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Subject-specific benchmarking is the need of the hour

Subject-specific benchmarking would substantially improve the quality of classroom processes, and significantly curtail the widespread disparity of academic standards across institutions. It should be at the top of the government’s policy agenda without which it will not be pushed into public discourse and onto the policy agenda of universities.

Prof. Ved Prakash

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Most of the institutions in the country record students’ progress in the form of letter grades. But some are still continuing with the age-old method of awarding numerical marks. Although these methods have been in practice for fairly a long period of time, neither of them reflects the real potential of individual learners due to inherent limitations of assessment tools as well as recording and interpretation of assessment outcomes. They do not provide authentic answers to questions like what all a student knows, what does he or she understand, what all he or she can perform after successful completion of a three or four-year degree program? These are hard questions with no easy answers. Many efforts, nevertheless, have been made to minimize the inadequacies insofar as assessment of student’s potential is concerned but very little has been done at curriculum and syllabus levels to lessen the disparity of standards across institutions.

The fact of the matter is that no system of assessment of learners’ potential can ever be completely infallible. There are a plethora of factors that could influence the final outcomes, be it marks or grades. The most appropriate way is to minimize the error components that are associated with the pre-conduct, conduct, and post-conduct stages of assessment techniques. Subject-specific benchmarking of learning outcomes and their continuous and comprehensive assessment is emerging as an alternative technique that can provide more realistic answers to questions relating to knowing, understanding, and performing. It is precisely for this reason that benchmarking of learning outcomes is increasingly becoming more popular than the traditional approach of designing curriculum and prescribing syllabi that is in vogue for a while. This is the most opportune time to switch over to subject-specific benchmarking of learning outcomes especially when the new policy has unequivocally recommended the development of the National Higher Educational Qualification Framework (NHEQF).

The term benchmarking in education is borrowed from the industry where it has been widely used as a part of competitive strategies to make reasonable advantages across the whole of industry. Benchmarking has a long and interesting history. But it got institutionalized in the early seventies when Xerox company faced fierce competition from its rivals in Japan. It was during that period that Xerox went on a mission to outrank its rivals by improving operational efficiencies and cutting down the cost of its products. Since then the benchmarking has undergone numerous transformations primarily focusing on evidence-based best practices. In the mid-1980s, benchmarking experienced phenomenal growth and soon it became a quality control mechanism on a worldwide scale.

In the early nineties when benchmarking was seen as a mechanism for quality assurance and quality enhancement, some educational experts considered experimenting with it in higher education despite reservations from certain quarters. A group of experts was quite skeptical about its success in education. In fact, they were deeply pessimistic about its prospects in education. Their line of argument was that something that had succeeded in the industry might not necessarily work in education since both are distinctly different in their role and functions. But their scepticism proved to be unfounded. Benchmarking of learning outcomes acquired wider stakes in the university system. It was swiftly adopted by many universities in the western world and thereafter it gradually made inroads in many more universities across the globe. But somehow it has not gathered momentum in the Indian university system.

Once the idea of benchmarking took effect in the university system, it came into vogue in one form or the other. It is now widely used not only for benchmarking of learning outcomes but also for appraising the performance of individual members of the faculty as well as research groups across the departments and universities. Internal benchmarking is widely used to find out which department of the university is not performing well and what all that it requires to improve its performance within a certain period of time. Some universities are resorting to external benchmarking wherein they are comparing their performance on some key parameters with other universities to discover how have they been fairing on those key indicators compared to their counterparts. There are also universities which are collaboratively undertaking benchmarking exercise to avoid duplication of efforts, time, and resources.

Benchmarking is emerging as a means of making the comparison of performance with the end goal of setting up best practices. Apart from documenting the progress of individual students in a more authentic manner, benchmarking has got remarkable diagnostic value. It is considered a more realistic means of evaluating and documenting the performance of individual students as well as faculty and institutions. It ensures both continuity and comprehensiveness with a special focus on diagnostic aspects of evaluation. Thus it has an added advantage, for it can profitably be used for mid-course correction. Not only that, it can provide plausible answers to many of those open questions, relating to the extent of knowing, understanding, and performing, which remain unanswered in the present system of teaching and learning.

The role of benchmarking for quality and standards in higher education is increasingly being realized the world over. It facilitates comparability, mobility, employability, and promotes access to quality higher education. It is in this context that the development of the NHEQF is of paramount significance. Subject-specific benchmarks set out expectations about standards of degrees in a range of subject areas. These subject-specific quality standards provide a key to building an outcomes-based approach to curriculum development, the modality of its transaction, and the assessment of students for ensuring the best standards of teaching and learning. The process of benchmarking requires broader coverage of the subject seeking answers to questions wherein each question includes several topics which when covered provides a comprehensive assessment of the acquisition of different competencies and skills.

