1. A report on the north-east Delhi riots
What are the main findings of the report titled ‘Uncertain Justice: A Citizens Committee Report on the North-East Delhi Violence 2020’ released last week commissioned by the Constitutional Conduct Group?
Unlike previous fact-finding reports on the February 2020 riots, the ‘Uncertain Justice’ report is authored by a former judge of the Supreme Court, three high court retired judges and a retired IAS officer. It relies heavily on legal documents including FIRs, chargesheets, and orders passed by courts.
The material analysed in the report demonstrates that the Delhi Police failed to prevent the violence even though there were enough warning signs since January 2020 indicating a tense build-up. Additionally, the report states that there was a targeted application of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) by the state.
The Constitutional Conduct Group had envisioned the report to contribute to the understanding of the riots and the after-effects.
Soibam Rocky Singh
The story so far:
Two-and-half years after communal clashes rocked the streets of north-east Delhi killing 53 people and injuring hundreds, an independent fact-finding Committee has blamed the breakout of violence to a deliberate build-up of polarised hate between communities, particularly anti-Muslim hate. The report titled ‘Uncertain Justice: A Citizens Committee Report on the North-East Delhi Violence 2020’ released last week was commissioned by the Constitutional Conduct Group, a group of former civil servants, who wanted an impartial probe into the events which led to the riots.
What did the report state?
Unlike previous fact-finding reports on the February 2020 riots, the ‘Uncertain Justice’ report is authored by a former judge of the Supreme Court, three high court retired judges and a retired IAS officer. It relies heavily on legal documents including FIRs, chargesheets, and orders passed by courts. The report puts into perspective the events triggered by the amendments passed to the citizenship law, the build-up to the violence, its trajectory, and the state’s response as it unfolded. The report stated that the Muslim community was grappling with deep fears of loss of citizenship, stemming from the combined effect of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), passed in December 2019 and the potential exclusion through the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process. Deepening their fears, a campaign of hate against anti-CAA protesters, and more broadly against Muslims, had been a steady feature in political speeches and election campaigning in the months immediately preceding the violence.
“Speeches, statements and slogans by BJP functionaries, prominently Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur, characterised the protesters as traitors, enemies, and violent troublemakers, within a divisive Hindu-Muslim binary,” the report stated.
Was the police complicit?
The material analysed in the report demonstrates that the Delhi Police failed to prevent the violence even though there were enough warning signs since January 2020 indicating a tense build-up. “There were also instances of police complicity of varying degrees,” the report said.
“Even though it can order central paramilitary forces whenever necessary, it seems the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) failed to ensure increased police deployment in North East Delhi during the initial phase of the violence,” the Committee said adding, “This was a prime factor in the galloping spread of the violence”. The Committee also found that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi did “precious little during this entire time to mediate between the communities, even with the warning signs”. The Delhi government, and its popular Chief Minister, displayed an entirely ineffectual, seemingly helpless stance rather than doing all it could on the back of its emphatic mandate.
Additionally, the report states that there was a targeted application of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) by the state. A few weeks into investigating, the police applied the (UAPA), an anti-terror legislation, into one of the FIRs connected with the riots, severely restricting the avenues of the accused to get bail during the course of the trial.
The report stated that the prosecution case at its highest would be that the conspirators, in their zeal to force a repeal of the CAA, participated in various criminal acts and created a situation so imminently dangerous “leading to death and bodily injury” in a localised area. “These acts do not constitute a terrorist offence. Applying Section 15, UAPA to the present case is not merely stretching the law, but a perversion of the law,” the report said.
What role did the media play?
The report squarely condemned news media for mirroring the politicians’ hate narrative directed at anti-CAA protesters and Muslims, beginning from December 2019 and continuing into 2020. It said that Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube were widely used to propagate divisive Hindu-Muslim narratives and calls for violence.
What does the report aim to do?
The Constitutional Conduct Group had envisioned the report to contribute to the understanding of the riots and the after-effects. While the report has sparked discussion on these matters, it is unclear whether it can alter the course of the trials related to the riots which are currently underway.
