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The Hindu Editorial Analysis | PDF Download

Date: 14 October 2019

World Bank cuts India’s growth projection to 6%

  • But it’s likely to recover to 6.9% in 2021
  • After a broad-based deceleration in the initial quarters of this fiscal, India’s growth rate is projected to fall to 6%, the World Bank said on Sunday.
  • However, the bank, in its latest edition of the South Asia Economic Focus, said the country was expected to recover to 6.9% in 2021 and 7.2% in 2022 as it assumed that the monetary stance would remain accommodative, given benign price dynamics. The report said India’s growth decelerated for the second consecutive year.
  • In 2018-19, it stood at 6.8%, down from 7.2% in the 2017-18 financial year.
  • While industrial output growth increased to 6.9% owing to an uptick in manufacturing and construction, the growth in agriculture and services moderated to 2.9 and 7.5% respectively.
  • In the first quarter of 2019-20, the economy experienced a significant and broadbased growth deceleration, with a sharp decline in private consumption on the demand side and the weakening of growth in both industry and services on the supply side, the report said.
  • Reflecting the below-trend economic momentum and persistently low food prices, the headline inflation averaged 3.4% in 2018-19 and remained well below the RBI’s mid-range target of 4% in the first half of 2019-2020. This allowed the RBI to ease monetary policy through a cumulative 135 basis point cut in the repo rate since January 2019 and shift the policy stance from neutral to accommodative, it said.

Current account deficit

  • The World Bank report also noted that the current account deficit had widened to 2.1% of the GDP in 2018-19 from 1.8% a year before, mostly reflecting a deteriorating trade balance.
  • On the financing side, significant capital outflows in the first half of the current year were followed by a sharp reversal from October 2018 and a build-up of international reserves to $411.9 billion at the end of the fiscal year.
  • Likewise, the RUPEE initially lost ground against the U.S. dollar (12.1% depreciation between March and October 2018).
  • “The general government deficit is estimated to have widened by 0.2 percentage points to 5.9% of the GDP in 2018-19. This is despite the Central government improving its balance by 0.2 percentage points over the previous year. The general government debt remained stable and sustainable — being largely domestic and long term — at 67% of the GDP, the report said.
  • According to the World Bank, poverty has continued to decline, though possibly at a slower pace than earlier.
  • Between 2011-12 and 2015-16, the poverty rate declined from 21.6% to 13.4% ($1.90 PPP/day). The report, however, said disruptions brought about by the introduction of the GST and demonetization, combined with the stress in the rural economy and a high youth unemployment rate in urban areas, might have heightened the risks for the poorest households.
  • The significant slowdown in the first quarter of the fiscal year and high frequency indicators suggested that the output growth would not exceed 6% for the full fiscal year, the bank said.
  • The country’s first private train has contravened the Railways Act, 1989, since the Central government is the competent authority to decide on tariff and not the IRCTC, say top railway officials.
  • The much-publicised train service, flagged off on the Lucknow-Delhi-Lucknow route earlier this month, charges a higher fare than the existing Shatabdi Express and other trains on the same route.

More trains planned

  • The issue is being closely watched in the context of the move to run 150 more trains in the private mode.
  • The Railways had entrusted the IRCTC, its commercial tourism and catering arm, with the task of operating two premium trains using the fully air-conditioned rakes of the semi-high speed Tejas Express.
  • The second private train will soon be run in the Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Mumbai sector.
  • While the first corporate-run train has received good feedback from passengers. who compared its amenities and on-board services favourably with global standards, senior officials say the tariff fixed is in violation of the Railways Act. The fares are higher but there is hardly any change in the running time. Also tickets are available only online which is contrary to the rule book.
  • The Delhi-Lucknow Private Train No 82502, IRCTC Tejas Express takes 6 hours and 30 minutes to cover the 511 km distance with stops at Ghaziabad (two minutes) and Kanpur Central (five minutes).
  • The train charges ₹2,450 for AC Executive Class and ₹1,565 for the AC Chair Car including GST and catering.

