The polity must foster a civic consciousness to allow equality of opportunity for all residents
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Itanagar has decided not to act on the recommendations of a Joint High Power Committee granting permanent resident certificates (PRCs) to non-Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribes of Namsai and Changlang districts. This decision follows violence in Itanagar, which included arson attacks on the residence of the Deputy Chief Minister. The government took this step to de-escalate tensions despite the fact that both mainstream parties, the Congress and the BJP, were on the same page on the demand to grant the PRCs. The non-APSTs include the Deoris, Sonowal Kacharis, Morans, Mishings, Adivasis and ex-servicemen belonging to the Gorkha community. Successive governments and members of these communities have said PRCs are needed to avail of job and educational opportunities elsewhere in the country, and currently the 26 tribes and numerous sub-tribes who claim to be native to Arunachal Pradesh enjoy this privilege. Members of some of the non-APST communities have been long-time residents of the reconstituted State, and to term them as “outsiders” reflects a chauvinistic mindset that denies a just demand. Previous governments, including one led by the Congress in 2010, had also buckled under pressure on the issue. The indigenous tribes opposing the move say this is one step away from providing Scheduled Tribe status for the non-APSTs, which they vociferously oppose. While this fear is overblown, the award of PRCs could ensure land rights that are otherwise denied to the nonAPSTs.
The fact that the opposition to the demand took such a violent turn could be linked to a retaliation to attempts by the members of the non-APSTs to enforce an “economic blockade” of the State from the neighbouring parts of Assam last month.
But these incidents suggest that barely any northeastern State is today free of the pattern of ethnic discord marked by some communities being branded “outsiders” and sought to be denied resident privileges. These include the Chakma issue in Mizoram, the hill versus valley disturbances in Manipur, the longstanding “migration” issue in Assam, the attacks on Sikh residents in Meghalaya, and even the Chakma/Hajong citizenship issue in Arunachal Pradesh itself.
The pattern through all these is eerily similar, with ethnic identities trumping civic consciousness in bringing about discord that has even escalated into violence in some cases.
Arunachal Pradesh has otherwise remained a peaceful State, and it is incumbent on the government and the polity to foster a civic consciousness that allows equality of opportunity for all residents in the State. This is a difficult task as identity issues persist and fester when there is inadequate economic development – which is the real bane of the Northeast today.
Tailing a virus
The Zika outbreak response should not end when an outbreak ends It is a time of peace and quiet for India on the Zika front. Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, which saw large outbreaks late last year, stopped seeing new cases before the year end. For health authorities, the temptation may be to consider the threat past, and move on to more pressing concerns, like the large number of H1N1 influenza cases this year. The truth, however, is that this is an excellent time to study Zika epidemiology in India. Public health officials must do this while disseminating data quickly and transparently, so that
All strains can hurt
What are the data that health authorities should be collecting? First, they must leave no stone unturned in following up on every pregnant woman who was diagnosed Zika positive in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. When the epidemics began, there were worrying indications that Central and State health officials were downplaying the risk to pregnant women. Even though there is no evidence conclusively linking a particular viral strain or mutation with foetal anomalies, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said the Rajasthan strain did not have the S139N mutation linked to microcephaly.
This is incorrect. Even though microcephaly was first observed as a consequence of Zika during the 2015 Brazilian epidemic, strains other than the Brazilian strain, which do not have the S139N mutation, have been linked with the abnormality. For example, in 2017, when the virus from a foetus with microcephaly in Thailand was sequenced, it did not have the S139N mutation. Researchers also showed that a 1966 Malaysian virus strain — isolated long before Zika was seen to cause microcephaly in Brazil — was as effective at infecting foetal mouse brains as the Brazilian one. In another 2017 study, published in Development, a strain from the African virus lineage, which was hitherto not thought to cause microcephaly, was seen to be more damaging to mouse brains than the Asian lineage (to which the Brazilian strain belongs).Given this research, we must assume that all Zika strains can cause microcephaly.
If this is the case, why did the link between microcephaly and Zika become evident only in the 2015 Latin American epidemic? Prior to this,
The other important bit of actionable information that health authorities can and should gather concerns population immunity. To study immunity, authorities must conduct seroprevalence surveys, in which they screen people in several States for antibodies to zika. Many Indians could well have such antibodies, which means they are protected to some extent. The reason they are likely to have antibodies is because the Rajasthan outbreak virus was around in the State since at least 2016. Moreover, as a recent paper by researchers from the National Institute of Virology revealed, the Rajasthan strain is endemic to Asia, which means it could have been in India for decades now. Still, exposure to the virus does not guarantee a lifetime of protection. So, seroprevalence surveys are needed to identify pockets of low immunity in India. Health authorities can then focus their efforts on these regions, because they would be most vulnerable to future outbreaks.
It is true that seroprevalence studies are not easy to do, given the cross-reactivity that plagues flaviviruses. The Enzyme-linked immunosorbent Assay (ELISA), which is commonly used in seroprevalence studies to detect antibodies, can throw up false positives for Zika if a person has dengue antibodies. This is because dengue antibodies can neutralise Zika and vice versa.
