Daily Current Affairs 24.08.2022 (Reinvigorating the Chabahar port, Acculturation, Sex ratio at birth normalises slightly: study, DRDO, Indian Navy test indigenous missile, The case of the missing scientific Indian, The implications of the 5G roll-out for law enforcement, Are freebies a way to mask state inaction?)

Daily Current Affairs 24.08.2022 (Reinvigorating the Chabahar port, Acculturation, Sex ratio at birth normalises slightly: study, DRDO, Indian Navy test indigenous missile, The case of the missing scientific Indian, The implications of the 5G roll-out for law enforcement, Are freebies a way to mask state inaction?)


1. Reinvigorating the Chabahar port

Why has interest in the Iran-based port suddenly spiked? How has the port construction progressed so far?

The Union Minister of Ports, Shipping & Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal visited Chabahar on August 20. Mr. Sonowal reviewed the progress in the work on the terminal and handed over six mobile harbour cranes “to improve efficiency”.

The Chabahar plan had three main objectives — to build India’s first offshore port; to circumvent trade through Pakistan; and to find an alternative land route to Afghanistan. A fourth strategy has also emerged wherein the government hopes to provide Central Asia with an alternate route to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The development of the Shahid Beheshti terminal in Chabahar has hit geopolitical road-block after road-block; the biggest issue being Iran’s relationship with western countries, especially the U.S.

Suhasini Haidar

The story so far: After months of what appeared to be a “go-slow”, the Union government has revved up its interest in using Iran’s Chabahar port to connect to Afghanistan and Central Asia for trade, with the visit of the Union Minister of Ports, Shipping & Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal to the port on August 20.

Why is Chabahar back in the news?

Ahead of the visit to Iran, where Mr. Sonowal met with senior Ministers as well as officials connected to the Shahid Beheshti terminal project development, an official statement said that the visit would be a chance to “strengthen ties and the maritime relationship” between the two countries. “Due to [the] pandemic, there were less number of visits from India to Iran and vice-versa… This visit will also highlight the importance of Chabahar as a gateway for Indian trade with Europe, Russia and CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries,” the statement said. During the Chabahar visit, Mr. Sonowal reviewed the progress in the work on the terminal and handed over six mobile harbour cranes “to improve efficiency” and “invigorate the potential of Chabahar” in the loading and unloading operations at the port.

What is India’s strategic vision for Chabahar?

When the first agreement for Chabahar was signed by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003, the plan had a three-fold objective: to build India’s first offshore port and to project Indian infrastructure prowess in the Gulf; to circumvent trade through Pakistan, given the tense ties with India’s neighbour and build a long term, sustainable sea trade route; and to find an alternative land route to Afghanistan, which India had rebuilt ties with after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001.

Subsequently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government constructed the Zaranj -Delaram Highway in Afghanistan’s South, which would help connect the trade route from the border of Iran to the main trade routes to Herat and Kabul, handing it over to the Karzai government in 2009.

In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Tehran and signed the agreement to develop Chabahar port, as well as the trilateral agreement for trade through Chabahar with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani. Since the India Ports Global Chabahar Free Zone (IPGCFZ) authority took over the operations of the port in 2018, it has handled 215 vessels, 16,000 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) and four million tons of bulk and general cargo, the government said in Parliament last month.

In the last few years, a fourth strategic objective for the Chabahar route has appeared, with China’s Belt and Road Initiative making inroads in the region. The government hopes to provide Central Asia with an alternate route to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Iran for future trade. Speaking a few days earlier on the occasion of a “Chabahar Day” function in Mumbai, Mr. Sonowal said that it is India’s vision to make the Shahid Beheshti port a “a transit hub” and link it to the International North South Trade Corridor (INSTC), that also connects to Russia and Europe.

Why is the Chabahar dream taking so long to realise?

Since the beginning, the development of the Shahid Beheshti terminal in Chabahar as well as surrounding infrastructure has hit geopolitical road-block after road-block; the biggest issue has been over Iran’s relationship with western countries, especially the United States. In years when western sanctions against Iran increased, the Chabahar project has been put on the back-burner, while in the years when nuclear talks that resulted in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015 came into being, the Chabahar port has been easier to work on. In 2018, the U.S. Trump administration put paid to India’s plans by walking out of the JCPOA and slapping new sanctions on dealing with Iran. This led to the Modi government “zeroing out” all its oil imports from Iran, earlier a major supplier to India, causing a strain in ties. Despite the fact that the U.S. made a special “carve-out” on sanctions for Chabahar, on the ground, it has been difficult to source equipment for the port construction from infrastructure companies that continue to fear secondary sanctions, as well as to engage shipping and insurance companies for trade through Chabahar.

