Vulnerability in jobs in India

India has been infamous for the magnitude of informal jobs in the country. Though a significant issue, informality is just a part of the bigger issue, i.e, the increase in the number of highly vulnerable jobs. Vulnerable jobs usually include own-account workers and family members working informally. Basically anyone who does not have a stable contract or flow of income, and are open to exploitation. All informal workers are vulnerable to an extent since they aren’t on any payroll or have a formal contract.

This long standing problem has become significant as the number of vulnerable employees has been increasing in the past few years. As per International Labour Organisation (ILO), 77 per cent of workers in India will have vulnerable employment by 2019. In a country where 92 per cent of the employed population is in informal sector, it is a concern if the ratio of vulnerable jobs increase.

 

Source: World Employment Social Outlook2018, International Labour Organisation

The ILO report also pointed out that

“a significant portion of the jobs created (in India) in the services sector over the past couple of decades have been in traditional low value added services, where informality and vulnerable forms of employment are often dominant.

It is no solace that the problem is global in nature,

Globally, the significant progress achieved in the past in reducing vulnerable employment has essentially stalled since 2012. In 2017, around 42 per cent of workers (or 1.4 billion) worldwide are estimated to be in vulnerable forms of employment, while this share is expected to remain particularly high in developing and emerging countries, at above 76 per cent and 46 per cent, respectively. Worryingly, the current projection suggests that the trend is set to reverse, with the number of people in vulnerable employment projected to increase by 17 million per year in 2018 and 2019.

This is not a surprise as 80 per cent of the casual workers and 31 per cent of the regular/salaried workers in 2016 earned less than the national minimum wage of Rs 66 / day. If looked at on the basis of gender, 95 per cent of women working as casual labour got less than the minimal wage as against 74 per cent men. Lower wages make workers more susceptible to being caught in the low income trap. With income not enough to save and invest, people earning low wages are unable to earn or multiply their money and get stuck at living at basic sustenance levels. The only way to move from the equilibrium is by earning a higher amount and saving it.

With low income levels in the country and substantial number of informal workers, India needs to look at vulnerability within jobs as a criterion in itself while assessing jobs problem. In order improve the conditions, the jobs created in the country need to assure a certain level of stability and redressal mechanisms. More than skilling, the government needs to create avenues for job creation. A good starting point would be to modify the labour laws and reduce the cost of doing business in the country.

There’s a New Great Game in Afghanistan. It’s Called Cricket.

— By Retd Lt Gen Namaloom Afraad

There’s a new Great Game in Afghanistan and it is hurting Pakistan badly. This week saw Afghanistan’s entry into test cricket. While we welcome the move, we strongly protest the way in which this was done. India, after surreptitiously granting a ‘home ground’ for the Afghanistan cricket team in Dehradun, is trying to pose itself as a state genuinely interested in Afghanistan’s well-being. What is being forgotten is that the team would have not taken shape at all but for Pakistan graciously allowing Afghan youngsters to play cricket in refugee camps.

The world is well aware of Pakistan’s commitment to peace and stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan has sacrificed many lives to ensure that a true Afghan-led solution can be brought about. That’s the only reason why we are supporting the Afghan Taliban even though it incurs a huge cost to the Pakistani state and society. But while we were busy doing that, India is sabotaging Pakistan’s national interests by providing cricket training to the people of Afghanistan.

We are always asked for proofs of Indian interference in Afghanistan. We don’t need to provide them any longer because India’s role is out in the open. But let me provide a few pieces of evidence in any case.

One, the Afghanistan cricket team couldn’t have been trained without the extensive support provided by R&AW. Grounds and stadia in Afghanistan have been constructed by India. This bolsters the case we have argued for long — India’s four consulates in Afghanistan are actively undermining Pakistani interests in the region.

Two, India is spreading false propaganda in American newspapers on the rise of Afghanistan’s cricket team while whitewashing the role played by Pakistan in the team’s rise.

