1. SC seeks States’ views on 50% cap on quota
Court to examine if three-decade-old verdict needs a relook
The Supreme Court on Monday decided to examine whether its nearly three-decade-old judgment which fixed reservation for the marginalised and the poor in government jobs and educational institutions at 50% needs a relook.
In 1992, a nine-judge Bench of the court had drawn the “Lakshman rekha” for reservation in jobs and education at 50%, except in “extraordinary circumstances”.
However, over the years, several States, such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, have crossed the Rubicon and passed laws which allow reservation shooting over 60%.
Maratha quota law
A five-judge Bench, led by Justice Ashok Bhushan, set up to hear the challenge to the Maratha quota law, decided not to confine the question of reservation spilling over the 50% limit to just Maharashtra.
The Bench expanded the ambit of the case by making other States party and inviting them to make their stand clear on the question of whether reservation should continue to remain within the 50% boundary or not.
Justice Bhushan, leading the Constitution Bench, decided to start the hearing from March 15, giving time for the other States to prepare their arguments.
The court, meanwhile, framed a series of questions, which include whether the Indira Sawhney verdict of 1992, fixing 50% limit on quota, needs to be relooked by a larger Bench of more than nine judges.
Another question is whether the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018, which provides 12% to 13% quota benefits for the Maratha community, thus taking the reservation percentage in the State across the 50% mark, was enacted under “extraordinary circumstances”.
The Indira Sawhney judgment had categorically said “50% shall be the rule, and only in certain exceptional and extraordinary situations for bringing far-flung and remote areas population into mainstream the said 50% rule can be relaxed”.
The court will also examine whether the Maharashtra State Backward Classes Commission, under the chairmanship of Justice M.C. Gaikwad, had made up a case of “extraordinary circumstances” of deprivation suffered by the Maratha community, requiring the helping hand of reservation even at the cost of crossing the 50% line.
In fact, the Bombay High Court had, in June 2019, reduced the quantum of reservation for Marathas from the 16% recommended by the Gaikwad Commission to 12% in education and 13% in employment.
A significant question the Bench wants to judge is whether the Constitution (One Hundred Second Amendment) Act of 2018, which introduced the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), interferes with the authority of the State legislatures to provide benefit to the social and educationally backward communities in their own jurisdiction.
The Constitution Amendment Act had introduced Articles 338B and 342A in the Constitution. Article 338B deals with the NCBC. Article 342A empowers the President to specify the socially and educationally backward communities in a State.
It says that it is for the Parliament to include a community in the Central List for socially and backward classes for grant of reservation benefits.
The court wants to delve into the issue whether Article 342A strips the State legislatures of their discretionary power to include their backward communities in the State List.
Reservation System in India
- The age-old caste system of India is responsible for the origination of the reservation system in the country.
- In simple terms, it is about facilitating access to seats in the government jobs, educational institutions, and even legislatures to certain sections of the population.
- These sections have faced historical injustice due to their caste identity.
- As a quota based affirmative action, the reservation can also be seen as positive discrimination.
- In India, it is governed by government policies backed by the Indian Constitution.
- William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule in 1882 originally conceived the idea of caste-based reservation system.
- The reservation system that exists today, in its true sense, was introduced in 1933 when British Prime-Minister Ramsay Macdonald presented the ‘Communal Award’.
- The award made provision for separate electorates for Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and the Dalits.
- After long negotiations, Gandhi and Ambedkar signed the ‘Poona Pact’, where it was decided that there would be a single Hindu electorate with certain reservations in it.
- After independence, initially reservations were provided only for SCs and STs.
- OBCs were included in the ambit of reservation in 1991 on the recommendations of the Mandal Commission.
|Mandal Commission In exercise of the powers conferred by Article 340 of the Constitution, the President appointed a backward class commission in December 1978 under the chairmanship of B. P. Mandal.The commission was formed to determine the criteria for defining India’s “socially and educationally backward classes” and to recommend steps to be taken for the advancement of those classes.The Mandal Commission concluded that India’s population consisted of approximately 52 percent OBCs, therefore 27% government jobs should be reserved for them.The commission has developed eleven indicators of social, educational, and economic backwardness.Apart from identifying backward classes among Hindus, the Commission has also identified backward classes among non-Hindus (e.g., Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Buddhists.It has generated an all-India other backward classes (OBC) list of 3,743 castes and a more underprivileged “depressed backward classes” list of 2,108 castes.|
- In the Indra Sawhney Case of 1992, the Supreme Court while upholding the 27 percent quota for backward classes,struck down the government notification reserving 10% government jobs for economically backward classes among the higher castes.
