Behind the Fog

When secrecy can harm the very purpose of having an intelligence organization in a State

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Sitting in a café with friends sometimes makes one want to talk of complex global concerns. If for nothing else, then just to sound erudite to the person sitting on the table next to yours. And then there are times when this royally backfires.

So as my friend and I sat discussing intelligence agencies around the world, he mentioned China and that one word brought a hard-stop to the discussion. None of us could name the Chinese intelligence agency. Not that we are encyclopedias and that our not knowing, was a total shocker but still we could recall no mention of it in newspapers or in broadcast news. Anywhere!

I quickly made a run-through of all the intelligence agencies that I could recall- CIA, Mossad, R&AW, ISI but all the mind-palace efforts couldn’t help me stumble on the name. So finally, we pulled out our smartphones to clear the mystery.

-Ministry of State Security.

MSS was formed in 1983 and oversees counter-intelligence, amassing data from around the globe and political security. Not so astonishingly, it can even arrest citizens on violation of state security matters, unlike other intelligence agencies around the globe.

The MSS doesn’t work for the welfare of the people but for the maintenance of the Communist Party’s autocratic rule.

The Chinese name for MSS is Guojia Anquan Bu or GAB and it handles operations for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, spy handling, cyber security technical intelligence and foreign liaison.

During its initial years, Deng Xiaoping didn’t want the MSS to recruit spies but to employ businessmen, journalists who would have a natural existing cover to aid questioning of any sort on the international front. He thought that operating from under the MSS would have more information fall into China’s lap than via a façade of institutions, which would end up raising more eyebrows and investing in cover-ups than actual work.

There is a second civilian intelligence agency called MPS- Ministry of Public Security which supports information security research and engages to a lesser degree in domestic intelligence operations. Military intelligence, on the other hand falls under PLA(People’s Liberation Army).

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Most countries with populations more than 5 million have intelligence agencies asset up. Even Hong Kong had managed to set up a “political department’ to cater to such needs before it was returned to China’s control. But in a county of 1.3 billion such as China, talk of such an organization is taboo and non – existent in mass media conversations or official documents.

How do the citizens perceive the ‘intelligence agency’ which has transformed into ‘secret service’? Many concerned netizens have asked for reforms urgently to ensure transparency and instill a supervising mechanism in place for the Chinese intelligence. But first of all, China needs to officially admit the existence of such agencies which can allow for accountability by people or even relevant government agencies.

It has become a trend for scholars of comparative politics to overlook intelligence agencies as mere components of government information processing units. They miss the crucial role played by them in maintaining state power and in formulating international policies. The matter of policy interventions by an unchecked intelligence community, functioning on certain biases will lead to misguided decisions that can spell disaster for the country.

Taking US’s example, its intelligence agencies moved from “non-existence” to public scrutiny after the1960s, which led to unearthing of many scandals and direct control by the White House and Congress. Now, however damaging, be these scandals, they are atleast proof of the checks in place and reflect on the active-passive state of the agency.

But then yet again, ‘transparency’ in a secret service organization seems incompatible. Doesn’t the nature of the work itself incorporate discretion ? Also, the Snowden leaks have revealed, how little tabs governments can actually place on top intelligence bodies.

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China differs in another aspect — of reporting the information to the government. It does not have an official way of integrated reporting into considered strategic analysis, or the ability to distill assessments into a single holistic view. Chinese intelligence agencies, both military and civilian, also have components that operate at the provincial level, leading to regional differences in their analysis, performance and equipment. With multiple layers between the intelligence sources and China’s leaders, it’s probable that what reaches the top levels has been influenced by multiple procedures and biases, leading to a less reliable finished intelligence product. It’s important to remember that an authoritarian system isn’t necessarily a unified one.

The primary purpose of the MSS today is to be the panopticon in China. In Michel Foucaults’ Discipline and Punish, he mentions the Panopticon to be a circular building with a tower in the middle from where an observer can watch anything and everything – Non-stop surveillance. But for Foucault, panopticism wasn’t an intrusive term but an encouragement to economic productivity and social harmony.

But what he doesn’t take into consideration is what happens when the watchman starts abusing such all prevailing power, which is exactly the case with MSS and MPS today.

Hope China clears the fog.

