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Daily Current Affairs 01.04.2021 (Farm Laws, Uniform Civil Code, Cooperative Fedaralism)

Daily Current Affairs 01.04.2021 (Farm Laws, Uniform Civil Code, Cooperative Fedaralism)

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1. Panel submits report on farm laws to SC

It will be made public during the next hearing of the case

A Supreme Court-appointed panel has submitted its report on the three agricultural reform laws in a closed cover. The report will be revealed during the next hearing of the case.

“We submitted the report in a sealed envelope to the Registrar of the court on March 19. It will be made public on the date of the next hearing of the PIL,” said Anil Ghanwat, one of the members of the committee who also heads a farm union and has advocated in favour of the laws.

Asked about the stakeholders consulted by the committee and their views on the laws, Mr. Ghanwat said, “Our role is over now. We are not authorised to say anything about it before it is made public.”

The three laws which were passed by Parliament in September and are being opposed by farmers’ unions are The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act.

On January 12, the Supreme Court suspended the implementation of the three laws and appointed a four-member committee of experts “to listen to the grievances of the farmers on the farm laws and the views of the government and make recommendations”.

After one member, farm union leader Bhupinder Singh Mann, recused himself from the panel, the remaining three members met the stakeholders including farmers’ groups, farmer producer organisations, officials and industry representatives from various States. However, the farmer unions refused to meet the panel.

Land Reforms in India

 “Land is not merely soil, it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.” – Aldo Leopold

In simple terms, land reforms mean equitable redistribution of land with the aim of increasing productivity and decreasing poverty. It refers to the redistribution of land from the few who have to the many who are landless or own far too little.

The pre-British scenario

Traditionally, in India before the coming of the British, private ownership of land was an unfamiliar idea. Land was generally owned by the village community collectively. A proper land revenue system was initiated by Todar Mal during the reign of Akbar. Under this system, land was measured, classified, and the rent was fixed accordingly. When the leash of power went into the hands of the British, a sea-change was seen in the pattern of ownership of land in India.

Land ownership patterns under the British rule

PERMANENT SETTLEMENT OF BENGAL/ ZAMINDARI SYSTEM

Lord Cornwallis introduced the Permanent Settlement in 1793. Under this system, a class of landlords called Zamindars was created whose responsibility it was to pay a fixed rent to the government for the lands they owned. They gave out parcels of land to farmers who became their tenants. Their title to the land was hereditary. What was intended as a system beneficial for all parties concerned soon turned out to be exploitative? The State was only concerned with maximising revenue with minimum effort. The Zamindar too wanted maximum rent from his tenants irrespective of the land’s true potential. He could increase his own wealth by extracting most out of his farmer tenants since his due to the State was fixed. In addition, several layers of intermediaries were created between the Zamindar and the tenants adding to the burden. The landless farmers and labourers suffered greatly in poverty. Also, this led to the creation of a group of rich Indians whose loyalty lay largely with the British. As you can see the Permanent Settlement gave rise to the Zamindari system of tenancy in Bengal and soon was adopted in other regions.

Another system was called the Jagirdari system which was similar to the Zamindari system.

RYOTWARI SYSTEM

Under this system, the proprietor of land gave the rent and taxes directly to the government in the absence of any middlemen. This started in Madras and was later adopted in Bombay as well.

MAHALWARI SYSTEM

This system was introduced by William Bentinck’s government under which landlords were responsible for the payment of revenue to the State. These landlords or Zamindars had a whole village or a group of villages under their control. The Mahalwari system prevailed in UP, the North Western Province, Punjab and parts of Central India.

Outcomes of landowning systems during the colonial era

  • Extreme peasant indebtedness due to sky-high tax rates.
  • Creation of a class of a rich few who mostly exploited the poor peasant.
  • Peasants lived in constant fear of eviction.
  • Poverty was entrenched into the farmer class.

These systems created, at the time of independence, a class of landlords who owned large swathes of land and innumerable peasants who owned nothing and lived in dire poverty and misery. The following figures will reveal this.

7% of the landowners owned 54% of land. In contrast, only 6% of land was owned by 28% of landowners (with marginal and sub-marginal holdings).

Land reforms since independence

Land reforms refer to the regulation of ownership, operation, leasing, sales, and inheritance of land.

Objectives of land reforms after independence

Land is the basis of all economic activity and for a largely agrarian society like India; this carries a lot of import.

