Girmitiya Conference 2021

16-17 September, 2021 | Virtual

Event Report

The Girmitiya Conference 2021 was conducted virtually with the support of the Overseas Indian Affairs (OIA-II) Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, on 16-17 Sep. 2021. The conference’s overarching theme was ‘Changing identities, shifting trends, and roles’. Over the two days 38 speakers and over 70 participants debated and discussed the issues, contributions, successes and tribulations of girmitiyas across the world focusing on their history, identity formation, cultural preservation, and their evolving relationship with India. This was perhaps the first conference that brought together Indian descendants from 18 countries and provided a voice for them to express their views.

Inaugural:

83 participants

Shri V Muraleedharan, MoS External Affairs, India

Shri Muraleedharan welcomed the audience to the Girmitiya Conference 2021. He briefly highlighted the history of indentureship, the hardship faced by the the girmitiyas and the successes of their descendants today. He commended their maintenance of ties with India, their affection towards Indian customs, traditions and language. He also mentioned that their efforts and contribution to society in their home countries has not gone unrecognised as many of these countries celebrate them through the declaration of a public holiday or day. He then highlighted how India engages with the diaspora through the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and many such other programmes. He concluded by wishing the conference success. The text to his speech is available here.

Hon Mrs Kalpana Devi Koonjoo-Shah, Minister for Gender Equality and Family Welfare, Mauritius

Hon Mrs Konjoo-Shah, a granddaughter of indentured labourers herself, said that the conference is important. She informed the gathering that her father was a Minister and a Member of Parliament, that she spoke in Bhojpuri at home, and that despite the success of her father she comes from humble belongings. She shared a brief history of indentureship to Mauritius and of sugar plantations, the right to go back to India being discouraged and the formation of Indian communities in her country. She explained that initially migrants had come from Pondicherry but in the later years they were brought from the Bhojpuri belt. The first migrants had entered Mauritius on 1 August 1834, and this wave would swell after the abolishment of slavery. She addressed themes like what makes you Mauritian? Who is a girmitiya? How did the term come to be? Finally, she explained the role that Indians have played in shaping Mauritius – either through the socialist model that Mauritius is based upon or through the many ways in celebrates Indian festivals. She said that as Mauritius is comprised on 60% Indians, their contribution and efforts do not go missed. She ended by her speech by reading out a moving poem by your forefathers written in Hindi about their time in Mauritius and their longing for their motherland, India.

Session 1: Making of the Girmit (Indentured) Diaspora

100 participants

Dr Bhugwan Singh, Head of Department of Surgery at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

The first slaves to South Africa came from India, largely from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, which Henry Pollack in his books goes to great detail in outlining. Dr Singh mentioned that Indians were isolated yet had to complete with the elite society. Despite all these hardships, Indians thrived. Indian merchants were treated as British Indians and enjoyed a better status than indentured Indians. He also quoted Chinua Achebe and said ‘lions need their own historians’, implying that Indians need to write their own history. Dr Singh in his presentation showed documents – a colonial number, a British India Passport (which the merchant class had access to, and thereby affording them great mobility and a head start) – the only documents to prove your identity and claim your Indian-ness. He then spoke about apartheid in Africa and claimed that Natal, where he lives, did not face much racism as the white population was limited. He concluded by saying that the legacy of anti-Indian racism was legislated (disenfranchising Indians, restricting ownership of land and restricting migration to India) and that representations made to girmitiyas were rhetorical. The recent violence in August 2021 shows that anti-Indian racism is real.

Junior Bacchus, Honorary Consul of India to St Vincent and the Grenadines

Following the abolishment of slavery, estate owners in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) needed to find cheap labour. The year was 1845 and the Portugese and Chinese were first brought to SVG. They could not survive the conditions and many were dying. After giving a brief history, Mr Bacchus threw light on the fact that landowners did not treat Indians well. Around 1862 there was racism in the island, which led to riots. Yet, Indians who came to did a lot of good – many set up businesses, became doctors and lawyers, and traded across the island. Slowly, the population of Indians grew to 7000. The first Indian to become a Member of Parliament was Morgan in 1951. He pointed out that many Indians are choosing to migrate from SVG to the US, and their population is dwindling. Yet those who remain continue to be successful business people. Indians prefer to be entrepreneurs rather than work for a boss. In 2006, Mr Bacchus formed the Indian Heritage Foundation to bring together the energies and aspirations of the Indian community. He worked to officially recognise the Indian community through Indians days that are celebrated today. He shared a message that the Prime Minister of SVG shared with the Indian Heritage Foundation and recognised the efforts and contributions of Indians, calling them a “magnificent part” of the society.

 

Dr Kumar Mahabir, Anthropologist, University of Guyana

Dr Mahabir focused his presentation on a unique and often unspoken aspect on indenture – that of military migrants during indentureship: from the battlefields of India to the cane-fields of Guyana. He deconstructed the myth that not all migrants who came to the West Indies were unskilled. He began by giving an overview of the Sepoy Revolt in India, which the British claimed was largely unsuccessful. This mutiny took place at the middle of the indenture period. Through his presentation he tries to understand if some of the ex-soldiers of the Revolt legitimately migrated or secretly escaped to the West Indies in order to flee persecution for mutiny? He tapped into the memories of some of the descendants of these soldiers, as well as looked at literature.

The Revolt was sparked by Mangal Pandey and Rani Lakshmi-Bai of Jhansi. Dr Mahabir showed the audience a clip from Mangal Pandey. He estimates that 20,000 sepoys migrated to the West Indies, and elaborated on how he arrived at the figure. There was in fact a mutiny on board the ship to Guyana, and documents show that 23 to 30 men on the ship “possessed evidence of military training” and that their identity was carefully concealed. It is interesting to note that most of them are from Awadh. On another ship there were records of sepoys as well, and a Guyana newspaper carried a headline – ‘The Sepoys Have Come’. Most of them had to hide so they changed their name and downgraded their cast so that they could run away to these islands. It is for these reasons that Guyana became a hotspot of indentureship and the headquarters of the police in the West Indies. He also provides evidence of women warriors in Guyana, and links it to repeating the attack of Rani Lakshmi-Bai of Jhansi against British armed forces in Uttar Pradesh in 1857.

Session 2: Keeping Indian Culture Alive

85 participants

Appasamy Murugaiyan, Research Officer, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, France

Mr Murugaiyan spoke about indenture labourers in francophone countries and highlighted an important difference: in British colonies assimilation was never practiced while in Francophone countries assimilation was a general rule, either through language or through the conversion to Catholicism. The important take away here is that Indians lost their cultural identity in francophone countries. Importantly, 85% of descendants in francophone countries are of South Indian descendant – mainly Tamilian and Telugu. Mr Murugaiyan tries to understand how indentured labourers keep their language and culture alive despite the process of assimilation. Every diasporic community chooses identity markers and redefines them based on the emerging realities of its environment. Indian descendants face a challenge in that they have to pick between being Indian or identifying with a regional culture like Tamil, Telugu etc. Many descendants, Mr Murugaiyan claims, do not speak Tamil for example but still feel deeply for that culture. He took the audience through this research where he identifies 12 criteria of culture. In Malaysia and Singapore all 12 criteria are present and therefore have a direct relation to the preservation and transfer of culture where it can felt strongly. However, in Mauritius, Reunion, Martinique and Guadeloupe the number of visible criteria reduces and therefore the presence of Indian culture too is dwindling.

Deoroop Teemal, HSS Trinidad and Tobago

Mr Teemal focused his presentation on Trinidad and Tobago. He gave a few facts on the demographics of Trinidad and revealed that the Hindu population in Trinidad will face a decline if not actively preserved. He said Indian movies had a major impact on Indian culture. Some people among the community were attracted toward Creole culture, and a few others migrated or converted to other religions. By the 1950s Hindi was being taught in schools, and religious pujas were performed in Sanskrit. Bhojpuri and other local languages soon lost their relevance, despite some efforts in reviving them by locals. Indian cuisine remains the major aspect of Indian culture, such as paratha, curry, sabzi, kheer, laddoo and street food such as ‘doubles’. Doubles has perhaps become a national dish in Trinidad and Tobago! In terms of religion, he said temples and mosques are present across the island and Diwali has been declared a national holiday in the country. The Ram Leela tradition is very much alive and is performed in many villages in the islands. Other traditions have unfortunately died. Bollywood music has been very popular although it did to some extent kill local music, particularly Bhojpuri music. Since the declaration of the International Day of Yoga, there has been a revived interest in the practice of yoga and Ayurveda as well. The major challenge in keeping Indian culture alive is in maintaining cultural identity. The politics of the country has a major role to play particularly since the 1950s when ethnic politics has become popular. Since Trinidad’s independence, Indian culture was never a part of the national cultural scene, which favoured African cultural norms. This made saving and keeping Indian culture alive in the islands very difficult.  Since 2000-2015 there has been a slight shift in Trinidad to accept Indian culture more, although there is a lot more to be done to recognise Indian culture.

Padma Mythili Nanduri, Director NSKB Aneasthesiology Services Inc, Barbados

Ms Nanduri began her presentation by describing her own journey to Barbados and went on to give a brief historical background of the country. Barbados will become a Republic in November this year. She pointed out that unlike in many other islands, it was not necessary to bring indentured labourers from India. However, Barbados saw an influx of Guyanese and Trinidadians who came on their own will. There is a Hindu temple built in 1997 where all deities are kept to worship and were brought from Mumbai. Most Hindus do puja regularly and follow Hindu festivals like Holi, but are unable to preform all rituals on a larger scale due to restrictions placed in Barbados. On Sunday’s it is common for Indians to congregate at the mandir, follow strict Indian dress codes, perform puja, sing bhajans, learn tabla, and eat Indian food to keep their identity alive – this is despite many of them probably not even knowing where India is. The feeling of being Indian is that strong! She also elaborated that Indians do a lot of charity in Barbados. She said this is the same even with Indian Muslims in the country, who migrated from the Gujarat region.

Ashook Ramsaran, President Indian Diaspora Council Int’l, USA

Mr Ramsaran gave a brief background of the indenture system and showed pictures of the ships that brought Indians to the various islands, as well as the various documents they brought along with them. He mentioned second journeys to the UK, US, France, The Netherlands and other destinations. He mentioned that most descendants of indentured labourers were able to keep their culture intact, perhaps because of the distance and the longing to connect with India in any way possible – through masala, through respecting parents and elders, from celebrating festivals, and watching movies. He mentioned that Indian Embassies and the ICCR help in preserving the culture, particularly Hindi. Indians he believes learn to easily adapt and assimilate within societies helping them to achieve great success.

Session 3: Girmitiyas and India

75 participants

Dr Kirk Meighoo, Public Relations Officer, United National Congress, Trinidad and Tobago

Dr Meighoo spoke on ‘Girmitiyas and India: A Complex Relationship in Constant Flux”. He began by asking, are girmitiyas Indian? At what point do you lose your connection with the ancestral country? In his case, he has not, despite being the sixth generation Indian in Trinidad. There are small populations in countries like St Lucia and Belize where Indian culture is mostly lost. In Trinidad however, many Indians feel they are Indian despite others (post-1947 Indian migrants to Trinidad) making them feel like they are not. He says if we consider India as a collection of different cultural practices, then Trinidians Indians are very much a part of the Indic being. Trinidan Indians have built Indian villages in Trinidad, they don’t speak the language but have built authentic Indian villages. He said their consciousness has developed differently because the pre-partition culture is very much alive in girmitiya countries. His own perspective is that his roti and dal may not be the same but it is still authentically Indian.

What is girmitiyas relationship to India? He said most Indians are not aware that Indians live in Trinidad! And within the global context of slavery, indentureship is a minor part of history. He however, believes that this migration is central to world history. If the East India Company was the most powerful then this part of history must be important too. At independence however, there was an unfortunate move by Nehru. When asked about the situation of Indians abroad, Nehru declared that they have to decide whether they are Indian or nationals of those countries. Indians in Trinidad looked to protection from the Indian government, which was not reciprocated. This abandonment defined the relationship of girmitiyas and India. He pointed that Indian consciousness is somehow seen as racist and undermining and this prevents some Indian descendants from getting close to India. The same is not felt by Africans – they are free to feel as African as they wish to be.

He ended his presentation by comparing NRIs versus PIOs and feels that the Indian Government pays more attention to NRIs, despite PIOs being more connected to the Indic consciousness.

Ravi Dev, HSS Guyana

Mr Dev mentions that the past is not dead and this seen through features in Guyana. What is the called the coloniality of powers takes three forms – systems of hierarchy, systems of knowledge and conscious systems from which India and the ex-colonised world is still trying to extricate itself from. The most popular among these are race, where the white race is put on top. The feeling of Caucasian-ness needs to go if one wants an equal society. One must not forget that it was Indian capital that was used to build the colonies!

He said that interestingly girmitiyas disappeared from Indian national consciousness after the end of indentureship. Very few movies and academic papers in India work on the topic of girmitiyas. Indian politics also neglected girmitiyas and eventually, India became a mythical land and not a homeland. Girmitiya lands saw the second migration of Indians, reducing girmitiyas to minorities in the girmit countries.

He spoke about the rise of the BJP in India and the importance the government gave to Indian descendants. In particular, he acknowledged the role of late Sushma Swaraj ji in bringing girmitiyas to India and to experience the country. However, girmitiyas asked, ‘what is in it for us?’ He said it is time for India to define who is bharatiya or India. Maybe India should learn from the recently concluded African-CARICOM. Girmitiyas need to be granted a special relationship with India, rather than a second place platform, for all that the community does in maintaining ties with India and keeping its culture alive. Why did India (Bharat) not condemn the rigging of elections in Guyana? He said it disappointed the community by not doing so.

He ended his presentation by giving some recommendations: Bharat has to reciprocate what girmitiyas have done for India; there has to be a quid pro quo and Bharat needs to defend the needs and wants of girmitiyas; India today, does not have the respect of former African colonies because they ignored the security dilemma of local girmitiyas; NRI Indians do not socialise with girmitiya Indians and speak disparagingly of them – they view it as a village culture and ICCR should address this.

Vikash Ramdonee, Acting Rector, Royal College Curepipe, Mauritius

Mr Ramdonee began with his own family history of being a descendant of a girmitiya – he is the son of a farmer who was brought to Mauritius to convert soil to gold. The unique factor that distinguishes the Indian diaspora from the rest is that Indians are hard working. From the Mauritius perspective, India has protected the diaspora. However, it is time for the diaspora now to exert themselves globally. He asked: how can the diaspora help India? He suggests perhaps we should move away from this narrative and asks – how can the diaspora help each other? The diaspora has the responsibility to support other diaspora and should begin to focus on business, economy and development. It is perhaps time to stop romanticising India and look to the girmitiya community to build relationships.

Gabriel Pate, Retired Public Officer, Belize

Mr Pate is a third generation East Indian. His grandparents came to Belize in the last half of the 19th Century. Belize is the only English speaking in the region, and gained independence in 1981. Indians account for 3.5% of the population of Belize. Between 1851-1870 there was a large migration of East Indians to Jamaica. The story of the arrival and survival of East Indians however, is linked to the American Civil War. It was then that 100s of East Indians, called coolies, were brought to work in the cane fields and sugar mills of Southern Belize. India became a faint and distant memory to the East Indians. Indians lost their culture and took up English surnames like Williams, Pate, Jacobs. Most experts believe, from the remnants of the language that remains, early East Indians spoke Bhojpuri.

The East Indian contribution to the growth of Belize has not been acknowledged. Indians are only looked at as dark skinned people. The major problem facing East Indians in Belize today is intermarriage. Only about 5% of East Indians marry within their ethnic group, as about 50% of Indians are related to each other in Belize, given the small numbers. He predicts that in the next two generations, Indians (culture) will cease to exist in the country. Post-independent migrants from India to Belize, like the Sindhis, do not interact with East Indians.

East Indians pioneered the opening of Southern Belize in the 1960s, the military produced two former commanders of Indian descendants, many Indians are teachers in the primary and secondary schools, they are a major force in Methodist churches, they own bus companies, they account for 40% of mechanised rice production in Belize, and they have produced two government ministers over the past eight years. For a population of only 3.5%, Indian descendants have performed very well.

To maintain unity among the East Indians of Belize, Mr Pate established the East Indian Council. Through the Council he hopes to keep Indian culture alive. East Indians cannot loose their culture to another, cannot become a shadow to assimilation. He ended by quoting the Mexican Ambassador who visited Belize and said “you can take an Indian out of India, but you cannot take India out of an India”. Finally, he shared a moving poem he wrote titled “Kaala Paani”.

DAY 2

Session 1: The Burden of History

61 participants

Dr Kamala Lakshmi Naiker, Senior Lecturer, University of Fiji

Dr Naiker began her presentation by giving a short history of the migration of Indians to Fiji with the first ship – Leonidas. Between 1879-1960, some 60,000 indentures arrived in Fiji. For indentured labourers, life as a girmit was hopeless and full of uncertainty. She says there are two common tools in writing history that Fijians have used – the use of language, and constructing narratives. They have used the language of the coloniser and not Hindi to communicate their struggles to the wider world. This is the first burden. Writers have been trying to make their narratives as real as possible. The history of indenture from the beginning was that of suffering. Over the years, the girmit has contributed to nation building in India. She ended her presentation by saying that there is no doubt that the burden of history is felt (both in Fiji as being outsiders, and in India as being rejects), but one must celebrate the successes of the Indian descendants as well. She was sad that the Indian diaspora was forgotten after independence.

Karen Dipnaraine-Saroop, Activist, USA   

Ms Dipnaraine-Saroop spoke on the ‘Resistance, Resilience and Perseverance: A Case Study of Trinidad and Tobago’. She noted that 85% of migrants to Trinidad from India were Hindus and relied on their own memories to preserve Indian culture. Indians were regarded as strange and unwelcome intruders by the western influenced African inhabitants. The governing administration did not pay attention to the education of Indian children because the government believed they would return to India. Eventually, they sent their children to missionary schools and could become a teacher only if they converted to Christianity. Interestingly, many did not want to convert to Christianity as they wanted to preserve their ancient faith. It was only in 1982 that Hindu schools were allowed.  She highlighted how politics, economic oppression, proselytization, and race tensions presented challenges to keeping Indian culture alive. During this time, a transformation was happening within the Hindu community, who began to celebrate Diwali on a large scale. These celebrations brought different Hindu sects under one umbrella and introduced the Indian community to other communities in Trinidad. Mr Dipnaraine-Saroop took the audience on a journey through Trinidad and described how politics, economic oppression and race tensions presented challenges to keeping Indian culture alive.

Dr Nalini Moodley-Diar, Executive Dean, Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa

Dr Moodley-Diar focused her presentation on memory, identity and heritage through a visual or art history background. South Africa is a deeply divided society along the lines of race, language and gender, undermining any sense of tolerance and unity. As recently as August 2021 there were riots with chants “one Indian, one bullet”. She explored the works of Alka Dass, who uses stitching on doilies to thread together heritage and layers of memories. Patriarchy adds another layer of burden of history among Indian South Africans and their experiences in domesticity.  She also looks at the work of Sharlene Khan who explores the many women who committed suicide as the only way to get out of their problems, in her work ‘Drowning Durgas’. Her portrayal of Reshma Chhiba of women’s backs show the transformation of Indian women in South Africa and how they deal with their Indianness – from conservatism to modernism.

Session 2: Voices from the Indian Diaspora

70 participants

Anand Jayrajh, Attorney, South Africa

Mr Jayrajh mentioned that labour, slavery and indenture can be spoken of in the same breath and proceeded to give a brief history of indenture. Voices from the diaspora articulate both positives and negatives like discrimination, typecasting and racism. As the negatives have often been spoken about, Mr Jayrajh focused on the positives – the progress they have made, their hard work, dedication, and their will to succeed. In South Africa, the diaspora finds itself in a situation where they themselves have become a victim on their own successes. Emphasis on education, although important, is not the only common thread among Indian diaspora communities. He also highlighted the social cohesion programme of the South African government.

Ajay Chhabra, CEO Nukhut, UK

Mr Chhabra delivered a personal account of the work that his organisation, NutKhut does, as well as his journey of discovering Fiji through some objects he had collected from his grandparents. He traced his roots from Madhya Pradesh, and described his grandparents journey to Fiji from thumb print to stepping on Fijian soil. He spoke about his role as an actor and his quest for discovering his girmit identity and in preserving it. He also spoke about the work he does to highlight girmit experiences across the world.

Daljeet Maharaj, Secretary Fiji Hindu Society, Fiji

Mr Maharaj is a third generation descendant of an indentured labourer. He briefly described his family’s journey to Fiji from India. He visited India for the first time in 2017 under the the Know India Programme and discovered Indian descendants from other countries as well. He said girmitiyas are also known as jahajis in Fiji and were brought on 87 ships that transported 60,000 Indians including Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. Indians brought with them Hindi, Telugu and Tamil, built temples, mosques and gurudwaras. Due to differences in dialects it went on to become Fiji-Hindi. He spoke about the work that the Fiji Hindu Society does and shared photos of the festivals celebrated, the chanting of mantras, and the acceptance of Indian culture by natives. He highlighted the achievements of Indians in Fiji – from producing a President, to soccer players and leaders in the culture sphere. He ended his presentation by talking about the challenges that Indo-Fijians face – from coups and insecurity, living in the informal sector, to preserving culture and sanskars and the ability to afford a decent living.

Session 3: Making of the Girmit (Indentured) Diaspora

57 participants

Virendra Gupta, Former Ambassador

Shri Virendra Gupta began his presentation by mentioning that India’s relationship with diaspora and vice versa wasn’t the same as before, like it is at present. It has evolved over some time. He highlighted three distinct aspects of diaspora i.e. the diaspora in the Gulf, the diaspora in developed countries, and the third is the Girmitiya diaspora. The Girmitiya diaspora’s feeling of warmth and attachment to India is unmatched as compared to the other two groups. Despite living very far away the Girmityas have been the most emotionally attached to India. He spoke in length about the movement of the Girmitiyas and how they were dispatched. Such hardships created a sense of brotherhood and solidarity amongst the Girmitiyas. This helped in creating a sense of a new identity. A very strong factor that held them together was their religion. The Girmityas believed and referred strongly to Ramayana and Hanuman Chalisa. Though they held very strongly to the Hindu identity the caste distinction faded when they moved to a new region, and religion indeed became a strong glue to bind them. Lastly, he recommended the role of the Indian diaspora community especially the Girmit community should be highlighted more when one talks about India’s soft power.

Ruben Gowricharn, Professor, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dr Gowricharn focused his talk on girmitiya peasants. He filled the gap in literature on the evolution of the diaspora, particularly the transformation of girmitiyas from labourers to business or other fields. What are the distinguishing characteristics of the diaspora? For one they all belong to India, they formed ethnic communities, took their strong sense of religion and identity with them. They formed nascent labour communities on plantations and generally mixed to high degrees except for North and South India division. Suriname was the only country that had only North Indians so the division between North and South Indians was not felt. Women were a minority in all societies but played an important role. In Suriname access to land was practically unlimited as the planters went bankrupt. Indians in Fiji on the other hand had no access to land. He also spoke about the impact of Indian cinemas on the diaspora community. His main argument is that multiple homelands were developed due to migration, mixing of people, English (or local language) education.

Manoranjan Mohanty, Associate Professor, University of the South Pacific, Fiji

Dr Mohanty focused his presentation on Indians in Fiji and pointed out that Indians who arrived in Fiji were very diverse. They came from across India and spoke many languages from Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. Fiji was created as a casteless society and labourers gradually transformed from being bonded labourers to small farm holders. The diaspora was also diverse in terms on religion – Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had migrated to Fiji. Over time, within Fiji, newer diaspora groups emerged such as the Tamil diaspora who created a space of their own. Architecture in temples also resemble these newer diaspora groups. Dr Mohanty mentioned that languages like Malayalam and Kannada have been lost.

Session 4: Keeping Indian Culture Alive

56 participants

Satish Rai , Director Raivision Films, Australia

Dr Rai shared his experience of tracing his roots to India and was able to visit some of the places his four grandparents are from. He informed the audience that he made a film on girmitiyas in 2019. Mr Rai believes that we can have multiples homes and identities and need not be restricted to one. He considers his Janambhumi to be Fiji, his Karmabhumi as Australia, and Matrabhumi as India. He finds his connection to India very strong as his ancestors belong to the country, and contents most from the diaspora feel the same way. In Fiji, the parents played a very important role in passing on their culture to their children. This is especially true in preserving languages like Bhojpuri and Awadhi that ICCR does not help preserve to as much an extent as Hindi. He mentioned that these languages are losing their popularity to Hindi. He also spoke about the role that religion, folk songs, festivals, wedding rituals and cuisine have played in keeping Indian culture alive.

Selwa Nandan, Secretary of Fiji Girmit Council, Fiji

Mr Nandan focused his presentation on what the Fiji Girmit Multicultural Centre is doing to preserve Indian culture. They have built schools and temples for which they had to make tremendous sacrifices. For that, the present generation is forever indebted to them. He said it is this that ties the present generation to their ancestors and therefore India. The Centre provides training to students at a nominal cost in language and dance among other aspects of Indian culture. Despite the ICCR suspending the support to the centre, it is still continuing and is the largest cultural centre in Fiji. He then spoke about the challenges that the centre is facing (many which were compounded by Covid-19) and the main being external funding.

Sarita Boodhoo, Chairperson of Bhojpuri Speaking Union, Mauritius

Dr Boodhoo began her presentation by singing a song from India’s first generation migrants to Mauritius. Indians have taken with them their culture no matter where they went. The first 36 girmitiyas came to Mauritius from Chota Nagpur and this created a community in Mauritius. Today, every Hindu family in Mauritius has a Tulsi plant in front of their homes and celebrate their Indian-ness with a lot of pride. There are many institutes in Mauritius that have been set up to promote Indian research and culture. In Mauritius, 27 Bhojpuri channels exist, and the joint family system still exists although it is slowly being replaced by a single family unit. She mentioned that dal, saag, katchori, biryani and mithai are the staple food, and that Bihar’s dal puri has become a fast food in Mauritius. She also mentioned that in Mauritius the Girmitiya Arrival Day is celebrated as a national holiday, as is Holi and Diwali. Most Indian villages in Mauritius have mandirs, a neem tree under which stories of Ramayana are told. The names of the descendants themselves are a testament to the fact that Indian culture is alive. Villages and towns in Mauritius are named after Indian villages and cities. Finally, she mentioned that folk songs have been declared as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

Session 5: Girmitiyas and India

60 participants

Pt Bhuwan Dutt, Pandit, Fiji

Pt Dutt began his presentation by giving a history of India and gave a brief history of the arrival of Indians in Fiji. He asked how many Indians in Fiji returned to India, and how many times has India enquired about the wellbeing of Indians in Fiji. He said that women were not spared on their arrival in these new lands and that bulk of the revenue from the farms fuelled British development. How have these workers been compensated? Thousands of workers lost a permanent connection to India. It is the duty of Indians to look after Indians. He ended is presentation by quoting from the Rig Veda.

Pt Dhunsanker Maharaj, Pandit, South Africa

Pt Maharaj mentioned that talking about girmitiyas is both painful and uplifting at the same. Painful because of the history associated with indenture and the hardships that were endured. Uplifting, because of the courage, determination and resilience that the indentured showed. South Africa as a society has been through tremendous hardship be it racism, segregation or apartheid. Indians had to remind the black South African that Indians had built hundreds of schools and conducted many sewa projects in black townships. This reminded them that Indians are driven by race. Pt Maharaj views the conference as keeping the girmitiya consciousness alive. He said that if you visit South Africa you will notice that Indian culture is thriving. There has also been a longing to connect with India as they viewed it as their motherland and call it Bharat Mata. South African Indians visit India regularly either to visit ashrams, temples, for shopping etc. The problem South Africa faced was that they did not have local Indian schools but instead had to attend Western, Christian schools. Because they were not given the opportunity to learn their history or the opportunity to learn their language, they were robbed of their heritage. Unfortunately, South African schools taught Indians that the White Man was perfect and superior. Therefore, the problem of conversion is also alive. Why is this a problem? Because slowly Indian customs are lost – the emotional bond with India gets lost, social habits change, clothing styles change, food habits change. They are Indians only by looks and eventually abandon their Indian-ness.

Dr Pavitranand Ramhota, Former Officer-in-Charge of Rabindranath Tagore Institute, Mauritius

Dr Ramhota made an important point in that despite the hardships faced by the indentured in Mauritius, there were elements of joy that was the consequence of by being Indian. Marriage for instance, became a high point not just for the marrying couple but also for the community as marriage was accompanied by celebration, song and dance. During marriage, the pundit performs ceremonial functions for the couple but today they are being adapted to suit the changing societies. The best example is that marriage is nowadays solemnised on weekends to ensure that family and friends can participate. The haldi (turmeric) ceremony today is followed by song and dance. In India turmeric is first applied to the feet, however in Mauritius it is first applied to the forehand and feet last. In Mauritius, unlike in India, the birth of the girl child was always celebrated. Caste has come to represent popular discourses. In Mauritius caste is still adhered to in some respects – surnames have disappeared as the first name became the surname making it hard to trace the caste. Caste has not been academically debated or studied in Mauritius. There is fear in Mauritius that talking about caste is like opening a Pandora’s box. He concluded that Indo-Mauritius society has evolved differently from India.

Rajan Nazran, CEO Global India Series, UK

Mr Nazran runs the Global Indian Series to understand what identity means for Indians. The Series tries to understand what it means to be a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and has learnt that as a community we are often neglected despite all the work and contributions we have made. He briefly highlighted the work that the Global Indian Series has done in brining to the forefront the riots in South Africa against the Indian community in August 2021.

Session 6: Voices From the Indian Diaspora

54 participants

Dr Akshai Mansingh, Dean of Faculty of Sports, University of West Indies, Jamaica

Dr Mansingh’s presentation was visual and he was able to show the audience pictures from his own family’s archives and their journey to Jamaica. He showed the audience a photo of the Ramayana that was taken to Jamaica but was written in Urdu. Through these objects, Indian culture was kept alive. Indians in Jamaica have contributed to the national cuisine through curry, roti. In North Jamaica, Indian jewellery can be found and this was pedalled as a cottage industry from plantation to plantation. Indians engaged in rice cultivation and were active in cricket, perhaps even bringing it to Jamaica. The state denied religion and persecuted Indians by not allowing education and denying health. So much so that in Trinidad a temple had to be built on the sea to circumvent the ban on temples on land. For 400 years Trinidadian Indians were cut off from India – except for when the cricket team would visit West Indies. Interestingly the Indians in the West Indies would root for India and not West Indies! Many Indians who visited or studied in West Indies would belittle local Indians and look down upon them. Indians from India thought they were “cooler” than the local Indians. Today, Indian culture is seen during graduation ceremonies when graduates where sarees, there are no “one day Christians”, Indians are educated, “everybody a smaddy”, chutney music are common. Today the culture is so strong that when an airport opened in Trinidad it was opened with a Hanuman puja and not by the Trinity Cross. Trinidad has seven local Hindi radio stations that are played across the West Indies. Indian Arrival Day is also celebrated in Trinidad with the cultural exposé being completely Trinidadian. The important thing now is get children involved. Interestingly instead of eating on banana leaves, Indians eat on lotus leaves! He cautioned that India has a literate and a growing middle class, and the population is shunning their own language and are looking down at traditional values and culture, family units are becoming decentralised and Indians are no longer proud of their culture. India is a lesson for the West Indies: there needs to be a cultural (re)explanation and (re)education if we Indian culture is to be kept alive, as opposed to only retaining Indian names.

Vishnu Bisram, Political Scientist and Journalist, Guyana

Mr Bisram stated that voices from the Diaspora are about celebration, mourning, of tragedy and of the relationship with mother India or mother Guyana or mother Trinidad. Many from the diaspora are now twice removed from India having migrated to other countries within the Caribbean – to the US, UK and Europe. Most of the voices share a common complaint – the neglect from the Government of India. Hindi is under threat in Fiji and there is very little emphasis on reviving the language or even the culture in these countries. There is nothing to bring the diaspora together via the media or the Indian government– nothing (no platform) to discuss their needs, achievements and challenges. In India there is not much being done to support the girmit diaspora. Engaging with the diaspora is viewed as a burden as it does not bring in much revenue, and is therefore neglected altogether. He said few people care about persevering Indian culture, and India does not seem to be bothered either. There is a paucity of scholars in the diaspora on India. Girmit academics do not get funding for their research. Scholars who do exist focus on their community (like Suriname, Fiji, etc), but very few have travelled far and wide and researched on the girmit community as a whole. There is no journal that focuses on girmits, although Mr Bisram, Mr Ramasaran and Mr Rai (all of whom spoke at this conference) are working hard to launch a journal next month. He said the voices of girmits are voices of disappointment in India – they expect India to do a lot more than what is being done. He suggested there can be regional offices, there can be regional programmes and conferences, yearly meetings in Delhi, meetings in girmit towns rather than in capital cities where girmits do not reside. Perhaps there could even be a think tank that focuses on girmits in India.

Shadel Nyack Compton, Managing Director, Belmont Estate Group of Companies, Grenada

Ms Compton shared her experiences as an Indo-Grenadian. She began by sharing her story of being raised in a household with strong Indian values. Despite studying in the US, she chose to return to Grenada and take care of her farm, which was bought by her grandparents. Her estate celebrates Indian Arrival Day, hosted a museum that showcased India, and tries to replicate pickles from India. 2.2% of Grenada’s population is Indian, 13.3% of whom are of mixed descent. The St George’s University markets heavily to Indian students and lecturers so Grenada is seeing a new wave of Indian migrants. The first Indians arrived in 1857 – 85% remained in Grenada while others migrated to other countries, mostly to Trinidad. A de-cultural programme forced Indians to abandon their culture and religion. Grenada’s small size did not allow Indians to establish an authentic community like seen in Trinidad, Guyana etc. Post indenture, the Indian community really struggled to retain a strong cultural identity. However, they attained significant positions in agriculture, politics, business etc.

What Indian values do we see today despite the degeneration of its culture and heritage? Families still try to hold on to the values, and there are pockets of communities that still live in extended families. The culture of thrift and hard work is evident. Dishes like dal, roti, curry, bhajji are all common dishes in Grenadian cuisine. Many plants like moringa, mango, tamarind, turmeric were brought to Grenada. Music and dance are some influences that Indians tend to hold on to. The most popular influence however is probably cricket.

How does Grenada celebrate India? Indian Arrival Day has been officially recognised as a holiday since 2017; Indian Independence Day and Republic Day are celebrated with the raising of the tricoloured flag; Holi and Paghwa are celebrated; a bust of Mahatma Gandhi stands tall; and Grenada sends young people to the KIP to experience India.

She then spoke about the work that the Indo-Grenadian Heritage Foundation, which she established, does to ensure that Indian culture is represented on the national landscape. India on its part set up an IT Centre, helped in some infrastructure development projects, there is some bilateral trade between the two countries (although there is much more room for this). In 2019 PM Modi pledged that CARICOM will receive a billion dollars from India.

Session 7: The Burden of History

59 participants

Shamshu Deen, Researcher National Archives, Trinidad and Tobago

Mr Deen first defined the the ‘burden of history’ as “demands of all humankind a level of responsibility”, and then went on to quote Rudyard Kipling, who in the white man’s burden said one must care for the conquered. He threw light on documents, general registers, estate registers etc. This is how Indian names entered the mainstream Diaspora country’s documentation. These are the databases that family historians look into to trace roots and help relieve the burden of history. He then spoke about how the diaspora can be connected and said the best way is to find family in India. He showed the audience documents of two brothers – one who went to Fiji and the other to Trinidad. These two people were brothers and came from Faizabad district from India and belonged to the Brahmin caste. The burden of history is so strong that brothers was displaced and unless family historians trace their roots the connections remain lost forever. But problems in tracing roots exist – recruiters wrote wrong information, wrong addresses were given, and some stories of the motherland written by ancestors were falsified or romanticised and cannot be traced to an existing place. In short, he said family history is very important as it helps track migration, satisfies curiosity, provides databases used for other disciplines like economics.

Maurits Hassankhan, Senior Lecturer, Aton de Kom University, Suriname

Mr Hassankhan identifies three burdens of history – identity, position of Indians in their respective home countries (countries of destination like Suriname), and the relation that the diaspora has with India. First, is identity. He asks, are we Indian? Are we Hindustani? Are we Surinamese? Migration to Suriname was from North India, particularly UP and Bihar who spoke Bhojpuri, Maithili, Awadhi etc. Very few were acquainted with Hindi. As people came from different areas, they developed a new language called Hindoostani towards the end of the 19th Century to communicate with each other. When indentured labourers finished their contract they organised themselves into communities and called themselves Hindoostanis, and objected to the usage of the term coolie. He mentioned that on signing the contract, the indentured labourer became a coolie for the European – the term was used for Indian coolies, Vietnamese coolies, Chinese coolies etc. At the end of indenture, they became agriculturalists and therefore objected to the usage of the term coolie.

Dr Baytoram Ramharack, Professor, Nassau Community College, Guyana

Dr Ramharack is a third generation Girmitiya from Guyana, whose grandfather originated from Allahabad and crossed the kala paani in 1930. The mentioned three things that he thinks are very crucial – having a girmitiya university, establishing a database, and the need for a commission of inquiry.

A girmitiya university is crucial to unburden the diaspora from their past. It will provide a place of learning. It will also give a chance for the girmitiyas to write their own history as opposed to the history written by the victor (as proposed by Winston Churchill). The second, is establishing a database like the Indenture Labour Route Project. Documents, archives and artefacts are in terrible condition today and need to be preserved. The third is a need to have a comprehensive commission on inquiry, not to extract monetary compensation from the colonials, but to document the history, something like is done with slavery.

He then narrated a story: Trinidad was born through the independence movement; the leading political party was trying to seek support from countries including from India and was led by Mr Vincent Mahabir. But, the conversation of who Mr Mahabir was never came up. When the government asked him if he is Indian, he replied saying that he is West Indian. In doing this, he misunderstood identity politics. Indians in Trinidad are sometimes confused about who they are.

Valedictory

63 participants

H.E. Mrs S. B. Hanoomanjee, High Commissioner of Mauritius to India

H.E Hanoomanjee thanked the organisers for the invitation to speak at the conference. She mentioned that the theme of the conference is very sensitive given that Mauritius is a land of migrants. Indians came as early as 1730 from Pondicherry and Chennai as settlers, but mass migration began only in 1834, following the abolition of slavery and the institutionalisation of indentured labour. This marked the sad journey of exile across the Indian Ocean. This time, most migration was from the Bhojpuri belt of India.  when they migrated from the Bhojpuri belt of India. The recruiters of that time under British rule played their role in gyring away innocent indentured labourers who were the Girmitiyas. At that time, it was also an opportunity for the Girmitiyas to escape dire conditions of death and farming in India. However, given the high levels of illiteracy, many were misled about where they were departing for and the wages they would receive. This separation is one of the saddest chapters in human history. When the Girmitiyas reached their destination they were brought to work in sugarcane fields shouldering the burden of the economy of the British colony. They bear the burden of separation from their families and the indentured system was not based on a principle of equality and justice. Despite all the hardships they had to face the girmitiyas did not lose hope rather they persevered through blood, sweat, and tears. They contributed to what is today a prosperous Mauritius. The only great things girmitiyas brought with them when they came to Mauritius were their culture, tradition, art, and religion. They brought with them the sacred books of Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita. She noted that even the new generations of the Indian diaspora are actively upholding these values through socio-cultural groups. Mahatma Gandhi when he visited Mauritius in 1901 sowed the seeds of independence in the hearts of the indentured labourers. The descendants of Indian migrants played a crucial role in the emancipation and were largely instrumental in driving the liberation movement for our independence in 1968. Descendants of girmitiyas have come a long way. In the process of nation-building, there was no singular factor more important than the human capital for a small country like Mauritius. Mauritius has nurtured a close affinity with India both at the social and political levels. The High Commissioner paid special tribute to Prime Minister Modi for the highest respect given to the Indian diaspora by granting the status of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) since January 2017. She also commended the Indian Government’s efforts in bringing people of Indian origin together by advocating the principle of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum’ – The World Is One Family – and work together in advancing shared values and promoting security, stability and prosperity. Mrs. Hanoomanjee concluded on a very positive note that the diaspora can act as vital agents for development as all the countries gradually move into the knowledge economy, the smart economy, or in the wave of the fourth industrial revolution.

Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary CPV&OIA MEA, India

Mr Bhattacharyya described India’s migratory journey as a “rich history of amazing accomplishments and many adversities”. After giving a brief historical background of indenture and of their condition upon arrival on new lands, Mr Bhattacharyya pointed out that Indian culture was not lost. In fact, despite being many oceans away, Girmitiyas were “strong adherents” of Indian culture, giving them a unique identity today. He mentioned that Girmitiyas have played a significant role in enhancing the stature of India abroad and that they are a part of India’s soft power. The steady presence of Indian diaspora has even given rise to Indo-Caribbean, Indo-Mauritius, Indo-African, Indo-Fijian, and Indo-Malaysian populations – many of whom constitute the largest ethnic groups in some countries. Mr Bhattacharyya highlighted the role that the diaspora has played in shaping their host countries as well as in India through philanthropy, knowledge transfers, investments in innovation and in assisting with development projects. He also commended the hard work and perseverance of the diaspora that helped them hold the highest State and Government positions in the Girmitiya countries, serve in pivotal roles, run successful businesses and other enterprises. Mr Bhattacharyya stated that the Indian government values its extended family, it pays special attention to their needs, recognises their unique status and desire for links with India for which the Government launched the portal, Rishta, which is aimed at the diaspora. Mr Bhattacharyya also highlighted the various schemes and projects that the Government has for the diaspora like the Know India Programme, the Scholarship Programme for Diaspora Children, the Bharat Ko Janniye Quiz, and the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. Mr Bhattacharyya concluded his address by saying that the Government works to advocate for the growth and benefit of the diaspora under the maxim of 4Cs – care, connect, celebrate and contribute. The entire speech may be read here.

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Making of a New India

Atmanirbhar Bharat is a buzzword which has caught the imagination off not just the entrepreneurial class in India but perhaps of every segment of society. To that extent, the governments approach towards self reliance has made a distinct impact and has appealed to one and all, but it must galvanise all stakeholders on the ground—that is, the industry, the policy makers and the bureaucracy, all of whom need to work in unison. And most importantly, the Indian consumer, whose pride in “Make in India” needs to be rekindled and be channelled towards encouraging the industry—much like how Germany, followed by Japan and later Korea and China, did. What is required now is to create an environment of collaboration rather than confrontation, to convert the re-industrialisation of India to a concrete goal.

The Indian MSME (Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises) sector contributes to about 30 percent of the Indian economy and over 40 percent of the labour force. Numbering over 63 million enterprises, of which 99.5 percent fall in the micro and small category, it stands second in the world only to China.[1] This is thus an important sector requiring specific focus, especially in the manufacturing space, which by itself constitutes about a third of all enterprises. The Government recognises the need for the manufacturing industries to scale up and hence is creating incentives to bolster it. If we wish to achieve an USD 5 trillion economy in the next few years, the manufacturing sector will have to be upscaled, for which our policies should provide appropriate incentives.

Unfortunately, despite the fast pace of economic reforms that have taken place over the last six years, India is still saddled with a humungous quantity of restrictive laws which shackle economic growth. A whole host of regulatory mechanisms are akin to a millstone around the neck of the entrepreneur, which drags the industry down. Certain reforms, like the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), have come as a blessing, as in one stroke, the industry was freed from the yoke of the provision of laws such as excise, sales tax, octroi, Local Body Tax (LBT) etc., which were hindering every decision and transaction of business. But much more needs to be done, especially in terms of policy interventions. A study of the copper industry makes an interesting case for greater policy interventions to achieve the Atmanirbharta goals.

Case Study: Copper Industry

India has a copper demand of about 1 mtpa, of which 25% comes from scrap, mainly through the unorganised industry with weak/inadequate environmental and quality standards. Of the balance 0.75 mtpa demand, indigenous copper ore production serves about 5% of this requirement (owned by the PSU, Hindustan Copper) and the remainder has to be imported. Capacities available with both Hindalco and Vedanta are adequate to serve India’s entire demand for smelting & refining of copper. However, we need policy reforms to ensure India remains competitive in this field. This sadly is lacking.

India has FTAs with only a few countries from where the ore comes at 0% duty and the remainder comes from countries where duty levied is 2.5% (for copper, with a price of USD 8000-10,000/MT, the margin for a processor is only ~4% – rest is made by the mine/ore supplier). Roughly, India imports more than half of its ore in concentrate form at 0% duty and the balance by paying 2.5% duty

As India moves to e-vehicles, increased electrification, urbanisation and renewables, the demand for copper is expected to rise to 2 mtpa by 2030. Imports for additional copper ore will be from countries where we pay 2.5% duty, which means that about three quarters of India’s copper ore requirements will be sourced from countries where we need to pay duty. At the same time, India has FTAs with Japan, ASEAN and some other countries, and imports refined copper products from them at 0 % duty. Both Japan and ASEAN however, import copper ore mostly from FTA countries where duty is 0 %. In addition, almost 70% of India’s imports of refined copper, is now from FTA countries where duty is 0%.

This makes the Indian smelting and refining industry for copper uncompetitive with imported refined copper. As a result, Indian manufacturers using refined copper find it cheaper to import the product. This differential in pricing structures is a disincentives to the Indian corporate to invest upstream in smelting/refining capacity in India. To build these capabilities and attain self reliance upstream for this critical metal, Indian policy makers need to look ahead and make policies which incentivise the growth of indigenous capability. Without policy boosts, we will be unable to achieve the Prime Minister’s vision of an Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Case Study: Enabling Manufacturing- The Mittelstand Experience

The ‘Mittelstand commonly refers to small and medium-sized enterprises in German-speaking countries, especially in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. These firms are usually defined as enterprises with annual revenues of up to 50 million Euro and a maximum of 500 employees. It would be instructive to see how they achieved world leadership in their expertise areas. Post-World War II, the political leadership, bureaucracy, academia, and entrepreneurs were united by a common purpose of gaining leadership in technology and manufacturing—and that created the miracle. Japan and China followed suit as did developing nations like Korea and Taiwan. Two points stand out in the growth stories of these countries; one, manufacturing was enabled, not shackled; and two, growth was fuelled by the rapid scaling of the small industries into medium ones.[2] In contrast, in India, there was an antipathy to the development of and creation of wealth. This had much to do with the mindsets of the ruling establishment, both at the political and administrative level, which viewed wealth creation as an undesirable element in society, and so imposed regulations that controlled the growth of the manufacturing sector. This thwarted the efforts of our entrepreneurs, whose energies were diverted towards fighting the system, rather than in creating productive value. The government departments were in opposition to, rather than in support of, the Indian entrepreneur, which kept India down for the first half century or so after independence. A socialist mindset glorified poverty and looked at wealth with disdain. The political and bureaucratic class prospered at the expense of the common Indian who remained steeped in poverty. Private enterprise and initiative were all but killed, but crony capitalism grew by leaps and bound.

Since 2014, there has been a concerted effort to change things around, but a lot remains to be done, especially in terms of sensitising the bureaucracy and changing mindsets from exercising control and thwarting growth, to becoming facilitators for the India growth story. India still has a long way to go in this regard.

The Advantage of Scaling

The Mittelstand experience showed the advantage of scaling. Today, the larger corporates in India provide employment to millions of people across the country. The Tata Group and L&T, employ between them, over one million people. Add to this the employment provided by Infosys, Mahindra and Mahindra, Reliance Industries, Wipro, HCL, the Aditya Birla group and a host of private banks, and we come to realise the tremendous contribution of the larger corporate houses to the India growth story.[3] Yet, we continue to rave and rant at these powerhouses of development, rather than seeking to create an environment where the number of large corporate houses can double in a decade. We need a mindset change where the private sector is respected, instead of the other way around. This is where the jobs come from. This is what will create wealth for India. Moreover, the MSME’s too must be encouraged to grow. Scale is a virtue which must be cultivated, not an evil which is to be exorcised. Today, many of the MSMEs which started about 20 years ago, operate more as one-man enterprises, and their business model is floundering.[4] Imagine, if just a million of these enterprises had been enabled and encouraged to upscale to 50-500 employees, based on the Mittelstand model! This would have put India on the world map as a leading industrialised nation, eliminated poverty and unemployment and also reduced many of the social problems that India faces today.

Conclusion

India’s future does not lie in socialist policies which makes beggars out of Indians. We need empowering policies which create wealth and jobs, and which enable each and every Indian to stand on her or his own feet and not depend on handouts for sustenance. That is the India which will be truly Atmanirbhar. And that India can be created through a National Consciousness, to work together for a common cause.

Author Brief Bio:

Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch is Editor, India Foundation Journal and Director, India Foundation.

References:

[1] https://www.livemint.com/news/india/msmes-the-growth-engines-of-the-indian-economy-11597923225239.html

[2] Samir Kaji, The Future of the Indian MSME and the Manufacturing Sector, India Foundation Journal, Vol II, Issue No 2, March April 2021, available at https://indiafoundation.in/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/March-April-2021-India-Foundation-Journal-1.pdf

[3] Employment stats are available at https://www.statista.com/topics/6583/employment-in-india/#topicHeader__wrapper

[4] Samir Kaji, Note 2.

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Preparing a Digital and Future-Ready Workforce

Context

The future of work is unfolding fast. With rapid automation, digitalisation, and re-skilling, organisations are facing an unforeseen workforce challenge. The shelf-life of most skills today has halved, and they are predicted to be rapidly changing in the years to come. The existing organisation structures are no longer optimised to support the changes brought in by the fast-changing skills eco-system. The demographic profile of talent has also been undergoing fundamental changes—with an increasing preference for flexibility and empowerment in their work.

To this heady mix, the complexities of the pandemic were added in 2020. Business continuity was severely challenged which has led to a broad-based stress on jobs and employment. New ways of working like remote and agile were proven to work successfully, leading to more widespread and rapid adoption, while many existing practices around talent attraction, management, and retention are being questioned. All of these changes have super-charged workforce management and engagement into one of the key C-suite priorities today.

The ‘right talent in the right place and at the right time’ was always one of the key mantras to business success. Now, the definition of each of these three parameters has been extended in ways organisations had never thought of before. People are thinking differently about work, and we need to ready ourselves to a ‘brave, new world’.

Future Workforces

The signs had been around for a while – the digital enhancements in different industries, an increasing skills gap in talent globally, rising market volatility, and unique employee demographics. The 2020 pandemic only pushed these triggers and accelerated the need for a future-ready workforce.

According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Study 2020, “85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines” by 2025.1

A closer look at the nature of skills being replaced reveals that higher-order human attributes like emotional intelligence, influence, empathy, and creativity stand irreplaceable even in the jobs of the future. Furthermore, even the best technology can be harnessed only when the employee using it is skilled enough. The future workforce is turning digital, distributed, and diverse. It is rapidly embracing the changes needed and discarding the old to make room for the new.

Having entered this new normal, it is clear that skills are the new yardstick to measure organisational success against. Organisations can no longer prepare for the workforce of the future using methods of the past. To analyse this in detail, we delineate each aspect of the future workforce and identify its changing trajectory from a skill-based lens in terms of three integrated dimensions: ‘who’ forms the right talent, ‘where’ they work, and ‘why’ they contribute to organisational success.

  1. Who:

The right talent is fast becoming available in a variety of forms and shapes – full-time and part-time workers, permanent employees and consultants/freelancers, on-site and fully remote staff, white-collar or blue/ grey collar gig workers, and retirees and independent contractors. This entire ecosystem of new types of workers arising because of digital enablement together form ‘digital employees’. While many of them may possess higher-order digital skills than their non-digital counterparts, it is not just the technology that sets them apart. It is what they can do with that technology and how they can deploy their skills – digital and more – beyond the traditional realm of work.

The changing composition of the workforce also creates increased possibilities and meets critical business challenges at the same time. A recruiter now only needs to focus on whether the talent being interviewed has the right skills needed to deliver the project – irrespective of his/ her preferences in terms of work arrangements, location, or time-zone. In fact, while overall full-time hiring had slowed down in India and globally during 2020, jobs were lost and unemployment averaged at 10%2, the parallel digital employment and gig economy grew to absorb a large chunk of this workforce.

Flexing It, an India-based platform for white collar freelancers saw a 20+% growth in flexible talent positions posted in FY20-21 as compared to the previous financial year indicating an increasing demand for non-traditional work structures and a focus on skill.

  1. Where:

2020 was also the year of remote work, forcing several organisations to embrace extended work-from-home (WFH) overnight. However, it is now clear that a hybrid approach to ‘where’ employees would like to work is the future. Several leading organisations like Novartis, Slack, and Twitter have announced a permanent option for employees to work from home.3 Many others have opted for a hybrid model, and the latest arrangement to join this trend is ‘work-from-anywhere’ (WFA).

Made possible due to greater confidence in work-from-home productivity during the pandemic-induced lockdown, as well as increased digitalisation of organisations and processes around data security, WFA breaks all barriers when it comes to talent attraction and management. When hiring for in-demand or niche skills, a recruiter no longer needs to be restricted to the local talent market or the full-time talent pool. This trend helps take employability and high-quality jobs to talent outside the metros and into Tier 2/3 cities which was a challenge earlier.

  1. Why:

The future workforce has a third dimension that is fast changing – and this is the ‘why’. Professionals entering the workforce today are driven by different and unique motivations. Young professionals are thinking about their careers more sustainably. Enjoying time with family or pursuing their interests, seeking flexi-working options, and participating in meaningful projects are important for them. Millennials and Gen Z workers also embrace organisations that give back to society and follow ethical practices. They want to be able to trust their employer “to treat them fairly in terms of pay, development, and conditions and in return are expected to reflect the culture of the company in their approach and behaviour.”4 Likewise, they expect greater empowerment in their work. Virtual working during the pandemic has also encouraged managers to move away from micro-management to outcome-linked performance management. Once again, digital tools like collaboration software, project management platforms, and productivity tools support this welcome trend.

Digitalisation has enabled organisations to look at talent pools cutting across geographies, age, and other traditional barriers. The workforce strategy of the new normal is driven by the CEOs and the business, with a conscious understanding that the right skills can take their business to its goals and help navigate the volatility better. Many talent decisions are now driven from the top – be it diversity and inclusion agendas, employee assistance, and wellness programs, to people analytics. In the next section, we take a closer look at some of the key drivers that are shaping this emerging picture of future workforces.

Drivers of the Changing Workplace

Having seen the workforce of the future from the lens of the new normal and how it is changing, it is important to understand what drivers have influenced and accelerated these changes. We talk about a few of these below:

  1. Technology

In a PwC survey of 10,029 members of the general population based in China, Germany, India, the UK, and the US, a third of people worldwide expressed worry about losing their jobs to automation and AI.5 However, while Digitisation, Virtual and Augmented Reality, and Robotics are indeed an immediate reality, we find that these technologies are creating newer jobs too. There is an urgent need to re-skill and constantly re-invent ourselves as well as our processes to ensure that more and more employees transition smoothly into sustainable job opportunities.

  1. COVID-19 Pandemic

The unprecedented conditions invoked due to the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated several work trends that were already in the pipeline. According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Survey 2020, the top business response to COVID-19 was acceleration of the digitalisation of work processes.6 Acceleration of automation of work tasks and implementation of up-skilling/ re-skilling programmes were other key responses that have influenced the workforce of the future to be more agile.

  1. Democratisation of work

The gig economy was already a key workforce trend with a large part of the population opting for it. The unexpected job market outcomes of 2020 drove a significant number of skilled and semi-skilled workers into the open market, who began exploring the benefits of the gig economy. This was further provided impetus by two significant trends:

  • Firstly, we see a vastly increased acceptance by organisations to deconstruct roles into skills and hire talent in the form of an independent consultant or freelancer. This was particularly true for highly paid white-collar gig roles. A recent survey by Flexing It reveals a definite increase in the quality and quantity of roles available in the professional gig economy in India. In the next 5 years, 35%+ organisations expect to have a workforce comprising >15% flexible talent and 90% of the projects that freelancers worked on were of strategic priority.7
  • Secondly, the emergence and scaling-up of effective on-demand talent platforms, that have democratised access to skills and effectively bridged the gap between the employer and the talent. These technology-driven platforms have effectively galvanised demand across white-collar, grey-collar, and blue-collar sectors.

According to the global study by Payoneer, India saw a massive 46% increase in new freelancers between Q1 to Q2, 2020, while emerging as the second-fastest growing economy for freelancers (160% y-o-y revenue growth) last year.8 However, this positive trend comes with its share of watch outs and opportunities to strengthen the gig and digital eco-system. We will discuss these in the next section.

  1. Changing demographic of the workforce

As discussed in the previous section, the changing mindset of the newer workforce is a key changing force in shaping the new economy. The demographics, career preferences, and courage to make sustainable choices that are displayed by the Millennials and Gen Z workers means that organisations need to adapt themselves to suit the career aspirations of this new type of talent.9

These drivers have created a fertile ground for the workplace of the future to emerge from. However, the challenges that had prevented these changes from taking shape over so many years, are still prevalent, especially in an economy like India’s. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forum anticipates that given a very young working population, “the annual demand for new jobs in India is estimated at 12-15 million…with a shortage of between 4-7 million jobs each year.”10 While on the one hand companies finds it difficult to fill their vacancies with capable talent, on the other hand, multiple candidates are looking for suitable opportunities.

The skilling challenge is accentuated by a scarcity of effective technology and tools to bridge the gap between the job seeker, especially beyond the metros, and the job. Added to this the gender disparity of the job market. Women are paid 19% lower11 than their male counterparts for the same job, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it worse with the job losses higher amongst women professionals.

In South Asian economies like India, another roadblock that prevents the future-of-work changes from reaching the last mile is the lack of job formalisation. More than 80% of the South Asian workforce “is engaged directly in the informal economy and many more work as informal workers in the formal economy.”12 This prevents an equitable reach of any changes taking place in the order of work. Put together, we have a greater challenge at hand.

These and multiple other challenges have prevented the Indian economy from fully leveraging the new digital workforce. “In order to take full advantage of the employment potential of the digital economy, it is essential to improve and secure digital infrastructure to enable equal access to digital technologies and reduce the digital divide.”13

In the next section therefore, we look ahead at some of the actions we can take to overcome these challenges.

Enabling Change: How can India leverage the future workforce?

Jack Welch once famously quoted – “change before you have to”. The time is upon us when multiple drivers are pushing businesses from all directions to embrace change and adapt into a more agile, future-ready eco-system. However, to enable that this change is sustainable and effective, it needs to be looked at from a holistic perspective.

We analyse it from seven different lenses and what it implies for each of these stakeholders:

 

  1. Corporates
  • Large organisations today are in a strategic position from where they can drive the thinking around skills needed in the futureand the right mix of Traditional and Digital Employees to deliver these. We will still need human employees in a fully automated world – whether to use a technology or develop new ones. Organisations need to be able to map their digital strategy such that they are able to identify the skills needed in the future, constantly update this thinking, and ensure the workforce is getting the support needed to build these skills. These aspects are critical for an organisation alongside using the latest technology.
  • Another area where corporates can play a catalytic role is investing in technology that enables remote and digital workto take place seamlessly and democratically. Adopting technology and digitalisation for the sake of it, leads to short-term and unbalanced results. The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation and forced several organisations to adopt remote work technologies. However, the uneven reach of these reactive measures has impacted workplace productivity as well as inclusivity of different workforce categories. For example, a contract employee working on financial analysis would struggle to safely access confidential data while working from home if her/ his organisation previously relied on on-site data security measures alone. Proactively analysing which technological solution is critical and relevant to the business and industry is, therefore, a key imperative.
  • As we prepare for the future of workforce, the responsibilities of corporates extend beyond just their workplace and industry. They can contribute towards more effective up-skilling of talent entering the workforce. This can be achieved through structured partnerships with academia and skill development initiativesto ensure greater fitment of talent with future jobs and support increased employability in society as a whole. Currently, many corporates look at skill building from a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) lens. However, there is a significant business case for corporates in developing meaningful partnerships with higher education institutes. Niche and new-age skills like Big Data, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Quantum Computing, Meta Materials are still in nascent stages. By sharing practical know-how, supporting lab development, and partnering in curriculum design as well as faculty development, corporates that utilise these pioneering technologies can build student interest and capability in parallel and build a talent pipeline for themselves at the same time.
  1. Human Resources professionals and community

HR’s role is undergoing the biggest revolution in decades and the traits that will hold HR in good stead are bringing the outside in and a keen sense of business. The HR community can do this by developing new frames of thinking about core HR processes like Learning, Performance Management, Compensation – for new segments of the workforce. HR today needs to be open to new ways of working and managing a different type of talent – from full-time to part-time, from permanent to gig workers, and even expert advisors. Some of the key imperatives where HR can add immense value in years to come are:

  • How they access non-traditional talent in time to meet business demands?
  • How do they define fair pay for different workgroups?
  • How to ensure people practices meet a hygiene standard across all talent categories?
  • How is talent engaged and aligned to the larger organisational vision across boundaries of generation, age, and geographies?

Fortunately, digitalisation of HR processes has helped a great extent in making this new thinking a reality. Digital transformation is not about technology, it is about what people can do with that technology. For example, advanced HR management systems today can not only help HR and line managers plot what skills are available in the organisation but also identify which talent can be moved or quickly developed to occupy upcoming critical roles. Tools to fairly peg compensation of skills are now available for all segments of talent like full-time, contractual, and specialist advisors. Similarly, learning and development professionals believe that online learning portals have put self-development at the centre of employee engagement.

Considering that a “one size fits all” approach is no longer viable, HR also must learn to listen to people, their needs, and motivations in a more segmented manner. Defining a holistic Employee Value Proposition (EVP) that delivers an enriching experience to all segments of the workforce is the next important role for HR to play as we get future-ready. Every existing and potential employee should resonate with the EVP that HR creates. For example, some organisations have now adapted their Code of Conduct and employee policies to allow for employees to pick up part-time paid gigs in their free time, so that they can follow their passion like music or teaching. These forward-looking HR functions have identified the need for greater flexibility if they have to position themselves as employers of choice in this new world order.

Another role for HR professionals to play as we move rapidly into a new era of digital and distributed work is creating an inclusive culture that supports all groups of talent to perform, wherever they are. All people practices like hiring, learning, and development, performance management, succession planning, compensation, and talent management must accordingly adjust to enable a diverse workforce to operate in tandem with each other, together with achieving the larger vision of the organisation. As per research, diversity and inclusion brings greater innovation and superior business results. According to the 2020 McKinsey research, “Companies whose leaders welcome diverse talents and include multiple perspectives are likely to emerge from the crisis stronger.”14 Inclusion of these varied ideas means HR must build a safe environment for everyone to express their thoughts and bring their whole selves to work.

  1. Higher Education Institutes

Higher education institutes are the primary source of our intellectual capital. As the new normal hits, the students entering the workforce from our institutions, preparing them for the new ways of working becomes crucial. The half-life of skills is only 2 – 5.5 years15 and so by the time a student graduates and enters a workplace, some of the skills she/ he studied at university will become obsolete! The focus of these institutes therefore should be on enabling students to prepare for a different future of work & how they can navigate it. Thankfully, digitalisation has also democratised the learning and re-skilling landscape. Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) platforms like Coursera, EdX, and others have enabled learners across the globe to access best-in-class education from the comfort of their homes and at a fraction of the cost of a traditional university degree.

At the same time, a meaningful partnership between higher education institutes and corporates will lead to a win-win understanding of which skills are required for the corporates and developing the talent from the institutes. Structuring programs for corporates on how their leaders and HR can better manage blended and hybrid workforces is also a critical input that academia can provide.

Workers of all categories across India are finding that jobs increasingly require new and adapting digital skills and competencies. However, skill development is still catching up, creating barriers to gainful employment. Higher education institutes can address these challenges by designing out-of-the-box solutions like innovative apprenticeship-based skilling models. These could include fully digital programs in conjunction with industry, which help define how this could scale and map the skills of the future, ensuring higher employability of youth.

  1. Workforce partners & staffing agencies

Some of the largest private sector employers in India are staffing agencies like Quess, Teamlease amongst others. These organisations provide talent on contract to their clients and have a critical role to play in solving for India’s employment challenge. Workforce management and staffing agencies need to go beyond traditional manpower solutions and think about how they offer longevity in careers and skill building for the professionals they staff. They can also explore synergies with flexible talent portals to offer more opportunities for the community. Innovations like these in the industry can help advance the future readiness of the larger talent ecosystem.

Additionally, workforce service providers can consider designing equitable yet unique solutions for specific groups of talent. This can help create an optimised workforce.

  1. Government and Policymakers

As the future of work evolves and businesses go through a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) environment, the world will not be simple for workers either who must constantly struggle with job mobility and re-skilling to ensure their relevance in the ever-changing talent market. In a society like India, less than half the active working population have the digital skills required today.16 Even fewer will have awareness of re-skilling parameters and platforms, let alone the ability to pay for it themselves. As a result, the continued state support to encourage skill development and mobility through allocation of funds and/or offering financial incentives to corporates investing in skilling their workforce for the future will be a huge impetus.

There is also a need for government bodies and policymakers to develop guidelines in consultation with industry around the employment of non-traditional workforce like baseline benefits (insurance, medical, retirals), overtime, minimum pay, leave working conditions, etc. Governments across the work are “responding to the dynamic changes in the nature of employment. An example of recent policy intervention is the Freelancer isn’t Free Act in the United States.”17 This enhances protections for freelance workers, including the right to receive a written contract, the right to be paid timely and in full, and the right to be free from retaliation. “Another example is the European Commission’s Late Payments Directive of 2011.”18 India has also taken positive steps in this direction, through the three draft labour codes intended to benefit platform-based gig workers19. When enforced, it will provide the right to the Central Government and State Governments to notify schemes for such workers related to life and disability cover, health and maternity, provident fund, employment injury benefit, housing etc. Such legislation can go a long way in providing the necessary support structures and an equitable work environment for them to perform optimally.

Policymakers can further structural support and incentives for WorkTech platforms and other workforce partners which enable the digital employment ecosystem. Such platforms are helping bridge the gap that has traditionally prevented transparency between organisations and gig and remote talent – whether white collar or blue/ grey collar. Policy measures aimed at incentivising such platforms will democratise access to the digital workforce to a variety of opportunities.

  1. WorkTech and Gig Platforms

The Gig and Digital Employment economy is a rapidly growing and yet relatively new career choice for professionals in India. One of the biggest priorities for WorkTech platforms is to invest in enabling trust in this new model of employment and enhancing adoption. Strengthening the process of verification of candidates, a clear delivery process, and transparent compensation structures can help boost the Digital Employment ecosystem.

As independent workers, gig talent depends on their own initiative to build their skills and keep abreast with technical advances in their domain. WorkTech platforms are strategically placed to create optimised up-skilling initiatives for the gig workforce. By investing in the skilling and financial health of their community members, WorkTech platforms can contribute to ensuring a sustainable career for them.

Finally, WorkTech platforms can also play a significant role in this new normal by creating targeted support models for women professionals to enable them to get back to work. “Female job loss rates due to COVID-19 are about 1.8 times higher than male job loss rates globally”20 The pressures of working from home and managing childcare or virtual schooling fall greater on women.

However, with the increased digitalisation of the workforce and acceptance of remote working, this inequality can be reversed if more women are absorbed into the gig and remote talent framework. WorkTech platforms have a significant role to play here by increasing the diversity of gig projects and creating a larger pool of women talent. Their role in democratising access to suitable projects will remove barriers faced by women today and can help increase India’s Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) for women.

  1. Industry bodies

Associations and think tanks like CII, Assocham, and India Foundation have helped navigate the socio-economic thinking around key workforce trends over the years by asking the right questions to corporates, leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders. Their continued efforts in this direction can enable broader change by sharing best practices and toolkits with the extended corporate community. By generating high-quality research and thought leadership on the future of the workforce, they can create the necessary awareness and pave the way for discussion and subsequent changes.