The Hole in The Plot

The Yettinahole Diversion Project is a disaster in the making and the Karnataka government doesn’t seem to care.

The ever-burgeoning need for water, both for domestic and industrial purposes have led to a drying out of local rivers and lakes. The Karnataka government has now turned to diverting the west-flowing rivers to the drier eastern belts of Karnataka. The Yettinahole Diversion Project plans to divert head waters of the Gundia River (a tributary of the Kumardhara, which is a tributary of the Netravathi) in the west and transfer this water to the other end of the state, in the east.

The ambitious and dangerously erroneous project is all set to cost the taxpayer Rs.13000 crores to divert nearly 24 TMC (or 672 billion litres) of water from the head-waters of the Netravathi river towards the water-scarce districts of Kolar, Ramanagara, parts of Hassan, Tumkur, Chikkaballapur, Bengaluru Rural and Devanahalli Industrial Area.

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But where is this 24 TMC to divert?

Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES) of Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), which is under The Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India has published a report in April 2015 titled: Environmental Flow Assessment in Yettinaholé Where is 24 TMC to divert? The entire catchment yield is just 9.55 TMC according to the study! This stands to be 60% less than the estimated yield by KNNL – Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Ltd. The estimation being faulty comes as no surprise, when one looks at the methods deployed to measure the riverine flow. Instead of measuring each diverted stream, just measurement of one stream was taken in a nearby catchment. As per IISc study, the water demand in the catchment is 5.84 TMC & water required for maintaining environmental flow is 2.84 TMC

The entire project falls in an ecologically sensitive area, according to the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (Kasturirangan report). Deforestation, loss of riverine fauna, impaired nutrient flow in rivers, are all lined up in the near future. But KNNL has denied the need for an ecological assessment saying that drinking water projects are exempt from the purview of the Environment Protection Act. But the catch in this statement is that only 60% of the diverted water is going to be utilized for drinking purposes while the rest 40% is going to be stored in minor irrigation tanks and used for other purposes.

Prof. S.G. Mayya, Department of Applied Mechanics and Hydraulics, National Institute of Technology, Suratkhal has major issues with the name of the project itself, which he says is grossly misleading—“First of all, it is not Yettinahole diversion, it is Netravathi Diversion. It would have been Yettinahole Diversion if water only from Yettinahole catchment and its sub-catchments was diverted, but here 90% of water being diverted is from the downstream of Yettinahole catchment, actually from the Netravathi catchment. So calling it Yettinahole Diversion is misleading and fraudulent. I don’t know why the government continues calling it Yettinahole Diversion.”

Why do such glaring gaps exist, between the facts used by the government and those unearthed by the independent experts? Why was there no inclusion of the communities living downstream of the Yettinahole, who would be affected by the diversion? Why has the KNNL put up no figures to indicate the displacement of people in such communities? Regarding the rampant deforestation that is due, no concrete numbers regarding how many trees would be cleared out, for the project has been given out? The economic value of the region is higher (> 200 Billion Rs.)than the diversion project and therefore emphasis should be given on the need for conservation of the livelihood of dependent population and the green cover.

Reports that the Karnataka government had already allocated Rs 2,800 crores and had assigned contracts worth Rs. 1,000 crore even before the environmental assessments were done and clearances sanctioned, are terrifying.

The 2015 study by IISc, meanwhile had given some suggestions on how to tackle water scarcity in the eastern belts of Karnataka instead of proceeding with the project. Some of the solutions were- decentralized water harvesting, restoring existing lakes and ponds, improving native vegetation in catchments, soil and water conservation through micro-watershed approaches.

The Yettinahole Diversion is the government’s faulty band-aid solution for political gains which will lead to large scale repercussions, if not mended in time.

Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel college in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution.

Case of the Missing Apartheid Billions

South Africa’s struggle to get out of the net of corruption and recover what it is owed.

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Swati Sudhakaran is pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel college in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution

Washing the footprints?

Technological advancements helping industries reduce their carbon footprint.

The Paris Agreement made the 194 countries make a promise to themselves and the world- shifting to cleaner fuels and reducing carbon footprints. But on the other hand, countries like India with a huge coal-dependent energy consumption and expenditure needed a method to use fossil fuels while also simultaneously letting off them and not releasing the same levels of CO2 as before.

