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Showing posts with label Hindustan Times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hindustan Times. Show all posts

Monday, April 19, 2021

To level the playing field at work, start by levelling it at home (Hindustan Times)

By Shyel Trehan

On April 15, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde, while hearing a case on judicial appointments, remarked that the time had come for a woman CJI. But, he said, chief justices of high courts stated that women lawyers have often refrained from taking up judgeship citing domestic and parental responsibilities. After the initial outrage wore off, I looked at the statement again.

It is true that women in all professions disproportionately bear the responsibility of being a primary parent to their children.

Yes, women can multi-task, yes, they can have it all, and yes, they can reach the pinnacles of their chosen careers. Many women on the Bench today have raised children, been caregivers to ailing family members, yet shown how it’s done professionally.

But the statement still hurt. A lot. I convinced myself it doesn’t apply to me. I play ball with the boys. While I am a mother, and the primary parent to my son and daughter, I believe I work as hard as my male counterparts. I convinced myself it doesn’t apply to me because my husband fills in parenting gaps with pleasure when my career requires him to. Thinking back, however, reminded me how that wasn’t exactly true.

I thought back to my first pregnancy, which was over a decade ago. Visibly pregnant at eight-and-a-half months, standing in a crowded court room in the Supreme Court for several hours. I never asked anyone for a chair, because I believe that if you want to be treated as genderless, you must treat yourself as exactly that. Nor was any chair ever offered.

I thought back to a few months after that, and the sight of a female colleague walking out of a Supreme Court courtroom in tears. She had delivered a baby three weeks earlier, and the presiding judge said he would like to hear the matter after he was done with all the other cases. She explained her situation, baby in the parking lot waiting for her, in his grandmother’s arms. Still, the court did not think it appropriate to adjourn the matter for a few weeks at her request.

I thought back to the time a senior counsel retorted, “that is the most ridiculous excuse I have heard” when a female colleague told a judge that she could not stay beyond 4.30pm as she had to breastfeed her newborn baby.

Today those days feel like a different life. My children are older and my career more established. But those were the years in your career when a woman is not fungible with her spouse in carrying and feeding a baby. Those are years when you need the system to support you, in order to stay in the system.

While we look today at the minuscule number of female judges and designated senior counsel, we should recognise that these women did it despite the odds. The system did not make it easy for them or support them through the difficult years. These are the ones that made it through. I am now on to the next phase, a phase where both parents are equally equipped to parent. The CJI cited Class 12 Board exams. There is no reason why parenting cannot be an equal partnership at that stage.

I am fortunate to practice in perhaps the most gender-neutral environment of any court in the country. Today, the Delhi High Court is not a “boys club”, either at the bar or the bench, but this is not true of courts in other cities and states. We need to change that.

Historically, parenting, care-giving and domestic activities finding mention in work life was perceived to be weak or unprofessional. That’s because someone outside the workplace was performing them. Women are not asking for special treatment at the workplace. Barring the few sensitive years of childbearing, they don’t need it, if they simply receive equal treatment at home.

Shyel Trehan is a graduate of NLSIU, Bangalore and Columbia Law School. She is a counsel practising in the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Examining the Supreme Court’s approach to Rohingya deportation (Hindustan Times)

By Jay Manoj Sanklecha

The judiciary enjoys an uneasy relationship with international law. While on occasion, courts have made use of international law, including treaty and customary law to enlarge the scope of domestic rights (e.g. Puttaswamy), on other occasions, they have failed to consider the import of such rules. A striking illustration of the latter is the Supreme Court (SC) order rejecting a plea filed on behalf of Rohingya refugees detained in Jammu seeking to stop their deportation to Myanmar. The Rohingyas are a Muslim minority in Myanmar. Following a 1982 citizenship law, they were rendered stateless and have since been subject to persecution. However, from 2016, Myanmar’s army began clearance operations against the Rohingyas, involving mass murder and rape, triggering an exodus to neighbouring countries. In 2020, the International Court of Justice indicated provisional measures against Myanmar for alleged prima facie violations of its obligations under the Genocide Convention.


The plea before SC was motivated by reports that 150-170 Rohingya refugees detained in Jammu were going to be deported to Myanmar. The petitioners sought to argue that the deportation of Rohingyas to Myanmar, where they faced threat of persecution, would be contrary to the rule of non-refoulement under international law, which has been recognised by two high courts as part of the right to life under the Constitution.


The government opposed the petition on the ground that the non-refoulement principle was only applicable to signatories and that since India was not a signatory to the Refugee Convention (RC), it would not be required to adhere to it. It also argued that there were ensuing security ramifications.


Under the non-refoulement rule, states are prohibited from expelling or returning refugees, asylum-seekers, or other persons within their effective jurisdiction to any country where there exist substantial grounds for believing that they would be subjected to torture or arbitrary deprivation of life. Although the rule initially evolved in the context of the RC, it has subsequently been read into other international human rights law instruments such the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Convention against Torture. The rule has been recognised not only a rule of customary law, but has also arguably been recognised as a peremptory norm. This means that not only does the rule of non-refoulement bind non-signatory States, it also permits no exception. Notably, in the past, India has recognised the customary character of this principle at international forums.


SC, in a terse order, did not engage with the issues involved. It observed that India was not a signatory to RC and noted that there were serious objections raised as to whether the treaty could be used to interpret constitutional norms. The court overlooked the contention that the non-refoulement principle was recognised in other instruments (to which India is party), and had, in any case, acquired a customary character and would bind a non-signatory State. SC thus failed to appreciate that treaty law is not the only source of international law and that a State could acquire obligations under customary law. This oversight is striking, and the UN Special Rapporteur, who could shed light on the applicable international law norms, was not allowed to make any submissions.



The court also noted that the government had raised security concerns. While RC recognises national security as a limitation to the rule, the norm has evolved beyond the convention and arguably admits no exception. However, even under RC, such security threats are required to meet an objective criterion standard. In other words, the security threat has to be objectively examined on a case-by-case basis. It is difficult to appreciate how the detained Rohingyas, which include children and women, would en masse constitute a security threat. SC finally noted that the detained Rohingyas should not be deported unless the prescribed procedure is followed. The procedure prior to deportation is for Myanmar to confirm that the detained individuals are its citizens. As previous experience demonstrates, this would not pose any difficulty. Unfortunately, the consequences for the deported Rohingyas may be far graver.



Jay Manoj Sanklecha is an advocate practising in Mumbai and holds an LLM in international law


The views expressed are personal.



Sourtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Monday, April 12, 2021

बदलते आर्थिक पूर्वानुमान (हिन्दुस्तान)

 ग्लोबल टाइम्स, चीन 

अंतरराष्ट्रीय मुद्रा कोष (आईएमएफ) ने 2021 के वैश्विक आर्थिक विकास संबंधी अपने पूर्वानुमान में दूसरी बार बदलाव किया है। नई रिपोर्ट के मुताबिक, विकसित अर्थव्यवस्थाएं इस साल 5.1 फीसदी की दर से बढ़ सकती हैं, जबकि पहले 4.3 फीसदी का अनुमान लगाया गया था। विकसित मुल्कों में अमेरिका की वृद्धि दर 6.4 फीसदी रह सकती है, जबकि विकासशील देशों में चीन से काफी उम्मीद लगाई गई है और 8.4 फीसदी की दर से इसके बढ़ने की संभावना जाहिर की गई है। विकसित अर्थव्यवस्थाओं, खासकर अमेरिका के बारे में जो अनुमान लगाया गया है, उसकी दो मुख्य वजहें हैं। पहली, टीकाकरण की तेज गति, और दूसरी, बड़ा प्रोत्साहन पैकेज। अधिकांश विकासशील देश इन दोनों के बारे में सोच भी नहीं सकते। गौर कीजिए, अमेरिका अब तक कोविड वैक्सीन की 15 करोड़ से ज्यादा खुराक लगा चुका है, जो किसी भी देश में सबसे ज्यादा है। विडंबना है, यह राष्ट्र मानवाधिकार का अगुवा बनने का दावा करता है और इसे लेकर दूसरे मुल्कों पर प्रतिबंध लगाता है, मगर टीके का भंडार जमा करने के बावजूद उसने विकासशील देशों को इस मुश्किल वक्त में टीका देने से इनकार कर दिया।

बहरहाल, यह सुखद है कि वैश्विक अर्थव्यवस्था आगे बढ़ रही है, पर यह वृद्धि नैतिक व निष्पक्ष होनी चाहिए। ऐसे विकास के कम से कम दो निहितार्थ हैं। पहला, लोगों की मौत कम से कम हो। हमें महामारी की रोकथाम संबंधी व्यवस्था में ठोस सुधार के आधार पर आर्थिक गतिविधियां तेज करनी चाहिए, न कि सिर्फ विकास को ध्यान में रखकर। सिर्फ आर्थिक विकास के मद्देनजर कोविड-19 की रोकथाम के उपायों को नजरंदाज करना अनैतिक होगा। दूसरा, समानता के सिद्धांत का ख्याल रखा जाना चाहिए। अगर सभी अमेरिकियों को टीके लग जाते हैं, जबकि कई विकासशील देशों में स्वास्थ्यकर्मी तक इससे वंचित रहते हैं, तो यह आधुनिक मानव सभ्यता का अपमान माना जाएगा। साफ है, 2021 में तमाम तरह की अनिश्चितताएं बनी रहेंगी। हमें बीमारी पर नियंत्रण व रोकथाम और आर्थिक विकास, दोनों ही मोर्चों पर अच्छे नतीजे पाने होंगे।

सौजन्य - हिन्दुस्तान।

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Why don’t voters value health care? (Hindustan Times)

By Sandhya Venkateswaran

You get what you ask for. With several states in election mode, the obvious question is — what are people asking for? If the citizens of India are not getting what they need on health, education and other social policy fronts, are they are not asking for them?

