The News Editorial Analysis 21st Dec 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 21st Dec 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 21st Dec 2021

Lok Sabha passes Bill to link electoral rolls with Aadhaar

Amid vociferous protests by Opposition members, the Lok Sabha on Monday passed a Bill to link electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem without any substantial discussion.

Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, while moving the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, told the House that the linking of the electoral roll with a person’s Aadhaar was “voluntary”, but went on to quote a report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice to assert that the process would “purify” the rolls.

The manner of passing the Bill, barely two hours after it was introduced in the Lok Sabha and in the midst of an uproar, led Opposition members to accuse the Narendra Modi government of “compromising” the authority of Parliament.

In a departure from the norm, even Congress leader in the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was seen throwing bits of papers towards the Well of the House in protest.

BJP member Nishikant Dubey alleged that the Congress and Trinamool Congress members were opposing the Bill as they relied on “illegal Bangladeshis” as their vote banks. Hitting back at Mr. Dubey, NCP member Supriya Sule said the BJP should first clarify the allegation about a Minister in the present Council of Ministers being a Bangladeshi national.

Opposing the passage of the Bill, Mr. Chowdhury said, “What is the tearing hurry to pass the Bill? It should be sent to the Standing Committee.”

Responding to him, the Law Minister said the provisions were extensively discussed by the parliamentary panel on law and justice and it also gave a unanimous report. “We have not brought this in a dictatorial way,” Mr. Rijiju told the Opposition members.

While Trinamool members Kalyan Banerjee and Mahua Moitra were agitated over the government pushing through the Bill, parties that are friendly to the government — the Biju Janata Dal and the YSR Congress — also urged it not to pass the Bill in the din.

A strategic bulwark

The third India-Central Asia Dialogue convened by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Sunday is one in a series of timely connections to the region by New Delhi this year, spurred in some measure by events in Afghanistan. The dialogue has been held a month before leaders of all five Central Asian Republics (CARs) come to New Delhi as chief guests for the Republic Day celebrations, and a month after National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s “Regional Security Dialogue” with his CAR counterparts to discuss Afghanistan. Among the issues discussed on Sunday were extending “immediate” humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, increasing trade, and improving connectivity. It is significant that the CAR Foreign Ministers chose to come to New Delhi, an indicator that India’s outreach to Central Asia, a region neglected by South Block for several decades, is being reciprocated. The joint statement, that they share a “broad regional consensus” on Afghanistan, is apt, given that, like India, all the Central Asian neighbours of Afghanistan worry about the threat of terrorism, radicalisation, narcotics, and refugees. However, unlike India, most of the CARs maintain bilateral talks with the Taliban regime; Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have reopened missions there. Trade between India and Central Asia has long languished below $2 billion, with all sides keen to grow this. In addition, India’s $1 billion Line of Credit for projects in Central Asia, and connectivity initiatives such as Chabahar port, the International North-South Transport Corridor and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline were all part of the dialogue.

While the strengthening of India-Central Asia ties and a revival of their traditional, historical and cultural links are much needed, it is also important to recognise the geopolitical cross-currents that complicate such efforts. While Russia continues to wield influence in the CAR governments, China’s Belt and Road Initiative and $100 billion trade (by some estimates) have made it a central figure in the region. The U.S. has also been seeking a foothold in the region, especially after Afghanistan. Meanwhile, India’s land connectivity to Central Asia is hampered by Pakistan which is building strong links and transit trade agreements with each of the CARs. The alternative route, via Iran’s Chabahar, has received a setback after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, and the development of the Indian-managed Shahid Beheshti terminal there continues to suffer due to the threat of American sanctions. While India has strengthened ties with other parts of Asia, it must now redouble its efforts towards Central Asia if it is to counter the ‘Great Game’ rivalries playing out in the region, and reclaim its shared history with countries that are an important market, a source for energy, and also a bulwark against the threats of extremism and radicalisation.

