All Newspaper editorials in one place – February 22, 2024



February 22, 2024

Flagrant fraud

Stratagem to defeat Opposition alliance backfired on BJP in Chandigarh


It was an indirect election in which a mere 35 councillors could vote. Yet, the election of Chandigarh’s Mayor has emerged as a microcosm of the sort of serious electoral malpractice that can undermine democracy. The Supreme Court of India, while declaring the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Kuldeep Kumar as the duly elected Mayor, has exposed a malaise that is not often recognised in the great Indian election scene: the role of officials in helping parties steal elections through fraudulent means during counting. The act of the Returning Officer, Anil Masih, in marking or defacing ballot papers, was not only captured on camera but was also proven to be a ruse to declare invalid votes that were validly cast in Mr. Kumar’s favour. Mr. Masih, a man with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) affiliation, appears to have committed the illegality to help Manoj Sonkar, the BJP candidate, win the mayoral election, but it ultimately backfired on him, as the apex court has initiated the process to prosecute him for giving false information to the Court. Ever since he controversially declared Mr. Sonkar elected after ruling eight votes invalid, Mr. Masih had sought to brazen it out by claiming that the votes were invalid as they were defaced. His claim was shown to be false, as the Court found nothing on the ballots indicating defacement.


When Mr. Sonkar resigned from his post on the eve of the hearing, the Court was alive to the possibility that the BJP was looking for a reason to have a fresh election, as by that time, it had won over three AAP councillors to its side, a development that may impede the new Mayor’s functioning. The Court warned against the democratic process being set at naught by “subterfuge”. It was, therefore, logical that it did not order a fresh election, but decided to go ahead with the original votes, taking into account the valid votes illegally declared invalid. There is little doubt that the development is a setback to the BJP, which seems to have resorted to the fraud with the aim of subverting the cooperation between the Congress and the AAP, which are part of the Opposition INDIA bloc and had forged an alliance for the municipal election. BJP president J.P. Nadda had sought to use the election result to underscore the failure of both arithmetic and chemistry in the Opposition alliance, but will now have to deal with the party’s loss of face. It was indeed a fit case for the Court to invoke its extraordinary powers to decide on fact who actually won the election. The prosecution of Mr. Masih should also establish at whose behest he had resorted to such flagrant fraud.



February 22, 2024

Ending discrimination

Workplaces must ensure fair treatment of women employees


The Supreme Court of India has come out heavily against another archaic idea with patriarchal overtones by observing that rules which penalise women employees for getting married are unconstitutional. “Terminating employment because the woman has got married is a coarse case of gender discrimination and inequality. Acceptance of such [a] patriarchal rule undermines human dignity, right to non-discrimination and fair treatment.” The observations were part of an order which upheld the rights of Selina John, a former lieutenant and Permanent Commissioner Officer in the Military Nursing Service, who was discharged from service in 1988 for getting married. A Bench headed by Justice Sanjiv Khanna directed the Union Government to pay Ms. John ₹60 lakh in compensation within eight weeks. The government had appealed in the top court against a decision of the Lucknow Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal which had ruled in her favour in 2016. Pointing out that her dismissal was “wrong and illegal”, the Court noted that the rule against marriage was applicable only to women nursing officers. Women have been fighting a long and uphill battle for gender parity in the Army — they were granted permanent commission after judgments in 2020 and 2021. Words to the effect that the Indian Army is encouraging more women to join the forces have to be backed by deeds.


It is not that the civilian space is much better off, and women are often asked uncomfortable personal questions at job interviews. They are quizzed about future plans on marriage and motherhood. If labour participation of women in the workforce has to increase — in the latest Periodic Labour Force data (October-December 2023), India’s is at an abysmal 19.9% for women of all ages — then barriers in education, employment, and opportunities, not to talk of bullying mindsets, have to be broken down. It is a fact that many girls, especially among the poor, have to drop out of school for various reasons, from economic to lack of proper toilets. The UN’s Gender Snapshot 2023 had provided a grim picture of where the world is on gender parity, pointing out that if course correction measures are not taken, the next generation of women will still spend a disproportionate amount of time on housework and duties compared to men, and stay off leadership roles. The schemes routinely announced by the government for girls and women will mean little on the ground if they have to abide by restrictive social and cultural norms. The Court’s words that rules making marriage of women employees and their domestic involvement a ground for disentitlement are unconstitutional should be heard by all organisations so that the workplace becomes an enabler, and not a hurdle.


