1. Should India worry about endemicity of COVID-19?
‘At the moment we have to calibrate when we have to launch an outbreak-like response… vaccination should remain a public health activity’
Has COVID-19 become endemic or not, that is the question. While the world over, the debate rages on whether COVID-19 has reached an endemic phase, in India there seems to be broad consensus that it has in the country, though epidemiologists might have taken various paths to get there.
Interestingly, another question, whether endemicity is significant at all in the current context, is also cresting this wave of discussion among professionals, and might even take over the debate in the not so near future.
Dr. Jacob John, retired Professor of virology, Christian Medical College, Vellore, says the terms endemic and epidemic are based on patterns, and no one has attempted yet to post numbers that could establish the stage the SARS-CoV-2 virus is at currently. However, he uses a comparison with the numbers of the past, more a rule of thumb criteria to argue that the infection has entered the endemic stage in India.
Considering the seven-day average of cases during the peak of the epidemic, the daily numbers have not crossed the 10% of that figure since the decline in numbers began, he points out. Despite the rise in cases in the past few days, the number has remained below 10% of the seven-day average of cases during the peak of Omicron, Dr. John says.
“If you look at Bharat COVID-19 or World-o-meter, the disturbances in the flat line since the drop have been very minor,” he says, adding that similar to what happens in an epidemic, the numbers have been going up only in certain cities in Maharashtra, Kerala, Delhi and Tamil Nadu. “It is still virtually a flat line.” Even when a disease is in the endemic stage, there can be seasonal outbreaks, and the spike in cases that a few cities in India are seeing now, could be equated to that, he reasons.
Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, epidemiologist and public policy and health systems specialist, treads another path to arrive at his conclusion. Endemic and pandemic are all academic terms, not dependent solely on scientific parameters, he says. He draws attention away from the endemic-pandemic binary to a more experiential angle. “We know the extent of social and economic impact that COVID-19 had on the world. So, I believe that the idea is for societies to agree that the infection is an acceptable risk, as some countries are already doing so, despite the numbers going up. None of these countries are saying the disease is endemic, but they are saying life is returning to normal.”
Dr. Lahariya also says it is his firm belief that it is irrelevant to India to debate endemicity or not of the virus in the country. “We should approach it from the practical position of ‘acceptable risk’ — of whether or not it is disrupting social and economic life in the country.” India has reached a stage wherein the virus is not creating great havoc in terms of death or morbidity. “Three years down the line, a nation could look back and mark the point of time in which it turned endemic, but it is not logical or practical to look for these signs now,” he explains.
While he advances the view that the disease is no longer a population-level public health challenge, but rather an individual one, and recommends that our responses change appropriately, once again professionals are split in their opinion on this too. While Dr. Lahariya recommends protection of the vulnerable, continued economic surveillance, tracking the parameters (but don’t worry) and COVID-19 appropriate behaviour, he believes that the onus has moved on to the individual, from the health system.
“I agree with the view that endemic or not, our action right now must be linked to where we are in terms of vaccination coverage (public health coverage), and continuing surveillance,” says Dr. Prabhdeep Kaur, Deputy Director, ICMR- National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai. “This virus is fascinating in terms of its evolution, it keeps springing surprises on us. It is not like anything we have read in our textbooks.”
At present, she says, COVID-19 does not conform to the textbook definition — by being present all over the world, though it waxes and wanes. That is probably why, she reasons, epidemiologists find themselves ranged on different points of the endemicity spectrum.
“The point is if we know that a disease in a community is present at a certain level, we do not have to react to it. There are different thresholds for different diseases and they also may be seasonal thresholds, but we have not been able to establish the threshold for COVID-19, because of several reasons – including changing practices for testing and surveillance. At the moment we have to calibrate when we have to launch an outbreak-like response,” she adds.
COVID will continue to remain a disease of importance that has the ability to cause outbreaks, Dr. Kaur explains, listing why she believes vaccination should continue to be a public health activity.
If we fail to do this, there is potential to cause great damage in terms of mortality and morbidity. Dr. John says: “Somehow vaccination in India seems to have lost steam along the way. People are now asking why vaccinate when the peak is over. And as far as the government goes, the outreach and public education activity on why a booster dose is required, has not been sufficient. There is a difference between individual vaccine for averting risk, and a population-based vaccine. We still have to focus on the latter.”
2. G7 proposes $600-bn global infra plan to rival China
The G7 group on Sunday announced an attempt to compete with China’s formidable Belt and Road Initiative by raising $600 billion for global infrastructure programmes in poor countries.
The Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, unveiled with fanfare by U.S. President Joe Biden and G7 allies from Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Union, aims to fill a huge gap left as communist China uses its economic clout to stretch diplomatic tentacles into the furthest reaches of the world.
Mr. Biden said the target was for the U.S. to bring $200 billion to the table, with the rest of the G7 another $400 billion by 2027.
Funding the kinds of projects that China currently dominates — everything from roads to harbours in far-flung corners of the world — is not “aid or charity,” Mr. Biden said.
Highlighting the geostrategic thinking behind the G7 plan, Mr. Biden said such projects “deliver returns for everyone, including the American people and the people of all our nations.”
This is “a chance for us to share our positive vision for the future” and for other countries to “see for themselves the concrete benefits of partnering with democracies,” he said.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen echoed this, saying “it is up to us to give a positive, powerful investment impulse to the world, to show our partners in the developing world that they have a choice.”
