[UPSC Newspaper Clips] June 02, 2020

UPSC Newspaper Clips


Changes Needed to Farm, MSME policy

ET Editorials

The Cabinet decisions to operationalise the package of measures for the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) announced as part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat scheme, along with measures to help farmers, are welcome, with caveats. The decision to tweak the definition of an MSME by raising the turnover limit to qualify as an MSME to Rs. 250 crore, that, too, excluding exports, runs the risk of leaving smaller firms being edged out from the benefits of the schemes. In the case of agriculture, the relief on offer is fine, but there is little attempt to leverage income support via the PM-KISAN scheme to drive structural change.

India’s farm sector suffers from chronic mismatch of crops and agroclimatic zones, thanks to distorted incentives ranging from subsidised and free inputs to significant support prices that make it difficult for farmers to switch crops. The Food Corporation of India carries stocks of grain far in excess of what is needed for food distribution, thanks to procurement at liberal support prices. Increasing support prices further, as the government has done, will only worsen this problem, not offering an escape route. It makes more sense to divert the money spent on procurement to income support, so that the farmer can make rational choices on what to grow, instead of that choice being dictated by high support prices. Such a change would also spare India the blushes at World Trade Organisation farm subsidy talks, as income support, unlike produce subsidy, is allowed.

To guard against larger companies cornering most MSME benefits, it might be useful to set separate quotas for the micro and small segments. While all tiny units cannot and will not survive, those that go under must do so for the right reasons, not lack of access to formal finance.


Take on Meddle Kingdom

Pranab Dhal Samanta

The time has come for India to reassess, if not reset, its relationship with China, and not just in parts but in its entirety. The stand-off on the Ladakh border is only symptomatic of Beijing’s larger political disdain, which has, for years, refused to accept — if not proactively check — India’s growing profile. But now, the changing global conversation on China provides a whole new political context to fashion a fresh approach.

True, it’s not wise for India to get caught in a fight between the two major powers. The last time India was faced with such a situation, it chose the path of non-alignment. But it was the 1962 debacle at the hands of China that exposed the limitations of that policy, especially in a military conflict.

The current build-up across the Line of Actual Control (LoAC) in Ladakh is quite serious. It’s bigger in size, wider in area of deployment, and likely to stretch longer compared to earlier stand-offs. Indian and Chinese troops are in direct sight of each other at four points — the closest in Galwan and Pangong Tso — but have moved up resources and deployed artillery across a larger length of the LoAC. In all, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has mobilised an estimated 5,000-plus troops, closing in on a division’s worth of resources. And, more importantly, unlike Dokalam, the dispute is on Indian territory.

There’s a key factor that distinguishes this stand-off. It’s not an Indian reaction to Chinese construction activity, but a Chinese reaction to India’s road-building effort. Much through 200010, China carried out hectic construction to consolidate its position, improve its access, and speed of deployment along the LoAC. On most occasions, India protested, but looked the other way.

As a result, over time, the power differential on the LoAC tilted, rather distinctly, in China’s favour. India began at the start of this decade, with construction gathering pace only in the past few years after the restructuring of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). What we are witnessing is a heavyhanded Chinese response to forcibly thwart Indian efforts to narrow that power differential.


In broader terms, this is China trying to deny India any sort of respectable parity on the LoAC, just like it tried to deny nuclear parity when it sought to block the India-US civil nuclear deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Ensuring an ever-widening power differential with India is a strategic objective for China, and what’s happening in Ladakh is in keeping with that policy.

It’s in this backdrop that India needs to look at the US-China stand-off. By all accounts, the decoupling process between these two powers has begun. US President Donald Trump signalled this with three decisions he took in one go, while most of China had hoped he would, at least, be incremental.

First, ending Hong Kong’s special status with the US. Chinese banks conduct bulk of their international dollar business from Hong Kong, and this decision is bound to hurt. Second, to put curbs on Chinese students seeking research visas above the undergraduate level. The order clearly states that any research students with links to PLA are at ‘high risk’ to be co-opted and are of particular concern. In the Chinese system, a wider interpretation of ‘association with PLA’ could translate as a large number of applicants. Either way, the move will bring Chinese students under tougher visa scrutiny.

Third, of course, was to withdraw from the World Health Organisation (WHO) during the Covid-19 outbreak. This is a show of power by US, the principal financial contributor to WHO. But that’s not all, the US brings with it a whole ecosystem of scientific research on public health and medicine. Can China underwrite WHO, or replace the US? The answer is probably no, which is why the minus-China G7 or G10 meeting will be of significance.

