1. The action plan against Delhi’s air pollution
How does the Graded Response Action Plan work? What are the four stages planned under it and in what circumstances will they be implemented? How are the planned measures different this year?
A revised action plan to fight the serious challenge of air pollution in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) has come into force after a sudden dip in air quality in the capital and its neighbouring areas.
As per experts, the “finer” version of GRAP could prevent the air quality crisis in Delhi-NCR after Diwali. The GRAP for Delhi-NCR is divided into four stages of air quality — Stage one for “poor” Air Quality Index (AQI) ranging between 201 and 300, Stage two for “very poor” AQI of 301-400, Stage three for “severe” AQI of 401-450 and Stage four for “severe plus” AQI more than 450.
Along with instructions for authorities, the GRAP includes a graded advisory for the public. The measures include properly tuning engines of their vehicles, ensuring accurate air pressure in tyres and updating PUC (pollution under control) certificates.
The story so far:
A revised action plan to fight the serious challenge of air pollution in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) has come into force after a sudden dip in air quality in the capital and its neighbouring areas. On October 6, the first stage of the revised Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) was implemented.
How did GRAP come into being?
To deal with the multi-faceted risks linked to air pollution, the Central Pollution Control Board submitted a list of measures to address different levels of air pollution to the Supreme Court in January 2016. These measures coalesced into GRAP — a set of anti-air pollution measures which are to be followed in Delhi and its vicinity according to the severity of the situation. The GRAP was approved by the SC after modifications and notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change on January 12, 2017.
With multiple State and central bodies working on the problem, a need was felt to consolidate resources to efficiently tackle the problem of toxic air. The Centre thus set up the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas. This powerful body, which coordinates with other States to plan and execute strategies to prevent and control air pollution in the NCR, has been enforcing GRAP since 2021.
Have anti-pollution policies changed?
Under the revised action plan, restrictions on polluting activities will be dependent on Air Quality Index (AQI) rather than PM2.5 and PM10 concentration. As per experts, the “finer” version of GRAP could prevent the air quality crisis in Delhi-NCR after Diwali. “Stubble burning peaks in November and Diwali is on October 24. This is a crucial factor. So, it may not lead to a severe situation on Diwali provided all other measures are followed strictly…The government has provided more machines for the management of stubble this year. We hope for better results,” Dr. Mahesh Narang, the head of the farm engineering department at Punjab Agricultural University told PTI.
How will the action plan function?
The GRAP for Delhi-NCR is divided into four stages of air quality — Stage one for “poor” AQI ranging between 201 and 300, Stage two for “very poor” AQI of 301-400, Stage three for “severe” AQI of 401-450 and Stage four for “severe plus” AQI more than 450.
In stage one, a ban on construction and demolition activities at specific sites will be implemented. Also, agencies should ensure that all solid waste is lifted from dedicated dump sites, and none is dumped on open land. Heavy fines are to be imposed for openly burning municipal solid waste and biomass. Roads will be mechanically cleaned and water sprinkled from time to time. The ban on firecrackers should be followed as per the directions of respective courts. In stage two, mechanised sweeping of roads will be done daily, while water will be sprinkled using dust suppressants at least on alternate days. Authorities would need to ensure an uninterrupted power supply to discourage the use of generators.
At stage three, the frequency of cleaning roads intensifies. Water would be sprinkled daily before peak traffic hours. Authorities will levy different rates on public transport services to encourage off-peak travel. A strict ban will be enforced on all construction activities, except ongoing construction of railway, metro, airport and hospital projects. The State government will be empowered to impose restrictions on BS-III petrol and BS-IV diesel light motor vehicles (LMVs).
During stage four, when the air quality rises to dangerous levels, entry of all trucks, except those carrying essential commodities, will be restricted. Four-wheeler diesel LMVs would also be banned except those used for essential or emergency services. All construction and demolition activities would have to be stopped. The respective governments could, meanwhile, take a call on allowing public, municipal and private offices to work on 50% strength. Additional emergency measures like closing schools, non-emergency commercial activities and plying of vehicles on an odd-even basis may also be enforced.
Do citizens have a role?
Along with instructions for authorities, the GRAP also includes a graded advisory for the public. The measures include properly tuning engines of their vehicles, ensuring accurate air pressure in tyres and updating PUC (pollution under control) certificates.