Indian rural society is symbolised by a rich landowning minority (zamindars/landlords) and an impoverished landless majority (peasants). Therefore, land reforms are a vital step towards economic and social equality.

Objectives of land reforms:

  • Redistribution of land across society so that land is not held in the hands of a few people.
  • Land ceiling to disburse surplus land amongst small and marginal farmers.
  • Removal of rural poverty.
  • Abolition of intermediaries.
  • Tenancy reforms.
  • Increasing agricultural productivity.
  • Consolidation of land holdings and prevention of land fragmentation.
  • Developing cooperative farming.
  • To ensure social equality through economic parity.
  • Tribal protection by ensuring their traditional land is not taken over by outsiders.
  • Land reforms were also for non-agricultural purposes like development and manufacturing.

Out of these the major objectives post-independence were abolition of intermediaries, regulation of tenancy, land ceiling, consolidation of fragmented holdings.

In India, the abolition of intermediaries who existed under the various British systems has largely been successful. The other objectives have yielded mixed results and vary across states and overtime periods. Land reforms come under the State List and so, the success of land reforms varies from state to state. The most comprehensive and successful reforms took place in the communist strongholds of Kerala and West Bengal. Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar saw inter-community clashes as a result of land reforms.

India has seen four ‘experiments’ since independence to redistribute the landholdings. They are:

  1. Reforms from ‘above’, i.e., through legislation.
  2. Reforms from above from the government coupled with peasant mobilisation; like in Kerala and West Bengal where land was seized and redistributed; and also to improve the conditions of peasants.
  3. Naxalite movement and also the ‘land grab’ movement.
  4. Reforms from ‘below’ through voluntary donations by landlords and peaceful processions by farmers like the Bhoodan movement and the Gram Dan.

 Zamindari Abolition Acts

Initially, when these acts were passed in various states, they were challenged in the courts as being against the right to property enshrined in the Indian Constitution. So, amendments were passed in the Parliament to legalise the abolition of landlordism. By 1956, Zamindari abolition acts were passed in many states. As a result of this, about 30 lakh tenants and share-croppers acquired ownership rights over a total of 62 lakh acres of land all over the country.

Land Ceilings Act

Land ceiling refers to fixing a cap on the size of landholding a family or individual can own. Any surplus land is distributed among landless people like tenants, farmers, or agricultural labourers.

Tenancy reforms

This focused on three areas:

  1. Rent regulation
  2. Tenure security
  3. Conferring ownership to tenants

Land policy formulation through the planning period (Five Year Plans)

Plan PeriodChief IssuePolicy Thrust
First Plan 1951 – 56Increase area under cultivation. Community Development networks to take care of village commons.Increase land under cultivation. Rights to tenants to cultivate land. Abolition of intermediaries.
Second Plan 1956 – 61Agriculture mostly dependent on rains alone. Low land productivity.Soil conservation. First phase of land reform implementation. Irrigation development.
Third Plan 1961 – 66Food security concern. Cultivable wasteland to be cultivated. Including all regions into growth.Intensive area development programme adopted for selected districts. Soil surveys.
Fourth Plan 1969 – 74Food security concern. Minimum dietary requirements to be met. Incentives for cultivating food crops. Technical efficiency.Irrigation and soil conservation in dryland regions. Technological changes. Second phase of land reforms with land ceiling acts and consolidation of holding.
Fifth Plan 1974 – 79Problems of degradation. Drought-prone areas.Drought-prone area development. Desert area development programmes. Soil conservation. Dry farming.
Sixth Plan 1980 – 85Underutilization of land resources. Drought-prone areas.Land and water management programme under drought-prone area programme in select areas.
Seventh Plan 1985 – 90Soil erosion. Land degradation. Deforestation. Degradation of forest lands.Soil and water conservation. Prevention of land degradation. Wastelands Development programmes.
Eighth Plan 1992 – 97Dryland and rain-fed areas needing attention. Degradation of land is irrigated command areas.Watershed approach. Soil conservation combined with watershed programmes. Agro-climatic regional planning approach incorporated.
Ninth Plan 1997 – 2002Land degradation. Integrating Watershed Development Programme across various components. Gap between potentials and actual crop yields need to be bridged. Need for a long-term policy document.Bringing underutilized land under cultivation. Management of wastelands. Maintenance of village commons. Decentralized land management system. Panchayati Raj institutions to manage the village lands. Rethinking on land legislation.

