The News Editorial Analysis 15th Dec 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 15th Dec 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 15th Dec 2021

Wholesale price inflation spikes to a record as food, fuel surge

The News Editorial Analysis 15th Dec 2021

Primary food inflation hits a 13-month high

India’s wholesale inflation accelerated to a new high of 14.2% in November from 12.5% in October, led by a surge in primary food inflation that hit a 13-month high and a continued uptick in mineral, fuel and power, as well as oil and gas prices.

Economists termed November’s record wholesale inflation numbers — the eighth month in a row that India has seen double-digit inflation — a negative surprise. The Wholesale Price Index (WPI) climbed 2.73%.

SC puts off hearing on CBI plea against bail in ISRO case

Larger conspiracy likely in frame-up case, says agency

The Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned a hearing on the CBI appeal against anticipatory bail granted to accused persons in the ISRO frame-up case to January next year.

A Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar posted the case after the Christmas vacations. The case may likely be listed on January 3.

The adjournment was granted after the court was informed that one of the senior lawyers appearing in the case was unwell. Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, for the CBI, did not object to the rescheduling of the hearing.

The court had issued notice to former police and Intelligence Bureau officials, who were granted the bail, on November 22.

The CBI has challenged the bail granted at the “threshold” of the investigation. “The frame-up led to the arrest of scientists. The technology for the cryogenic engine was deliberately stalled for at least two decades… Maybe a larger conspiracy involving foreign powers. Grant of anticipatory bail at the threshold may harm the investigation,” Mr. Raju had submitted.

The High Court had granted anticipatory bail to P.S. Jayaprakash, Thampi S. Durga Dutt, Vijayan and R.B Sreekumar.

The CBI had arraigned 18 people, including the petitioners, as accused in the case after a Supreme Court-appointed Justice D.K. Jain Committee found fault with them for booking cases against the scientists without any proof of their involvement in the espionage.

Act against forced change of sexual orientation: Kerala HC

Devise guidelines and present before us, court tells Govt.

Stringent action should be taken against any forced conversion of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression of persons of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) community, the Kerala High Court has said and directed the State to frame guidelines for such procedures.

The High Court said that if medically conversion therapy was possible, then guidelines for the same were necessary and directed the Kerala Government to look into the matter and if needed, constitute an expert committee to study the issue.

“Based on the study report, respondent 1 will frame a guideline and produce the same before this court within five months,” Justice P.V. Kunhikrishnan said and listed the matter for further hearing on May 18, 2022.

The court said that on the next date the government should place the guidelines on record.

The court was hearing a plea by Queerala, an organisation for Malayali LGBTIQ community, and a “transman” who claims to be a victim of forced conversion therapy, who have sought a declaration that any form of forced conversion therapy or treatment of people belonging to LGBTIQ community “was illegal, unconstitutional and a violation of their fundamental rights”.

The petitioners alleged that there is forced conversion at the instance of the medical practitioners and that it creates several physical problems to members of their community as there were no guidelines prescribing such conversions.

The State Government conceded that there were no guidelines, but said that it had not received any complaints that there were forced conversions as alleged in the writ petition. It told the court that if there were any such forced conversions, then they were illegal and appropriate steps would be taken.

Pain from prices

More fuel tax cuts are needed to prevent inflation from hurting the recovery

The latest inflation data, both retail and wholesale, point to accelerating price gains that could potentially undermine the fragile economic recovery by pushing up costs and depleting consumers’ purchasing power. November’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) shows year-on-year inflation at the retail level quickened to a three-month high of 4.91%, from 4.48% in October. Even on a sequential basis, last month’s CPI reveals prices are estimated to have risen 0.73% from October with as many as 10 of the 12 constituents of the food and beverages category witnessing month-on-month inflation. Food was in fact a major driver of the quickening in price gains on an annual basis. Vegetable prices surged from October, logging 7.4% month-on-month inflation. Also, the Union government’s belated and marginal reduction in excise duty on petrol and diesel, which was followed by cuts in local value added taxes by many States, barely slowed the pace of inflation in the transport and communication category: the rate eased 88 basis points from 10.90% in October, to 10.02% in November. Clothing and footwear, housing, health, education and recreation were among the other key product and service categories that contributed to the sequential trend in price gains underlining the fact that inflation excluding food and fuel, otherwise known as core inflation, remains disconcertingly sticky and elevated at around 6%.

