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FARMERS’ AGITATION: A NEW BATTLEGROUND FOR ANTI-INDIA FORCES

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We are living in the world of hyper-morality wherein everything in public domain is judged by moral posturing of sensitivity towards the issue. The question of objective truth and the rule of law are standing at the intersection of this hyper- morality. And guess what, who is leading this band of hyper-moralists, it is the coterie of the left leaning journalists, academia and politicians masquerading as the torch bearers of justice. Taking example of the farm laws recently passed by the Parliament. Those who were the firm believers that opening the agriculture market for private players, now stand at the crossroads with the government and are vehemently opposing the three farm acts. The evolution of these farm acts was a gradual and a participatory process spread across two decades with the involvement of at-least three Prime Ministers over a period of 20 years. In fact, a call for reforming the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) or Mandis, as we know it, was communicated to the states by the then Prime Minister – Dr. Manmohan Singh in 2012.

Almost 50% of our workforce is engaged in agriculture but it’s share in country’s GDP is a meagre 17%. This disproportionate equation has been a worry for policymakers. If you look at the average land holding in India it stands at 1.08 hectares in 2015-2016 as compared to 2.00 hectares in 1976-1977. Redistribution of land among family members has decreased the average land holding. As per the 10th Agriculture census, Small and Marginal farmers (owning less than 2 hectares of land) account for 86.2% (126 million) of the total farming community in India. Together these 126 million farmers own 74 million hectares of land i.e. 0.6 hectare per farmer. The challenge in front of government is to increase the incomes of these small and marginal farmers who holds miniscule piece of land and are undergoing financial distress. The large-scale migration to the villages owing to COVID 19 has further stressed the agrarian system.

The humongous task in front of the current leadership of the country was to increase the farmers income. The new farm acts duly passed by the parliament propose to open the agriculture market for private players giving the opportunities to farmers to sell there produce in an open market. As of today, they have only one option to sell their produce to govt regulated APMC’s which have become cartels of middlemen and a source of corruption. Before we discuss further let us understand the acts that were passed by the government.

FARMERS PRODUCE TRADE AND COMMERCE (PROMOTION AND FACILITATION) ACT, 2020

The thrust of this legislation is to create an open market in agriculture. It is meant to break the shackles of the mandis and bring the farmers out of the mandi-middleman nexus. The statement of objects and reasons of the bill reads as “to provide for the creation of an ecosystem where the farmers and the traders enjoy the freedom of choice relating to sale and purchase of farmer’s produce”. The statement is self explanatory and the only effect of this legislation is to increase the market space and not decrease the existing space.

Notably, there is no provision in this legislation which effectively affects the existence of mandis. It is about giving more choice to those who do not want to participate in the monopolistic mandi system. It is a sound principle of economics and competition law that the government must endeavour to reduce monopolistic practices in all spheres of economic activity. It is a step in that direction.

ESSENTIAL COMMODITIES (AMENDMENT ACT), 2020

The Essential Commodities Act, historically, operated like a check on malpractices including illegal stocking of commodities which have been declared as essential by the government. In the post-independence period, this Act was instrumental in securing essential commodities for all members of the society as the available resources were extremely limited and such stringent measures were needed. Today, the scenario is different. We are amongst the largest producers of major agricultural crops. This Act of 2020 removes restrictions on stockpiling to ensure that private players take interest in agricultural operations and it becomes a profitable business. However, to prevent abuse of stockpiling, the Act states that stocking limits will be imposed if retail price is increased by 100% (for horticultural produce) and by 50% (for non-perishable food stuff).

FARMERS (EMPOWERMENT AND PROTECTION) AGREEMENT ON PRICE ASSURANCE AND FARM SERVICES ACT, 2020

This Act provides for contract farming. It enables the farmer to freely enter into contracts with other entities including agro firms, wholesalers, processors, individuals etc. and settle the terms of the engagement as per their mutual understanding and consent. The Act does not compel any farmer to engage in a prior contract; rather, it merely enables the farmers to do so under the protective umbrella of the Act. The Act provides a machinery for giving effect to such contracts and addresses the possibility of dispute resolution at the local level by mediation. At best, it is an enabling legislation and not a disabling one. Those who do not wish to engage in contract farming and want to sell their produce at traditional mandi level are free to do so.

PROTEST AGAINST THE ACTS

Even after 73 years of Independence, agriculture remains one of the sectors devoid of any private participation. The passing of these acts has been termed as a “watershed moment” in Indian agriculture history. No less than International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) chief Gita Gopinath lauded the government’s efforts and said that the laws will help in increasing the farmers income. But the series of protest against these acts have made their implementation difficult. The National Capital is seized by the protestors from three main borders, Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur. The violence unleashed by the protesting farmers on the Republic Day is still fresh in the public memory. Government went an extra step by giving them written guarantee for MSP but even after 9 rounds of talks with the government the stalemate between govt and “farmer leaders” seems unending.

