Editorials - 12-08-2021

இந்தியா தனது சுதந்திர தின பவள விழா ஆண்டை நெருங்கும் வேளையில் மிகப் பெரிய வரலாற்றுச் சாதனையொன்றை நிகழ்த்தியிருக்கிறது. இந்திய கடற்படைக்காக இந்தியாவிலேயே உருவாக்கப்பட்ட போா்க்கப்பல் தனது முதல் சுற்று சோதனை ஓட்டத்தை வெற்றிகரமாக நடத்தியிருக்கிறது.

அமெரிக்கா, பிரிட்டன், ஸ்பெயின், ரஷியா, பிரான்ஸ், சீனா ஆகிய ஆறு நாடுகளுக்கு மட்டும்தான் தாங்களே வடிவமைத்து விமான தளங்களுடன் கூடிய போா்க்கப்பல்களை வடிவமைத்து கட்டமைக்கும் வல்லமை இருந்து வந்தது. இப்போது 76% உதிரி பாகங்களை இந்தியாவிலேயே தயாரித்து, ஒரு போா்க்கப்பலை உருவாக்கி வெற்றிகரமாக அதன் சோதனை ஓட்டத்திலும் இறங்கியிருப்பதன் மூலம் இந்தியாவின் சா்வதேச வல்லமை உறுதிப்பட்டிருக்கிறது.

இந்திய கடற்படைக்கு இது ஒரு வரலாற்றுத் தருணம். இதற்கு முன்னாலும் இந்திய கடற்படையிடம் விமானம் தாங்கி போா்க்கப்பல்கள் இருந்தன என்றாலும், அவை எதுவும் இந்தியாவில் கட்டுமானம் செய்யப்பட்டவை அல்ல. 1961-இல் இந்திய கடற்படையில் இணைந்த ஐஎன்எஸ் விக்ராந்த்தும், 1982-இல் இணைந்த ஐஎன்எஸ் விராத்தும் பிரிட்டிஷ் கடற்படைக் கப்பல்கள். அதற்குப் பிறகு இந்திய கடற்படை வாங்கிய ஐஎன்எஸ் விக்ரமாதித்யா, ரஷியாவால் உருவாக்கப்பட்டது. ஆனால், இப்போதைய ஐஎன்எஸ் விக்ராந்த் அப்படியல்ல. 76% இந்தியாவில் கட்டுமானம் செய்யப்பட்ட, நாமே தயாரித்திருக்கும் போா்க்கப்பல்.

இந்தக் கப்பலை வடிவமைத்ததிலும், கட்டுமானம் செய்ததிலும் இந்திய கடற்படையின் கடற்படை வடிவமைப்பு இயக்ககமும், அரசு நிறுவனமான கொச்சி கப்பல் கட்டுமானத் தளமும் பாராட்டப்பட வேண்டியவை. காலதாமதம், அதிகரித்துவிட்ட முதலீடு என்று எத்தனையோ தடைகளையும், பிரச்னைகளையும் தாண்டி வியக்க வைக்கும் பிரம்மாண்டமான போா்க்கப்பல் உருவாகியிருக்கிறது.

கொச்சின் கப்பல் கட்டுமானத் தளம் பல வா்த்தகக் கப்பல்களைத் தயாரித்திருப்பதற்கும் இப்போதைய ஐஎன்எஸ் விக்ராந்த் உருவாக்கப்பட்டிருப்பதற்கும் நிறைய வேறுபாடுகள் உண்டு. கடற்படையிலிருந்து ஓய்வு பெற்றிருக்கும் ஐஎன்எஸ் விராத்தின் பராமரிப்புப் பணிகளை தொடா்ந்து மேற்பாா்வையிட்டுக் கொண்டிருந்த அனுபவம் கொச்சி கப்பல் கட்டுமானத் தளத்துக்கு இதை உருவாக்குவதில் கைகொடுத்திருக்கிறது என்று கூறலாம்.

1980 முதலே நமக்கென்று நாமே போா்க்கப்பல் தயாரிக்க வேண்டும் என்கிற கனவு இந்திய கடற்படைக்கு இருந்து வந்தது. ஆனால், 2002-இல் வாஜ்பாய் ஆட்சியில்தான் அமைச்சரவையின் பாதுகாப்புக் குழு, இந்தியாவுக்கென்று இந்தியாவில் தயாரிக்கப்படும் போா்க்கப்பலுக்கு அனுமதி வழங்கியது. 2009-இல் மன்மோகன் சிங் அரசால் அதற்கான நிதி ஒதுக்கீடு செய்யப்பட்டு, 2014-இல் காலதாமதத்துக்கு ஏற்றவாறு அந்த ஒதுக்கீடு அதிகரிக்கப்பட்டு, இப்போது ரூ.20,000 கோடி செலவில் ஐஎன்எஸ் விக்ராந்த் தனது வெற்றிகரமான சோதனை ஓட்டத்தை கடந்த புதன்கிழமை தொடங்கியது.

இந்தியாவில் தயாரிக்கப்பட்ட முதலாவது விமானம் தாங்கி இந்த போா்க்கப்பல் பல அம்சங்களில் மேம்பாடு உடையது. இதன் தயாரிப்பின் காரணமாக அரசு நிறுவனமான ஸ்டீல் அதாரிட்டி ஆஃப் இந்தியா, தரமான இரும்பை உருவாக்கும் திறன் பெற்றிருக்கிறது. இதன் உதிரி பாகங்கள் தயாரிப்பதற்குத் தேவையான தொழில் நுட்பத்தை டிஃபன்ஸ் மெட்டலா்ஜிக்கல் ஆய்வுக் கூடமும் பெற்றிருக்கிறது. கொச்சி கப்பல் கட்டுமானத் தளம், போா்க்கப்பல்களை உருவாக்கும் தொழில் நுட்ப மேம்பாட்டை அடைந்திருக்கிறது.

40,000 டன் எடையுள்ள விமானம் தாங்கி போா்க்கப்பலான ஐஎன்எஸ் விக்ராந்த், 222 மீட்டா் நீளமும், 62 மீட்டா் அகலமும், 59 மீட்டா் உயரமும் கொண்ட பிரம்மாண்டம். இதில் காணப்படும் எட்டு டீசல் அல்டா்னேட்டா்களின் மூலம் உருவாக்கப்படும் 24 மெகாவாட் மின்சாரத்தால் ஒரு நகரத்திற்கே ஒளியூட்ட முடியும். இந்தக் கப்பலில் பயன்படுத்தப்பட்ட கேளிள்களின் நீளம் 2,000 கி.மீ. இதற்குத் தேவைபட்ட சிறிய, பெரிய குழாய்களின் மொத்த நீளம் 120 கி.மீ.

ஐஎன்எஸ் விக்ராந்த் 12 அடுக்குகள் கொண்டது. அதில் ஐந்து அடுக்குகள் கப்பலுக்கு மேலே உயா்ந்து நிற்கின்றன. ஏறத்தாழ 1,700 பேருக்கான வசதிகள், கடற்படை வீரா்களாக மகளிரும் பங்கு பெறுவதால் அவா்களுக்கான வசதிகளும் இதில் இணைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன. மொத்தத்தில் 2,300 அறைகள் உள்ளன.

30 விமானங்கள், தாக்குதலுக்குப் பயன்படுத்தப்படும் பைட்டா் ஜெட்டுகள், ஹெலிகாப்டா்கள் ஆகியவற்றை இந்த போா்க்கப்பல் உள்ளடக்கியுள்ளது. அதில் விக்ரமாதித்யா போலவே, எம்ஐஜி 29 கே விமானங்கள் இடம்பெறும் என்று தெரிகிறது. கமோவ் 31 ஹெலிகாப்டா்கள், புதிதாக வாங்க இருக்கும் அமெரிக்காவின் சிகாக் ஹெலிகாப்டா்கள் ஆகியவையும் இடம்பெறும்.

18 கடல் மைல் வேகத்தில் 7,500 கடல் மைல்கள் பயணிக்கும் திறன் கொண்ட ஐஎன்எஸ் விக்ராந்த். இந்திய கடற்படைக்கு மட்டுமல்ல, இந்தியாவின் பாதுகாப்பு தொழில்துறைக்கும் மிகப் பெரிய வரப்பிரசாதம். கப்பலிலுள்ளஉதிரி பாகங்களை வழங்கியிருப்பதில் நூற்றுக்கும் அதிகமான சிறு, குறு, நடுத்தர தொழிற்சாலைகள் உள்பட 550 நிறுவனங்கள் பங்கு பெற்றிருக்கின்றன.

2012 வரை ஒரு விமானம் தாங்கி போா்க்கப்பல்கூட இல்லாமல் இருந்த சீனா, இப்போது இரண்டாவது கப்பலை தயாரித்துவிட்டது. சீனாவிடம் ஐந்து விமானம் தாங்கிய போா்க்கப்பல்கள் இருக்கின்றன. அதனால், காலதாமத்தைத் தவிா்த்து அடுத்த விமானம் தாங்கிய போா்க்கப்பலுக்கு நாம் தயாராக வேண்டும்.

தொழிலாளர் நல விவகாரங்களுக்கான நாடாளுமன்ற நிலைக்குழுவின் சமீபத்திய அறிக்கை, மத்திய அரசு உடனடியாக மேற்கொள்ள வேண்டியிருக்கும் சமூகப் பாதுகாப்புத் திட்டங்களின் அவசியத்தை உணர்த்துவதாக அமைந்துள்ளது. ‘பெருந்தொற்றானது தொழிலாளர் சந்தையை நிலைகுலைய வைத்திருக்கிறது, வேலைவாய்ப்புகளை இல்லாமலாக்கியிருக்கிறது, பல்லாயிரக்கணக்கான தொழிலாளர்கள் மற்றும் அவர்களுடைய குடும்பங்களின் இருப்பை அச்சுறுத்தலுக்கு ஆளாக்கியிருக்கிறது’ என்று பர்த்ருஹரி மாதப் தலைமையிலான தொழிலாளர் நிலைக்குழுவின் அறிக்கை சுட்டிக்காட்டுகிறது. கரோனா போன்ற நெருக்கடிக் காலங்களில் அமைப்புசாரா தொழிலாளர்கள் பயன்பெறும் வகையில், அவர்களது வங்கிக் கணக்கில் நிவாரணத் தொகைகள் அளிக்கப்படுமாறு தொழிலாளர்கள் சமூகப் பாதுகாப்புத் திட்டங்களை மேம்படுத்த வேண்டும் என்றும் அரசை அது கேட்டுக்கொண்டுள்ளது. ஏற்கெனவே நடைமுறையில் உள்ள ஊரக வேலைவாய்ப்புத் திட்டத்துக்கான நிதி ஒதுக்கீட்டை அதிகப்படுத்த வேண்டும் என்றும் நகர்ப்புற வேலைவாய்ப்பு உறுதித் திட்டத்தைத் தொடங்க வேண்டும் என்றும் முக்கியமான பரிந்துரைகளை வழங்கியுள்ளது.

