The Hindu – A day in Delhi for Ghani and Tillerson

The visits will provide India opportunity to hold talks on crucial regional and security-related issues

Special Correspondent

New Delhi. 20 October 2017. Continuing with close bilateral consultation, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani will visit India on October 24. The official confirmation about the visit came even as the Ministry of External Affairs reiterated India’s commitment to ‘rule-based international order’, setting the stage for the visit of USA Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to the capital on the same day.

The visit by President Ghani comes within days of a visit to Kabul by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Thursday’s Taliban attack on the Afghan National Army base in Kandahar province that killed at least fifty-eight security personnel.

When asked about the details of the Afghan leader’s agenda, an MEA official source said that the visit was being “worked upon” and a statement on the agenda would be made soon.

Mr Ghani’s visit, which is likely to last for half-a-day, is significant as it comes two-months after USA President Donald Trump announced his government’s new Afghanistan policy for which he has urged India to do more.

Crucial talks

The visits of Mr Ghani and Mr Tillerson to Delhi indicate that they will provide all three, the USA, Afghanistan and India, the opportunity to hold talks on crucial regional and security-related issues.

Indicating at India’s stance to Mr Tillerson’s visit, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, “We appreciate his positive evaluation of the relationship and share his optimism about its future directions. We look forward to welcoming him in India next week for detailed discussions on further strengthening of our partnership.”

The Ministry’s statement was a response to Mr Tillerson’s October 18 comments at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington DC, where he highlighted his two decades-long personal ties with India and said:

Centre of gravity

“The world’s centre of gravity is shifting to the heart of the Indo-Pacific. The USA and India, with our shared goals of peace, security, freedom of navigation, and a free and open architecture, must serve as the eastern and western beacons of the Indo-Pacific.”

Mr Tillerson had also pointed out that China’s rise as an international power had been “less peaceful”. The Asia-Pacific component of the visit will unfold soon after the latest congress of the Communist Party of China which led to the consolidation of power of President Xi Jinping and his re-election for one more term.


The Hindu – Feeding a billion: Evaluating India’s progress at eliminating hunger

Rohan Abraham

New Delhi, 17 October 2017. While food production is still not insulated from the vagaries of nature, which can vacillate between extremes, ranging from the floods which ravaged parts of Northern India this year, to the extant drought in the South, anthropogenic factors are holding back India’s quest to attain food security.

On the occasion of World Food Day, which is celebrated on October 16 to commemorate the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it is fair to say that a Malthusian prophecy has been averted, but catastrophe of another kind looms large.

Thomas Malthus’ prediction that an exponential growth in population would outpace agricultural production, has to an extent, been contained, but migration, war, natural calamities have contributed to rendering scores of people, especially in strife-torn areas without access to food.

The theme for this year is “Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development”. According to a report published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, India ranks 100 out of 119 countries on the Global Hunger Index.

It is outperformed by countries in the neighbourhood such as China, Nepal, and Myanmar, which are ranked 29, 72, and 77 respectively.

The methodology used to prepare the index takes into account malnutrition, stunting among children, wasting, and the mortality rate of children under the age of five. By assigning weights to these variables and standardizing the component indicators, the index value is calculated, and subsequently sorted to arrive at the overall rankings.

Here are some of the reasons exploring what ails India’s quest to attain food security.

Crop cover is getting denuded

Source: Directorate of Economics & Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare

According to a reply furnished by Radha Mohan Singh, Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, in the Lok Sabha on 2nd August 2016, the average area under cultivation has been steadily on the decline. Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare data reveals that 12.25 lakh hectares of land which was under cultivation in 2006/07, has been diverted for non-agricultural use.

Rajasthan leads the pack with 2.55 crore hectares under cultivation, an area roughly four times the size of Sri Lanka.

Food imports touch Rs 1.4 lakh crore

Source: Directorate of Economics & Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare

As per Census data, 176 million, or 56.6% of India’s working population are engaged in agriculture or allied industries. Despite an overabundance of farm hands, India’s food bill has seen an unprecedented spike from Rs 56,196 crore in 2010-11 to Rs 1,40,268 crore in 2015-16, marking an increase of 149.6%.

Given the fragile nature of foreign exchange, an import bill of this enormity, is a setback in the government’s efforts to reducing the fiscal deficit. However, in relative terms, India’s food import bill accounts for only 5.63% of total national imports in 2015-16.

Agricultural productivity is declining

Despite having large tracts of land under cultivation, Rajasthan doesn’t stack up with other states in terms of agricultural productivity. According to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s Statistical Yearbook on Agriculture – 2016, the net yield for Rajasthan was 1,535 kg/hectare.

Punjab and Haryana were on top with 4,144 kgs/hectare and 3,772 kgs/hectare respectively.

