing its highest revenue earner of hydropower generated electricity, and then buying the electricity generated has also ensured a symbiotic and mutually beneficial base to the relationship, which has been nurtured by the leaders in both countries, in a manner Mr. Modi called “exemplary”.

•It would however, be a mistake for New Delhi to take the relationship with Thimphu for granted. In the past few years, ties came under a strain over India’s sudden change in its power purchasing policy, rigid rates and refusal to allow Bhutan to join the national power grid and trade with third countries like Bangladesh. These issues are being addressed now. Another concern that could create differences is over Bhutan’s worry that too much trade, transport and tourism from India could put its environment at risk. India’s plans for a Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) in the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal grouping have been held up, and a Bhutanese proposal to levy entry charges on Indian tourists could cause differences with India. Earlier generations of Bhutanese students never looked beyond India, but in recent years young Bhutanese have shown a preference for education destinations in Australia, Singapore and Thailand. There is thus much to repair in the ties. More importantly, New Delhi will have to remain alert to strategic powers which are courting Bhutan assiduously, as is evident from the high-level visits from China and the U.S. In a world of growing options, it remains in India’s and Bhutan’s best interests to make each other’s concerns a top priority.

📰 The far right’s disruption of globalisation

Donald Trump’s emulators have tapped into globalisation’s long-standing discontents

•By launching a trade war against China, the United States government that had pressured many a country to liberalise trade and globalise seems to have turned against its own agenda. In a series of aggressive moves, the U.S. — the one-time votary of freer trade — has put in place and widened the coverage of a protectionist shield aimed at stimulating domestic production and reducing the country’s trade deficit. While these moves initiated by the Donald Trump administration were on occasion targeted at multiple countries and involved rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, the focus of the trade and technology war has been China.

Steps against China

•China-specific tariff aggression began with a 25% tariff on imports worth $50 billion, out of the total of $540 billion imported by the U.S. from China in July 2018. Soon, an additional $200 billion worth of imports from China were subjected to tariffs of 10%, and those levies were also raised to 25% in May this year. Most recently on August 1, the balance of around $300 billion worth of imports from China were subjected to a phased 10% levy, with a clear threat that these levies too can be raised to 25%. China’s responses to U.S. actions, which came at every step of the trade war, have in turn led to the $120 billion of goods it imports from the U.S. being subject to a 25% duty. The U.S. has also imposed sanctions on and shut off business relations with individual Chinese firms, such as Huawei, on grounds varying from national security to alleged theft of intellectual property from U.S. firms. This prevents the firms targeted from either selling in U.S. markets and that of its allies or buying goods, services and technology from U.S. firms or those of its allies.

•Parallel to all this, based on the allegation that the Chinese authorities have deliberately allowed the yuan to depreciate vis-à-vis the dollar to support its exporters, the U.S. Treasury has designated China as a currency manipulator. What additional action that would lead to is yet unclear. What is clear, however, is that given the importance of China as a global manufacturing hub, these measures have disrupted global value chains and production networks that are the hallmark of globalisation. Deglobalisation may yet be a distant prospect, but the fact that the world’s leading superpower is willing to disrupt globalisation provides both an example and the justification to other governments that find the need to move in that direction.

The U.S. argument

•The U.S. justifies its actions against China by citing that country’s significance as a source of inadequately reciprocated imports into the U.S. Imports from China account for more than a fifth of aggregate U.S. imports. With exports to China being nowhere as large, the U.S. runs an annual trade deficit with that country of around $420 billion, which ‘imbalance’ is attributed to Chinese policy.

•There are, however, two important facts that this argument sidesteps. First, the gains to the U.S. from its economic relationship with China are inadequately captured by the trade figures. A major gain for U.S. companies, even if not for the U.S. per se, is the local sales by subsidiaries of American multinationals located in China. Official statistics from the U.S. indicate that U.S. multinational affiliates based in China notched up local sales of $222 billion in 2015, which do not figure in trade calculations. Second, these subsidiaries are responsible for a chunk of China’s exports to the U.S. According to one estimate, more than half of Chinese exports to the U.S. originate in foreign invested enterprises which are either U.S. multinational arms or firms with parents in other advanced economies. That is, the U.S. trade deficit with China is the result of the off-shoring associated with globalisation, rather than to Chinese policy favouring its own firms.

