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Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha wants unified stance in courts between ministries

NEW DELHI: In a fresh missive to all government departments, the Cabinet Secretary has issued an advisory that divergent positions should not be taken in court cases and differences between ministries on a particular issue should be resolved through mutual consultation. In a strongly worded note sent to all ministries on June 16, Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha observed that "at times different departments take divergent positions or individual interpretations in court cases", causing "avoidable confusion in the submissions finally deliberated upon before the courts". Sinha said it was the responsibility of the administrative ministry or department to take action at each stage, "including filing of a counter affidavit", after consultations with all concerned departments. "I would request you to ensure that differences, if any, in the stand of ministries or departments in any particular court matter are resolved through mutual consultation. It may also be ensured that the counter affidavits are filed only after appropriate vetting by the Department of Legal Affairs," the note says. The government advisory may be an attempt to generate a via media between ministries, present it to court and have some say in any eventual decision, instead of letting the court have the overriding say in crucial matters of the economy and policy. This is also a part of the government's overall attempt to cut down litigation and delays in deciding such cases in a bid to rev up the economy by freeing up muchdelayed projects from litigation.


Babus without rightsInformalisation of the workforce now extends to the government sector.

Written by Babu P. Remesh 

A study conducted by the Indian Staffing Federation reports that about 12.3 million (43 per cent of the workforce) workers in the government sector are in temporary employment.

The recent suicide of Hridesh Kumar Sharma, an employee of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) who was in financial distress allegedly because of irregular and delayed payment of salaries in his organisation, points to the deteriorating work conditions in the government sector. From its erstwhile status as provider of stable and secured employment, government institutions and public sector firms have slipped to a situation where the terms of work are increasingly dismal and comparable to those prevailing in the “informal sector”.

Gone are the days when all permanent employees were entitled to pension benefits. Salaries are delayed due to the funds crunch in the public exchequer or due to untimely allocation of money to state/local governments. The condition of the thousands of “temporary employees” working in various government departments and in quasi-government institutions and PSUs is even worse.

A study conducted by the Indian Staffing Federation reports that about 12.3 million (43 per cent of the workforce) workers in the government sector are in temporary employment. While 10.5 million among them are in casual employment (without any formal job contract), about 1.4 million are with written, short-term contracts.

Vacancies arising on retirement/superannuation (especially in the lower rungs of the organisation) are either frozen or perennially kept unfilled. Permanent staff are hired only for executive, managerial and professional positions. The logic of downsizing (or right-sizing!) the workforce runs deep in the government.

Many of the temporary employees in the government sector work in short-term or project-based positions, where they are given a short-term contract with consolidated paypacks. They are not entitled to social security benefits, leave and perks available to the permanent employees. In some cases, organisations extend the benefits of EPF and ESIC, especially when the tenure is relatively longer or if there is a likelihood of frequent renewal/extension of the contract. But, if the appointment is for a short duration, these benefits are not provided.

Of late, there has also been largescale outsourcing of government-sector work, either through transferring of non-core works to service providing agencies or by adapting flexi-staffing arrangements. In the case of flexi-staffing arrangement, the identified agency provides the required number of employees to the client organisation as leased employees or contract workers. Providing Annual Maintenance Contracts (AMC) to private agencies is another trend by which private employment is facilitated in the government. Many of the “temporary staff” work on a “permanent basis” but without any commensurate benefits and long-term commitment from the employer.

In this environment of government sector employment, intermediaries play a major role between the principal employer and the worker. In the absence of strict regulatory mechanisms, these workers are subjected to myriad forms of exploitation that include exorbitant charges for registration and periodic renewal, non-issuance of appointment orders, irregularity and delays in payment, payment of lower wages by way of imposing undue deductions, demanding work for long hours and denial of minimum wages. In most such cases, though the principal employer (government organisation) pays all the admissible payments and benefits to the temporary staff, the intermediaries pocket it as there is no efficient system in place to check malpractices. It is now common to see security guards working for 12 hours, menial staffs being paid below minimum wages, and salaries being delayed for several months.

Many Centre-sponsored development programmes (NACO, ICDS, NRHM, MGNREGA, UIDAI) are implemented by contract employees. For instance, over a lakh temporary workers are engaged with the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO). Some of these workers are inducted on a project mode, and their tenure renewed time and again. Many others are engaged as “voluntary workers”, who receive an honorarium, which often is less than the statutory minimum wage. Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme has a 2.5-million dedicated workforce. Aanganwadi workers and helpers are paid a monthly salary of Rs 3,000 and Rs 1,500 respectively. The Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) under the NRHM receive monthly honorarium in the range of Rs 1,500-3,000, even after adding supplementary sums from the state governments. These employees are denied the status of workers and their contributions viewed as “voluntary, social service”!

These changes have brought in a clear-cut “dualism” in the government sector’s workforce, where, along with a gradually dwindling “protected permanent employees”, a segment of footloose labour, characterised by dismal working conditions and employment benefits, is growing. Unless measures are brought in to arrest the trend of temporalisation of employment and regulate service providers/placement and flexi-staffing agencies, the government sector could soon start to resemble private informal workplaces, in terms of intensive employment insecurity and inferior work conditions.

The writer is director, School of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Studies, IGNOU, New Delhi


On 7th Pay Commission implementation, private investment, Air India and more, here’s what govt is mulling over

Besides the government staff, economic analysts are keenly awaiting when and how the Centre will implement 7th Pay Commission award, which has implications for government finances (with estimated outgo of R74,000 crore in FY17) as well as on inflation.

By: Prasanta Sahu 

The questions about GDP data refuse to wither away. Manufacturing GDP growth and the IIP data aren’t quite compatible, even if one considers the fact that apart from output, value addition is now being captured more efficiently.

Besides the government staff, economic analysts are keenly awaiting when and how the Centre will implement 7th Pay Commission award, which has implications for government finances (with estimated outgo of R74,000 crore in FY17) as well as on inflation. Also, with private investments yet to show decisive signs of picking up, the government has the difficult task of keeping the tempo in public spending, especially capital investments, at a time it is losing the benefits of low crude oil prices. Finance secretary Ashok Lavasa speaks on these issues in an interview to Prasanta Sahu. Excerpts:

Private consumption has been the growth driver. Despite the efforts by the government, private investors are yet to shed their diffidence. Among infrastructure sector, highways and railways have seen a turnaround but almost mainly because of government investment. How far is this model sustainable given the Centre’s (limited) fiscal capacity?

Many infrastructure projects, in which private sector has been involved, have started moving. In highway sector, for example, the hybrid annuity model has started attracting investors. As we go forward, we feel that the initiatives that have been taken by the government — to improve the ease of doing business and integrate various clearances — would give a push to private-sector investments. In infrastructure sectors, where the government plays a key role in awarding contracts, etc, we are seeing positive results too. If all the factors are favourable, the GDP growth could be close to 8% this year.

The questions about GDP data refuse to wither away. Manufacturing GDP growth and the IIP data aren’t quite compatible, even if one considers the fact that apart from output, value addition is now being captured more efficiently.

How important are lower interest rates in reviving demand?

I think it’s a question of giving a boost to demand. Sometimes people may have more expectation than what RBI could do (in terms of lowering rates). The RBI has had to consider various factors and take a considered view. It is not possible to please everyone all times. It is fair to expect that whatever lowering (of rates) has been done by RBI, finds an expression in the retail lending rates. I think the governor is right (in saying full transmission has not happened of its (cumulative 150 bps) rate cut since January 2015.

What will be the guiding framework of the “prospective planning” that will replace five-year Plan?

We could divide it into three parts: the period till which one can have some predictability on availability of resources, that will be, say, a three-year action plan. Beyond this, there will be medium-term (seven-year) Plan. Besides, there can be a prospective plan for the period till 2030. In the prospective plan, what you already have is sustainable development goals, which are part of the international commitments. Niti Aayog will look at integration of issues and prospective planning while department of expenditure will make the fund allocations for various programmes.