- Supreme Court in the same case also upheld the principle that the combined reservation beneficiaries should not exceed 50 percent of India’s population.
- The concept of ‘creamy layer’ also gained currency through this judgment and provision that reservation for backward classes should be confined to initial appointments only and not extend to promotions.
- Recently, the Constitutional (103rd Amendment) Act of 2019 has provided 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the “economically backward” in the unreserved category.
- The Act amends Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution by adding clauses empowering the government to provide reservation on the basis of economic backwardness.
- This 10% economic reservation is over and above the 50% reservation cap.
Constitutional Provisions Governing Reservation in India
- Part XVI deals with reservation of SC and ST in Central and State legislatures.
- Article 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution enabled the State and Central Governments to reserve seats in government services for the members of the SC and ST.
- The Constitution was amended by the Constitution (77th Amendment) Act, 1995 and a new clause (4A) was inserted in Article 16 to enable the government to provide reservation in promotion.
- Later, clause (4A) was modified by the Constitution (85th Amendment) Act, 2001 to provide consequential seniority to SC and ST candidates promoted by giving reservation.
- Constitutional 81st Amendment Act, 2000 inserted Article 16 (4 B) which enables the state to fill the unfilled vacancies of a year which are reserved for SCs/STs in the succeeding year, thereby nullifying the ceiling of fifty percent reservation on total number of vacancies of that year.
- Article 330 and 332 provides for specific representation through reservation of seats for SCs and STs in the Parliament and in the State Legislative Assemblies respectively.
- Article 243D provides reservation of seats for SCs and STs in every Panchayat.
- Article 233T provides reservation of seats for SCs and STs in every Municipality.
- Article 335 of the constitution says that the claims of STs and STs shall be taken into consideration constituently with the maintenance of efficacy of the administration.
|Judicial Scrutiny of Reservation The State of Madras v. Smt.Champakam Dorairajan (1951) case was the first major verdict of the Supreme Court on the issue of Reservation.The case led to the First amendment in the constitution.The Supreme Court in the case pointed out that while in the case of employment under the State, Article 16(4) provides for reservations in favour of backward class of citizens, no such provision was made in Article 15.Pursuant to the Supreme Court’s order in the case the Parliament amended Article 15 by inserting Clause (4).In Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992) case the court examined the scope and extent of Article 16(4).The Court has said that the creamy layer of OBCs should be excluded from the list of beneficiaries of reservation, there should not be reservation in promotions; and total reserved quota should not exceed 50%.The Parliament responded by enacting 77th Constitutional Amendment Act which introduced Article 16(4A).The article confers power on the state to reserve seats in favour of SC and ST in promotions in Public Services if the communities are not adequately represented in public employment.The Supreme Court in M. Nagaraj v. Union Of India 2006 case while upholding the constitutional validity of Art 16(4A) held that any such reservation policy in order to be constitutionally valid shall satisfy the following three constitutional requirements:|
The SC and ST community should be socially and educationally backward.The SC and ST communities are not adequately represented in Public employment.Such reservation policy shall not affect the overall efficiency in the administration.In Jarnail Singh vs Lachhmi Narain Gupta case of 2018, Supreme Court holds that reservation in promotions does not require the state to collect quantifiable data on the backwardness of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.The Court held that creamy layer exclusion extends to SC/STs and, hence the State cannot grant reservations in promotion to SC/ST individuals who belong to the creamy layer of their community.In May 2019 the Supreme Court upheld the Karnataka law that allows reservations in promotions for SCs and STs with consequential seniority.
Why reservation needed?
- To correct the historical injustice faced by backward castes in the country.
- To provide a level playing field for backward section as they can not compete with those who have had the access of resources and means for centuries.
- To ensure adequate representation of backward classes in the services under the State.
- For advancement of backward classes.
- To ensure equality as basis of meritocracy i.e all people must be brought to the same level before judging them on the basis of merit.
Argument Against Reservation
- Reservation in state services led to divisions and enmity among government employees, vitiating the atmosphere at workplace.
- Eradication, not perpetuation of caste was the objective of the reservation policy but Caste Based Reservation only perpetuate the notion of caste in society.
