Topic 122 – Colombo’s perceptions

India encounters a range of reactions in Sri Lanka: appreciation, support, suspicion and opposition
There are no winners in the political crisis in Sri Lanka. President Maithripala Sirisena, whose actions triggered the crisis, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who as Prime Minister lost two confidence votes, and Ranil Wickremesinghe, former Prime Minister who enjoys majority support in Parliament, are locked in a draw.

A ringside view
Against this backdrop, what are the perceptions among the main political actors, which impact Sri Lanka-India relations? A delegation of eminent Indian scholars, former civil servants and a retired navy chief, led by Lalit Mansingh, former Foreign Secretary and chairman of the Kalinga Lanka Foundation (KLF), was in Colombo last month. The delegation’s candid discussions with four leading think tanks and numerous key players on different sides of the political divide provided a ringside view of the situation.

Cutting across party lines, a clear bipartisan consensus emerged about Sri Lanka’s continuing need to nurture a positive engagement with India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiatives to improve the relationship evoked appreciation. But given the asymmetries in size and power, Sri Lanka finds itself overwhelmed by India’s presence. Hence, resisting India’s overtures for closer cooperation may be seen as part of Sri Lanka’s assertion of its independent identity.

From the Sri Lankan perspective, cultivating China as a counter to India makes strategic sense. The country needs huge capital for its development. China seems to be the only source willing to provide it, albeit on increasingly tougher terms. Many Sri Lankan intellectuals and policymakers reject the notion of a Chinese ‘debt trap’ and criticism of the 99-year lease given to China for Hambantota Port as ‘neo-colonial’. They argue that they would accept Chinese money, but refuse to embrace China’s presence. Rather unconvincingly, they claim expertise in knowing and dealing with China.

On India-China rivalry, pro-Rajapaksa interlocutors sought a balance in Sri Lanka’s ties with the two Asian powers. A strong, though unrealistic, plea was made suggesting that China-Sri Lanka relations should not be seen from the narrow prism of the complex relations between India and China. They advanced two additional arguments: one, for most projects Colombo had approached India initially and turned to China only later; two, ‘China delivers, while Indian bureaucracy delays’ was a constant refrain.

It appears Sri Lanka may be turning away from its identity as a South Asian nation to assert its role as an Indian Ocean country, imbued with an ambition to connect better with ASEAN and Japan. Discontent over the impasse in SAARC and challenges in strengthening the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation are behind this shift. Economic opportunities that could result from better international maritime connectivity and the potential of the blue economy are other motivations. Concerning the Indian Ocean, Colombo clamours for India’s collaboration in its efforts to turn the region into one of peace and harmony. Some express support for reviving the trilateral maritime cooperation among India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Others believe that India and China must cooperate for the region’s benefit.

Economic issues
On economic cooperation with India, Mr. Wikremesinghe has been more upbeat than the President or Mr. Rajapaksa. In retrospect, one of the triggers for the crisis was his insistence to move ahead with projects identified in the MoU signed with India in April 2017 that had Mr. Sirisena’s opposition. Mr. Wikremesinghe, on a recent visit to Delhi, sought to transfer Mr. Modi’s concern over delays in project implementation to Mr. Sirisena. Besides, Mr. Wikremesinghe’s apparent refusal to take seriously Mr. Sirisena’s anxiety over reports of an attempt on his life brought the two to the breaking point.

The KLF delegation heard how the Sri Lankan industry feared being flooded by Indian goods and professionals. The Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement is yet to reach finalisation. Assessment in Colombo is that Indian investors prefer to invest at home; hence Sri Lanka’s push to attract new investments from Southeast Asia and beyond. The point, however, is that all investors will be risk-averse when the country is unstable and politically fractured. The Sri Lankan Tamil view continues to be supportive of a proactive policy stance by India.

India encounters a range of reactions in Sri Lanka: appreciation, support, suspicion and opposition. Indian diplomacy plays on a sticky wicket. New Delhi is committed to refraining from interference in a neighbour’s internal affairs, but it will always defend its vital interests. While being fair to all sides, it is closely monitoring the unfolding crisis.

Rajiv Bhatia is Distinguished Fellow, Gateway House, and former Ambassador to Myanmar

Source: The Hindu

Topic 121 – Cutting through the smog

Agriculture

Practical interventions exist to tackle the issue of stubble burning

Incidents of stubble burning — following the harvest of paddy crop in Punjab and Haryana — cannot be averted by imposing fines, or giving notice or giving farmers capital subsidy. Instead, the issue requires long-term vision and strategic policy interventions.

Air pollution is a worry, especially in north India. Stubble burning is said to be a key factor behind the formation of a dense cover of smog in this part of India through its contribution is less than 20%. Farmers are held responsible for the crisis but what is at fault are the flawed and short-sighted policies of the Central and State governments.

Policy of rotation

In the 1960s, wheat-paddy crop rotation was encouraged in Punjab and Haryana to make India self-sufficient in foodgrain production. Large public investments in irrigation and adoption of high yielding varieties under the Green Revolution helped achieve the goal and make the nation food secure. However, the negative externalities in terms of land degradation, adverse soil health due to overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, and plummeting water tables have surfaced.

The share of paddy (rice) in the gross cropped area in Punjab has increased from 6.8% in 1966-67 to almost 36.4 % in recent years, while it has increased from 4.97% to 20% in Haryana. The increase has undisputedly been at the cost of the area under maize, cotton, oilseeds and sugarcane. The policy of minimum support price for crops, in tandem with their assured procurement and input subsidy, have left farmers with no option but to follow this rotation. Besides, Punjab enacted a water conservation law in 2009 which mandates paddy sowing within a notified period (sometime in June instead of the earlier practice in May). A shorter period of sowing days prohibits transplantation before a notified date, which in turn limits the window available for harvesting paddy to between 15 and 20 days. As a result, farmers who are pressed for time to sow wheat and maintain crop yield find stubble burning to be an easy and low-cost solution.

One possibility to curtail the practice is to ensure that the government encourages crop diversification towards less water-intensive crops by extending price incentives and better marketing facilities. In some districts, farmers have started growing kinnow fruit but are often dissuaded due to high price volatility and the absence of a market. The policy of a ‘price deficiency system’ — as initiated in Haryana and Madhya Pradesh — should be adopted to strengthen the production and marketing of alternative crops. Another option is to replicate the Telangana model of providing farmers with an investment support of ₹8,000 per acre each year and withdraw price-based support.

Punjab faces another serious problem: a labour shortage. In the Agricultural Census 2011, average land-holding size has increased from 2.89 hectares in 1970-71 to 3.77 hectares in 2010-11 — higher than the national average of 1.5 hectares. The paucity of labour for various farm operations is substituted by machines for which the government extends financial support.

A roadmap

Farmers have already made investments in seed drill machines for sowing wheat after paddy harvest. Increasing pressure by the government on farmers to purchase the ‘happy seeder’ to abate stubble burning adds to the cost incurred by farmers. Even if the machine is available at a subsidised rate of nearly ₹1 lakh, it would remain idle the whole year and become a liability in terms of maintenance. It is not a viable option for small and marginal farmers who hardly earn ₹60,000 in a year. Imposing a fine for burning straw is again unreasonable. The fine imposed per hectare is much lower than the cost incurred on a ‘happy seeder’.

A feasible remedy could lie in the setting up of custom hiring centres or inviting companies to make investments for rental purposes. If the state provides an app-based support system, to rent out tractors and farm implements and earn additional income — there are examples of this in Nigeria and also in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — it would be akin to the ‘Uberisation of agriculture’. It would avoid stubble burning and at the same time make farming more mechanised, cost-effective and a source of employment.

