Daily Current AFfairs 16.04.2021 (China Tried to Change Status Quo, India Australia STand Together, UNFPA Population Report, Chinese Backed Port City)

Daily Current AFfairs 16.04.2021 (China Tried to Change Status Quo, India Australia STand Together, UNFPA Population Report, Chinese Backed Port City)


1. ‘China tried to change status quo’

Rawat says India stood firm on the borders and proved that it could not be pushed

China tried to change the status quo in Eastern Ladakh by the use of disruptive technologies without using force, and thought that India as a nation would “succumb” to the pressure due to its technological advantage, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, said on Thursday. “We stood firm on the northern borders and proved that we will not get pushed,” he said.

“They [China] feel they have arrived. They have superior armed forces because of the technological advantage that they have. They have been able to create disruptive technologies that can paralyse systems of the adversaries. So they believe that by some shove and push they can compel nations to give into their demands,” Gen. Rawat said while speaking at the ongoing Raisina Dialogue summit, jointly organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation.

“In whatever we have achieved by standing firm, in preventing a change of status quo, we have been able to gather world support,” he added.

“The international community has come to our support and said, yes, there is an international order that every nation must follow,” Gen. Rawat said, adding, “That’s what we have been able to achieve, and we are trying to gather support from other nations.”

Asked about the situation of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang province of China, Gen. Rawat said, “In India, it’s believed that every community, irrespective of the religion that they follow, their caste, creed and colour of the skin, everybody has equal rights. As far as humanity is concerned, the world must stand together in ensuring that people get their human rights. It is a call the international community has to take.”

Talking of the development of disruptive technologies, Gen. Rawat said, “Nations that have developed disruptive technologies feel that they will be able to impose their will on other nations by saying that if they [other nations] don’t come to my terms, I have other means of bringing you into conflict by unconventional means.”

In the context of the Ladakh stand-off, he said, “Nations are trying to become assertive… This is what China attempted to say — it’s my way or no way… Such nature of undeclared war will place dilemma in the minds of decision makers [on] whether or not to resort to kinetic force and thus be labelled as aggressor…”

‘Grey zone tactics’

Japan’s Chief of General Staff General Yamazaki said China was attempting to unilaterally change the international order. He added that it was necessary to cooperate with other countries to counter such “grey zone tactics”.

General Angus Campbell, Chief of the Defence Force, Australia, said grey zone tactics were a way to nibble away at territory.

Noting that this was seen in the South China Sea, he said it was very challenging to respond without breaching the line that led to open conflict. On the tensions in the Taiwan strait, he said, “Conflict over the island of Taiwan will be a disaster for the people of the region and something we all must work to avoid.”

Ladakh and its Geo-strategic Importance

With the long-standing border standoff with China, Ladakh, a rugged, high-altitude region that is generally far removed from the lives and imagination of most Indians, has become part of our daily conversations and worries.

Ladakh through the History

  • Lying between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and Himalayas to the south, Ladakh was originally inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent.
  • Historically the region included the valleys of Baltistan, Indus, and Nubra, besides Zanskar, Lahaul and Spiti, Aksai Chin, Ngari and Rudok.
  • Located at the crossroads of important trade routes since ancient times, Ladakh has always enjoyed great geostrategic importance.
  • At the beginning of the first century AD, Ladakh was part of the Kushan Empire. Till the 15th century, it was part of Tibet and was ruled by dynasties of local Lamas.
  • Later it changed hands multiple times, alternating between the kingdoms of Kashmir and Zhangzhung.
  • In 1834, Gen Zorawar Singh, a general of Raja Gulab Singh who ruled Jammu as part of the Sikh empire, extended the boundaries of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom to Ladakh.

Partition, Pakistan and Chinese occupations

Immediately after India’s Partition, tribal raiders (the disguised Pakistani Army) attacked Ladakh. They captured Kargil and were heading for Leh when they were confronted by the Indian Army, who got back Kargil.

  • Although India has always considered Aksai Chin to be part of Jammu and Kashmir, in the 1950s the Chinese built a highway, called western highway or NH219, connecting Tibet with Xinjiang through this region.
  • It was always more easily accessible to the Chinese than to the Indians, who were across the Karakoram.
  • India learnt of this road in 1957, and it was one of the causes of the 1962 India-China war, after which China strengthened its control over this region.
  • China today claims Aksai Chin to be part of Hotan County of its Xinjiang province.
  • Pakistan ceded the Shaksgam Valley, which was part of the Baltistan region north of the Karakoram, to China following a Sino-Pakistani agreement signed on March 2, 1963.

Ladakh through the Chinese eyes

  • China’s forays into the region began after the 1949 Communist Revolution, when Chairman Mao Zedong, a veteran of guerrilla warfare, began consolidating China’s periphery as part of his expansionist designs.
  • The PLA occupied Tibet in 1951 and then began to eye Ladakh.
  • The reason was that the road connecting Kashgar in Xinjiang to Lhasa in Tibet had to pass through Aksai Chin, which was held by Indians but was seldom patrolled by them.

Galwan Valley in the limelight

  • The Tibetan revolt of 1959 and the Dalai Lama’s flight to India saw China further strengthening its military presence in Ladakh to ensure the security of NH 219.
  • India reacted with its ‘forward policy’ as part of which it began setting up Army posts in the region to prevent Chinese expansion.
  • This resulted in the initial clash between the Indian and Chinese forces in the Kongka Pass area in 1959.
  • Later, Galwan Valley became the scene of action when the Indian Army established a post to cut off the Chinese post in the Samjunjling area, marking the beginning of the 1962 war.

Pangong Tso: The contested lake

  • In the latest face-off, Indian troops first spied the Chinese on the banks of Pangong Tso.
  • This lake, which is one-third in India and two-thirds in China, is of great tactical significance to the Chinese who have built infrastructure along both its sides to ensure the speedy build-up of troops.
  • Chinese incursions in this region aim at shifting the LAC westward so that they are able to occupy important heights both on the north and the south of the lake, which will enable them to dominate the Chushul Bowl.
  • The narrow Chushul valley, which lies on the road to Leh with Pangong Tso to its north, was an important target for the Chinese even during the 1962 war. It was here that the Battle of Chushul was fought.

Strategic SSN: To the far north

  • The area spanning Galwan, Depsang plateau, and Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), is called Sub-Sector North (SSN).
  • This enclave that lies to the east of the Siachen glacier is of immense significance given its proximity to the Karakoram Pass, close to China’s western highway or NH 219 going to Aksai Chin.
  • It’s the SSN that provides land access to Central Asia through the Karakoram Pass.
  • Domination of this area is also crucial for the protection of the Siachen glacier, lying between the Saltoro ridge on the Pakistani side and the Saser ridge close to the Chinese claim line.
  • The Galwan heights overlook the all-weather Durbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) Road, which connects Leh to DBO at the base of the Karakoram Pass that separates China’s Xinjiang Region from Ladakh.
  • Domination over these heights allows China to easily interdict this road.

Why is China stubborn on Galwan?

  • Occupation of Galwan will neutralize the tactical advantage India gained by building the all-weather Durbuk-DBO road over the last two decades.
  • Last year, the Border Road Organisation (BRO) made this rugged terrain even more accessible by completing the 430-metre-long bridge across the Shyok River.
  • With this, the Darbuk route to DBO became available round the year, and the travel time of troops to the SSN was halved.
  • It was this bridge, coupled with the ongoing work on a link road to LAC in this area, prompted the PLA to enter Galwan.

2. India, Australia must stand together: Morrison

Both countries share a passion for democratic freedom and commitment to the rule of law, says Australian Prime Minister

India and Australia should stand together for democratic freedoms amid “a great polarisation” in the region between authoritarian countries and liberal democracies, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.

Addressing the annual Raisina Dialogue from Perth, organised virtually this year by the Observer Research Foundation and the Ministry of External Affairs, the Australian Prime Minister described the recently held first-ever Quad leaders’ summit, which he attended along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, as a “historic” moment for “like-minded” countries in the region.

Mr. Morrison said India and Australia “share a deep friendship, or, as you say in India, maitri”, and shared in common a “passion for democratic freedom, commitment to the rule of law, and a free and open Indo-Pacific region”.

He described the region as “dynamic” and “full of promise”, but said Australia was “not blind to the geopolitical reality” of it becoming the “epicentre of strategic competition”.

‘Indo-Pacific region’

“The Indo-Pacific is the region that will shape our prosperity, our security and our destiny, individually and collectively,” Mr. Morrison said, as he warned of tensions due to territorial claims as well as “unprecedented” military modernisation.

Mr. Morrison did not name China, but spoke of foreign interference and economic coercion, two issues that have emerged as strains in the Australia-China relationship.

“Democratic sovereign nations are being threatened and coerced by foreign interference,” the Australian Prime Minister said. “Cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated, including from state-sponsored actors. Economic coercion is being employed as a tool of statecraft. Liberal rules and norms are under assault and there is a great polarisation that our world is at risk of moving towards — a polarisation between authoritarian regimes and autocracies, and the liberal democracies that we love,” he added.

Mr. Morrison called for “like-minded nations”, including India and Australia, to “act more consistently, more cohesively, more often, in our shared interests” and to protect “liberal values that underpin the global order”.

‘Strategic balance’

Countries should come together “to build a durable strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific”, a balance that he said, quoting former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “favours freedom”.

In this context, the Australian Prime Minister said the Quad leaders’ summit was “a historic first” and “a mark of the momentum that continues to be built among like-minded counties in our region”.

India-Australia bilateral relations

  • India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, believed Australia is a natural part of Asia and invited it to participate in the Asian Relations Conference in Delhi in 1947, a few months before independence.
    • 20th century, a period of drift and alienation: That there was a gap of nearly three decades between Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Australia in 1986 and PM Modi’s trip in 2014 only underlines how short-sighted India’s neglect of Australia has been. 
    • The  end  of  the  Cold  War  and simultaneously India’s decision to launch major economic reforms in 1991 provided the first positive  move  towards  development  of  closer  ties  between  the  two  nations. 
    • India’s nuclear test, 1998: It complicated the possibilities of improving the bilateral relations. 
    • Improvements since 2000s: The bilateral  relationship  between  the  two  nations was upgraded to  a ‘Strategic Partnership’, including a Joint  Declaration  on  Security  Cooperation in  2009.
  • Political relations: The two-way Prime Ministerial visits in 2014 built significant momentum in the bilateral relationship, signifying deepening relations.
  • Trilateral   Dialogues
    • India-Australia-Japan   Trilateral   Dialogue
      • Indonesia-Australia-India  Trilateral  Dialogue
  • Economic relations:
  • Bilateral Trade: India is the 5th largest trade partner of Australia with trade in goods and services  at  A$  29  billion  representing  3.6%  share  of  the  total  Australian  trade  in  2017-18,  with export at A$ 8 billion and import at A$ 21 billion. 
  • India’s  main  exports  to  Australia  are  Refined  Petroleum,  medicaments, while our major imports are Coal, copper ores & concentrates, Gold, and  education  related  services.
  • A  Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement: It provides the framework for substantial new trade in energy between Australia and India. It ensures that Uranium mining companies in Australia may fulfil contracts to supply Australian uranium to India for civil use.

Defence cooperation: 

  • The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement has been signed during the summit that should enhance defence cooperation and ease the conduct of large-scale joint military exercises. 
  • There is a technical Agreement on White Shipping Information  Exchange.
  • Recently Australia and India conducted AUSINDEX, their largest bilateral naval exercise, and there are further developments on the anvil, including Australia’s permanent inclusion in the Malabar exercise with Japan. 
  • In 2018, Indian Air Force participated for the first time in the Exercise Pitch Blackin Australia.The third edition of AUSTRAHIND (Special Forces of Army Exercise) was held in September 2018.
  • A broader maritime cooperation agreement with a focus on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is also in the works and Australia has agreed to post a Liaison Officer at the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) at Gurugram. 


  • Under  the NewColombo  Plan of  Australian  government,  900 Australian undergraduates have studied and completed internships in India during the period 2015-16


  • The Indian community in Australia has the population of nearly half a million (2.1 % of the population), and another over 1,50,000 persons of Indian descent immigrated from other countries (Fiji, Malaysia, Kenya and South Africa). 
  • India is one of the top sources of skilled immigrants to Australia. 

Significance of Indo-Australia bilateral relations

  • Pandemic control lessons: Australia is one of the few countries that has managed to combat COVID-19 so far through “controlled adaptation” by which the coronavirus has been suppressed to very low levels. Two of the leaders of this great Australia-wide effort are Indian-born scientists. 
  • Agricultural cooperation: From farming practices through food processing, supply and distribution to consumers, the Australian agribusiness sector has the research and development (R&D) capacity, experience and technical knowledge to help India’s food industry improve supply chain productivity and sustainability and meet the challenges of shifting consumption patterns. 
  • Trade: Australia is the 13th largest economy in the world, following closely behind Russia which stands at $1.6 trillion. 
    • Australia is rich in natural resources that India’s growing economy needs. 
    • It also has huge reservoirs of strength in higher education, scientific and technological research.
    • The dominance of Indo-Pacific countries in India’s trade profile: Fostering deeper integration between India and Australia will provide the necessary impetus to the immense growth potential of the trade blocs in this region.
  • Strategic:  The two countries also have increasingly common military platforms as India’s defence purchases from the U.S. continue to grow.
    • Australia has deep economic, political and security connections with the ASEAN and a strategic partnership with one of the leading non-aligned nations, Indonesia. Both nations can leverage their equation with ASEAN to contain China.
    • Economic and Maritime dynamics in the Indo-Pacific: The Indo-Pacific region has the potential to facilitate connectivity and trade between India and Australia.
    • Quad: Being geographically more proximate than the US or Japan, India and Australia can emerge as leading forces for the Quad. 
  • Health and safe food as well the supply chains: The promise of DTC-CPG (direct to consumer; consumer packaged goods) which could transform global supply chains. Here too there is much room for collaboration and new thinking.
  • International cooperation:
    • WHO’s handling of pandemic: India and 62 other countries have backed a draft resolution led by Australia and the EU to ‘identify the zoonotic source’ of Covid-19 and its ‘route of introduction’ to humans.
    • Australia supports India’s candidature in an expanded UN Security Council.
    • Both  India  and  Australia  are members of the Commonwealth, IORA, ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia Pacific Partnership on Climate  and  Clean  Development,  and  have  participated  in  the  East  Asia  Summits.  
      • Australia   is   an   important   player   in   APEC   and   supports   India’s membership of the organisation. In 2008, Australia became an Observer in SAARC.
    • Both countries have also been cooperating as members of the Five Interested Parties (FIP) in the WTO context.


  • (Im)balance of trade: India’s trade deficit with Australia has been increasing since 2001-02 due to India-Australia Free Trade Agreement. It is also a contentious issue in the ongoing RCEP negotiations which India left.
    • The  two  countries  are  also  discussing  a Comprehensive  Economic  Cooperation  Agreement  (CECA),  however,  the  progress  is currently stalled.
    • Non-trade barriers such as Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) measures some of the products where Australia has a genuine comparative advantage are not exported in substantial amounts to India. 
    • Australia’s relatively lower share of services trade with India (4.3 percent) can be attributed to legislative barriers such as licence requirements. 
    • Fall in FDI: Statistics from India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry indicate that there is a fall in the FDI inflow from Australia to India from US$ 518.64 million in 2010-12 to US$ 260.49 million in 2016-18.
  • No coherent Indo pacific strategy:
    • For Australia a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ means establishing a regional architecture with fellow democratic countries to help maintain the ‘rules-based order’ as China becomes the most powerful actor in the region.
    • India’s preferred formulation of a ‘free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific’ refers to a multipolar regional order within which Delhi can maintain its strategic autonomy
    • Fate Of Quad: India’s unwillingness to invite Australia to participate in the Malabar naval exercise, despite Australian lobbying, has also sparked speculation over the fate of the Quadrilateral Consultative Dialogue (the ‘Quad) involving India, Australia, Japan and the United States.
  • China’s expansive OBOR project: Although neither India nor Australia are members of the OBOR—primarily due to concerns over security and unsustainable debt burden—they are not, in any sense, less encumbered by the dynamics posed by OBOR in the Indo-Pacific. 
  • India’s foreign policy shortcomings: China has transformed its relationship with Australia during the period in which India ignored Australia.
    • Delhi’s temptation to judge nations on the basis of their alignments with other powers stands in contrast to Beijing that puts interests above ideology, promotes interdependence with a targeted middle power, turns it into political influence and tries to weaken its alignment with the rival powers.
  • Racist Attacks on Indian Students in Australia is another concerning issue which needs to be addressed with care.

3. UNFPA’s population report launched

The report, ‘My Body is My Own’, turns the spotlight on bodily autonomy

Nearly half the women from 57 developing countries do not have the right to make decisions regarding their bodies, including using contraception, seeking healthcare or even on their sexuality, according to the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) flagship State of World Population Report 2021 titled ‘My Body is My Own’ launched on Thursday.

This is the first time a United Nations report has focused on bodily autonomy, defined as the power and agency to make choices about your body without the fear of violence or having someone else decide for you.

The report shows that in countries where data is available, only 55% of women are fully empowered to make choices over healthcare, contraception and the ability to say yes or no to sex. It also highlights that only 75% of countries legally ensure full and equal access to contraception.

Some examples of violation of bodily autonomy include, child marriage, female genital mutilation, a lack of contraceptive choices leading to unplanned pregnancy, unwanted sex exchanged for a home and food or when people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities cannot walk down a street without fearing assault or humiliation. Under its ambit also fall people with disabilities stripped of their rights to self-determination, to be free from violence and to enjoy a safe and satisfying sexual life.

“Women around the world are denied the fundamental right of bodily autonomy with the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbating this situation… Realising bodily autonomy is essential to achieving the UNFPA’s goals of ending the global unmet need for contraception, preventable maternal deaths, gender-based violence and harmful practices by 2030… We are committed to the cause,” Argentina Matavel Piccin, India’s UNFPA Representative and Country Director, Bhutan, said.


United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP): 

  • Headquartered in New York City, formed in 1965 to help countries eliminate poverty and achieve sustainable human development.
    • On the ground in nearly 170 countries, the UNDP is UN’s global development network, focusing on the challenges of democratic governance, poverty reduction, crisis prevention and recovery, energy and environment and from HIV/AIDS recovery and prevention.
    • The largest UN Development assistance program, the UNDP is headed by an administrator who oversees a 36 member Executive Board representing both developing and developed countries.
    • The UNDP administers aid through five year Country Programmes, which fund projects aimed at attracting investment capital, training skilled employees and implementing modern technologies.
    • It also assists developing countries through experts for the promotion of Good Governance by building political and legal institutions that are equitable, responsive and open to public participation and to expand the private sector of their economies in order to provide more jobs.
    • UNDP Resident Representatives in more than 125 developing countries help to coordinate the local activities of other UN agencies and programs as well as those of non-governmental organizations. 

United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF): 

  • Formed on December 11, 1946 to provide emergency food and healthcare to children in countries that had been devastated by WW-II, headquartered in New York City, provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries.
    • It is funded entirely by voluntary contributions from governments (about two-thirds of organization’s resources) and private donors (nearly about six million individuals) through national committees.
    • It is estimated that about 92% of UNICEF revenue is distributed to program services which emphasizes on developing community level services to promote the health and well-being of children.
    • UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 and the Prince of Asturias Award of Concord in 2006.
    • Most of UNICEF’s work is in the field, with staff in over 190 countries having about 200 country offices, guided by 7 regional offices that provide technical assistance to country offices as needed.
    • The primary point of distribution of essential items such as vaccines, antiretroviral medicines for children and mothers with HIV, nutritional supplements, emergency shelters, family reunification and educational supplies etc. are done through Copenhagen based supply division.
    • A 36 member executive board made up of government representatives, elected by UN Economic and Social Council for three year terms, establishes policies, approves programmes and oversees administrative and financial plans. 

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR):

  • Also known as UN Refugee Agency, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, a UN Program mandated to protect and support refugees at the request of a government or the UN itself and assists in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.
  • Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees who are internally displaced persons (IDPs) and would fit the legal definition of a refugee under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol, the 1969 Organization for African Unity Convention or some other similar treaty.
  • Presently, UNHCR has major missions in Lebanon, South Sudan, Chad/Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan as well as Kenya to assist and provide services to IDPs and refugees in camps and in urban settings.
  • The UNHCR hosts expert roundtables to discuss issues of concern to the international refugee community.
  • The UNHCR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 and 1981.The UNHCR has been chosen for the prestigious Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development 2015.
  • UNHCR relies almost entirely on voluntary contributions from governments, UN and pooled funding mechanisms, intergovernmental institutions and the private sector.
  • These funds are being used in providing protection, shelter, water, health, education and other essentials to millions of refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless and internally displaced people around the world. 

World Food Program (WFP):

  • Initially established in 1961, after the 1960 Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Conference and formally established in 1963 by the FAO and the UNGA on three year experimental basis. In 1965, the program was extended to a continuing basis.
    • The WFP is governed by an Executive Board which consists of representatives from 36 member states.
    • The European Union is a permanent observer in the WFP and as a major donor participates in the work of its Executive Board.
    • Its vision is a world in which every man, woman and child has access at all times to the food needed for an active and healthy life.
    • The WFP operations are funded by voluntary donations from world governments, corporations and private donors. The organization’s administrative costs are only seven percent

—one of the lowest and best among aid agencies.

  • WFP food aid is also directed to fight micronutrient deficiencies, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, and combat disease, including HIV and AIDS. Food-for-work programmes help promote environmental and economic stability and agricultural production.
    • The objectives that the WFP hopes to achieve are to:

– “Save lives and protect livelihoods in emergencies”

– “Support food security and nutrition and (re)build livelihoods in fragile settings and following emergencies”

– “Reduce risk and enable people, communities and countries to meet their own food and nutrition needs”

– “Reduce under-nutrition and break the intergenerational cycle of hunger” 

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC): 

  • Established in 1997 through a merger between the United Nations Drug Control Program and the Centre for International Crime Prevention is a global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and international crime.
    • UNODC operates in all regions of the world through an extensive network of field offices and relies on voluntary contributions, mainly from Governments, for 90 per cent of its budget.
    • In the Millennium Declaration, Member States also resolved to intensify efforts to fight transnational crime in all its dimensions, to redouble the efforts to implement the commitment to counter the world drug problem and to take concerted action against international terrorism.
    • The three pillars of the UNODC work program are:

– Field-based technical cooperation projects to enhance the capacity of Member States to counteract illicit drugs, crime and terrorism.

– Research and analytical work to increase knowledge and understanding of drugs and crime issues and expand the evidence base for policy and operational decisions.

– Normative work to assist States in the ratification and implementation of the relevant international treaties, the development of domestic legislation on drugs, crime and terrorism, and the provision of secretariat and substantive services to the treaty-based and governing bodies.

  • In pursuing its objectives, UNODC makes every effort to integrate and mainstream the gender perspective, particularly in its projects for the provision of alternative livelihoods, as well as those against human trafficking. 

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA): 

  • Headquartered in New York City, US, initially began operation in 1969 as the UN Fund for Population Activities (the name was changed in 1987) under the administration of the United Nations Development Fund. In 1971 it was placed under the authority of the UNGA.
    • An UN Organisation and a leading UN agency for delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every child birth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.
    • Their work involves the improvement of reproductive health; including creation of national strategies and protocols and providing supplies and services.
    • The organization has recently been known for its worldwide campaign against obstetric fistula and female genital mutilation.
    • Guided by the Program of Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development and the Millennium Development Goals, the organisation is working on ground in about 150 countries in association with governments, other UN Agencies, Civil societies and the private sector to make a real difference to millions of people, especially the most vulnerable.
    • It operates in all regions of the world with its specialized agencies and is entirely dependent on voluntary contributions.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD): 

  • A permanent intergovernmental body established by the UNGA in 1964, headquarters are located in Geneva, Switzerland and the other offices are in New York and Addis Ababa.
    • In the era of globalization where phenomenal expansion of trade has helped lift millions out of poverty but, not nearly enough people have benefited.
    • UNCTAD supports developing countries to access the benefits of a globalized economy more fairly and effectively by helping them to deal with the potential drawbacks of greater economic integration.
    • The primary objective of UNCTAD is to formulate policies relating to all aspects of development including trade, aid, transport, finance and technology. The conference ordinarily meets once in four years; the permanent secretariat is in Geneva.
    • UNCTAD technical cooperation activities are financed from: bilateral funding

— including individual governments, UN system and other international organizations, the European Commission and private and public sectors donors

— The United Nations Development Program (UNDP); the United Nations program budget; and Delivering as one funding mechanisms and other Multi donor Trust Funds (MDTFs). 

United Nations Environment Program (UNEP): 

  • Headquartered in Gigiri, neighbourhood of Nairobi, Kenya, established in 1972 as a result of the UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Conference).
    • UNEP coordinates in environmental activities, assisting developing countries in implementing environmentally sound policies and practices.
    • Its activities cover a wide range of issues regarding the atmosphere, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, environmental governance and green economy.
    • Governments are the core of UNEP’s funding because UNEP is an intergovernmental organization owned by the 193 UN Member States. Each and every country is a donor, and each and every country is a recipient. 

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA): 

  • Created in Dec 1949, a relief and human development agency, has contributed to the welfare and human development of four generations of Palestine refugees.
    • Its services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance, including in times of armed conflict.
    • Headquarters are divided between the Gaza Strip and Amman. Its operations are organized into five fields: Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, West Bank and Gaza and it directly reports to UNGA.
    • In addition to its regular budget which is contributed by member countries, UNRWA receives funding for emergency activities and special projects.
    • The major donors are the US, European Commission, Sweden, The UK, Norway and the Netherlands. 