Amidst major apprehensions on how to proceed,a small plant at the industrial port of Tuticorin is showing the way by capturing CO2 from its own coal-powered boiler and using it to make baking soda.

Crucially, the technology is running without subsidy, which is a major advance for carbon capture technology as for decades it has languished under high costs and lukewarm government support.

The technology gaining traction from all corners of the world, is the brainchild of CarbonClean Solutions, a startup by 2 students of IIT Kharagpur- Aniruddha Sharma and Prateek Bumb. They reversed the mechanics of how to go about CCS- Carbon Capture and Storage in which release of CO2 into the atmosphere is controlled by various means.

Typically, this is achieved by first treating the combustion exhaust gases from the coal plant to remove the small amounts of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (which can cause undesirable reactions in the next step). Then the remaining mixture, containing mostly nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water, is passed through a chemical called monoethanolamine (MEA). This chemical reacts selectively with only CO2, and the rest of the gaseous mixture is safely released into the atmosphere. Later, the MEA-CO2 mixture is heated, which releases nearly pure carbon dioxide to be used as a raw material.

Carbon Clean Solutions has synthesized a new chemical, called CDR-Max, that does the job better than MEA. Max is less corrosive too than MEA which protects the steel chambers in which purification is done

Debate over carbon capture has mostly focused until now on carbon capture and storage (CCS), in which emissions are forced into underground rocks at great cost and no economic benefit.

Carbon Storage methods are numerous:

  1. Can be absorbed by coal beds. Also enhances methane recovery.
  2. Can be injected into depleted oil and gas reserves below 2600ft
  3. Dissolved into the sea below 3300 ft via a fixed pipeline or ship
  4. Released via offshore platform to form ‘lake’ in the ocean bed.

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There is already a global market for CO2 as a chemical raw material. It comes mainly from industries such as brewing where it is cheap and easy to capture. Many new startups,along the lines of CarbonClean like Carbon8 have started tapping into this potential market.

 

Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing MA Public Policy at Mount Carmel College in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution.

Jal, Jangal aur Zameen

Even after 69 years of Independence, India’s tribal communities have to fight tooth and nail for their basic rights.

Swati Sudhakaran@TheMindMap

2016 saw the completion of the 10th year of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, commonly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA). The right promises to safeguard the interests of the tribal communities and give them management and habitat rights over forestlands.

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The FRA came under a lot of flak in the recent years for being a ‘misguided piece of legislation’, keeping in mind, its colossal systemic failures and criminalization of the victims while the perpetrators continued destruction of the adivasis’ home and livelihood, all in the name of development. Projects for dams, forest conservation and wildlife conservation like Project Tiger have become ways to evacuate tribals and to tag the remaining persistent ones as encroachers.

In the absence of the land patta proving their ownership, most tribal communities are helpless and the law is not coming to their aid. Gram Sabhas, which would have worked as shields, to protect the tribal land and voiced the interests of the community, often get excluded from the decision-making process itself, like when mining licenses are provided on tribal lands.

The present NDA government wants to further industrial interests but does not want to amend the FRA, which would invite a huge political furor. Hence it is looking for other ways to do away with the consent of the village communities. The FRA is a major jumble of one too many laws and thus impinges the applicability of the other laws like the Forest Conservation Act and the LARR, 2013, entangling the tribal communities in legalese.

FRA also moves away from the basic constitutional principle of right of the individual. It takes rights of the individual tribals and merges them into the community rights of the tribal Gram Sabhas.

Forest officials often view the tribal communities’ involvement as a dilution of their own powers over the forests. Also the Ministry of Tribal Affairs is understaffed and under-resourced in implementing the FRA. There is an implicit attitude that FRA hampers development by not allowing allocation of land for industrial purpose whereas the opposite is true. Lack of understanding on the part of forest officials, on how tribal communities function and conserve resources, adds to the present woes.

 

Community Forest Rights (CFR) have been more of a joke in India where it’s not about the allocation of forest rights in terms of forestland but the simple reallocation of the village’s agricultural and utility land in the name of the community. A futile activity at the best, such allocations take away a major chunk of the tribals’ forest management rights.

