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Smart farming will boost lives of farmers, India’s economy

Both public and private stakeholders should adopt modern technologies and scientific advancements in agriculture to make the sector profitable for emerging young demographics, since the need of the hour is marketing of Indian agriculture as a dynamic future vehicle to sustain business and reap profits.

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Indian farmers are a diversified lot, a lot more than the immense diversity of our vast country. There are rich farmers, with varied interests, and large landholdings (more than 50 acres), medium level farmers with 10-15 acres’ land holdings, small farmers between 5-10 acres of land, and marginal farmers between 1-5 acres of holdings— suitable for cultivation. These farmer households, own animals, such as sheep, goats, and buffaloes; some own poultry farms; still others run small dairy units. Their family may be running a trading or commission agency business; surely most medium to large farmers will own tractor/s, and other farm machinery and equipment; others will rent the agriculture machinery. Of course, every farmer will cultivate his land during Kharif and Rabi seasons. So, income to farmers can come from agriculture (farm income 45%), or from other sources, (non-Farm income 55%).

THE BACKDROP

A large number of Farmers in India are principally involved in the cultivation of paddy, cotton, sugarcane, fruits and vegetables, pulses, etc. during Kharif and with wheat, potatoes, onions, fruits and vegetables, oilseeds, etc. during Rabi seasons. The cash crops are sold in Agricultural Markets/Mandis, and to Government Agencies at Minimum Reserve Prices for such crops. Middlemen buy crop produce, store it in cold storages, or sell to buyers, and are the link between wholesalers, and retailers in urban, semi-urban, and rural markets. The prices for agricultural produce, are fixed based on the quality of the crop and the quantity available for sale. Commission agents (Aartiyas’), barter inputs with farmers against crop production, to set off debts and interest. Banks and Agri-Input Companies may also do this on occasions. Dependant, as the farmers are, heavily on monsoons in India, the uncertainty that surrounds their crop management, is a continuing worry. Indebtedness is an unbreakable shackle, that binds the farmers, in a strangulated vice, from which to break free, a next to impossible dream. Agri-inputs such as seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, are expensive, agricultural labour hard to come by, and costly to engage, irrigation facilities, a once in a while comfort. How does one foresee drought, or floods, or crop damages, or various other threats that loom around our farmer’s fields? The net impact is on farmers’ income. He receives after all deductions, paltry rewards for his herculean efforts, to feed 138 mouths in India. Yet, relentlessly he carries on toiling and sweating, year on year. Some respite, that vegetables, milk, ghee, and butter etc., can be managed in house, but this too, not by every farmer household. Costs of Land development, marriages, repairs, health issues, education, and day-to-day family expenses, pose a daunting challenge to farmers to manage their budgets. And Litigation can really finish whatever savings remain. This then is a brief backdrop and context, that engulfs farmers today, barring some population, at the upper end of the income pyramid. The ideal to ‘Double Farmer’s Income in Five years’ thus becomes, not only relevant but an essential policy focus and thrust, if India is to maintain its economic growth momentum in a balanced way, envisaged by the Government. The fountainhead lies in India’s 650000 villages!

THE ISSUES

Indian Agriculture is an integrated system, where animal rearing and crop management co-exist. The three pillars that address the vision of doubling farmers’ income are Crop Farming: Agro-Forestry and Animal Husbandry.These may be supported through non-farm activities, agribusiness, and other sources of income not directly related to agriculture. 57% of India’s population depends on agriculture for their livelihood, 14% GDP share, and employs 64% of the rural workforce. Growing infrastructural projects, reverse migration, mushrooming supply chain spoke and retail hubs in small towns, availability of internet connectivity and digital penetration, the emergence of powerful regional brands, financial inclusion, e-education, village-level health care, redefined distribution models, etc. have combined to make an environment, where products and services, relevant to the geography can evolve, develop and thrive, to become profitable business propositions for farmers and rural folk. Such a macro environment for economic prosperity has perhaps, emerged in India for the first time.

Fragmented land holdings, absence of land reforms, poor quality of Agri-inputs, lack of mechanization, obsolete crop management practices, sparse irrigation facilities (5.6 lakh hectares is under micro-irrigation projects and Rs. 12000 odd crores allotted), low water table, uncertain monsoons, etc. lead to very low crop yields and poor quality of crop produce as compared to global standards. Post-harvest losses are huge. The adoption and availability of technology are weak and not cost-effective. There is host of other factors as well, and the result is: low farmer income.

Where have all the farmers gone? Where are the farmers of tomorrow who will be called our ‘Sons of the Soil’? Gone to towns everyone— is the writing on the wall! Gone to explore their own destiny and find their identity? Even the girls and women are following suit. A nationwide farm survey by CSIS reported that 62% of the youth in rural areas, did not want to take up farming since it was unprofitable and, that, there were better options that would give higher earnings and improved quality of life. 69% of farmers own less than 2 Ha of arable land. Even with best practices, given the vagaries of nature and monsoons, these farmers cannot subsist on crop income alone. Statistics state that small farmers earn Rs.6240.00 per month from agriculture. This is a non-sustainable business model, one of diminishing returns, with input costs going up and market prices eroded by middlemen. No wonder non-farm income is increasing, being 55% of total rural income, at this time. Farmers in the hill States are even worse off. Demographic change is evident, but is there any dividend at the bottom of the Pyramid?

It is an understanding of the above situation, that has made our PM raise the policy objective of “ Doubling farmers income, and supported by New Farm Laws, now repealed due to political constraints.

SNAPSHOT OF FARMER INCOME

Various Research reports indicate that the majority of farm households (64%) have cultivation as their principal income source. A large number (22%) have wage/salaried employment as the principal income source. About 4.7% and 3.7% have nonfarm enterprise and livestock as their principal income source. Remittances also form a principal income source for a substantial proportion (3.3%) of farm households. The total income is highest for households having nonfarm enterprises as their principal income source. These households earn about INR 1,04,593 in a year. This is followed by households that have other agricultural activities as their principal income source. They earn about 92% of the incomes earned by households with nonfarm enterprises as a principal income source. Households with wage and salaried employment as the principal income source also earn about 88% of incomes earned by households with nonagricultural enterprises as the principal income source. Cultivation and livestock households earn substantially lesser and their incomes are 72% and 73% of the annual income of nonfarm households respectively. Pension, other, and remittance households earn very less incomes and their incomes come to 48%, 41% and 15% of nonfarm households respectively. In terms of the components of income, the principal income source contributes to the highest income shares of a household. Agricultural households earn 68% of their incomes through cultivation and wages and livestock incomes contribute to 15% and 12% of the total incomes. Agricultural households with cultivation as a principal income source earn about Rs. 50,874 in a year. Other agricultural activity households also earn similar amounts but all the other households earn much lesser around 16-41% of this income from cultivation. Livestock households earn 65% of their incomes from livestock. They earn 19% and 15% from cultivation and wages. They earn about Rs. 49,465 from livestock in a year. The other households earn much lesser which accounts to roughly 9-20% of this amount. The nonfarm enterprise households earn 69% of their total income from nonfarm business. They earn 14% and 11% from cultivation and wages respectively. These households roughly earn Rs. 72,550 in a year from nonfarm businesses. The other households earn much lesser which accounts to roughly 1-9% of this amount. The wage/salaried employment households earn about 78% of their incomes from wages and 12% and 9% from cultivation and livestock. They roughly earn Rs. 72,089 in a year from their principal income sources. The other households earn about 3-43% of this amount in a year. All the other households earn majority of their incomes from cultivation (29-53%) and wages (16-44%). From these observations it seems that all households are able to diversify significantly in cultivation, livestock and wages. But nonfarm businesses are not something that is an income source for many. This is unlike wage employment. Though the wage employment households earn significant amount in wages, the other households also earn a reasonable percentage of this amount from it. One of the reasons for this disparity could be because of entry barriers posed by capital and other requirements in nonfarm businesses. (Source: ERI reports.)

The Farm and Non-Farm picture is changing. Non- Farm opportunities, have increased, and more are on the anvil. Agribusiness, cold storage, packaging of food, food processing, trading and servicing, etc. have spread across many sectors that use Farm products and are linked to Industry, Retail and Non-Farm Consumers. In the upper and medium rural farm households, non-farm incomes are increasing, while at the lower end, cultivation remains the principal source of income. At the upper end of progressive and rich farmers, opportunities are many in addition to Farm Income.