2. Centre to help set up paddy straw pellet units to arrest stubble burning
Environment Ministry’s ₹50-crore incentive scheme is aimed at stopping farmers in Punjab and Haryana from burning crop residue, a major cause of pollution in New Delhi
With winter approaching and instances of stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana rising, the Union Environment Ministry announced a ₹50 crore scheme on Thursday to incentivise industrialists and entrepreneurs to set up paddy straw pelletisation and torrefaction plants.
Paddy straw made into pellets or torrefied can be mixed with coal in thermal power plants. This saves coal as well as reduces carbon emissions that would otherwise have been emitted were the straw burnt in the fields, as is the regular practice of most farmers in Punjab and Haryana.
New units set up after Thursday would be eligible for government funding in the form of capital to set up such plants. The estimated cost of setting up a regular pelletisation plant, which can process a tonne per hour, is ₹35 lakh. Under the scheme, the Centre will fund such plants to a maximum of ₹70 lakh subject to capacity.
Similarly, the cost of establishing a torrefaction plant is ₹70 lakh. Under the scheme, it is eligible for a maximum funding of ₹1.4 crore. Torrefaction is costlier but can deliver a product whose energy content is much higher and theoretically substitute for more coal in a power plant.
The Centre has underlined that this would be a “one-time only” scheme and regular pellet plants would be eligible for ₹40 crore of the overall pie.
Every year, about 27 million tonne of paddy straw is generated in Punjab and Haryana. The problem is that about 75% or 20 million tonne is from non-basmati rice that cannot be fed to cattle because of its high silica content. “About 11 million tonne can be managed in the field and the rest is usually burnt which adds to the air pollution crisis in Delhi,” said MM Kutty, Chairman, Commission Air Quality Management (CAQM), at an event here to announce the scheme.
Through the years the government has attempted to dissuade farmers from burning straw through penalising them as well as incentivising them.
“The Environment Ministry has so far been seen as an organisation that stops everyone. But I’d like to congratulate the Central Pollution Control Board for devising this scheme that will help convert waste to wealth and provide job opportunities to our rural youth in Punjab and Haryana,” said Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav.
- Stubble (parali) burning is the act of setting fire to crop residue to remove them from the field to sow the next crop.
- In order to plant the next winter crop (Rabi crop), farmers in Haryana and Punjab have to move in a very short interval and if they are late, due to short winters these days, they might face considerable losses. Therefore, burning is the cheapest and fastest way to get rid of the stubble.
- If parali is left in the field, pests like termites may attack the upcoming crop.
- The precarious economic condition of farmers doesn’t allow them to use expensive mechanised methods to remove stubble.
- It begins around October and peaks in November, coinciding with the withdrawal of southwest monsoon.
- The problem arises due to the use of mechanised harvesting which leaves several inches of stubble in the fields.
- Earlier, this excess crop was used by farmers for cooking, as hay to keep their animals warm or even as extra insulation for homes.
- But, now the stubble use for such purposes has become outdated.
Adverse Impact of Laws:
- Implementation of the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act (2009) made the time period of stubble burning coincident with the onset of winter in Northern India.
- Late transplanting of paddy during Kharif season to prevent water loss as directed by PPSW Act (2009) had left farmers with little time between harvesting and preparing the field for the next crop and hence farmers are resorting to the burning of stubble.
High Silica Content:
- Rice straw is considered useless as fodder in the case of non-basmati rice, because of its high silica content.
Effects of Stubble Burning:
- Open stubble burning emits large amounts of toxic pollutants in the atmosphere which contain harmful gases like methane (CH4), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile organic compound (VOC) and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
- After the release in the atmosphere, these pollutants disperse in the surroundings, may undergo a physical and chemical transformation and eventually adversely affect human health by causing a thick blanket of smog.
- Soil Fertility:
- Burning husk on the ground destroys the nutrients in the soil, making it less fertile.
- Heat Penetration:
- Heat generated by stubble burning penetrates into the soil, leading to the loss of moisture and useful microbes.
Alternatives to Stubble Burning:
- In-Situ Treatment of Stubble– For example crop residue management by zero-tiller machine and Use of bio-decomposers.
