Monday, 24 January, 2022
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Mehmal Sarfraz on an ‘arresting week’ in Pakistan & Shailaja Chandra on the role of IAS officers

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

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An arresting week 

Mehmal Sarfraz | Lahore-based journalist
The Telegraph

Sarfraz calls attention to the ongoing trend in Pakistan’s politics of a string of arrests of Opposition leaders with the latest casualty being former president Asif Ali Zardari. Sarfraz says it’s as if the entire Opposition is either in jail, citing cases of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his niece Hamza Shahbaz, or have cases pending against it– this doesn’t augur well for Pakistan as it could lead to “political instability”.

On Khan and his supporters, she says they don’t “realise” that political parties “come out stronger” after such “victimisation” and arrests. She believes that “Naya Pakistan” under Khan, a term coined by him, is “turning out to be a quite a nightmare” due to heavy censorship on media and others, crackdown on social media activists and the continuing decaying state of economic affairs.

Squandering the gender dividend

Sonalde Desai | Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland, US, and professor and centre director, NCAER-National Data Innovation Centre
The Hindu

Desai analyses the recently released Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) report by the NSSO and expresses concern over the drastic decline of worker to population ratio (WPR) for rural women from 48.5 per cent in 2004-2005 to 23.7 per cent in 2017-2018. Using data from the survey, she underlines that this trend is more prominent among women with “low level of education”, most significantly for illiterate women. She highlights the “conundrum” for rural women where rural men with low levels of education can still find work elsewhere, as work opportunities in agriculture continue to decrease, but women can’t. Desai highlights the issue of “undercount” of women’s work in rural India by interviewers but says that this still does not solve the “declining WRPs” issue. She hopes the newly formed Cabinet Committee on Employment and Skill Development will take this issue as “seriously” as the concern for “rising unemployment” among the youth.

Balancing the poles

Shyam Saran | Former foreign secretary, senior fellow at Centre for Policy Research
The Indian Express

Saran examines the possible winners of the current trade battle between the US and China which has snowballed into a “full spectrum strategic contest” and its implications for the international order alongwith a recommended course of action for India. He predicts that some factors could “tip the balance” in China’s favour which include its potential to overtake US GDP by 2030.

Saran believes that India should be able to counter “demands” to choose a particular side and that it must “actively seek” partnerships with other countries that are “issue-based”. Saran says India’s relations with US carry more weight than its ties with China and it “suits” India that it does not become an ally of its “adversary”.

Can IAS become an agent of change?

Shailaja Chandra | Former chief secretary, Delhi
Hindustan Times

Shailaja Chandra, elaborates on the role of IAS officers in the forthcoming Agenda 2022—released by Niti Aayog last December– which is expected to usher in new laws and administrative reforms to coincide with India’s diamond jubilee. Chandra critiques “the bureaucracy’s capability to implement its aspirations.” Agenda 2022 calls for major changes in the fields of agriculture, sanitation, power, employment, procurement and governance. These range from transforming farmers into “agripreneurs,” rationalizing power tariffs to promote use of renewable energy and a codification of labour laws to increase employment. Chandra argues that all of these will prove to be massive challenges for the “risk-averse, status-quoist bureaucracy.”

She suggests an induction of professionals in the state and the Centre “by following rigorous and transparent processes for selection.” Further, Chandra suggests two strategies for effective implementation – the setting up of an empowered council led by a central minister to reach consensus on issues which require the approval of Parliament or legislatures. The other is to promote working models which are “cost effective and beneficial” to ensure a positive response by the state bureaucracy.

The government and Big Tech need to meet halfway

Rahul Matthan | Partner at Trilegal

Matthan writes on the debate over freedom of speech and expression and terms it as one of the “most divisive issues in the internet policy space today”. While the government and advocates of national security point out that terrorists and criminals use the internet to communicate necessitating listening in on these communications, privacy experts argue that this is used to violate personal privacy. He writes on how both sides need to climb down from their extreme positions to find a solution and large technology companies need to be more responsive to legitimate requests of law enforcement agencies.

The lure of floating solar plants

Vandana Gombar | Editor, Bloomberg NEF
Business Standard

Gombar writes on how solar plants are now being set up on water bodies rather than unavailable land parcels through the concept of floating solar plants. She writes on the advantages of such a concept including the possible increase in power generation because of the cooling effect of water, prevention of water evaporation and lower displacement issues. She saysthe concept is catching on in India with firms like NTPC and Shapoorji Pallonji Group having massive expansion plans. She points out how China leads in the installation of such floating solar plants even as India is expected to become one of the four big markets.

Rein in errant auditors

Mohan R. Lavi | Chartered accountant
Business Line

Lavi writes on the recent move by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs to seek a ban against the auditors of IL&FS financial services. He says the proposed ban sends out a loud and clear message to the auditing fraternity — “shape up or ship out”. He points out that the proposed ban will have a significant impact on the audit of listed companies as a few firms handle the audit of many listed companies. He adds that the ban provides an opportunity for mid-sized Indian firms to bid for some of the audits that are up for grabs.

With inputs from Rachel John

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  1. On Harsh Mander claiming that having a well-documented National registry of citizens will lead to ‘lawlessness’ – it exposes his prejudice and ideologically blinkered visionnabout India. Any sane country needs to have a list of its own citizens. Its moronic to suggest that if any country has a clear registry of citizens, it is lawlessnessness. What sort of perverse logic is that? Mander looks upon India as a kind of free-for-all choultry or chhatra – a free guesthouse in to which anyone can walk in and settle and become citizens.

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