1. The Uniform Civil Code
What were the Constituent Assembly debates about the UCC? What were the different arguments? Is uniformity even desirable for a nation that is as diverse as India? How have Courts looked upon the implementation of the UCC?
Gujarat has joined the list of BJP-ruled States that have called for implementing the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). While there is no draft or model document yet for the UCC, the framers of the Constitution envisioned that it would be a uniform set of laws that would replace the distinct personal laws of each religion.
The clause on UCC generated substantial debate in the Constituent Assembly about whether it should be included as a fundamental right or a directive principle. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar felt that while desirable, the UCC should remain “purely voluntary” in the initial stages. He stated that the Article “merely” proposed that the state shall endeavour to secure a UCC, which means it would not impose it on all citizens.
It has been argued that while India does have uniformity in most criminal and civil matters like the Criminal Procedure Code and the Civil Procedure Code, States have made over 100 amendments to the CrPC and IPC, as well as several amendments to civil laws. Similarly, looking at the codified personal laws of various communities in India — all Hindus are not governed by a homogenous personal law even after the enactment of the Hindu Code Bill, neither are Muslims and Christians under their personal laws.
The story so far:
Ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections, Gujarat on October 29 joined the list of BJP-ruled States that have called for implementing the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). Gujarat Home Minister Harsh Sanghavi along with Union Minister Parshottam Rupala announced that the State will constitute a committee headed by a retired High Court judge to evaluate all aspects for implementing the UCC.
What did the Constituent Assembly say about the UCC?
Article 44 contained in part IV of the Constitution says that the state “shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”. While there is no draft or model document yet for the UCC, the framers of the Constitution envisioned that it would be a uniform set of laws that would replace the distinct personal laws of each religion with regard to matters like marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance. Part IV of the Constitution outlines the Directive Principles of State Policy, which, while not enforceable or justiciable in a court of law, are fundamental to the country’s governance.
The clause on UCC generated substantial debate in the Constituent Assembly about whether it should be included as a fundamental right or a directive principle. The matter had to be settled by vote; with a majority of 5:4, wherein the sub-committee on fundamental rights headed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel decided that securing a UCC was not within the scope of fundamental rights.
Members of the Assembly took starkly contrasting stances on the UCC. Some also felt that India was too diverse a country for the UCC. Member Naziruddin Ahmad from Bengal argued that certain civil laws in all communities were “inseparably connected with religious beliefs and practices”. He felt the UCC would come in the way of Article 19 of the draft Constitution (now Article 25) which guarantees the right to freedom of religion subject to public order, morality, and health. While he was not against the idea of a uniform civil law, he argued that the time for that had not yet come, adding that the process had to be gradual and not without the consent of the concerned communities.
Member K.M. Munshi however, rejected the notion that a UCC would be against the freedom of religion as the Constitution allowed the government to make laws covering secular activities related to religious practices if they were intended for social reform. He advocated for the UCC, stating benefits such as promoting the unity of the nation and equality for women. He said that if personal laws of inheritance, succession and so on were seen as a part of religion, then many discriminatory practices of the Hindu personal law against women could not be eliminated.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had more of an ambivalent stance toward the UCC. He felt that while desirable, the UCC should remain “purely voluntary” in the initial stages. He stated that the Article “merely” proposed that the state shall endeavour to secure a UCC, which means it would not impose it on all citizens. The amendments to protect personal laws from the UCC were eventually rejected.
What are the various arguments around the UCC?
It has been argued that while India does have uniformity in most criminal and civil matters like the Criminal Procedure Code, Civil Procedure Code, and the Contract Act, States have made over 100 amendments to the CrPC and IPC, as well as several amendments to civil laws. For instance, BJP-ruled States reduced the fines prescribed and justified by the Centre under the amended Motor Vehicles Act. Another example could be that the law of anticipatory bail differs from one State to another.
Experts thus argue that if there is plurality in already codified civil and criminal laws, how can the concept of ‘one nation, one law’ be applied to diverse personal laws of various communities? Besides, constitutional law experts argue that perhaps the framers did not intend total uniformity, which is why personal laws were placed in entry 5 of the Concurrent List, with the power to legislate being given to Parliament and State Assemblies.
