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Daily Current Affairs 22.03.2021 (Myanmar Refugee Crisis, Philippines China Conflict, India Israel Covid Oral Vaccine)

Daily Current Affairs 22.03.2021 (Myanmar Refugee Crisis, Philippines China Conflict, India Israel Covid Oral Vaccine)

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1. Myanmar border shut amid strains over refugee crisis

Mizoram CM talks to Yangon Minister as Centre checks influx

Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga held a virtual meeting on Sunday with Foreign Minister of Myanmar Zin Mar Aung amid the ongoing military crackdown following the February coup, even as India sealed all entry points along the border with the southeast Asian neighbour and is closely monitoring them to prevent any Myanmar national from entering the country.

“Had a fruitful meeting [online] this morning with Zin Mar Aung, Hon’ble Foreign Minister, Myanmar. Our thoughts and prayers are with Myanmar in these trying times,” Mr. Zoramthanga said on Twitter.

He had earlier written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging intervention so that “political refugees” from Myanmar are given asylum and food and shelter in the country.

Sensitive issues

The tussle between the Centre and the State on the issue has created a tough time for New Delhi and security agencies in handling the situation on the ground, multiple officials said.

In the letter dated March 18, Mr. Zoramthanga said the people residing on both sides have close linkages. “India cannot turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in front of us in our own backyard,” the Chief Minister said.

The letter comes after a series of exchanges between the State and the Central governments over the handling of the refugees.

Stating that the whole of Myanmar is in turmoil and “innocent hapless citizens are being persecuted” by the military regime, who are supposed to be their guardians and protectors, Mr. Zoramthanga said the “Myanmar area bordering Mizoram is inhibited by Chin communities, who are ethnically our brethren with whom we have been having close contacts throughout all these years even before India became independent.”

Following the February 1 coup when the Myanmar military overthrew the democratically elected government, around 300 Myanmarese nationals, including many policemen, have crossed into India and sought refuge.

Deep ties

There is considerable support and sympathy among the people of Mizoram over the situation in Myanmar as many have relations across the border, a government official stated, adding that it was a very emotive and sensitive issue in the State.

India and Myanmar have an arrangement called Free Movement Regime (FMR), which allows locals on both sides to go upto 16 km across the other side and stay up to 14 days.

India-Myanmar

  • India and Myanmar have shared cultural roots and historical relations, apart from the strategic, economic, social and political ties.
  • Myanmar is a member of both Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is an organization of East Asian nations as well as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) which bridges South and South-East Asia.
  • Connectivity projects through Myanmar help India overcome its Chicken-neck dilemma (Siliguri Corridor). Myanmar is also necessary for the development of North-Eastern India.
  • Myanmar stands at the confluence of India’s Neighbourhood First and Act East Policy and India-Myanmar partnership is at the heart of India’s vision to create a connected and cooperative neighbourhood.
  • Recently, India and Myanmar had signed 10 agreements with a focus on socio-economic development of Myanmar, during Myanmar President U Win Myint’s visit to India.
  • Myanmar’s growing closeness with China and the recent proposal of China Myanmar Economic Corridor is a cause of concern for India amidst growing India-China tension.
  • Health and Pandemic: As a part of India’s Medical or Drug Diplomacy a package of 3,000 vials of the antiviral Remdesivir given to assist Myanmar in its fight against the pandemic.
    • India has shown willingness to prioritise Myanmar in sharing Covid -19 vaccines, when available.
  • Infrastructure and Connectivity: Operationalisation of the crucial Sittwe port in Myanmar’s Rakhine state by March 2021 is committed.
    • The two sides also discussed progress in the ongoing Indian-assisted infrastructure projects such as the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project. The project will link Kolkata to Sittwe in Myanmar and then from Myanmar’s Kaladan river to India’s north-east.
  • Security: India has been concerned over some militant groups like the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) from the North-East region taking shelter in Myanmar.
    • Myanmar handed over 22 cadres of Indian insurgent groups in May 2020.
    • The maintenance of security and stability in their border areas and mutual commitment not to allow their respective territories to be used for activities inimical to each other were re-stressed.
  • Transition to Democracy: Myanmar successfully conducted the 4th meeting of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference in Nay Pyi Taw.
    • The Union Peace Conference: 21st Century Panglong is a continuing peace conference started in 2016.
    • Aim: To have a stable political environment in Myanmar with peaceful transition into democracy.
    • Outcome of 4th meeting: The government of Myanmar and ten armed ethnic groups signed a framework agreement for the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
    • Indian Support: India assured continued support in sharing experiences in constitutionalism and federalism to assist Myanmar in its democratic transition.
  • Rohingya Issues: India came forward for support for ensuring safe, sustainable and speedy return of Rohingya refugees from refugees camps of Bangladesh.
    • Building on the progress made under the Rakhine State Development Programme (RSDP), India proposed to finalise projects under phase-III of the programme, including setting up of a skills training centre and upgrading of agricultural mechanisation.
  • Liaison Office: With the formal inauguration of liaison office in Nay Pyi Taw, India has taken one more significant step towards establishing its embassy in Nay Pyi Taw.
    • India has its embassy in Yangon, the former capital.
  • Other Highlights:
    • A bust of Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Mandalay Jail is a symbolic gesture for a closer relationship and understanding mutual existence.
      • Mandalay Jail Connection: Between 1908 and 1914, he spent 6 years in Mandalay Prison for defending the actions of revolutionaries Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki.
      • Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki had tried to assassinate the District Judge, Mr. Kingsford by throwing bombs at the carriage in which he was supposed to travel.
    • Investment: With investments of over USD 1.2 billion, Myanmar has the highest Indian investment in any country in South Asia.
      • India’s development cooperation in Myanmar is estimated at USD 1.4 billion.
  • Energy: The two countries are also expanding partnership in the area of energy cooperation.
    • Recently, India approved an investment of over USD 120 million in the Shwe Oil and Gas project.

