Friday, December 12, 2014

String of Pearls Versus Iron Curtain


Third BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) Summit was held from 1 March to 4 March 2014 in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.
The Third BIMSTEC summit was attended by the heads from six countries and Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Thailand, namely 
Prime Minister of India
Prime Minister of Bangladesh
Prime Minister of Nepal
President of Sri Lanka
Prime Minister of Bhutan
President of Myanmar
During the summit, enhancing regional cooperation in energy sector, the Third BIMSTEC Energy Ministerial Meeting will be held in Nepal in 2014 and also the Fourth BIMSTEC Energy Ministerial Meeting will be held in 2015 in Bhutan.
Highlights of the summit
The members recognised the threat that terrorism poses to peace, stability and economic progress and agreed for closer cooperation in combating all forms of terrorism and transnational crimes.
The members agreed to explore collaborative initiatives amongst the Member States towards addressing the adverse impacts of climate change in the BIMSTEC region.
The members decided to move forward towards finalization of the draft Agreement on Trade in Goods with agreed General Rules of Origin and Product Specific Rules. It was also decided to work in the direction of signing an agreement on dispute settlement procedures and the Agreement on Cooperation and Mutual Assistance in Customs Matters under the Framework Agreement on the BIMSTEC Free Trade Area.
The members agreed to set up the BIMSTEC Network of Policy Think Tanks and agreed to cooperate and coordinate for organizing activities like workshops and seminars, which includes audio-visual programmes to create public awareness on BIMSTEC.
Earlier during the second BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting on Poverty Alleviation summit in Nepal in January 2012 the Poverty Plan of Action was adopted and in this summit the heads agreed to implement the Poverty Plan of Action. Sri Lanka is going to host the Third Ministerial Meeting on Poverty Alleviation during the first half of 2014.
The following three pacts were signed
• Memorandum of Association on the Establishment of the BIMSTEC Permanent Secretariat.
• Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Commission (BCIC) and BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Observatory (BCIO).
• Memorandum of Association among BIMSTEC Member Countries Concerning Establishment of a BIMSTEC Centre for Weather and Climate.

Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) was established in 1997 in Bangkok. It was a new sub regional grouping, named BISTEC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation).Myanmar (1997) and Sri lanka (1998) joined the group who were observers earlier and they joined the group later.
The First BIMSTEC Summit was held in 2004 in Bangkok and the Second Summit was held in 2008 in New Delhi.
The main purposes of BIMSTEC are to create
•    An enabling environment for rapid economic development
•    Accelerate social progress in the sub-region
•    Cooperate in projects that can be dealt with most productively on a sub-regional basis and which make best use of available synergies.

