1. No one can be forced to get vaccinated: SC
‘Some State-level curbs on unvaccinated disproportionate’
The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the right of an individual against forcible vaccination and the government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy to protect communitarian health, but found certain vaccine mandates imposed by the State governments and Union Territory administrations disproportionate as they tend to deny access to basic welfare measures and freedom of movement to unvaccinated individuals.
A Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao said such mandates wilted in the face of “emerging scientific opinion” that the risk of transmission of the infection from unvaccinated individuals was almost on a par with that from those vaccinated.
“With respect to bodily integrity and personal autonomy of an individual in the light of vaccines and other public health measures introduced to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are of the opinion that bodily integrity is protected under Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution and no individual can be forced to be vaccinated,” the court said.
The court struck a balance between individual right to bodily integrity and refuse treatment with the government’s concern for public health. A person has the right under Article 21 to refuse treatment, it said.
“Personal autonomy of an individual, which is a recognised facet of protection guaranteed under Article 21 encompasses the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment in the sphere of individual health,” Justice Rao observed.
Subject to scrutiny
However, when the issue extended to “communitarian health”, the government was indeed “entitled to regulate issues”. But its right to regulate by imposing limits to individual rights was open to judicial scrutiny.
The judgment was a result of a challenge by Jacob Puliyel, a former member of National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
2. LIC is more than a corporate powerhouse
Creating employment opportunities for women is fundamental to its identity
It is a tribute to the Nehruvian vision that the large number of institutions created in the post-independent era have withstood the test of time and many of them have risen to global standards. From oil to steel, dams to highways, from the iconic IITs to the prestigious Institute of design, they have covered almost every segment of economic activity.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, described them as temples of modern India. Undoubtedly, India’s emergence today as an economic powerhouse rests on the foundation of these remarkable institutions created in the early years of free India.
In 1947, India with a population of 345 million, a per capita income of ₹249.6 and literacy rate of 12% was one of the poorest countries in the world. Even amidst such an environment of deprivation and low income, Nehru felt the importance of social security and the need for promoting a culture of insurance. Thus, was born the idea of a state-run Life Insurance Corporation and LIC was established on September 1, 1956.
Initiative for women
LIC has steadily grown in the past six decades and today with over 290 million policy holders and an asset value of ₹38 lakh crore ($520 billion), it ranks as one of the largest insurance companies in the world. Yet, when LIC celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2017, its biggest achievement was hardly mentioned — the fact that LIC created large scale employment for women right from its inception in 1956.
Thousands of women became LIC agents in the 1950s and 60s, when job opportunities were scarce. There was no entry barrier in terms of age or fixed time for work. Education requirement was a mere high school pass. Many of these women were housewives who could earn an extra income by selling LIC policies.
This was a period before the arrival of digital technologies and mobile phones. Very few households had landlines and these women had to sell the policies through personal contacts. In fact, most of them did not have any marketing experience, yet LIC was able to create a vast army of motivated agents and inspiring stories emerged from them.
Usha Sangwan, the first woman to become the Managing Director of Life Insurance Corporation of India described this initiative “as one of the great social experiments of the time, turning raw talents to mature professionals”. LIC had an innovative reward scheme for the agents, offering a membership of exclusive clubs based on their performances. These clubs ranged from Manager’s Club, progressively moving higher and higher to reach the top level of Chairman’s club. Many agents climb these stairs fast to reach the top level to earn substantial amounts as commission.
A milestone in the history of India’s insurance industry was the opening of the sector for private participation in the year 2000 and this caused widespread concern that LIC will find the competition tough and could very well be marginalised. Today, there are 24 private players in the life insurance space and many of them have foreign collaborations. Yet, LIC remains a colossus capturing 75% of the life insurance business in the country. Its claim settlement at 99.87% is far above the industry average of 84%.
Ms. Sangwan says, “much of the success has come from the incomparably dedicated twelve lakh agents. Many of them were women who have chosen a career that is essentially suitable for women’s personality and talent. Their success in spreading the value of insurance is unimaginable”.