2. Philippines accuses China of ‘incursion’ in disputed sea

Defence Secretary asks Beijing to immediately recall vessels

The Philippines on Sunday accused China of “incursion” after more than 200 militia boats were spotted near a disputed reef in the South China Sea, in a rare rebuke of its superpower neighbour.

The Philippine coast guard detected the boats “in line formation” at the boomerang-shaped Whitsun Reef, around 320 km (175 nautical miles) west of Palawan Island on March 7.

“We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement.

“This is a clear provocative action of militarizing the area. These are territories well within Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.”

Mr. Lorenzana said the government was considering “appropriate action” to protect Filipino fishermen, the country’s marine resources and maintain peace and stability in the area.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said on Twitter he had lodged a diplomatic protest over the ships.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not respond to a request for comment.

A government task force charged with monitoring the contested waters announced Saturday the detection of around 220 “Chinese Maritime Militia Vessels” earlier this month. “Despite clear weather at the time, the vessels massed at the reef showed no fishing activities,” the agency said.

The U.S. has previously accused China of using maritime militia to “intimidate, coerce and threaten other nations” over its claims to almost the entire South China Sea.

South China Sea

  • South China Sea is an arm of western Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia.
  • It is south of China, east & south of Vietnam, west of the Philippines and north of the island of Borneo.
  • Bordering states & territories (clockwise from north): the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.
  • It is connected by Taiwan Strait with the East China Sea and by Luzon Strait with the Philippine Sea.
  • It contains numerous shoals, reefs, atolls and islands. The Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal are the most important.

What makes it so important?

  • This sea holds tremendous strategic importance for its location as it is the connecting link between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. (Strait of Malacca)
  • According to the United Nations Conference on Trade And Development (UNCTAD) one-third of the global shipping passes through it, carrying trillions of trade which makes it a significant geopolitical water body.
  • According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Philippines, this sea has one-third of the entire world’s marine biodiversity and contains lucrative fisheries providing food security to the Southeast Asian nations.
  • South China Sea is believed to have huge oil and gas reserves beneath its seabed.
United Nations Conference on Trade And Development (UNCTAD) Permanent intergovernmental body established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1964.Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.Part of the UN Secretariat and the United Nations Development Group.Main UN body dealing with trade, investment and development issues.

