INDIAN EXPRESS EDITORIAL AND EXPLAINED 10th DECEMBER 2019

ISSUE: DECISION OF AUNG SAN SUU KYI TO DEFEND MYANMERESE ARMY ON ROHNIGYA ISSUE

Editorial highlights that Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to appear before the International Court of Justice to defend Myanmar from charges of genocide against Rohingya Muslims is a gambit.

She believes that her defending her country’s actions against the Rohingya would carry credibility in the court. Her decision to travel to The Hague has triggered an outpouring of support for her among Myanmar’s majority Buddhist communities.

It is ironic that Suu Kyi, who had only some years ago, rallied international opinion against the army, will now appear in its support.

WHO HAD SUED THE MYANMAR? 

Gambia, backed by the Organisation for Islamic Co-operation, has taken Myanmar to the ICJ on charges of violating the UN convention of prevention of genocide.

Gambia’s lawsuit is based on a 2018 UN report that accused Myanmar of “genocidal intent”, and its Army of murder, rape and a host of other charges.

EDITORIAL’S VIEW

Suu Kyi’s staunch refusal to take the side of the Rohingya has disappointed all those who saw her as an icon of freedom and democracy. Her defence in court is likely to be what it has been elsewhere: That military operations against the Rohingya in the Rakhine were actions against terrorism.

WHO ARE ROHINGYA’S? 

Rohingya are an ethnic group, largely comprising Muslims, who predominantly live in the Western Myanmar province of Rakhine. They speak a dialect of Bengali, as opposed to the commonly spoken Burmese language.

Though they have been living in the South East Asian country for generations, Myanmar considers them as persons who migrated to their land during the Colonial rule. So, it has not granted Rohingyas full citizenship.

According the 1982 Burmese citizenship law, a Rohingya (or any ethnic minority) is eligible for citizenship only if he/she provides proof that his/her ancestors have lived in the country prior to 1823. Else, they are classified as “resident foreigners” or as “associate citizens” (even if one of the parent is a Myanmar citizen).

Since they are not citizens, they are not entitled to be part of civil service. Their movements are also restricted within the Rakhine state.

 

ISSUE: COLLECTING AND DISSEMINATING RELIABLE DATA

WHY RELIABLE DATA IS IMPORTANT? 

Reliable data is important for several reasons

Reliable data is critical in shaping private investment in the economy.

Accurate data is arguably even more important for guiding government actions. Consider the following policy questions facing India today: Does the economy require little support, a reasonable amount, or urgent and massive measures? Is there really an employment problem? Has poverty come down or gone up? Do poor government revenues simply reflect a deep economic downturn — or serious collection problems, requiring urgent measures to improve tax administration? Is there no room, a little room or considerable room for expansionary fiscal policy? Has the financial system turned the corner — or are stressed assets actually rising?

All these questions could be answered by RELIABLE DATA.

WHAT COULD BE DONE? 

Accordingly, the government’s immediate task is to re-boot the data systems in three sectors: Real, fiscal and financial.

On the real sector, measurement of GDP, employment, and consumption have all proved problematic. To remedy this, the government should set up a committee, perhaps under the leadership of Nobel Prize winner Professor Abhijit Banerjee, who knows and cares deeply about these issues.

On the fiscal accounts, the government should use the next budget as an opportunity to present a revised and cleaned-up set of fiscal accounts, allowing it to put behind the problems of the last budget. The aim should be to clean up not just the flow (deficit) numbers but also the stock (debt) numbers.

Once a sound budgetary accounting system is created, it needs to be institutionalised. Perhaps the best way to do this is by creating a Fiscal Council, as proposed unanimously by the NK Singh FRBM Review Committee. Such a council could help ensure that the accounting framework is being followed and the budget projections are realistic, based on reasonable forecasts for GDP and tax buoyancy.

On the financial sector, given the recent credit bubble and the series of problems, involving so many financial institutions, the time is ripe for a second Asset Quality Review (AQR).

A new AQR — perhaps even led by a former RBI Governor — will allow the government and the RBI to assess the precise magnitude and sectoral nature of the problem, thereby facilitating better-tailored and better-designed policies to solve the problem. It should cover not just the NBFCs but also the banks, which are experiencing renewed stress from the real estate, steel, power and telecom sectors.

 

ISSUE: INEQUALITY IN INDIA

India has made so much progress over the past 30 years.

Yet, there are significant concerns today, borne out by data, that the dramatic strides made in reducing extreme poverty did not reduce inequality. In fact, inequality has widened.

