A voting technique

Source: By Govind Bhattacharjee: The Statesman

The elections for the 17th Lok Sabha will be conducted in seven phases and over 39 days, compared to 36 days for the 16th Lok Sabha. The votes will be counted four days later, making the largest exercise in the world’s largest democracy also the longest. In an age of technology and EVMs, our elections are getting stretched almost without end. But the Election Commission has a point ~ the security and fairness of the process, sine qua non of elections everywhere, cannot be compromised.

In November 2018, West Virginia became the first state in USA, and in the world, to allow internet voting using a technology called blockchain in mid-term elections, in which 144 overseas military personnel from 24 counties were able to cast their ballots on a mobile, blockchain based platform called Voatz. The technology was earlier successfully piloted in the primary elections in April, in respect of deployed military members and other citizens eligible to vote as absentees under the law. Voter turnout in West Virginia is traditionally among the lowest in the USA, especially among military personnel, and the exercise was intended to boost turnout.

There is no dearth of skeptics anywhere, and like opponents of EVMs in India, this also provoked wide criticism on the same grounds of compromising democracy, but despite such protests, blockchain-based voting systems would probably become the norm in the near future. Voting with blockchain can, in fact, completely eliminate election frauds and tampering. The blockchain protocol automatically maintains transparency in the process, reducing the number of personnel needed to oversee an election and hence the cost. Above all, the system can provide instant results. Blockchain, which is the backbone of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum, is definitely the technology for the future.

Blockchain is only a chain of blocks. A “block” contains digital information which is stored in the “chain” which is a public database. Blockchain is actually a “distributed, decentralized, public ledger” which stores information about transactions and their participators, besides information that uniquely identifies a block. Any information stored in the blockchain is immutable and completely transparent. The system rests on the pillar of decentralisation.

In a centralized entity, all data are stored in one location, embodied by the traditional client-server architecture, in which a query is sent to the server which then responds with the requested information. But since all data are stored at the server, it also becomes the sure target of hackers. In contrast, in a decentralised system, data are not stored in any centralised location but distributed throughout the network, making each user the owner of the information. It is then not necessary to interact with any particular computer in the network for accessing information.

Being decentralised, the blockchain architecture has no centralized points of vulnerability that hackers can exploit; besides, instead of the usual “username/password” security of centralised systems, blockchain uses the much more robust security of encryption. This was the concept underlying the cryptocurrencies like bitcoin which have no physical form and exist only in the decentralised network.

Whenever a new transaction occurs, it creates a new block with new data which is added to the chain, provided the transaction is verified not by any human being, but by the network of computers itself, using a complex mathematical algorithm. The block thus created is given a unique, identifying code ~ a “hash” ~ by which it is distinguished from all other blocks and is added to the existing blockchain, where it now becomes visible to all connected computers only for viewing, making it completely transparent. The only user information that is visible is their digital signatures, or usernames.

Each computer in the network has its own shared copy of the blockchain. Thus there will be millions of copies of the same blockchain distributed in the millions of computers connected to the network and that is what makes it so secure ~ no single user or group of users can manipulate the digital information contained in the block. Once a block is added, and a vote can easily be translated into and stored as a block, it is automatically validated, at which point it become unalterable, rendering it impossible to tamper with. This immutability, along with decentralization and transparency, gives blockchain its universal appeal. It serves the objectives of creating information that is truthfully recorded and distributed, but cannot be edited or even copied.

Blockchain technology was first outlined in 1991 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta, but started attracting attention only from January 2009, with the launch of Bitcoin. Bitcoin’s creator( s) known by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto called it “a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party.” In fact, being distributed among computers, it cannot be controlled by the governmental or any agency. Governments and central banks are naturally weary as this may grow up to be an uncontrollable monster and unbundle all traditional banking and financial institutions.

From a fledgling cryptocurrency born in 2008 into a real world cash alternative that is challenging the conventional financial transactions transcending national borders, and threatening governments and central banks the world over, Bitcoin’s growth has been truly stupendous, though with many ups and downs and it has spawned more than 1600 other cryptocurrencies. But it was only in 2017 that it started going ballistic, from almost $1,000 in January to peak at $19,511 in December, its total value touching almost $112 billion.

Some saw a bubble in it and warned of an impending collapse, other dismissed such a possibility with contempt, like John McAfee, the founder of the eponymous anti-virus company who famously said, “Those of you in the old school who believe this is a bubble simply have not understood the new mathematics of the Blockchain, or you did not care enough to try. Bubbles are mathematically impossible in this new paradigm.”

But a bubble indeed it was, and like all bubbles, its fall too was as spectacular as its rise. Within a few days it would lose more than 80 per cent of its peak value. It was one of history’s most notorious bubbles, which ruined not only many individual investors but also companies that supplied the crypto-ecosystem. However, its impact on the global financial system was rather limited as major banks or financial institutions had very little exposure to cryptocurrencies. But bursting of the bitcoin bubble had nothing to do with blockchain’s security architecture ~ its price crashed because of greed that propelled artificial demand, like all bubbles. Investors in India were also affected when a fraudulent company called BitConnect wound up its operations after defrauding the investors by a whopping Rs 22000 crore, poured in the wake of demonetization, and because of that probably, not much noise could be made. The RBI immediately imposed prohibition on banks from dealing with cryptocurrency-trading firms or individuals.

Bitcoin was the reason why blockchain was originally conceived, but now we understand that the technology has infinity of possible applications across the entire socio-economic spectrum. Blockchain is also threatening to decentralize the World Wide Web, and to reclaim the equalizing control and ownership back from the grasp of profit-hungry companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, etc., to usher in Web version 3.0. It is likely to be a highly disruptive process, and its creative destruction will upend most traditional business models.

Blockchain is actually about solving society’s ultimate challenge ~ trust ~ and in doing so, it eliminates the need for middlemen. At a time when elections ~ even in advanced democracies ~ are facing allegations of fraud or outside influence, use of technology to eliminate rigging is imperative. Yes, there will be challenges to overcome, but the advantages are too obvious to be ignored. As Brookings Institution had said, “Mobile voting using a safe and tested interface could eliminate voter fraud and boost turnout.” It can maintain transparency, minimize cost and streamline counting; in fact, voters can themselves detect any tampering of their votes. Foul play and voter coercion can be completely eliminated along with improved audit, authentication and convenience.

India’s leap in space

Source: By Harsh V Pant: Deccan Herald

Prior to the prime minister’s televised 10-minute address in Hindi on the noon of March 27, few had expected that he would be announcing the beginning of a new space age for India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that India had successfully conducted an anti-satellite missile test, lauded the scientific establishment, emphasised that this was a measure for national security without contravening any international law and assured the world that the step was not aimed at any specific country. The exercise, dubbed ‘Mission Shakti’, represented a direct ascent kinetic kill, where a ballistic missile launched from the earth without any explosive warhead destroys the targeted satellite upon impact.

Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), the sixth largest space agency in the world, marks 50 years this year, having been established by Indira Gandhi in 1969 (although its earlier avatar INCOSPAR – within the Department of Atomic Energy — came into being in 1958, with Jawaharlal Nehru establishing the space programme, the DRDO and finalising the country’s three-stage nuclear programme that year). Isro has carved out a niche not only through exemplary cost-effectiveness and innovative societal applications but by hosting the largest constellation of civilian satellites in the Indo-Pacific region, the success of the Mars Orbiter Mission and creating the world record of launching 104 satellites from a single rocket.

But Isro being a civilian space programme, the ASAT test was carried out under the aegis of the DRDO, the architect of the indigenous missile programme that started in 1983. The DRDO has had the ASAT capability since at least 2012. The March 27 test was conducted by adapting the indigenous Ballistic Missile Defence interceptor vehicle and targeting a recently-launched Indian satellite in Low Earth Orbit, at a height of 300 kilometres from the earth.

Satellites enable a range of capabilities, from civilian to military, scientific and commercial. Thus, outer space is integral to the functioning of modern societies as a diverse range of services and devices ranging from missiles to mobiles, banking to navigation, meteorology to disaster management are irreversibly dependent on it. The strategic utility of space was evident from the early years of the Cold War, when both the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union demonstrated a wide array of space weapons, including anti-satellite missiles. As the Space Age dawned with the advent of Sputnik in 1957, research and development in various types of anti-satellite systems can be traced, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, back to this time. However, the 1980s marked the crest, with President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative, followed by a prolonged trough.

Ending decades of stability, China conducted an ASAT test in 2007 and the US responded a year later. Since then, the US, China and Russia have accelerated their military space activities in varying degrees. The arrival of new technologies, like hypersonic glide vehicles and nano-satellites further complicates the picture. While there has not been any conflict in space itself and establishing weapons in space is proscribed as per the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, strategic applications of space technology are nevertheless widespread. Deploying a weapon system in space denotes weaponisation of space and is in contravention of the Outer Space Treaty; in contrast, militarisation of space entails utilising space for military purposes, and is legitimate.

