Editorials - 23-02-2021

Unlike its ties with Russia, bellicosity seems the signature element of Beijing’s approach to India

“Our two countries have a basic misreading of each other’s priorities,” a Chinese scholar, generally known for his hard line on India, told me in Beijing in 2014. The usual broadside about India “belittling” China’s sovereignty in Tibet followed. How could India support the McMahon Line when Tibet had “never possessed the right” to conclude sovereign agreements with the outside world, he asked. China, he continued, had practised “restraint” (hinting ominously that it could well do otherwise) in the Eastern Sector (the sector covered by the McMahon Line) of the boundary with India. And, as if foreshadowing the events in Galwan in the summer of 2020, he said that in the Western Sector of the boundary China was “practising a forward policy because there are so many grey areas”. On the other hand, if India launched “a new edition of the forward policy” in this sector, problems would “re-occur”.

An unravelling

The conversation was a grim reminder of the underlying problems in the India-China relationship even as their leaders practised bucolic, informal summitry. To the outside world, the two countries held up their relations as an example of how despite an unresolved boundary question, they had not allowed these differences to prevent the development of relations in other areas, including trade and economic ties as well as people-to-people interaction in various spheres. Peace and tranquillity in the border areas had also been maintained for over four decades. But the unravelling had begun. Two nationalisms were contending and the untrammelled rise of China was generating new global power equations and alignments. The gulf between India and China was growing. Come 2020, Galwan signalled the collapse of the edifice of bilateral relations built on these weak foundations over three decades. Measures to strengthen peace and tranquillity and confidence-building in the border areas had obviously been rendered obsolete and inadequate as armed confrontation replaced a flimsy structure of so-called peaceful coexistence.

Peace agreements over time

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Since 1993, India and China had arrived at a number of agreements to maintain peace and tranquillity and promote confidence building measures (CBMs) in the border areas. These were (https://bit.ly/3ul32lU), starting with 1993: the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas; the Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas (1996); Protocol between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Modalities for the Implementation of Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas (2005); Agreement between The Government of the Republic of lndia and The Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Establishment of a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on lndia-China Border Affairs (2012); Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Border Defence Cooperation (2013).

Some of the key features of these agreements were: the boundary question would be resolved peacefully; neither side would use or threaten to use force against the other “by any means”; that the two sides would respect and observe the Line of Actual Control (LAC); that they would jointly check and determine the segments of the LAC where they had different views as to its alignment and further, speed up clarification and confirmation of the LAC since a common understanding of the Line was necessary; that military forces (including field army, border defence forces, paramilitary forces) and major categories of armaments in mutually agreed geographical zones along the LAC would be kept to a minimum level compatible with friendly and good neighbourly relations and the “requirements of mutual and equal security”; military exercises would be undertaken only at specified levels with prior notification being given for such exercises near the LAC; prior notice would be given regarding flights of combat aircraft within 10 kilometres from the LAC; if border personnel of the two sides came face-to-face due to differences in alignment of the LAC they would exercise self-restraint and avoid an escalation of the situation; channels of communication and border personnel meetings in case of contingencies were stipulated.

The China-Russia thread

The inspiration for the first two of these Agreements, signed in 1993 and 1996, came from the example set by first the Soviet Union and then Russia in concluding such understandings on CBMs with China. As the scholar, Jingdong Yuan, has noted, at the heart of the normalisation of Russia-China relations was the resolution of the border dispute between the two and the development of CBMs in the border regions. Military confrontation — a defining feature in their relations from the 1960’s (the bloody incident of 1969 on the Damansky island may be recalled) — was removed. A strategic partnership of equality and trust oriented towards the 21st century was developed.

After the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union conceded a long-standing Chinese demand to allow the adoption of the median line of the navigational channel of the Amur-Ussuri River as the boundary between the two countries. It was a major concession and quite contrary to the conventional view that the bigger country is usually unwilling to cede ground in negotiations. Further Soviet moves to reduce China’s sense of insecurity followed. These were the removal of SS-20 intermediate-range ballistic missiles including from along the border with China and agreement to negotiate military CBMs. Moscow also made unilateral troop reductions.