Industry forums can also play a unique role by facilitating partnerships between members to deliver solutions for Digital and Gig Employees. For example, Insurance companies can support the new gig sector by custom designing solutions with the support of flexible talent platforms. Such cross-pollination in a start-up culture like India can open up opportunities for new intermediaries/ ancillary services like “private insurance cover, training services, licensing help, credit providers and business support.”21

Other critical areas where industry forums can make a difference is enabling suitable corporate-academia or corporate-government partnerships towards skill-building and policy definition. They can decisively lead the thinking on core enabling mechanisms in partnership with members as we steer through the pandemic to take proactive measures towards skilling, job creation, and digitalisation. These measures will require sustained public-private collaboration at scale, which can be led by industry bodies.  

Conclusion

Today we stand at a defining moment in history. Amidst an unprecedented pandemic and an array of opportunities in new digital skills, we have the opportunity to look at the future from a new lens – one of change and renewal. As we look ahead, there is hope yet a need for caution. Our choices and decisions today will impact an entire generation, their livelihoods, and outlook. Herein lies the possibility to make a difference to tomorrow.

Fortunately, we have the right tools and the right mindset as a country. The Industrial Revolution 4.0 has led us to this exciting era where we can leverage humans and machines alongside. We have the ability to up-skill and re-skill our people in the latest technology, manage the best people practices, partner meaningfully with each other and create a society that uplifts every worker and supports their constant renewal in this ever-changing economy. Looking in the right direction, we can lead the narrative on the digital-ready future workforce.

Authors Brief Bio: Ms. Chandrika Pasricha is the Founder and CEO of Flexing It, India’s largest Tech-driven platform enabling the Professional Gig Economy and Ms. Vidhi Kumar is a Senior Consultant in Human Resources Management.

References :

  1. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/top-10-work-skills-of-tomorrow-how-long-it-takes-to-learn-them/
  2. https://unemploymentinindia.cmie.com/
  3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinstoller/2021/01/31/never-want-to-go-back-to-the-office-heres-where-you-should-work/?sh=41a4eb5a6712
  4. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/services/people-organisation/workforce-of-the-future/workforce-of-the-future-the-competing-forces-shaping-2030-pwc.pdf
  5. Ibid
  6. Future of Jobs Survey 2020, World Economic Forum (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2020.pdf)
  7. https://www.flexingit.com/think-factory-report/crafting-a-strong-freelancer-proposition-are-organizations-ready/13/
  8. Payoneer study on Freelancing in 2020: An Abundance of Opportunities (https://explore.payoneer.com/en/report/2020-gig-economy-index/)
  9. https://www.hbs.edu/managing-the-future-of-work/Documents/Building_The_On-Demand_Workforce.pdf
  10. https://www.oecd-forum.org/posts/29977-india-inclusive-growth-and-the-employment-challenge
  11. https://www.livemint.com/money/personal-finance/what-is-gender-pay-gap-and-why-is-it-so-wide-in-india-11575356633900.html
  12. https://www.oecd-forum.org/posts/29977-india-inclusive-growth-and-the-employment-challenge
  13. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—asia/—ro-bangkok/—sro-new_delhi/documents/publication/wcms_344607.pdf
  14. How Diversity & Inclusion Matter | McKinsey
  15. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/HumanCapital/dttl-hc-english-opentalenteconomy.pdf
  16. Future of Jobs Survey 2020, World Economic Forum

http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2020.pdf

  1. https://www.flexingit.com/think-factory-report/flexing-it-presents-some-key-trends-on-how-the-freelance-economy-has-been-shaping-in-india/4/
  2. Ibid
  3. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/covid-19-and-gender-equality-countering-the-regressive-effects
  4. (i) The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, (ii) The Code on Wages, 2019 (“Wage Code”), and (iii) The Social Security Code, 2020 (“SS Code”) (collectively referred to as (“Labour Codes”))
  5. https://www.flexingit.com/think-factory-report/flexing-it-presents-some-key-trends-on-how-the-freelance-economy-has-been-shaping-in-india/4/by 2025
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Critical Technologies for a USD 5 Trillion Economy

Introduction

From technology flows wealth. Technology can thus play a major role in accelerating the Indian economy, but would require focus on attaining leadership in various niche technological fields. India is currently laying emphasis on technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Additive Manufacturing, Drones, etc. This paper, however, looks at certain specific technologies on which India’s focus is either inadequate or absent. Emphasis needs to be laid on these areas too, else India will be left behind, once again, in the technological race.

India’s wealth, till about two centuries ago, was mostly acquired by selling technology driven products to the rest of the world such as cutting edge wootz steel (used for weapon making and making of the famous Damascus steel), high purity zinc, very large ships et al. It is also worth noting that 50% of entire Netherland’s textiles and 80% of its silk came from Bengal in the 17th century. Both textiles and silk are products of technology. India also had great capability in ship building, which literally was driving British shipwrights to starvation. To save its ship building industry, the British resorted to legislation to throttle and kill the Indian shipbuilding industry.

As per the archives of the British parliament, a petition of several ship-builders of Great Yarmouth was presented to the British parliament in February 5, 1813. The petition begged that letting India-built ships to compete with British ships “will render precarious the means of maintaining his Majesty’s navy, and especially of fitting out with dispatch, his Majesty’s fleets on pressing emergencies, and will thereby undermine that great bulwark of our independence and greatness as a nation.” Consequently, the first legislative act of 1813 prohibited ships below 350 tonnes from plying between the Indian colonies and the United Kingdom. That took away 40 per cent of Bengal and Surat built ships out of the lucrative India-England trade. The second Act in 1814 denied Indian-built ships to be registered as British, to trade with the United States and the European continent. This was the “atmanirbhar” steps taken by the British in the 19th century, to protect themselves from the onslaught of the superior Indian ships.

This one piece of technology, ship-building, clearly demonstrates the role of advanced technologies in the export basket of India, till about 18th century. It also underlines how technologically backward nations such as Britain, were able to claw into global technological leadership through a general policy of using a combination of regulations, standards and incentives to protect the domestic uncompetitive, technology-driven industries and to acquire technological competitive advantage. The above example amply demonstrates the role of government in ensuring that its domestic economy gains technological edge. Similar principles have been followed by all the advanced economies, including the USA, Japan, South Korea and China, among other nations of the world.

India has continuously missed “catching the bus” when it comes to industrial technologies. We either betted on too long-term a technology, or remained bystanders to new industrial technologies coming up, and then tried to play catch-up for the next few decades. Even when Indian industry was there at the right time, such as automobiles or television, we almost succeeded in throttling our domestic industry through poor policies, leading to near-death experiences. In other cases, such as the development of the Electric Vehicle (EV) industry and the associated battery industry, while the rest of the key economies globally unleashed a series of government policies towards the end of the first decade of this century, India simply watched. And now, we are playing catch-up in the EV industry, while being heavily dependent on economies such as China for key components and batteries.

What India needs is a dedicated institutionalised approach to acquiring technology. This paper focuses on a set of technologies that are economically critical for India, and on which more policy focus is required than what is being given currently. These technologies are in the cusp of disrupting existing industries and can potentially contribute to more than 5% of the USD 5 trillion economy that India wants to achieve in the near future.

Supersonic Transport Aircrafts

Supersonic passenger aircrafts are the next generation of passenger aircrafts, which will transform aviation. India can ill-afford to sit idle while others take the lead. Since the start of large-scale commercial aviation, the world has been pretty much stuck at commercial flights cruising at mach 0.8 speed. Crossing the sound barrier is a significant technological leap, given the myriad engineering challenges like managing turbulence, change in wing angles and the sonic boom. Due to the sonic boom impact on residential buildings and the nuisance value of the sound produced, the first successful commercial supersonic aircraft, the Concorde, was mandated to fly transatlantic, and was prohibited to have supersonic speeds while flying over land. Sadly, the Concordes were retired after flying for a little over 25 years. They were ultimately marred by a devastating accident, which contributed towards reduced profitability. The last flight took place in 2003, and the remaining Concordes were moth-balled and left at museums, as the operating costs exceeded the earnings.

However, there is a renewed interest now, globally, for supersonic flights, primarily due to time savings. Supersonic flight can cut down the travel time from say London to New York from 6.5 hours to a mere 3.5 hours. One could potentially, fly out in the morning from London to New York, finish work and come back to London before the day ends. Similarly, a Delhi-New York flight can be completed in 8 hours instead of the current 15.5 hours. And with further development of higher speed supersonic flights, these times can be further reduced. Such possibilities have led to a scramble for the development of the next generation of supersonic aircrafts, which are less noisy, more fuel efficient and faster than anything that we have seen earlier. These aircraft can redefine the airlines industry as we know it today.

Among the new crop of startups that have ventured into design, development and manufacturing of supersonic passenger aircrafts, is Boom Supersonic. They are building supersonic aircrafts where the sonic boom will not be noticeable, and their vision is to provide supersonic flights at USD 100 per seat, to anywhere in the world. It is an incredible vision. They are also the front-runners to being adopted by many airlines, including United Airlines, which plans to roll out supersonic routes using the USD 200 m Boom Overture Supersonic aircrafts, by as early as 2029.

Boom Supersonic is joined by startups that are focusing on smaller supersonic business jets, catering to the personal jets/ chartered jet market. Exosonic, again an American startup for supersonic transport aircraft, hopes to receive certification for its supersonic aircraft by 2029. Exosonic has also received a contract from the US Airforce to build the Air Force One for the President of the United States. Hermeus is another American startup which is building what is called a hypersonic aircraft, that can fly at five times the speed of sound. This is indeed the future. It will be having a range of 4,600 miles. It too has received funding from the US Air Force and it too is building an aircraft for Air Force One fleet.

The West Asian economies too, in a bid to diversify away from an oil-based economy, have jumped into the supersonic aircraft fray, with Mubadala, the Emirati sovereign investment fund, joining hands with Russia, to build a new supersonic transport aircraft from scratch. The Russians obviously come with a treasure trove of experience, having built the world’s first supersonic transport aircraft, the Tupulev Tu-144, that flew till 1999. More recently, they have been flying the supersonic Tupulev Tu-160. However, to be successful in the commercial market, the aircrafts need to make economic sense, and so Russia and Mubadala of UAE are going together for a brand new aircraft, built from scratch.

We also have Spike Aerospace, founded by Indian origin American, Vik Kachoria. It has an interesting design as it has no windows, and yet passengers can see everything outside, through a panoramic internal display that is connected to cameras outside. In fact, we also have Tech Mahindra contributing to this project by leveraging its prowess in engineering, optimisation and composites. Some others such as Aerian Supersonic, who have been working on smaller supersonic business jets, but had to suddenly shut shop as funding dried out. These are the vagaries of working on the cutting edge.

India, unfortunately, does not yet have a noticeable transport aircraft manufacturing industry, leave alone a supersonic transport aircraft. Being left behind in almost a trillion-dollar industry, will not do any good to India’s ambitions of becoming a USD 5 trillion economy and more in the near future. More importantly, India will be left out of a very critical technology that will also have strategic applications. Imagine having low sonic boom hypersonic bombers, which may be hard to detect on radars. India cannot afford to be a passive bystander to the fast-developing world of supersonic aviation. We need to act now to get on to this bus.

Artificial Meat and Artificial Agricultural Produce

Artificial meat refers to cultured meat, produced by in vitro cell cultures of animal cells. It is a form of cellular agriculture. It basically takes a single cell of an animal, and reproduces the same in the lab to make large chunks of uniform meat. Cultured meat and its technologies are critical for a world getting deeply impacted by climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations, in its latest report, highlights the devastating impact climate change will have on the world, which can only be halted if we cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. As livestock, raised for meat consumption, contributes to over 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions, the production of artificial meat will help in fighting the impact of climate change.

By December of 2020, we already had the first restaurant selling cultured meat. This was the “1880” restaurant in Singapore, where cultured meat manufactured by the US firm Eat Just was sold. The first hamburger patty grown directly from cells happened even earlier in 2013, when professor Mark Post at Maastricht University pioneered a proof-of-concept for cultured meat by creating the cultured meat hamburger patty. Since then, other cultured meat prototypes have gained media attention.

Cultured meat is still not a “stabilised” technology. Numerous challenges remain in growing artificial meat at a commercial scale, that completely looks and tastes like real meat and can be produced at a lower cost and with a lower environmental footprint compared to current livestock-based meat production. It also requires fetal bovine serum that involves killing of a pregnant cattle. Although such issues are also getting technologically resolved to produce meat where no animal has to be killed, there are other issues such as being able to grow fat and muscle cells together, just like in real meat. There are also regulatory and ethical challenges. However, cultured meat will have very significant impact on our lives and our food industry at this current juncture when we have extremely inefficient manner of livestock-based meat production that is responsible for significant deforestation and for greenhouse gas emissions. The current livestock-based meat production is both cruel and unsustainable. The world needs to move to slaughter-free meat, which will also help in preserving our environment. India too, can least afford to ignore this technology.

It is interesting to note that the technology used for manufacturing cultured meat can also be used to manufacture fruits and vegetables and cereals and pulses. All agricultural produces can be manufactured in the same manner, thus reducing pressure on land and reversing deforestation. This is critical from an environmental perspective. Also, we would not need to spend enormous amounts on supply-chain and trucking costs in transporting food from rural areas to urban areas as the food can be manufactured in urban factories, thus further reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Such technology also has space applications. Astronauts would not need to carry large amounts of food to space, as they would be able to manufacture them in small petri dishes.

The implications of cultured meat are enormous. Many start-ups and government funded laboratories in US, Europe, Argentina, Australia and Israel are jumping into the fray, and one would not be surprised if China too, also has its own entities doing research and development in this area. However, India with over 16% of the global population, seems to be starkly missing in this race, again letting the bus pass by. We therefore need to look into not only cultured meat but also cultured agri produces.

Quantum Computing

India has already signalled its intent to develop capabilities in quantum computing—a field of computing which leverages the collective properties of quantum states to perform computation. This is based on a branch of physics called Quantum mechanics, where a particle can be in multiple states at the same time, and it explains the aspects of nature at small (atomic and subatomic) scales, for which classical mechanics is insufficient.

Quantum computing is a critical technology because Quantum computers are believed to be able to solve certain computational problems, many times faster than classical computers. Quantum computing is now expected to become mainstream in the next few years as the field shifts toward real-world use in pharmaceutical, data security and other applications.

In the Union Budget announced in February 2020, a sum of Rs 8,000 crore has been allocated for setting up a National Mission on Quantum Technologies & Applications (NM-QTA). It is one of the technologies that India can ill-afford to miss. Indian initiatives must quickly lead to achieving Quantum Supremacy. The term Quantum Supremacy does not describe hegemony but stands for the theoretical case where quantum computers are believed to be able to quickly solve certain problems that no classical computer can solve in any feasible amount of time.

As of now, quantum computing still has a long way to go and a number of technical challenges remain in building a large-scale quantum computer. Sourcing parts for quantum computers is also challenging. Many quantum computers, like the ones made by IBM and Google require Helium-3, which industrially can be made only through nuclear reactions. Also, the special superconducting cables are made only by a Japanese company, Coax Co, thus creating severe vendor dependency and perhaps vendor lock-in.

In October 2019, a Sycamore processor (a Google quantum processor) created in conjunction with Google AI Quantum was reported to have achieved quantum supremacy, with calculations more than 3,000,000 times as fast as those of Summit, an IBM supercomputer that is currently one of the fastest supercomputers in the world. By December 2020, even Chinese universities were reportedly having success in quantum computing. But that still does not imply that it will lead to a multi-billion dollar industry and lead to new jobs getting created, as in the case of supersonic transport aircraft and artificial meat. So why should India spend its scarce resources in quantum computing?

The answer lies in the extremely profound impact on the world that quantum computing will have in the manner we live and interact and do business and banking and communication. It would make all current banking encryption useless, the day it achieves demonstrable quantum supremacy. It would entail reworking of our cybersecurity systems and frameworks. It would have a deep impact on the cybersecurity of not just banks but of entire nations. Nations that do not possess quantum computing technology, will become extremely vulnerable. India cannot be caught in such a situation.

The economic upsides of quantum computing are also very significant. India already has small pockets of expertise, that are developing algorithms for quantum computing. And as India gets around to spend the Rs 8,000 crore of its budgeted money, it must have clear achievable goals so that the money is not frittered away without any outcomes. Also, to be clear, as I have written many times before, technology is not a patent created or bought, neither is it a set of techniques written down in a book. It is a team of humans who are actually working on the technology and improving on it on a daily basis. And hence, a significant amount from that Rs 8,000 crore needs to be spent to create the human resources that can absorb and develop quantum computing. That is why the Japanese have a yardstick of spending 10 dollars on technology assimilation for every dollar of technology procured. India too, needs to change its mechanisms for technology acquisition.

This brings us back to the issue of an institutional structure required for technology acquisition—an empowered body having a national perspective. Otherwise, our efforts will be splintered into multiple bodies and groups, which may even work at cross-purposes, to the detriment of the nation. Only then can we achieve supremacy in quantum computing and other technologies.

Robotics

Robotics is an exploding market, with new players jumping in. India has a nucleus of a very successful robotics private sector, albeit still in early stages. We need to focus on growing this industry to be able to serve unique Indian requirements as well as for exports.

Today, robots are playing an increasingly critical role in lives of people, be it in

manufacturing, or in the services sector as receptionists, nurses, firefighters or as soldiers. Robotics has now reached a level where a combination of technologies will make the robotics industry explode in the near future. We have artificial intelligence combining with speech technologies, sensors and all-pervasive connectivity, leading to more powerful and more useful robots getting created. In the not-too-distant future, we will also have autonomous vehicle.

Robotics is thus another “big bus” that we are poised to miss, if we do not act now. While the country does have numerous startups and deep skills in robotics, it is not enough to be able to get any significant slice of the global robotics market. Moreover, India needs robots for its own unique usage, such as replacing dangerous manual scavenging with robots, or tackling terrorism. For that matter, even though India is a young nation with perhaps the largest population of people below 24, we are also home to one of the largest populations of the old, who would need support through robotics. Robotics can also play a key role in providing quality education and also in other fields such as healthcare, agriculture, mining etc.

Globally, the robotics market size, valued at USD103.95 billion in 2019, is projected to grow to USD 209 billion by 2025. This is a conservative estimate. With the maturing of the enabling technologies and greater adoption of robotics in emerging economies, the size of the robotics market is set to explode. In fact, in October 2017, Saudi Arabia even granted citizenship to a robot named Sophia, making it the first robot citizen of the world.

With new-age players like Tesla, GreyOrange (an Indian company) etc. entering the global robotics market to join the earlier entrants like ABB, Hitachi and Mitsubishi, the market will further democratise and expand. From an Indian policy perspective, robotics has figured in Indian Economic Survey 2017-18 as a priority area, but it has drawn limited attention in terms of policy or plan. In parallel, the developments in private sector and few research institutions in India has been laudable. In the paper, “Robotics in India”, published in the Journals of India, several impediments had been identified for development of robotics in India. These include lack of a robotics hardware ecosystem resulting in imports of most of the components for robotics. In addition, regulatory issues on dual-use certifications is leading to challenges in certifications. The high import duties (in some cases), and bottlenecks in customs as part of the permission driven environments, is also playing a deadening hand.

India also has many financial disincentives built in. Any company which imports robots into India, currently pays about 26.85% tax (7.5 basic customs duty plus 18% GST). This is a serious impediment to mass adoption of robots, which is compounded by limited availability of critical human resources. According to the FICCI-TSMG Advanced Manufacturing Survey 2016, lack of quality human resources with necessary skills and expertise to work with advanced manufacturing technologies, negatively impacts the ability to undertake cutting edge R&D in India. There is also a significant mindset shift required in order to grow the industry. In spite of the Government’s focus on robotics lately, the notion that robots will destroy jobs, severely hampers an enthusiastic adoption of the technology and the growth of the market. Fortunately, India has a strong IT base, that can provide the fuel to propel the robotics industry. India must therefore, leverage its advantages to be able to be a net exporter of robots in the near future and quickly harness policy and regulatory tools to achieve global leadership in robotics.

Central Bank Digital Currency

The movement towards Central Bank Digital Currency has potential to transform flow of money. However, myriad issues need to be solved before such an instrument can be brought in. There has been a raging debate on cryptocurrencies since the creation of the Bitcoin. A cryptocurrency is a secure digital store of value and hence is a possible alternative to currencies. However, there are multiple issues with cryptocurrencies that need to be resolved, before they can truly emerge as an alternative to currency.

The legal status of cryptocurrency, in most places, is that of a commodity. Just as one is free to buy or sell commodities like gold, silver, pulses, grains etc, one is free to buy and sell digital stores of value, that is cryptocurrencies, as long as it is not harmful. This is where some of the issues with cryptocurrency come up. They seem to have aspects that are harmful to the financial sector.

In a recent case, a Chinese national was caught money-laundering using the crypto exchange WazirX. He had bought cryptos (short for cryptocurrency) on the WazirX exchange and converted them into dollars on the Binance exchange, outside of India, which enabled him to siphon money out of India (WazirX and Binance shared the same digital store of value). These are the challenges of using cryptocurrency from a monetary management perspective. Any economic offender fugitive can simply convert money earned from illegal operations into a crypto, put it on a pen drive, and fly out with that money. Unfortunately, this is what makes cryptos popular. Essentially, there is anonymity attached to crypto, and hence its use is preferred for doing illegal transactions. Governments and law enforcement agencies are trying to plug these loopholes in the cryptos, and make them workable currencies.

The legal-comic part of the WazirX case is that the Directors cannot be charged for complicity in foreign exchange violation. The legal position is that cryptocurrencies are considered as a commodity and not as a currency in India. Hence, as no currencies are involved, no foreign exchange violation has taken place! This comic angle actually demonstrates that cryptos cannot be glibly treated as commodities either, as they are far more powerful. One can transport the equivalent of 10 tonnes of gold in a small 10 gram pen drive, by using crypto, and no customs in the world can catch it.

However, even if these issues of money-laundering and funding of terrorism are addressed, there is still the issue of central banks, such as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), losing an important monetary tool, wherein the Central Bank could “print money” and increase the money supply at times such as the current times where the government has funds pressures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A non-sovereign crypto, that is a crypto that is not under the control of any government, takes away the power to exercise these important monetary tools, as extra cryptos cannot be released. Those who support early adoption of cryptos, in fact see this as a positive feature, since it prevents an irresponsible central bank and an irresponsible government from printing excess money which would have an inflationary impact and would be tantamount to “stealing” money from people’s pockets. However, in certain circumstances, such as the current post-pandemic economic situation where demand has dimmed and the vulnerable sections of the society need cash in hand, it is important to print money and provide such support, so that the economy survives. A crypto prevents such a step from being taken, thereby threatening the entire economy.

Can we take the best of the cryptocurrency, mitigate its risks and create something more robust, wherein people can actually use the cryptocurrency and increase efficiency in the economy? This is where the concept of Central Bank Digital Currency or CBDC comes in. CBDC is a concept wherein the central bank issues a cryptocurrency that can possibly be pegged to a fiat currency, or managed in a different manner, but under the control and monitoring of the Central Bank, so that issues of KYC (Know Your Customer), AML (Anti Money Laundering), CFT (Combating Financing of Terrorism) and monetary policy issues could be addressed, especially for large value transactions. However, by taking away anonymity in CBDC, one also takes away some of the attractiveness of the crypto. But then it is anonymity that is the bane of crypto from a law enforcement perspective, that a CBDC will solve.

However, a CBDC by itself is not a panacea for crypto adoption. A CBDC still poses issues that need to be resolved. So, if India adopts a CBDC—let’s just call it ‘IndiaCoin’ for now—the first to get impacted would be the banks. Large transactions would no longer be needed to be routed through banks or the hordes of neo-banking startups. So, the banks would have to reinvent themselves to stay relevant, as a considerable part of their business will get hit. In fact, the US Federal Reserve Bank and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Digital Currency Initiative will soon be publishing the first stage of their work to determine whether a Fed virtual currency would work on a practical level. This would also be seen as a response to China’s CBDC as well as a response to the plethora of cryptocurrencies that are all over the place.

Replacing the multitude of cryptocurrencies with a single CBDC resembles the step the federal government of US took in the 19th century, when it stopped the circulation of various currencies issued by a plethora of banks in the US, and replaced them with a single currency, the US Dollar, issued by the Federal Reserve Bank.

An ‘IndiaCoin’ CBDC would help in many national initiatives such as DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer), wherein support to the vulnerable can be transferred directly to them, without the need of a banking intermediary, thereby increasing the efficiency. Businesses and civic society can issue payments directly to each other, without the need to go through banks, and save enormous costs. But it also comes with the fear that during any crisis, people can quickly withdraw large amounts of money from banks, into a simple small pen drive, and that can lead to a run on the banks and thus lead to a banking crisis and failure of the financial systems. Also, it is not really clear if an ‘IndiaCoin’ would be cheaper than paper currency, since the cost of running the cryptos is supposed to be very high, depending on what algorithm is used.

However, many of these issues are solvable. And once solved, an ‘IndiaCoin’ would bring in tremendous benefits to the economy, with payments being pushed into the background as they would get linked to smart-contracts, smart vehicles, smart roads and so on, where automatic triggers would lead to flow of payments. It is a welcome move that Indian institutions and the government are discussing such a possibility, and are treading carefully forward rather than rushing in.

Accelerating Atmanirbhar

We need a policy to accelerate self-reliance in India, similar to what the British adopted in the 18th century, to protect its fledgling industries from competition. The policy should enable an environment whereby the required goods and services can be created from within the country, rather than getting them from other economies. However, it is neither to be confused with the erstwhile “License Raj” that hollowed out India, nor with the “Great Leap Forward” of China, that took its economy back by a whopping -25%. Atmanirbhar, therefore, can be looked at as a campaign to create robust world-class industries in India, that would make India competitive globally in a range of goods and services.

The campaign is based on the five pillars of economy, infrastructure, systems, demography and demand and is fuelled by packages that provide support to MSME’s, the poor including farmers, agriculture and new horizons of growth and finally, government reforms, to act as enablers.

What is holding back accelerated adoption of Atmanirbhar? Specifically, for the government market, we continue to see procurement frameworks skewed against local suppliers, despite the push by the Prime Minister’s Office. In almost every government department (Both Centre and the States), there are numerous cases where foreign suppliers are favoured over Indian suppliers. This bias is brought about by tweaking the procurement requirements/ tender documents by putting in criteria that is impossible for Indian players to meet such as the Indian player needs to be in business in the given industry for over 25 years. Or, the participating supplier must have provided the goods or services to at least two governments outside of India. Such pre-qualification criteria are abundant in government procurement documents and appear to favour foreign suppliers.

It is important to identify the steps needed to provide a level playing field to domestic players and to ensure that such superfluous criteria are not brought into government procurement. There are a lot of steps that can be taken through policy measures, once the problem is recognised. To begin with, there needs to be an appellate authority with requisite teeth, where tenders or procurement norms that are discriminatory to Indian players and which do not provide any apparent benefit to the government or the public, can be brought up for seeking redressal. This would make it easier for smaller players and startups to demand a level playing field through a set-out process. Such an appellate body can possibly be in the lines of the National Human Rights Commission, with adequate suo moto powers, to immediately rectify any violation of a level playing field for domestic players.

However, a Atmanirbhar Commission will not be sufficient to make India Atmanirbhar. More needs to be done and one can borrow from the policies adopted by the Defence Procurement Procedure 2016 (DPP 2016), which progressively follows the DPP 2013. DPP 2016 was updated to a more progressive DPP 2020, in order to aggressively promote increasing indigenous manufacturing and reducing timelines for the procurement of defence equipment. It is important to reduce the timelines for procurement, not just from the government perspective, but also from the perspective of domestic players, who have limited ability to pursue government deals that have a long sales cycle, going into multiple years, if not a decade. The long procurement cycle itself is a big deterrent to domestic players, as they do not have alternate markets to depend on, and are extremely dependent on being successful in the Indian market, before being accepted in any other market.

The key features of DPP 2016 that needs to be adopted to accelerate the Atmanirbhar campaign, is the concept of Make II. The ‘Make’ procedure for indigenous design, development and manufacture of defence equipment/ weapon systems, was simplified in 2016 and promulgated in DPP-2016. A new sub-category ‘Make-II (Industry Funded)’ was introduced under this procedure with primary focus upon development of equipment/system/platform or their upgrades or their subsystems/sub-assembly/assemblies/components with focus on import substitution. In this subcategory, no Government funding is envisaged for prototype development purposes but has assurance of orders on successful development and trials of the prototype. This is the key policy measure that needs to be adopted for government procurement of civilian goods and services. It reduces the risks of domestic players in developing cutting edge goods and services.

Under the defence Make II procedure, successful development would result in acquisition, from successful Development Agency/Agencies, through the ‘Buy Indian–IDDM (Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured)’ category with a minimum of 40% domestic content, through open commercial bids. Cases where innovative solutions have been offered are to be accepted, even if there is only a single individual or firm involved. If we can have a similar program for civilian procurement, it would eliminate much of the “creative” procurement norms that infest government procurement, and tilts the process in favour of foreign suppliers.

At the end of the day, the other side of the coin of Atmanirbhar is access to domestic market. Domestic players cannot invest into products and services without access to domestic markets, especially the government market that makes up roughly 20% of all procurements in the economy. With handicaps such as higher cost of capital and infrastructure that throttles production and logistics, domestic players already have the pitch queered against them. Adopting Atmanirbhar policies that nudge the state governments to procure from domestic players and provide level playing fields to them, would surely accelerate the Atmanirbhar campaign. Such a policy must include an appellate authority for seeking redressal related to unfair procurement norms and a procurement policy that mimics the Make II policy of the DPP 2016.

Conclusion

New technologies are emerging on the horizon which will significantly disrupt existing industries. This provides a good opportunity for India to enter into these industries on the back of the new disrupting technologies to lay the foundation of India’s future economy. Will India continue to be a technology importer or will India be the leader of technology-based exports, as India was till the 18th century, will depend on whether we are able to take the appropriate steps now.

To gain dominance in the given technologies, India must have an institutional framework to doggedly pursue technology acquisition through all means possible. Such a framework is in addition to the Atmanirbhar campaign that India already has. Only then can India surge ahead in dominance of key technologies in a short period of time.

Author Brief Bio:

Dr Jaijit Bhattacharya is a noted expert in technology policies and technology-led societal transformation. A recipient of the prestigious APJ Abdul Kalam Award for innovation in Governance, he is currently President of Centre for Digital Economy Policy Research. He is also CEO of Zerone Microsystems Pvt Ltd, a deep-tech startup in the fintech sector.

Bibliography:

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  2. https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1813-02-05/debates/0403ad19-bd4b-473a-a0f1-c7bb75bdd403/PetitionsRespectingTheRenewalOfTheEastIndiaCompanySCharter%E2%80%94FromTheMerchantsOfEdinburgh%E2%80%94ShipbuildersOfYarmouth%E2%80%94GlasgowChamberOfCommerce%E2%80%94MerchantsHouseO?highlight=indian-built%20ships#contribution-0fad3b51-38b7-4ca2-baac-8491c6414153
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  4. https://www.airbus.com/newsroom/press-releases/en/2018/03/india-demand-for-new-aircraft-forecast-at-1-750-over-20-years.html
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supersonic_transport
  6. Jaijit Bhattacharya, Supersonic Flight: Can India Afford Not Catching The Next Bus?, https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-supersonic-flight-india-is-missing-our-on-catching-the-next-bus/389402
  7. United plans supersonic passenger flights by 2029 – BBC News, https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-57361193
  8. Supersonic and hypersonic commercial flights firmly in view, https://www.dw.com/en/a-new-supersonic-travel-age-supersonic-and-hypersonic-commercial-flights-coming-soon-to-the-skies/a-57129527
  9. Here are the planes being built to bring back supersonic travel, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/18/boeing-boom-aerion-bring-back-supersonic-travel.html
  10. Russia and UAE Will Join Forces to Create Supersonic Passenger Plane, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202102/1216407.shtml
  11. Jaijit Bhattacharya, Can India Afford To Miss The Artificial Meat Bus?, https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/opinion-can-india-afford-to-miss-the-artificial-meat-bus/391091
  12. Cultured meat – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultured_meat
  13. Future fillet – The University of Chicago Magazine, http://magazine.uchicago.edu/0906/features/future_fillet.shtml
  14. Test tube meat on the menu?, https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt1009-873.pdf?origin=ppub
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  16. Jaijit Bhattacharya, The Quantum Supremacy, https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/opinion-is-india-prepared-for-quantum-computing/391741
  17. “Robotics in India”, Journals of India, https://journalsofindia.com/robotics-in-india/
  18. https://www.statista.com/statistics/760190/worldwide-robotics-market-revenue/
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Transformation Through Energy Storage, E-Mobility & Batteries

Homegrown Aluminium-based solutions are India’s best bet as we aim for manufacturing leadership in E-mobility and clean energy storage

Energy for the Future

The past decade has witnessed an increasingly powerful momentum in renewable energy. The rapid demand for energy for urbanisation and industrialisation in the developing world could have been hard on the environment, but relentless efforts to improve energy efficiency and the decisive shift to clean energy has mitigated some of that adverse impact. Technological advances in renewables and supportive policies from the government have also augured well for the environment.

This new era of energy will see a significant shift towards decentralised energy production and significant investment in energy management and storage. Technology shifts in battery storage, cell chemistry along with rapid advances in electric mobility have opened new vistas. Some of the energy storage available today are batteries (lead-acid, sodium sulphur, Ni-based, Li-based, Aluminium based, flow batteries etc.), fuel cells, capacitors/super capacitors, superconducting magnetic energy storage, flywheel storage, solar fuel, pumped hydroelectric storage, compressed air energy storage, thermal energy storage etc.

Every technology has its advantages and drawbacks and needs to be chosen with an eye on intended application, cost, and environmental impact.

The Indian context

India’s dependence on fossil fuels has made it the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases[1] and its cities regularly top the rankings for polluted air, putting its population at the risk of lung diseases and premature death.

India has pledged a 33-35% reduction in GDP emissions intensity from 2005 levels by committing to source 40% of its energy needs from clean energy by 2030[2]. For that to happen, a massive expansion in electric mobility and renewable energy is needed. It is also important to note that India imports oil to cover over 80 percent of its transport fuel and the country will be well served if transport fuel consumption is substantially reduced.

Against this backdrop, a shift to e-mobility is not just a necessity but also an opportunity for India to position itself as a global leader in exporting battery and e-mobility technologies and solutions.

E Mobility – Indian perspective

The Indian automobile industry is unique with two wheelers dominating the personal mobility segment.

  • Two-wheelers constitute nearly 80% of the total vehicles on road.
  • Three-wheelers (passenger and goods), including tempos ~ 5% of the total vehicles. This is expected to be the fastest growing segment.
  • Premium four wheelers (cars) are only ~ 2% of total sales.

Globally, most of the technology development has focused on the premium end of the market; this offers India a window of opportunity to create a policy environment to promote green technology solutions for the domestic market which can be leveraged globally.

Leadership in EVs

India should develop the ambition to establish technological and manufacturing leadership in the small EV segment like two wheelers, three wheelers and small cars. These smaller vehicles require a distinct set of technological and industrial capabilities, energy networks and business models and here, India can leverage domestic scale advantage to create solutions for the world.

To fuel this segment, the Indian government has envisioned the conversion of two and three wheelers into 100% electric ones by 2030[3]. However, in India, most players have based their solutions on assembling Lithium-ion batteries using imported cells from China, Korea and Japan, resulting in high-cost E-mobility solutions.

Existing policy frameworks – FAME

The government had introduced the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME -2) scheme in 2015 to boost E mobility by 2020[4]. The outlay of Rs 10,000 Cr was to be used in offering incentives for the purchase of these electric buses, 2, 3 and 4 wheelers. Recently, the government extended the scheme to 2024, with a major thrust on 2 & 3 wheelers and E-buses. The outlay will now also support the creation of a battery-charging infrastructure across the country[5].

The scheme is gaining popularity because of the availability of better charging infrastructure and better vehicles from manufacturers. In fact, many start-ups and established players have announced large investments in this sector. Though EVs have picked up speed, the supply chain for batteries hasn’t been as responsive.

Local Battery Landscape

For mass adoption of EVs to become a reality, they must be able to rival internal combustion engines (ICEs) and be cost competitive. The main driver of incremental costs for EVs is the battery pack, which for a 500km range/60kWh capacity costs 2-3X the cost of ICE engine. If we consider the cost of electric motor and inverter, the gap is wider.

Large battery pack costs need to drop to about $100/kwh from current $150-$200/Kwh to turn things around. A key driver for battery cost decline (in $/kwh) is energy density improvement (in Wh/kg). This is powered by improvements in the chemistry and in the engineering of the cells.

Lithium-ion enjoys a head start, but not without challenges

Lithium-Ion batteries have had a head start over other types of batteries because of high-power density, long life, low self-discharge and low maintenance costs. However, these batteries also come with baggage: Cobalt, an integral element of most Lithium-Ion batteries is a difficult input owing to scarce availability, need for careful handling and cost. Plus, there are big environmental concerns around mining of these minerals including lithium and the toxicity of the compounds used in the battery’s electrodes. Moreover, L-ion technology is reaching its limit in terms of energy density (the amount of energy it can store by weight or volume). Last, the end-of-life management for lithium-ion batteries pose significant challenges as recycling is currently not commercially viable.

Smarter alternatives India must consider

Hence, sustainable alternatives for energy carriers need to be built with elements which are abundant and relatively inexpensive. A few options being considered are:

  • Hydrogen: Recognised as one of the most promising energy carriers, this can be produced by steam reforming of methane or natural gas, or electrolysis of water which is abundant. However, hydrogen also has issues especially for the transportation segment because of storage and safety concerns.
  • Aluminium: Aluminium-based energy generation technologies are being researched for more than 50 years now. Aluminium is looked upon as a promising candidate for large-scale integration in energy storage technology options globally, and unlike hydrogen, it is easy to transport and store. It has several key advantages which make it suitable as a prospective energy carrier such as:
    • Abundant availability
    • Recyclability – Aluminium is 100% recyclable thus reducing dependence on primary aluminium and most importantly
    • Electrochemical energy: Aluminium has high electrochemical equivalent value of 2.98 Ah/g (electrical output per unit mass) which is second highest after lithium (3.86 Ah/g) and higher than other active metals such as zinc (0.82 Ah/g) and magnesium (2.20 Ah/g). and
    • Stability, when aluminium is exposed to the atmosphere, it is immediately covered by an oxide film which protects metal from further corrosion, thus providing the safety of its storage and transportation. Also, under neutral-ambient conditions, there is negligible self-discharge of aluminium due to the presence of the oxide film.
    • Low environmental impact.

Focus on battery giga-factories must consider alternatives to Li-ion batteries

The Indian government has taken many steps to indigenise the entire value chain for E-Mobility. NITI Aayog has announced a target of 50 GWh and would support the establishment of three to ten giga-factories of 20 GWh to 5 GWh capacity each in the country. The manufacturers would be given a grace period of five years from notification of the scheme to ensure adequate localisation[6].

Many state governments have announced schemes to encourage E-Mobility, have offered matching subsidies and are willing to support strengthening of EV infrastructure. This has encouraged established players and start-ups to commit resources to develop world-class E- Mobility technologies and solutions. Many have announced plans to invest across the battery value chain.

Government agencies CECRI, CSIR, DRDO, ARCI and other R&D centres too have stepped into the fray to build indigenous supply chains. Most of their efforts today are focused on Lithium-ion battery and indigenisation of anode materials like graphite and copper foils or cathode materials like aluminium foils.  A few companies are working on the battery chemistry aspects to improve the battery properties. Battery management systems is another critical area, where Indian companies have made good progress, given the IT expertise of the country.

  • A major challenge for India in developing cells is the lack of critical raw material and import dependence on Lithium, Nickel, and Cobalt. Today, China controls most of these resources. What then, must India focus on?
  • Right Choice: Selecting the right battery chemistry is critical as batteries dictate the costs of electric vehicles. The strategy should be to use battery chemistry with optimised cost and performance at Indian temperatures. India should encourage local manufacturing of such battery cells.
  • Exploring new chemistries: India has been late in securing mines which produce these materials and now should focus on recycling of used batteries. It should aim to become the capital of ‘urban mining’. This is crucial given the expected size of the Indian market and the fact that many batteries will be used in 2 & 3 wheelers becoming a headache for the environment once the battery life expires.
  • Above all, India must focus on developing battery technologies using abundantly available local materials such as Aluminium, especially considering the focus on E- Mobility and renewables.

Aluminium based batteries the right choice for India

The above considerations make Aluminium-based batteries the best choice for India given that the country is among top 10 bauxite players globally with over 600 Mn tonnes in reserves. Indian companies can manufacture all the-aluminium constituents locally. Let us consider Aluminium air and ion batteries.

Al Air Batteries

The battery works by tapping electricity generated when aluminium plates react with oxygen in the air[7]. It has one of the highest energy densities for a battery. It is stable, does not pose fire hazard and is environment friendly. It also provides a much longer range, potentially over 1500 Km. While it cannot be charged these batteries can be recycled to produce aluminium in a close loop. To make this technology commercially viable, an infrastructure for swapping and collection must be incentivised by the government. In India, Israeli company Phinergy and IOCL have announced a JV to this effect, which holds plenty of promise.

Al Ion Batteries

A fast-emerging technology, Al ion batteries is built along the same lines of Li-ion batteries. An Australian company is talking about Al-ion batteries that can be charged 60X faster than lithium-ion batteries and provide much longer range. These are expected to be safer, greener and more durable as compared with Lithium-ion batteries.

From the Indian perspective, these advances are significant indicators how the philosophy of Atmanirbhar Bharat can be translated into action. Demand from electric transport and renewable energy storage means India could provide a market big enough for aluminium-air batteries to be established as an alternative to the Li-ion based technologies.

Use of Aluminium in EVs beyond Batteries

Aluminium foil is extensively used as a current collector (substrate) for cathode materials coating in Lithium-ion batteries. However, due to its unique properties, it is also used in cell tabs and containers. Many manufacturers extensively use battery boxes made from aluminium alloys, conforming to the lightweight design and strength of end-use applications. Many modern EVs use aluminium in rolled or extruded forms to design battery enclosures. The high-strength extrudable aluminium alloys provide excellent strength, rigidity and allow for complex designs to take shape.

There is also a direct relationship between vehicle curb weight and the energy requirement in Wh/Kg for electric vehicle driving range. Light-weighting is essential for E-mobility given the high cost of battery and issues surrounding range. Light weighting through aluminisation is an established criteria in the auto industry and its importance is only growing as we switch from ICEs to EVs.

The Way Forward

India should aggressively promote development and commercialisation of aluminium-based solutions for battery technologies and electric vehicles. In addition to already announced policies to promote indigenisation of battery and EV technology it will be prudent to work on policies that:

  1. Promote “Make in India” and localise manufacturing of the entire value system of EVs, including electronic component manufacturing and EV charging infrastructure.
  2. Incentives based on share of local value added and materials in total cost of manufacturing.
  3. Clear policy position on end-of-life EV and battery directives to ensure close loop recycling technology, like the ones based on aluminium, becomes commercially viable.
  4. Incentivise private sector to develop aluminium based battery solutions and recycling ecosystem through a collaborative innovation fund.
  5. Indigenous development of Al based batteries (Al Air/Al ion) with academia/government body (ISRO/DRDO) and with Aluminium industry participation.
  6. Funding and ecosystem development initiatives like – NITI Aayog supported and CSIR funded Project “ICeNGESS” (Innovation Centre for Next Generation Energy Storage Solutions) which at present only includes LiB can also be instituted or extended to include Al based batteries[8]. This will enable identifying and establishing a supply chain for Al based batteries.

Exciting times ahead

In the coming days, India can make rapid strides in energy storage and E-mobility; hence it is imperative to develop/redesign the current ecosystem to achieve these goals. India is ranked fourth globally in installed renewable power capacity, with solar and wind power leading the way[9]. It has set a goal to generate 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030 – five times the current capacity[10]. This means that India would generate 60% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030[11].

With around 300 sunny days a year, India has the potential to lead the world in solar electricity, which will be less expensive than existing coal-fired power by 2030, even when paired with battery storage. In fact, in 2021 the growth rate is expected to be 47% YOY with an expected addition of 1875 MW.

This ambition would call for innovation, partnerships, and significant capital. The private sector has a major role to play in building collaborative partnerships to achieve sustainability goals and ensuring inclusive growth for all. The industry partners are willing to invest and will need support considering the large investment and long gestation periods. The government is taking active steps in the form of policy support, incentive schemes to promote the storage industry. Encouragement for research towards technology development of aluminium based batteries, academia – industry partnerships, creation of battery swapping infrastructure are some of the steps along with focused performance-based linked incentives will go a long way in achieving the desired goals and heralding the era of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

Authors Brief Bio: Nilesh Koul is Senior President Marketing, Business Development & Strategic Initiatives, Hindalco and Sagar Dhamorikar is Joint President Innovation and Business Development, Hindalco

References:

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iea-emissions-idUSKBN2AU0G8

[2] India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – Towards Climate Justice

http://moef.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/revised-PPT-Press-Conference-INDC-v5.pdf

[3] India aims to become 100% e-vehicle nation by 2030,

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/india-aims-to-become-100-e-vehicle-nation-by-2030-piyush-goyal/articleshow/51551706.cms?from=mdr

[4] National Automotive Board (NAB), www.heavyindustry.gov.in, FAME INDIA II Scheme: Ministry of Heavy Industries, (dhi.nic.in)), https://fame-india.gov.in/

[5] FAME INDIA II Scheme: Ministry of Heavy Industries, Ministry of Heavy Industries,

https://fame-india.gov.in/

[6]MAKING INDIA AATMANIRBHAR IN ADVANCE BATTERY STORAGE, NITI Aayog http://www.niti.gov.in/making-india-aatmanirbhar-advance-battery-storage

[7] India Gives Aluminium Battery a Chance to Take on Lithium in Electric Vehicles

https://gadgets.ndtv.com/transportation/news/electric-vehicle-car-ev-india-aluminium-lithium-replacement-indian-oil-phinergy-2477690

[8] PURE EV Partners With CSIR-CECRI To Indigenise Lithium-Ion Battery Tech For EVs,

[9] India’s renewable power capacity is the fourth largest in the world, Narendra Modi,

https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/renewable/indias-renewable-power-capacity-is-the-fourth-largest-in-the-world-says-pm-modi/79430910

[10] India predicts 450GW of Renewable capacity by 2030,

[11] India can lead the world in solar-based growth

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/07/india-can-lead-the-world-in-solar-based-growth/

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A TECHNOLOGY DRIVEN MARITIME VISION FOR INDIA

In the Maritime India Summit 2021 held in March 2021, the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, while inaugurating the event, spoke of India’s intent to emerge as a leading Blue Economy of the world and invited the world to be a part of India’s growth story[1]. Most significantly, the prime Minister asserted that India will shed the piecemeal approach adopted so far and will and focus holistically on the entire sector. Later, the Prime Minister released the ‘Maritime India Vision 2030,’ a 10 year roadmap for the development of the maritime sector and unveiled the plaque of ‘Sagar-Manthan: Mercantile Maritime Domain Awareness Centre (MM-DAC)’, an information sharing mechanism to enhance regional maritime security, improve SAR (Search and Rescue) capability and protect the maritime environment.

Earlier, in 2010, the previous government had promulgated a ‘Maritime Agenda 2010-2020,’ which was also a 10 year roadmap with clearly defined milestones.[2] At first glance itself, that agenda had seemed too ambitious but it was hoped that the government was serious about walking the talk. Many aspects of this agenda got absorbed into Sagarmala,[3] the port-led maritime infrastructure programme promulgated by the present government in 2015, which continues to be a work in progress with a 20 year timeline. Disappointingly however, at the end of 2020, India had fallen far short of the intended milestones across the entire maritime sector and had barely improved its global standing as a maritime power.

Indias Maritime Credentials

India has been blessed with a favourable maritime geography. Its peninsular geographic conformation notwithstanding, it is essentially a maritime nation with a 7,516 km long coastline with nine coastal states and four coastal Union Territories. More than 200 million Indians live in the country’s coastal districts with a large majority of them dependent on the sea for their sustenance and economic well-being. It has a 2 million sq. km plus Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which is rich in resources and a future source of sustenance. This expanse, however, remains largely unexplored. The 75,000 sq. km allocated to India in the Central Indian Ocean region for poly-metallic nodule exploration also remains untapped.[4]

India is also heavily dependent on the sea for its energy requirements. Over 85% of India’s crude oil and over 50% of gas is seaborne and most of its indigenous efforts are focussed on offshore exploration. Refined petroleum goods, which constitute the largest percentage of India’s exports, also transit over the sea. Hence, India’s energy security and the security of India’s energy are dependent on the sea. More than 90% of India’s trade by volume and over 75% by value travels over the sea and is serviced by a network of 13 major ports and over 200 non-major ports. The development of coastal shipping and inland waterways which was almost non-existent until a few years ago is continuing to progress but needs to gather more momentum.

The two strategically important island territories of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the east and the Lakshadweep group on the west besides being a security asset also offer tremendous potential for progressing India’s economic maritime initiatives including investment in marine tourism. However, the delicate and fragile ecological balance will need to be carefully maintained and regulated to reap long-term benefits.

With such impeccable maritime credentials and its dependence on the maritime domain, not only for its economic well-being, but also for its future development and national security, meeting the milestones outlined in the Maritime Vision 2030 document is an imperative that can no longer be put on the back burner.

The Maritime Development Challenge

India is presently languishing well below global standards in almost all parameters of maritime power. The Indian Navy may rank amongst the best in the world and is central to India’s maritime aspirations but it is only one of the many constituents that define maritime power.

India’s development story faces numerous socio-economic challenges. India’s manufacturing capability has been lagging in recent years and we are yet to become a global manufacturing hub in any significant sector. In the maritime sector, India’s share of global shipbuilding is less than 1% and is far short of the 5% target outlined in the Maritime Agenda 2010-2020. Despite the high volume of national trade passing through its ports, not even one Indian port figures in the world’s top 25 ports (Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust – JNPT- off Mumbai is ranked 28th) or even in the first 10 in Asia. Its ship repair industry is uneconomical and lags far behind in global best practices with the result that even Indian flagged vessels prefer to dock in foreign ship repair yards.

In 2019, as per the statistics issued by the Shipping Ministry, India’s Merchant Fleet stood at 1,429 vessels with a total tonnage of 12.746 million tons. These impressive numbers however paint a misleading picture as only 9.7% of India’s foreign trade and 59% of its coastal trade is carried on Indian ships, which not only results in a massive outflow of foreign exchange (estimated at USD 50 Bn) but is also a strategic vulnerability the country can ill afford. Further, a majority of these ships are more than 20 years old and hence uneconomical to operate in the contemporary technology-intensive environment. Its fishing fleet is antiquated and is still dominated by traditional practices with little state support for improving its efficiency and catch. The country’s marine resources also remain largely untapped for want of adequate effort.

India aspires to become a USD 5 trillion economy by 2024, an increase of more than 40% over the current USD 3 trillion within the next three years.[5] This is indeed an ambitious goal and will require an extraordinary national effort at every level, both within the government and out of it. The country’s growth as an economic powerhouse is inextricably linked to its rise as a maritime power and therefore depends on its ability to harness its tremendous maritime potential with timely and efficient implementation of the ambitious targets laid down in the Maritime Vision 2030 and the Sagarmala programme. The SAGAR Doctrine (an acronym for Security And Growth for All in the Region) enunciated by the Prime Minister during his visit to Mauritius in June 2015 as an inclusive capacity building architecture with the countries in the Indian Ocean Region for the safety and security of the region’s maritime interests, also forms an important constituent as it highlights the close linkage between security and economic growth. This doctrine is aimed at achieving the latter while ensuring the former.

Meeting these lofty objectives will require intent, resources and most importantly, technology. While the intent has been spelt out in the documents and it is understood that a sum of about Rs 3 lakh crore (USD 41.44 Bn) has been set aside as a dedicated Maritime Development Fund to meet the targets of the Maritime Vision 2030, it is the effective and efficient utilisation of technology that will be the key to realising these goals.

This paper will attempt to provide an overview of how present and emerging technologies can be applied as effective force multipliers in achieving the milestones laid out in Maritime Vision 2030, which is now the official policy document for shaping India’s maritime future in this decade.

Maritime Vision 2030

The India Brand Equity Foundation[6] in its report titled ‘India’s Maritime Sector – Rising Above the Waves’ has identified 10 key themes in the Vision document. These include the development of best-in-class port infrastructure, enhancement of logistic efficiency through technology and innovation, strengthening the policy and institutional framework, enhancement of the global share in shipbuilding, ship repair and recycling, improvement in  the inland waterways infrastructure, promotion of marine tourism, to become a world leader in ensuring a safe and sustainable maritime sector and enhancement of India’s global standing in maritime cooperation, world class education, research  and training.

Underlining these themes are two fundamental requirements viz, infrastructure augmentation and technology infusion. The infrastructure augmentation highlighted in the document includes the following:

  • The setting up of three mega ports with a capacity of over 300 million tonnes of cargo, mainly in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Odisha and developing a West Bengal cluster with a major investment of Rs 80,000 crore (USD 11.05 Bn).
  • A 3-fold increase in cargo transhipment within the country from the existing 25% to about 75% through development of transhipment hubs Kanyakumari and Campbell Bays and through Vizhinjam port.
  • Rationalising vessel-related charges to bring on par with global ports through Enterprise Business System (EBS) and a National Maritime Logistics Portal and expediting the entire process through digitisation and other innovative technology driven value additions.
  • Increasing the draught to 14-18 metres with at least three ports at over 18 metres to enable the berthing of larger vessels.
  • Introducing Green initiatives including enhancing renewable energy to over 60% from the present level of about 10%.
  • Promoting ‘waste to wealth’ through sustainable practices in ship recycling and and dredging.

Each of these activities is underscored by technology which will drive these initiatives. The world is now poised on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 which is ushering in an era of new technologies that is transforming the industrial landscape in unimaginable ways. The pace of change due to the exponential rise in computing power is breathtaking and is driving these technologies, termed ‘disruptive’ to highlight their ability to alter the status quo and shake industry out of its comfort zone of business as usual. These are also going to impact the maritime domain across all sectors towards increasing efficiencies, supporting the country’s Blue Economy and climate change initiatives and reducing the investment in human and resource capital. The maritime economy is going to be one of the main drivers of the global economy in the 21st century and efficient use of this technology in the maritime domain is going to benefit humanity in many ways.

The rapid advancement in global engineering technologies over the last half century found numerous applications in the maritime sector, which led to the modernisation of ports, improved efficiency in ship turnaround times, containerisation and enhanced port security. In the ship building sector too, this included automation, 3D modelling of ship design, modular construction, usage of composites and lighter materials, and enhanced efficiency in the manufacturing process in shipyards. Adoption of these technologies, while cost effective, were extremely capital intensive. India was unable to capitalise on this and Indian industry was unable to make the necessary investments in overhauling the existing infrastructure due to economic constraints, the high cost of capital, an unresponsive bureaucratic machinery and above all, the lack of a competitive environment.

For India, with its underlying strength in IT, the Industrial Revolution 4.0 presents an opportunity to leapfrog the technology curve by leveraging its IT skills towards developing the competitive edge. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the maritime sector where India stands on a transformational cusp of realising its ambitions as a maritime power of reckoning.

Port Infrastructure

Elevating India’s present ports to global best-in-class standards in the space of less than a decade is a challenging task. Not only does this involve modernising the existing ports but also optimising the limited resources towards building three new ports outlined in the Vision Document for enhancing the nation’s cargo capacity. Coastal shipping and inland waterways are also being developed as alternate means for the transportation of goods within the country and to serve as a feeder to the bigger ports. Hence, the non-major ports, some of which lack even rudimentary infrastructure will also have to be upgraded, both with a technologically efficient infrastructure and introduction of contemporary technologies.

A ‘Major Ports Authority Bill’ is under discussion in Parliament. This will supersede the existing Act that has been in force since 1963 which has become archaic in the technologically advanced and competitive working environment. This Bill has proposed greater functional autonomy in the running of ports, streamlining of the decision-making process and revising the existing institutional framework to align with the contemporary environment.

Indian ports need to focus their attention on streamlining their operations, reducing the turnaround time of ships, improving the security architecture and ensuring an increase in their throughput. The use of artificial intelligence to prioritise cargo movement, ensure cargo bay optimisation and the speedy movement of goods can affect savings in hundreds of crores of rupees, improve the cargo handling figures with more ships being able to berth, and streamline the flow of goods between ports and from ship to shore. India has identified transhipment as one of the priority areas in the Maritime Vision 2030.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to streamline and prioritise the transhipment of containers, thus reducing the turnaround time of ships and the congestion of ships waiting their turn. Automation of the loading process and cargo distribution with the use of AI can reduce the empty spaces, rearrange cargo when loading and unloading to ensure the equitable distribution of weight, hitherto done by lengthy calculations that always had scope for error, and thus also reducing risk for the vessel at sea

The use of Data Analytics, which offers a solution based on the ability to analyse vast quantity of data facilitated by the computing capacity and speed, can enhance efficiencies in port operations by analysing numerous parameters and offering solutions related to cargo movement, container data, weight distribution etc.

Shipbuilding

The global shipbuilding industry is extremely competitive and India has found itself on the back foot with less than 1% share of global shipbuilding. This is mainly attributable to archaic shipbuilding practices in antiquated shipyards and a non-competitive environment. Hence, Indian shipyards have been found sadly wanting in competing with the modern shipyards in China, Japan and South Korea where efficient practices backed by government support in the form of subsidies has helped them corner more than 95% of the global shipbuilding demand.[7] In the last decade, despite the stated aim of cornering 5% of the global shipbuilding market, the shipbuilding industry is yet to be provided an enabling environment. Bureaucratic apathy and lack of encouragement and incentives to compete globally, has in fact led to three large private shipyards shutting down due to financial insolvency.

Enhancement in the global share of shipbuilding has been reiterated in the Vision 2030 document but our inability to reach even 10% of the shipbuilding target laid out in the Maritime Agenda 2010-2020 should serve as a reminder of the challenge ahead, which mere policy pronouncements with ambitious figures will not achieve. Shipbuilding is a long lead-time activity and requires sustained and timely support.

The Industrial Revolution 4.0 has provided an opportunity to revitalise the shipbuilding sector in the country. India‘s existing shipyards are in dire need of modernisation and should be provided the support to make the transformation into a modern automated facility with efficient practices backed by technology. The effective application of emerging technologies could change the complexion of India’s shipbuilding industry by the end of this decade. Technologies like 3D Printing are now being used worldwide to not only optimise shipbuilding costs and enhance efficiency but also in simplifying complexities in ship design and recreating components and parts thus shortening the supply chain leading to cost and time savings in new ship manufacture and repair.

The use of robotics has benefited from digitalisation. Shipyards are increasingly using robots in their production system to increase the speed and scale of production and optimise costly human resource. Robots are now performing tasks like pipe inspections and hull cleaning which ensures better and uniform quality of work to more exacting and specific standards. The use of Virtual and Augmented Reality (AR) in shipbuilding to minimise physical wastage, validate and improve complex shipbuilding processes and streamlining the hull dynamics and stability calculations during the design process. The creation of a ‘digital twin using AR is also finding many applications in the shipbuilding eco-system.

The use of alternate fuels, the adoption of Fuel Optimisation Systems etc are being used by shipbuilders to offer cleaner and more efficient ships. The use of LNG as an alternative fuel to diesel reportedly reduces carbon emissions by up to 25%.

The shipbuilding industry is  focussing its attention on Smart Ships Solutions with cyber being used to enable data from sensors in various areas of the ship be monitored towards encouraging the use of more efficient practices on board. Smart ships are a reality and could usher in a paradigm shift in ship operations. Shipbuilding and merchant shipping are strategic assets. India must therefore create an eco-system, which encourages Indian shipyards to build modern, efficient and cost effective vessels for Indian shipping companies. This would be a win-win for the sector and would enable both to become globally competitive while simultaneously retaining the strategic advantage in the face of the inevitable maritime security challenges to our trade and sovereignty.

Shipping

The shipping industry is adapting rapidly to modern technologies with a focus on autonomy,  the IoT and Data Analytics. These ‘smart’ ship technologies are transforming the existing paradigm with the entire maritime industry and eco-system moving in this direction. The use of autonomous systems combined with the automation on board will provide the human element a wider range of options and system generated optimal solutions. IoT and increasing use of the cloud is enabling greater flow of information from ashore and better decision making afloat. Various spaces on board can be accessed with the help of an app or with remote monitoring. In the event of an emergency, this access would enable timely corrective action to be initiated. Similarly, the control of hatch doors, bays, bulkhead systems and hydraulics can be done remotely.

Data Analytics is helping to access the enormous quantities of data towards enhancing efficiency and outputs while enabling savings and optimising time management, all of which are critical to the shipping industry. The digital analysis of oceanographic data and weather patterns, to increase both safety and economy in routing ships and minimising delays due to inclement weather or adverse ocean conditions through digital charts and electronic chart display systems, is now a standard feature on board ships.

The focus on autonomous systems is finding applications in the maritime domain. Autonomous merchant vessels are now in an active stage of development. Autonomous steering and navigation systems are being integrated with port traffic management schemes through AI and machine learning to facilitate smoother entry and exit of ships from congested ports and restricted waters. Smart ship technologies are being effectively applied for collision avoidance and safe navigation.

Similarly, Integrated Platform Management Systems and smart propulsion are enabling remote management and health monitoring of propulsion, machinery spaces and auxiliary systems on board thus reducing time lost due to equipment failure and safe and optimal exploitation of on-board machinery. Shipping is also set to gain from the increasing use of blockchain technology to enable better supply chain management with the ease of data transfer for tracking the movement of cargo.

A revolutionary technology that can indirectly impact global shipping is the idea of a Hyper-loop Transportation System. Conceptualised by Elon Musk for rapid transportation of people and light goods, the Prime Minister and the Maharashtra government have expressed keenness in setting up a hyper-loop system between Pune and Mumbai including the airport and the JNPT Port and have signed up with the Virgin Group to develop the project. It is believed that this proposed hyper-loop will reduce accidents, effect time and cost savings worth USD 55 billion over a period of 30 years and will help reduce greenhouse gas emission by approximately 86,000 tons/year. It will also build a more efficient supply chain.[8]

These innovative technologies are just the tip of the iceberg. Shipping is changing at an extraordinary pace with these technology solutions signalling a global renaissance in an industry that has been critical to the development of mankind.  India, with its ancient maritime heritage can and must keep pace with this transformation. Shipping is also an important source of employment. India’s global share of seafarers is about 12% at present. Reaching the intended level of 20% by 2030 will require great deal more to be done to improve the quality of training.  The use of modern technological tools like Big Data, IoT, VR/AR  etc can effectively ensure that the training of Indian seafarers is aligned with global standards and is able to ensure that our seafarers can compete with the best in an increasingly sophisticated technological environment on board ships.

Ship Repair and Ship Recycling

Amongst the other themes highlighted in the Maritime Vision, ship repair is closely linked to shipbuilding. Technology can provide cost effective solutions to make India a ship repair hub, which could begin with Indian ship owners making Indian yards their preferred choice. Similarly, India’s ship recycling industry, which at one time was very active, found itself at the wrong end of environmental concerns because of crude and archaic practices. In December 2019, India acceded to the IMO drafted Hong Kong Convention, which has laid down the global standards for safe and environmentally sound ship recycling[9]. India and Turkey are the only two among the five top ship-recycling nations in the world to accede to this Convention which should help India regain pole position without the accompanying environmental hazards.

Perhaps more than anything else in the maritime domain, technology will play a leading role in furthering the Blue Economy and sustainable development of the oceans. India has been at the forefront in promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a responsible regional power and many of its capacity building initiatives in the region are aimed at checking climate change and illegal exploitation of the oceans. India must use the benefits of modern technology to harness the power of the oceans for alternate sources of energy and livelihood. There is a plan to establish a regulatory framework aligned to both, our sovereign concerns as well as the international regulatory framework and the creation of a maritime authority to bring about the cohesion, synergy and efficiency in the approach to the maritime domain as highlighted by the Prime Minister earlier this year. This has been lacking so far because of the multitude of ministries, departments and organisations linked to the maritime domain with differing priorities of their own. Technology will be the most effective tool in ensuring the robustness of this maritime governance and regulatory architecture.

India has also taken the lead in developing partnerships with other countries, which have pioneered ‘green’ technologies. One such is Denmark with whom India is engaging in a number of areas related to the maritime domain including the setting up of a Maritime Knowledge Cluster.

Conclusion

The advent of modern technology will bring about major improvements in the maritime eco-system but the application of these transformative technologies will require both intent and effort, to ensure result-oriented progress in research, development and innovation across the spectrum of maritime activity within the country.  Successful adoption of these technologies will depend upon the policy framework, the regulatory structure, the concern for the environment and the streamlining of processes to drive down costs and improve efficiency. The Global Maritime Technology Trends 2030[10] has highlighted two scenarios which will shape the future of shipping; the first will originate from within the industry to use technology for commercial advantages and the second will be from other related sectors including design and safety.

Maritime power is an important constituent of a country’s comprehensive national power. As the world turns increasingly to the sea for its future sustenance and development, the importance of the maritime sector is set to grow. India, despite its impressive maritime credentials has been unable to leverage this effectively into becoming a leading global maritime power. As India seeks to become a USD 5 trillion economy and the Prime Minister on more than one occasion, has articulated his vision of India as a maritime power, it has to take a leadership role in the region. The backbone of the technology revolution is Information Technology, which India with its strength in IT, must leverage to drive India’s maritime economy at the desired pace to achieve the objectives laid down in the Maritime Vision 2030.

Author Brief Bio: Commodore Anil Jai Singh is the Vice President of the Indian Maritime Foundation. 

Reference

[1] www.pmindia.gov.in dated 02 March 2021.

[2] www.pib.gov.in/newsite/Print Release dated 13 January 2011.

[3] www.Sagarmala.gov.in>projects

[4] PIB, Ministry of Earth Sciences GoI, 21 August 2017

[5] Economic Times dated 04 February 2020 “Govt sticks to USD 5 Trillion economy target”

[6] www.ibef.org IBEF Report “India’s Maritime Sector, Rising Above the Waves”

[7] www.brsbrokers.com/assets/BRS Review_2021_Shipbuilding.pdf dated 18 December 2020

[8] www.indianexpress.com/article dated 27 December 2020.

[9] www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/PressBriefings dated 28 November 2019

[10] Global Marine Technology Trends 2030 ©2015 Lloyds Register,Qinetiq and University of Southampton.

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The Underwater Domain Awareness Framework: Infinite Possibilities in the New Global Era

Abstract:

The 21st century global order has witnessed a significant shift towards the maritime domain, geopolitically and geo-strategically. The Indo-Pacific strategic space has gained importance and increasing number of nations are beginning to maintain their strategic presence in the region. The strategic deployment of assets has political, economic and military connotations. The Indo-Pacific strategic construct and the corresponding formation of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), puts India in a significant position within the global power play. However, the “Indo” part of the Indo-Pacific must be understood in its entire strategic context. The Indian establishment on its part has shown strategic intent in line with the global expectations. The “Security and Growth for All in the Region” (SAGAR) declaration by Prime Minister Modi, is the first major geopolitical declaration by India, to be diplomatically seen as the leader in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The Government of India, on its part, has further announced multiple mega projects like the “Sagarmala”, “Bharatmala”, “Inland Water Transport (IWT)” and many more to realise the SAGAR vision on ground. Maritime governance is a critical aspect that merits attention to manage the surge in maritime activities on all fronts. The Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is a term that has the potential to enable enhanced governance, however the conventional MDA has remained security driven and failed to penetrate into the other stakeholders. The second major drawback of the MDA has been that it has remained on surface. Given the vast undersea resources along with disruptive means available today to access the underwater domain, this is a major limitation. A comprehensive safe, secure, sustainable growth model that can address all the challenges and opportunities is required.

