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MAINS Q/A 02-06-2018

Q1. If Indian data doesn’t remain within India’s borders, it can’t be subject to Indian laws, which makes regulating them really tough. Comment

Cambridge Analytica fiasco has highlighted the risks and challenges in safeguarding privacy and preventing data abuse.Mandating big foreign tech firms to set up data centres within Indian jurisdiction and nurturing indigenous firms are some possible solutions.

  • Vulnerabilities – Recent developments with respect to “Cambridge Analytica” raise some questions on how the Government can protect data.
  • Although the Government claims data is safe, the sheer massiveness of foreign companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon or Apple is menacing.
  • Notably, the above 4 are the main firms driving big-data technologies in the country and globally and are almost omnipotent in all gadgets.
  • Government Response – So far, India has shown no signs of doing anything to control them and the data protection law is still in its nascence.
  • Past experiences haven’t been positive either, and even protocols issues to government departments regarding cyber security are not complied with.
  • Notably, government departments were asked to not use Gmail for official purposes, and ‘.nic.in’ was promoted instead, but compliance has been tardy.

What is the way ahead?

  • Data breaches will only expand in future and India is expected to be the centre of expansion for tech giants due its youthful population.
  • Due to these transgressions, government should ask these tech giants to set up their data centres in India, which won’t be a big investment for them.
  • Despite the minimal taxes that these firms would face, they’ve refused to set up data centres sighting trivial problems like electricity and land acquisition.
  • Indigenisation – The Government has also been talking about creating big home grown tech firms, but it’s been years now.
  • Notably, China has been successful in this domain with firms like “WeChat and Baidu”, to counter international tech giants.
  • We must back big India-owned e-commerce and mobility players to fight the Amazons and Ubers of the world.

 

Q2. Why BIMSTEC and BBIN are important for India’s diplomacy due to the moribund state of SAARC?

India’s land-based connectivity options are consequently blocked westward. India therefore, has had to make course corrections in its foreign policy to explore new options. Though not directly linked to SAARC, the Look East Policy [LEP] now renamed the Act East Policy [AEP], was a course correction that began in the early 1990s.

The renewed vision to seek closer relations with countries in India’s extended eastern neighbourhood was quintessentially India’s response, to domestic economic challenges and the changing international order, marked by a unipolar world.

Such course corrections usually occur when the international power equilibrium is disturbed by external cataclysmic events, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union or the less cataclysmic and more gradual disequilibrium created by the rise of China.

When such phases of disequilibrium in the international power structure occur, it forces nations into making policy changes, to protect its perceived national interest.

The opening up of India’s economy, following the economic reforms of 1991 provided the impetus for reworking India’s foreign policy.

India adopted two parallel new policy tracks to meet its national challenges, both economic and political, marking the beginning of the roadmap for economic liberalization and the external policy path of the LEP, to help expand India’s trade and investment with the dynamic ASEAN region.

These two choices have transformed India’s economy and foreign policy in the past 20 years. LEP was a logical outcome of domestic compulsions and a changed external environment.

The change of nomenclature from the LEP to the “Act East Policy” [AEP] is a recognition of the fact that India’s trade has shifted eastwards – over 50% now. The logical pull factors include the Bay of Bengal littoral and Indo-Pacific region, comprising Australia, China, Bangladesh, Japan, Korea, Myanmar and the 10 ASEAN countries.

The ASEAN region along with India, together comprises combined population of 1.85 billion people, which is one fourth of the global population and their combined GDP has been estimated to be over $3.8 trillion.

Investment from ASEAN into India has been over $70 billion in the last 17 years, accounting for more than 17 percent of India’s total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). India’s investment in ASEAN during the same period has been more than $40 billion. ASEAN leaders were invited to be Chief Guests at this year’s Republic Day celebrations, in recognition of this growing economic bonds.

The dormant status of SAARC and the changes underway in the regional and global landscape triggered India’s initiative to invite the BIMSTEC leadership to the BRICS Summit in Goa in October 2016.

This move was a much-needed boost to this organization’s profile, launching BIMSTEC into a meaningful and potentially strategic role in sub-regional cooperation. BIMSTEC potential future as a bridge between SAARC and ASEAN is no longer sustainable. Its goals, therefore, are being redefined to add ballast to India’s “Act East Policy”.

Another logical outcome of the SAARC becoming crippled is the BBIN – the sub-regional grouping of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal, all members of SAARC. While it is not breakaway group and is derived from various previous work on sub-regional cooperation, the BBIN can function as cohesive group, given the growing trade, economic and infrastructure connectivity that exist between these countries.

The BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement [MVA] is an instrument that was conceived to transform and facilitate trade. It has not yet been completely successful as Bhutan is worried about security and environmental fallout of such an agreement.

Q3.Throw light on the impact of CHINA on India’s diplomacy in the Indian ocean?

The urgency of promoting regional and sub-regional cooperation via BIMSTEC and BBIN has to be seen in the context of China’s BRI/OBOR and the compelling strategic challenge posed by China’s muscular geo-economic and geo-political interventions in Asia, particularly in India’s neighbourhood.