The Modi government also snapped ties with Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August 2021, which put an end to the humanitarian aid of wheat and pulses that was being sent to Kabul via Chabahar. When India restarted wheat aid to Afghanistan this year, it negotiated with Pakistan to use the land route instead.

With the government now reopening the Indian Embassy in Kabul, and establishing ties with the Taliban government, it is possible that the Chabahar route will once again be employed, another reason for the recent flurry of activity at the Iranian port terminal that India has pinned so many hopes on.

2. Acculturation

A sociological concept that explains the changes that occur when two or more groups come in contact with each other and exchange aspects of their cultures

The concept of acculturation was coined in 1880 by American geologist John Wesley Powel. Acculturation is defined as the process in which a person or group from one culture comes in contact with another culture, adopting the values and practices of the other while still retaining their own distinct identity.

Sociologists understand acculturation as a two-way process, wherein the minority culture adopts aspects of the majority to fit in and the culture of the majority is also influenced by that of the minority.

India, with its distinctive fusion of various cultures, has archetypes that present us with a deeper understanding of the concept of acculturation. The Urdu language, a blend of Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hindi, is a beautiful example of the amalgamation and transmutation of cultures.

Rebecca Rose Varghese

The concept of acculturation was coined in 1880 by American geologist John Wesley Powel in a report for the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology. He defined it as the psychological changes induced in people due to cross-cultural imitation, resulting from the interaction with different cultures. At present, acculturation is defined as the process in which a person or group from one culture comes in contact with another culture, adopting the values and practices of the other while still retaining their own distinct identity.

A two-way process

The most prevalent use of the concept is in relation to the cultural exchange between a minority group, that migrates to a new society, with a predominant majority group. The concept became popular among American sociologists in the early 20th century as they analysed the integration of immigrants into American society. The study by W.I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki in 1918 on Polish immigrants in Chicago, resulted in a better understanding of the concept of assimilation — a process in which groups adopt a new culture that virtually replaces their original culture, leaving only traces behind. On the other hand, the study on Black Americans within white American society gave researchers insight into the concept of acculturation.

Sociologists understand acculturation as a two-way process, wherein the minority culture adopts aspects of the majority to fit in and the culture of the majority is also influenced by that of the minority. Acculturation affects various aspects of life, including dietary patterns, fashion, art, architecture, work culture, and literature. The process can occur at both individual and group levels, as well as between groups that may not be a majority or a minority in society.

Outcomes of acculturation

Though used interchangeably by most, acculturation is different from the concept of assimilation. Assimilation is just one of the many eventual outcomes of acculturation. Depending on the strategies adopted by individuals or groups involved in a cultural exchange, acculturation may result in rejection, integration, marginalisation or transmutation. Moreover, since cultures are ever-evolving, the outcomes of the process may transform with time.

Assimilation refers to the process by which individuals or groups eventually become indistinguishable from the culture they came in contact with. It occurs when the importance given to one’s culture is minuscule and where ‘fitting in’ is given high significance, deeming it necessary for survival in a new cultural space. This outcome is likely to occur in societies that are “melting pots” into which new members are absorbed.

Separation refers to the process wherein an individual/group comes in contact with a new cultural group, but does not embrace aspects of the new culture, as they wish to maintain their own unique identity without being ‘contaminated’ by the values and norms of another culture. The rejection of a new culture while maintaining one’s own traditions and customs usually occurs in culturally or racially segregated societies.

Under integration, an individual/group adapts to a new culture while maintaining their original culture. Here cultural adoption is considered significant for the smooth functioning of society. Such a strategy is used in a multicultural society with a relatively high proportion of minority groups. Individuals or groups who use this strategy can switch between the values and norms of the different cultures they have absorbed to interact with groups from both cultures with ease.

Marginalisation occurs when individuals/groups barely interact with a new cultural group. This strategy results in the isolation of the person or group, pushing them aside to the corners of society, forgotten by the rest. In a society where cultural exclusion is practised, it becomes almost impossible to interact and integrate with a different cultural group due to the barriers created between the two.