In April 1990, an Agreement on the Guidelines of Mutual Reduction of Forces and Confidence-building in the Military Field in the Area of the Soviet-Chinese Border was signed. This committed the two governments to the reduction of military forces to the lowest level suited to normal good neighbourly relations on “an equal basis for mutual security”. (The term “mutual and equal security” often used by our analysts and experts on India-China relations owes its currency to this reference in the 1990 Soviet-Chinese Agreement just referred to and what we learnt from the Russians when they briefed us about their discussions on CBMs with the Chinese in the early 1990’s). In May 1991, an Agreement on the Eastern Sector of National Boundaries was concluded by the two countries, resolving 98% of outstanding boundary issues. They also agreed that the zone of military CBMs would be 100 km on each side of the border.

What made it work

The main characteristic of these CBMs was the willingness of the bigger power — the Soviet Union — to undertake unilateral concessions and asymmetric reductions in military strengthvis-à-visChina. The collapse of the Soviet Union, far from hindering the process of normalisation only smoothened it further — Russia and China continued to improve relations, their strategic convergence spurred on by shared suspicion about the overwhelming preponderance of U.S. global power at the end of the Cold War.

The success of their alignment post-1989 and the Deng Xiaoping-Gorbachev Summit (held against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square student demonstrations) was that they identified common interests and were committed to building a relationship that was “broadly based and institutionalized” (Jingdong Yuan). What this signified is that military CBMs and tension-reduction along the border were ‘nested’ and fostered in a vast network of cooperative alignments that Russia and China built up in numerous areas once they agreed to normalise their relations.

Points to note

Where our experience with China on CBMs and tension-reduction along the border differs from the experience of Russia is that first, the five Agreements we signed between 1993 and 2013 were not nurtured in an environment of a steady enhancement of mutual trust and political commitment for building a strong infrastructure of bilateral relations between India and China that promoted both bilateral and regional understanding and cooperative endeavour. Second, unlike in the Russia-China case, no final boundary settlement accompanied these CBMs to sustain and strengthen their operation. Even a joint clarification of the LAC remained unattainable. Third, China as the bigger power, unlike the Soviet Union under Gorbachev in its dealings with Beijing, has never signalled willingness to make asymmetric or unilateral concessions to India or act in a manner, especially in our neighbourhood, that enhances India’s trust or confidence. The bellicosity underlying the remarks by my Chinese interlocutor in 2014 is the signature element of Beijing’s approach to India. It renders the future of our relations with China uncertain and problematic.

Nirupama Rao is a former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to China. She specialised in India-China border issues

It is not seditious acts but the persecution and labelling of dissenters that is creating cracks in society

Recent charges of sedition against individuals have brought back focus to a law introduced in the Indian Penal Code in 1870. InKedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar(1962), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of sedition and noted it as being a reasonable restriction on free speech as provided in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. It made clear that a citizen has the right to say or write whatever she likes about the government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comments, as long as she does not incite people to violence against the government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder. One wonders, if the law provides this protection, then why is this archaic, yet powerful, law often used to quell dissent?

Why the law needs a relook

Following theKedar Nathcase, the Bombay High Court, in the case of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, issued guidelines which the police must follow prior to invoking the provisions of sedition. Theseinter aliainclude an objective evaluation of the material to form an opinion on whether the words and actions cause disaffection, enmity and disloyalty to the government as they must be of the magnitude that they incite violence or tend to create public disorder. The Court also directed obtaining a legal opinion in writing from a law officer of the district who must give reasons on how the pre-conditions are met. This needs to be followed by a second opinion from the State’s public prosecutor. And while courts have on numerous occasions cautioned law enforcement agencies not to misuse the provisions on sedition, and follow court directions, regrettably, they are grossly ignored. The problem therefore lies in the poor implementation of the law and guidelines.

This is evident from recent reports, based on data from the National Crime Records Bureau. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of cases of sedition under Section 124A increased by 160%, while the rate of conviction dropped to 3.3% in 2019 from 33.3% in 2016.

Notably, many charged were individuals protesting government action, which the Constitution Bench inKedar Nathheld falls outside the ambit of sedition. Consequently, the staggering numbers have got people saying that “the aim is not to punish or convict anyone but to incarcerate them… the process itself is the punishment.”

