Event ReportsPublished on Feb 12, 2019
Interactive session on policy challenges in contemporary India
As the upcoming Parliamentary elections are getting closer, political parties will soon be churning out manifestos outlining their objectives and promises. Before that process starts ORF Kolkata ventured to lay the foundation of a Kolkata Manifesto: a citizens’ charter articulating their aspirations, by organizing an Interactive Session on Policy Challenges in Contemporary India on 1 February 2019. Experts were invited to deliberate upon six critical policy issues and provide recommendations. Dr. Mukul Sangma, former Chief Minister of Meghalaya, graced the occasion as the Guest of Honour. Prof. Ajitava Ray Chaudhuri, Major General Arun Roye, Jayanta Basu, Ambassador Sarvajit Chakravarti and Capt. J. Chakraborty were amongst those present. The event commenced with a presentation on ‘Migration and Security’. Exploring the existing state of the refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and migrants in India, it drew attention to the need for recognising the social and economic entitlements of the stateless people surviving as informal labourers.  Top priority was accorded to restoring their citizenship rights. Creation of comprehensive, long term national policies to treat refugees and rehabilitate the IDPs was also deemed necessary. The presentation moved on to the Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2016 and the current debate over National Register of Citizens (NRC). For more effective implementation of NRC, it prescribed greater involvement of all stakeholders. Providing temporary work permits to applicants from the unorganised sector across the border was also recommended to address the problem of immigration Transiting to ‘Foreign Policy including Neighbourhood Issues’, attention was drawn to the in-built unpredictability in US-India relationship. Another area of concern was the assertive presence of China in the maritime domain and the global role that China was entering into through power transition that is under way. India’s major concerns are: China’s domineering presence in the South Asian neighbourhood, India’s inability as of now to compete with China in global power market and increasing capability of neighbours to choose their own way. Accordingly, some of the  recommendations were:  re-establishing a strong link with Russia; stabilizing  India -China relationship; negotiating with USA to blunt the impact of its unilateral decisions;  cultivating deeper strategic and diplomatic intimacy with  Australia and Japan; invigorating  the BIMSTEC; encouraging greater involvement of state governments in foreign policy implementation; increasing the size of India’s diplomatic personnel; and promoting global consensus for a stronger United Nations. Moving on to issues of ‘Macroeconomics, Trade and Agriculture’, it was pointed out that although the present growth numbers seem impressive for India, concerns prevail regarding the distributional aspect of resources. Modi’s benchmark ‘Make in India’ programme has been unable to attract a sufficient amount of FDI. Moreover high current account deficit, exchange rate fluctuations and worries about oil prices indicate vulnerability of the Indian economy. Additionally faster growth rate of imports compared to exports has also raised the trade deficit. In agriculture, cost of production has escalated and climate change is causing farm distress. The level of awareness regarding crop insurance is low. Hence more public and private investment, better supply chain management, corporate involvement in agriculture, integration of agriculture in value chains and higher incidence of farmer-producer organizations were deemed necessary for this sector. Shifting from economy to ecology, the fourth presentation of the day was devoted to “Water, Environment and Climate Change”.  It put forth that given the dire state of natural resources like forests and rivers in India, environmental benefits and costs need to be included in the economic analysis of projects to maintain equitable justice. Decisions on accessibility of forests should therefore be based on informed and researched understanding. Furthermore, the “polluter pays” catchphrase should be translated into an applicable policy through judicial reforms.  Despite streams running dry and groundwater getting depleted the means to extract water continues to be heavily subsidized since agricultural water-use comprises the bulk of water demand. Therefore, sustainability of resource use should be prioritised over other considerations. Accelerated replenishment of groundwater and use of renewable sources of energy should be the highest priority of any elected government. Proceeding to the issue of ‘Higher education’, the corresponding deliberations found it disproportionally focused on knowledge dissemination ignoring the need for knowledge creation through quality research. The state universities have been rendered structurally incapable of conducting high-quality academic research. Resource-rich private universities remain profit-oriented and inaccessible to the deserving. The state universities need to urgently revamp their research potential. Additionally, meddling into the functioning of the educational institutions and scholarly pursuits by the oversight structures stifles independent academic pursuits in India, as noticed in the increasingly obligatory diktats of the UGC to the institutions. Therefore, to liberate higher education from the shackles of politically motivated language and reservation policies, a balance must be struck between quality and inclusivity Moreover, to boost quality of teaching and research, performance-based incentivisation was recommended. The last presentation of the day focused on ‘Energy’. It emphasised that although India’s energy policy must focus on the issues of mobility and renewable energy it is also necessary to acknowledge the country’s natural resource endowments. Therefore the new government must harness the substantial coal reserves to pursue an independent fuel policy and provide electricity to all households. Additionally, the policy on mobility must not be confined to a binary choice of electric versus non- electric vehicles but a right mix of both must be ensured in each city. Fair competition among the different players in the energy sector must also be ascertained so that energy is available to all. Furthermore as oil exploration in India is a risky venture given its topography, a hybrid cost recovery model for oil exploration companies will provide them an incentive to explore reserves. The above deliberations reveal that although diverse, each of these policy concerns implies certain degrees of social costs which must be addressed by the upcoming government to ensure better governance. On that note, the event concluded with the promise of more endeavours to further substantiate the Kolkata Manifesto.
The report has been compiled by Sohini Bose with inputs from Sreeparna Banerjee, Sohini Nayak, Soumya Bhowmick, Sayanangshu Modak, Ambar Kumar Ghosh and Roshan Saha, Research Assistants, ORF Kolkata.
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