February 22, 2024

Fali Nariman

A colossus and a conscience, at 95 gone too soon


The resignation of law officer number 3 made no impact, created no ripples, in the political waters in the capital. I was simply not important enough”. This was how Fali Nariman recounted, in a piece he wrote for this newspaper in 2015, a moment in June 1975. That was when, having been appointed additional solicitor-general of India in May 1972, and reappointed for another three-year term in May 1975, Nariman resigned, taking a stand against the Indira Gandhi government’s imposition of Emergency. But, of course, Nariman’s decision mattered. What lay behind his resignation then — a fierce independence, unwavering integrity and staunch commitment to constitutional principle — set off many a ripple that picked up force in a career over seven decades long, raising the bar and setting an example for others. Now, his death, coming in a time when the space is shrinking for both individuals and institutions who stand against the current, when the Constitution needs all its upholders, leaves a void that is especially gaping. Nariman lived a long and full life in which he engaged deeply and widely with the public sphere from the time he started work as a young lawyer — incidentally, also the time that a young country was giving to itself a new Constitution. But it is impossible not to feel that he is gone too soon, his work was not yet done.


So much of what Nariman stood for, and argued and wrote about, will continue to shine a light after him. He argued the case for the court to appoint its judges, deeming that power to be essential to protect the independence of the judiciary — and yet he also did not hesitate to criticise the decisions of the Collegium that was established and shaped by the seminal cases he appeared in. In September 2023, he wrote in this paper against the Collegium’s decision not to elevate S Muralidhar to the SC; and called out the SC’s decision as “politically acceptable but constitutionally incorrect” on Article 370. Just as the judiciary as an institution needs to preserve its independence, he wrote, citizens need the reassurance of a system of judicial accountability. Another binding theme and concern was the right to dissent, which he believed was essential and non-negotiable, on the bench and outside the court too, in a country of great diversities. During the phase of coalition governments, he wrote in another piece in this paper, leaders changed for the better, “stepping down from the high ground, they became much less fractious and much more friendly…”. Through it all, the Constitution, for Nariman, was a lodestar and a living thing — he appeared in the Golaknath case of 1967 in which the Supreme Court held that Parliament cannot make a law that infringes citizens’ fundamental rights.


The country will miss a public intellectual, who spoke his mind, followed his conscience, admitted his mistakes, did the right thing. This paper will miss its friend and columnist, who wrote in often — along with his deeply insightful columns, delightful little letters to the editor that came as encouragement and affirmation, as gentle comment, or just to tell a small anecdote that illustrated and illuminated a large thing.



February 21, 2024

Stain on campus

By punishing students, Jindal University risks becoming a cautionary tale rather than the role model it aims to be


University administrations — public and private — across the country have, in recent years, unfortunately not always stood up for academics and students when the latter have questioned the dominant ideas and powers that be. Teachers and students have been arrested, discussions, even movie screenings stalled or called off. Academics at prestigious private universities that claim to champion liberal values have been forced out and university authorities have not refrained from inviting the police on campus. In this milieu, OP Jindal Global University (JGU) seemed to have, quietly and without fuss, created a space even as others in its neighbourhood ceded it. However, the JGU administration’s action against two students for “putting up posters and engaging in conversation” that involved “derogatory and provocative words” flies against its own record and stated principles. More importantly, it undermines the idea and promise of a university. It’s a stain on the campus.


The action against the students was in response to posters and discussion on the Ram temple at Ayodhya. Reportedly, the framing of the discussion was critical of the dominant politics surrounding the consecration. On February 10, the students were suspended for a semester and late that night, they were “evicted” from campus housing. According to the university’s Student Disciplinary Committee, the punishment was for “a serious violation of the student code of conduct”. This wasn’t a frightened university administration giving in to goons, this was the university punishing free speech.


