Counter China

Source: By Anurag Viswanath: The Financial Express

China’s recently concluded Belt and Road Forum (BRF)—the second (2019) following the first (2017)—has hogged limelight and stoked debate on its virtue and vice alike. The din surrounding the BRF has been so loud that it glosses key strategic moves in Asia. On April 24, a day before the BRF, China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning conducted a combat drill in the East China Sea with ‘anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare training’. In tandem, the US announced that it will unveil a new Indo-Pacific strategy at the upcoming Shangri-La Dialogue (May 31-June 2, in Singapore). China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) optimism has not detracted US policy pragmatism about China nor dented China’s global ambitions—including that on the high seas. Despite the best intents of China’s economic diplomacy, is the US steadily upping the game to counter China?

At the BRI Summit, China came clean unveiling the old BRI in a new avatar, repackaged as Green BRI (green investments, green projects) and Clean BRI (corruption free, transparent and level-playing field where Chinese and non-Chinese companies can compete). This honed China’s ‘peaceful rise’ as a conscientious global player whose trillions of forex surplus would be used for greater common good.

The BRI also received copious press devoted to the recent rethinking by American researchers that China may not be a loan shark (given that several of its loans have sunk, with no or little payback). Yet the BRF sounded out the political fracture—between those who attended (5,000 participants from 150 countries and leaders from 36 countries) and those who didn’t (among others, US, India, Australia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea).

US actions can be explained in the context that China is not helping its own case. China’s live drills in the East China Sea and China’s actions in the 3.5 million square km South China Sea have been controversial, to say the least.

Historically, China was not a great naval power in the manner of the La Royale (French Navy, 17th century) or the Royal Navy (UK Navy, 16th century). To be fair, the 15th century Ming dynasty explorer—the Muslim eunuch Zheng He’s seven voyages reaching the Horn of Africa and Persian Gulf are famed. But rather than naval ships, China’s merchant ships, junks and dhows traced their footprint on the economy, demography and culture in South East Asia with migration, trade and exchange.

But in the last decades as China has become richer, there has been a resurgence of nationalism that is drifting China back to history citing historical not legal claims in the seas—the reefs, atolls, islets and islands of the East China Sea and South China Sea. The Chinese want to escape being a continental power and the First Island Chain (East Asian Coastline) with the Second Island Chain and Third Island Chain under the US umbrella.

But it’s how China is going about it that has become contentious. In the East China Sea, the dispute is between China and Japan, but in the South China Sea, there are other claimants including the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei.

China’s drills in the East China Sea are one thing between Japan and China, but in the South China Sea with several claimants, China’s actions are being perceived as belligerent. China’s reclamation efforts and land acquisition have resulted in artificial islands. Reports and satellite images suggest military fortification and military installations, surveillance aircraft, guided missile destroyers and airport runways. China-watchers say China is consolidating a ‘strategic triangle’ in the seas. In fact, the US Naval Institute has characterised China’s actions as ‘maritime grey zone operations’ that ride the thin line between war and peace. In other words, China may be narrowly engaging in war without war.

The case of the Philippines vacillating between ally US and aid-giver China illustrates the stakes in the high seas. The issue of Scarborough Shoal (disputed between China and the Philippines, seized by China in 2012) is alive. In 2016, the Philippines took China to The Hague, which ruled that China’s claims had no legal basis. But China’s commitment to invest in President Rodrigo Duterte’s proposed 75 infrastructure projects under the rubric of ‘Build, Build, Build’ managed to let the sleeping dogs lie.

But in early April, President Duterte protested China’s fishing vessels swarming in on the disputed Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, warning that Philippine troops would resort to ‘suicide missions’ if China touched it. The US said that it would come to the aid of the Philippines in case of any attack, which the Philippines did not refute.

The US has claimed that China’s coast guard and fishing boats are not harmless, benign entities, but de facto maritime militia expanding China’s presence in the seas. The new US position is that hostile behaviour from the coast guard and fishing boats will no longer be treated benign, but on a par with the Chinese navy.

The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, Randall Schriver, has indicated that the US would back the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a code of conduct (COC) ‘consistent with existing international laws and norms’ applicable to one and all.

It is no accident, too, that the US has stepped up Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) with two warships sailing through the Taiwan Strait, bringing the total number of transits to 92 (since 2007). In 2018, British navy warship conducted a FONOP and in 2019 a French warship made a transit through the Taiwan Strait. The British and French actions are turning points that indicate a growing consensus on the strategic implications of China’s rise.

China’s BRF party has ended on a high, what with cooperation agreements worth $64 billion signed, a nod to greater multilateralism and participation, but the ground seems shifting. Platitudes of trade and cooperation aside, the storm is brewing in the seas. What’s more, in the polarised political spectrum of the US, President Donald Trump has bipartisan support on this. It’s obviously the issue.

 

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An Ocean of Neighbour

Source: By C Raja Mohan: The Indian Express

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first visit abroad in his second term to Maldives and Sri Lanka is being billed as the reaffirmation of Delhi’s traditional diplomatic emphasis on “neighbourhood first”. Hopefully, it is a little more than that — an effort to redefine what our neighbourhood is.

The visit to Male and Colombo offers the opportunity to firmly place the Indian Ocean island states into India’s regional geography. A beginning was indeed made in his first term, when Modi travelled to Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka in early 2015 and outlined an Indian Ocean strategy called SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region). Modi must now expand the ambit of the strategy to draw in Madagascar, Comoros, Reunion and Diego Garcia. Reunion is part of France and Diego Garcia hosts a major American military facility.

Similarly, Delhi should focus on a number of small islands that dot the sea lines of communication in the eastern Indian Ocean — the Cocos and Keeling islands belonging to Australia come readily to mind. In both the east and the west, India’s own island territories — the Andaman and Lakshadweep — have a critical role in reshaping our maritime neighbourhood.

But first to the conceptions of India’s strategic geography, nothing has diminished India’s geopolitical thinking than the idea of South Asia. The shrinking of India’s regional vision was also reinforced by India’s inward economic orientation and the sundering of historic commercial ties with the maritime neighbours. Maps of the neighbourhood those of the Foreign Office, barely showed countries like Myanmar, Thailand, or Indonesia with whom India shared land and/or maritime boundaries. The unfortunate conflation of “neighbourhood” with “South Asia” and SAARC was complete.

When he came to power in 2014, Modi seemed to go by the traditional South Asian framework. He invited all the leaders of the SAARC for his swearing in-ceremony to signal the commitment to putting the neighbourhood first. There was one exception though — it was the invitation to the political leadership of Mauritius to join the swearing-in. The invitation probably reflected Modi’s sensibility to India’s deep diasporic connection with the Indian Ocean island republic. Whatever the intent might have been, it set the stage for visualising a region that transcends South Asia and puts the maritime neighbourhood back into India’s strategic consciousness.

At the only SAARC summit during his first term, held in Kathmandu at the end of 2014, Modi saw the forum’s dysfunction. It could not wrap up regional connectivity agreements negotiated for years before, thanks to Pakistan’s decision to pull the plug at the last minute. With SAARC going nowhere, Modi turned to the BIMSTEC grouping, invited its leaders to join the BRICS summit at Goa during 2016, and again last month for the inauguration of Modi’s second term.

The limitations of SAARC are structural and enduring. Before “South Asia” became the dominant moniker, our region was known as “the Indian Subcontinent”. Many of the problems afflicting SAARC today are a legacy of the Subcontinent’s tragic Partition in 1947. As new sovereignties emerged out of undivided India, there were problems aplenty to deal with.

Any numbers of SAARC summits are not going to resolve the quarrels in the post-Partition Subcontinent. Most of them are bilateral between India and each of its neighbours. The one exception is the nature of the disputes between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Answers to these quarrels too will have to largely come through bilateralism. Where there has been progress in addressing these problems — for example with Bangladesh — the consequences have been huge and positive.

Delhi should have no problem recognising that Islamabad is not ready for economic integration with India; it wants a settlement of the Kashmir question to precede any economic and political cooperation with India. That might take a while. But should we hold up the rest of the region until Pakistan is comfortable with India-centred regionalism?

Modi’s focus on BIMSTEC was as much about rediscovering a forgotten regional organisation as it was about putting the Bay of Bengal on India’s mental map. Equally important was Modi’s focus on the Indian Ocean islands. His 2015 trip to Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka was to include Maldives, but had to be cancelled at the last minute because of the crackdown on opposition leaders. Modi travelled briefly to Maldives at the end of last year to celebrate the restoration of democracy in the island state.

