The News Editorial Analysis 16th November 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 16th November 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 16th November 2021

Centre to disburse ₹95,082 cr. to States to sustain recovery

Sitharaman meets CMs, State Finance Ministers to push growth and investment

The Centre will remit ₹95,082 crore to States next week, double the funds due to them from the shareable pool of taxes this month to enable them to deploy more money on capital spending, Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said late on Monday after a six-hour meeting with State Chief Ministers and Finance Ministers.

About 15 Chief Ministers, mostly from the NDA-ruled States, attended what Ms. Sitharaman described as a ‘rare, one-off’ meeting between the Centre and States, held to figure out ways to sustain the economic recovery after the second COVID-19 wave and understand States’ concerns and plans. Three States were represented by deputy CMs while the Finance Ministers of the rest were present, along with the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, she said.

“The context of the meeting was that after the second wave, we are seeing a robust growth. However, it’s also a time where we are looking at ways to sustain the growth, take it as close as possible to a double-digit growth for which the Centre and States have to work together,” Ms. Sitharaman said.

She urged States to help India become the fastest growing economy in coming years, through facilitating investment attractiveness and expediting ease of doing business measures and undertake power sector reforms.

States were also nudged to smoothen land acquisition and create land banks for investors as land is one of the major bottlenecks for investment projects. Moreover, with the Centre taking up monetisation of public assets, States were asked to consider doing the same.

“Unless States and the Centre put up money for building, the ripple effects for speedier and better growth would not be as desirable as we wish to have it and therefore, that expenditure is absolutely necessary,” the Minister pointed out and said she has directed the Finance Secretary to concede to States’ request as ‘this is an exceptional year’.

U.P. accepts SC proposal for probe by ex-judge

Investigation in Lakhimpur Kheri case

The Uttar Pradesh government on Monday agreed to the Supreme Court’s suggestion to appoint a retired judge to monitor the investigation into the Lakhimpur Kheri murders and violence.

The cases concern a convoy, allegedly belonging to Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra, ploughing into a group of farmers and civilians protesting the controversial agricultural laws and the ensuing violence at Lakhimpur Kheri district. Minister’s son Ashish Mishra is a prime accused in the case concerning the farmers’ deaths.

“We leave it to Your Lordships… You may appoint whoever you want,” senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for U.P., submitted before a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana.

The Bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, after conferring among themselves, said it needed a day to zero in on the judge. “We are considering former Punjab and Haryana HC Judge Rakesh Kumar Jain or others. We have to consult them,” it said.

Mr. Salve stated that the government had left it to the wisdom of the court. However, he made a suggestion. He made a point that the court’s choice of a retired judge should not rest on whether he or she was from the State or outside.

“You mean it can be from any State…” the court sought to clarify from him.

Now, autopsy can be done after sunset

The Union Health Ministry on Monday revised the post-mortem protocols to allow for conducting the procedure after sunset.

Apart from aiding the family of the deceased, the revision was also aimed at promoting organ donation and transplant as organs could be harvested in the stipulated time window after the procedure, said the Ministry in a release.

It noted that the change followed multiple references received from various sources and in line with the government’s commitment to promoting ease of living by reducing the burden imposed due to compliance of government processes.

In view of the rapid advancement, especially the availability of required lighting and infrastructure, performing night-time post-mortem was now feasible, it pointed out.

UoH team probes role of miRNAs in immune cell diseases

The News Editorial Analysis 16th November 2021

Team was led by Jagan Pongubala

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) belong to a class of small non-coding RNAs (ribonucleic acids), approximately 22 nucleotides, that often silence the expression of protein-coding genes by binding to their messenger RNAs (mRNAs). Significant advances have been made in the discovery of miRNAs and their respective target genes as their deregulation is closely associated with several immune cell diseases, particularly cancer.

A team led by Jagan Pongubala at the department of Animal Biology, School of Life Sciences, University of Hyderabad (UoH) has probed the genome-wide expression and functional analysis of miRNAs during lymphoid lineage commitment to demonstrates its role repressing inappropriate genes.

Absence of these miRNAs in developing lymphocytes results in a mixed-lineage gene expression pattern. The genome-wide analyses of miRNAs combined with functional studies help understand the role of miRNAs in developing lymphocytes. Collectively, these studies present the role of miRNAs during lymphoid malignancies, said a press release.

The research team included Sameena Nikhat, Anurupa D. Yadavalli, Arpita Prusty, Priyanka K. Narayan, Dasaradhi Palakodeti, Cornelis Murre, and Jagan M.R. Pongubala. The work, ‘A regulatory network of microRNAs confers lineage commitment during early developmental trajectories of B and T lymphocytes’ was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS, USA).

UoH Vice-Chancellor B.J. Rao congratulated Mr Pongubala and his team for their ‘excellent’ work.

Chennai-Bengaluru road project gets green nod

The Expert Appraisal Committee of the Environment Ministry has recommended phase-III of the eight-lane expressway between Chennai and Bengaluru for environment clearance. The project, implemented by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), passes through Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh and Vellore, Ranipet, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts of Tamil Nadu.

The stretch falls in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The total length of the alignment is 106.10 km, starting from Ramapuram in Chittoor to Irungattukottai in Sriperumbudur taluk.

The project is meant to improve connectivity between Bengaluru and Chennai and act as a link between the major commercial and industrial centres of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

The NHAI committed itself to cutting trees within formation width so as to minimise losses.

Exception to the rule

Allowing yearly extensions to heads of CBI, ED will compromise their autonomy

The new law authorising an extension of the services of the heads of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate until they complete a total tenure of five years will seriously compromise the autonomy of those agencies. It goes against the spirit of the Supreme Court judgment in Vineet Narain vs Union of India (1997) which laid down a dictum that the Directors of the CBI and the ED should have a minimum tenure of two years. This was to prevent their sudden transfer out of office if their functioning goes against the interests of the regime of the day. While it did not specifically bar longer terms or extensions, the prospect of getting an annual extension can be an incentive for displaying regime loyalty in the discharge of their duties. Significantly, in the case of the present Director of Enforcement, S.K. Mishra, who was appointed for two years in November 2018, his services were extended by an order on November 13, 2020, which amended the original term of appointment from two years to three years. That the changes were brought in through the ordinance route in November raises a doubt whether the Government is keen on retaining him at the helm. Given that the central agencies have drawn much criticism for their focus on personages linked to Opposition parties, such a measure will be seen as a reward for guided functioning instead of a necessity to keep ongoing investigations on track.