JGU is an “Institution of Eminence” and, to the credit of its leadership, its law school has been ranked among the top 100 in the world. Its faculty includes a former Chief Justice of India, a former SC justice and social scientists. They could tell the JGU administration that ideas are tested through debate, and a campus can remain “excellent” only if it allows students to experiment with them. After all, a campus is the only place where you have the right to be wrong. There’s no evidence that the two students were fomenting violence or breaking a law. “At the core of JGU’s vision and mission”, according to its website, “is our aspiration to be a role model for excellence in higher education in India and among the leading universities of the world”. It also promises to remain sensitive to the “deepening of democratic traditions in India”. The university should revoke the suspensions, ensure that expressing an idea can’t be the reason for students to be evicted from a residential campus. Otherwise, JGU’s words on democracy will ring hollow, its global ranking a mere marketing number.



February 22, 2024

Like a friend

Ameen Sayani revolutionised radio presentation, brought people in a young country together with Hindustani


In a 1945 letter to Kulsum Sayani, an educationist who published the fortnightly newsletter Rahber, her mentor Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Beti Kulsum, I like the mission of Rahber to unite Hindi and Urdu. May it succeed.” Rahber, since its inception in 1940, was published in Hindustani — an amalgamation of Hindi and Urdu — at a time when the conflict over the superiority of one language over the other was fomenting. Hindustani was Gandhi’s solution. Kulsum Sayani’s young son Ameen imbibed his first lesson on the power of language then — it could transcend the constraints of identity.


Soon after, since 1951, Ameen Sayani’s warm and charming voice entered Indian homes like a close friend with Binaca Geetmala, over boxy Murphy radio sets and Philips transistors. Sayani spoke in Hindustani while taking listeners on a journey through film music. What was interesting was the way he used Hindustani or what he called “bol-chaal ki bhasha” in a newly-independent country recovering from the scars of Partition. “I promised to myself: I was naye Bharat ka naya naujawan. I will speak in Hindustani,” he said in a 2016 interview to this newspaper.


In 1952, B V Keskar, then I&B minister banned film music on radio, calling it “erotic and vulgar”. Sayani began broadcasting his shows from Radio Ceylon in Sri Lanka. It was a radical idea — to not be stymied into silence — and the popularity of the show continued unabated. It was Aruna Asaf Ali, who after her conversation with Jawaharlal Nehru, brought the show back to India in the late ‘50s. The show went on for 42 years and was revived in 2014 for an FM channel. With Sayani’s demise on Tuesday, India has lost not just a man who revolutionised radio presentation, but a voice that bound the nation together.


February 22, 2024


How chocolates can become superfood & super premium


Come February, love or something like it is in the air. And chocolates fly off shop shelves. This year, however, chocolates may have left many romantics with a lighter wallet as cocoa prices hit record highs. But it didn’t deter anyone. This resilient demand signals many business opportunities, including for India’s nascent artisanal chocolate industry.


Ancient stimulant | Cacao plants that provide beans that go into making contemporary chocolates have a long history. Olmec, a Mexican civilisation, first domesticated this plant a few thousand years ago. Human love for some form of cocoa is an old story.


20 degree limit | Global chocolate industry is dominated by the “Big Five” – Hershey, Mondelez, Mars, Nestle and Ferrero – with West Africa providing most of the cocoa. Cacao plants grow only 20 degrees north and south of the Equator. Geography has made south Indian states home to unique varieties of cacao. Flavour profiles in India are distinct and the basis of domestic premium chocolates.


Superfood story | Cacao beans are rich in flavanol, which can lower blood pressure. This property has triggered controversial claims about dark chocolate’s medicinal properties. It hasn’t helped that some of the research supporting these claims has been sponsored by the Big Five. But what’s not in dispute is that cacao is rich in nutrients. It makes its downstream products a potential superfood. But the catch is that end products such as chocolates contain other ingredients. Sugar or lowquality oil, for example. Therefore, it’s the combination of ingredients and the manner of processing cacao that holds the key.