Looking at the codified personal laws of various communities in India — all Hindus are not governed by a homogenous personal law even after the enactment of the Hindu Code Bill, neither are Muslims and Christians under their personal laws. Even at the time of drafting the Hindu Code Bill, several of its provisions actually sought to locate the complex links between the importance of inheritance, succession rights and the right to divorce. But facing staunch opposition from conservative quarters, it was amended, diluted, and watered down multiple times to finally be separated into four different Acts — the Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Succession Act, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act — in the 1950s.
Constitutional law scholar Faizan Mustafa notes that while marriages amongst close relatives are prohibited by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, they are considered auspicious in the south of India. Even the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 made several compromises and could not make the daughter a coparcener till 2005. Wives are still not coparceners nor do they have an equal share in inheritance. Similarly, there is still no uniform applicability when it comes to the Muslim personal law or the Shariat Act that was passed in 1937. For instance, the Shariat Act is not applicable in Jammu and Kashmir and Muslims continue to be governed by customary law which is at variance with the Muslim personal law in the rest of the country. The applicability also varies for certain sects of Muslims. Besides, many tribal groups in the country, regardless of their religion, follow their own customary laws
While the Supreme Court in 2019 hailed Goa as a “shining example” of an Indian State which has a functioning UCC, experts point out that the ground reality in Goa is more complex and that the Code has legal pluralities. The Goa Civil Code was given by the Portuguese in 1867; it permits a certain form of polygamy for Hindus while the Shariat Act for Muslims has not been extended to Goa with Muslims of the State being governed by Portuguese law as well as Shastric Hindu law. The Code gives certain concessions to Catholics as well. Catholics need not register their marriages and Catholic priests can dissolve marriages performed in church.
Meanwhile, the BJP’s 2019 manifesto as well as the Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami’s UCC committee proposal argue that the uniform code would be formed by taking the best practices of various religions and tailoring them for modern times. Researchers say this would essentially mean picking up certain Muslim practices and applying them to the Hindu community (or vice-versa), and question whether there would not be any opposition to the same.
What has the Supreme Court said about the UCC?
The Supreme Court in various judgements has called for the implementation of the UCC. In its Mohd. Ahmed Khan vs Shah Bano Begum judgement of 1985, where a divorced Muslim woman demanded maintenance from her former husband, the apex court while deciding whether to give prevalence to the CrPc or the Muslim personal law, called for the implementation of the UCC.
The Court also called on the government to implement the UCC in the 1995 Sarla Mudgal judgement as well as in the Paulo Coutinho vs Maria Luiza Valentina Pereira case (2019).
What has the Law Commission said?
The Modi government in 2016 requested the Law Commission of India to determine how to form a code in the presence of “thousands of personal laws” in the country. In 2018, the Law Commission submitted a 185-page consultation paper on the reform of family law. The paper stated that a unified nation did not necessarily need “uniformity”, adding that secularism could not contradict the plurality prevalent in the country. In fact, the term “secularism” had meaning only if it assured the expression of any form of difference, the Commission noted. While saying that a UCC “is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage”, the report recommended that discriminatory practices, prejudices and stereotypes within a particular religion and its personal laws should be studied and amended. The Commission suggested certain measures in marriage and divorce that should be uniformly accepted in the personal laws of all religions. Some of these amendments include fixing the marriageable age for boys and girls at 18 years so that they are married as equals, making adultery a ground for divorce for men and women and simplifying the divorce procedure. It also called for the abolition of the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) as a tax-exempted entity.
What is the government’s stance?
While the UCC is a long-time poll promise of the BJP, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said in Parliament this year that the government currently had no plans to set up a panel to implement the UCC and requested the 22nd Law Commission of India to undertake an examination of various issues relating to the same. The chairperson and members of said Law Commission, which was set up in 2021, have not yet been appointed.
2. The Falcon Heavy launch: the most powerful operational rocket in the world
What is the recently launched Elon Musk-owned SpaceX rocket carrying to space? How is the U.S. military involved in this mission? Is this the first time the rocket has been launched? Have previous missions been successful?
The story so far:
On November 1, Elon Musk-owned SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket into a geosynchronous Earth orbit from the Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, U.S. This is considered as a National Security Space Launch for the U.S. military. The company hails this as the most powerful operational rocket in the world. This is the fourth launch of the giant rocket system, and the first one in nearly three years since its last launch in 2019.