Universities need to adopt benchmarking as a tool to ensure parity of standards in learning outcomes as also to bring about qualitative improvement in their teaching and learning. Subject-specific benchmarking is a process wherein subject statements are written in the form of learning outcomes by subject specialists and retained for a specific time frame. It is a dynamic process which is why subject statements in the form of learning outcomes are considered as moving targets from the quality point of view. The greatest advantage of subject-specific benchmarking is that the learning outcomes keep changing with the advancement of knowledge leading to continual improvement in standards of teaching and learning. Interestingly, the subject statements in the form of learning outcomes might vary widely in terms of cognitive and non-cognitive operations across different domains of knowledge. They might also vary widely in terms of difficulty values and discrimination indices. However, in each discipline, the subject experts have to develop a matrix for benchmarking of learning outcomes which can lead to a better-defined focus on learning outcomes. In addition, it would also require detailed guidelines for the teachers itemizing different tasks to be performed by both teachers and students during the program. Once these two wheels of change are set in motion, it would lessen disparities in standards across institutions.

Benchmarking of subject-specific learning outcomes would require a clear-cut break up of all curricular, pedagogical, and assessment activities. More specifically, it would first require the introduction of the subject and the aim of studying the subject. Second, it requires detailing of the scope of the subject and specification of expected cognitive and non-cognitive learning outcomes. Third, it requires the listing of pedagogies and pedagogical supports needed for classroom processes, experiments, demonstrations, audio-video support, etc. Fourth, it requires mentioning of tasks to be performed by the students in the form of home assignments, project work, group activities, quizzes, etc. Fifth, it requires the specification of techniques and criteria to be employed for the assessment of students’ performance and documentation of levels of attainments in terms of threshold graduates, typical graduates, and outstanding graduates. If all the teachers and students across the institutions are going to adhere to these specifications then it would significantly reduce the disparities in standards of academic attainments both within and across the universities.

One of the biggest advantages of this exercise is that on the one hand, it lets every teacher know about his or her role and accountability and on the other, it alerts students about their obligations to earn a certificate, diploma, or a degree. The underlying assumptions in subject-specific benchmarking for quality and standards are that students must know why are they studying a particular subject, what is the philosophy of that subject, what subject specialists think is important for the students to learn, what points of view they tend to emphasize, what they feel the limitations and future of the subject are, how are they going to be assessed on multiple criteria and how their performance would be documented? It is the responsibility of the teachers to let all this knowledge pass to their students before the commencement of the program.

This exercise needs to be carried out by individual departments at the university level and made available to all the teachers teaching in the university as also across all the affiliated colleges if the university happens to be an affiliating university. It would bring about qualitative improvement in teaching and learning besides addressing the most pertinent issue of disparity of standards across departments and institutions.

Subject-specific benchmarking of learning outcomes is a necessity in a diverse system where parity of standards remains a major concern. It may, however, be naïve to presume that disparity of standards will cease to exist altogether with the use of benchmarking. But it can certainly narrow down the range of disparity that currently exists. The task can be accomplished by subject specialists who are good both in the subject and in pedagogy and assessment. Universities can make a beginning in one or two subjects in the form of a pilot project either individually or collaboratively. Once the benchmark matrix is finalized in a particular subject, it can be fine-tuned and used as a template for similar exercises in other subjects as well.

There is no denying that subject-specific benchmarking is going to play a very vital role in serving the dual purpose of improving the overall quality of teaching and learning. While on the one hand, it would substantially improve the quality of classroom processes, on the other it would significantly curtail the wide-spread disparity of academic standards across institutions. Subject-specific benchmarking thus should be at the top of the government’s policy agenda without which it will not be pushed into public discourse and onto the policy agenda of universities. This being a much-needed measure of reform should be implemented without any delay, and the sooner the better.

The writer is former Chairman, UGC. Views expressed are writer’s personal.

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Opinion

PARTIES NEED TO BE CAUTIOUS AND RESPONSIBLE WHILE DOING POLITICS

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Udaipur

The incident of brutal beheading in Udaipur has tremendously dented the image of Rajasthan which has, hitherto, been known for communal harmony and peace. No words are enough to condemn this gruesome murder which is never allowed in a democratic country and civilized society. This type of macabre killing has been seen only in countries under dictatorships. This incident is the first of its kind that happened in India. The killers were so fearless that they posted the video of beheading on internet for terrorizing the society. There must not be any repetition of such a brutal act. All the political parties and the governments here should sit together and hammer out a solution to prevent it.