Incidentally, subsequent proposals to restrict the arms race in space have been languishing in the United Nations Conference on Disarmament since the 1980s, owing to opposition primarily from the US. The European Union, Russia and China have in the recent past put forward various proposals, ostensibly to prevent weaponisation of outer space. But the platitudes notwithstanding, consensus remains elusive. India has consistently opposed weaponisation of space and upholds space as a common heritage of mankind.

It was the Chinese ASAT test that aggravated India’s security concerns and catalysed the establishment of an Integrated Space Cell within the Ministry of Defence. Outer space being integral to key strategic and civilian functions, securing assets in space has emerged as a crucial priority. India now joins the select quartet of countries in the world possessing the ability to project hard-power into space, along with the US, Russia and China.

The test seems to have been driven by considerations of security, demonstrating technological prowess and by the rightful Indian insistence on having a voice at the high table of global politics, a recurring theme of Indian diplomacy. As the Ministry of External Affairs underlined, “India expects to play a role in the future in the drafting of international law on prevention of an arms race in outer space…in its capacity as a major space-faring nation with proven space technology.”

The selection of a target in Low Earth Orbit aimed to prevent space debris, since space pollution is a universal concern. Further, the assertion of upholding international conventions signalled India’s desire to be perceived as a responsible global player. The Chinese ASAT test of 2007, On the other hand, had been condemned globally for lack of transparency and generating the largest amount of space debris in history.

The unequivocal assertion about the military nature of the tests is welcome for a country whose enduring amnesia about the role of force in international relations circumscribes its emergence as a great power. Space assets had been harnessed for ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) functions — cross-border raids and aerial strikes like that of post-Uri and Balakot being facilitated through satellite reconnaissance and remote sensing, for example — but the ASAT test establishes a new aspect to the deterrence matrix.

Still, the optimal utility of space power cannot be realised absent an integrated Space Command, accompanied by a coherent space doctrine and possessing a comprehensive gamut of ASAT measures. The test conclusively establishes India as a pre-eminent space power, but it remains to be seen whether political will sustains subsequent steps crucial to consolidate this momentum.

Unity in Creation

Source: By Saumitra Mohan: The Statesman

The duality and dichotomy that we usually see in every aspect of Creation results in an artificial split in our consciousness and it is this split which mechanically implants a binary vision to the way we visualise things around us.

We start noticing a self-induced separateness in everything around us. For us, it is always ‘Me’ versus the world. Anyone or anything which is not ‘Me’ is often deemed to be against the Self, thereby generating a conflict. Such a compartmentalised approach to life leads to a tendency to exploit and manipulate others and to use them as a springboard to wangle what we want.

The deeply-grafted division in our consciousness opens a wound that seldom heals and starts a chain-reaction which is not only pernicious, but also impedes our spiritual growth. The resultant negativity engulfs our personal and social life, thereby insidiously reflecting on the overall quality of life. It is this negativity which is evident in all the problems facing humanity today.

The ‘cut’ in our consciousness breeds a sense of insecurity which makes us feel alienated and isolated from the rest of Creation and ourselves. This spawns an internecine conflict further inflamed by opposing emotions and behaviour which proceed from the feeling of alienation and estrangement from other animate and inanimate expressions of life.

The ensuing disharmony and friction between the ‘selfish and the selfless’ may, however, be resolved through a carefully nurtured synthesis between a ‘thesis’ and ‘antithesis’ or what has been referred to as historical materialism. This tension between our higher and lower Self is actually a reflection of a struggle between our wise and real nature.

The strain in our consciousness, though, is also indicative of an insatiable urge for full realisation of our immanent human potential. According to the Gita, a war always rages between our higher and baser ‘Self’ where the former drives us upwards to grow, while the latter pulls us downwards to remain stuck in a relentless conflict. This happens because of the perceived division of life between ‘ourselves’ as creatures separated from the rest of Creation.

We don’t see other creatures or people as an extension of the same indivisible whole as is the reality that has been proved scientifically and spiritually. Our selfish desires and actions always boomerang on us to threaten us in this or next life. The internecine violence, climatic destruction, societal aggression and civilisational annihilation unleashed by humans because of a warped understanding have created the chaos in our midst, one that is hurting us no end. Just as a fire is screened by smoke or the sun by the rainclouds, similarly our inveterate egotistic desires screen our innate urge for knowledge and spiritual growth.

It is sensible not to continue clinging to a parochial self-image when our real nature is so loftier. We need to learn to restrain our animal desires and selfish senses. The Gita advises that we ought to slowly bestow more value to our higher nature, away from a synthetic dichotomy and conditioned behaviour. Each of us shall remain incomplete as long as we consider ourselves separate from our fellow human beings and other creatures.

Anything and everything being nothing, but different permutations and combinations of energy, we are all somehow related at a very basic level. And if we are all inter-related, where is the need for the discord and divisions amongst us that we see all around. However, it is also true that there is no incentive to grow without conflict.

It is the perennially raging conflict and human urges to excel vis-a-vis others which have seen the human civilisation grow to the level we see today. But human urges and drives for growth by itself is not as bad as the desire to grow at the expense and to the exclusion of others. The fact that we can all grow together without compromising anyone’s ‘just deserts’ is beyond dispute.

As we are all born with varied capacities and destinies, there is enough space and scope for everyone’s growth. Peaceful coexistence without dominance of our beastly instincts for one-upmanship can take human civilisation farther than we visualise. When we master the capacity to see through the unity and uniformity in the divine Creation, we stop feeling alienated and separated from each other.

And the moment that happens, we mature to be a more advanced society than we are. And what’s the need to spar over something which is so transient and mythical. After all, our life is nothing but a mirage. This is borne out by the fact that everything around us is changeable. And anything that keeps on changing can never be the same and hence, can’t be real as is the case with the world around us. Indeed, the world around us keeps changing thick and fast without most of us even noticing it.

The living beings keep disappearing at regular intervals, the physical structures keep transforming, the landscapes keep changing as do our attitudes and thoughts. According to Quantum Physics, the reality is relative to the observer. The observation and the observed get influenced by the presence of the observer.

So, everything which keeps changing can’t be true. To be real, it should be constant and unchanging. Only that could be said to be real which never changes. And it is our eternal consciousness, as inalienable part of the Supreme Self, which is said to be constant and real.

If we realise that we are all part of the same whole and spiritually related we shall cease to have a reason for conflicting with one another. Universal love ensues when we see ‘all in ourselves and ourselves in all’ around us. The problem arises when we get detached from the rest and attached to the evanescent experiences stemming from the senses and sensory objects. It is this disarray and disorder which keeps us mired in ‘Maya’ and keeps our selfish desires in command of our senses thereby creating all the trouble and conflicts around us.

One sure way to keep our selfish desires and urges in check is to indulge in regular meditative practices as also in ‘selfless action’. The ‘Meditation’ is defined as the withdrawal of oneself from the sensory world by focussing within one’s consciousness.

Forgetting the outside world, one should get completely engrossed in a world within. One easy way of attaining the state is to watch and concentrate on one’s breathing, thereby peeling oneself away from the sensory world. This inner world is as real and infinite as the world of senses appear to us. In these dark depths, flaming anger can be easily transformed into soothing compassion, ill-will into sublime goodwill and hatred into all-pervasive love.

Our eyes don’t see, the ears don’t hear, the mind doesn’t think and the sensory world is left behind when all consciousness, desires and thoughts are evacuated from the senses during meditation. With corporal and sensory awareness lost, the consciousness is no longer confined in space. For all practical purposes, one becomes aware that one is not a creature separate from others. An understanding, thus, dawns upon one that the world is one, indivisible and infinite.

The observer and observed become one in pure consciousness and energy. The same energy flows through the entire life. One just hopes that as we realise the fundamental unity and harmony in all aspects of Creation, we shall become more capable of realising our true human potential, thereby bringing more sanity and sense in our world which is presently marred by constant conflicts and chaos.

 

The Theory X and Y

Source: By Arun Maira: Mint

Many economists complain that the present government did not capitalize on its handsome electoral mandate to make enough economic reforms. With elections around the corner, they wonder whether the next government will reform the economy faster. The most important question is what sort of reforms is required?

Since the 1980s, the direction of economic reforms has been a one-way street—pushes back governments and expand the operation of markets. Ronald Reagan said, “Government is not the solution, it is the problem." Margaret Thatcher fought off labour unions to give capital more power. Both Thatcher and Reagan were inspired by the free market economics of Milton Friedman, who also propounded the idea that “the business of business must be only business".

Collectively these ideas are the Theory X of economic reformsmore market, less government; more private, less public. In Theory X, the market, where everything can be bought and sold for a price, is a solution to all problems. Climate change, for example, can be resolved by putting a price on carbon, and water depletion by pricing water.

