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Daily Current Affairs 29.03.2021 (The Unique Land Parcel Identification Number, wildlife sanctuary in Himachal, NRC)

Daily Current Affairs 29.03.2021 (The Unique Land Parcel Identification Number, wildlife sanctuary in Himachal, NRC)

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1. Centre mulls unique ID for all plots of land by March 2022

ULPIN database to be linked with revenue court records

The Centre plans to issue a 14-digit identification number to every plot of land in the country within a year.

It will subsequently integrate its land records database with revenue court records and bank records, as well as Aadhaar numbers on a voluntary basis, according to a parliamentary standing committee report submitted to the Lok Sabha last week.

The Unique Land Parcel Identification Number (ULPIN) scheme has been launched in 10 States this year and will be rolled out across the country by March 2022, the Department of Land Resources told the Standing Committee on Rural Development.

An official, who did not wish to be named, described it as “the Aadhaar for land” — a number that would uniquely identify every surveyed parcel of land and prevent land fraud, especially in rural India, where land records are outdated and disputed. The identification will be based on the longitude and latitude of the land parcel, and is dependent on detailed surveys and geo-referenced cadastral maps, according to a presentation by the Department in September 2020.

This is the next step in the Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP), which began in 2008 and has been extended several times as its scope grew. It’s due to come to an end next week, but the Department has proposed a further extension to 2023-24, to complete its original targets as well as expand its ambit with a slew of new schemes.

“This Department has taken new initiatives under the programme like NGDRS [or the National Generic Document Registration System], ULPIN, linking of court to land records, integration [of] consent based Aadhaar number with land records etc. which necessitated its further extension beyond 2020-21 till 2023-24,” the Department told the parliamentary panel.

“Unique Land Parcel Identification Number (ULPIN) is proposed to be rolled out in 10 States during FY 2020-21 and by 2021-22 in the entire country,” it added.

The Department’s presentation to the parliamentary panel listed the proposed cost for some of the new initiatives. Linking Aadhaar with land records through ULPIN would cost ₹3 per record, it said, while seeding and authentication of landowner Aadhaar data would cost ₹5 each. It added that the integration of the Aadhaar numbers with the land record database would be done on a voluntary basis.

Creating a modern land record room in every district would cost ₹50 lakh per district, while the integration of land records with the Revenue Court Management System would cost ₹270 crore. It also added that DILRMP’s next phase would include “linkage of land record database with banks”.

“These components will enhance the service deliveries to the citizen of the country and will also function as inputs to the schemes of the other sectors like Agriculture, Finance Disaster Management etc,” the Department told the panel, adding that ULPIN has been recommended by the Sectoral Group of Secretaries.

Land Reforms in India

Pre Independence

  • Under the British Raj, the farmers did not have the ownership of the lands they cultivated, the landlordship of the land lied with the Zamindars, Jagirdars etc.
  • Several important issues confronted the government and stood as a challenge in front of independent India.
    • Land was concentrated in the hands of a few and there was a proliferation of intermediaries who had no vested interest in self-cultivation.
      • Leasing out land was a common practice.
    • The tenancy contracts were expropriative in nature and tenant exploitation was almost everywhere.
    • Land records were in extremely bad shape giving rise to a mass of litigation.
    • One problem of agriculture was that the land was fragmented into very small parts l for commercial farming.
      • It resulted in inefficient use of soil, capital, and labour in the form of boundary lands and boundary disputes.

Post-Independence

  • A committee, under the Chairmanship of J. C. Kumarappan was appointed to look into the problem of land. The Kumarappa Committee’s report recommended comprehensive agrarian reform measures.
  • The Land Reforms of the independent India had four components:
  • The Abolition of the Intermediaries
  • Tenancy Reforms
  • Fixing Ceilings on Landholdings
  • Consolidation of Landholdings.
  • These were taken in phases because of the need to establish a political will for their wider acceptance of these reforms.

Abolition of the Intermediaries

  • Abolition of the zamindari system: The first important legislation was the abolition of the zamindari system, which removed the layer of intermediaries who stood between the cultivators and the state.
  • The reform was relatively the most effective than the other reforms, for in most areas it succeeded in taking away the superior rights of the zamindars over the land and weakening their economic and political power.
    • The reform was made to strengthen the actual landholders, the cultivators.
  • Advantages: The abolition of intermediaries made almost 2 crore tenants the owners of the land they cultivated.
    • The abolition of intermediaries has led to the end of a parasite class. More lands have been brought to government possession for distribution to landless farmers.
    • A considerable area of cultivable waste land and private forests belonging to the intermediaries has been vested in the State.
    • The legal abolition brought the cultivators in direct contact with the government.
  • Disadvantages: However, zamindari abolition did not wipe out landlordism or the tenancy or sharecropping systems, which continued in many areas. It only removed the top layer of landlords in the multi-layered agrarian structure.
    • It has led to large-scale eviction. Large-scale eviction, in turn, has given rise to several problems – social, economic, administrative and legal.
  • Issues: While the states of J&K and West Bengal legalised the abolition, in other states, intermediaries were allowed to retain possession of lands under their personal cultivation without limit being set.
    • Besides, in some states, the law applied only to tenant interests like sairati mahals etc. and not to agricultural holdings.
      • Therefore, many large intermediaries continued to exist even after the formal abolition of zamindari.
    • It led to large-scale eviction which in turn gave rise to several socio-economic and administrative problems.

