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Daily Current Affairs 11.08.2022 (The new U.S. Bill on climate action, The uproar over the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022, RBI targets unfair methods in digital lending with new norms, COVID-19, arguably, has become endemic in India, A new global vision for G20, The grammar of VIP security)

Daily Current Affairs 11.08.2022 (The new U.S. Bill on climate action, The uproar over the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022, RBI targets unfair methods in digital lending with new norms, COVID-19, arguably, has become endemic in India, A new global vision for G20, The grammar of VIP security)

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1. The new U.S. Bill on climate action

Does the new Bill completely leave out fossil fuel industries? What are the listed incentives to switch to clean energy?

On August 7, the U.S. Senate approved a bill titled the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) 2022. The IRA has a special focus on climate, healthcare, and tax provisions to address inflation.

The Bill marks the largest American investment aimed toward making the U.S. a leader in clean energy. It provides a tax deduction to low and middle-income households to go electric and seeks to lower the energy bills of U.S. households. For disadvantaged low-income communities and tribal communities, the Bill provides funding to benefit from zero-emission technologies. It also imposes a fee on methane leaks from oil and gas drilling. 

However, climate advocates criticise the bill for coupling the development of renewable energy, which is the cause of global warming, with land leasing for oil and gas drilling.

Akriti Sharma

The story so far: On August 7, the U.S. Senate approved a Bill titled the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) 2022, with a simple majority of 51 to 50. Vice President Kamala Harris cast her tie-breaking vote to aid the approval after the Senate was evenly divided. Even though all Republicans opposed the bill, the Democrats pushed through after a long debate taking advantage of the budget reconciliation process. The bill is a scaled-down version of President Biden’s Build Back Better Act (BBBA), which failed to get approval from the Senate. The IRA has a special focus on climate, healthcare, and tax provisions to address inflation.

What are the climate change provisions?

The Bill marks the largest American investment aimed toward making the U.S. a leader in clean energy. It includes packages worth $369 billion for the clean energy transition.

It provides a tax deduction to low and middle-income households to go electric and seeks to lower the energy bills of American households. It also aims to bolster the domestic production of heat pumps and critical minerals. For disadvantaged low-income communities and tribal communities, the Bill provides funding to benefit from zero-emission technologies which reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance climate resilience, and mitigate risks from extreme heat.

The Bill provides significant investment in renewable energy through heavy tax credits for wind and solar energy projects and electric vehicles. Additionally, the Bill imposes a tax on the largest and most profitable companies in order that they pay their fair share, without levying any taxes on households with income less than $40,000 per annum.

It also imposes a fee on methane leaks from oil and gas drilling.

At the same time, the Bill also aims at more investments in fossil fuels.

It seeks to expand oil and gas drilling, with the federal government offering land for onshore and offshore drilling as a prerequisite for developing renewable energy. Thus, it handcuffs the expansion of oil and gas with renewable energy development.

Why does the U.S. want to invest in addressing climate change?

The U.S is currently facing extreme climate threats. This includes heatwaves, wildfires, cyclones, floods, and hurricanes that have become frequent and intense in the past few years. The ongoing floods in Kentucky triggered by heavy rainfall and the wildfires in California induced by dry lightning have become a major concern for the country. There is a link between extreme weather events and climate change.

Additionally, President Joe Biden has also undertaken certain climate commitments. Climate action has been a priority since he came into office. In 2021, he committed to the new ambitious target of cutting emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030 and signed a new methane deal to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. He introduced the Build Back Better plan which was a multi-trillion deal with key provisions for climate change.

In May 2022, the Biden administration revoked the Alaska oil and gas drilling lease sales in the backdrop of soaring fuel prices, a move that is consistent with its climate commitment.

Why are Republicans opposing the Bill?

The legislation faced criticism not only from Republicans but also from a section within the Democrats along with fossil fuel supporters, and climate advocates.

The Republicans tried to delay the passage of the Bill in the Senate by introducing numerous amendments that criticised the Bill for its inability to curb inflation. All the amendments introduced failed except the one introduced by Senator John Thune on the exemption of some businesses from the minimum corporate tax. Democrat Senator Kyrsten Sinema supported John Thune’s amendment to support her state Arizona’s business-friendly approach.