What is its current mission?
The rocket is carrying satellites to space for the U.S. military in a mission named as U.S. Space Force (USSF)-44. The mission deployed two spacecraft payloads, one of which is the TETRA 1 microsatellite created for various prototype missions in and around the geosynchronous earth orbit. The other payload is for national defence purposes. It will place the satellites for the Space Systems Command’s Innovation and Prototyping.
Space Systems Command (SSC) is the oldest military space organisation in the United States Armed Forces. It is responsible for developing, acquiring, equipping, fielding and sustaining lethal and resilient space capabilities. SSC mission capability areas include launch acquisition and operations, communications and positioning, navigation and timing, space sensing, battle management command, control, and communications, and space domain awareness and combat power.
The Falcon Heavy uses three boosters for added thrust and lift capacity. The centre booster plunged into the ocean as planned and the two side boosters landed on ground pads at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. These two boosters will be refurbished for a subsequent U.S. Space Force mission later this year, according to a press release by the Space Systems Command. The boosters are reused on other missions to cut down on mission costs.
What are the specifications of the Falcon Heavy rocket?
SpaceX claims Falcon Heavy to be the most powerful rocket in the world today by a factor of two. With a lifting capacity of around 64 metric tonnes into orbit, Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy.
The rocket has a height of 70 m, a width of 12.2 m and a mass of 1,420,788 kg. Falcon Heavy has 27 Merlin engines which together generate more than five million pounds of thrust at lift-off, equalling around eighteen 747 aircraft at full power. This makes it the most capable rocket flying. The rocket can lift the equivalent of a fully loaded 737 jetliner, complete with passengers, luggage and fuel, to orbit, SpaceX said.
Merlin is a family of rocket engines developed by SpaceX for use on its Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles. Merlin engines use RP-1 and liquid oxygen as rocket propellants in a gas-generator power cycle. These engines were designed for recovery and reuse, according to SpaceX.
When was the Falcon Heavy last launched?
SpaceX last launched its Falcon Heavy rocket in June 2019 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It carried 24 satellites as part of the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program-2.
The satellites included four NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) technology and science payloads to study non-toxic spacecraft fuel, deep space navigation, “bubbles” in the electrically-charged layers of Earth’s upper atmosphere, and radiation protection for satellites, according to a NASA release. The space agency said that the mission was useful for smarter spacecraft design and benefitted the agency’s Moon to Mars exploration plans by providing greater insight into the effects of radiation in space. It also tested out an atomic clock that could change how spacecraft navigates and looked at how the space environment around the Earth affects us.
Why was there a delay in the current mission?
The mission was earlier scheduled for lift-off in 2020 but was delayed. The exact reasons for delaying the mission were not publicly disclosed but payload readiness issues were considered to be the cause. Also, most of SpaceX’s missions till date did not require the massive power of the Falcon Heavy.
What about the other launches of Falcon Heavy?
The Falcon Heavy debuted in 2018 when SpaceX CEO Elon Musk sent his personal red Tesla Roadster, an electric sports car with a dummy driver, into space as a test payload. The car is still in space, orbiting around the sun, travelling as far away as Mars’ orbit and, at times, as close as Earth’s orbit. SpaceX launched the other two Falcon Heavy missions in 2019. One carried a TV and phone service satellite to orbit for Saudi Arabia-based Arabsat, and the other carried experimental satellites for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Are there any future launches?
SpaceX is said to be working on even bigger rockets. The company is targeting early December to launch its giant Starship rocket system, according to a report by Reuters.
These test flights of Starship are all about improving our understanding and development of a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration interplanetary flights, and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond, SpaceX said in its website.
The Musk-owned company claimed Starship to be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, with the ability to carry an excess of 100 metric tonnes to Earth orbit.
3. Camera traps renew hope for snow leopard in Kashmir
The first-ever recording of the snow leopard from the Baltal-Zojila region has renewed hopes for the elusive predator in the higher altitudes of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
Camera trapping exercises by researchers from Nature Conservation Foundation (India), partnering with J&K’s Department of Wildlife Protection, also raised hopes for other important and rare species such as the Asiatic ibex, brown bear and Kashmir musk deer in the upper reaches of the northernmost part of India.