Another far-sighted approach could be in the effective use of paddy straw. Unlike wheat residue, which is used as fodder, paddy straw is non-palatable to animals as it has high silica content. Farmers, who have already been sensitised to refrain from burning residue, should be given options such as biomass generation. Now, hardly 20% of straw is managed through biomass power plants, paper and cardboard mills. The government should use geospatial techniques to identify areas where stubble burning is severe and encourage installation of biomass plants at such locations. This will not only reduce transportation costs for the firm or village entrepreneurs but also help the government achieve its target of generating 227GW based on renewable energy sources by 2022. Farmers can also be incentivised to sell the residual for additional income. The residual has used, such as in paper, cardboard and packing material making and also hydroseeding (defibered rice straw can be used in hydroseeding for erosion control).

Source: The Hindu

Topic 120 – In a spirit of accommodation

The RBI, the RBI board and the government must understand the limits to which they can push each other

The saying, ‘all’s well that ends well’, appears to be most appropriate in the case of the recent spat between the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the government. However, the agreement arrived at could as well have been settled before things went public. Even though the agreement itself has raised certain fresh questions, by and large, it is a satisfactory one. Without going into the merits of the issues raised, two important questions have arisen, which relate to the relationship between the RBI and the government and between the RBI management and its board. Even if one cannot come to definitive conclusions, it is important to note the ramifications of the issues raised.

Earlier episodes

Section 7 of the RBI Act, in a sense, sets out the relationship between the government and the RBI. This section gives the government the right to issue directions to the RBI in public interest. Strangely, the framers of the Act seemed to have had in mind frequent use of the section as it says: “The central government may from time to time give such directions….” Leaving that aside, it is a fact that the government had not issued such directions. But it does not mean that the government did not have its way. When Benegal Rama Rau resigned as RBI Governor in 1957 on an issue on which he differed from the government, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to him: “You have laid stress on the autonomy of the Reserve Bank. Certainly, it is autonomous but is also subject to the Central Government’s directions… Monetary policies must necessarily depend upon the larger policies which a government pursues. It is in the ambit of those larger policies that the Reserve Bank can advise.”

The tone of the letter was harsh. Similarly, some years later when another Governor, H.V.R. Iengar, raised the issue of ad hoc Treasury Bills, Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari said: “What to my mind is necessary is to ensure that Government policy is formulated in this respect after very full discussion with the Reserve Bank and that the latter is kept informed from time to time of any changes that Government feel called upon to make before they are made.”

These episodes effectively set the tone and nature of the relationship between the government and the RBI. In one more instance, the RBI, in 1985, decided to allow banks the freedom to fix the interest rate on term deposits up to the maturity of one year. The government was consulted before the circular was issued. Later, the government changed its mind. Of course, there was some uneasiness among public sector banks and the freedom given was not properly managed. The government wanted the RBI to withdraw the circular, which was done. Governor R.N. Malhotra and I, at the time, Deputy Governor of the RBI, agonised over the issue for several hours before writing the new circular withdrawing the earlier one. After issuing the new circular, I wrote to the Finance Ministry reiterating again why we had taken the earlier decision. Monetary policy measures were never announced without the concurrence of the Finance Minister.

The recent change in the monetary policy framework setting up the Monetary Policy Committee and giving it full freedom to determine the policy rate is a giant step forward in terms of giving the RBI autonomy. Literally, the Finance Minister gets to know the decision along with others.

A distinction

But it must be noted that the first step in this direction was taken by Manmohan Singh when he was the Finance Minister. When I approached him to do away with the system of the issue of ad hoc Treasury Bills which had the effect of monetising fiscal deficit, he readily agreed to this. It was this act of statesmanship by Dr Singh which put the RBI on the road to autonomy. There is, however, a distinction between autonomy as a monetary authority and autonomy as a regulator.

In the first case, autonomy has to be full once the mandate is given. In the second case, autonomy is somewhat blurred because the mandate is broad and vague. However, coming to the issues that were thrown up in the current spat, these are mostly operational and it would have been unwise for the government to use Section 7 to issue instructions. It would have sent out the wrong signals both at home and abroad. It is good that the government has desisted from using Section 7. Nevertheless, one must say that Section 7 hangs like the sword of Damocles. It is important to have continuous and sustained dialogue, and an atmosphere of giving and take is much needed.

RBI and board

The second issue is about the relationship between the RBI management headed by the Governor and the board. The debate arose because of the contentious issues between the government and the RBI being referred to the board. The question that has been raised is whether the board as it is constituted today can discuss such issues and compel the Governor to act according to the majority view.

In order to understand the relationship between the government and board, we have to go back to Clause 2 of Section 7, which says: “The affairs and business of the Bank shall be entrusted to a Central Board of Directors which may exercise all powers and do all acts and things which may be exercised or done by the Bank.”

However, Clause 3 says: “Save as otherwise provided in regulations made by the Central Board, the Governor… shall also have powers of general superintendence and direction of the affairs and business of the Bank and may exercise all powers and do all acts and things which may be exercised or done by the Bank.”

Some argue that Clause 3 abridges the powers of the board. To me, the right way of interpretation is that both the board and the Governor have concurrent powers in almost all matters. The board has members nominated by the Central government from various walks of life, including industry. It does create a problem. This can result in a conflict of interest because the actions taken by the RBI could directly affect their interest. Therefore, the tradition that had evolved is that the board has largely functioned as an adviser.

Two things need to be clarified in this context. First, it is not as if the board has not passed resolutions on matters which are operational and policy-oriented. The change in the Bank rate in the past had the prior approval of the board. In fact, in the weekly meetings of the RBI Board, the first resolution used to be on the Bank rate. But with the Governor’s concurrent powers, in the past, on occasions, the Bank rate had been changed without going to the board. Second, strictly speaking, the board has the powers to discuss and even pass resolutions, which have been done. But given the nature of the board and the interests of the members, it becomes difficult to let the board take binding decisions.

Endnote

It is, however, true that in the case of the Federal Reserve System in the U.S., the board does take decisions with voting if necessary. But then the nature of the board is very different. Section 7 is a mix of things. First, it gives powers to the board, and second, it gives powers to the Governor as well. The way the relationship between the board and the Governor has evolved over time in India is a good one. The board, by and large, has played an advisory role.

Against this background, while the Governor can act on his own, he must listen to what the members feel and the sense of the board must be fully reflected in his actions. The crux of the problem is that the RBI, the board and the government must understand the limits to which they can push. A spirit of accommodation must prevail.

Forest rights hold the key

Why it could impact the results in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh

Pundits are busy speculating about winners and losers in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. We will know for sure soon, but do past trends give any insight and are there something new this time?

Past trends in both States have been nothing short of dramatic, and this drama has always played out in the tribal reserved constituencies in M.P. Between the elections of 2008 and 2013, 27 Scheduled Tribes (ST) constituencies flipped in the State, i.e. the electorate voted for a different party than on the previous occasion. The same trend was noticeable in the 2008 election, but data are not strictly comparable. The percentage for flipped constituencies in ST areas was 58% while for the general electorate it was 51%. For the Scheduled Castes (SC) constituencies it was 40%. In Chhattisgarh, where the elections were much closer in 2013, the electorate flipped parties across the board. Overall 58% constituencies were flipped, including 55% in ST constituencies and 60% in SC constituencies.

Although ST and SC constituencies comprise 32% and 39% of the total seats in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, respectively, the flipping of SC and ST constituencies led to no change of government because there was no preference for a single party. Overall, 22 constituencies flipped for the BJP, 24 for the Congress and one to another party in Chhattisgarh. In Madhya Pradesh, 67 constituencies flipped for the BJP, 43 for the Congress and seven for other parties. The voters essentially registered their unhappiness with their current elected representatives. Their displeasure with all parties over many elections is apparent, reflecting a long history of broken promises.

