Editorials - 05-04-2021

Other important promises that could touch, and likely improve, the lives of millions rarely make headlines

Disparaging references to “freebies” are a popular trope of media coverage of elections in Tamil Nadu. This Assembly election is no different: free data, free tabs, free washing machines were in the news as political parties released their election manifestos. Electoral promises serve as a road map for elected governments and deserve greater scrutiny. I took a quick look at the full manifestos in English of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (https://bit.ly/3wkSBzP), the Indian National Congress, the Makkal Needhi Maiam (https://bit.ly/2PQfaeS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party. (Unfortunately, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) does not have an English version.)

The 17,000-plus word manifesto of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is the most detailed. It mentions “welfare” 55 times, followed through with frequent mentions of education/school (61 times), women/girl/female (60 times), and of food/health/nutrition (17 times). The counts of these words in the manifestos of other parties pale in comparison (see table). In the case of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, there is little difference (e.g., education appears 23-24 times; women 14-15 times).

The Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), a new party headed by actor Kamal Haasan, made news when it announced a compensation for women’s unpaid, primarily domestic, work. The party has a very lean manifesto (two documents, 2-3 pages each) that barely discusses the topics listed above.

Simple word counts can only tell us so much — filling pages is hardly the point of an election manifesto. Studying them allows us to get a sense of how substantive the promises are and how deep is the understanding of issues. For instance, in the case of the BJP, one of the welfare-related promises is merely that “Adi Dravidar Welfare will be renamed as “Scheduled Caste Welfare Department””. In contrast, in the corresponding section, the DMK includes a promise of reservations in government jobs for Adi-Dravidars, scholarships for girls from certain subgroups, hostel accommodation and food allowance, and so on. The manifesto also clarifies which promises apply to children born of inter-caste marriages.

Interestingly, the BJP promises to transferpanchamiland to Dalits. Dalit/land activists have questioned the promise because a BJP leader from Tamil Nadu, as Vice Chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, had ignored petitions to the Commission on precisely this issue. With this promise, apart from wooing Dalit voters, the BJP is probably trying to keep alive an allegation — denied by the DMK — that the DMK’s Murasoli office is onpanchamiland.

A pioneer State

As a development economist working on social policy, Tamil Nadu is of great interest. From school meals, canteens (or community kitchens) and maternity entitlements,it has pioneered some of the best welfare programmes.

Following in that tradition, the DMK has the most comprehensive, if modest, vision for a welfare state (in its manifesto): 150 days of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) work instead of just 100 per year per family and a fair wage (Rs. 300 per day). Reintroduction ofurad dalin the Public Distribution System has been promised. For children’s nutrition, it propose to add milk in school meals; Tamil Nadu already serves eggs every day. Running a programme well, requires decent work conditions for staff; the DMK promises pensions and gratuity foranganwadiand mid-day meal workers.

For women, among the most significant promises is one to increase maternity entitlements under the Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy scheme, from Rs. 18,000 to Rs. 24,000 per child. In State government jobs, the party proposes to increase paid maternity leave from nine to 12 months. Besides this, it promises to set up nursing stations with privacy. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is among the most important needs of a child. In a society where women are not to be confined to their homes because they bear the main responsibility of child rearing, the promise of nursing stations is not trivial. There is also a proposal to set up 500 new Kalaignar canteens (modelled on Amma’s canteens, pioneered by former Chief Minister and AIADMK leader J. Jayalalithaa).

The Congress manifesto does not mention NREGA — an Act that was passed by its own government under the United Progressive Alliance-1; and as far as the PDS is concerned, that section in the manifesto is populated with three seemingly random points: “steps will be taken <to provide free rice; along with free rice>,lentils, cooking oil and other essential groceries” (emphasis added). (To be fair, the English version of the Congress manifesto is an abridged version of the Tamil manifesto; however, it does come across as a hastily “Google translated” document.)

This is not to say that all manifesto promises are laudable. Just to give one example: as in Haryana’s widely criticised, possibly unconstitutional move to reserve jobs for locals,the “DMK assures to introduce legislation to reserve 75 percent of private sector jobs for locals.” It is a misguided, impractical promise that could lead to corruption and red tape without any substantive gains.