The sustained attack on federalism

  1. Pocker Sahib, a Muslim League member from Kerala in the Constituent Assembly, was prophetic when he outlined his concerns about the possible impact of centralisation of powers. In 1948, he said: “Now after we have won freedom, to do away with Provincial Autonomy and to concentrate all the powers in the Centre really is tantamount to totalitarianism, which certainly ought to be condemned.” Today, amid the pandemic, some elements of this statement resonate quite strongly with the States with some of them raising complaints about the Union government’s anti-federal moves.

Prior to the pandemic, a series of steps by the Union government undermined the principles of federalism, especially fiscal federalism. This manifested in the increasing monetary share of the States in Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS), the terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission, imposition of demonetisation without adequate consultation with the States, institutionalisation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), outsourcing of the statutory functions under the Smart Cities Mission, a delay in transfer of GST compensation, ‘One Nation One Ration’, etc.

Pandemic and federalism

Besides tightening the purse strings of States, administrations also witnessed an onslaught on the principles of federalism during the pandemic. States were curtailed in aspects relating to COVID-19 management such as procurement of testing kits, vaccination, the use of the Disaster Management Act, and the unplanned national lockdown. Ironically, Union Ministers used the ‘health is a State subject’ argument to counter criticism when the second wave caught the government unprepared.

Several other policies initiated by the Union government in the recent past have also led to the weakening of States’ autonomy. These include the farm laws; the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Act of 2020; the Government of National Capital Territory Amendment Act, 2021; the Indian Marine Fisheries Bill, 2021; the Draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020; the Dam Safety Bill, 2019; the National Education Policy of 2020; and the Draft Blue Economy policy. The creation of the Ministry of Co-operation and the Reserve Bank of India directives on cooperatives are being perceived by the States as measures to strangulate a sector that is still struggling to recover from the devastation of demonetisation.

These coercive policies, coming on top of the pandemic-induced economic shock, have worsened the fiscal situation of State governments. The impact of COVID-19 on fiscal federalism deserves to be understood in greater detail, and tax collection is a good place to start. Enlarging the non-divisible pool of taxes in the form of cess in petrol tax and instituting the Agriculture Infrastructure and Development Cess have resulted in a situation where the Union continues to exclusively benefit from tax collection. As the economic commentator Vivek Kaul said, the share of non-divisible pool cess and surcharge in total taxes collected by the Union government jumped from 12.67% in 2019-20 to 23.46% in 2020-21. On December 6, 2021, the Union government informed Parliament that its share in the total contribution of the petroleum sector to the exchequer for 2020-21 was 68%, which left only 32% to the States. In 2013-14, the Union:State share was almost 50:50.

The story is the same with GST. During the pandemic, the Union government repeatedly violated the compensation guarantees to the States under the GST regime. Delay in paying the States their due worsened the impact of the economic slowdown. The crisis was aggravated in July 2020, when the Union government proposed borrowing as an option to address the shortfall in GST compensation. Most States, forced by economic pressure, had to accept the proposal. In effect, this meant that they were not only getting the share of GST collections due to them, but were now forced into debt which they would have to service. The GST compensation period expires in 2022, and despite multiple requests from the States, the deadline has not been extended. The Comptroller and Auditor General found that the Union government, in 2018-19, wrongly retained ₹47,272 crore of GST compensation cess in the Consolidated Fund of India — money that was supposed to be transferred to the States. It is also pertinent to recollect that the 2021-22 Budget Estimates indicate that the States’ share of Union tax has reduced to 30% against the mandated 41% devolution prescribed by the 15th Finance Commission.

Cash-starved States have been seeking non-tax avenues to generate funds to sustain their programmes. And at this point, the Union government issued a clarification that funding to the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Funds will not be considered as CSR expenditure, unlike the case with PM-CARES. This was followed by decisions like the suspension and transfer of the Member of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLAD) funds to the Consolidated Fund of India. This led to a major crisis situation for most States and resulted in demands for increasing borrowing limits under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act (FRBM), from 3% to 5%. The Union government decided to increase FRBM borrowing limits, linking it to the performance of States in fulfilling certain conditions — implementation of the One Nation, One Ration policy, ease of doing business reforms, urban local body/utility reforms and power sector reforms — making it difficult for the States to perceive this as an addressal of their concerns.

