The HINDU Notes – 13th January 2022 - VISION

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Thursday, January 13, 2022

The HINDU Notes – 13th January 2022


📰 Let ‘compete and conquer’ motto be your guiding principle, Prime Minister Modi tells youth

•Foreseeing the dawn of the golden age of start-ups in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday issued a call to the country’s youth to adopt the motto of “compete and conquer” as their guiding principle in life.

•Inaugurating in virtual mode the 25th National Youth Festival hosted by the Union Territory of Puducherry, Mr. Modi said the evolution of the start-up ecosystem that had grown to over 50,000 units, about 10,000 of them initiated during six to seven months of the COVID-19 pandemic, reflected the “can-do” spirit of the youth of today. The resilience, spirit of innovation and the zest for problem-solving should be a source of inspiration for every generation, he said.

'Over 2 crore children took the jab'

•The Prime Minister said the sense of social responsibility shown by youngsters in the 15-18 age group in volunteering for COVID-19 vaccination that led to a coverage in excess of 2 crore children in a short span of time, strengthened his belief that India’s youth would be at the forefront of building a vibrant nation and a better world in future.

•The government had initiated several schemes focused on creating space for the youth to translate their ideas and develop their skills such as MUDRA, Start-Up India, Stand-Up India and the Atal Incubation centres, the Prime Minister said.

'Youth are drivers of development'

•Drawing from the words of Sri Aurobindo, whose 150th anniversary also coincided with the NYF, that “a brave, frank, clean hearted, courageous and aspiring youth is the only foundation on which the future nation can be built,” Mr. Modi said he believed that the nation’s youth were not only a “demographic dividend” but “drivers of development” and proponents of democratic values.

•Referring to his government’s recent decision to increase the legal marriage age of women to 21 years, the Prime Minister said the rationale for this was the betterment of “our daughters” and ensure that they had the space to pursue a career and become equal partners in the nation’s progress.

•According to Mr. Modi, what made the 25th edition of the NYF more special was that it coincided with the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, and the 150th birth anniversaries of Sri Aurobindo and Subramania Bharati — both of whom had bonds with Puducherry — the 75th anniversary of Indian Independence and the 125th birth anniversary of Subhash Chandra Bose.

•The Prime Minister also gave a call to the youth to espouse a “vocal for local” motto as a fitting tribute to the great sons that the country had produced.

•Anurag Thakur, Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports and Puducherry Chief Minister N. Rangasamy also spoke. Lt. Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan, Ministers, MLAs and government officials participated in the virtual launch.

•The theme of the 25th NYF, which was shifted to virtual mode in the wake of Covid-19 surge and curtailed from a five-day programme to a two-day event, is “Saksham Yuva-Shashakt Yuva”. The launch of the event, which aims to “shape the minds of India’s youth and transform them into a united force for nation building”, was broadcast over a navigational virtual platform with various themes and components set up with a capacity to host 5 lakh concurrent users.

•Over two days, several sessions will take place concurrently at four virtual conference rooms. The themes range across tech, entrepreneurship and innovation, environment, climate, sustainable development goals and growth, nation building, yoga and indigenous/ancient wisdom. A high point of the concluding day will be the broadcast of video capsules featuring indigenous sports and games, folk dance forms and sessions with Olympians and Paralympians.

📰 Trust deficit: On tech platforms and news publishers

The imbalance of power in relations between tech platforms and news publishers is worrying

•The decision of India’s competition watchdog to order investigations into Google, following allegations by the country’s digital news publishers that it has broken antitrust laws, marks a significant moment in a country where the fortunes of the news media industry have been on a downward path. The development is not a total surprise. For, governments in many countries such as Australia and France have used their political capital in recent years to try and correct the enormous imbalance that exists between big technology companies that control news in the digital sphere today and the traditional journalism industry that keeps the wheels of news running, thereby also creating the basis for the conversations that are so important in a democracy. The investigations have been ordered on the basis of a complaint by India’s Digital News Publishers Association, which has alleged that Google not only dominates the market for information but also abuses this dominance. It does so, the association has alleged, by not providing a fair share of the advertising monies and by not providing adequate information. It has also complained that it does not get paid for the news snippets that appear in search. The association’s broader point is that the terms of engagement are “unilaterally and arbitrarily” dictated by the tech platform, and there is nothing its members can do about it. The imbalance of power and the denial of a fair share of revenue will be questions that the watchdog will be interested in exploring.