Over the last few years, Colombo has been persistent in claiming an “Indian Ocean identity” rather than a South Asian identity. The future of the Maldives, sitting astride one of the world’s busiest sea lines of communication, is in the Indian Ocean. Both of them are acutely conscious of their growing maritime salience and have not been hesitant to develop all-round political leverage.

As Modi travels to the southern seas, Delhi must come to terms with a number of realities. First, it needs to recognise that island states and territories — including the smallest pieces of real estate — are coming into strategic play amidst the return of great power rivalry to the littoral. Second, the island states in the south western Indian Ocean form a coherent group and must be dealt with in an integrated framework. In eastern Indian Ocean, a focus on developing the Andaman Islands opens up possibilities for sub-regional cooperation with Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. Third, India needs to develop its own national capabilities — especially in the delivery of strategic economic and security assistance to the island states. Without that the ambitious goals identified under the SAGAR vision will remain elusive.

Finally, in his SAGAR vision, Modi signalled India’s readiness to work with other powers in promoting regional prosperity and security. There are big possibilities for collaboration with France, the US, Australia and Japan in different corners of the Indian Ocean. The joint bidding by India and Japan for the development of East Container Terminal in the Colombo port underlines the potential.

 

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India must take US to the WTO

Source: By RV Anuradha: The Financial Express

The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), accorded by the US to imports from India since 1976, stood terminated as on June 5, 2019. The government of India has indicated that the fiscal impact of this withdrawal, which would impact approximately $5.6 billion of India’s exports, is not significant. Perhaps it is indeed not when seen against the overall exports to the US, valued at $230 billion. But the issue is not one of mere numbers, but one of legal principles as the systemic impact of US’s brazen unilateral actions.

It is also of the impact that the move would have on exporters of several goods such as jewellery, building materials, solar cells and processed foods, which will face increases of upto 10% in the US tariffs, not all of which exporters can absorb by increasing prices of products in their struggle to remain competitive. Spillover effects in terms of downsizing in export firms, diversification, exploring newer markets and all the accompanying uncertainties therefore seem inevitable.

To begin with, there is no right or entitlement that India, or any other developing country, has to GSP benefits from any developed country.GSP is a voluntary exercise of preferential market access that developed countries have the discretion to provide. However, the laws of the World Trade Organization (WTO) provide very clear legal that a country that chooses to administer GSP needs to adhere to. This includes the legal requirement that GSP shall be available for all developing countries on a non-discriminatory basis, and they need to be accorded on a non-reciprocal basis, i.e., such preferences cannot be given or restricted on the ground of equivalence of some benefit from a developing country.

The US has unabashedly also confirmed that the GSP benefits to India has been terminated solely on account of its unilateral assessment that India does not provide “equitable and reasonable market access” to it. This is an admitted violation of the mandate that GSP needs be based on the principle of non-reciprocity. The object of US’s trade concerns against India include requirements under Indian law for certification of dairy products, norms on pricing for medical devices, and India’s laws on patenting which apply, in the view of the US, strict criteria for grant of patents for products and also allow for compulsory licensing. Each of these is a legitimate exercise of sovereign legislative and policy choices by India. The US has also expressed concerns on imposition of high tariffs by India in various sectors, including automobile, textiles, pharmaceuticals and distilled spirits, which, again, are all within the realm of India’s WTO’s commitments.

In other words, India’s actions are all WTO-consistent domestic policy actions. The US, however, perceives these as limiting market access, and instead of playing by the multilateral rules, which would require trade negotiations on a reciprocal basis, it is resorting to leveraging the one tool that it is mandated to provide on non-reciprocal basis, i.e., GSP benefits.

The US action is an extension of its recent approach of unilateral action and strong-arm tactics to extract concessions. In a measured response, the government of India has indicated that, like the US, it too believes in maintaining its national interest and addressing development imperatives. It has also indicated the hope of arriving at a mutual resolution of the issues.

While amicable solutions are always the desirable objective in international relations, the approach with the US cannot be pegged on this expectation alone. In fact, there is no better example than the US itself that has used a combined strategy of bilateral dialogue, coupled with unilateral action, and most interestingly, recourse to the beleaguered WTO’s dispute settlement system.

This is the second time that the US has hit India with its unilateral measures. The first time was a year back when, on June 1, 2018, the US imposed tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium imported into the US. India has initiated a WTO dispute against this, as have several other WTO members. Some of these countries such as EU and China also imposed retaliatory tariffs on certain imports from the US, against which the US has initiated WTO disputes. While India announced retaliatory tariffs against the US several months back, it has been deferring the imposition of such tariffs.

It is strategically important for India to raise a challenge against US’s GSP termination before the WTO. There are three reasons for this: (a) India is on a strong legal footing with regard to such a challenge; (b) the GSP issue is one of systemic significance within the framework of multilateral trade rules, and one country cannot be allowed derail the fundamental planks on which it stands; and (c) contesting a country’s action through dispute settlement, and simultaneously holding bilateral negotiations, are not antithetical to each other, and can often help a country leverage its advantages better.

 

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Health of a nation

Source: By K Srinath Reddy: The Indian Express

The World Health Organisation (WHO) sought to highlight the importance and urgency of achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) when choosing this year’s theme for the World Health Day. It called for “UHC — for everyone everywhere”. This echoes the target set by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that all countries must achieve UHC by 2030. India, too, accepted that target date while signing up to the SDGs.

How countries will be measured for success in reaching that target depends on how UHC is defined and monitored. The WHO states that UHC “means that all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship. It includes the full spectrum of essential, quality health services from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.”

Interpretation, however, has varied on what services are to be universally provided to begin with and what level of financial protection is considered acceptable. Should UHC commence by offering the same set of services to the entire population and progressively expand the service package to all as more resources accrue? Or, should UHC first prioritise certain services to the poor and vulnerable sections, to ensure both access and affordability, while leaving the rest of the population for coverage at a later stage?

Another option is to provide a basic package of services to all, with full financial protection, along with an additional set of publicly funded services to the poor and vulnerable sections. These are all possible beginnings in the path of progressive universalisation that ultimately leads to UHC for everyone, with levels of service and cost coverage that meet the health needs of all persons without financial hardship to any.

To meet the standard set by the WHO and the SDGs, UHC has to include all persons in a population, even if the service package is modest to begin with. In terms of financial protection, the WHO recommends that out of pocket expenditure (OOPE) on health should not exceed 15-20 per cent. This requires a high level of public financing. Even countries which follow an insurance model have a high level of public funding to support several health services. Mandated contributory insurance model will not work in India which has over 90 per cent of the workforce in the informal sector.

How does India measure up presently and how can we achieve the 2030 target? OOPE is still around 63 per cent, despite several government health insurance and benefit schemes. Impoverishment due to unaffordable healthcare expenditure affects 7 per cent of our population, as noted even in recent national surveys. Healthcare induced financial distress is a leading cause of suicide among farmers. Access to health services varies widely among states and between rural and urban populations. Qualified healthcare providers are in short supply nationally and those available are maldistributed, with marked density differences across regions. It’s a long way before we reach the base camp of UHC, even as the ascent to the 2030 summit seems very steep.

What do we need to do? Public financing is the lifeline of UHC. So, we should raise public spending on health to at least 2.5 per cent by 2022 and 3 per cent by 2024. Both these are within the term of the government we elect in 2019. Will it deliver? This electoral season has seen UHC being promised in one form or another by most political parties, either in published manifestos or proclaimed promises. Not only the national parties but the state-level contestants in Andhra Pradesh, too, are competing in promises of good and affordable healthcare. Post-June, the electorate will see if health remains a priority.

Even the governments which earnestly wish to implement UHC will face the challenge of exercising choices within the limited budgets. First, they need to get the priorities right within the funding available. Primary health care has to be recognised as the foundational basis of an efficient and equitable healthcare system. It has the highest number of beneficiaries (the whole population), provides a wide range of services and can prevent a large spillover into hospitals for advanced care through effective prevention and timely care. While establishing seamless bidirectional linkages with advanced care facilities, primary care needs to be the fulcrum of UHC.Emergency health services are also a high priority, to provide the link between these services and also lifesaving care on location and during transport. All such services have to be provided free of cost.