Policies focused on savings
Innovation has been the single most important factor that underpins LIC’s marketing strategy. In a country of vast poverty and low income, LIC recognised from the beginning that it cannot sell insurance as a risk cover on premature death. It therefore devised policies focussing on savings and the need for children’s education and daughter’s marriage which are fundamentals to family values in India. These policies also ensured that a part of the premium paid was returned at regular intervals before the maturity period, providing liquidity for emergencies. They simultaneously covered risk caused by death. LIC also differed from its new generation competitors in its marketing style and culture. While the private players concentrated on technology-driven marketing, LIC’s approach was significantly people-centric.
Everything about LIC from its logo with its two hands protecting a flame to its focus on India’s rural population has a powerful impact on ordinary lives.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the highly publicised Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana for financial inclusion of over 300 million of the rural population on August 15, 2014, LIC was already there with its policies covering a rural population of 200 million.
It also established itself as a unique organisation among India’s public sector enterprises. Yet that uniqueness is hardly recognised in India.
Skill India Mission
In his biography of master filmmaker Satyajit Ray, Andrew Robinson says, “Indians have an incredible capacity of ignoring home-grown success stories until the rest of the world discovers them”.
The fact remains that LIC kept a low profile inspite of its many-sided achievements. When the Prime Minister launched the Skill India Mission, many foreign agencies and institutions saw a honeypot there and rushed to put their hands in. Yet no institution was more equipped to take on this massive task other than LIC of India.
Its over a million strong agents provide case studies that touch real India. It is this treasure of real-life situations that can form the basis of a strong skilling mission. The distinguished management guru C.K. Prahlad once observed that these case studies should be a part of the syllabus of management schools of India and must replace cases borrowed from foreign universities. LIC’s training programme with its mix of online education and real-life case studies offer the best model for India’s skill development programmes.
In India, education is more a means to find a job than a process to acquire knowledge. LIC’s relevance comes from its track record of creating vast number of employment opportunities for ordinary Indians, male and female, urban and rural.
LIC is now at a transformational moment. Its listing on the bourses should lift LIC to be a part of the elite corporate community in India. Yet, the nation must not forget the fact that LIC was built on sweat and tears, pain and sacrifice of ordinary Indians. It is these democratic credentials that remain LIC’s most valuable asset.
3. The debate on the national language
What were the Constituent Assembly debates about Hindi being made the ‘national’ language? What happened in 1965?
Under Article 343 of the Constitution, the official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script.
The official language issue was hotly debated in the Constituent Assembly, and the provisions relating to it were formulated only after a compromise that English shall continue to be used for 15 years.
Jawaharlal Nehru had given an assurance in 1959 that English would remain in official use. However, the Official Languages Act, 1963, did not explicitly incorporate this assurance, causing apprehensions in Tamil Nadu. Violent protests broke out in the State in January 1965. When the Official Language Rules were framed in 1976, it was made clear that the Rules apply to the whole of India, except Tamil Nadu.
The story so far: Remarks by a Hindi actor to the effect that Hindi is the national language of India sparked a controversy recently over the status of the language under the Constitution. Many were quick to point out that there is no national language for India, and that Hindi is the official language of the Union. The official language issue was hotly debated in the Constituent Assembly, and the provisions relating to it were formulated only after a compromise that English shall continue to be used for 15 years.
What is the status of Hindi?
Under Article 343 of the Constitution, the official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script. The international form of Indian numerals will be used for official purposes.
The Constituent Assembly was bitterly divided on the question, with members from States that did not speak Hindi initially opposing the declaration of Hindi as a national language. Proponents of Hindi were insistent that English was the language of enslavement and that it should be eliminated as early as possible. Opponents were against English being done away with, fearing that it may lead to Hindi domination in regions that did not speak the language.
