Reimagining governance

(The Hindu)

 

It’s time to replace the UGC Act

(The Hindu)

 

India’s grand illusion

(Live Mint)

 

Towards a regional reset?

(The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of moves to normalise ties with China and Pakistan.

(GS paper II)

Overview

 

  • The government’s foreign policy moves over the past few months represent an unannounced but profound shift in its thinking about the neighbourhood. This could change the course of Prime Minister’s foreign policy before the general election next year. The most obvious in this is what is now being called the “reset” with China.

 

Assessment

 

  • The trigger for the rapprochement between the two neighbours was the peaceful resolution of the Doklam standoff and PM’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Xiamen last year, the outcome of the easing of tensions is being seen in New Delhi’s public postures this year. To begin with, the government has taken care not to respond with any heat to reports of the Chinese build-up at Doklam.

 

  • Construction by the People’s Liberation Army of new bases, bunkers and helipads, as well its troops staying in the erstwhile grazing grounds there through the winter is far from normal activity. Keeping its responses cool, New Delhi has been repeating that the Doklam standoff point is untouched and Chinese construction on their side of the boundary is “not a threat” to India.

 

  • The government has also gone to some lengths to tone down planned celebrations marking the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s arrival from Tibet. New Delhi and Beijing have now embarked on a flurry of high-level visits that are meant to lead up to a summit meeting between the two leaders; they may even meet more than once.

 

  • The shift has given rise to speculation that the two sides are intent on making significant progress in smoothening ties on outstanding issues such as boundary negotiations and also narrowing the trade deficit, an issue discussed during the Chinese Commerce Minister’s visit to India recently.

 

  • Despite several appeals by the Maldivian opposition, and nudges from the U.S., the Indian government decided not to exert hard power in bringing Maldives President Abdulla Yameen around after he declared a state of emergency in the country. Nor did it engage China in a confrontation when Mr. Yameen sought Beijing’s support in this regard.

 

  • The government remained silent as Male went a step further and held discussions with Pakistan’s Army Chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, on joint patrolling of its Exclusive Economic Zone, an area of operation in the Indian Ocean considered being India’s domain.

 

Progress with Pakistan

 

  • This year, the government admitted in Parliament for the first time that National Security Adviser (NSA) had met his Pakistani counterpart, as a part of “established channels of communications at various levels” between the two sides in the past few years, post-Pathankot.

 

  • Officials have confirmed that talks between the two NSAs have also taken place on the sidelines of conferences as well, and quite regularly telephonically. Meanwhile, the resolution of the standoff over the treatment of diplomats in Delhi and Islamabad indicates that neither government has the appetite for escalation at this point.
  • There are two issues on which both governments can show flexibility is China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and India’s bid for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership. On the NSG, China could remove its block to India’s membership by adopting a more inclusive approach within the nuclear export control organisation.

 

  • Indian membership, which the Modi government seems to have made its objective, will only strengthen the international nuclear regime. Even if withdrawal of China’s objections does not soften the objections of more hardline “non-proliferationists” or Non-Proliferation Treaty-proponents, the goodwill from such a move would propel India-China relations forward.

 

  • On the BRI, if there is political will on both sides, they need not look too far for creative solutions around India’s three concerns: on territorial integrity, transparency of projects and their sustainability.

 

  • The solution to the first is contained in a proposal under consideration — to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan. While it may have not been the outcome discussed, the shift from the CPEC to what could be called PACE or the Pakistan-Afghanistan-China Economic corridor would necessitate a shift away from projects in Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

 

  • Meanwhile, several countries, from Europe to Central and East Asia, are now echoing India’s concerns about the environmental and debt trap risks that BRI projects pose. India could take the lead in creating an international template for infrastructure and connectivity proposals, one that would seek to engage China and other donor countries in a structured approach towards debt financing.

 

Way ahead

 

  • The next steps will be defined not by a quiet or defensive approach to redefining India’s foreign policy in the region, but with a more bold and proactive one. The reset with China will work only if there are transactional dividends for both New Delhi and Beijing, in case the two governments go back to the default antagonism of the past after the summit meetings.

 

  • However, the real tipping point in India’s regional reset will come if the government also decides to reconsider its opposition to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit this year, with Pakistan as the host.

 

Question Bold moves to normalise ties with China and Pakistan will enhance India’s standing. Explain along with measures.

 

The power of incentives

(The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of assessment of incentives.

