24 December 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) ‘Free, fair and safe’ as the election motto
GS 2 – Indian Polity and Governance
- If the novel coronavirus can mutate on the British Isles, it can do so anywhere, any time. In fact it will be a wonder if it does not.
- The holding of elections is high on the list of that precarious condition.
ESSENCE OF DEMOCRACY
- Voting in millions: Millions have voted in no less than 34 countries since the pandemic broke, to reaffirm their faith in the life-breath of democracy — elections.
- Reinstating democracy: People have shown that fear of endangering one’s health, one’s very life, is not going to come in the way of exercising political rights, political choice.
- Safe voting: When elections are announced anywhere, they should be conducted with zeal and re-doubled care as to the virus’s challenge.
- Election structure: There are three players in an election — the electors, the grid of candidates and the election-making machinery.
- Pandemic structure: There are three players in a pandemic - the protection-needing public, the grid of health care, and the health-policymaking state.
- Curbing of rights: If voters are apathetic or un-vigilant and if the affected public is callous, inattentive to the hazards involved, it can forfeit its discriminating and decision-making prerogatives.
- Contradictory situations: When the two — election and infection — coincide, the citizenry has to exercise its franchise with a commitment to political freedom and a compliance with pandemic fetters — an unavoidable contradiction.
- Safe elections: Bihar elections show us that India can handle that contradiction of exercising right while maintaining safety.
- The ECI’s decision: The ECI did neither stop its mandate nor lose its perspective. The ECI put in place a protocol in Bihar that kept the ballots moving and the virus held in check.
ELECTION COMMISSION OF INDIA:
- Election Commission of India is an independent body that ensures free and fair elections to the Central government and the State governments in India.
- It does not deal with the elections to the Municipalities and Panchayats in the states. Hence, the Indian Constitution has provided for a separate State Election Commission.
Functions of the ECI include:
- Determe the Electoral Constituencies’ territorial areas throughout the country.
- Release notifications on dates of elections and scrutinise nomination papers.
- Grant recognition and allocate election symbols to political parties.
- Prepare and periodically revise electoral rolls and
- Registering all eligible voters.
- Advice the President/Governor regarding disqualification of MPs and MLAs.
- Release a code of conduct for political parties and voters during elections.
THE FORTHCOMING ELECTIONS:
- Stricter rules for safe elections: With the appearance of a variant of the virus in Britain, plans and prognoses have to be reappraised.
- Mask mandatory: ECI should factor the virus into every step in the preparations and advise everybody to wear masks when not indoors at home from right now.
- Article 21: Described by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer as ‘the procedural magna carta protective of life and liberty’ has been elaborated upon in pronouncements of the Supreme Court of India, notably in Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration, where it held that the “right to life” included the right to lead a healthy life.
NOT EXTRA GOODWILL BUT A DUTY:
- Reduce risks: When the Constitution is likely to expose a person to a health hazard, it becomes the constitutional duty of the state to reduce the risks of that hazard to as near zero as possible.
- Duty not goodwill: The State is bound to protect voters against an epidemic just as it would protect election personnel and electors against any threat from miscreants, criminals and terrorists.
- Postal votes: There has been the salutary step of postal votes being made available to senior voters above the age of 80.
- Special duty officers: One, personnel scheduled to be drafted for election duty, and the number of security staff slated to be deployed should be identified as a priority category for access to vaccination.
- No entry without mask: Every voter entering a booth has to be wearing a mask, not as a desirability but as a desideratum like a voter identity card. Else, ask them to go back and get one.
- Separate queue for senior voters: Senior voters should be advised and enabled to vote in the first three hours of the voting using a separate queue-lane.
- ‘Free, fair and safe’: Motto for the forthcoming elections, post the rising of the new variant in Britain.
- Elections held in a terror zone are secured against violence.
- Not allowing the virus emergency an ‘election surge’ would be a victory for democracy as much as for public health.
- When the ‘long and dark tunnel’ ends in a blaze of light we must be voting free and breathing free.
2) An anti-science lawsuit: Free access to research papers
GS- Science and technology
Recently three scientific publishers filed a case against Alexandra Elbakyan of Kazakistan and major Indian internet service providers in the Delhi high court. These publishers want Indians blocked from accessing a site called SciHub.