A flurry of recent estimates, ranging from income inequality data from the India Human Development Survey and wealth inequality numbers by Credit Suisse to distributional income accounts by economists Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty, indicate that economic disparities have grown along with the GDP.

To put it simply, while the poor have indeed benefitted from India’s economic success, the rich have garnered a greater share of the spoils. Indeed, Oxfam’s inequality estimates from earlier this year suggest the top 10 per cent of the Indian population holds 77 per cent of the total national wealth.

Inequality is not just about disparities in wealth distribution. A large number of Indians not only have very low income, but their opportunities for healthcare, education and social security are dreadfully inadequate.

Author highlights that these inequalities will be WIDENED BY THE CLIMATE CHANGE.

The climate crisis is already hitting the poorest communities hardest and earliest. Millions of Indians in low-lying coastal areas are exposed to a rise in sea levels. Around two-fifths of the population subsist on agriculture that relies on increasingly erratic rainfall and fluctuating temperatures. A soon-to-be-released UNDP study on the impact of climate change on human development in India finds that across the country, from the hills of Uttarakhand to the coasts of Odisha, communities with greater power have, consciously or not, shifted some of the environmental consequences of their consumption onto poor and vulnerable people, onto marginalised groups, and onto future generations.

CONCLUSION

Today, India is no longer a country languishing largely in extreme poverty. It is a country with pervasive inequality, pockets of deep deprivations and vulnerable populations.

To achieve the SDGs, we must recognise existing inequality and continuously eliminate the structural factors that create inequality.

UNDP stands ready to support India to devise its own solutions to provide all its people — now and in the future — with a fair and dignified lot in life, powered by technology, shielded from prejudice and protected from an increasingly unforgiving climate.

EXPLAINED

ISSUE: SEEDS BILL 2019

The existing 1966 law already provides for regulation of the quality of seeds. What does the new Bill seek to change?

The current Act only covers “notified kinds or varieties of seeds”. Thus, regulation of quality, too, is limited to the seeds of varieties that have been officially notified.

The new Seeds Bill, 2019 provides for compulsory registration of “any kind or variety of seeds” that are sought to be sold. According to Section 14 of the draft Bill, “no seed of any kind or variety… shall, for the purpose of sowing or planting by any person, be sold unless such kind or variety is registered”.

What is the context for bringing the Bill?

The 1966 legislation was enacted at the time of the Green Revolution, when the country hardly had any private seed industry. The high-yielding wheat and paddy varieties, which made India self-reliant in cereals by the 1980s, were developed by the various ICAR institutes and SAUs.

These public sector institutions have retained their dominance in breeding of wheat, paddy (including basmati), sugarcane, pulses, soyabean, groundnut, mustard, potato, onion and other crops, where farmers largely grow open-pollinated varieties (OPV) whose grain can be saved as seed for re-planting.

Over the last three decades or more, however, private companies and multinationals have made significant inroads, particularly into crops that are amenable to hybridisation.

So, are privately-bred hybrids not covered under any regulation?

The current Seeds Act, as already noted, applies only to notified varieties. Also, unless a variety or hybrid is notified, its seeds cannot be certified. Most of the private hybrids marketed in India, by virtue of not being officially “released”, are neither “notified” nor “certified”.

Instead, they are “truthful labeled”. The companies selling them simply state that the seeds inside the packets have a minimum germination (if 100 are sown, at least 75-80, say, will produce plants), genetic purity (percentage of “true-to-type” plants and non-contamination by genetic material of other varieties/species), and physical purity (proportion of non-contamination by other crop/weed seeds or inert matter).

How does the proposed Seeds Bill, 2019 address the above lacuna?

It does away with the concept of “notified” variety. By providing for compulsory registration of “any kind or variety of seeds”, private hybrids — whether officially “released” or “truthful labeled” — will automatically be brought under regulatory purview.

It must be mentioned here that the Seeds (Control) Amendment Order of 2006 under the Essential Commodities Act mandates dealers to ensure minimum standards of germination, purity, and other quality parameters even in respect of “other than notified kind or variety of seeds”. Enforcing mandatory registration under a new Seed Act, encompassing all varieties and hybrids, is expected to bring greater accountability from the industry, even while rendering the Seeds Control Order redundant.

When is the Bill likely to become law?

Despite the buzz, the chances of it being introduced in the current session of Parliament are remote — it is not listed in the legislative business expected to be taken up. Incidentally, an earlier version of the Bill had lapsed after being introduced in 2004.

 

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