“It is the first record of snow leopard from the Baltal-Zojila area. In fact, we have very limited records of the presence of snow leopards across J&K,” Munib Khanyari, programme manager at NCF (India), told The Hindu on November 6.
But not much is known about the number of snow leopards in J&K and Ladakh.
“The Snow Leopard Population Assessment of India (SPAI) has been concluded so far in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The estimated population of the great cat is 50 and 100, respectively, in these two States,” he said.
Various teams have been conducting surveys across the nearly 12,000 sq. km potential snow leopard territory of J&K for a few years now covering Gurez, Thajwas, Baltal-Zojila, Warwan, and Kishtwar. The surveys have often focused on the neighbouring areas of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
The Snow Leopard, alternatively called as the ‘ounce’, is a large member of the cat family native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia.
It is easily recognisable with its distinctive white fur that gives its eponymous name.
Characteristics of the Snow Leopard
The snow leopard’s fur is whitish to gray with black spots around its head and neck, while its belly is whitish. Its eyes are green or grey in color with domed forehead and short muzzle. It also has a bushy tail and a large nasal cavity.
The snow leopard is well known for its adaptation to living in cold, mountainous environments. It also comes with physical features such as small rounded ears to help minimize heat loss, broad paws to help walking in snow and fur on its underside for better grip and balance maintenance.
Its thick tail helps in maintaining balance in rocky terrain while the fat stored in it acts like a blanket to protect its face when it is asleep.
To know more about Biodiversity in general, visit the linked article.
Further characteristics of the Snow Leopard is discussed in the table below:
Characteristics of a Snow Leopard
|Shoulder Height||56 cm|
|Head to Body Size||75 to 150 cm|
|Tail Length||80 to 105 cm|
|Weight||Between 22 and 55 kg|
|Latin Name||Panthera uncia|
|Habitat||Southern Siberia, India, Nepal Bhutan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan|
Behaviour and Hunting Traits of the Snow Leopard
Snow leopards are solitary animals, but do share common space at times. They are active at dawn until early morning then again in afternoons and early evenings. Their preferred resting spots are near cliffs and ridges.
Like other members of the cat family, the snow leopard uses scent marks to indicate their territories and travel routes.
The snow leopard is a carnivorous mammal that actively hunts its prey but also eats carrion should the opportunity arise. Its preferred prey species are Himalayan blue sheep, argail, markhor and wild goat. It also hunts smaller mammals such as pika and vole. The diet of the snow leopard varies according to its range, time of year and availability.
Conservation status of the Snow Leopard
The total population of snow leopards was believed to be 4080 to 6500 but another survey in 2016 pegged the population to be from 4678 to 8745 individuals. As such the snow leopard is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List as its global population is estimated to be less than 10,000 and its number is expected to decline further by 10% by 2040
The major threat to the snow leopard population is poaching and illegal trade in body parts along with habitat destruction due to global warming.
There are numerous conservation groups that are working towards the preservation of the snow leopard population. These groups focus on community programs in regions inhabited by snow leopards that educate the human population in understanding the big cats’ need as well as the importance of coexistence between man and animal.
Some of the conservation programs are as follows:
- The Snow Leopard Trust
- The Snow Leopard Conservancy
- The Snow Leopard Network
- Panthera Corporation
- Global Snow Leopard Forum
- Project Snow Leopard
4. COP-27 puts climate compensation on agenda for first time
‘This won’t guarantee compensation or necessarily acknowledge liability, but is intended to lead to a conclusive decision no later than 2024’
Delegates at the COP-27 climate summit in Egypt agreed after late-night talks to put the delicate issue of whether rich nations should compensate poor countries most vulnerable to climate change on the formal agenda for the first time.
For more than a decade, wealthy nations have rejected official discussions on what is referred to as loss and damage, or funds they provide to help poor countries cope with the consequences of global warming.
COP-27 President Sameh Shoukry told the plenary that opens this year’s two-week United Nations conference attended by more than 190 countries the decision created “an institutionally stable space” for discussion of “the pressing issue of funding arrangements”.
At COP-26 last year in Glasgow, high-income nations blocked a proposal for a loss and damage financing body, instead supporting a three-year dialogue for funding discussions.
The loss and damage discussions now on the COP-27 agenda will not guarantee compensation or necessarily acknowledge liability, but are intended to lead to a conclusive decision “no later than 2024”, Mr. Shoukry said.