- Ex-Situ (off site) Treatment– For example use of rice straw as cattle fodder.
- Use of Technology– For example Turbo Happy Seeder (THS) machine, which can uproot the stubble and also sow seeds in the area cleared. The stubble can then be used as mulch for the field.
- Changing Cropping Pattern– It is the deeper and more fundamental solution.
3. Editorial-1: The democratisation of India, the Mandal way
In his book The Age of Kali: Indian Travels and Encounters, William Dalrymple wrote: “Ten years ago every second person at Delhi drinks parties seemed to be either an old schoolfriend of the Prime Minister or a member of his cabinet. Now, quite suddenly, no one in Delhi knows anyone in power. A major democratic revolution has taken place almost unnoticed, leaving the urban Anglicised élite on the margins of the Indian political landscape.” And, in a meet with Mr. Dalrymple, the late Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh remarked after his elevation to the national cabinet in 1996, “…for the first time, power had come to the underprivileged and the oppressed and we will use it to ensure that their lot is bettered.…”
The socio-political movement that led to this phenomenon known as “Mandal” has dramatically changed the demographic diversity of people’s representatives. It is no wonder then that scholar Christophe Jaffrelot called it, ‘India’s Silent Revolution’.
On social justice
The social justice discourse in modern India can be traced to the initiatives of social revolutionaries such as Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule, Sahuji Maharaj and Periyar during colonial rule. But a sustained intervention with a concrete outcome in terms of policy prescriptions surfaced only with B.R. Ambedkar arriving on the national scene. The “depressed classes” (Dalits) and “tribals” (Adivasis) — as they were termed by the colonisers — were already listed as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, respectively, by 1935. The benefits of reservation in education and employment for these social groups in proportion to their population were adopted as soon as the Constitution of India came into force. But a large section of the “backward classes” and occupational caste groups remained socially and educationally backward; hence, their presence in the bureaucracy, the judiciary, academia or the media remained abysmal.
The post-Independence years witnessed Nehruvian socialism losing its sheen. The polity and governance remained in the grips of cherry-picked brahmanical minds. At this juncture, the Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP) sounded the clarion call, “Sansopa ne bandhi gaanth, pichhda pawe sau me saath” (SSP was committed for 60 per cent share for the backward classes”). The Constituent Assembly had debated caste-class dichotomy. It was envisioned that backward classes would be backward communities. This was endorsed by B.R. Ambedkar who said: “…a backward community is a community which is backward in the opinion of the government….” But the Mandal report reaffirmed this with the line “a caste can be and quite often is a social class in India”.
Article 340 of the Constitution entailed egalitarian possibility that resulted in two Backward Classes commissions, the Kalelkar Commission (1953-1955) and the Mandal Commission (1978-80). The first did not yield anything. The mobilisation campaign for implementing the recommendations of the second led to a “Mandal movement”. The announcement of implementing one of its recommendations, of 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the central services on August 7, 1990, was the “Mandal moment”. Even while Mandal parties lost power at the Centre, the Mandal effect has continued. The 73rd and 74th Amendments have furthered the idea of social justice by extending reservation benefits to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBCs. Horizontal reservation was also extended to all women. In 2006, reservations were extended to OBC candidates in institutions of higher learning — popularly known as Mandal II.
The popular understanding of secularism in India has undergone a sea change. Much has been written about its failings. The real test of secularism and social democracy is hinged on mutual co-existence of communities. Thus, secularism needs to be situated within the perspective of “Fraternity” as enshrined in the ‘Preamble’ of the Constitution. This entails instilling confidence and camaraderie in the minority communities. Mandal parties checkmated communal mobilisations and hate mongering by the right wing. There were two spectacular political decisions in 1990 — the arrest of L.K. Advani by the Lalu Prasad -led government in Bihar at the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Second, the Mulayam Singh-led government in Uttar Pradesh ordering the police to fire at kar sevaks assembled in Ayodhya near the Babri Masjid.