Tenancy Reforms

  • After passing the Zamindari Abolition Acts, the next major problem was of tenancy regulation.
    • The rent paid by the tenants during the pre-independence period was exorbitant; between 35% and 75% of gross produce throughout India.
  • Tenancy reforms introduced to regulate rent provide security of tenure and confer ownership to tenants.
    • With the enactment of legislation (early 1950s) for regulating the rent payable by the cultivators, fair rent was fixed at 20% to 25% of the gross produce level in all the states except Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, and some parts of Andhra Pradesh.
  • The reform attempted either to outlaw tenancy altogether or to regulate rents to give some security to the tenants.
  • In West Bengal and Kerala, there was a radical restructuring of the agrarian structure that gave land rights to the tenants.
  • Issues: In most of the states, these laws were never implemented very effectively. Despite repeated emphasis in the plan documents, some states could not pass legislation to confer rights of ownership to tenants.
    • Few states in India have completely abolished tenancy while others states have given clearly spelt out rights to recognized tenants and sharecroppers.
    • Although the reforms reduced the areas under tenancy, they led to only a small percentage of tenants acquiring ownership rights.

Ceilings on Landholdings

  • The third major category of land reform laws were the Land Ceiling Acts. In simpler terms, the ceilings on landholdings referred to legally stipulating the maximum size beyond which no individual farmer or farm household could hold any land. The imposition of such a ceiling was to deter the concentration of land in the hands of a few.
  • In 1942 the Kumarappan Committee recommended the maximum size of lands a landlord can retain. It was three times the economic holding i.e. sufficient livelihood for a family.
  • By 1961-62, all the state governments had passed the land ceiling acts. But the ceiling limits varied from state to state. To bring uniformity across states, a new land ceiling policy was evolved in 1971.
    • In 1972, national guidelines were issued with ceiling limits varying from region to region, depending on the kind of land, its productivity, and other such factors.
    • It was 10-18 acres for best land, 18-27 acres for second class land and for the rest with 27-54 acres of land with a slightly higher limit in the hill and desert areas.
  • With the help of these reforms, the state was supposed to identify and take possession of surplus land (above the ceiling limit) held by each household, and redistribute it to landless families and households in other specified categories, such as SCs and STs.
  • Issues: In most of the states these acts proved to be toothless. There were many loopholes and other strategies through which most landowners were able to escape from having their surplus land taken over by the state.

    • While some very large estates were broken up, in most cases landowners managed to divide the land among relatives and others, including servants, in so-called ‘benami transfers’ – which allowed them to keep control over the land.
    • In some places, some rich farmers actually divorced their wives (but continued to live with them) in order to avoid the provisions of the Land Ceiling Act, which allowed a separate share for unmarried women but not for wives.

Consolidation of Landholdings

  • Consolidation referred to reorganization/redistribution of fragmented lands into one plot.
    • The growing population and less work opportunities in non- agricultural sectors, increased pressure on the land, leading to an increasing trend of fragmentation of the landholdings.
    • This fragmentation of land made the irrigation management tasks and personal supervision of the land plots very difficult.
  • This led to the introduction of landholdings consolidation.
    • Under this act, If a farmer had a few plots of land in the village, those lands were consolidated into one bigger piece of land which was done by either purchasing or exchanging the land.
  • Almost all states except Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura and parts of Andhra Pradesh enacted laws for consolidation of Holdings.
  • In Punjab and Haryana, there was compulsory consolidation of the lands, whereas in other states law provided for consolidation on voluntary basis; if the majority of the landowners agreed.
  • Advantages: It prevented the endless subdivision and fragmentation of land Holdings.
    • It saved the time and labour of the farmers spent in irrigating and cultivating lands at different places.
    • The reform also brought down the cost of cultivation and reduced litigation among farmers as well.
  • Result: Due to lack of adequate political and administrative support the progress made in terms of consolidation of holding was not very satisfactory except in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh where the task of consolidation was accomplished.
    • However, in these states there was a need for re-consolidation due to subsequent fragmentation of land under the population pressure.
  • Need of re-consolidation: The average holding size in 1970-71 was 2.28 hectares (Ha), which has come down to 1.08 Ha in 2015-16.
  • While Nagaland has the largest average farm size, Punjab and Haryana rank second and third in the list respectively.
    • The holdings are much smaller in densely populated states like Bihar, West Bengal and Kerala.
  • The multiple subdivisions across generations have reduced even the sub divisions to a very small size.
The Bhoodan and Gramdan Movements Vinoba Bhave, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, noticed the problems faced by the landless harijans in Pochampalli, Telangana.He led the movements in an attempt to bring about a “non-violent revolution” in India’s land reforms programme.The movements were about urging the landed classes to voluntarily surrender a part of their land to the landless giving it the name- Bhoodan Movement.It began in 1951.In response to the appeal by Vinoba Bhave, some land owning class agreed to voluntary donation of their some part of land.The Central and State governments had provided the necessary assistance to Vinoba Bhave.Later, the Bhoodan gave way to the Gramdan movement which began in 1952.The objective of the Gramdan movement was to persuade landowners and leaseholders in each village to renounce their land rights and all the lands would become the property of a village association for an egalitarian redistribution and joint cultivation.Under this movement, a village was declared as Gramdan when at least 75% of its residents with 51% of the land signified their approval in writing for Gramdan.The first village to come under Gramdan was Magroth, Haripur, Uttar Pradesh. Successes of the Movement: The movement was the first post-independence movement that sought to bring social transformation through a movement and not through government legislation.It created a moral ambience that put pressure on the big landlords.It also stimulated the political activity among the peasants and landless, providing a fertile ground for political propaganda to organise peasants.
Drawbacks: The land donated was mostly those which were unfertile or under litigation as a result although large areas of land was collected but little was distributed among the landless.Gramdan movement was started in villages where class differentiation had not emerged, there was little difference in landholdings ownership, mainly in tribal areas.But it was not successful in areas where there was disparity in landholdings.Further, the movement failed to realize its revolutionary potential.
Result: The movements received widespread political patronage.The movements reached their peak around 1969.Several state governments passed laws aimed at Gramdan and Bhoodan.But after 1969 Gramdan and Bhoodan lost its importance due to the shift from being a purely voluntary movement to a government supported programme.
In 1967, after the withdrawal of Vinoba Bhave from the movement, it lost its mass base.

