facebook
Best IAS/IPS/UPSC Coaching Institute
Admin 2020-02-21

21 Feb 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) On U.S. President’s India visit: Trump cards


  • CONTEXT:
  • Ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to India, some of the key deliverables from the trip, as well as the outcomes that may not be delivered after his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, are coming into view.
  • QUESTIONS OVER SIGNIFICANT OUTCOMES:
  • The larger question remains as to whether the bonhomie between the two, who will be meeting for the fifth time in eight months, will also spur the bilateral relationship?
  • The focus is ontowards broader outcomes, with expectations centred at bilateral strategic ties, trade and energy relations as well as cooperation on India’s regional environment. 
  • STRATEGIC FRONT:
  • On the strategic front, India and the U.S. are expected to take forward military cooperation and defence purchases totalling about $3 billion. 
  • Mr. Trump has cast a cloud over the possibility of a trade deal being announced. 
  • SPBut he is expected to bring U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to give a last push towards the trade package being discussed for nearly two years. 
  • Both sides have lowered expectations of any major deal coming through, given that differences remain over: 
    • a range of tariffs from both sides; 
    • market access for U.S. products; and 
    • India’s demand that the U.S. restore its GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) status. 
  • However, it would be a setback if some sort of announcement on trade is not made. 
  • A failure to do so would denote the second missed opportunity since Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal’s U.S. visit last September. 
  • FOCUS ON INDIA's REGIONAL FAULT LINES:
  • Much of the attention will be taken by India’s regional fault-lines: 
  • the Indo-Pacific strategy to the east and Afghanistan’s future to the west. 
  • India and the U.S. are expected to upgrade their 2015 joint vision statement on the Indo-Pacific to increase their cooperation on freedom of navigation, particularly with a view to containing China. 
  • Meanwhile, the U.S.-Taliban deal is expected to be finalised next week. 
  • The two leaders will discuss India’s role in Afghanistan, given Pakistan’s influence over any future dispensation that includes the Taliban.
  • MORE ABOUT OPTICS:
  • Any high-level visit, particularly that of a U.S. President to India, is as much about the optics as it is about the outcomes. 
  • It is clear that both sides see the joint public rally at Ahmedabad’s Motera Stadium as the centrepiece of the visit, where the leaders hope to attract about 1.25 lakh people in the audience. 
  • Despite the Foreign Ministry’s statement to the contrary, the narrative will be political. 
  • Mr. Trump will pitch the Motera event as part of his election campaign back home. 
    • By choosing Gujarat as the venue, Mr. Modi too is scoring some political points with his home State. 
  • CONCLUSION:
  • As they stand together, the two leaders, who have both been criticised in the last few months for not following democratic norms domestically, will hope to answer their critics with the message that they represent the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest one, respectively.

 

2) On Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation Bill: ART of life


