Daily Current Affairs 21.01.2022 (SC upholds OBC quota in NEET, Focus on rights made India weak, says PM, Vaccines preventing many deaths: govt., Drop the IAS cadre rules amendments, Should the government loosen its purse strings?, Assam, Meghalaya CMs meet Amit Shah on boundary issues, Extended range BrahMos tested, The question of OBC reservation in local bodies)

Daily Current Affairs 21.01.2022 (SC upholds OBC quota in NEET, Focus on rights made India weak, says PM, Vaccines preventing many deaths: govt., Drop the IAS cadre rules amendments, Should the government loosen its purse strings?, Assam, Meghalaya CMs meet Amit Shah on boundary issues, Extended range BrahMos tested, The question of OBC reservation in local bodies)


1. SC upholds OBC quota in NEET

‘Open exam only ensures formal equality, does not end ingrained inequalities’

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the constitutional validity of reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) candidates in the All India Quota seats for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for undergraduate and postgraduate medical and dental courses, noting that “reservation is not at odds with merit” in open competitive examinations.

“If open examinations present equality of opportunity to candidates to compete, reservations ensure that the opportunities are distributed in such a way that backward classes are equally able to benefit from such opportunities which typically evade them because of structural barriers. This is the only manner in which merit can be a democratising force that equalises inherited disadvantages and privileges. Otherwise claims of individual merit are nothing but tools of obscuring inheritances that underlie achievements,” a Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna observed in a 106-page judgment.

The court said an open competitive exam only ensures formal equality and does not end widespread ingrained inequalities in the availability of, and access to, educational facilities to certain classes of people, including the OBC.

Multiple privileges

The privileges that accrue to forward classes are not limited to having access to quality schooling and access to tutorials and coaching centres to prepare for a competitive examination but also includes their social networks and cultural capital (communication skills, accent, books or academic accomplishments) that they inherit from their family, Justice Chandrachud said. The cultural capital ensures that a child from the forward classes is trained unconsciously by the familial environment to take up higher education or high posts commensurate with their family‘s standing. This works to the disadvantage of individuals from social backward classes who are first-generation learners and come from communities whose traditional occupations do not result in the transmission of necessary skills required to perform well in open examination.

Thus, merit is not solely of one’s own making.

“The rhetoric surrounding merit obscures the way in which family, schooling, fortune and a gift of talents that the society currently values aids in one’s advancement. Thus, the exclusionary standard of merit serves to denigrate the dignity of those who face barriers in their advancement which are not of their own making,” Justice Chandrachud explained.

‘Not the best gauge’

The court said the “idea of merit” based on scores in an exam requires “deeper scrutiny”.

“While examinations are a necessary and convenient method of distributing educational opportunities, marks may not always be the best gauge of individual merit. If a high-scoring candidate does not use their talent to perform good actions, it would be difficult to call them meritorious merely because they scored high marks,” Justice Chandrachud reasoned.

The fortitude and resilience required to uplift oneself from conditions of deprivation are equally reflective of individual calibre and merit, the court said.


1902: Shahu, the Maharaja of the princely state of Kolhapur, introduces reservation in favour of non-Brahmin and backward classes in education.

1921: Mysore initiates reservation for backward castes after a decade long social justice movement against the repression of non-Brahmin castes.

1932: Communal Award by British government grants separate electorates in India for Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and Depressed Classes (then untouchables). Later, Poona Pact between M K Gandhi and B R Ambedkar reserves seats for depressed castes within Hindu electorates

1942: Viceroy’s Executive Council recommends 8.5 per cent reservation for Scheduled Castes in civil services. B R Ambedkar was a member of the council

1950: Indian Constitution commits to reservations for Scheduled Castes and Tribes. A Government Order excluded converts (except four Sikh Dalit castes) but by 1990s, Sikh and Buddhist castes were included, but Christian and Muslim Dalits remain excluded.

1951: First amendment in Constitution to legalise caste-based reservation in face of court cases against quota.

1990: Mandal Commission report recommending 27 per cent reservation to OBCs is implemented by Prime Minister V P Singh

1992: Supreme Court orders 50 per cent cap on caste-based reservation. Also strikes down Narasimha Rao government’s move to reserve 10% government jobs for poor among Upper Castes. “Economic condition not a criteria for reservation.”

2019: Parliament passes Article 15 amendment bill allowing 10 per cent quota for poor in higher education and jobs. Bill challenged in Supreme Court.

2020: Reservation in legislature was only till 1960 but it has been extended every 10 years. Latest extension was made in 2010 and is valid up to 26 January 2020. There was never a deadline for reservation in education and jobs.

Reservation 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.

Historical Background

  • 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.

2. Focus on rights made India weak, says PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the focus on talking about, and fighting for, rights in the 75 years since Independence had kept the country “weak” and the next 25 years would be dedicated to hard work, sacrifice and “tapasya” or penance.

Mr. Modi was virtually addressing the launch of the Brahma Kumaris’ year-long programme of events as part of the government’s celebration of 75 years of Independence, Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.

He said it should be acknowledged that the evil of ignoring duties had become part of the national life. “In the last 75 years, we only kept talking about rights, fighting for rights and wasting time. The talk of rights to some extent, for some time, may be right in a particular circumstance, but forgetting one’s duties completely has played a huge role in keeping India weak.”

Human Rights

According to UN, human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

These rights are inalienable and indispensable. The most unique feature of human rights is that it is difficult to define but impossible to ignore. It has been seen that human rights are essential for every human being in order to live their life to the fullest.

History And Development Of Human Rights In India

The history and development of human rights in India can be divided into three stages Ancient, Medieval, and Modern.

Human Rights In Ancient India

The concept of human rights is not alien to Indian political thinkers and philosophers. The concept is as old as ancient civilization.

In ancient India, law was based on the principle of Dharma. The Epics  Ramayana and Mahabharata make us learn that Dharma was ordained for the advancement of all creatures as well as restraining creatures from injuring one another. The righteousness has been described as the essence of Dharma in The Bhagwad Geeta. The Upanishads speak of Dharma as the foundation of whole universe. The Vedas and Smritis talk about the concept of VasudhaivKutumbakam (the whole world as one family). All the four Vedas insist on equality and dignity for humans.

The teachings of Buddha worked effectively for the protection of human rights. The great King Ashoka had been successful in the creation of a welfare state for his subjects and provided them with basic freedoms and rights.

Hence, it is very much clear that Ancient Indian Literatures stood for enlarging and encouraging human rights, freedoms, liberty and equality for all people irrespective of any discrimination based on caste, creed, gender, sex, religion.

Human Rights in Medieval India

The Medieval period signifies the Muslim era in India. The Pre-Mughal period saw the existence of social, political, cultural, religious rights. But with the advent of Mughals, the concept of human rights got lost in the dark. But Akbar’s period (1526-1605) showed that the great regard was given to the social, religious and political rights.