2. The programming languages running the crypto- economy
Smart contracts, which let you execute automated actions on blockchains, are the backbone of the crypto-industry. To create them effectively, programming languages are a must
Crypto exchanges often rely on smart contracts to run smoothly. A smart contract failure can cause platform outages, and exploitation of the codes could devalue the entire ecosystem. Programming languages help crypto platforms and protocols run effectively.
C++ is a programming language associated with Bitcoin. It is also one of the most used programming languages, playing a role in the development of operating systems, gaming devices and platforms, search engines, and even machine learning.
Rust has the unique distinction of being called the “perfect programming language” in 2021 by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. However, developers have complained that Rust is too difficult to learn.
The crypto ecosystem sits on top of distributed ledgers, which are broadly called blockchains. Apart from recording and verifying transactions, some crypto blockchains like Ethereum let users launch agreements or special actions that execute on their own. These are known as smart contracts and to create them effectively, programming languages are a must.
The importance of programming
Crypto exchanges, decentralised apps, the automated buying or selling of orders, and even NFT-based games often rely on smart contracts to run smoothly. A smart contract failure can cause platform outages, and exploitation of the codes could devalue the entire ecosystem. Programming languages thus, help crypto platforms and protocols run effectively.
C++ is a programming language commonly associated with Bitcoin. While the Bitcoin whitepaper explaining the peer-to-peer electronic cash system is written largely in English, the Bitcoin Core software, which makes transactions possible, uses C++. It is maintained by a community anyone can join by running Bitcoin Core full nodes. It is hailed for being an accessible programming language that users of Java, C, and C# can easily learn due to existing similarities. It is also one of the most used programming languages, playing a role in the development of operating systems like MacOS and Windows, gaming devices, search engines, and even machine learning. C++ is a major influence for many other programming languages in use today. However, some see C++ as an outdated programme. Mark Russinovich, Microsoft Azure’s CTO, recently asked developers to stop using C and C++.
Solidity, Rusk and Haskell
Rust has the unique distinction of being called the “perfect programming language” in 2021 by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. Come 2022, Mr. Dorsey noted that Rust was a “close second” to C. In the crypto world, Rust is commonly associated with the Solana blockchain, which is known for its high speeds and relatively low transaction fees. The Polkadot blockchain, which helps to better connect blockchains with each other, also uses Rust. However, developers have complained that Rust is too difficult to learn. A 2018 survey showed that more than 22% of users did not feel productive using the programming language.
Some of the most valuable blockchain projects in the crypto industry don’t necessarily rely on the most popular programming languages. Cardano, for example, is a blockchain that takes pride in its academic rigour and scholarly approach to the crypto sector. Its smart contract programming language is based on Haskell. The Cardano Foundation itself admits that Haskell is not well-known, and that it is not a popular programming language for beginners. Haskell is classified as a purely functional programming language, and is hard to learn. But it is said to be well-suited to deliver accurate crypto projects due to its immutability feature.
3. All that Gauri Lankesh stood for: culturally rooted secularism and pro-people politics
It is unsurprising that she was killed by an ideology — one that stands in opposition to our Constitution, denies the values of our freedom struggle, fears our intellectual traditions and is threatened by the multiple strands of Hinduism.
The mother and sister of slain activist Gauri Lankesh recently joined Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. He later remarked on Twitter that Lankesh and countless others like her “represent the true spirit of India”. In this article dated September 8, 2017, Yogendra Yadav talks about her killing as an attempt to quell the ideas and vision she stood for.
What killed Gauri Lankesh? This is not the same question as “who killed Gauri Lankesh?” This is deeper and a more rewarding question. In any case, this is the only question we can meaningfully answer in the public domain.
A murder involves four categories of culpability: those who carry out assassination, those who conspire, those who encourage or benefit from it, and those who are involved in its acquiescence. We must leave the first two for the police to determine. Instead of rushing to conclusions about the assassins and conspirators, let us focus on the larger context that encouraged and acquiesced to, indeed celebrated, her murder.
This is particularly relevant in the case of Gauri. She was not just a person. She represented an idea. It is reasonable to assume that her assassination is an attempt to shut down that idea. It is also meant to convey a signal to everyone else to shut up, or else. Since these signals are in the public domain, we can and must decode these in order to understand the context that led to her assassination.
A word about the ‘whodunnit’. So far, we know only a few relevant facts. Gauri Lankesh was a journalist, a fearless editor of an extraordinary paper called Gauri Lankesh Patrike. She had been carrying out a crusade against the Hindutva politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies through the paper she edited, and organisations like Komu Souharda Vedike. Last year she lost a defamation suit by a BJP leader; her appeal against it was pending. She had received several threats from Sangh Parivar affiliates. As far as we know, there was no personal enmity angle to this murder.