What about people who need advanced care? Even at the start, UHC has to cover several services like commonly needed surgeries and treatments that can protect life. The component of advanced care expands as more resources accrue, but not at the expense of primary care. Government funded programmes should ensure that financial barriers should not stop access to needed advanced care. As UHC evolves, the poor and near-poor must get full cost coverage while others may seek protection through employer funded schemes or privately purchased insurance. Even for them, OOPE must remain low.

UHC has to be cashless at the point of care and health benefits under the programme have to be available for access anywhere in the country. The health work force has to be expanded to make available multi-layered, multi-skilled teams which can deliver the needed services. Basic and specialist doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists and an array of allied health professionals need to be developed in large numbers and deployed across the country.

This calls for expediting reforms in health professional education, cadre planning and incentives for rural postings. Strengthening of primary care infrastructure and district hospitals has to be a government priority. Free provision of essential drugs and diagnostics at public healthcare facilities will have an immediate impact on OOPE.

We have just a decade to go before we are measured for success in reaching the SDG target of UHC. More important, and even more immediate, is the need for elected governments to redeem the promises to the electorate. That account has to be presented to the people in 2024. Will UHC appear well on the way by then?

 

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Internal Security

Source: By Gurmeet Kanwal: Deccan Herald

There is an urgent requirement to formulate a comprehensive National Security Strategy (NSS), including internal security. The NSS should be formulated after carrying out an inter-departmental, inter-agency, multi-disciplinary strategic defence review. At present, the procurement of weapons and defence equipment is being made through ad hoc annual procurement plans, rather than being based on duly prioritised long-term integrated plans designed to systematically enhance India’s combat potential.

The next government must commit itself to supporting long-term defence plans. Else, defence modernisation will continue to lag and the growing military capabilities gap with China will assume ominous proportions. This can be done only by reviving the dormant National Security Council as defence planning is in the domain of the NSC. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) deals with current and near-term threats and challenges and reacts to emergent situations.

Today, the concept of national security encompasses many more facets of security and is much more wide-ranging than merely the defence of territory. While there is a defence minister of cabinet rank, all other aspects of national security are the responsibility of the NSA. However, the NSA is only an adviser to the prime minister and has no executive authority. He is also not answerable to parliament. It is necessary to upgrade the post of NSA to that of a minister of state (MoS). He could be MoS in the PMO and should be directly answerable to the PM.

The NSA should be the chief coordinator between the three key ministries responsible for national security: defence, external affairs and home ministries. He should be given executive control over the external and internal intelligence agencies. He should also be nominated as India’s cyber ‘tsar’ and given the responsibility to coordinate cyber security as well as offensive cyber operations.

The government must also immediately appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee to provide single-point advice to the CCS on military matters. Any further dithering on this key structural reform in higher defence management on the grounds of lack of political consensus and the inability of the armed forces to agree on the issue will be extremely detrimental to India’s interests in the light of the dangerous developments taking place in India’s neighbourhood.

The logical next step would be to constitute tri-Service integrated theatre commands to synergise the capabilities of individual Services. International experience shows that such reform has to be imposed from the top down and cannot work if the government keeps waiting for it to come about from the bottom up.

While internal security challenges are gradually gaining prominence, preparations for conventional conflict must not be neglected. Major defence procurement decisions must be made quickly. Large-scale ammunition shortages have been pointed out in several Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reports in 2015-17. These must be made up quickly. Many tanks and infantry combat vehicles are still ‘night blind’ – they lack suitable night vision equipment.

The army is still without towed and self-propelled 155mm howitzers for the plains and urgently needs new utility helicopters and anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). It also needs to acquire weapons and equipment for counter-insurgency operations. The navy waited for long for the Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) aircraft carrier, which was being refurbished in a Russian shipyard at exorbitant cost. Construction of the indigenous air defence ship and Scorpene submarines is behind schedule.

The plans of the air force to acquire 126 medium, multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) to maintain its edge over the regional air forces is stuck in the procurement quagmire except that a contract has been signed for the acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft. The LCA project continues to lag way behind schedule. Meanwhile, the MiG-21 and MiG-27 fleets have become obsolescent. The IAF needs more AWACS aircraft and air-to-air refuellers, besides additional transport aircraft.

Modernise armed forces

All three Services need a large number of light and medium lift helicopters. India’s nuclear forces require the early operational deployment of Agni-4 and Agni-5 missiles and nuclear-powered submarines with suitable ballistic missiles to acquire genuine deterrent capability against China. The armed forces do not have a truly integrated C4I2SR system for network-centric warfare, which will allow them to optimise their individual capabilities and enable the conduct of ‘effects-based’ operations. Force-multipliers like combat drones (UCAVs) are yet to be introduced into service. The central armed police forces (CAPF) also need to be modernised as they are facing increasingly greater threats while continuing to be equipped with sub-standard weapons.

All of these high-priority acquisitions will require extensive budgetary support. With the defence budget languishing at less than 1.5% of GDP at present – compared with China’s 3% and Pakistan’s 4.5% – it will not be possible for the armed forces to undertake any meaningful modernisation or make up equipment and ammunition deficiencies. The funds available on the capital account at present are inadequate to suffice even for the replacement of obsolete weapons systems and obsolescent equipment that are still in service.

The defence budget must be substantially enhanced to enable the armed forces to meet future threats and challenges, as also to discharge India’s obligations and fulfil the country’s responsibilities towards making a positive contribution to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Only then will the environment be conducive to rapid socio-economic development.

 

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Abuse of sedition law

Source: By Sumeysh Srivastava: Deccan Herald

In Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, there is a nationalism-packed scene in which Tara Singh, played by Sunny Deol, is being asked to convert to Islam so that his iniquitous Pakistani father-in-law (Amrish Puri) can accept him and allow him to be with his wife and kid. In this scene, Tara Singh is okay with saying “Islam Zindabad” and “Pakistan Zindabad”, but when asked to say “Hindustan Murdabad”, he bristles with anger and reiterates that “Hindustan Zindabad tha, Zindabad hai aur Zindabad rahega”.

Now, people assume he does so because of his patriotic spirit and love for the motherland, which is perhaps so. However, an alternative theory could be that he was simply afraid of being prosecuted for sedition back home. Sedition, as given in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, refers to when anyone tries to bring hatred or contempt or excites disaffection towards the government.

Note that sedition refers to the government, not the country. This is because sedition was brought into the Indian legal system by the British government in 1870. It was brought in to stifle dissent against the colonial government. Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi is just two people who were prosecuted under this law, amongst a host of others, comprising mostly of newspaper editors.

In the present day, we have seen people like Kanhaiya Kumar being charged with sedition for allegedly inciting people to shout “Bharat Tere Tukde Honge”. We have also seen sedition charges being slapped against people for supporting Pakistan during cricket matches. Recently, we have seen a bizarre case where sedition has been applied in a case involving a private media channel. This was a case in which the State isn’t even a party. Sedition has become a convenient legal tool to stifle any voice or perspective that goes against what the State perceives as nationalism or patriotism.

An act is seditious if your act results in people feeling hatred or contempt towards the government. If a person uses either spoken or written words or gestures which are aimed at encouraging people to (i) disobey the authority of the government, or (ii) resist the authority of the government. These actions should lead people to resort to violence and create public disorder. An attempt to make people disobey or resist the government through acts of public disorder or violence may also be an act of sedition.

The Supreme Court has held in various judgements that the law of sedition is only applicable when (i) a person causes violence, or (ii) a person encourages people to create violence. So, for sedition, it’s very important to make a distinction between genuine criticism of the government and statements which seek to overthrow the government.

As discussed in Romesh Thapar vs State of Maharashtra, this is a distinction that the framers of the Constitution were keen to clarify. As given in the case, the deletion of the word “sedition” from the draft Article 13(2) which finally became Article 19, which gives the right to freedom of speech, shows that mere criticism of the government was not to be regarded as a ground to restrict freedom of speech and expression, unless it could lead to issues related to public order, security and the existence of the government.

Though we are no longer ruled by the British, our government does have a colonial hangover which defines the relationship between the State and its people. The structures are still the same, and are sometimes used for the oppression of people, rather than their benefit. The presence of the armed forces in areas where people are in dispute with the State belies the idea of a democratic, responsive State.

Most worryingly, the distinction between the “nation” and the government has been blurred to the extent that any criticism of government functioning, irrespective of its merit, is seen as being anti-national, disloyal and unfaithful to the motherland. Constructive criticism of government policies, debating on the effectiveness of different State interventions should be seen as an expression of love towards the nation and signifies concern about how the nation is progressing. This cannot be sedition.