In his religious policy Din-E-Ilahi (divine-religion), he tried to preach the idea of secularism and religious tolerance. Similarly, various religious movements like Bhakti (Hindu) and Sufi (Islamic) made remarkable contribution to the emergence of human rights which at times suppressed by the other Mughal Emperors like Babar, Humayun, and Aurangzeb.

Human Rights In Modern India

The British rule in India can be seen in the Modern period. During this period, the British Government of India had not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but had based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually.

After witnessing the colonial rule, every Indian was of the firm opinion that the recognition, protection and implementation of human rights are not only basic but also inalienable for them for leading a civilized life.

The Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State Policy, newly added Fundamental Duties, reservation for scheduled castes and tribes, special provisions for Anglo- Indians and other backward classes are important constitutional provisions from the human rights point of view.

The study of human rights with reference to Indian Constitution reveals that the Constitution enshrines almost all the human rights provided in the various international conventions, covenants and treaties, such as:

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948;
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1976;
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1976;
  • Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948;
  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965;
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979;
  • Convention on the Rights of Child, 1989;
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006.

Apart from the various constitutional provisions, various statutes have also been enacted by the Indian legislature with a view to protect and promote human rights.
Some of the important legislations enacted by the union are:

  • Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993;
  • National Commission for Minorities Act,1992;
  • National Commission for Women Act, 1990;
  • Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1995;
  • Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989;
  • Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1987;
  • Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1976;
  • Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000;
  • Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 etc.

India has also adopted a number of legislative measures for the social security of the labor, which have been greatly influenced by ILO’s standards.

3. Vaccines preventing many deaths: govt.

‘5 States top contributors to third wave’

India is seeing relatively low mortality in the ongoing COVID-19 surge because of enhanced vaccination cover, said V.K. Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, adding that 6.5 crore persons who were due for their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine had not taken it so far.

“They should take it to ensure that they don’t prove to be the weak link in the fight against the pandemic,” Dr. Paul said at the weekly Health Ministry press conference on Thursday.

For the first time, the Health Ministry termed the present surge “the third wave” of the pandemic, adding that Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi are among the top contributors to the COVID-19 surge. In the week ending on January 19, 515 districts reported a weekly case positivity of more than 5%.

At the meet, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan explained that on April 30, 2021 there were 3,86,452 new cases, 3,059 deaths and 31,70,228 active cases. The proportion of fully vaccinated people then was 2%.

4. Drop the IAS cadre rules amendments

States are right in perceiving the planned amendments to Rule 6(1) to be an infringement of their rights

It was Sardar Patel who had championed the creation of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS) as “All India Services” (AIS) whose members would be recruited and appointed by the Centre and allotted to various States, and who could serve both under the State and the Centre. He considered the AIS essential to knit the administrative framework of a vast and diverse country into an integrated whole and to provide a connecting link between implementation at the field level and policymaking at the top. Speaking to the Constituent Assembly on October 10, 1949, Patel said, “The Union will go, you will not have a united India if you have not a good All India Service which has the independence to speak out its mind, which has a sense of security….”

Healthy conventions earlier

AIS officers are made available for central deputation through a consultative process involving the Centre, the States and the officers concerned. In the past, certain healthy conventions were generally followed. No officer was sent on central deputation against his/her own will. Every year, the States would prepare an “offer list” of officers who had opted for central deputation without arbitrarily withholding any names. The Centre would choose officers only from among those “on offer” from the States. The States would relieve the officers picked up by the Centre at the earliest.

When politics intruded

Unfortunately, both the Centre and the States have at times flouted these healthy conventions for political considerations. In July 2001, the Centre unilaterally “placed at its disposal” the services of three IPS officers of Tamil Nadu cadre. In December 2020, the Centre did the same in respect of three IPS officers of West Bengal cadre. In May 2021, the Centre unilaterally issued orders for the central deputation of the Chief Secretary of West Bengal just before his last day in service. In all these cases, the States concerned refused to relieve the officers.

Some States used to vindictively withhold the names of some of the officers who had opted for central deputation or delay their relief after they were picked up by the Centre. An egregious example was that of a senior IPS officer who was not allowed to join the Central Bureau of Investigation despite earlier clearance and was suspended by the Government of Tamil Nadu in May 2014 when she relieved herself from the State pursuant to the Centre’s direction.

The Central Government has proposed four amendments to Rule 6(1) of the IAS (Cadre) Rules, 1954 dealing with deputation, and has sought the views of State governments before January 25, 2022. The existing Rule 6(1) states that a cadre officer may be deputed to the Central Government (or to another State or a PSU) only with the concurrence of the State Government concerned. However, it has a proviso which states that in case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the Central Government.

Two of the four proposed amendments are disconcerting.

One is a new proviso making it mandatory for the State government to provide a certain fixed number of IAS officers for central deputation every year. The proposed amendment more or less compels a State government to offer IAS officers for central deputation even when these officers themselves may not wish to go on central deputation. Poor working conditions in junior-level posts, an opaque and arbitrary system of empanelment for senior-level posts, and lack of security of tenure at all levels are the real reasons for the shortage of IAS officers, which the Centre should address. With the Government of India itself enthusiastically promoting lateral entry to posts in the Centre and providing an increased share of central deputation posts to the central services, there is no need to push unwilling IAS officers on central deputation.

The other is a proviso that requires the State government to release such officers whose services may be sought by the Central Government in specific situations. Based on experiences of the recent past, State governments have a justified apprehension that this proviso may be misused for political considerations. What if the Centre unilaterally places at its disposal the services of the Chief Secretary, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister and other key officers of a State ruled by a rival party or deputes them to other States?

Long-term damage

States are right in perceiving the proposed amendments as a serious infringement of their rights to deploy IAS officers as they deem best, especially when the cutting edge of policy implementation is mostly at the State level. The contemplated changes have grave implications for the independence, security and morale of IAS officers. If States begin to doubt the loyalty of IAS officers, they are likely to reduce the number of IAS cadre posts and also their annual intake of IAS officers. They may prefer officers of the State Civil Services to handle as many posts as possible. In course of time, the IAS will lose its sheen, and the best and the brightest candidates will no longer opt for the IAS as a career. Short-sighted decisions can do long-term damage to the polity.

Think cooperative federalism

In the words of jurist Nani Palkhivala, “A national consensus should clearly remind the Centre that it has not inherited the Viceroy’s mantle of paramountcy… The Centre would have no moral authority to govern unless it displays a sense of constitutional morality, particularly a sense of justice and fairness towards the States”. In S.R. Bommai vs Union of India (1994), the Supreme Court held that “States have an independent constitutional existence and they have as important a role to play in the political, social, educational and cultural life of the people as the Union. They are neither satellites nor agents of the Centre”.

We hope that the Centre will heed Sardar Patel’s sage advice and drop the proposed amendments. In a federal setup, it is inevitable that differences and disputes would arise between the Centre and the States. But all such quarrels should be resolved in the spirit of cooperative federalism and keeping the larger national interest in mind.

What is current rule on deputation?

