The HINDU Notes – 02nd November 2019 - VISION

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Sunday, November 03, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 02nd November 2019

πŸ“° The perils of post-370 diplomacy

The internationalisation of the Kashmir issue points to troubling diversions from India’s traditional foreign policy

•In the weeks following the government’s decision to amend Article 370 and divide Jammu and Kashmir into two separate Union Territories, the government sent out a number of diplomatic missions worldwide to try and contain the international fallout of the move. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar travelled to China, Europe and the United States where he addressed a record “7 think tanks in 7 days” and met a number of officials and lawmakers during an extended stay. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan went to the West Asian countries: the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally spoke to U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders to explain his move. On a visit to Switzerland, even President Ramnath Kovind found that the “situation in Kashmir” had been put on the agenda by his hosts. Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary V. Gokhale marshalled diplomats at all Indian missions worldwide and cancelled a planned Heads of Missions meet in India to ensure that each embassy was able to fully disseminate the talking points sent out by South Block.

Varied results

•The concerted efforts by the government met with mixed results. The UN Security Council held a “closed meeting” on the issue at China’s request — the first time Kashmir was formally on the agenda in 50 years — but to India’s relief, the meeting resulted in no public statement. The European Parliament too met and debated the situation in Kashmir, which it had last referred to more than a decade ago, but did not push for a resolution. After a visit to Srinagar, 23 right-wing Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) appeared to endorse India’s actions, but German Chancellor Merkel’s characterisation of the situation of Kashmiris being “unsustainable”, during her Delhi trip on Friday will be more worrying for the government. At the UN Human Rights Council, Pakistan was unable to secure the numbers to bring a resolution to the table.

•At the UN General Assembly in September, only three countries other than Pakistan, referred to the post-370 fallout in J&K: China, Malaysia and Turkey. A scathing statement by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) contact group (Turkey, Azerbaijan, Niger, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) on the government’s actions in Kashmir has been blunted by the Prime Minister’s visit to Riyadh. In the U.S., Mr. Modi scored a big public relations win when he spoke of the 370-move at a Houston stadium with Mr. Trump in the audience.

•But New Delhi still faces the risk of a U.S. Congress resolution after the subcommittee on Human Rights in South Asia hearing last month, and critical language on Kashmir detentions and the lockdown introduced into the Senate Appropriations bill. Much of this, as Mr. Jaishankar admitted at a public event, is fuelled by dozens of articles in the western media.

•Beyond its need to control the international messaging over Kashmir with more tactical diplomacy, however, it is necessary for the government to carefully consider the larger impact on Indian foreign policy that has resulted from its actions leading up to, and subsequent to the amendment of Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5. Three tenets of that policy, in particular, appear to have been violated.

•To begin with, the issue of Kashmir has been “internationalised” in a manner not seen in decades, at least since the early 1990s when violence in the State was at a peak. In 1994, when India had last come close to a resolution against it at the UN Human Rights Council, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had sent a high powered delegation with then-Opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, J&K leader Farooq Abdullah and Congress leader Salman Khurshid to Geneva. Not only was the delegation successful in ensuring that Pakistan withdrew its resolution against India before the vote but the question of a resolution at the UN did not rear its head again, until this year.

Pakistan’s shadow

•The second tenet is the “hyphenation with Pakistan” that New Delhi has always sought to avoid. Under this policy, India managed to separate its policies in J&K from its relationship with Pakistan and dealing with terror emanating from there. However, especially after the Pulwama attack and the Balakot strikes in February this year, it is clear that in capitals worldwide, events in Kashmir are now increasingly conflated with fears of an India-Pakistan conflict. Much of the hyphenation is self-inflicted as the government raises Pakistan as a salient point on its agenda at every international forum, including at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit last week.

•The third tenet being challenged now is India’s traditional rejection of “mediation by third parties”. In February, Mr. Trump claimed success in mediating the release of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, and has followed up that effort with repeated mentions of wanting to mediate on Kashmir between India and Pakistan, including in September during his bilateral media interaction with Mr. Modi. Others including everyone from the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to Norway, Russia and China have made similar offers.

•What makes these diversions from India’s traditional foreign policy more troubling is they are necessitated despite the fact that India has a decided upper hand over Pakistan in the international community, and at a time Pakistan’s establishment has little credibility for its own Kashmir policy and its support to terror groups.

Signals even from friends

•Furthermore as New Delhi targets China, Turkey and Malaysia as part of its “zero sum” game with Pakistan, it must recognise that international criticism of its actions post-370 is largely coming from other countries that enjoy the best relations with India, and by leaders in those countries who have often spoken up for India. Most of that criticism is over the treatment of citizens in J&K, the prolonged detention of mainstream Kashmiri leaders, the communications shutdown, and the lack of access to independent observers.