Now the question arises as to who is responsible for this. In a way, all the political parties are responsible for this. The role of TRP race of the news channels and social media cannot also be ruled out. Under pressure to top the list in terms of viewership, news channels tend to go to any extent for the TRP. Soon after being launched, some of the channels ran shows on concocted stories of magic and witchcraft. Once a channel showed a vehicle without a driver. The reality was that the driver was hiding somewhere in the car. This was followed by various debate shows where heated exchanges were the order of the day. One cannot forget how a story about an imaginative chip in Rs 2,000 note was run on some TV channels after demonetization. Some sponsored debates were conducted with an objective to please the government. Gradually, media channels started airing the views that fueled negativity in the atmosphere. The channels were seen vying with each other to ramp up viewership during the Gyanwapi issue. Amid all the charged atmosphere in media channels, Nupur Sharma said something that should have been avoided. It triggered massive debate on social media. And the result is for all of us to see.

It could have been prevented. But only if the governments and political parties had shown political will. Only one party cannot be blamed for this. Congress and other parties are as much responsible as the BJP. Whatever be the explanation, the Congress and other political outfits are indulging in Muslim appeasement. All the parties divided majority community into different castes and did politics of Muslim appeasement for five decades. Barring BJP, all the parties such as Congress, SP, RJD, the Left parties, etc. are still not ready to do any course correction. Akhilesh Yadav is still practicing Muslim-Yadav centric politics in UP. Similarly, the Congress government in Rajasthan is on the same old track. Events like Roza Iftar are organized and statements aimed at appeasing minorities come from Congress. This results in the majority taking a different view on the same.

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot needs to realise that the politics is changing now in the country. Congress and CM need to understand that the minority in Rajasthan will vote for Congress because it has no other option. Minorities go for the parties which can defeat BJP. So, the government should not do anything that could anger the majority which the BJP takes advantage of. The majority has been targeted in Rajasthan wherever communal violence has happened. The BJP will be more aggressive and the government will be questioned in days to come. If we look at UP, the Congress and other parties target CM Yogi Adityanath’s working style. But it hardly makes any difference to him as the people of UP are happy with his government. Everything is under control in UP, the state which was earlier known for riots.

There should be fear among criminals in Rajasthan. Amid speculation about foreign hands in the Udaipur incident, the Rajasthan government is answerable over its intelligence efficiency. Why did the police not have prior information on violence? Gehlot needs to realise that the violence and crimes can overshadow his pro-people decisions.

At the same time, Congress has been continuing to target PM Modi since 2004. Congress’ focus is not on strengthening organisation due to which debacles are being faced by it. It is hardly any significant force in opposition, which is not good in a democracy. BJP is benefiting from Congress’ wrong decisions. Congress’ appeasement politics is suiting BJP in its politics to woo majority. Undoubtedly, the saffron party gets benefited by any polarizing incident.

But BJP also needs to understand that excess of anything is not good. Polarisation cannot benefit it beyond a limit. Electoral benefits may come to it but it could corrode the social and communal fabric of the country. Our country is known for unity in diversity. Unity cannot be destroyed just by a couple of elements only. However, the political parties need to have patience and self-control during testing times.

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Opinion

India set to play a key role in new I2U2 forum

After the grand success of the revived Quad, India and the US are ready to open another arena of engagement, this time with Israel and the UAE, as the new I2U2 forum.

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On the one hand, when Russia and Ukraine are locked in a tussle that has cost the entire world heavily in terms of major food, energy and humanitarian crisis, nations are associating and collaborating through difference multilateral platforms to take up various global challenges as well as objectives. After the grand success of the revived Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), India and the US are ready to open another arena of engagement, this time with Israel and the UAE, as the new I2U2 forum.

A new grouping of India-Israel (I2) and UAE-US (U2) has been formed by the four nations, which has been referred as the “West Asian Quad” by the ambassador of UAE to India, Ahmed Al Banna. The framework of the group was formed in October 2021, when the grouping of the four nations—India, Israel, United Arab Emirates, and the United States—met for the first time and decided to set up I2U2 keeping the issues related to maritime security, digital infrastructure, infrastructural development, defence and climate change containment at the epicentre.

Geopolitically, it is focused on expanding economic and political cooperation in West Asia and Asia through strengthening diplomatic relations in different domains such as trade. The objective also includes finding comprehensive solutions to the global challenge of climate change. The nations also agreed to work in the areas of energy cooperation through this joint platform.