Central deputation in the Indian Administrative Service is covered under Rule-6 (1) of the IAS (Cadre) Rules-1954, inserted in May 1969. It states: “A cadre officer may, with the concurrence of the State Governments concerned and the Central Government, be deputed for service under the Central Government or another State Government or under a company, association or body of individuals, whether incorporated or not, which is wholly or substantially owned or controlled by the Central Government or by another State Government. Provided that in case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the Central Government and the State Government or State Governments concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government.”

As on January 1, 2021, out of around 5,200 IAS officers in the country, 458 were on central deputation.

What are the proposed amendments?

On December 20, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) wrote to various state governments that “… various state/joint cadres are not sponsoring adequate number of officers for central deputation, as part of the Central Deputation Reserve. As a result of this, the number of officers available for central deputation is not sufficient to meet the requirement at Centre.”

The letter proposed to insert an additional condition in Rule 6(1): “Provided that each State Government shall make available for deputation to the Central Government, such number of eligible officers of various levels to the extent of the Central Deputation Reserve prescribed under Regulations referred to in Rule 4(1), adjusted proportionately by the number of officers available with the State Government concerned vis-à-vis the total authorized strength of the State cadre at a given point of time. The actual number of officers to be deputed to the Central Government shall be decided by the Central Government in consultation with State Government concerned.”

To the existing condition that “in case of any disagreement… the State Government or State Governments concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government”, the proposed amendment adds the words “within a specified time”.

The Centre has sought comments within January 25, and sent reminders to state governments. It has written that “in specific situations, where services of cadre officers are required by the Central Government in public interest, the Central Government may seek the services of such officers for posting under the Central Government.” A few states have responded, including West Bengal, which has raised objections.

What are the proposed amendments?

On December 20, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) wrote to various state governments that “… various state/joint cadres are not sponsoring adequate number of officers for central deputation, as part of the Central Deputation Reserve. As a result of this, the number of officers available for central deputation is not sufficient to meet the requirement at Centre.”

The letter proposed to insert an additional condition in Rule 6(1): “Provided that each State Government shall make available for deputation to the Central Government, such number of eligible officers of various levels to the extent of the Central Deputation Reserve prescribed under Regulations referred to in Rule 4(1), adjusted proportionately by the number of officers available with the State Government concerned vis-à-vis the total authorized strength of the State cadre at a given point of time. The actual number of officers to be deputed to the Central Government shall be decided by the Central Government in consultation with State Government concerned.”

To the existing condition that “in case of any disagreement… the State Government or State Governments concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government”, the proposed amendment adds the words “within a specified time”.

The Centre has sought comments within January 25, and sent reminders to state governments. It has written that “in specific situations, where services of cadre officers are required by the Central Government in public interest, the Central Government may seek the services of such officers for posting under the Central Government.” A few states have responded, including West Bengal, which has raised objections.

How are officers sent on central deputation today, and how could the amendments affect it?

The Centre asks every year for an “offer list” of officers of the All India Services (IAS, IPS and Indian Forest Service) willing to go on central deputation, from which it selects officers.

While Rule 6(1) says that in case of disagreement, the state shall give effect to the decision of the Centre, this has not been possible in several cases of conflict. Even the proposed amendment leaves the state with an escape route by stating that the number of officers to be sent on deputation shall be decided by the central government “in consultation with the State Government concerned”. And while the Centre mandates the state governments to provide a list of officers, the officer too must be willing, with Rule 6(2) stating: “no cadre officer shall be deputed to any organisation or body of the type referred to in item (ii),
except with his consent”. Item (ii) covers certain kinds of organisations.

In January 2021, a West Bengal-based lawyer, Abu Sohel, filed a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking Rule 6(1) be struck down. He contended that because of the rule, states have to bear the brunt of arbitrary actions taken by the Centre, while the rule makes it difficult for the Centre to enforce its will on a state that refuses to back down. The court, ruling on March 1, did not find any merit in the petition.

In cases of tussle, how often has the Centre has its way?

Usually, the states have had their way. Among the latest examples was a tussle involving Alapan Bandyopadhyay, an IAS officer of the 1987 batch, now retired and serving as Chief Adviser to West Bengal CM Banerjee. Last year, when he was due to begin an extension of three months after retiring as Chief Secretary, the Centre asked him to report on the day of his retirement. Bandyopadhyay did not do so, and the Chief Minister did not relieve him either.

In December 2020, the Centre asked that three IPS officers, who were in charge of security when BJP president J P Nadda’s motorcade was attacked outside Kolkata on December 10, allegedly by supporters of the Trinamool Congress, be sent on deputation to the Centre. The state refused, citing a shortage of IPS officers, and the Centre did not insist either.

Prominent examples in other states include a tussle between the Centre and the J Jayalalithaa government in 2001. On June 29, 2001, a month after Jayalalithaa took oath, the state police’s CB-CID raided former chief minister M Karunanidhi’s home and arrested him along with his DMK colleagues Murasoli Maran and T R Baalu, then ministers in the NDA government of A B Vajpayee. The following month, the Centre asked the state government to send three IPS officers on central deputation. Jayalalithaa refused, and wrote to other Chief Ministers for their support to protect the rights of the states.

In another tussle involving Tamil Nadu, IPS officer Archana Ramasundaram was deputed to the CBI in 2014, but the state government refused to release her, and suspended her when she defied the state’s order and joined the CBI. She is today one of the members of the Lokpal.

5. Should the government loosen its purse strings?

As inflation is driven by supply-side factors, tax policy can be used to cushion its impact

With the Union Budget 10 days away, many economic observers are now focused on what support the Centre can offer the economy, which is still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Some analysts believe that the government must keep its spending in check to prevent price rise from getting out of control. Retail inflation is hovering close to 6%, while the wholesale inflation rate is in double digits. Other analysts, however, believe that the current rise in prices is a temporary phenomenon, and that the government must ignore the fiscal deficit and ramp up spending to support the ailing economy. In a conversation moderated by Prashanth Perumal J., N.R. Bhanumurthy and Himanshu discuss the way forward. Edited excerpts:

What is your view on the current trend in price inflation?

N.R. Bhanumurthy: First of all, when it comes to retail inflation, the latest reading says it is somewhere close to 5.6%. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has already predicted that it will remain below 6% by the end of March. However, many of us believe there are some upside risks when it comes to inflation and inflation expectations. This is for a couple of reasons. One, international oil prices have gone up to $87 per barrel this week. We also see that inflation pressure is building up across the world, especially in countries where there was a large fiscal stimulus. So, there could be the risk of transmission of international inflation to the domestic economy. But at the same time, one needs to really understand what drives this inflation. At least in the Indian context, supply-side constraints play a major role and this needs a different policy prescription. And I’m very sure that the RBI has many instruments to contain this inflation pressure. For the past three quarters, the RBI has been hitting bull’s eye when it comes to inflation forecasts, so I think when it says that retail inflation will be less than 6%, it’s likely to come true. With regard to Wholesale Price Index (WPI), I’ve been a little wary of this reading. You cannot have wholesale market prices and retail market prices diverging for a very long time. We generally expect the transmission between the wholesale market and the retail market to not be more than one or two months. But what we see now is a very prolonged divergence. We need to look at a little more in detail in terms of the coverage and commodities and all those things. We need to focus more on Consumer Price Index (CPI) and less on wholesale prices.