The farmers protest also elicited support from some international celebrities who seem to be completely unaware of the realities that the Indian farmers face, or even of the farmers of their own respective countries. They are sitting atop their bandwagon of activism and hyper-morality from where everything seems to be a result of oppressive policies of a democratically elected government. But what they are not able to comprehend is number of people sitting at the borders blocking the national highways are way smaller than the number of suicides committed by farmers in India every year (10,281 farmers committed suicide in 2019). The cartels of mandis and middlemen is one of the reasons of the delipidated state of Indian farmers which are in place since last 73 years resulting in volatile agriculture growth in last decade from 5.8% in 2005-06 to 0.4% in 2009-10 and -0.2% in 2014-15.

When reforms are being undertaken which aims at improving the farmers income by giving them an option to sell their produce in an open market, compulsion and strong urge for moral posturing irrespective of going into the details of the acts have made these celebrities comment on the issue. Take an example of “environmental activist” Greta Thunberg, although her “designation” “environmental activist” is an oxymoron since nothing substantial could be found to justify her environmental activist credentials apart from blabbering “How dare you”. If you look at the farming pattern in Punjab it in environmentally unsustainable in so many ways, whether it is absence of crop diversification, decreasing water table in the state or rampant use of pesticides in crops which is largely driven by APMC and govt supported Minimum Support Produce (MSP) to paddy and wheat. Rallying in support of such rampant degradation of environment by an “environmental activist” is what is difficult to understand. Peaceful protests are a lifeline of an active and thriving democracy but when people with vested interests or “professional protestors”, take over the peaceful protest and start steering it towards a hateful, vengeful and violent path against the state we must tackle those forces.

CANADIAN POLITICS AND ECHOES OF FARMER PROTEST

Canadian PM’s uncalled stance on Farmers protest received irk from most of the Indian Media outlets and MEA for interfering in India’s internal matter. Even one of the MP’s from his party visited the protest site at singhu border. The comment made by Justin ‘Singh’ Trudeau, as he popularly known in Indian Sikh Diaspora in Canada, has its roots in Canadian Politics. Rise of the NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who is a Khalistan Sympathiser, has emerged as a prominent figure in the Canadian Politics. He is the first Sikh to lead a major Canadian Federal Political Party. In an interview with Terry Milewski, when he was asked to, he didn’t condemn Talwinder Singh Parmar who was responsible for Air India bombing killing 329 people. He has attended several programs and processions where posters, pictures, banners of Jarnail Singh Bhindrewala, Talwinder Parmar are a common sighting. A great orator with neo-marxist views, he is able to woo many Sikh votes which represent a sizeable voter block. Now the fight is between Trudeau’s Liberal party and Singh’s NDP to lure the Sikh votes. But what Trudeau doesn’t understand is that in order to gain some low hanging fruits he is jeopardizing the relations between India and Canada. During his tenure, relations between India and Canada have hit the rock bottom.

There are no takers of Khalistan movement in India or even in Punjab. The trauma and pain faced by the Sikh community and the Punjabis during the militancy is still afresh in their minds. As perfectly explained by Terry Milewski in his report “Khalistan: A project of Pakistan”, published by Canadian think tank Macdonald-Laurier Institute, it is Pakistan who is fuelling secessionist group abroad. The aim of carving out Khalistan from India is admitted no other than by the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In 1973 Bhutto said that they will carve out a piece of India to avenge 1971 war. “Pakistan will also have a Bangladesh carved out of India,” Bhutto promised to a group of journalists, “except it will be on Pakistan’s border.”

The proclivity of Trudeau’s government towards Khalistan secessionists has been a matter of debate even in Canada. Ujjwal Dosanjh, a Sikh and member of Trudeau’s Liberal Party, who served as Canada’s first Indo-Canadian premier in British Columbia, from 2000-01, and federal minister of health in Paul Martin’s government from 2004-06, had questioned the Trudeau’s administration invite to Jaspal Atwal during Trudeau’s visit to India. “You what? Do we have no shame?” Dosanjh tweeted. “Khalistan has seeped deep into the veins of this administration.”

Jaspal Atwal is the member of now-banned militant group International Sikh Youth Federation. He was involved in assassination attempt on Malkiat Singh Sidhu, former Planning Minister in Punjab Government in 1986, while he was visiting Canada for his nephew’s wedding. He was shot during the assassination attempt but survived. Five years later he was shot again in Punjab where he took his last breath. Jaspal Atwal was convicted in the assassination attempt and was sentenced to 20 years in jail. A year before that in 1985 he also attacked Ujjwal Dosanjh because of his strong views against Sikh extremism. Dosanjh was severely injured during the attack with a broken hand and 80 stitches.

These reasons deemed sufficient by PM Narendra Modi for the royal snub given to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his 2018 official visit to India which was an unusual stance taken by the PM of India. Usually, PM Modi himself reaches Airport to welcome the leaders and yes, who can forget about the Modi Hugs! But when it comes to sovereignty and unity of our country PM Modi is a no non-sense man. What Trudeau needs to understand is that internal Politics and Foreign Policy sometimes sails in two different boats, and you have to navigate them with extra precaution failing to do that can lead to catastrophic results.