Although China was not referred to by name, the rivalry loomed large over the leaders’ presentation, a relaunch of a first attempt at a Western infrastructure fund that Biden laid out during last year’s G7 summit in Britain.
Private firms in key role
Unlike China’s state-run BRI initiative, the proposed G7 funding would depend largely on private companies being willing to commit to massive investments and is therefore not guaranteed.
Meanwhile, the world powers on Sunday agreed to ban gold exports from Russia, at a G7 meeting designed to take fresh concerted action to deplete Moscow’s war chest.
They are seeking to close ranks for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion while grappling with the intensifying global fallout of the war.
“We have to stay together,” Mr. Biden told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
The G7 or the Group of Seven is a group of the seven most advanced economies as per the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The seven countries are Canada, the USA, UK, France, Germany, Japan and Italy.
History of the G7
- The concept of a forum for the world’s major industrialized countries emerged before the 1973 oil crisis.
- In 1975, a summit hosted by France brought together representatives of six governments: France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
- Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing were heads of government in their respective countries, and since they both spoke fluent English, it occurred to them that they, and British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and U.S. President Gerald Ford could get together in an informal retreat and discuss election results and the issues of the day.
- In late spring, d’Estaing of France invited the heads of government from West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States to a summit in Château de Rambouillet; the annual meeting of the six leaders was organized under a rotating presidency, forming the Group of Six (G6).
- The Group of Six (G6), consisting of leading industrial countries, met in 1975 for the first time to discuss the huge economic problems such as oil shock and the collapse of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system faced by the world in the 1970s.
- Canada joined the G6 group in 1976, which henceforth became Group of Seven (G7).
- Beyond discussing the economic problems, G7 started to show interests in foreign and security policy issues in the 1980s.
- The role of Russia:
- Following 1994’s G7 summit in Naples, Russian officials held separate meetings with leaders of the G7 after the group’s summits.
- This informal arrangement was dubbed the Political 8 (P8) – or, colloquially, the G7+1.
- At the invitation of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair and President of the United States Bill Clinton, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was invited first as a guest observer, later as a full participant.
- After the 1997 meeting, Russia was formally invited to the next meeting and formally joined the group in 1998, resulting in a new governmental political forum, the Group of Eight or G8. Despite not being a major economic power according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
- However, the Russia was ejected from the G8 political forum in March 2014, following its annexation of Crimea.
Composition of the G7
The G7 is composed of the seven wealthiest advanced countries. Various reports suggest that the G7 (without the European Union) represents above 62% of the global net wealth. Including the EU the G7 represents over 70% of the global net wealth.
Group of 7 – G7 Summit Participation:
- Summits are held annually and hosted on a rotation basis by the group’s members.
- The leaders of important international organizations like the European Union, IMF, World Bank and the United Nations are also invited.
- Aspirants can know in detail about all these organizations on the given links –
- World Bank
- International Monetary Fund IMF
- United Nations Organization – UNO
- European Unions – EU
- The groundwork for the summit, including matters to be discussed and follow-up meetings, is done by the “sherpas”, who are generally personal representatives of the Heads of State and of Government of the G7 countries such as ambassadors.
- Why China is not a member of the G7?
- The People’s Republic of China, according to its data, would be the second-largest with 16.4% of the world net wealth but is excluded because the IMF and other main global institutions do not consider China an advanced country and because of its relatively low net wealth per adult and HDI.
Challenges Faced by G7 Members
- There are a number of disagreements in the Group of 7 internally, e.g. clash of the USA with other members over taxes on imports and action on climate change.
- It is also facing a challenge from fast-growing emerging economies like India and Brazil are not members of the G7. However, In 1999, G20 was formed to bring more countries on board to address global economic concerns. You can know in detail about the G20 Summits in the link provided here.
- G7 The organization has also been criticized for not reflecting the current state of global politics or economics.
Facts about the members of G7
Here we give you some brief facts about a few members of G8 nations
- All the 7 are top-ranked advanced economies with the current largest GDP and with the highest national wealth (United States, Japan, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Canada).
- The G7 are among the 15 top-ranked countries with the highest net wealth per capita (United States, France, Japan, United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Germany).
- All the 7 are leaders when it comes to export
- 5 members of the G-7 have the largest proven reserves of gold (United States, Germany, Italy, France, Japan).
- All 5 of the members of the NATO Quint ( The Quint is the informal decision making body of NATO consisting of the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy) and Canada is also a member of Five Eyes intelligence gathering body with the U.S. and U.K.
- 6 of the 9 largest nuclear energy producers (United States, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, UK), although Germany announced in 2011 that it will close all of its nuclear power plants by 2022. Following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, Japan shut down all of its nuclear reactors. However, Japan restarted several nuclear reactors, with the refuelling of other reactors underway.
- There are no G7 members from Africa, Latin America, or the southern hemisphere.
The requirements to be a member of the G7 are a high net national wealth and a high HDI (Human Development Index). The G7 also accounts for 46% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) calculated at market exchange rates and also for 32% of the global PPP GDP.
