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29th July – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents

  1. The South Asian-Gulf migrant crisis
  2. RIC, a triangle that is still important
  3. Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)
  4. Protecting artists and the arts

THE SOUTH ASIAN-GULF MIGRANT CRISIS

Focus: GS-II International Relations

Why in news?

  • The Kerala High Court issued notice to the Central and State governments on a petition seeking to set up a mechanism to assist NRIs who had lost their jobs abroad and had returned to India, to seek due compensation.
  • It seeks the court’s intervention to reclaim unpaid salaries, residual arrears, retirement benefits, and even compensation for relatives of migrant workers, who had died since the outbreak of COVID-19.
  • This exposes the precarious conditions of migrant workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

Introduction

  • The South Asia-Gulf migration corridor is among the largest in the world, with the South Asians accounting for nearly 15 million in the Gulf.
  • According to the World Bank, of the $140 billion total remittances to South Asia – India alone received $83 + billion (almost 60%).
  • Indians constitute the largest segment of the South Asian workforce, and a majority of the migrants are single men living in congested labour camps.

Living in misery

  • The South Asian labour force forms the backbone of the Gulf economies, but has had to go knocking on doors for food and other basic necessities.
  • In the initial days of the lockdown, the Kerala government was requested to send regular medicines for lifestyle diseases.
  • Since medicines are expensive in the GCC, migrants often procure them from India and stock up for a few months. However, the suspension of flights caused an acute shortage of medicines, and exposed the frail medical insurance system in the GCC for these workers.
  • The pandemic, the shutdown of companies, the tightening of borders, and the exploitative nature of the Kafala sponsorship system have all aggravated the miseries of South Asian migrant workers.
  • They have no safety net, social security protection, welfare mechanisms, or labour rights.
  • As the COVID-19 crisis and response unfolded in the Gulf countries, the most neglected segment turned out to be the migrant women domestic workers, whose untold miseries have increased in the present volatile situation.
  • The situation forced the Indian government to repatriate the NRIs through the Vande Bharat Mission, and India has repatriated over 7.88 lakh NRIs from various destinations.

Kafala system

  • The kafala system is an exploitative system used to monitor migrant laborers, working primarily in the construction and domestic sectors in Gulf Cooperation Council member states and a few neighbouring countries, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
  • The system requires all unskilled laborers to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status.
  • This practice has been criticised by human rights organizations for creating easy opportunities for the exploitation of workers, as many employers take away passports and abuse their workers with little chance of legal repercussions.

Rehabilitate, reintegrate, and resettle

  • The countries of origin like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc., which have also been repatriating their citizens are now faced with the challenge of rehabilitating, reintegrating, and resettling these migrant workers.
  • The Indian government has announced ‘SWADES’ for skill mapping of citizens returning from abroad.
  • Kerala, the largest beneficiary of international migration, has announced ‘Dream Kerala’ to utilise the multifaceted resources of the migrants.
  • The past three major crises in the Gulf – the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the global economic crisis, and Nitaqat in Saudi Arabia – had not triggered a massive return migration.
  • However, now the movement for nationalisation of labour and the anti-migrant sentiment have peaked in the gulf, countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia have provided subsidies to private companies to prevent native lay-offs.

Conclusion: Current dilemma

  • Countries that are sending migrant workers abroad are caught between the promotion of migration, on the one hand, and the protection of migrant rights in increasingly hostile countries receiving migrants, on the other.
  • The need of the hour is a comprehensive migration management system for countries that send workers as well as those that receive them. No South Asian country except Sri Lanka has an adequate migration policy.
  • The pandemic has given us an opportunity to voice the rights of South Asian migrants and to bring the South Asia-Gulf migration corridor within the ambit of SAARC, the ILO, and UN conventions.

-Source: The Hindu


RIC, A TRIANGLE THAT IS STILL IMPORTANT

Focus: GS-II International Relations

Introduction

Recently India decided to attend a (virtual) meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC), amidst the tensions on the Line of Actual Control.