There were demands to make Sanskrit the official language, while some argued in favour of ‘Hindustani’. There were differences of opinion over the script too. When opinion veered towards accepting Hindi, proponents of the language wanted the ‘Devanagari’ script to be adopted both for words and numerals. Some advocated that the Roman script be adopted, as it would facilitate faster learning of Hindi. The predominant opinion was in favour of adopting ‘international numerals’ (the Arabic form used and understood throughout the world) instead of Hindi numerals.
Ultimately, it was decided that the Constitution will only speak of an ‘official language’. And that English would continue to be used for a period of 15 years. The Constitution said that after 15 years, Parliament may by law decide on the use of English and the use of the Devanagari form of numbers for specified purposes.
What is the Eighth Schedule?
The Eighth Schedule contains a list of languages in the country. Initially, there were 14 languages in the schedule, but now there are 22 languages. There is no description of the sort of languages that are included or will be included in the Eighth Schedule. There are only two references to these languages in the text of the Constitution. One is in Article 344(1), which provides for the formation of a Commission by the President, which should have a Chairman and members representing these scheduled languages. The purpose of the Commission is to make recommendations for the progressive use of Hindi for official purposes of the Union and for restricting the use of English.
The second reference, found in Article 351, says it is the Union government’s duty to promote the spread of Hindi so that it becomes “a medium of expression for all elements of the composite culture of India” and also to assimilate elements of forms and expressions from Hindustani and languages listed in the Eighth Schedule.
What were the 1965 protests about?
The Official Languages Act, 1963 was passed in anticipation of the expiry of the 15-year period during which the Constitution originally allowed the use of English for official purposes. Its operative section provided for the continuing use of English, notwithstanding the expiry of the 15-year period. This came into force from Jan 26, 1965, a date which marked the completion of 15 years since the Constitution was adopted.
Jawaharlal Nehru had given an assurance in 1959 that English would remain in official use and as the language of communication between the Centre and the States. The Official Languages Act, 1963, did not explicitly incorporate this assurance, causing apprehensions in some States as the January 1965 deadline neared. At that time, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri reiterated the government’s commitment to move towards making Hindi the official language for all purposes.
In Tamil Nadu, then known as Madras, the prospect of the use of Hindi as the medium of examination for recruitment to the Union public services created an apprehension that Hindi would be imposed in such a way that the future employment prospects of those who do not speak Hindi will be bleak. With the Congress government in the State taking the view that the people had nothing to fear about, protests broke out in January 1965. It took a violent turn after more and more student activists joined the protest, and continued even after key Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leaders were arrested. More than 60 people died in police firing and other incidents as the protests went on for days. The agitation died down later, but by then the Congress at the Centre realised the sensitivity of the language issue among Tamil-speaking people. When the Official Language Rules were framed in 1976, it was made clear that the Rules apply to the whole of India, except Tamil Nadu.
What is the three-language formula?
Since the 1960s, the Centre’s education policy documents speak of teaching three languages — Hindi, English and one regional language in Hindi-speaking States, and Hindi, English and the official regional language in other States. In practice, however, only some States teach both their predominant language and Hindi, besides English.
In States where Hindi is the official language, a third language is rarely taught as a compulsory subject. Tamil Nadu has been steadfastly opposing the three-language formula and sticks to teaching Tamil and English. It argues that those who need to know Hindi can learn on their own.
Conscious effort on the part of the framers of the Constitution to ensure flexibility and accommodate diversity renders India’s federalism an original form
India consciously adopted a version of federalism that made the Union government and State governments interdependent on each other (with latter more vis-a-vis the former) thereby violating the primal characteristic of a federal constitution i.e., autonomous spheres of authority for Union and State governments.
There are four main reasons why India adopted a centralised federal structure. First was the partition of India and its concomitant concerns. The second reason was to forge a national civic identity. The third reason concerns the objective of building a welfare state and the final reason was to alleviate inter-regional economic inequality.
While the aforementioned reasons make a case for a centralised federal set-up, the structure’s effectiveness is solely dependent on the intent and objectives a government aims to achieve.