In October 2021, when External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Israel, the foreign ministers of the four countries met and the framework of I2U2 was constituted with the name, “International Forum for Economic Cooperation”. It was then decided that the heads of the four nations would meet through the first summit of I2U2 when US President Joe Biden would visit West Asia between 13-16 July. Biden would be visiting West Asia for the first time after becoming the US President. The noteworthy point is that he would also be visiting Israel. The first summit of I2U2 will be joined virtually by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Looking at the level of bilateral relations, the matrix has to be understood well. The relations between India and the US, India and Israel, India and UAE, US and Israel are positive and progressive. Relations between US and UAE seem to be positive, and are expected to be moving in further collaborative direction especially in the area of energy security. Last but not the least, despite the normalization of relations between Israel and UAE in August 2020, the question of their age-old negative relationship may work as an irritant. However, considering the overall matrix, I2U2 seems to be a strategically important engagement for the future considering the focus areas.

Biden would also visit Jeddah and Saudi Arab during his visit, and he would also be attending the significant summit of GCC+3 (Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan). Apart from the summit, he would also be having bilateral talks with all these nations. Considering Biden’s restricted communications with the Saudi royals, especially after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist, it would be interesting to see what comes out of Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia. This meeting would be closely monitored as has called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state and believes in the involvement of Saudi Prince’s involvement in Khashoggi’s killing based on an intelligence report, although Donald Trump had an opposite view and thus, he maintained amicable relations with the Saudi royals.

However, things seem to changing since Biden became the President as he has initiated several multilateral initiatives and dialogues to strengthen defence, cultural and diplomatic relations of the US, globally. Biden has not only strengthened the Quad, he also revived the AUKUS, the three-nation alliance with Australia and the United Kingdom. He also started a quadrilateral dialogue with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan. On the one hand, he is focusing on strengthening such platforms, and, on the other hand, he is leaving no stone unturned in containing China and Russia’s globally.

India would certainly be playing a critical role in the I2U2. Being a neutral nation so far, India is the only nation that is a part of the Quad as well as BRICS (Britain, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Both have positive global and regional goals to attain; however, the interesting fact is that the Quad aims to contain China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region, while BRICS is considered as a counter-defensive mechanism against the western block, especially NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Being a member nation of both the alliances, India seems to be playing a critical role in executing the balancing act.

Today, Ukraine is in a devastated state and there is a crucial question that remains unanswered: where will this all take us? Ukraine shares its cultural identity with Russia, and was its part until the disintegration of the erstwhile USSR in 1991. After this historic disintegration, the Cold War ended. The world was also observing a neo-liberal way of globalization, and ushered in to a new era of multi-polarity where the definition of power itself had changed. Though the US was the clear-cut winner of the Cold War, and remained the hegemon in world politics since then, new centres of power also emerged such as China. Moreover, the world witnessed a big change in terms of priorities of the countries that led them to connect with each other irrespective of their ideological or historical differences. Although Russia remained a major power, it had lost the glory of the leader of the eastern bloc. The military alliance it created with the support of other anti-west countries, backed by Warsaw pact, also declined eventually. However, on the other hand, the NATO, the military alliance created by the western bloc during the Cold War days, not only kept flourishing, it also started providing membership to the countries disintegrated from Russia. Slowly, Europe, especially the eastern part, started looking like getting NATO-fied. When Putin came into the power, he not only fiercely started working against this westernization of the countries around Russia, he also declared to work for reunification of Russia to get back its lost glory.

After attacking and establishing its bases in Georgia in 2008, Putin ruthlessly attacked and controlled Crimea in 2014 to keep a control over the passage to Black Sea. Since the world kept mum at both these attacks, Putin made it clear that he will not allow Ukraine to be a member of NATO, which was justified in a way, as who would allow his biggest enemy to reach his doorstep? As Ukraine did not pay any attention to the warnings of Putin, the world today witnesses the most brutal attack on Ukraine from the Russian army. Putin strategically encircled Ukraine, starting from the Eastern Ukraine where the pro-Russian separatist groups were already active. Zapped Volodymyr Zelenskyy expected help from the US, who pushed him not to step back from becoming a member of NATO as well as the NATO alliance countries. But soon he realised how he was trapped and used by the western lobby against Putin. US made it very clear that it will not fight any war on Ukraine’s soil, nor any NATO member country came forward to directly help Zelenskyy. After the first wave of shock, NATO member countries and the US announced economic sanctions, indirect support to Ukraine by seizing the air and maritime space for Russia, stopping all business with Russia and providing arms support to Ukraine. Despite all this, Putin did not stop.