Tool of oppression

The other major issue with the law on sedition is how it is processed in the legal system. The NCRB’s Crime in India report 2016 shows that out of 34 cases of sedition reported that year, there was only one conviction, two acquittals, while 31 cases are still pending trial. In fact, between 2014 and 2016, a total of 179 cases were lodged under the sedition law.

However, by the end of 2016, no charge sheet had been filed in over 80% of cases. The trial could only begin in 10% of cases. So, in most cases, the sedition law becomes a tool of oppression, where the police don’t even file a charge sheet and people just spend time in prison. People, on whom frivolous charges of sedition have been applied, are punished with jail for a long period without a trial.

This doesn’t mean that a law on sedition has no utility today. All laws can be misused. An argument can be made that the law on sedition, if applied, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, with its recommended safeguards, does act as a bulwark around the integrity of the Indian nation and discourages elements which seek to incite violence to cause public disorder and overthrow elected governments. The problem is, this is not how the law has been historically applied. The problem is the misuse of the law by an overly sensitive government and the illegal and arbitrary actions that often accompany its application.

 

 

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Time we did away with death penalty

Source: By Sachin Dhawan: The Statesman

In 1988, U.S. presidential candidate Michael Dukakis’ failure to support the death penalty sealed his fate at the polls. Thirty years later, the political landscape in the United States and the world has changed. Politicians are openly declaring their opposition to the death penalty and moving to eradicate the practice.

While the overall picture is a positive one, especially with regard to abolition in sub-Saharan Africa, nations that still retain the death penalty are not executing the most egregious offenders. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and China are notorious for executing non-violent drug offenders. Even liberal democracies like Japan defy international norms by putting to death those with mental disabilities.

Despite being the world’s oldest democracy, the United States is the only western nation to retain the death penalty. Nonetheless, a decline in political and legal support for capital punishment is palpable. Prominent politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders openly oppose the death penalty. Other well-known Americans such as former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who once supported the death penalty, have now opposed it. In fact, Justice Stevens has said that he regrets stepping down from the Supreme Court because of the lost opportunity to render the death penalty a cruel and unusual punishment, violating the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Such opposition has had an impact. Executions even in states which retain the death penalty are rare. Executions for “aggravated murderers” are also few and far between. Apart from the occasional invocation of the death penalty for mass murderers like Dylan Roof, capital punishment is dying a slow but sure death. The tide of public opinion has so radically changed course that Republicans are now rejecting the death penalty, a reversal that may be prompted by the number of well-publicized death row exonerations based on new DNA evidence.

Structural injustices continue to plague the administration of the death penalty. In his book, Peculiar Institution, author and sociologist David Garland reminds us of the regional complexion of the death penalty and the concomitant historical legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. The death penalty today is disproportionately a Southern phenomenon wherein African Americans who kill whites are most likely to be executed. In addition, murderers who are poor or are poorly represented by legal counsel are also more likely to be given the death penalty irrespective of the heinousness of their crimes.

The Innocence Project, a U.S. based entity that fights against such inequities, highlights the fact that this unfairness is in no small part a product of prosecutorial abuse of power. Such arbitrariness prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to act against the death penalty in the historic 1972 judgment of Furman v. Georgia, which triggered a four-year hiatus in the imposition of the death penalty.

There are important lessons for India from this survey of the international landscape. The nation’s appellate judiciary has repeatedly expressed skepticism about the efficacy of the death penalty. In 1980, India undertook a shift away from capital punishment via the landmark Bachan Singh case, which established that this most extreme measure should only be applied in “the rarest of the rare” cases. However, as recently retired Supreme Court Justice Kurian Joseph has pointed out, this attempt to minimize the use of the death penalty has not been implemented. The most vulnerable continue to suffer, a reality that is buttressed by the landmark report ‘Lethal Lottery: The Death Penalty in India.

In a recent judgment, Chhannu Lal Verma v. State of Chattisgarh, Justice Joseph offered a way out of the death penalty morass. His roadmap for reform can help to prevent the weakest and most vulnerable from being unfairly put to death. He builds on the core principle of Bachan Singh which is to avoid the death penalty whenever possible. One way to do so is to secure the input of the jail superintendent – does he give a clean chit of good behavior to the death row inmate? If so, courts should refrain from imposing the death penalty, in the interest of rehabilitative justice. Another safeguard is to ensure that the prosecution meets its burden of proving that the convict is in fact irredeemable. Justice Joseph says this means making a mandatory psychiatric evaluation of the convict.

Justice Joseph also identifies the socio-economic barriers that prevent the marginalized from accessing quality counsel. Defense cases are often riddled with procedural and due process lapses. Justice Joseph reminds us that the disadvantaged must not be further oppressed by procedural irregularities. He argues that a death penalty conviction should be set aside if such irregularities come to light.

It is perhaps too much to hope for worldwide death penalty abolition. Still, all nations must at the very least do away with the death penalty for non-violent drug offences. Moreover, countries must be especially chary of imposing the death penalty on racial and religious minorities and the economically depressed. Justice Joseph has raised the alarm bells of reform. We should heed his call.

 

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Take the bull by the horns

Source: By Shiv Sethi: Deccan Herald

Unarguably, education is the chief defence of a nation. History bears testimony that the erudite intellectuals have always been the catalysts of change. Great Athens scholars like Plato and Aristotle, whom we revere as the paragons of profound wisdom, had contributed significantly in the process of nation building. These men of letters, whose very names evoke enormous admiration in our collective consciousness, were not merely confined to their own ivory towers; they were instead the real nation builders and as refined educators they rendered their yeoman’s services to the society.

Such legendary teachers had no fascination for accumulating material wealth neither did they crave for bubble reputation. Unlike most of the modern teachers, they had an altogether different definition of success in life. Aristotle was of the view that the success of a real teacher lay in stimulating the minds of his students.

But unfortunately today, education remains no more a sacred mission. With it’s compete commercialisation, it has become a commodity for sale. Also gone are the days when India would hold her head high in dignity for having devout teachers like Chanakya, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Premchand, S Radhakrishnan, Savitribai Phule, APJ Abdul Kalam and so on. They propagated the gurukul tradition and dedicated their lives to disseminate knowledge without any pecuniary considerations.

The value-based education system these personifications of knowledge once clung to is on the brink of complete collapse now. Irish writer W B Yeats very aptly laments this changing social order in his poems with the analogy of a falcon. He ruefully remarks that things are falling apart.

The falconer cannot hold the falcon. Mere anarchy is let loose upon particularly in the prevalent system of education in India. A vast majority of the modern so called educators are the part of the education industry (mafia) which is indeed thriving day in and day out on the hard earned money of the commoners. Though Right to Education has been duly enshrined in our Constitution, its proper implementation is yet a distant dream. In the last few decades, education has turned lopsided.

The affluent section of the society that governs the means and masters the resources has the luxury to afford good quality education to their kids in the private institutions. On the flip side, people hailing from the financially middle and lower classes are bound to send their children to government-run institutes. But most of these government funded educational institutes are in a shambles. They have no adequate infrastructure. Even basic facilities like clean toilets are not available in their useable conditions.

It has been one of the major causes of drop-out rates in the government schools especially in the case of girl students. The schemes like offering midday meals to the children have also come a cropper owing to the apathy of the government.

When it comes to modern technology, most of these schools are ill-equipped. The lack of competent teachers especially in the rural area government schools and colleges has further aggravated the issue. The statistics about the annual performance of the pupils studying in government institutes lay bare the underneath reality and expose underbelly of the current decaying education system.

Undeniably, by taking admission to the private schools, colleges and universities, one can make one’s mark under the tutelage of very highly professional teachers who are put to assiduous work in order to produce the marvellous results with the very overt objective of earning better incentives and profits.

They are not at all motivated by any philanthropic concept of missionary teachings. Adhering to the disdainful principle of maximum profits, they often arm-twist their students to forceful tuitions and extra coaching classes. Does such ilk of unscrupulous educators deserve to become our ideal teachers?

The absence of the vision and the policy paralysis pertaining to both the private and the government educational sectors and the lack of a proper check on the educational institutes are some of the factors to be held responsible for the entire mayhem and mess in this arena.

