The News Editorial Analysis 7th Dec 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 7th Dec 2021

 The News Editorial Analysis 7th Dec 2021

India, Russia renew military pact

The two sides also conclude 28 agreements

The world has undergone several geopolitical changes, but the India-Russia friendship remained unchanged, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday at the 21st annual India-Russia summit with President Vladimir Putin.“The two sides not only cooperated with each other unhesitatingly but also paid special attention to the sensitivities of each other,” the Prime Minister said.The two countries held the first “2+2” ministerial meeting, where Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said India had faced “unprovoked aggression” on its northern borders for more than a year.At the summit, referring to the common fight against organised crime, drug trafficking and terrorism, Mr. Putin said, “It is natural we are concerned at the developments in Afghanistan.”

A docket full of unresolved constitutional cases

 The News Editorial Analysis 7th Dec 2021

These involve crucial questions about state power, accountability and impunity, and cannot be left hanging by the courts.During the framing of the Indian Constitution, it was proposed that any petition alleging a breach of fundamental rights by the state ought to be judicially decided within one month. While the proposal did not, ultimately, find its way into the text of the Constitution, it nonetheless articulated something of great importance: between the individual and the state, there exists a substantial asymmetry of power. While the violation of rights — whether through executive or legislative action — is relatively costless for the state, it is the individual, or individuals, who pay the price, and who must then run from pillar to post to vindicate their constitutionally guaranteed rights. Consequently, a Constitution is entirely ineffective if a rights-violating status quo is allowed to exist and perpetuate for months, or even years, before it is finally resolved (and often, by the time resolution comes, it is too late in the day for it to have any practical significance).

Blow to accountability

This point, of course, is not limited to the violation of rights, but extends to all significant constitutional questions that arise in the course of controversial state action. Issues around the federal structure, elections, and many others, all involve questions of power and accountability, and the longer that courts take to resolve such cases, the more we move from a realm of accountability to a realm of impunity.In this context, as 2021 draws to a close, a look at the Supreme Court of India’s docket reveals a host of highly significant constitutional cases that were long-pending when the year began, and are now simply a year older without any sign of resolution around the corner. All these cases involve crucial questions about state power, accountability, and impunity. Consequently, the longer they are left hanging without a decision, the greater the damage that is inflicted upon our constitutional democracy’s commitment to the rule of law.

Kashmir, electoral bonds

What are some of these cases? First, there is the constitutional challenge to the Presidential Orders of August 5, 2019, that effectively diluted Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, and bifurcated the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, controlled by the Centre. There is a widespread tendency to view the Kashmir question as having been “settled” after the events of August 5, 2019, with it now being a political impossibility to return to the pre-2019 status quo.Regrettably, this tendency seems to have gripped the Court as well in how assiduously it has avoided hearing and deciding the case. But politics aside, the case raises certain fundamental questions about constitutional power and accountability.

First, it raises the question of whether the Centre can take advantage of an Article 356 situation in a State — a time when no elected government and Assembly is in existence — to make permanent and irreversible alterations in the very structure of the State itself. The answer will have important ramifications not just for Jammu and Kashmir but for the entire federal structure: India has a long history of the abuse of Article 356 to “get rid of” inconvenient State governments, and a further expansion of the power already enjoyed by the Centre will skew an already tilted federal scheme even further.

Second, the case also raises the question of whether, under the Constitution, the Union Legislature has the authority not simply to alter State boundaries (a power granted to it by Article 3 of the Constitution), but degrade a State into a Union Territory (something that has never been done before August 5, 2019). If it turned outthat the Union Legislature does have this power, it would essentially mean that India’s federal structure is entirely at the mercy of Parliament: Parliament could then, constitutionally, convert India from a union of States to a union of Union Territories, if it so wanted. Needless to say, this — as well — would signal a hugely significant shift in power to the Centre.As long as both these questions remain undecided, however, the acts of August 5, 2019 remain presumptively legal, with the prospect that they may well be repeated in other parts of India. For this reason, the Supreme Court’s now two-and-a-half-year delay in hearing and answering these questions is unconscionable.Another long-pending case is the constitutional challenge to the electoral bonds scheme, that has now crossed four years. The electoral bonds scheme authorises limitless, anonymous corporate donations to political parties, making election funding both entirely opaque to the people, as well as being structurally biased towards the party that is in power at the Centre. In numerous central and State election cycles in the last four years, thousands of crores of rupees have been spent in anonymous political donations, thus impacting not only the integrity of the election process but also the constitutional right of citizens to an informed vote. However, other than two interim orders, the Supreme Court has refused to accord a full hearing to the constitutional challenge. In a few months’ time, it will be one full five-year cycle of central and State elections, with the case still awaiting a hearing: another black mark on the Court’s record.It is important to note that in both these cases, the Supreme Court’s inaction is not neutral, but rather, favours the beneficiaries of the status quo. In other words, by not deciding, the Court is in effect deciding — in favour of one party — but without a reasoned judgment that justifies its stance.

