Paying the price for losing grasslands

Azera Parveen Rahman Wiry shrubs and clumps of brown-green fill the semi-arid landscape of Kutch in western India. Many of these patches have, over the years, made way for “more productive” agricultural land. This greening of “wasteland” is, however, degrading a precious and largely ignored ecosystem — the grasslands. And, as a result, some species of animals that depend on grasslands are being pushed to the brink of extinction. Not just that. Nature has a way of linking all its elements. So grasslands play a big role in ensuring fodder security for livestock, thereby having a direct impact on the dairy industry. Another largely ignored ecosystem, the wetlands, along with grasslands, also play a crucial role in water table management; agricultural lands near their vicinity are usually fertile and productive. Grasslands are an important ecosystem. But to quote the first line of the Task Force report on Grasslands and Deserts (2006) submitted to the Planning Commission, “Grasslands and deserts are the most neglected ecosystems by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which looks after biodiversity conservation in India.” This is significant, because more than a decade after that report, the Draft National Forest Policy 2018, while encouraging an increase in forest and tree cover, still does not give grasslands their due importance. The draft policy — an upgrade of the National Forest Policy of 1988 — which was open for public comments till the second week of April, had a promising note two years back, when, in addition to reiterating its goal of having one-third of India under forest cover, it had said that, instead of an exclusive focus on trees and tree-cover, efforts should be made to preserve other ecosystems too, like the grasslands, deserts, marine and coastal areas, etc. Two years hence, however, that crucial point is missing in the draft. Branding grassland as wasteland, says Sutirtha Dutta, scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), is the prime reason behind undervaluing its importance and its degradation. “It is a remnant of the colonial policy that treated grasslands as unproductive, of no economic value. And the stigma has stayed on,” Dutta told IANS. There is a general lack of awareness about the immense value that an ecosystem like grassland (or deserts, for that matter) holds; for instance, its role in water table management. “In south Manas (Manas National Park in Assam), grasslands have been allowed to thrive, and therefore agriculture around its vicinity has also been very productive. It’s a boon to the farmers. On the other hand, in east Assam, where there are no grasslands, there have been long dry spells,” says Dr Goutam Narayan, project advisor of the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) in Assam. The Pygmy Hog, a critically endangered species, itself rapidly lost numbers mainly because of the degradation of grasslands — its main habitat. Narayan says that the Pygmy Hog is a flagship species that denotes the health of the grasslands on which many other “bigger” animals are dependent, like the one-horned rhino, tiger, and Eastern Barasingha. The Bengal florican, another species that is endangered, also has grassland degradation to blame for its depleting numbers. It’s a similar scenario is Kutch, Gujarat, where the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard is facing the threat of extinction for the same reason. It is estimated that only 150 such birds are left in the world today, of which barely 10 remain in Kutch, one of its last few abodes. Devesh Gadhavi, member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and deputy director of the Kutch Ecological Research Centre, has been working on the conservation of Great Indian Bustards for many years now. Unhindered grazing of livestock on grasslands, he feels, is a primary reason for grassland degradation. “If one were to draw linkages, Gujarat’s dairy industry that the government has been promoting for so many years now is dependent on the grasslands in terms of livestock fodder,” Gadhavi told IANS. India has more than 500 million livestock, and more than 50 percent of its fodder comes from grasslands. Dutta says that only policy-level changes can bring about some change in the current scenario. “There needs to be a regulation on grazing of animals (on grasslands). The 2006 Task Force report on grasslands and deserts was well-meaning and, among other things, mentioned the urgent need for a national grassland policy. It also suggested fixing ownership for grasslands,” Dutta said. Barring some of its suggestions — like conservation programmes for some of the flagship species of the grasslands — being implemented, the report remained largely ignored. “Grasslands are ‘common’ land of the community and are the responsibility of none,” the report had said ominously, the manifestations of which are increasingly felt across regions now. (IANS)]]>