Data from the CSDS-Lokniti 2019 post-poll survey highlighted development as the most important priority for voters (14.3% of voters surveyed), followed by unemployment, price rise, corruption and economy. Health/hospital facilities were mentioned as a key issue by a mere 0.3% of the sample. The 2014 post-poll survey had similar results, with health mentioned by 0.4% of the sample as a key priority.

Assembly polls seem to be no different. Lokniti’s Bihar post-poll data from the 2020 assembly elections shows development, unemployment/jobs/recruitment/lack of industries, and inflation to be the top three issues for voters. Health was important for 0.3% of the respondents. A pre-poll survey for Delhi highlighted development, employment/unemployment/lack of jobs, education and nationalism as key issues. The 2016 pre-poll survey in Kerala found 0.2% of people surveyed rating health care as the most important issue for their voting choice. Clearly, health doesn’t seem to be a priority driving voting behaviour. This is not surprising, it may be argued, in a context where citizens lack the basics of income, water and roads. Where it is indeed surprising, however, is in the context of the financial implications of health care.

Health-related expenditures are estimated to push approximately 3.5% of the population below the poverty line every year; with those below the poverty line pushed deeper into poverty. Research by Anirudha Krishna across India, Africa and Latin America found health-related expenses to be the prime reason for households descending into poverty (even when income had been secure to begin with) and that millions of households live “one illness away” from poverty. This means that even as citizens (rightly) prioritise income, health-related expenditures can so easily and dramatically change the economic status of households. Better health systems and services are key to prevent this health-related descent into poverty; yet this is not an electoral ask from citizens.

The reality is that the middle-class has exited from the use of public services. Increasingly, the poor are moving in the same direction, towards private health and education services, with 70% of in-patient care and 80% of ambulatory services provided by the private sector. In such a situation, who then will demand better public health services?

At a macro-level, research has highlighted the links between building human capital (through health and education) and growth. For a large number of Indian citizens, health, education, and nutritional levels constrain effective participation in many sectors, positioning them not merely as welfare issues, but equally a potential influencer of India’s growth, but health still does not find adequate place in India’s growth strategy.

With little citizen-demand, and limited appreciation of the health-economy link, it is not surprising that political and electoral attention to health has been limited. This has resulted in India’s health having one of the lowest public investments at approximately 1.3% of the Gross Domestic Product; disproportionate use of private services which are extremely fragmented, with solo providers and individual clinics comprising 95% of the private ambulatory market; and 64% of health care expenditure being out-of-pocket at the point of service.

It is not that policy solutions are not known. It is rather a case of health losing out as a priority in the heavily-contested policy space; a space driven by political incentives. The incentives to develop a strong health system, with benefits at the household as well as national/state level, are obvious; yet, political priority in this direction remains elusive. Other countries, as also some Indian states, have understood the electoral significance of health. Reforms in Turkey, Mexico, Thailand (to name just a few) were built on an electoral foundation. Priority to health insurance schemes in India has been linked with electoral gains. Yet, attention to the health sector in any meaningful manner has not been visible.

This gives rise to several questions. Is building human capital not viewed as nation-building, and, thus, lacks political primacy? Does India’s federal and multi-layered governance system prevent clarity on who gets credit from health care services, diffusing potential electoral gains? Or is reforming the health care system too long-term an agenda, not conducive to immediate electoral gains, which are easier with health benefits delivered in a clientelist mode? For citizens, is a health crisis a sporadic emergency over which they have no control (in an almost fatalistic way), because of which responsibility for health care is neither accorded to themselves nor their leaders?

Admittedly, the battlefield of elections seems to be increasingly moving away from the direct issues that impact the quality of life of citizens. Identity as an electoral issue, long dominant, but now predominant, has taken on newer forms such as nationalism, driving voter behaviour in a direction further away from issues of health, education, and social protection. More needs to be done to ensure that first, citizens understand the location and primacy of health in their aspirational journey and its impact on their economic status, and ask for better health care, and second, that national and state leaders acknowledge the role of health in a nation and State’s economic journey.


Sandhya Venkateswaran is a fellow, Lancet Citizens Commission on Reimagining India’s Health System The views expressed are personal.


Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Will bitcoin follow the mania, panic and crash trajectory? (Hindustan Times)

By Amol Agrawal


On March 11, 2020, bitcoin was valued at around $8,000. By the end of December, it had risen nearly four times to touch $29,000. And by mid-March 2021, it had further doubled to $60,000 levels. To understand this surge, let us return to the basics.


In October 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto released a research article, Bitcoin: A peer to peer electronic cash system, on the internet. This was after the failure of Lehman Brothers, which, in turn, led to the global financial crisis. The 2008 crisis led to a complete breakdown of trust and raised questions about the cultural norms of the financial firms.


As the existing system of fiat currencies and banking was seen as corrupt and manipulated by a few, Satoshi’s vision was the creation of a new digital currency, named bitcoin, which would enable peer-to-peer payments using cryptography and blockchains. The bitcoin system was radical as it did away with the existing central bank-banking system.


Technologists may have contributed to this idea of creating a denationalised currency, but it has economic foundations. Economists such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek had written about denationalising currency by allowing banks to issue their own currency, returning to the era before central banks. The bitcoin project was more radical as the idea was to decentralise the currency creation and management to people.


Bitcoin did become reality and also led to multiple players offering their own variant of private cryptocurrencies. However, in this frenzy, the original objective of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies of being a currency and form of payment were soon lost.


Money serves three broad functions — as a medium of exchange, unit of account and store of value. These cryptocurrencies hardly serve any of the three functions. Instead, cryptocurrencies became cryptoassets and started trading like any other security, but without any business model. In this phase, they hardly posed any challenge to existing currencies and were mostly ignored by central banks. But some of the cryptos were also used for criminal purposes, and some countries, including India, banned cryptocurrencies.


In 2018, Facebook proposed a new digital currency named Libra, which could be used for payments and transfers by Facebook’s large subscriber base. Libra’s value would be more stable as it was to be backed by a reserve of fiat currencies. This new proposition suddenly woke the central bankers up. The central banks started working towards their own digital currencies, called central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). Satoshi would be disappointed, not just seeing cryptocurrencies become cryptoassets but to learn how his initiative eventually led to the creation of CBDCs.



Bitcoin’s current surge is difficult to decipher. If the world was preferring bitcoin as a currency, one could still understand this frenzy. But bitcoin’s user base is still insignificant. The likes of Elon Musk have tweeted in support of bitcoin and suggested Tesla would accept payments in Bitcoin. But these are rare exceptions. Bitcoiners forget Hyman Minsky’s words on money: “Everyone can create money; the problem is to get it accepted”.


The State plays a critical role in making money acceptable. The State either asks citizens to pay taxes in only State money/currency, driving other currencies out or simply bans them. Bitcoin and other digital currencies never really had a chance unless a country declared them as legal tender.


The frenzy reminds one of Charles Kindleberger’s iconic book, Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises. Most manias are fuelled by easy money/credit, which, in turn, is invested in new investment fads. Eventually, a policy change or firm failure turns the mania into first a panic and finally a crash. Since the 2008 crisis and more so after the 2020 pandemic, the financial markets have been flush with liquidity. This has also been a period where prices of not just bitcoin but most other asset classes have also risen beyond expectations. The big question is how and when this mania will unravel.



While it is tempting for investors to be part of this mania, they should remember the words of John Maynard Keynes: “The markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent”.


Amol Agrawal is a faculty member at Ahmedabad University. He writes the Mostly Economics blog


The views expressed are personal.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Saturday, April 3, 2021

As Covid returns, India must not repeat the mistakes of 2020 (Hindustan Times)

Barkha Dutt

There is a familiar paranoia in the air as India confronts a sudden surge in Covid-19 cases. And we are in danger of making some of the same mistakes all over again — errors that much of the western world continues to make, and that we should have learnt better from, by now. The most colossal misstep is that we are being pulled back into thinking in the lexicon and language of lockdowns.

My extensive reporting travels across India through the year of the pandemic convinced me of one thing. Indefinite shutdowns — of housing societies, neighbourhoods, schools, cities and, finally, borders — is a counterproductive move that ravages the economy, punishes the poorest of citizens and offers no sustainable solution to the spread of the virus. It would be akin to believing you can get fitter by starving, instead of adopting a balanced diet. You may briefly shed kilos rapidly, only to put them all back on again and acquire a host of other ailments, physical, emotional and psychological, along the way.


Lockdowns have — or should have — a singular logic, which is to buy breathing space for the health care system. The 2020 national lockdown’s initial purpose was to allow for stadiums or other large spaces to be converted into makeshift hospitals, ancillary frontline staff to be mobilised, and enough oxygen to be procured. They were meant to be short and finite preparatory interventions, not repetitive, draconian, policed diktats that not just keep us further and further away from normalcy, and basically become ways of penalising those who can least afford it.

