31-07-2023 (Important News Clippings)
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Do It Naturally
Success of Project Tiger is a good reminder why we need pristine forests. RS should debate forest bill.
On Global Tiger Day, July 29, an update on India’s tiger census provided a measure of the country’s phenomenal contribution to the resurgence of the wild tiger population. The current estimate is that the upper limit is 3,925 tigers, while the average number is 3,682. It means three of four wild tigers in the world are to be found in India. Primary credit for the resurgence of wild tigers should go to Project Tiger, which counted biodiversity preservation among its aims.
Beginning with nine tiger reserves, we now have 53, covering 75,796 sq km. But that’s a mere 2. 3% of India’s land area. Two aspects of GOI’s statement on the tiger census stood out. Despite the overall increase in tiger population, there were localised declines in the Western Ghats, Jharkhand and parts of the Northeast. Also, about 35% of the tiger reserves urgently need enhanced protection measures. Despite the successes of Project Tiger, significant vulnerabilities remain. For example, Tiger Census, 2018, said only 65% of the tiger population are found in reserves. Moreover, the state of forest report, 2021, said “continuous, undisturbed and non-fragmented landscapes are essential for the survival of Tigers”.
These are factors Rajya Sabha needs to ponder when it debates amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Bill, which was passed by Lok Sabha on July 26. The amendments are wide in their scope, seeking to tailor the law to realise the national target of achieving net zero emission by 2070. However, the amendments are loosely worded and can defeat the legislation’s core goal of preserving forests, which are critical carbon sinks. Some shortcomings were highlighted by state governments that presented their case to a joint committee of Parliament.
One clause embodies the main fear of stakeholders: forest land situated up to 100 km from international borders can be exempt from the legislation’s protection to carry out projects of strategic importance. States such as Nagaland and Sikkim told the joint committee that it potentially opens up all forests in the state for strategic projects to be identified by the relevant ministries in GOI. These are some of the richest areas globally in terms of gene pool diversity. Preserving them can eventually yield benefits that enhance India’s strategic heft. Therefore, Rajya Sabha should carefully weigh the consequences of these loosely worded amendments. Preserving pristine forests is consistent with national interests.
Don’t Be Cereal Spoiler
India dominates world rice trade. Export ban drives up global food inflation, undoes years of hard work.
Ashok Gulati and Raya Das, [ Gulati is distinguished professor and Das is are search fellow at ICRIER. ]
On July 20, 2023, government of India (GOI) banned exports of non-basmati white rice. That sent shockwaves in several countries. Even in the US, the Indian community rushed to stores to buy large quantities of rice to ensure their ‘rice security’. Think of the panic it created in several African countries that rely on rice imports from India.
If India has to emerge as a responsible leader of the Global South in G-20, such sudden bans need to be avoided. Reason is simple: India is the largest rice exporter worldwide, accounting for about 40% of the total 55. 6 million metric tonnes (MMT) of global rice trade in 2022.
Domestic situation is comfortable
From GOI’s standpoint, it could be ‘India first’ argument. The cereal inflation in June was in double digits, and given that monsoon has been somewhat erratic, the upside risk of inflation has increased.
But if one looks at the facts, this argument will not hold much ground. The rice stocks with Food Corporation of India (FCI) are at 40. 95 MMT as of July 1, more than three times the buffer norm of 13. 5 MMT. Also, area sown under paddy on July 29 is marginally higher than the previous year. India Meteorological Department (IMD) also tells us that the cumulative rainfall of the current monsoon season remains normal or marginally in excess as of July 29.
So, one is puzzled to see this knee-jerk reaction of GOI, more so when rice exports already attract 20% export duty. That raises a question: what could be a better solution to ensure cereal security in the country?
In 2022-23, the overall cereal production in India was 330. 5 MMT comprising 135. 5 MMT of rice, 112. 7 MMT of wheat, and 101. 8 MMT of coarse cereals. And India exported more than 22 MMT of rice. In the current monsoon, the area under coarse cereals is marginally higher than last year. GOI also gives free wheat and rice (5 kg/person/month) to more than 800 million people under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana. It can also use nutri-cereals or cash options in PDS in lieu of wheat and rice.