The killing of ideas
This information is good to draw a reasonable inference: she was killed because of her ideas and her determination to speak her mind. But this information is not adequate to reach a definite conclusion about the identity of the killers and the conspirators. It is only fair that the criminal investigation must not be carried out in TV studios. This is not to say that we must trust the police. Indeed, police investigations in similar cases, whether under the Congress or the BJP regime, have been perfunctory. Still we cannot pre-empt the investigation, even if we scrutinise it later.
While we do not have evidence of who planned her murder, we have lots of evidence concerning those who celebrated and justified her murder. Social media was abuzz with comments that mocked, abused and blamed a woman who had been killed a few hours ago. Most of them were well-established BJP trolls. Some of them were followed by none other than the Prime Minister. In this context, it was vital for the ruling party to dissociate itself from this campaign. But except Ravi Shankar Prasad, no senior BJP leader spoke unequivocally against such comments. The PM is yet to ‘unfollow’ any of these trolls. We also know the eerie pattern that was replicated in three murders prior to hers. The murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in 2013, that of Govind Pansare, another campaigner against superstition, in 2015, and academic M.M. Kalburgi in 2015 followed identical patterns.
In each of these cases, unidentified killers shot down intellectual crusaders inimical to the ideology of the Sangh Parivar. These were not murders to avenge any other act of violence. Nor were these attempts to eliminate a political rival. These were aimed at silencing an idea. Let us not forget that these three ‘rationalists’ were not promoting some idiosyncratic idea: cultivation of ‘scientific temper’ is very much our constitutional ideal. They were killed by an ideology inimical to our Constitution. Prima facie, Gauri’s killing fits into this pattern.
From a rooted tradition
Her ideas were, of course, not the same as the other three. Everyone, supporter as well as detractor, has assumed that she was a ‘leftist’. There has been some loose talk of her being Naxalite. This is not true. Gauri represented an illustrious intellectual tradition of Karnataka that does not fit into any of these categories. As the editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, she carried forward the legacy of her father P. Lankesh, the founder of Lankesh Patrike and one of the three iconic writers of the ‘Navya’ school of Kannada literature. Inspired by Ram Manohar Lohia, these writers from Shimoga — P. Lankesh, Poornachandra Tejaswi and U.R. Ananthamurthy — combined a strident anti-caste stance with the socialist brand of egalitarian politics and culturally rooted secularism. They mentored the next generation of Kannada intellectuals like Devanur Mahadeva, Siddalingaiah and D.R. Nagaraj whose writings have inspired ‘progressive’ activists in Karnataka.
This socialist tradition is ‘left’ in the sense of being pro-people and egalitarian, but very different from the communist ‘left’ in terms of its cultural orientation. This tradition is rooted in Kannada egalitarian thought that goes back to Basavanna. Although on some issues Gauri was closer to the orthodox left than her father, her secularism was a continuity of this tradition. Like her father, she chose to write in Kannada and in a popular idiom. This form of culturally rooted secularism is in line with the secularism of our freedom struggle. The Sangh Parivar fears this most, as this form of secularism cannot be brushed aside as deracinated, westernised intellectualism.
Her very name carried a challenge to what is now being presented as Hindutva. This is the time of the year to welcome the arrival of ‘Gauri’ — also known as Durga, Parvathi, Bhavani or Shakti — in many regions of the country. ‘Lankesh’ is, of course, Ravana, the ultimate devotee of Lord Shiva. Her name invokes the tradition of Ravana worship among Shaivites, a practice that upsets the project of homogenous Hindutva.
Gauri lived a life of ideas. It is unsurprising that she was killed by an ideology — one that stands in opposition to our Constitution, denies the values of our freedom struggle, fears our intellectual traditions and is threatened by the multiple strands of Hinduism. She was killed by the ruling ideology of our times.
4. Indian Navy to join Malabar exercise and International Fleet Review in Japan in Nov.
Japan will host the 2022 edition of the Malabar naval exercise consisting of India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. in the second week of November, according to official sources. The Indian Navy will also participate in the International Fleet Review (IFR) being hosted in the first week of November to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF), an official source said.
This is the latest in a series of bilateral and multilateral exercises in which the Indian armed forces have taken part recently. In October-end, the India-U.S. bilateral Army exercise ‘Yudh Abhyas’ is scheduled to take place in the high-altitude areas of Uttarakhand, around 100 km (aerial distance) from the Line of Actual Control.