The writer is Assistant Professor at Special Centre for National Security Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

There are no takers of Khalistan movement in India or even in Punjab. The trauma faced by the Sikh community and the Punjabis during the militancy is still afresh in their minds. As perfectly explained by Terry Milewski in his report ‘Khalistan: A project of Pakistan’, published by Canadian think tank Macdonald-Laurier Institute, it is Pakistan which is fuelling the secessionist group abroad.

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Policy & Politics

Why we need to shift from linear to circular economy

The circular economy is one of the boosters for enhancing the economic growth as it led to minimum wastage.

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As we all know the fact that the population is enhancing to a great pace and due to increase in the population, the demand and the requirements of the countries are also increasing each day.

Plastic will relentlessly seize our landfills, drifting in the oceans and defiling our bodies as long as we would attach ourselves to the 20th century’s linear kind of model of take make and waste. Nonetheless 21st century needs an alternative for plastic crises. As linear economy emphasizes on recycling which refers to the recirculating the toxic hazardous material, providing them another opportunity for infecting our ecosystem with poisonous repercussions. If the musings would remain intact with the saying that plastic is the only solution then it would definitely lead to generation of waste and proliferation of plastic.

The thing is that we have to go beyond the methodology of recycling and there is a need to construct framework for a credible circular economy. It would be primarily assisting to construct waste to biomaterial technology in order to curb with the predicament of climate with plastic and other waste. Apart from taking a packaging fee, these types of industries really require to get away from the carbon intensive chemicals to a protective materials production. It is a dire need to reduce the subsidies of particularly these kinds of industries, impose taxes on emissions.

Circular economy is a kind of technique through which the lifecycle of the product could be extended. It is a kind of model which entails leasing, sharing, repairing, reusing and refurbishing. Whenever the product attains the end of its life its material is retained wherever economy is possible so that maximum utility is possible. It could be optimally be utilized time and again. Additionally, it would enhance the value of the product. As contrast to the linear model this model relies on huge quantities quickly accessible material as well as energy.

What is the need to shift from linear to circular economy?

As we all know the fact that the population is enhancing to a great pace and due to increase in the population, the demand and the requirements of the countries is also increasing day day. But as it is quite evidenced that the resources are not proportionately equal to the population. This is the reason through which the environment gets influenced through the extraction of more and more raw material. Therefore, it also enhances the consumption of energy and CO2 emissions. Nonetheless, it is a need of smarter utilization of raw materials which would lower emissions of harmful gases.

POSITIVE EFFECTS

The measures for instance prevention of the waste, eco-design and re -utilization could probably would protect the corporate’s money. Additionally, it would decline the total annual greenhouse gas emissions. Right now, the production of the materials we utilize everyday is nearly 45% of the total carbon dioxide emissions. The more we progress towards a circular economy it would provide several benefits which are as following:

ENHANCING THE ECONOMIC GROWTH

The circular economy is one of the boosters for enhancing the economic growth as it led to minimum wastage. Through the assistance of the same the countries could grow economically. As it has been evidenced that it led to additional 0.5% to the growth to the economy.

IMPROVEMENT IN THE SECURITY OF RAW MATERIAL

With the help of the circular economy the raw material could be secured in an improved manner as it includes the smarter use of raw material.

Reduction in the pressure to the environment:

The circular economy also helps us to reduce the pressure to the vicinity as it led to the optimum utilisation of the resources.

CONCLUSION

It has been concluded that there is a need for developing a roadmap for each country that should be followed very diligently. That should clearly take into consideration different measures for instance waste generation, land filling, and greenhouse gas emissions. By removing the plastic-based kind of pollution we can all create a community which is more safer, healthier and sustainable.

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Policy & Politics

Cumulative value of India’s overall exports in April-March 2020-21 estimated at $493.19 billion

India’s export sector set to take off on the back of significant improvement in EoDB, creation of a plug and play investment/manufacturing environment, and launch of the PLI schemes across 13 sectors.

Tarun Nangia

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The Indian Economy has shown significant resilience amidst the global pandemic and trade shock that began to impact the global economy towards the end of 2019-20 and acquired catastrophic proportions in 2020-21. Secretary, Department of Commerce, Government of India Dr Anup Wadhawan today said during the virtual media interaction that the cumulative value of overall exports (merchandise & services) during April-March 2020-21 has been estimated at USD 493.19 Billion compared to USD 528.37 Billion during April-March 2019-20, registering a negative growth of (-) 6.66 percent. He added that it reflects a remarkable recovery over the course of the financial year after the huge downturn in April 2020 reflected in decline in merchandise exports by (-) 60.28% and services exports by (-) 8.92 %