Today, the situation seems to be in a deadlock where neither Putin is stopping the war, nor Ukraine is stepping back. Threats of nuclear, biological and chemical warfare are also emerging. In today’s multipolar world of diversified dimensions of engagements, why is this war happening in the first place? Who will stop it? The UN seems to be in a spot where its relevance itself has become a big question. Talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials are not concluding with any results. Ukraine is already destructed, Russia is also bleeding, China is preparing to be the next aggressor in the Asian theatre and a new arms race has started. War cannot be an answer to any differences, but it can make a remarkable difference to the world; this should not be forgotten.

Presently, there seems to be multi-dimensional challenges globally. From the grave Ukraine-Russia conflict to coming out of the shadow of Covid-19 to working for climate change containment to developing innovative and sustainable technologies to enhancing collaboration in the areas of counter-terrorism, food security and energy security; there seems to be a long list of prioritised objectives. Instead of working in a compartmentalised fashion, today’s nations are preferring to be working in a “team play” mode. Considering the same, I2U2 seems to be an optimistic development, presenting a unique alliance among the four significant nations.

Dr Anshu Joshi is Professor, School of International Studies, JNU.

In October 2021, when External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Israel, the foreign ministers of the four countries met and the framework of I2U2 was constituted with the name, “International Forum for Economic Cooperation”. It was then decided that the heads of the four nations would meet through the first summit of I2U2 when US President Joe Biden would visit West Asia between 13-16 July. Biden would be visiting West Asia for the first time after becoming the US President. The noteworthy point is that he would also be visiting Israel. The first summit of I2U2 will be joined virtually by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India would certainly be playing a critical role in the I2U2. Being a neutral nation so far, India is the only nation that is a part of the Quad as well as BRICS. Both have positive global and regional goals to attain.

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Opinion

What is SSC CPO Exam?

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The Staff Selection Commission conducts a national-level SSC CPO exam for the aspirants to recruit in Central Police Organisations(Delhi). SSC CPO is an excellent chance for aspiring candidates to join paramilitary forces like CRPF, BSF, CISF, ITBP, and SSB as Sub-Inspectors and ASI (Executive) in CISF. 

Thus, the aspirant should gather proper information concerning the eligibility criteria, and syllabus, before appearing for the SSC CPO 2022 exam. From this article, Candidates will get information regarding the levels of eligibility criteria such as nationality, age limit, and the SSC CPO syllabus.

SSC CPO Syllabus

The syllabus for the SSC CPO exam is specified by the recruiting board on the official website in PDF format. The SSC CPO Syllabus gets updated once every year which is released by the authority for the candidates.  

Candidates must know the SSC CPO syllabus which will help them to put effort into important topics to get ready for the exam. SSC CPO syllabus will give the outlook of difficult topics related to the exam for which candidates can make a preparation strategy for better results. The SSC CPO exam deals with two paper, the syllabus for each paper are stated below-

●  SSC CPO Syllabus Paper 1: Subjects are English, General Awareness, Reasoning, Maths

●   For SSC CPO Syllabus Paper 2: Only English Language.

As the SSC CPO 2022 notification will be held in August 2022, the syllabus is not yet released by the commission. Students can also refer to BYJU’s Exam Prep for more details and assistance. SSC CPO exam is organised in three stages, namely –

●     Paper 1

●     Paper 2

● Physical Efficiency Test (PET)

Candidates are required to clear these stages to get appointed as SI and ASI posts in SSC CPO. 

The above-mentioned SSC CPO syllabus is necessary to study by the candidates for the upcoming exam. Candidates must keep on checking the official website for theupdated syllabus of the SSC CPO exam 2022.

Eligibility Criteria of SSC CPO

Candidates who are willing to attempt the SSC CPO exam must satisfy the eligibility criteria provided by the Staff Selection Commission (SSC). Candidates who fail to fulfil the given eligibility criteria of any level will be disqualified for the SSC CPO exam.

Nationality Criteria for SSC CPO

Nationality is the foremost eligibility criterion among all the criteria that every candidate must know. The candidate who possesses the nationality criteria is allowed to apply for SSC CPO Exam. The condition of nationality criteria are –

  • The candidate must be a citizen of India, Nepal or Bhutan.
  • A candidate who has their Eligibility Certificate issued by the Indian Government. 

SSC CPO Age Limit

The age limit of the candidates is another criterion of SSC CPO along with the relaxation.

●    Candidates who were born between 1st January,1996 to 1st January 2001 can apply for the SSC CPO exam.