“The initial and final planning conferences for Malabar have been completed. The exercise is scheduled to be held from November 8 to 18,” a second official source said. While the Navy has not yet given details of its participation, two frontline warships and a P-8I maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) are likely to be deployed, it has been learnt.
Australia is keen to host the exercise, but that has not yet been accepted by the partner countries, two official sources stated. Australia was included as a regular member in Ex Malabar in 2020.
The IFR to be held in the first week of November is being conducted during the 18th Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) ‘strategic discussion’ and ‘plenary session’ being hosted by Japan from November 5 to 10, according to a statement by the Royal Brunei Navy. However, it is not yet clear if India would be taking part in the WPNS. A decision from the Defence Ministry is awaited, said a defence source in the middle of last week.
India is currently hosting the multilateral anti-terror exercise ‘Manesar Anti-terror 2022’ under the ambit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure scheduled from October 8 to 13.
At the same time, Australia’s flagship regional engagement activities, Indo-Pacific Endeavour, is currently under way.
Malabar Exercise started off in 1992 as a bilateral naval exercise between Indian and US navies. In 2015, Japan joined the exercise Malabar, making it a trilateral naval exercise. In 2020, the Australian Navy had joined the Malabar Exercise, making it a quadrilateral naval exercise. Earlier, Australia joined the exercise in 2007.
Salient points about Malabar Exercise
- It is a trilateral naval exercise. But due to the participation of Australia in 2020 & 2021, it has become a quadrilateral exercise.
- It takes place annually in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Oceans alternatively.
- The first Malabar Exercise in the Bay of Bengal took place in 2007.
- Singapore and Australia have been non-permanent members previously.
- This exercise includes a diverse range of activities such as fighter combat operations and maritime interdiction operations.
- The aim of the Malabar Exercise of India, US, Japan and Australia is to coordinate for free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
List of Naval Exercises – Indian Navy & Other Navies
The below table gives details on Joint Maritime Exercises conducted by the Indian Navy.
5. Editrorial-1: Why India Inc. is not taking a Hanuman leap
In a meeting held with the country’s corporate leaders on September 15, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman drew attention to an important aspect of the economy today. She rightly flagged concerns about sluggish corporate investment, despite the government’s business-friendly stance, including a reduction in the corporate tax. The reduction, effected in 2019, lowered the rate for existing companies to 22% from 30% and for new manufacturing companies to 15% from 25%. However, the corporate investment rate, i.e., investment as a share of the national income, has barely budged. Ms. Sitharaman challenged corporate leaders to invest, asking rhetorically whether, like Hanuman in the Ramayana, they needed to be reminded of their inborn strength. The analogy is mismatched, though. For, while Hanuman was so devoted to Lord Rama that he was ready to risk his life serving him, private firms are driven by profit expectations. Managers are averse to risk, and unlikely to rush to invest based on exhortation from a Minister if they do not anticipate enough profits. Private investment accounts for close to 75% of total capital formation in the economy; its revival therefore is essential for sustained growth of the economy.
Decline of private capital formation
The Narendra Modi government’s first pronouncements in 2014 had conveyed that it desired a shift away from a state-driven model of economic development. This much was apparent in its slogan ‘minimum government’. If this was to be, the private sector would take the lead in driving the economy. Mr. Modi had a reputation as a business-friendly Chief Minister of Gujarat. Upon reaching Delhi, he emphasised that his government would improve the ease of doing business in India. This by itself is a worthy objective, as anyone familiar with the working of the regulatory apparatus in India would agree.
As private capital formation last peaked in 2011–12, its decline is something that the present government inherited. However, it has had no success in turning it around. Though it has not allowed public investment to slip, that has not been enough under the circumstances. Either ideological predilection regarding the size of the government or the straitjacket imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act have held back the government from expanding it. We can see with hindsight that the government misread the situation prevailing when it came to power, and thus failed to recognise its own role at that moment.