வேலையிழப்புகளின் அளவு குறித்த வெவ்வேறு அமைப்புகளின் கணக்கீடுகளைக் கருத்தில் கொண்டு, அதன் உண்மையான அளவைக் கண்டறியுமாறும் தொழிலாளர் நலத் துறையை இந்த அறிக்கை கேட்டுக்கொண்டுள்ளது. காலமுறையிலான உழைப்புச் சக்தி கணக்கெடுப்பை (பிஎல்எஃப்எஸ்) மேற்கோள் காட்டியுள்ள தொழிலாளர் நலன்களுக்கான நிலைக்குழு, இந்தியாவிலுள்ள சுமார் 46.5 கோடித் தொழிலாளர்களில் 41.9 கோடிப் பேர் அமைப்புசாரா தொழிலாளர்கள் என்று கூறியிருக்கிறது. நாட்டின் மொத்த உழைப்புச் சக்தியில் 90% அமைப்புசாரா துறைகளாகத்தான் இருக்கின்றன. ஜனவரி - மார்ச் 2020 மாதங்களில் நடத்தப்பட்ட கணக்கெடுப்பின்படி, கடந்த 15 ஆண்டுகளாக 20.8% ஆக இருந்துவந்த நகர்ப்புற வேலைவாய்ப்பின்மையின் அளவு மேலும் 9.1% அதிகரித்துள்ளது. அடுத்தடுத்த பொதுமுடக்கங்களால் இந்த அளவு இன்னும் மோசமாக அதிகரித்திருக்கும். ஆனால், அது குறித்த கணக்கெடுப்புகள் அவ்வமைப்பால் இதுவரை மேற்கொள்ளப்படவில்லை. இந்நிலையில், ஆகஸ்ட் 15-ம் தேதிக்குள் அமைப்புசாரா தொழிலாளர்கள் பற்றிய கணக்கெடுப்பை முடிக்குமாறு இந்த அறிக்கை வலியுறுத்தியுள்ளது. தொழிலாளர் வருங்கால வைப்புநிதி நிறுவனத்தின் (இபிஎஃப்ஓ) தரவுகளை ஒப்பிட்டு அமைப்புசார்ந்த வேலையிழப்பின் அளவையும் உறுதிப்படுத்துமாறும் புதிய தொழிலாளர் சேர்க்கை பற்றிய விவரங்களைச் சேகரிக்கும்போது நிதியாண்டை மட்டும் கணக்கில் கொள்ளாமல், மாதவாரியாகத் தகவல்களைத் திரட்டுமாறும் ஆலோசனை கூறியுள்ளது. தவிர, வருங்கால வைப்புநிதி நிறுவனம் இத்தகைய ஒரு நெருக்கடிச் சூழலில் மிகவும் தீவிரமாகச் செயல்பட வேண்டியதன் முக்கியத்துவத்தையும் சுட்டிக்காட்டியுள்ளது.

இரண்டாவது பொதுமுடக்கத்தால் ஏற்பட்ட வேலையிழப்புகள் குறித்து முழுமையான கணக்கெடுப்பு விவரங்கள் எதுவும் இதுவரையில் நம்மிடம் இல்லை என்பது குறிப்பிடத்தக்கது. தொழிலாளர் நல விவகாரங்களுக்கான நிலைக்குழுவின் இந்த அறிக்கையை, நடைபெற்றுவரும் மழைக்காலக் கூட்டத்தொடரில் விவாதத்துக்காக முன்வைக்கப்பட்டபோதிலும்கூட பெகாஸஸ் ஒட்டுக்கேட்பு விவகாரம் தொடர்பான எதிர்க்கட்சிகளின் அமளியில் அது உரிய கவனம் பெறாமல்போனது துரதிர்ஷ்டவசமானது.

“நம் வீடு தீப்பற்றி எரியும்போது என்ன செய்வோம்? அதையே இப்போதும் செய்ய வேண்டும். ஏனென்றால், நம் தாய்மண்ணான பூவுலகு பற்றி எரிந்துகொண்டிருக்கிறது’’ - உலகப் பொருளாதார மன்றத்தில் பருவநிலை மாற்றச் செயல்பாட்டாளர் கிரெட்டா துன்பர்க் மூன்றாண்டுகளுக்கு முன் இப்படிப் பேசியபோது யாரும் பெரிதாக அலட்டிக்கொள்ளவில்லை.

இப்போது பருவநிலை மாற்றத்துக்கான பன்னாட்டு அரசுக் குழுவின் (ஐ.பி.சி.சி.) ஆறாவது மதிப்பீட்டு அறிக்கை - ‘பருவநிலை மாற்றம் 2021: இயற்பியல் அறிவியல் ஆதாரங்கள்’, அந்த எச்சரிக்கையை மீண்டும் உறுதிப்படுத்தியுள்ளது. உலகின் தலைக்கு மேல் நிஜமாகவே கத்தி தொங்கிக்கொண்டிருக்கிறது என்கிற இந்தச் செய்தி, அநேகமாக முதல் முறையாக இந்திய நாளிதழ்களின் முதல் பக்கத்தில் இடம்பிடித்தது.

அதிவேக வளர்ச்சி ஒன்றையே இலக்காகக் கொண்டு ராக்கெட் வேகத்தில் பயணித்துக்கொண்டிருந்த உலக நாடுகள், கரோனா பெருந்தொற்று பரவத் தொடங்கிய பிறகுதான், தாங்கள் வாழ்ந்துவரும் புவியையும் இயற்கையையும் சற்றே அச்சத்துடன் பார்க்கத் தொடங்கின. 2020-ல் கரோனா வைரஸ் தீவிரமாகப் பரவத் தொடங்குவதற்கு முன், ஆஸ்திரேலியக் காடுகள் ஒருசில மாதங்களுக்கு அணைக்க முடியாத அளவுக்குப் பற்றி எரிந்துகொண்டிருந்தன. 2021 ஜூலையில் மட்டும் மஹாராஷ்டிர மாநிலம், சீனா, ஆப்பிரிக்கக் கண்டத்தில் சூடான், ஐரோப்பாவில் பிரிட்டன், ஜெர்மனி, நெதர்லாந்து, பெல்ஜியம் என உலகின் பல பகுதிகள் எதிர்பாராத வெள்ளத்தில் மூழ்கித் தத்தளித்தன. பாலைவன மாநிலமான ராஜஸ்தானிலும், உத்தர பிரதேசத்திலும் தற்போது வெள்ளம் பாய்ந்துகொண்டிருக்கிறது.

எந்த இயற்கைப் பேரழிவால் இந்தியாவில் அதிகமானோர் இறக்கிறார்கள் தெரியுமா? மின்னல் தாக்கி. ராஜஸ்தான், உத்தர பிரதேசம், மத்திய பிரதேசம் ஆகிய மூன்று மாநிலங்களில் ஜூலை 11-ல் மட்டும் மின்னல் தாக்கி 74 பேர் பலியானார்கள். 2004 முதல் ஆண்டுக்குச் சராசரியாக 2,000 பேர் மின்னல் தாக்கிப் பலியாகிவருகிறார்கள். இந்த இறப்பு எண்ணிக்கை முந்தைய 35 ஆண்டுகளைவிட இரு மடங்காக அதிகரித்துள்ளது. அதற்கு இணையாக வெப்ப அலையால் இறப்பவர்களின் எண்ணிக்கையும் அதிகரித்துவருகிறது. புயல், வெள்ளம் போன்றவற்றின் வீரியத்தை வானிலை கணிப்பு மூலம் ஓரளவுக்காவது முன்கூட்டியே தீர்மானிக்க முடியும். அதே நேரம் வெப்ப அலை, மின்னல் தாக்கி இறப்பது போன்றவை ஏற்படுத்தும் பாதிப்பு பற்றி முன்கூட்டியே முழுமையாக அறிய முடிவதில்லை.

மேலே கூறப்பட்ட இயற்கைப் பேரழிவுகள் எல்லாமே பருவநிலை மாற்றத்தால் உந்தப்பட்டவை; திடீரென நிகழ்பவை அல்ல என்பதையே தற்போதைய ஐ.பி.சி.சி. அறிக்கை சுட்டிக்காட்டுகிறது. பெருமழை, வறட்சி, வெப்பமண்டலப் புயல்களின் தீவிரம் அதிகரித்தல், வெப்ப அலைகள், துருவப் பனி உருகுதல் போன்ற அனைத்தும் தீவிரமடையும் என்று எச்சரிக்கும் 3,500 பக்கங்களைக் கொண்ட இந்த அறிக்கையை 234 ஆராய்ச்சியாளர்கள், 195 நாடுகளின் பிரதிநிதிகள் இறுதிப்படுத்தி அங்கீகரித்துள்ளனர். அறிவியல் விடுத்துள்ள இந்த எச்சரிக்கைகளை இனிமேலும் புறந்தள்ளுவது பேராபத்து.

கரியமில வாயு எனும் எமன்

ஒன்றரை ஆண்டுப் போராட்டத்துக்குப் பிறகு கரோனா வைரஸை உலக நாடுகள் தடுப்பூசி மூலமாக ஓரளவு கட்டுப்படுத்திவருகின்றன. பருவநிலை மாற்றத்தைக் கட்டுப்பாட்டில் வைப்பது என்பது ஓர் இடையறாத போராட்டம். பருவநிலை மாற்றத்தைத் தடுப்பதற்கான தடுப்பூசி புதைபடிவ எரிபொருட்களை உலக நாடுகள் கைவிடுவதுதான். புதைபடிவ எரிபொருட்களை அடிப்படையாகக் கொண்டே உலகில் பெருமளவு மின்சார உற்பத்தியும், வாகனப் பயன்பாடும் உள்ளன. இந்தப் புதைபடிவ எரிபொருள்கள் பெருமளவு கரியமில வாயுவை வெளியிடுகின்றன. உலகம் இயல்பைவிடக் கூடுதலாக வெப்பமடையவும், தொடர்ச்சியாகப் பருவநிலைப் பேரழிவை ஏற்படுத்தவும் இது காரணமாக இருக்கிறது. கடந்த 20 லட்சம் ஆண்டுகளில் இல்லாத அளவுக்குப் புவியில் கரியமில வாயு அதிகரித்திருக்கிறது.

“நிலக்கரி, புதைபடிவ எரிபொருட்கள் புவியின் இருப்புக்கே சாவுமணி அடிப்பதற்கு முன், இந்த எரிபொருட்களுக்கு ஏன் நாம் சாவுமணி அடிக்க வேண்டும் என்பதை இந்த அறிக்கை தெளிவுபடுத்தியுள்ளது” என்கிறார் ஐநா பொதுச் செயலாளர் அன்டோனியோ குட்டர்ஸ். உலகப் பசுங்குடில் வாயு வெளியீட்டில் பாதிக்கு மேற்பட்ட அளவை அமெரிக்கா, சீனா ஆகிய இரண்டு நாடுகள் மட்டுமே வெளியிடுகின்றன. அடுத்ததாக இந்தியா, 27 ஐரோப்பிய நாடுகள் ஆகியவை வருகின்றன.

இவற்றை முழுமையாகக் கட்டுப்படுத்துவதற்குப் புதிய தொழில்நுட்பங்கள் தேவை. கரோனா வைரஸ் தடுப்பூசித் தயாரிப்பில் காட்டப்பட்ட இணக்கத்துடனும் வேகத்துடனும் மாற்று ஆற்றல், எரிபொருள் சார்ந்த புதிய தொழில்நுட்பங்களை வளரும் நாடுகளுக்கு வளர்ந்த நாடுகள் வழங்க வேண்டும். அத்துடன் தங்கள் நாடுகளின் கரியமிலவாயு வெளியீட்டைக் குறைப்பதற்கான இலக்குகளை வளரும் நாடுகள் புயல் வேகத்தில் விரைவுபடுத்த வேண்டும். மாற்றுத் தொழில்நுட்பங்களைப் பெற்ற பிறகு வளரும் நாடுகளும் கரியமில வாயு வெளியீட்டைக் குறைப்பதில் பங்கேற்க வேண்டும்.

என்ன செய்ய இருக்கிறோம்?

தொழிற்புரட்சிக்கு முன்பு இருந்ததைவிட, தற்போதைய உலக சராசரி வெப்பநிலை 1.1 டிகிரி செல்சியஸ் ஏற்கெனவே அதிகரித்துவிட்டது. இதை 1.5 டிகிரி செல்சியஸுக்குள் கட்டுப்படுத்துவதே 2016-ல் ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளப்பட்ட ‘பாரிஸ் ஒப்பந்த’த்தின் அடிப்படையாக இருந்தது. அந்த வெப்பநிலையைக் கடந்துவிட்டால், பருவநிலைப் பேரழிவு எந்த வகையிலும் கட்டுப்படுத்த இயலாததாக ஆகிவிடும் என்பதே அறிவியலாளர்களின் வலியுறுத்தல். ஆனால், இன்னும் இருபதே ஆண்டுகளில் 1.5 டிகிரி செல்சியஸைக் கடந்துவிடுவோம். 2050-க்குள் அனைத்துப் பசுங்குடில் வாயு வெளியேற்றத்தையும் பூஜ்ய அளவுக்குள் கொண்டுவராவிட்டால், நிலைமை கைமீறிச் சென்றுவிடும் என்று வயிற்றில் புளியைக் கரைக்கிறது தற்போதைய ஐ.பி.சி.சி. அறிக்கை. பாரிஸ் ஒப்பந்தம் நிறைவேறி ஐந்து ஆண்டுகள் கடந்துவிட்ட பிறகும் பசுங்குடில் வாயு வெளியீட்டைக் குறைப்பதில் உலக நாடுகள் எந்த அக்கறையும் காட்டவில்லை. 2050-ல் பசுங்குடில் வாயு வெளியீட்டைக் குறைப்போம், 2060-ல் குறைப்போம் என சாக்குப்போக்கு கூறிக்கொண்டும் பொய்யாகவும் உலக நாடுகள் பேசிக்கொண்டிருப்பது நாம் எதிர்கொள்ள இருக்கும் ஆபத்துகளை எந்த வகையிலும் தள்ளிப்போடப் போவதில்லை. மாறாக, விரைவுபடுத்தவே போகின்றன.