•What was recognised by lawmakers in Australia, for instance, when they last year came up with a law that sought to level the playing field between big tech platforms and news publishers, is a condition that is true around the world. In India too, the power imbalance exists and has only gotten worse in recent years. The news media industry, which invests in journalists, has struggled to stay afloat while the big tech platforms have become more and more powerful. But the Australian case is one of a rare intervention by a government in publisher-platform relationships. The current investigations in India is more a case of the publishers finding an appropriate existing forum in search of relief. The sustainability of journalism in the digital era has far-reaching implications, especially in a democracy. It has been quite evident in recent years that the industry has ended up sacrificing quality in its quest for more eyeballs, and nuance in the quest for more emotional engagement. The cost of not being able to get a fair value for journalistic effort can never be overemphasised enough.

📰 A quest for social consensus against hate speech

It requires consistent legal implementation over time and daily conversations that society needs to have

•On January 12, 2022 , the Supreme Court of India agreed to hear petitions asking for legal action to be taken against the organisers of, and speakers at, the “Hardwar Dharma Sansad”. During this Dharma Sansad, that had taken place between December 19 and 21, numerous speeches had been made. These speeches ranged from open calls to violence (“… waging a war that would be more gruesome than 1857” or “if you want to eliminate their [i.e., Muslim] population, then kill them”), to the economic and social boycott of Muslims (“… there is no Muslim buyer here, so throw that [Muslim] vendor out”), and to dog-whistles, (such as drawing comparisons to the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar).

•Before the Supreme Court, it was argued that the reason why the Court needed to take up the issue was that despite FIRs having been registered in the aftermath of the event, no arrests had been made. Meanwhile, however, in the aftermath of a similar Dharm Sansad in Chhatisgarh, the state police arrested one Kalicharan Maharaj, who had accused Gandhi of destroying India, and praised Nathuram Godse for assassinating him.

•While it may rightly be pointed out that political patronage and ideological complicity are responsible for this contrast, there remains a deeper problem: and that is the absence of any legal or social consensus around what constitutes “hate speech.”

•To start with, it is evident that the statements for which Kalicharan Maharaj has been arrested – no matter how personally distasteful they might be – do not, or at least should not, constitute illegal speech. The fact that Gandhi is a towering figure in Indian history does not preclude individuals from expressing repugnant views about him and the circumstances of his assassination. On the other end of the spectrum, it is clear that direct calls to violence – such as taking up arms and killing Muslims – are not, and ought not to be, protected under the right to free speech. No society can survive for long when incitement to violence is normalised, and enjoys legal impunity.

•However, there are a range of cases – many of them at the forefront in the Hardwar Dharm Sansad – that present more difficult problems. As societies around the world have long understood, the harm in hate speech is not simply restricted to direct and proximate calls to violence. Hate speech works in more insidious ways, creating a climate that strengthens existing prejudices and entrenches already-existing discrimination. A good example of this is the history of anti-semitism in Europe. While anti-semitism took its most ghastly form in frequent pogroms and – ultimately – the holocaust, on a daily level, it took the form of inculcating in society a “cultural common sense” about the Jewish people. This “cultural common sense” traded on stereotypes and social prejudice, and justified ongoing discrimination, social and economic boycotts, and ghettoization, on a day-to-day level. The end result of this – which is the continued subordination of a section of society – can be accomplished without direct calls to violence.