Will substantial additional provision be needed to meet the pay panel-related outgo in FY17?

It will be too early and premature to say whether budgetary provision is adequate or not. No one knows to what extent the government will accept the Pay Commission’s report. But, there is a provision in the Budget to take care of the impact of the pay commission award. (According to sources, FY17 Budget has provision of about R54,000 crore for honouring the pay panel’s award, but Lavasa refused to comment on this ).

Will Niti Aayog’s reported suggestions on strategic disinvestments in a clutch of PSUs, including Air India, be taken forward this year?

We haven’t so far received the recommendations you are referring to. We have to explore all forms of divestment and strategic sale is of course one of them. The Department of Investment and Public Asset Management will be looking at all possibilities and deciding on which unit to be put on privatisation or disinvestment or strategic sale mode.

Is there any move to monetise surplus land with defence, railways and ports bodies?

This is not to be done as a central government policy. The railways has been trying to monetise land. Certainly, this is one source of revenue, but it may not be a very significant source. Whenever an entity decides to take up any piece of land for monetisation, it has to consider all the legal issues, physical condition, its own plans of utilising and ultimately, if there is a market for that (in case of sale/leasing out).



Government to replace pen and paper with tablets for data collection

NEW DELHI: Pentium is mightier than pen at last the government's army of data collectors have admitted to this. July will see the first data collection exercise ever that will substitute penandpaper with computing technology (tablets in this case), and this is a first step in what will be a quick digitisation of this vast government programme. July's first quarterly Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) will be conducted by researchers using tablets, and guided by what's known as computerassisted personal interviewing (CAPI) technique. The statistics ministry has asked for around 700 tablets, at a per unit cost of Rs 20,000. Surveyors of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) will track and upload employment data, making huge time savings. "We have moved a proposal to the finance ministry to get 700 of these devices for PLFS, which is in advanced stages of being implemented. We used to collect data on paper which was then sent to data processing centres and then uploaded, leading to delays. In a way, we are setting a precedent," said an official from the ministry of statistics and programme implementation. This officer and others who spoke to ET did not wish to be identified. Use of technology can speed up data dissemination, they said. For example, the government's employment data is available only once every five years from National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO). Plus, its scope is limited to the coverage area of the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI). ASI looks at registered factories only. The labour ministry's quicker quarterly surveys, started since the global economic crisis of 2008, are also not broad enough in scope. The US produces monthly employment data, and India needs to get there, officials said. Technology is critical in achieving that. Use of technology so far has been limited to back office. The statistics ministry runs portals that can process data. And postal department employees collect consumer price inflation data in rural areas and feed it into computers in back offices. But the interface of the surveyor and the surveyed has so far been penandpaper.



Cabinet okays telecom spectrum mega auction


Mobile users can hope to get better quality of services and access to high-speed data, with the Cabinet approving the biggest-ever spectrum auction. While the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been asked to review the spectrum usage charges (SUC), the Cabinet gave its nod for crucial aspects, including the pricing and timing of the sale.

The auction is expected to generate over Rs. 5.3 lakh crore for the Centre and, at the same time, allow operators to accumulate more spectrum, a critical ingredient to their plans to offer bandwidth-guzzling services, such as video-on-demand and live television.

This auction will also determine the future market leaders in 3G and 4G services as Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular fight it out with Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio.

The auction is expected to start in September though the spectrum charges issue still remains unresolved. With TRAI and the Department of Telecom (DoT) differing on the issue, the Cabinet has asked the regulator to take a fresh look at it. There was a controversy around the SUC because on the one hand Reliance Jio was paying SUC at 1 per cent, while others — including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular — were paying more than 4 per cent.

Briefing the media after the Cabinet meeting, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said after consultations, and considering the opinion of the Attorney-General, it was decided that all documents be sent to TRAI again.

“The finalisation of spectrum auction, which was pending, has been approved. The main issue of pricing of SUC has been also discussed,” said Jaitley.

According to government sources, TRAI is likely to give its recommendation in a month’s time to ensure the auction takes place at the earliest. Even if there is a delay, it may not delay the auction because in 2014 auctions were held before the Centre could finalise the usage charges.

This time there will be a total of 2,142 MHz put up for auction in the major bands including 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz, 2300MHz and 2500MHz.

While the reserve price of the 700 MHz band –– the most expensive –– has been fixed at Rs. 11,500 crore per MHz, TRAI has recommended the reserve price of 1800MHz at Rs. 2,873 crore.

For spectrum in the 900 MHz band, 800 MHz band, 2100 MHz band and 2300 MHz band, the reserve price was fixed at Rs. 3,341 crore, Rs. 5,819 crore, Rs. 3,746 crore and Rs. 817 crore, respectively.

The Cabinet has also decided to revise the lock-in period on sale of equity by telecom players to one year instead of three earlier.

“This will improve ease of doing business and also encourage fair competition among the telcos and new comers,” a government official said.

Lock-in period

The lock-in period of three years was introduced to prevent fly-by-night operators from making windfall gains by selling their equity soon after acquiring spectrum. However, this was relevant when the Centre was allocating spectrum cheaply on a first-come, first-served basis.

The rules have now been relaxed because the lock-in may not be relevant when 100 per cent FDI is allowed in the telecom sector and anyone can participate in auctions.

The Telecom Commission (TC) had proposed that companies winning spectrum in higher frequency bands — above 1GHz like 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz — should make 50 per cent upfront payment and the rest in 10 years after a two-year moratorium. Earlier, companies were given the option to make 33 per cent upfront payment.

For spectrum below 1GHz band, such as 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, companies will be required to pay 25 per cent and the rest in 10 years after a two-year moratorium. There has been no change.


TRAI and DoT are not on the same page on spectrum user charge

RJio is paying only 1% as spectrum user charge while other including Airtel are paying 4%

The lock-in period of equity of telecom players has been cut to 1 year from 3 years

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 23, 2016)



Pitched against odds - Dividends from demographics

CommentaraoS.L. Rao

Contributing to the GDP

The data from the market information survey of households by the National Council of Applied Economic Research was based on very large sample surveys over all of India. It has been carried out every year since 1985, except for one gap in between. It brought out revealing trends. There was a distinct fall in the proportion of the very poor and destitute in the population, a sharp rise in the well-off and, most interestingly, a rapid growth of what one could call the middle class and I call the consuming classes. They are the principal buyers of manufactured consumer goods. The trend was not only seen in urban areas but also in the rural, although the rural proportions were much smaller. Consumption of manufactured goods was not confined to the well-off and urban households. But it was apparent that there were Two Consuming Indias. Other agencies (like People Research on India's Consumer Economy with its national ICE surveys) conducted comprehensive national surveys. Perceptive analysts found information nuggets of value. Manufacturers and marketers, foreign and Indian, poured into Indian markets, in urban and rural India to sell to this vast and growing class of consumers. They entered rural markets which had till then seen only a few multinational organizations and many small local manufacturers (for example, of bidis).

The size of the consuming classes has grown (around 300 million in 1991). The number of destitute and poor have declined in proportion but are around 300 million. They are very poor, with little or no literacy or education, poor access to health services, living in squalid housing, burning fuels in closed kitchens with tragic effects on women's health, without toilets (leading to a high incidence of gynaecological disorders). On every parameter of income, consumption and well-being, women are not at par with men.

The prime minister rightly lauds India's democracy, development and demographics. This year we claim to be the fastest growing economy in the world. Our large population, particularly with its preponderance of youth, will make the economy more dominant in coming years. Demography can give dividends in growth and prosperity to India for decades.

But there is a Second India in poor shape. They rarely, if at all, buy manufactured consumer goods, suffer high infant mortality, and do not look to a better future. Their livelihoods are in agriculture and in unskilled labour. They need more stable avenues for employment. Alternative occupations would be in manufacturing, requiring large-scale migration to urban areas.