Exacerbating inequality

The DMK manifesto also betrays how deeply ingrained inequality is in our society. It promises an enhanced compensation of Rs. 24,000 for women as maternity entitlement in the unorganis̥ed sector. This will still not bring their entitlements on a par with those of women in, say, government jobs, who are entitled to 26 weeks paid leave under the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 (and who are being promised 12 months by the DMK). While the first is necessary, the second will increase inequality. Finally, there are glaring blindspots: apart from ignoring health care in a pandemic year, the insidious use of Aadhaar in welfare and beyond has not been opposed.

Need to refocus

The main reason for dwelling on the details of the manifestos is that the mainstream English media rarely goes beyond the ‘freebies’ narrative: free washing machines, “free data”, etc. In earlier elections, free rice, fans and mixer-grinders made news. Other important promises that could touch, and likely improve, the lives of millions rarely make headlines. For instance, given the nationwide farmer protests, the proposals on agriculture in the DMK manifesto should have been debated. Among other promises, it includes the promotion of cooperatives for fairer marketing mechanisms. Similarly, it mentions jobs/employment more often (66 times) than welfare (55), but we have not heard what these promises are. An assurance to redress these problems is at least a recognition the problem exists.

The argument here is not that merely making progressive promises will ensure their implementation, nor is the idea to create an impression that politics in Tamil Nadu is people-centred or clean. The concern is that by allowing ourselves to be drowned in the freebies narrative, we are giving political parties a free pass at a crucial juncture.

Reetika Khera is Associate Professor (Economics) at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

There seems to be a shift from prioritising expressways and megaports to agriculture and forests

Environmental promises have made a visible entry into Tamil Nadu’s politics, along with a guarded valourisation of farmer and fisher rights over big-ticket infrastructure and industrial projects. All key parties in the 2021 Assembly polls barring the AIADMK dedicated a section for “environmental protection” in their manifestos. Setting aside the justified cynicism about fulfillment of poll promises, the appearance of environment as a political concern worth flagging signals a welcome cultural shift in Tamil politics. It would be a folly to dismiss these promises as tokenism. That would disregard the power of earlier culture-shaping projects such as the Self-Respect Movement and the depth of Tamils’ linguistic identity in birthing local brands of environmentalism. Agriculture, rather than industry, as a defining identity of Tamil Nadu has found new currency.

Politics responsive to protests

However, two anxieties mar the positivity of these political developments. One is that an environmentalism rooted in healthy self-respect should not degrade into a ‘blood and soil’ subset of a chauvisnistic Tamil nationalism. This fear, though, is mitigated by a dominant discourse that draws from inclusive traditions of Periyar, Ambedkar and even Marx. The second is an ominous certainty that the political class does not understand the urgency and magnitude of the planetary ecological crisis.

More than a new awakening within the political class, the shift is proof that politics in Tamil Nadu is populist and responsive to people’s aspirations articulated primarily through the medium of protests. Protests and agitations have shaped Tamil political culture. The decade has been especially busy. If anti-Hindi agitations launched the Dravidian era in politics, it would not be an overreach to say that the anti-nuclear protests from 2011 to 2013 launched a movement with a distinctly Tamil flavour to protect land, water and livelihoods from state-supported corporate grabs. The non-violent sit-in by fishers against the Kudankulam nuclear plants in the coastal hamlet of Idinthakarai failed to stop the project, but it forced a nationwide debate on nuclear energy and the right of people to participate in environmental decision-making in the face of obstinate, powerful and irate adversaries. The fallout of the protests left even avowedly pro-nuclear parties like the CPI(M) and agnostic pro-industrial parties like the DMK with weaker appetites for nuclear projects.

Cultures are products of intersectionalities. The genetic make-up of themes portrayed as environmental in political manifestos are drawn not merely from campaigns against power plants, expressways, ports and polluting industries, but also from the gene pool of earlier and coterminous social protests and events.

