Editorials - 04-06-2021

Only the judiciary, and not the executive, should give an order on traceability

Last week, WhatsApp decided to legally challenge one of India’s new Information Technology rules which requires messaging platforms to help investigative agencies in identifying the originator of problematic messages. WhatsApp reckons this would break end-to-end encryption and undermine people’s right to privacy. The government responded saying it is committed to ensuring the right of privacy for all its citizens, and that it also has to ensure national security. Have these new rules been framed to adequately address the privacy versus security balance, especially in the context of social media intermediaries such as WhatsApp? Rishab Bailey and Parminder Jeet Singh discuss this question in a conversation moderated bySriram Srinivasan. Edited excerpts:

What are your views on how the IT rules relate to the privacy versus security issue?

Rishab Bailey:The short answer is that every provision of the new IT rules is ultra vires the Constitution and the parent IT Act of 2000. The rules only make superficial attempts at balancing privacy and security interests. But it’s very clear that security interests are being given primacy over both civil liberty interests as well as economic interests.

Keep in mind that the government already has huge powers of surveillance. This was recognised even in the Justice Srikrishna Committee report that accompanied the draft data protection law in 2018. So, rather than seeking to revise these powers, the government is giving itself greater ability to snoop on and interfere with the private lives of citizens. In particular, the traceability obligation in the new rules is problematic because the technical literature on this is nearly universal, in agreeing that this would mean breaking the use of end-to-end encryption for all users on platforms such as WhatsApp.

Also, end-to-end encryption is really needed in the digital economy because data theft and hacking are only increasing in India. There’s also an issue of platforms themselves misusing user data. So, ideally, we should be looking to encourage more user-controlled encryption and not limiting this possibility.

Parminder Jeet Singh:I’ll start with the points of agreement with Rishab, and that is the context of the way the state has been using its powers in a manner which is becoming very dangerous.

Having said that, we also need to see things in the sense of the fact that our societies are changing from pre-digital to digital societies, and many fundamental structural changes have to take place. Among those are also the levers of law enforcement, required in the new context. Second, as Justice Srikrishna said, a new law should be brought out, which discusses the rationale, gives good institutional checks and balances, and then places this significant and new legal possibility for the law enforcement in that context. Third, the biggest problem with WhatsApp is that it is a private communication channel, and after certain virality, becomes public. So, what happens is that with the originator or traceability mandate, anybody who’s writing a personal message to his or her friend is afraid that though they are giving an analysis which, in a private sense, is not criminal, but it could be criminal in a public sense. So, how do you balance the private and the public part of it is a concern.

Rishab, do you think that the use of metadata is itself enough to deal with this issue?

RB:It’s unclear why you need to have a specific mandate for traceability. Yes, metadata as well as other forms of unencrypted data can be accessed by law enforcement. Keep in mind also that the current law in India also allows the government to request decryption of data where it’s held by an intermediary or where the intermediary holds the private encryption key.

Would the decryption rules be relevant in a context where there are no keys for decryption except at the ends of a communication?

RB:That is actually the fundamental issue here, which is that the government wants you to move away from encryption controlled by the users to encryption done by the intermediary itself. If the intermediary is controlling the encryption keys, the government can just go to them and ask for this information.

PJS:I don’t believe traceability of encrypted messages requires breaking encryption. The metadata, which carries many layers of information already, including a counter that tells you that the message has crossed a certain limit of virality, can be a good enough place to lock the originator of every message when it is created. Now, you can always say it doesn’t go with my method of encryption. But the law does not follow private models of business; private models of business follow the law.

I have been a law enforcement officer, and I can see many situations where there is really almost no other way — I mean you can spend decades of investigation and always find the originator. So, there are examples like somebody sending out a message which is derogatory to, say, Dalits and this goes viral. This is illegal under Indian law. So, what should the law do? A second example relates to systematic election-related manipulation, which has happened in the West on Twitter; in India it happens on WhatsApp. Foreign countries can do it, Indian political cells can be doing in a manner which is illegal. And all these can really be traced when you are able to find an originator. Another example is of obscene pictures, non consensual, intimate pictures (that are shared). And finally, a lot of the wrong kind of content is today leaked on WhatsApp by the police itself, who get access to a lot of digital media when they do investigation. All these require the originator to be found out and these cases are going to keep on multiplying. And just to say I think it could be found out otherwise is not sufficient.

