The HINDU Notes – 11th January 2022 - VISION

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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The HINDU Notes – 11th January 2022


📰 No ‘third party’ should interfere in China’s Sri Lanka ties: Wang Yi

Chinese Foreign Minister proposes a forum for Indian Ocean island nations ‘to promote common development’

•No “third party” should interfere in China-Sri Lanka ties, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said, during his recent 24-hour visit to Colombo, while also proposing a forum for Indian Ocean island nations.

•Mr. Wang, who met the Sri Lankan leadership, spoke of the “friendly relationship” that “benefits the development of both countries and serves the fundamental interest” of both peoples, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday. “It does not target any third party and should not be interfered with by any third party. The all-round cooperation and strategic mutual trust between the two countries have injected positive energy into regional peace and stability,” according to the readout from Beijing.

•In December 2021, the Colombo-based Chinese Embassy tweeted about a Chinese company shifting its solar energy project from northern Sri Lanka to the Maldives, in the wake of “security concerns from a third party”. While the Embassy did not name the party, it was clearly alluding to India that objected to the Chinese project in three islands off Jaffna peninsula.

•Mr. Wang was on a brief official visit as part of a five-nation tour in the New Year to launch celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the historic Rubber-Rice Pact and the 65th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations. His visit came at a time when Sri Lanka is battling a severe economic crisis of a persisting dollar crunch, soaring living costs and a shortage of essentials in the import-reliant island nation. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa urged China to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt and help the country cope with the economic strain.

•According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Mr. Wang said the two sides should make good use of “the two engines”, referring to the $1.4-billion China-backed Colombo Port City in Colombo and the Hambantota Port in the island’s Southern Province. He urged Sri Lanka to “tap the opportunities” of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and China’s “vast market” and restart talks on a free-trade agreement “to send more positive signals to the world and contribute to Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and development”, the Ministry’s statement on his meeting with Mr. Gotabaya said.

•The resident Chinese envoy also conveyed the same to a select group of Sri Lankan journalists following the visit, though official statements from the Sri Lankan side made no mention of either “third party” interference or resuming FTA talks. During Mr. Wang’s visit, China had agreed to extend yuan 800 million for partnerships in the health sector and technical cooperation besides supporting construction of low-cost housing in Colombo.

•Another aspect of Mr. Wang’s bilateral discussions, not captured in local statements or media, was his proposal for a “forum on the development of Indian Ocean island countries” to build consensus and synergy and promote common development.

•Mr. Wang, said the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told the Sri Lankan leadership: “During my visit to several Indian Ocean island countries this time, I feel that all island countries share similar experiences and common needs, with similar natural endowment and development goals, and have favourable conditions and full potential for strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation,” while proposing the forum that sounded similar to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) initiative.

📰 The sail that Indian diplomacy, statecraft need

Striking the right balance between continental and maritime security will enable India’s long-term security interests

•When Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosts the five Central Asia leaders at the Republic Day Parade on January 26, it will send a strong signal — of the new prominence of the Central Asian region in India’s security calculations. In 2015, Mr. Modi visited all the five Central Asian states. Recently, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar also hosted their Central Asian counterparts in Delhi. The collapse of American military power in Afghanistan, the subsequent takeover of Kabul by the Taliban and the consequent rise in the influence of Pakistan and China are developments of high concern for India’s continental security interests.

•While the Republic Day invitation is significant symbolically, in substance, however, hard work lies ahead. India’s continental strategy, in which the Central Asian region is an indispensable link, has progressed intermittently over the past two decades — promoting connectivity, incipient defence and security cooperation, enhancing India’s soft power and boosting trade and investment. It is laudable, but as is now apparent, it is insufficient to address the broader geopolitical challenges engulfing the region.

Focus on Eurasia

•China’s assertive rise, the precipitous withdrawal of forces of the United States/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from Afghanistan, the rise of Islamic fundamentalist forces, the changing dynamics of the historic stabilising role of Russia (most recently in Kazakhstan) and related multilateral mechanisms — the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, and the Eurasian Economic Union — have all set the stage for a sharpening of the geopolitical competition on the Eurasian landmass. This competition is marked by a weaponisation of resource and geographical access as a form of domination, practised by China and other big powers. To meet this challenge, evolving an effective continental strategy for India will be a complex and long-term exercise.