Asia is the new arena of cooperation, rivalry, contestations and also economic growth. Though maritime disputes in the South China Sea attract global attention, the Bay of Bengal has moved centre stage as the next strategic and economic arena in the Indo-Pacific region. BIMSTEC and ASEAN both have seminal roles, in re-integrating the Bay of Bengal as an economic hub and strategic space. The salience of BIMSTEC has, therefore, grown for India to secure its strategic space in the neighbourhood and the Bay of Bengal region.

The BIMSTEC countries host a population of around 1.5 billion, approximately 21% of global population, with cumulative GDP of US$ 2.5 trillion. The annual GDP growth rate has averaged around 6%. The 4th Summit is scheduled to be held in Nepal later this year. BIMSTEC has identified 14 priority sectors and has signed an FTA (2004) and a Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking (2009). The pace of implementation has been quite sluggish so far. While India is the lead country for four priority sectors, namely, transportation and communication, environment and disaster management, tourism, and counter-terrorism and trans-national crime, BIMSTEC has to move into areas of strategic cooperation.

 

Q4. How the recent verdict has spelled doom for the patent laws in India ?

On April 11, 2018, a division bench of the Delhi High Court pronounced a judgment overturning the decision of a single-judge bench regarding the interpretation of Section 3(j) of the Indian Patents Act, 1970, holding that transgenic plants, seeds and varieties cannot be patented.

 

This is a path breaking judgment, the full import of which is yet to be assessed. The case arose over a dispute between several seed companies and Monsanto regarding Bt cotton trait fee payments.

 

This genetically modified seed was introduced in India in 2002 amidst a raging controversy. Many “activists” were alarmed at the government’s decision to permit GM crops in India, and there were widespread agitations. Perhaps, because of that past history, Bt cotton continues to be the only genetically modified crop permitted in India, and has captured about 95% of the crop area under cotton.

 

Initially, the crux of the dispute between Monsanto and the seed companies was the quantum of royalties or trait value to be paid by the latter. In 2010, some state governments fixed the maximum retail prices of cotton seeds, which included the trait values as a component.

 

The governments did this so as to ensure that seeds were available to the farmers at reasonable prices. However, Monsanto put pressure on the seed companies to pay the trait values as determined by them on the ground that they had a patent on Bt cotton seeds.

 

The seed companies had no alternative but to pay under protest. In June 2015, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court upheld the right and, therefore, the action of the government of Maharashtra in fixing the maximum retail price of seeds, including the trait value.

 

Subsequently, in July 2015, the seed companies wrote to Monsanto that they cannot pay a higher trait value. Interestingly, it was not only the seed companies of Andhra Pradesh, but almost all others, along with the National Seeds Association of India, that backed this action.

 

Since different state governments were fixing different retail prices and trait values, the Centre decided that in the best interest of all stakeholders, it would be advisable to have a uniform price and trait value for the entire country. In pursuance thereof, it issued orders in December 2015, fixing uniform prices for the entire country, with effect from April 1, 2016.

 

Predictably, Monsanto challenged this diktat. It was during the course of meeting this challenge that the fundamental question arose as to whether Monsanto had a valid patent in conformity with the Indian Patents Act, 1970. The main issue before the division bench of the Delhi High Court was whether Section 3 (j) of the Indian Patents Act, 1970, excludes from patentability plants and animals in whole or any part thereof, other than microorganisms but including seeds, varieties and species and essentially biological processes for production or propagation of plants and animals.

 

The division bench has ruled that Monsanto does not have a valid patent and, therefore, at best, it can seek compensation under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001.

 

The judgment has been criticised on various grounds; one of them being that the patent had been granted by the Patent Office of the government. This is a tangential argument. Many patents granted by the Patent Office in the past have been challenged, some successfully.

 

All actions of the government bodies are open to scrutiny and challenge at any point in time. The entire issue has grave implications for security of agriculture in the country as nearly half the population is financially dependent on it. The Parliament was conscious of the dangers of monopoly in the supply of agricultural inputs, including seeds.

 

That is why it excluded from patentability “a method of agriculture or horticulture” under section 3(h) and “plants and animals in whole or any part thereof… including seeds…” under section 3(j).

Having excluded seeds, etc, from the ambit of patents to give due protection and encouragement to research, the Centre enacted a sui generis law, viz, the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights Act 2001, to protect the intellectual property rights of breeders of plant varieties.

 

In terms of acreage, India is ranked fourth after the US, Brazil and Argentina in adopting GM crops, but while the top three grow more than one GM crop, we have only cotton.

 

Brinjal was cleared for introduction by the Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee in 2010, but it has been put on an indefinite hold.

It has been argued by some that this judgment of the Delhi High Court will discourage research and development in agriculture.

 

On the contrary, others anticipate that with the clarity flowing out of the judgment, research will get a shot in the arm. Only time will tell which way research in agriculture will be impacted. But, it is abundantly clear that in a country where farming is largely of the subsistence variety, the state governments and the Centre will not let monopolists dictate prices of essential inputs.

 

 

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