Wheat: Mismatch in estimates
However, there could be a legitimate concern for wheat. Although GOI had a comfortable procurement of 26. 2 MMT, and as on July 1, even wheat stocks were marginally higher than its buffer norm, the concern arises as production estimates of GOI are substantially higher than trade estimates.
So, if GOI wants to curb inflationary expectations, the solution for that is not export ban or imposing stock limits, but to make a special deal with Russia to import 5-7 MMT of wheat, a laits crude oil deal. The import duty on wheat needs to be immediately slashed from current 40% to say 10% or simply abolish it.
This is the right time to import wheat as the Black Sea price of Russian wheat is hovering around $237/tonne as on July 23, much lower than US wheat or even our minimum support price (MSP) for wheat. Imports of 5-7 MMT of wheat could help build enough buffer stock for the coming months.
Coming back to rice export ban, it would adversely affect the food security of African nations such as Benin, Madagascar, Kenya, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Angola, Togo, and even in neighbouring Nepal, which collectively account for about 60% of India’s white rice exports.
Export bans fuel global inflation
The consequences of the ban on global prices have been felt immediately, with the price of Thailand’s white rice variety (5% broken rice) surging from $534/tonne on July 12 to $572/tonne on July 26. That does not put India in a very good light in the G-20 leadership role.
The saving grace in the export ban is a clause of the notification that allows government-to-government buying for ‘food security’ purposes. African nations can hopefully take recourse to that, although that’s not the best way to promote trade.
India exports various categories and grades of rice, including basmati, non basmati white rice, parboiled, and broken rice. To assess the impact of India’s non-basmati white rice export ban on the global market’s supply shortage, we must consider the export figures from two other major non-basmati white rice exporting countries: Vietnam and Thailand. Combined, these countries export approximately 6. 24 MMT of non-basmati white rice, signifying that India’s share accounts for approximately 50% of the white rice exports among these significant exporting nations.
This export ban, therefore, will surely cause a spike in global prices of white rice. But the bigger damage will be that India will be seen as a very unreliable supplier of rice. Remember, it takes years to build business in export markets, and one such sudden decision can destroy the hard work of Indian rice exporters in one stroke. Hope our policy making could be more rational, smarter, and responsible in dealing with such situations.
Rap on the knuckles
Supreme Court has tried to hold States and Centre to account on mob violence.
It is a matter of shame for the Union Government and several State governments that the Supreme Court has had to remind them of their “consistent failure” in the past five years to act against the lynching of and mob violence against Muslims and marginalised sections by “cow vigilantes” in particular. Following a petition by the National Federation of Indian Women highlighting this failure, the Court has asked the Ministry of Home Affairs, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana to respond to it. In 2018, the Court, in Tehseen S. Poonawalla vs Union of India, had held that it was the “sacrosanct duty” of the state to protect the lives of its citizens and that the authorities have the “principal obligation” to prevent “vigilantism” of any kind. It had come up with guidelines which included the designation of a nodal [police] officer in each district, who, with the identification of districts/blocks/villages where mob violence and lynching have occurred in recent years, and the help of police intelligence, would work towards tackling such incidence in coordination with other government agencies. They were also to be aided by the initiative of the Home Ministry and State governments in sensitising law enforcement officials and warning the public about the consequences of engaging in mob violence or vigilantism, among other measures.
That lynching, mob violence and “cow vigilantism” — an incorrect euphemism for criminals engaging in wanton violence against minorities for the purported reason of transporting cattle for slaughter or cattle meat — still happen since the judgment and little has been done by the Union government or the States in question, especially in north India, points to the nonchalance of the governments. It does not take deductive powers to note that the ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre and in many of these States that allows for the stereotyping and demonising of the minorities has also played into this. Besides vigilantism, social and economic boycott of the minority community have also taken root in States where they receive political patronage. The Court is right in issuing orders to agencies of the state in holding them to account for the non-implementation of the guidelines in the 2018 judgment. However, it requires no less than concerted civil society action to tackle the menace of mob violence and “vigilantism” by sensitising people towards fraternal relations with other communities and avoiding typecasting them as the “other”. In Tamil Nadu, for example, where, historically, secular and rational movements were active, such incidents are rare. And if they do occur, dominant political representatives face outrage from civil society. Preventing atrocities of the kind that mob violence wreaks on ordinary citizens cannot be left to just judicial fiat.