Trade data for March 2021, the final month of 2020-21 reflects the build-up of a strong recovery in exports despite several challenges. The overall export (merchandise and services) for March 2021 is estimated at USD 52.20 Billion, registering a positive growth of 31.64 percent vis-à-vis March 2020. Merchandise exports in March 2021 grew by 60.29% as compared to March 2020, which was substantial even after factoring in the base effect. This was driven by healthy export growth in key sectors such as engineering goods (71.30%), gems & jewellery (78.93%), petroleum products (35.52%), drugs & pharmaceuticals (48.49%) and Organic & inorganic chemicals (46.50%).Merchandise Exports-other than POL and Gems & Jewellery had an even more impressive performance in March 2021 attaining a value of USD 27.42 Billion, as against USD 16.95 Billion in March 2020, an increase of 61.75%.

The cumulative value of merchandise exports during April-March 2020-21 has been estimated at USD 290.63 Billion compared to USD 313.36 Billion during April-March 2019-20, which is a negative growth of (-) 7.26 percent, which is fairly moderate given the prevailing global situation. If Gems & Jewelry and PoL exports, both involving very moderate value addition, are excluded, the growth in merchandise exports in 2020-21 was actually (+) 1% i.e. an increase over 2019-20, notwithstanding the Covid disruption. This reflects immense adaptability in our exporters in capturing new opportunities in sectors like other cereals, oil meals, rice, cereal preparations & miscellaneous processed items, drugs &pharmaceuticals, spices, fruits & vegetables, carpets, jute manufactures, ceramic products & glassware and organic &inorganic chemicals, while containing the downturn in other sectors in the face of huge challenges. The decline in export values in petroleum products and G&J also, predominantly reflected decline in global prices rather than volumes.

Petroleum products exports declined by $15.4 Billion y-o-y during FY 2020-21. This is a significant fraction of the decline in India’s total merchandise exports in FY 2020-21 of 22.7 USD billion. Export of Petroleum Products showcased a decline of (-) 37.3% YoY (-$15.4 Billion) during FY 2020-21. Share of Petroleum Products in overall exports also declined to 8.9%during FY 2020-21 as compared to 13.2% in FY 2019-20. Petroleum demand had been badly hit due to Covid-19 relatedlockdowns across the globe. Hence, the drop in exports was unavoidable during this period. Additionally, there has been a major decline in oil prices in the pastyear which has subdued the value of exports during this period. In this context it is mentioned that in Apr-Feb 2020-21, Pol export has recorded negative growth of (-) 42.8% and (-) 10.9% in value and quantity respectively over Apr-Feb 2019-20

Decrease in exports of diamond and other jewellery further dragged down overall exports and showed a decline of USD 9.9 Billion y-o-y during FY 2020-21, again a significant component in the overall fall of USD 22.7 Billion. Diamond and other jewellery registered a drop of 27.5% YoY (-$9.9bn) during FY 2020-21. Share of Gems & Jewellery in overall exports also declined to 9.0%during FY 2020-21 as compared to 11.5% in FY 2019-20. Further, Indian industry imports rough or unpolished diamonds fromother countries for finishing/polishing/cutting etc. Therefore, the import content is very high in exports of Diamonds and other jewellery resulting in low value addition

The commodities/commodity groups which have recorded positive growth during 2020-21 as compared to 2019-20 are Other cereals (219.13%), Oil Meals (87.91%), Iron Ore (86.78%), Rice (37.06%), Cereal preparations & miscellaneous processed items (21.16%), Drugs & Pharmaceuticals (18.07%), Spices (10.37%), Fruits & Vegetables (8.63%), Carpet (8.39%), Jute Mfg. including Floor Covering (8.29%), Ceramic products & glassware (6.02%) and Organic & Inorganic Chemicals (0.51%).

The overall trade deficit, taking merchandise and services together, for April-March 2020-21 is estimated at 12.74 USD billion as compared to the deficit of 77.76 US Billion in April-March 2019-20. The merchandise trade deficit between 2019-20 and 2020-21 declined from USD 161.35 Billion to 98.56 Billion

Prospects

Dr Wadhawan said that prospects for a quick recovery in world trade have improved as merchandise trade expanded more rapidly than expected in the second half of last year. World merchandise trade volume is expected to increase by 8.0% in 2021 (Jan-Dec) after falling 5.3% in 2020 (Jan-Dec), as per the WTO. World Trade continues its rebound from the pandemic-induced collapse that bottomed out in the second quarter of last year.

The Covid period has revealed new opportunities for Indian food sector. There is a rise in demand in US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Palestine and Egypt. Enquires for fresh/ dehydrated garlic, spices (chilli, turmeric, ginger), seed spices (cumin, fennel), sesame seeds/oil, sugar (new demand from Sri Lanka) and groundnut have been received by the exporters. The demand for non-basmati rice from new buyers such as Malaysia and the Philippines is likely to boost exports in the coming months.

India’s dominance in the pharma sector has been reinforced with supply of critical covid related supplies to over 150 countries and rapid growth in exports during the Covid period.

