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Store in India! Part II

By Ranjeet Rane

Why enforce, when you can enable and engage instead?

In my previous post I had proposed the idea of “Store in India” by using a four layered model, also while presenting the concept of a “Data Ecosystem” in the same post; I had discussed Data Sovereignty and Lawful Interception as the two layers around which the policy discourse of the data ecosystem is currently focused on. To evolve into a more holistic approach the policy discourse needs to take into consideration two more factors, namely “Data Intermediaries” and “User Privacy”.

Data Intermediaries are those body corporates that aid in the transmission, storage, and third party access of your data. Data Intermediaries find mention in the Indian IT Act 2008 and subsequent Rules as the sole custodians of user generated data. These intermediaries comprise of the entire spectrum of service providers including telecom operators, ISPs, cloud based services, Over the Top (OTT) applications and even Cyber cafes. They form the back bone of the physical infrastructure needed to sustain the data ecosystem.

It would be apt to mention that the National Cyber Security Policy 2013 categorically lists the need to engage in a PPP model to strengthen the cyber infrastructure in the country. While the policy awaits implementation in letter and spirit, contradictory examples of the Government using this proposed partnership to further its interests towards tapping into public communication networks can be stated. One such example is the announcement by Microsoft to terminate certain services of its Skype application in coming weeks.

While the business dynamics behind this decision are debatable, it is clear that the insistence of the Government to gain access to Skype calls in a bid to monitor anti-national groups has been one of the main reasons for the termination of this service in India. By creating and aiding the implementation of an ambiguous policy framework the government has prevented efficient utilisation of such services by the end user.

Further the nature and scope of these services (and the involved service providers) is undergoing a change as well. WhatsApp (and other messaging applications) which are being used by Law enforcement agencies to strengthen their traditional informant networks are also under the scanner for spreading defamatory and communally sensitive content. These services have a dual nature of application and present day policy structure is focused on blocking these instead of utilising the last mile connectivity options provided by these services. Policy makers need to accept this duality and encourage the integration of these in main stream communication channels across all levels.

While OTT applications are riding the popularity wave across multiple technology platforms, the ownership patterns of most of these applications are not transparent. Ownership of data nested at any geographical location will be difficult to establish as this sector undergoes its consolidation cycle in the near future. Indian authorities continue to ignore these trends in the Data Ecosystem and are stuck with the “Local Server” rhetoric. They however, have no answer to the legal, technical and logistical challenges that such demands brings to fore. Coercion and arm twisting as seen in the case of Blackberry servers may not always work. These intermediaries need to be engaged on multiple platforms and be enabled to “Store in India” than arm twisted into it

The last layer and the core of this model is that of “User Privacy” concerns in the data ecosystem. The realisation that ‘User’ is the keystone species of the data ecosystem is of utmost importance here. Data based services have been chosen by end users to serve specific purposes. If the present policies make it difficult for users to avail of these services, they will move on to the next option, which might not be based on data enabled networks.

Recently a report released by the Internet and Mobile Association of India states that by December 2014, India will overtake the US as the second largest Internet users’ base in the world. The numbers point to a staggering 302 million users. A very large percentage of this growth will be driven by the ‘mobile’ platforms. Google and Twitter have already put their weight behind these numbers.

This user base is reason that the Data Ecosystem exists. By interfering with user patterns, market regulators and policy makers may indirectly sound the death kneels for this ecosystem. A recent attempt of which was seen when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) conducted a round table on the possibility of Over the Top (OTT) applications paying spectrum usage charges to telecom service providers.

It is ironic that while on one hand the Government announces initiatives for a “Digital India”, on the other hand it tries to shape end user choices through market regulation. The policy makers need to propose a mix of measures, including but not limited to tax incentives, long term policy clarity, accountable methods of lawful interception, affordable local sourcing of hardware and other technology components and aggressively promoting the use of these data enabled services to further the cause of citizen service delivery. Microsoft is already tapping into the Indian market; it claims that local data centers will benefit organizations in the country adopting its technologies, by providing them with data sovereignty, lower latency and geo redundancy.

While the Narendra Modi led Government is pulling all stops to draw global focus to the potential to “Make in India” it is time that they also roll out a policy document that addresses the evolving nature of the Data Ecosystem in a long term perspective. The market has recognised the potential to “Store in India”; it is now time for the policy makers to resonate with an enabling environment for the same.

This is the second of a two part post. Read the first post here.

Ranjeet Rane is a research assistant on cyber-security at the Takshashila Institution.

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Devolve or die

By Anantha Nageswaran

Reflections on the Takshashila-Hudson Conference on ‘India – the way forward’.

I have just returned from a daylong intense conference jointly hosted by the Takshashila Institution and the Hudson Institute in Bangalore on August 2. There is an onslaught of ideas, information and even emotions. The brain struggles to keep pace and works overtime to assimilate all the information and arguments presented and finally, to make sense of it all, into a cogent whole.

If one day of ideas on four topics – labour, health, innovation and trade & investment – can send the brain into a tizzy – how difficult it must be for the so-called  policymakers and politicians (P&P) to make sense of a far greater bewildering range of information, emotions and pulls and pressures thrown at them non-stop, 24*7?

There are more than ten definitions of ‘wages’, numerous laws dealing with them, some contradictory and many confusing. Changes to the Apprenticeship Act 1961 first mooted as the last of the twenty-point programme of former prime minister Indira Gandhi is beginning to see the light of the day. India should not touch Chapter 5B of the Industrial Disputes Act for the next two years, at least – it is about the right to hire and… the right to fire. In the jargon, it is about labour market flexibility. But, is India’s problem about conferring another right – this time, the right to fire – or is it about creating more jobs to accommodate and engage the demographic youth bulge in the next two and half decades?

Then, there is the Health sector. India is said to be following the fashion of the day set by the World Health Organisation. Standards are set by the Government for hospitals. But, government is a player. It runs hospitals. Hence, the standards are enforced more on private hospitals with scope for corruption and abuse. India is gravitating towards third-party payer insurance model. No one has a stake to control costs in the ‘Third party pays’ – neither hospitals, nor patients nor the insurance companies. The Western world has defined all forms of medicine other than Western medicine, ‘traditional’ and ‘alternative’. In the Indian context, it should be the other way around, perhaps, given that Indian medical traditions, practices and medicines pre-date Western medicine. But, are there enough qualified practitioners with the right blend of skills, experience and ethics to apply traditional medicine to health and healing? The Medical Council of India restricts supply of doctors. India needs more doctors. Really?

