Daily Current Affairs 15.04.2021 (Access to Education, India Can be Hardware manufacturing Hub, India’s Public Debt)

Daily Current Affairs 15.04.2021 (Access to Education, India Can be Hardware manufacturing Hub, India’s Public Debt)


1. State obliged to facilitate access to education, says Supreme Court

Bench orders admission to two students in medical colleges

Access to professional education is not government largesse, the Supreme Court said in a judgment.

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah pronounced the verdict in favour of two students from Ladakh, who were nominated by the Union Territory administration for MBBS studies. They were allocated seats in the prestigious Lady Hardinge and Maulana Azad Medical Colleges. However, they were not admitted.

The students moved the top court for justice, saying their fundamental right to education was at the whims and fancies of the government authorities.

The court said the State has an “affirmative obligation to facilitate access to education at all levels”.

“This obligation assumes far greater importance for students whose background (by virtue of such characteristics as caste, class, gender, religion, disability and geographical region) imposes formidable obstacles on their path to accessing quality education,” the recent judgment read.

“We would like to take this opportunity to underscore the importance of creating an enabling environment to make it possible for students, such as the petitioners, to pursue professional education. While the right to pursue higher (professional) education has not been spelt out as a fundamental right in Part III of the Constitution, it bears emphasis that access to professional education is not a governmental largesse,” Justice Chandrachud wrote in the judgment authored for the Bench.

Panel’s vision

The court referred to the vision envisaged by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“As an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalised adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities,” the court said, referring to one of the Committee’s clauses.

The court ordered that the students be admitted within a week.

It was government policy last November to allot one seat each at Lady Hardinge and Maulana Azad medical colleges from the Central pool.

The court noted that India was a signatory to the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“Pursuant to these obligations, which India has undertaken by being a signatory to the covenant, the Union shall ensure proper coordination so that students allocated colleges under the Central pool seats are not put to hardship in enrolling once they have been duly allocated their seats,” the court noted.

“Financial hardship should not prevent the students from getting admission in terms of the allocation which has been made in their favour legitimately under the Central pool seats,” it added.

Nodal officer

The top court further recommended the appointment of a nodal officer to ensure that students duly nominated under the Central pool seats were admitted in their chosen course of study.

“Such an institutional framework will ensure that students are not left in the lurch due to lack of help in securing their legitimate admission to the appropriate course,” the court reasoned.

Fundamental Rights

Fundamental rights are the basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution of India which are guaranteed to all citizens. They are applied without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, etc. Significantly, fundamental rights are enforceable by the courts, subject to certain conditions.

Why are they called Fundamental Rights?

These rights are called fundamental rights because of two reasons:

  1. They are enshrined in the Constitution which guarantees them
  2. They are justiciable (enforceable by courts). In case of a violation, a person can approach a court of law.

List of Fundamental Rights

There are six fundamental rights of Indian Constitution along with the constitutional articles related to them are mentioned below:

  1. Right to Equality (Article 14-18)
  2. Right to Freedom (Article 19-22)
  3. Right against Exploitation (Article 23-24)
  4. Right to Freedom of Religion (Article 25-28)
  5. Cultural and Educational Rights (Article 29-30)
  6. Right to Constitutional Remedies (Article 32)

Why Right to Property is not a Fundamental Right?

There was one more fundamental right in the Constitution, i.e., the right to property. 

However, this right was removed from the list of fundamental rights by the 44th Constitutional Amendment. 

This was because this right proved to be a hindrance towards attaining the goal of socialism and redistributing wealth (property) equitably among the people. 

Note: The right to property is now a legal right and not a fundamental right. 

Introduction to Six Fundamental Rights (Articles 12 to 35)

Under this section, we list the fundamental rights in India and briefly describe each of them.

1. Right to Equality (Articles 14 – 18)

Right to equality guarantees equal rights for everyone, irrespective of religion, gender, caste, race or place of birth. It ensures equal employment opportunities in the government and insures against discrimination by the State in matters of employment on the basis of caste, religion, etc. This right also includes the abolition of titles as well as untouchability.

Article Brief description 
Article 14The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India, on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth
Article 15The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
Article 16There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.
Article 17Abolition of untouchability
Article 18Abolition of all titles except military and academic

2. Right to Freedom (Articles 19 – 22)

Freedom is one of the most important ideals cherished by any democratic society. The Indian Constitution guarantees freedom to citizens. The freedom right includes many rights such as:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of expression
  • Freedom of assembly without arms
  • Freedom of association
  • Freedom to practise any profession 
  • Freedom to reside in any part of the country

Some of these rights are subject to certain conditions of state security, public morality and decency and friendly relations with foreign countries. This means that the State has the right to impose reasonable restrictions on them.