 Outcomes of Land Reforms

  • Abolition of middlemen like landlords

The powerful class of Zamindars and Jagirdars cease to exist. This reduced the exploitation of peasants who now became owners of the land they tilled. This move was vehemently opposed by the Zamindars who employed many means to evade the law. They registered their own land under their relatives’ names. They also shuffled tenants around different plots of land so that they wouldn’t acquire incumbency rights.

  • Land ceiling

With a cap on the size of landholding, an individual/family could hold equitable distribution of land was possible to an extent. With only landlord abolition and no land ceiling, the land reforms would not have been at least partially successful. Land ceiling ensured that the rich farmers or higher tenants did not become the new avatar Zamindars.

  • Land possession

Land is a source of not just economic income but also social standing. Land reforms made it mandatory to have records of holdings, which was not the case previously. It is also compulsory to register all tenancy arrangements.

  • Increased productivity

More land came under cultivation and since tillers themselves became the landowners, productivity increased.

Land reforms were largely successful in the states of West Bengal and Kerala because of the political will of the left-wing governments to implement them efficiently. There was a sort of revolution in these places in terms of landholding patterns and ownership, and also the condition of peasants. The backing slogan was ‘land to the tiller’. In Jammu and Kashmir also, there was partial success in the redistribution of land to landless labourers.

Drawbacks of land reforms

  • There are still many small and marginal farmers in India who pray to the clutches of moneylenders and continue to remain indebted.
  • Rural poverty still exists.
  • Land ceiling varies from state to state.
  • Many plantations were exempt from land ceiling act.
  • Many people own huge tracts of land under ‘benami’ names.

Land reforms also include agrarian reforms which deal with measures to improve the productivity of land, especially agricultural land. This includes the Green Revolution.

To fix the various loopholes in the land reforms, in the late 60s and early 70s, the recommendations of the Central Land Reforms Committee were implemented.

  • The ceiling was lowered according to the crop pattern. It was brought to 54 acres for inferior dry land.
  • For purposes of law, the family of five was made one unit.
  • Land distribution was given priority, particularly to the landless peasants, SC and ST communities.

The government was responsible for the acquisition of land which it did under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. This law, being archaic and inadequate to address farmers’ concerns was replaced by the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013. In 2015, the government proposed a few amendments to the law and introduced the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill of 2015, which came into effect as an ordinance.

2. Plea in SC against uniform civil law on divorce and alimony

Petitioner says it is against fundamental right to religion

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court against the “blatant attempt” to take away the fundamental right of Muslim women to practise their religion, in the guise of providing a “uniform law” across all faiths.

Amina Sherwani has asked the Supreme Court to hear her before deciding whether a uniform civil law for divorce, maintenance and alimony will leave Muslim women like her better-off.

Last December, the Supreme Court agreed to examine advocate A.K. Upadhyay’s plea for a single law covering divorce, maintenance and alimony for all religions. Mr. Upadhyay had argued that laws governing them in certain religions discriminate and marginalise women.

Ms. Sherwani says she represents women who follow the Islamic faith, who married according to the Muslim rites and traditions, and is a recipient of the rights and entitlements provided to her. She said Islamic law allows Muslim women like her “such rights that may not be available under other marital laws”.

Ms. Sherwani said Mr. Upadhyay’s petition was a “deliberate attempt to interfere with the cultural and customary practices and usages that enjoy the protection of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution”.

The application filed by Ms. Sherwani said, “Muslim marriage is contractual in nature and as such the parties to it are allowed to impose conditions for regulating their matrimonial relations. Such conditions can be imposed before the marriage or at the time of the marriage or even after the marriage.”

She said an avenue for resolution of matrimonial disputes through mediation is also provided for under Islamic matrimonial jurisprudence.

UCC

Article 44 of the Indian Constitution states that “the State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform civil code (UCC) throughout the territory of India.” The desirability of a uniform civil code is consistent with human rights and the principles of equality, fairness and justice.

  • The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) calls for the formulation of one law for India, which would be applicable to all religious communities in matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption.
  • The code comes under Article 44 of the Constitution, which lays down that the state shall endeavour to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India.