  • CONTEXT:
  • The Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation Bill is a much-needed complement to Surrogacy Bill.
  • Sometimes, the leash follows the dog, but given the importance of control, the sequence can seem insignificant. 
  • ART BILL:
  • ART Bill, which was cleared by the Union Cabinet this week, came after the Surrogacy Bill that it should have preceded. 
  • Together, 
    • the ART Bill; 
    • the Surrogacy Bill; 
    • the amendment to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act; and 
    • the older Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act present a bouquet of legislation that will have a positive impact on the reproductive rights and choices of women in India. 
  • The ART Bill to regulate clinics offering fertility treatments has been long in the works, and was first presented publicly way back in 2008. 
  • ART measures help couples unable to conceive naturally to bear children with the aid of state-of-the-art technology to achieve pregnancy, leading to safe delivery. 
  • INDIA's HISTORY OF ART:
  • India has a rich history of employing ART, though the initial years went officially undocumented at that time. 
  • In the late 1970s, only months after the birth of Louise Brown, the first ‘test tube baby’, Kolkata-based doctor Subhas Mukherjee announced the birth of the world’s second test tube baby. 
  • Subsequently, the industry saw phenomenal growth, as infertility rates went up. 
  • ART MARKET:
  • A market projection (by Fortune Business Insights) said the size of the ART market is expected to reach $45 billion by 2026. 
  • Among Asian countries, India’s ART market is pegged at third position. 
  • ISSUES ARISING FROM LACK OF REGULATION:
  • A lack of regulation and the consequent laxity in operations drove a lot of traffic from other nations to India. 
  • This, in turn, along with the relatively low costs, led to the mushrooming of ART clinics across the country. 
  • Undoubtedly, this also led to a plethora of legal, social and ethical issues.
  • IMPORTANCE OF BILL:
  • It is at this juncture that the ART Bill has seen a fitting revival, egged on by legislators who facilitated the passage of the Surrogacy Bill in the Rajya Sabha. 
  • It seeks to 
    • regulate and monitor ART procedures, and;
    • mandates the establishment of a National Board and State Boards to lay down rules for implementation, and; 
    • also honours a long-pending demand — creation of a national registry, and registration authority. 
  • While the rules will handle the bells and whistles, the Bill already sets a comprehensive framework to operate on. 
  • Most significantly, the Bill recommends punishment, even jail time, for violations of the provisions. 
  • WAY FORWARD:
  • Since it does impinge on surrogacy too, the government must now work on ensuring synchrony in both Bills. 
  • Having come this far to ensure the reproductive rights of women, the state now has the thriving ART industry on a leash, and the Bill is its best chance to eliminate exploitation in the field.

 

3) What distinguishes welfare measures from freebies?


  • CONTEXT:
  • There is an overwhelming consensus that a slew of welfare policies initiated by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in its previous term secured the party’s victory in the 2020 Delhi Assembly election. 
  • QUESTION:
  • Many say that welfare policies like spending on education, health or offering free water and electricity helped AAP win the Assembly election. There are two aspects to this. 
  • Is the word ‘freebies’ an elitist construct? There was a similar criticism of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in 2005. 
  • It involved discussions on how ‘somebody would have to pay for the subsidy’.
  • REETIKA KHERA: 
  • I think there is a general problem with the mainstream media in India. Very often, when speaking about programmes of redistribution such as MGNREGA, the labels that are used are quite derogatory. 
  • I think [providing] healthcare and education are basically the functions of the government. 
  • That’s part of the reason why governments exist in the first place. [It’s the same with] water and electricity or public services. So, calling them ‘doles’ or ‘freebies’ isn’t exactly the right terminology.
  • LEKHA CHAKRABORTY:
  • Talking about freebies sounds like some kind of private spending and “client-ism”, trying to sell it to a certain set of people. But that is not what happened in the Delhi election. 
  • The focus was on providing basic services in health and education and addressing any deficits in governance. 
  • I don’t know whether the term ‘freebies’ exists in economics. You’re right, perhaps it’s an elitist construct, but it’s not accurate in describing what happened in Delhi.