The latest census data show that nearly 41 per cent of India's population is below the age of 20 and half is in the 20-59 age group. This proportion will decline after 30 years or so, with widespread prosperity, related to declining fertility, late marriages and smaller families. For that, livelihoods must be stable and well-paying. A youthful population, as it seeks livelihoods, will add to the growth of the gross domestic product. This is the demographic dividend. It will become a demographic nightmare to the polity without stable employment and secure livelihoods.

Low-productivity in agriculture on fragmented holdings, with excessive numbers depending on each, produces poverty. Indian literacy is 74 per cent; female literacy is 65 per cent. It is even lower among rural people, Muslims, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes - the marginalized sections of our population. Literacy numbers are misleading because of the overall poor quality of schooling and education for the majority.

Economic growth in India has been practically a jobless growth since the late 1990s. Most of the around 12 million job seekers every year are new seekers. They find jobs that are primarily casual, unskilled and manual (for example, construction). The self-employed are probably largely disguised unemployed. This becomes clearer when we look at sector-wise employment and income patterns. In 2011-12, agriculture, forestry and fishing contributed 18 per cent to overall GDP but employed 49 per cent of the workforce. The secondary sector - manufacturing, mining, electricity and construction - had a share of 27 per cent in GDP and 24 per cent in employment. Services, the engine of India's GDP growth in recent years, accounted for 55 per cent of the total national output but employed a meagre 27 per cent of the workforce. Much of the 'employment' in agriculture and in small self-owned shops is a fallback in a distress situation in which jobs are not available. In the absence of adequate and comprehensive social security, the poor cannot afford to be unemployed. It is the marginalized who suffer.

Distress is greater among Muslims, SCs and STs than among others. For example, poverty among Muslims in urban areas was twice the national average in 2011-12 and four times more than among upper caste Hindus (Kundu committee). In 2011-12, unemployment among educated urban Muslim youth was 18 per cent. In lower educational categories, the unemployment rate was highest among Muslims, followed by Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

India has a large and young population. This results in a growing consuming class that makes it a magnet for manufacturers and marketers. But most employment and employment growth are in unskilled and casual labour. Women must also be helped to improve their capability so that they receive opportunities. For all, dependence on small land holdings of relatively low productivity must lessen dramatically by migration. Access to affordable education and health services for these marginalized sections is poor.

For livelihoods to improve, the population depending on agriculture must drop sharply. Alternative livelihoods must develop in industry, large, medium and small scale manufacturing. The government's controls on land acquisition, labour laws, plethora of rules, licences and approvals must be reduced if manufacturing and employment in manufacturing are to increase. At present, large-scale manufacturing sees little investment growth. Until government restraints go it will be medium, small and cottage manufacturing that will add faster to GDP and employment.

Manufacturing growth requires development of urban conglomerations. For the poor migrants from rural India, housing in urban areas is presently squalid and expensive. Water and electricity are not easily available. Life must be made better for them in urban areas. Education and health services should be easily available and they should be affordable and of good quality. Services will remain an important source of employment but cannot absorb the many who need improved livelihoods.

For manufacturing to develop much faster than hitherto, government approvals must be simple, easy and fast. There must be easy access to technological improvements in all sectors, availability of investment, materials for inputs, and marketing muscle. This is so for all sizes of industry.

For example, handicrafts could be a good source of additional employment but need attention so that technology is improved to reduce drudgery, incentives given so that the young remain in that sector, easy access to capital and good raw materials is achieved, and cooperative marketing introduced to enable large-scale marketing.

Good quality literacy, training in skills and learning to use information technology are important but not the whole answer. Schools must improve, be cheap or free, and there must be more of them. Skills training is only one part of this package of requirements. Most important, there must be a conscious effort to have marginalized sections as the target of these measures.

Getting a dividend out of our demographics calls for many urgent coordinated actions as described. Mere skills training will only create a new class of trained unemployed.

The author is former director-general, National Council of Applied Economic Research



Indian colleges can get foreign tie-ups but must send students abroad

Indian universities and colleges will be allowed to collaborate with foreign institutions but they must let students study abroad for at least one semester of their postgraduate course and two semesters for an undergraduate degree.

These are part of changed guidelines of the University Grants Commission (UGC), which are viewed as the government’s push to broaden the scope and quality of education in the country as well as encourage healthy competition.

Union human resource development minister Smriti Irani announced on Wednesday the changes made by the country’s higher education regulator.

“This step has been taken … to increase synergy between Indian and foreign academic institutions to offer students additional choices, improve curriculum and the delivery of knowledge and educational content,” she said.

The degree from such a twinning arrangement will be issued by the Indian institution but the certificate will mention the name of the foreign institute, Irani said. A joint degree is still not permitted in India.

Previous rules barred Indian institutions from directly applying for a tie-up with a foreign university. But foreign institutes from abroad could seek permission from the UGC for academic collaborations.

The rule fell flat as no foreign institute ever approached the UGC for such tie-ups. Also, there was no provision for students to study abroad for a few semesters.

The amended rules will allow Indian institutions to apply online on the UGC website for collaborations with foreign universities to offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses. The regulations don’t cover technical institutions, though.

The students will have to bear the expenses for their semesters abroad, which again could be much cheaper than doing the entire course in a foreign country. Students from foreign institutions can also come to Indian campuses.

A one-year window has been given to institutes that already have global partnerships to get their pacts approved by the UGC, the minister said. A committee of experts will examine the proposals.

Irani cautioned institutes fraudulently advertising collaborations with foreign institutions. “It has been decided that the UGC will approach state governments for action in such cases,” she said.

The changed norms could weed out the growing number of institutes offering bogus foreign degrees and certificates to hundreds of unsuspecting students each year



Should teachers come to school in jeans? The short answer is: “No.”

Yet earlier this month, the Haryana government withdrew a perfectly legitimate order directing teachers not to wear jeans at work. Political correctness and media ridicule forced the administration to take back its notification. That was a big mistake. Instead of uplifting teaching as a profession, this further confirmed it slowly status; in fact, put a lid on it.

Even in the US, the Mecca of jeans, schools are not always happy when teachers walk in as if on a holiday, or a hike. There are several school boards, such as in New Jersey, Santa Ana, and Colorado, which have prohibited teachers from wearing jeans to class. There is good reasoning behind it; as most professionals go to office in formal work clothes, teachers should too. Otherwise it would be ridiculous.

Red and romantic radicals should also note that in all portraits/ busts of Vladimir Lenin, he is never shown without a suit and tie. Mao Zedong was inseparable from his trademark jacket and Fidel Castro wore his formal army gear to office. Exceptions, such as the casually attired Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs can hardly bean excuse. They are elevated showmen, who must flash-dance to project their wares.

On the other hand, checkout photos of Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, whose science made Apple, Google, and others, rich. You will nearly always find him formally attired with a necktie. Rare also would be a photograph of an open collared Albert Einstein or Bert rand Russell. This is actually quite the rule; most Nobel laureates, including our Amartya Sen, are always properly dressed in public. It’s time then to bury the myth that an untidy look hides a brilliant mind.

When it’s all right for school teachers to be dishevelled in class, the message on the black board is clear. They don’t care and nobody cares for them. They can scream out their demands, but they are not going to happen. To correct this drag, the Third Republic in France, as early as in the 1880s, made sure that all teachers wore dark suits to work. They were respect fully called “les hussardsnoirs”, or“soldiers in black”, not guerrillas in jeans.

For the Third Republic leaders the logic was simple: If teachers looked respect able they would be respected. After all, these“soldiers in black ”, in their dark suits, had an enormous task at hand. Their goal was to ensure that French children were as well, if not better, educated than Prussian kids next door. Ernest Lavisse, scholar-administrator of the Third Republic, believed that Prussia was militarily stronger than France because of their superior school education.

On account of the prestige that “soldiers in black” received, French schools began to attract some of the best minds. It was not uncommon for bright, ambitious intellectuals to seek a job in a school, or lycee, after earning their doctorates. Names reel out: E mile Durkheim, Jean Jaures, Merleu-Ponty, Sartre, Claude Levi Strauss; they were all school teachers before they became world scholars.

