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Daily Current Affairs 19.09.2022 (The ban on the export of broken rice, The process of inclusion/exclusion from the Scheduled Tribes list, Losing a nation in seven acts, Punjab farmers demand aid to stop stubble burning, Geopolitics without geoeconomics, a fool’s errand, The gender pay gap, hard truths and actions needed, Era of war is over, Crisis in Caucasus, A disruptive nexus of China and Pakistan)

Daily Current Affairs 19.09.2022 (The ban on the export of broken rice, The process of inclusion/exclusion from the Scheduled Tribes list, Losing a nation in seven acts, Punjab farmers demand aid to stop stubble burning, Geopolitics without geoeconomics, a fool’s errand, The gender pay gap, hard truths and actions needed, Era of war is over, Crisis in Caucasus, A disruptive nexus of China and Pakistan)

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1. The ban on the export of broken rice

How is the ethanol blending programme connected to the rice export ban? How have rice-importing countries reacted?

On September 9, the Centre instituted a ban on the export of broken rice. Additionally, it mandated an export duty of 20% on rice in husk (paddy or rough), husked (brown rice) and semi-milled or wholly-milled rice. 

In the ongoing Ethanol Supply Year, because of supply constraints there has been an uptick in the procurement of rice from the FCI. The export ban is a means to catch-up with this supply and additionally, unburden the FCI from provisioning to distillers.

With trade disrupted in the Black Sea region, prices of rice are surging because traders are betting it will be an alternative for wheat which is becoming prohibitively expensive. India accounted for 41% of the total rice exports in the world in 2021.

Saptaparno Ghosh

The story so far: On September 9, the Centre instituted a ban on the export of broken rice. Additionally, it mandated an export duty of 20% on rice in husk (paddy or rough), husked (brown rice) and semi-milled or wholly-milled rice. The measures do not affect export of basmati or parboiled rice. The Secretary at the Department of Food and Public Distribution Sudhanshu Pandey stated that the measures would ensure adequate availability of broken rice for consumption by the domestic poultry industry and for other animal feedstock. Additionally, it would sustain production of ethanol that would further assist the successful implementation of the Union government’s Ethanol Blending Programme (EBP). However, the measures may affect countries dependent on Indian food exports in the face of a lost ‘breadbasket’ in Ukraine owing to the Russian conflict.

What does it have to do with inflation?

The lower the supply of a commodity, the higher would be the price of a product, which results in inflationary pressures. The adequacy of rice stocks in the country would ensure that markets do not experience excess demand and thus, trigger an abrupt price rise. For seven consecutive months, inflation has been above the Reserve Bank of India’s 6% tolerability threshold. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), or retail-based inflation, stood at 7% in August this year with rural and urban inflation scaling 7.15% and 6.72% respectively. This was furthered by an uptick of 7.62% in food prices during the same period.

The COVID-19 pandemic also had an impact on India’s previously held surplus. As a reaction to the distresses caused by the pandemic to the vulnerable sections the Union Cabinet had introduced a food security program, called the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY) in March 2020. The scheme provisions an additional 5kg ration per person each month in addition to their normal quota of foodgrains under the National Food Security Act. In March, the scheme was extended for another six months until September 2022.

The Hindu Businessline had reported this week that foodgrain stocks (including rice, wheat and unmilled paddy) in the Food Corporation of India (FCI)’s central pool had dropped 33.5% on a year-over-year basis to 60.11 million tonnes as of September 1 — prompting doubts on the continuation of the scheme. Research analysts at Nomura observe that on the whole, though rice stocks should remain above buffer levels, the current export restrictions may not necessarily improve the demand-supply situation materially, implying, that there remains an upside risk to the price of rice. “As such, we believe there is a risk that further curbs on rice exports could be imposed, particularly in categories still exempted,” it states.

What happened to rice production?

The major rice cultivation season in India is the Kharif season, that entails sowing the crop during June-July and harvesting them in November-December.

It is imperative to note that rice is a water-intensive crop which also requires a hot and humid climate. Thus, it is best suited to regions which have high humidity, prolonged sunshine and an assured supply of water. It is for this reason that the eastern and southern regions of the country, with sustainable humidity and suitable mean temperatures are deemed favourable for the crop. While the two regions are able to grow paddy crops throughout the year, higher rainfall and temperature prompt the northern regions to grow only one crop of rice from May to November. Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Punjab, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are among the rice producing States in India.

A perusal of Indian Meteorological Dept’s data, between June 1 and September 14 illustrate that Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Punjab and Bihar have experienced deficient rainfall. The latter refers to rainfall being 20-59% below normal in a particular region. Although West Bengal, the country’s largest producer, has overall experienced a normal rainfall, its major productivity areas such as Nadia, Burdwan and Birbhum have had deficient rainfall. This indicates a potentially lower produce this year.

What are the concerns on ethanol blending?

Ethanol is an agro-based product, mainly produced from molasses, which is a by-product of the sugar industry. The EBP endeavours to blend ethanol with vehicular fuels as a means to combat the use of fossil fuels and in turn, rising pollution. As per the government, sugar-based feed stocks alone would not be able to meet its stipulated target of 20% ethanol blending by 2025.

In the 2018-19 Ethanol Supply Year (ESY), the government had allowed the FCI to sell surplus rice to ethanol plants for fuel production. The idea was to have in place an insurance scheme and an emergency provision for distillers.