3. Editorial-1: Making sense of New Delhi’s Taliban rapprochement
As a ‘civilisational state’ and inspiring global power, India cannot behave as a transactional, opportunistic salesman
The Pakistan-led coalition’s success and luck in toppling a United States-supported constitutional order in Afghanistan has brought to surface unexpected developments. While a growing number of the Taliban’s western and regional lobbyists are distancing themselves from their pyrrhic victory, India pulled a rabbit out of its diplomatic hat by sending a senior diplomatic delegation to the Taliban-occupied Kabul. The visit was the culmination of Delhi’s months of quiet diplomacy and signalling. Just hours after the Taliban’s takeover, in 2021, India was the first country to immediately ban all Afghans travelling to India, including students and patients with a valid Indian visa. In a significant but not widely-covered decision, India chose to abstain from the UN Security Council’s calling on the Taliban to open girl schools and continues to remain silent about a worsening situation in Afghanistan.
India’s apparent reorientation can be described and understood as an example of realpolitik, supremacy of national interest and a superficiality of “values” and “sentiments” in the Hobbesian world of international politics. India’s neutral stance on Russia’s entanglement in Ukraine reveals the Indian version of “First India” foreign policy.
However, Delhi’s flirtation with the Taliban raises a number of pertinent questions: What are India’s key strategic interests in Afghanistan? How can a potential India-Taliban rapprochement advance such interests? Does the Taliban have the intent and/or capacity to deliver on their promise and vice versa? How would India engage with the anti-Taliban constituencies? How will India’s aspiration to become a global power be served by aligning with an unacceptable regime such as the Taliban?
India as alliance’s target
Afghanistan is a security-centric concern, in particular, the nexus of Islamic militancy, illicit drugs and proxy warfare. India is a primary target for this alliance. The Taliban’s victory realised two important ideological and strategic goals of militant Islamists and their Pakistani patron: establishing a “pure Islamic Government” in the Heart of Asia and securing Pakistan’s “Strategic Depth”. The two concepts are necessary pre-conditions for attaining another long-held vision of Islamists, Ghazwa-e-Hind.
There are both historical precedents and existing infrastructure in support of the nexus of religious zealots, tribal warriors and imperial ambitions. Mahmud Ghaznavi was the first to recruit tribal warriors from today’s Afghanistan/Pakistan border region to attack and plunder India more than 1,000 years ago. The British applied a similar strategy in undermining and eventually toppling Afghanistan’s progressive King Amanullah Khan in the early 20th century. In its first war against India in 1948, Pakistan mobilised a tribal army to attack India.
The central pillar of the West’s anti-Soviet strategy in Afghanistan was to fund and support the Mujahideen via a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-led operation, named “Operation Cyclone”. Pakistan’s geo-strategic vision for Afghanistan is to create a “Greater Waziristan”, to be ruled by an isolated, ruthless and dogmatic Taliban’s reign, funded by United Nations/western humanitarian assistance. In return, Greater Waziristan” would become a major centre for producing, training and sheltering different brands of “tribal/Islamist warriors” for different markets. Afghanistan’s over 6,000 religious madrassas will be further incorporated into Pakistan’s plus 40,000 madrassas to create the world’s largest network of militancy-inspired educational institutions.
New Delhi also seems hopeful of capitalising on the personal grudge some Taliban commanders have against Pakistan and hence its wishful thinking to create an India-friendly faction within the Taliban. Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment has shown its ruthless and efficient way in dealing with dissident, “out-of-control” and “outdated” proxies. The fate of Pakistani politicians such as Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, or Pakistan’s Afghan proxies such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and former Taliban supreme leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour showed Pakistan’s zealous determination to maintain its monopoly on its proxies. India’s ruling party’s anti-Muslim inclinations have also provided additional ammunition to the advocates of “Ghazwa-e-Hind”.
The facts on the ground are often cited to justify a realistic foreign policy; a justification by those who advocate engagement with the Taliban. There are also other facts that should be taken into account. The U.S.’s peace agreement with the Taliban ended the U.S.’s half-hearted and confused hostility with the Taliban. It did not however terminate other drivers of the Afghan conflict. The following social media trends among Afghan users reveal the full picture of the sorrow conflict: SanctionPakistan; LetAfghanGirlsLearn; StopHazaraGenocide; StopTajikGenocide; PartitionAfghanistan. The Taliban have excluded all non-Taliban Pashtuns from public space as is shown by the house detention of former President Hamid Karzai; there are also systematic violations of the human rights of the non-Pashtun communities which amount to crime against humanity, and ethnic cleansing which borders on genocide. For the first time, the partition of the country into Pashtun-dominated and Farsiwan-dominated polities has, sadly, become political discourse among the Farsiwan constituencies.
Fallacy of ‘India First’
An “India First” policy seems to drive Delhi’s Taliban rapprochement. If so, it will destroy a central pillar of India’s foreign and security policy, the dismantling of the region’s “terrorist infrastructure”. The Taliban’s victory is the best product of this infrastructure. It would defy logic to be simultaneously critical of a production system while embracing its premium product. India as a “civilizational state” and an inspiring global power cannot behave as a bandwagoning, transactional, opportunistic salesman.
