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Finding a ray of hope in Covid-19 pandemic

Vinayak Talwar

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In March last year, as I had been studying hard for the Spanish exam which was the next day, my parents received an SMS: “This is to inform you that the Third Language exam stands cancelled.” That was that. I cannot even describe how happy I was. I had dreaded Spanish since I had first started and now, finally, it was over! I am quite sure that I thanked God for bringing Covid-19 into this world. But after five months and a lot of online classes, I now think of how ironic that moment had been.

The truth is that, at that moment, I didn’t realise how my temporary ally could grow to be my most irritating opponent. In March 2020, I didn’t know that online classes were even a thing, let alone the fact that they would become my method of learning for five months. I didn’t think that a nation of a billion and a half people could go on a complete lockdown for more than two months. Alas, as the saying goes, “there’s a first time for everything”.

A few weeks into the lockdown, I started feeling irritated. Two months ago, if anyone had told me I would be getting more than a month off from school, I would have been over the moon. But this lockdown made me realise the actual fun of going to school, and just getting out of the house in general. I don’t think the words exist to describe just how irritated I became over the months which came after that. I dreaded the novel coronavirus. In fact, at that point, I would have preferred catching Covid-19 than staying home for three more months!

What I have said above would make any reader who didn’t know about the pandemic hate it instantly. Yes, it is to be hated. However, as someone who is living through it, I can say that it has taught me something which is impossible to learn otherwise: The value of things. We try to be grateful and thank God for his gifts, however, in reality, it is impossible to learn the true value of something until it is taken away from you. No matter how much gratitude we have and how much we thank God in our prayers, what we are doing is only the next best thing. The pandemic has taught us that.

Right now, we might dread it, but in the future, we will not. The worst part of any activity always happens first. However, it is only the best life lessons that last the test of time. In two years’ time, I will thank God for putting me through this challenge because it has taught me something and made me stronger. It also doesn’t hurt that in 60 years’ time I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren, “Your granddad lived through a pandemic!”

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Isn’t that exactly what the pandemic has done? Has it not made us stronger? It is this feeling, that me and all my comrades will emerge through these tough times tougher than ever before, along with the endless love and support of my loved ones, just showing that they are there, which keeps me going.

The writer is a Class IX student.

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Opinion

THE PUSHBACK STARTS AGAINST CHINA

Joyeeta Basu

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The Quad joint statement released post the meeting of the leaders of India, the United States, Japan and Australia was surprisingly focused and clear about what the four countries wanted to achieve. Surprising because until now the Quadrilateral Dialogue was at best a chatroom, an amorphous body, which was not sure which way it was going. It had started looking as if Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s prophecy that the Quad would dissipate like seafoam was going to come true. Even the virtual meeting of the four leaders earlier in the year did not inspire confidence, with the Quad apparently developing into a body of do-gooders, with feet not planted to the reality of the world besieged by a malign power. President Joe Biden in particular seemed focused on the Atlantic Ocean, considering the alacrity with which he signed the “New Atlantic Charter” with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It was a singularly irrelevant move because the rump of Soviet Russia—the current Russia—is no longer the focus of geopolitics. In fact, in the run-up to his election, Joe Biden wouldn’t even use the phrase Indo-Pacific, but instead Asia-Pacific, in case the topic ever crossed his path. Asia-Pacific is a term favoured by the People’s Republic of China, which bristles at the very mention of Indo-Pacific. From there to stating, as the joint statement did, that “the occasion of the Quad summit is an opportunity to refocus ourselves and the world on the Indo-Pacific” is a long way to have traversed.

The joint statement has not used the word China even once, signifying reticence on the part of all the Quad members. But there is a lot to read between the lines, for example in the following sentence: “Together, we recommit to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. We stand for the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity of states.” The references are too obvious to be ignored.

Broadening the focus of the “Quad charter” makes it easier for ASEAN in particular to come on board of a Quad-Plus construct. The ASEAN countries together are a formidable economic bloc and along with India and Japan form the first line of “defence” against a coercive hegemon. ASEAN—whose largest trading partner is China, but some of whose countries are also among the most bullied by China—has been searching for a “third way” outside of the US vs China binary. A Quad platform, with the presence of a “nonaligned” country such as India, makes it easier for ASEAN to be on board.