- Reservation was introduced to ensure that the historically underprivileged communities were given equal access to resources but irrespective of the economic progress they continue to remain socially disadvantaged.
- Reservation destroys self-respect, so much so that competition is no longer on to determine the best but the most backward.
- Reservations are the biggest enemy of meritocracy which is the foundation of many progressive countries.
- It has became a tool to meet narrow political ends through invoking class loyalties and primordial identities.
- The dominant and elite class within the backward castes has appropriated the benefits of reservation and the most marginalised within the backward castes have remained marginalised.
- Reservation has become the mechanism of exclusion rather than inclusion as many upper caste poors are also facing discrimination and injustice which breeds frustration in the society.
Reasons Behind Increasing Demands of Reservation
- Reservation is increasingly seen as a remedy for the adverse effects of ill-thought out development policies.
- In developed states like Haryana, Gujarat and Maharashtra, in spite of their economies being relatively better, three things have been worrying the people:
- Acute agrarian distress,
- Stagnation in employment growth and
- Distortions in the development trajectory.
- In this backdrop, for governments, it is easier to talk of reservation than to make a course correction.
- Increasing reservation demands among upper castes also arising from the fear of losing privilege and the inability to cope with change
- Upper castes have begun to feel disadvantaged especially in context of government jobs as they don’t get similar advantages like backward classes.
- The reservation benefits should flow to the vast majority of underprivileged children from deprived castes; not to a few privileged children with a caste tag.
- High ranks officials families, high income professionals and others above a certain income should not get the reservation benefits especially in government jobs.
- Fair and practical ways to help needy person from each community through reservation is possible and necessary.
- The process of reservation should filter the truly economically deprived individuals and bring them all to justice
- Revolutionary changes in the education system at the grass-roots level is need of the hour.
- There is also need for awareness generation because while the unreserved segments, keep on opposing the provision, the neediest sections from within the reserved segments are hardly aware about how to get benefited from the provision or even whether there are such provisions exists.
- The radical solutions like excluding the entire creamy layer among all castes from reservation and developing their capabilities instead of offering them reservation for admission to higher education or jobs on a platter.
2. ‘Only half of govt. schools, anganwadis have tap water’
Standing Committee submits report before Lok Sabha
Only half of government schools and anganwadis have tap water supply, despite a 100-day campaign for 100% coverage being launched by the Jal Shakti Ministry in October 2020, according to information provided to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources.
Less than 8% of schools in Uttar Pradesh and 11% in West Bengal have it, while it is available in only 2-6% of anganwadis in Assam, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bengal.
At a time when schools and anganwadis are just starting to reopen after a year-long shutdown, COVID-19 safety protocols require repeated handwashing by students and teachers. In its report on the demand for grants submitted to the Lok Sabha on Monday, the Standing Committee urged the Ministry to take up the matter with laggard States.
The campaign to provide potable piped water supply for drinking and cooking purposes and tap water for washing hands and in toilets in every school, anganwadi and ashramshala or residential tribal school was launched on October 2, Gandhi Jayanti. The 100-day period should have ended on January 10, 2021. However, as of February 15, only 48.5% of anganwadis and 53.3% of schools had tap water supply, the Ministry told the Parliamentary panel.
Seven States — Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Punjab — achieved 100% coverage. A number of other States also made significant progress in that time, and 1.82 lakh grey water management structures and 1.42 lakh rainwater harvesting structures were also constructed in schools and anganwadi centres. “However, some States/ UTs have indicated that they need more time to complete the task and sustain the efforts. Therefore, the campaign has been extended till March 31, 2021,” the Ministry said. The panel noted that “children are more susceptible to water-borne diseases, more so when there is also a need for repeated washing of hands as a precautionary measure during the pandemic”.
3. Will handle national security projects: ISRO
NSIL to focus on commercial activities
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has said it will be in charge of projects linked to “national security and advanced technology”, such as the forthcoming Chandrayaan-2 missions and the Gaganyaan mission that plans to send Indian cosmonauts into space. However, the bulk of commercial activities would increasingly be handled by the newly formed New Space India Ltd (NSIL).
The comments were in response to a query by the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, led by Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh on whether the NSIL would “replace” ISRO.
The NSIL recently coordinated the launch of the Amazonia satellite by Brazil on February 28, its first fully commercial mission that also saw 18 other satellites being launched.