Notwithstanding India’s strategic hesitancy and caution during the last two decades in Afghanistan, it attained two important benchmarks of becoming an ideational and trustworthy partner. Many Afghans looked at India as an example of a fellow developing nation that overcame the many challenges of building and sustaining a functioning democratic polity. More importantly, India was seen as a sincere friend of Afghanistan, unlike many double-faced actors. Even for an “interest”-based foreign policy, it is counterproductive to lose the trust and goodwill of Afghans toward India by embracing a policy that is doomed to failure on multiple grounds.
Since August 15, 2021, Afghanistan has descended from a Pax Americana experiment to a “Pax Pakistana” ambition. The prospects for peace and stability in Afghanistan under a Pax Pakistana lordship are not feasible as Pakistan itself is overwhelmed by multiple internal and external challenges. Afghanistan needs a strong UN mandate, including a UN-led political transition process supported by a UN peace keeping/making force. India can lend its support to such endeavours which are worthy of its character, ambition and Afghanistan’s needs.
4. Editorial-2: Keep up the pressure
India must seek the extradition of Sajid Mir for his role in the Mumbai attacks
Reports in Pakistan’s newspapers, that a Pakistani court has convicted Sajid Majeed Mir, one of the men who planned the Mumbai 26/11 attacks, on terror financing charges, is welcome proof that the search for each of the masterminds must never be given up on. In the case of Mir, Pakistan’s security agencies had gone so far as to falsely declare him “dead”. He was reportedly sentenced to more than 15 years in jail and is serving his term in a Lahore jail. Mir, the LeT’s former deputy chief of “international operations”, has been wanted for his role in recruitment for the 26/11 attacks, being the handler for David Headley, who carried out the reconnaissance for the LeT during several visits to India, and for being in the Karachi “control room” during the Mumbai siege. Headley named Mir in his deposition to a U.S. court, after he was given a “plea bargain” by the U.S. government, as well as in depositions via video link for the 26/11 trial in India. Mir is also wanted for LeT conspiracies to attack a Danish newspaper accused of publishing blasphemous cartoons and bomb a nuclear installation in Australia. He was also convicted by a French court for recruiting LeT operatives, and is believed to have also recruited terror-volunteers in the “Virginia Paintball Jihad” case in the U.S. The timing of Mir’s conviction appears to be linked to the final stages of Pakistan’s grey listing at the FATF this June, that voted to allow on-site visits in Pakistan with a view to de-listing it in the next few months. While Mir is not actually on the UN Security Council’s 1267 list of terror-designated individuals that the FATF is mandated to pursue, the West has frequently brought his name up at FATF proceedings in demanding that Pakistan successfully convict leaders of terrorist groups.
If Mir is in fact behind bars, New Delhi must move quickly to demand his extradition to stand for trial in India. Admittedly, this is a virtually impossible task, given the poor state of bilateral ties. New Delhi must also rectify the error in not pursuing Mir’s addition to the UNSC list thus far, and launch a concerted international effort for Mir to be prosecuted for the number of terror attacks he has been involved in — not just for terror financing. As with Hafiz Saeed, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and other LeT members, it is necessary to keep the spotlight on Mir, given the predilection of Pakistan’s legal authorities for reversing convictions and reducing the sentencing of terrorists once the heat from international agencies reduces. This will be particularly important, especially as Pakistan is expected to receive a full reprieve at the FATF in October, and it must be made clear that the Government will continue to pursue the legal process against each of the men behind the Mumbai attacks, until they are brought to justice.
5. Editorial-3: Regressive, inhumane
By removing constitutional right to abortion, U.S. Supreme Court is on wrong side of liberty
When a democracy rolls back a constitutional right that has been in place for almost half a century, it must consider itself in deep peril. The U.S. stands at that fraught juncture now, after its Supreme Court, in a 6-3 majority, overturned the 1973 ruling in Roe vs Wade, and took away the constitutional right to abortion. In one blow, on June 24, it withdrew from women anywhere in the country their right to reproductive and bodily autonomy. With Roe, as well as the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood vs Casey that upheld Roe, gone, the court returned “the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives”. States can now decide whether to ban abortion, and at what stage in a pregnancy and under what circumstances. The fight over abortion has been the U.S.’s most passionately waged ideological battle. With a focus that denies any space for compassion or respect for liberty, conservatives have prioritised the task of having Roe overturned for decades. With the court now having attained a conservative supermajority, the decision had been imminent — some Republican-ruled States have started banning abortion, with trigger laws in place in anticipation of such a judgment. Other Red States will follow.
This Supreme Court decision, Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has in effect divided the U.S. territorially — States where women have the right to abortion, and those where they do not. Where they do not, women with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies, including possibly in some jurisdictions those that endanger the mother’s life or are a result of rape or incest, may have no option but to seek medical assistance in other States. This needs resources and support structures, and many women will be left with no option other than clandestine, unsafe abortions nearer home. Chillingly, there is fear that miscarriages could be subject to criminal investigations. On a positive side, major U.S. companies and some States (New York) have started offering financial support to employees and help for out-of-state abortion seekers who seek medical interventions in abortion-supporting States. This will, however, make already-bitter partisan polarisation worse. It must also alarm Americans that the logic of Dobbs — that abortion is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution and is not covered by the landmark 14th Amendment of 1868 that safeguards liberty — has opened the process for other rights to be taken away. For now, President Joe Biden and his Democratic Party have vowed to put Roe on the ballot in November’s mid-term elections. But the way the U.S. electoral system stacks up the numbers in the Senate against their efforts to break the filibuster, the effort to protect women will likely be carried out incrementally: legal challenges at multiple levels, support to women in Red States, and persuasive political campaigns at the grassroots.