The Maritime Research Centre (MRC), Pune has proposed a comprehensive Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework. This encourages pooling of resources and synergising of efforts across the stakeholders, namely maritime security, blue economy, marine environment & disaster management and science & technology. The UDA framework adequately addresses the policy, technology & innovation and human resource development requirements to be able to project India as a major maritime nation globally. India, with its geo-strategic location and vast maritime frontiers, cannot afford to remain a continental nation anymore. Massive acoustic capacity and capability building on multiple fronts is inescapable. In this paper, we present the infinite possibilities in the new global order. The Indo part of the Indo-Pacific and how India needs to gear-up in this new strategic context has been elaborated in depth. Young India is a massive resource. This could however become a huge challenge, if we as a community, fail to channelize their energy and aspirations in a constructive manner. “Maritime India with more Depth Underwater” is probably the way forward.

Introduction

The Indo-Pacific strategic construct has increasingly found more and more resonance among the global powers. Initiated by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while delivering his address to the Indian Parliament in 2007, he referred to the “confluence” of the Indian and Pacific Oceans as “the dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity” in the “broader Asia” [1]. It got symbolically linked to the “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue”, referred to as the QUAD, comprising of Australia, Japan, India and the US. The QUAD regained its relevance geopolitically during the pandemic with the growing assertion by China in global matters. The obvious belligerence from the Chinese, has probably brought the erstwhile dominant global powers to align themselves either way. The Germans and the French have also announced their participation in the Indo-Pacific strategic interaction [2].

The role of India in the Indo-Pacific strategic construct is significant in many ways. It brings India in the centre stage of global power play and India can no longer choose to remain a silent spectator. The Indo-Pacific is an outright maritime strategic construct and thus, India has to evolve itself as a major maritime power. The Indo-Pacific is defined as the tropical littoral waters of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean as shown in figure-1 [3]. The term tropical littoral waters bring with it, multiple unique challenges and opportunities. The “Indo” part of the Indo-Pacific demands that India invests significantly in its maritime capacity and capability building to remain a major player in the IOR and beyond [4].

Fig. 1 The Indo-Pacific Region: tropical Littoral Waters [3]

The Government of India on its part has displayed significant strategic intent to alter the continental policy outlook, it has been criticised of, since Independence. The SAGAR vision announced by the Prime Minster has been regarded as the most significant strategic declaration with a regional outlook, far beyond its national boundaries. This vision, as stated by the Prime Minister, in his address to the Shangri La Dialogue at Singapore in 2018 has the following aspects behind the broad vision [5, 6]:

(a)     It acknowledges the security concerns that we face in the region due to the political instability and the socio-economic status of the IOR rim nations.

(b)     It recognises the tremendous economic potential that exists for the nations in the region to harness.

(c)      It emphasises the need for regional consolidation and bringing together nations in the region and prevent extra-regional powers from meddling in our internal matters.

(d)     It attempts to revive the rich maritime heritage we shared and rekindle the sense of pride in our rich culture and traditions.

The Government of India has matched up the big SAGAR declaration, with mega projects like the “Sagarmala”, “Bharatmala”, “Inland Water Transport (IWT)” and more, to prioritise the maritime capacity and capability building. Significant policy incentives have also been offered and additionally, multiple legislations have been brought-in, to demonstrate aggressive push by the government on multiple fronts [7, 8].

The Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is a term used in the global parlance for effective maritime governance. MDA is rooted in the ability to effectively monitor what is going on, at any moment in the entire maritime space. The MDA, as defined by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), is the effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain that could impact the security, safety, economy or the environment [9, 10]. The MDA, globally, remained a security construct and continued to be driven by the maritime forces with far less transparency and minimal involvement of the other stakeholders. Even from a security construct, the underwater component of MDA that could be referred to as Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) has remained neglected and fragmented even on a global scale [11].

Challenges and Opportunities

There are political, economic and military connotations of the Indo-Pacific construct, given the geopolitical and geo-strategic realities of the times we are in. To achieve a comprehensive safe, secure and sustainable growth model, for good maritime governance, we need to be aware of these ground realities. The tropical littoral waters are blessed with abundant undersea resources, both living and non-living, available for exploitation. The economic abundance coupled with political instability and corresponding lack of maritime governance makes it a perfect mix for extra-regional powers to get involved and exploit the region for their narrow-vested interest. The global energy reserves in the Middle-East and the growing economies in South East Asia, with vast energy requirements, ensures a steady flow of shipping lines from west to east and back with the finished goods. Thus, the Indo-Pacific has become a critical sea route for the global powers to maintain their military presence to ensure their strategic autonomy [12, 13].

The political instability has given space to non-state actors, some of whom are being used both by the regional powers and extra-regional powers as regular instruments of diplomatic influence in the region. The non-state actors with an asymmetric and disruptive technological edge are a formidable force to deal with using conventional military means. Security, thus becomes a major cause of concern from a governance perspective. The extra-regional powers at times, also find it easy to use the security bogey to push their military hardware at high cost to these nations in the region. Many nations in the region with meagre economic resources and massive socio-economic burden, are the biggest spenders on military hardware. The socio-economic quagmire, coupled with political instability, makes it easy for the extra-regional powers to keep the polity within and the governments in the region fragmented, and allows them to exploit the situation to their benefit. The misplaced priorities politically, makes it difficult to evolve effective governance mechanisms and reverse the vicious cycle. Maritime terrorism, piracy, IUU (Illegal, Unreported & Unregulated) fishing, unsustainable maritime activities and more, are thus on the rise and threatening the sustainable development goals across multiple dimensions. Political instability and overall lack of synergy at all levels negatively impacts maritime governance. [14, 15].

The economic aspect further has multiple dimensions and dynamics. The abundant undersea resources coupled with lack of knowhow and effective governance mechanism is a deadly recipe for higher political interference by the extra-regional powers. Nations with vast coastlines are not the major players in shipping, shipbuilding and ship-repairs. They have occupied the lower end of the spectrum by offering to be ship-breaking yards. The undersea resources are not being exploited in a sustainable manner in the absence of a regulatory framework. The extra-regional powers are having a free run-in term of exploiting the undersea domain for resources and multiple other blue economic returns. Lack of big investments and minimal application of high-end science & technology tools has ensured unviable and unsustainable ways of undersea exploration and exploitation. The fragmented geopolitics does not allow the nations in the region to come together in any way to build mega initiatives. The demographic bulge in the region is not getting channelised into constructive nation building activities. This leads to youth getting vested into non-productive and at times even into anti-national activities. [16, 17]

The security bogey has become a major curse for the region. The spending on the security forces has become a significant drain into the national economy. The lack of indigenous Research & Development (R&D) in the tropical littoral waters with unique characteristics has meant over-dependence on the imported military hardware at very high cost and minimal effectiveness on ground. The brute force method of maintaining high numbers in terms of human resources and other assets among the security forces with minimal induction of the modern systems is no match to the disruptive and emerging technology means being deployed by the non-state actors. We have already had multiple incidents in the past where major attacks have been launched from the sea route and more recently the drone attack in an Air Force base is the manifestation of the larger asymmetry that exists and complete shift from the conventional rules of engagement. Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) is the order of the day and is only likely to get stealthier with higher element of surprise [4, 12].

The fragmented approach among the stakeholders and turf wars among the policy makers is a sure recipe for disaster. The consolidation on all fronts is a problem and thus, the capacity and capability building remain a low priority. In the absence of consolidation, we will always be short of resources for S&T (write full form of S&T) and local site-specific R&D. Every stakeholder is spending significant amount of resources and effort in building their own infrastructure and that is never enough to match up to the real requirements on the ground [18].

Underwater Domain Awareness Framework

The concept of Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) in a more specific sense will translate to our eagerness to know what is happening in the undersea realm of our maritime areas. This keenness for undersea awareness from the security perspective means defending our Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), coastal waters and varied maritime assets against the proliferation of submarines and mine capabilities intended to limit the access to the seas and littoral waters. However, just the military requirement may not be the only motivation to generate undersea domain awareness. The earth’s undersea geophysical activities have a lot of relevance to the wellbeing of humankind and monitoring of such activities could provide vital clues to minimise the impact of devastating natural calamities. The commercial activities in the undersea realm need precise inputs on the availability of resources to be able to effectively and efficiently explore and exploit them for economic gains. The regulators on the other hand need to know the pattern of exploitation to manage a sustainable plan. With so much of activities, commercial and military, there is significant impact on the environment. Any conservation initiative needs to precisely estimate the habitat degradation and species vulnerability caused by these activities and assess the ecosystem status. The scientific and the research community needs to engage and continuously update our knowledge and access of the multiple aspects of the undersea domain. Fig. 2, presents a comprehensive perspective of the UDA framework. The underlying requirement for all the stakeholders is to know the developments in the undersea domain, make sense out of these developments and then respond effectively and efficiently to them before they take shape of an event.

Fig. 2 Comprehensive Perspective of Undersea Domain Awareness

The UDA framework on a comprehensive scale needs to be understood in its horizontal and vertical construct. The horizontal construct would be the resource availability in terms of technology, infrastructure, capability and capacity specific to the stakeholders or otherwise. The stakeholders represented by the four faces of the cube will have their specific requirements, however the core will remain the acoustic capacity and capability. The vertical construct is the hierarchy of establishing a comprehensive UDA. The first level or the ground level would be the sensing of the undersea domain for threats, resources and activities. The second level would be making sense of the data generated to plan security strategies, conservation plans and resource utilisation plans. The next level would be to formulate and monitor regulatory framework at the local, national and global level.

Figure 2 gives a comprehensive way forward for the stakeholders to engage and interact. The individual cubes represent specific aspects that need to be addressed. The User-Academia-Industry partnership can be seamlessly formulated based on the user requirement, academic inputs and the industry interface represented by the specific cube. It will enable more focused approach and well-defined interactive framework. Given the appropriate impetus, the UDA framework can address multiple challenges being faced by the nation today. Meaningful engagement of young India for nation building is probably the most critical aspect that deserves attention. Multi-disciplinary and multi-functional entities can interact and contribute to seamlessly synergise their efforts towards a larger national goal.

Acoustic Capacity & Capability Building

The acoustic means are the only way to generate domain awareness in the undersea region. The acoustic capacity and capability building pertains to managing the challenges and opportunities of the tropical littoral waters. The cold waters in the temperate and polar regions ensured that the sound axis (axis of minimal sound speed) was at shallow depths (as low as 50 m near the pole). This meant that the acoustic propagation remained concentrated around this sound axis, thereby ensuring minimal interaction with the surface and the bottom of the sea. On the contrary, the depth of sound axis in the tropical littoral waters is in the range of 1500 m (compared to the 100 m in the temperate region), thus there is significant interaction of the acoustic propagation with the two boundaries. This is one reason why littoral is a term used along with tropical in warm waters. The high interaction with the surface and the bottom means a severe degradation in the signal quality and high uncertainty in sonar performance. The high biodiversity in the tropical waters also ensures higher attenuation on the acoustic signal during propagation. The diurnal and seasonal variation in the underwater parameters further adds to the fluctuations in the acoustic propagation characteristics [19, 4].

The only way to minimise uncertainties in sonar performance is to build acoustic models that can predict underwater channel behaviour based on environmental parameters. These models will have to be validated across varying sea conditions and also across varying applications. The typical system for any domain awareness consisting of to see, to understand and to share, holds good here as well; however, the connotations may vary [20, 21].

To see includes the sensors that will gather information across the entire EEZ and beyond. The underwater sensors and their capabilities to see far, will be a major concern. The vast area cannot be mapped by conventional sensors alone. In any case, initiating a massive security exercise to deploy sensors is impractical, resource wise, and also may not go down well with the regional sensitivities, diplomatically. We will have to deploy strategies that are able to collect data from all possible seagoing vessels or enterprises and integrate it to the data centre. Environmental and academic research is a very potent means to camouflage security missions. We require platforms that will deploy the sensors at appropriate locations to adequately sense the region and collect the data for further analysis. These platforms could be surface or sub-surface that can reach the location along with the sensor and minimal interference from their own operations. Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) could be more cost-effective for a large-scale UDA initiative. Even static sensor suite could be deployed for data collection for long durations. A mix of Commercially-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) equipment for data collection and also specific prototype design of sensor and data acquisition systems may have to be developed to be installed across static and dynamic platforms to map the entire area.

To understand or analysis is a critical component that may be able to overcome some of the deficiencies of data collection. The analysis could be centralised or distributed based on the resource availability and strategy deployed for data acquisition. The first concern would be to minimise underwater channel distortions from the received data and also ensuring data integrity by verifying the corruption and errors. Deep learning methods are available today that can manage multiple data sets and provide the big picture. Also, High Performance Computing (HPC) infrastructure will be required to manage the Big Data in real time. The advanced underwater acoustics and signal processing may be deployed at the centralised facility or the distributed nodes.

The stakeholders may be integrated to this entire programme in a very covert manner to tap their data collection into the big infrastructure. The smart programme being implemented is a very unique model for this purpose. All kinds of data collection will seamlessly get channelised into the central systems with safeguards for data privacy for the individual users and metadata will be available for security analysis and policy formulation. Digital India already addresses many of the issues related to digital data and its handling. Digital Ocean should be our national priority.

To share or the networking of the systems for seamless data and information flow from source and destination to the central system is a critical component. The real time processing and networking is the key for any meaningful impact. The networking in the RF domain has progressed sufficiently to meet the requirement. The sensor networks have to be configured to bring the underwater signals above water to take advantage of the advances in RF. The old fashioned SOSUS systems (Sound Surveillance System) and the likes are thing of the past and need to evolve into their modern forms like DRAPES. We have to work on a very innovative model that is a mix of DRAPE (Deep Reconnaissance And Prevention of Emergencies) Systems and others, keeping in mind the tropical littoral issues and also the high traffic density in the IOR [22].

Way Ahead

The broad UDA framework needs to be dissected into individual S&T areas that have relevance across multiple sectors and applications. In this section we try to present few such areas that are representative to the vast UDA framework across the marine and the freshwater systems.

Underwater Radiated Noise (URN) Management is one of the most critical areas across military and non-military applications. The increasing shipping traffic across varied sectors starting from cargo in the high seas to coastal and inland waterways has huge impact on the underwater acoustic characteristics. The radiated noise from the marine vessels generates low frequency sound that overwhelms the low frequency spectrum of the ambient noise in the water bodies. The low frequency noise suffers minimum attenuation in the underwater domain so has significant impact over thousands of kilometres. Any underwater deployment of sonars for surveillance or marine mammal monitoring gets severely degraded due to poor Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR). Acoustic stealth for military deployment of platforms and acoustic habitat degradation for marine mammal conservation requires effective URN management. The shipbuilding and ship repair also needs to take note of the URN management aspects and deliver ships with requisite URN levels. Opportunities in this domain exist from URN measure & analysis to prediction and deception/alteration. Given the size of the shipping fleet in the merchant marine and the naval warships, this is a huge area available for technology as well as policy intervention. Acoustic capacity & capability building has innumerable dimensions as seen in Figure-3, which presents multiple aspects of the URN management and also brings all the stakeholders together in a seamless manner [23].

Fig. 3 Underwater Radiated Noise (URN) Framework

Sediment Management is another major opportunity for significant military and non-military applications. The broad areas of concern are freshwater resource management, flood control, navigation for inland water transport, port management, deployment of military vehicles in water bodies and more. There is significant military requirement in terms of logistics and movement of military assets across water bodies. Maintaining safe navigation and all-weather access across these water bodies could be a major challenge. There has been significant focus on port-led growth under the Sagarmala initiative and also the multimodal connectivity across waterways. These require massive acoustic capacity and capability building to ensure uninterrupted operations in our waterbodies.

Sediment management originates from prediction and prevention of the siltation process, de-siltation and also disposal of the silt. The tropical littoral waters have very high flow which causes high siltation. De-siltation needs to be done in a scientific manner to ensure viability of the projects. The acoustic survey and sediment classification is the key to the entire process. The volume of silt is a huge challenge from the perspective of removal and disposal. The dredging has multiple options with varying cost based on the nature of the silt. The disposal of the silt has become an impediment given the logistics cost and also non-availability of dumping ground. Precise sediment classification can ensure economic viability of the entire de-siltation process. There is significant wealth in the silt and with proper sediment management, this could turn out into a waste to wealth story. Figure-4, presents the multiple aspects of the sediment management framework. The stakeholders can seamlessly synergise and pool their resources to manage this effectively. The policy and technology interventions can be managed efficiently with enhanced acoustic capacity and capability building for sediment management [24].

Fig. 4 Sediment Management Framework

Aquaculture and Digital Oceans. The aquaculture industry in India has significant potential as a blue economy opportunity. The tropical littoral waters are known breeding grounds for shrimp farming and given the high value of shrimps in the global market, it a huge opportunity. However, shrimp farming is a high-risk venture due to disease outbreaks, environmental fluctuations, lack of scientific awareness and more. The small farmers are unable to sustain this venture, in the absence of financial support from the insurance companies and also banks. The unorganised sectors have a challenge to grow due to inadequate policy support from the governments as well. India, with a coastline of over 7,500 km, has a massive opportunity to build this industry and help the community to engage in productive ventures. Digital oceans is the only way forward to develop deeper understanding of the underwater conditions and fluctuations. Once we understand the patterns, the uncertainties of the environment and the production outputs could be minimised with better interventions. The lower uncertainties and enhanced predictability of the entire process will encourage participation of the financial entities to support such sectors. The policy and technology interventions for enhanced and sustainable aquaculture is a major requirement. India has failed to take advantage of its vast tropical littoral waters due to lack of prioritising of the digital ocean initiative. The acoustic capacity and capability building is again a key requirement for Digital Ocean, and if managed well could be a significant export opportunity of the Skill India initiative [25].

There is a substantial strategic angle to shrimp habitats and generating deeper understanding of their soundscape. They are known to be the loudest of the creatures with vocalisation ranging beyond 200 dB ref 1 μPa at 1 m. Even the biggest mammal on earth, the blue whale vocalisation is of the order of 196 dB ref 1 μPa at 1 m. The whales are in few numbers (in single digits) in a group, whereas the shrimps are in millions in a shrimp bed. There have been incidents in the past when a submarine has been acoustically swamped due to snapping shrimp vocalisation. The Indo-Pacific region is going to be a major maritime theatre for submarine deployment. The nations within have also acquired strategic submarines and Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) for submarine deployment requires no emphasis. There are multiple other aspects of UDA that need to be prioritised for strategic security purposes ranging from maritime intelligence against undersea intrusions, effective deployment of subsea vehicles, mitigating the sub-optimal sonar performance to more demand high priority in the ongoing geopolitical and geo-strategic developments.

Conclusion

The high-end technology developments globally have taken place during the Cold War period. Even the underwater technology developments have largely taken place as part of the super-power rivalry. The Americans and the Russians have deployed huge resources to generate better understanding of the undersea domain for ensuring enhanced sonar performance. However, the engagement during the Cold War period were in the temperate and polar regions. The Cold War had different geopolitical and geo-strategic realities. Military spending was not questioned and military projects did not require any environmental clearances as well. The post-Cold War era has completely different political scenario. Even in the US and other democracies, the leaders have to balance socio-economic requirements along with national security requirements. The environmental clearances cannot be bypassed for national security projects. Pooling of resources and synergising of efforts across the stakeholders is the only way ahead. Geo-economics has taken the high ground and geopolitics has to match the economic growth engine trajectory.

The tropical littoral challenges and opportunities have to be driven by S&T and site-specific R&D. This requires high infrastructure investments and long-term commitment to develop the know-how. User-Industry-Academia partnership is inescapable. All the stakeholders have to be committed on a long-term basis to this model. Beyond the nations, the regional frameworks will make more sense and also keep the extra-regional powers at bay. The fragmented stakeholder interactions within the nations and also in the region is a major impediment to ensuring higher synergy. Digital Oceans driven by the UDA framework can be a game changer. It will be a paradigm shift for ensuring safe, secure, sustainable growth for all in the Indo-Pacific region.

India has taken multiple steps to build maritime infrastructure and the SAGAR vision demonstrates significant seriousness on the part of the Government of India. A User-Academia-Industry partnership model is presented in figure-5, for realising the Digital Ocean dream. It binds together multiple announcements from the Government of India and also the stakeholders both in the marine and the freshwater systems.

Fig. 5 User-Academia-Industry Partnership for the UDA Framework

Figure-5, brings all the core R&D domains on one side of the funnel and the government initiatives on the other, to provide the three main pillars of the UDA framework. The effective policy intervention, innovative technology support and the acoustic capacity & capability all seamlessly will come together across the stakeholders. The UDA framework proposed by the MRC has significant merit for a whole of nation approach. The above User-Academic-Industry interface can be implemented on ground with the setting up of a Centre of Excellence to build on all the five major requirements of research, academia, skilling, incubation and policy. The details of the COE is attached in Enclosure-1. (Where is Enclosure 1)

The SAGAR vision of the Prime Minister is better served by effective realisation of the UDA framework in a comprehensive manner. China is aggressively trying to make inroads into the IOR and to counter them will not be easy. The Whole-of-Nation Approach is extremely critical given the geo-political and geo-strategic realities. Beginning with the IOR and then the Indo-Pacific region will require the support of UDA framework. India can play a leadership role in the region and ensure that the extra-regional powers are kept away with enhanced S&T superiority and local site-specific R&D.

Author Brief Bio: Dr(Cdr) Arnab Das is Founder & Director, Maritime Research Centre (MRC), Pune

References

[1]      “Confluence of the Two Seas”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan. August 22, 2007. Speech by H.E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan at the Parliament of the Republic of India. Available at https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/pmv0708/speech-2.html.

[2]     https://thediplomat.com/tag/quadrilateral-security-dialogue/.

[3]     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Pacific#/media/File:Indo-Pacific_biogeographic_region_map-en.png.

[4]     Arnab Das and D.S.P. Varma, “Ocean Governance in the Indian Ocean Region – An Alternate Perspective”, Maritime Affairs, 2015, pp. 1–19.

[5]     http://indiafoundation.in/sagar-indias-vision-for-the-indian-ocean-region/.

[6]     Blog Post by Alyssa Ayres, from Asia Unbound: A Few Thoughts on Narendra Modi’s Shangri-La Dialogue Speech, June 1, 2018. Available at https://www.cfr.org/blog/few-thoughts-narendra-modis-shangri-la-dialogue-speech.

[7]https://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Indian%20Ocean%20Region_v6(1).pdf

[8]https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/sites/default/files/Indian_Maritime_Security_Strategy_Document_25Jan16.pdf.

[9]     Joseph L. Nimmich and Dana A. Goward, Maritime Domain Awareness: The Key to Maritime Security, International Law Studies – Vol 83, Global Legal Challenges: Command of the Commons, Strategic Communications and Natural Disasters, Edited by Michael D. Carsten, 2007. Available at https://www.usnwc.edu/Research—Gaming/International-Law/New-International-Law-Studies-(Blue-Book)-Series/International-Law-Blue-Book-Articles.aspx?Volume=83.

[10]   “Amendments to the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual”International Maritime Organization. MSC.1/Circ.1367 24 May 2010. Available at http://www.imo.org/blast/blastDataHelper.asp?data_id=29093&filename=1367.pdf.

[11]   Cdr Steven C. Boraz, U.S. Navy, “Maritime Domain Awareness
Myths and Realities”, Naval War College Review, Summer 2009, Vol. 62, No. 3.

[12]   Arnab Das (2016), “Impact of Maritime Security Policies on the Marine
Ecosystem”, Maritime Affairs: Journal of the National Maritime Foundation of India, 12:2, 89-98.

[13]   Arnab Das, “Marine Eco-Concern and its Impact on the Indian Maritime Strategy”, Chapter 5, MRC Press Feb 2017.

[14]   Sarabjeet Singh Parmar, “Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean A Changing Kaleidoscope”, Journal of Defence Studies, Vol. 7, No. 4, October–December 2013, pp. 11–26.

[15]   Alok Bansal (2010) Maritime Threat Perceptions: Non-State Actors in the Indian Ocean Region, Maritime Affairs: Journal of the National Maritime Foundation of India, 6:1, 10-27.

[16]   SHARACHCHANDRA M. Lele, “Sustainable Development: A Critical Review”, World Development, Vol. 19, No. 6, pp. 607-621, 1991.

[17]   Joris Larik et al., “Blue Growth and Sustainable Development in Indian Ocean Governance,” The Hague Institute for Global Justice Policy Brief, 2017.

[18]   Dr. P. K. Ghosh & Sripathy Narayan, “Maritime Capacity of India: Strengths and Challenges” Observer Research Foundation. Available at https://www.orfonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Maritime Capacity_of_India.pdf.

[19]   Paul C Etter, “Underwater Acoustic Modelling and Simulation”, Fourth Edition, CRC Press, 2013, Taylor and Francis Group.

[20]   Arnab Das, “Marine Eco-concern and its Impact on the Indian Maritime Strategy,” Journal of Defence Studies, Vol 8, No. 2, Apr 2014.

[21]   Arnab Das, “New Perspective for Oceanographic Studies in the Indian Ocean Region,” Journal of Defence Studies, Vol 8, No. 1, Jan 2014.

[22]   Steven Stashwick, “US Navy Upgrading Undersea Sub-Detecting Sensor Network”, The Diplomat, November 04, 2016. Available at https://thediplomat.com/2016/11/us-navy-upgrading-undersea-sub-detecting-sensor-network/.

[23]   Arnab Das (2019) Underwater radiated noise: A new perspective in the Indian Ocean region, Maritime Affairs: Journal of the National Maritime Foundation of India, 15:1, 65-77, DOI: 10.1080/09733159.2019.1625225.

[24]https://mrc.foundationforuda.in/documents/researchNotes/Interns/Report%20on%20Sediment%20Management%20Framework%20for%20Tropical%20Littoral%20Waters.pdf

[25]https://mrc.foundationforuda.in/documents/researchNotes/Interns/APY%20Analysis%20for%20Shrimp%20Farming.pdf

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Counter Drone Systems: An Opportunity for Self-Reliance

India’s Jammu airbase was subjected to two explosions at 1.27 AM and 1.32 AM on June 27, 2021 that were caused by two armed drones.[i] The incident is being investigated by Indian security agencies to ascertain motive, plot and players behind the attack. Simultaneously, induction of counter-drone systems to prepare for such attacks in future is being pursued. Some questions which have come up post the attack are:

  • Why have small armed drones become a new challenge?
  • Should India ban drone operations?
  • Does India have counter drone capability?
  • What should India do to build indigenous counter drone capability?

Small Armed Drones: An Evolving Threat

India has witnessed increased rogue drone activity along its Western border with Pakistan in recent years. However, armed attack on a military installation has occurred for the first time, increasing the sub-conventional threat level. Today, advances made in the filed of artificial intelligence (AI), sensors, weapons systems and navigation technologies have increased accuracy, lethality and effectiveness of small armed drones, enabling them to operate intelligently and undertake complex missions individually, collaboratively and as swarms. The impact of these technologies was demonstrated in the employment of drone swarms by the Israeli military in combat operations against Palestinian Hamas fighters for the first time in May 2021.[ii] China too has developed armed Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) swarms, which presents a challenge for India.

Air Defence systems across the world have been geared to countering the threat posed by large and fast-moving flying machines and not for detecting small, slow and low flying drones. The small size, extensive use of carbon composites, plastics, low radar signatures and insignificant noise levels of electric motors make it difficult for the existing air defence system to detect and neutralise small drones. These limitations came to the fore when drones were used in an attempted assassination attempt on the Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro in 2018. Drones were also used to attack Russian air bases in Syria in 2018, the Aramco oil facility of Saudi Arabia in 2019 and the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict in 2020. Despite the attack on the Saudi oil facility in 2019, the Saudi’s were unable to prevent another attack by drones on King Khalid International Airport in 2021, despite possessing an advanced air defence network.[iii] Neither could Russia prevent drone attacks in Syria despite being one of the largest defence equipment manufacturers.

India has a comprehensive Air Defence network, but its ability to detect small, slow, low flying drones is under development. This capability was however showcased at the Aero-India-2021 exhibition in Bangalore. The systems are undergoing operational and validation trials and are yet to be inducted into the field force. The parallel evolution of drone and counter drone technologies makes the threat of small rogue armed drones an evolving one that would require continuous and urgent research, development, and up-gradation of counter drone technologies.

Ban Versus Enabling Policy

The mere introduction of regulations is unlikely to deter an adversary or radicalised non-state actors from employing rogue drones. The Jammu drone attack could not be prevented despite promulgation of stringent UAS Rules on March 12, 2021. It may however be necessary to place certain restrictions in sensitive areas to identify potential threats. Also, defence forces must have the right to shoot down drones that violate red zones and operate over prohibited areas.

As a follow up to review of UAS Rules-2021, Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) released draft drone rules-2021 on July 15, 2021[iv] to replace UAS Rules-2021. This indicates the sensitivity of the political leadership in providing an enabling environment to the drone sector. It also indicates the inability of senior leadership in MOCA in addressing concerns of the domestic industry. There are 20,600 registered drone users while number of unregistered users is much higher and unmapped.[v] However, there is a need to be cautious here as often liberalisation of rules without careful deliberations helps importers and assemblers more than domestic manufacturers.

Counter Drone Technologies

Counter drone technologies are premised on detection of drones and their subsequent neutralisation, though both hardball and soft kill options.

  • Small, slow, low flying drones can e detected by short range radar, Electro-Optic (EO), Infra-Red (IR) and acoustic detection systems. Radar has the potential to provide non-cooperative detection capability without the active support of target drones. The Radio Frequency (RF) systems provide detection at relatively shorter ranges but are effective only if rogue drone is emitting RF signal. The EO and IR systems are passive detection systems that provide visual detection by day and night respectively but they have lesser ranges than RF systems and radar. The EO/IR sensors are useful for revalidation (secondary validation) of the threat, followed by terminal tracking and launching of counter measures. Lastly, acoustic systems use acoustic signatures to detect small drones at close ranges but are effective if there is no conflicting noise in the vicinity and noise profile of the rogue drone is recorded in the library of the detection system.
  • Neutralisation. Drone neutralisation systems can broadly be divided into ‘soft kill’ and ‘hard kill’ systems. The former involves neutralisation of sensors, control and navigation systems through jamming, spoofing, or making rogue drones land away from their intended target, sending them back, or capturing them. This is achieved by jamming and spoofing Global Positioning Systems (GPS), jamming their radio frequencies (that are used by drone operators for controlling the drones), and for jamming or spoofing of internal communication of drone swarms. The jammers can be ground based as well as placed on airborne platforms. However, jamming has some inherent disadvantages as it may jam own drones and other users in that area. Therefore, power of jammer and intended areas of jamming have to be clearly defined.[vi] The hard kill systems being developed include lasers, microwave systems and physical destruction by guns, missiles, or suicide drones. Today, most counter drone systems being developed are hybrid systems comprising multiple detection and neutralisation systems. These include combinations of radar, RF, EO/ IR detection systems; lasers, RF jammers, drone nets, guns, suicide drones, defender drone swarms and other neutralisation systems that are integrated into one system. Such systems require automation for critical decision making in real time, though human interface would also be required to prevent counter drone systems from being duped with newer innovations.

Airborne Counter Drone Systems

Small armed drones, individually or in collaboration may outsmart a flying platform and overcome speed disadvantage by concealing their approach and intelligent routing by using artificial intelligence. On the other hand, slow moving manoeuvrable flying platforms like helicopters and trainer aircraft, when equipped with suitable counter drone systems would be able to defend themselves when airborne, as well as provide airborne protection during national and international events and other contingencies.

As of now, most aircraft systems are not suited to take on small, slow and low flying drones. India had armed Cheetah helicopters with guns and three 70 mm rockets and named it Lancer. However, these helicopters did not have detection systems to detect rogue drones.[vii] While India is currently developing a number of land-based hybrid counter drone systems, there is no known project to develop airborne counter drone system. As such systems are being developed globally, India too needs to start such programmes, else it be left behind and be forced to import the same.

Air Defence

The responsibility for Air Defence (AD) rests with the Indian Air Force (IAF). The Army and Navy have certain embedded operational AD capability for protection during operations. The air threat in the past was posed by fast and large flying machines, whose detection distance varied from hundreds of kilometres to tens of kilometres. However, threat posed by small, slow, low flying drones has reduced detection distances to below tens of kilometres, which makes it impossible for the IAF to provide air defence against such threats in all parts of the country.

Besides hard and soft kill options discussed earlier, the drone threat can be mitigated through effective intelligence operations to apprehend the operator, which would prevent the drone from getting airborne. Therefore, police (of various states and union territories), para-military forces and other agencies involved in providing security to VAs and VPs would become new players in the AD network. Also, there may be a requirement to formulate simple but digitised mechanism to track legal drones without becoming unduly intrusive for the industry.

The new counter drone systems would need to be integrated with existing Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) of the IAF. On the other hand, legacy air defence systems of sister Services may need to be modified to integrate new counter drone systems. In addition, integration of police, CAPF, PMF and other forces protecting VAs and VPs in the air defence network also needs to be examined. Accordingly, protocols for operations, SOPs, training patterns, etc. would need to be formulated. The synergy and integration between existing air defence network and new players would become another key pillar of counter drone eco-system. However, an AD network comprising multiple security organisations with diverse cultures, training, and operations philosophies would pose new challenges, which would have to be overcome.

Counter drone technologies can mitigate a threat but cannot eliminate it. There would be a need to impose deterrence against potential users of such systems. This would require political resolve and developing offensive capability.[viii]

Procurement Versus Development Dilemma

The existing approach of procuring best products and stipulating tight timelines for induction of defence equipment are two major reasons for struggle of Indian industry in replacing foreign OEMs. Indian manufacturers lack infrastructure, scale of manufacturing and funding to compete with big players and their products do not match up to what is available across the world. But if we continue with imports, then the defence industry will never grow, making us continually dependent on foreign powers. Obviously, a strategy is needed to get out of this impasse. With respect to the manufacture of counter drone systems, the following questions need to be answered:

  • Can Indian companies provide counter drone solutions?
  • What is the role of stakeholders in the government and users in facilitating development of indigenous capability?

The status of indigenous capability in counter drone technologies, role of users and large industrial entities, factors contributing to failure of domestic industry and way forward to make India self-reliant is discussed below.

Indigenous Capability

India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), in collaboration with private and public sector entities has developed a D-4 hybrid counter drone system comprising both hard and soft kill systems. Its detection systems comprise radar providing 360 degrees detection up to 4 km, RF system up to 3 km and Electro Optic/Infra-Red system up to 2 km, while its neutralisation systems comprise of RF/ Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) jammer having a range of 3 km and laser for physical destruction of rogue drones up to a range of 1 km. DRDO demonstrated its system to National Security Guard (NSG) as well as deployed it on VVIP protection duties in the last one year. However, there was a lack of participation in the development of the above by the user agencies, namely the defence forces.[ix] This lacuna needs to be plugged.

DRDO has taken BEL as the production partner and would benefit from its expertise. On its part, BEL has collaborated with Grene Robotics to jointly develop AI based autonomous Operating System (OS), which is named as air defence dome.[x] Grene Robotics OS is an AI based platform that would provide air defence cover through a unified, distributed, wide area coverage system named as “Indrajal”. It integrates radars, EO/IR, Electronic Support Measures (ESM), jammers and third-party weapon systems and enables local and networked command and control operations with autonomous counter drone capability. However, companies like Grene Robotics are small companies that need handholding by large private and public sector companies to improve manufacturing quality and scale up production for large orders.[xi] It would invigorate the defence sector if such hand holding takes place for niche technologies being provided by small companies and new start ups. Some of the startups which have excelled are Big Bang Boom Solutions, which has developed Anti-Drone Defence System that comprises RF and EO detectors and RF jammer,[xii] the Gurutvaa Systems Private Limited, which has developed a spoof emitter and a hand held jammer which can carried in backpack as well as installed on a vehicle,[xiii] Zen Technologies Private Limited, whose counter drone system is evolving into a multiple sensor system comprising three detection systems[xiv] and Mikrobotix, which manufactures micro and small drones that carry variety of payloads, and has indigenously developed a suicide quad copter drone using cameras and artificial intelligence for counter drone role.[xv] There are other small players too in this field such as VEM Technologies, Timetooth Technologies and EDITH Defence systems, which indicates a bright future for domestic manufacturing.[xvi]

The bigger names in the Indian defence sector are also showing an interest in drone and counter drone technologies. Towards this end, L&T has tied up with ideaForge[xvii], while Reliance Industries has acquired majority stake in Indian drone start up Asteria Aerospace.[xviii] Adani Defence and aerospace[xix] has collaborated with Elbit systems of Israel to manufacture drones and sell its counter drone system in India. Similarly, Jugapro,[xx] a company known for selling hanger doors, has collaborated with the US startup company Fortem Technologies to sell its counter drone systems. However, in the counter drone domain, the investment of big companies in research and development of counter drone technologies has been negligible, which needs to change.

The DRDO has developed 1-kW, 10-kW and 20-kW laser weapons, while Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has developed high power purse electron accelerator kilo ampere linear injector (KALI-5000) capable of generating 650 keV energy with electron beam power of 40 GW. It has also developed microwave systems having a frequency range of 3-5 GHz and power of 1-2 GW.[xxi] The challenge for Indian developers would be in miniaturisation these systems for ease of transportation on ground and carriage by aircraft to develop airborne counter drone systems.

Why Domestic Industry Fails?

As stated earlier, India’s public and private defence sector is caught in a bind. The defence requirements are immediate while indigenous production capacity is constrained in terms of levels of R&D and inability to produce equipment of matching capability in the available time. The foreign OEM thus bags the order, which in turn adversely impacts the domestic innovators who have been involved in research, design, development and manufacturing of counter drone systems. It is thus a make-or-break situation for the Indian industry and innovators who are mostly start-ups & MSMEs. A few of them have proven their capability by winning technological challenges presented by defence forces through iDEX, Technology Development Fund (TDF) and Mehar Baba competition. However, survival of domestic innovators and manufacturers depends upon the orders received from defence forces, their only customer; otherwise, they would disappear from Indian drone and counter drone manufacturing landscape.

Indian innovators struggle to compete with leading global manufacturers when users and policy makers from defence place large orders with tight timelines for supply. The aspiration for acquiring the best by the defence forces is well understood, but it hurts the Atmanirbhar Bharat mission. In addition, the introduction of seemingly liberal provisions in the policy that open up business (import) and simplify compliance on the pretext of competition, suits import and foreign OEMs. Foreign OEMs export in large numbers and sell them in India at cheap rates till indigenous products become uneconomical and indigenous manufacturers close their business.

Against these Qualitative Requirements, most Indian companies do not qualify, despite having some of the cutting-edge technologies and capabilities. As a result, foreign OEMs win tenders in a seemingly fair way. This is how domestic industry and innovators, despite being promising, fail to survive due to lack of support system in India and absence of handholding culture. On the other hand, Global OEMs win the contract and acquire Intellectual Property Rights of promising Indian innovators. This is an example of how not to support domestic industry, which needs to change.

A case study of the aviation industry in this regard is instructive. HAL had developed the HF-24 Marut fighter-bomber aircraft in the 1960s. It was the first Indian-developed jet aircraft, but its production was shelved in favour of assembling the Soviet Union made MiG-21 fighter jets in India. This made India dependent on the latter. As a result, capability of HAL in due course was downgraded from high value design and development establishment to a low value assembly company. It took India almost five decades to correct this anomaly when Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) came into being. LCA was the outcome of indigenous effort and not foreign coproduction collaboration. Therefore, any attempt to acquire large number of counter-drone systems, including through Make in India, would have an adverse impact on domestic counter drone industry. We therefore need to keep India’s long-term interests in mind in our procurement policy.

Building Indigenous Counter Drone Capability

We need an enabling environment to keep talent in India. Many Indians have excelled abroad, such as Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Sunder Pichai of Google, but even so, India’s Information Technology (IT) and auto industry have not yet become design and development hubs of the world and have remained relatively low value service industries. India is yet to have its own versions of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, etc. as also cars with global presence. We therefore need to focus on developing indigenous technological capabilities by providing an enabling ecosystem to domestic industry and creating preferential mechanism for inducting domestic products.

India’s former President, Late Shri APJ Abdul Kalam warned that Make in India is “Quite Ambitious” and that it has to be ensured that India does not become the low-cost, low-value assembly line of the World.[xxii] Today, India is at a critical juncture where it needs to induct large number of counter drone systems for multiple security agencies. It would be prudent to take into account the above caution of our former President, while formulating strategy for building this capability.

Ground Systems. Indian public and private sector companies have developed a number of detection and neutralisation systems; however, these systems individually are not holistic systems and do not provide assured detection and neutralisation. A few manufacturers collaborated with fellow manufacturers by leveraging their respective strengths to develop hybrid counter-drone systems; however, some gaps still exist. Also, counter drone systems required for static army and air force formations would be different from those required to protect moving convoys and ships. Protection of ships that are continuously rolling and pitching when docked as well as while moving over open seas would be an entirely different challenge and would require gyro-stabilisation as well as modifications in software and hardware. The civil aviation and other security agencies would prefer armed rogue drones to be captured or escorted to safe locations so that they do not pose threat to airport, aircraft, passengers, VAs and VPs. Lastly, while developing countermeasures against small drones, designers need to consider that loitering munitions, and other manned and unmanned aircraft would also be operating within the same airspace. Therefore, counter drone systems should not only be able to counter small rogue drones but also integrate with air defence systems and provide seamless defence against all air threats, without disrupting normal peace time air operations.[xxiii]

Airborne Counter Drone Systems. These systems would provide much needed mobility and enhance range and effectiveness of counter capability. The airborne counter drone platform could be another drone, helicopter or an aircraft. Smart air defence drone with necessary detection and neutralisation sensors would be the best choice to counter rogue small drones. Therefore, it would be prudent to equip helicopters and other aircraft with counter drone capability to protect them from drone attacks as well as to neutralise rogue drones. Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) and Hindustan Turbo Trainer-40 (HTT-40) are three potential platforms that could be equipped with counter drone systems. They are ideally suited to undertake counter drone tasks during national and international events and in specific threat scenarios due to their slow speed handling characteristics, high manoeuvrability, ability to launch quickly and adequate payload carrying capability.

Indian industry has adequate potential to produce drone and counter drone systems in India. However, their expertise is dispersed as they are developing different elements of counter drone systems in silos, which need to be integrated. To build a holistic counter-drone system, there is a need to integrate multiple detection and neutralisation systems developed by different public and private sector companies, which can be achieved by leveraging following technology development programs:

  • iDEX conducted by Defence Innovation Organisation has open competition, Defence Innovation Start up Challenge (DISC) and iDEX 4 fauji. Industry, individual innovators, academia and R&D institutions have opportunity to participate in each of these competitions where grants up to 50% of project cost with maximum up to Rs 1.5 crore are given.[xxiv]
  • DRDO provides funding under Technology Development Fund (TDF) for self-reliance in defence technologies covering up to 90% of the project cost and a development period of two years.[xxv]
  • Department of Science and Technology (DST)’s Device Development Program (DDP) provides funding for indigenous development and manufacturing of devices and has identified drones and anti-drone devices as key areas for development in 2020.[xxvi]
  • Global Innovation and Technology Alliance (GITA), a Public Private Partnership (PPP) program, provides funding up to 50 % of expenditure on R&D for new technology / products in partnership with industries from Canada, Israel, Korea, Italy, Spain, Sweden for delivering marketable products and services to Indian and global markets.[xxvii]

Mehar Baba and iDEX competitions are conducted by IAF and DIO respectively. Mehar Baba provides larger funding while iDEX not only provides lower funding but also requires equal share of funding by the participants. Mehar Baba competition provides equal opportunity to DRDO, Defence Public Sector Units (DPSU)s, academia, individual innovators and private sector entities to develop urgently needed as well as niche technologies while in iDEX, DRDO & DPSUs do not participate. These competitions facilitate transformation of an idea into a product and induction into defence forces if found suitable. This is exactly what is needed in India.[xxviii] However, these competitions, despite their promise, have following limitations:

  • The quantity and timelines for procurement of product from winners of iDEX and Mehar Baba competitions are not defined, which is a major limitation. As a result, transformation of innovative prototype into finished products and commercialisation is hampered. The winners of these competitions are unable to cope with the huge cost of development and delay in lack of procurement by their only buyer, i.e. the military.
  • The funding provided by Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO) under iDEX is limited to 50% of the project cost with an upper limit of Rs 1.5 crore. Also, iDEX and Mehar Baba participants are expected to produce quality equivalent to global OEMs like Raytheon, Elbit, etc., who get much higher funding from their respective militaries, DARPA, Defence Innovation Unit (DIU) and equivalent organisations. Development of some of the high technology defence equipment requires much higher funding and current limit is inadequate to support development of high cost defence technologies.

Mehar Baba Competition was launched in 2018; however, launch of second edition is still awaited. Whether it was lack of leadership, ownership, foresight or absence of follow-on plan, an end to Mehar Baba Competition, one of the most progressive innovation projects of India, would be a tragedy for defence innovation in India.

In a welcome development, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), in partnership with Border Security Force, launched BSF High Tech Undertaking for Maximising Innovation (BHUMI) Grand Challenge on July 02, 2021, to identify impactful solutions from startups to address three problem statements, out of which one of them relates to development of Anti Drone Technology.[xxix] This is the first time BSF is leading the development of innovative technologies, which is a good beginning and it should be transformed into an annual challenge with certain procurement assurance to develop niche technologies indigenously.

Individual and uncoordinated development, trials and procurement by defence Services, their field formations, CAPFs, BCAS (MOCA), NSG and other security forces provides opportunity to foreign OEMs and their Indian supplier to sell their products by out-manoeuvring domestic manufacturers, which needs to be corrected.

The key challenge to capability building in India is lack of involvement of users in the development projects as partners. The defence forces of leading defence-manufacturing nations not only provide funding for research projects but also involve their personnel in technology development with their industry as owners. The gaps between expectations of users and systems developed by Indian public and private sector entities becomes a major limitation when competing against leading global OEMs, who fine tune their systems while working closely with their defence forces.

Indian counter-drone industry led by small startups, individual innovators and MSMEs lacks capability to scale up production and expand business. They would need funding and expertise of big business houses to scale up production and formulate business strategies. The lack of investment by Indian industry provides foreign entities an opportunity to entice bright minds, which leads to brain and technology drain.[xxx] High technology investments can bring disproportionate results as was seen in the case of FLIR, thermal sensor manufacturer of the US, which acquired Prox Dynamics, a Norwegian drone company that had developed black hornet nano drones for $134 million and thereafter became leading supplier of these drones.[xxxi] Indian companies investing in Indian start-ups is thus a win-win situation for both as big industrial houses would gain from their foray into niche high value technologies, while start-ups, individual innovators and MSMEs would obtain much needed funding as well as expertise for scaling up production as well as for making their business and export strategies.

Way Forward

Much can be done to make India self-reliant in the field of counter-drone technology. This is an emerging market which has great potential to boost Indian manufacturing and job creation. As of now, domestic capabilities are dispersed among various public and private sector entities, which if harnessed can address India’s counter drone system requirements. Therefore, the following is recommended:

  • Design bureaus of defence forces, and technical departments of police, security forces and MOCA may launch Mehar Baba or equivalent programs to develop pre-identified variants of counter drone systems with hard and soft kill capabilities that meet specific requirements of air, ground and naval forces, CAPFs, BCAS (MOCA) and other security agencies and facilitate their procurement through a single process. This counter drone system, in consonance with other air defence systems, should provide holistic air defence capability against all air threats.
  • One of the programs, led by technical department of MOCA and MHA, should focus on developing counter drone systems that capture or take the rogue drone to safe locations or escort them out of danger areas in order to protect civil airports, urban population and strategic assets.
  • IAF, IA and HAL should examine technical feasibility of integrating counter drone systems on LUH, LCH & HTT-40 aircraft and initiate their development as counter drone platforms.
  • iDEX and Mehar Baba competitions amount is recommended to be increased to Rs 50 and Rs 200 crore respectively.
  • Enhance funding for development of proof of concept of indigenously designed prototypes emerging out of competitive mechanisms like iDEX and Mehar Baba.
  • Use Problem Definition Statement (PDS) as base to acquire assured quantity of products within a given timeline and give preference for procurement to indigenously designed products under Mehar Baba and iDEX.
  • MoD should launch a challenge to miniaturise and increase efficiency of lasers and adopt them for operations as ground, vehicle based and aircraft-based counter drone systems.
  • Development, miniaturisation and operationalisation of microwave counter drone systems should be given high priority due to swarm threat from adversaries.
  • MoD and MHA should carry out joint assessment of existing air defence system of defence forces and corresponding elements in police, para-military and other forces, gaps in technology, procedures, and training, and prepare a roadmap to fill gaps and correct anomalies.
  • MoD, MHA and MOCA should involve technically qualified personnel from defence, CAPFs, MOCA and other security agencies in the research, design and development teams of indigenous projects undertaken by DRDO, DPSUs, DST, Private Industry and Academia as required.
  • Make Qualitative Requirements (QRs) realistic in Request for Proposals (RFPs); allow liberal delivery time for indigenously designed products and avoid emergency procurements from foreign OEMs. This would help to make India self-reliant.
  • MoD, MOCA and DST, in collaboration with industry, may identify technology and capability gaps in areas such as sensors, motors and other systems (that India is dependent on through import) and indigenise them in a phased manner.
  • Large Indian corporates should invest in R&D as well as handhold promising start-ups, individual innovators and MSMEs for further research, improving quality, scaling up production and export in international market.

Conclusion

By publishing draft drone rules on July 15, 2021, India has shown that it would not be deterred by drone threat to build a domestic drone industry; however, the devil lies in details and understanding the gap between intent and execution.

They many challenges that the counter drone industry faces have ben enumerated in this paper. These challenges need to be addressed on priority. Of special significance is the need to provide an enabling environment for the industry, user interface in the R&D phase, hand holding of the smaller players and framing rules which can push forward, the Prime Ministers directive to make India truly Atmanirbhar.

The threat of small-armed drones is a challenge as well as unique opportunity to harness diverse capabilities available with public and private sector entities to build robust counter drone systems and networks not only for India but also for export to friendly foreign countries. This is an opportunity which India must grasp by addressing administrative, bureaucratic and policy hurdles, and taking ownership of indigenous projects.

Author Brief Bio:

Group Captain Rajiv Kumar Narang VM, was commissioned in the helicopter stream of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in December 1989. He has flown more than 4700 hours over varied terrain comprising Siachen Glacier, mountainous regions of Himalayas, deserts and plains of India. He is a flying supervisor, qualified aircraft accident investigator and an alumnus of the prestigious DefenceServices Staff College (DSSC), Wellington, India. He has served in staff appointments at Air Headquarters and Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS). He was awarded Vayu Sena Medal (VM) for meritorious service in 2000. He has served as Research/ Senior Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS) from September 2014 to April 2019.

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[ii] Zak Kallenborn, Israel’s Drone Swarm Over Gaza Should Worry Everyone, Defence One, July 07, 2021, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2021/07/israels-drone-swarm-over-gaza-should-worry-everyone/183156/, accessed on July 24, 2021.

[iii] David Hambling, Houthis Step Up Long-Range Drone Attacks on Saudi Oil Facilities, Forbes, March 31, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidhambling/2021/03/31/houthis-step-up-long-range-drone-attacks-on-saudi-oil-facilities/?sh=3a993c64142a, accessed on July 30, 2021.

[iv] Draft Drone Rules-2021, July 15, 2021, The Gazette of India (Extraordinary) Part-II, Section-3, Sub-Section-(i) Ministry of Civil Aviation,  https://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2021/228317.pdf, accessed on July 24, 2021.

[v]Media Interaction by Hon’ble Minister for Civil Aviation (Shri Hardeep Puri), Drones for
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[vi] Aurther Holland Micheal, Counter Drone Systems, Bard College, December 2019,  https://dronecenter.bard.edu/files/2019/12/CSD-CUAS-2nd-Edition-Web.pdf, accessed on July 24, 2021.

[vii] Lancer, https://hal-india.co.in/Product_Details.aspx?Mkey=54&lKey=&CKey=90, accessed on August 05, 2021.

[viii] Lt Gen Prakash Menon, India must strike to deter, any other policy for drone attacks will play into Pakistan’s hands, The Print, July 06, 2021, https://theprint.in/opinion/india-must-strike-to-deter-any-other-policy-for-drone-attacks-will-play-into-pakistans-hands/690306/, accessed on July 24, 2021.

[ix] Rahul Singh, Our anti-drone technology can stave off threats: DRDO chief, Hindustan Times, June 30, 2021, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/our-anti-drone-technology-can-stave-off-threats-drdo-chief-101624993037673.html, accessed on July 24, 2021.

[x] Autonomous Defence Done for Wide Aerial Protection,  Grene Robotics, December 10, 2020, https://grenerobotics.com/autonomous-defence-dome-for-wide-aerial-protection/,  accessed on August 05, 2021.

[xi] V Geetnath, Hyderabad firm develops drone defence dome, July 09, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/hyderabad-firm-develops-drone-defence-dome/article35227828.ece, accessed on July 25, 2021.

[xii] Big Bang Boom Anti Drone Defence System, Big Bang Boom Solutions,   http://bigbangboom.com/our-projects/, accessed on July 25, 2021.

[xiii] Grurutvaa https://idex.gov.in/showcase-cpt/458, accessed on

[xiv] Zen Anti Drone System (ZADS), https://www.zentechnologies.com/zads-zen-anti-drone-counter-drone-system.php, accessed on July 25, 2021.

[xv] Harish Alladi, http://www.mikrobotix.com/productdetails04.html, accessed on August

[xvi] Andhra Pradesh: TTD to Deploy DRDO’s Anti-Drone Systems to protect Tirumala Temple, July 24, 2021, https://swarajyamag.com/insta/andhra-pradesh-ttd-to-deploy-drdos-anti-drone-system-to-protect-tirumala-temple, accessed on August 04, 2021.

[xvii] L&T to offer drone technologies to Defence Forces, Business Line, February 07, 2020, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/companies/lt-to-offer-drone-technology-to-defence-forces/article30760249.ece, accessed on August 01, 2021.

[xviii] Reliance buys majority stake in drone company, Geospatial News, May 06, 2020, https://www.geospatialworld.net/news/reliance-acquires-asteria-aerospace-with-51-78-stake/, accessed on August 01, 2021.

[xix] Adani Defence and Aerospace, https://www.adanidefence.com/unmanned-aerial-systems, accessed on August 01, 2021.

[xx] Jugapro Sky Dome Systems, http://jugapro.com/?page_id=5031, accessed on August 01, 2021.

[xxi] Dr Rajeshwari Pillari Rajagopalan, What are India’s Plans for Directed Energy Weapons?, The Diplomat,  September 24, 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/09/what-are-indias-plans-for-directed-energy-weapons/, accessed on August 04, 2021.

[xxii] APJ Abdul Kalam’s word of caution on ‘Make in India’, October 26, 2015, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/apj-abdul-kalams-word-of-caution-on-make-in-india/articleshow/49438728.cms?from=mdr, accessed on August 03, 2021.

[xxiii] Grene Robotics develops India’s 1st autonomous drone defence dome system – ‘Indrajaal’, BusinessToday.in, June 28, 2021, https://www.businesstoday.in/latest/economy-politics/story/grene-robotics-develops-indias-1st-autonomous-drone-defence-dome-system-indrajaal-299926-2021-06-28, accessed on August 05, 2021.

[xxiv] Scheme for iDEX, https://idex.gov.in/sites/default/files/2021-06/iDEX%20scheme%2004.06.2021_3.pdf, accessed on August 09, 2021.

[xxv] Technology Development Fund, https://tdf.drdo.gov.in/scheme, accessed on August 08, 2021.

[xxvi] Device Development Program-2020, https://dst.gov.in/sites/default/files/DDP%20Format-2020_0.pdf, accessed on August 08, 2021.

[xxvii] Global Innovation and Technology Alliance (GITA), https://gita.org.in/, accessed on August 08, 2021

[xxviii] IAF’s Mehar Baba Prize, India’s first competition in defence sector: All you need to know, The Indian Express, October 16, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/iafs-mehar-baba-prize-indias-first-competition-in-defence-sector-all-you-need-to-know-5404071/?fbclid=IwAR1vGCGcfhnw7SmzscDHzh7lYOU-9uFhNRQYQWu4x7nq40OLI1c2FZQpxKY, accessed on July 24, 2021.

[xxix] BHUMI, BSF Grand Challenge, https://app.thebizplanner.com/public/application/inc/60ddb7ec76b190674a4117e5, accessed on August 02, 2021.

[xxx] Thales And IIIT-Delhi Sign An MoU On Open Hardware Research And Development, BW Education, July 28, 2021, http://bweducation.businessworld.in/article/Thales-And-IIIT-Delhi-Sign-An-MoU-On-Open-Hardware-Research-And-Development/28-07-2021-398285/, accessed on August 08, 2021.

[xxxi] April Glaser, The company behind these pocket-sized military surveillance drones just got bought for $134 million, Vox,  December 01, 2016, https://www.vox.com/2016/12/1/13813220/drone-military-surveillance-acquisition-black-hornet-flir-prox-dynamics, accessed on August 09, 2021.

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Interview with Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar, Vice-Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Apurv Mishra: There is a view amongst policymakers, academics and business leaders that we are living through what they call a fourth industrial revolution, which is the result of a fusion of several technologies that are blurring the lines between our physical, digital and biological world. Do you agree with this assessment?

Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar: The evolution of technologies from the Industrial Revolution, began with using steam, then moved to electricity, and then to electronics and communication engineering. There was a distinct separation between these technologies. The foundations of the present industrial revolution is off course based on the earlier technologies, but the shift from Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0 has happened at a much faster rate. The rapidity of change is such that human societies may actually find it difficult to absorb those technologies. There is thus a need to focus not just on specific technologies, but also on their impact on human life, and on how we interact with each other and with the environment around us. Greater awareness is required among the users of this technology so that they are prepared for change. That is why there is a lot of discussion on the impact of industry 4.0 on human societies.

Apurv Mishra: What is your assessment of the disruption that these emerging technologies will bring upon the Indian economy and society, given that we are a developing country that is trying to showcase its leadership in the field of technology.

Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar: We need to look at the challenges that our country is facing today. One of course is security. Today we talk about not only the physical security at our borders but also cyber security. So, the physical and cyber domains need to be secured. It is also important to take care of our health system in the country. So, can we develop technologies that will make the health systems more affordable and more accessible to our population across the country? In agriculture, water usage is very heavy and consumes nearly 70 percent of the available fresh water. We need to innovate and produce high yield varieties of food grains, with reduced water consumption. Education is another important area, where we face the challenge of how to reach out to young 300 million students and meet their aspirations in universities and other learning institutions. If we build our universities and educational institutes at whatever rate that is physically possible for us then it may take another 100 years to meet everybody’s aspirations. That is why we need to look at alternate ways of reaching out to people by making our education more holistic and more flexible. Digital platforms could provide an answer. The new national education policy talks about various additional knowledge, which will be integrated and featured on these platforms, so that education becomes affordable and accessible to all. Another important area is the environment and the impact of climate change. Put together, security, health, agriculture, education and environment are prime concerns and these form the acronym SHAPE. So, if you want to shape the future of our country, these are the five areas where we need to do really innovative research.

Apurv Mishra: How well equipped are we to deal with these challenges. I am reminded of a 2015 quotation by Mr. Narayan Murthy where he said at the convocation ceremony of IAC Bangalore that “There has not been a single invention from India in the last 60 years that has become a household name globally, nor any idea that led to the earth-shaking invention to delight global citizens. Our youngsters have not done much impactful research work despite being equal to their counterparts in intellect and energy in western universities.” How do you assess the contribution of Indian universities to the field of science and technology since independence?

Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar: I would rather prefer the term, Life Transforming Technologies, than some imaginary earth-shaking inventions. Over the last 50 years, there have been several life-transforming technologies developed in our country. The simplest example is the dairy cooperative societies that was started in Gujarat. All along we were thinking that only cow milk is suitable for producing milk powder. Dr Kurien and his team developed the technology for using buffalo milk to produce milk powder. That’s a life-transforming technology which has helped many farmers. Other examples abound, such as the development of highly efficient and pest-resistant seeds to help our farmers, which gave us the green revolution. There have been several formal and informal innovations that have been taking place in our country and I do not see our country lagging behind in terms of entrepreneurship. Today, India is rated as having the third largest entrepreneurial ecosystem. Many individuals in India are focused on becoming entrepreneurs, instead of taking up a job. There is a great future in terms of developing new technologies and becoming a leader in the world, but I also would like to state that the days of a scientist, sitting alone in a lab, looking through the microscope, and then coming up with a kind of eureka kind of invention, are over. Today, for scientists to come up with innovative ideas, they should be able to work in teams and with unlike minds. That is the only way we can come up with innovations. In India, we have taken several steps to encourage this kind of multi-disciplinary research in several universities. I would like to see more life-transforming technologies being developed in our country, which will positively impact the lives of the people down to the last person in the village. Many such things are happening and we need to be optimistic and hopeful, rather than being pessimistic.

Apurv Mishra: Let me now talk to you about some specific technologies that are on the verge of disrupting societies and economies around the world and let me start with your own subject area which is nanotechnology. Scholars, typically when they look at the lifecycle of technologies, use a four-phase framework where each technology goes to an R&D phase, an ascent phase a maturity phase and then eventually moves towards obsolescence. Where do you place developments in nanotechnology in this framework and which application of nanotechnology, do you think has the greatest potential to change our world in the coming years.

Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar: You are absolutely right. Any new technology that is being developed has these four cycles. In the case of nanotechnology, actually, there was too much hype. But fortunately, over a period of time, the technology matured. And now we know there are certain segments which can be developed at a rapid pace using nanotechnology. All of us are familiar with semiconductor technology which has advanced rapidly, is affordable and which has revolutionised communication technologies, affecting the lifestyle of everybody in the country. But there are other areas where nanotechnology can be a very futuristic opportunity for us. One is quantum computing, which is going to be a real necessity for us in future, especially with the collection and the storage of data. In today’s time, to process the data, we need extremely fast computers and only quantum computing can do that. Now, in quantum computing, there are several things that we need to do. One is, of course, using nanotechnology to develop these qubits and then the next challenge for us is how do you connect these cubits using interconnects. Today, in semiconductor technology, we are already facing a brick wall in terms of the speed of the processors, primarily because of the interconnect delays.  So tomorrow, if we want to develop extremely efficient quantum computers then how are we going to connect these qubits, is going to be another technological challenge. And the third most important thing is developing efficient algorithms because there will be qubit errors that will be generated when the data is transferred across the qubits, so you need efficient algorithms. It is a multidisciplinary approach, requiring electrical engineers, material scientists, physicists and computer scientists amongst others. In the last budget, INR 8000 crore was allotted for developing quantum computing in our country. Another area where nanotechnology will play a very disruptive role is in the pharmaceutical industry, in developing vaccines and drugs and in understanding the molecular structure of drugs. All this can be done using nanotechnology. In agriculture, nanotechnology will bring a revolution in terms of developing plants, which are pest resistant and which consume low quantities of water. So, there are many exciting possibilities with nanotechnology.

Apurv Mishra: Another technology that is generating a lot of hype is a new gene-editing technology called CRISPR whose pioneers got the Nobel Prize for Chemistry last year. This technology, in fact, got a lot of attention from mainstream media in 2018, when a Chinese scientist in Shanghai used CRISPR to create two gene-edited babies who were resistant to HIV. How do you assess the risks and rewards of the widespread use of gene editing?

Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar: In gene editing, we identify a targeted part of DNA, remove it from the DNA and replace it with the other material there.  The work of the Chinese researchers in 2018 led to the birth of two girls, but there was huge consternation across the world. The outcry was not against the technology, but on the potential for its misuse. While research is important and should be encouraged, the ethical standpoint should also be kept in mind. If we develop proper ethical standards on how we use the outcome of the research, then we should promote our efforts to do innovative research in all areas.

Apurv Mishra: There is an American biologist, Mr. Edward Wilson, who famously said that the real problem of humanity is that we have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. When you look at the terrific potential of some of these emerging technologies like gene editing, experiments with viruses in government labs, the creation of artificial intelligence, development of unmanned aerial and terrestrial vehicles, then, is there a case to be made for drawing red lines on scientific research by governments. Are their certain kinds of experiments that governments should not allow scientists to work on, or are these expectations of imposing moral limits on technology, wrong?

Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar: Our human mind is always in search of free-thinking. It always likes freedom. It doesn’t like curbs and that is how human societies have evolved. I think all areas of scientific research should be encouraged. Doing research is exploring our free minds. There should not be any curb on that but regulation is required when we want to use the product of this scientific research and we need a clear and ethical framework to decide on that. I will give you one simple example. When 30 or 40 years ago, scientists invented the cochlear implant for deaf persons, they thought they invented a great device. However, many deaf people approached them and questioned them on the need for such a device, stating that they were happy in their own world! Obviously, there was a disconnect, which should be avoided. When we do research, the stakeholders also need to be involved. Currently, what happens is that scientists sit in their labs and develop some great technologies, which they think is great for society. This process needs to be democratised by involving the stakeholders. In my view, I think any government regulation, which will affect the basic research itself may not be a good idea, but there should be regulations on how this technology will be used for human welfare.

Apurv Mishra: Given that you are describing the scientific process, we have today, multidisciplinary teams, sometimes working across geographies, on a particular research area. Is there a case to be made that it is even futile to expect governments to regulate scientific developments and experiments?

 

Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar: Human nature is to explore. Human nature doesn’t like to be bounded. So, therefore, any measures that we take, if it goes against human nature, will not be able to build any happy harmonious human societies.

Apurv Mishra: While talking about the role of governments in developing technological capabilities, two of India’s biggest success stories in this field are India’s space program and nuclear program, both of which were led by our government institutions. What are the lessons that we can learn from the success of these two programs to develop our technological capabilities in other critical areas?

Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar: One clear lesson is that you can start from ground zero and become leaders in a specific technology. The other lessons that we had to learn from this experiment is that simply duplicating these experiments is not enough, because both the situation and the eco-system have changed. Take for example space technology, in which we are so successful. The components of successful Space Technology relate to good and very efficient propellers, small weight, high-efficiency fuels, heat resistant materials to make heat resistant shields for the rockets or for the vehicles which are re-entering into our atmosphere and so on. This is the greatest opportunity for us to involve other industries which can actually work on these areas. Therefore, besides government organisations, we need to encourage several other industries, the peripheral industries but central to the operation of the space program, to develop their technologies. The government must now act more like a catalyst to build and develop an ecosystem and not a similar kind of organisation. Once we develop the ecosystem, then several such industries will sprout and become big trees, strengthening our industrial ecosystem.

Apurv Mishra: There are two other technologies that are getting a lot of mainstream attention from the media these days. You spoke about the initial hype associated with nanotechnology. Gartner is a sort of firm which comes out with this annual hype cycle for emerging technologies to discern hype, from what’s commercially viable as far as technology is concerned. Can you share your views on the expectations that we should have from blockchain which is a technology that is getting a lot of attention from media these days? Do you think that it will fulfil the potential that people are talking about in transforming our lives?

Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar: Our minds are conditioned to the existing technologies so when new technologies are developed then some technologies may create some kind of fear in our minds that it may disrupt our existing systems. So, we have only two options. One option is to keep away from data and technology. The other way is to master the technology so that it can be effectively used. Therefore, Blockchain is something that we cannot keep away from and especially when we have a globally interconnected world. We cannot remain as an isolated entity without getting affected. So, my feeling is that we need to get into blockchain technology and see how effectively we can use and integrate ourselves with the rest of the world. Who knows in future what new technologies will sprout on the horizon. If you want to deliver vaccines to some remote place then you can use unmanned vehicles and or if you want to secure your border or if you want to monitor the movement of any enemy troops, then we will have to develop our own technologies. There could be some time lag in terms of developing the technologies, as in the past we missed the semiconductor technology bus. But today, semiconductor technology has become so centralised. In fact, more than 60% of the chips are produced only from some of the Asian countries so they have become highly centralised and penetrating that may become a challenging task. Today we are talking about electronic waste. Where do you dump all these mobile phones and microprocessors because you use inorganic semiconductors in which we use a lot of plastic and the metals in these chips. So people are now looking to use organic semiconductors which are biodegradable, to make our electronic systems. We need to look around for such futuristic technologies and start early, so that we become leaders in those technologies in the world.

Apurv Mishra: The IPCC’s 4000-page report on climate change has made dire predictions about our medium to long-term future as a species, unless an immediate course correction is brought about. What role can technology play in mitigating global warming, and what is India’s role in developing these technologies for a more sustainable way of life?

Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar: One of the reasons why climate change is happening is how we are leading our own lives. Today, we have come to believe that more consumption means more development, and we need to move away from that kind of attitude. We need to preserve our resources and use them as little as possible through reuse, recycle, kind of means. And we also need to think about our future generations and the world we are leaving behind for them. This is where some technologies can play a significant role. For example, we need to look at alternate ways to generate energy. Today, our focus is on renewable energy resources, such as solar power, wind power etc. Towards that end, we are now producing over a quarter of our requirement of energy using renewable energy resources. If we continue on the same path, India may actually become a role model for the rest of the world on how to generate energy using environmentally friendly means. So, there are several such technologies that we need to develop in order to control climate change. In India, we are also emphasising the use of electric vehicles. So, in the next 10-20 or 30 years, as we will see more electric vehicles moving on our roads, cutting down all the smoke that comes out of these vehicles. But here, there is another opportunity for us as a country. If you use electric vehicles, if you use solar power, you also require efficient batteries, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done. If we look at the last 150 years, the advancements that are taking place in battery technologies are not comparable to similar advances that have taken place in semiconductor technology or the pharmaceutical industry and so on. The materials that are required for making these batteries also is another challenge for us. Today we talk about lithium batteries, and there are only three or four countries that have huge deposits of lithium. So, instead of following the same path and in developing lithium ion-based batteries, we need to look at simple but efficient technologies like sodium batteries as sodium is abundantly available. And if we use sodium air batteries, their volume and weight also will come down. There are many such opportunities for us to develop new technologies in order to minimise or slow down the impact of climate change,

Apurv Mishra: The role of rare earth metals in the semiconductor industry has resulted in almost a global race between countries to acquire mines where these rare earth materials and minerals are produced. So, I want to ask you a larger philosophical question on the relationship between technology and society and its impact on individuals. In his seminal work, Future Shock, the futurist Alvin Toffler, predicted that the anxieties of a world are upended by rapidly emerging technologies. He spoke about how the root cause of most social problems in the times to come, would be the result of an accelerated rate of technological and social change that could leave people disconnected and suffering from what he called ‘shattering stress and disorientation’. How have his predictions about social paralysis, disorientation induced by rapid technological change held up?

Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar: 100 or 200 years ago, if you look at the lifestyle of the people you know then they met the requirements for their family and themselves. If there was some surplus, it was shared with neighbours and that helped us in developing better relations with each other. But today, we have moved from such a situation of abundance to scarcity. Once that happens, there is so much competition among ourselves to access these scarce resources. The role of technology, therefore, should be to create that abundance so that human values such as compassion, sharing and loving each other, come to the fore. New technologies should not force us to lead a life of anxiety and mindless competition; rather, we should focus on improving not just the standard of living, but the quality of living. Also, we should focus on the importance of the diversity that we have, instead of indulging in identity politics. So, technology alone will not be able to provide the desired results for building human societies. We also have to look at the very nature of human beings, and then integrate these two in an effective manner. People need to understand the meaning of values and ethics. So, these values have to be instilled right from childhood, so that when they become adults, they become productive human beings in whatever work they do.

Apurv Mishra: What role do you think our civilisational values have in creating a society like this and in minimising the impact of “Future Shock on individuals and societies”?

Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar: We need to focus on spiritual values. Sometimes it is also important for us to become philosophical, We do have a long civilisational continuity in our country. In addition to developing physically and materialistically, we must also give equal importance to the spiritual aspects of our life. In order to do that, it is important that we expose our students to the basic elements of philosophy in their school years. Philosophical issues will shape how we interact with each other. So, that is the reason why I strongly feel that both in the teacher training programs and right from childhood, elements of philosophy need to be taught to everybody.

Apurv Mishra: Thank You

Brief Bio:

Prof. Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar is an Academician, Administrator and Author who is currently the Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Delhi. And Mr Apurv Mishra is Senior Research Fellow at India Foundation.

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Lessons on Administration from Ancient India

Today, however impressive the strategy is, to make it work in scale and with effectiveness, implementation is key. The best strategy can come to naught, even be counterproductive if implemented poorly. There are many changes in technology that have made it easier to implement and administrate policies today. However, the essential characteristics of human nature – our thoughts and feelings — continue to be the same though the context is different. The past therefore becomes a useful tool to give us insights into how administration occurred in ancient, more complex times. Let us take a few examples from about 1000 years ago, found on the walls of temples in Tamil Nadu.

Why temples and why Tamil Nadu? Today, we see temples as primarily religious institutions. Perhaps some will also see them as repositories of art and architecture. In ancient times they were much more than that. Every aspect of government we have today and also the work done by NGOs, was performed by the temple for the local community. Temples provided employment, stored grain, safeguarded communal facilities, provided health and educational facilities and collected taxes / disbursed social schemes of the ruling king. The other vital role they played was in emotionally uniting the community. Kings therefore, found it expedient to identify themselves with God and the palaces with temples to increase the emotional connect and legitimacy to their rule.

Using the temple, the kings were able to get commitment from their people in addition to mere compliance (which is more temporary and harder to impose). Of course, rulers and subjects were also deeply moved by faith, but this socio-political motive cannot be ignored and must be seen as politically and economically expedient rather than “good” or “bad”. Temples in Tamil Nadu have the maximum number of inscriptions on their walls. Every line is only about the political/economic/social affairs of the community. There is no religious or philosophical text and therefore they become very unbiased records to study. Sadly, in other states, the inscriptions have seldom survived. While the inscriptions have been translated, published and discussed since the 19th century, they have not made it to mainstream discussions and remain only in largely academic or history-enthusiast circles.

For those who are keen to learn more about Indian techniques of administration, they provide a wealth of ideas and information, relevant for today. For this article, let us take a few examples. First, around setting process in place and secondly on implementation and compliance.

A note on the organisation of the administration will be relevant. About 1000 years ago, at the height of the Chola power over Tamil Nadu, which also included parts of Karnataka, Telangana and Kerala, the general structure was far more federal in nature than it is today. The king was expected to provide security from external aggression and internal civil war. All the other matters of life were governed locally by elected representatives who were either land owners and or merchants or tradesmen. Maintenance of water bodies, relief from floods and drought were all local issues. At best a king would support by reducing or waiving taxes. The local bodies were even powerful enough to alter their rules of membership and elections as seen in the inscriptions of Manur (Tenkasi) and Uttiramerur. In a way, “minimum government and maximum governance was the unsaid way of work. The significant decisions connected to these communities were engraved on the walls of temples with the date, and the signature of witnesses. These are known as inscriptions or epigraphs. They give us truthful and unbiased information on actual issues that came up with formulation and implementation of strategy.

Creation of a Strategy

The largest land owner in the community was the temple. The income from the temple land, paddy, was given to the king (which was either taken to the capital or stored on his behalf in the temple itself), and the temple – which used it to pay salaries. Temples would also have land that was fallow and not cultivated. To increase their income, temples were always looking for long term leases of fallow land to those who will bring it under cultivation and pay taxes from that. These taxes could be either as produce or as copper coins.

There are several inscriptions on the mechanics of setting up a system like this. Here are some examples. Tirukolakudi is in Sivaganga district in southern Tamil Nadu. Although it is close to Karaikudi, famous as a tourist spot, it receives no tourists and pilgrims come only on important festival days. The main shrine is a cave temple that is stylistically dated to at least 9th CE or earlier. It is one of the rare cave temples in the Pandya region and is remarkably hewn out of the parent hill rock and fully aligned and proportional. This has since been added to with subsidiary shrines. Below this, next to a beautiful pool of spring water is a smaller cave with an early bas relief of Ganesa; one of the oldest in the region. There are more temples further down and at the foot of the hill. All these temples are plain structures and have only 1 or 2 additional cells for pilgrims to stand and worship. We have no bhakti literature verses on these temples. At the top of the hill is a small shrine for Muruga or Karthikeya. Apart from the inscriptions, the temples are in a very scenic setting and deserve much more attention from pilgrims, tourists and researchers of medieval Indian history and politics. There are 82 inscriptions found on the walls of the various temples or on the rock of the hill itself.

An important inscription from 129 CE (ARE 1916, C66), in the reign of the Pandya king Jatavarman Sundara Pandya temple gives us an idea of the method a strategy was thought through. The long inscription is in Tamil and says, the Maheswaras, Sri Rudras, Devakanni (those who have leased out temple lands for cultivation), temple accountants gave some temple land to one Sundara Pandya Narasingadevan. He was allowed to enjoy them provided he would repair the water sources that had fallen into disuse, clear the jungle and for this use, he will pay a land tax or melvaram to the temple. The tax was dependent on the crop. It was 1/3rd of the produce for tinai (foxtail millet) , varagu (kodo millet), ellu (sesame), payaru (lentil), kuruvai (short term rice crop), Karumbu (sugarcane), kozhundu, karunai, manjal (turmeric), inji (Ginger), sengazhuneer (lotus), vazhai (banana), vazhathalai (banana tree leaves to use as eating plates?), poosani (pumpkin) etc and for trees like ma (mango), pala (jack fruit), nathai , elumichai (lemon), kulaviruli, nelli (Gooseberry), iluppai (Madhuca Longiflora) etc., The tax was 1/5th for crops like coconut, areca palms and 1/7th for dry crops according to yield. This gives us a glimpse of crops cultivated at that time. The inclusion of lemon/lime is interesting for this period.

For land that he has brought into cultivation by clearing the jungle, he had to pay 1/10th in the first year, 1/9th in the second year, 1/8th in the third year and 1/7th in the fourth year and after that a permanent tax of 1/3rd. This accounts for the effort he has to invest to make the land cultivable and is therefore fair on his efforts and the temple which was the land owner. The system can be compared to the SEZ policy of governments today. The inscription also specifies that the temple share belongs to the king and can be disposed in his pleasure.

Srirangam has the world’s largest temple and in this island and adjoining areas, the Kaveri River was prone to flooding. Land had to be reclaimed for cultivation and the similar method as above was used multiple times to show that this was a common practice across kingdoms in the Tamil country. From the reign of the Chola king, Kulotunga I (1070-1122), is an interesting donation from Arayan Sendan who lived in Ponpari village. He purchased leased land from the temple and in return funded a large orchard of jackfruit and kamugu (areca nut) trees. Also in the orchard were champak, karumugai (Cananga odorata) bushes and a pond for Sathapathi – a 1000 petal lotus. From the garden, a garland was required to be sent to the temple expressly for the night time puja.

Human nature being human nature, things were not always perfect, there were many instances when the fears of human beings made them put their selfish self-interest over the need of what was good for the community. This was punished either at the local level or by the king. Any act that resulted in reduction of revenue for the king or a threat to national security received quick and brutal punishment. Others were dealt with locally and decisions depended on the caste of the person (higher the caste, higher the punishment) or the economic prosperity of the convicted. Fines were the norm and the most severe punishment was social ostracism. There are many inscriptions on crimes and punishment that show that the justice procedure was far swifter and harsher than today.

The local assemblies performed the role of both enacting legislation and settling disputes. Since it was an agricultural economy, most disputes were connected with land boundaries and irrigation rights and issues. Criminal cases were not uncommon. History textbooks have traditionally told us the brahmins were the “priestly class”, but the inscriptions give us a more nuanced picture. The educated brahmin was well versed in the nyaya shastra or law books. That was the reason they were useful to the king – they ensured that justice was dispensed locally so that cases did not get escalated to the king who was the final judge. Today our higher courts are burdened with cases – the king wanted to avoid this and therefore supported brahmins, especially those well versed to play the role of a judge.

A 930 CE Chola inscription in the temple of Tiruninravur, Chennai is connected to the constitution and service of the judiciary. The village assembly met together and decided that the judges were elected from among themselves, provided they were qualified in legal treatises. They would serve for one year and would not serve after that for five years either as a judge or even in an administrative committee. The restriction of the five-year interval was reduced to two years in the case of relatives like fathers, brothers, or sons of those who had served before. This meant that even the relatives of a sitting judge were not permitted to take that position for two years after their relative was a judge.

The people who got together to decide this is also interesting. They were all land owners which meant they had a direct stake in the issue and all the various sub committees (variyam) were represented. The members included – the judicial assembly, the committee that maintained all water tanks that were common property of the village, the garden (orchard or oil yielding trees?) maintenance committee, the experts in shastras and the “distinguished people” or “visishta peru makkal” of the village. Sitting judges were debarred from holding other offices for their term, received one kunri of gold as payment, were expected to settle and hand over accounts at the end of the term to the committee and a fine of 20 gold coins were imposed on violators.

The Manur inscription deals with the constitution of a legislative and judicial committee. The Ambalanatha Swami temple is on a slightly raised part of land in the village of Manur. The temple is only locally known and is a small one with very few devotees. It is largely unknown outside the village and is similar to the thousands of other temples that dot the rural landscape of India. The interior of the temple is also plain and simple. Between the entrance and the main shrine are rows of pillars. One of them has a long inscription in Tamil script and Grantha script. The inscription is from the 35th reginal year of Pandya King Maranjadaiyan.  Not much is known about the king and the pillar has been painted many times over so even reading the text now is difficult. The pillar has no artistic value but the inscription is of enormous value for India.

The context can be surmised from the seven clauses in the inscription as follows. The original character of the village landowners seems to have undergone a change over the years. The composition of the Sabha had also had to change keeping this in mind.  In doing so, the rights of the descendants of the original land owners had to be safeguarded as well as those of the new landowners – who had either come into the village by purchasing land or as the sons-in-law of the original land owners.

The village is mentioned as Mananilainallur in Kalaikudi Nadu. The village is referred to as a Brahmadeyam – a village created by a king by giving a large parcel of land to a group of Brahmins who in turn split the shares, auctioned it to various communities and created a new village. The general body meeting was announced by beat of drum and conducted in the sacred place called Govardhana (possibly the raised area on which the temple stands?). The Vyavasta or resolution was as follows:

  • The permanent members who had veto powers would include one person from the family of each of the original shareholders. They also had to be conversant with mantra brahmana inclusive of one dharma and be of good conduct. They could participate in all Mahasabha
  • The above privileges in the Sabha were extended to those who already owned shares by purchase or gift or dowry provided they also had the same educational qualifications and were of good conduct.
  • For the future, regardless of how they acquired property, – by purchase or gift or dowry, they cannot excersise the above powers and only be ordinary members. Depending on their property they can take part in in the deliberations at 1/4th, ½ and 3/4th.
  • Those who purchased shares from the original shareholders, had to learn and pass an exam of an entire Veda including the parisista for membership of the first category.
  • Those who purchased property/had rights to it by other means were to be bound by this agreement.
  • Those who have no full-fledged power (sravanai) could not be in any of the subcommittees (Variyams) that worked under the mahasabha for the village.
  • Sabha members who frequently obstructed proceedings by casting negative votes, were find five kasu (copper or gold coins, possibly copper) but would not lose their rights per this agreement.

While the actual working of the Sabha and the nature of the subcommittees are not documented, the entrance criteria, the rules for efficient transactions are remarkable for that period. Even more remarkable is that such far reaching political and judicial decisions of self-governance could be taken by a small village. Even by today’s standards of federalism, such autonomy is impossible to see.

How was corruption handled?

Human nature being what it is, corruption issues wasn’t very different then as it is now. Some inscriptions deal with how corruption was handled. Tiruvotriyur near Chennai has a large temple and was wealthy in the old days due to the salt pans and the port. The temple has a few inscriptions connected to corruption. In the 14th CE, several temple employees had stolen property that belonged to the temple. When this was discovered, many of them had died by then. The king’s judicial officers seized land and houses belonging to them and auctioned them off. Kalavupattam was a fine levied on those who had made deliberate errors in measuring grain. Another inscription makes mention of how, in a periodic audit in the times of a Chola king, the pon variyam or the committee that received taxes in gold was found to have made errors in both the quantity of gold they had and the quality. A lengthy enquiry convicted the members and they were socially ostracised and their lands and houses sold to pay for the principal and interest of the missing amount. In another case in Tiruneermalai temple, the temple treasury box had several gold coins missing. However, the box was sealed and the door to the room was sealed and stamped as well. So, this was clearly an inside job. The priest and a watchman confessed and their land was taken away, rights they had in the temple revoked and they were asked to leave the village. In some occasions, the property of relatives of the guilty party were also not spared.

Criminal cases are also to be found. A frequent case is of two people going out for a hunt and one dies. If there is strong evidence that it was a mistake then the guilty is asked to fund an expiatory oil lamp for the temple and endow it with some land or animals to defray the expenses.

Conclusion

The past is past and the future is the future, never the two shall meet. However, the past is the root for the fruit of the future and looking at the way issues were managed, give us the following insights –

  • Political authority used a strong emotional, feeling related bond to connect with people and maintain legitimacy and reduce ideological opposition.
  • Temples were used as local institutions and were vested with rights and duties.
  • Except for tax collection and security, all issues were locally managed through elected representatives.
  • Decisions were largely taken in a transparent manner after a lot of discussion and deliberation and meticulously recorded.
  • Punishments were strict, swift and followed established procedures and were not whimsical decisions taken by old men sitting under a tree.
  • The general principal was that the good of the larger community was more important than individual good.
  • One hopes that a deeper study of such administrative can inform policy formulation and implementation in India today.

Author Brief Bio: Pradeep Chakravarthy is a graduate of the London School of Economics and is in the last stages of his PhD research on administration in the mediaeval period and its relevance for today. He is the author of seven books with three more in press. He has worked in HR/Learning and development with Infosys and McKinsey and now works with organisations to help change behaviour and culture through Indic wisdom from history, mythology and philosophy. He is based out of Chennai.

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International Symposium on JAMMU & KASHMIR AND LADAKH: Development Dynamics and Future Trajectories

Report of the
INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM
on
Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh:
Developmental Dynamics and Future Trajectories
23-24 August 2021
Organised by:
Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre, Embassy of India, Seoul
Institutional Partners:
Institute of East and West Studies, Yonsei University,
Indian Council for Cultural Relations, India Foundation and
Jammu-Kashmir Study Centre

 

India, in its journey of nation building and democratic consolidation in the last seven decades, has faced and overcome several challenges. One of the most complex issues has been the situation in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. The erstwhile State has been witness to several conflicts in the post-independence years. This pristine land, truly known as ‘’Heaven on Earth’’ is also an epitome of India’s secular identity, comprising as it does – Hindu majority Jammu, Muslim majority Kashmir and Buddhist majority Ladakh.

On August 5, 2019, the Indian Parliament enacted legislation to re-organise the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir into Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and the Ladakh. Thereafter, a slew of legislation and policy measures have been introduced to accelerate the pace of socio-economic development in the two Union Territories to bring them to the same level of progress as in the rest of the country. A three-tier system of grassroots level democracy has been established with the conduct of elections of the Panchayati Raj institutions including District Development Councils in 2020.

As India’s democracy turns 75 years old on August 15, 2022, we plan to celebrate this milestone by commemorating significant landmarks in the political history of India. The socio-political dynamics leading to the birth of the two young Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh and its future trajectory would be one such significant landmark.

Republic of Korea (ROK) has a vast experience of developing the villages through its past movements like saemaul undong (new village movement) and also of trying to bridge the political and development gaps between its different regions, such as in the Gyeongsang and Jeolla provinces. Some of these vast experiences of ROK can be relevant for the political and development of the Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and the Ladakh. With the changes in the policy pertaining to investment, and other activities in Jammu & Kashmir and the Ladakh, a large number of opportunities for Korean companies are opened, particularly in the sectors of agriculture, horticulture, tourism development, hydropower, sports, and renewable energy.

Embassy of India, Seoul and Indian Council for Cultural Relations in association with Institute of East and West Studies, Yonsei University, India Foundation and Jammu-Kashmir Study Centre organised a Two-Day International Symposium on Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh on 23-24 August 2021. The event was inaugurated by addresses from Radha Krishna Mathur, Hon’ble Lieutenant Governor, UT of Ladakh, Sripriya Ranganathan, Ambassador of India to Republic of Korea and Suh Seung-hwan, President, Yonsei University.

The first session was themed as ‘Historical Significance’. The session was chaired by Miseong Woo, Director, Institute of East and West Studies, Yonsei University and the speakers were K N Pandita, Former Professor & Member, Jammu-Kashmir Study Center and Myung-sob Kim, Professor of Political Science at Yonsei University. The second session was themed as ‘Evolving Internal Security Situation and Challenges’. The session was chaired by Aayushi Ketkar, Special Centre for National Security Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Member, Jammu Kashmir Study Centre and the speakers were Soumya Chaturvedi, Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation and Jae-sung Choi, Professor at the Department of Social Welfare at Yonsei University.

The third session was themed as ‘Development Models and Unique Socio-Cultural Ethos’. The session was chaired by Major General Dhruv C Katoch, Director, India Foundation and the speakers were Smriti Kak, Journalist, Hindustan Times and Doowon Lee, Professor at the School of Economics, Yonsei University. The fourth session was themed as ‘New Growth and Developmental Models’. The session was chaired by Shakti Sinha, Honorary Director, Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Policy Research and International Studies, MS University; Distinguished Fellow, India Foundation and the speakers were Dipankar Sengupta, Professor of Economics at the University of Jammu and Sangtu Ko, Professor of Area Studies at Yonsei University. The fifth session was themed as ‘Quest for Gender Equity and Social Justice’. The session was chaired by Byung-won Woo, Director, Leadership Center, Institute of East and West Studies, Yonsei University and the speakers were Shakti Munshi, Secretary, Jammu Kashmir Study Centre (Mumbai) and Yoon-kyung Nah, Professor at the Department of Anthropology, Yonsei University and Director of Gender Equality Education Promotion Council of Korea.

The valedictory session was graced by the address of Manoj Sinha, Hon’ble Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir; Ram Madhav, Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation; Dinesh K. Patnaik, Director General, ICCR, New Delhi; Jawahar Lal Kaul, President, Jammu Kashmir Study Centre and Captain Alok Bansal, Director, India Foundation.

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Virtual Round Table Conference on Drones as a New Security Challenge

India Foundation organised a Virtual Round Table Conference on “Drones as a New Security Challenge” on 07 July 2021. The conference was addressed by a panel of experts. Group Captain Kishor Kumar Khera, Former Fighter Pilot, Indian Air Force delivered the address on “Drones in Hybrid Warfare”. Dr Ely Karmon, Senior Research Scholar, International Institute of Counter Terrorism, IDC, Herzliya, Israel, delivered an address on “Drones and Terrorism”. AVM Manmohan Bahadur, Former Additional Director General, Centre for Air Power Studies, spoke about “Terror Drones: Challenges and Responses”. Prof. V Kamakoti, Member, National Security Advisory Board; Chair National Artificial Intelligence Task Force, delivered his address on “Drone Warfare and Indian Preparedness”. The conference was well attended by domain experts, government officials, tech entrepreneurs, experts, scholars and academics.

Script of Dr Ely Karmon’s Presentation

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Virtual Round Table Conference Drones as a New Security Challenge

In July 2010, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) intercepted electronic communications indicating that senior Al-Qaeda leaders had distributed a “strategy guide” to operatives around the world advising them how “to anticipate and defeat” unmanned aircraft. Al-Qaeda was sponsoring simultaneous research projects to develop jammers to interfere with GPS signals and infrared tags that drone operators rely on to pinpoint missile targets.

Other projects included the development of small radio-controlled aircraft, or hobby planes, which insurgents apparently saw as having potential for monitoring the flight patterns of U.S. drones. That same year, the CIA noted in a report that Al-Qaeda was placing special emphasis on the recruitment of technicians with expertise in drones technology.[1]

The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and other violent non-state actors, used the technology available on the consumer market to build or purchase small drones modified into “killer bees” capable of creating significant damage and terrorizing civilian and military populations. Drones can be used in various ways: surveillance, strategic communication, transportation (smuggling), disruption of events, complementing other activities or as a weapon.[2]

The first recorded successful attack by terrorists using drones was in mid-2013 when Hezbollah reportedly dropped two small explosive devices on Syrian rebel strongholds using a drone supplied by Iran.[3]

In 2015, Kurdish fighters in Syria shot down multiple small commercial drones laden with explosives, belonging to ISIS.

In 2016, ISIS announced the establishment of the “Unmanned Aircraft of the Mujahideen” unit whose purpose was to engineer UASs for the group to deploy in combat.  During coalition forces operations to regain Mosul in June 2017, ISIS flew more than 100 drones against frontline forces every month.[4]

Al-Qaeda has taken inspiration from these events. It planned to use drones to take down airliners using explosive-laden drones at airports in the US and the UK.

In most cases, ISIS used DIY “do it yourself” techniques to combine high- and low-tech components purchased from various connections across Asia and Europe. The program appears to have been shaped by two Bangladeshi brothers who recruited other operatives to work alongside them. They created a series of shell companies to acquire consumer drones from manufacturers in Asia, the US, and Canada. They would then use other shell companies to purchase components such as cameras and GPS units before activating them in the US or Europe. While the eventual capture of one brother and killing of another in a drone strike dramatically dismantled this network, the terror group was still able to obtain drones through other connections.[5]

As jihadis began using drones, they also began to share technology with each other – including technology they obtained from U.S. drones.[6]

Sunni jihadists

ISIS reportedly began using drones in its terrorist activities from 2013 in Syria and Iraq, for spreading propaganda, reconnaissance and attacks. In August 2014, it uploaded propaganda images on the internet of aerial shots taken of bases of hostile forces in Raqqa, in northern Syria, which was its first public display of using drones. From 2016 to 2017, it loaded bombs onto drones and dropped them from the air in successive attacks. As ISIS-controlled areas were scaled down in Syria and Iraq, opportunities for drone usage also decreased; however, drones were discovered in hideouts of ISIS fighters in Iraq in September 2019.

Jihadi discussions about drones on social media, websites, and forums include topics such as: planning attacks on U.S. drone bases, hacking drones, modifying commercially available drones, building homemade drones, and developing methods to disrupt and down Western and rival jihadi groups’ drones, and more.

The commercial drones used by Islamic State have weighed about 50 pounds or less. In addition to using drones with full-motion video to look for attack opportunities and to monitor Iraqi Security Forces, the pilotless aircraft are being used to provide target information for vehicles carrying suicide bombs.

In October 2014 the leading English-language ISIS disseminator Twitter account ShamiWitness tweeted a link to a PDF file titled “The Beginner’s Guide to Multicopters,” which provides instruction on how to build entry-level multi-rotor drones.

In 2016, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Uyghur anti-China jihadi group Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) released videos documenting the group’s assault on grain silos northwest of Hama, in Syria, footage for recon and documentation of the battle, and remote-controlled car bombs. One video featured drone footage showing a suicide attack carried out by a TIP fighter against enemy forces in an apartment complex that killed “40 Iranians.”

In 2016, a pro-Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Telegram channel posted a list of 17 suggestions for lone-wolf attacks during the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The post suggested attacks attaching small explosives to toy drones,

Boko Haram, which is active in Nigeria and nearby countries, used drones in its  attacks against the security forces, and “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” (AQAP) supporters used the internet to call on the group to carry out similar attacks as the one targeting the Saudi Arabian oil facilities in September 2019.[7]

See some of the captured arsenal of ISIS manufactured drones, both weaponized and non-weaponized, used against Iraqi enemy forces.[8]

 

Shia and pro-Iranian jihadists[9]

In December 2009, the Iran-backed Iraqi militants had hacked into video feeds of American Predator and Shadow drones and passed what they found on to Hezbollah. This was a precedent for Iran’s provision of drones and drone technology to Hezbollah for use in Syria and to the Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen.

In a March 2017, Hashem Al-Mousawi, spokesman for the Iran-backed Iraqi Shi’ite militia Al-Nujaba, highlighted the militia’s activities in Iraq and Syria. Published images show that the militia is operating Iranian drones.

“We are working day and night to develop drones that can be put together in a living room,” said Abu Alaa al-Walai, the leader of Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, an Iranian-controlled Shiite militia in Iraq.[10]

Hezbollah

Iran reportedly provided the Hezbollah  with drone components and taught its militants how to fly UAVs remotely. Hezbollah initially used its UAVs exclusively to spy on and attack Israel. But Hezbollah expanded its drone operations into Syria when it joined the civil war on the side of President Bashar al Assad in 2012.

Hezbollah’s first flight of an unmanned aerial vehicle into Israeli airspace (a Mirsad-1 drone, an updated version of the early Iranian Mohajer drone) for reconnaissance purposes occurred in November 2004. It hovered over the Western Galilee town of Nahariya for about 20 minutes and then returned to Lebanon before the Israeli air force could intercept it.[11]

Hezbollah launched in August 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, three small Ababil drones into Israel each carrying a 40-50-kilogram explosive warhead intended for bombing strategic targets. This time Israeli F-16s shot them down, one on the outskirts of Haifa.

The next appearance of a Hezbollah drone on October 6, 2012, was a foray that took Israel by surprise. An Iranian drone called “Ayub” flew south from Lebanon over the Mediterranean and into Israel via the Gaza Strip, moving westward about 35 miles into the Negev and penetrating to a point near the town of Dimona, the site of Israel’s nuclear complex. There it was shot down over a forest by Israeli aircraft.

A video released in August 2016 by a Hezbollah-affiliated media outlet appeared to confirm that Hezbollah is using attack drones dropping Chinese-made MZD-2 cluster bombs on three Syrian rebel positions outside Aleppo, in support of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Hezbollah has claimed to have this capacity since September 2014.

Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad

Hamas’s drone program has existed since 2012, but the Gaza-based militants have one of the smaller and less advanced arsenals compared with Iran’s other proxies. Its drones have been constructed using local materials. Hamas has used its drones to surveil Israeli sites; it launched kamikaze-style drone attacks on Israel in 2014, 2018, 2019 and 2021.[12]

The Hamas drone program faced two major setbacks. The first was an Israeli airstrike that hit eight Hamas drone storage facilities. The second setback was the assassination of Mohammed Zawahri, a leading Hamas drone engineer, in December in Tunisia. Hamas blamed Israel for the attack and acknowledged that Zawahri had designed drones for its military wing, the Al Qassam Brigades.

After the 2014 Israeli Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Hamas established an air unit to operate spy drones. In May 2018, it launched at least three drones carrying explosives toward Israel: one landed in the Negev and two landed in the front lawn of a house near the Gaza border. in 2019, Hamas launched at least four separate drone attacks against Israel.

In May 2021, during the latest conflict with Israel, Hamas unveiled a new suicide drone, the Shehab, similar to the Iranian Ababil-T drone although smaller in wingspan. It can hover near its target and explode near it or on impact. It was the “first instance of a precision-guided munition in Gaza,” said Fabian Hinz, an arms expert. In a propaganda video, Hamas displayed at least four Shehab drones.[13]

A Shehab suicide drone unveiled by Hamas in May 2021

During the May 2021 Operation Guardian of the Walls, an Israeli F-16 fighter jet with a Python-5 air-to-air missile downed one Hamas drone, and an Iron Dome system intercepted another, a first for the platform. In total, Israel has intercepted all six Hamas fired drones, using multiple countermeasures including “classified means”.[14]

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group released in May 2019 footage purporting to show a drone controlled by its operatives dropping improvised incendiary bombs on an Israel Defense Forces tank stationed on the border with Israel. The footage is filmed from a camera mounted to the drone as well as a long-range lens on the ground in Gaza filming the tank. The tank appears unscathed by the relatively small blasts.[15]

In April 2019, Israel announced that it had foiled an attempt to smuggle 172 mailed packages containing military equipment, including commercial drones, into the Gaza Strip via the Erez Crossing from Israel.

The threat of CBW attacks with drones

Over 25 years ago, the Japanese terror group/cult Aum Shinrikyo considered using drones to distribute sarin gas against civilian populations.

EU Security Commissioner Julian King warned in August 2019, that “drones are becoming more and more powerful and smarter, which makes them more and more attractive for hostile acts.” According to Germany’s die Welt—which published King’s comments—in December 2018, France’s Anti-Terrorism Unit (UCLAT) issued a “secret report” for the country’s Special Committee on Terrorism which warned of “a possible terrorist attack on a football stadium by means of an unmanned drone that could be equipped with biological warfare agents.”[16]

In 2017, Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator, warned that homegrown jihadis could use drones in Europe to drop biological weapons on crowded public spaces. “Someone could process a virus in a cloud lab, take a drone and use a GPS geolocation system to steer the drone, and go to a football stadium to spread the virus created and kill 50,000 people. So, my point is that we need to properly assess every possible threat that these new disruptive techs might pose.”[17]

Conclusion

Small drone attacks on critical infrastructure and personnel from Lebanon to Yemen have demonstrated how conventional air defenses, built to intercept high speed missiles or identify other airborne threats such as aircraft, are incapable of detecting smaller intruders.

Although most of the known incidents and attacks took place outside Europe, it seems that most of the drones used by the Sunni jihadist organizations were bought on the open market by the existing network of jihadists in the West.

Moreover, the members of jihadist groups and supporters were instructed how to purchase, to improve or even construct such drones by themselves and “lone-wolves” were encouraged to used them against civil targets in the Western countries.

Therefore, it can be evaluated that part of this knowledge is already in the hands of jihadist individuals and the videos disseminated in the past by the various organizations give motivation for their emulation in the urban environment in Europe. This threat is enhanced by some of the foreign fighters returnees to Europe and elsewhere, who possibly were involved on the ground in Syria, Iraq, or Libya in drone operations.

The situation is different concerning the Shia pro-Iranian organizations, the ones which have the advantage of being supported by a rogue regime using indiscriminate terrorism worldwide and very much involved in developing drone technologies. The Hezbollah, Hamas and PIJ, and the Houthis are already active actors in this field, for the moment only on the battlegrounds in the Middle East.

[1] Craig Whitlock and Barton Gellman, “U.S. documents detail al-Qaeda’s efforts to fight back against drones,” The Washington Post, September 3, 2013

[2]  Thomas Braun and edited by Alexander Fleiss, “Miniature Menace: The Threat of Weaponized Drone Use by Violent Non-state Actors,” Wild Blue Yonder Online Journal, Official United States Air Force Website, September 14, 2020, at https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Wild-Blue-Yonder/Article-Display/Article/2344151/miniature-menace-the-threat-of-weaponized-drone-use-by-violent-non-state-actors/

[3]  Adiv Sterman, “Hezbollah Drones Wreak Havoc on Syrian Rebel Bases.” The Times of Israel, 21 Sept. 2014, www.timesofisrael.com/hezbollah-drones-wreak-havoc-on-syrian-rebel-bases.

[4]  Thomas Braun and Alexander Fleiss, Miniature Menace.

[5]  Ibid.

[6] Steven Stalinsky and R. Sosnow, “A Decade Of Jihadi Organizations’ Use Of Drones – From Early Experiments By Hizbullah, Hamas, And Al-Qaeda To Emerging National Security Crisis For The West As ISIS Launches First Attack Drones,” Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1300, MEMRI, February 21, 2017,  https://www.memri.org/reports/decade-jihadi-organizations-use-drones-%E2%80%93-early-experiments-hizbullah-hamas-and-al-qaeda#

[7]  Review and Prospects of Internal and External Situations, Public Security Intelligence Agency Report, Japan, January 2020, p. 44.

[8]  Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovc, “Terrorists’ Use of Drones Promises to Extend Beyond Caliphate Battles,” Homeland Security Today, March 5, 2019, at   ihttps://www.hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/counterterrorism/terrorists-use-of-drones-promises-to-extend-beyond-caliphate-battles/

[9]  Steven Stalinsky and R. Sosnow, A Decade of Jihadi Organizations’ Use of Drones.

[10] Paul Iddon, “Experts: Radicals May Soon Be Able to Use Drones for Terrorist Attacks on the West,” European Eye on Radicalization, April 10, 2020, at https://eeradicalization.com/experts-radicals-may-soon-be-able-to-use-drones-for-terrorist-attacks-on-the-west/

[11] Milton Hoenig, “Hezbollah and the Use of Drones as a Weapon of Terrorism,” FAS Public Interest Report, Spring 2014, Vol. 67, No. 2.

[12]  Andrew Hanna, “Iran’s Drone Transfers to Proxies,” The Iran Primer, United States Institute for Peace, June 30, 2021.

[13]  Ibid.

[14]  Seth J. Frantzman, “Iron Dome intercepts drone during combat for first time, says Israeli military,” DefenseNews, May 17, 2021.

[15]  “Islamic Jihad releases footage claiming to be drone attack on IDF tank,” Times of Israel, May 30, 2019.

[16]  Zak Doffman, “Warning Over Terrorist Attacks Using Drones Given by EU Security Chief, Forbes, August 9, 2019.

[17] “A View From the CT Foxhole: Gilles de Kerchove, European Union (EU) Counter-Terrorism Coordinator,” CTC Sentinel, August 2020, Vol. 13, ISSUE 8.

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Building The Right Narratives

In a large pluralist country like India, the pursuit of essential policy reforms often gets mired in controversies that can derail or push back the proposed measures. Political and other compulsions of various parties and vested interest groups make such reforms and measures convenient issues for whipping up passions to further their own interests, even if the same is detrimental to the national cause.

Since independence, building communication infrastructure in our border areas has been held hostage to the actions of groups which have opposed such development, ostensibly on grounds of preserving the ecology. Why both activities cannot be carried out simultaneously is conveniently glossed over. Such groups have also hindered development of our island territories. It is only now, during the past six to seven years,

that a concerted push has been given to infrastructure development in our border regions, but making up for the neglect of decades remains a huge challenge.

Reforms in the defence sector have also been tardy, largely due to resistance from certain groups who have a vested interest in continuation of the status quo. Two landmark reforms which have finally seen the light of day are the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff and more recently, the corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). Defence production has also now been opened to the private sector and defence items opened up for exports. Had such action been taken earlier, India’s dependency on foreign equipment would have been far less today.

Certain landmark reforms of the government like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019 and the new Farm Acts that were enacted in 2020, were historic and long overdue. Yet, we have seen significant opposition to these, with anti CAA protests in Delhi blocking traffic for months on end and the anti-Farm Act protests, which are still

ongoing, witnessing protesters at the outskirts of Delhi, who refuse to budge from the protest sites. The challenge of implementing well intentioned reforms are indeed immense, and legislation will no longer be enough to enable the desired changes to be executed on the ground. It will have to be accompanied by a strong narrative, well before such legislations are introduced, so that public opinion is firmly behind the changes and the opposition to it would invite consequences when elections are held.

It reflects poorly on India’s polity that even when India is fighting a pandemic, there are groups which are instilling fears about the vaccine’s which are being produced in India and creating a phobia that is causing vaccine hesitancy in some quarters. While such fears have been largely allayed by the government’s proactive approach, the lessons for the future are stark and can be ignored only at our peril. The need to build the right narrative, debate it in public platforms and ensure its wide acceptance is how we need to move in future. When the country moves to a Uniform Civil Code and to nuanced population control measures, it would be vital to have a narrative that has been

debated and accepted across the board, to avoid any fissures in its implementation.

Author Brief Bio: Maj. Gen. Dhruv C. Katoch is Editor, India Foundation Journal and Director, India Foundation

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Covid-19: Preparing for The Third Wave

Introduction

The Covid-19 pandemic, which spread across the world since the beginning of 2020, had its origin in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which originated from the city of Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei Province in Central China. Coronaviruses are a family of contagious viruses that can cause a range of mild to severe respiratory illnesses. A mutation of corona virus resulted in the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which was detected and identified in China in December 2019. The disease was named Covid-19, Covid being a shortened name for Corona Virus Disease and 19 reflecting the year of detection.

Much of the misery of the world could have been avoided had the Chinese government been upfront with the outbreak, but there was a massive cover up, which strangely, was glossed over by the WHO. The first official confirmation for Covid-19 came on 31 December 2019, when the WHO China Country Office was informed about a cluster of 27 pneumonia cases of unknown etiology, detected in Wuhan.[1] The Chinese claimed that the outbreak originated from live bats, sold in a seafood market in Wuhan. This version has very few takers today, and the possibility that the virus came from a leak in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is gaining increasing salience.

The WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, while addressing a media gathering in Geneva on 11 March 2020, said that the WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and was deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity of the disease. He then said that “We have therefore made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterised as a pandemic.”[2] By this time, however, the disease had spread to much of the world, raising questions about why the WHO delayed such an important announcement, with some alleging that the WHO was deliberately covering up for the Chinese.

The Lab Leak Theory

While China and the WHO were propagating the theory that SARS-CoV-2 originated from a sea food market in Wuhan, a group of researchers from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, in February 2020, published a paper to the contrary. Their report was based on finding four unique inserts in the virus, which were unlikely to be accidental in nature.[3] For the first time, a view stating that the virus did not originate from a sea food market, but likely had its origin in a laboratory was expressed. Their work provided a new insight into the evolution and pathogenicity of the virus, with important implications for diagnosis, but strangely, their work was trashed by virologists, and they were forced to withdraw their paper. Today, evidence is increasingly mounting to indicate that the virus originated from a laboratory. Dozens of samples from the earliest Wuhan patients in China have been deleted by China, which, as per an American professor who spotted their deletion, and who recovered and analysed 13 files, found viruses which were much more evolved than would be expected of a new pathogen.[4] Obviously, a massive cover up by China has taken place, considering how data, which was earlier available in the web, now stands deleted. A group calling itself D.R.A.S.T.I.C. (Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19), a collection of people from across the globe, have done yeoman work in this regard, to disprove the theory that the virus originated from a seafood market in Wuhan. Their work suggests that the virus likely escaped by accident or design from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.[5] The cover up by the Chinese government is perhaps an attempt to avoid world censure and to obviate being held liable for paying the cost of vaccinating the world along with other punitive damages.

The First Wave

The first wave of Covid-19 hit India after it had already impacted countries in Europe and other parts of the world. It was fortuitous that the Indian Prime Minister took the onus on himself to sensitise the Indian public on the impact of the virus and what action the public needed to take to reduce the impact of the pandemic. This was essential as very little was known about the virus and the spread of the disease. A countrywide lockdown was imposed for three weeks from 25 March to 14 April 2020, which was later extended up to 03 May, then further extended to 17 May and finally to 31 May before the restrictions across the country were gradually lifted. The impact of closing down the whole country had a severe economic fallout, with the economy shrinking by 7.3%,[6] but in hindsight was the correct decision as it limited the spread of the disease. India’s health infrastructure, as indeed the rest of the world’s too, was not geared to take on a pandemic and even basic items like face masks and sanitisers were not available in the quantity required. More importantly, it gave the people of India time to adjust to a new normal and for the states to gear up their medical infrastructure requirements for dealing with the pandemic.

Another decision with far reaching ramifications was the emphasis laid by the government on developing a vaccine against Covid-19. The early impetus given to the development of the vaccine, which was personally monitored by the Prime Minister himself, was indeed very far sighted as India now is in a position to not only cater for its own needs, but to also assist other countries across the globe.

The First Wave of Covid-19 peaked in mid-September 2020, with the seven-day average of new infections receding thereafter from a high of 93,617 new cases (See Figure 1). Thereafter, the drop in cases was gradual till the end of the year, with different states showing variable levels of control over the pandemic. The downward trend continued till 15 February, which recorded a case load of 9139 new infections. The infections started increasing thereafter, with 28 February recording 15616 new infections, which increased to 24,437 new infections on 15 March and to 72,182 new infections on 31 March.[7] Clearly, the first wave was over and the second wave had begun.

The Second Wave

In the first quarter of 2021, there was a general feeling which permeated the medical community and the corridors of power, both in Delhi and in the state capitals, that India had got the better of the virus. While Europe was hit by a second wave, which was far more virulent than the first, there was a presumption that India would not be similarly impacted. Over the previous year, a lot of experience had also been gained about the spread and control of the virus, which perhaps had induced a sense of complacency in the public. This complacency was aggravated by a few factors, all of which were to play a role in the massive outbreak that was to follow.

The farmers agitation for repeal of the farm laws, which began in the last quarter of 2020, was continuing despite the pandemic. Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh, remained camped around three border points of Delhi—Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur—demanding a repeal of the farm laws enacted by the Centre in September 2020. While hearing a petition on the subject, the Apex Court said that public roads should not be blocked, come what may, in an indirect reference to the farmers protest,[8] but this has had little impact on the protesters, who remain camped there till date.

The Kumbh Mela, an annual event, witnessed over 9 million pilgrims take the holy dip in the Ganga between January 14 to April 27. Of this, about six million pilgrims congregated in Haridwar in the month of April, which coincided with the worst surge in the second wave of the pandemic.[9] While the state had mandated all protocols to be followed to obviate the spread of Covid-19, the sheer numbers involved made all such efforts a practical impossibility. Restricting, or perhaps even imposing a ban on the sacred event for the year would have been the right option to prevent the spread of the pandemic, but it was a decision which was difficult to take politically, especially since no such ban was placed for the farmers agitation!

Alongside the above, elections to the state assemblies of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry were due and the Election Commission had set the dates for polling, which was to be carried out in phases from 27 March to 29 April. No curbs were placed on rallies as curbs had not been placed earlier on the Kumbh Mela nor on the farmers agitation. A more pragmatic decision, considering the way the pandemic was spreading, was to have postponed the polls and placed the states under President’s Rule, but a decision of that nature would have created huge political turmoil. In the event, India witnessed a huge surge in Covid-19 cases, though the surge cannot be attributed solely to the above spreader events.

Fundamentally, the surge took place because the data was not correctly analysed and actioned. The country was living in a false sense of euphoria, which a simple analysis of data would have punctured. This perhaps was the prime reason for the pandemic assuming deadly proportions. On 01 April, India registered 81,441 new cases of Covid 19, which should have been a wake up call for all the bureaucrats posted in the health ministry of the Centre and the States. The whole of March had seen a constant doubling of cases every ten days, nearing the peak of the first wave and there was nothing to indicate that the trend was reversing. This was the time to have imposed a lockdown across the country, or at least in all the severely impacted states. Not doing so resulted in the number of new cases doubling in 10 days to 1,69,914 on 11 April, then doubling again to 3,15,802 fresh cases on 21 April, till they finally peaked at 4,14,433 cases on 6 May. India’s success story in dealing with the pandemic in the first wave had tragically been reversed, which in turn overstretched the health infrastructure. Oxygen became a short supply item, beds in hospital with ventilators were not available and people were left to fend for themselves on their own. This was an avoidable tragedy.

It would be wrong, however, to blame the surge entirely on the farmers agitation, the Kumbh Mela and the elections, though undoubtedly these events added on to the sickness tally. The top six states with the highest number of Covid-19 cases on 01 June 2021 were Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Odisha (Figure 2). Of these, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Odisha did not have elections and were not affected either by the farmers agitation or by the Kumbh Mela. 20 days later, on 20 June 2021, the top six states, in terms of total number of Covid-19 cases were Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha (Figure 3).

FIGURE 2

SIX STATES WITH 70% OF COVID-19 CASES

 

FIGURE 3

SIX STATES WITH 76 % OF COVID-19 CASES

Ultimately, the prime causative factor for a surge in cases had much to with public apathy, lack of monitoring of the data on daily fresh cases of Covid-19 by the health authorities, both in the States and in the Centre, and in not heeding the warning signals that had come from other parts of the globe, where the second wave had caused huge damage. An unescapable conclusion is that the bureaucrats in the health ministry, both in the Centre and in the States, were culpable in not discharging their mandated functions.

It is also instructive to observe how different states have handled the pandemic. To carry out an assessment based on uniform parameters, the number of active Covid-19 cases per million population base, has been taken. The data has been taken from two time lines—01 June 2020 and 20 June 2020, each time line giving out the number of active Covid-19 cases in each state, per million population. Statistics are a more reliable indicator than gut instincts which are based on individual biases. Looking at the data of 01 June 2020, the top eight performing states in the battle against the pandemic, with the least number of Covid-19 active cases, were Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi and Haryana, in that order, with the total active cases for that date per million population, being 128, 156, 227, 269, 503, 517, 581 and 652 respectively (Figure 3). The bottom eight states, with the maximum number of active cases per million population for 01 June 2021 (shown in brackets), indicating poor control over the pandemic are Kerala (5758), Sikkim (5744), Karnataka (4594), Tamil Nadu (3844), Goa (3268), Manipur (2747) Mizoram (2516) and Uttarakhand (2487) (Figure 4).

FIGURE 4

COVID-19 CASES IN STATES OF INDIA

(Per million population base

A change observed 20 days later, on 20 June 2020, indicates the eight states with the lowest Covid-19 rates per million population base, as Uttar Pradesh (19), Bihar (25), Madhya Pradesh (25), Rajasthan (37), Jharkhand (40), Haryana (87), Gujarat (95). and Delhi (110). It would be observed that these were the top eight performing states in terms of minimum number of active Covid-19 cases on 01 June, and 20 days later, they remained in the top eight, with a further dramatic reduction of active cases.

On 20 June, the eight states at the bottom of the list were Sikkim (3853), Manipur (3004), Kerala (2943), Mizoram (2777), Goa (2042), Karnataka (1857), Arunachal Pradesh (1582) and Meghalaya (1349). Tamil Nadu, which was part of the bottom eight, had a distinct reduction in the number of active cases during these twenty days, from a whopping 3,844 cases per million to just 884 cases per million.

What is of concern though, are the states which have not been able to register a drop in cases in these 20 days. Andhra Pradesh, which had 37,044 active cases on 01 June, saw a further surge, with the state recording 63,068 active cases on 20 June. Similarly, Mizoram saw a marginal increase in the total number of active cases from 3145 to 3471 and Manipur saw an increase of cases from 8791 to 9613. In all other cases, there has been a decline, though the percentage of decline varies from state to state (Figure 5).  The data for Union Territories of India, is shown in Figure 6.

FIGURE 5

PERFORMANCE OF STATES IN CONTROLLING THE VIRUS

FIGURE 6

PERFORMANCE OF UNION TERRITORIES

(Cases per million population)

Preparing for the Third Wave

With the Second Wave having peaked in India, there are indications that the country will be impacted by the Third Wave, with some experts opining that this could take place in the next 12 to 16 weeks.[10] More importantly, it is likely that the virus may become a permanent fixture of our lives and we would have to deal with it. Speaking on this issue, WHO Emergencies Director, Dr Mike Ryan, stated in a press briefing in Geneva on 14 May 2020 that… “this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities and may never go away.” Dr Ryan then added that “we have to come to terms with the virus, just as we have come to terms with diseases like HIV”.[11]

To deal with the pandemic, Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute Of Medical Science (AIIMS), New Delhi, spoke of the need to strengthen the public health system, and focus on the lessons we have learnt from the past. He stressed on the need to upgrade the health system, and asserted that with changing times, we have to change our public health system, through initiatives like the Ayushman Bharat-PMJAY (Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana), which have made a huge difference as far as health care is concerned.[12]

The need for the Centre and the States to work in unison on issues of health is now becoming paramount, to enable uniformity of policies and protocols, provision of equitable facilities to all sections of society and to fight jointly against pandemics. As of now, health is a subject on the State List in the Indian Constitution. To deal with the challenges in providing robust and efficient health care across the country and to enable more effective handling of pandemics, the time has come to place Health on the Concurrent List of the Constitution. The States would have to be taken on board before a Constitutional Amendment is mooted, but this is a matter which needs to be addressed at the earliest.

Vaccinating the Nation

Vaccination would perhaps form the backbone of the anti-Covid strategy. On the first day of the Centre’s new Covid-19 vaccination policy, on 21 June, a total of 88.09 lakh people were vaccinated.[13] This was unprecedented and a mention of this was also made by the prime Minister in his “Mann Ki Baat” programme on All India Radio, on 27 June. With this, India’s cumulative COVID-19 vaccination coverage is now over 28 crore.[14] In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the Centre has stated that 135 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be available in India between August to December 2021 from five Covid-19 vaccines.[15] This would enable vaccination of the majority of the country by the end of the year. The challenge to vaccinate the children will however remain, till a suitable vaccine for children of all ages is developed.

Responsibility of Individuals and Society

The fight against the pandemic is by no means over and without the cooperation of the public, it cannot be won. The public has been sensitised on the need to maintain social distancing, washing hands, using face masks etc, but enforcement measures are still lax. There is a need to strengthen the institutional framework to ensure compliance of health safety measures. Merely getting vaccinated is not enough. Each individual is responsible to ensure appropriate conduct and to abide by the restrictions laid down, to prevent and restrict the spread of the pandemic.

An important aspect for individuals, besides personal hygiene and wearing of masks in public spaces is being cognisant of the action to be taken if one contracts the disease. Early detection assumes great importance as that will enable the safe treatment of the disease in home isolation. Cases which have been detected soon after occurrence will rarely require hospitalisation or oxygen and ventilator support. A simple means of early detection is through a check of body temperature once a day with a thermometer. This can be a life saver as other symptoms may take a few days to develop, by which time the disease can take on a more sinister form. If the thermometer shows an above normal body temperature, it would be prudent to check for the virus, the results for which can be made available within a day. A daily temperature check should hence form part of preventive measures in each family. Thereafter, should the test for the virus be positive, then immediate medical assistance should be sought, which can be safely done in home isolation.

Within groups, it is important to create an environment where Covid protocols are followed and their breach is frowned upon. Help groups need to be formed to assist those who are old and who are living without family support. Health workers and the medical staff need to be given the full unstinting support of individuals and groups, as they form the spearhead of the fight against the pandemic.

Action by the State

Each state government must get its act together and be prepared to combat the third wave of the disease. The states have time now to rectify the shortcomings observed in tackling the second wave, and they must do so on a war footing. They cannot abdicate their role and pass the buck to the Centre when things get difficult for them.

Data analysis at the national, state, and lower levels must be done by the respective officials responsible for health, both in the Centre and the States. The Centre must lay down a policy for declaring various stages of health emergencies, from Stage 1, which would be cautionary, to Stage 5 which would require maximum restrictions. This should be based on the number of Covid cases occurring in a state, for a population base of 100,000. The data of individuals impacted with the pandemic must be kept at the district, state and national level, to ensure coverage at the lowest level, and enable prompt action to be taken to isolate the areas that are impacted. The advantage of such a system is that the concerned health officials and the political authority would be forced to take action as the cases in a state, district, tehsil or village level start rising. Failure to do so would imply abdication of duty, for which concerned individuals would be held accountable.

Role of the Media and Political Parties

Both the media and the political parties have an important role to play in dealing with the pandemic. For the media, it is important that sensationalism is avoided as it creates unnecessary fear and panic in society. It is also the job of the media to keep a track of Covid cases and to highlight those areas where the officials responsible for health are falling short of performing their duties.

The Political parties also need to fight the pandemic as one and not resort to unnecessary mudslinging at each other. The fight against the pandemic must be taken as a national priority, and not for political one-upmanship. For a period of one year, if not more, there is a need to ban all political gatherings above 50 people, and to similarly restrict all religious and social events, as also prohibit any strikes or dharnas. This would require all political parties coming together and lending their support on this issue, if it is to become a reality. Through such action, the pandemic can be controlled in a faster time frame.

Conclusion

India is passing through a critical phase in its history, being impacted with a pandemic, while facing huge challenges on the security front from two inimical neighbours and at the same time, having to deal with a severe economic and human crisis. This is a time for unity and putting our differences aside. History will judge us whether we, as a society, were wise enough to rise to the occasion.

References:

[1] World Health Organization. Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Situation Report – 1. 2020. Available from: https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/330760. (The report is no longer available on the internet).

[2] https://indianexpress.com/article/world/who-coronavirus-pandemic-6309685/

[3] https://in.news.yahoo.com/researchers-iit-delhi-found-covid-055459485.html

[4] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9716531/More-proof-support-lab-leak-theory-China-DELETED-samples-earliest-patients.html

[5] The details of the work done by this group are available in their website https://drasticresearch.org/the-team/

[6] https://www.livemint.com/economy/gdp-shrinks-7-3-in-fy21-on-covid-first-wave-impact-11622463848438.html

[7] Data for the month culled from Worldometer, available at https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/india/

[8] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/farmer-protest-roads-should-not-be-blocked-say-supreme-court-2410018

[9] https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/dehradun-news/91-million-thronged-mahakumbh-despite-covid-19-surge-govt-data-101619729096750.html

[10] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-57577138

[11] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-52643682

[12] https://www.india.com/news/india/aiims-director-randeep-guleria-warning-third-wave-of-covid-delta-plus-variant-covid-19-cases-in-india-4773880/

[13] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/india-vaccinates-record-52-lakh-people-in-one-day-2468935

[14] Ibid

[15] https://www.indiatoday.in/coronavirus-outbreak/video/only-135-crore-vaccines-to-be-available-by-december-says-centre-1820036-2021-06-27

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A Vision for the Public-Health System in India: Transformed, Expanded and Redefined

Introduction

Naturally occurring novel virus Covid-19 has recognised that human and health security is no longer synonymous with just health sciences. The conception, promotion and care of life (bios) demands an expanded umbrella of health sciences to evolve and institutionalise bio-governance, bio-politics and bio-power, encompassing all domains which potentially bio-marginalise (prevent life to flourish) the human security and well-being. The realm of health security constitutes all endangering factors like natural disasters, outbreaks, pandemics, emerging infectious diseases (EID), misuse of antibiotics leading to unpredictable microbial resistances, critical pharmaceutical, medical supply chain safety, medical and health information cyber-biosecurity, bio-terrorism, climate change, rapid urbanisation, population growth, food security, water security, and social media (SM) misinformation etc, which actively modulate the wellness and health of human populations. A country that blooms and flies high with a vibrant democracy, should have a smart-public health system that provides an ecosystem for its beings to evolve their lives to full potential.

A live, vibrant, ever evolving, flexible, resilient, participatory, engaging public health system must have the well-being of its citizens at its core—a system melting boundaries between different stakeholders, dissolving the idea of segmented hierarchical health system with defined and restricted boundaries at various levels. The boundaries in the health system collage, of participatory responsibilities and accountabilities of all the stakeholders need to dissolve to develop one aesthetic scenery where all merges and gels well with each other at every level of coordination, management and governance. The New India leadership can evolve and embrace this idea of fit, smart and healthy public health systems in India which will take health, wellbeing, and happiness index of nation to the next level. The idea of New India is now to build systems that are lively and which co-evolve with evolving human lives and develop on opportunities instead of breaking at challenges.

This article unfolds various domains with suggestions which may be discussed to develop a futuristic, holistic, comprehensive and integrated public health ecosystem in India. It has suggested a Neuron Model for Public Health Emergency. The author hopes to energise readers to become more aware, active and participatory on issues related to human and health security at local, regional, national, international and global level.

Health first approach

Nation’s well-being must be measured by health (physical, mental and social) of its population, quality of its healthcare policy and programmes, availability of health facilities and qualified and motivated healthcare workforce. Recent epidemic shows the dependency of economic growth and geopolitical status of any country critically on healthcare supremacy. For futuristic nations, health security is one of topmost priority. Health first approach calls for prioritisation of   health care structure of any country for present challenges and future risks that incorporates institutionalised comprehensive health policies, scaling up of health care resources, intensive biomedical research, sustainable policies and efficient coordination between stakeholders, with high sense of national priority and commitment.

Establishment of National Institute for Global Health Science and Security:

The institute will conduct courses and research to understand the evolving national and global health challenges.  The institute will work in collaboration with the Indian government, international health, agriculture and defence ministries and organisations to collaborate for preparedness for national and transnational disease threats, and develop economic benefits, international security and diplomacy by promoting health research, technologies and services. It will translate research into knowledge products, providing policy analysis and technical support related to the National Health Security, develop research and training for foreign affairs experts on health and research required in global health diplomacy, develop education and training materials for multi-sectoral engagement in the response to biological threats for military and health professionals etc. Courses on global health diplomacy, global health security, emerging infectious diseases, public health management, disease surveillance, bio-safety and biosecurity etc. can be institutionalised as can diploma training in medical and paramedical sciences for developing the human resource and assistance required in rural and primary health care.

Defence Establishment and Participation in Health Security to improve National Capabilities to Prevent, Detect and Respond to Infectious Disease Threats

India’s defence and national security strategy is primarily focused on territorial and border disputes, countering and combating left wing extremism (LWE), insurgency in the North Eastern States and security and stability in Jammu and Kashmir. The non-traditional security threats like pandemics, emerging infectious diseases, and proliferation of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high yield Explosives (CBRNE) weapons have to yet find a place in India’s national security strategy, planning and response. Threat of bio-incidents both naturally occurring and manufactured epidemics through the use biological weapon are equally evolving and alarming. Currently, without defined guidelines and protocols on how to address bio-incidents, the counter response and activities rely on ad-hoc responses of questionable utility. The structural and functional gaps between health security, bio-security and bio-defence has caused a damage to human security as we are not able to efficiently harness and incorporate the scientific capabilities, technological innovations for governance and policies related to bio-incidents. India needs to develop a National Biological Security Strategy (NBSS)[1] and National Health Security Act[2] and integrate both in India’s National Security Strategy (NSS) for a comprehensive, holistic biological-socio-economic security approach which addresses threats emanating from both traditional (or military) and non-traditional (or non-military) sources. Post COVID-19, the role of military in national, international and global health security activities can be extended with more extensive networks of bio-intelligence and bio-surveillance, improving the national capabilities to prevent, detect, and respond to natural and simulated bio-incidents.

Establishing a Strict Bio-risk Assessment and Management Guidelines in Health, Veterinary and Agriculture Research to be Complied by all Stakeholders

Bio-safety involves procedures and techniques to prevent an accidental release of bio-agent; biosecurity involves accountability measures and procedures to protect bio-agents from unauthorised access, misuse, thievery for an intentional release. Dual use research that aims to provide knowledge for health security could be misapplied to threaten safety of health, agricultural crops, live stocks and the environment. Without proper guidance, biosafety, biosecurity, and dual use research can become a risk to human life. Life sciences, molecular biology, bio-technology, bio-engineering, genetic engineering, bio-informatics and synthetic biology researches and tools have become common methods in research laboratories[3]. DIY-bio (Do it Yourself Biology), emerging bio-technology program and bio-technology start up are expected to develop futuristic technologies and therapies, but at the same time potential risks of these technologies need to be minimised. Genetically Modified Organisms, gene therapy, induced-Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPS), Gain of Function (GoF) and CRISPR (clusters of regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats) will be star technologies in future providing therapeutic solutions. Futuristic vision of public-health research involves nurturing responsible future generation scientists and developing an effective bio-risk assessment and management guidelines to be complied by all the engaged stakeholders.

Developing Decentralised and Participatory Public Health

Neighbourhood Health Clinics (NCs) should be led by community leaders to complement and micromanage the activities of central-state-district health initiatives[4]. A shift in health governance and policy is required for higher level of micro and higher levels of governance in cities and villages. The local parliament of elected leaders and network of mini health centres at municipality, city council and gram panchayat level will provide a voice and platform for elected leaders, who are often excluded from high-level decision-making to bolster local health capacities. Strong city and village leadership and engagement network is a must for resilient strategic preparedness network.

Expanding the role of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)

Margaret Chan, Director General, WHO in 2007, highlighted the role of CSOs, stating, “Given the growing complexity of these health and security challenges and the response required, these issues concern not only governments, but also international organisations, civil society and the business community. Recognising this, the World Health Organization is making the world more secure by working in close collaboration with all concerned”. Civil Society Organisations include community-based organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), charitable organisations, labor unions, indigenous groups, faith-based organisations, professional associations, and foundations. With their grassroots presence, CSOs can more effectively help to address health security and health systems challenges and help community resource utilisation in healthcare management. India needs to strengthen CSOs which supplement and fill health systems gaps, enabling governments to micromanage the medical emergency like the Covid-19 outbreak. Prepared CSOs will:

  • Support with the establishment of local outbreak response teams for coordinating the national response.
  • develop local surveillance and response systems to detect, track and manage disease.
  • Manage maintenance of safe health care services (e.g., local isolation centre for patients), educate and train on infection control and prevention procedures.
  • Support the administration of vaccines, diagnostic and therapeutics.
  • MobiliSe and train to build a wide-range of community health workforce
  • Generate finances and resources for response efforts through innovative funding mechanisms.

Strengthening Public Institutions in Fighting Zoonotic Infections and Antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

The basics of preventing deadly epidemics and pandemics involves understanding the origin and dynamics of human-pathogen-animal-environment interactions. Recent infectious diseases like Ebola virus disease, influenza H1N1 and Covid-19 are notably linked to animals such as bat and swine. There is a need to implement one health approach i.e a collaborative, multi-sectoral, and trans-disciplinary approach, working at the local, regional, national, and global levels, with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes recognising the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment[5]. Department of Health Research (DHR) needs to strengthen infrastructure, human resource for health research, research governance, technology development for prevention and management of epidemics/outbreaks. Network of laboratories for surveillance, rapid diagnosis, and effective strategies to neutralise and eventually control and prevent the spread of known/unknown/emerging highly infectious diseases of public & global concern are required. Currently, India has only 2 BSL4 (Bio safety level) facilities—National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, and National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD), Bhopal, for research, diagnosis and control of exotic and emerging animal diseases.  Increasing capabilities and re-calibrating the priorities of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), National Institute of Virology in Pune (NIV) and Defence Research & Development Establishment (DRDE) would help prevent, reduce and prepare with zoonotic infections in the future.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) can become the next pandemic as superbugs (bacteria that are resistant to all known antibiotics) will hinder the fight against the many biological infections with our existing range of antibiotics. Collaborative efforts for prudent use antibiotics, preserving the antibiotics that do work, banning medically important antibiotics in food production (three in four antibiotics consumed worldwide are used in food animals), investing in the development of new antibiotics, new treatments for drug-resistant infections can alleviate the AMR crisis.

Harnessing and Integrating Technology and Innovation in Public Health System: Digital Technologies to Improve PHCs

A virus knows no borders, and neither do the digital technologies and data. The penetration and reach of mobile devices have surpassed other infrastructures like electricity, roads and healthcare resources. Mobile devices and networks are present in resource-limited regions where medical infrastructure, equipment and services are unavailable. Public health systems need to align and integrate digital technologies to build online care pathways that rapidly link the widespread diagnosis with digital symptom checkers, contact tracing, epidemiological intelligence and long term clinical followup. With digitalisation of public health systems and integration of advanced technologies, ethical frameworks and systems for storage and analysis, data protection and confidentiality need to be evolved.