Perhaps, India needs more ‘Licensed Medical Practitioners’ who can take care of the daily ailments that afflict people – some 80% of the outpatient visits to hospitals. In complex cases involving prolonged treatment, they can be referred to qualified medical practitioners. But, in other countries, they do not start practising after getting a basic medical degree which is what Indian MBBS is all about. Then, there are extensive regulations on inputs – size of classroom, size of laboratories but less on outcomes. The regulatory system is, as always, designed to catch even the last violator with the result that it makes compliance onerous, costly, wasteful and counterproductive for the reasonably to highly honest.

Then, the topic was innovation in India. India is content with mediocrity. There is no attempt to reach for the horizon. Science education is not given undue importance. May be, the scholarship given by the Central Board of Secondary Education for students undertaking Science Education in Bachelor’s and at the Master’s level needs to be publicised and commended. Should the government encourage innovation? Or, is government the problem? Have not many innovations in the West happened, ranging from nuclear power to medicines to Internet, because of the initial government support and research? Why talk of innovation when hardly 5 percent of around 1.0 million engineers that graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in engineering every year in India know any engineering at all? So, should India aim to get its plumbing right, to start with? Perhaps, as in the case of Maslow’s hierarchy, when a step in the ladder is crossed, the other step will automatically come into view and become more easily scalable? As Nitin Pai, good friend and the co-founder of Takshashila Institution often says, India may not be able to get its security right if it cannot get its sewage right.

Then, on to Trade and Investment. Should India hold the process at the World Trade Organisation hostage as, after all, the WTO is more egalitarian than other multilateral financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF? Will India get its infrastructure spending and other investment spending right if it develops a corporate bond market and eliminate its revenue deficit? Should India be mindful of the spillover onto its domestic economy and financial markets arising out of the policies adopted and executed in the West and free flow of capital across borders? How does India make sure that the financial sector and financial assets do not exercise an undue influence on household and corporate financials and net worth in India, as they do now, in the West?

We, the participants at the conference, did not have to decide on anything. However, P&P have to make decisions, fraught with unknown consequences, predictable and unpredictable reactions from the public and pundits (another set of P&P). Uncertain and unintended consequences must be bearing heavily on their minds. But, there is no getting away from it. If the enormity of decision-making leaves one paralysed, his place in the history books is assured, but for the wrong reasons. The people who headed the previous government in India should know.

Then, on the way to the airport to return to Singapore, I was discussing with my friend the case of a promising young company that is now in the market raising capital from investors at one-fourth of the valuation at which it raised capital some three years ago. How did the company lose its way? Not all but most start-ups with a good idea and an energetic entrepreneur eventually run into the Peter’s principle where every manager eventually runs into his ultimate level of incompetence. Things just become too complex for him to manage.

A day later and back in Singapore on Sunday as I was unpacking, the question that cropped up in my head is this: Can India really be managed? This question may sound hackneyed. However, I would like to submit that I am coming from the management angle here.

This question is often posed at the corporate level. Corporations start small, succeed and grow. They become too complex for the management team, howsoever talented and competent, to manage. They stagnate and struggle to survive. They have to be broken down into smaller units with substantial empowerment and autonomy or divested. So that the cycle can start afresh, in some sense.

This is an eternal truth because human cognitive limitations are the biggest binding constraint on managing complexity. As many researchers who have peered into figuring out how the human brain is wired have discovered, for the most part, our brains have stopped evolving after the Stone Age, and most of its instincts were honed in the days when we were just hunter-gatherers. The modern industrial age would not merit more than 4 inches of space from the end if all of human history were inscribed on a scroll a mile long. Hence, it is no surprise that the brain has not evolved to discern long-term trends, to distinguish random from systematic outcomes and focus on a multitude of factors at once. If this eventually comes in the way of managing corporations, it is even likelier to come in the way of managing nations. Especially given the size and diversity of India, templates or precedents simply do not exist.

Therefore, it is not an admission of inadequacy but an admission of a universal reality that any capable politician in India is going to run into the Peter’s principle. With 1.2 billion people and growing, democracy, open and subversive media, the explosion in the growth of social networks, 29 States and multiple languages, multiple layers of government, a complex legal and regulatory regime overlaid on the legacy of predatory and control regime of the colonial era, it is simply too much for any government to handle. Throw in information glut, the proclivity to argue endlessly, tendency to reach for instant gratification and much else, India is perhaps too overwhelming for Indian members of Homo sapiens. Then, is the message of this article one of despair and of no hope? May be not.

Given the enormity of the challenge faced, an attitude of resignation and cessation of efforts is a big risk. Giving up is not really an option. It is important to recognise that post-Independence modern India has survived and made progress on several fronts. Challenges remain not because they have not been tackled but the problems have kept getting bigger and more complex due to the relentless rise in the population numbers and we are where we are now.

Faced with a complex situation, the first step is to break it down into manageable, bite-size parts in every possible way. So, forget about tackling all things at once. If ingenuity has kept Indians going defying adversity in every aspect of their daily lives, the same ingenuity will guide them when conditions turn more favourable. So, the government does not have to solve all the problems. It can solve some – very few – and that would enable India to solve the rest of its problems on its own.

How about just making electricity available 24*7? Or, may be, the best brains in and outside the government can just agree on three most important things that the government should tackle first and three things that citizens can do, in return. Once some reasonable measure of progress is achieved on the identified goals, the country can move on to the next set of priorities. Why are citizens indispensable to the process? Well, simply because governing and growing India is too big and too important to be left to the government alone.

Second, devolve, devolve and devolve. India is too big and too complex to be a single administrative unit. A very loose federal setup is required. Substantial devolution of authority, responsibility and resources to the States and from the States to Corporations, to Municipalities, to Gram Panchayats and so on is urgently needed.

Some or most of these lower administrative units may fail. They may be too overwhelmed by the sudden change in their situation. They may not be able to cope. They have to be open to new ideas, to getting new people in and to new powers and responsibilities. Most may buckle under the pressure. Peter’s Principle is powerful. But, some will succeed and, over time, others may start to emulate.

Third, because there are no templates and precedents for India, it is important to run multiple pilots or multiple policy experiments simultaneously. No one answer will emerge that can be applied all over India. Far from it. In fact, plurality of solutions has to be expected, encouraged and even demanded. By its nature and given the uniformity it has to enforce, the bureaucracy might find plurality of policies and approaches the most difficult to accept and work with. They first need to become aware of this gap between their conditioning and what the reality demands. That is the first step towards acceptance and then mastery of the situation.