6. Editorial-4: Bringing MSMEs into global value chains
These businesses are the ones that have faced the harshest of environments over the last few years
Though the growth and achievements of large businesses in India have received much attention, micro-, small and medium enterprises (MSME) actually account for over 99% of businesses. MSMEs are the largest employer in India outside of agriculture, employing over 11.1 crore people, or 45% of all workers. It is no exaggeration to call MSMEs – privately owned enterprise with less than ₹50 crore in investments in plant and machinery and turnover below ₹250 crore – the backbone of the Indian economy.
Every year on June 27, World MSME Day provides us with the opportunity to appreciate their valuable contribution to job creation and sustainable development across the world. Yet, these businesses are the ones that have faced the harshest of environments over the last few years.
The disruption of the pandemic severely impacted MSMEs, especially those in the services sector. Their small size and lack of access to resources meant that many were only beginning to mount a fragile recovery just when renewed war, supply shocks and soaring fuel, food and fertilizer prices presented a host of new threats. And all of this comes against the backdrop of the ongoing climate crisis, the greatest disruption multiplier of all.
At the same time, the potential of India’s small businesses is truly immense. India faces a unique moment in history, a potential demographic dividend of tremendous proportions. To leverage this opportunity, India needs to create many jobs, especially for the one million young people entering the labour market every month.
While some MSMEs operate at the highest industry standards, most do not meet today’s standards on productivity, environmental sustainability, and health and safety of workers. This is further exacerbated by the high degree of informality in the sector, with many enterprises unregistered, and both employers and workers are lacking awareness of and commitment to comply with labour and environmental laws. As a result, informal enterprises cannot access formal MSME support and financing nor participate in global value chains that require full compliance with all applicable regulations.
The Government of India has rightly identified the development of the country’s MSME ecosystem as a top priority for achieving Atma Nirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India). India’s ambitious “Make in India” campaign aims to catapult the country up the manufacturing value chain to position itself as a global manufacturing hub. Initiatives such as the production linked incentives (PLI) schemes and the recently launched zero effect zero defect (ZED) certification are helping to promote and boost the sector.
To help accelerate this process, the UN system in India is supporting these and other MSME development initiatives at the local, State and national levels. Agencies such as the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Women, IFAD and others are working with MSMEs as they navigate a rapidly changing post-pandemic economic landscape shaped by large-scale transitions, chiefly digitalisation, greening and the reorganisation of value chains.
Firstly, digitalisation concerns the integration of digital technologies, such as big data, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, in business processes, also known as Industry 4.0. With few exceptions, digitalisation into smart manufacturing operations is still in its infancy. Therefore, there is a need for replicable digital solutions adapted for MSMEs, including digital enhancements for machinery and equipment currently in use. Government initiatives such as the Digital Saksham and the interlinking of the Udyam, e-Shram, National Career Service (NCS), and Atmanirbhar Skilled Employee-Employer Mapping (ASEEM) portals show the promise of targeted digitalisation schemes.
Secondly, “greening” reduces the environmental impact of MSME operations and fosters cleantech innovation and entrepreneurship to accelerate the transition to a circular and low carbon economy. Energy efficiency provides a case in point as business and climate benefits go hand in hand. For example, together with the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), UNIDO provided energy efficiency advisory services to 695 MSMEs in 23 clusters covering brass, ceramic, dairy, foundry and hand tool sectors. As a result, these MSMEs invested themselves during the cash-strapped COVID period ₹157 crore to save 13,105 tonnes of oil equivalent and ₹81 crore in annual operating costs and preventing 83,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
Thirdly, to increase the resilience of supply in response to recent shocks, production locations for global value chains are increasingly shifting and diversifying across countries and regions.
To further leverage this opportunity, UNIDO is spearheading the notion of manufacturing excellence. This means fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation that reduces waste and increases productivity, safety and quality. In one partnership with the Automotive Components Manufacturers Association (ACMA), the participating SME component manufacturers have achieved average reductions of in-house and client rejections of 82% and 73% respectively, eliminated hazardous work conditions, and achieved cumulative annual savings of over ₹4.2 crore.
The Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) is also creating opportunities for self-employment and micro enterprises, with over 7 lakh micro enteprises assisted in becoming economically viable. Similarly, ILO, together with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) and corporates, is supporting MSMEs in creating and retaining jobs, with over 150 MSMEs having improved productivity, aligned to international standards and integrated into global supply chains, and the Start and Improve Your Business programme helping over a lakh young people across five States launch enterprises.
A forward-looking mindset centres on policy makers and society at large fully recognising and supporting the central socio-economic role that MSMEs play in India, as across the world. In turn, to fully unlock emerging opportunities in the rapidly changing global value chain ecosystem and maximise the demographic dividend, MSME owners need to further commit to formalising their businesses, investing in improved productivity, compliance and most of all, decent work and jobs for India’s aspiring youth. As UN Secretary-General Guterres has urged, “Let us renew our commitment to leverage the full potential of MSMEs, rescue the Sustainable Development Goals and build a more prosperous and just world for all.”