Separating dengue from Zika
The good news is that researchers are working to develop alternative tests that are specific to Zika alone. One multinational team, including Swiss firm Humabs BioMed, has developed an ELISA test that is able to distinguish Zika from dengue. The test was used in a survey at Managua, Nicaragua after a large epidemic hit the city in 2016. It found that in 2017, 56% of tested adults had antibodies to Zika, suggesting that the city wouldn’t see another large epidemic in the near future. India should consider doing such surveys too.
The outbreaks in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have seemingly ended, which is good news. But given that the virus is already in these States, and these States have well connected transportation links, there is reason to expect future outbreaks when the mosquito season begins again. Outbreak response should not end when an outbreak ends, because that is when efforts to contain the next epidemic begin. If India is lucky, the next epidemic will not be a big one. But it is not an assumption that health authorities should make. The vexatious question of Masood Azhar
India can take up its fight against terrorism at the United Nations Security Council in various ways
The UN Security Council adopted a statement on February 21 condemning the Pulwama terrorist attack of February 14, for which the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) took responsibility. India is applauding this development and it should. A lot of diplomatic effort had gone into achieving this result. But this statement should be looked at with a proper perspective.
Hierarchy of actions
Some media organisations and analysts have mistakenly described the Council as having adopted a resolution. This is not true; the Council made a presidential statement. It may be worthwhile to understand the nuances of the action the Council takes in a given situation.
The least forceful action that the Council can take is to authorize the current month’s President to speak to media representatives about the proceedings of the Council. There is no official record of these remarks.
The second level is when the Council adopts a presidential statement. A lot of negotiations are undertaken in the small room reserved for informal consultations next to the Council chamber where only members of the Council are present. Of necessity, it has to be a consensus, as distinct from unanimous, document, meaning that not all the members support everything included in it but go along since they do not have a serious problem with the text. Even if one member has strong objections to the text, the statement cannot be approved. The draft of the text could be prepared either by the President or by one of the members; for the most part, that member is the representative of one of the permanent members. Also, the statement could be issued either in the name of the Council or in the name of ‘members of the Security Council’. The former is generally regarded as carrying more weight than the latter.
The third level is the resolution, which is the most authentic voice of the Council, carrying maximum weight. Again, the resolution can be under Chapter VI or Chapter VII of the Charter. Resolutions adopted under Chapter VII are enforceable unlike those under Chapter VI (Resolutions regarding Kashmir are under Chapter VI).
Some analysts dismiss the statements and resolutions of the Council as of no consequence, arguing that the countries concerned should pursue their interests irrespective of the Council’s action. In practice, the country against which the resolution or statement is aimed cares a lot about the text of the resolution because countries care about their image in the international community. Israel, which has the maximum number of resolutions critical of its actions, makes strenuous efforts, through its protector, the U.S., to have the resolutions moderated to make them less critical. Hours are spent on negotiations, discussing whether to ‘condemn’, ‘deplore’ or ‘strongly deplore’ something.
The February 21 statement was in the name of the members of the Council. It is not that it is not worth much; it is just that it is a notch below a statement that is issued in the name of the Council. A statement in the name of the members might also suggest that not all them were fully on board with the entire text. A statement in the name of the Council would suggest that all the 15 members are in agreement with the text.
The fact that China went along with the statement does not signify much of a shift in its position, since the Council had already declared the JeM as a terrorist organisation. The statement does not name Masood Azhar. It is not known if the French, who took the initiative in this matter, had at any stage included Azhar’s name in the text and took it out at China’s insistence. From the French perspective, this initiative will earn them brownie points from India, without having to pay much of a price.
In 2016, India moved the sanctions committee to include Azhar’s name, with the support of three permanent members: the U.S., the U.K., and France. Again, in 2017, India took a similar initiative, supported by the same countries. On both occasions, Russia did not actively support the proposal, though it went along with it. China vetoed it both times.
It is for consideration whether and why it is so important for India to have Azhar included in the list of global terrorists. The only consequence of naming an individual is that the person cannot travel to other countries and his funds in foreign accounts will get frozen. In Azhar’s case, this will not cause him much discomfort. Is it worth India’s while to invest so much effort and perhaps political capital in getting him named an international terrorist? Suppose China at some stage removes its veto on Azhar’s name, which it will only do with Pakistan’s approval, it would be doing a big favour to India. Will that be regarded enough of a concession by Pakistan for India to resume dialogue with it?
