1. The outrage over the new ‘National Emblem’
What are the various allegations raised against the revised sculpture atop the new Parliament House?
The first look at the national emblem atop the New Parliament House disappointed many with its alleged inaccuracies in depiction. The Congress Party has called it a “deviation” from the original.
Four Asiatic lions are part of the national emblem with three lions being visible to the naked eye and the fourth one always hidden from general view. They are taken from the Sarnath Lion Capital of the Mauryan emperor Asoka. The seven feet tall sculpture represented courage, power and pride.
The lions in the latest replica many alleged, looked “too aggressive”, which amounted to tampering with the original in a hurry to meet the deadline of the Central Vista Project.
Ziya Us Salam
The story so far: Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently gave the nation a first glimpse of the national emblem atop the new Parliament House coming up as part of the Central Vista Project. The first look at the new 6.5 metre bronze emblem designed by Sunil Deore and Romiel Moses disappointed many with its alleged inaccuracies in depiction. The Opposition, cutting across party ranks, found the lions on the new 9,500 kg emblem ‘angry’, with their fangs visible, as opposed to the grace and glory of the original. Others found them a distortion of the actual emblem. The Congress Party has called it a “deviation” from the original. The new emblem is placed at the top of the Central Foyer of the new Parliament building which the government estimates will be ready in time for the winter session this year.
What is the history behind the national emblem?
Four Asiatic lions are part of the national emblem with three lions being visible to the naked eye and the fourth one always hidden from general view. They are taken from the Sarnath Lion Capital of the Mauryan emperor Asoka. The seven feet tall sculpture made of polished sandstone represented courage, power and pride. Built in 250 BC to commemorate the first sermon of Gautama Buddha, where he is said to have shared the Four Noble Truths of life, it was mounted on a base of a frieze of smaller sculptures, including a horse (under fire in the new replica for its tail supposedly resembling that of a dog), a lion, a bull and an elephant moving in a clockwise direction. The four animals are said to be guardians of the four directions — north, south, east and west. They are separated by a wheel, representing the Dharmachakra of Buddhism, on all four sides. Each chakra or wheel has 24 spokes. The chakra was later adopted as part of the national flag. This abacus was mounted on an inverted lotus which is a symbol of Buddhism. Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang has left a detailed account of Asoka’s lion pillar in his writings.
The pillar was part of Asoka’s plan to spread Buddha’s teachings. After the large-scale massacre in the Battle of Kalinga, Asoka was shaken and embraced Buddhism with its emphasis on ahimsa. He decided to propagate his principles throughout his empire through the Major and Minor Edicts.
Why did the Constituent Assembly embrace the Sarnath pillar as the national emblem?
As India won independence, the Constituent Assembly decided on the Sarnath pillar as the national emblem. It was felt that the pillar epitomised the power, courage and confidence of the free nation. The emblem depicts a two-dimensional sculpture with the words Satyameva Jayate (truth alone triumphs) written below it, taken from the Mundaka Upanishad, written in Devanagari script.
On January 26, 1950, the Lion Capital of Asoka at Sarnath officially became the national emblem of India. The emblem represents the seal of the Republic of India. Five students of renowned artist Nandalal Bose created the emblem. Among them were Jagdish Mittal, Kripal Singh Shekhawat, Gauri Bhanja and Dinanath Bhargava who was a young man in his 20s then. He was advised by Bose to visit the Kolkata zoo to observe the lions closely so as to get the exact expression of the majestic animal. He is said to have travelled 200 kilometres to observe the lions from close quarters. Incidentally, Bhargava has also designed the first 30 pages of the Constitution.
What is the controversy behind the latest replica?
The latest replica by Deore and Moses has a steel pillar support of 6,500 kgs. The lions, many alleged, looked “too aggressive”, which amounted to tampering with the original in a hurry to meet the deadline of the Central Vista Project. “The concept sketch and process of casting the national emblem on the roof of the new Parliament building have gone through eight stages of preparation, from clay modelling and computer graphics to bronze casting and polishing,” the PMO responded in a statement to emphasise the thoroughness of the process.