René Van Berkel is UNIDO Representative and head of the UNIDO Regional Office in India, Dagmar Walter is Director of ILO India Country Office and Decent Work Support Team for South Asia and Shombi Sharp is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in India, bringing the 26 agencies of Team UN India together for Agenda 2030
7. Indian laws on abortions
What are the conditions under which Indian women can safely terminate pregnancies?
In order to reduce maternal mortality owing to unsafe abortions, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was brought into force in 1971. This law is an exception to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provisions of 312 and 313 and sets out the rules of how and when a medical abortion can be carried out.
Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021, abortion is permitted after medical opinion under stipulated circumstances. The 2021 Act increased the upper limit of the gestation period to which a woman can seek a medical abortion to 24 weeks from 20 weeks permitted in the 1971 Act. But this renewed upper limit can only be exercised in specific cases.
Several women annually approach the apex court and High Courts, when medical boards reject their application to access MTP beyond the gestational upper limit, seeking permission to abort a pregnancy, mostly in cases where it is a result of sexual assault or when there is a foetal abnormality.
The story so far: In a significant step backwards for women’s rights in the U.S., the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade judgement of 1973, which gave women in America the right to have an abortion before the foetus is viable outside the womb or before the 24-28 week mark. With the setting aside of the historic judgement on abortion in the U.S, here’s a look at the laws that govern abortion in India.
How did abortion laws come about in India?
In the 1960s, in the wake of a high number of induced abortions taking place, the Union government ordered the constitution of the Shantilal Shah Committee to deliberate on the legalisation of abortion in the country. In order to reduce maternal mortality owing to unsafe abortions, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was brought into force in 1971. This law is an exception to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provisions of 312 and 313 and sets out the rules of how and when a medical abortion can be carried out.
Under Section 312 of the IPC, a person who “voluntarily causes a woman with child to miscarry” is liable for punishment, attracting a jail term of up to three years or fine or both, unless it was done in good faith where the purpose was to save the life of the pregnant woman. Section 313 of the IPC states that a person who causes the miscarriage without the consent of the pregnant woman, whether or not she is the in the advanced stages of her pregnancy, shall be punished with life imprisonment or a jail term that could extend to 10 years, as well as a fine.
How has the MTP Act evolved from 1971 to 2021?
The latest amendment to the MTP Act was made in 2021. Before that new rules were introduced in 2003 to allow the use of then newly discovered abortion medicine misoprostol, to medically terminate a pregnancy up to seven weeks into it. Broader amendments to the original Act were introduced in 2020 and the amended Act came into force in September 2021.
Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021, abortion is permitted after medical opinion under stipulated circumstances. The 2021 Act increased the upper limit of the gestation period to which a woman can seek a medical abortion to 24 weeks from 20 weeks permitted in the 1971 Act. But this renewed upper limit can only be exercised in specific cases. Gestational age, calculated in weeks, is the medical term to describe how far along the pregnancy is and is measured from the first day of the woman’s last menstruation or period.
Another major amendment was that MTP could not be accessed on the opinion of a single registered medical practitioner up to 20 weeks of the gestational age. From 20 weeks up to 24 weeks, the opinion of two registered medical practitioners is required. In the previous version of the Act, the opinion of one registered doctor was required to access a medical abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, while two doctors were required to endorse the abortion up to 20 weeks.
What is the MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021?
Under the 2021 Act, medical termination of pregnancy is permitted if it is backed by medical opinion and is being sought for at least one of the following reasons — (1) If the continuation of pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman (2) If its continuation would result in grave injury to the woman’s physical or mental health (3) In the case of a substantial risk that if the child was born, it would suffer from serious physical or mental abnormality.
The pregnancy can be terminated upto 24 weeks of gestational age after the opinion of two registered medical practitioners under these conditions — (1) If the woman is either a survivor of sexual assault or rape or incest (2) If she is a minor (3) If her marital status has changed during the ongoing pregnancy (i.e. either widowhood or divorce) (4) If she has major physical disabilities or is mentally ill (5) On the grounds of foetal malformation incompatible with life or if the child is born, it would be seriously handicapped (6) If the woman is in humanitarian settings or disaster, or emergency situations as declared by the government.
Besides, if the pregnancy has to be terminated beyond the 24-week gestational age, it can only be done on the grounds of foetal abnormalities if a four-member Medical Board, as set up in each State under the Act, gives permission to do so.
The law, notwithstanding any of the above conditions, also provides that where it is immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, abortion can be carried out at any time by a single registered medical practitioner.
Unmarried women can also access abortion under the above-mentioned conditions, because it does not mention the requirement of spousal consent. If the woman is a minor, however, the consent of a guardian is required.
Have there been judicial interventions in cases of abortions?
Despite the fact that existing laws do not permit unconditional abortion in the country, in the landmark 2017 Right to Privacy judgement in the Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India and others, the Supreme Court had held that the decision by a pregnant person on whether to continue a pregnancy or not is part of such a person’s right to privacy as well and, therefore, the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Several women annually approach the apex court and High Courts, when medical boards reject their application to access MTP beyond the gestational upper limit (now 24 weeks), seeking permission to abort a pregnancy, mostly in cases where it is a result of sexual assault or when there is a foetal abnormality.
