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Snapshot of 2016 military modernisation in India

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

 A mixed year of  hits and misses, what is most pertinent for defence policy is military modernization and overdue defence reforms

The year that has gone by has been a mixed one as far as defence forces of India are concerned. It started with an attack on Pathankot airbase . Observers were quick to point out that this was a reply to Christmas 2015 visit of Prime Minister Modi to Pakistan. Little do they realise that planning for an attack of this magnitude could not have taken place in a week. Nevertheless, this exposed a chink in the security of military bases in India. The subsequent attacks in Uri in which 17 Indian soldiers were killed kept the world waiting about India’s response. What India replied on September 29, 2016 with a ‘surgical strike’ has signalled a new normal in India-Pakistan face off. India’s defence spending at about US $ 48 billion as per the 2016-17 budget stood at the sixth position in the world rankings with China at number two.  The successful testing of 5000 plus Km range Agni V missile on December 26 has China genuinely worried.

According to defence economist Laxman Behera, the finance minister made a key change in the nature of allocation of defence budget. However, the capital expenditure component (that effectively indicates the acquisition) of about 10% (army), 30% (Air Force) and 40 % (Navy) is something that must worry the policymakers. There is a renewed thrust on Make in India as far as thrust on technological improvement is concerned. But how much it has impacted on capability is something that is highly suspect. The import bill is still phenomenally high. Prime Minister Modi rightly pointed about using technology to reduce manpower costs and making military leaner.

The Navy hosted an International Fleet Review that saw participation from more than 50 countries. With power projection and the goal being a ‘net security provider’ in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the naval display was undoubtedly the centre of attraction. With the nuclear submarine Arihant getting its punch in the form of an operational ballistic missile, the second strike capability has been completed. Of course, the Scorpene documents leak in August has put in a brake in the conventional submarine capability proving that dependence on foreign suppliers will always be with a caveat. In November, the largest ship made in India, INS Chennai guided missile destroyer was inducted. The year ended with Navy exercising with Russia in the Bay in Bay of Bengal. With a goal of 200 ship and 600 aircraft in 2027, the maneouvres of the Indian Navy would be closely watched by the US. For this is the capability that would be most vital if the US looks for a partner in developing its ‘pivot’ in East Asia as a counter to China. Justifiably, India is inching closer to sign defence agreements—the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) and Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA).

The Indian government signed the landmark Rafale deal to bolster the strike capability of the Indian Air Force. Although the outgoing Air Chief Marshal Raha stated the numbers are inadequate, he vouched for its exceptional technological superiority.  With Tejas being in the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) stage, the IAF is optimistic about the aircraft to replace its ageing MiG 21 and MiG 27.

While the recent appointment of army chief had its share of controversies, the government has indicated that it will move towards the much needed joint chief of defence staff in 2017. This long standing reform will hopefully propel the military toward greater potency and ‘bang for buck.”

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: India Gate by Arian Zwegers from creativecommons.org

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Politicisation of armed forces to collect funds is deplorable

Recent announcement of donating Rs 5 Cr. to Army welfare fund by bollywood producer-director Karan Johar cannot be repentance for sins of commission and omission by political parties 

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

In one of the most brazen forms of extortion witnessed in recent times, a political party in Mumbai extracted a promise of donating Rs 5 Cr to the Indian Army from Karan Johar. The reason for asking this kind of money was for penance by Karan Johar for casting Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in his yet to be released movie Ae dil hai Mushkil. The capitulation of Karan Johar and Maharshtra state Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who brokered the deal has been one of ultimate cravenness in the face of unreasonable demands. Politicisation of the army in this manner reeks of selfishness to further the short term goals of the party in question.

There wouldn’t have been any issue if the donation was voluntary. It gained salience only because the director was threatened with violence. The scheduled release on October 28 was put on hold because the party workers of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) had orchestrated protests. A party that managed to garner only a single seat in the assembly elections of 2014 in Maharashtra saw this as a perfect opportunity to capture public mindspace.

There is nothing wrong in wanting to respect the army and the sacrifice of its soldiers. To find common cause in a soldier guarding the nation’s frontier should be a matter of pride for any citizen. What runs counter to common sense logic is why to mix the issues of Pakistani artistes working in Indian movies and the army? The issue of granting visas to Pakistani artistes must have been taken only after deliberation by the central government.