As it is, the fixed tenure for certain posts means their superannuation within that period will not end their term. In effect, there is an implied extension for an officer appointed to one of these protected posts if the appointment comes within two years of retirement. A further extension that will take the officers’ services well beyond superannuation, that too one year at a time, will render the heads of two investigating agencies unacceptably beholden to the Government. Also, in Mr. Mishra’s case, the Supreme Court declined to interfere with the one-year addition to his original term of appointment, but also said that “extension of tenure granted to officers who have attained the age of superannuation should be done only in rare and exceptional cases”. And that the further extension should only be for “a short period”. It also made it clear that no further extension shall be granted to him. It is possible that the Government will abide by this order and not give the benefit of the amendment to Mr. Mishra, but it does not render the act of authorising year-on-year extensions to future appointees any less detrimental to the public interest. The protection given by a fixed tenure and the use of a high-ranking committee to recommend appointments and transfers were meant to dilute the ‘doctrine of pleasure’ implicit in civil service. However, it may be breached, if the extension allowed in exceptional circumstances becomes the rule.

Pegasus inquiry must reverse the ‘chilling effect’

The Government’s complacency in the snooping case is worse than its alleged involvement under the garb of ‘security’

It is startling to know that governments in India purchase very expensive Israeli software to bug the Opposition and suppress dissent. The revelations about the misuse of Pegasus spyware have shaken the world and even India has felt its reverberations. The Government has stonewalled queries on the subject, has refused to order any probe, and even allowed a whole Parliament session to be washed away as a discussion on the subject was denied. The Pegasus scandal matches the Watergate scandal that brought down U.S. President Richard Nixon in the 1970s, but here in India, business has been as usual.

There was a fact-finding judgment in May 5, 2021 by the Royal Courts of Justice Strand, London ( that was to look into “factual allegations” made by a princess that the software had been installed in her phone as well as those used by her her solicitors, her personal assistant and security by her husband (a high-profile ruler in the United Arab Emirates) in the case of the welfare of their two children. It was an example of how even the phones used by royals have been hacked using Pegasus. After the United States government determined that Pegasus was acting contrary to the foreign policy and the national security interests of the U.S., it blacklisted the NSO group by putting it on an “entity list”. But India has neither looked into the facts nor blocked the hacker.

In India, the suspected abuse of surveillance power followed by blatant denial of Right to Information requests and Parliament questions, defiant responses to Public Interest Litigation (PIL) notices and, above all, the ‘inaction’ of the Government are what have compelled the Supreme Court of India to act. On October 27, 2021, a Bench of the Court, led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), N.V. Ramana, constituted a three-member independent expert committee to conduct an investigation (it will be overseen by a retired judge of the Court) and protect public faith in the constitutional system. In the world over, this is the first-ever inquiry ordered by any Chief Justice with such wide-ranging terms into spying by Pegasus. This initiative of the CJI will embolden civilians to question the suppression of rights and instil fear among rulers. It should reverse the chilling effect. This dynamic order evoked positive responses while some wanted greater relief than what was prayed in the original PILs.

A worrying silence

The Union Government has been consistently silent on the question on whether it had or has invaded the privacy of hundreds of innocent non-accused citizens and what it has done with the collected ‘intelligence’. It has a constitutional duty now to justify its defence of ‘national security’ before the Court-appointed inquiry committee or face politico-constitutional consequences. More than anything else, what is worrisome is the Centre’s deafening silence.

The Court turned down the Government’s request to allow it to set up the inquiry committee, as the principles of natural justice will not permit the ‘accused’ to select his investigators. The Bench has enough reasons to suspect that the Government is a party to this unconstitutional action (Pegasus). It made it clear that allowing that request “would violate the settled judicial principle against bias, i.e., that ‘justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done’.”

The use of the invasive spyware was noticed in May 2019 when WhatsApp claims that ‘Pegasus’ had infiltrated the devices of WhatsApp users; the fact of Indians being affected was acknowledged by the Minister for Law in November 2019; and when Amnesty International and Citizen’s Lab reported on June 15, 2020 of nine individuals in India having been targeted. The nation cannot afford to ignore the Pegasus Project, or the report of a consortium of 17 media organisations on July 18, 2021, which showed, based on its investigation, that a “list of over 50,000 phone numbers in more than 45 countries had been potentially targeted for surveillance by misusing Pegasus”. The list included the numbers of over 300 Indians, some of whom were senior journalists, doctors, lawyers, political persons and even court staff. WhatsApp, in 2019, said it had notified the Government that 121 Indian citizens had been targeted. Yet, there has been no response.

Privacy, a sacrosanct right

Though privacy was not a specifically guaranteed right earlier, unabated surveillance was never allowed. The Supreme Court emphatically defined it in R. Rajagopal in 1994. With the landmark order in 2017 by the Supreme Court declaring that the right to privacy is as sacrosanct as human existence and is inalienable to human dignity and autonomy, the burden to secure this right has also fallen on the top court.

Snooping can be justified only on three counts: the restriction must be by law; it must be necessary and only if other means are not available, and proportionate (only as much as needed); and it must promote a legitimate state interest (e.g., national security), according to paragraph 325 of the nine-judge Bench judgment on privacy). Without establishing this justification, the Government cannot use ‘national security’, in the case of Pegasus, as an empty or lame excuse, because surveillance directly infringes on the privacy right. If the Government wants to justify the surveillance as authorised then it has to answer the question whether anybody has been prosecuted for terrorism with evidence procured by snooping. And who is the authority that decides the need and mode of surveillance? Without this information, the state cannot rely on the excuse of ‘national security’. The leaked list of phone numbers, which includes those of journalists, politicians and lawyers only raises the suspicion of abuse of surveillance power.

Injures freedom of speech

The Bench led by the CJI observed that surveillance injures the freedom of speech and results in fear based self-censorship. When it relates to the freedom of the press, it results in a chilling effect on the basic civil right of freedom of speech. Using the highly expensive software, Pegasus, is an assault on the vital public watchdog role of the press, which could undermine the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information which is needed for people to know about the acts of their elected government. The potential technological power of Pegasus must be challenged. The Centre’s complacency is worse than its alleged involvement that needs to be probed. In fact, the Court has faced criticism of ‘inaction’, giving a long rope to the Government, and refused to stay the notification issued by the West Bengal government, setting up an inquiry commission to investigate the revelations of the Pegasus Project. The Delhi-based lawyer, Gautam Bhatia, even wrote that the Court should ask the Government to answer whether it ordered spying on citizens who are not accused of any crime. If yes, it should be made liable. If the Government refuses to answer, or says ‘no’, what is the Court expected to do? This is what the committee must probe.

