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Tag Archives | Nitin Pai

Protests in Bangalore and Kashmir — Manifestation of Radically Networked Societies?

What most of the commentators have missed out during the recent protests in Kashmir and Bangalore is that the traditionally organised power structures are being challenged by radically networked societies and governments need to restructure better to respond

Two recent protests in the country demonstrated how radically networked societies (RNS) challenge the conventional, bureaucratic and hierarchical power structures. Last week, after a girl was allegedly molested by a soldier in Handwara, Kashmir saw a deluge of protests by the locals. The army later released a video in which the girl gave a statement exonerating the army. But the incident was enough to snowball into a major law and order problem in which police had to resort to firing on protesting mobs resulting in five dead and scores injured. It culminated in the dismantling of army bunkers after more than two decades.  In the second incident, violence erupted across Bangalore on April 18 and 19 by garment factory workers that left more than a hundred injured, two of them seriously.  A police station was attacked and vehicles were set on fire. Reportedly, this was a reaction to amendment to Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) by the central government as part of its budget announcement for 2016. The new norms barred employees from withdrawing their entire provident fund corpus before retirement. On April 19, the government announced a complete and unconditional rollback.

The striking feature of both the incidents is that they were leaderless. In Kashmir, mobs of protesters were assembled based on “news” circulated in WhatsApp groups.   The dismantling of bunkers has been seen as a victory for locals. But the government’s response was typical of bureaucratic knee-jerk reaction. In an order dated April 18, the Kashmir government has instructed all WhatsApp groups to register within ten days.  There were even government employees who were part of the groups. WhatsApp has emerged as a potent tool for gathering of protesters. The statement by Divisional Commissioner, Asgar Samoon reported in newspapers is produced as below:

There are many unauthorised news groups on WhatsApp that disseminate news. It’s not restricted to just chatting, they have thousands of followers who post news without verification and many times lead to law and order problems. Government employees are for implementation of policies, if they have grievances or suggestion they can be put forward through proper channel not in public forms. In many cases government employees were seen instigating violence.”

Even in Bangalore, the protests were first planned and circulated in WhatsApp groups among the garment industry workers.  Most of the protesters were women. About three and a half years ago, Bangalore had a similar incident concerning the migrant working population from northeastern part of India. In August 2012, more than 30,000 people left the city over rumours of impending attack on them.

According to my colleague Nitin Pai, corruption, economic distress, political oppression, and elite control of political power, among others have always been there. He goes on to add that the proliferation of public protests might be the first signs of clash between radically networked societies and hierarchically ordered states. This is true whether the polity is democratic or authoritarian.

In 2011 Arab Spring, protests spread like wildfire in Tahrir Square in Egypt and Tunisia that resulted in ousting of authoritarian political leaders. The onset of social media like facebook, twitter, whatsapp, Snapchat etc. have radically transformed the speed with which information is transmitted and processed. In many ways, this is the epitome of Marshall McLuhan’s ‘medium is the message’  theory.

Bangalore and Kashmir present a contrast and similarity. Contrast, because Bangalore city police is one of the most tech savvy forces in the country with an active twitter handle and social media presence. Kashmir police has not demonstrated such a capability. In addition, Kashmir has a heavy presence of other security forces like Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and army which have their own typically rigid hierarchical organisations. Similarity, because both got checkmated by very similar radical networks.

Responding to the RNS also entails a trade-off between liberty and national security. To what extent can personal freedoms and liberty can be contained is a matter to be seriously debated. Left purely to governments, they will only enact policies to strengthen the hand of the state, however draconian it may be. This will be an incremental tail chase in perpetuity. The latest order in Kashmir is evidence of this.

One reason the United States emerged on top of the world order is because it had the best political system for post-Enlightenment industrial age societies. It can be argued that the nation that best restructures itself for the information age will have a shot at being the next great superpower. Across the world, governments are grappling with this phenomenon. We certainly have a long way to go.

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

Featured Image: Network, licensed by creativecommons.org

 

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Thoughts on defence land

The Land Division of the Directorate General Defence Estates states that “The Defence forces require large areas of land for training, ranges, depots, airfields, quartering, camping, offices etc for military activities. Ministry of Defence, therefore, owns large tracts of land of approx 17.54 lakh acres, out of which approximately 1.57 lakh acres is situated within the 62 notified Cantonments and about 15.96 lakh acres is outside these Cantonments. The responsibility of day-to-day management of land is with the user services”

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) undertook a performance audit of Defence Estate Management covering the period from 2004-05 to 2008-09, and submitted its report on March 25, 2011.  Some major findings of the CAG report were

  • delay in mutation of land in favour of MoD
  • increased encroachment
  • exploitation of defence lands for commercial purposes, and
  • the dismal state of lease management.

The standing committee made the following observations and recommendations:

