1. India, China agree to hold more talks to resolve LAC stand-off
Commanders emphasise need for expeditious, phased and stepwise de-escalation
- The third round of Corps Commander-level talks on Tuesday between India and China, the second one after the June 15 Galwan Valley clashes, yielded the promise of more talks at the military and diplomatic levels to disengage at the “face-off sites” along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
- Twenty Indian soldiers were killed by Chinese troops in close-quarters combat in the Galwan Valley while Beijing has not given any official figure of its dead or wounded.
What is the ‘Line of Actual Control’ and why does it matter?
- Six decades ago, India and China went to war over a border dispute that ended with an uneasy truce in 1962.
- While no border has ever officially been negotiated along the forbidding stretch of land high in the Himalayas that divides the two nations, the truce established a 2,100-mile-long Line of Actual Control.
- Since then, an uneasy peace has held. But every time there is a flare-up of violence, the world watches anxiously.
- China and India are the two most populous nations on earth, both armed with nuclear weapons, led by governments that have built support, in large part, by appeals to nationalist sentiment.
- In recent months, tensions have spilled over into brawls between soldiers. And late Monday, the violence reached dangerous heights when the 20 soldiers, including an army officer, were killed by Chinese troops.
- It was said to be the first time in decades that the fighting at 14,000 feet had led to casualties.
What are they fighting over?
While the Line of Actual Control was devised to create a demarcation line and to ease tensions between the nations after the 1962 war, many areas remain in dispute.
Both China and India have pressed their claims by building up infrastructure like roads, telephone lines and airstrips, and by sending troops on regular patrols.
The demarcation line runs through a territory known as Ladakh. It is part of Kashmir but located in the region’s lesser-known Buddhist region.
Ladakh borders Tibet and is even sometimes referred to as Little Tibet. Sitting at the crossroads of several important trade routes, the territory has a rich history of commerce. But that came to an end when China closed the borders with Tibet and Central Asia in the 1960s.
Now, the sparsely populated but stunningly beautiful land is mostly known as a tourist destination.
What led to the current standoff?
- In May, an enormous brawl broke out between Chinese and Indian soldiers stationed at camps high in the Himalayas.
- Beijing’s reaction was swift and forceful.
- Chinese troops confronted Indian soldiers at several other remote border points in the mountains, some more than 1,000 miles apart. Since then, both armies have rushed in thousands of reinforcements. Indian analysts say that China has beefed up its forces with dump trucks, excavators, troop carriers, artillery and armored vehicles and that China is now occupying Indian territory.
- And as the world has been distracted by the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing has taken a series of aggressive actions in recent weeks to flex its economic, diplomatic and military muscle.
- For India, the Chinese incursions and maneuvers at multiple points along the demarcation line have raised suspicions of a concerted campaign to exert pressure on the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
- The spark for the recent tensions seems to have been a road to a remote air force base that the Indian Army is building through mountain passes in the Galwan Valley, which military analysts say is fully within Indian territory. Experts say that the Chinese are determined to frustrate India’s efforts to upgrade its military positions.
Chinese Intent Behind Transgression
- Changing Dynamics Along the LAC: India has been upgrading its roads and military infrastructure around LAC. Last year, India completed the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO) road which connects Leh to the Karakoram Pass. India also maintains a key landing strip at DBO at 16,000 feet.
- India is rapidly catching up with China, who already enjoys an advantage in both terrain and infrastructure.
- In this context, the stand-off in Ladakh appears to have been triggered by China to obstruct border infrastructure upgradation activity by India.
- Arousing Nationalist Sentiments: Experts on Chinese foreign policy are of the view that China’s aggressive posture is not only focused along the LAC but on Hong Kong, Taiwan and South China sea.
- The motive behind these developments is to divert attention from the domestic economic crisis towards a nationalist sentiment.
- Signal Against US-India Convergence: The strategy behind China’s transgressions across LAC (especially in Sikkim and Ladakh) may intend to signal India to reassess its strategic convergence with the US.
India has responded by balancing the troops’ mobilisation but prefers a diplomatic route for resolution of any dispute. However, in a broader context, India’s policy towards China is dotted with cooperation, discord and competition.
- Cooperation: India has been in continuous engagement with China, through bilateral (informal summits) and multilateral forums such as BRICS, SCO and the Russia-India-China trilateral.
- Such cooperation is aimed at maintaining overall stability, deepening economic ties and fostering diplomatic linkages on regional and international issues.