2. 27 migratory birds found dead at wildlife sanctuary in Himachal

Officials suspect avian influenza, reports awaited

As many as 27 migratory birds have been reported dead on account of avian influenza in the Pong Dam Wildlife Sanctuary area of Himachal Pradesh since March 25, setting off alarm bells and forcing authorities to shut down the sanctuary.

Archana Sharma, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (wildlife), told The Hindu on Sunday that 14 migratory birds, mostly bar-headed geese, were found dead at the sanctuary on March 25. “Another 12 birds were found dead over the next two days. We have sent the samples to the Regional Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory in Jalandhar. Any confirmation about the presence of avian flu could be ascertained only after the reports come,” she said.

“At this time of the year, migratory birds are on their way back to their breeding grounds in central Asia. Some of them may be infected because immunity levels are low as they are coming from different wetlands. We are assuming that it could be avian influenza — H5N1 or H5N8 — but until the reports come nothing can be confirmed,” she said.

“As a precautionary measure, we have closed the sanctuary area for now. The wildlife wing of the Forest department is working actively to monitor the situation and field staff have been directed to maintain strict vigil and active surveillance on the situation,” added Ms. Sharma.

Earlier in January this year, avian influenza (H5N1) led to the death of over 5,000 migratory birds in the Pong Dam Wildlife Sanctuary area in Kangra district of the State.

National Parks, Biosphere Reserves, Wildlife Sanctuaries in India

India is one of the 17 mega diverse countries of the world. With only 2.4% of the world’s land area, 16.7% of the world’s human population and 18% livestock, it contributes about 8% of the known global biodiversity, however, putting enormous demands on our natural resources. India is home to world’s largest wild tigers population and has a unique assemblage of globally important endangered species like Asiatic lion, Asian Elephant, One-horned Rhinoceros, Gangetic River Dolphin, Snow Leopard, Kashmir Stag, Dugong, Gharial, Great Indian Bustard, Lion Tailed Macaque etc. The following steps have thus been taken to protect and manage the wildlife of the country:

Conservation of Wildlife:

The Government of India enacted the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 with the objective of effectively protecting the wildlife of this country and to control poaching, smuggling and illegal trade in wildlife and its derivatives.

  • The act extends to the whole of India except J&K which has its own wildlife act.
  • It has 6 schedules which give varying degrees of protection.
    • Schedule I and part II of Schedule II provide absolute protection and offences under these are prescribed the highest penalties.
    • The penalties for Schedule III and Schedule IV are less and these animals are protected.
    • Schedule V includes the animals which may be hunted. These are the Common crow, Fruit bats, Mice & Rats only.
    • Schedule VI contains the plants, which are prohibited from cultivation and planting.

National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), chaired by the Prime Minister of India provides for a policy framework for wildlife conservation in the country.

The National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) was adopted in 2002, emphasizing the people’s participation and their support for wildlife conservation. The Draft National Wildlife Action Plan (NWAP) 2017-31 envisages 17 focus areas, including a new area linking wildlife planning to climate change.

The Indian Constitution entails the subject of forests and wildlife in the Concurrent list thus laying the responsibility of wildlife conservation on both the Centre and the State. The Federal Ministry acts as a guiding torch dealing with the policies and planning on wildlife conservation, while the provincial Forest Departments are vested with the responsibility of implementation of national policies and plans.