Make In India needs strategic planning

Frank F. Islam Prime Minister Narendra Modi set out an ambitious agenda when he announced his administration’s Make in India programme in September 2014. The centerpiece of that programme is the National Manufacturing Policy, the purpose of which is to make India a global manufacturing hub. Its intent is to increase manufacturing’s share of the country’s GDP from 16 per cent to 25 per cent by 2022 and to create 100 million additional jobs by that year. The policy sets out 11 areas of concentration, including focus sectors, easing of regulatory environments and acquisition of technology and development. It identifies 25 specific focus sectors, including automobiles, defence equipment and medical technology. As Prime Minister Modi reported during the “Make in India week” in February 2016, progress had been made on the manufacturing agenda. Growth in manufacturing’s share of the GDP and employment since the introduction of the programme, however, has been quite sluggish. That is why, in 2017, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Commerce issued a report questioning the impact and implementation of the Make in India initiative. The government’s Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion responded by citing a number of measures that had been taken. According to The Hindu newspaper, the committee stated that many of the measures were more than two years old and urged “the department to take effective steps to implement initiatives such as Make in India in a ‘more robust manner’…” More recently, in mid-March, during a visit to India, American economist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman called attention to the need for India to hit manufacturing with a much bigger stick. After lauding India for its significant economic growth and becoming a better place to do business, Krugman observed: “India’s lack in the manufacturing sector could work against it, as it doesn’t have the jobs essential to sustain the projected growth in demography. You have to find jobs for people.” As a knowledgeable Indian-American business person who participated in the India-U.S. CEO Roundtable convened during President Barack Obama’s Republic Day visit in 2015, I concur completely with the need to intensify India’s manufacturing efforts. The right way to do that, in my opinion, is to create a manufacturing strategic plan for the nation and its states. The Make in India’s National Manufacturing Policy outlines a broad range of initiatives covering a number of diffuse and diverse areas. A policy is not a plan. It is a prescription that must be targeted to achieve the desired end goals — in this instance, manufacturing being 25 per cent of the GDP and 100 million new jobs by 2022. A well-constructed strategic plan provides the means for that targeting. It translates policy into action with a laser-beam focus. It delivers the keys to the kingdom. It identifies: * Key Result Areas: The few areas (3-7) in which strategic action programmes must be developed and implemented effectively and efficiently. * Key Drivers: The critical factors or sources of competitive advantage that can be leveraged for success. * Key Partners: The top three allies who can contribute the most to achieving the plan’s goals. The Make in India Manufacturing Strategic Plan should be crafted by an independent commission comprised of a representative cross-section of business, academic, government and other leaders with appropriate experience and expertise. The commission can draw upon the National Manufacturing Policy and multiple other studies and position papers as inputs for the plan. My quick review of a variety of source material suggests the following as potential items for inclusion in that plan that might have great effect for simultaneously driving GDP growth and job creation: * Key Result Area: Infrastructure Development. India’s infrastructure problems appear consistently as the most important factor that is retarding its growth potential. * Key Driver: Automobile Manufacturing. The National Manufacturing Policy cites automobiles as an area in which India already has a competitive advantage that can be built upon. * Key Partner: The United States. These “indispensable partners” have just begun to scratch the surface of trade arrangements and exchanges that can be mutually beneficial. The Make in India programme is at a pivot point. The McKinsey Global Institute in an August 2016 report titled “India’s Ascent: Five Opportunities for Growth and Transformation”, observed: “India’s appeal to potential investors will be more than just its low-cost labour: manufacturers there are building competitive businesses to tap into the large and growing local market. Further reforms and public infrastructure investments could make it easier for all types of manufacturing.” India continues its ascent, but not as quickly as intended. A Make in India Manufacturing Strategic Plan will kick on the after-burners and accelerate that ascent. Putting the right plan in place and implementing it properly should make the sky the limit for the Indian economy and the Indian people.]]>

Is Yogi Adityanath losing his sheen?