Timeline

  • 1994 – The Convention on the Law of the Sea went into effect. The United States called this treaty the “Law of the Sea Convention.”
  • 1997 – Beijing shared the first rendering of its “Nine-dash Line” extending roughly 1,118 miles from Hainan Island to waters off equatorial Borneo under China’s historical claim of having it in the past.
  • 2002 – ASEAN and China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
  • 2009 – China issued two diplomatic notes that appear to claim a majority of the South China Sea.
  • 2013 – The Philippines challenged China’s claims of historic rights and other actions in an arbitration case under the Law of the Sea Convention.
  • 2016 – The Arbitration Tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines and rejected China’s maritime claims that go beyond the entitlements set out in the Convention.
Nine Dash Line Stretches hundreds of kilometers south and east of China’s southerly Hainan Island, covering the strategic Paracel and Spratly island chains.China claims it by citing 2,000 years of history when the two island chains were regarded as its integral parts.

Issues Involved

  • China claims most of the contested sea, reaching almost to the philippines shores and has built artificial islands with heavy military developments on them which worries the neighbouring nations and it rejects the UN backed international tribunal ruling as well.
  • The nine dash line asserted by China violates the principle of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).
  • The stalled negotiations between China and ASEAN made headway on Code of Conduct as four of the ASEAN nations also made territorial claims on the disputed waters which adds to the problem with already non-negotiable behaviour of China.
Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) It is a formula based on compromise and was recognized by the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1976.It covers an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea: it can extend to a maximum of 200 nautical miles from the baselines.Activities allowed in EEZ are –Creation and use of artificial islands, installations and structures.Marine scientific research.The protection and preservation of the marine environment.

Challenges

  • China’s behavior of negligence, denial and the sense of superiority while overlooking international laws and regulations like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • Along with China’s bullying tactics, North Korea’s provocative behaviour has attracted US aircrafts in the already troubled waters. The growth of military vessels and planes in the area makes it more challenging to handle.
  • Undefined geographic scope of the South China Sea; disagreement over dispute settlement mechanisms; different approaches to conflict management (self-restraint, mutual trust, and confidence building); and the undefined legal status of the Code of Conduct (COC) add to it.
  • The different histories of distant, largely uninhabited archipelagos of the sea make the matter more complicated and multifaceted.

Achievements

  • The members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China engaged in discussions on a potential COC to manage the South China Sea maritime and territorial disputes for a very long time and finally settled for a non-binding Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002. In 2005, the first draft of guidelines to implement the DOC was drawn up, but not adopted until 2011. However, problems still linger so a plan for more robust policies is needed.
  • After the consultations of 2016, in 2017 ASEAN and China adopted a bare-bone framework for the COC.
Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), 2002 ASEAN and China agreed to promote a peaceful, friendly and harmonious environment in the South China Sea for the enhancement of peace, stability, economic growth and prosperity in the region.It reaffirms respect for and commitment to the freedom of navigation and overflight above the South China Sea as provided for by the universally recognized principles of international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

India’s Stand on South China Sea Issue

  • In a Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region, India and the USA talked about ensuring freedom of navigation and resolving disputes according to UNCLOS referring to the South China Sea but after Philippines won the arbitration award in its favour in 2016, India has clearly separated itself from the dispute.
  • New Delhi has not conducted any defence cooperation, navigational patrols and naval exercises with the claimant states in the South China Sea (only recently it conducted a naval exercise with Vietnam).
  • After the recent development of affairs with Japan and Russia, it might appear that India wants to raise its strategic presence in the South China Sea but it is not so. Firstly, because India is not a party to the maritime territorial disputes in the region and does not want to interfere. Secondly, India wants to preserve its “Wuhan Consensus” with China, in which both nations respect each other’s’ spheres of influence in their adjacent water bodies.

3. CPWD to lay three roads near China border in Ladakh

It has floated tenders worth 212.99 crore for the purpose

The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) has floated tenders worth a total of ₹212.99 crore this month for laying and maintenance of three high-altitude roads near the India-China border in Ladakh.

While the projects are titled as roads “to Indo-China Border” from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police bases at Shilung La, Nyakmikle and Hena, the three tender documents said: “The work is situated in Leh District of U.T. of Ladakh near International Border.” All the three roads would be single lane projects as per the relevant specifications of National Highways, according to the documents.