Within the Democrats, the party had to agree to some policy changes. Senator Joe Manchin was the major reason behind the failure of President Biden’s BBBA in the Senate earlier. However, after constant deliberations, he agreed to support the current version which has more focus on reducing deficits.

Fossil fuel supporters criticise the bill as it does not take into account the communities that are dependent on the fossil fuel industry for their income. A protest by the workers of a coal plant in the state of West Virginia was recorded after their own Senator Joe Manchin agreed to back the bill.

Climate advocates criticise the bill for coupling the development of renewable energy, which is the cause of global warming, with land leasing for oil and gas drilling. The Bill still contains giveaways to the fossil fuel sector.

How does the Bill help the U.S. achieve its climate targets?

The Bill being the largest-ever investment in addressing the climate crisis in U.S. history, will help the nation get closer to its climate target of reducing 50-52% emissions below 2005 levels by 2030.

According to an estimate by the Rhodium Group, the investments in the Bill could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 31 to 44% by 2030.

The Bill can help the U.S. compete with China in terms of renewable production as China is a leading producer of solar energy. It can also facilitate the creation of domestic jobs.

Thus, the Bill can prove to be a turning point for global climate action as the U.S. is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases globally. However, it does not address any issues of global climate finance which is a major impediment to global climate action. It is a mere step toward achieving the climate target agreed upon in the Paris Agreement, where Article 2 states global temperature should be limited below 2°C.

Even though the Bill is not enough to address the climate crisis, such historic initiatives by global leaders in greenhouse gas emissions can be a benchmark for other large emitters to push their climate action programmes.

Have similar climate packages been announced by other countries?

In May 2022, Japan announced its ‘Invest in Kisida’ plan which aims for a $1.1 trillion investment to bolster the Japanese economy. As part of the plan, the country aims to transition to clean energy and achieve 46% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. In June 2021, the European Union (EU) proposed a similar ‘Fit for 55’ plan to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030. The plan is expected to become law soon. Being the largest emitters, both the U.S. and the EU can play a significant role in taking responsibility for historical emissions.

2. The uproar over the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022

Why are States alleging that the proposed Bill is unconstitutional? Who are the main opponents of the Bill?

The Union Power Ministry introduced the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in Lok Sabha on August 8.

The Bill is opposed by farmers’ groups as they fear that the Bill will lead to stopping subsidies and that power distribution will thereafter be under the control of private companies. Opposition parties questioned the Bill on federalist principles as electricity is a subject which comes under the Concurrent List of the Constitution.

One of main changes in the Bill is the proposal for the Centre’s intervention in the area of power distribution, a domain under the State governments. 

A. M. Jigeesh

The story so far: Ignoring the objections of the Opposition, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) and the trade unions, the Union Power Ministry introduced the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in Lok Sabha on August 8. Union Power Minister R.K. Singh said at the stage of introduction that the Bill could be moved to the Energy Standing Committee of Parliament for broader consultations. “My simple submission is that this entire matter will be discussed in the Standing Committee and the Standing Committee has representatives from all the parties,” Mr. Singh said. The Opposition questioned the introduction of the Bill. They alleged that the Centre is breaching the promise given to SKM that the Bill will not be brought to Parliament. The Opposition MPs said the Bill is not just anti-farmer, but also anti-Constitutional and against the interest of States. The basis of their argument was that the Bill may lead to ending subsidies for farmers and poor consumers.

What is the history of the Bill?

The Electricity Bill was brought for the first time and passed in Parliament in 2003, when A. B. Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. The intention was to consolidate the laws relating to generation, transmission, distribution, trading and use of electricity. The Act also offered to protect the interest of consumers and supply of electricity to all areas, rationalisation of electricity tariff, transparent policies regarding subsidies etc. The Act resulted in privatisation of distributing companies. It was amended in 2007 by the UPA Government, apparently under pressure from the Left parties. The provisions for “cross subsidy” — ensuring subsidy to poor households was added to the Bill in 2007. There were attempts to amend the Bill further in 2014, 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021. While the 2014 Bill was cleared by the Standing Committee on Energy, it could not be passed in the House as the Centre wanted to revise it. None of the other draft Bills came to Parliament as the Centre was not satisfied with the primary response it received after consultations with stakeholders. All of those Bills remained in their draft form.