Fortunately, the defence and Information and Broadcasting ministers have slammed this deal. That was to clearly demonstrate to the public that the central government does not appreciate this act of coercive donation. The army too has refused to accept this money. But the centre could have gone further. Mere condemnation is not enough. It is time to ask as to why should the rule of law be subverted? Why should any government give in to this form of thuggery? Now since the issue is deemed to be settled, should we expect the workers of the MNS to get back to their daily life? Of course, no. We can certainly expect some other kind of protest over seemingly inane issues.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow in geostrategy programme at Takshashila and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured Image: PM Modi pays homage to martyrs of Indian army at Badami Bagh in Srinagar courtesy creativecommons.org

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Thucydides Revisited-Indian Army’s Surgical Strike on September 29

The Indian resolve to strike at Pakistani terror camps as a fitting response to Uri attacks and call Pakistan’s bluff demonstrates clearly why Pakistan must learn from military history

The latest surgical strike by India across the Line of Control (LoC) has called off the ‘nuclear blackmail’ bluff by Pakistan. Ever since the Uri incident on September 18 in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed, the laundry list of responses that India had was met with the veiled threat of nuclear retaliation by Pakistan. The TV anchors on both sides of the border had effectively decided what their government strategies would be. It now emerges that the Indian government’s response to Uri attack was a well planned riposte to repeated sabre rattling by Pakistan in the form of aggressive posturing at the UN General Assembly. Had the Pakistani Military-Jihadi complex bothered to learn a little bit from military history, they would have realised how wrong they were.

In the ‘History of the Peloponnesian’ war, Thucydides succinctly brings out the nuances of negotiation between a strong and a weak power. In what is famously known as the Melian Dialogue, there are striking parallels in what happened over the past fortnight or so. Melians were the inhabitants of Melos, a much weaker power that went to war with Athens. They had a close ally in Sparta, a geographically distant power. All along the Melians thought that Athens would not dare attack because Sparta would help Melos. Athens would not be stupid enough to ruin itself by such a risky gambit and come to grief.

In the final dialogue between representatives of both the sides, the Athenians wanted to impress upon the dire consequences that could befall Melos if it persisted with its stubborn stand. The Melians as usual were recalcitrant and unrelenting in their pursuit. The parting shot of Athenian representative summed it all.

“……judging from this decision of yours, you seem to us quite unique in your ability to consider the future as something more certain than what is before your eyes, and to see uncertainties as realities, simply because you would like them to be.

Post the Uri attack, in the diplomatic confrontation between India and Pakistan, the US always lurked in the background of Pakistani mindset as the proverbial Sparta who would come to its aid. The Pakistani establishment seemed to carry a historical baggage when the US would come to its aid in the event of any confrontation with India. The same was buttressed recently when the US stopped short of naming Pakistan as a sponsor of terror. Little did Pakistan realise that it was the same US that did not hesitate to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to kill Osama Bin Laden in a top secret mission. India gave all the warnings and tell tale signs of a fitting retaliation that fell on deaf ears of Pakistani policymakers.

‘Any crossing of the LoC would be met with severe retaliation’ was the oft repeated cliche by Pakistan. To state that such a provocation would be a red line from which India could not retreat had gained currency across the spectrum of Pakistani political and military establishments. To call off such a bluff, the strike had been planned immediately after Uri attack. Every opportunity was given to Pakistan that always hid behind the oft repeated excuse of ‘non state actors.’ As the highly successful strike by the Indian army demonstrated, a threshold in confrontation was crossed. Not only this. Like an astute chess player, the Indian political, diplomatic and security establishments would surely have their strategy mapped out for the next twenty moves or so. India did not blink. Just like Athens did not when confronted with an obstinate Melos!

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow in Geostrategy programme at Takshashila Institution

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India’s Nepal policy after Prachanda’s elevation to Prime Minister

India’s policy towards Nepal should be viewed as a friend and trusting neighbour rather than a bully

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda’s ascent to being the Prime Minister of Nepal on August 3 has come at an opportune time for India. Unveiling ‘Neighbourhood first’ policy in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke through the tradition when he invited the heads of state of all bordering countries for his swearing in ceremony. The case of Prachanda is unique in the sense that he has had a blow hot-blow cold relationship with India in the past. In that sinusoidal curve of blow cold in the latest phase, it was in all probability that India catalysed his ascendancy, miffed as it was with his predecessor K.P. Sharma Oli.