Not naming China also helps smaller countries to be a part of the Quad Plus construct, especially those that have already signed up for the BRI. The infrastructure push that the Quad is expected to give through the Blue Dot Network has the potential to wean away the smaller economies that are being “swallowed” by China in the name of bringing development through BRI, with Sri Lanka being a case in point.

As the four countries make health security one of the cornerstones of the “Quad charter”, with special emphasis being given on vaccines and pandemic-preparedness, some questions, however, are being raised about their failure to seek accountability from China for the spread of the coronavirus. Not one of the Quad members seems serious about picking up the issue, thus allowing China to get away with murder, literally. Also, can there be health security when the world’s top health body, WHO, is perceived to be compromised and serving one country’s interest?

Some questions can also be raised about the Quad lacking military teeth, even though security preparedness is at the core of its existence. But then that’s perhaps a bit too much to ask for at this “nascent” stage, even though the concept of Quad has been around for over a decade.

Democracies may be muddled in their thinking, and work in sloth speed, but they generally tend to stand up when threatened. Identifying the threat is sometimes part—if not half—the battle won. The Quad needs military teeth and an Indo-Pacific charter—a formal treaty. It’s hoped that both will happen, sooner than later. Meanwhile, there are reasons to feel relieved that the Quad has been finally institutionalized, for it signifies that a pushback has started against a hegemon which has gone rogue.

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Opinion

PM Modi’s vision for a better world

A perspective on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-day visit to the United States.

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If Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s last address to the United Nations (UN) in September 2020 was a reminder to democratise and become more representative reflecting a new world order, the focus this time (September 2021) was to highlight that if the world body compromises “reliability” and “effectiveness” it would lose its relevance in the new world order. He was referring to the loss of credibility suffered due to delay or manipulation at the World Health Organization (WHO) in tracing the origin of Covid-19 and data manipulation by the World Bank to reportedly favour China.

“With regard to the origin of Covid-19 and the ease of doing business rankings, institutions of global governance have damaged the credibility they had built after decades of hard work,” PM Modi said while addressing the UN General Assembly during this three-day visit to the United States (23-25 September).

The world would be a much better place to live in, if global institutions listen to the wisdom of the Prime Minister who represents the largest democracy in the world where every sixth person on the globe is an Indian. PM Modi has shown that he has emerged as a global leader with vision and concerns about global peace, security and well-being. And whether it was climate change, terrorism or fighting Covid, India cannot be ignored.

His unequivocal assertion on how India saw the developments in Afghanistan and the role of Pakistan (without naming it), reference to China’s expansionist design and aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific region, the role Quad should play either in helping other Asian countries to fight Covid-19, or climate change or in promoting trade and commerce was not missed by anyone. He spoke like a world leader ready to work for global peace, security and prosperity.

These themes permeated PM Modi’s speech at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly and while attending the first physical meeting of Quad. The same is expected to have figured during the bilateral meetings he had with heads of three other Quad countries—Japan, Australia and the US—during his three-day visit to the US (23-25 September 2021). His meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris and CEOs of MNC giants should be seen as his best efforts to bolster better ties between India and the US.

PM Modi’s vision about the world was outlined in the inaugural speech at the bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden. He reminded the Gandhian ideal of trusteeship of the world and highlighted that it was incumbent on the US and India and other world leaders to pass on a better world to the next generation. The world has become a global village and every person a global citizen.

Nobody should be in doubt now that the Indo-Pacific region has the potential to emerge as the new conflict zone due to expansionist and aggressive design of China. The world must play its role to ensure that countries play by rule and not browbeat others because of new found love for Steroid induced muscular behaviour. The oceans and the rich resources within are common heritage and must be shared equitably and without endangering ecology.

It is good news for world peace that Quad is picking up momentum. PM Modi’s visit was significant also in the context of the Quad’s first physical summit after the pandemic. The role and vision of Quad and how this would roll out in action was eagerly awaited by world leaders. Cooperation to help people to fight Covid is a splendid initiative that would generate goodwill and trust for a Just Global Order. Biden hosted the meeting on 25 September and other attendees besides President Biden and PM Modi were Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

China’s adverse reaction to Quad is understandable. China said that any regional cooperation mechanism should not target a third party. “Seeking exclusive closed cliques against a third country runs against the trend of the times and aspirations of countries in the region,” a spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry said.

Why should China be worried? Quad is merely trying to ensure that countries in the Indi-Pacific region play by international rules. While littoral countries (coastal countries) have been given an Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles to exploit, conserve and manage natural resources, the high seas beyond this zone are a common heritage of mankind.