Other key cases

This is also true for a number of other cases pending before the Court. For example, as far back as 2013, the Gauhati High Court held that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was not established under any statutory authority. This verdict was immediately stayed when it was appealed to the Supreme Court, but in the intervening years, it has never been heard. Thus, the CBI continues to function — often controversially — despite a judgment by a constitutional court that has found its very existence to be illegal. More recently, constitutional challenges to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), filed in the immediate aftermath of the legislation’s enactment, remain unheard, as do the challenges to the much-criticised Section 43(D)(5) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which makes the grant of bail effectively impossible, and is responsible for the years-long incarceration of several people. The challenge to Section 43(D)(5) is perhaps the case that most directly affects civil rights, as the section continues to be applied on a regular basis (most notoriously, in recent times, in the Bhima Koregaon case). And cases of this kind are legion.

It wounds the judiciary

Apart from benefiting the party that profits from the status quo — which, as we have seen, is invariably the state — judicial evasion of this kind is also damaging for the accountability of the judiciary itself. Once a court decides a case, its reasoning — which must, by definition be public — can be publicly scrutinised and, if need be, critiqued. In the absence of a decision, however, while the Court’s inaction plays as significant a role on the ground as does its action, there is no judgment — and no reasoning — that the public can engage with. For obvious reasons, this too has a serious impact on the rule of law.It must be acknowledged that the responsibility for constituting benches and scheduling cases especially cases that are due to be heard by larger Benches rests solely with the Chief Justice of India (CJI). While the three previous CJIs have been criticised for excessive deference to the executive, the current CJI has been on record stressing the importance of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. One way of demonstrating that in action might be to hear — and decide — the important constitutional cases pending before the Court.

End the impunity

The botched Army operation in Nagaland is yet another reason why AFSPA should go

Notwithstanding the rationale provided by the Union Government and the armed forces for the horrific killing of six coal miners and the deaths of nine civilians and a soldier in the aftermath of the incident in Mon district, the residents of Nagaland, and indeed many in North-east India, will only read this incident as an outcome of impunity accorded by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA. It is no wonder that two Chief Ministers — Conrad Sangma of Meghalaya and Neiphiu Rio of Nagaland — have immediately demanded its repeal; the Act remains in place in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, three districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and areas falling within the jurisdiction of eight police stations of the State bordering Assam, with the authority to use force or open fire to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”. The firing on the vehicle carrying the coal miners in Oting village, home to the Konyak Naga community, was carried out by soldiers of the ‘21 Para Commando Unit’, and attributed to a case of mistaken identity. This action should be problematic even within the purview of AFSPA, as soldiers who open fire can do so only after warning the person found in contravention of the law. The Army’s and later Union Minister of Home Amit Shah’s contention that the vehicle was shot at only after the miners refused to “cooperate” when asked to stop seems incongruous as this was not an action at the Myanmar border seeking to take on armed infiltrators but an operation well within the country’s boundaries. That an ambush was purportedly laid on insurgents of the NSCN (Khaplang-Yung Aung) faction following an intelligence input and yet a civilian vehicle which offered no hostility was fired upon, suggests that the armed forces were too trigger-happy and showed barely any intent in securing order, which is the purpose of their presence in the region.

The Government has promised an inquiry by a Special Investigation Team. It is clear that the continued reliance on AFSPA as a way to impose public order must be brought to a halt and the long-pending demand for its repeal acceded to. Unfortunately, the incident could put a spanner in the Naga peace talks between the Government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) and seven Naga National Political Groups for a solution that has been in the works. The secretive nature of the talks, largely due to the Government’s smoke and mirrors approach to the Peace Accord, has not helped matters either. An approach that shows genuine remorse for the actions, brings the culprits to book and seeks rapprochement with the Konyak Nagas through compensation for the violence, besides a renewed purpose to conclude the peace talks with the Naga groups, is now the only imperative.

Expanding India’s engagement envelope with Russia

Beyond existing fields such as defence and energy, there are other areas which can help deepen their links.Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi for the 21st India- Russia Summit meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlights the constant efforts by both leaders to nurture and to provide further impetus to the ‘India-Russia Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’. In the new grammar of multipolarity and globalisation, it is of utmost importance for dependable partners to ensure enduring sensitivity to their mutual interests.