Some course correction

•India’s maritime vision and ambitions have grown dramatically during the past decade, symbolised by its National Maritime Strategy, the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) initiative for the Indian Ocean Region and major initiatives relating to the Indo-Pacific and the Quad, in which maritime security figures prominently. This was perhaps an overdue correction to the historic neglect of India’s maritime power. It was also a response to the dramatic rise of China as a military power. It may also be a by-product of the oversized influence over our think-tank community of Anglo-Saxon strategic thinking, which has tended to emphasise the maritime dimensions of China’s military rise more than others.

•The U.S. is a pre-eminent naval power, even more so in the Indo-Pacific region, and defines its strategic preferences in the light of its own strengths. That said, maritime security is important to keeping sea lanes open for trade, commerce and freedom of navigation, resisting Chinese territorial aggrandisement in the South China Sea and elsewhere, and helping littoral states resist Chinese bullying tactics in interstate relations. However, maritime security and associated dimensions of naval power are not sufficient instruments of statecraft as India seeks diplomatic and security constructs to strengthen deterrence against Chinese unilateral actions and the emergence of a unipolar Asia.

•The Chinese willingness and capacity for military intervention and power projection are growing far beyond its immediate region. Its rise is not merely in the maritime domain. It is expanding on the Eurasian continent — its Belt and Road Initiative projects in Central Asia up to Central and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, undercutting traditional Russian influence, its gaining access to energy and other natural resources, and its dependency-creating investments, cyber and digital penetration and expanding influence among political and economic elites across the continent. The American military footprint has shrunk dramatically on the core Eurasian landmass, though it has a substantial military presence on the continental peripheries. Bulwarks against Chinese maritime expansionist gains are relatively easier to build and its gains easier to reverse than the long-term strategic gains that China hopes to secure on continental Eurasia. Like Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) centrality is key to the 
Indo-Pacific, centrality of the Central Asian states should be key for Eurasia.

Border, connectivity issues

•India’s partition and the emergence over the past six decades of a persistent two-front threat from Pakistan and China set the stage for a tough continental dimension of our security. There is increased militarisation of the borders with Pakistan and China, with the Ladakh sector now increasingly looking like it will see permanent deployment on the Siachen Glacier. India has been subject for over five decades to a land embargo by Pakistan that has few parallels in relations between two states that are technically not at war. Connectivity means nothing when access is denied through persistent neighbouring state hostility contrary to the canons of international law.

•Difficulties have arisen in operationalising an alternative route — the International North-South Transport Corridor on account of the U.S.’s hostile attitude towards Iran. It may appear strange that while we join the U.S. and others in supporting the right of freedom of navigation in the maritime domain, we do not demand with the same force the right of India to conduct interstate trade, commerce, and transit along continental routes — be it through the lifting of Pakistan’s blockade on transit or the lifting of U.S. sanctions against transit through Iran into Eurasia. With the recent Afghan developments, India’s physical connectivity challenges with Eurasia have only become starker. The marginalisation of India on the Eurasian continent in terms of connectivity must be reversed.

Where the U.S. stands

•The ongoing U.S.-Russia confrontation relating to Ukraine, Russian opposition to future NATO expansion and the broader questions of European security including on the issue of new deployment of intermediate-range missiles, following the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty will have profound consequences for Eurasian security. This comes against the background of an ongoing U.S. review of its global military commitments. While the U.S. had over 2,65,000 troops under its European command in 1992, it now has about 65,000. Even with the rise of China’s military power, over the past decade, the U.S. which had about 1,00,000 troops in the early 1990s under what is now called the Indo-Pacific Command, currently has about 90,000 troops mostly committed to the territorial defence of Japan and South Korea. The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has undergone a major transformation during the last decade; it had about 1,70,000 troops a decade ago (related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), but has less than 10,000 personnel now.

•The bottom line is clear - the U.S. would be severely stretched if it wanted to simultaneously increase its force levels in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. Successive waves of post-Cold War NATO expansion only increased overall insecurity, with the potential to create for the U.S. the mother of all quagmires. A major conflict — if it erupts in Central Europe, pitting Russia, Ukraine and some European states — will stall any hopes of a substantial U.S. military pivot to the Indo-Pacific. Geopolitics may be fractured but always add up globally. Russia and China do not need to be alliance partners to allow for coordinated actions relating to Taiwan or Donbas, as such coordination would flow from the very logic of the strategic conundrum that the U.S. now finds itself in. In the same vein, European NATO powers dependent on the U.S. can do only so much for strengthening security in the Indo-Pacific. Their engagement with the Indo-Pacific is welcome but we should not only be cognisant of the limitations of geography, obvious gaps between strategic ambition and capacity but also the inherently different standpoints of how major maritime powers view critical questions of continental security. India is unique as no other peer country has the same severity of challenges on both the continental and maritime dimensions.