Specialized projects

To save the endangered species of animals, specialised projects are being implemented with international cooperation (WWF, UNDP, UNEP, IUCN) as well as on a stand-alone basis e.g.

  1. Project Tiger 1973
  2. Operation Crocodile 1975
  3. Project Rhinoceros 1987
  4. Project Snow Leopard
  5. Project Elephant 1988

More recently, the Black Buck (chinkara), the Great Indian Bustard (godawan) and the snow leopard etc. have been given full or partial legal protection against hunting and trade throughout India.

The Protected Areas of India:

Protected areas are those in which human occupation or at least the exploitation of resources is limited. These are defined according to the categorization guidelines for protected areas by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are several kinds of protected areas, which vary by level of protection depending on the enabling laws of each country or the regulations of the international organizations involved.

There are 4 categories of the Protected Areas in India viz,

  • National Parks,
  • Sanctuaries,
  • Conservation Reserves, and
  • Community Reserves.

National Park:

  • A National park is an area with enough ecological, geo-morphological and natural significance with rich fauna and flora, which is designed to protect and to develop wildlife or its environment.
    • National parks in India are IUCN category II protected areas.
    • Activities like grazing, hunting, forestry or cultivation etc. are strictly prohibited. No human activity is permitted inside the national park except for the ones permitted by the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state.
    • India’s first national park was established in 1936 as Hailey National Park, now known as Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand.
    • There are 104 existing national parks in India covering an area of 40501.13 km2, which is 1.23% of the geographical area of the country (National Wildlife Database, May 2019).

Wildlife Sanctuary:

  • Any area other than area comprised with any reserve forest or the territorial waters can be notified by the State Government to constitute as a sanctuary if such area is of adequate ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, natural. or zoological significance, for the purpose of protecting, propagating or developing wildlife or its environment.
    • The difference between a Sanctuary and a National Park mainly lies in the vesting of rights of people living inside. Unlike a Sanctuary, where certain rights can be allowed, in a National Park, no rights are allowed. No grazing of any livestock is permitted inside a National Park while in a Sanctuary, the Chief Wildlife Warden may regulate, control or prohibit it.
    • There are a total of 551 wildlife sanctuaries in India.

Conservation reserves and community reserves in India:

  • These terms denote the protected areas of India which typically act as buffer zones to or connectors and migration corridors between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved and protected forests of India.
  • Such areas are designated as Conservation Reserves if they are uninhabited and completely owned by the Government of India but used for subsistence by communities and Community Reserves if a part of the lands is privately owned.
  • These protected area categories were first introduced in the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act of 2002 − the amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
  • These categories were added because of reduced protection in and around existing or proposed protected areas due to private ownership of land, and land use.

Biosphere Reserves

A biosphere reserve is an area of land or water that is protected by law in order to support the conservation of ecosystems, as well as the sustainability of mankind’s impact on the environment.

  • Each reserve aims to help scientists and the environmental community figure out how to protect the world’s plant and animal species while dealing with a growing population and its resource needs.
  • To carry out the complementary activities of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, biosphere reserves are traditionally organized into 3 interrelated zones, known as:
    • The core area,
    • The buffer zone, and
    • A transition zone or ‘area of cooperation.
  • The purpose of the formation of the biosphere reserve is to conserve in situ all forms of life, along with its support system, in its totality, so that it could serve as a referral system for monitoring and evaluating changes in natural ecosystems.
  • Presently, there are 18 notified biosphere reserves in India. Ten out of the eighteen biosphere reserves are a part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, based on the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme list.

How is a biosphere reserve different from a national park/ wildlife sanctuary?

Biosphere Reserves of India protect larger areas of natural habitat (than a National Park or Wildlife Sanctuary). Biosphere Reserves may cover multiple National Parks, Sanctuaries and reserves as well.

Ex. the Nilgiri Biosphere covers: Bandipur National park, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Silent Valley National Park, Nagarhole National Park, Mukurthi National Park and is usually a contiguous area.

Some of the other differences are listed in the image below:

Some other important Conservation Sites:

  • Tiger reserves – Project Tiger was launched by the Government of India in the year 1973 to save the endangered species of tiger in the country. Starting from nine (9) reserves in 1973 the number has now grown up to fifty (50) in 2016.
  • Elephant reserves
  • RAMSAR Wetland Sites
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Natural, Cultural and Mixed) – Places listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as of special cultural or physical significance.
  • Marine Protected Areas
  • Important Bird Areas

Role of communities

Communities have played a vital role in the conservation and protection of wildlife in India. E.g.

  • Sariska Tiger Reserve: In Sariska tiger reserve Rajasthan villagers have fought against mining by citing the wildlife protection act. In many areas, villagers themselves are protecting habitats and explicitly rejecting government involvement.
  • Bhairodev Dakav Sonchuri: The inhabitants of five villages in the Alwar district of Rajasthan have declared 1200 hectares of forests as the Bhairodev Dakav Sonchuri declaring their own set of rules and regulation which do not allow hunting, and are protecting the wildlife against any outside encroachments.
  • Bishnoi villages: In and around Bishnoi villages in Rajasthan, herds of blackbuck, Nilgai and peacocks can be seen as an integral part of the community and nobody harms them.