Background of Uniform Civil Code

  • The origin of the UCC dates back to colonial India when the British government submitted its report in 1835 stressing the need for uniformity in the codification of Indian law relating to crimes, evidence, and contracts, specifically recommending that personal laws of Hindus and Muslims be kept outside such codification.
  • Increase in legislation dealing with personal issues in the far end of the British rule forced the government to form the B N Rau Committee to codify Hindu law in 1941.
  • Based on these recommendations, a bill was then adopted in 1956 as the Hindu Succession Act to amend and codify the law relating to intestate or unwilled succession, among Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs.
    • However, there were separate personal laws for muslim, chirstian and Parsis.
  • In order to bring uniformity, the courts have often said in their judgements that the government should move towards a uniform civil code.
    • The judgement in the Shah Bano case is well known, but the courts have made the same point in several other major judgements.
  • By arguing that practices such as triple talaq and polygamy impact adversely on the right of women to a life of dignity, the Centre has raised the question whether constitutional protection given to religious practices should extend even to those that are not in compliance with fundamental rights.

UCC and Implications

  • Protection to Vulnerable Section of Society: The UCC aims to provide protection to vulnerable sections as envisaged by Ambedkar including women and religious minorities, while also promoting nationalistic fervour through unity.
  • Simplification of Laws: The code will simplify the complex laws around marriage ceremonies, inheritance, succession, adoptions making them one for all. The same civil law will then be applicable to all citizens irrespective of their faith.
    • When enacted the code will work to simplify laws that are segregated at present on the basis of religious beliefs like the Hindu code bill, Sharia law, and others.
  • Adhering to Ideal of Secularism: Secularism is the objective enshrined in the Preamble, a secular republic needs a common law for all citizens rather than differentiated rules based on religious practices.
  • Gender Justice: India has separate sets of personal laws for each religion governing marriages, divorce, succession, adoption and maintenance.
    • However, the rights of women are usually limited under religious law, be it Hindu or Muslim. The practice of triple talaq is a classic example.
    • If a uniform civil code is enacted, all personal laws will cease to exist. It will do away with gender biases in Muslim law, Hindu law and Christian law that have been often challenged by women on the ground that they violate the right to equality.

Challenges to UCC

  • Exceptions in Central Family Laws: The preliminary sections in all central family law Acts enacted by Parliament since Independence declare that they will apply to “the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir.”
    • A Second exception was added in 1968 in all these Acts, pronouncing that “nothing herein contained shall apply to the Renoncants in the Union Territory of Pondicherry.”
    • A third exception, none of these Acts applies in Goa, Daman and Diu.
    • A fourth exception, relating to the north-eastern states of Nagaland and Mizoram, emanates from Articles 371A and 371G of the Constitution, decreeing that no parliamentary legislation will replace the customary law and religion-based system for its administration.
  • Communal Politics: The demand for a uniform civil code has been framed in the context of communal politics. A large section of society sees it as majoritarianism under the garb of social reform.
  • Constitutional Hurdle: Article 25 of Indian constitution, that seeks to preserve the freedom to practise and propagate any religion gets into conflict with the concepts of equality enshrined under Article 14 of indian Constitution.

3. Editorial-1: Still no recognition of the third tier

In the FC-15 proposals, the goal of fiscally empowering local governments to deliver territorial equity is still far away

This article is a brief critique of the recommendations of the Fifteenth Finance Commission with regard to local governments. The primary task of the Union Finance Commission is to rectify the vertical and horizontal imbalances in resources and expenditure responsibilities between Union and States, which after the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments includes the third tier of local governments. This Commission is the fifth after the incorporation of Part IX and Part IX-A to the Constitution which mandate the Union Finance Commission to supplement the resources of panchayats and municipalities on the basis of the recommendations of the State Finance Commission (another institution created by the Amendments). Now, nearly 2.5 lakh local governments and over 3.4 million elected representatives form the real democratic base of the Indian federal polity. Unlike the previous Commissions, the Fifteenth Finance Commission was in the background of the COVID-19 pandemic which reinforced the significance of local governments, gram sabha and other participatory institutions in containing the crisis and delivering social protection in India.

Higher vertical devolution

While there are some critical lacunae in its recommendations regarding local governments, the Fifteenth Finance Commission has several positive aspects to be said in its favour. For one, the vertical devolution recommended to local governments is raised remarkably high. From a measly share of 0.78% of the divisible pool with an absolute sum of ₹10,000 crore by the Eleventh Commission, the Fifteenth Finance Commission raised it to 4.23% with a reasonably estimated amount of ₹4,36,361 crore. Compared with the Fourteenth Finance Commission there is a 52% increase in the vertical share. Even if we deduct the grant of ₹70,051 crore earmarked for improving primary health centres, the share is still an all-time high of 4.19%.