If any country tries to cross this line, international institutions must be activated to prevent such usurpation. It is imperative that Quad will help other countries in the Indo-Pacific region from coming under influence of China and get coerced to compromise their rights over the seas. China will resist but will have to eventually accept to play by the rules. The Quad, therefore, is not against China but also against any other country similarly placed. This would apply equally to the US, Australia, Japan or India that have vast ocean space surrounding their land boundaries.

PM Modi pointed out that the broad consensus evolved at the UN Security Council meeting during India’s presidency in August could act as a guiding force for forward movement on maritime security. PM Modi has suggested during India’s presidency that maritime disputes need to be settled peacefully and as per international law. India’s presidency gave a focused response to challenges of maritime security. PM Modi had called for greater international cooperation and transparency in governance and timely and effective intervention to maintain global equilibrium.

A just international order is not possible unless the UN becomes more representative and plays its role more effectively. The Prime Minister stressed that it was essential if the UN wanted to be relevant. The credibility of the UN and other global governance bodies had suffered on account of its conflicting stands on climate crisis, Covid spread, the global proxy war and terrorism, as well as the outcome of events in Afghanistan, he pointed out.

The Prime Minister’s speech at the UN was a no-nonsense reminder to all about the situation in Afghanistan and India’s stand on terrorism. He clarified that Afghanistan soil should not be used to export terror to other countries and also that other countries should not exploit the volatile situation for their “selfish motives”.

“We also need to be alert and ensure that no country tries to take advantage of the delicate situation there, and use it as a tool for its own selfish interests,” he said and warned that those using terror as a political tool would also suffer since this would backfire on them. PM Modi underlined the need to help people of Afghanistan particularly women, children and minorities.

The Prime Minister received thunderous applause at the UN General Assembly when he announced that India was resuming Covid vaccine export that had got halted due to unavailability and crisis at home during the second wave.

PM Modi’s announcement on Covid must have been music to those countries awaiting vaccine supply. Pointing out to the Indian philosophy that stresses on “serving mankind” as prime most duty, he said that India was working round the clock despite limited resources to develop and manufacture vaccines of different kinds to fight Covid.

He said: “I want to inform the UN General Assembly that India has developed the world›s first DNA based vaccine, which can be administered to all people above the age of 12 years. Another m-RNA vaccine is in the final stages of its development. Scientists of India are also engaged in the development of a nasal vaccine for corona. Realising its responsibility towards humanity, India has once again started distributing the vaccine to the needy people of the world.”

He extended an open invitation to vaccine manufacturers to come and make vaccines in India. India’s vaccine programme and its pace have already been lauded all across the globe. This was welcomed by many delegates particularly from African and South American countries that have witnessed tardy progress in vaccination due to shortages. Some of them walked up to PM Modi after his address and complimented him for India’s role.

The vaccine programme is slated to get further boost due to the Quad’s decision to give 1.2 billion vaccine doses to low and middle income countries. This would help to bring normalcy in movement of people and help revive their respective economies. The countries in the Indo-Pacific are going to be major beneficiaries. India is going to manufacture 8 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccine by October and the cost would be borne by Quad members.

And there was a clear message to those trying to create artificial barriers on vaccination programmes of other countries. Quad members have decided to recognise vaccination certificates of member countries thereby easing travel and trade restrictions.

The writer is the convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. The views expressed are personal.

The Prime Minister received thunderous applause at the UN General Assembly when he announced that India was resuming Covid vaccine export that had got halted due to unavailability and crisis at home during the second wave. PM Modi’s announcement on Covid must have been music to those countries awaiting vaccine supply. Pointing out to the Indian philosophy that stresses on “serving mankind” as prime most duty, he said that India was working round the clock despite limited resources to develop and manufacture vaccines of different kinds to fight Covid.