3. NRC-excluded to get rejection slips

Centre writes to Assam; 19 lakh of 3.29 crore applicants were left out of final list

The Centre has told the Assam government that “rejection slips” to those excluded from the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) published in 2019 should be issued immediately.

More than 19 lakh of the 3.29 crore applicants in Assam were left out of the final register that took five years to be compiled and cost ₹1,220 crore.

The office of the Registrar General of India (RGI) under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wrote to Assam Home Secretary S.R. Bhuyan on March 23 that the supplementary list of exclusions and inclusions were published on August 31, 2019 on the directions of the Supreme Court. “However, the process of issuing rejection slips to those excluded from the NRC is yet to start.”

The MHA had earlier said that “non-inclusion of a person’s name in the NRC does not by itself amount to him/her being declared as a foreigner” as they would be given adequate opportunity to present their case before the Foreigners Tribunals (FTs). The time limit to appeal before the FTs, the quasi-judicial bodies unique to Assam, has been increased from 60 to 120 days.

Assam is the only State where an NRC was compiled under the supervision of the top court.

“In a meeting held under the chairmanship of the Union Home Secretary on February 22, 2020 it was decided that the rejection slip for the cases which are correct may be issued to the persons left out of the supplementary list of inclusion and exclusion immediately and cases where mismatch in results recorded in hard copy and entered in computer has been found by the SCNR [State coordinator, National Registration] may be referred to the concerned deputy commissioners for clarifications,” the letter by Jaspal Singh, Joint Director, office of the RGI, said. The State Coordinator of the NRC is a secretary rank officer of the Assam government who assists the RGI.

Several meetings

The letter added that the NRC coordination committee has been insisting since its meetings held on January 30, 2020 and July 2, 2020 to complete the activities under the approved budget of ₹1,602 crore.

The letter mentions that the State coordinator of the NRC in the July 2 meeting had mentioned that rejection slips would be issued by the end of December 2020.

The BJP-ruled Assam government has rejected the NRC in its current form and demanded re-verification of 30% of names included in the NRC in areas bordering Bangladesh and 10% in remaining State. The Assembly election is under way in Assam and the results are to be announced on May 2.

According to Article 6 of the Constitution, the cut-off date for migration to India from Pakistan is July 19, 1948 whereas according to the 1985 accord, in Assam, that borders Bangladesh, it is March 24, 1971.

In the letter, the joint director asked the Assam government to assess the software used for managing the register and discontinue the ones not required.

The letter said the State government’s requirement of ₹3.22 crore per month for the upkeep of records appeared to be “too high”. It also asked to discontinue the additional staff.

National Register of Citizens (NRC)

  • National Register of Citizens, 1951 is a register prepared after the conduct of the Census of 1951 in respect of each village, showing the houses or holdings in a serial order and indicating against each house or holding the number and names of persons staying therein.
  • The NRC was published only once in 1951.

NRC in Assam

  • The issue of its update assumed importance as Assam witnessed large-scale illegal migration from erstwhile East Pakistan and, after 1971, from present-day Bangladesh.
  • This led to the six-year-long Assam movement from 1979 to 1985, for deporting illegal migrants.
  • The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) led the movement that demanded the updating of the NRC and the deportation of all illegal migrants who had entered Assam after 1951.
  • The movement culminated in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985.
  • It set March 25, 1971, as the cut-off date for the deportation of illegal migrants.
  • Since the cut-off date prescribed under articles 5 and 6 of the Constitution was July 19, 1949 – to give force to the new date, an amendment was made to the Citizenship Act, 1955, and a new section was introduced.
  • It was made applicable only to Assam.
  • There had been intermittent demands from AASU and other organisations in Assam for updating the NRC, an Assam based NGO filed a petition at the Supreme Court.
  • In December 2014, a division bench of the apex court ordered that the NRC be updated in a time-bound manner.
  • The NRC of 1951 and the Electoral Roll of 1971 (up to midnight of 24 March 1971) are together called Legacy Data. Persons and their descendants whose names appeared in these documents are certified as Indian citizens.

Impact

  • An updated NRC is likely to put an end to speculations about the actual number of illegal migrants in Assam in particular and the country in general.
  • It will provide a verified dataset to carry out meaningful debates and implement calibrated policy measures.
  • Publication of an updated NRC is expected to deter future migrants from Bangladesh from entering Assam illegally.
  • The publication of the draft NRC has already created a perception that staying in Assam without valid documentation will attract detention/jail term and deportation.
  • More importantly, illegal migrants may find it even more difficult to procure Indian identity documents and avail all the rights and benefits due to all Indian citizens.
  • Inclusion of their names in the NRC will provide respite to all those Bengali speaking people in Assam who have been, hitherto, suspected as being Bangladeshis.

