[UPSC Newspaper Clips] June 11, 2020

UPSC Newspaper Clips


Cash In Hand

A direct income transfer would provide citizens a safety net and be transformative for India

TOI Editorials

The economic crisis triggered by the spread of Covid-19 is being used as an opportunity by the government to pursue overdue economic reforms. Agriculture is where big changes have been announced with a view to freeing farmers from the bondage of fragmented markets that limit opportunities. In the same vein, government should use the current moment to reform India’s social security system. As in the case of agriculture, India’s economically vulnerable sections are hemmed in by fragmentary and antiquated approaches. Modernisation here will simultaneously provide a safety net to the poor and limit fluctuations in overall economic performance.

The Centre spends around 5% of GDP on subsidies which are spread over many hundred programmes. Some of them have been around for decades without adequate scrutiny of their efficacy. If some of them could be bundled together to provide a direct income transfer to the tune of at least 1% of GDP, it will provide a safety net and also agency to people. Instead of going through an elaborate exercise to target, either an existing database like the beneficiaries for food security can be used, or the transfer should be universal to avoid exclusion errors.

A universal transfer can be used as an opportunity to build social solidarity by urging the better off to forego the transfer. This was done in the case of cooking gas subsidies which Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlights. A direct transfer, had it existed, would have acted as a check on the desire of poorer economic migrants to return home. A direct transfer which acts as a support system would also improve the quality of democracy by reducing the importance of patronage politics. The preponderance of patronage politics sets a low bar on politicians’ accountability.

A separate advantage of a direct income transfer is that the level of support can be tweaked according to the economic situation. To illustrate, in the current situation, the scale of transfer can be enhanced in response to the contraction of economic opportunities. This will mitigate the sharp fall in demand, as a cash transfer is the most effective way to lessen the impact of a slowdown on an individual’s consumption basket. In-kind subsidies remove choice at the level of an individual. Over time the quantum of cash transfers should be calibrated according to the pace of growth, making it a tool that can serve more than one purpose.


Asking RBI The Impossible

If interest on loans is waived, banks or their depositors can’t be told to pick up the bill

Duvvuri Subbarao , [ The writer is a former governor of the Reserve Bank of India]

During the lockdown, firms and businesses had no revenue stream to service their debts to banks. To soften the pressure on them, the RBI, in exercise of its regulatory power, permitted banks to defer repayments on term loans till the end of August 2020. This was not a mandate; it was just regulatory forbearance. The RBI, in fact, left the final decision to banks. It however asked banks to charge interest on the outstanding portion of the loans during the moratorium period.

A borrower approached the Supreme Court praying that the court should order RBI to ask banks to waive the interest during the moratorium period as they had no income during the lockdown. My endeavour here is to weigh in on the issue drawing from my experience as a past governor of RBI.

At the heart of this case is a simple question: Who bears the cost? Banks are financial intermediaries between savers and borrowers. They take deposits from savers and lend out the money to borrowers at a slightly higher interest rate. From the interest they collect, they keep a margin to cover their costs and some profit, and use the rest to pay interest on deposits. If banks are asked to waive the interest during the moratorium period, can they absorb it all in their profits? At Rs 2.1 trillion, the estimated waiver amount is far too large for banks to absorb in their profits. They will be forced to pass on most, if not all, of the burden to savers.

Is it fair to bail out borrowers at the cost of savers? It is not as if savers are a well off class who can bear this cost. Most of them are small people – pensioners, for example – to whom the interest on their deposits is a significant source of income. Besides, they too were impacted by the lockdown. Is it they who should be forced to bear the burden of supporting another affected group? What is worse, they are not even represented in the case before the SC.

There are other important issues in this case. Banks are commercial institutions and bankers are expected to make decisions on commercial considerations. Magnanimity is not, and cannot be, a factor in a commercial decision. For sure, banks do reschedule loans and fund interest. But that is done in specific cases and on commercial considerations, not out of sympathy. Besides, banks are accountable to their shareholders for the conduct of their business. How do they justify privileging one set of stakeholders over another?