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Opinion

PUNJAB CABINET FORMATION APPEARS TO BE INCLUSIVE AND BALANCED

Pankaj Vohra

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The new Punjab Cabinet appears to be inclusive and aimed at reaping political dividends in next year’s Assembly elections. However, it is too early to predict whether the Congress would be able to keep its flock together, given Captain Amarinder Singh’s dissatisfaction with the party and the omission of his close associates in the ministry. There is no one in the Cabinet who has ready access to the former Chief Minister and it is evident that bridges between him and the new leadership have been burnt forever. Therefore, it would not come as a surprise if the Captain asks the new government to take a floor test within one month or so. His camp has been watching the developments very closely and it is virtually certain that he would be severing his links with the Congress shortly. He is keeping his options open and is likely to take advantage of a possible tussle between Charanjit Singh Channi, his successor and Pradesh Congress president, Navjot Singh Sidhu. Differences between the two have already started over the choice of officers and Sidhu presumes that he shall be the CM after the polls next year while Channi is no green horn, who would allow his advantage to fritter away. The Congress High Command has to assess the unfolding drama very objectively and pragmatically in order to keep the MLS from deserting the party. The Captain is a very astute and perceptive politician who shall make his moves swiftly once the appropriate time arrives. In this context, it would have been better to include someone close to him in the ministry in order to ascertain what all was going on in his mind or camp. In 2016 when he had threatened to form his own party, Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi had persuaded him to rethink. This time Sodhi who acted as an interlocutor for the Congress between the Captain and Sidhu at one stage, is out and none of the others who are in the ministry can claim to enjoy proximity which would provide them access to understand Amarinder’s mind. Region wise the new ministry has 9 from the Malwa belt, four from Doaba and the remaining five from Majha. There are nine Jat Sikhs in the new government besides three Dalits, one OBC, four Hindus and one Muslim. The ministry gives an impression that it has been constituted to counter possible threat from the Akalis and the Captain without taking into consideration that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which could emerge as the `X’ factor, closer to the polls. This political change may occur when the Congress decides to announce its list of nominees and those who would be left out may gravitate towards the Captain or AAP. There are indications that the Captain could form his own party which may have an electoral understanding with the BJP. He enjoys immense support amongst the Hindus of Punjab who view him as a nationalist figure. Therefore, to offset that perception, the Congress has included four influential Hindu faces in Om Prakash Soni, one of the deputy CMs, Brahm Mohindra, Vijay Inder Singla and Bharat Bhushan Ashu. The Captain has sounded the bugle and this war with the Congress could alter the political scenario in the State. Thus there is a huge responsibility that has been placed on the shoulders of the new government and the Congress High Command.

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Opinion

Taliban takeover and Russia’s strategic miscalculation

Russia will commit a strategic blunder by supporting the Taliban regime as the latter is not the legitimate voice of the Afghan people. This move will further isolate Moscow globally.

Nalin Kumar Mohapatra

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The rapid changes which occurred in Afghanistan after the violent takeover by the Taliban, ousting the civilian government headed by Ashraf Ghani are generating a lot of questions having larger geopolitical implications for both global and regional geopolitics. At the same time, the unending human sufferings like (flow of refugees, suppression of women and minority communities and denial of basic human rights to the common people) are also evident in Afghanistan following the forced takeover of power by the radical Taliban. Though these consequences are expected before, if the Taliban capture power. It is a well-known fact that the Taliban is created and patronized by Pakistan since the 1990s to achieve its diabolical strategic goals. Thus, what one witnesses is a new kind of geopolitical cauldron. Similarly, Afghanistan which has made tremendous progress in the socio-political spheres at the domestic level for the last 20 years (in the post-Taliban 1.0 era) including in the direction of deepening the democratisation process is reverting to the era of the 1990s. These two intricating developments are raising a lot of fundamental questions in the context of future of post-Nato Afghanistan.

Just after the ouster of the Ghani government, the Taliban sent a delegation to Pakistan which confirms the fact that Islamabad is the mastermind of this radical and terrorist organisation. Pakistan as reported has also deputed its high officials including the chief of ISI who supervised the illegitimate government formations by Taliban in Afghanistan. At the same time, China’s Ambassador in Afghanistan Wang Wu has already held talks with Taliban and assured support including financial assistance. This is a well-known fact that both China and Pakistan are hand in gloves with Taliban. But the most interesting thing that needs to be highlighted here is that Russia is also mending fences with Taliban despite knowing the fact that it is a terrorist group and a “banned organisation” in Russia. Just after the coup in Afghanistan, on 17 August 2021 Russian Ambassador Dmitry Zhirnov met Taliban leaders and gave an appalling statement as reported in Reuters. Zhirnov stated that “There is no alternative to the Taliban in Afghanistan”. He mentioned further that “The mood in Kabul can be described as one of cautious hope.”