•This is why – with the exception of the United States of America – most societies define hate speech in terms of both inciting violence, but also, inciting discrimination. This is why, for example, calls to socially boycott a community (as advocated for at the Dharm Sansad) fall within most definitions of hate speech. This understanding of hate speech is informed by a long history where violence and discrimination have often blurred into each other, and where hate speech has not merely set the stage for future violence, but has also been weaponised in its own right to further entrench and endorse inequality and subordination.

•It is here that three further problems arise. The first is specific to India. Our laws – as they stand – are unequipped to deal with the challenges of hate speech. The laws commonly invoked in such cases are section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (blasphemy) and section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (creating enmity between classes of people). Hate speech, however, is most certainly not the same as blasphemy, but nor is it captured by vague phrase “enmity between classes”. Hate speech is speech that targets people based on their identity, and calls for violence or discrimination against people because of their identity. The Supreme Court of India has gestured towards this understanding of hate speech, both in prior judgments, and in the ongoing case involving Sudarshan TV. More clarity, however, is needed.

•The second problem is that hate speech, by its very nature, will not always trumpet itself to be hate speech. Rather, it will often assume plausible deniability – as has been seen in the Hardwar case, where statements, worded with the right degree of ambiguity, are now being defended as calls to self-defence rather than calls to violence. Here again, the history of anti-semitism in Europe is instructive. Over a long time, a number of visual and verbal cues were developed that everyone knew referred to the Jewish community, to the point where it was no longer necessary to take the community by name. These included, for example, hooked noses and drooping eyelids, and a grasping nature, among others. Indirect hate speech of this kind is known as a “dog-whistle”: while it may escape the attention of an external observer, both the speaker and the listener know what – and who – is being referred to. In the Hardwar case, for example, veiled references about what was done to the Rohingyas fall within the definition of dog-whistling. Any comprehensive understanding of hate speech is a matter of judgment, and must take into account its ambiguous and slippery nature.

•The third problem is perhaps the most difficult and intractable. As we have seen above, no matter how precise and how definite we try to make our concept of hate speech, it will inevitably reflect individual judgment. If, therefore, social and legal norms against hate speech are to be implemented without descending into pure subjectivity, what is needed – first – is a social consensus about what kind of speech is beyond the pale. In Europe, for example, holocaust denial is an offence – and is enforced with a degree of success – precisely because there is a pre-existing social consensus about the moral abhorrence of the holocaust, and the determination not to see it repeated. Social consensus allows us to discount whataboutery, and also distinguish cases of hate speech from other forms of confrontational or agitational speech – that often comes from hitherto marginalised classes – which nonetheless deserves to belong to the marketplace of ideas.

•Achieving this social consensus is an immense task, and will require both consistent legal implementation over time, but also daily conversations that we, as a society (and especially, the socially privileged classes) need to have among ourselves. However, here – as in many other cases – circumstances have made it possible for the Supreme Court to initiate that much-needed conversation. For these reasons, its intervention in the Hardwar Dharm Sansad case will be an important one.

📰 Reaping India’s demographic dividend

India has a unique opportunity to develop and grow richer before ageing sets in

•A nation’s growth requires the productive contribution of all segments of society, particularly the children and the youth, who need to be provided opportunities for self-expression. Household and national investments in children and youth yield long-term returns in terms of high productivity of the economically active population till they enter the elderly cohort.

Fertility decline

•As fertility declines, the share of the young population falls and that of the older, dependent population rises. If the fertility decline is rapid, the increase in the population of working ages is substantial yielding the ‘demographic dividend’. The smaller share of children in the population enables higher investment per child. Therefore, the future entrants in the labour force can have better productivity and thus boost income. With the passage of time, the share of the older population rises and that of the working age population begins to fall and hence the dividend is available for a period of time, ‘the window of demographic opportunity’.

•However, realisation of the benefits of potential demographic dividend is not automatic and thus presents many challenges. Without proper policies, the increase in the working-age population may lead to rising unemployment, fueling economic and social risks. This calls for forward-looking policies incorporating population dynamics, education and skills, healthcare, gender sensitivity, and providing rights and choices to the younger generation.

