The HINDU Notes – 29th June 2020 - VISION

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Monday, June 29, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 29th June 2020

📰 Russia agrees to quickly address urgent defence requirements sought by India

Long-pending deals for AK-203 assault rifles and Ka-226T light utility helicopters figure in discussions

•Russia has agreed to quickly address some urgent defence requirements sought by India and this was discussed during the recent trip of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, defence and diplomatic sources said. The long-pending deals for AK-203 assault rifles and Ka-226T light utility helicopters were also discussed in a review of the entire gamut of defence cooperation.

•India will present its requirements soon and Russia has assured to address them within a few months, the sources said without elaborating. Mr. Singh was on a four-day visit to Moscow from June 21 for the 75th anniversary of the Victory Day Parade during which he held talks with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov. The request comes in the backdrop of the tensions with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the large-scale mobilisation undertaken by the armed forces in response to the massive Chinese build up.

S-400 deliveries to start at end of 2021

•In a statement after the talks in Moscow, Mr. Singh said Russia had assured that ongoing contracts would be maintained and “in a number of cases will be taken forward in a shorter time”. However, on the S-400 deal, the sources said the deliveries would start end of 2021 as scheduled and it is difficult to accelerate the deal any further. “No further acceleration is technically possible,” a diplomatic source said while the Indian sources said the deliveries would be completed as per the contractual terms.

•There is some progress on the AK-203 assault rifle deal which has been held up over pricing, another diplomatic source said. The deal for over 7.5 lakh rifles of which one lakh would be imported and 6.71 lakh rifles manufactured by a joint venture (JV) Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited (IRRPL) at Korwa in Uttar Pradesh.

•However, the deal for 200 Ka-226T utility helicopters remains stuck over the level of indigenisation. To reach the indiginisation percentage as specified by the tender, Russia and India are evaluating the possibility of using Indian aviation materials in the production in India which will give the programme a new indigenisation angle and also an impetus to the domestic aero industry.

Transfer to India of a number of crucial technologies

•“Another significant feature of the project is going to be the transfer to India of a number of crucial helicopter engineering technologies, including the unique coaxial scheme technologies,” two sources said adding India will have the choice to integrate domestic avionic and weapons.

•Of the 200 helicopters, 60 will be imported directly and the remaining will be manufactured by a JV between the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and the Russian helicopters (RH). Several MoUs have already been signed with domestic companies by RH for localising assemblies such as fuselage, blades, radio station and landing gear among others.

📰 ‘Draft EIA notification fosters non-transparency, encourages environmental violations’

•The draft environmental impact assessment (EIA) notification issued by the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in March dilutes the EIA process and encourages environment violations in case of big irrigation projects, alleged the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP).

•The SANDRP is a network of researchers and experts working on water and environmental issues. Amruta Pradhan, a researcher with the SANDRP, said the 83-page notification in its draft form rendered the environmental clearance (EC) process “non-transparent, undemocratic, unjust and unaccountable”.

•“In the case of large-scale hydropower and irrigation projects, the SANDRP, through field studies, has routinely witnessed irregularities like poor quality of work, dishonest EIAs coupled with misinformation about the project, and inadequate or no impact assessment, to name just a few of the violations. The MoEF’s draft ensures no monitoring of these projects, let alone achieving compliance,” Ms. Pradhan said. If implemented, the MoEF’s draft will replace the 2006 EIA notification for future projects. The most significant change in the amended draft has been in respect of category ‘B’ projects, Ms. Pradhan said. (Hydro-electric projects lesser than 75 MW but higher than 25 MW fall in category ‘B1’)

Public consultation

•While a significant slab of threshold limits is now pushed under category ‘B2’ projects, these projects are completely exempted from the EIA and public consultation process. Further, these categories have been kept fluid, she said. “This means that essentially, all the hydro-electric projects lesser than 25MW and irrigation projects that have a culturable command area between 2,000 and 10,000 hectares will not need an EIA or a public consultation for their appraisal,” she said.

•Ms. Pradhan further said in the 2006 EIA notification, category ‘B’ project was treated as category ‘A’ project if the project fulfilled the ‘general conditions’, which meant if they were located (in whole or in part) within 10 km from the boundaries of protected areas, critically polluted areas, eco-sensitive zones, or inter-State and international boundaries.

•“But as per the new notification, ‘B1’ projects fulfilling the general condition will be appraised by the expert appraisal committee, but they will no more be treated as category ‘A’ projects. This explicit clarification does seem to imply that they will undergo less rigorous appraisal,” she said.