A report authored by advocate Anubha Rastogi for the Pratiya Campaign said that in the 15 months leading up to August 2020, High Courts across the country were hearing 243 petitions of women seeking permission to abort. In February this year, the Calcutta High Court allowed a 37-year-old woman, who was 34 weeks into her pregnancy, to get a medical abortion as the foetus was diagnosed with an incurable spinal condition. This judgment allowed abortion for the furthest gestational in the country so far.
What are the criticisms against the abortion law?
According to a 2018 study in the Lancet, 15.6 million abortions were accessed every year in India as of 2015. The MTP Act requires abortion to be performed only by doctors with specialisation in gynaecology or obstetrics. However, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s 2019-20 report on Rural Health Statistics indicates that there is a 70% shortage of obstetrician-gynaecologists in rural India.
As the law does not permit abortion at will, critics say that it pushes women to access illicit abortions under unsafe conditions. Statistics put the annual number of unsafe and illegal abortions performed in India at 8,00,000, many of them resulting in maternal mortality.
8. Understanding the Supreme Court verdict on the Zakia Jafri protest petition
When did the SIT submit its report? Why did the apex court find fault with two former Gujarat State officers?
The Supreme Court dismissed the protest petition filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of late Congress leader Ehsan Jafri, challenging the clean chit given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat and 63 other senior officials of the State in their alleged role in the 2002 communal riots.
The court held that the inaction of “some officials of one section of the State administration” cannot be the basis to infer a pre-planned criminal conspiracy by the State government.
Within hours of the judgment, human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, said to be behind Ms. Jafri’s prolonged legal battle, was detained by police.
Ziya Us Salam
The story so far: The Supreme Court dismissed the protest petition filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of late Congress leader Ehsan Jafri, challenging the clean chit given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat and 63 other senior officials of the State for their alleged role in the 2002 communal riots. The apex court in its 452-page verdict rubbished allegations of a “larger conspiracy” in the Gulberg Housing Society case in which Ehsan Jafri was among those killed. The massacre took place shortly after the Godhra train tragedy which had claimed the lives of 59 kar sevaks on February 27, 2002.
What was the apex court’s verdict?
The three-judge Bench headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar held that the inaction of “some officials of one section of the State administration” cannot be the basis to infer a pre-planned criminal conspiracy by the State government, and found no fault in the Special Investigation Team (SIT) report. “There is no material worth the name to even create a suspicion indicative of the meeting of the minds of all concerned at some level; and in particular, the bureaucrats, politicians, public prosecutors or the members of the state political establishment — for hatching a larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level to cause and precipitate mass violence against the minority community across the State,” the judgment said. The court further upheld the report of the SIT, stating, “No fault can be found with the approach of the SIT in submitting final report dated 8.2.2012”. It held “the final report backed by firm logic, expositing analytical mind and dealing with all aspects objectively”.
“The SIT has not found any conspiracy, linking separate and disparate acts of arson and looting or outrageous claims made in sting operations or individual utterances/publications of purported hate speech.” The Bench upheld the decision of the Additional Metropolitan Magistrate to accept the closure of the SIT — which was itself appointed by the Supreme Court in 2008 — rejecting the protest petition filed by Zakia Jafri.
What were the criticisms of the Supreme Court?
The court came down heavily on two State officers, Sanjiv Bhatt and R.B. Sreekumar and former Home Minister of Gujarat Haren Pandya, stating, “At the end of the day, it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat along with others was to create a sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge. The falsity of their claims had been fully exposed by the SIT after a thorough investigation.”
The court held that the officers were not part of the meeting to decide the future course of action when the violence had broken out on Feb 27, 2002. Mr. Bhatt, it may be recalled, had told the Supreme Court that on the night of Feb 27, 2002, Mr. Modi had asked the police brass to let the Hindus vent their anger. Likewise, Mr. Sreekumar had in his deposition before the Nanavati-Shah commission pointed to a dubious role by the administration during the violence.
Such officials need to be in the dock for “keeping pot boiling” the court said, pointing out, “Intriguingly, the present proceedings have been pursued for last 16 years with the audacity to question the integrity of every functionary involved in the process of exposing the devious strategem adopted. As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with the law.”
Incidentally, the SIT headed by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan had submitted a closure report almost a decade ago. Back in 2012, it gave a clean chit to Mr. Modi and 63 others, finding no prosecutable evidence against them. The Metropolitan Magistrate accepted the report following which Zakia Jafri went to Gujarat High Court. In October 2017, the State High Court dismissed her petition. In September 2018, Ms. Jafri knocked the doors of the Supreme Court and filed a protest petition against acceptance of the SIT report. In December last year, the apex court reserved its judgment.
What happened in Gulberg Society?
As tensions were on a high in Ahmedabad after the Godhra tragedy, around 90 local residents had gathered at the Gulberg residence of Ehsan Jafri, hoping for safety at the former Parliamentarian’s place from the mob on the rampage. Mr. Jafri, apprehending violence, called many officers and leaders for help. In the absence of any practical aid, Mr. Jafri had lost hope. Around 9.30 in the morning, the first attack took place. The police assured help but soon a mob laid siege to Gulberg Society. Gas cylinders were hurled inside the premises from outside and kerosene cans were lobbed from the road. The house was set on fire. Mr. Jafri stepped out, pleading with the mob for the life of the people inside the house. He was then dragged to the road, mutilated and then killed. His body was not recovered. Sixty-nine people were killed, as claimed by local residents; officially 39 casualties were reported.