Himanshu: We have to be very cautious in not just looking at inflation numbers in aggregate, but also what is driving inflation. I think that most of the inflation is basically driven by supply. Also, it not driven as much by domestic factors as it is by international factors. But domestic factors have added to the problem. The most obvious factor is that taxes on petroleum goods and services have increased. So, domestic factors have contributed to inflation, but the inflation is predominantly driven by the supply side. But I would also be a bit hesitant in saying that there is only little that can be done using fiscal policy.

Second, I think the gap between WPI and CPI is quite a big one and it has been so for a long time. Some of the inflation in wholesale prices will be passed on to consumer prices, so inflation is a cause of concern not just for fiscal policy or monetary policy, but also for the overall health of the economy because inflation is going to impinge on the basic economics of households.

How do you see the role of fiscal policy in supporting the economy in a high-inflation environment?

 N.R. Bhanumurthy: With regard to the fiscal policy, the current year is turning out to be a very good year in terms of tax revenues. If you look at the last Budget, the government was focused on the medium-term perspective, while leaving short-term issues to the central bank. I’m hoping that the same macro framework will continue in the coming Budget. But at the same time, measures that were brought in to help the poor in terms of providing safety nets continue. Right now, the government has fiscal room and will want to focus on the social sector as well as medium-term growth prospects. Ultimately, the biggest stimulus would be any measure that provides more employment opportunities. Economic recovery has to be on a more sustainable basis rather than in the form of short-term spikes in growth.

Himanshu: I think it should spend more. If there’s any time that the government should be spending more, it is now. One has to go beyond this obsession with managing the fiscal framework. If fiscal prudence leads to growth slowing down, I don’t think that is something sustainable. The reason I say this is because there are enough of the government’s own economic indicators that show that there is excess capacity in the economy. Aggregate consumption, which is a big part of GDP, is slowing down and has been for quite some time now. I think at this point of time the focus should be on reviving the economy and that is best done using fiscal policies. The government will have to open its purse, not just in terms of improving the incomes of people in cases where it can directly do so, such as using social security schemes, but also by increasing the transfers to States. We are actually getting into a situation where the public debt to GDP ratio is going to increase because if growth is going to slow down, it would basically mean that government revenues will also slow down. So, I don’t see how it is going to be good fiscal policy if growth is going to be affected by fiscal prudence. I would recommend that we not worry about the fiscal deficit at this point of time because once growth picks up, then a lot of the fiscal issues can be taken care of. But if the economic engines are not firing up, you are getting into a vicious cycle, and then I don’t think any kind of fiscal management, either in the short or in the medium term, is going to be sustainable. So, I think we need the government to play the important role of reviving the economy.

How would you answer people who talk about the risk of stagflation?

N.R. Bhanumurthy: I think they are being alarmist for a simple reason. We, at least in India, have a consensus that the right inflation number which is relevant for the household is the retail inflation number. The WPI is a very segmented indicator that doesn’t include services and other things. So, let’s be clear that if we are to look at one number to gauge inflation, it is CPI inflation. And the CPI inflation is well within the RBI’s targeted range of 2% to 6%. When it comes to the faltering Index of Industrial Production (IIP) numbers, it should be noted that the IIP covers a very small component of the industry. The IIP is a very crude leading indicator. So, I don’t think we need to make a judgment based on IIP numbers. My own assessment is that we are nowhere near stagflation. In fact, for the next financial year, my own prediction for GDP growth is somewhere close to 6.5%-7%. And if we look at exports, there is a very substantial rise in exports, so the recovery seems to be very, very sharp. If we can continue with the kind of fiscal framework that was adopted in the last Budget, I think we should be looking at close to 7% GDP growth for the next year. And as we already discussed, the inflation pressure is definitely there. It may be somewhere close to 6%. So, I would not really support the argument that we are anywhere close to stagflation.

Himanshu: Stagflation may be too strong a word, but I think there are certainly pressure points. Inflation and low growth persisting for a long time is something that I don’t think we can rule out completely. Where I disagree with Bhanu is with his optimism as far as growth prospects are concerned. At least when it comes to the economic numbers that I can see, it’s not something that is going to be very easy to deal with. A lot of the inflation right now is still coming from the supply side. But if the economy does bounce back once the pandemic is over, it’s not going to lead to the softening of inflation; it may actually aggravate the inflation situation.

Second, as far as the growth numbers are concerned, again, I’m not so optimistic. I’m not going to make a prediction on the growth numbers for next year because in this crisis situation, most of these numbers are affected by the base chosen to calculate these numbers. I think it will be some time before we come back to a normal situation. Unless we are back in a normal situation, I think all these numbers don’t have much meaning; they are just bouncing up and down. In the broadest sense, the threat of high inflation and low growth persisting for at least some time is real. A lot depends on how the government responds to the situation, both in terms of reviving demand in the economy, but also in terms of managing inflation. These are issues for which we still have no conclusive answers.

Is there something the Budget can do in terms of structural reforms to address inflation driven by the supply side?

N.R. Bhanumurthy: I’m not really sure whether fiscal policy can directly address inflation driven by supply-side factors, except maybe by reviving growth. But to go back to an earlier point, if we look at the advance estimates of GDP, they suggest that the investment rate is somewhere close to 36%, which is very close to the investment rate during the high growth period that we saw in the last decade. This is one of the major indicators for me when I say we are going to see 7% GDP growth.

Himanshu: There’s not much that the government can do. But what it certainly can do is protect demand, the economy, the middle class, and particularly the poor and the vulnerable from the impact of high inflation. That, I think, is the role of the government. Taxation of petroleum products, for instance, is something that is part of fiscal policy. So, that is something that the government can influence. When it comes to fertilizer prices, which are rising very fast, the government can increase its contribution and thus reduce the prices that the farmers are paying. Remember, the cost of inflation is not just a direct cost, it can also be passed on indirectly to other prices and this can have a very debilitating impact on the economy. The industry, such as the automobile sector, can start passing on its high input cost to the retail sector, that is to consumers. That’s where I think the government can actually step in and cushion the impact that high inflation has on industry as well as on consumers by lowering direct and indirect taxes. That’s something that will have an impact on what happens overall to the demand side and to the revival of the economy. So, I don’t think that the government’s hands are completely tied; it certainly has a role to play. The government should be looking at the long-term picture rather than the short-term picture of generating revenues by taxing more. It should rather allow people to have a larger disposable income so that consumption in the economy increases. And one way to do it, other than through income transfers, is to reduce taxes on goods and services that are witnessing high inflation.

