The HINDU Notes – 17th June 2020 - VISION

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 17th June 2020

📰 India expects to sail through UN Security Council vote

Country stands unopposed as nominee for Asia-Pacific seat; tussle between Canada, Ireland and Norway for Western group

•India expects to sail through as the 193-member United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) votes on Wednesday for contenders to five non-permanent seats at the UN Security Council for 2021-22. India is standing unopposed as the nominee for the Asia-Pacific seat and needs two-thirds of UNGA members, or 129 votes, to be confirmed. Mexico is also unopposed in its bid for the Latin American and Caribbean seat, while there is a straight contest between Kenya and late entrant Djibouti for the African seat.

•All eyes are, however on the contest between Canada, Ireland and Norway, who are vying for the two seats allotted to the Western European and Others Group (WEOG), with each making a pitch for India’s vote.

‘Not complacent’

•On Friday, Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide held a videoconference with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. Eliciting votes for the UNSC was “one of the topics discussed” said Norwegian Ambassador Hans Jacob Frydenlund. “We count on support from a number of friendly countries. We are confident, but not complacent of securing the seat at the UNSC,” he told The Hindu when asked if India had assured Norway its support.

•Irish Ambassador to India Brendan Ward would not comment on whether India had specifically offered support. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar on April 22, and had also met him on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York last September.

•“Both Ireland and India have the advantage that neither is a member of a military alliance,” Mr. Ward told The Hindu . “India has led the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), while Ireland has a unique position as a member of the European Union that is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) alliance,” he added, also alluding to the other “common bond” that Mr. Varadkar is of Indian origin.

Canada in fray

•While Ireland announced its candidature in 2005, and Norway in 2007, Canada has been a relatively new entrant in the fray, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing its bid for the UNSC in 2016, shortly after being elected to power.

•Mr. Trudeau has pitched Canada’s campaign as a push for multilateralism in the post COVID-19 global recovery, and has reached out personally to many countries, including in a call with Mr. Modi on April 29, to win the vote.

•In its own campaign brochure, India had highlighted its commitment to multilateralism, demand for transparency in mandates for UN peacekeeping missions, push for the Indian-led Comprehensive Convention for International Terrorism (CCIT) and joint efforts for UN reform and the expansion of the UNSC.

•As a result, some have suggested that Canada’s membership of the “United for Consensus” grouping that includes Pakistan, who oppose the expansion of the permanent members of the UNSC and push for more non permanent or “elected seats”, could hamper its chances of securing India’s votes.

•However, former UN envoy Asoke Mukerji says that the decision for India and other countries will be made by balancing “favours” each country does for others within the UN system, and not as much on ideological differences.

📰 India says Chinese troops tried to change status quo

Casualties ‘could have been avoided’ had pacts been followed, says MEA

•Accusing the Chinese troops of “attempting to unilaterally change the status quo ” in the Galwan valley, the Ministry of External Affairs said the casualties “could have been avoided” had agreements made by military commanders over the past week been followed by the Chinese side.

•In a statement on Tuesday night, MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the violence that claimed Indian soldiers’ lives in the Galwan valley, including that of a Commanding Officer of Colonel rank, had come despite a series of ground-level discussions on de-escalation of the month-long standoff between the two armies.

•According to the statement, the talks on June 6, had been “productive” and meetings had been held “to implement the consensus reached at a higher level” on de-escalation and de-induction of troops.

Five points

•At least five points in Ladakh including the Galwan Valley patrolling points, Hostprings area and Pangong Tso (lake) have been identified as flashpoints, and India’s demands had included a return to status quo ante , and the retreat of Chinese troops occupying Indian patrol areas, along with tents, vehicles and equipment. “While it was our expectation that this would unfold smoothly, the Chinese side departed from the consensus to respect the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Galwan Valley,” the MEA said. “On the late evening and night of 15th June 2020 a violent face-off happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there. Both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side,” it added. The MEW also said that all Indian activities were on its side of the LAC, and it expected “the same of China.” While talks were held at the area of the Galwan valley clash to defuse tensions on Tuesday, it is unclear if further diplomatic talks are planned in the aftermath of the violent incident, where the casualty figures are expected to rise. While External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is due to attend a meeting of Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC grouping) on Monday, MEA officials would not confirm if the meeting will go ahead.