Nor does the data on wholesale prices provide any reason for cheer, with provisional inflation based on the wholesale price index racing to a record 14.2% in November, from October’s 12.5%. The fuel and power sub index surged 39.8% year-on-year, and all three major groups comprising the WPI posted sequential accelerations as well. Persistently high and climbing wholesale prices of basic metals, chemicals and chemical products, and textiles among manufactured products have the potential to feed through down-the-line to retail prices and add to inflationary pressure for consumers. While manufacturers in some sectors may opt to absorb rising input costs, at least in the short term till demand gets more entrenched, the signs including from automobile makers are far from reassuring. The tariff increases announced by telecom service providers last month are also expected to feed through into retail inflation in December and international semiconductor shortages and logistics bottlenecks are roiling the outlook for prices of electronics and other products reliant on global supply chains. With the rupee continuing to weaken against the U.S. dollar, policymakers also face the challenge of contending with imported inflation including the landed cost of crude oil shipments. The onus is clearly on the Centre to deepen the fuel tax cuts and address other supply-side issues to prevent inflation from hurting the recovery.

Going back to the foundation of the Republic

The most important contribution of the Constitution to civic nationalism is of representation centred on individuals

The recent speech by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Jaipur, drawing a distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva, echoes arguments that have become familiar in recent years, as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule has given broad currency to the idea of India as a Hindu nation and in turn provoked a backlash from secularists. But in fact the issue raises a debate that goes back to the very foundation of the Republic, and to the heart of the questions our Constitution sought to answer.

A new understanding

The most important contribution of the Constitution to Indian civic nationalism was that of representation centred on individuals. As the legal scholar, Madhav Khosla, explains in his impressive book of legal history, India’s Founding Moment, the political apparatus of establishing a constitutional democracy in postcolonial India — a land that was poor and illiterate, divided by caste, creed, geography and language, and burdened by centuries of tradition — involved asking Indians to have a new understanding of authority. They would be liberated from British imperial despotism through submission to a new idea of Indianness that saw them as equal agents.

The founders of the republic chose — as the chairman of the Constitution’s Drafting Committee, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, recognised — to impose a liberal Constitution upon a society which was not liberal, hidebound as it was by traditional customs and entrenched prejudices relating to caste, religion, and social hierarchies. They saw the principles of liberal constitutionalism — the centrality of the state, non-communal political representation, and so on — as essential to Indian democracy. In keeping with contemporary liberal thought, they committed India to a common language of the rule of law, constructed a centralised state, but instituted a model of representation whose units were individuals rather than groups. This was an attempt to free Indians from their prevailing understanding of their place in society and to place citizens in a realm of individual agency and deliberation that was appropriate to self-rule.

That was never going to be easy. Constitutions are, as Ambedkar pointed out, tools to control and restrain state power. The challenge lies in reconciling restrictions on state power with popular rule — to prevent temporary majorities (since in a democracy, a majority is temporary, though some people forget that) from completely undoing what the Constitution has provided. The founders of the Indian republic held a conception of democracy that went beyond majority rule. They subordinated politics to law. As Ambedkar put it, the rights of Indian citizens could not ‘be taken away by any legislature merely because it happens to have a majority’.

Basis of representation

It is particularly striking, in today’s context, that the Constitution makers explicitly rejected the notion of religion playing any role in citizenship, arguing that each individual voter exercised agency in the democratic project and should not be reduced to the pre-existing loyalties of religious affiliation. This was far removed from the assumptions that have animated the BJP’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act and their threat to introduce a National Register of Citizens. The Constitution granted representation not to one’s predetermined religious identity but to one’s individual expression of political agency. That was why the individual vote was so important. Democratic politics could not be reduced to the advocacy of pre-set interests.