Transmutation is the process in which importance is placed on both, maintaining one’s own culture while also adopting aspects of a new culture. But instead of integrating and switching between the codes and conducts of two different cultures, the cultures are amalgamated into creating a new one. Thus, a unique blend of two cultures creates a new one that is accepted by both individuals or groups.

Indian fusion

India, with its distinctive fusion of various cultures, has archetypes that present us with a deeper understanding of the concept of acculturation and its outcomes. Persian culture, for instance, has influenced almost all aspects of Indian society. The origins of popular food items like biriyanis and faloodas and spices like saffron, and cumin seeds which have become part of our lives, can be traced back to Persian origins. The Urdu language, a blend of Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hindi, is a beautiful example of the amalgamation and transmutation of cultures.

There are interesting examples that portray the process of acculturation between the Hindu and Christian cultures in the country. The architectures of Christian Churches in Kerala like the Cheriapally (small church) in Kottayam or the Pazhaya Suriyani Pally (old Syrian church) in Chengannur have marks of Hindu architectural styles. Sculptures of Christian deities inside a lotus similar to that of Hindu deities, sculptures of animals like cows, elephants, and monkeys carved onto the church walls, and the use of nilavilakku or traditional temple lamps in churches are examples of the integration of Hindu and Christian traditions and cultures in Indian society.

Acculturation is an inevitable social process, as migration and interactions with different cultures have always been part of the evolution of civilisation. Such interactions have become a part of our daily lives due to the multi-cultural nature of present society. Acculturation allows us to learn and understand new aspects of various cultures and appreciate their differences. Resentment toward other cultures and the belief that one’s heritage is superior can result in the marginalisation and separation of different cultures, ultimately disrupting the functioning of a society. A harmonious exchange of cultures between various groups is imperative for a peaceful society.

3. Sex ratio at birth normalises slightly: study

It fell from 111 boys per 100 girls in 2011 to 108 boys in 2019-21, says Pew report

The latest study by the Pew Research Center has pointed out that “son bias” is on the decline in India as the average annual number of baby girls “missing” in the country fell from 480,000 (4.8 lakh) in 2010 to 410,000 (4.1 lakh) in 2019. The “missing” refers to how many more female births would have occurred during this time if there were no female-selective abortions.

The problem began in the 1970s with the availability prenatal diagnostic technology allowing for sex selective abortions. Among the major religions, the biggest reduction in sex selection seems to be among the groups that previously had the greatest gender imbalances, particularly among Sikhs.

The world over, boys modestly outnumber girls at birth, at a ratio of approximately 105 male babies for every 100 female babies. That was the ratio in India in the 1950s and 1960s, before prenatal sex tests became available across the country. India legalised abortion in 1971, but the trend of sex selection started picking up in the 1980s due to the introduction of ultrasound scan technology. In the 1970s, India’s sex ratio was at par with the global average of 105-100, but this widened to 108 boys per 100 girls in the early 1980s, and reached 110 boys per 100 girls in the 1990s. 

“From a large imbalance of about 111 boys per 100 girls in India’s 2011 census, the sex ratio at birth appears to have normalised slightly over the last decade, narrowing to about 109 in the 2015-16 wave of the National Family Health Survey and to 108 boys in the latest wave of the NFHS, conducted from 2019-21,” the report says.

The Pew Research Center report points out that between 2000 and 2019, nine crore female births went “missing” because of female-selective abortions. The report has also analysed religion-wise sex selection, pointing out that the gap was the highest for Sikhs. “In the 2001 census, Sikhs had a sex ratio at birth of 130 males per 100 females, far exceeding that year’s national average of 110. By the 2011 census, the Sikh ratio had narrowed to 121 boys per 100 girls. It now hovers around 110, about the same as the ratio of males to females at birth among the country’s Hindu majority (109), according to the latest NFHS,” the report says.

Both Christians (105 boys to 100 girls) and Muslims (106 boys to 100 girls) have sex ratios close to the natural norm, and this trend is holding.

The study points out that while the Sikhs make up less than 2% of the Indian population, they accounted for an estimated 5%, or approximately 440,000 (4.4 lakh), of the nine crore baby girls who went “missing” in India between 2000 and 2019. The share of “missing” girls among Hindus is above their respective population share.

