1. Over 72% rise in UAPA cases in 2019
1,948 persons were arrested in 1,226 cases registered across the country that year
There has been over 72% increase in the number of persons arrested under the UAPA (Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Act) in 2019 compared to year 2015, data provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in the Lok Sabha show.
As many as 1,948 persons were arrested under the UAPA in 1,226 cases registered across the country in 2019. From 2015 till 2018, the cases registered under the Act annually stood at 897, 922, 901 and 1,182 respectively, while the number of arrests was 1,128, 999, 1,554 and 1,421.
Most arrests in U.P.
In 2019, the highest number of such cases were registered in Manipur (306), followed by Tamil Nadu (270), Jammu & Kashmir (255), Jharkhand (105) and Assam (87) cases. The highest number of arrests in the same year were made in Uttar Pradesh (498), followed by Manipur (386), Tamil Nadu (308), Jammu & Kashmir (227) and Jharkhand (202).
Union Minister of State for Home Affairs G. Kishan Reddy, in a written reply in the Lok Sabha, said, “Cases under the UAPA are investigated by the State police and the National Investigation Agency (NIA). As far as the NIA is concerned, so far 48 special courts have been constituted across the country for the speedy trial of terror-related cases.”
Under the UAPA, getting bail is rare and the investigating agency has up to 180 days to file a charge sheet.
In a separate reply, the Minister said: “After abrogation of Article 370, the number of terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir have reduced significantly.”
The data provided shows that in J&K, 244 terrorist incidents were reported and 221 terrorists killed in 2020, while in 2019, the numbers were 594 and 157 respectively. Till February 28 this year, there were 15 incidents and eight terrorists were killed. The government had declared 42 organisations as terrorist organisations and listed them in the First Schedule of the UAPA, the Minister said.
Earlier, a reply by the government in the Lok Sabha shows that only 2.2 % of cases registered under the UAPA between 2016-2019 ended in convictions by court.
Background of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act
The UAPA – an enhancement on the TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act), which was allowed to lapse in 1995 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was repealed in 2004 — was originally passed in 1967 under the then Congress government led by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Eventually, amendments were brought in under the successive United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments in 2004, 2008 and 2013.
At present, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is functioning as the Central Counter-Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency in India established under NIA Act 2008.
The image below outlines the timeline of the UAPA Act.
Salient Features of the UAPA Act
- The Act gives special procedures to handle terrorist activities, among other things.
- Who may commit terrorism: According to the Act, the union government may proclaim or designate an organisation as a terrorist organisation if it: (i) commits or participates in acts of terrorism, (ii) prepares for terrorism, (iii) promotes terrorism, or (iv) is otherwise involved in terrorism. The Bill also empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists on the same grounds.
- Approval for property seizure by National Investigation Agency (NIA): As per the Act, an investigating officer is required to obtain the prior approval of the Director-General of Police to seize properties that may be connected with terrorism. The Bill adds that if the investigation is conducted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the approval of the Director-General of NIA would be required for seizure of such property.
- The investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA): Under the provisions of the Act, investigation of cases can be conducted by officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or above. The Bill additionally empowers the officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases.
- Insertion to the schedule of treaties: The Act defines terrorist acts to include acts committed within the scope of any of the treaties listed in a schedule to the Act. The Schedule lists nine treaties, comprising of the Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997), and the Convention against Taking of Hostages (1979). The Bill adds another treaty to this list namely, the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).
2. SC questions delay in setting up environment regulator
Prashant Bhushan highlights govt.’s lapse, despite 2011 order
The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the government to explain why it had not set up an “independent environment regulator” to oversee green clearances. A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde, asked Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati to find out and report to the court.
The lapse was highlighted by advocate Prashant Bhushan, who said the top court had ordered the setting up of a national environment regulatory body to ensure independent oversight of green clearances way back in July 2011 in Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited v. Union of India, commonly known as the ‘Lafarge mining case’.
“Environment impact assessment has been made into a farce,” Mr. Bhushan submitted.
“Do you know we found that the Wildlife Board of India has not met in six years?” Chief Justice Bobde exclaimed.