However, it failed to douse criticism. The All India Congress Committee General Secretary Jairam Ramesh said, “To completely change the character and nature of the lions on Ashoka’s pillar at Sarnath is nothing but a brazen insult to national symbol”. The Rashtriya Janata Dal tweeted from the official party handle that, “The original emblem has a mild expression, but those built during Amrit Kaal show a man-eater’s tendency to consume everything in the country.” Jawhar Sircar, Trinamool Congress MP, questioned the entire process, asking, “We seek to know the details of the process of selecting the artist, the brief given and the cost of the work. Has this contributed in raising the original estimated cost of ₹975 crore to the currently estimated cost of ₹1,200 crore? Did the proposal to install this sculpture receive sanction from the Delhi Urban Art Commission, and the Heritage Conservation Committee, mandated by the Supreme Court order of Jan 6, 2021 regarding the New Parliament Building?”
The designers countered the criticism about the lions looking aggressive by insisting that it was a matter of perspective, and claimed that the new emblem is a huge structure meant to be appreciated from a distance. The original structure was 1.6 metre tall whereas the new depiction is 6.5 metre high. Also, the original Lion Capital was at the ground level while the latest depiction is at a height of 33 metre from the ground.
The BJP rubbished the allegations as a “conspiracy” targeting Mr. Modi. Despite widespread criticism and objections, the new emblem is set to be a permanent part of the New Parliament House later this year.
2. The judgment on the Burkapal Maoist attack
What were the charges against the accused tribals? Why have they been acquitted by the NIA court?
A NIA court in Dantewada on July 15 acquitted 121 tribals who were arrested in connection with a suspected 2017 Maoist attack that claimed the lives of 25 security personnel in Chattisgarh’s Sukma district.
On April 24, 2017, a combined patrolling party, guarding a road cum bridge construction in Sukma’s Burkapal were ambushed by a large group of 200-250 alleged Maoists. The attackers killed 25 of the security personnel. This was the second deadliest Naxalite attack in terms of casualties.
The judgment stated that the statement of the investigating officer has not been supported by police witnesses and independent witnesses of the prosecution.
The story so far: A National Investigating Agency (NIA) court in Dantewada on July 15 acquitted 121 tribals, including a woman, who were arrested in connection with a suspected 2017 Maoist attack that claimed the lives of 25 security personnel in Chattisgarh’s Sukma district. Barring a few, all the arrested had spent over five years in jail by the time the acquittal order came. At least 108 have been released following the court order, while the others remain jailed as they are accused in other cases. One of them died during the trial last year. Most of the acquitted tribals are from the interior villages of Sukma and Bijapur and are aged between 20 to 60.
What led to the arrest?
On April 24, 2017, a combined patrolling party — comprising 72 jawans from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)’s 74th battalion and district police — were guarding a road cum bridge construction in Sukma’s Burkapal when they were ambushed by a large group of 200-250 alleged Maoists. The attackers fired and hurled explosives at the jawans following which 25 of the security personnel were killed and seven others injured. This was the second deadliest Naxalite attack in terms of casualties. Some of the Maoists were also killed in the crossfire when the security forces retaliated.
What was the alleged role of the arrested tribals?
The investigators alleged that the arrested villagers were members of the banned CPI (Maoist) Party. According to the Union Home Ministry, CPI (Maoist) came into existence in 2004, following a merger between the People’s War Group (PWG), and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI). The prosecution also submitted that they had been in possession of weapons. In short, it was alleged that the arrested tribals had planned the conspiracy of the attack and had taken part in it armed with sophisticated firearms and improvised explosive devices and grenades. Apart from killing the security personnel, the attackers had also allegedly indulged in dacoity by taking away arms, ammunition and other equipment from the security personnel during the attack.
All 121 accused were charged with Sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 302 (murder), 149 (unlawful assembly), 307 (attempt to murder) 396 (dacoity), 397 (robbery, armed with deadly weapon) and 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. They were also charged with provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA), 2005 and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, that prohibit taking membership of an unlawful organisation (CPI(Maoist) in the given case) and indulging in any unlawful activity for it. Apart from this, provisions of the Arms Act, 1959, and Explosives Act, 1908 were also slapped.
How were charges brought against the accused?
The prosecution relied on the ‘testimonies’ of the witnesses, including that of the accused. It also relied on purported seizures from the arrested men and recoveries from the spot of the crime. These included empty bullet shells, grenade shells, detonators, bows, arrows and clothes the Chhattisgarh Police claimed the alleged attackers were wearing when they ambushed the police party. Twenty-six prosecution witnesses were also examined.