A year on, we also know more than we did previously. We know we should not go racing to the hospital in a panic if our pulse oximeter throws up favourable numbers; we know that we mostly need high-flow oxygen and not ventilators; and we know that all therapeutic medicine is by trial and error, mostly paracetamol meets steroids, the latter strictly when needed. And we know or should know that testing positive should not be spoken of as if it’s the end of the world — despite the surge, India’s recovery rate is still close to 95%.


The most dramatic difference between 2020 and 2021, of course, is that vaccines are now available. And this is where our urgent focus should be, rather than on an alarmist daily tabulation of how many people have tested positive. We should allow data to lead us towards a productive direction. For instance, we know that eight states account for nearly 85% of all new Covid-19 cases. Among these, we know that more than 60% are from Maharashtra. It’s a no-brainer that we need to universalise vaccination coverage for all adults in these hot zones.

Taking an aggregated, pan-India approach to the vaccine rollout, when some states clearly need this more than others, is short-sighted. We are wasting time debating whether India needs to halt its acclaimed vaccine maitri programme and focus inwards; the fact is we are inoculating well below production capacity. And a little over 6% of vaccines are being wasted nationally. This is nothing short of criminal.


While there may be two views on making a vaccine mandatory, the best way to address vaccine hesitancy is to link its requirements with economic and social activity, whether travel, dining in closed and crowded places, or catching a movie. Once enough people realise that the only way to reclaim our lives is to take the jab, self-indulgent drawing room debates by the elite will be forced to draw to a close. Sure, there have been instances when people have contracted the virus a few days after taking the shot. But the vaccine guarantees protection against severe disease and death. It prevents infections in a significant proportion of cases (70-80% for the vaccines in use in India) and ensures that you dont fall gravely ill or need hospitalisation.

Thus, if we inoculate enough of our population, especially in the cities, where Covid-19 is most prevalent, and target the 10 worst-hit Indian cities, the pressure on the hospital system will reduce by itself.


As the country that produces 60% of the world’s vaccines, and as a leader in mass immunisation programmes, this should be more than doable for us. But a conventional, bureaucratic mindset appears to be holding us back. The vaccination programme needs to be reset and targeted. At least three new global vaccines that have Indian partners need to be allowed in without the demand for bridging trials.


Virologists such as Dr Shahid Jameel have underlined the urgent need for unlocking Johnson & Johnson, Sputnik and Novovax from these regulatory hurdles, pointing out that it is wasteful to be lost in percentage point debates over efficacy. As long as the vaccines are safe and provide protection against mortality and serious illness, that’s all that counts.



This is where our Covid-19 conversation must be centred — in the future. Not in revisiting ideas like lockdowns that are detrimental to the health of nations.


Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and authorThe views expressed are personal.


Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Friday, April 2, 2021

In Afghanistan, India must embrace the role of peacemaker (Hindustan Times)

By Syed Akbaruddin

Some say, it is a place where conflict is endemic and peace will remain elusive. Others say, these are times of great power rivalry, and hence, the prospects of those engaged in the new great game cooperating are dim. Yet, peacemaking is in the air in the heart of Asia. In other words, there is a surge of diplomacy, to address the dilemmas that Afghanistan is confronting.



The United States (US) secretary of state Anthony Blinken’s missive to Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani laid out the Joe Biden administration’s wish-list for an accelerated peace process. It set off a rush for peace and reconciliation. In early March, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, launched a diplomatic offensive. He has engaged interlocutors in Kabul, Islamabad, Doha and Moscow in a renewed bid to end the US’s longest war. On March 17, United Nations (UN) secretary-general Antonio Guterres appointed Jean Arnault from France as his personal envoy on Afghanistan and regional issues. On March 18, the first meeting in 2021 of the extended troika of Russia, the US, China and Pakistan along with Afghan government and Taliban representatives was hosted in Moscow and endorsed the call that the Taliban not pursue its spring offensive.


On March 20, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin visited Kabul to, “listen and learn”. On March 23, Blinken shared Washington’s “initial thinking” about Afghanistan with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in Brussels. On March 30, the ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was convened in Dushanbe, bringing together 15 participating countries from the region, 17 supporting countries from beyond the region, and 12 regional and international organisations. More diplomacy is in store — including an intra-Afghan meeting in Turkey.


This frenetic activity is fanned by the timeline agreed to by the Donald Trump administration in Doha on February 29, 2020, for the withdrawal “from Afghanistan of all military forces of the United States, its allies, and coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel within fourteen months.” Biden has acknowledged that it would be “hard” to meet the May 1 deadline, but when asked if US troops will be in Afghanistan next year, he clarified, “I can’t picture that being the case.”



Notwithstanding the Taliban’s inability to meet key commitments made by them in the Doha Agreement — reducing violence, severing links with al-Qaeda and engaging in meaningful intra-Afghan negotiations — the US has proposed an ambitious endgame template. This includes a 90-day reduction in violence to create an environment conducive to reaching a negotiated political settlement; the establishment of an inclusive interim Afghan government with the Taliban for a transitional period, in exchange for a cease-fire; new institutional arrangements to be worked out with the present constitution serving as an initial basis for intra-Afghan negotiations.


The hectic efforts to not leave behind a wreckage after years of global investment in Afghanistan’s stability are understandable. India, too, has invested much in terms of peace-building in the post-2001 phase. While, previously, it has been part of large groups, for the first time, it has been invited to join a select group of six countries in peacemaking efforts. Ministers from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India along with the US — states that have the capacity to play important roles in Afghanistan — will meet on a UN platform. This concerted approach to peacemaking in Afghanistan is similar to the P5+1 format for Iran and six-party talks for North Korea.



In the classical peace continuum, spreading across the spectrum of activities from preventive diplomacy to peacemaking and from peacekeeping to peace-building, India has tended to be risk-averse and keep away from peacemaking roles in internal conflicts following its experience in Sri Lanka. Peacemaking, even of the collective variety, is never easy. It requires weighing in on difficult trade-offs relating to contentious issues among parties to the conflict. It can lead to deeper involvement in issues that India prefers not to get involved in.


Also it, willy-nilly, means engaging all key players. In this case, it will inevitably mean the Taliban also, something that India has steered away from, thus far. Successful peacemaking requires substantive engagement. India will have to reconcile to the new realities of such responsibilities. This does not mean jettisoning interests, friends or the values that India has stood for in Afghanistan. It, however, means that rather than only voicing support, Indian diplomacy needs to be nimble in forming partnerships on specific issues to support the Afghan people with those having similar interests. More of quiet diplomacy and less of public diplomacy.



Obviously, there are risks. The rush to peace can stoke concerns and result in responses similar to when there is a rush to war. Also, the chances of a successful outcome to a peacemaking endgame involving so many moving pieces are uncertain. Nevertheless, for India, turning away from Afghanistan is not an option. The alternative to trudging along the tortuous peacemaking road, in the company of fellow travellers and adversaries, is to inertly accept the subversion of Afghanistan, with all its consequences experienced in the 1990s.


As diplomats jocularly put it, “If you are not on the table, you are on the menu”. It is time for India to earnestly move in concert to support peacemaking in Afghanistan. Not for no reason is it said: “Blessed are the peacemakers”.



Syed Akbaruddin is a retired diplomat who served as India’s permanent representative to the United Nations


The views expressed are personal


Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Friday, March 26, 2021

India’s Covid-19 fatality rates — low in south India, high among migrants (Hindustan Times)

By Paul Novosad, Rebecca Cai, Anup Malani, Vaidehi Tandel and Sam Asher


When the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) arrived in India, many feared that the health indicators of the population and under-resourced health care facilities would lead to high Covid-19 mortality. More than a year later, India is among the countries with lower than expected mortality rates from Covid-19, despite infection rates of over 50% in many parts of the country.

In a new study, we set out to use the best available data to measure the infection fatality rate from Covid-19 and how it varied across the country. Notably, most popular claims about India’s mortality rate have relied on an imperfect statistic called the case fatality rate (CFR). The CFR divides the number of positive Covid-19 tests by the number of Covid-19 deaths — but this measure almost always overstates the actual infection fatality rate, because so many people with mild symptoms are never even tested. Instead, we set out to measure the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) — the probability that an individual who gets the coronavirus at a given age will die — which is a key input in thinking about vaccine planning and activity restriction.


But even such a basic statistic is not easily measured. Measuring IFR requires carefully designed studies that test for Covid-19 antibodies in random samples of thousands of people. Such seroprevalence studies have primarily been run in richer countries, but India has run a number of its own since the pandemic began. We combined data from major serostudies in Mumbai, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, and matched these to administrative reports of Covid-19 deaths in each location. We also used records from random samples of migrants returning to Bihar on special trains in response to the national lockdown; positively tested individuals were tracked, and we know how many of them died.



We focused in particular on age-specific fatality. It is widely known that Covid-19 is more severe for the elderly. We wanted to know how fatality in India compares with fatality in other countries, at the same age. This isolates anything special about the susceptibility of Indians to severe infection or access to healthcare.