Reading Trump

•Not surprisingly, it troubles the neoliberal policy establishment that the fallout of this kind of trade aggression can set back globalisation across the world. Members of the G20 other than the U.S. have strenuously and unsuccessfully tried to get the latter to sign on to another call for strengthening free trade. The International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and a host of international institutions have warned of the dangers of the new protectionism. Implicit in their reasoning is that the tariff aggression is an error being made by a maverick or misguided administration. But that does not take into account the fact that Mr. Trump had been railing against trade agreements that hurt the U.S. even in the course of his election campaign and withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement days after he took office. It also ignores the fact that a section hurt by the Trump tariffs — U.S. farmers for whom China was a $6 billion market in 2018 with it absorbing 60% of U.S. soyabean exports — still support him. A survey by the Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture found that 78% of farmers held that the Trump tariffs will in time benefit them and a Pulse survey by Farm Journal found that Mr. Trump had a 79% approval rating among farmers.

•The faith in Mr. Trump and rejection of economic liberalism are telling. These farmers along with U.S. industrial workers have for long felt they had been left behind in the neoliberal years when elites in developed and developing countries alike captured all the benefits of growth and inequality increased hugely. With the increase in income and wealth at the top of the pyramid accruing largely through transactions in the financial sector, productive activity that could have delivered benefits to others has been lagging.

•The idea that the benefits of whatever growth occurred under the neoliberal regime would trickle down to the poor and lower middle classes was shown to be what it was: patently false. Seen in that context, Mr. Trump is no maverick, despite his wild twitter and vocal outbursts. He tapped into a genuine grievance and railed against elements of a regime he too was a beneficiary of. That brought him to power once. It may well return him to power again. When in power he needs to adopt at least some policies that go against the grain of free market philosophy and the globalisation that flows from it.

In Europe

•That this is not confined to the U.S. comes through from the rise of what is dismissed as “right wing populism” in Europe, which is not just sceptical of free trade even within the European Union but is coming out against the fiscal conservatism promoted by financial interests that leaves the continent mired in a trajectory of low growth and high unemployment and individual countries reeling under austerity. Combining this with anti-immigrant rhetoric delivers a toxic mix that is helping them gain popularity and even a seat in some governments. On the other hand, sections of the centre left that had bought into the neoliberal paradigm are being shown the door. The pleasure derived by the advocates of neoliberalism from the significant decline of the left in the decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union (which deprives the progressive critique of neoliberalism of a strong political base) has proved short-lived.

•Needless to say, the far right is hardly committed to the anti-globalisation strain implicit in its rhetoric. It is as wedded to the hegemony of capital and the markets as are the neoliberal dogmatists. Their ideological pragmatism is opportunistic and fickle. Yet for the moment, their actions, especially that of Mr. Trump, have disrupted globalisation.

📰 Democracy under siege

Liberty, equality and fraternity are becoming subservient to a new idea of sovereignty

•The Constituent Assembly formation was the culmination of the final stage of the struggle for freedom and Independence, which was won by the supreme sacrifices made by millions of Indians. People across the length and breadth of the country made sacrifices in one way or the other. On January 26, 1950, India got its Constitution. Every succeeding generation in India owes an eternal debt of gratitude to the country’s forefathers for this ‘sacred text’. There is absolutely no doubt that we must keep the spirit of this text as well as the letter, while also protecting Constitutional values and its morality.

•However, the current state of affairs in the country is an example of how the Constitution is slowly and steadily being made to wither away. Parliament, the judiciary and the executive are all under stress. Things are going wrong in these fast-changing times. People are moved, and getting moved, by an ideology which is apparently in conflict with constitutional ethos and basic human values. As a result, people are tired of a government by the people and are instead leaning to support a government for the people. They are indifferent to whether it is a government of the people and by the people. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar warned us “not to be tardy in the recognition of the evils that lie across our path and which induce people to prefer Government for the people to Government by the people”. But have we paid heed to this warning?