Three, reliable sources have informed us that Afghanistan T-20 jerseys were being freely sold in India during the match. India even got many Afghanistan supporters into the spectator stands and made them carry flags and banners symbolising India-Afghanistan friendship. The BCCI (not our BCCI, that’s long dead) twitter handle also posted provocative videos like the one below where they got Afghan players to pose with the trophy. All these instances are deliberate acts of provocation on India’s part to destabilise Pakistan’s own efforts in bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Pakistan has always shown active interest in finding a settlement of the Afghan issue. In the recent past, we proposed a string of formations including the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG). In the QCG, Pakistan even took the initiative of inviting the cricketing teams of US and China so that Afghanistan and Pakistan could be in the finals. But the plan failed because India scuttled it and offered cricketing facilities to Afghanistan in India.

We must launch a strong protest against Indian role in Afghanistan cricket and raise the issue in the next UN General Assembly meeting. After all, what are we waiting for? Will we now have to put up with the ignominy of playing a test match against Afghanistan in India? It’s time that Pakistan stood up for its interests and exposed India’s commencement of the new Great Game in Afghanistan.

I watched the Afghanistan cricket team’s test match live from the spectator stands in Bengaluru’s Chinnaswamy Stadium. As Ratan Malli mentioned on Twitter, someone from Pakistan will soon write about how this new engagement is reflective of “India’s meddling in Afghanistan” and “how India is using Afghanistan to foment unrest against Pakistan”. This article has been written to help elements from the Pakistani military-jihadi complex in their endeavours. They can freely copy-paste from here. No citation needed. Only use #satire.

 

Hope for the Future

The NFL (the National Football League) in the US has approved a policy that requires players to stand while the national anthem is played before matches. This effectively prevents the act of kneeling that some players, beginning with Colin Kaepernick, used to draw attention to racial tensions within the country. I found a fantastic headline in the Politico on this:

The Arc of History Bends a Knee Toward Kaepernick

This is, of course, a tribute to the iconic lines uttered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the march to Montgomery. Dr. King said that the arc of the moral universe is long but that it bends towards justice. These lines, borrowed from a nineteenth century preacher named Theodore Parker, are a cause for optimism. They emphasise that if you are on the path of righteousness, the world will eventually come around to your way of thinking, even if the odds seem stacked against you in the present.

Ta-Nehisi Coates highlighted this in a piece last year when he drew a parallel between the anthem protests and the civil rights movement. He said that the point of such protests and movements is not so much to convince your contemporaries, who are likely to have set opinions, but to reach out to future generations and make them understand what is right.

This is an idea worth holding close in the field of public policy. When a lot of what you advocate for goes against the grain of conventional thinking, it is reassuring to believe that things will take a turn for the better in the future.

Advantage China after Trump-Kim summit

For all the talk about China being insecure with regard to potential Donald Trump-Kim Jong Un bonhomie, Beijing is likely to be rather pleased with the events that transpired in Singapore today.

First, soon after the early reports of the agreement came from Singapore, China called for easing sanctions and “establishing a peace mechanism.” The US-DPRK statement also envisions something similar, i.e., the “building of a lasting and robust peace regime.”

Such a framework places Beijing directly at the negotiating table. Foreign Minister Wang Yi underscored this today, saying China had and continues to play a “unique and important role” in the Korean Peninsula issue. The fact that Kim flew on an Air China jet shows Beijing’s continuing influence over Pyongyang.

Second, the formulation of the DPRK committing to work towards complete denuclearisation, while Trump describes US-South Korea drills as “provocative” and talks about ending US force presence in South Korea also works for Beijing in more ways than one. This is essentially what Beijing had been seeking for months, via its double freeze proposal. Moreover, Trump’s characterisation of US force presence in the region isn’t likely to have gone unnoticed in other regional capitals.

For one, the South Korean administration appeared to have been caught off guard with Trump offering the drills as a bargaining chip. The presidency and military both issued statements saying that clarity was needed on “the meaning and intention” of Trump’s remarks.