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Baiga Community in Dindori district, MP

But as if to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Act, the Baigas in Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh have gained the right to their habitat. This is for the first time habitat rights have been given under the FRA. Habitat rights go beyond the individual and community rights conferred under the Act and encompasses their whole culture and way of life. It is a holistic right to conserve the livelihood of the tribes in the face of a concretized draconian model of forced development.

The Baiga community is one of the 75 PVTGs- Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups and as per a new amendment in 2012, all PVTGs were eligible to receive habitat rights. The Baigas worked together with the district administration, forest activists who were concerned about the tiger reserves and mapped out the entire reserves so as to not intrude within the tiger occupied spaces.

India’s tribals deserve protection, but not patronization. The FRA reeks of a poor system of governance of tribal welfare in India, where development of tribal land takes precedence over development of tribal lives. One positive case of rehabilitation in 10 years is just not good enough- neither for the tribes nor for the Indian State.

 

Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel College in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution, Bengaluru

 

 

Need for a Universal Health Coverage

Challenges for an Universal Health Coverage in India

Swati Sudhakaran@TheMindMap

A new global index to assess the development of countries in meeting their SDG goals has indicated that India ranks 143 among 188 countries in health index. Many Indians may be happy with this because we rank better than Pakistan and Bangladesh, but we are, in fact, placed below countries like Syria, Iraq and Ghana.

If the aim was to turn the healthcare into an export sector to advance medical tourism, we have succeeded with our 5 star hospitals and cost effective treatment to people.The medical tourism industry according to the Confederation of Indian Industries is at $3 billion as of October 2015 and is expected to touch $7-8 billion by the end of 2020.

But Universal Health Coverage (UHC) still eludes Indians. The BJP, in its manifesto, had promised health assurance to all Indians and vowed to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare. Presently, the government spends on average Rs 4,895 per year on every person covered under CGHS (who are a few million), while the average public spending for the health of all Indians (who are some 1,250 million) is about a fifth of that. Policymakers need to get out of the scandalous selective choosing of whom to cover and hence should actively push for a UHC.

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India’s public expenditure on health at 1.4 per cent of the GDP is one of the lowest among the SEARO countries, with Myanmar being the only exception. It is also the lowest among the BRICS countries.

Governments of UK and Thailand have successfully implemented UHC with both its underlying characteristics- good quality healthcare and of not exposing citizens to financial strains during treatment.

WHO recommendation of one doctor for one thousand people, we have one doctor for 1450 people. With this ratio, nearly a quarter of the posts are lying vacant and the situation is all the more severe in rural areas which have a deficit of six lakh doctors. The doctor population ratio in rural India is about 1:3200. The situation here, is worse than Vietnam and African countries like Algeria.

India is among the 194 countries that are aiming to attain Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030 under the commitment to attain Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The state of healthcare has deteriorated to the extent that one serious illness in a middle class family can push it below the poverty line. Poverty caused by medical expenditure is increasing significantly in both urban and rural India. Recently, there was a news report that in Mumbai, an individual may have to spend two years of his family’s annual income for treating a disease like TB.

The country at present suffers from the triple burden of disease — the unfinished agenda of infectious diseases; the challenge of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), linked with lifestyle changes; and emergence of new pathogens causing epidemics and pandemics.

Nearly 60 per cent of the total health expenditure is incurred by patients directly for which there is no provision for reimbursement or insurance. It shows that it is imperative for India to have a well-designed health insurance scheme which will act as a safety net for these people. The formulation of relevant healthcare policies with effective tools for implementation and monitoring are the need of the hour. We are losing six per cent of our GDP to preventable illness and premature deaths.

WHO has designed a Universal Health Coverage Profile for member countries entailing four parameters of assessment.

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The first parameter is reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health. According to data from the Health Ministry, India loses over 44,000 women to pregnancy-related complications every year, which means one woman dies every 12 minutes for want of care.

The second parameter is the country performance on tackling infectious diseases. Only 39.5 per cent of the population has access to improved sanitation.  Only 41.4 per cent population seeks tuberculosis detection and treatment facilities while 44 per cent population is covered under HIV detection and treatment facilities.

The third factor is the burden of non-communicable diseases. About 30 per cent Indians have high blood pressure. Lifestyle diseases are cropping up faster than usual, spiking the numbers.