4. DRDO, Indian Navy test indigenous missile

VL-SRSAM can target aerial threats

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Indian Navy on Tuesday successfully flight-tested the indigenously developed Vertical Launch Short Range Surface-to-Air Missile (VL-SRSAM) from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur off the coast of Odisha.

The VL-SRSAM, a ship-borne weapon system, is meant for neutralising various aerial threats at close ranges, including sea-skimming targets, and was last test-fired in June.

“The flight test was carried out from an Indian naval ship against a high-speed unmanned aerial target for demonstration of vertical launch capability. The missiles, equipped with indigenous Radio Frequency (RF) seeker, intercepted the target with high accuracy,” a Defence Ministry statement said.

During the test launch, flight path and vehicle performance parameters were monitored using flight data captured by various range instruments, the statement said.

The launch was monitored by senior scientists from various DRDO labs involved in the design and development of the system.

Vertical Launch Short Range Surface-to-Air Missile (VL-SRSAM):

  • It is a quick reaction surface-to-air-missile indigenously designed and developed by DRDO for the Indian Navy, is meant for neutralising various aerial threats at close ranges, including sea-skimming targets.
  • The missile has an operational range of 50 to km distance and features mid-course inertial guidance through fiber optic gyroscope and active radar homing in terminal phase
  • The launch of the system was conducted to validate integrated operation of all weapon system components, including the vertical launcher unit with controller, canisterised flight vehicle and weapon control system.
  • The successful testing of these systems is crucial for future launches of the missile from Indian Naval ships.
  • It will further boost the defence capability of Indian Naval Ships against aerial threats. It has also paved the way for integration of weapon systems onboard the Indian naval ships.

5. Editorial-1: The case of the missing scientific Indian

India has failed to propagate scientific literacy not only among the public, but also among scientists themselves

This 75th year of Independence is a major milestone for India; a time to take stock of the developments in various spheres over the last seven decades. Sadly, with some notable exceptions such as this newspaper, the print and electronic media have not really taken stock of what has happened to science education in this country. While politicians, writers, artists, actors and other celebrities have been given their due, science and scientists seem to have been largely ignored. The general apathy towards science, and the lack of scientific temper among the public and politicians, is a poor commentary on the Indian sensibility.

The loss of a scientific temper

Although India has made some significant scientific advances in research fields such as molecular biology, agricultural/pharmaceutical science, and solid-state chemistry, and some creditable leaps in space, nuclear science, and information technology, it has failed to propagate scientific literacy not only among the public, but also among scientists themselves. Parliament underscored our commitment to propagate scientific temper by including it as a duty in Article 51A of the Constitution through the 42nd Amendment. Article 51A says, “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.”

But despite these efforts, scientific temper has continued to remain a lofty ideal and has not really percolated into society. This has left much of our national psyche a prisoner of obscurantism and paved the way for retrogressive religion-based politics at the expense of constitutionally guaranteed secular values. A solid foundation for modern science was built by scientists in the 1950s and 1960s, facilitated by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. So, what went wrong?

A part of the problem may lie with scientists themselves and the science academies they belong to. Scientists half-heartedly stood up for scientific causes, even when the situations demanded that they fully do so. The eminent molecular biologist, Pushpa Bhargava, in an article titled ‘Scientists without a scientific temper’ in The Hindu on January 17, 2015, said, “…The bulk of scientists in the country, including many who were occupying high positions, were themselves not committed to scientific temper which calls for rationality, reason and lack of belief in any dogma, superstition or manifest falsehood.”

In 1994, Bhargava resigned from all the three academies — the Indian National Science Academy, the Indian Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences — protesting their lack of commitment to “science-related social problems”. He also wrote in the 2015 article that India had not produced any Nobel Prize winner in science since 1930 “largely because of the lack of a scientific environment in the country, of which scientific temper would be an important component.” Like sport, which requires an athletic culture, science will flourish only if a scientific temper is generated across the country. It is the job of the science academies to chip in and inspire the country to attain greater science literacy among the public. This will perhaps better justify their existence.

Pseudoscience is everywhere

Several years ago, when some Christian revivalist groups in the U.S. were fighting tooth and nail to bring Creationism into the science curriculum as an alternate theory to the scientific theory of origin of human species, the National Academy of Sciences released a statement. It concluded, “No body of beliefs that has its origin in doctrinal material rather than scientific observation, interpretation, and experimentation should be admissible as science in any science course. Incorporating the teaching of such doctrines into a science curriculum compromises the objectives of public education. Science has been greatly successful at explaining natural processes, and this has led not only to increased understanding of the universe but also to major improvements in technology and public health and welfare. The growing role that science plays in modern life requires that science, and not religion, be taught in science classes.”