The CPWD floated one tender on March 12 and two on March 19 and set the date for opening of bids as April 8 and April 15 respectively. The single-lane road project of 10.22 km length till the Shilung La base was estimated to take 42 months and cost ₹93.8 crore, according to the tender document.

The Nyakmikle road project was estimated at ₹55.37 crore and take 30 months for construction of the 9.29- km stretch. The 7.64-km Hena project till the ITBP post was estimated to cost ₹63.82 crore and take up to 30 months to construct, the tender document showed.

According to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs report presented on March 15, the Centre had informed the panel that a “standalone project” of constructing a critical road along the border in Ladakh was ongoing. The Ministry of Home Affairs told the panel, chaired by Congress MP Anand Sharma, that 57 roads along the India-China border were being constructed, as well as 47 outposts, 32 helipads and 18 foot tracks in Arunachal Pradesh.

Ladakh

  • Ladakh is also known as “the Land of Passes‟ (La-passes, dakh-land) is the largest in area among the regions viz., Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh with an area of 95,876 km2. The region is administered by India as a union territory.
  • Bordering regions: It is bordered by the Chinese Tibet Autonomous Region to the east, the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh to the south, both the Indian union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Pakistan-administered Gilgit-Baltistan to the west, and the southwest corner of Xinjiang across the Karakoram Pass in the far north.
  • River system: The Indus River and its major tributaries, the Shyok-Nubra, Chang Chenmo, Hanle, Zanskar, and Suru-dras rivers, drain the region. Glacio-fluvial processes aided by freeze- thaw weathering have formed the high altitude landscape of Ladakh.
  • Climate: Ladakh has an extremely harsh environment and one of the highest and driest inhabited places on earth. Ladakh’s climate is referred to as a “cold desert” climate due to its combined features of arctic and desert climates.
    • The entire area is nearly devoid of vegetation with the exception of valley floors and irrigated areas, due to the following factors:
      • These include wide diurnal and seasonal fluctuations in temperature, from -40°C in winter to +35°C in summer, and extremely low precipitation, with an annual 10 cm to 30 cm primarily from snow.
      • Due to high altitude and low humidity, the radiation level is amongst the highest in the world.
  • Soil type: In Ladakh soils range from gravely and sandy loams on the alluvial fans to sandy and silt clay loams on the flood plains of Indus. Ladakh’s soil is described as skeletal, calcareous with an alkaline reaction.
    • By and large, soil is coarse and sandy, having varying quantities of pebbles. The soils are characterized by low organic matter content and poor water retention capacity.

History of Ladakh

  • Dogras invasion: Historically, Ladakh was an independent kingdom from about A.D. 950 until 1834, when Hindu Dogras (from Jammu, which is southwest of Ladakh) invaded it.
    • The Sikhs acquired Kashmir in 1819, Emperor Ranjit Singh turned his ambition towards Ladakh. But it was Gulab Singh, the Dogra feudatory of the Sikhs in Jammu, who went ahead with the task of integrating Ladakh into Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Tibet invasion: In May 1841, Tibet under the Qing dynasty of China invaded Ladakh with the hope of adding it to the imperial Chinese dominions, leading to the Sino-Sikh war.
    • However, the Sino-Tibetan army was defeated, and the ‘Treaty of Chushul’ was signed that agreed on no further transgressions or interference in the other country’s frontiers.
  • British suzerainty: After the first Anglo-Sikh war of 1845-46, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, including Ladakh, was taken out of the Sikh empire and brought under British suzerainty.
    • As a buffer zone: The state of Jammu and Kashmir was essentially a British creation, formed as a buffer zone where they could meet the Russians.
    • Consequently, there was an attempt to delimit what exactly was Ladakh and the extent of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, but it became convoluted since that area came under Tibetan and Central Asian influence.
  • Pakistan and China border dispute: Ladakh became a contested territory between the newly independent nations of India and Pakistan. In the early 1960’s a substantial area of eastern Ladakh was annexed by China.
    • Due to increasing tensions between India and Pakistan, the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s, and their occupation of the Aksai Chin region in 1962, Ladakh has become one of India’s most important strategic zones.
    • Strategic location and border disputes with Pakistan and China have assured a firm foothold for army presence since the past 50 years

Importance of Ladakh

The importance of Ladakh to both India and China is rooted in complicated historical processes that led to the territory becoming union territory in 2019 (earlier it was part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir), and China’s interest in it post the occupation of Tibet in 1950.

