Political Circus: Will BJP listen to Advani's advice?

File photo of L. K. Advani
File photo of L. K. Advani
It would have been better if L. K. Advani had given his excellent advice to his party men about their attitude towards other parties before being denied a Lok Sabha ticket.
Now, it would appear that the nonagenarian former Deputy Prime Minister was expressing his resentment by criticizing the party for not choosing him as a candidate for yet another term in the Lok Sabha.
Even then, the validity of his advice remains unimpaired. But will his party listen? Going by initial reactions, there is no sign that the BJP has accepted the central point of his charge that political opponents are not anti-nationals.
Instead, at least one spokesperson argued on TV that if the Congress sided with the "tukde-tukde gang" or those who want to break up the country, then it can be called anti-national.
Ever since the BJP's victory in 2014, it has apparently interpreted its majority in the Lok Sabha and also that of the group by it, the National Democratic Alliance, as a stamp of approval by the voters of the party's nationalist credentials, a claim which automatically places the losers in a less exalted category.
The BJP's nationalist assertions have also gone hand-in-hand with the contention that its 2014 victory marked the end of 1,200 years of the nation's subjugation by the Muslims and the British.
The BJP has also been insisting that "nothing" had been achieved by its predecessors since 1947.
It is obvious that such grandiloquence is behind the categorisation of the BJP's critics as "anti-nationals".
The label fits in with the party's own macho nationalism whose primary target at the moment is Pakistan. Hence, the occasional advice given to the "anti-nationals" to go to Pakistan.
It is not surprising that the Pakistan angle tends to envelop the Indian Muslims as well, which is why a BJP MP, Vinay Katiyar, wanted them to go to Pakistan or Bangladesh, and UP chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has made a neat division of Indians into "Bajrang Balis" or Hindus and "Alis" or Muslims.
One of the effects of a propaganda of this nature centred on the ruling party's projection of itself as the country's sole saviour is the creation of a surcharged atmosphere where the enemy is seen to be lurking in every nook and corner.
In the BJP's view, there is also an unholy alliance between its most strident critics and the illegal immigrants or "termites", as they have been called. The nexus is said to be for the purpose of securing their votes.
Given the focus and the intensity of the BJP's present worldview, it is doubtful if Advani's counsel for toning down the party's rhetoric will be heeded.
Ironically, Advani himself was once a hardliner, having charioted a rath in order to mobilise the opinion of Hindus for demolishing what he called the "ocular provocation" of the Babri masjid. It was in his presence in Ayodhya that the ancient mosque was brought down by the kar sevaks on December 6, 1992.
That may have been a cathartic experience for him, for he gradually turned into a moderate a la Atal Bihari Vajpayee and began to show his appreciation of India's diversity.
It is this aspect of India's persona which Advani has stressed in his latest blog where he has emphasized that a political battlefield does not envisage the annihilation of the enemy. Instead, it is more like the jousting on a field of sports where today's victors can be tomorrow's vanquished and vice versa.
If the BJP's first stint in power at the centre did not see the party engage in the kind of virulent confrontation with the opposition as at present, the reason was the presence of the amiable Vajpayee at the helm.
What has changed since then is, first, the assumption of power by a new set of saffron politicians who are apparently less tolerant of dissent than their predecessors.
Secondly, the Congress's decimation in 2014 preceded by the Manmohan Singh government's policy paralysis in the run-up to the elections had fostered the impression that the party was a sinking ship.
Hence, the BJP's declaration after its victory at the centre and in 19 states that it was ready to rule for half a century from panchayats to Parliament in a Congress-mukt India.
The hubris palpable in the assertion was also the result of the fact that for the first time in the BJP's 39-year history, it had a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha - a political quantum leap from the two seats it won in 1984.
How much of its haughtiness will remain in the aftermath of the forthcoming general election will depend on the results. But, irrespective of whether it can repeat its 2014 performance, as an analyst has said, or fail to get a majority of its own, as some opinion polls have predicted, the BJP should pay heed to the advice of an elder statesman.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at

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Never a minister, Ayurveda doctor Pramod Sawant now Goa CM

Pramod Sawant (Photo: IANS)
Pramod Sawant (Photo: IANS)
BJP youth leader and former Speaker of the state legislative assembly Pramod Sawant, who on Tuesday was sworn-in as Goa's 11th Chief Minister, assumed the top political mantle despite never having served as a minister in the state cabinet.
Much like Sawant's mentor and immediate predecessor late Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who was sworn in as Chief Minister in 2000, without every having served as a minister in the state cabinet.
Sawant, 45, holds a Bachelor's degree in Ayurvedic Medicine from the Ganga Ayurvedic Medical College in Maharashtra's Kolhapur district and has practiced as a doctor of alternative medicine in Goa. He has completed his Masters in Social Welfare from the Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, a deemed university in Pune.
Sawant has been elected to the state assembly on two occasions in 2012 and 2017 from the Sanquelim assembly constituency.
Sawant, a Maratha by caste, served as a Speaker of the state legislative assembly from 2017.
He rose in the ranks in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) through the party's youth brigade and was one of the younger BJP leaders who was considered close to Parrikar.
Speaking to IANS, Goa BJP spokesperson Dattaprasad Naik, who had worked under Sawant's leadership, when the latter was the state president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, described the new Chief Minister as a "humble, down to earth person" who understood the aspirations of the youth.
"I definitely hope that people don't start fitting him in Parrikar's larger-than-life shoes. People should give him due time to perform," Naik said.
Sawant's wife Sulakshana is currently the state president of the BJP's Mahila Morcha and his daughter studies in Class 6.
Sawant in his political career has generally managed to steer clear from controversy and was handpicked by Parrikar to assume the Speaker's post in 2017.
Sawant, who is a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteer, hails from the Sanquelim constituency, which is one of the key regions in the North Goa mining belt, where the BJP in recent times has found itself unpopular, especially after the state as well as Central government failed to work towards resumption of mining operations, which were banned by the Supreme Court last year.
Apart from his proximity to Parrikar and the fact that he has been a member of the BJP for a long spell of time -- unlike several other sitting MLAs -- Sawant's lineage as an MLA from the mining belt was one of the reasons why he was picked by party seniors, according to a BJP leader, who was involved in the process of selecting the chief minister candidate.
"Apart from choosing a Chief Minister from the cadre, we also had to send a signal to the mining regions, which have been severely impact by the mining ban, that we are serious about their concerns. We hope that this outreach will convince them to vote for the BJP during the Lok Sabha and assembly bypolls," the BJP leader requesting anonymity said.
It is perhaps ironic that Sawant, an alternative medicine professional has succeeded Parrikar, who died after suffering from pancreatic cancer for over a year.
Whether he will actually be able to fill in Parrikar's larger than life and trademark sandals, remains to be seen.

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A paradox called Parrikar, India's first IITian CM

Manohar Parrikar (File photo: IANS)
Manohar Parrikar (File photo: IANS)
It will take a while for Goans to come to terms with the fact that 63-year-old Chief Minister and former Defence Minister Manohar Gopalkrishna Prabhu Parrikar died on Sunday after a protracted battle with pancreatic cancer for over a year.
And the disbelief need not necessarily stem from unadulterated love for the country's first IITian CM. 
In recent years, after several unpopular, controversial decisions, questions were being asked whether Parrikar, who won overall adulation for nearly two decades for his wit, bluster, charm and audacity, was really a salt-and-pepper-haired political rockstar or just a closet groupie clinging to the coat-tails of the casino, mining and real estate industry. 
The shock is also rooted in the belief that the trained metallurgist was simply too omnipresent and omnipotent to melt away, just like that. The very fact that he continued in office for a year after he was diagnosed with cancer and occasionally attended office as well as public functions with medical paraphernelia strapped to his person, testified his penchant for not giving up and appearing infallible in the small, but closely followed cosmos of Goan politics. 
While Parrikar was undeniably the weave which determined the quality of Goa's political fabric for nearly 30 years, there was very little about Parrikar's public persona which wasn't a paradox. 
He appeared sloppy, but was meticulous in political strategy. He promised much, but actually delivered very little. As Defence Minister, he was obsessed with Goa politics. In 2012, he promised to retire and never contest elections again, but ended up clinging to power from a hospital bed until his end. 
He swore to end casinos, illegal mining when in opposition, but failed to crack down on them when in power. 
But paradoxes apart, the young boy born in a nondescript town called Mapusa, to a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin family of grocers in Portuguese-held Goa, rose to be India's Defence Minister and was partly credited with carrying out cross-border surgical strikes along the country's eastern and western borders. 
Parrikar has explained his fabled transition well. The way only the former IIT-Mumbai alumnus can; with an anecdote. 
"So I have done my duty (as Defence Minister) for the nation. Probably, that was a loan that Goa owed, that needed to be paid back. The Indian Army (had) liberated the State," he said in July last year, while speaking about his stint as Defence Minister. 
There is no doubt that Parrikar will go down in history as Goa's most successful politician ever. 
Working in tandem with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh veteran Subhash Velingkar, Parrikar was the cornerstone of BJP's rise in Goa, from a party whose candidates routinely lost poll deposit fees in the late 1980s through early 1990s, to a powerful outfit which won a simple majority in 2012. 
But somewhere along the meteoric rise, says his mentor-turned-foe Velingkar, the BJP became Parrikar and Parrikar became BJP in Goa. 
"He (Parrikar) has ensured that there are no second-rung leaders. Laxmikant Parsenkar (former CM), Rajendr Arlekar (Speaker), Naik (Union Minister of State for AYUSH Shripad Naik) have been systematically sidelined," Velingkar told IANS. 
Sanjeev Verenkar, who authored a character sketch of Parrikar in his book 'Hada Masachi Devla' (Temples of Flesh and Bone) credits his stunning rise to several unique qualities. 
"His memory was as astounding as his vision. He was sharp, incisive at analysing situations could take quick decisions and I have never seen him tire... He had one fatal flaw. It was his disregard for another person's opinion. He underestimated others," says Verenkar. 
Vijai Sardesai, Parrikar's critic-in-chief as a legislator from 2012-17 and now a ruling coalition ally, recalls his first meeting with Parrikar in the 90s. 
Just out of agricultural college, Sardesai had pitched Parrikar for help in winning university student elections. The latter turned him down point-blank. 
Sardesai later went on to win the polls, but thirty years later, his nostalgia has traces of irony. 
"It is ironical, that decades after he dismissed my plea, I now played a part in bringing Parrikar back to Goa. I insisted with the central BJP leadership that my party, Goa Forward, will join the coalition only if Parrikar is CM," said Sardesai. 
Parrikar's first stint as CM was in 2000, after he staged an internal coup against a coalition government of Congress rebels supported by his BJP MLAs, when then CM Francisco Sardinha was in Australia. 
In the turbulent 1990s, when Goa saw 13 CMs in 10 years, coups were routine and according to political observer Trajano D'Mello, Parrikar had mastered the art of the perfect coup. 
"Goa had seen coups before, but Parrikar's political signature was clinical ability to prey on the greed of MLAs. He tempted them much, but actually gave them little," D'Mello says.
Incidentally, Parrikar served as CM on four occasions, but could never complete a full term in office. 
In his first stint he dissolved the assembly mid-way. His regime was toppled during the second term as CM. In his third term, he was elevated as Defence Minister. In his fourth term, death snatched him away. 

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Poll results show farm distress is a major factor

Farmers participating in the Kisan Mukti March in New Delhi on November 30, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
Farmers participating in the Kisan Mukti March in New Delhi on November 30, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) poor performance in the rural parts of the three Hindi heartland states has indicated that rural distress, mainly over crop prices, was a major factor and could possibly continue to be so in the 2019 general elections.
On Tuesday, the BJP could win only around 61 seats from the rural parts of Rajasthan as against 141 it had won in 2013. On the other hand, Congress, which has promised a farmers' loan waiver, saw its number improving dramatically from just 20 in 2013 to 91 in 2018 in the rural belt.
Similarly, in Chhattisgarh, where the Congress swept the polls, it bagged 59 rural seats while the BJP's number slumped to 14 from 42 it had won five years ago. 
In Madhya Pradesh, it was tough fight between the two major parties of the country but the Congress had an upper edge in securing rural votes.
The farmers' outburst had started coming out through a series of protests soon after a police firing in Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur in June last year, which led to death of six farmers who were protesting over low crop prices.
The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which has been holding protests against the "anti-farm" policies of the government, had warned the BJP-led central government of negative repercussions in the Assembly elections.
Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj India, which is a part of AIKSCC, said the poll results have "well-captured" the presence of rural distress.
"Clearly, the farm distress is now in the centre of the national politics. The 2019 elections will be contested on the issues facing by farmers," Yadav told IANS. 
Noted agriculture economist Ashok Gulati said the BJP government had failed in finding solutions to the "serious" problem of falling crop price and in bringing about necessary agriculture marketing reforms. 
"The government did not put up priority for agriculture market reforms. There were more slogans and announcement...People who vote will not go by slogans but for what is pinching them right now," he said.
He said it was a "seriously wrong" thing if farmers got just Rs 0.5 for a kg of onion when it was sold for Rs 20 in the retail markets. 
"Last year, Mandsaur happened. What solution? Nothing! They will have to pay the price," he said.
Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader and Lok Sabha member Raju Shetti said the voters in the rural parts had by rejecting the BJP sent a message that their issues were not addressed by the government.
"It is also a indication to the Congress as well that farm issues would take centre-stage in the 2019 elections. The BJP government has cheated the farmers by failing to fulfill the promise of remunerative prices," said Shetti, adding that loan waiver would be an important issue.
The Telangana Rashtra Samiti swept the Telangana polls as it had come up with a scheme to address farm distress, which assured Rs 8,000 per acre (Rs 4,000 each in kharif and rabi seasons) annually as investment support, Shetti added.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi said his party would fulfill the promise of loan waiver it made to the farmers of the states where it won.
"We will start the process to waive loans (in three states) once the government is formed," he told reporters.
However, he remained non-committal whether the loan waiver issue would figure during the 2019 elections.
"Loan waiver is a supporting step. It is not a solution. We will give farmers support, infrastructure and technology. It is challenging. But we will make it happen," he said. 
The AIKSCC had held mega farmers protest rally on November 30, its fourth such in the national capital since the Mandsaur firing. 
The Left-oriented All India Kisan Sabha, the Bhartiya Kisan Union and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh also held separate rallies in Delhi for better crop prices and loan waivers, among others. 
At the November 30 rally, Rajendra Prasad, a farmer from Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, had said that he and fellow farmers would vote only for political parties which waive farm loans and sanction increased crop prices.
Another farmer from Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, Ashutosh Choudhary, had said the government should be concerned more about farmers' welfare than building a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

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Mizoram is among India's top states, but four worries for new government