Our calculations suggested that infection fatality rates were lower in many parts of India than in richer countries. Middle-aged men infected with Covid-19 were half as likely to die in Mumbai than in a sample of high-income countries, 88% less likely in Karnataka, and 96% less likely in Tamil Nadu.


It must be noted that under-reporting of Covid-19 deaths in India can explain some of this gap, but is very unlikely to explain all of it. Excess mortality in Mumbai was twice as high as the number of reported Covid-19 deaths — enough to close the IFR gap with richer countries. But in Tamil Nadu, Covid-19 deaths would have to be undercounted by a factor of 30 to explain the gap, suggesting that undercounting cannot be the whole story.


When we looked at migrants returning to Bihar, we found a starkly different story. The fatality rates among older positive-testing migrants was twice as high as in richer countries. Among younger migrants, it was even worse: over 1% of Covid-19-positive migrant men under the age of 49 died in the followup period, an age group with negligible mortality in other countries. The severe economic and physical distress during the arduous return journey, piled on top of their poorer baseline health may have made migrants highly vulnerable to death after infection. The same phenomenon could explain why mortality was higher in Mumbai than in the southern states — because Mumbai’s outbreak was concentrated among a poor slum population with poor health and worse access to care.

A final striking finding that emerged from our study was that the elderly in India faced a smaller relative mortality disadvantage than in other countries. Most of India’s mortality advantage occurred among those over the age of 60. Our study cannot explain why this was the case, but one explanation likely has to do with the types of people who make it to old age in India relative to in other countries. Many of the most vulnerable may already have died, leaving a relatively robust group of elderly survivors, who further may have immune systems strengthened by a lifetime of viral exposure.


We also do not know the exact reasons for the terrible mortality rates among returning migrants. After a year of economic crisis, it is crucial to identify patterns of economic distress that could raise vulnerability to severe infection. Another key puzzle is why infection fatality rates were so different in Mumbai, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.



As vaccines are disseminated, the end of this pandemic is hopefully in sight. Research on patterns of infection and mortality will be essential not only for current vaccination planning, but also to understand and prepare for the future pandemics that will surely emerge.


Paul Novosad is associate professor of economics at Dartmouth College. Rebecca Cai is a research associate at Development Data Lab. Anup Malani (University of Chicago), Vaidehi Tandel (IDFC Institute), and Sam Asher (Johns Hopkins University) also worked on this article.


The views expressed are personal.


Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

NATO: India’s next geopolitical destination (Hindustan Times)

By A Wess Mitchell


When the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders meet later this year, they will debate the recommendations from a group of experts (which I co-chaired) that advocates, among other things, extending a formal offer of partnership to India. Such an idea has been discussed before but has always foundered on India’s aversion to entanglement in rival geopolitical blocs. It’s time to overcome this obstacle.



China’s meteoric rise has dramatically heightened India’s need for closer security relationships with politically reliable, like-minded states. As China’s aggressive actions in the Galwan Valley and other border areas demonstrate, Beijing is increasingly willing to depart from its hide-and-bide strategy to directly challenge even the largest of its neighbours. This behavioural shift is likely to accelerate as China’s military capabilities expand. Already, China spends more on its military than all of its immediate neighbours combined, and nearly three times as much as India.


In these circumstances, India’s longstanding strategy of careful equi-distancing, punctuated by tilts toward China and Russia, is not viable; inevitably, New Delhi will have to undertake more deliberate efforts to counter-balance the juggernaut of Chinese power. To this end, it has already begun to deepen bilateral defence ties with Japan, the United States (US), and other regional players threatened by China, including through Quad.


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Becoming a NATO partner would be a natural extension of this evolution with several upsides and few risks.


In the near-term, India would derive strategic-signalling value from even the appearance of drawing closer to the Western Alliance at a crucial, early phase of Beijing’s transition to a more aggressive posture. The mere fact of opening partnership talks would send the message that India’s leaders will redouble coalition-building efforts, more or less in direct proportion to Chinese aggression. The signal will hold all the more value precisely because it has heretofore bordered on geopolitical taboo.


Longer-term, India would derive military-strategic benefits from partnership with the world’s most powerful alliance. While NATO partnerships do not carry the Article 5 guarantee of collective defence against armed attack, they nevertheless come with regular defence dialogues, military-to-military planning, and joint exercises that improve readiness, interoperability and predictability. In the event of a conflict, India would benefit from having prior planning and arrangements in place for cooperating with NATO and its Mediterranean partners (including Israel, with which India has a close strategic relationship) to secure its western flank and the approaches to the Red Sea.



Partnering with NATO also carries technological benefits. Under a provision in the US 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, India now enjoys the same technology-sharing and cost-sharing perks as other non-NATO US allies for purposes of the Arms Export Control Act. But adding NATO partner status could also position India to benefit from possible future programmes aimed at lowering the barriers for cooperation in emerging technologies between NATO and its Asia-Pacific partners. It could also help to offset the growing concerns and negative scrutiny that India is increasingly attracting in Congress for its disproportionate reliance on Russian military equipment.


Partnering with NATO would not significantly constrain India’s broader geostrategic options. Egypt and Israel are both NATO partners who maintain defence relationships with Russia. Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, and Austria are all NATO partners with long-standing neutralist traditions. NATO’s partnerships are highly customised arrangements. In India’s case, the sheer size and importance of the country may warrant a new and special category of partnership — one that combines periodic high-level dialogue, technological cooperation and defence planning for maritime contingencies.



However, the obstacles to partnership are not only on the Indian side; in the past, some NATO allies have effectively blocked discussion of the matter by insisting that any offer of partnership to India be accompanied by similar invitations to Pakistan. This may have seemed attractive to some in the era when NATO militaries were mainly focused on conducting operations in Afghanistan. But with the winding down of operations there, NATO has little in common with a Pakistan that is increasingly radicalised at home and aligned with, and beholden to, China.


By contrast, the case for NATO partnership with India — a large maritime democracy with concerns and interests that tend to overlap with those of the US and many European allies — has only grown more compelling as China’s rise has accelerated.



For all of these reasons, NATO leaders should extend to India an offer of opening partnership talks. Doing so would signal that it is seriously evaluating all of its tools, including partnerships, according to how well they equip its members for dealing with a new era of great-power competition in which large states such as China and Russia pose, by far, the greatest threat to their security.


In this emerging competition, India is a vital player in its own right and should be treated as such. But Indians should be under no illusions that a truly non-aligned path remains a viable option.


Strengthening ties with NATO now, while China is still in the early phase of a shift to a more assertive posture toward both South Asia and Europe, could pay dividends in dissuading aggression and ensuring that, should China continue on its current trajectory, India has as many friends as possible in the right places.



A Wess Mitchell served as US assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia from 2017-2019 and as co-chair of the NATO 2030 Reflection Process. He currently serves as a principal at the Marathon Initiative.


The views expressed are personal.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Saturday, March 20, 2021

Five ways to beat the second wave of Covid-19 (Hindustan Times)

That there is a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic on is now certain. The seven-day average of daily cases on Thursday night was 29,330, 167% higher than its post-first wave peak low; and the seven-day average of daily deaths, 151, 71% higher. Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh are all seeing a resurgence in cases. And despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s exhortations and warnings, in the course of a meeting with chief ministers on Wednesday, no one really seems to care.


The second wave, if left uncontrolled, could surpass the peak of the first wave, as the experience of other countries shows. The fact that it is raging at a time when new variants of the coronavirus disease, including the dangerous P1 variant that is wreaking havoc in Brazil, have all been sequenced in India, is cause for concern. The situation now is far more dire than it was exactly a year ago, when India started thinking about a lockdown, and finally implemented one at four hours notice on March 25, 2020.


Given this context, what should India’s response be?


One, a nation-wide lockdown is out of the question for two reasons — its impact on a still-fledgling economic recovery would be catastrophic; and after a year of living with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it is clear that other measures can achieve the same result as a hard lockdown.


Two, what should those measures be? There is, of course, the usual Covid-safety protocol of masking, social distancing, and sanitising. This is now being honoured more in the breach than in the observance. Most people do not wear masks; many, who do so, wear them improperly, as chin guards. Restaurants, perhaps delighted at the prospect of being allowed to operate after what has been many long hard months for them, are paying little attention to social distancing. And people, tired of isolation and quarantines, are socialising with a vengeance, and holidaying as if the end of the world is nigh (it could be, if they continue to do so). Most tourist and pilgrimage destinations in India are witnessing huge crowds — and the state of Uttarakhand has allowed the Kumbh Mela to go on without adequate Covid-safety protocols (one of the first moves of its new chief minister was to do away with negative Covid-test reports for visitors to the event, which happens once in 12 years, a requirement put in place by his predecessor).



It is time for the Union home ministry to issue a set of guidelines, and it is time for the states to follow these (tightening them, if needed, but not diluting them). The guidelines should mandate masking, social distancing, limit capacity in restaurants, hotels, malls and multiplexes, place restrictions on religious, social, and cultural events, and, perhaps, even bar inter-state travel.


Three, it’s time for Mumbai, and perhaps even the rest of Maharashtra, to lock down for two weeks. The numbers in India’s commercial capital, and one of its most important states, require this. Between March 1 and March 18, the number of cases in the state has risen 135%. On the basis of Thursday night’s numbers (from the HT dashboard), Maharashtra accounts for 65% of all Covid-19 cases in the country. The lockdown needs to be accompanied by aggressive testing, efficient contact tracing, and mandatory quarantining. The Centre and the state also have to work together to launch a large (and fast) vaccination drive in Maharashtra.