A crisis of academic ethics in India
Two of the biggest problems are data manipulation and plagiarism.
Sunil Mukhi is a former Dean, Faculty at IISER Pune, and a member of the Panel on Scientific Values of the Indian Academy of Sciences.
The world has long recognised India as a major player in intellectual pursuits including scientific research. Bose-Einstein statistics, the Raman effect, the Ramachandran plot, and the Raychaudhuri equations are all examples of path-breaking work in India in the 20th century. More recently, with a new National Education Policy and India’s presidency of the G20, calls have been made for the country to “step up” and take its position on the global stage.
However, there is an obstacle holding the nation back. This is the reality of unethical academic practice, which is still widely tolerated. While this is a global phenomenon, institutions in many countries have kept this practice significantly in check through systematic preventive and punitive action. When research is not ethically grounded, there is no value in its outcome. We cannot trust a medicine or a nuclear reactor whose efficacy has been “proved” by manipulating data. Every academic should feel compelled to weed out ethical malpractices from the system, but this is not happening in India.
Absence of an ethical code
The websites of almost all academic institutions in India reveal the absence of an ethical code and a robust investigation procedure to deal with misconduct allegations. (The guidelines of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and some bio-ethics codes are welcome exceptions.) Suggestions to run ethical training modules for students and faculty are met with no response. Academic bodies which are alerted to data manipulation and even sexual misconduct by their members make vague promises, but take no action. A few institutions have taken a strong principled stand, but their actions seem to have little impact on the community at large. Several years ago, the Principal Scientific Advisor circulated a draft National Policy on Academic Ethics, but it has not been formally approved.
Two of the biggest problems are data manipulation and plagiarism. Both these unethical actions are increasingly easy to carry out using software, even as journals push back with more stringent checks. Even when challenged, perpetrators tend to shrug off responsibility. Some even argue that everyone in their institute is engaging in such practices. They also blame their students, who may be at fault too, but are not the responsible authority.
Another class of issues comes from the authoritarian behaviour of those in power. Recently, the President of Stanford University resigned following investigation of his old papers in a student magazine. In India, the magazine editor would likely have faced trouble instead. Bullying by guides is also a documented issue in India. One guide threatened and collected thousands of rupees in fines from PhD students for minor infractions such as coming five minutes late to a lab meeting. A student who complained about this had to face a counter-complaint by the guide. Shattered by the experience, she left the institute to go abroad.
When faced with alleged misconduct in their community, academics tend to ask ‘who are we to judge’ instead of encouraging impartial investigation. They also tend to defend the accused members of their own institutes, violating conflict-of-interest guidelines..
A poor image
The scenario is no better among students. Even in privileged institutions, cheating in exams is common. Brighter students believe that they are “helping” their friends, while honest students are reluctant to call out cheating for fear of being “disloyal”. This highlights the role of culture: a Japanese professor told me that if a student in his university tried to cheat, the students would immediately put a stop to it. Sadly, but perhaps with some justification, our academic culture is globally perceived as dishonest, harming the chance of our students to compete globally.
Ultimately, it comes down to the quality of leadership. In developed countries, an academic leader is seen as one among equals who has taken on an administrative responsibility, but in India the position is seen primarily as a source of power and control. The reluctance of leaders to act on ethical issues may stem from the fear that control will pass from them to some more objective criteria, and they too may be found culpable of misconduct. There are documented cases of vice chancellors turning out to be plagiarists. Not all of them have been appropriately punished.
To redress the ethics problem, India needs a different type of behaviour from its academic leaders, which is in the national interest. Institutions must take ethics seriously and not tolerate deliberate misconduct. There must be clear communication of,and training in,the expected ethical standards.
Disturbingly, the same institutional heads who are complacent about ethical misconduct are often quick on the draw if there is any perceived challenge to themselves or their bosses. Indian faculty have faced charge-sheets for simply expressing their opinions, which is a violation of constitutional rights. This has a crippling effect on academic research as the space for independent thinking shrinks. When leaders tolerate academic fraud but become hypersensitive to perceived slights to power, it is a sign that ethical and academic foundations have gone astray.