•Speaking about talks, the MEA said India remains “firmly convinced of the need for the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas and the resolution of differences through dialogue.” “At the same time, we are also strongly committed to ensuring India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Ministry added.

📰 Nepal ties and the Benaras to Bengaluru spectrum

India needs a new prism to view its relationship with its Himalayan neighbour, keeping in mind the past and the future

•Benaras was a keystone of India-Nepal ties for centuries. B.P. Koirala, the doyen of democratic politics in Nepal, was a resident of the city; so too was Pushpalal Shrestha, one of the founders of the Communist Party of Nepal. Many in bureaucracy and politics had studied at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, and Nepal’s intellectual software was largely coded there. Till the 1980s, an easy and affordable way to reach Kathmandu was to fly from Benaras.

•Then the flights stopped as takers became insufficient. Today, one of the most profitable sectors for Nepal Airlines is Kathmandu-Bengaluru. Here, a burgeoning colony of Nepali programmers work for storied Indian tech companies, creating software for the world.

•The changed equation symbolises both a changing India and a changing Nepal.

A changing Nepal

•The obvious change in Nepal is that it is now a democratic republic after nearly 250 years of being a monarchy. The Nepali Congress and Maoist leader, Prachanda, claim democracy (1990) and the abolition of monarchy (2008) as their legacies.

•More pervasive is the societal change from Nepal’s exposure to globalisation. Geography, too, stands to change, with the Chinese now having the potential to bore through the Himalayas and exhibiting their presence in Kathmandu in economics and politics.

•The constant in Nepal is a nationalism which is really a mask for anti-India sentiment. Politicians use it for personal gain, and it is deeply ingrained in the bureaucracy, academia and the media.

•Today, Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli is cementing his legacy as a nationalist by extending Nepal’s map into Indian territory. The cartographic aggression and the embedding of the new map in the country’s national emblem and Constitution are untenable and should have been avoided under all circumstances.

•But this is not the first time Nepal has thumbed its nose at India, even at the cost of its people’s well-being. In 2015, the Nepali Congress government adopted the new Constitution, ignoring India’s concerns.

•This instinct to cut off the nose to spite the face is visible in the lack of progress on the game-changing 5,000 MW Pancheshwar hydroelectric project. Nepal’s viable hydro-electricity potential is 40,000 MW; the country generates only 1,000 MW and must import 600 MW from India.

•Identity politics with India is also visible within the country where Nepali citizens from the Terai (Madhesis) feel discriminated as being “Indian”.

•To Nepal, their attitudes reflect the angst of a small state. To India, Nepal appears incorrigible.

Shift with globalisation

•After democracy was restored in 1990, passports were more liberally issued, and Nepalis began looking for work opportunities globally, beyond just India. West Asia and South-East Asia specifically became major destinations for labour migration.

•Security uncertainties with the Maoist insurgency at home also propelled the trend of migration. Students and skilled personnel began moving to Europe, the United States, Australia, Thailand and even to Japan and South Korea.

•As of 2019, nearly a fifth of Nepal’s population, from all parts of the country, were reportedly overseas. At an estimated $8 billion, global remittances account for nearly 30% of Nepal’s nominal GDP, making it one of the most remittance-dependent countries in the world.

•Leftist ideology and the prominent presence of international non-governmental organisations — ostensibly there to resolve conflict and alleviate poverty — have added to Nepal’s exposure to the world.

•Underreported is the presence of Christian missionaries who entered Nepal during and in the aftermath of the Maoist insurgency. “Faith Houses”, as churches are euphemistically called in Nepal, can be found in villages and towns across the country, including the Terai, and represent not only European and American organisations but Korean too.