It is this background that explains why professor sin College de France are certified French celebrities. Their inaugural lectures are pencil led on many a Parisian’ s calendar as a major “must-be-seen-there” event. On a more mundane level, French teachers, of all descriptions, are allowed gratis entry to museums. Why, some even get coupons that serve them free coffee and meals in select restaurants.

Indian school teachers will never get there because they are not expected to. In fact, their clothes give the impression that they are forever in and out of pajama parties. It is not as if western clothes are the only formal option; a clean dhoti, a starched sari can equally evoke popular respect. This is because careful attention to office apparel, Indian or western, displays a certain rig our of mind and dedication to duty.

Therefore, what one dons to work should never be too comfortable. It is interesting that formal clothes in western societies are bodily restrictive, though not quite thrombotic. But they pin chin all the wrong places, particularly when the wearer’ s posture slackens. It is as if these out fits are designed to force the person to stay awake and remain attentive.

In fact, after the Meiji Restoration, the emperor of Japan ordered that only western suits be allowed at work. But a carefully worn dhoti or sari, or the so-elegant sherwani, can be quite uncomfortable too, that is, if you want to keep them looking neat. However, for that to happen, the person must know the why and the when of formal clothing.

In Japan again, school teachers enjoy higher status than white collar employees in swishy private firms, and you will not find them wearing jeans. There are schools in that even insist on suits. Quite in keeping, Japanese teachers rank in prestige just after high court judges and corporate presidents and earn a starting salary higher than engineers.

In India, a government school teacher gets around ₹20,000 a month and most of those in private schools are paid even less. As their social status matches their salaries and the clothes they wear, they are often the butt of ridicule. This also explains the popular joke where a lazy child is admonished with the question: “Do you want to be a teacher when you grow up?”

Perhaps the question needs to be re framed :“Do you want to wear jeans to work when you grow up?”

Dipankar Gupta is an eminent sociologist and taught at JNU for nearly three decades. The views expressed are personal.


DU refuses to part with info on PM Narendra Modi's degree

NEW DELHI: Delhi University (DU) has once again refused to part with information related to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's degree. The response to an RTI query filed by lawyer Mohammed Irsad drew a sharp reaction from Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which said that the mystery around the Prime Minister's educational qualifications has only deepened. "DU, as a matter of policy, seeks to maintain the privacy of every student as it holds the data pertaining to a student in a fiduciary relationship with the student concerned," read the RTI response from the university. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who had earlier asked for details of the PM's degree to be made public, tweeted: "This deepens the mystery around PM's degree. If DU feels it is private info, then under RTI Act, DU should write to PM and seek his permission." In April, Kejriwal has requested the Central Information Commission (CIC) to make details of Modi's educational qualifications public, following which the CIC had given directions to DU to provide the necessary details. However, DU has steadfastly refused to share the information, leading AAP to allege that the Prime Minister's degree is fake. In the midst of the controversy, BJP president Amit Shah and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley held a press conference where they displayed the PM Modi's degrees, asking Kejriwal to apologise to Modi. On Sunday, AAP Delhi convenor Dilip Pandey said that since Shah and Jaitley had already made the degrees public, the information was no longer private. "If DU is claiming that the information is private, were degrees the degrees shown by Shah and Jaitley fake? If DU feels this is personal information, it should ask the PM for permission to make them public. Shah himself said that those interested in the information should approach the university but DU is refusing to part with information," he said. "A college takes pride in its students if they are achievers and well known, like actor Shah Rukh Khan's college. It should be a matter of pride for a college if the PM studied there, not a matter of secrecy. This only adds weight to our theory that the degrees are fake," Pandey added. Stay on top of busi


'Education system should be Indianised'

The education system in India is still "a continuation of Lord Macaulay's legacy" and it should be "Indianised", Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said on Monday.

"We need to Indianise the modern education being imparted to our students. We need to take ahead what we have inherited from our ancestors," he said at an event to dedicate the new building of Saraswati Sishumandir at Bhilai in Durg district of Chhattisgarh.

"There is a need to change Lord Macaulay's education system which is continuing....It is the need of the hour to make the students aware of Indian culture and values," the Union Urban Development Minister said.

"Bhartiyata is a way of life and the students should be told about Indian history and great Indian personalities," Venkaiah said.

He attended various programmes in the district as a part of the month-long 'Vikas Parv' to inform people about achievements of the Narendra Modi government in the last two years and also addressed a public meeting at Surana College ground in the city.

"Students from the tribal region of Bastar who were studying in the state-run Prayas Vidyalaya have cracked the IIT (mains) exam and I congratulate Chief Minister Raman Singh for this," the Union Minister said.

Stating that Naxalism is a hindrance to development and violence can't change people's lives, he lauded the Raman Singh government's efforts for development in Bastar region.

The NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is corruption-free and has ushered in significant growth in the last two years, he said.

India's global prestige had touched new heights and countries from across the globe are coming forward to develop trade and other relations with us, Venkaiah claimed.


UGC relents on practical hours

New Delhi, June 15: The UGC today decided to roll back another of its proposals to enhance university teachers' workload, recommending to the Centre that tutorials and practical/field work be considered part of direct teaching hours.

In the face of protests from university teachers, the higher education regulator had two weeks ago gone back on its proposal to increase the teaching hours of assistant and associate professors by two hours each per week.

Higher education secretary Vinay Sheel Oberoi today said the UGC decision on reduced workload and academic performance indicators (API), which prescribes a certain score in teaching and research for promotion, would be notified in the official gazette after formal approval.

With the HRD ministry's approval, the UGC had last month amended its regulation on minimum qualification for appointment of teachers, increasing the workload of university and college teachers and changing the API norms. After protests, the government had announced a partial rollback of the workload. But several concerns remained.

Under the earlier norms, professors and associate professors were required to put in 14 hours of teaching per week and an assistant professor 16 hours. The teaching hours included time spent on tutorials and practical classes.

But the amended regulation excluded time spent on tutorials from the direct teaching hours and sought to treat two hours of practical classes as one hour of direct teaching.

Under the new norms, in colleges under Delhi University, about 4,500 ad hoc teachers would have faced the prospect of removal. "There will be no retrenchment in universities and colleges. The workload will not change," Oberoi said.

However, the students' feedback under API will stay. The teachers have been demanding its abolition. The DU Teachers' Association, which has been boycotting evaluation of exam papers for the last three weeks, will meet tomorrow.

"We had demanded rollback of workload and the whole API business. The point-based system of assessing teachers under API norms is meaningless," said Abha Dev Habib, a Duta executive.


Code of studies

The West Bengal government’s proposal for uniform syllabi in all universities and colleges seems rational, not least because it envisages uniformity of instruction to enable students to countenance the challenges of the job market. Yet the suggestion is easier contemplated than implemented. On reflection, the task devolves on the academic circuit and ought not to be a ‘fatwa’ of the education department. Admittedly, it is the chief funding agency but it would be harmful for education if it dictates the rules of engagement within the classroom. Yet there can be no two opinions on the need to update the syllabi periodically.

The proposal is without question an improvement on the present praxis of a multiplicity of courses and teaching methods in universities across the states. However, the decision must of necessity be based on consensus, involving the Vice-Chancellors, the Boards of Studies of the respective universities, and the Faculty Councils.

The government can at best advance the guidelines; but the framing of the syllabi must be a collective and collaborative initiative as every university has its primary focus, most particularly in the disciplines of literature and the social sciences. Arguably, rampant private tuition has turned out to be a hindrance as several of the private tutors are also members of the syllabus committees.

The education department does have a point when it wants to break this nexus that at the end of the day militates against a level playing field for tests at the national level. The government will have to be flexible as universities and colleges at the helm or at any rate “ahead of the general lot”, to quote one VC may well claim a distinctive focus in the framing of syllabi. This can be contextualised with the Calcutta University VC, Sugata Marjit’s caveat that “teachers are often reluctant to introduce term papers or projects in under-graduate teaching that can root out rote learning.” For all the divergence between universities, there is little doubt that a certain commonality in terms of syllabi is desirable, if not overdue. While many universities are oriented towards the civil service examination, the campuses of West Bengal quite plainly are not. This makes it still more vital to put in place a common template of topics both at the under-graduate and PG levels.