At the same time, the Constitution acknowledged group rights, such as the right of religious denominations to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes (Article 26(a)), or the right of a ‘section of the citizens’ to conserve a distinct language, script or culture (Article 29(1)). There were also provisions to protect the interests of Scheduled Tribes (Article 19(5)) and a specific provision in Article 25 stating that a ‘heavy responsibility’ would be cast on the majority to see that minorities feel secure. But though the Constitution recognised groups as bearing constitutional rights, Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud of the Supreme Court of India has argued (in his Justice P.D. Desai Memorial Lecture last year) that this ‘was nested in the understanding that membership of groups had a unique role of crafting and determining individual identity… In elevating groups as distinct rights holders as well as empowering state intervention to address historical injustice and inequality perpetrated by group membership, the framers located liberalism within the pluralist reality of India and conceptualized every individual as located at an intersection between liberal individualism and plural belonging… At the time of its birth, the nation was conceptualized as incorporating its vast diversity and not eliminating it.’ [emphasis added].

Privileging the individual

This ability to recognise groups and yet adjudicate the rights of their individual members, and the adaptability of the Constitution to the ever-changing realities of national life, have effectively made it a vehicle of social change. But the leitmotiv, from the start, remained privileging the individual citizen above the group.

It is striking, for instance, that the Constituent Assembly rejected separate electorates, weighted representation, and reservations on the basis of religion. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, in his capacity as Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Minorities and Fundamental Rights, wrote to the President of the Assembly, Rajendra Prasad, to explain that differentiated citizenship on the basis of religion had already been tried in the colonial era and had led to Partition. The answer lay in moving away from a representative framework that recognised identities that were regarded as stable and fixed, and towards a model of citizenship centred on the political participation of individuals. Such a model would allow the categories of majority and minority to be constantly defined and redefined within the fluid domain of politics and it would thereby offer the greatest form of security to all citizens.

Key debate

The key intellectual division among the Constitution-makers, therefore, was not between those who wanted a united territorial India and those who did not; that issue was settled by Partition, which occurred soon after the Assembly began its work. The key debate in the Constituent Assembly was between those who wanted to assert a conception of individual citizenship in India that went beyond immutable identities (like religion or caste) and those who insisted on Indian nationhood being defined as a confederation of such inescapable identities. Many nationalists who argued passionately outside the Constituent Assembly for a united India nonetheless thought that India was indeed a collection of distinct communities, who could flourish together in amicable coexistence. But the Constituent Assembly, led by Nehru and Ambedkar, went in the opposite direction, consciously opting for individual citizenship as the root of nationhood, transcending the limitations that India’s communities imposed on their members.

Ambedkar made this clear: ‘I do not believe there is any place in this country for any particular culture, whether it is a Hindu culture, or a Muhammadan culture or a Kanarese culture or a Gujarati culture. There are things we cannot deny, but they are not to be cultivated as advantages, they are to be treated as disadvantages, as something which divides our loyalty and takes away from us our common goal,’ he argued. ‘That common goal is the building up of the feeling that we are all Indians. I do not like what some people say, that we are Indians first and Hindus afterwards or Muslims afterwards. I am not satisfied with that… I do not want that our loyalty as Indians should be in the slightest way affected by any competitive loyalty, whether that loyalty arises out of our religion, out of our culture or out of our language. I want all people to be Indians first, Indians last and nothing else but Indians….’

Divided between two ideas

This fundamental difference of opinion — whether people are Hindus or Muslims first, or Indians first — continues to haunt our politics today. The nationalist movement was divided between two ideas; that held by those who saw religious identity as the determinant of their nationhood, and those who believed in an inclusive India for everyone, irrespective of faith, where rights were guaranteed to individuals rather than to religious communities. The former became the Idea of Pakistan, the latter the Idea of India. Pakistan was created as a state with a dominant religion, a state that discriminates against its minorities and denies them equal rights. But India never accepted the logic that had partitioned the country: our freedom struggle was for all, and the newly independent India would also be for all. Reducing India to a Hindu Rashtra would be a repudiation of that essential conception of India, the India that our founding fathers fought to free.