The Villages of India are the fulcrum of change. Selecting them on a measured criterion, they can be identified, on a state-wise basis, for conversion to ‘Smart infrastructure’. Emerging technologies may assist in this initiative.

THE WAY FORWARD

Ever heard of ‘Seamless and Connected Agriculture’? Digital and Precision farming? Track & Trace Tools? Biological controls for crop issues? Vertical Farming? Aeroponics and Aquaponics? Globally the changing crop management technologies are transforming through R&D efforts in Europe, US, China, and Latin America. Solar and renewable energy solutions are making life much easier for growers. The research Institutions in India that cater to agriculture, NABARD, ICAR, IARI, and Agriculture Universities have their task cut out. They must contribute to making agriculture profitable for growers. Of course, droughts and floods need to be managed in the best way possible – through an integrated approach, that seamlessly links the Agri Value Chain Ecosystem.

Surely, the big, medium, and small growers have to be looked at differentially, much like large, medium, and small-scale industrial enterprises. And all the stakeholders must play a role and be accountable for increasing yields, reducing costs, and optimising income. The rural women need empowerment, NGOs and SHGs need to be integrated into the policy framework. Banks, and educational platforms need to pitch in. Increasing incomes will result in more transactions for goods and services. Employment will rise. Quality of life will get a big boost. The Landscape will undergo a metamorphosis!

MAPPING, SATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS

India has relevant satellites in space that can map weather, floods, earthquakes, storms, and many other natural factors, such as soil erosion. In the future, information will be beamed to service providers, and thereon to farmers in real-time, which will help the farmers take preventive and corrective actions quickly, thereby preventing damage, protecting crops, and working with alternative solutions. The smartphone, now cheap, full of applications, connected by 4G, will be the vehicle in the hands of the farmers – a powerful tool that will enable quick and ready flow of information in real-time, when required, and at a small cost.

THE CLOUD

Information and data from villages will be stored in cloud, and analytics will keep standardized solutions saved and ready. Thus, recommendations regarding soil, crops, nutrients, chemicals, and other farm related information, will be available to farmers, regionally relevant and crop specific. The cloud will become the hub of knowledge management.

SENSORS

Leaf sensors, one in one acre of land, will give out information about plants, needing water and quantity required, and when! Sensors in the ears of animals will give data about animal sleeping, lying down, or eating. And many other applications, such as emergence of pests, etc., as the technology gets adopted and matures.

IRRIGATION

Irrigation projects will be connected. The systems will deliver water and fertilizers to the farm when required, (Fertigation), consume about 10% of what the farmers use today as water resources, give information on water quality, hardness, and TDS. Solar energy will be the enabler for pumps, filters, and drainage. Drip Irrigation will take on a new avatar. Water Harvesting for agriculture will be the way forward.

SEEDS

GM and hybrid seeds with in-planted protection genomes will protect the plants from pests and diseases. Seed treatment will be crop-specific and protect the crop through its life span. Data from the use of Hybrid and GM seeds will increasingly be available to be analyzed from angles of human and plant safety, and corrections made at every step, by scientists, in collaboration with Universities and Farm Institutions. Indeed, Seeds, have the potential to usher in a renewed green revolution in India.

CROP PROTECTION

New chemistries, use of biologicals, and organic products will make crop protection targeted and pest, weed, disease-specific and selective. The use of chemicals will decline. Integrated pest and crop management will become a reality, through the use of new mixtures, formulations, and safer applications, that are cost-effective. Spray equipment will carry flexible technology and information for farmers. Soil testing, water testing and pest threshold levels, would be mapped in real time on farms, through service providers.

FARM EQUIPMENT, ROBOTICS, MACHINE INTELLIGENCE

Driverless tractors, Harvesters, Seed transplanting machines, guided by the Satellite, will take over from landless labor, releasing them for other gainful employments. Equipment suitable for small, medium and large farmers will be available on rent, lease, or sale from high-class equipment providers, who would help maintain the machines and systems. Already some companies are active in this space.

VERTICAL FARMS: AEROPONICS AND HYDROPONICS

Singapore, US, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, etc. are already pioneering vertical farms, as the future of agriculture, to save land, and provide fruits and vegetables to domestic populations on a sustainable basis. Small Hydroponic pilot Units India’s Maharashtra, TN, Punjab, HP etc. have started such ventures. The technology is available. Vertical Farm Association has been established in India. Entrepreneurship has to step in with the government support.

POST-HARVEST SOLUTIONS

Computerized silos, catering to village clusters, will provide information on weight, volume and other parameters, of grains. They will automatically be connected to Cloud. Fumigation and stored grain pests and fungi will be controlled through modern systems. Each silo can cater to a specific number of village clusters in the area on a lease basis, and be connected to cold chains, storage warehouses and transport linkages – from farm to retail! Vacuum packaging will keep grains and cereals pest free, healthy, original and fresh, through use of inerts such as Nitrogen. Pilot units are set up in Dharwad University in Karnataka. Connected E-markets, such as E-NAM, through digitalized Mandis, will help replicate policies regarding MSP, etc. that were proposed in the now repealed Farm Laws.

PRECISION AND DIGITAL FARMING

The above technologies will contribute to precision farming. Track and Trace Digital Farming tools will assist in tracking the history of the crop, such as grapes, fruits and vegetables, from seed to harvest, and provide real-time information on Residues, diseases etc. The technology is already implemented by Companies in India, in the Nasik Grape belt. More applications are on the anvil by Start-Ups.

DIGITAL E-LEARNING, FARMER EDUCATION

Already many NGOs and SHG offer services to farmers regarding crops, commodities, products, and prices. These initiatives will reach multiplier levels soon, thus making information, knowledge, solutions, actions – available to the farmer at the clicks of smartphones. Multimedia, Videos, and global connections will be available at a low cost. Extension services will greatly benefit by adopting digital approaches to farmer issues, on the Farm, for animals, and for poultry and fisheries. Digitalization is already making these initiatives possible.

It can be said that the face of Indian Agriculture can and will change. What is needed is for the stakeholders both public and private to Focus on this sector, with the objective of making it profitable, for our emerging young demographics. The need of the hour is, Marketing of Indian Agriculture, as a dynamic future vehicle to sustain business and reap profits. If politicians can go beyond politics, and if the industry can engage with the farmers, using technologies outlined above, Indian Agriculture could climb to dizzy heights, and can provide food security to over 1.5 billion people and more!

The vehicles of this change, are the FPOs and KVKs. Given proper training and empowerment, through professional financial monitoring and farmer interface, these institutions can be at the forefront of ushering in the “smart era” into Indian village ethos and practices. Already it is believed, substantial progress has been made to experiment with various business models, that may suit FPOs and KVKs and farmer groups, in various States. Agriculture startups may be the supporting commercial e platforms that encourage the use of smart applications at village levels, and ensure last-mile connectivity and delivery of solutions.

DO BUSINESS AROUND SHARED DESTINY

The direction to go, inevitably, is to empathise with the poor, do business around shared destiny, then think and innovate, discover and experiment, set time frames and budgets, and commit to improving the villager’s life. Organizations should envision linking the personal growth of their people with the growth of the enterprise and that of its inclusive society. The government is doing what is required; industry and institutions must support its efforts and embrace rural India in its villages; walk down its dusty tracks; debut regional & local brands in the marketplace; support skill-building projects; make village level operations participative and inclusive of the rural population and aligned with agricultural tapestry in the country.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “True India lies in its 7 lakh villages; If the villages perish India will perish too.”

Inclusive Capacity Building, through evolving smart villages, it is hoped, will embrace the villages in India, and make them participate in winning partnerships that bring a smile to the faces of its 800 million people. Then the ‘India Shining’ story will become real and live!

The writer is a Senior Professor, Rural Marketing and Management, and the Managing Director at Agchem Industry. Views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

The sedition law: Congress versus BJP

PM Modi’s historic decision to seek a re-examination of the archaic sedition law qualifies as a transformative moment in the quest for the fine balance between free speech and national security.

