Editorial 1: Concluding on a high note, in Manhattan
- India concluded its eighth stint in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) at the end of December 2022. And, by any yardstick, its two-year stint has been unprecedented.
Hitting the ground running
- When India entered the Council on 1st January 2021, it focused on:
- maritime security
- UN peacekeeping
- reformed multilateralism and the Global South.
United Nations Security Council (UNSC)
- The Prime Minister of India chaired for the first time a UNSC meeting on maritime security. The Presidential Statement issued was the first holistic document on this issue which, for the first time, had a direct reference to UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as international law setting out the legal framework in the context of maritime activities. It also called for, inter alia, freedom of navigation, anti-piracy and combating terror and transnational crime at sea.
- Old conflicts on the UNSC agenda festered and new conflicts were added — Myanmar, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Mali or Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Haiti, Libya, the Sahel, and of course Ukraine. The Council stood polarised, unable to act decisively. India strove to bring them on the same page.
- There was a military takeover in Myanmar on February 1, 2021 soon after india came into the Council. The Permanent-5 (P-5) were pulling in opposing directions while the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) counselled caution. India shares a nearly 1,700 kilometre-long border with Myanmar and it was vital to stop violence, bring in stability and ensure democratic processes went forward. India ensured balanced and comprehensive Council pronouncements, which finally culminated in a resolution on Myanmar (adopted under our presidency) in December 2022.
Key theatres and terror
- In August 2021, the Taliban forcefully seized power in Afghanistan. India was able to steer the negotiations which resulted in UNSC Resolution 2593 laying down benchmarks: on stopping cross-border terrorism from Afghan soil, including from proscribed UN terrorist entities in Pakistan; protecting the rights of women, minorities and children; ensuring an inclusive government, and providing humanitarian assistance.
- It was during the Ukraine conflict that India’s independent stand calling for dialogue and peace struck a chord with many developing countries, since they themselves were affected by unilateral sanctions. All levers were being weaponised. India spoke out against such sanctions on oil, food and fertilizers. With this conflict spilling over into India’s G-20 Presidency, it is time for India, as a credible voice, to launch an initiative to convert its proactive position into action.
- India has enhanced the focus on terrorism. As Chair of the UNSC Counter-terrorism Committee (CTC), we brought the CTC meeting to India in October 2022. While India’s attempt to list terrorists under UNSC Resolution 1267 sanctions (along with the U.S.) was thwarted, in a significant development, the proposal to list Abdul Rehman Makki, Deputy Amir/Chief of the Lashkar-e-Taiba was approved by the UNSC. This listing was the first, with India as a proposer.
- India has been the largest contributor of UN peacekeepers, including as a pioneer in women peacekeeping. Its launching of the UNITE Aware technology platform to strengthen real-time protection of peacekeepers is to be noted.
- In August 2021, we piloted the first UNSC resolution by India in more than five decades, calling for accountability for crimes against peacekeepers. We gifted two lakh vaccines to all UN peacekeepers.
- Our focus on the developing world, especially Africa and West Asia, was enhanced, given our close historical relations.
- In December 2021, we thwarted a move by the West to wrest climate change from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)-led process and bring it under the ambit of the UNSC, where the P-5 are also major historical polluters. The draft resolution was defeated in the Council when India and Russia voted against. A change in the climate change architecture would have shut out the voice of the Global South, especially Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
- In a first, India also raised the issue of a contemporary form of religiophobia in the Council when, while condemning phobia against Abrahamic religions, it forcefully put forth the need to combat rising hate crimes and phobias against non-Abrahamic religions as well. With hate crimes being fuelled abroad by vested interests, India’s stand needs to be robustly taken forward.
- The culmination was a discussion under India’s Presidency on the need for immediate reform of the Council. The Indian team’s performance over two years is testimony to why India needs to be at the horseshoe table permanently.
Editorial 2: The wide disparities in human development
- India is now one of the fastest-growing economies globally. However, this growth has not resulted in a corresponding increase in its Human Development Index (HDI). According to the Human Development Report (HDR) of 2021-22, India ranks 132 out of 191 countries, behind Bangladesh (129) and Sri Lanka (73).
- The HDI is a composite statistical measure created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to evaluate and compare the level of human development in different regions around the world. It was introduced in 1990 by the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq as an alternative to conventional economic measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which do not consider the broader aspects of human development.
- The HDI assesses a country’s average accomplishment in three aspects: a long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living.
- Given India’s size and large population, it is critical to address the subnational or State-wise disparities in human development. Doing so will help India realise its demographic dividend.
- The HDI is calculated using four indicators:
- life expectancy at birth
- mean years of schoolin
- expected years of schooling
- Gross National Income (GNI) per capita.
- Life expectancy estimates are taken from the Sample Registration System (SRS), and mean and expected years of schooling are extracted from National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5.
- Since estimates for GNI per capita are unavailable at the subnational level, gross state domestic product (GSDP) per capita is used as a proxy indicator to measure the standard of living. GSDP (PPP at constant prices 2011-12) is gathered from the Reserve Bank of India’s Handbook of Statistics on Indian States.
- HDI scores range from 0 to 1, with higher values indicating higher levels of human development.
- The subnational HDI shows that while some States have made considerable progress, others continue to struggle. Delhi occupies the top spot and Bihar occupies the bottom spot. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that Bihar, unlike the previous HDI reports, is no longer considered a low human development State.
- The top States with the highest HDI scores are Delhi, Goa, Kerala. Delhi and Goa have HDI scores above 0.799, which makes them equivalent to countries in Eastern Europe with a very high level of human development.
- The bottom States are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh etc. They have HDI scores below the national average. The scores of these low-performing States resemble those of African countries.
Reasons for discrepancies
- One of the main reasons for this discrepancy is that economic growth has been unevenly distributed. The top 10% of the Indian population holds over 77% of the wealth. This has resulted in significant disparities in access to basic amenities, healthcare and education.
- Another reason is that while India has made significant progress in reducing poverty and increasing access to healthcare and education, the quality of such services remains a concern. For example, while the country has achieved near-universal enrolment in primary education, the quality of education remains low.
- Governments must prioritise human development alongside economic growth to ensure that the benefits of growth are more evenly distributed. This requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses income inequality and gender inequality; improves access to quality social services; addresses environmental challenges; and provides for greater investment in social infrastructure such as healthcare, education, and basic household amenities including access to clean water, improved sanitation facility, clean fuel, electricity and Internet in underdeveloped States.
- India must prioritise investments in human development and job creation, particularly for its youth.
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