Be assertive about rights

•Going forward, it is clear India will not have the luxury of choosing one over the other; we would need to acquire strategic vision and deploy the necessary resources to pursue our continental interests without ignoring our interests in the maritime domain. This will require a more assertive push for our continental rights — namely that of transit and access, working with our partners in Central Asia, with Iran and Russia (not that we have many other options), and a more proactive engagement with economic and security agendas ranging from the SCO, Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Stabilising Afghanistan is a necessary but not a sufficient condition.

•Striking the right balance between continental and maritime security would be the best guarantor of our long-term security interests. But this will not be easy as we would need to work with different partners on different agendas even while their geopolitical contradictions play out in the open. India will need to define its own parameters of continental and maritime security consistent with its own interests. In doing so, at a time of major geopolitical change, maintaining our capacity for independent thought and action (namely strategic autonomy) will help our diplomacy and statecraft navigate the difficult landscape and the choppy waters that lie ahead.

📰 Amendments that are unnecessary

Why a national database of registered births and deaths is not required

•The Central government had invited comments on the proposed amendments to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 (RBD Act). One major proposal is to prepare a national database of registered births and deaths. This is intended to be used to update, for every birth and death, the databases created in accordance with many other laws, such as the National Population Register, voter list and Aadhaar database.

•Under the RBD Act, it is the responsibility of the States to register births and deaths. State governments have set up facilities for registering births and deaths and keeping records. A Chief Registrar appointed in every State is the executive authority for implementation of the Act. A hierarchy of officials at the district and lower levels do the work. The Registrar General of India (RGI), appointed under this Act, is responsible for coordinating and unifying the implementation of the RBD Act.

Unnecessary provisions

•Information on registered births and deaths is now stored in State-level databases using a unified software in many States. This system enables citizens to easily obtain the required services. It also helps prevent fake registrations and errors. Birth and death registers also include some personal information about the child born, the child’s parents, and the deceased. In addition, some information required for demographic studies is also collected during registration. This information is not included in the register and is used only to collate vital statistics.

•On registration of a birth or death, the information can automatically go to the concerned authorities. However, one has to examine the need for each birth and death to be communicated to other databases. It may be important for a population register to get that information instantaneously. For other databases, it may be enough to get that information on a monthly or even annual basis. For example, the election authorities may require the list of deaths only once in six months or so for removing dead persons from the database. Cancellation of passports or driving licences on the death of the holder is not very important as they cannot be misused that easily.

•In all cases where instantaneous updating is not necessary, the concerned databases should collect the information from the best source. Whether it should be collected from the birth and death database is an important question. The address in the birth and death database may be different from the current or permanent address of the mother or deceased. The mother may have gone to her parent’s place for delivery and that address may have been recorded while admitting her in a hospital. Similarly, many people are admitted to hospitals in the city where they may have a temporary contact address. It is this that gets recorded in the hospital and in the death register. So, some data item, like the Aadhaar number, is necessary to link the information with other databases.

•In an ideal situation, a birth and death database need not interact with any database other than a population database. This is because a population database will have all the information, like date and place of occurrence of the birth or death and names of the parents/deceased, that may be required by other databases.

•A proposal is to include the Aadhaar number, if available, as one piece of information to be reported while reporting a birth or death, by amending Section 8 of the Act. This is an unnecessary amendment as the Aadhaar number can be included in the forms used for reporting births or deaths. Having already directed the States to include the Aadhaar number of the deceased in the death reporting form, it is not clear why it is necessary to amend the Act for its inclusion.

•State governments maintain databases of births and deaths, some of which are manually done now. Information required for updating other databases for each birth and death can be directly given from the State-level database. Extracting part of the information therein to create a national database to be maintained by the RGI appears an unnecessary duplication and will only create an intermediate administrative layer without any value addition.

•The databases maintained by the States now may not follow the same structure for various data items. I am not sure whether they all follow the same standard even for writing the names of individuals. For example, the names of many people in Kerala and Tamil Nadu have the name of the family and father’s name preceding the first name of the person while many databases use the first name/middle name/surname format.

•The Central government should prescribe standards for data items in the birth and death database maintained by the State governments. This is necessary even if a national database of births and deaths is to be created. These standards should be common for other databases. This would make it easier to communicate information automatically to other databases. The cultural diversity across the country should be kept in mind while prescribing standards so that the citizens are not hassled later on.