This data and the gross misuse of the legal provisions compel one to state that even though a Constitution Bench upheld the vires of the law of sedition, the circumstances now require a complete relook at the provision. After all, when the situation changes, the statute calls for a change as law cannot afford to remain static. In the Internet age, where we are all consumed by social media and where information travels at the speed of lightning, what can lead to public disorder has itself become debatable. With cyberbullies and a select few being able to make things trend, even the wrong ones, a lot has changed from 1962 when theKedar Nathcase was decided. Even otherwise, clutching on to a foreign legal order is no longer needed.

Interestingly, however, the present situation is the reverse. The U.K. repealed the offence of sedition in 2010 and India is holding onto a relic of the British Empire. As recent as 2018, the Law Commission of India took note of this and questioned how far it is justified to retain Section 124A, especially in view of the fact that several existing statutes take care of various actions which were earlier considered seditious. It also sought consideration on whether keeping Section 124A would serve any purpose and whether reducing the rigour of the law of sedition would be detrimental or beneficial to the nation. The outcome of this consultative paper is unknown, but the discussion needs to be rekindled.

An effect-based test

And till the law on sedition continues to remain on our statute book, courts must adopt what some Western countries follow: an effect-based test which examines the effects of the seditious text rather than a content-based test which reviews the text alone. As an Additional Sessions Judge recently noted while granting bail in a case on sedition, “the law of sedition is a powerful tool in the hands of the state to maintain peace and order in the society. However, it cannot be invoked to quieten the disquiet under the pretence of muzzling the miscreants.” Not for a minute is one saying that the perpetrators of violence must not be brought to book. They must, but following the process established by law.

The issue is not about liberals, the right wing, conservatives or the left wing. It’s about India as one nation. It’s about following our syncretic traditions and accepting that in a country of over 1.3 billion people, our unity rests in our diversity. After all, Vedic spirituality as one of its core ideas postulates “Aano Bhadrah Krtavo Yantu Vishwatah(let noble thoughts come to us from all directions)”. Following this sagacious advice, rather than asking those with a different view to prove their nationalism, let us prove ours by respecting the principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity as noted in the Preamble to our Constitution which assures to all individuals dignity and unity and integrity of the nation above all else. Instead of repeatedly testing the allegiance of those we disagree with, let us test our abilities by reforming our own mindset and outlook towards those who muster up the courage to voice their dissent and stand apart.

If we do this, the only ‘toolkit’ we all really need is our Constitution and the principles it enshrines to protect citizen freedoms, life and liberty. The hashtags we all need to spread and make trend are the ones which detail the #RuleOfLaw and our commitment to it and the values it puts forward as regards executive excesses and judicial restraint. What we must disseminate on all social media outlets is our allegiance to due process, the need for speedy trials and our commitment to the doctrine of presumption of innocence. It is not the alleged seditious acts that are creating fragments in our society; it is in fact the persecution of individuals and labelling them that are really creating cracks in our socio-politico ecosystem. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Satvik Varma is an advocate based in New Delhi

The pandemic gives India a unique space to mainstream science and technology in its domestic and foreign policies

India’s ongoing ‘Vaccine Maitri’ campaign, which is aimed at provisioning COVID-19 vaccines to countries both near to and away from its immediate neighborhood, is one of the most important recent initiatives to leverage its science and technological advantages for the furtherance of its foreign policy objectives. While the appreciation of leaders such as President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and the reluctant outreach of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for securing vaccines manufactured in India have gained much attention, New Delhi’s efforts to address this health emergency were met with even more vocal appreciation by leaders from its partners from the Global South such as the Dominican Republic and Barbados.

Setting the template

India’s global priorities in science and technology were clearly articulated by its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during his address to the country’s Science Congresson January 21, 1959 (https://bit.ly/2NujfVd). Nehru was aware of both the constructive and destructive power of science and made India’s intention of seeking international scientific advances for the country’s development and rise clear with added emphasis on averseness to inter-state rivalries. This template would set the tone for India’s international science and technology engagement for much of the 20th century, and met with mixed results as more powerful states such as the United States sought to curb its ambitions in critical spheres such as its nuclear and space programmes.