This sets an excellent foundation for our export sector to take off on the back of significant improvement in EoDB, creation of a plug and play investment / manufacturing environment across various industrial corridors, and launch of the very substantive PLI schemes across 13 sectors.

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Need to consider global pact on regulation of food tech: NITI Aayog official

‘Technology increasingly being controlled by private agencies and MNCs; global authority needed to ensure flow of such tech to developing nations for food safety and security.’

Tarun Nangia

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Expressing serious concern over the lack of proper global regulation on technologies affecting the food system, India is considering suggesting to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN to facilitate discussions on an international protocol or an agreement or a global authority on such technologies. “There are a lot of technological changes happening. In many cases, we do not have the right kind of regulation to ensure proper use of such technologies. Should we be asking the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN to help prepare some global protocol on whatever technologies are coming? So, could we or should we have some kind of global agreement on these or should a global authority be advising on these,” Professor Ramesh Chand, Member, NITI Aayog, said. He was speaking at a webinar organised by Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) and NITI Aayog on ‘National Consultation on Issues Before the UN Food Systems Summit’.

The event was held in the backdrop of the UN announcing that a Food Systems Summit (FSS) will be held in September 2021 in conjunction with the UN General Assembly. This Summit has assumed wider significance in the context of ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which exposed the fragilities in global food systems and their vulnerabilities to external shocks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to deliver his address during the summit. The 2021 FSS event has outlined five cross-cutting Action Tracks such as: Ensuring Access to Safe and Nutritious Food; Shift towards Healthy and Sustainable Consumption Patterns; Boosting Nature Positive Production at Sufficient Scale; Advancing Equitable Livelihoods; and Building Resilience to Vulnerabilities, Shocks and Stresses.

In his valedictory address, Jayant Sinha, Member of Parliament and Chairperson, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance drew upon contemporary challenges of agriculture livelihoods, and the emerging transformative changes and new institutional mechanisms in India for value creation through modern food processing system, with equal emphasis on sustainable food ecosystem. He duly stressed on the importance of access to markets and investments in this sector.

Speaking on the occasion, Professor Sachin Chaturvedi, Director-General, RIS, said given the food security concerns of the developing world, India has volunteered for Action Track 4 (that is related to advancing equitable livelihoods). He said the Indian government, through its food security welfare scheme, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, reached out to the masses including the migrant labour and ensured their food security during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts at the meeting spoke about the inequities being perpetrated in the global agriculture system with developed countries trying to formalise their first mover advantage in the World Trade Organization negotiations by not agreeing to reducing their trade distorting subsidies, and instead have not only brought in non-tariff barriers in the form of sanitary and phytosanitary or SPS measures but are also putting pressure on the developing countries to cut tariffs. Mr. Pawan Kumar Agarwal, Special Secretary (Logistics), Ministry of Commerce and Industry, though trade issues were only a small subset of the UN food systems discussions, they should be now highlighted from the perspective of hunger, safety and livelihood. There is also a need to advance the work on revisiting global and regional arrangements of food safety so that they are looked at from the objectives of the UN FSS, he said. The webinar addressed various issues related to ‘livelihood security and impli cations for trade in agriculture’ and ‘equitable access to technology for sustainable food systems.’

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Policy & Politics

India opposes rich world’s efforts to hoard Covid vaccines; seeks support for its proposal at WTO on its efforts to get TRIPS waiver to vaccines

New Delhi also called for greater support to its proposal along with South Africa at the World Trade Organisation to waive the implementation, application and enforcement of certain sections of the TRIPS Agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of IPRs) ‘in relation to prevention, containment or treatment of Covid-19 until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity’.

Tarun Nangia

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India on Friday vehemently opposed ‘vaccine nationalism’ – or the attempts by some developed countries to hoard vaccines and not sharing them or the related Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) with a view to maximise profits from not just COVID-related vaccines, but also from therapeutics and diagnostics.

New Delhi also called for greater support to its proposal along with South Africa at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive the implementation, application and enforcement of certain Sections of the TRIPS Agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of IPRs) ‘in relation to prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19 until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity’.

Sanjay Bhattacharyya, India’s BRICS Sherpa and Secretary (Consular, Passport and Visa and Overseas Indian Affairs), Ministry of External Affairs, expressed serious concern over ‘vaccine nationalism’ and said India and South Africa have repeatedly asked WTO members, especially from the developed world, to agree to provide IPR waivers to ensure that the developing world was able to access the vaccines. Shri Bhattacharyya said India has helped the global community by delivering 64 million doses of vaccines to more than 80 countries, and has shown the willingness and capability to shoulder greater responsibility to not only be the ‘pharmacy of world’, but also be a reliable provider of medicines and healthcare worldwide. He was delivering the inaugural address at the two-day BRICS Civil Forum 2021 held in a virtual format and organised by the think-tank RIS. The official also called for reforms of multilateral bodies including the UN, IMF, World Bank and the WTO so that they can respond better to global challenges including pandemics, digital divide, climate change and terrorism.

