Read The Hindu Notes of 29th January 2019 for UPSC Civil Service Examination, State Civil Service Examination and other competitive Examination

The Hindu Notes for 29th January 2019
  • Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 29th January 2019
  • A chessboard called Uttar Pradesh

    It’s do or die for all three in U.P. — the BJP and its resurgent rivals, the SP-BSP combine and the Congress

  • Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s bombshell induction into the Congress and her being given the charge of East Uttar Pradesh just ahead of the general election did the one thing previously unimaginable. It caused a little tsunami in the TV studios habitually glued to the movements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India Today TV set its fetching photo feature on Ms. Vadra to the 1980’s Bollywood hit song, “Bijli girane mei hun aayee (I’ve come like a thunderbolt).” Anchors across channels debated the ‘Priyanka game-changer.’
  • A fusion and shift

  • Yet, for all the hype around Ms. Vadra’s wild card entry, it is not the first big thing to happen this election season. That credit goes to the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which closed a breathtaking deal just weeks earlier. The alliance was between two subaltern forces, each with a committed vote base, the fusion of which was capable of effecting a tectonic shift in the power politics of U.P. The two had been bitter enemies before but have buried the hatchet realising the match-winning potential of their combined strength. The story of the SP-BSP threatened to be the story of the fall of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in U.P. and it triggered a furious rejig of calculations: the alliance did look poised to overtake the BJP. But then came the Modi Government’s announcement of a 10% quota in education and jobs for the general category. Into this cocktail has now been added the Priyanka Vadra factor, the consequences of which are as yet unclear, aside from its electrifying effect on the morale of the Congress cadre. The Congress, which had been left out of the SP-BSP deal, has since acquired a swagger which it is showing off for all to see.
  • Admittedly, there will be more twists with the near certainty of schemes tailored for U.P. in the Union Budget. The frantic one-upmanship between the parties in U.P. owes itself to the State’s fabled role in deciding who wins and who sinks at the national level. Although at least three governments, led each by the Congress and two versions of the United Front, in 1991 and 1996-1998, have made it to Delhi bypassing U.P., the belief remains that the way to the national capital is via Lucknow. The reason for this is the BJP’s critical dependence on U.P. Whether in 1996, when it emerged as the largest single party and briefly held power for 13 days, or in 1998, 1999 and 2014, when it formed full-fledged governments at the Centre, U.P. has been central to the party’s successes.
  • State’s poll arithmetic

  • Consider U.P.’s role in making BJP governments at the Centre. In 1996, 52 of the party’s total seats of 161 came from U.P. In 1998, 57 out of 182. In 1999, 29 out of 182. And in 2014, exceeding all expectations, 71 out of 282. In sum, no U.P., no government for the BJP. So if the BJP must win all it can in U.P, its rivals in the State, whether the SP-BSP alliance or the Congress, must ensure precisely the opposite result because the stakes are equally high for them with three crucial objectives to be met: dislodge the Modi government, ensure their own survival in the State, and have a shot at forming the next government.
  • With equations changing constantly and ever new inputs causing the poll arithmetic to undergo rewrites, is it possible at all to guess who will stand where in U.P. when the last vote is counted? On paper, the BJP is unassailable. But the U.P. of today is not the U.P. of 2014 or even 2017. Demonetisation, which powered the BJP’s 2017 victory, has recoiled on the poor. State Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s cow-centric policies have deepened the woes of farmers already in distress even as the targeted killings of Muslims, sizeable at 20% of the population, have left the community feeling under siege.
  • So even in a static political situation, the BJP would have found it hard to repeat its 2014 performance. In 2014 as well as in 2017, the BJP beat its opponents in every department — in caste arithmetic, in booth management and in being visible 24 into 7 via a captive media. Mr. Modi’s charisma, the party’s deep coffers and the old chestnut of communal polarisation did the rest. In 2019, the rivals are a savvier lot, with their own caste arithmetic and PR tricks.
  • It is a given that the Modi-Shah pair will not stand by while their opponents strategise to defeat them. Reports suggest that the 10% general quota has enthused the alienated upper castes. Whether this group will be diverted in part to the Congress because of Ms. Vadra remains to be seen but her entry undoubtedly poses a threat to this previously solid BJP vote bank. A resurgent Congress can also chip away at the SP-BSP’s Muslim support. The biggest plus point for the Congress is the goodwill it has always enjoyed in U.P. On the other hand, it has no core constituency that can act as a pivot to attract other castes and communities.
  • A deeper reading