முதலில் பருவநிலை மாற்றம் என்று சொல்வதே தவறு, பருவநிலைப் பேரழிவு காலத்தில் நாம் தற்போது வாழ்ந்துகொண்டிருக்கிறோம். அது என்றைக்கோ வரப்போகும் ஆபத்து அல்ல... தற்போது நாம் அனுபவித்துக்கொண்டிருக்கும் மிகப் பெரிய பேரழிவு.

உலக நாடுகளின் அரசுகளும் மக்களும் இனிமேலும் இந்த எச்சரிக்கைகளுக்குக் காதுகொடுக்காமல் இருப்பது எதிர்காலத் தலைமுறைகளை அல்ல, இந்தத் தலைமுறையிலேயே பெரும் உயிரிழப்பையும் பொருள் இழப்பையும் ஏற்படுத்தும் என்பதில் கேள்விக்கு இடமில்லை. “ஒரு நெருக்கடியை நெருக்கடியாக எதிர்கொண்டு செயலாற்றினால், மோசமான எதிர்விளைவுகளைத் தடுக்கலாம்” என்று ஐ.பி.சி.சி.யின் அறிக்கை குறித்துக் கூறுகிறார் 18 வயது கிரெட்டா. வளர்ந்தவர்களும் அரசுகளும் அவருடைய தலைமுறையின் குரலுக்குக் காதுகொடுப்பார்களா என்பதில்தான் இந்தப் புவியின் எதிர்காலம் அடங்கியுள்ளது.

இந்தியாவுக்கு ஆபத்து!

ஐ.பி.சி.சி. அறிக்கை இந்தியாவுக்கு விடுத்துள்ள எச்சரிக்கைகள்:

உலகின் மற்ற பெருங்கடல்களைவிட இந்தியப் பெருங்கடல் பெருமளவு வெப்பமடையும். இதன் காரணமாகவும் ஏற்கெனவே துருவப் பகுதிப் பனிப்பாறைகள் உருகுவதாலும் கடல்மட்டம் ஒன்றரை அடியிலிருந்து 3 அடி வரை அதிகரித்து சென்னை, கொல்கத்தா, மும்பை உள்ளிட்ட கடற்கரை நகரங்களின் பகுதிகள் எதிர்காலத்தில் கடலில் மூழ்கும். 3 கோடிப் பேர் பாதிக்கப்படுவார்கள்.

அடுத்து வரும் ஆண்டுகளில் தென்னிந்தியாவில் கனமழைப் பொழிவு அதிகரிக்கும்.

இந்தியாவில் வெப்ப அலைகள், வெள்ள நிகழ்வுகள் அதிகரிக்கும்.

இமய மலைத்தொடரின் பனிச்சிகரங்கள் உருகி, அவற்றின் பனிப்பரப்பு குறையும். தொடர்ச்சியாகப் பெருமழை, வெள்ளம், நிலச்சரிவு போன்றவை இமய மலைத்தொடர் அடிவார மாநிலங்கள், ஆற்றுச் சமவெளிப் பகுதிகளில் நிகழும்.

- ஆதி வள்ளியப்பன், தொடர்புக்கு: valliappan.k@hindutamil.co.in

சீனாவின் கல்வித் துறையில் புரட்சிகரமான மாற்றம் ஒன்றை அந்நாட்டு அரசு சமீபத்தில் ஏற்படுத்தியுள்ளது. பள்ளிக் கல்வி தொடர்பான பாடத்திட்டங்களைக் கற்பிக்கும் எந்த நிறுவனமும் லாப நோக்குடன் செயல்படக் கூடாது என்பதே அந்த அறிவிப்பு. பள்ளிக் கல்விப் பாடத்திட்டங்களுக்குப் பயிற்சி தரும் எந்த நிறுவனமும் வெளிநாடுகளிலிருந்து முதலீடுகளைப் பெறக் கூடாது என்றும், பங்குச் சந்தை போன்றவற்றின் மூலம் நிதி திரட்டுவதற்கும் தடை விதிக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது. அதேபோன்று 6 வயதுக்குக் குறைந்த மாணவர்களுக்கு இணையத்தின் மூலம் கற்பிக்கும் முறைக்கும் முழுமையாகத் தடைவிதிக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது. வெளிநாட்டுப் பாடத்திட்டங்களை சீனாவுக்குள் கற்பிக்கக் கூடாது என்றும், வெளிநாடுகளிலிருந்து ஆசிரியர்களைப் பணியில் அமர்த்திப் பயிற்சி தரக் கூடாது என்றும் உத்தரவிடப்பட்டுள்ளது.

சீன அரசின் இந்தப் புதிய அறிவிப்பு, உலகம் முழுவதும் உள்ள கல்வியாளர்கள் மத்தியில் விவாதப்பொருளாக மாறியுள்ளது. சீனாவில் பள்ளிக் கல்விக்கான பயிற்சி வர்த்தகம் இந்திய மதிப்பில் ரூ. 7 லட்சம் கோடி அளவுக்கு லாபகரமான தொழிலாக நடந்துவரும் நிலையில், இந்தப் புதிய அறிவிப்பு சீனக் கல்வித் துறையின் நடைமுறையைப் புரட்டிப் போட்டுள்ளது. இதுவரை லாப நோக்குடன் செயல்பட்டுவந்த பயிற்சி மையங்கள், உடனடியாகத் தங்களை சேவை அமைப்பாக மாற்றிக்கொள்ள வேண்டும் என்றும் உத்தரவிடப்பட்டுள்ளது.

வெளிநாடுகளிலிருந்து கல்வித் துறையில் குவியும் நிதியைக் கட்டுப்படுத்துவது இந்தப் புதிய உத்தரவின் நோக்கங்களில் ஒன்றாகும். இதுபோன்று பள்ளிக் கல்விக்கு வெளியில் உள்ள மையங்கள் மூலம் பயிற்சி தருவதால், இளம் மாணவர்கள் பள்ளிக் கல்வி, வெளியில் தரப்படும் பயிற்சி என இரண்டு விதமான நெருக்கடிகளைச் சந்திக்க வேண்டிய நிலைக்குத் தள்ளப்படுகிறார்கள். பெற்றோர்களும் இருபுறமும் பணம் கட்டி அதிக நிதிச் சுமைக்கு ஆளாகிறார்கள் என்பதால், இத்தகைய முடிவு எடுக்கப்பட்டுள்ளதாக சீன அரசு அறிவித்துள்ளது. வசதி மிக்கவர்கள் வெளியில் பயிற்சி எடுத்துக்கொள்வதால், ஏற்றத்தாழ்வு ஏற்பட்டு, வசதி குறைந்த மாணவர்களைப் பாதிக்கிறது. மாணவர்கள் மத்தியில் சமச்சீரற்ற நிலை ஏற்பட்டு, இது சமூகப் பிரச்சினையாக மாறுகிறது. பள்ளிக் கல்வி சேவையாக இருக்க வேண்டும் என்ற அடிப்படை சித்தாந்தத்தைத் தனியார் பயிற்சி மையங்கள் சிதைப்பதால் அதைத் தடுக்கப் புதிய மாற்றங்கள் கொண்டுவரப்படுகின்றன என்று சீன அரசு அறிவித்துள்ளது.

சீன அரசின் இந்த அறிவிப்பை வரவேற்றுள்ள இந்தியக் கல்வியாளர்கள் பலர் அதேபோன்ற ஒரு உத்தரவை இந்தியாவிலும் பிறப்பிக்க வேண்டும் என்று வலியுறுத்தியுள்ளனர்.

இந்தியாவில் கல்வித் துறை சேவை நோக்கத்திலிருந்து லாப நோக்கத்துக்கு மாறி நீண்ட காலமாகிவிட்டது. அரசுப் பள்ளிகள் மட்டுமே லாப நோக்கமின்றிச் செயல்பட்டுவருகின்றன. ஆனால், பள்ளிக் கல்வியைப் பொறுத்தமட்டில், அரசுப் பள்ளிகளின் பங்கு நாளுக்கு நாள் குறைந்துவருகிறது. 1978-ல் 74.1% மாணவர்கள் அரசுப் பள்ளிகளில் பயின்றனர். இன்றைக்கு 52.2% மாணவர்கள் மட்டுமே அரசுப் பள்ளிகளில் பயில்கின்றனர். லாப நோக்குடன் இயங்கும் தனியார் பள்ளிகள் இந்தக் காலகட்டத்தில் 10 மடங்கு வளர்ந்துள்ளன.

2018-ல் சென்னை உயர் நீதிமன்றம் ஓர் உத்தரவைப் பிறப்பித்தது. ‘தனியார் பள்ளிகள் லாப நோக்கத்துடன் இயங்கும் பயிற்சி நிறுவனங்களுடன் சேர்ந்து, போட்டித் தேர்வுகளுக்குப் பயிற்சி பெறும்படி மாணவர்களையும் பெற்றோரையும் கட்டாயப்படுத்தக் கூடாது’ என்பதே அந்த உத்தரவு. ஆனால், நடைமுறையில் பல தனியார் பள்ளிகள் ‘நீட்’ உள்ளிட்ட நுழைவுத் தேர்வுகளுக்குப் பயிற்சி வழங்கும் நிறுவனங்களைப் பள்ளிகளுக்கே வரவழைத்து லாப நோக்கத்துடன் இயங்குகின்றன.

இந்தியாவில் உள்ள 15 லட்சம் பள்ளிகளில் 25 கோடி மாணவர்கள் படிப்பதாகப் புள்ளிவிவரங்கள் தெரிவிக்கின்றன. இதில் 30% மாணவர்கள் தங்கள் பாடங்களைக் கற்க வெளியில் பயிற்சி பெறுகின்றனர் என்றும் தெரியவந்துள்ளது. இந்த எண்ணிக்கை நாளுக்கு நாள் அதிகரித்துவருகிறது. இந்தியாவில் பள்ளிப் பாடங்களுக்குப் பயிற்சி அளிக்கும் மையங்களின் ஆண்டு வர்த்தகம் ரூ.10 லட்சம் கோடி என்றும், இது இன்னும் ஓரிரு ஆண்டுகளில் ரூ. 37 லட்சம் கோடியாக அதிகரிக்கும் என்றும் கணிக்கப்படுகிறது. சேவையாக இருக்க வேண்டிய கல்வி, லாபத்தின் உச்சத்தைத் தொடும் நிலைக்குப் போய்க்கொண்டிருக்கும் நிலையில், சீன அரசின் உத்தரவு இந்தியாவிலும் முக்கியத்துவம் பெறுகிறது.