By Mohit Dubey Is Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath — in power for just over a year — fast losing his lustre? Many here feel so. A litany of complaints about his public conduct, his behaviour with colleagues as well as common people is fast eroding the aura he had built up as the five-time Lok Sabha MP from Gorakhpur who was catapulted to the Chief Minister’s office of a socially diverse and politically volatile state of 220 million people. Last week, 24-year-old Ayush Bansal shocked many when he broke down in front of media in Gorakhpur and disclosed how the monk-turned-Chief Minister mocked him during a “junta darbaar” where he had gone to complain about a land-grab case in which independent legislator from Nautanwa, Amanmani Tripathi, was involved. He also accused the Chief Minister of calling him “awaraa” (wayward) and pushing him while throwing his file in the air. “Maharaj ji angrily snapped at me and said my work will never be done and that I should get out of his sight,” Bansal told IANS. While officials got down to damage control and said the matter was being looked into, the fact that Adityanath behaved in a manner unbecoming of a Chief Minister was neither contradicted by officials nor denied by the ruling party. Barely had the din over this episode died down when two MPs of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) complained of similar behaviour. In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP MP from Robertsganj Chhote Lal Kharwar, accused Adityanath of “scolding him and asking him to get out”. The MP said he was deeply pained at the behavior of the Chief Minister as he tried to draw his attention to issues faced by the party faithful. “Never did the local administration listen to my plaints and when I went to meet the Chief Minister twice over many issues, ‘unhone mujhe daantkar bhaga diya’ (he scolded me and chased me away),” the lawmaker said in his letter. The BJP leader has also shot off a letter to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, seeking help. Lal also says that definite proof of wrong-doing and corruption presented by him went unheard and unaddressed. What is surprising is that all this happened to a man who is the state president of the BJP’s SC/ST Morcha. While Modi is learnt to have assured Lal of action, there are other similar murmurs about Adityanath’s rough behaviour. Etawah MP Ashok Dohre has also written to Modi accusing the state police of lodging fake cases against SCs and STs during the Bharat Bandh. When asked why he did not petition the Chief Minister, Dohre said he considered Modi his leader, and thus petitioned him. Alarmed by the sudden “unease” among the party’s lawmakers, Amit Shah summoned Yogi to New Delhi over the weekend and is learnt to have asked him to mend his ways. Adityanth also met Modi. Interestingly, Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, who party insiders admit doesn’t see eye to eye with Yogi, was also called to Delhi at the same time. Ironically, till not long ago, the 45-year-old Chief Minister was being venerated by the party faithful as a man next only to Modi. Insiders, however, now admit that not only has Adityanath failed to show his “pakad” (hold) on the party, but is also “awkwardly arrogant in his public conduct”, and not very able in his administration. “He may be a busy man, so have been his predecessors… he remains inaccessible and uses foul and unacceptable language at times,” conceded a senior minister who did not wish to be named. Though stopping short of calling the Chief Minister arrogant, he suggested that “Yogi-ji is better advised to be more courteous and improve his time management”. A senior party functionary too noted “the changing ways of Maharaj-ji”, though he felt “mood swings and the tongue-lashings could be because he has to handle a big state like Uttar Pradesh”. A senior bureaucrat also alleged that the Chief Minister often “goes off the handle” and could be very acerbic in his dealing with officials. The Chief Minister’s loyalists, however, point out that he does not like people to hang around him and wants officials to deliver fast and work within the system that has been set up. When there is any breach, he loses his temper, a close aide told IANS. His failure to deliver on his promise to get all pot-holed roads fixed by a given deadline last year; the rollback — under pressure — in privatisation of the power sector in five cities; the poor showing in the Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha by-polls and reports that he and his deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya, don’t get along well have already rung alarm bells in the establishment, sources said. (IANS)]]>