Vignesh Karthik K.R.
The contemporary discourse on federalism in India is moving on a discursive note across multiple dimensions, be it economic, political and cultural, to the extent that one is compelled to regard India to be at an inflection point vis-a-vis Centre-State relations owing to increasing asymmetry. Professor Shawn Rosenberg has argued that without an active and committed citizenry a democracy can devour itself and, in this context, it is worth engaging with India’s federal ethos and the associated asymmetries.
Federal, quasi federal or hybrid?
India consciously adopted a version of federalism that made the Union government and State governments interdependent on each other (latter more vis-a-vis the former) thereby violating the primal characteristic of a federal constitution i.e., autonomous spheres of authority for Union and State governments. Similar other constitutional features include the size and composition of the Rajya Sabha akin to that of the Lok Sabha thereby favouring larger States; Article 3 of the Indian Constitution which allows the Union to alter the boundaries of a State without the latter’s consent, emergency powers, and concurrent list subjects of the Seventh Schedule wherein the Union possesses more authority than the State barring a few exceptions. India’s centralised federal structure was not marked by the process of ‘coming together’ but was an outcome of ‘holding together’ and ‘putting together’.
Ambedkar called India’s federation a Union as it was indestructible which is why the Constitution does not contain words related to federalism. He also said that India’s Constitution holds requisite flexibility to be federal and unitary on a need basis. While the Supreme Court of India held that federalism was a part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution in the S.R. Bommai vs Union of India case(1994), the Court also held that the Indian variant of federalism upholds a strong centre in the Kuldip Nayar vs Union of India case (2006).
Professor Louise Tillin argues that a conscious effort on the part of the framers of the Constitution to ensure flexibility and accommodate diversity renders India’s federalism an original form which is neither conventional nor reductive.
The reasons for a centralised federal structure
It is worth noting that the Indian National Congress (INC) vehemently opposed the discretionary powers of the provincial governors in the run-up to the 1937 elections and advocated in favour of autonomy. However, following the governance experience, in 1939, Nehru argued otherwise. Therefore, contextualising the choice of the framers of the Constitution provides a much needed insight on the past, thereby helping one understand the present and imagine the future of India’s federal ethos. Tillin presents at least four reasons that informed India’s choice of a centralised federal structure.
First was the partition of India and the concomitant concerns. Anticipating the Muslim League’s participation in the Constituent Assembly debates following the Cabinet Mission plan in 1946, the Objectives Resolution introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru in the Assembly were inclined towards a decentralised federal structure wherein States would wield residuary powers. Further, in his presidential address at the 44th session of the INC, J.B. Kripalani too spoke in favour of maximum autonomy to the States and regarded centralisation to be at odds with liberty. However, after the Partition a revised stand was unanimously taken by the Union Powers Committee of the Constituent Assembly, in favour of a strong Union with residuary powers and weaker States, to safeguard the integrity of the nation.
The second reason pivoted around the reconstitution of social relations in a highly hierarchical and discriminatory society towards forging a national civic identity as argued by Professor Katharine Adeney instead of immediate caste and linguistic identities. Dr. Madhav Khosla shows that Nehru and Ambedkar believed that a centralised federal structure would unsettle prevalent trends of social dominance, help fight poverty better and therefore yield liberating outcomes. The third reason concerns the objective of building a welfare state. Drawing from existing literature, Tillin shows that in a decentralised federal setup, redistributive policies could be structurally thwarted by organised (small and dominant) groups. Instead, a centralised federal set-up can prevent such issues and further a universal rights-based system.
The final reason involved the alleviation of inter-regional economic inequality. The cotton mill industry in Bombay, and the jute mill industry in the Bengal region were subject to a ‘race to the bottom’ or rampant cost cutting practices. The Bengal region saw workers’ rights and safety nets being thwarted by Anglo-Scottish mill owners. The Bombay region had an empowered working class — thanks to the trade unionists — thereby affecting the business interests of mill owners owing to race to the bottom practices in the adjacent cotton belt region mills.