Eco-sensitive zones

•She feared that with the removal of such conditions, projects could now be proposed in dangerously close proximities of boundary of protected and eco-sensitive zones. The draft notification also stated that while projects concerning national defence and security or “involving other strategic considerations as determined by the Central government” would not be treated as category ‘A’, “no information relating to such projects shall be placed in public domain”.

•“From this, it is clear that with the Centre deciding on the ‘strategic considerations’ for their projects, they are free to hide information from people under this rubric. This flies in the face of the Centre’s stated intention of making the EC process more transparent,” she said.

•Ms. Pradhan said that the ambiguous nature of the draft raised a strong possibility that large projects proposed in Himalayan region or in the western ghats may be split on paper into smaller ones of 25MW, thereby escaping environmental scrutiny of any kind.

•“How safe is it to allow these projects in the Himalayan region, which is highly vulnerable to high-intensity quakes, landslides and flash past disasters of Uttarakhand (Kedarnath), Himachal Pradesh and Nepal among other regions. These have shown how damaging such projects in these highly risky zones region could be,” she said.

📰 Centre unveils new rules to regulate exotic animal trade

Under the new rules, owners and possessors of such animals and birds must also register their stock with the Chief Wildlife Warden of their States.

•The Environment Ministry’s wildlife division has introduced new rules to regulate the import and export of ‘exotic wildlife species’.

•Currently, it is the Directorate-General of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Commerce, that oversees such trade.

•Under the new rules, owners and possessors of such animals and birds must also register their stock with the Chief Wildlife Warden of their States.

Select animals

•Officials of the Wildlife Department will also prepare an inventory of such species and have the right to inspect the facilities of such traders to check if these plants and animals are being housed in salubrious conditions.

•Additionally, stockists will have six months to declare their stock.

•The advisory, issued earlier this month, also says ‘exotic live species’ will mean animals named under Appendices I, II and III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora.

•It will not include species from the Schedules of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

•The CITES is part of a multilateral treaty that includes plant, animals and birds under varying categories of threat of extinction and which will be jointly protected by members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. India is a signatory to this.

•According to World Wildlife Crime Report 2016 of the UN, criminals are illegally trading products derived from over 7,000 species of wild animals and plants across the world.

‘Global threat’

•In its first global report on the illegal wildlife trade, released last week, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) described wildlife trafficking as a “global threat”, which also has links with other organised crimes such as modern slavery, drug trafficking and arms trade.

•The illegal trade is estimated to generate revenues of up to $23 billion a year.

•India continues to battle wildlife crime, with reports suggesting that many times such species are available for trade on online market places.

•The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is an organisation that is tasked with monitoring illegal trade.

📰 Making sense of China’s calculations

Analysts should have considered the pandemic’s impact on its economy and India’s strategic alignment with the U.S.

•What policy planners in Delhi, and possibly those in Beijing, have long feared, viz ., a direct confrontation leading to fatal casualties, occurred in the Galwan heights in the late evening of June 15. The number of casualties, 20 on the Indian side was the highest since 1967, and included that of a high ranking Colonel of the Bihar Regiment. The number of casualties on the Chinese side has not been formally indicated, though they have conceded that at least one Colonel was among those killed.

No aberration

•With this incident, it should have been obvious that the die was cast as regards the future of China-India relations. Nevertheless, there was a flicker of hope when apparently the Corps Commanders of India and China on June 22-23 appeared to reach a “mutual consensus” to disengage and embark on lowering “tensions” through a “gradual and verifiable disengagement”. This proved shortlived, with the Chinese post in the Galwan area not only being restored, but also, from satellite images available, bigger in size than before.

•What occurred in the Galwan heights on June 15, must not, hence, be viewed as an aberration. It would be more judicious to view it as signifying a new and fractious phase in China-India relations. Even if the situation reverts to what existed in mid-April (highly unlikely), India-China relations appear set to witness a “new and different normal”.

•The debate on the Indian side has so far been largely limited to China’s perfidy in violating the status quo. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for instance, accused China of “brazenly and illegally seeking to claim parts of Indian Territory such as the Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso”. Adding spice to the debate was the Prime Minister’s statement at an all-party meeting on June 19 to discuss the border issue, that “there was no intruder on our land now and no post in anyone’s custody”, which raised the Opposition’s hackles.

•China’s reaction has been consistent — India must move out of Galwan. This is something that India cannot ignore any longer. What took place in the Galwan heights cannot be viewed as a mere replay of what took place in Depsang (2013), Chumar (2014) and Doklam (2017). This is a new and different situation and India must not shrink from addressing the core issue that relations between India and China are in a perilous state.