“All government regulations have been dismantled…” Mr. Bhushan voiced his concern, in reply.
In 2011, the court had asked the Centre to appoint a national regulator for appraising projects, enforcing environmental conditions for approvals and to impose penalties on polluters.
In that order, the court had explained the need for an independent regulatory mechanism, saying the “identification of an area as forest area is solely based on the declaration to be filed by the user agency [project proponent]. The project proponent under the existing dispensation is required to undertake EIA by an expert body/institution”.
The court had made it clear that till such mechanism was put in place, the Environment Ministry (MoEF) “should prepare a panel of accredited institutions from which alone the project proponent should obtain the Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and, that too, on the Terms of Reference to be formulated by the MoEF”.
- Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
- UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers.
- Environment Impact Assessment in India is statutorily backed by the Environment Protection Act, 1986 which contains various provisions on EIA methodology and process.
History of EIA in India
- The Indian experience with Environmental Impact Assessment began over 20 years back. It started in 1976-77 when the Planning Commission asked the Department of Science and Technology to examine the river-valley projects from an environmental angle.
- Till 1994, environmental clearance from the Central Government was an administrative decision and lacked legislative support.
- On 27 January 1994, the then Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, promulgated an EIA notification making Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for expansion or modernisation of any activity or for setting up new projects listed in Schedule 1 of the notification.
- The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) notified new EIA legislation in September 2006.
- The notification makes it mandatory for various projects such as mining, thermal power plants, river valley, infrastructure (road, highway, ports, harbours and airports) and industries including very small electroplating or foundry units to get environment clearance.
- However, unlike the EIA Notification of 1994, the new legislation has put the onus of clearing projects on the state government depending on the size/capacity of the project.
The EIA Process
EIA involves the steps mentioned below. However, the EIA process is cyclical with interaction between the various steps.
- Screening: The project plan is screened for scale of investment, location and type of development and if the project needs statutory clearance.
- Scoping: The project’s potential impacts, zone of impacts, mitigation possibilities and need for monitoring.
- Collection of baseline data: Baseline data is the environmental status of study area.
- Impact prediction: Positive and negative, reversible and irreversible and temporary and permanent impacts need to be predicted which presupposes a good understanding of the project by the assessment agency.
- Mitigation measures and EIA report: The EIA report should include the actions and steps for preventing, minimizing or by passing the impacts or else the level of compensation for probable environmental damage or loss.
- Public hearing: On completion of the EIA report, public and environmental groups living close to project site may be informed and consulted.
- Decision making: Impact Assessment Authority along with the experts consult the project-in-charge along with consultant to take the final decision, keeping in mind EIA and EMP (Environment Management Plan).
- Monitoring and implementation of environmental management plan: The various phases of implementation of the project are monitored.
- Assessment of Alternatives, Delineation of Mitigation Measures and Environmental Impact Assessment Report: For every project, possible alternatives should be identified, and environmental attributes compared. Alternatives should cover both project location and process technologies.
- Once alternatives have been reviewed, a mitigation plan should be drawn up for the selected option and is supplemented with an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) to guide the proponent towards environmental improvements.
- Risk assessment: Inventory analysis and hazard probability and index also form part of EIA procedures.
Stakeholders in the EIA Process
- Those who propose the project
- The environmental consultant who prepare EIA on behalf of project proponent
- Pollution Control Board (State or National)
- Public has the right to express their opinion
- The Impact Assessment Agency
- Regional centre of the MoEFCC
Salient Features of 2006 Amendments to EIA Notification
- Environment Impact Assessment Notification of 2006 has decentralized the environmental clearance projects by categorizing the developmental projects in two categories, i.e., Category A (national level appraisal) and Category B (state level appraisal). Category A projects are appraised at national level by Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) and the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and Category B projects are apprised at state level.
- State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and State Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) are constituted to provide clearance to Category B process.
- After 2006 Amendment the EIA cycle comprises of four stages:
- Public hearing
- Category A projects require mandatory environmental clearance and thus they do not undergo the screening process.