A missing debate

•Today, liberty, equality and fraternity are becoming subservient to a new idea of sovereignty. Ultra-nationalism has trampled over basic human rights and the dignities of citizens, especially of the “downtrodden” and the “minorities”. Constitutionalism is being forgotten. As a result democratic principles are unable to check legislative, judicial and executive powers. Each organ is paying lip service to this fundamental principle. Examples are writ large in front of us and happen everyday.

•The government’s focus on certain ideological issues to drive home its agenda is a serious point to be debated. A political party that is in power can push through its policies. But when it becomes an obsession to the point of neglecting real issues, it poses a challenge.

•The ruling party cannot be satisfied with chest thumping on Triple Talaq or the abrogation of Article 370. Where are the much-needed discussions on poverty, the economic slowdown, hate crimes, the rise in population and agrarian distress? Why not ‘wage war’ on these issues?

•The government’s strategy on the abrogation of Article 370 is by far the most serious challenge to federalism. The bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir is most condemnable. Does this not pave the way for any government with a majority to carve up States based on a whim?

Stepping back

•The judiciary, especially the Supreme Court of India, is the custodian of the fundamental rights of citizens under the Constitution. But the problem is not the absence of the law but of its implementation. The judiciary’s blanching over protecting the fundamental rights of the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir points to its abdication of carrying out its duty.

•The judiciary itself has held that a judicial review of actions by the Executive is a part of the basic structure and has even proclaimed that “there are no unreviewable discretions under the constitutional dispensation”. If one can go by various judgments, it is dutybound to inquire into the legitimacy of the exercise of powers.

•Article 21, which is about the “protection of life and personal liberty”, has been infused with new and enriched life by the judiciary. But in Jammu and Kashmir, restrictions virtually amounting to a deprivation of the liberties of the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir over the past fortnight are not “according to procedure established by law”. Using Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 in a blanket manner is wholly insufficient as a justification for all that has been done.

•Then why is the silence of the higher judiciary so deafening? The reason is not far to fathom. The distance between the judiciary and political and executive leaders is blurring. Where is the expected aloofness?.

•It was B.R. Ambedkar again who said, “Because I feel, however good a Constitution may be it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called upon to work it, happen to be a bad lot.” His strong warning — “It is quite possible for this new born democracy to retain its form but give place to dictatorship in fact. If there is a landslide, the danger of the second possibility becoming actuality is much greater” — does not seem to have registered with our constitutional functionaries. The election result of 2019 is the proof of Ambedkar’s prophecy coming true. But sadly, the real protectors of the Constitution do not seem bothered. They are content with allowing the government to have either the last say or the last laugh. Democracy is certainly losing out to populism.

📰 Soldier Number One: on creation of CDS post

The creation of the post of CDS is a comment on the security environment

•The creation of the post of the Chief of the Defence Staff, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in his Independence Day address, fulfils a long-felt and consistently articulated need to strengthen India’s defence posture. Considering that the Prime Minister underlined this announcement by saying that this was an “important” development, it gives legitimate pause to wonder why this has taken so many decades. Indeed, Manohar Parrikar, as Defence Minister, had said this was on the cards. Yet, two Defence Ministers came and went, Arun Jaitley and Nirmala Sitharaman, and this logical step was not taken. Since this is to be a ‘single-point’ advisory position to the government, there must have been entrenched opposition to this becoming reality. Ultimately the decision must have been thrust centre stage by the current strategic environment. What was always desirable became an urgent necessity. Pulwama and Balakot, the repeated offers for mediation in Kashmir by the U.S. President, the imminent pull-out of American troops from Afghanistan, which would leave Pakistan and its proxies the dominant players on the ground with a strong chance of blowback into Kashmir, as well as the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, are factors that have come together to confer urgency to taking this step. The forces will no doubt have to be on a heightened sense of alert and in a seamless state of coordination to meet the challenges.

