1. U.S. currency watchlist an intrusion into policy: official
‘Putting nations under scanner restricts central banks’
Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan on Tuesday questioned the rationale behind the U.S. government’s decision to put India on the watchlist for currency manipulators, and said the list constituted an intrusion into the policy space needed by central banks around the world to meet their mandates.
High dollar purchases
The U.S. Treasury Department had recently retained India on a watchlist for currency manipulators submitted to the U.S. Congress, citing higher dollar purchases (close to 5% of the gross domestic product) by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
Another trigger for the inclusion on the currency watchlist is a trade surplus of $20 billion or more.
India’s trade surplus with the U.S. grew by about $5 billion to $23 billion in 2020-21, from around $18 billion in the previous fiscal year, as imports fell more sharply than exports in the COVID-affected year.
In response to a question on the U.S .move, Mr. Wadhawan said the RBI had been taking necessary steps to maintain stability in the financial markets and not accumulating forex reserves like China did in the past.
“I think the central bank’s activity in the foreign exchange market has been perfectly balanced and completely legitimate within the accepted monetary policy mandate of central banks across the world. This watchlist is a recent phenomenon [and] it is an intrusion into policy space of central banks. I personally don’t understand its rationale” he said.
To provide stability
“These are, in my view, very legitimate market-based operations of a central bank. It is a mandate of the central bank to provide stability in the currency as a result of which central banks buy and sell foreign currency. Our overall reserves have been fairly steady at $500 billion to $600 billion. We are not accumulating reserves like China, which at one point had reserves of $4 trillion,” he pointed out.
India, the Commerce Secretary asserted, had a steady holding pattern of forex reserves “with ups and downs” based on market-based transactions that central banks may undertake.
2. ‘Remove offending online content’
The Internet never sleeps and the Internet never forgets, says Delhi High Court
“The Internet never sleeps and the Internet never forgets,” the Delhi High Court remarked on Tuesday while issuing a slew of directions to deal with the complications in removing offending content such as photographs and videos from pornographic websites.
Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani said a court, when approached with such a grievance, should issue a direction to the website or online platform on which the offending content is hosted to remove such content forthwith, and in any event, within 24 hours of the receipt of the court order.
“A direction should also be issued to the website or online platform on which the offending content is hosted to preserve all information and associated records relating to the offending content… at least for a period of 180 days… for use in an investigation,” the High Court added.
The case stems from a petition by a woman who claimed that her photographs and images, though not in themselves obscene or offensive, were taken from her Facebook and Instagram accounts without her consent, and were uploaded on a pornographic website with derogatory captions added to them.
Justice Bhambhani noted, “The true enormity of this fact has dawned over the course of hearings conducted in the present matter, when it transpired that despite orders of this court, even the respondents [Internet service provider, search engines], who were willing to comply with directions issued to remove offending content from the World Wide Web, expressed their inability to fully and effectively remove it.”
The judge said, “Errant parties merrily continued to repost and redirect such content from one website to another and from one online platform to another, thereby cocking a snook at directions issued against them in pending legal proceedings.”
During the hearing, Google had stated that it had no opposition in removing access to the offending content as may be directed by the court.
It pointed out that though it was the woman’s allegation that her photographs and images had been taken from her Facebook/Instagram social media accounts, she did not claim any relief against Facebook/Instagram.
The woman claimed that she had already filed a complaint on the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal as well as to the jurisdictional police, but to no avail. She claimed that the photographs had received some 15,000 views within a week of being posted.
Noting that a solution to the problem needed to be crafted so that legal proceedings of the nature faced by the court did not turn futile, Justice Bhambhani said for an order directing the removal or access disablement of offending content to be effective even within India, a search engine had to block the search results throughout the world.
3. A few countries cannot set global rules, says Xi Jinping
At the Boao Forum, China’s leader says instability is on the rise in the world
China’s President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday global rules cannot be imposed “by one or a few countries” and attempts to “decouple” would not benefit any nation.
He was speaking at the annual Boao Forum, a meeting known as China’s Davos and this year attended virtually by a number of Asian leaders, Chinese official media reported, including South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Mr. Xi outlined China’s view of a world in flux and contained veiled criticisms appeared to be aimed the U.S., although he did not name the country. He said “combined forces of changes and a pandemic both unseen in a century have brought the world into a phase of fluidity and transformation” with “instability and uncertainty clearly on the rise”.
“That said, there is no fundamental change in the trend toward a multi-polar world; economic globalisation is showing renewed resilience; and the call for upholding multilateralism and enhancing communication and coordination has grown stronger,” he said, calling for countries “to uphold true multilateralism” and “safeguard the UN-centred international system”.