  • Rich in natural resources: Ladakh is situated within the upper reaches of the Indus watershed, which in total supports about 120 million people in India (in the states of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Rajasthan) and about 93 million in the Pakistan province of the Punjab (literally, “Land of the Five Rivers”).
    • Careful management of water resources within Ladakh is therefore vitally important, not only for the livelihoods of Ladakhis and the ecosystems of Ladakh, but for the health of the whole river system.
  • Solar radiation: It is one of the most abundant natural resources in Ladakh, with annual solar radiation exceeding averages for other areas of India with high insulation.
  • Geothermal potential: surveys have identified a geothermal resource at depths suitable for exploration and development.
    • This resource could be developed to provide grid connected power to small settlements and army bases sited on the national highway.
  • Tourism industry: Popularly known as the Lama Land or little Tibet, Ladakh lies at altitudes ranging between about 9,000 feet and 25,170 feet. From trekking and mountaineering to Buddhist tours of various monasteries, Ladakh has it all.
  • Provides connectivity: The passes of Ladakh region connect some of the politically and economically significant zones of the world like Central Asia, South Asia, China and the Middle East.
  • Market access: The south Asian countries can reach Central Asian markets through this region. Countries like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are rich in uranium, cotton, oil and gas resources.
  • Energy security: In future, the oil and gas pipeline from Iran to China can pass through this mountainous corridor. India‟s energy needs can also be met by constructing a pipeline from Central Asia via this region.

Other Significance

  • Geopolitical Significance: The land of Ladakh enjoys the significance of being located at the ancient Silk Route which passes through these regions and played a very vital role in the development of culture, religion, philosophy, trade and commerce in the past.
  • Geostrategic location: The presence of resources is what makes India, China and Pakistan struggle over Ladakh, in order to gain control over resources in this region. Pakistan and China are in conflict with India over Siachen and Aksai chin in this region. Ladakh’s geostrategic significance has increased in the backdrop of these conflicts.

India-China Border Dispute

  • The origins of this contention date back to the British Raj which failed to demarcate the border between its colony and China definitively.
  • Recently, Indian and Chinese armies are engaged in the standoff in Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie in eastern Ladakh.

    • The Galwan Valley area comes under Sub Sector North (SSN), which lies just to the east of the Siachen glacier and is the only point that provides direct access to Aksai Chin from India.
  • Both countries are rising nations which share a 3800 kilometre long border of which a large part remains disputed.
    • By and large, today‟s border issue revolves around two main boundary designs that have been put forward by the British.
      • India continues to maintain the McMahon Line as the legal border, while China has never accepted the border, stating that Tibet was never independent.
      • In 1962, Chinese troops crossed the McMahon line and, after war, China pushed forward to establish a “Line of Actual Control”.
      • However, none of these boundaries had ever been anchored in a binding bilateral treaty. And so, the status of the Indo-Chinese border in the western section at the time of Indian independence remained unsolved.
Line of Actual Control (LAC) The LAC is the demarcation that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory. India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km.The India-China LAC in Ladakh is an outcome of the territory illegally retained by China after the 1962 conflict. The Chinese occupation of parts of Aksai Chin is not supported by historical or legal documents.It is divided into three sectors:the eastern sector which spans Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkimthe middle sector in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradeshthe western sector in Ladakh

4. Indian-Israeli collaboration testing oral COVID vaccine

But findings on formulation have not been published yet

An Indian-Israeli collaboration has reportedly developed an oral vaccine for COVID-19, one that can be swallowed like a pill instead of being injected, as is the norm. A preliminary test in animals showed that the vaccine produced the expected antibodies that confer protection. However, the findings have not been reported in a scientific publication yet and cannot be independently verified.