  • The SP-BSP alliance was not meant to happen, and if it has happened, it is only because the situation was dire for both of them. The partners had no future individually. The BJP’s vice-like hold on the State and its resources meant that the respective cadre of the SP and the BSP had no hope for the foreseeable future. No party can indefinitely retain its rank and file without the carrot of an electoral triumph and a realistic chance at the loaves and fishes of office. The arithmetic of togetherness, ignored earlier, could no longer be overlooked. After the failure of their last unity experiment in 1993, the SP and the BSP had resolutely resisted teaming up, largely due to deep personal animosities. A change of guard in the SP in the form of Akhilesh Yadav did a lot to ease things. But it is arithmetic that clinched the deal. Together the SP and the BSP are match winners and have been so in every election since 1993 when they first beat the BJP. Indeed, statistics show that together they will have likely stopped the BJP’s conquest of Delhi, whether in 1998, 1999, or even in 2014. In 1998, the BJP’s vote share from U.P. was 36.49%. In the same election, the SP-BSP had a combined vote of 49.60%. In 1999, the partners had 46% to the BJP’s 27.64%. And in 2014, they lagged behind but only by a few decimal points.
  • Today, the two parties look formidable. They have got the Rashtriya Lok Dal on board, and are looking to add smaller Other Backward Classes (OBC)-based parties. Realising that the OBC castes are vital for victory, the BJP fused them together brilliantly in 2014. This time the advantage of social engineering could be with the SP-BSP alliance. If the combine’s vote share crosses the one-third mark, it could even benefit from the three-way split.
  • If the alliance brings itself to do one more thing, it could become unbeatable. And that is to stop chasing the chimera of upper caste votes and pitch itself as a protector of OBCs and reservation, as against the BJP which has returned to its upper caste roots with the 10% general quota. Will they do it?
  • At the time of writing , Rahul Gandhi had promised a minimum income for the poor. How the BJP tops that will be known on February 1.
  • Capable even if disabled

    An institutional display of pure and simple discrimination dressed up as legal reasoning is unacceptable

  • One of the darkest moments in the American disability rights movement was the American Supreme Court’s decision, in 1927, upholding the forced sterilisation of a mentally infirm woman, reasoning that it helped get rid of those who would sap the state of its strength by swamping it with incompetence. Similarly, in India, the Supreme Court’s ruling last Tuesday, in V. Surendra Mohan v. Union of India, has to be regarded as one of the darkest in India’s disability rights movement.
  • The Court had to rule on the legality of the Tamil Nadu government’s policy of reserving the post of civil judge only for people whose percentage of blindness does not exceed 40-50%, resulting in the exclusion of the applicant who was 70% blind. It held that the government’s decision was rational and reasonable. It ruled that a judicial officer has to possess a reasonable amount of sight and hearing to discharge her functions. It accepted the claim that impaired vision makes it impossible to perform the functions required of judicial officers, such as assessing the demeanour of witnesses and reading and analysing evidence. It also accepted that asking a blind judicial officer to perform such administrative functions as recording dying declarations and conducting inquiries can result in avoidable complications. The judgment is problematic for four key reasons.
  • Examples of success