Consider the string of major protests between 2009 and now: against the Sri Lankan war and Mullivaikkal massacre; against nuclear projects; against coal-bed methane extraction in the delta; against Unilever’s mercury pollution in Kodaikanal; by fishers to save Ennore Creek from industrial encroachments; pro-Jallikattu; against hydrocarbon extraction in Neduvasal, Pudukottai, which subsequently spread like wildfire through other delta districts; against Sterlite, crony capitalism and industrial pollution; by farmers against the Salem-Chennai expressway; by fishers and farmers against the International Container Transhipment Terminal in Kanniyakumari; and against Adani’s Kattupalli port expansion. The State and Central governments are adversaries in each of these campaigns. Many in Tamil Nadu view the Union government as north India-centric, and indifferent, if not inimical, to the interests of southern States. Each of the above projects is seen as a grandiose Central government imposition that hurts local ecologies, farmers and fishers to squeeze out value for distant beneficiaries.

Climate crisis

Meanwhile, extreme weather events have been posting annual reminders of the looming climate crisis: the Chennai floods (2015), Cyclone Vardah (2016), Cyclone Ockhi (2017), Cyclone Gaja (2018), Chennai’s Day Zero and water scarcity (2019). The muted and muddled responses of Centre and State to these disasters has also reinforced arguments of neglect by the Centre and mishandling by the State.

Against the backdrop of this bleak canvas, it is refreshing that at least four parties – DMK, Naam Tamilar Katchi, Makkal Needhi Maiam and Pattali Makkal Katchi – have dedicated environmental wings with youngsters at the helm. Aided by a vengeful climate and restive communities, the youthful environmental wings, one hopes, will improve the ambitions of their parties and help the political class appreciate the gravity of the unfolding ecological disaster. That will happen only if the young leaders in these parties are rooted in an understanding of social justice, caste hierarchies and the history of progressive Tamil movements, as articulated by intellectuals like Thol. Thirumavalavan of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi. Without that, environmentalisms rooted in notions of cleanliness, purity and meritocracy run the risk of becoming elite oppressions.

The future is fearsome. A recent article in American Geophysical Union’s journal warns of sweeping heat waves. Leave alone “future consequences of continued warming, some areas in [South Asia] are already getting exposed to deadly heat stress conditions even at the current warming levels,” the article reports. Even if temperature rise is kept to 1.5°C as targeted in the Paris Accord, coastal Tamil Nadu can expect lethal heat waves every two years.

At current emissions rates, the world will exceed the 1.5°C danger threshold by 2030. Averting catastrophic change by keeping to the threshold is possible only if emissions are cut by 7.6% every year for the next decade. That’s difficult; emissions fell by a meagre 6.4% percent in 2020 despite the pandemic-induced economic lockdowns, scientific journalNaturereports.

Modern economy is fatally coupled to planet-threatening carbon emissions and degrading land use change. In 2019, 11,258 experts from 153 countries issued a ‘Warning of a Climate Emergency’. “Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being by prioritising basic needs and reducing inequality,” they wrote.

In prioritising agriculture, forests, fisheries and water over hydrocarbon extraction, expressways and megaports, Tamil Nadu’s politics may have flagged just such a value shift. Politics, with its embedded values of people’s aspirations and relationship to land, is deep. The environmentalism of parties, politicians and manifestos, however, is shallow and demands work. The same parties that condemn the Kattupalli port and the expressway contradict themselves with uncreative promises of coal-fired power plants, energy-guzzling desalination plants and a second international airport in Chennai.

Communities have their work cut out. They have to forge a path of radical departure from the ecocidal growth-obsessed economic pathway, and urge their leaders to follow. That is a gargantuan task considering that this pathway to avoiding ecological collapse would be, to put it mildly, economically inconvenient.

Nityanand Jayaraman is a Chennai-based writer and social activist

The role of planning and social oversight in the economic development of the State needs to expand further

Will the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) be re-elected in the upcoming polls in Kerala, or will the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) return to lead the government? The election results will have a major bearing on the path of development that the State would take in the coming years.

While Kerala’s achievements in human development are well-known, there is a widespread misconception that Kerala has not had much economic growth.

The ‘Kerala Model’ showed that a country or a region need not wait till it becomes rich to bring about significant improvements in people’s material conditions of living, and that people’s movements can be the driving force of such changes by forcing governments to adopt redistributive measures and other programmes.

When growth picked up

Economic stagnation in the 1970s and 1980s led many observers to predict the collapse of the Kerala model. They argued that the slow-growing State would not have the money to continue financing its welfare programmes.