Another point of merit derived from “Mandal” has been the identifying of socially and educationally backward castes and communities by not letting religion become a barrier. The consciousness generated by Mandal demolished a perception about Indian Muslims being a homogenous monolith. The churning around Mandal also led to the emergence of a pasmanda (backward in Persian) movement among backward Muslims demanding democratisation and representation. The Mandal report fairly recognised a large section of Muslims and Christians who converted from Hinduism, but with a majority of them continuing with their earlier caste-based occupations. Thus, Mandal situated backwardness at the intersectionality of caste and religion.
Blunders and course correction
Mandal(ite) political parties have made serious blunders too by restricting key organisational positions to family members and extending favours to caste brethren. However, there could be possible course correction such as being more accommodative towards the aspirations of the lower castes such as the economically backward classes or most backward classes; forging alliances with parties championing Dalit and Adivasi agendas; and pushing for quota within quota in the women’s reservation Bill — which is still pending — with fresh insights, and also fielding more women candidates from the marginalised communities. Solidarity does work in politics. The role played by two Dalit icons, Kanshi Ram and Ram Vilas Paswan for mobilisation and implementation of Mandal has been immense. It is worth recalling how Kanshi Ram met with successive defeats in the Lok Sabha elections from Allahabad and East Delhi in 1988 and 1989, respectively. Mulayam Singh extended unconditional support to his candidature in 1991 and helped him win from Etawah, Uttar Pradesh. In turn, the Bahujan Samaj Party-Samajwadi Party alliance fixed the mighty Bharatiya Janata Party in the hotly-contested Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections of 1993. One of the popular slogans in that election still has high decibel and political value — “Mile Mulayam-Kanshiram; Hawa me Ud Gaye Jai Shri-Ram (When Mulayam and Kanshi Ram came together, the euphoria of ‘Jai Shri-Ram’ evaporated”).
4. Editorial-2: Falling reserves and the bogey of the RBI’s role
There is a widespread misconception that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been depleting India’s foreign exchange (forex) reserves to defend the rupee.
The RBI cannot simply fritter away India’s forex reserves, held mostly in dollars, by charging its “nostro” account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, New York. The RBI is the custodian of India’s forex reserves and is responsible for managing their investments economically. The central bank may not have been adventurous in switching currencies to boost the value of reserves. But to suggest that the RBI has depleted India’s forex reserves from $642 billion to $537 billion, i.e., from September 8, 2021 to September 30, 2022, by intervening (selling dollars) in India’s inter-bank forex market is manifestly erroneous.
Central bank as regulator, player and jury
The RBI’s intervention and dollar/rupee exchange rate are surely linked, but the question is of depletion of forex reserves. To grasp this concept, we need to know who the market players are and how the RBI regulates them.
The market players are only banks licensed by the RBI, and the RBI. Individuals and corporates cannot enter the market. They can deal only with their respective banks. Therefore, the RBI dominates the market, being the regulator, a player and the jury. Thus, it is facile to argue that the dollar/rupee rate is “market determined” and that the RBI has no role in it. Section 40 of the RBI Act, 1934 (“Transactions in foreign exchange”) stipulates that the Central Government orders the “rate” at which the RBI shall buy or sell forex to banks (authorised persons). This “rate”, in turn, will be governed by India’s “obligations to the International Monetary Fund [IMF]”. The dollar/rupee rate has thus been subjugated to the United States from British India days. It is little wonder then that the rupee fell from ₹8/dollar to about ₹82/dollar (in 2022), from November 1981, when the IMF approved the biggest ever $5 billion Special Drawing Rights (about $6.25 billion dollars) loan to India. Although ₹100/dollar is Door Ast (‘far away’), the target is achievable. Such is the hegemony of dollar holders to slam poor rupee holders to make them poorer still.
The forex market is regulated by the RBI with impregnable exchange control regulations. All the player (banks) are required to be square or near square in their forex positions (spot or forward) at the close of business hours each day. This “overnight limit” is prescribed for each bank by the RBI. Even during the day, the prescribed “daylight limit” cannot be breached. The RBI enforces these limits strictly.
Assume that on a particular day the RBI sells (intervenes) one billion dollars in the market and one bank buys these dollars to remit them abroad for an importer (goods/services) customer. If that be so, then the funds would have gone abroad anyway since the importer, holding an import licence, can remit funds abroad as a matter of right. So, one billion of forex reserves depletion is caused not because of the RBI’s intervention but because of the import licence granted by the Ministry of Commerce.