However, in the ongoing ESY, because of supply constraints there has been an uptick in the procurement of rice from the FCI. The total ethanol produced from rice lifted from the FCI stood at 26.64 crore litres whereas that from damaged food grains outside the FCI purview stood at 16.36 crore litres. This means that the production accruing from FCI rice has increased 10-fold from the 2.2 crore litres used in a full ESY. At the same time, production from damaged foodgrains stands at half.

Thus, the export ban would endeavour to catch-up with this supply and additionally, unburden the FCI from provisioning to distillers.

What are the likely after-effects of the ban?

Geopolitical tensions between Russia and Ukraine have unsettled global food supply chains. With trade disrupted in the Black Sea region, Bloomberg reported in March that prices of rice are surging because traders are betting it will be an alternative for wheat which is becoming prohibitively expensive.

India accounted for 41% of the total rice exports in the world in 2021, larger than the next four exporters (Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan and United States) combined.

As for broken rice, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that India accounted for more than half of the commodity’s global exports in the first half of 2022. As per government figures, between April and August this year, broken rice’s share in the overall rice export mix (of India) was 22.78% compared to 18.89% in FY 2021.

In descending order, China, Senegal, Vietnam, Djibouti and Indonesia are the biggest importers of India’s broken rice.

Senior Executive Director at the All-India Rice Exporters Association Vinod Kumaar Kaul told The Hindu, “Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan would gain should we happen to lose this market. Once lost, regaining the market would be a task.”

Mr. Kaul pegs the losses to the exporters from the ban to be around ₹5,600 crore for the full year.

2. The process of inclusion/exclusion from the Scheduled Tribes list

What are the new tribal groups on the list? How are they selected? What is the process?

On September 14, the Union Cabinet approved a proposal to add several tribes to the list of Scheduled Tribes in States such as Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh.

The inclusion of any community in the ST/SC list come into effect only after the President assents to a Bill that amends the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 and the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950, as is appropriate, after it is passed by both houses.   

To establish whether a community is a Scheduled Tribe, the government looks at several criteria, including its ethnological traits, traditional characteristics, distinctive culture etc

Abhinay Lakshman

The story so far: On September 14, the Union Cabinet approved a proposal to add several tribes to the list of Scheduled Tribes (ST) in States such as Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh, so that they can avail of benefits meant for STs, including reservation. The announcement by Minister of Tribal Affairs Arjun Munda came even as six tribal communities of Assam — Adivasi, Chutia, Koch-Rajbongshi, Matak, Moran and Tai-Ahom — threatened to launch protests over an “inordinate delay” in their inclusion in the ST list.

Which communities have been added to the ST list?

The communities approved for inclusion in the ST list are the Hatti tribe in the Trans-Giri area of Sirmour district in Himachal Pradesh, the hill tribes of Narikoravan and Kurivikkaran of Tamil Nadu, the Binjhia community in Chhattisgarh and the Gond community in certain districts of Uttar Pradesh. The Cabinet has approved the addition of several alternative names for already existing Scheduled Tribes in Chhattisgarh and Karnataka so that the difference in spellings and pronunciations do not result in members of these communities being left out of the benefits meant for them.

Significantly, even as the Union Cabinet has decided to include these communities under the ST list, this is not the first time they have been categorised for benefits of reservation. Most of these communities had been either included in the list of Scheduled Castes (SC) or Most Backward Classes till now.

How is a community added or removed from SC, ST lists?

The process begins at the level of a State or Union Territory, with the concerned government or administration seeking the addition or exclusion of a particular community from the SC or ST list. The final decision rests with the President’s office issuing a notification specifying the changes under powers vested in it from Articles 341 and 342. The inclusion or exclusion of any community in the Scheduled Tribes or Scheduled Castes list come into effect only after the President assents to a Bill that amends the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 and the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950, as is appropriate, after it is passed by both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

A State government may choose to recommend certain communities for addition or subtraction from the list of SCs/STs based on its discretion. This recommendation may come from studies it commissions like in the case of classifying the Hatti community in Himachal Pradesh. Following this, the proposal to include or remove any community from the Scheduled List is sent to the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs from the concerned State government. After this, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, through its own deliberations, examines the proposal, and sends it to the Registrar General of India (RGI). Once approved by the RGI, the proposal is sent to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes or National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, following which the proposal is sent back to the Union government, which after inter-ministerial deliberations, introduces it in the Cabinet for final approval.

As for the communities approved for addition to the list by the Cabinet earlier last week, a Bill was introduced in Parliament by the Tribal Affairs Minister this year, specifying the exclusion of the Gond community from the SC list in four districts of Uttar Pradesh and moving them to the ST list. Similarly, another Bill was also introduced by Mr. Munda, to shift certain communities in Jharkhand from the SC list to the ST list and add synonyms and variations in spellings for certain other communities in the ST list.

What is the criteria to begin the process?

To establish whether a community is a Scheduled Tribe, the government looks at several criteria, including its ethnological traits, traditional characteristics, distinctive culture, geographical isolation and backwardness. However, in March this year the Supreme Court said it wanted to fix fool-proof parameters to determine if a person belongs to a Scheduled Tribe and is entitled to the benefits due to the community. It said the judiciary was no longer sure about an “affinity test” used to sift through distinct traits to link a person to a tribe. There is the likelihood, it said, that contact with other cultures, migration and modernisation would have erased the traditional characteristics of a tribe. An apex court Bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V. Ramasubramanian referred the question of fixing the parameters to a larger Bench, pointing out that the issue was a “matter of importance” when it came to issuing caste certificates.

How many Scheduled Tribes are there officially?