Key examples of digital technologies deployed in public-health interventions for the COVID-19[6]

  • Machine learning used for Web-based epidemic intelligence tools and online syndromic surveillance
  • Survey apps and websites used for Symptom reporting
  • Data extraction and visualization used for Data dashboards
  • Connected diagnostic device used for Point-of-care diagnosis
  • Sensors including wearables used for Febrile symptoms checking
  • Machine learning used for medical image analysis
  • Smartphone app, low-power Bluetooth technology used for Digital contact tracing
  • Mobile-phone-location data used for Mobility-pattern analysis
  • Social-media platforms used for Targeted communication
  • Online search engine used for Prioritised information
  • Chat-bot used for Personalised information
  • Tele-conferencing used for telemedicine, referral

Further, post Covid-19, technological intervention can revolutionise the efficacy of traditional health care systems. However, affordability and public access of such technological advancement must be regulated. The prominent technological solutions could be classified as below:

  • Precision medicines for individual specific treatment methodologies
  • Nanotechnology for target specific drug delivery, efficient sensing and imaging, broad spectrum antibiotics and organ regeneration
  • Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) for interconnected communication between biomedical machines, vitals monitors and wearable devices with the help of application and IT infrastructure. This will facilitate virtual interaction patients to their physicians and allowing the transfer of medical data over a secure network.
  • Big data for management of healthcare data, genomics and pharmacogenomics data to improve decision-making.
  • Block Chain for distributed, decentralised and secured database management system that aims to create digital identification, tracking healthcare related object and secure decentralising database.
  • 3D Bio-printing for distantly development of surgical implants, tools, orthopaedic and dental implants.
  • Drones for remotely onsite distribution of of drugs, vaccines, blood, plasma and healthcare equipment in accident sites and hilly terrains.
  • Robotics for assistance remote controlled precision surgeries assisting medical staff patients in diagnostics and maintaining supply chains.
  • Mobile health with micro-fluidic Lab-on-a-Chip technology for rapid diagnosis, better patient monitoring, and spatiotemporal tracking capability.
  • One Digital Health ecosystem (National health card for National Health Service digital records). One Nation, One Health and One National Health card for a unified digitally transformed health ecosystem. This will help in understanding the intrinsic complexity of hath care and enable development of novel healthcare solutions.

Expanding the role of Community Health Workers (CHWs)

The traditional roles of CHWs includes health education, routine immunisation, supporting maternal and child health, family planning and reproductive health activities, and surveillance, contact tracing for communicable diseases etc. During Covid-19, in an overwhelming, overstretched health system, CHWs shifted the hospital-centred care to community-centred care. Post Covid-19, recalibration of our future efforts to strengthen resilient public health systems and health emergency preparedness involves expanding and supporting CHWs. CHWs and adequately trained Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) and Village Health Volunteers (VHVs) will facilitate health education including promotion of new normal behaviours, measures to prevent and control virus, assist in surveillance, contact tracing and quarantine and maintain essential health services etc. CHWs need to be recognised as an integral part of the primary health care system and local authorities need to ensure that adequate level of training, resources, incentives and support is allocated to sustain the enthusiasm of CHWs[7].

Transformational leadership willing to pay for public health policies

The effectiveness and performance of a nation’s health system is highly dependent on government leaders as they propose and decide to invest for resources development for public system. Leader’s personality, leadership style, goal alignment, communication skills and team building ability highly influences the public health decisions. Leaders who are future-oriented and who believe in their ability and competence to improve the quality of their society, create more values for future generations and generate more goodwill for society. Reportedly, these leaders tend to invest more in public health to bring well-being and goodwill for their citizens[8]. In addition, positive perceived social support by citizens moderates and drives futuristic leadership model. The politics of difference lies in futuristic investment in public health and the ideal community trust and support the leader’s policy.

Gender Inclusive Engagement Pattern in Health System Governance

Health system governance should be human-centric and barrier-free, inclusive, non-discriminatory with a tailored and targeted response. The social, economic and long-term health consequences, disproportionately impact the lives of women and girls. Taking lessons from Covid-19 response and related health emergencies, a more fair, inclusive, gendered lens is required for health system governance[9].

Development of Private Sector and Donor Participation in Healthcare System

An initiative to involve private sectors, individuals, foreign assistance for collaborative grants, aids, loans, etc, must be modelled to strengthen healthcare infrastructure. The challenges posed by emerging health threats in the 21st century requires collaborative network of cooperation. Appropriate generation and mobilisation of resources requires curbing the corruption, misuse and abuse of financial support and assistance in the health sector. India needs to enhance monitoring measures to ensure effective utilisation of finances and collaboration to prepare and respond to future challenges.

Integration of Ayurveda in Health-care Delivery System

Turning Ayurveda into evidence-based medicine could change the medical philosophy and treatment to an inclusive, affordable, individualised and holistic healthcare. Scientific reliability of Ayurveda, education, research, clinical practice, and public health and administration interventions will facilitate integration with existing public health system. This will help promote health, wellness lifestyle, improve disease prevention and increase access and delivery of health services. An integrated model with preventive, curative, and promotive health care strategy will contribute tremendously in community health.

Value Creation through Next-generation Business Model

Post Covid-19, India needs to develop innovative business models with fresh perspective to observe growth and deliver better care for individuals. The integration of innovation in healthcare model, rewiring of organisations for speed and efficiency and to deliver quality care helping both healthcare players and patients will be needed.

Building a Neuron Model for Public Health Emergency

An integrated model for rapid, defined and efficient reception and communication of response signals among stakeholders to prepare and respond to medical health emergencies is shown in the diagram (Figure 1). The global bio-threats are received by receptor agencies like the WHO, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), Biological Weapon Convention Implementation Support Unit (BWCISU), Indian embassies, information network in cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies, military intelligence, Intelligence bureau, international intelligence units (Bio-intelligence and Bio-surveillance). The information received is processed and risk-assessed by the National Institute for Global Health Sciences and security (NIGHSS), as proposed in this paper) and the Defense Research Laboratory (DRL, BSL-4 Level, to be developed as proposed in this paper). The information and drafts guideline, according to threat and risk assessment, is received by the central decision command headed by the Prime Minister and which includes as its members, the Defense Minister, Minister of External Affairs, National Security Advisor (NSA), Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), and the three Service Chiefs. The decision made by the central decision command is communicated to President, the three Service Chiefs, Parliamentary Committees, leader of opposition, state governors, cabinet & ministers, planning commission, and regulating agencies to broadcast information to coordinate market for supply, production and distribution of drugs and life support systems efficiently, using big data management system, block chain technology etc.

Receiving the information, the state governments coordinates and functions with district and community stakeholders for delivery of efficient governance, using technologies like Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), telecommunication, block chain technology, e-consultation, drones & robotics etc. The neuronal communication is bidirectional i.e. reception of signal, and delivery of response from top to bottom or bottom to top is as per the stimulus (information) available. All the bio-health data will be collected in mega National Biomedical Database (depository for pathological, pharmacological, genomic, serological toxico genomics data) for efficient tracking and feedback system in the proposed neuron model.

Figure 1: Neuron Model for Public Health Emergency

Conclusion

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”- Charles Dickens.

Covid-19 has expanded the understanding and redefined the scope of public health system and community. During the pandemic, the world embraced a holistic approach of health security, an area which was traditionally seen with myopic vision and scope. The global engagements to ensure public health cooperation, interconnectedness between science, public health, international economics, politics and policy are now understood to be important areas of public health. Hence, the public health apparatus must be equipped with comprehensive and integrated, proactive governance measures which recognise all the dimensions and respond to the evolving health challenges. Post Covid-19, public health systems need to return with a respect and responsibility towards life’s existence with a fully functioning inclusive healthcare system with evolved work processes and strengthened institutions beyond inequalities, and discriminatory hierarchies. The core strength of public health system lies in strengthening traditional aspects of public health such as hygiene, disease detection and prevention measures, screening and immunisation and health promotion in national programme. These strengthened resources and frameworsk like diagnostic centre, surveillance measures and immunisation networks for national programme for preventable diseases like tuberculosis, polio, measles etc can be repurposed for unseen outbreak of infectious diseases.

Coming back stronger, India needs to generate the vision for a lively public healthcare ecosystem which dynamically evolves, adapts, lives, acts and complies to modern society and brings the triumph of the human spirit.

Author Brief Bio: Dr Aakansha Bhawsar is a Scientist at the Division of Basic Medical Sciences, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Headquarters in New Delhi.

References:

[1] https://chintan.indiafoundation.in/articles/national-biological-security-strategy-a-way-forward/

[2] https://chintan.indiafoundation.in/articles/india-needs-national-health-security-act/

[3] https://indiafoundation.in/articles-and-commentaries/science-of-biological-warfare-and-biopreparedness/

[4] https://chintan.indiafoundation.in/articles/neighborhood-health-clinics-an-improvised-and-micromanaged-model-for-evolving-local-bodies-led-neighborhood-clinics-in-india/

[5] https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/basics/index.html

[6]  Budd, J., Miller, B.S., Manning, E.M. et al. Digital technologies in the public-health response to COVID-19. Nat Med 26, 1183–1192 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-1011-4

[7] Supriya Bezbaruah, Polly Wallace, Masahiro Zakoji, Wagawatta Liyanage, Sugandhika Padmini Perera, Masaya Kato, Roles of community health workers in advancing health security and resilient health systems: emerging lessons from the COVID-19 response in the South-East Asia Region, WHO South-East Asia Journal of Public Health, 2021, Volume 10, Issue 3, Page 41-48.

[8] Wang J, Chou TP, Chen CP, Bu X. Leaders’ Future Orientation and Public Health Investment Intention: A Moderated Mediation Model of Self-Efficacy and Perceived Social Support. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(18):6922. Published 2020 Sep 22. doi:10.3390/ijerph17186922

[9] https://chintan.indiafoundation.in/articles/rethinking-a-gender-inclusive-engagement-pattern-in-health-system-governance/

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The Covid-19 Pandemic: Confronting New Challenges

“No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and emotions, shared by all.” (from “The Plague” by Albert Camus)

A Brief Backdrop

December 31, 2019 ushered in a new normal, irrevocably changing daily dynamics. A special edition virus from Wuhan in China – the SARS-CoV-2, a Novel coronavirus, which is classified as the seventh member of the family Coronaviridae, sub family Orthocoronavirinae[1] – was introduced to the world. It proceeded to take over our routines, making us slaves to masks, sanitisers, and panic.  This virus family are a group of zoonotic viruses usually transmitted to humans through contact with infected animals, mainly bats and snakes, which are considered the natural reservoir of most coronaviruses, and which gave rise to the initial surmise that COVID-19 originated from a wet market in Huanan, Wuhan, which was said to be the ground zero for the epidemic. More on that shortly.

A study of the lipid molecules of these viruses shows that molecules such as caveolins, clathrins and dynamin have a fundamental role in their entry into hosts and targeting host lipids. COVID-19 binds the angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 receptor, the ACE2, on the membrane host cell to enable it to infect the host cell in tandem with an intracellular protein—protease TMPRSS2.[2] According to Genome sequencing the closest similarity was between the COVID-19 genomes and the bat CoV. Results revealed that all COVID-19 strains were similar, compared with other strains related to the same family. COVID-19 also possesses accessory proteins that interfere with the host’s distinctive immune response, including spike (S) glycoprotein, small envelope (E) protein, matrix (M) protein and nucleocapsid (N) protein.

Given the extensive research on the virus and its comprehensive genome sequencing, the possibility of a synthetic virus has currency; especially as the Chinese authorities had chosen to cloud and obfuscate information about the pandemic, which was well in evidence by early November 2019, terming it an alt right conspiracy theory. A recent WHO-led team to probe the origins of the pandemic, which has led so far to the death of 3,697,151 people, and 171,708,011 confirmed cases of the SARS-COV-2 infection[3] (figures according to assessments have been grossly under reported), stated that their finding were inconclusive. This was a quantifiable deviation from the earlier zoonotic theory put out by WHO, of the virus species-jumping and causing the SARS-CoV-2 mutation.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which has a P4 laboratory, had spent decades researching and collecting coronaviruses. Of note is the RaTG13 virus, procured from the mines in Mojiang after many miners were infected over 7 years ago. This was confirmed by Shi Zhengli, Chief virologist in WIV in November 2020 and again in February 2021. The possibility has now been admitted, with the qualifier that it remains less likely, that the virus has been sequenced and synthesised. The apprehension that WIV was actively testing these viruses to determine their ability to infect people as well as synthesise mutations is now a cause of serious international worry. China is alleged to have initiated a massive cover up programme, and co-opted not only members of the WHO, but also scientists—for example Peter Daskzak, the president of the Eco Health Alliance of New York, who managed to get scores of signatures for a letter, published in the prestigious medical journal Lancet about the natural origins of the virus—and silenced dissenting voices like Chinese virologist Li Meng Yan. Actual disclosures about the alleged Chinese coverup came from a group of amateur internet sleuths from around the globe, who called themselves the DRASTIC – Decentralised Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating Covid. A central figure of the group was the “Seeker”, an Indian web crawler, who has kept his identity hidden. Their findings have re-generated global interest and misgivings against China.[4]

President Biden has asked for a report on China’s and the WIV’s role in the current pandemic within 90 days. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases and the White House Advisor on health, has stated that he is not completely convinced about the natural origins of the Corona virus, and US Health Secretary, Xavier Becerra, casting doubt on the Chinese claims about the natural origins of the virus, said “not only was a year stolen from our lives, it has stolen a million lives.”[5]

Consequences of Covid

A year and a half have also been stolen from our lives, and in India, we are paying an extortionate cost for a crisis not of our making. Our internal challenges range from human tragedy, to the shrinkage of the economy, impact on security forces, and a ravaged administration which has been stretched to its limits. Chinese dissembling has been one of the primary parameters which has impacted on the larger internal security of the country, by putting it into a pandemic vortex. While globally the impact has been felt, it is India, which shares lengthy uneasy borders with China, that needs to be most alive to the possibility of cross border transmissions of virus—be they inadvertent or inimical. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, India will be witness to an  overwhelming 10 lakh deaths from COVID-19 by 01 August 2021.[6] The official death rate is around 3.5 lakhs, a figure that analysts claim is far from reality, which is around 3-5X times higher. Critics of the present government, who were waiting for an opportune moment to strike, are claiming that Prime Minister Modi’s Government is responsible for presiding over a national catastrophe, which has damaged both the economy and the psyche of the nation.

The Dangers of Complacency

There was, unfortunately, a feeling of complacency within the government, as was epitomised by Minister of Health Harsh Vardhan’s  statement that India was in the “endgame” of the epidemic, which resulted as a consequence in repeated warnings of the dangers of a second wave and the emergence of new strains gaining no traction. This was despite the fact that Indian Council of Medical Research had conducted a serosurvey by January 2021, which showed that only 21% of the population had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. Premature optimism on part of some of the ministers and officials helming the anti-COVID task forces has led to the near breakdown of health care services in both the first and second waves of the pandemic. Our quick declaration of victory against the virus led to criminal lack of preparedness for the second wave, which had been predicted by all except a few mathematical models like SUTRA[7], which have been comprehensively debunked[8]. This led to shortages in drugs and oxygen, generating instances (which translated into visuals) of needless, painful deaths, summary burials, and multiple cremations, which have seriously tarnished India’s global image. While India’s response to the first Covid wave made it a bellwether for other countries to follow, the second wave has certainly shaken India’s image abroad. The international media/global community have been quick to castigate the surge in cases as a serious policy failure, and opposition parties within India have used the second wave as a launching pad to hurl political invective against the government: poor planning, lack of deliverables, and complacency. Even if the diatribes of the opposition and a section of the western media are ignored as motivated, institutional complacency has possibly risen to the top of the list of internal threats faced by the country, which needs expeditious remedial action.

The Ticking Bomb of Mutations

Another issue that the ‘complacency factor’ did not take into account was the propensity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to acquire new genetic mutations that allow it to evade immune responses, to hinder herd immunity, which would normally be acquired through mass vaccination. In such mutations, the virus sheds tiny bits of its genome under natural evolutionary pressure, making it smaller and more resilient, causing surges which signify higher person-to-person transmission. The deletion mutations affect the spike protein in the virus which causes major surges in community transmission. A ten-fold increase in one such mutation—known as deletion mutation B. 1. 617.2—caused the second surge between February 2021 (1.1%) to April 2021 (15%), in India and is still continuing unabated.

There was irrefutable evidence that the B.1.617.2 variant, first identified in India, could be far more transmissible than even the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in Britain, or the B.1. 351 variant, first identified in South Africa, which contributed to some of the deadliest surges around the world. These mutations were causing vaccination break throughs—infections post vaccination—though the number was negligible.

The World Health Organisation on May 10 classified B.1.617.2 as   a variant of global concern[9]. The mutations showed that variants with higher transmissibility were a major source of danger to people without immunity either from vaccination or prior infection, even if the variant is no more deadly than previous versions of the virus. The transmissibility of the virus was evidenced by the emergence of a new Vietnamese variant, which, according to the Vietnam Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long, is a combination of the strains identified in India and the United Kingdom.[10] The minister warned that the new variant was more transmissible than the previous ones and spreads faster by air, and due to its modified spike proteins, could cause greater damage. Some traces of the Vietnam virus have been found in the North East of India, and the genome sequencing is under way. The proclivity of the virus to mutate underscores its continuing menace. While vaccination breakthroughs with the new variants are occurring, vaccination fortunately still does offer a quantifiable shield against serious infections and brings down the CFR considerably.

The Vaccination Conundrum

This brings up issue of the need for an accelerated vaccination drive. As of now, the percentage of people vaccinated in India is less than 18%, and the country’s share of global active coronavirus cases now stand at 19.08 per cent (one in 5)[11]. The two major vaccine manufacturers in India, Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech, which produce Covishield and Covaxin respectively, can manufacture around 90 million doses a month. At this pace, vaccinating 840 million people who make up the 18+ population in India (two doses each) will take over 19 months! Urgent imports of Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Sputnik V have been initiated, but India is competing against burgeoning international demand. Newer vaccines, including a nasal spray are being  developed, but R&D  and three phased trials are time consuming, which is a matter of grave concern, given the speed of mutations. Hence, despite ramping up local production, indigenous R&D, and importing of vaccines, the goal of 70% vaccination, which is a sine qua non for herd immunity, seems a tall order. Moreover, the newer emerging virus variants may not respond to the available vaccines, and people may require an annual booster shot, which will further strain vaccine availability. Another factor is that vaccines are by and large only 70-80 % efficacious. The possibility that some variants, including the increasingly prevalent Delta variant, will not respond to the available vaccines is also not ruled out. A tardy vaccination drive, with major segments having continuing exposure to COVID, is an internal stress factor that India can ill afford. Policymakers will have to rethink the country’s vaccination strategy and the collateral delivery systems.

Restructuring Response to COVID

With a savage second wave upon us, India must now restructure its response to the crisis. The PM, in his address to the nation on 8 June 2021, has admitted to lapses in the vaccination policy, and has decided to centralise procurement, both for efficient delivery, and to minimise graft in the process. He had earlier promised a public health response based on science, making it clear that the present government policies would not have room for obscurantist remedies, which are being used without empirical basis. He has stated that there will be free vaccinations for all Indian citizens over the age of 18, and that attempts would be made to vaccinate the entire population by December 2021. His words have given a boost of confidence to the beleaguered nation, but the global shortage of vaccines is a major impediment, and there is the “Sword of Damocles”—the third wave of the pandemic, forecast from October-November this year, hanging over our heads. Vaccine shortage is emerging as one of the major threats to internal security, for any delay on this front could leave us just as unprepared for the third wave as we were for the second.

Damage Control

Planning is underway to contain and control the pandemic situation. The government has ramped up the administration and formed six nodal groups to combat the problem. NITI Aayog will be leading three of the empowered groups. ICMR will lead one of the groups, with Secretaries to the Government leading the rest.[12] Some of the major decisions taken by the Government include custom duty waivers for vital items like oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators and vaccines. State governments are now permitted to borrow up to 75 percent of their annual limit for FY22 in the first nine months, i.e., between April-December. Also, government has allowed spends on makeshift COVID-19 hospitals and temporary care facilities to be treated as an eligible CSR activity.[13]

The RBI has announced some important measures to minimise the impact of the second wave: term liquidity facility of INR 500 billion to provide fresh credit support for enhancing COVID-related infrastructure; purchase of government securities worth INR 350 billion; and a renewed moratorium on loan repayments to individuals and MSMEs. Importantly, GoI is accepting foreign aid, to combat health related problems posed by the second wave, the first time in 16 years. These steps, while laudable, are yet to create fiscal impact, due to the government’s shrinking fiscal space. The Government has expended considerable resources for relief during the first and second waves of the pandemic. The GoI has to face deteriorating sovereign ratings and undersubscribed bond issues which hinder fund raising from foreign and domestic markets. Attempts by the Government to raise funds through disinvestment in public enterprises like Air India, BPCL, and Shipping Corporation of India, have not yet yielded dividends, forcing austerity measures. This could impact India’s ability to respond to the pandemic.[14] The stimulus package offered by the GoI through the Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative   of 10 percent of the GDP, focused on the three Rs of relief, rehabilitation and rebuilding, which included free food distribution, credit guarantees to MSMEs etc, mainly primary needs. However, the true fiscal stimulus amounted to approximately 1.3 percent of the GDP. While these measures make good economics, they have been unable so far to resuscitate the manufacturing sectors and the job markets.

Economic Woes

Moreover, several countries have restricted the entry of travellers and cargo from India. This is likely to have a substantial downside effect on trade in goods and services, which already registered a negative growth of 16.66 percent during April-September 2020. India, which has an estimated market size of over INR 375 billion, is likely to witness a similar contraction in the second wave, with the concomitant problems of unemployment, pay erosion and loss of purchasing power.

The country is reeling under the economic impact of the second wave. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), there is over 17 per cent unemployment in urban India and nearly 14 per cent in rural India. A grim Barclays bank assessment suggests that India has lost around Rs 60,000 crore every week in May 2021, and the trend is likely to continue in June and July. The bank estimates an erosion of 3.75 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Earlier, in April 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic, about 126 million jobs were lost, about 90 million of those jobs were of daily wagers. The combined effect of the lockdown and migration ravaged the unorganised sector, which is the most vulnerable. When the lock down was removed, many of the migrant labour moved back into the labour market. The pattern through the two lockdowns was that migrant labour, though often close to or within the BPL, could move in and out of employment fairly casually. Unfortunately, their earning capacity/propensity declined and consequently, social indices like education, healthcare, nutrition etc have taken a big hit. Another significant development was that a number of formal jobs, which had been lost during the first wave, came back as informal jobs, without job security, and more often than not, at reduced pay. According to the CMIE there were an “estimated 403.5 million jobs before we were hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, while today, we’re at 390 million. Everybody has not got their job back, and those who have, have not necessarily got the same quality job. And salaried jobs are still falling”.[15] The consequence of the above backdrop is that after accounting for inflation, more than 97 per cent of India’s population has become poorer compared to where they were in terms of income in end 2019. As explained in the preceding, the economic stimulus, though well planned and well intentioned, has not given adequate impetus to restart manufacturing, which is falling steeply. It is seen that those with deep pockets prefer to put resources into the equity market, rather than into manufacturing and capacity building which would create assets and jobs. Existing enterprises are using only about 60% of their capacity, and many industries in the SME and MSME sectors have shut down. There is no way to sugar-coat this situation. It needs to improve and fast. Unemployment and economic downturns could create schisms in society, and pose major threats to internal stability.

Post COVID Health Audit

Economics and fiscal problems apart, the pandemic has a quantifiable effect on survivors. COVID 19 affects the pulmonary, cardiovascular and nephric systems. Myriad instances of patients who have survived COVID but succumb to a sudden stroke, renal failure or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) have been recorded. Survivors often report extreme fatigue in addition to the above problems. Several survivors who have been interviewed have spoken about their inability to work at previous levels and face fall in productivity. In the second wave, many families have lost members, and the social impact of losing breadwinners, or leaving orphaned children is immense.[16]

Effect of COVID on Security/ Health Sectors

A major security concern is the death/ infection rate within the local police forces and the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF). Over 3,08,615 police personnel have been infected with COVID to date, 33,902 quarantined, and with about 2057casualties. Figures for police families affected is not yet available. Over 30% have not been able to return to work as yet, and health problems amongst the survivors are legion.[17] These figures are disquieting as they impact COVID control duties, which could have a major impact upon the police’s ability for COVID related work, including delivery of vaccines and essential drugs, preventing black marketing and defusing law and order situations.[18] The problem is worse in the case of health workers and doctors. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has stated that over 747 doctors have died of Covid-19. While all states of India have had to face casualties within the health care sector, the worst affected states were Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Gujarat. The numbers of nurses, ward attenders, and ambulance staff who have succumbed to COVID are no less grim.[19]

Pandemic Watch continues on Red Alert

Apart from the humanitarian angle, these developments have a major impact on internal security, in terms of depletion of these core services during an expected third wave. News of the new variant of the virus prevalent in Vietnam being found in the North East, and the presence of another severe variant – B.1.1.28.2 which has been identified by the National Institute of Virology[20] – points to a continuing red alert over the pandemic.  Add Mucormycosis to this lethal brew. Mucormycosis fungal infection is caused by a group of molds called mucormycetes, which mainly affects people with compromised immunity. What was an occasional infection has now become a serious threat due to infecting COVID patients with co-morbidities. The horrific aspect of this infection, which causes facial deformities and often leads to loss of sight, has pushed the panic button in most hospitalised patients.[21] Hospitals and COVID care centres are gearing up for a third wave, but it is to be seen if they could adequately cater for essential services and delivery of vaccines.

Conclusion

The second wave of the COVID pandemic has ravaged the country, with health and administrative services being strained to the limit. Despite this, there have been no major instances of rioting or coordinated strikes in India. The internal situation, though strained has not cracked under the pressure. However, the possibility of a third wave and the consequences thereof has potential for societal turmoil. In this scenario, the PMO has taken charge of the situation, from centralising vaccine procurement, and distributing the same, as well as lifesaving drugs.

The factor that needs to be kept in mind are the rising casualties within the security forces, doctors and health workers, which could impede effective delivery of aid and assistance.  The pandemic is global, and its reach is global. This is one time when we as individuals need to understand our responsibilities as both proximate and international. The times call for strict adherence to COVID protocols and self-discipline. This remains the only known panacea at this time.

Author Brief Bio: Ms. Prabha Rao is Executive Director, South Asian Institute for Strategic Affairs and Distinguished Scholar at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. She is a former IPS officer from Karnataka cadre (1982 batch) who went on a deputation to cabinet secretariat and served in several locations abroad.

References:

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2052297520300251, by A A Dawood

[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2052297520300251, by A A Dawood

[3] https://covid19.who.int/june 4

[4] https://www.newsweek.com/exclusive-how-amateur-sleuths-broke-wuhan-lab-story-embarrassed-media-1596958

[5] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/us-health-secretary-calls-for-transparent-2nd-phase-of-covid-19-origins-investigation/articleshow/82976368.cms

[6] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)01052-7/fulltext

[7] https://arxiv.org/abs/2101.09158

[8] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/government-backed-model-to-predict-pandemic-rise-and-ebb-lacks-foresight-scientists/article34479503.ece

[9] https://www.deccanherald.com/science-and-environment/covid-19-acquires-new-mutations-to-escape-immune-response-993479.html

[10] https://scroll.in/latest/996136/covid-vietnam-finds-new-virus-variant-with-combination-of-strains-first-identified-in-india-uk

[11] https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/data-story-india-s-covid-vaccination-past-190-mn-about-14-population-jabbed-121052101475_1.html

[12] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/govt-reconstitutes-6-empowered-groups-into-10-to-tackle-covid-19-crisis-101622298616531.html?utm_source=browser_notifications&utm_medium=

[13] Impact of the 2nd wave_koan advisory.pdf

[14] Impact of the 2nd wave_koan advisory.pdf

[15] https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/cmie-ceo-says-97-indians-poorer-post-covid-steady-fall-in-salaried-jobs-121052900142_1.html

[16] https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.08.12.20173526v1

[18]  https://www.policefoundationindia.org/covid-19-resources

[19] https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/747-doctors-died-of-covid-19-in-india-ima-7277087/

[20] Times of India June 8

[21] https://www.freepressjournal.in/mumbai/after-white-and-black-fungus-ghaziabad-reports-first-case-of-yellow-fungus-all-you-need-to-know

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Covid-19 and After: Internal Security Challenges

Introduction

The first case of Covid-19 in India—the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus—and which first originated in Wuhan, China, was reported on 30 January 2020.[1] Covid-19 is. India is currently passing through the second phase of the disease and has the largest number of confirmed cases in Asia.[2] As of 19 June 2021, India has the second-highest number of confirmed cases in the world (after the United States) with 29.9 million reported cases of Covid-19 infection and the third-highest number of Covid deaths (after the United States and Brazil) at 388,164 deaths.[3]

Although China has rejected the claim that the virus escaped from a test in a chemical laboratory in Wuhan and has also stonewalled the demand for a probe into the accident, the general opinion with some evidence is that the virus did spread from Wuhan.[4]

The first wave

On 30 January 2020, the WHO declared Covid-19, a public health emergency of international concern.[5] This was also the day when the first Covid-19 case was reported in Kerala, India. Subsequently, the number of cases drastically rose. According to the press release by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) of 08 May 2020, a total of 14, 37,788 suspected samples had been sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, and a related testing laboratory.[6] Among them, 56,342 cases tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

To impose social distancing, the “Janata curfew” (14-h lockdown) was ordered on 22 March 2020. A further lockdown was initiated for 21 days, starting on 25 March 2020, and the same was extended until 01 May, but, owing to an increasing number of positive cases, the lockdown had to be extended for the third time until 17 May 2020.

The second wave

When the coronavirus pandemic was sweeping across India last year, the government appointed a committee of experts drawn from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), and the Indian Institute of Sciences (IIS). The committee developed a “supermodel” based on the peculiarity of Indian conditions, which predicted that the Covid-19 pandemic would come to an end in February 2021 in India largely due to herd immunity. The model estimated that there were 60-65 asymptomatic undetected infections for every lab-confirmed case of Covid-19. This estimate was vastly different from the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) serosurveys assessment of 26-32 undetected Covid-19 cases for every lab-confirmed case.

The committee submitted its report in October 2020 when India’s Covid-19 caseload was around 75 lakhs. Taking that number as a base, the supermodel estimated that the country’s actual Covid-19 caseload would have been around 50 crore or close to 40 per cent of India’s population. By February 2021, the Covid-19 wave was to draw to an end, but by mid-February, India saw a revival of Covid-19—the second wave. The second wave has since strengthened, pushing active coronavirus cases beyond 9 lakh and the total Covid-19 caseload to nearly 3 crore cases.

It should be noted that the supermodel, named SUTRA, was correct in predicting ebb in the Covid-19 pandemic wave in February. The country saw daily cases falling below 9,000 from the high of over 97,000 in September. The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has taken the daily cases of coronavirus infections to an all-time high of more than 1.26 lakh. Now, the question dominating the public debate is when the second Covid-19 wave may end in India and will it be followed by further waves.

Given the complexity of the crisis, with variants of Sars-CoV-2 clouding the calculus, nothing can be said with certainty. But a continuation of the disease over a long period of time poses serious challenges to the well-being and security of the nation. In his broadcast on 14 May 2021, the Prime Minister spoke in detail about the challenges the nation would face in this regard and asked the people to prepare accordingly.[7]

The Challenges

Our experience with the first and second phase of Covid-19 indicates that the pandemic has hardly left any aspect of our lives untouched. Besides the severe debilitating impact on health care and the national economy, almost all vital services, social life, economic well-being, social interaction, security, law and order, development, planning etc. have been adversely and in some cases dangerously impacted. With India being sandwiched between two hostile neighbours that are in tango and trying to grab even the smallest of opportunity to bring harm to our nation, the threat to our nation is very real and serious. While nobody is in any position to predict how the future will unfold, yet prudence demands that we clearly explain the challenges and suggest remedial measures which the government may find useful for close consideration. These are enumerated in subsequent paragraphs.

Mass involvement

The handling the Covid-19 means handling the vast masses of Indian people because the virus spreads indiscriminately in urban and rural areas and transcends all human barriers like caste, creed, colour, faith, belief, ideology etc. It means the entire nation is at war with the virus. Defeating Covid-19 depends on the unity and solidarity of the entire nation in meeting the challenge as a source of national disaster. Therefore, mass involvement means putting aside small and mundane differences, local and regional rivalries, jingoistic party affiliations and identification and suppression of criminal and anti-national elements in whatever form and shape these are. This objective can best be achieved by the political leadership, panchayat and social representatives inculcating the sense of responsibility among the masses of people on an unprecedented scale. Masses of the people are to be educated and informed that unity and observance of the established protocol of social interaction alone can save their lives and their livelihood. The government has to be vigilant about disruptive elements misleading sections or segments of society under one pretext or the other.

Law and Order

There is an established mechanism of fighting natural calamities and vagaries of weather. But Covid-19 is a unique and unprecedented calamity that nobody had ever imagined. The worst is that fighting its threats becomes the duty of almost all services of the government plus the voluntary services from NGOs and social and charity organisations as supplementary support to the efforts of the government.

We have noted that the law-and-order situation in the country has come under strain after the change of government in 2014/2019. The bane of democracy in our country is the rise of personality cult on the one hand and the rise of identities of various hues on the other after the first two or three decades of independence. Incapable of handling these aberrations with deft hands, the long-sitting ruling structures began feeling deprived and marginalised because they had lost political power. As the Indian nation opted for a change in aforesaid years through the constitutional process, the dislodged segment, instead of behaving as responsible opposition, unfortunately resorted to hostility to the elected regime and even had no qualms of conscience if national solidarity and territorial integrity were attacked. It is unfortunate that the seditious slogan of “Bharat tere tukde honge, inshallah[8] were raised by the students of a university that stood in the name of the first Prime Minister of India, a great patriot and a democrat.

Opposition is the backbone of democracy but when the opposition becomes anti-national and propagates divisiveness, it poses a very serious threat to the internal security of the State. These elements and their cronies are out to join hands with our adversaries with no purpose other than that of pulling down the elected government. The freedoms allowed by democracy are blatantly misused and need to be curbed so that law and order in the country is not jeopardised. We have seen how a small segment of people can mislead the masses and whip up sentiments on a communal and parochial basis as seen in the case of Shaheen Bagh or Delhi riots. Enforcement of law and order must be ensured, even if “coercive force” is to be used. The nation also needs to bring about reforms in the legal structure to ensure that disgruntled elements are not encouraged or allowed to pose a challenge to the solidarity of the state.

Police and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF)

Lockdowns are usually disliked by people. Labourers, business class, students, tourists etc. resent it. Lockdowns are highly detrimental to the economy of the country. But people have to understand the dire compulsions of the government to impose lockdowns which it also would not want to do. It is the question of public health. Lockdown is the effective way of enforcing social distancing which is of primary importance to remain safe from Covid-19.

Government has the compulsion of enforcing lockdown and it is obliged to use what is called “coercive force” meaning the police of various categories like State Armed Police and the CAPF. In many instances, these forces have to bear the wrath of the uncontrolled and irrational mobs throwing stones and hurling rocks or bombs at the security forces to discourage them and force them to retreat. In such a situation, the police or the CAPF are in a very embarrassing situation whether to use force or not when gentle persuasion fails to hold the undisciplined crowds. The miscreants and anti-government elements are on the lookout for such critical occasions to instigate the crowds that their rights and liberties are curbed and that they are being treated inhumanly.

What is of utmost importance is to provide the police and CAPF with an adequate defensive mechanism so that minimum harm is done to their person by the recalcitrant mobs. The police have to be given efficient and effective training of self-control and self-discipline not to get irritated and do any action out of frustration. Miscreants and anti-national elements will try to instigate the police which must be resisted. Sometimes the police force is asked to act against ideological war, something outside the purview of their normal function. It is the political system that must fight the ideological war and not the police force. But to malign the police, the miscreants and trouble mongers will tarnish them and paint them in a dark colour to reduce their prestige and status in the eyes of the people. This is a serious threat and all vigilance is needed to combat it.

The police are also a source of intelligence that forms the main plank of action against the anti-national elements. Be it the terrorists in Kashmir or the Maoists in Bastar or Naxalites in Telangana, the police are the main source of intelligence for the government. Therefore, the security, welfare and proper equipment are what the government must ensure in their case. We have had so many casualties of policemen and officers in tackling the anti-national elements. It is important that the public take the police as its supporter and not adversary which, unfortunately, is the prevailing idea at the moment.

Migrant workers

A very large number of labourers move out of their native places and head towards other states in search of work. They usually choose to move to industrial regions where there are good chances of finding work. Their migration may be of long or short duration depending on how long they can afford to be away from their small landholdings. Millions of daily wagers were working in numerous industrial units in Mumbai, Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh etc. when the first wave of Covid-19 struck with all fury. The industrial units were closed down and millions of these labourers were rendered jobless and forced to return to their homes. This large-scale migration raises many critical concerns, such as transportation at a time when the rail and bus services have been suspended. Unable to find means of returning home, many labourers with their families, undertook a long march to reach their native places. On 14 September 2020, Labour and Employment Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar stated in the Parliament that information collected from state governments indicated an estimated 10 million migrants had attempted to return home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown.[9]  He later stated in Parliament on 15 September 2020 that no data was maintained on the number of migrants in the country who had either died or become unemployed, as a result of the pandemic. [10]

Just coming back to their homes did not solve their problem as most were now jobless and penniless. It is highly appreciable that the government rose to the occasion and came to their succour. Soon after the nationwide lockdown was announced in late March, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a ₹1.7 lakh crore (US$24 billion) spending plan for the poor. This consisted of cash transfers and steps to ensure food security.[11]  By 3 April, the central government had released ₹11,092 crores to states and UTs under the NDRF, to fund food and shelter arrangements for migrants. To help provide jobs and wages to workers, the average daily wages under the MGNREGA were increased to ₹202 (US$2.80) from the earlier ₹182 (US$2.60), as of 1 April. ₹1,000 crore from the PM CARES Fund was allocated for the support of migrant workers on 13 May. On 14 May, FM Sitharaman further announced free food grains for the migrant workers, targeting 80 million migrant workers by spending ₹35 billion (US$490 million).[12]

It has to be remembered that the migrant workers are sustaining India’s industrial and economic growth to a great extent. If neglected and not cared for, it will result in colossal damage to our economy which we cannot afford.

Cyber threat

Writing under the caption ‘India becomes a favourite destination for cyber-Criminals amid Covid-19’, Shivani Shinde and Neha Alwadhi wrote, “In February 2021—nearly one year from the start of the pandemic—there were 377.5 million brute-force attacks—a far cry from the 93.1 million witnessed at the beginning of 2020. India alone witnessed 9.04 million attacks in February 2021. The total number of attacks recorded in India during Jan & Feb 2021 was around 15 million.”[13]

According to Kaspersky’s telemetry,[14] when the world went into lockdown in March 2020, the numbers in India went from 1.3 million in February 2020 to 3.3 million in March 2020. From April 2020 onward, monthly attacks never dipped below 300 million, and they reached a new high of 409 million attacks worldwide in November 2020. In July 2020, India recorded its highest number of attacks at 4.5 million.

In a Study titled ‘Covid, cyber-attacks, and data fraud top threats for India Corporate’ the Economic Times gave the following inference:

“The public health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as the top threat for Indian corporate, while cyber-attacks and data frauds loom equally large, according to a study. While there is great optimism about the ability of organisations to rebound and address future pandemic-related challenges, cyber-attacks and data fraud continue to be paramount concerns for risk professionals in India, as per the survey round 63 per cent of the 231 survey respondents — which included C-suite executives and senior risk professionals — identified the continued fallout of COVID-19 among the top three risks facing their organisations.

Cyber-attacks (56 per cent), data fraud or theft (36 per cent), failure of critical infrastructure (33 per cent), fiscal crises (31 per cent) and extreme weather events (25 per cent) were highlighted among the other top risks for Indian businesses. The majority of survey respondents (85 per cent) said the pandemic necessitated a shift to remote work, which has increased the organisations’ exposure to potential cyber-attacks.

In the light of the pandemic and shutdowns imposed by national and local governments, failure of critical infrastructure climbed the ranks in the 2020 survey as many organisations re-evaluated their risk management priorities.[15]

We are already aware that at one time China almost locked down Mumbai, the financial hub of India. Pakistan has also been trying it. The threat is dimensional as it can penetrate every private and personal data and hack even passwords, bank account numbers, codes and sensitive documents etc. More importantly, our defence network can become vulnerable. This is a very big threat and the remedy is that India must upgrade and have the state of art cybersecurity mechanism impenetrable to any hacker howsoever crafty and improvised.

Divisive forces

Black marketers, hoarders, financial criminals, economic burglars, anti-social elements, enemy agents, communalists and sectarian malefactors are out to join hands with antagonistic political opportunists and foreign agents to strike at the roots of the values of our society like humanism, equality, democracy and respect for the law of the land. They subvert the law of the land and paint the country in the darkest colour. The partisan sections of media are playing a very negative role and they have formed a nexus with the international anti-India syndicate. When India made the vaccine, they raised doubts about its genuineness and refused to take it. But when many countries including the US appreciated India’s successful efforts, these elements are now raising the question of why the government does not vaccinate 130 crore people overnight.

The government will have to revisit the law that pertains to the internal and external security of the country. Redundant laws have to be weeded out and replaced by pragmatic and highly desirable laws that ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the State. A new standard of administrating the state in a scenario of Covid-19 and its variants has to be evolved.  Rules can be harsh because the crimes are almost inhuman. Even the judiciary has to revisit the entire scenario and bring new blood to the veins of the law and dispensation.

Conclusion

Covid-19 with its undefined variants is intractable. In all probability, it is going to stay for long with the global population. The adverse impact hardly spares any aspect of life. Therefore, the States must understand that they have to deal with a new situation in which the rights, duties, freedoms and privileges of citizens have to be given new value and new interpretation. India is vulnerable owing to its population and landmass. She has to begin new lessons in administrating the country and handling the crowds.

Author Brief Bio: Prof. K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

References

[1]  “India’s first coronavirus infection confirmed in Kerala”. The Hindu    https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/indias-first-coronavirus-infection-confirmed-in-kerala/article30691004.ece, Retrieved 24 February 2021.

[2]   Hindustan Times. 29 May 2020.

[3] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ accessed on 21 June 2021

[4]  W.H.O. Declares Global Emergency as Wuhan Coronavirus Spreads, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/30/health/coronavirus-world-health-organization.html (accessed February 03, 2020).

  1. 5. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmed.2020.00250/full
  2. 6. Indian Council of Medical Research. Government of India. ICMR (2020), https://main.icmr.nic.in/content/covid-19 (accessed May 09, 2020).

[7]  News 18, 14 May 2021

[8]  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwqusr8YDwM-3mEYTDeJHzw

[9]  The Economic Times. Retrieved 12 November 2020

[10]  The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 12 November 2020.

[11]  Beniwal, Vrishti; Srivastava, Shruti (26 March 2020). “India Unveils $22.6 Billion Stimulus Plan to Ease Virus Pain”. Bloomberg Quint.

[12]  “India to Provide Free Food Grains to Millions of Migrant Workers”. The New York Times. Reuters. 14 May 2020. ISSN 0362-4331 Retrieved 16 May 2020.

[13]  The Business Standard, April 6, 2021

[14]  Ibid

[15]  The Economic Times of 9 Dec 2020

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Covid-19: Impact on the Indian Economy and Employment – Way Forward

Abstract

The present situation prevailing over the world has to be unmasked and the global pandemic named “Covid-19” across the World has been originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, China, and has enveloped the entire world impacting all major economies adversely in the fields of aviation, tourism, retail, education, automotive, restaurant, and oil and gas sector resulting in severe employee layoffs. Highly transmissible nature of this virus and its subsequent mutations are becoming a grave concern for the economic recovery process. A robust research and development effort around the world in the discovery of vaccines and inoculation of the people are easing the dangers posed by the pandemic. Post the first wave of the pandemic, a hesitant and uneven recovery started to take place from an unprecedented steep fall. Government of India and Reserve Bank of India calibrated stimulus intervention process into various sectors of the economy appears to positive recovery. However, a second wave caused by more lethal virus variants from March 2021 onwards has forced authorities to impose stringent lockdown procedures by all State Governments halted the economic recovery resulting in further fall in business activity and employment.

Introduction:

A cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan of Hubei Province, China have been reported by Wuhan Municipal Health Commission. Eventually Covid-19 has been identified in December 2019 which was originated from Wuhan Institute of Virology, China. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Covid-19 as a pandemic on 11th March 2020 [1]. During the first wave of the pandemic, several European countries such as Spain, Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, and the USA bore the major brunt of the virus. United Kingdom authorities reported a SARS-CoV-2 variant to WHO in December 2020. The United Kingdom referred to this variant as SARS-CoV-2 VOC 202012/01 (Variant of Concern). On 18 December 2020, national authorities in South Africa announced the detection of a new variant of SARS-CoV-2. Later on, Covid-19 pandemic is continuously evolving, as mutations are taking place in the virus and the resultant severity of the virulence is constantly changing depending upon the type of variant and its structure. The proliferation of Covid-19 is not the same in all countries. Covid-19 outbreak of most affected countries for a 7-day moving average preceding 22nd June 2021 is presented in Figure 1[2]. A comprehensive database of the virus variants compiled by global initiative on sharing all influenza data (GISAID) sourced from genomic sequencing organizations of several countries is available [3].  According to a report by Nature and Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing Consortia (INSACOG), B.1.1.7, B.1.618, B.1.618 and B.1.351 virus variants are dominant in India which are further undergoing mutations [4]. The severity of the Covid-19 pandemic can be easily understood from Figure 2.

On the vaccine front; major methodologies employed for their development and manufacture are m-RNA, DNA, Viral vector, Protein based and inactivated virus. A pictorial representation of vaccines developed using these methodologies and their manufacturers are presented in Figure 3[5]. Currently, 82 vaccine candidates are under clinical development and 182 vaccine candidates are in the pre-clinical development phase [6].

In India, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Kerala, among 3 Indian students those who had returned from Wuhan [7]. Kerala has announced first lockdown on 23 March 2020 followed by the rest of the country two days later. Recoveries in Covid cases exceeded compared to infected cases by June 10, 2020. Five of the highest industrialised cities accounted for around half of all reported cases in the country, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Thane. Daily cases peaked mid-September with over 90,000 cases reported per-day, dropping to below 15,000 in January 2021 [8-10]. The country began a phased lifting of restrictions on 8 June [11]. This phased lifting of restrictions continued in a series of “unlocks” which extended into November 2020 [12]. Second wave of Covid-19 pandemic started from mid-March 2021 and rapidly spread in almost all big states in the country and is still ongoing. Stringent lockdown measures were re-imposed to tackle the worsening health care situation and to arrest the spread of the infection [13].  As the active infected cases started to fall at rapid speed, several states had started implementing the unlock procedures from the 2nd week of June 2021.

The National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) was constituted in August 2020 to draw strategy for the vaccine deployment [14]. The Indian government provided around 65.5 million doses of covid vaccines to 95 countries between 20 January 2021 and late March 2021. 10.5 million doses were gifted while the remaining were commercial and COVAX obligations [15]. Based on the scientific data and experience from other nations and discovery of delta and delta plus variants, several scientists including the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government announced that “Carona pandemic Phase 3’ is inevitable and not too far away [16,17]. As of 22nd June 2021, India has administered 28,87,66,201 vaccines with a world record of vaccinations of 8.5 million on 21 January 2021[18].

Impact on Economy and Employment in India

Stringent lockdown measures have seriously impacted the world economy as well as Indian economy causing adversely in the fields of aviation, tourism, retail, education, automotive, restaurant, and oil and gas sector resulting in severe employee layoffs. According to International Labour Organization (ILO) [19], in 2020, 8.8 percent of global working hours were lost relative to the fourth quarter of 2019, equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs which are also equivalent to approximately four times greater than during the global financial crisis in 2009. At present during second wave, in India it is estimated by Standards & Poor’s that about $210 million daily output loss in April-June quarter period [20].

World Bank report estimates 4.3 percent contraction in global economy in 2021 [21] because of COVID19 pandemic, and it estimates that 3.6 % contraction in U.S. GDP, 7.4% GDP contraction in European Union, 5.3 % GDP contraction in Japan and 2.6% contraction in aggregate GDP of emerging and developing economies. India, the world’s sixth-largest economy also had been hit hard by the pandemic last year as its GDP contracted by 7.9% [22]. Country braced the first wave of pandemic outbreak and made some impressive recovery but onset of more severe second wave in April 2021 has wiped out the previous economic gains and dented the economic recovery. Government of India has given more freedom to State Governments to take appropriate decisions based on local situations like imposing lockdown, etc. unlike the centralised decision which happened last year. This has allowed agriculture and heavy industry manufacturing sector to keep operating. Nevertheless, 100 million jobs were lost during the nationwide April-May 2020 lockdown, and at the present, during the month of May 2021, 15.3 million jobs were lost. This has resulted in an 18% jobless rate in urban areas of India, which is an additional burden on unemployed educated youth and which is now having an inverse relationship with their education backgrounds Table-1 [23].

A recent report STATE OF WORKING INDIA 2021: One year of Covid-19 (Azim Premji University) highlights that an average household of four members, used to have Rs. I5,989 monthly per capita income in Jan 2020 which has come down to Rs. 14,979 in Oct 2020. Unemployment is more pronounced in young workers (15-24 years age group) who failed to recover employment. Azim Premji report further observes rapid increase in informal employment sector during the pandemic as salaried workers shifted towards self-employment and daily wage activities. Further, it is reported that Covid-19 has made huge damage on women employment opportunities and 46.6% of jobs of women were not recovered Table-2. It is a foregone conclusion that increasing health expenses and reduced employment opportunities have further worsened the economic situation of poorer households, increased poverty level and contributed to wealth disparities [24].

On the other hand, Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd., found that India’s household savings dropped to 22.1% of GDP from 28.1% during April-June 2020 which is an alarming issue. The depleting household savings and falling incomes will have an adverse effect on household member’s health care expenditure, school expenditure and standard of living including domestic consumption, which accounts for about 60% of GDP.

Way forward:

Government relief measures like free rations, cash transfers, MGNREGA, PM-KISAN payments, pension payments Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) and the Atmanirbhar Bharat packages have provided the soothing effect to most vulnerable population from pandemic in 2020. Government’s policy response to Covid-19 pandemic crisis is still to be reached at the needy people, particularly MSME sector. Nevertheless, the economic mayhem caused by the pandemic requires not only increasing the size and scope of the present economic relief scheme but also introducing new economic relief and reconstruction measures by considering substantial increase in the fund allocation to MGNREGA to support rural employment and to reduce the employment stress on rural areas. Potential employment opportunities can be created to the masses through MSMEs; thus, it is required to give stimulus package for employment linked incentives (ELI) to strengthen MSME sector as well as to boost employment. Credit Line Guarantee Scheme may be positively considered to extend to pandemic hit economic sectors to revive and survive the economy. With the help of technology, rural areas must be equipped for a more dispersed and decentralised growth model with substantial employment contribution. Finally, it is important to remember that the entire population of our country, irrespective of age criteria must be vaccinated to protect the lives against Covid-19 and its variants and also to recover the economy at fast and sustainable pace.

Figure 1: Covid-19 Outbreak in major Countries

Figure 2

Figure 3

 

Figure 4

Table-1:

Table-1: Unemployment in India among educated youth between age group of 15-30
Education 2011-12 2017-18 2018-19 2018-19 (>30 yrs)
Illiterate 1.7 7.1 6.05 0.57
Upto Primary 3 8.3 7.05 0.77
Middle 4.5 13.7 11.6 1.08
Secondary 5.9 14.4 13.6 1.46
Higher secondary 10.8 23.8 19.6 2.04
Graduate 19.2 35.8 33.7 3.06
PG and above 21.3 35.8 32.7 4
Total 6.1 17.8 16.1 1.24

 

Source: NSS 2011-12, PLFS 2017-18 and PLFS 2018-19.

Table-2:

Table-2: Women more likely to lose employment and not return to work
Trajectory Men Women
No recovery 7.0 46.6
Delayed job loss 4.3 10.7
Recovery 28.2 23.9
No effect 60.6 18.7
Total 100.0 100.0

 

Source: CMIE-CPHS. Data is for the December 2019-April 2020-December 2020 panel

Authors Brief Bio: Dr. S. Lingamurthy is Assistant Professor at Central University of Karnataka and Ms. Anandi Gunda is a volunteer intern student, Hyderabad

References:

[1] https://www.who.int/

[2] https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/new-cases

[3] https://www.gisaid.org/phylodynamics/

[4] GayathriVaidyanathan, Nature 593, 321-322 (2021)

[5] https://github.com/CSSEGISandData/COVID-19

[6]https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/draft-landscape-of-covid-19-candidate-vaccines

[7] Andrews, MA; et al, Indian Journal of Medical Research. 151 (5): 490

[8] Shivani Kumar, Hindustan Times, 11 June 2020

[9] Shivani Kumar, The Week, 20 May 2020

[10] The Economic Times. 18 October 2020

[11] Journal of Industrial and Business Economics. 47 (3): 519–530

[12] Ministry of Home Affairs Unlock 5.0 official guidelines on their official website

[13] The Indian Express. 9 May 2021

[14] pib.gov.in. 12 August 2020

[15] Ministry of External Affairs – Government of India. 20 May 2021

[16] https://www.who.int/en/activities/tracking-SARS-CoV-2-variants/

[17] M, Kaunain Sheriff, The Indian Express, 5 May 2021

[18] https://www.mygov.in/covid-19

[19] ILO Monitor: Covid19 and the World of work, seventh edition, updated estimates and analysis, 25th January 2021, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/briefingnote/wcms_767028.pdf, accessed on 22nd June 2021

[20] https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/210m-daily-output-loss-in-india-over-april-june-in-severe-scenario-s-p-global-ratings-121050800608_1.html, accessed on 22nd June 2021

[21] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2021/01/05/global-economy-to-expand-by-4-percent-in-2021-vaccine-deployment-and-investment-key-to-sustaining-the-recovery, accessed on 21st June 2021

[22] Ecowrap, SBI Research, Issue No. 13, FY22, 25th May 2021

[23] National Sample Survey 2011-12, PLFS 2017-18 and PLFS 2018-19.

[24] Centre for Sustainable Employment, ‘State of Working in India – 2021, one year of COVID19’, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, Karnataka, https://cse.azimpremjiuniversity.edu.in/state-of-working-india/, accessed on 22nd June 2021

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Dealing with Unconventional Threats

Introduction

Unconventional threats of all types and hues, often looks for gaps in the system. A disgruntled person, a vulnerable communication protocol between key positions of power, unrest amongst the population, leaders with allegiance to contrary ideologies, people with compromised credentials and suspect integrity, are all targets for penetration.

While India is the most vibrant of all the democracies in the world, it is also the most chaotic. Indian scriptures talk of balancing chaos and order, while Western mythologies depict the two locked in a zero-sum battle in which order must triumph. That is a reality which holds good for the present day and times. Even in chaos there is an order where everyone is included. The pandemic which engulfed the world and in with which India is now engaged in combatting the second wave, is but one form of an unconventional threat. Here, the severity of the onslaught of the second wave stretched India’s health infrastructure to almost breaking point, leaving the people vulnerable and forced for the most part to fend for themselves. The chaos was therefore without any order.

India’s adversaries consider existence of chaos as a weakness and make persistent efforts to penetrate and dismantle our system. The last two millennium have however proved that our civilisation is robust enough to withstand any onslaught despite losing military and political control. Today, India is a militarily strong power when it comes to conventional means and is an enigma in the unconventional domain for its adversaries. India’s enemies have therefore resorted to emerging technologies to innovate and perforate that invincible shield of our nation.

The Challenge

The last two years have seen an onslaught of events which, when connected together, indicate attempts being made to destabilise India economically, militarily, diplomatically and politically. It would be unwise to see these events in isolation, instead of as a coordinated multi-frontal attack. If viewed in isolation, the response matrix to each of the challenges would be significantly different to the response options that could be exercised when viewed through a holistic perspective. As an example, response to cross border terrorism emanating from Pakistan, led to more robust ripostes in the form of surgical strikes by the Army and an air strike by the Indian Air Force on the Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Balakot, which has had a salutary impact on the security situation in the country.

To effectively deal with an unconventional threat, we need to examine the the following, to enable us to deal effectively with the threat:

  • Assess the nature, scale and reach of the threat.
  • Identify the organisation and the group of countries associated with the threat.
  • Determine the ability of the enemy to execute the attack and its capacity to sustain the same.
  • Real time damage assessment and prediction of future enemy manoeuvres.
  • Ability to quantify and deploy resources to contain and diffuse the attack.

The Covid-19 Pandemic

The extent of death, devastation and financial damage the country has suffered due to this pandemic, together with the whole world is manifold as compared to the series of terrorist strikes seen in a whole decade. A clear awareness as to how the pandemic originated, therefore, would have mandated a different strategy and course of action.

The Covid-19 pandemic has confirmed to us the possibility of a hostile power carrying out bio-warfare, with the outbreak being considered by the target population as a natural occurrence and not a planned attack. Such lack of awareness on the part of the targeted population lets the perpetrators scot-free, and emboldens them to plan for and execute further attacks. It is therefore of paramount importance that the cause should be made public at the first available opportunity, so that the adversary is deterred.

Since awareness is a key parameter in determining the course of response; the mechanism to gather and confirm the information therefore takes centre-stage. In a connected world, every piece of information is mostly available. With technologies like Bigdata analytics, it is possible in reasonable time frame to foresee the enemy plans shaping up even before the execution of any attack. Eventuality, modelling for any potential disaster situation has to become an essential part of our everyday routine.

Awareness during an unconventional threat is essential through all the stages of its progression. An unconventional attack mostly subverts and stresses the infrastructure it targets. The Covid-19 pandemic has subverted the entire health infrastructure worldwide. A proper digital platform could have acted as a shield and have absorbed the impact before the physical infrastructure got exposed. This could definitely have prevented the collapse of the machinery as a whole at the least.

The Indian Response

A fundamental weakness in dealing with the pandemic in India has been that despite being declared as a war, it is being fought by multiple agencies as small battles in their respective domains and regions. Consequently, resource management has been sub-optimal, leading to critical shortages in some places and sending the population into a wild frenzy. While it is very important to name the fight as a War, it is of greater importance to fight it as a War.

India’s response, as indeed of the whole world too, on the information warfare front was also sub-optimal. In early January 2020, the indications and enormity of the pandemic was evident in the public domain, yet even the developed countries chose to overlook the impending catastrophe. In India, while the political and medical response for the pandemic was remarkably well handled, the country could have better addressed the challenges on the information warfare front and put in place a converged platform to aid and optimise the healthcare infrastructure. The country had time from February 2020 to April 2021 to put such a system in place.

Platforms like Aarogya Setu were not adequately designed to address the right problem matrix. Consequently, in the midst of the second wave the country was caught on the wrong foot on multiple counts. The lack of adequate information to the masses added to the chaos, which in turn led to further accelerating the spread of the pandemic. Not only did the country as a whole let its guard down prematurely, we collectively refused to envision the lull before the storm. The lessons to be learnt are stark, and the realisation is still dawning upon us, as to how the right decisions, choices and strategies could have made us put up a better show.

A Future Response Strategy

Fighting this war by manual planning or conventional methods cannot yield any results whatsoever. Systems in silos add more to the chaos than deliver meaningful results. It is therefore vital that a comprehensive enterprise grade solution which can receive, purify and transform information from multiple solution frameworks be made available as a pre requisite at the earliest. Such a system shall empower the decision makers with a bird’s eye view over the complete area of responsibility (AoR) which can result in swifter and practical problem response matrix. The planning would then be not on speculative or presumptive data but rather on actuals.

An unconventional warfare always creates a higher coefficient of “Fog of War”. The only method for the fog to be decluttered is by generating realtime intelligence on the adversary, coupled with the assessment of damage caused by the attack. The damage shall always indicate the source and origin of the threat while the intelligence machinery shall give vital insights into the reactions of the adversary. In short it is a closed loop with one system feeding into the other and generating new set of possible outcomes.

To effectively deal with a future pandemic or any other unconventional threat, the following aspects mandatorily need to be in place.

  • Fight the unconventional threat under one single agency with a unified command and control, who shall be directly accountable to the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security).
  • NDMA should be led by a senior military officer rather than a bureaucrat, considering the lack of experience in matters of strategy, wartime planning and agile execution of the latter. We have to remember that the best people to ward of any threat of such scale and reach is always the armed forces.
  • Risk forecasting and Risk mitigation strategies for all known events must be ready at all times for execution during a regime of attack. Every war should be fought with a war plan, with sufficient scope to be flexible as per the demands of time.
  • The organisational structure should be powered by a converged digital platform which shall process multi-disciplinary information, so as to create a unified synthetic picture of the exact state of operations in real-time. An indigenous AI enabled Risk Informed Decision Support (RIDS) platform is an ideal solution framework for this requirement.

The country has moved heaven and earth to fight the pandemic. The efforts and intentions while being laudable, could have achieved a great deal more, if synergy had been created at all levels. Adding to the challenge is opportunistic politics, which acts as a friction to the prevalent fog of war. The National Health Authority undertaking the Digital Health Mission needs an immediate overhaul with experts who are conversant with the subject. These small measures can significantly change the course of this war and leave the country better prepared to fight future threats.

Author Brief Bio: Wg Cdr S Sudhakaran (V) is MD & CEO, QuGates Technologies

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Dealing with the Pandemic: Contribution of NGOs

At the time of writing, the world is facing a pandemic from Covid-19 that was first discovered in November 2019 in the city of Wuhan in China. By March 2020, many of the world’s governments announced lockdowns to curb the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which caused Covid-19. As of 20 June 2021, over 176 million people around the world have been affected by the virus, and over thirty-seven lakh lives lost – even after sound medical care in many cases. India experienced a ‘second wave’, despite a robust vaccination program, in April 2021 when it reported over one lakh cases a day. With its vast population, the country has, in the second wave, both the maximum number of new cases and deaths. Although the number of new cases by end June have drastically reduced, the pandemic is far from over.

As demonstrated by this pandemic, the question is not “if” a country will be affected but rather “when”. It is believed that developing countries are more vulnerable and that pandemics strike hardest at the most marginalised, the poorest and the most vulnerable groups as they lack the awareness and preparedness to deal with a pandemic.

This article explores the contribution of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) during the pandemic in India. In order to do so, the article first discusses the role of NGOs in pandemic preparedness and then gives examples of contributions of various NGOs in India.

The Role of NGOs in Pandemic Preparedness

With increases in population and skewed concentration of people in urban areas, it is argued that NGOs “have the opportunity and the responsibility to play a major role in preparedness, response, impact mitigation and advocacy to lessen the consequences”[i] of a pandemic, particularly amongst the poor and vulnerable groups. NGOs have the required presence, skill and experience to be able to contribute during pandemic planning and response. In particular, scholars believe that NGOs can contribute most in areas of health, economic aid, education and community-based surveillance.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued ten ‘Guiding Principles for International Outbreak Alert and Response’ in 2009, that state how nations must respond to outbreaks of international importance, including pandemics, and how to coordinate efforts between parties on field. Of importance is guiding principle number seven that outlines the role of NGOs. It states, “There is recognition of the unique role of national and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the area of health, including in the control of outbreaks. NGOs providing support that would not otherwise be available, particularly in reaching poor populations”[ii].

The scientific community agrees on four ways to reduce the effects and spread of any pandemic—vaccination, antiviral drug use, medical care and public health systems. Here, NGOs can contribute on-ground towards both prevention and preparedness through information dissemination, education, and community-based health care drives. On a policy level, they can inform decisions through surveillance, and by identifying and reporting potential ‘hotspots’ such as slums, high density residential colonies, or poorly ventilated areas. They can also bridge the gap between governments and international bodies such as the WHO that typically monitor pandemics. More importantly, they can bridge the gap between governments and citizens and are better placed to identify the needs of a community, including those that are hard to reach. Finally, NGOs can employ their networks, to share and amplify information.

In the very first week of lockdown in March 2020 in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on NGOs to help the government in dealing with the pandemic[iii]. He urged them to provide basic necessities to the underprivileged such as medical and protective gear and more importantly to spread information on awareness campaigns such as washing hands, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. The NITI Aayog too, reached out to over 92,000 NGOs during the first few months of the onset of the pandemic to “boost cross-sectoral collaboration”[iv] and exploit NGOs network to ensure effective distribution of essentials. More importantly, they needed help in spreading awareness among the rural population to educate them on Covid-19, on techniques to identify the virus, the precautionary measures that should be taken and when to seek medical care.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many NGOs used social network platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to share and amplify information regarding vaccination centres, vaccine availability, vaccine safety, and to help individuals in need of oxygen, blood or a hospital bed. NGOs also used their network to bring doctors together on online platforms, to provide free medical advice to those affected by Covid-19.

Examples of contribution of NGOs in India

Over 90,000 NGOs were contacted by NITI Aayog to help the government in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Every NGOs contribution is significant, no matter how big or small. It is beyond the scope of this paper to examine the contribution of every NGO. Therefore, it looks at a select few as examples of the role of NGOs and their contribution during the pandemic, through activities such as distribution of food and essential supplies, blood donation and plasma donation drives, support groups and raising awareness.

Rashtriya Sewa Bharati

The Rashtriya Sewa Bharati conducted several large scale, nationwide activities to support communities during Covid-19. The organisation was inspired by the acts of humanity by social reformers such as Swami Vivekananda, and under different state units, carried out Covid-19 relief efforts[v]. It mobilised over half a million volunteers and served at 92,656 towns across India[vi]. Among its various activities, it distributed food and food supplies to over seven million families, and food packets to 45 million people[vii]. This is perhaps the largest outreach programme conducted during a pandemic in India. Apart from food, the volunteers also distributed over nine million masks and donated more than 60,000 units of blood. The volunteers even helped over 44 lakh migrant workers, an oft forgotten, under represented and vulnerable group, since the first lockdown in India in March 2020. These migrants come from across the country and many were stranded or left with few opportunities to return to their hometowns. The Rashtriya Sewa Bharati set up over 400 medical centres across the country for migrants. In addition, they created over 900 help centres at bus stations and railways stations in India to help the migrants return to their hometowns. They also actively helped to secure jobs for the migrant workers once lockdown was lifted[viii].

Another activity that was conducted under Covid-19 relief was the restoration of old and unused hospitals into Covid-19 centres. One such example is the Bharat Gold Mines Limited (BGML) hospital in Kolar, Karnataka that was unused for nearly twenty years[ix]. A group of 300 volunteers from the organisation came together to restore the hospital and cleared it of weeds, debris and cobwebs. Within two weeks, a 300-bed hospital was set up, equipped with oxygen facility[x]. The organisation also formed a ‘Covid Response Team’ (CRT) dedicated towards aid and relief during the pandemic. The CRT created a helpline along with volunteers and over hundred doctors. In just over a month, the helpline had received 88,000 calls[xi]. The organisation also conducted health camps across Chennai, Bengaluru, Gorakhpur and Pune, among other cities as mentioned in Akhil Bharatiya Annual Report[xii]. The organisation was able to modify its programmes to suit the needs of the pandemic. For instance, in 2020, the focus was on helping migrant workers by providing them with food and safety, while in 2021 the focus shifted towards medical assistance—procuring oxygen, hospital beds, donating plasma, and conducting cremations.

The Hemkunt Foundation

Another NGO, the Hemkunt Foundation based in New Delhi, provided over 360 tons of meals to migrant workers. The NGO grew to international recognition during the second Covid-19 wave for its efforts in organising oxygen, medicines and hospital beds for those in need[xiii]. The organisation is based in New Delhi, which was badly affected during the second wave of the pandemic. The NGO, working out of makeshift camps in Gurgaon, provided oxygen through cars. They also created a facility with 700 medical beds, a fleet of ambulances, and distributed food to families affected by the virus. At the peak of the second wave, the Foundation even provided oxygen to hospitals in need, and launched a “drive through” oxygen initiative to provide oxygen to patients inside their cars[xiv]. The Foundation operates through over 100 volunteers and has 5,000 donors globally, a lot of whom donated through various social media campaigns. The money raised was used toward Covid-19 relief.