Spillover effect

•The biggest worry pertains not so much to the change in traditional policy as it does to lasting or permanent damage to “Brand India” as a democratic and pluralistic country, respected for decades as a rational power. In the U.S., for example, concerns over the government’s actions post-370 are now often clubbed with questions about a changing nuclear stance (No First Use, or NFU, amendments), and the repeated threat from Cabinet ministers that India will seek to “take back” Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) by military means if necessary. Those concerns are bleeding into other issues like the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam as well, which both the U.S. Congress and the UN discussed in tandem with Kashmir this past month.

•As the government fights all aspects of this perception battle worldwide, it is banking on the fact that criticism in world capitals will peter out once it lifts restrictions in J&K, contingent on its ability to control any violent aftermath. In that sense, its predicament is akin to that of a man who has stepped on a landmine, and now hesitates to lift his boot for fear of triggering an explosion, but equally, knows he cannot stand in that position for unlimited time.

πŸ“° Cramped prisons: On need for decongestion

Jails in India remain crowded as few States have implemented reforms for decongestion

•With an average occupancy rate of 115% of their capacity, Indian jails continue to remain congested and overcrowded, numbers in the National Crime Records Bureau’s “Prison Statistics India – 2017” report have revealed. In 16 of the 28 States covered in the report, occupancy rate was higher than 100% with States and Union Territories such as Uttar Pradesh (165%), Chhattisgarh (157.2%), Delhi (151.2%) and Sikkim (140.7%) faring the worst. Despite the Supreme Court and other institutions regularly raising the issue of prison reforms and decongestion in jails, it is evident that the measures taken have been piecemeal in most States. While overall occupancy rates have come down from 140% in 2007 to 115% in 2017, only a few States have, in this period, gone about building more jails or increasing capacity in prisons in line with the changes in inmate population. Some States such as Tamil Nadu have reduced their prison occupancy rate (to 61.3%) by increasing the number of jails and their capacity besides reducing arrests for actions unless there is a cognisable offence made out. Rajasthan and Maharashtra have not managed to augment jail capacity to fit in the increased inmate population in the past decade, while States such as U.P. continue to have high occupancy rates because of increased inmate population despite a relative increase in prison capacity.

•More than 68% of those incarcerated were undertrials, indicating that a majority were poor and were unable to execute bail bonds or provide sureties. There were a series of recommendations made by the Law Commission of India in its 268th report in May 2017 that highlighted the inconsistencies in the bail system as one of the key reasons for overcrowding in prisons. Clearly, expediting the trial process for such prisoners is the most important endeavour, but short of this there are ways to decongest prisons by granting relief to undertrials. The Commission recommended that those detained for offences that come with a punishment of up to seven years of imprisonment should be released on completing one-third of that period and for those charged with offences that attract a longer jail term, after they complete half of that period. For those who have spent the whole period as undertrials, the period undergone should be considered for remission. It also recommended that the police should avoid needless arrests, while magistrates should refrain from mechanical remand orders. It is imperative that these recommendations are incorporated into law soonest. A system of holding undertrials for too long without a just trial process in overcrowded prisons that suffer problems of hygiene, management and discipline, is one that is ripe for recidivism. There is a greater chance of prisoners hardening as criminals rather than of them reforming and getting rehabilitated in such jail conditions.

πŸ“° India, Germany need to fight terror: Kovind

Terror safe havens must be eliminated in every part of the world: President

•Underlining that Indo-German relations are progressing well, President Ram Nath Kovind on Friday said they needed to strengthen cooperation in counter-terrorism and coordinate their positions at meetings of the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental organisation to combat money laundering.

•Welcoming German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is on a two-day visit to India, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mr. Kovind said both countries were rightful claimants to a permanent membership of a reformed United Nations Security Council. “In this regard, our cooperation as part of G-4 is important,” he said.

Support in trade pact

•He said that given the strong commercial ties with Germany, India considers its support important in mobilising efforts within the European Union for early resumption and conclusion of a balanced EU-India broad-based Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement.

•“This will not only send a strong positive signal to business communities on both sides but will also boost bilateral trade and technology collaboration,” he said.

•The President said both countries should work together to strengthen multilateralism and a multi-polar world order.

A global threat

•“Terrorism is a global threat that must be fought jointly by the world community and terrorist safe havens eliminated in every part of the world. India and Germany need to strengthen cooperation in counter-terrorism as well as coordinate their positions at the Financial Action Task Force meetings,” he said.