Represented by nearly half a dozen lawyers, the defence denied all the charges and said that all the proceedings by the prosecution/police had been done “sitting in the police station” where the case had been registered.
What does the judgment say?
The order issued by Special Judge (NIA Act/Scheduled Crimes registered in Sukma and Bijapur in Dantewada) Deepak Kumar Deshlahre says that the statement of the investigating officer has not been supported by police witnesses and independent witnesses of the prosecution. Seizure of deadly weapons and firearms has not been proved to be made from the accused. It adds that 22 (of the 25) prosecution witnesses were neither aware of the incident nor did they know the accused. Even after those witnesses were declared hostile by the prosecution and subjected to direct questions, no fact about the incident had emerged while they were being examined. Thus the prosecution has not been able to prove its case beyond doubt.
How has the case played out?
The sheer number of accused in this case garnered media attention. Otherwise, in most cases registered under the stringent CSPSA or UAPA, it’s almost impossible to get bail, says lawyer and activist Bela Bhatia, who represented a set of the accused in this case. It took four years for the prosecution to bring the case to trial. Further, the accused were lodged in the Jagdalpur Jail and family members, with little resources, did not have the means to travel from their poorly connected villages to Jagdalpur, or even their district headquarters. Accessing legal help is a challenge in these parts due to a lack of awareness and even communication facilities. The NIA court was also decentralised in this period and the proceedings were moved from Jagdalpur to Dantewada in the last one year, which made it even more difficult to produce them in court.
The acquitted now have the option of approaching a higher court to claim damages but if activists are to be believed there has hardly been any instance of a successful petition. Additionally, the legal hassles involved may dissuade them. The prosecution could challenge said acquittal in a higher court.
Understanding how rapid interstellar travel may be possible
A wormhole can act as a bridge or a shortcut between two points in curved spacetime which are well separated in practical terms to the inhabitants of the universe.
The existence of wormholes has been predicted by Ludwig Flamm, in 1916, soon after Einstein proposed his General Theory of Relativity. However, the presence of wormholes has not yet been established through observation or inference by astronomers.
With rapid advances in observational cosmology in recent times, there is gathering support for the existence of entities such as the wormhole and others that have not yet been “seen”.
Discussions between theoretical physicists can sound very other-worldly and often seem to buzz around highly abstract concepts and ideas. Many times, it even appears that the talk touches the limits of science-fiction. Cosmology, especially, has this flavour, and more so when the talk dwells on black holes, wormholes, time travel and multiple universes. Whether it is the catchy terminology or the fact that it is closely related to the question of origins, these concepts often trigger a lot of reading, writing and discussion.
The story behind Contact
American cosmologist, Nobel Laureate and ace story-teller Kip Thorne describes the following anecdote in his book, Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy. Once, he got a special request from his friend and astronomer Carl Sagan. The latter said that he was writing a novel in which his heroine had to take a shortcut through spacetime and move from Earth to the neighbourhood of a star Vega in just one hour. Vega is 26 light years away, so it will take even light, which is the fastest object in our universe, 26 years to cross this distance. Sagan had proposed a mode for rapid interstellar travel in which she enters a black hole and tunnels through to Vega. He was asking Thorne whether this was allowed by the laws of physics.
Thorne knew that this was impossible but wanted to give his friend an alternate suggestion. He read Sagan’s manuscript on the way from Pasadena to Santa Cruz where he was going to attend an event. During the return journey, it occurred to him that instead of a black hole, Sagan must use a “wormhole”. He worked out a mechanism that can stabilise such a wormhole and suggested it to Sagan, who incorporated it into his, by now famous, novel —Contact.
To understand how a wormhole can help in rapid interstellar travel, let us first imagine that we humans, sitting in a four-dimensional world, are observing a two-dimensional sub-universe embedded in our universe. This sub-universe is like a sheet of paper or a ribbon on which tiny bugs, live, crawling on the ribbon. When the ribbon is flat, there is only one way to get from one point to another. But if the ribbon is bent like a U, the observer can see that some parts of the folded ribbon may appear to be close to other parts.
According to her, to get from one of these points to the other it would be quicker if the bug could jump across the intervening space. However, the bug being a two-dimensional creature cannot even see this closeness. Also, it is constrained to move on the surface of the ribbon. So, it has to traverse the whole length of the ribbon to reach the other point ; it cannot jump across the fold and make a shortcut to the second point.
