· Army’s Demchok mission a success
The Army has completed laying an irrigation pipeline for residents of villages in the Demchok region of Eastern Ladakh despite a face-off last week with Chinese troops over the work.
The irrigation project was being built under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to link a village with a “hot spring”.
Hut as protest
In order to protest the laying of the pipeline, Chinese troops attempted to erect a fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) hut on the border on Friday. However, the Army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) did not allow that. Officials said the Army had fortified the area and prevented Chinese forces from further entering into Indian territory.
While the three-day face-off ended on Saturday, the Army engineers continued the work on laying a pipeline for nearly a kilometre and completed the work on Sunday. Last Wednesday, the Chinese side objected to the work saying that no construction was allowed on the border as per earlier agreements.
However, the Indian side countered it, saying the restriction applied only to defence constructions. A face-off ensued.
This is the first time since 2014 when the Chinese Army had come deep inside the Indian territory in Demchok in protest against an ongoing irrigation project.
· Linking food and nutrition security
- WHY THE ACT STILL IS FAR FROM COMPLETE IMPLEMENTATION?
The euphoria around the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, seems to have dwindled. As per the statements by Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Ram Vilas Paswan, the Act was to be fully implemented across India by July 2016. As of now, only five States have fully executed it as per the provisions of the Central Act and the progress in other States has been tardy. The front runners are Punjab, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The Act has been partially implemented in Bihar, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka. Preliminary surveys undertaken in some of these States have revealed positive outcomes in terms of administrative reforms, significant increase in the number of households having ration cards, and improvement in the distribution and consumption of food through fair price shops. A few of them had already initiated reforming the distribution system much before the Act was presented in Parliament. The Act, if fully implemented, is likely to benefit 720 million people through availability of 5 kg per capita per month of subsidised food grains (rice, wheat and coarse cereals) at a much lower rate than that in the open market. This would ensure food security and enhance nutritional status.
The two concepts are interlinked, but nutrition security has a much wider connotation than food security. It encompasses a biological approach, that is, adequate and safe intake of protein, energy, vitamin and minerals along with proper health and social environment. The nutritional aspect of the quantity of grain to be distributed to each person under the Public Distribution System (PDS) is somewhat less researched, though the Act has aimed at attaining this goal. Poor quality of food lacking essential micronutrients and no diet diversity, and unhygienic conditions of storage may come in the way. There are other promising features under the Act, such as free daily meals for children and maternity benefits, including cash for pregnant women, who can combat rampant under nutrition (calorie deficiency) and malnutrition (protein deficiency) across the country. These steps may perhaps complement the existing nutritional programmes such as mid-day meals and Integrated Child Development Services.
We present results from a study in rural Odisha on the contribution of PDS towards households’ intake of food grains and the quantum of calorie and protein levels. A primary survey of 385 households was carried out during 2014-15 in three extremely poor districts viz. Koraput and Bolangir in the so-called KBK (most backward) region and Nayagarh in the non-KBK region. While KBK districts follow a universal PDS, non-KBK districts have a targeted one.
There is high prevalence of under nutrition and malnutrition in the selected districts. The estimates, adjusted on the basis of age, sex and work as recommended by the nutrient requirements and dietary allowances of Indians drawn up by the Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Nutrition in 2010 reveal the undernourished population to be 50 per cent and the malnourished to be 43 per cent on an average for all the districts together. Calorie and protein deficiency is relatively higher (see graphic), nearly 68 per cent among the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households, known to be the poorest of poor. It is much higher in Koraput district at 72 per cent, way above the State average of 60 per cent.
Rice is the key staple food in the surveyed areas and acts as a major source of energy intake. The monthly per capita consumption of rice is estimated to be 11.6 kg, of which 33.7 per cent is sourced from the PDS by all beneficiaries. Since AAY households have higher quota and accessibility under the PDS, the contribution is much more at 73.9 per cent. Cereals (wheat and rice) make up 70 per cent of the calorie intake and 66 per cent of the protein intake, though the magnitude varies across districts. More importantly, the contribution of PDS to energy intake among AAY households is double (60 per cent) that of other beneficiaries.
Better accessibility to food and hence energy intake of poor people, especially those under AAY, has been made possible due to concerted efforts initiated by the government. Major reforms initiated from 2004-05 that are worth mentioning include abolition of private procurement and storage system, and a greater role for public agencies in controlling diversion of food grain from the go down to the millers; proper recording of procurement, storage and distribution of grains across the departments; and distribution of food through self-help groups and gram Panchayats and its regular monitoring at the block and ward levels. While revealing their satisfaction with the PDS, the beneficiaries refuted the idea of having a cash transfer system in place of the existing in-kind transfers, primarily due to fear of price hike and inadequate infrastructure i.e. roads, banks, and long distance of market from the village. In fact, the beneficiaries proposed an increase in the coverage of commodities to pulses, onion and potato under the PDS in their respective areas.
The efforts of the State government in ensuring food security should be replicated in States that are yet to fully implement the Act and reform their respective distribution systems. Many studies have emphasised on dietary diversification to ensure appropriate nutritional intake for large segments of the poor population. This may be an important step to be taken up in States where a revamped PDS is making ground, such as in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bihar. Provision has been made under the NFSA to provide one additional coarse cereal viz. millet along with wheat and rice, which can further enhance the nutritional security of the poor households. Though wheat and rice contribute significantly to energy intake, the time has come to increase our focus on coarse cereals and pulses to improvise adequate intake of protein. Serious deliberations are required to make this possible through the PDS, which is going to cater to a sizeable population in the near future. As elicited above, the AAY households have a greater access to PDS but the problem of undernourishment is more serious among them.
As a prerequisite, it is imperative to hasten implementation of the NFSA across the country. States should be in a mission mode as availability of food grains may not be a problem this year. The Ministry of Agriculture has projected a record production of 270 million tonnes owing to good monsoon and an increase in acreage of food grains from 101 million hectares to 105 million hectares. The States must gear up to work on adequate logistics for digitisation of ration cards, computerisation of off take and delivery of food grains, and effective monitoring of fair price shops, possibly through involvement of communities or other feasible ways. This will bring in greater transparency in the system and would go a long way towards raising the nutritional status of Indians.
· NDTV BAN – HYPE VS SUBSTANCE
why the ban ?
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s direction requiring NDTV India to go off air for a day because of its coverage of the Pathankot terror attack in January has generated a storm of controversy, even though the government said on Monday that it was putting the decision on hold.
The logic of warring factions ?
Supporters of the government have accused their opponents of irresponsibly sacrificing national security at the altar of freedom of speech, and have pointed to Rule 6(1)(p) of the Cable TV Programme Code, which sensibly proscribes live coverage of anti-terrorist operations.
Supporters of NDTV India, on the other hand, have protested that the channel’s broadcast took place long after the operations were over, that the footage was already available in the public domain through Google Maps, and that the government’s singling out of NDTV India, which was just one among many channels broadcasting similar footage, smacks of both arbitrariness and vindictiveness against an entity perceived to be “anti-establishment”.
This conversation is essential. Democracy thrives upon intense scrutiny of governmental action, especially action that infringes upon basic liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press. “National security” must mark the beginning of the debate, not the end of it. And ultimately, the issue might be taken to court, for an independent judiciary to hear both sides and to decide whether, all things considered, the government’s decision was necessary and proportionate. All this exemplifies a healthy, functioning democracy, committed to security, individual rights, and the rule of law, without allowing one to swallow the others.
LAW LACKS CLARITY–
However, this conversation remains incomplete. NDTV’s location at the heart of the national capital, and its primary channel’s broadcasts being in English, the language of economic and political power, has cast a particularly acute spotlight upon the government’s actions. The truth is that Central and State governments, past and present, have regularly forced TV channels to “go off air” for flimsy, and often politically motivated, reasons. The fault lies with India’s broadcast laws, which allow the government sweeping powers of censorship with negligible attendant costs, and in the perennial clash between the freedom of speech and the state’s regulatory power, almost entirely subordinating the former to the latter.
What governs the above controversy?
The law that governs cable broadcasts is the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995. Section 5 of this Act prohibits any cable TV transmission that is not “in conformity with the prescribed programme code”. The Programme Code contains a bouquet of blissfully vague, boundlessly manipulable, and entirely subjective terms. Programmes may not “offend against good taste or decency”, or present “half-truths”, or “criticise” any individual, or reflect a “snobbish attitude in the portrayal of certain ethnic, linguistic and regional groups”. Such exquisitely vague language not only permits, but positively invites censorship and abuse of power. Not only that, it goes far beyond Article 19(2) of the Constitution, which allows the state to limit the freedom of speech only through “reasonable restrictions” in the interests of specific, narrow-drawn categories such as “public order”, “defamation”, or the “security of the State”.
The Programme Code constitutes a serious infringement of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and is evidently unconstitutional. Unfortunately, however, the prospects of having it struck down by the Supreme Court look bleak. In 1970, the court upheld the Censor Board guidelines, which were equally vague when it came to film certification. For example, the guidelines prohibited “sensuous” postures and “dual meaning words as obviously cater to the baser instincts”. However, the Supreme Court was too caught up in its desire to ensure that Indian film-goers were exposed to good, “wholesome” cinema, and perfunctorily dismissed the constitutional challenge to both the Cinematograph Act and the guidelines. It is yet to show any inclination to revisit that ruling. Furthermore, in the intervening years, even the court’s speech-protective judgments have been based more upon the belief that films running into hot water with the censors — such as Bandit Queen (1994) — serve socially useful purposes, rather than a conviction that the rights of artists and viewers to choose what kind of film they want to create, or watch, is paramount. The Programme Code is likely to survive as long as this judicial attitude continues to predominate.
If the provisions of the Programme Code are destructive of the freedom of speech, then the procedure contemplated by the Cable Television Act creates problems of a different — yet equally severe — kind. Section 19 of the Act authorises the government to prohibit cable operators from transmitting programmes or channels that are not in conformity with the Programme Code. The Act effectively vests the power of banning television with the government, without any judicial oversight. Once the prohibitory order has been passed, the burden is then upon the TV channel or cable operator to approach the courts and attempts to have it invalidated.
Apart from the substantive content of speech that a legal regime might aim to restrict, the regulatory procedure that it establishes can end up causing far greater damage to free expression. Regulatory procedure determines how and where the costs and burdens of censorship are located. For instance, if you think that I have defamed you, then it is your prerogative to file a case against me, and satisfy an independent court that I have violated the law. The burden of proceeding against me — the speaker — lies upon you, the person who considers herself to have been harmed by my speech. The Cable Television Act, however, reverses this burden by giving a carte blanche to the government to ban channels or programmes which, in its subjective assessment, have violated the Programme Code.
The most well-intentioned of governments tend to be wary of criticism, prone to over-regulation, and (understandably) sensitive about the possibility of public disorder. Governments whose intentions are less noble — and there have been such governments — can be paranoid, malicious, and unforgiving towards political opponents. By shifting the costs of censorship entirely from the government to the speaker, who must move the courts to get a ban overturned, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act rewards state overreach. This is not only a problem with cable television. The Code of Criminal Procedure allows the state to ban books in a similar manner, and the Cinematograph Act contains an even more stringent regulatory regime for films.
Need for judicial vetting
There is an easy way to remedy this. The Cable Television Act (and similar laws in other domains) should require that if the government wishes to ban something, it must first convince an independent court, in adversarial proceedings, that its request is justified. The court ought to carefully scrutinise the government’s arguments, refuse to accord it undue deference, and grant its request only if it is convinced that a ban is both necessary and proportionate in the circumstances. In this case, the debate that is now raging in the public sphere over the correctness of the government’s action in taking NDTV India off air would first be had within the courtroom. There may, of course, be emergencies where time is of the essence, and the government must act. In such circumstances, it must be nonetheless be called upon to justify itself in court after the fact, and compensate speakers if it is found that it acted wrongly.
No reasonable person would argue — in the words of the American Supreme Court in the famous Pentagon Papers case — that the freedom of expression extends to “publishing troop movements in wartime”. However, reasonable citizens should also be wary of vague and ill-defined laws that confer censorial powers upon the state without any effective oversight. If one might damage national security, the other will certainly lead to tyranny.
· Centre extends AFSPA to check Naga factions
The Centre has decided to extend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in three districts of Arunachal Pradesh. One of the primary reasons cited by the Centre is “extortion and intimidation” by the cadres of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), who are “contriving to dominate areas hitherto occupied by NSCN (Khaplang).”
The notification has been issued even after the NDA government signed a ‘framework agreement’ with NSCN-IM in September 2015 to find a final solution to the six-decade-old Naga issue.
The Home Ministry’s latest notification, issued on November 4, has, for the first time, said the AFSPA was being extended in the districts of Tirap, Changlang and Longding, all bordering Assam, as the NSCN-IM was desperate to regain control from the NSCN-K.
The latter was banned last year after its alleged involvement in an ambush on an Army convoy in Manipur’s Chandel district, resulting in the death of 17 personnel. Its leader S.S. Khaplang is said to be in Myanmar. The previous notification, issued on May 4, did not mention that NSCN-IM was regaining areas from NSCN-K. The Home Ministry revises its notification every six months. The notification further said, “security scenario [in three districts of Arunachal Pradesh] remains vitiated by the spill over of the Naga insurgency.”
After decades of violence, the NSCN-IM had entered into a ceasefire agreement with India in 1997. The largest group representing the Nagas has demanded a “Greater Nagalim” or a contiguous land for the Nagas, across the States of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram.
When asked about the notification, a senior government official said, “The ceasefire signed with NSCN-IM is only for Nagaland; it does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. This notification has been issued after much consultation between the security agencies.”
The order said the three districts were being declared as “disturbed area” under Section 3 of the AFSPA as “Naga underground factions including NSCN-IM and NSCN-K continue to indulge in extortion, area domination, recruitment of locals and inter-factional rivalry.”
NSCN-K had unilaterally abrogated the ceasefire in March 2015 but NSCN-IM continues to be in a ceasefire pact with the Government of India.
· ‘Lost’ Chandrabhaga river found in Odisha
After an expert panel recently confirmed the existence of the mythical Saraswati river in India’s North-West, scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur now claim they have found evidence of another ‘lost’ Indian river.
Called Chandrabhaga, the ancient river is believed to have existed at a distance of about two km from the 13th century Sun Temple at Konark, a Unesco World Heritage Site in Odisha.
No trace of any water body is at present visible in the proximity of the temple, but “the mythical river figures prominently in ancient literature”, the scientists report in the journal Current Science.
Almost all myths regarding Konark, including illustrations and photographs, indicate the presence of the Chandrabhaga river in the proximity of the temple, they say.
The IIT study aimed to verify this myth.
They did this through integrated geological and geophysical exploration in conjunction with historical evidence and analysis of satellite data.
Imagery from Landsat and Terra satellites of the US and those obtained by NASA Space Shuttle Endeavour’s ‘Radar Topography Mission’ in 2000 were used.
According to their report, the satellite imagery and Google Earth image showed a “sinusoidal” trace, characteristic of a typical “palaeo channel” — remnant of an inactive river — passing north of the Sun Temple extending approximately parallel to the coast.
The existence of a palaeo channel was further corroborated through profiling the surface using “ground-penetrating radar” that showed the existence of a V-shaped subsurface river valley, the scientists report.
- what is the 1995 (Justice J.S. Verma) judgement ?
The Hindutva Judgment (R.Y. Prabhoo vs P.K. Kunte 11 December 1995) is one of Justice Verma’s most controversial judgments, which he believed was widely misunderstood. It is considered to have been particularly misinterpreted by the BJP.
The Bombay High Court had given a judgment against the election of Dr. R Y Prabhoo (Shiv Sena) declaring his election void on the ground that he had been found guilty of corrupt practices under Subsections (3) and (3A) of Section 123 of the Representation of People Act (India) 1951. This provides that candidates are prohibited from eliciting votes or persuading people not to vote on the grounds of his religion, race, caste, community or language or the use of or appeal to religious symbols. It also prohibits the promotion of or attempt to promote feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of the citizens of India on the grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language.
The issue related to three speeches given by Bal Thakeray in the election campaign for Dr. Prabhoo which the High Court held had used intemperate language and were incendiary in nature. The High Court also found that the speeches also tended to promote enmity and hatred between the different classes of India on the grounds of religion and were appeals to vote for Dr. Prabhoo because of his religion as a Hindu.
The Supreme Court stated that:
It is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption that any reference to Hindutva or Hinduism in a speech makes it automatically a speech based on Hindu religion as opposed to other religions or that the use of the word Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than the Hindu religion… and it may well be that these words are used in a speech to emphasise the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian cultural ethos…There is no such presumption permissible in law contrary to the several Constitution Bench decisions.
This was on the basis that ‘hindu’, ‘hinduism’ and ‘hindutva’ are often very wide terms meaning reference to them cannot blankedly be banned. Rather, the context and meaning has to be gauged in individual speeches in question.
OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS– He is known for his judicial innovation through landmark judgements, which made him “the face of judicial activism” in India. His decisions are credited with the forging of powerful new judicial tools such as Continuing Mandamus, and the expanded protection of fundamental rights as in the Vishaka Judgement. Alongside judicial activism and fundamental rights protection, he is strongly associated with women’s empowerment, probity in public life, judicial accountability, as well as enhancing social justice.
A seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, which is currently hearing oral arguments in two cases — Abhiram Singh v. C.D. Commachen and Narayan Singh v. Sunderlal Patwa — declined an opportunity to reconsider the correctness of a series of judgments rendered by Justice J.S. Verma in December 1995. There, in what are collectively called the “Hindutva cases”,
the court delivered rulings that caused great mischief on the idea of India as a pluralistic, secular state. It held that pleas made by appealing to the terms “Hindutva” or “Hinduism” during an election campaign did not necessarily constitute a corrupt practice in violation of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RPA) since the terms ordinarily refer not to religion but only to “a way of life”.
The judgments, however, overlooked the RPA’s true objective.
