In between 45 Indians dying of COVID every hour (due to gross policy failure) and the arrest of a 29-year-old due to possession of 59 grams of weed (something we are all guilty or not guilty of smoking), is an administration which has failed on all accounts. As we face the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, New Delhi struggles to revive an economy that contracted almost 24% in the second quarter. Around 73,000 Indians have died and 270m children have been out of school since March. Petrol prices have shot up, and unemployment has risen like never before.But the media has become strategically averse to such grim topics, instead choosing to shine the spotlight on the probe into the death of popular Bollywood actor , Sushant Singh Rajput. The CBI has arrested the former’s girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty on account of illegal possession of marijuana, something which more than half the nation is guilty of possessing. It is a no-brainer that such undue media attention being bestowed on a relatively unimportant matter can be attributed to the government’s desperate need to shift attention from the more pressing issues in the country.
Here are the 10 issues out of many more that the government should rather be focusing on:
India, with more than 90,000 cases overnight has surpassed Brazil to become the country with the second-highest number of Coronavirus cases in the world. It now records 4.2 million infections, as the virus continues to spread throughout the country of 1.3 billion people. It also records the highest number of daily COVID deaths in the world. Last week 37,188 people died across the world, of which 7,380 died in India.
II. Falling GDP
India’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product), which had slowed down even before the COVID-19 pandemic, contracted 23.9% in the April-June quarter of the fiscal year, marking the country’s entry into a recessionary phase this year, according to data released by the National Statistical Office (NSO). Construction, manufacturing and trade, hotels and transport have been the worst-hit sectors, reflecting the unprecedented suspension of economic activity due to the pandemic and the intermittent lockdowns. The growth rate for the April-June quarter has been the lowest since India started reporting quarterly data in 1996.
India has asked China to pull back its troops and stop further construction activities in the strategically-located Depsang-Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) sector of eastern Ladakh, where both have amassed thousands of soldiers as well as tanks and artillery guns.
Even though there have been a number of stand-offs with China since 1962, what gave hope was the fact that both China and India were bound by certain agreements and confidence-building measures in the military field. Diplomatic activity between the two had continued as recently as 2019, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping met at Mamallapuram. It was decided at Mamallapuram that the year 2020 would mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of India-China diplomatic relations and the two countries would be organising 70 activities during 2020 to emphasise the historical connection between the two civilisations. But, what happened then?
Several incidents could have drawn ire from the Chinese side. One reason could be the frequent standoffs at the LAC since 2013 resulting in physical pushing, shoving, stone-throwing and so on which were getting uglier by the day. China could have been provoked further by the ongoing development of infrastructure (the construction of a road from Darbuk to Daulat Beg Oldie along the Shyok River) in the border areas by India which they have been objecting to from time to time. Besides, the revocation of Article 370 (which conferred special status to Jammu & Kashmir), changed the state’s geopolitical relationship with China and other neighbouring states, thereby destabilising the status quo of the western borders. India’s trade deficit with China fell to USD 48.66 billion in 2019-20, owing to a decline in imports from the neighbouring country. Therefore, it is a no-brainer that India has failed to even have the economic ammunition deal with China on the border. The Indian government’s recent move on banning 177 Chinese apps in India comes with its own set of problems and is only a halfway solution, if at all. Several policy experts and scholars have noted that instead of an app ban, India must prioritise reviving SAARC to effectively deal with China. To what extent does the app ban help the case for India? Find out more about it here.
Unemployment in India shot up in August due to the loss of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme and end of sowing of the Kharif crop, leading to unemployment in rural India. About 21 million salaried employees lost their jobs during April-August, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). The job losses were not only confined to the support staff among salaried employees but also included industrial workers and white-collar workers. Urban unemployment rate rose to 9.83%, while rural unemployment rate increased to 7.65% in August. India weighs the burden of the economic slowdown due to inefficient handling of the pandemic, as well as other longterm policy failures.
V. GST Compensation to States
Goods and Services Tax (GST), launched in India on 01 July 2017 is a comprehensive indirect tax for the entire country.
Now, there has been a shortfall of Rs 2.35 lakh crore in GST compensation to states, which is either due to GST implementation issues or because of the coronavirus pandemic two finance ministry officials said. The collection from the compensation cess from which this shortfall is to be paid will be only Rs 70,000 crore. How the government will fill the gap of 2.3 lakh crore remains to be seen.
VI. Misuse of the National Security Act (NSA), Public Safety Act (PSA), and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)
The National Security Act empowers the centre and state governments to detain a person to bar him from acting in any matter prejudicial to national security. In the last few years, the Indian government has exploited the NSA by regularly detaining individuals, using the plea of preventing future disturbances of public order.