India was also caught up in the global wave of pro-market and pro-private economic reforms sweeping out of the Washington Consensus. On this, 1991 was a landmark year in India’s economic history when the government threw out industrial licensing and dropped international trade barriers. Theory Xers complain that those reforms have not yet been completed. The present government has not divested its stake in public sector enterprises and has not reformed labour laws.

India and the world must find solutions to problems of environmental sustainability and increasing inequalities. But pushing harder on Theory X will not solve these problems. Indeed, there is mounting evidence that Theory X has aggravated these problems. Consider some examples.

Healthcare: The US has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, and yet, does not produce the good outcomes that healthcare systems in other countries do—the UK, Japan, and even “socialist" Cuba. There is a huge ideological bias in the US against the government increasing its role in the provision of healthcare like in other countries. India’s healthcare indicators, too, are among the poorest in the world. Indian citizens also rely on private providers for their healthcare needs because the government has failed to create a good system.

Housing and urban development: Indian citizens need affordable housing when they move to cities to find jobs. India’s housing market has been skewed too far towards attracting investors in real estate who build “bankable" properties rather than homes for poor people to live in.

Internet platforms: these have become the most glaring examples of Theory X having gone too far. Private enterprises must be stopped from converting citizens’ personal data into marketable commodities and from corrupting public discourse while increasing their own profits. It is no longer a question of whether governments should regulate privately owned platforms, but how.

Theory X is founded on an idea propagated by “marginalists". According to these economists, whose ideas have become mainstream, value is determined by market prices. In Theory X, care given by a professional caregiver has a price and is therefore valuable to the economy, whereas unpaid care given by parents to their own children, or by children to their aged parents, is not valuable.

Markets expand when services and environmental resources such as water are sold at a price. Whenever something is priced, those who have money can buy it. If the resource is scarce, its price is driven higher by those who can pay more, and is no longer affordable for people with lower incomes. This is how the privatization of public services invariably becomes inequitable if the government cannot curb the profit motive.

In Theory X, the public should get out of the way to make more room for private. In Theory X, people are valued in society by how much money they earn. Theory X thus devalues the roles of women and caregivers in families.

Theory Y takes a different approach to the economy. The foundation of Theory Y is that the best things in life do not have a monetary price and such intrinsically valuable things should not be forced into the market just to increase its size and to boost gross domestic product (GDP). Minimum government; maximum governance" is an attractive slogan. Theory X focuses on the first part—minimizing government. Theory Y focuses on the latter, on improving governance to create a more just society that provides more equitable access to good quality public services. The next government of India must be judged by how well it implements the Theory Y of reforms. Here are some markers.

One, the growth of GDP does not matter as much as the pace of inclusion in the economy by the creation of more opportunities for people to earn good incomes with decent social security.

Two, whether or not Air India is privatized is not as important as whether small enterprises will have access to capital at low cost and whether the terms of trade are fair for small enterprises and small farmers so that they can earn decent profits.

Three, making more room for the private sector to deliver public services is not as good an idea as improving the capacity of the public sector to provide better quality education, healthcare and urban services.

And four, India’s problem is not “unemployment". People have jobs of sorts, but their precarious employment—in flexible arrangements with their employers, or in tiny self-owned enterprises—does not provide them sufficient incomes, decent working conditions and social security. Reform of labour laws to make it even easier for people to be fired cannot be the right gauge of whether the government is “reformist". Rather, reforms must provide workers in all sectors with better and fairer working conditions.

In summary, the best gauge of the quality of reforms must be whether they improve the lives of citizens, especially those at the bottom of the pyramid, rather than the profits of large corporations.

 

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A weapon that could change the game if India plays tough

Source: By Bharat Karnad: Mint

General elections are often a prompt for Indian prime ministers to take strategic “big bang" decisions that they put off making during most of their time in office. Atal Bihari Vajpayee could have followed up the 1998 series of nuclear tests by ordering the launch of an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), the design of which the Advanced Systems Laboratory, Hyderabad, had on its shelf for several years previously and was itching to test. It could have won the Bharatiya Janata Party a second term.

Manmohan Singh could have derailed Narendra Modi’s ambitions in 2014 had he mustered the gumption to resume thermonuclear testing on the reasonable ground that the fusion device tested in the Shakti series of tests under a BJP dispensation had fizzled.

Modi likely approved the testing of the anti-satellite (A-SAT) weapon; a capability former chief of the Defence Research and Development Organisation maintain was in suspended animation for almost a decade, as insurance against his re-election prospects trended in the wrong direction. Besides, it doesn’t hurt to blow up a satellite in space with a direct missile hit to follow up on the Balakot air strike as a way to burnish the Prime Minister’s tough guy image. But mark this: In each case, the decision was made or not made for extraneous reasons, and not to strategically advantage the country.

But a test is a test is a test and deciding to green-signal it is the easy part. The more difficult thing to do, and where Indian prime ministers have tripped up, is to sustain the momentum of such tests/test-firings and similar seminal developments in the indigenous science and technology sphere, and then convert technology demonstration into military prowess. So, Jawaharlal Nehru, progenitor of the dual-use nuclear energy programme, suddenly got cold feet when it came to testing a nuclear device and weaponizing once the plutonium reprocessing unit in Trombay went on stream and began producing bomb-grade fissile material in 1964.

Indira Gandhi approved the first nuclear test in 1974, and then, by barring further testing, brought the weapons programme to a shuddering halt, consigning India to strategic limbo for some 25 years. Not to be outdone, Vajpayee, despite knowing that the thermonuclear device tested in 1998 was a dud, announced a moratorium on underground testing. The reason in each case was the same—strong external pressure, which is just another way of saying these prime ministers lacked the iron will to put national interest ahead of whatever puny rewards the external powers offered India for ceasing and desisting and otherwise remaining a subservient state.

The question is, will Modi use the A-SAT success to obtain for India comprehensively capable and deployable anti-satellite missile forces able to take out enemy low earth orbit (LEO) satellites providing tactical military information and high earth orbit (HEO) satellites affording wide area strategic coverage, including spotting Indian missile launches?

The pressure will be on India to join one of two space treaties: The Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT) tabled by Russia and China, or PAROS (Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space) proposed by the US. Because Indian political leadership, from the beginning, rather than shaping India into a disruptive force that elbows its way into international reckoning, à la Mao in China, prizes membership in “exclusive" clubs (United Nations Security Council), technology-denial groups (Missile Technology Control Regime), and commercial and trade cartels (Nuclear Suppliers Group), all of which have victimized India, Modi or a successor PM may choose one or the other treaty stream.

In terms of a regime permitting greater latitude, the PPWT allows A-SAT; PAROS doesn’t. Moreover, the provision in PAROS of a “no-first placement initiative" in outer space is moot because the US, Russia and China are racing to put into space war-fighting platforms that are able to look down and shoot downwards and also shoot laterally using laser and kinetic kill weapons that are in their testing stage. The Indian government surely doesn’t want to once again sacrifice its options by agreeing not to do things these big powers are doing. In the event a decision must be taken, staying aloof from those treaties and testing and finessing the capability will arm India with multiple leverages and do the most strategic good, including enhancing India’s credentials as “security provider" to a host of South-East Asian littoral and offshore states fearful of China.

What is significant is Beijing’s restrained reaction to the Indian A-SAT test. The Chinese army finds that the tactical edge it had banked on, courtesy its constellation of LEO satellites transmitting real time data on Indian force disposition along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), is gone. It cannot rely on such satellites anymore to plan hostile moves in sectors once identified for weak Indian defences, or expect continued transmission by its LEO platforms once action is initiated by Chinese forces in the face of an active Indian A-SAT capability. With a blunted Chinese conventional superiority, and nuclear warheaded Agni-V missiles and Arihant-class nuclear submarines holding the Hong Kong-Shanghai belt—China’s wealth producing region—hostage, Beijing may now be more open to formalizing the LAC as the international border.

 

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NYAY: Garibi bachao, not hatao

Source: By Surjit S Bhalla: The Indian Express

It is now official. After the release of the manifesto, the Congress believes its NYAY programme for poverty elimination is a game changer, a political winner, and a winner of advanced thinking on the subject. To bolster this claim, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said the party had consulted “all big economists, without telling anyone, without giving any speeches” on the Nyuntam Aay Yojana or NYAY. A news report quoted Rahul Gandhi as saying: “We were engaged in this work for six months. Take the list of all big economists of the world, we consulted them. Raghuram Rajan… one by one. The first thing we came to know that there should be a minimum income line. We calculated and the result was that the minimum income line should be Rs 12,000 per month.

Further, if you look at the hoopla surrounding this master design (names of some leading poverty economists of the world — from Abhijit Banerjee to Raghuram Rajan to Thomas Piketty — were invoked to show thinking behind the plan) one would infer that this was a major development in thinking. I will show how the minimum income guarantee (MIG) scheme involves some very confused thinking, and knowledge, about the Indian record of poverty, and its alleviation.