Assertion of interests

Despite limitations, India still managed to assist its partners from the Global South in key areas of science and technology such as health across Asia and Africa. The country’s national confidence would also rise during the final decade of the last century as economic dynamism led to a more pro-active assertion of its interests. New Delhi established the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India in November 1999. And by the early years of the 21st century, it sought to reduce its dependence on foreign countries to then emerge as a net provider of development assistance in the international system.

The 21st century international system was more conducive to the country’s science and technology designs in spheres such as nuclear and space technology due to a thaw in ties between India and the United States given the rise of an aggressive China and other consequential challenges to the international system.

India would also sign strategic partnerships bearing substantial science and technology components with advanced economies such as the United Kingdom, Japan, Israel, Germany, the European Union, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, South Korea and Australia even as it strengthened its traditional partnerships with countries such as France and Russia.

India’s ambitions would also become evident from its critical policy frameworks. Both the country’s Science and Technology Policy 2003 and Science, Technology and Innovation Policy 2013 clearly related international science and technology cooperation with national interest. More recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been categorical in placing science and technology at the forefront of the country’s diplomatic engagement.

India’s state instruments of diplomacy would also begin to show a more visible alignment to international science and technology cooperation. India currently fields four Development Partnership Administrations under its Ministry of External Affairs — consequential given that President Ram Nath Kovind, in Cuba in June 2018, declared that the country had “placed science and technology at the center of its development cooperation strategy”.

The Ministry of External Affairs too has seen a restructuring with a Cyber Diplomacy Division, an E-Governance & Information Technology Division and a New Emerging & Strategic Technologies Division to manage science and technology issues in the nation’s diplomatic matrix.

The COVID-19 response

India’s science and technology prowess would be tested internationally by 2019 through an unprecedented global disruption originating from China in the shape of the COVID-19 pandemic. New Delhi was swift to address the global challenge by initially sending medicines such as hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol to over 150 countries, welcomed by its partners across the world. India’s pharmaceutical firms such as the Serum Institute of India competently partnered with the U.K.’s Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine project while others such as Bharat Biotech gave rise to indigenous vaccines in the shape of Covaxin. India’s response came at a time where the developed world was pre-occupied in trying to address its own domestic issues and China’s health diplomacy — much like its other development assistance — came with prohibitive costs.

As scientists developed vaccines to fortify human beings against an aggressive COVID-19 virus, it was India, an established leader in vaccine manufacturing, that rose to the challenge of global provision. Beyond idealist invocations, India’s COVID-19 response also came closely aligned with its Neighbourhood First, Act East, Indo-Pacific andLookWest policies.

Areas for review

As India, through its Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative, attempts to secure maximum self-reliance through capacity building and creating an environment where science and technology can not only answer its own national needs and cross-border interests but also global challenges, there are issues that must be addressed. India’s financial apportionment to science and technology related research must rise to enable the country’s own rise — as must participation of its states, universities and private sector in research and development efforts.

The time is also right for India’s young scientists and technologists to be made more aware of the country’s foreign policy objectives, and to also enable all stakeholders in the policy establishment to learn more about science and technology to bridge the intellectual divide. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has presented the country a unique space to mainstream science and technology in its domestic and foreign policies. It is now up to India’s decision-makers to conclusively convert this crisis into an opportunity.

Harsh V. Pant is Director of Research at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi and Professor of International Relations at King’s College London. Manoj Saxena is a PhD candidate at King’s College London

As India could become a hotspot for zoonotic disease emergence, research must be proactive

I looked up to see the tall, willowy figure filling my office door. It was common to see Obaid Siddiqui on the path from the laboratory to the canteen, but a pleasant surprise to see him in my laboratory. It was 2008. I had joined the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) as a young faculty member in 2005. “Can you test for swine flu in your laboratory,” he asked. Swine flu was spreading at the time in India, and he was curious. My research was on genetic variations in animals. I collected field samples, isolated genetic material from these samples, and sequenced or ‘read’ parts of this genetic code. Sometimes we were unsure what animal the material was from, so we designed protocols to look for specific genetic material. This is exactly what is done in a diagnostic test that is based on genetic material. Biosafety protocols notwithstanding, yes, it was possible. We had the equipment that was needed, and the students and postdocs had the skills. Yet this had never occurred to me. Our research was long term and attempted to address basic questions, not nimble and responsive to real-life situations or service oriented.