Article Brief description 
Article 19Protection of 6 rights concerning the freedom of:  Speech and expression Assembly Association Movement Residence Profession
Article 20Protection with respect to conviction for offences
Article 21Right to life and personal liberty
Article 21ARight to elementary education
Article 22Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases

3. Right against Exploitation (Articles 23 & 24)

This right implies the prohibition of traffic in human beings, begar, and other forms of forced labour. It also implies the prohibition of children in factories, etc. The Constitution prohibits the employment of children under 14 years in hazardous conditions.

Article Brief description 
Article 23Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour
Article 24Prohibition of employment of children in factories, etc.

4. Right to Freedom of Religion (Articles 25 – 28)

This indicates the secular nature of Indian polity. There is equal respect given to all religions. There is freedom of conscience, profession, practice and propagation of religion. The State has no official religion. Every person has the right to freely practice his or her faith, establish and maintain religious and charitable institutions.

Article Brief description 
Article 25Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion
Article 26Freedom to manage religious affairs
Article 27Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion
Article 28Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions

5. Cultural and Educational Rights (Articles 29 – 30)

These rights protect the rights of religious, cultural and linguistic minorities, by facilitating them to preserve their heritage and culture. Educational rights are for ensuring education for everyone without any discrimination.

Article Brief description 
Article 29Protection of Interests of Minorities
Article 30Right of Minorities to Establish and Administer Educational Institutions

6. Right to Constitutional Remedies (32 – 35)

The Constitution guarantees remedies if citizens’ fundamental rights are violated. The government cannot infringe upon or curb anyone’s rights. When these rights are violated, the aggrieved party can approach the courts. Citizens can even go directly to the Supreme Court which can issue writs for enforcing fundamental rights.

A writ petition is essentially a court petition for extraordinary review, asking a court to intervene in a lower court’s decision. Under the Indian legal system, jurisdiction to issue ‘prerogative writs’ is given to the Supreme Court and the High Courts of Judicature of all Indian states. Parts of the law relating to writs are outlined in the Constitution of India.

Type of Writs

The Constitution empowers the Supreme Court and High Courts to issue orders or writs.

The types of writs are:

  • Habeas Corpus
  • Certiorari
  • Prohibition
  • Mandamus
  • Quo Warranto

Features of Fundamental Rights

  • Fundamental rights are different from ordinary legal rights in the manner in which they are enforced. If a legal right is violated, the aggrieved person cannot directly approach the SC bypassing the lower courts. He or she should first approach the lower courts.
  • Some of the fundamental rights are available to all citizens while the rest are for all persons (citizens and foreigners).
  • Fundamental rights are not absolute rights. They have reasonable restrictions, which means they are subject to the conditions of state security, public morality and decency and friendly relations with foreign countries.
  • They are justiciable, implying they are enforceable by courts. People can approach the SC directly in case of violation of fundamental rights.
  • Fundamental rights can be amended by the Parliament by a constitutional amendment but only if the amendment does not alter the basic structure of the Constitution. 
  • Fundamental rights can be suspended during a national emergency. But, the rights guaranteed under Articles 20 and 21 cannot be suspended.
  • The application of fundamental rights can be restricted in an area which has been placed under martial law or military rule.

Fundamental Rights Available Only to Citizens

The following is the list of fundamental rights that are available only to citizens (and not to foreigners):

  1. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of race, religion, caste, gender or place of birth (Article 15).
  2. Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment (Article 16).
  3. Protection of freedom of:(Article 19)
  1. Speech and expression
  2. Association
  3. Assembly
  4. Movement
  5. Residence
  6. Profession
  7. Protection of the culture, language and script of minorities (Article 29).
  8. Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions (Article 30).

Importance of Fundamental Rights

Fundamental rights are very important because they are like the backbone of the country. They are essential for safeguarding the people’s interests.

According to Article 13, all laws that are violative of fundamental rights shall be void. Here, there is an express provision for judicial review. The SC and the High Courts can declare any law unconstitutional on the grounds that it is violative of the fundamental rights. Article 13 talks about not just laws, but also ordinances, orders, regulations, notifications, etc.

Amendability of Fundamental Rights

Any changes to the fundamental rights require a constitutional amendment that should be passed by both the Houses of Parliament. The amendment bill should be passed by a special majority of Parliament. 

As per the Constitution, Article 13(2) states that no laws can be made that take away fundamental rights.

The question is whether a constitutional amendment act can be termed law or not.

In the Sajjan Singh case of 1965, the Supreme Court held that the Parliament can amend any part of the Constitution including fundamental rights.

But in 1967, the SC reversed its stance taken earlier when in the verdict of the Golaknath case, it said that the fundamental rights cannot be amended.

In 1973, a landmark judgement ensued in the Kesavananda Bharati case, where the SC held that although no part of the Constitution, including Fundamental Rights, was beyond the Parliament’s amending power, the “basic structure of the Constitution could not be abrogated even by a constitutional amendment.”

This is the basis in Indian law in which the judiciary can strike down any amendment passed by Parliament that is in conflict with the basic structure of the Constitution.

In 1981, the Supreme Court reiterated the Basic Structure doctrine. 