  • Q. How does one explain state spending on welfare measures? What do we consider good spending and what is bad or fiscally irresponsible spending, given that AAP currently has a revenue surplus budget?
  • REETIKA KHERA: 
  • If the state spending on welfare is not legitimate, then what is a legitimate thing for it to spend on? 
  • A part of the function of the government is that for things that we cannot individually organise, we entrust elected representatives to do for us. 
  • Public goods/services — sewage, drinking water, water, electricity, public transport — are one set of things; education and health are what we call ‘merit goods’. 
  • And they are the kinds of things where the market mechanism is not a satisfactory mechanism to deliver these things. 
  • And this is not just an Indian thing, world over, this is a well-understood principle.
  • LEKHA CHAKRABORTY:
  • It depends on the fiscal space you have. And within this fiscal space how you design public benefits is entirely [up to] that party or government. 
  • So the distinction between welfare and non-welfare is kind of blurred. What is important is basically the public finance or the fiscal space question.
  •  What’s important is stability of revenue in how you design your public benefits. 
  • I think the Delhi government has that stability of revenue, there is the comfort of having stability in revenue that other States do not have, so that’s a position of strength. 
  • Second, providing these things for free is giving income in hand, a kind of disposable income to the people. 
  • Whether it’s giving them free transport rides or free electricity, it is giving them disposable income to spend on something else which becomes important at a time of economic slowdown.
  • REETIKA KHERA: 
  • I think that often when people talk about the availability of fiscal space, the focus is only on the expenditure side and not enough attention is paid to revenue. 
  • Even in Delhi, there is great potential for increasing revenue. 
  • The second thing is good welfare spending, whether it’s on health, education or public transport, at the Central level is very low. 
  • So, what AAP did in the last term was try to bring it closer to what it should be.
  • Q. Various State governments have schemes in the name of welfare. 
  • In Tamil Nadu, for instance, Amma canteens that provide cheap food are good but other policies like giving free grinders/computers/cycles are seen as problematic. Where do we draw the line?
  • REETIKA KHERA: 
  • Each of these has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. 
  • The first thing to start with, of course, is the state’s ability to finance these things. 
  • And when I say finance, let me reiterate that the focus should be both on the expenditure side as well as its ability to generate revenues. 
  • Let me give you a small example in Jharkhand that illustrates the complexity of these issues. 
  • We learned recently that the State provides an exemption from registration duty for properties that are valued at more than ₹50 lakh if they’re registered in the names of women. 
  • Now, we know that women’s property rights are important, but weak. 
  • SPBut these are properties that are worth ₹50 lakh and, according to the bureaucrat who told us, it costs the exchequer a few hundred crores annually. 
  • So, you know, it’s a question of balancing priorities and it’s always tricky.
  • Now, as far as free grinders are concerned, it’s a huge labour-saving device, especially in a State like Tamil Nadu where rice is always being ground to make idli or dosai.
  • Ultimately, one would have to evaluate them on a case-by-case basis depending not only on the benefits in some cases but also on the cost side.
  • LEKHA CHAKRABORTY:
  • Good welfare and bad welfare is context-specific. If I’m a girl going to school, then mobility is very precious to me. 
  • So, if a politician is providing cycles to girls, that is very valuable. 
  • And in the case of grinders, you can say it’s giving people more time to pursue other things and that can ultimately have a positive effect on income poverty as well. 
  • Similarly, with rural employment guarantee, I don’t know why the government is not giving adequate emphasis for this because when all else fails, the government acting as ‘the employer of last resort’ is very precious.
  • One criticism of welfare policies is they can be targeted at certain communities and groups. Then it becomes a somewhat cynical political act.
  • LEKHA CHAKRABORTY:
  • Any state, or an entity that you call a state, is a heterogenous thing. You have to take into account the religious composition, the urban-rural mix, maybe the level of the economic development, all of these things matter.
  • Governance structures and political decisions are then built around that. 
  • So, as long as there is no implicit crony contractual relationship between the government in power and the specific interest groups they are focusing on, it’s okay. 
  • All governments focus on winning over a group called swing voters and they look at how to make things attractive to those voters, but as long as there is no implicit crony contractual relationship or something like that, it’s okay.
  • REETIKA KHERA: 
  • When we speak of crony contracts, such clientelism also works in the award of contracts for infrastructure, possibly much more than in the design of welfare programmes. 
  • In general, I’m in favour of universal forms of public support and I think the principle of it is quite important. 
  • You can’t say some people have the right to food or water or employment more than others. And then of course there is the need to remedy existing social and economic inequality.
  • Q. Building on what they have already achieved, what should be on the agenda for the AAP government this term?
  • REETIKA KHERA: 
  • It would be good to see the introduction of nutritious superfoods (such as eggs in midday meals and Integrated Child Development Services), much greater attention to children under six. 
  • Interventions like Amma canteens — which exist in Delhi, but their importance is not fully recognised — and health-related interventions — including, but not only Mohalla clinics — need to be scaled up. 
  • As far as public services are concerned, more attention to better sewage, drinking water supply, and, most importantly, the twin issue of public transport and pollution. 
  • There is so much that can be done even without increasing budgets — for example, if existing buses ran on time, rather than being clubbed; feeder services from residential colonies to metro stations will help car users switch to metro services. 
  • Higher parking (and other) fees for those who use cars to discourage them from polluting the city further. 
  • There’s also a no-go list that I have: no to expensive and often useless CCTVs. 
  • Focus on better street lighting instead. In the public distribution system, they seem to have a plan to start “home delivery” of PDS commodities. 
  • That is a bad idea, because distribution in a public place in front of others is a big protection against corruption.
  • Between 12 and 2 p.m., on any day, you should go and stand on the road outside AIIMS. 
  • It’s really heartbreaking how poor patients who have come to Delhi for treatment... their families are often sleeping outside on the footpath and then some NGO-type people come with trucks and they distribute food and people have to queue up. 
  • So the indignity involved with just the most basic need like this is something that Delhi should be working much more towards.
  • LEKHA CHAKRABORTY:
  • What is still fresh in my mind is the Nirbhaya case. Things have not improved. 
  • And the government is not focusing much attention on the security of women and girls after sunset. 
  • Maybe that’s one of the reasons why the Congress lost actually. Because they were doing good things in terms of infrastructure and constructing flyovers and the like, but when it came to the narrative about security of citizens in the capital city, there wasn’t much focus. 
  • So I would like them to focus on that as a first priority. 
  • Then, of course, there is social infrastructure like health and education that Reetika rightly pointed out.
  • Q. The argument about welfare policies, in Delhi and elsewhere, is that it takes money away that could be spent on roads and infrastructure. How do we square this?
  • LEKHA CHAKRABORTY: 
  • Infrastructure is one thing, but as an economy develops, a group of people are kept vulnerable. 
  • So, to remove their un-freedoms, and for them to participate in the economy and to access schools and colleges, we need to have public policies which tackle these logical entry barriers. 
  • So, ‘leave nobody behind’ should be the crux of a public policy or a welfare policy, rather than just thinking that roads and the public infrastructure should be [most important]. 
  • You need to remove many barriers that people face first.