Our universe when viewed from a higher dimension is like that of the ribbon, and we are the bugs constrained by its limits. When there is no gravity, our universe will be flat like a sheet. When there is a strong gravitational field, this sheet will bend so that a portion of it may look like the piece of ribbon that was folded over. We, like the bugs on the ribbon, are constrained to take the long route through spacetime to reach points that appear close to the higher-dimensional observer.
Cutting across spacetime
Now, imagine if a bridge was built connecting the two points on the ribbon. The bugs could then crawl over the bridge to the target point instead of crawling down the entire length of the ribbon.
This is exactly what a wormhole can do. In the case of our universe, a wormhole can act as a bridge or a shortcut between two points in curved spacetime which are well separated in practical terms to the inhabitants of the universe.
Wormholes are not mere products of science fiction.
Just like black holes were predicted by Einstein’s theory of gravity long before they were experimentally observed, the existence of wormholes, too, has been predicted. Ludwig Flamm, in 1916, first discovered that they could exist, soon after Einstein proposed his General Theory of Relativity — a theory that describes the gravitational field. However, the presence of wormholes has not yet been established through observation or inference by astronomers.
With rapid advances in observational cosmology in recent times — such as the detection of gravitational waves by LIGO-VIRGO collaborations — more support for Einstein’s theory is coming to the fore.
There is gathering support for the existence of entities such as the wormhole and others that have not yet been “seen”.
Do wormholes exist in reality? The question is still open, and as Carl Sagan said in Cosmos, his popular science book, “Our passion for learning… is our tool for survival.”
4. Editorial-1: Chile marks a notch in global constitutionalism
The country’s draft Constitution is an example of a framework for an enduring and egalitarian democracy
In 2019, a wave of protests engulfed the country of Chile. These protests were triggered by familiar themes: social inequality, the cost of living, and probity in governance. But at the heart of the protests was also the fact that Chile’s Constitution was no longer fit for purpose. Drafted in 1980, under the military regime of General Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean Constitution embodied what is popularly known as Chicago School economics: market deregulation was not just a policy choice, but encoded into the Constitution, with one of its most notorious elements being the privatisation of water as a constitutional imperative. Over the years, this led to Chile becoming one of the most unequal countries in the world.
It is inclusive
Consequently, one of the demands of the Chilean protesters was to replace Pinochet’s Constitution with a democratic Constitution, written by the People of Chile, for themselves. The Chilean government eventually conceded to this demand. This led to the formation of a directly-elected Constituent Assembly, which was strikingly representative: 51% of the Constituent Assembly members were women, and there were 17 reserved seats for indigenous peoples. Constituent Assembly members also included people from across the socio-economic and geographical spectrum of Chile, sexual minorities too.
Unsurprisingly, this intensely representative and participatory process has led to the drafting of a Constitution that is both inclusive and visionary. The constitutional draft was finalised at the beginning of July, and will be put to a nationwide referendum on September 4. At the time of writing, there is intense campaigning across the country, both to approve and to reject the draft Constitution, with polls showing a close contest.
To understand the contribution of the Chilean people and the Chilean Constituent Assembly to the present global conversation around democracy, it is important to locate this draft Constitution within a longer history of constitutionalism. In the early to mid-20th century, constitutional drafting around the world often followed the United States model. It was believed that the purpose of a Constitution was to constrain state power. To this end, Constitutions set out enforceable bills of rights, and divided power between the three wings of State — the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary.
In the latter half of the 20th century, it came to be understood that this vision of constitutionalism was necessary, but inadequate, to address the many problems faced by countries across the world. For one thing, Constitutions tended to ignore the “social question”, and issues around equitable access to material resources. In response, starting in the 1980s, Constitutions began to include “socio-economic rights” — such as the rights to housing, to education, and to health, among others — within their bills of rights.
A particularly famous example of this is South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution of 1996. While recognising that it is not always possible for Constitutions to mandate how national resources will be allocated, socio-economic rights provisions have been useful in requiring governments to justify how resources are used, and to hold them to account where resource distribution was discriminatory, or insufficiently attentive to the needs of the most vulnerable.