If Monroe doctrine is the bible to international relations, then India’s moves with Nepal do not fit into this framework at all. Put simply, Monroe doctrine dictated to the European powers in the early part of 19th century that the USA would brook no interference in its politics and no further colonisation could take place. This was one of the factors that helped the US emerge as a hegemon in the 20th century. A landlocked country like Nepal situated in the northeastern part of India and sharing a long 1850 Km border with India should in all probability be a client or a satellite state of India.

India for its part has been blamed by Nepal for being too overbearing. Consider this—during the devastating Nepal earthquake in May 2015, in spite of $1 billion help and the speed with which it was rendered, India was left red faced when it reminded Nepal about this during Nepal’s new constitution. India’s response of advising Nepal to address the concerns of all by which it meant Madhesis (people in the southern plains of Nepal) irked Nepal to no end. Nepal accused India of interfering in its affairs and nonchalantly went ahead and enforced the constitution. India retaliated by blockading Nepal that resulted in critical supplies being denied, chief among them being diesel.

Meanwhile, the then PM of Nepal, K.P.Sharma Oli was consistently battling his opponents as his own position was getting weakened. The main charge against him by Prachanda was his inability to give political stability.  Prachanda, who was the PM from 2006, had to step down in 2008 due to his differences with his army chief. He blamed India for this. The wheel has now come full circle. Prachanda has become the PM courting India’s help. The charge that India has acted like a big brother trying to meddle in Nepal’s domestic politics is not without substance. In 1989, India imposed economic sanctions on Nepal for importing military equipment from China. Nepal has not forgotten this.

As a result of feeling dominated, Nepal does what a weak power normally will do—seek a stronger power’s help, which in this case is China. Nepal feels that by doing this, it can keep India in check. Now, it is for India to get its Nepal policy back on track after some misses in the recent past. Assistance in the form of infrastructure building will go a long way in assuaging Nepalese. The actions must be seen in the form of friendly help rather than a big bully. Only this would help cement India’s Monroe doctrine.

Guru Aiyar is Research Fellow with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image – Stars over Everest 2 by Sam Hawley licensed from Creativecommons 

 

 

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Another diaspora conundrum-Saudi Arabia

Evacuations of expatriate Indians from foreign countries present our policymakers with tough questions and it is time that the Indian government sets out a clear cut policy

By Guru Aiyar(@guruaiyar)

The recent rescue operations by the Indian government from South Sudan looked like a well scripted Hollywood movie where the country comes to the rescue of its beleaguered citizens abroad. Within two weeks, another crisis looms in Saudi Arabia where Indian workers are reportedly living in sub human conditions. The Minister of External Affairs, General V.K.Singh (retd.) has already left for Saudi Arabia and has confirmed that 7700 workers are affected.

The above situation is nothing new. The expatriate workers from South and Southeast Asia belong to the cheap labour pool who work in sweatshop conditions. In 2006, 4000 South Asian labourers were deported by the United Arab Emirates on charges of vandalism when they were only protesting for fair wages and working conditions. The Indian government is signalling a very important message now. The message says that you can’t mess with the Indian workers. Providing food to the starving Indians in the camps is one thing. But to evacuate them back to India completely changes the dynamics of the situation.

There are approximately 3 million Indians in Saudi Arabia alone and about 7.3 million in West Asia. Mass evacuations using the military and commercial assets implies a huge cost to the exchequer. In this, using commercial assets is the best option. Military assets like naval ships and air force aircraft are much costlier (use of C-17 Globemaster costs US $ 24,000 per hour). Of course, it needs to be understood clearly that when human lives are at peril, no cost can be attached. In this particular situation, it can be said that workers cannot pay for their passage and thus it needs to be borne by the exchequer.

If cost-benefit analysis is to be the basis for evacuations, then the government must have contingency plans drawn up. West Asia is the most volatile of regions in the world. India has been involved in six evacuations within the last decade itself. Even geographically, the distance to Doha and Riyadh are less than 3000 km. I have argued in my earlier columns for evolving a strategic evacuation policy which calls for involving the commercial airlines and shipping. With Air India beset with its own travails, this has become imperative.