The national average of 2,070 kgs/hectare is well below the productivity levels of the farm sector in developed countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom, which enjoy yields of 7,638 kg/hectare and 7,697 kg/hectare respectively, according to data compiled by the World Bank, in association with FAO in 2014.

The bumper yields of farmers in the Middle East present a point of contradiction, since the topography and weather of the region pose hurdles in optimizing agricultural produce. Agricultural productivity in the United Arab Emirates was 41,908 kg/hectare, while that in Kuwait was 21,845 kg/hectare.

Land holdings are shrinking

The average size of operational holdings has come down to 1.15 hectares in 2010-11, from 1.33 hectares in 2000-01, Agriculture Ministry data shows. As profit margins blur into operating losses, small farmers end up in a debt trap, since the cost of cultivation often overshadows the market price of their yield.

Despite migration to urban centres, hidden unemployment is also rampant in the agriculture sector.

Commercial farming has increased agricultural productivity in parts of the developed world. According to data compiled by the FAO, the average area per holding in North America is 117.8 hectares, while the global average is 5.5 hectares.

The Hindu – Yechury line on alliance gains support

CPI(M) general secretary favours working with all non-Left parties to counter the BJP

Sobhana K Nair

New Delhi, 16 October 2017. The political line advocated by CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury to seek the cooperation of all non-Left parties, including the Congress, gained more support at the end of the three-day Central Committee meeting of the party, with many leaders from Kerala too supporting the line.

Sources said 31 of the 63 speakers at the meeting endorsed Mr Yechury’s political line. Most important, many of the 31 are from Kerala who till recently had consistently stalled any broad political alliance because it also meant working with the Congress, the party’s immediate adversary in the State.

The backers included Kerala Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac and party veteran V S Achuthanandan.

The BJP’s recent Jan Raksha Rally in Kerala and in Delhi seems to have helped change the mood within the party. The BJP, for the past two weeks, has take out marches to the CPI(M) headquarters here every day, protesting against political killings in Kerala.

“The Central Committee authorised the Polit Bureau to prepare the draft political resolution for the 22nd party congress on the basis of the Polit Bureau outline and the discussions in the Central Committee,” Mr Yechury said.

This is a marked victory for the Yechury faction since on October 2, the Polit Bureau rejected his line. Quoting Leon Trotsky’s “march separately, but strike together”, Mr. Yechury argued that the BJP had been in the ascendant, and there was a need for all political forces to unite. The argument was, however, rejected by the Polit Bureau.

The draft resolution finalised by the Polit Bureau will now be presented at the next Central Committee meeting in January. By February, it will be sent to all members in their mother tongues.

In April, it will be adopted at the party congress in Visakhapatnam. The party congress meets once in three years. Any member or even an outsider can move amendments there.

Though the line backed by Mr. Yechury has gained currency, there is still stout support for the political-tactical line advocated by former CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat.

A total of 83 delegates participated in the Central Committee, out of which 63 spoke. Thirty-two speakers supported Mr Karat’s line. The Karat faction has said that the effort should be to strengthen the mass movements against the BJP and this stand would be diluted if the CPI(M) allied with other parties.

“Out of these 32 too, at least two took a nuanced stand and were more inclined towards the Yechury line,” a member said.

A considered decision was taken not to put the matter to vote.

The Hindu – India plans a riposte to slavery report

To pressure ILO to distance itself from Australian NGO’s report that can potentially harm India’s image

Somesh Jha

New Delhi, 14 October 2017. After sending a rebuttal to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) challenging India’s ranking in a global slavery report, India will build pressure on the global body to distance itself from the Australia-based NGO-Walk Free Foundation.

It was the WFF, founded by Australia’s mining mogul Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, that had compiled the report. Indian security agencies informed the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) that though the methodology of sampling was not clear, the WFF’s entire focus was on India and had “enough potential to substantively harm India’s image and kill its exports market”.

The PMO was warned that there was “evidence of rising interest of private and multilateral institutions in highlighting human trafficking and forced labour as modern-day slavery, with India being the largest hub of slaves”.

Point-wise rejoinder

The Centre has tasked the V V Giri National Labour Institute, an autonomous body under the Labour and Employment Ministry, to prepare a point-wise rejoinder to the ‘modern slavery’ report.

“The entire thrust is to get WFF out of United Nations and ILO matters. The NGO published its first report in 2013 and the methodology adopted by them is opaque,” said a senior government official.

Asked about the methodology adopted by the WFF in conducting the survey in India, its spokesperson Martina Ucnikova in an e-mail response shared the web link of the methodology made public recently.

