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LIVING IN A COVID CONTINUOUS WORLD

Priya Sahgal

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Corona

Though we are still living in a Covid continuous world, it is going to be one year since Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered what was probably the world’s longest lockdown in India. And without much of a notice, life as we knew it came to a grinding halt as we all learnt to pause a little. New concepts and a new way of life became part of our lexicon as we learnt to work—and workout—from home. We stopped taking vacations and began to spend time within our own four walls. A lot of neglected ‘homework’ got done as we fixed that leaking sink, oiled that creaking door and rearranged our furniture. In fact, one of the offshoots of this new lifestyle has been a rise in real estate prices (that had fallen post-demonetisation) as everyone realised the importance of owning your own home. This home no longer had to be in a prime real estate zone right next to our workplaces but could be in the far-flung suburbs, so long as there was a good Internet connection there. In fact, one of the first sectors to make a recovery was the real estate sector (residential, not commercial).

Moreover, those looking to live in concrete and crowded jungles just so they could be close to their workplace or the most happening mall and night club have now realised that this is not such a priority anymore. Instead, it is homes that have the most green cover, that are close to parks that are most sought after. Which is why I predict that Noida is soon going to overtake Gurugram as the most sought-after destination for homebuyers in the NCR.

Another lesson learnt from Covid times has been the value of relationships. Although lockdown has lifted and socialising has begun again, it would be interesting to note that the focus is one family and meaningful get-togethers instead of the statement parties. Since we are still being careful about whom we meet and limiting our social interactions, one is also reaching out to those who are really important instead of just anybody. This is a lesson that we had forgotten in our search for Instagram posts and Facebook updates. And of course, most of us have also learnt how to bake banana bread!

And just as we learnt to prioritise our socialising, we have also learnt how to prioritise our spending patterns. With incomes taking a drastic cut (the job market is still to bounce back to pre-Covid normals), we also realised that most of what we bought was stuff that we didn’t really need. Why rush after the latest brands when all you need to lounge around your home is that pair of bargain basement pyjamas?

Of course, now that the vaccine is here—and in spite of the fact that Covid is still very much around—we are slowly finding our way back to a new normal. And that’s the best part of it all for in the process we are also getting a chance to redefine ourselves; and to begin again!

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Opinion

RAJ KUNDRA’S ARREST PROVIDES INSIDE VIEW OF BOLLYWOOD’S XXX SIDE

Pankaj Vohra

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Business tycoon Raj Kundra’s arrest for allegedly promoting pornography, and in the process minting crores of rupees, has captured headlines of all TV channels and newspapers. However, there is nothing shocking in the revelations since it has been Bollywood’s best kept secret of how upcoming starlets and models are exploited by powerful people and often forced into pornography and prostitution. The visits of rich Sheikhs from West Asian countries to Mumbai and the frequent travel to these nations by several actresses including successful ones, were not only account of tourism but also had in some cases linked to sleazy activities. Kundra has close business connections with Dubai and some other places, from where members of the D-Gang often compelled prominent actresses to come and spend time in the lap of luxury. The Mumbai police that is probing the latest case is trying to ascertain Kundra’s links with the underworld as also with the late Iqbal Mirchi, an associate of Dawood who operated from London but passed away some years ago.

Investigations conducted so far have revealed that the businessman along with his close associates, his brother-in-law, amongst them, persuaded young starlets to come and participate in film shootings of pornographic films. In his own defence, Kundra continues to maintain that his movies were about erotica and had nothing to do with pornographic stuff. The police maintain that in the past one year and a half, he had made more than 100 blue films that were circulated through an app which had nearly two million viewers, This way he had minted huge amounts of money. In fact, two starlets, Poonam Pandey and Sheryl Chopra have directly accused him of exploiting them and pushing them into the XXX trade. In all fairness, two other actresses, Rakhi Sawant and Gehna Vashisht have come out and supported the film maker, whose wife, Shilpa Shetty too has been asked to join the probe.

Both Shilpa and Kundra had also promoted an IPL team and the allegation against them was that they were mixed up with the strong cricket Mafia operating out of Dubai and London. However, this charge has to be substantiated by a court of law. It is a well-known fact that many Bollywood starlets have been acting in pornographic films made by groups settled abroad. Although it may not be proper to name them, yet their activities on the blue celluloid are not hidden from anyone. The charge of making pornographic films was once also levelled against the producer director (a foreigner) of an award-winning film starring a well-known Indian actress in the mid-1970s. This particular director, who also owned a chain of other businesses had parked himself in the suite of a five-star hotel in the Delhi from where he operated. He had to leave after the Hotel management learned of his activities. There were many Indian actresses in the past few decades who got mixed up with international pornography following their failure to pursue a successful career. There were some others, who were forced to abandon their boyfriends and live with members of the D-Gang. In fact, Mandakini, the heroine of Raj Kapoor’s `Ram Teri Ganga Maili’, had married Dawood himself and now lives in a cosmopolitan city in South India. Kundra’s case could just be the tip off the iceberg. More skeletons would fall out once the Mumbai police completes its investigations and uncovers the sleazy side of Bollywood.