There will be problems but it devolves on the state government and the academic circuit to formulate what can be described as a sort of common minimum programme. It is easier, for instance, to put in place uniform syllabi in science than in the arts. The proposed changes lend no scope for bruised egos; the interest of the student must be accorded uppermost priority.


New education policy draft clashes with RTE

Shreya Roy Chowdhury

NEW DELHI: Several recommendations in the draft National Education Policy, 2016 will require amendments to the Right to Education Act, 2009.

Insisting on "consolidation", the draft proposes merging "small, non-viable" schools. This subverts the RTE Act on neighbourhood schools being located "within a walking distance of one kilometre" for children attending Classes 1 to 5.

The draft emphasizes "school mapping" - as opposed to RTE's "child-mapping" - but stresses that for children attending "non-viable" schools, transport must be provided. It notes such "consolidation" is already on in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, all BJP-ruled states.

The proposal to extend the 25 per cent economically weaker section quota in private schools to minority institutions will also need an amendment. The committee notes that number of schools claiming religious or linguistic minority status has increased tremendously.

The RTE mandates a no-detention policy -banning grade-repetition -till Class VIII; the committee wants it limited to Class V. Its recommendations cover remedial classes "by school teachers or volunteers" and supplementary examinations.

The committee suggests amending the RTE to "provide, in addition to infrastructure, learning outcome norms that affect quality of education", a longstanding private school demand.

The report has much to say on infrastructure and the RTE. "Infrastructure norms for recognition of private schools should be applied to government schools...and punitive action should be ensured for not adhering to them," it says.

"States should be given flexibility to determine norms for infrastructure requirement," it adds.

Latest Comment

remove all conflicting laws and I personally feel that detaining should start from 8th class, bcoz the basics which are useful in the 11th and 12th classes are taught from 8th to 10th classes.Naveen Kasyap Kambhatla

It proposes developing "local norms...for 'alternate schools'". These proposals are to protect private schools where, as the report says, "there's no space for building additional rooms or playgrounds", from closure due to minimum RTE-mandated infrastructure requirements and other norms. The policy recommends "expansion of open schools to enable dropouts and working children to pursue education."

The policy proposes making education for children aged four and five a right, and roping in the NCERT and State Councils for Educational Research and Training to develop pre-school curricula.


Panel on new policy for replacing grading system

Prakash Kumar

Body recommends scaled scores and percentile

A government-appointed panel on framing of a new education policy has recommended developing a new curriculum framework for schools in a slew of measures to improve quality of education.

The aim is to also reduce students’ dependence on coaching institutes. “The need for outside coaching also is an indication of the weakness of the formal coaching levels in schools, and is a reflection of the failure of the teacher community to fulfil their due role in imparting education.

 It also is often a reflection of improperly structured curriculum and undue load on the student, pointing to need for curriculum reform,” the committee noted in its report The panel also suggested replacing the current system of giving marks and grades in board examinations with that of “scaled scores and percentile”, saying many of the developed countries have done it. 

“This is the modern scientific method to provide accurate results of large-scale examinations like the board examinations. Scaled scores and percentiles adjust for the varying difficulty of questions and tests and provide comparable results across students, states and even years,” it pointed out.

The five-member committee, set up to formulate draft of a new education policy, submitted its report to the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry on May 27. The ministry is examining the report of the committee, headed by former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanian. “There is need to reduce curriculum load and avoidable emphasis on rote learning – the focus has to be on making learning joyful, creative, participatory, and stimulate and encourage the child to think,” the committee said.

Curriculum should be broad based and aim for overall development of students in an increasingly technology driven environment.

Reforms to the school curriculum must relate to the emerging aspirations and national needs that include “social cohesion, religious amity and national integration,” it saidBesides, the panel suggested for bringing reforms in the school examination systems across the boards including those of the state governments, saying examinations should be designed to test wider awareness, understanding and comprehension, and not merely ability to reproduce text book script.  



Good news for start-ups: govt approves ‘Fund of Funds’

SIDBI to manage day-to-day operations of the fund

The Cabinet on Wednesday approved a Rs. 10,000-crore ‘Fund of Funds for Start-ups (FFS)’ with an aim to generate 18 lakh jobs. This is in line with the ‘Start-up India Action Plan’ unveiled by the government in January.

“The fund is expected to generate employment for 18 lakh persons on full deployment... A corpus of Rs. 10,000 crore could potentially be the nucleus for catalysing Rs. 60,000 crore of equity investment and twice as much debt investment,” an official statement said.

The Rs. 10,000-crore FFS corpus shall be built up over the 14th and 15th Finance Commission cycles subject to progress of the scheme and availability of funds, it said.

An amount of Rs. 500 crore has already been provided to the corpus in 2015-16 and Rs. 600 crore earmarked in 2016-17.

“The Cabinet has approved the establishment of ‘Fund of Funds for Start-ups’ at Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) for contribution to various Alternative Investment Funds (AIF), registered with SEBI which would extend funding support to start-ups,” it said.

This would provide a stable and predictable source of funding for start-up enterprises and thereby facilitate large-scale job creation. Further provisions will be made as grant assistance through gross budgetary support by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, which will monitor and review performance in line with the ‘Start-up India Action Plan’, the statement said. The government said SIDBI’s expertise would be used to manage the day-to-day operations of the fund. The monitoring and review of performance would be linked to the implementation of the action plan to enable execution as per timelines and milestones.

The move assumes significance as start-ups face several challenges such as limited availability of domestic risk capital, constraints of conventional bank finance, information asymmetry and lack of hand-holding support.


The corpus of the fund is Rs. 10,000 crore

The fund is expected to generate 18 lakh jobs

Fund to provide stable source of finance for start-ups

Start-ups will have to rely less on foreign venture funds


Stitching up employmentGovernment’s measures to boost the apparel industry are timely as China’s declining competitiveness provides opportunity for India.

Written by Arvind Subramanian , Rashmi Verma 

India needs to generate jobs that are formal and productive, provide bang-for-buck in terms of jobs created relative to investment, have the potential for broader social transformation, and can generate exports and growth. The apparel (or garment) sector meets all these criteria, making it an excellent vehicle for an employment creation strategy. The Union cabinet approval on Wednesday for a number of measures to boost the apparel sector is, therefore, a significant policy initiative.

Nearly every successful economic growth take-off in post-war history in East Asia has been associated with rapid expansion in apparel exports in the early stages. During their growth booms that averaged between 7 and 10 per cent growth, countries registered apparel export growth in excess of 20 per cent per year, sometimes closer to 50 per cent (Table 1).

Given their high labour intensity — the highest in any manufacturing sector — apparel also have the greatest potential for employment growth. For example, as Table 2 shows, every unit of investment in clothing generates 12 times as many jobs as that in autos and nearly 30 times that in steel. Drawing upon the World Bank employment elasticities, we estimate that rapid export growth could generate about half a million additional direct jobs every year.

Most significantly, from a social transformation perspective, apparel generate large number of jobs for women, substantially more than in any other sector. On a visit to one of India’s top textile exporters, women workers spoke about the agency they had gained on financial decisions. The agency also extended to husbands starting to helping with household chores, including chopping vegetables and making tea! In Bangladesh, female education, total fertility rates, and women’s labour force participation moved positively due to the expansion of the apparel sector. India’s low and declining female labour force participation could be similarly boosted by this initiative.

India has an opportunity to promote the apparel industry because of rising wage levels in China that has resulted in China losing market share. India is well positioned to take advantage of China’s deteriorating competitiveness because wage costs in most Indian states are significantly lower than in China.

Alas, this is not happening, or at least, not enough. The space vacated by China is being filled by Bangladesh and Vietnam, which have overtaken Indian apparel exports (as Figure 1 shows). Indeed, Indian apparel firms are relocating to Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar, and even Ethiopia. The window of opportunity is narrowing and India needs to act fast if it is to regain competitiveness and market share in apparel. Hence the urgency.