Diaspora politics can be extremely tricky and a veritable landmine for diplomatic and international relations. Should all the diaspora be treated with the same yardstick? Does a Non Resident Indian (NRI) blue collared worker surviving on the margins of host country deserve the same kind of treatment as a wealthy Indian billionaire based in North America or Europe? Does the Indian state bear any responsibility towards fifth or sixth generation naturalised Indians in Mauritius or Guyana? Should the Indian government evacuate Indians from Fiji if there is ethnic or racial violence? Or should it have a line that says that the Indian state is responsible only to ‘Indian passport’ holders and not others? These are the kind of questions that our policy makers in the ministry of external affairs ought to be grappling with. There are no easy answers. The final call lies with our elected politicians.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

 

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Repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir will need extremely deft political approach

The repeal of AFSPA from the civilian areas of Kashmir is imperative to resolve the present impasse

By Guru Aiyar(@guruaiyar)

The killing of Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani on July 8 by the security forces has once again set the cauldron of Kashmir on fire. All the gains made in Kashmir after the assembly elections last year and subsequent government formation have been completely frittered away. What more, Prime Minister Modi and Nawaz Sharif’s meet in Delhi on May 27 to improve bilateral relations is a dead letter now, especially after recent sabre rattling against Pakistan. What can surely improve the situation in Kashmir is partial revoking of the AFSPA from urban centres and keeping it alive on the areas close to the Line of Control (LoC) and northern areas bordering China.

The Act was imposed in Kashmir in July 1990 after full blown eruption of militancy in the valley. Twenty six years of the Act in force has come at a very high cost, both to the Indian forces as well as people of Kashmir. An Amnesty International report last year  detailed that AFSPA has claimed more than 43,000 lives, about half of them being militants. Slightly less than one third of total killed were civilians and the rest being security personnel. The record of prosecutions of security personnel is abysmally low against allegations of abuse and torture. No one denies that the security forces are doing a yeoman’s sacrifice. But, there is no suppressing the fact that they have been operating under near impunity  which is one of the factors for festering insurgency.

Repealing the Act is an extremely challenging task—one that needs political courage, confidence and a statesmanlike approach to problem solving. Next comes the incentive—gains that are to accrue should the act be repealed. Like any complex jigsaw, the aim should be to break it into minor solvable puzzles. There are two aspects to repealing the act—“why” should it be done, and “how” it can be done? It is easy to answer the first question. The first time time any government came closest to was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) I when it appointed a commission under a retired Supreme Court judge Justice BP Jeevan Reddy Commission. The commission, which had a retired General from the army, unanimously recommended that the act be repealed. It termed the act “too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars.” 

There is no need to reinvent the wheel while debating about repeal of the act. The question “how to do it” can be answered by first repealing the act from major urban centres and hinterland of Kashmir. Omar Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir had precisely suggested this in 2013. To assuage the concerns of the security forces, they can be made to operate under  Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) 2008 with adequate safeguards. 

The situation now has got caught in a vortex of political conundrums. The politicians claim that it is the army who is objecting to the repeal of AFSPA. The army, on its part claims that the situation is not ripe to repeal the Act. But when the situation was ripe in 2010, what was it that prevented the army from acceding? Simply raising the fear of Pakistan in the minds of politicians naturally propels them to persist with the status quo.

Wajahat Habibullah, a retired bureaucrat articulated this very clearly  when he stated that there no need for the army in civilian areas of Kashmir. The AFSPA can continue in areas on the LoC with Pakistan and to counteract the menacing presence of the Chinese army on the northern areas of Kashmir. There is no need for the army to be in the civilian areas in Kashmir. It is time that political will gets asserted unequivocally. Even if the army and defence ministry is overruled, this will be a game of brinksmanship to get a political consensus by the ruling party—not only from within, but even across the spectrum. Prime Minister Modi’s acid test will be to retrieve the present situation which is on the verge of disaster. It is an extraordinarily tough call. But extraordinary situations demand completely ‘out of the box’ solutions. In all probability, the prime minister would like to be remembered as the statesman who solved Kashmir.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow with Takshashila Institution, an independent think tank on strategic affairs and geopolitics and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image – Indian Soldiers in Kashmir by Barry Pousman licensed from creative commons.

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India’s Stand on the South China Sea Ruling between China-Philippines

The normative stand taken by India on the South China Sea dispute between China & Philippines is in keeping with its stated principle of non-interference and respect for International Law

Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

India’s position is bang on target as far as the recent decision (July 12) by the international arbitration tribunal, The Hague on the dispute between China and Philippines is concerned. The court ruled that “there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources falling within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine dash line’. As was expected, China disagreed with the ruling. The US position is that the ruling should be treated as final and binding.

Mr V.K. Singh, India’s Minister for External Affairs had the following to say at recently concluded 14th ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at Viantiane, Laos

As a State Party to United Nation Convention on Law of the Sea(UNCLOS), India urges all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans. India supports freedom of navigation, over flight and unimpeded commerce, based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the UNCLOS.” Singh also stressed upon “maritime cooperation as a key priority.”

