Polity & Governance
- All about means and ends
- Strategic shift
Bilateral & International Relations
- Breaking the Panipat syndrome
- River Diplomacy On Test
Defence & Security Issues
- Too casual an approach to cyber security
Polity & Governance
GS (M) Paper-2: “Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability”
All about means and ends
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is not only a pioneering livelihood security programme but also a great example of proactive disclosure of information through its Management Information System (MIS).
There has been a digitisation of all the processes in MGNREGA — right from a worker registering demand for work, to work allotment, to finally getting wages for completed works.
The Management Information System (MIS) of MGNREGA:
The Management Information System (MIS) of MGNREGA is a way to providing data on implementation.
- It is the first transaction-based real-time system for any public works programme in the country that is available in the public domain.
- Another notable feature of the MIS is the availability of information through online reports at various levels of disaggregation. This has enabled any citizen to monitor the implementation of the programme and has consequently charted a new paradigm of transparency since the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
- Individual worker details from around 2.5 lakh gram panchayats are available in the MGNREGA MIS.
While this system is certainly a great feather in the cap of a transparent democracy, it is critical to understand its current shortcomings and possible ways to improve its functioning.
- The MIS is accessible only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Indian Standard Time. This is a huge impediment for collaborative work across time zones.
- It does not provide any data dictionary. A data dictionary is a repository of all the names of variables/columns used in various reports, containing a brief explanation of its meanings.
- The nomenclature of the column names in the online reports is not consistent. The same column name is labelled differently in different reports. For instance, what is referred to as the Payment Date in the report of weekly works (‘Mustroll Report’) is known as the Second Signatory Date in a report titled ‘FTO Second Signatory’.
- Some obvious worker-centric links in the data structure are missing. For example, every household that does MGNREGA work has a unique job card number. This number is crucial to get work. Upon completion of a work week, a Funds Transfer Order (FTO) is generated containing the details of each job card holder’s earned wages. On the MIS, there is no clear link between these two crucial pieces. As such it becomes difficult to follow the trail of each job card holder from the time of work demanded to getting the wages.
By Digitalisation, the accountability cannot be passed or Put aside:
While computerisation of all transactions is a welcome move, officials are passing the baton of accountability.
- One should be mindful that an information system doesn’t end up controlling the legal rights. There are several situations when a written request for work by a worker is not entered in the MIS till funds for work allocation are made available from the Centre. This is illegal as the Act mandates provision of work within a stipulated time of requesting for it.
- Similarly, the generation of the FTO is withheld till funds for wage payments are released. There are other instances when the FTO is not generated if a worker fails to furnish his or her Aadhaar number. Some are harder to locate as there is no paper trail or stated intention but realised only retrospectively once the workers are affected, emphasizing the need of efficient IT infrastructure.
IT infrastructure becomes a tool prioritising administrative needs but not a replacement of individual’s Accountability:
In this regard, it is instructive to recall the phrase “code is law” popularised by the Harvard Law professor, Lawrence Lessig.
Code, as in software, and code, as in law, can both be instruments of social control.
To quote him: “We can build, or architect, or code cyberspace to protect values that we believe are fundamental. Or we can build, or architect, or code cyberspace to allow those values to disappear. There is no middle ground. Code is never found; it is only ever made, and only ever made by us.”
Example of flawed mechanism of the calculation:
Technological architecture can also be used to perpetuate falsehoods. For example, consider the flawed mechanism of the calculation of delay compensation when wages are not paid on time.
- Ideally, the compensation should be calculated from the 16th day of completion of a work week till the day on which the workers actually receive their wages.
- However, the compensation is computed based on the payment date, which, as we have mentioned, is not the date on which the wages get credited into the workers’ accounts.
- The difference of the two calculation methods run into crores of rupees that rightfully belong to the workers. While the automated calculation is a progressive measure, its basis must be correct and transparent.
The fact that even with the flawed calculation no compensation has been paid corroborates that technology can be a strong aid but not a replacement for accountability.
- The MIS is a powerful mechanism to have an evidence-based discourse for monitoring basic services. But a governance framework for the MIS needs to be put in place that lays out the minimum standards and accountability of the Ministry managing the system.
- Such a framework must be built in consultation with all concerned parties and should follow the provisions of the law (both MGNREGA and RTI).
- The system design choices should reflect the values of the worker-centric programme and hence principles need to be followed for compassionate design. Otherwise, we fear that technology is dictating administrative choices, akin to the phrase “architecture is politics”.