- Discord: India has adopted a policy of external balancing to tackle China’s hegemony.
- The evolution of India’s relationships with the US, Japan, Australia and the Quad Initiative among them indicates a growing convergence for stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Competition: This is a relatively new policy, whereby India seeks to counter China’s influence in the economic sphere. This can be reflected in the following policies:
- Countering BRI project of China with Africa-Asia Growth corridor.
- India has significantly increased grants, aid and infrastructure development in neighbouring countries where China seeks to undermine India’s influence.
- In order to reduce dependence on Chinese imports and protection of domestic industries, India has launched the “Make in India” campaign and has exited the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations.
2. Environmental clearance must for all mining leases, says NGT‘No mine will be permitted to operate without EC irrespective of the size’
- The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal has held that Environmental Clearances (EC) are mandatory for mining leases whether major or minor, those that are even less than five hectares area, as per the amended Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification dated January 2016.
- The bench ruled that existing mining leases, too, will have to get EC and any mine, minor or major, shall not be permitted to operate without EC irrespective of the size of the mine.
- Applications for EC that are pending as on March 31, 2016, will, however, have to be treated as normal applications and not as violation and authorities are directed to dispose of the applications in accordance with law, the bench of Justice K. Ramakrishnan and expert member Saibal Dasgupta said in their judgment.
- Applications filed after that date can be treated as violation applications and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) or the State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities can dispose of such applications as violation cases as per law, the bench said. The judgment came on an application filed by the Tamil Nadu Small Mine Owners Federation seeking the quashing of a clarification letter issued by the MoEF on April 3, 2017, claiming that it was violative of the amended EIA Notification dated January 15, 2016.
- The letter, issued on April 3, 2017, had clarified that as per an earlier notification issued in January 2016, all mining leases, for major minerals as well as minor minerals, were required to obtain EC after January 15, 2016.
- After hearing the parties, the bench said that it was clear that even in 2014, when the 2006 notification was amended, the distinction between major and minor minerals was taken away. and any mining lease of non-coal products, having less than 5 hectares, were brought under the regime of Environmental Clearance.
- Referring to earlier orders passed by the Principal Bench of the NGT, the Southern Bench said the cut-off date for filing the applications has to be limited up to March 31, 2016 and miners who had filed applications thereafter will be treated as violators.
National Green Tribunal
- The NGT has been established in 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010.
- It draws inspiration from India’s constitutional provision of Article 21, which assures the citizens of India the right to a healthy environment.
- It aims for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
- It has Original Jurisdiction on matters of “substantial question relating to environment” and & “damage to the environment due to specific activity” (such as pollution).
- It follows principles of Natural Justice.
3. Ministry reconstitutes Central Zoo AuthorityNew faces include a molecular biologist
- The Environment Ministry has reconstituted the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) to include an expert from the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, and a molecular biologist. The CZA is a statutory body chaired by the Environment Minister and tasked with regulating zoos across the country.
- The authority lays down guidelines and prescribes rules under which animals may be transferred among zoos nationally and internationally.
- Apart from the chairman, it consists of 10 members and a member-secretary. Almost all of them are officials in the Environment Ministry and non-government experts are those who are wildlife conservationists or retired forest officers.
4. Editorial – Police reform and the crucial judicial actor
- The lesson from Thoothukudi is that constitutional courts must attempt to change the practices of magistrates
- Here we go, again. The newest episode of sensational brutality has gripped public imagination. Righteous indignation abounds on social media and the press. Underneath that gloss, grief and agony probably crowd out every other emotion. At my vantage point as someone working in the criminal justice system, the only emotion that the seemingly senseless act of violence inside a police station in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, evokes, is of extreme weariness. How many more times must powerless citizens suffer the blows of a lathi or a baton, the kicks of patent leather boots, be violated by the “wooden rollers” around their private areas, not to mention spending hours inside a police lockup, all as a part of an “investigation” by police searching for “truth”?
Judiciary as beacon
- This fatal violence by state actors is a cruel reminder of just how little unshackling has happened in the domain of policing to free this essential public sphere from the demons of its heritage and become an active participant in sustaining a democratic polity and not a colony. As always, when the conversation veers in this direction it becomes natural to look towards the judiciary as the source of hope and action, and it is unsurprising to know that the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has taken notice of the Thoothukudi violence on its own and is “closely” monitoring the situation.