  • First, the view that a totally blind person cannot thrive as a judge is belied by several examples of successful judges who are blind. One is former South African Constitutional Court judge Zak Yacoob, who has repudiated the notion that one needs to be sighted to assess a witness’s demeanour as being nonsensical, to U.S. Court of Appeals DC Circuit judge David S. Tatel, who thinks that it is neither fair nor accurate to impose low expectations on what blind lawyers can do. There is also former San Diego County Court judge David Szumowski, who has described the view that a blind person lacks the wherewithal to become a judge as an unfair characterisation, to Yousaf Saleem who, last year, became Pakistan’s first blind civil judge.
  • Second, how, some contend, can a blind person be reasonably expected to thrive as a judge without being excessively dependent and inefficient? However, as the Supreme Court itself noted in 2017, “A lawyer can be just as effective in a wheelchair, as long as she has access to the courtroom and the legal library, as well as to whatever other places and material or equipment that are necessary for her to do her job well.”
  • Those voicing such a statement of cynicism might find it equally hard to imagine how a blind person can write an article for The Hindu, as this writer is doing, or study computer science, as many blind Indians have done or be a successful civil servant, as Beno Zephine N.L. is.
  • Third, the Court’s unreasoned assertion is an outcome of their ignorance about the capabilities of the disabled. However, as Laura Wolk notes, ignorance simply cannot be an excuse in 2019. It is simply unacceptable to condemn disabled legal professionals, possessing the intellectual wherewithal to be a judge, to the status of outcasts only because the judges delivering the judgment in this case appear simply not to have bothered to notice the competence of the millions of disabled people who inhabit this world.
  • As Judge Szumowski asks Indian judges, “if you went blind while on the bench, and were able to efficiently discharge your responsibility before this, how would you feel if told that you can no longer continue as a judge, even if you are able to perform your functions with some amount of retraining and adaptive tech?”
  • Reasonable accommodations

  • Fourth, as to obviating avoidable complications, the reasonable accommodations required by a blind judge may be considered irksome. However, it bears noting that “there is a distinct exhortatory dimension to be recognised in deciding whether an adjustment to assist a disabled person to overcome the disadvantage that she or he has in comparison to an able-bodied person is reasonable.” It does not lie in our mouth to say that we are truly committed to ensuring that the constitutional promise of equality is fully realised, if we lack the ability to even pay the price of making reasonable accommodations.
  • This is not just of academic interest for me. On my path to becoming a blind postgraduate law student at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, I have often been compelled to engage with the cynicism of those who thought that something was simply too difficult and messy for me to do as a blind person. And perhaps some things were, and continue to be, comparatively more difficult. But those experiences also helped me cultivate the ability to assert myself and to find ways of thriving in a world not designed for me — qualities that many able-bodied persons do not possess to the same degree and qualities which were recently recognised by a sitting Supreme Court judge in open court.
  • When my Supreme Court tells me that my blindness makes me intrinsically incapable of becoming a judicial officer, when it arrogates to itself the power to stamp a badge of incompetence on thousands like me about whom it knows nothing, its declaration cuts to the core of my confidence about the fairness and robustness of our judicial system. Indeed, it is telling that even the applicant in this case took it as a given that those who are completely blind for all intents and purposes, like me, cannot become a judge; it only argued that a partially blind person can become a judge. I have never had any interest in becoming part of the judiciary. However, I earnestly believe that how we choose to respond to this institutional display of pure and simple discrimination dressed up as legal reasoning will be reflective of what kind of a society we hope to be.
  • Shot in the arm

    The Supreme Court’s ruling eases the implementation of the IBC in knotty cases

  • Last week’s Supreme Court judgment upholding the validity of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 (IBC) in its “entirety” could have a major impact on the country’s economic landscape. The fledgling IBC has been severely tested in the two years since its enactment, with the Centre being forced to amend a couple of its provisions in order to plug some loopholes that enabled defaulting borrowers to challenge the legislation. Any law of this nature that takes over businesses and assets from defaulters and empowers lenders to change the management is bound to face legal challenges. Borrowers were never going to take the IBC lying down, and that is exactly what happened; over the last two years, they have challenged various aspects of the law in tribunals and courts. In the event, the apex court’s stamp of approval on the entire Code is a strong signal to borrowers and banks even as it brings a sense of relief to the Centre, which has been watching one of its better economic initiatives being stifled by vested interests.
  • One of the major challenges mounted against the IBC was by operational creditors, who are owed money by the company in the normal course of operations for supply of goods and services. In the payment waterfall prescribed under Section 53 of the IBC in the event of liquidation of the company or its sale to another entity, their dues rank below those of financial creditors, workmen and employees. This was challenged by the operational creditors, who wanted equal treatment with financial creditors in the waterfall mechanism. Several landmark cases that were referred to the National Company Law Tribunal under the IBC remain stuck there, including that of the high-profile Essar Steel, as a result of its operational creditors seeking equal treatment. With the Supreme Court now ruling that there are “intelligible differentia” between operational and financial creditors, an avenue that defaulters used to stymie proceedings has been closed. Repayment of financial debt by borrowers infuses capital into the economy as lenders can on-lend the money that has been repaid to other entrepreneurs, thus aiding economic activity, the judges observed. The apex court has also clarified that a mere relationship with an ineligible person cannot disqualify someone from becoming a bidder for a troubled asset. It has to be proved that such a person is “connected” with the business activity of the resolution applicant. The court used strong words: “…[T]he experiment conducted in enacting the Code is proving to be largely successful. The defaulter’s paradise is lost.” This constitutes a clear signal of its backing for the IBC which, despite all the challenges that it has faced, has been successful in sending a message to recalcitrant defaulters that there can be no more business-as-usual when they default.
  • Effortless brilliance