There are similar issues from the RBI’s perspective. Note that what the RBI asked banks in its regulatory order is only to defer repayment of instalments till beyond the lockdown, not to waive it. That entailed no loss of income to banks. What is being sought now is total waiver of interest. It is not clear RBI’s regulatory authority extends to issuing a fiat to banks to forego income.

If indeed the RBI instructed banks to waive interest as requested by the petitioner, not only will the RBI run the risk of acting beyond its authority, but will in fact run the risk of acting in contravention of its regulatory mandate. The Banking Regulation Act, from which the RBI derives its regulatory authority, enjoins it “to prevent the affairs of any banking company being conducted in a manner detrimental to the interest of its depositors or in a manner prejudicial to the banking company”.

Now consider what might happen if the RBI directed waiver of interest. Small savers to whom the rate of interest is a very material consideration will pull their monies out of banks and take them to saving options in the informal market in search of higher returns, exposing themselves to the risk of total loss. The Saradha scam which blew up spectacularly in our face during my tenure at the RBI is a high profile example, but it was by no means the only one.

There were several episodes of gullible, low income households being lured by fly-by-night operators with attractive returns, only for everyone of them to end in tears. If something like that were to happen again, won’t the RBI be in the dock? Will it not be charged of acting against the interest of depositors which it is enjoined by law to protect?

There is another dimension to this. If small savers pull their money out of banks, won’t the erosion of this low cost source of funds make banks more vulnerable and threaten their viability? Won’t the RBI then be charged of acting in a manner prejudicial to financial stability which it is enjoined to protect?

Importantly, waiving of interest is an issue in distributive policy, beyond the purview of banks, and clearly in the domain of the government. Note that when the government decided to waive farm loans, it bore the burden by itself, did not pass it on to banks. Similarly in this case too, if some concession has to be accorded to borrowers, the cost has to be borne by the government.

Whether the government should take on this burden is a complex political economy issue. Government resources come from taxes and borrowing – that is from current and future taxpayers. Should a group of today’s stakeholders be bailed out at the cost of current and future taxpayers? The safeguard is that whichever way the government decides, it will be held to account in the Parliament.


Coming back to MGNREGA

Government has belatedly realised scheme’s significance. A four-pronged approach is required to implement it better

Derek O’Brien ,[ The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP and member of the Trinamool Congress.]

In the media discussions on the novel coronavirus numbers and testing, on public health mismanagement, on the suffering of migrant workers and on the unplanned lockdown, one issue has missed the headlines — the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act Programme, better known by the acronym MGNREGA.

A prime minister who once, on the floor of Parliament, dismissed MGNREGA as a scheme for “digging holes” is today, banking on it to rescue distressed rural citizens. This realisation is belated, but worth it. MGNREGA is, perhaps, the world’s largest social welfare programme, with about 120 million beneficiaries. With unemployment figures at a 45-year high, and with the added economic destruction caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, MGNREGA numbers are set to rise.

Migrant workers (I’d prefer to call them guest workers) returning home to their villages are seeking work under MGNREGA. Since April 2020, 3.5 million new workers have enrolled under this programme. This is greater than the number of new workers in the previous year. It speaks volumes of the gravity of the situation.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the BJP government at the Centre was attempting to weaken and dismantle MGNREGA. In 2015, the Prime Minister even disparaged it as a “living monument of failure”. Further, both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 budgets reduced MGNREGA allocations in comparison to actual expenditure in the previous year.

From mechanising work that could have been undertaken by manual labour as part of MGNREGA, to not clearing the wage bills of state governments, the central government has done much to undermine the programme. In the financial year 2019-20, 95 per cent of the MGNREGA outlay had been spent by January, with two months still remaining: The ministry of rural development sought an additional Rs 20,000 crore. It was given only Rs 5,000 crore.

And now, suddenly, the Narendra Modi government has taken a U-turn. It claims to have bolstered MGNREGA. But, here again, the numbers hide more than they reveal. Take three examples: First, in March, the minimum daily wage was enhanced by Rs 20 to reach Rs 202. This is lower than the minimum wage in 31 states and union territories.