All pastures are not fully green even when it comes to private educational institutes. Ours is a country where the laws about wages and remunerations have been flagrantly violated. Most teachers working in many private institutes are paid pittance and the work they are subjected to do is no way commensurate with their salaries. The lion’s share of the profits is gobbled by the owners of such private institutes.

Powerful players

They monopolise the whole education sector as powerful players, hard-nosed shrewd money-minded businessmen. Many of them prefer to recruit the less competent or the least competent teachers as such teachers easily settle on the paltry sum but do the further damage due to the lack of requisite skill for teaching. Having taken stock of the entire present situation, we grow apprehensive about the huge disparity that has set in the present day educational sphere.

Broadly speaking, in our country, we have a “shining India and a non-shining India”. The offspring of the shining India is fortunate enough to study in the characteristic B schools where quality education is sold to the aspirants on highly exorbitant prices. There is a mushroom growth of these institutes and their owners have been lining their pockets with impunity.

Au contraire, the Right to Education that guarantees optimal quality education to all the citizens without any discrimination on the grounds of caste, creed and their financial status does not hold any water in such a dismal scenario. Therefore, it is the dire need of the hour that the government takes the bull by the horn and redesigns the entire frayed fabric of our education system. This apathy of elected leaders is taking a big toll on the holistic health of our nation.

 

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Time to junk it

Source: By Mukesh Gupta: Deccan Herald

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accused the Congress of attempting to weaken the army’s efforts to contain terrorism by revoking or amending the Act. Former Union home minister P Chidambaram clarified that the review of the Act will be limited to the extent that no immunity under the Act will be granted to personnel accused of “enforced disappearance, sexual violence and torture”.

No sooner the Framework Agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland –Isaac Muivah (NSCN-IM) came to an end on a supposedly happy note in August 2015, the persistent demand of the denizens of the North East to repeal the draconian Act continues to be a sore point. The Act, which came into force in July 1958 primarily to compel Naga rebels into submission, has dragged on for well over six decades. While the Act was rescinded in Mizoram in 1986, it was repealed in Tripura in April 2015.

Perhaps as a sop for having voted them to power, the government revoked the Afspa from Meghalaya last year and from 12 of the 16 police stations jurisdiction of Arunachal Pradesh bordering Assam. After the partial withdrawal of Afspa from three districts of Arunachal Pradesh recently, six districts of the state continue to be under the Act. Irom Sharmila, the iron lady of Manipur, who was on hunger strike for 16 long years from November 5, 2000 demanding the repeal of the Act was the voice of the people of the region. Regarded as a goddess, she was credited with the world’s longest hunger strike.

No sooner she ended her hunger strike, she fell in the eyes of the public like a Leviathan fallen from grace. She was ostracised for extinguishing their only hope of repeal of the Act. Irked by her decision to enter politics to continue her fight, the people taught her a lesson by not electing her for the Manipur State Assembly. A mere 90 votes came her way. Betrayal by her own people led her to leave the state and settle in the south after marrying her English boyfriend.

The trigger for her hunger strike was the killing of 10 villagers of Malom in Imphal on November 2, 2000 by Assam Rifles personnel. About four years later came the killing of a 32-year-old activist Thangjam Manorama Devi by a posse of Assam Rifles – a para-military outfit of the Centre - personnel on July12, 2004 in Bamon Kampu village of East Imphal. She was suspected to be having links with outlawed insurgent outfit of Manipur – the People’s Liberation Army. Her bullet ridden body was recovered the following day.

The entire valley protested demanding the rescinding of the Afspa, with some women going to the extent of stripping in front of the Assam Rifles Headquarters right in the heart of Imphal with a huge banner displaying “Indian Army Rape Us”. Manipur continues to be under the AFSPA cover. Sporadic incidents of violence like the attack on BSF personnel in May last year should not be a procrastinating factor to repeal the Afspa, which has suffered for too long under the Act.

In Assam, the situation has vastly improved though spasmodic incidents of violence are reported sometimes. On May 4 last year, an Inspector of Assam Police was killed in an encounter with United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent). Three insurgents were also killed in the encounter. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary stated that “Assam is a peaceful state now. There is no reason for further continuance of Afspa in the state”.

Steady decline in the number of insurgency-related incidents in Assam serves as a pointer to the improving law and order situation. While as many as 437 people including security men and terrorists were killed in 2007, it came down to just 26 in 2017. Overall, 2017 saw 308 incidents of violence compared to 1,963 in 2000 in the entire North East region. A 96% decline in the number of casualties over the same period gives an impression that things are looking up for the better.

Sharp decline

A Parliamentary Committee headed by P Chidambaram in its report recently noted that there has been a sharp decline in insurgent attacks in Assam. It has also expressed dismay over the contradictory views of the Centre and the state government. While the Centre claims vast improvement in the situation, the state’s Sarbananda Sonowal-led government thinks otherwise and has notified the whole state as disturbed.

Though the Citizenship Amendment Bill has plunged the north eastern states in a state of turmoil, in no way does it impact the continuance or repealing of the Afspa. In Nagaland, the cease fire agreement that has been in force since 1997 has ensured a peaceful environment. Though the Afspa continues to be in force in the state, the demand for the repeal of the Act has persisted. The Centre has assured that the issue of repeal will be taken up during the finalisation of the peace agreement which remained elusive thus far, with no hopes in the near future.

The Apex Court has 1,528 cases of human rights violations by security forces, some of which on investigation have turned out to be clear cases of fake encounters.  The earlier Afspa is revoked from the whole of north east, better it is.

 

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Digital exclusion

Source: By Leslie D'Monte: Mint

It’s a cliché to state that technologies both transform and disrupt the lives of people and companies. Hence, I will be stating the obvious when I insist that this trend will continue at an even faster clip. However, if legislation does not keep pace with cutting-edge digital technologies—which it is unlikely to do, ever—my contention, which may sound counter-intuitive, is that the digital divide may only get wider.

On the positive side, smartphones today are a radio, phone, television and even the power of the internet, all put together. They help us stay in touch with our family and relatives, transfer money, buy goods, pay our bills, and even monitor our blood pressure and heart beats. Digital technologies are revolutionizing healthcare. Doctors are using smart devices to remotely monitor the health of patients, and even perform remote surgeries with the help of robots—of course, not the Terminator or SkyNet ones made popular by sci-fi films. They are also using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies like machine learning and deep learning to seek patterns and diagnose diseases better than any specialist could do. Gene-editing tools like CRISPR-Cas9 (and variants of it), too, are helping doctors find treatments for life-threatening diseases.

Youngsters—born between 1995 and 2015 and better known as Gen Z—take electricity, gas cylinders, phones and the internet for granted. But even for Gen Z, for whom programming is almost second nature and who are familiar with terms like the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, robotics, virtual and augmented reality and drones (and know that AI abounds on the internet and in their smartphones with voice assistants, smart cameras and numerous smart sensors), this is just the beginning of a very exciting but challenging journey.

We are already seeing the onset of driverless vehicles, hyperloops, bullet trains, low-cost satellites, flying copters, quantum computers, bendable and foldable screens and robots that care for the elderly, clean our rooms, move goods, serve food and even issue parking tickets, among other things.

With 5G on the anvil, practically every device will potentially be able to communicate with another and we may soon see the advent of smart walls that become our screen when we point a device at them. These smart screens will provide us with entertainment, infotainment (with augmented reality and virtual reality built in) and many other interesting possibilities.

Retail will dramatically change once devices begin ordering goods for robots to deliver. People will routinely walk in front of smart mirrors and buy customized clothes, and robots at counters (or counters with voice AI) will recognize you and even alert you if you miss an item on your regular grocery list.

The challenge is that there is always the grave danger of having too much data passing into the wrong hands—be it the hands of cybercriminals who can steal our identities (ransomware is already the bugbear of individuals and companies) or even governments that can (and do) use the data to connect the dots with the help of AI to govern our social media habits and introduce policies to instil in us what they deem as “proper" behaviour and police people with the help of Face IDs.

Further, genetically-modified designer babies (scientists will find a way to make them live longer) with enhanced memories and information downloads could redefine education and monopolize highly-skilled jobs. This even as smart robots continue to make routine jobs redundant and those who can’t be reskilled fall by the wayside.

In smart transportation, what if a fully autonomous car mistakenly drives over a human? Who takes responsibility—the owner, the manufacturer, or the software provider? And what if gangsters start using 3D-printed guns that leave no trace when melted and discarded?