COVID testing

I remembered this conversation in March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was spreading across the world. India was going into lockdown. The thought of COVID-19 spreading across the Indian populace was mind-boggling. The best strategy was to increase number of people tested daily. But how? Only 15 laboratories in Karnataka were equipped to test for SARS-CoV-2.

What would it take to set up a diagnostic facility to test for SARS-CoV-2 on our academic, basic science-focused campus? An office order issued by the Principal Scientific Adviser, Government of India, encouraging central research labs to begin testing, and strong support from the Secretaries, Department of Biotechnology and Department of Atomic Energy, gave impetus to our efforts. Following rigorous regulatory approvals by the institutional biosafety and human ethics committees, and networking with the Karnataka State COVID cell, we were ready to start testing. We identified a laboratory space, and a dedicated team of volunteers from the campus community. A few of us faculty would supervise all aspects of the process, including sample receipt and inactivation, testing for the presence of the virus and reporting these results on the ICMR portal.

The testing facility became operational on April 13, 2020. From the trepidation of the first set of 15 samples, we were soon testing hundreds a day. Daily and consistent efforts from campus volunteers, staff and faculty, with unwavering support from the campus leadership, made this a reality. Summer gave way to the monsoon, and the festive season, and cases in Bengaluru soared. Volunteers were replaced by regular staff. Our diagnostic centre prevailed, testing samples non-stop. Alongside mushroomed several applied and basic research efforts.Our scientists developed tools to study the virus more effectively, used genome sequencing to characterise viral evolution over time, and set up pipelines to test the efficacy of Food and Drug Administration approved drugs.

Larger crises

We recently reported 1 lakh tests, reminding me what this journey has taught me. Like many born in the 1970s, I grew up on a diet of nationalism. Inspired by Gandhi’s speech, my paternal grandfather and his brother walked from their village in Tamil Nadu to Sabarmati to participate in the independence movement. I longed to have been alive then, to do something real in a time of crisis for the nation. The pandemic provided scientists this opportunity. But as a scientist who works on biodiversity, I know larger crises are brewing. Global meta-analyses reveal that zoonoses tend to emerge in areas with many mammal species, high land use and land cover change, and high human population density. Studies predict that India will be a hotspot for possible zoonotic disease emergence. India’s approach to addressing zoonoses has primarily been reactive, with research and public health intervention beginning when there is an outbreak. The scientific question remains: can we proactively predict an outbreak? Can we sample viral and bacterial diversity from wild reservoirs like bats and rodents in our biodiversity hotspots? Can we understand how ecological and evolutionary dynamics of possible pathogens and their wildlife hosts can become hotspots of spillover? Can we then monitor these possible hotspots to detect spillover events very early or before they happen? Understanding these questions will require teams of interdisciplinary scientists and sustained efforts. Working with the testing efforts taught me that we can come together for a common cause.

Uma Ramakrishnan is Professor at NCBS, TIFR and a member of the Biodiversity Collaborative

Other governments might take the cue from Australia’s law making platforms pay for news

A new law in Australia that seeks to make technology platforms such as Google and Facebook pay news publishers for use of their content presents governments in democracies with an idea worth considering, if not emulating. The law, which is based on the realisation of a severe power imbalance between giant Internet platforms and news media, marks a rare intervention by any government in platform-publisher relationships. It seeks to level the playing field by mandating that platforms negotiate with publishers of news regarding payment for their content. The platforms are not used to paying for such content. The power imbalance is not just an Australian reality, though. It is everywhere. This imbalance has only intensified over the past decade or so, during which time platforms have gained so much power that they have becomede factogateways to the net. They have also grown massively to become some of the richest companies on earth today. Unfortunately, during the same time, there has been a precipitous decline in the fortunes of the news media, which provides the journalistic resources on the ground to keep a population, especially in a democracy, well informed. Journalism houses have struggled to stay afloat, what with their long, successful offline business models becoming less viable. As a result, across the world, many have gone out of business and hundreds and thousands of journalists have lost their jobs.