- Category B projects undergoes screening process and they are classified into two types.
- Category B1 projects (Mandatorily requires EIA).
- Category B2 projects (Do not require EIA).
- Thus, Category A projects and Category B, projects undergo the complete EIA process whereas Category B2 projects are excluded from complete EIA process.
Importance of EIA
- EIA links environment with development for environmentally safe and sustainable development.
- EIA provides a cost effective method to eliminate or minimize the adverse impact of developmental projects.
- EIA enables the decision makers to analyse the effect of developmental activities on the environment well before the developmental project is implemented.
- EIA encourages the adaptation of mitigation strategies in the developmental plan.
- EIA makes sure that the developmental plan is environmentally sound and within the limits of the capacity of assimilation and regeneration of the ecosystem.
Shortcomings of EIA Process
- Applicability: There are several projects with significant environmental impacts that are exempted from the notification either because they are not listed in schedule I, or their investments are less than what is provided for in the notification.
- Composition of expert committees and standards: It has been found that the team formed for conducting EIA studies is lacking the expertise in various fields such as environmentalists, wildlife experts, Anthropologists and Social Scientists.
- Public hearing:
- Public comments are not considered at an early stage, which often leads to conflict at a later stage of project clearance.
- A number of projects with significant environmental and social impacts have been excluded from the mandatory public hearing process.
- The data collectors do not pay respect to the indigenous knowledge of local people.
- Quality of EIA: One of the biggest concerns with the environmental clearance process is related to the quality of EIA report that are being carried out.
- Lack of Credibility: There are so many cases of fraudulent EIA studies where erroneous data has been used, same facts used for two totally different places etc.
- Often, and more so for strategic industries such as nuclear energy projects, the EMPs are kept confidential for political and administrative reasons.
- Details regarding the effectiveness and implementation of mitigation measures are often not provided.
- Emergency preparedness plans are not discussed in sufficient details and the information not disseminated to the communities.
3. Panel flags Centre’s meagre pensions
It slams laxity in raising amounts
The Centre must increase the “meagre” pensions provided for poor senior citizens, widows and disabled people, said the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development in its report submitted to the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
The panel also slammed the government’s “laxity in raising the amount”, pointing out that recommendations to increase the sums had been made in the last two years as well.
“The relevance of a marquee Scheme like National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) in reaching out to the poor and downtrodden section of society does not go amiss in the eyes of the Committee,” said the report.
“However, the Committee is baffled to observe the meagre amount of assistance ranging from ₹200 to ₹500 per month under the different components of this Scheme,” it added.
The panel pointed out that it had previously urged the increase of these miniscule pensions in its reports on the Department of Rural Development’s (DoRD) demand for grants in 2019-20 and 2020-21.
“However, to the utter dismay of the Committee, nothing much has been forthcoming so far. The Committee does not endorse the non-serious approach of DoRD on this issue. In view of this laxity, the Committee again vehemently recommends the DoRD to look into this issue with utmost sincerity and hasten their processes for bringing an increase in the assistance amount under NSAP,” said the report.
The panel also pulled up the DoRD for delays and disparities in the payment of wages and unemployment allowances under the flagship MGNREGA scheme.
“At the time of economic distress caused due to COVID-19 pandemic in particular, there was an increase in the demand of work under MGNREGA. However, inordinate delay in the release of [the 40% component of] funds for skilled/semi-skilled workers under MGNREGA is a huge discouraging aspect and does not go in consonance with the underlying spirit of the scheme,” said the report.
The panel noted “the callous approach of the State Governments in the proper implementation of the provision of unemployment allowance”, finding that the provision is not implemented in letter and spirit.
Another issue with MGNREGA is the disparity in wages in different States. “It is still beyond comprehension as to how is it possible that a single scheme having the provision of hundred days of guaranteed work to willing person from the rural settings can have different yardstick when it comes to the payment modalities across the length and breadth of the country,” said the report.
The Ministry of Rural Development has proposed that the monthly pensions of the elderly poor, disabled and widows should be increased from the current ₹200 to ₹800 under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP).