This time, however, may be different for three reasons. First, there is a distinct clamour amongst the tribal communities for recognition of their collective rights on forests under the Forest Rights Act (FRA). They are more organised, forceful and have made it a political issue. Second, after years of demanding social and economic equality, without success, the Dalits have also finally crystallised their demand for the ownership of the land of five acres per family. In numerous constituencies, they have joined hands with tribal communities for forest rights recognition as a means of getting collective rights to forest land. Finally, the FRA potential extends beyond ST and SC constituencies, enabling them to make common cause with other rural communities. In 174 out of 217 rural constituencies in Madhya Pradesh, the number of potential FRA rights-holding voters is more than the victory margin. In 69 out of 81 rural constituencies in Chhattisgarh, the number of potential FRA rights-holding voters exceeds the victory margins of the 2013 election. No wonder, FRA implementation figures prominently in the manifestos of major political parties. A combination of these factors may result in a different outcome.

Source: The Hindu

Topic 119 – Along the new Silk Roads

Regional agreements such as the BRI could embrace greater trade liberalisation goals

At the recent Paris Peace Forum commemorating the end of World War I, the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank made the case for a more inclusive multilateralism. Drawing comparisons between 1914 and today’s situations in terms of inequalities, they warned against the temptation of a divisive globalisation which could only benefit the wealthiest.

China’s discourse on a new “connected” multilateralism, through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is building upon the same inclusive project now led by a non-Western and non-democratic superpower. There is indeed an ambition to influence the world — if not directly control it — by making the rules on which it functions. This normative determination to achieve a far greater objective has hardly been addressed when analysing China’s BRI and its impact.

There is more to the BRI than the six economic corridors spanning Asia, Europe and Africa, of which the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is perhaps the most controversial. The BRI is included in the Constitution of an officially socialist China. The BRI “shared interest” and “shared growth” hence coexist with Marxism-Leninism and “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” in a country now said to be more trade-friendly than its protectionist American rival, the U.S. Beijing has never been afraid of contradictions in terms and this capacity to ‘Sinicise’ concepts is a signature trait. The BRI is a political project and a Chinese one no matter the number of other partners joining the effort and participating in its funding.

Normative yet not legal

In this regard, the normative framework put in place by Beijing plays an interesting role. These norms manifest themselves in the form of guiding principles, declarations, general agreements and other communication tools including the hardly studied “Digital Silk Road” envisaging “innovation action plans for e-commerce, digital economy, smart cities and science and technology parks”. They constitute a normative discourse, a form of behaviour, a standard to abide by, but are not legally binding yet. The BRI indeed develops without any dedicated law, nor is it a comprehensive trade or economic partnership. It is different from conventional trade agreements that seek to eliminate market access barriers, harmonise regulations and impose preconditions for entry. The only legal texts one could refer to are to be found in the network of foreign trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties and other international investment agreements China is a party to. However, these networks of agreements have no special link with the BRI, although they could be brought in to resolve issues emanating from the BRI. China is a party to numerous state-sponsored business contracts between Chinese firms, including state-owned companies, and foreign business partners, public or private.

This non-legal yet rather domineering proposal is not a surprise. The fluid, if not vague, nature of the BRI is nothing but a manifestation of a pragmatism with Chinese characteristics that have the capacity to constantly adjust to a fast-changing environment. The absence of law is actually partial and temporary. China is preparing for the domestic resolution of BRI disputes with the creation by the Supreme People’s Court of two dedicated branches of the China International Commercial Court, one in Shenzhen to tackle the Maritime Road disputes, and one in Xi’an to settle overland Belt issues. In addition, the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre has specific BRI arbitration clauses and administered arbitration rules. Naturally, investor-state disputes could also be settled on the basis of China’s investment agreements, nationally or internationally, in a given arbitration forum — for example, the World Bank-sponsored International Centre for Settlement of Investment Dispute (ICSID).

Institutional strategies

The institutional setting of the BRI is also rather light. Joint committees are put in place and the existing institutions mobilised from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which is contributing to the BRI despite the rather distant position of some of its members and India in particular, which is the largest recipient of AIIB funding. In this context, China is not challenging the existing institutional set-up or proposing something different than what exists in the Bretton Woods Institutions. From the functioning of the banks to their advisory committees, the same structure and often the same people are found.

The BRI as it stands is not conceived as a tool for economic integration. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and six countries are better equipped to deal with market access and integration goals within the Asia-Pacific region. Again, the BRI’s dispute resolution will be predominantly on commercial disputes, involving either projects or contractual obligations. However, with the world trading system passing through a turmoil, the possibility of regional trade agreements or amorphous legal devices such as the BRI embracing greater trade liberalisation goals cannot be entirely ruled out. A failure to resolve the WTO Appellate Body crisis or any consequent weakening of the multilateral dispute resolution process could present an opportunity for purely nationalistic initiatives to transmute and assume larger objectives.

 

Ten years after the Mumbai attack

In the wake of the terror attack, several steps were initiated to streamline the security set-up.In the wake of the terror attack, several steps were initiated to streamline the security set-up.

Vigilance is important against new variants of terror, remaining ahead of the curve is even more vital

Ten years ago on this day, Pakistan carried out one of the most heinous of terror attacks perpetrated anywhere in the world. The 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, named after the date in 2008 when the attack took place, is in some respects comparable to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the U.S. Comparisons with the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and the London bombings in 2005 are, however, misplaced.

India and Mumbai city are no strangers to terror. In 1993, over 250 people were killed in Mumbai in a series of coordinated bomb explosions attributed to Dawood Ibrahim, reportedly as the reprisal for the demolition of the Babri Masjid. In July 2006, bomb explosions in a number of suburban trains in Mumbai killed over 200 people and injured several more. The most audacious terror attack till the 26/11 Mumbai terror incident was the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001 by the Pakistan-based terror outfits, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

Into the 21st century

Terrorism is hardly a post-modern phenomenon. Several of the terror attacks in the 21st century, however, reflect a paradigmatic change in the tactics of asymmetric warfare, and the practice of violence. Today’s attacks carried out in different corners of the world by al-Qaeda and its affiliates, the Islamic State, al-Shabaab, and similar terror outfits, are very different from those witnessed in the previous century. The tactics employed may vary, but the objective is common, viz. achieving mass casualties and widespread destruction.

The 26/11 Mumbai terror attack was one of a kind and not a mere variant of previous instances of terrorist violence. It was the rarest of rare cases, where one state’s resources, viz. Pakistan’s were employed to carry out a series of terror attacks in a major Indian city. It was a case of ‘war by other means’, in which the authorities in Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the Pakistani armed forces, were involved. It is difficult to recall any recorded instance in modern times where a state and its various agencies were directly involved in carrying out a terror attack of this nature. As is now known, the Mumbai terror attack was not based on a sudden impulse or whim. Several years of planning and preparation had preceded the attack, even as the Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, was talking peace with then Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.

The degree of involvement of the Pakistani deep state in the planning and preparation of the attack is evident from many aspects that have come to light subsequently. Seldom has any terrorist group then, or for that matter even now, using such highly sophisticated, state-of-the-art communications, including Voice over Internet Protocol. Planning for the attack involved the use of a third country address. Handlers in Pakistan were given unfettered freedom to provide instructions to the terrorists during the entire four-day siege. The choice of the sea route aimed at deception and avoiding detection was again dictated by official agencies.

The involvement of the Pakistani Special Forces in preparing the 10-member fidayeen group was confirmed by one of the conspirators, Abu Hamza, arrested subsequent to the 26/11 terror attack. The training regimen dictated by the Pakistani Special Forces involved psychological indoctrination by highlighting atrocities on Muslims in India and other parts of the globe, including Chechnya and Palestine; basic and advanced combat training; commando training; training in weapons and explosives; training in swimming and sailing — all under the watchful eyes of Pakistani instructors from the Special Forces. An even more unusual feature of the Mumbai attacks was the involvement of two U.S./Canadian nationals of Pakistani origin, David Headley (who at the time was a LeT operative) and Tahawwur Hussain Rana. The 10 attackers came via the sea from Karachi in a small boat, hijacked an Indian fishing trawler en route, and reached Colaba in a rubber dinghy on November 26 evening.