WHAT IS SCIHUB:
- This is a library website, which provides free access to millions of research papers and books.
- This access is provided without regard to copyright.
- The website was founded by Alexandra Elbakyan in 2011 in Kazakhstan.
- It was established in response to the high cost of research papers behind paywalls.
- The site's owners said that it served approximately 400,000 requests per day.
- But this website and owner were sued twice for copyright infringement in the United States in 2015 and 2017 and lost both cases by default.
- After losing this case the website face loss of some of its Internet domain names. After this case, the site has cycled through different domain names.
- It is an efficient and easy to use site.
- Although SciHub violates many copyrights owned by journals yet it is also a vast repository of open access, out of copyright, and public domain material.
- During world lockdown, as scientists stuck at home, SciHub has made literature accessible without navigating institutional VPNs.
- In general, Scientists paid by their institutions. Grant for their research come from different organisations, generally from government organisations.
- In India, these public institutions of funding also come under many ministries and departments.
- Major funding bodies in India are:
- the Department of Science and Technology,
- the Department of Biotechnology,
- the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research,
- the Department of Atomic Energy.
- After completing any research paper, scientists seek to publish it in an academic journal.
- These journals want to review these papers, so these reviews held by other scientists, and after that, the journal decide on publishing.
- In this whole process authors and reviewers are not paid.
- The Journals are mostly accessed online.
BENEFITS OF THE PUBLISHER OF THE JOURNALS:
- The publishers charge libraries exorbitant amounts for journal subscriptions. This amount may be up to lakhs of rupees annually per journal.
- As well as each Indian institutions spend crores on subscriptions. This amount is about ?1,500 crore annually.
- Without subscriptions, a single article typically costs ?2,200 ?3,500 or more.
- So the Academic publishing industry is thus among the most profitable industries in the world.
- Elsevier’s(one of the publishers who file the case in the court)parent company RELX had profits of over 30% on revenue of nearly $10 billion in 2019.
- The profit to publishers comes from taxpayers across the world who have already paid to fund the same research.
- In this whole process, many journals require authors to transfer copyright to them. This illegal behaviour of journals has built over decades.
- Many alternatives have been explored against these actions of journals. These alternatives include open access, author-pays model.
- Many top universities, and entire countries, have cancelled subscriptions to Elsevier en masse.
- As an alternative to this situation, In 2011, Ms Elbakyan founded SciHub, which enable scientists to search for academic papers from any publisher and freely download them.
BENEFITS OF SCIHUB:
- As this website does not operate in India.
- Indian Internet service providers who named as parties are providing a nondiscriminatory common carrier service.
- The content on SciHub is beneficial to the scientific development of the country hence it is not harmful.
- During the pandemic, leading publishers made COVID19 related articles free to read.
- As a result of this free flow of content, research and development of dozens of vaccine candidates have been happening in a very short period.
- This piracy like works of SciHub also benefits the very people who create that content. While in the creative arts, “pirating” music or films deprives creators of royalties.
- The scientific authors get no royalties, and they and their funders want their work to be shared freely.
- The Indian government has been discussing a ‘one nation, one subscription’ system wherein a fixed and reasonable cost paid directly to the government, scientific publishers would make their entire content available to all readers in India.
- Some publishers have expressed interest in this system.
3) The tightrope between production, industrial peace
GS 2- Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability
- Apple has decided to place its Taiwanese supplier- Wistron Corp., on probation by not giving new orders.
- This was after an audit of the serious lapses in labour practices that led to violence in its facility in Narasapura in Karnataka.
- This indeed is a step forward in corporate accountability and ethical business operations.
- Pressured by Apple’s response, Wistron has also been forced to apologise to the workers, remove its Vice-President in charge of India operations, and initiate corrective measures to address workers’ grievances.
REALITIES OF MANUFACTURING:
- The incident at Narasapura in Karnataka points to the realities of high-tech manufacturing outsourced through supply chains in the global south that is built on uncertainity of labour involved in them.
- In fact, many of the suppliers subcontracting in the high-end electronics sector including those for Apple, have been involved in wilful violations of labour standards and practices.