CRY

Child Rights and You (CRY) is another NGO that did extensive work during the pandemic. Founded in 1979 in Delhi, the NGO focuses its attention on an oft neglected group—young children. The organisation partners with other local NGOs to provide its services, ranging from basic health and hygiene kits for children to cooked meals every day. They paid particular focus to abandoned children and those that were left as orphans due to the deadly pandemic. To raise awareness about Covid-19 they conducted home visits for those without a phone, maintaining all social distancing protocols, and released campaigns through phone calls and WhatsApp including videos on how to wash hands. These campaigns revolved around public health and hygiene and behaviour change, sanitisation, and the proper use of face masks. Since the closure of government schools, and consequently the mid-day meal programme, many children were unable to get proper nutrition and timely immunisation. The organisation raised money to feed children, and also created programmes that focused on the psychological well-being of children, particularly for those who had not attended school due to the pandemic. In 2020-21, CRY was able to impact over six lakh children through their various programmes[xv]. By focusing their attention on vulnerable children, the organisation helped ensure that the pandemic does not leave a trail of child rights crisis in the long term.

ISKCON

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), founded in 1966 in New York has grown in presence across the world. Through their network of temples and rural communities, hundreds of affiliated vegetarian restaurants, and thousands of local meeting groups, they were able to carry out impressive work during the pandemic. During the on-going ‘second wave’ of the pandemic in India, ISKCON set up a fully functional, free facility with 200 beds, ten doctors and 18 nurses at Dwarka, New Delhi. The temporary facility included an ICU and ventilator facility, and patients were given nutritious meals. Apart from the hospital facility, ISKCON was already engaged in delivering free, safe and hygienic food to COVID patients at their doorstep under the ‘ISKCON Food Relief Initiative’. During the pandemic, 140 million plates of food were served through 77 kitchens spread across the country—perhaps one of the biggest such initiatives in the country. These meals were served to those stranded without support at home, to those forced to maintain social distancing within their homes, to entire families affected by coronavirus, to daily wage workers, low-income families and migrant workers. The vision of ISKCON during the pandemic was that “no one within a 10-mile radius of its centre should go hungry, which is even truer in today’s context”[xvi]. Food insecurity is an even bigger issue during a pandemic, particularly for those who cannot afford to ‘stock pile’. To address this challenge, on every day of the pandemic, hundreds of monks and volunteers prepared fresh food and delivered it to to the doorsteps of those in need, apart from setting up temporary food camps across cities in India. By partnering with government agencies, ISKCON was able to identify areas that were most in need of such food camps.

Green Dream Foundation

The Green Dream Foundation, a smaller NGO in size than others on this list, mainly deals with environmental issues but tweaked their programmes to help during the pandemic. At the onset of the pandemic, the Foundation, along with a few IIT graduates, started COVID SOS, a platform to help senior citizens and physically challenged people. Using WhatsApp and GPS technology they could find volunteers within walking distance of the person in need. Volunteers performed errands for those who could not leave their homes and also supplied emergency services and equipment and essentials. The platform has over a thousand volunteers across 10 cities.

Others

Some NGOs work in focus areas or limited locations and are not spread across the country. These NGOs are better suited to serve the needs of the communities they work with. One such NGO is The Enrich Lives Foundation, formerly known as The Annapurna Movement. It works in and around Mumbai, Maharashtra, with a special focus on its slums. The NGO, founded during the first wave of Covid-19 in March 2020, works with the express aim of aiding those in need affected by the pandemic. They put special focus on women, nutrition and public health. The Enrich Lives Foundation distributed food grains and grocery (ration) kits, and also helped those who lost work due to the pandemic to regain employment. The ration kits included wheat, rice, oil and pulses. During the pandemic they distributed over 10 lakh meals, over 30,000 ration kits, and Covid-19 relief material such as masks and sanitisers, worth rupees five crore. They raised funds mainly through online platforms like Ketto and Give India.

Not strictly started as NGOs but worth a mention is the contribution of some individuals with tremendous social media influence who have helped in Covid-19 relief either directly or by channelling funds through NGOs or by amplifying messages and the work of various NGOs. One such person is Bollywood actor Sonu Sood, who is considered by many to be at the forefront of charity work during the pandemic. He was instrumental in setting up oxygen plants in places like Kurnool and Nellore, both in Andhra Pradesh, that catered to government hospitals. His team also distributed over 700 oxygen concentrators to patients undergoing Covid-19 home treatment, and also created a shot video to raise awareness on India’s vaccination programme. Today, he channels his Covid-19 relief efforts through his newly created Sood Foundation.

Conclusion

The importance of NGOs cannot be underestimated for five main reasons. First, they intimately understand community needs and are better placed to help during a pandemic. NGOs work with a range of vulnerable populations, possess a deep understanding of their needs, have rapports with the communities for years and are more suited to be the first point of contact and help during a pandemic. Second, NGOs have the ability to adapt to pandemic constraints, enabling them to continue supporting vulnerable populations. They can also tweak their existing programmes to suit the needs of the pandemic and to suit the community context. Third, NGOs play a pivotal role in raising awareness and educating the public about Covid-19 as they can use the networks of trust they have built, within the communities they work with. They can do this through effective on-ground programmes, text messages, WhatsApp and social networks. This is particularly useful in raising awareness of the importance of vaccinations. Four, NGOs can customise their outreach programmes to suit the needs of the local communities they serve. This puts NGOs in a unique position unlike government programmes that have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Five, NGOs can step in when governments cannot, and can provide services that governments do not. In the case of Covid-19 and the present pandemic, masks, soap, water and sanitisers are essentials. Most of these ‘essentials’ are unaffordable to many sections of the population. Although the government advisories require wearing of masks, how many are in a position to afford them? In cases like this NGOs can step in to distribute masks for free to those who cannot afford them. The above examples throw light on how NGOs have done this. Finally, the biggest constraint that any NGO faces is in raising money to carry out their activities. Here, the public and donations from large organisations come handy. During this pandemic, we witnessed large and genuine outreach programmes to raise money for Covid-19 relief that NGOs of all scales and sizes, were able to channel towards relief programmes.

Author Brief Bio: Shreya has completed her masters in development from the Institute of Development Studies, UK. She has previously been associated with ORF and is currently a Senior Research Fellow at India Foundation.

[i] Mahmood, Jemilah (2009). ‘The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations in Pandemic Prepardness’ S Rajaratnam School of International Studies https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/resrep05905.21.pdf?ab_segments=0%252Fbasic_search_gsv2%252Fcontrol&refreqid=excelsior%3A49565b3320e90dd6690f94bc7c00cf83

[ii] Giorgetti, Chiara (2010). The Principled Approach to State Failure: International Community Actions in Emergency Situations. Page 95, accessed via Google Books.

[iii] Indian Express 2020. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/crime/coronavirus-india-lockdown-help-govt-serve-poor-pm-modi-to-ngos-6339236/

[iv] Times of India 2020. https://government.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/governance/civil-society-the-third-pillar-of-strength-in-fight-against-coronavirus/75642349

[v] https://www.rashtriyasewabharati.org/

[vi] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/rss-annual-report-reflects-a-year-of-pandemic-related-service-across-india-301253050.html

[vii] Ibid

[viii] https://indianexpress.com/article/india/rss-in-the-time-of-covid-from-plasma-donation-to-conducting-last-rites-6548122/

[ix] https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/how-the-rss-s-covid-relief-campaign-is-helping-thousands-1805971-2021-05-23

[x] Ibid

[xi] https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/how-the-rss-s-covid-relief-campaign-is-helping-thousands-1805971-2021-05-23

[xii] https://www.rss.org/Akhil%20Bharatiya%20%20Annual%20Report%202021%20English.pdf

[xiii] https://qz.com/india/2008877/how-hemkunt-foundation-helped-10000-indians-during-oxygen-crisis/

[xiv] https://qz.com/india/2008877/how-hemkunt-foundation-helped-10000-indians-during-oxygen-crisis/

[xv] https://www.cry.org/protect-children-in-covid-world-resilience-recovery/

[xvi] http://iskconfoodrelief.com/

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Afghanistan post the Withdrawal of US Forces: An Interview with Ms Naheed A Farid

Dhruv C Katoch

Afghanistan is going through perhaps one of the most critical phases in its history today. May 2021 was a bloody month in Afghanistan with the strife torn country getting more volatile and politically unstable. Taking advantage of the commencement of the final drawdown of the US-led international forces, the Taliban have intensified efforts to capture more areas with its ties with Al-Qaeda intact and the so-called Islamic State Khorasan Province acting in harmony with the Islamist forces. Within Afghanistan, political unity remains fragile. Most Afghans overwhelmingly want peace, but also want to preserve the current constitutional system that includes democracy, personal freedoms, a free media, and women’s rights. The Taliban have said little to reassure citizens that their views have changed from the extreme restrictions they brutally enforced in the 1990s.

As a Member of the Afghanistan Parliament, and as a woman who is holding a political and public office in an extraordinary complex conflict zone, what has been your experience, Ms Farid, of life in this extremely violent conflict zone.

Naheed A Farid

It is not just about my experience but the experience of the majority of women in Afghanistan. Afghanistan as a territory has been ranked as one that has been the most violated geography in the world. It has been ranked as the worst place for women, based on the global index of terrorism. Women in Afghanistan have great difficulty in accessing their basic needs and their basic rights. They have difficulty to work, to study outside their home, so forget about being in the public service or in Parliament, being a woman in that territory and in that society is difficult.

As a representative of the people in this society, I have the pleasure that I got elected in two elections, to represent the amazing people and the amazing women of Afghanistan who, within all this hardship, continued through life. They continued to shine in their country, continued to become engineers, doctors, ministers, pilots, cyber security experts —- we have women in all areas and they have been extraordinary. So, living in Afghanistan is difficult, but when you promise yourself that you will be the agent of change, and you promise yourself that you will make a difference in a society that needs you, then forget about the impediments and the barriers. You go forward, and I see the enthusiasm amongst my followers and my people. They back me, they support me and that gives me a lot of energy to move forward.

Dhruv C Katoch

You are a very young parliamentarian and so you have a direct connection with the youth of your country. How do you connect with the older generation of women and men in Afghanistan?

Naheed A Farid

Well, we have different missions. One of the missions is that we have to have the human rights backing in the very critical role that we have. We have to get connected to those who started the movement hundreds of years ago and who have since then, taken it forward. The Queen, the family of the Queen, the women rights activists that we have in the history of Afghanistan, the older generation which has good experience in the time of civil war; we have women who worked for women rights, not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and Iran, they have worked in the camps of immigrants to help the women—imagine, we have that kind of women. In history, we have different players, we have to just get connected to the past, have a vision for the future and that is how we can move forward. We learn from the past, from the leaders in the past and also, I think, having new tools in our hand, the technology, the media, the new Constitution of Afghanistan which is very democratic, we can create a movement that can work in the future and bring the country to prosperity and make a difference.

Dhruv C Katoch

Many analysts who study Afghanistan are of the view that ideological differences will mar the formation of a government in Afghanistan and that sooner rather than later, the nation will slip into civil war. How do you see the peace process unfolding in the coming months?

Naheed A Farid

You know, the peace process that we have now is a multitude of challenges. One of the challenges is that the Taliban are not agreeing to the fundamentals of a negotiation to happen. For example, accepting the ceasefire, or reducing the levels of violence, that we have given as the pre-condition to start the peace talks. The government the Taliban wants, the Emirates of Taliban, will not be accepted by the people of Afghanistan. We refer to the Constitution on one side and the Taliban on the other side, but in the process, we forget the 30 million Afghan people; we forget 70 percent of the people who are the youth, we forget 50 percent of the people who are women, and these are the forces that will bring change in the future of the country, not the Taliban. We forget them and we just ignore them and we say that the Taliban wants an Islamic Emirate. And the ideology of Taliban, I believe, is just the cover. Taliban are the tools that are directed by state sponsored terrorism, that is backed by Pakistan, and other players that back Pakistan, to destabilise the country.

And forget about the ideology, do you remember the time when the Taliban said that they fight because they want to remove international forces from Afghanistan? But after signing the deal with the United States they said that they would continue fighting against the Afghan soldiers, but they would stop fighting against the US soldiers! If they had the ideology, that the jihad is a holy jihad against international forces, and the US forces, then why did it happen in an agreement. So, Taliban ideology is just a cover. Behind that, there is a group that is misused by Pakistan to destabilise Afghanistan, because Pakistan views Afghanistan as its strategic depth for them, and if the Taliban loses, then Pakistan also loses and if Taliban wins, then Pakistan also wins.

Dhruv C Katoch

Let me now ask you a theoretical question. If the Taliban were to actually take over the country, will the youth of Afghanistan actively resist them?

Naheed A Farid

If you conduct a poll today, then forget about the youth, a majority of the people of Afghanistan, regardless of age and gender, will oppose the Taliban. They do not want the country to go back into the darkness of the regime they had in Afghanistan. Because the experience they had of the rule of the Taliban, the suppression and the limitations they imposed on the people of Afghanistan has not been forgotten. So, even if the Taliban comes back to power, though I do not see that happening in my analysis, but even if that happens, they may take the power, but they cannot keep it. Because people do not like them; they are not popular; people do not love them. Yes, if there is a new government, it must keep the promise that besides the security of the people they will provide basic rights to the people of Afghanistan. Besides security, they must provide development, access to education, access to health, access to basic needs, basic rights, infrastructure, development—that is the government people will accept, even if the Taliban is promising that. But if the government of the Taliban were to bring backwardness and move back to the darkness of the Taliban regime, then that will not last and people will not accept it.

Dhruv C Katoch

Let us take another theoretical concept that the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban have agreed to work together. What are the compromises that each side will have to make to enable such a solution?

Naheed A Farid

I would think that there would be a division of power within the different powers of the Afghanistan state—the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary; so Taliban would certainly be interested in the judiciary system of Afghanistan to rule. Taliban would be interested in some Cabinet membership, they would be interested in having membership in Afghanistan’s Parliament, and that was a kind of proposal that was given by the Special Representative of the US, Mr Zalmay Khalilzad, with different options. I think that would be the face of the political settlement that we would have, if the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan, both agree. But how it actually works is another scenario and will depend on how Taliban keeps the promises, how Pakistan keeps the promises and how regional players will see themselves in that deal. That also is very important—who is going to make the Taliban accountable; who is going to implement the deal? Is there any government that is kind of an interim government that the parties agree to or not? These are the things that will take a long time to work on and to bring to action. A lot of effort is required and I think we have to see this, not just as an overnight activity but as a solution that keeps the process to happen.

Dhruv C Katoch

So, what you are suggesting is that it will take time and will evolve over a period of years. Now let us talk about gender issues. When we look into Afghan history, and see the photos of young Afghan women in the mid-1950s and beyond, it is quite apparent that women in Afghanistan were free and emancipated. That changed during the Taliban rule, and we witnessed the total suppression of women. What are the concerns of women in the peace process and are they being appropriately voiced? Will the Taliban be able to suppress women in the present times as they did in the 1990s.

Naheed A Farid

Let me give you an example. The baby girl that was born in 2001, is 20 years old now. She has lived in a totally different situation and like me, she does not have the experience of living under Taliban oppression. That baby girl is the majority now. And bringing that generation back to the darkness of the Taliban, will not be acceptable to them. And if they do not accept, then we just cannot ignore them. They are not just one or two or three people, they are the majority and they are the present reality of the country. Even if the Taliban comes to power, they have to accept the new reality, they have to accept the new generation.

Under the Constitution, Afghanistan, is an Islamic country. Nothing in Afghanistan can happen against Islam. The legal process is based on Islam, Islamic procedures are based on Islam, everything is based on Islam. We all are practising co-existence that exists in Islam. And if Taliban are having their own interpretation of Islam, they are free to do so, but we are not buying it. The new Afghanistan cannot be the Afghanistan that they want to create in terms of their interpretation of Islam. Daesh also says that there is an Islam that they interpret, but who is buying it? That is the issue that is very important to understand. Based on the kind of picture that the Taliban have, we should not fit such a big history and country—a country with so much pride, into the interpretation of Islam that the Taliban have.

Dhruv C Katoch

Basically, what you are stating is that despite the fact that the Taliban have the guns, and assuming that they do manage to come into power, they will not be able to enforce their diktat on the women. Is that what you are stating and will there be resistance, should they attempt to do so?

Naheed A Farid

When the Taliban join the peace process, they will have to put down their guns. If they want to continue to fight, then we will fight. If Taliban thinks they can capture the country by force, then we can also fight against them. The Afghanistan Army is a very capable army, both in numbers and in ability and capability, we are bigger and better than the Taliban. So we will fight. It is upto the Taliban to choose—come to a compromise solution or continue the bloody war.

Dhruv C Katoch

Getting back to the Afghan National Security Forces, I agree that they are capable and can take on the Taliban as they have been doing since the last few years. But there will be a problem when it comes to financing the security forces. Do you think aid from the US and the West will continue in the quantum required, to enable the Afghan government to maintain the forces at their current equipment and manning levels, post the drawdown of US and coalition forces?

Naheed A Farid

The state of the Afghan economy is obviously not adequate to maintain such large security forces.  That is why our international allies, including the United States, have given the assurance that financing of the security forces will continue, to maintain the forces at their current level. So, from that point of view, Afghanistan does not have any concerns. Concerns that I have as a Member of Parliament and a representative of the people, is ensuring that the Afghan Army remains strong and capable. We must back the Afghan Army, support them, and keep them in a state of high morale. How do we give them enough equipment, enough intelligence? The Afghan army is the most faithful ally of the values we uphold in the country and also of the values that countries like India uphold, because they are fighting against international terrorism and terrorist groups such as the al Qaeda, which also threaten your values, your souls as Indians. So, the Afghan National Security Forces are the most faithful ally of the Afghan people, of India and of the United States, as they are fighting for the same values against international terrorism.

We need to see that they get the support that is required to combat the forces that are engaged in terrorism and which can destabilise the country and the region. The Afghan Security Forces are most patriotic and they are fighting in very difficult areas. We are backing them fully and are very proud of them. We must see that they are given the wherewithal to enable them to fight and defeat terror groups and organisations.

Dhruv C Katoch

Now, let us come to the role of some of the international players in Afghanistan. How do you see the role of Pakistan and China in influencing the peace process and the role they are likely to play post the drawdown of US forces?

Naheed A Farid

There is no doubt that Afghanistan is experiencing a proxy war because we have different external intelligence groups that are backing different groups of insurgent groups in the country. But the biggest of such groups is the Taliban which is being supported by Pakistan and they continue with their acts of destruction, to destroy the new Afghanistan. In this process, China is backing Pakistan. Unfortunately, neither Pakistan nor China have played a constructive role in Afghanistan in assisting with the development of the country. This is very unfortunate as a destabilised Afghanistan or a destroyed Afghanistan is not in the interest of either China or Pakistan. But they have a short-sighted policy. If all the regional players play a constructive role, that can bring a lot of prosperity to Afghanistan which will in turn benefit China and Pakistan. With better road projects, the silk road project which is the traditional route and the best and shortest route to connect to the the Central Asian Republics and to Europe—will benefit China and Pakistan and this passes through Afghanistan. It is unfortunate that the policies followed by Pakistan are jeopardising not just the future of Afghanistan but also of all the countries in the region.

Dhruv C Katoch

Now to my final question. What are the expectations of the people of Afghanistan from India after the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in September this year?

Naheed A Farid

Post the withdrawal, there would be a different situation and I think there would be more room to have collaboration with our friends, including India. India is the largest democracy of the world and we are expecting India to back Afghanistan’s democracy. India is also the largest donor to Afghanistan’s development effort. We would need India’s assistance in rebuilding Afghanistan, so that we can have more infrastructure, more jobs, more schools, more human resources to rebuild Afghanistan. From the perspective of the military, Afghanistan’s security forces would need India’s help in intelligence, in supplying military equipment and building air bases. Most importantly, I think we need India’s diplomacy to help Afghanistan. India can change the narrative. The narrative today is that Afghanistan is a war-torn country, with people who are in need. We can change that narrative to a different and more positive one—that Afghanistan is a country with a long civilisational history, very capable people, and Taliban cannot destroy the face and the history of the country. They cannot destroy the women, the youth, the new generation and the defenders of democracy. In the world, we have to bring forth this new narrative, that Afghanistan is a strong Afghanistan and has supporters like India which is helping Afghanistan to move towards prosperity.

Brief Bios: Ms. Naheed A. Farid is a Member of Afghanistan Parliament and Chair of House Women Affairs Commission and Maj. Gen. Dhruv C. Katoch is Editor, India Foundation Journal and Director, India Foundation.

 

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Securing the Nation: Conventional Threats

“Future conflicts will increasingly emphasise the disruption of critical infrastructure, societal cohesion and basic government functions in order to secure psychological and geopolitical advantages, rather than defeat of enemy forces on the battlefield through traditional military means.”

                                                — National Intelligence Council, USA

The last half century has witnessed considerable upheavals and changes in geopolitical sparring and the uni-polarity of the United States has come under a shadow. Shifting alignments and the rise of China as an economic and military giant has challenged the geopolitical structure, with China looking for its place as a major player in international reckoning. The subtle shift in the US stance, indicative of a weakened Russia while seemingly acknowledging China’s rise, took place during the Obama Presidency, as it announced the Asia-Pacific rebalance. It was evident that Asia–Pacific was going to be the area of interest in the coming decades. President Trump, an avid China hater, provided a greater push and created the Indo-Pacific region, enlarging USA‘s area of interest and firmly establishing the strategic importance of the region. Renaming of the Pacific Command (PACOM) as the Indo-Pacific Command and enlarging its scope of operational jurisdiction, justified and endorsed the strategic imperatives in the coming years and decades. The fact that 80% of the world’s energy reserves flow through the SLOCs of the Indian Ocean, highlights the criticality, importance and the need for security in the region. India’s geographical location, juxtaposed at the crown of the Indian Ocean has made it a prime player not only in regional dynamics but also in the international arena. It’s growing economy and its judicious interactions and relationship building with major strategic players has projected India into the geopolitical centre-stage.

The security environment has become extremely dynamic in the past one century. Mobility in air travel and connectivity through the electromagnetic spectrum has not only changed but shrunk the world. The huge electronic matrix which now surrounds the world is like the proverbial spider’s web – pretty to look, intricately woven, provides easy access to the user, but deadly or fatal for those who trespass. Technology has assisted in rapid development of infrastructure, promoting business and growth to provide satisfaction to nations and allow economies to blossom. So the success of a nation is a sum of all the resources that go into nation building, from the political dispensation and their control, the industry, the infrastructure, the economy and the people.

The complex and interwoven canvas provides the security to the population. This is national power. In fact, here I would like to bring out what Manoj Joshi said in his article on Comprehensive National Power in The Observer. He has mentioned about the concept pioneered by Ray Cline of the CIA, as far back as 1960. Cline proposed an index-based formula Pp = (C+E+ M) x (S+W), where Pp was Perceived Power, C = Critical Mass (Population +Territory), E = Economic Capability, M = Military Strength, S = Strategic Purpose and W = Will to pursue National Strategy. While this formula would be true in a broad framework, technology has probably added many more variations, with their particular strengths and weaknesses, which will tweak the basic formula into a more complex form. Be that as it may, the essentials remain as a stark index and provide a starting point to harness and focus our country in the right direction, to remain relevant in today’s world. It must also be clearly understood that it is these same elements that throw up vulnerabilities, which, if exposed or compromised, can be exploited by elements inimical to the state or country.

Every country is duty bound to protect its assets and provide security for its population. Under an overarching umbrella of a policy, usually a National Security Strategy, the government is expected to lay down a broad-spectrum plan as to how it will address security threats as they develop for the nation. Sadly, India has never developed a National Security Strategy. Without a guiding principle, the country is floundering like a ship without a rudder in stormy seas. While we have established sub-components like the JIC, NSC, SPG, NSAB, etc. and populated them with very prominent personalities, to the public they seem toothless and wanting in the face of crises that emerge and we falter in the face of adversity.

The last eighteen months have been tumultuous for our country. The rapid spread of the corona virus disease, termed Covid-19, enhanced itself to pandemic proportions as it ravaged the world. While it came later to India than it did in Europe and the USA, there was no doubt that its spread could not be contained easily once it penetrated our borders. The shadow of the horrific Spanish Flu which killed more people in India than anywhere else, was a deadly harbinger of things to come and hung over the country like a cloak till the casualties started building up, exposing the inadequacies of our medical infrastructure. As the cases started manifesting, crippling the population, the fear psychosis heightened and was overwhelmingly evident amongst the population as they saw thousands of people succumbing to the virus in western countries which would surely follow here.

With a psychologically and increasingly medically afflicted population, the weakened nation was vulnerable to external forces. With uncanny timing, India found its northern borders in the Ladakh sector breached by an old aggressor, the Chinese PLA. The intrusion across the LAC came as a surprise, more because of the numbers of troops and the follow-on forces that were amassed, which were substantially higher than what the Indian Army experiences in normal or routine border skirmishes. Alarm bells were justified as the state of border protection and preparedness was exposed in the face of such opposition. The inadequacy of troops, appropriate equipment and munitions, the logistics supply chain effectiveness, all came under the scanner and clearly brought out our lackadaisical attitude and perspective towards national security. The slow degradation of the armed forces with no supplement or enhancement in the defence budget was clearly evident as the country scrambled to procure arms under extraordinary circumstances, obviously at exploitation costs. The question whether there was an intelligence failure involving all agencies which precipitated such a situation will be debated within closed walls, but the fact that the sovereignty of the state was threatened and we have had to recover from a situation where our credibility was at stake, speaks volumes for the armed forces to make most of a bad situation.

Security concerns in the future will not be restricted to protecting the borders and using the military and its war-fighting capability. The canvas of elements has spread so far and wide it makes one shudder at the thought of having to acquire an ability to straddle all domains. Some of the security concerns that come to mind are:

Military Security                        Political Security                         Economic Security

Energy Security                         Infrastructure Security               Human Security

Food Security                            Health Security                            Resource Security

Environment Security              Geostrategic Security                 Disaster Security

Media & Information Base      Diplomacy                                    Cyber Security

As a vast country with diverse population and low education levels, India has a huge problem on its hands to address each and every vulnerability. Over the years it has developed systems which are in place to address security issues regarding that particular system. Unfortunately, a concern for security comes from a sense of belonging. The population must realise the effort being undertaken by the government to keep them safe under so many varied conditions and circumstances. In the diverse environment existing in our country, the democratic ethos sometimes takes on an extreme hue and the sense of unity and homogeneity, which fosters nationalism, is lost. The multi-party political system is so fractured one can never seem to reach a consensus.

Whether it is in our culture or in our psyche, the average Indian will question every decision taken by an authority. The sad part of this is that when there are actions taken with regard to security of the nation, their validity and veracity are questioned openly, ridiculing and embarrassing the government in the public domain. The present dispensation provided the first ever firm response in the form of punitive action against Pakistan, with surgical strikes by the army and a more definitive and penetrative action by the IAF when they struck the Balakot terrorist training camp. Post the action it was horrific to see the opposition parties questioning the veracity and proof of these actions, almost like mouthpieces of the Pakistan government. It was shameful. It is for this fractured attitude and approach that India has fallen prey to marauding militia and subsequently been ruled for centuries by foreign powers, who capitalised on India’s ‘dog eat dog’ attitude providing the opportunity to divide and rule.

Given the huge security matrix, there is a serious need for our people to put their differences aside and become one cohesive whole for this one purpose – Security. Our potential in population and territory makes up a huge chunk of Cline’s formula. If we can gather and preserve that potential to focus in a common direction, for the sake of the country, half the battle is won. Rather than attempting to address all the factors that affect national security, I think some of those which need greater attention would be worth addressing early. There are no shades of grey in hard power considerations. If it comes to military engagement with the enemy, equipment and manpower cannot be compromised. It is only hard power of military action that can preserve sovereignty of the nation and integrity of the country’s territory. Not too far back an Indian Army Chief, when questioned whether he had the means to fight a two-front war with Pakistan and China, said, “Yes and we will fight with what we have.” The statement clearly defines a true soldier, who will give his blood for the motherland despite the odds and the lack of material support provided him.

Our defence budget has been found wanting for the past few decades. This has contributed to a greater disproportionate efficacy in capability in a modern and rapidly changing battlefield scenario. Technology has pushed legacy equipment into the background, in the face of state-of-the-art weapon systems existing today. Given our extensive land borders with Pakistan, China and the 7000 + kms coastline, the need for numbers can never be more evident. To subsist on a defence budget which has seen paltry, if any, increments in the past three decades, is an affront to the military and its potential to defend the nation. There has not been a single war in the history of independent India when we didn’t have to turn to another country to fortify our needs for arms and ammunition. We should feel embarrassed.

Modi government’s huge thrust on development across the board, from infrastructure growth, to agriculture, railways, road networks, power to villages, connectivity of all kinds etc., will necessitate huge amounts of energy. With energy consumption doubling in the last one decade, the rising economy and increase in population, the reliance on regular supply of energy cannot be ignored. With a huge dependence on coal and thermal energy, India’s additional resources through hydropower and natural gas will remain a major factor in any consideration. China’s phenomenal growth has propelled her energy requirements to unprecedented levels and protecting its channelisation through the SLOCs in the Indian Ocean and the choke points at the Gulf of Hormuz and the Straits of Malacca are causes of concern to China. Similarly, India must be concerned with not only the sources of energy and their security but also of the means to transport such energy across the length and breadth of this vast country safely.

As just mentioned, industrial development and growth of any nation is clearly defined by the creation of infrastructure which will propel the nation forward and provide it the rightful place in the modern world. The growth of industry necessitates large investments in infrastructure and in turn the creation of road networks and rail services to move raw materials across great distances. Securing infrastructure against sabotage or natural calamities should be a priority for sustained growth and development. India has well set up security systems, whether govt controlled or privately owned, for most developmental projects. While recruiting manpower for security agencies may not be much of an issue, their dedication and commitment are sometimes questionable.

The media has emerged as an extremely powerful tool in society and the day-to-day happenings in the world. News and information have, through years, influenced the human mind, thereby eliciting actions and decisions which may not have occurred otherwise. This ability to influence the human mind and thus groups, societies and even governments has had some very serious repercussions, positive and negative, in the recent past. The information domain, highly computerised and professionally managed, can now throw up statistical data and analyses at the drop of a hat. So convincing are these that individuals, organisations and governments have used the media to project their side of the picture. The success of the advertising world hinges around exactly this projection, which enhances a product. But the same media or information source can be tweaked by those who wish to disrupt societies or governments, weakening their authority and trying to reduce government to naught. While it may have been in existence (maybe in horse racing news), ‘Fake News’ was an unknown entity up until some years ago, when suddenly the tweaked information domain started knocking on the top rungs of government and even threatened their credibility and existence. While fundamental rights hold sway and the media cannot be throttled, other than in authoritarian states like China, they remain a tool which could turn unsavory in the hands of undesirable elements.

Perhaps the factor which really casts its umbrella presence with regard to national security is that of the cyber domain. Technology could not have moved at such a rapid pace but for computerisation and the information space provided by the cyber medium. Data transfer in various forms has created the need for networks to allow access to users across the globe at a touch of their fingertips. Today, virtually everything, from shoe designing & manufacturing to bridge construction, airplane controls, power systems and businesses are dependent on vast networks interconnected through the electromagnetic spectrum. At the micro level of the ordinary citizen, the government has created access portals to banking and government organisations, through mobile phones. This huge dependency on the cyber medium and the transportability of information is a ‘ripe tomato’ for picking by undesirable forces. Cyber-attacks and cyber warfare have today taken on proportions far outweighing military engagements, primarily because most modern military hardware today is largely dependent on systems fed by and controlled through cyber networks.

The need for strong cyber security systems needs no emphasis. As a nuclear state and operating the fourth largest military in the world, India needs a Cyber Command. An authority which will not only handle military issues but will have civilian sleuths and professionally trained ‘hackers’ alongside to cover all domains and sectors, or provide the niche assistance that would be required. With very high dependency on networks, this organisation would be about the most important set-up in the country.

The multi-dimensional character of future security threats is likely to have physical and moral components. While border protection and localised wars would entail the physicality, it would permeate down to tackling terrorists, insurgents, embedded military fighters, proxy fighters and Naxals in our constant counter-insurgency battle. The national government will also continue the moral battle against separatists, activists, media disinformation and the like. We must remember, the line between conventional threats and sub-conventional threats is becoming narrower and the moral element is assisting in the merge. The threats will continue to look for vulnerabilities as they appear and strike when opportunity arises.

We need to consolidate our national power, identify and harness the key strategic areas of concern which can cripple the nation and ensure a strong blanket protection. The cyber domain clearly is the defining critical factor amongst all the vulnerabilities, with a capability to bring armies and nations to their knees. We have created some agencies at the national level to address the big issues (like the NDMA). We need to create more to oversee crises as they occur and manage them before they become disasters. The military has a system of ‘War Gaming’ all likely possibilities that may cause situations to go out of control, whether in battle or otherwise. War Gaming offers the players the opportunity to ‘plug gaps’ and formulate ‘contingency plans’. These ensure that if surprised for any reason, there is a tackle available to stem the tide. There is no gainsaying that the civil/government organisations placed in responsible positions to avert threats to the nation must adopt such methods. They will go a long way in securing the nation.

In the final analysis and to (lamely) fall back on Ray Cline’s formula for Perceived Power (read Comprehensive National Power), success can only be assured by the last bit of the formula—Strategic Purpose and Will to Pursue National Strategy. We need to state our Strategic Purpose through a National Security Strategy, a public document which clearly spells out the government ‘intent’. The people must be aware and assured that the government will follow the strategy it lays down to address any security threat to the nation. The populace must also be convinced to see such action when the opportunity presents itself. A National Security Strategy document provides a positive face to a government and its ‘Will to Pursue its stated Strategy’ lends the ultimate credibility to its leadership.

Author Brief Bio: An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Marshal Sumit Mukerji, PVSM, SC, VSM, has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinction He has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command.

References: –

  1. Warfare in Many Dimensions – Mad Scientist Laboratory – Exploring the Op Environment – USA
  2. Op Environment 2021-30 (US Army)
  3. National Resources – Wikipedia
  4. Strategies for Enhancing India’s Comprehensive National Power – Brig Rahul Bhonsle (Retd) – VIF
  5. The Sixth Dimension of War – Raghu Raman – The Wire
  6. A National Security Strategy for a New Century – 1997
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Role of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in Achieving Equity in Education and SDG 4

Abstract

Education is the key to everything. It can mould a person’s behaviour and with the right idea of the world he/she can then lead a sustainable life. Higher education is very important for innovation and economic development. MOOCs are one way in which education can be guaranteed for all and for those who are already privileged enough who can take education to the next level. The aim of this paper is to sum up how online education platforms like MOOCs with its e-content can contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) of agenda 2030, because when education is taken care of, all the other SDGs like poverty, health, hunger, gender equality etc. are not anymore at a risk. Recently the pandemic has changed the whole idea of education. The paper also illustrates how MOOCs started off as free education to all and gradually moved on to being commercial and has affected the socio-economic balance in the time of digital divide. The paper concludes with implications on how the millennial generations can help each other with their education and how MOOCs can widen its participation by including learners from every section of the society.

Introduction

‘Education for All’ has been a vision of the UN since the 1990’s. It started with the Millennium Development Goals, which now stand superseded by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Until last year, the last big innovation that happened in education was the printing press and the textbooks, but with the pandemic the whole idea of education has changed and is evolving. Covid-19 has forced us to rethink the methods of teaching and learning. The only issue now is in terms of development of e-content and in terms of access to such content by students in the rural areas.

The drastic change in the education system today could not have been even imagined a few years back. Each student, from the primary to the graduate level, learns with their own electronic gadgets and teaching and learning is happening from different parts of the world. MOOCs had envisioned this in 2008. Before MOOCs, while we did have distant education where people did correspondent courses, but not everyone completed those courses. MOOCs now promise increased access to education.

During its initial years, MOOCs tried to bridge the gap and brought people together around common goals. The main aim was to include people who were traditionally excluded from higher education as this would lead to an increase in social inclusion. People would get training for more skilled jobs, wealth and prosperity. There were no limits to the number of people who could join a class.

However, during the second wave of MOOCs, there was a change from free to fee- paying access to get certificates for courses. This had deviated MOOCs from their aim to promote free education for all. Some examples are the major MOOC providers like Coursera, Udacity and edX. Coursera and Udacity offered to give verified certificates of completion for all those learners who paid a particular amount while edX began to establish partnership with universities to teach MOOCs in their for-fee classes.

Even though the second wave led to a slow growth of MOOCs, it was still considered important for students’ learning. In India, an initiative in the name of SWAYAM was launched by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). SWAYAM is an acronym for “Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds.” The main aim of SWAYAM is to provide free entry to web courses and cover all the advanced education, schools and skill sector courses. Promoting these MOOCs will help students get a wider knowledge on the subjects. As there are no boundaries to the classroom, students can interact with a larger community from different parts of the world. It can also remove the time and place barrier restrictions and bring equality in education.

The MOOC platform is also an important factor to achieve SDG 4. It can bridge the gap between the digital divide and help to provide education for all. When everybody is educated, there would be a change in the human society itself. The achievement of other SDGs is also facilitated with the help of growth in education. As said earlier, every online class has four quadrants through which they make teaching easier, known as the e-content. The SWAYAM portal has four quadrants of e-content called e-tutorial, e-content, assessment and discussion. When these are provided with minimal restriction to every student, there would be equity in education.

Most of the online platforms today have become popularly known for their content. The content provided by them makes it easier for the students to learn and execute things. MOOCs and other online study platforms have a four-quadrant approach to learning. These four quadrants help learners from every discipline be it science, math, arts or skill-based studies; all are equally benefited. The e-content includes classes with interactive sessions, 3D model explanation of working models for skill-based learning and many other benefits. All these lead to a large number of learners participating from around the globe.

Background

MOOCs have, through all these years, created a learner led environment. Learners can study from esteemed universities in any part of the world. Few factors that have led to the rise in use of MOOCs are as follows:

  • Digital service at our fingertips.
  • Data never sleeps: no particular time to access data.
  • A data hungry generation: Always looking forward to improving themselves.
  • Pandemic has made it even more important.
  • Universities provide 20% credits for online courses.

When everything happens through digital services, they are compelled to provide the best resources to their students. In developing countries like India, it would be even more difficult to include everyone in online classes. There are students with no access to the internet and some students, even though they have network facilities, have no clear idea on how to use these online platforms. But MOOCs have their own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to e-content and e-learning.

MOOCs and its E-content

E-content will transform teaching and learning, as the future is going to be blended learning—that is both face-to-face and online learning. The courses that were provided face-to-face have to be now transformed to suit the new normal. It requires us to rethink the learning design. The four quadrants of MOOCs:

  • Quadrant 1: e-Tutorials contain video, audio, animation, video demonstrations and most of the time these videos also include transcription.
  • Quadrant 2: e-content which contains e-books, web resources, online educational resources in the form of links, articles and case studies etc.
  • Quadrant 3: Assessment that has multiple choice questions, assignments, quizzes, problems and solutions etc.
  • Quadrant 4: Discussion forum for raising doubts and clarifying them on a real time basis.

Including New Designs to Improve Teaching and Learning

Rethinking the Current Syllabus: This would be a very good opportunity to rethink the current syllabus and make it suitable for blended learning. It would be easy for the students if the syllabus is detailed and made comprehensive. Creating a syllabus quiz can also make learning easier and help the students understand the topic better, before moving on to the next one.

Organising the Content: It would be a great time saver if the content is organised on the basis on which they are to be taken. For example, a chapter in a subject can be divided on the basis of their topics and organised in google drive folders with a common link access. This makes it easier and time saving for the teachers and students to access the resources like pdf and eBooks while learning.

Orienting the Learner: This method would be particularly useful today as most of the students who do not have face to face contact with the teachers can have an orientation section where the subject is explained in detail to enable the student to better have a better grasp over what is being taught.

Moving beyond PowerPoint: More features like audio descriptions can be added to the power point presentations to make teaching more clear and test series can also be added at the end of every chapter.

Rethinking the grading strategies: Students can be graded on the basis of their critical thinking skills and their participation in the classes. Feedback can also be added because it would benefit both the students and teachers in improving the process of learning.

Barriers to E-learning and E-content

Language and communication barrier: MOOCs is a large platform and students get a lot of exposure while interacting with other students from around the world. However, learners with limited command of the common language would find it challenging to understand the instructions, which could lead to reduced participation in discussions. This can partially be offset if instructors limit the use of jargon words and if possible, use different dialects while taking classes.

Online classes tend to focus more on theory than practice: This has no proper solutions as the maximum that could be done is to get as visual as possible with the help of technology by using 3D animations etc.

E-learning requires strong self-motivation and time management skills: Building strong self-motivation and disciplinary skills is key to succeeding in an online learning environment. Additionally, face-to-face communication with professors can be substituted with online communication, and peer-to-peer activities could be promoted online, as in traditional classrooms.

Online learning is inaccessible to the computer illiterate population: Finding a solution to this problem is not an easy task. However, initiatives such as ‘Digital India’ show promise in improving computer literacy. In the era of technology, online classes are making a mark, but since India is a developing country, the knowledge and distribution of resources is uneven among the population. Therefore, more efforts have to be put to match up and maintaining the standard of education as online education is the next big thing in the near future.

These are some of the basic features that need more concentration as it will help MOOCs to provide equal education to all.

Analytical Discussion

The new MOOCs have to not only achieve SDG 4, but also deal with global challenges. The results for the latter have not been very encouraging and the pandemic has further hindered the effort. With a few pilot studies and new ideas, this study has tried to summarise how MOOCs can help to achieve each target of SDG-4. The reviews are summarised in subsequent paragraphs.

Basic Education to Children: Having access to primary education is a fundamental right of every citizen of our country. The literacy rate has improved during the past few years, but like in the case of the rich becoming richer and poor becoming poorer, people who are privileged benefit more from online learning. Also, the urban and rural divide and children from the conflict zones miss their primary education due to multiple reasons. This gap can be bridged by MOOCs by taking education to the next level and making it accessible for underprivileged people. Even in conflict zones, MOOCs can provide easy access to primary education and improved access to learning materials and resources.

Gender Equality and Social Inclusion: The primary objective of MOOCs is to provide education to those who lack access to learning. MOOCs can help in inclusive learning by giving women and girls improved access to education. MOOCs have the potential to democratise education by providing learners with access to high-quality and free online courses. In India, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), has established special study centres for some identified groups (Women, minority community, physically challenged, rural community, residents of remote and isolated areas, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes jail inmates etc) which are outside the pale of formal education. The Study Centers are using successful MOOCs mediums to make education more inclusive. So, MOOCs tools ensure easy access to education for all, which in turn promotes inclusive education.

Youth Population and the Time Bank: Taking examples from countries like Switzerland where they have a ‘Time Bank’ scheme to look after the elderly by the younger population, the model can be adopted in high populated countries like India to help students in their education. The students with easy access to the internet and access to high-end education can, through NGO volunteers, teach students belonging to the weaker sections. This would be a great help to people with limited or nil access to learning resources. As Ann Frank once said, “Nobody becomes poor by giving”.

Scholarships: In line with the SDG 4 Education 2030 focus on equity, inclusion and quality, scholarships should be transparently targeted at young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. With tuition rates rising at an average of 3.5% every year, scholarships are one of the best ways to reduce these growing costs and scholarship search platforms exist to help students find the most relevant ones. Online platforms are the easiest way to search and apply scholarships worldwide. Though we still have some way to go in providing scholarships to the less privileged sections of society, these challenges can be overcome. Communicating with concerned professors, having information on scholarships, preparing proposals and related works are means which are being given much greater emphasis than hitherto fore, through extensive use of online platforms.

Teachers and Educators: ‘MOOCs have the potential to revolutionise the way we teach and how we learn’. Over the past few years, MOOCs have become a vital source of expansion and studying in education. Due to the opportunities created by MOOCs, teaching and learning can now happen at any time and in any place. The explosive growth of the World Wide Web (WWW) has made information technology a popular platform for providing e-services, MOOCs service (Richard & Haya, 2009; Fry, K., 2001). MOOCs could be an effective tool for transferring knowledge and it has a potential to overtake the traditional teaching method. Web-based training helps facilitate learners and instructors in an educational environment. Tao et al. (2006) really thought that this new learning environment was centred on electronic networks had found a way for undergraduates to have learning schedules that are more suitable for them as well as separate from other students (Tao, Y. H., Yeh, C. R., & Sun, S. I., 2006). With the development of computer and internet technologies, this technology has a higher interaction and collaboration level between instructors or lecturers and peers than the traditional environment for learning (Giddens, A., 2001). Hence, MOOCs systems might be able to deliver a broad array of solutions to enable learning and improve students’ performance. There are a number of advantages for using this technology and learning materials in the university classroom (Hassan, M. S., 2007): More active learning class, diversified teaching method, better student attention and realisation, effective time management for lectures, and visual stimulation. The major advantage of MOOCs lies in its flexibility and ability to cover distances. The curriculum can be repeated until it is understood by the students. Hence, full time and part time undergraduates can take part in their degree courses selected from any place or location, so students can gain multiple learning ways depending on their needs (Aggarwal, D., 2009). Above analysis clearly indicates that MOOCs are a handy way to attain every target of SDG 4 and eventually the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Cost: Depending more upon e-content means spending less on books. According to the analysis, more than 25% of the academic fee of a student is spent on buying textbooks and other materials. The lower costs and free enrolment are also making more students prefer online learning.

Challenges to attaining SDG 4 through MOOCs:

  • Since tests for assessments in MOOCs cab be done with the use of proxy, it is very difficult to regulate bad activities like cheating.
  • MOOCs depend on technology a lot. Therefore, equipment failure is an obstacle to implementing proper MOOCs.
  • Cloud computing facilities are not familiar to each and every user.
  • While MOOCs might look like a learning tool available to anyone, in reality, it’s not. Not all people have stable internet access and computers that are powerful enough to support online streaming.
  • Since MOOCs are based on internet technology and it creates a virtual “class room” for the students; therefore, it depends on internet connection. Also, this technology requires students to have massive technical skills and internet connection with high bandwidth to download the materials from the courses and upload their tasks or work with e-system.
  • Some might have all the necessary technologies but may still struggle to use it. For example, older students might find it hard to master all the newest tech gigs. This problem, however, can be solved by offering them proper tutorials.
  • Being able to learn at a comfortable pace and organise one’s own learning is a disaster for some students. While some are good in self-organisation, others cannot do this without having a clear deadline on writing a term paper and the need to report their progress to the teacher. Some others can do so but still feel better working and learning around people because it motivates them more.
  • The feedback is one of the biggest drivers of students’ progress. The students are able to improve only when they know their flaws and weak points. While online instructors do give feedback to students, they still might not have enough time to work with them properly, explaining every detail. This could lead to some students falling behind, having gaps in their knowledge, and not completing the course successfully enough.

Conclusion

The present academic year has seen a lot of changes from the traditional classroom. Every student and teacher can now study and learn from the comfort of their home through online education. This was unimaginable just a few years earlier. While it can be easy for the privileged section of the society but there is a different side to online education for people from a not so privileged background. To combat this problem, some measures can be taken in the conflict zones like:

  • Improve the infrastructure, so that online courses can be developed for teacher education. This would lead to a significant change in higher level education.
  • Assess the internet connectivity in the region and check if it is enough for taking online classes.
  • Try and include online classes from the primary level as a part of their curriculum.
  • Conduct a study on how we can better put into use the current education system and learning management system.

 

MOOCs have brought a revolution to the idea of education. Earlier most of the schools just had one huge hall for smart classroom and just a few minutes were given to study things outside their books, but the future seems to be different every school and college is going to now have a smart classroom with a system for every student and just one lecture hall for the face – to- face discussions. It would be complete if the classes for the differently abled were also added to MOOCs so that we could without any doubt call it “Massive Open Online Course”.

Author Brief Bio: Dr. Santhosh Mathew is Assistant Professor at Centre for South Asian Studies, Pondicherry Central University, India.

 

Reference

  1. Aggarwal, D. (2009), Role of e-Learning in A Developing Country Like India. Bharati Vidyapeeth‘s Institute of Computer Applications and Management, New Delhi, India
  2. Giddens (2001), A.:Sociology. 4th ed, Cambridge: Cambridge: Polity, Global Goals. (2015). ‘The Global Goals for Sustainable Development: Goal 4 Education’. Retrieved from http;//www..globalgoals.org/global-goals-education
  3. Hassan, M. S. (2007), Critical success factors for e-learning acceptance, Elsevier Computers& Education, 49, pp. 396–413,
  4. Richard & Haya (2009), Examining student decision to adopt web 2.0 technologies: theory and empirical tests. Journal of computing in higher education, 21(3), 183-198
  5. Tao, Y. H., Yeh, C. R., & Sun, S. I. (2006), Improving training needs assessment processes via the Internet: system design and qualitative study. . Internet Research, 16 (4), pp. 427–49.
  6. Lambert S R. (2018, November,26). Do MOOCs Contribute to Student Equity and Social Inclusion? A systematic review 2014-2018. [ Center for Research in Assesment and digital learning, Deakin University] Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2019.103693
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The Second Wave

Two years of Modi 2.0 should have been a joyous occasion. There was much to celebrate about, from a turning around of the economy after the havoc caused across the world by the Chinese SARS-CoV-2 virus, which caused the Covid 19 pandemic. After a year of sustained effort, the pandemic was contained, despite the numerous challenges that a country of India’s size and diversity faced. That, by itself, was a stupendous achievement.

The internal security situation across the country has also seen vast improvement, especially in the Union Territory of J&K and the affected states of Northeast India. In the areas impacted by Left Wing Extremism, the overall capacity of the Maoists to carry out targeted attacks against the security forces and the civil population has reduced, but as the recent ambush on CRPF personnel in early April in Chattisgarh’sBijapur district has shown, the Maoists retain the ability to carry out well coordinated attacks on specific targets of their choosing. Obviously, there is a requirement to improve tactical responses by operating troops, but more importantly, the need for good front line leadership is something which the CRPF desperately needs.

These two years also saw the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the Farm Laws, which have the potential to bring in another Green Revolution. That there was opposition to both these legislations was expected as certain vested interests were badly impacted. Another important legislation passed was making instant triple talaq a punishable offence. This will go a long way in providing gender equity to Muslim women in India. The focus on gender, education, health, development of infrastructure, etc is but a part of the vast progress made in many spheres in the last two years.

The second wave of the pandemic appears to have caught both the centre and the states by surprise. The situation on 1 March presented a rosy picture, with the number of cases having decreased to the lowest level. It was perhaps assumed that this trend would continue. However, from the very next day itself, we saw a small surge in cases. A one-days surge obviously is not something that excites suspicion, but when the trend did not reverse for a week, the bureaucrats responsible to monitor the Covid impact should have raised the red flag. This was not a Black Swan event which hit the nation with sudden ferocity. It was a Grey Rhino. The evidence of what could happen was available and should have been foreseen by the secretaries working in the health department in the States and in the Centre and they should have advised their Ministers accordingly.

Now, a massive effort is required by the nation as a whole to rid ourselves of this scourge. Let us plan for a year without election rallies, religious festivals, bandhs and dharnas, and private gatherings which are larger than 50 people. These gathering too should be carried out with all protocols in place. Obviously, we as a people must unite to win this battle. Under the leadership of the Prime Minister, this is a battle that we will win.

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Free, Fair & Meritorious Assessment: A complex affair for a sprint to US$ 5 trillion Economy

Assessor: One who assesses; Assessee: One who is assessed; Assessed: That which is assessed

Assessment is the key to making right choices. Quantitative assessments are commonplace but in various facets of economic activity, the State has to make qualitative choices. This will be critical to ensure that the stroll to US$ 5 trillion is converted into a sprint.

Indian establishment for seventy long years, owing to various reasons, colonised mindset not being the least, learned to count its fingers after every handshake—thanks to the British colonisers who implanted in us the seed of suspicion of everything & everyone. It is undeniable that we do not cover ourselves in glory, when it comes to non-discriminatory & merit-seeking credentials. Nonetheless, our self-subjugation evoked two socio-cultural outcomes, mentioned ahead. First, the need to behaviourally emboss honesty, neutrality & objectivity; second, quantification of everything for comparison. Ensuant to aforementioned, from primary school examinations all the way to choosing whom to provide a multibillion State contract, all & sundry get quantified.

For mass assessment, quantification probably is unavoidable (say for University entrance exams, where a million and a half Indian students appear simultaneously). No prejudice is meant towards quantification; it is, in most cases, the easiest way to compare. But not everything can be quantified. Qualitative assessment sometimes is unavoidable. Forcibly quantifying qualitative indicators leads to compromised consequences. My observation has been that when the assessment (choice) is to be made of the actions of the past, quantification is adequate. But the moment an assessment is to be made of the future, quantification is counter-productive. Assessments of the future can be made adequately, when done comprehensively, including, but not limited to qualitative and quantitative methods.

Is assessment well understood?

At the outset, it has to be conceded that irrespective of qualitative, quantitative or any other mode of assessment, in case the assessor is prejudiced or taken care off, or if the assessee is manipulative; most assessments, quantitative or qualitative can be short-circuited. Therefore, one in every thousand crooks in every society have to be excluded from the scope of this article-proposal. No sensible State builds systems to address crooks & consequently concede that a majority of the addressable population are crooks.

In the book titled “Invention of Description” (ISBN: 979-8636521334) there is an interesting comprehension of Assessment. Assessment, it is claimed, requires adjudgment of the performance of the input/output (resource) vis-a-vis a standard or other comparable[i] to the subject/object of assessment in four frameworks – (i) Necessary Attributes Framework; (ii) Sufficiency Attributes Framework; (iii) Emotional Connect Framework; (iv) Aesthetic Attributes Framework. All these frameworks jointly are DNSEA (Description, Necessary Attributes, Sufficiency Attributes, Emotional Connect & Aesthetic Value).

Necessary attributesframework

Necessary Attributes’ Framework is the carrier of objectivity. In this framework, the fitness & riskiness of the assessee are to be established. To establish the ‘fitness’ the assessor has to very clearly establish the purpose. Without clear establishment of the purpose the very basis of assessment goes for a toss. Especially in scenarios where multiple people are assessing, lack of expressly stated purpose, invariably leads to every assessor assuming his own purpose, while the vision that kindled the need to undertake an assessment (especially in case of the State) is lost altogether.

Lack of clarity in stating the purpose concomitantly, leads to confusion among the assessees, as they fail to comprehend what should they pay most heed to. Therefore, the most rudimentary & crucial parameter for assessment is ‘fitness for purpose’. It is equally crucial to adjudge the fitness of the assessed vis-a-vis time, place & environs in which execution is anticipated.

The L1 Paradigm

Besides fitness for purpose, time, place and ambience; fitness of cost of execution that the assessee proposes is the last & important necessary attribute of this framework. It is very important not to make final assessments based merely on the lowest cost. Imagine getting to attend a three hour show of Dhinchak Pooja (“Dilon Ka Shooter, hai mera scooter…”) because she quoted 0.01% lower price to present a concert vis-a-vis Shankar Mahadevan. This is the story of competitive/comparative quantitative assessment in which L1 (lowest quote) wins the competition. Once prices are quoted, depending on the case, a minimum (where State expects a subsequent revenue) or maximum (where State undertakes to participate/subsidise/bear the cost) limit, should be established (a sensible mechanism could be worked to establish this cost) after comparing proposals from all the assessees. After establishing & publicly declaring the cost constraint (max. or min.), all contenders should be offered to recast & re-submit their proposals (whosoever desires to) within the established cost constraints and be given a chance to compete with each other qualitatively. Yes, the State would not get literally the lowest price. But a State should not aim for the lowest price, it should focus on procuring within its budget (the established cost constraint), the solution that is of highest quality. This is the best way to promote meritocracy & innovation and give innovative companies a chance to showcase their worth.

Thus ‘cost-constraint’ is converted into a median or even lowest price-discovery (budget discovery) process, while decision-making is ‘qualitative’. The State operates in a reverse manner, when it wants qualitative bidders, it often creates a qualitative barrier (technical in nature), customised to filter-out lesser mortals. And then lets the chosen few compete on financial indicators. This rules out those from outside the inner club of few companies.

The ‘Swiss challenge’ is a shade better, as it let’s customisation of the initial specifications of the competition by the assessor, such that there is at least one bidder available, nevertheless. But it is not ideal as the competition is not qualitative. The specifications are frozen ab initio.

Sufficiency attributesframework

Sufficiency Attributes’ Framework is the determinant of life of that which is proposed as a resource or that of the assessed, with at least one objective tolerance constraint to each of the specifications. All specifications are categorised into four classes: quantitative, qualitative, geo-ambient and ownership. Geo-ambient means the geographical location of the assessed along with the environs in which the assessed is located. ‘Ownership, simply said, means the user in whose possession/ownership the assessed resource is expected to be in future or who all will be affected by the resource’s coming into existence.

Sufficiency framework delivers life to assessment & ensures that the assessors are running with their eyes & faces looking ahead, instead of backwards. Those assessors look backwards, who lack vision & fail to take calls based on what is expected in future. They base their decision-making on the statistical past (at best), their past (at worst). In assessment of high technology areas, this is lethal to say the least. Because the best decisions taken looking at the past are likely to be worse than the worst decisions taken looking at the future.

Through assessment of sufficiency the assessor should assess the quantitative, qualitative, geo-ambient (location and environs) and  ownership (with whom is the assessed resource will rest in future or be used or consumed or all who will be affected) specifications & their tolerances within which the assessed resource will be fruitful.

This parameter forces the assessor & the assessee alike to work on the resourcefulness, hence, reliability and life of the assessed, thus forging quality of assessment & decision-making. This is critical in case of assessment of high technology ventures like semiconductor plant proposals, or advanced material manufacturing proposals. Assessing, investing & supporting high technology ventures by State (Government) can be best compared to skeet shooting. An expert gunman aims a few metres ahead (of the skeets position) while pulling the trigger to intersect the skeet with his bullet.

Choosing to support complex material science technologies & teams that will make cutting edge high technology enterprise in India is a heavy burden, and immensely critical for our nation building. We need to make the investment count. We will be betting the tax charged on a cup of Chai consumed by a labourer. A choice made by a mediocre assessment will only add one more mediocre organisational existence at best or a long, dragged unwanted life at worst.

Sufficiency Attributes’ Framework is smartly done. It is subjective towards achievement of highest specifications (the assessee is free to deliver the best specifications) & objective to the need of minimum specifications, in concurrence with the established tolerances.

Emotional connect & aesthetic value framework

Emotional Connect Framework has two classes: the absolute assessment & the comparative assessment, and both are completely subjective. Under this framework the assessor just expresses his likeness of the assessed, absolutely, on its own merit, and a comparative ranking when compared to other options or previous experience of assessed objects/resources in the same category, without providing any reasons (emotional connect is not subject to reasoning. Reasoning is crucial only in necessary & sufficiency attributes).

The emotional connect (likeness) of the assessors towards the assessed is non-trivial, but it is neither necessary, nor sufficient. It is the subjective view of the assessor about the assessed. Its importance is only in the context of the next Framework which is the Aesthetic Framework and which is cast from statistics accumulated from emotional-connect-assessment of all the assessors. When an overwhelming majority likes & feels emotional connection to something, it is aesthetic.

The DNSEA assessment matrix is strictly sequential & a ranking filter. Strictly sequential means, first assess the safety (risk & mitigation) elements of that which is proposed to be assessed. Then the fitness for purpose, time, geo-ambience & cost should be assessed. This should be followed by sufficiency attributes’ framework assessment to establish the reliability and resourceful life of the assessed. Follow this with emotional connect (first absolute & then comparative) assessment and deduce the aesthetic value. Necessary framework assessment is only a go, no-go filter. Sufficiency framework assessment is a ranking filter as not only is the assessed categorised as go, no-go but is also scored/ranked. Thus, comparable variants, when they come for aesthetic value assessment, they are filtered through assessment of necessary attributes and filtered & ranked through assessment of sufficiency attributes. Thereafter, the competing variants are subject to assessment of emotional connect and aesthetic value. There are fair chances that the highest scorer on sufficiency might not be the most aesthetic. Decisions should be made on the consumption patterns of the assessed. In case the assessed resource is created for sensual consumption (olfactory, visual, auditory, taste, touch), it should neglect the ranking in sufficiency & the choice should be made on basis of best aesthetic value, while in other cases, aesthetic value could be scored to determine the weightage of sufficiency attributes and aesthetic value.[ii]

The Evaluation Committee

Not by malafide intent, but owing to certain unavoidable circumstances, it is not infrequent to discover a compromised choice of assessors in Government evaluation committees. The chosen assessors are the ones, who could be competitively threatened by the assessee in future. Indeed, in such cases even if they have to choose one from among many assessees, they tend to choose the one, who has least chances of success. It is understandable that the Government is always most comfortable getting the chiefs of Govt. departments & Govt. companies from the same sector, with similar profiles, to be ideal for ‘professional’ assessment as the Govt. officials are expected to cater to the greater public good. Factually, such a view is utopian. Government is composed of people, who usually think no different from how the society, at large, does. They cater to their interests & the interests of their small cabals within the Government. It is undeniable that the chiefs of existing companies & departments doing similar activities are expected to have knowledge of the field, but the cost for this expertise of the knowledgeable assessor is smart mangling of the one, who is most likely to topple the cabal’s gravy boat.

There are innumerable subtle ways of conveying the ‘negative sentiment’ to other members which might seem really very innocent, like calling a serious forward-looking proposal as a ‘wish list’. Have heard from entrepreneurs use of many other adjectives that neither are subtle nor seem to be intellectual rubs. Throttle of imminent threat is one of the causes for compromised quality committees, egos & lack of vision (shooting a skeet) are the other common ones. It also merits mention, that sectors in which Govt. departments & companies have performed excellently, are seldom needed to be canvassed for investment and hence, assessments. ISRO, Atomic Energy, Oil & Gas are such examples in India. On the contrary, assessments are done in those sectors, where the incumbents have underperformed. And these very under-performers are then deputed as evaluation committee members to assess the companies that will threaten their very existence in future. The quality of assessment is predetermined!

Ideally, capable professionals working in the Government sector should be the ones, who set the objective, minimal specifications for the project. Therefore, it is very important to have an evaluation committee that is high calibre. For assessing forward looking, futuristic proposals in high technology, the assessors have to be of high quality – ideally, globally best minds. Indeed, getting high calibre academic and industry minds known for their integrity & futuristic approach globally, will ensure that mediocrity is eliminated from the process of assessment altogether and there is nothing unpatriotic in it. On the contrary the world gets a signal that when it comes to picking brains, we will approach the best.

Secondly, I observed carefully, that in a committee of five, no more than one would come prepared after a thorough read of the proposal & would ask informed questions. Indeed, the assessment of evaluation committees is dependent on three types of people – either the member-secretary, who informs in advance of the ‘good’ assesses; or the one prejudiced, malignant or threatened by the possible rise of a new star (by excluding the most likely to succeed) or that one single member, who came prepared after thoroughly reading the proposal. Best evaluations come from committees where the ones who come prepared after in depth study, rule the roost. The worst decisions come from committees in which the threatened takes charge by virtue of his position of lung power. All the aforementioned issues in this paragraph can be beautifully resolved without any investment. The Govt. should procure from NIC an electronic submission followed by automated anonymous  dispatch of the proposals being assessed to machine-chosen assessors from within a categorisedbank of assessors, each of whom has to strictly undertake not to reveal his identity or the fact that he is evaluating the proposal.

Views should be sought individually from each assessor & an anonymous query-answer window should be opened between each assessee and each assessor separately (with strict prohibition of disclosing names and contact details of either in the one-to-one chat forum). This will ensure that each assessor has applied his mind (because he can no more rely on the informed decision of another member of the Evaluation Committee) while this will also showcase the quality of the assessor & enable rating each of them systematically (automatically by the system), ensuring that Govt. does not repeat-hire a highly-placed, low-calibre assessor. Such an electronic remote process can enable excellent assessment of the necessary and sufficient frameworks. This will snatch away the possibility for the assessor to come into an evaluation committee meeting, have tea & snacks, hear others, gel his view to the majority & leave with a visit fee. This remote incognito (query-comment) assessment can be used to filter+rank those proposals on sufficiency attributes which have passed the go, no-go test of the necessary framework.

Thereafter, for the emotional connect & aesthetics framework, a committee meeting can be convened with in-person interviews of the assesses & demonstrations, if applicable. Such a committee meeting will be fruitful, as the assessee will be best-prepared after having been well-acquainted with the issues & concerns highlighted by the assessors. They will already be ranked and will know the targets they need to set to excel on emotional connect. Indeed, it would also be possible to have a different set of assessors for emotional connect and aesthetics to ensure that the evaluation is done by the best minds of the field.

It could always be left to the terms of reference to decide what importance they desire to advance to emotional connect & aesthetic value (statistical outcome of the emotional connect). The aforementioned electronic, remote, incognito necessary & sufficient attributes’ assessment followed by an in-person aesthetic value assessment will ensure assessment is deep, thorough, with independent views of the assessors without grease of references, recommendations, favouritism& egotistical eruptions. Human consciousness is composed of human emotions.[iii]Therefore, many times emotional quotient overtakes, & evaluation committees operate in a reverse matrix. The smells, looks, language, style, pheromones & other elements of emotional framework overshadow the necessary & sufficiency framework and decisions taken turn out to be successful only by serendipity, if at all. Sufficiency attributes (the constraints & life of resourcefulness of that which is assessed) are not even jerked mentally.

An incident quoted by a young entrepreneur who appeared before a technology evaluation committee exhibits the bad luck he encountered. After sensibly answering a few questions, a senior assessor asked him another question. In a slip of tongue, he added the last utterly unneeded word to his positive response, which went as follows, “yes sir, it is so. Obviously.” No later than the emergence of the word ‘obviously’ from between his upper lip & lower teeth and striking of the drums of the assessor’s weedy ears with the sound wave of the said word; he almost jumped at the entrepreneur with rage, counter-questioning – am I so foolish that I do not know something that is so ‘obvious’? Good heavens! The assessed  realised he had kicked the hornet’s nest! Thereafter, the assessor kept on countering every proposition of this entrepreneur till the other members postponed the decision to the next meeting, which occurred nine months later through which his project was cleared. ‘Obviously’ cost him 9 months.

The Government, to enable a quantum leap in its processes should avoid all the aforementioned. Take evaluation of serious technology proposals electronic, remote & incognito (the assessees& assessors are not unacquainted). Hire the best global experts known for their integrity. Use the aforementioned DNSEA mechanism for assessment of proposals.

And what about that which is free?

Online platforms have evolved a new paradigm for Governments. They are free and sometimes they need to be chosen by the State and choice of Government endorsement or use would lead to an impact on the subscribership or revenue of the platform indirectly. While in the existing quantitative evaluation it is just not possible, as all the proposals might come free of cost. In the proposed qualitative electronic, remote & incognito assessment it really matters not. Government can evaluate the products & technology & then choose not one but multiple platforms that pass the cut off.

Let the games begin!

Race to 5 trillion US$ finish line! Let the best win!

Author Brief Bio: Deepak Loomba is Chairman of De Core Nanosemiconductors Limited, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. He owns the only Private Company in the history of independent India, and the only one in entire South Asia which established a compound semiconductor plant with a material growth facility.

[i] Since the process of assessment embodies comparison, categorisation is a prelude to assessment. It is pertinent to first ensure that those compared belong to the same category, else the comparison will not be an apple to apple comparison.

[ii] The State (Top Government functionaries) while setting evaluation committees & bodies in India have the best intentions in their minds. But the final result fails the primary motivation that ignited the process of evaluation, very often. I am in no way intending to cast a shadow of doubt on all experts and committees. I am sure there are many which have presented excellent assessments. But there is a systemic slack in the process.

[iii] See Awareness & Consciousness – Discovery, Distinction & Evolution ISBN: 1692201220 or check the youtube video of Dr. Mark Solms.

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Atmanirbhar Bharat:A Constructive Programme on Gandhian Economic Thought

The hall mark of Modi 2.0, Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan (ABA), is an unprecedented paradigm shift in the history of Indian economics post-independence. It has not only turned a crisis into an opportunity for professionals and entrepreneurs with its unique approach towards a financial problem emanating from an unprecedented event ever in history but also awakened India to its inherent inner strength and inward intuitive capacities based on Indian systems of knowledge and thought.