But why is India losing out? Several factors play a role.

First, as Table 3 shows, India’s competitors enjoy better ma rket access by way of zero or lower tariffs to the two major importing markets, namely the US and Europe.

Table 3 shows the average tariffs faced by India and its competitors in the US and EU. In the EU, Bangladesh’s exports enter mostly duty free while Indian exports face an average tariff of 9.2 per cent. If the EU-Vietnam deal goes through, a similar disadvantage will arise for India vis-à-vis Vietnam. In the US, when Trans-Pacific Partnership goes through, Vietnam will enjoy duty-free access and India will be disadvantaged in that market too.

Second, in addition, to the external disadvantage, Indian exporting firms face a number of domestic challenges — logistics and de facto labour costs — that render them less competitive than their peers in competitor countries.

On logistics, India is handicapped relative to competitors in a number of ways. The costs and time involved in getting goods from factory to destination are greater than those for other countries. Further, few large containers come to Indian ports to take cargo. So all exports have to be trans-shipped through Colombo, which adds to travel costs and hence reduces the flexibility for manufacturers.

Labour costs, which is perhaps one of India’s only source of comparative advantage in this sector, also seems not to work in India’s favour. The problems are well-known: Regulations on minimum overtime pay; onerous contributions that become de facto taxes for low paid workers (documented in Chapter 10 of Vol. 1 of the Economic Survey 2015-16); lack of flexibility in part-time work; and high minimum wages in some cases. One symptom of labour market problems is that Indian apparel firms are smaller compared to firms in say China and Bangladesh. For example, an estimated 78 per cent of firms in India employ less than 50 workers with 10 per cent employing more than 500 workers. In China, the comparable numbers are about 15 and 28, per cent respectively.

Another challenge is that the world demand is increasingly shifting toward clothing based on man-made fibres while Indian domestic tax policy favours cotton-based production and the tariff policy shields an inefficient man-made fibre sector. These factors undermine the clothing industry’s competitiveness.

Several measures form part of the package approved by the Union cabinet. But their rationale is to address the challenges described above. The policies suggested do not address all the challenges highlighted above but will definitely go a long way in strengthening India’s apparel industry. Apparel exporters will be provided relief to offset the impact of state taxes embedded in exports, which could be as high as about 5 per cent of the exports. This is not a subsidy but really a drawback scheme that should be WTO-consistent because it offsets taxes on exports.

Next, firms will be provided a subsidy for increasing employment. This will take the form of government contributing the employers’ 12 per cent contribution to the EPF. The government is already committed to contributing 8.3 per cent, so the new measure will be additional to that.

Third, the government is taking very seriously the impact of Indian exporters being disadvantaged in foreign markets. India will still need to carefully weigh the benefits and costs of negotiating new free trade agreements. But in this calculus, the impact on export- and job-creating sectors such as apparel, compared to other sectors that do not share these characteristics (luxury cars, for example), will receive high priority.

All industrial policy aimed at promoting particular sectors is not without risks. But the externality-generating attributes — employment, exports, social transformation — of the apparel sector, India’s potential comparative advantage in it, and the narrow window of opportunity, make the risk worth taking. That is why Wednesday’s decision is important, bold, and very timely.

The writers are, respectively, chief economic adviser and secretary, Ministry of Textiles; Archana Mathur, Virender Singh and Kanika Wadhawan of the Ministry of Finance contributed to the analysis.


FROM AROUND THE WEB : Govt job test scores to go online to check fudging

Aloke Tikku


NEW DELHI: A high score in a government recruitment examination could soon help a candidate get a job in the private sector too.

The Centre decided on Tuesday to go online with marks and ranks of people taking its recruitment tests, a move that could not only make it easier for candidates to get jobs in the private sector but also check malpractices.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had put an end to the practice of holding interviews for junior-level posts soon after coming to power in 2014. But this still left scope for malpractices in written examination.

The department of personnel and training (DoPT) said the National Informatics Centre had been told to develop a website, called Integrated Information System for Public Recruitment Agencies, which will be linked to web pages of individual recruitment agencies.

“The home page (of these agencies) will display details of recruitment examinations undertaken by them in the past one year and the date of announcement of the final results,” the DoPT order said. Users will be able to access details of a candidate’s performance along with their ranks.

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Job applicants would have the right to opt out of this database when they apply for the job.

Prime Minister Modi had mooted the idea in March and asked NITI Ayog to get a formal approval from DoPT, which should work out the details.

Tuesday’s directive indicated NITI Aayog would continue to play a lead role in the initiative and pursue with ministries and organisations such as the Union Public Service Commission, Staff Selection Commission and railway recruitment boards.

In a way, the model is similar to the combined entrance examination for engineering colleges in which private institutes too use scores obtained by students to select candidates.


Centre plans mega coastal zones for tsunami of jobs

By Surojit Gupta & Sidhartha,

The Modi government, which has completed two years, is scrambling to create millions of jobs for the youth entering the workforce.

NEW DELHI: With the government facing flak for not creating adequate number of jobs, PMNarendra Modi and his core team of economic policymakers got down to preparing an action plan on the issue on Saturday . One of the key themes emerging is to focus on an export-led, port-driven strategy, akin to the one followed by China, especially when labour is more expensive across the border and manufacturers are looking to shift to lower cost destinations. 

Sources told TOI that the NITI Aayog has strongly pitched for mega coastal economic zones to drive India's export-led growth strategy and create thousands of jobs. In a presentation, the panel's vicechairman Arvind Panagariya pointed to the experience of Japan, South Korea and China and argued how exports played a key role in sustained rapid growth by these three Asian giants and made a strong case for creating these mega zones to help India win the exports game in world markets. 

The Modi government, which has completed two years, is scrambling to create millions of jobs for the youth entering the workforce. The idea is to build these zones along with the Sagarmala project which aims to modernise the country ports. 

NDA was voted in on the plank of boosting growth and creating jobs. But two consecutive years of drought have dented those ambitions as the farm sector has slowed. The slowdown in the construction industry has also hurt jobs. 

To start with, the government could look at setting up the zones on the Andhra coast and Gujarat. The idea is to limit these zones to two or three and create clusters around them. This would also help set up new cities and boost demand as well. The view which is emerging is that depending on the domestic market may not help the country achieve its ambition of a sustained 8-10% growth. 

The presentation, sources said, pointed to the fact that India, with its large labour force, is in an advantageous position to benefit from the slowdown in China and could tap into the demand from global firms eying alternative manufacturing countries with large and steady supply of labour. 

Earlier, the Aayog had said large firms are missing in employment generating sectors such as apparel, footwear, electronic and electrical products. Locating these zones near the coast would help attract large companies who are keen on getting a large chunk of the export market. 


TRIBUNE, JUN 21, 2016

Govt sets terms for early withdrawal of PPF

The Finance Ministry on Monday said subscribers of the Public Provident Fund (PPF) can prematurely close the deposit scheme after completing five years for reasons such as higher education or expenditure towards medical treatment.

“A subscriber shall be allowed premature closure of his account or account of a minor of whom he is the guardian on ground that amount is required for treatment of serious ailments or life-threatening diseases of the account holder, spouse or dependent children on production of supporting documents from competent medical authority,” the Finance Ministry said in a notification.

The notification further said the allowance will be applicable to the requirement of higher education of the account holder or the minor account holder on production of documents and fee bills in confirmation of admission in a recognised institution in India or abroad.