Ensuring the independence and the objectivity of members of the committee is not a mean task. The Court has explained how the chairman and other members were chosen with great care and research. The terms are specific: the committee has the task of finding answers to whether spyware was used to access conversations and information through the devices, the interception of the communications, who the victims were, which law authorized this, and who decided this on what basis and at what cost.

The defence and a pointer

The stock defence of ‘national security’ for snooping has provided, prima facie, grounds to believe the involvement of the ‘state’. The Court has explained: “the Petitioners have placed on record certain material that prima facie merits consideration by this Court. There has been no specific denial of any of the facts averred by the Petitioners by the Respondent — [the] Union of India”. Although it is “a settled position of law that in matters pertaining to national security, the scope of judicial review is limited”, the Bench was vocal in saying “this does not mean that the state gets a free pass every time the spectre of ‘national security’ is raised.” It is well within the four corners of its jurisdiction for the Supreme Court to constitute this committee as specifically prayed in the 12 PILs.

Using criminal spyware is not only a mere violation of Part III rights but is also a serious blow to freedom of the press, expression of dissent by the Opposition, and fearlessness of lawyers to challenge in courts the unconstitutional actions of the state. It undermines democracy and converts elected leaders into absolute dictators. The Supreme Court committee and Bench has the onerous duty of resurrecting the constitutional scheme of rule of law.

  1. Sridhar Acharyulu is Former Central Information Commissioner. He is Dean, School of Law, Mahindra University, and Hyderabad

Batting for an important yet misunderstood species

A world with fewer bats around is one that has failed to understand the critical role they play in ecosystems

Imagine dusk in our rural heartland, groups of people returning to their homes from farms, factories and forests. At the same time, hordes of winged mammals called bats (nearly 128 species in India; over 1,200 species worldwide) emerge from their roosts in trees, caves, rock ledges, temples and buildings. Bats and humans have cohabited since time immemorial. Throughout the night, these bats devour insects in farms, fields, forests, grasslands and around our homes, including agricultural pests and disease-causing mosquitoes.

Some bats sip nectar, pollinate flowers, eat fruits, and spread the seeds of many important tree species including wild varieties of bananas, guava, cashew, mango, figs, mahua and other fruits. A study in Thailand has shown that pest biocontrol provided by just one species of bat prevented the loss of 2,900 tons of rice per year — or a savings of $1.2 million, and meals for 26,200 people annually. Bat droppings (guano) mined from caves are widely used as a fertilizer for agricultural crops as they have high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous.

Role in disease spread

Unfortunately, despite these critical roles bats remain among the most misunderstood of all animals. In India, we have almost no studies on the ecosystem services that bats provide. With scientific evidence mounting that the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes COVID-19 originated in bats, there are growing fears of further disease transmission from bats.

A significant and unique feature of bats is that they are known or suspected to be the natural reservoirs for many novel and recently emerged pathogenic viruses such as Nipah, Hendra, Marburg, Ebola and the coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome. Despite being reservoirs for viruses, bats never fall sick. Flying is a very stressful business, and results in toxic by-products which could damage cell contents. Bats have evolved mechanisms to avoid such damage by suppressing their immune systems. Scientists think that such suppression results in a continuous auto-immune response which helps them combat infections and control virus propagation. Interestingly, this ability to limit excessive inflammatory response (which is responsible for the adverse effects of such viruses in infected humans), ensures they do not over react to viral infections and protects them from multiple chronic age-related diseases.

In other words, in gaining the ability to fly long distances, bats have also inherited an immune system that protects them from viruses. The same immune system also makes them age slower, and live longer. They are among the longest lived mammals for their body size.

Due to COVID-19, we have suddenly become aware of the several viruses bats carry because they could spill over to us. But such spillovers — the transmission of pathogens from their natural host or reservoirs to novel hosts such as humans — are unusual and rare events, and tend to occur when there is increased contact between humans and wild hosts.

Over the last several 100 years, humans have significantly modified the landscapes around them — cutting of forests, clearing of land for agriculture and development — resulting in disturbances to bat roosts, and forcing them to change their ‘homes’. Activities such as mining destroy natural cave systems that bats live in. Scientists have shown that when bats are disturbed, they become stressed and could shed viruses that they carry, increasing the risk of spillover. This suggests that human habitat destruction makes bats move closer to human habitation, resulting in stressing them, and in turn viral shedding.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled us to look back on the mistakes made in destroying this fine ecological balance, and study how bats and humans can co-exist in certain areas. This is as important as searching for the cure for SARS. Yet, we still do not know too much about the ecology of bats, even in the context of viruses. Are chances of spillover higher in areas with more bat species? Are viruses shed by bats throughout the year or only seasonally?

Study of human-bat interface

Several indigenous people had understood the importance of giving enough space to all animals including bats whilst staying with them. Some have isolation practices such as quarantine following hunting. They are dependent on animals and nature, and have achieved a balance without any harm to both sides. The Bomrr clan in Nagaland, for example, have traditionally celebrated the annual bat harvest for many years. They gather at a place called Mimi to smoke a cave full of bats and as bats start exiting, kill them for consumption. In the process, the bats bite them or scratch them. Yet, there has been no major disease outbreak among the Bomrr clan. To understand how and why the Bomrr are immune to the viruses in the bats they interact with, the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS-TIFR), an aided Centre of Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) are carrying out sero-ecological studies on this human-bat interface. They are exploring microbial diversity associated with the bats, and also serology (antibody response to known viral families) to investigate which part of this diversity is potentially pathogenic. So far, they have found: genetic prevalence/detection (between 3%-10% of bats) of several bacterial and viral families and evidence that both bats and humans have shared antibody response to some viral families, indicative of a spillover.

The NCBS is also in the process of sequencing whole genomes of bat viruses. This study could help build a bank of virus genomes as baselines to be prepared for any possible future outbreaks. Local practices and traditions could serve as a guide for us to understand how we should minimise risk of infectious disease spillover from bats in the future. The rich biodiversity and cultural diversity in India serves as an excellent and unique place for such studies.

Some precautions

But the fact remains that bats carry many viruses. So how can we continue to co-exist with them? We could take a few sensible precautions that minimise our direct interactions with bats — such as avoiding handling or eating bats, and not eating fallen fruits gnawed by bats or fruits likely to be contaminated by bat fluids. This would greatly reduce the risk of spillover. In the longer term, we should work towards restricting and reversing land-use change practices that are bringing us in greater contact with, and increasingly stressing out, animals that may harbour ‘emerging infections’.