By overlooking the ground situation, the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan certainly misled the global community. The recent bombing at the Kabul Airport carried out by terrorist group ISKP (another terrorist group operating in Afghanistan under the patronage of Pakistan) also proves the fact that the Russian Ambassador’s statement is far from the existing reality in post-Nato Afghanistan.

It may be recalled here that it is not only the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan who gave a statement on supporting Taliban, even the Spokeswoman of Russia Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova in her response to the Press on 19 August echoes the statement given by Zhirnov. Zakharova stated, “ The positive signals transmitted to us from the Taliban leaders regarding their plans for the country’s future.” The Statement of Zakharova is quite strange because the whole world is criticising the Taliban’s illegal and hostile move but Russia is keeping its option open while dealing with Taliban. This implies Russia is giving patronage to the radical terror group Taliban along with China and Pakistan. The subsequent telephonic conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping also gave a signal that Russia is interested to work closely with Taliban in Afghanistan.

While evaluating Russia’s stand towards Taliban, it appears that Moscow does not follow a consistent policy. It is a common fact that Russia is the worst victim of terrorism over the years. A number of studies suggest that many of the Northern Caucasian militants had taken training from Taliban in the post-1995 phase. Reports suggest, along with Taliban, Pakistan is supporting some of these militants and terrorist groups that are currently operating illegally in Russia. Moreover, Russian policymakers and analysts have also accused Pakistan of harbouring Chechen terrorists.

In the post 9/11 phase, Russia formed Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) by including post-Soviet countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus just to checkmate the flow of drugs and narcotic substances and radical extremism from Afghanistan. Russia is still operating its military base in Tajikistan under the aegis of CSTO to thwart the above-mentioned threats originating from Afghanistan. It is in this context the sudden soft-corner towards Taliban by Russia is raising many questions?

It is pertinent to mention here that what are the factors that might have propelled Russia to change its stance towards Taliban? In this regard there are three major reasons that need to be underlined. These are:

a) Over the years Russia is playing a supporting role to China in the international arena. This can be evident from the growing alignment between Russia and China on several issues and in this process, Moscow is also losing its “strategic autonomy”, in the decision-making process. The dependence of Russia on China has increased significantly after the Western sanctions in the aftermath of the Crimea crisis in the post-2014 phase.

b) Russia is also losing its “strategic preponderance” in Central Asia in recent years. This is largely because of the emergence of new political elites in Central Asia (except in Tajikistan) and they are pursuing a multi-vector foreign policy as studies suggest. These new leaderships in the Central Asian landscape are quite apprehensive of China’s move in Central Asia. They think Russia is also not in a position to protect them in case of any aggression from China. Thus, Russia to regain its lost position in Central Asia may be using Taliban rule in Afghanistan as a ploy to warn Central Asian countries to fall prey to the Russian dictum.

c) Russia as part of its policy of “Greater Eurasia” is pursuing vigorous geoeconomics diplomacy. In this process, it is also interested at getting access to the new energy market. Moscow’s involvement in the construction of the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline and its desire to control the Afghan natural resources are few of the instances.

Some of the above reasons are propelling Russia to mend fences with the radical Taliban. However, Russia is not understanding the long-term consequences of engaging with the Taliban. This will only encourage the radicals of the North Caucasus which Russia is confronting over the years.

A question that will arise is whether Russia will continue its policy of supporting Taliban? This is in the context of growing criticism by the global community of radical Taliban and its patrons- Pakistan and China. The United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC) which met on 30 August 2021, under the chairmanship of India , “Calls for the Taliban to facilitate safe passage for people wanting to leave Afghanistan, allow humanitarians to access the country, and uphold human rights, including for women and children.” Though there was a consensus about the resolution adopted by the Council, however, Russia “abstained” from the resolution.. Similarly, China has also followed Russia’s line. This confirms that Russia is having a sympathy for Taliban in Afghanistan.

Similarly, President Vladimir Putin though in his speech at 15th BRICS Summit which took place on 9 September 2021 in virtual mode under India’s Chairmanship raised the issue of Afghanistan. Though he stated that “ we are not interested in Afghanistan remaining a threat to neighbouring countries or having terrorism” however, what is expected is a concrete plan of actions from Russia including reprimanding China and Pakistan for their nefarious role in accentuating the present crisis situation in Afghanistan . At the same time Moscow should stop support to radical Taliban.