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Opinion

Modi 2.0: Analysing the dynamics of PLI scheme

The Modi government’s ambitious Production Linked Incentive scheme in ‘speciality steel’ to attract an additional investment of Rs 40,000 crore will employ over 5.25 lakh people of which 68,000 will be by way of direct employment.

Sanju Verma

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On July 22, 2021, the Union Cabinet approved the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme of Rs 6,322 crore for the Speciality Steel sector to create over 5.25 lakh jobs and attract Rs 39,625 crore worth of investment. This is yet another instance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, setting the tone for an Aatmanirbhar Bharat and thereby reducing the dependence on the import of steel to fulfill the country’s needs. There is a cap as far as the incentive is concerned at Rs 200 crore per entity. This is a demand-driven scheme and it will fulfill the country’s need for steel and create multiple export opportunities.

Specialty Steel is used in some form or the other in air-conditioners, fridges, solar energy structures, high strength/wear-resistant products like construction equipment, armour bodies, specialty rails used in high-speed rails, alloy steel wires used in crankshaft walls, tyre tracks and of course electrical steel used in transformers or electric motors. The Modi government’s ambitious PLI scheme in Speciality Steel to attract an additional investment of Rs 40,000 crore will give employment to over 5.25 lakh people of which 68,000 will be by way of direct employment. The duration of the scheme will be for five years— from 2023-24 to 2027-28.

With a budgetary outlay of Rs 6322 crore, the scheme will lead to a capacity addition of 25 MT. Speciality Steel has been chosen as the target segment because out of the production of 102 million tonnes of steel in India in 2020-21, only18 million tonnes of value-added Steel/Speciality Steel was produced in the country. Apart from this, out of 6.7 million tonnes of imports of steel in 2020-21,4 million tonnes worth of import was of Specialty Steel alone, resulting in forex outgo of Rs 30,000 crore. By becoming Aatmanirbhar in producing Speciality Steel, India will move up the steel value chain and come at par with advanced steel making countries like South Korea and Japan.

It is also expected that the Speciality Steel production will become 42 million tonnes by the end of 2026-27. This will ensure that 2.5 lakh crore worth of Speciality steel will be produced and consumed in the country, which would otherwise have been imported. Similarly, the export of Specialty Steel will be over 5.5 million tonnes as against the current 1.7 million tonnes. The benefit of this scheme will accrue to both big players, as in, integrated steel plants, and to the smaller players (secondary Steel players) too.

Specialty Steel is value-added Steel wherein normal finished steel is worked upon by way of coating, plating, heat treatment, etc., to convert it into high value-added steel which can be used thereafter in various strategic applications like Defence, Space, Power, Automobile Sector and Specialized Capital Goods. There are 3 slabs of PLI incentives, the lowest being 4 per cent and highest being 12 per cent. The PLI scheme for Specialty Steel will ensure that the basic Steel used is ‘melted and poured’ within the country, which means that raw material (finished steel) used for making Specialty Steel will be made in India only, thereby ensuring that the scheme promotes an ‘end to end’ manufacturing within India.

The Modi government’s Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for the food processing industry to support the creation of global food manufacturing champions commensurate with India’s natural resource endowments in the international markets with an outlay of Rs 10900 crore. The food processing sector in India encompasses manufacturing enterprises in all segments, from micro to large industries. India has a competitive advantage in terms of resource endowment, a large domestic market and scope for promoting value-added products.

Achieving full potential of this sector would require Indian companies to improve their competitive strength vis-à-vis their global counterparts in terms of the scale of output, productivity, value addition, and linkages with the global value chain. Supporting food manufacturing entities that seek expansion of processing capacity and improving brand equity abroad to incentivise the emergence of strong Indian brands is the key motive of PLI.

Increase in employment opportunities of off-farm jobs, ensuring remunerative prices of farm produce, and higher incomes to farmers are the other benefits of PLI.

For the promotion of Indian brands abroad, the scheme envisages grants to the applicant entities for in store branding, shelf space renting, and marketing. Scheme will be implemented over a six year period from 2021-22 to 2026-27. The scheme will be rolled out on an India basis and shall be implemented through a Project Management Agency (PMA). The PMA would, inter-alia, be responsible for appraisal of applications/ proposals, verification of eligibility for support, and scrutiny of claims eligible for disbursement of incentives. The scheme is “fund-limited”, i.e. cost shall be restricted to the approved amount. The maximum incentive payable to each beneficiary shall be fixed in advance at the time of approval of that beneficiary. Regardless of achievement/ performance, this maximum shall not be exceeded.

The implementation of this scheme would facilitate the generation of processed food output of Rs 33,494 crore and create employment for nearly 2.48 lakh persons by the year 2026-27 which is excellent news. The PLI scheme would be monitored at the Centre by the Empowered Group of Secretaries chaired by the Cabinet Secretary. The Inter-Ministerial Approval Committee (IMAC) would approve selection of applicants for coverage under the scheme, sanction, and release of funds as incentives. The concerned ministry will prepare an annual action plan covering various activities for the implementation of the scheme. A third-party evaluation and mid-term review mechanism would be built into the programme.