Second, the Centre makes claims of a Rs 2,000 increase in annual household income. This calculation presumes 100 days of work. Actually, MGNREGA has generated employment for only 45-50 days in the last few years. Third, the finance minister has announced Rs 40,000 crore extra for MGNREGA. However, Rs 11,500 crore of this is payment for previous dues. With the remainder, the Centre talks of generating 300 crore, or three billion person-days of work. But the April-May 2020 period shows that MGNREGA employment was less than half of what it was during the same period in 2019.

Such grandstanding is disappointing. But the fact is, common citizens in our country are facing a life and death situation. In the national interest, the Centre and the states should work together and we in the opposition must offer constructive suggestions.

On MGNREGA, there is a four-fold path that the BJP government needs to adopt. First, it should ensure that each registered worker receives the full 100 days of work. This is critical after the pandemic. Second, wages need to be further revised and linked to the rural consumer price index. The current MGNREGA wage of Rs 202 a day is 40-50 per cent lower than the average unskilled daily wage in India. An expert committee had suggested in 2019 that it be revised to Rs 375 a day.

Third, all wages need to be cleared within 15 days from the day work is done as stipulated in the Act. This is far from the norm on the ground. And fourth, the unemployment allowance period of 15 days should be extended to provide states and workers with some relief. The Centre should also increase its share of payments for raw materials to ease fiscal pressures on states. This is not the time to haggle.

The Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal has been alive to the utility and efficacy of MGNREGA. For the past three years, the state has won the award for best implementation of the programme. Between 2011 and 2019, during the Trinamool years in office, the annual expenditure on MGNREGA has gone up 200 per cent. The annual generation of person-days has risen from 150 million to 330 million. In April 2020, Bengal featured in the top three states in terms of person-days of work.

It is ironic that while India celebrated Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary in October 2019, the fate of an employment guarantee programme named after him hung in the balance. “Poverty,” Gandhi once said, “is the worst form of violence.” As things stand, MGNREGA is a key instrument to prevent violence and suffering in rural India in the aftermath of the novel coronavirus. The Centre must take note.


An unravelling of the Group of Seven

With the world in disorder, a new mechanism will have value only if it focuses on key global issues

Jayant Prasad, a former diplomat, served as Director General of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

The next G7 summit, tentatively scheduled in Washington DC in mid-June, has been postponed by the host, U.S. President Donald Trump. His decision followed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to stay away from the meeting, ostensibly because of restrictions on travel imposed by COVID-19. She may not have wanted to go just for a photo opportunity. The recent meetings of G7 have had desultory results.

Logic of expansion

While postponing the summit “to at least September”, Mr. Trump declared that in any case, the G7 “is a very outdated group of countries” and no longer properly represented “what’s going on in the world”. He asked, rhetorically, why not a G10 or G11 instead, with the inclusion of India, South Korea, Australia and possibly Russia?

Elaborating this logic, the White House Director of Strategic Communications said the U.S. President wanted to include other countries, including the Five Eyes countries (an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States), and to talk about the future of China. A Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official immediately reacted, labelling it as “seeking a clique targeting China”.

China’s objection to an expanded G7 is no reason for India to stay away from it, if invited to join. India has attended several G7 summits earlier too, as a special invitee for its outreach sessions. India’s Prime Minister was guest invited to Biarritz, France to the G7 summit last year, along with other heads of government (Australia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Egypt, Rwanda, Senegal, Spain, and South Africa).

The G7 emerged as a restricted club of the rich democracies in the early 1970s. The quadrupling of oil prices just after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, when members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an embargo against Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States, shocked their economies.

Although the French were spared the embargo, the chill winds of the OPEC action reverberated around the world. French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing invited the Finance Ministers of five of the most developed members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States, Germany, Japan, Italy, and the United Kingdom, for an informal discussion on global issues. This transformed into a G7 Summit of the heads of government from the following year, with the inclusion of Canada (1976), and the European Commission/Community (later Union) attending as a non-enumerated member, a year later.

On the initiative of U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the G7 became the G8, with the Russian Federation joining the club in1998. This ended with Russia’s expulsion following the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Economic circumstances

When constituted, the G7 countries accounted for close to two-thirds of global GDP. According to the 2017report of the accountancy firm, PwC, “The World in 2050”, they now account for less than a third of global GDP on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, and less than half on market exchange rates (MER) basis.

