Pressing National Security Challenges for India

India’s national security imperative will have to embrace health security in its fold as the COVID-19 experience is a reminder that the threat of a global pandemic is cyclical and never-ending

Security

By Siddharth Sivaraman

It is not uncommon that during the course of normal day to day discourse, the layman tends to confuse national security only with the security situation of his countries immediate borders. Challenges to national security emanates from myriad threats. Any threat that challenges a nation’s power, its sovereignty, directly causing harm to its internal peace, economic prosperity and health of its citizens is a threat to its national security.

Threat to national security can arise from hostile governments, pandemics, social unrest, economic downturn, natural disasters, terrorism, proliferation, espionage, cybercrime, biological warfare and a host of other actions.

Experts engaged in national security find ways to identify and safeguard against such threats. India’s national security is susceptible to nearly all threats, traditional and non- traditional. At this very moment India is fighting a hard battle against the Covid-19 Pandemic which has claimed over 325,000 lives. The sheer size and scale of the Indian geography and demographics has made the pandemic one of “the greatest challenges that the nation has had to face in the last 100 years”. The pandemic has been a watershed event since the 9/11 terror attacks with regards to national security.

There has been considerable controversy regarding the origin of the Covid-19 virus, while scientific evidence points to the pandemic as a zoonotic disease, there are many theories alleging the origins as “lab created”. If the latter were true? Then the entire narrative of the pandemic immediately switches to it being a carefully executed global biological warfare attack. The “lab created” theory could very well be a figment of imagination, what is clear is like cyberattacks, attacks via viruses will largely remain untraceable as regards to their point of origin, and therefore a covert biological warfare attack against a nation can be undertaken with full plausible deniability. The most consequential national security threats affecting India today are health, environment and internal security. What should India do to safeguard against such threats?

The Government must find its balancing act where it can manage pandemic related actions with minimum curtailment of business and economic activities. Governments may offer intervention in the economy, through widespread payments to citizens or with a targeted stimulus to industries hit hardest

Unlike many other nations, India has the required legal framework and Industrial capabilities to fight the pandemic. It is high time the health sector is given top priority and the Central government raises health care spending from a projected 3% to at least 5% of GDP by 2022. The State Governments should reciprocate the central budgetary allocation proportionate to their GDP, and make efforts in retaining the talent pool of doctors, nurses and hospital management professionals. The production of vaccines, oxygen and drugs should be ramped up and supply chains for raw materials strengthened so that enough stockpiles are available. By connecting research laboratories, the government can create an infrastructure for easy, collaborative work toward vaccines and other treatments.

During the course of a pandemic the national and state disaster management agencies, should work in a collaborative manner to avoid situations such as the migrant labour crisis which resulted in many deaths. With better planning and coordination the crisis could have been avoided. Credible NGO’s should be identified to make up for shortfalls in governments outreach, the FCRA act must be eased for the NGO’s to raise funds and function effectively. The judiciary has an important role to play during a crisis, it must ensure that the disaster management act is implemented in a fair and just manner, with protection of human rights in every section of the society. The time of a crisis should not be the time for judicial overreach, where public servants are reprimanded causing a lowering of morale within the implementing agencies. The Government must find its balancing act where it can manage pandemic related actions with minimum curtailment of business and economic activities. Governments may offer intervention in the economy, through widespread payments to citizens or with a targeted stimulus to industries hit hardest.

History provides many examples of diseases being weaponized to cause widespread terror. Governments can put in place important safeguards to minimize this risk. Laws can regulate the possession and transfer of hazardous ingredients that may be used to create biological weapons. Laboratories can be kept at the ready, prepared to conduct testing at the first sign of a bio warfare attack. India had just one lab to test for the Corona virus when the first wave hit in March 2020, it cannot afford to be caught off-guard. There should be redundancy in testing in all four corners of the country. The NDMA can train public health workers on the deployment of rapid response teams in case of a biowarfare attack. DRDO has proved its mettle during the pandemic by developing Covid-19 treatment drugs and ICU facilities. It should innovate and make available nuclear biological and chemical containment military technology for civilian use.

Back to back cyclonic activity, glacial bursts in the upper reaches of the Himalayas, regular occurrences of flooding in the metros has put India on notice. The increasing frequency of such intensity extreme events may be the most tangible and immediate impact of climate change. Such events directly impact the poor and low- income populations. Nearly 64% of India’s population is largely dependent on agriculture for its livelihood, and India needs to find a pathway for development that is sustainable and resilient to climate change.