Some solutions

These policy misadventures call for research and introspection on federalism. Is it time for another State-centric committee like the Rajamannar Committee to study Union-State relations? States should, as recommended by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, demand the creation of a formal institutional framework to mandate and facilitate consultation between the Union and the States in the areas of legislation under the Concurrent List. State governments could also consider deploying human resources to support them in preparing responses to the consultations initiated by the Union, especially with a focus on the federalism angle. Instead of reaching out to each other only during crisis situations, Chief Ministers should try to create forums for regular engagement on this issue. Former Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac had rallied Finance Ministers from different States during the initial stages of discussion on the terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission. Similar efforts are required. This would be crucial in the advocacy of major demands like the extension of GST compensation to 2027 and inclusion of cess in the divisible pool of taxes.

Federal flexibility — or the lack of it — is going to play a crucial role in shaping the future of our democracy. The Union government needs to invest resources towards facilitating effective consultation with States as a part of the lawmaking process. It is critical that the Union establishes a system where citizens and States are treated as partners and not subjects.

Arun P.S. is a Kerala-based public policy researcher and a recipient of the Smitu Kothari Fellowship. This article is published as a part of the Fellowship of the Centre for Financial Accountability, Delhi

What rising inequality means

The News Editorial Analysis 21st Dec 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the stark divide between the rich and the poor. At this juncture, evaluating the state of inequality serves as an eye-opener on the income/wealth divides prevailing across regions. Such divides are represented in terms of the share of income/wealth among the top 10% of the population against the bottom 50% of the population. With regard to income, the top 10% of the global population share 52% of the total income, while the bottom half survives with a mere 8.5% of it. This leaves the 40% in the middle with 40% of the income. This distribution shows the tendency of a rising middle class with lower disparity in income, but it also shows that the status of the poor is worsening day by day. In terms of wealth, the top 10% of the global population own 76% of the total wealth, while the bottom 50% share a mere 2%. The practice of unabated accumulation has been possible in the absence of effective measures of redistribution on the one hand and the absence of measures discouraging undue accumulation on the other.

Levels of inequality

This inequality varies across regions. It is moderate in Europe and sharp in Africa. The top 10% have an income share of 36% in Europe vis-à-vis the top 10% with a share of 58% of the total income in West Asia and North Africa. This disparity shows that worsening inequalities are avoidable with appropriate measures in place. The share of income among the top 10% has been varying across regions indicating that the global picture is an aggregation of the most uneven distribution of income and wealth. While there is an argument in literature that inequalities are a manifestation of the average level of income, as explained by the Kuznets’ theory, the prevailing pattern across countries does not follow the same. The average income levels seem to be poor predictors of the levels of inequality, with high-income countries such as the U.S. having higher levels of inequality as against countries such as Sweden, which have moderate levels of inequality. Similar contradictions are also seen when we contrast middle-income nations such as Brazil, India and China as against Malaysia and Uruguay. Hence, emerging inequalities are not necessarily an outcome of rising levels of income in the post-liberalisation era, but a depiction of poor redistributive policies towards discouragement of accumulation by governments with due sensitivity towards inequalities. Such a contention is evidenced with the rise in inequalities in the U.S. and India as against a moderate rise in China.

A reading across regions shows that global inequality is being largely contributed by South Asian, Southeast Asian and Latin American countries, Sub-Saharan Africa, West Asia and North Africa. This pattern is confirmed based on a ratio of average incomes of the top 10% to the bottom half which ranges in 5 to 50+ depicting the kind of disparity in income otherwise.

The situation worsens further in the wealth domain. The top 10% own 76% of the total wealth compared with the bottom half which owns 2%. This means that we are keeping 50% of the population under-endowed to a degree of 15 to 20 times against the privileged. One wonders whether such a disproportionate distribution of wealth is sustainable in the long run.

Rich nations, poor governments

This prevailing pattern of wealth concentration and differential levels of income around the world has also resulted in rich nations having poor governments. In fact, many governments are relatively poor with very limited resources, as resources are gradually moving into private hands. Such a situation has two underpinnings: one, governments have a limited capacity to act on inequality aversion measures and two, private interests overshadow the distributional fairness of wealth. The scenario is undoubtedly an outcome of the ineffectiveness of redistribution measures and also a complete absence of measures that discourage accumulation. Some additional features of this exposition of inequality also relate to imbalance of women’s share in income as well as the ecological inequities indicated by the differential carbon emission levels.

