SC Sets 3 Month Deadline for Bhima Koregaon Charges to Be Framed; Why MoD Prefers Buying Arms via Intergovernmental Agreements
China ‘Mission Indian Ocean’ on course, inflation easing but RBI uneasy, Railways to monetise PAX data, one-third of Indians to quit workforce, MoD facial recognition penetrates inscrutable monkey cap
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
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Snapshot of the day
August 19, 2022
The Supreme Court has set a deadline of three months for the trial court to frame charges in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case. Justices UU Lalit and S Ravindra Bhat noted the National Investigation Agency plea that four accused have not been arrested so far. It asked the NIA to move the special court to segregate the trial against the 15 accused arrested from those still missing, so that the trial can begin. The bench asked the NIA to declare the missing as proclaimed offenders. The social activists accused have already been in custody for four years ― the state is effectively meting out punishment without bothering to prove its case.
The remission granted to 11 men convicted in the Bilkis Bano gang-rape and murder case suffers from another infirmity. Justice Govind Mathur, a former Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court, has said that the committee which recommended cutting short the life sentence handed down by the trial court is supposed to have taken into account the opinion of the presiding officer of the court. “This is a statutory requirement in accordance with Subsection 2 of Section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (which gives the state government the power to suspend or remit sentences),” as per a Supreme Court ruling of 2016. There is nothing on the record such concurrence was sought or given. The committee had five BJP members on it, one of whom is the BJP MLA for Godhra who says the convicts had good values because they are Brahmins. Could this be part of a longer gameplan to secure the release of several convicts of the Gujarat riots of 2002 and keep the pot boiling as elections near? Some analysts think so. A serving woman IAS officer, Smita Sabharwal, surprised yesterday, when she publicly said that “we cannot snuff out her right to breathe free without fear again and call ourselves a free nation.”
Members of the international academic community including Bhiku Parekh, Noam Chomsky, Arjun Appadurai, Wendy Brown, Sheldon Pollock, Carol Rovane, Charles Taylor, Martha Nussbaum, Robert Pollin, Akeel Bilgrami and Gerald Epstein, have issued a strong statement asking the Supreme Court to take suo motu notice of the fallout of the Zakia Jafri judgement. They have also asked the court “to expunge the derogatory remarks contained in it, and to dismiss the cases against those who have been arrested on the strength of these remarks.”
Manufacturing is likely to be hit by a slump in foreign trade in FY23, says an analysis of industrial output and merchandise exports by India Ratings and Research. India’s average annual merchandise exports during FY16-FY20 were $297.02 billion, peaking at $330.08 billion in FY19. It jumped to the highest-ever $421.89 billion in FY22. “Surge in merchandise exports helped the manufacturing sector in FY22, but was not broad-based and may not sustain in FY23,” the rating agency said.
IRCTC, the ticket-booking arm of the Indian Railways, is looking to monetise its bank of passenger data ― every online railway ticket ever generated ― to raise Rs 1,000 crore. The Indian Railways are struggling to monetise physical assets, so this is an attempt to meet ambitious monetisation targets.
A Booth Level Officer called a staffer at digital rights group Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) yesterday, directing them to give their Aadhaar number or they’d be erased from the electoral roll. On digging deeper, the BLO provided the IFF staffer with a letter which says that the process of linking the voter ID with Aadhar is voluntary, as per the law passed in Parliament, but the government has tweaked the rules to make it compulsory.
“India has the technology to go to the moon, but we don’t have the technology to clean our sewage,” says Bezwada Wilson. Five million manual scavengers clean and unblock the country’s municipal sewage lines and septic tanks for a pitiful Rs 386. Government figures released in July, conceding that 347 workers in this most dangerous profession have died in the last five years. Manual scavenging was outlawed in 1993 but it persists and, in 2019, the Supreme Court lamented that no other country sends its people “into gas chambers to die”.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha yesterday began a 75 hour protest at UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri, demanding the sacking and arrest of Union Minister Ajay Mishra Teni in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, in which his son Ashish Mishra is an accused.
Pakistan will attend international counter-terrorism exercises in India under the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to be held around October in Manesar, Haryana. Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar said that there will be exercises under the ambit of SCO RATS (Regional Anti Terrorism Structure). India is chairing SCO RATS this year.
NDTV has released new satellite imagery sourced from Maxar Technologies, revealing that China has operationalised its first military base overseas in Djibouti. At the same time, China’s Yuan Wang 5 satellite tracking ship has docked in Sri Lanka. China’s new ‘Mission Indian Ocean’ is on target.