    Djokovic beats an error-prone Nadal for a record-breaking seventh Australian Open title

  • Novak Djokovic, at his absolute best, can make even the most fiercely competitive of draws appear enervated. From the start of 2015 to mid-2016, when he won five of the six Grand Slam events, he arguably played at a level unmatched in tennis history. With his merciless demolition of Rafael Nadal in Melbourne on Sunday, which gave the World No. 1 a men’s-record seventh Australian Open singles trophy, and his 15th Major overall taking him past American great Pete Sampras, he is on the cusp of repeating that golden run spread across 2015 and 2016. The Serb’s transformation, in just over six months, from a physically compromised and mentally withdrawn state to having a shot at sporting immortality, has been staggering. Against Nadal, he did not quite have to hit his peak; the World No.2, despite having looked the better player leading up to the final, never truly arrived, with his rhythm, timing and tactics all over the place. The 17-time Grand Slam champion seemed smitten by anxiety, a far cry from the 2018 Wimbledon semifinal when he fearlessly matched Djokovic shot for shot over five epic sets. But that is probably what the mask of invincibility does to opponents, something that Djokovic wears so effortlessly.
  • To be sure, Djokovic had lost in each of the three tournaments before the Australian Open — to rising youngsters in Karen Khachanov and Alexander Zverev, and the gritty Roberto Bautista Agut — suggesting a few cracks. But the manner of victory over Nadal, where he conceded a mere eight games and did not drop a set, a first in 25 finals for the Spaniard, proved that the 31-year-old had lost none of his astonishing powers of recovery. Nadal was on the path to recovery as well, playing only his first tournament since his injury-forced retirement in the U.S. Open semifinal last September. Following Roger Federer’s loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 20-year-old sensation from Greece, the tournament seemed open to further upsets, but the business end demonstrated that the elite can never be written off. As Nadal said after dismantling Tsitsipas in the semifinal, what fans can instead look forward to is an irresistible battle of the generations. On the women’s side, this clash has seemed heightened in recent years, and Naomi Osaka, with her gallant three-set win over Petra Kvitova in the final, firmly established herself as the next big thing. For the 21-year-old to back up her maiden title at the U.S. Open with a win in the very next slam is character-revealing. She is now the World No.1 and also the first Asian to get there. She has the temperament and the poise to go much further.
  • Think differently about healthcare

    India’s public health system can no longer function within the shadows of its health services system

  • In India, public health and health services have been synonymous. This integration has dwarfed the growth of a comprehensive public health system, which is critical to overcome some of the systemic challenges in healthcare.
  • A stark increase in population growth, along with rising life expectancy, provides the burden of chronic diseases. Tackling this requires an interdisciplinary approach. An individual-centric approach within healthcare centres does little to promote well-being in the community. Seat belt laws, regulations around food and drug safety, and policies for tobacco and substance use as well as climate change and clean energy are all intrinsic to health, but they are not necessarily the responsibilities of healthcare services. As most nations realise the vitality of a robust public health system, India lacks a comprehensive model that isn’t subservient to healthcare services.
  • A different curriculum

