News & Events
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1.Sunrise beckons, turn from sunset: Aim for high-end services, manufacture
Writing on this page on Thursday, NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant identified some sunrise sectors for Indian industry: high-performance batteries for electric vehicles, green hydrogen, artificial intelligence, genomics, the 5G telecom ecosystem. This is a welcome departure from the thinking that has brought out the production-linked incentive scheme, which sets aside ₹1,45,000 crore over several years as a subsidy for increased production in 10 sectors, ranging from automotive components and textiles to pharmaceuticals and information technology products, in the hope that this would trigger large-scale investment and job creation, along with exports. What is striking about this list of 10 sectors being promoted is missing discrimination between sunrise and sunset sectors.
Any kind of value addition is better than no value addition. That said, more value is created in one hour at an automobile component factory than in an hour spent on collecting tendu leaves in the forest. Writing computer code for an hour produces even more value. Designing a new molecule or dreaming up a new building architecture is higher up on the scale. Value addition in creative services, including service-intensive manufacture such as forging a microprocessor with three-nanometer circuits, tends to be higher than in conventional manufacturing. Given the size advantage India has in its young, college-going cohort that can be trained in assorted science, technology, engineering, mathematics and creative disciplines, India has an advantage in the value-addition opportunities of tomorrow. Spending budgetary resources as incentives for, and directing private resources towards, sunset sectors is to waste a huge opportunity for India to make good on industries of the future.
These would include, apart from those mentioned by Kant, quantum computing and communications, new materials and nanotechnology, the entire range of synthetic biology and bioinformatics, and advanced nuclear and space technologies. Policymakers and industry must raise their levels of ambition.
2.Covid-19 vaccine: May many Bharat Biotechs bloom
Quick takes, analyses and macro-level views on all contemporary economic, financial and political events.
The interim Phase 3 trial results of the indigenously developed Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, establishes an efficacy of 81% and significant immunogenicity against virus variants. This is good news. The published data will definitely help allay concerns about the vaccine, and further increase the pace of vaccination in the country. The publication of the trial data will open export opportunities given the paucity of vaccine supplies compared to the need across the world.
In late February, even before the publication of the data, Brazil signed a deal for purchasing 20 million doses of Covaxin. The efficacy rate and, more importantly, the capacity to provide significant level of immunity from variant strains could mean that not just Brazil but other countries that are battling variant strains of the virus such as South Africa could consider Covaxin as an option. France too is reported to be in the process of purchasing the Bharat Biotech vaccine. Other EU nations could follow. The success of the Bharat Biotech venture should encourage other indigenous vaccine developers to redouble their efforts. The global vaccine requirement is far from being fulfilled. India has been at the forefront of the effort to ensure that countries around the world are able to vaccinate their people, sending large batches of vaccine out as grant assistance and exports to countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Middle East, in the neighbourhood as well as the UN peacekeeping force. India now needs to ramp up its manufacturing capabilities to ensure it can meet its domestic requirement and play its part as responsible member of the global community.
Covaxin should inspire many Indian pharma and biotech companies to keep pushing the boundaries.
3.Junk sedition: Cases filed frequently to muzzle dissent make a strong case for a long overdue scrap
Supreme Court’s rejection of a PIL pleading for invoking sedition against veteran Kashmiri politician Farooq Abdullah, for his opposition to Article 370 nullification, calls for rethink by the top court on sedition’s constitutionality. Against SC’s 1962 Kedar Nath Singh judgment that retained sedition in IPC by strictly mandating that police proceed only when there is incitement of violence, legitimate instances of dissent are getting criminalised. In recent weeks, courts at various levels heard bail pleas on sedition cases filed by police in multiple states, including one by a 22-year-old climate activist.