Restore the balance

In India, many people are dependent on the ecosystems they live in, and the various services those ecosystems provide, for example water, clean air and pollination. Over the last few decades, habitat destruction and land-use change has impacted most of India. We can regain this balance with nature and animals through a combination of habitat restoration and co-existence with wildlife such as bats. Integrated approaches such as One Health, where human health is linked to that of the environment and animals can result in the best possible outcomes. Any such future will require a global commitment to reduction of habitat loss, and the preservation and restoration of our natural habitats and biodiversity. A world with fewer bats around us will be one that suffers greater crop losses to agricultural pests, witnesses increased incidences of other diseases such as those transmitted by mosquitoes, and one without mahua, too.

Sushma Taishete is Joint Secretary in the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Mumbai. Uma Ramakrishnan is a Professor at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, TIFR, an aided centre of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Mumbai

The debacle of demonetization

Five years later, it is clear that the policy was neither economically sound nor ethically grounded

On November 8, 2016, the Prime Minister announced that from midnight, ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes would no longer be legal tender. Though Indians were given the opportunity of redeeming the full value of their money held in this form, they could do so only by depositing the notes in a bank or Post Office savings account. The total value of the currency affected by this move, henceforth referred to as demonetisation, was 85%. A former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury said this was by far the “most sweeping change in currency policy that has occurred anywhere in the world in decades”. With five years of experience, we are now in a position to give an unqualified verdict on the consequences of this move.

Changing goalposts

The original argument given for demonetisation was that it would extinguish unaccounted or ‘black’ money. The presumption underlying this was that with unaccounted income inevitably held as cash, owners of these hoards would be hesitant to turn them in to banks as they would have to explain the source. When it was pointed out that unaccounted income is very likely to have been converted into real assets or transferred overseas, the government shifted the narrative. It then explained that the move was meant to get the economy to run on ‘less cash’. Finally, it strongly asserted that the move would incentivise direct tax payment and this would raise the government’s revenues sufficiently to allow for greater public investment and the provision of more public services.

The Reserve Bank of India’s Annual Report of 2019 settled the first issue conclusively when it reported that approximately 99% of the affected money supply was deposited into accounts with commercial banks. So, the existence of black money hoards may have been exaggerated, to put it mildly, even though this does not imply that all earnings were being declared to the income tax authorities.

What about the predicted move towards less cash? Well, the ratio of currency with the public to national income has, at 11.5%, remarkably remained the same from 2015-16 onwards. Money seems to remain a chosen medium of exchange for Indians, even if purchases are increasingly being made online. Any independent economist could have pointed out to the government that in an economy where a large section of the population has little income to save, cash is likely to stay as a medium of exchange for some time. After all, electronic payments other than those based on credit cards draw upon prior savings. All this is besides the point, however, and misses how disingenuous the official narrative was. If the idea was to make the population use less cash, there was no need for the secrecy implicit in the hurried announcement of demonetisation. It could have been simply achieved by amendment of the Income Tax Act requiring all large-value transactions to be made by cheque or electronic means.

Finally, we come to the claim that demonetisation would lead to an increase in direct tax payments. Why this would be so was never spelt out, but the data can settle this matter conclusively. We find that the ratio of direct tax collections to the national income rose marginally in 2016-17, but higher rates had been achieved earlier. It continued to rise marginally for two more years, but this cannot confidently be attributed to demonetisation alone. The Goods and Services Tax introduced in 2017 may have nudged potential income tax assesses to comply with the law due to the surveillance that came into force. We can see in the Finance Ministry’s latest ‘Budget at a Glance’ that the trend of a rising direct tax to national income ratio came to an end in 2019-20, and is now lower than it was at the beginning of the decade.

Reversing growth acceleration

With not a single one of the claims made for it having materialised, it may seem that there cannot be a more stinging assessment of demonetisation but there is worse to come. In 2016-17, India’s economy did register a slight increase in the rate of growth. This may appear to validate the action, but it does not. It is explained by the fact that the growth of the agricultural sector registered a positive swing of over 7% that year. As agricultural yield is weather related, it is independent of economic conditions in the short term. But in the other sectors of the economy, production could have been held back by the cash crunch engineered by demonetisation, thus slowing expansion. We see this in the data on the manufacturing sector, with growth slowing by about a third immediately. Nevertheless, growth of the overall economy did not slow in 2016-17 as much of the services sector held out. This was to come the next year, with annual growth slowing continuously ever since. So, this is something demonetisation did achieve. It reversed a growth acceleration that had been in place for at least two years when the Modi government took over in 2014 and had continued till it met the gleefully named ‘surgical strike’.

Imposing hardship

Numbers cannot, however, capture the hardship and insecurity that were so casually imposed on the population by the move. The country was thrown into utter chaos with people trying to change their hard-earned small cash savings in banks that were utterly unprepared for the task. There was an acute shortage of currency notes for at least a couple of months. The supply chain for farm produce was severely disrupted but a history of informal credit meant that it did not die out entirely. Indeed, India was bailed out by the traditional practices of its business communities, even as the government was ostensibly goading it into modernity.

Vladimir Lenin reportedly said, “the best way to destroy the capitalist system [is] to debauch the currency.” In one of the ironies of history, a whole century later, a government committed to capitalism in all its forms attempted precisely that. But demonetisation was not just a flawed economic policy move. Economic policies must not only be sound, they must also be ethically grounded. While it may have been within the government’s constitutional powers to implement demonetisation, on an ethical conception of powers it was a moral failure. Perhaps not since Muhammad bin Tughlaq have the people of India been forced to endure as much by the state. The difference is that today India is a democracy.

Pulapre Balakrishnan teaches at Ashoka University, Sonipat, Haryana

Centre amends rules to clear tenure extension

Posts of chiefs of CBI and Enforcement Directorate now added to list of top govt. servants whose term is flexible

A day after promulgating two ordinances that would allow the Centre to extend the tenures of the Directors of the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate from two years to up to five years, the Personnel Ministry issued an order to amend the Fundamental Rules, 1922 adding the two posts to the list whose services can be extended by up to two years beyond the two-year fixed tenure in “public interest”.

The previous list comprised Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, Director, Intelligence Bureau and Secretary, Research and Analysis Wing. Though Director, CBI, was also mentioned in the previous order, the Monday notification adds the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 (25 of 1946) under which the investigation agency’s head is appointed.

The notification amended fifth proviso of Clause (d) of Rule 56 of the Fundamental Rules, 1922. It said, “Provided also that the Central Government may, if it considers necessary in public interest so to do, give extension in service to the Defence Secretary, Home Secretary, Director of Intelligence Bureau, Secretary of Research and Analysis Wing and Director of Central Bureau of Investigation appointed under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 (25 of 1946) and Director of Enforcement in the Directorate of Enforcement appointed under the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 (45 of 2003) in the Central Government for such period or periods as it may deem proper on a case-to-case basis for reasons to be recorded in writing, subject to the condition that the total term of such Secretaries or Directors, as the case may be, who are given such extension in service under this rule, does not exceed two years or the period provided in the respective Act or rules made there under, under which their appointments are made.”