•China’s assertion of its claim to the whole of the Galwan Valley needs close and careful analysis. For one, Point 14 gives China a virtual stranglehold over the newly completed, and strategically significant, Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie Road, which leads on to the Karakoram Pass. For another, the strategic implications for India of China’s insistence on keeping the whole of the Galwan Valley are serious as it fundamentally changes the status quo. Finally, by laying claim to the Galwan Valley, China has reopened some of the issues left over from the 1962 conflict, and demonstrates that it is willing to embark on a new confrontation.

•Ambiguity has existed regarding the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in this sector; the Chinese “claim line” is that of November 1959, while for India the LAC is that of September 1962. In recent years, both sides had refrained from reopening the issue, but China has never given up its claims. By its unilateral declaration now, China is seeking to settle the matter in its favour. India needs to measure up to this challenge.

Importance of Aksai Chin

•A charge that could be levelled against successive administrations in Delhi in recent years is that while China has consistently asserted its claims over the whole of Aksai Chin, India has chosen to overlook China’s more recent postures in this region. The importance of Aksai Chin for China has greatly increased of late, as it provides direct connectivity between two of the most troubled regions of China, viz., Xinjiang and Tibet. This does not seem to have been adequately factored in to our calculations. While Indian policy makers saw the reclassification of Ladakh as purely an internal matter, they overlooked the fact that for China’s military planners, the carving out of Ladakh into a Union Territory (followed later by Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement last year laying claim to the whole of Aksai Chin) posited a threat to China’s peace and tranquillity.

On intelligence assessment

•It is in this context, that questions are now being raised about the failure of intelligence. It is axiomatic that leaders make better decisions when they have better information, and the enduring value of intelligence comes from this fundamental reality. Admittedly, the timing and nature of China’s actions should have aroused keen interest in intelligence circles about China’s strategic calculations. The Chinese build-up in the Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso and Hotsprings-Gogra did not require any great intelligence effort, since there was little attempt at concealment by the Chinese. India also possesses high quality imagery intelligence (IMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities, distributed between the National Technical Research Organisation, the Directorate of Signals Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence and other agencies, which made it possible to track Chinese movement.

•Where, perhaps, intelligence can be faulted is with regard to inadequate appreciation of what the build-up meant, and what it portended for India. This is indicative of a weakness in interpretation and analysis of the intelligence available, as also an inability to provide a coherent assessment of China’s real intentions. Intelligence assessment of China’s intentions, clearly fell short of what was required.

•It is at the same time true that while India’s technological capabilities for intelligence collection have vastly increased in recent years, the capacity for interpretation and analysis has not kept pace with this. Advances in technology, specially Artificial Intelligence have, across the world, greatly augmented efforts at intelligence analysis. It is a moot point whether such skills were employed in this instance.

•The failure to decipher China’s intentions in time is no doubt unfortunate, but it has to be understood that deciphering China’s intentions, understanding the Chinese mind (which tends to be contextual and relational), and trying to make sense of Chinese thinking, are an extremely difficult task at any time. Even so, since last year when China’s economy began to show signs of a decline followed by the COVID-19 pandemic, China is known to have become extremely sensitive to what it perceived as efforts by others to exploit its weakness. It has often felt compelled to demonstrate that no nation should attempt to exploit the situation to China’s disadvantage. India’s intelligence and policy analysts obviously failed to analyse this aspect adequately, while trying to make sense of China’s latest forward push.

•Another of China’s current preoccupation, viz. that India is feeling emboldened because of its growing strategic alignment with the United States, should also have been adequately considered by the analysts, in any assessment of putative Chinese responses.

•The principal responsibility for intelligence assessment and analysis concerning China, rests with the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), and to a lesser extent, the Defence Intelligence Agency. It may not, perhaps, be wrong to surmise that the decision of the NSCS to dismantle the Joint Intelligence Committee has contributed to a weakening of the intelligence assessment system. In the case of the R&AW, lack of domain expertise, and an inadequacy of China specialists might also have been a contributory factor.

Limitations of summit meets

•We cannot also minimise the adverse impact of certain policy imperatives. For one, the preference given recently to Summit diplomacy over traditional foreign policy making structures proved to be a severe handicap. Summit diplomacy cannot be a substitute for carefully structured foreign office policy making. Any number of instances of this nature are available. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain was one of the earliest victims of Summit diplomacy. The disastrous meeting between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and U.S. President Richard Nixon had long-term adverse implications for India-U.S. relations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.S. President George W. Bush did establish a rapport through frequent Summit meetings, but this was the exception rather than the rule.

•Currently, India’s Summit diplomacy has tended to marginalise the External Affairs Ministry with regard to policy making, and we are probably paying a price for it. As it is, the Ministry of External Affairs’s (MEA) stock of China experts seems to be dwindling, and its general tilt towards the U.S. in most matters, has resulted in an imbalance in the way the MEA perceives problems and situations.