The government’s response to WhatsApp mentioned the safeguards that come with the rules. Any thoughts on that?

RB:The rule as it’s currently drafted is vague, disproportionate, and probably unnecessary. The reasons for which this traceability power can be used are quite broad and therefore capable of misuse. The provision uses the phrase ‘security of the state’, which unfortunately has virtually come to mean criticising the government in any way. Similarly, to say that this power can be used to detect or prevent an offence basically gives executive authorities free rein to identify people even before an offence has been committed.

PJS:This should have been a new law with systemic explanation of intent, purpose, and institutional safeguards. Like now, the court has said that sedition has to be redefined. There are two problematic terms here: ‘security of the state’ and ‘public order’. People are shouting in my street; is it a public order issue? And we need our Supreme Court to define these terms and lay out the law on that.

I am also strongly of the belief that for these kind of cases, executive authority should not be able to give an order. Only a judicial order, which should insist on the purpose, how you are going to do it, whether the intermediary has been given an opportunity of being able to do it through less intrusive means, which are all the part of the new rules, should allow access to the originator of a message. So, these institutional systems should be in a new law, and the Supreme Court should clarify terms like ‘public order’ and ‘security of the state’.

It will always be an ongoing battle. The powers that a police constable was given during the colonial regime... it is the same power the Indian policeman has in New Delhi and the Toronto policemen have: of arresting people, going into people’s houses. It is the institutional safeguard around those which keep their power in check. The same would apply in the digital arena.

What do you have to say about the fact that these didn’t come as new laws?

PJS:Probably much of it is not of the delegated rule-making level. These kinds of things should go to Parliament and a full-fledged law should be written.

RB:What has progressively happened over the last few years is that the Section 79 of the IT Act route, and the fact that you can make rules under this, is being used to introduce progressively more onerous obligations, including on many issues where you might actually need regulation. The argument is that all the rules under Section 79 can do is give effect to the main provision. They can’t introduce new offences, they can’t go beyond what the original provision or, in fact, the parent Act itself contemplates.

Coming back to the issue of encryption, the government’s release in response to WhatsApp’s charges made a point about a 2019 communique issued by five countries (the U.K., the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada) in which they talk about the problems with encryption. What do you think is going to happen going forward?

RB:Actually, every jurisdiction is struggling with the issue of how to deal with the fact that sometimes messages may not be accessible, or data may not be accessible to law enforcement agency. But I don’t think there is a single liberal democracy that actually implements laws mandating traceability in the same way that the new IT rules actually do. This issue of access to encrypted data has come up over the last 25 years in many different countries. Even in the U.S., for instance, it’s been discussed since the mid-1990s. It particularly comes up every five or six years when there’s a terrorist attack or something like that and technology companies say we can’t provide you this data because it’s encrypted. But there have been no laws actually implemented that specifically deal with this issue, largely due to opposition from the technical community as well as civil society and academia.

In Australia, fairly wide-ranging powers have been given to the government under a law known as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Act. This allows law enforcement to request information and assistance from intermediaries. But even here, they can’t mandate the creation of systemic weaknesses or vulnerabilities.

It’s also important to keep in mind that often, platforms don’t always want to get on the bad side of governments. This might not necessarily apply in the Indian context, because clearly there’s an adversarial position that’s been adopted here. But platforms can also be arm-twisted into building in what’s called weakness by design into their product. For instance, Apple is said to have dropped plans to encrypt its iCloud data because the FBI pressured it. These are bigger questions that need to be discussed, but I don’t think that you will actually find too many countries which have similar provisions in the law.

Ideally, we should be looking to encourage more user-controlled encryption and not limiting this possibility.

Rishab Bailey

A takeaway from the pandemic is that India needs to revisit and refurbish its health infrastructure in the rural areas

The two consecutive waves of COVID-19 and Mucormycosis have left us shattered. Multiple bruises have been caused to us. But during the second wave of the pandemic, it is our rural people who are struggling the most. They are struggling to get prompt and quality health care. The key role of health-care facilities in the rural areas is to provide regular and comprehensive health-care needs guided by the World Health Organization (WHO)’s principle of Universal Health Coverage, “ensuring that all people have access to needed health services (including prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliation) of sufficient quality to be effective while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user the financial hardship”.