Already resistance is mounting against Taliban from the Northern Alliance and reports suggest former Afghan National Army members are regrouping under Amarullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud. Russia should understand that Taliban is not the legitimate voice of the Afghan people. Hopefully, Russia will rethink its Afghan strategy.

The writer teaches at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be reached at nalin238@gmail.com. Views expressed are writer’s personal

While evaluating Russia’s stand towards Taliban, it appears that Moscow does not follow a consistent policy. It is a common fact that Russia is the worst victim of terrorism over the years. A number of studies suggest that many of the Northern Caucasian militants had taken training from Taliban in the post-1995 phase. Reports suggest, along with Taliban, Pakistan is supporting some of these militants and terrorist groups that are currently operating illegally in Russia.

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Opinion

YUDHBIR SINGH DADWAL, THE HANDSOME FACE OF DELHI POLICE

Pankaj Vohra

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Yudhbir Singh Dadwal, a 1974 batch IPS officer was the 16th Police Commissioner of Delhi who served in this position for over three years. His passing away a few days ago brought back several memories, the earliest being my first meeting with him in 1980 when he was the additional DCP of New Delhi district. This was the period when Pritam Singh Bhindar was the CP and Gurcharan Singh, the DCP of the district. Dadwal was always well turned out and preferred to wear a beret instead of the usual peak cap, which most IPS officers preferred. He would invariably be present at the Boat Club which used to be the designated venue of all demonstrations and protests.

Reporters covering the crime beat would also look after the major demonstrations and thus it was very frequently that one would inter-act with this handsome police officer, whom some of us would refer as the “Boat Club Specialist’’.  Of course, SI Sharma who served at the Boat Club police post for over 23 years as well as Pandit Hari Dev, the Parliament Street ACP, would also be always present. Dadwal would crack jokes with the reporters as we waited for the demonstrators to turn up and thus his association with some of us in the media started. His other batchmates—Amod Kanth, Umesh Katna and Shujauddin Sajid— were all making a mark in the police and Dadwal too was embarking on his onward journey. His first independent district posting took him to the East District where a major riot broke out in the Chauhan Bangar area near Seelampur one night.

Unfortunately, Dadwal had to proceed on leave due to some very personal reasons and the riot was quelled by his boss, Surjeet Singh and his colleague, J.P.Singh. Thereafter, one would continue to run into Dadwal at the Police Headquarters and he would always have some interesting anecdote to narrate.

Subsequently, he joined the R&AW and was posted at Rome. Perhaps it was the nature of his job that brought about a change and he inter-acted with very people, I being one of them. When Dr K.K. Paul was about to complete his distinguished career with Delhi Police, there was speculation on who would succeed him. Kiran Bedi was the next in line in terms of seniority (1972 batch) but the Home Ministry seemed interested in someone else other than her. It was at this time, Dadwal would sometimes call up to find out what the developments were since he had emerged as the front-runner. Finally, he was selected. He was extremely helpful and When Hindustan Times, where I was working at that time, organized an AR Rehman event in Rajouri Garden, the permission was held back since clearances had not been obtained. It was Dadwal who helped in resolving the situation and provided vital inputs to get the permissions before instructing his DCP to go out of the way and allow the event. After Delhi Police, he went to the SSB and thereafter met a very few people.

I had not seen him in many years and the news of his sudden demise shocked me as it did everyone else. He would have been 70 next month. However, his friends, well-wishers, colleagues and associates would always remember him as an outstanding person and an able police officer. 

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Opinion

Modi masterstrokes: Telecom reforms and ‘bad bank’

Setting up a ‘bad bank’ and undertaking the telecom reforms are only the added dimensions to the long trajectory of structural and process-driven reforms by the Narendra Modi government, and yes, there is more to come.

Sanju Verma

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The Union Cabinet last week cleared big-bang telecom reforms that include, among other things,100% foreign investment through the automatic route. These reforms will usher the telecom industry into a new era, boost investment and reduce the debt burden and ease cash flows. The Cabinet also allowed a four-year moratorium on all dues that telecom operators have to pay to the government, including annual payments of dues arising out of the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) judgement and spectrum purchased in past auctions, excluding the March 2021 auction. The moratorium will start from October 1, 2021. These reforms are deep, broad and structural. They will bring in change today and in the future as well and are revenue-neutral for the government. Moratorium or deferment on due payments of spectrum purchased in past auctions (excluding the auction of 2021) for upto four years, with net present value (NPV) protected at the interest rate stipulated in the respective auctions is a landmark step.