These are simply cases in point. It’s in this context that the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution move on 28 May to announce the creation of six councils to provide policy guidance and address governance gaps in areas like autonomous driving, precision medicine, blockchain and AI is welcome.

Yet, you may ask (and rightly so): What has all this got to do with digital technologies increasing the digital divide? Here’s my submission: Despite my strong belief that the melding of science and technology is a critical part of our evolutionary road map, smart technology has to become cheaper and be made relevant to the masses, failing which it could end up increasing the digital divide. A tacit admission by governments—that this technology disruption due to AI, automation and robotics will impact and alienate many people—is borne by the fact that we are mooting the idea of a “Universal Basic Income".

With three billion people predicted to still be offline in 2023, and many more failing to reap the internet’s full potential, the time to address digital exclusion is now, insist the Pathways for Prosperity Commission on Technology and Inclusive Development, which is hosted and managed by Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government. “Solutions are not just about shiny technology," the Commission notes, “but rather about diagnosing and fixing systemic problems first and using technology appropriately." India, with its increased focus on digital India and AI and a 1.3 billion population, surely has its work cut out.

 

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Instilling scientific temper is both essential and very difficult

Source: By Sandipan Deb: Mint

The draft New Education Policy (NEP) is out, and most of the discussion has been about the so-called imposition of Hindi in schools. But I was interested in something else. Many years ago, when I was writing a book on the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), I met many wildly successful IITians, and several of them said that the IIT curriculum should have more liberal arts courses. A more multi-disciplinary education would have helped them navigate their early work lives much better.

In fact, in Silicon Valley, over the past few years, companies have been hiring droves of liberal arts majors. As the internet and, increasingly, artificial intelligence impact our society in deeper and unforeseen ways, companies realize that they need a much more acute understanding of psychology, philosophy, sociology and ethics.

Happily, the NEP has a whole chapter titled Towards a More Liberal Education, which even refers to a survey of Nobel Prize-winning scientists that revealed they are three times more likely than the average scientist to have an artistic hobby. It says: “Engineering schools such as the IITs must move towards a more liberal education integrating arts and humanities, while arts and humanities students must aim to learn more science."

It proposes that specialization in chosen discipline(s) must be accompanied by a broad-based education. It suggests a common core curriculum for all students, which, among other things, should aim to develop “critical thinking (e.g. courses on statistics, data analysis or quantitative methods); communication skills (e.g. courses on writing and speaking); aesthetic sensibilities (e.g. courses in music, visual art, or theatre); scientific temper."

But while the NEP suggests courses for developing communication skills, aesthetic sensibilities, etc., it is silent on what courses to offer to develop a scientific temper, which (or lack of which) has a much greater impact on society than aesthetic sensibilities. A nation can thrive without producing any literature worth a mention (think Singapore), but will rarely do so in the long run if it puts superstition above reason.

We all know what scientific temper is—in simple terms, you don’t go by what you feel is correct, but by facts, being open to argument, and applying logic. And, it’s very important to realize that scientific temper is not an automatic product of studying science. Otherwise, highly qualified scientists would not be in denial about human-caused global warming. Or insist that Indians invented the nuclear bomb and flying machines thousands of years ago. In these cases, political ideology trumps scientific temper.

All of us humans suffer from cognitive bias. There are many reasons: Confirmation bias—favouring information that conforms to your existing beliefs; halo effect—your impression of a person influencing how you feel and think; attention bias—the tendency to pay attention to some things while ignoring others; identity-protective cognition—I support “my side", however preposterous what “my side" is saying, and so on. At a macro—and more dangerous—level, is the irrationality caused by ideological tribalism.

But how do you inculcate scientific temper in students when academia itself is filled with cognitive bias? A few years ago, when Harvard University professor Steven Pinker proposed at a curriculum review meeting that all students should learn about cognitive biases, it was summarily rejected. Free speech activist Greg Lukianoff and New York University professor Jonathan Haidt in their book, The Coddling Of The American Mind, cite studies to show how, over the decades, left-liberals have taken over the humanities departments of US universities.

In 1996, the ratio of professors who self-identified themselves as being on the left, compared to those being on the right, was 2:1. In 2016, in Haidt’s field of social psychology, it was 17:1 and, in most other humanities and social sciences, it was more than 10:1. We have no such figures for India, but by all accounts, the story has played out along similar lines. So students have been subjected to institutionalized lack of viewpoint diversity; this would have almost certainly led to cognitive bias.

In 2017, two US scientists got a paper published in a peer-reviewed social sciences journal which claimed that penises are causing climate change. Encouraged by this, along with another scientist, they started “The grievance studies affair", a project to create bogus academic papers on cultural, queer, race, gender, fat and sexuality studies. The intent was to expose problems in “grievance studies", a term they apply to academic areas in which “poor science is undermining the real and important work being done elsewhere". The project was halted a year later when some journalists caught on. By that time, several nonsensical papers had been published, and several others accepted.

So, how do you begin to instil scientific temper in students and de-bias them when their teachers themselves suffer from the same ailments? My humble suggestion: Prescribe the ancient Indic Nyaya Sutras on logic. Discard your biases and read them as secular texts; in fact, they even have interesting arguments over whether God exists. The draft NEP emphasizes scientific temper for students, but what if academia itself lacks it?

Government wish list for schools

Source: By Ritika Chopra: The Indian Express

On May 31, a committee set up for drafting a new National Education Policy submitted its report to the HRD Minister. The draft policy is in the public domain for feedback and suggestions. A meeting with all state governments has also been called later this month to seek their views. Once feedback is received, the government will finalise the policy and move it in Parliament. Some of the broad draft recommendations on school education:

Pre-primary education

The draft NEP acknowledges a “severe learning crisis” in India, where children in primary school fail to attain basic math and reading skills. Attributing a major part of this crisis to a “tragic deficiency” in early childhood care and education (ECCE) of children in the age group 3-6 years, the draft recommends that ECCE be made an integral part of the Right to Education (RTE) Act. Once ECCE becomes a justiciable right, it will be “obligatory for the public system to provide appropriate and quality educational infrastructure, facilities, and educators to all children in the age group 3-6 years”.

To strengthen and expand ECCE, the draft policy recommends increased investment in existing anganwadi centres (meant for providing basic nutrition, healthcare and pre-school education to 3-to-6-year-olds), locating anganwadi centres in primary schools, encouraging primary schools to add pre-school, and building high-quality standalone pre-schools in areas where existing anganwadis and primary schools are not able to fulfill ECCE requirements. To ensure continuity from pre-primary to primary schools, the draft advocates bringing all aspects of ECCE under the purview of the Human Resource Development Ministry.

A large number of children currently in elementary school — perhaps over 5 crore — cannot read and understand basic text and solve simple addition and subtraction problems, the report states. Many of them eventually drop out. To address this, the draft policy proposes a host of interventions:

  1. Redesigning of school curriculum for Grades 1 to 5 to include dedicated mathematics and reading hours every day, activities that relate classroom maths to real-life maths, weekly puzzle-solving sessions to inculcate logical thinking, and language and maths-focused morning assemblies.
  2. A ‘National Tutors Programme’ that will enrol the best performers of each school for up to five hours a week as tutors for students who have fallen behind.
  3. A ‘Remedial Instructional Aides Programme’ to draw instructors from the

Local community to hold remedial classes during schools hours, after school hours and during summer vacations for students who need help.

  1. A school preparation module to be prepared by NCERT for all Grade 1 students to ensure they have the required learning levels (letters, shapes, colours, numbers) before starting the Grade 1 syllabus.
  2. Vacancies to be filled urgently to ensure a pupil-teacher ratio of 30:1.
  3. A nutritious breakfast, in addition to the midday meal, for improved learning.

Curriculum and pedagogy

While the 1986 education policy standardised school education with its push for a uniform 10+2 structure, the 2018 draft pitches for reconfiguration of curriculum and pedagogy in a “5+3+3+4” design, which recognises different stages of development of cognitive abilities in children. This corresponds to the age groups 3-8 years (foundational stage), 8-11 (preparatory stage), 11-14 (middle stage), and 14-18 (secondary stage).

The foundational phase (from three years of pre-school to Grade 2), the draft policy recommends, should comprise five years of flexible “play-based, activity-based, and discovery-based” learning and interaction. Instilling multilingual skills in children will be the key focus of this stage.