  • India’s public health workforce come from an estimated 51 colleges that offer a graduate programme in public health. This number is lower at the undergraduate level. In stark contrast, 238 universities offer a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in the U.S.
  • In addition to the quantitative problem, India also has a diversity problem. A diverse student population is necessary to create an interdisciplinary workforce. The 2017 Gorakhpur tragedy in Uttar Pradesh, the 2018 Majerhat bridge collapse in Kolkata, air pollution in Delhi and the Punjab narcotics crisis are all public health tragedies. In all these cases, the quality of healthcare services is critical to prevent morbidity and mortality. However, a well organised public health system with supporting infrastructure strives to prevent catastrophic events like this.
  • Public health tracks range from research, global health, health communication, urban planning, health policy, environmental science, behavioural sciences, healthcare management, financing, and behavioural economics. In the U.S., it is routine for public health graduates to come from engineering, social work, medicine, finance, law, architecture, and anthropology. This diversity is further enhanced by a curriculum that enables graduates to become key stakeholders in the health system. Hence, strong academic programmes are critical to harness the potential that students from various disciplines will prospectively bring to MPH training.
  • Investments in health and social services tend to take precedence over public health expenditure. While benefits from population-level investments are usually long term but sustained, they tend to accrue much later than the tenure of most politicians. This is often cited to be a reason for reluctance in investing in public health as opposed to other health and social services. This is not only specific to India; most national health systems struggle with this conundrum. A recent systematic review on Return on Investment (ROI) in public health looked at health promotion, legislation, social determinants, and health protection. They opine that a $1 investment in the taxation of sugary beverages can yield returns of $55 in the long term. Another study showed a $9 ROI for every dollar spent on early childhood health, while tobacco prevention programmes yield a 1,900% ROI for every dollar spent. The impact of saving valuable revenue through prevention is indispensable for growing economies like India.
  • Problem of health literacy

  • Legislation is often shaped by public perception. While it is ideal for legislation to be informed by research, it is rarely the case. It is health literacy through health communication that shapes this perception. Health communication, an integral arm of public health, aims to disseminate critical information to improve the health literacy of the population. The World Health Organisation calls for efforts to improve health literacy, which is an independent determinant of better health outcome. Data from the U.S. show that close to half of Americans lack the necessary knowledge to act on health information and one-third of Europeans have problems with health literacy. India certainly has a serious problem with health literacy and it is the responsibility of public health professionals to close this gap.
  • Equally important is a system of evaluating national programmes. While some fail due to the internal validity of the intervention itself, many fail from improper implementation. Programme planning, implementation and evaluation matrices will distinguish formative and outcome evaluation, so valuable time and money can be saved.
  • The public health system looks at the social ecology and determinants focusing on optimising wellness. Healthcare services, on the other hand, primarily focus on preventing morbidity and mortality. A comprehensive healthcare system will seamlessly bridge the two.
  • A council for public health

  • A central body along the lines of a council for public health may be envisaged to synergistically work with agencies such as the public works department, the narcotics bureau, water management, food safety, sanitation, urban and rural planning, housing and infrastructure to promote population-level health. In many ways, these agencies serve to bring in many facets of existing State and federal agencies and force them to see through the lens of public health. The proposed council for public health should also work closely with academic institutions to develop curriculum and provide license and accreditation to schools to promote interdisciplinary curriculum in public health.
  • As international health systems are combating rising healthcare costs, there is an impending need to systematically make healthcare inclusive to all. While the proposed, comprehensive insurance programme Ayushman Bharat caters to a subset of the population, systemic reforms in public health will shift the entire population to better health. Regulatory challenges force governments to deploy cost-effective solutions while ethical challenges to create equitable services concerns all of India. With the infusion of technology driving costs on the secondary and tertiary end, it is going to be paramount for India to reinvigorate its public health system to maximise prevention. India’s public health system can no longer function within the shadow of its health services.
  • Learning to probe early

