The HINDU Notes – 02nd December 2019 - VISION

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Tuesday, December 03, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 02nd December 2019

πŸ“° India, Sweden to sign MoU for polar science cooperation

It has been in the works for some time, says envoy

•India and Sweden are likely to sign their first maritime cooperation agreement, Cooperation in Polar Science, during the visit to India of the Swedish royal couple and senior Ministers, including Foreign Minister Anne Linde.

•“We have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that’s being prepared, its both Arctic and Antarctic, so we call it Polar encompassing both... It has been in the works for some time. We have a tentative agreement,” Swedish Ambassador to India Klas Molin told The Hindu, ahead of the visit of King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia from December 1 to 6.

•In the last few years, India has signed a series of maritime information exchange as well as military logistics support agreements, extending the reach of its armed forces.

•The pact with Russia, in advanced stages of discussion, will give India access to Russian bases in the Arctic for logistics and operational turnaround. However, the agreement with Sweden is scientific in nature.

•Mr. Molin said the Swedish government made it clear that it saw defence as one important area “continually” between the two countries and the Swedish government was “behind Saab’s efforts” to pitch its Gripen fighter for the Indian Air Force’s tender for 114 jets. The company remains very interested, he said, adding, “We are waiting to hear from the Indian authorities on the next step.”

•Asked whether Sweden had spoken to the U.S. about the tender to avoid problems in future as the Gripen is powered by an American engine and has other U.S.-origin components, Mr. Molin said, “There is no such issue.”

Approvals needed

•Observing that any aircraft today anywhere has components from different countries, he said his take was that Saab had offered to be a partner and obviously, the approvals needed, in this case from the American partners, “have been discussed and acquired, otherwise they wouldn’t be a contender”.

•U.S. companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin are also in the race with their F-18 and F-16 fighter jets.

•In that direction, he raised some issues with the Strategic Partnership (SP) policy of the Defence Procurement Procedure under which the fighter tender is being processed apart from few other big ticket deals.

•The Swedish Envoy observed that the introduction of SP policy has also raised questions on “future responsibility and ownership” among others which has also been discussed by other partner countries as well with India. Stating that SAAB was in a better position to answer that he said one of the issues is “taking on certain responsibility but not having ownership and thus control on the end product.”

•In an exclusive conversation with The Hindu recently, Micael Johansson, President and CEO of SAAB too said they need clarity on some of the provisions of SP policy.

•Under the SP policy, foreign OEMs have to tie up with Indian private companies to build the platform locally. Recently, SAAB pulled out of the Navy’s tender for six advanced conventional submarines under Project-75I citing tough provisions and lack of clarity on the SP route under which the tender was being processed.

πŸ“° RS MPs want more time to speak

Members want uniform allocation for all, more representation for smaller States

•The Rajya Sabha Secretariat is pulling out the rule books and going through the precedents to tackle the demand from members that they be allocated more time in debates.

•The secretariat is also looking into a demand for an increase in representation from smaller States.

•On November 18, first day of its 250th session, the House hosted a debate on the “Role of Rajya Sabha in Indian polity and way forward” in which 28 members and Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke.

Equal time to speak

•A fourth of the members who participated in the debate called for uniform representation for all States for reflecting true federalism since the Upper House is the Council of States. They also demanded that each member be given a minimum of five minutes to convey views meaningfully.

•Currently, members are given time according to the strength of their party in the House.

•Which means that Independent or nominated members get less time like MPs from smaller parties.

•According to sources, the suggestions made by the members has been circulated to all divisions in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat by Secretary-General Desh Deepak Verma.

•“Fixing a minimum time limit for each members is doable, but for equal representation for all States, legal opinion has to be taken and will be a long-drawn exercise which can be done only if there is a political will,” a senior official of the secretariat said.

•The inadequacy of time was raised by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh among others. He argued that the nominated members be allowed more time so that the House can benefit from their special expertise.

•Samajwadi Party leader Ramgopal Yadav demanded that even smaller States should have six members at the very least. Currently, the northeastern States, barring Assam which has seven seats, have only one seat each. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of members at 31.

‘Wrong benchmark’

•The BJD’s Prasanna Acharya too argued that population should not be the basis for representation in the Upper House. Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader Vaiko also a supported this view.

•The NCP’s Praful Patel had cited the example of the U.S. Senate which has two members from each State giving equal space to every State irrespective of their size.