The issue could generate even more tension than at previous conferences this year as the Ukraine war, a surge in energy prices and the risk of economic recession have at once added to governments’ reluctance to promise funds and poor nations’ need for them.
Negotiations on Saturday night before the agenda’s adoption “were extremely challenging,” Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at the non-profit Climate Action Network International, said. “Rich countries in the first place never wanted loss and damage to be on the agenda.”
Some criticised the dismissive language on liability, but although weaker than hoped, getting the issue formally on the agenda will oblige wealthier nations to engage on the topic.
“They rightly expect more solidarity from the rich countries, and Germany is ready for this, both in climate financing and in dealing with damage and losses,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in a statement.
Germany wants to launch a “protective shield against climate risks” at the conference, an initiative it has been working on with vulnerable states such as Bangladesh and Ghana.
Bangladeshi-based environmental research body, the International Centre for Climate Change and Development said it was “good news” loss and damage was officially on the agenda.
“Now the real work begins to make finance a reality,” Salmeel Huq, director of the centre, said.
United Nations Environment Programme
- The UNEP is a leading global environmental authority established on 5th June 1972.
- Functions: It sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the sustainable development within the United Nations system, and serves as an authoritative advocate for global environment protection.
- Major Reports: Emission Gap Report, Global Environment Outlook, Frontiers, Invest into Healthy Planet.
- Major Campaigns: Beat Pollution, UN75, World Environment Day, Wild for Life.
- Headquarters: Nairobi, Kenya.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
- UNFCCC was signed in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development also known as the Earth Summit, the Rio Summit or the Rio Conference.
- India is among the select few countries to have hosted the COP of all three Rio conventions on climate change (UNFCCC), biodiversity (CBD) and land (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification).
- The UNFCCC entered into force in 1994 and has been ratified by 197 countries.
- It is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Agreement. It is also the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
- The UNFCCC secretariat (UN Climate Change) is the United Nations entity tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change. It is located in Bonn, Germany.
- Its objective is to achieve stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous repercussions within a time frame so as to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally and enable sustainable development.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
UNFCCC is the primary multilateral treaty governing actions to combat climate change through adaptation and mitigation efforts directed at control of emission of Green House Gases (GHGs) that cause global warming. Even though climate change is a global concern some of the countries are majorly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Many island nations are facing the major brunt of this Climate Change in the form of sea-level rise, cyclones, erratic weather conditions, etc. UNFCCC is a major step in the direction to control the downward spiral of climate change.
It is called the Rio Convention along with its sister conventions:
- UN Convention on Biological Diversity and
- UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
- The first global conference on climate change was held in 1972 in Stockholm, Sweden.
- This conference ushered in numerous global negotiations and international agreements on the environment.
- All of these culminated in the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, in 1992.
- The treaty sets limits on GHG emissions in countries, but these are not binding and there are no enforcement mechanisms either.
- However, there are provisions for updates or protocols that can be used to set legally binding emission limits on countries.
- The parties to the convention meet annually in the Conference of the Parties or COP to review the progress under the convention.
How Many Signatory Parties are there of the Agreement?
- As of 2020, the UNFCCC has 197 signatory parties.
When does its supreme decision-making body meet?
- Its supreme decision-making body, the Conference of the Parties (COP), meets annually to assess progress in dealing with climate change.
Categories of Parties (Countries) associated with UNFCCC
The categories of countries that are signatories to UNFCCC are given in the table below:
|Category of Parties||Meaning|
|Annex I||43 parties (countries) come under this category. The countries that come under this category are developed countries.|
|Annex II||24 countries of Annex I also come under Annex II countries. The countries in this category are expected to provide technical and financial assistance to countries coming under the category of developing countries.|
|Annex B||The countries in this category are Annex I countries, who have first or second-round Kyoto greenhouse gas emissions targets.|
|Least-developed countries (LDCs)||47 Parties (countries) come under the category of LDCs. These countries are given special status under the treaty taking into consideration their limitations adapting to the effects of climate change.|
|Non-Annex I||Parties (countries) that are not listed in Annex I that come under the category of low-income developing countries.|
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the third session of the UNFCCC. Read more about the Kyoto Protocol in the linked article. This protocol is based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, keeping in mind the socio-economic development of the concerned countries and the polluter pays principle.