Four, as Hindustan Times has repeatedly called for, it is time for the Union health ministry and the drug regulator to approve more vaccines. If the latter could approve Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin on the basis of belief and not hard evidence — as expected by many, the evidence followed, and showed the vaccine to be highly effective, but vaccines should always be approved on the basis of science, not belief — there’s no reason for it to drag its feet over the Sputnik vaccine, or the Novavax one, which will be made in India by the Serum Institute of India. And once approved, it should allow their sales in the open market.


Five, again, as Hindustan Times has repeatedly suggested, the health ministry should open up vaccination for all, and perhaps focus on the 50 cities with a population in excess of a million in the country. It is clear that Covid-19 affects urban populations disproportionately, and even today, the hotspots (and the emerging hotspots) are all in urban areas. This, combined with vaccine hesitancy in rural areas, makes a good case for the drive to focus on cities first and the hinterland later. It is perhaps time to review the sequencing of the vaccination drive.



Complacency over the end of the first wave, misplaced confidence about the vaccination, and fatigue over Covid-safety protocols have brought us here — but smart and fast action, based on science and data, can lead us out.


Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Save the Himalayan river systems (Hindustan Times)

By Arunabha Ghosh

This February was unusually warm. Delhi experienced average temperatures of 4.3 degree Celsius above normal, recording the warmest February (barring 2006). Less noticed was that many Himalayan states witnessed below-average rainfall. From January to mid-February, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand had 56%, 24% and 33% less precipitation, respectively. I spent much of February in Uttarakhand. Every local villager or forest guard I spoke to mentioned low rains and their concerns about water availability through the spring and summer.


The Himalayas-Hindu Kush region (known as the Third Pole because of the amount of water stored as ice) is home to 10 major river systems. More than half of India’s water resources are supplied by the tributaries of these river systems. The melting glaciers supply year-round water and the average economic productivity of the Himalayan rivers is nearly twice that of peninsular river systems. Beyond the large rivers are three million springs, which feed 64% of the irrigated land in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR). These springs are the lifeline of mountain communities (50 million people across 12 Himalayan states), even as the larger rivers support the livelihoods of more than 500 million in the Indo-Gangetic plains. But they are facing multiple stresses.

First, reduced water flow. The Himalayan glaciers have been receding at alarming rates. In 2001, NASA images showed that Gangotri had shrunk by 850 metres since 1975. Later, an Isro analysis of 2,190 Himalayan glaciers found that three-quarters of them were rapidly retreating, by 3.75 km on average in 15 years. Low rainfall and absent snowfall impact the springs, rivulets and rivers that moderate the hydrogeology of the region. In 2018, NITI Aayog reported that nearly half the springs in IHR were drying up. In Almora, 83% of springs had dried up over 150 years. Even in more pristine Sikkim, the water supply from half the springs had reduced.


Second, pollution. It is well-known that we treat our major rivers as drains. More than six billion litres of sewage is dumped into the Ganga daily, but the capacity to treat it is just a fifth of that quantity. The Yamuna’s course through Delhi is just 2% of its length but it receives 70% of the river’s pollution. Less known is that water pollution is affecting the upper reaches of the Himalayan rivers. A 2016 study found the water quality index to be unsuitable for drinking purposes for rivers supplying half the water in Uttarakhand.



Third, construction and deforestation. The construction of large dams, canal diversions and hydropower projects has direct and indirect impacts. Obstruction of the river flow, even for run-of-the-river projects, increases siltation, reduces the efficacy of hydropower projects over time, while reducing farm productivity downstream. When hydropower projects divert rivers into underground tunnels, such as for the tributaries of Indus or Alaknanda or Mandakini, the surface water flow recedes. For non-glacial rivers (such as Gomti, Panar, Kosi), deforestation is the main threat, thanks to ill-planned construction. In Uttarakhand, 45,000 hectares of forest land have been diverted to other uses since 1980. As a result, water infiltration into the ground reduces. So, even when erratic rains arrive, mountain springs do not get recharged nor do non-glacial rivers get their water supply.



Fourth, the climate crisis. The World Meteorological Organization estimates that the decadal rise in temperatures in the Himalayan region is 0.4°C higher than the global average. The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had stark warnings: Himalayan glaciers would retreat 45% by 2100 if surface temperatures rose by 1.8°C. Basically, even if the goals of the Paris Agreement were met, IHR is likely to face severe impacts. If temperatures, instead, rose to 3.7°C (closer to the trajectory that the world is currently on), glaciers would be 68% smaller by 2100, fragmenting rivers, impacting flows and affecting seasonal water availability. Pollution concentrations would also increase during droughts; warmer water temperatures and reduced dissolved oxygen reduce the self-purifying capacity of Himalayan rivers.



There are no silver bullet solutions, but two approaches should be at the core of the response. First, IHR needs alternative development pathways, the absence of which makes the construction industry the default option. More sustainable models — high-valued-added agriculture, less water-intensive natural farming, food processing, ecotourism, investments in non-hydropower forms of renewable energy, or monetising the preservation of natural capital — cannot be restricted to pockets or pilots. Alternatives must be designed and deployed at scale to get buy-in from communities and policymakers. Secondly, decentralised water governance, especially of springs, is imperative. Then communities can understand the conditions of their spring waters, determine appropriate use, and protect or increase forest cover, because their livelihoods depend on replenished water resources.



Our mythology is replete with stories about the origins of the Himalayan rivers and their holiness. But it is a myth that our rivers can continue to be self-cleaning, self-healing and self-flowing beyond a point. The Himalayan water systems are under increasing stress and they need our attention — and course correction.


Arunabha Ghosh is CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water


The views expressed are personal.



Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Friday, March 12, 2021

The hypocrisy of India’s secular polity (Hindustan Times)

By Rajdeep Sardesai

 

The centrist secular space that rejects religion as a marker of political identity is being hollowed out

At a media conclave in 2018, Sonia Gandhi made a candid confession. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), she claimed, had managed to convince many people that the Congress is a “Muslim party”. Her remarks, in a sense, were an admission that Nehruvian secularism had failed to combat the rising tide of political Hindutva. Gandhi’s words also echoed the party’s AK Antony committee report, drafted in the aftermath of the 2014 poll debacle but never made public, that the Congress was seen as “pro-Muslim” and “anti-Hindu”. Three years later, the party’s predicament is even starker, with its secular identity once again being questioned for aligning with Muslim parties.

In Kerala, the Congress’s long-standing alliance with the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is under the scanner with both the ruling Left Front and the BJP targeting the party for being partial to the League’s interests. In Assam, the Congress has tied up with businessman-politician Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), a party representing the concerns of the state’s Bengali-speaking Muslim immigrant population. And in West Bengal, the Congress is part of a Left-led alliance that includes the Indian Secular Front (ISF), a party started by Abbas Siddiqui, a cleric, whose public utterances are contentious. In each instance, the BJP has unsurprisingly been flagging these alliances to consolidate its Hindu votebank.

The nature of these alliances and the reaction to them reflect the deepening crisis within the Congress and, indeed, within mainstream secular politics. For the Congress, this is a crisis that has been building up for decades, ever since Indira Gandhi inserted “secularism” in the Preamble in 1976. Her move was driven by realpolitik, designed to consolidate her hold among the minorities while cornering her political rivals. Unlike Jawaharlal Nehru, for whom secularism was an article of faith, Indira Gandhi was guilty of practicing lip-service secularism, especially after returning to power in 1980. Then be it in Punjab, Assam or Jammu and Kashmir, she appeared to shun the pretence of secularism in the race for votes by aligning with religious forces of all hues.

Rajiv Gandhi, as prime minister (PM), put further strain on secular values by appeasing both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists. The politics of running with the secular hare and hunting with the communal hound through the turbulent 1980s would culminate in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and propel the BJP into a position of power.


Since then, while the saffron brotherhood has gone from strength-to-strength, the Congress has struggled to find a consistent ideological and organisational response to the challenge posed by strident Hindutva nationalism. The party has oscillated between a Manmohan Singh as PM affirming that minorities, particularly Muslims, have the “first claim” on government resources to a Rahul Gandhi going temple-hopping ahead of a Gujarat election and the party asserting that he is a “janeudhari” Hindu. As a result, the centrist secular space that rejects religion as a marker of political identity has over time been hollowed out.



The Congress now finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place. Appealing to any kind of Hindu sentiment only leaves it looking like a “B team” of the BJP, an unconvincing copy of the original party of majoritarianism. The shortlived Kamal Nath-led government in Madhya Pradesh attempted this with its version of cow politics but with little resonance on the ground. On the other hand, forging alliances with smaller, Muslim-centric parties also appears like a temporary fix for uncertain electoral gains. For example, in Assam’s surcharged post-Citizenship (Amendment) Act politics, the Congress-AIUDF alliance may sweep the Muslim-dominated seats of lower Assam but will inevitably spark off a counter-polarisation in the rest of the state.