Further, as an eyewitness recalled in Rakesh Sharma’s National award-winning documentary Final Solution based on the Gujarat violence, “The police removed the names of the main culprits of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal from the FIR. We were offered money to take the case back, not to recognise the culprits.”
What was the aftermath of the verdict?
Within hours of the Supreme Court judgment, human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, said to be behind Ms. Jafri’s prolonged legal battle, was detained by the police. Mr. Sreekumar was also arrested. Mr. Bhatt is already under custody.
9. Implications of India’s new VPN rules
Will virtual servers be able to bypass the new CERT-in rules on virtual private networks?
On April 28, India’s cybersecurity agency passed a rule mandating Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers to record and keep their customers’ logs for 180 days. It also asked these firms to collect and store customer data for up to five years. It further mandated that any cybercrime recorded must be reported to the CERT-In within six hours of the crime.
Surfshark VPN stated that taking such radical action that highly impacts the privacy of millions of people in India will most likely be counterproductive and strongly damage the IT sector’s growth in the country.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said that the rules are applicable to “any entity whatsoever”, regardless of whether they have a physical presence in India or not, as long as they deliver services to Indian users.
Abhishek Chatterjee Nabeel Ahmed
The story so far: On April 28, India’s cybersecurity agency passed a rule mandating Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers to record and keep their customers’ logs for 180 days. It also asked these firms to collect and store customer data for up to five years. It further mandated that any cybercrime recorded must be reported to the CERT-In (Computer Emergency Response Team) within six hours of the crime. The new directives, if passed, will be effective from June 28. In response to the CERT-In rules, Nord VPN, one of the world’s largest VPN providers, has said it is moving its servers out of the country. Two other firms, Express VPN and Surfshark, said they will shut down their physical servers in India and cater to users in India through virtual servers located in Singapore and the U.K.
Who all will be affected by the new rules?
CERT-In directions are applicable to data centres, virtual private server (VPS) providers, cloud service providers, virtual asset service providers, virtual asset exchange providers, custodian wallet providers and government organisations. Firms that provide Internet proxy-like services through VPN technologies also come under the ambit of the new rule. Corporate entities are not under the scanner.
What is a virtual server, and what are its uses?
A virtual server is a simulated server environment built on an actual physical server. It recreates the functionality of a dedicated physical server. The virtual twin functions like a physical server that runs software and uses resources of the physical server. Multiple virtual servers can run on a single physical server.
Virtualising servers helps reallocate resources for changing workloads. Converting one physical server into multiple virtual servers allows organisations to use processing power and resources more efficiently by running multiple operating systems and applications on one partitioned server. Running multiple operating systems and applications on a single physical machine reduces cost as it consumes less space and hardware. Virtualisation also reduces cost as maintaining a virtual server infrastructure is low compared to physical server infrastructure. Virtual servers are also said to offer higher security than a physical server infrastructure as the operating system and applications are enclosed in a virtual machine. This helps contain security attacks and malicious behaviour inside the virtual machine.
Virtual servers are also useful in testing and debugging applications in different operating systems and versions without having to manually install and run them in several physical machines. Software developers can create, run, and test new software applications on a virtual server without taking processing power away from other users.
Can server relocation and virtualisation help VPN providers circumvent the new rules?
The FAQs published by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY) regarding the cybersecurity directions offers some clarity on relocation and virtualisation. It says the rules are applicable to “any entity whatsoever” in the matter of cyber incidents and cyber security incidents, regardless of whether they have a physical presence in India or not, as long as they deliver services to Indian users. The service providers who do not have a physical presence in India but offer services to the users in the country, have to designate a point of contact to liaise with CERT-In. Also, logs may be stored outside India as long as the obligation to produce logs to CERT-In is adhered to by the entities in a reasonable time.
VPN companies, like Surfshark, on the other hand believe that by removing their physical servers to countries outside India they will comply with the laws applicable to their activities, the company said to The Hindu.
How will the law impact India’s IT sector?
In response to The Hindu’s queries on the impact of removal of physical servers from the country on jobs, SurfsharkVPN said “It would be difficult to estimate the exact number of individuals impacted in terms of employment because we were renting servers from Indian providers.”
VPN suppliers leaving India is not good for its burgeoning IT sector. Taking such radical action that highly impacts the privacy of millions of people in India will most likely be counterproductive and strongly damage the IT sector’s growth in the country, the company said in a release last week.
It estimated that 254.9 million Indians have had their accounts breached since 2004 and raised its concern that collecting excessive amounts of data within Indian jurisdiction without robust protection mechanisms could lead to even more breaches.
The Netherlands-based company further said that they have never received a similar directive on storing customer logs from any other governments in the world.
Does China have similiar rules regarding VPN usage?
Though not all VPNs are officially banned in China, only government-approved VPNs are officially permitted to function, Syed Ali Akhtar, Fellow at the National Law University, Delhi told The Hindu.
Visitors and Chinese citizens use VPNs to circumvent China’s Great Firewall, which has blocked access to many websites, keywords and even IP addresses.
Government-approved VPNs have to register with the Chinese government and have to comply with data requests during investigations. However, cases of tourists being penalised for using non- government approved VPNs have not been reported, Akhtar said.