6. Assam, Meghalaya CMs meet Amit Shah on boundary issues

Home Ministry to examine regional committee reports before further talks

The Chief Ministers of Assam and Meghalaya met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi to apprise him of the agreement reached between the two States regarding the decades-old boundary dispute.

Both the Chief Ministers from Assam and Meghalaya met the Union Home Minister in Delhi and apprised him of the reports of the regional committee on border.

Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma said in a tweet that he and his Meghalaya counterpart Conrad Sangma “apprised Hon HM on the outcomes of discussions held between Assam & Meghalaya governments to resolve the border disputes amicably. We’re grateful for his guidance”. Mr. Sangma tweeted that the Home Minister was apprised of the regional committee reports. He added that the Ministry of Home Affairs will examine the reports and both the Chief Ministers will meet Mr. Shah again after January 26.

Assam and Meghalaya have agreed to resolve differences at six places along their border that covers 36 villages.

The boundary dispute between the two States has lingered for more than five decades.

Mr. Sangma had earlier told reporters in Shillong on Wednesday that “the willingness of the people in specific areas has been one of the main driving forces or the principles on the basis of which we have reached most of the conclusion in most of the areas”.

“We have also considered ethnicity as something very important,” the Press Trust of India quoted him on Wednesday.

Inter-State Border Disputes in North-East India

Northeast India has been witnessing inter-state border disputes since the early 1960s when the process of carving out states from the undivided Assam commenced. The most recent in the series of border disputes that plagued the region is the Assam–Mizoram border, which has been witnessing violent incidents since 2020. The situation took a worse turn on 26 July 2021, when six policemen from Assam were killed in a violent clash. It was alleged that the Assam Police were fired upon by the Mizoram Police. The situation, in fact, is a culmination of a series of allegations and counter-allegations of encroachment by Assam and Mizoram since June 2021. On 30 June 2021, the Mizoram government accused the Assam government officials of encroaching into an area called Aitlang hnar in Mizoram and destroying plantation crops. On their part, the Assam government claimed that Mizo residents have encroached upon 6.5 km inside the Assamese territory and planted banana and betel nut saplings besides constructing makeshift settlements.

Reiterating its claim that Mizoram had encroached upon Assam’s land, the Chief Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, stated in the state assembly that the Mizoram–Assam border has recorded 200 incidents of violence and 40 cases of encroachment since 2016. He also stated that all three districts sharing a border with Mizoram have been encroached upon with Cachar District witnessing 25 cases of encroachment followed by Hailakandi with 16 cases. Assam claims that, in all, 1,777.58 hectares of land has been encroached upon by Mizoram. These charges were refuted by the Mizoram government which claims to have satellite imageries to prove that the Mizos have been settled in these areas for 100 years.

Assam–Mizoram Border Dispute

Mizoram was carved out of Assam and established as a Union Territory in 1972 and as a full-fledged state in 1987. The two states share a 164.6 km-long border. The boundary between the two states is defined in the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act of 1971, which in turn is based on Notification No. 2106 AP dated 9 March 1933. During the 1950s, the Assam government tried to demarcate the boundary between Assam and the Lushai Hills District, but its effort was halted when the office of the Assam survey department was set on fire by miscreants from Mizoram. The first major instance of a border dispute between the two states came to the fore in 1994, when Mizoram objected to Assam’s attempt to extend its control over the Reserve Forests. Major clashes along the border broke out in 2006, 2018, 2020, and more recently in 2021.

The dispute between Assam and Mizoram stems from the latter’s refusal to accept the present boundary with Assam as notified in 1933 arguing that it was a decision imposed upon them by the British. Mizoram suggests that the Inner Line Reserved Forest, as described in the 1875 notification under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act of 1873, should be the basis for delineating the border.  In all, Mizoram claims 819.15 sq. km of forested territory from Assam. Assam government’s contention is that the 1875 notification mentioned the Inner Line, which was only a line limiting the administrative extent of the Assam government and was never meant as a boundary line between Cachar and Lushai Hills.

Present Situation

At present, the situation remains tense along the border. Central forces are deployed along the border—Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on Assam side and the Border Security Force (BSF) on Mizoram side of the border—to act as a buffer between the state police forces. Efforts are being made to diffuse the tension. On 9 July 2021, the Union home secretary convened a meeting of the chief secretaries of both the states to arrive at some sort of agreement, but it remained inconclusive as Mizoram sought more time to hold consultations on Assam’s proposal for maintaining the status quo as in 2020.

It is important to note that most of the meetings between the officials intended to defuse tensions following border clashes rather than finding a permanent solution. In this respect, it is important to note that in wake of a similar violent incident in 2018, the Mizo youth and civil society organisations had requested the Union government to constitute a boundary commission to demarcate the boundary, but no decision was taken by the Union government in this regard.

Apart from Mizoram, other states in the Northeast are also embroiled in border disputes with Assam. The longest and the bloodiest of these is the border dispute between Assam and Nagaland.

Assam–Nagaland Border Dispute

Assam and Nagaland share a 434 km-long border. While the border dispute between the two states began right after Nagaland attained statehood in 1963, it is important to note that even before India gained independence, the Naga National Council (NNC) had demanded the return of the territories which formed part of Naga Hills District. This demand was included in the Nine Point Agreement signed between Governor of Assam Sir Akbar Hydari and the NNC in June 1947. Point No. 6 of the Agreement mentions bringing back all the forests transferred to Sibsagar and Nowgong (Nagaon) districts as well as all the Naga-inhabited contiguous areas to Naga Hills District. The restoration of the “Naga areas” was raised again and placed on record under Point Nos 12 and 13 in the 16-Point Agreement signed between the Union government and the Naga People’s Convention (NPC) in 1960. As is evident, the Government of India did not take any action on this demand but decided to confer statehood to the Nagas to achieve their political aspirations.

Accordingly, the State of Nagaland Act, 1962 was enacted which defined its borders based on the 1925 notification. The government of the newly formed state of Nagaland, however, did not accept the boundary delineation and demanded that Nagaland should comprise the erstwhile Naga Hills and all Naga-dominated areas in North Cachar and Nowgong (Nagaon) districts, which were part of the Naga territory in 1866. In all, Nagaland demands 12,488 sq. km of Assamese territory, all of which comprise 10 Reserve Forests.

The refusal of Nagas to accept the notified boundary saw large forested tracts of Assam encroached upon by the Naga rebels in the 1960s, which were used as hideouts. These insurgent groups were followed by the common Naga people who started settling in these forested areas with the encouragement of the Nagaland government and were protected by the Naga rebels. As encroachments increased, tensions between Assam and Nagaland flared up resulting in the first border clashes in 1965. Since then, violent clashes along the Assam–Nagaland border have become a regular feature, with major armed conflicts reported in 1968, 1979, 1985 and the latest in 2014.