•Moreover, posters advertising education opportunities in Australia, the United States, Canada and South-East Asia adorn Nepal.

•Nepal’s 2011 Census shows that over 80% of its 28 million-strong population were Hindus, and since 1962, it had formally been a Hindu kingdom. The new Constitution in 2015 makes Nepal a secular country.

•The proliferation of communication technology has also spread a certain cosmopolitanism but without the accompanying metropolitanism.

A link despite diversification

•Kathmandu has continued its long-standing efforts to spread Nepal’s options beyond India. Multilateral development banks are by far the biggest lenders and players in the country’s development efforts. And in fact, one of Nepal’s largest aid donors is the European Union.

•India and China are not the only players for big projects either. A long-delayed project to pipe water into Kathmandu was with an Italian company, major investments in the telecom sector are coming from Malaysia, and the largest international carrier in Nepal is Qatar Airways.

•The outward movement of students, along with with the growth of institutions of higher learning at home, has meant that most young people in Nepal, including emerging contemporary leaders in politics, business or academics, have not studied in India. This lack of common collegiate roots removes a natural bond of previous generations that had provided for better understanding and even empathy.

•Today, while most Nepalis understand Hindi, because of the popularity of Bollywood, articulation is quite another matter.

•But despite Nepal’s efforts to diversify its options globally, its linkages with India remain robust. Nepal’s trade with India has grown in absolute terms and continues to account for more than two-thirds of Nepal’s external trade of around $12 billion annually. This clearly reflects the advantages of geography, both physical and societal.

•India continues to be the largest aggregate investor in Nepal. The massive under-construction Arun-III 900 MW hydro-electric project is slated to singly produce as much power, when completed in five years, as Nepal produces today. Moreover, the peg with the Indian Rupee provides unique stability to the Nepali Rupee.

•Nepal’s per-capita income is just above $1,000. While the huge remittance economy has brought a semblance of well-being, the country has a long way to go in reaching prosperity.

•The relationship with India, with open borders and Nepalis being allowed to live and work freely, provides Nepal a unique advantage and an economic cushion. The latter is particularly important today with COVID-19-caused global contraction positioned to pop the remittance bubble. Neither the Chinese nor any others are likely to write blank cheques.

Focus areas

•India for its part should also focus on developing its border areas with Nepal, with better roads and amenities of interest (such as shopping malls) to the burgeoning Nepali middle class. This would have economic plusses for both sides and keep ties strong at the people’s level. It would also be an image makeover.

•Given the cultural and ethnic commonalities, it befuddles and draws anger in India when things go wrong in ties with Nepal. Those responsible for bringing things to such an impasse must be held to account, but it is important that we update the prism through which we view our relationship with our Himalayan neighbour. We must not forget the past nor turn away from it but, instead, must be mindful of the realities of a changing India and a changing Nepal. Benaras will always be a keystone, but contemporary reality makes it imperative to look at Bengaluru.

📰 In defence of MPLADS

It engaged MPs, catered to the aspirations of local people and ironed out regional imbalances

•The Indian Parliament is the nucleus of the republic. It has a legion of functions to perform. Subhash Kashyap, in Our Parliament , has enumerated the multiple functions of Parliament. It includes political and financial control, supervision of administration, elicitation and dissemination of information on the government of the day, grievance ventilation, national integration, legislative and constituent functions and furnishing leadership to the nation. The functions are non-exhaustive and incremental.

Doing away with a vital role

•The responsibility of an MP does not end with the supervision of administration and legislation. He has to find solutions to the grievances of the electorate of his constituency and promote their developmental aspirations. As Parliament is a multifunctional institution, an MP is a multifunctional representative. His representative and grievance ventilation functions should not end with petitioning ministers and officials. An MP knows the developmental and welfare issues of his constituency better than anyone else. The Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) has enabled MPs to play a leadership role in the developmental process of his constituency and sort out its day-to-day problems. The suspension of the MPLADS for 2020-21 and 2021-22 in the wake of the pandemic has done away with this vital role of MPs.