There is massive confusion and fear at Delhi’s Rohingya refugee camp a day after the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a ‘clarification’. The camp lacks basic amenities including a toilet. But all pales in comparison to the threat of deportation. “Sending us back will be a death sentence,” refugees say.
National Conference president Farooq Abdullah has convened an all-party meeting at Srinagar on Monday to discuss the issue of inclusion of outside voters in the Jammu and Kashmir electoral rolls. They number about 25 lakh.
Why aren’t Hindi films clicking at the box office? Director Anurag Kashyap told Bollywood Now, “Nobody is lacking. How do you know Southern movies work? One film worked in Kannada and Tamil and two each in Hindi and Telugu. The main problem is that people do not have the money. You are paying GST on your food… People do not have too much money in their pockets. We must talk about the dangerous economic slump, but we do not want to, and are instead stuck with Bollywood or cricket.”
A gang operated a fake police station from a hotel in Bihar for eight months, where they dressed up as officers and are believed to have extorted money from hundreds, 500 metres from the home of the local police chief. The scam fell apart when a genuine police officer spotted two gang members carrying country-made guns instead of service weapons.
AI facial recognition gets under the monkey cap
The Indian government has developed a facial recognition system that can identify anti-social elements with or without disguise, with face masks or monkey caps on, even in low-resolution images at restricted zones as well as public places. The Ministry of Defence (MoD), in its latest report titled ‘AI in Defence’, revealed the Face Recognition System under Disguise (FRSD), along with other AI-based systems, chiefly developed for the Indian Army. Face recognition in the wild from surveillance camera feeds is difficult due to low resolution, and is complicated by facial disguises, crowd occlusions and light levels.
The FRSD algorithm has been trained to see through several disguises like face-masks, beards, moustaches, wigs, sunglasses, head-scarves, monkey caps and hats, etc. The system also considers ambient lighting, shadows and crowd occlusions.
Inflation easing but RBI still uneasy
Inflation has eased but remains above the target range and may require a monetary policy response, says the RBI. “Supply conditions are improving with the recent monsoon pick-up, strong momentum in manufacturing and a rebound in services,” said an article in its monthly bulletin.
Consumer inflation dipped to 6.71% in July, easing for the third successive month, helped by slower increase in food and fuel prices, but it has been above the RBI’s 2-6% tolerance band for seven months. “Imported inflation pressure points remain the overarching risk, followed by pending passthrough of input costs if producers regain pricing power, and wages,” RBI said. “Yet, some risks have turned down ― commodity prices, especially of crude, supply chain pressures…” The RBI’s monetary policy committee raised the bank’s key lending rate by 50 bps earlier in the month, its third increase in four months to curb inflation.
That I-Day flag: how to get rid of it
How will India get rid of the 200 million flags flown on Independence Day, asks The Guardian. “Indians may be surprised to find that it is not as easy as they might think,” it says. Disrespecting the Indian national flag is punishable by up to three years in jail, plus fines. “When the flag is damaged or soiled, it shall not be cast aside or disrespectfully disposed of. It shall be destroyed, as a whole, in private,” says the National Flag Code 2022 ― only by burying or burning. The flag may be folded as prescribed, placed in a wooden box and buried, with a minute’s silence. It can be burned in a clean and tidy place, but not by just setting it alight. Not folding it right first is a punishable offence.
Countdown to cheetah introduction starts this month
A team of South African cheetah experts is expected in India later this month to brief Indian foresters about the risk management plan for the translocation of cheetahs to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. They may visit Kuno by the end of August, a South African official told Hindustan Times.
The management plan, submitted by the head of cheetah metapopulation project director Vincent ven der Merwe, details measures against disease transmission, mortality in transit, low post-release survival rate, human-animal conflict and long-term genetic and demography viability of wild cheetahs. Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh is expected to get four male and four female cheetahs from Namibia by the end of this month. In September, 12 more African cheetahs are expected from South Africa once the two countries sign an MoU. India signed the agreement with Namibia on July 20.
The Long Cable
Why MoD prefers to buy weapons via intergovernmental agreements
The Indian Navy is reportedly keen on forging an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the US or France to procure 26 fighter jets for the indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, which is scheduled for imminent commissioning despite awaiting installation of its Aviation Flight Complex (AFC) necessary for operating its combat air arm.
Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Dassault’s Rafale-M (Marine) fighters are in contention for the Navy’s requirement for 18 multi-role carrier borne fighters (MRCBF) and eight twin-seat trainers to operate off Vikrant. The Navy projected an eventual requirement of 57 platforms.