In a sharply divided Bengal, a tie-up with the ISF is not only ideologically incompatible but will only further split the Muslim vote between Mamata Banerjee and the Left-Congress-ISF alliance, thereby improving the BJP’s chances. Ironically, the Left, which attacks the Congress in Kerala for its IUML partnership, has had few compunctions in pushing for an alliance with an Islamist party in Bengal — it is these underlying hypocrisies in the secular project that have weakened it morally and politically.

Sadly, the worst sufferers in the credibility crisis facing mainstream secularism have been the minorities. Isolated and demonised by the Hindutva brigade, their patriotism routinely called into question, the Rightward lurch in Indian politics has only made Muslims feel fearful and resentful. Their anxieties and grievances with secular politics have seen many younger Muslims turn to the likes of Asaduddin Owaisi as potential protectors and defenders of the faith.

In the recent Gujarat local body polls, for example, Owaisi’s party, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) won seven of the eight seats it contested in Godhra and emerged as the main Opposition party in Modasa town. Most of these seats were previously won by the Congress. Clearly, even Muslim voters are looking for alternatives that go beyond clichéd and bogus definitions of secularism.

Post-script: The BJP has attacked the Congress’s secular vision for aligning with an Islamic cleric in Bengal. However, the party happily advertises the fact that India’s most-populous state is run by a saffron-robed Hindu head priest affiliated to a religious monastery. Or are the rules in votebank politics different for different people?


(Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author)


The views expressed are personal.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The significance of the LoC ceasefire for bordering communities (Hindustan Times)

By Sameer Arshad Khatlani


A similar engagement led to the ceasefire agreement first in 2003 that translated into over a half-decade calm in Kashmir and a degree of healing. Build on the current moment.

A rare joint statement by the Indian and Pakistani directors general of military operations, on February 25, announcing that the two countries have agreed to strictly observe the ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) triggered much speculation over what brought about the turnaround. Moeed Yusuf, special assistant on national security to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, called the announcement a “victory of diplomacy” and added that “more avenues” will open in the future, amid reports that back-channel meetings at neutral locations led to the pact.



Analysts linked the reiteration of the observance of the truce along the de facto border to the protracted stand-off between the Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh and New Delhi’s attempts to avoid a two-front conflict with two allied adversaries. Many wondered whether the new Joe Biden administration had nudged the two countries to normalise ties. The Pulwama attack, the subsequent Balakot strike, and India’s move to change the constitutional status of J&K escalated tensions between the two countries in 2019. The following year, the highest ceasefire violations — about 5,000 —were reported along the de facto border.


But while the roots of the current thaw can be debated, the only question that matters for the residents in the constant line of fire along the 740-km border is whether the ceasefire will sustain long enough for them to live to fight another day, or whether their lives and livelihood will again be sacrificed at the altar of narrow political ends. The breakthrough means they can tend to their fields, and educate their children without worrying whether they would be able to return home alive.


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Cross-border shelling over the years has destroyed livelihoods, left crops unharvested, and forced even well-off people to opt for small-time jobs in faraway towns to sustain their families. Most of the border areas are inaccessible and remote, and were even denied mobile phone connectivity for years due to their proximity to Pakistan.


Border residents can now hope to live their lives with dignity without having to often rush to cramped bunkers to save their lives. Cross-border shelling has not just left hundreds dead but has taken an emotional toll on survivors. Many border areas such as Karnah are so remote that people have to stock up supplies for the winter months before snow cuts it off from the outside world. The cross-LoC shelling would even hamper the stocking and evacuation of wounded residents.



In Kashmir’s hillside Churnada village of 1,600 people, which lost two residents in 2020 to cross-border shelling, residents gathered at the shrine of a Muslim saint to celebrate the new agreement. They heaved a sigh of relief that they could now finally till their land, graze their cattle and send their children to school without fear. As many as 70 civilians and 72 soldiers have died in cross-border firing since 2018. According to Reuters, nearly 300 civilians have been killed since 2014 in ceasefire violations on the Pakistani side. It reported that in the picturesque Neelum valley on the other side, hundreds of hotels and guesthouses came up when the ceasefire held as tourists visited around the year. Reuters said tourism went into a tailspin and guesthouse operators were forced to dig into their savings as skirmishes and firing increased.


The divided border residents on both sides can only hope the ceasefire is not derailed like it was in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The 2003-2008 era of peace brought rich dividends for border communities and led to the start of cross-LoC bus services. This would have been unthinkable a decade earlier, as it was akin to Pakistan’s acknowledgment of the Indian sovereignty over J&K.


The reiteration of the commitment to the truce has raised hopes for a dialogue process effectively stalled since 2008. That top national security officials are believed to have been involved in the back-channel talks ahead of the turnaround should hold out hope.


A similar engagement led to the ceasefire agreement first in 2003 that translated into over a half-decade calm in Kashmir and a degree of healing. Build on the current moment.

The views expressed are personal.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Friday, February 26, 2021

The BJP’s ruthless expansion drive (The Hindustan Times)

By Rajdeep Sardesai

 

Puducherry is only the latest instance of the Modi-Shah playbook of expanding political power. In a sense, Puducherry is now part of a pattern of Machiavellian intrigue that has been repeated from Arunachal and Manipur to Goa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh where a ruthlessly expansionist BJP seeks to consolidate its ascendancy by wangling either wholesale or retail defections.

Long before Puducherry, there was Goa. In 1994, riding on the Ram Janmabhoomi wave, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won four seats for the first time in the 40-member Goa assembly. It caused a ripple in Goa’s turbulent political waters, prompting the late Pramod Mahajan, then the party’s chief strategist for Goa, to boast that the BJP would form a government in Panaji within 10 years. Mahajan was spot on — aided by Goa’s infamous tradition of brazen defections, a BJP government led by Manohar Parrikar was formed in 2002. By 2012, Parrikar headed the first BJP-majority government in the state.



What transpired in the erstwhile Portuguese colony on the west coast is now sought to be replicated on the south-east coast in the tranquil one-time French outpost of Puducherry. Where the smooth-talking Mahajan was a key BJP tactician in the 1990s, that role has now been taken over by the hard-nosed Amit Shah. Where the BJP was then emerging as a national player, it is now the dominant party at the Centre, possessing resources to topple any opposition state government it possibly can.


Why Puducherry, when assembly elections are a few months away and the BJP, it seems, has little at stake in a region traditionally dominated by the Congress and local parties? First, to borrow the words of the Union home minister, “chronology samajhiye” (understand the chronology). The V Narayanasamy-led Congress government was elected in Puducherry in May 2016. Almost immediately, Kiran Bedi, the pugnacious Indian Police Service officer who had lost out as the BJP’s Delhi chief ministerial face, was sent as Lieutenant- Governor (L-G). For five years, there was a constant and bruising face-off between the chief minister and L-G that only undermined an elected government. Bedi was recalled last week after it became apparent that she had antagonised almost the entire political class. She was replaced by the former Tamil Nadu BJP president, Tamilisai Soundararajan, to assuage local concerns.

For China, there have always been certain issues that are core to its relationship with Myanmar. The latter is strategically important to gain access to the Indian Ocean as well as to Southeast Asia. It is economically important because of its natural resources such as timber, the hydroelectric possibilities stemming from its many large rivers, as well as oil and gas and minerals. Finally, China is committed to large-scale infrastructure projects in the country. (AFP)

Myanmar-China ties: It’s complicated


Women constitute only 14% of the 280,000 personnel in STEM in India’s research development institutions (UN data). In addition, although women’s participation in the workforce is higher at entry-level, it gradually decreases at higher research, academics and administration levels. (HTPHOTO)

A gender equality framework for India’s sciences and tech disciplines


The BJP’s political dominance may, paradoxically in some ways, deepen social divisions (Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

The disruptive social effects of Hindutva 2.0


The Chinese had earlier planned to build a series of 11 dams on the river, of which several are complete (REUTERS)

The Brahmaputra is in danger. Delhi and Dhaka must challenge Beijing



Simultaneously, the BJP fast-forwarded a plan to engineer defections from the ruling Congress-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam alliance and ensured that, with the help of three nominated legislators and a compliant Speaker, the Narayanasamy government was reduced to a minority. Incidentally, at least four of the six defecting legislators have either income-tax queries or links to the lucrative real estate sector. Moreover, by toppling a Congress government in Puducherry, the BJP has sent a message to neighbouring Tamil Nadu, where it is contesting the assembly elections with the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, that the Congress is a greatly diminished force, and the party can be vanquished at any time.


In a sense, Puducherry is now part of a pattern of Machiavellian intrigue that has been repeated from Arunachal and Manipur to Goa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh where a ruthlessly expansionist BJP seeks to consolidate its ascendancy by wangling either wholesale or retail defections. That the Congress leadership appears to have been taken by surprise, yet again, reveals how the original party of realpolitik is floundering to counter the BJP’s vaulting ambitions. The “new” BJP under Narendra Modi-Amit Shah is a bit like the “old” Congress in the Indira Gandhi era — ethically compromised, but politically uncompromising in its actions.



The truth is no state government run by a non-BJP force is safe. India’s non-BJP governments can now be bracketed into three categories. The Congress-led governments, of which only three are left in the country, are squarely on the BJP’s radar. A bid to capture Rajasthan failed last year, but the Modi-Shah model doesn’t delve into failure for long: More attempts at divide-and-rule on Jaipur’s uneasy turf cannot be ruled out.