Challenges

  • Flawed Process – People who found themselves on the first list that was released on January 1, 2018, didn’t find their names in the second. Even the family of a former President of India did not mention on the list.
  • The parallel processes of NRC, the voters list of the Election Commission, and the Foreigners’ Tribunals with the help of the Assam Border Police, have led to utter chaos, as none of these agencies are sharing information with each other.
  • Though the draft provides a window for re-verification, due to large number of people being excluded from the list, it will be very difficult to physically verify all of them.
  • Since such ‘non citizens’ can resort to judicial relief to substantiate their citizenship claim, it can lead to overburdening of judiciary which already reels under large number of pending cases.
  • There is uncertainty about the future of those left out from the list.
  • Expelling them to Bangladesh is not an option since Dhaka has never accepted that they are its citizens or that there is a problem of illegal immigration. In the absence of a formal agreement, India cannot forcibly push the illegal migrants back into Bangladesh.
  • Moreover, raising this issue can also jeopardise relations with Dhaka. Such an attempt would not only damage bilateral relations but also sully the country’s image internationally.
  • Apart from deportation, the other option is large scale detention camps – which is an unlikely option for a civilised democracy like India.
  • Another option is instituting work permits, which would give them limited legal rights to work but ensure they have no political voice. However, it is not clear what will be the fate of children of such individuals.
  • With no end to uncertainty, NRC seems to be a process without an end.

4. Editorial-1: Opacity rules

The electoral bonds scheme undermines the voters’ right to know about funding of parties

The reasons given by the Supreme Court for not staying the issuance of electoral bonds are unconvincing. A Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, Justice S.A. Bobde, has said there is no justification for staying the scheme as electoral bonds have been released in 2018, 2019 and 2020 without any legal impediment; and that “certain safeguards” have been provided in the Court’s interim order of April 12, 2019. The Court ought to have considered that when the earlier order was passed, the time available was deemed to be too limited for an in-depth hearing. An order favouring the continuance of the scheme cannot be repeated year after year. The portion of the 2019 order asking political parties to submit to the Election Commission in a sealed cover all details of the anonymous contributions received through electoral bonds was meant to avoid tilting the balance in favour of either side until the matter was heard in detail. It was also underscored then that “weighty issues which have a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country” were involved. In this context, it defies logic for the Court to maintain that no interim stay is necessary while not giving any indication when it will take up the case for final disposal. The latest order also fails to note that the submission of contribution particulars by political parties was a one-time arrangement. There is nothing to suggest that it applies to subsequent tranches of the sale of electoral bonds. Therefore, to describe it as a ‘safeguard’ has little meaning.

The problem with taking up only applications for stay is that vital constitutional issues do not fall under the zone of consideration. The infirmity in the electoral bonds scheme is not, as the Court seems to suggest, limited to ‘black money’ being used to fund parties. It has laboured to point out that the scheme works solely through banking channels and can be utilised only with KYC-compliant entities. However, the crux of the issue is the anonymity given to corporate donors in combination with the absence of any ceiling. This means that the right to know of voters, recognised as a constitutional right in past rulings, is abridged. Further, the link between contributions and policy-making remains impenetrable to the citizen. Any number of shell companies can be created, and their bank accounts used for making anonymous contributions. The claim that the veil of anonymity can be pierced with a little effort by matching the audited accounts of parties with the statutory filings of companies is quite way off the mark. Parties declare a cumulative figure of amounts received through the bonds. No inference can be drawn by a company’s disclosure of its total contribution to one or more political parties. It is time the Court recognised that the electoral bonds scheme, by its very nature, undermines the voters’ right to know.

On March 24 last year, the Government of India imposed a sudden, harsh lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. In doing so, it gave the people of the country less than four hours to prepare for the eventuality. How successful have the governmental measures been in containing the pandemic? What explains the second wave we are witnessing now? Apart from the health cost, the pandemic has taken a huge economic, ethical and moral toll on the population. In their research for the UNESCO, with the support of the International Center for Journalists, Julie Posetti and Kalina Bontcheva document how the pandemic has spawned potentially deadly misinformation and disinformation that directly impacts lives and livelihoods around the world. They point out that one of the techniques adopted by political players to deflect attention from their own inadequacies is to discredit journalists and credible news outlets.

In need of transparency

In these times of unprecedented difficulties, a transparent decision-making system is the only way forward. It will help citizens know where we went wrong and how we can course correct. It will create a situation where we do not heap new policy hardships on the populace over and above an imperious decision that has already pushed many to the brink. We hoped that the highest court will stand with the people of the country in their quest for transparency and openness. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of India, which first introduced the notorious idea of sealed envelopes, has been in the forefront of upholding and valorising opacity. How else can one read the observation of the first bench in the electoral bonds case where it concurred that the scheme protected the identity of purchasers of electoral bonds in a cloak of anonymity, but came to the conclusion that eventually the State Bank of India will know the identity of the buyer? The editorial, ‘In-house secrets’ (March 27), listed out the perils flowing from adopting opaque methods in dealing with complaints against the judiciary: “Should the confidentiality rule always hold the field? Is it possible to dismiss the allegations without disclosing who were heard as witnesses and what material was considered as evidence?”