The candidates recently demonstrated their operational capabilities from the shore-based test facility (SBTF) at INS Hansa, the Navy’s air station in Goa, and the formal tendering process will begin to acquire the aircraft, possibly via an IGA, for reasons detailed below.
What comes closest to an IGA for the US are tenders concluded exclusively through its Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme, administered by the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) under the Pentagon’s aegis and advisement by the US State Department, as a means for furthering Washington’s diplomatic and strategic ambit worldwide.
India’s Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 (DAP2020) ― and manuals that preceded it ― permits acquisition both via the IGA and the FMS for furthering geo-strategic advantage or strategic partnerships. Military, technological, economic, diplomatic and political benefits are ‘principal factors’ for New Delhi, and IGAs and variants like FMS have been Delhi’s favoured mode of importing weapon systems.
All procurements from the former Soviet Union and Russia since the mid-1960s were via IGA, with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) dealing directly with Rosoboronexport (ROE), Moscow’s sole state agency for materiel export and import of dual use defence products, technologies and services. For decades this arrangement worked well, despite periodic glitches, and was solely responsible for building India’s arsenal.
From 2002, the bulk of US defence acquisitions, worth around $20 billion, have also been via the FMS route and in 2016 the Indian Air Force acquired 36 French Dassault Rafale fighters via an IGA, whose deliveries are nearing completion.
MoD officials and the armed forces are comfortable with the IGA template, especially the FMS, for diverse reasons, especially expediency. Ironically, even for them, the DAP2020 ― and all its earlier manifestations ― has always been far too convoluted, making them wary of taking decisions. Many corruption scandals in recent years involving MoD and military officials ― some of which remain unproven ― have centred on their questionable interpretation of complex procurement regulations; pursuing the IGA route obviates such possibilities.
IGAs are also not required to follow standard multi-stage acquisition procedures or conform to the rigid contractual conditions of DAP. Terms are agreed between governments, allowing greater flexibility.
This compressed IGA ― and FMS ― procedure typically begins with the approval of a broad framework by the MoD’s Defence Acquisition Council headed by the Defence Minister. It is followed by negotiations between the foreign governmental agency and an MoD-appointed interdisciplinary committee which determines overall terms and conditions, including cost, delivery schedules, maintenance support package and technology transfer. The empowered committee is authorised to liaise directly with the OEM. Once terms and conditions are mutually accepted, the IGA is signed with the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security headed by the PM.
Almost always, an IGA compresses the timeline. The purchase of 36 Rafales was first announced by PM Narendra Modi in Paris in April 2015, and the Rs 59,000 crore contract was signed via an IGA 17 months later in September 2016, followed by commencement of deliveries in July 2020.
Procurement from the US under the FMS programme is even more alluring for MoD officials, despite the DSCA following its own set procedure, including terms and conditions. The MoD accepts this as a fait accompli, and its officials are content with the FMS procedure as the DSCA assumes responsibility for the entire process, especially cost negotiation ― by far the riskiest aspect of defence procurements ― with potential US vendors.
Under the FMS process, the DSCA negotiates with the OEM as it would if the US military were acquiring the materiel and charges the MoD a standard ‘facilitation’ fee for its endeavours. With 189 countries and international organisations currently participating, the FMS process is widely considered transparent, reliable, and secure. No India-US FMS deal has so far come under a cloud.
India’s FMS purchases have included 22 AH-64E(I) Apache Guardian and 15 Chinook CH-47F heavy lift helicopters for the IAF, 14 P-8I Neptune long-range maritime multi-mission aircraft and 24 Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky MH-60R multirole naval helicopters for the Navy. Six additional Apaches were on order for the Indian Army, while the IAF had also commissioned 12 Lockheed Martin C130J-30 and 11 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transports. In 2016 the Indian Army had signed up for 145 BAE Systems M777 155mm/39 calibre lightweight howitzers ― of which around 100 had been delivered ― in addition to acquiring 72,400 SIG716 assault rifles from Sig Sauer in 2019.
To conclude, the IGA/FMS contracts provide ‘psychological comfort’ to MoD’s civil and military bureaucracy, as the responsibility for procurement deals concluded under it is borne collectively by the empowered committee on the Indian side and the concerned government, or its agency like the DSCA, on the other. This minimises the risk to officials of being questioned subsequently for their decisions and facing allegations of irregularities which, in recent times, has been the bane of efficient decision-making and has adversely impacted the Indian military’s long-delayed modernisation.