Efforts at Dispute Resolution

In 1967–68, an attempt was made to resolve the border dispute when both state governments agreed to allow the Survey of India to demarcate the Assam–Nagaland boundary. Unfortunately, the survey had to be abandoned as the Nagaland government did not cooperate. The first substantive attempt at resolution of the border dispute was taken by the Union government after the 1968 clashes when it constituted the Sundaram Committee in 1971, with the mandate to determine the boundary between Assam and Nagaland. In 1972, on the suggestion of Justice K.V.K. Sundaram, Assam and Nagaland signed four agreements to maintain the status quo till the submission of the report. However, despite signing these interim agreements, Nagaland continued to encroach upon the reserve forest land in Assam which resulted in frequent frictions along the border and a major violent incident in 1979.

Following the 1979 incident, a number of steps were taken to resolve the issue. First, a 10 km wide Disputed Area Belt (DAB), a neutral area inside Assam administrative boundary claimed by Nagaland, was created and divided into three sectors—A (Diphu RF), B (South Nambor RF), and C (Rengma RF). It lies in Assam’s Golaghat and Jorhat districts and Nagaland’s Wokha and Mokokchung districts. Second, the CRPF and the Assam Rifles (in lesser numbers) were deployed in the DAB as a neutral force to maintain peace. Third, the Union government tried to persuade both state governments to resolve the issue through dialogue and an agreement was signed to implement the agreements signed in 1972. Fourth, the Sundaram Committee Report, which was submitted to the centre informally in 1974, was made available to both governments in 1979. The report stated that boundary demarcation should be done according to the 1925 notification, thereby rejecting the claims of Nagaland except in regard to the 300 sq. km Dessoi Valley reserve forest. The report also suggested a joint survey of the border areas. The Nagaland government refused to accept its recommendations terming it “one sided”.

Another attempt at resolving the issue was made in 1985 when the Shastri Commission was constituted following the Merapani incident. Merapani incident also led to the creation of sector D (Doyang RF) in the DAB. The Shastri Commission indicted the Nagaland government for precipitating violence and recommended that four interim agreements should be implemented robustly and provided that the Assam government had full administrative rights over its constitutional boundary. It also recommended the constitution of a boundary commission to demarcate the border. The report was rejected by Nagaland.

Frustrated by the setting up of polling stations inside the Assamese territory by the Nagaland government, the Assam government filed a civil suit in the Supreme Court under Article 131 of the Constitution of India for identification of boundaries between Assam and Nagaland in 1988. In 1995, the Assam government withdrew the suit only to renew it in 1998. Meanwhile, in 1997, the Union government constituted a commission under J.K. Pillai to resolve the issue. However, the Assam government rejected the commission’s report.

In September 2004, the Supreme Court, while hearing the petition of the Assam government, ordered the constitution of a local commission to ascertain the boundary. But the Nagaland government did not cooperate. It was only in September 2006, after Nagaland was compelled to comply with the Supreme Court orders, that the Local Commission under Justice S.N. Variava was constituted. However, as Variava expressed his inability to continue, Justice Tarun Chatterjee was appointed in his stead. The Local Commission was mandated to identify the boundaries of Assam by taking into account legal, historical and other aspects. It was stated that pleas could be filed against its recommendations as it was not a boundary commission. The commission submitted its report to the Ministry of Home Affairs, but it is reported that the Nagaland government has reservations against this commission.

The Supreme Court also attempted to resolve the dispute amicably through mediation. Stating that “adjudication cannot resolve such differences that have become a routine affair”, the Supreme Court appointed senior advocates Sriram Panchoo and Niranjan Bhat to mediate between Assam and Nagaland in August 2010. The mediators held meetings with representatives of the two state governments; the mediation proceedings were to be independent of the proceedings of the Local Commission. The mediators submitted their report, but it was not accepted by both Assam and Nagaland governments.

Present Situation

Given the failure of the mediation process, the Supreme Court, in January 2015, ordered both the governments to file the list of their witnesses along with their testimonies in the form of affidavits with the apex court registrar. The recording of the testimonies of Assam witnesses is nearly complete but the progress is stalled because of the ongoing pandemic. It is important to note that the Nagaland government had stated in the past that the best way to resolve the boundary dispute is through negotiations, but the Assam government is not amenable to this proposal. Meanwhile, the Reserve Forests which are a part of the disputed belt are being encroached upon by citizens of both Assam and Nagaland with full support from their respective governments. The Assam government alleges that Nagaland had claimed encroached upon 589 sq. km of Assam land.

As settlements grew, people from both states came in close contact resulting in frequent clashes. Since the DAB is a neutral zone, it is beyond the reach of the administration of the two states. In case any dispute arises, it is resolved through gaon buras or village heads by directly negotiating with the persons concerned. On the ground, the border dispute is highly politicised with student unions, insurgent groups as well as vested political interests from both sides inflaming sentiments and rigidly holding to their positions. One of the reasons for the consolidation of claims by both sides could be the prospect of generating revenue through exploration of oil and gas as well as through the tea gardens as the DAB is rich in natural resources. It is important to note that the resolution of the Assam–Nagaland border dispute also hinges upon the outcome of the Naga peace process.

Assam–Arunachal Border Dispute

Arunachal shares an 804.1 km long boundary with Assam. The boundary dispute between the two states came to the fore after the establishment of Arunachal Pradesh as a Union Territory in 1972. The process of demarcation of the boundary between Assam and Arunachal started in 1972 and by 1979, 396 km of the boundary was demarcated. However, a number of anomalies and disputes regarding the border surfaced during the survey. As a result, the process of demarcation had to be suspended.

The border dispute between the two states arose when Arunachal Pradesh refused to accept the 1951 notification as the basis of boundary delineation. In April 1951, on the recommendations of the Bordoloi Committee, a total of 3,648 sq. km of the plain area comprising the present-day Darrang, Dhemaji and Jonoi districts was transferred to Assam. Arunachal argues that the plain area was transferred to Assam without the consent of its people. It claims that the people of Arunachal Pradesh have traditional and customary rights over these lands which were also recognised by the British as well as the Ahom rulers through the payment of posa. The Assam government, however, argues that the boundary is constitutional and cannot be altered.

Efforts at Dispute Resolution

Several efforts have been made to arrive at some kind of resolution to the border dispute. In 1979, both governments agreed to set up a high-powered committee to discuss the disagreements, but nothing came of it. In 1983, the Arunachal government sent a proposal to Assam asking it to return 956 sq. km of land, but the Assam government did not respond. In 1989, Arunachal again renewed its claim and argued that it has been magnanimous and asking only a small portion of the plain land transferred to Assam. In response, the Assam government filed a civil suit in the Supreme Court requesting it to ascertain the Assam–Arunachal boundary. Incidentally, in 2007, Arunachal presented its proposal in front of the Tarun Chatterjee Commission in which it increased its request of return of territory from 956 sq. km to 1,119.2 sq. km. Assam rejected it in 2009 and argued that the boundary should be settled in the spirit of give and take. It is reported that the Commission upheld 70–80 per cent of Arunachal Pradesh’s claim.