The product is also far from being tested in human trials, though company promoters say depending on how tests pan out, the vaccine could be ready for human trials in the next three months. Premas Biotech, a Gurugram-based biotechnology firm, and Oramed Pharmaceuticals, a Jerusalem headquartered company, have a long-standing collaboration on developing new drug delivery techniques.

The nascent COVID-19 vaccine candidate is a “protein-based VLP (Virus Like Particle) vaccine candidate” that generates “triple protection” against the SARS CoV-2 virus, i.e., it is able to target the spike, membrane, and envelope proteins of the coronavirus.

Oravax, the company developing the vaccine, is a joint venture between Premas and Oramed.

“The vaccine candidate is also safe, efficacious and well-tolerated at normal to high doses, and generated high titres of neutralising antibodies. The VLP is manufactured using Premas’ proprietary D-Crypt platform, which is highly scalable and can be manufactured on large scales,” Oravax said in a statement.

Mission COVID Suraksha

The Government of India launched the ‘Mission COVID Suraksha’, a development program for Indian candidates and researchers working on the COVID-19 vaccine. Under this mission, the Government would facilitate the clinical development, manufacturing and licensing of Indian vaccines to curb the virus attack. 

Candidates preparing for the IAS Exam can expect questions based on the Novel Coronavirus, its vaccines, affects, etc. in the GS-2 and GS-3 paper under Government Policies, welfare schemes, Science and Technology, and Indian achievements part of the paper. 

What is Mission COVID Suraksha?

  • The Government of India has sanctioned Rs.900 crores for the Phase I of the Mission COVID Suraksha, for a period of 12 months
  • This mission will accelerate the development of approximately 5-6 vaccines for coronavirus. However, a total of 10 vaccine candidates have been supported by DBT till now
  • Complete focus on the preclinical and clinical development of the vaccine is to be taken care of, for quick release and to restrict any further spread of the Novel coronavirus in the country
  • With an end-to-end focus from preclinical development through clinical development and manufacturing and regulatory facilitation for deployment, would consolidate all available and funded resources towards an accelerated product development
  • The grant for Research and Development (R&D) of the Indian COVID-19 vaccine will be provided by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT)
  • It will be implemented by a dedicated Mission Implementation Unit at the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC)

Development of an indigenous, affordable and accessible vaccine to curb the spread of the coronavirus is one of the biggest targets which the Government of the country aims to achieve. The success of this mission will complement the Indian aspiration of Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan

Objectives of Mission COVID Suraksha

The main objectives of this mission include:

  • Funding the candidate vaccines with their testing, manufacturing, licensing, and distribution in the market
  • Establishing clinical trial sites, strengthening the existing laboratories, and assisting with the internal and external quality management system
  • Supporting the development of common harmonized protocols, training, data management systems, and regulatory submissions
  • Capabilities for process development, cell line development and manufacturing of GMP batches for animal toxicology studies and clinical trials will also be supported under the Mission
  • The development of a suitable Target Product Profile is another key element of the mission. This will ensure that the vaccines being introduced through the mission have preferred characteristics applicable to India

5. Editorial-1: Doubling down on a resilient India

For leading companies with global ambitions, the rewards of investing in this complex country are worth pursuing

Asia watchers observing China are, above all, missing the real economic shift at play — that this is India’s economic decade. Despite CEOs and investors alike having faced years, if not decades, of false starts in the subcontinent, it is undeniable that almost every major global company is either contemplating or operating on the assumption that India is a key part of their growth story.

FDI inflows

Google, Facebook, Walmart, Samsung, Foxconn, and Silver Lake have been just a handful of the firms that made big ticket bets on India in 2020. As a result, even as India experienced one of the world’s sharpest economic contractions, it also saw the fastest growth in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows among all the major economies last year. India’s $60 billion-plus tally for new annual FDI equity inflows was its largest-ever haul and a milestone in the agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in its second term.

That India should emerge as a leading destination for FDI might strike some observers as an unexpected outcome. It is certainly one that deserves parsing.

Indeed, a significant share of India’s FDI inflows arose from foreign investments directed solely at Reliance Jio. Meanwhile, India’s latest FDI totals still lags behind the highest tallies in other markets such as China and Brazil.