GS (M) Paper-3: “Mobilization of Resources”
Recent Cabinet committee on economic affairs approval for the strategic sale of loss-making Bharat Pumps and Compressors is a welcome change in thinking on the part of the Centre when it comes to the concept of disinvesting government equity in PSUs.
What is Disinvestment?
- Disinvestment is the action of an organization or government selling or liquidating an asset or subsidiary.
- Disinvestment should be used to restructure the public sector, not just raise revenue.
Loss making PSU’s, Disinvestment and Dilemma:
- While there is general consensus on the notion that the Government has no business to be running companies, particularly when it is unable to run them as commercial organisations, there is much less clarity on whether the Government should continue to stay invested in businesses it already owns, or if it should exit.
- Even in cases where there has been general agreement on the need to divest the Government’s holding, there has been a marked reluctance to actually let go of control of such PSUs, and the attendant opportunities for the exercise of power and patronage that these PSUs provide.
- As a result, many public sector enterprises that currently exist serve no specific social obligations beyond keeping a few people employed, and in reality, under-employed, while imposing a heavy burden on the exchequer.
- Disinvestment has for long been seen as merely a tool to raise revenue for the fiscal rather than as a means to restructure ailing public sector companies.
- Successive governments at the Centre have been content with selling small parts of equity in well-run public sector enterprises to raise funds in the name of disinvestment.
- The strategy ideally should have been to exit from troubled undertakings in general, and strategically irrelevant investments in particular.
- In cases where the Government wishes to retain a minority or majority holding for strategic or other reasons, it should ensure that the managements of such businesses are adequately empowered to run them on professional lines.
- The Centre’s valuable resources are better spent on creating public and social capital through education, health, sanitation and building public infrastructure rather than in helping to keep alive loss-making PSUs.
- It is time politicians and trade unions stopped treating privatisation as anathema. Rather, trade unions should focus on getting the best deal for workers affected by strategic sales. Example: Many privatisation transactions carried out between 1999 and 2004 have emerged as success stories — the ITDC hotels and CMC (now merged into TCS) are some outstanding examples of turnaround in performance and fortunes.
- Many more enterprises can be turned around likewise and the Fourteenth Finance Commission has provided some recommendations on how the Government could proceed.
- The Centre should also take note of errors in judgment and failure to carry through proper due diligence that hurt the strategic sales process over a decade ago, and prevent their recurrence.
Bilateral & International Relations
GS (M) Paper-2: “Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests”
GS (M) Paper-2: “Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests”
Breaking the Panipat syndrome
What is Panipat Syndrome?
The term ‘Panipat Syndrome’ means lack of preparedness & planning — the inability to look beyond its nose and anticipate the gathering challenges in context of national security.
The term was first coined by Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal in his book ‘Indian Army: Vision 2020’, but the symptom itself is age-old.
On 5 October, the European Union and the government of Afghanistan will co-host the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan.
The Brussels Conference:
- The Brussels Conference marks the gathering almost a decade and a half after the American intervention in Afghanistan.
- This conference will gather more than 70 countries and 20 international organisations and agencies.
- It will provide a platform for the government of Afghanistan to set out its vision and track record on reform.
- For the international community, it will be the opportunity to signal sustained political and financial support to Afghan peace, state-building and development.
- This Conference marks an important transition for the Afghanistan project — from international to the regional.
- After the September 11 attacks in US, in December 2001 the United Nations Security Council established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to assist the Afghan interim authorities with securing Kabul.
- It is the period in which the United States invaded Afghanistan, supported initially by close allies, later joined by NATO.
- Its public aims were to dismantle al-Qaedaand to deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.
- 2011: U.S. and NATO drawdown, Gradually withdrawal of troops and Afghan peace initiative.
- On 28 December 2014, NATO formally ended combat operations in Afghanistan and transferred full security responsibility to the Afghan government, via a ceremony in Kabul.
Afghanistan in the post-Afghan crisis:
- Exhaustion with the wars of intervention, massive refugee crisis and economic crisis is what the challenges Afghanistan is undergoing.
- The international military footprint has already come down from a high of 1,20,000 troops a few years ago to barely 10,000 now.
- A host of nations and institutions joined the US in making the reconstruction of Afghanistan an expansive international project.
- The group of rich countries are ready to redefine the burden of Afghan peace as a “regional responsibility” and setting conditions for further assistance to Kabul.
Regional shift: India and Afghanistan
- This shift will have significant consequences for India.
- While benefiting from the international presence in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban at the end of 2001, Delhi has tended to ‘plough a lonely furrow’ by economic assistance.