“While not without gaps and limitations, the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery provide the international community with the best available data and information that exists about the scale and distribution of modern slavery today,” the methodology paper said.

As per the report, the highest number of people, 17,000, were surveyed in India and it was placed in a cluster of 53 countries like Honduras, Belize, Iraq, Pakistan and China.

Elaborating on “debt bondage,” the report cited an interview from an unidentified person, which said, “For example, a 30-year-old male victim of forced labour in India described the situation he and his wife faced as having ‘…become a curse on both of us.

We had threats against our family and we also got the threat that we would be evicted from our house and the village. There were also threats of violence’.”

‘Not recognised

The Labour Ministry shot off a strong letter to the ILO regarding its report titled ‘Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage 2017,’ The report released on September 19 did not contain any India-specific findings, barring one mention that 17,000 people were interviewed for the survey.

An official said it did not recognise the WFF’s work in the area of labour study.

“We note that the ILO report uses data primarily from independent surveys conducted by WFF, a private organisation. We would like to know why the ILO tied up with WFF to produce a report on ‘modern slavery’, a term ILO hasn’t so far defined in its own conventions,” said a senior Labour and Employment Ministry official.

Another official said the ILO had defined ‘forced labour’ and ‘bonded labour’ and the Indian laws were aligned with the ILO’s conventions.

“The ILO, without following any protocol, endorsed WFF’s survey,” the official said.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder didn’t respond to an e-mail questionnaire despite repeated reminders.

The Hindu – Sachin Tendulkar bats for girls’ rights

New Delhi, 12 October 2017. Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar today batted for girls’ rights, saying its time India should do away with discrimination of girl child and provide a level playing field to help them nurture their dreams.

Speaking on the occasion of International Day of the Child Girls here, UNICEF Goodwill ambassador, Tendulkar called on parents to support their girl children.

“My achievement in life is inspired by my parents and family who appreciated my talent as well as supported me as a young child.

Parents and communities must see their daughters as assets, as individuals capable of standing on their feet and contributing to society, and not as burdens to be married in haste,” the former India batsman said during a panel discussion.

“This requires us to invest in daughters, as the Government of India is doing. We have to ease the financial burden on parents so that girls complete their education and take steps to fulfill their potential in their society and achieve their aspirations. We must address the concerns of parents, engage with them in making change possible.

“There is no place for discrimination. There should be a fair platform. The parameter should be same for boys and girls. We need to give freedom to our girls,” he added.

Advocating the need to completely abolish child marriage from India, Tendulkar said sports is a great tool to get over the stigma.

“Child marriage and other social pressures hampers a child’s growth. I stand to SAY NO to Child Marriage and make a better world for our girls,” he said.

India women’s cricket team captain Mithali, who was also present on the occasion, shared the same opinion and said people should never look down on a woman.

“As a sportsperson, I believe gender doesn’t matter,” Mithali said.

“Each and every child should participate in sports, as it encourages teamwork, builds mental strength, keeps children healthy, and makes them confident to deal with life challenges.”

The Hindu – Doklam, Rohingya issue to be examined by parliamentary panel

New Delhi-India, 11 October 2017. The 73-day Doklam standoff and the Rohingya issue will be examined by the Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. The panel, which also includes Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, will deliberate on a number of key foreign policy issues next month, one of its members said.

Sino-Indian relations, including the border situation and the Doklam stand-off, relations with Myanmar and the Rohingya issue are among subjects selected by the panel for deliberations, according to the Lok Sabha bulletin.

Voting rights to NRIs, the crisis of the European Union in the wake of Brexit and its implications for India and performance of passport issuance system including issuance of e-passport are topics for discussions shortlisted by the panel for its year—long agenda.

Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar had in July briefed the panel on the Doklam stand-off.

India and China had in August struck a deal to pull back from their most serious face-off in two decades. The development had come a week before the BRICS summit in China which was attended by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Hindu – Nirmala Sitharaman surveys Doklam, Nathula

Review comes amid reports of significant Chinese presence not far from Doklam standoff point

Special Correspondent

Gangtok-Sikkim-India, 8 October 2017. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday made an aerial survey of the Doklam-Nathula stretch and reviewed the situation along the India-China border. The review comes in the face of reports of significant Chinese presence not very far from the Doklam standoff point.

Army sources said Ms Sitharaman, accompanied by the Vice-Chief of the Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Sarath Chand, reviewed the operational situation during her first visit to the area as the Defence Minister.

The visit comes just a couple of days ahead of a week-long biannual Army Commanders’ Conference in New Delhi, where the dominant subject would be recent developments along the China border and the situation within Kashmir and along the Pakistan border.

High alert

Both India and China have been maintaining a higher number of troops than normal near the tri-junction with Bhutan. The two countries are on a higher state of alert ever since the Doklam standoff.