So, what was the state of the economy then? The boom had ended by 2008, and the economy was held up only by former Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s stimulus. When Mr. Modi arrived at the Centre, the upsurge in public investment had long since ended and agricultural growth had become erratic. In fact, in the first two years of his prime ministership, agriculture did not grow at all. Finally, with the global financial crisis and the slowing of the world economy, export growth declined. These added up to a slowing of the exogenous drivers of demand, and private investors could not but have seen that the situation was not likely to turn positive soon. Also, they would not necessarily have been enthused by the possibility that the ideology of ‘minimum government’ could end up putting public investment on hold, failing to expand aggregate demand when it was needed. So, based on the situation in 2014, India’s investors would have been fully rational in anticipating a not-so-rosy future for the economy unless some exogenous factors were to turn favourable, or the government were to act decisively to energise the situation through public investment. They would have seen that demonetisation, with the attendant digitisation, and the roll out of the GST could not have done much for the growth of demand.
Stepping up public investment
The one lever that the government could have pulled as it watched private investment decline was to step up public investment. It refused to do this for its first six years in office. Only ideological blinkers combined with the hubris that there is nothing to be learned from history can explain this inaction. Since 1947, every turning point of growth in India was preceded by a significant shift upward of the public investment rate. This includes the growth accelerations of the 1950s, the late 1970s, and the early 2000s and the downturns of the mid-1960s as well as the one that followed the 2008 global financial crisis. It suggests that crowding in, rather than crowding out, characterises the relationship between public and private capital formation in India.
While the Modi government has for long nursed an aversion to the government playing a role in capital formation, the experience during the pandemic seems to have brought about a change of mind. The Union Budget of 2022 was defined by a historic increase in the allocation for capital spending. This could have a positive effect on private investment, but past experience suggests that it could take time to play out. So, the expansion in public investment may have to be sustained for sufficiently long. Even the fiscally conservative International Monetary Fund has suggested that public investment can play the role of an engine of growth for the developing economies. The sustained growth needed to kindle private investment may require that the current public investment thrust be sustained for at least half a decade. However, two aspects would remain crucial even if the government were to find the will to maintain its current pace. One, it is important to choose the right projects. The investment must be focused on productivity-enhancing infrastructure. Here, some tied transfer of funds to the States would be desirable, as they are better placed to identify such investment. Two, inflation can derail a high public investment programme due to the disaffection it generates. Its control would require a step-up in the growth of agricultural produce other than the superior cereals. In fact, this should be seen as an opportunity to end India’s import dependence on edible oils and the persisting shortfall in the supply of vegetables. It is by now clear that the Reserve Bank of India does not have what it takes to control inflation, and only a supply-side thrust can permanently end food inflation.
Though this government may have inherited the sluggish private investment, it must reflect upon whether its own actions may have adversely affected the investment climate. Could the significant step-up in raids by the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department have had a chilling effect? Could the unreasonable stringency that governs the financial transactions of even not-for-profit organisations have stifled the legitimate economic activity that they give rise to? Could it be that the economy’s goose is being cooked by a surveillance state?
6. Editorial-2: The fate of chips will determine the fate of nations
A human hair is 50-180 microns whereas the novel coronavirus is 0.1-0.5 microns. In comparison, today’s most advanced chips are about half the size of the novel coronavirus in diameter and are shrinking rapidly. The fate of nations depends on this infinitesimally small piece of silicon, which can devastate and shape our lives in myriad ways.
Dependence on chips
Let us consider three different scenarios. First, Apple’s new A16 chip has over 16 billion transistors in it. And Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s leading manufacturer of chips, placed over one quintillion (that’s 1 followed by 18 zeros) transistors on just the iPhone chip. Every message we send, every picture we take, every call we make depends on one chip or the other.
Apple buys its chips from Cirrus Logic, Kioxia, Skywords and TSMC. It designs these in-house, and the super complex processes that run the iPhone operating system makes Apple a force of nature. But even a trillion-dollar company like Apple is not able to manufacture its own chips. A16 is made by a single company, in a single building called Building 18 in Taipei. TSMC’s fab is perhaps the world’s most expensive and valuable factory. Chips today are manufactured in just a handful of nations: Taiwan, South Korea, the U.S., Japan, the Netherlands, and China.
Second, Russia appears to be unable to dominate Ukraine in the war, one of the reasons being that it is using more brawn than brain. Ukraine is using precision-guided missiles to fight Russia, which it recently procured from its Western allies. These missiles are powered by chips. While Russia has some precision-guided missiles, it is unable to manufacture these at the scale required because of Western trade sanctions. Whatever Russia has is a combination of some chips stolen, some made indigenously and some imported in the past, claim Ukraine and U.S. officials. The U.S. government’s famous Entity List ensures that this technology does not reach China and Russia and they cannot get ahead in the chips race.