Option to the telecom players to pay the interest amount arising due to the said deferment of dues by way of equity is a huge step too that will drastically bring down the unsustainable debt levels of some players. This will also help various banks having substantial exposure to the telecom sector.

The definition of AGR which had been a major reason for the stress in the sector, has been rationalised by excluding non-telecom revenue of telecom companies from the ambit of AGR, with prospective effect. AGR refers to revenues that are considered for payment of statutory dues. Telecom companies had been asking for a change in definition of AGR since 2005 and it finally happened in 2021, thanks to sweeping, bold reforms by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A four-year moratorium to pay government dues (but with interest) is a welcome step too.

The Modi government has also allowed permission to share scarce airwaves. The scrapping of spectrum usage charge (SUC) for airwaves acquired in future spectrum auctions is again a decisive measure. And though this is with prospective effect, it will lead to massive savings for telecom players, as currently anywhere between 3-5% of AGR is paid as SUC and about 8% of AGR, as license fee. Allocation of spectrum through an auction for a period of 30 years, compared with the 20-year period prevalent at present, is another out-of-the-box move. Also, telecom operators will be allowed to surrender the spectrum that will be acquired in future auctions, after 10 years of the lock-in period. In effect, the recent telecom sector reforms by the Modi government will restore back to health a sector that was repeatedly impaired by successive Congress regimes that squeezed the sector by forcing companies to bid for auctions at ridiculously expensive prices. Thereafter, license fees, SUC, penal taxes, only made the going more difficult for telcos, making even the banks who loaned large sums of money to these telcos saddled with NPAs and bad debts under incompetent Congress dispensations. However, all that will now be a thing of the past as the recent measures will put the sector back on track.

Easing of customer acquisition norms for telecom operators by replacing the need to fill physical forms with digital forms, for instance, shows the minute detailing that went into the relief package announced for telecom players.

In effect, the structural and process reforms in the telecom sector will protect and generate employment opportunities, promote healthy competition, protect interests of consumers, infuse liquidity, encourage investment and reduce regulatory burden on telecom service providers (TSPs). In the backdrop of the outstanding performance of the telecom sector in meeting Covid-19 challenges, with huge surge in data consumption, online education, work from home, interpersonal connect through social media, virtual meetings etc., the reform measures will further boost the proliferation and penetration of broadband and telecom connectivity. The reforms reinforce Prime Minister Modi’s vision of a robust telecom sector, with emphasis on competition, customer choice, antyodaya for inclusive development, bringing the marginalised areas into the mainstream and universal broadband access to connect, the unconnected. The package is also expected to boost 4G proliferation, infuse liquidity and create an enabling environment for investment in 5G networks.

Huge reduction in bank guarantee (BG) requirements (80%) against License Fee (LF) and other similar levies, are an important step too. Henceforth there will be no requirement for multiple BGs in different licenced service areas (LSAs) regions in the country. Instead, one BG will be enough. Also, from 1st October, 2021, delayed payments of License fee (LF)/spectrum usage charge (SUC) will attract interest rate of SBI’s marginal cost of lending rate (MCLR) plus 2%, instead of MCLR plus 4%, which will give huge breathing space to telcos. Interest will be compounded annually instead of monthly, with penalty and interest on penalty removed. For auctions held henceforth, no BGs will be required to secure instalment payments, as industry has matured and the past practice of BG is no longer required. Additional SUC of 0.5% for spectrum sharing has been removed.

Ease of doing business is being promoted, with cumbersome requirement of licenses under the 1953 customs notification for wireless equipment, removed. Self-kyc (App based) has been permitted. E-kycrate has been revised to only one rupee. Shifting from prepaid to post-paid and vice-versa will not require fresh kyc. Paper customer acquisition forms (CAF) will be replaced by digital storage of data. Nearly 300-400 crore paper CAFs lying in various warehouses of TSPs, will not be required. Warehouse audit of CAF will not be required. SACFA clearance for telecom towers has been eased. DoT will accept data on a portal based on self declaration basis. Portals of other agencies (such as civil aviation) will be linked with DoT Portal.

The Modi government is also laying down the framework for incorporation of a “Bad Bank” with all the regulatory approvals in place.