தனியார் பள்ளிகளில் படித்தால் தங்கள் பிள்ளைகளுக்கு நல்ல ஆங்கில அறிவு கிடைக்கும் என்றும், பொறுப்புணர்வுடன் தனியார் பள்ளி ஆசிரியர்கள் கற்பிப்பார்கள் என்றும் இந்தியாவில் உள்ள பெற்றோர் நினைக்கின்றனர். இந்த மனநிலைதான் தனியார் பள்ளிகளை நோக்கி மாணவர்களை இழுக்கிறது. வசதி படைத்தவர்கள் மட்டுமே தனியார் பள்ளிகளில் பிள்ளைகளைச் சேர்ப்பார்கள் என்ற எண்ணமும் மக்களிடம் உள்ளது. ஆனால், உண்மை நிலவரம் வேறுவிதமாக உள்ளது. வடமாநிலங்களில் உள்ள பெரும்பான்மையான தனியார் பள்ளிகள், குறைந்த வருவாய்ப் பிரிவினரின் பிள்ளைகளுக்கே கல்வி கற்பிக்கின்றன. அங்குள்ள தனியார் பள்ளிகளில் 70% பள்ளிகள் மாதம் ரூ.1,000-க்கும் குறைவாகக் கட்டணம் பெறும் பள்ளிகளாக உள்ளன.

அதேசமயம், போட்டித் தேர்வுகளுக்குப் பயிற்சி அளிக்கும் நிறுவனங்கள், திறமையான ஆசிரியர்களைத் தேர்ந்தெடுத்து அவர்கள் வழியாகப் பயிற்சி அளிப்பதன் மூலமாகவும், மாணவர்களைக் கசக்கிப் பிழிவதன் மூலமாகவும் அதிக தேர்ச்சி விகிதங்களைக் காட்டுகின்றன. அதிக மதிப்பெண் பெறும் மாணவர்களில் 95% பேர் தனியார் பயிற்சி மையங்களில் பயிற்சி பெற்றவர்களாகவே இருக்கின்றனர். இந்த எண்ணிக்கை நாளுக்கு நாள் அதிகரிப்பது மாணவர்களைத் தனியார் பயிற்சிக்குச் செல்ல நிர்ப்பந்திக்கிறது. இந்தப் போட்டி, லாப நோக்கத்தின் உச்சிக்கே தனியார் பயிற்சி மையங்களை இட்டுச்செல்கிறது. வெளிநாட்டு நிறுவனங்களும் பயிற்சி மையங்களில் முதலீடு செய்யத் தொடங்கிவிட்ட நிலையில், கல்வியைச் சேவையாகத் தக்கவைத்துக்கொள்ள இந்தியாவிலும் சீனாவைப் போன்று அதிரடி முடிவுகளை எடுக்க வேண்டிய தேவை அதிகரித்துள்ளது.

- எம்.சண்முகம், தொடர்புக்கு: shanmugam.m@hindutamil.co.in

The Finance Minister of Tamil Nadu, Palanivel Thiaga Rajan, on Monday, unveiled a 112-page ‘White Paper’ (https://bit.ly/2Uen5oY) on the fiscal situation of the State. It is perhaps a first in recent times that a State government in India has published an erudite and honest analysis of its economic and financial situation, which is laudable.

The lowdown

But for citizens of the State, it was not good news. The report essentially said that the State is deep in debt, with falling revenues, rising expenditure and declining investment. The average family in the State pays roughly Rs. 1 lakh in all taxes every year to the State and the Union government and receives Rs. 1.6 lakh worth of subsidies and services (health care, transport, education, water, power, etc.) every year. The gap between revenues and expenditure is funded through loans and the State carries a consolidated debt of Rs. 2.6 lakh per family.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has an onerous responsibility to pull the State out of this dire financial situation that has been made even worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the White Paper surmises, the only solution is for the State government to raise more revenues and be more efficient in expenditure. But that is easier said than done.

Any State government raises revenues through tax and non-tax sources, with typically more than three-quarters coming from direct and indirect taxes. But after the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), elected State governments in India do not have the powers to raise income or sales tax revenues on their own and are beholden to the Union government. These constitute the bulk of tax revenues.

Under State control

Taxes on property, fuel and alcohol are the only remaining domains that are under the direct control of the State government. But the Narendra Modi government has already burdened the average Tamilian with Rs. 32-Rs. 33 of cess on petrol and diesel, which it collects for itself and does not share with the State government. It is thus virtually impossible for any State government to levy any more fuel taxes on people. So, realistically, the only immediate option available for Mr. Stalin to raise additional revenues is through property taxes, which is what the White Paper justifiably alludes to.

Property taxes are progressive and fair since they do not impact the poor as much as the rich. The White Paper argues that there is gross under-collection of property taxes by the urban local bodies due to non-revision of property tax rates, improper assessments and under-valuation. The 2016-17 Economic Survey of India authored by the then Chief Economic Advisor to the Modi government and a current member of Stalin’s economic advisory council, Arvind Subramanian, had a detailed chapter on property taxes that used innovative techniques of satellite imaging of built-up areas of buildings in a city and estimated that in urban cities such as Chennai, there is a potential to collect four to seven times more in property taxes than is being collected today. The White Paper acknowledges such ‘a large untapped potential of property tax collection’ so vociferously, that it repeats this phrase multiple times.

Focus on local bodies

More encouragingly, the White Paper also highlights the importance of the devolution of powers to local bodies. The ‘Kerala model’ of efficient social welfare and disaster handling is much touted by policy economists. Much of it is owed to the robust local body governance infrastructure of Kerala. As the White Paper illustrates, it is no coincidence that Kerala has the highest allocation of expenditure for local body councils among all the States of India. Tamil Nadu ranks second and enabling local governments to garner additional resources through more property taxes will further strengthen local body administration in Tamil Nadu. Beyond improving property tax collections, there is not much else that the Tamil Nadu government can do to raise revenues on its own in a GST regime, save for some disinvestments over the longer run.

COVID-19 has dented economic growth severely in Tamil Nadu and the rest of the country. Such crises typically call for an expansion of government spending to propel an economic recovery through what economists call a ‘Keynesian multiplier’ effect. Surprisingly, growth in Tamil Nadu’s revenue expenditure has been declining over the last five years while capital expenditure has been reasonably steady.

Issue of subsidies, GST spoke

The White paper raises concern over the large amount of subsidies incurred in power, water and transportation. While there may be some room for efficiency gains in subsidy expenditure through better targeting, it may perhaps be a bit risky to cut subsidies or expenditure drastically during a pandemic-induced economic crisis. COVID-19 has not only ravaged most economies across the world but also sharply exacerbated inequalities between the rich and the poor, within countries and across. Poor people have suffered far more than the well-to-do and it is the poor that benefit the most from subsidies.

If any, most economists argue for greater capital expenditure by the government to tide over the current precarious economic situation. Higher public investment in infrastructure has been the time-tested economic cure for such crises. Expenditure management will call for a deft balancing act by Mr. Palanivel Thiaga Rajan to improve expenditure efficiency without sacrificing the positive ‘multiplier’ impact of government expenditure.

The real bugbear in India’s fiscal federalism has been GST. It is now safe to conclude that GST has been a political, economic and administrative disaster, with none of the touted economic benefits coming to fruition and fracturing Union-State relations in the process. The White Paper is absolutely correct in questioning the future of GST and raising genuine concerns over its viability. The only case for GST to continue now seems to be similar to the Churchillian case for democracy — ‘it is the worst except for all other forms’. Ironically, it was Mr. Stalin’s father, M. Karunanidhi, as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 2009 who objected to the introduction of GST and warned of a ‘daring leap of faith about its potential’ in a letter to then Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Since the time of Chief Minister Kamaraj in the 1960s, Tamil Nadu has been the torchbearer of inclusive economic development in the country, with its unique model of generous State welfare, copious private investment and efficient public services. The White Paper clearly articulates how the last few years have been an aberration, causing Tamil Nadu to veer off that track. Chief Minister Stalin and his government have an enormous and an arduous responsibility to steer the State back on track. They are off to a sincere start, and hopefully, Mr. Palanivel Thiaga Rajan will be able to release a ‘Pink Paper’ in 2025 to showcase Tamil Nadu in the ‘pink of economic health’.

Praveen Chakravarty is a political economist and Chairman of Data Analytics of the Congress party

As the curtains came down on the Tokyo Olympics, the world of sports had many reasons to smile. Notwithstanding the challenges posed by COVID-19, the worst pandemic in a century, the planet’s biggest sporting event concluded rather successfully. Credit is due as much to Japan as it is to the global sporting community for its resilience.

India, too, had reasons to cheer. It won seven medals, including one gold in field and track, which is a first for the country. This was the highest medal haul for India. The medal tally of seven, critics would say, dwarfs in comparison to what many countries with much smaller populations and economic resources have won. Nevertheless, coming as it did five years after a lacklustre performance at the Rio Olympics, the show in Tokyo surely brings some hope for India.

A sport where India saw great zeal and success was hockey. An Olympic medal in hockey had eluded India for 41 years. The last time India won a medal was in 1980 (gold in men’s hockey). The wait has been rather painful given that India won as many as eight gold medals in hockey through the first eight decades of its participation in the Olympics.

Breaking the jinx

So, how did India finally break the jinx? The men’s team won a bronze medal and the women’s team put up a spirited show, missing a medal by a whisker. Was it good luck at play? Or was it something else? That’s where Odisha comes into the picture.

Indian hockey’s slide at the Olympics coincided with a switch to a new format, from dirt to AstroTurf. Indian players found playing on AstroTurf challenging because there weren’t many such turfs available for practice at home. Sports authorities didn’t do enough to solve this problem. It was only in 2017 that a serious attempt was made when the Naveen Patnaik government became the principal sponsor of the Indian national hockey teams. The teams were earlier sponsored by Sahara India and the deal ended prematurely. This was the first time a State government was sponsoring a national team. The move gave not only a new lease of life to hockey but a patron too, who could give it what it deserved.

Mr. Patnaik, an avid lover of the sport, had already got his government to undertake a massive renovation of the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, to host the 2018 Men’s Hockey World Cup. In fact, Odisha had been preparing the ground since2013, when it began promoting the Hockey India League and founded a team called the Kalinga Lancers. It has hosted a number of national and international tournaments. Having decided to bankroll the Indian hockey team, Mr. Patnaik’s next task was to ensure that the Hockey World Cup was held on a scale grand enough to capture the nation’s imagination.

It was just a matter of time before Bhubaneswar became a sporting hub. The city today boasts of 10 High Performance Centres for sports ranging from hockey and football to athletics, shooting, weightlifting, badminton, etc. Each High Performance Centre is equipped with world-class coaches and state-of-the-art training facilities and is a public-private partnership involving the Odisha government, a corporate sponsor, and an academy manager. In the case of hockey and athletics, the corporate sponsors – the Tata Group and Reliance Industries, respectively – also double up as managers of the training academies.

Moment of reckoning

The successful hosting of the Men’s Hockey World Cup in 2018 not only brought a moment of reckoning for sports in Odisha but also marked the beginning of a new era for Indian hockey. On August 13, 2019, the Odisha Naval Tata Hockey Academy, the first High Performance Centre of its kind in the State, was launched as an initiative by the Odisha government in partnership with the Tata Group (Tata Steel and Tata Trusts). The Tata Group has always supported the development of sports in the country. The Odisha Naval Tata Hockey Academy has a technical tie-up with legendary Dutch drag flicker Floris Jan Bovelander. It caters to the best of talent (both boys and girls) under the age of 18 years from across the State. A small number of trainees is also drafted in from other parts of the country.

The High Performance Centre, which is housed inside the sprawling Kalinga Stadium, offers excellent infrastructure including a gymnasium, a target performance centre and a swimming complex — everything that a modern-day athlete needs. Most importantly, through its Athlete Management System, it provides exposure to the different ways in which technology can be used. Top coaches, strength trainers, video analysts, mental trainers, nutritionists and educationists all work in tandem to ensure that the sporting talent get the best of grooming. The High Performance Centre also runs 12 grassroot centres across four districts — Sundargarh, Sambalpur, Deogarh and Dhenkanal — catering to more than 2,600 trainees. The first Odisha Naval Tata Hockey Grassroot League was held this year. Its aim is to hone and promote talent at the regional development centres before the players walk into the High Performance Centre in Bhubaneswar.