Third, earlier this year, Toyota temporarily shut down production at assembly lines at five domestic group plants in Japan due to the shortage of chips. If you want to buy a new car in the U.S., the waiting time is really long.
What is common in these scenarios is the importance of chips. Not just the ability to manufacture chips, but also the ability to integrate and synthesise them into complex systems will determine the fate of nations in the coming decades. Today, critical sectors such as defence, telecom, electronics and mobility are hugely impacted by the chip shortage, which won’t end until 2023, as per research studies. If there ever is a natural disaster in South Korea or Taiwan, it could only worsen the crisis. The U.S., European Union, Japan, India and China have poured in about $200 billion into the semiconductors sector, but the impact of that will not be seen now. The U.S. was ready to defend Taiwan should there be aggression from China probably because no country in the world has the capability to produce chips better and faster than Taiwan (and South Korea) does.
‘Don’t be Foxconned’
While India has taken a visionary step to subsidise chip manufacturing through the Production-Linked Incentive scheme, there is one cautionary tale that it must bear in mind as it chases global chip manufacturers. It is called ‘Don’t be Foxconned’. Like Brazil and Vietnam in the past, in June 2018, Racine County in Wisconsin in the U.S. was led up the proverbial garden path by Terry Gou, Chairman of Foxconn, along with U.S. President Donald Trump and Governor Scott Walker. Mr. Gou secured around $5 billion in subsidies and promised thousands of jobs and the world’s best LCD manufacturing plant. But everything remained on paper. Despite uprooting people from their homes to build a new factory, not one chip or LCD panel ever got built there. Mr. Trump even called the Wisconsin Valley Science and Technology Park the eighth wonder of the world. A manufacturing facility in the municipal records, its designation was quietly changed last month to ‘storage facility’.
Indian States, which are competing to court chip manufacturing investments, must also bear in mind that steady electricity and billions of gallons of clean water are required to set up a chip unit, which none of them can offer today. Even LCD panel manufacturing is a dream for the future. For example, the proposed Racine plant required about seven million gallons of water per day, which was being called a violation of the Great Lakes Compact by environmentalists. Chips manufacturing will require even more. India will get there with prudent strategies and sensible leadership in the coming decade, if all goes well.
A chip manufacturing plant costs $15 billion-$20 billion which takes years to recoup profitably even if it is runs all year. With global supply chains in turmoil thanks to COVID-19 and the Ukraine war, the game of chips is even more complicated now. Every major economic superpower is using its money and its best minds to win this silicon battle. This will impact the lives of citizens in more ways than one. India can afford to lose this war only at its own peril.
7. Editorial-3: Status beyond faith
The panel on giving SC status to converts has its work cut out
The Centre has appointed a three-member Commission to examine the sensitive issue of extending Scheduled Caste (SC) status to all those who have historically suffered discrimination and untouchability, regardless of the religion they now profess. It is a task fraught with difficulty for the panel headed by former Chief Justice of India, K. G. Balakrishnan, as it will have to grapple with both social realities and ideological objections while addressing the core question. The government itself has described it as a seminal and historically complex sociological and constitutional question. This is not the first time that the issue has come up before the Supreme Court — the panel’s appointment comes in the wake of the Court asking the Centre to clarify its position on the issue — or has been examined by a commission headed by a former Chief Justice. In 1985, the Supreme Court agreed that historical discrimination may continue even after members of the SCs convert to other religions, but did not decide in favour of such converts being given SC status as it felt there was not enough material outlining their condition after conversion. It is to be welcomed that the Balakrishnan Commission has been asked specifically to examine the changes that Dalits go through after conversion in terms of their social status and the discrimination they may face, along with the implications of according them SC status.
The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, headed by retired Chief Justice Ranganath Mishra, also examined this issue. In its 2007 report, the panel made a categorical recommendation in favour of giving SC status to Dalits belonging to all religions. It found the caste system to be “an all-pervading social phenomenon in India shared by almost all Indian communities”. It stressed the constitutional need to eliminate the religion-based discrimination underlying the present policy of limiting SC status to those professing Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. While the tenets of a religion may not allow discrimination, the ground reality was different, it said. The main counter-views are well-known: discrimination and deprivation being the consequences of the caste-based Hindu social order, SC status should not be extended to those who have converted to Christianity and Islam; and the benefits involved may be seen as an incentive to mass conversion. Another objection is that the share of the reservation pie available to Dalits among Hindus may shrink if new sections are included. There is no ‘creamy layer’ concept for SC reservation, and expanding its scope may be to the disadvantage of the current beneficiaries. The Commission will have to come up with a definitive study of these complex issues.