As is plainly evident from the legislation’s language, it intends to instil in India’s elections an atmosphere of secular integrity. Now, the seven-judge Bench, presided by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur, has expressed its unwillingness to test the legitimacy of Justice Verma’s view, on the ground that the issue finds no mention in the orders referring the cases to it. The upshot is the continued perpetuation of judgments that are not merely deeply flawed, but also eminently dangerous in their purport.
Religion and electoral politics
Secularism can mean many different things, and, in India, the term is often imbued with a significance that goes well beyond its popular meaning. But what’s clear from the debates of both the Constituent Assembly and Parliament, in various iterations, is that one of the key features of secularism, as it’s understood in India, is an endeavour to separate religion altogether from electoral politics. B.R. Ambedkar, who played a sterling role in the RPA’s drafting, was particularly keen on ensuring that the statute conformed to secular principles. “I think that elections ought to be conducted on issues which have nothing to do with… religion or culture,” he said during a crucial stage of the debate in the lead-up to the law’s enactment by what was then a provisional parliament. “A political party should not be permitted to appeal to any emotion which is aroused by reason of something which has nothing to do with the daily affairs of the people.”
Ultimately, it was with this sentiment in mind that the RPA, through Section 123(3), outlawed, as a corrupt practice, the appeal for votes by any candidate contesting in an election, on grounds, among others, of religion. In the celebrated S.R. Bommai v. Union of India case, the Supreme Court recognised the value in this provision. To fight elections on a plank of religion, Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy wrote, was tantamount to eroding the country’s secular fabric. But, barely a year later, the court subverted India’s secular credentials when it ruled on the Hindutva cases.
The ‘Hindutva cases’
A Bench comprising Justices Verma, N.P. Singh and K. Venkataswami heard appeals by 12 different members belonging to the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Bal Thackeray and the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Manohar Joshi. These persons, some of whom had won in the State’s elections held in 1987, had been found guilty by the Bombay High Court of violating Section 123 of the RPA. They had, in the court’s view, invoked either or both Hindutva and Hinduism to influence the outcome of the elections.
The Supreme Court’s chief opinion in these cases was rendered in the case of Dr. R.Y. Prabhoo v. P.K. Kunte. Here, the court heard appeals over a verdict which had found the mayor of Bombay, Prabhoo, and Bal Thackeray, who had campaigned for him, guilty of corrupt practice. The court ultimately dismissed both appeals. Indeed, it would have been difficult for it to rule in any other manner — Thackeray in his campaign speeches had not only appealed to the idea of Hindutva, but had also claimed that “[The Muslims] should bear in mind that this country is of Hindus, the same shall remain of Hindus… if Shiv Sena comes to power and if the morchas come — first of all (we) shall make them come. Everybody will have to take diksha (initiation) into Hindu religion.”
But in arriving at its conclusion, the court made several inexplicable findings that ultimately helped foster a culture of electoral perversion. “The term ‘Hindutva’ is related more to the way of life of the people in the subcontinent,” wrote Justice Verma. “It is difficult to appreciate how… the term ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduism’ per se, in the abstract, can be assumed to mean and be equated with narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry, or be construed to fall within the prohibition in [the RPA].” It’s of course true that the mere mention of the word Hindutva or Hinduism can barely be seen as offensive in and of themselves. But Justice Verma’s attempts at defining these terms only gave a fillip to those from the far-right.
A fillip to the far-right
Quite opposed to analysing the real roots of Hindutva — which V.D. Savarkar had defined to include “all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race” — the court, in Prabhoo, instead referred to Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s work, Muslims: The Need for a Positive Outlook. In so doing, Justice Verma concluded that the word ‘Hindutva’ “is used and understood as a synonym of ‘Indianisation’, i.e. development of uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all the cultures coexisting in the country.” As A.G. Noorani, most notably, has since pointed out, the court’s elisions lie not only in failing to refer to Savarkar’s works, but also in the misquoting of the Maulana, who hardly saw Hindutva as a redeeming movement. The judgment in Prabhoo makes for even poorer reading when seen in conjunction with the verdict in CM Joshi’s case, where the court found that the statement, the “first Hindu State will be established in Maharashtra”, was not tantamount to invoking religion in soliciting votes, but was rather merely “the expression, at best, of such a hope”. As a result of these opinions, today, a candidate who declares himself to believe in Hindutva or in a Hindu Indian state would not be indulging in a corrupt practice. For he may simply be referring to India’s cultural ethos as a whole.
In its immediate aftermath, Justice Verma’s judgments secured widespread approval from Hindu nationalist groups. “The Supreme Court has put its seal of judicial imprimatur on the Sangh ideology of Hindutva by stating that it is a way of life or state of mind and that it is not to be equated with religious fundamentalism,” said an editorial in the Organiser, a publication of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. To the BJP, the judgments acquired a near-cultist status; the party routinely sought protection from the rulings to justify remarks made along starkly communal lines, by trumpeting an idea that Hindutva is after all only a way of life.
An opportunity missed
However, in truth, these celebratory actions, aimed at creating an impression that the Hindutva judgments are entrenched as law, ignore vital facts. Only a few months after Justice Verma gave his rulings, the Supreme Court, through a different Bench, found itself in disagreement with his views. And it referred the case, an appeal filed by the BJP’s Abhiram Singh, for the consideration of a larger Bench. Eventually, in 2014, this reference (now heard by a five-judge bench) came to be tagged with another BJP leader’s case, which had, in turn, been referred to a seven-judge Bench; in that order of reference, in Sunderlal Patwa’s case — ambiguous as it is — doubts appear to have been raised over whether an appeal by a candidate to a religion other than that which he practises amounts to a corrupt practice under the RPA.
No doubt, between the two orders making reference to a seven-judge Bench there is no specific question concerning a reconsideration of Justice Verma’s judgments. But to use this as a ground to abstain from reviewing those opinions overlooks the fact that for more than 20 years, the verdicts in the Hindutva cases have stood, despite being questioned by a Bench of the Supreme Court’s own judges. Needless to say, on the relative merits of Mr. Singh and Mr. Patwa’s cases, the court would have to consider, on facts, whether they indulged in any corrupt practice under the RPA or not. But to decline altogether the opportunity to review Justice Verma’s judgments is an exercise which is, at best, pedantic, and, at worst, an abdication of a critical responsibility. For it once again places at the peril of the unique deferrals of India’s judicial system a group of decisions that have proved most damaging to the country’s secular fabric.
Liberal theory, in certain forms, may demand unconstrained speech, even in the course of electoral campaigning. But, in India, the right to free speech is subject to reasonable restrictions on grounds, among others, of morality and decency. To hold that secularism is a part of the Constitution’s basic structure while simultaneously condoning a politics of hate that is propagated in the name of religion — in this case, Hindutva and Hinduism — is simply incongruous. As Chief Justice P.B. Gajendragadkar observed in his 1964 opinion in Kultar Singh v. Mukhtiar Singh, to allow any sway in election campaigns for appeals made on the basis of religion, race or caste “would vitiate the secular atmosphere of democratic life”. The Supreme Court’s seven-judge Bench would have done well to defer to Chief Justice Gajendragadkar’s views. A re-examination of Justice Verma’s judgments, far from being “pseudo-secular” as some critics might have us believe, is imperative in the interests of restoring an element of integrity in India’s political process. It is time we placed precepts of democratic morality and decency at the vanguard of our republic.
- Degree screening goes digital
With the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday approving the establishment of a National Academic Depository (NAD), all academic degrees, certificates and awards in the country would soon be digitally available for verification.
“The NAD would be established and operationalize in three months and would be rolled out throughout the country in 2017-18,” said a Cabinet release.
Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar said after the Cabinet meeting that the measure would be implemented with this administrative decision and it would not require the introduction of a Bill.
Academic institutions would be directed to upload and authenticate all documents in digital form.
With security features
“It will provide digital or a printed copy of the academic award with security features to the students or other authorised users. NAD will verify academic awards online on the same day of request initiated by any authorised user,” the release said.
“Requests for access to academic awards, for example, from potential employers, and academic institutions would be only on the basis of consent of the student.”
“NAD shall maintain the authenticity, integrity and confidentiality of its database. It will also train and facilitate academic institutions/boards/ eligibility assessment bodies to efficiently lodge academic awards in the database,” it added.
Mr. Javadekar said that once such a system was in place, fake degrees would become a thing of the past. However, only recognised institutions would be asked to upload the degrees, he added.
NSDL Database Management Limited (NDML) and CDSL Ventures Limited (CVL), wholly-owned subsidiaries of the Depositories registered under the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) Act, 1992, would operationalise the NAD.
The Centre’s coercive method has worked. Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the two States that were holding out against pressure from New Delhi to implement the National Food Security Act (NFSA), have also fallen in line. By threatening to raise the price at which it was allocating food grains if they did not implement the law, the Centre has managed to get these two States to agree to the implementation of the Act from November 1. If they had not done so, they would have had to pay Rs.22.54 a kg for rice for their monthly allocations under the ‘above poverty line’ (APL) category, as against the Rs.8.30 a kg they are paying now. For Tamil Nadu, it would have meant an additional expenditure of Rs.2,730 crore, over and above the Rs.2,393 crore it is spending on its universal public distribution system (PDS). The State says it will implement the Act and also continue its universal PDS coverage. In the bargain, it will have to maintain a uniform supply of 5 kg of rice per person as stipulated in the NFSA, and protect the existing entitlements of PDS beneficiaries. The resultant increase in off take would result in additional expenditure of Rs.1,193 crore for Tamil Nadu. Kerala maintains an APL-BPL distinction in its PDS. However, its concerns over the implementation of the Act related to the possibility that many beneficiaries may be left out under the Centre’s categorisation of PDS consumers into ‘priority households’ and others.
Over the last year or so, Kerala and Tamil Nadu had been warming to the idea of joining the NFSA, but sought time to do so. They wanted to complete end-to-end computerisation of their PDS and the process of seeding Aadhaar numbers with family cards. One clear advantage of joining the national food security system now is that the computerisation and Aadhaar seeding process may result in the elimination of bogus cards and beneficiaries. Tamil Nadu’s case for such a clean-up is glaring as the number of people covered by its family cards is about 7.81 crore while the State’s population is 7.21 crore. There are lessons for both the Centre and the States in this conflict involving a zealous Central government seeking to force its idea of food security on States that believe they are already addressing the issue with the same, if not greater, level of seriousness. A national food security law may hold good for States with weak food security systems — but for the rest, it would perhaps be better if States implemented their own schemes. On the other hand, the States need to temper their zeal for ‘more than universal’ coverage with a realistic assessment and identification of beneficiaries.
- Krishnaraja Sagar level plummets
The “usable water” (live storage) in the Krishnaraja Sagar (KRS) is only half-a-tmcft and signs of severe water scarcity in the areas dependent on the Cauvery in the coming months has started reflecting with the reservoir level falling to 76.03 ft on Sunday morning, as against the maximum of 124.8 ft.
The dead storage level is 74 ft. On October 30 last year, the water level was 104.72 ft.
Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mandya, Ramanagaram and some other places are dependent on the KRS. Following the precarious situation, the Cauvery Neeravari Nigam Ltd. stopped water for irrigation on Saturday, when the level was 77.08 ft.
The “live storage” in the reservoir was 0.762 tmcft at 6 a.m. on Sunday as against the maximum of 45.051 tmcft. The gross storage capacity was 9.141 tmcft in contrast to the full gross storage capacity of 49.452 tmcft, officials at the CNNL told The Hindu.
The live storage was 18.362 tmcft and the gross storage was 26.741 tmcft during the corresponding period last year.
According to officials, the inflow was at the rate of 1,451 cusecs and the outflow 205 cusecs on Sunday.
In the light of the depleting water level, following the compliance of the Supreme Court’s order to discharge water to Tamil Nadu, the CNNL has decided to request the authorities to initiate plans to ration water in the KRS dependent places.
The water scarcity would affect the State in the coming days and contingency plans should be initiated for the judicious use of available storage, an officer at the CNNL told this correspondent.
Only for drinking
The storage in the KRS was sufficient for domestic consumption only for the next few weeks. Water could be released even after the level dips beyond the dead storage level.
- The tale of a cow: why sacredness doesn’t always seem to protect and sustain
The small animals scattered, tails tucked in, ears stiff, feet on the double, fear flitting in their eyes. The birds took off instantly, cooing, cawing, trilling and hooting. The trees woke up from their slumber, disturbed by the dithery of the animals, and the cacophony of birds aflutter. And then, all of a sudden, a blanket of silence enveloped the forest, which was witnessing an unthinkable event. Punyakoti the cow walked purposefully towards its predator, Arbhuta, the tiger.
“Everyone said I was a fool to let you go,” said the incredulous Arbhuta, with relief and disbelief.
“Thank you for letting me visit my children,” replied Punyakoti. “I returned as promised, although I haven’t been able to find guardians for them.”
“Why? Isn’t the village full of cows that hold you in high esteem?”
“That’s the problem. I always had enough to feed my children. I was the first choice at temple festivals, and grihapravesams. I lived my life in relative comfort. I never acknowledged it, but I always occupied a special place within our community; my lineage mattered.”
“But aren’t all cows equal?”
“I thought so too, until they said: ‘We would love to take care of your calves, but what would we feed them? Our master doesn’t allow us to feed our own calves, he wears them away within hours of their birth. Sometimes we don’t even see them after they are taken away. We wake up to their moaning, and keep calling out to them through the night. We cry our hearts out, till our faces are stained by streams of dried tears’.”
“Why wouldn’t he allow the little calves their share of milk?”
“His greed is unbounded. My friends produce more milk than normal. They feel heavy, drugged, and drowsy; they are perennially made pregnant and lactate continuously; they are scared, confused, and helpless. To be forced into motherhood so you can satisfy others’ thirst for milk is a curse, not a blessing. Their lives are so wretched they offered to swap places with me.”
“That’s incredible. Aren’t they afraid of death?”
“They are dead from the inside. They died a little when their calves were snatched. They died some more when their bodies were manipulated. And they continued to die a little every time they heard how their bull-calves and the older cows were slaughtered.”
“Isn’t that illegal?”
“In our country there is a way to bypass every rule. Law can be softened by violence. Violence finds justification in religion. Religion finds refuge in politics. The engine of politics runs on money. Even the scriptures specify how to wash away sins with money. Within this nexus, man has found ways to play god; running on his farm a vicious cycle of life and death, in which he feeds, breeds, milks animals, and turns them into food and leather.”
“But aren’t those cows sacred?”
“What is sacred for some is profane for others. Sacredness doesn’t protect. It merely defines the boundary that separates people who exploit, from those who aren’t allowed to exploit. From the days of Kamadhenu we have been considered sacred, and milked. In the ancient times, the gods and the holy men fought over us. Now their descendents have made us a symbol, a political flashpoint.”
“So why did you return when you had a chance to send one of your friends?”
“They think I am learned, and are willing to make sacrifices for me. I have always been secretly proud of the fact that my knowledge is from the scriptures. I enjoyed the sense of entitlement it gave me.
“For me death was a visitor, for whom I should be prepared when he arrives at the appointed time. For them death is a constant companion. I dreamt of living beyond death. Their dream is to survive alongside death. I lived my life in search of salvation. They live theirs in search of emancipation. I made a mistake by straying into your territory. They never made a mistake in their lives. I got a second chance, thanks to you. Man gives them no second chances.
“To tell you the truth, despite being close to the gods, and the holy men who serve them, I never raised my voice in defence of the weak and downtrodden, even within my own community. About my regard for the unconsecrated animals, the less said the better. Somewhere along the line, I became so preoccupied with myself and my family, and our well-being, that I lost the empathy for the less fortunate. I never tried to understand their words, let alone feel their pain. Yet they were willing to help me. They deserve more. I merely studied the scriptures, they are beyond scriptures.”
Exchange of fire between Indian and Pakistani forces on the Line of Control and the International Boundary has rendered the 2003 ceasefire ever more fragile. On October 29, the Army said it had destroyed > four Pakistani posts in Keran sector along the LoC and inflicted heavy casualties. This came a day after >Sepoy Mandeep Singh was killed in the Machhal sector and his body mutilated by a terrorist who fled across the LoC thereafter. In a social media post, the Army’s Northern Command had warned that the atrocity would invite an appropriate response, and the reprisal followed. This represents a major escalation in the ongoing exchange of fire. > Ceasefire violations have become a daily occurrence since the terrorist attack on the Army camp in Uri in September and the subsequent “surgical strikes” by the Army. The use of 82 and 120 mm mortars in addition to small arms and light machine guns has become routine, a significant scale-up during peacetime. The firing has also spread to the IB, especially a 192-km stretch in Jammu that Pakistan refers to as the working boundary. In 2014, about 430 incidents of ceasefire violation were reported along the IB; in 2015 this dropped to 253. In contrast, till mid-October only four incidents had been reported along the IB — but that calm has been broken since the Uri attack. After the surgical strikes, there have been 60 ceasefire violations.
The brunt of these exchanges is borne by the civilian population in the border villages. Hundreds have been shifted to shelters and bunkers for safety. The density of civilian settlement is much higher on the Indian side in comparison to Pakistan’s. As a result, the increased firing across the border creates more pressure on India. In fact, after the two countries agreed to a ceasefire in 2003, the resultant calm had won the confidence of local residents. Villagers began farming right up to the fence, tourism picked up, and even informal border trade increased. The current spiral of violence threatens this peace dividend. After the surgical strikes, the security forces retain a free hand in responding to infiltrations and instances of firing. No senior government functionary has publicly addressed the issue. Pakistan too is playing the incidents in large part on domestic considerations. However, the latest incident underscores the need for an urgent political initiative to prevent the cycle of brutality and reprisal from acquiring its own momentum, as happened in the early 2010s. It is time the government gathered the reins to address the issue politically and have peace restored on the border.