But a fundamental change occurred by the late 1980s — Kerala’s economic growth picked up. Growth in agricultural incomes and in remittances provided the spur for a ‘long boom’ in the subsequent decades. While services grew the fastest, the secondary sector (which includes manufacturing, construction, etc.) also experienced significant growth; the proportion of the workforce engaged in the secondary sector, which was 20% in 1987-88, grew to 32% in 2018-19.

While Kerala’s per capita income was almost 10% lower than the all-India figure in 1989-90, it was 65% higher than the all-India figure in 2019-20.

During this period, Kerala’s education and health indicators continued to improve, and its social security programmes continued to expand. But public schools and public hospitals often fell into disrepair, with inadequate facilities forcing many people to turn towards private service providers. The number of students enrolled in public schools fell steeply.

Investments in infrastructure

However, the last five years have seen major investments to build up infrastructure in public schools and public hospitals. More than 45,000 classrooms in 4,752 public schools have been turned ‘hi-tech’, while new, bigger and better buildings have been constructed for public schools. These efforts have had a major impact: the number of students in public schools began to increase from 2018-19 onwards. This was taking place for the first time in more than 25 years. Similar infrastructural upgrades have been made in the case of public hospitals too, which was an important factor that allowed Kerala to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic relatively well.

Investments that came in through the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) provided the most crucial element which made these investments possible. Apart from schools and hospitals, KIIFB funding is being used to build economic infrastructure such as roads, bridges, industrial parks, the massive public sector Internet project K-FON, or the Kerala Fibre Optic Network, and TransGrid 2.0 — a project to improve the power transmission network in the State

New funding arm

All these constitute a major change from the earlier scenario when Kerala found it difficult to fund capital expenditure that is necessary to upgrade its infrastructure. Continuous assaults on fiscal federalism, and the Centre putting harsh limits on States’ borrowing have made things very difficult for State governments. The Goods and Services Tax has dealt a terrible blow to the ability of the States to tax commodities according to their own specific conditions and development priorities. It is in this context that the KIIFB was brought in as a major funding arm of the Kerala government.

The KIIFB raised funds from the financial market and made them available to the government to finance infrastructure projects which otherwise would have taken decades to materialise. Repayment of the loans is ensured by the government legally committing to pay a portion of its revenue from the motor vehicle tax and the petroleum cess to the KIIFB every year. The idea is that higher capital investments would help stimulate economic growth, which would in turn lead to higher tax revenues as well.

The real risks

Concerns have been raised whether Kerala is taking on unsustainable levels of debt. The KIIFB loans are not part of public debt, and even if they are included, they would make only a marginal difference to the stock of outstanding debt. Data show that there have been several years during the past three decades when the ratio of Kerala’s outstanding debt to gross State domestic product (GSDP) was higher than it is today (36%). Those years followed a period in the late 1990s when there were serious setbacks to the commodity-producing sectors of the economy (prices of major cash crops had crashed).

The current period is also similar, with the State having had to endure severe floods in 2018 and 2019, and the pandemic-induced worldwide recession. These led to huge unforeseen expenses, even as economic growth and tax revenue growth suffered.

Rather than debt, therefore, the real risks are likely to be associated with shocks to the economy — such as natural disasters, job losses in the West Asian countries where a lot of Keralites work, or contractionary fiscal policy by the central government — which could adversely impact economic growth. Even then, Kerala will be better prepared to face the eventualities if it has better infrastructure, and a better-educated, more highly skilled and healthier workforce.

Competing visions

The Left Democratic Front’s ambitious vision of the future of the Kerala economy is reflected in its manifesto. It lays much emphasis on substantially raising enrolment in higher education along with improving its quality, and on fostering the systematic application of science and technology in a range of sectors. How the benefits of the growth that will occur would be distributed across different sections of society will depend, among others, on the intervention of various organised sections of the working people, particularly to support and expand the role of the public sector and cooperatives.

The United Democratic Front has also come up with its manifesto, and it has not fallen behind in promising a number of welfare measures. But a coherent strategy regarding the path that Kerala should take is yet to be articulated by the UDF. If past experience is any indication, the UDF at the helm would mean less planned intervention by the government in the sphere of the economy and less attention to the public sector. That approach, however, is likely to be inadequate to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Apart from considerations of equity, the added risk of climate change which brings with it phenomena such as more frequent extreme weather events point to the need for an even greater, not lesser, role for planning and social oversight over the process of economic development in the State.