Pseudoscience is everywhere, whether in denying the science of climate change or the evolution theory that explains the secret of diversity that we see around us. India is no exception in providing a fertile ground for pseudoscience to prevail. Many attempts have been made to include pseudoscience in science curricula here. Last year, a course in astrology was introduced in a national open university. There is official backing of the theory that cow excreta has therapeutic properties despite no scientific validation of this. Official circulars quote ancient texts to support the curative properties of cow urine for ailments. Would our science academies express a critical attitude in such situations? Although we made bold steps in developing an ambience of science, we faltered after the 1960s, primarily because our leadership lacked a sense of destiny. This was compounded by India’s intelligentsia, who were more interested in self-aggrandisement, and by an unimaginative rule-bound bureaucracy.

Onslaught of disinformation

“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge,” wrote Carl Sagan. Simplifying the intricacies of science in a format that is best understood by the public is an art. But we also have to make our compatriots appreciate the role of science as a reasoning strategy that will help people take evidence-based decisions against the current onslaught of fake news, conspiracy theories and manufactured ‘truths’ — the downside of the information revolution. The irrationality that produces a warped world view is not a new thing, but dissemination of such material is faster and reaches millions of consumers in seconds thanks to Information Technology. We are also seeing how disinformation weakens human rights and many elements of democracy.

We are up against a whole load of cognitive biases that encourage pseudoscience. The scientists who became celebrated communicators in the western world — Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg, Stephen Jay Gould, Carlo Rovelli, Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Jim Al-Khalili — and our own scientists — Yash Pal, Pushpa Bhargava and Jayant Narlikar — have been hammering on one single predominant idea, which is to develop a knack for critical thinking using the time-tested and highly successful methodologies followed in science.

How do we explain this refusal of politicians and administrators to move away from their blind beliefs even while such beliefs are stacked against scientifically proven facts? How do we explain the refusal to see objective reality as well as the tendency to cling to one’s own beliefs even after receiving contradictory evidence? The less people know, the more they perceive themselves to be experts these days. This is thanks to a combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability. Conversely, the more people know about something, the more uncertain they become and end up as the biblical ‘doubting Thomas’.

This 75th year of Independence should not be merely a flag-waving event, marked by self-congratulatory notes and speeches of achievements or ancient greatness. It should be seen as an opportunity for India to critically assess its successes and failures and prepare for a promising future. Science and scientific literacy have a key role in bringing home that future.

6. Editorial-2: The implications of the 5G roll-out for law enforcement

With a shaky cyber security foundation, the impact on crime and criminals could be serious

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced that 5G deployment in India will commence sooner than expected. Reports suggest that the government will launch 5G at the inauguration of the India Mobile Congress on September 29. The long-awaited upgrade from 4G to 5G will allow ultra-fast Internet speeds and seamless connectivity across the country compared to 4G. The implications of the 5G roll-out could be significant, particularly for law enforcement in India.

Ensuring security

On the one hand, the 5G roll-out is set to enhance efficiency, productivity, and security by helping the police access critical information in real-time and nab criminals. 5G has high bandwidth and low latency, so its adoption would ensure the best performance of police devices such as body cams, facial recognition technology, automatic number-plate recognition, drones, and CCTVs. 5G promises to transmit clearer images. This will simplify the task of the police who, at present, often look at hazy images from devices and attempt to decipher them while working on cases. The increased storage capacity promised by 5G will allow the police to streamline their investigation methods. 5G will also allow rapid and secure communication within the organisation as well as between civilians and emergency responders. With 5G, the police can remotely access and analyse crime data and information from other infrastructure such as traffic lights.

But there are challenges in adopting 5G. The government and telecommmunication companies must first ensure that law enforcement agencies have the necessary infrastructure to take full advantage of all that 5G can offer. Even if law enforcement agencies get access to secure data from telecom operators, they will still need tools to access this data. Also, most police systems are outdated and may not be compatible with 5G. To bridge this technology gap, the police must invest in modern tools, software and infrastructure. They require funds to do this.