The second possibility could be of the purchasing bank wishing to speculate. This possibility is impermissible since the RBI does not permit a bank to purchase dollars from the RBI and speculate in the interbank market. Selling these dollars in the overseas cross currency market is also prohibited by the central bank. So, unless there is demand from a bank’s customers to remit dollars abroad, the RBI will just not be able to sell the dollars in the interbank market due its own regulations.
Sometimes the RBI intervenes (sells dollars) on the basis of a tacit understanding with another bank to calm dollar/rupee volatility. If such a bank buys $1 billion without any merchant base to effect remittances abroad, then that bank would try to sell these dollars to other banks which need to remit funds abroad for their own customers. Before the close of business hours, the bank has to offload excess dollars to the RBI to remain within the “overnight limit”.
Therefore, the RBI’s intervention cannot deplete forex reserves. Instead, the cause of forex reserves depletion is an unimaginative import/export policy of the Ministry of Commerce without keeping the RBI in the loop. If the diagnosis by the spin doctors is wrong, then the condition of the patient (i.e., the health of the economy) can only worsen.
The RBI needs this cell
India’s twin deficits, trade and current accounts, are matters of concern. It is imperative that trade control regulations (flow of goods/services) and exchange control regulations (flow of funds in exactly an equal and opposite direction) are administered rigorously by enmeshing the two, preferably, by a separate cell within the RBI. “Control” may not be a popular word, but India remained unscathed after the Lehman Brothers crisis in 2008 only by deft handling of exchange control regulations by the RBI. The future is surely not dark, but uncertain.
The bogey of the “RBI depleting forex reserves to defend the rupee” has been let loose. The disinformation campaign continues. The rupee’s free fall has been bleeding the economy with inflation, a flight of capital and escalating import costs.
Finally, policymakers deserve better inputs on the sensitive matters impacting India’s economy.
5. Editorial-3: Does India need a population policy?
Earlier this year, the United Nations published data to show that India would surpass China as the world’s most populous country by 2023. According to the 2018-19 Economic Survey, India’s demographic dividend will peak around 2041, when the share of the working age population is expected to hit 59%. In this context, does India need a population policy? Poonam Muttreja and Sonalde Desai discuss the question in a conversation moderated by Sreeparna Chakrabarty. Edited excerpts:
The world’s population is expected to hit a peak and then drop by the end of the century. Is this good or bad?
Poonam Muttreja: We need to move from a family planning approach to a family welfare approach. We should be focusing on empowering men and women in being able to make informed choices about their fertility, health and well-being. As fertility drops and lifespans rise globally, the world is ageing at a significant pace. Can increasing automation counteract the negative effects of an ageing population or will an ageing population inevitably end up causing a slowdown in economic growth? We need to look at all of that. We are where we are, so let’s plan for the well-being of our population instead of hiding behind the excuse that we don’t have good schooling or health because there are too many people. That mindset is counterproductive.
Sonalde Desai: It is not about whether the population is large or small; it is about whether it is healthy, skilled and productive. Let me focus on the productive part of it. Thomas Malthus had said as the population grows, productivity will not be able to keep pace with this growth, and we will see famines, higher mortality, wars, etc. Luckily, he proved to be wrong. We need to take a lesson out of this and think about how to make our present population productive. Skills are important, but so is economic planning that ensures good jobs, agricultural productivity, etc.
You had mentioned China. The lesson we can take from China is that making sharp changes in public policy to manage the population ended up having unexpected consequences there. China’s one-child policy led to a sharp reduction in the population growth rate. But now the Chinese have a rapidly rising population of the elderly. China also tried to relax these policies and is now encouraging people to have two or even three children but the men and women are not ready to comply. And China’s fertility continues to decline. So, we should focus not on fertility rate, but on creating a situation in which slow changes in the family size take place in the context of a growing economy.
Can increasing automation effectively counteract the negative economic effects of an ageing population?