The seven largest emerging economies (E7, or “Emerging 7”), comprising Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Turkey, account for over a third of global GDP on purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, and over a quarter on MER basis. India’s economy is already the third largest in the world in PPP terms, even if way behind that of the U.S. and China.

By 2050, the PwC Report predicts, six of the seven of the world’s best performing economies will be China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, and Russia. Two other E7 countries, Mexico and Turkey, also improve their position. It projects that India’s GDP will increase to $17 trillion in 2030 and $42 trillion in 2050 in PPP terms, in second place after China, just ahead of the United States. This is predicated on India overcoming the challenge of COVID-19, sustaining its reform process and ensuring adequate investments in infrastructure, institutions, governance, education and health.

The limitations of G7

The success or otherwise of multilateral institutions are judged by the standard of whether or not they have successfully addressed the core global or regional challenges of the time. The G7 failed to head off the economic downturn of 2007-08, which led to the rise of the G20. In the short span of its existence, the G20 has provided a degree of confidence, by promoting open markets, and stimulus, preventing a collapse of the global financial system.

The G7 has not covered itself with glory with respect to contemporary issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, the challenge of the Daesh, and the crisis of state collapse in West Asia.

It had announced its members would phase out all fossil fuels and subsidies, but has not so far announced any plan of action to do so. The G7 countries account for 59% of historic global CO2 emissions (“from 1850 to 2010”), and their coal fired plants emit “twice more CO2 than those of the entire African continent”.

Three of the G7 countries, France, Germany, and the U.K., were among the top 10 countries contributing volunteers to the Daesh, which had between 22,000-30,000 foreign fighters just two years ago. West Asia is in a greater state of turmoil than at any point of time since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, leading to a migrants crisis that persuaded many countries in Europe to renege on their western liberal values, making the Mediterranean Sea a death trap for people fleeing against fear of persecution and threat to their lives.

Need for a new institution

The world is in a state of disorder. The global economy has stalled and COVID-19 will inevitably create widespread distress. Nations need dexterity and resilience to cope with the current flux, as also a revival of multilateralism, for they have been seeking national solutions for problems that are unresolvable internally. Existing international institutions have proven themselves unequal to these tasks. A new mechanism might help in attenuating them.

It would be ideal to include in it the seven future leading economies, plus Germany, Japan, the U.K., France, Mexico, Turkey, South Korea, and Australia. If Mr. Trump loses his re-election bid, this might have to wait for a few years. The 2005 ad hoc experiment by Prime Minister Tony Blair in bringing together the G7 and the BRICS countries was a one-off.

A new international mechanism will have value only if it focuses on key global issues. India would be vitally interested in three: international trade, climate change, and the COVID-19 crisis. A related aspect is how to push for observing international law and preventing the retreat from liberal values on which public goods are predicated. Global public health and the revival of growth and trade in a sustainable way (that also reduces the inequalities among and within nations) would pose a huge challenge.

Second order priorities for India would be cross-cutting issues such as counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation. An immediate concern is to ensure effective implementation of the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention and the prevention of any possible cheating by its state parties by the possible creation of new microorganisms or viruses by using recombinant technologies.

On regional issues, establishing a modus vivendi with Iran would be important to ensure that it does not acquire nuclear weapons and is able to contribute to peace and stability in Afghanistan, the Gulf and West Asia. The end state in Afghanistan would also be of interest to India, as also the reduction of tensions in the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea.


Needed, a transfusion for public health care

Health services cannot be left to private medicine in a developing country, or indeed, in any country

Raj B. Singh , [ Dr. Raj B. Singh is a pulmonologist in Chennai. ]

A news channel in India alleged recently that several private hospitals in the country were “exposed” by a “sting operation” to be levying fees in excess when COVID-19 patients went to them for care. It is not clear why a “sting operation” was necessary; the high cost of medical care in the top hospitals of the country is well known. Anyone who has had major surgery or received intensive care in any of the hospitals can testify to that. The debate now is whether such exorbitant rates are justified during a pandemic such as the one we are in the midst of , or indeed, ever.