Second, it was recognised that the complexities of governance require a set of institutions that are independent of the legislature and the executive, and can hold them to account. Some familiar examples include information commissions, human rights commissions, and electoral commissions. In constitutional parlance, these are sometimes referred to as “integrity institutions”, as their task is to ensure integrity in the functioning of state agencies. For example, Chapter Fifteen of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya lists out 10 commissions, and guarantees their independence from the government.
Drawing upon wisdom
Third, it was recognised that mere periodic elections constitute only a thin and attenuated version of democracy. This is exacerbated by the fact that elections require money, and — often — the backing of established political parties. Thus, to have a rich and thriving democracy, there needs to be a deeper and more substantive involvement of the people, in between election cycles. This has come to be known as the requirement of “public participation”. Once again, the 2010 Constitution of Kenya is instructive here: it mandates public participation in the process of law-making, and also envisions popular initiatives — alongside civic education and widespread consultation — as one way of bringing about constitutional change.
The Chilean draft Constitution draws upon this past wisdom, and decades of trial and error across the world, to craft a document that can serve as the framework for an enduring and egalitarian democracy. Some of the striking features of the draft Constitution, thus, are a catalogue of basic socio-economic rights (such as the right to education, workers’ rights, gender identity rights, and the decommodification of water); the existence of autonomous institutions, independent of the government; and the guarantee of citizen initiatives — including Indigenous initiatives — for introducing or changing laws in Parliament. As experience has shown, these are all integral elements for sustaining a culture of constitutionalism.
Document with vision
However, what is even more striking is that the Chilean draft Constitution not only draws upon past wisdom; it is a future-facing document as well. For example, the Constitution grapples with the pervasive role of technology in our lives by stipulating the existence of a National Data Protection Authority, as well as guaranteeing a right to digital connectivity. The need for an independent data protection body is being felt in countries across the world, and the draft Constitution’s move to enshrine it within the constitutional text is, therefore, important.
Similarly, the draft Constitution acknowledges the gravity of the climate crisis, and constitutionalises important principles of international environmental law, such as inter-generational equity. It also guarantees a right to nature, which is something that courts in different countries, from India to New Zealand, have recently explored.
The draft Constitution’s progressive and inclusive bent has naturally given rise to criticism. For example, The Economist — notorious for justifying the 1973 Chilean coup — called it a “woke” document (whatever that means). The focus of the criticism appears to be that the document “goes too far” and can lead to economic irresponsibility. This criticism, however, proceeds on a range of incorrect assumptions. As we have seen, none of its provisions is outside the mainstream of contemporary constitutionalism; indeed, the provision of socio-economic rights in a Constitution has an ancient vintage in the Latin American constitutional tradition, going back to the Mexican Constitution of 1917!
Furthermore, Constitutions do not enforce themselves, but are interpreted, and interpretation always takes place in the real world. For example, the constitutional rights to housing, health, and education have not bankrupted the South African economy. Rather, they have been interpreted by the Constitutional Court of South Africa to protect vulnerable people against evictions, and in the fight against the AIDS crisis — to take just two examples. Within Latin America, the Constitutional Court of Colombia has been similarly disciplined in its interpretation of the Colombian Constitution, and is often hailed as the model of how a constitutional court ought to function.
Thus, when we take a step back and consider the draft Chilean Constitution in its historical and present context, a remarkable picture emerges: this is a document, drafted through an intensely inclusive, participatory, and egalitarian process, and which — in its substantive content — both draws upon the wisdom of the past, and looks to the future. It is, in many ways, a model for how Constitutions in the modern world ought to be drafted, and a lesson to the rest of the world; and if it is approved in the referendum of September 4, it will rightly be hailed as a historic triumph in the annals of global constitutionalism.
5. Editorial-2: Tunnel vision that is endangering India’s history
The planned revision to Section 20 of the ‘Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains’ Act is ruinous
Close on the heels of the unveiling of a bronze statue of the national emblem atop the new Parliament house building, the Government has tersely announced that a Bill will be introduced in the monsoon session to modify a law dealing with ancient monuments. According to media reports, the Bill will “provide more teeth to the Archaeological Survey of India”. This move will align the Bill with the new bronze statue, which has a more aggressive expression than an ancient Ashokan sculpture from Sarnath (Uttar Pradesh) from which its form is derived. Progressive militarisation of tangible heritage and state agencies are endangering India’s history and dismantling public institutions.
