INDIAN EXPRESS EDITORIALS AND EXPLAINED 26th December 2019

ISSUE: CHIEF OF DEFENSE STAFF

WHY IN NEWS?

The Union cabinet’s approval for the post of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) on Tuesday brings to fruition the process set in motion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech when he announced that “… after formation of this post, all the three forces will get effective leadership at the top level”.

WHEN WAS THIS MOOTED?

The office of a principal military advisor to the government was first mooted many decades ago but it got a serious push only after the 1999 Kargil War.

The Kargil Review Committee, headed by the late K Subrahmanyam, stated the requirement which was fleshed out in detail in 2001 as a substantive recommendation of a CDS by a Group of Ministers (GoM) on National Security in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

An expert committee, headed by Naresh Chandra, again recommended a top military advisor, not a CDS but a Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee — but it, too, did not see the light of day.

WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF CDS?

The major task of the CDS, as stated by the government, is to ensure coordination between the three services, especially in matters of defence procurement, besides helping in force structuring of the services to bring in savings and operational synergy.

The CDS will prioritise requirements of the three services within budgetary allocations, taking a big responsibility away from the ministry, and has also been tasked to facilitate “restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands”.

That is an important role, which also points to a reform roadmap for the future — towards the eventual creation of joint theatre commands.

EDITORIAL’S VIEW

Some teething problems can be expected in the beginning but things are bound to fall in place as norms, processes and rules are worked out between the three services, the CDS and the defence ministry. It will require the navigation of entrenched institutional interests, hierarchical powers and military traditions, to lay the foundations for a strong and functional CDS.

ISSUE: TIGER POPULATION

WHAT IS THE PRESENT STATUS?

Ever since they slumped to an all-time low of around 1,400 in 2006-2007, India’s tiger numbers have increased. The last Tiger Census Report, released in July, put the population at 2,967, a 33 per cent increase over 2014 when tigers were last enumerated.

WHY IN NEWS NOW?

But the achievements in conservation have been clouded by doubts over the counting methods. In September, an investigation by this paper revealed that the last tiger census had over-reported the population by 16 per cent.

Following that investigation, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) — which along with the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) conducts the tiger census — has taken the first step towards introducing correctives. It has admitted the necessity of “bringing more scientific robustness to the exercise”.

In the 1970s, when India embarked on Project Tiger, conservation authorities sought to identify every tiger in the wild from its paw print. But scientists criticised this method as highly subjective and riddled with the possibilities of duplication. Their fears came true in 2005, when this newspaper reported that the Sariska National Park in Rajasthan had lost all its tigers — an year before, pug mark surveys had claimed that all was well at the reserve.

Since 2006, tiger audits have relied on camera traps, they have estimated the animal’s prey base and tried to gauge the health of the tiger’s habitats. All this has helped the NTCA and WII to arrive at more realistic numbers.

But doubts over methodology have persisted. The quality of camera traps has been a major issue in several reserves and scientists have contended that the NTCA and WII have not devised sound protocols.

The last tiger census, however, invited questions. It counted under-age cubs, methods used to identify the uniqueness of an individual animal were given short shrift and the problem of duplication resurfaced.

These have led to renewed demands by scientists for transparency in the census operations. In the past, the NTCA has stonewalled such demands. It is heartening, therefore, that it has finally acknowledged the need for “accountability”.

However, it is disappointing that the agency has dismissed calls to subject the tiger census procedures to peer reviews. Without passing this credibility test, India’s greatest wildlife protection success story will not have a place in scientific literature. Worse, tiger conservation will continue to be linked to attempts to score political points.

ISSUE: NPR AND NRC

ON TUESDAY, the Union Cabinet approved over Rs 3,900 crore for a National Population Register (NPR). Coming in the backdrop of nationwide protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed all-India National Register of Citizens (NRC), the NPR is being seen by many as the first step towards the NRC, while the Centre has sought to delink the two. The governments of Kerala and West Bengal have already announced that they will not implement NPR.

What is NPR?

The NPR is a list of “usual residents of the country”. According to the Home Ministry, a “usual resident of the country” is one who has been residing in a local area for at least the last six months or intends to stay in a particular location for the next six months. NPR is not a citizenship enumeration drive, as it would record even a foreign national staying in a locality for more than six months. This makes NPR different from the NRC, which includes only Indian citizens while seeking to identify and exclude non-citizens.

Is NPR connected to NRC?

The Citizenship Act empowers the government to compulsorily register every citizen and maintain a National Register of Indian Citizens. A nationwide NRC — if undertaken — would flow out of NPR. This does not necessarily mean that an NRC must follow NPR — no such register was compiled after the previous NPR in 2010. After a list of residents is created, a nationwide NRC — if it happens — could go about verifying the citizens from that list.

The 2018-19 Annual Report of the Home Ministry also says the NPR is the first step towards implementation of the NRC. “The National Population Register (NPR) is the first step towards the creation of the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) under the provisions of the aforementioned Statute (Citizenship Act),” the Annual Report said.

What else makes NPR controversial?

Another debate has been about privacy. The NPR intends to collect many details of personal data on residents.

The NPR is among a host of identity databases such as Aadhaar, voter card, passport and more that Home Minister Shah said he would like to see combined into one card. “We will have to end all these separate exercises,” Shah said at the foundation stone laying ceremony for the new Office of Registrar General of India and Census Commissioner on September 24.

If there was a previous NPR, how and when did the idea originate?

The first such project dates back to the UPA regime and was put in motion by then Home Minister P Chidambaram in 2009. At that time, it had clashed with Aadhaar (UIDAI) over which project would be best suited for transferring government benefits to citizens. The Home Ministry then pushed NPR as a better vehicle because it connected every NPR-recorded resident to a household through the Census. The ministry push even put the UIDAI project on the back-burner.

The data for NPR was first collected in 2010 along with the house-listing phase of Census 2011. In 2015, this data was updated by conducting door-to-door surveys.

However, with the NDA government picking out Aadhaar as the key vehicle for transfer of government benefits in 2016 and putting its weight behind it, NPR took a backseat. It was through a notification on August 3 by the RGI that the idea has been revived. The exercise to update the 2015 NPR with additional data has begun. Digitisation of updated information has been completed.

Why does the government want so much data?

While there are concerns about privacy, the government position is based on two grounds. One is that every country must have a comprehensive identity database of its residents with demographic details. In its statement issued after Cabinet approval to NPR, the Home Ministry said the objective of conducting NPR is to “prepare a credible register of every family and individual” living in the country apart from “strengthening security” and “improvement in targeting of beneficiaries under various Central government schemes”.

The second ground, largely to justify the collection of data such as driving licence, voter ID and PAN, is that it will will ease the life of those residing in India by cutting red tape. “It is common to find different dates of birth of a person on different government documents. NPR will help eliminate that. With NPR data, residents will not have to furnish various proofs of age, address and other details in official work. It would also eliminate duplication in voter lists,” an official said.

Officials, however, insist that NPR information is confidential, meaning it will not be shared with third parties. There is as yet no clarity on the mechanism for protection of this vast amount of data that the government plans to collect.

What does one make of the defiance of West Bengal and Kerala?

These Opposition-ruled states are making a political point. Citizenship, aliens and naturalisation are subject matters listed in List 1 of the Seventh Schedule that fall exclusively under the domain of Parliament. Legally, the states have no say in implementing or ruling out NPR. However, given that the manpower is drawn from the states, the defiance could potentially result in a showdown.

 

 

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