•With falling fertility (currently 2.0), rising median age (from 24 years in 2011, 29 years now and expected to be 36 years by 2036), a falling dependency ratio (expected to decrease from 65% to 54% in the coming decade taking 15-59 years as the working age population), India is in the middle of a demographic transition. This provides a window of opportunity towards faster economic growth. India has already begun to get the dividend. In India, the benefit to the GDP from demographic transition has been lower than its peers in Asia and is already tapering. Hence, there is an urgency to take appropriate policy measures.

Forward-looking policies

•Countries like Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea have already shown us how demographic dividend can be reaped to achieve incredible economic growth by adopting forward-looking policies and programmes to empower the youth in terms of their education, skills and health choices. There are important lessons from these countries for India.

•The first is to undertake an updated National Transfer Accounts (NTA) assessment. Using NTA methodologies by Lee and Chen (2011-12) and M.R. Narayana (2021), we find that India’s per capita consumption pattern is way lower than that of other Asian countries. A child in India consumes around 60% of the consumption by an adult aged between 20 and 64, while a child in China consumes about 85% of a prime-age adult’s consumption. The NTA data for India needs to be updated to capture the progress made on such investments since 2011-12. State-specific NTAs need to be calculated every year and States need to be ranked for investing in the youth.

•The second is to invest more in children and adolescents. India ranks poorly in Asia in terms of private and public human capital spending. It needs to invest more in children and adolescents, particularly in nutrition and learning during early childhood. Given that India’s workforce starts at a younger age, a greater focus needs to be on transitioning from secondary education to universal skiling and entrepreneurship, as done in South Korea.

•The third is to make health investments. Health spending has not kept pace with India’s economic growth. The public spending on health has remained flat at around 1% of GDP. Evidence suggests that better health facilitates improved economic production. Hence, it is important to draft policies to promote health during the demographic dividend. We need more finance for health as well as better health facilities from the available funding.

•The fourth is to make reproductive healthcare services accessible on a rights-based approach. We need to provide universal access to high-quality primary education and basic healthcare. The unmet need for family planning in India at 9.4% as per the latest National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-21) is high as compared to 3.3% in China and 6.6% in South Korea, which needs to be bridged.

•Fifth, education is an enabler to bridge gender differentials. The gender inequality of education is a concern. In India, boys are more likely to be enrolled in secondary and tertiary school than girls. In the Philippines, China and Thailand, it is the reverse. In Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia, the gender differences are rather minimal. This needs to be reversed.

•Sixth, India needs to increase female workforce participation in the economy. As of 2019, 20.3% of women were working or looking for work, down from 34.1% in 2003-04. New skills and opportunities for women and girls befitting their participation in a $3 trillion economy is urgently needed. For example, a girl who passes Class 10 needs more choices to learn skills that will help her find appropriate work. She will need safe transport to travel to work. Finding work will likely delay her age of marriage and make her participate in the economy more productively, as also exercise her rights and choices. South Korea’s female workforce participation rate of 50% has been built on i) legally compulsory gender budgeting to analyse gender disaggregated data and its impact on policies, ii) increasing childcare benefits, and iii) boosting tax incentives for part-time work. It is predicted that if all women engaged in domestic duties in India who are willing to work had a job, female labour force participation would increase by about 20%.

•Seventh, India needs to address the diversity between States. While India is a young country, the status and pace of population ageing vary among States. Southern States, which are advanced in demographic transition, already have a higher percentage of older people. These differences in age structure reflect differences in economic development and health – and remind us of States’ very different starting points at the outset of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda. But this also offers boundless opportunities for States to work together, especially on demographic transition, with the north-central region as the reservoir of India’s workforce.

•Eight, a new federal approach to governance reforms for demographic dividend will need to be put in place for policy coordination between States on various emerging population issues such as migration, ageing, skiling, female workforce participation and urbanisation. Inter-ministerial coordination for strategic planning, investment, monitoring and course correction should be an important feature of this governance arrangement.