Polling officials checking Electronic Voting Machines on the eve of Mizoram Assembly elections, at a distribution centre at Pachhunga University College in Aizawl, Mizoram on November 27, 2018. (Photo: IANS/PIB)
Polling officials checking Electronic Voting Machines on the eve of Mizoram Assembly elections, at a distribution centre at Pachhunga University College in Aizawl, Mizoram on November 27, 2018. (Photo: IANS/PIB)
On November 28, Mizoram -- the last northeast bastion of the Congress -- will vote to elect a new government that will oversee what is planned as India's gateway to South-East Asia.
With about half as many voters as south Mumbai, Mizoram is one of India's fastest-growing, healthiest (second) and most-literate (third) states.
However, there are issues that threaten to slow the growth of a state that has been administered by either the Congress or the Mizo National Front (MNF), ever since the peace accord of 1986. That agreement ended the long-running Mizo uprising, marked by air raids on capital Aizawl in March 1966, the only time the Indian Air Force bombed its own people.
Mizoram's 768,000 voters will vote in 40 constituencies to determine if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will make its first inroads in the state and complete the party's surge into the northeast. After the victory of the BJP-led Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura earlier in 2018, seven of eight states in the region ---Sikkim, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur -- are governed by the alliance.
Led by Lal Thanhawla, former insurgent-turned-mainstream politician, the Congress has administered Mizoram for the last 10 years. Previously, in the 2013 elections in Mizoram, the party won 34 of 40 seats. But since 2014, the Congress' vote share declined 13.4 percentage points across the northeast.
Mizoram has been positioned as the epicentre of the Centre's Act East Policy, which aims to harness shared cultural and border ties between India's northeast and South-East Asian countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and other ASEAN nations.
Filtered through various indicators, Mizoram boasts a raft of high-performing statistics. The state is one of the fastest-growing in the country, with its economy growing by 12 per cent between 2013 and 2016. It has India's second-best health indicators and third-best literacy.
However, the state's achievements are challenged by four issues: Increasing poverty, racial tensions, high school-dropout rates and inter-district inequalities, which hinder growth.
It also grapples with illegal migrants, inter-tribal differences, an inability to create jobs for its educated youth and tensions sparked by allegations of corruption against the current government. These tensions have led to the rise of sub-regional alliances, such as the Zoram People's Movement (ZPM) -- comprising regional parties such as Zoram Nationalist Party, Mizoram People's Conference and Zoram Exodus Movement -- and this may disrupt the traditional exchange of governments between the Congress and MNF.
More than 94 per cent of Mizoram is tribal, 80 per cent is Christian, and minorities -- the Chakmas and Brus -- claim racial discrimination at the hands of majority communities, such as the Lusei, Ralte, Hmar, Khiangte and Lai.
Mizoram has one of the lowest rates of anaemia among women in the northeast (24.8 per cent), child wasting (8.4 per cent), stunting (28.1 per cent) and underweight children (12 per cent), according to data from the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4).
It ranked first among smaller states and second nationally in NITI Aayog's overall 2018 Health Performance Index. The state's health-related successes can be attributed to its per capita expenditure on health, which was five times the national average: 4.5 per cent of GDP in 2015, compared to India's 1.02 per cent.
However, Mizoram's progress has lagged other states. Manipur, which ranked second among smaller states in NITI Aayog's Health index, improved by 7.18 per cent compared to Mizoram's 2.43 per cent.
The proportion of Mizoram's people living below the poverty line rose from 15.4 to 20.4 per cent over seven years to 2011. Mizoram's high literacy rates are marred by high school-dropout rates and inter-district disparities. The dropout rates in primary and secondary schools are 15.36 and 30.67 per cent, respectively, more than the comparable national averages of 6.35 and 19.89 per cent; Mizoram's dropout rates are also the northeast's highest.
There is a 38.76 percentage point gap in literacy between the most literate district (Serchhip, 98.76 per cent) and the least literate (Mamit, 60). The districts of Lawngtlai (66 per cent) and Mamit suffer literacy rates lower than not just the state average but the national average of 70.04 per cent.
Hills cover over 80 per cent of Mizoram, and with 60 per cent of the population dependent of agriculture, the state is challenged by difficult-to-farm areas and declining soil quality, affected by the tradition of jhum -- or slash and burn -- cultivation.
A National Land Use Policy, 2009 (NLUP), which aims to revitalise the primary sector by introducing alternatives to jhum cultivation, such as reforestation and market infrastructure, has been a prominent promised intervention by the state government and the Congress' previous election campaigns.
But NLUP funding has been roiled by allegations of corruption. In 2015, a government audit found funds for bamboo plantations filched. Farmers took to the streets of Aizawl to protest the NLUP's failure in providing a market to farmers, who were made to choose broom grass and ginger cultivation. 
Mizoram reports 976 females per 1,000 males, as per Census 2011 -- the national statistic is 943 females per 1,000 males -- and it records the second-highest rate of female labour force participation (54 per cent) after Chhattisgarh.
Yet, as the state goes to vote, another contradiction emerges: Mizoram had 2.62 per cent more women voters than men in 2013. But all 40 legislators are men. Of the six women who contested the 2013 elections, only one was from the Congress. In 2018, 4.8 per cent more women electors are set to vote. Whether any of the men will be displaced will be clear on December 11, when results are announced.
(In arrangement with, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform, with whom Sejal Singh is an intern. Devyani Chhetri is a graduate of LSR College. Views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at

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As India becomes wealthier, more Indians leave its shores

As India has become wealthier, more of its citizens are leaving its shores.
An estimated 17 million Indians were living abroad in 2017, making India the largest source country for international migrants globally, up from seven million in 1990 and a 143 per cent increase, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of data from the United Nations Department of Economic Affairs.
Over the same period, India's per capita income increased by 522 per cent (from $1,134 to $7,055), providing more people the means to travel abroad in search of employment opportunities they were not finding at home.
At the same time, the number of unskilled migrants leaving the country has been falling: An estimated 391,000 left India in 2017, almost half the number in 2011 (637,000), according to a new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
However, this does not necessarily mean that an increasing proportion of India's emigrants are likely to be higher skilled or that policymakers should be worried about a rise in "brain drain".
The above figures refer to unskilled migrants travelling on Emigration Check Required (ECR) passports -- passports issued by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to those leaving for employment in certain countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Changes in the government criteria used to class workers as unskilled, leading to more migrants travelling on non-ECR passports, could be part of the reason for the declining trend.
"Over the years India has made internal adjustments to who gets an ECR passport. A lot of people are entitled to non-ECR passports and take that route to migrate instead -- this is data which is not publicly available and therefore cannot be analysed," Seeta Sharma, Technical Officer (ILO) for EU-India Cooperation and Dialogue on Migration and Mobility, told IndiaSpend.
International emigration generally rises with economic development as more people acquire the financial means to travel abroad, and only begins to reduce when countries reach upper-middle income status.
Labour demand driven by constrained local employment markets is a key motivation for international migration, with 73 per cent of all migrants globally entering the workforce in their host country, the ADB report found.
India's working age population is currently growing by 1.3 million each month, exacerbating a stagnant job market that is further afflicted by a lack of employment.
Over almost three decades, between 1990-2017, India witnessed waves of skilled and unskilled labour emigration. Indians living in Qatar increased 82,669 per cent --from 2,738 to 2.2 million -- over 27 years to 2017, more than in any other country. In the two years between 2015-2017, the Indian population in Qatar more than tripled.
Oman (688 per cent) and the United Arab Emirates (622 per cent) also feature in the top 10 countries for the largest increases in Indian residents between 1990-2017, while in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, over seven years to 2017, Indian populations rose by 110 per cent and 78 per cent, respectively.
These figures reflect the response of Indian workers to rapidly expanding economies in the Gulf, buoyed by rising oil prices. As these oil-rich nations embarked on large-scale development projects, workers from India and other South Asian countries answered the call for the growing number of construction jobs needing to be filled.
However, recent global economic slowdowns have slowed migrant flows from India into the region. Declining crude oil prices and the resulting spending cuts on construction projects and the slowing economies explain the falling numbers of Indians opting to travel to the region, as jobs dry up and wages contract.
While traditional host countries for Indian migrants, such as the Gulf states, US and UK, remain the countries with the highest Indian populations, over the last decade, OECD countries have seen a significant increase in the number of Indians choosing to settle within their borders.
Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, for example, have seen their Indian populations grow by 66, 56 and 42 per cent, respectively, over seven years to 2017. They are cheaper and have better educational opportunities."For example, Germany has free education and there's the potential to land a job in the country after university too, so you're seeing a shift in migration," Sharma said.
Rapidly aging populations across the West will further create a demand for migrant labour, as imported workers fill employment gaps left by falling birth rates in many developed countries. India is well placed to benefit from this demand.
Half of all countries globally now have fertility rates below 2.1, meaning too few children are being born to maintain their population size. In the short term, however, changing political environments and increasingly hostile attitudes to foreign migration may have an impact on the acceptability of Indian migrant workers taking up these jobs.
The identity and socio-economic background of Indian emigrants is changing. Southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been traditional sources of migrant workers to the Middle East and Southeast Asia, departing on ECR passports. However, in recent years, northern Indian and less economically advanced states have overtaken their southern counterparts for the numbers of typically low-skilled male youth leaving for overseas work.
Uttar Pradesh took the lead for the highest number of emigrants since 2011, followed by Bihar and Tamil Nadu, while the number of migrants from Kerala declined 69 per cent over six years, from around 80,000 in 2011 and 2013 to under 25,000 in 2017.
"Migration trends have shifted," Sharma said. "For example, if you're from Kerala, it may no longer be so lucrative to go to the Gulf. But for someone sitting in Bihar earning a third of what a Keralite earns, it still makes sense."
However, while these data show the numbers from each state leaving on ECR passports, they do not indicate how many have switched to non-ECR passports. Kerala may still be seeing large numbers of its population emigrate despite a decline in 2016 and 2017 in the ECR category.
Indeed, Kerala received 19 per cent of all remittances (funds sent by an expatriate to their country of origin) received in India in 2016-17, closely followed by Maharashtra (17 per cent) and Karnataka (15 per cent), according to RBI data.
India received the largest remittances globally in 2017, with close to $70 billion landing in the country's banks accounts.
(In arrangement with, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform, with whom Tish Sanghera is a writer and researcher. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at )

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S-400 missile deal: India reasserts independent foreign policy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, in New Delhi on October 4, 2018
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, in New Delhi on October 4, 2018
By concluding the S-400 Triumf long-range surface-to-air missile system deal with Russia in the face of Washington's sanctions on Moscow, India reasserted its independence on foreign policy in adherence with New Delhi's stated stand that its ties with one country are free of those with a third country.
After the signing of the deal during the course of the 19th India-Russia Annual Bilateral Summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin here on Friday, a top source pointed out that India's negotiations for the S-400 missile system began several years before the current US sanctions on Russia came into effect.
This was basically implying that New Delhi will not give up on its defence cooperation legacy with Moscow in the face of another country's actions.
The S-400 missile deal has been an issue of much speculation after the Trump administration's Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) came into effect in January. CAATSA targets countries doing business with Russian, Iranian and North Korean defence companies.
A group of US senators imposed the sanctions on Russia over what they called Moscow's continued involvement in the wars in Ukraine and Syria and its alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Following the signing of the S-400 deal, the US Embassy spokesperson here said that the intent of her country's implementation of CAATSA was "to impose costs on Russia for its malign behaviour, including by stopping flow of money to Russia's defence sector".
Spokesperson Jinnie Lee said that CAATSA was "not intended to impose damage to the military capabilities of our allies or partners".
Her comments came after a senior US State Department official said last month that there will be no blanket waiver for defence trade with Russia.
"On the S-400, there is no blanket waiver or country-specific waiver," Principal Deputy Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Alice Wells had said while briefing the media about the first ever 2+2 India-US Ministerial Dialogue.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis held the 2+2 Dialogue here on September 6.
Wells also referred to Pompeo's remarks to the media here after the 2+2 Dialogue in which he said that no decision has been taken on the S-400 deal.
"We continue to have conversations with the Indian leadership on ways we are working to hold Russia accountable for its behaviour," she stated. "As Secretary Pompeo said, the sanctions are not intended to adversely impact countries like India. These are designed to impact Russia."
The most significant outcome of the 2+2 Dialogue was the signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) by the two sides. COMCASA guarantees India access to critical US defence technologies and communication networks to help the militaries of the two countries in their interoperability.
Though India and the US maintain a robust Global Strategic Partnership with the two countries being major defence partners, by signing the S-400 missile deal, New Delhi has now sent a clear signal to the world that its bilateral relationship with one country is independent of that with a third country.
This was also evident when Modi went to Wuhan in China in April at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping for an informal summit after Indian and Chinese troops were in a face-to-face situation at Doklam on the India-Bhutan-China trijunction for 73 days last year.
India and China are now also in talks to update a 12-year-old defence agreement and establish a hotline between their defence ministries.
Putin, too, after being re-elected President for the fourth time, hosted Modi for a similar informal summit in the Russian resort city of Sochi in May. Following that meeting, Modi said that India-Russia bilateral ties have been taken to a new level.
New Delhi also made its foreign policy independence in West Asia clear when Modi made separate visits to Israel in July last year and to Palestine in February this year.
These were the first-ever Indian prime ministerial visits to the two countries.
Despite developing strong ties with Israel, India in December last year voted with the rest of the world in the UN General Assembly against US President Donald Trump's unilateral decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Now, what remains to be seen is how India handles the fresh US sanctions on Iran that are set to come into effect on November 4.
The US pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that Tehran had signed with the five permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council, Germany and the European Union and imposed the new sanctions on the West Asian nation over its nuclear programme.
Under the sanctions, the US wants all countries in the world to stop importing oil from Iran.
This has sparked concerns in New Delhi as Iran is a major supplier of crude oil to India.
According to Wells, expert-level discussions are going on between India and the US on issues related to crude oil exports from Iran and ways to bring those exports down.
Stating that these conversations are ongoing, she said that the US is "working very hard with our partners so that there are no disruptions in the market and adequate supply is available to substitute for Iranian oil".
But can India afford to forego crude supplies from Iran in the face of the spiralling oil prices? This is the next big foreign policy challenge for New Delhi.

(Our News Desk can be contacted at

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Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Whither nuclear disarmament?