I find it most unusual (but not surprising) for the Congress to not claim credit for poverty alleviation (and near elimination according to the existing too-low official poverty line). For purposes of discussion, let us analyse India’s poverty alleviation record till 2011-12 (and 2013-14) — the time-period when the UPA was in power. Since this is a record going back the last 70 years, let us give most of the credit (and blame) to the Congress for all the economic developments that have taken place in India.

At the time Indira Gandhi coined the slogan, garibi hatao in 1971, India was a very very poor country with over 80 per cent of the population deemed absolutely poor, according to the official Tendulkar poverty line. According to this poverty line [approximately a consumption level of Rs 850 per person per month (pppm)], and the same as the World Bank poverty line of PPP $1.9 per person per day, poverty in India was only 12 per cent of the population in 2011-12. This is amongst the best poverty alleviation efforts in the world, and comparable to China which had reduced its absolute poverty rate to 9 per cent over the same period. You would think that the Congress would be proudly proclaiming from the roof-tops that it had provided a spectacular reduction in poverty. But you would be wrong — and I would not be ashamed.

What is the poverty line in NYAY, eight years after 2011-12? The same in real terms as in 2004-5 and 2011-12, it is Rs 1,400 per person, or Rs 6,000 per month for a family of 4.3 persons. The approximate absolute poverty level in India in 2019-20 — just 3 per cent of the population. By ostensibly targeting the bottom 5 or 10 per cent, the NYAY programme is garibi bachao, not garibi hatao.

One of the major consultants to the Congress master plan of poverty alleviation is Piketty. His analysis (along with co-author Lucas Chancel) claimed, in the latter half of 2017, that Indian income inequality had worsened to beyond Brazilian and South African depths, which were among the worst in the world, and had deteriorated the most during the UPA period (2004/5 to 2013/14). Indeed, their analysis stops around 2015. At the time this analysis was presented, I was the only person who commented, in seminars and articles in The Indian Express, that these conclusions were very suspect.

At that time, I was a newly-appointed member of Narendra Modi’s Economic Advisory Council. Not one Congress economist, not one of the 108 economists busy writing letters and advising the Congress on NYAY, dared to question Piketty. I had said at that time, as I have repeated often times over the last 20 years, India’s record of poverty alleviation is among the best. And that income inequality worse than Brazilian levels was a figment of fertile imaginations. Please recognise that you cannot have both inequality zooming and poverty falling precipitously.

Back to the ill-conceived NYAY, It will retain all existing “merit” subsidies. Food is a very large component of the poor woman’s budget (close to 60 per cent). And India has been operating corrupt schemes to “deliver” food to the poor. The corrupt PDS system of foodgrain distribution is supported by a very corrupt MSP system. In the manifesto, the Congress claims that “in the last five years, under the BJP government, the agriculture sector has been driven into deep crisis. Adequate MSP was denied for 4 years”. In other words, support more PDS, higher MSPs for rich farmers, and NYAY.

Are there better alternatives available? In early January, 2018, Karan Bhasin and I presented a detailed paper on a targeted basic income (TBI) scheme for India. A scheme which was not very costly (only Rs 2.7 trillion or about 1.6 per cent of 2019-20 GDP), had the World Bank middle-income poverty line of PPP $3.1 as its basis, and could easily be financed by phasing out corrupt PDS and MSP regimes. Note that both the Congress and the BJP have followed and enhanced the wrong PDS/MSP policy. This must change in the new government, regardless of who wins the next election.

There are moral, logical and economic reasons for helping the bottom third of the population achieving a much higher standard of living. This is very doable, and can easily be financed. Note that a TBI (targeted basic income) scheme is identical to the much-applauded negative income tax scheme — the only difference being that you need not be in the tax net to receive income support.

Instead of a workable targeted income support system, the confused Congress has offered a poverty alleviation income support scheme — but one without increasing the poverty line! This scheme, as the quote earlier from Rahul Gandhi indicates, is profound, and unique, and never been tried before. “To ensure a life of dignity to all Indians,” the Congress proposes to transfer Rs 6,000 to the bottom 20 per cent of households.

There are two major aspects to this oh-so-simple programme. First, it was tried in 1795 and it failed miserably. Karl Polanyi writes in The Great Transformation: “The justices of Berkshire, meeting at the Pelikan Inn, in Speenhamland, near Newbury, on May 6, 1795, in a time of great distress, decided that subsidies in aid of wages should be granted in accordance with a scale dependent upon the price of bread, so that a minimum income should be assured to the poor irrespective of their earnings.” This guarantee of a minimum income proved the undoing of the system. Each person was guaranteed the same level of income; each person ended up with the same level of income, whether they worked or not. Surprise! Nobody worked, and the scheme failed.

The NYAY scheme (sometimes a scam is a scheme) is additionally politically flawed. It is bound to fail. Worse, because of its format, it is a self-designed political disaster. (As someone said, if you are going to commit suicide, do it at the beginning!) You decide for yourself from the following simple extrapolation of the 2011-12 NSSO consumption distribution to 2019-20.

The following per month family income levels are obtained, after the Rs 6,000 NYAY transfer, for the following percentiles in the distribution (1, 5, 15 and 20): Rs 10,280, Rs 12,500, Rs 14,480, Rs 15,240. So far so good — everybody in the bottom 20 per cent has Rs 6,000 extra consumption (income). Now I want to report the 30th, 40th, 50th and the 58th percentile levels of income: Rs 10,670, Rs 12,130, Rs 13,820, and Rs 15,440. Note that the Congress will succeed in political harakiri — it would upset, and alienate, close to 40 per cent of the population, from the 21st to the 58th percentile. Rahul Gandhi and his world-renowned team of advisers are right. The NYAY scheme is unique, never been tried. The reason — no one has (stupidly) dared to adopt it!

 

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Afghanistan’s next chapter

Source: By Dhruva Jaishankar: The Financial Express

The recent geopolitical history of Afghanistan can be divided into five phases. But now, it is at the cusp of another transition, and the defining features of the new phase remain to be seen.

During the first phase, from 1974 to 1979, Pakistan began to give refuge and training to Islamists who could be deployed against Mohammed Daoud Khan’s government. Then, from 1979 to 1989, Pakistan, the United States, and Saudi Arabia financed, trained, and equipped the mujahideen who fought against Soviet troops.From 1989 to 1996, Afghanistan was in transition as regional warlords gained power, closed in on Kabul, and overthrew President Mohammad Najibullah.From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban government ushered in a period of wanton savagery and—with the exceptions of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—diplomatic isolation.

The fifth phase began in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks. Since then, the US has been embroiled in a war supporting a patchwork Afghan government against a resurgent Pakistan-backed Taliban. The sixth phase raises two questions:Did the US lose the war in Afghanistan and, if so, why?

The answer to the first question is both yes and no. The US has failed to eliminate the Taliban from Afghanistan and entirely rule out the possibility of the country again becoming a haven for terrorists. The ongoing peace talks with the Taliban and the impending reduction of the US military presence in the country are a clear recognition of this. The American public is war-weary and President Donald Trump is keen to declare an end to the longest international conflict in US history before the 2020 presidential election.

At the same time, the US achieved many of its initial core objectives. The Taliban was expelled from Kabul and, despite the current peace talks, its uncontested return remains doubtful. Osama bin Laden was killed in neighbouring Pakistan, Taliban leader Mullah Omar died in hiding, and his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2016. A semblance of a functioning state—including a national government and a military—is now a reality, however flawed. And Pakistan remains under pressure to clean up its act.

But, overall, things did not go according to plan for the US, for four main reasons.First, and most obviously, it made political mistakes, born largely of ignorance and hubris, although often apparent only in hindsight. After 2001, the US imposed on Afghanistan a presidential-style government with inadequate checks and balances. After 2003, policymakers became distracted by the initially more intense conflict in Iraq and withdrew resources and attention from Afghanistan. Moreover, they paid insufficient attention in the early years to building up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). In addition, democratisation efforts were mostly top-down rather than bottom-up and elections often were scheduled before the appropriate political institutions were in place. The second set of mistakes was military in nature. After 2008, US war planners believed that a counter-insurgency approach would work. But a “surge” of the kind that initially reduced violence in Iraq failed in Afghanistan for a number of reasons.

For starters, the US was unable to co-opt key adversaries, as it had done with Sunni militias in Iraq following the “Anbar Awakening”. Moreover, it had no solution to cross-border havens in Pakistan, from which Taliban forces could plot and launch continued attacks, and it underestimated the governance challenges in Afghanistan, which had much deeper roots than in Iraq and made development and state-building more difficult. Furthermore, when then-US president Barack Obama announced the surge in Afghanistan, he undermined the effort by also setting out a withdrawal time frame. That was a mistake that even Trump was wise enough to avoid.