“We have a wish list that we have put before the government of India,” declared the then Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, on a visit to New Delhi in May 2013. “It is up to the government now to provide us according to their means.” Over the next year, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government decided its means were to be modest. It dithered, wary of provoking Pakistan further, concerned by where its weapons might end up, and pleading a shortage of stocks. In April 2014, it agreed to the curious expedient of paying Russia to supply small arms to Afghanistan. This was, perhaps, not so strange in light of a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)-Russia agreement that same month to maintain Afghanistan’s crumbling helicopter fleet, building on earlier American purchases from Moscow. But it highlighted India’s cautious approach to over-militarising its engagement in Afghanistan. The arrival of President Ashraf Ghani later that year, and his outreach to Pakistan, rendered the question moot.
Bolstering Afghan forces
But with that outreach now in tatters, the Taliban rejecting peace talks, and Mr. Ghani turning back to New Delhi, the question of arms has come back on the agenda. Three Indian-built transport helicopters were donated in April 2015. Over the winter of 2015-16, several attack helicopters followed. General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, spoke in August of an “immediate need for more”, perhaps the most enthusiastic imprimatur ever given by a U.S. official. And now, Indian press reports suggest that New Delhi is “firming up” plans to send artillery, trucks, and — if you believe the headlines — T-72 tanks. There may be some arms inflation at work here. In fact, the Afghans seem to have asked not for Main Battle Tanks (MBT), which would be overkill for fighting the Taliban, but Russian-designed BMPs, which are quick, versatile, and lightly armoured vehicles for infantry. India has been phasing out its older variants and they would be understandably useful to an army haemorrhaging over a dozen soldiers a day.
Will this change anything? Since Afghan forces took the lead in fighting, the Taliban have gained more territory than at any other point in the last 15 years. This is despite the high level of foreign support that remains in place — 9,000 U.S. troops remain in the country. In June, U.S. President Barack Obama expanded authorisation for air power to support Afghan offensives, not just repel insurgent attacks, and for U.S. troops to embed with regular Afghan infantry, not just special forces. From January to October, there were 700 air strikes — 200 more than in the whole of last year — dropping about 1,000 bombs. While we should not ignore the important progress made in shrinking the Islamic State’s presence considerably, the Afghan National Security Forces have been rolled back by the Taliban in no less than three major provincial capitals: Lashkar Gah in Helmand, Tarin Kot in Uruzgan, and Kunduz in the north. Two other capitals, Baghlan and Farah, are also under serious pressure.
The political signalling
At the strategic level, arms cannot compensate for more fundamental problems. Last week, General Nicholson highlighted the “failure of leadership” in the police and army, leaving young police officers and soldiers dying on isolated checkpoints without adequate food, water, or ammunition. These failures extend to the political level. This month, the Vice President himself, the controversial warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, attacked President Ghani for favouritism towards Pashtuns over the former’s own Uzbek constituency and threatened to “gather my people”. Mr. Ghani’s office retaliated with a threat to investigate Mr. Dostum’s personal militias operating in the northern Faryab province. In the context of these profound military and political failings, no injection of arms — whether from India, NATO, Russia, or China — will turn the situation around. They are band-aid on a flesh wound. Arms can make a difference at the margin, affording protection to some units where previously there might have been none. For an isolated patrol outnumbered by insurgents, the prospect of air support by an Indian-supplied helicopter should not be overlooked. But their real purpose is to serve as political signals of support, lubricating Mr. Ghani’s pivot back to New Delhi and ensuring that India — left out of the four-nation Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) on peace talks comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the U.S. — retains influence over the direction of the conflict.
However, the three-year journey from Mr. Karzai’s wish list to India’s incremental gift giving also points to a broader trend. “We are well positioned,” noted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh three years ago, “to become a net provider of security in our immediate region and beyond.” Net security provider is a slippery term. Indian officials have emphasised soft security missions, like disaster relief and evacuation, rather than full-blown military intervention. Arms sales and donations are a halfway house, an arm’s-length instrument of national power. During 2011-15, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council collectively supplied almost 70 per cent of all international arms exports. Arms generate revenue, of course, but they can also transform the balance of power, cement alliances, and — as India has discovered to its cost through its history — provide leverage during crises and wars. They are not without risks. Arms can be waylaid or even turned on their provider, especially where regimes change suddenly, and can render the providers awkwardly complicit in their use. Arms can also fuel conflicts, reducing the incentive on one side or another to negotiate with adversaries.
Growing Indian clout
India is a small fish in this pond. But its clout is growing. Indian arms exports doubled by value from 2012-13 to 2014-15 to over $200 million. The recipients included Afghanistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Vietnam, South Korea, and even major exporters like Russia, Israel, and Britain. Most of these have been spares and minor equipment. Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a $500 million line of defence credit to Vietnam during his trip to Hanoi, building on an earlier line of credit two years ago for Indian patrol boats. Over the past decade, other Indian transfers to neighbours have included patrol boats, maritime patrol aircraft, radar, armoured vehicles, anti-tank weapons, and helicopters. India directly operates some of these assets, notably part of the coastal surveillance radar chain unfolding across the Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. Beneficiaries have included every single member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) except, of course, Pakistan.
How far will this grow? India has a long history of modest arms provision and training in South Asia and Africa, but by and large it has held back from game-changing sales that would have strategic ripples. Indian tanks went to South Africa and Singapore in the 1970s, but there’s little evidence they have been sent to anyone since despite reports of a transfer to Myanmar. There have been murmurs that BrahMos might be exported to nearly a dozen different countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates. This would be extremely consequential, not least if the missile’s range can be doubled as easily as suggested. India has also discussed potential sales of its Light Combat Helicopter and has ambitions to export the much-maligned Tejas combat aircraft. All of these platforms would affect the military balance more than a handful of patrol ships. India’s growing arms footprint in Afghanistan points to an important future aspect of its regional power projection.
- Case against a uniform asylum law
Baloch leader > Brahamdagh Bugti’s request for asylum in India has prompted calls for a uniform and apolitical > asylum law. That would be a mistake. Asylum has always been a diverse institution, resistant to homogeneity and friendly to political dissidents. Last winter, three asylum bills were introduced in Parliament, including one by Shashi Tharoor, but they miss the mark because they perpetuate a rigid European view of asylum.
None of the three bills would protect Mr. Bugti because he does not fulfil the conventional idea of a refugee. Let us be clear. Protecting refugees in line with international law is a duty which India must meet. But denying the government the ability to make sovereign decisions about who can receive India’s asylum is counterproductive. We need a nuanced law which recognises that asylum and refuge need not overlap.
Asylum and > refugee status are different concepts although the terms are often used interchangeably. Asylum is an expansive institution of protection, refugees are a narrow category of people. An asylee need not be a refugee. Indeed, asylum predates the refugee regime by several centuries. In Europe, asylum was an ecclesiastical concept that provided safe haven in a place of worship. Asylum has no defining criteria other than the willingness of a state to grant it.
Refugee status is narrowly defined. The UN’s Refugee Convention of 1951 links refuge to persecution on racial, religious, national, social, or political grounds. Many countries including India disagreed with the UN’s definition. It set the bar for protection too high for ordinary people for whom proving targeted persecution is difficult. India did not sign the convention.
Africa broke ranks too. In 1969, it adopted its own convention which recognised that refugees are people who flee serious public disorder, external aggression, occupation, and foreign domination. In other words, Africa recognised that during war, people do not wait to be individually persecuted, they flee en masse, and they are all refugees.
Europe understood the shortcomings of the refugee regime during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. Many of those displaced were not technically refugees, forcing the European Union to create a new form of asylum distinct from refugee status. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) followed suit. The distinction between asylum and refugee status has been recognised by the EU Court of Justice and several countries.
Politics versus humanitarianism
The > duty to protect refugees is a widely accepted, binding norm of international law. But the refugee convention refuses protection to people accused of “serious non-political crimes” such as terrorism. So governments routinely slap trumped-up terror accusations against their dissidents. For such people, asylum is a beacon. Because it is undefined, asylum has been widely interpreted by states to result in multiple forms of protection.
Latin America has a rich and long-standing tradition of protecting political dissidents who are excluded from refugee status. Even coup leaders and guerrillas have been protected. In 1954, Latin American states recognised each other’s sovereignty to grant asylum to dissidents. This conception of asylum travelled to Africa to aid the struggle against colonisation. Black liberationist leaders who were accused of terrorism by colonial authorities were protected as asylees abroad. Anti-apartheid fighters benefited too.
Asylum need not be tied to national territory. It can be granted by diplomatic missions abroad as it has been to Julian > Assange by Ecuador’s embassy in London. The political versus humanitarian conflict that some believe afflicts the heart of asylum is really no conflict at all. Asylum can be granted for political reasons and refuge for humanitarian reasons and the twain need not meet, even if contained in the same statute.
Asylum and extradition are related concepts. Extradition law exempts a country from handing over a criminal if the offence for which she is wanted is of a political character. This is known as the ‘political offence exception.’ It enables political asylum. It is recognised in the Extradition Act, 1962 and earlier laws too — perhaps an indicator of the legislature’s intent to allow people like Mr. Bugti to shelter in India at the government’s discretion.
If Mr. Bugti is accepted, it would not be the first time that Indian asylum has been politicised. The political repercussions of welcoming the Dalai Lama in 1959 continue to be felt. The Dalai Lama has never been officially recognised as a refugee; he remains an “honoured guest” — diplomatese for political asylee. On the other hand, India hosts refugees from Tibet and elsewhere who fled persecution and conflict. For refugees, a law will regularise their stay in India and guarantee essential freedoms. But the law need not be uniform. Indeed it should vary so that victims of targeted persecution are individually protected, large groups fleeing war are protected as a group, and people displaced by natural disasters are given transient protection. The same law can allow the government to grant asylum to anyone it pleases, irrespective of what that person has done or where in the world he or she is located.
The principle that governments have wide discretionary powers regarding foreigners is as old as the concept of sovereignty. It has been reiterated by the Supreme Court several times. It can be expressed in an asylum law without contradicting the duty to protect refugees. What India needs is a discretionary political asylum regime for people like Mr. Bugti as well as a mandatory refugee regime to ensure humanitarian protection.
- Bank’s top post lies vacant despite RBI nod
Despite the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) approval to appoint B.K. Manjunath as Chairman of Lakshmi Vilas Bank, the Karur-based lender has kept the post vacant. The post itself has remained unfilled for about two years.
According to sources close to the development, RBI had approved Mr. Manjunath’s name — which was proposed by the bank among other names — for the chairman’s post more than a month ago.
However, after RBI’s approval, the bank wrote to the regulator saying Mr. Manjunath was not available for taking up the role and instead proposed the name of one of its directors, K.R. Pradeep. “There is no clarity on the appointment of the chairman yet. The person concerned should be available,” said a top official of the bank, who didn’t want to be named.
When asked about RBI’s response after Mr. Pradeep’s name was proposed, the official said: “We are awaiting a response.” The appointment of the chairman has been a bone of contention between the regulator and the bank.
In the past two years, the bank has been proposing just one name for the chairman’s post. However, RBI insisted that more than one name should be recommended to enable the regulator to have a choice.
When the bank proposed a few more names for the chairman’s post, including that of Mr. Manjunath, RBI gave its approval.
Banks operating in India need prior RBI approval for a top appointment like a chief executive, chairman and board members.
The chief executive position in the bank has seen attrition in the past. In November 2012, P.R. Somasundaram, who came from Standard Chartered Bank to join as CEO, resigned within two years of taking charge. Then Rakesh Sharma, who was in State Bank of India, was appointed as the chief executive in March 2014, but quit in September 2015 and joined Canara Bank.
The present CEO, Parthasarathi Mukherjee, was appointed in December 2015. Mr. Mukherjee came from Axis Bank where he was group executive, corporate relationships and international business. The lender reported a 48 per cent increase in net profit to Rs.125.5 crore for the first half ended September 30.
- Why diversity needs secularism
The expansion and consolidation of the Hindu Right’s political power has raised legitimate concerns about the future of India’s secularism. While criticism of secularism could be found in the public debate during the anti-colonial struggle, the sustained assault on it became particularly apparent during the Ayodhya movement. During the late 1980s and 1990s, the public campaign led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) advocated that the practice of secularism has led to the appeasement of Muslims. The BJP further argued that it has been quite harmful to India’s democratic polity because it has been institutionalising vote-bank politics, and that what is needed is in fact an attempt for a ‘positive’ secularism as opposed to ‘negative’ secularism. While these distinctions were widely used during those days, surprisingly it has vanished from the political lexicon of the Hindu Right in recent years.
Secularism, unity and diversity
The most significant moment of this departure in the politics of the Hindu Right was during the 2014 election campaign. For the first time in Indian history, Narendra Modi, as a prime ministerial candidate, unleashed the most sustained attack on the idea of secularism in meeting after meeting. At a meeting in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, on March 26, 2014, he reminded people how the idea of secularism has kept Muslims poor. On this issue, he has remained rather consistent even after becoming Prime Minister, although he has vacillated on many other issues. At a party in Berlin on April 14, 2015, hosted by the Indian Ambassador, he spoke of how Sanskrit has suffered owing to India’s so-called “secular fever”.
There are also occasions when Mr. Modi has made statements on diversity being India’s strength without recognising that diversity as a political project can only be effective with secularism as a working foundational value. This is a tragic flaw in the Hindu Right’s understanding of the notion of diversity. Inaugurating the debate on intolerance in Parliament on November 26, 2015, Home Minister Rajnath Singh explained how this idea of secularism has been misused and how the word is the most abused one. According to the Hindu Right, there are perhaps some benefits of secularism, but they are trivial and could be easily found in the ideology of Hindutva, apparently noble, kind, and all-embracing. It seems to suggest thereby that the problem is not with the idea of Hindutva, but with the misconceptions of secularists about this otherwise noble idea.
The Hindu Right is seemingly keen on reminding everyone that India’s founding fathers including B.R. Ambedkar did not consider it necessary to introduce the word ‘secular’ in the Preamble of the Constitution. It was inserted as part of the 42nd amendment during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule. In his speech, Mr. Singh specifically mentioned Ambedkar’s reluctance to introduce the word. The fact is that Ambedkar made two interventions in the debate on Professor K.T. Shah’s resolution on this issue, and chose to remain silent on the secularism question although he firmly opposed the entry of the word ‘socialism’ on the ground that future generations should have the freedom to choose their economic path. Ambedkar was not a convinced socialist at all. But analysis of his writings on minority rights, Muslims, Pakistan etc. when seen in the context of his pronouncements like “I was born Hindu, but won’t die as one” or “Hinduism is not a religion” echoes a particular brand of secularism, very distinct from the Nehruvian or the Gandhian one. His secularism is about human dignity, and his idea of secular political culture is to contribute to the emancipation of human beings from all kinds of man-made suffering inflicted in the name of religion. Had he been alive today, he would have been, no doubt, the most fierce and erudite critic of Hindutva politics.
An omission yet unexplained
These two words — secular and socialist — entered the Constitution when most leaders of the Opposition were under arrest for their resistance to the Emergency. Since these words were retained during the 44nd amendment under the Janata Party regime, it is suggestive of a broad consensus among India’s political leadership for their insertion in the Constitution.
Why did our founding fathers not include them in the Constitution in the first place? Scholars have tried to explain this. In his presidential address to the Indian History Congress, Malda, in 2015, historian Sabyasachi Bhattacharya argued that it was Jawaharlal Nehru’s and Ambedkar’s larger belief in the values of equality and justice that encouraged them not to introduce these words. One wonders how one could speak of equality and justice in a multi-religious society without secularism.
Moreover, it would be almost impossible to argue that Indira Gandhi was the greater defender of Indian minorities or a bigger patriot compared to Nehru or Ambedkar. There is little knowledge about the circumstances in which she chose to introduce these words. Did she do it on her own or was she advised by somebody? In a recent memoir, President Pranab Mukherjee tells us that it was on the advice of Siddhartha Sankar Ray that she introduced the Emergency. Moreover, Indira Gandhi was not just one of the past Prime Ministers of India like, say, H.D. Deve Gowda; she was also Nehru’s daughter. Was she privy to any particular discussion with Nehru about the reason why he was not keen on pressing for the insertion of these words? We do not have definite answers to these questions as yet.
Others like diplomat-turned-politician Pavan K. Varma argue that the threat to India’s secular fabric from the Hindu Right was far greater during the 1970s, which is why Indira Gandhi considered it necessary to introduce these words. Even socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan was concerned with the growing influence of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on the Morarji Desai government, for which he wrote a specific letter expressing his concerns about its Hindutva project. As things stand now, there is no convincing answer as to why the word “secular” was left out in the first place, and that gives the Hindu Right a convenient handle to twist the debate in its favour in their advocacy for its removal.
- Questions about an ‘encounter’
The > killing of eight prisoners belonging to an outlawed group hours after their escape from the high-security Central Prison in Bhopal has set off a controversy that is unlikely to die down soon. The eight under trials, belonging to the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, had been charged with serious offences and were alleged to have been involved in the murder of policemen and in armed robberies. While escaping, they killed a police guard who had tried to stop them. The murder of their colleague may have goaded the police to pursue the suspects and zero in on them within hours on the city’s outskirts with the help of the public. However, the dramatic events that took place subsequently are clouded in doubt as the > official narrative does not quite hang together. The State government and the police have failed to provide a cogent explanation for the events of the day. The circulation of footage purportedly recording some moments before and after the encounter has invited charges that the encounter was ‘fake’. Doubts have been raised whether the eight men were carrying any weapons or posed an imminent danger to the police party that closed in on them. Were they about to surrender, having run out of options, when they were killed? One police officer’s claim that they had firearms and had attacked the police contradicts another officer’s version that >they had no weapons.
The Madhya Pradesh government is understandably keen on an inquiry into the jailbreak to find out crucial details — such as who masterminded the escape, and whether there was any support from others in the prison or outside. Further, it should be investigated how CCTV cameras, watchtowers and searchlights all mysteriously failed while the undertrials were scaling two high walls one after another. There can be no justification, however, for the >government’s stand that the encounter itself does not require an investigation any deeper than a routine magisterial inquiry. The Supreme Court has laid down that every police encounter has to be probed by the Criminal Investigation Department or any other independent police team. In this context, the condemnation by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of all those who doubt the official version is troubling. Such doubt cannot be interpreted as support for either the ideology or the violence perpetrated by those who escaped from prison. Instead of expecting unquestioning acceptance from all quarters when issues of human rights and the rule of law are involved, the State government would do well to institute a thorough probe into the episode to quell all doubts and suspicions.
