The HINDU Notes – 08th June 2020 - VISION

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Monday, June 08, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 08th June 2020

πŸ“° Restore April status along LAC, says India

•The Indian delegation was led by Lt. Gen. Harinder Singh, 14 Corps commander and the Chinese side was led by Maj. Gen. Liu Lin, Commander of South Xinjiang military region.

•Both sides agreed to peacefully resolve the situation in the border areas in accordance with various bilateral agreements and keeping in view the agreement between the leaders that peace and tranquillity in the India-China border regions is essential for the overall development of bilateral relations, the MEA stated.

Communications open

•In a release indicating that the government is still hopeful of a resolution of the standoff that has lasted weeks, the MEA said both sides have “maintained communications” through diplomatic and military channels in recent weeks, and called for an “early resolution” to the situation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. The senior military commander level talks are at the highest level so far in the series of military and diplomatic communications that the two sides have held to address the standoff.

•Tensions between the two sides have continued for more than a month, and serious skirmishes were reported between the Indian Army and PLA soldiers at several points of the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh and Sikkim since May 5, where China is understood to have made significant incursions, and the Indian Army has also bolstered its positions. In its release, the MEA said the two sides will continue diplomatic and military engagements to resolve the “situation”, without elaborating on developments on the ground.

Talks at highest levels

•Communications between senior military commanders will ensure that tensions don’t flare up on the ground as talks continue at the highest levels to find a way to resolve the issue, an officer, who had served in the area in the past, said on condition of anonymity.

•“Like we saw in Doklam and other standoffs in the past, troops on the ground will remain dug up till the issue is resolved at the diplomatic or political level,” the officer said, adding that it could be a long haul. “Both sides also noted that this year marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and agreed that an early resolution would contribute to the further development of the relationship,” the MEA statement added.

πŸ“° Addressing the elephant in the room

While there is outrage over the death of an elephant, there are no protests against environmental destruction

•The news last week about a pregnant elephant having her mouth blown caused outrage on social media. It’s impossible not to empathise with the pain of the elephant, which stood impassively in a river and died a slow death. But the wide narrative about the death of humanity is oversimplified. While people are demonising the farmer responsible for the incident, it is important to note that the elephant was an unintended target. Most crackers are aimed at wild boar that destroy small farmers’ crop. A major failing of conservation in India is that the needs of farmers and wild animals do not go hand in hand.

Problems with the narrative

•With the absence of large predators outside forests and the huge availability of easily accessible food crops, deer, monkeys, boar and other species inevitably fill this space. In almost all developed nations these species are kept in control so they don’t destroy large crop areas. In less developed countries, local people take matters into their own hands. Studies show this “reciprocity” — boars eating crops, people eating boar — is what allows farmers tolerate these otherwise problematic animals. India does not allow rural people to hunt animals, but neither does the government cull animals regularly despite their numbers shooting up.

•While the government has the provision to declare overabundant animals “vermin”, and cull them under the Wildlife Protection Act, it very rarely does this. Vocal urban wildlife activist groups generally create a social media storm when such decisions are taken and challenge the order in court. These groups have no empathy for the farmers who struggle to make their ends meet while growing food for all of us. Kerala had declared boar “vermin”, but very few have been killed over the years.

•Given the widespread destruction of crop by these animals, farmers urgently need a safety net. Compensation schemes are one part of the solution, but in India this is always only a fraction of the market value of the crop, which is already precariously low. Poor farmers spend a lot of time navigating bureaucratic processes to get it. And there is no end to this process — some animal numbers just keep going up, linked to the availability of agricultural food crops, and the government cannot sustain an exponential growth in compensation.

•Second, this incident is far from new. The start of the monsoon is when animals move into human habitation more, partly on account of jackfruit and other crops/fruits. Incidents like this take place as it is notoriously hard to identify the culprits, since the event occurs much before the injured elephants are found. While there are dozens of calls to charge the culprits, it is far from easy for the forest department and police to do this.

•The third problem with the narrative around this incident is that all humans are grouped together. While some people are indeed over-exploiting the planet, everyone is far from being equally culpable for the ecological disaster that we are now in. Modern, developed, urban humans are in fact disproportionately responsible since we consume infinitely more resources. It is our greed that has destroyed vast tracts of forests and thousands of elephants and other animals over the last few decades. The poor farmer who inadvertently kills one elephant in an attempt to feed us while making enough money for himself is much less responsible.

•If arresting the person responsible is not going to be the solution, what can we do? This is best answered at two levels: one, how do we make sure that elephants don’t die in this way, and two, how do we reduce negative human-elephant interactions?

