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January 4, 2017

The Overseas Indians have come a long way

*PRIYADARSHI DUTTA  download

The 15th edition of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas convention will be heldin Bengaluru, Karnataka from January 7 to 9, 2017. The first annual convention was held between January 9 and 11, 2003. January 9 was adopted as the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas or Overseas Indian Day based on the recommendations of a High Level Committee constituted in August, 2000.

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The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was keenly interested in the issue of overseas Indians. The oversubscription of the Resurgent India Bonds in 1998, when India was battling sanctions post-Pokhran II, showed their strong faith in an emerging India. In a post-Liberalization environment the Indian Diaspora was willing to engage back with their country of origin. India becoming an IT power hub, fast growing economy and atomic power gave the Diaspora much needed confidence. It was on display at various places – from sports field to trade conferences and international meets.

The concerns of the overseas Indians had been on the mind of the Indian leadership for long.The House of Commons in Britain was forced to investigate, as early as 1841, into the pitiable condition Indian indentured workers in Mauritius. This was within a few years of beginning of the indentured system following the abolition of slavery in British Empire (1833). Way back in 1894, the Madras session of Congress had adopted a resolution against disenfranchisement of the Indians in South African colonies. The Congress adopted similar resolutions at Poona (1895), Calcutta (1896), Madras (1898), Lahore (1900), Calcutta (1901) and Ahmedabad (1902) sessions. In those days the question of overseas Indians pertained mostly to Indians in South and Eastern Africa. It is they who had launched numerous struggles against encroachment on their rights by the local British government. The Gandhi-Smuts Agreement, 1914 signified a major victory for them.

But there were overseas Indians in South East Asia viz. Burma, Singapore, Malaya, Thailand etc. Many of them contributed towards India’s freedom movement in the 1940s by volunteering in or funding the Azad Hind Fauz of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Of particular interest could be the stories of those teenaged Tamil girls, born in rubber plantations of Malaya, who decided to shoulder guns for the independence of India, a country they had never actually seen.

The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas memorializes the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi to India on January 9, 1915. He had spent 21 years in South Africa fighting for the rights of Indian community. His technique of Passive Resistance, which he named Satyagraha, was developed in South Africa before being implemented in India. In the colonial world that Gandhi inhabited the profile, status and condition of the overseas Indians were markedly different from today. Those were the days when one could not have been starry-eyed about ‘going abroad’ and ‘settling abroad’. A bulk of those who migrated abroad went for toiling in plantations or factories under Indenture System (to Africa, West Indies, Fiji etc), Kangany System (to Sri Lanka) and Maistry System (Burma). But they deserve credit as the pioneers who reversed the religious prohibition on seafaring that had fallen upon the Hindu society in the medieval ages.

In colonial times racial discrimination was instituted as a state policy by the colonial government. But the de-colonization brought in its wake another set of problems. In Gandhi’s lifetime itself the Indians in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Burma (Myanmar) entered a critical phase with Ceylonese and Burmese population respectively wanting to get rid of them. The first two legislations passed by the D.S. Senanayake government in independent Ceylon deprived almost a million people of Indian origin of their citizenship. While Indians might have captured power in Mauritius, they have been reduced to a miniscule minority in Myanmar. Thus Indians face a new kind of racialism in those erstwhile colonies.

The age of colonialism was an age of maritime empires. Till late 1950s, steamships were the most dependable mode of inter-continental travels. In early 1960s, the air plane replaced ship as the most preferred mode for long distance travels. It reflected upon the pattern of migration in terms of reach, human resource quality and connectivity with India. Coincidentally around the same time the passage of Immigration and Nationality Act, 1965 in the USA paved path for immigration of highly skilled professionals and students. This historic piece of legislation changed the size and profile of the Indian immigrant community. From a meager 12,000 in 1960 the number of Indian immigrants has risen to 2.5 million now. Such educated and successful immigrants are providing sinews to the Indian Diaspora.

But there is another side of the coin. When during the years of ‘Socialism’ India remained trapped in poor economic growth rate, the immigrants to the West were somewhat apologetic about their Indian identity. In India also the Non Residents Indians were perceived as escapers. But faster economic growth rate post-Liberalization, India’s emergence as IT power hub and the advent of Vajpayee government etc boosted the morale of the overseas Indians. The advent of satellite television, Internet and rising tele-density in the 1990s meant overseas Indians could be in regular touch with India. It was now possible for an overseas Indian to spend time thinking the interests of his mother country. Indians, resident and overseas, could commonly exercise opinion on bolstering India’s position in the world stage. This gave rise to the concept of ‘New Global Indian’ as the title of magazine launched from Boston in 2008 by Kanchan Banerjee stated.

But overseas Indian community, in several parts, continues to face severe challenges of racism, religious fanaticism and legislative disabilities. As against popular misconception not everyone is successful. Thus it is not yet time to lower the baton raised by Gandhi in South Africa in the 1890s.

*The writer is a columnist and independent researcher based in New Delhi.