“The expression of a view which is a dissent from a decision taken by the Central Government itself cannot be said to be seditious. There is nothing in the statement which we find so offensive as to… initiate proceedings,” said SC, while fining the petitioners Rs 50,000 for frivolous litigation. But the wastage of judicial time, and more importantly at a personal and political level, the harassment of individuals and silencing of dissent must prompt SC to reexamine the infirmity of sedition in light of frequent undermining of the fundamental right to dissent.
With tolerance for dissent in short supply, a law leaving a wide berth for misinterpretation and abuse becomes problematic. The quashing of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which was similarly wielded against dissidents and suffered from the same propensity to incriminate free speech, can guide SC again if it chooses to strike down the sedition provision. Such moves would also reverse the trend of India’s soft power taking a big hit, latest evidence coming from the ‘Freedom in the World 2021’ report where India has fallen from “Free” to “Partly Free” status. A similar downgrade had happened in this Freedom House report during the Emergency too.
The report cites “increased pressure on human rights organisations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims” since 2014 as reasons for India’s decline. While India’s score of 34/40 in political rights tallied with many “free” countries, a dismal 33/60 score in civil liberties dragged it down to the level of “partly free” countries with failing democracies. It is time the Supreme Court treated patently unjustified sedition cases as contempt of its judgments narrowing the applicability of sedition. The chilling effect from frequent political witch hunts is contributing to India’s international embarrassment too.
4.Riveting contest: Sasikala’s exit may help AIADMK, but Tamil Nadu’s assembly elections remain tight
Tamil Nadu’s forthcoming assembly elections will be the first one in ages without M Karunanidhi or J Jayalalithaa, dominant political personalities of their time. Yet, the run-up has been as riveting as any in the past. First, Rajnikanth made his long anticipated political debut with the promise of an ambiguous “spiritual politics”. It was a mere guest appearance. VK Sasikala, a close associate of Jayalalithaa and a former interim general secretary of AIADMK, came out of jail and appeared to introduce an unfathomable dimension to the contest. She too didn’t stay long and has “stepped aside”.
Where does that leave the state’s politics? DMK and AIADMK continue to be the poles around whom most other players converge. With the poles emerging out of the same Dravidian political ideology, Tamil Nadu is an outlier in Indian politics. For over half a century, the electorate has been impervious to the phases of Congress or BJP dominance elsewhere. Politics has been underpinned by a common thread: Welfarism, prioritising industrial policy in the economic sphere and building cults around personalities. The outcome has been impressive progress in economic and social indicators, but with problems lurking beneath.
A decisive influence on the outcome may be the incumbent AIADMK government’s last minute decision to carve out a sub-quota for the Vanniyar community within the MBC reserved category. Slicing and dicing can have unexpected consequences in tight contests. It’s also a symptom of new challenges that can no longer be solved by old formulae such as reservations. AIADMK goes into the election looking a bit stronger after Sasikala’s exit. DMK, along with its ally Congress, swept the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But assembly polls are a different ballgame. The intriguing question is whether the coming polls will open up more space for non-Dravidian political formations.
5.In polls, don’t disturb social harmony | HT Editorial
The BJP, as well as parties which claim to be secular or represent minority interests, must exercise responsibility in their campaign, for Hindu-Muslim harmony is essential for national unity
This year’s elections for legislative assemblies are important not just in terms of determining the political balance of power nationally and the power configuration in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. The polls are also important because they will shape social relations between Hindus and Muslims in key geographical regions, where both communities coexist but also have a history of volatile relations.
In three states in particular, the religious dimension is important. Muslims constitute around a third of the population in Assam, and at least a fourth of the population in West Bengal and Kerala (which also has close to 20% Christians). In all three states, but particularly in the eastern states, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hoping to consolidate the Hindu vote. Its campaign, in characteristic fashion, has elements of dog-whistle politics against minorities. At the same time, in all three states, there is a range of smaller Muslim formations, and bigger “secular” formations, which hope to consolidate the Muslim vote. Their campaign, too, in a characteristic manner, has elements which may deepen the already existing fears among the community about the rise of majoritarianism