Horror over four days

The targets were carefully chosen after having been reconnoitred previously by Headley for maximum impact, viz. the Taj and Oberoi Hotels, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, the Jewish centre at Nariman House, and the Leopold Cafe, since these places were frequented by Europeans, Indians and Jews. The Mumbai terror attack went on for nearly four days, from the evening of November 26 to the morning of November 29. Seldom has a terrorist incident lasted this length of time, since the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972.

From an Indian standpoint, it was perhaps for the first time that an operation of this nature involved Rapid Action Force personnel, Marine Commandos (MARCOS), the National Security Guard (NSG) and the Mumbai Police.

It was inevitable that there should be a great deal of recrimination in the wake of the terror attack. The principal charge was that the security establishment had failed to anticipate an attack of this nature, and was not adequately prepared to deal with the situation. In retrospect, it has to be recognised that the Mumbai terror attack was an unprecedented exercise in violence, involving not merely a well-trained terrorist group, but also backed by the resources of a state, viz. Pakistan. Till then, the Pakistani state was only known to harbour terrorist groups like the LeT and the JeM, and use terror as an instrumentality to create problems for India.

Secrecy was the very essence of this operation. Plans were limited to a mere handful of persons. In the LeT hierarchy, apart from Hafiz Sayeed, only a few like Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, its chief military commander, Sajid Mir and Zarar Shah, its communications chief, were privy to the operational plans. U.S. intelligence is said to have penetrated Zarar Shah’s computer, and possibly had far more details of the operation than were actually shared with Indian intelligence.

Streamlining security

In the wake of the terror attack, several steps were initiated to streamline the security set-up. Coastal security was given high priority, and it is with the Navy/Coast Guard/marine police. A specialised agency to deal with terrorist offences, the National Investigation Agency, was set up and has been functioning from January 2009. The National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) has been constituted to create an appropriate database of security-related information. Four new operational hubs for the NSG have been created to ensure rapid response to terror attacks. The Multi-Agency Centre, which functions under the Intelligence Bureau, was further strengthened and its activities expanded. The Navy constituted a Joint Operations Centre to keep vigil over India’s extended coastline.

Notwithstanding increased vigil and streamlining of the counter-terrorism apparatus, the ground reality is that newer methodologies, newer concepts more daringly executed, and more deeply laid plans of terrorist groups have made the world a less safe place. The actual number of terror attacks may have declined in recent years, but this does not mean that the situation is better than what existed a decade ago. Terrorism remains a major threat, and with modern refinements, new terrorist methodologies and terrorism mutating into a global franchise, the threat potential has become greater.

One new variant is the concept of ‘enabled terror’ or ‘remote controlled terror’, viz. violence conceived and guided by a controller thousands of miles away. Today the ‘lone wolf’ is, more often than not, part of a remote-controlled initiative, with a controller choosing the target, the nature of the attack and even the weaponry to be used. Internet-enabled terrorism and resort to remote plotting is thus the new threat. Operating behind a wall of anonymity, random terror is likely to become the new terror imperative. There are no ready-made answers to this new threat. Vigilance is important, but remaining ahead of the curve is even more vital.

Source: The Hindu

Topic 118 – Looking beyond the optics

Vietnam is crucial to India’s Look East Policy — bilateral ties must build on common concerns

President Ram Nath Hovind’s choice of Vietnam as the first Southeast Asian country to visit in his capacity as the President is not surprising. A close ‘ally’ of India for over 70 years, and not limited to official diplomatic ties, Vietnam is critical for India’s foreign policy at the regional and systemic levels. While Mr Kovind’s visit highlights the ‘normal’ trajectory of a presidential visit, there is a need to understand how Vietnam has calibrated its domestic and foreign policy shifts and where India’s relevance can fit into these policy changes.

Domestically, since the start of its Doi Moi policy — its political and economic renewal campaign —in 1986, Vietnam has made dramatic strides. Today it is a rapidly growing, regional economic giant, showing both dynamism and pragmatism in its calculations. While earlier it imported agricultural products, today it is a major exporter. Agricultural competence has furthered Vietnam’s entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The Vietnam National Assembly ratified the CPTPP on November 12, asserting its growing economic impact globally, with exports increasing to approximately $240 billion for the year 2018. Membership to the CPTPP, which accounts for nearly 14% of the global GDP, will boost Vietnam’s economic growth, from 6.8 % in 2017-18, by a further 1.1% to 3.5% by 2030. One of the core areas of Mr Kovind’s visit focussed on furthering cooperation in agriculture and innovation-based sectors, pushing the potential for increasing bilateral trade to $15 billion by 2020.

Common ground of health

An area of potential convergence for both Vietnam and India is health care. The 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, in 2016, highlighted the importance of linking economic growth to universal health care, whereby 80% population would be covered by health insurance. India too, since 2011, has been focussing on the need to deliver accessible and affordable health insurance to weaker sections of society. With Indonesia ratifying the India-ASEAN Services agreement on November 13, New Delhi is a step closer to signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, bringing India to the forefront of the services sector globally. A potential area of convergence in the realm of health care through joint public-private partnership agreements can be explored by the two countries.

Internationally, Vietnam’s foreign policy is characterised by ‘multidirectionalism’, which addresses regional asymmetries of the power balance by engaging across a broad spectrum of states to achieve its interests. Increasingly, this asymmetrical power structure in the region, offset by the rise of China, is bringing regional and extra-regional states together to address the shifts in the normative order. Within this context, Vietnam even normalised relations with the U.S., its former opponent, credit for which is given to the late U.S. Senator, John McCain.

Security concerns

Today there is increasing commonality of security concerns between Vietnam and its ASEAN partners — as well as with Australia, India, Japan and the U.S., particularly in the areas of maritime security and adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. A former Vietnamese President, Trân Đai Quang, had earlier this year endorsed the term Indo-Asia-Pacific. Similarly, Mr Kovind’s speech in the Vietnamese National Assembly referred to a ‘rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific’, reiterating India’s own concerns over troubled maritime spaces. Finding compatibility between the ‘Indo-Asia-Pacific’ and the U.S. driven ‘Indo-Pacific’ necessitates a more nuanced approach whereby regional concerns of ASEAN centrality can be assuaged while accounting for diverse approaches to maintaining regional stability. In pursuance of this, the two countries have planned a bilateral level maritime security dialogue in early 2019.

Focus on sub-regionalism

As ASEAN continues to focus on its centrality in the region, there will undoubtedly be shifts in how smaller members of ASEAN perceive the centrifugal forces of China’s rise. Vietnam has helped to mitigate these by focussing on both sub-regionalism and regionalism as the core of its priorities. India too looks at both sub-regionalism and regionalism as priority avenues to pursue its foreign policy. The India-Vietnam Joint Statement of March 2018 reiterates the focus given to sub-regionalism and the Mekong Ganga Cooperation framework. However, another area is emerging in the CLV, or Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam growth triangle sub-regional cooperation, bringing these three countries together. India and Vietnam can jointly explore the potential for enhancing capacity building and providing technical assistance and training within this sub-regional grouping.

The major takeaway from Mr Kovind’s visit is the reference to the ‘cooperation model’ India offers, providing choices and opportunities for its friends. This reference highlights India’s willingness to address issues on which increasing synergies need to evolve. One such area where convergence is likely but has been held back due to individual preference, is the $500 million line of credit offered to Vietnam. Both India and Vietnam possess the capacity to find compatibility in areas promoting defence cooperation and infrastructure simultaneously. Vietnam’s role as country coordinator for India in ASEAN will come to a close in 2018. While the ties have progressed under the Look East and Act East Policies, going forward they need to factor in pragmatism, helping relations to move forward. India’s ability to look beyond the prism of optics will remain a core challenge.