•Now, the ambit of the office, the tenure, and who will hold the post, will have to be decided soon. Consider briefly what transpired during Kargil, after which the Kargil Review Committee strongly recommended setting up the CDS: It took a fortnight after the incursions were initially detected before the Indian Air Force (IAF) could be pressed into countermeasures: the then Indian Army Chief was away on a foreign tour, there was inadequate appreciation of the ground situation by the Indian Army, and poor sharing of intelligence, and the squabbling between the IAF and the Indian Army over whether to use helicopters or fixed wing aircraft and how and who should call the shots, comprehensively blunted the initial response. The CDS is expected to bridge such dangerous gaps and reduce response time. It is envisaged he will keep the Defence Minister, continuously and fully briefed and effectively advised, be part of the adjunct apparatus of the Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs, and better link the three services in terms of planning, coordination and execution. It will certainly leave the three service chiefs to focus on running their arms of the forces more efficiently. This move will no doubt bring the strategic forces under the CDS as well. The government should use the opportunity to ramp up the intelligence apparatus that is concomitant to this office.

📰 Crucial manoeuvre for Chandrayaan-2 today

ISRO Chairman Sivan says it will be a major milestone

•The moon-bound Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft is scheduled to undergo a crucial orbit manoeuvre around 9.30 a.m. on Tuesday morning as it approaches its destination.

•To make the spacecraft capture the lunar orbit and start going around the moon, its handlers at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will fire its engines briefly to slow it down to capture the moon's orbit. The move, called the Lunar Orbit Insertion or LOI, is probably one of the two top orbit manoeuvres of the mission, along with the high point: the soft-landing of the Vikram lander on the southern polar region of moon on September 7.

‘Major milestone’

•ISRO Chairman K.Sivan said, “It is a very difficult manoeuvre and will mark a major milestone of the mission.”

•Without this move, the spacecraft will go out of the lunar ambit and travel into an unknown and unwanted space realm, according to experts who are conversant with the first Indian lunar orbiter mission, Chandrayaan-1 in 2008.

Reverse step

•For the first 24 days of its earth-bound phase, the speed and range of the spacecraft were being boosted to push it towards moon. As it nears the moon, its handlers will do the reverse - lower its speed gradually until it circles the moon pole to pole.

•August 20 marks Day 30 since Chandrayaan-2 was launched from Sriharikota on July 22. The spacecraft has been travelling since August 14 to its destination some 3.84 lakh km away. So far, the moves have been similar to Chandrayaan-1.

📰 Crouching tiger, hidden data

The forest bureaucracy has ensured that tiger survey data continue to be withheld from independent scrutiny

•The fourth national tiger survey has generated much euphoria, whereas the first one in 2006 had cast a pall of gloom. However, missing from all the four survey reports are details necessary to assess the reliability of the tiger numbers. A brief history of India’s tiger censuses can shed some light on this issue. The tradition of reporting tiger numbers dates back to the 1970s. These numbers were based on the ‘pugmark census method’, which simple-mindedly assumed that the pugmarks of every tiger could be found, recognised and tallied. As scientific critiques showed, these assumptions failed, rendering the numbers meaningless. However, the forest bureaucracy (the Ministry of Environment and allied institutions) ignored the problem for decades.

New methods

•In the 1990s, many tiger scientists and statistical ecologists working in collaboration developed robust new methods for tiger monitoring. These methods could estimate prey animal numbers using ‘distance sampling’ and the extent of tiger habitat employing ‘occupancy sampling of tiger spoor’. Critically, they could even directly estimate numbers, survival rates and and recruitment in each population employing ‘photographic capture-recapture sampling’. These methods were independently honed in tiger reserves across India and over 25,000 sq km in the Western Ghats harbouring 20% of India’s tigers.

•By 2004, the new methods had rapidly been adopted worldwide for assessing populations of threatened cat species such as leopards and jaguars. However, the Director of India’s Project Tiger derided these as fancy sampling methods, inferior to India’s indigenous pugmark census.

•Then in 2005 came the shocking revelation that all tigers in Sariska Reserve had been poached, even as the pugmark censuses claimed all was well. A Tiger Task Force (TTF) appointed by the Prime Minister discarded the pugmark census. The Director of Project Tiger performed a breathtaking backflip, now denouncing the pugmark census as “trash”.