The district of Sundargarh remains the epicentre, having produced the bulk of hockey players from Odisha including great players like former Indian hockey captain Dilip Tirkey and four members of the teams that went to Tokyo: Birendra Lakra, Amit Rohidas, Deep Grace Ekka and Namita Toppo. Plans are afoot to provide AstroTurfs in each of the 17 blocks of Sundargarh. A new state-of-the-art hockey stadium with a capacity to seat 20,000 is getting ready in Rourkela, Sundargarh’s main city, to co-host the Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023 alongside the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. None of these would have been possible without the steadfast support and encouragement of Mr. Patnaik, who in 2017 took a bet that few were willing to take – to be a patron to Indian hockey. Five years on, that bet seems to be paying off handsomely – not just for Odisha, but for the nation as well.

Odisha’s experience is quite instructive for the rest of the country. If other States follow suit, each adopting a particular sport or more in the same manner, India could very soon be scripting a new story on the global sporting stage.

Rajiv Seth is Project Director, Odisha Naval Tata Hockey High Performance Centre

The COVID-19 vaccination is relatively new to the world, but the history of vaccination goes back a few centuries. The Expanded Programme on Immunisation was launched by the World Health Organization in 1974 and since then all countries of the world have gained considerable experience in rolling out several vaccines for children and pregnant women.

The immune response

Broadly speaking, vaccines may be classified as replicating live infectious vaccines, and, non-replicating non-infectious vaccines. Currently used live virus vaccines inoculated by injection include measles, rubella, mumps and chickenpox vaccines. The inoculum dose contains a few thousands of live but attenuated viruses — they replicate in body tissues without producing overt disease. The final effective dose that stimulates the immune system may be billions or trillions of viruses and the stimulus sustained for days to weeks as the injected viruses continue to multiply within the human body. Therefore, immune responses to replicating live virus vaccines — both antibody and T-cell immunity — are robust and long-lasting.

The non-replicating injected vaccines include nearly all others — the most common being diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae b, pneumococcal, human papilloma virus, inactivated poliovirus, inactivated hepatitis A vaccines. For them, the dose confronted by the immune system is what is injected. What is injected is a tiny amount of antigen, measured in micrograms, plus stabilisers and preservatives in some, and adjuvants in a few, all chemicals and salts in minute quantities.

Why go in for a booster dose

In order to get robust and long-lasting immunity with non-replicating vaccines, we need to give multiple doses — the initial one, two or three doses given in quick succession, at intervals of one or two months, are “priming doses” — meant to prime the immune system to the antigens in the vaccine. The immune system responds well, but with relatively low levels of antibody and subdued T-cell immunity. Over time, in a few months to one year, the antibody levels wane in almost all vaccinated individuals. To reach and maintain high and protective levels of antibody, we need one or more injected “booster dose(s)”.

Every non-replicating vaccine requires priming and boosting. Influenza vaccine boosters are recommended annually; tetanus vaccine once in five to 10 years. For others such as human papilloma and hepatitis A and B vaccines, one booster dose may suffice for decades of protection.

All current COVID-19 vaccines fall in the non- replicating category and for robust and long-lasting immunity, they require, quite predictably, priming doses to induce early immunity, and booster dose(s) to sustain, long-term, high antibody titres, overcoming waning immunity.

The current schedules

The current COVID-19 vaccination schedules are only priming doses — the immunity induced by one dose (Johnson & Johnson vaccine), Pfizer vaccine (two doses three weeks apart), all others (two doses at four weeks or more inter-dose interval) are expected to wane, as experience with all previous non-replicating vaccines have taught us. The usual interval between priming and boosting is six months to one year, because protective levels of antibodies will be present for at least that duration, when the priming doses include two or three injections.

Limited experience with antibody titres after natural infection or after vaccination against COVID- 19 informs us that the antibody titres decline such that a proportion does not have even detectable virus neutralising antibody levels after six months. There is further evidence that those who are elderly, men particularly, and those with organ transplants, cancer treatment or co-morbidity, have weaker primary antibody responses than their younger/normal counterparts. This implies that they may remain vulnerable to severe disease and death; they are in urgent need for booster dose(s) to ensure and sustain protective immunity.

The initial expectation that the COVID-19 pandemic would be a short-lived one is proven wrong. It is now 20 months from the first case and numerous variants have emerged, and chains of transmission continue even in countries which have achieved wide vaccination coverage such as Israel and the United Kingdom. It seems inevitable the pandemic will evolve into a permanent ‘pan-endemic’ state and vaccination is here to stay for years to come, until we manage to eradicate the virus altogether using vaccines.

It is apparently this realisation, that immunity wanes and the pandemic is evolving into endemic long-term prevalence, that prompted Pfizer Company to seek approval for a booster dose in the United States, and Israel’s Ministry of Health to start booster doses to all above 60 years of age.

The strategy ahead

In India, we have an ethical dilemma — as long as there is inadequate vaccine supply, everyone deserves priming doses before even the highly vulnerable early vaccine recipients are offered booster doses. The solution is to accelerate vaccine procurement without counting the cost.

For every country planning vaccine roll-out, the science of vaccinology demands that all those getting priming doses should receive at least one booster dose — at a well-chosen interval. The science of immunology teaches us that a booster dose delivered at an interval of at least four, preferably six to 12, months after the last priming dose, will stimulate the production of ‘long-lived’ antibody secreting cells, as well as ‘long lived (virtually life-long) memory cells’. Those who get a third dose one month after the second dose should count it as three-dose priming instead of a true booster which requires four months to one year of wait.

India will do well to plan a vaccination strategy for completing two priming doses in all adults and children, third dose to the special category described above, and one booster dose to everyone one year later. Meticulous planning and the execution of such a vaccination campaign is what will get the country out of the stranglehold of this virus and its variants that have emerged and any that might emerge with higher transmission efficiency than even the Delta.

Dr. T. Jacob John is a retired professor of Clinical Virology, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, and a former President of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. M.S. Seshadri is a retired professor of Medicine and Clinical Endocrinology, Christian Medical College, Vellore, and currently Medical Director, Thirumalai Mission Hospital, Ranipet, Tamil Nadu

During the pandemic, we have again and again faced the difficult choice of saving lives versus protecting livelihoods. According to the World Economic Outlook report of April, 2021 of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), almost all countries, except China, experienced economic contraction last year. The global GDP shrunk by 3.3%. The contraction in the U.S., Brazil, Japan, Canada and Euro Area was in the range of 3.5%-7%. India’s GDP plummeted by 8%. China, on the contrary, posted a growth of 2.3%. The report stated that 95 million people have fallen into the ranks of the extreme poor category. The unemployment rate in the Euro Area, the U.S. and Canada shot up to 7.1%, 8.1% and 9.6%, respectively. Spain, Greece, Turkey, the Philippines, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru among others are grappling with unemployment rates in double digits. As per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s estimates, the unemployment rate in India peaked to 23.5% in April 2020 before falling to 6.9% in February 2021.

Rural-urban livelihood divide

In the wake of economic deceleration, the challenge is to minimise livelihood losses. Traditionally, governments have addressed this issue from a sectoral viewpoint. Given the contemporary realities, the need is to approach this from a rural-urban perspective for two reasons. First, when there is an economic shock, it is essential to provide people with formal access to a livelihood safety net. Second, the livelihood safety net must have comprehensive coverage. Such a net, provided by the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), exists only in rural areas. Urban India does not have any such cushion. Though the Indian government operates the National Urban Livelihoods Mission, which is focused on self- employment through skill up-gradation and credit linkages through banks, the scheme does not have guaranteed wage employment provisions akin to what MGNREGS provides. During the lockdown last year, we saw migrant labour moving in large numbers from the urban to rural areas, which is symptomatic of the rural-urban livelihood security divide. This divide needs to be bridged if the livelihood loss is to be minimised. Policy experts have considered migration in India to be essentially a rural to urban phenomenon. This pandemic has demolished that myth. MGNREGS, designed to check such migration, provides a livelihood safety net in rural India. Last year’s migration tragedy and the economic slowdown have highlighted the need for a similar livelihood safety net in urban India.

Insights from Himachal Pradesh

A few States have experimented with a wage employment-based urban livelihood scheme. Himachal Pradesh (H.P.) launched the Mukhya Mantri Shahri Ajeevika Guarantee Yojana (MMSAGY) last year with the objective of enhancing livelihood security in urban areas by providing 120 days of guaranteed wage employment to every household at minimum wages in FY 2020-21. Any adult member of a household, less than 65 years of age, residing in the jurisdiction of the urban local body (ULB) and willing to engage in unskilled work at projects being executed or in sanitation services being provided by the municipality can register under the scheme. A job card is issued to the beneficiary within seven days of registration and employment is provided within a fortnight. Otherwise, the beneficiary is eligible to be compensated at a rate of Rs. 75 per day. Initially, when the scheme was conceived, there was scepticism due to lack of fiscal space during the pandemic to launch a new scheme. The government then decided to fund the wage component from the grants already available to ULBs under the State and Central Finance Commissions. In a year of its operation, a quarter million man-days, benefiting about 3% of the total urban households in H.P., were generated. If the scope of MMSAGY is broadened to include muster-roll based works, other municipal services, etc., it could enhance livelihood opportunities.

H.P.’s experience has provided some crucial insights. One, an urban livelihood scheme can be launched within the existing fiscal space. If not, the Union and States can provide resources together. Two, separate minimum wages for rural and urban areas do not cause migration to urban areas since the higher cost of living in urban areas has an offsetting effect. Three, the focus must shift from asset creation to service delivery. Restricting it to asset creation or wage-material ratios may be sub-optimal in urban settings. The focus should be on enhancing the quality of municipal services. Four, such a scheme is like an ‘economic vaccine’ and will protect people against unemployment. It should be administered at the national level rather than at the State level.

Rajneesh is a Principal Secretary, Urban Development, Government of Himachal Pradesh. Views are personal

Almost every child got left behind for more than a year in India, as COVID-19 shuttered schools and forced pupils to study online at home, if they could. This long period of learning loss is a major setback in itself, affecting the physical and mental health of many students and depriving them of a year of vital skill development. It is understandable, therefore, that at least 14 States and Union Territories have tempered caution with calculated risk and opted to reopen campuses, mostly for secondary and higher secondary students. These governments are not alone in looking for the golden mean to manage the pandemic. In several countries, leaders are exploring ways to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection among pupils who are not yet eligible for vaccination, while getting them back on campus. At the end of the second wave, in July, Haryana and Nagaland went back to in-person teaching for higher classes, while Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Puducherry and Lakshadweep are doing so this month. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha are to follow. As schools reopen, there are positive indicators available from countries experimenting with back-to-school decisions, and red flags, in the wake of the Delta variant’s wildfire spread.

One study of a million students and staff members who returned to school this year in the United States, where children must be 12 years old to get a vaccine, showed that in spite of the resultant exposure to 7,000 COVID-19-positive children and adults, only 363 other children and adults acquired the infection. This is attributed to a universal mask mandate. In India, with a school student population of over 250 million, resumption of in-person schooling is advocated by some public health professionals based on the understanding that younger children are less at risk, as they do not have well-developed ACE-2 receptors in the lungs that enable the virus to enter. This must, of course, be considered along with the impact of the Delta variant on children who do get infected, sometimes severely, even though their numbers may be small. In Ludhiana, 20 students in two schools tested positive eight days after reopening on August 2, underscoring the need for strict protocols, testing and quarantining. Maharashtra has followed the textbook in setting up committees headed by Collectors and civic officials to decide on reopening, with optional student attendance. Such a decentralised effort is welcome, as it enables closures only in areas with high incidence. It is important to note that after 18 months of the pandemic, there is consensus on ventilation and distancing norms as low-cost interventions with efficacy next only to vaccination. In the Indian context, this should favour outdoor classes under natural or built shade, wherever possible. It is disappointing that teachers and staff have not been universally vaccinated yet, a lacuna that must be urgently filled.

tamp">August 12, 2021 00:00 IST
Update

The Indian Medical Association (IMA), the largest organisation of doctors in India, has demanded that the National Medical Commission (NMC) withdraw the draft Postgraduate Medical Education Regulations 2021. In its current form, it notes that there shall be common counselling for admission in all medical educational institutions to all Post-graduate ‘Broad-Specialty’ courses (Diploma/MD/MS) on the basis of the merit list of the National Exit Test. Currently, admissions to such programmes are based on the post-graduate NEET. Half the seats to the various courses are based on the all-India quota and the rest are admitted by the State governments, which comply with reservation norms. The IMA contends that the draft regulations leave States with no power or discretion to manage admissions to State medical colleges, which rely on State funds. If States did not have the freedom to decide on student intake, they would find it hard to provide quality medical services to the local population. The proposed regulations follow from the provisions of the National Medical Commission Act, 2019, that itself replaced the Medical Council Act of India and was a subject of extreme friction between medical professionals and the Centre. In both instances, the heart of the objection is States’ discomfort with ceding powers to the Centre. The familiar argument of the States is that health care is a State subject. Through the decades, while the Centre plays the critical role of funding and conceiving targeted programmes to ameliorate disease and improve overall health-care standards, the matter of implementation has always been left to the States.