Cyber security concerns

As many have pointed out, there are many concerns about 5G too. The first is, of course, cyber security. Deploying 5G when we have a shaky cyber security foundation is like erecting a structure on soft sand. As the previous networks were hardware-based, India could practise cyber hygiene. But 5G is a software-defined digital routing. This makes it susceptible to cyber threats such as botnet attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) overloads. Besides, as 5G lacks end-to-end encryption, hackers can plot their attacks more precisely and perpetrate cybercrimes by hacking into systems or disseminating illegal content. The bandwidth expansion due to 5G will enable criminals to embezzle data bases easily. With time, as 5G connects with additional devices, the frequency of attacks could increase.

The impact that the roll-out of 5G in India could have on crime and criminals is pretty obvious and should be taken seriously. For example, a person could set up a fake 5G tower on top of a public building and manipulate it to intercept private phone calls or send fake messages. Or he could steal a person’s phone, sign in to his 5G connection with an existing account, gain access to the person’s data or make purchases using the person’s credit card. Criminals could use 5G to conceal their activities or mask their location. They could use 5G to locate their victims quickly and track their movements and coordinate onslaughts through real-time communication with each other. There could be a lower probability of criminals getting caught when they commit identity theft or credit card fraud or steal information from computers, smartphones and tablets.

5G may also make it easier for criminals to perpetrate cyber bullying. Criminal groups may be able to easily coordinate DDoS onslaughts because of the real-time communication capabilities between multiple criminal groups. They could also hack into Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices and remotely commit crimes. For example, they could hack into a victim’s vehicle and cause an accident in order to collect insurance money, or hack into smart homes and smart cars to loot personal information, or inflict physical crimes. Security patching of all IoT devices may eventually become necessary.

Terrorists, too, could benefit from 5G as the high speed would allow them to execute attacks more rapidly and precisely. With 5G, terrorists can plan attacks without having to travel physically or use telephones, which could leave a trail for law enforcement agencies to act on.

Fighting new-age crimes

Therefore, authorities will have to adopt measures to hinder crimes facilitated by 5G technology. First, the police will need to be trained so that they recognise new 5G-enabled crimes. Second, training programmes focusing on such crimes must be developed. This includes identifying potential scenarios for new types of crimes and their prevention. Third, the government and telecom companies could think of setting up a 5G crime monitoring task force to monitor and identify new crimes and develop countermeasures. Fourth, it is imperative to create regulations that make it a crime for people to use 5G technology to commit crimes. Such a regulation could help prevent criminals from using stolen or counterfeit equipment since telecom companies will be able to track the location of the equipment and shut it down remotely. Fifth, regulations may also require telecom companies to allow police officers access to their equipment to track the location of victims and perpetrators of 5G-facilitated crimes for countermeasures. These countermeasures may not only safeguard critical infrastructure but also defend private citizens from cyber-attacks using 5G technology. Finally, law enforcement agencies will have to evolve strategies to identify victims of 5G-facilitated crimes, locate them and take action against the perpetrators of such crimes.

The 5G roll-out will be a game-changer for law enforcement agencies. It will enable the police fight crime effectively. At the same time, criminal use of 5G is inevitable. In this context, the recent recommendation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to the government to develop a national road map for India to implement 5G in the best possible manner should encompass law enforcement requirements.

7. Editorial-3: Are freebies a way to mask state inaction?

Ultimately, the voter suffers in the form of higher taxes or the opportunity cost of less development

In March 2021, Thulam Saravanan, a legislative Assembly candidate for the Madurai South constituency in Tamil Nadu, offered extraordinary sops such as ₹1 crore and a car worth ₹20 lakh for each household, a robot for every homemaker, ₹1 crore to youth looking to start a business, a 100-day trip to the moon, a 300-feet artificial glacier to keep people cool etc. He lost the polls. Nevertheless, his promises weren’t far off from those of the major political parties in power. In promising freebies, parody has increasingly meshed with reality.

All political parties offer freebies now. In 1967, DMK founder C.N. Annadurai promised a ₹4.5 kg bag of rice at ₹1 if his party was elected to power. His campaign, for “three measures of rice for ₹1”, saw the party sweep the elections. The party could provide just 1 kg of rice for ₹1 instead. Once launched, the scheme continued to grow, with ₹146 crore allocated in July 2020 to provide 5 kg of free rice per person to all PMKAY cardholders in Tamil Nadu.