Clearly, the strategic churn around China has begun, and through its actions on the LoAC, Beijing is only forcing New Delhi to take a stand. And, perhaps, that’s an option India must examine because its measured ambiguity on China seems to have run its course.

If China has decided to object to Indian efforts at seeking respectable parity on the LoAC, then these stand-offs are only going to increase. Largely because India is only going to hasten the pace of building its border and hinterland infrastructure along the LoAC.


Thus, it’s important that India also starts to have this discussion within its domestic polity. Unlike Pakistan, where there’s clear unanimity on public positioning, China tends to evoke different responses on the domestic front. But if the need is to reassess the nature of the relationship, then a reset of the political narrative may also be warranted.

China itself has been a beneficiary of such strategic churning in the past. Back in the day, Mao Zedong famously told then-US President Richard Nixon while pointing to Henry Kissinger, ‘Seize the hour, seize the day’. This meeting of February 1972 started the decoupling of China from the erstwhile Soviet Union as Pakistan proved to be useful contact bridge with the US. Now, when that old architecture is under considerable duress, India cannot afford to be a bystander. Especially because it shares an undefined, disputed land boundary with one of the principal actors, China.


Far Out

[With a private launch vehicle taking astronauts to ISS, an era of partnerships in space may be beginning]


Elon Musk’s Crew Dragon craft has delivered Nasa astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Nine years after the Space Shuttle mission was decommissioned and American astronauts had to buy rides on Russian craft, the privately-owned SpaceX programme has ended Moscow’s monopoly on crew transport. Emboldened, President Donald Trump has pledged that US astronauts will return to the moon in 2024 to stay, and make a launch base for Mars. For good measure, the US would put the first woman on the moon, and the first astronauts on Mars. The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, responded that it was surprised by the “hysteria” about the Crew Dragon’s success, because reaching the ISS is not the same as reaching Mars.

There may be tactical motives for downplaying the first notable success of private enterprise in space, but the celebrations are also out of proportion. When Nasa decommissioned the Shuttle, it indicated that it was no longer interested in performing routine jobs like ferrying people to orbit, but wanted to reserve budgets for opening fresh beachheads in space. Private participation was supposed to step in. What’s surprising is that it took so long. Besides, Trump’s competitive America-first rhetoric is of Cold War vintage, when winning the space race was a matter of superpower prestige. It now rings hollow, when budgets for space projects, like terraforming Mars so that it can host a permanent base, and the scientific projects which ride on them, are expensive enough to beggar national economies. An era of partnerships in space is beginning, not only public-private (ISRO has taken decisive steps in this direction) but also between spacefaring nations. After the ravages of COVID-19 and social unrest in the US, this would be inevitable.

National governments will remain at the cutting edge because only they can underwrite the risk of the unknown. But as the industry expands, there will be more than enough room in space for private players. Nasa project components have always been farmed out to aerospace contractors and now, SpaceX has opened up the transport market. The first space tourism flight was tested last year and Virgin Galactic could lead a premium market. Rapid mass commercial aviation at the edge of space would probably be the most lucrative segment in the future. The Crew Dragon has broken a psychological barrier, but aversion to risk would probably keep private capital to a secondary or supporting role in space.


The truth of New India

[As government whitewashes its shortcomings, citizens must keep vigil]

Randeep Singh Surjewala , [  The writer is an advocate and AICC communications and media in-charge]

The greatest contributors to the cause of democracy believed in subjecting their observance of it to regular and honest review.

Our founding fathers — Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel — were firm believers in the idea that democracy and the institutions on which it stands, must be tested by constant and honest scrutiny.

Over the last six years, yearly reviews have become tools for a propaganda-driven one-sided narrative. This narrative, which is unconcerned with the truth, does not tolerate any criticism, and as such can never be in touch with the nation’s needs. More worryingly, such obfuscation and political self-promotion have come at a great cost to our country. Three casualties of this brand of political ideology and governance can be identified.

First, the development of a politics that throttles sacrifice and idealism at the altar of self-aggrandisement and electoral conquest. To put it bluntly, there has been a death of compassion, empathy and fraternity, caused by the fraying of bonds that responsible leaders had worked over seven decades to foster. We see an India where the divides are exacerbated and exaggerated. The social edifice is divided and identified through caste-based identities, an ever-widening religious chasm, language and even the colour of one’s skin: These are issues on which progress was made after long, hard fights, and this work seems to have been undone significantly in the last six years. This erosion represents the complete denial of everything that the freedom movement had fought against.