πŸ“° From bad to worse: On core sector output

Contraction in core sector output indicates that recovery is still far away

•Hopes of a quick turnaround in the economy have turned out to be quite premature in light of the latest set of economic data released on Friday. The Commerce and Industry Ministry reported that core sector output, which is measured by tracking the performance of eight major industries including cement, steel, and crude oil, contracted by a sharp 5.2% in September. This is its worst fall in 14 years. Seven out of the eight core industries witnessed a contraction, with the coal sector being the worst hit, shrinking by over 20%. The latest figures are in stark contrast to core sector growth of 4.3% reported during the same month last year. Given that core sector contraction was only 0.5% in August, the trend points towards a worsening of the economic situation. At the moment, it seems quite likely that gloomy core sector performance will affect GDP growth in the second quarter as well as the full financial year. It is worth noting that while a few high-frequency data points had shown some signs of a nascent revival in the economy in September, most still remain mired in a slump. Plus, the present contraction in the core sector, which represents the capital base of the economy, suggests that the negative effects of the fall in consumption are spreading across the entire production chain.

•In further bad news, data released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy showed that unemployment in October rose to a three-year high of 8.5% in October. This marks a sharp jump from 7.2% in September. If growth fails to pick up, the unemployment scene could get ugly and further contribute to the demand slowdown. What is even more worrying is the fact that the current slowdown comes in the midst of a spree of aggressive rate cuts amounting to 135 basis points by the Reserve Bank of India since February this year. Lending in the festival season has picked up with banks extending over ₹1 lakh crore in the period between mid-September and mid-October. Yet, growth in credit this financial year till now is a flat 0.2% only. Festival season sales have shown an uptick with increase in sales of automobiles and also consumer durables. But it remains to be seen if this trend sustains. The government at the Centre is clearly in an unenviable position with very little fiscal leeway to boost growth by increasing its spending. Some of the reforms announced in the last few months may show some positive results with time. But without more meaningful structural reforms to address long-term problems such as the private sector’s reluctance to invest, it is unlikely that India will move towards the heady days of 8%-plus growth any time soon.

πŸ“° Health emergency declared in the Capital

Hospitals report rise in respiratory and eye problems as air quality enters ‘severe plus’ category

•The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority declared a public health emergency in the Capital as pollution levels entered the ‘severe plus’ category in the early hours of Friday.

•According to the official data provided by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the overall AQI score of Delhi was 504 at 3.30 a.m. on Friday after which alarm bells were sounded. The average AQI score of Delhi recorded at 4.30 p.m., which is the average of 32 monitoring stations in the past 24 hours, was 484, in the ‘severe’ category.

AQI readings

•Noida, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Greater Noida and Gurugram had AQI scores of 499, 496, 479, 496 and 469 respectively, all in the ‘severe’ category.

•In a letter to chief secretaries of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, EPCA chairman Bhure Lal said: “The air quality in Delhi and NCR deteriorated further last night and is now at the ‘severe plus level’. We have to take this as a public heath emergency as it will have adverse health impacts on all, particularly our children.”

•He added that construction activities in Delhi, Faridabad, Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Noida and Greater Noida will not be allowed till November 5 morning. Mr. Lal said the deterioration in air quality is due to a combination of accumulated toxins because of local pollution, further spiked by bursting of crackers on Deepavali, stubble burning and extremely adverse weather conditions.

•He added that the India Meteorological Department has said that the weather will improve in the coming days, but it is difficult to say if it would lead to any substantial reduction in pollution levels.

•An urgent meeting of the CPCB was also convened during which it was discussed that stubble burning contribution to pollution has gone up to 45%, resulting in the current high particulate matter concentration. The agency advised people to minimise their outdoor activities during the period.

•Meanwhile, there has been an increase in the number of people complaining of respiratory problems post-Deepavali. Arvind Aggarwal, senior consultant, internal medicine, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, said: “We have witnessed a rise in the number of people reporting to hospitals with respiratory and eye problems. An increase of 20%-22% patients has been seen in the OPD. People are facing symptoms associated with pollution like irritation in the eyes and throat, dry skin, skin allergies, chronic cough and breathlessness. We recommend asthmatic patients, elderly and kids should stay at home.”

πŸ“° India's unemployment rate has hit 3-year high, shows CMIE data

According to CMIE, the urban unemployment rate stood at 8.9%, slightly higher than the rural unemployment rate of 8.3%.

•India’s unemployment rate in October rose to 8.5%, the highest level since August 2016, according to data released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) on Friday.

•According to CMIE, the urban unemployment rate for October 2019 stood at 8.9%, slightly higher than the rural unemployment rate of 8.3%.

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