Source: The Hindu

Topic 117 – Gandhi opposed Partition

Blaming Gandhi for Partition and by implication lionising his assassin is the worst form of historical revisionism

I was shocked when a young Indian professional recently advised me to listen to the audiotape of Nathuram Godse’s speech in the court trying him for Mahatma Gandhi’s murder to get the “right perspective” on both Gandhi and Godse. An obvious admirer of Godse, he found the assassin’s rant blaming Gandhi for abetting Partition convincing, thus implying that Gandhi’s assassination was a legitimate act of retribution carried out by a true Indian nationalist.

It is very disturbing to hear of this revisionist version of Gandhi’s assassination that by implication justifies Godse’s action. It not only tarnishes Gandhi’s reputation but also flies in the face of recorded facts.

In reality, Gandhi opposed Partition until the very end. However, the Congress leadership had increasingly sidelined him by the end of 1946. By that time, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel had come to accept the idea of Partition without even the courtesy of consulting Gandhi. Eventually, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) accepted the Mountbatten plan to divide the country.

On the morning of June 3, 1947, the day the Partition plan was announced, Gandhi told Rajendra Prasad, “I can see only evil in the plan.” Reacting to a question by a reporter whether he would undertake a fast to prevent Partition, Gandhi, uncharacteristically dejected, replied: “If the Congress commits to an act of madness, does it mean I should die?”

It is a matter of record that Patel, on the advice of States Secretary V.P. Menon, had accepted the inevitability of Partition by December 1946 and had signalled this to Nehru. Patel was convinced, as he later stated, that “if India is to remain united it must be divided”. Nehru was also eventually convinced that Partition was a necessary evil in order to neutralise Jinnah’s nuisance value and to establish a strong and centralised Indian state which would not have been possible with Muslim League ministries in office in undivided Punjab and Bengal.

It is instructive to note that at the CWC meeting that accepted the Partition plan there were only two dissenters, both Muslim. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan opposed the plan declaring, “You [the Congress] have thrown us to the wolves”. Maulana Azad, a trenchant critic of Jinnah and the Muslim League and fervently opposed to Partition, remained silent in deference to his friend Nehru who had moved the Partition resolution. Everyone else, including Prasad and Govind Ballabh Pant, voted in favour of dividing the country. Blaming Gandhi for Partition and by implication lionising his assassin is the worst form of historical revisionism. In fact, it is a crime, which all thoughtful Indians must condemn unequivocally

Aligning the triad: On India’s nuclear deterrence

INS Arihant’s inaugural sea patrol must spark a debate on the state of India’s nuclear deterrence

The INS Arihant, India’s first nuclear ballistic missile submarine that completed its sea patrol earlier this month, will contribute significantly to making India’s deterrence capability more robust. The submarine-based nuclear capability is the most survivable leg of a nuclear triad, and its benefit must be seen especially in the light of the growing naval capabilities of India’s potential adversaries. In this light, certain questions need to be addressed on the third leg of India’s nuclear triad, as well as major challenges for strategic stability in the southern Asian region.

Arihant’s missing links

While it is true that India’s deterrence capability is a work in progress, there is nevertheless a need to carry out an objective assessment of what INS Arihant can and cannot do, and the implications thereof. To begin with, there is no clarity on whether the first deterrence patrol of INS Arihant had nuclear-tipped missiles on board. If not, the deterrence patrol would have been intended for political purposes devoid of any real deterrent utility. Without nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles on board an SSBN (ship submersible ballistic nuclear) such as INS Arihant, it might not be any more useful than an ordinary nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN).

Second, even if INS Arihant had nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles on board, it is not clear what ranges they would cover. Reports suggest that it had the 750 km range K-15 missiles on board, which is insufficient to reach key targets in, say, China or Pakistan unless it gets close to their waters, which would then make the Indian SSBN a target. While the K-4 missile (3,500 km range) currently under development would give the country’s sea deterrent the necessary range vis-à-vis its adversaries, INS Arihant would not be able to carry them on board. The Navy would require bigger SSBNs (S-4 and S-5) to carry the K-4 ballistic missiles. In other words, deterring India’s adversaries using the naval leg of its nuclear forces is a work in progress at this point of time.

Third, if indeed the objective of India’s nuclear planners is to achieve seamless and continuous sea deterrence, one SSBN with limited range is far from sufficient. Given the adversaries’ capabilities in tracking, monitoring and surveilling India’s SSBNs, it would need to invest in at least four more. Maintaining a huge nuclear force and its ancillary systems, in particular, the naval leg, would eventually prove to be extremely expensive. One way to address the costs would be to reduce the reliance on the air and land legs of the nuclear triad. Given that India does not have ‘first strike’ or ‘launch on warning’ policies, it can adopt a relatively relaxed nuclear readiness posture. New Delhi could, in the long run, invest in a survivable fleet of nuclear submarines armed with nuclear-tipped missiles of various ranges, and decide to reduce its investment in the land and air legs of its nuclear deterrent, thereby reducing costs. While this might bring down costs without sacrificing the country’s deterrence requirements, inter-service claims might frustrate such plans.

Finally, the naval leg of the nuclear triad also poses significant command and control challenges. As a matter of fact, communicating with SSBNs without being intercepted by the adversaries’ tracking systems while the submarines navigate deep and far-flung waters is among the most difficult challenges in maintaining an SSBN fleet. Until such sophisticated communication systems are eventually put in place, India will have to do with shallower waters or focus on bastion control, which in some ways reduces the deterrence effect of SSBNs, as bastions would be closer to the ports..

Impact on strategic stability

INS Arihant’s induction will also have implications for regional stability. For one, it is bound to make the maritime competition in the Indian Ocean region sharper, even though the lead in this direction was taken by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) a long time ago. Hence, the dominant driver of India’s SSBN plans appears to be China’s expanding inventory of nuclear submarines. The PLAN’s Jin-class submarine with the JL-2 missiles with a range of 7,400 km began its deterrent patrol several years ago. Chinese nuclear-powered submarines (reportedly without nuclear weapons on board) have been frequenting the Indian Ocean on anti-piracy missions, creating unease in New Delhi. INS Arihant in that sense is a response to the Chinese naval build-up. Pakistan’s reaction to India’s response to China would be to speed up its submarine-building spree, with assistance from Beijing. Add to this mix China’s mega infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative, with its ambitious maritime objectives; and the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, with India, U.S., Japan, and Australia.

This sharpening of the maritime competition further engenders several regional ‘security dilemmas’ wherein what a state does to secure itself could end up making it more insecure. The net result of this would be heightened instability for the foreseeable future. However, once the three key players in this trilemma — China, India and Pakistan — manage to put in place the essential conditions for credible minimum deterrence, the effect of the instability could potentially decrease. But it’s a long road to such an outcome.

What would further complicate the relations among the three key players in the region is the absence of nuclear confidence-building measures (CBMs) among them. While India and Pakistan have only rudimentary nuclear CBMs between them, India and China have none at all. In the maritime sphere, neither pairs have any CBMs. Given the feverish maritime developments that are underway, the absence of CBMs could lead to miscalculations and accidents. This becomes even more pertinent in the case of Pakistan, which uses dual-use platforms for maritime nuclear power projection. In case of a bilateral naval standoff, the absence of dedicated conventional or nuclear platforms could potentially lead to misunderstandings and accidents. It is therefore important for India and Pakistan (as also India and China) to have an ‘incidents at sea’ agreement like the one between the U.S. and USSR in 1972, so as to avoid incidents at sea and avoid their escalation if they took place.

Command and control

India’s sea deterrent also throws up several key questions about the country’s nuclear command and control systems. To begin with, unlike in the case of the air or land legs of the triad where civilian organisations have the custody of nuclear warheads, the naval leg will be essentially under military custody and control given that there would be no civilian presence on board an SSBN. Not only would the SSBN have no warhead control by civilians (i.e., BARC scientists), its captain would be under the Strategic Forces Command, an organisation manned by military officers. Also, given that the warhead would be pre-mated with the canisterised missiles in the SSBN, what would be the finer details of the launch authority invested in the SSBN captain? The SSBN captain would have the authority to launch nuclear missiles on orders from the political authority. However, is there a fool-proof Permissive Action Links system in place to ensure that an unauthorised use does not take place? There needs to be more clarity on such issues.