Adapting to the Indian market

Three decades after its economy was liberalised, India remains a complex and challenging place to do business. Frequent shifts in the policy landscape and persistent market access barriers are standard complaints levied against India by the business community. Meanwhile, the Modi government’s push to build a “self-reliant” India has also rattled skittish investors and smaller companies that lack the resources to navigate on-the-ground hurdles.

Still, leading corporate investors see the Indian market differently. They recognise that doing business in India — or any emerging market for that matter — comes with inherent risks but that adaptation in approach is critical to success. Most importantly, they have the vision to understand that these are risks worth taking given the scale of the India Opportunity.

Four core dynamics drive this calculus and explain why multinational companies are making India an essential part of their growth story.

First, sheer demographics. What India offers through its nearly 1.4 billion people and their growing purchasing power is uniquely valuable for multinationals with global ambitions. No other country outside of China has a market that houses nearly one in six people on the planet and a rising middle class of 600 million. Failure to compete for a share of Indians’ wallets is not just a missed strategic opportunity; it’s borderline malpractice at the boardroom level.

Second, shifting geopolitics. Rising U.S.-China competition is redefining the global landscape for investment and manufacturing, forcing multinationals to rethink their footprints and production hubs. Savvy countries such as Vietnam have capitalised on this opportunity to great effect, but India is finally getting serious about attracting large-scale production and exports. Major multinational companies such as Samsung have invested billions in the Indian market, and manufacturers such as Cisco, Nokia, Ericsson, and Flex are reportedly weighing new investments that take advantage of fresh incentive programs.

Third, rising digital connectivity. Cheap mobile data have powered a revolution across India’s digital economy and connected an estimated 700 million Indians to the Internet. As Mr. Modi has said, more than 500 million Indians still remain offline, and the rise of these ‘next gen netizens’ is a key reason why leading global tech companies are investing in India and weathering acute policy pressure. Domestic Indian companies have also demonstrated their ability to innovate and deliver high quality services at scale. The partnerships and FDI flows linking multinationals and Indian tech firms will continue to unlock shared market opportunities for years to come.

Fourth, national resilience. Despite facing the scourge of the novel coronavirus head on, India has managed the pandemic better than many of its western peers and restored economic activity even before implementing a mass vaccination programme. These are remarkable developments, and yet they speak to India’s underlying resilience even in the face of historic challenges. This ethos will serve India well as it navigates the complex challenges of the 21st century, and global investors are clearly taking note.

Value creation

Of course, unlocking opportunities in the Indian market cannot take the form of a one-way wealth transfer, and companies should not expect a warm welcome without continuously demonstrating their commitment to India. Successful companies do this by placing shared value creation at the heart of their business strategy. They tie corporate success to India’s growth and development. They forge enduring partnerships and lasting relationships, elevate and invest in Indian talent, align products with Indian tastes, and ultimately tackle the hardest problems facing India today.

Charting a path forward in this dynamic growing market will require corporate executives to make new commitments and navigate choppy waters. But for leading companies with global ambitions and a willingness to make big bets, the rewards of investing in the Indian market are substantial and well worth pursuing.

6. Editorial-3: Rising poverty

With the spurt in COVID-19 cases, the nascent economic recovery is under threat

A new study by the Pew Research Center estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionately deleterious impact on living standards in India and China in 2020, with the sharp economic contraction in the former pushing as many as 7.5 crore people into the ranks of the poor (those who earn $2 or less a day). In contrast, the figure is about 10 lakh in China, whose economy slowed but continued to post growth. In absolute terms, the number of poor in India is posited to have swelled to 13.4 crore, reversing the gains made in the preceding nine years when the country cut the number of poor by more than three-fourths to an estimated 7.8 crore in 2019. In China, the population of the poor likely inched up to 40 lakh, matching the 2019 level. Similarly, the numbers of India’s middle class — those with a daily income of $10.01–$20 — are projected to have shrunk by 3.2 crore to about 6.6 crore, compared with the number this income cohort would have reached absent the pandemic. Here again, China likely experienced just one-third the level of contraction, with the population of those deemed as middle income set to have narrowed to 49.3 crore compared with the pre-pandemic projection of 50.4 crore.