The Centre has an important role in setting standards and amplifying best practices so that minimum — but ever improving — standards of health care are delivered across all States. Much like cadres of the IAS are deputed to States based on centralised examinations, there is, in principle, no reason for such a system not to be effective, but the Centre needs to be extremely responsive to States’ views on the same. The very real problem, laid bare during the pandemic, is the shortage and extremely uneven availability of quality health care. Through the years, attempts are being made to improve this by trying to bridge alternative systems of medicines with modern medicine, but these have always been marred by political and religious overtones, and a convergence seems unlikely in the near future. The import of the proposals should not be made hostage to a Centre-States power struggle. Efforts must be made to build more consensus involving stakeholders, such as the IMA, State medical councils and representatives of health-care groups.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on August 6 that the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award will be renamed as the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award as a tribute to the legendary hockey player. The Indian men’s hockey team clinched the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics and the Indian women’s hockey team finished fourth after a spirited fight. This was apparently the reason for the renaming exercise.

The Prime Minister tweeted, “I have been getting many requests from citizens across India to name the Khel Ratna Award after Major Dhyan Chand. I thank them for their views. Respecting their sentiment, the Khel Ratna Award will hereby be called the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award! Jai Hind!” He chose not to tweet the full name of the Khel Ratna Award, which led to some criticism.

Two awards, one name

Given that there already exists an award known as the Major Dhyan Chand Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sports and Games, the renaming is quite absurd. Now we have two prestigious awards named after the same sportsperson being given on the same day, August 29, which is Dhyan Chand’s birthday and also the National Sports Day. If the objective behind the renaming, as some believe, was to spite the Congress party or the Gandhi family, mere removal of Rajiv Gandhi’s name would have sufficed, and the award could have been known as Khel Ratna. Now that this decision has been taken, the government should consider renaming the Major Dhyan Chand Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sports and Games after the ‘Flying Sikh’, Milkha Singh, who passed away this year due to COVID-19-related complications.

It was Singh’s dream that an Indian athlete get a gold medal at the Olympics and the national anthem be played in the stadium. Singh missed the bronze by one-tenth of a second during the 1960 Olympics in Rome in the 400 metres final. Sadly, he did not survive to see Neeraj Chopra bag the Olympics gold with a mighty hurl of the javelin to the 87.58 metre-mark in Tokyo. In a befitting tribute, Chopra dedicated the medal to Singh.

Until 2011, when cricketer Sachin Tendulkar was conferred the Bharat Ratna, sportspersons were never considered for the highest civilian award. Soon after Tendulkar’s name was announced, many people appealed to the government to award the Bharat Ratna posthumously to Major Dhyan Chand. In fact, Singh, though happy that Tendulkar received the award, believed that the honour should have first gone to Major Dhyan Chand. Major Dhyan Chand was not only revered in our country but was also acknowledged as an international icon.

With our Prime Minister choosing to respect the sentiments of our countrymen, it would be a great tribute to the hockey wizard if he awards the Bharat Ratna to Major Dhyan Chand on Independence Day this year. Thanking the Prime Minister for renaming the Khel Ratna Award after his grandfather, Major Dhyan Chand’s grandson Vishal Singh said that the hockey great deserved the Bharat Ratna. He added that Major Dhyan Chand’s patriotism and love for India could be gauged from the fact that he turned down the job he was offered in the German Army as well as German citizenship, to continue to play for India.

Encouraging sports

With an individual athletics gold added to our kitty of Olympic medals, there is now enormous interest amongst youngsters in various sports. We need to build up the tempo by encouraging them to take to sports seriously. While the Sports Ministry is playing its part, the Education Ministry too has to jump on to the bandwagon by including legendary sports figures such as Major Dhyan Chand, Sachin Tendulkar, Milkha Singh, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, P.T. Usha and Hari Chand in the textbooks. The National Council of Educational Research and Training could play a pivotal role in this direction.

M.P. Nathanael is Inspector General of Police (Retd), CRPF

India has sent an urgent message to the United Nations Secretary General, U Thant, to use his influence on Pakistan and save the life of the Awami League leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, now faced with a military trial. This was stated in the Rajya Sabha to-day [New Delhi, August 11] by the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Swaran Singh, while replying to a question from Mr. Man Singh Verma. The Minister said he had sent the message to Mr. Thant yesterday. Asked whether this issue was discussed with the Soviet Foreign Minister, Mr. Gromyko, Mr. Swaran Singh said Mr. Gromyko was strongly in favour of persuading Pakistan not to go ahead with this “type of sham trial.” He also told the House that the Government was greatly concerned at the threat held out by Pakistani President Yahya Khan about Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, “We have taken up the matter in the important world capitals. We have urged other Governments to use their influence and prevent such a tragedy (the Sheikh’s death from taking place),” the Minister said.

Many Indians and Indian-origin people have agreed with Bansal’s argument that using one word to define all food from a country as diverse and complex as India smacks of racism and ignorance

An Indian-American food blogger, Chaheti Bansal, put out a now-viral video calling on people to cancel the word “curry”, apparently because it’s a term invented by “white people who couldn’t be bothered to learn the actual names of our dishes.” On cue, the internet divided itself into pro-curry and anti-curry camps.

Many Indians and Indian-origin people have agreed with Bansal’s argument that using one word to define all food from a country as diverse and complex as India smacks of racism and ignorance. It was, they point out, invented by the British and the fact that Indians still use it indicates a colonial hangover. Then there are those — especially Britons — who have taken umbrage, saying that the word “curry” describes a beloved British-Indian culinary tradition and that Indian English has anyway appropriated the word to describe a variety of Indian dishes (often gravy-based) for the sake of convenience. Not to mention the term’s origin in the Tamil word, “kari”, used to describe certain kinds of savoury preparations.

None of the above is entirely wrong. Yet the “curry is a bad word because it’s a colonial invention” argument is as stale as last week’s chicken tikka masala. Sure, there are those who use the word as a vague descriptor of anything remotely close to Indian flavours (what exactly do “curry-flavoured fries” taste of?) or, worse, as a racist slur. None of this is acceptable and must be countered whenever possible. But it’s not as if Indians haven’t got even with the rest of the world for insisting that all Indian food is bright orange and causes “Delhi belly”. Because there is no other way of describing such creations as gobi manchurian, pasta in pink sauce, tandoori momo and paneer cannelloni which, unlike most other kinds of revenge, are best served hot.

The apex court has reaffirmed the public servant’s autonomy and asserted that power to withdraw cases cannot be “used for political purposes”.

In August last year, the Karnataka government decided to drop charges in 61 criminal cases, several of which involved elected representatives and ministers, including the state’s law minister. Four months later, the state high court restrained the state government from acting on that order. “Courts are duty bound to assess whether prima facie a case is made or not,” it observed. The HC’s insistence on due process being followed in criminal cases involving members of the political class was salutary. It now has the Supreme Court’s imprimatur. “No prosecution against a sitting or former MP/MLA shall be withdrawn without the leave of the high court,” a three-judge bench headed by CJI N V Ramana ruled on Tuesday. “While determining whether the withdrawal of the prosecution subserves the administration of justice, the court would be justified in scrutinising the nature and gravity of the offence”, it said. This assertion of the primacy of public interest, often jettisoned by governments to favour members of ruling parties or alliances, is very welcome.

Links between money and muscle power with politics continue to bedevil democracy, despite numerous interventions by the country’s highest court. On Tuesday, while their brother judges were ruling on the government’s power to withdraw criminal cases, Justices Rohinton Nariman and B R Gavai lamented that “this Court, time and again, has appealed to the law-makers of the country to… bring out necessary amendments… All these appeals have fallen on deaf ears”. The bench was referring to the failure of the BJP, Congress, JD(U), RJD, LJP, CPM, CPI, RLSP and NCP to abide by the SC’s 2020 directive that asked political parties to publicly disclose the criminal antecedents of candidates put up by them in elections to Parliament and state assemblies. The principle behind that directive, reiterated by the court on Tuesday, is “to enable voters to have all necessary information, so that they can exercise their right to franchise in an effective manner”.

In a verdict last year, the Karnataka HC had said that public prosecutors had the right to disagree when governments invoked Article 21 of the CrPC to withdraw criminal cases. “A public prosecutor cannot act like a postbox or submit to the diktats of the executive,” it said. The apex court has reaffirmed the public servant’s autonomy and asserted that power to withdraw cases cannot be “used for political purposes”. These are important steps, but as Justices Nariman and Gavai pointed out, rooting out the “malignancy of criminalisation of politics” requires “a major surgery”. The ball is in the court of the executive.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 12, 2021 under the title ‘Due process for all’.

Accurate data on the caste composition of the population is needed to maximise the gains of policies such as reservation in education and employment.

Constituents of the NDA have called for a caste census in recent days, and during the passage of the 127th Constitution Amendment Bill, which restores the rights of state governments to make their own OBC lists, in Parliament. The Janata Dal (United), Apna Dal, and RPI (Athawale) have spoken in favour of conducting the exercise. Opposition parties such as the SP, RJD, DMK and TDP have also asked for a caste count. The UPA government held a Socio-Economic Caste Census in 2011, but the data was not released. In July this year, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs told Parliament that “the Government of India has decided as a matter of policy not to enumerate caste-wise population other than SCs and STs in Census”. This position is increasingly untenable. The architecture of India’s affirmative programme is based on caste. Public policy must not be formulated on the basis of hazy projections and blurry extrapolations. Accurate data on the caste composition of the population is needed to maximise the gains of policies such as reservation in education and employment.

A caste census was last held in 1931 and discontinued thereafter. National parties such as the Congress and BJP opposed its reintroduction ostensibly on the ground that enumeration will lead to congealing and perpetuation of caste identities, defeating free India’s aim of annihilation of the caste system. But the stark fact is that caste continues to be an influential determinant in public affairs and access to resources. In the absence of updated data, therefore, political parties and public institutions extrapolate from the 1931 Census and National Sample Survey to make claims, arrive at conclusions and even policies. The Mandalisation of the polity in the 1990s has failed to break political resistance to the caste census — it may even have strengthened it. By all accounts, despite the BJP’s hectic social engineering on the ground, the Sangh Parivar’s apprehension seems to be that a caste census will shine the light on faultlines in Hindu society and undermine its grand project of creating a monolithic vote bank. The predominantly upper caste leaderships of major political parties are against generating caste numbers, probably because enumeration would expose the dominance and privilege certain castes have continued to enjoy in social, cultural, political and economic spheres — despite the rhetoric of equality, and promises of social justice and a level playing field.

Sanghamitra Maurya, the lead speaker for the BJP in the discussion on the OBC bill in Lok Sabha, claimed that the Narendra Modi government is in favour of a caste census — the party is yet to clarify its position on her statement. However, the BJP has been wooing OBC leaders by offering them posts in the party and administration. And the Modi government has been focussed on targeted delivery of public goods and services through initiatives such as JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and mobile). Accurate data on caste will help both party and government — the latter in plugging the gaps and leaks in its schemes, and the former in focusing its political outreach.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 12, 2021 under the title ‘Counting In’.

The fierce Ghagra had been eroding the bund for weeks.

The Ghagra and the Rapti wrought havoc on more villages on August 11 as flood waters breached the tenuous remains of the Turtipar-Srinagar bund at a village in Ballia district. The fierce Ghagra had been eroding the bund for weeks. It cut a 50- metre wide breach in the bund at Chandpur village, said Murli Shyam Manohar, the Uttar Pradesh relief commissioner in Lucknow. He told newsmen that no damage had been done so far because the flood waters gushing through the breech were being held by a retiring bund about 500 metres away from the main bund. According to the relief commissioner, at least 50 villagers are likely to be affected in case the retiring bund also gave away.