In his keynote address, Shri P. Harish, India’s BRICS Sous Sherpa and Additional Secretary (ER), Ministry of External Affairs, said the multilateral bodies have not lived up to the expectations, adding that the edifice of the international system has been weakened and undermined. He said BRICS countries should work to strengthen the international governance architecture and enhance the capacity of WHO, IMF, World Bank and the WTO to make it more inclusive, representative and democratic by enhancing the participation of developing countries to effectively address various challenges confronting the world today.

Professor Sachin Chaturvedi, Director-General, RIS, said the priorities for BRICS during the year include ‘reformed multilateralism’, ‘technological and digital solutions for Sustainable Development Goals’, ‘enhancing people-to-people cooperation’ and ‘counter terrorism cooperation’. Dr. Mohan Kumar, Chairman, RIS, said there was a need to study how the BRICS countries have reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic including sharing best practices, adding that it would be useful to look at the strengths and weaknesses of BRICS countries in this regard to be better prepared for future global health crisis-like events. He said the BRICS bloc must also cooperate on finding common solutions to address the widening inequalities within the BRICS countries, especially following the pandemic outbreak.

Dr. Victoria Panova, Managing Director, Russian National Committee on BRICS Research and Vice President for International Relations, Far Eastern Federal University, Russia, presented the report of BRICS Civil Forum 2020, and mentioned about initiatives including BRICS vaccine research centre and a program to stimulate green investments.

Amb. Pavel Knyazev, Russia’s BRICS Sous-Sherpa, said the COVID-19 pandemic has provided opportunities for BRICS countries to not only consolidate their efforts so far but also to collaborate for a better future. Amb. Ben Joubert, South Africa’s BRICS Sous-Sherpa, said BRICS countries need to address the common challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, and push the development agenda in various international fora. Amb. Amar Sinha, Distinguished Fellow, RIS also spoke on the occasion.

BRICS has shown resolve through the creation of new financial mechanisms under the BRICS, viz. the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement. Arguably, organisational and decision-making parameters in these institutions are more democratic than that of the Brettonwood institutions. Similarly, BRICS needs to lend stronger voice towards reviving the WTO and retaining its development centrality.

The event had sessions including on ‘reformed multilateralism’, ‘development finance and global public goods’ and ‘pandemic response, partnership and role of civil society’. India assumed the BRICS Chairship in 2021, at a time when BRICS is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Under the theme “BRICS@15: Intra-BRICS Cooperation”, India’s approach is focused on strengthening collaboration through “Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus”.

The ten themes for BRICS Civil Forum 2021 include reformed multilateralism; development finance and global public goods; pandemic response, partnership and role of Civil Society; quality of economic growth and inclusion; wellness, health and traditional systems of medicines; BRICS economies and women participation; future of education and skills – new paradigms of learning in BRICS; ‘entitlements to entrepreneurship – role of technology’; people’s participation in sustainability – BRICS Experience; and dialogue on society and peace building. RIS is planning to organise a series of events on thematic dialogues, starting with the Curtain Raiser on 16-17 April 2021 and ending with the final event in July 2021. (ENDS).

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Policy & Politics

Making it happen: INDCOSERVE

Most INDCOSERVE tea factories present a ‘bombed’ look thanks to the complete run down and dilapidated status of the mechanical, civil and electrical infrastructure.

Anil Swarup

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This was 2017. A discussion in one of the Committee Rooms of the Parliament House was underway. I was present as Secretary, School Education and Literacy. As it was inter-departmental discussion, there were Ministers and officers of the other Ministries as well. What is etched in my memory is the poise of the then Director General, Doordarshan. I was impressed with her lucid articulation and presentation. I discovered later what wonderful work she was doing in rebuilding the credibility of Doordarshan and in restoring its primacy.

INDCOSERVE was set up in 1965 by the government of Tamil Nadu with the objective of providing livelihood opportunities to small tea farmers in the Nilgiris. It had been empowering its farmer members with access to information, training and marketing thereby laying a strong foundation for a brighter future in true spirit of the co-operative movement. INDCOSERVE has emerged as India’s largest Tea Co-operative Federation with more than 30,000 small tea farmers as its members manufacturing about 14 million kilograms of tea in its 16 tea factories.

Like most Government organizations, INDCOSERVE lacked a futuristic vision. It was Supriya Sahu, an IAS officer who had turned around Doordarshan as its DG who formulated futuristic vision for INDCOSERVE based on the inherent potential of the organization and the inputs from our most important stakeholders viz. the farmers.

To keep INDCOSERVE future ready and to bring it back in competition with other well established tea brands intensive field visits to connect with the farmers were organised. The idea was to listen to their wisdom and experience, gather and analyse data and study market intelligence. At the end of the exercise, it was found that the first and the most critical intervention had to be “Quality”. Mission Quality was thus born.