Last year, faced with its inability to amend the historic Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre devised a constitutionally pernicious alternative. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, speaking after the second meeting of the governing council of NITI Aayog on July 15, 2015, encouraged States to draft and pass their own laws for land acquisition and get them approved by the Centre.
Following this unambiguous official sanction, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have moved ahead with their amendments, Rajasthan has a Bill ready and Telangana is working on its version. These laws allow for the acquisition of land in the States without having to satisfy any of the crucial safeguards built into the 2013 Central law, such as the right to consent, social impact assessment and, in the case of Tamil Nadu, even rehabilitation and resettlement.
Spirit behind the exceptions
As per the doctrine of “occupied field” enshrined in Article 254(1) of the Constitution, if there exists a Central law on a concurrent subject, then a State law cannot override it. However, Article 254(2) provides that if a State law receives presidential assent after due consideration, then it can apply in contravention to the Central law in that particular State. This use of this provision to permit States to pass land acquisition laws in conflict with the 2013 Act gives rise to three grave jurisprudential concerns.
First, Article 254(2) was never intended, even in its broadest interpretation, to weaken Central laws merely because they were found to be inconvenient. It was intended to bring in changes to Central laws if there was a genuine hurdle in implementing them in a particular State due to challenges peculiar to that region.
Consider this. The 2013 law was sought to be amended by the BJP-led government as it felt that the Centre’s power of eminent domain had been curtailed. It argued that the 2013 law was making the acquisition of land harder by empowering those whose land was previously forcibly acquired. This move was followed by a massive nationwide backlash which unified opposition parties across the ideological spectrum. In 2014, the Supreme Court refused to entertain challenges to various provisions of the 2013 law. Thus, two things became clear: the law was constitutionally sound and the public mandate was overwhelmingly against such amendments.
It is a settled proposition that what the government cannot do directly, it cannot do indirectly. This oft-reiterated maxim has been used by the Supreme Court of India to strike down the attempts of the government to pass off what is known as “colourable legislation” (laws the government is not qualified to pass, disguised as other laws). A creative attempt to weaken a state law against the larger public interest is nothing short of such an abuse.
Presidential assent not a formality
Second, it is pertinent to examine the nature of the presidential power envisaged under this Article. Is the President required to act mechanically on the advice of the Council of Ministers or is he to apply his own mind? The Supreme Court in a landmark Constitution Bench decision in Kaiser-I-Hind Pvt. Ltd. v. National Textile Corporation (2002) held, in relation to Article 254(2), that the words “reserved for consideration” would “definitely indicate that there should be active application of mind by the President to the repugnancy… and the necessity of having such a law, in facts and circumstances of the matter… The word assent is used purposefully indicating affirmative action of the proposal made by the State for having law repugnant to the earlier law made by the Parliament. This cannot be done without consideration of the relevant material.”
Constitutional scholar Durga Das Basu in his seminal commentary on Constitutional Law reaffirms this interpretation. He further argues that the words “reserved for consideration” used in Article 254(2) “cannot be an idle formality but would require serious consideration on the material placed before the President”. Therefore it is clear that the President must act deliberately and consciously and not merely on the advice of the Council of Ministers. The newly enacted State laws on acquisition curtail and suspend the statutory right to give consent to acquisition and the need to carry out a social impact assessment. The President is required to examine if compelling reasons to sanction such a significant deviation exist.
But can the President’s exercise of his power under Article 254(2) be subject to judicial review? The Supreme Court in the Kaiser-i-Hind case, while relying on several precedents, held, “We further make it clear that granting of assent under Article 254(2) is not exercise of legislative power of President such as contemplated under Article 123 but is part of legislative procedure. Whether procedure prescribed by the Constitution before enacting the law is followed or not can always be looked into by the Court.” In other words, the court may review whether the procedure which requires thorough reflection and conscious application of mind by the President was observed.
Third, in an alternative scenario, if one were to argue that presidential approval is merely a formality which can only be delayed, not denied, then it leads to the worrying conclusion that Central laws on any subject contained in List III of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution (“Concurrent List”) like forests, electricity, family planning and education are, in effect, pointless. Wherever a Central government lacks the numbers to pass a law (on a concurrent subject) in Parliament or is faced with public opposition, it will concede the authority to States to pass the laws as they see fit and get the President to approve them. This is happening not just for land acquisition but also for labour laws, with Rajasthan having shown the way.
Here we must also make a distinction between Parliament and the Central government. The 2013 law is an Act of Parliament that occupies the field but the Centre wishes to dilute it. Instead of upholding its sanctity (as required by the Constitution) the government wishes to undermine the role of Parliament by actively encouraging States to bypass the law. Therefore it is breaching the provisions of Article 254(1) which give supremacy to laws made by Parliament unless States have a genuine necessity to deviate.
Such pernicious misuse of a constitutional provision cannot and should not go unchecked. Parliament passed a law in the exercise of its sovereign power bestowed on it by the Constitution. A hard-fought consensus was achieved that was widely held to be in the larger public interest. It cannot be diluted by creating half-smart loopholes and too-clever-by-half shortcuts which make a complete mockery of the very idea of a Concurrent List in the Constitution, which must be considered as an integral part of its basic structure.
In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court last week ruled that contract workers should get the same pay as permanent workers. It held that denial of equal pay for equal work to daily wagers, temporary, casual and contractual employees amounted to “exploitative enslavement, emerging out of a domineering position”. The court also made the philosophical point that denial of the principle of equal pay for equal work is a violation of human dignity.
Though the verdict came in the context of workers employed by the government, it strikes at the heart of the inequity that characterises the treatment of labour in both the public and private sector, whose defining characteristic is the division of workers into a two-tier caste system of regular and contract workers. In establishments across the country, an elite minority of permanent workers enjoy relative job security and higher wages, while the vast majority, comprising casual or contract workers, toil under terms where they can be terminated any time without reason, and get paid a fraction of what the regular workers get.
It would therefore be natural to hope that the SC verdict would have an immediate, and positive, bearing on contract workers’ compensation. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen, due to the third difference between permanent and contract workers: access to collective bargaining.
As per the Trade Unions Act, 1926, any workman who works in a factory can join a union of that factory. But trade unions typically have only permanent workers as members. The reason cited is that contract workers are not employees of the employer in question (the manufacturing unit), and so should not find representation in a union body formed for the purpose of negotiating with the said employer. Contract workers are hired by the labour contractor, who is empanelled with the employer as a supplier of contract labour, and who pays their salaries.
But not being on the rolls of an employer does not disqualify a contract worker from being a member of a factory’s union. Labour law experts point to section 2 (g) of the Trade Union Act, which defines “workmen”, for the purposes of a trade union, as “all persons employed in trade or industry whether or not in the employment of the employer with whom the trade dispute arises”.
This question of who can become a member of a trade union also came up recently in the case of Chander Bhan, etc versus Sunbeam Autoworkers Union in the Gurgaon District Court. In a judgment that went largely unnoticed, the court ruled that any workman employed by a factory — irrespective of whether he was a permanent worker or not, fulfilled the Industrial Dispute (ID) Act’s definition of workman or not — was eligible to participate in union activities.
In the Gurgaon industrial belt, Sunbeam Autoworkers Union is probably the only union that gives membership to workers with less than 240 days’ service, and it needed a court intervention to be able to do so. But even it does not offer membership to contract workers. In fact, no union anywhere gives membership and voting rights to contract workers. The reasons are many. First, in an industrial climate extremely hostile to any union activity, workers believe that forming a union that also includes contract workers is bound to provoke the management into even greater hostility. Second, managements refuse point blank to discuss with unionists any issues concerning contract workers. Third, contract workers are far more insecure compared to regular workers. In an era where companies frequently terminate even a permanent worker for engaging in union mobilisation, the stakes are too high for contract workers, who could be summarily dismissed, without any consequences, by the management.
Fourth, and this is an unpalatable truth for most trade unionists, permanent workers themselves don’t want to extend union membership to contract workers. In a factory, say, that employs 300 permanent workers and 1,200 contract workers, any union that gives voting rights to contract workers would instantly marginalise permanent workers. Given that permanent workers’ salaries are much higher, economic self-interest militates against the inclusion of contract workers in union membership.
As a result, India’s contract workers, with the exception of some PSUs in select sectors such as steel and coal, remain both heavily exploited and largely un-unionised, with the lack of unionisation and exploitation reinforcing each other.
Ironically, it was the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 (CL Act), ostensibly enacted to abolish contract labour, that cemented their exploitation by offering a legal operating framework to labour contractors. Before this legislation, temporary workers and permanent workers could make claims on their employer and negotiate as members of the same union. But the CL Act, by introducing a distinction between an ‘employer’ and a ‘principal employer’, kept the door open for expansion of contractualisation.
Getting around the law
Contract labour was initially employed only for non-core work such as gardening, cleaning, and maintenance. Soon, they began to be increasingly employed in production as well. Workers protested. In response, the CL Act was enacted. It expressly prohibits the employment of contract labour for perennial work, that is, in core production.
But labour contractors easily circumvent this requirement through what have come to be known as ‘sham contracts’. It is a contract that may show a worker as having been hired for a cleaning job. But once he enters the factory premises, he is engaged in production work. There is no documentation to show that a contract worker who, on paper, is engaged for cleaning work, is actually in production.
The SC judgment thus poses an old question to India’s labour movement: how to unionise contract workers, who are in one factory today, in another the next, and whose interests are all too easily played off against those of permanent workers? Unless the labour movement comes up with an answer to this question, legislations and judicial pronouncements may not change things much on the ground.
- Crushed by the cane lobby
In a move that marks the reversal of a decision made on October 4, the Maharashtra State government has decided to start the sugar cane crushing season from November 5 instead of December 1 as proposed earlier. The decision was made taking into account apprehensions of weight loss due to late harvesting and of ‘poaching’ by millers of neighbouring Karnataka especially from the sugar cane-rich Kolhapur and Sangli belt of western Maharashtra.
Rumblings in the sugar sector
Maharashtra is the largest producer of sugar in India, contributing almost 37 per cent of the total national output. The 2016-17 sugar season is distinctly different for three reasons. First, this year marks the completion of a decade since major reforms were introduced in the Sugarcane Control (Order), 1966 via reduction of the aerial distance limit between two sugar units to 15 km from 50 km and the dropping of provision 5B, also known as “Bhargava formula”; the provision had enabled limited profit sharing out of excessive realisation from the sale of free sugar, in case of erratic cane supply, with cane farmers of the mill. Second, the estimated availability of sugar cane this year stands at 445 lakh tons, implying that the State will produce just 5 million tons (MT) of sugar as against 8.5 MT last season. With just 90 days of crushing, a large number of mills will remain shut resulting in idle machinery, extra manpower cost, and a likely default on term-loan repayment leading to non-performing assets. Third, the Raju Shetti-led Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, championing the cause of sugar cane farmers for the past 15 years, is agitating for an increased cane price.
Cooperative sugar mills have contributed largely to the development of rural Maharashtra by providing consistent farm income to large shareholding members. But the ownership profile of sugar factories in the State has undergone a major change in the past decade with the amendment to Section 6A of the Sugarcane Control (Order), 1966. The change has also been accentuated by the questionable practice of lending banks, especially the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank, taking over assets under the provisions of the SARFAESI (Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest) Act, 2002. Data indicate that altogether 68 cooperative units were liquidated and sold later to the private sector, to entities floated by cooperative barons themselves, with a few exceptions.
The bigwigs of the sugar cooperatives, including former State cooperative ministers, floated private sugar units, in a way sowing the seeds of doubt on the working and efficacy of the cooperative model. The number of private sugar factories in Maharashtra has consistently increased from 2006-07. Almost 154 private sugar units have obtained Industrial Entrepreneur Memorandum (IEM); at present there are 78 operational private sugar mills with total crushing capacity of 2.48 lakh tons of cane per day (TCD) as against a mere 12 private units a decade ago. In comparison the number of operational cooperative units stands at 102 with a capacity of 3.52 lakh TCD. Private sector capacity gradually increased from 10 per cent of the total sugar production in the State to 45 per cent.
Cooperatives vs private mills
The natural question that arises is how the increase in private sector participation impacted the sugar cane payment and sugar recovery per ton of sugarcane crushed. The change in ownership pattern has impacted the cane price payment to the growers in the State (see graphs). To understand the payment dynamics, it is essential to understand the process of Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP), a payment model unique to Maharashtra. Unlike other cane-producing States where the farmer brings his produce to the factory for crushing, in Maharashtra it is picked up by sugar millers from the farmers’ fields to ensure uninterrupted cane supply and smooth operations.
The harvesting and transportation (H&T) cost thus incurred by millers is, however, ultimately deducted from the FRP paid to the farmers. A year-on-year analysis of H&T costs incurred by cooperative and private millers illustrates the larger impact. The private units have incurred Rs.57.07, Rs.48.58 and Rs.83.14 per ton on H&T more than cooperative units in 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 respectively, implying thereby that the cane farmers are burdened by an additional Rs.477.20 crore. Likewise, the cooperative sector sugar recovery rate, which is directly linked to the FRP paid to farmers, has always been higher than that of the private sector over the same period.
The difference between cooperative and private sector in recovery when monetised, calculating on the basis of FRP fixed by the Government of India, comes to Rs.1076.10 crore. Shockingly, in some cases cooperative sugar units reported less H&T expenditure and better recovery before management was taken over by the private sector. If both H&T and recovery are put together in monetary terms, the ultimate loss is borne by sugar cane farmers due to dwindling payments under private mills.
The common belief is that the private sector is competitive, efficient and professionally managed when compared to the cooperative sector. Ironically, the private sugar sector in Maharashtra doesn’t stand the test of data. How can such differences between cooperative and private sector in sugar recovery and H&T cost — which are directly related to cane payment — be explained?
Cooperative society members, with easy access to management, meetings of the board of directors and vigilance on the factory premises during and after crushing, bring in effective stakeholder participation in the overall working of mills. As a result there is better sugar recovery and considerable reduction in cost of H&T, thus financially benefitting the cane farmers. Given this backdrop, the recent trend of cooperative sugar barons opting to set up private sugar units despite overwhelming support of shareholders for the cooperative model is alarming. This, when the entire country is looking to emulate the Maharashtra sugar cooperatives’ model.
Steps to control retail sugar prices — such as like putting stock limits on millers and wholesale traders, capping of retail prices, increased cess and non-payment of export incentives — succeed in providing relief to consumers even though they impact the earnings of millers. In a similar manner, identifying and effectively implementing steps to protect farmers’ interests is the need of the hour. The provisions of the Maharashtra Regulation of Sugarcane Price (Supplied to Factories) Act, 2013, enacted on the recommendation of the C. Rangarajan committee, may provide an effective instrument for the administration to limit H&T cost per ton of sugar cane and dwindling sugar recovery rate of the private sector in the State.
Rajagopal Devara is serving Secretary, Government of Maharashtra, and former Sugar Commissioner, Maharashtra. Views expressed are personal.
- Probe begins into Malappuram blast
A joint inquiry involving a special investigation team (SIT) of the State police and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has begun into the blast that took place at the Malappuram collect orate compound on Tuesday.
Police sources said they were trying to decode the message conveyed through a USB pen drive and a notice recovered from the blast site.
Although police officers, including Inspector General (Thrissur range) M.R. Ajit Kumar and District Superintendent Debesh Kumar Behara, were tight-lipped about the content of the pen drive, cyber cell sources said that the drive contained images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and several Union Ministers.
Mr. Ajit Kumar, who visited the blast site in the morning, said that there were many similarities between Tuesday’s blast and the ones that had taken place at Chittur in Andhra Pradesh (on April 7), Kollam collectorate (on June 15), and Mysuru court (August 1). He said the police suspected that the same group was behind all the blasts.
The notice found at the blast site near the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court in the collect orate compound had reference to the Base Movement, a mysterious terror group believed to be behind the other blasts. The notice further warned of retaliation for the killing of Mohammed Akhlaq for allegedly storing beef. It also had a photo of Osama bin Laden, the slain Al-Qaeda head.
A five-member NIA team led by Dy.SP Abdul Khader examined the car under which an improvised explosive device (IED) had been kept. The blast had shaken the entire collect orate triggering a near-panic situation in many offices.
The SIT team led by Narcotic Cell Dy.SP P.T. Balan too examined the seven-seater Chevrolet car by lifting it with the help of a crane. The car suffered extensive damage in the blast.
Mr. Balan said they were yet to see the content of the pen drive. He said they were minutely examining all aspects that could possibly link the terror act to any known group. “The Base Movement remains an unestablished name. We have to be circumspect about it,” he said.
Police sources said that the method, timing and the place chosen for the blast had raised suspicion about the possible involvement of people with extreme views. They said they were not ruling out any possibilities.
- Mizoram will become gateway to Southeast Asia: Governor
Mizoram Governor Lt Gen (retd) Nirbhay Sharma said on Wednesday that the Northeastern State, which till now was an outpost of India, is well on its way to becoming the gateway to Southeast Asia.
“Mizoram is the most peaceful State in the Northeast after 1986 and has no place for caste or class,” he said.
Mr Sharma was speaking at a function organised by the Central Hindi Institute in Agra where a Hindi-Mizo dictionary was released.
The Governor said Hindi’s growing popularity in the Northeast has helped integration of the region with the national mainstream.
- Delhi govt. unveils roadmap to tackle air pollution
As various agencies termed the Capital’s air quality ‘severe’ in the aftermath of Diwali celebrations, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government convened an emergency meeting on Tuesday to chalk out a roadmap to combat air pollution.
Following a lengthy meeting with representatives of various government departments at his Delhi Secretariat office,
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said that the government’s plan to tackle air pollution included the use of emission-control devices, resuming vacuum cleaning of arterial roads, sprinkling water on streets, and cutting dust pollution from construction sites.