Sanju Verma

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In a significant development, the Modi government told the Supreme Court via an affidavit on May 9, 2022, that it has decided to re-examine and reconsider Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which criminalises the offence of sedition (SG Vombatkere vs Union of India). “The government of India being fully cognizant of various views being expressed on the subject of sedition and also having considered the concerns of civil liberties and human rights, while committed to maintain and protect the sovereignty and integrity of this great nation, has decided to reexamine and reconsider the provisions of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which can be done only before the competent forum,” the affidavit said.

The affidavit was filed in response to a batch of petitions challenging the constitutionality of the colonial provision. In the affidavit, the Modi government requested the Supreme Court not to invest its time in examining the validity of Section 124-A for the time being and to await the exercise of reconsideration being undertaken by the government of India.

The Supreme Court had while issuing notice in the matter in July 2021 questioned the Central government on whether the law was needed 75 years after independence. The Court had also sought the assistance of the Attorney General in the matter. The Court is currently considering whether the matter should be referred to a Constitution Bench of five or more judges. This is in view of the 1962 verdict of the top Court in Kedar Nath Singh versus the State of Bihar, in which a 5-judge Constitution Bench upheld the validity of Section 124-A. The current case before the apex Court is being heard by a 3-judge Bench. The Central government’s second senior-most law officer, Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta had earlier filed a note before the Court stating that the Kedar Nath Singh judgment has stood the test of time and was applied till date in tune with modern constitutional principles. The SG pointed out that only a bench of co-equal strength of Kedar Nath Singh can therefore pose any doubts on the verdict.

Beyond the semantics, it is to the Modi government’s credit that over 1500 outdated laws and over 25000 archaic compliance burdens that reeked of a colonial mindset have been scrapped since May 2014, when PM Modi stormed to power. Various offences which were causing mindless hindrances to people have been de-criminalised, including many sections of the Company Law. The Modi government, contrary to what jaded Leftist historians peddle, has always been open to both criticism and scrutiny. On sedition, concerns of civil liberties and human rights’ activists have been taken on board by PM Modi at regular intervals and the petition filed in May 2022, in the apex Court, amplifies as much.

In the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case in 1962, a Constitution bench had upheld the sedition law. The Centre in its initial affidavit had said the Kedar Nath verdict came after testing the constitutional validity of 124-A from angles. So is the Centre now deriding the Kedar Nath case verdict? Absolutely not. All the Centre is doing now, is to ensure a fine balance between national security and free speech, within the broader framework of what the Kedar Nath verdict sought to do in any case. The direction to “re-examine and reconsider” the provisions of the sedition law came directly from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government will “suitably” take into account the views of stakeholders and ensure the sovereignty and integrity of the country is preserved while looking into Section 124A of the IPC, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju reiterated. “The government will reconsider and change the provisions as per the need of the present time. Because there are lots of views coming up,” Rijiju, further added. Clearly, PM Modi, a true champion of civil liberties, has, by putting his personal weight behind the need for whittling down the sedition law, shown why he is not only a progressive thinker but is also far more contemporary and modern than what his critics credit him with.

The Congress Party and its ecosystem of the Tukde Tukde gang infamy, have no right to give sermons to others. During the Anna movement, those who were not toeing the UPA line were subjected to bullying, harassment, intimidation and arrests. All this happened under the watchful eyes of the UPA. Needless to add, if there is one party that is the antithesis of freedom, democracy, and respect for institutions, it is the Indian National Congress. This Party has always stood with Breaking India forces and left no opportunity to divide India. Who brought in the First Amendment? None other than Pandit Nehru in 1951! It was Sangh ideologue SP Mookerjee & the Jana Sangh which stood in opposition to this measure, aimed at curtailing freedom of expression. Nehru also dismissed the democratically elected government in Kerala. It was the Indira Gandhi government that made Section 124-A a cognisable offense for the first time in India’s history. This happened in the new Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which came into force in 1974. Has Congress ever bothered to even express regret,for crushing the democratic ethos of this nation repeatedly? The answer is, no.

When it comes to trampling over free speech, Indira Gandhi was second to none. We all know about the horrific 1975 Emergency but does anyone also know that she imposed Article 356, over 50 times? She came up with the idea of a “committed judiciary” to weaken the Judiciary, our third pillar! What an irony that Congress acolytes are today preaching about an independent judiciary! If any government has indeed upheld the sanctity of the judiciary,it is undoubtedly, the Modi government. The UPA government has the worst track record of filing sedition cases. In 2012 alone, over 56000 people were arbitrarily detained, over 23000 were arbitrarily arrested, with over 9000 slapped with sedition charges and all this for simply protesting against an upcoming nuclear power plant that was coming up in Tamil Nadu, at that time. The debate here is not about harnessing nuclear energy for productive purposes– of course with checks and balances,nuclear energy needs to be harnessed for the greater good.The debate here is about the fact that the Congress government used the sedition law as a vicious tool to curb dissent.In sharp contrast,under the Modi government ,there were barely 326 sedition cases that were filed between 2014 and 2019.

Senior advocate Mohit Mathur said that while it falls within the Court’s domain to test the constitutionality of a legal provision whenever a challenge is raised before it, the Centre may be allowed to examine the issue at its end. Advocate Sherbir Panag, a financial crimes’ lawyer, called the Centre’s stand a “step worth being applauded” as he claimed that it is better if the law of sedition is dealt through the “legislative process” in a time-bound manner. One can argue back and forth but the hard truth is that no government in India, since independence, has come out and openly talked about a review of the sedition law that was put into effect by Thomas Macaulay, way back in 1870. Hence, for the Modi government to take the bold and progressive stance of wanting to re-examine the sedition law, speaks volumes about its commitment to free speech. Those who claim the Modi government preempted the apex Court in wanting a review of the sedition law are clearly missing the point. Do not forget that, in any case, it is the duty and the right of the Central government to frame laws and legislations. The apex Court, has the right to strike down or modify or build in statutory safeguards, as the case may be, only if the laws framed by the Central government are challenged on valid grounds.

The Supreme Court has been hearing a clutch of pleas challenging the validity of the law on sedition which has been under intense public scrutiny for its alleged misuse to settle political scores by various governments in the past. The top Court in 1962, upheld the validity of the sedition law while attempting to restrict its scope for misuse. Even in the May 2022 observation, all that the apex Court said was that, the government must seek to restrict the use and scope of the sedition law. Nowhere did the apex Court say that the sedition law stands scrapped or that it is irrelevant. Some parts of it may need a re-examination, is all that both the Modi government and the apex Court are saying, at this point.

“Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the government established by law in [India], shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine,” reads section 124-A (sedition) of the IPC. Unfortunately, the sedition law has been misused with rabid impunity by the Opposition ruled States. For instance, MP, Navneet Rana was charged with sedition, for simply wanting to recite the Hanuman Chalisa, outside Matoshree, the residence of Maharashtra’s CM, Uddhav Thackeray. How can recitation of religious texts, even if it is outside the CM’s residence, be an act of sedition? By that logic, one is tempted to ask Mr Thackeray, what about the thousands of Muslims, who offer Namaz every Friday, on roads and railway tracks and even in public toilets? If offering Namaz in a public space is not sedition, why should recitation of Hanuman Chalisa,be made into a cognizable offence? Public property including surrounding roads outside Matoshree are not private, but public spaces.

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s younger brother Akbaruddin Owaisi visited and offered prayers at the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s tomb on May 12, 2022. Younger Owaisi’s act of bowing before Aurangzeb to show respect is an act of betrayal and insult to Hindus. How can we forget history?

Despotic and rabid bigot, Auranganzeb, had harassed and schemed against the great warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. He brutally tortured and killed Sambhaji Maharaj.

