ISSUE: FOOD INFLATION
WHY IN NEWS?
Retail food inflation crossing 10 per cent, the first time in nearly six years, isn’t good news for an economy already mired in a deep slowdown.
That “core” consumer inflation — which excludes price increases in the more “volatile” food and energy components — is still only 3.5 per cent cannot be any consolation.
Given that the monetary policy’s overarching concern is price stability, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), for one, has to pay as much attention to inflation expectations as actual inflation. Food inflation, in other words, cannot be dismissed as “non-core”.
Most agri-commodities have gone through a protracted bear phase, with consumer food inflation during the period between September 2016 and August 2019 not only averaging a mere 1.4 per cent, but consistently trailing overall retail inflation. At some point, prices have to play catch-up and it’s quite possible that’s beginning to happen.
WHAT COULD BE DONE?
If food prices are simply correcting from lows, neither the government nor the RBI should do much to stop that.
Rather than resorting to export bans, subsidised imports or stockholding restrictions — these will only discourage investments in modern warehousing, cold storage, processing and farm extension support — the focus of policymakers should be on removing structural impediments to the production and free movement of agri-produce.
The return of food inflation may not allow RBI to further slash interest rates now, but it certainly opens up room for much-delayed reforms in agriculture.
Farmers will not mind the rationalisation of subsidies when prices are looking up.
ISSUE: ICJ HEARING ON ROHINGYA’S
WHAT WAS THE CASE AT ICJ?
The case at ICJ revolves around proving genocidal intent and commission of actual genocide by Myanmar in October 2016 and August 2017, when more than 80,000 and 7,40,000 members of the Rohingya community left Myanmar’s Rakhine state for Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.
Apart from alleged cases of sexual violence against women, surveys conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières in Bangladeshi refugee camps estimated that at least 9,000 Rohingya died in Rakhine state, between August 25 and September 24, 2017.
WHO WAS DEFENDING MYANMAR’S CASE?
From December 10 to 12, Nobel laureate and Myanmar’s State Counsellor and de-facto foreign minister, Aung Sung Suu Kyi, appeared before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to defend her country against charges of committing genocide.
WHAT WERE THE ARGUMENTS GIVEN?
Similar arguments had been made at multiple forums in the past. On such occasions, Myanmar has denied the charge of genocidal intent and Bangladesh, a country where Rohingya fled to in 2016 and 2017, has charged Myanmar of continuing with the “decades-long state practice of deprivation, disenfranchisement and atrocities”.
At the ICJ, as expected, Suu Kyi disputed the allegations of genocide and called it an “incomplete and misleading factual picture of the situation in Rakhine state in Myanmar”.
Repeating the military’s position, Suu Kyi stated it was the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an extremist group of some members of Rohingya community, that first carried out attacks on military posts.
In her defence at the ICJ, Suu Kyi admitted that “it cannot be ruled out that disproportionate force was used by members of the defence services in some cases in disregard of international humanitarian law, or that they did not distinguish clearly enough between ARSA fighters and civilians”.
She also expressed unhappiness over the military’s pardon of four officers and three soldiers who were sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labour for executing 10 Rohingyas in Inn Din village.
At the ICJ, only “provisional measures” to protect the Rohingya can be imposed before the case can potentially be heard in full.
ISSUE: CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT 2019
Under the legislation, there is a provision to grant citizenship to minority groups, especially Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis who have come to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
There are three critical questions here.
First, why did the government feel the need to bring this legislation?
Second, does it discriminate among people on the basis of religion in granting citizenship?
And third, does the entire process of bringing in the Bill stand constitutional validity?
The answer to the first question about why these people are being given citizenship lies hidden in India’s history. It is a fact that our country was partitioned along religious lines in 1947, and East and West Pakistan came into existence.
In 1950, a pact was signed between the then Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, and his Pakistani counterpart Liaquat Ali Khan, which avowed to provide security to the minority communities in both countries. Islamabad reneged on that promise, and hence, people in large numbers have been coming to India from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The main reason why these people flocked to India was religious persecution and a grave threat to their religious identity in their host countries.
On the question of its constitutional validity, we must remember that the Preamble to the Constitution says that every person has, “Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.” People who believe in any religious ritual have an equal right of religious freedom to practise those rites and rituals.
The main question raised by the Opposition is with reference to Article 14 of the Constitution. They are contending that by giving citizenship only to certain religious minorities of neighbouring countries, the government is indulging in the politics of discrimination.
The truth, however, is far removed from the Opposition’s allegations. If the government of a welfare state segregates people on any ground and then extends equal rights to all members of the segregated group, then that arrangement is valid under Article 14.
It is the same as segregating people to grant them the benefits of reservations. It doesn’t mean that if 10 per cent of the people in the country are granted reservations, the policy is against the taxpayers of the country. It also doesn’t mean that reservations for OBC Muslims is against upper caste Hindus. In the TMA Pai case, the Supreme Court upheld the segregation of people on religious and linguistic grounds. Hence, such issues being raised by the Opposition are baseless.
There is also a charge that the legislation is against Northeastern states. This also is not true. The government has exempted all Inner Line Permit regions of the Northeast from its ambit. Further, it has not included the tribal areas in the northeast.
The government has set a cutoff date of December 31, 2014, for granting citizenship to people under the Act. This means that new immigrants will not be included among the people for granting of citizenship. It only grants citizenship to people who have entered on or before the cut-off date.
ISSUE: GENDER PARITY INDEX
India has ranked 112th among 153 countries in the annual Global Gender Gap Index for 2020, published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Iceland, Norway, and Finland occupy the top three spots in the Report.
Now in its 14th year, the Report benchmarks countries on their progress towards gender parity in four dimensions:
- Economic Participation and Opportunity,
- Educational Attainment,
- Health and Survival and
- Political Empowerment.
The Report aims to serve “as a compass to track progress on relative gaps between women and men on health, education, economy and politics”.
Global Gender Gap Index for 2020: Key findings
* Globally, the average (population-weighted) distance completed to gender parity is at 68.6%, which is an improvement since last edition.
* The largest gender disparity is in political empowerment. Only 25% of the 35,127 seats in parliaments around the world are occupied by women, and only 21% of the 3,343 ministers are women.
* Projecting current trends into the future, the overall global gender gap will close in 99.5 years, on average, across the 107 countries covered continuously since the first edition of the Report.
* At the current pace, gender gaps can potentially be closed in 54 years in Western Europe, 59 years in Latin America and the Caribbean, 71.5 years in South Asia, 95 years in SubSaharan Africa, 107 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 140 years in the Middle East and North Africa, 151 years in North America, and 163 years in East Asia and the Pacific.