The NSIL was incorporated in March 2019 and in June 2020, its scope was “enhanced”. Its mandate, according to a standing committee report on space laid in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, includes owning satellites for earth observation and communication applications.
Indian Space Research Organisation
ISRO or Indian Space Research Organisation is India’s space agency founded in 1969 to help develop an indigenous Indian space program. It is one of the 6 largest space agencies in the world today. ISRO maintains one of the biggest fleets of remote sensing (IRS) and communication (INSAT) satellites catering to the needs of the nation through a network of centres, offices, and research institutes in different parts of the country. ISRO functions in the following areas: broadcasting, weather forecasting, disaster management, geographic information systems, navigation, cartography (maps), telemedicine, distance education satellites, etc.
ISRO is headquartered in Bengaluru.
ISRO Chairman: Dr K Sivan (who is also the Secretary of the Department of Space, GOI)
- The Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was established by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962 under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).
- Eminent scientist Dr Vikram Sarabhai had a big role in this development. He understood the need for space research and was convinced of the role it can play in helping a nation develop.
- INCOSPAR set up the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) at Thumba, near Thiruvananthapuram at India’s southern tip. TERLS is a spaceport used to launch rockets.
- The INCOSPAR became ISRO in 1969.
- The Department of Space was created in 1972 and ISRO became a part of it and remains so till date. The Space Department reports directly to the Prime Minister of the country.
- During 1975-76, Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) was conducted. It was hailed as ‘the largest sociological experiment in the world’. It was followed by the ‘Kheda Communications Project (KCP)’, which worked as a field laboratory for need-based and locale-specific program transmission in the state of Gujarat State.
- During this phase, the first Indian spacecraft ‘Aryabhata’ was developed and was launched using a Soviet Launcher.
- Another major landmark was the development of the first launch vehicle SLV-3 with a capability to place 40 kg in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which had its first successful flight in 1980.
- ’80s was the experimental phase wherein, Bhaskara-I & II missions were pioneering steps in the remote sensing area whereas ‘Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment (APPLE)’ became the forerunner for the future communication satellite systems.
- Antrix Corporation Limited (ACL) is a Marketing arm of ISRO for promotion and commercial exploitation of space products, technical consultancy services and transfer of technologies developed by ISRO.
ISRO has many facilities each dedicated to a specialized field of study in space. A few of them are as follows:
- Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram – The space research activities were initiated in India under Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the founding father of the Indian space program, during 1960s.
- Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), Thiruvananthapuram
- Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC-SHAR), Sriharikota
- Space Applications Centre (SAC), Ahmedabad
- National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Hyderabad
- The first Indian-made sounding rocket was the RH-75 (Rohini-75). It was launched from TERLS in 1967. It weighed just 32 kg. Series of Rohini Sounding Rockets were developed by ISRO for atmospheric and meteorological studies.
- ISRO built its first satellite in 1975 and named it Aryabhata. This was launched by the Soviet Union.
- The first Indian-built launch vehicle was SLV-3 and it was used to launch the Rohini satellite in 1980.
- ISRO launched its first INSAT satellite in 1982. It was a communication satellite. It was named as INSAT-1A, which failed in orbit. The next communication satellite INSAT-1B was launched in 1983.
- Established in 1983 with commissioning of INSAT-1B, the Indian National Satellite (INSAT) system is one of the largest domestic communication satellite systems in the Asia-Pacific region with nine operational communication satellites placed in Geostationary orbit. Details regarding INSAT – 1B are available on the linked page. The INSAT system provides services to telecommunications, television broadcasting, satellite newsgathering, societal applications, weather forecasting, disaster warning and Search and Rescue operations.
- ISRO also launched the first IRS (remote-sensing satellite) in 1988.
- ISRO has developed three types of launch vehicles (or rockets) namely, the PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), the GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mark III or LVM). Further details on GSLV MK III are available on the link provided here.
- ISRO launched its first lunar mission Chandrayaan I in 2008.
- It also launched the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) or the Mangalyaan in 2014. With this, India became the first country to achieve success in putting a satellite in the Mars orbit in its maiden attempt and the fourth space agency and the first space Asian agency to do so. Read the details on Mangalyaan Mission here.
- ISRO has launched many small satellites mainly for experimental purposes such as INS-1C, Aryabhatta, APPLE, Rohini Technology Payload, YOUTHSAT, etc. The experiment includes Remote Sensing, Atmospheric Studies, Payload Development, Orbit Controls, recovery technology and more.