According to the Scheduled Tribes in India as revealed in Census 2011, there are said to be 705 ethnic groups listed as Scheduled Tribes under Article 342. Over 10 crore Indians are notified as STs, of which 1.04 crore live in urban areas. The STs constitute 8.6% of the population and 11.3% of the rural population.

3. Losing a nation, in seven acts

A Turkish journalist’s book on her country’s descent into ‘dictatorship’ has a message for India

Ece Temelkuran, a Turkish journalist and writer, in her book, How to Lose a Country describes how her homeland was stolen from her by what she considers the dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Ms. Temelkuran argues that, in the last two decades, this sequence has been repeated in several other countries as well. While India finds no mention in Ms. Temelkuran’s book, the resemblance to our recent history is uncanny.

Apart from what is already mentioned in the book, there are three other uniquely Indian features which have flagged off our journey towards an authoritarian communalism. The first is by neoliberalism and the values it promotes. The second feature is about the unique role of the media and the final feature concerns the composition and positioning of the opinion-making classes, or of intellectuals in the broad sense.

Satish Deshpande

In this article dated February 21, 2020 sociologist Satish Deshpande evokes Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran’s work on the descent of Turkey from a liberal, democratic republic to an authoritarian “dictatorship” to warn about the parallels with this process in other countries including India.

Are we losing our country? This is the question that Ece Temelkuran, a Turkish journalist and writer, suggests that we should be asking ourselves. In her recent book, How to Lose a Country, she describes how her homeland was stolen from her by what she considers the dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Subtitled “The seven steps from democracy to dictatorship”, the book outlines a saptapadi that Indians have become intimately familiar with over the past six years. In fact, Ms. Temelkuran’s main point is that this is now a global trend.

The story begins with the creation of a movement that claims to be of and for the “real people”, the authentic owners of the nation unjustly marginalised in the past by assorted conspiracies. This is followed by an assault on rationality and on language, where new meanings are thrust upon old terms and argument is replaced by aggressive slogans. The third step is a shedding of all shame and decency on the part of leaders, who then teach their followers to do so as well, all in the name of an authentic indigeneity.

After this comes the dismantling, or co-option, of all the institutions that are intended to act as checks and balances on executive power, including the judiciary, the media and the Constitution. The fifth step is the designing of new citizens, who will be pre-calibrated to the new normalcy that has been speedily established, shrugging off the weight of history. The sixth step is the reduction of all liberal and secular thinking persons to a stage of irrelevance and despair where they can only “laugh at the horror” that their country has become. The seventh and last step, of course, is when the new rulers build their own country, having crushed all possible sources of resistance to their agendas.

How the liberals react

Ms. Temelkuran emphasises that the early steps in this journey are marked by confident expectations of the liberal establishment that the disturbances are temporary, and the built-in safeguards in the system will take care of the threats. But this confidence soon gives way to helpless disbelief expressed in incredulous exclamations: “They can’t do this!”, “How did they get away with that!”, and so on.

Ms. Temelkuran persuasively argues that, in the last two decades, this sequence has been repeated in countries as different from each other as Hungary, Brazil, the United States and Turkey (to name a few), and it is currently under way in the United Kingdom.

India finds no mention in Ms. Temelkuran’s book, which is mainly addressing Anglo Americans and Europeans. But the resemblance to our recent history is uncanny. We can argue about the exact sequence, and about the relative importance or distinctiveness of this or that step, but the overall trend is striking in its similarity. Oddly enough, this book is useful precisely because it is saying nothing new, nothing that we do not already know. It is merely holding out a mirror, and there is something helpful about seeing our own experiences reflected back to us as part of a larger phenomenon. This relativising of what we are accustomed to thinking of as uniquely Indian draws attention to three features of our recent history that we may otherwise neglect.

The first is that this journey towards an authoritarian communalism is flagged off by neoliberalism and the values it promotes. This may sound disappointingly formulaic, part of the same tired left-wing rant that most people have stopped hearing long ago. But think about it. Today, large sections of our population are convinced that some minorities ought to be legally deprived of citizenship. Could we have arrived at this point if neoliberalism had not discredited social welfare as an idea? Whatever its faults, welfarism did assume that citizens are connected to each other not only by communitarian but also by civic-national ties. Neoliberalism cut the ties that connected individuals to each other and to the state, thereby undermining our secular-social bonds. Or, to take an opposite example, think about why neoliberalism seems self-evidently opposed to things like reservation.

The second feature on which a lot has been said already is the unique role of the media in India. As the world has been repeatedly told, India has more than 400 news channels that broadcast news 24X7, far more than any other country on earth. But what is remarkable here is not so much the giant medium, but the invisible, yet incredibly effective, work that has gone into creating an audience that is primed for the message before it even arrives. The stunning swiftness and reach of the new social media are often credited with — or blamed for — the spread of bigotry. This is unfair, for most of that credit belongs to those who tutored the addressees to receive the message without the slightest trace of scepticism. This is no mean achievement in a country where, until yesterday, people prided themselves on their scepticism and wore their cynicism on their sleeves. The same suspicious lot are now eager consumers of the most crudely concocted fake news and alternative facts.

A fundamental disconnect

The final feature concerns the composition and positioning of the opinion-making classes, or of intellectuals in the broad sense. There are two related but distinct aspects to this. The first is the degree to which a left-of-centre perspective has monopolised the more formal and institutional parts of the intellectual world. This has meant that, taken as a whole, our intellectual class was never really outside the sphere of state power, but very much an insider. This is in spite of the sharp disagreements and antipathies that may have separated specific persons or groups from particular political parties or leaders. In fact, even during the Emergency, when a large number of politically active persons including some intellectuals was actually imprisoned, there was never a fundamental disconnect between the corridors of power and the opinion makers. Today, we have a clear split — a major section of the media and many bureaucrats, artists, performers and other such public persons are completely identified with the power centre to the extent that they have no autonomous identity left. On the other side of the divide is that segment of the intellectual class that is completely cut off from the power centre and has been made its target. This latter segment is struggling to come to terms with its unprecedented, total and aggressive exclusion from the power centre.