Pigeons fly over the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan, on Augist 6, 2018. Japan on Monday marked the 73rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. (Xinhua/Ma Caoran/IANS)
Pigeons fly over the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan, on Augist 6, 2018. Japan on Monday marked the 73rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. (Xinhua/Ma Caoran/IANS)
August 6 is etched in an apocalyptic manner on the global consciousness given the nuclear enormity that engulfed the unsuspecting residents of Japan's Hiroshima on that day in 1945. Three days later Nagasaki met the same fate, though tragically August 9 receives even lesser attention from a jaded world whose attention span often oscillates from one tweet to another.
The "national herd" in every major demographic cluster is episodically led from one sensational but banal event to another and the collective danger that the nuclear weapon poses to humanity is glossed over, with a fleeting reference on Hiroshima Day when platitudes are dutifully mouthed by the political leadership across the world.
The year 2018 is a bit different, but in an alarming way. Prickly nuclear nationalism now rules the roost and the charge has been led by the world's oldest and most powerful democracy. On July 23, US President Donald Trump tweeted -- as is his wont -- to Iranian President Rouhani, and this one was in all caps:
Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
To be fair to Trump, this tweet was in response to what the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had said the previous day (July 22) when he warned Washington that provoking Tehran over the nuclear deal could lead to the "mother of all wars". The Iranian reference was in no doubt -- it was invoking the spectre of WMDs -- long-range missiles fitted with nuclear warheads.
Over the last year, the global nuclear arsenal has increased in numbers among the nine nations in the world that are nuclear-weapon capable. This apocalyptic club that holds the world to ransom includes the original five - the US, Russia, UK, France and China. Post-1964, the other four who have joined this "club" are Israel, India, Pakistan and now North Korea. Today the most serious national security threat to the US is deemed to be a mix of the nuclear weapon and terrorism as posed by non-state entities -- often with state support.
Paradoxically, over the last year, Pakistan, often referred to as the cradle and nursery of global terrorism, has the distinction of possessing the world's fastest-growing nuclear weapon arsenal. Much of this capability has been enabled by a deep and opaque partnership with China and North Korea.
Furthermore, Pakistan is the only nation among the nuclear nine wherein the command and control of the nuclear button rests with the Pakistan military and the civilian leadership is only notionally in the loop. Whether Imran Khan, if he becomes the Prime Minister, will be able to assert civilian control remains moot. There are many voices even within Pakistan that believe a mercurial Khan may not be the most prudent choice, when it comes to nuclear weapons.
However, on the other hand, such prudence at the very top of national political leadership, while desirable, went out of the window with the election of Trump as US President, a leader who recently boasted about the size of his "button" apropos his North Korean counterpart.
The deeper concern in 2018 is that nuclear weapons are being brandished in a far more visible manner and the leaders of the US, Russia, Iran and North Korea are cases in point. Each of them has justified this posture as a case of safeguarding their national security, sovereignty and integrity. The consequences that will follow by way of an apocalyptic regional nuclear fallout with millions -- yes, millions -- killed receive little or no attention.
The greater anguish is that the global political leadership remains indifferent to such nuclear sabre-rattling and has done an ostrich act by treating these statements as political rhetoric (bluff and bluster?) and devoid of substance. And civil society, which in the 1960s and 1970s was alert to the gravity of the nuclear threat, is now cynical. The nuclear threat joins the cluster of many lost causes -- global warming, ocean pollution, the plastic peril and shrinking bee population among other amber lights that are flashing.
One slender sliver that followed the focus put by former US President Barack Obama on the nuclear threat is the effort by the ICAN -- the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons -- that was launched in 2007. This global NGO comprising almost 500 partners from 100 countries has pushed for an international treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Elimination of the global nuclear arsenal is the Holy Grail and in 2017 ICAN successfully negotiated and concluded this treaty at the UN.
ICAN was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace prize for its effort but the major powers, including India, have distanced themselves from this advocacy. Thus the ICAN initiative, while laudable, remains ineffective.
Ironically, India, which has legitimately claimed a distinctive nuclear status in the global order, has ceded the disarmament space it once led from 1960 to 2010. India is a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and demonstrated its nuclear-weapon capability in May 1998. Pakistan followed and South Asia exudes a nuclear prickliness that is disquieting.
Based on its nuclear profile that combines nuclear restraint and responsibility, India was admitted to the global nuclear order in late 2008, thanks in large measure to the political resolve of then US President George Bush.
While New Delhi remains committed to "universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable nuclear disarmament", it has made no significant effort in the last few years to demonstrate its status as a "different" kind of nuclear-weapon power. ICAN is a case in point.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought commendable traction to the challenge of global terrorism since assuming office in May 2014 but has remained relatively reticent on the nuclear issue. One hopes that the Indian leadership will address the nuclear issue at the global level with the urgency it warrants, so that Hiroshima-Nagasaki remain the tragic exception.
(The author is Director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. The article is in special arrangement with South Asia Monitor)

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Bye-election graffiti: Troubled times for BJP

Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) workers celebrating outside the party office in Lucknow after their candidate wrested the Kairana Lok Sabha seat from the BJP in the May 28 bye-elections, in Lucknow on May 31, 2018.
Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) workers celebrating outside the party office in Lucknow after their candidate wrested the Kairana Lok Sabha seat from the BJP in the May 28 bye-elections, in Lucknow on May 31, 2018.
It will be a mistake to ascribe the defeats of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Kairana, Noorpur and Bhandara-Gondiya bye-elections in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra only to the tie-ups among its opponents.
While there is little doubt that, in Kairana, an alliance of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress led to the BJP's defeat, it is also undeniable that the combine wouldn't have worked if the Muslims, Dalits, backward castes and the Jats hadn't turned against the BJP.
It is for the BJP to ascertain why they did so when a section of the economists is sanguine about the party's prospects because of low inflation and high -- 7.7 per cent -- growth.
But the economy may not boost the party's fortunes in a context of social fissures. As those associated with the Muslim and Christian communities like former Vice-President Hamid Ansari and the Archbishop of Delhi, Anil Couto, have said, both the communities are living with a sense of insecurity. The reason apparently is the fear of suddenly being attacked and even killed by saffron groups on one pretext or another.
The unhappiness of the Dalits, too, has been obvious in the wake of several instances of lynching and the continuing tension in Uttar Pradesh's Saharanpur area between the upper caste Rajputs and the Dalits, one of whose leaders, Chandrashekar Azad "Ravan", has been in indefinite detention.
It is obvious that with sizable sections of the Muslims, who constitute 14.2 per cent of the population, Dalits (16.6 per cent) and Christians (2.3 per cent) alienated from the BJP, its chances of electoral success cannot be very high. The party did beat the odds against it in this respect in 2014, but that was because of the expectations of rapid, employment-oriented development raised by Narendra Modi.
Arguably, these hopes may still be fulfilled if the present growth rate continues. But jobs cannot provide any solace to people who feel that they are second class citizens in today's India, as a retired police officer, Julio Ribeiro, has said.
The angst of the minorities has combined with the realisation among the BJP's opponents that the only way to defeat it is via electoral tie-ups among themselves. This is what happened in Kairana, where a combined opposition seamlessly garnered the votes of the Muslims, the Dalits, the backward castes and the Jats.
It was the same in Noorpur, where the SP candidate received the support of the other opposition parties, and in Bhandara-Gondiya, where the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress successfully put up a united fight against the BJP.
The formula, therefore, for success against the BJP is clear -- unite or perish. As West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee once said, the objective should be to offer the BJP a one-to-one fight by parties which are the most influential in a certain region.
If this is done, victory is assured as the Rashtriya Janata Dal's three successive victories in Araria, Jehanabad and Jokihat in Bihar against the ruling Janata Dal-United have shown.
If the BJP managed to win in Palghar in Maharashtra against the Shiv Sena, it was because the latter's over-confidence made it go it alone. Yet, the Sena's leader, Uddhav Thackeray, recently spoke of the need for an opposition alliance against the BJP.
There is little doubt that the recent bye-election victories, along with the formation of the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress government in Karnataka, are being seen as precursors to a combined opposition at the national level.
If such a unity is achieved, it presages troubled times for the BJP because there is no way it can withstand such a concerted offensive. In a way, the united opposition will be a replica of the 24-member coalition government under Atal Behari Vajpayee which began to fall apart in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
In the present instance, the threat to an anti-BJP alliance is posed by the ambitions of several of its players -- Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Sharad Pawar -- to be the Prime Minister.
The BJP may be banking on such dissonance to stave off any challenge. But the party will nevertheless be aware that the ease with which it ascended to power in 2014 will be absent during the next general election for two reasons.
One is the sign that Modi's appeal is not as overwhelming as it once was, if only because the anticipated revving up of the economy is taking time. And the other is the sameness of his criticism of the Congress -- corruption, dynasty, et al. The party paid a heavy price for these sins in 2014 and lambasting it over and over again on the same issues runs the risk of what is known in legal terminology as double jeopardy where a person cannot be convicted of the same offence twice.
The political scene is poised, therefore, between the possibility of Modi not being as effective a campaigner as before and the opposition trying to counter him while battling its own fissiparous tendencies.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal.)
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Rise of regional leaders in Congress

Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah during a press conference in Bengaluru on May 10, 2018
Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah during a press conference in Bengaluru on May 10, 2018
Irrespective of the outcome of the Karnataka elections and notwithstanding Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's desire to retire after the polls, a feature of the contest in the southern state is his emergence as a major state-level leader.
As a result, the battle is being perceived as being mainly between Siddaramaiah and Narendra Modi if only because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministerial candidate, B.S. Yeddyurappa, has been almost completely overshadowed by the Prime Minister's intensive campaign since May 1.
In contrast, Siddaramaiah has kept pace with Congress president Rahul Gandhi's electioneering with both public appearances and a regular recourse to tweets which are characterised by humour as well as biting sarcasm.
For the Congress, this rise of a regional leader marks a return to the immediate post-1947 period when the party had a number of top-ranking local leaders despite the presence of towering personalities at the Centre like Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and others.
The co-existence of influential leaders at both the Centre and in the states gave way in Indira Gandhi's time to a concentration of power in Delhi with the regional leaders reduced to being mere supplicants rather than representing considerable authority as, for instance, B.C. Roy once did in West Bengal or Pratap Singh Kairon in Punjab or Govind Ballabh Pant in Uttar Pradesh or Morarji Desai in Bombay.
The reason for the marginalisation of the regional leaders was largely ascribed to Indira Gandhi's disinclination to allow any charismatic local Congressman to acquire a sizable base in his home province and become a rival centre of power.
The diminution of the stature of local leaders was accompanied by the increasing dominance of the party's first family, which reached its highest point during the Emergency when Indira was deemed synonymous with India by the Congress president, D.K. Barooah.
Arguably, this pattern of politics with only one focal point has begun to change in the Congress. The first sign of this transformation was in Punjab last year where Amrinder Singh emerged as the No.1 figure both before and after the party's electoral success. That he did so despite having once made disparaging remarks about Rahul Gandhi showed how the "high command" had matured since Indira Gandhi's time or had come to terms with its own diminishing status.
Now, the battle in Karnataka has given an opportunity to Siddaramaiah to acquire a stature similar to Amrinder Singh's. Moreover, there is no tension this time between Delhi and Bengaluru as in Punjab earlier when there was even speculation about Amrinder Singh leaving the Congress.
It will be futile to deny that the increasing visibility of the state-level leaders is related to the dimming of the dynasty's aura. At the same time, the BJP's ascendency has apparently made the Congress realise that the earlier style of politics with a concentration of power at the Centre will not work.
Just as the Congress is trying to change the perception of being a "Muslim party", to use Sonia Gandhi's words, it is also becoming accustomed to the idea of giving a free hand to the local satraps. The leeway given to Amrinder Singh was the first step and now it is Siddaramaiah's turn to operate as he pleases.
It goes without saying that this new approach will do a world of good to the party. Fortunately, it has in Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia young, personable and energetic leaders in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh who are capable of delivering the goods in the assembly elections later this year.
It is the Congress's misfortune that several prominent state leaders like Y.S. Rajshekara Reddy, Madhavrao Scindia and Rajesh Pilot died early. Otherwise, the process of a more even distribution of power between the Centre and the states might have begun earlier.
At the moment, the party is trying to evolve a balance between the younger generation and the elderly leaders if only to make the handing over of the baton a smooth affair. Nowhere is this effort more evident than in Madhya Pradesh where the party has always had more than a normal share of heavyweights.
Thus, the 71-year-old Kamal Nath, who was once close to Sanjay Gandhi, has been nominated as the party's chief in the state while 47-year-old Scindia has become the head of the campaign committee. What this balancing act means is that the question of who will become the Chief Minister in case the Congress wins has been left open.
It is the same in Rajasthan since the former Chief Minister, 68-year-old Ashok Gehlot, has been elevated to the position of a General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in charge of the organisation and the training of cadres while the 51-year-old Sachin Pilot remains the chief of the party's state unit.
There is little doubt, however, that the generational shift evident in Rahul Gandhi's ascent to the Congress president's post is paving the way for the younger leaders to gain more prominence. But it remains to be seen whether their rise will put an end to the unequal relations as in Indira Gandhi's time between the high command and the state units.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal.)
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Global perception of India has taken a beating

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor (File Photo: IANS)
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor (File Photo: IANS)
This is the second part of the "Shifting Sands of Culture" series, in which five noted personalities address diverse issues and trace the changing dynamics of India's culture in articles written exclusively for IANS. In this article, Shashi Tharoor traces the changing dynamics of India's soft power.
For a decade and a half now I've been a tireless advocate of India's soft power, arguing that in the information age, it is not the side with the bigger army that wins, but the side that tells the better story. In the past India has successfully managed to be what I've called the "land of the better story": As a society with a free press and a thriving mass media, with a people whose creative energies are daily encouraged to express themselves in a variety of appealing ways, India has an extraordinary ability to tell stories that are more persuasive and attractive than those of its rivals.
This is not about propaganda; indeed, it will not work if it is directed from above, least of all by the government. But conversely, government actions can undermine the story. Indeed, troubling internal disruptions have begun to tarnish this global perception of India.
If one were to pick up an international daily of repute, such as the New York Times or the Washington Post in the US or Le Monde or Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Europe, to look for stories on India, one would be assailed by the reportage on incidents of communal violence, cow vigilantism, minorities feeling besieged and the alienating effects of the present ruling party's disposition towards a narrow-minded Hindutva ideology. Even less traditional news outlets and programmes such as Vice and John Oliver's popular Last Week Tonight show have picked up on this disturbing trend in India. The recent murder of Gauri Lankesh raises India high on the list of countries where journalists are perceived to be in danger.
In this super-connected world, people across the globe are now more aware than ever of incidents of beef violence, the rise of gau rakshaks, the assassinations of rationalists and the episodes of mob-lynchings that have taken place in India in the last couple of years. Instead of strongly condemning these incidents and bringing the elements that have perpetrated them to heel, our dominant political dispensation has instead decided that their energies are best spent making unbecoming statements about everything from disowning the Taj Mahal as a symbol of Indian culture to the "cleansing" of Western cultural influences from India's ethos. The horrors of Kathua and Unnao, and the unforgivable political defence of the perpetrators by the ruling party, have plunged India's image worldwide into the depths.
For the "better story" is not merely the story that can be told; it is the story that is heard and seen (and repeated), whether or not you are trying to tell it. That is what the Indian government and ruling circles seem to be in danger of overlooking.
For millennia, India offered a haven for the persecuted, a refuge to Jews after the destruction of their Temple by Babylonians and Romans, a new home for Parsis, Tibetans, Sri Lankan Tamils, Nepalese fleeing their civil war, and most famously 10 million Bengalis escaping the Pakistani Army's crackdown in 1971, the largest recorded refugee crisis in the history of humanity. In all this India's humanitarian record has been exemplary and has been admired around the world. Yet our present government announced a unilateral decision to deport all members of the Rohingya refugee community in India back to Myanmar, where a state-sponsored genocide is currently taking place in the Rakhine state against this ethnic group. This move, which seems prompted by the fact that the Rohingyas are Muslims (and therefore are being accused without evidence of supporting terrorism), has invited strong condemnation across the board and has damaged the popular perception of India abroad as a democracy and a land of asylum.
As a result of all these developments, a global impression has gained ground that India is now governed by obscurantist and intolerant forces determined to put minorities, rationalists and liberals in their place. This has far-reaching implications for India and threatens to derail the country's soft power projection. It is a far cry from the time of the 2004 elections. I remember, when I was travelling through the Gulf as a diplomat with the UN, senior officials I was meeting expressed their astonishment and unabashed admiration about the 2014 election results, where a party led by an Italian woman of Roman Catholic faith had made way for a Sikh to be sworn in by a Muslim President as the Prime Minister -- of a country where 80 per cent of the population were Hindus. To go from that celebration of diversity to a time when our President, Vice President and Prime Minister are all followers of a sectarian Hindu chauvinist movement is a fall indeed in the eyes of the world.
I have repeatedly argued that we cannot simultaneously sell ourselves to the world as a land of pluralism, tolerance and Gandhianism, while promoting intolerance, communal hatred and minority insecurity within the country. The present government would do well to learn that it cannot promote 'Make in India' abroad while condoning the propagation of 'Hate in India' at home.
However, that said, as a cautious optimist, I still believe that India can reverse this recent trend. It continues to have a thriving free press, a strong watch guard in its civil society and an independent judiciary (which has passed verdicts that have struck down triple talaq, upheld an Indian citizen's fundamental right to privacy and convicted a popular religious leader for rape, despite an overwhelming show of force and violence from his supporters). I believe it is these principled elements of India's society, along with our civilisational ethos, that are and will continue to be an immeasurable asset for our country.
This is also soft power and we don't have to thank the government for it. When people argue that cultural diplomacy is important, they tend to focus on what governments can do to showcase culture and promote Indian society. I believe the message that really matters and the one that gets through is that of who we are, not what we want to show.
As an opposition Member of Parliament, that is my message to the Indian government too. Don't change our invaluable traditions. Don't try to remake India in a way that will actually damage its soft power. We as a society have celebrated our own diversity, our own democracy and our own pluralism and the world has admired us for these very things. Today we have unfortunately given free rein to those who have promoted bigotry and intolerance that should have no place in the narrative of Indian society.
We must be conscious of the qualities that are so attractive about our culture and that give us our soft power in the world and we must ensure those qualities are not undermined by recklessly irresponsible, often semi-educated individuals who have been given a free hand by some of those in power who should know better.
I believe that the principal ingredients for India's soft power success continue to remain. But in order to realise that potential, India needs to address its own internal challenges first. It is essential that India does not allow the spectre of religious intolerance and political opportunism to undermine the soft power that is its greatest asset in the world of the 21st century.
Our democracy, our thriving free media, our contentious civil society forums, our energetic human rights groups, and the repeated spectacle of our remarkable general elections -- all of these together make India a rare example of the successful management of diversity in our globalised world. It adds to India's soft power when its non-governmental organisations actively defend human rights, promote environmentalism and fight injustice. It is a vital asset that the Indian press is free, lively, irreverent, disdainful of sacred cows. Maintain that, and true leadership in our globalising world -- the kind that has to do with principles, values and standards -- will follow.
(Shashi Tharoor is a former UN diplomat; a writer of several bestselling books and a Member of Parliament, representing Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency. The views expressed are personal. The copyright of this article rests with the author.)