•Bodoland People’s Front leader Biswajit Daimary demanded 10 minutes each for every member. Many members argued that if a State is represented by a single member, then he/she should be allocated more time to speak.

πŸ“° Who is a farmer? Government has no clear definition

Such an ambiguity has serious implications for the design and beneficiaries of schemes meant to help them

•Who is a farmer? What is the government’s definition of a farmer and how many farmers are there in India by that definition?

•Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar failed to answer that question when it was asked in Parliament last week. The government’s ambiguity has serious implications for the design and beneficiaries of the schemes meant to help them, including its flagship PM-KISAN (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi).

•The question was posed in the Rajya Sabha by BJP MP Ajay Pratap Singh who also asked whether any survey had been conducted to find out the number of farmer families.

Agriculture a State subject, says Minister

•In a written response, the Agriculture Minister evaded giving any definition of a farmer and instead said agriculture is a State subject. He provided data on the number of agricultural landholdings and noted that the Centre provides income support to all farmer families who own cultivable land, that is, via the PM-KISAN scheme.

•In the discussion that followed, MPs pointed out that the number of land holdings do not necessarily equate with the number of farming households. It was noted that dairy farmers, fisherfolk, fruit and flower growers, as well as landless agricultural workers who cultivate the land belonging to others, would not fit into a narrow definition where farmers are linked to ownership of land alone.

•In fact, there is a clear and comprehensive definition available in the National Policy for Farmers, which was drafted by the National Commission of Farmers headed by M.S. Swaminathan and officially approved by the Centre in 2007 following consultations with the States.

•It says, “For the purpose of this Policy, the term ‘FARMER’ will refer to a person actively engaged in the economic and/or livelihood activity of growing crops and producing other primary agricultural commodities and will include all agricultural operational holders, cultivators, agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, tenants, poultry and livestock rearers, fishers, beekeepers, gardeners, pastoralists, non-corporate planters and planting labourers, as well as persons engaged in various farming related occupations such as sericulture, vermiculture and agro-forestry. The term will also include tribal families / persons engaged in shifting cultivation and in the collection, use and sale of minor and non-timber forest produce.”

•The policy emphasises the need to substantially increase the net income of farmers and develop support services for them, using that comprehensive definition.

•Farmer leaders and researchers point out that the definition of a farmer is not merely a philosophical or semantic question, but rather has practical implications.

Deliberate dragging of the feet, says Yogendra Yadav

•“There is a deliberate dragging of the feet to avoid this pre-existing official definition which is there in black and white,” said Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, who also heads the Jai Kisan Andolan, referring to the Agriculture Minister’s evasive response. “I think there is a deliberate attempt to fudge it to escape responsibility for the welfare of all farmers.”

•He noted that most schemes meant for farmers’ welfare, including the procurement of wheat and paddy at minimum support prices, are effectively available only for land owners. Even in death, those who work on the land may not be identified as farmers for the purposes of counting farmer suicides.

•According to Census 2011, there are 11.8 crore cultivators and 14.4 crore agricultural workers.

•“In practice, those who cultivate or work on the land but do not own it are excluded from access to agricultural credit and interest subvention for farm loans. Crop insurance and loan waivers go to loanees so they are left out of that as well. Access to subsidised crop inputs is difficult without identification as farmers. In the event of crop failure, compensation is only given to owners. Direct income support schemes such as PM-KISAN are limited to owners,” said G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Secunderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. He said tax exemption is usually claimed by owners who give an unverified affidavit that they cultivate the land.

•“There is a need to convert the M.S. Swaminathan Commission’s definition into a legal and actionable tool for identification. Already, the revenue department is supposed to annually record who is actually cultivating each piece of land. In an era of GPS, GIS and Aadhaar, this should not be that difficult. It simply takes political will,” said Dr. Ramanjaneyulu. Apart from adding inclusion criteria other than land-ownership, the Centre must add exclusion criteria so absentee landlords are left out. “Otherwise, the farmer who actually takes the risk gets no support, but those who treat land as an investment or speculation get all the benefits,” he said.

60%-70% of farmers are actually women: reports

•“Linking the identity of a farmer to land ownership has devastating consequences for another category: women farmers. Some studies estimate that 60%-70% of farmers are actually women, but their names are rarely on ownership documents,” noted Devinder Sharma, an agriculture scientist and food policy expert.

