News & Events
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1. Twere well, it were done quickly
The Biden administration has said it would like to reinstate the Iran nuclear deal, provided Iran returns to compliance with its terms. Iran, on its part, has said that it would be prepared to re-embrace the deal, provided the US lifts sanctions first. Now, who would make the first move is a delicate question, over which both willing but demure parties to a possible liaison often fret. Time for New Delhi to step forward and play the mutual confidant, who helps things move along from remote yearning to realised intimacy. With oil prices soaring above $70 a barrel, rapprochement between the US and Iran is no longer just a desirable lowering of tensions in the world. It is what the world needs for fast recovery from the pandemic-induced global slump.
High crude prices can choke off growth directly and indirectly. It can add to the hardening of global commodity prices and give impetus to cost-push inflation. At the same time, fear of inflation can push up yields on bonds, raising the cost of capital just when economic agents need all the support they can get to resume investment and feed growth. Saudi Arabia-led production cuts have kept global crude prices high. Recently, the Saudis declined to give in to New Delhi’s appeal to lift production, advising India to use the reserves it had bought up at low prices. It is in the interest of most oil-producing nations to keep crude prices elevated, as many of them depend on oil revenues. Therefore, unless the shale producers of the US start producing again, prices would stay high. Iran, if freed from sanctions, could swiftly add some 2.5 million barrels a day to global crude supplies. That would cool oil prices.
Iran will elect a new president in June. It does not serve US or global interests for a hardliner to get elected. While there is no dependable way of thwarting that eventuality, it is not difficult to see that prolongation of sanctions would sour the mood in Iran for any moderate. The sooner the US lifts its sanctions against Iran and revives the Iran nuclear deal, the better.
2. Buy out Covaxin’s IPR, for world’s sake
India should walk the talk on the Covid vaccines and intellectual property rights (IPRs), after having raised the demand, along with South Africa, that members of the World Trade Organisation waive all IPR on copyright, industrial design, patents and undisclosed information, in relation to vaccines and medication for Covid-19. Even as rich countries have looked inward, India has supplied Covid vaccines as grant assistance and exports, even as it meets its huge domestic requirements. India exports indigenously developed Covaxin, besides the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by Serum Institute of India.
The government should buy out the IPRs to Covaxin from its developers Bharat Biotech and ICMR, and let Bharat Biotech sell the vaccine at a price minus the component attributable to IPR, as well as license producers anywhere in the world to manufacture the vaccine, subject to quality control. The move should come ahead of this week’s meeting at the WTO on the proposal submitted by India and South Africa and backed by 57 developing countries at the last count. The waiver, to be renewed annually, would last for a specific time period agreed by the General Council, until vaccination is in place globally and the majority of the world’s population is immune. The alternative to an IPR waiver is for countries to issue compulsory licences. It is viable, but is complex and time-consuming. A waiver of IPR would be superior, by far. China is making its vaccines available devoid of IPR. That would have been a truly remarkable display of soft power, if only the vaccines available from China were all effective.
If the world is to truly recover from the pandemic, it cannot do so by leaving the poorer countries behind. IPR-free vaccines would help.
3.Give it a chance: If followed well, parliamentary process can improve quality of legislation
The second half of Parliament’s budget session began yesterday. The priority will be to complete unfinished tasks related to the Budget and to give effect to government proposals. In addition, the government indicated it has an ambitious legislative agenda and plans to introduce bills covering a wide spectrum of subjects. The current session is taking place in the backdrop of farmers persisting with their agitation against the three central farm laws, which were passed amidst controversy last September.
The events leading to the passage of the laws and their fallout highlight the importance of parliamentary debate. Parliament represents diverse interests and ideally legislation that goes through its scrutiny should cover all angles. The process lowers the probability of poorly designed laws and also provides an outlet for counterviews. It’s a safety valve meant to avoid a situation such as the one where the government offered to negotiate clauses of the farm laws and even temporarily suspend its operation during negotiations with representatives of agitating farmers. It’s the duty of elected representatives to scrutinise legislation in detail and seek explanations from the bureaucracy. Parliamentary standing committees carry out this function all the time.
In the current session, government plans to table important economic legislation. Among them is a bill to establish a new development financial institution. Also on the agenda is a bill to regulate cryptoassets and introduce official digital currency. Getting the design right and anticipating consequences are essential if these legislations are to have an impact. These bills deserve an informed debate in Parliament and a thorough scrutiny through a parliamentary committee. Introducing laws in haste can not only undermine good intentions, it can also mask the extent of support they may draw from the silent majority. Only Parliament can offset these risks.
The government needs to take the initiative and reach out to the opposition. Opposition too must recognise the dignity of the institution of Parliament. The country benefits if Parliament functions smoothly and an opportunity is provided for meaningful debate. In this context, the idea of truncating the current session on account of elections to five assemblies makes no sense. The Parliament represents a much wider base than the states and Union territory headed for elections. It should continue to function and people deserve a full session. India’s Parliament can do wonders if parliamentarians give it a chance.
4.Test kings? India’s formidable bench strength is the envy of red-ball cricket teams
India’s recent emphatic Test series win over England has secured them a place in the World Test Championship (WTC) final in England this summer. This was India’s 13th consecutive Test series victory at home, highlighting the team’s dominance in subcontinental conditions. However, the format of WTC is such that no team can go all the way on the strength of home advantage alone. It’s a testimony to how far Indian cricket has evolved that our players are no longer seen as poor travellers or flat track bullies. In fact, since WTC began in 2019 India has played 17 Tests, winning 12, losing four and drawing one. These included two away series wins in the West Indies in August 2019 and more recently in Australia over the winter.
India’s two Test defeats in New Zealand in February 2020 were a blemish. Interestingly, India will be facing the Kiwis once again in the WTC final this June. One thing that has become clear, however, is that the team now has enviable bench strength. We now have players for every occasion and condition.
For example, in the Caribbean it was Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah with the ball and Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari with the bat that led the Indian victories. Then in the home series against South Africa in October 2019 it was Mayank Agarwal, skipper Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma who batted the opposition out of the three matches. And in Australia, despite Kohli’s absence, it was youngsters like Rishabh Pant, Mohammed Siraj, Shubman Gill and Washington Sundar who came good. Therefore, Team India today has a problem of plenty. It’s like a Swiss army knife with multiple options to choose from. With such resources, India could certainly be crowned Test kings this June.
5. Review the architecture of reservations
On Monday, during a hearing on the constitutional validity of the extension of reservations to the Marathas in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court sought a response from states about whether the 50% ceiling on reservations needs a relook. The bar was imposed in 1992, but in recent years, there has been an increasing breach of the ceiling. Be it due to the extension of reservations to economically weaker segments among general categories, or extension of reservations in specific states to dominant communities such as the Marathas, or the extension of reservations to the private sector for locals, the architecture of affirmative action is broken — in terms of both its philosophical underpinning and practical manifestation.
This newspaper believes in the constitutional design of affirmative action for marginalised communities, particularly Dalits and tribals. The principles of equality and justice demand that enabling provisions are made for citizens, especially those who have suffered discrimination and continue to face systemic barriers in education and employment, to create a level-playing field. India’s experiment with reservations shows how this has been a tool of upward mobility; expanded education; generated jobs in communities, which had little exposure to the modern organised economy; created a middle-class among these communities; and offered a life of dignity. This is not to the detriment of merit, as some critics argue, for merit itself is, more often than not, a product of privilege, and a more diverse and inclusive society will be a more meritorious society.