Part 2: Week Page : June 3rd – June 7th, 2021
OPINION & ANALYSIS
COMMENTARY : The cautionary tale in Osaka’s exit
- Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open tennis championship after the organisers would not accept her request to be excused from post match interactions even as she cited a history of suffering from bouts of depression and severe anxiety while facing the media.
(ii). Deep hypocrisy
- The French Tennis Federation did not cover itself in glory when it displayed an utter lack of empathy towards a vulnerable young woman who rose to the top of the game because of her immense talent and not because of her speaking abilities.
(iii). The example of Norway
Contrast this with the experience of a Norwegian Prime Minister, who took leave to address his mental health issues while still serving in office. Kjell Magne Bondevik was Prime Minister of Norway from 1997 to 2000 and from 2001 to 2005. He was diagnosed with depression in 1998 during his first term in office.
In recent years, we have had several celebrities open up about their mental health concerns, from Deepika Padukone and J.K. Rowling to Beyonce and Meghan Markle. That is because the world has started responding with greater empathy and replacing stigma with solidarity.
(iv). The WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health
It was launched in 2019 and will extend till 2023, aims to bring to attention the high global burden of disability arising from disorders of mental health, and accelerate a multisectoral response to improve care for a whole range of mental health problems.
The Naomi Osaka episode comes right in the middle of the period chosen for this special initiative. Will the WHO speak up for her and other sportspersons who face similar challenges? Many other prominent sports persons have extended support to Osaka. However, as the leading global public health agency of the world, the WHO’s open support would add weight to the cause of mental health in tennis and other competitive sports.
COMMENTARY : India’s relationship with Bangladesh
(i). Diplomacy with Bangladesh
- India’s relations with Bangladesh, one of the most populous Muslim countries in the world, are acutely sensitive. As a neighbour nearly surrounded on all territorial sides by India, there are the inevitable bilateral problems of long duration, including a perennially favourable balance of trade for India, drought and flood in the 54 transboundary rivers flowing from India to Bangladesh, and the smuggling of goods and vulnerable human beings across the approximately 4,100 kilometre land border.
(ii). Favorable steps
- After decades of proPakistani military and civilian governments following 1975, Mujibur Rahman’s daughter Sheikh Hasina, elected for a third consecutive term since 2008, has consolidated her position as unquestioned leader in Bangladesh. She has maintained vigilant supervision over Muslim fundamentalist terrorists as well as on Northeast militant movements sheltering in Bangladesh, with the result that the pacification of India’s Northeast has been greatly facilitated.
(iii). For India to note
- As the leading midwife of Bangladesh’s liberation struggle and its sole economic supporter in that nation’s early years of independence, New Delhi should view with satisfaction Bangladesh’s coming graduation in 2026 from ‘least developed’ to ‘developing country’ status, and its steady progress as one of South Asia’s leading performers in human development indicators. Its eventual membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership cannot be ruled out. To a certain degree, both India and Bangladesh depend on each other for security and stability.
COMMENTARY : India betters score in the latest SDG Index, but methodological tinkering is cause for concern
India's push in the right direction in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to clean energy, urban development and health has helped it improve its overall SDG score from 60 in 2019 to 66 in 2021, according to NITI Aayog’s SDG India Index 2020-21.
Besides SDGs on eradication of poverty and hunger, measures related to the availability of affordable, clean energy in particular, showed improvements across several States and Union Territories.
But the stark differences between the southern and western States on the one hand and the north central and eastern States on the other in their performance on the SDGs, point to persisting socio-economic and governance disparities. These, if left unaddressed, will exacerbate federal challenges and outcomes, as seen in the public health challenges during the second wave across some of the worseoff States.
The SDG on inequality shows an improvement over 2019, but the indicators used to measure the score have changed. The 2020-21 Index drops several economic indicators and gives greater weightage to social equality indicators such as representation of women and people from marginalised communities in legislatures and local governance institutions, and crimes against SC/ST communities. By dropping the well recognised Gini coefficient measure and the growth rate for household expenditure per capita among 40% of rural and urban populations (instead, only the percentage of population in the lowest two wealth quintiles is used), the SDG score on inequality seems to have missed out on capturing the impact of the pandemic on wealth inequality.