Universal rights and universal violations / K.G. Balakrishnan

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which stands as a beacon for the international community on the standards it should set for the defence and promotion of human rights. The Declaration was drafted over a period of two years on the initiative of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, through members from various nationalities and political backgrounds, including the noted Indian freedom fighter, educator and reformist, Dr. Hansa Jivraj Mehta.
It was in keeping with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Paris Principles that countries across the world, including India, established their respective National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). In India, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was established by The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.
Widespread violations
However, despite this wide array of human rights institutions, there continue to occur throughout the world widespread violations of human rights. There is therefore some sting, but more than a grain of truth in the cynic’s lament that “the only thing universal about human rights is their universal violation.”
As we mark the 66th anniversary of the adoption of UDHR this year, disclosures of mass human rights violations have called into question the commitment of governments in guaranteeing the protection of fundamental rights and highlighted the need for greater accountability.
This year, globally, we have witnessed continuing human rights violations such as executions, amputations, and lashings by terrorist groups, assassination of captured belligerents by governments, mistreatment, violations, and crimes committed during conflicts, among other egregious rights abuses.
Still, a prominent number of countries paid mere lip service to democracy while mocking the rights central to democratic rule. This calls for deep introspection regarding the mounting challenges that confront individuals.
Needless to state, governments which defend human rights are steadier, more committed, and able to contribute to and reinforce international peace and harmony while countries which are unsuccessful in upholding and promoting human rights will eventually face economic deficiency and international seclusion.
The true test of “good governance” is the degree to which it delivers on the promise of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. Thus, the key benchmark for judging effective governance is whether or not public institutions are effectively guaranteeing rights such as right to health, housing, food, education, and justice, besides ensuring effective safety in the country.
Human rights problems in India
In India, the bulk of human rights problems that come forth for the consideration and intervention of the NHRC relate to atrocities by the police and security forces, including extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and corruption at all levels of government.
The world’s largest democracy is also dogged by separatist violence, life-threatening prison and police custody conditions, sex trafficking, environmental destruction and a general environment of impunity. Hundreds of millions of people live in poverty, and women, children (especially the girl child), religious minorities, Dalits, Adivasis, and members of the LGBT community face discrimination and violence. Persons with disabilities often have no recourse to decent employment and/or adequate treatment.
One can hardly deny the fact that a large number of abuses of human rights occur as a consequence of a mindset of ‘superiority’ and ‘privilege.’ This is often a consequence of upbringing, as individuals are conditioned to compare themselves to people of different identities and made to believe that they are ‘different’ and ‘superior.’
In addition, issues of sustainable livelihood as well as social and political participation of vulnerable groups exist as a major problem. Administrative authorities have failed to guarantee rights to the common people. People belonging to vulnerable groups are particularly unable to have equal access to their rights.
NHRIs across the world have been set up to constantly review and uphold the available safeguards for human rights protection. They do so through the range of powers accorded to them including monitoring human rights violations, advising their governments on pertinent human rights concerns, establishing and maintaining relations with other regional and international organisations, promoting human rights education, while exercising their quasi-judicial powers. In order to exercise these powers, NHRIs have been provided a clearly defined and broad-based mandate, encompassing all human rights — civil, political, social, cultural, and economic. Thus, they are uniquely placed to complement efforts of governments in upholding respect for human rights.
The NHRC is responsible for these activities in India. It has the powers of a civil court while looking into cases of human rights violations. After completion of its enquiry in a case, the Commission recommends to the concerned authority to initiate proceedings against those responsible for human rights violations. While in almost all cases decided so far by the Commission, concerned government authorities have complied with its decisions, the largely non-binding nature of the Commission's recommendations sometimes evokes the sentiment that perhaps such bodies are ineffectual. This state of mind needs to be changed.
There needs to be a concerted move towards consolidating the rights which have been won through painstaking efforts over the last few centuries. There is a need for individuals, communities and even governments to stand up against human rights abuses.
For this, the nature and quality of national-level legislations, policies and enforcement mechanisms will be crucial factors in times to come. The responsibility of the State to ensure universal access to human rights, guarantee a life of dignity, and equal access to various public goods and services are further underscored by international human rights conventions, to many of which India is a signatory.
Our efforts for the development of our country will have to be premised on the objective of securing human dignity and guaranteeing fundamental human rights to all. No police station, commission, or court can monitor every nook and corner of the country to prevent human rights abuses. It is ultimately up to the citizens of this country to treat each other as equals. Each one of us needs to inculcate a human rights culture in his/her neighbourhood. We also need to remember our duties as enshrined in Article 51A of the Constitution. To this end, let us draw inspiration from the UDHR and renew our commitment to actualising its venerated vision for all humanity.

(K.G. Balakrishnan is Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission and former Chief Justice of India.)