Consider a current law. Section 20 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act of 1958, last amended in 2010, prohibits construction within a 100 metre radius of all Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)-protected monuments and regulates activities within another 300 metre radius. The new Bill proposes to revise this section. Henceforth, expert committees will decide on the extent of the prohibited and regulated areas around each monument and activities permitted herein.
The ASI protects around 3,700 archaeological sites and ancient monuments. Taken together, they mark milestones in India’s history: the emergence of well-planned cities, the rise of empires inspired by egalitarian ideals, the development and dispersion of Buddhism along trade routes, the flourishing of temple cultures, the establishment of Sultanate polities, creative and competitive encounters among and between the Mughals and the Rajputs, the ascendancy of the British Raj, and a largely non-violent movement that overthrew colonial rule.
The larger connections
Historically, each monument was integrally connected to the landscape around it. Here are a few examples. Rock-cut sanctuaries from Barabar (Bihar) to Ajanta (Maharashtra) and from Masrur (Himachal Pradesh) to Guntupalli (Andhra Pradesh) were physically connected to outcrops and canyons. Pattadakal’s temples (Karnataka) were symbolically linked to the Malaprabha river that flowed past them. Viramgam’s Munsar Talav (Gujarat) was the centrepiece of a landscape consisting of interlocking ponds, sluice gates, decanting wells, irrigation canals, and farmlands. Lucknow’s imambaras were tied to markets, palaces, processional roads, and gardens.
In time, some of these connections weakened. After 1857, colonial authorities reorganised cities by widening streets and demolishing dwellings around certain majestic older buildings so that they could properly survey the populace. In their effort to reposition architectural fragments of India’s past as Britain’s patrimony, colonial administrators placed select buildings on cushions of emerald grass. On occasion, they also dismantled and removed edifices and sculptural ensembles that they felt were inconsistent with the forms and functions of buildings that most interested them.
Over the past 75 years, grounds around ASI-protected sites have served diverse needs. In Delhi, the grounds of the Purana Quila and other iconic buildings quickly transformed into campsites for tens of thousands of individuals arriving from newly-formed Pakistan. As these refugees resettled in various neighbourhoods and cities, these grounds emerged as public spaces for exercise, prayer meetings, protests, and more. With the progressive transformation of the capital into a concrete jungle, the green edges around Delhi’s protected monuments became havens for migratory birds, small mammals, and host of reptiles and amphibians.
Endangering the commons
Rezoning land around ASI-protected monuments into industrial, commercial, or even residential plots will thus deprive human and animal communities of much-needed commons. Moreover, permitting construction work risks weakening the foundations of centuries-old edifices. The chances of inadvertent damage are also higher. A hastily grounded electric pole might hit a monument’s finial, leading it to fall to the ground. Sacks of cement stacked against a frescoed wall can irreversibly abrade its surface. As is well known, many monuments in India are already threatened by anthropogenic forces. Domestic waste and greywater regularly seep into the subterrain sixth-century sanctuary at Jogeshwari in Mumbai. Air and water pollution continue to turn the white marble of the Taj Mahal yellow and green, and so on.
Erasure, some preservation
For a well-trained historian, the earth around an archaeological site or ancient monument is like a text. If construction machines disturb it, then artefacts long buried in layers of soil risk being broken and their contexts destroyed. This makes the task of undertaking new research more difficult — like reading a book whose pages have been chaotically torn out. In recent years, the Government has built new highways, metro-rail systems, and industrial parks without methodical archaeological impact assessments. These projects have led to the shattering of an untold number of historical artefacts and the casual collection of many others. We cannot afford to lose more of our tangible heritage.
Now is the time to learn from painstaking efforts to preserve our composite tangible heritage and the ecosystems that they are ensconced in. Conservation architect Ritish Nanda’s team at Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi has conserved a dazzling edifice and provided meaningful employment to an entire basti.
In Bhubaneshwar, the Odisha government has formulated a scheme to protect a cluster of ancient temples, tanks, and ponds to nurture a sense of regional identity, restore habitats, and bring in visitors in a methodical way. At the ancient city of Nagaur, Rajasthan, local artisans and multidisciplinary teams led by conservation architect Minakshi Jain have worked together to conserve a citadel, reopen ancient gates, plant trees, and promote a lively bazaar outside its main entrance, ultimately giving a new lease of life to a medieval complex and strengthening social fabrics.