- For those above the age of 80, the proposal is to increase the pension from ₹500 to ₹1,200 per month.
- This will have an additional annual cost implication of ₹18,000 crore on the Government.
- A study has also been launched to consider doubling the number of people covered by the scheme.
- In order to increase the coverage, discussions are also being held with the State governments on a proposal to merge the Central and State pension schemes.
- Currently, Below Poverty Line (BPL) criteria is used to determine the number of people covered under NSAP. However, several States, including Rajasthan, Telangana, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, have already shifted to Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011 (SECC-2011) data for their own pension schemes.
- In October, 2018 a panel of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on disability and elderly persons has recommended few measures for the welfare of senior citizens:
- Centre should increase its contribution to the pension scheme for elderly persons from Rs 200 to Rs 2,000 per month.
- India should adopt the “time bank” scheme to take care of senior citizens who are living alone without any support from their family.
- A nodal police officer to deal with issues of senior citizens living alone should be appointed at district level.
- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds should be utilised for constructing old age homes.
|Time Bank Scheme Under the ‘time bank’ scheme, people save time and volunteer to take care of the elderly who need help.The number of hours they spend time with or take care of senior citizens are deposited into their personal account of social security system.When volunteers themselves get old and needs someone for help, he/she could use the ‘time bank’ and a volunteer is assigned to take care of him/her.Switzerland and the UK are following the ‘time bank’ scheme while Singapore is considering implementing it.|
- In its December, 2018 order the SC had urged the Government of India to relook at these pension schemes and overhaul them to bring about convergence and avoid multiplicity.
- It ordered the Government of India and the State Governments to make the grant of pension to the elderly more realistic, depending upon the availability of finances and the economic capacity of the Governments.
National Social Assistance Programme
- The National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) is a welfare programme being administered by the Ministry of Rural Development.
- This programme is being implemented in rural as well as urban areas.
|Constitutional Provisions The National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) represents a significant step towards the fulfillment of the Directive Principles in Article 42 and in particular article 41 of the Constitution.Article 41 of the Constitution of India directs the State to provide public assistance to its citizens in case of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement and in other cases of undeserved want within the limit of its economic capacity and development.Article 42 provides that the State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief|
- The programme was first launched on 15th August 1995 as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme. It was brought within the umbrella of ‘Core of Core’ schemes of the Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) in 2016.
- Currently in 2019, it has five components namely:
- Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS)– since inception of NSAP in 1995
- National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS)– 1995
- Annapurna Scheme– launched in 2000
- Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS)- launched in 2009
- Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme– launched in 2009
- The National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS) was part of NSAP and was subsequently transferred from the Ministry of Rural development to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
|Central Schemes The central schemes are divided into Central Sector Schemes and Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS).Central sector schemes:These schemes are 100% funded by the Central government.Implemented by the Central Government machinery.Formulated on subjects mainly from the Union List.E.g.: Bharatnet, Namami Gange-National Ganga Plan, etc.Centrally Sponsored Schemes are the schemes by the centre where there is financial participation by both the centre and states.Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) are again divided into Core of the Core Schemes, Core Schemes and Optional schemes.Currently, there are 6 core of the core schemes while 22 core schemes.Most of these schemes prescribes specific financial participation by states. For example, in the case of MGNREGA, state governments have to incur 25% material expenditure.The 6 core of the core CSS are:National Social Assistance ProgrammeMahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee ProgramUmbrella Scheme for Development of Scheduled CastesUmbrella Programme for Development of Scheduled TribesUmbrella Programme for Development of MinoritiesUmbrella Programme for Development of Other Vulnerable Groups|
4. ‘Covaxin enhanced immune response’
Interim results of phase 2 trials published in Lancet Infectious Diseases show positive outcome
Covaxin, India’s indigenous COVID-19 vaccine, showed enhanced immune response as well as better reactogenicity (reaction symptoms) and safety outcomes in the phase 2 trial, interim results that have now been published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases said.
The publication comes days after Covaxin maker Bharat Biotech said the vaccine demonstrated an interim clinical efficacy of 81% in its later phase 3 clinical trial. Developed in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), it is a two dose vaccine, given 28 days apart.