The US also failed to learn from past mistakes. Comprehensive US reviews of Afghan policy that produced unpalatable or ineffective recommendations gave way to comprehensive reviews that produced equally unpalatable or ineffective outcomes. In particular, successive US administrations, military commanders, and diplomats believed that buying Pakistan’s tactical cooperation through threats, aid, or military support could prove sustainable. The unwillingness to address Pakistan’s support for terrorism head-on was driven by US concerns—real or inflated—about that country’s nuclear weapons programme. As a result, for years, many US policymakers persuaded themselves that the key to peace in Afghanistan lay in pressuring India to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and thereby somehow allay Pakistani insecurities.

Finally, the US fell victim to its own propaganda. Consider, for example, the notion of Afghanistan as the “graveyard of empires”, which reflected late-nineteenth-century Britain’s effort to explain its failures in the First Afghan War and the emergence of Afghanistan as a buffer zone between the British and Russian empires. It was later propagated by the US, Pakistan, and others in the 1980s and went hand-in-hand with support for the anti-Soviet Afghan mujahideen. But the reality is that Afghanistan (or parts of it) had, at various points, been part of the Kushan, Hellenistic, Persian, Mughal, and Sikh empires, and was at the centre of the Ghaznivid and Durrani empires.

Given its location at the crossroads of Asia, Afghanistan will remain of interest to Iran, Russia, China, Pakistan, and India and, as long as terrorist groups can train and operate internationally from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the US and Europe will also have a continued interest in the country’s future. In assessing that future, it will be important to reflect upon the recent past, in order to break the cycle of unlearned lessons that have brought Afghanistan and its interlocutors to this point.

 

 

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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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The ABC of India’s anti-satellite missile test

Source: By Amitabh Sinha: The Indian Express

India announced to the world 27 March 2019 that it had carried out a successful anti-satellite missile test, becoming only the fourth country to do so. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi coming on television himself to make the announcement, the test is being described as a giant technological and strategic development for the country.

What is an anti-satellite missile test?

Called ASAT in short, it is the technological capability to hit and destroy satellites in space through missiles launched from the ground. Scientists and engineers at Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) launched a missile from the Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Island launch complex near Balasore in Odisha that struck a predetermined target: a redundant Indian satellite that was orbiting at a distance of 300 km from the Earth’s surface.

But why would one want to hit and destroy a satellite?

The technology is aimed at destroying, if necessary, satellites owned by enemy countries. The test, however, can be carried out only on one’s own satellite. There are a large number of satellites currently in space, many of which have outlived their utility and orbiting aimlessly. One such satellite was chosen for the test. India did not identify the satellite it had chosen to hit for the test. But official sources said the satellite that had been knocked out was Microsat R, a micro-satellite launched by ISRO on January 24 this year. The satellite was manufactured by DRDO.

Satellites are extremely critical infrastructure of any country these days. A large number of crucial applications are now satellite-based. These include navigation systems, communication networks, broadcasting, banking systems, stock markets, weather forecasting, disaster management, land and ocean mapping and monitoring tools, and military applications. Destroying a satellite would render these applications useless. It can cripple enemy infrastructure, and bring it down on knees, without causing any threat to human lives.

If it is so potent, why do only few countries have it?

It requires very advanced capabilities in both space and missile technologies that not many countries possess. But more than that, destroying space infrastructure like satellites is also taboo in the international community — at least till now — just like the use of a nuclear weapon. Almost every country agrees that space must not be used for wars and has spoken against weaponisation of space. There are international treaties governing the use of space that mandate that outer space and celestial bodies like the Moon, must only be exploited for peaceful purposes.

There is an Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to which India is a signatory, that prohibits countries from placing into orbit around the Earth “any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction”. It also prohibits the stationing of such weapons on celestial bodies, like the moon, or in outer space. “The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all state parties to the treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes,” it says.

There are at least four more multilateral treaties that deal with specific concepts agreed to in the Outer Space Treaty. None of these, however, prohibits the kind of test that India carried out recently. But there is a more compelling, practical and selfish reason for countries that not wanting to destroy each other’s satellites — the problem of space debris.

Why is space debris such a big problem?

Anything launched into the space remains in space, almost forever, unless it is specifically brought down or slowly disintegrate over decades or centuries. Satellites that are past their life and are no longer required also remain in space, orbiting aimlessly in some orbit. According to the September 2018 issue of Orbital Debris Quarterly News, published by NASA, there were 19,137 man-made objects in space that were large enough to be tracked. These included active and inactive satellites, rockets and their parts, and other small fragments. Over a thousand of them are operational satellites.

Besides these, there are estimated to be millions of other smaller objects that have disintegrated from these and keep floating around in space. According to the European Space Agency, there were an estimated 7, 50,000 objects of size one cm or above in space.

A satellite that is destroyed by a missile disintegrates into small pieces, and adds to the space debris. The threat from the space debris is that it could collide with the operational satellites and render them dysfunctional. According to the ESA, space debris is one of the principal threats to satellites.

When China carried out its first anti-satellite missile test in 2007, destroying its Fengyun-1C weather satellite, it created more than 2,300 large pieces of space debris, and an estimated 1.5 lakh pieces of objects that were larger than 1 cm in size. Each of them could render a satellite useless on collision.

With countries launching more and more satellites, each one of them being a strategic or commercial asset, avoiding collisions could become a challenge in the future. Countries do not want to complicate matters by creating more debris in space.

Didn’t Indian test add to the debris?

It did, but it is too early to say by how much. The Ministry of External Affairs, in its statement, said the Indian test was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there was no space debris. “Whatever debris that is generated will decay and fall back on to the earth within weeks,” it said. The satellite hit during the Indian test, as stated, was orbiting at 300 km from Earth’s surface. Several analysis of the Chinese test of 2007, which had targeted the satellite placed at more than 800 km from Earth’s surface, said that the debris created in that test would remain in space for several decades, possibly centuries.

What signal does the test send to the world?

While the government has conceded that India has long had ASAT capabilities, this is the country’s first demonstration to the world. It has shown that it is capable of bringing down a satellite, and disrupting communication. Because the test was carried out on a satellite placed in the low-earth orbit, one might question whether India can hit any satellite. Targeting satellites in the higher orbits, however, is only a matter of scale — of powering the rockets enough to go deeper in the space? Many of the most strategic satellites are placed in orbits that 30,000 km from earth’s surface or even higher. DRDO scientists claim India has the technology to target these as well.

But could these trigger similar tests by other countries?

Unlikely, The countries that have the capability, and intended to carry out the tests, have already done so. The first anti-satellite test (ASAT) was carried out by the US military way back in 1959. The then Soviet Union followed a year later. Thereafter, the two countries carried out a series of such tests up till early 1980s. After that there was a lull, broken only by the Chinese test in 2007. A year later, US brought down a non-functional spy satellite. Other countries which could have the capability, like Israel, have not shown an intention to test.

How does the world generally react to such tests?

Technically, if the Prime Minister had not announced it himself, the world would not have known, at least immediately, of the test since only India’s own satellite was affected. As is mandatory for any missile test, India did issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to airline authorities across the world informing them about an impending missile test. This notice does not have to specify the kind of missile being tested, only the flight path and the region affected, so that airborne systems are able to avoid it.

The Chinese had withheld the information about their 2007 test for 12 days before announcing it. It had triggered an international outcry, but that was also because of the very large amount of debris created.

Is this the only way to target enemy satellites?

In the last few years, countries have explored alternative options of making enemy satellites dysfunctional, options which do not involve direct destruction of the target or creation of the debris. For example, technologies have been developed to jam the communication from the satellites by interfering with its radio signals. This can be attempted during the uplink or the downlink.

Another option that has been explored is the possibility of sending satellites that could just approach a target close enough to deviate it from its selected orbit, without destroying it. Several countries and organisations including China, Japan, Russia and the European Space Agency are said to be working on developing these ‘close proximity’ anti-satellite technologies.

The third option is the possible use of ground-based lasers to ‘dazzle’ the sensors of the satellites and make them at least “partially blind” so that they are unable to work efficiently. None of these technologies is mature enough to be deployed or tested.

 

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Recognized in terms of ‘power’

Source: By Martand Jha: Mint

The international system recognizes and divides nation states in terms of their respective “powers”. Some are called great powers; some are identified as middle powers; some as emerging powers; and others, rising powers. Each of these terminologies has a specific meaning attached with them because different kinds of powers have different attributes, roles and functions in international relations.

For instance, a great power is defined as a state that plays a major role in international politics with respect to security-related issues. The great powers can be differentiated from other states on the basis of their military power, their interests, their behaviour in general, their interactions with other powers and other powers’ perception of them. This definition of great powers was given by Jack S. Levy in his book, War In The Modern Great Power System, 1495-1975.