As no internal professional support was available, the first task was to get a qualified professional and dynamic team to support initiatives and interventions that were to be take in coming months. An Advisor was brought in to lead the charge. A quality management team, Tea leaf price fixation team, Tea Auction base price fixation team and Marketing and Brand building team were put in place with representation from farmers heading Factory Boards.

A Quality Management Team was also put in place which designed Standard Operating Protocols (SOPs) and implemented them. Training, capacity building, setting benchmarks, feedback mechanism were integrated in the Mission Quality. An internal quality certification protocol for identifying and rewarding factories making good quality teas was also evolved. This led to competition among the factories each one vying for better grading. Better grades were linked with an incentive mechanism wherein more teas were bought from better graded factories and less from others. This brought improved resources to those who were making better quality teas. This had the desired impact

Most INDCOSERVE tea factories present a “bombed” look thanks to the complete run down and dilapidated status of the mechanical, civil and electrical infrastructure. INDCOSERVE Tea factories were looked down upon as typical “Sarkari” factories. The factories were also stigmatised as ones churning out bad quality teas year after year.

It was important to create a model which would break the stereotypical image of factories. The idea was to inspire the farmers about their own enterprise and create an easily replicable model. All resources were galvanized and tea factory at Kattabettu was renovated. The factory was completely transformed and more importantly painted with beautiful images of the local people, flora and fauna. Local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) to helped completely restore the environment around the factory. A nature walk was created. An Eco-information centre has been set up within the factory to spread awareness about eco restoration activities and ecology of the Nilgiris Bio-sphere reserve. All this brought a sea change in people’s perception. An upgradation and modernisation plan for factories was prepared. This got funding support from the government of Tamil Nadu and NABARD.

As a key communication strategy, a weekly open house for farmers was started. Personal letter was written by Supriya to all 30,000 farmers seeking suggestions from them to strengthen their own organisation. An appeal was also made to them to give good quality leaf only and help transform the organisation. This was transformational. Now, a farmers Application viz., “Indco App” has been launched to make this communication digital.

Visits were organized to private tea factories to make them realise how private factories were able to keep their factories cleaner, more hygienic and well maintained with even less resources. They also learnt about packaging and marketing These visits inspired them and instilled confidence.

The pricing mechanism for green tea leaves supplied by farmers was also improved. It was important to break the vicious cycle of supply of bad quality of leaves leading to bad quality of teas manufactured in Indco factories. A calculated risk was taken in announcing better prices for the raw material being supplied by farmers. These initiatives helped INDCOSERVE improve profitability due to better utilisation of the capacity.

The product portfolio was confined only to 3 tea products which were in old style packaging and were also only dust grades. This has now been expanded to 11 products. Each of these is well packaged in attractive brand names. In the pipeline are niche products coming for the first time in the market like the Nilgiri Kahwa Tea. The organization now has State of the Art e-commerce website www.indcoserve.com.

INDCOSERVE is the largest supplier of teas in the Public Distribution System (PDS) of the Government of Tamil Nadu wherein about 2500 tonnes of tea is being supplied every year to about 30,000 ration shops.

Most of the factories were making losses as there had not been much focus on exploring newer markets. Their complete dependence only on one auction platform i.e., Teaserve made them vulnerable to market volatility. Hence, other auction platforms were used. This initiative helped earn better price for teas and has also exposed them to buyers from across the country.

Indco Tea Houses are being opened across the State to market teas to a wide range of tea lovers. Mobile Tea and food trucks, called Tea-Vandi are providing a unique experience to tourists and locals. Five vehicles are already operating and 20 more vehicles are joining the fleet in the coming few months.

Fairtrade and Trustea Certification for Indcoserve factories have now been obtained. This would be a game changer as these reputed certifications would now help charge a premium on teas and would also help export teas to most EU and American markets.

Consequent to the efforts put in by Supriya and her wonderful team, sales turnover has increased by 180% from Rs. 136.00 crores in 2019-20 to Rs.240.00 crores in 2020-21. Farmers’ income has increased by 160% from Rs. 12 per kg of green tea leaf during 2019-20 to Rs. 19 per kg during 2020-21. Average selling price of bulk teas has gone up from Rs. 66 to Rs. 103

The lady officer from Doordarshan, Supriya Sahu had the “door drishti” (vision) and she could make-it-happen despite very challenging set of circumstances. She could do it on account of her vision, meticulous planning, passionate execution and by taking all the stakeholders into confidence.

Anil Swarup has served as the head of the Project Monitoring Group, which is currently under the Prime Minister’s Offic. He has also served as Secretary, Ministry of Coal and Secretary, Ministry of School Education.

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Policy & Politics

Stop squabbling, save people’s lives

Fear and anxiety rule the roost but fighting the pandemic with courage is the only option.