•The government’s decision to suspend MPLADS funds for two years evoked mixed reactions. Many Opposition parties opposed the move. On social media, many people supported the move and even demanded the scrapping of the scheme altogether citing reasons that are unfounded. A close examination of the arguments against the MPLADS will expose their hollowness. The first is that the very nature of the scheme gives space for corruption. This is not supported by empirical data. The vital role of an MP in the MPLADS ends with selecting micro development projects for his constituency. Implementation of these projects is done by district-level officers under the vigilant eye of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. The projects are implemented according to the Ministry’s guidelines. Furthermore, the Scheme undergoes an impartial and meticulous auditing. The second instalment of funds is released only when the first instalment is fully utilised with no audit objections. This procedure leaves no place for corruption.

•The pork barrel policy of State and Union Governments often leads to skewed development and regional imbalance. The ruling party channels public money to particular constituencies based on political considerations, at the expense of broader public interests. The elected opposition legislators of those constituencies fall victim to this pork barrel politics. MPLADS has been an antidote to this favouritism. The Scheme provided opposition MPs some chance to cater to the developmental needs of their constituency. The suspension of the Scheme has snatched away this limited opportunity.

Aspirations of the marginalised

•Of the MPLADS corpus, 15% has been earmarked for the development of Scheduled Castes and 7.5% for the Scheduled Tribes. Around Rs. 20 lakh of the MPLADS fund per annum has been allotted for the welfare of differently abled people. Suspension of the MPLADS undermines the developmental aspirations of these marginalised segments.

•In Kerala there are handsome funds at the disposal of MLAs. In 2012, Kerala announced the launching of the Legislative Assembly Constituency Asset Development Fund. This aims at creating durable assets for which each MLA will be allocated Rs. 5 crore during a particular financial year for undertaking capital works in his/her constituency so as to improve infrastructural facilities. The corpus has subsequently been enhanced to Rs. 6 crore per annum. The suspension of the MPLADS undermines the prestige of MPs vis-à-vis MLAs. A scheme that catered to the developmental aspirations of local people, ironed out the regional imbalances and made MPs engaged should be restored as early as possible.

📰 A quota case

Affirmative action must go beyondthe search for short-term political dividends

•Quota politics is back in play to favour, this time, students from government higher secondary schools in Tamil Nadu. The Cabinet’s nod on Monday, for an ordinance to create a horizontal 7.5% reservation of the State’s quota of seats in medical colleges, is a well-intentioned move to address the problem of poor representation from government schools in MBBS/BDS courses which has been in existence even prior to the introduction of NEET for admission. The issue of inequity has come in for criticism against NEET which came into operation in Tamil Nadu in 2017. Since then, there has been a high-decibel campaign, against NEET and the AIADMK government, led by Edappadi K. Palaniswami, on the ground that the design and form of the test are loaded against students of rural areas, government schools, Backward and Most Backward Classes, and Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes. Like in the case of other professional course entrance tests, most candidates clearing NEET in Tamil Nadu are invariably those who undergo private coaching. It was also in the last three years that the AIADMK regime veered closer towards the BJP-led government at the Centre. Despite the authorities asserting that NEET is neither against communal reservation nor weaker sections, the campaign appears to have had an impact during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as the DMK-led front won 38 out of 39 seats. The State’s latest decision comes in the backdrop of this factor and also of next year’s Assembly election.

•It is unclear whether the horizontal reservation will pass legal scrutiny. In February 2002, the Madras High Court quashed the horizontal quota of 25% in professional courses for higher secondary students from schools in village panchayats. This time, the State has acted on a panel recommendation, which concluded that there was a “cognitive gap” among students of government schools, given the perception that those from the CBSE stream enjoy greater advantage in NEET than students of the State board. Those backing the latest quota cite special reservation for the differently-abled and an arrangement in Karnataka, of 15% of seats being set apart for rural students seeking professional courses. Apparently, there is nothing in NEET’s rules against States providing “special reservation” out of their quota of seats, a position articulated, in 2017, by former Union Health Minister and BJP president, J.P. Nadda, in favour of rural students. The trend of horizontal reservation is happening with respect to national law universities for students from the host States. It is debatable whether the test of backwardness can be stretched to any extent although the equity principle is important. While poor representation in professional courses from the vulnerable sections is a symptom, the causes are deep-rooted. A holistic and sustained approach to improve school education will alone pave the way for a lasting solution.