•Assuming that land ownership makes a farmer is one of the reasons why only 37% of this year’s PM-KISAN’s budget has been utilised after seven months, and why officials estimate a third will be left unspent at the end of the year. The original estimate of beneficiaries was 14.5 crore, based on the number of landholdings. However, only 7.5 crore farmers have benefited so far. “If the budget is available, why not expand the definition of farmers under the scheme and give the benefit to all those who need it?” asked Mr. Sharma.

πŸ“° Making Air India’s disinvestment work

The government needs to totally exit the carrier, allowing the acquirer full freedom to transform the embattled airline

•The once-iconic Air India has, in the last four decades, witnessed a calamitous fall. The diminution had been gradual when it operated in a near-monopoly environment but the pace of descent intensified when it faced competition. In the late 1990s, the government recognised the gradual decline in the airline’s service standards and referred it to the newly set up Disinvestment Commission of India, which recommended dilution of government ownership to 40%. The effort of the-then National Democratic Alliance government did not, however, succeed due to bureaucratic shenanigans and the role of a private airline promoter who saw in a resurgent Air India competition for his then-fledgling airline. Had the disinvestment efforts succeeded, Air India would have today been a professionally managed successful airline.

•The period commencing 2004 hastened the airline’s descent due a series of reckless decisions, like acquisition of aircraft in numbers far more than what it could afford or gainfully deploy; and the merger with Indian Airlines, which was scripted to fail from the word go. Competitively, the airline was also placed on a weaker wicket due to a liberal doling out of seats by the then administration to foreign airlines (the matter is under investigation by both the CBI and Enforcement Directorate), allowing them to dominate the Indian skies.

Lack of strategic direction

•Air India’s precarious financial situation was first made public in June 2009 by the then-Chairman Arvind Jadhav. But the government, instead of tackling the core problem — the lack of a strategic and operational direction within the airline — decided to focus on a financial package. This was like applying a fresh coat of paint to a crumbling house. The bailout package of over Rs. 30,000 crore, which is being infused over an eight-year span ending 2021, has not helped Air India evolve into a robust carrier. The reality is that the airline’s survival depends on several factors, most notably the induction of a professional management with an effective leadership, a sound financial package that does not come with political interference in its day-to-day operations, and unions allowing changes in work conditions and pay packages. In 2017, Niti Aayog recommended disinvestment but the government, in its wisdom, decided to not only retain 24% equity, it also wanted the acquirer to absorb a major chunk of the non-aircraft related debt. The simple logic that a proposal for sale has to suit the acquirer as much as the seller was conveniently overlooked and the offer found no takers.

•Now, the government has, once again, put Air India on the block for disinvestment. However, it still doesn’t appear to be convinced of the airline’s strengths. The disinvestment process is largely driven by the Centre’s anxiety to get rid of the airline, so that it can spare itself of the responsibility of further infusion of funds.

•Besides playing to its strengths, the government ought to — if it is sincere about making the exercise a success — ensure that it exits totally, giving freedom to the potential acquirer to transform it into a successful player. The cost of further infusion of funds if the exercise is allowed to fail mustn’t be overlooked. To evoke interest in a product that still commands a sizeable market share and has an extensive global network that no other Indian carrier can match, the government also needs marketing skills.

Explaining it to stakeholders

•Air India evokes emotions and a lot of people are averse to its sale. They cite its glorious past, the yeomen service it has provided to the nation by evacuating Indians stranded anywhere in the world, etc. It is therefore critical that an environment is created where in all major stakeholders are convinced that disinvestment is the best way forward. The unfortunate reality is that major stakeholders are being kept in the dark. Besides the Opposition political parties, unions, not necessarily all employees that they represent, are also opposed to disinvestment.

•The threat of marginalisation can be the biggest and single most reason for convincing any naysayer. With only one in nine passengers currently patronising Air India, it will be only one in 12 in the next three years as capacity augmentation is undertaken at a frenetic pace by private airlines which cannot simply be matched by funds-starved Air India. Will any well-wisher of Air India take pride in the airline if it becomes irrelevant and marginalised in the Indian aviation market?

•Successive Chairpersons have ‘claimed a turnaround’ in Air India’s fortunes, which is now being cited as a reason by unions and politicians for opposing the disinvestment course.The stark truth of the airline’s performance without government props needs to be effectively explained with facts and figures. The government also can’t absolve itself of the blame. While not taking the other stakeholders on board, it is also not paying attention to the legitimate grievances. For example, iIt hasn’t as yet firmed up as to how it will address the medical related concerns of serving and retired employees even though disinvestment has been in the works for three years now.