•The first problem is relatively simpler to solve: we should control the population of wild boar to minimise the impact they have on farmers. This is untenable to most people, since conservation in India is arguably mixed up with animal rights. Boars are classified “least concern”, and are in absolutely no danger of going extinct. If they are causing the death of much more threatened species like elephants, that gives us all the more reason to control their numbers. The modalities of this have to be worked out carefully to ensure there is no over-hunting and local extinction in some areas that have governance or enforcement problems. But the inability to enforce rules should not be used as an excuse for not taking decisive action about the expanding boar population.

•What can we do about the problem of elephants destroying crops, damaging property and killing people in accidental encounters? The modern conservation movement aims to separate human and wildlife spaces. When there is an overlap, there is a mistaken assumption that “conflict” is inevitable. This is arguably at odds with the reality in India, where the majority of animal range is outside protected areas. For elephants only about 25% of their range is within protected areas. The extent of distribution of other species is not even fully known. One study in central India by Majgaonkar and others found that only 2.6% of the range of leopards, hyenas and wolves in central India was within protected areas. So animals and people, particularly elephants, have always been interacting with each other. While there have always been problems, most interactions are peaceful, and there is a deep cultural tolerance not found in other parts of the world. However, as animals and human numbers grow and there is more pressure on land, the challenges of living together will also increase.

The way forward

•At a policy level, a good starting point would be to reorient the forest department to do away with the wildlife-territorial dichotomy of management that currently exists, especially since nobody has managed to inform animals that they are only allowed to stay in wildlife divisions. Beyond that there are no universal solutions. Solutions vary based on the context, the kinds of crops grown, density of people, socioeconomic status, etc. Farmers should be empowered and subsidised to better protect their land rather than wait for compensation or be forced to resort to these extreme, illegal measures out of desperation.

•India has done well in saving nature given its high population density. But as it continues to develop, there is going to be huge pressure on the natural world. While it is heartening to see everyone get upset about the death of the elephant, the hope is that there will also be large-scale protests about the large-scale destruction of the environment. The National Board for Wildlife and the Forest Advisory Committee are meant to scrutinise and minimise the large-scale diversion of forest land for development projects, but they have been reduced to rubber-stamping bodies. Even a coal mine inside an elephant reserve in Assam was recently cleared. The government is easing up environmental clearances and opening up forests for destruction to boost a post-COVID economy. When industrialists like Ratan Tata, who are angry and easily condemn the farmer, also start to protest about these bigger concerns on Twitter, we can pat ourselves on the back for being a truly environmentally conscious society.

πŸ“° In Persian Gulf littoral, cooperative security is key

India’s interests would be best served if stability in the region is ensured this way

•The United Nations defines this body of water as the Persian Gulf. The lands around it are shared by eight countries (Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), all members of the UN. There is a commonality of interest among them in being major producers of crude oil and natural gas, and thereby contributing critically to the global economy and to their own prosperity. This has added to their geopolitical significance. At the same time, turbulence has often characterised their inter se political relations.

A framework

•For eight decades prior to 1970, this body of water was a closely guarded British lake, administered in good measure by imperial civil servants from India. When that era ended, regional players sought to assert themselves. Imperatives of rivalry and cooperation became evident and, as a United States State Department report put it in 1973, ‘The upshot of all these cross currents is that the logic of Saudi-Iranian cooperation is being undercut by psychological, nationalistic, and prestige factors, which are likely to persist for a long time.’ The Nixon and the Carter Doctrines were the logical outcome to ensure American hegemony. An early effort for collective security, attempted in a conference in Muscat in 1975, was thwarted by Baathist Iraq. The Iranian Revolution put an end to the Twin Pillar approach and disturbed the strategiWc balance. The Iraq-Iran War enhanced U.S. interests and role. Many moons and much bloodshed later, it was left to the Security Council through Resolution 598 (1987) to explore ‘measures to enhance the security and stability in the region’.

•Any framework for stability and security thus needs to answer a set of questions: security for whom, by whom, against whom, for what purpose? Is the requirement in local, regional or global terms? Does it require an extra-regional agency? Given the historical context, one recalls a Saudi scholar’s remark in the 1990s that ‘Gulf regional security was an external issue long before it was an issue among the Gulf States themselves.’

•The essential ingredients of such a framework would thus be to ensure: conditions of peace and stability in individual littoral states; freedom to all states of the Gulf littoral to exploit their hydrocarbon and other natural resources and export them; freedom of commercial shipping in international waters of the Persian Gulf; freedom of access to, and outlet from, Gulf waters through the Strait of Hormuz; prevention of conflict that may impinge on the freedom of trade and shipping and: prevention of emergence of conditions that may impinge on any of these considerations. Could such a framework be self-sustaining or require external guarantees for its operational success? If the latter, what should its parameters be?