(Amit Cowshish retired from the Indian Defence Accounts Service in 2012)
As the Gujarat Assembly elections approach, that seaplane is in final approach. The seaplane project inaugurated and oversold by Modi ahead of the 2017 Gujarat elections will get a new lease of life in a couple of months, more than a year after it was suspended in April 2021. Just in time for the Assembly polls scheduled for the end of this year, the Gujarat government has budgeted Rs 65 crore for resumption of services. The Congress did well in the last Assembly polls, falling just short of a simple majority, thanks to its social media campaign ‘Vikaas Gaando Thayo Chhe’ (development has gone berserk/ Vikas has gone nuts). Time for that Vikas guy to open the throttle wide?
Prime Number: 32%
The percentage of Indians in PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022 who plan to leave the workforce. Some 71% feel under-appreciated and 34% believe they are extremely/very likely to switch to a new employer. The global figure is 19%.
A survey of Indian public opinion conducted in April-May finds overwhelming nationalism, confidence in military prowess and support for a large nuclear arsenal. Nine out of 10 respondents said that India would probably or definitely defeat Pakistan in a war. A sizeable 72% believed that India would probably or definitely defeat China. The Stimson Center has the bizarre report.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
The representation of Dalits as always “included” in a timeless “Hindu majority” is a product of the late colonial period, an illusion obtained by ignoring the archive of Hindu nationalism’s own first generation and silencing Dalit voices in history, writes Joel Lee.
Julio Ribeiro writes, “Among my many Hindu friends, most from advanced castes, there is a feeling of triumph that the old chaturvarna social order is about to be restored in ‘new India’.”
Is the Taj Mahal our heritage? The Victoria Memorial, the churches of Vasco Da Gama and St Francis Xavier? Mutton biryani, qawwali, Deobandi scholarship, Naga pork curry, Urdu poetry? If the answer is mostly no, going by the tone and thrust of the ruling party, then taking pride in our heritage is out of the question, says Aakar Patel.
The released convicts in the Bilkis Bano rape case were greeted with sweets and garlands at the VHP office. Is this how ‘Hindu Rashtra’ will function, asks Deccan Herald.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes that the real dog whistle underlying the release of convicts in the Bilkis Bano case is the suggestion that the quest for justice in the 2002 Gujarat riots was itself a conspiracy.
Lt Gen HS Panag (retd) writes that the Indian military is not rendering forthright advice to the government. In fact, there seems to be politico-military collusion to cover up failures and exaggerate successes.
The need to preserve the constitutionally safeguarded fiscal autonomy of states (including on borrowings) is an imperative as the Union government has made arbitrary moves against it, particularly in non-BJP ruled states, writes Deepanshu Mohan.
India wants the soft power glow of being seen as a generous friend in Sri Lanka’s time of need, while also seeking to call in the favour when required. That leaves very little for India’s neighbours to differentiate between New Delhi and Beijing, says Mint.
How did we do in these 75 years of Independence? Look around us. Clearly, we have done better than most. If you consider the human cost in China, we probably did better than all, writes Mohan Guruswamy.
In 2022, a miffed BS Yediyurappa can still damage the party’s prospects. And his elevation to the BJP’s Central Parliamentary Board is the senior party leadership’s way of keeping him happy and the party out of harm’s way, writes Pooja Prasanna.
Making the ITBP the primary force manning the Line of Actual Control defies military logic, tactical knowledge of the terrain and the tense situation, writes Manvendra Singh.
An excerpt from Netaji: Subhas Chandra Bose’s Life, Politics & Struggle by Krishna Bose (edited and translated by Sumantra Bose) tells how the marriage between Subhas Chandra Bose and Emilie Schenkl defied the Third Reich.
Jaimin Rajani’s debut album Cutting Loose, which releases today, is a retro English collection reeking of offshore influences from the Sixties to the Eighties. But it has a number of contemporary musicians on board ― Susmit Bose and Rahul Ram (Indian Ocean), Ralph Pais (Savages), Abhay Sharma (The Revisit Project), Rohan Ganguli (Supersonics), Billy Cardine and Patrick Fitzsimmons. The production is studio-ish because contributing work was done remotely during the pandemic and the lyrics could use more attention, but there is a winning honesty about the compositions. Look out for Jaimin.
Tomorrow is the ninth death anniversary of rationalist and author Dr Narendra Dabholkar, who was shot dead on his morning walk in 2013 by Hindutva thugs. Here is a glimpse of him practising what he preached, and preaching his practice of rationality and reason.
Over and Out
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