Outgo on incentives in next six years will be Rs 10,790 crore, increase in sales will be at Rs 1.20 lakh crore, incremental sales in 6th Year will be Rs 33,494 crore, cumulative additional investment will be Rs 6057 crore, increase in exports in 6 Years will be Rs 27,816 crore, increase in employment at end of Year-5 will be 2.5 lakh people per annum.

Apart from food processing ,South Korean company Samsung Electronics, Taiwan’s Pegatron and Foxconn and Singapore’s Flex are looking to either set up new units or expand the existing units to avail benefits under the PLI scheme for electronics. These companies have either received approval or are in the final stages of negotiations to benefit from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s (MeitY) production linked incentive (PLI) scheme, for making mobile phones and certain other specified electronic components. What exactly is a PLI scheme for electronics? Well, as a part of the National Policy on Electronics, the IT ministry had notified a scheme which would give incentives of 4-6 per cent to electronics companies which manufacture mobile phones and other electronic components such as transistors, diodes, thyristors, resistors, capacitors and nano-electronic components such as micro electro-mechanical systems.

According to the scheme, companies that make mobile phones which sell for Rs 15,000 or more will get an incentive of up to 6 per cent on incremental sales of all such mobile phones made in India. In the same category, for companies that are owned by Indian nationals and make such mobile phones, the incentive has been kept at Rs 200 crore for the next four years. The scheme will attract big foreign investment in the sector, while also encouraging domestic mobile phone makers to expand their units and presence in India. The PLI scheme will be active for five years with financial year (FY) 2019-20 considered as the base year for calculation of incentives. This means that all investments and incremental sales registered after FY20 shall be taken into account while computing the incentive to be given to each company.

For the first year, the total incentive to be given has been capped at Rs 5334 crore, while for the second and third years it has been kept at Rs 8064 and Rs 8425 crore, respectively. In the fourth year, the incentive will be hiked substantially to Rs 11,488 crore, while in the fifth and final year, the incentive to be distributed has been capped at Rs 7640 crore. The total incentives over five years have thus been kept at Rs 40,951 crore for the electronics sector. Which companies and what kind of investments will be considered? All electronic manufacturing companies which are either Indian or have a registered unit in India will be eligible to apply for the scheme. These companies can either create a new unit or seek incentives for their existing units from one or more locations in India.

Any additional expenditure incurred by companies on plant, machinery, equipment, research and development, and transfer of technology for the manufacture of mobile phones and related electronic items will be eligible for the incentive scheme. However, all investment done by companies on land and buildings for the project will not be considered for any incentives or determine the eligibility of the scheme. Apart from new players, companies such as LG India— which already have manufacturing units in India— have also shown interest in the scheme. In the budget-category phone segment also, companies such as Lava, Dixon, and Karbonn have applied to give a further boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of an empowered, aspirational and transformative India.

Beyond the technicalities, the PLI scheme is aimed at reducing the compliance burden, further improving the ease of doing business (EODB), cutting down logistical costs for various industry segments, and is expected to increase the country’s production by $520 billion in the next five years. In the current year’s Budget, about Rs 2 lakh crore was earmarked for the PLI scheme with a focus on job creation. An average of 5 percent of production is given as incentive. Over the past 6-7 years, several successful efforts have been made to encourage ‘Make in India’ at different levels and the PLI scheme is at the forefront of indigenisation.

PM Modi has on umpteen occasions, stressed the need to take a big leap forward in terms of self-reliance, as well as to increase the speed and scale of local manufacturing, by creating multi-modal infrastructure to reduce logistics costs and constructing district-level export hubs.

The government, Modi said, believes that its interference in everything creates more problems than solutions and “therefore, self-regulation, self-attesting, self-certification are being emphasised”.

“We have to attract cutting-edge technology and maximum investment in the sectors related to our core competency,” the PM added.

Underlining the difference between the earlier schemes and those of the current government, the Prime Minister said that earlier, industrial incentives used to be open-ended, input-based subsidies, but now they have been made targeted and are performance-based through a competitive process. About PLI benefits,13 sectors have been brought under the ambit of this scheme and it would benefit the entire ecosystem associated with these sectors. With PLI in Auto and Pharma, there will be very less foreign dependence related to auto parts, medical equipment and raw materials of medicines. The energy sector will be modernised in the country with the help of advanced cell batteries, solar PV modules, and Specialty Steel, and the PLI for the textile and food processing sectors will benefit the entire agriculture sector as well.

Even during the pandemic last year fresh investment of over Rs 1300 crore was seen in the mobile manufacturing and electronic sectors, creating thousands of new jobs. On a different note, the United Nations has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets and more than 70 countries came forward to support India’s proposal and unanimously accepted it in the UN General Assembly. This is a big opportunity for our farmers, which will get added traction, thanks to the PLI scheme in the food processing sector.