Present Situation

Assam has raised the issue of encroachment in 2020 and claimed that Arunachal Pradesh has encroached upon 6,375 hectares of its forest land. It is important to note that the Assam government has been periodically launching eviction drives in the encroached lands leading to violence on the ground and tensions such as in 2005 and 2014. The present situation on the border is calm but could flare up at any moment given that encroachment from both sides is taking place at a rapid pace. In particular, the Bodos from Assam and the Nyshis from Arunachal Pradesh are at the forefront of this encroachment. The issue is also politicised by various vested interest groups.

Assam–Meghalaya Border

Meghalaya was carved out of Assam as an autonomous state in 1970 and became a full-fledged state in 1972. Assam shares an 884.9 km long border with Meghalaya. The border dispute stems from the Meghalaya government’s refusal to accept the Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act of 1969. There are at present 12 points of dispute along the Meghalaya–Assam border covering an area of 2,765.14 sq. km.

Like in the case of Arunachal Pradesh, in April 1951, on the recommendations of the Bordoloi Committee, Blocks I and II of Jaintia Hills were transferred to the Mikir Hill (Karbi Anglong) District of Assam and areas in Garo Hills to Goalpara District of Assam. The contiguous areas in Ri Bhoi District were also transferred to the Kamrup District of Assam. The 1969 Reorganisation Act reiterates these transfers and accordingly defines the boundary of Meghalaya.

Meghalaya claims that these areas originally belong to the Khasi–Jaintia Hills and that the inhabitants belong to the Khasi Pnar tribe, therefore, these areas should belong to Meghalaya. It also claims that some of these territories were also lost to the British by the Khasi chieftains. The Assam government on the other hand asserts that Meghalaya Archives does not have the documents to prove that these areas historically belonged to Meghalaya. And that it will adhere to the maps which were created in 1979–80.

Efforts at Dispute Resolution

Initial attempts at resolving the border dispute were mainly through negotiations between the two governments. In May 1983, both the governments constituted a joint official committee to resolve the issue. The committee submitted its report in November 1983 in which it suggested that the dispute should be settled by re-delineation of the border by the Survey of India with the cooperation of both the states. However, no action was taken to implement the recommendations. Meanwhile, more areas along the border began to be disputed. To resolve the disputes, Assam and Meghalaya agreed to constitute an independent committee. Accordingly, a committee headed by Justice Y.V. Chandrachud was constituted in 1985. The committee submitted its report in 1987 and reportedly upheld the claims of Assam. The Meghalaya government however rejected the committee’s report.

As the border disputes increased and became more violent, both the governments agreed in January 1991 to jointly demarcate the border with the help of Survey of India. By the end of 1991, around 100 km of the border was demarcated but later Meghalaya government refused to cooperate arguing that the manner in which the border was demarcated was unconstitutional.

About 20 years later in 2011, the Meghalaya assembly passed a resolution asking the Union government to intervene and constitute a boundary commission. In response, the Assam assembly passed a resolution opposing the move of the Meghalaya government. However, at the behest of the Union government, both the governments appointed nodal officers to discuss the border dispute. They meet periodically to minimise the points of difference and maintain the status quo along the border. In 2019, the Meghalaya government filed a petition in the Supreme Court urging it to direct the Union government to settle the border dispute. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition and ordered the Meghalaya government to approach the Centre directly.

Present Situation

The border disputes persist with occasional flaring up of violent incidents as both civilians and governments attempt to encroach upon areas and build structures for residential or official purposes. Till date, the situation has been under control through an effective dialogue between the governments at various levels.

7. Extended range BrahMos tested

Launch conducted by BrahMos Aerospace in coordination with DRDO teams

The supersonic cruise missile BrahMos with increased indigenous content and improved performance was successfully flight-tested from the Integrated Test Range, Chandipur off the coast of Odisha, on Thursday morning.

“The missile was equipped with the advanced indigenous technologies and followed a modified optimal trajectory for enhanced efficiency and improved performance. The missile with the modified control system has been fine tuned to achieve an enhanced capability,” a statement from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said.

The highly-manoeuvrable missile cruised at supersonic speed for its maximum range and all mission objectives were met, it noted.

The launch was conducted by Brahmos Aerospace in close coordination with DRDO teams. The flight test was monitored by all the sensors of the range instrumentation, including telemetry, radar and the electro-optical tracking systems deployed across the eastern coast and the down range ships, the statement said.

Earlier this month, an extended range ship to ship variant was flight-tested from indigenous guided stealth missile destroyer INSVisakhapatnam.

BrahMos Aerospace has been continuously upgrading the BrahMos to increase its effectiveness and lethality against sea and land targets, the statement said.

The missile is capable of being launched from land, sea, sub-sea and air against surface and sea-based targets and has been long inducted by the Indian armed forces.

Notable Missile Systems in India and their details

MissileType Range
Astraair-to-air 80 km
Trishulsurface-to-air 9 km
Akash  30 km
Prithvi Air Defence (PAD)  2000 km
Nagsurface-to-surface Anti-tank missile 4 km
Prahaarsurface-to-surfaceSRBM150 km
BrahMosland, naval, airSupersonic Cruise Missile300 km
Nirbhayland, naval, airSubsonic Cruise Missile1000 km
K-15 Sagarikaunderwater-to-surfaceSLBM700 km
Dhanushsea-to-sea/surfaceSRBM350 km

SLBM: Sub-marine launched ballistic missile

AstraAstra is a beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missile (AAM).In terms of size and weight, the Astra is the smallest missile developed by the DRDO.It was envisaged to intercept and destroy enemy aircraft at supersonic speeds.
TrishulUsed as anti-sea skimmer (to fly low to avoid radar) from ships against low-flying attacks.
AkashIt has the capability to “neutralize aerial targets like fighter jets, cruise missiles and air-to-surface missiles” as well as ballistic missiles.
PADAnti-ballistic missile developed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere (exo-atmospheric).
Nag3rd generation anti-tank ‘fire and forget’ guided missile (lock-on before launch system) where the target is identified and designated before the weapon is launched.
PrahaarHigh manoeuvrability.Primarily a battlefield support system for the Army.
BrahMosIt is a supersonic cruise missile developed as a joint venture between Indian and Russia.It is the fastest supersonic cruise missile in the world.It is the world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation.
NirbhaySubsonic missile which is ancillary (providing necessary support) to the BrahMos range.
K-15 SagarikaIt forms the crucial third leg of India’s nuclear deterrent vis-à-vis its submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capability.It was subsequently integrated with India’s nuclear-powered Arihant class submarine.
DhanushIt is capable of carrying nuclear warheads.It carries forward the legacy of the K-15 Sagarika.
ShauryaSurface-to-surface ballistic missile (SSM) variant of the K-15 Sagarika.The nuclear capability of the missile enhances India’s second-strike capability.It reduces the dependence on the K-15 which was built with Russian assistance.

Prithvi Missiles

All the Prithvi variants are surface-to-surface SRBMs.