Long-term steps to boost agriculture growth

*Gargi Parsai  i2016123027.jpg

Agriculture was at the centre-stage of priority sectors for the government in 2016, upstaged only at the fag-end of the year by the demonetisation drive of the government. Significantly two consecutive droughts did not dampen the indomitable spirit of Indian farmers who, as per the fourth advance estimates for 2015-16 crop year, produced 252.22 million tonnes of foodgrains as against the output of 252.02 million tonnes last year.

There was a marginal dip in the output of rice, coarse cereals, oilseeds, pulses and cotton

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New Delhi on December 29, 2016

due to monsoon deficiency that hit kharif crops in parts of the country this year.  Although rabi wheat yield was projected to be higher at 93.5 million tonnes in 2015-16 as against 86.53 million tonnes the previous year, procurement this year was lower than the set target, Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister Radha Mohan Singh said at a press conference in New Delhi on 29th December.

To augment supplies and keep prices under check, it was decided to allow wheat import at zero per cent duty on private account.

The government has assured farmers that it will procure more foodgrains for the Public Distribution System and swiftly intervene in the market to ensure that wheat growers get the minimum support price, which is set at Rs. 1625 per quintal for 2016-17 marketing season.  Needless to say, the government is closely monitoring the situation.

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In a way, the year 2016 saw digitisation of the agriculture sector in a big way with mobile apps being launched in quick succession. The Agriculture Ministry launched Kisan Suvidha for weather information, market prices and crop diseases; PUSA Agriculture that gave information about new variety of seeds and latest techniques;

Agri Market that gives news about mandi prices in a radius of 50 kms from the location of a farmer; Crop Insurance relating to all information about fasal bima; Crop Cutting Experiments for asking for crop cutting experiments. Lakhs of farmers have benefitted from downloading these apps.

This year, not only was the limit for farm sector lending by formal banking system raised to an all-time high of Rs. 900,000 crore, initiatives were taken—post-demonetisation—to encourage farmers to move towards cashless transactions and Direct Benefit Transfer of payments. If this happens it will be a big step towards easing out of middle-men/commission agents from mandi operations and a tiny measure to ensure that farmers get at least the minimum support price for the produce they bring to the market place.

Be that as it may, the year 2016 saw the government give high priority to the agriculture sector in order to address the major fundamental concerns about imbalanced use of fertilizers affecting soil health (issuance of soil health cards, neem-coated urea and organic farming)  ill-effects of climate change hitting farmers’ income (fasal bima yojna) creating an electronic-platform market for seamless trade (National Agriculture e-Market) and bringing more land under irrigated farming (PM’s Krishi Sinchai Yojna). Related sectors of pulses, oilseeds, horticulture, fishery, livestock, milk, agro-forestry, bee-keeping, agriculture education, research and extension were also given focussed attention.

Pledging the government’s commitment to doubling farmers income by 2021, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced long-term measures and raised the agriculture outlay to Rs. 39894 crore from Rs. 15809 crore in the 2015-16 budget. In the interim, the sector is set to receive additional Rs 5000 crore from the Krishi Kalyan cess in supplementary budgets.

Apart from this, a Rs. 20,000 crore corpus fund has been created in collaboration with NABARD for the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojna which is dedicated to bringing water

Banner3.jpg to every field (Har Khet Ko Paani) through completion of last-mile projects and drip and micro-irrigation. An area of 76.03 lakh hectare is proposed to be brought under irrigation by 2019.

One of the ambitious programme launched during the year was the weather-based

0.64907500_1452772273_1155-548-pradhan-mantri-fasal-bima-yojana-a-boost-for-farmers-pm.jpg Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna (PM’s Crop Insurance Scheme) for which Rs. 5500 crore were set aside. Under the scheme there will be no cap on who can be covered and the states and central government pick up 90 per cent of the premium. In this year’s kharif, 366.64 lakh farmers were covered under the scheme in 21 states.

Marketing of their produce and to get remunerative prices is the biggest concern of farmers for which over 250 mandis in 10 states have been integrated under the e-NAM

img1.png (National Agriculture Market) portal for better price recovery and wider access. Till last week farm produce worth Rs. 7131.21 crore were transacted on this electronic platform bringing a never-before transparency in marketing.

To keep prices of pulses under check, the government set up a 2-million tonne buffer stock of pulses and augmented availability through imports as well as domestic supplies.nfsm.png At the same time, under the National Food Security Mission, the highest allocation was made for pulses and steps were taken to enhance production which had a cooling effect on prices. The production target for pulses next year is 20.75 million tonnes as against output of 16.47 million tonnes last year. Likewise, efforts were made to clear the bulk of the pending arrears of sugarcane farmers.

With effects of climate change threatening to adversely affect the farm sector, the government took a major initiative to revise the norms for compensation for damaged crop as a result of drought, floods and hail etc. Instead of 33 per cent, farmers who suffer 50 per cent crop damage shall be eligible for compensation. The outgo of funds to states under the National Disaster Relief Fund in the last two years has been Rs. 24,556 crore. Using modern technology, smart phones can be used for uploading pictures of damaged crop and drones will be used to assess damage.