(GS paper III)

Overview

 

  • Good incentives push people to do things that are beneficial to society, while bad incentives have the opposite effect. “The perils of high-powered incentives”, a 2018 paper by a team of researchers including Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson et al, in the National Bureau of Economic Research, takes the case of how bad incentives can lead to some very brutal consequences.

 

Assessment of the research

 

  • In the paper, the authors first elaborate on how cash and other perks have historically been offered as incentives to members of various militaries across the world to deal with enemy forces. Then they look at the particular case of Colombia’s anti-insurgency strategy against the leftist guerrillas after the election of Alvaro Uribe as the country’s President in 2002.

 

  • The new government offered a variety of incentives to its soldiers in order to prod them to kill and maim as many enemy forces as possible. One of the incentives, a soldier said, was that Colombian military personnel could earn as much as 15 days of vacation by killing guerrillas. Promotions and other perks offered to colonels also depended on the number of killings carried out by their soldiers.

 

  • While the stated goal of the government’s incentive scheme was to deal with the guerrillas, the authors find that it also pushed soldiers to engage in fake killings of innocent civilians just to claim their incentives.

 

  • This was particularly the case in regions where there were fewer judicial checks on errant soldiers. Colombia’s military clearly did not have any monetary or other material incentives to care about the human rights of civilians, so it was no surprise that they killed innocent people. 

 

Way ahead

 

 

  • The more relevant question to ask is why the government failed to strengthen institutions meant to keep a check on soldiers. It may be that the government itself, for whatever reason, had no material incentive to tackle the unintended effects of its policy on ordinary civilians. There is need to discourage the use of high-powered incentives in countries with weak institutions.

 

 

Question India has the world’s third-largest purchasing economy, and a population of over 480 million workers. Despite that, over 40 million Indian citizens were unemployed. Explain the importance of incentives in India.

 

Publish and perish?

(The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of research for health sector.

(GS paper II)

Overview

 

  • In the recent time, the Medical Council of India (MCI) made publishing original research in indexed journals a prerequisite for appointments and promotions of teaching faculty in medical colleges. Recruitment, tenure and promotions are often linked to research publications in the developed world but making this mandatory in India is a bad idea.

 

Assessment of research

 

 

  • Research advances scientific knowledge and saves lives. The pressure to publish motivates clinicians in academic institutions to prioritise research over other professional roles. Research productivity enhances careers and confers scientific recognition and prestige. It provides scientific capital to institutions and reinforces the pressure on faculty to publish or perish.

 

 

  • However, it has been noted by various commentators that the emphasis on quantity over quality has led to a flood of poor quality research. In a 2009 report in The Lancet, Iain Chalmers and Paul Glasziou estimated that around 85% of research funding was being wasted across the entire spectrum of biomedical research. They found that most research publications, neither advances scientific knowledge, nor have practical clinical applications.

 

  • Research eats into the time that faculty have for clinical care, teaching and mentoring students. This deprives students and patients of the experience of senior faculty. It also contributes to stress and burnout in those left to deal with heavy teaching and clinical workload. The disproportionate emphasis on publications to define success in academic medicine influences the culture of medical education, and the aspirations of students graduating from such institutions.

 

  • The National Medical Commission Bill, 2017, wanted to “to provide for a medical education system that ensures availability of adequate and high quality medical professionals; that encourages medical professionals to adopt latest medical research in their work and to contribute to research”. But, the clear articulated vision are lacking for the goals of medical education and the role of research in the context of the challenges and needs in India.

 

  • A 2010 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine envisioned the basic purpose of medical education as caring for the national population, chiefly in primary care and in underserved areas. It ranked medical schools in the U.S. according to a social mission score wherein Stanford (19) and Johns Hopkins (20) ranked among the bottom 20 universities.

 

  • As India continues “upgrading” district hospitals to medical colleges, and recognising for-profit private medical colleges, the NMC should reflect on whether this “academic” designation will detract from the social mission that medical education should serve.

 

Way ahead

 

 

  • The research cadre should be appraised on the quality, integrity, scientific rigour and impact of their research; clinical collaborations; and teaching and guiding research. In order to increase the value of research investments, the NMC should also adopt 17 invaluable research-based recommendations on reducing the “waste in biomedical research”, summarised in a series of papers published in The Lancet in 2014.

 

 

  • Making original research mandatory now in other institutions, without investing in building research infrastructure and capacity, is ill-conceived, possibly unethical and certainly unrealistic.

 

Question Making original research mandatory in medical institutions without building research infrastructure is unrealistic, explain in the context of India.