First private train violates Railway tariff law

  • IRCTC can’t fix its own fare, say officials
  • On the other hand, Train No 12004 Delhi-Lucknow Shatabdi Express takes 6 hours 35 minutes to cover the same distance but with five stops — Ghaziabad, Aligarh, Tundla, Etawah (two minutes each) and Kanpur Central (five minutes).
  • This train charges ₹1,855 for AC Executive Class and ₹1,165 for the AC Chair Car including GST, Super Fast and reservation charges.
  • The tariff for AC Chair Car for the Suhaildev Super Fast Express and Garib Rath Express on the same sector is ₹645 and ₹480 respectively.
  • A senior official says the Act clearly lays down that rates for carriage of passenger and goods will be decided by the Central Government.
  • On sale of tickets online, the official said besides its own website, IRCTC had also made tickets available through online partners like Paytm, Ixigo, PhonePe, Make My Trip etc.

‘Counter sales must’

  • As for online sale of tickets, the official says, “There can’t be a 100% sale online. The Act says that there has to be a counter at the railway station with working hours displayed.”
  • IRCTC says on its website that though there will be no concession tickets in the train, children below 5 years of age were exempted from fare and would be booked with their parents. Children aged above 5 years would be booked at full fare and given a seat.
  • Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is a subsidiary of the Indian Railways that handles the catering, tourism and online ticketing operations of the latter, with around 5,50,000 to 6,00,000 bookings every day is the world's second busiest and highest of 15 to 16 Lakh tickets every day. Its tagline is "Lifeline of the nation".
  • IRCTC held an initial public offering on the National Stock Exchange on 30 September 2019. The base price of shares was set between ₹315 and ₹320 (US$ 4.60) per share. The IPO will reduce Indian Railway's shareholding in the company to 87.40%.
  • Despite protests by doctors, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan says the recently enacted National Medical Commission Act, 2019, will provide for a medical education system that improves access to quality and affordable medical education and ensure availability of adequate and quality medical professionals in all parts of the country
  • What is the manpower required and the cost of implementing the ambitious NMC Act in India?
  • As of now, none. You see, the National Medical Commission will be a body comprising 33 members, in addition to the four Autonomous Boards and a Medical Advisory Council.
  • The officers and employees will be appointed by the Commission after its constitution.
  • There would be no additional financial implications on behalf of the Central government. All the expenses will be met from the existing funds of MCI [Medical Council of India] and is not expected to exceed beyond the current expenses of the MCI.
  • Currently in India, the fee for medical school ranges from ₹10,000 to ₹45 lakh a year. How will this get standardized? Why will private medical schools agree to cut fees?
  • The whole idea of the NMC Act is to bring about standardization and good governance as mandated by our leader Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • In this context then, the NMC Act states that the fee of the State government medical colleges will continue to be regulated by the States.
  • The guidelines for determination of fee and all other charges for 50% seats of private medical colleges and deemed universities will be framed by the Commission. The guidelines so framed will be statutory in nature and binding on the private medical colleges and deemed universities.
  • This will allow objective, periodic and transparent assessment of medical institutions and facilitate maintenance of a medical register for India and enforce high ethical standards in all aspects of medical services.
  • We are also bringing in an effective grievance redressal mechanism.
  • How will the medical school ranking system work?
  • The Act has just been notified and this activity will be taken up. The Medical Assessment and Rating Board under the Commission will develop the system for rating of the medical colleges and which will be duly specified in the regulations. The performance of the students in the National Exit Test (NEXT) would be one of the criteria for rating of medical colleges.
  • How will the NMC help students who have graduated from foreign medical colleges ?
  • The National Exit Test (NEXT) will be the basis for grant of licence to practice medicine in the country. There shall be equal treatment for both foreign medical graduates and Indian graduates. We also expect under the new legislation, due to simplification of procedures, a spurt in the number of medical seats, increasing opportunity for medical students in India.
  • What is the rate at which students are leaving the country in search of a medical degree and how many are returning?
  • The first step, irrespective of trends is that, qualifying NEET is mandatory to take admission in primary medical qualification i.e. MBBS or equivalent abroad.
  • The data regarding the number of such students is not maintained in the Ministry, so you tell me, what such rate have you come to know of?
  • This being said, in the Foreign Medical Graduate Exam (FMGE) conducted by the National Board of Examinations in June 2019, around 13,000 candidates had appeared which also includes candidates who did not qualify the exam in their earlier attempts.
  • Will the NMC ensure that there is a greater reverse flow of Indian foreign medical graduates?
  • We sure hope so. The Act has been developed keeping all these issues in mind. A large number of medical colleges are being established in the country for which faculty, residents, etc. will be required. Thus, ample opportunities are available in the country. Further, steps to attract foreign faculty will be taken after constitution of the Commission.
  • What is the targeted increase in medical colleges and teachers in the next decade?
  • The effort to resolve the issue of medical HR shortage in the country have been on ever since the NDA came to power in 2014. In the past five years, 158 new medical colleges have been established and around 29,000 MBBS seats increased.
  • Further, the government is running a Centrally sponsored scheme for establishment of new medical colleges and Phase III of the scheme has recently been announced. This would result in more government medical colleges in the near future.
  • We expect rapid growth in UG/PG seats in the country under the new legislation. The Commission has also been mandated to ensure availability of adequate and high quality medical professionals in the country.