It also drew a line of demarcation as April 24th, 1973 i.e., the date of the Kesavananda Bharati judgement, and held that it should not be applied retrospectively to reopen the validity of any amendment to the Constitution which took place prior to that date.

Doctrine of Severability

This is a doctrine that protects the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

It is also known as the Doctrine of Separability.

It is mentioned in Article 13, according to which all laws that were enforced in India before the commencement of the Constitution, inconsistent with the provisions of fundamental rights shall to the extent of that inconsistency be void.

This implies that only the parts of the statute that is inconsistent shall be deemed void and not the whole statue. Only those provisions which are inconsistent with fundamental rights shall be void.

Doctrine of Eclipse

This doctrine states that any law that violates fundamental rights is not null or void ab initio, but is only non-enforceable, i.e., it is not dead but inactive. 

This implies that whenever that fundamental right (which was violated by the law) is struck down, the law becomes active again (is revived). 

Another point to note is that the doctrine of eclipse applies only to pre-constitutional laws (laws that were enacted before the Constitution came into force) and not to post-constitutional laws. 

This means that any post-constitutional law which is violative of a fundamental right is void ab initio.

2. ‘India can be hardware manufacturing hub’

Supply chains exiting China: Smith

There is an opportunity for India to become a hardware manufacturing location as the world’s technology majors have been moving their supply chains out of China over the past 18 months, Microsoft president Brad Smith said.

Urging India and the U.S. to join the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace that now has 75 countries on board to deal with new cybersecurity threats facing the world, he also emphasised the need to train more professionals to cope with these threats.

Terming the changing relationship between China and the U.S. and some other countries as one of the most significant geopolitical developments of this decade, the Microsoft official said the change was certainly impacting the technology sector.

“We are seeing not a decoupling, but some drifting apart. We are definitely seeing an impact in terms of hardware supply chains, with many companies moving parts to, (or) in some instances, perhaps, almost all, or all of their hardware manufacturing out of China to other countries. That has been underway for the last 18 months, even though it is not discussed as much by companies publicly as it might,” Mr. Smith said in a session at the Raisina Dialogue late Tuesday night.

“I do think this is something that creates potential new opportunities from a longer-term perspective for say, India, as well as others to make themselves more of a location for hardware manufacturing,” he said, adding that capacity had been shifting to Mexico, Vietnam, South Korea, and some southeast Asian countries.

‘Wake-up call’

Terming the recent spate of cyberattacks a wake-up call for tech companies as well as governments, Mr. Smith said the world was more secure when networks ran in the cloud as opposed to servers. Many cybersecurity problems, he said, also emerged from the lack of IT administrators’ compliance with best practices.

“We need to keep making this simpler, but the other problem is there is simply a shortage of cybersecurity professionals in the workplace. We are going to need a global initiative to really accelerate all kinds of training to put more cybersecurity professionals in place,” he said.

3. ‘India’s public debt level among highest in emerging economies’

Debt affordability among weakest alongside Ghana: Moody’s

India’s public debt level is among the highest in emerging economies with a quantitative easing programme underway, while its debt affordability is among the weakest, Moody’s Investors Service said on Wednesday.

“With the exception of Chile, most of the 11 emerging markets have weak government effectiveness, suggesting potential risks executing fiscal reforms or consolidation plans,” Moody’s said.

“Debt affordability varies widely, with Ghana and India [rated Baa3 negative] weakest. Across the 11 emerging markets, India, South Africa and Ghana have the highest public debt and weakest debt affordability,” the agency added.

“The Reserve Bank of India’s programme aims to stabilise the domestic bond market,” the report titled, ‘Quantitative easing programs are largely positive, but risks vary across economies’, noted.

“While the bank does not operate in the primary market, dividend payments and transfers of excess reserves to the government fund part of the budget deficit,” the report said.

“The bank targets buying more than ₹3 trillion [$41.3 billion] of government bonds this fiscal year, having purchased ₹3.1 trillion bonds in the previous fiscal year,” Moody’s added in the report. “Most economies’ debt burdens will rise before they stabilise over the next few years,” it said.

Depending on recovery prospects and future debt servicing costs, high debt levels may become unsustainable for the more vulnerable economies,” the report warned.

Financing the Fiscal Deficit

  • State of Indian Economy:
    • As per the official data, the Centre’s fiscal deficit for the first three months of fiscal 2020-21 (April-June) was Rs. 6.62 lakh crore, which is 83% of the budgeted target for the whole year.
      • As per the economists, the fiscal deficit may end up as high as 8% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), far exceeding the budget’s goal of 3.5%.
    • The GDP contracted by 23.9% in the first (April-June) quarter of 2020 compared to the same period (April-June) in 2019.
    • The manufacturing sector is also contracting, as per the recent IHS Markit India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI).
    • The output of eight core industries contracted for the fourth consecutive month – shrinking by 15% in June 2020.
    • The Financial Stability Report from RBI also shows an increase in bad loans and Non-Performing Assets (NPA).