•One sincerely hopes that the disinvestment exercise this time is thought of wisely, pursued with determination, and is successful, because with it is linked the prospect of transforming Air India into a robust carrier that we all can justifiably be proud of once again. The stakes are high because failure will mean doom through further marginalisation.

πŸ“° Battling anti-microbial resistance

India must accelerate implementation of its National Action Plan on anti-microbial resistance

•In November, the world observed Antibiotic Awareness Week. In July, in its fight against the growing problem of resistance to antibiotics in disease-causing germs, the Indian government banned the manufacture, sale and use of colistin in the poultry industry. Colistin is considered the last-resort medicine to treat a person with life-threatening infection. The government’s move is among the numerous steps that will contribute to global efforts to preserve and prolong the efficacy of antibiotics and prevent the world from moving towards a dark, post-antibiotic future.

Becoming ineffective

•Antibiotics have saved millions of lives till date. Unfortunately, they are now becoming ineffective as many infectious diseases have ceased to respond to antibiotics. In their quest for survival and propagation, common bugs develop a variety of mechanisms to develop antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The indiscriminate use of antibiotics is the greatest driver in selection and propagation of resistant bugs. It has the potential to make fatal even minor infections. Complex surgeries such as organ transplantation and cardiac bypass might become difficult to undertake because of untreatable infectious complications that may result post-surgery.

•The pipeline for the discovery, development and dissemination of new antibiotics has virtually dried out. No new class of antibiotics has been discovered in the past three decades. The reason is simple. Availability of a new antibiotic takes 10-12 years and an investment of $1 billion. Once it comes into the market, its indiscriminate use swiftly results in resistance, rendering it useless.

•The resistance to antibiotics in germs is a man-made disaster. Irresponsible use of antibiotics is rampant in human health, animal health, fisheries, and agriculture. While in humans antibiotics are primarily used for treating patients, they are used as growth promoters in animals, often because they offer economic shortcuts that can replace hygienic practices. Globally, use of antibiotics in animals is expected to increase by 67% by 2030 from 2010 levels.

•AMR has been recognised worldwide as an important public health challenge with serious impact on economy and development. The Sustainable Development Goals have articulated the importance of containing AMR. Similar articulations have been made by the UN general Assembly, G7, G20, EU, ASEAN and other such economic and political platforms. Earlier, the O’Neill report on AMR warned that inaction in containing AMR is likely to result in annual mortality reaching 10 million people and a 3.5% fall in global GDP by 2050.

•Inter-country development agencies (WHO, FAO, and World Organisation for Animal Health) developed a Global Action Plan on AMR. India developed its National Action Plan on AMR (NAP) in 2017. It is based on the One Health approach, which means that human health, animal health and the environment sectors have equal responsibilities and strategic actions in combating AMR.

A global movement

•Implementation of India’s NAP needs to be accelerated. The health of humans and animals falls in the domain of State authorities, and this adds complexity to the nationwide response. The magnitude of the problem in India remains unknown. Surveillance networks have been established in human health and animal health. The FAO has assisted India in forging the Indian Network for Fishery and Animals Antimicrobial Resistance for the generation of reliable data on the magnitude of the problem and monitoring trends in response to control activities. It is critical to expand and sustain such surveillance networks. There is an urgent need to augment capacity for regulatory mechanisms, infection control practices and diagnostics support, availability and use of guidelines for therapy, biosecurity in animal rearing practices and understanding the role of the environment and the engagement of communities. For this, the world must launch a global movement to contain AMR.

πŸ“° Time to act

The economy needs a meaningful policy response with steps to spur consumption

•The latest estimates on economic output and growth, while not a surprise, reaffirm the fact that the ongoing six-quarter slump is still in search of a bottom. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) expanded by 4.5% from a year earlier in the July-September quarter, marking the slowest pace of expansion in six-and-a-half years. If one were to strip out government final consumption expenditure, which jumped by 15.6%, real GDP growth would have been an even more anaemic 3.1%. Of serious concern should be the stagnation in investment, reflected in the mere 1% growth in gross fixed capital formation. While the government’s decision in September to cut the corporate tax rate was clearly aimed at spurring the private sector, the indications till now are far from encouraging. Clearly, with consumption spending, the mainstay of demand, yet to regain traction, companies are likely opting to retain any gains from a lower tax outgo as cash for a rainy day rather than raise capacity or make new investments. While the National Statistical Office’s data on private final consumption expenditure suggests a slight pick-up to a 5.1% expansion, from the preceding quarter’s 3.1%, it is still only about half the year-earlier period’s 9.8% rate. Also, the sustainability of the uptick in consumption spending remains a moot point given that several other pointers, including tepid retail sales during the Deepavali festival season, offer little room for cheer.