There is no doubt that India’s relations with West Asia have improved significantly in the past five years. The invitation to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to be guest of honour on March 1 at the Foreign Ministers meet is ample evidence of this. The past record of the OIC with respect to India is most objectionable. In 2017, the OIC adopted a resolution condemning “the intensified Indian barbarities since July 2016, after the extra judicial killing of Burhan Wani, against unarmed and innocent civilians in Indian occupied Kashmir” and “denouncing India” for refusing the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission of the OIC access to “IoK”. It makes sense not to allow the present to be held hostage to the past. Ms. Swaraj has a challenging mission to accomplish. However, to regard the previous OIC resolutions regarding Kashmir as of no consequence is in the nature of rationalising the current approach. Hopefully, the OIC will respect India’s gesture and refrain from embarrassing Ms. Swaraj after her departure.
Raising issues in the Council
The successful preventive non-military strike carried out by the Indian Air Force on the JeM’s terrorist training camp in Pakistan on Tuesday undoubtedly caught Pakistan by surprise. Apart from military action, which Pakistan has already taken, it will certainly try to raise the issue in the Council.
It may be difficult to prevent it, since what has happened would certainly be regarded as threatening international peace and security. Pakistan’s all-weather friend, China, may take the initiative on behalf of its protégé. According to Council rules, if a member of the Council asks for a meeting, the meeting has to be called. India must have spoken to the U.S. and others about this possibility. If the Council does meet, it would give India an opportunity to expose Pakistan’s true face. It will no doubt screen footage and photos to buttress its case in the Council.
A patchwork approach to GST problems
Transparency and simplicity in the tax regime are casualties of the GST Council’s recent decisions It has the best intentions, but the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council is nevertheless systematically eroding the strongest features of the new tax regime — simplicity and transparency.
From three to eight rates
Before the GST was introduced, the government set up a panel under the then Chief Economic Adviser, Arvind Subramanian, to come up with a suitable rate at which most items should be taxed under the GST. Mr. Subramanian came up with a standard rate of 15% for most items, a “low rate” for essentials, and a “high rate” for demerit goods
Presumably dissatisfied with just three rates, the government chose to introduce GST with five different tax slabs: 0%, 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%. Still not satisfied,
The GST Council then introduced two more highly specific rates: a nominal 0.25% for rough diamonds and 3% for gold. Those of a critical bent of mind immediately pointed out that the major beneficiaries of this would be Gujaratis. The latest GST Council meeting on Sunday took this a step further and introduced yet another rate of 1% for the sale of under-construction affordable houses. So, from what should have at most been three rates, we now have eight!
To be clear, the number of tax slabs does not affect the concept of ‘One Nation One Tax’, as a single product is still taxed at the same rate across the country. But specifying eight different GST rates is a blow to tax simplicity, which the GST was to provide.
That said, the GST Council has not spared the concept of ‘One Nation One Tax’ either. However necessary the government felt it was to provide Kerala additional funds for rehabilitation after the devastating floods of 2018, it had several options available apart from the one it chose, which was to allow the State to impose a 1% disaster relief cess. As a result, for two years, the Indian market will be divided into two: Kerala, where goods and services are 1% more expensive, and the rest of India. While it can be argued that the cess in Kerala is a one-off, the fact remains that this is a bad precedent to set. It’s not too hard to imagine a situation where States start clamouring for a cyclone relief cess, drought relief cess, flood relief cess, etc. Recovery from natural disasters is an expensive process, and additional funds must be made available. But mechanisms for this have already been put in place.
There is a National Disaster Response Fund at the Central level and each State has a State Disaster Response Fund.
Increasing budgetary allocations in these areas instead of spending on giant statues and advertising campaigns is an option.
Transparency is the other casualty of the GST Council’s need to provide temporary fixes to problems. Sunday’s decision to remove the input tax credit provision from the real estate sector will likely go a long way in increasing opacity in an already murky sector.
The input tax credit system was designed to create a seamless chain in the entire supply process. Normally, a company can claim credits for the tax it has paid on its inputs. Under a fully functioning GST system, the government can verify the amount of credits to be paid to the company by matching its invoices with those provided by the vendor. Such a system encourages honesty and transparency. This is the third time the Council has removed this vital provision, and its reason for doing so is weak. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the Council had noticed that real estate developers were not dropping their prices in line with what they should be doing, considering they were getting the benefit of input tax credits. This happened before in the case of restaurants. In both situations, the government took the easy way out and simply removed the input tax credit provision altogether. So, rather than relying on the body it had created to handle such issues, the National Anti-Profiteering Authority, the Council instead chose to weaken the entire tax system. This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem if the real estate sector was as small as the restaurant industry or the sanitary pads industry (the third industry where there is no input tax credits). But the real estate industry is estimated to be at least â‚¹40,000 crore in size. Not to forget the fact that cement, a huge input in real estate, is taxed at the highest rate of 28%, and will now not be offset by credits.
In both cases — disaster relief and anti-profiteering — the GST Council has chosen to ignore established institutions designed for those very purposes in favour of a patchwork approach that is likely to cause more problems than it solves. Mains Question What problems GST Tax slab system is facing after 2 years . In a country like india with its huge economy point out the difficulties in implementing GST systems core ideas of ONE Nation ONE tax system. What reforms are necessary today in making it the best reform after liberalization phase in india