Shashi Tharoor is a third-term Member of Parliament (Congress) representing Thiruvananthapuram and an award-winning author of 23 books, including most recently, Pride, Prejudice and Punditry

The NMP is hardly the panacea for growth in India

As the Government has also shown, there are out-of-the-box policy initiatives to revamp public sector businesses

The National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) envisages an aggregate monetisation potential of ₹ 6-lakh crore through the leasing of core assets of the Central government in sectors such as roads, railways, power, oil and gas pipelines, telecom, civil aviation, shipping ports and waterways, mining, food and public distribution, coal, housing and urban affairs, and stadiums and sports complexes, to name some sectors, over a four-year period (FY2022 to FY2025). But the point is that it only underscores the need for policy makers to investigate the key reasons and processes which led to once profit-making public sector assets becoming inefficient and sick businesses.

To unlock value

Eight core industrial sectors that support infrastructure such as coal, crude oil, natural gas, refinery products, fertilizers, steel, cement, and electricity have a total weight of nearly 40% in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP). According to NITI Aayog, the strategic objective of the asset monetisation programme is to unlock the value of investments in public sector assets by tapping private sector capital and efficiencies. The NMP policy advocates unlocking idle capital from non-strategic/underperforming government owned assets and reinvesting the funds, thus received, into new infrastructure projects and augmentation of assets such as greenfield infrastructure creation.

This reportedly first-of-its-kind initiative claims that it will boost the economy, generate better employment opportunities, and drive the competitiveness of the Indian economy.

Notwithstanding the merit of this decision by the government of the day, it becomes imperative for policy makers to introspect the decline of profit-making government assets in the backdrop of the Government contemplating reinvesting the funds received to create fresh assets, post the NMP exercise. It is quite likely that the nation may find itself in a vicious cycle of creating new assets and then monetising the same when they become liabilities for the Government at a later stage.

Going by the annual report (2020-2021) of the Department of Public Enterprises, Government of India, there are 256 operationally-run central public sector undertakings (CPSUs), employing about one million people; they posted a net profit of ₹93,294 crore (FY 2019-20). Out of these, 96 have been conferred the Ratna status (72, 14, and 10 are Miniratnas, Navaratnas, and Maharatna companies, respectively).

As India needs to invest about $1.5 trillion on infrastructure development in order to aspire to become $5 trillion economy by the year 2024-25, according to the Economic Survey 2019-20, public enterprises should be in focus.

Some reasons for PSU decline

The primary reasons for the failure of public sector enterprises is no secret. Cost overruns, inter alia, is one of the major reasons. In some cases, project completion time is exceeded, leading to elevated project cost so much so that either the project itself becomes unviable at the time of its launching or delays its break even point. Besides, optimum input-output ratio is seldom observed in a majority of government infrastructural projects leading to their overcapitalisation. A reluctance to implement labour reforms, a lack of inter-ministerial/departmental coordination, poor decision-making, ineffective governance and excessive government control are other reasons for the failure of public infrastructural assets.

Recently, the “Pradhan Mantri Gati Shakti National Master Plan” for multi-modal connectivity was launched by the Prime Minister with an aim ‘to synchronise the operations of different departments of 16 Ministries including railways and roadways for seamless planning and coordinated execution of infrastructure projects in a timely manner’. It is essentially a digital platform for information sharing among different Ministries and departments at the Union and State levels. It also entails analytical decision-making tools to disseminate project-related information and prioritise key infrastructure projects. Besides, it fosters a periodical review and monitoring of the progress of cross-sectorial infrastructure projects through the GIS platform in order to intervene if there is a need.

Essential steps

In addition to it, as enunciated in the Economic Survey 2020-21, an important step for the Government to take to strengthen public sector businesses would be to completely revamp their corporate governance structure in order to enhance operational autonomy augmented with strong governance practices including listing on stock exchange for greater transparency and accountability.

The Department of Public Enterprises has reportedly initiated revamping of the performance monitoring system of central public sector enterprises to make them more transparent, objective and forward looking, based on sectoral indices/benchmarks.