India’s opportunity | The last decade, an adventurous breed of Indian chocolatiers have transformed locally sourced cacao into artisanal chocolates. Getting the most out of cacao’s nutrients and limiting unhealthy ingredients such as refined sugar have been integral to this journey. They aren’t inexpensive. But that comes with the territory. Vegetable oil, and not cocoa butter, is often used to lower costs in mass market chocolates. But that’s not an ingredient super premium chocolates will use.


Getting the label right | Preserving the nutritional value of cacao depends on the process used to transform it into chocolate. That’s really the key to earning the superfood label. India’s artisanal chocolatiers can get this label without resorting to measures used by the Big Five.


India has a growing consumer base that is discerning and health conscious. These consumers buy brands that promise quality with a certain kind of experience. To attract this consumer base, Indian brands need to zero in on an effective communication strategy. Chocolates sourced and made at home, with unique flavours that appeal to Indian and global taste buds, can do even better. If India’s chocolatiers play their cards well, Indian chocolate brands can become super premium, exportable brands.


February 22, 2024

Sora So What

Strange but possible: AI may enlarge our humanity


Shock cannot be a permanent state. The world experienced a collective spasm after ChatGPT was launched in Nov 2022. And then it calmed down. Chatbot use is growing but fits of fear/ecstasy have ebbed. Now OpenAI has introduced Sora, a jumbo leap in text-to-video AI. Once again there is copious adda about what jobs are threatened, what opportunities opened. But its pitch is less mad, more meditative.


Fearing fear | When the first televised presidential debate took place between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, it was thought a “dangerous” trend. Today politics is so fully video-visual. And surely you wouldn’t have it any other way. Fears about generative AI becoming a cheap way to spread disinformation and damage elections are of course valid. But neither fear nor blind optimism actually know the future.


Rights side | Twenty top tech companies have pledged at the Munich Security Conference “to help prevent deceptive AI content from interfering with this year’s global elections”. How they walk the talk and what govts do will be pivotal. But the way in which Imran Khan’s party used an AI voice to have him give a “victory speech” from prison, indicates AI can be used to fight suppression too.


Being human | Another comfort from the bros these days is: Humans won’t get replaced by AI but by humans using AI. Sure, impact will be big. Workflows will be affected end to end. But why shouldn’t our core capabilities come through once again? Especially communication and collaboration. Don’t let the noise about tech skills misprize people skills. After the goods economy and the knowledge economy, some jobs gurus are confident what is taking birth is actually a relationships economy.



February 22, 2024

Bridging the Kashmir Gulf for Biz Travellers

Global players need to step up hospitality service


Interest shown by investors in West Asia to develop tourism capacity in Kashmir, as mentioned by the PM on Tuesday, is a validation of normalcy returning to the troubled valley — as well as of this paper’s suggestion to make J&K a future gateway for business-class enterprise. Gulf countries have used their locational advantage and cheap oil to add some of the world’s most spectacular tourism infra to aviation transit hubs. Kashmir has the highest potential for international tourism, but suffers from limited development and inadequate infrastructure. GoI has been plugging the infra deficit by improving road and rail connectivity. It needs private players to step up hospitality services that can cater to the rising number of international tourists. Local investment is scaling up, but foreign investors can enhance service quality standards to global levels.


Domestic tourism in Kashmir is driven by pilgrimage. The region needs to step out of the seasonality of religious tourism and develop new locations and travel seasons. There is a specific emphasis on enriching the winter experience when capacities choke up in the limited number of places of interest. Fresh ones must be created with the wherewithal international travellers expect from winter destinations. This would play into Srinagar’s proximity to the world’s busiest aviation transit hub.


Tourism will be Kashmir’s main industry for the foreseeable future with wide linkages in the region’s economy. Besides, India overall remains a winter travel destination, and Kashmir can serve as a jump-off point into the subcontinent. Tourism hotspots in West Asia are expected to cater in large measure to outbound Indian travellers and synergised offerings in the country could swell traffic in the reverse direction. Investors in the Gulf can gain by diversifying their tourism portfolio to projects beyond the region. India is a relatively underdeveloped tourism market and, within it, Kashmir is a laggard. It offers a toehold to one of the world’s fastest-growing business tourism markets.