His comments followed his remarks to the World Economic Forum at Davos in January, when he hit out at “small circles”, a reference that Chinese officials have subsequently used to describe U.S.-led groupings, including the Quad, comprising India, the U.S., Japan and Australia. Chinese officials have rejected the Quad, calling for a “rules-based order” to ensure a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region.
On Tuesday, Mr. Xi said: “We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others, or allow unilateralism pursued by certain countries to set the pace for the whole world.” “What we need in today’s world is justice, not hegemony. Big countries should behave in a manner befitting their status and with a greater sense of responsibility,” he added.
Joint vaccine production
He said China would continue to take forward its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), including for joint vaccine production that had begun with BRI partners, including Indonesia, Brazil, the UAE, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey. With a push to deepen connectivity, he said China will “promote ‘hard connectivity’ of infrastructure and ‘soft connectivity’ of rules and standards”.
While China is advocating for its own rules and standards under the ambit of the BRI, including in new emerging areas such as 5G, the U.S. has pushed for its allies and partners to seek alternatives. Last month, President Joe Biden said he had suggested to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that democratic countries should explore coming up with an alternative to the BRI.
In its first leaders’ summit last month, the Quad countries announced a joint vaccine initiative as well as plans to coordinate standards in critical and emerging technologies. The India-U.S.-Australia-Japan grouping agreed to set up a Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group, recognising that “a free, open, inclusive, and resilient Indo-Pacific requires that critical and emerging technology is governed and operates according to shared interests and values.” The working group will facilitate coordination on technology standards development, including between respective national technology standards bodies, as well as joint plans on telecommunications deployment and building critical technology supply chains.
Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
The Belt and Road Initiative, reminiscent of the Silk Road, is a massive infrastructure project that would stretch from East Asia to Europe.
It was launched in 2013.
- The plan is two-pronged: the overland Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road- The two were collectively referred to first as the One Belt, One Road initiative but eventually became the Belt and Road Initiative.
- The project involves creating a vast network of railways, energy pipelines, highways, and streamlined border crossings.
Pakistan and BRI:
To date, more than sixty countries—accounting for two-thirds of the world’s population—have signed on to projects or indicated an interest in doing so.
Analysts estimate the largest so far to be the estimated $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a collection of projects connecting China to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea.
What was the original Silk Road?
The original Silk Road arose during the westward expansion of China’s Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), which forged trade networks throughout the Central Asian countries, as well as modern-day India and Pakistan to the south. Those routes extended more than four thousand miles to Europe.
How have other countries responded to BRI?
Some countries see the project as a disturbing expansion of Chinese power.
The United States shares the concern of some in Asia that the BRI could be a Trojan horse for China-led regional development and military expansion.
What does China hope to achieve?
China has both geopolitical and economic motivations behind the initiative.
- The country has promoted a vision of a more assertive China, while slowing growth and rocky trade relations with the United States have pressured the country’s leadership to open new markets for its goods.
- Experts see the BRI as one of the main planks of a bolder Chinese statecraft under Xi, alongside the Made in China 2025 economic development strategy.
- The BRI also serves as pushback against the much-touted S. “pivot to Asia,” as well as a way for China to develop new investment opportunities, cultivate export markets, and boost Chinese incomes and domestic consumption.
India has tried to convince countries that the BRI is a plan to dominate Asia, warning of what some analysts have called a “String of Pearls” geoeconomic strategy whereby China creates unsustainable debt burdens for its Indian Ocean neighbors in order to seize control of regional choke points.
In particular, New Delhi has long been unsettled by China’s decades-long embrace of its traditional rival, Pakistan.
4. Editorial-1: A low-carbon future through sector-led change
In India, a sector-led, action-based approach could provide the framework to drive low-carbon transformation
In the build-up to the ‘Leaders’ Climate Summit’ organised by the United States this week (April 22-23), there has been a flurry of articles about whether India should announce a ‘net-zero’ emissions target, and by when. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5°C report called for global carbon emissions to reach net-zero by 2050, which the pressure cooker of climate diplomacy has quickly transformed into a call for all countries to announce 2050 as the net-zero target year. Yet, global net zero may require some countries reaching net-zero before 2050 in order for others to have some additional time. Since a disproportionate share of the carbon space has been used up by developed countries, it is important that they act boldly at home, to match the vigour of their diplomatic efforts.
Nonetheless, as a climate-vulnerable country, India must also up its game to contribute to limiting global temperature rise, ideally below 1.5°C. While doing so, it should not lose sight of the history of global climate negotiations and its own developmental needs. Though a large country and economy, we are still a very poor country with a significant development deficit — for example, our per-capita carbon emissions are less than half the world average.
What India must do
So, what is the way forward for India? Saying India will take only modest steps until richer countries do more is not viable in the context of a global climate crisis. Yet, announcing an Indian 2050 net-zero commitment risks taking on a much heavier burden of decarbonisation than many wealthier countries, and could seriously compromise India’s development needs.