Again, IT Hardware is estimated to achieve Rs 3 lakh crore worth of production in the next four years and domestic value addition is expected to rise from the current range of 5-10 per cent to a far higher range of 20-25 per cent in next five years. Similarly, Telecom equipment manufacturing will witness an increase in value addition of about Rs 2.5 lakh crore in the next five years alone. In the Pharma sector, there is an expectation of more than Rs 15,000 crore investment in the next 5-6 years under PLI, which will lead to Rs 3 lakh crore by way of added Pharma sales and a massive rise in Pharma exports of over Rs 2 lakh crore. Further, trust has increased in Indian medicines, medical professionals, and equipment across the world, especially after the development of Covaxin, produced jointly by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Bharat Bio-Tech, in a fitting tribute to Indian scientists and of course the political courage of conviction of PM Modi, who has always encouraged scientific temper. It would be apt to conclude with a quote by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who recently said: “Time for phrases like ‘Hota Hai-Chalta Hai’ is now a matter of the past. India is growing rapidly and the world has high expectations from us. We cannot let this opportunity go”.

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

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Opinion

WE NEED TO DEVELOP A PANDEMIC-RESILIENT SOCIAL WORK SYSTEM

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The social work profession in India which is fraught with many challenges is now witnessing unexpected hurdles due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The fieldwork training in social work education— which is a very important component of the department— has been severely crippled by the pandemic ever since it outbroke. The gap which existed between classroom teaching and fieldwork practicum has further widened. This is going to produce a batch of social work students who will be lacking in the skills required for the fieldwork.

Barely any initiatives are taken by the professional social work associations to revamp and redesign fieldwork practicum. Unless and until we develop new innovative and uniform ways of conducting fieldwork practicum, the present pattern of fieldwork training will be questioned by the students and practitioners in the long run. Now the situation warrants laying down a complete roadmap for redesigning fieldwork methods/modules in the light of the pandemic.

CHALLENGES WE ARE FACING

For years, we have been advocating for the inclusion of indigenous approaches and fieldwork practices in the social work curriculum which is otherwise dominated by Euro-centric approaches. The lack of integration of social work research and indigenous practices in social work education has emerged as a major challenge in social work education. Besides, the challenges posed by the pandemic have highlighted the exigencies to provide timely and adequate training to students to enhance their communication skills and adaptability to communication technologies.

NITI Aayog has recently initiated the process for constituting the National Social Work Council (NSWC) as an umbrella body for the social work profession to ensure standardization of social work curriculum, teaching, training, practice, and academics. However, the pandemic has posed new challenges before us which cannot be dealt with pre-pandemic ideas and strategies.

It’s sad to mention that most of the social work professionals were not visible on the ground during the pandemic, as they are ought to be. However, people from other professions and educational backgrounds came forward as social workers. They lead from the front and receive appreciation from all and sundry. In such a situation, demand for licensing for social workers will be another historical blunder for the social work profession.

NSWC is a welcome step but the demand of a section of social work academicians to give it powers on the lines of the Medical Council of India seems non-practical. It raises a fundamental question as to whether social workers require specialised skills like that of a surgeon or a medical professional. It was probably due to these non-practical demands and disputes, the NITI Aayog has reportedly stalled the process of NSWC.

Instead of putting efforts into improving the standards and quality of social work education in universities, massive campaigns are being undertaken for licensing of social workers which are completely based on western paradigms and the framework of social work practice, and this is against the ethos of social work practice in India. The sorry plight of the social work profession in India is an open secret. It’s time to confess that the social work profession is still suffering from an identity crisis that was further deteriorated by the pandemic.

CREATING A TASKFORCE

There is a great need for an integrated approach in social work practice to pool the resources and engage them in the management of the Covid-19 crisis and similar challenges in the future. We need to develop a pandemic resilience curriculum for social work and enable our future social workers for quick deployment in the management of epidemics, pandemics, and natural disasters in coming times.

Therefore, the creation of a National Social Work Task Force (NSWTF) in line with the National Disaster Taskforce, seems the need of the hour. All the social work students at various schools of social work should be registered in the National Social Work Task Force and should be attached to various hospitals and local Panchayatiraj Institutions. They should be deployed required to create awareness drive, distributing reliefs, working for rehabilitation, and distributing masks, etc. They can mobilize the people towards the effectiveness of vaccination. Besides, social work practitioners and youths working with National Service Scheme (NSS), National Cadet Corps (NCC), and Nehru Yuva Kendra (NYK) should integrate with NSWTF for better training and deployment. This will provide ample opportunities for social work students to practice fieldwork practicum during the pandemic and will also help in managing similar challenges in the future.

The Nationalist Social work organizations contribute immensely to mitigate the suffering of the people. So, the creation of the National Social Work Taskforce will create opportunities for students of social work, and this will be extremely helpful for national development and our collective social wellbeing.

Furthermore, social work academicians in India should engage in developing Indic theories of social work from the vast Indic literature and best practices in the field of social work. We need to conduct academic research on successful social work experiences by various Indian icons who had done and are doing wonderful work for community development and social well-being in the fabric of Indian circumstances. We also need to develop a criterion for the selection of social work modules which should have an adequate emphasis on the degree of achievements in line with the predetermined objectives of the project. Social work educators need to develop new modules and uniform fieldwork training practicum in the larger interest of student’s fieldwork learning and social work profession.