Methods of Bridging the Fiscal Deficit

  • Borrowing from the market:
    • The government has already raised its gross market borrowing target for the current financial year by more than 50%, owing to the pandemic.
    • Disadvantage:
      • High Debt: An increased borrowing programme means that the public debt will go up.
      • Higher Interest Rates: Higher borrowing can push up interest rates because markets are nervous about the government’s ability to repay.
      • Increase in Taxes: It may also necessitate an increase in taxes. This may burden the common people and also lead to less spending and saving by the public, leading to a stalled market.
      • Crowding out: When the government borrows from the private sector by selling bonds, the private sector is left with less money to spend and invest. Therefore, although government spending increases, private sector spending falls.
  • Monetisation of the Deficit:
    • Monetising deficit means RBI purchases government bonds in the primary market and prints more money to finance the debt.
    • This is resorted to only when the government cannot borrow from the market (Banks and other Financial Institutions like LIC).
    • The money printed by the RBI is called high powered money or reserve money or monetary base.
    • RBI also conducts indirect monetization of deficit through Open Market Operations (OMOs).
      • OMOs are market operations conducted by RBI by way of sale/purchase of government securities to/from the market with an objective to adjust the rupee liquidity conditions in the market on a durable basis.
      • Recently, RBI decided to infuse Rs. 10,000 crore liquidity in the banking system by buying government securities through OMOs.
      • Purchase of Government securities by the RBI helps in increasing the supply of the money in the market and with banks. It helps to stabilize the market economy and generates credibility in the investors.
      • It is different from monetization as it is controlled by RBI instead of the government as it is not as inflationary as deficit monetization.
    • Advantages:
      • It has helped in the economic development of India as our domestic savings were less than 9% of GDP and the capacity to raise loans was also limited during the early 1950s, constraining the welfare activities of the government.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Deficit financing is inflationary and is bad for the health of the central bank.
      • It may push up interest rates and thus make it even more difficult for the government to service the loan.
      • It also poses threat to the financial stability of the economy.

4. ‘NATO to exit Afghanistan along with U.S.’

Around 7,000 non-U.S. forces from mainly NATO countries rely on the U.S. for crucial air support

Foreign troops under NATO command will withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with a U.S. pull-out by September 11, Washington’s top diplomat said on Wednesday, after Germany said it would match American plans to leave after two decades of war.

Around 7,000 non-U.S. forces from mainly NATO countries, also from Australia, New Zealand and Georgia, outnumber the 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. A key reason for a coordinated withdrawal is the fact that NATO relies on U.S. airlift capabilities and shipping to move valuable equipment in and out of landlocked Afghanistan.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels that it was time for NATO allies to make good on their mantra that allies went into Afghanistan together and would leave together. He was accompanied by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“I am here to work closely with our allies, with the (NATO) secretary-general, on the principle that we have established from the start: In together, adapt together and out together,” Mr. Blinken said in a televised statement at NATO headquarters.

Resolute Support

An integral part of NATO’s current mission, Resolute Support, is to train and equip Afghan security forces fighting the Islamist Taliban, which was ousted from power by a U.S. invasion in late 2001 and has since waged an insurgency.

With non-U.S. troop numbers reaching as high as 40,000 in 2008, Europe, Canada and Australia have moved in tandem with the U.S., also providing long-term funding to rebuild Afghanistan despite the resurgence of Taliban-led violence and endemic official corruption in the country.

“We will work very closely together in the months ahead on a safe, deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan,” Mr. Blinken said.

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday it’s “time to end” America’s longest war with the unconditional withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, where they have spent two decades in a bloody, largely fruitless battle against the Taliban. He said the U.S. will begin its final withdrawal from Afghanistan on May 1.

After withdrawing, the U.S. and NATO aim to rely on Afghan military and police forces, which they have developed with billions of dollars in funding, to maintain security though peace talks are struggling and the insurgency is resilient.

September 11 is a highly symbolic date as it will be 20 years since al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. with hijacked airliners, triggering military intervention in Afghanistan.

India-Afghanistan Relations

Contact between the people of modern-day India and Afghanistan has existed since the days of the Indus Valley Civilisation. One of Alexander the Great’s Diadochi (Greek for successors), Seleucus Nicator, controlled most of Afghanistan before ceding much of it to the Mauryan Empire in 305 BC as part of an alliance treaty. 

The northern regions of India were invaded between the 10th century to the mid-18th century by a number of invaders based on what today is Afghanistan. Among them were the Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khaljis, Suris, Mughals, and Durranis. During these eras, especially during the Mughal period (1526–1858), many Afghans began immigrating to India due to political unrest in their regions.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was one of the prominent leaders of the Indian independence movement and active supporters of the Indian National Congress. Even though the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) became the  Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, unanimous Pashtun support for the Indian freedom struggle led to great sympathy in India for the cause of Pashtun autonomy and freedom. The Indian government continued to support Pashtun leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in lobbying for greater Pashtun freedom in the NWFP.