It is not surprising that Owaisi went to Aurangzeb’s tomb. The thinking of Nizam, Razakars (the paramilitary volunteer force deployed by the Nizam of Hyderabad to resist the princely State’s integration with India during 1947-48) and the earlier Islamic dynasties, is much the same. Aurangzeb, in his barbaric and bloodthirsty, 49-year rule, slaughtered to death 4.6 million Hindus and forcibly converted or took captive, an equal number, besides of course imposing the discriminatory and draconian, Jiziya tax on non-Muslims. If reciting Hanuman Chalisa qualifies as sedition, should younger Owaisi’s act not be seen as a deliberate act to provoke disaffection towards the Indian State, moreso when the Gyanvapi mosque videography issue is underway. The Rana couple were later granted bail after a Court observed that mere expression of derogatory or objectionable words was not sufficient ground to invoke the sedition charge. But the moot point is, those who accuse the BJP of scuttling free speech, are actually the very lot that has zero tolerance to any narrative that does not suit their Hinduphobic taste buds. The Congress and its allies would therefore do well to stop waxing eloquent about the virtues of free speech, because they don’t believe in it.

The BJP has always endeavored to strike a balance between Article 19, that is, freedom of speech and maintaining public order. While Article 19 (1) (a) guarantees freedom of speech and expression, equally, Article 19 (2), speaks of reasonable restrictions. In fact, every fundamental right is subject to reasonable restrictions pertaining to public order, morality, and health.

The Congress Party has time and again abused the sedition law for unfair advantage. In 2019, for instance, an innocent man was charged by the Bhupesh Baghel-led government for sedition for simply raising his voice against the infuriatingly repeated electricity power cuts in Chhattisgarh. More recently, the Congress Party, in Rajasthan, to stifle the voice of the media, invoked sedition charges against a news anchor, Mr. Aman Chopra and continued to hound him, despite a Court order to the contrary. Only last week, Marathi actress Ketaki Chitale was booked and arrested for a purportedly derogatory Facebook post against Sharad Pawar, by the MVA regime. BJP leader, Vinayak Ambekar was also beaten up by NCP goons, for an innocuous Facebook post. Also, how can one forget rabble-rouser Mamata Banerjee, whose corrupt TMC regime, arrested Jadavpur University professor, Ambikesh Mahapatra in 2012, for simply forwarding a harmless spoof on Mamata.

In a historic development, the Supreme Court on May 12, 2022, ordered that the 152-year-old sedition law under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code should be effectively kept in abeyance till the Modi government reconsiders the provision. In an interim order, the Court urged the Centre and the State governments to refrain from registering any FIRs under the said provision, while it was under re-consideration.

In the final analysis, while by July 2022, things pertaining to the sedition law will be a lot clearer, what cannot be denied is the fact that for decades, the Congress Party which ruled India for the longest time, misused and abused this law to checkmate dissent and to clip the wings of political opponents. Sometimes, Congress went to ridiculous lengths to checkmate dissent, the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi in 2012, being one such example. Trivedi was later pardoned once the Modi government took charge in 2014. On May 15, 2022, at the “Chintan Shivir” of the Congress Party in Udaipur, Rahul Gandhi said, the only alternative to the conversation between people, is violence between people. The incompetent Congress scion further added that the Modi government is encouraging violence by muzzling democratic institutions. Well, maybe Rahul is suffering from selective amnesia and needs to be reminded that be it bringing in the draconian 66-A in 2008 to curb free speech, or the Maintenance of the Internal Security Act (MISA) or overturning the 1985 Shah Bano judgment of the Supreme Court, if there is one Party that repeatedly made a mockery of India’s electoral process and the judiciary, it was the Congress Party.

The Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) was a controversial law passed by the Indian parliament in 1971, giving the administration of Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother, Indira Gandhi, very broad powers – indefinite preventive detention of individuals, search and seizure of property without warrants, and wiretapping – in the quelling of civil and political disorder in India, as well as countering foreign-inspired sabotage, terrorism, subterfuge, and threats to national security. Under the garb of quelling terrorism, however, the MISA was used with brazen impunity to hound free-thinking and curb the voice of free thinkers, by Indira. The law was amended several times during the subsequently declared national emergency (1975–1977) and used for quelling political dissent. Finally, it was repealed in 1977, when Indira Gandhi lost the 1977 Indian general election and the Janata Party came to power. To cut to the chase, therefore, it is preposterous to draw a false equivalence between Congress and the BJP. While the BJP has used the sedition law with great restraint and very sparingly in only the rarest cases, Congress used the sedition law as an instrument of vendetta politics.

Sedition law is very, very old but is it time to completely abandon it? The answer is, no. Don’t forget, the catch here is, to use it sparingly. Should it be used against those protesting constructively against government policies? No. Should it be used against those seeking to conspire against the government of the day, in such a way that it harms the country’s territorial integrity? Certainly yes. So known Maoist sympathiser, Binayak Sen, should certainly be behind bars for sedition and so should Sharjeel Imam, who sought to cut off “the chicken’s neck” from the rest of India. The lobby that says the BJP is as bad as the Congress, as both have misused the sedition law, are woefully wrong. The BJP and the Modi government have faced vitriolic opposition bordering on the defamatory and in many cases very perjurious too. Yet, PM Modi, as is typical of him, has always shown extraordinary grace and that is precisely the reason,no sedition charges were slapped against those protesting at Kundli, Singhu and Tikri borders, though their actions often bordered on the grossly unacceptable, given that often during these protests anti-India slogans were raised and Bhindrawale posters were flashed. Discretion is the better part of valour, they say. And the inclusive Modi government has showcased why a re-examination of the sedition law, is the need of the hour, without dismantling it, so that the law is made stronger and more in line with contemporary India’s democratic ethos. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”. Indeed, PM Modi’s historic decision to seek a re-examination of the archaic sedition law qualifies as a transformative moment, in the quest for that fine balance between free speech and national security.

The writer is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP, and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’. Views expressed in the piece are the writer’s personal.

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Opinion

RENAMING OF STREETS AND PLACES CANNOT ALTER HISTORY

Pankaj Vohra

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Earlier this week, certain right-wing activists demonstrated in the Mehrauli area of South Delhi demanding that the historic Qutab Minar should be renamed Vishnu Sthambh. Simultaneously another group of people wanted that the names of Shah Jahan Road and Tughlak Road in the Lutyens zone to be changed. Everyone is aware that Delhi is amongst the oldest capitals of the world and there is history buried under every brick and stone. Therefore, even if one was to change the names of every monument or street, one would not be able to erase historical facts. Successive governments have resorted to this futile exercise of renaming places, which other than adding to the confusion has served no other purpose. Being a Delhite from my birth till now, I can tell you that such initiatives undermine reality. How can anyone ever wish away the Mughals for instance who were on the throne of Delhi for several centuries? Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Hamayun’s Tomb are a part of their legacy and attract a large number of tourists every year. The Mughal Gardens at the Rashtrapati Bhawan recognise their stamp over the city and the special Delhi cuisine from Karim to Jawahar eateries is a part of what they have left behind.

The first war of Independence in 1857 resulted in the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar being arrested and externed to Burma. Similarly, Tughlaks played a major part in the evolution of the city. Tughlakabad Fort and Feroze Shah Kotla are monuments that cannot be wished away. In fact, one of the three Ashoka Pillars in the city is located at Ferozeshah Kotla and the famous Cricket ground in the capital where Sunil Gavaskar scored his 29th century to surpass Sir Don Bradman’s record was also a part of this stadium. As far as Qutab Minar goes, like so many other important landmarks, it is also a heritage monument. It honours the Slave dynasty and also reminds people of India’s first woman empress, Razia Sultana. Yes, some dispute that many of these structures were originally Hindu and thus should be recognised as such.

P.N.Oak was the first right-wing historian who spoke on these lines in the late 1960s. If his thesis was right, he should have been honoured by the central governments that have been there in the past 50 years. Congress made the biggest folly when it renamed Connaught Place as Rajiv Chowk. Although this name has gained acceptance, thanks to the Metro services which stop at this station, yet for Delhiites, Connaught Place would always be CP. St Mary’s road was over 60 years ago renamed as Rafi Marg. Most people who live in the city believe that this road was named after the legendary singer Mohammad Rafi when the fact is that it was in memory of Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, a nationalist and freedom fighter who was a part of Jawahar Lal Nehru’s Cabinet.