Questions to be asked
Thus, with the monsoon session having begun, our parliamentarians must ask basic questions: Who will determine the make-up of committees empowered to decide land use around each protected monument? What criteria will these committees use? How will different points of view be accommodated and what mechanisms will be present for redress? It is also unclear whether the new Bill will empower the ASI. Various laws and statutory bodies, such as the National Monuments Authority (under the Ministry of Culture), are already in place to help the ASI to fulfil its mandate. Is it possible that the proposed amendment to the AMASR will hasten the ASI’s transformation into a constabulary of a past that exists only in name?
Now is also the time to ask for new, well-planned archaeological excavations to be undertaken at Sarnath and beyond, new partnerships to be formed with academic institutions committed to the rigorous study of India’s past, and new accessible articulations of why studying history is important today. Such efforts — and not new laws with more teeth nor giant bronzes of menacing lions placed atop buildings — will safeguard and promote our heritage in the years to come.
6. Editorial-3: A stinging indictment
The scapegoating of innocent tribals in the fight against Maoists is a self-defeating ploy
The acquittal of 121 tribals by a National Investigation Agency (NIA) court, who were wrongfully held responsible for the deaths of 25 Central Reserve Police Force jawans in a Maoist-led ambush in Burkapal, Sukma district, Chhattisgarh in 2017, would have come as a huge relief for them. The tribals were held under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the fact that the court held that there was little evidence that the tribals had any association with the proscribed Maoists should be a pointer to the utter failure of the law enforcement agencies in their response to the massacre. While justice has definitely been done to the innocent villagers, their prolonged incarceration would have clearly upended their lives and those of their dependents. The tribals who had been arrested and kept in jail for five years had been denied bail in the past by the NIA court and the Chhattisgarh High Court. Clearly, in what seems to be a dubious trend in such cases in conflict-ridden Chhattisgarh and beyond, the imposition of the draconian UAPA without sufficient proof has resulted in this situation. A defence lawyer also claimed that the police investigation was poorly done, with the injured Central Reserve Police Force commandos not being made witnesses before the tribal people were arrested, lending credence to the fact that the apprehended people had been made scapegoats.
As a takeaway from the outcome of this case, the state must ponder as to whether this strategy of rounding up suspects among the hapless tribals in the name of swift action following a military setback does any good to law enforcement. The clearest way to defeat the Maoist insurgency — or any political movement based on violence and motivated by disenchantment with the state — is to uphold the rule of law and to win support among the people who the insurgents claim to be fighting for. Without popular support, insurgencies are bound to fail, specifically, the Maoist movement that is underpinned on winning over those disenchanted with the Indian state. Beyond harping on factors related to poverty, livelihoods in crisis and economic inequality, the Maoists also use tactical violence that invites state repression and serves their purpose of questioning the legitimacy of the Indian state. By typecasting the tribal people, conflating dissidence and disaffection with insurgency, and taking the dubious route of mass incarceration following any setback to the security forces, law enforcement agencies only end up adding grist to the Maoist propaganda that emphasises that these are just characteristics of a repressive state that is beyond reform. Besides purposive socio-economic action, law enforcement must reinforce steps related to procedural law to disprove the Maoist critique of the Indian state and to retain legitimacy among tribal citizens.
7. Editorial-4: A new legislation that mirrors the old
The New Drugs, Medical Devices and Cosmetics Bill is antiquated and needs to be revised
The Union Health Ministry recently published a new draft Bill to replace the antiquated Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. While we salute the Ministry for recognising the need for a new legislation, there is much to disagree with the new Bill. To begin with, although the Ministry has described it as being consistent with the government’s move to review obsolete pre-Independence legislation, most of it is a copy of the old law. There is nothing new in this Bill regarding drug regulation. And the Bill does nothing to address burning issues thrown up over the last decade since the Ranbaxy scandal.
The original Act was enacted when the Indian pharmaceutical industry was in its infancy. At the time, the guiding theory of this law was based on testing manufactured drugs purchased by drug inspectors from the open market. If a drug failed quality testing, the manufacturer could be jailed. This was not the most efficient system of regulation because it depended entirely on luck or fate – only if a drug inspector picked a certain drug on a certain day and it failed testing would the manufacturer face legal action. Much of the world has shifted to a more rigorous system of regulation centered around the compliance of manufacturing units with good manufacturing practices (GMPs). In theory, a drug manufactured in compliance with GMPs is subject to so many checks that it is unlikely that it would fail quality tests once shipped to the market.