Data show shortfalls

The second wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic has exposed the inadequate and poor health infrastructure in the rural areas. The fact shared by Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Kumar Choubey on July 23, 2019 in the Rajya Sabha suggest that 29,337 primary health centres (PHCs) are required in the rural areas of the country; India has 25,743, a shortfall of 3,594 units. This means that we have one PHC for 25 villages in India. This needs to be revisited. In the fast-changing health scenario, we should have one expanded PHC for every 10 villages along with the provision of some beds and other minimum necessary facilities. We have 5,624 community health centres (CHCs) against the requirement of 7,322. Data on CHCs, which act as a referral centre covering a population of 80,000 people to 1.20 lakh people, show that, overall, there is a shortfall of 81.8% specialists at CHCs as compared to the requirement for existing CHCs. As in the Human Development Report 2020, India has eight hospital beds for a population of 10,000 people, while in China, it has 40 beds for the same number of people.

The picture in Haryana

If I may talk about the health infrastructure in Haryana, which remained a backward area of Punjab till 1966, it had only one medical college in the public sector up to 2005 till I became the Chief Minister. During my tenure up to 2014, we laid much emphasis on health services; besides many private sector medical colleges, one State health university, four medical colleges (at Karnal, Faridabad and Nuh in Mewat), and one medical college for women (in the rural area of Sonipat district) were established. Called the Bhagat Phool Singh Government Medical College for Women, this is the second women’s medical college after Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi in the northern part of the country. We also established the All India Institute of Medical Sciences-II and a National Cancer Institute at Bhadsa village of Jhajjar district.

Yet, Haryana requires 5,070 sub-health centres (SHCs) as against the existing 2,666; 845 PHCs as against 531 at present, and 253 CHCs as against 118 working at present. As per Census 2011, Haryana has a 2.53 crore population. And, as per the norms required after each block of one lakh population, Haryana requires 253 CHCs and 845 PHCs for the whole State. When infrastructure in the health services is so poor in a progressive and prosperous State such as Haryana, one can easily estimate the inadequacy of the physical health-care infrastructure in the rural areas in other States (http://haryanahealth.nic.in/).

It is of utmost importance that governments everywhere engage with all kinds of rural community organisations such as panchayats, gram sabha, notified area committees, municipal bodies and non-governmental organisations in minimising the adverse impact of the pandemic on rural life. For that purpose, in Haryana, we constituted Swasthya Kalyan Samitis, or SKSs for all CHCs, PHCs which has proved to be an effective management structure enabling people’s participation in ensuring better functioning of rural health services.

According to worldometers.info, out of 139 crore population of India, at least 91 crore people are living in 649,481 villages. There are at least 10% of people in the urban areas who are partly settled in villages as well since they keep moving to their rural habitations quite frequently. Villages need adequate health services. Given the alarming proportion of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in India, we cannot sit idle any longer and need to focus on the existing health infrastructure in the rural areas. This is one of the most important takeaways for us after the two waves of COVID-19 and the spread of Mucormycosis in the country. For want of well-oiled health machinery, most of our people are unaware of being in the grip of NCDs such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases which assume significance in the pandemic.

The health network

As per an estimate of WHO, NCDs including cases of cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory problems and cancer cause nearly 41 million (71%) of all deaths globally and about 5.87 million (60%) of all deaths in India. It will not be humanly possible to treat them all, thereby causing premature deaths on such a large scale. Persons with such morbidities are the most vulnerable in the case of a pandemic.

I agree that the task is easier said than done, but it has to be accomplished. We have no other option but to treat the disease/s at the primary level in its first stage to create a healthy India. It will also help us save a lot of money and the resources being spent at tertiary level health care. If our SHCs work effectively, there will be less pressure on PHCs. If the PHCs function well, then there will be minimal pressure on CHCs and so on. Unfortunately, we have not been able to maintain the vibrancy and vitality of the network of health care. As a result, our vast rural populace remains deprived of critical health interventions.

The chain of SHCs, PHCs and CHCs can very well take care of the multiple health needs of our people. They should have the health data of people in their respective areas. It will enable them to identify those likely to slip into the secondary or tertiary care zone. Regular health camps will help us identify those on the verge of developing tuberculosis, hypertension, diabetes or any diseases likely to be caused because of their socio and economic conditions. A CHC or referral centre equipped with specialists will do wonders if made to work efficiently. Every CHC is supposed to have ‘at least 30 beds for indoor patients, operation theatre, labour room, X-ray machine, pathological laboratory, standby generator’ and other wherewithal. Just imagine the kind of relief we would have had today in our fight against COVID-19 if our network of SHCs, PHCs and CHCs was working efficiently.