The Defence Minister was briefed on the situation at the Gangtok-based 17 Mountain Division, which has four brigades and is responsible for the security at the tri-junction.

She will interact with the Army Commanders when they assemble for the conference.

India and China had been engaged in a two-month standoff in Doklam from mid-June to August 28. While the troops disengaged, China continues to have a sizeable presence a few hundred metres away, with stores and new bunkers.

Sources have spoken about China carrying out the overlay of a road leading towards the Doklam area, but within their territory.

The Hindu – Journalists seek action on attacks

Special Correspondent

New Delhi, 4 October 2017. A delegation of journalists’ organisations led by the Press Club of India met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday and submitted a memorandum regarding the increasing incidents of attacks on journalists in several States.

“The delegation sought the intervention of the Home Minister in preparing a status report by his Ministry on the pending cases of violence and murder of journalists from all the States.

They pointed out that over the past three decades, there had not been any conviction in cases of violence against journalists,” a statement issued by the Press Club of India said.

Mr. Singh assured the delegation that he would give active consideration to all the demands and the deprecated violence against the journalists, the statement said.

The delegation was led by PCI president Gautam Lahiri.

The Hindu – Foreign Secretary in Bhutan amid reports of Bhutan-China tension

Jaishankar’s visit came in the backdrop of reports that China is amassing troops near Bhutan’s Doklam plateau and other areas

Special Correspondent

New Delhi, 4 October 2017. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar met with Bhutan’s king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk on Tuesday and will hold several meetings on Wednesday with officials in Thumphu, officials have confirmed.

Mr Jaishankar’s visit came in the backdrop of reports that China is amassing troops near Bhutan’s Doklam plateau and other areas, barely a month after a standoff with India ended at the Doklam plateau.

Reports suggested that Chinese troops entered disputed zones of Bhutan-China border in a few places over the last week. During the Doklam crisis, Bhutan had maintained a cautious position indicating that it would allow diplomacy to take its course in the tricky border issue.

During the visit, Mr Jaishankar is likely to hold talks with Foreign Minister Damcho Dorjee and Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay.

The visit is the first by the Indian Foreign Secretary following the resolution of the last round of tension between Indian and Chinese troops at Doklam where a 72-day standoff ended on August 28.

Bilateral ties between India and China are not yet normal as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China did not invite representatives of the Indian army for the annual border personnel meeting (BPM) to mark the Chinese National Day on October 1.

China did not attend a similar meeting to mark the Independence Day celebrations on August 15 as it was overshadowed by the Doklam standoff.

A mechanism to discuss issues between China, Bhutan and India are also likely to be discussed during Mr Jaishankar’s visit.

Bhutan and China met for the 24th round of the bilateral border discussion in August 2016, but a similar meeting has not been held so far though Chinese diplomats based in Delhi have visited the kingdom on several occasions earlier this year.

The Hindu – Dhinakaran booked, 10 others held for ‘derogatory’ remarks against Modi, Palaniswami

Salem-Tamil Nadu-India, 2 October 2017

Mr Dhinakaran’s loyalists P Vetrivel and V Pugazhenthi have also been named as accused in the case, the police said.

Sidelined AIADMK leader T T V Dhinakaran was on Monday booked and 10 of his supporters were held in connection with distribution of pamphlets allegedly containing defamatory remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami, in Chennai.

Former MLA Venkatachalam and local AIADMK functionary Saravanan were among the 10 arrested on the basis of a complaint filed by one Vinayakam, alleging that the accused were found distributing the pamphlets among the public outside a hall, where Mr Palaniswami was holding a meeting with senior officials on October 1.

The pamphlets contained “derogatory remarks” against the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister, the police said.

Mr Dhinakaran and his loyalists P Vetrivel, one of the 18 AIADMK MLAs recently disqualified from the Tamil Nadu Assembly under the anti-defection law, and V Pugazhenthi have also been named as accused in the case, the police said.

This is the second case slapped against Mr Dhinakaran, who is engaged in a tussle for power with Mr Palaniswami, by the State police.

Earlier, the sidelined AIADMK leader, along with Tamil actor and party functionary Senthil, had been booked for allegedly making defamatory remarks against P Kumar, the party MP from Tiruchirappalli.

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court had restrained the Tiruchirappalli police from arresting them.

Responding to the latest case against him, Mr Dhinakaran alleged that it was filed since his rival Mr Palaniswami — who holds the Home portfolio — “is the police minister”.

“This government is anyway going to fall. They are doing such these things since he [Palaniswami] is the police Minister… Let them do what they want. The AIADMK supporters and the people are going to send them home,” Mr. Dhinakaran said.