United Nations Women (UN Women): 

  • Headquartered in New York City, US, created in July 2010, the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women came about as part of the UN reform agenda, bringing together resources and mandates for greater impact.
    • It merges and builds on the important work of four previously distinct parts of the UN system, which focused exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment:

– Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW).

– International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).

– Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI).

– United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). 

United Nations Habitat (UN Habitat): 

  • An UN program working towards a better urban future, its mission involves twin agenda: to promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements developments and the achievement of adequate shelter for all.
    • It was established in 1978 as an outcome of the First UN Conference on Human Settlements and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat I) held in Vancouver, Canada in 1976.
    • The agency has three main divisions which each oversee a set of programmes:

(i) The Shelter and Sustainable Human Settlements Development Division;

(ii) The Monitoring and Research Division; and

(iii) The Regional and Technical Cooperation Division.

  • Most of the agency’s budget comes in the form of voluntary contributions from governments and inter-governmental donors.
    • Other partners, like local authorities, the Private sector, multi-lateral organization and other UN bodies provide funding for specific programmes.

5. Sri Lanka Opposition challenges Bill on Chinese-backed Port City

Petitions scheduled to be heard by the top court on Monday

Filing about a dozen petitions at Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Thursday, opposition parties, civil society groups, and labour unions challenged a recently-gazetted Bill on the Chinese-backed Port City in capital Colombo, arguing it “directly affects” Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. The petitions are scheduled to be heard by the top court on Monday.

The ruling Rajapaksa administration tabled a Bill, titled Colombo Port City Economic Commission’, in Parliament last week, outlining proposed laws for the $1.4 billion-Port City being built on reclaimed land at Colombo’s seafront.

Constitutional validity

However, Sri Lanka’s opposition parties Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB or United People’s Front), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the United National Party (UNP), Colombo-based NGO Centre for Policy Alternatives, and labour organisations have challenged the constitutional validity of the proposed legislation for the Port City, touted by the government as an investment hub for foreign capital.

SJB legislator Harsha de Silva said while the party wants the Port City project to succeed, for its potential to “catalyse” the next stage of fintech and high-end knowledge services-driven growth in the country, “a solid legal framework” was key. “For this long-term project to succeed it must be consistent with the Constitution of Sri Lanka. It must not be discriminatory…we see multiple clauses that are inconsistent with the Constitution,” he told The Hindu.

Senior lawyer and SJB Legal Secretary Thisath Wijayagunawardane said the Bill seeks to set up a Commission whose powers — in regard to registrations, licensing and authorisation — “interfered” with the provincial authority, and allowed for a team of foreigners, “accountable to none other than the President”, to effectively run the Port City.

“The clauses prohibit investment in the Port City in Sri Lankan rupees, which will keep out Sri Lankans…it will be like a forbidden city within Colombo,” he said, adding: “The government claims it stands for ‘one country, one law’, but the Bill allows for running the Port City like a foreign country with special laws.”

Terming the project as one of “national importance”, the UNP said the Bill was “inconsistent with Parliament’s control over public finances, allows for the abuse of power and fails to ensure a transparent system of checks and balances”.

Eyeing investments

The Port City was launched by President Xi Jinping during his state visit to the island nation in September 2014, during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term in office, months before his poll defeat. The successor government, led by President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, vowed to develop the site into an “Indian Ocean financial hub”, despite an election promise to scrap it, and amid protests from environmentalists and fisherfolk.

Following their return to power, the Rajapaksa administration promised to expedite the project, that it says would attract $ 15 billion in investments, and emerge a “leading business, retail, residential and tourist destination in South Asia”.

‘Chinese colony’

However, in addition to the legal challenge, the government also faces sharp criticism from some of its backers, including sections of Sri Lanka’s influential Buddhist clergy. “We will not allow Sri Lanka to become a Chinese Colony,” Chief Incumbent of the Abhayarama Temple in Colombo, Ananda Muruththettuwe Thero, said on Thursday. “It is clear the country is heading on the wrong path,” he said.

Months ago, Buddhist monks, among others, fiercely opposed Indian involvement at the East Container Terminal at the Colombo Port, forcing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to go back on his announcement that the Adani Group would invest in the project, along with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. Subsequently, Colombo offered the West Container Terminal to the Group.

Meanwhile the Ceylon Federation of Labour voiced concerns over the Bill exempting employers operating within the Port City from compliance with Sri Lanka’s labour laws. The Union had fought and won a case in the late 1970s when the J.R. Jayawardene government tried to deny labour law protection to workers at the newly established Free Trade Zone.

The country’s hard-won labour protective legislation had come under threat again, Federation General Secretary T.M.R. Raseedin said in a statement, cautioning that: “Should this Bill be enacted, we will be going back to an era when ‘hire and fire’ ruled employer-employee relationships.”

6. RBI sets up authority to review regulations

Its objective is to simplify norms

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has set up the Regulations Review Authority 2.0.

The authority will review regulatory prescriptions internally as well as by seeking suggestions from RBI-regulated entities for simplification and ease of implementation.

Deputy Governor M. Rajeshwar Rao has been appointed as the Regulations Review Authority. The authority would have validity for a period of one year from May 1.

The RBI had set up a similar authority in 1999 for reviewing regulations, circulars, reporting systems.

The recommendations enabled streamlining and increasing the effectiveness of several procedures, paving the way for issuance of master circular and reducing reporting burden on regulated entities, the RBI said.

“Considering the developments in regulatory functions of the Reserve Bank over the past two decades, it is proposed to undertake a similar review of the Reserve Bank’s regulations and compliance procedures with a view to streamlining/rationalising them and making them more effective. Accordingly, it has been decided to set up a new Regulations Review Authority (RRA 2.0),” it said.