Delhi has also gone by several names in its hoary history. Hastinapur, Raisina, Indraprastha, Shahjahanabad, Tughlakabad are some of these names. There has been an attempt by governments to also erase the British imprint on the capital. How can this be possible unless, the entire University system, the railways, the English language etc gets changed also? I am not a supporter of colonial powers but India was a British-ruled colony is undeniable. When we celebrate Independence Day, it is to mark our freedom from the British, an acknowledgment of sorts. Let us spend more time strengthening our country and its economy rather than indulging in divisive politics.

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Understanding misappropriation of assets at workplaces

Asset misappropriation is the most common type of occupational fraud. It occurs when an employee steals or misuses the organisation’s resources such as cash, fraudulent billing, inventory, or inflated expenditure reports.

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One of the most significant delinquencies many businesses face today is the incidences of fraudulent acts commissioned by employees. The growing number of reported occurrences of fraud and its detrimental impact on corporate subsistence continue to draw the attention of auditors and fraud examiners around the world. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (A.C.F.E.) report to the nations on occupational fraud and abuse 2020, organizations lose roughly 5% of their revenue to fraud each year. This is the worldwide data available. One thing pertinent to note is that this is what is reported. What is not reported, obviously, has not been counted. While the fraud can be perpetrated both externally and internally, recent studies show that internally perpetrated fraud by employees, management, and sometimes owners (occupational fraud) has been more prevalent in recent years than the former. The majority of these researches have primarily focused on financial statement fraud, with little attention paid to other types of occupational frauds. An employee commits occupational fraud during the course of their occupation. Sometimes, it is further referred to as employee fraud. According to A.C.F.E., there are three categories in which an employee may commit fraud on an employer or organization viz, Asset misappropriation, Corruption, and Financial Statement fraud. Briefly speaking, when an employee swindles with cash or other assets belonging to the organization for personal use without authorization, it is called Asset misappropriation. Corruption is wrongful acts by employees designed to cause unfair advantage to the perpetrator, including bribery, kickbacks, economic extortion, collusion, etc. Corruption is a vast term and includes the wrongful use of influence by a person to benefit the actor or any other person. On the other hand, financial statement frauds are usually perpetrated by management against potential users of financial statements. Hence, it is an intentional act whereby the perpetrators usually get little or no financial gain; instead, they are committed to showing the better standing of the company on paper.

Despite the importance of financial statement fraud in the fraud discussion, empirical studies have shown that the frequency with which employees engage in other types of fraud, particularly asset misappropriation, dramatically outnumbers the former. Asset misappropriation accounted for 86 percent of all reported fraud instances during 2020, according to A.C.F.E. Surprisingly, even after the incidences of asset misappropriation continue to rise, most studies have been concentrated only on financial statement fraud.

Why do employees commit fraud against the organization which provides the bread and butter? What induces them to do such an act? Ultimately, the loss of the organization is the loss of an employee. Few theories have been developed over time to understand why people commit fraud, especially occupational fraud. However, these theories have also undergone many developments, e.g., the fraud triangle with three elements to the S.C.O.R.E. model with five elements. Different sociologists have asserted different rudiments in their studies. However, according to these different models, Pressure, Rationalization, capability, opportunity, and ego are prime elements that motivate individuals to commit any fraudulent behavior. However, all these elements may not hold equal weightage in their relevance behind a fraud. In almost all the studies, the opportunity has been perceived as the most crucial factor behind the fraudulent behavior, which triggers the lack of internal controls within the organization.

As mentioned earlier, asset misappropriation is the most common type of occupational fraud. It occurs when an employee steals or misuses the organization’s resources such as cash, fraudulent billing, inventory, or inflated expenditure reports. In almost all such cases, the perpetrator uses techniques of deception or trickery to steal or misappropriate the organization’s assets. According to Dr. Steve Albrecht, “Asset theft, concealment, and conversion must all be present for asset misappropriation.” Asset misappropriation is the most common type of fraud because it is usually the easiest to commit, albeit it does not always result in significant direct losses.

On the other hand, it deprives businesses of resources that could have been used to improve their productivity and profitability. The A.C.F.E. further divides asset misappropriation schemes into cash misappropriation and misappropriation involving inventory and other assets. Aside from its domination, asset misappropriation is a significant phenomenon in the accounting discipline, particularly in auditing. International Standards on Auditing (I.S.A.) 240 inflates the auditor’s responsibilities for fraud detection to encompass asset misappropriation. Hence, asset misappropriation is an issue that deserves the immediate attention of major stakeholders, i.e., management, auditors, and shareholders.

SOME ELEMENTS OF OCCUPATIONAL FRAUDS ARE:

Pressure or stimulus is a non-shareable problem that motivates a person to engage in acts that would help alleviate such pressures. When individuals face financial and non-financial pressures, they may feel compelled to engage in fraudulent activity (Cressey, 1953).

Another significant aspect that motivates persons to commit fraud is the availability of opportunities to engage in fraudulent conduct. Fraudulent activities in the workplace are frequently the outcome of a lack of internal controls within the organization. Hence, the stronger the entity’s internal control system, the fewer individuals participating in fraudulent or other illegal activities. If firms fail to seal possibilities for fraud due to overtime, certain employees may see this as a sign of corporate culture and eventually take advantage of these opportunities.

Fraudsters frequently have an outlook that leads them to fabricate justifications to justify their acts. In the fraud literature, this mentality or attitude is known as Rationalization and is one of the tenets of the fraud models. Rationalization is defined as a person’s mentality that allows them to excuse immoral behavior as not being criminal. As a result, Rationalization allows fraud perpetrators to justify their acts to protect their belief and self-image as honest, innocent people who were unfortunate enough to be caught up in a critical circumstance rather than criminals.

Wolfe and Hermanson (2004) brought the notion of capability into the fraud theory, defining it as persons’ characteristics and abilities that significantly impact whether or not fraud occurs. For a fraudulent act to occur, an individual’s capacity to detect an opportunity to take advantage of it is critical. As a result, a fraud perpetrator should be in a position inside the organization that allows them to commit the fraudulent act or have the skills and abilities to execute it.

The ego determines what is moral and what is not. Because of their ego, people are concerned about what others think of their behavior. People work hard to establish a reputation, and they do everything they can to retain it. Some people engage in various actions, including deception, to maintain their egos. Vousinas (2019) demonstrates that some people enjoy the feeling of outsmarting the world when their initial crimes are successful and unnoticed, boosting their ego. As long as they are not caught, such individuals are encouraged to engage in such fraudulent actions repeatedly. Individual ego might thus determine whether or not a person will commit fraudulent acts such as wealth misappropriation.

The fraud model (S.C.O.R.E.) describes the effect of Pressure, Rationalization, capability, opportunity, and ego on asset misappropriation while controlling for the impact of ethical values on asset misappropriation from a theoretical perspective. Additionally, the effect of these elements on an individual’s propensity to misappropriate assets is highly dependent on how individuals perceive an organization’s internal control systems.

PRESSURE AND ASSET MISAPPROPRIATION

As a general tendency, when people are faced with financial or non-financial difficulties that they do not want to share, they misappropriate assets. Because these forms of Pressure are non-transferable, such people will go to any length to get rid of them, including committing fraud. Individuals may have high work expectations and targets, putting them under a lot of stress. Organizations may also encounter pressures that are passed on to personnel. Apart from this, conditions outside the workplace, e.g., at home or family, may cause some stress. Individuals who have family and friends who rely on them financially may feel under Pressure to meet their requirements. Some individuals may exploit the organization’s assets as a means of lessening or controlling such demands. According to Steve Albrecht, people typically participate in fraudulent activities when they are under duress. Every fraud perpetrator must have been under Pressure to perpetrate fraud. Pressure has been discovered to be a significant influencing factor in the occurrence of fraudulent behaviors. According to various fraud models, pressure is a factor that causes persons to engage in fraud. According to these studies, individuals misappropriate assets at work when under strain, whether personal or work-related, financial or non-financial, to alleviate such stresses. Hence Pressure has a substantial impact on asset misappropriation.

RATIONALIZATION AND ASSET MISAPPROPRIATION

Most people who engage in asset misappropriation excuse their actions by believing that such activities are necessary or do not damage others. Misappropriating assets at work is simple for certain people because they fabricate explanations to justify their acts and maintain the belief that they have done nothing wrong and are still trustworthy. Often, an organization’s internal culture is a fertile environment for some employees’ rationalizations for committing fraud. People defend their fraudulent behavior at work, for example, by claiming that “bribery is a prevalent culture here” and “everyone does it, so why not me?”