Without a sea change in the attitude of academic leadership, there is little chance of talented young researchers choosing India over greener pastures abroad that are both more ethical and freer. Ultimately India’s future as a research powerhouse will be compromised, tragically just at the time that the country is being seen as an emerging power.
Hurdles to overcome before becoming ‘Digital India’
While digital transactions have increased substantially, India’s performance is unimpressive compared to that of other developing countries.
Arnab Chakrabarti and Anwesha Basu are Assistant Professors in the Department of Economics, FLAME University, Pune.
The digital payments system in India has grown significantly in recent years. Every neighbourhood kirana store now has a QR code scanner. Has the United Payments Interface (UPI) revolutionised how Indians carry out economic transactions? Has the popularity and ease of digital transactions brought about financial inclusion across the country? Where does India stand vis-à-vis other countries?
Modes of payment
Since the introduction of UPI in 2016, transactions in this mode have grown in value and volume. It has been well documented that demonetisation in November 2016 and the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 were major push factors for the widespread adoption of digital payments. From June 2021 to April 2023, UPI payments grew at an average monthly rate of 6%. The corresponding figures for NEFT, IMPS, and debit card payments was 3%, 3%, and 1.5%, respectively. This indicates that the popularity of UPI increased at a faster rate than all other modes of payment.
The share of UPI payments in the total value of digital retail payments in the country increased from less than 20% in mid-2021 to about 27% in March 2023 (Chart 1). Conversely, the share of NEFT transactions saw a decline of about 10 points (from 64% to less than 54%) over the same period. The share of IMPS remained relatively stable (about 9%). While the share of debit card payments and prepaid payments recorded a decline, their combined share did not exceed 2.5% of the overall digital retail transactions. This suggests that that the increasing share of UPI payments has come mainly at the cost of NEFT transactions. This might be because both UPI and IMPS are real-time payment settlement systems unlike NEFT.
It is to be expected that the increasing popularity of UPI-based payments would play an important role in improving financial inclusion. The first step towards financial inclusion is to have a bank account. At first glance, it seems like India has made significant progress on this front. According to the World Bank Global Findex Survey, while 53% of the population had bank accounts in 2014, 80% of the population had bank accounts in 2017 and 2021. However, a closer look at the data reveals that of those with bank accounts, 38% have inactive accounts. India has the highest share of inactive accounts in the world compared to all the other countries in the database. This might be an outcome of the push for Jan Dhan accounts. Zero-balance accounts were opened to meet official targets, but have been lying dormant since then. More women than men have inactive accounts (32% versus 23%). While there is no urban-rural divide or income group divide in the possession of bank accounts, differences are evident when we consider the share of inactive accounts. While 31% of the population in rural areas have an inactive account, the share in urban areas is 23%. Similarly, if we consider the poorest 40% of Indians, 35% of them have inactive bank accounts, whereas the corresponding figure for the richest 60% of the population is 22%.
While the popularity of UPI has increased substantially in recent years, only 35% of the population reported carrying out any digital transaction (making or receiving a payment) in 2021. While this was an improvement from previous years (22% in 2014 and 29% in 2017), India’s figures are unimpressive when compared to the average of 57% for all developing countries and the world average of 64%.
Although digital transactions have grown in value and volume, their growth has not been equal. There is a sharp gender gap in digital transactions. While 41% of the male population carried out any digital transaction in 2021, the corresponding figure among women was only 28% (Chart 2).
Not only are these figures low to begin with, but the significant difference of 13 points between men and women is high when compared to most countries including Vietnam (48% of men and 44% of women), Brazil (80% of men and 73% of women), China (87% of men and 85% of women) and Kenya (82% of men and 74% of women), which are at comparable stages of development as India. India’s figures are also lower overall compared to the figures in these countries. Although Bangladesh reported a greater gender gap, its statistics (58% of men and 34% of women) are higher than India’s.
If we look at the rural-urban gap in digital payments, India again stands out when compared to countries such as Bangladesh and Kenya. Only 30% of Indians in rural areas made or received any digital payment in 2021 as opposed to 40% in urban areas. This again indicates that a substantial share of the population has been bypassed. There was no rural-urban divide in Bangladesh (both rural and urban figures were 45%). In Kenya, 74% of the rural population carried out digital transactions, while the corresponding figure in urban areas was 87%. While there was a significant digital divide between urban and rural areas in Kenya, the fact that more than 70% of the population was a part of the digital payments ecosystem is impressive. Therefore, while India has made big strides, it still has a long way to go in becoming ‘Digital India’.