Trade war fears and emerging markets

By Amit Kapoor The much-dreaded trade war has come dangerously close to fruition after the tit-for-tat exchanges between the United States and China over the course of the past week. Last Tuesday, the US, blaming China for intellectual property theft, released a list of 1,300 products that could possibly be imposed with a tariff of 25 percent — worth a total of $50 billion — unless China mends it ways. The very next day China came up with a list of US imports that could be charged with a 25 percent tariff, again worth approximately $50 billion. Trump retaliated the following day saying that the US government is considering imposition of tariffs on another $100 billion of Chinese imports. In response, China warned on Friday that it was ready with a “fierce counter-strike” of fresh trade measures if Trump follows through on his threat and that it would fight the US “at any cost”. At the time of writing (April 9), neither of the two nations had followed through on their threats and, hopefully, a more conciliatory tone will be adopted this week. What needs to happen is quite straightforward. China should recognise that some of the US claims have merit. Beijing has long demanded that US businesses relinquish their intellectual property rights if they want to gain access to Chinese markets. For instance, if a US car manufacturer wants to sell cars in China, it has to team up with a local manufacturer and transfer all the technology or face steep import tariffs. China has been benefiting from this rule for decades. In case China ends this, Trump could withdraw his threats of tariffs and both sides would be in a position to disengage. It is also more in China’s interests to avoid a full-blown trade war. The country is still an export-dependent economy and it sells more goods to the US than it buys. But China, with its ambitions of being the next superpower, might not back down so easily. It would prefer not to be seen as yet another developing economy with no option but to do as Washington dictates. It also has some damning arsenal in its kitty to pose a credible threat to the US: A massive reserve of US Treasury bills. If it plans to dump these bonds on the world markets, it would mean catastrophe. Therefore, it is in everyone’s best interests that sense prevails, and a trade war is avoided at all costs. A positive outcome from this affair has been the resilience shown by the emerging economies around the world. If history is any indication, a situation like a tit-for-tat trade war between two of the world’s largest economies should have sent capital rushing towards safe assets in the US, leaving the emerging economies high and dry. That was the case until quite recently. A case in point is the “taper tantrum” of the US Federal Reserve which took place in 2013 and a similar flight of capital destabilised the developing world economies. Morgan Stanley famously coined the phrase “fragile five” to describe the precarious situation in which Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey found themselves. Now, the emerging economies are seeming more like safe havens. Since the turmoil of 2013, these nations have worked towards strengthening their balance sheets and making themselves resilient to global shocks. As a result, considerable confidence is being shown towards the assets of these countries. Emerging Portfolio Fund Research data shows that in the first quarter of this year $43 billion has flown into equity funds of emerging markets. These inflows already account for two-thirds of their value in the whole of last year. In contrast, equity funds in the developed markets have attracted merely $25.5 billion in the first quarter of this year and the flows have also been more volatile than in emerging economies. The emerging market currencies have also been up four per cent against the dollar this year. These trends go on to show the strength of the emerging markets in sharp contrast to the dire situation just a few years ago. Even if a trade war does break out and the global scenario does not remain as promising, India might emerge relatively unscathed. In the unlikely scenario where the carefully established rules-based trade system is forsaken, relationships will define trading patterns. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spent the last four years building strong connections with countries around the world. These efforts would pay much-needed dividends to the Indian economy if a trade war ensues. Whatever be the case, it is quite clear that the liberal world order established in the post-war era is going through dynamic changes. The developed world is uneasy about ceding its long-held power to the emerging economies. India still has a long way to go, but China is rapidly catching up in terms of technological competence. It is time to reset the rules of the global trading regime and ensure a fair and level playing field among countries with fundamentally disparate economic systems. (IANS)]]>

Dalit anger: BJP to blame its core

By Amulya Ganguli The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) owes much of its woes to the reluctance of its core constituency of urban, upper caste, conservative, anti-minority, middle class supporters to accept Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “sabka saath, sabka vikas” mantra of development for all. They may have no objections to “vikas”, but the idea of including everyone in its fold is anathema to them. So, if they see a Dalit having fared well enough in life to own a horse and ride it, he has to be killed as in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district. Or, if a Dalit groom wants to take out a “baraat” (marriage procession) through his village in Uttar Pradesh, the upper caste residents will not allow it. Killing is the usual option for the saffron rank and file to eliminate those whose conduct violates the Hindutva fads and fetishes. Hence, anyone suspected of eating beef or who believes in inter-faith romance is either beaten up or done away with. Moreover, the Hindutva storm-troopers are so sure of the righteousness of their cause that they are not deterred by the presence of video cameras when they engage in their lawless acts. In the 93 years since the formation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and 67 years of the Jan Sangh-BJP, Muslims were their sole targets. The Dalits were largely ignored because, till recently, they were not assertive enough to annoy the saffron brigade. The BJP even toys with the idea of winning them over for use as vote banks. It is trying to do so by occasionally paying obeisance to the Dalit icon, B.R. Ambedkar, and choosing a Dalit as the President. But much of this placatory signalling is probably regarded as tokenism by the Dalits while for the members of the Brahmin-Bania party, these gestures mean nothing where their caste bias is concerned. Hence, the flogging of four Dalit youths by “gau rakshaks” (cow protectors) in Una, Gujarat, the hounding to death of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad and the prolonged incarceration of the firebrand Dalit youth leader, Chandrashekhar Azad “Ravan”, by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. It is not surprising that against the background of the saffron targeting of Dalits, the recent Supreme Court judgment purportedly diluting the act relating to Atrocities against the Dalits and Adivasis acted as the spark that lit the fires of mob violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits. What is odd, however, is that the BJP (and the RSS) hadn’t kept this possibility of a sudden outburst in mind. It is no secret that these Hindutva organisations care little about the Muslims being alienated because they are aware that the minorities, whether Muslims or Christians, will not vote for the BJP except in very small numbers or when there is some kind of a wave as in 2014. But antagonising the Dalits, who constitute 16.6 per cent of the population, is a politically self-defeating exercise, not least because if this percentage is added to 14.2 per cent of the Muslims, it will mean that the BJP is risking losing the support of nearly a third of the country’s population. Taken together with the Christians (2.3 per cent) and the liberal Hindus as well as those who have been disenchanted by Modi’s inability to keep his promise on job creation, the number of those who are opposed to the BJP has to be substantial. The portents, therefore, for the party’s prospects in 2019 cannot be very bright. The scene is made more complicated for the BJP by the occasional criticism of the policy of reservations by the RSS. The Brahminical motive for opposing the quota system is driven not so much by an urge for placing merit above caste as by the sense of outrage in Hindutva circles at the possibility of Dalits rising to high places in educational and bureaucratic institutions at the expense of the upper castes. It is obvious that Modi had taken on a near-impossible task of selling his plan for all-round development irrespective of caste and creed to his party’s core elements, although as a former RSS “pracharak” (preacher), he must have been acutely aware of the resistance which they were likely to offer. He probably hoped that success in his efforts will boost the economy and create enough euphoria among all sections to stymie any serious opposition. But the failure to usher in the promised “achhey din” (good days) has been his bane not only because it has emboldened the opposition, but even more so because a stagnating economy is ideal breeding ground for disaffection even among friends like the saffron activists. Not surprisingly, the Hindutva militants lost no time to take revenge for the Dalit-sponsored bandh to burn down the houses of a Dalit MLA of the BJP and a former Congress MLA who is a Dalit in Rajasthan. (IANS)]]>