COMMENTARY : BRICS The coming together of the powerful five
(i). The origins of BRICS
- It can be traced back to a paper written by Goldman Sachs’ Jim O’Neill in 2001, titled “Building Better Global Economic BRICs”, in which he said Brazil, Russia, India and China would drive economic growth in the future.In 2006, leaders of the BRIC countries met in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the grouping was formalised that year. On June 16, 2009, PM Manmohan Singh met with Presidents Hu Jintao, Dmitry Medvedev and Lula da Silva for the first BRIC summit in Yekaterinburg. South Africa was admitted two years later.
(ii). Long-term prospects
China’s decision to launch the trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative in 2017 was opposed by India, and even Russia did not join the BRI plan, although it has considerable infrastructure projects with China. South Africa’s debt laden economy and negative current account has led some to predict an economic collapse in the next decade. Brazil’s poor handling during the Covid-19 crisis has ranked it amongst the world’s worst-affected countries, and its recovery is expected to be delayed. India’s economic slowdown was a concern even before Covid-19 hit, and government policies like “Atma-Nirbhar” were seen as a plan to turn inward.
Along the way, BRICS has created the New Development Bank (NDB) set up with an initial capital of $100 billion, a BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement fund to deal with global liquidity crunches, and a BRICS payment system proposing to be an alternative to the SWIFT payment system.
In the market, BRICS has been mocked for being “broken”, while others have suggested it should be expanded to include more emerging economies like Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey, called the “Next11”. Others suggested BRICKS (including South Korea)
(iii). Reforming the UN
India is set to host the BRICS summit under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chairmanship, either virtually or in person with Presidents Vladimir Putin, Xi Jingping, Jair Bolsonaro and Cyril Ramaphosa later this year. It remains to be seen how far countries like China and Russia, which are already “inside the tent” at the UNSC, will go in advocating for the other BRICS members to be a part of a reformed Security Council.
Another important agreement was the BRICS ministerial decision to support negotiations at the WTO for the waiver of trade related intellectual property rights (TRIPs) for vaccines and medicines to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic. It will also be interesting to watch how BRICS countries move ahead on a “BRICS Vaccine Centre '', proposed to be based in Johannesburg, given that at least three members – Russia India and China – have manufactured a substantial chunk of all globally authorised vaccines.
STORY : A Chinese enclave in Sri Lanka?
(i). The story so far
- Last month, Sri Lanka passed the controversial Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, which governs the Chinabacked Colombo Port City project worth $1.4 billion, amid wide opposition to the creation of a “Chinese enclave” in the island nation.
(ii). Why is the project surrounded by controversies?
- Those backing it see in that patch of land their dream of an international financial hub – a “Singapore or Dubai” in the Indian Ocean. But sceptics claim that it could well become a “Chinese colony”, with the Bill, which is now an Act, providing the Port City and the powerful Commission with substantial “immunity” from Sri Lankan laws, besides huge tax exemptions and other incentives for investors.
(iii). When was it launched
The project was launched in September 2014 by Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit to the island nation under the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration’s second term. After President Mahinda Rajapaksa was ousted in January 2015, the successor “national unity” government of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe went ahead with the project after briefly halting it.
On returning to power in November 2019, the Rajapaksas vowed to expedite the project. The Sri Lankan government says the project will bring in around 83,000 jobs and $15 billion initially.
(iv). What is the extent of China’s involvement
- The project is financed chiefly through Chinese investment amounting to $1.4 billion, via CHEC Port City Colombo, a unit of the State owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). In return, the company will receive 116 hectares (of the total 269 hectares) on a 99year lease. The Colombo Port City – separate from but located adjacent to the Colombo Port, the country’s main harbour – is the third major port related infrastructure project where China has a significant stake.
(v). What are the concerns
Since its launch, the Colombo Port City project has faced opposition from environmentalists and fisherfolk, who feared that the project would affect marine life and livelihoods. However, in the absence of wider political and societal support, their resistance did not dent successive governments’ resolve to pursue the project.
The more recent opposition was specific to the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill. The resistance came from Opposition parties and civil society groups, including many who do not oppose the project per se, but rather its governance by “an all powerful commission answerable to no one”.
COMMENTARY : On Vaccination gap
By the end of May 2021, only 2.1% of Africans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. We need to close the vaccination gap between advanced economies and developing countries to avoid what the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu has called “vaccination apartheid”.
At the current pace, the whole world will not be vaccinated before 2023. If it persists, the multiplication of variants is likely to undermine the eﬀectiveness of existing vaccines. Vaccination is also a prerequisite for lifting the restrictions that are holding back our economies and freedoms.