The raging C-19 pandemic, resulted in a deep crisis where mankind was pushed to its edges on all fronts—health, education, vocation and aspirations. Taking a unique, yet Bhārtiya (Indian) rooted approach for the growth of business and trade, backed by a strong domestic input—human effort and material utilisation, the economy has bounced back and seems to be on upward climb now, as per the most recent RBI projections.

Through ABA, Modi 2.0 has not only brought out an economic package based on swadeshi economics but a new economic philosophy that, apart from mind-set shift, also provides us with a holistic ‘arthanīti’ or economic management. It bears significant similarities to the Gandhian economic model, left largely neglected after Independence. Gandhian economic thought was based on the pillars of swaraj and swadeshi and was itself an outcome of Gandhi’s extensive and in depth understanding of classical Indian literature.

ABA has succeeded in projecting and bringing out to the world an alternative humane economics (entrenched in the Indian mind for thousands of years), ensuring dignified human expression of moral character and personal ingenuity. ABA is not just a policy but a constructive programme aimed towards human empowerment and development through the human power entrenched within our civilisation over many millennia.

Ample evidence illustrates the uncanny similarity and inspiration of the ABA from the terra firma of Gandhian principles of self-reliance (swadeshi) and complete independence (non-dependence: swaraj) in thought, praxis and lifestyle. Gandhi was opposed to the centralised economy built on Nehru- Mahalanobis model of building behemoths and working single-mindedly on the aim of import substitution.

ĀtmanirbharBhāratAbhiyān and Gandhi’s Constructive Programme

Lockdown affected lives, livelihoods and standards of living adversely—both economic and non-economic, of all individuals. On 12 May 2020, the Prime Minister first talked about building an ĀtmanirbharBhārat[i]. The call was to the masses to collect themselves, assert their human power, sweat for bread but purely on moral grounds. Modi’s words were not about policy or politics but collective action, much like Gandhi had done in a bid to make each and every Indian self-respecting, self-sufficient and self-reliant in order to seek true independence of mind, body and soul.

In his independence speech on 15 August2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked Subramania Bharti’s maxim for action, quoting him: ‘India will show the way forward to the entire world to break free from every bondage.’[ii] Many of his critics wrote a scathing attack of the ABA, a philosophy clearly spelt out by Modi on 12 May 2020 on All India Radio’s ‘Mann ki Baat’[iii]. Gandhi, too, faced a similar criticism on his call for collective economic action being accused of being utopian and unrealistic[iv].

Like Gandhi, Modi, too remained resilient, probably following in the footsteps of the Father of the Nation, with focus on a larger moral goal to surmount the indomitable crisis at hand. Gandhi was of the view that any paradigm shift requires a strong moral force involving all individuals and an Indian way of doing things. ABA, too, is based on the belief that its success lies in mass moral development and spiritual force; a calling that India has taken well to as suggested by statistics on rising production, consumption and unprecedented achievements in research and development.

Ātamanirbharta is akin to poorna swaraj. Modi stated that self-reliance or atmanirbharta must ensure justice for poor, equal opportunity for all, the lower and middle classes should not face any obstacle to their growth, government should not come in their way as well as of social systems such that their dreams are not curbed in anyway[v]. This resonates with Gandhi’s view of minimum governance and maximum self-governance with government acting as a facilitator for economic growth and human welfare. The considerations of both ABA and Gandhian economics are derived from the principle that seeks to enable every person in a manner that the person can fully develop all faculties and thereby personality in a spirit of true swaraj[vi].

For both of them, the success of anyabhiyān, requires training on the back of moral and spiritual self-discipline[vii]. A strong self-reliant India will then (and has) maintain a steady pace of growth and enjoy the good will of the world[viii]. Modi states that big aims are important even if we don’t hit the bull’s eye[ix]. Aims should be big, targets far sighted and decision making fast. Vague targets and weak spirits are a mark of a stagnating society.

The five pillars of ABA are economy, infrastructure, information technology-based systems, vibrant demography and demand. Interestingly, all find enumeration in some form in Gandhi’s Constructive Programme. The objective is to make India unconditionally dependent on local vendors by building an active base of supplies from needles to buttons to generators to chemical compounds.

The case in point is the massive 20 lakh crore package, equivalent to 10 per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) launched with the objective of making Indian economy truly swadeshi[x]. Gandhian village economy, too, was designed to drift from global to local and make India dependent on local supply chains with the hinterland supporting the needs of the main cities[xi]. In fact, much in line with this, the government has decided to give preference to those commercial contracts that source inputs from local vendors. From boosting fisheries and building farm gate infrastructure, to cluster-based approach for mangoes, kesar or saffron, bamboo, chilli and tapioca, the idea is to build a swadeshi backbone for local sourcing to meet the demands of 130 crore people. While government hand-holding was not something Gandhi envisaged, we must remember that Modi 2.0 is a paradigm shift but not working on a clean slate, for which Gandhi’s Constructive Programme was written.

Modi 2.0, with its path breaking human development plan, brings within its ambit the notions of self-sufficiency, non-violence and truth (swadeshi, satya and ahimsa). The socio-economic development programme means to find all the necessaries of life in one’s own mother land while giving impetus to private or individual co-operation. It does not shun foreign co-operation but implies significant reversal of external dependence of goods. Business are being opened up and investments attracted with the caveat of ‘Make in India’[xii]. To promote ethical choices, Modi calls for the mantra of ‘local’ under the ABA. In times of crisis, it is the local that has fulfilled our demand and saved the nation from great crises[xiii].

ABA has done exactly that by weaving in migrants, the village industries, local producers, textile manufacturers, the potters, the toy makers and the craftsmen[xiv]. This Gandhian decentralised economy, which involves the true Indian spirit on ground is a cornerstone of the ABA. It focuses on participation of tier 2 and 3 towns with hundred percent backward linkage from the village as a support system[xv]. Modi 2.0 revives the Indian ethos with a new fervour largely absent in our political history since independence. Interestingly, ABA too, focuses on decentralisation of industry flooding start up enterprises in tier 2 and 3 towns, contrary to the Nehru-Mahalanobis model that was forced upon independent India. While we talk of towns, we must be mindful that some of the major villages of the nation in Gandhi’s times have now collectively grown to become such towns on account of demographic growth and connectivity—both physical and digital.

Historically, the farmer has not been able to decide the price of what he produces. Its price is calculated on the basis of the material investment, completely obliterating the sweat equity—empty nights spent guarding the crop, waiting for crops to grow without any other form employment etc. This was a major complaint that Gandhi had against the evil of demand and supply price determination in agriculture. It is backed by the logic that money drives away land from food to commercial crops like tobacco[xvi].

ABA is the first attempt to restore the dignity of the farmer by accounting for the abstract efforts that going into the entire process of growing food. As enablement and in a bid to prevent exploitation of farmers the minimum support price (MSP) has been raised to one and a half times of the investment made by the farmer in phase 3 of ABA[xvii]. The price given to him is no longer mapped to the physical monetary investment but on the human effort as well.

ABA attempts to give impetus to technology driven systems. This was one of the major reasons that Gandhi had strongly criticised the use of technology especially the railways by the British[xviii]. Thus, to many, these may look departures on the two sides. However, Gandhi’s reason was not to become slaves of technology but to use it to enhance human dignity and effort. Good or evil lies in the intention, not in the means alone. Thus, with a clear goal setting, ABA is not a major departure from the Gandhian ethical framework.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics are aimed to penetrate those regions where human to human contact is not possible or in dealing with minutiae where human skill is limited[xix]. Thus, ABA focuses on technology driven and not technology dependent systems. Apart from aiming at economic efficiency this also aims at reducing the harm to environment per unit of income produced rather than producing more income per unit of pollution, as envisaged by Gandhi[xx].

It has brought a much needed change in approach for the growth and efficiency of the health sector in the wake of the COVID 19 crisis[xxi]. To be self-reliant in this sector given the global crisis we stand amidst, India’s PPE (personal protective equipment) manufacturers rose from zero in march to about 300 by August 2020. India today is the largest manufacturer for the C-19 vaccine. ABA programmes are working with enhanced government spending for community development and engagement in village works, grass root development through construction of highways, houses, toilets and record food production[xxii]. It commands a change in taste of the people of India towards building brand India, akin to Gandhi’s Constructive Programme[xxiii].

Gandhi’s extensive writings in ‘Young India,’ a weekly journal published between 1919-1931, aimed to mobilise youth for a sustainable economy[xxiv]. Similarly, the ABA intends to capitalise on the demography of the country where 50 per cent of the population is below the age of 25 years and the average age of the Indian population is 29 years[xxv]. For Gandhi, supply and demand economics was one of the major forms of evil[xxvi]. He envisaged an economic order where people are motivated by meeting needs and not creating an excess of supply or suppressing supply in order to push up profits and prices. This is what the ABA intends through local sourcing and strengthening the economy till the grassroots.

The ABA also talks of creating a self-sustaining economy where India will witness a demand of goods based on the strength of utilising the full capacity of the internal supply chain[xxvii]. Supply will not cater to profit or price but will be based on genuine demand.  Modi 2.0 is creating a strong supply system built on labour and Indian means of transfer and exchange[xxviii]. All countries have a right to protect their trade. ABA aims to boost growth and trade within the motherland through technology transfer and seeking investment[xxix]. Gandhi, was of the view that the charge of protectionism in trade was not a negative one[xxx]. This is where ABA takes a leap beyond Gandhi. Even as we abide by swadeshi economics, we continue to meet obligations under the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) agreement.

Centralisation producesfinancial slaves for Gandhi[xxxi]. Higher the so-called standard of living based on a material driven economic index, the tighter is the noose around the neck. In order to solve moral, spiritual and social problems, independent economic activity must be encouraged and method put in place for economic practice, according to the Gandhian model. This is exactly the aim of the ABA along with a keen eye on economic parameters. ABA is a mass movement which has become the soul force of 125 crore efforts. Current government reforms involving relinquishing control in some major sectors will crowd in private investments and increase people partnership in businesses.

Conclusion

With the motto ‘shramevajayate,’ ABA is providing last mile delivery, which is reflected in economic parameters on the back of growing domestic demand and spending being the principle for action. The Sanskrit phrase means ‘hard work alone wins’ and is a new age version of the dictum given by Gandhi ‘satyamevajayate’ or truth alone wins, for hard work is born out of earnestness.

Modi 2.0 talks of ‘sabkasaath, sabkavikas’ for the first time in 75 years of independence[xxxii]. It aims not only at inclusive development but sowing the seeds of self-dependence at the very grass roots rather than propping up already existing large scale centralised manufacturing and services. Modi 2.0 endorses this Gandhian view when he states that economic development is important but human dignity is supreme. ABA captures the debate which is shifting from economy centric globalisation to human centric globalisation[xxxiii]. The growth is beyond GDP numbers yet inclusive of it because it is human development (holistic) and not just economic development (a shift that is being sought by modern economists).

With ABA, Modi 2.0 sets the ground rule that human dignity stands supreme over economic development[xxxiv]. Shunning myopic vision, Modi 2.0 launched the mantra of co-operation[xxxv]. It aims to develop 125 crore active citizens from over 6 lakh villages into nation builders, similar to the Gandhian ethical economic model[xxxvi]. ABA brings to the fore a knowledge-based economy to a civilisation that has always been knowledge driven. According to Gandhi, the focus should be on quality in the method of production which is dictated by complete knowledge of the means and sources of production[xxxvii].

Almost all super economic powers have high growth rates and higher production levels but they do not enjoy the tag of civilisational progress that is based on the moral and spiritual development of people which has been inherent in the Indian mind in thought, action and spirit right from an auto-rickshaw driver to a company CEO (chief executive officer). ‘Sabka saath, saathvikas’ is a philosophy in action on ground. Industry produces for exchange but a mother for home and that is the business ethics engendered in the ABA. Gandhi was of the view that ethical considerations are not disturbing to the economic or business apparatus of a society[xxxviii]. According to him, the notions of ‘pure,’‘good,’‘right,’ have universal connotations and maintain the same import whether we talk of good economics or good ethics. In other words, the two are equivalent.

Modi 2.0 effectively bats on the same ideological pitch reinforcing that good economics is ethics. It endorses and propagates the view that swadeshi movement is as workable as any other ever envisaged by human beings based on ‘an indomitable will of a band of earnest workers’[xxxix]. Modi 2.0 is a moral economic approach and a human public policy structure for modern times with an attempt to remodel and work on humanitarian presumptions and human centric development rather than an economics of numbers alone.

Ethically good practices do not involve continuing losses or short-term gains. If they are ethical in nature, both means and ends have to aim at welfare and growth[xl]. The mantra is to spread out and reach grass roots for Modi 2.0. It has a philosophy that growth whether moral, physical, material, spiritual or otherwise must be an outcome of ‘good’ economics. ABA weaves in practical ethics or relative dharma. It is a shift towards holistic humane goals of swadeshi and self-sufficiency. Like Gandhi, here too, the individual is the unit for action rather than groups and classes[xli].

Modi 2.0 has launched a philosophical leap in public policy. Much like Gandhi, self-belief and inner strength is the mark for the quest for self-dignity and self –reliance[xlii]. It is a change in mind set for a billion of us, not an incremental move.

Modi 2.0 has launched a festival of self-reliance through the ABA[xliii]. ‘Esha Panthah’ – this is the path for a self-sufficient India. Thus, it celebrates Gandhi’s 150th year, both in spirit and action in a unique way.

Author Brief Bio: Gunjan Pradhan Sinha is an academician, journalist and independent researcher. She is the author of the book Dharma in Governance and has published over 2000 articles as a columnist in leading Indian dailies such as The Indian Express, The Economic Times and The Financial Express. In the initial part of her career, she plunged into a career of journalism writing extensively on public policy issues spanning over 8 years. She taught Philosophy at St. Stephen’s College for over 8 years from where she graduated as well. She also taught at Lady Shri Ram College, Miranda House and Jindal Global University. Currently, she teaches business ethics at Bhavan’s Usha Lakshmi institute of management.

[i] Modi, Narendra. May 12, 2020 Speech. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/full-text-pm-modis-address-to-nation-on-covid-19/articleshow/75702461.cms

[ii] Modi’s Independence Day Speech, https://www.narendramodi.in/text-of-prime-minister-shri-narendra-modi-s-address-to-the-nation-from-the-ramparts-of-the-red-fort-on-the-74th-independence-day-august-15-2020-551013 (New Delhi: August 15, 2020)

[iii] Modi, Narendra. May 12, 2020 Speech. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/full-text-pm-modis-address-to-nation-on-covid-19/articleshow/75702461.cms

[iv] Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. Constructive Programme,Navajivan Trust Revised 1945, Ahmedabad: 2010.

[v] Modi’s Independence Day Speech, https://www.narendramodi.in/text-of-prime-minister-shri-narendra-modi-s-address-to-the-nation-from-the-ramparts-of-the-red-fort-on-the-74th-independence-day-august-15-2020-551013 (New Delhi: August 15, 2020)

[vi] Kumarappa, J C. Motives and Indian Economy, Chapter 1. Gandhian Economic Thought. Sarva Seva Sangh Prakashan. Rajghat, Varanasi: 1951. pp 15-16.  www.mkgandhi.org accessed September 10, 2020.

[vii] Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. Constructive Programme, Navajivan Trust Revised 1945, Ahmedabad: 2010.pp3-5.

[viii] Modi’s Independence Day Speech, https://www.narendramodi.in/text-of-prime-minister-shri-narendra-modi-s-address-to-the-nation-from-the-ramparts-of-the-red-fort-on-the-74th-independence-day-august-15-2020-551013 (New Delhi: August 15, 2020)

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Modi, Narendra. May 12, 2020 Speech source- https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/full-text-pm-modis-address-to-nation-on-covid-19/articleshow/75702461.cms

[xi] Gandhi, M K. Khadi. Constructive Programme. Navajivan Trust Revised 1945, Ahmedabad: 2010.pp 10.

[xii] Modi, Narendra. May 12, 2020 Speech. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/full-text-pm-modis-address-to-nation-on-covid-19/articleshow/75702461.cms

[xiii] Modi, Narendra. May 12, 2020 Speech. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/full-text-pm-modis-address-to-nation-on-covid-19/articleshow/75702461.cms

[xiv] Self-Reliant India Movement. Ministry of Finance. Government of India. Phase I. file:///C:/Users/Gunjan/Desktop/Business%20Ethics/Aatmanirbhay%20phase%201.pdf

[xv] Self-Reliant India Movement. Ministry of Finance. Government of India. Phase I. file:///C:/Users/Gunjan/Desktop/Business%20Ethics/Aatmanirbhay%20phase%201.pdf

[xvi] Kumarappa, J C. Agro Village Industries, Chapter 3. Gandhian Economic Thought, Sarva Seva Sangh Prakashan. Rajghat, Varanasi: 1951. Pp14  www.mkgandhi.org accessed September 10, 2020.

[xvii] Ministry of Finance https://web.archive.org/web/20200612121248/https://cdnbbsr.s3waas.gov.in/s3850af92f8d9903e7a4e0559a98ecc857/uploads/2020/05/2020051736.pdf

[xviii] Gandhi, M K. Hind Swaraj. Chapter XIX. Navajivan Trust. Ahmedabad: 2000. pp53

[xix] Ministry of Finance https://web.archive.org/web/20200612121248/https://cdnbbsr.s3waas.gov.in/s3850af92f8d9903e7a4e0559a98ecc857/uploads/2020/05/2020051736.pdf

[xx] Nadkarni, MV. Ethics, Environment and Culture- The Paradox of India. Ethics for Our Times- Essays in Gandhian Perspective. Oxford University Press (New Delhi-2011). pp107.

[xxi] Self-Reliant India Movement. Ministry of Finance. Government of India. Phase 4.https://web.archive.org/web/20200612121248/https://cdnbbsr.s3waas.gov.in/s3850af92f8d9903e7a4e0559a98ecc857/uploads/2020/05/2020051736.pdf

[xxii] Modi’s Independence Day Speech, https://www.narendramodi.in/text-of-prime-minister-shri-narendra-modi-s-address-to-the-nation-from-the-ramparts-of-the-red-fort-on-the-74th-independence-day-august-15-2020-551013 (New Delhi: August 15, 2020)

[xxiii] Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. Constructive Programme, Navajivan Trust Revised 1945, Ahmedabad: 2010.pp10.

[xxiv]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young India.  accessed  September 23, 2020.

[xxv] Relan, Aarushi. Atmanirbhar Policy. Amity Law School. Delhi: June,2020. https://lexlife.in/2020/06/04/analysis-atma-nirbhar-bharat-abhiyan/ accessed on September 9, 2020.

[xxvi] Dasgupta, A K. Introduction. Gandhi’s Economic Thought. Routledge (London:1996).

[xxvii] Relan, Aarushi. Atmanirbhar Policy. Amity Law School. Delhi: June,2020. https://lexlife.in/2020/06/04/analysis-atma-nirbhar-bharat-abhiyan/ accessed on September 9, 2020.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] Ministry of Finance https://web.archive.org/web/20200612121248/https://cdnbbsr.s3waas.gov.in/s3850af92f8d9903e7a4e0559a98ecc857/uploads/2020/05/2020051736.pdf

[xxx] Dasgupta, A K. Preference, Utility and Welfare. Chapter 2. Gandhi’s Economic Thought. Routledge (London:1996).

[xxxi] Kumarappa, J C. Agro Village Industries, Chapter 3. Gandhian Economic Thought, Sarva Seva Sangh Prakashan. Rajghat, Varanasi: 1951. pp32-33  www.mkgandhi.org accessed September 10, 2020.

[xxxii] Modi’s Independence Day Speech, https://www.narendramodi.in/text-of-prime-minister-shri-narendra-modi-s-address-to-the-nation-from-the-ramparts-of-the-red-fort-on-the-74th-independence-day-august-15-2020-551013 (New Delhi: August 15, 2020)

[xxxiii] Modi, Narendra. May 12, 2020 Speech. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/full-text-pm-modis-address-to-nation-on-covid-19/articleshow/75702461.cms

[xxxiv] Modi’s Independence Day Speech, https://www.narendramodi.in/text-of-prime-minister-shri-narendra-modi-s-address-to-the-nation-from-the-ramparts-of-the-red-fort-on-the-74th-independence-day-august-15-2020-551013 (New Delhi: August 15, 2020)

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. Constructive Programme, Navajivan Trust Revised 1945, Ahmedabad: 2010.pp3.

[xxxvii] Kumarappa, J C. Agro Village Industries, Chapter 3. Gandhian Economic Thought, Sarva Seva Sangh Prakashan. Rajghat, Varanasi: 1951. Pp11  www.mkgandhi.org accessed September 10, 2020.

[xxxviii] Dasgupta, A K. Introduction. Gandhi’s Economic Thought. Routledge (London:1996).

[xxxix] Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. Constructive Programme, Navajivan Trust Revised 1945, Ahmedabad: 2010.pp3.

[xl] Dasgupta, A K. Introduction. Gandhi’s Economic Thought. Routledge (London:1996).

[xli] Dasgupta, A K. Preference, Utility and Welfare. Gandhi’s Economic Thought. Routledge (London:1996).

[xlii] Gandhi, M.K. The Birth of Khadi. An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Penguin (England: 1982).

[xliii] Modi, Narendra. May 12, 2020 Speech. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/full-text-pm-modis-address-to-nation-on-covid-19/articleshow/75702461.cms

 

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Modi 2.0: Challenges and Vision for next Decade – An Interview with Shri Suresh Prabhu*

Gauri Dwivedi (GD):  This conversation comes in at a time when the Modi government would be celebrating its second year in its second term. I know it’s a somber moment and there won’t be any celebrations, so to say, but Mr Prabhu, I think it will be a good time to do a lot of introspection for the government as well.Two years into its second term, almost halfway there,what are some of the big milestones or achievements in your assessment. First, economically, as a technocrat, what is your assessment in terms of how the government’s report card has been in the last two years.

Suresh Prabhu (SP): Thank you very much for this opportunity.As you know,these last two years have been marked by unprecedented challenges for any government, in most parts of the world. It’s not all.Because, more or less as the we began 2020, we had Corona. Infact, it started towards the end of 2019 and that is why it is called COVID-19, because it actually started in 2019. So, in a way coinciding with the beginning of this Government, not necessarily at that time but a few months later. As a result of that, you have seen a huge slowing down of global economy. There was a huge contraction, not just slowing down but contraction.

Biggest economy US has contracted significantly. Japan has always been a slowing economy for last two decades, but again it contracted. China, did not contract much but it is the second largest also. The European Union, the biggest block after US again had a very negative impact of 2020. As a result of that, there was also impact on the Indian Economy. As compared to 1991, when our total influence on global economy was not as large as it is today.In the last 30 years economy has more integrated with the global economy, whether it is on the demand side where it affects your domestic as well as international trade. Or, whether even from supply side with a lot of disruptions in supplies, because India is also part of a global supply chain. So, in both ways India in away was affected.  So, you have to put that in perspective that it was a very difficult period for any government in the world and not only for India.

Of course, my few weeks have been, again, even more challenging, because the second wave has seriously impacted socio-economic life besides health, which is a very major challenge for any government to deal with. And when it happens, an unprecedented crisis of this magnitude happens the resources get diverted to fire-fighting than in building durable infrastructure.

So, you can see that last few months have been diverted to fighting pandemic. Therefore, you have to whether it is giving free food to the migrant which is absolutely necessary, or which is providing support to small and medium enterprises. So, all of these are enabling fiscal measures, and even to some extent, expansion of monetary policy to ensure that we actually create enough monetary resources available to the economy.

All of that, I would not call it a normal course of time, so when evaluating the last two years’ performance of the government, it must be seen in that context.When seen in that perspective it will stand out to be one of the most difficult and challenging periods for any government in the world. So, therefore, I think this has to be balanced and looked at in that perspective so I think it’s a very difficult time. But I would say that the government is managing it with a lot of strength.

GD: Given the fluidity of the situation right now, do you think that economic decisions can’t be cast in stone. Because, when the budget was to be presented, we said at the beginning of this year that we’re going to nowfollow a certain process as far as our economic decisions are concerned, we’d continue with that. Do you think it’s time to do course correction?Because you’re right that it’s such a fluid situation, globally the impact has been so severe because of COVID that to prepare ourselves for the next challenge, or to be in time for the next anniversary of the government next year, what do you think would be the two or three top decisions or top issues that need to be dealt with economically for India to be far more resilient.

SP: If you look at it, obviously, the fundamental objective behind any economic policy should be to accelerate the growth rate. That is very important. But we bring in more dynamism to Indian economy so one is to make it grow faster, you have to make it more competitive. If the economy is not competitive, it will never be able to succeed in global markets. And I was saying earlier, that because of our integration with the global market, India’s economic global market is even far more than before. Now we also want to increase the share of India’s global trade and if we are not competitive, we will not be able to do that.

And you cannot become competitive globally unless you are competitive back home. So, making India competitive in all spheres of economic activity has to be a primary goal. And to do that, competitive does not necessary mean only being in competition, but also making Indian industry less regulated. Doing away with unnecessary and non-productive regulations.

The second part would be that if you look at the current economic model of most of the fast-growing economies who have succeeded in the last five decades, you will notice that Each one of them succeeded because they kept capturing share of global market more and more and could expand their footprint globallyeven more.So, as I was saying competitive, but to increase your global footprint you need strategy.

I am just telling so that you asked me what’s the roadmap so the roadmap was prepared. As a Commerce Industry Minister, I had set up a group under the chairmanship of Sujit Bhalla, who is currently India’s representative to the International Monetary Fund. Today’s Foreign Minister, who was at that time working for the Tata’s, Dr Jaishankar was a member of this. Former Commerce Secretary Shri Rajiv Kher; the Chairman of Quality Control of India and the former partner of McKinsey, the chairman of McKinseywere all made members.

I had prepared a roadmap on what is that we need to do to increase India’s market share, globally. And I am reiterating that if you don’t have a bigger market share, your economic growth back home will be affected. All economies which have succeeded in the last few decades, have done this very aggressively. So that’s the second thing that we need to work on.

Thirdly, part of that, is that if you look at each of thesegment of India’s economy, whether it is manufacturing industry, services,or agriculture, each one of them will have to contribute.So, unless all the three cylinders are put on fire, atthe same time, we will not be able to do that. So, for industry, competitiveness is one part of also ensuring, and then again that’s also the extension of the competition as I said, increasing your share globally. We had prepared a roadmap of $5 Trillion economy to increase industry’s share which is currently 16% of GDP to 20%. So, making it a trillion-dollar contribution from industry to the entire economy.

And I had people compete each and every segment on what will contribute in $1 trillion. It is easy to say 20% Easy to say 1 trillion, but you must then now break it out, how much it will come from. Say for example, contribution from steel, or cement or something else, and to make sure that you get that then again you have to break it down further and find out whether house steel or cement, what are the sectoral problem that we’re facing. How will you remove them?So, this was prepared by me in consultation with CII, because as industry body. And again, not only CII because CII can do it as an academic exercise, we had got hands on people. Not only Anand Mahindra from Mahindra and Mahindra but also Pawan Goenka because he is the hands-on man for the automobile sector.Incidentally automobile is the largest component of India’s manufacturing.In fact, under the old series of GDP, 49% of manufacturers used to come only from automobile sector.

So, that one, and services, we identified 12 champion sectors or services, and said that these are the 12 champion sectors which has a potential to grow. And then agriculture, many measures are required and Prime Minister Modi has taken a number of measures, but one of them will be India’s increasing Agri exports.The potential for Agriexports is 100 million USD. When we say Agri-exports it means food is agriculture, horticulture, dairy, marine products and meat, all put together. Interestingly, that when you are going to increase your agriculture export your foreign buyers are not going to buy your agricultural products unless they are quality products. So, you’re actually by exporting agriculture products or integrating quality into your domestic food production.

GD:  I have to ask you what happened to that plan?

SP: Actually, it was made almost three years ago. So, I got it I got it processed when I was a minister and those were the final days of Modi 1 government. I don’t know what is the present status but this complete roadmap is ready.

GD: Let me then ask you, there are some specifics around the economic part that I would have come back to. Because you mentioned Mr Jaishankar, because there are so many global headwinds as far as economics and geopolitical equations coming together. How do you see India’s role going forward in terms of the largest sentiment, the world has about decoupling?Nobody can wish China away, it’s too big a country economically to wish, we don’t want it either. But this sentiment to reduce the excessive dependence economically on China, has that translated into India’s economic gains, and how do you see that in the future as well.

SP:  The world has evolved into very interesting economic interdependence.Now if you look at four decades ago, no country was dependent on another country as much as it is dependent today.

If you look at it, currently what a challenge that we’re facing that we are the biggest manufacturer of vaccine, still we need some ingredient which will be coming from some other part of the world.So, that economic interdependence, has become the hallmark of today’s world economy.When you talk about decoupling, it means whether this entire ecosystem that has been developed, globally, should be reinvented or re looked into, that is the question.

But in that context.We must have a medium term and a long-term plan, but also short-term action plan. Medium term plan could be that to an extent the critical part of your own supply chains, you should have a supply chain security like we talk about energy security. We try to secure your energy resources in a way that no disruption can ever be caused and that is a strategic reserve. The US that is now becoming the largest producer of Oil and Gas both has strategic reserves. Thanks to shale gas, the US has now become a net exporter of oil and gas.

Actually, it has completely changed the dimension. Still, they have s strategic reserve, we too have it.  So, from that context, I think we should think about a strategic relook into our supply chains. This is very important.

I will give you an example which is not directly related to India. There are certain rare earth materials which are very important for any industry related to electronics.

And as you know that some of these electronics are now running the world. How do you do E-Commerce? How do you run airlines or banking systems? These are all done using electronic platforms based on some electronic device either hardware or software.  Here, software is not necessarily rare earth but based on that.

Now, I don’t want to talk about a country specific so I will not mention. But one country was not giving those rare earths and they thought we will crumble. From that point of view only, we have to look into very seriously, about strategic evaluation of our supply chain. Interdependence is good, for example, why you think when we talk about it, we would like to manufacturemobile phones in India. When you manufacture mobile phones, they cannot be manufactured from A to Z in India. Some parts will have to be imported. We’ll be assembling it finally here, but not necessarily making everything here, which is not even desirable. Even the end manufacturer, under whose name the phone is being sold may also not like an end-to-end manufacturing in one single country. Not because of any strategic reasons but simply economic reasons. So, I am saying, put all together. What you asked me about decoupling is a very important issue. Now I feel China needs to import a lot.

When I was a commerce minister that first year, we reduced the debt deficit for the first time, it was always rising for last 30 years. I got it reduced. I called China’s Commerce Minister here, worked with him, and prepared a strategy. State deficit can be reduced by two ways either by reducing imports or by increasing exports. I worked on both. As exports increased, we talked also of pharmaceuticals.

So, I said you must work with our companies, and allow them to work with regulatory compliance because they’re so good. They’re US FDA approved, European FDA approved and also approved by the Japanese FDA. SO, what could be the regulatory issues. I have not asked you to compromise on health by helping them on regulation, but I’ll tell them so I worked on it.

So decoupling is something which has to happen for sure, but must have a medium-term plan for it, and a long-term perspective. We also must look at it from this angle, that when you are inviting foreign companies to invest in India. We must take them on board, fully, because they will be investing in India for end product may be for domestic market, as well as reaching India’s other strengths, like good cheap labor, with good access of manpower etc etc. for exporting to other countries.So, their export markets also depend upon how they benefit from their presence in India. So, we will have to take them on board first and then deal with this issue.

GD: So mobile manufacturing has definitely been a big star, an outperformer in the overall Indian manufacturing scenario so far.In your assessment which sector could be the next breakthrough for India? We need to identify our core areas of competence in your assessment, what could those be after mobile manufacturing?

SP:  That is a very good question.I had prepared a new industrial policy. This was only the third such policy for India. The first was in 1956, that was the Industrial Resolution and not a policy. Then in 1991, at that time the Industry Minister was Narasimha Rao.

Our Fifth Challenge is from this segment of new industries. We have the fifth largest economy even today; we are not a small economy that way. And therefore, when we arethe fifth largest economy, we have already created some industry. We are the sixth or seventh largest industrialized economy in the world also. So, we have large industries not as large as some other countries but still fairly large. So, first challenges that we cannot make it redundant. So, we have to modernize them. Otherwise, what happens to all the investment that has gone into it to implement it is gone into So, the first parts will be modernizing this part of it. So, this is also an important component of a new trust areas. Second part will be investing into the new emerging industries. One of them, and the slide I said when they will no concrete at all on the horizon, life sciences, you know, not pharmaceutical, but a broader sense of life sense will be one of the critical industries which will grow at faster rate. Then we’ll talk about life science, life science is one science, but it’s a convergence of several other important technological frontiers, whether it is, information technology, whether it is blockchain all the new areas that are coming into our blockchain, whether your clinical research. For Life Sciences ultimate leader to do clinical research, clinical trials. So, when you’re doing clinical trials blockchain can come very handy to you.

When you talk about artificial intelligence.This can be used and applied anywhere but artificial intelligence is a very broad science about technology not science, but applied part of it, if you look at it. There are so many segments that can benefit in India particularly agriculture.You can work on it in a very significant way.Like watering a plant,can we not use AI to decide, devise a program with which exactly at the right time, that type of water can be dispensed into the plant.

So, you are asking which industries, the licenses and technology which you call us, emerging technologies, whether they’re blockchain or machine learning or artificial intelligence, or big data, all of that together, can be actually put into Internet of Things, where actually you connect everything in internet together. All these applied parts of them. See we cannot claim to be the originator of this technology and so I get to work on that and we can see I will develop new R&D and develop new patterns everything. Even today we don’t file too many patents in the world.

We are not even in the top five of filing technology patents though we are the fifth largest economy. So there has to be a convergence between R&D and size of the economy. When you are the fifth largest economy, why are you not in the top five of filing the patents and R&Dof new ideas. So, I think that is going to take some time.

GD: No matter how much we verified the Chinese economic model, what needs to sort of also put that out in perspective, that it was in 2010, that their five-year plans said that technology will be the next frontier that we need to conquer. So 11 years later we are sort of still talking about it and it’s important to sort of understand that how the Chinese realized this, more than a decade ago, but then you know let me then ask you this Sir, as we talk about Mr Prabhu that, you know, COVID has wreaked havoc with the Indian economy like it has with the rest of the world, but this was also a year that we were supposed to sort of get back on track, you know, after last year’s horrible economic devastation that happened because of COVID. We were expected to sort of get back on track this year, ADB had announced a lot of others had announced double digit growth expectations.In your assessment,are those still on track, and more importantly, what do you think can be done to try and reduce a cushion, the economic pain that lies ahead, after the second wave.

SP:  I think, pre – second wave, one of the thrust areas rightly, put on the table by Prime Minister was infrastructure investment to which I fully agree. In fact, infrastructure has the potential to create many more jobs while it is being built. Because you create infrastructure and therefore, bridge the infrastructure deficit that we are suffering from for a very long time then obviously that will become a launching pad for a new enterprise. And therefore, we’re talking about even competitiveness earlier. So,one of the competitive advantageswe will have over a period of time is that you will have good infrastructure. So, investing into infrastructure is one thing that has to be done very, very quickly to revive India’s economy as well as create medium term plan for India’s increasing share in the global markets.

The second part is that you know, India’s economic all the economies of the world including US, and even Germany or for that matter all major economies of the world, small and medium enterprise, play a key role. Now what is the definition of small medium enterprise in India very different from US, or Germany, but still there are a very important component of economies. So, making SMEs, stronger, more efficient, is very important. Now we talked about pain. I think they are the ones who have suffered extreme pain. And I think that’s why you will need to work on it. I remember something very interesting.In 2008,when we came out with the idea, because the particularly the USA the European said, and they talk in context of Lehman Brothers and others that are too big to fail. Later on, the government has to rescue them. I had said at that time, those are too big to fail, but a small medium enterprise, too small to survive.

So, when they are too big to fail. You try to rescue them. What about a too small to survive element of India’s economy,you must support it. That’s why we have to actually support the small and medium enterprise in a very significant way. And again, if you look at it again why I’m saying this, if you look at the employment profile of the country as well as the world actually. Because we are under condition to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the economic model of the world is changing. Therefore, the employment profile also changes. So, in that context, if you protect small and medium enterprises, you’re actually creating a safety net for some sections of society, because otherwise if SMEs are not there then those many people will again be seekers of jobs. Those who are creators of jobs today will become seekers.

Here’s the second wavenow and it is very difficult to evaluate the impact on economy, because during the first wave there was a lockdown etc so we know the economic output at contact is significantly different. Now because the impact of second wave is localised and Maharashtra is an important contributor to India’s GDP, we don’t know to what extent will that affect the economy. We will have to evaluate this and based on that evaluation we will have to spread support to the society.

GD: There is this very interesting study that McKinsey did last year about Indian manufacturing, they said that while in the US, on average, firms grown 10 times their size in a 35-year time period, in India, firms grow just twice their size in 35 years. So that explains the whole dwarf concept that exists in in Indian manufacturing that you know we don’t know what to do with them because they’re still not big enough to compete, and they’re still not so small that we sort of you know need to handhold them.And I think that’s really the crux of the Indian manufacturing or the larger problem as far as Indian industry is concerned. But having said that, I want to ask you this as we sort of come to the end of this conversation that Mr Prabhu as weend this, in your hope and assessment, what would be the one big milestone that you would wish the government achieves next year when we have this conversation, and the government is completing another year into its second term, that one big aspiration that you would want to be fulfilled this year.

SP: I think that when onefaces a pressing challenge of this magnitude that occurs once in a lifetime of not just one generation but few generations later, then there are multiple problems that you face in one go. I think one good part of that is that Mr Modi has shown tremendous leadership. He has actually taken this challenge and faced it squarely, so he is facing it head on, though it’s not easy job to do, but he still is doing a fabulous work in terms of facing the challenge, working with people and address this challenge together.

So, in my opinion, that’s a great contribution of Mr Modi during this very troubled time, and I am sure you can see it as you go along, you’ll be able to see that. He’s also working on a very important program which is not probably well appreciated by the people, is providing good quality drinking water to every household of India through pipe water. It was started during this second Modi government. This is called “Ghar Ghar Jal”.It is a very important program.

In Atal Ji’s cabinet, I had six different responsibilities and one of them was, water.And therefore, I dealt with this hands-on business so I know how important this program is. So, this again is a big program that you will see being completed in two-threeyears’ time.

This will be a great thing because if you are giving good quality water, you are actually addressing public health issues. Because two thirds disease in India, minus the pandemic, are waterborne and one-third of the fatalities happen because of waterborne diseases.So, if you’re dealing with water, you are helping that.

Secondly, in rural areas, a girl cannot go to school because you have to go and face the water, a woman of the house has to probably walk some few miles to get a water, so she cannot work in the field. So, if you address a water problem and you have good quality drinking water to every household,we will see higher enrolment of girls for schooling. We will see better enrolment of women into employment and therefore their family incomes will rise. This program will thus have huge benefits. So, I think this is a great contribution of the Narendra Modi Government. It is his personal idea, his flagship program that he has launched, I think these are things a big contribution of Narendra Modi in these last few years.

GD: Thank you so much for speaking to India foundation, I hope that the storm that is upon us quickly passes by India gets vaccinated soon and next year when we have this conversation, we are talking about the high growth trajectory and meeting all those big achievements that right now look a little difficult because of the present scenario that we are living in. Hopefully, which will be short term.Thank you so much for speaking to us.

SP: Thank You.

Brief Bios:

Shri Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu is India’s Sherpa to the G7 and G20.He was formerly the Minister of Railways, Minister of Commerce & Industry and Civil Aviation.

Gaurie Dwivedi is a Senior Journalist covering economy, policy and politics. She is also a Visiting Fellow at USI.

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Acting locally and thinking globally – Agricultural sector reforms and the Modi Government.

India is the largest producer of milk, jute and pulse in the world, second largest in sugarcane, cotton, groundnut, fruits, vegetables and fisheries production and third in cereal production.[i] Despite this, the agricultural growth rate is dismally low and Indian farmers are for the most part, poverty stricken. We need pragmatic answers to the woes of the farmers, if we have to raise the standard of living of the majority of out people. As per an U.N report, 21% of people in India live below the poverty line. Over 30% even have less than $1.25 per day available – they are considered extremely poor. This makes the Indian subcontinent one of the poorest countries in the world; women and children, the weakest members of Indian society, suffer most even in the 21st century.

If the situation is to be improved, then reforms in the agriculture sector, which employs 41.49 percent of India’s workforce[ii] is an imperative. More importantly, about 70 percent of its rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood.[iii] Talking of agricultural reforms in India is like having the aspirations for a bullet train track in Ranchi or Patna. It seems an impossible project because of diverse and dissenting views. But answers must be found. Reforms of course are not a panacea to all the ills of the farm sector, but it is a vital and important step towards improving the lives of the vast number of people engaged in farming.

Why Reforms are Needed

There are a plethora of issues which needs to be addressed: rotting of tonnes of surplus food grains in government godowns, denial of proper prices for their produce to the farmers, poor irrigation infrastructure, fluctuations of climatic conditions and the policy of the government to support Agriculture till date with loan waivers and announcement of M.S.P. (Minimum Support Price). There are varied reasons of farmer’s distress.

India is basically an agrarian economy and the agricultural sector needs reforms,  if we have to raise the standard of living of the majority of our people. The Farms Bills, passed by the government are a step in this direction. They have the potential to change the face of Indian agriculture by transforming agriculture, the main means of livelihood of a vast majority of people, into an agri-business enterprise. This will provide to the burgeoning population, new avenues of economic opportunities and propel a revolution agriculture, much like the Green revolution of 1966. When the ‘Kesar’ of Kashmir, ‘Makhana’ of Bihar, ‘Mango and Guavas’ of Uttar Pradesh, ‘Bamboo shoots’ of North-East, ‘Bhindi’ of Gujarat and ‘Kathal and Prawns’ of Orissa get a global market platform, India’s hard-working farmers will get the right price for their produce, free  from interference by intermediaries or middlemen. The vision of Prime Minister Modi is to transform India into a food-export powerhouse, exploring local possibilities and marketing them globally.

Gandhiji once said: ‘Real India lives in the villages… the India of my dreams will be one where agriculture would bring economic self-sufficiency’. But post-Independence, the experiment with democracy has also witnessed bad experiments in the economic sector leading to lop-sided growth, increasing poverty and unemployment due to neglect of the agricultural sector. Most of the Governments brought changes and reforms but lacked a vision and foresight. Except for the Green Revolution of 1966, most of the time the agricultural sector suffered because of the liberalisation and privatisation model being imbibed across the world.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MRNREGS) and Public Distribution System have generally been used as doles to certify the path of welfare state followed by India, but till date has not achieved the desired results. Now, in a bid to transform the agriculture sector, the Modi led NDA Government has brought three prominent Agricultural reforms which have the potential to revamp and overhaul the stagnant agricultural sector.

The Farm Laws

The three Farm Reform Laws brought by the government are:

  • Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020
  • Farmer’s (Empowerment and Protection) agreement on price assurance and Farmservices Act, 2020
  • Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020

These three reform bills have the capacity to lay down the roadmap for agricultural self-sufficiency and prosperity in India. They take into account various research studies and reports of public policy over the last fifty years by various governments, and hence, no political motive can be ascribed to the passage of these bills. Their impact on the agriculture sector and on the income of the farmers is likely to be far-reaching, if backed by proper regulatory and institutional mechanisms to ensure fairness and transparency.

The reforms shall be beneficial to small farmers as it lays down the procedure for barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade of farmer’s produce. This first Bill aims to end the license-permit raj in the agricultural sector, which benefitted the middleman at the cost of the farmer. The farmers can also explore the possibility of selling their produce online. The second Bill ushers in the system of contract farming in India. Farmers can now enter into long-term contracts (upto five years) with agri-business firms for selling their future produces at a pre-agreed price, assuring them future income despite fluctuations of weather. For the farmer, there is no transportation and storage costs and they end up with a better price for their goods. Further, there shall be no change in Minimum Support Prices and no loss to agricultural mandis. Amendments have also been made in the Essential Commodities Act for better price realisation to farmers. Agricultural products like cereals, edible oils, oilseeds, pulses, onions, potatoes shall be deregulated. New funds for fisheries, dairy development, herbal plantation, livestock vaccination shall be created.

Opposition to agricultural market reforms is politically motivated, and designed to preserve the standing of certain vested interests. While the country was still struggling with the Chinese virus which caused the Covid-19 pandemic, the decision of the farmers to hit the streets had far-reaching political ramifications. Farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Western Uttar Pradesh became the major force behind the protests. In Punjab, Congress along with Akali Dal— a long time ally of the BJP in NDA, also supported the farmer’s protest. Ms Harsimrat Kaur Badal, a minister in the NDA government, quit the cabinet due to differences of opinion on the issue. Captain Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab passed laws in the State Assembly to nullify the Central Farm laws. The other Congress-ruled State governments in Rajasthan, and Chattisgarh also passed similar legislations. Several rounds of negotiations between the farmer’s union and Govt. representatives did not bear any fruit. As a result, a stalemate was created on the farm reforms and the matter is now sub-judice.

A History of Protests

Even earlier, the nullification of Article 370, legislation of C.A.A and its supposed connection with NRC, NPR, CAB was a new campaign promulgated by the ‘Left Liberals’ which in course of time turned into a violent agitation. For much of the 20th century, the process of ‘Constitutionalism’ in India had been governed by the ideology of the ‘Liberal Socialists’ who aimed at the reconstruction of the society but could never achieve it. When the electorates preferred market and free choice, the ‘Liberals’ expressed ‘powerlessness’ in the new system and favoured economic redistribution through the affirmative action model, but paradoxically, none could achieve the desired results. Hence, the new campaign of the leftist elites is to misguide and disillusion the farmers and peasants against any constructive reform by the government.

Recently, the tractor rally and violent protests at Red Fort, which was predominantly led by the intermediaries and supported by some opposition parties against laws made by a government which enjoys a comfortable majority in Parliament was indicative of a reign of terror and anarchism sponsored by vicious cartels and opposition groups. Noise and violence had become the currency of discourse in the largest democracy of the world for some time.

The performance data of procurement of food-grains under the M.S.P by the Food Corporation of India is an eye-opener  and story-teller in this direction. In the past 15 years (2003-2017), procurement by government agencies has been 26.8 percent for wheat (procurement of 359 million tonnes versus production of 1,340 million tonnes) and 31.3 percent for rice (procurement of 488 million tonnes, production of 1,558 million tonnes). The numbers are similar for 2018–31.3 percent procurement of wheat, 32.7 percent for rice. The question to be asked then is, where does the balance go?

According to the Sixty-Second Report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture (2018-2019) titled, ‘Agriculture Marketing and Role of Weekly Gramin Haats’, presented to Parliament in January 2019, the surplus is purchased by moneylenders and traders at very low prices. The moneylender and traders buy independently or work as an agent of a bigger merchant of the nearby mandi. Clearly, the balance of power is against small farmers.[iv] The small and marginal farmers constitute 86% of our agricultural class. This vulnerable class becomes the victim of money-lenders and intermediaries in the absence of government procurement and low prices. As a result, the middleman and intermediaries have their discretion to fix throwaway and low prices for the crop.

Today, the drivers of the Farm reforms protest are these rich and influential farmers and middlemen. Thus, ‘the politics of the past is attempting to prevent the prosperity of the future.’[v] Which is why, the intention of the Narendra Modi government to transform the agricultural sector into a modern business enterprise by linking the crop yields of the farmers with the global market is a landmark decision. It shall directly improve the lives of lakhs of farmers who shall get a better price for their crops. Hence, all the protests and demonstrations sponsored by middlemen and intermediaries are directed to stall the reform process which will lead to a loss of thousands of crores for them.

Notwithstanding the noisy public discourse, the agricultural sector under Modi government has been steadily improving and will witness a fillip with latest farm reforms, contrary to the opposition by some quarters. The resilience of the farming community in the face of adversities and economic recession has made agriculture the only sector to have recorded a positive growth of 3.4% at constant prices in 2020-21, when other sectors were declining. Either it is because of the Lockdown and Reverse Migration of labour, or the slowdown in industrial growth, agriculture has emerged as a saviour in this time of distress. The share of agriculture in Gross Domestic Product has reached almost 20% for the first time in the last 17 years, making it the sole bright spot in G.D.P performance during 2020-21. During 2020-21, while the Gross Value added for the entire economy contracted by 7.2%, growth in Gross Value Added for agriculture maintained a positive growth of 3.4%.

Union Agriculture Minister Giriraj Singh, during an interaction with the media highlighted the fact that while wheat worth Rs 33,000 crore was procured during 2013-14, which increased to Rs 62,000 crore during 2019-20, with a growth of 87%. Similarly, paddy worth Rs 63,298 crore was procured between 2013-14 which went up to Rs 1.41 lakh crore in 2019-20. Further, 106 lakh farmers in the country have benefitted through the Direct Bank Transfer (DBT) scheme of Rs 6000 each.[vi] He also highlighted the fact that the budget allocation for agriculture was Rs 88,811 crore between 2009 and 2014, which has increased to Rs 4,87,238 crore between 2014 and 2020, registering a growth of 438%. The agricultural credit during 2013-14 was Rs seven lakh crore, which has gone upto Rs 16.5 lakh crore during the financial year 2021-22—an increase of 135%.

Hence, a closer introspection of the statistics reveals the fact that the regulatory policies in the agricultural sector is leading to the welfare of the farmers due to a quantum jump in the crop yield and thereby consolidating the creditability of agriculture reforms in the long run.

Recommendations

In the words of Amit Kalantri, ‘A farmer is a magician who produces money from the mud.’ Hence, certain things need to be kept in mind while unveiling the Farm reforms in future.First, the focus of agricultural policies must shift from production per se to farmers’ livelihoods. Hence, such crop yields should be encouraged which help in creating sustainable livelihood opportunities in the long run and encourage agricultural crop diversity. Secondly, the local administration should assist new start-ups and provide all possible protection from anti-social elements. Thirdly, climate fluctuations create high risk for the quality and output of yield. Hence, soil health and climatic factors should be taken into consideration.Fourthly, it is important that the farmers are given education, training and expertise in mechanised farming in the crops of their farm . Fifthly, a low Minimum Support Price for various farm produces fails to cover the cost incurred and thereby creates agrarian distress, farmer indebtedness and suicides. The govt. shall have to do a tight-rope walk on this front as raising the M.S.P shall invite the ire of W.T.O and also create inflationary conditions. Hence, in course of time, an alternative to the Minimum Support Price should be evolved so that the farmers get maximum benefit of their produce in the market.

Conclusion

Agriculture remains the world’s biggest employer. It is the most important source of food and raw materials for various economic activities and the only source of sustenance for 70 percent of India’s population. The Government must push ahead with the farm reforms in the interest of farmers, despite the opposition by vested interests. Regulating the implementation of farm laws is also important for the future of the B.J.P government as the implementation and transition of the agrarian economy will have a positive impact on the outcome of 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The Narendra Modi government has laid down pathbreaking achievements and  the governance style of the Prime Minister has helped solve many complex issues: Terrorism in Kashmir through abrogation of Article 370, construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, rise of India as a Soft power on the Foreign policy front, abolishing instant Triple Talaq, and the establishment of good governance models in various states. The Farm Reforms 2020 are also a gigantic step in the right direction as they will definitely help in new job creation and agricultural prosperity. The fulfilment of a number of Sustainable Development Goals is also anchored on the performance of this sector.The SDGs are interconnected in many contexts and a link with agriculture is clear for many of them as explained in the Table below. (See Table 1)

Table 1: Agriculture’s link with SDGs [vii]

SDG Link with Agriculture
SDG 1: End poverty in all its forms. Everywhere As most of the poor in the developing world are dependent on agriculture, ending poverty is linked to increasing returns from agriculture. Major indicators are ownership and control over land and natural resources, both of which are essential endowments for practicing agriculture.
SDG2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture Directly related to sustainable agriculture
SDG3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages Can only be achieved through nutritious food produced via agriculture and allied sectors
SDG5: Achieve Gender Equality and empower all women and girls Women play an important but largely unrecognised role in agriculture; their empowerment, decision-making and time for care work are pathways in leveraging agriculture for nutrition
SDG 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all Increasing water use efficiency across sectors, integrated water resource management, and protection and restoration of water related ecosystems—all have a bearing on agriculture
SDG7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all Reduction in agriculture’s dependence on fossil fuels and consequent pollution
SDG8:  Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all Agriculture engages a large segment of the working population and consequently has a bearing on the realisation of decent work and economic growth
SDG10: Reduce inequality within and among countries Disparity in asset ownership and wages in agriculture activities
SDG12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns Sustainable management of all natural resources, sustainable production patterns, and reducing food loss and waste
SDG13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts Strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity of agriculture to the impacts of climate change, and lowering green-house gas emissions without affecting food production
 SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal ecosystems, reduction of pollution, and sustainable fish harvest.
SDG 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss All these are the feedstock for agriculture activities; indiscriminate agriculture expansion has led to decline of forest area and biodiversity loss and overexploitation of land, resulting in degradation.

 

(Author Brief Bio: Saumya Maniny Sinha teaches Political Science at St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi, Jharkhand.)

[i] Address of Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman to the media in June, 2020.

[ii] https://www.statista.com/statistics/271320/distribution-of-the-workforce-across-economic-sectors-in-india/

[iii] http://www.fao.org/india/fao-in-india/india-at-a-glance/en/

[iv] Chikermane , Gautam, ‘ Agriculture reforms: ignore political rhetoric, embrace prosperity economics,’ Sep 22,2020

[v] ibid

[vi] Modi govt allocated 438% more budget to agriculture sector compared to UPA: Giriraj Singh, The Times of India

PTI | Updated: Feb 6, 2021, 13:59 IST accessed on 18th April, 2021.

[vii] R V Bhavani in RV Bhavani and Priya Rampal, “Harnessing Agriculture for Achieving the SDGs on Poverty and Zero Hunger,” ORF Issue Brief No. 407, October 2020, Observer Research Foundation.

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Addressing Internal and External Threats

Since Independence, the Indian State has faced challenges to its territorial integrity from external actors, both state and non-state. Internally, the nation has been continuously engaged in dealing with multiple fault lines, some of which continue to fester even after decades of proactive political, economic, social and security initiatives. Successive governments have attempted to bring their own unique approach to maintaining peace with India’s hostile neighbours and resolving conflict within the hinterland, with varying degrees of success.

The BJP led NDA government made a break with past practises through strategic doctrinal shifts in dealing with its hostile neighbours as well as in creating a climate where internal challenges can be holistically met. The policies first came to the fore in the first BJP led NDA government (2014-2019) and saw a continuation of the same when the BJP led NDA again won the national mandate.

The External Challenges

India has been involved in five wars, four with Pakistan and one with China, since Independence. India’s land frontiers still remain vulnerable to external threats, largely a result of historical legacies. Besides protecting its land borders, there is also a need to protect its long coast line and Island territories.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s hostility towards India has more to do with ideology than the so called ‘Kashmir issue’—a fact glossed over by many analysts. The question  of ideology came up at the birth of Pakistan itself. Was it to be a secular state, a state of Muslims or an Islamic state? This lack of clarity still exists in Pakistan and is one of the reasons why Pakistan continues to teeter on the brink of disaster.[i] Recent peace overtures by Pakistan, with Pakistan army chief, Gen Bajwa calling for a resolution of the Kashmir issue in “a dignified and peaceful manner as per the people’s aspirations,”[ii] did not cut much ice with the Indian establishment, which in response, stated India’s desire to have “normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan in an environment free of terror, hostility and violence.”[iii]

The above is a fundamental policy shift in India’s dealing with Pakistan. Prior to 2014, Indian policy was geared to maintaining the status quo. This implied a willingness to settle the Kashmir issue on the existing Line of Control (LoC). The Simla Accord of 1973 was designed to freeze the borders as they lay. This was also the framework which drove the Manmohan Singh-Pervez Musharraf initiative, subsequently disowned by Pakistan after Musharraf’s departure. In contrast, the Narendra Modi government has reasserted India’s claim over all the territories of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, illegally occupied by Pakistan. Towards this end, the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution and the splitting of the state into two Union Territories, marked a fundamental irreversible shift in the governments stand. At an election rally in Haryana in August 2019, the Raksha Mantri, Shri Rajnath Singh stated that if talks are held with Pakistan, India will not discuss any issue other than Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.[iv] Similar statements have been issued by other political leaders too.

Pakistan resorted to the use of terrorism as a foreign policy tool in the late 1980s—a policy they have maintained till date. With both the countries becoming nuclear in May 1998, Pakistan’s support to cross border terrorism became more blatant, and was based on a security calculation that New Delhi would not react with force even if provoked, due to the nuclear overhang. The attack on a military base in Uri by Pakistan-based JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed) terrorists on 18 September 2016 was the first time that India reacted aggressively to Pakistan sponsored terror, with the Indian Army carrying out surgical strikes across the LoC at multiple points on 29 September. In a bid to drive the message home, the Indian DGMO held a press conference the next day, announcing to the world, India’s military response.

Pakistan failed to respond and thus its nuclear bluff was called. Henceforth, this was not a ploy which could be used by Pakistan to keep New Delhi cowed down. While this did not, by itself, stop Pakistan from continuing with its policy of providing support to terror groups from within its soil, there were no further major incidents of terror anywhere in India till 2019, when a CRPF convoy was attacked in Pulwama  on 19 February. New Delhi’s response this time was swift and brutal, with an aerial strike carried out on 26 February, deep within Pakistani territory, destroying the main JeM HQ in Balakot. More important than the strike was the political messaging—India will strike at terror perpetrators, even if they are based across India’s borders. This has radically changed the security dynamics in the India-Pak equation. India has also gone into a political and diplomatic offensive against Pakistan, for its state sponsored support to terrorism, which has put Pakistan firmly in the dock. Despite that, Pakistan still poses serious security concerns to India with its use of terror proxies. For the moment, Pakistan is perhaps checked, but not rendered out of the game. In conventional military capability, however, Pakistan is no longer a credible threat to India.

China

The boundary dispute remains the primary stumbling block in normalising the India-China relationship. Another area of concern is increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region, especially with respect to India—a fallout of her desire to achieve preeminence in the region.[v]

The Modi government attempted to write a new chapter in the relationship, with the Indian Prime Minister inviting his counterpart Xi Jinping to India. The visit took place in September 2014, the two leaders apparently establishing a personal rapport with each other. However, Chinese troop incursions took place in the Chumar area of Ladakh when the visit was on, prompting many analysts to question Chinese motives. Ahead of Air Force Day on 8 October 2014, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, the then Chief of Air Staff and Chairman, Chief of Staff Committee, in a press conference made an oblique reference to this during a press meet. When questioned on the recent incursion by Chinese troops in Ladakh, he responded: “It is always mysterious…the way incursions get timed with visits…In diplomacy, there is little signalling done but I am not going to guess. The question that arises is why the incursion took place when the senior-most leader of their country’s hierarchy was here”.[vi]

The reciprocal summit meeting took place in Wuhan, China in May 2108, which was viewed as an attempt to bring the India-China relationship to a more even keel. This was a growing divergence of views between the two countries on issues on the boundary dispute, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Chinese assertion of its influence in India’s periphery, its belligerence in the South China Sea and its opposition to Indian membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, amongst others. The Summit was billed as an informal summit, without a formal agenda. While the cordiality of relationships was established, resulting in the term ‘the Wuhan Spirit,’ differences in perception remained.[vii] The Wuhan Summit was followed by the second informal summit at Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadi in October 2019, but key divergences of views could not be bridged.

The Governments policy towards China has however become more nuanced. There is a push back to every Chinese attempt to unilaterally change the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as witnessed in Doklam in 2017 and more recently in June 2020, in Eastern Ladakh. The latter standoff is still on, with India now linking a peaceful border with normalisation of relations in other sectors. This is a welcome change, indicating to China that unilateral actions by the Chinese will not be accepted.

The Indian Ocean Region

India’s dependence for its energy supplies from the Gulf, makes the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) an area of prime concern to New Delhi. India’s growth to a USD 5 trillion economy is also largely dependent on trade through the sea lanes of communication (SLOCS). Security of the SLOCS is thus of primary concern to India. As China also depends on the Gulf for its energy security, it provides India an opportunity to pose a counter pressure point on China in the Malacca Strait.

In the US discourse, the Pacific Ocean, as part of the US strategic discourse was considered an American lake. China’s rise altered the US discourse. Earlier, the US spoke of the Asia Pacific, which terminology excluded India. Since 2010, the Asia Pacific began being replaced by the Indo-Pacific as a regional framework for US strategic discourse under the Obama administration. By 2017, this had become a key regional term for official US discourse under the Trump administration.[viii] The change was the result of Chinese assertiveness, as also the fact that global trade was now shifting to this region. Chinese assertiveness was impacting Japan, Australia and India, and thus it became a sensible construct to strengthen the Quad. Prior to 2017, the Quad was a relatively defunct concept, but is now achieving greater coherence, with the leaders of the four Quad holding a virtual summit in March 2021 and also issuing a joint statement.

The Quad has given India a pressure point against China in the Malacca Strait. The present government is accordingly taking steps to strengthen the Navy and modernise ports, which will improve Indian capability in safeguarding its maritime and strategic assets.

Internal Threats

Internally, India faces security challenges from two distinct streams. The first is a mix of separatism and sub national extremism, which has spawned violence in parts of Northeast India, Jammu and Kashmir and in a number of districts afflicted by Naxal violence, now officially referred to Left Wing Extremism (LWE). The second is equally vicious, where a set of people in a bid to derail the smooth functioning of the state, exploit religious and social fissures in Society, through motivated and agenda based campaigns.

Left Wing Extremism

The origin of Naxalism, now also referred to as Maoism or Left Wing Extremism (LWE) is traced to the Naxalbari uprising in 1967. From then till the present times, it has grown to a movement impacting many districts of India. In 2010, the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, described it as the “biggest threat to internal security”.[ix] At present, LWE impacts some districts in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, with Chhattisgarh being the worst affected. This geographical stretch is colloquially called the ‘red corridor’.

The Naxals have been successful in executing high profile attacks against the Indian State. In an attack by the CPI Maoists (CPI (M)), on the CRPF in Dantewada in April 2010, 76 CRPF personnel lost their lives. Three years later in 2013, the CPI (M) attacked a convoy of Congress Party leaders in the Darbha Valley in the Sukma district of Chhattisgarh in which 27 people were killed, many of them senior leaders. A Maoist attack  in 2017 and another one in 2019 led to a further loss of lives of CRPF personnel.

While the above is certainly a cause for concern, there has been over the last one decade, a reduction in the area which was under CPI Maoist influence as also a decrease in violent incidents and casualties, as seen in Figure 1. The attack by the CPI (M) in April 2021, which led to the loss of 22 personnel from the security forces, mostly from the CRPF, was perhaps a reassertion by the group, stating that they were still strong and active. When the timeline of major attacks is traced, it becomes clear that these attacks have been largely sporadic in nature and not continuously aggravating or maintaining status quo in its trend. Since 2011 there has been a 41% reduction in violent incidents involving the Naxals and 49% reduction in deaths due to these incidents since 2013. In 2019 alone, the violent incidents reduced by 19% and deaths by 15%. As per the data until March 2020, out of the 58 districts declared as Naxal-affected, violence is now restricted to 30 districts.[x]

The government’s two-pronged strategy to address LWE is based on Security and Development of the people living in the tribal belt. The initiative has yielded results which has led to a shrinking of the area under CPI (M) control. But weaknesses still exist with respect to the training and leadership of the CRPF, to operate in a counter-insurgency environment. Unless these weaknesses are overcome, the Maoists will continue to have the capacity to hit at selective targets at periodic intervals, as seen in the recent attack in Bijapur in April 2021. Cutting across political lines was the national resolve to address this issue holistically, as seen by the joint statement[xi] issued by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, from the BJP, and Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, from the Congress Party. LWE needs to be combatted as a national priority, cutting across party lines and this joint statement was a step in the right direction.

Jammu & Kashmir

Pakistan’s desire to wrest Kashmir from India has led to four wars, the last being in Kargil in 1999. In the 1970s, after Pakistan’s humiliating defeat in the 1971 Liberation War, the Pakistani establishment, embarked on a strategy of wording bleeding Indian with a thousand cuts, and terrorism was the instrument to be used. The process of radicalisation in the Kashmir Division of the erstwhile state of J&K, which began sometimes in the 1960s, albeit at a low key, gained impetus over the next two decades, and towards the end of the 1980s, many groups with weapons and a virulent ideology had appeared in the Valley. The genocide of the minority Hindu population took place in the beginning of 1990, culminating in the displacement of about half a million Hindus from their homes, in which their ancestors had lived for thousands of years.

The challenge of putting an end to terrorist violence was the Constitutional protection given to the state under Article 370, which prevented the Centre from acting decisively against terrorism. The fact that certain political parties in the Kashmir Valley too were in touch with the separatists and were following a soft separatist line further complicated the issue.

A doctrinal shift in the government response to terrorism was reflected in the response given to the terror attack on a military base in Uri in 2016 and another attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in 2019. Ceasefire violations by Pakistan were responded to with force, which again marked a shift from earlier policies.[xii] But the most significant event took place on August 5, 2019, when the Indian Parliament revoked the special status accorded to J&K under Article 370 of the Constitution. Furthermore, the erstwhile borders of J&K were bifurcated into J&K and Ladakh and both were declared as Union Territories. This bold move of the government led by Prime Minister Modi had a significant impact on the security concerns arising from J&K.

A comparative study on the security scenario in J&K in one year before and after the August 5 decision, which also coincides with the second tenure of the union government reveals significant betterment of the security scenario.[xiii] These statistics have been demonstrated in Figure 2.

The success of the government in normalising the security scenario in J&K has been backed by several key initiatives. Under the UDAAN initiative, nearly 39,000 candidates were trained and were offered jobs in the corporate sector. In a separate program nearly 5000 women were trained in warrior livelihood crafts in the year 2019-2020.[xiv] Proposals have also been worked upon for establishing educational institutions of national importance.[xv] Several such initiatives brought in a wave of hope and enthusiasm in the residents of J&K. This has been evident in the result of the District Development Council elections, the first democratic exercise since the scrapping of the special status. The voter-turnout for these elections saw a marginal increase as compared to the turnout for the Lok Sabha election of 2019. Terror infested areas such as Ganderbal, Kulgam and Shopian saw a considerable increase in the voter-turnout with 43.4%, 28.9% and 17.5%, respectively.[xvi] In the elections, BJP emerged as the single largest party, winning 75 seats, with the ‘Gupkar Alliance’—an alliance of the National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress winning 120 seats (NC-67, PDP-27 and Congress 26). Apni Party, an ally of the BJP, won 12 seats. While the Alliance has won the first election, post abrogation, internal fault-lines became evident when a political party quit the Alliance in January 2021.[xvii]

Northeast Quadrant of India

India’s eight north eastern states comprise 4 percent of the national population and 8 percent of India’s land mass. 96 percent of the borders of these eight states are international borders with China, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. This fact gives to the region, great strategic significance, well beyond its size. The creation of a conducive environment that fosters peace and security in the region is one of the topmost priorities of the Government of India.