The Economic Survey also highlights the Government’s initiatives as part of the Atmanirbhar Abhiyaan (campaign for self-reliance) in order to boost domestic production in the steel sector, viz. inclusion of “speciality steel”, recommending four different types of steel for incentives under the production linked incentive (PLI) scheme; selling steel to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), affiliated to Engineering Export Promotion Council of India at export parity price under the duty drawback scheme of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT); measures to provide preference to domestically produced iron and steel in government procurement, where aggregate estimate of iron and steel products exceeds ₹25 crore; protecting industry from unfair trade through appropriate remedial measures including imposition of anti-dumping duty and countervailing duty on the products on which unfair trade practices were adopted by the other countries.

More such out-of-the-box policy initiatives are needed to rule out public asset monetisation schemes such as the NMP in future.

Milind Kumar Sharma teaches in the Department of Production and Industrial Engineering, M.B.M. Engineering College, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Jai Narain Vyas University, Jodhpur, erstwhile University of Jodhpur. The views expressed are personal

India votes against UN draft resolution on climate change

It opposes move seeking to shift talks from UNFCCC to Security Council

India on Monday voted against a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) linking climate to security, saying it was an attempt to shift climate talks from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to the Security Council and a “step backward” for collective action on the issue.

The resolution was sponsored by Ireland and Niger, and it did not pass, with 12 UNSC members voting for it, India and Russia voting against it and China abstaining.

Niger, which holds the UNSC presidency for December, organised a debate on December 9 titled ‘Maintenance of international peace and security: security in the context of terrorism and climate change.’

One of the objectives of the debate was to examine how terrorism and security risks could be linked to climate change, as per a concept note circulated by Niger.

“What is it that we can collectively do under this draft resolution that we cannot achieve under the UNFCCC process?” India’s Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the U.N. T.S. Tirumurti said, positing that the reason countries were attempting to bring climate talks to the Security Council was that decisions could be taken without consensus or the involvement of most developing countries.

A video of Mr. Tirumurti explaining India’s vote was posted by official Indian handles on Twitter.

“If the Security Council indeed takes over the responsibility on this issue, a few states will then have a free hand in deciding on all climate-related issues. This is clearly neither desirable nor acceptable,” he said.

Undermining progress

The draft resolution, as per the ambassador, would undermine progress made at Glasgow, where the latest round of talks under the UNFCCC, the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), concluded in November.

Developing and ‘least developed’ countries had worked, over the last two decades, to make “common but differentiated” responsibilities a fundamental tenet of climate action, Mr. Tirumurti noted.

“Today’s attempt to link climate with security really seeks to obfuscate lack of progress on critical issues under the UNFCCC process,” Mr. Tirumurti said, adding that many of the UNSC members were the primary contributors to climate change.

He said developed countries had not met their promises with regard to climate action and called for these countries to provide $1 trillion in climate finance “at the earliest.”

Mr. Tirumurti said the attempt to discuss climate action and climate justice issues at the UNSC was “motivated by a desire to evade responsibility in the appropriate forum.”

He said that climate change may have exacerbated conflicts in the Sahel region and across Africa, and India remained committed to peace and development in those regions, but “viewing conflicts through the prism of climate change” was “misleading” and an oversimplification that could worsen conflicts rather than resolving them.

SC allows Centre to widen three highways

The verdict is based on an application filed by the MoD to modify the court’s September 8, 2020 order, which directed that mountain roads for the Char Dham project should be 5.5 metre in width in compliance with a 2018 circular of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. The Ministry had gone on to amend its circular in December last, saying that “for roads in hilly and mountainous terrain which act as feeder roads to the Indo-China border [and] are of strategic importance for national security, the carriageway width should be 7 m with 1.5 m paved shoulder on either side”. Modifying the September order, the judgment on Tuesday said, “We allow the Ministry of Defence’s application for DLPS configuration for three strategic highways… At the same time take note of the environmental concerns raised for the entirety of the project and the unanimous recommendation of the High Powered Committee (HPC) for taking remedial measures and direct that they have to be implemented by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and the Ministry of Defence going forward.”

