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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 01 February 2024

  1. Charting a Course for India’s Maritime Security
  2. On the WTO’s Public Stock-Holding (PSH) Program


Context:

The importance of implementing a robust Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) framework cannot be overstated in addressing the challenges faced by maritime-dependent industries and nations globally. To demonstrate a firm commitment to safeguarding marine infrastructure and maritime domains, India must enhance its maritime security programs by staying attuned to rapidly changing maritime geopolitics and the emergence of various threats.

Relevance:

GS-3- Security Challenges & their Management in Border Areas

Mains Question:

To strengthen its standing as a global leader in maritime security, it is imperative for India to adopt a robust Maritime Domain Awareness framework. Comment. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA):

  • The International Maritime Organization (IMO) characterizes it as the comprehensive comprehension of anything connected to the maritime realm that could influence security, safety, economy, or the environment.
  • The maritime domain encompasses all regions and elements within, on, under, connected to, neighboring, or bordering a sea, ocean, or other navigable waterway.
  • This includes all activities, infrastructure, individuals, cargo, vessels, and other conveyances associated with maritime endeavors.

Benefits of a robust Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) framework:

Becoming a Global Leader in Maritime Security:

  • By allocating resources to research and development and fostering international MDA partnerships, India has the potential to establish itself as a global leader in maritime security.
  • The focus on maritime security should extend beyond territorial boundaries to encompass regional and global perspectives, acknowledging the intensified competition at sea.
  • Recognizing the limitations of national capacity to protect vast water expanses, fostering multilateral cooperation, promoting inclusivity, and leveraging advanced technologies become imperative.
  • This initiative can provide access to robust yet affordable MDA resources, foster intelligence sharing, and conduct joint exercises to collectively address diverse maritime security challenges.

China’s Growing Influence:

  • Within the context of multilateral Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) cooperation, the Maldives’ geographical proximity to China’s expansion goals and the increasing maritime incidents emphasize the critical need for vigilant maritime monitoring.
  • Proactively countering China’s growing influence in the South China Sea is essential. As the largest stakeholder and a key actor in the Indian Ocean Region, India should take the lead in institutionalizing MDA to ensure comprehensive maritime security.

Countering Complex Emerging Threats:

  • Given India’s significant role in global maritime affairs, prioritizing effective MDA models is crucial for proactively addressing emerging threats, improving surveillance capabilities, and promoting international collaboration in securing maritime interests.
  • A transformative shift in India’s Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) concepts is necessary, moving away from traditional water surface-centric approaches towards incorporating space-based monitoring and AI-driven Operational Technology (OT) systems.

Noteworthy Initiatives in This Regard:

  • India has exhibited a strong commitment to enhancing its Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) capabilities, particularly following the “26/11” attacks.
  • Noteworthy initiatives, such as the National Marine Domain Awareness (NMDA) project and collaboration with France on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) satellite constellation, underscore India’s proactive efforts to establish an integrated MDA network.
  • Initiatives such as the National Command, Control, Communication, and Intelligence (NC3I) network showcase the scope of MDA operations.
  • The transformation of the Navy’s Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC), initially established as the nodal agency for maritime data fusion following the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, is imminent, as it is set to evolve into a National Maritime Domain Awareness (NDMA) Centre.
  • The Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) initiative, unveiled during the 2022 Quad Leaders’ Summit in Tokyo, aims to monitor “dark shipping” and establish a more rapid, extensive, and precise maritime overview of real-time activities within the Indo-Pacific’s crucial regions—the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Way Forward:

  • To ensure a cohesive and successful MDA approach, emphasis should be placed on establishing a specialized coordination body, conducting regular audits, and evaluating past initiatives.
  • Real-time threat identification, thorough monitoring, vessel vetting, due diligence, and AI insights to optimize the MDA framework are essential. Technology, especially AI, enhances Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) for countries like India.
  • For early threat detection, deliberate investments in cutting-edge surveillance and intelligence technology like ASVs, UAVs, and UUVs are necessary. Autonomous systems like ASVs, UAVs, and UUVs improve reaction time and enhance marine security.
  • A concise and adaptable MDA results from periodic revisions in response to emerging threats and the active participation of experts from diverse disciplines.
  • For the integration of autonomous systems and preparation against emerging threats, a specialized task force, learning processes, and technology infrastructure updates are essential.
  • Collaborations with academic institutions, research centers, and technological firms are imperative.
  • Cybersecurity and interoperability ensure MDA unmanned system security and efficiency. Regular cybersecurity audits strengthen MDA systems against evolving cyber threats.
  • India must modernize its technology and form new cybersecurity alliances to address marine security issues.

Conclusion:

Recent successes in real-time detection and rapid eradication of various marine threats highlight the evolution of MDA’s naval operating concept. Investment in naval personnel training and cutting-edge technology will help the Indian Navy achieve MDA goals.