8. Editorial-4: Peace, Prize, politics
The Nobel can strengthen the voices of peace and human rights globally
By choosing a Belarusian human rights campaigner and two civil liberty-focused organisations from Ukraine and Russia for this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace, the Norwegian Committee has once again offered its redoubtable support for voices that are critical of the authoritarianism and militarism of Moscow and its allies. This is the second year in a row that Russians who demand accountability and respect for human rights from authorities have been chosen for the Prize. In 2021, Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Russian Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independent newspapers in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, was a co-winner of the Prize for his “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression”. This year, Memorial, an organisation that has been documenting alleged state abuses in Russia since 1987, shared the Prize with Ales Bialiatski, the Belarusian activist, and the Center for Civil Liberties (CCL) in Ukraine. Memorial is one of the few independent NGOs in Russia that continue to demand accountability from the country’s rulers. It has a database of both the victims and perpetrators of state abuses that date back to the Stalin era. Mr. Bialiatski, who is the founder of the rights group called Viasna (Spring), has been campaigning for democracy in Belarus since the 1980s. The CCL, which was founded to promote democracy in Ukraine, is known for documenting Russia’s alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
Of the three recipients, Mr. Bialiatski and Memorial continue to face the wrath of the state. Mr. Bialiatski was jailed from 2011 to 2014 by the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko. When street protests broke out across the country in 2020 after the disputed presidential election in which Mr. Lukashenko “won” a sixth term, authorities arrested Mr. Bialiatski again. He is currently in jail without trial. Memorial, founded in the Soviet Union’s internal reform period, has had several run-ins with the Putin administration. Last year, the NGO was disbanded by a Moscow court and last week, a judge ruled in favour of the seizure of the organisation’s office by the authorities. CCL, founded in 2007, rose to prominence in Ukraine’s 2014 pro-western Maidan protests that brought down the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych. Since the February 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the CCL has been documenting Russia’s alleged atrocities. The Peace Prize has often been criticised as a political award shorn of credibility, but it could strengthen the voices of peace and human rights globally.
9. Editorial-5: The coalition of the world
The League of Nations, set up in 1920, was the first intergovernmental organisation with the aim to promote international cooperation and outlived its utility with World War II. The United Nations claims to be the one place where all the world’s nations can discuss common problems and find shared solutions that benefit all of humanity. Now, 75 years later, rising conflict situations suggest it is time to go back to first principles of the Charter.
The United Nations Secretary General (UNSG), António Guterres, made a candid assessment of global governance. He addressed the United Nations General Assembly and said the “world is in big trouble”, “gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction”, even the “G20 is in the trap of geopolitical divides”. “In a splintering world, we need to create mechanisms of dialogue to heal divides” and “only by acting as one, we can nurture fragile shoots of hope” for a “coalition of the world”. This is a call for fresh thinking.
India’s Presidency of the Group of 20, UN Security Council (UNSC) in 2022, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2023 when major powers are not even talking to each other and India alone, now the fifth largest economy, is interacting with each of them, presents a historic opportunity.
UN at a turning point
The gridlock does not flow from bilateral relations but from the way international cooperation is being re-defined.
First, multilateralism is under challenge even by its proponent, with the United States opting for partnerships, with the most important areas being the worst affected. The G7 Summit, held in June, endorsed the goals of a cooperative international Climate Club to accelerate climate action outside the UN. The dispute settlement mechanism of the WTO without the quorum of its members has rendered the institution dysfunctional. Despite the G7 having accepted the need for transfer of funds at Rio in 1992, because of their role in creating the climate crisis, the promise made in 2009 to provide at least $100 billion per year in climate finance remains unfulfilled.
Second, China has opted for rival set of multilateral institutions. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) seeks to achieve policy, infrastructure, trade, financial, and people-to-people connectivity by building a new platform for international cooperation to create “new drivers of shared development”, and covers half the world population with one-third the GDP and investment of $930 billion. China’s Global Development Initiative, 2021, and linked Global Security Initiative, 2022, is developing a conceptual frame responding to an urbanising world, i.e. digital governance and non-traditional security, which the international system has not covered.
Third, more significant than the clash of institutions reflecting the deepening divide between the Atlantic powers and the Russia-China combine is the diffusion of wealth, technology and power. The ‘rest’, despite threats, are now capable of not taking sides and are looking for leadership within the United Nations, for what the UNSG characterised as “coalition of the world”.