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Kathua, Unnao....Time for India to wake up

I saw her face in the photographs. If I had not seen her face, this probably would have been yet another incident or story that we are now getting used to hearing, until somebody we know or probably we ourselves are living the situation.
However, the piercing look of innocence in her eyes haunt me every moment. I am unable to work, sleep or walk without being reminded that it is our silence that led to her situation. Our habit is of forgetting an incident after all the hue and cry is over or until the next incident is doing its rounds in the media. It keeps us momentarily busy, doesn't it?
The picture of her lying face down in a dress similar to the one she wore in the picture when she was alive. I could hear her voice calling out to her mother and father or anybody else for help. Someone who would rescue her from the ordeal and trauma she was put through. A child of that age would never think about death even in her worst condition but of getting back to her parents' embrace.
The ruthlessness the brutes showed by raping her for the last time before smashing her head with a stone. A man who came all the way from Meerut to satisfy his lust after receiving a phone call from his friend. A 60-year-old conspiring and planning?
On December 16, 2012, it was another of India's daughters, the spark for "The Nirbhaya Act". Let's go back in time. Have we taken time post that incident, to think about it. India’s daughter was a girl who had aspirations, a family, a dream but did not get the right help when she needed it the most, neither did she live to see justice for herself. Yes, she is no doubt instrumental in the "Nirbhaya Act" taking shape as our lawmakers and government felt the pressure of common people reacting. Have you ever thought of what if we, the general public and media, did not raise our voice? Would there be a decision made? Fast Track courts, very good, we are in 2018, Nirbhaya’s rapists, the criminals are still behind bars, awaiting their death sentence. I feel it’s like a return gift a child gets after a party, it makes you feel nice, but you wonder what is its use.
Did it instil fear in the rapists? Post 2012 Nirbhaya incident, we have had the Shakti Mills gang-rape, Badaun gang-rape, rape of a 6-year old in Vibgyor High, Sivagangai minor rape case, 14-year-old raping a 3-year-old, 50-year-old mutilating the body of a 10-year-old, neighbour raping an 11-year-old, 15-year-old raping an 8-month-old. Now Unnao, Kathua, and several more reported cases, not to forget those that are not even reported. The father of the Unnao victim been beaten and thrashed to death. India is getting creative in rape and ways to delay justice to a rape victim and her family.
With each case, changes are made to the law. Our laws are still undergoing the process of evolution which is highly impacted by the demons of politics, influence, religion and the social stigma faced by the woman who, most of the time, is forced to give up and withdraw the case with fears of the never ending trauma she is subjected to.
They are all India’s daughters. Aren’t they? So let’s redefine the meaning of India’s daughter. Being an Indian female makes her eligible to be raped by the Indian man who could turn rapist as she is irresistible to him, to be shamed by fanatics, politicians and by those who feel she was responsible for what she was subjected to, a girl who eventually would be named "Nirbhaya" and for whom justice takes its own pace. 
The name "Nirbhaya". Seriously? Who are we trying to fool? Do you think that she for once did not feel the fear, pain and helplessness? The women and girl children in India are not Nirbhayas. We fear not, these cowards who we may have to face. However, we hate and fear the hypocrisy of our so called leaders who claim to lead us to a developed India while actually going centuries back in its attitude towards respect for women.
Nirbhaya meant a girl or woman who feared, was subjected through pain and whose cries were not heard when needed. A girl who didn’t get the justice or was not protected in her country or a girl who gave enough material to keep politicians, media and law makers busy until the next Nirbhaya was named. 
We have more Nirbhays - fearless rapists who know the law will take its own course and with the right connect, its pace will be slow enough to not affect their daily life. 
To the politicians who blame the other parties for conspiracy -- Grow up. Understand politics is not a game to be played but a responsibility to lead.
The cries of the eight-year-old in Kathua will echo through our country and her eyes will continue to pierce each of us. The innocent eyes which now probably would have the look of maturity, realising what she was subjected to. The tear filled eyes that say, Crime is a crime irrespective of gender, religion, politics, influence, status, power, whatever.
We are too trivial in life to give the chirpy deer, full of life, back to her parents. The least we could do is to give them justice. Give them the security from the religious fanatics and politicians who use religion as their mask and shield to cover their demonic acts.
We have heard the famous line, ‘No means NO’ and that’s just it. Nobody has the right to touch another person by force or without consent. 
India was known for her secularism and democracy. Not a country known for dictating what you eat, wear, speak or asking you your religion. Let’s not make the two words history.  Unite sensibly, not religiously.
Let India’s daughter be defined as a girl or woman who is living, safe and respected for her capabilities and for who she is. Let her be ‘Nirbhaya’. Living with no fear of being raped. 
Wake up! India.
Anita Peter
Anita Peter

Anita Peter works at Persona Script, an organisational development company. A motivational speaker and facilitator, she supports, promotes and conducts motivational women centric programs . She won the Kerala state level competition for artistic and figure roller skating. She is a Mohiniattam performer and the founder of Lasya Drutha. She has acted in two Malayalam films, several Malayalam and Tamil television serials and in plays. She has compered shows and programmes and modelled for several print ads and television commercials for popular brands. She was among the top 10 finalists of the Haier Gladrags Mrs India 2011.

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How microscopic marine algae impact global climate and Indian monsoon

In a few weeks from now, seasonal forecast for the Indian summer monsoon will be announced. Among various parameters that determine the fate of the monsoon is the sea surface temperature, more specifically, the contrast between land and sea temperatures. But what are the parameters that determine sea surface temperatures?
While much attention is paid to the air-sea interaction and ocean dynamic processes that determine these temperatures, what remains largely underappreciated is the role of ‘clouds’ in the ocean that can block the amount of sunlight penetrating below the surface and thus play a significant role in determining the sea surface temperatures.
These ‘clouds’ are actually photosynthesizing algae, phytoplankton. Phytoplankton responds much faster to processes that alter temperature than the temperature itself, which changes slowly due to water’s high heat capacity. This means that the phytoplankton are often early indicators of an impending change in temperature and can offer a potential to extend the lead time of climate predictions such as that of El Niño as well as the Indian monsoon.
As early as the 1960s, it became clear that the microscopic algae photosynthesize and serve as the bottom of the invaluable food chain and that they can affect the depth of penetration of solar radiation into the ocean and influence ocean temperatures. Satellite chlorophyll data were used in the 1990s to argue that the strong coastal upwelling off Somalia during the Indian monsoon season may have a significant influence on the ocean-atmosphere interactions. 
A study led by me in 2002, using an ocean model and satellite chlorophyll data, showed that the impact of chlorophyll in the critical eastern equatorial Pacific can be important enough to control the amplitude and frequency of El Niño and La Niña events.
A series of studies by the University of Maryland- NASA group and several other groups have used ocean-atmosphere coupled climate models to explore shading effect of the phytoplankton. The depth to which solar radiation can penetrate affects the heating rate of the upper ocean down to a 100 meter or more and this influences the warming of the sea surface which in turn alters the atmospheric winds, humidity and clouds and thus El Niño, La Niña and the monsoon.
One of our studies employed satellite data for chlorophyll, surface temperatures, sea level and outgoing longwave radiation (OLR). OLR is an indicator of rainfall – heavy clouds reduce OLR and high OLR means shallow, non-rainy clouds or clear skies. We showed that during the demise of the strong 1997-98 El Niño, the surface chlorophyll was able to respond to changes in the ocean temperatures below the surface by February of 1998. This was astonishing because the surface temperatures did not cool down till May of 1998.
Phytoplankton respond rapidly to sub-surface temperature changes since these changes are typically associated with changes in nutrient concentration. On the other hand, the heat capacity of the ocean is high and the surface temperatures of oceans change much more slowly. This has implications for predicting the end of El Niño. Our study focused on the decay phase of the El Niño due to the dramatic changes seen in the satellite chlorophyll data.
Now a new study from NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton published recently in Geophysical Research Letters says that surface chlorophyll responds much before the sea surface temperature during the evolution of El Niño’s as well. This group has used an Earth System model which includes the ocean-land- atmosphere-nutrients- phytoplankton and the interactions between them.
Based on this insight, this study has suggested that a new index for El Niño can be developed with phytoplankton as an early indication of the potential arrival as well as the demise of an El Niño.
This also raises important questions about the impact of phytoplankton and bio-climate feedbacks in the Indian Ocean. A recent study of mine with Vinu Valsala has shown that chlorophyll response off Somalia has a strong air-sea carbon flux signature. The heating effect of one of the strongest the phytoplankton blooms in this region will have a quantifiable influence on the southwesterly winds that bring moisture nd copious rains to India during the summer monsoon. 
The models being developed at Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) at Pune and the observational efforts by other research institutions in India are ideally suited to advance the process of understanding predictive abilities of not only the monsoon but also fisheries and carbon fluxes. 
The second International Indian Ocean Expedition underway could also help advance further research in this field. 
The author is a Professor at the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, University of Maryland and a visiting faculty at IISER, Pune and IIT, Bombay.
(India Science Wire)
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Stephen Hawking – the guru of cosmology

Stephen Hawking. Image:
Stephen Hawking. Image:
Stephen Hawking (January 8, 1942 - 14 March, 2018), who passed away in the early hours of March 14, has left behind a rich intellectual legacy that will dominate theoretical physics for years to come.
Coincidentally, March 14 is Albert Einstein's birthday and January 8 was the day on which Galileo Galilei died in Arcetri, Italy. Hawking held the Lucasian chair of Mathematics at Cambridge, a position once filled by Isaac Newton. It is indeed fitting that these names are all strung together in the same paragraph and mentioned in the same breath. They are the giants who transformed theoretical physics into the shape that it has taken today.
Hawking's early work (in collaboration with Roger Penrose) was on singularity theorems in Einstein's general theory of relativity. This work showed decisively that Einstein's theory predicted singularities: regions of space and time where our theories no longer hold. Einstein's general relativity seemed to predict its own demise. There was new physics beyond general relativity.
Another seminal work of his concerns the areas of black holes. Hawking showed that the area of a black hole always increases with time. This suggested an analogy with entropy and the second law of thermodynamics, which predicts that disorder of a closed system always increases. This analogy was initially not taken seriously because it seemed so farfetched and, indeed, flawed.
However, Jakob Bekenstein, an Israeli physicist, persisted with the analogy, despite the obvious flaw that black holes absorb light and do not let it escape, whereas black bodies in thermal physics emit as well as absorb light. Hawking's striking insight was to realise that black holes were indeed thermodynamic objects which have a temperature and emit radiation- now called Hawking radiation.
This brilliant insight nailed the analogy and has led to deep relations between gravitation, quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics which are still being explored today. Hawking has made many seminal contributions to cosmology, black holes and the relationship between geometry, gravitation and quantum theory, too numerous and technical to mention here.
Hawking brought to the subject a style of mathematical physics that used subtle methods from differential geometry and differential topology to bear on the physics of black holes and cosmology.
There is a strong Indian connection here. The idea of a black hole had its roots in the work on the stability of white dwarf stars by S. Chandrasekhar, an American physicist of Indian origin. Hawking's analysis of singularities and the area theorem relied crucially on an equation discovered by Amal Raychaudhuri, an Indian physicist whose name is perhaps better known abroad than in his native land.
The classic book by Hawking and Ellis on the large scale structure of space time summarises some of these developments in a rigorous mathematical way.
Hawking has captured the public imagination both for the boldness of his ideas and the trying circumstances they were developed in. His bestselling book “A brief history of time" and its sequels have drawn lay public into the esoteric realms of space, time and black holes.
Hawking is very much a part of popular culture. He has appeared on “The big bang theory”, a popular television serial that pokes gentle fun at the arcane mysteries of theoretical physics and the curiously warped personalities and personal lives of the cerebral and self-absorbed people behind the science.
Hawking is featured in “The Simpsons”, another popular and satirical television cartoon show. He has also been sensitively portrayed by Eddie Redmayne in the movie “The Theory of Everything”.
What is most remarkable and has captured the public imagination is the circumstances in which Hawking did his seminal work. At the age of 21, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative disease (also referred to as motor neuron disease). His doctors gave him two years  to live. They were off by about fifty - 50 more years in which Hawking continued to defy the odds and leave his eternal mark on the theories of black holes and cosmology.
Joseph Samuel is a theoretical physicist at Raman Research Institute, Bangalore, and works in the areas of general relativity, quantum theory and quantum information theory.
(India Science Wire)
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Rohingya crisis needs a regional solution

