What to Read in The Hindu
01 June 2020

1) Open with caution: On Unlock 1-

  • CONTEXT:
  • It is a truth universally acknowledged now that the severe restrictions to contain COVID-19 produced traumatic(painful) displacement of the weakest sections.
  • While it is also true that the check on infection spread was modest.
  • PHASED UNLOCKING:
  • The Centre’s move for a phased unlocking of public activity after the rigorous(strict) lockdown since March 25 sets the stage for people to resume their jobs and undertake some travel.
  • The ‘Unlock 1’ plan should ensure a careful restarting of activities, the most important of which is the delivery of goods and everyday services, including health services unrelated to COVID-19 infections.
  • Latest data since the virus surfaced in the country show that 13 cities, including some of the biggest metros, host 70% of the cases, and many of the earlier restrictions will continue there.
  • Retaining curbs on big gatherings, such as in religious places, is reasonable, given the history of these sites unwittingly becoming super spreaders.

 

  • DILIGENCE IMPERATIVE:
  • But States must show diligence(care) in actively testing and quarantining individuals in cities with high incidence to significantly control the spread.
  • National Directives for COVID-19 Management has mandated measures such face covering, physical distancing in public places, shops and establishments, spitting, and gathering in large numbers.
  • Half-hearted approaches to implementing the measures can only worsen the crisis, especially with resumption of public transport.
  • Citizens who have accepted severe curtailment of liberties during the lockdown can be persuaded(convinced) to adopt a healthy public behaviour code using measures that are civil, yet firm.

 

  • GOVERNMENT'S COMMITMENT:
  • Economic contraction caused by loss of jobs requires governments to demonstrate as much commitment to mitigating(reducing) misery(unhappiness) as to containing infection.
  • A genuinely universal PDS with adequate supplies of foodgrain, ensuring that no one is left behind, must be provided in all States.
  • Cash supplements should reach all intended beneficiaries.
  • This needs to be underscored(emphasized), as surveys of workers who lost jobs after the pandemic indicate rising hunger levels and missing financial support.
  • Some sections, such as Dalits, women, and low-skilled workers are even worse off.
  • For the elderly, vulnerable individuals and children below 10, the Centre’s advice is to shelter in place even during the relaxation phase.
  • This is medically sound advice, but cannot be done over a long period in big cities, as they cannot access goods and services at their doorstep, simply because they are classified as non-essential.

 

  • CONCLUSION:
  • The course of COVID-19 in the weeks ahead is by no means predictable, and the Centre recognises the possibility of new rural clusters emerging due to large-scale return of migrants.
  • Whether in the cities or the countryside, ‘Unlock 1’ must prioritise some actions:
  • create public awareness that the virus is present,
  • ramp up testing,
  • provide health services, and;
  • intensively monitor relief measures.

 

  • A resumption of economic activity is essential, but the vigil(watch) on the virus must remain.

 

 

 

2) A phantom called the Line of Actual Control-

 

  • CONTEXT:
  • At the heart of India’s and China’s continued inability to make meaningful progress on the boundary issue are four agreements — signed in September 1993, November 1996, April 2005 and October 2013 — between the two countries.
  • Ironically, India and China keep referring to these agreements as the bedrock of the vision of progress on the boundary question.
  • Unfortunately, these are deeply flawed(misplaced) agreements.
  • It makes quest for settlement of the boundary question at best a strategic illusion(false appearance) and at worst a cynical(doubtful) diplomatic parlour(sitting room) trick.

 

  • 1993 Agreement- MAINTENANCE OF PEACE AND TRANQUILITY:
  • 1993 agreement states- “pending an ultimate solution”, “the two sides shall strictly respect and observe the LAC between the two sides... No activities of either side shall overstep the LAC”.
  • 1996 agreement on confidence-building measures in the military field say they “will reduce or limit their respective military forces within mutually agreed geographical zones along the LAC.”
  • This was to apply to major categories of armaments and cover various other aspects as well, including air intrusions “within ten kilometres along the LAC”.