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Opinion

Taliban’s growing Afghan grip and Pakistan’s myopic terror policy

China and Russia, which are supporting Pakistan, have been very apprehensive of Islamist terror outfits. In the long run, Pakistan, in one way or the other, seems to be pushing itself into a quagmire of trouble and miseries.

Satish Kumar

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The recent attack in Dasu proved the fact that Pakistan-generated terrorist camps are not in the control of Pakistan. Pakistan was making lame-duck excuses, Beijing said strongly in the face of Islamabad’s claim describing the incident as a “bomb attack” and demanding punishment for the perpetrators and steps to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel, institutions, and projects in Pakistan. The incident took place in the Dasu area of Upper Kohistan district of the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where Chinese engineers and construction workers are helping Pakistan build a dam, which is part of the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor — thirteen people, including nine Chinese nationals, were killed. It also noted that there have been previous attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan.

The US military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and strategic gain of the Taliban is called the victory for Pakistan. It seemed so in the short term. The speedy withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has been matched by the swift advance of the Taliban across the nation. Taliban leadership has claimed that it is in control of 85 per cent of Afghan territory. Whether the Taliban claims are accurate or not, there is no doubt that it is gaining military ground. The US army camp and arsenals were being captured by Taliban. The peripheral areas are under Taliban dominance, but major urban areas are out of its control. It should not be forgotten that during the first phase of Taliban rule major cities were out of its control. Taliban and Pakistan are in cohorts.

Pakistan not merely engineered Doha Peace Deal but nurtured and guided the Taliban during American onslaught since 2001. The current Chinese role in Afghanistan made Pakistan more viable. The ISI (Inter-State Intelligence) is the main body of Pakistan that trained and strategized Taliban. Therefore, it is quite natural to see that the future roadmap of Afghanistan is going to be designed by Pakistan’s military and ISI. But that is surface reality. The Inner Dynamics look different.

In the long route, Pakistan seems to be pushing itself into a quagmire of trouble and miseries. There are solid reasons to establish this truth.

Pakistan-Afghanistan relations had not been very cordial. Both countries were on verge of war twice— in 1960s and 70s— on the issue of boundary disputes. Afghanistan-Pakistan boundary is spanned almost 2600 KM long which is called Durand Line, sketched in 1893. Afghanistan never recognized this boundary line. Pakistan government has been fencing the boundary since 2017 which was opposed by Afghanistan. The Pashtun factor is another canker in bilateral ties. There is a bad Taliban and good Taliban for Pakistan. The bad Taliban is considered Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which has strong sanctuaries in Afghanistan. The current external powers like China and Russia which are supporting Pakistan, have been very apprehensive of Islamic terror outfits. The drama is scripted to large extent by Pakistan but actors which are in the lead role in the game are not under the control of Pakistan. There is a great possibility that ensuing civil war-type conditions in Afghanistan will spin-out from the basket and hit Pakistan badly.

Let us examine each factor in detail. The Pakistani Taliban, called the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), operates in the country’s northwestern region. The Pakistani army had forced the TTP fighters to retreat, but they are now feeling emboldened by the changing dynamics in Afghanistan. Since the start of the year, the TTP has claimed 32 attacks inside Pakistan. A UN report last year stated that more than 6,000 TTP fighters had taken refuge in Afghanistan. Pakistan, which helped the Taliban rise to power in the 1990s, is now worried about a resurgence of the TTP, a group that has been blamed for 70,000 deaths of civilians in the country since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. TTP may see an opportunity to attack Chinese projects to influence policy in Islamabad.

As the Taliban makes gains, many Afghans are fleeing villages for the relative safety of bigger cities. Pakistan expects 500,000 refugees from Afghanistan, and authorities have said they will be kept in border camps. More than 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees are already in Pakistan, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Not merely refugee camps are going to be eye shore for Pakistan military but many of the TTP fighters will move in disguise as a refugee. This could trigger incessant terrorist attacks in different places of Pakistan including Chinese projects. The CIPEC could be the prime target. It will have a chain reaction for Pakistan.

Secondly, the Durand Line issue has continued to complicate the unpredictable nature of the Afghan-Pakistani relationship since the birth of Pakistan. No Afghan government, including the present one headed by President Ashraf Ghani, has ever recognized the legitimacy of the Durand Line, which runs through mountainous terrain and remains largely unpoliced. The Durand Line, which is viewed by many Afghans as an arbitrary and nonsensical reflection of geography, history, and culture, is an existential issue for Pakistan. Over a period, numerous studies suggest that the Durand line is legally void, hence Pakistan has no legal right to control over the territories, which Afghanistan considers as its own.

Third, Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and tribal areas probably will continue to be poorly governed and the source or supporter of cross-border instability.  With a population of about 39 million and growing at 2.33 per cent annually, it has a GDP of $19 billion, placing it among the world’s poorest countries. It ranks 173 out of 177 in the world HDI rankings. Almost 45 per cent of the GDP is due to grants from America and its allies, Saudi Arabia, and some from even countries like India. Afghanistan’s own revenues are less than 10 per cent of its GDP. The other numbers in Afghanistan are equally distressing. In 2015, the country produced nearly 7,000 tons of opium and converted almost 670 tons of heroin. Afghanistan now produces 87 per cent of the world’s heroin.