Another important agreement within the UNFCCC is the Paris Agreement (COP 21) which aims to reduce and mitigate GHG emissions.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and India
- India ratified the UNFCCC in 1993.
- The nodal agency for the UNFCCC in India is the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
- Since India is a developing country, it is not required to adhere to GHG mitigation commitments because of its relatively smaller emissions and also because of lesser technical and financial capacities.
- India has been a big champion of the principles of Equity and Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capability (CBDR-RC) at the Convention.
- This is primarily based on the belief that developed countries have largely been responsible for the huge emission levels, owing to their being industrialized decades before the other countries.
- A scientific study carried on greenhouse gas emissions from the time period 1850 to 2012 estimated that the US, China and the European Union would contribute to 50 per cent of temperature increase by 2100.
- The total emissions’ share in the given time period of the US, European Union, and China is 20%, 17%, 12% respectively.
- On the other hand, India is responsible for only 5%.
- Another reason is that developing countries and LDCs would have to accord eradicating poverty and other developmental activities more priority as compared to environmental concerns. So, they should be allowed leeway in assessing capabilities in addressing climate change.
- India has played an active role in taking steps to mitigate climate change, as the country is exposed to risks associated with climate change like erratic monsoons and natural calamities like floods, droughts, landslides, etc.
- National Environment Policy, 2006 promotes sustainable development along with respect for ecological constraints and the imperatives of social justice.
- The Government of India launched the National Action Plan on Climate Change in 2008. Read more about it in the linked article.
- At COP 21 (Paris Agreement), India had made various commitments to be achieved by 2030.
- One commitment was to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
- For more on the commitments made by India, check the article on Paris Agreement.
- India was instrumental in the formation of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. Read more about it in PIB dated Nov 14, 2019.
- In the UN Climate talks that were held in Poland, India reiterated that the CBDR principle must be adhered to even as there were growing concerns that developed countries were trying to dilute it.
5. Editorial-1: Architecture, the profession, needs strengthening
It is 50 years since the Architects Act (1972) was passed to help build the modern profession of architecture. Architects have made steady progress since then, established contemporary design’s value and expanded their professional base. There are now about 1,26,000 registered architects, with around 10,000 new registrations every year. However, instead of effusing confidence and success, architects seem to be facing the same dilemmas they confronted 50 years ago: the profession has yet to be recognised in its own right, there is bitter rivalry with its engineering cousins, low professional fee structures, poor protection from market forces and confusion about the road ahead. Equally perplexing are the solutions proposed and charting a path. There are many who want to seek the legal route, amend the Act and demand that the state protect the profession further.
A legal route is futile
If history has any lessons to offer, it is the opposite. Acts do not guarantee excellence. Choking regulations are counterproductive; market forces are powerful and can countervail barriers to competition. In this context, pursuing a legal route to take on multitudinous challenges will be unproductive and futile. Instead, architects can do better if they abandon archaic notions of ‘profession’ built on narrow jurisdictional boundaries and focus on broad-basing practice, investing in internal cohesion, and improving professional ethics and quality of services. The path to securing a professional Act in architecture was not easy. Architecture emerged as a distinct profession and formed an influential association in the 19th century in the United Kingdom, but that was not the case in India. There were not enough architects or institutions to ensure parallel development. The first national-level association of architects was formed in 1929 with 158 members, many of whom were in Bombay. When professionalisation picked up momentum after Independence, and professional legislation such as the Dentists Act in 1948 and Indian Medical Council Act in 1956 were passed, it encouraged architects to revive their demands and struggle; they finally got their Act in 1972.
The Act was seen by architects as essential to separate them from those offering vocational services and also engineers. However, the government was unwilling to accept their demands and refused to make rendering architectural services exclusive to architects as it found many building services to be overlapping with those of engineers. The government only conceded to protect the title ‘architect’, which only qualified and registered professionals can use. Architects have had complaints since then.