February 22, 2024

Dirty Air Isn’t Airy-Fairy, It’s Body Blows


A Christian Medical College, Vellore, study finds that compared to Europeans and Chinese, a significantly higher proportion of Indians who contracted Covid-19 suffer from lung function impairments. Air pollution, lack of physical activity and generally high levels of stress are contributory factors. A decade ago, studies found the Indian lung capacity to be about 30% lower than that of those living in Europe. Despite the clear evidence of the harm done to lungs and health from breathing toxic air year after year, pollution-reduction regulation, policy and action fail to put public health front and centre. This has to change.


Protection of public health and improved health outcomes must be the top goal in any action plan to tackle air pollution.


This change in approach must first be recognised in law and regulatory structures. India’s clean air law — Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 — makes preservation of air quality and abatement of pollution an end in itself. It does not stress protecting health of citizens. An amendment making public health protection priority for pollution abatement will have a clear impact on regulatory, policy and implementation space. Once people correlate environment conditions directly with their own health, they are liable to take matters seriously. At present, pollution control measures are treated as costs impacting economic output and growth. But with ‘protecting myself/loved ones’ as the main aim of ensuring clean air, costs incurred to reduce pollution would be justified by improvements in health.


Healthy people make for productive people, who, in turn, contribute to economic growth and development. Turn this equation inwards now — better development and awareness leads to longer, healthier lives.


February 22, 2024

Proceed with care

India should strike a hard bargain with UK on FTA


The government seems to have fast-tracked its free trade talks with the UK, with the PMO having reviewed the progress recently and a delegation already in the UK to iron out differences. Commerce Secretary Sunil Barthwal said that the talks, which began two years back, are meant to safeguard India’s commercial interests, besides ensuring that farmers and the production linked incentive scheme for manufacturing are not impacted. This is indeed reassuring, as there is little reason for India to cede too much ground when the gains are perhaps not exceptionally promising.


In a nutshell, India seeks fewer non-tariff barriers in 60 per cent of the goods exported which are already duty-free, lower tariffs in labour-intensive exports such as leather, textiles, jewellery, and above all freer access to the UK for its IT and healthcare professionals, besides students. India exported goods worth $11.4 billion in FY23 to the UK, and imported goods worth $8.9 billion. In addition to a $2.5 billion trade surplus in goods trade, India enjoys a similar surplus with respect to services trade where the sums involved are similar. Most of the services trade takes place through remote engagement, or Mode 1 in trade parlance, which suggests the potential for the UK to relax its immigration for short-term business visitors to boost high-value services exchanges. For a Conservative government that is committed to ‘Brexit’ and its underlying anti-immigration stance, it would be hard for them to concede ground, particularly with elections due later this year. For perhaps the same reason, India may not get much by way of concessions in social security payments for those who are temporarily residing in the UK. In fact, India’s FTA pacts have generally not helped in lowering barriers to the movements of its professionals, with the possible exception of the one with the UAE.


Indeed, India’s core interest lies in negotiating the UK rules on visas and a mind-boggling range of non-tariff barriers. Intriguingly, it is the UK, which has entered into a recession and should ideally be keen to trade and invest more in India post Brexit, which is playing hard-ball in the talks. As an assessment by Global Trade Research Initiative points out, India should be wary of ceding ground in the areas of government procurement (allowing UK firms to sell to the Indian government, even as India’s firms in the UK may not stand a good chance), cross-border data flows, labour, environment (the imposition of a carbon border adjustment tax that would be a 20 per cent tariff) and intellectual property rights (an area where UK’s pharma majors would be keen). The UK expects lower tariffs in scotch whiskeys, electric vehicles, chocolates, lamb meat, precious metals, metal scrap, petroleum products, medicines and cosmetics. Some duty reduction in scotch whiskey can be considered for gains elsewhere. But the services sector holds the key, also in view of the 1.8 million Indian diaspora.