Before we address this question, however, an equally important question arises: why do we have so many private hospitals in a poor country such as India. We have more hospital beds in the private sector than in the public sector. It is estimated that there are 19 lakh hospital beds, 95,000 ICU beds and 48,000 ventilators in India. Most of these are concentrated in seven States, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana and West Bengal. Except for Tamil Nadu, Delhi and West Bengal, there are far more beds and ventilators in the private sector than in the public, according to the Center For Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy.

A mirror to public care

The reason for this abundance of private health care is obviously the lack of adequate public health care. This situation has developed due to two main reasons. Since Independence, India has, quite rightly, focused attention on the larger picture. The priority in a developing country would be the provision of primary care at the peripheral level, preventive measures, immunisation, maternity and paediatric care as well as dealing with common infections such as tuberculosis. We have done this well, resulting in impressive improvements in many health-care indices in the last few decades. However, not enough hospital beds and specialised facilities were provided by the public sector during this time. At the same time, the burgeoning middle class and increasing wealth produced an explosion in the demand for good quality health care. Private medicine was quick to capitalise on this demand.

The second reason for the dominance of private medicine in India is the lack of adequate investment in public health. The Indian government spends an abysmally low 1.3% of GDP on public health care, which is woefully inadequate. Allocation has to be at least double this to address some of our pressing needs. Greater transparency and tighter administration are necessary to ensure that our resources are utilised appropriately. Specialists should be adequately compensated to obviate their need for private practice.

Private medicine in India is by no means uniform. It is estimated that there are more than one million unqualified medical practitioners, mostly in the rural areas. Most of them provide basic health care, charging a modest fee. Some may have claims of expertise (often unproven) in alternative systems of medicine such as ayurveda and homoeopathy. It is not unheard of them to sometimes venture into minor surgery. At the other end of the spectrum are state-of-the-art corporate hospitals, that are well equipped and well-staffed and which provide excellent service at high cost. These are often set up in metro cities at huge cost and have successfully engineered a reverse brain drain of many specialists from pursuing lucrative jobs abroad and staying back in or returning to India. Between the two extremes are a large number of private practitioners and institutions providing a wide range of services of varying quality. Some are run by trusts, charitable organisations and religious missions, often providing excellent quality at modest costs.

The wide range of quality in medical services in India reflects the wide range of income and wealth in India. It is estimated that the wealth of the top 1% in India is four times the combined wealth of the bottom 70%. The wealthy demand, pay for, and often get, world-class health care. The middle class, seeing what is possible, is beginning to demand similar care at affordable cost. The poorer 70% are left to the vagaries and mercy of an unpredictable public health-care system and low cost charlatans.

What needs to be done

The public health-care system desperately needs higher government spending. Health care cannot be left to private medicine in a developing country, or indeed, in any country. The United States, despite spending more than 15% of its enormous GDP on health care in the form of largely insurance-based private medicine, has poorer health-care indices than Europe, where government-funded universal health care (e.g. The National Health Service of the United Kingdom) is available, though the per capita health-care expenditure in Europe is substantially less than in the U.S.

Health-care spending by the government must be appropriate, based on evidence, and transparent and accountable. Training of doctors and health-care workers also need to be the responsibility of the government mainly. Recent reforms in the selection of medical students need to be scrutinised to see if they are having the desired result.

Private hospitals and institutions will need to be regulated. Costing and auditing of care and procedures need to be done by independent bodies. This will not only ensure appropriate care at the right cost but also prevent unreasonable demands of suspicious patients and family.

The crisis now

No hospital, business, institution or individual should profiteer from a national calamity such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals, like any other institution, have a social responsibility to provide care in times of need. But one should be also aware of the actual costs involved which have to be met. The cost of medical care often follows the law of diminishing returns; as the treatment gets more sophisticated, further and further increments, although small, cost enormously more. Some of the drugs used in the care of severely-ill COVID-19 patients may cost more than ₹50,000 a shot, for example, and may provide only a marginally better outcome. “Capping” costs may necessitate sacrificing some of these expensive options. Private hospitals should, and will, be prepared to forego profits and even suffer losses during a national disaster. But if losses become unsustainable, they may be forced to lay off employees, close beds or even entire hospitals, like any other business. That will hardly benefit anyone.