“Jet pressure pump technique will be used for sprinkling water on footpaths, road bumps and central verges. By doing this, we can control dust particles. In several countries, such technology is being used to curb dust pollution,” Mr. Sisodia said.
The Deputy CM said that the Public Works Department (PWD) was exploring the option of installing air purifiers and mist fountains at five major traffic intersections including Mukarba Chowk in northwest Delhi and Anand Vihar, which is the most polluted area in the Capital.
Mr. Sisodia said that the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) has been told to carry out strict and regular inspections at construction sites of above 20,000 square meters and had also been directed to submit a detailed note about dust pollution from such sites.
“As much as 90 per cent of dust pollution comes from construction sites, which needs to be regulated. There are 61 major construction sites in Delhi, but there are several smaller sites and most of them are violating the rules,” the Deputy CM said.
Mr. Sisodia said that the government had also decided to make citizens aware about dust pollution.
“We will appeal to them to inform us about violations of rules. The Swachh Delhi App, developed by the Urban Development Department, can be used for this,” he said.
Sub-divisional magistrates and assistant engineers of the PWD have been asked to take action and issue challans against that storing construction material on roads. Emission-control devices such as chimneys and wet scrubbers will be installed at 75 cremation grounds in collaboration with all three municipal corporations, Mr Sisodia added.
- Still unwieldy but just in time
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has managed to break the stalemate with States at the Goods and Services Tax Council’s fourth round of deliberations over the contentious issue of tax rates for the new tax regime. He did this by retaining the standard rates of 12 per cent and 18 per cent proposed at the Council’s last meeting, but tweaking the highest and lowest tax slabs from 26 per cent to 28 per cent and 6 per cent to 5 per cent, respectively. Concerns of States that levy Value Added Tax at 5 per cent on items of mass consumption were met by lowering the threshold GST rate. Foodgrains and other items considered essential, that together constitute roughly half the consumer price inflation index, have been exempted from GST. Since inflation is a tax on the poor and indirect taxes are regressive, this would help check worries about inflationary repercussions. But raising the highest tax slab to 28 per cent to balance the fiscal books is a surprise, especially since it would be levied on items such as consumer durables and cars that are now taxed at 30-31 per cent. Even if producers do pass on this rate differential to customers, this is hardly likely to spur the kind of consumption that could drive more manufacturing investment, create jobs and bolster economic growth.
The cess on top of GST to be levied on luxury and sin goods is neither desirable nor efficient. Unless its levy is restricted to end-use products at the point of sale, it would further distort the efficiency gains from GST as input credit for cess paid on intermediary goods is unlikely. The government has argued that the cess will help compensate States for five years and that the Council can take a call on doing away with it thereafter. Similar visibility should be provided on dovetailing the multiple tax rates into two or three in the coming years, if not the international norm of a single GST rate. Multiple rates will not just pose an administrative challenge but also spur ugly corporate lobbying of the kind that the Finance Minister wanted to nix by phasing out exemptions in direct taxes. Days before he became Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman, Arvind Panagariya had flagged the cost of focussing too much on one reform, which spills over into other reforms being delayed. That the recently constituted GST Council has covered much ground with unanimous consensus augurs well for the GST deadline, including refining the model GST law and ensuring industry and the tax department are ready to make the GST switch by April 1, 2017. But the proposed rate structure is still too complicated to meet the objective of radically simplifying tax compliance.
- AERA to hold talks on new airport tariff
The Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) has initiated a process to adopt a hybrid-till approach for calculating airport fees and the regulator is slated to hold talks with airlines and airport operators next week to seek their views.
The regulator has called for a meeting of airlines, airports, International Air Transport Association (IATA), Airports Authority of India (AAI), state governments, consumers’ organisation, fuel suppliers, and ground handling companies, among others.
Currently, AERA has a single-till model in place to determine aeronautical charges at 20 major airports across the country, including Kolkata and Chennai. The airports at Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad follow a shared-till model.
The National Civil Aviation Policy has called for adopting a hybrid-till model for all airports under which 30 per cent of airport operator’s non-aeronautical revenue would be used to subsidise airport costs.
The move to switch to hybrid-till may revive private developer interest in running the airports as the model increases their revenue.
This is in contrast with the stance taken by tariff regulator AERA, set up by an Act of Parliament in 2009, for major airports across the country. In its consultation paper released last month, the airport regulator said it had been advocating a single-till model as “the airport charges are the lowest and therefore it is beneficial to the customers.”
Under the single-till model, both aeronautical and non-aeronautical revenues are taken into account to calculate passenger fee. Apart from its core operations, airports earn income from the non-aeronautical side which includes food and beverages, duty-free shops, advertising, car parking and hotels.
The higher costs for major airports could come into effect soon for a five-year period till 2021 as the tariffs are due for review this year.
Although the Authority stated in the consultation paper that it received no directions from the civil aviation ministry, as required as under section 42 of the AERA Act, 2008, it said it decided to align its tariff determination model in line with the National Civil Aviation Policy released earlier this year.
Airlines are in favour of a single-till model as it reduces their charges and passenger fees. Airport costs constitute 10-14 per cent of an airline’s operational costs.
IATA’s new Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac raised concerns related to mandating a hybrid-till model for regulation of airport charges on his recent visit to India recently.
IATA had also said that the proposal to switch to hybrid-till ignores the conclusions reached by Finance Ministry which had said that “single till is the most appropriate approach for India.”
- A global age before globalisation
In 1848, as a series of revolutions swept and failed across Europe, the French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote: “The world is drawing to a close… Suppose it should continue materially, would that be an existence worthy of its name and of the historical dictionary?” Ben Wilson’s Heyday: Britain and the Birth of the Modern World is a historian’s response to Baudelaire’s gloomy question (in the affirmative, of course) about not just the worth of the ages to emerge but, more prosaically, for human history itself.
The decade of the 1850s to the early 1860s, according to Wilson, was unlike any other till then in human history, thanks to an expansion of human experiences courtesy new inventions and process innovations. (“Of all the decades in history, a wise man would choose the 1850s to be young in,” wrote the British historian G.M. Young). The working and lower middle classes in England and parts of Europe suddenly found themselves amidst, if not in actual possession of, tools that reduced labour as well as spatial and temporal distances. The arrival and proliferation of telegraphy, Henry Bessemer’s ‘cheap’ steel, spherical trigonometry, detailed logs of ocean waves, Colt pistol, McCormick’s reaping machines, Charles Goodyear’s vulcanised rubber, and so on not just changed lives and histories, they also prompt the perennial question: why exactly did so many inventions and process innovations burst into European consciousness in so brief a period?
Historians and social scientists have often sought to answer this question by relying on singular causes and the accompanying dynamics to explain the efflorescence of life-changing technologies. These explanatory variables include emergence of bourgeois virtues, availability of geographic endowments, improved institutional design, and adoption of best practices and so on. These are, however, questions Wilson astutely avoids getting embroiled in.
Instead what we get in Heyday is a lucid survey of episodes, diversities of experience, and responses to these innovations as the Northern Atlantic cultures begin to span far-flung geographies and histories of peoples. Alongside, what burbles up nicely in Wilson’s chronicle is not just the human (or more accurately, the 19th century ‘English-speaking worlds’) wilfulness to embrace inventions and abandon old hierarchies, but also the democratisation of non-religious ideologies themselves. Thanks to the secularisation of a Christian eschatological world view (as the philosopher Karl Lowith described it elsewhere), ‘progress’ becomes the new religion. Technology is anointed as the midwife to birth the more perfectible future that was to emerge. In Wilson’s telling, this possibility of self-betterment — be it in New Zealand, Australia, California, or Canada — is the true propeller of migrations and histories that eventually emerge. Even Karl Marx, writing in 1851, spell bound by The Great Exhibition in London’s Hyde Park, was convinced: “There is no more splendid time to enter the world than the present!”
Splendid or not, actual real lives were, however, often cut short and misery seemed everywhere. Australia, Canada, California, as well as part of Asia suddenly seemed as an escape as well as arenas brim with possibilities. As clippers ferried migrants from ports like Liverpool at hitherto unimaginable speeds (“Hell or Melbourne”) to win prizes or fame for their captains, the previous inhabitants of these vast lands came face to face with interlopers, colonialists, and homesteaders. The efforts by the latest arrivistes to survive and conquer Nature inevitably also meant contestation with those who had earlier found different ways to do the same. As Wilson insightfully notes, “power over Nature is often a euphemism for power over other people.” The Maoris, Australian aborigines, the Xhosa, Bantu, Ndebele, Zulus, Cheyenne, Comanche, Sioux, et al became embroiled in violent struggles with the European migrants. Wilson lets the numbers do the talking, only for the reader to recognise the stark truth: entire nations of people were often decimated with little moral compunctions. This recognition notwithstanding, in contrast to the diversity of European voices that we hear in Wilson’s telling, we hear little of what the American tribes or Aborigines or Zulus or latter-day Mughal thought of their encounters with the Europeans. Perhaps, this is unfair to expect, for Heyday is not a global history of sentiments during the 1850s, but in fact something more tractable — a tale of how North Atlantic civilisations spread around the world. In Wilson’s telling, an extraordinary complexity of factors that consummated frequently in violence runs the risk of appearing as a clash between simple-minded nativist brutality and a complex array of European motivations. Often enough, one comes away with the sense those at the receiving end of this emergent North Atlanticisation of the world are either victims or villains; while the European actors are afforded the luxury of narrative nuance.
In parts, this selectiveness is the peril of trying to squeeze multiplicities of historically contingent events into a master narrative about a “globalising” age. Every chapter is thus likely to become a wellspring of disagreement or discontent for those who know its contents better than Wilson can find space for the details. Events with complicated arcs, from their origin to denouement, such as the opening up of Japan in 1853, European domination of China, the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, engorgement of the United States into a continental behemoth, pre-Civil War debates on slavery, peopling of the South Pacific, etc. become breezily told but partial surveys. To describe all this, Wilson’s narrative is chock-a-block with facts which, at one level, arouse admiration at the industry that must have gone to collect and weave them into a fluid narrative. It is a testament to Wilson’s elegant style that he manages to collate facts, chapter after chapter, without devolving into, what John Updike called elsewhere, “the cumulative numbing” of a Guinness Book or turning Heyday into a monumental, but forbidding, work like Jurgen Osterhammel’s The Transformation of the World (also about the 19th century). Heyday is written with one loving eye towards historical detail and another wary one at the promiscuous attention spans of the reader. Striking a balance, as excellently as Wilson does, is harder than what most academics are able to do or what readers may realise.
Wilson’s narrative technique of proffering linkages across events — a method that 11-12th century Indian logicians called samyogaja-samyoga (“connection born from connections” in the words of the great Indologist David Shulman) — is attractive and reveals time and again that one event’s present is pregnant with another event’s future. This, of course, was always the case. But by the 1850s, what had indeed changed was the intensity with which shocks transmitted across the system. The fierce abolitionist John Brown, who Wilson quotes, makes this all the more visceral: “when the price [of cotton] rises in the English market,…the whip [on slaves in America] is kept constantly going.”
Heyday is marketed as a book about ‘the dawn of the global age’. That half-pregnant phrase prompts a question: the global age of what? Knowledge, capital, people, modernity, capitalism, or something even more playfully self-referential — the conceit of ‘global history’. Wilson’s work doesn’t engage with such questions of self-criticality, nor does it think aloud if the idea of global history of an age itself has a history of its own. The absence of these questions do not detract from the pleasures of reading Heyday, but merely reveal that we must be vigilant about invisible carapaces in which historical retellings are ensconced. These days, the term ‘global’ is used to suggest an attitude towards markets and the permeability of borders. Books of this variety come with their own cheerleaders, think tank agendas, and marketing mantras. Another use of the term ‘global’ intends to ‘historicise’. It tries to show that our collective present was birthed by more than one civilizational parent and was often conceived at the peripheries of cultural interstices. Heyday prefers to align with this latter idea of ‘global’. That Wilson does so with a great flair to keep the pages moving makes it a rare confection of virtues: its ambition, ease of reading, and the willingness to eschew simplistic narratives.
· Gazing at a longer horizon
New Delhi’s decision to get back at Pakistan by raking up Baluchistan in various global for a goes to demonstrate how tactical considerations continue to trump strategic thinking in India. New Delhi, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stewardship, has displayed an exceptional, often admirable, amount of enthusiasm for foreign and security policy, and yet the country’s strategic thinking continues to be guided by bureaucratic ad hocism, tactical considerations, and political expediency.
Mr. Modi’s ‘energetic’ foreign policy has not gone significantly beyond catchy rhetoric and fanfare. Take, for instance, some of the early objectives of this government: neighbourhood first, selling India’s growth story globally, and getting Sino-Indian relations on track. Half-way through its term, most of these objectives lay in tatters. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership continues to argue that having completed over 50 foreign trips in this period, Mr. Modi has energised India’s foreign policy. But how does “energising” become a foreign policy achievement if policy and strategy are to be judged on the basis of outcomes, consistency and follow-up? Beyond these obvious issues, there is, however, a fundamental lacuna inherent in the country’s strategic behaviour and choices today: it functions without a grand strategic blueprint.
Boxed up in South Asia
Despite its stated global ambitions, India behaves like a country confined to its South Asian geopolitical space. By enhancing our involvement in a never-ending battle with Pakistan and directing diplomatic and political energy towards fighting it, we have effectively withdrawn ourselves into our little favourite box called South Asia. Increasing Sino-Indian disaffection would further prompt Beijing to do what it can to confine India to where the former thinks it belongs.
New Delhi’s new-found outrage about human rights violations in Balochistan is suggestive of misplaced priorities. Not only that, doing so is invariably running a fool’s errand but more importantly, it is a sheer waste of India’s diplomatic energy, limited as it is due to the acute lack of diplomats in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Yet, ‘human rights violations in Balochistan’ was Mr. Modi’s profoundest policy announcement from the ramparts of the Red Fort this year.
Paradoxically, even as India is increasingly getting boxed up in the limited geo-strategic sphere of South Asia, its influence within it is steadily weakened by Chinese economic and military power. The diminishing of American power and consequent strategic realignments in the region are bound to frustrate India’s influence in the region furthermore.
Terror-fixated foreign policy
New Delhi’s diplomatic efforts increasingly seem to revolve around the issue of Pakistan-backed terrorism, and it leaves no stone unturned to talk about it at every major international forum. Getting the U.S. to say something about Pakistan-based terror seems to be an ego-trip for New Delhi. It is a different matter that the Americans unhesitatingly make well-rehearsed statements about terrorism from Pakistan and then go back to doing business with Rawalpindi. But then, all we ask for is a statement!
Notwithstanding the fact that India’s foreign and security policy concerns are far more than just terrorism, reducing India’s foreign policy focus to terrorism to such an extent demonstrates how tactical we are in our approach. While this unrelenting focus on terror might benefit the BJP’s political agenda at home, it is not in keeping with the country’s long-term national interest: terrorism, let’s face it, is not India’s most pressing strategic or existential challenge.
Second, New Delhi’s disproportionate focus on terrorism has compromised India’s strategic relationship with China. China’s unwillingness to agree to India’s line on Pakistan-based terror has made Sino-Indian relations thornier than ever. Is it smart to damage an important, though complicated, relationship with China because Beijing is unwilling to buy our line on Pakistan?
Third, the undue focus on Pakistan-based terror has also damaged Mr. Modi’s global image as a leader focussed on governance, trade and growth. All attention has suddenly shifted to self-generated tactical concerns, instead of larger issues such as foreign direct investment, global partnerships, institutional reforms, economic diplomacy, etc. Much of the latter set of goals has, of course, remained merely well-worded rhetoric. Consider, for instance, the fact that India is still ranked 130 in the World Bank Group’s annual report on the ease of doing business. To think that growth and development are possible without institutional reforms is to daydream.
Fourth, by going on about Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, New Delhi has managed to facilitate what it has traditionally cared to avoid: internationalising the Kashmir issue. Finally, and most importantly, making terrorism the mainstay of the country’s foreign policy can hardly ever lead to any tangible outcomes, except of course, in domestic politics.
Messy alliance behaviour
New Delhi’s foreign policy engagements in general and alliance choices in particular continue to suffer from a certain degree of ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’. It began by reaching out to China (with which it continues to have a strategic partnership) and then the focus shifted to China’s rivals, namely the U.S. and Japan. Over the past two and a half years, it sure covered a lot of ground, but much of it seems impulsive than well-thought-out.
New Delhi’s relationship with Washington, especially the signing of the ‘Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement’ (LEMOA) in August this year allowing the two militaries to work closely with each other and use each other’s bases for repair and supplies, is a clear departure from its traditional policy of not getting into military alliances. While LEMOA, technically speaking, is not a military alliance, it’s pretty close. What is New Delhi’s grand strategic rationale behind it, and does it in anyway compromise India’s traditional desire to maintain strategic autonomy? This question deserves to be asked especially because such a close military relationship with a declining power should not undermine India’s ability to navigate the rough waters of the region’s shifting balances of power. Even if New Delhi overlooks China’s concerns, it can’t afford to dismiss Russian apprehensions at a time when Moscow is opening its doors to Islamabad. Shouldn’t India develop its own grand strategy, rather than become a cog in the U.S. one?
India’s recent efforts at counterbalancing China, especially through Vietnam, may also prove to be pointless. While India’s interests in the Indian Ocean region should be articulated with more vigour, it should rethink the strategic rationale of its forays into the South China Sea. Even Vietnam might not want to get into an open squabble with China. In short, it is wise to avoid alliance-games when charting strategic partnerships: fidelity is not a time-tested virtue in international politics.
New Delhi also needs more diplomatic subtlety when aiming to play a major role in the international system. Sustained and mature negotiations, for instance, are necessary for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership: public spats with countries like China won’t help.
Absence of long-term vision
Long-term strategic thinking requires intellectual depth and an ability to look beyond the tactical considerations of everyday security policymaking so as to simulate alternative futures and potential responses. Besides, there needs to be institutional coordination and follow-up action on the government’s key initiatives. This, of course, is easier said than done in an atmosphere where next State Assembly election, or the latest ceasefire violation, matters more than the next quarter century.
