The Indian Express reporters read between the headlines of this year to interpret what will make news in 2016. Today’s theme is India’s role at home and on the world stage in the fields of diplomacy, environment and security.
Narendra Modi makes the leaps, now for the small steps
In the course of the year, the PM showed he wasn’t afraid to try new things in diplomacy. So 2015 saw the first visit to Israel by an Indian president, the first India-Africa Forum Summit, the building of India’s first strategic asset in Seychelles, and the first community event attended by an Indian PM at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Relations with Europe were put into high gear, with visits by Modi to France, Germany, the UK and Ireland, leading to a government-to-government deal for Rafale jets with France, economic and political commitments with Germany, and more broadbased ties with the UK. India also entered the sweet spot with Sri Lanka, with back-to-back visits by top leaders. Modi ignored sceptics to ink the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh.
Obama’s visit had unlocked the nuclear liability conundrum, easing the way for sealing of nuclear deals with Australia and Japan. Negotiations on the agreements with both Australia and Japan will continue in 2016.
While India’s unprecedented outreach to Africa in 2015 caught global attention — 40 leaders came calling and all 54 countries sent representatives — New Delhi’s resolve to implement fresh Lines of Credit and evaluate their efficacy will be tested 2016 onwards. There is a strong possibility of a PM visit to Africa this year. As French President Francois Hollande comes to India for the Republic Day parade, the two sides will be looking to close the Rafale jet deal, while a possible visit by Prince William and Princess Kate of the UK is expected to be the highlight of the year.
Another big event could be a Modi visit to Israel. He visited the UAE in 2015, and the major challenges of the Islamic State and radicalism are going to dominate the discourse in 2016 with other countries in West Asia.
With ties with Pakistan getting a major lift-up, the Modi government has to ensure that the momentum of the unexpected Lahore meeting is not lost. The foreign secretaries are meeting in mid-January 2016 and are expected to set the schedule for next meetings — leading up to Modi’s visit to Pakistan in late 2016 for the SAARC Summit.
In Nepal, the Indian establishment was at loggerheads with Kathmandu’s political leadership for the latter part of 2015 over constitutional issues. With the Nepalese government planning to take corrective actions, 2016 is expected to be smoother.
In Bangladesh, the only major issue confronting the two sides is sharing of the Teesta waters, which is partly a political problem. It is expected that after the West Bengal elections in mid-2016, the issue will be resolved. In Afghanistan, 2016 will begin on the warm note of Modi’s recent visit to Kabul. New projects will come on the drawing board. India is looking to regain a foothold in Myanmar, having keenly watched China’s growing influence there.
Ties with China, which Modi is expected to visit for a multilateral meeting, will remain a challenge. While the PM also visited China in 2015, there was no substantive movement on key issues. India’s public stance on the South China Sea is going to be tested as it moves towards membership of APEC.
One thing that didn’t happen
Maldives remains the only neighbour not visited by Modi so far, and that may be corrected in 2016. The PM planned to go in March 2015, but the imprisonment of former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed came in the way.
Chetia and Rajan come home, IS worries from away
The threat of the Islamic State weighed on the Home Ministry in 2015, with several youths stopped allegedly on the way to joining the terror force. There was tumult at the helm of the ministry too, with tenures of two successive home secretaries cut short under controversial circumstances. In the midst of these changes, the ministry introduced a new national security clearance policy to facilitate ease of business and Make in India. As a result, 1,671 proposals were cleared in 2015, more than twice the 815 of 2014.
The year also saw the execution of Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakub Memon in the face of a campaign against the death sentence.
Ignoring another protest from activists, the ministry continued a crackdown on NGOs for Foreign Contribution Regulation Act “violations”. Ford Foundation was put under the watch list and “prior approval category” in “the interest of national security”, Greenpeace India’s FCRA registration was cancelled, FCRA registration of Teesta Setalvad’s Sabrang Trust was suspended.
Among high points, Left Wing Extremism-related incidents reached a five-year low at 1,006; 2011 had 1,760.
A “framework agreement” was signed between the NSCN(IM) and the government in August. Cooperation with police of other countries, along with diplomacy at the “highest level”, also yielded the deportation of gangster Chhota Rajan from Indonesia and the handing over by Bangladesh of ULFA leader Anup Chetia.
In another significant move, the ministry cleared 33% reservation for women in police.
In 2016, one of the main thrust areas for the Home Ministry will be tackling crimes against women. Investigative units on crimes against women are expected to be set up in 564 districts, with around a third of the staff strength in each women. The Rs 324-crore plan, financed from the Nirbhaya Fund corpus, will have the Centre bearing half the cost of these units and the states the rest. A Nationwide Emergency Response System at telephone number 112 will also be set up for women in distress.
An Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre is coming up at a cost of Rs 100 crore, which will bolster capacity to counter cyber threats as well as monitor cyber crimes and help agencies curtail such crimes.
In addition, the Home Ministry plans to take a lead role in setting up a Situation Room and 24×7 multi-agency social media analysis centre to study and tackle social media threats.
The ongoing Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems project will be fast-tracked and rolled out in a revamped avatar, with the aim of fully implementing it in at least 50 per cent of the states.
The e-tourist visa scheme will be extended to 150 countries and 25 Indian airports. Currently, the facility is on offer to 113 countries at 16 airports.
The Union Home Secretary has also asked all states and Union territories to conduct Operation Smile-II from January 1 to January 31, 2016, as a follow-up to the successful Operations Smile and Muskaan to rescue and rehabilitate missing children. Under Smile-II, all children living in shelter homes, on platforms, bus stands, roads, or religious places will be screened by trained police personnel, and data shared at the intra-state and inter-state levels.
One thing that didn’t happen
The plan to bring the hardship allowance of central paramilitary forces serving in Left Wing Extremism-affected areas on a par with that for service in Jammu and Kashmir remained on paper.
Green targets from Delhi to Paris
While the year-end climate change conference in Paris hogged all the limelight, the biggest environmental debate in 2015 was undoubtedly about air pollution. As air quality in Delhi generated noise, the Environment Ministry took a series of measures. A national air quality index was launched to provide real-time information to people in a few cities including Delhi. Stricter norms were set for some industries, and online monitoring of emissions and liquid effluents were prescribed for some.
Courts too stepped in. Smoke-spewing old diesel vehicles were sought to be banned, trucks entering Delhi asked to pay pollution tax. The ministry held meetings of the states around Delhi and asked them to put an end to crop burning. Another major cause of air pollution, construction material and waste, was dealt with by tightening waste management rules.
In the global fight against climate change, India’s action plan for 2030 promises to reduce its carbon intensity by 33-35% as compared to 2005, raise the share of non-fossil fuel electricity in the energy mix to 40%, and create an additional carbon sink of about 2.5-3 bn tonnes carbon-dioxide through afforestation. Earlier in 2015, the government added four new missions to its National Action Plan on Climate Change. The Indian team played a key role in the finalisation of the Paris Agreement.
Another major intervention came in the demarcation of eco-sensitive zones around protected areas.
Air pollution remains a subject of intense debate as the Delhi government tries to enforce an odd-even rule for cars on streets.
The demarcation of biodiversity-rich Western Ghats into ‘Go/No-Go’ zones is a decision that will need to be taken early in 2016. Discussions between the Centre and the five concerned states have been going on for over a year without a consensus yet.
State action plans on climate change will start getting implemented. A classification of industries as “red”, “orange” or “green” according to pollution potential will come into effect. A Comprehensive Environment Pollution Index, taking into account air, water and land pollution, will be finalised. A coastal hazard mapping exercise has to be undertaken as part of the climate action plan. This plan was approved in January this year but hardly any work has been done.
One thing that did not happen
In 2014, the ministry had begun the exercise of amending a set of environmental laws — Environment (Protection), Forest, Forest (Conservation), Wildlife (Protection), Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Acts — to bring them in line with current requirements. Former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian’s committee had given its report in November 2014 and the ministry initially claimed it would bring in the amendments in the budget session itself. It could not do so throughout the year.
Buzzwords Make in India, OROP
Among its achievements for 2015, the Defence Ministry listed the clearance of proposals worth Rs 2 lakh crore. The year saw the Prime Minister announcing the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France, cabinet clearance for Chinook and Apache helicopters and floating of the first Scorpene submarine off Mumbai. On the flip side of the “Make in India” slogan that dominated the acquisition programme were protests by military veterans over One Rank One Pension. They got the government to fulfil its poll promise but this brought its own set of disputes.
In January, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar handed over the indigenous light combat aircraft Tejas to the IAF.
Parrikar has promised a new defence procurement policy. A stepping-stone to Make in India, it will enable early signing of projects the government has opened to the Indian industry. Among these are Project 75 I for six conventional submarines, artillery modernisation, helicopters, and futuristic infantry combat vehicles. The defence industry, which attracts only $80,000 in FDI, will look to gain from the raise in cap from 26 to 49%.
INS Viraat will be phased out in 2016; the other aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, goes for a refit in September. The first Scorpene submarine, Kalvari, joins the fleet later.
One thing that did not happen
OROP is far from settled. Ex-servicemen are demanding annual revision of pension. A committee has been set up to review OROP.
(Reporting by Shubhajit Roy, Sagnik Chowdhury, Amitabh Sinha, Pranav Kulkarni)