Fourth and finally, humility is called for – both from those who design and execute and from those criticise. We are dealing with a unique situation in many ways. Humility will make dialogue possible making it easier for a diversity of solutions to emerge.

With the above approach, there is a possibility that India becomes a positive role model for problem solving under complexity with such an eclectic, diverse and open-minded approach. If it did not, it can still be a role model but of the wrong variety.

Anantha Nageswaran is co-founder the Takshashila Institution and Fellow for Geo-economics.

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Digital Odisha

By Aditya Dash

Accesibility of knowledge is the great equaliser in society.

You can read this because you know how to read English. Imagine the internet content available for people who cannot read English? What if you can only read Oriya? The scope for accessing the vast ocean of knowledge on the internet is severely limited. This is a very fundamental barier and a very prominent but overlooked wall that make up the “digital divide”. We have the government and private sector focusing on the infrastructure hurdles such as fibre optic cables and internet connectivity through 4G networks. We have manufactures of laptops, cellphones, and tablets that will ensure that such devices will be made available at a very low cost to consumers. Is the Odisha market worth their trouble? Is it something that market forces can deliver?

Going by the 2011 census the literacy rate of Odisha is 73.45 percent (82.4 percent male, 64.36 percent female). Out of the literate population the percentage of people who can read and write English will be even lower. BJD being the prominent regional party should take the lead in making Oriya content available on the internet. The BJP can also take a lead and boost its prospects in the state. Let us acknolwedge the fact that the digital divide is not simply about lack of fibre optic cables in every Panchayat, language is a very real and very prominent wall in denying the fruits of the internet to the majority of the Oriya population.

The Department of Tourism & Culture should collaborate with Department of Information Technology and launch new schemes. One of the areas they could focus on is in translating relevant information in Oriya. The scope is immense so some focus is needed. The Food and Agricultural Organisation has a huge list of manuals for farming, horticulture, animal husbandary and fisheries all available in English. Translating these into Oriya would be an efficient way of disseminating valuble information. Another area where the state government can take a proactive role is by collaborating with popular software companies such as Microsoft, Google and Mozilla and launch an Oriya versions of their software.

While we wait and hope for the government machinery to act upon such suggestions there is plenty of scope for the private citizen to join this campaign. One can have an awareness session amongst prominent media organisations of Odisha for adopting a uniform (unicode) Oriya script for their websites. The unicode Oriya script is something like the unviersal Oriya script, however it will be useful only if people start using it. This is especially the case with the print industy which continues to use non-Unicode Oriya fonts for typing. Hopefully a prominent media organisation can lead by example.

The information revloution has made the world flat. Now we have a chance to contribute to society by simply creating content on Oriya Wikipedia or even English Wikipedia for that matter. Oriya Wikipedia could use a lot of volunteers, it currently has around 50 active contributors. Wikipedia for those who do not know is the online open source encyclopedia. Contrary to popular perception it is not somewhere where anyone can simply post and edit information. Citation rules are strictly enforced and voluntary editors ensure that the content is very accurate. Oriya Wikipedia hasn’t got the mainstream attention that such an important project deserves. Maybe young politicians and bureacrats can motivate society and raise awarness about this noble initiative. Educational institutions such as schools and universities can also contribute towards this project, the act of creating a valid Wikipedia entry has tremendous educational values. It enhances writing, research, and citation skills.

Other open source projects are also possible. There are simple ones such as identifying and writing about prominent tourist spots on popular apps like Google Maps, Wikimapia and TripAdvisor. Other more ambitious open source projects would include translating the huge collection of manuscripts available with the Odisha State museum. The museum will be (again don’t really know how long they will take) making the manuscripts available online, with help of the National Informatics Center. During my visit to the manuscript preservation lab I learnt that existing readers of Oriya language can easily learn and decipher the ancient palm leaf manuscripts (you do not need formal training for it). So join in and spread knowledge, appreciate the power of knowledge. Accesibility of knowledge is the great equaliser in society. Let us spread it.

Aditya Dash is a seafood exporter based on Orissa. He is also an alumnus of the Takshashila Institution. 

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A review of the political situation in Pakistan

By Pranay Kotasthane

The following points are meant to portray the picture emerging out of the political protests taking place in Pakistan.

One, it is amply clear from Imran Khan’s bizarre demand of temporary resignation of the Prime Minister (for the purpose of judicial enquiry) that he is being played up by the Army in exchange of future favours. No politician would demand a temporary resignation otherwise.
Two, Tahir-Ul-Qadri’s interviewwhich lauds the Army’s non-interference and neutral stances in political turmoils clearly points, at the very least to an understanding and at the most to a clear collusion with the Army. In the negotiations, his aim would be the safe exit of Pervez Musharraf and to get him onboard the Pakistani Awami Tehreek (PAT).
Three, it is not a coincidence that two protests, having different objectives are occurring at the same time. Realising that none of the two prime actors in the revolution is a game-changer by himself, the Army has propped them up at the same time for greater impact and subtler obfuscation. This is, at the minima – a bargaining chip used by the Army to wrest control from Nawaz Sharif and at the maxima, a coup under the garb of a political upheaval.
Four, the target of the protests seems to have shifted from Shahbaz Sharif to Nawaz Sharif. Shahbaz – whose party has 312 of the 371 seats in the Punjab provincial assembly seems to be safe unless he is removed under a compromise formula to keep his brother in power at the centre.
Five, a ray of hope is the stand taken by parties like the PPP and ANP, which augurs well for Pakistan’s fragile democracy.
Six, the army’s objectives in this game are:

  • Seek realignment over the Afghanistan policy whereby it wants to continue using Afghan Taliban as an actor in that state’s politics. Nawaz Sharif had advocated a non-interference approach earlier.
  • Oppose any significant reconciliation efforts with India that involves compromises.
  • Teach a lesson to the political establishment that opposed its stand on Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the GEO TV case.

Seven, soon the army will project itself as the third umpire which will break the deadlock in national interest.
Eight, a back-of-the-room compromise between the two arms of the Pakistani state – the government and the Army seems highly probable where the Army will meet each of its three objectives in return of letting off the government. PTI and PAT will get brownie points for their efforts from the military establishment.
Nine, these protests are paving the way for a new modus operandi substituting outright coups through which the Army will control the government.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Policy Analyst at the Takshashila Institution. 

