The News Editorial Analysis 3rd February 2022
Governors must work within constitutional parameters, not as agents of the Centre
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s outburst against Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Monday was not a first but it brought to the fore, yet again, the role of the Governor in relation with the elected government and legislature. Mr. Dhankhar and his counterparts in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra appear to be testing the limits of their power and confronting the elected governments and legislatures in recent weeks. Tired of Mr. Dhankhar’s constant tirade against her on Twitter, Ms. Banerjee blocked him on the platform. The Governor then sent her a message for “dialogue and harmony amongst constitutional functionaries” but promptly posted that too on Twitter. The Chief Minister said the Governor was trying to treat the elected government as “bonded labour”. He has been summoning the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police on a regular basis, and when they do not turn up, taking to Twitter and often tagging the Chief Minister. Mr. Dhankhar also had a run-in with Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee recently, on the premises of the State Assembly. He has withheld assent to the Howrah Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill 2021, delaying polls to the civic body. He has made allegations of impropriety in welfare schemes, questioned Government claims about investments in the State, and taken up the cudgels for the Opposition BJP.
In Maharashtra, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has stalled the election of Speaker since the post fell vacant in February 2021. He has taken umbrage over the amendments in the legislative rules for holding the Speaker’s election through voice vote instead of secret ballot. The Governor’s view that the State Assembly cannot decide its own rules is unacceptable to the ruling coalition, but is being cheered by the Opposition BJP. Mr. Koshyari had in the past batted for the BJP, supporting its demand for a special session of the Assembly on women’s safety and security. He had refused to accept the recommendation of the Council of Ministers on the nomination of 12 members to the Legislative Council, until the matter reached the High Court. In Tamil Nadu, Governor R.N. Ravi has not acted upon the T.N. Admission to Undergraduate Medical Degree Courses Bill, adopted by the Assembly in September 2021. The Governor is required to either send it to the President of India for approval or return it for reconsideration by the Assembly, but the indefinite delay in taking a decision amounts to undermining the legislature, and is unjustifiable. The Bill relates to a question of State-Centre relations, as it proposes to dispense with the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medical graduate admissions in the State. NEET has been criticised for curtailing State powers, and the Governor’s delay in processing the Bill is only aggravating the situation. Some of these issues may require debate and discussion before resolution. But any imperial overtone of Governors can only do harm to the constitutional scheme of things.
Ink India-Britain free trade, unlock new opportunity
There are good economic and strategic reasons for an FTA that will spell many opportunities for both countriesIn May last year, Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Boris Johnson announced their shared vision for a transformative decade for the India-United Kingdom partnership. That they met in the middle of India’s second wave of COVID-19, shows their determination to turn their shared political will into action. As part of that transformation, the two leaders declared their ambition to more than double bilateral trade by 2030, which totalled over £23 billion in 2019. They directed their governments to take rapid steps to reduce barriers to trade, and to complete the groundwork necessary to begin work on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by the end of 2021.
These words have now been made real. Both governments have already taken action; for example, unlocking the export of British apples to India and enabling a greater number of Indian fisheries to export shrimp to the U.K. Small but meaningful steps by which both countries have demonstrated they can and have taken concrete measures to stimulate growth.The big next step was the launch of FTA negotiations last month. On January 13, 2022 in New Delhi, India’s Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and the U.K.’s International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan announced their shared ambition to finish negotiations on a comprehensive and balanced FTA by the end of 2022. This is a big task; all trade negotiations are complex, and especially so between two partners of such different sizes and at such different stages of their development. The opportunities an FTA presents, however, are bigger — for both countries.