But more broadly, if US-South Korea military ties and exercises are “provocative,” would Washington under Trump be a reliable partner for states involved in the South China Sea dispute or even Taiwan, irrespective of the Indo-Pacific strategy and Defence Secretary James Mattis’ tough words at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Also, Trump’s remarks about the cost of military exercises are very damaging. It’s one thing to want allies to carry their weight. But the repeated counting of costs is incredibly short-sighted and likely to raise questions about the costs that the US will be willing to incur to challenge an assertive China in the region.

After today, it appears that for all the rhetoric, Trump is uninterested in incurring those costs. Trump might have sought history in Singapore. But today’s developments mean it’s advantage Beijing.

US Congress should bring in legislation on Taiwan Issue!

The naming issue of Taiwan is heating up between the US and Chinese governments as the deadline approaches in China for airline companies to comply. The Chinese government has asked airlines to remove any reference to Taiwan as an independent country and address it as Taiwan, China. Many international airline companies have already made the change, and US-based airline carriers are the only major holdouts, as they seek clarity from the US government. The US government has already called it ‘Orwellian nonsense’ and is in consultation with its allies such as Australia and UK on the issue.

The solution for this is for the US Congress to bring in legislation on the issue, and debar the US-based airlines from changing the name by law. This issue has blown up way beyond China’s regular diktats against private companies, and should be challenged by the United States and its allies.

Not only that, the US Congress should force by law, the Chinese airline carriers to list Taiwan as a separate country on their international websites in a tit for tat measure.

Obviously, there will be economic consequences for US airlines for not toeing the Chinese diktats, but by bringing in US laws on the naming issue, Chinese airlines will also suffer. Furthermore, if Chinese airlines do cave into the naming of Taiwan as a separate country on their US and international websites, it will be tacit acceptance of the status quo by the Chinese government since most of them are state-owned enterprises!

This kind of retaliatory measure will hopefully put some sense into China to steer clear of the naming issue in future.

 

The Ocean of Humanity

Ex-President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) headquarter has stirred up the proverbial hornets’ nest.

The RSS is not an academic institution. It is a cadre-based organisation with strong ideological moorings. Certitudes are important both for it’s existence and survival. Despite this, they invited probably the most cerebral and scholarly ideological opponent to address their valediction. It shows a certain confidence and suppleness that must be appreciated.

As for the citizen Mukherjee’s speech, it was impressive to say the least. The central feature of his speech was neither the invocation of Jawaharlal Nehru nor of the constitutional patriotism. For me, it was the reference to Tagore’s celebrated poem ‘Bharat Tirtha’. Tagore’s formulations on the nationalism and patriotism are important and have a contemporary resonance for a variety of reasons.

Tagore was in the search of an authentic Indianness. He expressed his vision lyrically in a number of poems and more concretely in the form of Shantiniketan, the institution he established and nurtured. His vision was rooted, yet cosmopolitan; traditional yet modern. Synthesis and reconciliation, and not recrimination, was it’s essence. Tagore was also the most important spokesperson of the Indian version of liberalism. His ‘Ekla chalo re’ is possibly the best articulation of an individual spirit unafraid of the collective tyranny and his ‘Chitto jetha bhayashunyo’ the most appropriate translation of the Kant’s Sapere Aude.

Needless to say, Tagore’s vision of India is very different from the ethnicity and identity centric versions of nationalism. If the subsequent discussions of Mukherjee’s provocative speech can bring out those nuances and rescue the richness of Tagore’s message from the collective amnesia, it will have served it’s purpose.

Another Shot at Negotiations with the Taliban

Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, has announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban until June 20. At the outset, this looks like a last throw of the dice by Ashraf Ghani at peace before the elections. His tenure as President has seen a worsening security situation and a strengthened Taliban. The latest SIGAR Quarterly report (April 2018) noted that:

The winter months saw an unusual surge of violence in Kabul, reflecting the insurgency’s shift to launching successive attacks on civilians in the capital in response to increased ANDSF pressure in the provinces.