Regulatory Bodies

  • These are independent governmental bodies established by the government in order to set standards in a specific field of activity, or operations and then to enforce those standards. Regulatory agencies may or may not function outside direct executive supervision.
  • The main functions of the regulatory body are typically identified as follows:
    • Regulations and guides
    • Review and assessment
    • Licensing
    • Inspection
    • Corrective actions
    • Enforcement.
  • Some examples of regulatory bodies in India are: Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDCSO), Competition Commission of India (CCI)

Role of Regulatory Bodies

  • India liberalised industries in the 1990s and handed over sectoral governance to regulatory bodies. These bodies played a constructive role in ensuring the free and fair market.
  • Post 1990, Privatisation saw the advent of the ‘Indian Regulator’ that became the ‘nurturer’ and ‘parent’ of its sector. The regulators incentivised private investment by giving them functional autonomy and shielding them from interference.
  • Also, regulatory bodies have shown that empowered regulator can bring fruitful results:
    • Steps taken by Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in tackling the liquidity crisis and management of increasing Non- Performing Assets (NPAs).
    • SEBI has also been instrumental in taking quick and effective steps in light of the global meltdown and the Satyam fiasco.
  • However, improper regulation or failure of regulatory bodies in smoothening the interaction between markets and the State may lead to a new crisis. For example,
    • AGR issue: In October 2019, the Supreme Court demanded that telecom companies pay statutory dues worth ₹1.47 lakh crore to the central government.
    • These dues didn’t pile up overnight but stem from a 15-year-old dispute over sharing of revenues between telcos and the government. A well-regulated industry would not be subject to such a large fiscal shock.

Issues with Regulatory Bodies in India

  • Populist pressure: In India political populism often overtakes the economic agenda. This casts a shadow on regulation. There are constant interferences in the functioning of regulatory bodies by the ruling political parties.
    • Eg, Interventions of government in the RBI functioning
  • Selection of non- experts: The selection of non-experts to lead the regulatory bodies may bring lack of efficiency in the functioning of such bodies. Recently, this issue was raised when the former Finance secretary was appointed as RBI chairman.
  • Inefficient review mechanism: The review mechanism of the functioning of the regulatory bodies under the aegis of parliamentary committees is not very robust.
  • Recommendations made by Regulatory Authorities are rarely implemented.
  • Presence of many regulatory bodies causes overlapping of powers. For example:
    • Environment- Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and National Green Tribunal (NGT).
    • Controversy between SEBI and IRDAI over Unit Linked Insurance Policy.
    • Education sector- All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and University Grants Commission (UGC).

Some Suggestion for Regulatory Bodies

  • Regulatory organisations should undertake a self-evaluation of themselves once in a few (say three) years, and put out the conclusions in the public domain for informed discussion and debate.
  • Genuine functional autonomy would also have to be reinforced with financial autonomy by putting in place a system where regulatory organisations are not dependent on government departments for financial support.
  • Functional autonomy without corresponding accountability is a sure recipe for chaos. Thus, there is a need to make sure such bodies imbibe the ethos of transparency and accountability in the functioning of the bodies.
  • The appointment of persons to head regulatory organisations should be attempted in a far more transparent manner.
  • Many countries have adopted techniques like “Regulatory Impact Assessments”. India can also mandate such techniques through legislation and thereby preserve economic value.

7. Bond yield spikes as RBI’s purchase disappoints

‘RBI was expected to buy more paper’

The benchmark 10-year bond yield elevated on Thursday to its highest level in a week as the outcome of the first tranche of the Reserve Bank of India’s bond-purchase programme disappointed traders while inflation concerns also weighed.

The 10-year bond yield ended at 6.13%, its highest level since April 7, and 12 basis points higher than its previous close.

The Reserve Bank purchased ₹250 billion worth of bonds under G-SAP or government securities acquisition programme, under which it has committed to buying ₹1 trillion worth government paper between April and June to aid the absorption of the Centre’s massive ₹12.06 trillion borrowing in FY22.

“Traders were hoping the RBI would buy more of the 10-year paper,” said a senior trader at a private bank. “It bought only ₹75 billion of that bond versus expectations of nearly double that amount,” the trader added.

G-SAP: Securities acquisition plan for market boost:

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has put in place a secondary market Government Security Acquisition Programme (G-SAP) 1.0 for orderly evolution of the yield curve in FY22.

Under the programme, the central bank will purchase government bonds of worth Rs 1 trillion (or one lakh crores of rupees).


  1. The GSAP 1.0 will provide more comfort to the bond market. As the borrowing of the Government increased this year, RBI has to ensure there is no disruption in the Indian market.
  2. The programme will help to reduce the spread between repo rate and the ten-year government bond yield.
  3. The G-SAP will almost serve the purpose of an OMO calendar, which had been on the bond market’s wish list for a long time.

What is OMO?

Open market operations is the sale and purchase of government securities and treasury bills by RBI or the central bank of the country.

The objective of OMO is to regulate the money supply in the economy.

  • It is one of the quantitative monetary policy tools.

How is it done?

RBI carries out the OMO through commercial banks and does not directly deal with the public.

OMOs vs liquidity:

  1. When the central bank wants to infuse liquidity into the monetary system, it will buy government securities in the open market. This way it provides commercial banks with liquidity.
  2. In contrast, when it sells securities, it curbs liquidity. Thus, the central bank indirectly controls the money supply and influences short-term interest rates.

RBI employs two kinds of OMOs:

  • Outright Purchase (PEMO) – this is permanent and involves the outright selling or buying of government securities.
  • Repurchase Agreement (REPO) – this is short-term and are subject to repurchase

8. Editorial-1: On the trail of the second wave’s dynamics

India let its guard down too early and policy hesitancy and fast-spreading virus mutants have added to the surge

The rapid ascent of the second wave of COVID-19 in India from the third week of February, a major source of concern for the general public, the government, health administrators and the medical profession, needs to be carefully interpreted.

A careful analysis of the numbers is instructive. After having reached a nadir by the third week of January and staying there for nearly four weeks, the numbers rose by the third week of February. While the cumulative number at the peak (September 16, 2020) of the first wave was 51,15,893 (reached in six months), infections in the second wave in the last eight weeks are already 29,66,583, or 58% of the numbers at the first peak.

Infection dynamics

We can speculatively predict the timing of the second peak and the time taken to reach herd immunity threshold as follows.

Earlier, we concluded that at the end of the first wave, 60% of the population had been infected (828 million). The uninfected 40% would be 1,380 million minus 828 million = 552 million. According to a recent Indian Council of Medical Research report, the reinfection rate in India is 4.5% — out of 828 million initially infected, 37.26 million are susceptible to reinfection. The total number of susceptible subjects for the second wave would be 552 million+37.26 million = 589.26 million.

We calculate the rate of increase of new cases by looking at the daily new cases of the first and second waves at time points when the daily numbers were nearly equal. On June 12, 2020 and on February 16, 2021 the numbers were 11,320 and 11,795, respectively. Over the next eight weeks, the curves differed in acceleration. From June 12, 2020 to to August 7, 2020 the increase (to 61,455) was 5.4-fold. From February 16, 2021 to April 13, 2021 the increase (to 1,85,248) was 15.7-fold. The doubling time of 28 days during the first wave is 2.8 times the doubling time (10 days) of the second wave.