India was the only South Asian country to recognize the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in the 1980s, though relations were diminished during the 1990s Afghan civil war and the Taliban government. India aided the overthrow of the Taliban and became the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Afghanistan. Indians are working in various construction projects, as part of India’s rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. 

India Afghanistan Relations since 2001

During Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, India provided intelligence and logistic support for the Allied forces. After the fall of the Taliban, India established diplomatic relations with the newly established civilian government and participated in relief and reconstruction efforts. 

India has provided about $650–750 million worth of humanitarian and economic aid, making it the largest regional provider of aid for Afghanistan. India’s support and collaboration extend to the rebuilding of air links, power plants, and investing in health and education sectors as well as helping to train Afghan civil servants, diplomats, and police.

In 2005, India proposed Afghanistan’s membership in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Three memorandums of understanding were signed (MOUs) between the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and the Afghan National Standardisation Authority for strengthening cooperation in the fields of rural development, education, and standardization. During Hamid Karzai’s visit to India in April 2006. An agreement providing $50 million to promote bilateral businesses between Afghanistan and India was signed during the visit of the Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Spanta between 29 June – 1 July 2006. During the same year, India raised its aid package to Afghanistan by $150 million, to $750 million. In 2007, Afghanistan finally became the eighth member of SAARC.

In December 2015, India donated three Mi-25 attack helicopters, with the option to send more in the future to Afghanistan as part of the bilateral strategic partnership to counter the Taliban insurgency. Indian PM Narendra Modi visited Kabul on December 25 to open the newly constructed Afghan parliament which had been built by India for $90 million.

On 15 August 2019, on Indian Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended greetings to Afghanistan who was due to also celebrate Afghan 100th Independence Day. PM Modi in a statement issued on that day asserted that: “Afghanistan is a good neighbour of India, and I wish the country for celebrating 100 years of independence this year.”President Ashraf Ghani also sent congratulations with the comment “May our friendship last forever.”

Economic Relations between India and Afghanistan

India seeks to expand its economic presence in Afghanistan as the international coalition fighting the Taliban have begun their withdrawal process. Especially, it wants to improve transport connectivity and economic collaboration with countries in Central and South Asia. India has already invested $10.8 billion in Afghanistan as of 2012. More such projects are likely to come once NATO withdraws completely from Afghanistan.

This includes setting up Iron ore mines, a 6 MTPA steel plant (by SAIL—Steel Authority of India Limited), an 800 MW power plant, Hydro-electric power projects, transmission lines and roads. India helped in the reconstruction of Salma Dam in the Herat province. Besides producing 42 MW power, this Indo-Afghan friendship dam provides irrigation for 75,000 hectares of farmland in the Chisti Sharif district.

Salma Dam, officially the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, is a hydroelectric and irrigation dam project located on the Hari River in Chishti Sharif District of Herat Province in western Afghanistan. The Afghan cabinet renamed the Salma Dam to the Afghan-India Friendship Dam in a move to strengthen relations between the two countries.

The hydroelectric plant produces 42 MW of power in addition to providing irrigation for 75,000 hectares of farmland (stabilising the existing irrigation of 35,000 hectares and development of irrigation facilities to an additional 40,000 hectares of land).

India and Iran are set to ink a transit agreement on transporting goods to landlocked Afghanistan. The Indian government is investing more than US$100 million in the expansion of the Chabahar port in southeastern Iran which will serve as a hub for the transportation of transit goods. 

5. ‘Hope India reviews stand on pacts’

It has a crucial role to play in the region, says Singapore Foreign Minister

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he hoped India would “reassess” its stand on regional trading agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact that India withdrew from in 2019.

India had “a crucial role” to play in helping the region build an inclusive architecture at a time of increasing global instability, he said, on Wednesday at the Raisina Dialogue, held virtually this year and hosted by the Observer Research Foundation in partnership with India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

On the trade deal, Mr. Balakrishnan said he was “making a plea” for India to revisit its stand.

Regional trade pacts

“I hope India will reassess regional trade pacts like RCEP and even the CPTPP [Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership] ,” he said.

“These trade pacts will give Indian companies a platform to showcase their strengths across even larger markets.”

The RCEP came into force in November 2020 without India and is the world’s largest trading agreement, covering the 10 ASEAN nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The CPTPP, successor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which the U.S. withdrew from, includes Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam from ASEAN, along with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru.

India withdrew from the RCEP largely because of concerns it would open it up to Chinese goods amid an already wide trade imbalance with China, and the failure of the agreement to adequately open up to services.

Mr. Balakrishnan said Singapore hoped India could play a role to help build a regional architecture that was “open” and “inclusive”.

ASEAN centrality

Rising U.S.-China tensions were “deeply worrying” for the region with the pandemic resulting in “heightened tension” which had “implications for us all”, with a contest over emerging technologies, divergence on human rights and tensions related to defence and cybersecurity issues.