- Scramjet (Supersonic Combustion Ramjet) engine – In August 2016, ISRO successfully conducted the Scramjet (Supersonic Combustion Ramjet) engine test. It uses Hydrogen as fuel and Oxygen from the atmospheric air as the oxidizer. ISRO’s Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV), which is an advanced sounding rocket, was the solid rocket booster used for the test of Scramjet engines at supersonic conditions. This test was the maiden short duration experimental test of ISRO’s Scramjet engine with a hypersonic flight at Mach 6. The new propulsion system will complement ISRO’s reusable launch vehicle that would have a longer flight duration. Read in detail about the Advance Technology Vehicle of ISRO on the given link.
- In 2017, ISRO created another world record by launching 104 satellites in a single rocket. It launched its heaviest rocket yet, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III and placed the GSAT 19 in orbit.
- India’s Manned Mission to Space also termed as Gaganyaan, this project is part of the government’s ambition to make India a global low-cost provider of services in space. The launch vehicle for this mission will carry heavy payloads into space. For this purpose, GSLV Mk-III is being developed with a cryogenic engine. ISRO has already tested the GSLV Mk-III with experimental crew module (Re-entry & Recovery technology) and Crew Escape System (CES). Detailed information on Gaganyaan Mission is available on the linked page.
Candidates can go through a few more achievements of ISRO mentioned below –
- ISRO has launched many operational remote sensing satellites, starting with IRS-1A in 1988. Detailed information on IRS-1A – the first indigenous remote sensing satelite is available on the linked page. Today, India has one of the largest constellations of remote sensing satellites in operation. The data from these satellites are used for several applications covering agriculture, water resources, urban planning, rural development, mineral prospecting, environment, forestry, ocean resources and disaster management.
- Navigation services are necessary to meet the emerging demands of the Civil Aviation requirements and to meet the user requirements of the positioning, navigation and timing based on the independent satellite navigation system. ISRO worked jointly with Airport Authority of India (AAI) in establishing the GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation (GAGAN) system to meet the Civil Aviation requirements. Similarly, it established a regional satellite navigation system called the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) to meet the user requirements of the positioning, navigation and timing services. Know more on IRNSS-NAVIC on the linked page.
- ISRO has influenced educational institutions by its activities like making satellites for communication, remote sensing and astronomy. The launch of Chandrayaan-1 increased the interest of universities and institutions towards making experimental student satellites. Some important Academic Institute Satellite are – Kalamsat-V2, PRATHAM, SATHYABAMASAT, SWAYAM, Jugnu, etc.
ISRO Vision & Objectives
ISRO’s vision is stated as “Harness space technology for national development while pursuing space science research and planetary exploration.”
- Design and development of launch vehicles and related technologies for providing access to space.
- Design and development of satellites and related technologies for earth observation, communication, navigation, meteorology and space science.
- Indian National Satellite (INSAT) programme for meeting telecommunication, television broadcasting and developmental applications.
- Indian Remote Sensing Satellite (IRS) programme for management of natural resources and monitoring of environment using space-based imagery.
- Space-based Applications for Societal development.
- Research and Development in space science and planetary exploration.
4. Five themes for 75th year celebration of freedom
Modi calls for people’s participation
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of Independence would be based on public participation and revolve around five themes — the freedom struggle and ideas, achievements, actions and resolve at 75.
Mr. Modi addressed the first meeting of the national committee chaired by him for the commemoration of the anniversary next year, starting with events this month. Speaking via videoconferencing with Governors, Chief Ministers, prominent artists and others who form the 259-member committee, Mr. Modi said the anniversary should be marked as a festival with the spirit of the freedom movement and tribute to martyrs being highlighted.
“He said this festival should embody the glimpse of the glory of Sanatan Bharat and also the glow of modern India. He said it should reflect the light of the spirituality of the sages and also the talent and strength of our scientists. He said it will also showcase our achievements of these 75 years to the world and also give a framework for resolution to us for the next 25 years,” a government statement said.
Mr. Modi said the stories of the lesser-known freedom fighters should be publicised.
The statement said Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the suggestions made by members would be looked into. Among those who gave suggestions were former President Pratibha Patil, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, former Lok Sabha Speakers Meira Kumar and Sumitra Mahajan and BJP president J.P. Nadda, according to the statement.
