The HINDU Notes – 23rd June 2020 - VISION

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 23rd June 2020

πŸ“° Jaishankar to take part in China-Russia trilateral amidst LAC tensions

•External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will take part in the Russia-India-China trilateral on Tuesday, in an indicator that New Delhi is prepared to press on with diplomatic moves with China despite last Monday’s clashes between Indian and Chinese troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead.

•The meeting that will be held via video conference around 1.30 p.m. will include Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and will be hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The three leaders were originally scheduled to meet on March 22 in Sochi, but the annual meeting had to be put off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

•The RIC meeting coincides with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Moscow to attend Russia’s Victory Day parade, and for high-level meetings. Indian and Chinese militaries have both sent contingents for the parade, but officials ruled out a meeting between Mr. Singh and any Chinese official in Moscow.

No bilateral issues

•Officials in Moscow and Delhi have also underlined that “no bilateral issues” would be discussed during the video conference.

•“The three ministers are expected to discuss the current situation of the global pandemic and the challenges of global security, financial stability and RIC cooperation in that context. This is going to be a trilateral meeting,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, when asked last Thursday.

•However, the fact that the meeting is going ahead, despite heightened tensions at the LAC, is being seen as an indicator that the government is willing to put aside the bilateral issues with China for the moment. A push behind the scenes from Russia is also understood to have ensured that the meeting, which is being convened as a special session of the RIC grouping to “commemorate the 75th anniversary of the victory in the second world war over Nazism and creation of the United Nations”, is going ahead. In past conflicts with China, including during the standoffs on Depsang plains in 2013, and at the Doklam plateau in 2017, high-level meetings had only taken place after the situation at the LAC had been fully resolved.

•According to experts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement on Friday, denying there had been any transgressions by Chinese troops on Indian territory leads to speculation that India is now looking at diplomatic options to resolve the current crisis.

•Subsequent statements by the Prime Minister’s Office and the MEA on Saturday have also underlined that there were “attempted transgressions” by Chinese troops which were rebuffed by Indian soldiers, indicating that the government is saying there are no Chinese transgressions in Eastern Ladakh at present.

Realistic option

•“If one reads the Prime Minister right, [his statement on Friday] was a weighing of options and electing to be realistic, treading with caution and reining in some of the rhetoric at least,” former Foreign Secretary and former Ambassador to China Nirupama Rao told The Hindu.

•While that may subdue hostilities during the External Affairs Minister’s parley with Chinese and Russian Foreign Ministers, and for the duration of the Defence Minister’s Moscow visit, it remains to be seen whether the situation at the LAC will continue to hold, where the Indian and Chinese troops remain in a tense standoff at at least five points, including at the Pangong Tso (lake).

πŸ“° A way out of undelineated borders

In the India-Nepal and India-China tensions, white papers can help in clearing misapprehensions over the boundaries

•The Galwan face-off should focus minds on resolving, not managing, different perceptions of the northern border, relying first on ‘samadhaan’, as Kautilya suggested.

•The root of the misunderstanding between India and Nepal lies in a treaty to end a territorial war to which no map was attached and the negotiators had no idea of the geography of the area, except that devout Hindus on the way to Mansarovar considered the springs at Kalapani, at the base of the Lipulekh pass, as the source of the Kali river.

Historical facts

•The Treaty of Sugauli in 1815-16, which ended the Anglo-Nepalese War, stipulated that “the Kali River” would mark Nepal’s western border with the British East India Company. The demarcation undertaken by W.J. Webb later in 1816, covered ‘the entire Byans region both to the east and west of the river, on the ground that it had traditionally been part of Kumaon prior to the 25-year-old occupation by Nepal’. In 1817, Nepal made a ‘representation to the British, claiming that it was entitled to the areas east of the river. The British Governor-General in Council accepted the demand’, and the villages of Tinkar and Chaggru were transferred to Nepal, dividing the Byans area. The drainage of the Kalapani and Lipulekh was considered wholly within British territory, and it was stated that a short way below the springs, the Kali formed the boundary with Nepal.

•Nepal later ‘extended a claim to the Kuthi valley further to the west, stating that the Kuthi-Yankti stream, the western branch of the head waters, should be considered the main Kali river’. The Himalayan Gazetteer records that the surveyor, W.J. Webb, made known to Bam Shah, the Governor of Doti, who had negotiated the Treaty, ‘that the lesser stream flowing from the Kalapani springs had always been recognised as the main branch of the Kali and had in fact given its name to the river. The British retained the Kuthi Valley’ and the Limpiyadhura Pass.

•The first British Resident in Nepal, Edward Gardner, laid this out to the Nepal Durbar, in correspondence (February 4, 1817 to October 10, 1817). The matter was considered settled as only the lowland lying between the Kali and Gorakhpur that were ceded in 1815 were restored to Nepal by the Treaty of 1860.

•To establish the boundary, initially, the Deputy Commissioner of Almora would each year travel to the Lipulekh Pass to open trade. The northern boundary of Byans was stated as the line of water parting between India and ‘Hundes’ in the Settlements of Trail in 1828 and Batten in 1840-41. The first Settlement, under the British government of Beckett between 1863 -1873, measured each cultivated field, reiterated this, and, as The Himalayan Gazetteer points out, was used to input local names into the new map prepared by the Survey of India, correcting earlier sketchy maps. The British Government did not shift the British East India Company boundary, as Nepal alleges.

Agreed tri-junction

•In 1905, Charles A. Sherring, Deputy Commissioner of Almora, recorded his travels across Lipulekh into Tibet. He camped at Kalapani and noted its half dozen springs and the Nepal boundary at the Tinkar Pass. Trade through Lipulekh, amounting to £26,000 annually, had grown ten-fold since 1816, and was regulated by the British.