This is followed by a preparatory phase consisting of three years (Grades 3, 4 and 5) of basic education incorporating some textbooks as well as aspects of more formal classroom learning. The next three years of middle school education (Grades 6, 7 and 8) would involve developing more abstract thinking and subject teaching leading up to a secondary education phase of four years (Grades 9, 10, 11 and 12),” the report reads.

The secondary phase will comprise four years of multidisciplinary study, with each year divided into two semesters. Grades 11 and 12 will be considered a part of the secondary stage (not junior college or higher secondary).

There will be some essential common subjects for all, while simultaneously there will be a great flexibility in selecting elective courses… so that all students can expand their horizons as they see fit and explore their individual interests and talents,” the draft states. It adds that the choice among science, arts and commerce should be delayed so that it is based on a student’s experience and interests and not dictated by parents and society. It proposes no hard separation of school content in terms of curricular, extracurricular, or co-curricular areas, and between arts and sciences.

Languages

While the draft recommends continuance of the three-language formula, it has proposed flexibility in the choice of languages, as long as students can show proficiency in any three languages. Hindi and English are no longer the stipulated languages that students must study from Grade 6.

Further, it advocates reduction in curriculum load and reorientation of curriculum to promote multilinguism, ancient Indian knowledge systems, scientific temper, ethical reasoning, social responsibility, digital literacy and knowledge of critical issues facing local communities. The National Curriculum Framework 2005, it states, should be revised by end-2020.

Board exam restructure

Class 10 and 12 Board examinations, according to the draft NEP 2018, should serve as a “check for basic learning, skills and analysis”, which one should pass comfortably without coaching and cramming. To eliminate the “life-determining” and “high stakes” nature of Board examinations, it calls for changes including allowing students to sit for the examination twice in any given school year. “Eventually, when computerised adaptive testing becomes widely available, multiple attempts for Board examinations could be allowed,” it proposes.

It also pitches a shift to a “modular” approach in which a student is able to sit for the Board exam in a range of subjects across eight semesters. “Students will be expected to take a total of at least 24 subjects (such as science, economics, Indian history, philosophy, digital literacy, physical education) Board Examinations, or on average three a semester (every six months), and these examinations would be in lieu of in-school final examinations so as not to be any additional burden on students or teachers,” the draft reads.

Governance of schools

At present, the Department of School Education (DSE) in a state is in charge of operation, regulation and policy-making. The draft NEP 2018 calls for decentralisation, with each of these functions carried out by separate bodies — policy-making by a ‘Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog’ (Education Commission at national level, headed by the PM); operation by DSE; regulation by an independent ‘State School Regulatory Authority’ or SSRA in each state, which will set basic and uniform standards for both public and private schools; academic matters, including standard setting and curriculum, to be continued to be led by the State Councils of Educational Research and Training.

While the policy advocates an end to “loading of regulatory requirements” against private institutions, it also recommends that school management committees or SMCs be set up in private schools. SMCs (with parents as members) are currently mandatory for government schools and play a significant role in governance and functioning.

For fee hikes in private schools, the draft states that the percentage of increase, based on inflation, will be decided by SSRA for every three-year period. Private schools will not use the word “public” in their names in any communication, documentation or declaration of status, it recommends.

Right to Education Act

The policy envisages a detailed review and subsequent amendment of the RTE Act for extension “downwards to include up to three years of early childhood education prior to Grade 1, and upwards to include Grades 11 and 12”. It calls for a review of Clause 12(1)(c) — providing for mandatory 25% reservation for economically weaker section students in private schools — in the wake of its alleged misuse.

Other recommendations

  1. Early vocational exposure, with basic knowledge of various livelihoods (gardening, pottery, electric work, etc) will be taught at Foundational and Elementary levels.
  2. Students’ progress throughout school, and not just at the end of Grades 10 and 12, should be mapped regularly through state census examination in Grades 3, 5, and 8.
  3. Teachers will not be engaged in time-consuming, non-teaching work such as electioneering and cooking of midday meals.
  4. “Para-teacher” (Shikshakarmi, Shiksha-mitra, etc) systems to be stopped by 2022.
  5. Excessive teacher transfers to be halted immediately.
  6. All schools will be accredited as per the School Quality Assessment and Accreditation Framework.

 

 

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Instilling scientific temper

Source: By Sandipan Deb: Mint

The draft New Education Policy (NEP) is out, and most of the discussion has been about the so-called imposition of Hindi in schools. But I was interested in something else. Many years ago, when I was writing a book on the IITs, I met many wildly successful IITians, and several of them said that the IIT curriculum should have more liberal arts courses. A more multi-disciplinary education would have helped them navigate their early working lives much better.

In fact, in Silicon Valley, in the past few years, companies have been hiring droves of liberal arts majors. As the internet and, increasingly, artificial intelligence impact our society in deeper and unforeseen ways, companies realise that they need a much more acute understanding of psychology, philosophy, sociology and ethics.

Happily, the NEP has a whole chapter titled “Towards a More Liberal Education", which even refers to a survey of Nobel Prize winning scientists that revealed that they are three times more likely than the average scientist to have an artistic hobby. It says: “Engineering schools such as the IITs must move towards a more liberal education integrating arts and humanities, while arts and humanities students must aim to learn more science." It proposes that specialisation in chosen discipline(s) must be accompanied by a broad-based education. It suggests a common core curriculum for all students, which, among other things, should aim to develop “critical thinking (e.g. courses on statistics, data analysis, or quantitative methods); communication skills (e.g. courses on writing and speaking); aesthetic sensibilities (e.g. courses in music, visual art, or theatre); scientific temper."

But while the NEP suggests courses for developing communication skills, aesthetic sensibilities etc, it is silent on what courses to offer to develop a scientific temper, which (or lack of which) has a much greater impact on society than aesthetic sensibilities. A nation can thrive without producing any literature worth mentioning (think Singapore), but will rarely do so in the long run if it puts superstition above reason.

We all know what scientific temper is—in simple terms, you don’t go by what you feel is correct, but by facts, being open to argument, and applying logic. And it’s very important to realise that scientific temper is not an automatic product of studying science. Otherwise, highly qualified scientists would not be in denial about human-caused global warming. Or insist that Indians invented the nuclear bomb and flying machines thousands of years ago. In these cases, political ideology trumps scientific temper.

All of us humans suffer from cognitive bias. There are many reasons: confirmation bias—favouring information that conforms to your existing beliefs; halo effect—your impression of a person influencing how you feel and think; attention bias—the tendency to pay attention to some things while ignoring others; identity-protective cognition—I support “my side", however preposterous what “my side" is saying, and so on. At a macro—and more dangerous—level, is the irrationality caused by ideological tribalism.

But how do you inculcate scientific temper in students when academia itself is filled with cognitive bias? In fact, a few years ago, when Harvard University Professor Steven Pinker proposed at a curriculum review meeting that all students should learn about cognitive biases, it was summarily rejected. Free speech activist Greg Lukianoff and New York University professor Jonathan Haidt , in their book The Coddling of the American Mind, quote studies to show how, over the decades, the left-liberals have taken over the humanities departments of US universities.

In 1996, the ratio of professors who self-identified themselves as being on the left, compared to those being on the right, was 2:1. In 2016, in Haidt’s field of social psychology, it was 17:1, and in most other humanities and social sciences, it was more than 10:1. We have no such figures for India, but by all accounts, the story has played out along similar lines. So students have been subjected to institutionalised lack of viewpoint diversity; this would have almost certainly led to cognitive bias.

In 2017, two US scientists got a paper published in a peer-reviewed social sciences journal, which claimed that penises are responsible for causing climate change. Encouraged by this, along with another scientist, they started “The Grievance Studies Affair", a project to create bogus academic papers on cultural, queer, race, gender, fat, and sexuality studies. The intent was to expose problems in “grievance studies", a term they apply to academic areas in which “poor science is undermining the real and important work being done elsewhere". The project was halted a year later when some journalists caught on. By that time, several nonsensical papers had been published, and several others accepted. One of the published papers had won special recognition.

So how do you begin to instil scientific temper in students and debias them when their teachers themselves suffer from the same ailments? My humble suggestion; Prescribe the ancient Indic Nyaya texts on logic. Discard your biases and read them as secular texts; in fact, they even have interesting arguments over whether God exists.

 

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A case for language rights

Source: By N Kalyan Raman: Deccan Herald

The storm created by the draft National Educational Policy seems to have subsided for the moment, with the government backtracking on the mandatory requirement of Hindi as one of the three languages to be studied at the school level in non-Hindi speaking states. The backtracking was a result of vociferous protest from several states, chiefly from Tamil Nadu, against this attempt at “imposition” of Hindi by the government at the Centre.