China can aid India in artificial intelligence

By Nishant Arora Tech honchos in Silicon Valley are deeply worried at China’s rapid progress in harnessing Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology that has shown encouraging results in changing the way we work and live. According to Eric Schmidt, former chairman of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, China will overtake the US in AI by 2025. Measured by start-up financing deals and dollars from venture capitalists, the United States’ AI start-up ecosystem currently dominates — followed by China, says a recent Accenture analysis titled “Rewire for Growth”. When it comes to India, the number of AI start-ups has increased since 2011 at a compounded annual growth rate of 86 per cent. But the size of funding till date is substantially smaller in India than in the US and China, reflecting the limited success of India’s AI start-ups in achieving scale so far, the report noted. “According to our analysis, AI has the potential to add $957 billion, or 15 per cent of current gross value added, to India’s economy in 2035,” said Accenture. Prime Minister Narendra Modi now wants that AI technology should be “Made in India” and “Made to Work for India” but despite promising starts, the country’s policy initiatives are not comprehensive yet and lag other G20 countries. China, on the other hand, today harbours one of the biggest clusters of AI scientists. According to The Economist, China’s State Council has issued an ambitious policy blueprint, calling for the country to become “the world’s primary AI innovation centre” by 2030. “China’s AI programme is highly structured and driven ‘top down’ whereas India’s approach is more ‘organic’ — at least till this point — driven largely by the private sector and driven by their unique needs for AI,” said Dr Prashant Pradhan, Chief Technology Officer, IBM India/South Asia. These represent very different approaches to “getting ready” for AI. “China’s approach carefully manages investment, infrastructure, focus verticals and training. This has benefits in speed of execution and outcomes — especially when there is clarity on the priority areas of application,” Pradhan told IANS. Advances in AI largely happen in an open, peer-reviewed community with free exchange of ideas. “Over time, there may be more coordinated government investment — especially in resource-constrained environments,” Pradhan noted. When it comes to funding, Machine Learning (ML), recommendation engines and computer vision are the most popular segments of AI, accounting for almost 80 per cent of total funding globally. “Big industry players that have the financial strength and business experience to invest in AI research and development (R&D) typically lead the strategic charge on global competitiveness for their country,” the Accenture analysis stressed. Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple are spearheading AI innovations in the US, and Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu are funding the AI research in China. In line with the global trends, the digital platform companies are becoming the driving force of AI innovations in India too. According to Rajesh Janey, Managing Director and President, India Enterprise, Dell EMC, the country is entering an era of monumental technological change, rich with opportunity. “Globally, businesses plan to triple their investments in advanced AI within five years. India too will see the same enthusiasm, with investments in AI jumping from 31 per cent to 89 per cent in the same time-frame,” Janey told IANS. AI will improve our interaction with technology, understand the abundance of data and rely on the predictions to automate excessively complex or mundane tasks, said Shaakun Khanna, Senior Director, HCM Strategy and Transformation, Asia Pacific at Oracle. In February, Modi inaugurated the Wadhwani Institute of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Mumbai’s Kalina campus — reported to be the first AI research lab in the country. US-based philanthropist brothers Romesh Wadhwani and Sunil Wadhwani have established the institute and want it to become like San Francisco-based non-profit “OpenAI” that has SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk as one of its co-founders. In order to become a true AI powerhouse, it is high time that New Delhi makes Beijing a bigger partner in fuelling AI research at home. According to Accenture, AI research has been motivated by societal needs in India so far and the first step now is to create a comprehensive, long-term vision and road-map for AI. “The national AI plan with clear milestones should be set as a priority. Here, India can follow the lead of China which has laid out clear targets for AI development in phases, initially by 2020 and going forward by 2030,” it added. The first critical thing is to understand the role AI is likely to play across multiple professions. “Targeted augmentation in every field will be the key to success for the country to have an AI-ready workforce,” Pradhan stressed. (IANS)]]>