The other aspect is the relative scarcity of right-wing intellectuals. This ought to be a matter of concern for liberals and leftists because it denies those in power the benefits of moderation and refinement in the pursuit of their agendas. It also ensures that the politics of resentment plays out in extreme ways that damage institutions and cause irreparable harm to the intellectual ecosystem.

But the immediate message conveyed by How to Lose a Country is that it is imperative to act at once, before the saat pheras (seven acts) are over, and we are bound over to an authoritarian regime.

4. Punjab farmers demand aid to stop stubble burning

They want AAP govt. to pay for alternative disposal methods; 14 incidents have been reported so far

As the harvesting of paddy has started in parts of Punjab, the six-month-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government is all set to face the stiff challenge of dealing with the perennial issue of stubble burning, with farmers indicating that they will continue to burn paddy stubble unless government suitably compensates them for the expenses incurred on alternative methods of disposing of crop residue.

Close to the autumn season every year, stubble burning remains a contributing factor to pollution in the air, especially across the country’s northern region, and the AAP, which is in power in Delhi, has over the years invariably blamed Punjab for its air pollution during the month. This year, however, with AAP governments in Delhi and Punjab, resorting to the blame game may just not be an easy way for the party. While the paddy harvesting is yet to pick up in Punjab, so far 14 stubble-burning incidents have been reported. Government data based on satellite imagery show that in the ongoing Kharif season till September 16, as many as 14 cases of farm fires have been reported in the districts of Amritsar (11) and Tarn Taran (three).

Several farmer unions are up in arms against the government, demanding suitable monetary compensation for the expenses incurred on alternative methods of disposing crop residue.

“We are not in favour of stubble burning but then there should be a viable option. It’s not out of choice, but out of compulsion that farmers have to burn the stubble. The government has been in power for six months now and they were very well aware of the stubble burning issue, but so far no concrete solution could be seen on the ground,” Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta (Dakaunda), told The Hindu.

“We should be given a bonus of at least ₹100 a quintal on paddy or paid ₹2,500 an acre in connection with the ban on stubble burning,” Mr. Singh said.

On September 16, Agriculture Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal held a meeting with district agriculture officers to discuss a blueprint to control stubble burning. He said that to control the issue, concrete steps such as providing agriculture implements on subsidies to farmers, running awareness campaigns and some new scientific methods such as decomposer spray are being adopted to stop the practice in the State.

Air Pollution

Air pollution is defined as the introduction of pollutants, organic molecules, or other unsafe materials into Earth’s atmosphere. This can be in the form of excessive gases like carbon dioxide and other vapours that cannot be effectively removed through natural cycles, such as the carbon cycle or the nitrogen cycle.

Various Reports on Effect of Air Pollution

  • State of Global Air 2020 Report: According to it, India faced the highest per capita pollution exposure (83.2 μg/cubic metre) in the world.
    • In 2019, over 116,000 infants in India died within a month after birth due to exposure to severe air pollution.
    • The report also suggests exposure to polluted air during pregnancy is linked to low weight and premature birth.
    • Further, it noted that long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases, and neonatal diseases in India in 2019.
  • WHO: According to WHO, toxic air is now the biggest environmental risk of early death, responsible for one in nine of all fatalities.
    • It kills 7 million people a year, far more than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined,
    • An estimated 4.2 million premature deaths globally are linked to ambient air pollution, mainly from heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections in children.
  • World Bank: According to a 2016 World Bank report, the lost lives and ill health caused are also a colossal economic burden:
    • $225bn is lost labour income in 2013, or $5.11tn per year (about $1m a minute), if welfare losses are also added.

Source of Air Pollution

  • Burning of Fossil Fuels: Most of the pollutants are produced by burning fossil fuels or wood, for driving, heating, power plants and industry.
    • Several man-made factors, vehicular emissions, construction dust, garbage burning causes severe pollution.
    • The particles can be made of black carbon, nitrates, sulphates, ammonia or mineral dust.
  • Agriculture & Allied Sources: Farming is one such source of pollution, with ammonia from livestock manure and fertilisers blowing into cities and forming particles, particularly in spring time when crops are sown and muck is spread.
    • Further, stubble burning is also one of the major sources of air pollution in northern India, especially in winters.
  • Natural Sources: Apart from it, there are some natural sources of outdoor air pollution such as dust storms.

Way Forward

  • WHO’s 4 Pillar Strategy: WHO adopted a resolution (2015) to address the adverse health effects of air pollution. There is a need to adhere to a roadmap highlighted under this.
    • This 4-pillar strategy calls for an enhanced global response to the adverse health effects of air pollution. Those four pillars are:
      • Expanding the knowledge base
      • Monitoring and reporting
      • Global leadership and coordination
      • Institutional capacity strengthening
  • Proactive Measure: Interventions like pollution-monitoring apps should be promoted, so that people can choose to avoid the travelling worst times, and take alternative city walking routes that keep people away from the most polluted areas.
    • The application of Graded Response Action Plan in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) is a step in the right direction.
  • Innovative Measure: There is a need to adopt innovative solutions for in-situ treatment of pollution. For example, the Delhi government is also experimenting with a new organic way of decomposing stubble with Indian Agriculture Research Institute’s “Pusa decomposer”.
  • Responsibility of Citizens: Despite plenty of ideas and solutions to tackle air pollution, still conditions remain the same. This is due to the lack of serious political will and people’s participation.
    • Therefore, citizens should continue to stand up for their right to healthy and sustainable environments and hold governments accountable.
  • Addressing Injustice: There are huge injustices at the heart of the air pollution problem as the Poorer people are also most exposed to air pollution.
    • Thereby, the need to enforce Polluter Pay principle and an environment tax must be levied from industries of polluting in nature.