In this environment where seeking accountability is fast being replaced by endorsing those in power and their decisions, however harmful they may be, the question before journalists is this: How do we help people make informed choices? There are two components to good journalism: providing credible information and making sense of complex realities. One of the key elements that distinguishes a journalist from an onlooker is the nature of the observation. A journalist bears witness to events and happenings and that is vastly different from a casual and sometimes voyeuristic gaze.

The heart of journalism

In the last 35 years, I have been a reporter bearing witness and an opinion writer trying to make sense. I have no hesitation in declaring that reporting is the heart of journalism. It brings in elements of transparency, accountability and the voices of people who are impacted by the decisions taken by governments. Filmmaker Vinod Kapri exemplifies this act of bearing witness, in his documentary 1232km, in which he meticulously records the difficulties encountered by a group of migrant labourers in their arduous journey from Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of Delhi, to Saharsa in Bihar.

Six years ago, British journalist Charlie Beckett posed a crucial question: Is good news really news at all? He asked a pointed question: “News can be informed and informing or crass, shallow and swift, but now it is all networked together. The choice is there for the journalists but it’s also there for consumers. Which do you want?” At that time, I did not realise that the executive would become the sole arbitrator of our life.

Let us look at the functioning of our Parliament. In the last six years, the accent has been in getting more bills cleared rather than debating the pros and cons of a policy. Can someone explain the meaning of the claims that the productivity of the Lok Sabha was more than 110% and that of the Rajya Sabha was more than 120%? It was a display of the might of the majority rather than the democratic mediation of ideas. Hence, reporting alone can confront the all-pervasive opacity in the legislature and the judiciary.

5. Editorial-2: The needless resurrection of a buried issue

The apex court’s order issuing notice on a petition challenging the Places of Worship Act is disturbing

On November 9, 2019, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court gave its judgment in M. Siddiq v. Mahant Suresh Das, which is known as theRam Janmabhoomi temple case. The Bench comprised Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S.A. Bobde, D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer. The record does not show who the author of the judgment was, so all the five judges can be said to have authored it. The judgment is an unequivocal expression of approval of The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. The Preamble of the Act reads: “An act to prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” Section 5 expressly exempts Ram Janmabhumi-Babri Masjid, situated in Ayodhya, from the Act.

Supreme Court’s observations

After analysing the Act, the Supreme Court said: “The law imposes two unwavering and mandatory norms: (i) A bar is imposed by Section 3 on the conversion of a place of worship of any religious denomination or a section of a denomination into a place of worship either of a different section of the same religious denomination or of a distinct religious denomination. The expression ‘place of worship’ is defined in the broadest possible terms to cover places of public religious worship of all religions and denominations and; (ii) The law preserves the religious character of every place of worship as it existed on 15 August 1947. Towards achieving this purpose, it provides for the abatement of suits and legal proceedings with respect to the conversion of the religious character of any place of worship existing on 15 August 1947.”

The court said that the Places of Worship Act “protects and secures the fundamental values of the Constitution.” It further said, “The law addresses itself to the State as much as to every citizen of the nation. Its norms bind those who govern the affairs of the nation at every level. Those norms implement the Fundamental Duties under Article 51A and are hence positive mandates to every citizen as well.”

The court also emphatically held that “the Places of Worship Act is intrinsically related to the obligations of a secular state. It reflects the commitment of India to the equality of all religions. Above all, the Places of Worship Act is an affirmation of the solemn duty which was cast upon the State to preserve and protect the equality of all faiths as an essential constitutional value, a norm which has the status of being a basic feature of the Constitution.”

The court more pithily stated: “Historical wrongs cannot be remedied by the people taking the law in their own hands. In preserving the character of places of public worship, Parliament has mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future.”

The court took serious exception to the judgment of Justice D.V. Sharma of the Allahabad High Court wherein he had held, “Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 does not debar those cases where declaration is sought for a period prior to the Act came into force or for enforcement of right which was recognised before coming into force of the Act.” The Supreme Court declared that this is directly contrary to Section 4 of the Act.

Despite the fact that Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid was exempted from the Act, the Supreme Court expressed its anguish. It said, “On 6 December 1992, the structure of the mosque was brought down and the mosque was destroyed… The destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law.”

A deeply disturbing move

Yet, on March 12, 2021, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Central government on a petition that was filed challenging the validity of certain provisions of the 1991 Act. The petition seeks setting aside of Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Act on the grounds that they “validate ‘places of worship’, illegally made by barbaric invaders.” The Bench consisted of Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice A.S. Bopanna.

The petition is founded, inter alia, on the basis that, “From 1192-1947, the invaders not only damaged destroyed desecrated the places of worship and pilgrimage depicting Indian culture from north to south, east to west but also occupied the same under military power. Therefore, S. 4 is a serious jolt on the cultural and religious heritage of India.”