We can't protect our citizens' data

By Nishant Arora It was the perfect photo-op when Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a town-hall meeting at the social media giant’s sprawling headquarters at Menlo Park, California, in September 2015. With Facebook now embroiled in a massive data breach controversy, the bonhomie appears to be over, with India warning Zuckerberg of “stringent action”, including summoning him over the “misuse” of data to allegedly influence the country’s electoral process. Zuckerberg has recently said Facebook will ensure that its platform is not misused to influence elections in India and elsewhere, but after witnessing how social media platforms were infiltrated during the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit vote in the UK, nothing can be predicted at this point of time. While governments the world over are fast formulating new laws that deal with users’ data security and privacy, and the spread of false news, India lags far behind on this front. Is the country prepared in case a huge data security or privacy breach hits its people? According to top cyber law experts, India as a nation has missed the broader point in the ever-changing tech landscape. “The moot point here is: How do we regulate mobile app providers, social media players and intermediaries in terms of handling and processing the users’ data? We don’t have a data protection law in place. We neither have a national law on cyber security nor a national law on privacy,” Pavan Duggal, the nation’s leading cyber law expert, told IANS. The absence of these critical laws has created a very fertile ground for the misuse and unauthorised access of users’ data by the service providers. “On top of it, India has not revisited its stand on intermediaries’ liabilities since 2008. Also, the service providers have been given a great fillip by a judgement of the Supreme court, where the service providers are directed not to take any action till such time they get a court or a government agency order,” Duggal informed. In such a scenario, service providers are using the “Indians’ data with impunity”. “They are transferring them outside the territorial boundaries of the country because we as a nation are sleeping. Once the data goes outside the country, the government loses all control. This has a detrimental impact on the protection and preservation of people’s data privacy and personal privacy,” Duggal stressed. India has to learn from the European Union (EU) when it comes to formulating a legal framework to secure data. The EU has asked businesses and service providers globally to comply with its new privacy law — the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — that comes into force from May 25 this year. The EU GDPR has been designed to harmonise data privacy laws across Europe — to protect and empower all EU citizens’ data privacy and to reshape the way organisations across the region approach data privacy. After four years of debate, the GDPR was finally approved by the EU Parliament on April 14, 2016. Organisations that fail to comply with the new regulation will face hefty fines. Although a white paper on data security has been published by the Indian government for all the stakeholders to deliberate upon, the country is still working on drafting a data protection bill. “India is woefully under-prepared to address issues of data protection and cyber-security. We need a data protection law that protects citizens from misuse of data with strict liability and extremely high statutory damages that must be awarded within a strict period of time,” said Mishi Choudhary, President and Legal Director of New Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC.in), a not-for-profit organisation. According to Duggal, also a noted Supreme Court lawyer, India should not cut-paste any other country’s law as it has to deal with a different set of problems. “India’s social realities are entirely different. The country has to deal with the huge issue of Aadhaar which is reeling under variety of cyber attacks because we have failed to apply cyber security as an integral part of the Aadhaar architecture,” Duggal told IANS. India’s approach has to be based from its soil and the country must strive for data localisation. “India should not allow its data to be stored outside its boundaries. Service providers must (be made to pay) high penalty if they are found to be misusing the data of Indians irrespective of if they are physically located in the country or not,” Duggal said. (IANS)]]>