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Should India accept China’s maritime silk road proposal?

Both India and China should come forward with guidelines and agendas to discuss regarding such maritime cooperation

By Piyush Singh

At the just concluded 17th Round of Talks between the Special Representatives of India and China in February on the boundary question, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jichei invited India to setup a Maritime Dialogue with China and also to join the “Maritime Silk Road” initiative it had mooted with ASEAN States. This proposal was surprising in the context that China had just carried out its largest ever naval drill in the Indian Ocean involving its largest landing craft Changbaishan cutting through Makassar Straits.

China contends that due to increasing trade and economic activity, the confluence of Indian and Pacific Ocean is necessary since nearly 70 percent of the World trade moves through this area. And Since India is major maritime power in this region, it is necessary that India take part in this initiative to make it a success. The “Maritime Silk Road” project first emerged in President Xi Jinping’s trip to South-East Asia last year. Originally planned to include ASEAN states, it was expanded to include Countries extending from India to the Middle-East. This “Maritime Silk Road” project will complement the Land Based Silk Road connecting China to countries of Central Asia and Europe. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi compared this new concept to the 2000 year old Silk Road, when much of the trade was carried out between China and other Central Asian countries through a series of land connected routes through which culture, trade and economic benefits was brought to all.

However, for this project to succeed China has to address concerns of the “String of Pearls Strategy” around the Indian Ocean. India has legitimate security concerns with regards to China’s increasing naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). China’s rapid naval build-up of ports in and around India has raised concerns in Indian military establishment on what is China’s true intention. China contends that it seeks to build these port facilities to safeguard its economic interests and to help in Anti-Piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Since there is no official “String of Pearls” strategy in official Chinese policy circles, the idea of “Maritime Silk Road” is being seen as having the support of top Chinese leadership. This initiative will also help in allaying fears about China’s not so peaceful rise since it will be primarily be focused on trade and economic cooperation. However India’s legitimate security concerns remain unanswered. Former Foreign Secretary of India, Kanwal Sibal has argued that India needs to tread cautiously on such initiative and the proposal is “too self-serving to receive our support”. According to him, China will follow up its economic interest with naval support in the coming future.

SriLanka had become the first country to officially sponsor the “Maritime Silk Road” and is expected to grant China further investment opportunities in the region.  Pakistan though has not yet given official consent to the project; it is expected to do so in the coming months especially since China has invested heavily in the development of Gwadar port. These countries have had an on-off relation with India in the past decade and are seen to move into the China camp in order to counter the Indian influence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

In order for this initiative to succeed it is very much essential that India shed its apprehensions and join this Project as an equal to China. China should go out of the way to safeguard Indian Interests and should make it clear that its role in the region is mainly for economic growth and prosperity. Opening of this new frontier between India and China will lead to further economic growth between the two states. India-China trade is currently valued at around $70 Billion and is expected to reach $100 Billion by the year 2016. Trade through inter-connected economic corridors between India and China will help in giving the much need momentum to the slowing economic growth of these countries. China has more than 3.5 Trillion $ in reserves and is looking for new markets for investments and nowhere it is going to find a more suitable market than India. Linking the Maritime Silk Road with the Land Based Silk Road through various economic corridors should bring much prosperity to the region. However China should not make these countries entirely depended on them and should allow local trade to flourish instead of flooding them with Chinese made goods and services. These initiatives of trade should be based on principles of equality through which each country’s intellectual property is protected and safeguarded.

With regard to Maritime Dialogue with China, India is looking at the proposal cautiously since many analysts view Indian Ocean as India’s backyard and any intrusion by China into this will not be accepted. However India should cast-off these apprehensions and should realize that in an increasing connected world it will hard to demarcate areas in the oceanic region. Same goes for China with regard to its activities in the South China Sea.

Both India and China should come forward with guidelines and agendas to discuss regarding such maritime cooperation. The Silk Road concept will go a long way in strengthening of bilateral relations and people to people exchanges as the old Silk Road led to transfer of Buddhism across the great Himalayas to China. The very economic cooperation between the two countries will define the future of Asia as they are regularly shown as adversary rather than friends. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his speech at Central Party School, Beijing in October, 2013 held out the proposition that India and China are destined to lead Asia to its glory days back again as friends rather than adversaries. A win-win situation would be created for both the countries. It is up to the new government to decide what China policy should be pursued? One of adversary or as harbinger of peace in Asia.

Piyush Singh is an intern at the Takshashila Institution

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Navigating the TPP waters

By Abhirup Bhunia

To keep off potential political and commercial isolation, India has to deftly navigate the TPP waters. 

Complex elements of modern day trade like protection of Intellectual Property Rights, seamless cross-border investments, labour and environmental standards for production, etc – together identified as “21st century trade issues” in common parlance – are being comprehensively dealt with by the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact which has caused much flutter in trade and foreign ministries worldwide, not least in developing countries.

The TPP is a trade agreement between the US, Canada and major Asia Pacific powers, Australia, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. It aims to tear tariff and non-tariff barriers down, ease investment flows and promote economic growth.  The US-led TPP once implemented will alter world commerce and bring about a shift in its geo-economics. Obama’s just concluded week-long visit to the Asia Pacific region has sparked off renewed interest in the TPP. While no significant gains have been made in this visit, the lack of a debate on the TPP in India is surprising as the TPP will impact India in more ways than one.

While China is still reportedly out of the TPP ambit, there are many reasons why India should think twice before opting out of the TPP. Regardless of the fairness of the TPP, its merits, and the manner of its operation, it is a huge bloc and it will make geo-economic sense (as well as pure economic sense) to simply join the same. India surely won’t make a point by swimming against the tide. But it stands a chance to do so once it is an active member of the group and its discussions.

Here’s why India can ill afford to join the TPP. While the Bali round has injected fresh ammo into the multilateral system, the WTO is still exposed to the possibility of being replaced by a supranational institution like say the TPP. And while India is part of the RCEP  (another mega FTA involving Asia Pacific powers), it reduces itself to the likelihood of being subjected to rules crafted between the major TPP powers, mainly the US, by staying out of the bloc. If mature democracies like India refuse to play an active role in democratising the international regulatory architecture, the TPP is going to emerge as the de facto regulatory body of global trade. This is because the TPP is by far the most comprehensive economic deal encompassing all the complex trade issues, besides commanding huge numbers. On whether it is excessively corporate friendly and overlooks some of the legitimate developmental concerns, there can be a separate debate and the same is highly called-for. However, by staying out of it, India does not benefit the developmental cause the least bit. All it does is that it isolates itself.