A nation must think of itself as one people, but the last six years have seen a systematic and deliberate creation of pre-fixed and independent silos in which people are encouraged to identify themselves. All to advance the interests of the powers that seek to poisonously divide the people of India. As a result, we have all witnessed the notable waning of camaraderie, compassion and brotherhood that allowed us to share and celebrate each other’s happiness. Mother India is bleeding from these million wounds. The fact that these issues have surreptitiously resurfaced and taken centre-stage marks a grim future for a nation that prided itself as the only example (in this part of the world) where diversity was a source of strength.

Second, democracy as we understand it, is rapidly dissipating. This has been the result of a six-year-long deliberate weakening of formerly robust and independent institutions. This has been greatly accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, the COVID pandemic appears to have provided the perfect opportunity to a government that views constitutional checks and balances as inconveniences. The institutional invigilators — the highest courts, Parliament, legislators, individual regulators — seem to be crumbling. To use an analogy in the context of natural disasters — it is as if our nation’s soul has been shaken by an earthquake measuring 10 on the Richter scale. All institutions lie in shambles, content to be a shadow of their former grand, storied selves.

Third, the economic mess is intensifying the pain. The government has revealed shocking economic quackery. A government is elected to be a pillar of guidance, support and responsibility. The last thing a government must concern itself with in such crisis moments is to figure out short-term (and, ultimately doomed) strategies to hoodwink or distract people. Economic policy has been reduced to empty catchwords. After almost three months into the crisis and over two months of a lockdown, we see a regime wholly unequipped to take on the policy challenges. How can it, when it has hoisted itself on a platform that cultivates policy paralysis?

The migrant labour crisis has seen epic levels of incompetence and administrative short-sightedness on display, with common citizens and the Opposition having to step in to assist those left in the lurch by a sudden and secretive announcement. The MSMEs are waiting to decipher what the plan for their economic recovery is, given that they contribute over one-third of the nation’s GDP. Denied a minimum support price by the government, and in the absence of a reliable market for their crops in view of the lockdown, farmers have been abandoned almost entirely. The middle-class is still waiting for a concrete proposal which goes beyond a simple loan deferment (without an interest rate subvention). But, in a democracy where leaders and administrators cannot be honestly questioned and assessed — or even held to account — such mismanagement is routine. Any failed state can attest to this sad truth.

Historically, the greatest difficulties have provided the biggest opportunities. We, as the people of India, are more than the sum of our government. In this trying time, it is the people and not the government who have rallied together. These people are the soul of Mother India and represent the best of us. They remind us that we must stand by each other — for our democracy, for the integrity of our institutions. Even if our government cannot and will not. To paraphrase a prominent statesman, eternal vigil is the price of democracy.

It is ironic that the leaders who dream of a thousand-year rule are often myopic when it comes to an honest review of their time in office. They must realise that by suppressing the unflattering parts of their legacy or whitewashing their shortcomings, they do their country a great disservice. Nonetheless, we as citizens must maintain a constant and unceasing vigil.

Otherwise, how will we know the truth of “New India”?


Judging wisely in tough times

[Judiciary should be cautions , should not unwittingly lend its shoulders for somebody else’s gun to rest and fire]

R C Lahoti , [ The writer is a former Chief Justice of India ]

In a democracy, sovereign power of the state rests on three pillars — legislature, executive and judiciary. Well-defined boundaries prevent encroachment by one into the area of the other. The judiciary is the trustee of democracy and fundamental rights of the people. It has the power of judicial review over the legislature and the executive.

The Supreme Court, in the Eighties, devised Public Interest Litigation methodology, relaxing the rule of locus standi, if a case for the Court’s intervention is made out, in particular, where the fundamental rights of poverty-stricken, disabled, downtrodden or hapless are involved. The constitutional courts have also commenced taking suo motu cognisance of such facts, as impelling them to act if the fundamental rights of such people run the risk of being lost or irreparably damaged.

The Constitution empowers the judiciary to issue several writs. The jurisdiction often exercised by the constitutional courts is to issue the writ of mandamus, a high prerogative writ, used principally for public purposes and to enforce the performance of public functions and mandatory duties by the state.