We suggest a third path, focused on concrete, near-term sectoral transformations through aggressive adoption of technologies that are within our reach, and an earnest effort to avoid high carbon lock-ins. This is best accomplished by focusing on sectoral low-carbon development pathways that combine competitiveness, job-creation, distributional justice and low pollution in key areas where India is already changing rapidly. This approach is directionally consistent with India moving towards net-zero, which should be our long-term objective. Over time, India can and should get more specific about future economy-wide net-zero targets and dates. Here, we detail what such an approach would look like, by laying out the contours of an enhanced national pledge for the electricity sector, to illustrate how it can be both ambitious and in India’s interest. A similar approach should be adopted for other sectors.
De-carbonise power sector
To achieve net-zero emissions, a key piece of the puzzle is to decarbonise the electricity sector, which is the single largest source (about 40%) of India’s greenhouse gas emissions. De-carbonised electricity would also allow India to undertake transformational changes in urbanisation and industrial development, for example by expanding the use of electricity for transport, and by integrating electric systems into urban planning.
So far, our efforts in the electricity sector have focused on expanding renewable electricity capacity, with targets growing by leaps and bounds from 20GW of solar to 175GW of renewable capacity by 2022, further growing to 450GW of renewable capacity by 2030. While useful as a direction of travel, India now needs to shift gears to a comprehensive re-imagination of electricity and its role in our economy and society.
One way to do this is to go beyond expanding renewables to limiting the expansion of coal-based electricity capacity. This will not be easy: coal provides firm, dispatchable power and accounts for roughly 75% of electricity today; supports the economy of key regions; and is tied to sectors such as banking and railways. These connections need to be unravelled to truly shift to a decarbonised future.
Ceiling for coal power
A first, bold, step would be to pledge that India will not grow its coal-fired power capacity beyond what is already announced, and reach peak coal electricity capacity by 2030, while striving to make coal-based generation cleaner and more efficient. There is a strong rationale for this: coal is increasingly uneconomic and phasing it out over time will bring local gains, such as reduced air pollution, aside from climate mitigation. Such a pledge would give full scope for development of renewable energy and storage, and send a strong signal to investors.
A second, necessary step is to create a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission representing all levels of government and the affected communities to ensure decent livelihood opportunities beyond coal in India’s coal belt. This is necessary because the transition costs of a brighter low-carbon future should not fall on the backs of India’s poor.
Third, a low-carbon electricity future will not be realised without addressing existing problems of the sector such as the poor finances and management of distribution companies, which requires deep changes and overcoming entrenched interests.
Finally, India will need to work hard to become a leader in technologies of the future such as electricity storage, smart grids, and technologies that enable the electrification of other sectors such as transportation. Through careful partnership with the private sector, including tools such as production-linked incentives, India should use the electricity transition to aim for job creation and global competitiveness in these key areas.
Thus, an electricity-supply focused component of India’s climate pledge could provide the overarching framework to envision and drive transformative change.
Improve energy services
Enhancing the efficiency of electricity use is an important complement to decarbonising electricity supply. Growing urbanisation and uptake of electricity services offer a good opportunity to shape energy consumption within buildings through proactive measures. Cooling needs are expected to increase rapidly with rising incomes and temperatures. Air conditioners, fans and refrigerators together consume about 60% of the electricity in households. Today, the average fan sold in the market consumes more than twice what an efficient fan does, and an average refrigerator about 35% more. India could set aggressive targets of, say, 80% of air conditioner sales, and 50% of fan and refrigerator sales in 2030, being in the most efficient bracket. In addition to reducing green house gas emissions, this would have the benefit of lowering consumer electricity bills. India can leverage this transition too as an opportunity to become a global leader in production of clean appliances.
Such a sector-by-sector approach, which can and should be developed for other sectors, can demonstrate concrete, yet ambitious, domestic action that sets India on the path toward net zero emissions. It empowers India to insist that developed countries complement their distant net-zero targets by enacting concrete near-term measures that are less reliant on unsure offsets. This approach also allows India to nimbly adapt its sectoral transition plans as technologies mature and enable it to ratchet up its pledges periodically as required by the Paris Agreement.
Going further, India may even consider committing to submit plausible pathways and timelines to achieving net-zero emissions as part of its future pledges. This would allow India adequate time to undertake detailed assessments of its development needs and low-carbon opportunities, the possible pace of technological developments, the seriousness of the net-zero actions by developed countries, and potential geo-political and geo-economic risks of over-dependence on certain countries for technologies or materials. India can also use this period to develop a strategic road map to enhance its own technology and manufacturing competence as part of the global clean energy supply chain, to gain benefits of employment and export revenues. Such an integrated approach, which is ambitious, credible and rooted in our developmental needs — including climate mitigation needs — will represent an ambitious, forward-looking and results-oriented India.