- It is important to note that unlike the present case, other cases of violent labour contentions in units manufacturing and assembling high-end technological devices in India in the recent past have received less attention.
- Until recently, the default response of the brands has been escaping responsibility by either shifting the onus to the subcontracting firms or keeping things in silent mode.
- The prevailing norms of work arrangements practised by the suppliers themselves downstream, was through hired labour from multiple subcontractors/third party work supply firms.
- This process creates ambiguity in identifying the primary employer and thereby, seriously constrains the workers from getting effective redress of their grievances.
THE CHINA EXPERIENCE:
- The labour contention and the resultant violence at the Wistron facility can be comprehended better by taking into cognisance the operations of Taiwanese suppliers/subcontractors over the years in China, manufacturing high-end electronics devices for big brands including Apple.
- The foremost in this list is Foxconn. There is a global transformation of industrial production and increased outsourcing by corporate giants in the United States, Europe and East Asia.
- As part of the strategies of maintaining lean workforces and unlimited supply of rural migrant labour at low wage levels plus the Chinese economic reforms- all factors propelled the creation of offshore assembly facilities.
- Further, the huge potential of the Chinese consumer market along with increased investment by the Chinese diaspora also played a role in facilitating the decision, which was further solidified by China joining the World Trade Organization in 2001.
- Beginning initially from the coast in southern China, these suppliers have gradually expanded across the Mainland.
- They are supported by lavish incentives, infrastructural support and preferential policies of local governments, who are eager to showcase development and whose officials’ career progression is indexed to the levels of economic progress.
MUCH TRAUMA FOR WORKERS:
- As Apple and other brands churn out ‘smart’ devices at increased speeds, and with tight timelines 24x7, the burden falls literally on the shoulders of the workers employed in the supplier factories.
- It forces them to work under harsh conditions, doing overtime, long tiring shifts without much breaks, and under constant disciplinary monitoring by supervisors.
- The regimented work practices on the assembly line are matched by low pay and little or no social security, leading to strain and traumatic experiences, both physical and mental.
- In 2010, Foxconn was faced with a spate of suicides by workers across its facilities in China, thus pressurising Apple to diversify its range of suppliers — wire netting to prevent workers from jumping off terraces is a common sight in Chinese factories even today.
- Another prevalent phenomenon is that of unpaid, forced student internships to fill shortages in labour supply and offset costs; students from vocational educational institutions are compulsorily employed, and subjected to the same exploitative conditions as the workers.
- Since they are not legally classified as workers, there are no obligations to offer social protections.
- The supply of student-workers is encouraged by local governments, since they are dependent on the suppliers’ support for resources, due to China’s skewed tax and revenue structure favouring the central government.
- Thus, the local governments are constrained and limited in employing any effective supervisory mechanisms or labour law compliance measures.
SAFEGUARDS VS. INVESTMENTS:
- That many of these exploitative labour practices and violations of safeguards could be carried over when these facilities move into the Indian terrain is illustrated by the occurrence in the Wistron facility.
- In fact, when they combine with the precarities already embedded in India’s manufacturing sector, the consequences are debilitating for labour.
- This becomes all the more pertinent, in the backdrop of increasing keenness of governments in India to attract Taiwanese investments.
- However, given the weak legal-regulatory labour architecture and capacities, comprehensive supervision and control of the foreign invested enterprises looks a bridge too far.
- The passing of the new labour codes further erodes existing modicum of labour protection.
- The fear of ‘flight of capital’, coupled with weak state capacity in supervision make state administrations reluctant to step in unless things escalate.
- Increasingly, following pressure from the consumers’ side and also being highly conscious of its brand image, Apple has provided a ‘Code of Conduct’ to all its suppliers, seeking to monitor and audit compliance of labour standards and safeguards.
- However, as demonstrated through the latest incident, there has been no strict adherence to this effect, thereby pointing to the tough balance that needs to be maintained between fulfilling production targets and ensuring industrial peace.
- In the absence of avenues for workers to channelise their grievances — representative associations and unions — and adequate collective bargaining mechanisms as well as social dialogue, frequent labour unrest including to the extent of violent confrontations, could very well be a daily reality in these high-end manufacturing facilities.