The GCC and the U.S. link

•The past two decades have revalidated William Fulbright’s observation that statesmen often confuse great power with total power and great responsibility with total responsibility. The war in Iraq and its aftermath testify to it. The U.S. effort to ‘contain’ the Iranian revolutionary forces, supplemented by the effort of the Arab states of the littoral (except Iraq) through the instrumentality of the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC (May 1981), to coordinate, cooperate and integrate to ‘serve the sublime objectives of the Arab Nation’ initially met with success in some functional fields and a lack of it in its wider objectives.

•In the meantime, geopolitical factors and conflicts elsewhere in the West Asian region — Yemen, Syria, Libya — aggravated global and regional relationships and hampered a modus vivendi in U.S.-Iran relations that was to be premised on the multilateral agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme agreed to by western powers and the Obama Administration but disowned by U.S. President Donald Trump whose strident policies have taken the region to the brink of an armed conflict.

•Perceptions of declining U.S. commitment to sub-regional security have been articulated in recent months amid hints of changing priorities. This is reported to have caused disquiet in some, perhaps all, members of the GCC, the hub of whose security concern remains pivoted on an Iranian threat (political and ideological rather than territorial) and an American insurance to deter it based on a convergence of interests in which oil, trade, arms purchases, etc have a role along with wider U.S. regional and global determinants.

An evolving transformation

•It is evident that a common GCC threat perception has not evolved over time and has been hampered by the emergence of conflicting tactical and strategic interests and subjective considerations. The current divisions within the organisation are therefore here to stay. These have been aggravated by the global economic crisis, the immediate and longer term impact of COVID-19 on regional economies, the problems in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and the decline in oil prices.

•One credible assessment done recently suggests that in the emerging shape of the region, ‘Saudi Arabia is a fading power, UAE, Qatar and Iran are emerging as the new regional leaders and Oman and Iraq will have to struggle to retain their sovereign identities. The GCC is effectively ended, and OPEC is becoming irrelevant as oil policy moves to a tripartite global condominium. None of this will necessarily happen overnight and external intervention could interfere in unexpected ways … But it is fair to say that the Persian Gulf as we have known for at least three generations is in the midst of a fundamental transformation.’

•With the Arab League entombed and the GCC on life-support system, the Arab states of this sub-region are left to individual devices to explore working arrangements with Iraq and Iran. The imperatives for these are different but movement on both is discernible. With Iran in particular and notwithstanding the animosities of the past, pragmatic approaches of recent months seem to bear fruit. Oman has always kept its lines of communication with Iran open; Kuwait and Qatar had done likewise but in a quieter vein, and now the UAE has initiated pragmatic arrangements. These could set the stage for a wider dialogue. Both Iran and the GCC states would benefit from a formal commitment to an arrangement incorporating the six points listed above; so would every outside nation that has trading and economic interests in the Gulf. This could be sanctified by a global convention.

•Record shows that the alternative of exclusive security arrangements promotes armament drives, enhances insecurity and aggravates regional tensions. It unavoidably opens the door for Great Power interference.

India’s ties

•How does India perceive these developments and how do they impact our strategic interests and concerns? Locating the Persian Gulf littoral with reference to India is an exercise in geography and history. The distance from Mumbai to Basra is 1,526 nautical miles and Bander Abbas and Dubai are in a radius of 1,000 nautical miles. The bilateral relationship, economic and political, with the GCC has blossomed in recent years. The governments are India-friendly and Indian-friendly and appreciate the benefits of a wide-ranging relationship. This is well reflected in the bilateral trade of around $121 billion and remittances of $49 billion from a workforce of over nine million. GCC suppliers account for around 34% of our crude imports and national oil companies in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi are partners in a $44 billion investment in the giant Ratnagiri oil refinery. In addition, Saudi Aramco is reported to take a 20% stake in Reliance oil-to-chemicals business. The current adverse impact of the pandemic on our economic relations with the GCC countries has now become a matter of concern.

•The relationship with Iran, complex at all times and more so recently on account of overt American pressure, has economic potential and geopolitical relevance on account of its actual or alleged role in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Iran also neighbours Turkey and some countries of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea region. Its size, politico-technological potential and economic resources, cannot be wished away, regionally and globally, but can be harnessed for wider good.

•India has eschewed involvement in local or regional disputes. Indian interests do not entail power projection; they necessitate in their totality, peace and regional stability, freedom of navigation and access to the region’s markets in terms of trade, technology and manpower resources. Indian interests would be best served if this stability is ensured through cooperative security since the alternative — of competitive security options — cannot ensure durable peace.