5. Editorial-1: Geopolitics without geoeconomics, a fool’s errand

India’s current policy of pursuing geopolitical ends without geoeconomic ballast is a regressive step

Over the past few years, New Delhi has developed a keen desire to be part of the geopolitical developments in the Indo-Pacific and has gone about it with great aplomb. It has managed to emerge as a major pivot of the global Indo-Pacific grand strategic imagination, avoided the temptations to militarise/securitise the Quad (Australia, Japan, India and the United States), and has ensured that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states do not feel uneasy by the ever-increasing balance of power articulations in the Indo-Pacific.

What New Delhi is missing

And yet, New Delhi’s vision for the Indo-Pacific appears half-baked and unsustainable in the long term, given the inadequate attention New Delhi is prepared to give to the geoeconomic developments of the Indo-Pacific. Policymakers in New Delhi today do not appear to appreciate the inescapable linkages between geopolitics and geoeconomics. Put differently, even as contemporary great power behaviour has moved beyond the classical geopolitical imageries, thereby emphasising geoeconomics as the foundation of geopolitics, New Delhi continues to be stuck in the old binaries.

India’s decision to take to the Indo-Pacific and Quad in a big way while unwilling to join two of the region’s key multilateral trading agreements goes to show that geoeconomics and geopolitics are imagined and pursued parallelly in New Delhi, not as complimenting each other. The most recent example is India’s refusal to join the trade pillar of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) while deciding to join the three other pillars of the IPEF — supply chains, tax and anti-corruption, and clean energy.

India’s move to stay out of IPEF, a U.S.-sponsored soft trade arrangement at best, comes two years after India walked out of the negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which came to effect earlier this year. Both the agreements lay at the heart of the Indo-Pacific and could potentially shape the economic character of the broader Indo-Pacific region.

India’s decision to stay out of the IPEF is surprising because it seems out of sync with the recent enthusiasm in New Delhi about foreign trade agreements. When the Narendra Modi government took office in 2014, it immediately began reviewing existing trade agreements and paused any new free trade negotiations, a policy that continued for close to seven years. Modi 1.0 showcased an unambiguous lack of policy interest in promoting external trade and engaging in free trade negotiations.

And then all of a sudden, in the wake of COVID-19, New Delhi began exhibiting a new enthusiasm to rethink the country’s external trade policy. Modi 2.0 started warming up to free trade agreements (FTAs). For instance, India concluded an FTA with the United Arab Emirates earlier this year, signed Early Harvest Agreements with Australia and the United Kingdom, and several more agreements are being negotiated. However, the recent decision to stay out of the IPEF shows a clear policy direction in New Delhi: by not becoming a part of the IPEF and RCEP, and signing FTAs with individual states, New Delhi has made it clear that it favours bilateral agreements, and is not keen on multilateral, plurilateral and even soft agreements such as the IPEF.

A regressive step, China factor

There are several reasons why New Delhi’s decision to stay out of various regional trading agreements is a regressive policy decision. For one, the absence of the world’s fifth largest economy from various regional trading platforms will invariably boost China’s geo-economic hegemony in Asia. Given the growing fear in India about the negative implications of China-India trade, it is important to have a nuanced view of this. For one, the fear in India of China dominating the Indian market is not entirely unreasonable. To be more precise, there is a fear in India that a deeper Sino-Indian economic partnership could be weaponised by Beijing for geopolitical purposes. And yet, the only viable option to deal with such a challenge is to prepare for and face the challenge, even if it means incurring costs in the short term, so as to eventually overcome the challenge.

The reality is that despite the military stand-off on the Line of Actual Control, India-China trade has only increased in the past year. Therefore, if it is not possible for India to avoid trading with China; it is better for India to deal with the issue sooner rather than later and in a comprehensive manner. Perhaps this is also an opportune time to do so. There is an attempt, however feeble, by countries such as the U.S. to economically decouple from China, and to create forums without China on board, the IPEF being one such example. In other words, India must not shy away from trading with China as part of multilateral arrangements while at the same time joining arrangements which have no Chinese presence.

The second reason why staying out of IPEF is a bad idea is because for India, it would be hard to integrate itself into the regional and global supply chains without being a part of important regional multilateral trading agreements.

Third, we have no option but to address some of the deeper challenges plaguing the investment and business environment in India. Consider the fact that even those firms that have left China, albeit not many, due to the so-called U.S. decoupling from China, have not turned up at India’s doorstep. Most of them went to countries such as Vietnam thereby highlighting the fact that we need to get our house in order; joining some of these multilateral trading arrangements will force us to do precisely that.

Fourth, if India is indeed serious about its maritime grand strategy, which cannot be solely military in nature, it needs to get the states in the region to create economic stakes in India (something China has done cleverly and consistently) and vice-versa. More so, without creating economic stakes with the states of the region, India’s ‘Act East’ policy will revert to its earlier avatar — ‘Look East’. For sure, India does have an FTA with the ASEAN (which the Modi government has reservations about), but it is also important for India to become part of trading arrangements which have major non-regional states so as to become a major part of the region’s supply chains.