Policing the police is not enough

Understanding the role of the political leadership in police excesses is crucial to effect change

R.K. Raghavan is a former CBI Director and a graduate in criminal justice from Temple University, Philadelphia

The deliberate violence against a hapless African-American, George Floyd, by white police officers in Minneapolis, leading to his death, was the trigger for the worldwide protests we see today against alleged institutionalised racism in policing across nations. It all started when a convenience store employee called 911 alleging that Floyd had bought cigarettes with a $20 counterfeit note. A patrol party responding to the call intercepted Floyd. After being forced out of his car, the 46-year-old was pinned to the ground by Derek Chauvin, a police officer. Mr. Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for as long as nine minutes despite the victim’s agonising cries to be released. Floyd then became motionless, but Mr. Chauvin continued to pin him down. Floyd was declared dead when he was taken to the hospital. The whole episode was caught on camera leaving no doubt about the facts of the brutality. Mr. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, while three other officers have been charged with aiding and abeting second-degree murder.

Protests against police excesses

The magnitude of protests across the U.S. – including in Washington, outside the White House; London; and elsewhere in Europe – has surprised many observers. This is not because the protests are not justified. It is the unison and spontaneity of the outcry that has bewildered many. A number of police assaults/killings in the past, such as of Rodney King (1991), Eric Garner (2014) and Corey Jones (2015), had triggered huge protests too, but these episodes evaporated from public memory quickly. Going by the volume and intensity of demonstrations against the police atrocity against Floyd, it looks like this incident has evoked universal disdain and will linger for a long, long time.

The demands from various quarters include complete dismantling of the police in many jurisdictions or total or partial defunding of the force. What is significant this time is that a large number of white people are participating in the marches against the police in the U.S. and U.K. This marks the difference in reaction to Floyd’s killing compared to past police misbehaviour. The average American is stoutly opposed to politicising the issue and has therefore lambasted President Donald Trump’s threat to use the military to quell the protests, especially destruction of public property. A New York Times senior editor has had to quit because he allowed the publication of an incendiary article by a Republican Senator endorsing the use of the military to stop the protests.

The widespread demand is to overhaul the system. This may sound a cliché and an impractical and emotional reaction to an isolated incident. Several such demands have been made in the past in many countries, including India, whenever these countries have been rocked by police excesses. Police Commissions have come and gone. Their ponderous recommendations have not brought about radical changes to the way we are policed. This is the reason why discerning police scholars and practitioners are cynical about the prospects of making the police behave in a more civilised manner.

An eternal dilemma

When demanding reform, many communities are vague. When incidents such as the Floyd killing take place, people demand total abjuring of force by the police. When there is a spurt in crime or a particularly horrific incident such as the gang rape of a young student in Delhi in December 2012, there is criticism that the police have become too soft. When there is a sharp increase in crime anywhere, the police are called ineffective. This is the dilemma that the average policeman faces in many parts of the world. When an imaginative Police Commissioner such as William Bratton in New York uses tough methods such as ‘stop and frisk’ to bring down crime, there is strident criticism that the mechanics was an exercise in profiling African-Americans. So, how does one strike a balance between stern and effective maintenance of order without violating human rights? How much is too much force is an eternal dilemma.

Many members of the the public plead for efficient policing, with the caveat that such a style should not hurt human sensitivities. I know of judges who denounce police employment of ‘third degree’ in trying to solve a crime and then themselves demand tough questioning of a suspect when they happen to be the victims of a crime, especially theft or burglary. This is the lack of ethics that clouds perceptions in high places in public systems.

There is absolutely no case for ignoring what happened in Minneapolis. It has to be studied with all seriousness. However, there is no evidence that the four policemen who went berserk were acting on instructions from their supervisors. This is why such incidents are aberrations; they are acts committed by individual policemen. The only question is, if such events happen far too often and nearly in the same police force, what has the leadership done to correct the malady? We know that if an Inspector General of Police or Director General of Police encourages violence in a discreet manner, the message goes down the ranks leading to the torture of innocent citizens. This is what the leadership should be wary of. We are not unfamiliar with some senior police officers displaying a psychosis of violence that leads to ugly episodes like the one in Minneapolis. Such policemen need to be removed at the earliest stages of their career. Otherwise the government or the police chief gets a bad name.