During the last seven years of the NDA Government, significant emphasis was laid on strengthening and developing the region through India’s Act East policy. The stability and security of Northeast India is paramount for the economic development of the region. Towards that end, the region has seen substantial improvement in the law-and-order scenario since 2014 as seen in figures 3 and 4, as a result of which the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, (AFSPA) was revoked completely from Tripura, Meghalaya, and several parts of Arunachal Pradesh.[xviii]

The considerable progress made in the law & order situation in the region is a result of the multi-faceted approach adopted by the Central Government which comprised various components—political, economic and sustained counter insurgency operations agains the groups persisted with violence. Since 2014, a series of Agreements and Accords have been signed by the Union Government with various insurgent groups in North-East region which include a Memorandum of Settlement with ANVC (Achik National Volunteer Council) and ANVC/B of Meghalaya.[xix] This was followed by the dissolving of these groups in December 2014. In a significant development, a framework agreement was signed with NSCN/IM of Nagaland in 2015.[xx] A tripartite Memorandum of Settlement was signed in 2019 at New Delhi by the Government of India, Government of Tripura, and National Liberation Front of Twipra led by Sh. Sabir Kumar Debbarma.[xxi] Following the settlement, 88 cadres surrendered along with their arms. A Memorandum of Settlement was signed with NDFB (Progressive), NDFB (Ranjan Diamary), NDFB (Saoraigwra), United Bodo People’s Organization (UBPO) and All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) in 2020 at New Delhi to end 50-year-old Bodo crisis.[xxii] Following the settlement, 1615 cadres of NDFB surrendered their arms on 30th January 2020.[xxiii]

To arrive at a permanent solution to a 23-year-old Bru-Reang internally displaced persons (IDP) undergoing human crisis, an agreement was signed between Government of India, Government of Mizoram, Government of Tripura and representatives of Bru IDPs in 2020.[xxiv] As per agreement, Bru IDPs will be settled in Tripura and would be given financial assistance/aid by the Government of India for their resettlement and all-round development through a package of around Rs. 661 crore.

The security situation in the North-Eastern States has improved on all parameters with only sporadic incidents of violence over the year. Inputs reveal that insurgent groups are facing acute administration and financial crunch due to relentless operations by Security Forces and have been forced to form an umbrella organisation to maintain their capability for orchestrating violent activities. An important factor that has played an important role in the reduction of the insurgent activities in the North-East region is the difficulty faced by the Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) to set up camps in the neighbouring countries. This has been achieved through excellent understanding and coordination with  Bangladesh and Myanmar.[xxv]

Exploiting Social fissures

A major internal fault-line is the ability of certain vested interests to whip-up national hysteria on certain issues, with the prime objective of derailing the government. This was witnessed in the first tenure of the Modi-led NDA government, where a motivated hate agenda was created, of India being an intolerant society. In Modi 2.0, this tactic was amplified with the protests against the Citizens Amendment Act in 2019-2020 and now the present farmers stir against the farm laws.

An effective perception management narrative is the current need of the hour to bring out the truth of what Acts passed by Parliament entail, so that unscrupulous elements cannot exploit gullible people. This is the challenge which the Modi government is confronted with.

Conclusion

India’s ability to achieve stability in its land borders and prevent internal disturbances from going out of hand will be a major factor in propelling the Indian economy to initially a USD 5 trillion mark and thence to a USD 10 trillion economy.

Great hopes rest on the shoulders of India’s Prime Minister, but if the rest of the population do their bit, that burden will be considerably reduced to move India towards the status of a middle income country.

 

Authors Brief Bio: Major General Dhruv C Katoch is Director, India Foundation and Editor, India Foundation Journal and Ms Soumya Chaturvedi is a Senior Research Fellow at India Foundation. A lawyer by education, she holds a postgraduate degree from Jindal School of International Relations and a specialization in Asia Pacific Security from University of Birmingham, UK. Her research interests include internal security, terrorism, peace and conflict studies. She has written articles for academic journals, newspapers and blogs.

[i] Saleem MM Qureshi, Pakistan: Islamic Ideology and the failed state? in Veena Kukreja and MP Singh (ed), Pakistan: Democracy, Development and Security Issues, (Sage Publications, New Delhi), pp 88, 89.

[ii]“Bajwa offer on J-K issue: India, Pakistan should resolve it in ‘dignified, peaceful manner’,” The Tribune, February 4, 2021.

[iii]“Transcript of Virtual Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (February 04, 2021),” Ministry of External Affairs, February 5, 2021.

[iv]“Any talks with Pak now will only be on PoK: Rajnath Singh,” The Times of India, August 19, 2019.

[v] Claude Arpi, The Rediff Special, http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/archive/index.php/t-23648.html

[vi] “Timing of Chinese incursion with Xi visit a mystery,” Hindustan Times, 04 October 2014, available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/timing-of-chinese-incursion-with-xi-visit-a-mystery/story-Y1oTpaBL1YqiSPofVeARpO.html

[vii] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2018/05/23/wuhan-summit-an-important-signal-of-intent-by-india-and-china/

[viii] David Scot, ‘The Indo-Pacific in US Strategy: Responding to Power Shifts,’  available at https://risingpowersproject.com/quarterly/the-indo-pacific-in-us-strategy-responding-to-power-shifts/

[ix] “Naxalism biggest threat to internal security: Manmohan”, The Hindu, 24 May 2010, available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Naxalism-biggest-threat-to-internal-security-Manmohan/article16302952.ece.

[x] Annual Report 2019-2020, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, available at: https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/AnnualReport_19_20.pdf

[xi] “Bastar attack: Fight against Naxals will be intensified to end menace, says Amit Shah”, The Indian Express, 05 April 2021, available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/amit-shah-chhattisgarh-cm-bhupesh-baghel-pay-tributes-to-soldiers-killed-in-maoist-attack-7259403/.

[xii] S. Chaturvedi, ‘Four Years after the Surgical Strike’, Chintan India Foundation Blog, 28 September 2020, available at: https://chintan.indiafoundation.in/articles/four-years-after-the-surgical-strike/.

[xiii] Report of Jammu & Kashmir Security Tracker: A Comparative Analysis of Security Scenario Pre and Post the Removal of the Special Status, India Foundation, available at https://indiafoundation.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/JK-Security-Tracker.pdf.

[xiv] Annual Report 2019-2020, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, available at: https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/AnnualReport_19_20.pdf.

[xv] “IIT, IIM, AIIMS to open in J&K soon, part of Rs 80000 crore package sanctioned by Central Government”, TimesNowNews.com, 22 January 2020, available at: https://www.timesnownews.com/education/article/iit-iim-aiims-to-open-at-j-k-part-of-rs-80000-crore-package-sanctioned-by-central-government/543681.

[xvi] “The Number Theory: Understanding the DDC election results in Jammu and Kashmir”, Hindustan Times, 24 December 2020, available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/the-number-theory-understanding-the-ddc-election-results-in-jammu-and-kashmir/story-JjJ6fMjzP2DXcn0LTMpM6H.html.

[xvii] “Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference quits Gupkar Alliance, cites ‘breach of trust’ by partners”, The Print, 19 January 2021, available at: https://theprint.in/politics/sajad-lones-peoples-conference-quits-gupkar-alliance-cites-breach-of-trust-by-partners/588485/.

[xviii] “Revoking AFSPA”, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1539889.

[xix] “Union Home Minister stresses for overall socio-economic development of Meghalaya”, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at: https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=109965.

[xx] Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at: https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=124221.

[xxi] Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at: https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1581729.

[xxii] Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1600717.

[xxiii] Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1605144.

[xxiv] Report on “Resettlement of Bru Migrants”, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, available at: https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/NE_Bruscheme_23022021.pdf.

[xxv] “Year End Review – 2020 Ministry of Defence”, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, available at: https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1685437.

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Six Years of Women-Centric Governance

Prime Minister Modi has, on many occasions in his victory speeches, publicly credited women as the “silent voters” behind the party’s stupendous electoral wins. “Nari Shakti” (women power) has taken a front row in politics for the first time in Bharat, with political analysts and pollsters all discussing the game-changing vote bank in rural to urban areas alike. Technically, larger number of women have voted for the BJP than for any other political party.

Prime Minister Modi’s image of a leader who is reliable and forward thinking is a refreshing first for the woman voter. He has not only identified out the very basic issues that need to be addressed to allow women in Bharat to lead a life of dignity and freedom, but has also strengthened his policy framework with reforms that have strengthened the faith of the Indian woman voter in the BJP. Even in his Independence Day speech this year in the midst of handling a global pandemic, he did not forget to mention the importance of women’s healthcare. Breaking the taboo of menstruation and the importance of using sanitary pads, a subject that has rarely found a place in the power corridors of Delhi, he announced that in 6000 Jan Aushadi Kendras more than 5 crore sanitary napkins at the cost of Rs 1 have been provided to women. This seemingly low priority, falsely so, women’s monthly issue has never found a place of pride in a national address. However, this is only a small fragment of the vision that the Party led by PM Modi has in mind to truly empower Indian women by changing the narrative entirely around them and the real issues they face.

The larger picture is reflective in the government’s policies that are positively impacting the lives of women with a palpable impact on women’s lives in marginalised communities and backward areas. Of course, the most popular schemes by the Modi-led government that are much talked about and have high implementation rates are Pradhan Mantri Ujwala Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and “Izzat Ghar” under the Swachh Bharat AbhiyanYojana. But the micro interest that the present dispensation has taken towards the betterment of Indian women’s quality of life is unprecedented. The nomenclature itself used for many of the schemes, for instance “Izzat Ghar” (house of dignity) instead of Shauchalaya (toilets), is reflective of their agenda to create an equitable society. However, what is lesser known is the variety of other schemes that have been launched since 2014 aimed at tackling age old social evils against women, lack of women’s healthcare, to solve issues of access to loans, employability, financial independence, security and safety.

For instance, the government’s initiatives, Stand Up India and the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY), have women as their primary beneficiaries. According to the Ministry of Finance led by the Finance Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman, bank loans of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1 crore are facilitated to at least one scheduled caste or scheduled tribe member and one woman borrower per branch of scheduled commercial banks, out of which over 81% of the account holders were women. The Ministry also detailed that as of 26 February 2021, more than 81 per cent, that is, 91,109 accounts with an amount of Rs 20,749 crore have been sanctioned to women entrepreneurs under the Stand-Up India Scheme.

The PMMY has also been similarly welcomed by women across the country with “about 68 per cent, that is, 19.04 crore accounts with an amount of Rs 6.36 lakh crore have been sanctioned to women entrepreneurs under MUDRA scheme since inception,” as of February 26, 2021. The scheme intends to give upto Rs 10 lakh loans to the non-corporate, non-farm small/micro enterprises classified as Mudra loans given by commercial banks, regional rural banks, small finance banks, micro-finance institutions, and non-banking financial companies.[i]

Importantly, government procurement from women-owned micro and small enterprises (MSEs) has also hit a record high in FY21 since the launch of the public procurement policy monitoring platform MSME Sambandh in December 2017 by the government. Government departments, organisations, and ministries had already purchased goods and services worth Rs 563.88 crore from 3,622 women-owned MSEs as of March 8, 2021, in the current financial year vis-à-vis Rs 393.43 crore worth procurement in FY20 from 3,655 women MSEs.[ii]

Meanwhile, the credit guarantee fund trust for micro and small enterprises (CGTMSE), which operates the credit guarantee scheme for micro and small enterprises (MSEs), had accorded guarantee approval to 67,171 loan accounts of women entrepreneurs for an amount of Rs 3,366.63 crore as of December 12, 2020, in the current financial year. This was stated by the MSME Minister, Shri Nitin Gadkari, in a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha in February this year. The accounts approved during FY20 for women entrepreneurs under CGTMSE to support their business expansion and growth stood at 1,24,984 involving Rs 5,367.38 crore.[iii]

In an interaction with 100 beneficiaries, the Prime Minister said: “one of the aims of this scheme is also to increase self-confidence among the people…so far, the conventional thinking has been that employment is generated either in the public sector or in the private sector. This scheme has helped in the development of the ‘personal sector,’ as a means of livelihood and self-employment.[iv]

In the interaction was Ms. Kiran Kumari from Bokaro, Jharkhand, who was once a hawker and is now a proud toy-and-gift shop owner after receiving a loan of Rs. 2 lakh.Ms. Munirabanu Shabbir Hussain Malek from Surat who received a Mudra Loan of Rs. 1.77 lakh, took LMV driving training, and is now earning Rs. 25,000 per month, by driving an auto-rickshaw. Ms. Veena Devi, from the Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir, who worked as a weaver, received a Mudra loan of Rs. 1 lakh and is now one of the leading manufacturers of Pashmina shawls in her area.

The immensely successful Pradhan Mantri Ujwala Yojana also received an extension in this year’s budget with Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman announcing an additional 10 million beneficiaries this year to the already staggering 83 million LPG connections that have already been provided. The flagship scheme aims towards equipping every below poverty line household with a free LPG connection. A little less than half of the households in India where women are largely responsible for cooking were still using wood and coal in their kitchens leading to serious health repercussions. The subsidised connection and LPG connection and stove does not only directly improve women’s health but also is far more affordable and environmentally friendly.

The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, is a mission launched by the Prime Minister to ensure financial inclusion through access to financial services. Through this scheme, a savings account/deposit account can be opened in any bank branch or Bank Mitra outlet by individuals who do not have any other account. Though it is not exclusively aimed at women, the sheer access to financial savings services has seen over 50 percent accounts being held by women.[v] The Modi led government realises that simplifying processes and making access easier will automatically attract the resilient Indian woman who is known for her financial acumen. However, a more women specific initiative under the popular Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojana (BBBP) is the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana (SSY) launched in 2015. SSY allows parents to plan the financial future of their girl child by opening a savings account in any commercial bank or India post branch. Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana has emerged as one of the most popular schemes owing to the high-interest rate as well as the tax benefits it offers. Under Section 80 C of the Income Tax Act, 1961, individuals can claim tax exemption up to Rs 1.5 lakh from the amount contributed to SSY account.[vi]

In the budget speech (2017-2018) by the Finance Minister, the launch of Mahila Shakti Kendra was also announced with the aim of extending opportunities to rural and marginalised and backward women. The Mahila Shakti Kendra is a one stop support centre across the country, aimed at providing opportunities for skill development, capacity building, awareness , digital literacy , health and nutrition as well as employment. Women can find out more about their entitlement and avail their dues. The scheme also engages student volunteers to interact with the community to provide assistance to women.

Thepopular Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojana (BBBP) was launched in 2015 by the Prime Minister in Haryana. The objective of the scheme was to bring about awareness and sensitisation leading to behavioural change towards the rights of a girl child. In the last six years, the scheme has resulted in the Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB) improving by 16 points from 918 in 2014-15 to 934 in 2019-20. Gross Enrolment Ratio of girls in the schools at secondary level has improved from 77.45 to 81.32. Out of 640 districts covered under BBBP, 422 districts have shown improvement in SRB from 2014-15 to 2018-2019. Some Districts which had very low SRB in 2014-15 have shown huge improvement after implementation of the Scheme such as Mau (Uttar Pradesh) from 694 (2014-15) to 951 (2019-20), Karnal (Haryana) from 758 (2014-15) to 898 (2019-20), Mahendergarh (Haryana) from 791 (2014-15) to 919 (2019-20), Rewari (Haryana) from 803 (2014-15) to 924 (2019-20) and Patiala (Punjab) from 847 (2014-15) to 933 (2019-20).

The health impact has been substantial as well. The percentage of 1st Trimester ANC Registration has shown an improving trend from 61% in 2014-15 to 71% in 2019-20 (As per HMIS, MoH&FW). The percentage of institutional deliveries has shown an improving trend from 87% in 2014-15 to 94% in 2019-20 (As per HMIS, MoH&FW). Gross Enrolment Ratio of girls in the schools at secondary level has improved as well from 77.45 (2014-15) to 81.32 (2018-19-provisional figures) Percentage of schools with functional separate toilets for girls has shown improvement from 92.1% in 2014-15 to 95.1% in 2018-19.[vii]

However, the most important impact has been to bring focus and awareness towards female infanticide and lack of education due to backward societal mindsets. In an effort to promote safety and security along with creating an essential support system and nationwide environment for women facing gender-based violence (GBV), the government inaugurated the One Stop Centres (OSC) in 2015. The aim of these centres is to provide emergency response and rescue services, Medical assistance, assistance to women in lodging the FIR, Psycho-social support and counselling, legal aid and counselling, shelter, video conferencing facility. According to India Today, out of 654 one-stop centres for women approved all over the country, only 234 OSCs are functional and 1,90,572 women were supported through these centres till now.[viii]

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan programme as well has been a land mark programme. Under the programme, the “Izzat Ghar” initiative has found a place of pride. No previous government ever thought of open defecation as an insult to women’s dignity, neither was it seen as a safety issue. But as a reflection of the government’s clear commitment towards the women of India and as well as their understanding of women’s issues in the country, over 11 crore toilets have been built. In 2019, India achieved the unthinkable by becoming open defecation free resulting in a fall in crimes as well as preserving the dignity of women across the country. This was an issue that could have been taken up by the previous governments but it would have required them to have sensitivity and understanding. Importantly, it would have required commitment towards large scare implementation, especially amongst marginalised and backward communities in rural areas and to motivate them towards this end.

In order to fill further gaps in healthcare for women, especially beneficial to women in remote or rural areas of the country who suffer the most due to lack of access to quality healthcare or due to lack of information and education, the Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan was launched by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW). The agenda of this scheme was to provide ante-natal care to pregnant women on the 9th of every month. Ante natal care is provided by radiologists, gynaecologists as well as other specialists in both urban and rural government facilities.

Using the principles of a single window system, it is envisaged that a minimum package of investigations and medicines such as calcium supplements amongst other necessary medication would be provided to all pregnant women attending the PMSMA clinics. One of the critical components of the scheme is identification and follow-up of high-risk pregnancies.[ix]

On the other hand, the government also took modern and bold initiatives by amending the Medical Termination Pregnancy Act of 1971. The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Modi, approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. Proposing requirement for opinion of one provider for termination of pregnancy, up to 20 weeks of gestation and introducing the requirement of opinion of two providers for termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation. Further, enhancing the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women including ‘vulnerable women including survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women (like differently-abled women, minors) etc. The amendment also includes the particulars of the women to be kept confidential.[x] This move would ensure women have access to safe and secure abortion services. According to the PMIndia.Gov website, several petitions were received by the courts to increase the gestational age on grounds of sexual violence or foetal abnormalities. This amendment will ensure dignity, privacy and safety for women who need to terminate pregnancy. In a country that sees around 800,000[xi] illegal abortions every year, it is a necessity to ensure that women have access to legal and safe provisions of termination of pregnancies.

The government has also set up a task force to consider increasing the marriageable age of girls due to health and safety reasons. Additionally, in the same vein of creating a safer and more supportive environment in order to keep our children safe, progress has been made with the landmark ruling that ensures the death sentence for child rapists.

Taking women’s empowerment to new levels has also shattered the proverbial glass ceiling. Women now have the opportunity to be granted permanent commission (PC) in all 10 branches of the Indian Army.

The Mahila-E-Haat is another initiative in creating financial independence for women. The platform is open to women entrepreneurs over the age of 18, NGO’s as well as Self Help Groups to showcase their products. The portal is said to have attracted lakhs of visitors since its launch and features over 2,000 products and services across more than 18 categories.[xii] Further, the STEP scheme under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry also aims to provide training, skill development and employability to women over the age of 16 years towards financial independence and employability. It covers an array of industries from agriculture, handicrafts, handlooms, tailoring, computer education, hospitality and even development of skills like spoken English language courses.[xiii]

The BJP manifesto has also included the intention of passing the much-debated Women’s Reservation Bill. The Bill will allow 33% Lok Sabha seats to be reserved for women. The agenda was set in their manifesto in 2014, a clear indication that the Party intends on creating a more equitable environment for women across the country and across professions.

However, women cannot be expected to take on such demanding work roles without adequate support from their employers. Realising the importance of working women who play multi-faceted roles as homemakers and mothers, the government in 2016 increased maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. These benefits were made available to adoptive mothers as well as mothers whose babies had been born via surrogacy.

The government did not shy away from pushing reforms in the Muslim community either, a community seen as more resistant to change and opposed to the Modi government and its initiatives. The shameful and more importantly unconstitutional practice of Instant Triple Talaq was finally criminalised. Additionally, the archaic practice of Muslim women not being allowed to travel for Haj without a male companion was also altered. In 2018, the government amended the Haj policy by allowing women above the age of 45 yrs. to travel without a male companion. Unlike previous dispensations that preferred walking on eggshells with minorities, the Modi-led government cannot be faulted for the bold steps they are willing to take for the future of Indian women irrespective of their religion, caste or creed.

The government has also distributed scooters under the Amma scooter scheme to over one lakh women at subsidised rates; they have distributed homes in Gujarat to women under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and have also launched the “Working Women Hostel Scheme” which include day care facilities and is open to single or widowed women, women with children, women from below poverty line households, handicapped women, as well as women undergoing training.[xiv]

However, it was during the pandemic that one saw the sensitivity of the Modi led government towards the needs of women in the country. During the first relief package announced by the Finance Minister it was evident that they knew that if women were taken care of, the entire family would benefit. To that end, 20 crore women with Jan Dhan accounts received Rs 500 per month for the next three months of the lockdown. Under the Ujwala Yojana 8.3 crore BPL families got free gas cylinders, Rs 1000 was credited via Direct Benefit Transfer for poor widows along with the elderly and disabled, Rs 50 lakh insurance coverage was extended to Accredited Social Health Care Activists nurses (all women) amongst other healthcare and frontline workers. 5 crore families beneficiaries of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MNREGA) which also largely attracts women received Rs 2000 increment and minimum wage was increased from Rs 182 to Rs 202.

The Modi led Government has broken barriers with their women-centric model of governance, with their ability to comprehend that mere tokenism is an insult to the skill, ability, resilience and power of the Indian woman. They have understood that the approach to truly exploring the full potential of women, a single pronged approach is futile and the key changes that every woman in India envisions will only come to a fruition with a multi-pronged approach, not limited to petty handouts but through a change in the entire ecosystem in which she functions. To this end, the Prime Minister has used his immense outreach to strategically break taboos and has used the power of messaging in order to bring a societal mindset change. His government has aimed at financial independence, education, employability backed by creating an environment of freedom and safety.

Much has been achieved in the last six years. Today, the Indian woman has renewed hope that from here on, the status of women will continue to rise with each passing day.

Author Brief Bio: Rami Niranjan Desai is a NE India Specialist, as founding director of the North East Policy Institute, Guwahati she worked extensively in the area publishing on Insurgency and conflict, religion & social movements. She is presently Director of Pathfinder India Consultancy, an organisation that undertakes research and analysis. She has completed her higher education from King’ College in Theology and Anthropology of Religion. Her media outreach is available on India’s leading channels.

[i] https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/sme/msme-fin-womens-day-2021-women-entrepreneurs-biggest-beneficiaries-of-pm-modis-stand-up-india-mudra-schemes/2208727/

[ii] https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/sme/msme-fin-womens-day-2021-women-entrepreneurs-biggest-beneficiaries-of-pm-modis-stand-up-india-mudra-schemes/2208727/

[iii] https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/sme/msme-fin-womens-day-2021-women-entrepreneurs-biggest-beneficiaries-of-pm-modis-stand-up-india-mudra-schemes/2208727/

[iv] https://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/news_updates/beneficiaries-of-pradhan-mantri-mudra-yojana-share-their-success-stories-during-interaction-with-pm/

[v] https://www.thehindu.com/business/Economy/pradhan-mantri-jan-dhan-yojana-women-hold-more-than-50-per-cent-of-the-accounts/article32886186.ece

[vi] https://groww.in/calculators/sukanya-samriddhi-yojana-calculator/

[vii] https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1691725#:~:text=SRB%20has%20improved%20by%2016,%2D15%20to%202018%2D2019.

[viii] https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/-234-one-stop-centres-opened-for-women-here-is-how-to-access-1410015-2018-12-15

[ix] https://nhm.gov.in/index1.php?lang=1&level=3&sublinkid=1308&lid=689#:~:text=Pradhan%20Mantri%20Surakshit%20Matritva%20Abhiyan%20(PMSMA)%20was%20launched%20to%20provide,the%209th%20of%20every%20month.

[x] https://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/news_updates/cabinet-approves-the-medical-termination-of-pregnancy-amendment-bill-2020/

[xi] https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-small-step-the-hindu-editorial-on-medical-termination-of-pregnancy-law-amendments/article34313523.ece

[xii] https://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/report-being-a-woman-in-modi-s-new-india-2837977

[xiii] https://www.startupindia.gov.in/content/sih/en/government-schemes/support_to_training_and_employment_programme.html

[xiv] https://www.pradhanmantriyojana.co.in/working-women-hostel-scheme/

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Infrastructure Development: The Key to A USD 5 Trillion Economy

Development of nations, advancement of societies and progress of mankind is often weighed quantitively through the parameters of infrastructural development. Be it the signs of globalisation or mapping governance priorities, the visual impacts are often in terms of buildings built, roads laid, operational airports, with contemporary indicators like pipeline network laid, digital connectivity infrastructure amongst many others.

As the Narendra Modi led government was sworn in for its second consecutive term in office in 2019, a clear emphasis amongst a multitude of priorities was on turning India into a USD 5 trillion economy. For India to achieve this goal, the key lies in re-aligning priorities and ensuring the development and governance of robust infrastructure. To ensure holistic and multi-sectoral development, India needs to ensure supply side reforms. Not just upgrading the existing facilities but creating new ones which will drive both the supply and domestic demand side of India’s development story.

As per an estimate, a global investment of USD 94 trillion is needed to meet the infrastructure requirement of the world between 2016 and 2040[i]. Of this, 50% of the requirement is in Asia. Major areas of investments are expected to be water and energy. It is to further this agenda that the Government of India under its National Infrastructure Pipeline has made a commitment to invest INR 100 lakh crore to develop infrastructure in the country.

The National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) is an ambitious whole-of-government project rolled out by the Government of India for fiscal 2019-25 to mobilise investments for infrastructural development in India. The project aims to capture the information of all projects (Brownfield, Greenfield, Under Development, Under Implementation or Under Conceptualisation) worth Rs 100 crore or more.

The first term of the NDA Government rode high on numbers in terms of expansion of road network, railway lines, upgrading existing infrastructure, development of ports, laying of pipelines for gas transmission, ensuring availability of cleaner fuel, electrifying the nation and expansion of airports. The second term so far has been more focussed on a qualitative upgradation and build-up of such facilities. The NIP, through its six priority areas, clearly defines the Government’s vision of an infra-structurally developed India of 2025.

TRANSPORT INFRASTRUCTURE

The bedrock of any nation’s progress lies in its network of connectivity. A nation progresses when it moves, and it moves when the country is connected internally through a network of accessible and robust network of roadways, railways, airways and waterways. Keeping in mind the idea of a New India, transportation sector has been one of the key sectors for priority development and investments for the NDA Government in its second term.

Roads

The pace of construction of roads touched an all-time high of 10,237 kms of highways constructed in 2019-20 alone[ii] with an ambitious target of increasing this to 12,000 kms a year. But constructing highways by itself is not enough. There is a need to develop feeder roads, ring roads, and arterial roads around these highways to ensure decongestion and last mile connectivity. In order to fill this gap, the Bharatmala Pariyojana was implemented by Government of India with the vision of constructing greater lengths of highway roads, upgrading the existing ones and bridging critical infrastructure gaps to ensure a more efficient and effective utilisation of resources. Under this programme, special attention is being paid towards ensuring connectivity with ports and loading docks, backward and tribal areas, areas with high economic activity, places of religious and tourist interests and connectivity with neighbouring countries, wherever applicable.

The programme, which is also the flagship programme of the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways (MORTH), was approved in 2017 with an initial corpus of INR 5,35,000 crore and a target of upgrading/constructing 34,800 km of highways by 2022. As per official statistics, projects for about 13,000 km have already been awarded with 2,587 km worth of project under bidding and another 13,000 kms under feasibility study. In terms of its economic benefits, the programme under its various phases will focus more on creating affordable infrastructure following the principles of shortest distance green project development wherever applicable instead of redevelopment of brown field projects while creating 35 crore man days of employment.

Tapping of the potential unleashed by private sector participation has acted as an enabler in achieving the speed at which roadways have developed in the country. However, there is still scope for greater cooperation between the private and public players to ensure timely delivery of projects. Greater digitisation of services like use of FASTags for toll collection, use of artificial intelligence for surveillance and traffic management, etc, have ensured better compliance and easier governance in case of violations. Penetration of deeper technological innovations for improved safety is a pillar of the Government’s vision for the road sector in 2025.

Railways

Indian railways form the lifeline of India’s transportation sector with an operational track network of over 1,00,000 km and a daily passenger movement of about 1.1 million people[iii]. The upgradation of the railways under Modi 2.0 has essentially been based on three broad pillars: Development and upgradation of hard infrastructure, betterment of passenger amenities and adaptation of new technology to keep up with the pace of national development.

The development and enhancement of existing rail infrastructure has had multiple benefits. In 2019, Indian railways has reported zero passenger fatalities. This success comes in the backdrop of reforms like upgradation of 96% of the signalling equipment from primitive ones to modern ones, and electrification of a majority of broad-gauge rail routes with a target of electrifying the remaining 28,000 km by December 2023[iv]. Investments have also been channelised to upgrade locomotives, betterment of the condition of tracks and skilling of personnel.

The second aspect of development of rail infrastructure in India is the modernisation of passenger amenities. Railways under Modi 2.0 has received a digital push with greater use of technology in passenger services like rail ticket booking, rail enquiry and other such allied services. A major modernisation drive was undertaken to upgrade the existing railway stations and equip them with essential conveniences like lifts and escalators. Keeping with its commitment to make development eco-friendly and in line with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the government introduced services of bio-toilets and solar panel installation for lighting the railway tracks.

To keep with the pace of development and ensuring that railways is not left behind plans have been put in place to ensure the development of Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs). The development of Eastern and Western DFCs is being looked at as a move towards reducing the logistics costs and thus in turn give a push to the Make in India campaign.

The sector however still faces its share of challenges with trains running at frequent delays because of overlapping in high density corridors. Though there has been a massive improvement in passenger amenities, these are still limited to a few special trains with a lot of scope for improvement. While national railway has started to see its share of good days, the suburban trains are still running at overcapacity and are in need for massive decongestion.

It is to meet these challenges, that the Government proposes to invest a sum of about 13.7 lakh crores over five years through the NIP towards building of the DFCs, high speed rails and making railways more reliable and safer. Private participation is also being encouraged with two stations of Gandhinagar and Habibganj being developed on PPP basis.

Airways

With an annual growth rate of over 10% since 2008-09, the Indian aviation market ranks as the fastest growing domestic aviation market in the world. It also ranks 9th globally in terms of civil aviation. As per an estimate by the Airports Authority of India, Indian airports will be handling a passenger movement of about 400 million by 2024-2025.

When the Narendra Modi led NDA Government took to helm of affairs there were a total of 65 operational airports in the country which has now increased to 125 operational airports. Under the Regional Connectivity Scheme – Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik (RCS-UDAN) launched by the Government, 57 unserved/under-served airports have been operationalised with 347 new routes offered by 11 operators[v]. The newly added airports have cumulatively served over 6 million passengers and have received a viability gap funding in excess of INR 1000 crore.

Private potential too has been thoroughly tapped in the maintenance and operation of brownfield and greenfield airports across the country. The expertise of private players in passenger amenity facilitation and service provision has played a big role in ensuring a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12.4% in the immediate 5 years preceding the covid era[vi].

In terms of fleet management the Indian aviation operators rank better than the average with over 70% of the fleet being on lease basis against a global average of about 50%. Additionally, civil aviation in India is being made more efficient by involving the Indian Air Force in route management of commercial flights to ensure efficient use of the airspace while charting shortest possible routes with lowest fuel consumption.

While the aviation sector has seen a healthy growth, It has its share of challenges. Many of the airports in India are still operating at over 100% of their capacity, leading to longer lean times in passenger management, manual surveillance leads to delays in boarding and thus the use of artificial intelligence (AI) is being proposed to de-clutter the boarding process.

Ports

Revival of the use of inland waterways for maritime transportation has been a priority area for the Narendra Modi led NDA Government since its first tryst with power in 2014. The Government has taken several steps to ensure the mainstreaming of maritime routes as preferred means of transportation for commercial and non-commercial purposes. As per an estimate by the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways of the Government of India, approximately 95% of the country’s trade by volume and 68% by value happens through waterways. With a long coastline of 7,517 km marked by 12 major and 200 non-major ports, the Indian shipping industry plays a crucial role in supporting domestic and foreign trade[vii].

In order to develop new ports and work on modernisation of the existing ones, the Indian government has rolled out the Sagarmala Project. Besides port building and modernisation, resources sanctioned for the project are being diverted towards enhancement in capacity utilisation. At present, most of the ports in India are operating with basic to minimal technological intervention and thus are plagued with operational inefficiencies like higher turnaround time and under-utilisation of capacity. The aim of the Sagarmala project is to ensure holistic development of shipping ports. Project feasibility studies have also been conducted to develop coastal industrial zones around busy ports to reduce logistics cost to the extent possible. Beginning from 2015, over 500 projects with a total estimated cost of INR 3.59 lakh crore have been identified for implementation by 2035[viii].

Apart from commercial exploitation of maritime trade routes, Sagarmala project also deploys resources for development of coastal tourism, lighthouse tourism, skill development and building of new technology centres. A phased and quick adaptation of technology in the shipping sector will lead to better capacity utilisation of the existing and upgraded infrastructure coupled with reduction in logistics costs. Under this ambitious program, the government aims to increase the port capacity utilisation to 65% of the total available capacity.

Energy Infrastructure

Amongst the various pillars on which the NDA government is envisioning India’s progress, energy security has been given a high priority. The Prime Minister aspires to create a self-reliant and energy surplus nation by 2025. Connecting the length and breadth of the country with accessible sources of power which are not just affordable but provide for generation of clean energy is a priority goal for the Government.

As per the statistics released by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, India has a total renewable energy production of 94.43 GW with a well-placed target of increasing this to 175 GW by 2022. Moving towards alternate sources of renewable energy production, the Government is also pitching natural gas to be the wonder fuel of the future. Plans are being laid out to increase the share of gas in the national energy consumption mix from 6% to 15% by 2030.

Infrastructural developments in terms of laying over 16,000 km of gas pipeline across the country and approval for an additional 16,000 are on the anvil. Bidding has successfully been concluded for the tenth round of City Gas Distribution Network (CGDN) which affects 70% of the country’s population across 53% of the total geographical areas. This will ensure the availability of clean energy in 229 Geographical areas (GAs) benefitting 400 districts in total[ix].

To fuel vehicles, infrastructure has been adequately upgraded with 1906 CNG stations functional across the country to fuel 35.17 lakh vehicles on Indian roads[x]. Apart from building up the gas infrastructure, milestones have been achieved in the exploration of oil and gas as well. The national kitty of solar energy too has expanded with 40.09 GW of the 94.43 GW of total renewable energy being solar in nature[xi].

At the policy level, important reforms like replacement of the production sharing contract Open Acreage Licensing Policy (OALP) with the revenue sharing contract Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP) has been welcomed by the industry and is being seen as a big step towards attracting greater investments for future exploration and production opportunities. While great inroads have been made in the energy infrastructure under the NDA government lacunae still exist in better use of technology to minimise AT&C losses, smart metering and user management services.

Digital Infrastructure

Modi 1.0 kick started the sprint of digital upgradation of India with the roll out of its much celebrated ‘Digital India’ campaign. The campaign was aimed at making the most of technology by adopting various digital and technological tools to ensure ease of living for the common man. Successful attempts were made at digitising governance and doing away with unnecessary paper trails, large scale digitisation of records took place, banking was reformed with the opening of bank accounts for every Indian along with digital banking services and linking with Aadhar, subsidy refunds were changed to digital transaction to plug leakages.

The fruits of this mammoth digitisation exercise reaped benefits in the COVID era with the availability of JAM trinity ensuring Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) payments under various central government and centrally sponsored schemes. A transaction of over INR 27,000 crore was made to 11.42 crore beneficiaries even when the whole nation was in a state of lockdown[xii]. A digitally connected India also ensured the availability of all essential services through various e-platforms during the unusual circumstances of the global pandemic. Availability of not just services but goods through e-commerce served the twin purposes of catering to both the demand and supply side of the equation.

In terms of hard digital infrastructure, India today boasts of 119 crore mobile subscribers, an internet penetration of 40%, 1 lakh gram panchayats connected through Bharat Net, 796 Digital Villages, 128.99 crore enrolments for Aadhar, over 4 crore financial transaction through Unified Payment Interface (UPI) and 4.69 crore digitally literate beneficiaries[xiii].

However, challenges for building a digitally connected New India still lie in terms of increasing the penetration of internet connectivity in the rural belt. The Government has set for itself a target of increasing this to 80% by 2025. A complete roll out of 5G network to ensure better adaptation towards emerging technologies like cloud computing, e-Healthcare, Internet of Things, advancing Fintech and artificial intelligence will further give a boost to an already accelerating Digital India program.

Conclusion

The Narendra Modi led NDA Government came to power for the first time in 2014, riding on the promise of ‘Development For All’. The second term too was won on the strong foundational development work done between 2014-2019. Continuing on its commitment of ensuring an infrastructurally advanced India, the first two years of Modi 2.0 were about delivering promises made.

Former President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in his much-celebrated work ‘India 2020’ had laid a comprehensive vision of how the India of 2020 will look like. He was optimistic of India and Indians being more forward looking and closer to being a developed nation. His idea of an India of 2020 was that of a more self-reliant nation, not just economically but in terms of ensuring national security, technological superiority, agricultural productivity, energy availability, literacy, and higher standards of living for its people.

While India might still be a little farther away from Dr Kalam’s vision of an India in 2020, the government has shown steadfastness in its commitment to reach there. Self-reliance of various kinds is being ensured through targeted reforms under the Atmanirbhar Bharat program, rolled out to inject life in an economy crippled by the ensuing pandemic.

The government remains committed to its promise of good governance, by ensuring holistic development of the country across all sectors from education to health, space to agriculture, and social to commerce.  However, challenges lie ahead not in envisioning this progress but in execution of the vision with equal coherence.

Author Brief Bio: Deeksha Goel is currently working as a Senior Research Fellow at India Foundation. Her research interests include studying the Geopolitics of Indian Ocean Region. Deeksha graduated as an Engineer specialising in Electronics and Communication and has an MBA in Finance.

[i] Global Infrastructure Outlook 2017

[ii]https://morth.nic.in/sites/default/files/Annual%20Report%20-%202021%20(English)_compressed.pdf

[iii] Data Source: Indian Railways

[iv]https://www.narendramodi.in/vikasyatra/articledetail/infra-for-growth/building-infrastructure-for-building-a-new-india-549939

[v] Data Source: Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India

[vi]http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=24059&lsno=17

[vii]http://shipmin.gov.in/sites/default/files/Shipping%20Annual%20Report%20English_compressed.pdf

[viii]http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=23963&lsno=17

[ix] Press Release: Distribution of Letter of Intent for 50 Geographical Areas under the 10thCGD Bidding Round”; Petroleum and Natural gas Regulatory Board, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas; March 1, 2019

[x]https://evreporter.com/lng-for-heavy-commercial-vehicles/

[xi]https://mnre.gov.in/img/documents/uploads/file_f-1618481027521.pdf

[xii]https://www.nic.in/blogs/direct-benefit-transfer-a-blessing-during-the-time-of-pandemic/

[xiii] Data Source: Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India

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Taking Governance to the Marginalised

Keeping the fundamental principle of Antyodaya in mind, the Modi government enthused technological advancement in all the policies and programs and ensured leakage-free delivery for all in general and marginalised in particular. The governance framework prepared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has paid well during the pandemic that has emerged as a primary battleground in his second term.

“The voters in this country did not care about Congress schemes. Very few benefitted from the schemes of Congress governments. This time they got gas cylinder and Rs 1.5 lakh for house. We were looking for the evidence to the contrary but we could not find it. We even peaked inside houses and found gas cylinders. The government gave funds through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT). They used JAM trinity – Jan Dhan, Aadhar and Mobile. Initially, I thought that MUDRA loans are rubbish and fake but I have recorded videos. Shobha Lal, sitting 50 km away from Azamgarh, is a Dalit who got Rs 50,000 as MUDRA loan. I came back and checked the MUDRA loan data where 4.81 crore people had got loans and Rs 2.1 lakh crore had been dispersed. This is a big change. This is a big governance exercise.”[i]

These were the views shard by senior journalist Shekhar Gupta during a program after the election results were announced in 2019, where he recounted the reasons for BJP’s victory. This was a programme where panelists and audience members were not supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; however, at this point, even they could not deny the glaring reality.

In the 2019 general election, Narendra Modi again formed government with even more votes and seats than before. He had promised a transparent, accountable and corruption-free government at the Centre in 2014 and he hadfulfilled most of his promises over the next five years. As a result, people showed even more faith in him and the BJP won 303 seats and 38% votes. There were more than 200 Lok Sabha seats that the BJP won with more than 50% votes.[ii]

Now, Modi government has completed seven years at the Centre and the personal popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only increased in these many years-even during the time of pandemic.[iii] The framework designed by the government in the initial years is now reaping benefits for common people. The governance principles of the Modi government have been clear since the day one in office. On one side, he was inspired by the ideology of Antyodaya propounded by the Jana Sangh ideologue and founder, Deen Dayal Upadhyay, and on the other hand, he enthused technology to ensure delivery with minimum leakage and pilferage. While doing so, his government never forgot unhindered and easy delivery to those who have been unattended since long and have been waiting at the end of the queue.

This is politics of ‘welfare of all’ where governance and justice enthused with technology are an integral part of the core agenda of Modi government. Any individual or political party wanting to win elections, now has to come up with certain policies, proposals and programs that directly target and benefit the people. These are different from the perfunctory face saving schemes of the past as any schemes now are spoken of in terms of deliverables, deadlines and achievements. The blanket and vague slogan of ‘Garibi Hatao’ (Eradicate Poverty) does not work anymore; people expect political aspirants to provide effective solutions with visible benefits for the last women standing in the line. The schemes are also not bureaucratic tools anymore; they have a political face and hence answerability. With an outcome based approach entering politics under Modi government, the discourse around politics of welfare and governance seems to have completed a full circle. Under this approach, there is no negation of foreign investment, or profit making by the corporates but at the same time the revenue earned by the state has to be utilised for the vulnerable, poor and downtrodden without any leakage and pilferage to bridge the socio-economic divide in the country.

As the Chief Minister of Gujarat for 13 years and then as the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has directed his efforts at bridging the socio-economic divide through the intervention of state policies and people’s participation. The objective of his policies is always clear in terms of people it aims to reach. It naturally follows then that the impact is huge and closely monitored implementation leads to time-bound deliveries. He wrote in a letter to the people of India after the completion of one year of Modi 2.0, “The people of the country voted for a substantial transformation. The nation saw how the administrative apparatus broke itself free of status quo and from the swamp of corruption as well as mis-governance. True to the spirit of ‘Antyodaya’ the lives of millions have been transformed.”[iv]

Given the size of the Indian populace, each of Modi’s schemes takes a comprehensive approach where every aspect of application is considered. The policies are clear about targets, benefits, and how these will reach where intended. The policies are designed in a way that there is minimum leakage and pilferage. The focus remains on the skill, scale, and speed for any program, policy, or campaign. The ‘Welfare of All’ approach under Prime Minister Modi has seen three key aspects: use of technology, corruption free government and Antyodaya.

Technology and Transparency

Technology has emerged as a great enabler in this process by delivering democracy and governance. For a country like India where democratic traditions are part of a vibrant cultural system, technology has become a crucial catalyst. Technology is today a partner in democracy in all these senses. It allows reach, access, dissent, diversity and justice. It has changed the face of governance through innovation and enhanced public participation and response. Long before Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, he understood the power that technology could lend to implementation and governance. As the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2013, he said during a Google chat show, “Internet is a game changer. Common citizens can now directly engage in policy making process. Internet has empowered people and made communication with leaders and the government a two-way process.”[v] After forming government in 2014, one of the mega campaigns launched by Modi was Digital India. It created awareness towards improved online infrastructure and electronic availability of services. With this, the country decisively stepped towards e-governance where the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) was used to deliver government services, exchange information, integrate systems and services and manage interactions within the government system. The aim of this campaign now is to connect rural areas with high-speed internet and create universal digital literacy.[vi]

JAM Trinity

In the development and governance sector, the government has turned to the technological trinity of Jan Dhan-Aadhar-Mobile (J-A-M) to make the system more effective, accountable and transparent. The biggest single achievement of this trinity has been cutting out middlemen, and gradually putting more than 350 schemes from 51 ministries into the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) programme which saved Rs 1.70 lakh crore while disbursing Rs 13 lakh crore in the first six years of the government.[vii] These three factors have worked in tandem to ensure ease of operation. The absence of one would have led to the failure of other, hence their appearance as a trinity. First, Jan Dhan accounts ensured financial inclusion of the entire population. Then Aadhaar number brought in a secure identification system to prevent misuse, duplication or pilferage. Mobile phones further completed the circle of online and mobile transactions and verification.

Jan Dhan is now the world’s biggest program of financial inclusion. It was launched on 28 August 2014. More than 42 crore bank accounts have been opened by April 2021 under Jan Dhan scheme where a balance of 147,000 crore is there in beneficiary accounts with the help of 1.26 lakh Bank Mitras delivering branchless banking services in Sub-Service Areas.[viii] Today, people don’t have to run from pillar to post to get scholarships, pensions, subsidies, MNREGA payment, funds for housing or toilets. Once approved, these funds, subsidies or scholarships directly reach the account of the beneficiaries.

Government E-Market

While JAM is sweeping in its reach and impact, several other systemic changes were also introduced to incorporate technology. Take for example, the Govt E-Market or GEM. GEM is a dedicated e-market tool for goods and services procured by government organisations, departments and public sector units. It uses technology to automate procurement processes and systems, introducing greater accountability in public procurement. A small entrepreneur can now register on the Government e-Marketplace (GEM), and bid competitively for supply of goods to the Government. As he expands his business, he also contributes to lowering the cost of procurement for the government. This leads to increased efficiency and greater value for public money. The platform has a network of around 13 lakh sellers and service providers. The cumulative transaction value of goods and services procured from GeM by state and central government organisations grew from Rs 51,200 crore a year ago to Rs 1.1 lakh crore by the end of March 2021. [ix]

Corruption-free Government

A prerequisite to the ‘welfare of all’ approach is corruption-free government. Elimination of corruption is also the cornerstone for Antyodaya as the benefits meant for the last person in the queue cannot possibly reach her in a corrupt system. Here also, technology assumes a key role. The recent advancement of technology is not only because of its benefits in terms of enhanced output but also because it assures a system that is not vulnerable to human corruption. It provides transparency and adherence to a pre-approved set of rules with no exceptions. The extensive use of technology for governance in the last seven years has reaped rich dividends.

Over the span of seven years, there was not a single case of political corruption against the Modi government. It seems we have come a long way since the time of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who had said that out of every single rupee sent by the Centre, only 15 paise reaches at the village level. When corruption takes place, the pilferage and leakage eats into the funds meant for the poor. Understanding this, the Narendra Modi government tried to minimise pilferage and leakage of funds at different level by using different technological tools. Today, various weaker and vulnerable sections are getting benefits of this technological disruption in welfare schemes, policies and programs.

Geo-tagging

The practice of geo-tagging is an example of how technology has been used to check corrupt practices. Modi government started monitoring important schemes through apps and dashboards in which posting of geo-tagged pictures of the beneficiaries or the work done by the ground-level government official became mandatory. This was not a small change; a geo-tagged picture shows the date and time of the picture apart from the picture of the beneficiary or the work done. It takes just seven clicks on your computer to find rural development projects, including the names and details of the projects or the individual beneficiaries, right up to the village level. For example, on the AwaasApp one can find out how many houses have been built say in Andaman and Nicobar under Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana with details and pictures of the beneficiaries with their new homes.[x] There is a proof of every home and toilet made under the scheme. This has helped put a stop to pilferage of government money in the name of bogus work. Now, the said assets have to be imaged, geotagged and digitally documented, deterring corrupt practices and ensuring optimum utilisation of funds.

Social Justice and Governance

Politics can be understood as authoritative allocation of values. The existence of such practices for a substantive time results in a just society taking shape and politics becoming a tool of social transformation. On the other hand, take a simple definition of justice – treat equal equally, unequal unequally. When we club both the definitions of politics and justice, then the idea of social justice begins to emerge. Justice can be understood at two levels – procedural and distributive. Governments normally focus on distributive justice when policies and programs are framed for the public. They don’t think how these will reach people in different parts of the country living in vastly different conditions. The result is leakage and pilferage at different levels. Hence, considering procedural justice along with distributive justice becomes a prerequisite for the success of any scheme or policy. In the last 7 years, Modi government ensured that both distributive and procedural justice come into play. Schemes were designed to ensure people’s participation and maximum benefit.

This government is totally aware and committed for the upliftment of poor, vulnerable and excluded and introduced many policies ensuring affirmative action in different ways. Since independence, reservation in jobs was considered as the only way of affirmative action which was very much required and if the task was accomplished with full sincerity then the scenario might have been different today. Modi government is ensuring backlog vacancies to be filled on one hand and on the other coming up with many innovative ways of ensuring affirmative action. Today when millions of youth are passing out from higher eduction institutions every year so this is not possible to give job to everyone. Modi government has created an ecosystem for entrepreneurship for everyone especially the weaker section. The government has redefined the whole idea which is now – Political change to economic change and development to social change.

We have always considered caste as the parameter for backwardness and formulated program and policies. Modi government is continuing with this but also serving new parameters for empowerment of vulnerable, weak and backwards. In one of his new approach Prime Minister Modi has taken district as the centre. If the district would be backward and disconnected, then every individual living in that area would be backward in comparison with others. So, 115 districts of the country have been identified which are most backwards and they are now named as aspirational districts.[xi] A new roadmap for their overall development is being prepared. Finally, Modi government has tried to connect governance with social justice and ensured welfare of all in the society.

Modi government ensured leakage proof disbursal of benefits through technology. Many schemes had been in existence before, but due to bad governance, funds were under-utilised, un-utilised or misdirected. Under the transformed set up, the list of beneficiaries includes people from all walks of life – farmers to pensioners and students to businessmen. For example, the Dalit Venture Capitalist Fund was set up to boost entrepreneurship among the scheduled castes. Under the Stand Up Scheme, loans up to Rs 1 crore were given to the youth of the community.[xii]

Under the Prime Minister Micro Units Development Refinance Agency (MUDRA), Dalits, Backwards and EBC are being given preference, and 62% beneficiaries are from these communities. Earlier, the scholarship of Dalit and backward students was either not disbursed or there was a delay. The HRD Ministry has given total fee concession to the Dalit, Tribal and Divyang students and all students whose annual income is less than one lakh. The numbers of National Fellowship for the students of OBC community has increased multifold. 100% increase has been done in the construction of hostels for OBC students. The number of beneficiaries under Dr Ambedkar Educational loan for OBC students has been increased. Stringent SC-ST Act to stop atrocities against Dalits has been formulated and Constitutional status to National Commission for Backward Classes was given in 2019. New policy for senior citizens was announced where the changing socio-economic concerns were kept in mind. As the numbers of senior citizens are increasing so the funds have been increased upto 80% for their welfare schemes. For the first time in the history of independent India, nomadic tribes were taken into policy framework and a new Board has been set up. Hostels for nomadic tribes were started in the name of Bharat Ratna Nanaji Deshmukh. Another target group where no one paid enough attention before was the disabled. Prime Minister brought them in focus and called them Divyanags. Social Justice Ministry has organised more than 2000 programs and 100 mega camps of artificial limbs, hearing aid and tricycle distribution.

Women have been at the forefront of nearly all of Modi’s schemes ever since 2014. Nearly 8 crore women living below poverty line got benefits of Ujjwala scheme that provided gas cylinder for cooking. Under the Sukanya Samridhi Yojana, small deposits supported by the Government of India were made for female children. The campaign Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao had a successful run on social media to improve the sex ratio and social condition of women. A cash incentive of Rs 6,000 was given to pregnant mothers and more than 50 lakh women are getting benefitted every year from this scheme. Maternity leave was also extended up to six months for working women.

Another major beneficiary group has been of farmers. The PM Irrigation scheme, PM Crop Insurance Scheme, PM Kisan Samman Nidhi where 6000 Rs every year was given to every Kisan. Earlier, this scheme was for farmers who had cultivated land below two acres, but it was extended to all the farmers after Narendra Modi won election for the second time. The recent farms reforms are being opposed by some rich farmers but these will only help the farmer community in increasing their income. The Prime Minister has also started Ayushman Bharat scheme which is the world’s largest health insurance scheme under which 50 crore people have been provided a cover of up to 5 lakhs. More than 10 crore are now registered and 1.77 crore have been admitted under this scheme.[xiii]

Tackling the Pandemic

The second term of Modi government kick started with the resolve of taking a great leap forward and making India a 5-trillion economy. Besides effectively continuing the schemes of the first term, Modi government also took many landmark decisions that are bound to have a positive impact in long run. Among these watershed moments was the abolition of Triple Talaq and revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. A new pension scheme was announced for traders and shopkeepers helping 3 crore people. Ushering the next phase of Swachch Bharat Abhiyan, the Prime Minister started a campaign to make India plastic free by 2022. More than 90 lakhs houses were sanctioned under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Urban. E-gram Swaraj and Swamitva Yojana was launched by the Prime Minister to give a push growth in villages. But in March 2020, the government was forced to announce a lockdown to save lives in the wake of the deadly Covid-19 virus. Following this, various quick steps were taken by the Modi government to protect life and living of common people. Under the Vande Bharat mission, 28,000 Indians stuck abroad were brought back to the country. The government set up robust health infrastructure for Covid-19 that saved life of millions of people. The fatality rate in India was the lowest in the world. Union government launched ‘Aarogya Setu’ app to facilitate easy tracking of the risk of the virus. Lockdown announced by the Modi government reduced the intensity of Covid-19 spread by more than 60%. India became second biggest producer of PPE kits and N95 masks in the world where the production was almost zero in February 2020.

After assessing the problems faced by fellow countrymen, the Modi government announced an economic package of Rs 20 lakh crore and gave a bold call for Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (Self-reliant India). He outlined five pillars for this – Economy, Infrastructure, Technology, System, Demand. Massive relief package of Rs 3 lakh crore was allocated for the MSME sector. Key measures for strengthening agricultural infrastructure logistics, capacity building, governance and administrative reforms for agriculture, fisheries and food processing sectors were announced. Infrastructure reforms in eight sectors – coal, defence, rural development, corporate, finance, public health, public sector enterprises and business were also announced.  Just after the announcement of the lockdown by the Prime Minister, a relief package of Rs 1.70 lakh crore was announced to give instant help to the distressed people belonging to marginalised sections of the society. It was ensured that 80 crore poor get 5 kg wheat or rice and 1 kg pulses for free for the next few months. MGNREGA wages were increased from Rs 182 to Rs 202 per day which benefited 13.62 crore families.

In the midst of the raging pandemic, the Modi government has completed its second year. The pandemic, however, shows no sign of receding. In this scenario, besides the continuation of pro-poor pro-marginalised schemes, the government has come up with a vaccine which is in the market now and more than 13 crore people had already been vaccinated by April 2021.[xiv]As the second wave of virus broke across the country, the government opened the vaccination program for all above the age of 18 years, making the Indian vaccination drive the largest in the world.

In the two years of its second term, the Modi government has safely navigated the Indian ship through difficult seas. The challenge that has presented itself in the form of Coronavirus is not a small one. It has affected all corners of the world and has managed to destabilise countries and their projections. In India, the government has managed to steer a very large population through this unforgiving virus, and in this sense, its achievement is tremendous. Modi government has taken care of those who needed it the most. The future, however, is not clear yet as further mutations and waves of the virus are expected. The journey hence is expected to be long and arduous. In the coming months, the government will not only have to further safeguard the life of its citizens but also restore their livelihoods that have been inevitably affected by the pandemic. The government will once again have to kick-start the economy and put it on the right track, while remaining cautious of the ever-changing virus and its vagaries. Given the past record of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and projections by the international agencies, it seems India will overcome these uncertain times.

(Author Brief Bio: Dr Swadesh Singh teaches Political Science in Satyawati College of Delhi University)

References

About The Aspirational Districts Programme http://niti.gov.in/about-aspirational-districts-programme (Accessed on 6 April, 2021)

Covid-19 vaccination: How is India’s inoculation drive going https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56345591 (Accessed on 20 April, 2021)

Ghidiyal, Subodh, Centre plans 1,000 Dalit startups over 3 years https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/centre-plans-1000-dalit-startups-over-3-years/articleshow/78341975.cms (Accessed on 10 April, 2021)

Gupta, Shekhar, ‘How India Voted: Making Sense of the 2019 General Election’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwnnn1M-T5U (Accessed on 1 April, 2021)

How 351 Modi Government Schemes Saved 1.70 Lakh Crore https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/how-351-modi-government-schemes-saved-rs-1-70-lakh-crore/articleshow/78954779.cms?from=mdr (Accessed on 3 April, 2021)

India Today Mood of the Nation Survey January 2021 https://www.indiatoday.in/mood-of-the-nation-survey-2021 (Accessed on 2 April, 2021)

Internet is the Game-changer in Today’s World: Modi at Google Conference https://www.firstpost.com/tech/news-analysis/internet-is-the-game-changer-in-todays-world-modi-at-google-conference-2-3622227.html (Accessed on 2 April, 2021)

Mahurkar, Uday (2017) ‘Marching With a Billion: Analysing Narendra Modi’s Government at Midterm’, Penguin Viking: Gurgaon

Mahurkar, Uday,‘Drones, geo-tagging, big data: Narendra Modi’s governance is tech-friendly’ https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/from-india-today-magazine/story/20170814-narendra-modi-technology-government-monitor-rural-development-1027731-2017-08-04 (Accessed on 5 April. 2021)

Narayan, Badri (2021) ‘Republic of Hindutva: How the Sangh is Reshaping Indian Democracy’, Penguin Viking: Gurgaon

Pandey, Devesh, ’50% vote share for BJP in 200 seats’ https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/50-vote-share-for-bjp-in-200-seats/article27226514.ece (Accessed on 1 April, 2021)

Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana https://pmjdy.gov.in/  (Accesses on 18 April, 2021)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s letter to the people of India: A year after the start of his second term in office https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/pm-modis-letter-to-the-people-of-india-a-year-after-the-start-of-his-second-term-in-office/articleshow/76098495.cms?from=mdr (Accessed on 2 April, 2021)

Prime Minister Jan Arogya Yojana https://pmjay.gov.in/ (Accessed on 20 April, 2021)

Public procurement from GeM portal crosses Rs 1 lakh cr: CEO Talleen Kumar https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/finance/public-procurement-from-gem-portal-crosses-rs-1-lakh-cr-ceo-talleen-kumar/articleshow/81733835.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst (Accessed on 5 April, 2021)

Sahasrabuddhe, Vinay, Dheeraj Nayyar (2018) ‘The Innovation Republic: Governance Innovations in India Under Narendra Modi’, Wisdom Tree: New Delhi

Sharma, Amit, ‘Digital India: Making Village ‘Smart’  https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/tele-talk/digital-india-making-villages-smart/719 (Accessed on 2 April, 2021)

Singh, Shri Prakash (2016) ‘Politics for a New India: A Nationalistic Perspective’, Rupa Publications: New Delhi

[i]Shekhar Gupta, ‘How India Voted: Making Sense of the 2019 General Election’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwnnn1M-T5U (Accessed on 1 April, 2021)

[ii]Devesh Pandey, ’50% vote share for BJP in 200 seats’ https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/50-vote-share-for-bjp-in-200-seats/article27226514.ece (Accessed on 1 April, 2021)

[iii]India Today Mood of the Nation Survey January 2021 https://www.indiatoday.in/mood-of-the-nation-survey-2021 (Accessed on 2 April, 2021)

[iv]Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s letter to the people of India: A year after the start of his second term in office https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/pm-modis-letter-to-the-people-of-india-a-year-after-the-start-of-his-second-term-in-office/articleshow/76098495.cms?from=mdr (Accessed on 2 April, 2021)

[v]Internet is the Game-changer in Today’s World: Modi at Google Conference https://www.firstpost.com/tech/news-analysis/internet-is-the-game-changer-in-todays-world-modi-at-google-conference-2-3622227.html (Accessed on 2 April, 2021)

[vi]Amit Sharma, Digital India: Making Village ‘Smart’  https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/tele-talk/digital-india-making-villages-smart/719 (Accessed on 2 April, 2021)

[vii]How 351 Modi Government Schemes Saved 1.70 Lakh Crore https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/how-351-modi-government-schemes-saved-rs-1-70-lakh-crore/articleshow/78954779.cms?from=mdr (Accessed on 3 April, 2021)

[viii]Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana https://pmjdy.gov.in/ (Accesses on 18 April, 2021)

[ix]Public procurement from GeM portal crosses Rs 1 lakh cr: CEO Talleen Kumar https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/finance/public-procurement-from-gem-portal-crosses-rs-1-lakh-cr-ceo-talleen-kumar/articleshow/81733835.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst (Accessed on 5 April, 2021)

[x] Uday Mahurkar, ‘Drones, geo-tagging, big data: Narendra Modi’s governance is tech-friendly’ https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/from-india-today-magazine/story/20170814-narendra-modi-technology-government-monitor-rural-development-1027731-2017-08-04 (Accessed on 5 April. 2021)

[xi]About The Aspirational Districts Programme http://niti.gov.in/about-aspirational-districts-programme (Accessed on 6 April, 2021)

[xii]Subodh Ghidiyal, Centre plans 1,000 Dalit startups over 3 years https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/centre-plans-1000-dalit-startups-over-3-years/articleshow/78341975.cms (Accessed on 10 April, 2021)

[xiii]Prime Minister Jan Arogya Yojana https://pmjay.gov.in/ (Accessed on 20 April, 2021)

[xiv]Covid-19 vaccination: How is India’s inoculation drive going https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56345591 (Accessed on 20 April, 2021)

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Manufacturing Sector—Need for A Booster Dose

Abstract:

The Modi Government, if one includes its first term since 2014, is on the verge of celebrating its seventh year in office. During its entire tenure since its historic mandate in 2014, the government has taken important policy measures to meet its core social agenda and fulfil poll promises. On the economic front; however, its performance has been a mixed bag, partly due to systemic flaws of the Indian economy, which need to be overcome. Implementation of the GST is one of the biggest economic reforms this Government has taken. Additional reform measures which have now been undertaken need to be supplemented by a concerted push towards unlocking India’s manufacturing potential, which will be its gateway to a high growth trajectory. This article highlights the significant achievements of the Modi Government in making India a major manufacturing hub as also draws attention to the sectors which need greater attention. The ongoing agenda of ‘Make in India’ needs a booster shot of policy measures and a clear vision.

One of the biggest problems plaguing Indian manufacturing has been an extraordinary, almost excessive, push towards the services sector. The growth in services exports has been so rapid – much higher than some of the other Asian economies—which now account for 35 percent of total exports – it almost made it unnecessary for policymakers to focus on manufacturing. This has been a major impediment to manufacturing not getting its due share in policy making, almost robbing it of its potential and importance. Not enough investments come into this space, thus not enough policy intervention takes place, reinforcing the trend of suboptimal investment, making it a vicious cycle. The present government has tried to undo some of this, with a slew of measures aimed to make India an attractive investment destination. Some of them, including the quantum jump in India’s ranking in World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ratings are notable achievements. From a dismal 142 in 2014 when PM Modi took office to an impressive 63rd position in 2020, India has climbed a remarkable 79 points[i] in a short span of time. World Bank ranks countries on a number of parameters to highlight how easy/tough it is to start a business.

The most significant reforms undertaken by the government in its second term have been on the contentious issue of labour reforms and lowering of tax rates for companies to set up a manufacturing base in India. Changes in labour laws, long considered to be one of the most stifling aspects of India’s maze of rules that govern industry, were long overdue. It is heartening to see the PM unafraid of displaying his hand to back tough, even politically unpopular, reforms. The new labour code, which was originally meant to be implemented from 1st of April 2021, has been pushed ahead due to a delay on the part of States. Irrespective of when it is rolled out, the new labour laws will allow greater flexibility to employers in laying off workers. Among other changes, the threshold limit for firing workers without government approval has been hiked three times (from a company having 100 workers to one employing 300 workers)[ii]. Earlier labour laws – which were based on the size of the enterprise – incentivised factories to remain small, thereby stunting growth potential. Equally important is the expansive scope of the new labour code. Unlike the earlier laws; gig and platform workers, food and grocery delivery, content & media, ride sharing services and e-marketplace is covered, ensuring workers in these sectors are brought under the ambit of regulation. Since labour is an issue that falls in the concurrent list, allowing both Centre and States to have an equal say, the implementation of these laws will decide their success. Needless to say, states that will adapt to these changes faster will be viewed more positively by investors[iii].

Apart from labour laws, what stands out in the government’s big bang reform agenda is the slashing of the corporate tax rate in 2019, to make Indian rates competitive with other Asian destinations. On 20 September 2019, less than four months into the Modi government’s second term, in a bold and surprising move, the government cut corporate taxes. Much before the pandemic struck in 2020, Indian economy had slowed down considerably. As the slowdown led to a clamour for ‘out-of-the-box’ measures, Finance Minister Sitharaman cut corporate taxes from 30 percent to 22 percent for domestic companies[iv]. This was the biggest tax cut in 28 years. To boost manufacturing and invite foreign investments, the FM lowered tax rates even further. From the earlier 25 per cent tax slab, new companies incorporated on or after October 1, 2019 which invested in manufacturing, were to be taxed at 15 per cent. Taking into account surcharge and cess, the effective tax rate for new companies stood at 17 per cent[v]. Post the rate cut, Indian tax slabs were in line with Asian peers. Hong Kong – mired with its own set of far bigger problems – has the lowest corporate tax rate of 16.5 per cent. Singapore has a 17 per cent rate, while both Thailand and Vietnam levy 20 per cent tax on companies.

The third and most compelling reform undertaken by the present dispensation has been the demonstration of its desire to pare losses of sick Public Sector Undertakings (PSU) and to exit government-backed ventures that are eating away precious state resources[vi]. Unprofitable PSUs – which are money guzzlers – have been a major bone of contention for successive governments, which continued to put good money behind bad money. PM Modi’s Government – which has enough political capital – has shown intent to divest stake or to completely privatise. The decision to privatise PSUs and stay invested only in a few strategic sectors is welcome, since state machinery is highly inefficient and corrupt. Though, selling entities like Air India sounds easier said than done (due to failure of multiple efforts), a clear intent to do so indicates a more welcoming attitude towards business in general. This marks a departure from the Prime Minister’s earlier position of being wary of being perceived to be ‘too business friendly’. The decisive shift began after the PM termed businesses as wealth creators in his Independence Day speech[vii].

But the question to ask is, despite such important decisions, why has India not been able to substantially move the needle on manufacturing? Despite a sharp jump in India’s rankings – which signify the growing ease with which business is conducted – why are foreign investors not making a beeline to invest? Easier labour laws should pave the way for big ticket investments, but what is stopping the same to materialise? The answer to all these questions lies in creating a favourable investment climate which is a combination of several inter-related factors. For instance, simplification of labour laws is a very important step towards creating a viable ecosystem, since it reduces compliance burden on companies. But flexibility in hiring and firing is, obviously, not enough to improve the anaemic growth in Indian manufacturing. Likewise, after the 2019 corporate tax cut; Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Indonesia now have higher rates but that has not translated into a quantum jump in India’s investments vis-à-vis these countries.

Clearly, more needs to be done.

It is now a well acknowledged fact that no matter how rapid the growth rates may be in the services sector, it cannot keep pace with the number of new entrants in India’s work force. More so, since in India, the services sector contributes nearly 50 percent to the GDP, but only 35 percent to jobs. This is lower than the average of other countries where services sector contributes equally to GDP and job creation. Given India’s demographics, management consultancy firm McKinsey has predicted that in the decade 2020-2030, India will need to create 90 million new non-agricultural jobs. This is needed to absorb the 60 million new entrants joining the labour force and another 30 million for those who will move out of the less productive farm sector to industry[viii]. This kind of jo