Yet another impact of India’s hesitation about joining regional multilateral trading arrangements is its potential regional economic isolation. The less India engages with the region economically, and the more China does so, and given the Sino-Indian rivalry, India might risk getting economically isolated in the broader region.

Contrary to conventional logic, it is possible that the more India is economically ‘isolated’ in the region, the more China would be able to weaponise trade against India during times of major bilateral standoffs, should they occur.

Missing Indo-Pacific moment

Let us get back to the argument about the inherent relationship between geoeconomics and geopolitics. The most important long-term consequence of New Delhi’s decision not to join the RCEP or the IPEF is that India will miss out on the unfolding Indo-Pacific moment in a big way. The Indo-Pacific and the Quad are not military arrangements; India has been very clear about it. If they are not military arrangements, what are they? At the risk of oversimplification, they could be characterised as geoeconomic instruments which will allow its key members to pursue their geopolitical interests. If so, by deciding not to be a part of two of the Indo-Pacific’s key trade agreements, New Delhi may have effectively undermined the pursuit of its own geopolitical interests in the region.

The door is still open

New Delhi should rethink its geo-economic choices if it is serious about enhancing its geopolitical influence in the region. Given that India has not closed the door on the trade pillar of the IPEF, we have an opportunity to rethink our position. In fact, India should also rethink its decision not to join the RECP and seek to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) from which the U.S. walked out and China is seeking to join. If joining all three is too radical for New Delhi, India should start with the IPEF and the CPTPP, both of which do not have China on board. India should also proactively lobby to become a part of the Minerals Security Partnership, the U.S.-led 11-member grouping to secure supply chains of critical minerals.

If indeed, India seeks to be a part of the Asian century and its economic growth story in particular (China’s share in global trade today is 15% and India accounts for 2%), it must let go of its historical hesitations and phobias regarding multilateral trading arrangements. To that extent, the current policy of pursuing geopolitical ends without geoeconomic ballast is ill-thought out.

6. Editorial-2: The gender pay gap, hard truths and actions needed

Asymmetries abound in India’s labour market and closing the gap is key to achieving social justice for working women

India is among the most important countries when it comes to the global economic growth and structural transformation story. A commensurate improvement in its labour market outcomes and a fair distribution of the fruits of economic progress will spur further economic growth and the benefits it brings. But, unsurprisingly, in a country the size and diversity of India, asymmetries still abound in the country’s labour market.

Impact of the pandemic

Yesterday was the Third International Equal Pay Day 2022 — the day falls on September 18 — and it is time to pause and reflect on the extent of progress made towards closing the gender pay gap and reaffirming our collective commitment to the effective and accelerated realisation of the principle ‘equal pay for work of equal value’. This ‘becomes all the more important in the present context’, given the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on women workers in terms of job and income losses. Full and productive economic growth requires a human-centred recovery from the pandemic, which will be made possible by improving women’s employment outcomes and reducing the gender pay gap.

While the full impact of the pandemic is yet to be known, it is clear that its impact has been uneven, with women being among the worst affected in terms of their income security — partly due to their representation in sectors hard hit by COVID-19, combined with the gendered division of family responsibilities. Many women reverted to full-time care of children and the elderly during the pandemic, foregoing their livelihoods to do so.

A wider pay gap

This is attested by the International Labour Organization’s “Global Wage Report 2020–21” which suggests the crisis inflicted massive downward pressure on wages and disproportionately affected women’s total wages compared to men. This greater wage reduction for women means that the pre-existing gender pay gap has widened.

Despite notable progress in closing the gender pay gap over time in India, the gap remains high by international standards. Indian women earned, on an average, 48% less compared to their male counterparts in 1993-94. Since then, the gap declined to 28% in 2018-19 as in the labour force survey data of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). The pandemic reversed decades of progress as preliminary estimates from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2020-21 show an increase in the gap by 7% between 2018-19 and 2020-21. The data further suggests that faster decline in female wages during the pandemic contributed to this decline, compared to a faster growth in male wages, which requires urgent policy attention.

Discrimination as factor

While individual characteristics such as education, skills or experience explain part of the gender pay gap, a large part of the gender pay gap can still be attributed purely to discrimination based on one’s gender or sex. Gender-based discriminatory practices include: lower wages paid to women for work of equal value; undervaluation of women’s work in highly feminised occupations and enterprises, and motherhood pay gap — lower wages for mothers compared to non-mothers.

At the international level, the United Nations has put the challenge of closing various forms of gender inequality at the heart of its actions. The ILO has enshrined ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ in its Constitution and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) provides an international legal framework for realising gender equality and addressing the intersecting forms of discrimination and vulnerabilities among women and girls.

Steps taken by India

India has taken several steps in the legislative sphere to close the gender pay gap, especially at the low-end of the wage distribution. In this regard, it was one of the pioneering countries to enact the Minimum Wages Act in 1948 and followed by the adoption of the Equal Remuneration Act in 1976. In 2019, India carried out comprehensive reforms in both the legislation and enacted the Code on Wages.

Evidence shows that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in 2005 benefited rural women workers and helped reduce the gender pay gap, both directly and indirectly. Directly, by raising the pay levels of women workers who participated in the programme, and indirectly, benefits accrued to women involved in agricultural occupations through higher earnings, as MGNREGA contributed to the rapid rise in overall rural and agricultural wages in the country.