In New Delhi, despite the Prime Minister’s Office’s monopolisation of all strategic-security decision-making, there are hardly any attempts at intellectual investment in long view strategic planning. Generalist defence ministry bureaucrats and an understaffed MEA are clearly not in a position to do so.
This shortage of clarity on fundamentals has led to a lack of focus and prioritisation of the government’s goals and objectives. Looking at the many things that the government is engaged in, one wonders whether there is actually a sense of purpose to them at all. Previous governments, including the earlier BJP-led regime, regularly set up highly specialised groups to generate policy reports and perspective planning for policymakers. Successive governments recognised the importance of such intellectual inputs, and actively sought them. Not anymore. This government revels in blitzkrieg tactics than strategic planning.
There don’t appear to be any carefully put-together structures within the government (over and above the regular bureaucratic apparatuses) tasked with grand strategic thinking in a purposeful manner, whose inputs are then taken on board. India also does not have a comprehensive national security doctrine which could help pacify insurgencies, manage borders better or fight cross-border terror.
Sure, governments have a host of daily security related issues and crisis management to worry about, but in the absence of overarching strategic guidance they stick to ad hoc measures and fire fighting, habitually missing the big picture. On the other hand, if there are well-articulated strategic doctrines or a grand strategic vision in place, institutions will learn to refer to them and adjust their policies accordingly, leading to a lot more coherence in the country’s strategic behaviour. Sometimes, however, governments find it useful not to have any well-articulated grand strategy as it would be helpful when acting out of political expediency.
A national security doctrine would require a great deal of political consultation, careful scenario building, and net assessment by experts. Such a carefully articulated national security doctrine, if generated by political consensus, can prevent the unnecessary politicisation of national security issues as we have seen in the recent past: but then would the government want depoliticization of security, especially when it knows it can derive parochial benefits out of such politicisation?
The incumbent regime in New Delhi lacks “the art of the long view”, to borrow Peter Schwartz’s phrase. If it is serious about the long-term stability and security of the country, it needs to think beyond the wisdom generated by the ‘specialised desks’ in the ministries, and invest in grand strategic thinking. Such thinking can only flourish if and when the political class commits to institutional reform, intellectual investment and consensus building.
· Not a corporate sinecure
Independent directors, — The recent Ratan Tata-Cyrus Mistry imbroglio brings into sharp focus the role and position of independent directors. Under Section 149 of the Companies Act, at least one-third of the directors of a listed company must be independent. That means that the person so appointed must not be a promoter of the company or it’s holding subsidiary or associate company nor should he/she be related to the promoters of the company. In addition, neither the individual nor his/her relatives should have a pecuniary relationship with the company. They are also, under Section 149(6), to be persons of integrity and possessing the relevant skills and experience.
Independent directors, though they may in the initial stage be invited by the controlling shareholders of a company or its incumbent managing director, are appointed by the shareholders at a General Meeting; they are so appointed to safeguard not only the best interests of all shareholders but also of all stakeholders.
Prior to the enactment of the Companies Act, 2013, the independent director had only civil liability. And to a great extent he/she was part of a “hail fellow” network where controlling shareholders invited their friends to sit on their boards confident of their support. In many other instances, retiring senior executives eagerly sought seats on the board as a way to supplement their pension. They were often grateful for being given a berth and remained loyal to the management that invited them. The only time I can recall when there was consternation, fear, outrage and indignation was when an arrest warrant was issued on Nimesh Kampani in 2009 as he was an independent director in Nagarjuna Finance. The company had defaulted on repaying deposits. Many felt this was unfair as an independent director had no executive duty and should not be held responsible.
Section 149(12) provides that an independent director shall be liable only in respect of omission or commission by a company that had occurred with his/her knowledge, attributable through board processes, and with his consent or connivance, or where he had not acted diligently. I am uncertain whether independent directors appreciate this, but this provision is all-encompassing as it suggests that if a company has made a decision which is not in its better interest (taking into account all stakeholders) at a board meeting and the independent director was aware or party to the decision, he is liable both in civil and criminal terms. Many senior proponents of the law have opined that this means that even if the director has not attended a meeting but the item was mentioned on the agenda and the independent director had not objected to it, he/she would be liable. Furthermore, if the independent director attends a meeting where the matter is discussed and he/she keeps quiet even though not in agreement, he/she could be held both criminally and civilly liable. The independent director, if he/she is not in agreement with a proposal, must, if he/she wants to be in the clear, state his/her disagreement and have it recorded in the minutes.
In many companies which are majority-owned by a family or a few individuals, the persons controlling the company tend to treat it as their own fiefdom and utilise company funds and resources for personal enjoyment. Company planes (which the company may not need) are used for trips to resorts abroad to hold a board meeting. Paintings by reputed artists purchased at astronomical prices adorn private homes. Homes are lavishly decorated at company expense. The independent director in many cases may not be aware or be a party to this. However, can it be said in these cases that the independent director acted diligently and as was expected of him/her? Shouldn’t the independent director question and seek answers?
United Breweries was a very profitable company till it floated Kingfisher Airlines. Did the independent directors act diligently while approving this disastrous foray? Indian corporate lore is littered with many such examples. How it that fingers is not being pointed at independent directors?
I believe the time has now come for independent directors to demonstrate, if they are to do what is expected of them and to avoid liability, that they will take care and be diligent and not be mere rubber stamps. In addition, no one must be an independent director if he/she has the slightest concern about the bona fides of the controlling shareholders. If one still does, it is at one’s own peril.
· The politics of perceptions
Public discontent is like a chameleon. When we see it, we know it must have been hiding in plain sight for a while; but until we spot it, we are not even aware of its existence. Until Donald Trump catapulted onto the American political scene, it would have been hard to imagine poor workers uniting behind a billionaire who has specialised in taking advantage of the system to avoid paying taxes and fair wages to his employees. Similarly, no one took Brexit seriously until election results tapped into lower-class discontent among the British voters. It would be easy for us to say that poverty and declining economic conditions lead to frustration among the poor and revolt against the political elites. But is it really true?
India and Pakistan — a contrast
Poverty in Pakistan fell from nearly 35 per cent in 2001 to 10 per cent in 2013-14. Although Pakistan has recently adjusted its poverty line increasing the poverty ratio to 30 per cent, as Ghazala Mansuri of the World Bank notes, by all objective standards, even the poorest in Pakistan are better off today than a decade earlier. Paradoxically, according to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey, about 21 per cent of the households felt that their economic condition had declined over the preceding 12 months while only 12 per cent felt it had improved. India has experienced a roughly similar magnitude of poverty decline, from 37 per cent in 2004-05 to 22 per cent in 2011-12. However, as the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), organised by researchers from the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) found, the proportion of households that felt that their economic condition declined between 2011-12 and 2004-05 was much smaller (about 10 per cent) compared to those who felt it had improved (about 37 per cent).
How do we explain that with similar economic improvements, the Indians perceived that their fortunes were improving while the Pakistanis did not? Could this be because there was greater income inequality in Pakistan than in India, making individuals keenly aware of their relative rather than absolute poverty? Empirical data does not show that Pakistan was more unequal. World Bank data show that in 2011, 42 per cent of the income was held by the top 20 per cent of the population in Pakistan; the comparable figure for India was 44 per cent. At the bottom of the distribution too, Pakistan seems marginally better with 9.4 per cent of the income in the hands of the bottom 20 per cent for Pakistani versus 8.3 per cent for India. This suggests that inequality in Pakistan and India was more or less on a par, with Indian inequality being marginally higher. Clearly something else was going on, something that related to perception, a subjective feeling of deprivation rather than objective conditions.
My guess is that this sense of economic deprivation is closely linked to the social and political conditions in which individuals live. Living in a society that is well governed creates a sense of security that is equally, if not more, important than actual economic advancement. This is where India probably has an edge over Pakistan.
While lacks of comparable data do not allow us to compare Pakistan with India on these subjective factors, the IHDS data suggest that at least within India, experience of bad governance and grievances about fair treatment shape a feeling of economic marginalisation. Using data from the IHDS, the only large panel survey in which the same households were interviewed in 2004-05 as well as 2011-12, we found that even after we took into account objective changes in income and factors such as education and place of residence, the nature of governance and social policies played an important role in enhancing or diminishing feelings of economic insecurity.
Physical insecurity spills over into feeling economically insecure. Individuals who have been victims of crime — theft, break-in or intimidation — are far more likely to feel that they are downwardly mobile. After we took into account income changes over time and the household’s education as well as place of residence, crime victims in the IHDS were about 56 per cent more likely to feel economically worse off in recent years than non-victims. Good public service delivery also created a feeling of well-being. Households that experienced frequent power cuts and did not have power supply for at least 18 hours in a day were 43 per cent more likely to express a feeling of economic insecurity than those who enjoyed consistent power supply.
Fairness and prosperity
A sense of fairness in economic outcomes is also strongly related to perceptions of prosperity. In recent years, we have seen an upsurge in the grievances expressed by forward castes who feel that the Other Backward Classes (OBC) are unjustifiably stealing their jobs and opportunities for college admission. Holding household economic status and education constant, forward castes were about 30 per cent more likely to feel that they were worse off in 2011-12 than in 2004-05. In this case it is not surprising that we see greater demand for OBC classification from well-off groups such as Jats, Patels and Gujjars.
This is not to suggest that material changes don’t matter and perception alone determines a feeling of deprivation. The IHDS found that after controlling for other factors, households whose incomes declined by at least 20 per cent in constant terms between 2004-05 and 2011-12 were 35 per cent more likely to feel that they are worse off compared to those whose incomes stayed the same and 51 per cent more likely than households whose incomes grew by 20 per cent or more. However, the magnitude of the impact of actual economic decline on subjective feeling of deprivation was on a par with the governance and fairness concerns enumerated above.
American sociologist Andrew Cherlin notes that a feeling of relative deprivation is what shapes the support for Mr. Trump. Lower class whites acutely feel the loss of privilege their parents enjoyed in a bygone era where black-white differences were large and being white brought greater rewards while the African-Americans were shut out of good jobs. With declining premium of whiteness, these same individuals feel beleaguered and support the Republican presidential candidate who capitalises on anti-immigrant and anti-black feelings.
Trust as a defining factor
The IHDS also found that individuals’ perception of their economic progress is associated with a more favourable opinion of politicians. The IHDS asked how much trust and confidence individuals had in each of the three institutions — politicians, state government, and local government. If individuals responded that they had hardly any confidence in at least one of these three institutions, we define them as having an unfavourable opinion of government. Among those who believed that their households were in better economic condition than in the past, 56 per cent had an unfavourable opinion of the government; among those whose view of their own economic condition did not change, 58 per cent had an unfavourable opinion of the government; and among those who felt they were doing badly, 65 per cent had an unfavourable opinion of the government.
These results suggest that prosperity, good governance as well as focus on fairness, rather than electoral pandering, are likely to bring rewards in the form of political support and increased confidence in government. India may well be doing well on these compared to Pakistan; at least if we judge by the feeling of economic prosperity among the population, but it is of small comfort. When 57 per cent of the population holds an unfavourable opinion of political institutions, it is time to re-evaluate what can be done to increase this confidence. If not for the sake of the nation, then in the interest of political survival. The difference in confidence in the political system between those who feel they are doing economically well and those who feel left behind is relatively small; but in a climate of political disenchantment this small difference is perhaps enough to create an electoral tsunami.
- As country runs out of cash, Farakka feels the pain
At 3 a.m. on Saturday morning, when the train from Anand Vihar Railway station in Delhi rolled into Farakka Station in Bengal’s Murshidabad district, it was more than four hours late.
Within minutes, the station was a sea of humanity as several hundred contract labourers, working in and around the national capital, alighted from the crowded bogies, only to disappear swiftly into the darkness.
Among the returnees are three youths — Arshad Sheikh, Kausar Sheikh and Rahul Sheikh — residents of Kasinagar in Farakka area, who have returned home just 40 days after they left for work. They explain that according to their agreement with the contractor, they need to have worked for two months at a stretch to earn Rs.12,000. But following the cash crunch after the November 8 demonetisation announcement, they were forced to return home foregoing their earnings.
“We had to go for days without food. Anyhow we managed tickets to come back. We are not going back to Delhi till the situation improves,” Arshad told The Hindu, with his friends echoing the sentiment.
Within minutes of the incoming train, the 3483 Down Malda-Delhi New Farakka Express, leaving for Delhi, pulls into the station. The train is usually filled chock-a-block with migrant workers heading to the national capital, while the luggage van is loaded with sacks of bidis from the local factories.
But on Saturday, in the unreserved compartment of the train, Sanjay Das and Lokendra Das from Samsherganj area are travelling in unexpected comfort. “Usually the compartment is so crammed that we do not find place to stand even in the toilets. Today, as you see not even 20 people are here. We are taking the risk of going to Delhi as many are coming home,” Sanjay Das said.
Large scale migration
In the villages of Farakka and in areas bordering Murshidabad and Malda districts, a majority of the men between the ages of 15 and 50 work as contract labourers in different parts of the country.
Pratik Chowdhury, who runs an NGO, Bhabna Association for Peoples’ Upliftment, said a survey in 2011 in five blocks of northern Murshidabad had found that 46 per cent of the youth work as labourers outside the State. “The number must have gone up, it will be somewhere between 50-60 per cent now,” he surmised.
Explaining the routine migration, Md. Sanaullah, member of Nimtita Gram panchayat and husband of Panchayat Pradhan Tahamina Bibi, underlined the poverty in the region. “While men go out to work as labourers, the women roll bidis. Sometimes it is so depressing that there is so much poverty here,” he said.
The panchayat members recall that the Lakshmi Nagar building collapse in New Delhi in November 2010 killed 10 migrant labourers from the panchayat.
Stuck without money
But while earlier after such disasters, only the victims had returned home, this time the situation is different. Md. Afikul Sheikh is a case in point. He has returned, with two others from the same panchayat, from Kerala, where they were working as construction workers.
“After the demonetisation there was no work. The money I got was in old currency and hardly any shops accepted the notes. There are 40 others from the area who are willing to come back but do not have money for tickets,” he said.
A few kilometres north of Nimitita at Jorpukuriya village, where most villagers do not own land, the situation is more grim. About 50 men, working as contract labourers on a cricket stadium being constructed in Etawah in Uttar Pradesh, have come back after the demonetisation. At a roadside tea stall, Monrirul Sheikh and Shahid Sheikh, who have returned from Andhra Pradesh, are joined in conversation by Apple Sheikh, Zamiruddin Sheikh and Anwar Sheikh, who have returned from Etawah. Bedaruddin Sheikh, a labour contractor at the stall, said he cannot stay at his house out of fear. “I am unable to pay the labourers money even though I have Rs. 7 lakh in my account. Fifty have come back; another 50 are still there. Four of them have bank accounts and anyhow I am transferring money so that all of them do not come back,” he said.
It is not just loss of work for the likes of Zamiruddin and Anwar or Surjya Ghosh and his brothers from Jagtai village, who have come back with 15 others from Sambalpur in Odisha leaving construction work.
Women also suffer
With the bidi industry also in the doldrums after demonetisation, there is no respite for the returning workers.
The area has about 12 lakh bidi workers working for over 20 big factories and a number of small factories. Imani Biswas, former MLA and owner of Howrah Bidi said that bidi rolling is a labour intensive industry where payments are made every week.
“If the cash crunch continues I will have to close my factory in 10 days,” he said, mentioning the names of other factories that have shut operations.
At the Farakka Railway Station, it is not just a fewer workers heading to Delhi but fewer sacks of bidis as well. While the normal quota is about 150 sacks, each weighing 30 kg, on Saturday, only 58 sacks are loaded for the Capital.
- A call for equality of gender, life without fear
Draped in rainbow colours, hundreds of people on Sunday marched in the heart of the national capital for the 9th Queer Pride Parade to show solidarity with the LGBT community in making a united call for equality of gender and sexuality and seeking “a life without fear“.
Organised by the Delhi Queer Pride Committee, the march kicked off from the corner of Barakhamba Road and Tolstoy Marg here, and saw members of the community as well as their friends and family members turn out with placards, masks and costumes.
“Pride is an inter-mingling of many movements — feminism, anti-caste movements, for free speech, so this march is important as it is a united call for a prejudice-free India,” one of the participants said, requesting anonymity.
Another participant, Delhi University student Esha, said unlike earlier occasions, it is important for queer people this year to shout back equally louder to combat “noise from homophobic groups and an unfriendly government”.
“I’m not out yet so I tend to keep a low profile at LGBT events, but this year pride is important as a show of strength more than ever because noise from homophobic groups and an unfriendly government seems to have become louder. It is important that we as queer people should shout back equally louder,” Esha said.
One of the organisers, Rituparna Borah, said this year’s parade saw a greater participation than the last year, with around 800-1,000 people turning out.
“People from all walks of life took part in the parade that culminated at Jantar Mantar” another organiser said.
- In search of a new red corridor
There can’t be a more picturesque spot than where the three States of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu meet — in the Muthanga forest reserve, adjoining the Bandipur and Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary, all part of the Nilgiris bioreserve. Here, spotted deer, herds of elephants and bisons have made their home. As has the tiger, an elusive animal to spot; camera traps have identified 86 of them in the reserve and the adjoining forests. As elusive but seemingly omnipresent are a group of foot soldiers of the Peoples’ Liberation Guerrilla Army of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), whose movements amidst the thick vegetation are confirmed by the tribals, the original human inhabitants of the region, and the police who are chasing this new phantom in the tri-junction.
As many as three dozen or more “absconding” Maoists are roaming the jungles, separated into three dalams named after the three rivers, Kabini, Nadukani and Bhavani in the area, say police officers of Gudalur, Tamil Nadu and Wayanad, Kerala. They have reportedly been entering the tribal villages that abut the dense forests regularly. These villages are inhabited by the Kattunayakan community that depends primarily on selling forest produce for a living; the Paniya and Adhiya communities who have traditionally been agricultural workers and with a history of labour exploitation; and the relatively better-off Kurichiya and Kuruma agrarian tribal communities.