Democracy in the age of data power

By Amit Kapoor “Data is the new oil” has been a clichéd maxim of the internet age. But the events that unfolded last week have underlined the extent of complexities that can be created in society depending on the nature of its usage. A year-long investigation by multiple media outlets in the US and Britain revealed that a consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, accessed data of at least 50 million social media users without their proper consent. They then used these data points to psychologically profile people and individually target them with politically-motivated content to manipulate the 2016 US presidential elections. A similar approach was used to influence electoral outcomes all around the world, possibly even in India. Even though the process of manipulating the political narrative during elections is not something new, there is something sinister about for-profit organisations and foreign agents using data technologies to disrupt democratic norms. If electoral outcomes come to be defined by exploiting deep-rooted psychological fears of voters based on data analytics instead of developmental issues that drive progress and prosperity, social cohesion will fall under immediate threat, proving pernicious to the very fabric of democracy. The political vision of governments and politicians need to be steered by people instead of mathematical algorithms. It must be highlighted that social media and the vast explosion of data due to it are not the problems per se. However, when societies are finding themselves being increasingly run by data, a defined set of ethical norms need to be formulated to guide its use. The issue is of the utmost importance for India, as it has a significant online presence that is vulnerable to privacy violations. It has the highest number of Facebook users and the second-highest number of Twitter users in the world — with a combined reach of almost 300 million. A committee of experts under Justice B.N. Srikrishna has already been set up to deliberate upon a data protection framework for India. It is working on drafting a data protection bill and has deliberated on a number of pertinent issues like what constitutes “personal data”, the specifications of consent and establishment of a data protection authority. A white paper has also been published by the authority, detailing a lengthy discourse on these very issues. Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology has also listed “Citizens’ data security and privacy” as a subject of study. However, not much seems to have been done on the topic. Recent events might hopefully set the ball rolling on that front and inspire a multi-partisan report on the matter. Once the processes of setting up a robust framework of regulatory policy and statutory law to govern matters of data privacy are complete, there will be a requirement to establish cultural expectations that incorporate ethical standards right when the data technologies are being built. The application of regulatory mechanisms after individuals have been profiled is akin to closing the stable doors after the horses have bolted. The race to become the next-big-thing in technology has placed ethics on the backseat and, hence, it is often the case that investigations are conducted, and apologies are demanded, only after the damage has been done. The environment of “develop first, question later” will have to change. The issue of data and privacy regulations will become even more important as technological companies gain greater market share in provision of financial services instead of traditional banks. When you instantly transfer money to friends and family over apps like WhatsApp to avoid the hassle of asking around for bank account numbers, the company gains direct access to your transactions. The power of that data will lie with the entity which posses it. Interestingly, retail banks will begin to lose out on this essential oil as it will be unable to identify customer interactions once it shifts to these new age non-banks. The use of data mining as a strategic tool, put in the right hands, can be a powerful tool to understand societal preferences and address consumer needs. However, no good comes with a complementing bad and our democratic societies need to be wary of the latter by building robust security mechanisms that ensure privacy and consent. At times, even that might not be enough. Consumers willingly hand over a lot of personal information for the convenience of services without knowledge of the consequences of their actions and the eventual use of the data. Therefore, a final action that needs to be undertaken in the world of data is to build user-awareness. There is simply no substitute to a well-informed consumer base. (IANS)]]>