“The U.S.-China relationship is a lynchpin for regional and global stability,” he said.

“In Southeast Asia, it is all the more crucial to maintain ASEAN centrality and unity amid geopolitical competition.”

On Myanmar, what ASEAN wanted was to stop the violence and then have direct dialogue between the military leadership and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

Saying that the sanctions route needed to be carefully considered as COVID-19 had already inflicted a grievous blow on Myanmar’s economy, he said “the worst thing we could do” is to “add the burden on to ordinary citizens”.

“Not only ASEAN but immediate neighbours, like India and China, have strategic interests at stake and they can play a constructive role behind the scenes,” he said.

The Singapore Foreign Minister praised India’s strong support to global vaccine cooperation, at a time when the pandemic had “turbocharged protectionism and nationalism all over the world, significantly disrupted trade flows and supply chains, and sharpened the tendency for policymakers to turn inwards”.

Efforts were on by Singapore, he said, for mutual recognition of health certificates with other countries, with interoperability across borders to gradually facilitate a resumption of travel.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – RCEP

RCEP is a Free Trade Agreement between the ten member states of the ASEAN – Association of Southeast Asian Nations namely Cambodia, Indonesia, Brunei, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and its five partners (China, South Korea, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand). 

  • RCEP is an ASEAN-centred proposal for a regional free trade area, which would initially include the ten ASEAN member states and those countries which have existing FTAs with ASEAN – Australia, China, Japan, Republic of Korea and New Zealand.
  • The objective of launching RCEP negotiations is to achieve a modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement that will cover trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, electronic commerce, dispute settlement and other issues.

Aspirants can read about other Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and areas, from the links below:

What RCEP Means for Businesses?

RCEP has the potential to deliver significant opportunities for businesses in the East Asia region, given the fact that the 15 RCEP participating countries account for almost half of the world’s population; contribute about 30 per cent of global GDP and over a quarter of world exports. RCEP will provide a framework aimed at lowering trade barriers and securing improved market access for goods and services for businesses in the region.

Importance of RCEP for India

  • The RCEP will provide a boost to India’s Act East policy and will also influence the economic stature of India among the other South Asian countries.
  • India’s trade with the RCEP group of countries as a percentage of its total trade has increased over the past decade.
  • The greater economic integration with the countries of Southeast Asia and East Asia achieved through RCEP, India will have access to vast regional markets of these countries thereby helping its economy.
  • India can leverage advantage in areas such as ICT, IT-enabled services, healthcare, and education services. RCEP would help in expanding into these markets along attracting greater FDI into these areas.
  • It would also facilitate India’s MSMEs to effectively integrate into the regional value and supply chains

India’s Concerns and RCEP

India’s primary concerns regarding RCEP:

  • Opening its markets for cheaper goods from countries like China and South Korea: India has a trade deficit with as many as 11 of the RCEP countries and it is the only one among them that isn’t negotiating a bilateral or multilateral free trade agreement with China at present.
  • Country of Origin: India has also made tagging the “Country of Origin” on all products a sticking point in RCEP negotiations. India wants strict rules of origin to prevent Chinese goods from flooding the country through member countries that may have lower or no duty levels. Chinese garments are making their way into India through the duty-free route under the South Asia Free Trade Pact and the Duty-Free Quota-Free window from Bangladesh. Ensuring that RCEP countries open their markets for Indian manpower (services).
  • India has expressed its reservations over the inclusion of e-commerce in the RCEP talks.
  • The RCEP draft is opposed to data localisation, while India fears the monopoly power of digital giants which includes the likes of Tencent and Alibaba.
  • India has been insisting that any adoption of an agreement on trade in goods cannot be adopted without simultaneously adopting agreements on services and investments and any agreement on trade in goods without simultaneous agreement on services trade and investment will only harm India’s interests.
  • India has said the highest value addition with the help of indigenous inputs must be done in the country from which a product is exported. Globally, the average threshold for domestic content to get originating status for a product is 40-60%.

Progress Made

  • The ASEAN countries are keen to have India as part of the partnership and have made India a concessional offer of opening up only about 83% of its market, as compared to the original 92% that the RCEP agreement stipulated,”. And regarding India’s concerns about further opening its market to China and skewing the trade deficit between them further, the RCEP allows for bilateral agreements also to be made so India can perhaps open up to China gradually and not in one go.”
  • India has achieved some success regarding some of its other concerns, such as getting the other RCEP countries to liberalise their services markets and allow for a more free movement of service sector professionals.
  • At least 13 countries including Australia, Japan and New Zealand have opposed India’s proposal for strict criteria to determine the source country of a product (Country of origin), based on which they get tariff concessions or duties.