Over time, freebies expanded beyond rice, to gas stoves, colour TVs, laptops, payments for household work etc. Spreading beyond Tamil Nadu, the trend has caught on in other States as well – the Delhi government has notably offered water and electricity (up to a certain limit) free for the city’s voters; the Himachal Pradesh government is offering locals free power upto 125 units, along with free water in villages and a 50% discount in bus fares for women; in Assam, the State government has announced direct and indirect cash benefit schemes worth ₹6,000 crore impacting nine lakh beneficiaries. This begs the question – has an entitlement mentality been encouraged, creating a cradle-to-grave welfare state?

Of course, welfarism as a political philosophy has long roots – whether in the West or in India. Our political economy is riven with such schemes – whether one calls them freebies, loan write-offs, waivers or simply direct transfers.

Every year, governments at the Centre and State expand the distribution of private goods such as LPG cylinders to ordinary citizens, while offering subsidies and in some cases covering the full cost. Does a shift to such policies mean that Indian policymakers have simply given up on tackling poverty and inequality? Instead of pushing for building public assets, social capacity and society, India’s policymakers seem to have pivoted towards direct transfers and welfarism (via distribution of private goods for free). Is the state only going to be compensatory in nature in the future, in lieu of government inaction and a lack of focus on delivering good public services?

Costs and consequences

Over time, such frivolous promises have had consequences – Andhra Pradesh annually spends close to ₹1.62 lakh crore across various such schemes; the push in Punjab to offer free electricity to 51 lakh households will inevitably add to the unpaid dues to the tune of ₹7,117 crore of the State discom (Shroff, Kaushal, August 2022); five States, namely Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab are noted to have raised ₹47,316 crore over a period of two years by mortgaging public assets (Batra, Shubham, August 2022).

Many States will find recently announced freebies difficult to fund – for example Andhra Pradesh announced freebies in FY23 that would consume almost 30.3% of its own tax revenue; for Madhya Pradesh, this figure was close to 28.8%; for Punjab this was around 45.4%; and for West Bengal, it came to 23.8% (RBI Bulletin, June 2022). Over the past five years, banks have written off loans worth ₹10 lakh crore, with the share of public sector banks in such NPA write-offs typically between 60% and 80%. And yet, the freebie culture continues to be promoted.

Of course, not every scheme or manifesto promise is a freebie – some parties may offer free electricity, LPG cylinders, public transportation and loan waivers; other schemes are more focused on the development and capital expenditure.

Free food at schools for students, as offered under the mid-day meal scheme, should not be classified as a freebie, given that it helps improve the health of our children. Under K. Kamaraj, the third Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, the mid-day meal scheme was launched in municipality schools, with funding coming mostly from public donations (later supplemented by Centre and State funds). The impact was immediate, with student attendance going up twofold on days when the mid-day meal scheme was in place. Any scheme that offers significantly positive social externality (compared to other initiatives) should not be considered a freebie.

Reforming this will require initiatives on multiple tracks. Governments (whether State or Centre) announcing freebies should be required to provide a funding plan to bolster Parliament (and State Assembly) budgetary understanding and enhance their ability to act. A Budgetary Office should be established to aid in writing policies and conducting budgetary analysis.

The way out

Given the difficulty in classifying a scheme as “essential” or a “freebie”, governments should be statutorily bound towards key financial indicators such as government debt-to-GDP ratio, revenue expenditure as a percentage of government income, revenue collection efficiency etc. Transfers towards capital expenditure schemes should be prioritised over other schemes. Banning political parties for promising freebies would be a step too far and hence, the Election Commission should push political parties to provide a funding mechanism for such promises.

More importantly, we need to have a conversation within and between political parties. Making such promises is an insult to voters, when many such promises are simply left unfulfilled. Meanwhile, for those promises that are fulfilled, over time the ordinary voter has to pay the cost in the form of higher taxes or the opportunity cost of less development. Changing this political culture will require governments to stick to fiscal probity and make credible policies — something that has been rarely seen in our polity. Enacting a scheme to win the next election, while enabling generational theft is something that should be taboo.

There should be a debate on this culture of entitlement among the voters as well. They have been disappointed for so long with Indian policymakers that they would rather seek short-term benefits instead of a push to build state capacity in a way that meaningfully improves their lives. A different state and society could emerge through such conversations – one which provides a network of competent public hospitals, high-quality schools and provides an enabling environment for the working population to build skills, save up and invest. Rejuvenating India must be our singular aim for the next quarter century.

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