China has laid sovereign claims on the areas within South China Sea based on historical legacy and then rounded it off for the first time in 2009 with what is called the ‘Nine Dash Line.’

The US has always held Freedom of Navigation operations (FON OPS) as central. But China believes in what one can term as ‘strategic ambiguity’. There is a difference between sovereignty and jurisdiction. Sovereignty is like ownership of property domestically whereas jurisdiction roughly equates to an ability to benefit from or license the use of specific produce in an area (like the fish and hydrocarbons within the exclusive economic zone [EEZ] or a mining lease). Jurisdiction does not mean that one can impose controls on navigation or control the areas as if it is ownership. China has always reacted strongly to FON ops in the South China sea by the US. With the strategic pivot to Asia, we are in for interesting times. The US has unabashedly stated that it will continue to operate in the South China Sea by engaging in flight and naval activities, according to Admiral John Richardson, the chief of US Navy.

As India plans to host East Asia Summit (EAS) Maritime Conference in November this year, the issue of FON is certainly going to be a focal point of discussion. According to the Maritime Strategy unveiled in October 2015, South China Sea is a secondary area of interest to India. What role India plays as an emerging power in Asia and how it engages with China are somethings that would be of deep interest to policy makers .

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Chinese map of Spratly Islands by Joe Jones licensed from creativecommons.org

 

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Pakistan’s move to exhort US to bomb Taliban’s hideouts presents India with a conundrum and a probable opportunity

Pakistan’s overtures to the US for bombing Tehreek-e-Taliban opens up interesting possibility for India’s Afghanistan policy

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

 

The recent statement by General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Pakistan army exhorting the US to bomb Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) hideouts in Afghanistan must be taken with a pinch of salt by the policy makers in India. Not even a month back, Pakistan had made shrill protests when a US drone killed the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Mansour. The Pakistani anger was obvious at its territorial integrity  being violated as Mansour was targeted in Balochistan. Moreover, Pakistan has always been making the distinction between what it calls the ‘good’ Taliban (under its present leader Haibatullah Akhundzada) and ‘bad’ Taliban (under Mullah Fazlullah).

It was the TTP which claimed responsibility for massacre of school children in Peshawar in November 2014. The Pakistani military establishment went after the outfit that tremendously enhanced the army’s image among the general public. However, it has always shielded the Taliban that has brutally engaged the security forces of Afghanistan and the US.  After the rout of Taliban by the US forces post 9/11, it was Pakistan which was seen as the brain behind the escape of their top leadership. There were allegations of the US having quietly acquiesced to the infamous Kunduz airlift  in November 2001 just to placate Musharraf.

Much has occurred after that event. After spending close to a decade and a half, the US drawdown is a reality. As Obama Presidency draws to a close, the US administration would not be hostile to any Indian move. The drawdown of US forces has further emboldened Taliban. It has rejected any peace moves by the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) consisting of the US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The feared Haqqani network in league with the Afghan Taliban has started to unleash violence as never before. As part of their spring offensive, the Taliban have set off deadly bomb attacks killing 54 in April and another 10 in May 2016. In the midst of all this, what are the options for India?

India must seize this opportunity of US drawdown and bat for a representation in any grouping that hopes to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan. As there are ample hints of cleavages in the Taliban, India must assist those factions that are open to peace. This could be a complex task as the Afghan society is divided along the lines of tribal and clan loyalties. The emasculated role of the US must make way for a larger role for India in Afghanistan without placing boots on ground.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured Image : Afghanistan by Ricardo’s Photography, licensed from creativecommons.org

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Towards a coherent government policy on diaspora security

The recent war of words between the state government of Kerala and the centre over evacuation of Indians from Libya highlights challenges of evolving a clear and coherent policy on diaspora security

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

On 12th May, a group of Indians evacuated from the conflict zone of Libya were received by their family members at Cochin International Airport. They were evacuated as a life saving measure. Libya has been in the grip of a civil war since 2014. The two warring groups are the democratically elected and internationally recognised Libyan government and the rival Islamist group called the General Nationalist Congress (GNC).