The R value of the initial ‘variant’ of the virus of the first wave was 2-3, meaning, one infected person would infect 2-3 others; the variant(s) causing the second wave has a higher R value — we guess it may have doubled, ≥ 4. The herd immunity level required to bring the numbers down to end the second wave (herd immunity threshold) would be about 75%-80%, in contrast to 60% for the first wave — in terms of actual numbers, a maximum of ~471 million (80% of 589.26 million).

Of the 828 million infected in the first wave, only 10,904,738 (1.32%) were diagnosed by February 13, 2021. By the same token, only 6.223 million (1.32% of 471.4 million) are likely to be diagnosed by the end of the second wave. At the peak, the numbers detected would be half, namely 3.1 million.

Well into the second wave

We have already diagnosed 2,966,583 infections in the second wave by April 13, 2021 and the current doubling time is 10 days. Therefore, in the next few days we ought to reach ~3.1 million detected cases, spelling the peak of the second wave. We are already 56 days into the second wave; if the peak occurs within the next four days, the time from base to peak would be 56+4= 60 days. The descent after the peak will take an equal length of time — two months — in a normal bell-shaped epidemic curve. We expect steady low levels of infection (endemic state) will be reached by mid-June 2021.

Our estimates assume that the conditions will remain the same throughout the second wave, but with vaccination rates going up, curbs being re-imposed and possibly higher re-infection rates, the timing of the peak may vary by a few days and the cumulative infections detected could differ by one or two million.

Our current pace of vaccination (only 1% of the population has completed two doses so far) and the two week interval required after the second dose of the vaccine to confer sufficient immunity to decelerate the second wave, indicate that vaccination may not decelerate the second wave in India. However, we hope that the elderly and vulnerable, who were prioritised for vaccination, will have reduced mortality.

Deepened by lapses

The faster-spreading U.K. variant was involved in the second wave in Punjab; judging by the tempo of spread, either this variant, other known variants and possibly faster-spreading Indian variants are responsible for the second wave in the country.

By early February the fear of the pandemic waned and people lowered their guard, allowing the virus to spread unchecked; had we stayed vigilant and achieved wide vaccination coverage then, the second wave could have been smaller or even averted. Vaccine hesitancy, policy hesitancy and fast-spreading virus mutants all added to the tempo of the second wave. We let our guard down too early — a costly error.

A larger number of symptomatic infections in youngsters in the second wave may be attributable to their higher mobility and premature opening up of schools and colleges in the face of highly infectious variants.

The weekly average of new cases reported on March 23, 2021 was 42,162 and three weeks later (April 13, 2021) the average of deaths was 844 — a relatively low infection fatality rate of 2%; priority vaccination of the elderly and the vulnerable who stayed cocooned, and clear-cut management strategies for serious cases may have contributed to this.

The strategy ahead

We should insist on the golden rules of mask wearing, cough etiquette, maintaining physical distance, hand-hygiene and avoiding crowds, and pursue an aggressive vaccination drive to contain the situation without imposing a lockdown, which will hurt the recovering economy and lead to untold public misery.

Travel curbs for fully vaccinated individuals are being lifted in the United States. In India, vaccination can be made a pre-requisite for those who come in contact with large numbers of vulnerable people (for example, teachers). Vaccination at offices (started in Tamil Nadu) and persuading staff in the Indian Railways to get vaccinated quickly are innovative steps in the right direction.

If vaccination is a pre-requisite for any public assembly, fewer people will gather and more people will seek vaccination. If vaccination is a pre-condition for entry into crowded public places and use of public transport, those who use these facilities will feel safe and the public will accept vaccination readily. Mobile vaccination vans can cover inaccessible rural pockets and reach people unable to reach vaccination centres.

Universal mask use, an important and effective preventive measure, despite proven benefits, is practised by only 50% of people in our surveys. This COVID-19 inappropriate behaviour can be addressed innovatively; anyone found without a mask in public may be given a mask and charged for it. If all public figures wear masks in all their public appearances, citizens will get a clear and effective message.

The government’s decision to give emergency use authorisation to all World Health Organization-approved COVID-19 vaccines is likely to narrow the demand-supply gap. The mRNA vaccines, which appear to offer greater protection against new variants and other vaccines in the pipeline to cover variants of concern need to be mass produced, tested and commissioned quickly to benefit everyone.

9. Editorial-2: A multipolarity, scripted by the middle powers

Japan, Iran, Turkey and India are well set to shape the emerging world order

The acrimony between the United States and Chinese delegations at the Anchorage conclave on March 19, followed by U.S. President Joe Biden referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer” and Mr. Putin’s sharp riposte, and Mr. Biden’s reluctance to rejoin the nuclear agreement with Iran, are positions which make it clear that in respect of three crucial relationships, namely China, Russia and Iran, Mr. Biden is following in the footsteps of his much-reviled predecessor, Donald Trump.

Mr. Biden has also extended his firm backing for another of Trump’s priorities: the “Indo-Pacific” as an area of strategic significance for the U.S. and the associated alignment that gives shape and substance to this geopolitical concept — the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad for short. On March 12, Mr. Biden convened an online summit meeting of the four Quad members, namely, the U.S., Japan, Australia and India, at which the leaders affirmed their commitment to a “free, open, resilient and inclusive” Indo-Pacific region.

New Cold War

It is clear that the U.S. continues to view China as its principal adversary on the world stage and that it will use the Quad to challenge China in the Indo-Pacific, possibly as part of a “new Cold War”.

This new Cold War was given concrete shape during the Trump presidency when the ravages of the pandemic made the President and his officials demonise China. Then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on like-minded nations to curb China’s growth, reduce its influence in international institutions, and “induce China to change in more creative and assertive ways”, a clarion call for regime change.

The U.S.’s hostility for Russia goes back to the latter’s war with Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea in 2014, followed by allegations of Russian cyber-interference in the U.S. presidential elections of 2016. Mr. Biden continues this hostility for Russia.

U.S. animosity has encouraged China and Russia to solidify their relations. Besides significantly expanding their bilateral ties, the two countries have agreed to harmonise their visions under theEurasian Economic Unionsponsored by Russia and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This idea has now been subsumed under the ‘Greater Eurasian Partnership’ to which both are committed. Both have condemned the Quad for “undermining global strategic stability”.

Thus, the new Cold War is now being reflected in a new geopolitical binary — the Indo-Pacific versus Eurasia.