•There is a proposal that the RBD Act mention that information from the national database would be used to update the Population Register, Aadhaar database, passport database, etc. and that the birth and death certificates issued under this Act should be taken as evidence of date and place of birth for issuing Aadhaar cards, passports and driving licence, for enrolling in voter’s list or for school admission. These are unnecessary provisions. The law for each of these databases can specify whether the information contained in the birth and death register should be used for a particular purpose. It may be noted that till recently, the instructions regarding application for a passport contained a provision that only birth certificates issued by the Registrar of Births and Deaths would be accepted as proof of date and place of birth.

Need to look forward

•Activities relating to the registration of births and deaths have undergone a sea change in the last decade with computerisation. However, the law has not been amended to take care of this reality. There is a need for updating the law to take care of these and future developments. The proposed amendments fall short of this.

•A bill was introduced in Parliament in 2012 to amend the RBD Act to include marriage registration in its purview and to make registration of marriages compulsory. It lapsed as it was not taken up by the Lok Sabha. The Law Commission examined the issue again and recommended in its Report No. 270 that the RBD Act may be amended for including marriage registration. Instead of going for another amendment for this purpose, it should have been taken care of within the current proposals.

📰 The rise of collaboratives for social impact

The emphasis on inclusion, equity and justice, and formal collaborations could make a mark in India’s social sector

•In early 2020, The Bridgespan Group released a report, “Philanthropic Collaboratives in India: The Power of Many”, that examined alliances between development sector actors — funders, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and governments. Those stakeholders bet that their combined funding, skills and assets would make the impact of collaboratives greater than the sum of their parts.

•And, yet, at the time, India had few philanthropic collaboratives. This is no longer the case.

•Co-created by three or more independent actors, including at least one funder, a philanthropic collaborative pursues a shared vision and strategy for social impact. In 2019, we studied 15 such collaboratives in India. Since then, at least 18 more collaboratives have come together. These include COVID ActionCollab, India Protectors Alliance, The Future of Impact Collaborative, and The Coalition for Women Empowerment.

•Sixteen of these operate across multiple States. Most focus on implementing social programmes and mobilising funding. Swasth, for instance, has created a one-stop tele-medicine portal, while ACT Grants pools financial resources for innovations in tackling COVID.

•Collaboratives are also mobilising greater funding. The annual budgets of the 13 collaboratives in 2019 ranged from ₹50 lakh to ₹50 crore. In comparison, multi-year financial commitments for eight of the new collaboratives range from ₹2 crore to ₹600 crore (budget data is not available for the other 10). At least three of them aim to raise about ₹100 crore.

•There is growing emphasis on inclusion, equity, and justice. The new generation of collaboratives increasingly focuses on marginalised communities such as informal waste pickers, front-line workers, and migrant labour.

Path to scaling

•The devastation caused to lives and livelihoods by the novel coronavirus pandemic is clearly driving organisations to work collectively. Several partnerships now involve businesses, harnessing the power of private capital for social good.

•Consider the Migrants Resilience Collaborative (MRC).

•Soon after the nation-wide COVID-19 lockdown on March 24, 2020, the NGO Jan Sahas released the results of a survey that revealed the lockdown’s disproportionate impact on migrant workers. Of the 3,196 migrant construction workers interviewed, a staggering 90% had lost their source of income and 62% were unaware of the Government’s emergency assistance efforts.

•India has approximately 140 million migrant workers. Jan Sahas’ founder, Ashif Shaikh, concluded that the scale of the problem far outstripped the capabilities of any single NGO and necessitated collaboration. Jan Sahas, in partnership with EdelGive Foundation, Global Development Network and other organisations, launched MRC, whose goal is to facilitate relief for more than 10 million migrant workers across 13 States. More than 40 community-based organisations, 25 companies and industry associations, and three State governments have partnered with MRC.

•Although collaboratives can increase the odds of achieving outsize impact, collaboration is complicated. Building trust across multiple partners and balancing their priorities and the collaborative’s goals can be challenging. In 2020, we found that it took several years for collaboratives to move from “coming together” — where they define their shared mission and strategy — to actually “working together” and delivering results.

•This new crop of collaboratives is forming relatively faster. Of the 18 we examined, 15 are already “working together”. No doubt, the pandemic has spurred collaboratives to raise funds and evolve swiftly. Equally important for MRC has been its credibility and clarity.

•Since 2000, Jan Sahas has worked to end commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour, focusing on migrant workers from socially excluded communities; 90% of Jan Sahas’ staff comes from the communities it serves. Jan Sahas could hence draw on a deep well of trust and relationships for MRC.