Tracing the vaccine’s performance, the research article said in the phase 1 trial, Covaxin (BBV152) “induced high neutralising antibody responses that remained elevated in all participants at three months after the second vaccination.
In the phase 2 trial, BBV152 showed better reactogenicity and safety outcomes, and enhanced humoral and cell-mediated immune responses compared with the phase 1 trial,” the study said.
However, the results from the Phase 2 study do not permit efficacy assessments, the authors said.
“The evaluation of safety outcomes requires extensive phase 3 clinical trials. We were unable to assess other immune responses (that is, binding antibody and cell-mediated responses) in convalescent serum samples due to the low quantity,” they said.
Besides interim results of the double-blind, randomised, multi-centre, phase 2 trial, the publication also covered a 3-month follow-up of the phase 1 trial.
The publication in the Lancet journal said the phase 2 trial to evaluate immunogenicity and safety of the vaccine was conducted in 380 healthy children and adults (aged 12–65 years) at nine hospitals in India.
Two-intramuscular doses of the vaccine were given four weeks apart.
“Due to the difference in dosing regimens between phase 1 (two doses given two weeks apart) and phase 2 (two doses, 4 weeks apart) trials, neutralisation responses were significantly higher in the phase 2 trial than in the phase 1 trial. Immunological differences between men and women, and across age groups were not observed,” it said.
The full form of ICMR is the Indian Council of Medical Research. ICMR is a primary agency for the development, organization and encouragement of biomedical research in India. It is Govt-funded. India is one of the earliest scientific research organizations in the world, through the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Its headquarters is located in New Delhi, India.
The 26 ICMR institutes focus mainly on particular health research subjects such as leprosy, tuberculosis, cholera & diarrhoeal illness, infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV, vector control, diet, food & drug toxicology, immuno-haematology, oncology, reproduction, medical statistics, etc. Its six regional medical research centres tackle regional health issues, as well as strengthening or increasing research potential in different geographical parts of the country.
A brief history of ICMR
- In 1911, the Indian government founded the IRFA (Indian Research Fund Association) with the particular purpose of promoting and coordinating clinical research in the country.
- A few significant changes were made in the IRFA organization and its operations since independence.
- The ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) was established in 1949, significantly widening the scope of its activities.
Missions of ICMR
- Translating work into practice to boost people’s health.
- The development, management and distribution of information.
- To concentrate on work on health problems among vulnerable and deprived parts of the community.
- Adopting and promoting the use of modern biology tools to tackle country health issues.
- Promote creativity in diagnostics, care, vaccinations and other disease prevention methods.
5. Editorial-2: Ploughing a new furrow in the agri-regulatory system
Change is needed as Indian farmers face constraints, and as world agriculture will now rely on middle-income countries
The intense debates around the recently enacted farm laws have brought to light the issue of developing a sound regulatory framework to promote India’s agricultural growth — and in keeping pace with the changing times. While the country is divided on the need for the three new farm laws, the fact remains that farmers, mainly smallholders, across India continue to face various constraints in carrying out farming activities. They include constraints in accessing agricultural inputs, markets, finance, human resources, and information, which are critical for increasing farmers’ competitiveness.
Role for the government
The existing institutional set up that controls farm production often fails to ease these constraints. A way out of this problem is to develop a suitable regulatory system that would enable farmers to overcome their constraints. Governments can play a critical role in this regard by enacting laws and regulations that influence farmers’ access to agricultural inputs, cost of production, farmers’ participation in agricultural markets and value chains, the competitiveness of farmers, and private investment in the farming sector.
Where does India stand on this front in comparison to other countries? A recent publication by the World Bank titled Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) 2019 provides some interesting insights on this question. Based on eight indicators, the EBA measures the extent to which government regulatory systems in 101 countries worldwide make it easier for their farmers to operate agricultural activities. The indicators are supplying seed, registering fertilizer, securing water, registering machinery, sustaining livestock, protecting plant health, trading food, and accessing finance. These indicators measure the strength of a country’s agricultural regulatory environment pertaining to market integration and entrepreneurship in agriculture. The EBA is akin to the Doing Business project of the World Bank, which ranks the ease of doing business in countries.