India will chair the Security Council in December, and will have the Presidency of the G20 and the SCO.
Strategists in major powers see the world in binary terms around rules. In a multipolar world, the question is the kind of rules needed for human wellbeing and whether principles would serve the purpose better.
Second, the time is ripe for a ‘big idea’ that both keeps away from the current multilateral focus on global rules, amount of aid and inviolability of IPR’s as well as recognises a role for competing institutions as countries can now secure the best terms themselves without bargaining.
Third, just as the ‘Rio principles’ continue to guide climate change, vasudhaiva kutumbakam, or ‘world as one family’, focusing on comparable levels of wellbeing can be the core of a set of universal socio-economic principles for a dialogue between the states.
Fourth, to the current global consensus around equitable sustainable development, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has added a clearer societal purpose to flesh out a universal civilisational principle. He emphasised ‘Lifestyle for Environment’ seeing climate change as a societal process and combating it devoid of trade-offs characteristic of the Climate Treaty. He has also offered India’s payments and linked digital ID technology without IPR restrictions.
Fifth, redefining ‘common concerns’ in terms of felt needs of the majority rather than interests and concerns of the powerful will shift the focus of a much slimmed down United Nations squarely to human wellbeing, and not as an add-on.
India’s Presidential statement could introduce ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ in the UNSC in December. The SCO Summit will precede the G20 Summit and acceptance of overarching principles will support acceptance by the wider G20.
10. Editorial-6: Inflation peaks in Europe as Russia squeezes oil supply
Energy-related inflation across Europe started to rise post the Ukraine invasion and accelerated to over 40% in the recent months
In the seven months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the tables have turned. Initially, major financial and commercial sanctions were imposed on Russia by the U.S., the U.K., the European Union and other nations. This had a telling effect on the rouble, which was trading at 81 per dollar before the invasion and by March fell to 151. However, the rouble recovered quickly in the following months, and by May, it went back to the pre-invasion levels.
In the months following the invasion, tougher sanctions against Russian oil and gas remained a contentious subject for countries in the European region. This was because a quarter of the region’s oil needs were met by Russia before the war. After much deliberation, the 27-nation bloc decided to cut off Russian oil that comes by ship from December 5. Russia also has increasingly decreased its oil exports to the European region and is planning to reduce it further if the U.S. and other nations go ahead with a price cap on its oil.
Data shows that a combination of supply-squeeze from Russia and self-imposed import restrictions have led to a sudden surge in Europe’s energy prices. Inflation across the European region spiraled up uncontrollably since the Ukrainian invasion. Chart 1 shows the month-wise inflation rate in the European Union since 2010 across various sectors.
Energy-related inflation started to rise post the war and accelerated to over 40% in recent months. While the overall inflation and food-related inflation have surged to 10-year highs in recent days, their increase pales in comparison to the rise in energy prices.
The impact of rising energy costs was felt across all European nations. Chart 2 shows the energy-related inflation rates in select European countries. In the U.K., energy inflation crossed the 70% mark, and in Spain, it crossed the 60% mark, while in the Netherlands it almost touched 100%. In all the nations analysed, the energy-related inflation levels have reached at least a 10-year peak.
Such a drastic increase in inflation levels in Europe is understandable given the very high levels of dependency on Russian oil. Chart 3 shows the share of Russia’s oil imports in total domestic oil consumption of a country. The figure provided is an average between 2014 and 2019. For instance, oil supplies from Russia formed 38% of Germany’s domestic oil demand. Countries such as Belgium, Finland and Netherlands too had a very high dependency on Russia for their oil needs.
In some countries, the figure exceeded 100% as a nation may import more fuel than it consumes in a year. Some may stock, re-export or convert it into other petroleum products and export them.
Despite such high dependence, following the Ukraine invasion, the oil supply from Russia to most of the European countries has taken a hit. Table 4 shows Russia’s share in a country’s total oil imports. The data is provided for two periods — February 2021 to June 2021, and February 2022 to June 2022. For instance, Russia formed 60-75% of Finland’s total oil imports in 2021. However, it reduced to 10-30% in April-June 2022.
A similar decreasing trend was observed in the U.K. Before the invasion, Russia formed 15-20% of U.K.’s total oil imports. However, between April and June 2022, it reduced to 2-5%.
With the U.S. and a group of seven major democracies working out the details on a price cap on Russian oil and the EU approving a measure along those lines this week, more Russian oil may get taken off the market, pushing the prices even higher.