Vijay Darda

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In the turbulent times of Covid-19, there is an acute shortage of everything. There are no beds, no oxygen, no ventilators, no medicines for treating the ever surging number of Covid-19 patients. Such a scary situation doesn’t warrant the luxury of indulging in political squabbling. There should be no blame game. The time is crucial for saving human lives. And saving lives is also in our hands to a great extent. If you are using a single mask, start using a double mask and if you have not used it, put it on immediately. Follow the guidelines. Help the government. Cooperate with the government because the government is doing what it can, but it cannot do more than this. Today every person needs to become a ‘chowkidar’.

Of course, the blame game that is going on is not in anyone’s interests. States are blaming the Centre and the Centre is blaming the states. This blame game must get over fast. We all are Indians. All of us are children of Mother India. Neither BJP nor Congress and not any other party for that matter can be greater than the nation. Everything belongs to Mother India. This is not the time to practise discrimination.

None of us had ever imagined such a difficult and sordid time in our dreams. We were told that when the epidemic like Spanish influenza and plague had spread, several villages were wiped out in many parts of the world. And today, we are seeing loved ones struggling for life. My Lokmat family is very large. Everyday news comes from my HR department that Mr so-and-so is gone or Mr XYZ is gone. This is happening every day. Similar news is coming from every part of the country. If biggies in top positions are not able to get beds, imagine the condition of the common man? The rich and powerful who have oodles of money have left the country for treatment abroad. Many have taken shelter in Maldives and Dubai. Some people have gone to the hill stations but then this kind of system is suited for a handful of super rich people. They don’t represent the bigger picture of the country. The common man who is the soul of the country is struggling with horrific tragedy.

It is good that Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the seers and finally the Kumbh Mela concluded. Actually, this mega event should not have been allowed in the first place. Better late than never! It is estimated that about 49 lakh devotees have taken a dip in Kumbh. Thousands of devotees along with hundreds of sadhus also got infected with coronavirus. Two prominent saints lost their lives too. Now imagine if thousands of people reach different parts of the country by becoming carriers, how many will be infected? After all, it affects the administration. People who work in administration are also human beings. That is why I am saying that we should cooperate with the government. It is necessary to follow all the protocols of Covid with complete restraint and discipline, otherwise the situation will get worse. Just remember how a hue and cry was raised about the Tablighi Jamaat in the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic! Remember that small sparks cause deep wounds. It is our responsibility to keep this country intact. Massive political rallies are being organised in many states where elections are going on and the Election Commission should ban them immediately. If the Election Commission is not able to prevent these rallies, the Supreme Court should take cognisance and stop them. These rallies and gatherings are just corona bombs!

As of now, the government is leaving no stone unturned to stop the spread of corona infection. There is a steady increase in the number of beds for corona patients in the country, but the question is, from where to bring doctors, nurses and paramedical staff? Certainly, lakhs of families have lost someone or the other. Hence it is but natural that people should get annoyed with the system, but we have to understand that this is not the time to fight with the doctors. It is time to boost their morale. The kind of spirit that doctors, nurses and paramedical staff have shown in the turbulent and uncertain times is commendable indeed. Doctors cannot be held responsible if there is a shortage of beds or lack of oxygen. What is the fault of the doctors? Do not forget that they are humans too.

Let me remind you that the first wave of coronavirus was fiercely confronted by India through lockdown and earlier in the year it seemed that we were winning. This bred complacency and subsequent negligence made the people to start organising weddings and celebrations which provided a fertile ground for coronavirus to flourish. It turned the tables! Taking a lesson from the first wave, the government also had to make arrangements like the US or Europe did, but we displayed utmost negligence. Today we are suffering its adverse effects. Even now, if possible, we can prevent future losses. Our ancestors had seen a worse time but they managed to get out of it. The cholera epidemic that began in Bengal in 1816, along with lakhs of Indians, also swallowed 10,000 British soldiers. Nearly 1.70 crore Indians were killed in the Spanish flu that spread in 1918.

At that time, the population of India was less than 32 crore. Science was not so advanced at that time, so deaths occurred more and it took a long time to get a vaccine. This time, many vaccines have become available in less than a year to fight the coronavirus. But don’t expect the coronavirus to end with just the vaccine! It will still take a long time for everyone in the country to get the vaccine. Even after taking both doses of the vaccine, it is not clear whether the vaccine will have to be taken every year or every six month. Therefore, avoiding corona is the best option.

We are witnessing how people are stressed, fearful and worried. Covid-19 scare is taking an emotional toll too. The resurgence of the virus has caused public anxiety. But this does not mean that we lose courage. Bear in mind that we can defeat this deadly virus only with the weapons of restraint, discipline, courage and alertness!

The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.

On one hand, the patients are running from pillar to post in search of medicines and hospitals with beds, oxygen and ventilators, and on the other, a disgusting round of accusations and counter accusations continues. The squabbling and blame game should end now! And yes, you too should follow the Covid-appropriate guidelines and support the government efforts. For, the government is doing everything it can, but don’t expect it to give you more than what it is dispensing now.

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