1. Bangladesh, India, Nepal to move ahead on MVA pact
Bhutan has not endorsed the plan for now
With Bhutan continuing to sit out the Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) of the sub-regional Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) grouping, a meeting of the other three countries was held to discuss the next steps in operationalising the agreement for the free flow of goods and people between them.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to travel to Colombo at the end of March to attend the summit of another sub-regional grouping, BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), which includes Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan as well.
The BBIN meeting was the first such in-person meeting since February 2020 to discuss the MVA since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, and officials finalised the wording of two separate protocols on passenger and cargo movement with an “enabling” agreement.
“During the meeting, an enabling MoU to be signed by India, Bangladesh and Nepal for implementation of the BBIN MVA by the three countries, pending ratification of the MVA by Bhutan, was finalised,” the Ministry of External Affairs statement said.
“Operationalising the MVA by concluding the Passenger and the Cargo Protocol will help realise the full potential of trade and people to people connectivity between the BBIN countries by fostering greater sub-regional cooperation,” it added.
According to the MEA statement, Bhutan sent an “observer team” led by an Embassy official to the meeting held on March 7 and 8 in Delhi, while delegations of Bangladesh, India and Nepal were led by Director General or Joint Secretary level officers.
The original BBIN MVA was signed by all four countries in June 2015, but after objections in Bhutan over sustainability and environmental concerns, the Bhutanese Parliament decided not to endorse the plan, and the then Tobgay Tshering government agreed to allow the other three countries to go ahead with the project for vehicular movement (BIN-MVA) in 2017.
In 2020, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering told The Hindu in an interview that given Bhutan’s “current infrastructure” and top priority to remaining a “carbon-negative” country, it would not be possible to consider joining the MVA.
Officials said that while India remained “hopeful” that Bhutan could change its position on the project, it was decided at a meeting in November 2021 to go ahead for now, given that there are no new signals from Thimphu on the project.
Progress on the seven-year-old project has been slow, despite several trial runs being held along the Bangladesh-India-Nepal road route for passenger buses and cargo trucks. There are still some agreements holding up the final protocols.
About BBIN MVA:
What is it? The landmark MVA was signed by Transport Ministers of the BBIN countries in Thimphu, Bhutan on 15 June 2015. As per the agreement, member countries would allow vehicles registered in the other countries to enter their territory under certain terms and conditions. Customs and tariffs will be decided by the respective countries and these would be finalised at bilateral and trilateral forums.
Objective: The main objective of the agreement is to provide seamless people-to-people contact and enhance economic interaction by facilitating cross border movement of people and goods.
Benefits: It would permit unhindered movement of passenger and cargo vehicles among the four countries. Cargo vehicles do not have to be changed at the border, a practice that has prevailed until now. The BBIN agreement will promote safe, economical efficient and environmentally sound road transport in the sub-region and will further help each country in creating an institutional mechanism for regional integration.
Assistance from ADB: The Asian Development Bank(ADB) has been providing technical, advisory, and financial support to the BBIN MVA initiative as part of its assistance to the South Asia Sub regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) program, a projects-based economic cooperation initiative that brings together the BBIN countries, Maldives, Sri Lanka and more recently, Myanmar. ADB is the secretariat of SASEC.
2. The office of the Governor
The constitutional debates on the role of the Governor and how the position has fared in Centre-State relations
Article 131 of the draft Constitution had provided for an elected Governor or a Governor appointed by the President from a panel of four candidates elected by the Legislative Assembly. After elaborate deliberations, the Assembly voted for a nomination provision which rules out any role for the Legislative Assembly.
The Sarkaria Commission recommended that the appointee should be someone from outside the respective State so that he would not have any personal interest to protect. They reiterated that it is better to have a detached figure as Governor. The Commission condemned the practice of Governors venturing further into active politics as well as ascending to other offices after the completion of their term.
However, conflict still arises when Governors turn vocal in public against elected leaders, who respond with equal vehemence, taking the relation to a new low.
The makers of the Constitution of India did not anticipate that the office of the Governor, meant to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law”, would metamorphose into the most controversial constitutional office rendering the constitutional praxis rugged.
Though the original Draft of the Constitution provided for either the direct election or the appointment of the Governor (Article 131 of the draft which was to become Article 155), the Constituent Assembly chose a third alternative for the appointment of the Governor by the President, so as to avoid confrontation with the elected executive.
Article 131 of the draft Constitution had provided for an elected Governor or a Governor appointed by the President from a panel of four candidates elected by the Legislative Assembly. After elaborate deliberations, the Assembly voted for a nomination provision which rules out any role for the Legislative Assembly. Jawaharlal Nehru also strongly supported a nominated Governor as an elected Governor may lead “to conflict and waste of energy and money and also leading to certain disruptive tendency in this big context of an elective governor plus parliamentary system of democracy.” Finally, a process by which the Governor is nominated by the President on the advice of the Council of Ministers was adopted and it became Article 155 of the enacted Constitution.
When the elected Governor of the United States was juxtaposed with the nominated Governor in Canada and Australia, democratic propriety demanded nomination despite the suspicious reluctance towards the parent law, the Government of India Act, 1935, which conceived the nomination system.
Dr. Ambedkar categorically stated on the floor that “The Governor under the Constitution has no functions which he can discharge by himself; no functions at all. While he has no functions, he has certain duties to perform…” Instead of a powerful Governor, what the Constitution conceived was a duty-bound Governor, a constitutional prophesy that failed to work after the fourth general election of 1967 as Congress had to bid farewell to their power in eight States while retaining power at the Union, gradually resulting in a tug of war between central assertion and constitutional autonomy.