The fourth component of the assessment includes basic hospital access, density of health workers, access to essential medicines, and compliance with international health regulations. India has only six hospital beds per lakh and close to two surgeons per lakh population.

Data or rather accurate data is a source of empowerment. On 12th December, i.e. Universal Health Coverage day as commemorated by WHO, a data portal system was launched to keep a track of the progress towards UHC and also to indicate the points at which countries needed improvement.

It is important for policymakers to address how the spending needs to be done on universal healthcare rather than how much.

Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing Masters in Public Policy in Mount Carmel College in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution.

IoT’s LaLa land

The Internet of Things is changing the way we live- One Device at A Time.

Swati Sudhakaran@TheMindMap

Technology and magic are similar in a lot of ways. Not a whole lot of people understand them but most people are amazed by what they manage to achieve.

But people wish upon technology or magic to make life easier for them and that’s exactly what the ‘Internet of Things’ aims on doing. The phenomenon of the Internet of Things is already here but a massive paradigm shift in the way we live is about to hit us in less than a decade. Are we ready?

What is IoT ?

The Internet of Things lives by the rule that everything that can be connected, should be connected; from pace-makers, automobiles, alarm clocks to one’s toasters.

But IoT is much more than the hardware- the beacons, wearables, connected machinery and infrastructure; and the software- cloud, protocols, augmented reality, that facilitate its functioning. It’s the ability to add a sensor and connectivity and hence attach a data stream to any object, systems or a network of systems.

 

In healthcare industry, for example, insulin pumps and blood-pressure cuffs that connect to a mobile app can enable people to record, track, and monitor their own vital signs, without having to go to a doctor’s office. IoT encourages people into healthcare and engages them into self-monitoring and regulation which leads to better disease management and substantial financial savings for the patient.

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Ultimately, the user wants to automate his environment according to his adjusted settings that allow maximum productivity to get work done without his intervention. This stands to be the main idea behind a lot of the new ‘smart’ devices and infrastructure around us today.

IoT In India

  • With the major themes this year being Smart Cities, Smart Classes, Smart Homes, ubiquitous broadband etc., IoT was bound to gain traction.
  • The entire market of IoT is expected to grow to $15 billion by the year 2020 from the present $5.6 billion due to the push from the industrial IoT sector, as reported by NASSCOM.
  • CISCO Investments has already backed a lot of IoT accelerators and startups like Ayla Networks and EVRYTHNG.
  • Bolt, a start-up based in Goa, enables enterprises to build scalable IoT products in just a day’s time. It is basically connecting users to the IoT platform providing both the hardware and the cloud services. They help firms create personalized dashboards to visualize data, monitor device health, send text alerts etc. In all developers just have to focus on the end product, leaving visualization, analytics, network connectivity, storage and scalability to Bolt.
  • One of the biggest boons of IoT in India is energy conservation and its implementation in agriculture. SmartAgri built by scientists at CERN allows farmers to get colour coded messages via the cloud on their mobiles regarding moisture content, pH levels and mineral content in the soil.

 

Control, Privacy and Security

We have to be ready for a flood of data and services to take over life as we know it. At the foundational core of the IoT is the embedding processes which are going to be pervasive and so ensuring that they are secure will be one of our top priorities in the future.

Up until the age of IoT, our relationship with the Internet was autonomous, consensual and optional. It revolved around us switching on and off our smartphones, laptops and iPads at our will and walking away from the cloud( as much as we could). Adding sensors to ‘things’ also puts them into a zone of vulnerability where they are prone to getting hacked. A team of researchers at Microsoft and the University of Michigan recently found a plethora of holes in the security of Samsung’s SmartThings smart home platform, and the methods were far from complex.

Control of ownership when it comes to data is complex. With sensors now tracking our actions on the devices connected, they monitor and rate the level of control we exert and also cause changes in the nature of our relationship with the device.

The 2015 Icontrol State of the Smart Home study found that 44% of all Americans were “very concerned” about the possibility of their information getting stolen from their smart homes, and 27% were “somewhat concerned.”

IoTs will leave us wanting a more protected environment but getting a full-proof immunity may well be impossible given the penetration of IoT in the near future.

IoT is on the prowl to disrupt and revolutionalise life at work and at home to connect devices rather than individuals, at a larger platform.