5. Editorial-1: An alarming diktat
Haryana’s new ‘75% jobs for locals’ law is a harbinger of doom
Haryana Governor Satyadeo Narain Arya’s assent to a law regulating private sector hiring portends a potentially perilous slide in India’s investment climate and its socio-economic framework. The Haryana State Employment of Local Candidates Act of 2020 seeks to ensure that 75% of all jobs with gross monthly salaries of up to ₹50,000 are provided to the State’s own residents. The clamour for preserving economic activity for ‘sons of the soil’ is a recurrent theme now — Andhra Pradesh (AP) had passed a similar law in 2019, and the Madhya Pradesh CM has promised one to reserve 70% private sector jobs. Haryana’s law could face legal challenges like AP’s did, as it ostensibly flies in the face of the Constitution, especially Article 19(1)(g) and Article 16(2). Operationally, the law imposes onerous and contentious responsibilities on key personnel of firms in the State, including those with as few as 10 employees. There are three critical action points for businesses, attached to severe monetary penalties for perceived non-compliance. They need to register every employee earning ₹50,000 on an official portal and employing 75% of locals in such jobs (presumably by removing existing non-Haryanvi employees beyond the 25% limit). Most preposterous is seeking exemptions to the law — firms can hire outsiders by proving that local candidates for a desired skill are not available.
Apart from the power to enter firms’ premises for inspections, officials will decide if a firm can hire an outsider or should train local candidates instead, till they become proficient enough. Even if this harks back to an ‘Inspector Raj’ system, the process would dissuade employers from operating in the State, thus defeating the idea of boosting local jobs when unemployment is running high. But this is not just about ‘Happening Haryana’ becoming a difficult place to do business. A single disruption in the Gurgaon back office operations of a global firm or the supplies of auto components, on account of the new law, would be damaging to India’s already fragile reputation as a stable, trustworthy investment destination with a talented workforce. A possible investor exodus aside, this runs counter to the Prime Minister’s ‘Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat’ and ‘One Nation One Market’ slogans. Rising unemployment could spur more States to follow suit, and the logic could be extended to internal capital flows next. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has already pointed out that Bihar’s deposits into the banking system are not matched by credit disbursals into the State. It is time the Centre dissuades such legislation which threatens to not only unleash a sort of ‘work visa’ regime for Indians within the country but also damage crucial workplace diversity. Immobilising a much-vaunted young workforce and rupturing the social fabric with this push for insularity would be the start of an unstoppable slide.
6. Editroial-2: The contours of the endgame in Afghanistan
The U.S.’s objective of a just and durable peace while ensuring Afghanistan’s unity is a tall order
The peace process in Afghanistan has reached a critical turning point. As when then U.S. President Barack Obama announced the exit of U.S. forces from Afghanistan (and the Taliban famously exulted – ‘you may have the watches, but we have the time’), and more recently, when the Doha Agreement was concluded a year ago between the U.S. Government and the Taliban. Now, a more decisive step is in store.
A U.S. review
Afghan social media and political circles are rife with details, corroborated by official sources in Afghanistan, that the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, has unveiled the initial conclusions of the review by the United States of its strategy in Afghanistan in a letter he has addressed simultaneously to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and the head of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah. Mr. Ghani has been virtually read the riot act by Mr. Blinken, whose letter confirms the intention to fully withdraw all U.S. military forces from Afghanistan as early as May 1, as specified in the Doha Agreement. Mr. Ghani has been warned that without them, the security situation will deteriorate and the Taliban could make rapid gains.
Despite the Doha Agreement, the Taliban has not ended its ties with the al-Qaeda and other similar terrorist groups. Nor have intra-Afghan negotiations progressed. The policy review ordered in Washington DC by U.S. President Joe Biden has been shrouded in secrecy. What appeared in the U.S. media indicates that some within the U.S. Administration are voicing the need to defend American values. Protagonists in the Pentagon are passionate about keeping a modicum of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
Mr. Biden has long held, even as Vice-President, that Pakistan is strategically more important to the U.S. than Afghanistan, and that U.S. troops should be pulled out of the Afghan battlefield as soon as possible. Donald Trump was doing nothing different from his predecessor, only in his inimitable way, which Mr. Biden wishes to distance himself from and leave a narrative of orderly exit.