Role of political establishment

Many academics, especially psychologists, have advocated the continuous indoctrination of policemen at the grassroots level to convince them of the need to avoid high-handedness in dealing with members of the civil society as well as crime suspects. Nothing short of indoctrination will work. But such exercises can be effective only for some years in a policeman’s life. The impact of such exercises breaks down over time when officers are faced with stressful situations or when they are pitted against unorthodox and brutal supervisors who don’t believe in civilised interaction with society.

Ultimately, it is often a case of culture. We do not know the culture of the current formations in the Minneapolis Police. The situation is too complex for the offer of a credible formula. Nevertheless the problem is grave involving the whole of humanity. Police leadership should be advised to resist the temptation of giving up the cause without a fight. It is difficult to underestimate the role in this case of the political establishment. If the latter is slack and it is complicit in illegitimate violence, all of us are doomed.


A convergence of crises

Policy ideas should marry employment and industrial priorities with green outcomes

Aditya Valiathan Pillai is at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

There is a growing debate about what the scarcity and privation wrought by the COVID-19 crisis will mean for our response to climate change. The very language used to describe the effects of climate change is now being deployed, correctly, to shape our understanding of a disease-ravaged near future: poverty, the failure of markets, uncertainty, and an overwhelmed government. There are two main strands of opinion in this debate. The optimistic one sees this as a moment to remake our states and societies in a measured response. This includes directing economic packages to areas that increase our resilience to natural disasters and technologies that reduce our emissions. On the personal front, this could be an opportunity to reinforce sustainable behaviour — fewer morning commutes and less air travel, for example. The other strand is more dire, arguing that this will amount to a lost decade or two as our attention is focused on keeping the teetering ship of economy afloat. In this reading, present concerns will trump preparations for an uncertain future. Between these two strands there is consensus that we are at a critical juncture. What we do now will determine the flow of events decades into the future.

Limited funds

It has been two months since India’s lockdown, and we know enough to have a rational conversation about our climate future. Perhaps the most important news relates to public and private debt. The government has raised its borrowing limit, states will need to borrow more to tide over shortfalls and the private sector has seen returns from investments dry out. All three are already heavily indebted, meaning the cost of capital for future borrowing will only grow. That leaves limited fiscal room to finance the building blocks of resilience: everything from grain to health, employment schemes, irrigation, efficient water systems and river management infrastructure. It could mean that efforts to reduce our energy emissions are left without patient pools of long-term capital.

The knowledge infrastructure needed to react to climate change might be left similarly underdeveloped. Climate change distinguishes itself from other policy fields in the wide range of analytical tasks it demands, from predicting weather trends to understanding how specific seed varieties react to droughts. Thinking about climate change requires a lot of people exploring varied questions simultaneously. That involves funding an ecosystem of thinkers from diverse disciplines. Only the state can provide for multi-year studies, institutional support and the like. These are inherently long-term investments and only really start paying off over decades, which means hamstrung investment in coming years will leave a knowledge vacuum in the future.

The final point relates to something more ephemeral: the psychology of government. The Indian government, reacting to a million crises erupting across the economy, will be hard-pressed to plan for a hazy but sinister future. Promises of a greener, less turbulent future will falter against the turbulence of today; this instinct will be shared by governments across the world. This might well numb the effects of the global climate negotiation architecture.

Dealing with twin challenges

Crafting a response that carefully balances present and future will take a great deal of collective effort. Foremost, it will require policy ideas that deliberately marry employment and industrial priorities with green outcomes. Ideas such as pushing to manufacture solar equipment or electric vehicles in India should, at some point, coalesce into something that looks like a climate plan for the country. This task will fall to universities, NGOs, think tanks and individuals working together in disciplined debate. This process is our only hope for being creative about the twin challenges battering the country. We should be careful not to drag ourselves through one crisis only to emerge into another longer, less predictable, and unstoppable one.