Limaye Challenged

Madhu Limaye’s claims of a Lok Dal-Janata-Congress (U) consensus on merger into a united party was challenged by the members of Congress (U) and Janata Party. Though the Lok Dal president Charan Singh refused to comment on the subject, a section of his party was unhappy over what some of the party leaders described as “premature publicity to the merger plan”. Janata Party President Chandrashekar said Limaye had “given a distorted picture and that did not serve the cause of Opposition unity”. Congress (U) general secretary K P Unnikrishnan was more forthright in denial.

IMF Loan Sought

Finance Minister R Venkataraman said in a radio interview that there was no need to be apprehensive about taking a big loan from the IMF. He said the “government will certainly not do anything derogatory to its self-respect and India has a very high reputation internationally as a borrower”. He said the Government was negotiating for 5 billion SDRs (special drawing rights), a loan of Rs 5,000 crores.

Sarabjit Arjan Singh writes: The Indian Railways wants capital and technology without giving up control, while the concessioner wants a far more equal relationship

On July 1, 2020, the Indian Railways launched the formal process of inviting private parties to run trains on the Indian railway system. Bids were finally opened last month. Hopes of a large participation were belied as there were no bids for nine clusters and only two bids for three clusters. Even for these three clusters, the only serious bid was by Indian Railways’ (IR) own company IRCTC, which in effect negated the basic objectives of bringing in private capital.

What are the reasons for this failure? It is an outcome of the lack of alignment of the interests of IR and the concessioners. IR wants the capital and technology without giving up control, while the concessioner wants a far more equal relationship to be moderated by a regulator. IR has imposed constraints that prevent efficient decisions and adopted an organisational design that does not take into account the characteristics and associated risks that will determine outcomes and investment decisions.

What are these risks and constraints? The biggest dampener is the lumpiness of investment before a single passenger can be carried. Train sets have to be purchased without really knowing how much traffic the service will be able to attract in the face of rising competition from airlines. IR does not guarantee the investor that, in case the concession fails, it will acquire the train sets. The other big dampener is the absence of a regulator for resolving disputes. The proposed independent engineer is far from satisfactory. There are other risks that put off investors that we will not go into. But suffice to say that the current model of inviting private players to run trains has failed. To take forward the initiative, a new model based on a new strategy is required.

The central issue is how to align the three interests: India’s need to be capable of designing and manufacturing state-of-the-art rolling stock, IR’s need for private capital participation and private capital’s necessity of earning a profit. They can be aligned provided the lumpiness of investment in train sets can be eliminated by establishing a company that leases rolling stock not only to concessioners but also to IR. This will also enable reducing the concession period from 35 years to a more reasonable 10-15 years, bringing in competition.

The rolling stock company, apart from leasing train sets, can also be the window for bringing in new technology, preferably by purchasing from those who manufacture in India in collaboration with one of IR’s production units and are willing to transfer the technology. This will require IR to guarantee a minimum offtake, say for a period of 10 years, to the manufacturer. For starters, IRFC, which is already into leasing rolling stock, can be that company.

A word about bringing in new technology. It is essential that the opportunity opened up by inviting private players is used to move the rolling stock industry up the industrial value chain and bring about a structural change of the Indian economy. This can only be brought about by a vision that encourages long-term arrangements with rolling stock suppliers. An arrangement that gives access to IR’s rolling stock market is the only way to compel global players to share technology and form joint ventures with Indian companies.

However, technology transfer is not simply a matter of manufacturing in India. It requires understanding the critical elements of the technology and absorbing them into the design- production process. This calls for the investment of large sums of money and the involvement of universities, research institutes and national laboratories. For example, for developing high-speed train technology, the Chinese involved 25 national first-class key universities, 11 first-class research institutes, and 51 national- level laboratories for research, development and production. India will also need to do something similar.

As far as drawing private players is concerned, all that is required is to reduce the risks for the concessioners, reduce the period of the concession to around 15 years, establish a regulator and moderate charges like the amount for the maintenance of tracks and stations. With these changes, the plan may still take off. However, the initiative will remain limited to just running trains if there is no long-term vision.

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The writer is former general manager of Indian Railways

Amartya Lahiri writes: In its absence, relying on redistribution to fight poverty only guarantees a lot of poor people

The Indian economy is heading towards an uncertain but pivotal moment. It is coming off a historically poor run with the economy having shrunk by a post-Independence record 7.3 per cent in 2020-21. This contraction was also an order of magnitude greater than the 3.3 per cent contraction of the world economy in 2020. In other words, India did poorly with respect to both its own past and the rest of the world. The economy is now expected to return to its pre-pandemic level of GDP only in 2022. The pandemic will effectively have cost India two years of lost income growth.

This isn’t the only bad news. The Covid contraction was preceded by almost 13 quarters of continuous decline in real GDP growth. This backdrop of declining growth and the precipitous Covid contraction is likely going to reverse decades of progress in lifting Indians out of poverty.

A little background on poverty in India is useful here. The percentage of Indians living below the poverty line (the Headcount Index) in 1985 was almost the same as in 1952. In effect, India made little progress in poverty reduction between 1952 and 1985. It is only after 1991-92 that India began to make significant progress in fighting poverty. A 2016 study by World Bank affiliated researchers Gaurav Dutt, Rinku Murgai and Martin Ravallion found that during the period 1992-2012, the Headcount Index declined by around 25 percentage points. On a cumulative basis, the post-reform period lifted over 200 million people out of poverty between 1992 and 2012.

The big difference between the pre and post- liberalisation phases was the doubling of India’s GDP growth rate. The welfare dividends of this growth turn-around can also be found in measures of economic inequality. In a series of recent research papers, Viktoria Hnatkovska and I have found evidence of declining gaps in wages and household consumption between SC/STs and non- SC/STs during 1983-2012. There is similar evidence of decreasing gaps between rural and urban workers during this period. In short, the growth pick-up after 1991-92 lifted the economic fortunes of many disparate socio-economic groups.

With this background on poverty alleviation in India, consider the following facts. A recent study by researchers at the Azim Premji University estimates that 230 million people may have fallen below a poverty measure of Rs 375/day in rural India and Rs 430/day in urban India between January and October 2020. In a separate study, the Pew Research Center estimates that the number of Indians living below a more conservative measure of $2/day increased by 75 million in the space of a year since the pandemic struck. In other words, the economic contraction of 2020 has reversed a large part of the poverty reduction that was achieved over the past three decades. And, while absorbing these facts, note that these studies do not consider the ravages of the second wave and its effects on the financial health of households and firms.

The key lesson to take away from this history of poverty alleviation in India is that the most effective way of helping the poor is faster economic growth. Social welfare programmes that work through redistributive schemes can at best be complementary mechanisms that provide social insurance against bad luck in the labour market or in health. But, in the absence of growth, relying on redistribution to fight poverty only guarantees a lot of poor people.

So, what are India’s growth prospects going forward? Unfortunately, both domestic and external conditions look fraught. On the external side, the most favourable aspect is the ongoing return of the advanced economies towards economic normalcy. The economic recovery in the advanced economies will create demand for products from the rest of the world, including India.

The external conditions however also have potentially severe headwinds.

First, there are signs of rising inflation in advanced economies which typically induces a monetary tightening cycle. Second, there is rising concern in advanced economies about the need to normalise the monetary policy stance by raising interest rates from their current near-zero levels. As growth and inflation firm up in these economies, the pressure to raise rates will only grow. These forces will make foreign capital more expensive, which will put downward pressure on an already tepid investment rate as the cost of finance rises. Third, public debt levels in advanced economies have risen sharply during the pandemic as they responded to the crisis with debt-financed fiscal expansions. There will be belt-tightening which will likely temper demand. Fourth, the increase in global oil prices presents yet another external constraint.

Domestic economic conditions were already problematic leading into the pandemic, which was the reason for the swoon in growth rates since 2016. The NPA overhang in the banking sector has not been rationalised. The economic contraction of last year will have only worsened the situation. The uncertainty surrounding the economic environment had already induced an investment slowdown before 2020. None of that has dissipated. Rather, the botched vaccine policy has now created additional uncertainty regarding the state of public health going forward.

Given the acute lack of available fiscal resources, the most promising way forward for the government is to embrace regulatory reforms in labour and land markets which go beyond collecting different codes into one head and calling it a reform. India’s salvation lies in the growth of large-scale low-tech manufacturing. This is the only sector that can employ the 10 million new workers joining the labour market annually at wages that reflect their aspirations. Without reforms that reduce the risks of hiring labour and acquiring land, this sector will not grow. And, public sector divestment has to be embraced on a war-footing.
The fiscal costs of deep reforms are low, but their economic returns are potentially high. Of course, meaningful reforms have potentially high though uncertain political costs. It is time to pay the piper.

This column first appeared in the print edition on August 12, 2021 under the title ‘A time for deep reform’. The writer is Royal Bank Research Professor of Economics, University of British Columbia

Shilpa Phadke writes: In both Hathras and the rape of a nine-year-old in Delhi, the parents of poor Dalit victims were seen to have no rights vis-à-vis their children — not even the right over their dead bodies.

Four men, including a Brahmin priest, have been accused of raping and murdering a nine-year-old Dalit child at a crematorium in the nation’s capital on August 1 and then cremating her over her mother’s protests. Less than a year ago, in September 2020, four upper caste men were arrested for raping a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras in Uttar Pradesh. Two weeks later, she succumbed to injuries and, according to reports, was forcibly cremated by the police while her parents and family were locked in their house. In both these cases, the parents of poor Dalit victims were seen to be of no consequence. These are Dalit parents and it would appear that they have no rights vis-à-vis their children — not even the right over their dead bodies.

Only weeks earlier, in July 2021, four men posing as policemen were accused of raping two minor girls on Benaulim beach in Goa. The Chief Minister’s response was to blame the parents, asking how their children had been allowed out on their own so late. The Goa CM was taken sternly to task on social media and reminded of the responsibility of the government to ensure law and order. He responded by asserting his own status as the parent of a 14-year-old girl, perhaps attempting to suggest that he had responded as a “parent”, a “good” parent.

The Goa CM’s comments in regard to the teens being on the beach all night suggested that the parents of these girls had failed not just to “protect” their wards but also failed at controlling them adequately. The parents here are charged with the responsibility of being the “guardians” of their daughters’ virtue by way of restricting their bodies to spaces where they might be controlled. It is this virtue that is tied to ideas of reputations of families, communities and, indeed, of a homogeneously defined Indian culture. Children, especially girl children, have few rights. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act (2012) raised the age of consent from 16 to 18, giving the state the right to decide that young people between the ages of 16 and 18 do not have rights over their own bodies in sexual contexts.

The state often tends to arrogate to itself the status of the parent, with its citizens often seen as recalcitrant children, but equally when it chooses, as in this case, it arrogates the right back to the citizen-parents of minors, relinquishing its role as state-patriarch. In this case, the state represented here by the Goa CM asserts the right of parents over their children as disciplinarians and guardians of their virtue and morality. These anxieties are particularly located in the bodies of Hindu upper caste women and it is their parents who are recognised as having rights over the bodies of their children.

This is reflected in the anxieties articulated in regard to the bogey of love jihad and the anti-Romeo squads instituted in Uttar Pradesh to ensure that “good” Hindu girls are not “ensnared by the wiles” of Muslim men. They reflect the zealous way in which upper-caste Hindus families are required to control their daughters, over whom they have ownership rights. However, the state is never entirely convinced that parents can indeed control their wayward daughters and, therefore, they continue to exercise their own controls. In an increasingly majoritarian communalised context, the state is uncertain, for instance, whether parents will satisfactorily regulate the romantic choices their children make and feels the need to step in. The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance 2020 must be read in the light of these observations. From the perspective of the communalised state-patriarch, then, women themselves are commodities either of little consequence if they are Dalit or Muslim or of relevance only as objects of patriarchy if they are Hindu and upper caste.

