The India Cable: R Number Rising; Reverse Labour Flow May Be Enduring Legacy of Modinomics

Plus: Parliament adjourned, NaMo app back for state polls, no money for school breakfasts, Indians headed out of Afghanistan, after Article 370 scrapping, only two J&K properties bought by outsiders

A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal

Snapshot of the day
August 11, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Stop press! The Modi government has defended the printing of the Prime Minister’s mugshot on each and every vaccination certificate, saying that it is meant to reinforce the message to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour even after inoculation. This is hilarious, because the PM is unmasked in the picture! The written response of junior Health Minister Bharati Pravin Pawar was offered in the Rajya Sabha amid huge Opposition criticism that started before the Assembly elections. Under the Pegasus cloud, the Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die two days before the end of the monsoon session. 

After the NFHS survey showed an alarming drop in child nutrition levels in 2015-2019, there was a proposal to start providing breakfast at school. The Education Ministry has told the parliamentary standing committee that the Rs 4,000 crore plan has been shot down by the Finance Ministry for lack of funds.

The Modi government has not decided on preparing a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRC) for the whole country, as was done in Assam, though it was a poll promise in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In the Lok Sabha, the government said that it has decided to update the National Population Register (NPR) under the Citizenship Act, 1955, along with the first phase of Census 2021. Of course, the NPR is the main element on which the NRC is prepared, which is why there is opposition to that too.

The NaMo app is back, undertaking an exhaustive voter survey ahead of the Assembly polls in UP, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab. The Hindu reports that the survey starts with location details and includes multiple choice questions and feelers to gauge the public mood, including whether Opposition unity is likely to have an impact.

A Delhi court has remanded Vineet and Deepak Singh to one-day police custody for raising anti-Muslim slogans at Jantar Mantar on Saturday, and has sent four other accused including BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Upadhayay to two days of judicial custody. There is, as yet, no word about the arrest of two key ringleaders, both associates of the Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, the militant Hindutva politician whose speeches are seen as having prepared the ground for the 2020 anti-Muslim violence in north-east Delhi.

The Rajya Sabha passed the Tribunal Reforms Bill, 2021 despite concerns raised by the Opposition, and a request to refer the bill to a select committee was voted down. The bill, which replaces an ordinance, received Lok Sabha approval last week. Several provisions of the ordinance, now replicated in the bill, were struck down by the Supreme Court last month and its direction to the government to decide on recommendations in three months is diluted.

From no data to some data. Although no deaths have been reported due to manual scavenging, 309 people died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the last five years, the government told the Lok Sabha. The difference may be because the government is using the term ‘manual scavenging’ to refer only to clearing of human waste, rather than the use of manual labour for all hazardous sanitation work. Punjab is the only state that reported “suspected” deaths due to oxygen shortage during the second wave of Covid-19, after the issue was raised in Parliament.

All passengers with a UAE residence visa are now allowed to travel to and through Dubai from India, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Uganda, provided they have a Covid-19 test certificate issued within 48 hours of scheduled flight departure.

Amid escalating violence in Afghanistan, star leg-spinner Rashid Khan has appealed for peace and requested “world leaders” not to leave his country in “chaos”.

In a river at Bhitarkanika National Park in Odisha, a 65-year-old woman fought off a crocodile by pricking its eyes, and is admitted in a hospital. She is in the august company of a famous Indian who claims to have wrangled a crocodile in his childhood in Gujarat, but her exploit may not inspire another comic book.


Indians exiting Afghanistan

A security advisory of the Indian Embassy in Kabul yesterday stated that Indians in Afghanistan should make immediate arrangements to return to India. Indian companies operating in Afghanistan were told to withdraw employees out of project sites before air travel is discontinued.

A special flight was scheduled from Mazar-e-Sharif, which has the last functional Indian consulate, to New Delhi late yesterday. After the Taliban claimed to be moving in, the consulate was temporarily closed and Indian nationals in Balkh were requested to take the special flight. It was a day before the extended troika talks on Afghanistan convened by Russia, with the US, China and Pakistan, to be held in Moscow. Last month, Russia had made it clear that India cannot participate in the format of the expanded group of three because it has no influence on the Taliban. Last month, India pulled out around 50 diplomats and security personnel from its consulate in Kandahar following intense clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban around the city.


Nitish snubs BJP on population control

After BJP leaders tried to counter their Bihar ally Nitish Kumar’s demand for a caste-based census in 2021, by demanding a population control law in the state, the Bihar chief minister categorically ruled it out. “No need for a population control law in Bihar. If any state enacts a population control law and implements it, we have no concern with it. But we will have no such thing,” he said, referring to a demand for a population control law made by his cabinet colleague and senior BJP leader Neeraj Kumar Bablu. Kumar reiterated that an awareness campaign was needed, because laws alone can’t check population growth. Former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav said today that without a caste census, Census 2021 may be rejected by minorities, Dalits and the backward everywhere, not only in Bihar. 