Context:

The quest for a lasting resolution to the Public Stock-Holding (PSH) program presents a formidable challenge. During a meeting of the Committee on Agriculture (CoA) at the World Trade Organization (WTO) held recently, the European Union (EU) surprisingly expressed willingness to entertain India’s plea for a permanent solution to the PSH program for food security, marking a significant shift from the stance taken earlier.

Relevance:

GS-2

Government Policies and Interventions

GS3-

  • Issues related to Direct and Indirect Farm Subsidies and Minimum Support Prices
  • Public Distribution System – Objectives, Functioning, Limitations, Revamping
  • Issues of Buffer Stocks and Food Security
  • Important International Institutions
  • Deglobalisation and Protectionism

Mains Question:

Highlighting its origin, discuss the necessity of a Permanent solution to Public Stock-Holding program and its associated challenges. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

About the Public Stock-Holding (PSH) Program:

  • The PSH program involves government agencies like the Food Corporation of India (FCI) purchasing agricultural produce from farmers at the minimum support price (MSP) and distributing it at subsidized rates to cater to the needs of India’s underprivileged population under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) enacted in 2013.
  • The excess of MSP and associated costs over the sale realization is subsidized by the Union Budget.
  • This subsidy can be categorized into two components: subsidy to the farmer (product-specific subsidy) and subsidy to the food consumer.
  • The WTO is primarily concerned with the former, labeled as “product-specific” subsidies, as they potentially distort international trade.
  • The Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), effective since 1995, caps the total of product and non-product-specific subsidies, or aggregate measurement support (AMS), at 10 percent of the value of agricultural production for developing countries (5 percent for developed countries). Breaching this threshold is considered a violation.
  • India, along with other developing countries, has been striving to address this situation at the WTO for over a decade.
  • The 9th Ministerial Conference held in Bali in 2013 granted a “peace clause,” allowing developing countries to exceed the 10 percent cap without challenge until a permanent solution was found, as long as the subsidies were not deemed “trade-distorting.” However, this provision comes with certain conditions and does not cover programs initiated after 2013.
  • India has invoked the ‘peace clause’ multiple times, especially concerning rice subsidies, but developed countries have raised objections, urging greater transparency and safeguards against ‘illegitimate’ exports. It is evident that this situation cannot persist indefinitely.

Stance of Various Countries on the PSH:

  • While the USA and EU advocate for a comprehensive discourse on agriculture, covering aspects such as the value chain, market access, and export restrictions alongside the PSH program, India has firmly asserted that it will not engage in negotiations on any other agricultural issues until a permanent solution for PSH is reached.
  • India has also made it clear that the support measures provided to its impoverished farmers, including input subsidies for electricity, irrigation, fertilizer, and direct transfers, are non-negotiable.
  • A permanent solution must be sought within a defined timeframe. Although the General Council in December 2014 deferred the deadline set in Bali (2013) indefinitely, India’s insistence on a deadline for the 13th MC is justifiable.

Challenges Associated:

  • Attempting to separate PSH from a comprehensive examination of agriculture may not be the most prudent approach. The PSH program involves the entire supply chain, encompassing procurement, handling, storage, distribution, and more. Hence, issues related to market access and domestic and international sales cannot be disregarded in this context.
  • India’s Public Stock-Holding (PSH) program operates on an indefinite basis, where government agencies acquire significant quantities of wheat and rice from farmers at continuously rising Minimum Support Prices (MSP).
  • These procurements, driven by political considerations for garnering votes, result in surplus stocks held by agencies.
  • These excess stocks are then auctioned to private traders through the Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS). In the OMSS, all bidders are compelled to commit that they will not export the procured goods.
  • The question arises as to whether a simple declaration from private traders obtaining such stocks would satisfy the concerns of developed countries.
  • Instances of heavily subsidized, now free, food being illicitly transported to neighboring nations have been observed, causing disruptions in the global demand-supply dynamics.

Way Forward:

  • India should adopt a transparent approach and engage in discussions. The calculation formula for Aggregate Measurement Support (AMS) under the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) is acknowledged to have several flaws.
  • The External Reference Price (ERP) used for comparing with MSP, though current, dates back to 1986-88. This historical reference is likely to artificially inflate the subsidy. By incorporating the current ERP, India’s subsidy would automatically fall below the 10 percent threshold.
  • Additionally, the AoA calculation does not exempt subsidies provided to resource-poor farmers who primarily produce for self-consumption, eliminating any surplus for sale.
  • Consequently, the concern of subsidies to them distorting trade is irrelevant. Excluding them from the calculation would also decrease the AMS.

Conclusion:

In the interim, the government should terminate the open-ended procurement policy and limit purchases to what is necessary for distributing to National Food Security Act (NFSA) beneficiaries. Consideration should also be given to transitioning to a ‘cash subsidy’ model using Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) mode.


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