The high level of provisioning by public sector banks (PSBs), of their stressed assets calls for measures to clean up the bank books. An asset reconstruction company limited (ARCL) and asset management company (AMC) is being set up to consolidate and take over the existing stressed debt and then manage and dispose the assets to alternate investment funds (AIFs) and other potential investors for eventual value realization. The incorporation of the national asset reconstruction company limited (NARCL) was registered with the registrar of companies (RoC) on 7th July, 2021. Paving the way for a major clean-up of bad loans in the banking system, the Modi government last week cleared a Rs 30,600 crore guarantee programme for securities to be issued by the newly incorporated ‘Bad Bank’ for taking over and resolving non-performing assets (NPAs) amounting to Rs 2 lakh crore.

The Reserve Bank of India is in the process of granting a licence for the National Asset Reconstruction Company Limited (NARCL), following which toxic assets worth Rs 90,000 crore that banks have already fully provided for, will move to the NARCL. The Cabinet’s decision to extend a five-year guarantee for NARCL-issued security receipts to banks completed the entire cycle of cleaning up India’s banking system, that began with the recognition of the extent of bad loans in 2015. The erstwhile Congress led UPA never fully provided for bad loans. Instead,the Congress ran the banking system like a private fiefdom by spending good money, after bad. NPAs were not fully recognised during the UPA era and banks were forced to lend money to fraudulent companies, so that they could simply repay the earlier loans availed from banks, by these companies. In effect, the erstwhile Congress regime ran a huge “ponzi scheme”, with banks being made unwilling and often, willing accomplices. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s zero tolerance for corruption, rewrote the rules of the game in the last seven years, with banks being restored back to health.

Under the new proposed mechanism, the NARCL will acquire assets by making an offer to the lead bank. Private sector asset reconstruction (ARCs) firms may also be allowed to outbid the NARCL. Separately, public and private lenders will combine forces to set up an India Debt Resolution Company (IDRC) that will manage these assets and try to raise their value for final resolution. The Modi government has completely overhauled the banking system by tightening prudential norms and recognising bad assets. A 15% cash payment would be made to the banks based on objective valuation and the rest 84% will be given as security receipts (SRs). For those to hold on and have their value intact, there is a need for the government to give a back-stop arrangement and that is why Rs 30,600 crore has been cleared by the Modi government.

Once the NARCL and the IDRC have finally resolved the bad assets, preferably as a going concern and not through liquidation proceedings, the balance 85% held as security receipts would be given to the banks. The government back-stop of Rs 30,600 crore will come in only as much as to pay the gap between the realised value and the face value of those receipts and, this will hold good for only five years. While there are 28 ARCs in the private sector, they did not take up big ticket resolutions, so a need was felt for government-backed security receipts and the NARCL. The whole idea is to ensure that value that is locked in the assets is realised and comes back to the banks; Banks then use it as “Growth Capital” and the banking system becomes more robust. The five-year limit on the guarantee, with an increase in the fees charged for the guarantee every year, is an incentive for the resolution process to be completed at the earliest. The Modi government has addressed the issues facing the banking system in totality, that in 2015 was a major challenge for the economy. The twin balance sheet problem which caused a lot of stress has been resolved in a holistic way. The government guarantee for the proposed security receipts is a positive stepping stone for unlocking stressed assets. The upfront cash payment by the NARCL to banks will immediately be accretive for the profitability and capital of the banks. The ability of the NARCL to resolve these assets in a time-bound manner will be critical for future provision writeback by banks and that is precisely what the NARCL will look to do.

Public sector banks will have a 51% ownership in the NARCL, while their shareholding along with that of public sector financial institutions will be capped at 49% for the IDRC, with private lenders bringing in the rest of the equity capital. About 16 banks, including private players, would put up about Rs 6000 crore as equity for the NARCL. These are some pertinent lines spoken by PM Modi,at the CII conference in August 2021: “Our government is ready to take the biggest risk in the interest of the nation. GST was stuck for so many years only because those who earlier in the government could not muster up the courage to take political risks. We not only implemented GST but today we are witnessing record GST collection. Recently, we decided to scrap retrospective tax which was praised by the industry. It will strengthen the bond between the government and industry.” Well, setting up a “Bad Bank” and the telecom reforms, are only an added dimension to the long trajectory of structural and process driven reforms by the Modi government and yes, there is more to come.

The writer is an economist, national spokesperson of the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. Views expressed are writer’s personal.

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