- The Western countries, noting Pakistan’s objections, discouraged India from seeking a larger security role in Afghanistan, earlier.
- In the new and regional phase, India is bound to be drawn more deeply into the Afghan conflict.
- With India’s relations with Pakistan entering a period of turbulence, Afghanistan could acquire an unusual prominence in India’s regional strategy.
- A decade and a half later, few would claim a resounding success for the international effort in Afghanistan. But the Taliban is back in the reckoning with the support of the Pakistan army to undermine the legitimate government in Kabul. With the peace process going nowhere, Governance in the country has become increasingly difficult.
- Kabul finds itself in an unenviable situation as its enemies knock at the gates and its friends become more demanding.
How Russia and China eyes Afghanistan changing Dynamics?
- Russia and China, which backed the American occupation of Afghanistan to different degrees after 9/11, are now in varying levels of rivalry with the United States.
- Moscow, which not only supported the US intervention but also helped develop an overland supply route into Afghanistan, is now vigorously contesting American positions in Europe and the Middle East.
- On its part, China is challenging the historic US primacy in East Asia and the Pacific.
- Beijing, which is expanding its influence all across the Central Asian region, has shed some of its past inhibitions on intervening in the internal affairs of other nations.
- With its strong partnership with the Pakistan army, its expansive economic resources and current plans to transform the region through infrastructure development, Beijing is better positioned than in the past to influence the outcomes in Afghanistan.
- Russia is also eager to develop a working relationship with the Pakistan army, which is the most important external actor in Afghanistan. At a time when ties between Washington and Islamabad have soured, Russia seems eager to develop a working partnership with Pakistan, especially its armed forces. The recent military exercises between the two countries, the first ever, signal the new warmth between Moscow and Rawalpindi.
India’s new Strategic Alliance with Afghanistan and its Impact on India- Pakistan Relations:
The new phase in Afghanistan is bound to have big effects on India’s security.
- India’s own new significance in Afghanistan’s politics is reflected in the recent American decision to resume the trilateral consultations with Delhi and Kabul. Unlike in the past, Washington is urging Delhi to step up military support to Kabul.
- India and Afghanistan are also involved in trilateral cooperation with Iran.
- Afghanistan diplomatic support for India on pulling out of the South Asian Summit in Islamabad is a shift from Kabul’s traditional reluctance to be drawn into the India-Pak disputes.
- Under Present Indian Government, Delhi too is shedding its historic temptation to skirt around the contradictions between Kabul and Islamabad.
- In the recent past, Delhi’s engagement with Kabul was also limited by Delhi’s hopes for a normalisation of relations with Islamabad.
With reference to India-Pakistan relations the India-Afghanistan growing partnership created conditions for fresh Indian thinking on the relationship with Afghanistan.
Developments in the Kabul valley have always been consequential for the empires centred on the Yamuna. But Delhi was tied down by the “Panipat syndrome”.
By eliminating the physical border with Afghanistan, the Partition further reduced Kabul’s salience in Delhi’s strategic calculus. Now, with the widening arc of India’s conflict with Pakistan, Afghanistan is likely to loom larger than ever before for India.[Ref: Indian Express]
GS (M) Paper-2: “Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests”
River Diplomacy On Test
Recently the Indian government hints at revoking the 56-year-old Indus Water Treaty, as a reaction after the Seventeen soldiers were killed in a militant attack in Uri area of Baramulla district of Jammu & Kashmir.
What is Indus Water treaty?
The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank.
- The treaty was signed in Karachi on September 19, 1960 by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru and President of Pakistan Ayub Khan.
- According to this agreement, control over the three “eastern” rivers — the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej — was given to India, while control over the three “western” rivers — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum — to Pakistan.
- As per the provisions in the treaty, India can use only 20% of the total water carried by the Indus river.
- A Permanent Indus Commission was set up as a bilateral commission to implement and manage the Treaty. The Commission solves disputes arising over water sharing.
It is important to note that China has been kept out of the Treaty although Indus originates from Tibet. If China decides to stop or change the flow of the river, it will affect both India and Pakistan.
What is Geneva Conventions?
- The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment in war.
What is Protocol I to the Geneva Convention?
- Protocol Iis a 1977 amendment protocol to the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of international conflicts, in case of “armed conflicts between nations.
What the Article 54 of Protocol I to the Geneva Convention says?
- Article 54 of Protocol I to the Geneva Convention prohibits actions targeting civilian populations that may result in “inadequate food or water as to cause its starvation”.