The year also saw focus with renewed vigour on the second green revolution in eastern and north eastern states for meeting food security needs of a growing population. The growth of this sector is crucial to the overall economy. Expectations are that the farm growth rate this year will be higher than 1.1 per cent last year.

*Gargi Parsai—the author is an award-winning, senior journalist based in New Delhi.

Successful Test launch of AGNI V

*Dilip Ghosh  i2016122703

India successfully conducted the fourth and final experimental test of its indigenously developed Inter Continental Ballistic Missile, ICBM, Agni-V from Wheeler Island off Odisha coast on yesterday, the 26thDecember 2016.The nuclear-capable missile with its strike range of over 5,000-km was test-fired from its canister on a launcher truck.

Designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation, DRDO,DRDO-Logo-for-branding.jpg the three stage solid propellant missile will now go for user trials before its induction into the tri-service Strategic Forces Command, SFC which manages India’s nuclear arsenal.  The 17.5 meter long, 50 ton missile can carry a nuclear warhead of more than one ton. It can be transported and swiftly launched from anywhere.

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The surface to surface Agni V missile is the most advanced among the Agni series, having new technologies incorporated with it in terms of navigation and guidance, warhead and engine. The Circular Error Probable, CEP on board makes it one of the most accurate strategic ballistic missile of its range class in the world. This is important because a highly accurate ballistic missile increases the “kill efficiency” of the weapon. It will allow Indian weapons designers to use smaller yield nuclear warheads while increasing the lethality of the strike. In other words, Indian defence forces will be able to deploy a much larger nuclear force using less fissile material than other nuclear powers.

Incidentally, India has also started working on Agni-VI.  It will be capable of being launched from submarines as well as from land, and will have a strike-range of 8,000–10,000 km.

Agni series of missiles was conceptualized by Indian defence planners in the 1980s keeping in view India’s threat perceptions particularly from its neighbours. The two-stage Agni technology demonstrator, with a solid-fuel first stage, was first tested at the Interim Test Range in Chandipur in 1989. It was capable of carrying a conventional payload of 1,000 kg  or a nuclear warhead. This technology demonstrator evolved into the solid-fuel Agni-1 and Agni-2 missiles later. India then developed the single-stage Agni-1, which was first tested in January 2002. The 700–1250 km range Agni I missiles are rail and road mobile and powered by solid propellants. Thereafter, India developed the 2,000–2,500 km range  Agni – II missiles and 3000- 3500 km range Agni III missiles  which  were claimed to be a part of the credible deterrence against China and Pakistan. All these three missiles of Agni series have already been inducted into Indian Army.On 20 January 2014 India successfully test fired the 3,000–4,000 km Agni-IV missile. Equipped with state-of-the-art technologies that includes indigenously developed ring laser gyro and composite rocket motor, the two stage Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, IRBM, Agni IV can take a nuclear warhead of one ton. It is now undergoing field trials before induction in the armed forces.

With thetest firing of the three stage Inter Continental Ballistic Missile, Agni V,India’s missile development program has now reached a new high. Under its range falls not only entire Pakistan but also the northern most parts of China. This would significantly add to our defence preparedness. While India being a peace loving nation which has never attacked any country, it was attacked thrice by Pakistan and once by China. The geopolitical situation in this part of the world compels India to remain prepared for any eventuality. The threat has increased in recent years because China is continuously arming Pakistan, the country which not only gives safe haven to terrorists but also gives them all logistic support. Recently, Beijing has decided to sell eight submarines to Islamabad on concessional rates and in all likelihood it will continue selling weapons to Islamabad.

One may recall what India’s Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Arup Raha said at a high-level Indian armed forces seminar in New Delhi in April this year. Raha said China’s growing influence in the Indian subcontinent is a major security challenge for New Delhi. He pointed to tensions along the Indian-Chinese border in the Himalayas and China’s longstanding but fast-growing ties with India’s main regional rival, Pakistan, as key concerns. He said, China has increased its economic and military ties with all the India’s neighbours. Rapid infrastructure development is taking place in the TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region). The world’s highest airfield at DaochengYading; the highest railway line from Xiniang to the TAR capital; the development of the Gwadar port in Pakistan and the Chinese economic corridor through Pakistani-held Kashmir and Pakistan; the development of roads in TAR up to the Indian border; and increasing economic and military ties with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar are all strategic moves by China to contain India.

            Therefore, India has a genuine reason for concern because so far, China is much ahead of India in military power; it has a bigger armed force, more and better nuclear warheads and is modernizing its armed forces at a much faster pace than India, especially in cyber and space.  According to the 2016 Fact Sheet issued by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China’s military budget was approximately USD 215 billion while India’s military budget was measly USD 51.3 billion, which is less than one fourth of China’s military budget.

Defence experts are of the view that with the successful test firing of Agni V, the country has sent a strong message on its strategic capabilities. As the Union Minister for Urban Development, Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation, Information & Broadcasting Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu has said the successful test has propelled India’s security to the next level.

*The Author regularly writes on Science and Technology. 

 

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