In sum, while INS Arihant makes India’s nuclear deterrence more robust, it also changes deterrence stability in the southern Asian region as we know it. More so, it is important to remember that the country’s sea deterrent is still in its infancy, and its path hereon is riddled with challenges

Source : the Hindu

Topic 116 – The post and the person: on strengthening the EC

Safeguards are needed to ensure that institutions like the Election Commission are headed by capable people

The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is examining a public interest litigation (PIL) that could be critical for Indian democracy. The PIL, which seeks the strengthening of the Election Commission of India (ECI), includes a proposal to create an independent mechanism to appoint the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs) who are, at present, simply appointed by the government of the day, without any defined criteria or processes.

Three critical decisions

That electoral democracy became a reality in India owes a great deal to the foresight of the Constituent Assembly. However, the Assembly could not have anticipated the extent to which the very political class that framed the Constitution would later attempt to subvert it. As this political dynamic unfolded, at certain crucial junctures, the judiciary and the leadership of the ECI saved democracy.

When the Constituent Assembly debated how free and fair elections should be ensured, three important questions arose. The first was whether free and fair elections should be made a part of fundamental rights or an independent institution, outside the executive, should be established to conduct the elections. The Assembly opted for the latter and created the ECI. With legal back up and the resources to develop and enforce a transparent electoral system, the ECI made free and fair elections a reality.

The second critical decision was to have a single, centralised body for elections to the Lok Sabha and State legislatures. One proposal was that the ECI be confined to federal elections, and separate institutions are set up to conduct elections to State legislatures. However, with increasing tension among communities, the Assembly feared partisan action in the States and opted for a single national institution, the ECI. The implications of this decision were complex. On the one hand, Central institutions have generally been more robust than State institutions. For example, State Election Commissions lack autonomy, are short on manpower and funds and are frequently subject to attempts by State governments to manipulate elections. On the other, this decision could have led to an autocratic institution being established and possibly manipulated by powerful national actors. But this possibility was contained because elections became subject to judicial review. Originally, the Constitution had provided for tribunals set up by the ECI to hear election petitions. But aggrieved parties approached the courts, and the courts decided to hear election petitions. Then the ECI itself recommended that election petitions be heard by the judiciary, and in 1966, the law was changed accordingly.

The third question concerned ensuring the independence of the ECI. As the manner of appointment of the CEC and ECs was debated, Shibban Lal Saxena presciently argued that while the then Prime Minister was a man of independence, this may not always be the case, and proposed ratification of the CEC’s appointment by the legislature. But the Assembly disagreed and provided simply for the CEC to be appointed by the President, leaving it to the legislature to enact a suitable law, which never happened. The Constituent Assembly did provide, though, that the CEC could only be removed through impeachment. For the ECs, even this safeguard was not provided, which is also a subject of the above-mentioned PIL.

A major shortcoming

The history of elections shows that this remains a major shortcoming of the ECI. From 1967 to 1991, the election process deteriorated as the Congress lost its dominance, political competition intensified, and political actors stepped up violence and electoral malpractices. The ECI could not arrest this deterioration. Several State governments made large-scale transfers on the eve of elections and posted pliable officials in key positions, who sometimes flouted the ECI’s orders. This deterioration could have continued. Instead, during the 1996 general election, the ECI restored the credibility of the election process. The CEC, T.N. Seshan, reinterpreted the ECI’s role and powers and provided combative, forceful leadership. He publicly reprimanded politicians for violating the Model Code of Conduct, postponed/ cancelled elections if their credibility was compromised, intensified supervision of elections, and insisted on action against errant officials. Because of constitutional safeguards, he could not be removed. But the ECI got the right leadership accidentally, not by design. Though the ECI has since become an institution of some authority, there have been controversies over appointments of ECs, allegations of partisanship, and new problems such as of voter bribery and paid news, which the ECI has not been able to address so far.

As history shows, inadequate leadership is the bane of our public institutions. Safeguards to ensure that ethical and capable people head them are crucial.

Source: The Hindu

Topic 115 – Criteria for the courts: on the appointment of judges

A discussion on the kind of judges that India needs must animate our public debates

In 1973, at the acme of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s move towards securing a “committed judiciary”, the then Minister of Steel and Mines, S. Mohan Kumaramangalam, offered a spirited defence of the government. In speeches made both in Parliament and outside, and through a number of writings, Kumaramangalam asserted the virtues of what he thought was a legitimate policy. It was important, he wrote, invoking the words of the great U.S. judge Benjamin Cardozo, for any government, “to examine the ‘philosophy’, the ‘outlook on life’, and the ‘conception of social needs’ of a proposed appointee” to the higher judiciary. In choosing persons for the Supreme Court, in particular, he believed, it was necessary to assess a judge’s outlook on “broad matters of the State,” and “on the crucial socio-economic matters” that concerned the nation.

Made to measure?

To a casual observer, Kumaramangalam’s words might have sounded rational, but veiled behind them were the government’s rather more threatening motives. As Nani Palkhivala described it, the policy was really an effort at creating a judiciary that would be “made to measure”, that would bend to accommodate the government’s whims and caprices. Yet, even today, much as the policy of the time appears baleful to constitutional democracy, Kumaramangalam’s defence of the programme broods over the process followed in making appointments to the higher judiciary.

Only recently, on November 2, four new judges were elevated to the Supreme Court. But neither the Collegium’s discussions on the appointees, as published on the court’s website, nor the popular discourse on the persons chosen concern themselves with a discussion on the records of these judges. We are left with little idea, for instance, on what broad constitutional philosophy these judges espouse, what their approach to constitutional interpretation might be, and on how they might view the general role of the higher judiciary.

Contrary to what some might believe, engaging with a judge’s outlook to the Constitution isn’t necessarily inimical to judicial autonomy. Kumaramangalam’s motives may have been ill-founded, but he was hardly at fault in arguing that the Constitution represented not merely a document of rules but also a certain tradition and that the method involved in appointing judges to the higher judiciary is as much a part of that tradition as any other constitutional process might be.

It is important, no doubt, to resist the particular brand of commitment that Kumaramangalam was after. But there is at least a kernel of cogency in his argument that we cannot afford to ignore. Judicial review gains its legitimacy from the Constitution. But given that judges are unelected officials, won’t its continuing legitimacy be at stake if we deem it undemocratic to so much as wonder what the constitutional philosophy of a nominee might be? Should we dismiss all claims for democratic accountability in the appointment process by harking back to the dark days of the Emergency?

As things stand, the procedure adopted in appointing judges is seen as entirely divorced from the ordinary constraints of a democracy. This wasn’t quite how the Constituent Assembly saw things. The framers believed that the judiciary was integral to the social revolution that the Constitution was meant to usher in. They, therefore, as Granville Austin wrote, “went to great lengths to ensure that the courts would be independent, devoting more hours of debate to this subject than to almost any other aspect of the provisions.”

To that end, the Constitution comprises a number of special clauses. It provides for, among other things, a fixed tenure for judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts; ensures that salaries and allowances of judges are charged directly to the Consolidated Fund of India; confers powers on the courts to punish for contempt of themselves; and, importantly, ensures that judges can only be removed through a process of parliamentary impeachment. But, much as these provisions aim to ensure that the judiciary remains ensconced from governmental interference, the framers always believed that the power to appoint judges must vest with the executive.

Accordingly, the Constitution provides, in broad terms, that judges to the Supreme Court would be appointed by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and such other judges that he deems fit. But through a series of rulings, the Supreme Court replaced the consultative method prescribed by the Constitution with one that gave the CJI and his four senior-most colleagues (the “Collegium”) primacy in selecting candidates. But this system has proved notoriously opaque. Efforts to replace it with a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) came up a cropper after the court struck down the 99th constitutional amendment, in Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India (2015). The primacy enjoyed by the collegium in making appointments to the higher judiciary, the court declared, was a part of the Constitution’s basic structure.