Highlights of the meeting

  • The Chinese Minister did not see the irony in his call for opposing bullying practices, rejecting power politics and supporting the rule of law in international relations.
  • Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticised unilateral coercive measures to settle scores with geopolitical rivals and topple regimes.
  • India’s External Affairs Minister pointedly emphasised that for a durable world order, major powers should respect international law and recognise the legitimate interest of partners.

The initial years

  • When the RIC dialogue commenced in the early 2000s, the three countries were positioning themselves for a transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order.
  • The RIC shared some non-West (as distinct from anti-West) perspectives on the global order, such as an emphasis on sovereignty and territorial integrity, impatience with homilies on social policies and opposition to regime change from abroad.
  • The initial years of the RIC dialogue coincided with an upswing in India’s relations with Russia and China.

Russia-India-China Grouping (RIC)

  • RIC is a strategic grouping that first took shape in the late 1990s under the leadership of Yevgeny Primakov, a Russian politician as “a counterbalance to the Western alliance.”
  • The group was founded on the basis of ending its subservient foreign policy guided by the USA and renewing old ties with India and fostering the newly discovered friendship with China.
  • Together, the RIC countries occupy over 19% of the global landmass and contribute to over 33% of global GDP.
  • Even though India, China and Russia may disagree on a number of security issues in Eurasia, there are areas where their interests converge, like, for instance, on Afghanistan. RIC can ensure stable peace in Afghanistan and by extension, in Central Asia.

Subtext to India-U.S. ties

  • Since the 2000s India’s relations with the U.S. surged, encompassing trade and investment, a landmark civil nuclear deal and a burgeoning defence relationship that met India’s objective of diversifying military acquisitions away from a near-total dependence on Russia.
  • The strategic sub-text is that as China was rapidly emerging as a challenger to its global pre-eminence, the U.S. saw value in partnering with a democratic India in Asia.
  • The texture of the relationship with Russia also changed, as India-U.S. collaboration widened — in defence and the Indo-Pacific. As U.S.-Russia relations imploded in 2014 (after the annexation/accession of Crimea), Russia’s pushback against the U.S. included cultivating the Taliban in Afghanistan and enlisting Pakistan’s support for it.
  • The western campaign to isolate Russia drove it into a much closer embrace of China — particularly in defence cooperation — than their history of strategic rivalry should have permitted.

Links in the grouping: The RIC engagement still has significance.

  • India is in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is driven by Russia and China and includes four Central Asian countries.
  • Pakistan’s membership of SCO and the potential admission of Iran and Afghanistan (as member states) heighten the significance of the SCO for India.
  • Growing Chinese influence is testing the informal Russia-China understanding that Russia handles the politico-security issues in the region and China extends economic support.
  • The ongoing India-Iran-Russia project for a sea/road/rail link from western India through Iran to Afghanistan and Central Asia, is an important initiative for achieving an effective Indian presence in Central Asia, alongside Russia and China.
  • Access to Russia’s abundant natural resources can enhance our materials security — the importance of which has been highlighted by COVID-19.

The Indo-Pacific issue

  • For India, the Indo-Pacific is a geographic space of economic and security importance, in which a cooperative order should prevent the dominance of any external power.
  • China sees our Indo-Pacific initiatives as part of a U.S.-led policy of containing China.
  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry sees the Indo-Pacific as an American ploy to draw India and Japan into a military alliance against China and Russia.

-Source: The Hindu


NEGLECTED TROPICAL DISEASES (NTDS)

Focus: GS-III Science and technology

Introduction

  • Disease outbreaks usually result in single-minded efforts to stem the tide, distracting from other public health issues in the process. For example, the 2016 Ebola outbreak resulted in the loss of an additional 10,600 West African lives due to HIV, TB and malaria.
  • Now, as health services, resources and attention are diverted to the fight against Covid-19, experts have warned that the pandemic will indirectly have catastrophic effect when it comes to programmes to combat Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)

  • Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)– a diverse group of communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries – affect more than one billion people and cost developing economies billions of dollars every year.
  • Populations living in poverty, without adequate sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors and domestic animals and livestock are those worst affected.
  • Seven of the most common NTDs can be found in a number of countries—primarily in low- and middle-income countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • Controlling the vectors (e.g., mosquitoes, black flies) that transmit these diseases and improving basic water, sanitation, and hygiene are highly effective strategies against these NTDs.