India’s poor standing
Among 101 countries covered, India ranked 49 on the EBA aggregate score. France, Croatia, and the Czech Republic are the three top-ranking countries. Among emerging groups of 20 (EG 20) countries, India has the second least favourable regulatory environment for farming activities after South Africa. Turkey is the top-performing country among EG 20 countries, followed by Argentina, Brazil, the Russian Federation, Mexico and China.
Notably, India lags behind its close competitors in world agriculture, namely China, Brazil, and the Russian Federation. Compared to these three countries, India has the weakest performance on five out of eight indicators. They are registering fertilizer and machinery, securing water, sustaining livestock, and protecting plant health indicators. Registering fertilizer and machinery indicators measure domestic laws and regulations that provide farmers access to fertilizer and agricultural machinery. The regulatory processes that help farmers make appropriate decisions regarding the level of investment in irrigation are measured by securing water indicator. Sustaining livestock indicator captures the quality of regulations affecting farmers’ access to livestock farming inputs. The quality of legislation on phytosanitary standards (SPS) is captured through the protecting plant health indicator.
Inadequate access to quality agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, water, and mechanical power can cause productivity loss, higher cost of food production and uncertainty, and lower capacity of farmers to produce surpluses, adopt new plant varieties and accept new opportunities to improve their income.
The regulatory system that governs irrigation management is essential for reducing the variability of farm output, prices, and incomes, minimising vulnerability to natural shocks, and incentivising the production of riskier and high returns crops. Gaining access to the global agricultural value chain requires a sound regulatory framework on SPS. For instance, thanks to active involvement by the SPS authority, namely National Agrarian Health Service (SENASA-Peru), Peru had become one of the world’s leading exporters of asparagus.
The comparative score of India on supplying seed, trading food, and accessing finance indicators is high. Supplying seed indicator evaluates laws and regulations that ensure timely release of seed to farmers. A robust seed supply system is required for improving yield and adopting new crop varieties. The trading food indicator assesses laws and regulations that facilitate exporting of farm products by farmers. The regulatory framework on the use of warehouse receipts is assessed using accessing finance indicator. A robust warehouse receipts system enables the farmers to obtain the credit needed to invest in agriculture. Warehouse receipt operators accept deposits of crops and provide warehouse receipts to farmers as evidence of deposited crops. By using warehouse receipts as collateral, farmers can receive credit.
The EBA project results reveal that, compared to its close competitors, the strength of India’s agricultural regulatory environment is weak on the whole and with respect to key performance indicators.
The future of world agriculture and food production is expected to increasingly depend on middle-income countries such as China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia, just like the high-income countries dictating the fortunes of global agriculture in the past five decades.
To make the best use of this great opportunity, India needs to put in place an agricultural regulatory system that would make it easier for its farmers to conduct agricultural activities, thereby improving their productivity, competitiveness, and income.
6. Editorial-3: Quad: strategic opportunity or quagmire?
The grouping neither shares a strategic vision nor is it animated by a shared agenda
On March 5, the Indian media carried news reports, based on remarks by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, that the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, known briefly as Quad, would soon meet at summit level, thus signalling the importance attached to this grouping by the Biden administration. The Quad, which comprises the U.S., Japan, Australia and India, had in February been described by the U.S. State Department as having “essential momentum and important potential”.
India’s engagement with the Quad goes back to China’s expanding footprint in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region over the last few years. China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, proposing logistical connectivity across Eurasia and the Indian Ocean, rang alarm bells in India as the projects were viewed as encroachments into India’s strategic space. India responded with an upgradation of its naval capabilities and enhancement of ties with the Indian Ocean Region littoral states and other major powers in the region.
Separately, largely as a result of their shared concerns relating to the rise of China, India has been deepening its security ties with the U.S. Building on the initiatives of earlier administrations, the Obama and Trump presidencies focused on interoperability of defence equipment and training based on defence purchases, frequent land and sea exercises, and agreements harmonising the two countries’ military doctrines and operations.