There are specific economic impacts that the TPP will have for India if it stays out of the agreement. Depending on the nature of concessions offered to the TPP members, India could stare at a loss of market share vis-à-vis the IT and services sector, which accounts for well over half of its GDP. India is already facing stiff competition in outsourcing from Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. While the latter, with the help of TPP, can develop a stronghold in the global services industry, there are indications that Philippines might be brought under into the TPP fold too. Although this looks somewhat distant now, it might spell mean further trouble for India, as Manila is already providing stiff competition to the Indian services industry.

A TPP sans India would also mean that FDI risks moving away from it to those countries that are part of the TPP. With the TPP also discussing regulatory harmonisation between nations – which envisages that MNCs do not have to deal with divergent set of laws – India risks becoming all the more unattractive as its legislations are not particularly aligned with global standards. While India’s spectacularly large consumer market and a rising middle class makes it an invariable foreign investment choice, firms have earlier faced issues with retrospective tax legislations, and the smoothening out of legislative hurdles in the TPP lands India in a comparatively disadvantageous position. Given its infrastructure building and job creating potentials, India will hardly be in a position to forego potential FDI inflows. India’s flagging manufacturing sector, which it seeks to invigorate through the National Manufacturing and Investment Zones (NMIZs) will also take a blow as the NMIZs seem to rely on FDI inflows to a quite an extent. The textile sector, for one, is likely to be badly hit. As a non-TPP nation, India will be put at a disadvantage as other textile manufacturers who are part of the agreement, notably Vietnam, will get a preferential treatment in the US markets. And with the US alone accounting for 30 percent of India’s readymade garment exports, the sector is in for some trouble. But the extent of trade diversion that will take place owing to India being kept out of the TPP remains to be seen. Although India has FTAs with ASEAN as a whole and many of its constituent members, it stands to lose market share to some of the ASEAN nations with which it competes for a share in the global market.

Then there is the geopolitical aspect. Should India miss an opportunity to make itself heard in a platform as big as the TPP (it commands 40 percent of global GDP and more than a quarter of global trade)? The answer is a resounding no. The geopolitical intentions of the TPP are quite well-known. US Vice President Joe Biden is quoted to have said about the TPP that it intends the high standards of the TPP to ‘enter the blood stream of the global system’. Thus US’ intention to be at the forefront of 21st century trade governance is unambiguous. India, as an emerging power, and a BRICS and G20 member, should voice its opinion in the TPP platform, if it hopes to remain a critical member-state for future global economic governance.

The US has officially shown interest in bringing India within the TPP fold but India does not seem particularly fascinated or capable, for that matter, to enter into an agreement that requires far-reaching reforms. This has got to do with India’s inability to provide concessions on policy/regulatory, environmental and labour fronts, a strict demand of TPP. Also since the TPP is a high level FTA involving tariff cuts across sectors without much room for flexibility, India might find it difficult to accede to tariff cuts in farm and merchandise products in particular. Meeting strict quality standards will be an uphill task for Indian exporters too.

Clearly India has a few issues to resolve in terms of economic dealings. But staying away from it is no solution. To keep off potential political and commercial isolation, India has to deftly navigate the TPP waters. While progress seems to be rather slow with the TPP, US officials have indicated that the TPP is nearing conclusion. Even as consensus building becomes a painful process with so many stakeholders, an Indian nod to the TPP will unfold a new chapter in the ten year long TPP saga.

Abhirup Bhunia holds an MA in International Political Economy from University of Sussex, UK and is currently a research analyst with the Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi. 

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Innovation – A competitive advantage

By Sardul Singh Minhas

India needs to make a significant additional commitment to R&D in the public sector as a strategic move to boost the country’s innovative capabilities.

We remember the legendary Steve Jobs as a master innovator. Apple was near bankruptcy when he re-joined it in 1997; he propelled it to become the world’s most valuable publically-traded company by the time of his death in 2011.

Despite owning only around 10 percent of the global mobile handset market in 2011, Apple collected 50 percent or more of the industry’s available profits. For instance, the 16GB model of iPhone 4s retailed for $649 in 2012, which included a hefty profit of $368 per phone to Apple. Public took a fancy to Apple’s truly superior products, and has been willing to pay a premium price for them. Furthermore, the benefits flow not to the distant off-shore manufacturers (Foxconn in China), but straight into Apple’s coffers in Cupertino, CA.

An innovator is a lot more than an inventor. Innovation is something original, new, and important that obtains a foothold in a market or society and, to quote Jobs, “makes a dent in the universe”. While an invention refers to the creation of an idea or method, innovation is at the heart of the process that brings together various novel ideas in a way that they have an impact on society. In the annals of innovation, new ideas are only part of the equation. Execution is the key.

Today’s personal computers, smart phones and tablet devices have at their heart two revolutionary developments, graphical user interface and bit mapping. Both were invented at the Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center. Xerox had tried to commercialise these technologies in the form of Xerox Star, a clunky and costly machine, which flopped. It was Job’s genius to recognise the enormous potential of these technologies, vastly improve them and, showing perspicacious judgment in what consumers would prefer, launched the train of dazzling new products such as the iMac, iPhone and iPad. While Sony was the inventor of Walkman, it was Jobs who created the iPod because he intuitively understood the joy of having a thousand songs that would fit in your pocket.

How does innovation benefit societies? Innovation is the key driver of competitiveness, wage and job growth, and long?term economic growth. It can also help address major global challenges such as energy and climate change.

Why are some societies innovative and others less so? Some societies are fluid where hierarchy is not rigid and employees believe that it is appropriate to challenge the status quo and direction from above, and creativity is higher. There is more trust between different hierarchical levels.

As a young nation, America has a big advantage over other large democracies such as European countries, Japan and India. These countries have deeply ingrained hierarchical patterns and sclerotic systems that developed over centuries. America’s advantage is magnified several fold over authoritarian societies, such as China and Russia, where communism left in place societies which do not encourage open inquiry and vigorous debate, with far less incentive to innovate. In a society like America’s, individuals have more reasons to expect compensation and recognition for inventive and useful ideas. The innovative trait is boosted by its education system, which encourages vigorous class room discussion. Such willingness to question and even challenge teachers is an utterly unfamiliar concept in Chinese and Indian schools.