•I had hoped these dramatic events would lead to a serious revamping of India’s tiger monitoring methods. India’s remarkable conservation efforts had rescued the tiger from the brink of extinction; they deserved an honest evaluation to identify both successes and failures. The dire situation demanded technically rigorous tiger population surveys conducted by independent, qualified scientists.

•However, blocking this progress was a serious conflict of interest: The same forest bureaucracy that managed tiger populations was also expected to assess its own successes or failures by monitoring tiger populations. This had led to the fiascos in Sariska and other places.

•Changes in tiger numbers, survival rates, and recruitment in key tiger populations have to be monitored every year to track the fate of tigers in real time. Periodic assessments of colonisation and extinction of tiger populations across larger regions by employing the cost-effective ‘occupancy sampling of tiger spoor’ method are required. A public-private partnership framework led by qualified scientists is needed to conduct such independent monitoring. However, instead of calling for better monitoring methods, TTF ended up further strengthening bureaucratic monopoly over tiger monitoring. Inevitably, the new National Tiger Estimation method, also created by the forest bureaucracy, ignored or distorted critical elements underpinning the new tiger survey methods. These flaws were masked by misleading technical jargon, hype about advanced technologies and cursory reviews by ‘foreign experts’.

•Consequently, in spite of all the effort and expenditure, four tiger surveys have not generated ecologically credible results. Nor are they practically useful. For instance, in spite of spending crores of rupees on official tiger research and monitoring, the government has failed to generate estimates of annual rates of changes in tiger numbers, survival or recruitment in tiger populations at key sites.

•Plainly put, the tiger numbers reported are useful only to generate the media spin to meet the needs of the forest bureaucracy and to satisfy momentary public curiosity. This is clear from the 2006 survey report, which made a bold confession: India’s tiger numbers had collapsed by a massive 61% (from 3,642 to 1,411 tigers) in just four years! This made no sense because the first number was from the discredited pugmark census and the second from the wobbly new survey method.

•However, this confession killed three birds with one stone. It gained public acceptance of the new “scientific method”; it set an unrealistically low baseline of 1,400 tigers, around which future claims could be tailored; and the National Tiger Conservation Authority walked away unblemished from tiger declines, blaming them on State governments.

•The results of subsequent surveys show that the new methodology is flexible enough to generate increases or decreases in coarse-scale estimates of tiger numbers and habitat occupancy. And this is what seems to be going on now, in preparation for claiming a ‘doubling’ of India’s tiger population at the next Global Tiger Summit in 2022.

•Over the past decade, independent researchers have published several critiques of the design, models and flaws in field implementation in India’s tiger surveys. Most of them had to rely on sparse information gleaned from skimpy survey results in the public domain. The magnitude of the problem that could be revealed by a deeper examination of actual survey data is mind-boggling. The forest bureaucracy, however, has stubbornly blocked qualified scientists from conducting any such deeper scrutiny. The astuteness with which it has maintained monopolistic control over tiger monitoring is a testimony to its political skills.

Nothing has changed

•While releasing the 2010 tiger survey results, Planning Commission Member Montek Singh Ahluwalia suggested “aggregate tiger survey data” to be shared in the public domain. He pointed out how Economics had progressed through such data transparency. Unfortunately, nothing has changed since. The hiding of tiger data by the forest bureaucracy is in clear defiance of scientific ethics and public interest. Sadly, even larger conservation NGOs have not challenged this.

•When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi set out to rescue India’s wild tigers, there were less than 2,000 left. Intense struggles of foresters and conservationists for five decades resulted in sporadic population recoveries at some sites, and continuing losses elsewhere. How many tigers should India now aspire for, given that habitat potential exists for 10,000-15,000 tigers? The current crop of forest bureaucrats, in spite of being flush with resources, believe we cannot have more than 3,500. Surely a nation aspiring to be a $5 trillion economy should set its sights higher? India’s political leadership recognises past successes achieved by infusing creativity and private enterprise in sectors like communication technology. These became possible only after jettisoning inefficient, over-funded, self-serving government monopolies, not by pandering to them. Conservation cannot be an exception.

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