The ongoing review had raised hopes in Kabul of a turnaround in U.S. policy. That is not happening in substance. The U.S. is anxious to proceed to a final settlement rapidly on terms visible from the very outset of the peace process. The continuation of Zalmay Khalilzad as the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the State Department was an early sign that, in substance, U.S. policy is going to remain unaltered.
The U.S. maintains that its objective is to bring about a just and durable peace through political negotiations in a manner that Afghanistan remains united, sovereign, and democratic, and preserves the gains made over the past two decades. This is a tall order, as it contradicts the abiding U.S. priority, to cut its losses and be out of Afghanistan at the earliest.
The conundrum for the U.S. is that it cannot disengage from Afghanistan, if that is its priority, without accepting Pakistan’s terms. These would not be acceptable to Afghan patriots who want freedom for Afghanistan to choose its political direction.
If training, combat support, and the supply of weapons are stopped from Pakistan, the Taliban could be on its knees. The U.S. Government is wary but resigned about Pakistan’s negative role. Instead of pressuring Pakistan, it is seeking Afghan acquiescence for a power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban, enabling the exit of U.S. soldiers.
The road map
The U.S. Government is advocating ‘a new, inclusive government’ in Afghanistan, which implies an immediate 50% share for the Taliban in an interim government, as a quid pro quo for a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. This will be without reference to a mandate from the people as elections will be held only in the future, after the principles guiding Afghanistan’s future constitutional and governing arrangements are worked out.
As a prelude to the ceasefire, the U.S. has proposed to the Taliban to reduce violence for three months, intended to head off the Taliban’s threatened spring offensive.
When the intra-Afghan negotiations envisaged under the Doha Agreement stalled, Russia offered Moscow as an alternate venue. Instead, the United Nations is being asked to convene, with Turkey being asked to host a meeting of foreign ministers or envoys from China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the U.S. to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.
Mr. Ghani is being encouraged to work closely with a broad consultative group, for which the core leaders identified are Abdullah Abdullah, former President Karzai, and an important former Mujahideen commander, Professor Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. The objective of this exercise is to build consensus on specific goals and objectives for negotiations with the Taliban on power-sharing, governance, and essential supporting principles.
The implications for India
India remains fully committed to Afghanistan. Despite the policy flux there, bilateral relations are flourishing. There have been frequent and productive high-level exchanges between Indian and Afghan leaders. The Afghanistan acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Haneef Atmar, is visiting New Delhi on March 22.
India is to be part of the future consultation process on Afghanistan. Invites to prominent elders and senior Afghan leaders such as Abdullah Abdullah, Ustad Ata Muhammad Noor, and General Abdul Rashid Dostum over the past few months have helped India reconnect with the political spectrum in Afghanistan.
India has stayed the course with a long-term commitment to supporting state institutions in Afghanistan, expanding its development partnership, working with all communities across the country, and asking leaders of all Afghan ethnicities to remain together. That policy has been well-received by most of the Afghan people and government, it was well-suited to the time, and it has served India well.
The moment has now come to directly engage with those leaders on the ground who will determine the course that the peace process will take. The patriotic Afghan people admire their erstwhile leaders, President Najibullah and Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who were committed to building the nation. Prints and postcards of their portraits are still popular in the streets and bazaars of Kabul. Their photographs are displayed on the windscreens of many Kabul taxis. Such people look to India as a friend and expect solidarity.
If the American plan results only in a ‘reduction in violence’ and not its complete cessation, and U.S. forces are pulled out, India must step up to assist materially those who want to defend the Afghan republic. It should explore commonalities with key countries in dealing with the rapidly evolving situation. When in the late 1990s no country was willing to help the democratic forces in Afghanistan, India and Iran had scaled up their support. That time is again at hand.
7. Editroial-3: Ensuring trust in the electoral process
It is critical that the Supreme Court immediately adjudicates on the electoral bonds scheme
The Election Commission of India has announced dates for elections to five Legislative Assemblies. It is a matter of grave concern that the petition challenging the electoral bonds scheme, which deals with the vexed issue of election funding, continues to languish in the Supreme Court. The delay in adjudicating on the case filed in September 2017 is inexplicable in light of the observation by the apex court that the matter gives rise to “weighty issues which have a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country.”