📰 For better conditions of work

Migrant workers who have returned to their villages from India’s cities can form cooperatives and unions

•After a stressful lockdown period, thousands of migrant workers have returned to their villages. Many have said they wish to stay there. They no longer yearn to go back to their work in the cities. This is understandable given their terrible living conditions in the cities and the shocking treatment meted out to them during the lockdown period. This is an opportunity for those working to provide workers security, those involved in the cooperative movement, those trying to improve the living conditions in rural India, and those working in the area of skill development to reach out to, and enable, the migrant workers to fulfill their desire of staying at home.

Forming cooperative societies

•Back home, the migrants can form cooperative societies. So can MGNREGA workers. Many migrant workers said they worked as tailors in the cities, many as plumbers, some as cooks, and some as construction workers. All of them can form cooperatives.

•What will be the purpose of these cooperatives? These cooperative societies, if they expand and form hubs, could start developing their services or products that can be sold with better terms and conditions. For example, if in a village in Bihar several tailors come together to form a cooperative society of tailoring, they could attract contracts from garment manufacturers in Bihar and also elsewhere. There are many government agencies that have been mandated to help build cooperative societies. There are also cooperative banks to help such societies. With large national institutions enabling such cooperative societies, groups of migrant workers can find institutional strength.

•Another possibility for those whose skills or products do not have enough marketing in a local area is to re-enter the city as labour cooperatives, or even unions, with demands that they get housing and other support systems that help them have a decent living, not only a wage. Many workers are engaged in seasonal work in cities. With the marriage season requiring many special services, for example, it is customary for such workers to provide their services and return to their villages. They too could get together to form service cooperatives.

•NGOs and cooperative federations, agencies such as the National Cooperative Union of India, and labour unions can intervene, especially since many workers have said they do not have work in the village but they also do not want to move elsewhere.

•The AMUL project is a model of one kind, but there are other, lesser-known models which are not as sophisticated and fair in terms of wages and other terms as AMUL but still offer ideas for today. India has examples of putting-out work in several industries. I once found that the parts of dry iron boxes were being produced by a group of women from their homes. It was a deeply exploitative system where the women on contractual work had poor salaries and no benefits. Cooperatives, on the other hand, can get the same process done without the middle man.

•MGNREGA has been offered as a way of alleviating migrant workers’ distress but this is not only a short term but also vulnerable wage-earning occupation. Sites cannot be opened during the monsoon season. Also, at any given area, there may not be enough sites to engage many people. So another possibility is to give MGNREGA better shape so that MGNREGA funds can be used to enable women or artisans to market their products.

A pyramid of group economic activity

•This is a valuable opportunity for the state to build new kinds of economic structures in India, a pyramid of group economic activity going from the rural areas through collective marketing to fill the demand from the cities. What has been lacking so far in this dispersed production model is lack of concern for the fair treatment of the workers. In Mangaluru, a beedi worker said beedis are rolled by women in their own homes. The leaf, the thread and the tobacco are given to them by middlemen. The woman said she takes back packets of 1,000 rolled bidis and is paid for them. But she would be denied wages if she didn’t submit to the sexual demands of the contractor. This said, beedi workers have been unionised in many areas now, so dispersed production can be a way forward. Successful unionisation of workers can protect them from exploitation. It is possible to have dispersed production, home-based or small-unit based, to start a supply chain to markets, whether local markets or capital city markets or export markets.

•This is an opportunity to rebuild economic production through different institutional arrangements. Arrangements that can provide an optimal solution to the workers as well as contribute to the GDP must be made. It will also rebuild an India where cities are not congested and where the standard of living in rural areas will improve.