An AQI between

  • 0 and 50 is considered ‘good’,
  • 51 and 100 ‘satisfactory’,
  • 101 and 200 ‘moderate’,
  • 201 and 300 ‘poor’,
  • 301 and 400 ‘very poor’, and
  • 401 and 500 ‘severe’
  • The task of a scholar is not only to coin clever sound-bytes. Intellectuals have to bring a historical and comparative perspective to bear upon the present. Their job is to tell us what the historical processes that brought us from ‘there’ to ‘here’ are, identify political problems, and, if possible, help resolve them.
  • But reflection, analysis, critique and conceptualization need stable political contexts. We must know of what we speak when we speak of categories that allow us to tidy, challenge and remake our worlds. We must be sure of the empirical referents we address.
  • Threat to civil liberties
  • Till the first decade of the 21st century, the political context in which scholars theorised was more or less settled. We knew what we spoke of when we spoke of constitutional democracy. Today the political battleground that constitutes our worlds, which is the context for our words, is consolidated by the emergence of rightwing populists across countries.
  • The empirical referrals of analysis, critique, conceptualisation and theory have rapidly changed. Still, we might succeed in understanding where we have come from. What on earth are we headed towards?
  • I am not suggesting that scholars should not reflect, theorise or critique. All I am suggesting is that our priorities have been set by processes outside our control. The first lesson we learn is that we cannot take anything for granted. For long we believed that civil liberties codified in the Constitution and defended by the civil liberties movement had been secured. We could move on to transforming Directive Principles of State Policy, notably the right to social goods, into fundamental rights. Today our basic civil liberties are threatened. Civil society has been rendered powerless, and state institutions that could make a difference prudently keep away.
  • Who would have thought that over seven decades after India’s independence we, the legatees of a magnificent freedom struggle, have to prove citizenship?
  • Who could have imagined that one day a democratic government would spend its time and our money into figuring out who is a citizen, and who is not, and build bare detention camps for the latter?
  • These summon up terrible historical parallels. Television images of tin-topped sheds evoke horror and disbelief. They have been designed for our own people, who have mixed their labour with the land they wish to live in