A closely related factor is a society’s willingness to deal with uncertainty, or avoid it. In societies with high levels of tolerance of uncertainty, organisational rules can be violated for pragmatic reasons, conflicts are considered a natural part of life, and ambiguous situations are regarded as natural and interesting. In more rigid societies, working relations rules play an important role and are punctiliously followed. Uncertainty-averse attitudes mean that there is less incentive to come out with a novel idea, which will be possibly rejected.

Can we measure innovation? The global innovation index looks at both the business outcomes of innovation and government’s ability to encourage and support innovation through public policy. The latest global index was published in July 2013. The study measured both innovation inputs (such as, governmental fiscal and education policies) and outputs (such as, patents, technology transfer), as well as business performance (such as,  labour productivity and total shareholder returns) and business migration and economic growth. Switzerland, Sweden, the UK, Netherlands and the United States ranked 1 through 5, respectively. China ranked 35, and India ranked a distant 66.

Traditionally, the innovation capacity of a nation has been measured by the investment in research and development (R&D) as percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). Going by the data published by the World Bank in 2011, the top six countries came in as follows: Israel (4.2 percent), Japan and South Korea (3.7 percent each), Sweden (3.3 percent), Finland (3.1 percent) and the U.S. (2.8 percent). China’s R&D investment was 1.8 percent of its GDP.

The World Bank did not report India’s R&D expenditure as a per cent of its GDP. It is safe to say that India needs to make a significant additional commitment to R&D in the public sector as a strategic move to boost the country’s innovative capabilities. India also needs to introduce the discussion format in the education system to foment creative thought.

Dr Minhas resides in Southern California. He is a business consultant and a writer. He holds a Ph.D. in engineering.

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The Arctic and the impact of non-conventional oil on the OPEC

By Adarsh Mathew

Whenever the Arctic does become accessible, the region will throw up a potentially disruptive development in the energy markets with far-reaching implications.

OPEC’s traditional stranglehold over the world’s oil resources has eroded over the past few years. Part of it can be attributed to improved technology resulting in engines that are more efficient, along with the community’s desire to wean themselves off of oil. But a large chunk of this must be attributed to the discovery of other avenues of oil and energy. Brazil’s advanced deep-water drilling activities have provided the market with an alternate option to the parsimonious OPEC. Advancements in off-shore drilling and improvements in shale rock hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – have altered the erstwhile inelastic energy market.

The rise of shale and bitumen

The accelerating growth of shale and other such alternate options have been interesting to observe. Conventional gas drilling deals with rock structures which are porous, allowing the gas to flow freely to the surface after drilling. Shale rock houses gas in a low permeability structure and is located at deep levels, thus restricting their easy flow to the surface. The process used to tap into this involves forcing a highly pressurised chemical mix through land fissures, and rupturing these shale rock formations, releasing the gas. Oil sands – a now booming industry in Canada – contain bitumen, which is a viscous petroleum deposit. It’s mined and chemically treated with a caustic soda mix to release bitumen from the original slurry. Both of these are fairly disruptive processes, and require extensive capital investment, resulting in higher per-barrel costs compared to the extraction of conventional oil.

In spite of the higher production costs involved, shale and bitumen have gained market acceptance. Rising oil prices, coupled with instability in the Middle East and huge advancements in extraction technologies have aided this. Ironically, it’s the high prices set by the OPEC that make shale and bitumen economically viable. They provide a reliable short-term avenue for North America’s energy demands. It also allows consumers to mitigate the variable production policies of the OPEC cartel – albeit to a small extent – while allowing them the romanticized notion of self-sufficiency.

Role of Arctic reserves

The Arctic provides a further alternative to both these sources. With the US Geological Survey estimating in 2007 that almost of a quarter of the world’s untapped and undiscovered sources may lie in the Arctic, companies and governments have begun eyeing the far north as a long-term solution to their energy needs. Large resources coupled with geographical proximity makes it a lucrative option. Also, the influx of Arctic oil will serve to further weaken the OPEC’s oil-pricing regime.

Oil exploration and extraction in the Arctic is a project fraught with difficulties, risks, and a history of expensive failures. Royal Dutch Shell has put its Arctic exploration plans on hold, after spending close to USD 5 bn on a pilot project off Alaska with no results. Russia’s Shtokman oil field has been in the pipeline for over 30 years, and yet there has been no meaningful production on the facility till date. Harsh conditions and unpredictable weather pattern and ice movements are some of the problems faced by companies. But more importantly, setting up an oil rig here is difficult and perilous, with traditional off-shore drilling methods proving to be insufficient for the Arctic seabed.

Experts have also raised questions about the high lead times and transportation challenges that come along with Arctic exploration. The high costs of Arctic operations surely should scare away investors. In spite of this, there is tempered enthusiasm for Arctic exploration, and Russia is leading the way. With reports emerging about the long-term viability and environmental impact of shale fields, countries will turn to the Arctic eventually. This will only be aided by advancements in off-shore drilling and further melting of the Arctic landscape, allowing greater access to the area’s resources. Canada, Norway, and the US have commissioned projects for icebreakers to keep up with Russia’s fleet, and a revival of Arctic forces is on the cards for all these countries. Just like shale, the Arctic will be a viable alternative to oil from the Middle-East, a valuable risk diversification tool against any instability in the region.

Sustained, meaningful production in the Arctic might be some ways off, but if current rates of melting persist, the region should be just about ready by the time production from shale fields plateau and begin to decline. And there’s enough incentive to do so too. Russia – whose dominance in the energy market has been hit by the shale boom – has a large claim in the Arctic. They have several projects already underway, and have acknowledged the Arctic being a cornerstone of their strategic future. Putin’s grand strategy for Russia’s revival on the global stage will be funded by revenues from the oil industry, and the success of Arctic resource exploitation is integral to this plan. Canada aims to augment its growing shale and bitumen industry with off-shore Arctic drilling. Norway’s Statoil is already a partner in Gazprom’s Shtokman project, and has enlisted China as a partner for exploration in the Barents Sea. Realising the potential of the region, interested parties are trying to form partnerships with existing players to develop capabilities to try and tap into the region’s vast resources in the future, when nature allows them. All of this indicates to the evolution of a counter-balance to the OPEC’s oil pricing mechanism.