•To ensure alignment of MRC’s stakeholders, Mr. Shaikh drew up a list of “non-negotiable” goals: such as securing a minimum wage for migrant workers and ending exploitation of female workers. While there were some disagreements among the partners, clarity on the “non-negotiables” ensured that they remained on the same page.

Here to stay

•Mr. Shaikh identified another factor, besides the pandemic, that is driving collaboration.

•“Funding for NGOs, especially for community-based and grassroots organisations, has dropped significantly,” he observed. “That is pushing small- and medium-sized organisations, particularly at the State and district level, to collaborate. They can then get strategic and financial support, and a platform to implement their programmes.”

•To be sure, as more NGOs and funders pool their resources and expertise, some start-up collaboratives will struggle to partner effectively and achieve collective impact. Still, given the significant increase in philanthropic collaboratives over the past two years, it is likely that formal collaboration between multiple stakeholders — including private business — is set to become a distinctive and lasting feature of India’s social sector.

📰 A BIT to review

The Committee on External Affairs’ report on India and BITs has novel suggestions but is lacking in some aspects

•The report of the Standing Committee on External Affairs on ‘India and bilateral investment treaties (BITs)’ was presented to Parliament last month. This report is momentous as it comes a decade after India lost the first investment treaty claim in 2011 (White Industries v. India). The loss in this case was perceived as an ominous sign. It became a watershed moment for India and transformed the trajectory of India’s BIT landscape triggering sweeping changes such as unilateral termination of these treaties.

Overall context

•The broader context in which the Committee took up the task of reviewing India’s approach towards BITs has three core elements. First, since the White Industries case, foreign investors have sued India around 20 times for alleged BIT breaches. This made India the 10th most frequent respondent-state globally in terms of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) claims from 1987 to 2019 (UNCTAD). Second, India adopted a new Model BIT in 2016, which marked a significant departure from its previous treaty practice. Third, India is in the process of negotiating new investment deals (separately or as part of free trade agreements) with important countries such as Australia and the U.K.

•The Committee examined this overall context and made vital recommendations for the government to consider. First, it articulated its discontentment at the fact that India has signed very few investment treaties after the adoption of the Model BIT. It recommends that India expedite the existing negotiations and conclude the agreements at the earliest because a delay might adversely impact foreign investment.

•Second, contrary to the position of policymakers, the committee recognises the potential of BITs in luring foreign direct investment (FDI). This aligns with the findings of several empirical studies that show that while individual BITs do not impact investment inflows, the cumulative effect of all BITs signed by India positively influenced FDI inflows. In this regard, curiously, the committee recommends that India should sign more BITs in core or priority sectors to attract FDI. Generally, BITs are not signed for specific sectors. Asking India to do so will be a novel pathway to investment treaty-making. It will require an overhauling of India’s extant treaty practice that focuses on safeguarding certain kinds of regulatory measures from ISDS claims rather than limiting BITs to specific sectors.

•Third, the committee recommends that India’s Model BIT be fine-tuned. This is welcome because the Model BIT gives precedence to the state’s regulatory interests over the rights of foreign investors. However, the key question is, what trajectory will this fine-tuning take? The Model BIT should be recalibrated keeping two factors in mind: tightening the language of the existing provisions to circumscribe the discretion of ISDS arbitral tribunals that offer broad interpretations, and striking a balance between the goals of investment protection and the state’s right to adopt bonafide regulatory measures for public welfare. The committee’s report mostly concentrates on the first factor. If the Model BIT is tweaked with the sole motive to reduce arbitral discretion, it might result in further skewing the balance towards the host state’s right to regulate. This would make it arduous for India to convince its potential treaty partners like the EU which already have misgivings about the Model BIT.

•Fourth, the committee recommends bolstering the capacity of government officials in the area of investment treaty arbitration. While the government has taken some steps in this direction through a few training workshops, more needs to be done. What is needed is an institutionalised mechanism for capacity-building through the involvement of public and private universities that have competence in this field. The government should also consider establishing chairs in universities to foster research and teaching activities in international investment law.

Missed opportunity

•A very large proportion of ISDS claims against India is due to poor governance. This includes changing laws retroactively (which led to Vodafone and Cairn suing India), annulling agreement in the wake of imagined scam (taking away S-band satellite spectrum from Devas), and the judiciary’s fragility in getting its act together (sitting on the White Industries case for enforcement of its commercial award for years). The Committee could have emphasised on greater regulatory coherence, policy stability, and robust governance structures to avoid ISDS claims.

•The government should promptly assemble an expert team to review the Model BIT. This team should involve critical voices because plural viewpoints can coalesce into an efficacious policy.