📰 Act now, recast the selection process of the ECs

A multi-institutional, bipartisan committee will ensure a transparent exercise, given the quasi-judicial nature of the ECI

•The attendance of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and his Election Commissioner (EC) colleagues at an “informal” meeting with the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister has brought renewed focus on the independence and impartiality of the Election Commission of India (ECI). The CEC’s initial hesitation when “summoned” was appropriate given that the ECI is a constitutionally mandated body that should maintain distance from the Executive, in perception and reality.

•Over the last seven years, the ECI has faced multiple accusations of favouring the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. For instance, the Citizens’ Commission on Elections (CCE), chaired by the retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan B. Lokur, in its report titled “An Enquiry into India’s Election System,” highlighted several instances of inaction on the part of the ECI while conducting the 2019 general election. The government was also accused of hounding EC Ashok Lavasa when he favoured taking action against the Prime Minister for violations of electoral codes of conduct.

•Given that ECI is the institutional keystone holding up the edifice of Indian democracy, we suggest that changes in the appointment process for ECs can strengthen ECI’s independence, neutrality and transparency. The appointment of ECs falls within the purview of Article 324(2) of the Constitution, which establishes the institution. Pertinently, it contains a ‘subject to’ clause which provides that both the number and tenure of the ECs shall be “subject to provisions of any law made in that behalf by Parliament, be made by the President.”

•This ‘subject to’ clause was introduced, in the words of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, to “prevent either a fool or knave or a person who is likely to be under the thumb of the Executive.” It was left to Parliament to enact legislation regarding the appointment of ECs. Apart from enacting a law in 1989 enlarging the number of ECs from one to three, Parliament has so far not enacted any changes to the appointment process.

•In the face of legislative inaction, there is now a possibility that the judiciary will force parliament’s hand. Three Writ Petitions, with one pending since 2015, are urging the Supreme Court to declare that the current practice of appointment of ECs by the Centre violates Article 14, Article 324(2), and Democracy as a basic feature of the Constitution. These petitions argue for an independent system for appointment of ECs, as recommended by previous Law Commission and various Committee reports.

•In 1975 itself, the Justice Tarkunde Committee recommended that ECs be appointed on the advice of a Committee comprising the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Opposition Leader and the Chief Justice. This was reiterated by the Dinesh Goswami Committee in 1990 and the Law Commission in 2015. The 4th Report (2007) of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission additionally recommended that the Law Minister and the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha be included in such a Collegium.

•Precedent does exist in the case of Rojer Mathew v South Indian Bank Ltd, to argue against the Executive being the sole appointer for a quasi-judicial body. The Supreme Court had recognised that “Election Commission is not only responsible for conducting free and fair elections but it also renders a quasi-judicial function between the various political parties including the ruling government and other parties. In such circumstances the executive cannot be a sole participant in the appointment of members of Election Commission as it gives unfettered discretion to the ruling party to choose someone whose loyalty to it is ensured and thereby renders the selection process vulnerable to manipulation.”

•Hence, establishing a multi-institutional, bipartisan committee for fair and transparent selection of ECs can enhance the perceived and actual independence of ECI. Such a procedure is already followed with regard to other Constitutional and Statutory Authorities such as the Chief Information Commissioner, Lokpal, Vigilance Commissioner, and the Director of the Central Bureau of Intelligence. The quasi-judicial nature of ECI’s functions makes it especially important that the appointments process conform to the strictest democratic principles.

•The Executive’s role in the current appointment process has come under judicial scrutiny over its lack of transparency. Anoop Baranwal v. Union of India, Ministry of Law and Justice Secretary (WP (C) 104/2015) which has been pending since 2015, and referred to a Constitution Bench in 2018, has raised this very demand for a Collegium system for the ECI. Even though it has been listed multiple times in 2020, it is yet to reach hearing stage. A Bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud had also noted that “The Election Commissioners supervise and hold elections across the Country, and this is the significance of their office, and their selection has to be made in the most transparent manner.” The Bench referred to the mandate of Article 324(2) of the Constitution to state that, “it is expected from Parliament to make the law, but it has not been made.”