It, however, added that such premature closure shall be allowed only after the account has completed five financial years. — PTI


HINDU, JUN 21, 2016

The Centre’s big reform push

With India now acknowledged as the fastest growing large economy in the world and also edging up in the World Bank’s ease of doing business rankings, the time is ripe for the country to open its doors wider to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This is exactly what the Centre has done by raising FDI caps in some sectors (airlines from 49 to 100 per cent), sweeping others entirely into the automatic route (cable TV, brownfield airports) and diluting preconditions for sectors with restrictions (relaxation of sourcing norms in single-brand retail and technology norms for defence). FDI is stickier and more resilient to business cycles than mercurial Foreign Portfolio Investor (FPI) flows. At a time when the private sector has a limited appetite to invest and when the government is tied down by fiscal constraints, India needs to seek out foreign capital to keep its growth engines purring. That foreign investors are interested in India is evident: there has been a 23 per cent surge in inbound FDI, which touched a record $55.5 billion in 2015-16.

Even so, it is simplistic to assume that merely opening up more sectors or setting more liberal equity caps will have foreign investors queuing up to invest. India’s experience suggests that actual investment interest in the newly liberalised sectors will be tied to three factors. One, foreign investors, like domestic ones, are ROI (Return on Investment) focussed. Therefore, sectors that are already witnessing booming consumer demand — such as DTH television, airlines and pharmaceuticals — are more likely to attract quick investment flows than those that are in need of bailouts (asset reconstruction firms) or entail long gestation periods (airports or defence). Two, even if the Centre is willing to reduce initial entry barriers, frequent market or pricing interventions can deter investors. The Centre seems to have recognised this in watering down the sourcing norms for FDI in single-brand retail. But its attempts to woo FDI into pharma may be stymied by increasing price controls and the lack of clarity in the policy on essential drugs. Three, the experience with sectors such as insurance suggests that foreign investors committing long-term capital expect to exercise control over the entities they fund. Overall, there is no disputing that the FDI relaxations, irrespective of whether they were timed to signal the Centre’s commitment to reforms in the face of RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan’s exit in September, are a step in the right direction. But as we have learnt from the past, the devil is usually in the detail.



Medical sclerosis

The system of medical education in India would appear to be as sclerotic as the health care segment if the Medical Council of India's rejection of the plan to establish 80 new medical colleges across the country is any indication. Apart from the appalling infrastructure, it is the existence of what it calls "ghost faculties" that has come under the MCI's glare…and awfully belatedly. Both decisions are bound to affect the intake of students, and this has tentatively been conveyed to the states involved. Chiefly, the states affected are West Bengal (with a proposed college in Durgapur), Bihar and Tamil Nadu.

If the robust initiative of the overarching entity is any indication, the MCI is likely to reject proposals in the absence of fundamental infrastructure that any medical college worth its salt is expected to have or if the number of patients and the standard of the faculties is not adequate. It strains credulity that the country boasts as many as 380 medical colleges to which no fewer than 50,000 students are admitted every year; and yet they make do without qualified teachers. No less incredible are the ghost faculties Rs quacks who masquerade as doctors in the lecture-theatre and pose as teachers during an MCI inspection.

While medical education may be the immediate casualty of this overwhelming sloth, it is the sick and the dying who are the eventual sufferers. Medical colleges have been put on alert with the directive to faculty members, genuine or socalled, to advance details of their qualifications, experience and details of appointment should they wish to teach in the 2016-17 academic session.

The exercise will be meaningful only if the MCI is able to identity the ghost faculties, in itself a damning indictment of the healthcare mechanism. While an investigation is welcome, the ugly truth will linger, specifically the failure of the appointing authority to appoint appropriate teachers without tacitly condoning academic deficiencies.

The negligence has been almost inexcusable, and the chief cause for surprise must be that the MCI has been seemingly impervious for as long as it has. It is hard to escape the conclusion that it has cracked the whip only when it realised that the game was up. Not that the MCI has never come under criticism; a parliamentary panel had some months ago recommended its disbandment for failure to maintain standards in medical education and practice. Medical education is in a shambles in several colleges throughout the country, and the truth of the matter is no less a reflection on the regulatory authority. The system direly needs to be set right before corruption is institutionalized.

PIONEER, JUN 16, 2016


The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the hike in the retirement age of doctors from 62 years to 65 years. The move would help in improving patient care, academic activities and effective implementation of National Health Programme, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the media after the Cabinet meeting.

There are about 4,000 doctors under Central Health Service, according to the Health Ministry. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier said that the Central Government had decided to increase the superannuation age of all doctors in Central Health Service to 65 years with effect from May 31, 2016.

Citing shortage of doctors, Modi had at a rally in Saharanpur on May 26 announced to raise the retirement age of doctors. He had said there is a need for more doctors across the country but it was not possible to fill the gap in two years of his Government.



Rhetorical heights - Modi's projection of the US-India relationship is optimistic

Kanwal Sibal

In his address to the American Congress and in the joint statement on his Washington visit, the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has committed himself to an extraordinarily close relationship with the United States of America. Much of this can be taken as rhetoric, as Modi would know - and the Americans as well - that while overall ties can continue to improve substantially and expand in mutual interest, the relationship cannot reach the level Modi's statements postulate.

Modi believes that "a strong India-US partnership can anchor peace, prosperity and stability from Asia to Africa and from Indian Ocean to the Pacific", which suggests India's willingness to assume greater political, economic and military responsibilities in this wide region to promote increasingly convergent India-US interests. US policy in West Asia, where the US has a strong military presence and has underwritten the security of the Gulf regimes to ensure, inter alia, the uninterrupted flow of oil, has been heavily influenced by unconditional support for Israel and opposition to Iran. Its regime change policies, now being played out in Syria, and ambivalence with regard to religious extremism, have fostered instability in the region. Can we build the desired partnership without the US drastically revising its West Asian policies and without India wading into the political, religious, sectarian and power struggles in the region? The US would also need to reconsider its relationship with Pakistan, the role ascribed to it in the Gulf, the complaisance towards the China-Pakistan relationship, not to mention China's role in Afghanistan - all of which damage us strategically.

The joint statement notes that the US-India defence relationship can be an anchor of stability, but the sense of this is not clear if the US continues to arm Pakistan with weaponry intended for use against India and justifies it on the ground that it does not change the military balance in the subcontinent. It also entertains notions of maintaining a strategic balance in the region and hence its unwillingness to sanction Pakistan for its aggressive nuclear posturing and take a position on destabilizing China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation. Not surprisingly, because the Coalition Support Fund expires in October this year, the US Senate has now approved a new fund - the Pakistan Security Enhancement Authorisation - to reimburse Pakistan to the tune of $800 million for its efforts to fight terrorism. The House of Representatives has also rejected two amendments seeking a cut in US aid to Pakistan arguing that it is essential to maintain ties with a nuclear armed country in spite of it not doing enough in the war against terrorism.

According to the joint statement, India and the US have completed the road map for cooperation under the 2015 US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, which will serve as a guide for collaboration in the years to come. As the road map has not been divulged, the China dimension of it cannot be assessed. However, even as the statement expresses the resolve of the two countries to look to each other as priority partners in the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions, the signalling to China has already been muted as, unlike in the past, it omits a specific reference to the South China Sea while expressing the importance the two sides attach to ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.

Modi noted in his Congressional address that India's defence purchases from the US had moved from zero to $10 billion in the last decade. India has become an attractive market for US defence companies. With India wanting to move away from a buyer-seller relationship and build an indigenous defence manufacturing base with transfers of defence technologies, foreign suppliers have felt the pressure to explore how they can respond to this objective. The Defence Trade and Technology Initiative of the US constitutes one such response, though it has produced little of significance to date.

For the US, unlike other suppliers, defence ties, with accompanying end-use monitoring and foundational agreements, are a means of locking the recipient country into a much tighter strategic dependence. US global supremacy, its domination of international arms trade, the military alliances forged all over the planet, pre-positioned stores in foreign bases, a panoply of stringent domestic laws governing these aspects of US diplomacy, present a challenge to a country like India that spurns any alliance for power projection or military protection or foreign interventions. India wants a more equal relationship and arrangements tailored for that. It wants to profit legitimately from the US connection without moving into the US orbit. Because of this, the ambiguities and difficulties in our defence relationship will not be easily removed.

