UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to visit New Delhi as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade in January.
His tour will help further strengthen Indo-UK relations and is being seen in diplomatic circles as the UK’s post-Brexit tilt towards the Indo-Pacific region, in which India is an important player.
The significance that Britain is attaching to the ties with India can be gauged from the fact that Johnson’s trip will be his first major bilateral outing since becoming the Prime Minister and the first since the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Both nations have shared interests because of their past history and the fact that the UK has a 1.5 million-strong Indian diaspora, which has made valuable contributions in academia, literature, arts, medicines, science, business and politics.
Closer ties with the UK will help Indians who want to work and set up businesses in the island nation in terms of easier visa access.
Apart from the two nations planning to boost employment and jointly confront threats to global peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, the idea is to transform the G7 group comprising the UK, the US, France, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada into a broader grouping of 10 leading democracies that will be capable of thwarting China’s expansionist plans.
It is with this goal in mind that Johnson has invited India, Australia and South Korea to attend the UK-hosted G7 summit in the summer of 2021, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accepted.
For its part, a stronger bond with the UK will stand India in good stead as it strives for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
China has been blocking it for decades despite the fact that the other four permanent members — Russia, the UK, the US and France — are backing New Delhi’s claims.
Johnson’s visit is coming at a time when New Delhi is seeking more investment to shore up a tottering economy.
The two are trying to deepen their economic partnership in the hope that it will ultimately culminate in a free-trade agreement as the economies of both the nations have taken a body blow due to the pandemic.
The total trade between the countries is worth almost 24 billion Euros and it grew by 11 per cent in the last financial year, but there is potential to ramp it up in a post-COVID world.
On December 15, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is on a visit to India as a prelude to Johnson’s trip, announced a closer collaboration on an enhanced trade partnership, and met Modi to discuss a 10-year roadmap for a new era in bilateral ties.
Apart from trade, the two democracies are seeking closer collaboration on tackling the Coronavirus pandemic, climate change and enhancing defence cooperation so that they can better address key issues like terrorism and maritime security.
Excellence in diversity
Bound by the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Act, 2019, the IITs must fulfil the important goal of affirmative action while making appointments.
Last year, IIT Delhi had a staggering deficit of 30% in its teacher ranks, and there are 23 such institutes in India now, highlighting the scale of the crisis.
It is in this context of large-scale vacancies that the Education Ministry tasked a committee to suggest effective implementation of reservation in central institutions such as the IITs, for both student enrolment and faculty recruitment.
Exempt IITs from quotas by including them in the schedule to the 2019 law, which is applicable to institutions of excellence, research institutions and institutions of national and strategic importance
Provide reservation to specified grades of assistant professors, taking the institution as a whole. Where candidates are not available in the latter case, the posts can be de-reserved in the subsequent year.
Diversity achieved through affirmative action such as compensatory discrimination in favour of some classes of citizens corrects historical distortions.
For it to be fully realised, however, the concomitant is massive investments in the education system at all levels, which can raise the capability of students.
The Ministry’s committee echoes this, when it recommends a government-sponsored preparatory programme at the IITs which can help candidates eligible for reservation to get acquainted with high quality academic work, and optionally prepare for a PhD if they aspire to be teachers.
This is the imperative, considering that such graduates will help fill not just vacancies in the IITs, but also aid the large number of other technical education institutions that aspire to research excellence.
Governments must aim for progressive redistribution, for which policy should actively expand equal opportunity, starting with a strong, liberal public school system.
This will strengthen diversity, and lay the foundation for the kind of scholarship that institutions of excellence need.
The long road to food security
India’s malnutrition levels are almost twice the level of many African countries.
The Global Hunger Index 2020 report has given India the 94th rank among 107 countries, much behind Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal.
As per a UN-FAO report, 194 million people go hungry every day in India, comprising about 23% of the world’s undernourished population.
This flies in the face of the landmark Right to Food case, in which the Supreme Court declared Right to Food as part of Article 21 of the Constitution, that is, the Right to Life.
It is a grim failure that 73 years after Independence, India continues to be gripped by a paradox of plenty in the realm of food security.
The country reached self-sufficiency in agricultural production some time ago, and yet, mass hunger is rampant across States.
India produces more than the estimated amount required to feed the entire population (in 2018-19, India produced 283.37 million tons of food grains).
The country ranks first in millets and second in rice and wheat production in the world.
India’s horticultural crops, such as fruits and vegetables, are also in surplus (over 313 million tons in 2018-19).
Department of Consumer Affairs, almost 62,000 tons of food grains were damaged in Food Corporation of India warehouses between 2011 and 2017.
In 2016-17 alone, over 8,600 tons of food grains were lost.
Poor management of the food ecosystem in India.
Minimum Support Price (MSP)
Public Distribution System and Public Procurement
Revamping the Annapurna Yojana: ten kilograms of food grains are distributed per month free of cost to destitute persons above 65 years of age, with no or meagre subsistence
Global Pulse Confederation, pulses are part of a healthy, balanced diet and have been shown to have an important role in preventing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
The World Food Programme (WFP) includes 60 grams of pulses in its typical food basket, alongside cereals, oils and sugar and salt.