•An analysis of the Gross Value Added (GVA) reveals that six of the eight sectors posted decelerations from the fiscal first quarter. And even though agriculture, forestry and fishing grew by 2.1% in the second quarter, nudging up from 2% in the April-June period, the pace was underwhelming when seen both in the context of the 5.1% pace posted a year earlier and the above average monsoon rains in 2019. Significantly, manufacturing shrank by 1%, in marked contrast to the year-earlier period’s 6.9% growth, again pointing to the widespread demand drought. A separate release from the government, showing output at the eight infrastructure industries that constitute the core sector contracted by 5.8% in October belies all the brave talk on the part of government officials that the momentum would revive in the third quarter. While six of the eight segments reported year-on-year declines, of particular worry is the 12.4% contraction in electricity output, hinting as it does at a lack of demand for power at the nation’s factories. It is high time officials helming the economy put aside the bravado and bluster and acknowledge the seriousness of the structural elements behind the slowdown by initiating meaningful policy reforms, even while taking steps to spur consumption through innovative fiscal measures.

πŸ“° Operation ‘Clean Art’ to crackdown on illegal trade in mongoose hair

Operation ‘Clean Art’ to crackdown on illegal trade in mongoose hair
First pan India operation to crackdown on the smuggling of mongoose hair; raids carried out in U.P, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Kerala.

•On October 24, 2019, about 200 officials, including policemen, gathered at Sherkot in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district. It was a planned raid, not to apprehend criminals, but to check on organised factories that were making paint brushes with mongoose hair.

•By the end of the day, ten manufacturing units in Sherkot were raided and approximately 26,000 brushes and over 100 kg of raw mongoose hair was seized. About 26 people were arrested in connection with illegal trade in mongoose hair.

•Raids were carried out not only in Uttar Pradesh, but also at Jaipur in Rajasthan, Mumbai and Pune in Maharashtra, and in Kerala, on the same day.

•“Operation Clean Art was the first pan India operation to crackdown on the smuggling of mongoose hair in the country. There are six species of mongoose found in India and we have mostly recovered [in the raids] grey mongoose [hair],” H. V. Girisha, Regional Deputy Director, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), New Delhi, told The Hindu.

‘Organised crime’

•Mr. Girisha said that an adult mongoose yields over 30-40 gm of long hair, from which only 20-25 gm of “brush-making hair” is recovered. Operation Clean Art was conceived by WCCB with the singular aim of ensuring that the mongoose hair brush trade should be closed down across the country.

•Describing the making of brushes with mongoose hair an “organised crime”, the official said most of these animals were poached by “hunting communities” across the country.

•Jose Louies, Deputy Director and Chief-Wildlife Crime Control Division, Wildlife Trust of India, also involved in Operation Clean Art, said the entire operation across the country yielded 54,352 brushes and 113 kg of raw hair.

•About 49 arrests were made and 27 cases were registered under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).

•“Art is supposed to be something unique and evoke the best among people. Why should there be cruelty and criminality involved in the process of creation of art? Art should be clean and artists should take a pledge that they will not use any brushes made of mongoose hair,” Mr. Louise said.

•The mongoose is listed in Schedule II Part 2 of the Wildlife Protection Act and any smuggling or possession of its body part is a non-bailable offence. Persons using brushes made of mongoose hair should be aware of it, he added.

•For about 150 kg of mongoose hair, at least 6,000 animals would have been killed, Mr. Louise said.

Postal Department

•There have been instances in which mongoose hair has been transported using courier companies.

•Postal Department authorities are also trying to involve the Postal Department to spread awareness and identify illegal trade in wildlife.

•There is also a campaign on social media where concerned organisations are urging artists to take a pledge to refrain from using brushes made of mongoose hair.

‘Alternatives needed’

•Well-known sculptor and painter Bimal Kundu said the reason why painters prefer brushes made of mongoose hair is because they are superior and hold colour better.

•“I completely endorse that painters should shun brushes made of mongoose hair because animals are being mercilessly killed in the process of making such tools. But, the alternatives available in market are not of good quality. More research should be done to make brushes that fit the requirements of an artist,” the Kolkata-based artist said.