Professionalisation is a monopoly of services given to those who acquire specialised knowledge. Eliot Freidson’s definitive work on professionalism justifies this as an organising principle of division of labour and argues that such monopoly is required since professionals acquire, govern and develop a special knowledge that society needs. Architects who enthusiastically subscribe to this ideal view overlook three key facts. First, a profession has no intrinsic privileges but is secured only through state-supported legislation. Second, in the Indian context, the profession was not formed free of contestations, and the debates have not ceased. Third, more importantly, the ground conditions have altered over the last three decades, and as an extensive consumer of professional services, the market has established itself as the lead patron. It now wields power to bulldoze any barrier to competitive procurement of services.
The state view
State support for professions, which is critical to legitimise claims of a monopoly of services, has also been neither unconditional nor stable. Its view of what constitutes public good has changed and is currently aligned with the market economy. Large corporates and the building industry seek competition and lower fees. As patrons and powerful clients, they can ignore provisions of the Architects Act and the protocols that flow from here. Further, they prefer handing over projects to consultancy firms that offer full services, that include design and construction.
More than in any profession, the dependency on the market and state has split architects into unequal groups. Using the categories described by Michael Reed, a scholar of organisational analysis, one can identify a minority group of influential elites and their larger firms on one side and a predominant group of independent architects with medium and small firms on the other. Elites view the market economy to their advantage and support competitive demands. They flourish when steep entry barriers, such as high turnover requirements imposed by the state and private firms, keep out many small and medium firms. This disparity cannot be addressed through legislation but can be engaged only through the professional collective.
The profession can strengthen itself in three ways. To begin with, it should quickly abandon the 19th and 20th-century definitions of the profession that relies on carving out exclusive jurisdictions. Architects should reimagine their profession as part of a system of practices that draws strength from related building services such as building science and project management. It would serve better to build an alliance of building professionals, increase their collective relevance and enhance bargaining power. The second aspect is to help smaller and medium firms by lobbying to remove severe entry barriers that deny them projects. Equally important is the third way. Strengthening what Freidson calls the ‘soul of the profession’ by focusing on ‘practice and institutional ethics’, thereby, enhancing the quality of services. If any amendment to the Act is taken up, it should acknowledge the changed conditions of practice and enable alliances between professions.
6. Editorial-2: Democratic deficit
Early election is the only prudent way forward for Pakistan
The habitual turbulence of Pakistani politics took a decidedly dangerous turn last week, with an assassination attempt on its former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was ousted seven months ago. Mr. Khan escaped with leg injuries after a gunman opened fire. In a press conference a day later, Mr. Khan blamed the government and the military for plotting to kill him. Mr. Khan, who had earlier invoked comparisons between himself and former PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, hanged in 1979 — of a popular leader whose mandate is being thwarted by the establishment — even brought in the example of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh. Both PM Sharif and the Army have denied Mr. Khan’s allegations but it is harder to deny the growing problem that he now poses. Since April, when he was forced to step down following a confidence vote in parliament, and losing all court appeals, he has taken to the streets, demanding a general election immediately. He has grown vocal about the political role of the military, accusing “Dirty Harrys” of imprisoning and torturing his supporters in the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) Party, and mocking Army Chief General Bajwa, whose tenure ends this month, for suggesting that the military would maintain a “neutral” role. There have been repercussions. In September, he was indicted in a contempt of court case for impugning the High Court judiciary, and although terror charges were dropped against him, he faces criminal charges for threatening to sue government officials. In October, the Election Commission held him guilty in a case involving undeclared official gifts and disqualified him from holding public office; he could face a legal challenge to his seat in Parliament for defaming the judiciary and armed forces.
For the Sharif government that is already beleaguered by the devastating floods, a security crisis emanating from Afghanistan, the burgeoning economic crisis, and continued bad relations with India which has stopped much-needed trade revenues, Mr. Khan’s challenge could not have come at a worse time. Mr. Sharif, who has been making many foreign visits, must focus on the domestic situation, and investigate the attack on Mr. Khan in a convincing way if he intends to shore up his credibility. Despite the many setbacks, Mr. Khan’s popularity remains strong; he won six out of eight by-elections last month. In the aftermath of the assassination attempt, PTI protesters have held marches in Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta, and Karachi. The biggest worry for the government is maintaining law and order if the impasse continues. In that case, elections at an early date may prove the only prudent way to move forward, in a country that has always suffered from a deficit in democracy.
7. Editorial-3: The continuing stalemate in Myanmar
Twenty-one months after a military coup, which derailed a decade-old experiment with limited democracy, Myanmar is struggling to cope with the consequences. People are suffering, authorities and opposition forces are locked in a cycle of violent clashes, the economy is deteriorating, and ASEAN’s mission to produce a solution has failed.
When the Tatmadaw (military), unhappy with the victory of the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy in the November 2020 elections, chose to violate the constitution, it acted in the belief that the people would accept its diktat, as they had done in previous decades. Clearly, it underestimated public anger and their commitment to freedom and democracy. Even after killing over 2,300 people and imprisoning thousands, including Ms. Suu Kyi, the military still faces a rebellion. Its plan to hold an election next year stands jeopardised.
With two key dimensions, the opposition has prevented the military from having its way. First, the parallel National Unity Government (NUG) may not be recognised by any state, but it continues to receive political and financial support from abroad. It has effectively channelled popular indignation against military rule, while still being vulnerable due to the paucity of resources and the absence of a visible leader. Second, the about 20 ethnic armed organisations (EAOs), located in the east, north and west of Myanmar’s periphery, have divergent approaches towards the post-coup conflict. Many view it as an intra-Bamar contestation, an issue of limited concern to them. Some like the Karens and Kachins support the NUG, while others, especially those controlled or supported by China, remain aloof. Those operating in the Chin and Rakhine states are engaged in a fierce armed conflict with the military and have enfeebled it. But overall, due to their divergences and relative weaknesses, the EAOs are unlikely to defeat the military.
Thus, while the opposition has performed well, it is unable to turn the tide in its favour, without a nationwide front against the Tatmadaw. National reconciliation between the military and civilian forces, and ethnic reconciliation between the majority Bamars and ethnic minorities, have been put on hold. Ms. Suu Kyi, 77, the most popular leader, has been sentenced to 26 years of imprisonment in multiple cases on apparently trumped-up charges.
Besides, 1.1 million Rohingya, driven by military oppression to seek shelter in Bangladesh in 2017, continue to languish there. Dhaka’s efforts to arrange their safe return have failed. Armed clashes between the military and their ethnic opponents in the border region are having a spillover effect in Bangladesh. Dhaka continues to show restraint and a preference for diplomacy to manage the situation.
The UN has been forthright in criticising the coup. It has expressed concern over continuing violence, support for a ‘democratic transition’, a release of all political prisoners and dialogue among the parties concerned. However, the UN Secretary General’s special envoy has had little success in promoting peace. The UN’s failure lies in the sharp divisions within the international community on how to deal with this vexed issue.
The western powers have been severely critical of the military. They have put in place several restrictive measures and imposed more sanctions. They have extended support to the NUG. On the other hand, Russia has given considerable backing to the military regime, seeing in its own isolation an opportunity to strengthen bilateral cooperation in defence and energy supplies. China is keeping a door open to democratic forces even while doing business with the regime and exploiting every opportunity to ensure progress on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor. ASEAN is divided in three ways: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore are pro-democracy; Thailand and Laos are pro-military; and Vietnam and the Philippines are ambivalent. This disunity and the Tatmadaw’s refusal to cooperate with ASEAN have led to the non-implementation of the Five-Point Consensus. The upcoming ASEAN summit may provide clues on whether the grouping can forge a united stand and devise something that works better. India is concerned as the post-coup conditions have adversely impacted its interests and hampered bilateral cooperation. Mega projects stand delayed. Some 50,000 refugees, as per unofficial estimates, have been camping in Mizoram.
Meanwhile, there is an erroneous perception that India has abandoned the Myanmar people. The reality is that India proactively advocates an early restoration of democracy, the release of prisoners, and internal dialogue. Can India do more? It can explore the possibility of a combined mediatory role with ASEAN and like-minded neighbours. Will China have a role in such a group? India-China relations preclude that possibility.
Through greater unity, external players can help Myanmar in creating a suitable environment for dialogue on a political settlement. Distant countries such as Norway and Japan can play a helpful role as catalysts. But the principal responsibility to construct a solution must rest with the Myanmar elite and leadership of both camps. Through resilience and pragmatism, they crafted a way out in 2011-21. They must recreate that spirit. ‘The Golden Land’, where Lord Buddha is revered, needs to be re-inspired by his teachings. Else, a prolonged, contested military rule or a failed state seems a distinct possibility.