•Parliament would do well to pre-empt judicial strictures by going ahead and formulating a law that establishes a multi-institutional, bipartisan Collegium to select ECs. Separation of powers is the gold standard for governments across the world. ECI’s constitutional responsibilities require a fair and transparent appointment process that is beyond reproach, which will reaffirm our faith in this vital pillar of our polity. The existing veil over the appointment process of ECs potentially undermines the very structure on which our democratic aspirations rest.

📰 Establishing India’s Apple

For India to be a research and development-driven economy, universities play an indispensable role

•This month, the U.S. tech company Apple reached the $3 trillion-mark in market capitalisation. This made it wealthier than most countries. The question is: can or will India be able to produce a company like Apple? The answer is ‘no’ — not until we turn our university campuses into powerful economic accelerators. But how? This will require an understanding of how innovation works. For that, we need to get into how a research- and development-driven economy works and the universities’ indispensable role in it.

The foundation

•Innovation requires establishing ecosystems, which requires building institutional frameworks and research infrastructure. To build ecosystems, we should start by connecting institutions nearby. Facilitating easy access to tools and equipment for each others’ students and faculty, creating an open, inclusive atmosphere, and encompassing each other’s strengths should follow that. Building research infrastructure should be envisioned for an ecosystem rather than an institution. Such a system will use optimal resources. The initial funding to build large research infrastructures needs to come from the public exchequer. Government funding is the initiator of turning ideas into workable solutions in science and technology-led innovation. Once kick-started, the start-up companies need to be financed by private investors, like angel investors and venture capitalists. Fostering innovation goes beyond making the physical infrastructure and providing access. It includes having excellent tech transfer offices, access to legal counsel and law firms, funding opportunities outside the government, and most importantly, having world-class faculty members.

•Tech transfer offices and incubators play a vital role in commercialising technologies. Their part is to make sure that the universities are incentivised while providing a physical space with technical and legal help for individual faculty-driven innovations to get commercialised. To do this, they need to build independent mechanism(s) for their governance, funding, and a competitive process of licensing inventions to third parties. University incubators need the freedom to operate and to establish linkages with funders, both government and private, to raise funds to support start-up companies within their ecosystem. They need to draw mechanisms to be incentivised back too. Finally, the tech transfer offices need to formulate clear guidelines regarding ownership rights on inventions coming out from the universities.

•Proper legal frameworks are needed for university-driven innovation to mature. After consultations and modifications, Parliament needs to pass the Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill (PUPFIP), 2008. Although there are other policies and guidelines, making PUPFIP a law will help formulate a clear and uniform set of rules and remove the universities' lack of clarity on intellectual property rights to commercialise inventions from government-funded research programmes. Apart from infrastructure, funding, and legal help, the innovation ecosystems need early adopters to risk their time and energy to take products and solutions to the broader masses.

A broader reach

•While STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects will lead innovation out of the university campuses, it is essential to broaden the reach to cover all streams within the liberal arts. Universities need to engage a broader group with integrated curricula incorporating all disciplines' best practices. Additionally, the university curricula need to get away from focusing exclusively on awarding degrees on broad subjects to providing vocational training towards developing students' skills for a specific task. Focusing on innovation must not take our minds away from problems in fundamental sciences or other streams. Funding for applied sciences should not be at the cost of fundamental sciences.

•With the market caps of many technology-driven companies ranking in the top 20 of global GDP alongside the nation-states, universities can play a significant role in fostering the economies of all nations. The time has come for the universities in India to provide value outside of their traditional niche of creating knowledge and teaching. Sustained public funding to build world-class research and development infrastructure and hiring the best faculty in our university system are the first steps to realising this dream. Equally important is encouraging and providing the faculty the freedom to dive more into the space without sacrificing critical thinking. This will propel ‘innovation quotient“ to be used as a defining parameter for ranking universities rather than parameters like the size of the graduating class and faculty-to-student ratio.