Already, in spite of agreement on the final text of the logistics exchange memorandum of agreement, which is itself a modification of the more standard logistics support agreement, the document was not signed during Modi's visit. The US recognition of India as a major defence partner caters to India's obvious sensitivities about being labelled a "major non-Nato ally" because of its alliance connotations, not to mention equation with Pakistan. The legal basis of such designation is unclear as this category does not figure in US export control legislation. Whether, beyond easing of administrative and policy restrictions on exports, a legislative exception specifically for India is intended is unclear. If the Senate's rejection of the bipartisan amendment suggested by the senator, John McCain, that would have recognized India as a global strategic and defence partner and accordingly modified US export regulations, is any indication, it may not happen anytime soon.

The joint statement carries US affirmation that it will continue to work toward facilitating technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners. This formalizes what the US has actually been claiming as reality in recent years. The clause "continue to work" is important, as it suggests a continuation of existing policy and not a new commitment. It will be a process, leading to the high level that is envisaged. The understanding reached under which India would receive licence-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies only "in conjunction with steps that India has committed to take to advance its export control objectives", leaves the US considerable discretion in implementing it. Already, on the DTTI project on jet engine technology, the Indian defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, has stated that the percentage of technology transfer being offered by the US side "is not to our liking". Also, Pakistan was designated as a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally at the time of the India-US nuclear deal, but this has not made Pakistan eligible for dual-use technologies from the US. There is a lesson in this.

In his Congressional address, Modi proclaimed, "Today, our relationship has overcome the hesitations of history... In every sector of India's forward march, I see the US as an indispensable partner." More: "The embrace of our partnership extends to the entirety of human endeavour - from the depths of the oceans to the vastness of the space." These were the right words for the occasion but they may not seem right in the face of hard realities.

The author is former foreign secretary of India [email protected]



After demands from ABVP, JNU names library after B R AmbedkarThe ABVP has also written to President Pranab Mukherjee over renaming the convention centre after A P J Abdul Kalam.

Following demands from the ABVP, Jawaharlal Nehru University ( JNU) on Tuesday gave a go-ahead to renaming the university’s central library as B R Ambedkar Library.

In April, the ABVP had demanded that a statue of Ambedkar be installed there. The university’s executive council — the university’s statutory decision making body — passed the proposal on Tuesday after discussion.

“The proposal was placed before the council today and was approved unanimously ,” an executive council member said. The ABVP had also written to President Pranab Mukherjee and HRD Ministry demanding the renaming of the library after Ambedkar, the convention centre after A P J Abdul Kalam and the stadium ground after the freedom fighter Birsa Munda.


A library at home

Asoke Basu

Setting up a library at home in India is not a new phenomenon. For millennia, the religious scribes of all faiths preserved scrolls, scriptures, and folios. Those custodians of faith were mostly men who chanted from selected passages of holy texts. On sacred days, they commented on selected verses to family members, and occasionally to invited guests as well. Even today, this religious custom continues. However, as early as the late 16th century, when the Portuguese Jesuits introduced the printing press to India, literacy grew in three critical ways.

First, the social structure of the private domain of readers and collectors crossed over from old canonical texts to modern critical literature. In the beginning, domestic scholars bought books to be read. Over generations, some of the educated households built formidable home libraries, which were stocked with folk classics and modern publications. Second, at the beginning of the 19th century, India crossed over from religious to secular guardianship of knowledge when many educated families loaned out books from their home libraries to their neighbors, on a strictly voluntary basis. However, unlike the persecution of intellectuals in the aftermath of the French Revolution, colonial India did not abandon its emerging indigenous intellectuals and artists. Instead, the new elites integrated tradition with modernity. 

Third, the printing press universalized the cultural capital of local knowledge in a significant way when Indian universities began to teach in foreign languages, especially English, French, German, and Greek. For example, Saibal Datta has recently referred to Nakur Chandra Biswas’s biography of one of Bengal’s earliest science educators and reformers, Akshay Kumar Datta.  Datta cites Biswas in documenting that under the tutorship of the Oriental Seminary, Akshay Kumar learnt ancient Greek in order to read Homer’s epic poems in the original. Also, the globalization of learning enriched vernacular knowledge and challenged the existing norms by other means. For example, in the western city of Pune, as early as the 1890s, local playwrights translated and staged Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which advocated women’s equality. Not surprisingly, foreign-language books were translated into regional dialects. 

Literature holds the key to open the master lock of life and beyond. Literature has long been a powerful institutional force in liberalizing minds, attitudes, and mores. For thousands of years, India has believed that words and concepts allow individuals to reach truth through the complexity of symbols and meanings. By the middle of the nineteenth century, printed words were playing a decisive civic role in India. That the cultural patrons of home libraries did not idolize a particular theology or ideology ensured that books affirmed the inclusive language of knowledge.

If language is the essence of intellectual life, then we must ask how best to organize the books on our shelves at home in ways that represent our life experience. Generally speaking, philosophers cite two functional methods of organization -- empirical and rational.

The empirical method is elementary. For example, arranging and stacking books alphabetically or by height. In fact, Jean Piaget, the Swiss clinical psychologist, demonstrated that children between the ages of 7 and 12 invariably arrange books by height. John Locke, the British empirical philosopher, described the mind of a newborn as a blank slate (tabula rasa), on which thoughts and concepts are literally imprinted. 

The alternate method of arranging books is rational. The French philosopher René Descartes and his fellow rationalists believed that we have pre-programmed knowledge at birth. Unlike the empirical school, the rationalists view the human mind as inborn. Today, in laboratory settings, neuroscientists are testing Descartes’s line of conjecture that human brains are preordered. Instead of Locke’s blank blackboard, the rationalists declare that biology is destiny. The eminent psycholinguist Noam Chomsky follows this mode of reasoning by proposing that syntax, language, and grammar are prefigured in the human brain. Given this rational scheme, home libraries should be arranged according to our inborn disposition to order.

Nonetheless, home libraries go beyond cognition and predisposition. They represent the arts of human imagination, like brush strokes on a canvas. Both the empirical and the rational approach pay short shrift to the manner in which libraries, and their keepers, can organize and disseminate the beauty of words and knowledge. In today’s fetish for political correctness, we seem to be forgetting that human acts can create cultural systems of thought. Essentially, books on a shelf refine our moral thinking about the transcendental aesthetics of pure reason. Fyodor Dostoyevsky cautioned us that there is a limit to following functional (Lockean) or rational (Cartesian) systems because, in the long run, core reality can seldom be objectively demonstrated. Ludwig von Wittgenstein took Dostoyevsky’s argument one step further by noting that human reason can never be formalized because words are only the starting point in capturing human experience -- a bit like capturing one firefly on a summer night. In addressing an audience in Calcutta on the occasion of Sri Ramakrishna’s birth centenary in 1936, Rabindranath Tagore observed that the sage saw limits to human experience because it tends to be external and temporary. For Ramakrishna, temporal knowledge is insufficient unless it expresses the inner truth.

Our home libraries mirror our souls by evoking aesthetic and moral attitudes that are intimately linked to our feelings, emotions, and memories. Altogether, those libraries are personal collections of joy, creativity, and beauty. Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, in his Critique of Judgment, stated that ‘judgments of beauty are possible when they are incapable of proof [Locke’s logic] or any reduction to rules [Descartes’s innatism] and are intimately connected to the pleasure of the subject’.

By the last quarter of the 19th century, home libraries in India had become neighbourhood manifestos of sentiment and solidarity. Civic elders, educators, and other professionals became the guardians of knowledge in three critical ways. First, they installed a voluntary scheme of lending books from their own home collections, so that private collections reflected and supported civic trust and virtue. Second, neighbours were invited to public readings on a weekly basis, which over time significantly emboldened communities’ moral visions. Third, as readers and listeners grew in number, especially in the three Presidencies -- namely, Bengal, Bombay, and Madras -- local educators and leaders built public libraries for common use. With volunteer support, many of these libraries are still thriving today. 

The Bally Sadharani Sabha (‘Bally Common Associa