Myanmar is witnessing a brutal episode of violence since August 25, 2017 between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists (who reportedly enjoy support from the Myanmar state too). Some 2600 houses (as reported by the state-run New Light of Myanmar) have allegedly been burnt, more than 100,000 Rohingyas have been forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh and approximately 1000 lives have been lost. Given the scale of death and destruction in such a short span of time, this latest phase of internal violence can easily be termed as the most horrifying in Myanmar’s recent history. 
The ‘cleansing’ operation by the Myanmarese authorities, which has led to such a dreadful occurrence, was launched on August 27, primarily against the ‘Bengalis’ or Muslims residing in Rakhine State in response to the attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on 30 police posts and one army base in that state on August 25. While over 70 ARSA militants lost their lives, a dozen policemen were killed in the attacks.
Rohingya Militancy
While the origin of the Rohingya crisis goes back to the 1950s, it started attracting greater attention only during the present decade because of large-scale violence and the resultant unprecedented refugee flows into neighbouring countries in South and South East Asia. In addition, the fears expressed by the present and the previous governments regarding a nexus between the Rohingyas and Islamic extremists (especially the Islamic State) have also led to a rise in interest about the issue.
Immediately after Burma’s independence, a Muslim ‘mujahideen’ group emerged in Arakan State demanding equal rights and an autonomous Islamic area. Although this insurgency was subdued, it gave rise to several armed rebel groups in subsequent decades. One of the more prominent of such groups was the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO), which was active in the 1980s. More recently, the Harakat al-Yakin (HaY), later renamed as Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), came into prominence with the October 2016 attack on government establishments, that led to the death of nine police personnel. HaY was set up in 2015 by Attullah Abu Ammar Jununi, a Pakistani national trained in Saudi Arabia. ARSA is still a small group and mostly depends on money earned from drug trafficking and training and support from a few Rohingya immigrants who are settled in Saudi Arabia.
The ARSA’s aim is to "defend, salvage and protect" the Rohingyas who are facing oppression by the state for decades. ARSA believes that it is working for "self-defence" of Rohingyas. While the Rohingya rebels have indulged in violence, it needs to be noted that there are other Muslims, both in Rakhine state and elsewhere in Myanmar, who do not indulge in militancy. It needs to be pointed here that the Burmese authority denied citizenships to the Rohingyas by law, passed in 1982. Now, by escalating the military operations against all Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, the government is perhaps only increasing the scope of popular support enjoyed by the ARSA, which, at present, remains limited. Further, the 2008 Constitution of the country has allotted three important ministries to the military, including home affairs, border affairs and defence, as well as almost 25 per cent seats in the parliament. This implies that the present government may not have sufficient control over the military. Hence, having a control over the military operations against the Rohingyas would require the present government to have a more robust cooperation with the armed forces.
Implications for the Region
Apart from impinging upon Myanmar’s internal security, the Rohingya crisis is also posing a security challenge to the South and Southeast Asia. In November 2016, a person was arrested in Indonesia for planning an attack on the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta. He reportedly claimed affiliation with the IS. The IS, in some of its public messages, has stated its concern over the repression of the minority Rohingyas by the majority Burman-led governments. Although ARSA has reportedly denied any connection with the IS, suspicions persist about linkages between the two groups. To clear the ambivalence regarding the connection between the ARSA and the IS, on August 26, in an interview with Asia Times, an ARSA leader mentioned that they are fighting to stop the state-led oppression against the Rohingyas in Myanmar and get citizenship rights to them.
The systematic deprivation and gross violations of basic human rights have forced Rohingyas to flee their native land and seek refuge in neighbouring states including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and India. They have been unable to rebuild their lives in most of these countries due to the lack of opportunities provided by the host nations to contribute to the economy of that country even through semi-skilled and unskilled labour work as well, due to the growing fear of their linkages with Islamic extremism.
The economic burden emanating from the huge refugee influx, the growing fear of linkages between the Rohingyas and the IS, coupled with the apathy of the countries of the region towards the problem, explains the stance of the ASEAN countries in advocating a domestic solution to the crisis. Thus, after meeting with the Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar Armed Forces, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, in Northern Thailand on August 31, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-Cha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan referred to the Rohingyas as ‘Bengalis’ (as desired by the Myanmar government who considers the Rohingyas as illegal Bengali immigrants from Bangladesh). General Prawit also urged the Thai media to use the term ‘Bengali’ instead of Rohingyas.
Bangladesh’s Border Guards meanwhile are not permitting fleeing Rohingyas to enter the country, leaving hundreds of refugees stranded in the border areas. Bangladesh has received the most number of refugees in the recent crisis primarily for two reasons. First, geography makes it easier for Rohingyas to cross the border into Bangladesh. And second, Rohingya Muslims are culturally and ethnically closer to the people of Bangladesh, given that they are descendants of Bengali-Muslims from the Chittagong area who had migrated to present-day Myanmar during the British Raj.
As far as India is concerned, a few days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first bilateral state visit to Myanmar on September 5-7, 2017, Kiren Rijiju, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, stated that India needs to deport those Rohingyas who are illegally staying in India. The Supreme Court of India, hearing a plea by two Rohingya refugees, has instructed the government to inform it about the detailed plans with regard to the deportation of Rohingya refugees. Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta is expected to present the government’s stand on the subject to the Supreme Court on September 11.
India’s tough stand on deporting Rohingyas back to Rakhine State in the midst of the ongoing violence has evoked criticism from national and international human rights activists. The India-Myanmar Joint Statement, released when Prime Minister Modi visited Nay Pyi Taw, noted that the situation in Rakhine State has a "developmental as well as a security dimension". India will help Myanmar under the Rakhine State Development Programme and both sides are expected to finalise the implementation plan of this programme in the coming months. It will cover infrastructure development and socio-economic projects, especially in the areas of education, health, agriculture, agro-processing, community development, construction of roads and bridges, protection of environment and so on. 
The Joint Statement, however, has no specific mention about the recent clashes between the Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists or exodus of the Rohingyas from Myanmar or India’s plan about deportation of some 40,000 Rohingya refugees who are reportedly staying in India.
The countries of South and Southeast Asia need to ponder whether it is rational to push Rohingya refugees back to violence-torn Myanmar. Regional countries need to take into account the fact that the Rohingya crisis is not just Myanmar’s internal problem; rather, its spill over effect into their own territories is already evident. The Rohingya crisis is a regional issue and it needs to be tackled at the regional level in a more comprehensive way.
Myanmar rejects insurgent truce in Rakhine State
Response from Myanmar
To address the Rohingya crisis, the Myanmar government and its de-facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, have taken a few steps. In September 2016, Suu Kyi appointed an advisory commission, comprising six members from Myanmar and three international members, led by former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, to investigate the situation in Rakhine State. However, the commission was not mandated to investigate individual or specific cases of alleged human rights abuses. A few hours before the ARSA-led attack in Rakhine State on August 25, the commission released its final report recommending the government to ‘review’ the 1982 citizenship law, ensure ‘freedom of movement for all people in Rakhine State’, ensure access to education and health care services, adopt a ‘holistic anti-drug’ approach, ensure representation of the ‘underrepresented groups’, strengthen ‘inter-communal cohesion’, train the Myanmar military to deal with the humanitarian crisis and ‘monitor their performances’ in conflict areas, amongst other things.
However, it seems that Myanmar may take several more years to even begin to discuss the possibility of granting citizenship to the Rohingyas. In most speeches and documents delivered by government leaders and officials, the Rohingyas are referred to as Bengalis who have migrated from Bangladesh. Hence, one way of handling the situation might be considering aspects of citizenships to the Rohingyas who are living in Myanmar for centuries now.
The statelessness of the Rohingyas and the lack of empathy towards their plight have contributed to the adoption of extremist methods by them. If not addressed pragmatically, the Rohingya crisis will only cause more violence, leading to more refugees and chronic instability in the region. ASEAN, India and Bangladesh need to discuss the Rohingya crisis together to work for an optimum solution to the problem. The first step would be to convince the present government in Myanmar about the benefits of well-coordinated cooperation between ASEAN members, India and Bangladesh to tackle the issue.
The platforms of the regional and sub-regional institutions including ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) need to be more effectively used to convince the National League for Democracy (NLD) government in Myanmar to discuss the issue openly and take advantages of the experience of countries like India and Thailand who have long experience in dealing with insurgency and terrorism. Here, ASEAN needs to push aside the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a member country as the Rohingya crisis is not a one-country problem.
(This article was originally published here by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
Dr. Sampa Kundu is Research Assistant at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), Delhi. She completed her PhD on ‘India and Myanmar in BIMSTEC: Implications for Northeast India’ from the Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2014.
Dr. Kundu’s research interests include India’s bilateral relations with Southeast Asian nations, India’s Act East Policy and Southeast Asian regional affairs. Her job responsibilities include analysing the regional affairs in Southeast Asia with a focus on geo-politics and foreign relations, writing for the institution on a regular basis, editing the centre’s newsletter ‘Insight Southeast Asia’ and assisting in organising various events including the Delhi Dialogue, a Track 1.5 dialogue between India and ASEAN partners.
The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA, the Government of India or of NetIndian.

It's Time to Hurry History on Women's Equality

At the recent G20 summit in Hamburg, leaders announced the launch of “We-Fi ”—the  Women Entrepreneurs Financing Initiative­—to much acclaim. The new billion-dollar financing facility, which has direct monetary support from almost half of the G20 members, will be managed by the World Bank.
Given my own battles as a specialist at the Bank just over a decade ago to gain approval for a modest $15 million to finance the first dedicated line of credit for women entrepreneurs in Africa - where gold jewelry had to be used as collateral due to women’s lack of property rights - the We-Fi facility is indeed a welcome initiative. Yet for billions of women around the world, it is still merely a Band-Aid.
An estimated 70% of women-owned small enterprises in developing countries lack access to the financing they need to grow their business, create jobs and contribute to economic growth. That adds up to a nearly $300 billion annual credit deficit. 
Even among the comparatively prosperous G20 members, less than 40% of women have access to bank accounts. Yet few national financial inclusion strategies reference women, let alone include plans to remedy this imbalance. And it’s not just access to finance that’s a problem. Not a single country has yet achieved equal pay for equal work, never mind full gender equality. Worse still, nine out of ten countries – 91% to be precise—still have laws on the books that discriminate against women’s ability to be economically active.
Clearly, these data points are symptomatic of much deeper systemic problems.  
To their credit, the G20 leaders have acknowledged the need for a special focus on women’s empowerment and accepted it as an economic issue. In 2014 they launched the W20 (Women 20) initiative in Australia with a pledge to reduce the gender employment gap at least 25% by the year 2025. Successive G20 chairs Turkey and China continued to champion the cause, and last month We-Fi was launched under the 2017 leadership of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The business case is compelling. Recent research by the global management consulting firm McKinsey demonstrates that a whopping $28 trillion could be added to the global economy by 2025 if all countries bridged the gender gap. That’s a magnitude equivalent to the combined US and China economies today. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde agrees that “the focus on gender equality is an ‘economic no-brainer.’”
With such strong incentives, what is the holdup in taking action? The recent G20 declarations are full of laudable statements about the importance of women’s empowerment, yet fifteen of the members still have discriminatory national laws that actively hinder women’s ability to fully contribute to economic growth on the same terms as men.
To name a few examples: in Russia, women are legally barred from 456 professions, including being a freight train conductor or a trolley driver. In China, the retirement age for women is up to ten years earlier than men, which was the top issue cited in a survey of women’s impediments to gaining top jobs there. And in the US– alongside only Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Surinam—there is still no mandated paid maternity leave.  
Two years ago, all 193 United Nations member countries committed to “The Future We Want by 2030,” framed by 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Of these, Goal no. 5 aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” But the stated target to undertake reforms aimed at giving women equal rights to economic resources and ownership of property has a key caveat that reads “in accordance with national laws.” So this essentially gives an out to those more than 90% of countries that still have discriminatory economic laws against women.
Even this year’s G20 communiqué only commits to make improvements in gender equality “where appropriate.” With gaping loopholes like these, what good are such declarations really?
The imperative of creating equal opportunity in national legislation was set out in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights way back in 1948. While not in itself a silver bullet for women’s economic inequality, such legislation is a necessary first step. It is fundamental to women’s economic rights and the ability to enforce them, as well as the basis of a significant increase in global economic well-being.
So it is disappointing – indeed, downright distressing – that in 2017 there is still such a poor track record worldwide on such a basic issue as leveling the legislative playing field for women’s economic rights. What’s more, it’s baffling, given the proven financial benefits. 
According to the World Economic Forum, at current rates of progress it will take another 170 years to reach economic parity. To help speed the process, global business leaders are stepping up to support and promote the W20 agenda with initiatives such as EY’s Women Fast Forward. As EY CEO Mark Weinberger has said, “We wouldn’t wait 170 years to implement any other business imperative offering so much upside, so why are we waiting on this one?”
Simply put: it’s time to hurry history.
Amanda Ellis
Amanda Ellis
International development economist Amanda Ellis is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, where she helps lead gender-equality initiatives, including a recent Asia Pacific consultation associated with the W20 process. She is New Zealand’s former Ambassador to the UN in Geneva and was the first woman to head the New Zealand Aid Programme, and also formerly led women’s advancement initiatives as a Lead Specialist with the World Bank and a senior executive with Australia’s Westpac Banking Corp where she was a founding member of the Global Banking Alliance for Women.
The EAST-WEST CENTER promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue. Established by the U.S. Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options
(East-West Wire)