Why is there opposition to the Bill?

The opposition to the Bill is primarily from farmers’ groups as they fear that the Bill will lead to stopping subsidies and that power distribution will thereafter be under the control of private companies. The workers in the power sector also oppose the Bill citing that privatisation of distribution companies and generating units will result in job losses. When the Central trade unions started a campaign against the Act, the SKM pledged support. The Opposition parties questioned the Bill on federalist principles. RSP MP N. K. Premachandran said in the House that power or electricity is a subject which comes under the Concurrent List of the Constitution, and that the Centre should have consulted the States before bringing the Bill. Congress MP Manish Tewari said the Bill paves way for privatisation of profits and the nationalisation of losses. DMK’s T.R. Baalu asked what will happen to poor farmers who are getting subsidised power in States like Tamil Nadu.

What are the main amendments to the Act?

Compared to the drafts of 2020 and 2021, the Electricity Act (Amendment) Bill of 2022 has a number of changes. The main change among them could be the proposal for the Centre’s intervention in the area of power distribution, a domain under the State governments. Such provisions can be seen in clauses 5, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 23 of the Bill. Clause 5 amends Section 14 of the parent Act that deals with the criteria for electricity distributors. The amendment empowers the Central Government to prescribe the criteria.

Another clause that causes worry for those who oppose the Bill is Clause 11, which seeks to amend section 42 of the principal Act to facilitate operation of multiple distribution licensees in the same area and to avoid parallel network and optimise usage of the distribution network. Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy said such a provision will create a situation similar to the telecom sector where monopoly companies will destroy the public sector and smaller networks.

Similarly, Clause 13 seeks to amend section 60 of the principal Act to enable management of power purchase and cross subsidy in case of multiple distribution licensees in the same area of supply. It says in case of issuance of licence to more than one distribution licensee in an area of supply, the State Government shall set up a cross subsidy balancing fund which shall be managed by a government company.

What lies ahead?

The trade unions in the power sector held a one-day strike against the Bill. They are also discussing the possibilities for an indefinite strike. The SKM is also stepping up its agitations. The Energy Standing Committee will soon start its deliberations on the Bill. The panel is currently headed by senior JD(U) MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh Alias Lalan Singh. JD(U) called off its alliance with the BJP on Tuesday. Though the BJP can claim a majority in the committee, the chairman’s stand will be important when Bills like this are taken up for discussion.

3. RBI targets unfair methods in digital lending with new norms

Lending business to be carried out only by regulated entities, says central bank

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Wednesday issued the first set of guidelines for digital lending, to crack down on illegal activities by certain players. This follows the recommendation of a Working Group on Digital Lending that had submitted its report recently.

As per the new norms, all loan disbursals and repayments will be required to be executed only between the bank accounts of the borrower and the Regulated Entities (RE) – such as a bank or a non-banking financial company – without any pass-through or pool account of the Lending Service Providers or any third party.

Stating that digital lending channels had become prominent recently, the RBI said concerns had also emerged which, “if not mitigated, may erode the confidence of members of the public in the digital lending ecosystem.”

The concerns relate to ‘unbridled engagement of third parties, mis-selling, breach of data privacy, unfair business conduct, charging of exorbitant interest rates, and unethical recovery practices’, it said.

“A standardised Key Fact Statement must be provided to the borrower before executing the loan contract,” the RBI said in a circular. The norms prohibit any automatic increase in credit limit without borrowers’ consent.

They also allow a cooling-off period in which borrowers can exit loans by paying the principal and the proportionate annual percentage rate (APR) sans penalty.

The framework is based on the principle that the lending business can be carried out only by entities regulated either by the Reserve Bank or entities permitted to do so under any other law, RBI added.

Digital Lending:

  • It consists of lending through web platforms or mobile apps, by taking advantage of technology for authentication and credit assessment.
  • India’s digital lending market has seen a significant rise over the years. The digital lending value increased from USD 33 billion in FY15 to USD 150 billion in FY20 and is expected to hit the USD 350-billion mark by FY23.
  • Banks have launched their own independent digital lending platforms to tap in the digital lending market by leveraging existing capabilities in traditional lending.