Among the notable people charged under these laws are right to information activist and peasant leader from Assam Akhil Gogoi, Jawaharlal Nehru University research scholar and student activist, Sharjeel Imam, medical doctor and activist Dr Kafeel Khan, former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, and former IAS topper-turned-political leader, Shah Faesal. On 28 August, at least 5 activists were arrested by the Pune police on suspicions of having Maoist links in the Bhima Koregaon violence. Police teams have also arrested activist-poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad, and civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha in Delhi, after conducting raids at their residence. The UAPA has been so trivialised that the brother of a slain militant was detained by the police in Shopian (Kashmir) for ‘distributing cricket uniform’ (bearing the militant’s name) among other players in the vicinity. The UAPA owes its origin to the colonial-era Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908, which gave the government unilateral power to ban any organisation (and people associated with them) they considered a threat to their sovereignty, without any judicial oversight. It was issued by the colonial government after the Partition of Bengal, when the then Viceroy of India, Lord Minto was concerned about reports of violence. The Act was essentially enacted to put a curb on anarchism, thereby dampening very spirit of democracy and the mobilisation of anti-government dialogues. The question is, how is such a feudal Act still in operation, and how is the Indian government using it so frivolously?
Environmental Impact Assessment or EIA is the process or study which predicts the effect of a proposed industrial or infrastructural project on the environment. It prevents the proposed activity or project from being approved without proper oversight or taking adverse consequences into account. Though established to safeguard the environment, the EIA process, argue activists, often achieved the opposite by offering a façade of legal paperwork for a range of de facto concessions enjoyed by industries. The 2020 draft offers no remedy for the political and bureaucratic stronghold on the EIA process, and thereby on industries. Instead, it proposes to bolster the government’s discretionary power while limiting public engagement in safeguarding the environment.
VIII. Farmer Suicides
According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data on accidental deaths and suicides, 10,281 farmers committed suicide in 2019, down from 10,357 in 2018, whereas the figure for daily wagers went up to 32,559 from 30,132. The suicide rate in the deeply stressed farming sector accounted for 7.4 per cent of the total suicides in the country, resulting in deaths of 5,957 farmers and 4,324 agricultural labourers, the NCRB said in a report containing the latest data.The total number of suicides in the country increased to 139,123 in 2019 from 1,34,516 in 2018.
It has been a year since the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir and residents near the Line of Control (LoC) in the Uri sector of Jammu demand better infrastructure, jobs, and internet connectivity like rest of the country.
The beginning of 2016 saw a terror attack on the Pathankot Air Force Station, involving five Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists. Months of tension followed the attack, escalating in the subsequent months after the killing of popular militant leader Burhan Wani in an anti-insurgency operation in August 2016. Within hours of the encounter, streets in South Kashmir became theatres of violent protests and stone-pelting. Burhan’s killing reignited the calls for azadi and jihad and opened the floodgates for a homegrown insurgency, as scores of the local youth joined terror groups.
Pakistan was quick to exploit the situation, stepping up infiltration of trained terrorists to carry out attacks on Indian military installations. The target of the first terror strike was the 12th Brigade of the Indian army in Uri in which 17 army personnel were killed and 20 others were injured. India retaliated by conducting surgical strikes on suspected terror launchpads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Following the escalated conflict in Kashmir, the Indian government adopted measures such as the ‘Operation All-Out’. It also used the escalated conflict in the valley as an excuse to fulfil the dream of its ideologue Shyama Prasad Mukherjee to abrogate Article 370 and Article 35A. It has been a year since the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir and the government has failed to deliver on its promises of modernising the region with educational facilities, employment, better infrastructure and more.
X. Rising Oil Prices
Global crude oil prices have been tanking for a while now, yet fuel prices in India have been spiking. In Delhi, the price of petrol was hiked by ₹9.12 per litre between 7 June and 26 June, while that of diesel has gone up by ₹11.01 per litre. Other cities have seen a price rise as well. Even though COVID was one of the reasons which forced the government to increase the excise duty on petrol and diesel sharply, it is definitely not the only reason. Gross tax revenue had already fallen to 9.88% of the GDP in 2019-20, due to the badly implemented goods and services tax (GST) and the ill-effects of demonetization. Therefore, as Vivek Kaul, author of Bad Money (2020), writes for The Mint, even if the world hadn’t been hit by COVID-19, the government would still have had to increase the excise duty on petrol and diesel, though the hike wouldn’t have been so massive.
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