  • Application of land norms: The Committee noted that MoD has faltered in applying norms for proper and judicious management of lands at its disposal.  It noted the inherent risks of holding vast tracts of unoccupied land, including hoarding.  It recommended that the entire ambit of defence land record keeping, mutation, sale and transfer, etc. should be bestowed upon the Directorate General of Defence Estates (DGDE).  Further, the whole issue of requirement of land by defence forces needs to be revisited so that land is put to optimum use.
  • Variation in records: The Committee expressed concern over discrepancy in land figures in the records of Local Military Authorities (LMAs) and Defence Estate Officers (DEOs).  In a survey, the land area in the records of LMA was 47% higher than that in the records of DEO for 9 army stations.  It recommended that the MoD make it mandatory for DEOs to periodically inspect the land records maintained by LMAs.  Further, there should be a comprehensive survey of all defence lands.
  • Mutation of defence land:  The Committee noted that a large portion of acquired land has been awaiting mutation for a long period, in some cases as long as 60 years.  It noted no serious efforts were made to expedite mutation of land to MoD.  It recommended that steps be taken for the same, and documents pertaining to non-mutated land be made available to the Committee within six months.
  • Unauthorised use of defence lands: The Committee noted that the CAG has repeatedly objected to the use of defence lands for unauthorised commercial purposes such as golf courses, but no action has been taken.  In addition, revenue generated from such activities has not been credited to government accounts.  The Committee recommended that the DGDE be supplied with all information relating to such activities and revenue generation.
  • Encroachment of defence lands: The Committee noted that non-mutation of land records, non-utilisation of land and existence of multiple authorities has resulted in encroachment of land.  It recommended that a single unified authority be created to look into management and protection of defence lands.
  • Dismal state of management of leases: The Committee observed that defence land is leased out at a very low rate compared to its market value.  In addition, no serious effort has been made to renew the leases, leading to loss of revenue to the government.  It suggested that the government bring out a policy in this regard within six months.

The defence services and the Ministry of Defence must act on the recommendations of the CAG as soon as possible(the recommendations were made 6 years ago). One must also take into account that a large portion of defence lands is in central business districts of major Indian cities and monetising these pockets will enable the forces to provide modern facilities with vastly improved living conditions for personnel and their families.

PS – My colleague Nitin Pai’s article  in Business Standard, argues for moving cantonments 20 km away from 20 cities

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DRDO exists to protect the nation and not the other way around

It is not in India’s national interest to continue to run public sector organisations like DRDO if they are inefficient and not meeting their objectives

— Varun Ramachandra and Nitin Pai

Recently, the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research — a Defence Research and Development Organisation(DRDO) laboratory — inked an agreement with Patanjali Ayurveda Limited for a non-exclusive license through transfer of technology on nutritional products.

The agreement was signed under the DRDO – FICCI Accelerated Technology Assessment & Commercialisation programme which “aims to create a commercial pathway to deliver technologies developed by DRDO for appropriate commercial markets for use in civilian products and services.” Previous deals under the programme have been with business houses like Dabur Ltd, Gujarat Fluorochemicals Ltd, Bhilai Engineering Corporation to name a few.

The DRDO is not involved in production of equipment, instead it is primarily responsible for research and development till the transfer-of-technology(ToT) stage. The move to rope in Patanjali to popularise DRDO’s  seabuckthorn based nutritional products is well within its mandate. But it must also be noted that many critical projects under DRDO that have a direct bearing on combat preparedness like the Light Combat Aircraft and Kaveri jet engine are delayed by several years.

Therefore, it is important to examine the raison d’être for DRDO in the first place. The organisation was set up in 1958 with the objective of providing the Indian armed forces with indigenous scientific and technological support. In 2015, 57 years after the formation of the DRDO, India continues to rely on imports to meet its domestic defence demands. This clearly indicates a mismatch in the said objectives and the achieved outcomes of the DRDO(and other public sector undertakings that are involved in defence).

In 2007, the government set up a committee chaired by Dr. P Rama Rao to specifically improve the operations of DRDO. The committee’s report suggested a breakdown of the organisation into smaller manageable units along with merging several of its laboratories with other institutions. The committee’s recommendations have been implemented in a half-hearted manner. The DRDO is far from reaching the operational efficiency of similar organisations from across the world and successive governments have continued to spend money, inefficiently, on DRDO.

From a financial point of view, national security is a delicate relationship between the taxpayer and the armed forces. Hence, it is incumbent upon the armed forces to equip itself with the best available technologies, be it domestic or international. In such a scenario, if Indian organisations are unable to meet the armed forces’ requirements it is natural and expected of the forces to look elsewhere to meet its primary goal of national defence.

The operational costs of running an organisation like DRDO run into several thousand crores. If such an organisation is inefficient and not meeting its objectives, it is not in India’s national interest to continue to run these organisations, especially when taxpayers money is involved. The same money can be used elsewhere to meet other national objectives.

Cloaking reforms under patriotism or indigenisation has resulted in a state where India imports large chunk of its equipment, but is reticent to allow FDI in defence manufacturing. The Indian defence establishment too has called for indigenisation to avoid being coerced by exporters in the hour of need, a problem that can be solved by developing strong economic ties with all exporting countries and/or by procuring from countries where the economic ties are already in place. It is worth reinforcing the fact that defence is a sector where anything short of excellence is a failure.

The dogmatic approach towards indigenisation since independence has yielded limited fruit. It has largely resulted in policy capture by public sector undertakings in the name of indigenisation. The net result is that the domestic industry is incapable of meeting India’s defence requirements and the political economy of reforms has ensured that many PSUs are in a rut.

Indigenisation is a lofty goal that is worth pursuing. Until the goal is reached, defence requirements continue to exist. Therefore, the path towards indigenisation need not be studded with inefficient public sector undertakings. Instead, actively allowing private players and FDI in the defence sector can inject competition and contestability. This will also allow Indian industries to acquire the necessary competence to deliver world-class results.

The government must urgently implement the recommendations of the P Rama Rao committee to restructure DRDO. The DRDO must focus on projects of importance and align its project priorities with that of the defence establishment. India can ill afford inefficient institutions for they have far reaching fiscal and social consequences. Moreover, DRDO exists to protect the nation and not the other way around.

A modified version of this piece was translated to Hindi and appeared in BBC Hindi 

Update: A translated version of this piece appeared in the Kannada daily Prajavani

Varun Ramachandra and Nitin Pai are with Takshashila Institution, a Bangalore based independent think-tank and a school of public policy. Varun tweets @_quale and Nitin tweets @acorn

Featured image credits: The Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) at Aero India 2011 by Ruben Alexander, licensed under creative commons

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