With the decline of purity in politics and the onset of corruption and inefficiency in public services, the judiciary has been emboldened into assuming more and more power over the legislature and executive. This has come to be known as judicial activism. PIL and judicial activism have earned applause as they have enabled the people to secure prompt relief and protection of their rights, which they failed in securing from the other two wings of governance.

The judiciary has some inherent limitations. Judges are appointed and not elected. The judiciary does not have any investigation agency of its own to verify the truth of the averments made before it and assess the impact of its commands on people and the other two wings of governance. The notions formed by the judges and reflected in their opinions depend on their own teachings and upbringing, which may not necessarily be reflective of the public opinion, which in a democracy can be voiced only by the elected representatives of people. An error committed by the legislature or executive is capable of being corrected either by themselves or by the judiciary in the exercise of its power of judicial review. But an error in a judicial order, howsoever grave it may be, may not be capable of being corrected with that ease. A saner jurisprudential precept is: Do not issue a decree that cannot be enforced or the execution whereof the court cannot supervise!

Several well-known instances from the past two decades show some judicial commands have created a lot of confusion and misunderstanding and also resulted in slowing down the normal process of governance. Most competent, knowledgeable and bold officials who would have come up with innovative ideas to salvage an unusual situation are hesitant to act for the fear of being called upon to explain their action or inaction before the judiciary after many years, when memory and evidence have faded away. Having been associated post-retirement with some governmental committees and having got an opportunity of seeing the working of the public functionaries from inside, I can say with confidence that generally, the high officials of the government are conscientious, competent and go deep into the matter before planning the policies and taking decisions. The three wings of governance ought to trust each other and should not begin with the assumption that the other wing of governance must have faltered.

The oath taken by every judge is inter alia of being bold and independent. The judges shall never succumb to any pressure. The public opinion reaching the judges through media reports or the utterances of influential people shall neither force them to act nor deter them from acting. They shall act or refuse to act solely on the dictates of their own conscience. They shall not be overawed by the fear of what people would say.

Faced with any extraordinary adversity such as a pandemic taking over the country, the government is suddenly called upon to act on multiple fronts. Whatever good is done is often lost sight of and a casual view is formed that government has failed to act with the speed and vigour that some expect. It catches public attention and, sometimes, those who assume for themselves the role of flag-bearers swing into action. The media — print and electronic — may have failed in adequately highlighting the positive part of the executive’s actions. The inactive or less active parts of the executive are at times highlighted by the media, which consider it a part of their obligation to activate governance. Such highlights are not to be seen in isolation, segregated from immensely positive governmental planning and programmes.

The judiciary should be extremely cautious to see that it is not unwittingly lending its shoulders for somebody else’s gun to rest and fire. My experience as a member of the subordinate judiciary and later, as a member of the higher judiciary, has made me learn that too much judicial activism may turn out to be counter-productive. It may obstruct the normal functioning of the executive and divert the attention of public officials to collecting material for being placed before the court, drafting the pleadings and affidavits, briefing the government advocates (sometimes personal presence in the courts), making severe inroads on the time meant to be better utilised in the service of the nation and performing public service focused on meeting the challenges of calamities and endemics. Faced with notice of the court, the executive may feel compelled to alter its well-thought-out priorities, resulting in imbalance. The means and resources of the executive are also limited and need a rational allocation.

It is common knowledge that during the coronavirus pandemic, some unscrupulous people and news reports have not hesitated in using photographs of absolutely unconnected and past events, associating such photographs with the current reports to highlight that the situation is grim. By the time such designs are exposed, it may be too late. The country is passing through testing times. There are problems handed down to the present from the past, developed over the years and are yet to be solved. And, the coronavirus is not alone! There are earthquakes, fires, locust attacks, Amphan and so on. At the top are our neighbouring countries who, far from joining hands with us in fighting against the challenge to humanity, are threatening us. More the problems, more the need to concentrate on fighting adversities — public functionaries working day and night need our support and not pin-pricks.

Aharon Barak, President of the Supreme Court of Israel has said: “A long-standing political tradition and significant government restraint in exercising power — including judicial restraint based on the view that the judiciary is itself a branch of the state — are all that can prevent a crisis.” Patrick Devlin sounded a note of caution to judges when he said, “…enthusiasm is rarely consistent with impartiality and never with the appearance of it”, and counselled innovative judges to adopt wherever necessary an attitude that, “we could if we would but we think it better not”.