OBC law passed unanimously, Opposition makes its point

The Lok Sabha yesterday unanimously passed a constitutional amendment bill to restore the powers of states to make their own OBC and SEBC lists, with 385 members voting in favour and none opposing. Some amendments moved by Opposition members were rejected. They also raised the Pegasus snooping issue during the debate, to the government’s discomfiture. A constitutional amendment bill requires a special majority for passage in both Houses of Parliament ― a majority of the total membership of the House and a majority of not less than two-thirds of members of that House present and voting.

Criticising the Modi government for the 2018 amendment, leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that if the government had inserted a suggestion proposed by the Opposition, today’s situation would not have arisen: “You tweaked the Constitution by bringing the 102nd Constitution Amendment Bill in 2018 that gave people the opportunity to go to court and finally, the Supreme Court removed the states’ power.” The Supreme Court had dismissed the Centre’s plea seeking a review of its May 5 majority verdict, which held that the 102nd Constitution amendment took away from the states’ power to notify SEBCs for the grant of quota in jobs and admissions.


Covid R number rising

Experts like Professor of Epidemiology at University of Michigan Bhramar Mukherjee say India needs to worry as its R-0 “is hovering around 1” in several Indian states, and is a national problem. The rate of vaccination needs to be improved. Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab have a Covid-19 reproduction number higher than 1, as per the Union Health Ministry. The R number rates the ability of a disease to spread. An R number higher than one means that the disease would spread faster in more vulnerable populations.

Meanwhile, citing recent findings of the University of Michigan, the Director of AIIMS Rishikesh has said that the R count in Uttarakhand and seven other states has crossed one. Mizoram tops the table at 1.56, followed by 1.27 in Meghalaya, 1.26 in Sikkim, 1.17 in Uttarakhand, 1.13 in Himachal Pradesh, 1.08 in Manipur, 1.01 in Kerala and 1.02 in Delhi. The BBC reports that while India accounts for one in six diabetics, physicians fear Indians who have recovered from Covid-19 are at risk of newly diagnosed, full-blown diabetes


The Long Cable

Modinomics’ legacy ― Labour traffic now flows from factories to farms

MK Venu

A worrisome aspect of the Indian economy is reflected in the share of employment in agriculture dramatically rising from 42.5% of the total employed in 2018-19 to 45.6% in 2019-20. This may signify an unusually large movement of labour from industry/services to agriculture. The total number of persons employed in India varies between 400 million and 470 million, as per credible private and government surveys which use varying measures ― from stringent to more liberal ― of actual employment status. So a 3% increase in the share of agricultural employment in one year means that roughly 12-13 million workers have moved back from employment in industry or services to low wage agriculture in one year. 

Why a large number of workers are moving from factories to rural farms needs deeper analysis and policy correctives. While the pandemic may have accelerated this process, there is little doubt that Modinomics had already provided fertile ground for this reverse flow of labour, when key policy goals of formalisation and digitisation of the economy suffered such disasters as demonetisation and a messed-up GST. The ‘vikas’ train has begun to chug the wrong way, as it were. 

And don’t forget, the big increase in the share of agriculture in total employment has come at a time when unemployment itself is at a multi-decade high and women too have left the formal workforce in record numbers. This shows that the shift to rural employment is accompanied by distress. Besides, this is happening when farmers’ protests seeking higher income support are at their peak.

Historically, any period of consistent economic development is accompanied by reduction in poverty and a shift of labour from agriculture to industry and services. This is also marked by growing urbanisation and the broadening of the urban middle class, as seen in much of the developed and rapidly developing world. In India, this process had shown considerable  acceleration in the boom years between 2005-06 and 2011-12, when over 37 million agriculture workers moved to non-agriculture jobs in manufacturing, construction etc.

Labour economist Santosh Mehrotra says this period saw an unprecedented shift from agriculture to non-agriculture employment. “This trend continued but it slowed down considerably after 2012 until 2018, but it never really reversed. However, for the first time, we are seeing a reversal as workers are moving from factories to farms now,” he says. 

According to Mehrotra, “The really big shift in employment from agriculture to non-agriculture sectors happened after 2004 and accelerated till 2012 and continued thereafter somewhat slowly.” Interestingly, this period of 2005-06 to 2015-16 also saw the largest decrease in multi-dimensional poverty in India as 270 million people came out of poverty. It was the largest reduction anywhere in the world. This study was based on an index developed at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and the UNDP. Last year in July, the Oxford Centre had warned that this progress was at risk in the context of the pandemic. 

The pandemic has indeed exacerbated the problems of growth and employment which had started to manifest after 2016-17. All debate in this respect comes back to demonetisation and a badly implemented GST, as important markers of both the destruction of informal sector employment and the growing tendency for workers to move from factories to farms. This also shows up in the massive increase in demand for MGNREGA employment. Things are so bad, Modi is now positioning  himself as a sponsor of ‘Ann Mahotsav’ (free food festival) for millions of jobless migrant workers who have moved back to their villages. I recall the PM’s emphatic policy statement in 2014 ― he wanted to move the poor out of Congress’ dole economy and economically empower them to stand on their own feet. The celebration of ‘Ann Mahotsav’ makes a mockery of that objective. Indeed, the large-scale movement of workers from factories to low wage agriculture labour could end up as Modinomics’ most enduring legacy.