Pakistan’s strategy of terror will derail Afghanistan economic and social status in post US withdrawal. Neither America nor India is going pump money to revamp the gap. Chinese support is limited to its strategy and connectivity for CPEC. Therefore, the second phase of Taliban rule under the supervision of Pakistan is set to be disastrous for South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular. There is a huge youth population and majority of them are unemployed. So, youth could be cannon for unrest and political turmoil.

Fourth, Taliban has close links with as many as 20 terror groups who operate across the region from Russia to India. Their activities are already visible on the ground, and they pose a significant threat to the region. The resulting Kingdom of Afghanistan was and remains ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse. Today, Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group within the country, but they represent only 38 percent of the population. An almost equal number of Pashtuns live across the border in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. Ethnic Tajiks comprise a quarter of the population. The Hazaras, who generally inhabit the center of the country, represent another 19 percent. Other groups— such as the Aimaks, Turkmen, Baluch, Uzbek, and others comprise the rest. Linguistic divisions are also focused. In addition to Dari (the Afghan dialect of Persian that is the lingua franca of half the population) and the Pushtun’s own Pashtu, approximately ten percent of the population.

Fifth, neither Moscow nor Beijing would want to see Afghanistan becoming the nursery of international terror again under the Taliban. For China, potential Taliban support to the Xinjiang separatist groups is a major concern. Russia does not want unrest to percolate down in Central Asian states. Afghanistan shares its boundaries with three Central Asian states. Tehran cannot ignore the Sunni extremism of the Taliban and its oppressive record in dealing with the Shia, and Persian-speaking minorities. America has left but still holds the sway. If things become worse American pressure tactics can twist Pakistan’s arms.

Finally, the contradiction between the interests of Afghanistan and Pakistan is an enduring one. While many in Pakistan would like to turn Afghanistan into a protectorate, Afghans deeply value their independence. All Afghan sovereigns, including the Taliban, will inevitably look for partners to balance Pakistan. The current condition is very fluid. Most likely Afghanistan is moving towards civil war. That could be detrimental not merely for Afghans but for Pakistan too.

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Opinion

PROSPECTS FOR CYBER SECURITY COOPERATION BETWEEN TAIWAN AND INDIA

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Global security threat perceptions have undergone a monumental shift in the 21st century, with the emergence of new challenges. One of the newly emerged security challenges for countries is how to protect their cyberspace from outside threats. Admittedly, Taiwan and India have become major victims of cyberattacks in recent times. Some reports suggest that Taiwan has in the past faced between 20 million and 30 million attacks every month, with Taiwanese government departments and businesses having become a major target of cybercrimes. More to the point, given its security concerns and its global presence in several areas including computer hardware, semiconductor and others, efforts in the past have been made to access Taiwan’s confidential documents regarding its defence ties with the US and other countries, trade secrets and others. On the other hand, India too has been subjected to massive cyberattacks, having reported almost 1.16 million cases in 2020. Its core areas of fundamental infrastructure including power, health, medicine, airlines, government official data have contentedly been targeted by cyberattacks.

China has been a major source of cyber threats for Taiwan and India. For example, last year, Taiwan Investigation Bureau’s Cyber Security Investigation acknowledged that two hacking groups having direct linkages to the Chinese government had attacked at least 10 Taiwanese government institutions and hacked 6,000 email accounts of government officials to steal vital information. In this context, it needs to be mentioned that this attack took place just a week after US Health Secretary Alex Azar’s visit to Taiwan. In the case of India, Chinese hacker groups were reportedly involved in choking power supply for hours in the city of Mumbai last year.

Surely, China having long standing conflicts with Taiwan and India is determined to use all sorts of means against these countries. China’s this act however, coupled with also among other factors, provides another avenue for cooperation between Taipei and India. While it is true that the two sides since the 1990s have taken efforts to improve bilateral ties, the process of expanding cooperation is too slow. However, with the fast changing of their security concerns and the indication of the strong political will to cement times, the two sides should make concrete efforts to establish cybersecurity cooperation.

Since over the years Taiwan has established a multi-layered infrastructure to protect its cyberspace, including the formation of the National Information and Communication Security Taskforce (NICST), the Department of Cybersecurity the Information and Electronic Warfare Command and others and India has also established Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) and National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC), the two countries can benefit from each other in several ways. First, working together will enable the two sides to know the functioning of each other’s cybersecurity system. Second, Since Taiwan has abundant expertise in how Chinese hackers attack, India can learn from working with that country. Third, the institutionalisation of cooperation will foster a strong bond between India’s software capabilities and Taiwan’s leadership in hardware. Fourth, the two countries can also explore the possibility of working with the US, since they individually work with that country in this area. Sixth, there is a need for expansion of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in terms of areas and its membership. In doing so, India and the other countries should make the issue of cybersecurity cooperation a priority for Quad and accord a legitimate role for Taiwan. Seventh, Taiwan can play a pivotal role in helping India to shore up its military infrastructure that is vulnerable to China-backed cyberattacks.