All the superpowers therefore are great powers but the reverse is not true. This is precisely because one has to be a great power first in order to become a superpower. For instance, both the US and the Soviet Union were great powers even before World War II, but they were not recognized as superpowers then. It was only after the end of World War II that the world recognized them as superpowers because of their military strength, their destructive potential (especially with the advent of nuclear bombs) and their capabilities to affect international politics at a much wider and deeper scale than before.

Then, there are rising powers, which are primarily those powers whose rise in terms of their socio-economic indicatorsas well as their military strength is recognized by other nation states in the international system. Sometimes, their rise is so sharp and fast that it starts throwing a challenge to existing superpowers. For instance, many scholars argue that China is a classic case of a rising power which is at the cusp of becoming a superpower and take the place of Soviet Union whose collapse in 1991 left a vacuum in the international politics as it was balancing the US for nearly half a century.

While China is recognized as a rising power, India has often been termed as an emerging power since the last decade, especially after the LPG or liberalisation, privatisation and globalization reforms after 1991 that accelerated its economic growth and it became a nuclear power in 1998. It secured India’s national interests to a considerable extent. The term emerging power denotes that a nation state has just started to emerge as a power which is recognized as such by other existing powers in the international system.

The “self-image” of an emerging power changes rapidly, as it starts to broaden both its intentions as well as capabilities to make a broader mark outside the region in which it is regionally situated. For instance, India has always been a regional powerhouse of South Asia, so much so that the very idea of South Asia can’t be imagined without India in the picture. However, India was not considered as a major global power till the turn of the last millennium, after which India’s interests, especially economic interests, were broadened.

Today, the situation is very different. Not only has India’s overall power increased manifold, the country is seen as one of the major powers in the world whose influence is not just confined to its immediate neighbourhood in South Asia. Ironically, over the last few years, India’s relations with most of its immediate neighbours have deteriorated but outside the region, India is enjoying amicable and strong trade, economic and security relations with most of the major powers.

Many scholars of international relations call India a middle power as well. The term itself suggests that a middle power is often a sovereign nation-state that comes in the middle of the power spectrum of all nation-states. These states are relatively less powerful compared with great powers but possess the capability to shape international events. During the Cold War, states like Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden played the role of middle powers. Today, scholars and academics put India and Australia, along with Brazil and South Africa, in that position.

That brings the question of what kind of power India actually is. Is it an emerging power, is it a middle power and is it at the cusp of becoming a rising power? The answer to this question is debatable but the most agreeable answer is that India is one of the major economic powers with nuclear power capability today.

However, one should also examine why these terminologies are important in themselves. The most likely reason seems to be that these terminologies are coined to assess the power of nation-states by the international community so that they calculate their strategy of behaving with a particular state in a particular way. Second, these terminologies often act as catalysts to boost the “self-image” of a nation-state.

However, many diplomats and scholars of international relations caution, that leaders and ruling dispensations in respective nation-states shouldn’t take these terms neither too seriously nor too lightly. The concept of power of nation-states has changed with time. To sum up, power manifests itself in many ways and therefore to be recognized as a major power, nation-states aspire to possess both the hard and soft power to influence the international system at large.

 

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Measures for NYAY

Source: By Himanshu: Mint

Details of the proposed minimum income guarantee scheme (MIGS) have now been released by the Congress. In brief, the scheme envisages transfer of a maximum of 6,000 per month to the poorest 20% households to help them reach a minimum income of 12,000 per month. This is likely to benefit 50 million households and cost ₹3.6 trillion. The announcement of the scheme is an important break from the existing consensus on economic policy from two different perspectives.

First, it is a clear acceptance that the model of economic growth followed in the last three decades has led to increasing inequality and has not helped the poor reap the benefits of economic growth (at more than 7% per annum in the last two decades).

Second, it signifies a break from the earlier approach, which emphasized growth as the best antidote to poverty but reinforces the thinking among some influential economists that the best way to help the poor is to provide them direct income transfers such as a Universal Basic Income (UBI). Of course, the MIGS is nowhere close to a UBI. It is at best a variant of the targeted direct benefit transfer (DBT) that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had implemented in its second term.

The recognition that growth in the last two decades has not benefited the poor and has led to rising inequality is an important admission of the failure of the existing economic strategy. The severity of the agrarian crisis and political compulsions may be the immediate trigger, but it is essentially a result of the nature of that strategy, which neglected agriculture and the inclusion of the poor in India’s growth process. This is particularly true not only of farmers who have seen their incomes stagnate, but also of workers whose wages have remained stagnant for a large part of the last five years. Both groups are not only among the poorest sections of society but also politically important.

Given the seriousness of the crisis and the long neglect of rising inequality, the MIGS is certainly welcome. While reducing inequality, the transfer of resources to the rural economy is going to boost rural demand, which is at its lowest, and thereby help revive it. While there are concerns of fiscal feasibility, these are not serious if the government raises revenues through additional resource mobilization via higher taxes and less corporate giveaways.

Even then, is this scheme the best way to reduce poverty? For several reasons, it is not. It reduces the entire discourse on poverty to a single dimension of income while poverty is much more than an earnings deficit. It is also lack of access to education, healthcare, nutrition and, above all, access to a better livelihood. The MIGS approach compensates the poor for their income deficit, but does nothing to change the economic structures that give rise to increasing inequality and poverty.

It is problematic if the income transfer is not accompanied by an increase in supply and access to basic services such as education, health and nutrition. In this context the statements by spokespersons of the Congress on “rationalization" of other subsidies does raise a concern. In the absence of an increase in supply and access to basic services, it may rob the poor of the income transfer through an increased cost of accessing subsidized services. It is likely to push the poor towards private services that are expensive and also exclusionary.

The MIGS also brings back the spectre of targeting and capping the number of poor based on external estimates that was responsible for the failure of the Below Poverty Line (BPL) censuses of 1992, 1997 and 2002. A targeted approach to poverty reduction was given up in the two most important interventions on this, MGNREGA and the National Food Security Act (NFSA), both passed by the UPA.

A better alternative would have been to strengthen and improve the existing public services along with transfers to those who cannot access these because of social, political and personal reasons. Such a scheme in the form of social pensions already exists. However, the best antidote to poverty is jobs, which not only allow the poor to participate in the process of economic growth but also improves incomes and allows them to escape poverty. With a debate raging on jobs, efforts to improve their availability would have been the best way to help the poor.

Recall that the previous UPA government managed to lift 140 million persons out of poverty through schemes such as MGNREGA and improved access to the public distribution system (PDS) without resorting to income transfers. These not only helped reduce poverty, but also raised wages, reduced the gender wage gap and improved nutrition. Moreover, there is enough evidence to show that in-kind transfers such as PDS foodgrain were twice as effective in combating malnutrition as an equivalent cash transfer.

MIGS cannot be a substitute for structural reforms in the economy, which create more productive jobs and provide stable and remunerative income to poor farmers and wage workers. It is also no substitute for the state’s commitment to provide universal, affordable and better-quality public services to its citizens. At best, it can be a supplementary measure.

NYAY scheme updated Tendulkar formula

Source: By Surjit S Bhalla: The Financial Express

The media was full of discussion, and interpretation, of the Congress’s proposal to alleviate poverty (hereafter pap or PAP). In addition, the Congress, and its president, Rahul Gandhi, have not been shy of invoking big names in their advertisement and support for, and planning of, PAP.Raghuram Rajan has been prominently mentioned as a major consultant; Piketty has admitted to having been consulted, though Nobel laureate Angus Deaton has emphatically denied having been involved in any way whatsoever.

In addition, leading MIT economist, Abhijit Banerjee, has admitted that he has been consulted by the Congress party. Finally, as per a report on January 27, 2019, “A committee of party leaders, which included Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram, has calculated [that] the basic living income each family needs to survive is Rs 12,000 per month”.

It is quite clear that the Congress believes that PAP is unique, innovative, and a game changer and, according to Chidambaram’s press conference, the total expenditure involved in implementing PAP will not exceed 2% of GDP. Initially there was intense speculation, and debate, in the media about whether the programme was a top-up proposal or a straightforward grant of Rs 72,000 per family per year or Rs 6,000 per month (pm). Here is the first bit of confusion in the PAP proposal—the Congress believes that Rs 12,000 a month (or Rs 144,000 a year) is the survival income needed but is promising to give only half that as its income guarantee. But wait—there is an explanation for how Rs 6,000 per month is the ‘survival’ income needed per family. ‘Survival’ income is nothing more, or less, than the poverty line income!

A top-up proposal would mean that the new UPA government, if brought back to power, would help lift every family residing in the bottom 20% to reach an income level of Rs 6,000 pm. Hence, if a family earned Rs 4,000 pm, the government would transfer Rs 2,000 every month into the bank account of the designated woman in the family. Chidambaram was quite emphatic (in his press conference) that the Congress would follow the Modi government’s policy of transferring money into a woman’s account. According to this first PAP plan (PAP1), if a family earned Rs 72,001, there would be a zero-rupee transfer, and zero as well for all families earning above Rs 72,001 a year. Incidentally, as widely reported and viewed, PAP1 was revealed to the world by none other than Rahul Gandhi himself.