Strategic partnership

More importantly, the robust partnership between India and Russia has come out of the shackles of the Cold War inheritance. A practical and result-oriented approach will pave the way for the most reliable partnership. The Putin-Modi meeting in an atmosphere of unprecedented regional and global transformations can ensure not only a new lease of life but can also generate more vitality to this trustworthy camaraderie.India-Russia relations have withstood the test of time and the ever-shifting nature of national interests. Relations between the two countries have deepened with time irrespective of the quagmire of realpolitik. This exceptional resilience is built on the firm foundation of strategic national interest and the synergy of geopolitics.In the post-Cold War era, India has emerged as an economic powerhouse and a key stakeholder in today’s global debate be it climate change, international trade, or the menace of terrorism. Russia with its global status and presence presents a win-win situation for deeper cooperation. This relation between both countries has evolved with time, deepening the integration and widening the breadth of the relation.

A structure in place

Russia has been one of India’s closest friends and allies with the signing of the “Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership” in October 2000 which unlocked new opportunities in strategic, science and technology, space, energy, nuclear ties, trade and commerce, culture and a people-to-people connect. For smooth functioning of this strategic partnership, it was governed by an institutionalised dialogue mechanism involving key stakeholders at the political and official levels. Mr. Putin’s visit to India in December 2010 heralded a new chapter in India-Russia relations when the Strategic Partnership was elevated to the level of a “Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership”.

Convergence and divergence

India and Russia have much convergence spanning different sectors. Russia is the key and principal supplier of arms and armaments to the Indian armed forces accounting for over 60% of weapons. It comprises the whole gamut covering the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy. India recently inducted the S-400 Triumf missile systems. Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft, T-90 tanks, and the Talwar and the Krivak class stealth frigates are key weapons in the armoury of the Indian armed forces. The India-Russia defence cooperation has evolved from a buyer-seller model to new areas of military-technical collaboration. The BrahMos missile system was a successful collaboration of joint research, development, and production. Science and technology, nuclear, energy, space have been key driving forces. But changes in interests and capabilities being fuelled by geopolitical differences are widening the divergence between India and Russia. In terms of geostrategy, Russia is aligned with China and India is more anchored toward the United States. This dissonance was apparent in the Indian and Russian approach over Afghanistan.Bilateral trade has seen the two countries progressing from defence and energy to IT, pharmaceuticals, agro-industries, mineral and metallurgy, fertilizers, and infrastructure projects. India-Russia trade was valued at the U.S.$10.11 billion in 2019–20, but is not a true reflection of the potential that can be harnessed.

Stability and diversity

The ‘2+2’ mechanism has become the standard framework of cooperation to widen collaboration. The inaugural ‘2+2’ dialogue between the Foreign and Defence Ministers of the two countries promises to provide new vitality to the special and privileged strategic partnership. The uniqueness of this approach not only ensures result-oriented cooperation but also deliberates upon regional and global matters of mutual concerns and interests. At a time when global politics is in a state of flux, it becomes more important to have compatibility with geopolitical and geoeconomic realities along with the trust of the leadership. Therefore, this evolving political framework provides the necessary agility to the relationship in fine-tuning their differences and deepening their bonds. The Modi-Putin meeting has sent the unambiguous signal to the world that the India-Russia partnership is an incredible friendship ensuring stability and diversity.Defence, trade and investment, energy, and science and technology may be part of the agenda, but India and Russia need to work together in a trilateral manner or using other flexible frameworks, particularly in Southeast Asia and Central Asia. Their growing collaboration can be a force of stability and will bring more diversity to the region while strengthening multilateralism.Second, the two countries also need to look at peoples’ power — youth exchanges as well as deeper links in various fields including sport, culture, spiritual and religious studies.Finally, Buddhism can be an area where both countries can expand their interaction, where peace and sustainability can act as a balm in this turbulent world.

The way to tackle malnutrition

It is high time that the process of monitoring nutrition got importance over survey outcomes

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 shows negligible gains in nutritional outcomes among under-five children. There has been tardy progress in reducing undernutrition, wasting and stunting. It is a national shame that even now, 35.5% of under-five children are stunted and 19.3% are wasted. Childhood anaemia has worsened from NFHS-4. Anaemia among adolescent girls and women aged 15-49 has also worsened. Though institutional delivery has gone up, early initiation of breastfeeding is static. If we are serious about a healthy new generation, we must ensure proper nutrition and growth.While we need to monitor data for programmatic evaluation and correction, the question is, what type of data do we need to help starving children? Is it data on how much food is supplied, served and consumed or data on what went wrong and the prevalence of weight loss and growth stagnation? Do we need output or impact data or input and process data with their quality parameters?We need to monitor the input and process indicators. That is how we can rectify past mistakes. Data generated quickly can lead to mid-course corrections. Data-driven planning and strategies lead to good governance with accountability.