The Bench formed an oversight committee chaired by former Supreme Court judge, Justice A.K. Sikri, to ensure that the Government implements the remedial measures recommended by the court’s HPC for the environment.

Noting that while a majority of the HPC had recommended DLPS-standard road width for the highways, the court said the panel had also unanimously suggested “best practices” and remedial measures to protect the ecology from harm, especially in “areas of concern”. The court observed that some areas needed constant monitoring by the Roads Ministry. A system needed to be set up.

Two-day conclave on commodities

It will feature sessions on energy products, agriculture and precious metals

The Hindu BusinessLine will present ‘Commodities Market Outlook 2022’, a two-day virtual event on December 16 and 17.

Powered by Indian Oil and in association with Madhur Pure and Hygienic Sugar, the virtual conclave will cover sessions on energy products (crude oil, natural gas) and agriculture on Day 1, and precious metals and base metals on Day 2.

The associate sponsor for the event is BSE and the knowledge partner is NCDEX.

The conclave aims to provide readers and market participants an outlook for Q1 and Q2, 2022. Experts will share their perspectives on global and Indian market outlook, and the market direction. The sessions will be held on Day 1 from 10.30 a.m. onwards and on Day 2 from 11 a.m. onwards.

On December 16, M.R. Subramani, Commodities Editor, The Hindu BusinessLine, will present the welcome address.

Amit Kumar Sharma, Director, Structured Products -LNG BP, Singapore, and Mathew John, Director (Technical Research), Almus Consulting, will speak on energy products.

Those who will talk about agriculture include Ravi Gupta, Director, Shree Renuka Sugars; Kapil Dev, Chief Business Officer, NCDEX; and T. Gnanasekar, Director, Commtrendz Research.

On December 17, P.R. Somasundaram, Managing Director, World Gold Council, will deliver the keynote address.

Surendra Mehta, National Secretary, India Bullion and Jewellers Association; Pinakin Dave, Head, Commodities, BSE; and Akhil Nallamuthu, Senior Research Analyst, BL Research Bureau, will speak on the subject of precious metals.

For sessions on base metals, Mayur Karmarkar, Managing Director, International Copper Association, will deliver the keynote address. Sandeep Daga of Regsus Consulting and Gurumurthy K., Chief Research Analyst, BL Research Bureau, will also speak on the topic.

  1. Chandrashekhar, policy commentator and commodities market specialist, will deliver the concluding remarks.

Issue ration cards to sex workers: SC

The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed States and Union Territories to immediately start the process of issuing voter ID cards, Aadhaar and ration cards to sex workers across the country.

A Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao said every person is guaranteed their fundamental rights irrespective of vocation.

The court found that its directions a decade ago to provide sex workers with ration cards had not been complied with yet.

“The State governments and UTs were directed to issue ration cards and identity cards to sex workers almost a decade back and there is no reason as to why such directions are not implemented till now,” the Bench noted.

The court directed that authorities can take assistance from the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and State AIDS control societies, which would in turn prepare a list of sex workers after verifying the information provided to them by community-based organisations.

The status report related to issuance of ration cards, voter ID cards and Aadhaar cards to the sex workers must be filed in a period of four weeks, the court order stated.

Human rights to be a ‘core’ part of Garcetti’s India engagement

Biden’s pick for Ambassador to India appears before a panel

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee for the position of Ambassador to India, told a Senate committee that human rights, including in the context of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), will be a “core” part of his work in India.

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Garcetti said he had fought for human rights (he was on the board of Human Rights Watch, in California) and that he would bring up human rights and discrimination such as via the CAA as a “core” piece of his engagement , rather than as an obligation. He was responding to a question from Senator Ben Cardin on human rights and also specifically the CAA, as being discriminatory against Muslims.

On the question of how he would balance the need to work with India as a strategic partner with advancing human rights, Mr. Garcetti said the relationship between the countries was underpinned by a commitment to human rights, democracy and civil society.

“It’s a two-way street on these, but I intend to engage directly with civil society,” he said, adding, “There are groups that are actively fighting for human rights of people on the ground in India that will get direct engagement from me.”