Focus also needs to be placed on reducing disparities in capability domains like education and differential endowments (tangible and intangible) that have the potential to sustain inequalities. The most unfortunate part of the prevailing inequality is the great homogeneity among the bottom half and the extreme disparity among the top 10%. This has led to an increase in the number of billionaires in the world while billions don’t have the means for a decent life.

Udaya S. Mishra is Professor, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, and S. Irudaya Rajan is Chairman, The International Institute of Migration and Development, Thiruvananthapuram

SC to study plea against maintenance for parent

The Supreme Court has decided to examine an appeal filed by siblings from Tamil Nadu against a Madras High Court order directing them to pay monthly maintenance of ₹2,500 to their father who had abandoned them as children.

The sister and brothers complained that their father drank, had illicit relationships and cared nothing for them when they were children. It was their mother, with her meagre earnings, who kept the family afloat after the father abandoned the family, the siblings said.

The siblings, represented by advocate Haris Beeran, said they “surmounted all the obstacles in life and completed their studies with the help of various education loans”. The sister is a government schoolteacher and the brother is pursuing his doctoral studies.

“Is a father, who has failed to carry out parental obligations and matrimonial duties, leading a wayward life, abandoning for several years, eligible to claim maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC) from his children after he became a senior citizen,” the siblings asked the Supreme Court in their appeal.

A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana issued notice to the father. The Bench stayed the High Court order of January 19, 2021 directing the siblings to pay the monthly maintenance amount.

HC rejects petition by Mughal descendant to possess Red Fort

Soibam Rocky Singh New Delhi

The Delhi High Court on Monday dismissed a petition from the wife of the late Mirza Mohammed Bedar Bakht, the great-grandson of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, to hand over to her the possession of the Red Fort.

Justice Rekha Palli rejected the petition, noting that Sultana Begum had not been able to give any “justifiable explanation” for filing her case after a delay of over 150 years.

Ms. Begum, in her plea, said she was “the rightful owner of the Red Fort as she inherited this property from her ancestor Bahadur Shah Zafar II, the king of Delhi, and the Government of India is the illegal occupant of such property”.

In her petition, filed through advocate Vivek More, the 68-year-old said she currently resided in a slum in Howrah of West Bengal “in very unhygienic conditions”.

Ms. Begum said she was illiterate and her family was deprived of ancestral property, which was taken forcibly by the British East India Company in 1857, without any compensation.

Justice Palli, however, questioned why Ms. Begum or other descendants of Bahadur Shah Zafar had not raised the issue till today. Everybody knows that Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled by the British, the judge said. “Why was nothing filed in time? If her ancestors didn’t do it, can she do it now?”.

When Mr. More tried to justify the delay in filing the petition as Ms Begum was illiterate, the court rejected it saying that this was not a valid justification for why steps were not taken in this regard at relevant time.

‘Oil firms notify mills for 366 cr. litres of ethanol’

Oil marketing companies (OMCs) have notified sugar mills for the supply of 366 crore litres of ethanol following two cycles of Expressions of Interest (EoI) for the current ethanol supply year that began on December 1.

The Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) said in a press release that in the 2020-21 ethanol supply year, distilleries supplied 302.3 crore litres, achieving an average blending of 8.1%.

For 2021-22, the government has set a target of 10% blending, and the total requirement for this year was 459 crore litres of ethanol, ISMA said.

The association said that as on December 15, 479 sugar mills were crushing cane for the 2021-22 (October to September) sugar season, producing 77.91 lakh tonnes of sugar. This was 4.57 lakh tonnes higher than that in the corresponding date of the previous sugar season.

More than 6.5 lakh tonnes of sugar were exported by the end of November in the current sugar season compared with about 3 lakh tonnes in the corresponding period of last year, the association said.


The News Editorial Analysis 20th Dec 2021


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