Significance of Digital Lending:

  • Financial Inclusion: It helps in meeting the huge unmet credit need, particularly in the microenterprise and low-income consumer segment in India.
  • Reduce Borrowing from informal channels: It helps in reducing informal borrowings as it simplifies the process of borrowing.
  • Indians continue to borrow from family and friends, and moneylenders, sometimes at unreasonably high interest rates, primarily because these loans are more flexible and convenient.
  • Time Saving: It decreases time spent on working loan applications in-branch. Digital lending platforms have also been known to cut overhead costs by 30-50%.

Issues with Digital Lending Platforms:

  • Growing number of unauthorised digital lending platforms and mobile applications as:
  • They charge excessive rates of interest and additional hidden charges.
  • They adopt unacceptable and high-handed recovery methods.
  • They misuse agreements to access data on mobile phones of borrowers.

Steps Taken by RBI:

  • Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) and banks need to state the names of online platforms they are working with.
  • RBI has also mandated that digital lending platforms which are used on behalf of Banks and NBFCs should disclose the name of the Bank(s) or NBFC(s) upfront to the customers.
  • The central bank had also asked lending apps to issue a sanction letter to the borrower on the letter head of the bank/ NBFC concerned before the execution of the loan agreement.
  • Legitimate public lending activities can be undertaken by banks, NBFCs registered with the RBI and other entities who are regulated by state governments under statutory provisions.

India’s Digital Ecosystem:

  • Banks have partnered with Fintechs to serve their customers better.
  • Government of India has taken many initiatives such as Unified Payments Interface, Jan dhan yojana, Aadhaar enabled Payment System, etc. to promote digital environment in the country especially after demonetization.

4. Editorial-1: COVID-19, arguably, has become endemic in India

It is time to deal with COVID-19 just like any other health condition and integrate interventions in general health service

The infectious disease ‘outbreaks’ or ‘epidemics’ or ‘pandemics’ share a fate — there is a day when the majority of them run their course and fade away. However, a small proportion (of epidemics or pandemics) transitions to the stage of endemicity, i.e., a level of transmission which is not considered to be a major concern by the public or health authorities. It has been 29 months since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. However, new COVID-19 cases are still continuing to be reported from different parts of the world, including India, on a regular basis. In fact, the numbers of daily new COVID-19 cases in many countries are more than what had been reported at the peak of the national waves in those countries before the emergence of Omicron as a variant of concern. However, the severity of COVID-19 infections is low and the burden of health services due to intensive care unit and hospital admission even lower. COVID-19 vaccination coverage is increasing and, in many countries, COVID-19 related restrictions have either been removed completely or relaxed to a large extent.

Much opinion

After the third wave in January 2022, India saw the lowest number of daily new COVID-19 cases in March and April this year. However, since then, daily cases have spiked to around 18,000 a day. In fact, in the last two months every rise and fall in daily cases in India revives the discussion on whether COVID-19 continues to remain pandemic or has become endemic. Yet, consensus is missing. Part of the reason is that the discourse is dominated by opinion and there has been insufficient attention on an objective assessment of what constitutes the endemic stage or endemicity.

An important point to remember is that the terms, outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics reflect only the geographical spread. Outbreaks are a localised spread while an epidemic is when a disease affects a large geographical area within a country or a few countries. A pandemic is when multiple countries in different regions of the world are affected. The severity of the disease has no or very limited linkage with this classification and a disease could be mild; but if it is widespread, it could be termed a pandemic. COVID-19 began as an outbreak in China, became epidemic afterwards when more countries were affected, and then, finally, was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020. It was not linked to the severity of disease. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), in 2002-04, was a very serious disease, with one in 10 people who were affected dying; it was not declared a pandemic because severity does not determine this classification.

Here to stay

New diseases usually do not disappear completely. Chikungunya, dengue and many respiratory viruses usually stay within populations once they enter a population. Twenty-nine months into the pandemic, there is consensus that SARS-CoV-2 will stay with humanity for long, possibly for years and even decades. Cases are being reported from all countries and parts of the world and are likely to be reported in the time ahead. In this situation, it is important to ask how diseases transition from epidemic or pandemic to the endemic state.