Seven defining S&T contributions that have impacted every Indian

India's heavy lift Geo-Stationary Launch Vehicle (GSLV) MkIII-D1, in its maiden mission, taking off with the country's heaviest ever communication satellite GSAT-19 from Sriharikota, on June 5, 2017'
India's heavy lift Geo-Stationary Launch Vehicle (GSLV) MkIII-D1, in its maiden mission, taking off with the country's heaviest ever communication satellite GSAT-19 from Sriharikota, on June 5, 2017'
As India completes 70 years of its independence, it is time to introspect at the contribution of science and technology to national development. Several scientific and technological developments have touched the lives of common people in the last seven decades, though the limelight is often hogged by achievements in fields like space and atomic energy.
In the past seven decades, India has built satellites and sent probes to the moon and Mars, established nuclear power stations, acquired nuclear weapon capability and demonstrated firepower in the form of a range of missiles. Undoubtedly these are all fabulous achievements of Indian scientists and technologists.
At the same time, scientific research – combined with favourable public policies - has made India self-sufficient in production of food, milk, fruits and vegetables, drugs and vaccines. All this has had great social and economic impacts and directly and indirectly touched the lives of ordinary Indians.
Developments in communications and information technology have enabled timely forecast of weather and early warning of cyclones, saving thousands of lives.
These are all results of investments made in scientific research soon after the independence and science-politics network built in decades prior to that. Investment in scientific research was 0.1 percent of GNP in 1947. It went up to 0.5 percent in less than a decade. Scientists like Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, Homi Jehangir Bhabha and Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis not only built scientific institutions but also helped shape policies.
Here are seven defining contributions of Indian science and technology since 1947:
A rice field in Kerala. NetIndian Photo/Vinita Abraham
A rice field in Kerala. NetIndian Photo/Vinita Abraham
Green Revolution
In 1947, India produced about 6 million tonnes of wheat which was grossly inadequate to meet the total demand forcing the country to depend on large scale imports. With measures such as land reforms, improvements in irrigation facilities, fertilizer production and Intensive Agriculture District Programme, wheat production rose to 12 million in 1964 – which was still insufficient to feed all Indians. 
While all this was going on, plant breeder Benjamin Peary Pal at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute was working on improving wheat varieties to achieve disease resistance and yield. The first breakthrough came in 1961 when a dwarf spring wheat variety with the Norin-10 dwarfing gene – developed by Normal Borlaug in Mexico- was grown in IARI. It had reduced height but long panicles. Later semi-dwarf varieties were grown in farmers’ fields, yielding great results.
These developments led to launch of the Hugh Yielding Varieties Programme covering not just wheat but rice, maize, sorghum and pearl millet. The All India Coordinated Wheat Research Project under Pal remains an outstanding example of agriculture research. By 1970, wheat production went up to 20 million tonnes and rice production to 42 million tonnes. Thus began the Green Revolution, making India self-sufficient in foodgrain production in the decades to come.
A village milk cooperative society
A village milk cooperative society
White Revolution
At the time of the independence, India was not only importing foodgrains but also milk products like baby food, butter and cheese. In 1955, India was importing 500 tonnes of butter and 3000 tonnes of baby food from dairy companies in Europe. The dairy movement had started in 1946 with the founding of the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers Union Limited under the leadership of Tribhuvandas Patel. In 1949, Verghese Kurien arrived in Anand to fulfil the condition laid down in the bond he had signed with the government at the time of going to America for higher education with government scholarship. He stayed back and became General Manager of the cooperative in 1950. The dairy faced a problem of fluctuating milk production as surplus milk would find no takers. European dairy companies were not willing to part with milk powder technology and were of the view that buffalo milk can’t be converted into milk powder. 
H M Dalaya, a young diary engineer working with Kurien at Anand, demonstrated with experiments that buffalo milk can be converted into milk powder. Dalaya assembled a device using a spray paint gun and an air heater to make powder from buffalo milk, for the first time in the world. Later he showed that a commercially available machine, Niro Atomizer, could do the same. This laid the foundation for a dairy revolution in India and a national milk grid, making the country self-sufficient.
Satellite and communication revolution
When Vikram Sarabhai, as chairman of the Indian National Committee for Space Research, in mid-1960s envisioned the use of satellite technology for communication, remote sensing and weather prediction, few people believed him because India then did not possess any capability in building a rocket or a satellite. He wanted India to use space technology for education, health and rural development. Within a decade, India not only developed such a capability but demonstrated to the world peaceful use of space technology with the success of the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), and the launch of Aryabhata satellite from the Soviet Union.
In another decade, Indian scientists launched the landmark INSAT and IRS series of satellites, bringing communication and television services to millions of people across the country. Timely prediction of weather events like cyclones using India-made satellites has helped save lives. Through pioneering use of the VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) technology, banking and other services were revolutionized in the 1980s.
Drugs and vaccines manufacturing
India today is known as ‘pharmacy of the world’ as Indian companies are supplying affordable drugs and vaccines to not only developing but also to developed countries. It has been a long journey from the time when Indian drug industry was dominated by foreign companies whose drugs were prohibitively costly. In order to break the hold of multinational corporations, the central government established Hindustan Antibiotics Limited in 1954 and then the Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited (IDPL) with Soviet assistance. These public sector units – along with national laboratories like National Chemicals Laboratory (NCL), Regional Research Laboratory Hyderabad (now known as Indian Institute of Chemical Technology) and Central Drug Research Institute – played a central role in generating necessary knowledge base and human resources needed for Indian industry to grow. 
The Patent Act of 1970 recognised only process patents, paving the way for Indian companies to make copies of patented drugs using alternative processes. CSIR labs developed processes for a range of drugs – ciprofloxacin, diclofenac, salbutamol, omeprazole, azithromycin etc. – and transferred the technology to private companies. Over next two decades, all this helped develop indigenous capabilities in both R&D and manufacturing.
A view of a C-DOT facility
A view of a C-DOT facility
C-DOT and telecom revolution
Like most other sectors, telecom sector too was dependent on supplies from multinational corporations, and due to high costs as well as shortage of foreign exchange new technology could not come in. The switching technology was considered strategic and only a handful of companies possessed it. The waiting period for a telephone line in India in the 1970s was several years, and connectivity in rural areas was extremely poor. The first attempt to develop an indigenous electronic exchange was initiated at the Telecom Research Centre (TRC) in the 1960s and the first breakthrough was a 100-line electronic switch developed in 1973.
Around the same time, scientists at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), along with those from IIT Bombay, developed a digital Automatic Electronic Switch for the army. These efforts got a boost in 1984 when the government established the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) by pooling scientific teams from TRC and TIFR under the leadership of Sam Pitroda. The rural telephone exchange developed by Indians could work under harsh conditions and without air conditioning. The technology developed in public sector was transferred for free to private companies, ending the monopoly of multinational giants and rapidly bringing connectivity to rural areas. C-DOT exchange became popular in dozens of developing nations.
IT revolution and railway computerisation
The data processing industry in India during the decades after independence was dominated by two multinationals - IBM and ICL. The data processing machines of these two firms were in use in the government, public sector, armed forces as well as research institutes. These companies brought old and discarded machines to India and leased them at high rentals. India needed latest computers for applications like National Sample Surveys, nuclear reactor development and other research. In order to break the monopoly of big companies and spur indigenous software and hardware development, the Department of Electronics was established in 1970. Public sector companies like Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), Computer Maintenance Corporation (CMC) and state electronics development corporations were established. The skills and knowledge thus developed got transferred to private industry. 
The first major application of information technology was the passenger reservation project of the Railways launched in 1986. It was the largest such project which demonstrated how technology can improve efficiency, cut corruption and touch the lives of millions without the need for them owning a digital gadget.
A fishing village in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu.
A fishing village in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu.
Blue Revolution
The ‘blue revolution’ refers to adoption of a set of measures to boost production of fish and other marine products. It was formally launched with the establishment of the Fish Farmers’ Development Agency during the Fifth Five-year Plan in 1970. Later on, similar development agencies were set up for brackish water development to boost aquaculture in several states. The objective of all this was to induce new techniques of fish breeding, rearing and marketing, as well as initiate production of other marine products like prawns, oysters, seaweeds, pearls and so on, using new techniques and scientific inputs. 
Scores of new technologies developed by research institutes under the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) have been transferred to fish farmers all over the country. 
(India Science Wire)

P M Bhargava – conscientious scientist and advocate of scientific temper

P M Bhargava
P M Bhargava
In the death of Dr Pushpa Mittra Bhargava, India has lost one of its most vocal advocates of scientific temper and rationality.
Bhargava, widely considered as father of modern biology in India, stood for ethical values in science. He was an institution builder who also played a pivotal role in policy making in science and technology in the past four decades.
Bhargava was an unconventional scientist. He believed in doing and promoting world class biology and biotechnology research in India, yet he opposed the way biotechnology was used to further commercial interests. He was deeply involved in founding the Department of Technology (DBT), yet he openly criticized when the very institution faltered in implementation of biotechnology regulation. 
Bhargava stood on the side of victims of Bhopal gas tragedy when the mainstream scientific establishment was shying away from studying long-term health impacts of the toxic gas.
As a scientist and a thinker, Bhargava was always ready to provide his services to the government but he quickly retracted when things did not go his way. He never chose of compromise with his values, irrespective of the government in power. He crossed swords with the Janata government in 1977 over unceremonious dismantling of the “Method of Science” exhibition which he had conceived and developed. He quit as Vice-chairman of the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) following difference of opinion, during the UPA regime and returned his Padma award during the NDA period. 
In the Rajiv Gandhi period, he was a member of the scientific advisory committee to the Prime Minister.
Bhargava believed in promoting excellence in scientific research. He could persuade the government to hive off his research unit at the Regional Research Laboratory (now known as the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology) as a separate research institute. That is how the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) was born as a constituent lab of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
He wanted this lab to be developed as a centre for excellence in life sciences. In private conversations, he mentioned that labs focused on specific areas of research should be developed under leadership of individual scientists, modelled on the lines of Max Plank Institutes in Germany.
The CCMB campus in Hyderabad was built under his personal supervision and bears the stamp of his personality. He regretted that he could not opt for a modern architecture and had to settle for a CPWD design, but he improvised a lot within that framework. For instance, he requisitioned none other than M F Husain to do a mural for CCMB. It was also the first lab in India to have an ‘artist-in- residence’ – famous painter A Suryaprakash. Painting exhibitions were held regularly in CCMB in the 1980s. The only parallel would be the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), whose founder Homi Jehangir Bhabha was an art connoisseur and an accomplished painter himself.
The kind of detailing that went into building CCMB was remarkable. Not only did the lab provide all necessary amenities for scientists to do research such modern animal lab and continuous water supply, but also an enviable workplace in general. Canteen, open areas, lawns, guest house and reception – everything was designed and planned aesthetically. Bhargava, along with his wife Manorama, personally selected drapes and curtains used in the guesthouse. The cloth was specially weaved in handloom centres like Pochampally. Every room had different décor. “These rooms are fit for kings and queens to stay,” Bharagava had told this writer then about the international guesthouse at CCMB.
When Department of Atomic Energy established a lab for preparation of p32- labelled nucleotide molecules at CCMB, Bhargava gave it a creative name – Jonaki (Bengali word for firefly).
Over the years, CCMB not only gave birth to other research institutes such as the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), but also spurred development of Hyderabad as a biotechnology cluster. Several scientists from CCMB became entrepreneurs setting up biotech, healthcare and bioinformatics ventures.
Bhargava did not choose to retire into a cocoon after his long stint with CSIR. He remained active till the end, engaging in a range of activities with causes close to his heart. For instance, Medically Aware and Responsible Citizens of Hyderabad (MARCH) headed by him exposed malpractices in health care industry. He was also chairman of the Sambhavana Trust which runs a public clinic for victims of gas tragedy in Bhopal. 
(India Science Wire)

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Preparing for a Cyber Attack

An example of a ransomware page.
An example of a ransomware page.
As disruptive innovations and new business models transform organizations and communities around the world, their sustainability is threatened by a plethora of cyber risks.
We are already witness to one of the largest cyber-attacks recently with “WannaCry” impacting the lives of many individuals and enterprises. Indeed, criminals and nation states are increasingly attacking the technology assets of individuals, organizations and governments, stealing and selling valuable information, and, in an alarming trend, paralyzing critical infrastructure. 
With governments and enterprises increasingly leveraging the internet for mission-critical cyber security continues to remain a top imperative across the world.
Unfortunately, India Inc.’s response to cyber risks has not been robust. India ranks third globally as a source of malicious activities and its enterprises are the sixth-most targeted by cybercriminals. Cyber resilience is a critical boardroom imperative. The key challenge for Indian companies is that most view cybersecurity as an “IT issue”. Consequently, cyber risks do not get appropriate top management attention. This needs to change. The cyber threat landscape continues to evolve and presents new challenges to organizations every day. In response, organizations have learned over decades to defend themselves and respond better, moving from basic measures and ad hoc responses to sophisticated, robust and formal processes.
Following is an overview of the evolution of the threat landscape for cyber security. 
There are three high level components of cyber resilience:
a.      Sense: Sense is the ability of organizations to predict and detect cyber threats. This can be done by simply investing in cyber intelligence
b.      Resist:  Resist mechanisms are basically the corporate shield to cyber-attacks. It begins with assessing an organization’s risk appetite
c.      React: If Sense fails (the organization did not see the threat coming) and there is a breakdown in Resist (control measures were not strong enough), organizations need to be ready to deal with the disruption, ready with incident response capabilities and mechanisms to manage the crisis
Significant progress has been made in taking measures to strengthen corporate shield. In the last two to three years, we have also seen organizations focus more on their Sense capabilities. Most organizations, however, are lagging behind in preparing their reaction to a breach.  Focus on cyber risks, not only on cyber security.
A recent EY survey said:
·         75% of responders said that their cybersecurity function did not fully meet their organization’s needs
·         More than half (61%) the responders said that their outdated information security controls or architecture were one of the biggest areas of vulnerability
·         54% believe that cyber-attacks are primarily targeted at disrupting or defacing the organization’s websites or other digital assets, while they also believe that theft of IP or data continues to be an important risk
·         Surprisingly, only 58% of the survey respondents from India fear that the next attack will be to their employees’ carelessness or complicity, compared with 78% of global responders who consider this to be a likely source of attack
Finally, the question remains- Where should organizations focus to better resist today’s attacks?
Activate your defences: The survey revealed that 35% of responders have had a recent significant cybersecurity incident, which shows that there is still more work to be done to strengthen the corporate shield. Maturity levels are still low in many critical areas, and improving them would be a significant step forward for any organization.
Take an unorthodox approach: In the face of today’s unpredictable and unprecedented cyber threats, a fail-safe approach can no longer be the only option. The new aim should be to design a system that is safe-to-fail. Future cybersecurity needs to be smarter as well as stronger, with a soft-resilience approach. This means that on sensing a threat, there are mechanisms that have been designed to absorb the attack, reduce the velocity and impact of it, and accept the possibility of partial system failure as a way to limit damage to the whole.
From protection to sacrifice: Technologies today make it possible to sacrifice portions of information or operations in the interests of protecting the larger network. If configured correctly to the organization’s risk appetite, this can be performed as an automated response.
The role of leadership: Executive leadership and support is critical for effective cyber resilience. Unlike the Sense and traditional Resist activities, which can be seen as the domain of the CISO or CIO, cyber resilience requires senior executives to actively take part and lead the ‘React’ phase.
The importance of reporting:  According to the survey, 49% say that those responsible for information security do not have a seat on the board. In this scenario, the board has to rely on reporting instead. Based on this response, it may seem like boards are not fully informed of one of the greatest threats to their organizations today.
Anticipating, and now actively defending against, cyber-attacks is the only way to be ahead of cyber criminals. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ you are going to suffer a cyberattack, it’s a matter of ‘when’ (and most likely you already have).
Nitin Bhatt
Nitin Bhatt
Nitin Bhatt is the National Head and Partner, EY Risk Advisory-India. He has over 20 years of global consulting experience in the areas of corporate governance, risk management and business.

Private real estate sector must be encouraged to participate in Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana

With the increasing demand and tremendous scope for affordable housing, this segment of the real estate sector will be the top runner in the next five years. This will be in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘Housing for All by 2022’, which is a national objective, and we can expect more favourable provisions for affordable housing and Economically Weaker Section (EWS)/ Lower Income Group (LIG) Housing.
Reforms and policy initiatives of the Centre as well as some State Governments have encouraged private developers to evince interest in launching projects in the affordable segment in the recent times. But the participation forms a minuscule percentage.
The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) has been designed envisaging a big role for the private sector, but no private sector participation has been enlisted under the scheme and private developers remain reluctant to participate in the programme.
If we analyse this, there are several bottlenecks and reasons that restrict the private developers. The bottlenecks are: the long gestation period of housing projects, long and not so transparent approval process, expensive capital, non-availability of land with infrastructure and connectivity, spiralling land and construction costs, high fees and taxes as well as unfavourable development norms, not to mention the ‘wafer thin margin’ private developers get through this business segment. 
Thus, the first and foremost need is to make these housing projects attractive and a viable proposition for private developers and to kindle their interest to take them up.
It must be appreciated that the private real estate sector faces considerable headwinds today. Rising cost pressures and a difficult regulatory scenario are among the primary areas of concern that hold back private developer’s participation in this segement in a big way.
Coming to the solutions, I would prioritize them as under: 
Solution 1:  Approval process should be streamlined
Currently, it takes nearly two to three years for a developer to commence construction after having entered into an agreement for land purchase. The real estate developers today are required to pass the approvals through 150 tables in about 40 departments of Central and State governments and municipal corporations.  Every day's delay means that much more drain on profitability for the developers.
There must be a transparent digital online approval process, taking only minimum time for approval and putting an end to unethical practices. Digital approval mechanism and better co-ordination among the multiple authorities in dealing with various permissions/approvals will encourage private real estate developers to invest in the affordable housing segment.
States can be asked to frame bye-laws in a transparent manner for every division / region of a city and bring out a checklist for approval compliance and the approval process shall be made online, thus eliminating intermediaries, avoidable unethical payments and expenditure. Strict penal provisions should be imposed within a time limit of 10 years for any wrong reporting /compliance if it comes to notice in the future.
Solution 2:  Infrastructure needs to be provided
Availability of land with infrastructure like road, water and sewerage is a big drag for private developers. It will be appreciated that providing infrastructure like road water and sewerage is the obligation of the state and may have to be met out of the cess and tax collected from the project. If the State can take care of this area, more private players are likely to evince interest in such projects.
Solution 3: ‘Big bang measures’ are necessary
We need measures similar to one brought in 2000 by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee by introducing Section 80 IB (10) of the Income Tax Act which aimed at promoting construction of housing projects. We can undoubtedly say that this was a breakthrough provision, which brought a big real estate revolution, particularly in augmenting the housing supply.
The years 2000-2004 was the turnaround period in the real estate sector and in housing supply - with a large number of private players entering and augmenting the housing stock/housing supply. But this good progress with increased housing supply was short lived. The subsequent Government brought in minimum alternate tax (MAT). This move by the next Government disincentivized many of the players and again there was a dip in housing supply.
The kind of measures which were introduced in 2000 will encourage private players to participate in a national mission like PMAY in a big way. 
M. Murali is Managing Director, Shriram Properties