Reportedly

All the action is in Bihar, but its effect is being felt in Delhi. After his uncle ran away with all his MPs and his father’s ministerial berth in the Modi cabinet, Lok Sabha MP Chirag Paswan has been served an eviction notice by the Modi government to vacate the 12 Janpath bungalow allotted to his late father, former Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan. Lok Janshakti Party patron Ram Vilas Paswan stayed there for nearly three decades till his death in October last year. Congress president Sonia Gandhi famously walked to that house, to begin forging an alliance to defeat the BJP in the 2004 parliamentary elections. Will the loss of this bungalow trigger a political realignment in Bihar? 


Striking Gujarat docs return ‘Covid warrior’ certificates

At least 2,000 resident doctors in government-run medical colleges in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar went on strike last Wednesday evening over the issue of the bond service period and emoluments as per the 7th Pay Commission. They have decided to return their ‘Covid Warrior’ certificates, claiming officials had asked them to vacate hostels and have disconnected water and power supply. 

In Gujarat, students of government medical colleges must sign a bond of Rs 40 lakh, mandating one year of rural service. Recently, the state government issued duty orders to them. In April, when Covid-19 cases were on the rise, the state government had announced that one day of Covid-19 duty would be considered equivalent to two days of bond duty, but in July, when the cases dropped significantly, the ratio was made 1:1. The doctors demand restoration.     


Prime number: 2
The number of persons from other states who have bought properties in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 35A in August 2019. Two years, two persons, two properties.

Twitter in compliance with IT Rules

The Modi government has told the Delhi High Court that Twitter is prima facie in compliance with the new Information Technology Rules, having appointed a permanent Chief Compliance Officer, Resident Grievance Officer and Nodal Contact Person. Justice Rekha Palli, who was hearing a petition alleging non-compliance by Twitter, sought an affidavit from the government to bring its stand on record within two weeks.


Deep Dive

A former Pakistan Army officer now based in Ontario, who saw action during the Kargil War, provides an outstanding account from the ‘other side of the hill’, without any exaggeration or rancour. 


Indian celebrities promote crypto

In India, cryptocurrencies are being marketed like hair oil, shampoo, and soap.

Local cryptocurrency exchanges like CoinDCX and CoinSwitch Kuber have tied up with celebrities from social media, sports, and cinema to market crypto investments online. Their campaigns have celebrities talking about financial literacy and encouraging youngsters to invest. The idea is to foster trust but in an unregulated industry, this is raising alarm, too.


Students exposed to second-hand smoke 

At least 29.5% of students are exposed to second-hand smoke ― 23.4% at outdoor public places 21.2% at enclosed public places and 11.2% at home, revealed the National Fact Sheet Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS-4), India, 2019, released by the Union Health Ministry yesterday. The survey also found over 42% decline in tobacco use among schoolchildren aged 13-15 in the last decade. Tobacco use in this cohort is highest in Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram and lowest in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka. 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • GN Devy writes that the Sabarmati Ashram makeover plans are aimed at inducing amnesia, not remembrance of Gandhi’s ideas and courage. Nothing else can be expected of a regime that is busy telling us through its information factories to forget all about our freedom struggle, the freedom of mind that Tagore celebrated and the freedom of spirit of Sri Aurobindo’s vision.

  • Sarosh Bana writes in the South China Morning Post that for most Indian athletes, winning an Olympic medal is not only a sporting achievement but also a triumph of willpower and the desire to succeed despite economic deprivation, government neglect, failing infrastructure and sometimes prejudice.

  • Vidya Subrahmanyam busts the myth of Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh as a model state.

  • One day after two leaders and a journalist from Ladakh moved the Supreme Court to implead themselves in the ongoing (but unheard) challenge to the removal of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the BJP’s MP from the Union Territory has written an oped claiming the move is helping his region.


Listen Up

Vir Sanghvi joins Amit Varma in The Seen and the Unseen to share his insights on how our society, politics and media have been transformed in the span of his career. 


Watch Out

Can Olympic successes, like in hockey, induce a general societal transformation? A provocative discussion. 


Over and Out

Set in Meghalaya, Funeral Nights is an unconventional novel about the Khasi people. An excerpt from Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s latest book.

E Bull Jet brothers? Who? What? Kerala’s politicians are being cold-called and told what’s what. The Newsminutehas the details.

Dr H. Gordon Roberts Hospital in Meghalaya, where ATM inventor John Adrian Shepherd-Barron was born in 1925, has got an automated teller machine 53 years after the world’s first cash dispenser was installed in London.


That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you tomorrow, on a device near you. If The India Cable was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) book your own copy by SUBSCRIBING HERE.