Businesses in both nations
Before looking at the future, it is worth taking stock of the present. There are nearly 600 U.K. companies in India employing more than 3,20,000 people. This includes: Barclays which has its biggest office outside of London in Pune, whilst JCB’s products manufactured in India are exported to over 110 countries across the globe, as are those by consumer goods giant Hindustan Unilever headquartered in Mumbai; just two of many examples of British companies supporting Prime Minister Modi’s vision for an Atmanirbhar Bharat.Similarly, India is already a big investor into the U.K. — especially in dynamic sectors such as fintech, electric vehicles and batteries. In 2020-21, India was the U.K.’s second largest source of investment in terms of number of projects. Just last week, both Essar Group and Ola Electric announced investments into the U.K. But given the size of our two economies — the fifth and sixth in the world — our trade relationship in particular has underperformed. An FTA will change that.The U.K. thrives on free trade. Having left the European Union’s common trade bloc after 47 years (in 2020), we are building a network of like-minded democracies committed to free trade. The Indian government is showing its determination to agree to a new set of trade deals; and it is not coincidental that both governments are negotiating with similar countries, for example, Australia. India has an extraordinary opportunity to transform its economy and society in the next 30 years, as it hits its demographic sweet spot, at the heart of the Indo-Pacific region where half the world’s people live and 50% of global economic growth is produced. Freer trade with the U.K. will help through greater access to a highly open and competitive market, offering valuable opportunities for India’s booming companies — for example giving Bengaluru’s start-ups direct access to London’s capital markets.
A U.K.-India trade agreement will stimulate growth and employment in both countries. U.K. government analysis shows that, depending on the depth of the deal, an FTA would add around £14.8 billion to the GDP of India and the U.K. collectively by 2035. A trade deal helps diversify supply chains by making it easier and cheaper for more businesses to do business across borders. Lower barriers coupled with greater regulatory certainty would incentivise new small and medium-sized enterprises to export their goods and services. An agreement also means Indian and British consumers see improvements in the variety and affordability of products.There are good economic reasons for agreeing to an FTA. There are also good strategic reasons. The British Government’s Integrated Review of our overseas policy, which I worked on before coming to India, describes the world we are in; messier, with more geo-strategic competition. It is one in which two dynamic democracies such as India and the U.K. need to work closer together to promote open economies.
From past to future
Finally, an FTA would mark a new way of working between the U.K. and India. It gives a new framework within which the two countries can grow and flourish together, putting the colonial economic relationship where it belongs — in the history books. We should acknowledge that past, especially in this 75th year of India’s Independence, and build a future which is about opportunities for both countries.This month also marks one year since I presented my credentials to India’s President Ram Nath Kovind. I am honoured to be here at this defining moment — when the U.K. and India will shape the next 25 years of our destiny, as equal, forward looking partners.Alex Ellis is British High Commissionerto India
Amendments on Pegasus, COVID not allowed
President’s Address failed to mention spyware issue and govt.’s failure in handling pandemic: KareemAmendments to the Motion of Thanks to the President that mentioned the government’s alleged used of Pegasus spyware and its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic were not allowed to be moved in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
The Motion of Thanks was moved and discussed in the House on Wednesday. A list of 99 amendments by Opposition members was allowed and 80 were actually moved due to some of the MPs not being present at the time. Two amendments by Communist Party of India (Marxist) member Elamaram Kareem, expressing regret that the President’s Address to Parliament on January 31 did not mention Pegasus and the handling of COVID-19, were not allowed. On COVID-19, Mr. Kareem’s amendment stated that the President’s Address did not mention “the failure of the government in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, the unfortunate incident of floating of dead bodies in the holy rivers and the failure of the government in formulating an effective vaccine policy…”.
The second amendment regretted that the address did not include mention of the “Government of India’s engagement with the Israeli firm, NSO, and the State sponsored illegal surveillance over hundreds of journalists, activists, Opposition politicians, government officials, business executives and even judges of the apex court using Pegasus spyware”.
Mr. Kareem tweeted on Wednesday that the government’s intolerance was at its peak. “…MPs can’t even present crucial amendments on motion of thanks to President’s address. 1st list of amendments approved by “RSS” (Rajya Sabha Secretariat) got released. Amendments about Pegasus & gov’s failure in dealing COVID are disallowed”.
Earlier in the day, Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu informed the House that some notices under Rule 267 to raise issues, including the alleged use of Pegasus, had been received, but he had not allowed them.