Retrospective move

The Centre had retrospectively extended the tenure of Sanjay Kumar Mishra as the Director of the ED in 2020. The Finance Ministry said a November 19, 2018 order through which Mr. Mishra, a 1984-batch Indian Revenue Service official, was appointed has been modified with approval from the President and it would now be read for three years. He is to retire on November 17.

The NGO Common Cause, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, had challenged the retrospective extension in the Supreme Court. The SC on September 8 said Mr. Mishra should not be given any further extension.

On August 12, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) gave a one-year extension to Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, beyond his two-year fixed tenure that was to end on August 22. On May 28, one-year extension in service was granted to Intelligence Bureau Director Arvinda Kumar and R&AW Secretary Samant Kumar Goel.

Project SIREN Award for The Hindu

The Hindu has been awarded the Project SIREN Award for Newspapers 2021 for “its consistent high performance on Project SIREN’s scorecards measuring responsible reporting on suicide between June 2020 and June 2021.”

Project SIREN is an initiative of the India Mental Health Observatory (IMHO) under the Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy (CMHLP), which systematically tracks reports on suicides in major English newspapers and online news publications to promote responsible reporting.

“While we applaud the consistent performance by The Hindu, we encourage The Hindu to further prioritise sensitive and responsible reporting on suicides,” said Soumitra Pathare, director, Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy, Indian Law Society.

Quarantine norms lifted for travellers from 99 countries

Permission given on reciprocal basis, says Govt. notification

Travellers from 99 countries, who are fully-vaccinated against coronavirus, have now been exempted from mandatory quarantine on arrival in India, according to revised guidelines from the Centre.

Passengers from the United States, Great Britain, Israel, France, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium, Bangladesh, Finland, Croatia, Hungary, Russia, the Philippines, Qatar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey and Nepal are some of the countries that feature on the exempted list.

The exemption follows India’s agreement with some of the 99 nations on “mutual recognition of [COVID-19] vaccination certificates” of nationally recognised or the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised vaccines.

On the other hand, some countries in the ‘Category A’ list while not having a mutual recognition of vaccine agreement with India, permit quarantine-free entry of fully vaccinated Indian nationals.

“The decision to offer some relaxations to COVID-19 protocols for international travellers coming from the 99 countries has been made “on the basis of reciprocity”, the notification explained.

Travellers from the 99 nations must submit a self-declaration of their fully vaccinated status on the Air Suvidha portal, and also produce a negative RT-PCR test report conducted within 72 hours before travel.

Though exempted from mandatory quarantine these passengers will need to self-monitor their health for 14 days and if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 or test positive for the infection on re-testing, “they will immediately self-isolate and report to their nearest health facility or call National helpline number (1075)/State Helpline Number,” the government notification said.

‘Urban factors, not farm fires, cause of pollution’

Cat is out of the bag, says SC; farm fires in Punjab, Haryana and U.P. contributed to only 10% of the air pollution, says Centre

The Supreme Court on Monday said the “cat is out of the bag” to prove that urban factors such as construction activities, industry, vehicular exhaust and road dust were actually the major causes of pollution in Delhi and not farmers’ stubble burning.

A special Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana gleaned the fact from the affidavits filed by the Centre and the Delhi Government. The Centre, for one, said farm fires in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh contributed to only 10% of the pollution.

In the previous hearing, the court had questioned the narrow focus of the Centre and the Delhi Government on farmers.

“You say 76% of the pollution is caused by industry, dust, vehicles and construction and not due to stubble burning… So the cat is out of the bag… You are now trying to target pollution that is insignificant?” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, on the Bench, asked both Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Centre and Delhi respectively.

Justice Surya Kant asked, “Are you agreeing in principle that farm fires are not the major cause? So all that hue and cry had no scientific or actual basis?”

Chief Justice Ramana said the court had been insisting that stubble burning was not the major cause. “Pollution is caused by city-related issues… You first take care of them and then we will come to stubble burning,” he said, nudging the Centre, Delhi and the States towards a firm commitment to act against pollution.

The court was shocked to realise that Delhi had only 69 mechanised road sweepers to cover all the streets of the capital. The municipal corporations in Delhi were autonomous bodies and the court should ask the mayors to file “specific” affidavits, Mr. Mehra said. Justice Kant lashed out at the Delhi Government for coming up with “lame excuses”. If this went on, the court would be constrained to order an audit inquiry into the money the Government spent on “popularity slogans” seen across the capital.

The Delhi counsel said the Government had been doing everything the Union of India had asked to quell the pollution. “Everything that needs to be done further, will be done in 24 to 48 hours.”

During the hearing, the court found that the Centre’s Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region (NCR) and Adjoining Areas Act had not, over the weekend, “precisely” chalked out a plan to immediately control pollution caused by construction, vehicles, power plants and industries. In fact, Mr. Mehta said, “drastic steps” like the odd-even vehicles’ scheme, ban on entry and plying of trucks in the capital and a complete lockdown had been “deferred” for now. “The severest step would be a lockdown.”

But Delhi said it was willing to initiate a lockdown, provided it was “cohesive arrangement” involving the NCR.

The court directed the Centre to call an urgent meeting in 24 hours with Punjab, Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to craft effective anti-pollution measures and their implementation. The court also asked the Centre, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to introduce work from home for now.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, for the petitioners, said the Centre had made a “wrong statement in court today on stubble burning as their high-powered meeting last night has recorded that stubble burning even now is responsible for 35-40% of Delhi’s air pollution”.

The court scheduled the next hearing for November 17.

Will examine validity of special courts for MPs, MLAs, says SC

A Madras HC panel had said it was not legally permissible

The Supreme Court on Monday decided to examine questions regarding the legal jurisdiction of the special courts set up to exclusively prosecute Members of Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies for various offences.

The Madras High Court, in a report on October 13 last year through a three-judge Criminal Rules Committee, had raised the issue of the “constitutional validity” of the special courts for MPs/MLAs. The committee had even said it was not “legally permissible” to create such special courts. It had said special courts “can only be offence-centric and not offender-centric”. The High Court committee had flagged how a special court to try an MP/MLA could override the jurisdiction of a special court already in existence under an Act.

The court would also examine whether these special courts deprive the accused of their right to a rung of appeal. Here, the argument raised is that some of these cases are triable by magistrates. In the normal course, if an accused has failed before the magistrate, he or she could file an appeal against the decision before the sessions court. In such cases, the trial judge is the magistrate. The sessions court is the first appellate court and the High Court the second appellate court.