•The 1954 Trade Agreement between India and China mentions Lipulekh as one of the passes that could be used for trade and pilgrimage traffic; a police post was established by India at Kalapani in 1956.

•The China-Nepal Boundary Treaty, October 5, 1961, in its Article 1 states: “The Chinese-Nepalese boundary line starts from the point where the watershed between the Kali River and the Tinkar River meet the watershed between the tributaries of the Mapchu (Karnali) River on the one hand and the Tinkar River on the other hand.” The China-Nepal Boundary Protocol of January 20, 1963 established permanent boundary markers “as numbered 1 to 79 in serial order from west to east.” The first marker of the Sino-Nepal border is at Tinkar.

•The tri-junction, though not delineated, corresponds to the border claimed by India and shown on the British map of 1879, and in subsequent ones, is about 5 km east-southeast of Lipulekh and 20 km from the Limpiyadhura pass.

International law

•Principles of international law support the British and India’s claim. Borders are established through political agreements; delimitation gives specific meaning to the verbal description and is considered part of the negotiations and demarcation is the setting up of boundary markers. In the case of Lipulekh and Kalapani, and now Limpiyadhura, the political agreement in 1817 has been acted upon and not open to challenge now. A treaty has to be interpreted with reference to the circumstances prevailing at the time the treaty was concluded.

•In considering the general significance of map evidence, the basis of Nepal’s claim, if that evidence is inconsistent, its value is reduced by any delimitation done at that time and textual interpretation as well as legislative, administrative or judicial assertions of authority over the area. There are also clear legal grounds and reasons for corrections in names in the maps.

•The militarisation of this un-delineated part of the border has made it imperative for India to respond early to Nepal’s selective reference to certain maps of the British East India Company — first raised in 1997 — with a white paper and discuss giving Byansis in Nepal all facilities, as those villages are cut-off from the rest of Nepal. Equally important is the need for another white paper on Aksai Chin where the border is also not delineated. Resolution is a part of political negotiation and overlapping “patrolling points” are grossly inadequate substitutes for boundary pillars.

•Civilisational states should rely on the power of persuasion to settle misapprehensions left over by colonialism based on historical facts and summit diplomacy.

πŸ“° Transparency during a crisis

Proper implementation of the Right to Information Act is more crucial now than ever before

•Right to Information (RTI) applications seeking information pertaining to the PM CARES Fund have been stonewalled. No information exists on the official website of the Fund regarding the amount collected, names of donors, expenditure incurred, or details of beneficiaries. The trust deed of the fund chaired by the Prime Minister is not available for public scrutiny. Reports suggest that donations of over $1 billion have been made, including contributions from foreign sources.

Access to information is crucial

•This violation of peoples’ RTI is particularly concerning given the unprecedented crisis gripping the nation. Relief and welfare programmes funded through public money are the sole lifeline of millions who suddenly lost income-earning opportunities during the lockdown. If the poor and marginalised affected by the public health emergency are to have any hope of obtaining the benefits of government schemes, they must have access to relevant information.

•Ironically, however, a corrosive narrative seems to have emerged that public scrutiny of government actions is undesirable during the crisis and citizens must unquestioningly trust the state. This undermines the basic democratic tenet that citizens’ participation and oversight is necessary to ensure they are able to access their rights. Without information, peoples’ ability to perform that role is eviscerated and corruption thrives.

•The RTI Act, 2005, has empowered citizens to access information from public authorities and hold them accountable. During the COVID-19 crisis, proper implementation of the law has assumed greater significance than ever before. It is crucial that information related to implementation of relief measures announced by governments be widely disseminated. For instance, to ensure food security for the needy, Central and State governments have put in place schemes to provide subsidised rations. For effective delivery of foodgrains and other essential commodities, information must be made available in the public domain about the quantity and price of commodities, details of beneficiaries and the list of ration shops along with their stock position. Ground reports have revealed that in the absence of information, it is impossible for intended beneficiaries to get their due — ration shopkeepers siphon foodgrains and keep their shops closed on the pretext that they have no stocks.

•Greater openness would prevent controversies of the kind exemplified by faulty testing kits and fake ventilators. Following complaints from various States about rapid COVID-19 testing kits imported from China, the Indian Council for Medical Research halted their use. Serious questions arose about the government’s decision to order the kits from China, especially in the backdrop of countries like Spain and the Netherlands returning faulty Chinese kits. Numerous instances have been reported of COVID-19-positive patients requiring treatment in intensive care units being shunted from one hospital to another. This could be prevented if hospitals and health centres publicly provide real-time information about availability of beds and other facilities. To ensure easy accessibility to those who need it the most, relevant information must be made available in local languages and widely disseminated. In fact, this is a statutory obligation of public authorities under Section 4 of the RTI Act.

Role of transparency watchdogs

•In the current scenario the role of information commissions is crucial. While in the midst of a pandemic it is reasonable to expect delays in processing information requests, public authorities must not be allowed to interpret the crisis as a justification for not complying with the RTI Act. Unfortunately, an assessment of the functioning of the transparency watchdogs revealed that 21 out of 29 commissions in the country did not hold a single hearing during the first three stages of the lockdown. While the Central Information Commission and some State commissions used audio and video conferencing to hear and dispose cases, most commissions did not make provision for hearing even urgent matters.

•At a time when incentives for secrecy are great, and the scope for discretionary actions wide, it is critical to create a culture of openness to empower people to participate meaningfully in the decisions that have profound effects on their lives and livelihoods. People must be able to obtain information about how and where their money is being spent in the efforts to combat the pandemic and whether funds are reaching the intended beneficiaries. It is behind the cloak of secrecy that the rights of individuals are most frequently abrogated, corruption thrives and public trust in institutions is eroded.