A fertile mess / Ashok Gulati

The fertiliser subsidy is budgeted at Rs 72,970 crore for 2014-15. There are also pending bills of Rs 30,000-35,000 crore that need to be cleared on account of this subsidy. Together, it amounts to more than Rs 1 lakh crore, more than 10 per cent of the Central government’s tax revenue and a substantial pressure on the fisc.
Almost two-thirds of this subsidy comes from the unduly low price of urea, which is priced at Rs 5,360 per metric tonne (about $86 per MT at an exchange rate of Rs 62 to the dollar). Globally, prices hover around $300 per MT, although country-specific prices vary widely. In China, for example, the price is $265 per MT, in Pakistan $362 per MT, in Bangladesh $207 per MT, in Indonesia $148 per MT, and in the Philippines $462 per MT. The Indian urea price is perhaps the lowest among large economies. This has led to the misuse of urea, which is being diverted to non-agri uses and smuggled to neighbouring countries. There are no firm estimates of this, but insider guesstimates vary between 10-20 per cent of the urea distributed in the country.
With the implementation of the nutrient-based scheme (NBS), the prices of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and muriate of potash (MoP ) have gone up to almost four times the price of urea. As a result, farmers are overusing urea.
Against the generally desirable N:P:K (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) use ratio of 4:2:1, in Punjab and Haryana, the ratio was 62:19:1 in 2012-13. This reduces the grain to fertiliser response ratio, leading to much lower returns from fertiliser applications.
The rising subsidies and delays in the payment of these subsidies to specific plants have created an environment of uncertainty in the fertiliser industry. As a result, domestic investment in the fertiliser industry has lagged and imports have surged. For example, between 2000 and 2012, while Indian domestic production of nitrogenous fertilisers increased marginally from 10.9 million metric tonnes (in nutrients) to 12.2 MMT, China moved from 22 MMT to 50 MMT (see graph).
India has landed its fertiliser sector in a mess: rising subsidies and imports, lagging investment, highly imbalanced use of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and diversion of urea to other countries and non-agricultural uses. This is largely a result of administered pricing and subsidy policies.
How can the Indian fertiliser sector  be brought on track? Raising urea prices by, say, 200 per cent seems an obvious choice. But if it was so simple it could have been done long ago. Several committees have recommended a price increase but this has not been accepted by successive governments. Politically, it does not seem feasible  that urea prices could be raised by 200 per cent in a single shot or even over a three- to five-year period unless accompanied by a substantial increase in the MSPs of basic staples like wheat and rice. Take the case of Pakistan and China. While their urea prices are way higher than India’s, they also offer much higher MSPs for crops. In Pakistan, the MSP for wheat is $320 per MT and in China, it is $385 per MT ,against India’s $226 per MT. The fertiliser cost in Punjab accounts for about 7 per cent of the MSP of wheat. If one adjusts for this, the Indian farmer is at a much disadvantaged situation.
If the price of urea is raised by more than 200 per cent, taking it from $86 per MT to, say, $265 per MT — which is the price Chinese farmers are paying — but the MSP of wheat is also raised from $226 per MT to $385 per MT (what the Chinese farmer gets), or to $320 per MT, which his Pakistani counterpart gets, the Indian farmer would be more than happy. So, there is a way to make the price increase politically palatable. But given the National Food Security Act, 2013, which promises wheat and rice at Rs 2 to 3 per kilogramme, this MSP rise will lead to an explosive growth in food subsidy and a further distortion in cropping patterns, skewed in favour of wheat and rice. India may end up worse off.
Another option is to simply transfer the cash equivalent of the current fertiliser subsidy to farmers. This works out to roughly Rs 5,000 per hectare (Rs 1 lakh crore subsidy divided by gross cropped area of about 20 crore ha). Farmers below the 4 ha holding size can be given cash at this rate and those above that holding size at Rs 4,000 per ha. Then the entire fertiliser sector can be deregulated, with imports flowing freely at zero import duty. Direct cash transfers can be conducted via Jan Dhan Yojana bank accounts and linked to the UID and Aadhaar. Politically, this is feasible and will lead to savings of at least Rs 10,000 crore in the fertiliser subsidy by simply stopping the diversion of urea to other uses and smuggling to other countries. It will also signal to farmers that they use nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in a balanced manner, raising the productivity of fertiliser use. The only condition imposed on beneficiary farmers should be that they get their soil tested every three years.
What would happen to our fertiliser industry under this brave new world of total decontrol? The probability is high that it would expand and prosper, provided urea plants are given gas at a uniform price (maybe a pooled price of import parity and domestically produced). It will incentivise them to be more energy efficient, get the best technologies and compete with those in China or elsewhere. There could be mergers and acquisitions within the urea industry, but overall, the industry will be liberated and unshackled from myriad controls. Industry captains today feel they are ready to walk this path to freedom. Is the government also ready?

The writer is the Infosys chair professor at Icrier

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