The Crisis

  • NTDs such as dengue, lymphatic filariasis and visceral leishmaniasis (Kala-Azar) afflict 1 billion people worldwide, and yet, are not prioritised in the public health narrative in many parts of the world.
  • India bears the largest burden of NTDs in the world, accounting for 40 per cent of the global lymphatic filariasis disease burden and almost a quarter of the world’s visceral leishmaniasis cases.

Government’s efforts

  • In recent years, the government has made concerted efforts to address the nation’s NTD burden, especially visceral leishmaniasis and lymphatic filariasis which were slated to be eliminated by 2020 and 2021 respectively.
  • Measures taken include Mass Drug Administration (MDA) for lymphatic filariasis prevention in endemic districts and Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) to control the breeding of sandflies that transmit visceral leishmaniasis.
  • However, the onset of the pandemic and the consequent lockdowns have led to the postponement of activities crucial to achieving the target.

Conclusion

  • In the current situation, we must adapt, integrate, optimise and accelerate existing strategies.
  • Most importantly, we need to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission by equipping field staff with Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), handwashing stations and training to ensure social distancing during field activities.
  • In NTD endemic districts, interventions to eliminate NTDs, malaria and HIV are often aimed at the same target population, thus, the limited programmatic and financial resources must be optimised to deliver healthcare services in an integrated manner.
  • Greater flexibility in decision-making at the district level would allow for refining the integrated approach based on available resources, disease profiles and the unique needs of a community.
  • Another approach would be to leverage technological solutions like how telemedicine consultations are being made available to people suffering from NTDs in areas that are hard to reach.
  • The World Health Organisations new roadmap on NTDs espouses a people-centric approach — it is based on the principles of partnership and strengthening the health system.

-Source: Indian Express


PROTECTING ARTISTS AND THE ARTS

Focus: GS-I Art and Culture

Introduction

Although there is tremendous diversity and excellence of fine arts, performance arts and crafts — folk, classical, and contemporary — there are neither authoritative definitions nor data on the size or shape of “Creative economy”.

Troubled times for the creative sector

  • A large section of artists and artisans are part of the informal economy – weavers, folk singers, tribal dancers and even classical music performers. Some of them depend on agriculture to supplement their income for part of the year.
  • According to a recent report: MSMEs, which have taken a beating due to the lockdown, make up almost 90% of the creative sector.
  • Of these businesses, almost one-third are facing a loss of roughly 50% of their annual income in the first quarter.
  • 50% of the events and entertainment management sector saw 90% of their events cancelled, and almost two-thirds of organisations established between four and 10 years ago have stopped functioning.
  • The Creative sector is one that struggles for the most part even in the best of times.
  • Support from the private sector is unreliable and insufficient — further compromised by rigid CSR rules that make it difficult to justify donations in this area.
  • This has stifled experimentation and innovation in the arts as well as preservation of heritage.

A list of recommendations

Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) has sent a list of recommendations to the Ministry of Culture that can go a long way in mitigating the damage.

Amongst these recommendations are:

  1. Releasing grants that are pending since 2017, despite being approved
  2. Diverting the budgets already allocated for state-sponsored cultural festivals to help artists in need
  3. Ensuring health coverage to artists under Ayushman Bharat or the Central Government Health Scheme
  4. Moratoriums on GST payments
  5. Investing in digital infrastructure that can help artists take their work online.

Conclusion

  • In these circumstances, there is a real opportunity to create a cultural economy that helps millions of performers move away from agriculture and sustain themselves without having to migrate for temporary jobs.
  • This is but one of the innumerable ways in which nurturing the creative arts can help strengthen India’s economy.
  • It can also simultaneously bolster our soft power.

-Source: The Hindu

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