What is appalling in this episode is the serious mistrust between the state government of Kerala and central government, specifically the ministry of external affairs. The Chief Minister of Kerala Mr. Oommen Chandy reportedly asserted that the centre only cared to ‘sympathise’ with the plight of stranded Indians.     Union Minister of external affairs Ms Sushma Swaraj took to twitter to criticise Chandy. The CM in turn alleged that he made numerous trips to Delhi to meet Ms Swaraj to seek central intervention for the return of the Indian citizens from Kerala. Reportedly, these citizens had chosen to stay back even after the centre had made arrangements for them to return. On surface, the face-off  seems politically motivated as Kerala heads towards assembly elections from May 16. But what is of interest is to ask the important question: what is the central government policy for security of Indian diaspora? Is there a response template with the MEA when it comes to such crises?

The question cannot be convincingly answered by anyone. But what can be achieved is to have a framework to situate the problem. The above instance can be analysed by understanding the concept of logic of commitment and the logic of exit defined by David Ellerman in The Dynamics of the Migration of the highly skilled(2004), a World Bank study.

Ellerman states

Every potential migrant faces a similar situation: to make a commitment to staying home and trying to improve it or to take its characteristics as given and search elsewhere for a new and better home. Economic models tend to model only the exit option, ignoring the possible logic of commitment, with its inherent uncertainties about the possibilities of transformation.”

Going by the ‘logic of exit’, the Non Resident Indians (NRIs) were skilled nurses who worked in a hospital in Libya. They left for greener pastures from a state which is well known for its high literacy rates. In March, a nurse and her son were killed in a rebel missile attack. The Indian government, through the ministry of external affairs, reportedly urged all the Indians to return. But the Indians who were staying in a camp in Tripoli said that they wanted the exit visa fine to be waived. In another twist to this episode, CM Chandy claimed that the state government wanted to pay the air fare but was prevented from doing so due to foreign exchange regulations.

What is very clear from the above is that there is no clear cut policy on evacuations of Indians from abroad. While the State Department of the United States has laid down clear guidelines for American citizens on what to expect during a crisis situation, a similar Indian policy, if it exists, cannot be found on the MEA website. It cannot be denied that the embassy staff abroad too will be under extreme stress in case of an emergency or a conflict situation. The evacuation of Indians have become increasingly challenging owing to various factors like host country politics and strife, geopolitical shifts, the Indian government’s stand on various issues, our own domestic politics etc. It is thus essential that the central government has a stated policy on diaspora evacuation.

 Guru Aiyar is Research Scholar in Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

 

 

 

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Why the new Geospatial Information Bill, 2016 is a death knell for start-ups?

The draft Geospatial Information Regulation (GIR) Bill 2016 recently introduced by the government is complete bad news for Start-up ecosystem and will lead to a license-quota-permit raj 

The government of India, ministry of home affairs recently released a draft bill on geospatial information regulation and invited comments from the public. The reason given by the government is that Pathankot attack in January was due to the precise location being known by the terrorists and that the bill addresses the question of national security. The bill recommends a fine up to Rs. 100 crore and a jail term up to seven years if the map of India is depicted wrongly.

Governments have every right to frame laws to safeguard and enhance national security. The bill has been on the agenda of the Indian government since 2012. The main concern of the government seemed to be Internet giants like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft etc. According to the draft bill, it will be mandatory to take permission from a government authority before acquiring, publishing, disseminating, or distributing any geospatial information about India. It also specifically states that the government will set up a Security Vetting Authority (SVA) in a time bound manner. Where the bill gets it wrong is creating a negative atmosphere and unnecessary roadblocks for start ups.

Amitabh Bagchi, a professor at IIT Delhi, says that companies like Google and Microsoft are at the lowest end of an application stack that may consist of several layers.  Multi billion dollar companies like these get the information available through the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). In December 2014, the Survey of India, the central government’s nodal agency for maps reported that map of India is wrongly depicted by Google in its websites like google.co.in, ditu.google.co.ch (China), google.pk (Pakistan) and google.org (general).

The ones who are likely suffer the most are Start-ups that heavily depend on geolocation services. Companies like Zomato, Swiggy, zop now, gropeher etc have their successes pinned on to the location. In addition, Bangalore based start ups like MapUnity and Latlong that create apps for businesses are genuinely afraid that it will kill them. Big companies like Ola and Uber do not get affected that much. They are big enough to tide over crises. It is the small companies that have every reason to be apprehensive. The timeline for government approval could be up to three months, a luxury which cannot just be afforded by the start ups. Therefore they have come up with a website titled Savethemap.in that informs the user about the bill in the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section. A good public policy is one in which all stakeholders are consulted rigorously and their concerns addressed.

Guru Aiyar is Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Geomap by Caulier Gilles licensed from Creativecommons.org

 

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