Include pulses too in our Public Distribution System.
The many challenges for WTO
For the first time in its 25-year history, the World Trade Organization (WTO) will be led by a woman, as both the contending candidates for the Director-General (D-G) post are women, from Nigeria and South Korea respectively.
The prestige aside, the D-G’s job will require perseverance and outstanding negotiating skills for balancing the diverse and varied interests of the 164 member countries, and especially, for reconciling competing multilateral and national visions, for the organisation to work efficiently.
The next D-G will have to grapple with the global economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and work towards carrying out reforms of the multilateral trading system for reviving the world economy.
On all these issues, her non-partisan role will be watched carefully.
At the core of the divide within the WTO is the Doha Development Agenda, which the developed countries sought to jettison in favour of a new agenda that includes, amongst others, e-commerce, investment facilitation, MSMEs and gender.
Salvaging the ‘development’-centric agenda is critical for a large number of developing countries as they essentially see trade as a catalyst of development.
Restoring the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, especially the revival of its Appellate body, is also crucial for the organisation’s efficient functioning.
The push for a change in the definition of “developing country” under the principle of special and differential treatment (S&DT), aimed at upgrading certain developing countries, will deeply impinge on the status of emerging economies such as India, China, South Africa, Turkey, Egypt, et cetera.
The assumption that some countries have benefited immensely from the WTO rules since its formation in 1995 is flawed, at least in the case of India.
Fisheries subsidies negotiations
India can lead the way in finding a landing zone by urging others to settle for the lowest common denominator, while seeking permanent protection for traditional and artisanal farmers who are at the subsistence level of survival.
The consensus-based decision-making in the WTO, which makes dissension by even one member stop the process in its track, gives developing countries some heft and influence at par with developed countries.
The D-G would need to tread cautiously on this front, as some will allude to the successful implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement in 2017, that allowed member countries to take commitments in a phased manner in accordance with their domestic preparedness.
The D-G can help mitigate the effects of the pandemic by giving clear directions on ensuring that supply chains remain free and open, recommending a standard harmonised system with classification for vaccines, and by the removal of import/export restrictions.
Voluntary sharing and pooling of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is required for any global effort to tackle the pandemic, but with the fear of vaccine nationalism looming large, several countries are seeking to secure future supply of leading COVID-19 vaccines.
Our Prime Minister’s reiteration that India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will help the whole of humanity will require the D-G to play a responsible role in removing barriers to intellectual property and securing a legal framework within the WTO TRIPS Agreement.
Most imminently, the next D-G will need to build trust among its members that the WTO needs greater engagement by all countries, to stitch fair rules in the larger interest of all nations and thwart unfair trade practices of a few.
A million reasons to march
The government introduced three farm Bills — the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 — in the monsoon session of Parliament.
Together, these Bills proposed to relax restrictions on the purchase and sale of farm produce and on stocking under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, and outlined a framework on contract farming.
They were introduced on September 14, passed in the Lok Sabha on September 17, and in the Rajya Sabha on September 20.
The President gave his assent on September 24, and the Gazette notification was published on September 27.
In a matter of less than two weeks, without democratic process and discussion, the farm Bills bulldozed their way into becoming laws.
Agriculture sector reforms had been on the government’s agenda for the last few decades, with policy experts stressing the need to shift people from agricultural work to provide cheap labour in manufacturing and services sectors.
But decent jobs were simply not there to allow a large-scale shift of the rural workforce.
The only option was to get reduced to a perennial, casual labour force in unwelcoming cities.
It was not only the farm Acts, but also the Industrial Relations Code, 2020, which changed the laws relating to trade unions, conditions of employment in industrial establishments, and investigation and settlement of industrial disputes.
When farmers from Punjab and Haryana reached the border in Delhi in a peaceful convoy, they were met with barricades.
In the several rounds of talks with the government in Delhi, when the farmers are insisting on a total roll-back, and not deliberation or amendments, they know what they are saying.
Their decision is based on experience and extensive discussions around the laws.
The Union Agriculture Minister and other government functionaries claim that these reforms free the farmers from the clutches of middlemen and more than double farmers’ incomes.
But farmers, as well as several experts, have the Pepsico contract farming experience in Punjab to convince them that contract farming benefits are not for the small and marginal farmer.
In Punjab, based on 2015-16 data, more than one-third of holdings are marginal and small i.e., two or less than two hectares, another third is between two and four hectares, 28% between four and ten hectares, and only 5% holdings are large, i.e., ten hectares or more.
The farmers also know that for small and marginal farmers, the option of transporting farm produce to lucrative markets is not an option — they do not have the means to go.
The demand charter of the farmers includes demands of the peasantry, but it also relates to the interests of the urban and rural poor.
All the farmers’ unions are calling for the unconditional repeal of the three agricultural Acts and the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
But many large unions are also seeking implementation of the Universal Public Distribution System (PDS) across the country.
They are pressing for state regulation to end farmers’ exploitation by big traders and multinational companies in government-regulated agriculture produce markets.
They also call for the release of intellectuals, activists and anti-CAA protesters all over the country and withdrawal of the false cases registered against them.
Their movement has forged unity and has now strongly converged with other people’s rights.
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