Politics till the Bommai verdict
A classic example of Raj Bhavan getting embroiled in partisan politics was sketched by a series of events in Tamil Nadu beginning from the declaration of national emergency on June 25, 1975. This was followed by the DMK regime offering political support and shelter to the national dissidents which led to realignments in State politics. A report was then sent by the then Governor K. K. Shah seeking the dismissal of the DMK government for pervasive corruption and therefore, President’s Rule was imposed on February 3, 1976.
The President’s Rule was imposed in States over a 100 times prior to 1994. But after the Supreme Court’s judgment in the S. R. Bommai case, such rampant practices came to an end as the Supreme Court declared that the imposition of President’s Rule shall be confined only to the breakdown of constitutional machinery.
The Sarkaria Vision
The S. R. Bommai judgment passed by the nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court extensively quoted from the commission on Centre-State Relations constituted by Central Government in 1983. The three-member commission headed by Justice R. S. Sarkaria remains till date the bedrock of any inquiry into the relations between the Centre and State. The Commission, which submitted its report in 1988, sought to reinfuse the spirit of co-operative federalism in Indian politics.
The Sarkaria Commission sought to restore dignity to the Raj Bhavan by focusing more on the appointee who shall be an eminent person in some walk of life, someone outside the respective State so that he would not have any personal interest to protect. The Commission reiterated the views of Nehru as expressed on the floor of the Constituent Assembly that it is “better to have a detached figure” as Governor who has not been recently active in politics. While batting for a secure term for the Governor, the Commission condemned the practice of Governors venturing further into active politics as well as ascending to other offices after the completion of the term, all of which contaminate the purity of gubernatorial intent. Regarding the Governor’s role as the Chancellor of State universities, the Sarkaria Commission was of the view that it is desirable to consult the Chief Minister or the concerned minister, though it shall be left to the Governor to act on the same or not.
As a matter of fact, the first Administrative Reforms Commission (1966) in its report on “Centre-State Relationships” had recommended strongly that once the Governor completes his term of five years, he shall not be made eligible for further appointment as Governor. Unlike the Sarkaria Commission which was specifically on Centre State Relations, the mandate and canvas of the Administrative Reform Commission (ARC) was wider. Nevertheless, the limited views offered by the ARC testifies the formative concern of Indian polity on the politicisation of the office of the Governor.
The National Commission (2000) also reiterated the view of the Sarkaria Commission regarding the appointment of Governor. It enriched the discourse by stipulating that there should be a time-limit, desirably six months to give assent or to reserve a Bill for consideration of the President. If the Bill is reserved for consideration of the President, there should be a time-limit, desirably of three months, within which the President should take a decision whether to accord his assent or to direct the Governor to return it to the State Legislature or to seek the advisory opinion of the Supreme Court.
The Punchhi Commission
The Punchhi Commission on Centre-State relations (2007), headed by former Chief Justice of India Justice M. M. Punchhi, was constituted to enquire into Centre-State Relations taking into account the changes in the last years since Sarkaria Commission submitted its report in 1988. Though Punchhi Commission affirmed most of the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission, its views also reflected the changing times and its needs. The Commision could not appreciate the practice of Governors being called back at the bell of regime change, something that does not befit the salutary position assigned to the Governor. It must be remembered that a constitution bench of the Supreme Court in the B. P. Singhal Case (2010) declared that a change in power at the Centre cannot be grounds to recall governor and hence such actions are judicially reviewable. While Sarkaria Commission recommended that Governor’s tenure of five years shall only be sparingly cut short, Punchhi Commission went one step ahead and recommended that Governor shall have fixed tenure so that they wouldn’t hold office under the intangible pleasure of the Central government. It proposed an amendment to Article 156 so that there would be a procedure to remove the Governor from office. It also went further in recommending that Governors shall not be overburdened with the task of running universities by virtue of them being made Chancellors under the State University Acts. Complying with the norms and conventions advocated by the Sarkaria commission coupled with the functional safeguards recommended by the Punchhi Commision will go a long way in rediscovering the constitutional equilibrium.
The core of discontent
The Apex Court must be credited for having drawn the lakshman rekha on gubernatorial over-reach through a catena of clear decisions ranging from the landmark S. R. Bommai (1994) , Rameshwar Prasad (Bihar Assembly Dissolution Case of 2006) and Nabam Rebia (Arunachal Assembly Case of 2016) by which the possibility of gross high handedness is either eliminated or reduced to the time taken for judicial review. Arbitrary imposition of President’s Rule and dissolution of Legislative Assembly on partisan grounds are becoming the fables of yore. However, conflict arises over issues which are non-critical but have the potential to upset harmonious administrative balance at the state level. Attitudinal issues form the core of such imbalance, as is recently seen in many States. When Governors turn vocal in public, the local leaders who carry electoral mandate on their sleeve respond with equal vehemence, taking the relation to a new low. Unless the practice of Governors making critical appraisals of their own council of ministers in public glare is brought to a halt, the situation in the states where an opposition party is in power would remain unhealthy. All these bring us to back to square one; the recommendation of the Sarkaria Commission that the governor appointee shall be a detached outsider and a person of eminence in some walks of life. To add to the Sarkaria commission, the paradox of an apolitical President and political Governor needs to be reconciled, sooner than later.
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