In 1988, India incorporated a system of GMPs via rules framed by the government rather than Parliament. But even then, the government did not make GMPs the centrepiece of its regulatory strategy. In the U.S., the regulator’s focus is in ensuring that manufacturing units comply with GMPs. American law presumes that any drug that is manufactured in a facility that fails to comply with GMPs is ‘adulterated’. Given this focus on GMP compliance, U.S. law mandates the publication of reports of inspections conducted by its drug inspectors. Indian law, on the other hand, contains no such criminal penalties for pharmaceutical companies failing to comply with GMPs. At the most, licences may be cancelled, but since inspection reports are never published, citizens have no idea if drug inspectors are conducting GMP compliance-related inspections. There is ample evidence to suggest that such inspections are not carried out. The Bill does nothing to change this system. In fact, it does not mention the phrase GMP even once.
The federalism question
The one issue that has come up in every review of the drug regulatory system since 1947 has been the uneven enforcement of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act across India. This is because, unlike the U.S. which has a single federal agency tasked with enforcing drug regulation across the country, India has 37 agencies for the same job: one in each State and Union Territory along with the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), which is under the control of the Union Health Ministry. State drug controllers are expected to license drug manufacturing and also conduct enforcement actions such as sampling, testing and prosecution for substandard drugs. The CDSCO’s role is limited to regulating imports and to deciding whether new drugs have adequate clinical evidence before they can be sold. Over the years, even the CDSCO has started drawing samples for testing and prosecuting erring manufacturers. In addition, the Health Ministry is in charge of laying down rules and regulations and banning drugs which do not have supporting clinical evidence.
A problem with this setup is that States such as Himachal Pradesh, which account for a bulk of pharmaceutical manufacturing on account of a tax holiday, do a poor job in enforcing the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. This is not just because of poor state capacity; the fear of scaring away investments by the pharmaceutical industry likely plays a key role in the State’s decision to not enforce the law. Since India is a single market, drugs manufactured in Himachal Pradesh are sold across the country and even States with relatively more competent drug regulators, such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Gujarat, can do little to stop the flood of these substandard drugs. It is only the drug controller in Himachal Pradesh who can cancel manufacturing licences of facilities located in that State. This is the reason that the Mashelkar Committee in 2003 had recommended centralising drug licensing with the central regulator. The present Bill is silent on the issue. And since the Ministry never released a white paper explaining its position, we don’t why this issue was never tackled.
Drug regulation by its very nature vests vast discretionary powers in unelected bureaucrats to take decisions such as approving a new drug or a new manufacturing facility, both of which can have huge implications for public health and profits of the pharmaceutical industry. These decisions are often based on scientific data, inspections, reports, etc. In such circumstances, the only safeguard to ensure bureaucratic accountability is transparency. As citizens, we should not be required to run after the regulator begging for information under the Right to Information Act, 2005. Rather, the law should be written in a way to guarantee proactive disclosure of all crucial documentation related to regulatory decisions. If a new drug is being approved, the regulator should be required to disclose all the data, including clinical trial data. Every time a drug is tested in a government laboratory, the test report should be published on a publicly accessible database. Each inspection for GMP compliance should conclude with an inspection report accessible to the general public. This is the only way to ensure accountability and build public confidence in the regulator. The new law is silent on this critical issue of transparency because it is structured largely on the basis of the original colonial-era legislation. The government must consider rewriting this law in a way that guarantees transparency by design.
Modern regulation delegates an incredible amount of power to unelected bureaucrats and technocrats. From a perspective of efficiency, such delegation is required, but from the perspective of accountability, it leads to a democratic deficit. This is why a modern regulatory system should be designed in a manner that guarantees citizens a right to participate in decision making. Making information available to citizens is only the first step in this process. The next step is to create legal pathways, such as public hearings or citizen’s petitions which will enable citizens to participate in the regulatory process and register their objections. For example, every drug approval process should be accompanied by a public hearing to allow doctors and ordinary citizens to question regulators and explain their rationale for approving the new drug. The proposed legislation does not make accommodation for public participation.
Since the present reform process is still in the early days, nobody will fault the Health Minister for junking this draft Bill and appointing a new committee of external experts to draft a Bill reflecting the democratic character of an India celebrating its 75th year of independence.