6. Editorial-1: Institutions, caste and the vital cog of trust

The findings based on the IHDS on castes and their trust in State governments, the judiciary and the police are revealing

Trust impacts income and growth through markets and public institutions. There is a positive relationship between trust and the development of financial markets. Operation of these markets is contingent on trustworthiness of debtors, as legal methods of recovery of dues are fraught with delays and heavy expenses. Turning to labour markets, higher trust manifests in ‘higher levels of cooperative relations between labour and management and higher levels of unionisation. In fact, firms that have unions representing their employees are better able to adapt to new management methods, and show better productivity. Evidence suggests a strong positive correlation between trust and the quality of the legal system. There is a similar correlation between trust and the quality of governance’.

Here, our focus is on whether trust in institutions such as state government, judiciary and police varies by caste. We rely on the India Human Development Survey 2015 (IHDS).

Key term is confidence

A unique feature of the 2005 and 2012 rounds of the IHDS is that they ask a question on trust. Trust in public institutions is measured in terms of levels of confidence: a great deal of confidence, only some confidence and hardly any confidence.

Caste hierarchy reflects socio-economic status. Brahmins are at the top, followed by High Castes, Other Backward Classes/OBCs, and then the deprived including Scheduled Castes/SCs and Scheduled Tribes/STs. The residual category of Others is mixed but akin to High Castes. Hence, General combines Brahmins, High Castes and Others, while other castes are as stated. Although affirmative action (e.g., quotas for SCs, STs and OBCs in education and public sector employment) has benefited these groups, segments of SCs and STs are still among the most deprived and vulnerable to poverty.

A vast majority of households surveyed lacked confidence in State governments in 2012. There is a sharp reversal in the case of the judiciary. A large majority reported a great deal of confidence, a moderate proportion had only some confidence and an extremely small proportion had hardly any confidence. Yet another contrast emerged in the case of the police. A low proportion had a great deal of confidence in it, a majority had only some confidence and a more than moderate proportion had hardly any confidence. Thus among these institutions, the most trusted was the judiciary, followed by State governments and then police.

To avoid circularity, trust in institutions is for 2012 and the caste hierarchy is for 2005. In the composite caste category, General, the highest proportion (under half) had only some confidence, under 30% had a great deal of confidence while about a quarter had hardly any confidence. A high proportion of OBCs also reported a great deal of confidence, a much higher proportion displayed a great deal of confidence and a much lower proportion had hardly any confidence. In sharp contrast, among SCs, the highest proportion (under 45%) displayed a great deal of confidence, a smaller proportion had only some confidence, and a much smaller proportion with hardly any confidence. STs, however, display a pattern not dissimilar to OBCs.

Quota as a reason

An important issue is why do SCs display so much confidence in State governments? One reason is quotas. Another is a conjecture. While those higher-up in the socio-economic hierarchy are likely to have other options (stemming from relative affluence), SCs are largely reliant on state munificence. STs, in contrast, while also dependent on quotas, are so isolated that they have limited experience of social safety nets.

In striking contrast to trust in State governments, trust in the judiciary is highly pervasive with a slight variation across castes. For each caste, a large majority displayed a great deal of confidence, with nearly three-fourths of STs reporting a great deal of confidence. The proportion of those with hardly any confidence was extremely low, ranging between 5% and 7%. These findings are indeed surprising given the judicial overload of cases and prolonged delays.

Yet another striking contrast emerged for the police as a law enforcement agency. A great deal of confidence varied within a narrow range of 13%-18%, with the lowest among STs. Over 30% displayed hardly any confidence, with the highest among SCs and STs. This is not surprising given rampant corruption and discrimination against lower castes.

Need for inclusion

One component of trust is shaped by beliefs inherited from earlier generations, and another by a contemporaneous environment. Trust in these institutions rose between 2005 and 2012. However, recent accounts indicate a sharp erosion of trust, presumably because of State government policies that are far from inclusive, judicial verdicts that do not conform to high standards of autonomy and fairness, and police actions that violate rights of citizens, and are often brutal. While inculcation of initial beliefs is bound to be slow, transition to a policy environment that is inclusive and transparent is daunting too but growing awareness among the citizens is likely to facilitate it.

7. Editorial-2: Twin troubles

Inflation should not be allowed to undermine purchasing power, overall economic stability

The latest official data on retail prices and industrial production released on Monday provide cause for disquiet, given that inflation continues to accelerate and output at the country’s factories contracted for a second straight month. While inflation quickened to a four-month high of 5.52% in March, as per provisional data from the National Statistical Office, the NSO’s quick estimates of the Index of Industrial Production for February show output including at mines, the manufacturing sector and electricity generators shrank 3.6%, following on from January’s 0.9% contraction. Consumer Price Index numbers show that stubbornly high food and fuel costs remain the main drivers of price pressures. Pulses and edible oils, key kitchen staples and vital nutritional sources for proteins and fats, have been climbing almost dizzyingly for the last few months, a fact not lost on the RBI. While inflation in pulses accelerated to 13.3%, from 12.5% in February, oils and fats saw a more than 400 basis points surge to 24.9%. In its policy statement this month, the central bank hoped that arrivals from the rabi harvest as well as imports would likely augment supply, helping moderate prices of pulses. Similarly, on edible oils the RBI is rather optimistically banking on the government to cut import duties and offer incentives to boost domestic productivity to counter the heightened inflation. With meat and fish, and eggs yet again posting double-digit increases, inflation in the food and beverages category quickened almost 100 basis points to 5.24%.