5. Editorial: The long battle against the Maoists
Unconventional wars are not fought merely on the ground; they are battles between minds of steel
In the April 3 encounter between security forces and the Maoists in Sukma, a Maoist stronghold in Chhattisgarh, 22 jawans were killed — seven from the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), a unit of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and 15 from the Chhattisgarh Police. One CoBRA jawan, Rakeshwar Singh Minhas, who was held hostage by the Maoists, has since been released. This followed a message from the Maoists to a Bijapur-based journalist that mercy would be shown to Mr. Minhas if the government nominated a team of mediators to negotiate his release. A team of local people, who later went deep into the forest area from where the Maoists were operating, spoke to the rebels and prevailed upon them to release the jawan. What persuaded the extremist group to show this gesture after their cruel act of killing the 22 men is anybody’s guess. It was possibly their attempt to broadcast to the world that they are not all that violent or merciless as portrayed by the administration; that they are in fact humane and compassionate, fighting only for a cause.
Determination and tactics
The ease with which the Maoists are able to strike at security forces and indulge in indiscriminate killing from time to time has confounded many analysts. The frequency of attacks may fluctuate depending on the preparedness of the extremists and the strength of the establishment’s retaliation. But the tactics of the Maoists have not changed greatly. They usually spread misinformation about the numbers of Maoists on the ground in a village as well as their location. Communication equipment in the hands of government forces has not greatly improved over the years. Ambushes have, therefore, yielded rich dividends to the rebels. It is an entirely different matter that they have also paid substantially with the lives of their own ranks.
What should surprise an objective observer is the determination displayed by the extremists regardless of the difficulty in periodically replenishing their ranks and keeping them in a reasonable state of morale against great odds. The Maoists can never match the government’s resources and professional prowess. This is despite the assistance they receive in terms of weaponry from various sources. But unconventional wars are not fought merely on the ground; they are battles between minds of steel.
Gory incidents like the recent one in Chhattisgarh have often led to the quick charge of lack of intelligence and planning on the part of the government, as though intelligence is a piece of cake. The criticism conveniently ignores the ruggedness of the terrain from where the extremists operate and the intoxication that an anti-establishment propaganda offers to almost all members of the group. In our view, if happenings during the past five decades or so are of any indication, one cannot overstate the capacity of the extremists. What works to their advantage is the fact that many States cannot give undivided attention to the task of eradicating extremism. All that the Central and State governments often do to step up their operations is to deploy more policemen and pour in more money and improve technology, but this has an impact only for a short span of time. There is an element of fatigue that afflicts both sides.
Does development help?
A lot of well-meaning people, some of whom are from the five States that are often affected by Maoist fury — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Maharashtra — have ceaselessly put forward the argument that rapid economic development of a region alone would lure people away from extremist ideology. Advocacy in favour of amelioration of living conditions is hard to dismiss. To be fair, the governments involved, both in the States and at the Centre, have taken the plea seriously and implemented several development schemes in these areas. However, this has helped only partially. Andhra Pradesh is perhaps an exception where the magic of development has succeeded, especially in Srikakulam district. Civil servants who have served in that area say a dedicated leadership at the district and grassroots levels is one explanation for this transformation.
Some also say inducting local youth into the security forces helps in fighting the extremists. Over-dependence on Central forces is counterproductive. For able-bodied locals to comprise security forces is commendable. The Greyhounds, raised in Andhra Pradesh in 1989, is an eloquent illustration of this. History will remember the results it produced under the phenomenal leadership of K.S. Vyas, a courageous IPS officer who unfortunately paid with his life for the valour and dynamism that he had displayed.
Whatever is happening in parts of the eastern region of our country should not surprise us. Economic deprivation and religious fundamentalism often hijack the thinking processes of many populations. How else would you explain the savagery that you continually witness in many parts of poverty-afflicted Africa? What about Northern Ireland from where violent disturbances are being reported from time to time owing to the Catholic-Protestant divide? The romance attached to the Maoists is therefore difficult to dislodge. One must also realise that shared ideology and resources by like-minded groups boosts their capabilities.
The objective of the Maoists is to drive a wedge between the security forces and the government so as to sow disaffection against the latter. Another aim is to serve a warning to the government that it has no option but to concede all the demands of the extremists. It is another matter that these demands, such as the formation of a ‘people’s government’, are secessionist in nature, which no constitutionally elected establishment will ever concede.
This is a tricky situation that defies a lasting solution unless the rebels break down from fatigue and suffer from a situation where recruits dwindle. We don’t see this happening in the immediate future. If this assessment proves right, we may see a gradual migration of younger rebels aspiring for a better life going to other parts of the country where there are better educational opportunities. It may start as a trickle but could become a deluge over the next few decades.