Several empirical research has concluded that rationalization has a significant impact on the prevalence of fraud and that people who cannot justify their wrongdoings are less likely to commit fraud. With first-time fraud offenders, rationalization is even more prominent. According to Donald Cressey (1953), most of those who engaged in some deceptive behavior for the first time justified their actions. As a result, the ability to rationalize wrong actions may be a key predictor of why some employees misappropriate funds at work. Hence Rationalization has a significant and positive effect on asset misappropriation.

CAPABILITY AND ASSET MISAPPROPRIATION

When the perpetrator is in a position where they have access to the firm’s resources, it is generally easier to commit fraudulent crimes like asset theft. Individuals must also possess specific personal characteristics and abilities that allow them to misappropriate assets at work without being discovered. As a result, simply recognizing the existence of an opportunity is insufficient to commit the fraud unless the individual is well-positioned to take advantage of it. As a result, a fraud perpetrator must possess the skills and abilities to conduct the deception. Individuals misappropriate assets when they can comprehend and exploit internal control mechanisms so that they are not found. If they are caught, they are sure that they will be able to handle any stress that follows. Existing fraud research has discovered a positive link between fraud and capability.

PERCEIVED STRENGTH OF INTERNAL CONTROL SYSTEMS

The strength of a company’s internal control systems can either create opportunities for fraud in the organization or close loopholes that could lead to fraud. Robust internal control systems are frequently capable of identifying wrongdoing, whereas poor internal control systems are not. As a result, how personnel within an organization view the internal control systems in their organizations is critical. This is because a person’s perception of internal control can lead to them engaging in fraudulent behavior. Individuals may, for example, misappropriate assets at work if they believe the workplace’s internal control systems are poor and so will not be noticed.

On the other hand, internal controls act as a deterrent to fraud when they are strong. Individuals do not have the opportunity to misappropriate money since they know that internal procedures will expose them. Hence, strong Internal Controls have a negative relationship with asset misappropriation.

EGO AND ASSET MISAPPROPRIATION

Because of their ego, an average person places some importance on what other people think of them. Individuals frequently wish to establish and maintain social standing. People may engage in particular actions solely to preserve their ego because they value and do not want to lose their status, especially if it is one of power. According to the findings of some existing studies, fraudsters are frequently egoistic, and ego appears to be a recurrent theme in some of the most recent striking frauds. People who have a strong attachment to their social standing are more prone to engage in wrongdoing such as misappropriation of their organization’s funds. This is because such persons may be willing to participate in potentially fraudulent conduct to maintain their social lifestyle. The ego and asset misappropriation have a favorable association.

ETHICAL VALUES

Various industries and professional organizations have adopted codes of conduct that apply to all companies. As a result, most businesses adopt these codes of ethics to create ethical standards that will guide how their employees behave in the workplace. Some people’s activities are also influenced by their ethical lookout. What is right or wrong, good or bad, depends entirely on one’s moral perspective. According to the findings, people commit fraud because they lack ethical beliefs or do not follow the ethical rules in their jobs. Individuals with strong ethical convictions, on the other hand, rarely perpetrate fraud. Moral principles significantly influence asset misappropriation.

PERCEIVED STRENGTH OF INTERNAL CONTROLS SYSTEMS

Internal controls make or break a company’s ability to commit fraud. When internal controls are tight, all gaps that could allow fraudulent workplace actions are closed, lowering the rate of fraud in the workplace. People can take advantage of the opportunity presented by the loose systems to engage in fraudulent activities when internal controls are insufficient.

A thief also avoids breaking into a house that has a watchdog. Internal controls can also be perceived the same in an organization. Individuals would not misappropriate assets at work if adequate internal controls were in place. Individuals in senior positions in companies, on the other hand, may not be bothered by internal control measures because they can usually circumvent them to hide their transgressions. Understanding the push factors, i.e., Pressure, rationalization, capability, and ego, is crucial for management and policymakers in developing solutions targeted at eliminating workplace fraud. Having proper and robust internal control systems in place is one of the most effective approaches to reducing the occurrence of asset misappropriation.

The writer is a finance and forensic accounting professional and is currently associated with the education industry in the capacity of a finance officer. The views expressed are personal.

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Civil Services’ recruitment process, training need reform

Civil Services’ recruitment process, training need reform

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Another Civil Services day has passed. Varied people gather to give speeches on this day, and request the Civil Servants to take the country forward, that was a euphemism for not obstructing it.

A former President, the present Prime Minister, and hordes of people from the technical field, creative people in pursuit of India’s development, reformers, teachers, and businessmen are always very anxious about the quality of people inducted into services to implement the policies of the government. People who had had a rendezvous with Civil Servants have been very critical of them and indicted them also to have been responsible for holding the progress of the country.

Civil Services in India suffer from a far deeper malaise than normal citizens know and feel. The common citizenry has got so accustomed to the daily grind and its problems that an abysmal quality of life imposed on them seems normal, and they’re completely oblivious of the people who are responsible for it.

The issues that the Civil Servants face in India are related to everything one can imagine— from the quality of intake to their training, their working inefficiency, their commitment towards the country and its people, and most importantly the way their non-accountability for everything they do derail the progress of the country.

The different questions that are asked include: Do the Civil servants act as Civil servants or Masters? Do they really care for the services or people? Do they still have colonial-type thinking? Don’t they enjoy without accountability at the expense of taxpayers’ money? Does the present system of selection for the Civil Services Examination (CSE) conducted by UPSC do justice to fulfilling the objective of choosing candidates with some ethical standards? Does it recruit the best talent or better still best attitudinal traits? Is a 3-hour examination on Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude and Interview adequate to test the character of candidates? Is it really needed to have different services? Why can’t a common pool of candidates be selected and then allocated services based on their aptitude, interest, and performance? Do the Civil Services aspirants know how narratives can harm the country and do they have their observations sharp enough to identify it? What are sleeper cells and their roles in perception management? What are the differences and cross-cultural comparisons emanating out of the use of words considered to be synonymous like Dharma and religion, spirituality and religion, temple and mandir, pooja and worship?

The Indian Civil Servant is a fatal mix of contradictions having some very favourable as well as the obnoxious mix of characteristics to run or “down run” the country and these characteristics are both acquired and inherited.

No institution has harmed the country more than the British legacy of Civil Services. When the ancient Chinese decided to live in peace, they made the Great Wall of China. They thought no one could climb it due to its height.

During the first 100 years of its existence, the Chinese were invaded thrice, and every time, the hordes of enemy infantry did not need to penetrate or climb over the wall, because each time they bribed the guards and came through the doors.

The Chinese built the wall but forgot the character-building of the wall guards.

This is what the Civil Services in India are. They are the wall built to protect, but, they allow to demolish every wall, that may be created, and they can be fatally apathetic to the feeling of India and a true epitome of what the British wanted to do and what they left behind, a true reflection of colonial powers’ intention to bring about a thorough mismatch between India and its structures.

A statesman rightly pointed out, “India has the most lethal missile, indestructible but capable of destructing everything efficient but capable of delaying any progress, it is called the Civil Servant—it doesn’t work and can’t be fired.”

THE PRESENT BUREAUCRACY

It is indeed an irony that the country has progressed and has grown up, looked up, brightened up and still moving forward. Even though we may not have tasted development, but at least we tasted growth, and all this despite the bureaucracy. The Indian economy has grown despite the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy has not managed the aviation sector despite the enormous inertia being available by way of Air India… so what? Air India may have been ruined, but the aviation sector developed without bureaucracy. The bureaucracy has almost completely devastated the Shipping Industry… so what? Indian exports have picked up. HEC Ranchi, and other public sector units have fallen from grace… so what? A lot of state-of-the-art industrial centres have come up that mock HEC. Every road-block the bureaucracy can put up, despite that the road transport has shown growth— qualitative as well as quantitative. The Indian software industry has exploded, despite the bureaucracy, and the quality of ‘education’ (read information and literacy) has improved at least quantitatively if not value-wise, despite the bureaucracy. The Milk Revolution, the Amulya experiment headed by V. Kurien, the Telecom revolution orchestrated by Sam Pitroda, Satellite and Space Technology growth directed by ISRO, the UID and Aadhar conceptualised and implemented by Nandan Nilekani, The Konkan coastal Railway, the Metro by E. Sridharan all grew up only because there was no bureaucratic involvement. Many sectors have shown an improvement despite obstacles put by bureaucracy. Had the bureaucracy only worked, not obstructed the work, the Country would have been a much better place to live in.