Neither has this ceasefire announcement come out of the blue. Earlier in February, Ghani offered to negotiate with the Taliban without preconditions if they would halt their ties with terrorism and respect the Afghanistan constitution. President Ghani had also raised the idea of the Taliban becoming a political party. That didn’t bear any fruit. The Taliban has only increased attacks in Kabul and has spurned all talks about talks with the Afghan government.

So here we are. The unconditional ceasefire is unlikely to nudge the Taliban into talks. They are negotiating from a position of strength with respect to the Afghan government now. Moreover, the current Taliban leadership is under the direct control of Pakistan and has no autonomy whatsoever. This is what we wrote last year:

The current leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhunzada, is little known and has been foisted by Pakistan to deny autonomy to the group. Together, the Taliban and the Haqqani network – both beholden to Pakistan – have made it clear that their endgame is not talks but conquest. Even though the National Unity Government (NUG) has tried several processes from Istanbul to Murree to Kabul, and has opened up the terms of the dialogue to include a number of wide-ranging issues, Pakistan has made it clear that this military lever will not be transitioned into a political one.

Perhaps the best outcome that the Afghan government can hope to achieve from this unconditional ceasefire is to break the Taliban into credible factions that can become negotiators in the next round of talks.

PS: All this churn favours Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose return to Afghanistan in 2017 was engineered by Pakistan and is being repositioned by the Pakistan as a mainstream political leader.

Government should divest 100%, not 51% of bank shares

The government plans to merge four state run banks and then sell 51% of its stake in the new merged bank.  Why not sell 100% stake and divest all bank shares? The banks are a drain on government funds, and the government does not need to be present in the banking sector except as a regulator. Even the PM’s Jan Dhan Yojana does not require you to open an account with a state run bank. A private bank will do the job nicely.

The four banks in question are bleeding money. Their combined net losses were over Rs. 21,000 crore (> US $3 Billion) in the year ending March 31, 2018. If the losses keep piling up and divestment is not done quickly, we will end up in with a situation similar to what’s happening with the Air India sale – no buyers!

What is China’s perspective on the rules-based order?

The concept of a rules-based order has become part of common diplomatic parlance of late. This framework roughly refers to a common set of rules or norms of engagement in the international arena that have been mutually agreed upon among states.

The recent debate around a rules-based order, in large part, is a product of changes taking place in the world order, owing to America’s relative decline and China’s rise. For instance, the idea of the importance of preserving the rules-based order is repeatedly invoked in connection with China’s island-building in the South China Sea and its rejection of the 2016 Hague tribunal’s verdict following a case by the Philippines. In this perspective, Beijing is seen as undermining the rules-based order.

At the recent Shangri-La Dialogue, US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi both referred to the importance of a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific. A South China Morning Post round-up of the event quotes Yao Yunzhu, a retired PLA major general and a delegate at the SLD, as saying: “The US has created a grand narrative consisting of keywords including ‘rule-based order’, ‘freedom of navigation and overflight’, and ‘militarisation’ – once you hear these words, you know it’s a criticism targeting China.”

So what exactly is Beijing’s position on such a framework? Do Chinese policies disregard the rules of the road internationally or is there is a specific Chinese conceptualisation of a rules-based order?

The answer to these questions lies in the Chinese elite’s perception of their country’s international role based on an assessment of power. For instance, Xi Jinping’s articulation of “major power” or “big country” diplomacy implies that China does believe in different rules for different players. Intuitively, such a framework undermines the idea of a common framework for all states irrespective of size or power. It implies a difference in the rights and responsibilities of big and small countries.