Appropriation of nationalism

  • The second lesson we have learnt is that nationalism can be easily appropriated.
  • Nationalism formed the anchor of our freedom struggle. It is also the excuse for some very unpalatable efforts to repress us. The concept has been deployed by governments to target minorities and immigrants, to dismiss dissent as sedition, to justify oppression, and to reduce our status from citizens to subjects. Nationalism has legitimised rhetoric and decisions that would have aroused widespread political protest a few years ago. The vulgarities of a nationalism that prevents debate, let alone dissent, bewilders; it saps energies.
  • Have scholars underestimated the power of nationalism to push other commitments out? Perhaps. Have we overstated the distinction between civic and ethnic nations and nationalism? Perhaps. We unthinkingly fell into the trap of believing that we had a civic nation, other countries of the postcolonial world had ethnic nationalism. The distinction was a western construct and continues to be so. Writing in the aftermath of the Second World War, Hans Kohn argued that territorially based civic nationalism is infinitely more desirable than cultural or ethnic nationalism.
  • The former is the culmination of a political movement that sought to limit governmental power and secure civic rights in the United Kingdom, the United States and France.
  • The temporal and the spatial contexts for ethnic nationalism, which arose later in central and eastern Europe and in Asia, were different. Consolidated in times of social and economic underdevelopment, ethnic nationalism articulated the belief that a community is held together by ‘blood and belonging’.
  • Kohn’s distinction between two sets of nationalism set the stage for subsequent discussion on the subject. The difference has by now become an integral part of literature on nationalism.
  • In the 1990s, ethno-cultural nationalism again raised its head in distressingly ugly forms, that of ethnic cleansing and genocide in former Yugoslavia and other countries of Eastern Europe. The duality was reinforced. Scholars continued to believe that the idea of the civic nation was best conceptualised by Ernest Renan and the ideology of the French Revolution. The concept of ethnic nationalism articulated by Johann Gottfried von Herder and German Romanticism arose as a reaction to the Enlightenment and its commitment to reason.
  • The distinction between the two is overstated. In 1923, V.D. Savarkar, the prime ideologue of the Hindu right, cast the political category of the Indian nation in the mould of the majority religion.
  • The nation is Hindu because the community has a common history, common heroes, a common literature, a common art, a common law, and a common jurisprudence, common fairs and festivals, rites and rituals, ceremonies and sacraments. Others are outsiders. This was not the kind of nation that India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru conceptualised and dreamt of, democratic, secular and inclusive.
  • In 1933 Nehru wrote in The Bombay Chronicle: “Whither India? Surely to the great human goals of social and economic equality, to the ending of all exploitation of nation by nation, and class by class, to national freedom within the framework of an international cooperative socialist world federation.”
  • Different notions
  • Within a decade we see two incompatible notions of the nation taking shape and shaping each other. Beneath and around civic nationalism marked by citizenship rights, lurked ethnic nationalism that divided and excluded. Today it is precisely ethnic nationalism that has won the battle. Civic nationalism gasps for breath.
  • The case is not all that different in Europe. In France, England and the U.S., wrote the noted historian Eric Hobsbawm, democratic revolutions produced a populist consciousness, which was hard to distinguish from a national and even a chauvinistic patriotism. Merely by dint of becoming a people, the citizens of a country became citizens of a community seeking for things in common, “places, practices, personages, memories, signs, and symbols”. Today within these societies, norms of democratic, civic nationalism cannot prevent hate against immigrants and suspicion of the outsider. All nationalisms, howsoever moderated they may be by constitutionalism and civic sentiments, show a terrifying tendency to xenophobia.
  • History has warned us. The concepts and the theories we explore and expand upon might prove provisional. The days when political philosophers dreamt that they had resolved political dilemmas have gone. Politics, we have learnt is chancy, unpredictable, and contingent. How can our theories be neat, confident, and predictive? We no longer know what we speak of when we speak of democracy, or accountability, or the power of citizens to hold their elected government responsible. The terms of the social contract are up for grabs. Life has become much more unpredictable, much more uncertain and much more frightening. Do we have the luxury to conduct intense intellectual debates and charged polemics? We might have to put aside, for the moment at least, some very sophisticated debates that marked academia hardly six years ago. We have to get back to the basics. We have once again to reiterate and defend the basic principles of constitutional democracy.