We usually go back to history to get such answers. However, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, historical references are not very useful. The end points of the pandemics prior to the 18th century were determined retrospectively, when it was relatively easy to conclude a defined year. Then, the infections and cases in three major influenza pandemics in the 20th century (1918-20, 1957 and 1967-68) were identified based on symptoms; laboratory testing was not available for the pandemic in 1918-20 and was very limited in subsequent ones. In fact, in the 1918-20 flu pandemic, even the virus was not identified (it was first identified in 1933). If those clinical criteria of yesteryears are applied in ongoing COVID-19 cases which are now either mild and/or asymptomatic (thanks to vaccination and natural infection), one can conclude that the COVID-19 epidemic is over in many countries.

One of the ways to differentiate between ‘pandemic’ and ‘endemic’ is the ‘socio-economic’ impact. Pandemics are not merely health events but also encompass the social and economic implications of infections and diseases. For nearly two years, a large number of SARS-CoV-2 infections were happening in a short period of time — by a novel virus in a population which was completely immunologically naive — illnesses required hospitalisation and health facilities were overwhelmed. The infections, illnesses and hospitalisations understandably resulted in fear, panic and economic and social disruption. The interventions to halt the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, i.e., lockdowns, quarantines, national and international travel bans and school closure were equally unprecedented. There was a loss for many in terms of their sources of income after the ensuing social disruption and economic slowdown. Clearly, the impact was not restricted to those who tested COVID-19 positive; it has affected everyone and every member of society.

The risk of infection and disease under COVID-19, till early 2022, was unknown, and the outcome unpredictable. Two and half years into the pandemic — the risk of getting COVID-19 continues and will always be greater than zero, for long. However, there is better understanding now of who will get severe diseases. The risk of the social and economic impacts due to COVID-19 is minimal and close to zero. In such a backdrop, it is fair to conclude that while the health challenges of SARS-CoV-2 remain, the socio-economic impact is blunted. It is a good starting point to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic in India has moved to its endemic stage. However, that is not the same as saying that the pandemic is over. In epidemiology and public health, context (local setting, infection rate and vaccine coverage) determines the disease spread. Therefore, in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, every country would reach an endemic stage at different points of time. Countries that had higher vaccination coverage and higher natural infection (such as India) are likely to reach this stage early. Countries with low natural infection and vaccination coverage (as in Africa) would reach an endemic stage a little later.

A disease perspective

There is another dimension to the pandemic and endemic debate. Since pandemics have a social impact, the decision on when a country has reached an endemic stage is also determined by societal perspective of ‘the acceptable risk’. There are a number of countries across the world where societies have returned to ‘normalcy mode’ even though the per million daily cases in many settings are higher than cases at the peak of earlier waves. The United States has returned to a ‘no mandatory COVID-19 test’ for inbound passengers. In Europe, many countries are back to full normalcy.

Here is another example. HIV/AIDS was an epidemic in the mid-1990s. Now, HIV/AIDS cases are reported regularly but it is endemic because all societies/countries have agreed to it being an acceptable risk. Let us examine the data angle as well. In June-July 2022, around 30 deaths are being reported every day on average in people who tested COVID-19 (but did not necessarily die due to COVID-19). These numbers need to be seen in perspective. In India, an estimated 26,000 to 27,000 people die every day due to a variety of reasons which includes even old age. These daily deaths include 120 deaths every day due to pregnancy-related causes; 350 to 600 deaths in road accidents; 1,400 attributed to tuberculosis; around 2,000 deaths in children younger than five years due to different reasons, and 4,000 deaths every day attributed to tobacco and other related causes. Every effort should be made to avoid any death that is preventable. No society should be overly fixated over only one disease or health challenges. Clearly, COVID-19 is one of the many challenges and cannot continue to be the top and the only health priority.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic at the global level does not mean every country needs to have similar interventions in its response. India, arguably, has reached a stage where COVID-19 can be considered to be in its endemic stage. It is time to deal with the COVID-19 just like any other health condition and integrate COVID-19 interventions in general health services. It is time people do a self-assessment of their COVID-19 risk and undertake voluntary precautionary measures. COVID-19 vaccination should become part of the routine immunisation programme. There are other health challenges that are waiting to be tackled.

5. Editorial-2: A new global vision for G20

A shift is required from commitments on aid and trade to collaboration around science and technology

While India has taken a clear view of the role of the G20, there is concern that the agenda, themes and focus areas which India will set for 2023 lack vision.