Then a contradiction of the Congress president by their spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala, who categorically stated that PAP1 was not a top-up but a straightforward grant of Rs 72,000 to every family whose income fell below Rs 72,000 a year. Let us call this proposal PAP2. While Surjewala did not say so (I haven’t heard), a clear implication of PAP2 is that his supreme leader could not tell the difference between a top-up and a grant. I don’t believe that Gandhi could not understand the difference. I believe it was a straightforward case of confusion within the Congress party about which proposal to advocate—and confusion between the poverty line income of Rs 6,000 per month and survival income of Rs 12,000 per month.

I am going to painstakingly document the intellectual and policy folly of both PAP1 and PAP2. I hope to make clear why I think none of the economic luminaries mentioned above will ever admit to supporting either PAP1 or PAP2. Very likely, and I am speculating, it was because of the opposition of Congress’s economic consultants that there were glaring and obvious contradictions in the Congress’s Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) income, and the contradiction between survival and poverty line income.

I have written several articles over the last few months documenting the existence, and prominence, of the fake news (especially fake economic news) campaign of the Congress. In my book, Citizen Raj-Elections 1952-2019 (to be released in mid-April 2019 by Amazon—Westland), I document how fake economic news has been in operation since January 2015, barely seven months after Modi won a historic election. Let me now document all my assertions so that there is no doubt that whatever I say is backed by hard numbers and logic (as I always attempt to do). You can easily decide whether my assessment is a jumla upon jumla, or hard facts versus jumla. I am afraid this task will occupy a full two articles, but I promise to keep you hooked!

The first fake news element within PAP is in its assertion that prominent economic experts were involved in arriving at the figure of Rs 72,000 a year or Rs 6,000 a month as the minimum income line. This is because Rs 6,000 a month is exactly an update of the Tendulkar poverty line, and this official minimum income line has been in existence for more than a decade. This is shown below at an all-India level. Research on estimating the Tendulkar poverty line for each urban and rural area of the country is presently underway by Arvind Virmani, former chief economic adviser, Government of India and myself.

Most readers can skim or skip the next two paragraphs but they are provided as evidence that the Congress poverty line is nothing more, or less, than the official poverty line in India. The Tendulkar poverty line in 2011-12 for rural areas was Rs 853 per capita per month (pcpm). For urban areas, the national average was Rs 1,000 pcpm. Rural CPI average for July 2011 to June 2012 (the NSSO months) registered a level of 95.0; urban CPI registered 95.7; for 2017-18 (same months), the corresponding levels are 138.6 and 133.7, respectively. For both 2018-19 and 2019-20, an average inflation of 4% is assumed. This yields rural and urban CPI levels of 150 and 145 in 2019-20. The corresponding 2019-20 Tendulkar poverty line is therefore Rs 1,347 pcpm (rural) and Rs 1,515 pcpm (urban).

The urbanisation rate in 2019-20 remains to be determined. Leaked PLFS reports suggest that India had an urbanisation rate of only 29.3% in 2017-18, even lower than that observed in 2011-12! One of the many problems with the PLFS data (but unremarked upon by most (all?) commentators) is the low rate of urbanisation observed in 2017-18. If this urbanisation rate is taken as accurate, then the national Tendulkar line in 2019-20 is Rs 1,396 per person per month. Accepting this figure yields an average family size of 4.3 for India (6,000 divided by 1,396). While this seems low, it apparently is identical to the PLFS estimate of family size in rural India, a poverty benchmark region used by international agencies like the World Bank. Hence, what the Congress has proposed is a transfer of poverty line income to each family—and half of survival income!

Part 2 of the PAP jumla will document how a top-up scheme in 2019-20 will likely involve an additional expenditure level of less than 0.2% of annual GDP and how, in 2019-20, the Tendulkar poverty level in India will likely be less than 5% of the population, and how the grant proposal will lead the Congress in benefitting 20% of the population and alienating the population who are in the next 30% (21% to 50%). It doesn’t seem as if this is an intelligent election strategy.

Swachh Survekshan disappoints again

Source: By Chandra Bhushan: The Financial Express

Billed as the world’s largest cleanliness survey, Swachh Survekshan 2019 was recently released by the ministry of housing and urban affairs (MoHUA). Indore was awarded the cleanest city and Chhattisgarh the cleanest state in the country. Despite being critical of its methodology and results in the past, I have been a big supporter of Swachh Survekshan because I have witnessed, on ground, the real impact of the Survekshan in increasing awareness and involving citizens in sanitation and waste management issues. It, therefore, pains me to see how such an important programme, instead of being strengthened, was diluted this year because of political expediency.

Survey compromised

Swachh Survekshan was started in 2016 by MoHUA to rank and recognise the performance of cities on sanitation and solid waste management. The idea was that such a ranking would instill a sense of competitiveness amongst cities and thus improve waste management practices across the country. Over the last four years, the number of cities covered under the survey has increased manifold—from 73 cities in 2016 to 4,237 in 2019. The methodology has also been modified to give more weightage to sustainable waste management practices instead of mere cleanliness. But, as I will explain later, the result of the survey has again awarded cleanliness over sustainable waste management. But my main concern this time is the manner in which the survey was diluted to expedite the release of the ranking.

During the 2019 survey, data on cities was collected from four separate sources and each source was given a 25% weightage. The first source was data on sanitation and waste management, provided by the cities themselves on an online portal. The second was a ‘star rating’ given to cities by a third-party certifier on the progress they have made towards being garbage-free and open-defecation-free cities. The third source of data was from on-field direct observation by surveyors from a survey agency. Lastly, all the above were supplemented by a process of citizen feedback. The feedback was collected from citizens directly either through phone calls or through the Swachhata-MoHUA app/Swachh Manch. A minimum of 0.1% of the city population was supposed to be surveyed for the feedback.

As can be seen, during the 2019 survey, 75% of the score was dependent on information collected through a third-party certifier, from a survey agency and from citizen feedback. In general, this is a good methodology to ensure that verified information is captured on the performance of cities. But this methodology also demands a strict protocol to ensure best practices are followed during survey and certification. Unfortunately, this was not ensured during the 2019 Survekshan.

Firstly, Swachh Survekshan 2019 was completed in just 28 days to ensure that the results were declared before the announcement of the election dates. For comparison, the 2018 Survekshan was done in 66 days, which the MoHUA had then termed as “record time”. Such a short period for a survey is fine as long as the survey agency is able to put together a large number of qualified surveyors/certifiers to visit cities for data collection and observation. But this was not the case.

The assessment by my colleagues at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) indicates that the survey was carried out in a shoddy manner. Not every city assessed was visited by the surveyors. For instance, site visits were made in only six to seven of the 20 cities that were rated in Bihar. The remaining cities were asked to share documents and pictures on the online portal. The quality of surveyors was also questionable. Many state urban departments and cities, on condition of anonymity, complained of corruption and incompetence of surveyors. The mayor of a city informed us that the certifier who came to assess the ‘star rating’ was “not even a graduate and had no clue about waste management in general”. Overall, the quality of survey and third-party assessment was poor and this is clearly reflected in the overall results and rankings.

Questionable results

While releasing the results of the Survekshan, MoHUA claimed that the country-wide segregation of waste-at-source has increased to 60% and waste processing has gone up to 52% (compared to a low 18% at the start of the Swachh Bharat Mission). Both these claims are over-exaggerated. An assessment by CSE indicates that segregation levels have reached about 40% and waste processing is not more than 30%. In fact, in the top 50 cities, only Indore, Mysuru and Ambikapur have segregation levels of over 80%.

Other top cities like New Delhi, Visakhapatnam, Wardha, and Pune have segregation levels between 20-39%. Some of the other top cities like Rajkot, Vijayawada, Ghaziabad, Jamshedpur, Chandigarh, Karnal, Jabalpur, Raigarh, Satara, Ranchi, Neemuch launched the segregation campaign just a few months before the Survekshan and have segregation levels of below 20%. Jaipur and Sagar have no source segregation practice at all.

Similarly, sustainable waste processing was missing from most of the top-rated cities.Ujjain, ranked fourth, dumps the majority of its waste at the Gondiya trenching ground, where a major fire incident occurred recently. New Delhi, which bagged the fifth spot, has the majority of its waste going to the Okhla waste-to-energy plant; Ahmedabad, which secured the sixth spot, has a huge issue of waste dumping at the highly contested Pirana landfill site; Ghaziabad (ranked 13th) has only recently started composting and still dumps over 80% of its waste collected. Coimbatore, Ghaziabad, Chandigarh, Rajkot, Tirupati, Bhopal, Visakhapatnam, Greater Hyderabad, Jaipur and Greater Mumbai continue to dump the majority of their waste collected in dumping grounds.

