Tuesday, 25 January, 2022
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C Raja Mohan on why India should welcome Russia’s presence in the Indian Ocean

The best of the day’s opinion, chosen and curated by ThePrint’s top editors.

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Russia returns to Indian Ocean

Raja Mohan | Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore

The Indian Express

Mohan notes that Russia is “rejoining the major power scrum in the contested littoral” of the Indian Ocean. He argues that “Russia’s growing interest in the Indian Ocean… should compel Delhi to think of its consequences for India’s own regional strategy”.

Till now, “Delhi’s discourse on the Indian Ocean has been focused on the growing competition with China” and this in turn “has led to the rapid expansion of India’s naval cooperation with the United States and Japan”. Mohan argues that “Russia may never dominate the Indian Ocean” but it “certainly has the capacity to shape the strategic outcomes in the region”. This is because one, “Moscow is one of the world’s major arms exporters and has turned that into an effective leverage in the Indian Ocean region”. Two, “the success of Russia’s military intervention in Syria in saving the Bashar al Assad regime has got the attention of many countries”. Three, “Russia is using its new security role in the region to gain privileged military access” and four, it also “offers diplomatic protection for many regimes in the UNSC against Western pressures on such issues as human rights”.

Mohan maintains that “Russian activism in the Indian Ocean should be a welcome addition to the emerging multipolarity of the region” but also warns about the challenges of this activism.

SC’s ruling on RTI is only a minor one 

Vaidehi Misra and Shreya Tripathi | Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy

Hindustan Times 

On the SC ruling that brought the Chief Justice of India’s office under the RTI Act, Misra and Tripathy write that while “the ruling is being hailed as a victory by many”, it is in fact a “minor one”. The SC judgment “does not make it mandatory for judges to disclose their assets proactively”.

In their report called Sunshine in the Courts, they found “major issues in the enforcement of the RTI Act at the district-level judiciary” and “these shortcomings must be rectified for greater judicial transparency”. It also found that “13 high courts did not specify the names of authority for collecting the RTI fees, in case the application was filed with a district court”.

The authors state that the judiciary has a “long way to go in order to comply with the RTI Act” but there is a “possible road map for reform”. Misra and Tripathy write that first, “high courts must clarify the rules governing the filing of RTI applications with district courts”; second, “they must be made available in the local language, in addition to English” and third, “these disclosures should be clearly marked and easily accessible on the e-Courts website”.

Last Tango for the pedestrian? 

Bachi Karkaria | Columnist

The Times of India 

Karkaria writes that for pedestrians, “every Indian city is paved with hellish intentions”. According to a report by the Union Transport ministry in 2018, “62 pedestrians die everyday” and these figures are at an “84% rise since 2014”.

She claims that “no one has heard of UN Environment’s ‘Share The Road’ programme which supports developing countries in infrastructure for eco-friendly pedestrians and cyclists” and argues that “town planners need to be less territorial and coopt the imagination of our globally feted conservation architects”.

Furthermore, Karkaria writes that “the smart green street design dangles the promise of ‘public places which provide room for socio cultural interaction and allow people to experience the city intimately’” and states that right now, “the interaction is only of obscenities spat out of car windows and the close encounter is that of the pedestrian with imminent death” which is sad and unacceptable.

India’s enduring document of governance 

N. L. Rajah | Senior Advocate, Madras High Court

The Hindu 

Rajah states that the Indian Constitution is “one of the world’s oldest and most enduring”. At the time of its founding, the constitutional experts “did not expect our Constitution to survive very long”, he adds.

According to a study at the University of Chicago, “constitutions, in general, do not last very long” and the “mean lifespan across the world” is a “mere 17 years”. The study finds that a Constitution’s most important function is “to ring fence and then to limit the power of the authorities created under the constitution”. It also defines “a nation and its goals” and “patterns of authority to set up government institutions”.

The study “points to India being an example of the fact that fractionalised environments produce constitutional stability precisely because no single group can dominate others”. It is remarkable that “inclusiveness during the formative years of the Constitution-making debates; specificity of the provisions that produced an excellent balance between redundant verbosity and confounding ambiguity; [and] fundamental rights and judicial review being made sheet anchors of the instrument” were all applied even in the 1940s by our Constitution makers.

How the telecom mess got messier

Rahul Khullar | Former chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India

Business Standard

Khullar criticises the Supreme Court’s order on gross revenue (GR) for telecommunication companies that “has brought the sector to its knees”. The court defined GR in such a way that now the companies have to pay approximately Rs. 2 trillion as license fees and spectrum usage charges, he explains. The “draft on telcos’ revenues has been a long-standing issue” and “fiscal greed and policy inaction” have led to the current scenario, writes Khullar. Recovering dues from bankrupt firms will be a sticky issue, he adds.

Khullar suggests the government consider the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s 2015 report on categories of revenue that can be excluded from GR. He further writes that unfair levies need to be reduced and the “reckless price war in the industry must end” for which a “floor price for calls and data” needs to come into effect.

The onward march towards an old-style command economy

Anantha Nageswaran | Dean of IFMR Graduate School of Business, Krea University

Mint

Nageswaran explores the consequences of bans on short-selling. Short-selling is when an investor buys a stock and immediately sells it, hoping he or she can pick it up later at a much lower price. Today, determining asset prices is the “only way governments can prevent the unravelling of balance sheets”, especially since economic activity has slowed down worldwide, he explains. However, “when asset prices do not reflect underlying fundamentals.. .violent corrections and crashes in the asset markets” occur, writes Nageswaran.

Short-selling bans could delay real price discovery and “prevent the flow of information from pessimists (on a stock or index) to the market at large”, he writes. Such bans can foster “autocratic command economies” and only reiterate that financial market behaviour belongs to “the realm of insanity”, he adds. Monetary policy framework in the last 25 years has focused so closely on asset price targeting that information challenging these prices have been pushed to the side. Short-selling bans only “complete the process”, warns Nageswaran.

Now step up to the plate 

Ajay Chibber | Distinguished visiting scholar, George Washington University

Economic Times

At a time when the government is under pressure to “boost demand by breaching the fiscal deficit”, Chhibber lays down a few recommendations for Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s “first real Budget”.

Chhibber identifies investment recovery as key. For government expenditures to be “growth-oriented”, there needs to be lower borrowing costs and cuts in subsidies, he writes. High real interest rates have led to a high exchange rate of 15-20 per cent which has “hurt India’s competitiveness”, explains Chhibber. This, along with the decision not to join RCEP, has hampered India’s ability to take advantage of the US-China trade war, unlike Vietnam that has seen gains in exports and investment, writes Chhibber. “The cost of not setting up a bad bank and conducting bolder financial sector reforms has now come to bite the system,” he notes.

Chhibber, therefore, calls for “aggressive reforms” to push investment such as labour and financial sector reforms, liberalising agricultural markets and disinvestment of companies like Air India and Bharat Petroleum Corporation.

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