Keeping in mind the need for fostering cybersecurity cooperation, the two sides should develop a framework for identifying, coordinating, sharing, and implementing cybersecurity best practices. They should take efforts towards promoting cooperation in the fields of cybersecurity-related research and development, cybersecurity standards and security testing, including accreditation process, and cybersecurity product development, including further consultations on such issues. India and Taiwan can also undertake skill development and capacity building programs jointly in the fields of cybersecurity, efforts to combat cybercrime, digital forensics, and legal frameworks. Holding consultations and taking steps towards improving the effectiveness of transnational cybercrime cooperation can help the two sides in expanding cooperation in the area.

Of course, the relationship faces some structural problems in expanding the scope of its engagement. But the time is ripe for India and Taiwan to move beyond the hesitation of history and engage each other in a more constructive way. And undoubtedly, cooperation in cybersecurity has the potential to mark a new chapter in Taiwan-India relations.

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Opinion

Pegasus saga: Personal liberty in a networked state

The government should present a white paper of the Pegasus hacking allegations and reclaim public trust for effective governance, or the idea of digitising India may have to stand on stilts.

Amita Singh

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The recent Pegasus spyware row confronting the government for alleged surveillance operation has exposed that even democratic governments enjoy unjustified and unconstitutional hacking into e-systems of benign individuals. Liberty has new friends in today’s governance. The right to post, to like, to forward and the right to hack. Communication, which has largely shifted from offline to online, has also surrendered our personal lives to state control. Communicating online is a necessity in the current dispensation of life, but it has also made citizens victims of unreasonable punitive action.

As it appears, in times to come journalists would assemble at one centralised government-controlled information centre to prepare their writeups for the press and the television news. The Internet is gradually closing one’s freedom to observe, analyse, discuss and generate a communication that Habermas the sociologist found was intuitively mastered to help reach an understanding towards an appropriate argument. Habermas referred to it as ‘communicative rationality’. While the Internet is a great assistive technology for everyone today from an illiterate and uneducated to a professional in the boardroom and Parliament, its users have created their own communicative expressions and languages; it is the most vibrant channel of connecting anyone nonetheless its therapeutic effect during the pandemic. On one hand it has transformed the world by generating transparency and information flow, on the other it has also become one of the greatest anathemas to personal liberty.

The 2010 case of Australian journalist Julian Assange sent threat waves across media people in the world. Sweden issued an international arrest warrant against him over allegations of sexual misconduct. Assange took asylum in the Ecuador embassy in London and established that this was a case of political persecution and on this ground he was not extradited to Sweden. It soon turned out that Sweden’s demand for extradition was merely a design to pull him out of London and then transfer him to the US where he was to be charged for hacking into a secret Pentagon computer network and publishing secret files of America’s international activities. Sweden finally dropped investigations as its demand for extradition became time barred or lost its criminal attribute because of a long period of effluxion. Assange continues to be victim of his investigative journalism which no government likes. In the meantime, journalists and even ordinary people in India have repeatedly been castigated and some have paid a heavy price for their posts and messages on social media. In June this year the Supreme Court quashed an FIR registered by Himachal Pradesh Police against journalist Vinod Dua for sedition, public mischief and other offences. Dua was charged with alleged seditious contents of a talk show broadcast on YouTube last year.Recently, a PIL filed by a veteran S.G. Vombatkere and many others demand that “a statute criminalising expression based on unconstitutionally vague definitions of ‘disaffection towards government’ is an unreasonable restriction on the fundamental right to free expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and causes constitutionally impermissible ‘chilling effect’ on speech”. One would eagerly wait to hear its outcome as social media posts have become linked to sedition and terrorist activities despite the fact that personal liberty is jeopardised if governance gets narrowed down to this understanding.

The battle for free expression and personal liberty is age old and every government irrespective of ideology has tried crushing their political opponents by using Sections 124A (sedition) and 505 (public mischief) of the IPC. The social media sites have only made their task simpler today through rushed investigations and swifter evidences on the basis of content postings. The Supreme Court’s first big encounter with the discourse on personal liberty was in the 1950s case A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras. The Supreme Court, while convicting the communist A.K. Gopalan, established that Article 21, which guarantees a right to life and personal liberty, does not require the state to follow due process in its use of ‘preventive detention’. Such laws pertaining to preventive detention were immunised from the limitations placed on the legislature by other fundamental rights. The Gopalan verdict has since been overruled as the Supreme Court held that in Article 21 ‘Right to Life’ implicitly includes a guarantee of substantive due process which ought to be fair, just, and reasonable, untouched by the caprices of the state. In the case of Dua, the Supreme Court depended upon the Kedar Nath Singh case of 1962 reiterating that every journalist will be entitled to protection. In this 1962 case the apex court had overturned a Patna High Court ruling that upheld the conviction of Kedar Nath Singh, a communist party activist, for his alleged statements against the police and the Congress at a gathering in Bihar’s Barauni village on 26 May 1953.