Subin Dennis is an economist at Tricontinental Research. The views expressed are personal

Reporting transgressions during the election season is not enough; the media needs to scrutinise institutional failures

In any election season, journalists navigate minefields — rampant misogynism, partisan considerations, ideological affiliations, and selective leaks. Reporters often develop a framework to evaluate the claims of political parties and institutions. Transgressions by political parties are generally easy to spot — misogyny, for instance, is a trait shared by most political parties. However, institutional failures are generally masked. For instance, how can one explain the bizarre development where electronic voting machines (EVMs) were found in a vehicle linked to a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate in Assam? How can one understand the Election Commission of India (ECI)’s decision to impose a two-day ban on A. Raja of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and commute the ban to a day for the BJP’s Himanta Biswa Sarma? If the ECI can accept Mr. Sarma’s apology, what prevented the constitutional body from not acknowledging Mr. Raja’s apology to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu?

A chronicle of the times

I drew my personal framework for political reporting from George Orwell. He was a master of labelling. The collection of his journalistic writings is calledSeeing Things As They Are. His fundamental contention is that journalism, if it has to be a chronicle of the times, should observe and record every transgression without fear and should resist wearing a narrow nationalistic lens that not only distorts the truth but also never provides a way out from messy reality. He took care to make a fine distinction between his journalism and his literary pursuits, though both were tied together by his respect for human dignity and self-respect. In his great dystopian novel,1984, the opening sentence made it clear that it was fiction and not reportage. The magnificent line was: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

In the elections to the four States and one Union Territory, Indian journalists have managed to document rather successfully the transgressions of political parties. However, they have dealt with institutional failures with kid gloves. One element of ‘seeing things as they are’ is to call out when the emperor has no clothes. The ECI used to be seen as an institution that protects and nurtures the democratic aspirations of more than a billion people. The constant erosion of its moral standing is undermining our democracy in more ways than one. From allocating symbols to holding elections in several phases, the electorate never suspected the motives of the ECI until recently. If every move of the constitutional body is viewed with suspicion, then the time has come for journalists to say in an unambiguous manner that the ECI should not only function in a fair manner but also be seen as functioning in a fair manner.

More questions than answers

On the question of the presence of the EVMs in a BJP candidate’s car in Assam, the ECI provided an explanation that begs more questions than answers. There are protocols for EVMs and they are constantly updated by the ECI. What was clearly evident is that the ECI did not follow any of its own protocols while transporting the EVMs in Assam. Instead of answering the difficult questions posed to it, it used a news agency close to the ruling party at the Centre to come up with a vague explanation. It said that the vehicle in which the EVMs were kept broke down and so the officials took a lift in a passing car which happened to be owned by a BJP candidate. Apart from the fantastic nature of the explanation, accountability was shifted from the top to the bottom tier and the ECI suspended four polling personnel.

Good journalism

It is in this context that Orwell’s ‘seeing things as they are’ assumes significance. Instead of glossing over major failures, the media needs to scrutinise the steady decline in adhering to institutional protocols and good practices. Good journalism often takes a cue from literature and literary giants to understand our immediate reality. Citizens expect journalists to conduct an in-depth inquiry to either validate or repudiate these assertions. Salman Rushdie, on the 40th anniversary of his celebrated novelMidnight’s Children, observed: “All of India belonged to all of us, or so I deeply believed. And still believe, even though the rise of a brutal sectarianism believes otherwise… But right now, in India, it’s midnight again.” It seems that Mr. Rushdie is seeing things as they are.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

Racism will not be overcome with mere professions of good faith but with anti-racist action

Every year on March 21, a global movement gathers to fight prejudice and intolerance by marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This provides an opportunity to explore the nuanced causes and consequences of modern racism, and renew an important commitment to combat discrimination. Racial discrimination, beyond being a breach of human rights, has harmful effects on human health and well-being, and risks wider disruptions to social cohesion. The words of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan remain pertinent: “Our mission is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.”