Many women, across caste and religion, refuse to be mute spectators to this travesty. The Pinjra Tod movement against hostel curfews and others like it grew out of such restrictions on women’s mobility, often supported by parents eager to endorse the surveillance of their daughter’s choices and especially their sexuality. Young women subvert and resist the tactics of their parents and the institutions to restrain them in a variety of ways, often becoming deeply politicised in the process. Such young women are a source of fear, and that they are feared by the state-patriarch can be seen from the pattern of arrests of young women, many of them Muslim and Dalit, in the last 10 months, especially in the wake of the anti- CAA protests.

What happens, then, when the state-patriarch gets anxious? It responds by becoming increasingly authoritarian, demanding that the citizen-parent either stay silent in the face of increasing violence from the powers that be or aid the agendas of the state in controlling not just their daughters, but also its unruly populations.

This column first appeared in the print edition on August 12, 2021 under the title ‘When state is the patriarch’. Shilpa Phadke is a sociologist and co-author of Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets

Somit Dasgupta writes: Due to all the problems associated with reform-linked assistance schemes, an alternate approach is providing only transitional financial support to all discoms, which are privatised under the private-public partnership mode.

Recently, the government launched a new scheme to improve the distribution infrastructure of the distribution companies (discoms) with the primary intention of improving their financial health. Under this scheme, the discoms will be offered financial assistance provided they meet certain laid down criteria. The total outlay for the scheme is around Rs 3.03 lakh crore, spread over five years. The objective of the scheme is to bring down commercial losses in the range of 12-15 per cent and also reduce the difference between the average cost of supply (ACS) and average revenue realised (ARR) to zero by 2024-25.

This kind of assistance programme for discoms is nothing new and has been going on since 2001, when the Accelerated Power Development Scheme was initiated. This was followed by various other schemes with some differences between them. But the overall principle remained the same — financial assistance will be offered in the form of grants and loans provided some pre- identified parameters move in a direction that would indicate better performance of discoms. Prior to the launching of this scheme, the government had launched the UDAY scheme in 2015. UDAY, however, did not involve any monetary assistance to the states, but only promised to help the states in reducing the cost of power through coal linkage rationalisation, etc.

The problem with all these schemes (including UDAY) is that they have not delivered and the financial position of the discoms has only worsened. The Power Finance Corporation reports that the aggregate loss of the discoms (after tax) was about Rs 49,600 crore in 2018-19. A recent report of Niti Aayog has assessed the losses to be about Rs 90,000 crore in 2020-21, though this figure is not strictly comparable to the PFC figure. Surprisingly, such schemes are being formulated, one after another, with outlays running into trillions of rupees knowing fully well that they are not effective and have not worked in the past. Reduction of commercial losses is not really about improving infrastructure, it is more of a managerial issue.

Though the average losses (inclusive of technical and commercial) is about 22 per cent today, several discoms have losses in excess of 40 per cent. It is common knowledge that it is possible to bring down losses from 40 per cent to about 15 per cent without any significant investments in infrastructure. Investments, however, would be required to bring down losses further to a single-digit level since all low-hanging fruits would have been consumed by then.

The governance of these reform-linked schemes is a complex issue because the performance of the discoms needs to be monitored quarterly to facilitate the release of funds to deserving discoms. The two most popular parameters which are monitored are the loss levels and the difference between the ACS and ARR. There are inherent problems with these parameters since they keep fluctuating and it is very difficult to fathom their trend on a quarter-wise basis, rendering the release of funds to be tricky and cumbersome.

In the scheme now announced by the government, monitoring will be all the more complex since about 26 parameters will be taken into consideration and assigned a score, though here again, loss levels and the difference between ACS and ARR will have the highest weightage. Moreover, for some of the parameters, it may be difficult to assign a score across discoms which may lead to some amount of subjectivity. Some examples being — providing accurate energy accounts, tariff reforms initiated, consumer rights and grievance redressal handled. Some of the parameters are even questionable, for instance, liquidation of regulatory assets, since these are mandated by the regulatory commissions and therefore, the discoms have no role to play in them.

Due to all the problems associated with reform-linked assistance schemes, an alternate approach that could be considered by the Centre (in lieu of such assistance schemes) is providing only transitional financial support to all discoms, which are privatised under the private-public partnership mode. One would again like to cite the case of Delhi. A transitional support of Rs 3,450 crore spread over five years proved to be exceedingly beneficial since it allowed the privatised utilities some breathing time to bring down their losses. On the flip side, one can also mention the case of the first phase of privatisation of discoms in Odisha (late 1990s), which proved to be a failure and one of the reasons often cited was the lack of any transitional support.

Since in an earlier policy statement the government had mentioned that privatisation of discoms is to be promoted, it would make sense to consider this transitional support as a catalyst. The quantum of support can be worked out on some normative basis and the performance of the discom can be monitored over a five-year period. The onus would be on the privatised utility to use this support judiciously under the supervision of the regulatory commission. Targets of loss reduction can be laid down on a year-wise basis and if these targets are not met, the privatised utilities would have to bear the loss. Incentives could also be thought of in case there was over-achievement vis-à-vis the targets. This is exactly the approach followed in the case of Delhi. Adopting this approach will ensure that the central government moves away from the micro-management of discoms, which inevitably happens if the release of funds is linked to reform- linked parameters on a quarter-wise basis. It would also give an opportunity to try a new approach, different from what was done in the past which clearly has not paid dividends despite the huge quantum of money spent.

This column first appeared in the print edition on August 12, 2021 under the title ‘How not to help discoms’. The writer is senior visiting fellow, ICRIER and former member (Economic & Commercial), CEA

Kevin Rudd writes: China is deeply worried by the re-emergence and strengthening of multilateral opposition to China, and, in particular, the Quad between the US, Japan, Australia and India.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping made a surprise visit to Tibet on July 21 — becoming the first Chinese leader to do so since Jiang Zemin in 1990 — his trip conspicuously began in Nyingchi, a town only a few kilometres from the border with Arunachal Pradesh, before he departed for Lhasa via a new, strategically important rail line. Xi’s visit was, therefore, an unmistakable signal by Beijing of the seriousness with which it continues to take its Himalayan border dispute with India.

More than a year after the clash at Galwan Valley, efforts to resolve the border crisis continue to move slowly, while tensions remain high. A limited new agreement reached at the start of August has yet to be implemented, and as Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar noted in a frosty meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in mid-July (their first meeting since September 2020), the Chinese side has previously failed to complete troop withdrawals and revert to the status quo that the Indian side believed China agreed to.

These events have understandably led many in India to worry that China is determined to press its border claims and even to risk war in pursuit of territorial gain. But while China’s behaviour has been calculated to demonstrate political confidence, a better understanding of China’s strategic intentions requires us to grasp the wider context of Beijing’s foreign and security policy challenges across Asia, as well as Xi’s own domestic political anxieties at home.

In a perfect world, Xi would probably prefer a calm border and a more stable, positive relationship with India, given the many strategic challenges China now faces on all sides.

Seen from Beijing, the strategic environment for China is beginning to worsen in South and Central Asia. As the US withdraws and the Taliban advances in Afghanistan, China fears the prospect of instability and an emerging haven for terrorism directed against its policies in Xinjiang. This instability also threatens to disrupt China’s large regional investments made as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — a reality already highlighted by the growing threat of terrorism in Pakistan, where there have been multiple terrorist attacks on Chinese interests, including the July 14 bombing, which killed nine Chinese nationals working on a hydropower dam that is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Even as China seeks to scale back the debt-laden BRI, such instability may also result in Beijing increasing its already overstretched external commitments — particularly in the security domain.

Meanwhile, Beijing continues to exhibit profound concern about the ever-present spectre of ethnic separatism inside China, and the perceived relationship between separatism and nations to its south and west. It is probably not a coincidence that Xi visited the Potala Palace in Lhasa only two weeks after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent official birthday wishes to the Dalai Lama for the first time since Modi came to power in 2014.

But, above all, Beijing’s overall strategic anxiety is induced by growing pressure from the United States and its allies as competitive rivalry continues to advance under the administration of US President Joe Biden. For China, this represents a persistent threat not only economically and in foreign policy, but also militarily along its maritime periphery in the South and East China Seas, as well as the Taiwan Strait.

In particular, China is deeply worried by the re- emergence and strengthening of multilateral opposition to China, and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or “Quad”) between the US, Japan, Australia and India. This has been evidenced by shifting Chinese responses to the Quad, whose latest incarnation it initially dismissed in 2019 as self-contradictory and likely to dissolve, before then trying unsuccessfully to split it apart through a mix of carrots and sticks in 2020 and 2021.

For students of history, the Quad itself has come a long way since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first proposed that Australia, India, Japan and the US work together on disaster response in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The response in other capitals, though, was tentative at best. In Washington, President George W Bush worried that such cooperation would unhelpfully alienate China. In New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeatedly ruled out any real security cooperation with the Quad while categorising ties with Beijing as his “imperative necessity”. And in Canberra, the government of my conservative predecessor John Howard both worried about undermining economically beneficial ties with China and opposed expanding existing trilateral cooperation with the US and Japan by adding India; and in June 2007, Australia formally withdrew and announced the decision in Beijing soon after. After Abe, the driving force behind the Quad, unexpectedly resigned in September 2007, his successor Yasuo Fukuda formally consigned the Quad to the dustbin of history until its recent reincarnation.

That is why Beijing believed the Quad could easily be split apart again. But China’s “carrots and sticks” approach to breaking up the current reincarnation hasn’t worked so far, not least because of China’s deep alienation of India since the critical events of June 2020. And as US multilateral cooperation with its partners has increased, Beijing has come to increasingly see itself as beset by threats on all sides — a predicament that China’s culture is deeply attuned to, given that being “ambushed on 10 sides” is among the ultimate strategic dilemma recorded in China’s canon of military classics.

So far, however, the response from China’s new class of “wolf warrior” diplomats to this emerging strategic challenge has been to only grow more assertive in rhetoric and behaviour. This may seem perplexing, given that it has served only to alienate other countries and isolate China further. Understanding it, therefore, requires a final piece in the puzzle: China’s domestic politics.

In the fall of 2022, China’s Communist Party will hold its 20th Party Congress, when new ranks of senior leadership will be elevated, and where Xi is likely to be confirmed in power for another term — and potentially for life. Until this occurs, all facts of political life in China will be shaped by Xi’s need to display absolute strength and resolve on all matters — foreign and domestic. And for his subordinates to display absolute loyalty.

In practice, China’s domestic politics in the lead up to the 20th Congress will mean that its leaders, diplomats and generals will be displaying maximum nationalistic fervour. This may well mean China taking political and policy decisions, which in a normal season they would not because doing so could compromise Beijing’s longstanding diplomatic and strategic goals, including in dealings with India. Needless to say, this is potentially dangerous in all of China’s external relationships where land or maritime boundaries are in dispute and where military or naval deployments are active. Overriding Chinese domestic imperatives are unlikely to be accommodating of normal diplomatic nuance.

With US Secretary of State Antony Blinken having just visited India to press for closer bilateral strategic cooperation, including a likely in-person meeting of the Quad leaders on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York in September, we should expect China’s behaviour toward India to harden further in the coming months.

But if President Xi instead decided that it was better domestic politics (against an internal critique of his predisposition for strategic overreach) to improve China’s strategic position in Asia amid its competition with Washington, Beijing’s diplomats may yet adopt a more moderate approach, including with India. If stability can be restored to the China-India strategic relationship, this could provide a window for Asia’s two mega-economies to reopen their markets to each other, helping to stimulate growth as both seek a smoother recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Indeed, the choice between these two alternatives — an increasingly hardline nationalist response, as opposed to extending a temporary olive branch offered to, say, Europe, Japan and India — is likely to be on the discussion table this month as China’s most senior leaders retire for their annual retreat to Beidaihe during August. By September, we are likely to see the first signs of which of these views has prevailed.

This column first appeared in the print edition on August 12, 2021 under the title ‘China’s guiding anxieties’. The writer is President of the Asia Society, which has a centre in Mumbai. He is also a former prime minister of Australia