● Candidates must be of age between 20 to 25 years.

The details of age relaxation for a certain reserved category with posts- wise are listed below-

●   For SC/ST category- The age relaxation limit is 5 years.

●   For the OBC category- The age relaxation limit is 3 years.

● For Ex-Servicemen (ESM) category – The age relaxation is 3 years. 

Here, we have discussed the eligibility criteria and syllabus for the SSC CPO exam which will benefit the candidates for preparation. Candidates can indulge in these posts to understand the SSC CPO syllabus and eligibility criteria before attending the exam.

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Opinion

THE UNEVEN PLAYING FIELD OF UNNATURAL ALLIES

Priya Sahgal

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As Maharashtra’s Maha Vikas Aghadi government goes from crisis to ICU mode, there is a larger lesson here on coalition politics. At the very outset, the alliance was termed as an unnatural one that saw ideologically opposite parties like the Congress-NCP join hands with the radical right wing Shiv Sena. For the coalition to tango, one side had to give in and interestingly it was the Sena that took most of the backward steps. It compromised on its hardcore Hindutva ideology, toned down its rhetoric and tried an image makeover under the aegis of Uddhav Thackeray and his heir apparent Aaditya Thackeray. The politics of both Uddhav and Aaditya were progressive, they talked new age concerns like environment and sent the right feelers on governance from the financial capital of the country. The one mistake they made perhaps was not to involve all the stakeholders, it is now clear by Eknath Shinde’s comments that they felt left out of the governance pie and also resented the hold that individuals like Sanjay Raut, Sharad Pawar and even a first time MLA Aaditya himself had over the party. (An interesting factoid is that in 2019 Aditya was the first Thackeray to contest polls and his father the first Thackeray to sit on the CMs chair. Usually Bal Thackeray preferred to appoint a nominee as CM and run the state by remote control from Matoshree.) Whatever the reasons, if the government topples, it would set the Sena back on the path of regressive, chest thumping hardline politics and that would be a tragedy. But that’s another column.

To come back to the topic of unnatural alliances, the first sign of rebellion from Shinde and his men was regarding the MLC elections when they were not happy with the party dictat to support a Congress candidate. The hold of the NCP over governance and powerful ministerial portfolios was another grouse. In the end, it was not so much about ideology about power. But then, that’s how it always is.

Take a look at the Mahagathbandan in Bihar, where again, two political foes—Lalu Yadav’s RJD and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U)—came together on one platform. That did not last long with Nitish soon finding his way back to the BJP. Or even the not so unnatual alliance between two UP Ke Ladke that had Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi contesting from the same platform in the 2017 state assembly polls. When one side did not pull its weight in the ballot boxes that alliance broke with the two taking pot shots at each other. Ditto for the alliance between the SP and Mayawati’s BSP in the 2019 Lok Sabha where the cadres on ground found it difficult to canvass for a party they had spent a lifetime taking pot shots at.

This brings us to the larger issue at play—while on paper, it is all very well for strategists like Prashant Kishor to talk about bringing the entire opposition on one platform to take on the BJP in the Lok Sahba polls, the reality on ground is very different where the Congress and various regional parties are fighting each other at the state level. Bringing diverse parties and egos on one platform post polls is also not easy as Dr Manmohan Singh found out when he tried to run a coalition with both Mamata and the CPM. Which brings another twist in the BJP vs The Rest version of the Game of Thrones, and again, as with most political turns these days, it’s one that works in Modi’s favour.

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Opinion

‘Bad Bank’ must succeed to have good banks

Non-performing assets have been beleaguering the banking sector in India for a long time, but have worsened lately. Designed policies often fail to deliver desired results due to implementation challenges. In this case, time is of the essence and delays could be detrimental.

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‘Exact predictions of policy outcomes are routine. Expressions of uncertainty are rare. Predictions and estimates often are fragile, resting on unsupported assumptions. So the expressed certitude is incredible,” states Charles F. Manski, an eminent economist, renowned for his work on judgement and decisions, and policy analysis in an uncertain world.

The quote could guide the progress of the recently established National Asset Reconstruction Company Limited (NARCL) dubbed as “Bad Bank“. It is a potent mechanism for tackling the mounting Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) of commercial banks. Taking them off their balance sheets may help them fulfil regulatory compliance and also enhance their lending capacity. But to serve the purpose, it must act with speed.

Announced in September 2021, NARCL is to take the big-ticket defaults of the commercial banks off their balance sheet, identified to be worth Rs 2 lakh crore. As per plans, 38 NPA accounts worth Rs 82,845 crore were expected to be transferred to the NARCL in the first phase out of which 15 accounts worth Rs 50,000 crore were to be transferred by the end of the fiscal year 2022.