Petitioners have argued that a special court would have the powers of a sessions court. If the case of an MLA or MP whose offence can be tried by a magistrate is directly placed before a special court, the accused would lose his right to defend his case before a magistrate and also is stripped of his right to make his first appeal before a sessions court.

A special Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana, Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant have agreed to hear the issues on November 24.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal said the issue raises a “major problem and will affect the right to appeal”. He said an administrative order would force a case triable by a magistrate to be prosecuted by a sessions court. Among the suggestions was whether there should be special magistrate courts along with special sessions court in every jurisdiction.

Amicus curiae, senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, assisted by advocate Sneha Kalita, said the special courts were meant to speedily dispose of cases pending for long.

ICMR moots change in cattle rearing practices, shift from coal

This is to combat challenges of climate change’

Senior scientists at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have recommended that India shift from “traditional animal husbandry practices” and “urgently wean away from coal as its main source of energy”. This is to combat the challenges of climate change that is posing a global threat, the scientists argued in a policy brief that accompanies the 2021 Global Lancet Countdown report focussing on premature mortality due to ambient air pollution by sector; emissions from agricultural production and consumption; and detection, preparedness and response to health emergencies.

“The combustion of coal, mainly in power plants followed by industrial and household settings, has resulted in an increase in premature mortality. Therefore, India needs to urgently wean away from coal as its main source of energy and needs to invest more on renewable, cleaner and sustainable sources such as solar, wind or hydro energy,” the brief noted.

The recommendations come a day after India defended its right at Glasgow, Scotland, to use coal even as it would continue to increase its reliance on renewable sources of energy. India intervened hours before the text of the agreement was finalised to insist that it read that coal would be “phased down” as opposed to “phased out”. India was also among the countries that did not sign on a methane pledge. The U.S. and the European Union have jointly pledged to cut emissions of the greenhouse gas methane by 2030 by 30% compared with the 2020 levels. India is the third largest emitter of methane, primarily because of the size of its rural economy and by virtue of having the largest cattle population.

“Since 46% of all agricultural emissions in India are contributed by ruminants such as goats, sheep and cattle, India needs to move away from the traditional animal husbandry practices and invest in newer technologies that will improve animal breeding and rearing practices, use of good livestock feeds and implement proper manure management, all of which will contribute to the reduction of the GHG emissions,” said the policy brief authored by Leyanna Susan George and Samiran Panda of the Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases, ICMR.

Supreme Court collegium repeats 11 names for HC judges

The collegium reiterated its recommendations to appoint four advocates as judges of Delhi HC, three advocates as judges of Kerala HC, three judicial officers as judges of Calcutta HC, and one advocate as judge of Chhattisgarh HC.

The Supreme Court collegium headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana on Monday reiterated 11 of its earlier recommendations for appointment as judges to various high courts.

According to a collegium statement, the decisions were taken in a meeting held on November 11.

The collegium reiterated its recommendations to appoint four advocates as judges of Delhi HC, three advocates as judges of Kerala HC, three judicial officers as judges of Calcutta HC, and one advocate as judge of Chhattisgarh HC.

On August 17, 2020, the collegium had recommended names of six advocates — Jasmeet Singh, Amit Bansal, Tara Vitasta Ganju, Anish Dayal, Mini Pushkarna and Amit Sharma — to be appointed judges of Delhi HC. This February, the Centre had appointed Jasmeet Singh and Amit Bansal but had kept the remaining names pending. Subsequently, it is learnt, the government had returned the file to the collegium.

For Calcutta HC, the collegium reiterated its decision to appoint judicial officers Ananya Bandyopadhyay, Rai Chattopadhyay and Subhendu Samanta. They were recommended by the SC collegium along with five other judicial officers for appointment as HC judges on February 4.

For Kerala HC, the collegium reiterated its decision recommending advocates Shoba Annamma Eapen, Sanjeetha Kalloor Arakkal and Aravinda Kumar Babu Tavarakkattil. They were first recommended along with advocate Basant Balaji on September 1.  The collegium also reiterated its decision recommending advocate Sachin Singh Rajput to be appointed as judge of Chhattisgarh HC.

Analysing India’s threat spectrum

An interesting debate has emerged on whether conventional conflict remains a significant part of India’s security or if hybrid threat scenarios will dominate in the future

With India’s borders under strain and its internal fabric threatened by societal cleavages too, eminent intellectuals have commented on the perceived threat pattern that the nation faces. This is something expected as the means of war are in transition and the outlook and doctrines of adversaries are changing, even as technologies are under rapid development. Across the western border, Pakistan’s Army Chief has stated that his country will win the Fifth Generation Warfare (5GW) hybrid conflict without naming the adversary against which the conflict will be fought.

From the early eighties, India has been subjected to Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) proxy hybrid conflict, first in Punjab and then in J&K. Yet in the period from 1980 to 2021, India also came close to trans-border conventional war at least seven to eight times, against both Pakistan and China. Each time, it was a virtual pullback from the abyss. Now an interesting debate has emerged on whether conventional conflict remains a significant part of India’s threat spectrum or if the 4GW and 5GW conflict scenarios will dominate the future.

Ever since the end of the Cold War (1989), it has often been perceived that war as a means of resolving differences between nations is no longer cost-effective (it never was) and a generational change has been underway. For better awareness, it is good to know that there are five generations of warfare; it is the fourth and fifth that the world is currently witnessing and their definition needs a glance. 4GW alludes to conflict characterised by a blurring of the lines between war and politics, combatants and civilians; the simplest definition includes any war in which one of the major participants is not a state but rather a violent non-state actor. The Soviet-Afghan war of the eighties brought the term non-state actor to prominence when thousands of transnational Islamic fighters fought in Afghanistan. The concept of proxy war using non-state actors also gave the state leeway to remain in denial. After the Soviet defeat, a similar phenomenon was played out in Chechnya, Bosnia and J&K by various sponsor states. The clandestine availability of weaponry to include Kalashnikov rifles, grenades and explosives, with switches and fuses for improvised explosive devices, empowered the so-called ‘4GW fighters’ who could not easily be defeated by conventional means nor by the best practices of counter-insurgency. Rapidly modernising means of clandestine financing—through narcotics, fake currency and lately Bitcoin, with other derivatives—act as enablers.