Children’s share in 2022 Union Budget plummets
Allocation for child health has decreased by 6.08%Children in the country received the lowest share of allocation in the Budget in 11 years, according to an analysis by the NGO, HAQ-Centre for Child Rights.The total allocation for children in Union Budget 2022-23 is ₹92,736.5 crore, against an allocation of ₹85,712.56 crore in the last Budget. Though this is an increase of 8.19% in absolute terms, it is not proportionate to the increase in the total expenditure in the Budget. The share of the Budget for children is a meagre 2.35% of the Budget for the next fiscal, which is a reduction of 0.11 percentage points from this fiscal, says HAQ.This is the lowest share children have received in the last 11 years.The allocation for child health has decreased by 6.08%. It has dropped from ₹3,727.57 crore in 2021-2022 to ₹3,501.11 crore for the next fiscal. One of the most important child health schemes, the NRHM-RCH Flexi Pool, has observed a reduced allocation of 8.22% at ₹3,174.57 crore in Budget 2022-23.As far as child development programmes are concerned, they have seen a drop of 10.97% in allocation for the next fiscal at ₹17,826.03 crore. These include supplementary nutrition and anganwadi (day care) services. The share of child education in the overall Budget 2022-23 has witnessed only a marginal increase of 0.3 percentage points from 1.74% in the current fiscal to 1.73% for the next fiscal. However, in absolute terms, the allocation has increased by 15.04% with ₹69,835.72 set aside, notes HAQ.Though the Finance Minister announced a ‘One class, one TV channel’ programme from 12 to 200 TV channels, studies have shown this is a difficult mode of learning for children.
SC effort to fill HC vacancies continues into 2022
On Feb. 1, the Collegium drew up a list of recommendations for appointments to seven High CourtsThe Supreme Court Collegium led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana has continued into 2022 its marathon recommendations and reiterations to fill up vacancies in High Courts across the country.The Collegium met on February 1 and finalised the names of lawyers and judicial officers for appointment as judges to seven different High Courts, including Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi.February 1 happened to be the very day the government published the latest list of vacancies in the High Courts. The latest statistics published by the Law and Justice Ministry on February 1 showed that the judicial vacancies in the 25 High Courts total 411. The sanctioned judicial strength in the High Courts is 1,098. That means 687 judges form the working strength of the High Courts’ judiciary.Chief Justice Ramana has termed judicial appointments an “ongoing process”, while Law Minister Kiren Rijiju has said the government needs to do due diligence on the recommended names and the process cannot be restricted to a timeline. On April 20 last year, a Special Bench of the Supreme Court had fixed timelines for the various stages in the appointments process, saying the “exercise is collaborative in nature and we would expect promptness in this process to facilitate the larger cause of dispensation of timely justice”.After the February 1 meeting, the Collegium has recommended seven advocates and five judicial officers for elevation as judges of the Telangana HC alone. They are advocates Kasoju Surendhar, Chada Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy, Surepalli Nanda, Mummineni Sudheer Kumar, Juvvadi Sridevi, Mirza Safiulla Baig, and Natcharaju Shravan Kumar Venkat, and judicial officers G. Anupama Chakravarthy, M.G. Priyadarshini, Sambasivarao Naidu, A. Santosh Reddy and D. Nagarjun.It has recommended six judicial officers for elevation to the Delhi High Court. They are Poonam A. Bamba, Neena Bansal Krishna, Dinesh Kumar Sharma, Anoop Kumar Mendiratta, Swarana Kanta Sharma and Sudhir Kumar Jain.The Collegium also approved the proposal for elevation of advocate Rajiv Roy to the Patna High Court Bench.The Collegium has made several reiterations of its earlier recommendations. They include advocate Cheppudira Monnappa Poonacha for Karnataka High Court; advocates Khatim Reza and Dr. Anshuman Pandey for Patna; Shampa Dutt (Paul) and Siddhartha Roy Chowdhury for Calcutta; judicial officers U.S. Joshi-Phalke and B.P. Deshpande for Bombay; and judicial officer Pradeep Kumar Srivastava for Jharkhand.