That, nevertheless, does not imply an outright rejection of international institutions or norms. For instance, building a multilateral and multipolar world order remains a key Chinese objective. In such a framework, Beijing views institutions such as the UN and WTO as critical players. Its actions, for now, do not indicate a desire to upend the system. Rather, they reflect a wish to expand China’s authority within the system. Beijing, in fact, views the US, particularly under Donald Trump, as undermining this order with its America First policy.

Also, Chinese diplomacy has historically and ideologically been wedded to the primacy of the institution of sovereignty and thereby non-interference as the defining principle of the international order. Beijing’s repeated criticism of the West, particularly America, in terms of the doctrines of humanitarian intervention (Libya) and pre-emptive strike (Iraq) are rooted in this framework. This was also one of Beijing’s arguments against the Hague tribunal.

Sovereignty also forms the fundamental premise for Xi’s vision for building a community with shared future with mankind. For instance, on issues of economic development, human rights, political systems and so on, Beijing rejects the applicability of universal notions. Instead, it argues in favour of taking into consideration national conditions.

So, China is clearly articulating a vision for a rules-based order, albeit one premised on realpolitik and sovereignty.

Farm Loan Waiver in Karnataka – A Crisis and an Opportunity?

The Karnataka Chief Minister made a statement on May 30th that the newly elected government will come up with a policy to waive farmer loans worth ₹53,000 crores within 15 days. Given this policy context where some form of a waiver looks imminent, the question that confronts us is this: can this waiver be used as an opportunity to bring in structural reforms?

I spoke on this topic to Anusha Ravi of The New Indian Express. The newspaper report is here. These are the questions and my responses to them:

Are politicians compromising on the economic health of Karnataka with the commitment of such a waiver? 

Helping distressed farmers is a political imperative that finds resonance across the board. Especially so because Karnataka has been facing drought over three successive 3 years. At the same time, this immediate crisis gives a golden opportunity for the state to take up structural reforms that will help raise revenues.

Can a state with budget outlay of Rs 2,09,181 crore afford a farm loan waiver of Rs 53,000 crore? 

The total expenditure budget estimated for 2018-19 is 1,98,095 crores. Given that the total loan waiver amounts to nearly one-fourth of the budget size, the government will have to spread its liabilities over multiple years. At the same time, the government will have to mobilise additional sources of revenue to be able to pay off these liabilities.

Where can the state raise revenue to implement such a waiver?

The government has the opportunity to use this crisis as an opportunity for structural reforms. There are several opportunities available. Reforming the electricity sector by making consumers pay the actual cost of power is one such move. Power subsidies currently amount to a whopping 9250 cr per year. The Karnataka government also runs a total of 93 PSUs. 12 are in a non-working state and government must speeded up the divestment of such firms. Better land use, monetising parking in city areas, and improving property tax collections are some other areas the government can think of. States such as Kerala, Punjab, and Sikkim allow lottery schemes to function to raise revenues – this should also be considered.

Would such an implementation mean cutting back allocation for other sectors? 

If this policy announcement of assisting distressed farmers is not simultaneously backed by structural reforms  to raise revenues, the government will be left with no other option but to cut down expenditure in other areas.

Why Did the FATA-KP Merger Happen Now?

Yesterday, the Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain signed a legislation that merged FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. At least notionally, the people of FATA now have the same rights as all other Pakistanis do. In a sense, the decolonisation of FATA began yesterday.

This is a landmark moment for Pakistan and the wider region. But the aspect of this decision that interests me most is: why now? What caused the Overton Window to shift now, making this policy change became feasible?

The FATA region has been critical to the Pakistani military-jihadi complex’s Afghanistan policy. The Haqqani Network and other assorted groups have used this region as a launchpad for their operations inside Afghanistan. And given that the military-jihadi complex (MJC) is at the helm of affairs in Pakistan, the FATA-KP merger indicates a change — tactical or strategic — in the MJC’s policy.