The peremptory move was typical of the Modi dispensation, whose idea of governance is to enforce submission to its authority, treating citizens as little more than subjects. And this time around, it meant to pave the way for the establishment of Hindi as the national language or, in other words, the language of the “nation”.

Apart from the emotive aspect of nationhood, the move would also privilege Hindi as the exclusive language of governance, displacing English altogether, and thereby as the central language of knowledge and intellectual discourse. Eventually, the much-despised Anglophone elite, implacable enemies of Hindutva, would be literally crowded out by a Hindi-educated intellectual elite from across the country.

In such a scenario, hundreds of millions of people from the non-Hindi states would be disadvantaged and downgraded to second-class citizens. It is precisely to forestall this prospect that Tamil Nadu has insisted that it would stick to its two-language formula of Tamil and English at the school level.

The two-language policy has been in force in Tamil Nadu since the late 1960s, when the DMK came to power in the wake of the anti-Hindi agitation of 1965. So long as Tamil Nadu, and other states in a similar situation, stick to their guns and hold fast against the forces of Hindutva on the political front, the BJP’s vision of Hindi as the national language is unlikely to become reality in the foreseeable future.

However, it is possible to see this contest more as a fight for supremacy between Hindi and English, both hegemonic languages in their own way, than as a battle for the basic language rights of ordinary citizens. And what might these basic rights be?

To receive accessible and affordable education up to the tertiary level in their mother tongue, or in a language close to it and to live in a society that will honour and reward such education with opportunities and incentives in any field of endeavour. There are longstanding reasons why such a scenario, so important to the future well-being of most of our population, is a distant dream.

Postcolonial laissez faire

Since our education system during the colonial era was the creation of the British, the primacy of English as the language of education and administration was unavoidable. After Independence, the privilege accorded to English continued unchecked. The reasons were partly cultural. As an inherently hierarchical, context-sensitive society, we adapted to English in our own way, as described by AK Ramanujan in his essay, ‘Is There an Indian Way of Thinking?’

When English is borrowed into (or imposed on) Indian contexts, it fits into the Sanskrit slot; it acquires many of the characteristics of Sanskrit, the older native Father-Tongue, its pan-Indian elite character—as a medium of laws, science and administration, and its formulaic patterns; it becomes a part of Indian multiple diglossia (a characteristic of context-sensitive societies).

What we should have done was to reinvent and develop the capacities of our education system in Indian languages, an onerous task by any reckoning. We were taking the right steps during the 1950s and early 60s, but as English-driven, white-collar employment began to expand in the following two decades, the efforts necessary to provide quality education in Indian languages at the college level were given up.

The increasing competition at the school level, combined with progressive privatisation of education, put paid to quality instruction in Indian languages at the school level as well. The result is large-scale disenfranchisement of the rural and economically weaker sections of society. That such a situation has come about in a state like Tamil Nadu, a crusader against Hindi imposition, speaks volumes about the state of language rights in our country. As for English, it is spoken of as a route to better opportunities and a privileged life. This is true for only a tiny fraction of the population.

If, at 24 million jobs (2013-14 Economic Census), employment in the organised sector is about 5% of the labour force of 479 million (World Bank figures for 2014), and jobs for which English is an absolute requirement amount to only a small fraction of that number, it is hard to see how education in English can be ‘aspirational’ for all our children, given such a narrow base of opportunities. Moreover, we simply lack the resources required to provide quality English education on such a wide scale. We are plunging the bulk of our children into a contest that they can never win.

Going beyond the knee-jerk attempt at imposition of Hindi and the equally knee-jerk opposition to it favouring the primacy of English, we need a languages policy with a social vision, policy as if people mattered. This is a programme for the long haul, one that requires the participation, contribution and support of all those committed to our future as a healthy, functioning democracy. It’s time we gave serious and rigorous thought to the role of languages in the development of our society in a fair and equitable way.

 

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In India, an elusive dream

Source: By N Veeresha: Deccan Herald

Every February 20 since 2009, the United Nations observes ‘World Day of Social Justice’ (WDSJ). The purpose is to take stock of the plight of injustice across the globe and to push for tenable solutions in mitigating the same. It recognises the need to alleviate the levels of poverty, social exclusion, reducing unemployment, addressing gender inequality, promoting effective participation in decision-making and access to opportunities and justice for all. Set in this context, it is pertinent to look into the aspects of justice in general and social justice in particular in India. The preamble to the Constitution promulgated justice broadly in terms social, economic and political aspects.

In ‘A Theory of Justice’, John Rawls identifies two “principles of justice”. First, “each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all”; second, “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent with the just savings principle, and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity”.

To what extent our democracy has ensured justice to the historically socio-economic and politically alienated communities, in particular, and to its citizens, in general, needs to be understood. An attempt has been made to explore the nuances of social justice with specific reference to Adivasis (STs), Dalits (SCs) and Muslims. However, there are other communities that are continually denied justice, such as Other Backward Classes (OBCs), women, senior citizens, transgender people and youth.

The India Exclusion Report (IER) 2016 finds that the Adivasis, Dalits and Muslims are severely affected communities by way of exclusion from access to public goods. The first principle of Rawls’ justice is more of a theoretical stance or institutional arrangements that are necessary; the second is the practice of these rights and liberties. A decade ago, former vice president of India Hamid Ansari said that “for the 85 million Scheduled Tribes in India, the struggle to retain their identities and seek empowerment through our Constitutional framework has not yielded commensurate outcomes” and described the plight of adivasis as “unpalatable”.

Alienation of land from adivasis to non-adivasis through development projects, especially mining, in Scheduled Areas is causing displacement, migration and unrest among adivasi communities. Post-Independence, some 40-50% of displaced persons are adivasis.

Dalits are suffering the worst forms of social discrimination both within and outside government. As per the IER report, the extent of landlessness was highest among Dalits, at 57.3%, than among other social groups. This pushes them to work as daily wage labourers, mostly in agriculture, with inadequate and unequal pay. Due to the low wages, the condition of Dalit households is deplorable, which is a visible manifestation of the severity of the marginalisation. With regard to Dalits, ‘Caste, Discrimination and Exclusion in Modern India’ by Vani K Barooah et al (2015), has inferred, with irrefutable statistics, that “underpinning all forms of disadvantage is the practice of untouchability”.

Despite a rich history of shared living with mutual understanding and respect, the politics of religion and identity, especially between Hindus (majority) and Muslims (minority), has widened the social divisions in the country in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and Gujarat riots in 2002. Mob and lynching attacks by extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, has increased at an alarming rate since 2014.

The foregoing analysis and discussion clearly indicates the various forms of injustices in the form of land alienation of adivasis, social discrimination against Dalits and State-led violence and biased practices towards Muslims. What has been the role of the judiciary in protecting them from human rights violations?

The way the legal and criminal justice system operates has actually perpetuated and deepened existing practices. This observation can be corroborated from the fact of huge over-representation of Adivasis, Dalits and Muslims in Indian prisons. The glaring reality lies in the number of under-trial prisoners, most of them belonging to these excluded communities are forced to live in jails without any legal recourse.

Systemic ‘alienation’

The social exclusionary practice of the state and union governments towards the disadvantaged communities brings forth the concept of ‘alienated citizenship’ in India. The alienation is an undercurrent in the formulation of public policies and related institutional arrangements, producing structural inequalities and violence, defective implementation of the existing programmes/schemes, inadequate budgetary allocations for social welfare and most importantly weak state and administrative capacities that are unable to deal sternly with the injustices and discriminatory practices.

Going back to Rawls’ principles of justice, what we can see in India is that despite progressive constitutional provisions, there is a constant denial of the rights of the historically marginalised sections. Right to justice in all aspects of life is indispensable to building a just society. The practices of structural violence embedded in institutions of governance require an inward look by the Indian State which provides the critical inputs for inclusive policies. The question is whether the State lends an ear in order to strengthen democratic practices in day to day life?

The functional experience of a ‘modern nation-state’ was shows that the Indian State is weak when it comes to resolving its own structural constraints and institutional deficits to restore the order. In the context of the persuasive power of neo-liberal policies through capital, the State’s role needs a radical transformation from an unjust to an ethical entity, as envisioned by Hegel. Without social justice, political democracy cannot sustain.

 

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