What do these developments mean for India? Geopolitical implications aside, this might result in a period of great flux for India’s energy security objectives. It is projected that as the US turns internally for its energy demands, India and China will be the OPEC’s biggest customers. With large populations and growing energy-guzzling economies, any increase in global demand will be fuelled by these two players. And thus, by extension, their dependence on the cartel. But the influx of oil from the Arctic will serve to disrupt these calculations. While India and China will look to explore their respective shale reserves, they should also work to establish mutually beneficial agreements with Arctic governments and oil companies, by leveraging their position on the Arctic Council. China has already announced a China-Nordic Research Centre in Shanghai along with Norway, Denmark, and four other Nordic nations. China also has significant leverage over Rosneft and Gazprom, ensuring its future presence in their Far East exploration projects. Japan – another big consumer of Middle East oil – has been eyeing the Arctic, both for the resources the region holds, and the new shipping options it presents. India has yet to make any meaningful move to establish or preserve its interests in the Arctic.

Predictions over when the Arctic will be completely ice-free vary significantly – some say 2020, some say 2050. But whenever the Arctic does become accessible, the region will throw up a potentially disruptive development in the energy markets with far-reaching implications. An oil rush seems inevitable, and interested parties are already moving in to ensure a piece of the resource pie for themselves. Here’s to hoping that this disruptive development doesn’t upend the whole system.

Adarsh Mathew is an intern at the Takshashila Institution and a student at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. 

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Hacking Indian journalism for fun and profit

By Pukhraj Singh

An average Indian journalist is like a teat pipette which spills more than it can suck to wreak havoc on the contemporary narrative. That is how Hunter S Thompson would have opined, if the S ever stood for Singh, which, I believe, could very well be the case. There are times when my dehorned scalp itches like anything to unleash the mendacity that I have acquired lately. I am tempted to conduct elaborate cyber-infiltration operations on these batty little boobs, exposing their gooey underbellies and scaring them so much that they run out giving a synchronised Wilhelm scream. But, of course, things like these have never fallen under my moral purview and, moreover, they require some institutional backing. I do, nonetheless, wonder if Indian journalists need to be terrorised like that, especially when they are so good at bitch-slapping each other.

The rant would stop just about here as the priority is to delve into the ever-present metanarrative and the esotericism of conversations in a brave, new and inordinately connected world. Right after my friend Hartosh Singh Bal was sacked and Tehelka fell prey to its own demagoguery—triggering a sadistic, feudal-quality fratricide within the cabal—I waited for that one opinion piece highlighting the plight of the listless reader. I contemplated whether the momentous rupture would make the journalistic community hold itself accountable to its readership more than anyone else, conceding to the massive breach of trust that had taken place, to preserve the sanctity of the written word and the impact it can carry. That was not to be.

There has been a lot of talk about media biases lately. I see it differently; I see it mainly as a clash between expression and reportage. As an engineer, I will bet my money on the fact that if one undertakes a simple lexical analysis of all the English-language news reports (English, because it will serve as a global standard) published in the last century, the one steady outcome would be that, postwar, the newspapers became increasingly subjective. I often ask why the linguist in Chomsky never thought of doing that before penning Manufacturing Consent.

 [James Cameron] was clear that ‘objectivity was of less importance than the truth’ and ‘the reporter whose technique was informed by no opinion lacked a very serious dimension’.

— N. Ram at the James Cameron Memorial Lecture 2012.

Like my journalist friends attribute incorrectly, Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the social media—Internet in their cargo-cult parlance—are not to be credited for this narrative inconsistency in the information revolution. I imagine Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up being the first critical departure, which Hemingway, Capote and Thompson summarily noticed, eventually leading us here. Internet only came later, and the radical ethos surrounding the social media, which the Indian press loves to wallow in, was gifted to us by the hacker or cyberpunk counterculture of the eighties. That’s cyber-anthropology 101.

I understand that the seeping Americanism in all this is a little disappointing, but not ignorable. Let me stretch this indulgence by mentioning a few major happenings in the media industry of the US, completely missed by the local beat. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, acquired The Washington Post for $250 million as, what seemed like a gratitudinous act. Pierre Omidyar of eBay set aside an equal amount for a new media venture with gung-hos like Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill. It arose as an opportunity from the growing frictions between the state and the press after l’affaire Snowden, aiming to tackle the entrenched biases within reporting and submitting to the moral scrutiny brought forth by a globalised environment. Needless to say, Greenwald would also carry along the treasure trove of classified NSA documents.

The fluffy idealism of tech billionaires does sound liberating at the first go, but speculations began doing the rounds of their intimacy with the law-enforcement and intelligence setup, the very catalysts of this upheaval. That charge was led by a spunky breed of writers spewing fire through their pens, the haggard pirates proudly holding the last-surviving bastion of gonzo journalism that was NSFW Corp.—recently acquired by PandoDaily, a Silicon Valley upstart backed by top venture capitalists. NSFW bears its leanings from the hallowed school of The eXile, an ‘outrageous’ yet highly-readable tabloid published from Moscow. The last piece of the puzzle that I am trying unravel here is the hiring of seasoned TV broadcaster, Katie Couric, as a “global anchor” for Yahoo!.

What’s with these dollar-fuelled interspersions at the borderlines of media? The simple answer being: the power of content, a heady cocktail undoing the sensory deprivation that comes with news. Content is the new world order, as The Cluetrain Manifesto foresaw in 1999— “markets are conversations” and “hyperlinks subvert hierarchy”. It is the same conversation that the NSA is trying to snoop and Google wants to capitalise on. It alters the media metanarrative by leveling the discourse, putting the spotlight back on the studios and newsrooms. Radiagate was its first nudge and Tehelka the baby-step. The Indian industry must learn that.

There have been some interesting experiments in the regional mediascape as well. Kafila.org is an online retainer of left-liberal tradition, but more feisty, interactive and wide-reaching than its print counterparts. Newslaundry and The Caravan are making decisive interventions into the metanarrative, but monetisation remains their primary woe. Firstpost is basically a newspaper over the net, harbouring little scope for innovation, and is backed by the same opaque funding sources that the readership is so wary of. While I was confounded by the math of sabremetrician Nate Silver, when he weighed-in on the $315 million takeover of the news aggregator and blog Huffington Post back in 2011, I am sure some lessons for a successful exit lie hidden in there. Few more can be picked up from ProPublica’s profitability. Closer to home, not much value-creation has been witnessed since the 2008 buyout of ContentSutra by Guardian Media Group for roughly $30 million.