PLA Galwan commander is Olympics torchbearer
Selection of Qi Fabao follows other moves by authorities to keep Galwan Valley clash in spotlightA People’s Liberation Army (PLA) regiment commander who was involved in the June 15, 2020 clash with India in Galwan Valley was chosen by the Chinese government to carry the Winter Olympic torch in Wednesday’s torch relay in Beijing.The Winter Olympics will open on Friday in a lavish ceremony to be attended by President Xi Jinping and more than a dozen world leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, five Central Asian Presidents and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.On Wednesday, the capital held a torch relay with 1,200 torchbearers. Among them, the Communist Party-run Global Times reported, was Qi Fabao, regiment commander who was later honoured by the Chinese military after he sustained a head injury in the Galwan Valley clash in June 15, 2020.He “took the flame from Wang Meng, China’s four-time Olympic short track speed skating champion, at Winter Olympic Park on Wednesday,” a report in the Global Times said.China previously hit out at Western countries for “politicising” the games after the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada said their officials would not attend the opening ceremony because of human rights violations in Xinjiang, although their athletes are participating in the winter games. China’s government has continued to keep the Galwan clash in the public spotlight even as both sides continue talks on disengagement along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).On Tuesday, the first day of the new “year of the tiger”, China’s state channel China Central Television (CCTV) began broadcasting a five-part documentary on PLA soldiers of the Xinjiang military command stationed along the LAC in eastern Ladakh. The first episode showed patrols along the border, including flag raising ceremonies held in Galwan Valley and boats patrolling Spanggur Lake, south of Pangong Lake. A preview of the series included interviews with the relatives of the PLA soldiers who died in the Galwan clash.In July last year, Mr. Xi bestowed the Communist Party’s July 1 medal, to mark its 100-year anniversary, on Chen Hongjun, one of the four PLA soldiers reported killed in the Galwan clash. In February 2021, the Chinese military announced honours posthumously for Chen and three others, finally confirming it had suffered casualties eight months after the clash.The Chinese military last year also organised a series of activities around the country so more people in China could “learn how PLA heroes, including the martyrs of the Galwan Valley conflict, defended and guarded the country’s borders”,
MGNREGA Deserves Better Allocation
The massive push to capital expenditure remains a highlight of the Union Budget 2022-23 and is expected to provide some turbo power to the Centre’s plan to generate employment in the midst of a pandemic. Yet, its indifference to the country’s biggest rural employment scheme remains baffling. An allocation of Rs 73,000 towards MGNREGA for FY 2022-23 means the provision has not changed as compared to the previous fiscal. For a scheme that has saved lives and livelihoods of millions at a time when the world went topsy-turvy, the Centre’s approach to MGNREGA has left many dumbfounded. Work demands under the scheme peak across the country in May and June, the pre-monsoon months. In 2019, the demand for jobs stood a little over three crore in June. With the pandemic sending millions home in an unprecedented reverse migration, 2020 saw the demand soar past six crore the same month. Last year, it stabilised to about 4.6 crore. With the economy attempting to return to normal amidst a third wave, the expectation for a higher allocation to MGNREGA was greater. In 2020-21, rural employment had received Rs 1.1 lakh crore, its highest allocation, to cover wages of over 7.5 crore households.
The next year, the budgetary estimate dropped to Rs 73,000 crore, registering a 34% fall. However, the revised estimate saw the figure at Rs 98,000 crore in view of demand for works across rural India and payment. Yet, massive payment delays have been noticed. NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, a national outfit that fights for rural livelihood, claims the Centre may have to provision Rs 18,000 crore towards pendencies of past years, which will leave barely about Rs 56,000 crore for the ensuing fiscal, putting the rural employment programme in acute financial constraints. Another problem is the gulf between lower work availability and higher work demand.
Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik was among the few who pointed this out, saying that a reduction in allocation during the pandemic will hit the poor. Under such a scenario, the stagnated allocation to MGNREGA calls for a relook. In its Gati Shakti mode, India cannot afford to leave its poorest lot in the lurch