The Pew assessment, which is based on an analysis of the World Bank’s PovcalNet database, does, however, acknowledge the multiple assumptions that inform the study. These include varying base years for income/consumption figures — with India’s from 2011 and 2016 for China. Still, the study serves as a stark reminder of the economic disparities, both within India and at a comparative level with its northern neighbour. The latest report once again spotlights the widening inequality in India, exacerbated by the pandemic, as the lower income populations have disproportionately borne the brunt of job and income losses in the wake of the multiple lockdowns. The fiscal policy response to redress this massive increase in precarity has also been underwhelming, especially when viewed from the perspective of the pre-pandemic tax cuts that the government handed to corporates in an attempt to revive private investment and rekindle growth. That the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme has been seeing record levels of demand is testimony to the struggles those in the rural hinterland have been facing in finding gainful employment since the onset of the pandemic. With the number of COVID-19 cases once again rising disconcertingly across the country, there is a clear and present danger that not only could any nascent economic recovery be stymied even before it gains traction but that the number of those sliding into poverty could jump dramatically. The policy responses to the rising wave of infections could well test the government’s ‘lives versus livelihoods’ playbook to the hilt.

7. Editorial-4: How to treat unpaid work

There are many ways in which women’s burden at home can be reduced by the government

Women everywhere carry a disproportionately higher burden of unpaid work, namely, unpaid domestic services as well as unpaid care of children, the old and the disabled for their respective households. Though this work contributes to overall well-being at the household level and collectively at the national level, it is invisible in the national database and particularly in national policies.

This work is repetitive, boring and frequently drudgery — a 24-hour job without remuneration, promotions or retirement benefits. It restricts opportunities for women in the economy and in life. Women do this job not necessarily because they like it or are efficient in it, but because it is imposed on them by patriarchal norms, which are the roots of all pervasive gender inequalities. This unequal division of unpaid work between women and men is unfair and unjust and it deprives women of equal opportunities as men.

For political parties to recognise this work is a positive development, and the demand for wages for housewives has emerged from this concern. However, its implementation may create problems such as affordability of the government and calculation of the amounts. Women may not be eager to enter the labour maket. More important, these wages may confirm unpaid work as women’s work only, which would deny opportunities to women in the wider world. Payment of pension to old women (60+ years) may be a better idea to compensate them for their unpaid work.

What the government could do

What governments could do is recognise this unpaid work in the national database by a sound time-use survey and use the data in national policies. Also, they could relieve women’s burden of unpaid work by improving technology (e.g. better fuel for cooking), better infrastructure (e.g. water at the doorstep), shifting some unpaid work to the mainstream economy (e.g. childcare, care of the disabled, and care of the chronically sick), and by making basic services (e.g. health and transportation) accessible to women. Also, they could redistribute the work between men and women by providing different incentives and disincentives to men (e.g. mandatory training of men in housework, childcare, etc.) and financial incentives for sharing housework. These measures will give free time to women and open up new opportunities to them.

Unpaid work and the economy

What is critical is to understand the linkages between unpaid work and the economy. The household produces goods and services for its members, and if GDP is a measure of the total production and consumption of the economy, it has to incorporate this work by accepting the household as a sector of the economy.

At the macro level, unpaid work subsidises the private sector by providing it a generation of workers (human capital) and takes care of wear and tear of labour who are family members. The private sector would have paid much higher wages and earned lower profits in the absence of unpaid work. Unpaid work also subsidises the government by taking care of the old, sick and the disabled. The state would have spent huge amounts in the absence of unpaid work. Unpaid work is a privately produced public good which is critical for the sustenance of the mainstream economy. This work, therefore, needs to be integrated with the mainstream economy and policies. It will be up to public policies then to improve the productivity of unpaid workers, reduce their burden, and tap their potential in development, as the household could also be an important economic sector.

By excluding this work from the economy, macroeconomics shows a clear male bias. It is not surprising that many economists call economics “a wrongly conceived discipline” that is narrow, partial and truncated. There is an urgent need to expand the purview of economics not only for gender justice but mainly for moving towards a realistic economics.

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