If the vaccination gap persists, it risks reversing the trend in recent decades of declining poverty and global inequalities. The EU welcomes the $50 billion plan proposed by the International Monetary Fund in order to be able to vaccinate 40% of the world population in 2021 and 60% by mid-2022.
(ii). How to go about it
We need closely coordinated multilateral action. We must resist the threat posed by linking the provision of vaccines to political goals and “vaccine nationalism”. Countries with the required knowledge and means should increase their production capacities, so that they can both vaccinate their own populations and export more vaccines.
All countries must avoid restrictive measures that aﬀect vaccine supply chains. We also need to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and technology, so that more countries can produce vaccines. Africa for example because of lack of production facilities exports 99% of its vaccines.
Voluntary licensing is the privileged way to ensure such transfer of technology and know-how. If it turns out to be insuﬃcient, the existing Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement and the 2001 Doha Declaration already foresee the possibility of compulsory licensing.
Our common global COVID-19 vaccine action to close the vaccination gap must be the ﬁrst step toward genuine global health cooperation, as foreseen by the Rome Declaration recently adopted at the Global Health Summit.
COMMENTARY : World Environment Day, saving biodiversity
- With the COVID virus raging across countries, we must reﬂect on the ways to rebuild our relationship with nature. India’s vast and rich biodiversity gives the nation a unique identity, of which we can be proud.
(ii). Commentary on our forests
Estimates suggest our forests alone may yield services worth more than a trillion rupees per year. Today, we face not only one of the worst public health crises but also worldwide declines in biodiversity.
Globally, we have lost 7% intact forests since 2000, and recent assessments indicate that over a million species might be lost forever during the next several decades. Climate change and the ongoing pandemic will put additional stresses on our natural ecosystems. Repairing our dysfunctional relationship with nature is one of the ways to mitigate climate change and curtail future outbreaks of infectious diseases.
We must rethink and reimagine the concept of One Health for all living organisms, including the invisible biota in soils that sustain our agricultural systems.
(iii). Programmes and provisions
An ambitious National Mission on Biodiversity and Human Wellbeing (NMBHWB) has been taken up by the government along with different stakeholders. The mission will be steered by a core of the country’s leading biodiversity science and conservation organisations, from public, academic, and civil society sectors. It plans to embed biodiversity as a key consideration in all developmental programmes and enhance capacity across all sectors for the realisation of India’s national biodiversity targets and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). The Mission oﬀers a holistic framework, integrated approaches, and widespread societal participation.
The Mission will help India meet its commitments under the new framework for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and UN SDGs related to pressing social issues including poverty alleviation, justice and equity, and protection of life. It will generate a strong national community committed to sustaining biodiversity, promoting social cohesion and uniting the public behind an important goal.
The Mission’s “One Health” programme, integrating human health with animal, plant, soil and environmental health, has both the preventive potential to curtail future pandemics along with the interventional capability for unexpected public health challenges.
The planned Mission recognises that we need a strong and extensive cadre of human resources required to meet the enormous and complex environmental challenges of the 21st century.
OPINION : Information Technology Rules
WhatsApp decided to legally challenge one of India’s new Information Technology rules which requires messaging platforms to help investigative agencies in identifying the originator of problematic messages. WhatsApp reckons this would break end-to-end encryption and undermine people’s right to privacy.
The government responded saying it is committed to ensuring the right of privacy for all its citizens, and that it also has to ensure national security.
(ii). Privacy vs Security debate
The rules give security interests primacy over both civil liberty interests as well as economic interests. The government already has huge powers of surveillance. This was recognised even in the Justice Srikrishna Committee report that accompanied the draft data protection law in 2018.
The traceability obligation in the new rules is problematic because this would mean breaking the use of end-to-end encryption for all users on platforms such as WhatsApp. End-to-end encryption is really needed in the digital economy because data theft and hacking are only increasing in India. Ideally, we should be looking to encourage more user controlled encryption and not limiting this possibility.
Our societies are changing from pre digital to digital societies, and many fundamental structural changes have to take place.
COMMENTARY : Decriminalisation of sex work and labour rights
- Nonrecognition of sex work as “legitimate work”, sex workers have mostly been kept at arm’s length from the government’s relief programmes. COVID-19 has thus provided more reason to consider a long pending demand of sex workers in India – decriminalisation of sex work and a guaranteed set of labour rights.