Collective responsibility

In conclusion, I will only urge all stakeholders to revisit and refurbish our health infrastructure in the rural areas and build them in a better manner. As more than 65% of the population resides in the rural areas, we cannot ignore their health needs. WHO has its norms and yardsticks. We can have our own, perhaps even better than what has been stipulated by WHO. We also know health is a State subject, but all those living in the rural areas are not only the responsibility of the States or the Centre but also a collective responsibility. Just spending money will not take us anywhere. We have to see and ensure that the money being spent improves facilities and contributes to people’s ease of life. It is hugely challenging as a task but we have to firm up our strategies, their execution and by rigorous auditing so that we are ever well prepared not only to meet this pandemic effectively but also to make our rural folk healthier. We must remember that no one will survive unless all of us survive. As Bertrand Russell has put it, “It’s co-existence or no existence.”

Bhupinder Singh Hooda is a former Chief Minister of Haryana and Leader of the Opposition in the Haryana Legislative Assembly

Some actions of political figures in India are detrimental to the consolidation of cordial bilateral ties

The Chief Minister of Delhi last month warned the Union government about a new strain of the novel coronavirus that has been observed in Singapore that was said to be extremely perilous for children and could visit India as part of a third wave. This triggered a strong denial from the authorities in Singapore that there was any ‘Singapore variant’, and they reserved the right to invoke against the Chief Minister a domestic law, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, against the online circulation of fake news. During this excessive over-reaction to a comment by the Chief Minister, India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, declared that “irresponsible comments from those who should know better can damage long-standing partnerships” — a wise and pertinent observation.

Inappropriate statements

It is improbable, however, that Mr. Jaishankar similarly cautioned his Cabinet colleague, the Home Minister, against the latter’s many derogatory statements with reference to Bangladesh prior to and during the Bharatiya Janata Party’s unsuccessful campaign in the election for the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. The Home Minister had described illegal Bangladeshi immigrants as vermin that he would push into the Bay of Bengal, and then implied that poor people in Bangladesh were starving, which drew a stinging public rebuke from the Bangladesh Foreign Minister. In this year, the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s liberation and the birth centenary of the father of the nation Sheikh Mubibur Rahman, irresponsible comments from those who should know better are profoundly inappropriate.

Diplomacy with Bangladesh

India’s relations with Bangladesh, one of the most populous Muslim countries in the world, are acutely sensitive. As a neighbour nearly surrounded on all territorial sides by India, there are the inevitable bilateral problems of long duration, including a perennially favourable balance of trade for India, drought and flood in the 54 transboundary rivers flowing from India to Bangladesh, and the smuggling of goods and vulnerable human beings across the approximately 4,100 kilometre land border.

The turbulent history of Partitions; East Bengal that became East Pakistan and then Bangladesh, attended by enormous bloodshed and the abuse of human rights, has left emotional wounds that will take many generations to heal. There are those in Bangladesh who believe that separation from Hindu India in 1947 was more significant than the break with Pakistan in 1971, there remain about three lakh ‘Biharis’ in Bangladesh who have failed thus far to be resettled in Pakistan, and there is the presence of militant Islamist groups such as Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, that have linkages and support from outside Bangladesh.

In contrast to these circles, who take confrontation with India as part of their basic credo, are those who regard their Bengali roots and traditions as being of equal validity as their religious affiliation, and treasure the linguistic and cultural ties with adjacent India. It will take time for these inherent fractures in Bangladeshi society to be resolved, and it is for India to show patience and sympathy to this entirely internal process of healing.

Asquid pro quofor India’s benign attentions and support, New Delhi’s expectations are that a neighbour will keep India’s concerns in mind when devising and pursuing its policies, and this understanding is implemented with severity or laxity depending on the regime in New Delhi.

Favourable steps

After decades of pro-Pakistani military and civilian governments following 1975, Mujibur Rahman’s daughter Sheikh Hasina, elected for a third consecutive term since 2008, has consolidated her position as unquestioned leader in Bangladesh. She has maintained vigilant supervision over Muslim fundamentalist terrorists as well as on Northeast militant movements sheltering in Bangladesh, with the result that the pacification of India’s Northeast has been greatly facilitated.

She has permitted a considerable degree of connectivity between India and its Northeast by land, river and the use of Bangladeshi ports, and Indian investments in Bangladesh have been encouraged. There are at least 100,000 Indian nationals now living and working in that country. To complete the ties of economic integration, the day will come when, along with free movement of commerce and capital, the movement of persons on the lines of Nepal and Bhutan will have to be considered.

For India to note

As the leading mid-wife of Bangladesh’s liberation struggle and its sole economic supporter in that nation’s early years of independence, New Delhi should view with satisfaction Bangladesh’s coming graduation in 2026 from ‘least developed’ to ‘developing country’ status, and its steady progress as one of South Asia’s leading performers in human development indicators. Its eventual membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership cannot be ruled out.

To a certain degree, both India and Bangladesh depend on each other for security and stability. Responsible individuals on both sides of the border, whether in government or the Opposition, must be actively discouraged from words and actions detrimental to the consolidation of the existing cordiality. This is where Mr. Jaishankar’s dictum is applicable to members of his own party as well as the Opposition. What is sauce for the goose is equally sauce for the gander.

Krishnan Srinivasan is a former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and Foreign Secretary

A planned decision to move the National Museum could serve the institution’s interests well

The National Museum in Delhi is a repository of India’s rich history and proud heritage. Over the past few months, many critical pieces have been written about the government’s decision to move the museum to the North and South Blocks. However, examples from other countries show that a planned move can serve the collection, comfort, and audience experience needs of the National Museum better. In addition to Egypt, where the impressive Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza will replace the crowded Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square in Cairo, many national museums have moved to new premises.

Limitations

The current building, though impressive, has limitations in being a national institution. The new location will provide a space that is over four and half times bigger than the current space. The museum has over 2,00,000 cultural collections and less than 6% of them are in display. The move can provide an opportunity to bring more collections from storage to be displayed through the creation of several more galleries. Additionally, it will also provide much more space for storage, especially with more collections being constantly added from excavations, donations and repatriations.

From the time an exhibition of Indian art was organised at the Royal Academy in London, and later in Rashtrapati Bhavan, which led to the creation of the National Museum, the collection numbers have been increasing manifold. They will only increase further in the next few decades.

The North and South block buildings are a prominent part of Delhi’s landscape. Once they are retrofitted to provide a fitting external façade (without compromising on heritage), international standard exhibition and collection storage areas, and spaces for education and visitor services, they can become a landmark location. The increase in space would allow for more gallery spaces to include both ancient and contemporary Indian art and culture. The current museum also struggles in terms of finding a space with adequate environmental controls for travelling exhibitions. There will be an opportunity in the new location, with the increased space available, for accommodating both international and national travelling exhibitions. The National Museum as the nodal agency for all outgoing and incoming cultural collections, including repatriated collections, will be able to serve these collection needs better.

Key skills for students

The National Museum Institute (NMI), whose highly skilled graduates not only serve the needs of the museum but also the broader needs of India’s cultural sector, will benefit much from the move. The students could gain a lot from the collections, their storage, conservation and interpretation. They can greatly benefit with a large increase in laboratory, gallery and teaching facilities. There is also an interest to expand NMI and incorporate its programmes in Museology, Art History and Conservation along with other programmes in Archaeology, Archival Studies and so on, under a new institute. The benefits would only be greater from an expanded operation.

The exhibition areas in the current building are still operational. A new Buddhist gallery is being opened at the adjoining Archaeological Survey of India building. In this context, keeping the collections safe in the current building and getting the new location ready before carefully moving the collections with safe packing and transport is important. The risks of damage to collections during transit can be greatly minimised. A better designed and new collection storage area in the new location will minimise risks from the environment, disasters and pests.

A revamped National Museum that looks at both people and collection comfort; has galleries that provide excellent audience experience; good education spaces; and uses technology creatively for interpretation, outreach and education could become a ‘must visit’ for every visitor. In fact, it could become the anchor for a vibrant museum movement in India.

Vinod Daniel is Board Member, International Council of Museums and Chairman, AusHeritage

The Centre must act as procurer and allotter of vaccines, and leave distribution to States

The Centre’s ‘liberalised’ policy of allowing vaccine companies to strike deals with States and private hospitals has borne limited fruit. While the age group of 18-44 years accounts for the bulk of vaccines being administered, attempts by States to negotiate deals with international vaccine companies have come to naught. In spite of opening vaccination for all adults, there were fewer doses administered in May — around six crore — as opposed to 7.7 crore doses administered in April. The Health Ministry has said that close to 8 crore doses were available in May (counting wastage and stocks with States) and that 12 crore will be available in June for the Centre, States and private hospitals. Over 22 crore doses have been administered so far. There is large variability within and among States regarding vaccination. It is in this context that State Chief Ministers, cutting across party divisions, are now demanding that the Centre be the sole buyer of vaccines. The Supreme Court too has expressed its dissatisfaction over the existing system that puts States in competition with each other and the Centre, almost like another competitor, for vaccine supplies. The Centre has tried to project that it was the clamour from States that forced it to abstain from being the sole purchaser of vaccines, but it was the Centre’s miscalculation that there would not be frantic public demand this calendar year and that the output from the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech would be sufficient for India.

International arrangements such as COVAX were premised on India being a large supplier to Africa and several countries around the world with no vaccine development facilities. Now that the Government has prevented the Serum Institute of India from honouring its supply commitments, it is unclear if international suppliers would trust India’s demand for large supply. The unpredictability in policy also weakens India’s ambit of negotiations now that it seems desperate to increase short-term vaccine supply. Moreover, given that vaccines are the most sought-after goods, it is unlikely India would be prioritised so late in the day. There is optimism of increased and significant supply from Bharat Biotech and SII by August. At this stage, it appears that the Centre has few options other than waiting for its domestic suppliers to hike production. Increased supply from abroad is unlikely in the near future, even if resources for procurement are not a constraint. It must however heed the States’ core demand that they be given a greater say in deciding how best to distribute the vaccine. The Centre can be a monitor of and an adviser to the process; and if it becomes the sole buyer, it can spell out a transparent distribution policy. But it ought to prioritise speedy administration over optics.

The world cannot afford a tariff war to protect digital sector, which has low-tax operations

The United States announced and then immediately suspended a whopping 25% tariff rate on over $2 billion of imports from six countries including India, signalling Washington’s intent to act punitively on its long-held grouse with these nations for their digital services taxes primarily impacting Silicon Valley tech giants. The office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai said that the tariff proposed on goods from Austria, India, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the U.K. was approved following a “Section 301” investigation that found these digital taxes to be discriminatory. With the threat of tariffs hanging over these six economies when most of them are limping through a feeble post-COVID-19 recovery, the USTR appeared to project a softening of the blow by adding that the tariffs would be suspended pending ongoing tax negotiations to “provide time for those negotiations to continue to make progress while maintaining the option of imposing tariffs under Section 301 if warranted in the future”. The backstory is that the investigation was initiated by the Trump administration in June 2020, and the deadline for approving tariff action based on the investigation would have lapsed this week. The latest policy action comes a few months after the Biden administration similarly approved, then suspended, tariffs on France retaliating for its tax impacting firms such as Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.

One thing is clear: if the Biden administration did not subscribe to the notion that taxes on digital services by the titans of Silicon Valley, a significant portion of whose revenues are generated on foreign soil, were discriminatory, it could have distanced itself from the Trump-era investigation into this allegation without any serious political fallout. The fact that Mr. Biden has chosen to use the stick of tariffs to force the pace of negotiations on digital services tax with seven nations suggests that the current White House subscribes strongly to the idea of expanding the global playing field for American tech firms to dominate without fear of being slapped with tax liabilities. In the case of India, that was a mere 2% digital service tax on trade and services by non-resident e-commerce operators with a turnover of over Rs. 2 crore. Even more, Washington appears to be unafraid to throw serious political heft behind this venture even to the point of risking another tariff war outbreak, compounding the tensions generated by tax skirmishes between the Trump White House and Beijing on this count. The cost for India could be potentially high, as $118 million worth of its exports will fall under this proposed tariff, and a range of sectors could be impacted. At this point in the fragile, post-COVID-19 recovery, the world can hardly afford another tariff war, and that too one waged to protect a sector that has enjoyed low-tax or tax-free operations across the world for decades.

The lives of many in China have been turned upside down by the one-child policy

When China announced on May 31 that it would for the first time allow couples to have a third child, I thought of Yang Zhizhu.

Exactly 10 years ago, I had met Yang in Beijing while researching a story on China’s one-child policy. Back then, most Chinese couples were allowed to have only one child under the family planning policy that came into existence in 1979. The only exceptions were if you were a family living in rural China whose first child was a daughter, or if both parents were only children. The Yangs fit neither description. They lived in Beijing, where Zhizhu was a professor of constitutional law at the China Youth University for Political Sciences.

Their lives, like the lives of so many others in China, had been turned upside down when his wife became pregnant for the second time. What should have been a moment of joy became one of a complicated mix of emotions. Having the child, under the policy, would have meant paying extraordinary fines that the family couldn’t afford.

“God gave us the child,” was how the Yangs explained their decision to me. Their second daughter was born on December 21, 2009. Zhizhu had to pay a fine of 2,40,000 Yuan (then around $37,000). Without doing so, he would not be able to get his daughter’s household registration certificate, which is needed for everything in China, starting with getting into school. The fee was 10 times the average disposable income in Beijing. He decided not to pay it. That cost him his job.

He made a second decision: to take the case to court. In doing so, he triggered a broader debate in China and garnered so much public sympathy that the university reinstated his job subsequently, even if he was not allowed to resume teaching. He ultimately lost the case after a two-year battle and had his bank accounts frozen until he paid the amount.

Another conversation came to mind this week, of hearing a friend tell me about her “many brothers and sisters”. Noticing how surprised I was, she explained, “That’s how those of us born in the 1980s refer to our cousins.” It was that rare for many in that generation to have their own sibling. In her case, two years after she was born, her mother was forced to have an abortion to keep her job in the government-run factory where she was working. This was early 1980s China, where you couldn’t simply walk away from your state-given job and your work unit that had such a hold over every aspect of your life. Her father worked in the same factory too, and the only kindergarten she had access to was the one linked to the same work unit. Fighting the policy was not an option.

In 2015, China announced a two-child policy. After that failed to boost birth rates, the three-child policy was introduced on May 31. The latest change was explained in news reports with a flood of numbers. Twelve million — the number of babies born last year, according to the May 11 Census, the lowest since 1961 (some experts believe the latest Census prompted the change). Or 264 million — the 60 and above population in China, up 5.44% in the last year. Or 300 million — the number of births, according to the Chinese government which still strongly defends the one-child policy, that family planning had prevented.

Statistics are what demographers and governments go by. But we forget that behind each of these numbers lie stories of invisible lives impacted in unimaginable ways.

Simla, June 3: Revised rates of pay of the Postmasters-General have been published in the “Gazette of India.” It is further notified that the Postmasters-General who are recruited from the ranks of the Indian Civil Service will draw Rs. 250 a month over and above the time-scale pay and the overseas pay which would be admissible to them if they were employed in the regular line and held appointments classed as superior. While under training an officer of the Indian Civil Service will draw his time-scale pay in the ordinary line plus overseas pay and he will not come on the scale set forth above until he is placed in independent charge of a circle. Should an officer be placed in an independent charge of a circle before his 10th year of service his pay will be that which he would draw on the superior Indian Civil Service scale plus Rs. 250 per month. The scale of pay for a non-Civilian Postmaster-General will be Rs. 1750-100-2250, with one selection post on Rs. 1500 a month, subject to the condition that no officer should hold this special appointment unless he has completed three years’ permanent service as Postmaster-General.

New Delhi, June 3: Once again, the Indian Communists are in the doldrums — blowing hot and cold — and unable to react rationally and carry conviction with their hair-splitting arguments and contradictory postures over the Bangla Desh situation. In the initial stages of the struggle, they tried to ride the massive wave of popular support in India and establish some degree of rapport with the activist groups in the Bangla Desh freedom struggle. Both the right and left communists had hoped to dig in their toes firmly in the two Bengals and become the torch-bearers of this new upsurge of Bengali nationalism rising above the rut of Ind-Pak. tensions. But when they failed to make such headway in this ambitious bid to radicalise the Bangla Desh freedom movement, the Indian communists started reassessing their positions to make sure that they did not get too closely identified with the petit bourgeoisie leadership of the Awami League and be engulfed by the nationalist upsurge in the two Bengals which had come closer in the wake of the brutal Pakistani military action. They are now trying to cover up this incapacity to forsee the course of events correctly with a lot of ideological nonsense which is only exposing them to further ridicule.