Between the lines

Extraordinary as these findings were, the court nonetheless promised to look into the prevailing system and reform it from within. Three years later, we’ve seen little in the way of tangible change. The problems inherent in the present system are evident even from a bare reading of the collegium’s decision, published on October 30, 2018, endorsing the new designers to the Supreme Court: “While recommending the name of Mr Justices Hemant Gupta, R. Subhash Reddy, Mukeshkumar Rasikbhai Shah, and Ajay Rastogi, the Collegium has taken into consideration combined seniority on all-India basis of Chief Justices and senior puisne Judges of High Courts, apart from their merit and integrity. The Collegium has also kept in mind while recommending the above names, that the High Courts of Punjab & Haryana, Gujarat and Rajasthan have remained unrepresented in the Supreme Court since long.”

Therefore, it was really only concerned over the relative seniority of these judges and the extent of State-wise representation that kindled the collegium’s attention. The report does state the candidates’ merit was also considered. But given that the criteria for selection are entirely unknown, what merit means remains ambiguous, at best. In any event, the general constitutional values of a nominee have never been seen as a benchmark to review merit. Such discussions, on the other hand, are seen as anathema to judicial integrity, as a yardstick that ought to be extraneous to any selection made.

All of this still begs the question: even assuming the collegium did, in fact, discuss the constitutional philosophies of the various choices before it, ought we to leave it to our judges to select their own colleagues and successors? Should not a discussion on the kind of judges that India needs animate our public and political debates?

No sunlight

The NJAC may well have been hastily pushed through. But if the publication of the collegium’s decisions has shown us anything, it is this: that the collegium’s workings are mysterious and undemocratic. And for the most part, the government is happy with this arrangement. It clears some recommendations with alacrity while holding back, often for months on end, others comprising nominees that it deems uncomfortable.

What we need today is a more sustained discussion on the nature and workings of a body that can potentially replace the collegium. Such a body must be independent of the executive, but, at the same time, must be subject to greater transparency and accountability. This commission must also partake within it a facility for its members to have forthright discussions over the constitutional philosophies that a judge must possess. If we fail to bring these issues to the forefront, the rigours of democracy will never permeate into the judiciary, and we will only be further undermining public trust in the credibility of judicial review.

Source: The Hindu

Topic 114 – Centre-RBI tussle: Balance of power, in the balance

Any attempt by the Centre to override the RBI Governor using the RBI Act would be ill-advised

The role of the Board of Directors of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and its powers vis-à-vis the RBI Governor have come into focus in the ongoing tussle between the Centre and the central bank. The Centre has hinted that it is examining the option of using the powers of the RBI Board to override the Governor.

There are several questions that arise from this unprecedented attempt by the Centre to use powers under the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934. The most important of these is: Where does the balance of power lie between the Governor and the board? What is the legal position of the board in relation to the Governor? Does the latter draw his powers from the board as in a corporate set-up? Can the board give directions to the Governor on issues of policy and management of the central bank?

Before we get to answering these, let’s get this out of the way first. The relationship between the board and the Governor is not comparable to a corporate set-up where the managing director (the corporate equivalent of the Governor) reports to the board and draws his powers from it.

While a managing director is an agent of the board in a company, in the RBI, the Governor is not. He draws his powers from the RBI Act and not from the Board of Directors. He is appointed by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Finance Minister. The RBI Board has no say whatsoever in his appointment. In a company, the board of directors chooses one of its own to be appointed as the managing director. In the RBI, the Governor secures board membership only after he is appointed to the post. It is, thus, wrong to compare a corporate board to the RBI’s and suggest that the Governor is subservient to it.

Constitution of the board

But what is the constitution of the RBI board like? As per the RBI Act, the board is made up of the following members: the Governor and four Deputy Governors, four directors (one each from the four regional boards of the RBI), 10 directors to be nominated by the Centre, and one government official who is also to be nominated by the Centre.

The present board is made up of 18 members, which is the Governor and four Deputy Governors, four regional board members and nine nominees from the Centre who include two officials, the Economic Affairs Secretary and the Secretary, Department of Financial Services.

So, where does the balance of power lie between the Governor and the board? The sections in the RBI Act dealing with this subject are rather vaguely worded. Eminent past Governors have interpreted Section 7, the relevant one, to mean that the powers of the board and that of the Governor are concurrent. The Governor draws his powers from Section 7(3) of the Act. He can exercise all powers and do all things that may be exercised and done by the RBI.

This is subject to a caveat though. The board, under Section 58, can make regulations that will give it the powers to override those of the Governors. But this is subject to two important conditions. First, the regulations have to be consistent with the provisions of the RBI Act, which essentially means that the board has to act within the framework of the Act. Second, these regulations have to go through an elaborate approval process before they become law (Section 58(4)). The board has to forward the regulations to the Centre, which will have to table them in both Houses of Parliament. Members have a period of 30 days within which they can either suggest modifications to the regulations or annul them.

And then, there is the brahmastra of Section 7(1) which confers powers on the Centre to issue directions to the RBI “from time to time” in the public interest after consultations with the Governor. All bets will be off if this section is invoked as it will become untenable for the Governor to continue in his position.

Convention

This is the framework of the law but what has been the convention till now? The RBI Board has always functioned in an advisory role with the understanding that the Governor would consider its advice while making policy decisions. In other words, there was mutual respect between the board and the Governor, with both operating in a spirit of accommodation.

The fact is that neither Section 7(1) nor Section 7(3) has been unleashed in the 83-year existence of the RBI. Not even when the RBI was privately owned between 1935 and 1949.

It is not as if there have not been any disagreements between RBI Governors and governments before this. You only have to read the memoirs of the former Governors, Y.V. Reddy and Duvvuri Subbarao, to understand the extent of meddling by the Centre in the RBI’s affairs. Yet, things did not reach the brink and were sorted out quietly behind the scenes.

Another former Governor, C. Rangarajan, has spoken about how the RBI, under Governor R.N. Malhotra, was forced by the Centre to withdraw circular freeing short-term rates of banks. Yet, there was no chatter of invocation of Section 7 or of the board arming itself with governance powers.

What’s the difference between then and now? The short answer is that the spirit of accommodation, which flows out of mutual respect and understanding of each other’s compulsions between the RBI and the Centre, and which was evident then, is absent now. And the blame for this has to be shared by the players involved in the current tussle.

It may not be very difficult for the Centre to have its way by using the board’s powers to frame regulations overriding the Governor but this will necessarily come with a price. Such a move will not only set a bad precedent but also lead to several ticklish situations.

The RBI Board has several representatives from industry. The present board includes N. Chandrasekaran, Chairman of Tata Sons, Dilip Shanghvi, MD of Sun Pharma, and Manish Sabharwal, founder of Teamlease. There will be a conflict of interest if industrialists are members of committees that run the affairs of the monetary authority of the country (and we are not for a moment suggesting that they will behave in any manner favourable to their interests).

Second, there is a good reason why the RBI has been kept at arm’s length from the Centre and bestowed with a certain independence. That is because the Centre is the spender and the RBI is the creator of money, and there has to be a natural separation between the two. The Centre arming itself with powers to run the RBI runs afoul of this precept.

Whichever way we look at it, such a move by the Centre would be ill-advised and will take its relations with the monetary authority into uncharted territory. There will be no winners in this dangerous game.

Enough dirty linen has been washed in public in the past month and it is time for the Centre and the RBI to behave like the mature entities that they are, uphold time-tested conventions, and act with mutual respect and a spirit of accommodation.

The board meeting today, November 19, will set a crucial precedent in the economic history of India, and one can only hope that it will be the right one.