Forms of racism

Current forms of racism and discrimination are complex and often covert. Public attitudes to anti-racism have improved, as expressions of racist ideology have become less socially acceptable. Yet, the anonymity of the Internet has allowed racist stereotypes and inaccurate information to spread online. At the onset of the pandemic, traffic to hate sites and specific posts against Asians grew by 200% in the U.S. In India and in Sri Lanka, social media groups and messaging platforms were used to call for social and economic boycotts of religious minorities, amid false information accusing them of spreading the virus. Structural forms of discrimination, including micro-aggressions and everyday indignities, remain widespread. The use of new technologies and artificial intelligence in security raise the spectre of ‘techno-racism’, as facial recognition programmes can misidentify and target racialised communities.

Prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory acts, whether subtle or overt, aggravate existing inequalities in societies. A study published byThe Lancetdrew attention to the social dimension of the COVID-19 pandemic and the greater vulnerability of ethnic minorities, who have been disproportionately affected. The World Health Organization has cautioned on the dangers of profiling and stigmatising communities that can lead to fear and the subsequent concealment of cases and delays in detection. Women and girls also carry a double burden of being exposed to racial and gender-based prejudices. Racial discrimination deepens and fuels inequality in our societies.

To contribute to this important discussion and signify the need for urgent work, UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris hosted a Global Forum against Racism and Discrimination on March 22, 2021, in partnership with the Republic of Korea. The Forum gathered policymakers, academics, and partners to initiate a new multi-stakeholder partnership on anti-racism. The new proposed road map to tolerance calls for a multisectoral effort to tackle the root causes of racism through anti-racist laws, policies and programmes.

The way forward

UNESCO’s actions against racism through education, the sciences, culture, and communication offer an example of a way forward. UNESCO promotes the role of education in providing the space for young people to understand processes that sustain racism, to learn from the past, and to stand up for human rights. Through new approaches to inter-cultural dialogue and learning, youth and communities can be equipped with skills to eradicate harmful stereotypes and foster tolerance. UNESCO also offers master classes to empower students to become champions of anti-racism in their schools and communities. The International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities provides an additional platform for city-level planning and a laboratory for good practices in the fight against racism.

Recent and new manifestations of racism and discrimination call for renewed commitments to mobilise for equality. Racism will not be overcome with mere professions of good faith but must be combatted with anti-racist action. A global culture of tolerance, equality and anti-discrimination is built first and foremost in the minds of women and men.

Eric Falt is the Director and Representative of the UNESCO New Delhi cluster office

Biden shows intent on reworking immigration rules by not extending H-1B visa ban

President Joe Biden allowed a ban on issuance of H-1B visas for skilled workers to lapse at the end of March 2021, a move signalling his intent — articulated as a campaign promise last year — to pull the U.S. back from harsh immigration rules imposed by his predecessor, Donald Trump. Mr. Biden’s action will have a significant and favourable impact for Indian nationals seeking employment with U.S. tech firms, given that they were the largest demographic to benefit from this visa annually; they garnered approximately 70%.of the 65,000 H-1B visas annually made available to private sector applicants other than students. By some estimates, H-1B visa applications of up to 219,000 workers were likely blocked as a result of Mr. Trump’s proclamation last June, halting the processing and issuance of non-immigrant work visas of several types. The stated aim was to prevent foreign workers from cornering jobs in the context of the economic distress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, this raised genuine questions about whether such rules would set back the U.S.-India relationship by impacting Indian IT services exported to the U.S. These totalled approximately $29.7 billion in 2019, 3.0% ($864 million) more than 2018, and 143% greater than 2009 levels. Not only did the CEOs of Silicon Valley tech titans protest the clampdown on a key source of skilled labour driving their core operations, but some universities also filed lawsuits challenging a subsequent student visa ban last year, leading to a partial walk-back on the rules for the latter.

In allowing the ban on H-1B visa issuance to expire, Mr. Biden has walked a fine line between restoring the inflow of skilled workers into the U.S., a source of productivity increases for its labour force, and not being seen as aggressive in unwinding Trump-era immigration policies. On the one hand, Mr. Biden clearly recognises that there are limits to the Trumpian dogma of economic protectionism — especially during a period of economic crises such as the present — where there will be fewer jobs to reserve for Americans if the size of the pie is not increased through economic growth momentum built on a diverse and skilled workforce. Nevertheless, the Biden White House has clearly not forgotten the nearly 74 million votes for Mr. Trump in the 2020 presidential election, a fact that perhaps makes it unwise to explicitly reject the ‘America First’ ideology, even if that motto is no longer alluded to on Pennsylvania Avenue. It would in this regard be reasonable to expect that the Biden administration will continue to push gradual reforms that nudge the U.S. economy and global strategic position back toward an ethos of multilateral cooperation and bilateral progress with countries such as India, while however retaining a sharp emphasis on policies that further U.S. national interest in a dramatically transformed post-COVID world.