It is no one’s case that this law is flawless. Far from it. Leaving aside Google and Facebook, which unsurprisingly opposed it, many experts do reckon that it is against the principles of an open Internet. Many others do refer to the pressure from the traditional media lobby, which includes the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. But the point to note is the intent. In launching the Bill, which is now just a few days away from getting passed by the Senate, the Australian Government has shown that it realises that the cost of not intervening in this unequal battle is high. At stake is the sustainability of the news media industry. That Australia chose to intervene is critical as countries, outside of the European Union, have often adopted a laissez-faire approach to administering tech giants. But this may change. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has himself taken the initiative in reaching out to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the Bill. With France already having given shape to new European Union copyright rules, thereby forcing Google to negotiate licensing deals with its publishers, the heat is on the Internet platforms. Other governments might take the cue.

By engineering defections in Puducherry,the BJP might have lost more than it gained

The month-long political instability in Puducherry has ended with the resignation of Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy on Monday after he failed to prove his majority on the floor of the House. Though the fall of his government appeared imminent a few days ago, the way in which the political events played out highlighted the limits of the constitutional provisions to discourage defection of elected legislators. Not long ago, the Narayanasamy Ministry had a comfortable majority with 19 members in the 33-member Assembly. The disqualification of a Congress MLA in July last year did not make any difference to the situation. But, in the last one month, six MLAs from the Congress-DMK combine quit the House. Among them were two Ministers and a couple of MLAs who gave up their seats just a day before the floor test. Two of those who quit the Assembly have since joined the BJP. Under the changed circumstances, the non-Congress front, comprising the All India N.R. Congress (AINRC), the AIADMK and the BJP, gained an edge with 14 members, as the strength of the House was reduced to 26. With the Assembly elections in the Union Territory just a few weeks away, the Lt. Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan should recommend placing the Union Territory under President’s rule. Any other course would only serve to highlight the unprincipled nature of the defections.

Parliamentary democracy thrives not just through adhering to the letter of the law but also by building and respecting healthy precedents and conventions. This was given a go-by when the Centre, in June 2017, nominated three BJP functionaries as MLAs. There was nothing illegal about it, but this raised questions of political propriety in the light of the BJP drawing a blank in the 2016 Assembly election. When one of the nominated MLAs died in mid-January this year, the ruling party at the Centre lost no time in nominating an office bearer of the party to fill the vacancy, though the term of the present House ends on June 8. The recent events have to be seen against the backdrop of the BJP’s efforts to gain a foothold in the Union Territory, where its principal adversary, the Congress, has been the pole star. Besides, for the last few years, the BJP has been relentlessly attacking the Narayanasamy regime. The month-long resignation drama can only be seen as part of the BJP’s larger game plan of realising its goal of “Congress-mukt Bharat” (Congress-free India). There would have been no objection to the BJP’s pursuit had it played the game in a fair manner. The BJP should be aware that any negative role on its part will not go well with the words of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, in his first monthly radio address, Mann Ki Baat, after getting re-elected in May 2019, said: “...beyond laws and rules, democracy is embedded in oursanskaar[tradition]; democracy is our culture. Democracy is our heritage.” By engineering defections so close to the election, the BJP might have lost more than it gained.

Boosting the sector will bring social, economic, and nutritional benefits

Among a variety of policy concerns, the ongoing discussion over farm laws has fixed the spotlight on infrastructure investments necessary to boost productivity levels and fill critical gaps in production. If such investments are undertaken in a timely manner, even as the country seeks an exit out of the pandemic-induced economic slowdown, pressure will be reduced across the farm sector with immense knock-on benefits for the entire economy.

In June 2020, while the country was reeling under the initial wave of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns, the Central government unveiled a string of measures to cushion the economy, as a part of which the Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund (AHIDF) was announced. As an allied industry of agriculture, the animal husbandry and dairy sector collectively employs more than 100 million people. Since the bulk of establishments in this sector is concentrated in rural India, the socio-economic relevance of this sector cannot be overstated.