SD: Automation makes a big difference to the productivity of individuals, sometimes to the detriment of employment. But in any case, it really is an important contribution of the modern world. However, it doesn’t replace human nature and human touch. For example, I heard that Chinese families are now groaning under the burden of taking care of elderly parents. Automation doesn’t help you take your mother to a doctor or provide the emotional warmth and security that family members provide to each other. So, in that sense, ageing is going to be an issue for us. We need to figure out how to address ageing in the context of changing families and the nature of state support in India and create conditions in which the elderly population can have a healthy and happy life.
Does India possess the institutional capability to tap into its huge youth population? Or will an ageing population turn out to be a liability in the absence of adequate institutional or state capacity?
PM: Let me first touch upon the elderly population and China. If China hadn’t invested in literacy and good health systems, it would not have been able to lower its fertility rates. In any case, I think we have much to learn from China about what not to do. And especially in the case of the elderly, where the estimates show that 12% of India’s total population by 2025 is going to be the elderly. Every fifth Indian by 2050 will be over the age of 65. So planning for this segment merits equal consideration.
Coming back to the young, we have the capacity to tap into the potential of our youth population. There is a brief window of opportunity, which is only there for the next few decades. We need to invest in adolescent well-being right away, if we want to reap the benefits. Otherwise, our demographic dividend could turn easily into a demographic disaster.
SD: India certainly has the capacity to invest in its youth population. But we don’t recognise the gender dimension of some of these challenges. Fertility decline has tremendous gender implications. What it means is that women have lower burden on them. But it also has a flip side. Ageing is also a gender issue as two-thirds of the elderly are women, because women tend to live longer than men do. Unless we recognise the gender dimension , it will be very difficult for us to tap into these changes. So, what do we need to do? India has done a good job of ensuring educational opportunities to girls. Next, we need to improve employment opportunities for young women and increase the female employment rate. Elderly women need economic and social support networks.
India’s total fertility rate has dropped below the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman. What could be the economic implications of this declining fertility rate?
PM: As I said, the numbers are going to be only important if you see them in the right way. Economic policy should be geared towards the skilling and education of our large adolescent population with a special focus on gender, as Sonal said. As we look ahead, addressing the unmet needs of the young people should become a priority. We cannot allow the huge advances we have made in accelerating education, delaying child marriage, addressing sexual and reproductive health needs and building agency be wasted. Special attention must be given to addressing ways in which the pandemic may have affected the lives of our adolescent and youth. If the country does not address the rights and well-being of adolescents immediately, it will set us back by many years.
SD: I think it’s not just the economic implications that we need to think about but also the implications of the political economy. India’s fertility fell below 2.1 births for certain States 10 years ago. In four other States, it’s just declining. So, not only is the fertility falling, the proportion of the population that will be living in various States is also changing. The future of India lies in the youth living in U.P., Bihar, M.P. If we don’t support these States in ensuring that their young people are well educated, poised to enter the labour market and have sufficient skills, they will become an economic liability.
Do we need a population policy?
PM: India has a very good population policy, which was designed in 2000. And States also have their population policies. We just need to tweak these and add ageing to our population policy focus. But otherwise, the national population policy is the right policy. We keep talking about population as the biggest problem in India, but nobody talks about the poor investments in family planning or about investments in population more broadly.
SD: What we need is a policy that supports reproductive health for individuals. We also need to start focusing on other challenges that go along with enhancing reproductive health, which is not just the provision of family planning services. I also think we need to change our discourse around the population policy. Although we use the term population policy, population control still remains a part of our dialogue. We need to maybe call it a policy that enhances population as resources for India’s development, and change the mindset to focus on ensuring that the population is a happy, healthy, productive. Perhaps it is time to think about getting rid of some of the archaic notions around population control, which continue to persist… you know, people with larger families not being allowed to participate in elections or get maternity leave, and so on.
PM: Our arguments and discussions have not gone beyond the two-child norm. The two-child norm indicates a coercive approach to primarily one community. And there are too many myths and misconceptions around population issues, which lead to this discourse, which takes away attention from doing all the things Sonal and I suggested through this conversation. We need to move away from the focus on the two-child norm.