NARCL is supposed to acquire these assets by paying 15% in cash and 85% in tradable Security Receipts (SRs), and redeemable on the resolution of the distressed assets. The government guarantee is expected to provide liquidity to SRs and can be invoked to make up for the shortfall in case of resale failure or sales at a discount of those assets by the bad bank. The target could not be achieved due to procedural delays and the deadline stands extended to July 2022.

Designed policies often fail to deliver desired results due to the implementation challenges. In this case, time is of the essence and delays could be detrimental. NPAs have been beleaguering the banking sector in India for a long time, but have worsened lately. Gross NPAs of the Scheduled Commercial Banks (SCBs) have steadily increased from Rs 59,373 crore in 2005 to Rs 2.63 lakh crore in 2014 and further to Rs 8.35 lakh crore in 2021. In between, they had peaked at Rs 10.36 lakh crore as of March 2018. Gross NPAs of the Public Sector Banks (PSBs) have been no exception, as they too jumped up from Rs 47,621 crore to Rs 2.27 lakh crore and Rs 6.17 lakh crore during the corresponding period.

The pandemic has further exacerbated the situation. The RBI’s financial stability report estimates that the gross NPA ratio might rise from 6.9% in September 2021 to 8.1% in the best-case scenario. In the worst case, they could rise to 9.5% by September 2022. The recent hikes in repo rate by 40 and 50 basis points to restrain the deteriorating inflation outlook is expected to make repayment of the loans more difficult putting further stress on NPAs in the coming months.

Bad Banks have been tested in an assortment of countries with variable success. Assets Reconstruction Companies (ARCs) have been generally successful where NPAs were caused due to delay and default on account of real estate lending, presumably because the mortgage assets for such lending are easier to identify, evaluate and sell. Will it work in case of the big-ticket bad loans each worth Rs 500 crore or more, particularly when they are accumulated over time due to the bad lending decision for unviable projects or restructuring of previous loans or where money could have been siphoned off?

Design-wise, the NARCL is structured well with built-in checks and balances. The PSBs being a 51% equity stakeholders in it will have a vested interest in the speedy resolution of bad debts acquired by NARCL. The government guarantee for the Security Receipt (SRs) issued by it against the bad debt of banks gives it grit.

Though the extent of the guarantee is stated to be Rs 30,600 crore, the actual outflow is expected to be much less as it is to be restricted to the shortfall between the face value of the SRs and the actual realisation by way of resolution or liquidation. The liability could be further contained by the provision that it could be invoked only if the resolution and realisation of the toxic assets happen within 5 years.

Additionally, to discourage the resolution of assets from being prolonged, NARCL would be required to pay to the banks a guarantee fee of 0.25% of the outstanding amount, from the second year onward, which would increase to 0.5%, 1% and 2% in the third, fourth and fifth year. Besides, the NPAs identified to be acquired in the first phase are fully provisioned as per the prudential norms.

The success of the Bad Bank idea could hinge on two factors: Firstly, the objectivity and transparency in the valuation of NPAs and their fair resolution; and secondly, the expertise of the debt resolution company. As far as the valuation and resolution of NPAs are concerned, these have been lying in the books of the banks for years, despite their best efforts to realise them, but in vain. Most would be compelled to sell their toxic assets at discount ranging between 40-70% of the book value minus accumulated interest.

As regards expertise, India should not have a dearth of knowledge and as regards experience, Indians are known to have a steep learning curve. The real challenge would, however, be to find the buyers of the bad debt. All the more critically, will the market have the appetite for such Assets? Protecting the process from the vested interests, who often use their acumen to circumvent the prescribed procedure for personal profit is all the more difficult to gauge and forestall.

A study by the Bank of International Settlements in 2020 highlighted that bad banks work best if supported by a recapitalisation. It further pointed out that a capable, effective and robust regulatory system is a sine qua non for the desired results. It was a good sign that the Union budget 2021-22 had provided Rs 20,000 crores for recapitalisation of PSBs, though the amount was reduced to Rs 15,000 crore in the revised estimate. Sadly, no fresh provision has been made for capital infusion into PSBs in the 2022-23 budget. However, many experts regard the government guarantee for SRs as an indirect form of recapitalisation. Still, given the magnitude of NPAs, the provision may seem scanty.