Scene of a Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh

The receding Himalayan glacier will directly affect climate sensitive occupations such as agriculture and forestry. India has ratified the Paris Agreement and there has been noteworthy increase in renewable energy capacity and forest cover. However India has to do more with regards to its local environmental norms. The latest EIA notification has been criticized by environmentalist for its total lack of vision and enforcement. The notification excludes reporting by the public of violations and non-compliance. The notification also seeks to regularize Industries that have started operating without valid environmental clearance by the concerned authorities. “The Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2020 has inverted the logic of ‘precautionary principle’ which forms the bedrock of India’s environmental outlook”.

However, India has to do more with regards to its local environ-mental norms. The latest EIA notification has been criticised by environ-mentalists for its total lack of vision and enforcement. The notification excludes reporting by the public of violations and non-compliance

Hydro power projects near or on sensitive glacial zones, should be a no go. A mechanism to compensate the states that border the Himalayan range should be worked out to offset the loss in revenue. Himalayan Border States should begin round-the-clock assessment of their delicate ecology, and deploy more scientific methods to map the effects of climate change.

Environment security should become one of the primary occupation of these states. The Modi Government has had successes in the Swachch Bharat mission; Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana; Namami Gange policy, but the national clean air programme has been an abject failure. The health costs associated with polluted air are enormous, apart from the negative publicity, it impedes domestic and foreign direct investments. De cluttering city roads, promoting electric vehicles via favorable policies, and putting an end to the practice of stubble burning by way of incentives will go a long way in curbing air pollution. Districts should be the fulcrum on which wars against climate change and pandemics should be fought. The district panchayat chairman, the local MLAs and the MPs should form a permanent disaster management committee in a district with the DM as the coordinator and other district level officials as members. They should meet frequently during disaster situations to take action and once in three months to review preparedness. They should ensure that all hospitals are manned with full staff and equipment in excellent condition as in India maintenance is always neglected.

India’s geographical location, diversity of religion, culture, and language are its strength, but also an internal security challenge. It is nearly impossible to satisfy ethnicities as diverse as India’s. India’s internal security is dependent on communal harmony, while Center – State relations and independence of national Institutions are the pillars upon which its national security rests. Handling of the pandemic, passing of the farm bill, NRC act, without a consultative approach, alleged misuse of the central agencies to settle political scores, and a systematic effort in the dilution of national institutions have opened fissures in Center – State relations. The Central and State governments have disparagingly accused each other of diluting the federal structure.

The recent Maoist attack on the CRPF in Chhattisgarh, where 22 soldiers were killed is a reminder that even though Indian democracy stands on solid foundations, its writ is still threatened by disenchanted citizens who do not wish to be a part of it. A new ministry directly under the PMO should be created to check the spread of Maoist insurgencies beyond the red corridor. The ministry will initiate, and monitor development of infrastructure and other schemes in coordination with the State governments. Even though law and order is a State subject, the Center can ill afford to lead the counter insurgency efforts from behind, if the Maoist menace has to be eradicated.

The National Integration Council under the PMO can play a constructive role, and should be representative of India’s diversity and consist of people who are connected to the ground. Sadly the NIC is now a defunct body and not a single meeting has been held in the last 7 years

The rising instances of intolerance, mob violence, lynching’s etc., threatening the very fabric of society have been due to vote bank and identity politics, external threats, alienation of minorities, irresponsible reporting by the media and social media platforms and conflict of interest amongst communities. Both Central and State governments during communal situations must issue bulletins daily when needed and weekly on every matter in all regional languages so that they are not confused by TV and social media propaganda. DD channels must ensure they carry these at specified times announced publicly for people to have authentic official information. The role of the cyber police to keep watch on fake news becomes especially important. The National Integration Council under the PMO can play a constructive role, and should be representative of India’s diversity and consist of people who are connected to the ground. Sadly the NIC is now a defunct body and not a single meeting has been held in the last 7 years. It must meet once in six months to review communal and caste conflict situations.

Just as India became free of hunger by achieving food security decades ago, time has now come for India to attain health, environment and internal security. Prime Ministers Modi’s Ayushman Bharat health scheme is a step in the right direction. Any policy discourse on the environment must involve the participation of the public in a collaborative and consultative process.

We must never forget that the Indus valley civilization disappeared because water disappeared. Center- State relations are a constant work in progress, disputes should be resolved in an amicable manner for the union to emerge stronger. “Nations fall from within”, peace and harmony amongst citizens is crucial, for if there is peace and harmony, citizens can always come together to fight a common enemy. COVID-19 is a reminder that the threat of a global pandemic is never-ending. It is a clarion call to governments to make health security a national security imperative.

–The writer is Chief Business Officer of the Andhra Pradesh Aerospace and Defence Electronics Park, a mentor at the Atal Incubation Centre and Strategic Advisor to Kadet Defence Systems. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda

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