Encounters and ‘encounters’
After months of a cat-and-mouse game in the tri-junction, the Kerala Police’s anti-Naxalite Thunderbolts force reported a major exchange of fire with Maoists in the Kuralai region of the Nilambur forests in Malappuram district on Thursday. Two Maoist cadre — Kuppu Devaraj from Karnataka and Ajitha alias Kaveri — were said to be killed in what was the first “encounter” of its kind in Kerala.
Before the “encounter”, sightings of Maoists were scattered across the region: the latest were in Agali in the forests of northern Palakkad district, in the Paattakarimbu tribal colony in Malappuram district, in Thirunelly in northern Wayanad among others. Nilambur-like “encounters” are rare. But for the major incident, which occurred nearly a week after this reporter’s visit to Wayanad and Malappuram, that itself followed a firing incident close to the nearby Mundakadavu colony in October, the last serious exchange of fire was in Kunhome forest nearly two years ago.
The arrest of Maoist leader Roopesh and his wife Shyna in Coimbatore in May 2015 was a setback to the rebels in the region. Roopesh is believed to have been associated with the Kabini dalam. Since his arrest, say police officers, the Maoist journal Kaatu Thee (Forest Fire) has not been published or circulated in the region. His position is believed to have been taken by another native of Malappuram who goes by the alias ‘Soman’ and is said to belong to the Nadukani dalam (which publishes the periodical, Chenkaadu (Red Forest).
The Kattunayakan dwellers of Paattakarimbu village confirmed the visits by Soman to their village, the most recent one sometime in October 2016. The womenfolk tell us that the colony dwellers are relatively educated (with many of them finishing high school) but are unskilled and dependent on the forest. There is a lack of an organised market for their produce and the dwellers are keen on better implementation of promised welfare schemes (the Integrated Tribal Development Projects, various State welfare schemes).
Caught in the crossfire
Narayanan (name changed) and another villager, Kochu Ravi, returned from the forest at our behest and told us that they are aware of various government schemes but they are poorly implemented in the village. This is the reason why Maoists visit them, says Narayanan. “They want to get recruits from among us while the police want us to inform them about their visits. The police do not allow us to go alone to the forest for collecting the produce; we have to go as a group. The Maoists sometimes make us sit and listen to their views. This hampers our work. Then there are the wild elephants that can attack us if we are not careful. This Maoist-police business is making life very difficult for us,” he says.
In fact, Ravi, an Ezhava who married into a tribal family and settled down in Paattakarimbu, has already been named in Chenkaadu as a suspected police informer and was roughed up by the Maoists for allegedly talking to the police about their visits.
“The Maoists are very persuasive. Soman is the one who talks to us in Malayalam. He explained our problems and told us not to vote in elections. The Maoists, when they visit our colony at odd hours, treat us respectfully. Women are always talked to only in the presence of women cadre. And they try to explain issues patiently,” concedes Narayanan. “But I want to ask the Maoists, how different are you from any other political party? You seek power too. There is no difference except that you carry guns. We want to be left alone. We know how to get things done even if they are difficult”.
The theme of harassment — being caught in a battle between the “absconding Maoists” and the wary security forces (the police and the Thunderbolts) is a repeated complaint by Kurichiya villagers in the Kunhome forest near Mananthavady in Wayanad.
The Kurichiya hamlet called Chappa has a settlement of about four families living off farms that grow bananas, pepper, paddy among a variety of crops and are on the edge of the forest. In December 2014, security forces engaged in combing operations in the village found the guerrillas in a natural meadow in the forest. After firing some shots, the Maoists fled deeper into the jungle, and that was the last they were seen, says Gopi, a Chappa resident.
Since the incident though, a slew of welfare measures were implemented — a better road from the towns leading up to the village, grant of mulch cows to the families and ease of access (albeit done haphazardly) for children to nearby schools, among others.
Some of the villagers welcome the welfare measures, but others say that there are new inconveniences. “The Maoists stopped coming after the firing incident. But we are still not free to go to the forest or to even harvest our own crop in the fields in the night. My brother is constantly interrogated because he had given the Maoists food and provisions,” says Gopi’s brother. “Tribals like us do not refuse anyone food and beverage if they come to us. Besides, when they come to us with guns, we do not have a choice. This does not mean we support Maoists. Yes, the Maoist visits here in the past may have helped us get the attention of the government and some development work, but the repeated questioning by security forces and restrictions on our movement is harassment,” he adds angrily.
Policing the tri-junction
Wayanad Superintendent of Police (SP) K. Karthik says that the inconvenience is a price to pay for security operations against the Maoists in the area but asserts that the police treat the tribals with respect and care — avoiding raids on houses, for example.
SP Karthik belongs to the 2011 batch of the Indian Police Service and has been posted in Wayanad for about a year. The SPs in Chamarajanagar district in Karnataka and the Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu that abut the tri-junction with Wayanad are also from the same batch. Having batchmates as SPs has strengthened the already regular coordination between the police forces of the three States, says Karthik. “2013-14 was when the activities of the Maoists peaked — when resorts were attacked, policemen and forest officials were threatened. But since 2015, these have slowed down,” he says, adding, “the Maoists are more active through their front organisations such as Porattam and Revolutionary Democratic Front.”
Only two days before the interview, an activist of the radical Porattum group was arrested on the way to a press meet and charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act with being a Maoist sympathiser and advocating violence against the state.
Tribal activists say that police actions on activist groups have been in a manner that does not distinguish between anti-state actors and other “democratic” dissidents. Sreejith, a local area committee member of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), says that Wayanad has been in the throes of agrarian distress for years, the most affected being the Paniya and Adhiya tribals. The Maoist presence in the area is a subtext to these tribal issues of unemployment, he says, adding that they have not helped the cause of tribal welfare.
Tapping into the distress
The Maoists have also sought to prevent resort expansion in the forested areas and have issued threats against quarrying — a major issue that is not being taken seriously by the government, say forest officials. But these actions have resulted in environmental activists being branded as Maoists. “Maoists believe and engage in mindless violence. But sometimes, they offer a strong opposition and obstacle against illegal anti-environmental activity in the forests here,” says a forest official who did not want to be named.
Apart from targeting poorer tribal’s, the Maoists had also identified a Sri Lankan Tamil resettlement colony near Mananthavady for possible recruits. Babu (name changed) works in the Kambamala tea estate and is a second-generation refugee whose parents migrated here after resettlement in the late 1970s. He says that the Maoists frequented the colony seeking recruits as the condition of the workers here is very poor.
Residents in the colony complain that they have poor employment opportunities beyond temporary and limited permanent jobs within the estate. The lack of a (Scheduled Caste) certificate for many residents in the colony is the major reason, they argue. As “refugees”, their plight is no less than other marginalised caste groups, they say.
Older residents in the colony are less pessimistic, having come to the area with nothing during resettlement and painstakingly built their lives in the estate. But those among the younger generation are desperate for better lives and for permanent jobs, not tied only to the estate. They are wary of talking about the Maoist visits.
The latest of those visits, says a resident, was during the Assembly elections in May when the Maoists asked them to boycott polls. Some deny having seen them at all. But others open up about their views on the Maoists, saying that the latter understood their plight and communicated well with them with some cadre (including women) speaking to them in Tamil.
In chaste Tamil, Mala (name changed), a young mother, speaks up. “The women cadre looked nice in that green uniform and the long gun. When I first saw them, I rushed to meet and greet the women. Some among the Maoists spoke our language and listened to us as we told them about our distress. No one else does that here,” she says.
It is clear that the Maoists are striving hard to move beyond a protean presence in the region, even if it is limited only to about three dozen armed guerrillas moving around the forests in the States’ tri-junction. With tribal livelihoods lagging behind other sections of society, the Maoists perceive a potential support base that could inform them about police operations and also provide foot soldiers for the cause.
Nipping it in the bud
Across the border, SP Murali Rambha, based in Ooty, says the Maoists in the area call themselves as part of the “Western Ghats Special Zonal Committee” and are led by a Tamil-speaking leader named Kuppuswami. Other senior cadre in the area include Vikram Gowda and Sundari from Karnataka and Kalidas from Tamil Nadu.
Rambha argues that the Maoist movement in the tri-junction was at a preliminary stage with their aims limited to attracting new recruits and establishing a presence in the forests. But he adds that the Tamil Nadu Police is regularly tracking sightings at villages close to the State border (such as Paattakarimbu) and engaged in frequent combing and patrol operations along with the anti-Naxalite Special Task Force. “We are empowered to arrest anyone even if they are not formally Maoists but propagate Maoist views or sympathise with them,” he says.
Rambha adds that the police is treating “left-wing extremism” as being more than just a law and order problem. Bringing his experience as a block development officer in undivided Andhra Pradesh during the peak years of the People’s War Group to play, he is coordinating with the revenue department to ensure that the development schemes in the villages are properly implemented.
Since the merger of two major Naxalite groups in 2004 into the CPI (Maoist), the radical communist organisation has built a presence in areas where the Indian state is weakest in its presence — the tribal-dominated belts of central India. A decade of “civil war” has reduced the Maoists to a military and guerrilla force from its heyday in Telangana and north Andhra Pradesh as a radical political organisation. A series of military and leadership setbacks has perhaps forced the Maoists to seek new areas to build its influence.
The tri-junction area between the three States of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has been identified by the Maoists as one such area where a coordinated military effort by the Indian state would be difficult. Wayanad had seen Naxalite action in the late 1960s, when police camps were attacked, but that movement petered out early. The only major Naxalite group in Kerala, the Central Reorganisation Committee (CRC) led by K. Venu, had withered away too. The Naxalites of the present generation, the Maoists, claim in their pamphlets that they have been present in the area for the past three and a half years; the movement received a fillip after the merger of the CRC offshoot Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Naxalbari with the CPI(Maoist).
Tribal’s here in the southern States are relatively better off than those in central India, but with Wayanad barely recovering from a prolonged agrarian crisis, the Maoists are seeking to use tribal angst to build a political presence. But as the Kurichiya farmer Gopi says, “We have lots of problems and many issues. The Maoists tell us many things about our problems and issues with the government, but in the end only the government can help us.”
- When ministers think aloud
Since the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945 there has been an ongoing debate centred on defining an appropriate role for nuclear weapons. Everybody agrees that these weapons are enormously destructive and should not be used. The question is whether the best way to prevent their use is to consider these as weapons for war fighting (just like conventional weapons but only more destructive), or to see them as qualitatively different, meant exclusively for deterrence. Different countries possessing nuclear weapons have evolved their doctrines based on the historical experiences shaping their world views, their threat perceptions and security obligations.
Indian conceptualisation of weapons — India’s Nuclear Doctrine
India is no exception and on January 4, 2003, it issued a statement regarding the decisions taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security on operationalising India’s Nuclear Doctrine. This statement summarised the key principles:
“a) building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent;
- b) posture of ‘No First Use’, nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere;
- c) nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage;
- d) non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states; however, in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons….”
other two key elements articulated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Parliament on May 27, 1998, days after India had undertaken a series of five nuclear tests in Pokhran and declared itself a nuclear weapon state are
— a “credible minimum deterrent” and “no first use” —. Mr. Vajpayee stated that India did not see nuclear weapons as weapons of war; that their role was to ensure that India is not subjected to nuclear threats or coercion; that India will not engage in an arms race; and that India believes in a “no first use” policy and remains ready to discuss this with other countries, bilaterally or in a collective forum. These elements were further developed in the draft report of the National Security Advisory Board released by then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra on August 17, 1999.
The 2003 statement, with some minor (but significant) changes, was consistent with what India had maintained since 1998. These were reiterated in Parliament on September 5, 2008 by the then External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, and were critical to the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s decision to grant an exceptional waiver to India.
The BJP manifesto in 2014 had declared that it would “study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine and revise and update it, to make it relevant to the challenges of current times, (and) maintain a credible minimum deterrent that is in tune with changing geostrategic realities”. This generated speculation that India was preparing to change its “no first use” policy but it was put to rest in August 2014 when in a series of interviews, Prime Minister Narendra Modi categorically stated that there was no change in policy and “no first use” remained India’s nuclear doctrine.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s unexpected response to a journalist at a book launch function in Delhi on November 10, 2016, reopened the issue when he said about India’s no-first-use policy: “Why should I find myself [to it]? I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it (a nuclear weapon) irresponsibly.” He added that these were his individual views, but since he is a member of the Cabinet Committee on Security as also a member of the Political Council of the Nuclear Command Authority, the Ministry of Defence felt it necessary to follow up with a statement that this “was his personal opinion”, and not official position: “What he said was that India, being a responsible power, should not get into a first use debate”.
Debating the ‘No First Use’
A nuclear doctrine serves multiple uses — it determines the nuclear posture, provides guidance for deployment and targeting, chain of command and control, communication and signalling to adversary and, in the ultimate, the use of nuclear weapons. Naturally, the last would happen once deterrence has failed. So far, the nuclear triad (aircraft, land-based mobile missiles and sea-based assets) which is to guarantee India’s assured retaliation remains a work in progress. Mobility for the land-based missiles is being ensured through canisterisation but the sea leg of the triad will take time before India is able to field adequate numbers of nuclear submarines with long-range nuclear-tipped missiles (SSBNs and SSNs). Some delays are inevitable as we seek to master the complex technologies involved.
India’s doctrine does not mention any country, but it is no secret that the Indian nuclear arsenal is to counter threats from China and Pakistan. China has maintained a ‘no first use’ policy since 1964 when it went nuclear, and the Chinese leadership has always considered nuclear weapons as political weapons.
Pakistan has adopted a first-use policy to ensure full-spectrum deterrence; in other words, it envisages a tactical, operational and strategic role for its nuclear weapons. Since it maintains that its nuclear arsenal is exclusively against India, it seeks to counter India’s conventional superiority at all levels. Recently, it has developed tactical nuclear weapons to hedge against a conventional military strike under the Cold Start doctrine.
The conventional criticism against a ‘no first use’ policy is that India would have to suffer a first strike before it retaliated. This criticism is valid but only highlights the need for India to ensure that deterrence does not fail, and that there is a clear communication to the adversary of the certainty of punitive nuclear retaliation. This can happen when India’s nuclear arsenal, its delivery systems and its command and control enjoy assured survivability.
Does this imply that till then, it is preferable for India to shift to a first-use policy? That might be an attractive option if India was certain that in a first strike, it could take out all of Pakistan’s (or China’s) nuclear assets so that it would escape any nuclear retaliation. That is highly unlikely, today and in the future. Even the U.S. with its vast arsenal, both conventional and nuclear, is unsure about denuclearising North Korea which has a much smaller arsenal and capability.
Implications of a policy change
Shifting to a first-use policy also has implications for the size of the arsenal, deployment posture, alert levels, delegation of command and control, defining redlines which would trigger a nuclear response and escalation management along the nuclear ladder. In short, it would mark a shift from deterrence towards nuclear war fighting. Further, declaring a first-use policy would create an incentive for either side for pre-emption because of the ‘use it or lose it’ syndrome brought on by hair trigger alerts. In short, it would lead to greater instability. The same instability would govern a situation of nuclear ambiguity. Given the short distances, it is impractical for India to envisage a ‘launch on warning’ posture even it developed and deployed a highly effective early warning system.
A shift towards nuclear war fighting also blurs the dividing line between conventional and nuclear. Today, the biggest conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal is the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) with an explosive yield of 15 tonnes equivalent of TNT. This is one-thousandth of the 16kt bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, and today’s nuclear devices are hundreds of times larger. Tactical nuclear weapons can be smaller but will remain much larger than the MOP, with the addition of long-lasting radiation fallout. Weapons designers are working on ‘dial-a-yield’ systems and pure fusion devices without radiation fallout, but till that time, blurring the nuclear and conventional dividing line is inadvisable.
The difference with Pakistan
There is another key difference. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is totally under the military’s control, and by and large, the military approach to any weapon system is to find a use for it; it is difficult for the military to possess a weapon system and then conceive of a doctrine that aims at deterring its use.
Deterrence is a product of ‘technical capability’ and ‘political will’. In dealing with Pakistan, India has to define who is to be deterred and find ways of demonstrating the requisite political will even as we build up our technical capabilities. Israel is a classic example of a state possessing advanced technical capabilities and also having demonstrated political will. Yet, this has failed to deter rocket strikes and terror attacks on Israeli territory.
This is not to suggest that India’s nuclear doctrine cannot be changed. It should be periodically reviewed and updated, possibly every decade or so, taking into account technological developments and changes in the security environment. This is, however, not a simple issue of changing a few words here or there and casual remarks can only add to confusion.
Ultimately, deterrence is a mental construct which requires clarity in its planning. Even ambiguity needs to be a calculated ambiguity. Only then will the doctrine serve to reassure the Indian people even as it deters the adversary in order to safeguard India’s security.
Rakesh Sood is a former diplomat and served as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation till May 2014; he is presently Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.
By admonishing the Union government for delaying the appointment of a Lokpal, the Supreme Court has sent across a timely message that efforts to cleanse the economy must be matched by equally strong measures to cleanse public life too. There can really be no excuse for the failure to establish an institution even three years after passing the relevant law. The only reason for the delay in the appointment of the Lokpal is that a minor amendment to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, to enable the leader of the largest party in the opposition in the Lok Sabha to join the five-member selection committee, is yet to be passed. A parliamentary committee has endorsed the amendment, which is on the same lines as the mechanism for the selection panels for the Central Vigilance Commissioner and the Chief Information Commissioner. The court has indicated that it will not allow the institution to remain inoperative indefinitely, evoking apprehension on the Centre’s part that a judicial direction may be given to get the amendment passed or an ordinance promulgated. The Centre needs to re-examine its own options on implementing the Lokpal Act. The law now provides for a five-member panel to select the anti-corruption ombudsman, comprising the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, the Chief Justice of India and an eminent jurist. The hitch is that there is no recognised LoP in the lower House. The question now is whether the Centre is right in claiming the Congress floor leader cannot hold that post because its bench strength is well short of the required 55.