    Why research should be made part of UG curriculum in India

  • While addressing the 106th Indian Science Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored the need for universities to get involved in research. While India has made considerable strides in achieving a near-perfect enrolment rate in primary education, it has failed to give higher education as much attention. As a consequence, Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education is 25.8%, against China’s 48.44% and the U.S.’s 88.84%. Mr. Modi’s address alerts us to major lacunae in the education system that need to be looked at urgently if the higher education system is to meet the demands of today.
  • The importance of research

  • Research remains a significant weakness in India’s higher education system, traditionally cocooned in specialised institutes such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). Unlike the world’s best higher education systems, there is hardly any interaction between these institutes and teaching universities.
  • In India, about 80% of the students enroled in higher education are concentrated in undergraduate (UG) programmes. Research and application-oriented education can substantially enhance the quality of UG education. While the concept of UG research is fairly new in India, it is now taken as a given in many parts of the world. Several studies on such programmes have shown a positive impact on students, such as enhanced learning through mentorship, increased retention, increased enrolment in graduate education, more prowess in critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, intellectual independence, and understanding of research methodologies. Research at the UG level increases the aptitude for research-oriented career options as well as the employability of students. Based on the nature of their association and the nuances of a research programme, the faculty can also gain by sharing their research ideas with students, receive valuable feedback as well as help in the form of assistantship and apprenticeship. Additionally, research also helps the faculty enhance their teaching abilities and content by upgrading knowledge. Introducing and sustaining the culture of research at this level can also help solve the problem of shortage of faculty, as more students will likely opt for doctoral and post-doctoral studies and teach in their home country. In any sound higher education system, research and teaching should ideally go together.
  • Besides, the government has also floated two ambitious projects towards internationalising higher education in India: ‘Study in India’ and ‘Institutes of Eminence’. Both these will need institutes to become world class and carry out high-quality research on campuses. Only then will competent faculty as well as doctoral students from across the world come to India. Internationalisation of campuses is important if India wants to be in the global university ranking lists and this will not happen without encouraging an ecosystem that promotes high-quality research.
  • Some strategic steps

  • However, given the impediments vis-a vis infrastructure, teachers, funds and content, the government will need to take strategic steps to roll out policies to promote UG research programmes. First, investment in education needs to meet the world standard of at least 6% of GDP, to upgrade infrastructure, labs and resources, which are essential to carry out high-quality research. Second, the University Grants Commission and other regulatory bodies will have to come out with a priority list of reputable journals. This will rid the country of the problem of bogus journals and publications. Research institutes such as TIFR and IISc should mentor some of the well-performing universities and colleges till they become aware of the nuances of conducting fair and high-quality research. Once capable, these trained institutes can then help the second rung of colleges and so on. Third, there should be planned ways to embed research in UG curriculum. Due to limitations in curriculum and the practice of rote learning, most students in India, even at the Masters level, graduate without having attempted an original piece of research or dissertation. The UGC should make it compulsory for students to submit at least a 5,000-word research paper that should be assessed just as publication in serious research journals are. Unless students are made aware of the value of research from an early stage, they will not recognise the true value of higher education.
  • The status quo in education has resulted in education that is not only substandard but also fails to open inquiring minds to the world of research. India must be innovative in its approch if its demographic dividend is to be tapped into. Otherwise, what Mr. Modi said will remain a quotable quote.
  • What reporters and rockets share in common