The G20 plays an important role in shaping and strengthening global architecture and governance on all major international economic issues. It recognises that global prosperity is interdependent and economic opportunities and challenges are interlinked. The challenge is to craft new approaches to overcome the acute global discord.

However, according to the Ministry of External Affairs, in 190 meetings, India will strengthen international support for priorities of vital importance to developing countries in diverse social and economic sectors, ranging from energy, agriculture, trade, digital economy, health and environment to employment, tourism, anti-corruption and women empowerment, including in focus areas that impact the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Without specificity, India has lost a chance to nudge the G20 and regional organisations towards its focus areas.

Collaboration not commitments

The fractured world makes trade-offs, the essence of current multilateralism, difficult and suggests a new model of international cooperation.

First, multilateral commitments on aid and trade are faltering. Governance in a world that is steadily becoming more equal needs institutional innovation. This is because the role of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization in securing cooperation between donor and recipient country groups is losing centrality. There are now three socio-economic systems — the G7, China-Russia, and India and the others — and they will jointly set the global agenda.

Second, Ukraine’s long shadow, rival finance, the expanding influence of the trade and value chains dominated by the U.S. and China, and the reluctance of developing countries to take sides in the strategic competition as they have a real choice requires fresh thinking on the nature and form of collaboration from the G20.

Third, the primary role of the G20, which accounts for 95% of the world’s patents, 85% of global GDP, 75% of international trade and 65% of the world population, needs to be reoriented to prevent a clash of ideas to the detriment of the global good. The solution lies in a new conceptual model seeking agreement on an agenda limited to principles rather than long negotiated anodyne text. The Rio Declaration of 1992 is an appropriate model. For example, incorporating the three major priorities of each of the groups as part of a global agenda will inform smaller groupings of countries which have issue-based linkages and overlaps between them instead of struggling for meaningful agreement on single concerns of groups which are not even talking to each other.

Common concerns

India should seek collaboration on limited focus areas around science and technology, building on resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and other multilateral bodies.

A new conceptual frame is needed. First, the presumed equality that we are all in the same boat, recognised in the case of climate change, needs to be expanded to other areas with a global impact redefining ‘common concerns’. Second, emerging economies are no longer to be considered the source of problems needing external solutions but source of solutions to shared problems. Third, the BRICS provides an appropriate model for governance institutions suitable for the 21st century where a narrow group of states dominated by one power will not shape the agenda.

The starting point should be building on the global consensus in the Vienna Declaration on Human Rights 1993 reaffirming the indivisibility of all human rights. There is a growing recognition of economic and social rights — for example, in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Ensuring adequate food, housing, education, health, water and sanitation and work for all should guide international cooperation. Principles of common but differentiated responsibilities for improving the quality of life of all households can guide deliberations in other fora on problems that seem intractable in multilateralism based on trade and aid.

Second, the global agenda has been tilted towards investment, whereas science and technology are the driving force for economic diversification, sustainably urbanising the world, and ushering the hydrogen economy and new crop varieties as the answer to both human well-being and global climate change. Innovation supports dematerialising production and consumption and moving towards renewable sources of energy. The shift in lifestyles in the post-war period created urban jobs in services and retail that made up for the losses to high productivity manufacturing, and climate change. A forum to exchange experiences on societal benefits and growth as complementary goals would lead to fresh thinking on employment and environment.

Third, harnessing the potential of the digital-information-technology revolution requires redefining digital access as a “universal service” that goes beyond physical connectivity to sharing specific opportunities available. For global society to reap the fruits of the new set of network technologies, open access software should be offered for more cost-effective service delivery options, good governance and sustainable development.

Fourth, space is the next frontier for finding solutions to problems of natural resource management ranging from climate change-related natural disasters, supporting agricultural innovation to urban and infrastructure planning. Analysing Earth observation data will require regional and international collaboration through existing centres which have massive computing capacities, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Open access to geospatial data, data products and services and lower costs of geospatial information technology facilities do not require huge financial resources.

Fifth, public health has to learn from the COVID-19 fiasco with infectious diseases representing a market failure. A major global challenge is the rapidly growing antimicrobial resistance which needs new antibiotics and collaboration between existing biotechnology facilities.