📰 In border claims, reimagining South Asia’s boundaries

In the backdrop of troublesome territorial assertions, the ‘entity’ needs to be rethought of as a region of regions

•Even during this period of social distancing and public lockdown, claims and counterclaims over territories in and around the Kalapani region (located at the tri-junction between northern India, western Nepal and southern China/Tibet) have resurfaced to become an issue that has embroiled India and Nepal in a political debate; it is now gravitating towards a confrontational trend of popular politics. Therefore, it is pertinent to look at our South Asian mentalities as to how such disputes are “handled” rather than “addressed” within the given dispensation of South Asian statecraft.

State as sole arbiter

•One of the major problems of South Asian politics is that it has to flow from within a state-centric paradigm. State-centrism, within the assumption of a South Asia, has given the state structure the propriety to be the sole arbiter of disputes, if any, among communities and regions falling within the territorial limits of nation states. It is the state that articulates, defines, and represents “national” interests in negotiations with other states. Experience suggests that states in South Asia consecrate political boundaries as the “natural” shield even in the arbitration of South Asian affairs. Interestingly, this “realist” fashion of statecraft happens to be the dominant South Asian pattern within which territorial boundaries are valued more than lives, livelihoods and the well-being of the people located at the edges of nation states. “Patriotism” looms large as and when inter-state relationships are viewed through the statist lens, although “jingoism” might be missing. Myopic hostility, real or imagined, is used as the governing principle in the arbitration of territorial disputes across South Asia.

Contested idea

•Basically, the term “region” seems to be a contested idea in a South Asian context as none of the South Asian states has ever recognised and respected the idea of regional identity or regional politics, while becoming suspicious of such natural cleavages in politics. Given that this is a reality, how could one even think of South Asia as a region to reckon with? One must understand that South Asia is perhaps the most natural regional grouping of states around the world. And, at the same time, it is also the most difficult and contested grouping. South Asia needs to be rethought, not as a region of states, but as a region of regions. As such it demonstrates itself more as a borderland that needs to be cultivated out of contact zones which exist beyond the limits of territorial boundaries shared by the member-states.

Life here is fluid

•Such a perspective is necessary in order to address the contemporary crisis that has emerged from the Kalapani dispute. There is a need to go beyond the popular debates (couched in the language of “myopic hostility”) revolving around such “troubling” questions such as: how much area has been “encroached” upon by which state and on what basis. Such questions appear to be “normal” in the way a “statist paradigm” deals with the issue; but they seem to be “troubling”, if not “haunting”, questions to those who are to maintain their lifeworld at those zones which are inexplicable to a “realist” or a “neo-realist” statist paradigm.

•South Asian life, essentially at the edges of the nation state, is bound to be fluid because the boundary, which confirms the territorial limits of a nation state, is at the same time the affirmed threshold of another nation state. In a certain sense, the people living at the edges of nation states within South Asia do not actually belong to any of the two nation states. Or in other words, they belong to both the states at the same time. Non-sedentary practices define their life courses, while switching positionalities animate their aspiration of belonging. Plurality, differences and inclusivity bring coherence to borderland ontology; they defy the logic of singular, unifying, exclusive identities that the nation states privilege.

Impact on cooperation

•Howsoever real the “realist” positions may be, borderlands act as natural vessels to de-essentialise the statist paradigm. As places of habitation, such spaces are more real than what the “realist” positions of statecraft might make out of them — for those who live in them. Administrative treaties and tribunals represent them as spatial categories; but as lived spaces, they hardly fit into the protocols of a statist paradigm. This is crucial especially when we know that as countries, both India and Nepal not only share cultural and civilisational backgrounds but also an “officially” recognised porous border.

•Unless both India and Nepal agree to see the reality beyond the gaze of the statist paradigm, they are going to endanger the future of other regional experiments such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) or the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) sub-regional initiative. South Asian states need to realise the difference between “regional cooperation” merely as advocacy and as an issue that demands self-approval and self-promotion.

•There is every likelihood that South Asian countries would remain busy in making tall claims of regional cooperation while closing all doors of recognising difference and mutual tolerance. In the commotion that ensues, powerful countries operating within and beyond the orbit of South Asia might become successful in establishing their control by using the same token of “regional cooperation” as an issue of realpolitik.

•Both India and Nepal, and for that matter, other South Asian countries need to rethink South Asia as a region of regions before they submit to the enticements of a new language of “regional cooperation” — one that is ontologically empty but materially more rewarding. Region and regional identity are not just issues of “realpolitik” in South Asia; rather, the need is to “officially” accommodate this rather naturally drafted way of doing politics, if we are genuinely concerned about South Asian geopolitics.