The banking sector is the backbone of a robust economy. A large number of small savers and risk-averse investors trust banks with their hard-earned savings in the hope that their deposits would be safe and earn a positive real return. This can be possible only if banks are able to lend in productive investments that are realisable in time as per the loan arrangements. NPAs bleed banks, impinge on their profitability and efficiency and shake the confidence of crores of savers and investors. The Bad Bank must succeed in letter and spirit.

Furqan Qamar, a Professor in the Faculty of Management Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, is a former Advisor (Education) in the Planning Commission of India. Taufeeque Ahmad Siddiqui is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Management Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia.

Bad Banks have been tested in an assortment of countries with variable success. Assets Reconstruction Companies (ARCs) have been generally successful where NPAs were caused due to delay and default on account of real estate lending, presumably because the mortgage assets for such lending are easier to identify, evaluate and sell. Will it work in case of the big-ticket bad loans each worth Rs 500 crore or more, particularly when they are accumulated over time due to the bad lending decision for unviable projects or restructuring of previous loans or where money could have been siphoned off?

Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das announces to increase the policy repo rate by 50 basic points, in New Delhi on 8 June 2022. The RBI’s financial stability report estimates that the gross NPA ratio might rise from 6.9% in September 2021 to 8.1% in the best-case scenario. In the worst case, they could rise to 9.5% by September 2022. ANI

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PERFORM OR PERISH: DYNASTIES HAVE CEASED TO SELL

Joyeeta Basu

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At the core of the Maharashtra crisis is the dynasty problem, where the not-so-competent son of an illustrious leader is trying to secure his own son’s future on the advice of his “kitchen cabinet”. Word has it that the reason Uddhav Thackeray became Chief Minister of Maharashtra was because of Maha Vikas Aghadi partners’ refusal to have a young Aaditya Thackeray as Chief Minister, and that Uddhav Thackeray became Chief Minister because he was more acceptable than his son to his MVA allies, even though he had zero administrative experience and had not fought an election in his life. Even if this is dismissed as political gossip at best, the fact is, it was Uddhav’s personal ambition and his desire to secure his son’s future that made him take the turn that he did—of joining hands with the enemy. BJP’s ascendance in Maharashtra was a major problem, as the Sena resented being the junior partner and the nearly three-decade-old alliance fell apart on the matter of Shiv Sena wanting the Chief Minister’s post despite having around 50% seats fewer than the BJP. However, Uddhav’s track record as Chief Minister has been less than illustrious, with charges rampant of him going the Congress-NCP way by abandoning the Sena’s “Hindutva” ideology, and seeking more validation from social media and a certain class of “left-liberals” than being effective on the ground. There was also report of Aaditya Thackeray acting as the de facto Chief Minister much of the time. Whatever be the reason or reasons for the turmoil in Sena, the fact is, among the rank and file of the party, there is immense unhappiness with the party’s top leadership. It would be lazy to blame the current impasse on money power. Lure of money cannot explain the exodus; the Sena is fracturing, in Shinde’s favour, right down to the grassroots. The letter of Aurangabad MLA, Sanjay Shirsat to Uddhav, where he accuses the latter of being inaccessible, is quite an eyeopener. Apparently, most Sena MLAs did not get to enter the Chief Minister’s Office or even the Mantralaya, the state secretariat, even once in the last two and a half years. There was no communication, as Thackeray had surrounded himself with a handful of people without grassroots presence. When Congress and NCP leaders have access to the CM and get funds cleared, Sena MLAs do not have any such luck and it is only Shinde who has been with them. Even if some of these allegations are true, it’s appalling and reminds one of the Congress situation, where leaders such as Himanta Biswa Sarma and others quit the party accusing Rahul Gandhi of inaccessibility, of not listening to the ground. In Congress too the problem is the dynasty, it’s just that the Congress manages the rumblings in its ranks better than the Sena.

Think of people like Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Chaudhry, their family name is not helping them win elections. Jayant Chaudhry came a cropper in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections earlier this year. And even though Akhilesh managed to cross 100 seats in a 403-member Assembly, on Sunday, he ended up gifting his own erstwhile Lok Sabha seat, Azamgarh—apparently a Yadav family bastion—to the BJP. His cousin Dharmendra Yadav lost to the BJP’s Nirahua, in a huge setback for Akhilesh. What our dynasts do not realise is that voter loyalty to a particular family is a thing of the past. Unless there is performance, unless there is inspiring leadership, delivery on the ground, there is no loyalty—and that is the way it should be. Just being a Thackeray or a Yadav should not be a guarantee to success. The template has changed. It’s the age of perform or perish. It’s the age of cracking the glass ceiling. And for the non-dynasts in political parties, capable of leading from the front, the dynasts are the glass ceiling.

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