India in the Quad
The U.S.’s focus on the west Pacific due to aggressive Chinese maritime activity gradually pulled India into the ambit of the Indo-Pacific that views the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean as an integrated geopolitical space. Besides the U.S. navy, India expanded its maritime ties with other regional states, the most high-profile of the interactions being the Quad. Since November 2017, the joint naval exercises of Quad members are being supplemented by extensive consultations on security issues.
However, India’s involvement with the Quad was initially cautious due to its reluctance to join an overt anti-China coalition. For instance, at the Shangri La Dialogue in June 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the Indo-Pacific as a “geographical definition” and firmly denied it was a “strategy” or a “club of limited members … directed against any country”. Despite this, in September 2019, India agreed to elevate the Quad platform to ministerial level.
This had dire consequences. By affiliating with the U.S.-led maritime coalition, India ignored the principal areas of its security concerns; as former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon noted, “New Delhi and Washington see eye to eye on maritime strategy, but not on what to do on the Asian mainland”. India is the only Quad member that is not in the west Pacific and the only one that shares an undemarcated 3,500-km land border with China. From April 2020, Indian and Chinese forces had their latest border face-off in Ladakh, abruptly ending a long period of productive relations.
Ties with China
In retrospect, this confrontation appears to be China’s sharp response to the steady shift in India’s regional posture in favour of an alignment with the U.S. and its allies against China, particularly the increasing interoperability between the respective forces. China has given India a rude reminder that India’s security concerns lie in its northern borders, not the west Pacific.
The U.S. views China’s rise as a threat to the world order it has led since the Second World War and is anxious to pull in allies to retard China’s ambitions and maintain its global hegemony. Despite rhetoric relating to the promotion of a ‘rules-based’ world order (the rules being most frequently violated by the U.S. itself), the Quad neither shares a strategic vision nor is it animated by a shared agenda. This is obvious not only from its inability to deter China in the west Pacific, but also by its members’ anxiety to maintain close ties with China.
Thus, in 2020 China became India’s number one trade partner, with two-way trade at $77 billion. Again, China-U.S. trade continues to favour China — American investors hold $1 trillion of Chinese equity, and 75% of U.S. companies in China say they will continue to invest there.
The Quad has a core structural problem as well in that it pivots around the U.S. The U.S. is a super-power with global interests, but it is also self-centred in defining and pursuing its interests, even as its policies experience major shifts due to government change or domestic lobbies. Clearly, the Quad riles China as a hostile grouping, but hardly serves the security interests of its members.
Resetting alignments, policies
Not surprisingly, the stand-off at Ladakh has been a bitter experience for India: it has affirmed the limits of India-U.S. security ties, the folly of Indian involvement in the Quad, and the need to focus national attention and resources in areas of abiding interest for India — the border, the neighbours and the Indian Ocean.
Ladakh also offers some valuable lessons for India. One, the rebuilding of ties with China will have to be a priority concern. Though it will take time for trust to be restored, what will help will be for India to dilute its focus on the Indo-Pacific and the Quad and accept that the borders and the Indian Ocean are where its crucial interests lie.
Two, the Ladakh experience has highlighted certain deficiencies at home: the government appears to be largely focused on reshaping the national ethos on the basis of a narrow and exclusive political ideology that has raised doubts about India’s continued commitment to democratic pluralism. It hardly needs reiteration that India’s capacities can only be built by a united people committed to the national cause.
Finally, foreign policy cannot be a part-time concern of the national leadership; in terms of priority and attention, it should be on a par with domestic affairs. While this approach is being corrected, it should also be noted that India’s foreign policy has often been ad hoc, reactive and short term, reflecting the absence of a broad strategic culture. As the global scenario gets more complex and India’s ambitions increase, a cohesive strategic vision would give substance and drive to India’s pursuit of its interests over the long term.
Ladakh offers a clear blueprint for the content and direction of national policy. Implementing it will ensure that the martyrdom of our soldiers in the northern snows would not have been in vain.