- The Madras High Court acted in the best traditions of constitutional courts in India, which have often passed various directions to try and ameliorate the problem of police violence. So much so that scholars have called the Supreme Court of India as the only institution working towards police reforms in the Indian state. This acclaim largely comes from the top court’s interventions in the 1990s through cases such as Joginder Kumar v. State of UP [AIR 1994 SC 1349] and D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal [(1997) 1 SCC 416], where guidelines were passed to try and secure two rights in the context of any state action — a right to life and a right to know. Through the guidelines, the Court sought to curb the power of arrest, as well as ensure that an accused person is made aware of all critical information regarding her arrest and also convey this to friends and family immediately in the event of being taken in custody. It took a decade, and in the form of amendments, as the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2008 to give statutory backing to these judicial guidelines; it remains part of the law today.
- The Supreme Court went even further, and perhaps too far, in the case, Prakash Singh v. Union of India [(2006) 8 SCC 1], where it pushed through new legislation for governing police forces to be passed by States across India. A key component of the new legislation was a robust setup for accountability that contemplated a grievance redress mechanism. That it took reportedly 11 years for the State of Tamil Nadu to actually implement Prakash Singh (a law passed in 2013 but only given effect in 2017), and that several States remain in contempt of the Supreme Court’s judgment, give some insights into how seriously the issue of police reform ranks in the scheme of things for governments.
- Judicial concern with police violence is also witnessed in a different manner — judicial support for “scientific” investigations. The support and fascination for techniques such as narcoanalysis, ensuring video recording of investigations, passing orders for installing closed-circuit television cameras inside police stations, all comes from a place of grudging acceptance by courts about how often police employ physicality to obtain evidence. Through technology, then, the hope is to reduce a need for interacting with the body as a source of evidence, and to gradually delegitimise and dismantle a set of archaic practices reliant upon the use of force as a means to extract the “truth”.
- Constitutional courts have seemingly tried to change our reality of police brutality for well over two decades. Yet, we are still here, with some reports (of course, not by the state) suggesting that across India there are as many as five custodial deaths a day. While this is undoubtedly a product of continued institutional apathy towards the issue of police reform, I would argue that it is also clear enough evidence that the judiciary’s approach of simply passing directions and guidelines, has proven to be a failure, and that it is the ordinary magistrate, and not the constitutional court, who is the judicial actor wielding real power to realise substantial change in police practices.
- There is a reason why the judiciary is commonly called the weakest branch: All the noble intentions in the world cannot help transform the mere words of a court order into reality. This needs money and a power of immediate implementation, neither of which courts have. In fact, the gap between the highest court and the lowly police officer in India has been demonstrated through studies which show how despite criminal laws being struck down as unconstitutional, they continue to be enforced in various parts of the country by local police. Rather than expend energies in only passing more guidelines, constitutional courts must seriously contend with the concrete cases that come their way and expose how hard it is for a common man to get justice against police violence, either through compensation claims or prosecutions.
Culture of impunity
- At the same time, constitutional courts must shed the institutional baggage which often leads to them protecting the supposedly vulnerable morale of police. This tendency was on display when the Madras High Court reportedly saw the Thoothukudi incident as the result of a “few bad apples” ruining a system’s reputation. That, with due respect, is to be unable to see the wood for the trees — it is the culture of impunity that all the apples experience which leads the few to wield the baton with such fatal vigour. Rather than minimise, perhaps it is time to consider sanctions at a larger scale and impose monetary penalties at the district level, to drive home the message that the erring actions of one officer must be seen as a failure of the force itself.
- Finally, constitutional courts could strike an inspired move by reorienting their guidelines to try and change the practices of magistrates, over whom they exercise powers of superintendence, as opposed to other non-judicial actors. For it is the local magistrate before whom all arrested and detained persons must be produced within 24 hours, and thus becomes the point of first contact for a citizen with the constitutional rule of law that Indians take so much pride in. The Thoothukudi incident has brought to fore what appears to have been inexcusable lapses by the magistrate. It is tragic that the laxity apparently on display there in remanding accused persons to further custody (both the police and judicial), is not the exception but the norm, in my experience.
- The overworked magistrate, struggling with an ever-exploding docket, is very often in a rush to get done with the “remand case”, rather than treat an arrested person with the care and the consideration that she deserves and is entitled to. This is not the fault of the magistrate but the crystallisation of a systemic failure which constitutional courts are indirectly responsible for, and could do much to change.