Earlier instances of water as a weapon:
- In 2014 Turkey used water as a weapon to punish Syria for its alleged role in supporting the terrorist activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) directed against it. It completely cut off water from the Euphrates river leaving downstream Syrians without access to fresh water.
- In 2016 this year Israel stopped water supply to several Palestinian towns and cities for weeks.
Implications of India’s stand to revoke Indus Water:
- Nearly 65% of Pakistan territory is part of the Indus basin, it’s dependence on river Indus cannot be overstated, it will cause serious damage to many civil populations, by depriving of the basic necessity ‘water’ which will further worsen the relations between India and Pakistan.
- Breaching international obligations can cause a sense of insecurity in India’s neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar in context to design regional norms of benefit-sharing.
- In case of Brahmaputra river, India is a lower riparian country vis-à-vis China. In this scenario, India’s actions as an upper riparian country vis-à-vis Pakistan in case of Indus river run the risk of seriously undermining its position.
- On the Brahmaputra river, India has stakes in institutionalising norms of first-user rights, joint management and consultative processes. India is planning to build 168 mega dams in Arunachal Pradesh and various hydroelectric projects on the sub-basins of the Siang, Lohit and Subansiri rivers. If it chooses to breach on its own international obligations, how realistic are India’s chances of getting China to invest in process-oriented, institutionalised norms in a trans boundary basin, is a matter of concern.
Political signalling is a game all nations play. But signalling almost always involves costs, especially in fraught situations of international conflict.
Keeping in view of relationship and ties with other Neighbouring Countries, International treaties and obligations, China factor for Brahmaputra river and as a legitimate and self-credible image, India should think seriously in exercising the decision to revoke fifty-six-year-old Indus water treaty.[Ref: Indian Express]
Defence & Security Issues
GS (M) Paper-3: “Challenges to internal security, cyber security”
Too casual an approach to cyber security
The Make in India initiative has identified 25 core sectors as part of its effort to give a special thrust. While cyber security isn’t one of the sectors, it is embedded in three of the 25 sectors — defence manufacturing, electronic systems, and IT & BPM.
Much has happened in these areas in the two years since Make in India was launched, but not much by way of boosting the cyber security ecosystem.
What is Cyber Security?
- Cyber security is the body of technologies, processes and practices designed to protect networks, computers, programs and data from attack, damage or unauthorized access.
Why a serious relook is needed at the overall ecosystem of cyber security in the country?
- The challenges posed by the emerging nature of the threats, the ease with which cyber attacks are being launched from foreign soils on strategic targets and a glamorous internet governance model are overshadowing priorities for a robust cyber security regime.
How well we are prepared in dealing Cyber security?
- We have an inadequately staffed and funded structure at the national level; the national cyber security coordinator is dealing with turf wars between ministries and agencies, trying to overcome the problem of poor budgets for cyber security.
- The CERT IN, the warning and response organisation, functions with almost no budget for the current nature of threats and responses.
- Every entity is content with the foreign supplied network systems and patches.
- Nowhere have we moved to ensure that chip designing and building for our military and civil needs, as well as the billions of routers that we use for our sensitive networks, become integral to the Make in India campaign.
- Despite defence manufacturing, electronic systems, and IT & BPM being a part of the Make in India campaign, we haven’t made much headway in tactical communications and electronic warfare. Nothing has really moved on the ground with respect to chip, router and radio manufacturing in India, due to delays and lack of R&D.
- A nation that should have naturally become the cyber-security-related hardware leader based on our embedded software strengths today is being guided by fly-by-night experts and vested interests.
- While awareness and concerns have built up and seminars and conferences have increased, the budgets and building blocks are not in sight to deal with threats from state and non-state actors in both espionage and actual hacking missions.
What should we do?
- It is crucial to focus on potential avenues that bolster our cyber security ecosystem, encompassing hardware, software, system integration and most importantly people who collectively devise and generate a delivering mechanism.
- It is essential to move away from the pitch of internet governance and privacy buffs who relegate cyber security to a past time approach.
- The might and reach of e-commerce and social media is all very well but cyber security remains a paramount concern.
- Issues of technical infrastructures have their own priority and unless they are focused and built with the right indigenous dose, many vested interests will benefit.
- The scope to shape cyber security partnerships and manufacturing under Make in India is tremendous. It is possible under credentials that Indian companies have built to absorb technology.
- The government must shift its focus on an inclusive ecosystem being built up so that we are better equipped to meet security challenges.