Continuity and change should be the overarching salience of a transfer system, which is designed to build a viable third tier to Indian democracy. All the Commissions since the Eleventh Commission have tied specific items of expenditure to local grants and the Fifteenth Finance Commission has raised this share to 60% and linked them to drinking water, rainwater harvesting, sanitation and other national priorities in the spirit of cooperative federalism.

However, it reduced the performance-based grant to just ₹8,000 crore — and that too for building new cities, leaving out the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) altogether. The performance-linked grants thoughtfully introduced by the Thirteenth Finance Commission earmarked 35% of local grants specifying six conditions for panchayats and nine for urban local governments and covered a wide range of reforms: from the establishment of an independent ombudsman to notifying standards for service sectors such as drinking water and solid waste management.

The Fourteenth Finance Commission, however, cut the performance grant share to 10% for gram panchayats and 20% to municipalities with the conditionality that all local governments will have to show improvements in own source revenue. Municipalities are additionally required to publish service level benchmarks for basic services. The transformative potential in designing performance-linked conditionalities for improving the quality of decentralised governance in the context of indifferent states is missed.

Entry-level criterion

An important recommendation of the the Fifteenth Finance Commission is the entry-level criterion to avail the union local grant (except health grant) by local governments (strictly speaking, it is performance-linked). For panchayats, the condition is online submission of annual accounts for the previous year and audited accounts for the year before. For urban local governments, two more conditions are specified: after 2021-22, fixation of minimum floor for property tax rates by the relevant State followed by consistent improvement in the collection of property taxes in tandem with the State’s own Gross State Domestic Product. It is not clear why gram panchayats (especially the affluent and semi-urban categories) are left out from this. Although Finance Commissions, from the Eleventh to the Fourteenth, have recommended measures to standardise the accounting system and update the auditing of accounts, the progress made has been halting. Therefore, the entry-level criteria of the Fifteenth Finance Commission are timely. The moot question is, will this bring about substantive changes? The Eleventh Finance Commission published the fiscal data of all tiers of panchayats and municipalities in its report. But the data proved defective. The Twelfth Finance Commission did not publish any local fiscal data. The Thirteenth Finance Commission published data online and some researchers did use them. Unlike the previous Commissions, the Fourteenth Finance Commission conducted a sample survey covering 15% gram panchayats, 30% block panchayats and all district panchayats besides 30% municipalities, presumably to ensure quality in canvassing data. The results too were not published. Interestingly, neither the Fifteenth Finance Commission nor the earlier counterparts took pains to examine how and where the financial reporting system has failed. Without reliable data can you ensure good governance?

The Fifteenth Finance Commission, which generally takes care to go into details (see recommendations on health care, air pollution etc.) and is well aware of India’s regional heterogeneity, failed to carry policy choices forward systematically. Articles 243G, 243W and 243ZD read along with the functional decentralisation of basic services like drinking water, public health care, etc., mandated in the Eleventh and Twelfth schedules demand better public services and delivery of ‘economic development and social justice’ at the local level. While the grants to the primary health centres must be acknowledged as a great gesture, a good opportunity to ensure comparable minimum public services to every citizen irrespective of her choice of residential location has not been taken forward in an integrated manner.

Equalisation principle

It may be relevant to recall that the Alma-Ata declaration of the World Health Organization (1978) which outlined an integrated, local government-centric approach with simultaneous focus on access to water, sanitation, shelter and the like. The Fifteenth Finance Commission claims that it seeks to achieve the “desirable objective of evenly balancing the union and the states”. It is not clear why there is no recognition of the third tier in this balancing act. Although the Fifteenth Finance Commission outlines nine guiding principles as the basis of its recommendation to local governments, there is no integrated approach (in contrast to the recommendations of the Thirteenth Finance Commission). It is forgotten that public finance is an integrated whole. That the tasks of the Union Finance Commission were broadened as part of the decentralisation reforms (280(3) (bb) and (c)) is a firm recognition of the organic link of public finance with the development process at all tiers of government. Although the Fifteenth Finance Commission stresses the need to implement the equalisation principle, it is virtually silent when it comes to the local governments.