The way forward

So, what can we do? After monitoring the successful initiation of breastfeeding in the hospital, anganwadi workers, ASHA workers and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives must continue to monitor exclusive breastfeeding till the infant is six months old. Then they must record the timely initiation of complementary feeding with soft gruel. If this step is missed, growth faltering starts. And this is the critical period of growth that we cannot afford to compromise on. We must also ensure that there is take-home ration for under-three children through the regular supply of supplementary nutrition from the Integrated Child Development Services. We also need to know whether anganwadis are intermittently closed without any valid reason; whether the supervisors are erratic in field monitoring; how we can capture the regularity and quantity of dry rations supplied to anganwadi centres and schools for mid-day meals; whether there is live web-based centrally monitorable data on the movement of dry rations to anganwadis and schools; whether parents and teachers can monitor the serving of hot, cooked meals; whether self-help groups of women are involved in preparing the menu and procuring locally available vegetables, grains and millets to ensure dietary diversification and whether eggs are being denied or stopped for sociopolitical reasons.What goes into the family pot is also important. This depends on what parents can earn, and their purchasing capacity. So, it is important to monitor the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme workdays as well as the wages earned in areas where droughts frequently recur; where there is mass migration; and where there is prevalence of high malnutrition. The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau was shut down some years ago. So, we don’t know what families can afford to cook and what they are cooking.

Monitoring PDS

Real-time monitoring of the Public Distribution System (PDS) will go a long way in ensuring food at the family level. Except in a few States where web-based portals are functioning, there is no monitoring of when PDS shops are open as well as the quantity and quality of dry rations supplied. Unfortunately, PDS is a hunger-mitigation mechanism; it does not enable nutrition security. The aim of the National Food Security Act of 2013 is to ensure that nobody goes to bed hungry and there is no starvation. The PDS is focused on procuring wheat and rice through the Food Corporation of India to distribute to families. Cereals fill the stomach and hunger is averted, but not malnutrition.There seems to be an aversion to facts and to reality that demands immediate action. Many established surveys seem to have methodological errors. The Consumer Expenditure Survey results of 2017-18, for instance, were withheld.Both Poshan Abhiyan and the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana need to be monitored with the help of the community to ensure sustainable nutrition security.

Little of what is happening in the field right now reaches programme managers and policymakers for timely action. So, what is the point of crying over spilt milk? Malnourished children do not need repeated surveys that confirm our apathy and heartless inaction.

Bill to amend NDPS Act introduced in Lok Sabha

A Bill to replace an ordinance amending the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday, with some MPs opposing it on technical grounds.The NDPS (Amendment) Bill, 2021 would replace an ordinance promulgated in September to correct an error in a 2014 amendment to the Act. Before the 2014 amendment, clause (viii-a) of Section 2 contained sub-clauses (i) to (v), which defined the term “illicit traffic”, according to the statement by Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

“This clause was re-lettered as clause (viii-b) by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Act, 2014, as a new clause (viii-a) in section 2 defining ‘essential narcotic drugs’ was inserted. However, inadvertently consequential change was not carried out in Section 27A of the NDPS Act… In a recent judgment, Hon’ble High Court of Tripura…has held that ‘until the appropriate legislative change occurs by amending Section 27A of the NDPS Act appropriately, sub-clauses (i) to (v) of clause (viii-a) of Section 2 of the NDPS Act shall suffer effect of deletion,” it read.RSP MP N.K. Premachandran “challenged the legislative competence of the Bill”

No plan to cut 18 per cent GST on insurance premiums: Government

Despite frequent requests from the insurance sector to reduce 18% Goods and Services Tax levied on the insurance premium, the Centre has said currently there is no recommendation to reduce the GST rate on health insurance premium. “The Goods and Services Tax (GST) levied on health insurance premium is 18%. The rate of GST is decided on the recommendations of the GST Council, which is a Constitutional body comprising members from the central government and state governments. At present, no recommendation to reduce the GST rate on health insurance premium is under consideration of the GST Council,” minister of state, finance Bhagwat Karad said in a written reply in Lok Sabha.He was responding to a query on whether the Centre is taking steps to reduce the GST on insurance premium from the present 18% to 5%, considering the increase in health insurance premium by companies on account of Covid.There was demand to reduce the 18% GST on health insurance premium by the sector. Earlier, former Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDAI) member Nilesh Sathe had said: “Charging 18% GST (Goods and Services Tax) on insurance premium is atrocious”.“In the absence of any social security available to the citizens, insurance becomes a necessity. All essential commodities are out of the purview of GST, why should premium be taxed, and that too, so heavily,” Sathe said, nowhere in the world one has to pay such heavy tax on insurance premium.Similar opinion was given by LIC chairman MR Kumar in one of his media interviews.“Personally, I believe that 18% GST levy on life insurance premiums is too high. It would make sense if people are given some reduction in terms of GST. In fact, LIC continues to absorb the GST on very old policies, but, off late we have to transfer it on to policy holders. I would like to reiterate that it is too high,” Kumar said. No relief on health plansThere was demand to reduce the GST on health insurance premium from 18% to 5%, considering the increase in health insurance premium amid Covid


The News Editorial Analysis 6th Dec 2021

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