(ii). Legislations governing sex work
The legislation governing sex work in India is the Immoral Traﬃc (Prevention) Act. The Suppression of Immoral Traﬃc in Women and Children Act was enacted in 1956. The legislation penalises acts such as keeping a brothel, soliciting in a public place, living oﬀ the earnings of sex work and living with or habitually being in the company of a sex worker. This Act represents the archaic and regressive view that sex work is morally wrong and that the people involved in it, especially women, never consent to it voluntarily. This is what has led to the classiﬁcation of ‘‘respectable women” and “non respectable women”. It thus perpetuates the prejudice that women who do practise sex work are morally devious.
The Act has not only criminalised sex work but also further stigmatised and pushed it underground thus leaving sex workers more prone to violence, discrimination and harassment. It imposes the will of the state over adults articulating their life choices. The Act fails to recognise that many women willingly enter into agreements with traﬃckers, sometimes just to seek a better life as chosen by them. Evidence shows that many women choose to remain in sex work despite opportunities to leave after ‘rehabilitation’ by the government or nongovernmental organisations.
(iii). Labour Rights
The Justice Verma Commission had also acknowledged that there is a distinction between women who are traﬃcked for commercial sexual exploitation and adult, consenting women who are in sex work of their own volition. It is time we rethink sex work from a labour perspective, where we recognise their work and guarantee them basic labour rights.
The judiciary is moving in the direction of recognising sex workers’ right to livelihood. The Supreme Court, in Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal (2011), opined that sex workers have a right to dignity.
Profile : Naftali Bennett
- Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid is the second largest party in the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) with 17 seats after Likud, has claimed that his coalition has the support of 61 Members of the Knesset (MKs). If the majority is proved in Parliament, Mr. Naftalli Bennett would be Israel’s next Prime Minister, replacing Mr. Netanyahu.
(ii). Personal Life
Born in Haifa to wealthy Jewish immigrants from the U.S., Mr. Bennett, 49, has built his political career as a right-wing alternative to Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Bennett founded an American start-up, Cyota, which made anti-fraud software. The company was sold to a U.S. security company for $145 million in 2005. In 2006, he became the chief of staﬀ of Mr. Netanyahu, who was then the Opposition leader.
After parting ways with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Bennett championed pro-settler politics. He became the director of Yesha Council, an organisation that fought for the expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. Later, Mr. Bennett joined the far right Jewish Home, and became its leader in 2012.
When Jewish Home was part of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition, Mr. Bennett had served as a Minister several times. He handled education, Diaspora and defence portfolios. In December 2018 he left Jewish Home and founded the New Right.
(iii). Political views on Palestine and road ahead
He has said the creation of a Palestinian state would be “suicidal” for Israel. In the past, he has proposed “autonomy with steroids” for Palestinians in some parts of the West Bank and urged the Israeli government to annex the areas where Jewish settlements have been built.
The recent coalition that favours Mr. Bennett as their leader came together with their shared goal to replace Mr. Netanyahu. Even if the coalition passes the Knesset test of proving majority, Mr. Bennett would face an enormous challenge to lead the most diverse coalition in Israel in decades.
EXPLAINER : Global Minimum Tax
- Finance Ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) rich nations reached a landmark accord setting a global minimum corporate tax rate, an agreement that could form the basis of a worldwide deal. The deal aims to end a “30 year race to the bottom on corporate tax rates” as countries compete to lure multinationals.
(ii). Why a global minimum
Major economies are aiming to discourage multinationals from shifting proﬁts and tax revenues to low tax countries regardless of where their sales are made. Income from intangible sources such as drug patents, software and royalties on intellectual property has migrated to these jurisdictions, allowing companies to avoid paying higher taxes in their traditional home countries.
With its proposal for a minimum 15% tax rate, hopes are to reduce such tax base erosion allowing competition on innovation, infrastructure and other attributes.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has been coordinating tax negotiations among 140 countries for years on rules for taxing cross border digital services and curbing tax base erosion, including a global corporate minimum tax. The minimum is expected to make up the bulk of the $50 billion- $80 billion in extra tax that the OECD estimates ﬁrms will end up paying globally under deals on both fronts.
(iii). How would a global minimum tax work
- The global minimum tax rate would apply to overseas proﬁts. If companies pay lower rates in a particular country, their home governments could “top-up” their taxes to the minimum rate, eliminating the advantage of shifting proﬁts. Talks are focusing around the U.S. proposal of a minimum global corporation tax rate of 15% – above the level in countries such as Ireland but below the lowest G7 level. ——
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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench