1. PMO reviews situation in ‘sinking’ Joshimath town
Grim situation: Activists address residents of Joshimath in the presence of former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat on Sunday.
Residents blame NTPC’s Tapovan-Vishnugad power project for the damage to the sacred town in Uttarakhand, demand proactive resettlement steps by government; NDMA members to visit today
Residents of Joshimath, the Himalayan pilgrim town that appears to be sinking, are blaming major power and road infrastructure projects for their plight and are demanding that the government resettle and give new homes for all those who have lost their properties in the town.
Members of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) are set to visit the town on Monday to assess the situation and advise the Uttarakhand government.
A day after Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami visited Joshimath, which is experiencing land subsidence, residents continued their protest at the tehsil headquarters on Sunday, blaming the Tapovan-Vishnugad power project of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) for the “irreversible” damage to the sacred town.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) convened a high-level review of the situation in Delhi on Sunday, which was attended by State and Central officials, and experts in geology and disaster management.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also held discussions with Mr. Dhami about the situation.
According to an official statement from the PMO, Uttarakhand Chief Secretary S.S. Sandhu informed the review meeting that after a ground-level assessment, it was determined that a strip of land around 350 metres wide had been affected.
The PM’s Principal Secretary, P.K. Mishra, stressed that the immediate priorities for the State should be the safety of people living in the affected area. A team of the National Disaster Response Force and four of the State Disaster Response Force have reached Joshimath, where the district administration is working with the affected families to evacuate and relocate them to safer places with adequate arrangements for food, shelter and security.
Atul Sati, convener of the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti which is leading the residents’ protest, said the government only stopped the development project when the town was on the brink of disaster. “We had warned years back that NTPC’s work is going to get this town to sink. No one paid heed. Look at the situation of Joshimath now,” he said.
Putting equal onus on the construction of the Helang-Marwari bypass by the Border Roads Organisation, Dinesh Chaudhary, a shopkeeper in Sunil village of the Joshimath region, said that merely halting the projects would not help. “The government must put a full stop on the NTPC and BRO projects. Only then Joshimath will be saved,” he said.
The residents of Joshimath, also known as the gateway town to the Badrinath temple, said they had been complaining to the government about cracks in their houses for over a year now. However, the administration became active only after its own building started developing cracks. In fact, now even roads and rocks on trekking routes have visible fractures.
Dehradun-based social activist Anoop Nautiyal alleged that the Chamoli district administration had only managed to evacuate 68 families in a week and make temporary rehabilitation arrangements for 1,271 people. He said the slow pace at which the administration was working on evacuation and rehabilitation was not enough in this “time of emergency”. “On January 4, the administration had space for rehabilitation of 385 people. Five days after the rescue operations started, allegedly on a war-footing, the administration, till January 8, was able to manage to create space for rehabilitation of 1,271 people. This figure is not even 6% of the total population of Joshimath,” Mr. Nautiyal said.
According to the 2011 Census, Joshimath has a population of over 16,000 people. Administrative officials say the town currently has over 20,000 people living here. Chamoli’s Additional District Magistrate Abhishek Tripathi said the administration had asked NTPC and Hindustan Construction Company to each make temporary arrangements for the rehabilitation of 2,000 residents. “We will rehabilitate people in Pipalkothi, 35 km from Joshimath, if need be,” he added.
Former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat, who visited the area, asked people to vacate their houses if they were damaged.
In the PMO meeting, it was decided that all four members of the NDMA and the Border Management Secretary would visit Joshimath on January 9 to assess the findings of technical teams and advise the State government on short and long-term actions. “Residents are being informed of the developments and their cooperation is being sought. Advice of experts is being sought to formulate the short-medium-long term plans,” it said.
2. Can foreign universities set up campuses in India now?
What has the UGC proposed with respect to foreign educational institutions? Is this the first time such a move is being considered? How are UGC’s rules different from those mentioned in the NEP?
The story so far:
Foreign universities and educational institutions could soon be allowed to set up campuses in India as per the draft regulations made public by the University Grants Commission (UGC).
What has the UGC proposed?
The UGC announced the draft regulations for ‘Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India’ and invited feedback from stakeholders. The proposal allows a foreign university among the top 500 global rankings or a foreign educational institution of repute in its home jurisdiction to apply to the UGC to set up a campus in India. Such a campus can evolve their own admission process and criteria to admit domestic and foreign students. It will also have autonomy to decide its fee structure, and will face no caps that are imposed on Indian institutions. The fee should be “reasonable and transparent”. It will also have autonomy to recruit faculty and staff from India and abroad. However, such universities and colleges cannot “offer any such programme of study which jeopardises the national interest of India or the standards of higher education in India.” They will also be allowed cross-border movement of funds.
There have been several moves towards bringing in foreign universities in the past. In 2010, the UPA-II government brought the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, which was not passed as the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and left parties opposed it for multiple reasons including concerns of Western influence on Indian ethos.
What are foreign players saying?
“It is still early days, but the UGC move is a good one. They have provided autonomy in admission criteria, fee and have not imposed restrictions on hiring Indian nationals and also allowed repatriation of surplus funds, which are all enabling provisions,” Ravneet Pawha, Vice-President (Global Alliances) & CEO (South Asia), Deakin University said. But she further added that, “If foreign institutions want to hire foreign faculty to offer students a differential, where will we get them from? Secondly, while India wants to be a global destination for higher education what about the infrastructure needed to support that ambition. Thirdly, those Indians who have the aspiration to go abroad to live there will still continue to do so, which means we have to look at those who want a foreign education within the country at a reduced cost and we will need to provide that keeping in mind their paying capacity. ”
What does the NEP say?
The National Education Policy (NEP) says that the top 100 universities in the world will be facilitated to operate in India through a legislative framework. According to Fuqran Qamar, a former adviser for education in the erstwhile Planning Commission, “the draft regulations don’t follow the text of the NEP, rather uses it as a pretext.” He explains that while the NEP talks about creating a legislative framework, the government is following the regulatory route. Critically, the NEP also proposes attracting the top 100 universities, while the UGC draft permits universities with top 500 global rankings. The objective in promoting India as a global education destination is apparently aimed at saving loss of foreign exchange. Nearly 13 lakh students were studying abroad in 2022 and as per the RBI, ₹5 billion was lost in foreign exchange due to students going abroad in FY 2021-2022. The larger goal of the NEP is to take the gross enrollment ratio (GER) in colleges and universities to 50% by 2035 from the current 27%. But online education and private institutions will not benefit those who have no access to education; it will merely offer more choices to the upper and middle class who have 100% GER, says Mr. Qamar.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) announced the draft regulations for ‘Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India’.
The proposal allows a foreign university among the top 500 global rankings or a foreign educational institution of repute in its home jurisdiction to apply to the UGC to set up a campus in India.
The objective in promoting India as a global education destination is to primarily save loss of foreign exchange.
3. Despite SC order, single women denied abortion
When Mumbai-based Shalini (name changed) walked into the State-run J.J. Hospital in December last year seeking an abortion, she was turned away. Doctors at the hospital decided that her case was legally complicated. Her pregnancy had crossed 20 weeks, she was unmarried and the reason for her pregnancy was determined “as due to failure of contraception”. She then approached the Wadia Hospital, a charitable institution, which too turned her away.
Shalini wanted to discontinue her pregnancy as she was not ready to have the baby. When her pleas to two hospitals fell on deaf ears, Shalini had to finally move the Bombay High Court citing the Supreme Court judgment to get a favourable recourse.
Despite the fact that in September last year, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court passed a judgment that unmarried women too can terminate their pregnancy until 24 weeks, the situation on the ground remains dismal. Women are having to run from pillar to post to seek abortion.
Nikhil Datar, a senior gynaecologist and medical director at Cloudnine Hospital, says that despite the “SC having given an extremely progressive judgment on an individual case basis, the verdict leaves much to be desired”.
Dr. Datar’s activism since 2008 had helped pave the way to amend the rules of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, framed in 1971.
He has helped 320 women access abortion pro bono by helping them challenge the MTP Act provisions in court.
The SC judgment is progressive. However, a Catch-22 situation arises because there is no clear indication in the SC judgment telling the government to amend the MTP Act to include unmarried women within the extended 24-week ambit.
Dr. Datar says, “It would have been better if the court had directed the government to change rules in accordance with the judgment. Unless rules in the Act are changed in black and white, women will find it difficult to seek abortion in health facilities.”
Rule 3(2)(b) of the MTP (Amendment) Rules, 2021 does not permit single women to abort after 20 weeks. Dr. Datar says the rule is discriminatory as it only allows “special categories” including survivors of sexual assault, minors, widows or divorcees, women with disabilities, a malformed foetus or women stuck in humanitarian emergencies, to access abortion post 20 weeks.
Amit Mishra, a practising lawyer in Delhi, had moved the SC against this discrimination, in the case of an unmarried 25-year-old Manipuri woman which led to the landmark verdict last year. Mr. Mishra told The Hindu that even after the judgment, many doctors are apprehensive citing the fact that the Act has not been amended.
Mr. Mishra also points out that doctors are scared of prosecution under the complex labyrinth of laws which includes linking of MTP with the Indian Penal Code.
“Under Section 3(1) of IPC, termination of pregnancy is a criminal act if it does not fulfil MTP conditions. With the law not amended, this has a chilling effect on doctors when the police are not aware of the recent SC judgment,” he says.
“The government will have to step up to promote safe abortions irrespective of the fact that the woman is married or not. This can include putting up awareness boards outside hospitals citing the judgment,” he said.
Dr. Datar has moved the Supreme Court filing another special leave petition (SLP) challenging the current MTP (Amendment) Rules, 2021. “There are multiple loopholes,” he says.
For instance, currently there is no mechanism under the rules to monitor the movement of abortion pills. Mifepristone and Misoprostol are popular drugs used for medical abortion at clinics.
4. Editorial-1: Avoid further delay in conducting the Census
Freezing of administration boundaries
Recently, this newspaper reported that the freezing of administrative boundaries that precedes the Census would be done with effect from July 1, 2023. Such a freezing is necessary as State governments are in the habit of creating new districts and tehsils or reorganising existing ones. If such changes happen during a Census, there would be chaos in the field as to who should oversee such areas and a likelihood of some areas being left out of the Census. House-listing operations take about a month, but were traditionally taken up in various States at different points of time between March and September of the year prior to the Census. It is not clear whether the government is planning to synchronise the house-listing operations to reduce the interval between the freezing of boundaries and the actual Census enumeration. There is no official statement yet about when the Census would be conducted.
When restrictions were imposed to contain the pandemic in March 2020, several States in the country were on the threshold of starting house-listing operations. Enumerators were appointed and trained, questionnaires were printed, mobile applications were ready for use by willing enumerators and other logistic arrangements were in place. But the pandemic ensured that the house-listing and, consequently, the population enumeration phase were postponed. Two years have been lost. There is no reason for a further postponement.
The Constitution talks about the use of Census data for delimitation of constituencies and for determining the quantum of reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. However, it does not say what should be the periodicity of the census. The Census Act, 1948, which predates the Constitution, provides the legal background for several activities relating to the Census without mentioning anything about its periodicity. It says, “The Central Government may,… declare its intention of taking a census…, whenever it may consider it necessary or desirable so to do, and thereupon the census shall be taken”. This provision puts the onus of deciding when to conduct a Census on the executive. This is unlike the position in several countries such as the U.S. and Japan where the Constitution or the Census law mandates a Census with defined periodicity.
Implications of the delay
The Census alone can provide population data for every village and town in the country. Sample surveys can provide reliable data on social and demographic indicators only at higher geographic levels. Apart from the population count, the Census has also been providing data on population characteristics, housing and amenities.
We have population projections at the State and national level that have been fairly accurate in the past. However, it is not feasible to get reliable projections at lower geographic levels such as for districts and cities or even small States and Union Territories. For answers to questions on the improvement in literacy and educational levels, economic activity, migration, etc., or the impact of programmes like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, one must depend on sample surveys. But these surveys have limitations and cannot be used to find answers to how many villages have literacy rates below 75% or which tehsils have a low percentage of people getting protected water supply. Such information is important to initiate action to rectify the situation.
The Census data are used to determine the number of seats to be reserved for SCs and STs in Parliament, State legislatures, local bodies, and government services. In case of panchayats and municipal bodies, reservation of seats for SCs and STs is based on their proportion in the population. Other than the Census, there is no other source that can provide this information. Delay in the Census means that the data from the 2011 Census would continue to be used. In many towns and even panchayats that have seen rapid changes in the composition of their population over the last decade, this would mean that either too many or too few seats are being reserved. Delimitation of parliamentary and Assembly constituencies would continue to be based on 2001 Census till data from a Census after 2026 are published.
The rural-urban distribution of population has been rapidly changing over the years. There is high population growth in the urban areas. Some cities have been growing faster than others through in-migration. The rural-urban distribution of population has been rapidly changing over the years. There is high population growth in the urban areas. Some cities have been growing faster than others through in-migration. For example, areas under the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike grew by 49.3% during 2001-11, while the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (11.9%), the Delhi Municipal Corporation (11.7%), and Greater Chennai Corporation (7.0%) had much lower growth rates. Kolkata Municipal Corporation recorded a fall in population during the same period.
The pandemic resulted in deaths among adults and the aged relatively more than children. Its impact on age distribution in severely affected areas would be of interest as it would give an indirect estimates of the number of deaths. This would either validate or reject the various estimates of the number of deaths due to the pandemic.
Census and NPR
The decision to collect data for the National Population Register by piggybacking on the Census operations was the most debated issue before the Census was postponed. Such controversies negatively impact the Census, which is the largest administrative exercise for collecting data. The Census is a single-shot operation and there is no scope for a retake. The Central government’s stated stand is that the data for the National Population Register would be updated during the Census. As the Census has been considerably delayed, it would be advisable to separate these two and disassociate the Census from a politically sensitive issue. This would help complete the Census as early as possible and maintain reliability of data.
The first Census after 2026 would be used for delimitation of parliamentary and Assembly constituencies and for apportionment of parliamentary seats among the States. Due to the disparity in growth rates between the States, there could be changes in the distribution of seats in Parliament. That Census is likely to be held in a more politically charged atmosphere. Hence, it is necessary that this Census is done as early as possible.
The Census alone can provide population data for every village and town, data for the delimitation of constituencies and for determining the quantum of reservation, and validate or reject estimates