February 22, 2024

Rethink trade

India’s attitude to WTO negotiations needs more clarity


Early next week, officials across the world will gather for the 13th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization. MC13, as it is called, will begin on the 26th of this month in Abu Dhabi — and it is far from clear what, if anything, it could possibly achieve. The fact is that there are few stakeholders who are willing to expand the agenda of global trade negotiations. Even reviving basic WTO functions — such as the appellate body that serves as the final word on trade disputes — seems unlikely. The latter has been moribund since former United States President Donald Trump refused to appoint new judges to the panel. The current administration has not acted to revive the WTO, either.


Logically, correcting the basic problems with the WTO’s existing function should come before the scope of trade negotiations is expanded. But that is not the case. New agreements are constantly being sought on issues from fisheries to investment facilitation. In each case, the prime movers are developing countries, and India — and in some cases South Africa and some other developing countries — is less enthusiastic. India’s negotiators have other priorities at the WTO, such as a permanent solution that allows India’s inefficient grain procurement system to become compatible with trade rules. This appears once again to be India’s priority at the WTO ministerial — even as the government has rightly sought to reform procurement and food subsidies at home. What is necessary is to end this stress upon old issues such as farmer subsidies in India. It is in the national interests to go beyond such issues and actively participate in discussions at MC13. India may need to redevelop and rethink its stance on some relevant new-age trade issues, from e-commerce to the environment. At present, the default thinking is that India should stay out of all plurilateral and coalitions working to find solutions to such new-age issues, but this should change. The Indian government should also develop a clear strategy on how and why the dispute-settlement mechanism should be revised and reformed, in spite of the United States’ failure to appoint judges.


In other words, the government should develop India-specific but forward-looking approaches to the issues that will be on the table at MC13. For example, when it comes to investment facilitation, it is meaningless to insist it conform to the model bilateral investment treaty that India released in 2016, since that is highly restrictive. India also insists that issues like gender and the environment not be discussed at the WTO. But the fact is that they are now trade issues; they have moved from being side elements to being a main component in most new free-trade agreements. In any case, some countries are introducing unilateral mechanisms that take labour and the environment into account. India cannot and should not continue to maintain its rigid view on what counts as a trade issue and what does not. The global trade context has changed since the 1990s. In some cases, taking such issues on board will be better for Indian consumers and producers. Plurilaterals may be the way forward, at least for some time. It is better to be in one of these and participate in rule making than to stay outside and be forced to follow the rules set by others.



February 22, 2024

Next stage

Indigenous cryogenic engine lift-off for India’s space programme


The launch of the third-generation weather satellite Insat-3DS by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) on Saturday was hailed as a big achievement. While the satellite enhances India’s weather-prediction abilities, the aerospace agency was thrilled with the trouble-free performance of the engine, the GSLV F14 rocket with a cryogenic third stage. India has struggled for four decades to develop an indigenous cryogenic engine. This “mature” and “smart” performance not only has huge positive implications for India’s aerospace ambitions but could potentially also give a new dimension to military capabilities.


Cryogenic engines use mixes of liquefied gases (usually hydrogen and oxygen), which deliver greater thrust to weight. These rockets can, therefore, carry greater payload at higher speeds. Liquid hydrogen and oxygen are stored separately at very low temperatures and combust explosively when brought together. Managing temperature differences and ensuring there is no hot “blowback” into storage tanks, etc, is tricky. Solving these technical issues requires great design and a solid grasp of material sciences. There’s a short list of six nations, including India, which are known to possess this capability. India started with engines from Russia. However, this is dual technology, since it has obvious military implications. Given Pokhran-II and India’s missile programme run by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the US has persistently tried to block R&D in this area. The Russians did not transfer technology, though they have provided six engines over the years. Isro had to reverse-engineer everything and developed new processes. There were four failures, and two part-failures in the first 15 launches. After this 16th launch, the technology is believed to have stabilised, and the engine, nicknamed “Naughty Boy” within Isro, is now being called “Smart Boy”. This engine can push over 6,000 kg into Low Earth Orbit and over a third of that into higher geostationary orbits (the Insat-3DS weighs about 2,275 kg). It would considerably ease the complexities of future missions to the Moon or Mars, or setting up a space station, or putting Gaganauts into orbit.