Jayalalitha: Iconic film actress-turned-politician without parallel

1982. Jayalalithaa, the co-star of many a film with Dr M G Ramachandran, had just been appointed the propaganda secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). It was one of the most intelligent moves of her mentor, MGR, the then Chief Minister of the state. It was also a turning point in the young actress-turned-politician's life.
I distinctly remember walking into the AIADMK office that day with my close friend GC Sekhar of Indian Express and now The Telegraph, who dragged me to interview her.
For someone like me, who had just reported economics and not politics, it was an electrifying moment in my life as I had just moved to Chennai from Mumbai.  I had not seen many Tamil films.
We were with her on the first floor of the building for about half an hour before a huge crowd gathered to greet her.  As soon as we entered, Jayalalitha said, “Enna Sekhar, eppadi irukke? (How are you, Sekhar? ) in a very warm affectionate manner. I could sense the rapport , intimacy and respect she had for my friend. Sekar was very close to her as a journalist from Indian Express. He introduced me to her. She greeted me, “Hello Ashok, how are you? Please have a seat."
First, I was struck by her stunning beauty. Next, I was highly impressed by the manner in which she greeted me.  Impressed because never before had I heard a personality from the Tamil film world speak in impeccable English and with a lovely accent. I was floored. I became an instant fan of hers though I had not seen many of her films. Thereafter, I did to catch up on her progress in her film career.
The conversation veered around her film career  and how she had entered the political world at a crucial time when her mentor needed her the most. She talked about her entry into films at a young age and how she would have done equally well if she had not strayed into films at her mother’s instances, Sandhya, herself a film actress who had acted in films with MGR.
When I left the AIADMK office , the first thought that crossed my mind , was: My , boy o boy, she’s star material in the political world, too. She will go far as an MP … the thought never occurred that she would slip into the shoes of her mentor MGR one day and also become the chief minister like him and carry on his legacy of pro-poor and welfare schemes for the masses.
She was a picture of grace and charm I had not encountered before in any film personality-turned-politician in her peer group.
After a long hiatus , by when I had moved to Delhi as an economic correspondent, I had the occasion to meet her a couple of times when she came to the capital  as Chief Minister to meet the Prime Minister. I was also covering the Tamil Nadu beat those days. In a brief encounter, I asked her if she remembered my meeting her for the first time with Sekhar. She smilled and said, “I do”. Whether she actually remembered is not the question, the fact is that she had great public relations with the media, albeit only selectively. She could not stand criticism. But she loved adoration instantly. It was a challenge for any journalist to get into an argument with her, because of her perfect home work and fluent English, both of which made her win the day.
I still remember the day when she had convened a press conference in her office. My friend Murari of the Deccan Herald of Bengaluru had casually referred to her political style as being hysterical at times in one of his edits the previous day . Jayalalithaa had remarkable memory and remembered almost every journalist by name and the paper he or she was affiliated to.
Holding an Oxford dictionary in her hand, she asked, "Where is Murari?" Some 25 of us journalists gathered in her room that day were a bit stunned. When Murari showed up, she asked him: “How can you write such a thing about me? Do you know  the meaning of Hysteria or someone being hysterical? Am I hysterical, certainly not?" She virtually took a class for about 15 minutes on English language and grammar. After all, she was a brilliant student who had studied at the Presentation Convent Church Park, one of the top schools of Chennai, and before that at another elite school, Bishop Cotton at Bengaluru. While it may be debatable whether it was proper to use the word hysteria, she had certainly won her argument that day.
Jayalalitha had said in interviews with publications that, had she not chosen a film career, she probably would have been practising lawyer. Any lawyer would have dreaded facing her in court because her home work was good, her oratorical skills were brilliant, and she was a multilinguist who could speak her own lines in Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam or Hindi cinema.
She was probably a reluctant film actress as her mother wanted her to continue the fillm legacy. Like probably Rajiv Gandhi, one of the most charismatic Prime Ministers of india, she was probably  a reluctant politician, too, she had so many good years left to give to cinema. But the need of the hour was that MGR’s AIADMK needed a double-barrelled gun to counter the orotorial skills and penmanship of writer-author-turned politician M. Karunanidhi, Chief Minister before MGR. Jayalalithaa gave the strength that MGR needed to consolidate the hold of the AIADMK, a splinter group from the parent DMK, in Tamil politics.
The seeds of a great social welfare Chief Minister had been sown firmly by MGR. There was no looking back. Jayalalithaa quickly rose in fame and came into the Rajya Sabha as an MP. She did well in the House, participating in debates and discussions on Bills. The return from Rajya Sabha quickly saw her rise and after her mentor MGRs death, when the party tottered with MGR's wife Janaki as interim CM , she took the historic decision to split and scrambled supporters to resurrect the party to dizzy heights.
Jayalalithaa, a five-time Chief Minister and several times MLA, wrote her name in golden letters in history with her service for the poor. She launched several welfare schemes at affordable prices for the weaker sections under the brand name “Amma”  (Mother.)
The most popular of these were the Amma Canteen, Amma Water, Amma Pharmacy and Amma Veggy stores. All of them gave her a distinctive competitive edge over her arch rival Karunanidhi and a stranglehold in Tamil Nadu politics. Even as her sickness had set in and she was unable to react quickly to the floods following unprecedented rains, it did not dent her image with her masses. They came out in large numbers and returned her to power in the 2014 assembly elections, her last term. She handled the Cauvery river waters issue with the deftness of a seasoned politician to the advantage of the people of Tamil Nadu.
One fondly hopes that O. Panneerselvam, her successor as Chief Minister, continues her legacy and her welfare schemes for the poor.
Think of it , after her death, unprecedented tributes have been showered on a Chief Minister of a state.  The President , the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and almost half of the Union Cabinet is going to Chennai to attend her funeral. The Centre has declared one-day national mourning. Flags are flying at half mast in most government institutions. In a rare gesture, the flag at Rashtrapathy Bhavan is to be flown at half-mast. Rare honours indeed. Neighbouring states such as Kerala and Karnataka have declared mourning and closed down educational institutions. Even the Canadian government has paid glowing tributes to her welfare schemes.  Sri Lanka has cancelled its annual St Antony Church festival.
Even as millions of fans in India and globally mourn her irreparable loss , I will never forget the first meeting I had with her in 1982. The day her political career had started. And what a career.  
T. N. Ashok is a freelance journalist based in Delhi, writing on finance, economics, and commerce. 
A former Economics Editor with wire service Press Trust of India (PTI) and contributor to leading economic journals and newspapers, he has travelled widely. He has also done a brief stint as a corporate communications professional with leading multi-nationals.

RIL retains position as most profitable company among Nifty 50

A view of RIL's petroleum refinery at Jamnagar in Gujarat
A view of RIL's petroleum refinery at Jamnagar in Gujarat
At the close of the extended results season for the April-June 2016 quarter, energy and petrochemicals giant Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has retained its position as the most profitable company among the Nifty 50 – a widely followed benchmark in the Indian stock market. 
The Mukesh Ambani-led company, which now also has a major presence in the retail and telecom sectors, continues to remain the single largest contributor to the aggregate net profit of the Nifty 50.
RIL’s consolidated net profit of Rs. 7113 crore for the April-June 2016 quarter was 12.6% higher than the Rs. 6318 crore reported by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the second best performer in the Nifty.
And, compared to the net profit of Rs. 4232.5 crore posted by the public sector Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), RIL’s largest energy sector peer among the Nifty 50, it is 68.1% higher.
The aggregate net profit of the Nifty 50 for the quarter stood at Rs. 69,793 crore, which means RIL has alone contributed 10.2% of it – rising from the 8.1% for the corresponding period a year ago. 
This high level of contribution is expected to continue as several of RIL’s large scale projects are set to become operational in near future.
At Wednesday’s close of 8762.6, the Nifty is trading at a price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) of 23.9, with an EPS of 364.8.
Every additional rupee in the aggregate net profit of the Nifty improves the index’s EPS, and thereby justifies its level. The Nifty’s current valuation is considered excessive by many experts, and they anticipate a correction. Unless the earnings growth of the Nifty 50 companies picks up fast, the current level of the Nifty index might become unsustainable.
RIL’s scrip has gone up over 21% in the past one year, outperforming the benchmark index that climbed 10.8%. This helped the company improve its weightage in the Nifty from 5% in September 2015 to the current 5.4%. (An individual stock’s weightage in the Nifty is decided not just by its market capitalisation, but also by free float.)
The Nifty index, which was trading at a price-earnings ratio (P/E) of 21.8 a year ago, now stands at 23.9. In comparison, RIL’s valuation has barely increased from a P/E of 11.7 to 11.9 over the same period. Due to this, most of the brokerage houses are bullish on the RIL scrip. A leading foreign brokerage CLSA, in its July 2016 report, has iterated its conviction on RIL, stating, “Start of projects worth $35 billion in the next six months could be a key catalyst; conviction BUY stays.”
The April-June 2016 results season had been extended by a month by market regulator Securities and Exchange Board (SEBI), allowing India Inc. extra time to adopt the new Ind AS accounting standards.
Coal India’s results on September 13 was the last from the Nifty 50 companies. 

Brexit, Trump and who knows what more is to come?

The 2016 U.S. elections seems to be shaping up to be a referendum on whether the U.S. feels like a rich country or a poor one. The Brexit vote may well be Britain confessing to feeling more poor than rich! 
How did we get here? The vast and growing inequities among the rich and poor are obvious to all. Despite unemployment numbers appearing to be normal, millions feel unemployed and underemployed. Also the employment statistics do not seem to reflect the true plight and deep insecurities of many.
People are angry. They want the system to change in fundamental ways. They are nostalgic of the past and yearn for the good old days when things appeared easier and simpler.
And who are the primary culprits responsible for ruining their old pristine lives? Immigration and Free Trade, along with the elites who offer abstract theories on why they should make their lives better.
It is ironic however that in those “good old pristine days”, free trade was a popular mantra for the Western world. Institutions such as the World Bank legitimized it as a trusted approach to alleviate poverty and inject capital. Developing countries were 
cajoled and at times even threatened when they complained about the risks to their own domestic industries and labor force. How the tables have turned!! The shoe seems to be on the other foot. 
Developed countries are now behaving like the developing countries of yesteryears. The rich are beginning to feel poor.
How should we understand this shift? Because so much of trade and trade policy is driven from the vantage point of corporations who actually conduct trade, a good place to begin is to ask, how do corporations view trade as part of their global strategy?
Corporations see their businesses as global when they identify systematic advantages from their presence in multiple countries.
Take for instance, the commercial aircraft industry. It requires millions of dollars in investments and years of development to take a concept of an aircraft on to design, production and sales. Such massive scale necessitates that the returns to recover and indeed profit from the investments come from worldwide markets rather than any one single country. The source of global advantage here lies in economies of scale.
Trump says he sees 'parallel' between Brexit and his campaign
Commercial aircraft manufactures need sales all around the world to be competitive. Put differently, in such scale intensive industries corporations limiting themselves to just domestic markets can face huge cost disadvantages. If a corporation in Taiwan for example wanted to build commercial aircraft, yet decided to sell only within Taiwan, it would be easily overwhelmed by global players like Boeing or Airbus who are able to distribute their huge fixed costs over a much larger volume of sales across all countries around the world. 
This explains why Japanese trade policy in the 70s targeted scale intensive industries such as autos, consumer electronics and semiconductor industries, and made products for the world rather than just for Japan.
In the “good old” days most corporations that could leverage strong economies of scale in technology, branding, manufacturing and distribution were in the developed world. And at that time, companies such as Ford and GM focused their R&D, manufacturing and assembly at home but leveraged scale by selling cars worldwide. The freer the trade, the more cars they sold around the world and the more the auto companies reinforced their intrinsic scale advantages. And, as these corporations became richer, so did their U.S. workers who made all those cars in Detroit. 
Hence, fifty years back a worker operating a milling machine in GM likely owned a home with a two car garage. But a worker with similar skills operating a milling machine in India lived in a shack and bicycled to the factory. Not surprisingly auto workers in Detroit loved free trade back then. What was good for GM was also good for them.
But scale is not the only approach to gain advantages from global presence. Soon corporations realized, leveraging factor cost differences across countries could also provide asymmetric competitive advantage. That is, if Nike manufactured its shoes in 
Indonesia, its competitors could face systemic cost disadvantages by not following suit.
What logically followed was a cascade of corporations making a beeline to “offshore” and later even “outsource” different aspects of their value chain such as manufacturing, assembly and even R&D to countries with lower factor costs. In doing so corporations 
continued to reap the benefits of free trade and globalization. But the workers in their home country who saw their jobs disappearing did not. 
Predictably, they began to see free trade very differently. The old adage “what is good for GM is good for the country” no longer made sense to them. 
As factories started closing down, the pain and frustration started becoming more palpable. A generation back, workers in the developed world inordinately benefitted from free trade as the benefits of free trade and globalization also benefitted them. Today free trade allows corporations to painlessly substitute a milling machine worker in Detroit with one in Chennai. They see little difference in their skills, but a big difference in their relative costs. It obviously hurts the worker in Detroit; GM still wins.
Is it possible for the West to go back to the good old pristine days? Can we put the genie of this new avatar of free trade and globalization back in the bottle?
Despite wishful thinking on the part of many, it is going to be very difficult. Time will tell what Brexit’s true pros and cons are. It is going to be a controversial social experiment that may over time tell us a lot about our theories (or ideologies) on trade and integration.
Clearly there are costs to being part of a broader European Union. A country can understandably perceive some loss of its sovereignty. And there also are some benefits such as frictionless trade, larger markets, bigger labor pool etc. It follows logically that 
countries within the union experiencing the costs of being inside the union would also prefer to share the benefits only with those within the union. Why would a country agree to bear the costs, but magnanimously share the benefits with a country leaving the union? 
Many ramifications will follow. The British may soon begin feeling the pinch when products become more expensive, labor pools start shrinking, small companies begin facing tariffs for their exports, and large corporations begin relocating to countries where they perceive more freedom to enact their global strategy. 
Would it have been better to stay in the Union and find ways to compensate those (in retraining efforts etc.) who fell on the wrong side of free trade? Time will tell.
The Brexit polls indicate that it was the older white people that overwhelmingly voted to leave the union. Clearly they feel the insecurities with the changing winds of globalization the most, and have no reason to trust the large corporations or the theories of the elites and pundits. They intuitively sense that the new sources of advantage corporations are choosing to leverage from globalization are not in their interest. NAFTA is now hated by many. TPP is politically toxic. 
It is thus not surprising that Hillary Clinton lost to Bernie Sanders in the Michigan primaries. In fact, the rust belts of Ohio and Pennsylvania will be tough fights for Hillary to win in the general elections even though many see her current adversary as boorish, narcissistic, and xenophobic.
The rich are beginning to feel poor and will do anything to get the good old days back. To make America great again! For Britain to have its “independence”. More turmoil is in the horizon. November will tell us if the U.S. is rich or poor.
Dr. Mohan Subramaniam is an Associate Professor of Strategy at the Carroll School of Management in Boston College. He has a doctorate in Management Policy from Boston University and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore.
Professor Subramaniam specializes in the areas of ecosystem strategy, global strategy, and the strategic management of knowledge and innovation. His research appears in several leading management journals including the Academy of Management Journal, Strategic Management Journal, Journal of Management Studies, Journal of International Business Studies, the Journal of Management, and the Harvard Business Review. 
His research has also received several grants including those from Novell Corporation, the National Science Foundation and the Carnegie Bosch Institute, and awards from the Academy of Management, the Strategic Management Society, McKinsey & Company and the Decision Sciences Institute.
He teaches courses in strategy, global strategy and innovation management at Boston College. Professor Subramaniam has consulted with and taught senior executives at leading global companies including General Motors, Hamilton Sunstrand, Nextel, New Balance, Voestalpine, Tata Consulting Services and executive development programs at the University of Connecticut and Boston College.
Professor Subramaniam is a member of the Academy of Management, Strategic Management Society and the Academy of International Business. He serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Management.