The Supreme Court’s order on issuing notice on this petition is deeply disturbing on many counts. Every argument being raised now was repelled by the five judges in their binding judgment in M. Siddiq v. Mahant Suresh Das.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all citizens under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution. The framers of our Constitution debated these Articles extensively. Tajamul Husain said, “As I said, religion is between oneself and his God. Then, honestly profess religion and practise it at home. Do not demonstrate it for the sake of propagating… If you start propagating religion in this country, you will become a nuisance to others… I submit, Sir, that this is a secular State, and a secular state should not have anything to do with religion. So I would request you to leave me alone, to practise and profess my own religion privately.”

Lokanath Misra strongly objected to the right to propagate religion by saying, “Sir, We have declared the State to be a Secular State. For obvious and for good reasons we have so declared…” H. V. Kamath warned, “…because Asoka adopted Buddhism as the State religion, there developed some sort of internecine feud between the Hindus and Buddhists, which ultimately led to the overthrow and the banishment of Buddhism from India. Therefore, it is clear to my mind that if a State identifies itself with any particular religion, there will be rift within the State.”

Pandit Lakshmi Kanta Maitra said, “By secular State, as I understand it, is meant that the State is not going to make any discrimination whatsoever on the ground of religion or community against any person professing any particular form of religious faith… The great Swami Vivekananda used to say that India is respected and revered all over the world because of her rich spiritual heritage.”

T.T. Krishnamachari laid emphasis on the fact that “a new government and the new Constitution have to take things as they are, and unless the status quo has something which offends all ideas of decency, all ideas of equity and all ideas of justice, its continuance has to be provided for in the Constitution so that people who are coming under the regime of a new government may feel that the change is not a change for the worse.”

The 1991 law was enacted to assuage the feelings of the Hindus who had been seeking Ram Janmabhoomi for a long, long time and to reassure Muslims that other places of their worship existing on August 15, 1947 shall be protected. The court rightly gave a quietus to this burning issue. Hopefully that was final.

Dushyant Dave is a Senior Advocate practising at the Supreme Court of India and is former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association

6. Editorial-3: Tackling the period taboo

Abhorrent practices discriminating against menstruating women should be considered abnormal

In February 2020, college authorities, including the principal, of the Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute (SSGI) in Bhuj, Gujarat, allegedly forced over 60 girls to remove their undergarments to check if they were menstruating. This shocking act, which rightly caused outrage, followed complaints that the girls had entered the temple and kitchen in the premises while on their period, which is against the institute’s rules. Four persons were later arrested.

Notions of purity and pollution

The stigma attached to menstruation and restrictions in the private and public sphere for the duration of menstruation have long been part of women’s lives in India. The stigma finds its roots in the notion of purity and pollution attached historically to menstruation. This was explained exceptionally by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud in Indian Young Lawyers Association v. The State of Kerala (2018), known popularly as the Sabarimala case, a decision that India is still struggling to accept. He reasoned — and rightly so — that any social practice which excludes women from participation in public life as a result of their menstruation is discriminatory on the ground of their sex. This is because it is drawn from the notion of menstruating women being “impure”, a notion which targets the physiological feature of being women.

The first ground for rejecting such practices is thus differential treatment, which directly discriminates women on the ground of their sex and is impermissible under Article 14 of the Constitution. Viewed from another lens, it is also against the notion of substantive equality adopted by the Constitution. In fact, it supports a more formal notion of equality of ‘separate but equal treatment’. Women are treated differently because they have distinct physiological features than men but are nevertheless equal to men. An attractive explanation also used to justify caste discrimination previously is nothing but a guise to perpetuate and exacerbate regressive patriarchal notions of our society and must also be readily dismissed under Article 14.

That apart, such social exclusion can be attacked on the ground of privacy. Incidents such as what took place in SSGI not only attack the ‘sex’ of women, but also impact a deeply personal and an intrinsic part of their privacy, namely, their menstrual status. Restrictions of movement imposed on these students are one of the many attempts of state and non-state actors to take control of their person. It is an outrageous exercise of power to prevent them from leading a dignified life during their period. It is undoubtedly an excessive invasion of a biological feature that makes them women. This surely cannot be the intent of our Constitution and its values we adopted, and needs to change.

Court intervention

Taking cognisance of the incident at SSGI, the Gujarat High Court, in early March this year, proposed to introduce a set of guidelines that prohibit the social exclusion of menstruating women from private, public, religious and educational places. The court also emphasised on the negative impact created by such practices on a woman’s emotional state, lifestyle and, most significantly, her health. While surely a ray of hope, the effect of court intervention is yet to be seen in a society where previous decisions of courts categorically holding menstruation to be a part of the fundamental right to (private) life have failed to change societal notions surrounding it.

The hope for women is that society will slowly but surely get past the taboo around menstruation, and abhorrent practices discriminating against menstruating women will be considered abnormal. That will be a society where no exclusion will be practiced and tolerated, and no discrimination will be perpetrated. It will be a society where women can freely live dignified lives, nurturing all facets of their womanhood. And it will be a society where women will be considered neither polluted nor impure during their menstruation, but will be treated with respect.

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