The absent CSR in Swachh Bharat

By Nipun Vinayak A Swachh marathon conducted by the Dettol company, Reckitt Benckiser, in collaboration with NDTV, as part of the Swachch Banega India project, takes the discussion on sanitation into the drawing rooms of the middle and upper classes. With brand ambassadors like Amitabh Bachchan hosting the show, people look up and watch. Naina Lal Kidwai, Chair, India Sanitation coalition, an industry association “to bring organisations and individuals under one platform for promoting sanitation” speaks at the World Water Week in Stockholm on Swachh Bharat, pushing for higher budgets for water and sanitation, and stating that achieving ODF (open defecation free) is the collective responsibility of the entire nation, not just the government. Beyond this glamour and highly-published events, however, what is the real contribution of the corporate world to Swachch Bharat? It is not easy to answer this question. There is lack of consolidated data on the contribution of the corporate world to Swachh Bharat. A portal on the website of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs provides for collection of information in this regard — which remains unfilled. Maybe the portal did not get publicised enough for every one to know about it. Even if it was, would information have trickled in? FICCI, at the beginning of Swachh Bharat, made tall commitments to the Prime Minister’s Office on its intention of contributing to the movement. Two years down the line, it remains non-responsive on the fulfilment of those commitments. The only worthwhile contribution made centrally by the corporate sector was in the field of school toilets — and that too mostly by the public sector undertakings (which probably had little choice). At the decentralised levels of districts and states, the corporate sector might have helped in Swachh Bharat, though one does not get to hear very many examples. In Sibasagar, corporates responded well to Collector Virendra Mittal’s call to “donate a toilet”. In Ludhiana, Bharti Airtel built a number of toilets for the people. In hindsight, many of those toilets were built without carrying out concomitant behavioural change, and therefore their use remained doubtful. The government initiated a Swachh Bharat Kosh, a Trust for collecting contributions from individuals and corporates and deemed the contributions a valid CSR activity exempt from income tax. Still, contribution to this Trust remaines lukewarm. Two things seem critical for a genuine contribution by the corporate sector to Swachh Bharat. One is belief in, and understanding of, the community approach propagated by Swachh Bharat. Two, a readiness to plug the “missing gaps” in the overall ODF plan of the district administration. The former has happened to an extent. The term ODF is now widely used, and the community approach is ingrained in the ODF concept itself. Its understanding, however, may vary and there is something amiss when a company offers to construct “x” number of toilets as a stand-alone activity. Bereft of a community behaviour change plan, this may not bear fruit, and money will — literally — go down the drain. Secondly, the ODF plan for a village comprises multiple activities. A company may take up, in consultation with, and upon suggestion by, the district administration, any of these activities. In case no such plan exists, or if the plan is deficient in terms of behavior change component, it may not shy away from proactively calling upon the administration to make/rectify such a plan. And participate only when such a plan is in place. Besides these two issues, there can be a few more pitfalls. One is the desire for returns in lieu of contributions. Many a times, such a desire is in the form of creating genuine goodwill towards the company. This, however, restricts the geographical area where the corporate can contribute. Promotion of one’s own brand sometimes takes precedence over work, belying the general principle of service propagated by Sant Tukdoji Maharaaj in Gramgita: True service is not for one’s own name. He who is selfish is not a true servant. Sometimes, Swachh Bharat is slated as a “business opportunity”. “People make a lot of money dealing in shit,” it is said. The Economic Times carried a headline on December 23, 2016: “Dettol maker Reckitt Benckiser rides on Swachh Bharat, posts handsome growth of 14%”. Another company, after spending some CSR funds for sanitation, wanted the ministry to promote their appliances. While sanitation may have benefitted a few people, one needs to understand whether the primary motive of Swachh Bharat is to change the behaviour of people, leading them to adopt safe sanitation practices, or to promote some business models, benefiting a few. In the former approach, companies dealing with sanitation products may anyway benefit; however, that will be incidental and not primary to the cause. In the latter approach, the focus may shift to artificial reasons for insanitation — such as lack of good technology — and behaviour change will take a back seat. This may lead to profits for some companies, but no improvement in sanitation. A shared value, that good sanitation benefits all, can be the mantra for everyone, including corporates. And that is immense. There have been some worthwhile efforts by corporates. The contribution of Tata Trust must be mentioned. It sponsored a young professional — called Zilla Swachh Bharat Prerak — to work in each district of India and help the Collector achieve an ODF district. Although there was some scepticism about the usefulness of this initiative earlier, the enthusiasm, energy and fresh ideas of these young professionals seem to have greatly helped the programme. Collaboration with corporates requires a renewed push. Despite some odd references to the role of some corporates in the freedom struggle, one does not come across any significant testimony to support the premise that corporates did play a major role in that struggle. A freedom struggle from shit is now happening. And this history will again be written. One hopes corporates will not let go this opportunity. (IANS)]]>