The second category includes regional party-ruled states that have made their peace with the Centre by striking friendly patron-client relationships. Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha fall into this category — these are states where “deal-making” with the Centre is part of a survival toolkit. In all these states, ruling parties are essentially one-man shows, making it easier for the BJP to bide its time before swooping to conquer in due course.



The third category comprises states ruled by an alliance of non-BJP forces, such as Maharashtra and Jharkhand. Of these, Maharashtra remains the big prize. That the three-party coalition government in Mumbai is headed by an ex-staunch Hindutva ally makes the battle to recapture the state for the BJP a prestige fight, one that could see more dramatic twists and turns in the months ahead.


This leaves just two states — Bengal and Kerala — that are determinedly holding out in the face of the BJP juggernaut and both go to polls in April-May. In Kerala, the BJP is resolutely widening its voter base, even while remaining a fair distance away from conquering it. In Bengal, on the other hand, the gloves are off. Should Didi’s Kolkata fortress fall to the sustained BJP assault, we could be pretty close to an “opposition-mukt” Bharat with serious implications for the future of an increasingly strained multi-party democracy.



Post-script: Another illustration of the BJP’s unwavering commitment to spreading its sphere of influence is provided by the choice of 88-year-old “Metro man” E Sreedharan as its star catch in Kerala. His induction may be symbolic but confirms that even margdarshak mandal retirement rules are selectively applied in the BJP’s cold-blooded powerplay.


Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author


The views expressed are personal.

Courtesy - The Hindustan Times.

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Monday, February 8, 2021

अभी और कितना डराएगी महंगाई (हिन्दुस्तान)

आलोक जोशी, वरिष्ठ पत्रकार 


बजट भी आ गया और क्रेडिट पॉलिसी भी। चारों तरफ धूम मची है कि वित्त मंत्री ने हिम्मत दिखाई, लोकलुभावन एलान करने के बजाय बडे़ सुधारों पर जोर दिया। इससे आर्थिक तरक्की रफ्तार पकड़ेगी। रिजर्व बैंक ने भी इस नीति पर मोहर लगा दी है, और यह एलान किया है कि महंगाई फिलहाल काबू में है और आगे भी काबू में रहने वाली है। लेकिन क्या सचमुच ऐसा ही है? रिजर्व बैंक की क्रेडिट पॉलिसी में कहा गया कि नवंबर में जो खुदरा महंगाई का आंकड़ा 6.9 प्रतिशत था, वह दिसंबर में गिरकर 4.59 प्रतिशत हो चुका था। इसमें बड़ी भूमिका रही खाने-पीने की चीजों की कीमतों में आई कमी की। खाने-पीने की चीजों की महंगाई नवंबर के 9.5 फीसदी से गिरकर दिसंबर में 3.41 प्रतिशत पर पहुंच चुकी थी। मगर इसकी सबसे बड़ी वजह मौसम है, क्योंकि हम सब जानते हैं कि किस मौसम में सब्जी की कीमत आसमान पर पहुंच जाती है और कब वह जमीन पर उतर आती है।

फिर भी, रिजर्व बैंक का अनुमान है कि जनवरी से मार्च तक महंगाई दर 5.4 फीसदी रहेगी, अप्रैल से सितंबर तक यह 5.2 फीसदी से पांच फीसदी के बीच होगी, और सितंबर के बाद, यानी अक्तूबर, नवंबर, दिसंबर में घटकर 4.3 प्रतिशत ही रह जाएगी। इसी भरोसे रिजर्व बैंक को लगता है कि ब्याज दरों में और कटौती की जरूरत नहीं है और वह बैंकों को नकदी रखने में दी गई छूट भी धीरे-धीरे वापस ले सकता है। लेकिन रिजर्व बैंक ने इस पॉलिसी से पहले देश के अलग-अलग हिस्सों में जो सर्वे किया है, उसमें शामिल परिवारों को महंगाई बढ़ने का डर सता रहा है। रिजर्व बैंक अब हर दो महीने में ऐसा एक सर्वे करता है। इसमें यही पता लगाने की कोशिश होती है कि परिवार की शॉपिंग लिस्ट को देखते हुए इन परिवारों की महंगाई के बारे में क्या उम्मीदें या आशंकाएं हैं? इस बार के सर्वे में पिछले ऐसे सर्वेक्षणों के मुकाबले लोगों के मन में अनिश्चितता ज्यादा दिखाई पड़ी। अर्थ-नीति के तमाम विद्वान भी बजट को देखने के बाद कह चुके हैं कि अब हमें महंगाई के एक तगड़े झटके के लिए तैयार रहना चाहिए। लेकिन उस तर्क पर जाने से पहले किसी भी आम आदमी के दिमाग में आने वाला सबसे बड़ा सवाल है, पेट्रोल और डीजल के दाम। आजादी के बाद कई दशक तक सरकार डीजल पर भारी सब्सिडी देती रही, क्योंकि यह माना जाता है कि डीजल के दाम बढ़ने से महंगाई का बढ़ना लाजिमी है। आश्चर्य की बात यह है कि पिछले दिनों पेट्रोल और डीजल के दाम रिकॉर्ड ऊंचाई पर पहुंचने के बावजूद इस पर कोई सुगबुगाहट तक सुनाई नहीं पड़ी। और ऐसा कब? जब अंतरराष्ट्रीय बाजार में कच्चे तेल के भाव करीब 55 डॉलर प्रति बैरल हैं। जून 2008 में यही भाव 166 डॉलर तक चढ़ा था और उसके बाद भी कई साल 100 से 120 डॉलर के बीच झूलता रहा। जून 2014 में तो यह 115 डॉलर के करीब था और तब से इसमें लगातार गिरावट देखी गई। लेकिन भारत के बाजार में क्या हुआ? जून 2008 में जब कच्चा तेल 166 डॉलर का था, तब भारत में पेट्रोल 55.04 रुपये लीटर मिल रहा था। (अलग-अलग शहरों के भाव अलग हो सकते हैं।) और आज जब कच्चा तेल 55 डॉलर का एक बैरल है, तब मुंबई में पेट्रोल का दाम है 93.44 रुपये।

2014 में जब कच्चे तेल के दाम गिरने लगे, तब यह उम्मीद की जा रही थी कि सरकारी तेल कंपनियां इसका फायदा ग्राहकों तक पहुंचाएंगी, लेकिन ऐसा हुआ नहीं। सरकार ने तय किया कि दाम गिरने के साथ-साथ वह इन पर एक्साइज ड्यूटी बढ़ाती चलेगी। मतलब दाम जितना कम हुआ, उसका फायदा सरकार की झोली में चला गया। भारत में सरकारी तेल कंपनी इंडियन ऑयल की वेबसाइट पर साफ-साफ लिखा होता है कि आप जो पेट्रोल खरीद रहे हैं, उसमें से कितना हिस्सा कहां जा रहा है। इसके हिसाब से 1 फरवरी को कंपनी दिल्ली में 86.30 रुपये का एक लीटर पेट्रोल बेच रही थी। इसमें से कंपनी का दाम और भाड़ा जोड़कर डीलर तक यह 29.71 रुपये में पहुंचा। 32.98 एक्साइज ड्यूटी और डीलर का कमीशन 3.69 रुपये। अब इस पर वैट लगा 19.92 रुपये, जो राज्य सरकार को मिलता है। यानी 30 रुपये से कम के पेट्रोल पर केंद्र सरकार करीब 33 रुपये और राज्य सरकारें करीब 20 रुपये टैक्स वसूल रही हैं। शुरू में केंद्र सरकार ने तर्क दिया था कि पिछले वर्षों में सरकार ने काफी सब्सिडी दी है और यह डर भी है कि आगे कच्चे तेल का दाम फिर बढ़ सकता है, इसीलिए सरकार दाम कम करने के बजाय टैक्स लगाकर एक रिजर्व फंड बना रही है, ताकि आगे चलकर दाम बढ़े, तो उपभोक्ताओं पर बोझ न पड़े। लेकिन अब जब कोरोना से मार खाए उपभोक्ताओं को राहत की जरूरत है, तो सरकार का हाल यह है कि एक्साइज ड्यूटी के खाते में कुल 3,35,000 करोड़ रुपये की कमाई में से 2,80,000 करोड़ रुपये से ज्यादा की रकम पेट्रोल-डीजल के खाते ही चढ़ी हुई है। फिर, डीजल और पेट्रोल पर नया सेस या अधिभार लगने से भी लोग आशंकित हैं। हालांकि, सरकार ने कहा है कि इसका असर खरीदारों पर नहीं पड़ेगा। लेकिन कब तक नहीं पड़ेगा, यह सवाल बना हुआ है। डीजल और पेट्रोल से महंगाई बढ़ने के साथ-साथ आर्थिक विशेषज्ञों को दूसरी चिंताएं भी सता रही हैं। एक, सेवाओं के दाम बढ़ने का डर, क्योंकि जैसे-जैसे बाजार में मांग बढ़ेगी, तरह-तरह के ऑपरेटरों में अपनी फीस या रेट बढ़ाने की हिम्मत आएगी। और दूसरी, सरकारी खर्च और कर्ज में आनेवाली बढ़ोतरी से। शेयर बाजार के दिग्गजों का कहना है कि सरकार ने इस बजट में एक बड़ा दांव लगाया है, जिसके लिए बहुत पैसे की जरूरत है। सरकार यह रकम बाजार से उठाएगी, तो कर्ज का महंगा होना, यानी उस पर ब्याज बढ़ने का डर है। दूसरी तरफ अमेरिका जमकर नोट छाप रहा है, इसलिए महंगाई एक बड़ी मुसीबत बन सकती है। ऐसे में, सरकार के सामने बड़ा सवाल यह है कि क्या वह देश की तरक्की को बहुत तेजी से इतना बढ़ा सकती है कि लोगों को काम मिल जाए, उनकी आमदनी बढ़ जाए और वे थोड़ी-बहुत महंगाई बढ़ने की फिक्र से मुतमइन रहें? या फिर, कुछ ही समय बाद लोग विकास की चिंता छोड़कर ‘हाय महंगाई’ का नारा लगाते नजर आएंगे?

