Trouble lurks behind the bilateral bonhomie & Signs and substance: On outcome of Trump visit
Topic: India and its neighborhood- relations.
For Prelims: Trading relation between US and India.
For Mains: Significance of US president’s visit to the India.
Why in news?
- S. President Visit to Indiathis week has catalyzed progress on outcomes in trade, defence, security and energy cooperation even as it has implicitly set parameters.
Background and the current visit of the US President:
- When history looks back upon the evolution of the India-U.S. bilateral relationship through the 21st century, it will likely reflect a consensus that the world’s largest and oldest democracies held fast to a steady upward trajectory in their mutual engagement by capitalizing on synergies and adroitly sidestepping roadblocks.
- That assessment is certainly applicable to the current phase in the ties that bind New Delhi to Washington. Consider first the momentum that US President’s visit, a two-day extravaganza in Ahmadabad, Agraand New Delhi, has imparted.
- At the Motera Stadium in Ahmadabad, president largely stuck to script, praising the peaceful rise of India as an “economic giant” that has lifted 270 million people out of poverty in a decade.
- Segueing to the accomplishments of two successive ruling governments, the President went on to praise the rapid increase in Indians’ access to basic sanitation and cooking fuel and the construction of highways across the country.
Relation between the two nations:
- It is at this juncture that the first wrinkle in the bilateral space becomes evident. For the best part of 20 years now, India has been a policy subject of bipartisan consensus in the U.S. government, including the White House and Congress.
- Yet, even as the extant polarization of public opinion was further embittered through the election campaign and first term of Mr. Trump, a section of U.S. Democrats, traditionally seen as being the party whose support for India ran deeper, began to splinter away from the mainstream on this subject.
- From presidential nomination frontrunner Bernie Sanders, who saidin recent days, “Instead of selling $3 billion in weapons to enrich Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed, the U.S. should be partnering with India to fight climate change,” to Pramila Jayapal, Indian-American Congresswoman from Washington state, who was denied a meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister for criticizing India’s violation of minorities’ right to religious freedom, there is a growing disenchantment with several major policy planks of the Indian government, including its Kashmir policy and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or the CAA, and the National Register of Citizens.
- Now, both US President and PM of India appear politically unassailable in their respective countries presently, US President enjoying a relatively high approval rating across multiple demographic cohorts and riding strong on the wave of popular support that catapulted him to a landslide victory in the 2019 Indian general election.
- Yet at least as far as S. politics are concerned, oppositional forces to an incumbent tending to mount through a slow boil.
- Similarly, if US President continues to turn a blind eye to the deep-seated concerns over allegations of human rights and religious freedom rights violations the world over, including by the current Indian administration, that would only add to the litany of criticisms leveled at the 45th President, alongside charges relating to the abuse of presidential power, obstructing Congressional inquiries and disregarding conflicts of interest.
Glossing over violations:
- Setting aside the potential stumbling blocks in the longer term, the optics of PM of India playing host to an American President, including motifs of peace such as their visit to Sabarmati Ashramand the spinning of the charkha before a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, appeared jarringly insensitive given that parts of the nation’s capital were in flames over riots that had distinctively communal undertones.
- Rampaging mobs in the north-eastern parts of New Delhi were attacking Muslims on the streets, vandalising their shops and setting vehicles and homes on fire, even as law enforcement officials appeared to be standing by mutely, perhaps outnumbered, watching the spectacle unfold.
- While US President said in press conferencethat he had discussed the CAA with Indian PM in their private parleys, he appeared satisfied with the assurance that the Prime Minister gave him that the issue was being dealt with.
- Over the longer term, this tactic of turning a blind eye to rights violations by the government of a trading partner may run afoul even of conservative elements in the U.S., including Republicans who have historically been unabashed about expressing support for religious freedom rights abroad.
Progress but also trade woes:
- Consider the major areas of policies in the bilateral space, where there has been substantive progress.
- In defence manufacturing and trade President’s visit has nudged a deal for India to purchase $3-billion in U.S. military equipmenttoward completion, including the sale of Apache and MH-60 Romeo helicopters.
- On security cooperation, there is much to look forward to by way of improved coordination between the two countries’ governments in terms of joint military exercises and interoperability, as well as in fighting international crimes such as drug trafficking, narco-terrorism, human trafficking, organised crime and violent extremism.
- India is also set to significantly increase its energy imports from the U.S., particularly LNG, after India signed a deal to improve India’s natural gas distribution network.
- The only area where the full potential for bilateral cooperation may not have been realised is on trade. President’s sharp focus on reducing the U.S.’s trade deficits with major trading partners, including India, has made for a bumpy ride in South Block over the past few years.
- In an escalating tariff war, Washington first slapped duties on Indian and global steel and aluminium in 2018, then pulled India out of its Generalized System of Preferences(GSP) in June 2019.
- Unsurprisingly, India responded with counter-tariffs and now S. dairy and medical device exportersare feeling the pain. With the White House recently reclassifying India as a “developed country” to deny it any concessions on trade subsidy investigations, and with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer cancelling a visit planned around the summit meeting, it appears unlikely that India will be returned to GSP or that even a limited trade deal might be announced any time soon.
- Putting the trade deal question in perspective, Alyssa Ayress, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that ultimately more economic openness would be to the benefit of not only India’s trading partners but itself.