Budget 2016-17: Will BJP show resolve to rationalize taxes, push through GST?

Even as the nation prepares to hear President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament, expectations are high for the consumer and industry on both the Railway and Union Budgets for 2016-17.
Travelers expect more rider comfort on trains at competitive prices and consumers expect rationalization of the tax structure with a possible push-up of the entry level of taxation to Rs 3 lakh and industry hopes for a firmer resolve from the BJP-led NDA government for a faster push to the Goods and Service Tax (GST).
The President’s address, which is seen as a statement of the government on policy and other issues at the beginning of the Budget session, is likely to focus on a host of issues ranging widely from security concerns, both internal and external, good neighborly relations and strengthening India’s ties firmly with the developed countries in the West, besides addressing issues as industrial and GDP growth, need for greater economic reforms to facilitate greater foreign investments , import export issues and social issues.
Expectations from the Railway Budget would be that the government does not raise passenger fares across the table, but restrict it to upper segments and freight rates are not raised as prices of fuel are stable and crude prices keep crashing day by day – the lowest price recorded so far is US$26 per barrel, there are hopes that it could go down as low as US$20 to a barrel and eventually stabilize at US$ 40 per barrel.
A general perception is that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will not hype the 2016-17 budget as he did the 2015-16 budget as it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first budget as a leader at the Centre. A flash back to 2015-16 budget shows that issues like removing concerns on taxation and GST are yet to be addressed seriously. 
Yet the Modi government has been pro-active on the economic front because as measures such as inviting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in railways and defence, reforming insurance and labor sectors and pushing through defence deals such as purchase of advanced jet fighters from France and creating incentives for infrastructure growth. Also, deregulation of diesel prices show the Prime Minister's intentions to boost the Indian economy and usher in growth that provides greater employment opportunities and goods at affordable costs. 
Prime Minister Modi has stated his resolve to stamp out what he calls tax terrorism from India, an apparent reference to retrospective legislations on tax demands on industry. There seems to be some hope on the GST legislation going through in the ensuing budget session, but persistent opposition in the upper house Rajya Sabha, acts like a dampener. The roll out date for GST set by the Modi government is April 1, 2016, so, a tough task lies ahead for the government to iron out the differences with the opposition, especially Congress in the Rajya Sabha to seek approval for the GST legislation. 
The government, industry says, has issued guidelines on determining the Place of Effective Management (POEM) for companies, listed in the Memorandum to the Finance Bill, 2015, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) has attempted to bring increased transparency into the system. As industry faces deregulation in respect of putting up subsidiaries abroad, Indian businesses are expected to enhance their scalability, assuming the new rule ensures an transparent and equitable compliance.
As the BJP led NDA is now into the second year of its five-year tenure, industry hopes the igovernment would put in place a robust tax regime in the country that deals firmly with tax evasion and other tax related concerns. Hopes from Finance Act, 2016 soar high with respect to bringing a healthy and robust tax regime in India. Setting up of an unflinching tax regime should be a major goal for government in this year’s Budget, since a temporary approach to collect fatter revenues does little for the larger cause of the Indian tax system, taxation experts say. 
Pre-budget consultations steered by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and his team of policymakers, ahead of the announcement of Union Budget 2016-17 on February 29 this year, are already in motion. At a recent pre-budget consultation meet, Jaitley implied the focus of this year’s budget could revolve around the social sector, inclusive growth being the focal point this year for the government. Earnest suggestions and ideas laid before the Finance Minister by representatives from sectors like banking, social, IT, small and medium enterprises (SME), agriculture, education and healthcare, have raised hopes for positive changes in these sectors.
Some important demands include the appeal from Health Federation of India for a health budget including tax sops and financial aid for a better infrastructure and medical innovation. The spend on heath is sought to be raised from 0.3 per cent to 5 per cent of the GDP.. Other demands from social spheres include increase in pension amount of widows and senior citizens, greater budgetary allocation for secondary education, ao also for National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture under Krishi Unnati Yojana, provision for a comprehensive crop insurance, enhanced irrigation facilities for alleviating farm woes, construction of shelter homes for single women and destitute and more allocation for Mid day Meal Scheme.
In view of problems faced by start-ups, such as the load of compliance and cash outflow for the gingerly set up businesses, IT body Nasscom has asked for removal of direct and indirect taxes for such companies. What this means in effect is that  “angel tax”,  which is the crucial means of funding companies turn to, be removed at a time when banks and venture capital funds pull away from providing financial aid to the start-ups. As investing in start-ups that are still in their nascent stage involves a risk, it becomes necessary to have reasonable tax rates for investors. 
Raising public spending and inviting private investment could be a step towards making people financially more comfortable and at the same time boosting the economy’s growth. For instance raiising public expenditure could be a doorway for inclusive development. Investing in more infrastructure projects like Bharatmala Sagarmala by government could be a measure. The fruition of the project would not only provide employment opportunities to a lot of people playing out in their favor financially, but would also shore up the standard of the country’s infrastructure.
As crude price and mineral prices fall, investing in more infrastructure projects could be in the offing. Current indications show that the fiscal deficit target could leap from 3.1 per cent to 3.3 per cent, since government is mulling revision of the same. Fulfillment of fiscal targets is critical for a developing country like India. 
Private investment, on the other hand, has an imperative role to play in enhancing economic growth, boosting tax generation and creating more job opportunities, thereby bridging income gap, experts point out. Investors now have the liberty to choose the location for their investment and are no longer required to petition for their investment proposals before the government.. The bankruptcy code is legislation to watch out for.   
Manufacturing sector will seek a further hike in anti-dumping duties from the government. Since the devaluation of Chinese yuan and its consequent inclusion in the IMF basket, the chances of China dumping its cheap goods into the Indian market, have risen considerably. The potential scenario of China dumping (cheaper) goods in India and thereby attracting hefty sales could land domestic manufacturers of India in jeopardy impacting sectors including SME’s..
On GST, the rate has been proposed at 17-18 per cent by the Arvind Subramanian panel, to result in a lower service tax rate. This brightens prospects of  GST being discussed in the upcoming Budget. 
Measures to combat issues like black money, mounting NPAs for banks (March 17, 2016 being the deadline given by RBI to banks for clearance of balance sheets), indebted discoms,  as also problems crippling growth in power industry preventing self sufficiency in energy will all cry for a solution in this budget. 

Dedicated Freight Corridors: Paradigm shift coming in Railways’ freight operations

A view of the under-construction Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor Project
A view of the under-construction Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor Project
Freight operations on the Indian Railways are set to witness a paradigm shift with the stage-wise completion of its two dedicated freight corridors, the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC) and the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC), over the next four years, beginning 2017-18.
Eighty-six per cent of the 10548 hectares land required has been acquired and most environmental clearances obtained for the projects passing through nine States and 61 districts. By the end of the current financial year (2015-16), or mid-2016, most contracts for the Rs 81,459 crore projects are planned to be awarded.
The commissioning of the two projects, spanning over 3360 route kms, will not only help the railways regain their market share of freight transport but guarantee, at the same time, an efficient, reliable, safe and cheaper system of goods movement. With the two freight corridors in operation, the railways’ freight operations will see a fundamental change brought about by reduction in unit cost of transportation, smaller organization and management cost, with higher efficiency and lower energy consumption.
Being executed by the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL), a Special Purpose Vehicle set up under the Ministry of Railways in 2006, the two dedicated freight corridors will provide relief to the railways’ heavily congested Golden Quadrilateral along the western and eastern rail routes, and facilitate fresh industrial activity and multi-modal value-addition services hubs along the corridors.
The Indian Railways’ Golden Quadrilateral comprises the railways network linking the four metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Howrah, along with its two diagonals (Delhi-Chennai and Mumbai-Howrah), adding up to a total route length of 10,122 kms and carries more than 58 per cent of the railways’ revenue earning freight traffic.
The congestion on the Golden Quadrilateral is affecting railways’ efficiency and it is not able to retain or increase its share in the growing goods traffic resulting from the economic boom. A fundamental reason for this, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu  said in his Railway Budget 2015-16 speech, was "chronic underinvestment" in the railways. This had led to congestion and over-utilization, along with sub-optimal freight and passenger traffic and fewer financial resources.
To ease the situation on the saturated Golden Quadrilateral, the Government of India has, in the first phase, approved construction of the two corridors, the WDFC with a length of 1504 route kms and the EDFC with a length of 1856 route kms. The EDFC, starting from Dankuni in West Bengal will pass through the States of Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to terminate at Ludhiana in Punjab. The WDFC connecting Dadri in Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai-Jawaharlal Nehru Port (JNPT), will traverse through the National Capital Region and the States of Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The WDFC will join the EDFC at Dadri.
The sanctioned cost of WDFC is Rs 46,718 crore and that of the EDFC is Rs 26,674 crore. The entire cost of the capital expenditure is being financed by the Ministry of Railways through debt and equity. Debt will be financed through loans from multilateral leading agencies. The finalization of contracts has picked up. Contracts worth Rs.17,590 crores have been finalized in the last  one year as against Rs 13,000 crore worth contracts in the last six years.
The WDFC has awarded civil work contracts worth Rs.11,028 crores for construction of 625 km long railway line from Rewari to Iqbalgarh in Phase I and 322 km from Vadodara to Vaitarna in Phase-II. Besides, Electrical & Signal & Telecommunication contracts worth Rs. 5,486 crores for 950 km in Phase-1 have also been awarded. The EDFC has awarded contract worth Rs 3300 crore for construction of 343 kms double track line between Kanpur and Khurja. Electrical & Signal & Telecommunication Contract for Kanpur to Khurja has also been awarded.  In another contract, the EDFC has awarded contract worth Rs 5080 crore for construction of 402 kms double track line between Mughalsarai-New Bhaupur (Kanpur).
The Western Corridor comprising a 1504 km double line track from JNPT to Dadri has its alignment mostly parallel to the existing lines, except for detours, and entirely on a new alignment from Rewari to Dadri and from Sanand to Vadodara. The WDFC will have its links with the Indian Railway system at Dadri, Prithala, Rewari, Ateli, Phulera, Bangurgram, Marwar, Palanpur, Chatodar, Mehsana, Sanand (N), Sanand (S), Makarpura, Udhna, Kharbao and JNPT.
The   WDFC  will mainly  benefit  export-import  container   traffic, besides petroleum,  oils and  lubricants,  imported fertilizers and coal, foodgrains, cement, salt, and iron and steel. The expected traffic over WDFC in 2021-22 is expected to be 152.24 million tones.
The EDFC with a route length of 1856 km will have an electrified single line segment of 447 km between Ludhiana-Khurja and Khurja-Dadri. The link points with the Indian Railways will include Chawapail, Sirhind, Tundla, Kanpur, Mughalsarai, Sonnagar and Dankuni. Traffic to benefit will include coal for power plants in the northern region from coalfields in Bihar, Jharkhand and Bengal; finished steel, foodgrains and cement.
Referring to the railways’ falling share in the goods traffic, the Twelfth Plan (2012-17) said “the country transports nearly 57 per cent of the total goods by road, as compared to 22 per cent in China and 37 per cent in the US.”  In contrast, the Indian railways transports only 36 per cent of the total goods traffic in the country, compared to the 48 per cent in the US and 47 per cent in China.
The Twelfth Plan pointed out how urgent investments in the railways were needed and said, “If consistent growth of 7-10 per cent per annum is to be achieved over the next 20 years, there is a pressing need for unprecedented capacity expansion of the railways for both freight and passenger traffic in a manner that has not taken place since Independence.” The Twelfth Plan said the Indian Railway is the fourth largest railway network in the world, and had on 31 March, 2011 a total route length of 64,460 kms of which 21,034 kms is electrified. The total track length is 1,13,994 kms of which 1,02,680 kms is broad guage, 8,561 kms is meter guage and 2,753 kms is narrow guage. Considering the requirements of the economy and size of the country, the expansion of the railway network has been inadequate, though the Indian Railways have added 11,864 kms of new lines since Independence, the Twelfth Plan document said.
Referring to saturation of the capacity in different routes, the Railway Minister said in his Budget speech this year: “On a single track, the Indian Railways have to run fast express trains like Rajdhani and Shatabdi, ordinary slow passenger trains as well as goods trains. Is it surprising that though Rajdhani and Shatabdi are capable of doing 130 km per hour, the average speed does not exceed 70? Is it surprising that the ordinary train or a goods train can not average more than around 25 km per hour.” It is noteworthy that the two dedicated freight corridors can allow train speed up to a maximum of 100 km per hour.
The major achievements for the two projects include completion of negotiation for EDFC-3 Project and loan amount of US$ 650 million sanctioned by World Bank on 30 June last year. Engine rolling of Sasaram-Durgawati section was done on 30 June, 2015 after completion of track & OHE work. There has been a tenfold increase in progress of earthwork and concreting in Rewari-Iqbalgarh section of WDFC in the last eight months.
Similarly, there is a three-fold increase in progress of earthwork and concreting in Khurja-Kanpur section of EDFC in the last eight months. Track linking with mechanized track laying machine started for the first time in India during June 2015 in EDFC. The first junction arrangement with Indian Railways was commissioned in June, this year. The sleeper plant at Bhagega in WDFC has been commissioned and sleeper production in EDFC expedited from 1000 a day to 1500 a day. Coastal Regulatory Zone clearances in Thane and Raigarh districts have been received.
In the acquisition of land, the DFCCIL has implemented one of the best rehabilitation and resettlement packages for the people affected by the projects. More than three lakh people will be affected by the two projects. Land is being acquired under the Railway Amendment Act, 2008.  Eighty-six per cent of the land has been acquired except the Sonnagar-Dankuni Section.
Compensation as per the new land acquisition Act has been started with effect from 1st January, 2015. Due to resistance from land losers, land acquisition is held up in 140 patches covering a length of 192 km in EDFC and in 231 patches covering a length of 183 km in WDFC. Regular meetings and interaction are being undertaken at Chief Secretary and other official levels of the State Government for resolution of issues. Out of more than 7000 arbitration cases and 1500 court cases pertaining to land acquisition, 3536 arbitration and 681court cases have been finalized after consistent persuasion by DFCCIL.
In the execution of the two dedicated freight corridors, the DFCCIL aims to follow a low carbon path, adopting various technological options which can help them to operate with greater energy efficiency. As per a 30 year greenhouse gas (GHS) emission forecast, if there were no dedicated freight corridors, the GHG emissions would be 582 million ton CO2, while the emissions with the two DFCs in service would be less than one-fourth at 124.5 million ton CO2.
Ministry of Railways plans to have four more dedicated freight corridors and has assigned the DFCCIL to undertake preliminary engineering and traffic survey (PETS) for them. These additional corridors are East-West Corridor (Kolkata-Mumbai) approximately 2330 Kms; North-South Corridor (Delhi-Chennai) approximately 2343 Kms; East Coast Corridor (Kharagpur-Vijaywada) 1100 Kms; and the Southern Corridor (Chennai - Goa) approx 899 Kms.
(PIB Features)
Deepak Razdan is a senior journalist and former Research Associate, NITI Aayog, New Delhi.
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