Disconcertingly, transport and communication also saw a more than 100 basis points acceleration to 12.6%, and this despite the pump prices of petroproducts remaining virtually frozen through the month, ahead of the March 27 start of Assembly elections. The most plausible explanation is that the freight and urban transport sectors saw a lagged pass-through of the preceding months’ steep increases in automobile fuel costs. Price pressures are unlikely to ease significantly in the near term, unless the Centre and the States bite the bullet by agreeing to forego some near-term revenue from petroproducts and reduce fuel taxes. The RBI, which has been stridently seeking a reduction in these levies, foresees inflation averaging 5.2% in the April-June quarter. Separately, the IIP data shows mining continuing to backslide, manufacturing struggling for traction with output of capital goods, construction gear and consumer non-durables all contracting in February. And if one considers that these data sets are yet to reflect the likely disruptions caused by the upsurge in COVID-19 infections and the local containment measures, the signs are even more worrying. Policymakers face tough choices in trying to nurse back demand. And they must do this without letting quickening inflation undermine purchasing power and overall economic stability.

8. Editorial-3: It’s time to enact a Siras Act

It would do justice to those convicted in the LGBTQ+ community, including Ramachandra Siras

A law to accord an ex post facto pardon to those who were convicted under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) would do poetic justice to the LGBTQ+ community and Professor Ramachandra Siras. What happened to Siras is a perfect example of the persecution faced by the LGBTQ+ community in India. He was a Professor and head of the Department of Modern Indian Languages at Aligarh Muslim University. On a winter night in 2010, two men trespassed into Siras’ house and caught him having consensual sex with another man. Siras was suspended by AMU for “gross misconduct”. Hansal Mehta’s critically acclaimed biopic, Aligarh (2015), portrayed the social ostracism and mental trauma suffered by Siras. Even though he won his case against the university in the Allahabad High Court and got his job back, Siras died a mysterious death on April 7, 2010.

Alan Turing law

From Oscar Wilde to Alan Turing, many well-known as well as unknown people were haunted by anti-LGBTQ+ laws, and many jurisdictions repented later. A memorial in honour of the gay and lesbian victims of National Socialism stands in the city of Cologne in Germany today. The U.K. passed the Alan Turing law in 2017, which grants amnesty and pardon to those convicted of consensual same-sex relationships. The law is named after Alan Turing, the computer scientist who was instrumental in cracking intercepted coded messages during World War II and was convicted of gross indecency in 1952. The Alan Turing law provides not only a posthumous pardon but also an automatic formal pardon for living people.

R. Raj Rao, in Criminal Love?: Queer Theory, Culture and Politics in India (2017), says homosexuality has always been looked upon with disfavour by three agencies universal to mankind: religion, law and medicine. Among them, the law committed the “most unkindest cut of all”. From 1862, when Section 377 of the IPC came into effect, until September 6, 2018, when the Supreme Court of India ruled that the application of Section 377 of the IPC to consensual homosexual behaviour between adults was “unconstitutional, irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary”, the LGBTQ+ community was treated as a criminal tribe in India.

Resurrection of Naz Foundation

The Delhi High Court’s verdict in Naz Foundation v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi (2009) resulted in the decriminalisation of homosexual acts involving consenting adults. The Court held that Section 377 offended the guarantee of equality enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution, because it creates an unreasonable classification and targets homosexuals as a class. Justice A.P. Shah observed in the judgment that discrimination is the antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual.

“Specifically, Naz Foundation understood that in promising non-discrimination and equal treatment before the law, the Constitution spoke to a past — and a present — where certain personal characteristics had become the sites of structural and systemic exclusion, marginalisation, disadvantage, and indignity. The jurisprudence of Naz Foundation was an attempt to fulfil the constitutional purpose of redressing this reality,” writes Gautam Bhatia in The Transformative Constitution: A Radical Biography in Nine Acts (2019). In a retrograde step, the Supreme Court, in Suresh Kumar Koushal vs. Naz Foundation (2013), reinstated Section 377 in the IPC. Fortunately India witnessed the resurrection of Naz Foundation through the apex court’s judgment in Navtej Singh Johar & Ors. v. Union of India (2018).

The spirit of Navtej Singh Johar should be pushed further. To make amends for the excesses committed against the LGBTQ+ community in the past and present, the Indian state should enact a ‘Siras Act’ on the lines of the Alan Turing law. Ex post facto pardon may be a novel concept in India, but it would do justice, even though delayed, to the prisoners of sexual conscience and Siras.

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