It is left to anyone’s imagination what would have happened with a responsive, efficient bureaucracy having a feeling for the country and its people, and what would have been done. The country’s economy would have shown progress unparalleled in the whole of Asia, and we would have been a power to reckon with.

Ceteris paribus, one of the reasons is the selection process. The chosen candidates are billed as the best talents we have, but is it the talent that has to be enough for bureaucracy or attitude?

HOW ARE THE CIVIL SERVANTS RECRUITED?

The already selected candidates selected out of the present procedure need not be made to think that they are the most talented candidates, because they do not supplement it with their ability and attitude to administering. Is it not that talent without an aptitude, attitude, and without any value cannot take the country forward?

The Civil Servants need to be learners not judgmental, but must have a sense of judgment based on their capability of logical and emotional differentiation.

The anomaly between what is required and what is tested. So we have grown despite bureaucracy. There are reasons to believe that. There are two aspects to consider here, despite the prevalence of terrific talent, why do we lag in taking the best administrators in bureaucracy and second, after selection, why do even the best become unfit for the country, unresponsive to the people and obstructive. To a large extent, the selection process has to be blamed. There are grave anomalies between traits required and the selection procedure prevalent.

A trait that is required for selection into bureaucracy is an attitude for administration but what is tested is examination technique, a trait that is needed for selection into bureaucracy is administration ability, and what is tested is information base; if the requirement is empathy for the people, the chosen candidates are trained to be arrogant, if the requirement is honesty, there are minimal ways of evaluating their ethical dimension, where the trait required is objectivity, the selection has no means to prevent students who have taken all their decisions based on perception and rumors, when the selected people require to have an understanding for their country and who know their country and feel for the people, the candidates who come out of academy are a replica of their colonial masters and which during their training got even more strengthened in the Academy.

Why does this happen? The selection and the training procedure are still very colonial.

The Bureaucracy is protected by Articles 311 and 312, meaning that even for their deadliest mistakes, deliberate mistakes they will not be punished and they are not accountable. In a situation where the country is, where PM is accountable the MPs are accountable, the teacher is accountable, the technocrat is accountable, and the creative people are accountable why the Civil Services, in particular, the IAS cannot be accountable? Once recruited, they do take the country and its people for granted.

Moreover, how does the same examination test the candidates for different services, which require different aptitudes and attitudes for different services like IAS, IFS, IPS, IRS, and that too through one single examination? Even this exam doesn’t test the candidates for their personality and their administrative ability but rather their memory and examination presentation techniques.

We take talent, but forget whether that exceptional talent has character and values or not. We forget the basic dictum, “Values and Morality can compensate for an intellectual and talent shortage, but talent and intelligence can never make up for lack of values and morality”

WHAT CAN BESUGGESTED?

It is in this light that the government’s decision to accord merit list, services and cadre after their training in Foundation Course that holds some meaning and credence. It is a prudent idea provided the training at Foundation Course gets modified and is reformed to an extent as not to allow the training candidates to have a ‘paid holiday’ and does not become subjective.

There are three stages of reform that are needed to prevent UPSC from being called as “Unpredictable Public Service Commission”.

Everything is ok at the prelims stage except for the fact that it has been so unpredictable that no one is sure that even a single mistake can cost their attempt to help the poor souls to restart an arduous journey of insipid preparation for one more year. The quality of intake also leaves a lot to be desired and becomes a gamble of sorts to prevent even the best of administrative talents to sit out. A good idea then will be the reintroduction of options to make three tests, instead of two, one for optional and two papers of CSAT. Optional will help some really good students who lack in test techniques, but with observational analytical skills to find their way. The significance of knowledge will be reinforced, and whichever way the student has academically lived till his graduation. Of course, the chance factor will be minimized and UPSC’s job also made easy. This suits easy identification of talent as well. As of now, the prelims exam has become more of a gamble because the margin of error, in this case, is so low. So much so that even within a range of 1 mark more than 10000 students can be weeded out, So it has become more a test of exam practice, a test of elimination rather than any effective aptitude test. It serves no purpose other than to eliminate some of the brightest students as well.

At the Mains level, there have been a good number of innovations in the type of questions asked that are good and relevant, but what the students are doing is they are packing their facts in a sack and depositing it to get marks. The test of language, flow, coherence of thoughts, analysis and its ability to go deep are not tested. This should precisely not be the hallmark of a candidate’s ability, indeed what is tested very well is the student’s ability to pack facts in their answers like jute sacks. The structure of the question paper needs to be changed to include not only 150-word answers but also one 600-word, two 400 words, three 300 words, and many 150 and 100 and 50 words as well. This will test many aspects of candidates and expose their ability as well. The examiners also have to be instructed and trained to check the language, analysis, coherence, and arrangement that is a part of the answer and not only the facts arranged in disarranged manner. The answer has to be checked in a manner that the students can’t be doctored in a coaching institute and masquerade themselves as knowledgeable students.

At the Interview level, major reform is required. The Interview at present by one single board doesn’t do justice to the selection procedure. A half an hour is not enough to test the personality of the candidate. There are two options— the best option is making it in the form of CDS and NDA. Here a candidate is kept for five days and observed intricately. Isn’t it ironical that the selection procedure for the CDS and NDA is more stringent than the people whose dictates they need to follow and whose decision imposition lacks coherence, rationality, and ethics? The other is making the personality test two stages conducted by two different boards with a greater allocation of marks with as much weightage as Mains marks. This will be a far better method to check the administrative abilities and associated attitude.

Finally, in the training stage for foundation, the training procedure must be completely revamped, extended, and restructured. A three-month training may not be sufficient to assign services to candidates and understand either their administrative abilities, policing capabilities, diplomatic understandings and underpinnings, negotiation abilities or accounting abilities. Service allocation has some objectivity imparted when the candidates are closely scrutinized for more than 3 months to allocate different services based on their attitude, interest, and desirability.

The best suggestion perhaps will be to recruit the potential Civil Servants at the grass-root level after +2, keep them in-field training for three years, and give them a degree in Administration in the same manner as Graduation. This way the chosen candidates can be trained and guided in a manner that the country requires them to be. They will be less arrogant, more flexible, and more empathetic, and since they would have gone through the lowest hierarchy to the one hierarchy where they are recruited now, they will understand the problems better.

Also, they can be made to understand the country better and they will be a far better candidate to learn. They will also be far more flexible and far more responsive with all the traits required in bureaucracy that can be easily poured into them.

Any argument against this has to take into account whether the 35 years of service to the country is more important than the three years of difficulty in making them. Whatever the difficulties in revamping, the whole selection procedure is more worthy.

The writer is a strategic thinker, educationist, earth scientist, author, mentor, and advisor to various governments. Views expressed are the writer’s personal.

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TOKYO MEETING MUST ISSUE A QUAD CHARTER

Joyeeta Basu

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The prospect of Ukraine joining Nato apparently made Vladimir Putin so nervous that he tried to stop that from happening by invading it. This is possibly the most simplistic way of looking at what is happening in Ukraine, because there are enough voices from inside Nato that suggest that the security alliance had no intentions of inviting Ukraine to its fold. While the truth could be somewhere in between what the two sides claim, there is no denying that Vladimir Putin used it to justify his war on Ukraine. In this context, what are the chances of a similar situation developing in the Indo-Pacific, if the People’s Republic of China starts feeling threatened by any move towards the formation of a security alliance in the region? Has Putin’s reaction to the possibility of Nato expansion set the template for expansionist powers? It is said that the world is already at war with the PRC, even though it may not realise it. Compared to Putin’s “bear in the china shop” act, the PRC is insidious; and imperial. Its political warfare is waged 24X7—an unrestricted warfare that operates at several levels. But how soon before political warfare becomes a kinetic conflict, given grabbing of territories is very much a part of Xi Jinping’s plans, with Taiwan and India being the obvious targets?