Provincial interventions seemed to exacerbate inequalities. India’s membership in the International Labour Organization, the Nehru Report (1928), and the Bombay Plan (1944) pushed for a centralised system to foster socio-economic rights and safeguards for the working and entrepreneurial classes.
The present and the future
While the aforementioned reasons make a case for a centralised federal set-up, the structure’s effectiveness is solely dependent on the intent and objectives a government aims to achieve. For instance, Tillin observed that linguistic reorganisation would not have been possible if India followed a rigid or conventional federal system. In other words, the current form of federalism in the Indian context is largely a function of the intent of the government of the day and the objectives it seeks to achieve. The majoritarian tendencies prevalent today are subverting the unique and indigenised set-up into an asymmetrical one. Inter alia, delayed disbursal of resources and tax proceeds, bias towards electorally unfavourable States, evasion of accountability, blurring spheres of authority, weakening institutions, proliferation of fissiparous political ideologies all signal towards the diminishing of India’s plurality or regionalisation of the nation — a process that is highly antithetical to the forging of a supra-local and secular national identity that preserves and promotes pluralism.
While it would be safe to argue that our federal set-up is a conscious choice, its furthering or undoing, will depend on the collective will of the citizenry and the representatives they vote to power.
5. ‘Delhi airport second busiest in the world’
Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport in Delhi emerged as the second busiest airport in the world in March 2022, toppling the Dubai International Airport, according to travel data provider OAG.
IGI saw a total of 36.11 lakh seats deployed by various airlines. The top 10 busiest airport rankings by the OAG are based on the total domestic and international seat capacity and the frequency of flights. The airport replaced Dubai International Airport which witnessed 35.54 lakh seats. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) retained the top position with 44.22 lakh seats.
IGI also climbed 21 spots compared with March 2019. While the number of seats deployed in March 2019 for Delhi airport was not immediately available, government data from the Airports Authority of India show that total domestic and international passengers at the airport in March 2022 was 92% (50.7 lakh) of the numbers seen in the corresponding month in 2019.
“India last month opened its borders and allowed the entry of fully-vaccinated international travellers. It has largely helped the travel and tourism industry and given a much-needed boost to air travel,” Videh Kumar Jaipuriar, CEO, DIAL, said.
6. SC apprised of school dropouts over COVID-related penury
Court told that there was no information about children who left school
The Supreme Court’s attention was drawn on Monday to the reality that an unaccounted number of children may have dropped out of school because their parents, though alive, lost their jobs or families got displaced during the COVID-19 outbreak.
So far, the court has mainly focused on identifying children orphaned or who have lost one of their parents to the pandemic. A Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao learnt that very little was known about children who were forced to drop out of school during the COVID-19 upsurge when their families lost their sole means of sustenance. In fact, the court wondered whether children who dropped out because their parents lost their livelihood may equal, if not best, the number of children orphaned by COVID-19.
The Supreme Court’s amicus curiae, advocate Gaurav Agarwal, said these children who left school to support their families had not got the attention they deserved. While authorities such as the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the State governments were actively collecting data on COVID orphans, children who dropped out of school hardly get a mention for the sole reason that their parents or guardians were still alive.
He said such children also do not figure in the NCPCR’s “Bal Swaraj” portal. There was no information, even on the Internet, about children who left school after their parents lost their jobs or the families got displaced due to migration of labour, the amicus curiae submitted. He said the only way forward to track these children would be to have the Education departments verify their details.
“Education is the fundamental right of these children… Why can’t the State come to their rescue,” Justice Rao asked. The court ordered the NCPCR to “ponder” over the issue raised by Mr. Agarwal and submit its suggestions for a way out on the next date of hearing. The Bench asked the States and Union Territories also to respond to the issue and come up with a course of action to “ensure that dropouts due to the adverse effects of COVID would not continue”.