Beyond the number crunching, the larger argument to be made here is the news generation becoming more socially and contextually aware, almost sentient, to the extent that it’s leaping out of the screen. One of the major challenges faced by the Guardian in presenting a story as complex, path-breaking and rapidly evolving as the NSA leaks was to keep the lay audience abreast. It pushed the boundaries of “digital storytelling”, learning from the past tryouts in convergence journalism like Firestorm and The New York Times’ Snowfall. The underlying plot glided over a vignette of multimedia and textual mash-ups to bring alive the subjects—with the message truly upending the medium. In this era of Human-Computer Interaction, the newsroom and ‘skunkworks’ will have to collectively engineer the content.

It is time to move over from the off-putting Content Management Systems and understand that the news-cycle doesn’t stop at merely commenting, sharing, liking or trending. Bidirectional, community-driven ecosystems will have to be created around conversations and journalists should stop acting like the vanguards of objectivity. The old-fashioned structures of control and moderation need to be pulverised. NDTV and even Tehelka initially leveraged this symbiosis to a limited degree, but they have served their purpose. De Correspondent, a crowdfunded online journalism startup based in Holland has raised an impressive $ 1.7 million, coincidentally aspiring to meet the same ideals of New New Media. The consumers will become the producers, the global would have to exist in harmony with the local—allowing the news to breed virally, fostering a grand unified meme-fication of the discourse.

The title of this piece is inspired by a 1996 paper ‘Smashing the Stack for Fun and Profit’ by Aleph-One AKA Elias Levy, published in the underground hacker e-zine, Phrack. It revealed a pioneering new computer exploitation technique that still holds the Internet at ransom. The author had the honor of briefly working with the same research team as Levy at Symantec.

Pukhraj Singh (pukhraj@gmail.com) occasionally taps into the cognitive dissonance that arises from being a cyber-warfare analyst, a media observer and a social activist. He is the founder of Abroo. The opinions expressed in this piece are personal.

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Preparing to grow older: A Conversation

Malaveeka Chakravarthy

Having a country level conversation about what can be done to safeguard the rights of the elderly and the utility of the Convention in particular would be useful.

“May you live a long life” has gone from being a blessing to reality. Thanks to a host of factors, almost 700 million people in the world are now over the age of sixty and in 2050, this number is projected to jump to 2 billion when for the first time in human history, there will be more people over the age of 60 than children in the world. What these numbers mean is that we need to prepare for an ageing nation. Part of this preparation is addressing questions on who is responsible for the care and well-being of older persons and to what extent. Issues like affordable access to health care and caregiver support, giving informed consent to medical treatment and in financial matters including property and inheritance and age related employment discrimination also need to be tackled.

Over the last few years, there have been many discussions on how best to protect the cultural, economic, legal, civil, political and social rights of older persons whose vulnerabilities grow with age. One of the several ideas proposed has been to come up with a new international treaty safeguarding these rights. There are two opposite points of view about this idea – the “normative gap” group believe that the present legal structure concerning the rights of the older persons is patchy and uncoordinated and an international instrument specifically guaranteeing these rights is key while the “implementation gap” group is of the view that there is already an adequate  framework in place and the problem is that of poor implementation resulting in the lack of protection of the elderly. The scope of this post is to discuss whether there is a need for a new international convention  tailored to protect the rights of older persons.

At present, there are three main documents devoted to ageing and old persons: The 1982 Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing, the UN Principles for Older Persons and 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA). These instruments are non-binding. The “normative gap” group point out that due to their non-binding nature, these instruments have a limited impact.  They also point out that none of the foundational human rights instruments explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of age.* Of the nine core human rights treaties, only the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (Articles 1.1 and 7) prohibits discrimination based on age and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Article 11.1.e) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Articles 25.b and 28.2.b) mention older persons in a restricted context.

The “normative gap” group believes that the result of the lack of an international instrument is the problem of not having a single set of minimum standards. While most countries have some sort of protection in place, national policies vary widely with regard to the rights afforded to older persons. An example of this would be the right to social security. The argument that existing human rights instruments don’t explicitly refer to age is weak. The grounds of discrimination are only illustrative and not restricted to those enumerated. Interpreting ‘age’ as a ground in a non-exhaustive list isn’t a stretch for those well versed in the interpretation of laws especially in the light of various clarifications been made by treaty body monitoring mechanisms regarding the applicability of human rights instruments to older persons. Further, it has been observed that there are limits to the enforceability of international conventions, the accountability system is weak and overburdened and there are no effective sanctions.

The MIPAA already acts as an international standard albeit a voluntary one. Most countries already have protection systems prohibiting discrimination under the Constitution and special laws, schemes, policies and concessions for the benefit of the elderly. For the time being, the focus should be less on matching basic requirements with other countries / regions and more on the implementation of the existing structure. The heart of this dispute is the issue of consensus. The large number of abstentions by countries including India, on Resolution 67/139 (to receive proposals for negotiating a new ageing convention) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly highlights the fact that most countries don’t want a new treaty. What’s more, negotiating a new instrument will cost significant time and money which, given the poor consensus, seems wasteful.

In conclusion, a new treaty isn’t going to resolve all existing concerns about protecting the rights of older persons but neither is relying on implementation alone given that many countries have limited resources and inadequate legal systems to ensure proper implementation. It is best to address this using time-based goals. In the long term, it is important to build global consensus so that there is a uniformity of protection afforded t the elderly all over the world. In the meanwhile, this issue is better served by closing the implementation gaps locally. Having a country level conversation about what can be done to safeguard the rights of the elderly in general and the utility of the convention in particular would be useful.

In addition, as suggested in a joint report between UNFPA and HelpAge International, making available better quality of data on older persons at a national level, using available resources to implement and better monitor existing policy, developing and implementing coordinated responses to ageing across all government ministries and agencies and investing in capacity building to respond to the demands of the demographic transition, ensuring that existing sectoral policies are age-adjusted and reflected in national budget priorities, strengthening ageing mainstreaming into all sectors of public policy, ensuring that resources are available for the bottom-up evaluation of policies and programmes and sharing and communicating good practices in policy implementation, legislative action, data collection and analysis are achievable but solid steps that can be taken towards preparing for an ageing nation.

*The term “other status” has to be interpreted to include age. “[…] without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”

Malaveeka Chakravarthy is a graduate of Columbia Law School, New York City.

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