A strategic policy change implies that the MJC is seriously reconsidering its approach of using terrorism to achieve strategic gains. It further means that reeling under self-inflicted losses, the MJC is now thinking of reversing its policy stance towards Afghanistan and perhaps India. Though this sounds like great news, it is also just too good to be true. An indicator that supports this sceptical assessment is this: the MJC has merely replaced the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) with an Interim Regulation Order — old wine in a new bottle. ANP leader Afrasiab Khattak had this to say regarding the merger:

It is more likely that the merger is a tactical response that the MJC was forced to concede. If so, what were the forces that enabled this concession? The success of the snowballing Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) certainly seems to be the immediate trigger. Abolition of FCR was one of the major planks of this movement and the Pakistani Army has at least temporarily taken the wind out of PTM’s sails by agreeing to the FATA-KP merger. This is what a Pakistani analyst had to say regarding the PTM’s role in the merger:

the pressure created by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) cannot be ignored. The PTM has criticized the military for its heavy-handed approach in terms of dealing with ethnic Pashtuns living in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The movement has attracted strong support internationally and successfully built a narrative that accuses the military’s heavy presence as a reason for the region’s ill-treatment. While the military may have been planning to ensure FATA’s regulation, the pressure generated by PTM has only expedited the process.

But then again, if you have followed Pakistani politics long enough, you know that backing down is not the MJC’s style. If PTM were the only factor, they would have been managed through disappearances and even assassinations by the garden variety of namaloom afraads at the disposal of the MJC. So clearly, there’s some other factor at play here.

My speculation is that pressure by the US government had some role to play here. In fact, an allegation to this effect was made by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. There might be some grain of truth in this. A test for this hypothesis could be the economic gains Pakistan receives from the US (and IMF) in return for this ‘historic’ step. In recent months, Pakistan’s external debt situation has only worsened and the MJC seems primed to take a detour in its foreign policy in order to meet urgent economic needs.

What do you think made the MJC change its FATA policy?

 

The Nipah Outbreak and Kerala’s Public Health Systems

On May 25, the Ministry for Health & Family Welfare announced that the Nipah outbreak in Kerala had been contained. This came as a relief as the highly contagious virus had already claimed 18 lives.

The Indian Express has a good report that applauds Kerala’s public health systems for containing the spread:

By the time the NiV virus was confirmed, the health infrastructure in the district had been promptly spruced up by setting up isolation wards at the Medical College and the local hospitals. In the days that followed, people who had been in direct contact with the infected were immediately transferred to the isolation wards as they began showing symptoms thus breaking any further chance of spread of infection. Family members of the infected were put on home quarantine, their samples taken and their daily health parameters routinely checked by local officials. “We didn’t allow the virus to proceed in its natural cycle. Otherwise, there would have been a lot more fatalities. We were able to intervene at the right time,” said Dr Arun Kumar. [The Indian Express, May 26]

While the report appreciates the co-ordinated response of the Kerala and Union governments in dealing with this outbreak, it fails to highlight another important point: the highly decentralised nature of Kerala’s public health systems. In fact, in a study we completed last year on Public Health Expenditure in India (2005 – 2015), Kerala stood out in devolution of implementation functions in healthcare to its urban and rural local governments.

The differentiating feature is:

Unlike most other states, Kerala also does not provide much by the way of specific purpose transfers to panchayats and Municipal Councils in health. Instead, Kerala gives large amounts of general purpose transfers to local bodies (nearly 25 percent of the plan expenditures), some of which can be used for health and other expenditures. The local governments then decide how these funds should be allocated. Kerala also has an “Information Knowledge Mission” dedicated to running a system of accounts and payments for all local bodies in Kerala. They maintain a database that can disaggregate local body expenditures in health, water & sanitation and other sectors [Public Expenditure on Health in India: 2005-06 to 2014-15, Pavan Srinath et al].

My hypothesis is that this well-settled decentralised form of health administration had a big role to play in containing the outbreak. The empowered local governments were able to move quickly, without having to wait for explicit directives from the higher levels of government.

This claim needs more investigation but it is worth studying because it can help shape the self-governance debate in India.