Further stressed by thermal power

 

The energy sector must be required to report its water consumption

The Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) by the NITI Aayog, which was released this June, shows that 600 million people face high to extreme water stress in India. The report, which was published in association with the Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation and the Ministry of Rural Development, places India at a dismal 120 among 122 countries in the water quality index. It predicts that a persistent water crisis will lead to an eventual 6% loss in the country’s Gross Domestic Product by 2030.

A significant key to this stress is the vast gulf — of about 1498 billion cubic metres (BCM) versus 744 BCM — that has been predicted between the demand and supply of fresh water, by 2030. In the projections that the Central Water Commission (CWC) released in 2015, the sector-wise requirement of water (that is, for drinking and domestic use, industry and energy) will rise steeply between 2030 and 2050.

This mounting rise in demand is starkly evident in the energy sector, which is key to India’s ambitious developmental plan. The share of water consumed by this sector was 0.62% in 2010, which is pegged to rise up to 1.37% in 2030 and 8.98% in 2050.

The CWMI report covers these broad themes — ground water and surface-water restoration; major and medium irrigation; watershed development; participatory irrigation management; on-farm water use; rural and urban water supply; and policy and governance. The projected water demand of the energy sector makes it an important point for the NITI Aayog to consider while bringing out future iterations of the CWMI.

Competition inevitable

Here are some facts to mull over. As per the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), March 2018, thermal electricity accounts for more than 86% of India’s total power generation. Analysis shows that 77% of India’s total electricity comes from thermal power plants that are dependent on freshwater sources. Of all the freshwater-cooled thermal plants, 38.9% of generation capacity is installed in areas with high or extremely high water-stress. By 2030, more than 70% of India’s existing thermal power utilities are likely to experience an increased level of water competition from agricultural, urban, and other industrial demands.

As the power sector consumes more water, competition between power and the other thirsty players is only likely to increase — a factor that future editions of the CWMI will have to consider.

The CWMI also raises three main issues related to data: limited coverage, unreliable data and limited coordination and sharing. Measuring water consumption by power plants has been a challenge for long. However, it can easily be tackled by using the existing CEA reporting mechanism for daily generation. To do so, daily water withdrawal and consumption reporting should be mandated. These can be measured with existing technology and added into this reporting framework.

Such information will also help in implementation of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Notification (dated December 7, 2015), which mandates specific water consumption norms for existing and new thermal power plants.

Seamless sharing

In addition, information about water stress, power plant siting (location) and so on must be shared seamlessly across departments — a service that the CWMI could perform. The NITI Aayog alludes to this while describing the CWMI: “This Index is expected to establish a public, national platform providing information on key water indicators across states. This platform will help in monitoring performance, improving transparency, and encouraging competition, thereby boosting the country’s water achievements by fostering the spirit of ‘competitive and cooperative federalism’ among the states. Further, the data can also be used by researchers, entrepreneurs, and policymakers to enable broader ecosystem innovation for water in India.”

The CWMI concludes by noting that water-scarce States such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Telangana are leaders in the Index. It notes that this is “likely driven by necessity in the face of looming water shortages”. Factoring in the water-energy nexus linkages, especially the metrics around power plant water withdrawal and consumption, will only help make the Index better and the States better prepared to manage their water and power resources.

Source : The Hindu

Topic 113 – Unnecessary, destabilising and expensive

The pursuit of nuclear-armed submarines reflects a security assessment that is becoming increasingly irrelevant

On November 5, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India’s first indigenous ballistic-missile armed nuclear submarine (SSBN), Arihant, had “successfully completed its first deterrence patrol” and claimed that this “accomplishment” would “always be remembered in our history”. However, he failed to address some fundamental questions: why does India need such a submarine? And, are the enormous resources spent on the nuclear-submarine programme justified?

A nuclear submarine is fuelled by an onboard nuclear reactor, which allows it to operate underwater for long periods of time. In contrast, a conventional diesel submarine uses batteries to operate underwater but is forced to surface periodically to recharge its batteries using diesel-combustion engines that require oxygen. SSBNs were first deployed during the Cold War and justified as a tool of last resort. If an adversary were to launch a devastating first-strike on a country, destroying its land-based missiles and paralysing its air force, the submarine — undetected at sea — could still deliver a counter-strike, assuring the “mutual destruction” of both countries.

Indian context

However, this strategic function makes little sense in the modern Indian context. There is no realistic threat, which the Arihant could counter, that could wipe out India’s existing nuclear deterrent. The range of the missiles carried by the Arihant is about 750 km, and so it can only target Pakistan and perhaps China.

The Pakistan government has threatened to use “tactical nuclear weapons” to counter India’s cold-start doctrine that envisions a limited invasion of Pakistan. However, these are relatively small nuclear weapons that could devastate a battlefield but would not affect the Indian military’s ability to launch a counter-strike using its existing land or air-based forces.

China has consistently pledged, for more than 50 years, that it will never be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. Even if China were to suddenly change its policy, any attempt to disable India’s nuclear weapons would be fraught with unacceptable risks regardless of whether India possesses SSBNs. Even the United States, which maintains such a large nuclear stockpile, is unwilling to militarily engage a limited nuclear power such as North Korea since it understands that it cannot reliably disable Pyongyang’s land-based deterrent.

Much of the rest of the world has moved to outlaw nuclear weapons. Last year, 122 nations voted in favour of the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”. The Indian government skipped these negotiations claiming, nevertheless, that it was “committed to universal… nuclear disarmament”. So the government’s active pursuit of nuclear-armed submarines undermines India’s stated international position and reflects a security assessment that is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Some risks

In fact, nuclear-armed submarines increase the risks of an accidental conflict. Traditionally, nuclear weapons in India have been kept under civilian control, and separate from their delivery systems. However, the crew of a nuclear-armed submarine will have both the custody of nuclear weapons and the ability to launch them at short notice. Even though reports suggest that nuclear weapons on Indian SSBNs will be safeguarded by electronic switches, called “permissive action links”, such a setup can dangerously weaken the civilian command-and-control structure, as declassified documents from the Cuban missile crisis show.

During the crisis, U.S. warships recklessly attacked a Soviet submarine with practice depth charges to force it to the surface. The captain of the submarine, which had been sailing under difficult conditions and was out of radio contact with the Soviet leadership, thought that war had broken out and decided to respond with nuclear torpedoes. It was only the sober intervention of another senior officer on the submarine, Vasili Arkhipov, that prevented the outbreak of large-scale nuclear hostilities. For his actions, which averted a civilisation-threatening event, Arkhipov was posthumously awarded the “Future of Life” award last year.

Prohibitive costs

Given its uncertain, and even adverse, impact on the country’s security, it is especially important to examine the costs of the SSBN programme. Media reports suggest that the Indian Navy would eventually like about four SSBNs. The government has not released precise figures, but the international experience can be used to estimate the costs of such a fleet.

The British government recently estimated that the cost of four new SSBNs would be £31 billion, or about ₹70,000 crore per submarine. This is similar to the U.S. Navy’s estimate of the cost of a new “Columbia-class” SSBN. The lifetime costs of operating such submarines are even larger than these initial costs; British and American estimates suggest that each SSBN requires between ₹2,000 crore and ₹5,000 crore in annual operational costs.

The Indian submarines will be smaller, and perhaps cheaper. However, even if their costs are only half as large as the lower end of the British and American estimates, the total cost of maintaining a fleet of four SSBNs, over a 40-year life cycle, will be at least ₹3 lakh crore.

It is senseless to spend this money on nuclear submarines when thousands of lives are lost each year because the state pleads that it lacks resources for basic health care and nutrition. It seems appropriate to revisit the words of Sardar Patel, who is held in high esteem by the current dispensation. Patel was hardly a pacifist but he was alive to the issue of wasteful military expenditure. “We must not… be frightened by the bogey of foreign designs upon India,” Patel explained in his presidential address to the 1931 Karachi Congress, or allow it to be used to turn the army into an “octopus we are daily bleeding to support”.

Source : The Hindu