Setting the stage in his initial remarks, Senator Bob Menendez, who chairs the Committee, said that as the U.S. and India deepen their relationship, there would “inevitably” be areas of friction, citing India’s purchase of Russian defence equipment and “democratic backsliding and discrimination against religious minorities.” Mr. Menendez told Mr. Garcetti that he expected him to be frank with New Delhi about not just aspects of cooperation but also areas of concern. “New Delhi will need to address our concerns if it seeks to deepen our partnership even further,” Mr. Menendez said.

“… Respect for human rights and strong democratic institutions are key elements of our relationship and values that are enshrined in both of our Constitutions and if confirmed, I will engage regularly and respectfully with the Indian government on these issues,” he said at one point during the hearing.

Denies allegations

Asked by Senator Jeanne Shaheen about his role in a lawsuit brought by a former bodyguard against his deputy Rick Jacobs, Mr. Garcetti denied allegations that he was witness to but did not stop Jacobs’s sexual advances towards his bodyguard. He had also previously denied these allegations.

The Mayor also said he had a policy of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and that he would raise sexual harassment (in the context of women) if confirmed to the Ambassador role in India.

‘India vital’

“Few nations are more vital to the future of American security and prosperity than India,” Mr. Garcetti said, adding that he would seek to advance a shared vision of a “ free and open Indo-Pacific region,” and support “free trade” to help generate middle class American jobs. He also said he would endeavour to strengthen India’s border security, via counter terrorism coordination, information sharing and joint military exercises and freedom of navigation patrols. Mr. Garcetti expressed his condolences on the death of General Bipin Rawat.

Mr. Garcetti suggested a focus of his work would be climate action, as he highlighted his credentials as the chair of a global network of city Mayors confronting climate change. He also said he would work with India via the International Solar Alliances (which is headed by India and which the U.S. joined in November) and the climate partnership. “But my friends, in the end, the bedrock of our relationship are the warm and deep ties between our peoples,” he said.

On CAATSA (Countering Americas Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), Mr. Garcetti did not commit to a position on a sanctions waiver for India for buying the Russian S-400 missile defence system, saying instead that he did not want to prejudge the Secretary of State’s decision on the matter. He did, however, say that he would advocate for India to continue to diversify its defence purchases.

Family planning ball in men’s court

The National Family Health Survey-5 shows India has made gains in several areas related to health and human development over the previous phase (2015–16). But it also reveals that reproduction and family planning remain solely the burden of women. According to the NFHS-5, male sterilisation as a current method of family planning has remained unchanged from NFHS-4 at 0.3%. On the other hand, female sterilisation has increased to 37.9% from 36%, although the procedures are more complicated and recovery time longer. While 56.5% of respondents (currently married women ages 15 to 49) said they were using some modern method of contraception against 47.8% in NFHS-4, condom use is only 9.5%, albeit an improvement from 5.6% earlier. 

The placing of the responsibility of family planning on women, who may struggle for access to care, financial resources and even control over their own body due to patriarchal views on female sexuality, comes from a torrid history. During the Emergency, reportedly 6 million men were sterilised in one year. Indira Gandhi’s government was subsequently voted out of power. The focus of family planning switched to women even as the bugaboo of an imminent population bomb faded.

For instance, in Bihar, 34.8% of women using modern contraception opted for female sterilisation in the NFHS-5 vs 20.7% earlier while male sterilisation accounted for 0.1% compared to 0 earlier. Yet, in Kerala, a state that ranks high on social indicators, the figure was 46.6% of female sterilisation against 0.1% male. On the one hand, while ostensibly at least some of these women may be willingly exerting control over their bodies, they may be doing so while making a limited choice between the risk of unwanted pregnancies and maternal mortality, and that of serious surgery. 

Recently, in Tamil Nadu, Karur district framed male vasectomy as an act of love for one’s family while offering meaningful incentives including access to bank loans and housing pattas. Twenty one men opted for it this year compared to eight last year. To draw men back into the conversation on reproduction requires gender norms and roles to be challenged and dismantled, yet interventions like the one in TN may also be needed and can show quicker results. 