नौकरशाही को भी जवाबदेह बनाया जाए
उमेश चतुर्वेदी, ( लेखक राजनीतिक विश्लेषक एवं वरिष्ठ पत्रकार हैं )
प्राकृतिक आपदाओं पर किसी का वश नहीं, मानव के हाथ में इतना ही है कि वह इनसे कुछ बचाव की राह निकाल ले। हाल में घटी कुछ आपदाएं ऐसी रहीं, जिनसे होने वाले नुकसान को कमतर रखा जा सकता था। इसी तरह कुछ मानव जनित घटनाएं ऐसी रहीं, जिनसे पूरी तरह बचा जा सकता था। याद कीजिए हाल में मेरठ से दिल्ली को जोड़ने वाले एक्सप्रेसवे पर हुआ हादसा, जिसमें गलत दिशा से आ रही बस से सही दिशा में जा रही कार की टक्कर हुई और कार में सवार हंसता-खेलता परिवार खत्म हो गया। इस तरह के हादसे देश के किसी न किसी एक्सप्रेसवे या हाईवे अथवा आम रास्तों पर आए दिन होते ही रहते हैं। कुछ ही दिन पहले प्राकृतिक आपदा भी आई और उसने दिल्ली समेत देश के अनेक शहरों को त्रस्त कर दिया। इन घटनाओं में समानता इस लिहाज से है कि इनसे बचा जा सकता था या उनसे होने वाले नुकसान को कम किया जा सकता था। हर हादसे पर पहला सवाल राजनीतिक तंत्र पर उठता है। हमने जिस तरह का नैरेटिव विकसित किया है, उसमें मोहल्ले की गड़बड़ी से लेकर राष्ट्रीय समस्या तक के लिए सिर्फ और सिर्फ राजनीतिक तंत्र को ही जिम्मेदार माना जाता है। सवालों के घेरे में वही ज्यादा रहता है, लेकिन क्या सिर्फ राजनीतिक तंत्र ही जिम्मेदार है? क्या व्यवस्था की सबसे अहम कड़ी नौकरशाही को छोड़ दिया जाना चाहिए?
नौकरशाही पर सबसे वैज्ञानिक और स्वीकार्य अध्ययन जर्मन समाजशास्त्री मैक्स वेबर का माना जाता है। वेबर ने लोकतांत्रिक व्यवस्था में प्रशासनिक तंत्र को निरंतरता का प्रतीक बताया है। अपने अध्ययन में वेबर नौकरशाही की नकारात्मक भूमिका की ओर भी ध्यान दिलाते हैं। उनका मानना है कि लोकतांत्रिक व्यवस्था में नौकरशाही नियमों और उसकी प्रक्रिया को ही अपना लक्ष्य मान लेती है। दफ्तरी सोच की वजह से वह तंत्र में कल्पनाहीन विशेषज्ञों का समूह विकसित करने लगती है। वेबर के कथन के संदर्भ में हर घटना या हादसे का विश्लेषण करेंगे तो पाएंगे कि हमारी नौकरशाही की कल्पनाहीनता कहीं ज्यादा जिम्मेदार है। दिल्ली जैसे शहर अगर बारिश में डूबते रहते हैं और उनकी सड़कें धंसती रहती हैं, तो इसके पीछे कहीं न कहीं व्यवस्था के उस हिस्से की गंभीर गड़बड़ी नजर आती है, जिस पर उसे सुचारु रूप से चलाने की जिम्मेदारी है। बारिश के दिनों में हमारे छोटे-बड़े शहर और यहां तक कि दिल्ली, मुंबई, चेन्नई जैसे महानगर भी संकट से घिरते रहते हैं। इसके मूल में कहीं न कहीं तंत्र की कल्पनाहीनता ही ज्यादा जिम्मेदार है। यह कल्पनाहीनता ही है कि हमारा तंत्र हादसों और घटनाओं के बाद चेतता है। वह उन हादसों और घटनाओं का अनुमान लगाकर उन्हें रोकने के लिए जरूरी कदम नहीं उठा पाता।