It is equally important to note that in the criteria used by the Fifteenth Finance Commission for determining the distribution of grant to States for local governments, it employed population (2011 Census) with 90% and area 10% weightage the same criteria followed by the Fourteenth Finance Commission. While this ensures continuity, equity and efficiency criteria are sidelined. Equity is the foundational rationale of a federation. Abandoning tax effort criterion incentivises dependency, inefficiency and non-accountability.

In sum, if decentralisation is meant to empower local people, the primary task is to fiscally empower local governments to deliver territorial equity. We are far from this goal.

4. Editorial-2: A step that enhances cooperative federalism

The amendments to the GNCTD Act define, without doubt, who represents the ‘Government’ in the unique case of Delhi

On January 17, 2017, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi wrote to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Delhi stating that the President of India had considered the Delhi Netaji Subhas University of Technology Bill, 2015 and directed that it be returned to the Legislative Assembly of Delhi.

One of the reasons stated for the return was the inconsistent definition of the term “Government.” In June 2015, when the Legislative Assembly of Delhi had passed the Delhi Netaji Subhas University of Technology Bill and sent it for the President’s assent, it had defined the term “Government” as the “Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi.”

Formalises the definition

After the Bill was returned, the Delhi Assembly sent a modified version of the Bill for the President’s assent where the definition of “government” was described as: “Lieutenant Governor of NCT Delhi appointed by the President.”

Last week, both Houses of Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the amendments to the Government of the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi Act.

The aim of the amendments were to clear such ambiguities in the roles of various stakeholders and provide a constructive rule-based framework for stakeholders within the Government of Delhi to work in tandem with the Union Government. One of the changes made was to bring consistency in the definition of the term “Government”. In this instance, the government was only formalising the definition of a term that the Delhi Assembly itself had already accepted. This rule-based framework is especially important given that Delhi is also India’s national capital and the symbolism that comes with being the seat of the sovereign power.

Partners not adversaries

The National Democratic Alliance Government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, has completely transformed Centre-State relationships. At the core of this transformation is the outlook that States — and by extension the Chief Ministers of the States — are partners in the national agenda, and hence must have platforms and frameworks available to work together.

In earlier governments we saw State Chief Ministers queuing up in front of unelected officials in the erstwhile Planning Commission supplicating for grants. The creation of NITI Aayog, the establishment of the Goods and Services Tax Council, the restructuring of central schemes and accepting the Fifteenth Finance Commission’s recommendations for greater devolution are clear examples of the Union Government viewing States as equal partners.

A legislative right

This partnership requires an environment of trust and mutual co-operation. A necessary condition for such an environment is the distinct delineation of roles and responsibilities, the removal of ambiguities, and the definition of a clear chain of command among stakeholders. In this regard, it was important to define, without doubt, who represents the Government in the unique case of Delhi.

On December 20, 1991, Home Minister S.B. Chavan tabled the Constitution Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha to add Articles 239AA and 239AB into the Constitution that paved the way for the creation of a Legislative Assembly and a Council of Ministers for the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi. This amendment passed in 1991 empowers Parliament to enact laws supplementing constitutional provisions. Similarly, the Government of NCT Delhi also has the power to enact laws regarding matters specified under the State list and Concurrent list, to the extent these are applicable to a Union Territory.

It becomes important to ensure there is complete synchronisation between the Union Government and the Government of NCT Delhi and that there is no encroachment in legislative matters. In the case of the Government of NCT Delhi, it has no legislative competence in matters pertaining to the police, public order, and land. The risk of incremental encroachments on these subjects in the legislative proposals under consideration of the Delhi Legislative Assembly can have severe ramifications for Delhi.

Thus, for the Opposition to portray a government exercising its constitutional responsibilities as an undemocratic act shows a wilful lack of understanding.

The national capital hosts the country’s legislature, the seat of the Union Government, the judiciary, diplomatic missions, and other institutions of national importance. It deserves smooth functioning and cannot be subject to misadventures arising from the ambiguities in the roles and responsibilities of its stakeholders.

A functioning relationship

While some in the Opposition have accused the government of undermining the federal structure of the country, others have painted an even darker picture proclaiming the death of democracy itself. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Making Delhi Assembly rules consistent with the rules of the Lok Sabha or ensuring that the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor is taken can only ensure clarity and foster an environment of co-operation. In no manner do these amendments dilute or affect the powers of the Delhi Legislative Assembly. Various court judgments have also observed the ambiguities and lack of clarity. The people of Delhi deserve a functioning government, and the amendments made aid in creating such an environment.