    Covering rocket launches is a tricky affair, especially when deadlines beckon

  • On a starry night last Friday, the reflection of the moon glimmered on the dark waters of Pulicat Lake. It was close to midnight, but that didn’t stop enthusiasts from lining up near the lake to watch yet another rocket go up from ISRO’s launchpad at Sriharikota.
  • Inside the spaceport, the speakers blared with the countdown. When the words “lift-off successful” rung through the night air, the black sky turned orange. Large trees always block the view of the base of the launchpad for us at the media centre and this time I was in for a surprise: unlike the GSLVs, which boom so much at lift-off that one waits in anticipation for the spectacle that unfolds over the next few seconds, the PSLV-C44 soared soundlessly into the sky. Only a few seconds after it sped ahead did a booming noise come from the vehicle, a modified rocket with two strap-on boosters.
  • This was also the first time in nearly 13 years that I saw the separation of the rocket’s first stage and second stage engine firing so clearly. The darkness of the sky ensured a clear view: white fumes emanated from the rocket, the fumes’ tail accentuated by a dark red smoke, the first stage shut off, there were a few milliseconds of darkness, and then a sudden surge of orange light as the second stage fired, powering the rocket ahead on its path.
  • While all this was taking place in the distance, I was in for a third ‘first’: a flock of birds sailed across the sky. These migratory birds are regular visitors to the lake. This was such a beautiful sight to behold that I urge everyone to gather on the other side of the lake if there is another launch during the migratory season.
  • While the excitement in the air is palpable during rocket launches, journalists are always filled with some anxiety. Covering rocket launches is a tricky affair, especially when deadlines beckon. More than a decade ago, when I was working at a news agency, the moments following the lift-off used to cause panic, as the news of the lift-off, the announcements that followed, and the mission’s success all had to be transmitted almost immediately to the subscribers. This had to be done despite patchy mobile signals. Sometimes, one had to run from the terrace to the nearest phone to transmit the news. And sometimes it also meant that we missed watching the launch and only heard the voice on the speakers to know if it was a success or not. GSLV launches in those days would give a lot of uncertain moments to reporters as they were prone to failure. On the other hand, PSLVs were fairly easy to cover as ISRO has truly mastered them.
  • The C44 was also the first time I was covering a near-midnight launch, which is a nightmare as it is close to the time when our edition is put to bed. With the speeches of the ISRO chairman and the launch team eating into the deadline, I had a window of only about 15 minutes to cram in as many details as possible. It was then that my phone rang. Never a good sign. “Rohit, where’s the copy,” the copy editor asked. I was frantic. “Give me 10 minutes, I have two more paragraphs to go!” The voice on the other side was calm: “In two minutes, the edition has to go.” “Damn,” I muttered to myself. I typed as quickly as I could and mailed the copy. Sometimes we cannot write everything we want, but then there are other days. Who said only rockets have countdowns?
  • Investment over subsidies

    A reconfiguration of public policy is needed to replace agricultural subsidies with investment

  • We are witnessing something akin to lobbying for a universal basic income whereby every Indian citizen gets money paid into their bank account. A recent proposal published in the print media is presented also as a solution to the current agrarian impasse. It argues for the removal of all agricultural subsidies, which range from fertilizer subsidies to those on interest, water and power, and distributing the saving among most of the rural population. To its authors, this scheme presents itself as addressing ‘rural’ and not just ‘farm’ distress. To evaluate what is being proposed as a way out of the present agrarian crisis it would be useful to understand what defines it and to recognise the originally intended role for the agricultural subsidy.
  • At its core the agrarian crisis is a case of agricultural activity not yielding enough returns for a section of the farming population. This group is facing a declining farm size due to partitioning across generations. As this population grows the process of fragmentation of the family farm will continue, with succeeding generations staring at a shrinking pie. There are two solutions to this problem. One is the obvious one of enabling some members of each household to shift out of farming. The other is to reconfigure public expenditure on agriculture to raise the yield of land. Actually, the latter would serve both objectives.
  • A reconfiguration of public policy is needed to replace agricultural subsidies by capital formation or ‘investment’.
  • For three and a half decades now subsidies have progressively replaced public investment for agriculture. Having once been less than half that of investment it is now five times as large. Evidence points strongly to a case for moving some distance back. The impact of public investment on both the yield of land and rural poverty, encompassing a cohort wider than farmers, is far greater than that of fertilizer, electricity, irrigation and interest rate subsidy. This crucial finding is due to the Sino-Indian team of economists Shenggen Fan, Ashok Gulati and Sukhadeo Thorat. In their study, the investments found most valuable were “educational” and on rural roads.
  • The agricultural subsidies that are now found wasteful were designed with a purpose. The plan was to place agricultural production on a sound footing. It envisioned raising the yield of land, which works to generate rising output without inflation and with reasonable profit. The price of food has historically been high for Indians at the bottom of the income distribution. This has held back industrialisation and the desirable shifting of population away from farming to other activities. Even a total elimination of subsidies to enable this transformation via public investment may not be such a bad thing. However, eliminating them merely to implement a universal basic income would be unwise.