In contrast, many cities in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Sikkim and Bihar are doing commendable work on sustainable waste management, but were relegated to the bottom of the ranking. Alappuzha, Thiruvananthapuram and Panaji, who have invested in decentralised waste-processing approaches, were ranked below 300. These cities are making money from recycling and reusing rather than spending crores in collecting and transporting waste.

The Swachh Survekshan 2019 has rewarded cities that implemented a cleanliness drive during the Survekshan. Many cities that work year-round towards household-level segregation and decentralised recycling were given poor rankings. But this cannot be the way to incentivise and recognise cities for waste management. We cannot sweep waste away and hope to manage ever-increasing waste in our cities. The bottom line is there are no quick fixes for sustainable waste management. Sustained effort is required by cities and citizens to segregate and process waste. This is what the Swachh Survekshan should assess and rank in the future.

Exam and Peace

Source: By Avijit Pathak: The Indian Express

Should the child be blamed for not having learnt the problems of algebra before coming into the world? Rabindranath Tagore

As the board examinations approach and the dialectic of “success” and “failure” begin to haunt young learners and their anxiety-ridden parents, we realise once again that the pattern of education we have normalised is inherently pathological. The creation of a violent/hierarchical/schooled consciousness seems to be its latent function.

Even though an empathic look at the educational ideals of Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo and J Krishnamurti would suggest that there is no dearth of critical and creative thinking on liberating pedagogy, we dislike experimentation and new possibilities, and make a superficial distinction between “pragmatism” and “idealism”.

No wonder, we have become used to the routinisation of the practice of glorifying the “success stories” of the “toppers”, and, at the same time, inviting the psychiatrists on television channels to reflect on the “suicide narratives” of those who could not bear the stigma of “failure”. And meanwhile, everything would function as usual — the practice of “black education” would flourish in coaching centres, the publishers of “guide books” would make a lot of money, and school principals heavily burdened with the “ranking” of their schools would alert insecure parents of “problematic” children that in the age of inflated “cut off points” for admission in “branded” colleges, the future is bleak without 99 per cent in English, or 100 per cent in Physics.

Why is it so? There are three reasons I would emphasise. First, here is a system that closes the mind of the young learner, and abhors the desirability of making meaningful choices relating to academic quest and vocation. How are choices possible if schools — possibly, because of the age of techno-science and commerce that we live in — have already hierarchised knowledge traditions: Science or economics for the “intelligent” ones, and humanities for the “leftovers”?

Or does the child ever get the space to contemplate on her own inclinations and aptitudes at a time when peer pressure negates self-reflection and generates a crowd mentality, or when struggling parents — guided by the longing for upward social mobility — have already decided that she has to pass through the most travelled “Aakash/Fitjee/IIT” highway, and all other paths are “risky” and “impractical”, particularly in a society like ours traumatised by an acute sense of scarcity? Moreover, we have promoted a strange classification of academic disciplines. It is impossible for one to opt for, say, Physics, History and Music. It is taken for granted that if you have interest in literature, you cannot be equally inclined towards statistics. In other words, we decide the fate of our children so early. Not surprisingly, then, schooling prepares the ground for an alienated existence.

Second, here is a system obsessed with the quantification of knowledge and evaluation. With the burden of information, examinations as ceremonies of power, and a reckless process of measuring even one’s “happiness” and “moral quotient”, schools have robbed the practice of education of the ecstasy of social awakening, scientific reasoning and poetic imagination. A careful look at weekly tests, classroom transactions and summer projects would suggest that the system asks a young child to become what Prime Minister Narendra Modi (in his role as an instantaneous “educationist”) loves to celebrate as an “exam-warrior”.

Be a strategist; acquire the technique of memorising the bullet points; and reduce everything — be it a poem by Kamala Das, a narrative on Partition and “the challenges before the newly independent nation”, or a trigonometric equation — into a typical CBSE puzzle to be solved for securing good marks. It is essentially war. It is devoid of joy and humour, and creative play and aesthetic celebration. While the “successful warriors” join the IITs and colleges like LSR, Presidency and Stephen’s, those who are not so lucky — or, deprived of the kind of cultural capital needed to survive — would be compelled to realise that it is painful to be young, wounded and stigmatised. No, there is no peace in this system, even if schools hire counsellors, invite motivational speakers, and ask children to read self-help books in their “relaxed” times.

And third, as the lifeworld gets increasingly colonised by the market, “success” is equated with a purely instrumental orientation to life, and the virtues of the doctrine of the “survival of the fittest” are celebrated with all sorts of media simulations. Education becomes merely a “performance” — a packaged good for sale. A teacher becomes merely a “subject expert” or a “skill-provider”. There is no communion that Martin Buber longed for; there is no sunset that Jidu Krishnamurti wanted children to look at; and there is no union of the “physical, vital, mental and psychic” that Sri Aurobindo imagined. What prevails is only a standardised scale of measurement intoxicated with the urge to eliminate innumerable young minds and throw them into the dustbin of a “meritocratic” universe. And our exam-centric education sanctifies it.

The reason India jobs data is not credible

Source: By R. Jagannathan: Mint

Thanks to the politicisation of unemployment figures ahead of the general elections, we now have numbers being flung at us from all directions. We have household survey data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE); we have the Azim Premji University’s State Of Working India 2018 report; we have monthly data on subscriber additions to the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) and we have more enterprise data coming from the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). We also have “leaked" data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) for 2017-18.

In the long run, perhaps all the jobs data will converge to give us meaningful results, but right now, it is only adding to the confusion as all the studies have serious drawbacks. It’s a case of the blind men and the elephant.

The CII employment survey is based on a sample of 105,347 micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). It suggests that employment is growing at a compounded rate of 3.3% annually. The net additions over the last four years amounted to 332,394 jobs. When extrapolated over the Labour Bureau’s entire macro database, this number apparently translates to 13.5-14.9 million jobs created annually. If this were to be true, the Narendra Modi government can clearly declare the jobs problem solved, but such huge extrapolations are unwarranted when we cannot be sure that the CII sample is representative of the entire Labour Bureau database.

At the other end of the spectrum is the CMIE’s four-monthly unemployment survey, which has pegged job losses at around 10 million between September and December 2016 (which includes the demonetisation quarter) and the same months in 2018. CMIE computes the current unemployment rate at 6.68%, which is not significantly different from the leaked NSSO report, which put it at 6.1%. The 2015-16 Labour Bureau’s Employment Unemployment Survey put the unemployment rate at 5%. The Azim Premji University’s State of Working India 2018 simply says that unemployment is now over 5%, with youth unemployment more than three times the overall rate.

This figure is compatible with the Labour Bureau’s survey of 2015-16, which indicated unemployment rates of 13-20% for those in the 15-17 age group, and 10-13% for the 18-29 age groups. Above 30 years, the unemployment rate falls to under 2%. The political brouhaha is about the leaked NSSO data reported by Business Standard suggesting that unemployment is at a “45-year high". The NSSO samples the population for employment information once in five years, and since there is no saying whether the year chosen is a particularly bad one for the economy or not, it is pointless trying to claim some figure is the highest or lowest in 45 years. Maybe the best years for employment came somewhere in between its two surveys.

In fact, let me throw another number to prove a point—a number that comes straight from Census 2011. The unemployment rate reported in the Census is as high as 11.18%. Yes, you read that right. The Census reported an employment figure of 482.88 million “main" and “marginal" workers, with the unemployed (those seeking jobs) placed at 60.7 million. This gives us an unemployment rate of 11.18%, since unemployment rate is the total number of the unemployed seeking jobs divided by the labour force participation rate. So much for unemployment hitting a 45-year peak. There is no data as comprehensive as the Census, where surveyors literally knock on each household door to get information, as opposed to the numbers provided by the NSSO and CMIE, which extrapolate from thin samples. Several conclusions are worth drawing from these flawed, incomparable and stand-alone sources of data.

First, India’s problem is clearly one of youth unemployment, and this is where the efforts must focus. The Modi government has eased employment under the Apprentices Act, and also allowed all sectors to offer fixed-term labour contracts. But thus far, employers do not seem to have taken the bait, possibly because many of them are still deleveraging and recovering from the double disruptions of demonetization and goods and services tax (GST).

Second, while enterprise data is improving (EPFO, CII, etc.), household jobs data is still dependent on the private sector CMIE and the NSSO, whose 2017-18 report is still to see the light of day. The main reason for the government’s reluctance to release the report seems to be the choice of year (2017-18), which is when the combined effects of demonetization and GST would have played out.

Third, both CMIE and NSSO suffer from one major drawback: they are compiled over months, and this means they do not capture data at a particular point of time. So, if someone is unemployed in January and finds a job in March, they will still show up in the data as unemployed. The only real way to report accurate data is to get the survey completed in one day—or within a week at best. This means putting more feet on the ground, and only the government can afford to do this. The CMIE and other sources of data are essential to keep government data honest, but their usefulness is limited.

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