- Indeed, given the ongoing slowdown in the Indian economy, it is meaningful reform that: improves the efficiency of land and labour allocation; makes investment in infrastructure attractive, and puts job creation front and centre on the policy agenda, all of which might keep India on a strong footing vis-à-vis its strategic partners and make it unnecessary for its leaders to yield to the temptation of stirring the toxic cauldron of communal politics.
Deals between the two nations:
- The External Affairs Ministry had said five MoUs would be ready for signing; the three made ready were two on health care, and one Letter of Cooperation on LNG pipeline infrastructure.
- There were a few major deals signed around the visit as well, and at least two that had been expected could not be completed the conversion of an MoU for Petronet to invest in American gas company Tellurianinto an agreement, as well as a commercial agreement for Westinghouse to build six nuclear reactors in Andhra Pradesh.
- The agreement signed for defence purchases worth $3-billion, including American helicopters, has led to both sides signalling more cooperation in defence, military exercises and technology sharing.
- And while the two leaders shared strong language in references aimed at China’s hegemony in the South China Sea as well as the Belt and Road Initiative, they did not broach the next steps in the Indo-Pacific partnership including possible militarization as well as joint funding to counter the challenge from Chinese loans in the region.
- The two governments must now strive to complete the unfinished agreements and set the course for their newly designated ‘Comprehensive Strategic Global Partnership’.
- More immediately, with the political backing of both leaders, negotiators must move towards the much anticipated yet elusive trade deal.
Debating water quality
Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources, issues relating to poverty and hunger.
For Prelims: Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) report on drinking water and issues arising out of it.
For Mains: Drinking water Quality of India and required measurements for this.
Why in news?
- A significant outcome of the controversy surrounding the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) report of November 2019 on drinking water statusis that the issue of water quality has got politically prioritised.
Water Quality: Urgent Concern
- The fact that water should be treated as an urgent concern for public health and the ecosystem of the country cannot be denied.
- The threats to human health due to poor water quality, except when they appear as an epidemic, are largely imperceptible. This generally subjects the population to subtle health problems without its knowledge or consent.
- The controversy started with the release of the BIS report for 21 major Indian cities, in keeping with the objectives of the ‘Jal Jeevan Mission’, which aims to provide safe piped water to all households by 2024.
- The study is scheduled to cover all districts in the country within a year. Supply of potable water obviously requires first compilation of information on the existing status.
Drinking Water Crisis:
- The fact that drinking water in Delhi was ranked the most unsafe, as the samples failed in 19 out of 28 parameters, was challenged by the Government of Delhi and the Delhi Jal Board (DJB).
- India is on the throes of a severe water crisis, not only because of a gradual reduction in per capita availability of water due to a rising population, but also because of rising and unchecked pollution in the country’s rivers and water bodies, a fact which is mostly overlooked in the deliberations on water resources management.
- As per published estimates of the Central Pollution Control Board, the country has a treatment capacity of only about 30% of sewage generated in the major cities, not to talk of other urban and rural areas where the sewage finds its way to local water bodies or rivers without treatment.
Impending water stress:
- A 2018 Report of the NITI Aayoghas observed that currently 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water. The crisis is only going to get worse.
- By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people.
- In Delhi, according to the Census 2011 data, there are about 33.41 lakh households of which 27.16 lakh households, i.e., 81.30%, are provided water through a piped supply system. However, only 75.20% of the households are supplied treated water.
- The treatment method is conventional involving sedimentation, filtration and disinfection through chlorine and chloramines, whose effect is contingent upon the overall quality of water.
- For the water coming from the Yamuna released from Haryana, the DJB has to often stop the supply for a few days if the concentration of methane goes up beyond a certain level.
- This is because the tri-chloromethane that may be produced during the disinfection process is highly carcinogenic. The effect may surface on human health not immediately, but over a period of time.
The capital’s high pollutant load:
- Moreover, Delhi, which constitutes less than 1% of the total catchment of the Yamuna, contributes more than 50% of total pollutant load in the river, discharged over the 22 km-stretch between the Wazirabad and Okhla barrages.
- Delhi has 7,000 km of sewer line as on date, against a requirement of 24,000 km. The 17 sewage treatment plants being operated by the DJB are able to take care of not more than 30% of sewage treatment.
- There is no sewerage system at all for over 45% of the population in unauthorised and even regularized colonies and rural areas. As of now, there are 18 major drains carrying sewage, garbage and industrial effluents into the Yamuna.
- It is not only the untreated sewage water and industrial effluents, but also the solid wastes and construction material discharged by individuals, companies and municipal bodies that have caused the suffocation of the Yamuna.
- Also, floodplains have been encroached upon by settlements. Hence, ensuring supply of quality drinking water is not only expensive; it also needs improvement in governance. It needs technical knowledge on measurement and regulation of water quality.
- It is not the fault of the DJB or the Delhi government alone that they have not been able to ensure 100% supply of quality water to the citizens of Delhi, considering the constraints they face, especially those concerning the water resources management and laws in the country.
- We must appreciate that the Jal Jeevan Mission, even if it has not been so far structured, conceptualised and funded adequately, has begun the important work of gathering information on the scale and scope of the problem and making it available in an open and transparent manner. The best outcome is that the competitive politics of the Delhi election has ensured a political debate on water quality.