In 2017, the Government amended the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, which increased the ‘maternity leave with pay protection’ from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for all women working in establishments employing 10 or more workers. This is expected to reduce the motherhood pay gap among mothers in the median and high-end wage earners working in the formal economy.

Apart from enabling legislations, efforts are being made through the Skill India Mission to equip women with market-relevant skills to bridge the learning-to-livelihood gap and the gender pay gap.

While the gender pay gap is slowly narrowing, at the current rate of progress it will take more than 70 years to close it completely. Accelerated and bold action is needed to prevent a widening of the gender pay gap and closing the existing gap.

One of the targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 8 is “achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities and equal pay for work of equal value” by 2030. In support of this Goal, the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC), was launched in 2017 as a multi-stakeholder initiative led by the ILO, UN Women and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that seeks to achieve equal pay for women and men everywhere.

Equal pay for work of equal value is necessary to close the gender pay gap. Closing the gender pay gap is key to achieving social justice for working women, as well as economic growth for the nation as a whole.

 7. Editorial-3: Era of war is over

India did well to caution Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine war

Compared to its relatively low-key past, the Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) Council of Heads of State in Samarkand took place in the cross-hairs of international attention. Apart from the SCO’s new agreements on regional engagement, discussions among the eight members including four Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) focused on inducting Iran as a member, broadening the SCO dialogue partners to West and South Asia, and on trade, tourism and counter-terrorism in the region. However, more focus was on the bilateral meetings on the sidelines, as this was the first such major conference that Russian President Vladimir Putin attended since the Ukraine war, as well as part of the first visit abroad by Chinese President Xi Jinping since the COVID-19 pandemic and Taiwan tensions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attendance was equally meaningful, given that it was the first time he met Mr. Putin since the war, and Mr. Xi since the standoff at the LAC, in 2020. This was also the first time he came face to face with Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and speculation was rife that he would hold meetings with India’s adversaries. While the meetings with Mr. Sharif or Mr. Xi did not materialise, western capitals focused on his Putin meeting. Mr. Modi’s opening comment to Mr. Putin, that the “era of war” has ended, has been read as an “admonition” of Russia’s war in Ukraine. However, it would be wrong to read Mr. Modi’s engagement with Mr. Putin as any kind of “public shaming”, but rather an expression of the concern over the war, something that Mr. Putin said he understands. A day before, Mr. Putin had also said to Mr. Xi that he understood China’s concerns, indicating Russia’s realisation of the need to effect a ceasefire and dialogue.

India now comes into prominence as Chair of the SCO, and is making preparations for next year’s SCO summit ahead of the G-20 summit in New Delhi. India needs to ensure the participation of all SCO members including China and Pakistan, despite the tensions, which will entail some diplomatic elbow grease by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in the next few months, beginning this week at the UN General Assembly. India’s pitch to the SCO for connectivity with the Eurasian region hinges on its development of Chabahar port through Iran and traversing U.S. sanctions, while still competing with the China-Pakistan backed transit routes through Gwadar. On terrorism, India will have to ensure the SCO walks the talk on building a new consolidated list of terrorist groups, an area where it is frequently thwarted by China. Meanwhile, New Delhi will also have to balance its ties, keeping western partners in the Quad and other groupings reassured, especially as the polarisation between the U.S.-EU coalition and a Russia-China-led combine continues to grow.

8. Editorial-4: Crisis in Caucasus

Armenia and Azerbaijan must work out a lasting ceasefire

The violent border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan have raised fears of another war in the Caucasus. The countries had fought a disastrous weeks-long war in 2020 over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in which Azerbaijan made gains before Russia forced a ceasefire. Tensions remained with the occasional flare-ups, but Tuesday’s clashes were the deadliest since 2020. Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each other of provocation, but the fighting, as per initial reports, took place on the Armenian side and Armenia took heavier casualties. It may not be a coincidence that the crisis broke out at a time when Russia, Armenia’s security ally, has been struggling to hold its gains in Ukraine. Armenia is a member of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation, whose NATO-like charter stipulates that an attack against one member could be treated as an attack against all. Armenia had turned to Russia for help, but Moscow’s response was rather cautious — it called for de-escalation and claimed that it had brokered another ceasefire.

The dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh goes back to the pre-Soviet era. When the Soviet Union was formed, the Armenian majority enclave became part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic. When the Soviet Union collapsed and Armenia and Azerbaijan became independent republics, the clashes resurfaced. Armenian rebels in Nagorno-Karabakh fought off the Azeri forces and joined Armenia. But Azerbaijan never gave up its claims; nor did the two countries reach any peace agreement over the enclave. Unlike in the 1990s, Azerbaijan now looks economically and politically stronger. In the 2020 conflict, it got military and diplomatic assistance from Turkey while Russia was reluctant to get dragged into the conflict on behalf of Armenia. Now, Russia’s ability to project power in its neighbourhood appears to be further limited on account of Ukraine. On the other side, gas-rich Azerbaijan, which still has the backing of Turkey, is being courted by the EU for increased gas supplies. These regional developments seem to have emboldened Azerbaijan. But its ambition could be costly for everyone. Russia will find it difficult to retain its influence in Central Asia and Caucasus if it continues to ignore Armenia. At the same time, getting dragged into another battlefront would be challenging. A conflict in the Caucasus would further destabilise the global energy markets, hurting all economies, particularly energy-starved Europe. For Turkey, which is trying to balance between Russia and the West over Ukraine, another war in its neighbourhood would further complicate its foreign policy choices. The last thing the world needs now is another war. So, all sides should enforce a lasting ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan and ensure calm in the troubled mountains of Nagorno-Karabakh.