πŸ“° Paging the private sector in the COVID fight

The pandemic is a chance to bring in structural changes in the health sector and rejuvenate private partnerships

•The COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to disappear in the immediate future. Managing the epidemic and ensuring a full complement of health care will require extraordinary resources and investment. India’s public health sector has already spread itself thin in tackling the pandemic. This unprecedented crisis has highlighted the critical need to mobilise available resources in public sector, and the private sector in particular.

•However, the current strategies to involve the private sector in combating the infectious disease are shrouded in ambiguity. There are no clear policy guidelines to use private sector resources that could complement public sector efforts, and how the payments for their services made. Having been directed to suspend most of its services and be ready to manage COVID-19 cases (none forthcoming), the private sector is gasping for cash flows. Countries that have had a policy-based strategic relationship with the private sector seem to have performed well in controlling this pandemic. Instead of ‘arm twisting’ the private sector, there is a need to formulate a stable policy-based strategy to get the private sector on board.

•The pandemic has provided India an opportunity to restructure the strategies of engaging the private sector in realising public health goals. The recent economic package announced for the health sector, of around Rs. 2.1 lakh crore, envisions strengthening the health infrastructure in the immediate future. This is an opportunity to bring in structural changes in the health sector to rejuvenate partnerships with the private sector. Here, we propose certain policy options to leverage private sector resources for testing, hospitalisation, procurement of biomedical equipment and supplies, and a central intelligence system.

Laboratory services

•Despite governments trying to scale-up testing capacity in the country, there is still a long way to go for mass scale testing. We propose the following options to scale up testing capacity:

•Option 1: An accredited private laboratory can be contracted to be co-located in a public health facility preferably in tier-II/tier-III public hospitals. States that already have private laboratories under a public–private partnership (PPP) contract can be asked to add COVID-19 tests. The government may procure test kits and the private sector could charge a service fee from the government.

•Option 2: Suspect cases can be issued vouchers for testing at any empanelled private laboratories. E-vouchers generated by tele-health call centres can subsequently be reimbursed by the government.

•Option 3: A mobile sample collection and testing facility can be operated by a private entity in high density clusters; it can also be used as a fever clinic. This arrangement can be under the hub-spoke principle. The cost of tests, key performance indicators and payment system should be worked out in the purchase contract.

Hospital infrastructure

•Hospitalisation of COVID-19 cases cannot be restricted to hospitals in major cities alone. Improving the infrastructure and capacity in tier II and tier III cities in collaboration with the private sector is critical. The latest announcement to increase viability gap funding to 30% is bound to ease the capex pressure for the private sector. The options can be:

•Option 1: A private contractor could be hired to refurbish an existing ward in a public hospital into an intensive care unit (ICU) ward with additional beds and equipment and handover the refurbished ward to the public authority. Under this turnkey project, an ICU ward could be made available within a short time.

•Option 2: In a scenario where the district hospital does not have staff to operate an ICU ward (option 1), a private hospital partner could be contracted to provide staff and operate the ICU ward. Alternatively, a private hospital partner can refurbish, operate and later transfer the ICU ward. Though the model takes more time, the operator can convert the facility into any other speciality ward in the future. The Centre can provide viability gap funding to the State to support the development of such a facility.

•Option 3: The government can refer patients to empanelled private COVID-19 hospitals, at a fixed package rate. This kind of strategic purchasing or insurance reimbursement (say under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana) requires clear policy directions, a robust referral system, agreement on tariffs, and a quick reimbursement mechanism. The current government tariffs do not seem to evoke interest from the private sector.

Supply chain

•The upsurge in the demand for test kits, ventilators, and other biomedical supplies cannot be met by current manufacturers or supply chain sources. Repurposing through alternate sources indigenously is the need of the hour. A plethora of innovations and prototypes need government laboratories to test in quick time, approve and grant a licence for production which includes patenting. Besides facilitating quick credit access for manufacturing, the government may also give buy back guarantees and facilitate the supply chain channels.

Central intelligence system

•An IT system with artificial intelligence capability should be the backbone of supporting all public and private sector efforts in combating COVID-19. The intelligence system should seamlessly help in case identification, contact tracing, managing a tele-health centre, generating e-vouchers, authorising tests, managing referrals for isolation and hospitalisation in the private sector, payment, follow-up, etc. IT behemoths in India should be roped in to configure an integrated system to detect any unusual pattern in terms of an increase in numbers.

•The resources dedicated to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic have the potential to create a good health infrastructure and strengthen health systems eventually. However, these initiatives require quick policy formulation followed by guidelines for contracting/purchasing, payments, defining standards, supply chain, strengthening procurement, etc. A group of inter-disciplinary experts to guide in institutionalising the private partnership arrangements would go a long way.