File photo of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar with Australian PM Scott Morrison Australia FM Marise Payne (L), Japanese FM Yoshimasa Hayashi (2R), and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) during the 4th Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, in Melbourne on 11 Feb 2022. ANI

In such a scenario, what is the future of Quad as a security alliance? And if not a security alliance, what is the relevance of Quad? It was during Donald Trump’s Presidency that his Deputy Secretary of State, Stephen Biegun had said that the United States was trying to formalise the Quad into a Nato-like alliance. There was much commotion at the time, with PRC saying that the Quad was an Asian Nato with its focus on containing Beijing. Perhaps to assuage China, there were vehement denials towards this, particularly from India, which has always been wary of angering China, given the 3,000 km of mostly unmarked “border” it shares with that country. The Quad joint statement of September 2021 issued from White House in the presence of the four Quad leaders, reflected this reticence towards making Quad about China, with no country willing to mention Beijing by name. The absence of any military component from the statement was deliberate. And this in spite of the whole statement being about China. The references were too obvious to be ignored, for example in a statement like this: “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.”

It is believed that by not making it appear China focused, the Quad makes it easier for countries in the South China Sea region—that do not want to be caught between the US and China—join the Quad in some sort of a Quad Plus arrangement. It is also believed that South Korea under its new President, Yoon Seok-youl, who is not exactly pro PRC unlike his predecessor, is eager to join the Quad.

But the question still remains: which way is the Quad headed? If health security is one of the cornerstones of the Quad, what action has been taken to bring China to book for spreading worldwide the most devastating pandemic in a century? Nothing until now. Even the US under Joe Biden has not witnessed any significant push towards this. What is being done about the building of supply chain resilience? Without an economic angle, how can any alliance thrive? China’s fears may have been taken care of by ensuring that Quad is not an Asian Nato, but how long can the participating countries pretend that Quad is just a do-gooder alliance and nothing more? If that is the case, how would the Quad define the naval exercises that they regularly participate in? Also, how can they ensure the safety of the sea-lanes without introducing a military component into Quad and formalizing that aspect into an agreement or a treaty? Until now the Quad does not even have a formal agreement or a Quad charter. All it has is just a joint statement. And now President Joe Biden, in his obsession with the Nato and Russia, wants to bring the Ukraine situation on the Quad table, an attempt that India has been rightly resisting.

Ahead of the Tokyo meeting of the Quad leaders, these matters need to be thrashed out by the four countries’ foreign policy establishments. The least they can do is to issue a Quad charter, upholding the democratic values of the countries they comprise, apart from introducing an element of security into the charter, China’s insecurity notwithstanding.

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Opinion

WHO’s ‘excess Covid-19 deaths’ report is slanted

World Health Organisation has been toeing China’s line of defence since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

Savio Rodrigues

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There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic was a devastating blow to millions around the world and a tremendous strain on the health systems globally. Millions today continue to pick up pieces of their lives dislodged after losing a loved one due to the health crisis caused by the coronavirus.

A healthcare worker collects a nasal swab sample of a prisoner for the COVID-19 testing prior to him appearing before the Civil Court, in Patna on Monday. ANI

The deadly virus left children without parents, and parents with children. The pandemic ripped through every single home and left its horrific scar.

The health strain was coupled with an economic strain because of the global lockdowns. People tested positive for COVID-19, some people recovered, and some died. We witnessed death all around the world, even many deaths around us.

During the second wave in India, reports of deaths linked to COVID-19 filled the reams of newspapers and anchor bytes of television channels. It was sad to read and hear about the difficulties that people were experiencing because of the strain on our health systems. The pandemic did not only overwhelm Indian healthcare but wreaked havoc across the globe.

Global health systems failed because the global health body, the World Health Organisation (WHO) failed in its primary responsibility to detect and prevent the spread of the coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 14.9 million people died of Covid-19 or of the pandemic’s impact on the global health system between January 2020 and December 2021. The WHO data is close to 10 million over the 5.4 million deaths officially reported by countries across the world.

Intriguingly, the WHO data puts India’s Covid-19-related deaths at 4.7 million, when India’s official Covid-19 recorded deaths as of today are 524,024.

The WHO data on the report on Covid-19 by member states on its website shows:

In China, from 3 January 2020 to 5:31 pm CEST, 6 May 2022, there have been 1,210,601 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 15,372 deaths, reported to WHO. As of 25 April 2022, a total of 3,364,169,286 vaccine doses have been administered.

In India, from 3 January 2020 to 5:31 pm CEST, 6 May 2022, there have been 43,094,938 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 524,002 deaths, reported to WHO. As of 2 May 2022, a total of 1,894,676,946 vaccine doses have been administered.

The recent WHO data on excess Covid-19 deaths used a methodology for member states based on a systematic collection of data regarding the fatalities. India too has a similar system. India has a robust Civil Registration System (CRS).

The Union Health Ministry on 5 May, 2022, vehemently objected to the mathematical models used by the WHO for projecting excess mortality estimates linked to the pandemic given the availability of authentic data, saying the validity and robustness of the models used and the methodology of data collection were questionable.

India had also informed WHO that given the availability of authentic data published through the Civil Registration System by the Registrar General of India, mathematical models should not be used for projecting excess mortality numbers for India.

“India firmly believes that such robust and accurate data generated through the legal framework of a member state must be respected, accepted, and used by WHO rather than relying on less than accurate mathematical projection based on non-official sources of data,” the statement added.

However, while the world mourns over the death of 6,275,035 million due to Covid-19, there was no definition from the WHO as to how can a fatality be ascribed to Covid-19, and till now there is no definition for death due to Covid-19.

The global health body has not defined as to what constitutes the ‘Covid-19’ death. If the nature of Covid-19 death does not have a global definition then it is presumptuous to expect a nation to classify deaths as ‘Covid’ or ‘non-Covid’ by the WHO expectations, and hence it is prudent for India to its own definition of classifying Covid-19 deaths.

The issue of underreporting or overreporting a death as Covid-19 does not arise since there is no scientific definition by the global health body that categorizes a death as a Covid-19 death or non-Covid-19 death.

Therefore, the methodology adopted by the WHO is flawed as mathematical models should not be used to project excess mortality numbers for India especially when India has a robust CRS system.

Let me explain in simple terms; If Mr. A was to get Covid-19 positive today and dies after two weeks will it be a Covid-19 death? Or if he dies after four to six months will that be considered to be a COVID-19 death?

In India, all data was looked at and a conclusion came out that 95 percent of the deaths that occurred after testing positive for Covid-19 were occurring in the first four weeks. Therefore, a cut-off of 30-days was set for the definition of a Covid-19 death.

On India’s asking WHO about what their data is based on and its methodology, WHO replied that it is based on “states’ websites, and RTIs filed by people across the world.” Shockingly, they have conveniently ignored India’s CRS data.

Excess mortality is calculated as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would have been expected in the absence of the pandemic, based on data from earlier years.

Excess mortality includes deaths associated with Covid-19 directly, due to the disease, and indirectly due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society.

While India has reported 524,002 deaths as on May 6th 2022, China reported only 15,372 deaths. In the WHO Excess COVID-19 death report, Dr Tedros and his team would like the world to believe that India underreported the deaths and it should be estimated at over 4.7 million. But the WHO does not raise an alarm bell on China’s excess mortality death numbers, in fact, it shows China’s excess Covid-19 death numbers as one of the lowest in the world. China’s death rate is reportedly 62-times better than Australia’s.

The WHO is ready to accept only 15,372 Covid-19 deaths reported by China even when the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic is Wuhan, China but opines that India has underreported its Covid-19 deaths.

China followed a model of its own definition of COVID-19 deaths, India too followed its own definition of Covid-19 deaths. The WHO does not have a categoric definition for a COVID-19 death, but according to the WHO, China’s Covid-19 deaths are one of the lowest in the world.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the WHO have been toeing China’s line of defence since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It is not surprising even now it plans to pat China on the back and question India’s integrity on the COVID-19 death reportage.

The writer is a BJP leader and the founder of GoaChronicle. Views expressed

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