NameVersionRangePayload in kg
Prithvi IArmy version150 km1000
Prithvi IIAir force version350 km500
Prithvi IIINaval version600 km1000

Agni Missiles

NameTypeRangePayload in kg
Agni-IMRBM700 – 900 km1,000
Agni-IIMRBM2,000 – 3,000 km750 – 1,000
Agni-IIIIRBM3,500 – 5,000 km2,000 – 2,500
Agni-IVIRBM3,000 – 4,000  km800 – 1,000
Agni-VICBM5,000 – 8,000 km (Testing)1,500 (3 – 10 MIRV)
Agni-VIICBM8,000 – 10,000 km (Under development)1,000 (10 MIRV)

MIRV: Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicle

Anti-satellite weapons (ASAT)

  • In March 2019, India successfully tested its ASAT missile.
  • The ASAT missile destroyed a live satellite in Low Earth orbit (283-kilometre).
  • As per DRDO, the missile is capable of shooting down targets moving at a speed of 10 km per second at an altitude as high as 1200 km.

There are 2 kinds of Missiles, Ballistic and Cruise

Ballistic MissilesCruise Missiles
It follows a ballistic trajectory with the objective of delivering one or more warheads to a predetermined target.It is a guided missile that remains in the atmosphere and flies the major portion of its flight path at approximately constant speed.
Target is predetermined. Fit for large targets.Target can be mobile. More appropriate for small mobile targets.
Guided only during relatively brief periods of flight and the rest of its trajectory is unpowered and governed by gravity.Are self-navigating
High altitude. Easy to trackAble to fly in extremely low-altitude trajectory. Makes it difficult to track

8. The question of OBC reservation in local bodies

The apex court’s latest order makes it mandatory that the principles laid down by the Supreme Court must be followed across the country 

The apex court’s latest order in Rahul Ramesh Wagh v. State of Maharashtra &Ors. makes it mandatory that the principles laid down by the Supreme Court for providing reservation to OBCs in local bodies shall be followed across the country.

A five-judge Constitution Bench in the K. Krishnamurthy (Dr.) v. Union of India (2010) judgment said that barriers to political participation are not the same as barriers to education and employment. Though reservation to local bodies is permissible, the top court declared that the same is subject to three conditions: 1) to set up a dedicated Commission to conduct empirical inquiry into the nature of the backwardness in local bodies, 2) to specify the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body-wise 3) such reservation shall not exceed aggregate of 50% of the total seats reserved for SCs/STs/OBCs taken together.

Maharashtra had constituted a Commission to ascertain the backwardness of OBCs in June 2021. But without waiting for an empirical report, an ordinance was promulgated to amend the Maharashtra Zilla Parishads Act, Panchayat Samitis Act and the Maharashtra Village Panchayat Act so as to conduct local body elections with OBC reservation. This was struck down by the Supreme court.

Reservation to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in local body elections sans empirical base can no more be sustainable in law and the apex court’s latest order in Rahul Ramesh Wagh v. State of Maharashtra &Ors. makes it mandatory that the principles laid down by the Supreme Court for providing reservation to OBCs in local bodies shall be scrupulously followed across the country. The latest order arises out of the challenge made to the ordinance promulgated on the teeth of the Supreme Court judgments by the Governor of Maharashtra to conduct the local body elections by providing 27% reservation to OBCs.

The Constitution Bench decision

The present political quandary harks back to the five-judge Constitution Bench decision in K. Krishnamurthy (Dr.) v. Union of India (2010) wherein the Supreme Court had interpreted Article 243D(6) and Article 243T(6), which permit reservation by enactment of law for backward classes in panchayat and municipal bodies respectively, to hold that barriers to political participation are not the same as that of the barriers that limit access to education and employment. However, for creating a level playing field, reservation may be desirable as mandated by the aforementioned Articles which provide a separate constitutional basis for reservation, as distinct from what are conceived under Article 15 (4) and Article 16 (4) which form the basis for reservation in education and employment. Though reservation to local bodies is permissible, the top court declared that the same is subject to empirical finding of backwardness in relation to local bodies as fulfilled through the three tests as follows:

“1) To set up a dedicated Commission to conduct contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness qua local bodies, within the State; 2) To specify the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body-wise in light of recommendations of the Commission, so as not to fall foul of overbreadth; 3) and in any case such reservation shall not exceed aggregate of 50% of the total seats reserved in favour of SCs/STs/OBCs taken together.” The 50% ceiling specifically relied on the ratio of the historic Indra Sawhney judgment (1992).

Vikas Krishnarao Gawali v. State of Maharashtra &Ors. (2021)

The Indian political class usually displays apathy to the law declared by the courts as contrary to the enacted law. The 2010 judgment was not acted upon and the constitutionality of the enacted reservation was challenged. This resulted in the 2021 judgment of a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court. In the above case, the Supreme Court read down the provision of the Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961, which mandated for 27% reservation to OBCs in local bodies.

The court observed that the reservation for OBCs was just a “statutory dispensation to be provided by the State legislations” and is different from the “constitutional” provisions which mandate reservation to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (SC/ST). While insisting on the triple test, the court observed that the reservation in favour of OBCs in the concerned local bodies can be notified to the extent that it does not exceed 50% of the total seats reserved in favour of SCs/STs/OBCs taken together. The Supreme Court quashed notifications issued by the Maharashtra Election Commission, which provided more than 50% reservation to OBCs and SC/STs in some local bodies. However, the political decision was to take the usual route of ordinance to overcome an adverse judicial decision.

The wingless ordinance

Maharashtra had constituted a Commission to ascertain the backwardness of OBCs in June 2021. But without waiting for an empirical report, as mandated by the court, an ordinance was promulgated to amend the Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act and the Maharashtra Village Panchayat Act so as to conduct local body elections while ensuring OBC reservation. Though the ordinance was portrayed to be in compliance with the order of the apex court without breaching the 50% ceiling as mandated by the triple test, other parameters had been transgressed. The ordinance failed to take off, as it was challenged before the Bombay High Court; but the election process was not stalled, citing which the petitioner reached the Supreme Court by filing appeal by special leave and the election process qua the reserved seats was stayed. The OBC reservation and notification for the local body election in Madhya Pradesh also were deemed to fall foul of the Supreme Court order, as was found by the apex court, on challenge.

The Supreme Court directed the re-notification of the reserved seats as belonging to general category in both the States on the basis of which the election process may proceed.

Legislative resolve and the judicial response

Surprisingly, on December 23, the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly passed a resolution to keep the local body elections without OBC reservation at abeyance. Taking a political cue from Madhya Pradesh, the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly also passed a resolution to stall the local body elections in the wake of the judicial interference.

Interestingly, the last order of the apex court records that “In case, the State or Union Territory is not in a position to fulfil the triple test requirement and the election to any of its local body cannot be postponed beyond the statutory period, the (State) Election Commission (concerned) ought to notify proportionate seats as open category seats, and proceed with the elections of the local bodies.”

Had the governments stuck to the law as mandated by Article 141 of the Constitution, this quandary wouldn’t have arisen. Rule of law is not just a set of letters, but it has to be followed in spirit.

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