The final shape of this divide will be determined by four nations, namely Japan, Iran, Turkey and India, which, as “middle powers”, have the capacity to project power regionally, build alliances, and support (or disrupt) the strategies of international powers pursuing their interests in the region.

On the face of it, their alignments are already in place: Japan and India are deeply entrenched in the Quad and have substantial security ties with the U.S. Iran, on the other hand, has for long been an outcaste in western eyes and has found strategic comfort with the Sino-Russian alliance. Turkey, a NATO member, has found its interests better-served by Russia and China rather than the U.S. and its European allies.

So, why the uncertainty? The main reason is that, despite the allure, the four nations are not yet prepared to join immutable alliances.

Reluctant allies

Japan has an ongoing territorial dispute with China relating to the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea. Thus, the security treaty of 1951 with the U.S. has been crucial for Japan’s interests. But there is more to Sino-Japanese relations: in 2019, 24% of Japanese imports came from China, while 19% of its exports went to China, affirming the adage: Japan depends too much on the U.S. for its security and too much on China for its prosperity (

The eight-year prime ministership of Shinzo Abe has instilled in Japan greater self-confidence so that it can reduce its security-dependence on the U.S. and pursue an independent role in the Indo-Pacific. Hence its $200 billion ‘Partnership for Quality Infrastructure’ that funds infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa, though Japan is also willing to work on BRI projects on a selective basis. But these are early days and it remains unclear whether Japan will explore the wide oceans or confine its strategic interests to the East China Sea.

India’s ties with China have been caught in a vicious circle: as threats from China at the border and intrusions in its South Asian neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean became sharper, it moved closer to the U.S. It is likely that India’s expanding defence ties with the U.S. from 2016, consisting of massive defence purchases and agreements on inter-operability and intelligence-sharing and frequent military exercises, as also the elevation of the Quad to ministerial level in September 2019, signalled to China that India was now irreversibly in the U.S. camp. With the border stand-off at Ladakh, China is perhaps reminding India that its security interests demand close engagement with China rather than a deepening alignment with its global rival.

China has a point: while the Quad has made India a valuable partner for the U.S. in the west Pacific, neither the U.S. nor the Quad can address the challenges it faces at its 3,500-kilometre land border with China. The ‘revenge of geography’ and concerns relating to the U.S.’s intrusive approach on human rights issues ensure that India will need to manage its ties with China largely through its own efforts, while retaining Russia as its defence partner.

The crippling sanctions on Iran and the frequent threats of regime change make it a natural ally of the Sino-Russian axis. However, its strategic culture eschews long-term security alignments. This will surely assert itself after sanctions are eased, when the Islamic Republic of Iran will seek to redefine its strategic space and exercise independent options.

The “neo-Ottomanism” of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — celebrating Turkey’s glory through military and doctrinal leadership across the former territories of the Ottoman empire — has been achieved through a steady distancing from its western partners and increasing geopolitical, military and economic alignment with Russia and China. But Turkey still wishes to keep its ties with the U.S. intact, and retain the freedom to make choices. Its “New Asia” initiative, for instance, involves strengthening of east-west logistical and economic connectivity backed by western powers and China.

Defining characteristic

The four middle powers, whose choice of alignment will impart a political and military binary to world order, are reluctant to make this a reality. While Cold War advocates in home capitals and in the U.S. will continue to promote ever-tighter alliances, these nations could find salvation in “strategic autonomy” — defined by flexible partnerships, with freedom to shape alliances to suit specific interests at different times.

These four middle powers will thus make multipolarity, rather than a new Cold War, the defining characteristic of the emerging global order.

10. Editorial-3: Lessons from the first wave

Introducing even partial lockdowns again will widen economic and social inequalities

India’s second COVID-19 wave is more virulent than the first. Many States have restarted enforcing shutdowns of various scales. Unfortunately, large-scale political, social and religious events are still being held, rendering these restrictions meaningless.

Uneven growth

Our overall economic trajectory had been on the upswing after the disastrous economic collapse at the onset of the pandemic. The International Monetary Fund projected India’s GDP to grow at 12.5% this year. However, the growth during these times can hardly be described as inclusive. Many sectors, including the technological, pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors, saw record growth. The wealth of our billionaires increased by 35% even during COVID-19 times.

However, sectors including travel and tourism and wellness and hospitality, that form the bedrock of economies, receded to historic lows. The pandemic decimated the informal and MSME sector and pushed 75 million Indians into poverty. An unplanned nationwide lockdown last year created the distressing imagery of the exodus by foot of millions of migrant workers desperate to reach their homes hundreds of kilometres away. Meanwhile, a few among us, especially in white collar sectors like IT, consulting and financial services, could stay in the safety of our homes.

Even before the second wave, many economists were of the view that India’s revival from the COVID-19-induced downturn would be a ‘K-shaped’ curve where only a segment of our population recovers.

COVID-19 has affected the least affluent the most. Introducing even partial lockdowns again will constrain the movement of goods and labourers. It will significantly bring down our industrial productivity and create avenues that will widen our economic and social inequalities.

As an alternative, interconnected industries should be aggregated and allowed to function at maximum possible capacity in multiple shifts. Stringent health and safety regulations should be formulated and implemented. Non-essential gatherings should be restricted or banned.

Preventing distress

Demand contraction has been the biggest contributor towards the economic downturn during the pandemic. Governments will have to account for this and urgently ensure cash stimulus packages at both individual and institutional levels. This will boost consumption and investments. Extra emphasis will have to be given to industries most affected by the pandemic. Additional allocations will have to be made for job stamps, direct cash transfer and employment guarantee schemes. The NYAY scheme formulated by the Congress in 2019 that guarantees a minimum income of ₹6,000 to every household is a solution whose time has come.

Reports from many States indicate that new COVID-19 mutations are unforgiving even to the younger population. India will have to accelerate vaccine production, procurement and distribution. Vaccination should be opened up for all age groups. This would make it easier for the majority of our labour to be at their workplaces with fewer risks. Students will also be able to attend classes and examinations and participate in skilling programmes without further breaks.

As the second wave hits us, our governments share the blame for our health systems to again be caught lacking; and for vaccine shortages. However, since the onset of the pandemic, our health workers and policymakers have had enough time to be familiar with the virus, and design effective treatment and safety protocols. The private sector and NGOs played a big role in rapidly scaling up healthcare infrastructure during the first wave. With political will and public participation, we should now be able to save lives without compromising on our population’s livelihood, or without letting many more fall behind through inadequate safety nets.

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