 

4) On Iran-US tensions and the Indian dilemma


  • CONTEXT:
  • US-Iran relations are deteriorating with each passing day and this calls for some serious introspection, especially to those countries that are directly affected by it.
  • Both sides have used outright methods of warfare and assassinations, along with several attempts at punitive economic and political sanctions. 
  • IRAN's IMPORTANCE:
  • India would like to expand its economic ties with Iran but tensions between Tehran and Washington are hampering New Delhi’s efforts. 
  • The European Union has also tried to salvage its relationship with Iran by means of a special trade mechanism but the strategy has proved to be less than effective.
  • India of course has significant interests in the Persian Gulf region, both economically and politically. 
  • Iran emerged as the top buyer of Indian tea in 2019. 
    • As per the latest figures, the Islamic Republic imported 53.5 million kilograms of tea from India last year, a rise of 74% from 2018.
  • The tea deals were made possible by an Indian rupee-based payment system set up by both countries in order to circumvent economic sanctions imposed by the US. 
  • “This boost really has come because of the rupee-rial trade arrangement that we have had with Iran,” Azam Monem, a director at McLeod Russel India Ltd., told Bloomberg. 
  • The company is among India’s largest tea exporters. “India’s diplomacy should allow us to remain a partner to Iran where we supply humanitarian aid, tea and rice,” Monem said.
  • Despite this rise in tea exports, an expansion of India-Iran commercial ties has been impeded by tensions in the Gulf region.
  • INDIAN STRATEGIC INTEREST AT STAKE:
  • In early January, days after the US killed the head of the Iranian Qassem Soleimani, Indian EAM Jaishankar made two urgent phone calls: 
    • one to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the other to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. 
  • Importance of Chabahar:
  • The Iranian port of Chabahar offers an excellent example regarding what might be at stake for India in the face of rising tensions between Iran and the US. 
  • To expand the port, Iran had joined forces with India and Afghanistan.
  • Chabahar’s strategic location on the Gulf of Oman means that to reach it ships do not have to pass through the Strait of Hormuz which has become a flashpoint in the rising geopolitical tensions in the region over the past few months. 
  • US's SANCTIONS:
  • The US, for its part, appears not to be bothered unduly by the Chabahar port. 
  • On the contrary, American officials view it as an opportunity to promote Afghanistan’s economy, which is why they did not include it in their sanctions list.
  • Nevertheless, Indian investors and firms became cautious in the face of US sanctions and held back from investing in Chabahar. 
  • This reluctance, in turn, prompted the Indian government to slash the budget allocated for the port by around two-thirds. 
  • After repeated assurances from the US that the port would not be included in the sanctions list, Indian businesses are now beginning to consider investing again. 
  • However, these investments are not aimed solely at Iran. 
  • In line with India’s “neighborhood first” policy, the port is considered to have the potential to become an important gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia, and ultimately even to Europe.