Fifth generation warfare is best explained by American military academia as the battle of perceptions and information. Violence is so discreetly dispersed that the target is not even aware that he is a victim of war or that he is losing the battle. The secrecy of this warfare makes it the most dangerous of all time. It hides in the background, and as per analysts ‘the most successful 5GW wars are those that are never identified’. In effect 5GW is the outcome of the impact of the information revolution. When it is so much simpler to reach the minds and alter the psyche of an entire population through scientifically designed psychological messaging, a party to a conflict can attempt to play its own narratives and feed this to a target population. This population can be selected with care and exact messaging for each segment developed for maximum impact. Soldiers, police, bureaucrats, students, media and any other diverse segment of society are all victims by different means. It can be brought to bear in the political, social, ideological, economic, academic and gender domains. It has all come to the fore due to the giant strides in communication technology where mass media is both the enabler and the means for countering. The side that takes the initiative, develops scientific campaigns, remains discrete, uses mass communication technology and knows that the power of spin and fake information can win a conflict hands down even before the realisation that such an operation is at play.

India’s mainstream adversaries—Pakistan and China—are considered masters of this form of warfare. Pakistan’s agency is the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR); I have often called it out for its notoriety and it takes great pride in being identified by me as a sponsor of 5GW. Pakistan’s purpose of setting up the ISPR was primarily because it knew that it was up against a much more powerful adversary in India but one with diverse ethnicity, faiths, regions and linguistics, all of which could be exploited to weaken it. The galloping pace of communication technology came to Pakistan’s assistance in no mean way. In the future, Pakistan’s activities at the LoC will remain limited but investment in 5GW will be far more intensive.

It is not coincidental that our second adversary too invested in information as a weapon very early. After the First Gulf War and the CNN revolution that brought live television to the living rooms, China embarked on conceptualising the doctrine of war under informationised conditions, completing this by 1993. Anticipating the rapid rise in information and communication technology, China invested in transformational change to its war-fighting doctrines, adopting the strategy of three warfares—media, legal and cyber war. However, a misperception seems to exist that China would henceforth only employ this strategy for all purposes of conflict resolution. Supporting the three warfares strategy with full weight is the technological and military might of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA has downsized, reorganised itself into theatres, modernised to include rocket and missile forces, and fifth generation fighter aircraft, along with a rapidly developing maritime capability. It is adopting concepts to contribute to hybridity through wolf warrior diplomacy, aggressive political posturing and legal warfare; the latest border laws are a subset of the latter. China’s achievement for the moment is that it will not let its rivals realise which form of warfare it is choosing to embark upon. This itself will contribute to the grey zone and the predicament of its adversaries. With India, border coercion mixed as a low-level conventional threat with 5GW is the hybrid strategy.

Although we have done well against 4GW efforts by adversaries, the generational changes are yet in the infancy of understanding in India. This moment is ideal for initiation of a debate within India’s strategic community to determine the doctrinal direction of the country’s response: conventional, generational or hybrid. In all these, the information domain needs a focus like nothing before.

COP26 could be a positive start for Earth

It’s good that 100 nations have pledged to improve things. A very clear conclusion has not been reached as to how much money will be given by the rich nations.

Any issue in life can be viewed positively or negatively. For me, the COP26 summit for climate change is a very encouraging development wherein more than 190 countries came together with a determination to save the planet and ensure that global warming does not exceed 1.5 degree Celsius. Any increase above this can endanger the Earth and put us in an irreversible situation where millions could lose their lives. These deaths will not abide by the boundaries set by religion, class or jurisdiction.

We cannot stop global warming for sure. However, we can definitely restrain it by reducing fossil fuel consumption, bringing down carbon dioxide emission, decreasing methane production and preventing deforestation. Most importantly, the rich nations need to stop overindulgence, reduce their tendency towards over-consumerism and stop producing goods and services that endanger the Earth. The good news is that the US and China have pledged closer cooperation to prevent further changes in the climate. The encouraging signs are that more than 100 nations have agreed to end deforestation, cut methane emissions by 30% and over 40 countries have agreed to shift away from the use of coal, all by 2030. These are huge developments and it will be really beneficial for the planet if they are implemented in letter and spirit. Some pessimists may argue that such pledges were made by all the rich nations in the Paris Agreement and those never took off.

However, it appears to me that this time there is greater seriousness than the Paris Accord. Financial institutions have pledged to back clean energy and the rich nations have decided to collectively double their provision of finance to the poorer nations. However, a very clear conclusion has not been reached as to how much money will be given, its recipients or the time frame. It makes no sense if the rich nations finance a loan instead of a grant for the poor countries. Similar to the amount that would be financed, no significant commitment has been made on this front either. Another area that has acquired great importance is how to prevent natural resources from being stripped thrice as fast when the world is growing at twice the speed. The rampant deforestation, mining and endangering marine lives has come to the attention of the global community. The Pacific island nations, Bangladesh, Africa and parts of India are among the worst sufferers of the fallouts of climate change despite a minimal contribution by them to the same. The reduction of fossil fuels is yet another area that appears to lack ambition.

At the COP26, the endangered nations have demanded a penalty for harming them and this has been included in the text. The rich nations have agreed that they have endangered the Earth but it looks highly improbable that any penalty will be paid. Another interesting area that had come up in the COP26 was to find better ways of supply chain management for faster movement of goods and services. Though pious things have been said by the rich nations, in reality, we all know that they have surplus doses of Covid vaccines while the poor nations have huge shortages. Covid-19 cannot be controlled unless 70% of the world population is vaccinated. Despite being well aware of this fact, there has been a huge resistance from the rich to part with these surplus doses, even when they are close to expiry. Therefore, based on historical data, it is difficult to believe what the rich nations say.

However, all in all, the COP26 has been a positive development for the planet. It is great that 100 nations have found consensus on major issues like reduction of methane emissions in the larger interest of the planet. It is commendable that NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth International have put sustained pressure on companies and nations all over the world to come together and commit themselves to save the Earth. One has to recognise the impact of the NGO movement on climate change, which has led to visible changes when compared with the past. People all over the world have witnessed unprecedented events recently and understood that global warming is real. Cases in point are forest fires raging in Australia, Siberia, Greece, California and Canada, the Arctic ice  melting at an unprecedented rate, and huge floods and earthquakes across the globe.

It’s good that 100 nations have pledged to improve things for creating a better future for our children and grandchildren.

Stormy winter session ahead? Congress seeks Opposition unity against twin ordinances on CBI, ED directors

While Congress called for moving the Supreme Court to challenge the twin ordinances, the TMC has moved notices for statutory resolutions in the Rajya Sabha to raise objections.

The opposition parties Monday slammed the central government over the two ordinances to extend the tenure of CBI and ED directors up to five years.

While Congress called for moving the Supreme Court to challenge the twin ordinances, the TMC has moved notices for statutory resolutions in the Rajya Sabha to raise objections.

