* Part 1

Stalin urges Centre to initiate diplomatic efforts to revisit the agreement transferring Katchatheevu islet to Lanka; DMK MPs request to arrange meeting with Wickremesinghe

Ahead of Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to New Delhi, Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to raise two issues — the retrieval of Katchatheevu and the aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people in the neighbouring island nation — with the Sri Lankan leader.

Meanwhile, DMK MPs have requested the Union Ministry of External Affairs to arrange for a meeting with the Sri Lankan President during his visit to the national capital, sources said.

Mr. Wickremesinghe’s visit to India on July 21 would be his first since assuming office last year.

In his letter, Mr. Stalin recalled the history behind ceding the Katchatheevu islet to Sri Lanka in 1974 “without the State government’s consent”, and contended that it had deprived Tamil Nadu fishermen of their rights and adversely impacted their livelihoods. He also underlined the resolutions adopted in the Tamil Nadu Assembly in favour of the retrieval of Katchatheevu.

“Our fishermen face highly restricted access to traditional fishing grounds, increased harassment by the Sri Lankan Navy, and arrests by the Sri Lankan Navy on trespassing charges. Restoring the right to fish in the traditional fishing grounds of the Palk Bay has always been among the top priorities of the Government of Tamil Nadu,” Mr. Stalin said, and urged the Union government to initiate diplomatic efforts to revisit the agreement transferring the islet.

Highlighting the demands of the Tamil Nadu government and the DMK for upholding the rights and fulfilling the aspirations of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, Mr. Stalin said, “It is imperative to protect the social, political, cultural and economic rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka so that they can lead dignified lives as equal citizens. For this purpose, there must be adequate and meaningful devolution of powers to the provinces, which fulfils the genuine and unfulfilled aspirations of the Tamils in the island nation.”

Highlighting the “frequent harassment” and apprehension of Tamil fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy, Mr. Stalin reiterated the State government’s demand that the Government of India “decisively use diplomatic channels” to secure the immediate release of the apprehended fishermen and prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

Regular patrolling, establishment of communication channels and installation of warning systems could significantly reduce incidents of harassment and apprehension, Mr. Stalin said.

PMK voices

Meanwhile PMK president Anbumani Ramadoss said India should not provide unconditional support to Sri Lanka. The motive of the Sri Lankan President’s visit was to seek assistance and investments from India. The Prime Minister should ask Mr. Wickremesinghe to resolve the Tamils’ issue and ensure the unconditional release of the apprehended Tamil Nadu fishermen, he said.

India’s private sector must be incentivised to see value in invention

Among the most important pieces of legislation slated to be tabled in the current monsoon session of Parliament is the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023. While a draft is not in the public domain, it envisages a new, centralised body to fund research, with a budget of ₹50,000 crore, over the next five years. The NRF draws on models such as the United States’s National Science Foundation whose nearly $8 billion budget is the major source of funding for college and university research, and the European Research Council, which funds basic and applied research. However, the NRF’s plan, going by public statements of administrators, is to draw the bulk of its budget — ₹36,000 crore — from the private sector. For many years, India’s spending on research has lagged between 0.6%-0.8% of GDP, or lower than the 1%-2% spent by countries with an economic base reliant on science and technology. In countries such as China, the U.S. and Israel, the private sector contributed nearly 70% of the research expenditure whereas in India, this was only about 36% of India’s total research expenditure — roughly ₹1.2 lakh crore — in 2019-20. Therefore, the Centre reasons, the way to galvanise university research in India would be to attract more private money. While that is a reasonable expectation, it is unclear how such a proposal can be executed. One of the suggestions is to have the funds private companies allot, as part of their annual corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligations, directed to the NRF. Data from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs show that during FY-2022, companies spent ₹14,588 crore as part of their CSR obligations. CSR trends suggest that nearly 70% of such funds were spent in education, health care, and sanitation projects. Moreover, many of the companies spend this on initiatives that are located within their own communities, with the government not having a say on how this must be spent. Whether the government can force, or offer tax benefits, to coax some of these funds into the NRF remains to be seen.

The relatively greater contribution of private sector research in many countries is because of sustained government support to universities and research institutions, that have then encouraged individuals to build companies, and institutions that saw value in investing in research and development. The challenge in India is not the absence of such companies but the fact that there are too few of them. Organisations such as the NRF should work to create conditions which incentivise the development of private sector organisations that see value in invention and developing proprietary technology. Philanthropy is unlikely to be the panacea.

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