Widening Char Dham road: Can we ignore defence needs for environment, asks SC

Underlining its “predicament” while alluding to incursions by China on the Line of Actual Control, the Supreme Court Tuesday asked if it can “override defence needs” on environmental grounds.

With the Centre pushing for increasing the width of the Char Dham road in Uttarakhand to allow the Army quicker access to areas along the boundary with China, Justice D Y Chandrachud, heading a three-judge bench, referred to “recent events” and said: “We cannot deny the fact that at such a height, the security of the nation is at stake. Can the highest constitutional court say that we will override defence needs particularly in the face of recent events? Can we say that environment will triumph over the defence of the nation? Or we say that defence concerns be taken care of so that environmental degradation does not take place?”

The bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Vikram Nath, posed these questions to Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves who was representing Citizens for Green Doon. The NGO has challenged the Stage-I forest and wildlife clearance granted for improvement and expansion of roads by felling trees.

Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General K K Venugopal referred to the September 8, 2020 decision of the Supreme Court asking the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) to stick to its 2018 circular fixing 5.5-metre width for roads in hilly terrain in the execution of the Char Dham road project.

He said the Army wanted 10-metre width for the roads. There are multiple projects along the stretch leading to international borders which, he said, are needed for movement of personnel and machinery.

“There is a need for armed forces vehicles, rocket launchers etc to travel on these roads and all this was not taken into account. Army was ignored in this matter and they need to be presented here before the court,” he said.

Gonsalves, however, contended that the road widening was only to facilitate the Char Dham Yatra conceived in 2016 so that SUVs can race up and down the mountains. He said pilgrims travelled on foot earlier, but it was felt that it was not good enough and, hence, highways and helipads were required.

“This will come at a terrible cost and this needs to be weighed in,” he said. The experts, he said, were of the opinion that such vehicle movements were impacting glaciers, resulting in catastrophes.

Gonsalves contended that the Army was happy with existing roads but was only following the dictates of the political establishment.

“Defence ministry’s stand and our stand is almost the same and that is why we call them a reluctant participant in this issue,” he said.

The bench said while travelling from Leh to Kargil to Zanskar, if an Army vehicle and civilian vehicle coming from two directions meet at one point, the descending vehicle is at greater danger of falling down and “so we cannot say that this need can be ignored. We agree that Himalayas are young mountains… but can the need highlighted be disregarded”.

Gonsalves sought to point out environmental hazards due to developmental projects being carried out in the mountains.

“Around 17 hydroelectric projects went bumper-to-bumper in the Himalayas and now we are facing an issue. In 2013, there was a cloudburst… The court took cognizance of this and stayed 24 projects on recommendation of the High Powered Committee,” he said. In 2021, there was glacier melt and an avalanche because of black carbon, he said.

He also contended that Ladakh may not be a correct example as there is a difference between the Himalayan terrain and the Ladakh terrain.

The bench said “in security parameters, you cannot deny that the border areas they share is similar”. It wondered if courts should have a more nuanced approach in such matters. “We realise the glacier melt aspect but it’s also happening due to other rampant developmental projects… Can we say that environment will triumph over the defence of the nation? Or we say that defence concerns be taken care of so that environmental degradation does not take place?”.

“We must tell you our predicament in this… if the Centre says they are doing it for tourism, then we understand and we can impose more stringent conditions. But when it is needed to defend the borders, then it is a serious predicament the court has to encounter in cases like this,” the bench said.

The project meant to widen 889 km of hill roads to provide all-weather connectivity between major pilgrimage sites in Uttarakhand has led to a heated debate with members of a Supreme Court-appointed High Powered Committee divided on the width of the road.
While the majority favoured increasing the width to 12 metre, the minority, including the committee chairman, backed 5.5 m for the carriageway and additional paved shoulder — taking the total width to about 7 to 7.5 metre — for use by pedestrians/pilgrims who take the trek to the holy sites.

Gonsalves claimed the interim report of the HPC, dated March 2020, was unanimous and there was some change only when the political directive came. “The chapters are well written… they did a somersault and it was because of political influence,” he contended.



The News Editorial Analysis 14th Dec 2021

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