पुरानी पीढ़ी अपने अनुभवों के आधार पर कहती रही है कि आजादी के पहले की नौकरशाही ज्यादा कल्पनाशील थी। वह अपनी हर योजना भविष्य, भावी अनुमानों और उस पर आधारित परिणामों को ध्यान में रखकर बनाती थी। आइसीएस यानी इंपीरियल सिविल सर्विस ही आज की भारतीय नौकरशाही का मूल है। इस नौकरशाही ने अंग्रेजी ब्यूरोक्रेसी की ठसक तो अपना ली, लेकिन लगता नहीं कि उसने अपने पूर्ववर्ती तंत्र की कल्पनाशीलता को आत्मसात किया है। 1922 में ब्रिटेन के प्रधानमंत्री डेविड लायड जार्ज ने तत्कालीन ब्रिटिश नौकरशाही को ब्रिटिश राज का स्टील फ्रेम बताया था। उस नौकरशाही ने जिन योजनाओं को बनाया, जो निर्माण किए, वे अर्से बाद तक उपयोगी बने रहे। देख लीजिए, दिल्ली के पुराने लोहे के पुल को..या फिर कोलकाता के हावड़ा ब्रिज को। इसकी तुलना में आज के तंत्र की कल्पनाशील योजनाओं को देखिए। उसकी बनाई योजना, उसके हिसाब से उठाए कदम कितनी जल्दी समस्याओं से घिर जाते हैं, यह किसी से छिपा नहीं। जब सामान्य जन को पता है कि जून के आखिर में मानसून आ जाता है, लिहाजा ड्रेनेज बहाने वाले नालों की सफाई हर हाल में मई तक हो जानी चाहिए, लेकिन यह जरूरी काम हमारे महानगरों और यहां तक कि देश की राजधानी में भी नहीं हो पाता।
मेरठ एक्सप्रेसवे पर बस और कार की टक्कर महज हादसा नहीं थी। एक्सप्रेसवे पर बस गलत दिशा में आठ किमी तक चलती रही, लेकिन किसी ने ध्यान नहीं दिया। देश भर की ट्रैफिक पुलिस को देखिए, वह सिर्फ दंडात्मक कार्रवाई में जुटी रहती है। इस ताक में रहती है कि कोई ट्रैफिक नियम तोड़े, ताकि वह उसे पकड़ कर कभी अपनी जेब तो कभी सरकारी खजाने को भर सके। जबकि होना यह चाहिए कि वह ट्रैफिक को सही तरह आगे बढ़ाती रहे। नगर निगमों के अफसरों की कार्यप्रणाली देखिए। सड़कें अतिक्रमण से संकरी होती रहें, गलत तरीके से निर्माण होता रहे, वे निरोधात्मक कार्रवाई नहीं करते। वे उगाही करते हैं या उदासीन बने रहते हैं। जब उन्हीं सड़कों पर कभी कोई हादसा हो जाता है या आग लग जाती है और अतिक्रमण के चलते फायर ब्रिगेड की गाड़ियां नहीं घुस पातीं तो तंत्र का समूचा हिस्सा नींद से जागता है। फिर कुछ कार्रवाई होती है, लेकिन थोड़ा समय बीतते ही, वही तंत्र अगले हादसे तक लंबी तानकर सो जाता है। मानव जनित घटनाओं से बचाव और प्राकृतिक हादसों से होने वाले नुकसान को कम से कम करना तभी संभव होगा, जब हमारा तंत्र कल्पनाशील बने और अपने दफ्तरी खांचे, नियम-कायदे और प्रक्रिया के घेरे से बाहर निकलेगा। तंत्र की सोच बदलने के लिए पूरे तंत्र की ओवरहालिंग करनी होगी। तंत्र में शामिल होने वालों के प्रशिक्षण की प्रक्रिया में जरूरी बदलाव करना होगा। तभी नौकरशाह कहीं ज्यादा कल्पनाशील होंगे और उन्हें जमीनी हकीकत और भावी समस्याओं का भान होगा। तभी वे बेहतर बदलाव लाने का औजार बन सकेंगे, अन्यथा वैसी घटनाएं और हादसे होते रहेंगे, जैसे हो रहे हैं।