The rule that the Speaker can recognise as LoP only the leader of the principal opposition party that has 10 per cent of the total number of Lok Sabha seats is based on precedent. It was a ruling by Speaker G.V. Mavalankar, cited in the ‘Directions for the Functioning of the Lok Sabha’, with respect to recognising a group as a ‘parliamentary party’. The only legal provision defining the ‘Leader of the Opposition’ is a 1977 law concerning the office-holder’s salary. The definition says the LoP shall be the leader of the party in opposition with “the greatest numerical strength” and “recognised as such by the Speaker”. Therefore, there is nothing in law that prevents the Speaker from recognising the present Congress Parliamentary Party leader as the LoP. Instead of waiting for the amendment, the Speaker can adopt the solution of recognising the CPP leader and expedite the Lokpal’s formation. It just needs political will and some magnanimity.
- Where are our legal philosophers?
In recent times, when our most fundamental understanding of concepts of law and its interplay with perceptions of justice, morality, humanism, freedom, honour and virtue are being questioned with fierce candour in the media and every conceivable public space, legal philosophy is all we have to guide our path. Sadly, a country that once based its laws on the commentaries of legal philosophers has allowed that tribe to become almost extinct.
In a society that seeks to rest its foundations in justice, a legal philosopher performs three essential functions. First, he expounds the relationship between law, justice and other concepts so fundamental to explain the nature of human existence in society. Second, he critically examines existing legal philosophies. Third, he examines decisions of courts and legislations from the point of philosophic principles.
Propounding legal principles
Through the centuries, many legal philosophers left their indelible mark on shaping institutions of governance. Many of the systems of governance and rule of law as are familiar today have been developed by applying principles expounded by legal philosophers. To Aristotle, justice was all about “giving every person his due” and the purpose of law was to develop a just society that made this possible. Kautilya’s Arthashastra postulated that the king was the fountainhead of justice but with the limitation that even he was obliged to rule according to the Dharmashastras. William Blackstone, through his book, Commentaries on the Laws of England, guided the growth and development of English law in no small measure; John Austin popularised the theory that law was command of the sovereign made credible by threats of punishment for its disobedience. The horrors of the World Wars galvanised dialogue on a new wave of legal philosophy that recognised the existence of some inalienable rights in every individual that could not be eliminated even by state-made laws. One could also discern their application in the famous Nuremberg trials where the defence of the Nazi officers — that they could not be punished because everything they did was in execution of valid legal commands — found no acceptance. The path-breaking work of several legal philosophers of that time had their impact in the promulgation of certain important international documents and treaties like the Charter of the United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights and the 1959 Declaration of Delhi on the rule of law.
This leads us to perceive the second function of a legal philosopher, to examine the validity of claims put forth by other legal philosophers. Take the theories of Lon Fuller in The Morality of Law. In this work Fuller creates a fictional King Rex who fails in the exercise of his lawmaking powers because (a) the laws do not have universal application, with the result that every case gets decided on an ad hoc basis; (b) his subjects remain ignorant of the rules he makes; (c) his law-making is an abuse of authority as he constantly keeps making retrospective legislation; (d) his rules suffer from lack of clarity; (e) his rules contradict each other; (f) his rules are subject to such frequent changes with the result that they give little time for subjects to adjust their actions; (g) he fails to ensure that the rules as administered are rules that have been enacted. Fuller claimed that a just king in his administration of justice avoids completely the debacles of King Rex’s system. Initially applauded, latter-day critics dissented from his views, pointing at apartheid rule in South Africa which was, applying Fuller’s prescriptions, undoubtedly effective but still far from being just.
Legal philosophy and court verdicts
The third function of a legal philosopher is to examine closely judicial pronouncements and legislations from philosophical perspectives. For instance, in India, a legal philosopher would have possibly raised the following questions about the National Judicial Appointments Commission judgment: If the Constitution of India is the social contract between the state and the citizen, through which provision of this social contract has the citizen vested “primacy” in the judiciary to select judges? If the source is not to be found in the written Constitution but in the “basic structure” doctrine, then is that doctrine a supplementary social contract that can be traced to a source other than the will of the people? If so, what is this source and what are its contours? Can Parliament bring in a legislation exhaustively declaring the “basic structure” on the plea that it needs guidance to its legislative exercise? Would that legislation itself be likely to be struck down as offending the principle of “basic structure”?
Or take the recent decision of the Supreme Court which holds that a wife demanding that her husband be separated from his parents is a ground for divorce. A legal philosopher would ask: Can this observation of the court be treated as a general norm? Is a wife to be treated as a means by the husband and/or his family to achieve their “cultural aspirations”, or is she to be recognised as an individual deserving mutual respect and dignity? A legal philosopher may even expand the scope of his inquiry to ask, is any human being entitled to treat another human being, or even our sentient fellow creatures and environment, as merely a means to their happiness and well-being, or is the dignity and mutual respect of the entities we interact with to be the prime focus of a just and law-abiding society? The questions are perplexing and a quest to find answers can be daunting… but where are our legal philosophers to question and to seek?
- A new idiom of Dalit assertion
There is a new swing in Dalit politics today. Its signs are palpable in the way Dalits have reacted to atrocities on them, the modes of struggles devised, the kind of alliances forged, and the nodal concepts and norms invoked for action. While old ways of doing Dalit politics — paternalism, quotas, sub-caste appeal, conversion, bahujan (including sarvajan) — are still around, more in a client-patron mode, Dalits are increasingly taking charge of affairs in their own hands.
A few features of this turn are noteworthy: caste is back into reckoning; the use of social media to network and communicate has proliferated; Left politics and its limitations are under scrutiny; Babasaheb Ambedkar has reinforced his presence as the flagpole; there is a highly literate Dalit leadership deeply aware of historical injustice and electorally decisive numbers in support; a thick notion of Brahmanism is highlighted as the enemy; a search for a new civil society-state axis is on; and a new body of concepts and slogans are being deployed as the battle cry. Dalits have begun to dig deep into layers and layers of folklore and alternative nationalist imagery to forge skilful use of signs, symbols and representations.
While one can say that all these features were part of the Dalit movement at one time or the other, it is their combinatory which is proving itself lethal. Above all, this stir is situating itself on the terrain of India’s distinct democratic politics, employing its resources as much as possible. There is no single political party at the head of this movement although many political parties will have much at stake in it.
The continuing, large-scale and disdainfully executed atrocities on Dalits were largely confined to police records and the bulky records of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes for long. But incidents such as a suicide note by a research scholar, Rohith Vemula, that stated, “My birth is my fatal accident”, has connected all of them and much more to the social fact of caste: his suicide is seen as a witness to the squeezing out of the life of millions of youth — bright, daring, and with dreams to reach out to the sky — on account of caste and all it means in context. Dalits increasingly feel that the opportunity to access the legal and institutional resources of a democratic polity has gone hand in hand with relocating them into a caste grid, consigning all their effort, again in Vemula’s words, to “immediate identity and nearest possibility”. Their life prospects are much inferior to those of its other beneficiaries. This sense of ‘unfair inclusion’ connects them to the vast numbers in the Indian subcontinent who are kept, in Ambedkar’s cryptic phrase, “outside the fold”.
The effect of land reforms and agrarian transformation — while reinforcing the hold of landed castes and communities in the countryside — has pushed Dalits and social segments akin to them further to the margins. There is a new enslavement and recrudescence of gradation and ranking at the workplace rather than enablement and camaraderie.
The Hindutva agenda of inviting all Hindus to the banquet table but assigning lower castes to their predestined places has further exacerbated the sense of being unwanted. ‘The fatal accident of birth’ connects all the sites that have witnessed Dalit upsurge in recent days, from Tughlakabad to Una, from Hyderabad to Udupi. But it also runs through the distinction between skilled and unskilled, organised and informal, rural and urban, and male and female labour. This cleavage also links much subtler forms of exclusion and relative marginalisation to more cruder forms of atrocities.
The social relations in which Dalits are caught calls upon them to struggle not merely against external dominance, be it capital, caste or power, but also against denial of their very humanity. The latter forms of struggle are pitted against subtler forms of human degradation and enslavement of one’s very self.
The new turn in Dalit politics is precisely calling for a widening of the terrain of struggle rather than merely restricting it to political power or religious conversion. Given this task, there are new instrumentalities in place in Dalit struggles: the social media does not become merely a site to network, but also to inform, to criticise, to assess as well as redefine concerns. In fact the social media has emerged today as the backbone of the new Dalit awakening as could be seen in the >solidarity movement with Rohith Vemula across the country, in ‘Azadi Koon’ (March for Freedom) from Ahmedabad to Una in Gujarat, or the ‘Udupi Chalo’ walk that brought thousands of Dalits from different parts of Karnataka to the temple town, Udupi.
The great marches and rallies winding across distant villages and small towns and uniting people around a set of core demands are connecting people physically and emotionally. There are slogans asserting pride in being a Dalit, with a sub-caste enumeration as an add-on, not infrequently. There is a resurgence of folklore, sites of atrocities have become places of pilgrimage, traditional musical instruments of Dalits have thrown up fusion with rhythmic dances of great power and poise, and broadsheets, songs and street plays, evocative posters and imaginative slogans challenge dominant perception and sensitivity. Women and men are found shoulder to shoulder with one another in this ‘long march’, something that the late Sharmila Rege portrayed in her writings. Ambedkar makes a rich and exemplary presence across such performances, and there is almost none beside him in stature. Today, sites of Dalit rallies are crowded with a rich display of books and publications, a widespread practice in Left rallies of yore.
Hitherto, cleavages between Dalits and backward castes, Dalits and Muslims, and the gender divide have come in the way of optimising the democratic dividend from their overwhelming numbers. The decisive support of Dalits to the backward castes in the Mandal agitation did not beget enduring political alliances. The Dalit and Muslim alliance never took off the ground at any time in right earnest. And, less said the better with regard to the alliance between backward castes and women. In recent years, faced with Hindu consolidation under the aegis of Hindutva, the targeting of Dalits and Muslims by the cow-brigades or Gau Rakshak Dals, the growth in civil society surveillance and moral policing, and the relative marginality of these groups in the market, there is a growing realisation among sections of them that they need to politically draw closer.
The slogans that resound in the Dalit movement today indicate such a thaw: The banners read, and slogans echo: ‘choice of food’, ‘right to land’, ‘Swabhiman’ and ‘Atmabhiman’ (self-respect), ‘Azadi’ (freedom) and ‘dignity’. They pronounce death knell to historic oppression, and freedom to define their own self-hood. Dalits also proudly announce the equality of women and their right to choose the kind of life they wish to live and denounce the surveillance of Hindutva brigades on them. The dragging out of Mohammad Akhlaq from his house and his killing by a local Hindu mob on the charge of storing beef at his house in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, has become an important issue in Dalit struggles, woven around the right to food. As a result, we find the bonding together of a large number of associations of these groups and communities.
The registry of norms that are invoked by the current Dalit movement to explain and justify its objectives and actions has much to distinguish it from its earlier expressions. It is increasingly human dignity and worth, and the capacity to be what one can be, that occupy the high ground. The reduction of freedom to one’s birthmarks, and the social structures, institutions, prejudices and interactions that sustain such a state of affairs are seen as new forms of enslavement. A patch of land of one’s own, a home where one can live on one’s own terms, not to be condemned to certain occupations, or be treated as low and defiled stir Dalit imagination today as never before.
The term Brahmanism that Dalits have employed to rally against a specific mode of dominance from the time of Jyotirao Phule and Iyothee Thass has acquired new connotations of sustaining a social order based on graded inequality, servility and deference, and self-aggrandisement at the expense of misery and inhumanity meted out to others. India’s so-called modern and democratic institutions are increasingly perceived as sustaining a Brahmanical dispensation. The central concerns of Muslims, women and backward castes are perceived as being consonant with these concepts and norms.
What electoral dividends this new sensitivity will bring at the hustings or in foisting party alliances is difficult to anticipate at present. The new Dalit politics feels that it holds the key to some of these concerns and strivings. While there is much that unites the social groups and communities enumerated above, there is much that divides them too. Bridges connecting these divides are yet to be built. Dalits are yet to reach out to Adivasis in a meaningful way.
- Saying no to jallikattu, again
It is no surprise that the >Supreme Court has declined to review its 2014 judgment banning jallikattu, the popular bull-taming sport held alongside annual harvest festivities in rural Tamil Nadu. The original judgment had drawn on sound legal principles to conclude that the need to prevent cruelty to animals overrides the consideration that conducting the sport was necessary to preserve culture and tradition. More particularly, the court had found that a 2009 State law that sought to regulate jallikattu was repugnant to the 1960 central legislation to prevent cruelty towards animals. The former Act did contain stringent provisions, but animal rights activists contended that the element of cruelty could not be eliminated altogether. Despite evidence that the game caused distress and pain to the animals, and even led to injuries and occasional fatalities, political leaders in the State and sections of the public often make the claim that jallikattu has cultural and religious significance for the Tamil community. Jallikattu is construed as a macho sport in which intrepid young men demonstrate their valour by pouncing on fleeing bulls. It is also associated in the popular imagination with cultural pride. Over the years, the tradition was kept alive in many villages under the belief that not conducting jallikattu would invite divine wrath. As a result, the bull-baiting sport was invested with religious significance too.
It was unlikely that the court would have entertained a review merely on a claim that popular sentiment favoured the conduct of jallikattu and that its purported religious and cultural significance would provide constitutional protection to it. The Bench has rejected attempts to invoke the right of religious freedom guaranteed in Article 25 of the Constitution. It was unfathomable that there could be a connection between jallikattu and religious freedom, the court said. And it was held mainly for human entertainment at the expense of the animal. Apart from the State government’s review plea, the Centre had embarked on a misadventure in January by issuing a notification aimed at permitting jallikattu. The action was stayed immediately and a verdict on its validity is expected to come separately. However, given that the court is sticking to the stand that it would not allow any cruelty in the name of holding a rural sport, it is unlikely to survive judicial scrutiny. The Tamil Nadu government and like-minded sections at the Centre would do well to accept this ruling as final and stop espousing the cause. If there is one takeaway here, it is the futility of pursuing measures to preserve feudal traditions in the teeth of reasoned judicial opinion.
· India makes fresh push to gain NSG entry
India’s bid for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will be the centre-stage again this week as the group meets for the Consultative Group technical meeting on September 9-10, followed by the Plenary session in Vienna on Friday.
The government hopes its application will be considered again, five months after the last unsuccessful round.
A flurry of diplomatic activity since then has focused on all the countries, including China, that didn’t back India’s bid.
While a slew of leaders from New Zealand, Turkey, Brazil and South Africa, all NSG countries that have hard-line positions, have been invited to India in the past month, India’s nuclear negotiators have travelled to other countries, who are still unconvinced about the issue of non-signatories to the Non Proliferations Treaty (NPT) — like India — being made members of the nuclear club.
Earlier this week, Amandeep Singh Gill, joint secretary (Disarmament), travelled to Dublin to soften Ireland’s position, and also met with Chinese nuclear negotiator Wang Qun in Beijing on October 31. Other contacts have been made by Ministry of External Affairs officials and missions abroad in the 48 member countries of the NSG.
However, with China making it clear that its position hasn’t changed, and little movement in the objections of other countries on the issue of the NPT, officials are calling it a “long haul”, given that the NSG works by consensus.
“This Friday, in Vienna, a plenary session of the NSG will be held. Our position is subject to no change as of date,” Lu Kang, spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a media briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, dashing India’s hopes of a clear path to its membership this week.
At best, said one diplomatic source, India will hope that a process will be set into motion to define criteria for non signatories to the NPT, but that the criteria will broadly fit India’s credentials as non-proliferators. India, Pakistan, Israel and South Sudan are all non-signatories of NPT, of which India and Pakistan have both applied for NSG membership this year.
Meanwhile, India has been working with its support base that includes the U.S., Japan, Australia and South Korea, that has been exerting its influence as the new Chairperson of the NSG to push for India’s case.
India also hopes Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Tokyo on November 11 that coincides with the NSG Plenary session will boost India’s non-proliferation image, as India and Japan are expected to announce their civil nuclear accord.
The U.S., that has backed India, said it remained optimistic about India’s chances of NSG membership by the year-end.
Russia’s move to quit the International Criminal Court (ICC) is the outcome of the political undercurrents that have of late strained its relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). More ominous could be the ramifications of the exit, the fourth within the last two months, from the established world arbiter. The collective vision of that global pact was to bring the impunities of political leaders to justice before a transnational body when all domestic remedies were exhausted. Russia’s announcement was predictable as a reaction to the court’s report on Tuesday, stating that the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine amounted to an occupation. Moscow has denied any role by its military, maintaining that Crimea’s accession was authorised in a popular referendum. NATO’s continued eastward expansion explains at least some of President Vladimir Putin’s belligerent rhetoric. Not only has the western military alliance extended into the countries of the former Eastern bloc, it has also brought some member states of the erstwhile Soviet Union within its fold. Moscow’s approach to the world court is far from ideal. But the constraints of initiating punitive action against the U.S. and its allies for the war crimes committed during the Iraq war would have further eroded Russia’s diminishing faith in the liberal world order.
South Africa’s decision to walk out of the Hague court in October symbolises its abdication of a regional leadership role. Africa still remains hostage to the machinations of traditional tribal warlords, who systematically subvert democratic institutions and squander the rich natural wealth in league with big corporations. South Africa’s regressive step came at a time when politicians in neighbouring countries, faced with legal proceedings for perpetrating heinous crimes, have successfully projected the impression that the ICC was biased against the whole continent. The current stance of Pretoria is a far cry from that over a decade ago when the country incorporated crimes of genocide from the ICC statute into its domestic laws. When Washington refused at the turn of the century to be bound by the jurisdiction of the Hague court, there were concerns that the nascent body would be left sorely wanting in legitimacy and authority. Those anxieties have, if anything, been amplified by the unprecedented war crimes being perpetrated in the Syrian conflict and the humanitarian catastrophe being witnessed there. To enforce justice beyond the barriers imposed by domestic borders is a noble aim. But its realisation is that much harder when nationalism is resurgent.