 

  • NO BEARING ON GROUND REALITY:
  • The specification of this LAC as the starting point and the central focus has made several key stipulations and articles of the four agreements effectively inoperable.
  • In fact, many of the articles have no bearing(impact) on the ground reality.
  • Article XII of the 1996 agreement, for instance, says, “This agreement is subject to ratification and shall enter into force on the date of exchange of instruments of ratification.”
  • It is not clear if and when that happened.
  • Astonishingly, nowhere in the 1993 agreement is there the provision to recognise the existing lines of deployment of the respective armies, as they were in 1993.
  • The agreement does not reflect any attempt to have each side recognise the other’s line of deployment of troops at the time it was signed.
  • That would have been the logical starting point. If both armies are to respect the LAC, where is the line?

 

 

  • AMBIGUITY:
  • The ambiguity(confusion) over the LAC has brought a prolonged sense of unease and uncertainty and thus exponentially(largely) contributed to the military build-up in those areas.
  • The absence of a definition of this line allows ever new and surreptitious(secret) advances on the ground.
  • Had the wordsmiths of the 1993 agreement begun the exercise with the phrase-
  • “pending an ultimate solution, each side shall strictly respect and observe the line of existing control/deployment” instead of the “LAC”, it would have been more possible to keep the peace.
  • In such a case there would have been two existing lines of control on the map — one for the physical deployment of the Chinese troops and the other for the physical deployment of the Indian troops.
  • This would have rendered the areas between the two lines no man’s land, and would have ensured that the two armies were frozen in their positions.
  • In effect, in the eastern sector, where the Chinese have not accepted the loosely defined McMahon line which follows the principle of watershed, and the western sector, which is witnessing another episodic stand-off, the LAC is two hypothetical(imaginary) lines.
  • The first is what Indian troops consider the extent to which they can dominate through patrols, which is well beyond the point where they are actually deployed and present.
  • The second is what the Chinese think they effectively control, which is well south of the line they were positioned at in 1993.

TRIVIA:

(Principle of watershed- Watershed management is continuous and needs a multi disciplinary approach. A watershed management framework supports partnering, using sound science, taking well-planned actions and achieving results)

 

  • BORDER DEFENCE COOPERATION:
  • Now consider para 4 in Article II of the 2013 agreement (on border defence cooperation).
  • It enjoins(urges) the parties to “work with the other side in combating natural disasters or infectious diseases (emphasis mine) that may affect or spread to the other side”.
  • Given this serious intent, how do we read the latest round of intense physical fights between Chinese and Indian soldiers that left at least 70 Indian soldiers injured and hospitalised in Ladakh?
  • It could have exposed some of the Indian soldiers to a local Chinese mutation of COVID-19.
  • Forget physical distancing, were they even wearing masks?

 

  • PERCEPTIONS OF LAC:
  • It is in this theatre of the militarily absurd that we should look at the outcome of the attempted exchange of maps in the western sector where this round of confrontation continues between India and China.
  • This came after the exchange of maps in the middle sector where divergences were the least, i.e., the existing line and the Chinese and Indian idea of the LAC were more or less the same (in 2002).
  • Kanwal Sibal, who was the Foreign Secretary then, and Wang Yi, the head of the Chinese delegation, met in New Delhi in 2003 for this purpose.
  • It had been agreed that both sides would exchange maps to an agreed scale on each side’s perceptions of the location of the LAC in the western sector.
  • The idea was to superimpose the maps to see where the perceptions converged and, crucially, where they diverged.
  • Due to the contentious nature of the sector, it would provide a starting point, not the end point, to discuss how to reconcile divergences presumed to be significant, given Chinese military behaviour on the ground there.
  • Each side handed over its map to the other. Mr. Wang took the map, gave it a long, hard look, and wordlessly returned it. He provided no reason for his action.
  • The meeting effectively ended there. Had he been instructed not to accept any map the Indian side provided?
  • Or did he make a spur-of-the-moment decision that this exchange was not in China’s interests?
  • In hindsight, it is obvious that Mr. Wang didn’t think the map was in Chinese interests, because if he had, the Chinese would have with them, officially, New Delhi’s claim with regard to the LAC in the western sector where they wanted the most territory.
  • That meant that their hands would have been tied because New Delhi could subsequently say that the Chinese were intruding into India’s LAC.
  • By disregarding the map, China is not bound in any way by New Delhi’s perception of the LAC, and therefore does not have to limit liberty of action.
  • This was evident then and is especially evident now.
  • Because the nature of the terrain, deployment, and infrastructure and connectivity asymmetries in the border areas continue to be so starkly in China’s favour that it is clear that the Chinese are in no hurry to settle the boundary question.
  • They see that the cost to India in keeping this question open suits them more than settling the issue.