5. Editorial-3: The second wave

New vaccines must be cleared for emergency use as India battles a new surge

The rise in COVID-19 cases as part of India’s ‘second wave’ has the government and public health authorities truly worried. In many ways, the concern is larger than during last year when there were several more cases. V.K. Paul, Member, NITI Aayog, who has been in the forefront of public communication on all matters COVID-19, described the ongoing situation as going from “bad to worse.” The Health Secretary, Rajesh Bhushan, has also reiterated in the last two weeks that urgent action must be taken. On March 1, concerns of a spike were still on the horizon. In a month, however, the situation appears catastrophic. The number of new active cases added on March 1, around 3,000, has now become nearly nine-fold. Daily deaths too have, in that interval, skyrocketed three-fold — from around 112 to 354. As of this month, India has administered nearly 6.3 crore doses of Covaxin and Covishield and since March 20, has been inoculating a little over 2 million every day. What is apparent is that the States registering a high number of cases — Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh — are also those where many are signing up for their first dose. A notable exception is Punjab. The government is also bearing down on local vaccine companies to prioritise delivery to India over their international commitments as several other vaccine candidates line up emergency approvals from regulators. So, vaccine hesitancy is not India’s most pressing problem.

India’s communication of the tides and ebbs of the pandemic has always been below par. The broader strategy by the Central and State governments is to take credit when there is a declining trend in cases and blame people’s laxity for an upward trend. More research needs to be conducted and communicated on whether mortality in the second wave is biased towards the group yet ineligible for vaccination, and whether reinfections are an emerging problem. It was always known, from the vaccine trial data, that the inoculations were extremely effective at addressing severe disease but less so in containing infections. This aspect needs to be amplified and communicated more clearly to encourage vaccination. It is hypocritical on the government’s part to allow large religious gatherings and political melas in election-bound States and also blame normal movement for the second wave. What is needed is messaging that emphasises the realistic protective abilities from vaccination and physical distancing measures. It is also unclear why new vaccines are not being accelerated for emergency use when Covishield and Covaxin were rushed through without any local efficacy data. More vaccines and a sharpening of India’s communication strategy are essential.

6. Editorial-4: Enter the peace process

India should use its influence to ensure peace within Afghanistan and the wider region

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s comment that India supports talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban signals a subtle shift in New Delhi’s approach towards the Afghan crisis. At the 9th Heart of Asia Conference in Tajikistan, he said India has been supportive of all efforts being made to “accelerate the dialogue” between the Afghan government and the Taliban, in a rare direct reference to the insurgent group. In the 1990s and 2000s, India was steadfastly opposed to any dealings with the Taliban. But its position seems to have evolved over the years. In 2018, when Russia hosted Afghan and Taliban talks, India had sent a diplomatic delegation to Moscow. In September 2020, at the intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, Mr. Jaishankar was present at the inaugural session via a video link, reaffirming the long-held Indian position that any peace process should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled. His latest comments come close on the heels of a new peace push by the Joe Biden administration of the U.S. The Biden plan includes two key proposals — a unity transition government between the warring parties and a UN-led multilateral conference of envoys from India, China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the U.S. India has supported the UN-led process, in an apparent climbdown from its earlier position, and now shown willingness to deal with the Taliban.

The evolution of India’s position is in sync with the evolution of the reality in Afghanistan. The Taliban, no longer an untouchable force, control much of the country’s rural territories. The U.S. has already signed a deal with the Taliban, wherein American troops are scheduled to pull back from Afghanistan by May 1. China had long ago reached out to the Taliban. Russia has hosted talks between the two sides. European powers have also shown interest in sponsoring talks. So, India has to be more flexible and adapt to the new strategic reality. Since the fall of the Taliban, India has cultivated deep ties with the Afghan people and the government, with investments in multiple projects dealing with education, power generation, irrigation and other infrastructure development. The first batch of vaccines Afghanistan got was from India, in February. Recently, India signed an agreement to build the Shahtoot dam near Kabul. Thus, its economic, strategic and security ties could be disrupted if the Taliban were to take over. The question India faces, like the other stakeholders, is how to help Afghanistan end the violence without a total capitulation to the Taliban. India joining the peace process could strengthen the hands of the Afghan government, which is negotiating from a position of weakness. New Delhi should, using its regional clout as well as its deep ties with both the U.S. and Russia, strive for what Mr. Jaishankar called “double peace”, both inside Afghanistan and in the region.

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