Strategic thinking

Sixth, overriding priority to development suggests avoiding strategic competition. Countries in the region will support building on the 1971 UNGA Declaration designating for all time the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace and non-extension into the region of rivalries and conflicts that are foreign to it.

Lastly, a Global Financial Transaction Tax, considered by the G20 in 2011, needs to be revived to be paid to a Green Technology Fund for Least Developed Countries.

6. Editorial-3: The grammar of VIP security

If checks are carried out before the arrival of the VIP and access control is ensured after, assassinations are largely preventable

There are parallels between the assassinations of Shinzo Abe and Rajiv Gandhi. Both of them were shot during an election campaign. Abe, a former Prime Minister of Japan, was killed by Tetsuya Yamagami who reportedly held a grudge against a “specific organisation”, possibly a religious group, that he believed was linked to Abe. Gandhi was killed by Dhanu, an operative of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which was apprehensive of the redeployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka. The details of a VIP’s security vary depending on place, time, and the stature and threat perception of the protectee. However, these details lend themselves to a few basic principles, called the grammar of VIP security. This grammar can be subsumed under two broad principles: anti-sabotage checks and access control.

Two broad principles

Anti-sabotage checks precede the arrival of the protectee and are intended to ensure the sterility of the place. This principle is strictly adhered to at the protectee’s place of stay and at the place of function. When the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Hyderabad was due for inauguration, the guests included Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister. The anti-sabotage sweep was to be carried out at D-12, D-6 and D-2. The security wing disallowed the organisers from carrying out further works at D-12. A retired Director General of Police (DGP), who was employed at the GMR Group which owns the airport, asked the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) for some relaxation. The DCP had worked under him before, but would not oblige.

Access control is a process put in place after the protectee’s arrival. Access control ensures that no unidentified, unchecked and unauthorised person is allowed within the vicinity of the protectee. By unidentified, we mean that no person should be permitted to be within the proximity of the protectee unless they are known and their antecedents screened. For instance, a bullet-proof car had to be used during the German Chancellor’s visit to Hyderabad. The State had bullet-resistant Ambassador cars. The German Embassy got a private bullet-proof Benz car. The owner of the car, a well-known industrialist, assured the authorities of the antecedents of the driver. But since the driver was not thoroughly known and was therefore regarded unchecked, a police driver was given training in that car and deployed.

Similarly, unchecked people are not allowed near the protectee, however well-known they are and if even if they have an appointment with the protectee. They must be checked. Once, I.K. Gujral, then Prime Minister, was staying in the Andhra Pradesh Raj Bhavan. D.R. Karthikeyan, an Indian Police Service officer, had an appointment with him. When Mr. Karthikeyan got up to meet him, a commandant of the CRPF accompanied him with a bouquet. A local security personnel objected to the commandant entering with an unchecked bouquet.

Unauthorised means that even though the visitor may be known and has been checked, they must have a purpose to be so close to the protectee. Once, P.V. Narasimha Rao was on the dais to felicitate Swamy Sivananda at an auditorium in Visakhapatnam. His son wanted to stand next to him on the dais, but was not allowed. The rationale was that there was no reason for the son to be so close to the Prime Minister as it had already been decided who would be on the dais.

Attention to detail

A few ancillary aspects entail scrupulous adherence too. First, security forces need to be sensitised before every visit as every visit is unique. As the protectees frequently visit capitals and pilgrimage spots, security forces tend to become complacent. Second, every visit is dynamic, even if it is to a secure place and a regularly visited one such as a Raj Bhavan. Third, security arrangements are like a chain and a chain is as strong as its weakest link. Fourth, security considerations are more important than the elegance of the place of function or stay or approach path of the VIP. If the security principles are consolidated into a science, attacks and assassinations are largely preventable.

Both anti-sabotage checks and access control were poor in the cases of Abe and Gandhi. Yamagami was within three metres of Abe. He was unchecked and his gun undetected. Dhanu was allowed in the VIP enclosure reportedly by the daughter of the Congress candidate, wrote Anirudhya Mitra in his book 90 Days. He wrote: “[At Sriperumbudur], there were no metal detectors and no frisking at the Venue. Nalini and Shubha escorted the human bomb Dhanu.” It is imperative that the Blue Book and the Yellow Book, the two bibles of VIP security, incorporate the principles of security as inviolable.

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kurukshetraiasacademy

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