 

 

 

3) It’s time for a universal basic income programme in India-

 

  • The ongoing crisis is creating changes that could end up dividing society into pre- and post-COVID-19 days.
  • These changes are also likely to exacerbate the novel challenges accompanying the fourth industrial revolution.
  • Today, disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence are ushering in productivity gains that we have never seen before.
  • They are also steadily reducing human capital requirements, making jobs a premium. A microcosm of these trends can be seen in Silicon Valley.
  • The region is home to five of the world’s eight most valuable companies.
  • These giants, all technology companies, have a cumulative market cap of over $4 trillion, yet they together directly employ just 1.2 million people.

 

  • TOOL TO ERADICATE POVERTY:
  • Many consider a universal basic income (UBI) programme to be a solution that could mitigate the looming crisis caused by dwindling job opportunities.
  • UBI is also deliberated as an effective poverty-eradication tool. Supporters of this scheme include Economics Nobel Laureates Peter Diamond and Christopher Pissarides, and tech leaders Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.
  • UBI in its true sense would entail the provision of an unconditional fixed amount to every citizen in a country. Nevertheless, countries across the world, including Kenya, Brazil, Finland, and Switzerland, have bought into this concept and have begun controlled UBI pilots to supplement their population.
  • India’s huge capacity and infrastructure-building requirements will support plenty of hands in the foreseeable future.
  • Nonetheless, even before the pandemic, India was struggling to find enough opportunities for more than a million job aspirants who were entering the job market each month.
  • The 2016-17 Economic Survey and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had once proposed quasi-basic income schemes that leave out the well-off top quartile of the population as an effective means of alleviating poverty and hunger.
  • The fiscal cost of a UBI pegged at ₹7,620, at 75% universality, was 4.9% of the GDP.
  • A UBI on par with the numbers suggested by the Economic Survey could lead to targeted household incomes increasing by almost ₹40,000 per annum, since the average Indian household size is approximately five.
  • The political will was nonetheless lukewarm because of the costs involved.
  • Requirements to trim some of the existing subsidies to balance the resultant deficit were also difficult political minefields for the then government. So the proposition was finally shelved.

 

  • DIFFERENT TIMES:
  • The times now are very different. IMF has projected global growth in 2020 to be -3.0%, the worst since the Great Depression. India is projected to grow at 1.9%.
  • The U.S. economy is expected to fall by 5.9%. The unemployment rate and unemployment claims in the U.S., since President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, is the highest since the Great Depression.
  • Unfortunately, India does not even have comparable data.

 

  • Lockdowns in some format are expected to be the norm till the arrival of a vaccine. With almost 90% of India’s workforce in the informal sector without minimum wages or social security, micro-level circumstances will be worse in India than anywhere else.
  • The frequent sight of several thousands of migrant labourers undertaking perilous journeys on foot in inhumane conditions is a disgraceful blight on India.
  • One way to ensure their sustenance throughout these trying times is the introduction of unconditional regular pay checks at maximum universality, at least till the economy normalises. If universal basic income ever had a time, it is now.