  • IMPACT OF CRISES IN THE GULF:
  • The Strait of Hormuz, for instance, is particularly important for the global supply of crude oil.
  • A quarter of the world’s oil and a third of its natural gas are transported via this waterway. 
  • India sources 65 per cent of its oil imports through this shipping route. 
    • If this traffic were to be interrupted or even impaired due to military tensions, it would have a severe impact on the global price of oil. 
  • This became apparent shortly after the killing of Soleimani, when the oil price rose briefly to over $70 (€64.2) per barrel.
  • Expert opinion has it that for India, a jump of just $10 per barrel would push up inflation by 0.4 per cent. 
  • The poorer sections of Indian society would be the first to feel the effect. Also the Indian government’s efforts to boost domestic consumption would be derailed by a rapid price rise.
  • A conflict in the Gulf would also possibly have an impact on the approximately eight million Indians who reside and work in the region. 
  • If the situation forces them to quit their jobs and head home to India, the country would lose around $40 billion they transfer home every year.
  • PREFERRING SAUDI ARAB TO IRAN?
  • In the narrow and immediate perspective, India’s relationship with the Saudi peninsula is more important than its relationship with Tehran. 
  • The UAE is India’s third largest trade partner and also a major investor. Modi has targeted the Saudi and UAE sovereign wealth funds for promoting infrastructure construction in India. 
  • They see India’s growing economy as a major destination for investment. SPAnd it appears that India has dealt itself out of the game by tamely skewing its Middle East policy in favour of the informal US-Saudi-Israel coalition.
  • Iran, on the other hand, was given short shrift as New Delhi went along with Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy on Iran. 
    • Firstly, given the draconian nature of US sanctions, India would have had to be very courageous indeed in challenging the US, a possibility which was and remains fairly unlikely. 
    • Secondly, PM, who had made successful forays to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, probably calculated that getting investments from these oil-rich kingdoms was important than whatever Iran might have to offer. 
  • As such, PM loosened India’s traditional and successful policy of maintaining a balanced relationship with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
  • Needless to say, Iran does not have that kind of spare wealth, nor is it a destination for the Indian diaspora. 
  • VALUE OF IRAN:
  • For India, its value lies in its vast oil and gas resources as well as in its geopolitical location and its market potential. 
  • Iran provides the route through which India, blockaded by Pakistan, can fulfill its Eurasian ambitions. 
  • CONCLUSION:
  • Hnece the upcoming visit of US President Donald Trump may be significant in defining the US-Iran relationship. Otherwise the dilemma can be expected to continue.