In fact, social media sites, which have given voice to the ‘unheard’, have also created a deafening pool of resistance around governments which find themselves incapable of handling them other than imposing draconian laws which limit liberty. The other side of the government›s apparent capability deficit as a cause of threat to personal liberty is also a signal for ‘free hand’ that such government’s emit to their enforcement agencies and police. These agencies have a historical tendency to go overboard on retributive action such as they did in the 2012 Palghar case when two young girls were arrested for their Facebook posts. One messaged to the other questioning the shutdown in the city for Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray’s funeral and the other just liked it. The Sena activists went on rampage till these clueless girls were arrested using Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. This Section 66 (A) prohibits the sending of information of a “grossly offensive” or “menacing” nature through computers and communication devices’, had become handy for most state governments to book people over posts on social media that officials claimed were “seditious”, communally sensitive” or “abusive”. The free speech campaigner Aseem Trivedi’s arrest in Mumbai for displaying cartoons on his website and Facebook page that mocked Parliament and corruption in high places was another overblown case. This Section 66(A) was finally revoked in 2015, when the Supreme Court called it ‘unconstitutional’, but no one has been able to stop the police from using it repeatedly in UP, MP and many other states where the political power demands it.

Is the government justified in stifling free speech through spyware online surveillance of citizens? Is national security really under threat? Are these free speech people really seditious and anti-national? Justice Frankfurter, speaking for the US Supreme Court in the 1949 case of Wolf v Colorado, held, “The security of one›s privacy against arbitrary intrusion by the police … is basic to a free society…” History may still walk backwards into Semayne’s case (1603) that beautifully explains: “Every man’s house is his castle.” This sentiment forcefully featured in British Parliament in 1763 when William Pitt spoke to explain the primordial requirement of personal liberty: “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail—its roof may shake—the wind may blow through it—the storm may enter, the rain may enter—but the King of England cannot enter—all his force dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.” The Semayne case embodies an abiding principle of personal liberty which transcends all other state functions of providing economic and strategic security. What is referred to as ‘home’ in 1603 is a ‘computer’ or a ‘mobile’ today as a full life of an individual resides in it.

The state is fed by the police on its insecurities which can easily ignite interest in ‘something is cooking’. This is also a means used by the police to remain relevant to political power. Social media provides ample opportunities to police to jump for the gun. Let’s take a much-quoted incident of 28 December 2014 when an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion occurred on Church Street in Bengaluru. Read the 3 tweets on Twitter:

1st tweet: Blast on Church Street in Bengaluru.

2nd tweet: Blast near church in Bengaluru.

3rd tweet: Blast in a church in Bengaluru.

This could have escalated into a serious law and order problem in a multi-racial modern city but was prevented by credible online presence of the Bengaluru City Police, which quickly dismissed this malicious information through its Twitter and Facebook social media teams. The next year, provoked by rumour of communal clashes in Assam, an exodus of more than 15,000 Northeastern Indians took place in the same city. The Bengaluru City Police banned bulk SMSes in time to prevent riots, but despite frantic appeals the exodus could not be controlled immediately.

In 2013, a WhatsApp video of two boys being beaten fanned the Muzaffarnagar riots. By the time it was determined the video was at least two years old, filmed perhaps in Afghanistan or Pakistan, it was too late—the worst case of violence in the recent history of Uttar Pradesh could not be prevented.

In 2015, a message appeared on the Facebook, “Bhai log Kolkata ke raza bazar me 63 madarse ke bachhe ko police ne giraftar kr liya h unka kahna h ke ye aatankwadi ka training lene ja rahe h..is Msg ko jaldi forward kre media dekhne se in kar kar Diya h media bol raha h ke hme uper se order h nhi dekhne ka plz forward all grp” (63 madarsa students have been detained by police as they are alleged to be on route for training in terrorism, this message should be quickly forwarded to all groups). In the video, a group of students can be seen walking in a queue with policemen guiding them. It finally turned out to be that these young boys were travelling without valid documents and so the police had sent them to a children’s home.

 The threats to personal liberty due to the current online world of communication such as content posting, hacking and state surveillance are all genuinely grave issues since they not only limit free speech and accountability concerns of governance but equally disturb law and order maintenance. Most of us have experienced JNU’s politically motivated student-teacher tirade of 2016, which took a rabid turn when it started attributing unsubstantiated allegations on all social media posts against those who were their professional academic competitors. This has destroyed the careers of several brilliant and well-meaning academic researchers. But should this justify the use of a spyware to hack into personal accounts and homes of clueless people? This is one of the biggest, most scathing and devastatingly expensive (roughly above $7.5 million since 2016 as maintenance cost) assaults on personal liberty in India. The machinery of governance is too ill equipped, the home ministry seems naïve and oblivious about diffracted realities of the modern world, the training schools of government are archaic and devoid of energy to encounter new demands of governance. By applying military surveillance techniques upon civilians only demonstrates the bankruptcy of governance, its National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) and Central Monitoring System (CMS), which exist to increase public safety and security by tackling crime and terrorism.

The government should present a white paper of the hacking allegations and reclaim public trust for effective governance, or the idea of digitising India may have to stand on stilts.

The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.

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