9. Editorial-5: A disruptive nexus of China and Pakistan

There is little doubt that China uses Pakistan as a proxy military and nuclear power against India

Recently, China used its status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to put a hold on the UN Security Council’s Al Qaida and ISIL (Daesh) Sanctions Committee’s (also known as the UNSC 1267 Committee) listing of Laskar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist Sajid Mir, one of India’s most wanted in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Earlier, China had blocked the listing of US-designated terrorists Abdul Rehman Makki and Abdul Rauf Azhar of the LeT and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), respectively. It may be recalled that China brazenly opposed the listing of JeM chief Masood Azhar for ten years until 2019 before lifting the hold.

These terrorists are based in Pakistan and enjoy the patronage of its “deep state”. Despite China’s efforts to save its “all weather friend” from global censure, Pakistan continues to be in the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

China’s misuse of its P-5 status disrupts collective efforts to counter terrorism. Such actions are in direct contrast to the consensus at the global level on the scourge that is international terrorism.

Counter-terrorism is not the only area in which the Sino-Pak tandem has weakened global efforts. The two have a long history of collusion in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems as well. There are other examples of collaboration in military matters and in the area of infrastructure and connectivity that have proved destabilising to regional stability in South Asia.

Missile proliferation

The Sino-Pak nexus in the field of nuclear and missile proliferation is well recorded. The illicit A.Q. Khan network evolved into a three-way proliferation with China and Pakistan helping one another with bomb designs. Together, the two countries also helped North Korea with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) technologies. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had reported that between 1991 and 1993, China supplied 34 M-11 short range missiles to Pakistan in violation of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Subsequent cooperation included Chinese supply to Pakistan of ring magnets for high-speed centrifuges and the grandfathering of existing arrangements to deepen cooperation through the Chashma series of nuclear reactors.

Strong military ties have been the bedrock of China-Pakistan relations since the 1960s. For China, this has emerged as a low-cost tool to balance India and keep it hemmed in the sub-continent. Around 47% of China’s military exports go to Pakistan and involve the full spectrum of support from small arms to fighter jets, as well as ships and submarines. These include advanced equipment such as the JF-17 fighter jets, the K-8 training aircraft, Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), the Al-Khalid tanks and the Babur cruise missile, among others.

The so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) is one of the mainstays of connectivity under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It violates the Sino-Pak border agreement of March 1963, Article 6 of which explicitly refers to its interim nature. Undertaken without any wider consultation with India, which has territorial claims over the region through which it runs, the CPEC has proved disruptive to both India-Pakistan and India-China relations.

China got engaged in the CPEC project for its own ends, more strategic than economic. The Karakoram Highway passes through the Khunjerab Pass and facilitates direct linkages between occupied Kashmir territory on both sides, including the trans-Karakoram tract of Shaksgam claimed by India, now part of China-occupied Kashmir. The CPEC offers China access to the Indian Ocean, natural resources and facilitates greater control over a strategic partner prone to upheavals.

Today, China is one of Pakistan’s largest lenders, holding more than 27% of Pakistan’s debt. Bilateral trade hovers around $20 billion but is skewed in favour of China which enjoys a huge favourable balance of trade in the region of $18 billion. There are signs of resentment in Pakistan at over-dependence on China, and the exploitative and usurious terms inherent in the CPEC projects.

One of the abiding features of the Sino-Pak collusion concerns the status of Jammu and Kashmir. During the 1950s, China’s position on the Kashmir issue was relatively neutral. In the 1960s and 1970s, after the border conflict with India, China stepped up its rhetoric of support for “self-determination” for the people of Kashmir on the basis of UN resolutions. As the 1980s progressed and as relations between India and China gradually improved, China’s stand underwent some change, with emphasis on resolving the issue on the basis of UN resolutions and relevant bilateral agreements.

After the abrogation of Article 370 by India in August 2019, China vehemently opposed the internal political changes effected by India. China unsuccessfully tried, thrice, to trigger discussions on J&K in the UN Security Council at the behest of Pakistan. Itself a party to the Kashmir dispute, China is surreptitiously pushing Pakistan to alter the status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) by converting it into its fifth province. The intention is to dilute the interim character of the 1963 agreement between the two countries and consolidate the de facto possession of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) territory by Pakistan and that of Shaksgam by China.

Political support

Apart from synchronising their positions at the UN, China and Pakistan have created new tandems extending to other international organisations such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Pakistan is China’s main bridge to Islamic world. Pakistan plays a key role in fending off pressure on China within the OIC on account of its human rights violations in Xinjiang and the ill-treatment of its Muslim minorities, especially the Uyghurs. Pakistan also remains sensitive to Chinese concerns with regard to East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) separatists seeking refuge in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).

As Pakistan has gradually drifted away from the U.S., it has moved closer to China. China’s economic rise and growing clout is an enticing factor for a stricken economy such as that of Pakistan. As part of their Faustian bargain, the two act as hand maidens for each other on critical issues. In return for giving Pakistan a reprieve at the UN in the listing of Pak-based terrorists, China uses the former to secure its interests in the OIC. Taken in by the Sino-Pak shenanigans, the OIC has adopted hypocritical positions on the treatment of the Muslim minority in Xinjiang.

There is little doubt that China uses Pakistan as a proxy military and nuclear power against India. A key strategic objective for China is to seek access to basing facilities in Gwadar and other sites in the Indian Ocean littoral. Moreover, Pakistan’s use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy appears, ironically, to be valued and encouraged by China, as demonstrated by the latter’s actions at the UN.

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