Fund support from govt. is vital for continual treatment of those with rare diseases

It is binding on a welfare state to take care of every single citizen. Securing the wellbeing of every one, particularly those unable to help themselves, irrespective of whether they constitute a critical mass or not, is important. The recent notification of the National Policy for Rare Diseases 2021 after various interventions, including the court, is pegged on this principle of inclusion. A good start, it offers financial support for one-time treatment of up to Rs. 20 lakh, introduces a crowdfunding mechanism, creates a registry of rare diseases, and provides for early detection. In its final form, however, the policy has left the rare diseases lobby sorely disappointed on a crucial note. Rare diseases are broadly defined as diseases that infrequently occur in a population, and three markers are used — the total number of people with the disease, its prevalence, and the availability/non-availability of treatment options. WHO defines rare disease as having a frequency of less than 6.5-10 per 10,000 people. As per an estimate, there are 7,000 known rare diseases with an estimated 300 million patients in the world; 70 million are in India. According to the Organization for Rare Diseases India, these include inherited cancers, autoimmune disorders, congenital malformations, Hirschsprung’s disease, Gaucher disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophies and Lysosomal Storage Disorders (LSDs).

Much of the effort in the sector, from the medical side, has been to evolve formal definitions, in the hope that it would support the development of and commercialisation of drugs for treatment, and improve funding for research on rare diseases. Patient support groups have worked towards drumming up funding assistance for the treatment — one time or continual. The notification of the Policy comes as a logical conclusion to a long-fought battle, and yet, stops short of delivering the complete mandate. As per the Policy, diseases such as LSD for which definitive treatment is available, but costs are prohibitive, have been categorised as Group 3. However, no funding has been allocated for the immediate and lifelong treatment needs, for therapies already approved by the Drugs Controller General of India. Experts point out that the costs to help already-diagnosed patients might be in the range of Rs. 80-Rs. 100 crore annually. If the Centre can extend the cost-sharing agreements that it has worked out with Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, with other States too, its share of the annual costs will be halved. The Centre can, however, still set aside a substantial corpus to fund life-saving treatments, even as it rolls out the policy. Doing so will not only complete a job well begun — even if not yet half done — but also cement its commitment towards the welfare of every single citizen in India.

The general Council of the Burmese Association have passed resolutions regretting Burma Government’s repressive policy and suggesting postponement of rural self-government until the constitutional reforms become a fact. The meeting also urged the British Parliament, Secretary of State for India and Governments of India and Burma to stop all repressive measures in Burma and that if sedition and unrest follow repression the Government would be responsible for all consequences of such measures. The newspaper “New Burma” suggests that the people should prepare themselves economically and otherwise for non-cooperation when the time comes for that policy to be put into practice.

Over 200 people of East Pakistan demonstrated in front of the United Nations yesterday, demanding U.N. intervention to stop genocide in Bangla Desh [United Nations, April 4]. The demonstrators also sought a meeting with the U.N. Secretary-General, U Thant.

Their spokesman, Dr. Alamgir said the group had had several telephonic conversations with U Thant’s aides, including Mr. Robert Muller, Director of the Secretary-General’s office, and that Mr. Muller had informed them that “U Thant cannot see us.”

Speaking to newsmen yesterday Dr.Alamgir characterised U Thant’s remarks through his spokesman on Thursday as “meaningless.”

(U Thant had said on Thursday: “If the Government of Pakistan were to request the Secretary-General to assist in humanitarian efforts he would be happy to do everything in his power in this regard.”).

Dr. Alamgir asked newsmen, “Have you seen anywhere in the world a butcher seeking help of others to come and help those he is butchering? What a travesty of the U.N.’s role.”

The demonstrators asked for U.N. recognition for Bangla Desh, for a Security Council meeting and conferring on Bangla Desh membership of the United Nations. They also demanded that U Thant report to the Security Council under Article 99 of the U.N. Charter and arrange to despatch a U.N. team to Bangla Desh.