There are immediate commercial implications, since it can put larger loads into higher orbits, making India a more significant player in the global satellite business. Apart from Isro, private-sector startups are also trying to develop cryogenic engines and experimenting with different designs. The Insat-3DS offers enhanced coverage of oceans along with two earlier Insats. The next mission is launching the NISAR (Nasa-Isro Synthetic Aperture Radar) satellite, a collaboration between Isro and Nasa, and the most prestigious mission entrusted to the GSLVF14.


The military implications are more nebulous. Isro does not do military applications, but it would share technology with DRDO and the private sector after the Aerospace Act. Also, since fabrication is tendered out, India’s aerospace complex has now developed material science capabilities, which can be harnessed to many applications. The capacity to put more and larger payloads into space translates into more robust communications, including military communications. This would help boost satellite broadband.

Cryogenic engines take substantial time to fuel up, so this does not necessarily translate into missiles, which should ideally be ready for instant launch. Modern ballistic missiles with intercontinental ranges generally use semi-cryogenic engines — often fuelled by a mix of kerosene and liquid oxygen (Agni is solid-fuelled). Isro is researching this, and so are some private outfits. A grasp of cryogenic technologies will also make semi-cryogenic R&D easier. To sum up, stable cryogenic engines are good news, with some immediate payoffs and many potential long-term applications.


February 22, 2024

Betting on FDI

Reforms needed on land and labour markets and better business environment in states


The government has reportedly begun talks with a host of capital-rich nations like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Japan, South Korea, the US, Australia, among others, to deploy their abundant pools of patient capital to support its infrastructure-led drive to bolster growth. Against a backdrop of a moderation in public capex growth and domestic private investments yet to accelerate, the government is taking a bet on the animal spirits of foreign investors to trigger a virtuous cycle that can enable the Indian economy to remain the fastest growing large economy in the world. The government is expected to play the role of a catalyst-as budgetary resources are constrained-to attract long-term, low-cost capital in the $1.4 trillion pipeline of infrastructure projects, according to a report in FE. The government is confident that it can attract such inflows as FDI amounted to $596.5 billion from FY15 to FY23 from $305.3 billion that came in from FY05 to FY14.


This wager on enhancing FDI inflows, however, is not of recent provenance as it goes back to the Union Budget for 2020-21 and Economic Survey for 2019-20 which expected private investments, especially foreign, to do the heavy-lifting. The government has also liberalised the sectoral caps in various sectors, including defence, to allow a greater amount of investment proposals to go through the automatic route. 100% FDI limits for e-commerce, contract manufacturing, further opening up the coal industry, civil aviation, easing the 30% local sourcing norms for single brand retail exemplify this on-going process of liberalisation. Budget 2020 went further in exempting sovereign wealth funds from taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains if they invested long-term in roads, highways, ports and water supply projects. The government is targeting FDI in the railways and clean energy such as wind power and green hydrogen.


The billion-dollar question is whether foreign investors will be enthused enough to unveil big-ticket investments in the country to boost growth. Investing long-term in infrastructure and green-field projects entail taking huge risks considering the country’s restrictive land acquisition laws and time taken for environment clearances. While ports and airports are attracting private capital as the returns are good, foreign equity inflows have been relatively muted in construction infrastructure and construction development. Tax incentives might not suffice as the investment environment is sensitive to policy and regulatory uncertainty. Above all, foreign investors seek improvements in the ease of doing business on the ground, especially in the various states. They require better enforcement of contracts as there are serious concerns over governments at the state-level reviewing and cancelling deals entered into by the previous regimes.


To become an attractive FDI destination, the momentum needs to pick up on long-pending structural reforms to free up the land and labour markets. To be sure, the government is attempting to simplify labour laws but whether they impart a greater degree of flexibility is a different matter. The initiation of such reforms has a bearing on the government’s intent to spend $1.4 trillion on infrastructure harnessing more FDI. The good news in this regard is the upswing in relations with countries like the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia who are looking to a future beyond oil and gas and are considering deploying their financial clout in India. This augurs well for India to attract pools of capital which seeks stable long-term returns.

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