The political system in India has traditionally been hostile to the idea of transparency in electoral financing. Political parties have zealously opposed any examination of the linkages between their governments’ policies and decisions, and the interests of their major donors. When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government announced the launch of a new instrument of political party funding to ostensibly ensure greater transparency and eliminate black money from the system, it was hoped that the issue of anonymous financing would be squarely dealt with. However, using the money bill route to bypass the Rajya Sabha, the government introduced regressive amendments to laws, including the Income Tax Act of 1961, the Companies Act of 2013, and the Representation of the People Act of 1951, to introduce electoral bonds which allow donors to anonymously donate unlimited amounts of funds to political parties.
Under the scheme, an electoral bond, issued in the nature of a promissory note, can be bought by any Indian citizen or company incorporated in India. The scheme allows parties to receive these bonds without the public, the Election Commission or even the Income Tax Department knowing the identity of the donors. It has legitimised opacity and opened the floodgates for anonymous donations to parties, dealing a severe blow to voters’ right to know. People’s ability to track donations by big businesses and expose quid pro quo has been undermined. Expressing its opposition to electoral bonds in the Supreme Court, the Election Commission has contended that they will have an adverse impact on transparency in political party financing and would make it impossible for the constitutional body to ascertain whether donations received were in compliance with the statutory framework governing political parties.
In 2016 and 2017, amendments were made to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010, with retrospective effect to bail out the BJP and Congress, which were found guilty by the Delhi High Court of having received contributions from foreign sources in violation of the FCRA. In conjunction with these amendments, which enabled Indian subsidiaries of foreign companies to make donations to political parties, electoral bonds allow anonymous financing by foreign entities opening Indian elections to the influence of foreign interests.
One of the stated objectives of introducing electoral bonds was to address the problem of black money and large cash donations. Proponents of electoral bonds have argued that since bonds can only be purchased via cheques, demand drafts, direct debit or electronic clearing, they will stem the flow of black money. The problem with this assertion, however, is that it completely overlooks the crux of the problem: the provision of the Income Tax Act under which political parties were exempted from disclosing sources of donations of less than ₹20,000. Most parties claimed that a majority of their income was received in denominations smaller than ₹20,000 thus doing away with the requirement to disclose the source of donation. It is an open secret that most of the anonymous donations received by parties were large cash contributions, which were ‘broken down’ and shown as multiple small donations. If the government was serious about addressing the malaise of black money, it should have done away with the provision of non-disclosure of sources. Instead, amendments to the Income Tax Act in 2017 only lowered the stipulated ceiling of anonymous contributions from ₹20,000 to ₹2,000. Creative accountants can easily neutralise the impact of a lowered ceiling by multiplying the number of unattributed cash donations by a factor of 10, enabling donors to continue to anonymously pump cash into the system.
In fact, electoral bonds are likely to abet money laundering since the amendments to the Companies Act in 2017 removed the cap of 7.5% on political contributions by a company as a percentage of its average net profits of the preceding three years. This allows for black money to be easily routed through shell companies to purchase electoral bonds, an apprehension also expressed by the Election Commission. Even the Reserve Bank of India flagged serious concerns about the electoral bonds.
Big money in electoral politics
The rationale given by the government for providing anonymity to donors of electoral bonds is to allow donors to use legitimate funds to support political parties by protecting them against the wrath of rival parties, especially the party in power. But as bonds are issued only through the State Bank of India, it would not be difficult for the party in power to access information about the identity of purchasers and details of bonds sold to them, and match those to deposits in political party accounts. It is no surprise, therefore, that the lion’s share of donations through bonds have been cornered by the BJP – it bagged 95% of bonds issued in the first tranche in March 2018 and approximately 60% of bonds sold till March 2019.
Bonds worth nearly ₹6,500 crore have been sold so far. They have consolidated the role of big money in electoral politics. Information obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act shows that bonds with the highest denomination value of ₹1 crore are the most preferred by donors and constitute 92% of the total value of bonds sold till October 2020.
Electoral bonds militate against every known principle of transparency and lend themselves to use by special interest groups, corporate lobbyists and foreign entities to acquire a stranglehold on the electoral process and governance at the expense of citizens. To ensure public trust in the electoral process, it is critical that the Supreme Court immediately adjudicates on the matter. If bonds are to be retained as an instrument for contributing to political parties, donations must be made transparent and parties should be obligated to file reports with the Election Commission and other oversight bodies disclosing the names of donors and amounts received. This information must also be placed in the public domain. These steps are necessary to safeguard democracy and ensure that elections do not become a mere formality.