The AHIDF has been set up with an outlay of Rs. 15,000 crore. As per the provisions of AHIDF, a project will be eligible for a loan amount that covers up to 90% of the estimated cost – with an interest subvention of 3% for all eligible entities. Applicants can submit the proposal with a complete Detailed Project Report through the Udyami Mitra Portal. The Ministry’s website has been updated with the relevant technical details for prospective applicants. As such, this is the first major fund launched by the government that includes a diverse set of stakeholders such as FPOs, private dairy players, individual entrepreneurs, and non-profits within its ambit.

As an example of a sub-sector concern where the dairy value chain could be strengthened, there is a pressing need to enhance chilling infrastructure at collection centres by setting up bulk milk coolers to prevent wastage of milk. Currently, there is an infrastructure gap of about 120-130 MMT, which translates into an investment potential of approximately Rs. 20,000 crore. If the infrastructure needs for milk processing and distribution are included, then the overall potential investment opportunity is to the tune of Rs. 1,40,000 crore across the dairy value chain.

There is also considerable potential to increase the productivity of cattle, especially by enhancing the quality of animal feed. With this in mind, the AHIDF has been designed to support the establishment of animal feed plants of varying capacities – including setting up of mineral mixture plants, silage making units, and animal feed testing laboratory. To spur on innovative solutions, the Ministry in collaboration with Invest India has invited ideas from domestic start-ups for the development of new varieties of green fodder and enriched animal feed. The infrastructure gap of 10-18 MMT in the production and supply of affordable compound cattle feed translates into an investment potential of around Rs. 5,000 crore.

Boosting the poultry industry

In a similar vein, there are not only economic but nutritional benefits to boosting the poultry segment’s output, efficiency and quality. India is the fourth largest chicken meat producer and the second largest egg producer in the world and is well-positioned to help mitigate rampant malnutrition given that chicken meat provides the cheapest source of protein per unit. With eggs being introduced as part of the mid-day meal within several anganwadis in the country, an upgradation in poultry infrastructure would be closely intertwined with social justice outcomes too.

Finally, macro benefits regarding climate change and employment are linked to this sector. Enhanced infrastructure can make processing units more energy-efficient and help mitigate their carbon footprint. The AHIDF also has the potential to create over 30 lakh jobs, even as it overhauls domestic infrastructure towards giving greater prominence to India’s dairy and livestock products in the global value chain.

Atul Chaturvedi is the Secretary, Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries; and Naina Sharma works at Invest India

India to-day [New Delhi, February 22] warned Britain that the very existence of the Commonwealth would be in jeopardy if the British Government decided to supply arms to South Africa before the study group set up the last Commonwealth conference in Singapore completed its work.

The warning was contained in a statement issued by the External Affairs Ministry spokesman on reports of the imminent possibility of British arms supplies to South Africa. “India had already made it clear at Singapore that should Britain decide to supply any arms before the study group had completed its work, the functioning of the study group would be rendered infructuous and this could have serious implications for the very existence of the Commonwealth,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said the entire question was essentially political and not military. He said that India had made it clear that any accretion to the military strength of South Africa would not only enable it to reinforce its racist policies, but would also make it possible to give greater assistance to the illegal racist regime in Rhodesia and the colonial oppression by Portugal of the peoples of Angola and Mozambique.

“It would increase the threat to international peace and security not only in Southern Africa but also in the Indian Ocean area. The United Nations Security Council recognises this Britain has itself subscribed to various U.N. resolutions directing member States not to supply arms to South Africa.” The statement added, “the Lusaka Declaration had outlined the non-aligned position on this subject. The Government of India reaffirmed its adherence to this position during the Singapore conference.”

Replying to a complaint from a prominent Indian journalist that he was not permitted to enter Australia and that Indian merchants were unable to establish agencies in that country, Mr. Poynton recalls that at the Imperial Conference in 1918, the Australian Government extended the arrangement made in 1905 whereby Indian merchants, tourists and students were permitted to enter the country on passports and also the wives and children of Indians permanently domiciled in Australia.