“This ordinance is a message to the officers that if we (Centre) have appointed you, and if you keep working as per our orders, and keep harassing the Opposition, your tenure will be increased year after year. All parties should jointly approach the Supreme Court on this,” said Congress leader Manish Tewari.

The TMC has moved notices for statutory resolutions in the Rajya Sabha objecting to the ordinances by the government to extend the tenure of CBI and ED chiefs.

“Two brazen ordinances extend ED and CBI directors’ terms from two to five years. Parliament’s winter session begins two weeks from now. Be rest assured, opposition parties will do all it takes to stop India from turning into an elected autocracy,” tweeted TMC Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien.

The government Sunday decided to amend the Delhi Police Special Establishment Act and the CVC Act to ensure the two directors’ tenure extends beyond the current fixed term of two years.

Other opposition parties are also expected to move similar notices ahead of the winter session of Parliament starting Nov 29. CPI MP Binoy Viswam said his party will also move a disapproval motion against the ordinances.

“On a polluted Sunday, the government has embarked on an ordinance route to protect their caged parrots. Disapproval motion will be moved against this ordinance raj. Distorting Constitution, Modi is in a hurry to make India a banana republic,” Viswam tweeted.

Trinamool MP Derek O’ Brien said the opposition parties will do all it takes to stop India from “turning into an elected autocracy”.

The Left parties demanded that the ordinances be rescinded immediately.

“The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) denounces the promulgation of two ordinances allowing the central government to extend the tenures of the directors of CBI and ED from two to five years.”

“It is reprehensible that these ordinances have been promulgated on the eve of the winter session of parliament that is to commence from November 29. The BJP’s regular resort to the route of “ordinance raj” is anti-democratic,” the CPIM said on Monday.

The party further alleged that both the CBI and ED have been “functioning as the political arm of the ruling party to advance its agenda.”

“Leaders of opposition parties are regularly targeted. This step is meant to further subvert the autonomy of these agencies and to make the key officers more pliable.”

“The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) demands that these ordinances be rescinded. CPI(M) MPs will oppose the move to convert these ordinances into law in parliament,” it said in a statement.

The CPI too said that it was contemplating moving statutory resolutions against the ordinances.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi alleged the government was sidestepping Parliament and violating the Supreme Court’s orders only to “misuse” the investigative agencies and reduce them to the “servility of political masters”.

“The BJP is consistently and intentionally engaged in undermining and sabotaging the institutions and creating security for themselves and the establishment instead of security for the nation.

The ordinances are another example in that direction,” he told reporters.

He alleged that these ordinances take these institutions from discipline and upholding the rule of law “to dutifulness to their political masters and to the discretion in choosing how to deal with equals unequally and from objectivity to subjectivity”.

“The attempt is to substitute, servility and subordination to political masters in place of independence, he alleged.

“The constitutional values are as important as the constitutional letter and spirit. It seriously undermines the institutions – the Parliament and the Supreme Court,” he claimed.

He expressed apprehension that the officers will be given an extension “only if they behaved or heard their master’s voice”.

“This is the very opposite of security of tenure and independence. It is turning the concept of independence of such agencies on its head,” he said.

The Congress leader said the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) stands exposed not as an alliance of political parties “but as an alliance of the ED, the CBI and the Income Tax department”.

“It is not a political alliance. It shows the CBI amidst its many-many glittering acronyms as a ‘Credibility Bereft Institution’,” he alleged.

He said all who care for the future of India should not take this lying down.

Introducing these ordinances just two weeks ahead of the Parliament session is an attempt at sabotaging, sidestepping, skirting the institution of Parliament, he said.

“What is the public interest in doing so. There is only self-interest, BJP-interest and the government’s interest,” he alleged.

The Congress leader also asked if the Modi government is so certain of the public interest, then surely it will have no objection if these are scrutinised by a Standing Committee of Parliament.

The Winter session of Parliament starts from November 29.

The tenure of the Directors of the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate can now be extended by up to three years after the mandated term of two years, according to two ordinances brought in by the government on Sunday.

In both cases, an extension of one year can be given for three years.

The Centre’s move, which drew sharp criticism from the Opposition, comes close on the heels of the Supreme Court saying that extension of tenure of officers who have attained the age of superannuation should only be granted in rare and exceptional cases and for a short duration.

The apex court stated this in a matter related to the extension granted in 2020 to Enforcement Directorate chief S K Mishra, a 1984-batch IRS officer who is due to retire on November 17.

Slamming the Congress, Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said those who hurl accusations should have at least some positivity.

“Isi tarah ke aaropon ke mantar ne Congress ko choomantar kar diya hai (Due to its mantra of making such accusations, Congress is disappearing),” the Minority Affairs Minister told reporters at an event here when asked about the Congress’ attack.

“Those who do such negative and destructive politics only harm themselves,” he said.

Festival to celebrate Varanasi’s culture and literary heritage starts today

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) is hosting the programme on behalf of the Ministry of Culture with the support of the Uttar Pradesh government and the Varanasi Administration.

Kashi Utsav, a three-day festival to celebrate the heritage of Varanasi city and the legacy of Goswami Tulsidas, Sant Kabir, Sant Raidas, Bhartendu Harishchandra, Munshi Premchand and Shri Jaishankar Prasad will start on Tuesday.

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) is hosting the programme on behalf of the Ministry of Culture with the support of the Uttar Pradesh government and the Varanasi Administration under the aegis of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, an initiative to celebrate 75 years of India’s Independence.

“Varanasi or Kashi has been chosen for this festival because of its rich cultural heritage and splendid history and resplendent beauty. The longest river of India, Ganges flows through Kashi and has been a source of inspiration to artists, scholars and writers, including the six legendary personalities who will be commemorated during the event,” said the ministry.

There will be panel discussions, exhibitions, film screenings, music, drama and dance performances as part of the event. Noted poet Kumar Vishwas will be presenting a performance on ‘Main Kashi Hun’ on Tuesday and while MP Manoj Tiwari will be delivering a musical presentation.

Retrieved idol installed at Vishwanath temple

LUCKNOW: Back to her abode after being retrieved from Canada, the 18th-century idol of Goddess Annapurna was installed and consecrated by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath amid Vedic rituals in the courtyard of Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi on Monday.

While extending gratitude to PM Narendra Modi after the consecration ceremony, CM Yogi Adityanath said earlier the idols of deities used to be smuggled out of the country, now they are being brought back.

The CM said that idol theft for smuggling went on unabated during previous regimes as they were not concerned about it. 


The News Editorial Analysis 15th November 2021

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