(ये लेखक के अपने विचार हैं)

सौजन्य - हिन्दुस्तान।

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Friday, February 5, 2021

आंदोलन को मिली खाप से ताकत (हिन्दुस्तान)

सी एस वर्मा, पूर्व प्रशासनिक अधिकारी 


दो दिन पहले, बुधवार को हरियाणा के जींद जिले के कंडेला गांव में प्रांत की सभी 50 खापों की एक सर्वखाप पंचायत हुई, जिसमें संयुक्त किसान मोर्चा की ही मांगें दोहराई गई हैं। भारतीय किसान यूनियन को मंच देकर सर्वखाप पंचायत ने आंदोलनकारी किसानों को अपना समर्थन दे दिया है। ऐसे में, सवाल यह पूछा जाने लगा है कि राष्ट्रीय राजधानी दिल्ली की सीमा पर चल रहे किसान आंदोलन को अंजाम तक पहुंचाने में क्या इन पंचायतों की भी भूमिका होगी? चूंकि खापों का कोई सर्वमान्य नेता नहीं है (बैठक अथवा रैली का आयोजन अलग बात है), इसलिए केंद्र सरकार से बातचीत में खाप के नुमाइंदे भी शामिल होंगे, ऐसा नहीं लग रहा। वार्ता की मेज पर तो वही संगठन बैठेंगे, जो अब तक केंद्र सरकार के प्रतिनिधियों से बात करते रहे हैं। फिर भी, खाप पंचायत एक रास्ता बना सकती है और उसे यह भूमिका स्वीकार करनी चाहिए। खाप पंचायतें किसान नेताओं से जिद व अहं न पालने और वार्ता में ‘एक हाथ ले, दूसरे हाथ दे’ की नीति अपनाने को समझा सकती हैं। हर समस्या का समाधान देर-सबेर निकलता है, इसलिए इस मसले का भी निकलेगा ही, लेकिन इस बीच सामाजिक ताना-बाना, राष्ट्रीय छवि और आपसी सद्भाव कायम रखना कहीं ज्यादा जरूरी है।

मुगल काल से उत्तर भारत के जाटों की खाप पंचायतें एक सामाजिक ग्राम्य गणतंत्र रही हैं। उत्तर मुगल काल में जब अफगान आक्रांता थोडे़-थोड़े अंतराल पर सिंध पार करके पंजाब को रौंदते हुए सशस्त्र बलों के साथ दिल्ली की ओर बढ़ते थे, तब अपनी स्त्रियों, बच्चों और संपत्ति की रक्षा के लिए जाटों ने समूह बनाने शुरू किए थे। प्रारंभ में ये समूह गोत्र पर आधारित थे। जाटों में गोत्र की व्यवस्था उतनी ही पुरानी है, जितनी जाति। अपना डीएनए खास बनाए रखने के लिए जाट अपने बच्चों के शादी-ब्याह ऐसे दूसरे गोत्रों में करते हैं, जिनसे उनकी मां और पिता के गोत्र न टकराते हों। इस व्यवस्था से उनका सामाजिक विस्तार भी होता गया और समानता व एकता की भावना भी बलवती होती गई। 

बाद के दिनों में गोत्र विशेष के छोटे-मोटे विवादों का निपटारा इनकी पंचायतों में होने लगा। खाप का ढांचा पिरामिडीय आकार का रखा गया है। नजदीकी भाई अपना कुटुंब बनाते हैं, कुटुंब मिलकर थोक (पट्टी) निर्मित करते हैं, थोक मिलकर थाम्बा गठित करते हैं, और अंत में उस गोत्र के थाम्बे मिलकर खाप का गठन करते हैं। सभी खापें मिलकर एक सर्वखाप का गठन करती हैं। कंडेला में यही सर्वखाप पंचायत हुई थी। वैसे, सबसे बड़ी सर्वखाप पंचायत 1936 में बालियान (जिसके प्रमुख नरेश टिकैत हैं) खाप के सोरम गांव में हुई थी। उसमें किसानों ने गांधीजी के आह्वान पर देश की आजादी की लड़ाई में बढ़-चढ़कर हिस्सा लेने का फैसला किया था। एक बात समझने की जरूरत है। जाटों की नजर में जमीन बहुत ही मूल्यवान होती है। एक जाट कितने भी महंगे बंगले में रहता हो, एलीट क्लब का सदस्य हो, करोड़ों के पैकेज वाली सैलरी कमाता है, पर दूसरों से बातचीत में अपने पास गांव में पैतृक जमीन होने की बात पर बड़ा ही गौरवान्वित महसूस करता है। खाप ग्रामीणों का संगठन होता है, इसलिए उनके पास किसान नेता व राजनेता अपना मनोबल, संख्या बल और शक्ति प्रदर्शन हासिल करने जाते हैं। ग्रामीण किसान भावुक और भोला-भाला होता है। वह आसानी से भावनाओं में बह जाता है। इसका फायदा भी आंदोलन के नेता उठाने से नहीं चूकते। राजनेता खापों के किसी काम नहीं आते, लेकिन उनका समर्थन जरूर अपने आंदोलन में जान फूंकने के लिए लेते रहते हैं।

बहरहाल, खापों के किसान आंदोलन में शामिल हो जाने के बाद आंदोलन उग्र तो नहीं होगा, लेकिन खापों की सक्रियता से यह आंदोलन कुछ दिन अथवा माह लंबा जरूर खिंच जाएगा। लाल किले की शर्मनाक घटना ने ग्रामीणों (खापों के मुख्य स्रोत) को भी अंदर तक झकझोर दिया था। हॉलीवुड के सितारों और कनाडा की रैलियों की कवरेज इन ग्रामीणों पर भी सीधा असर डाल रही हैं। जिन किसान परिवारों का एक भी सदस्य सीमा की रक्षा करने वाले सैनिक के रूप में अपनी सेवा दे रहा है, पुलिस में रहकर कानून-व्यवस्था संभालने में जुटा है, वह कतई नहीं चाहेगा कि किसान आंदोलन अपने मार्ग से भटककर अपने में राष्ट्रद्रोही तत्वों को शामिल करे या हिंसक हो जाए। जिम्मेदारी सरकार की भी बनती है। वह वार्ता के सभी माध्यम खुले रखे। हमारी कृषि शिक्षण संस्थाएं विश्व-स्तरीय हैं। यहां अध्ययन कर चुके छात्र और अध्ययन कराने वाली फैकल्टी दुनिया भर में पढ़ा रही हैं या शोध-कार्यों में जुटी हुई हैं। इन्हें शामिल करके किसानों के हित के मामले उनको समझाए जा सकते हैं। किसानों के दिल में बैठ गई या बिठाई गई ये बातें निकालनी पड़ेंगी कि बड़े कॉरपोरेट घरानों के हित साधने के लिए ये कानून बने हैं। किसानों के हित के प्रावधान उन्हें समझाने चाहिए। बिजली, खाद व पानी की किल्लत और खाद्य पदार्थों का बाजार न मिलने जैसी समस्याएं भी राज्य सरकारों को साथ लेकर सुलझाने की जरूरत है। कृषि राज्य का विषय है। इसलिए समस्या के समाधान की जिम्मेदारी अकेले केंद्र की नहीं है। किसान आंदोलन एक खास तबके या जाति द्वारा चलाया जा रहा है, यह भ्रम तोड़ना होगा, और इसकी जवाबदेही आंदोलन के नेताओं की है। यहां ध्यान देने वाली बात यह है कि आजादी के बाद के समूचे भारत वर्ष के निर्विवादित किसान नेता किसानों को एक वर्ग मानकर उनकी लड़ाई लड़ते थे। चौधरी चरण सिंह अपने समूचे राजनीतिक जीवन में लोक-व्यवस्था बनाए रखने और सांविधानिक संस्थाओं के सम्मान व प्रतीकों की सुरक्षा के हिमायती थे। उम्मीद है, किसान बिरादरी उनकी इस विरासत को बनाए रखने को कृत संकल्पित होगी।

(ये लेखक के अपने विचार हैं)

सौजन्य - हिन्दुस्तान।

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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Allahabad High Court stands up for personal liberty (Hindustan Times)

By Gautam Bhatia

 

The judgment of the Allahabad High Court represents an important judicial pushback against the dominant ideology of State interference in questions of marriage, including by empowering social and vigilante groups.

Indian laws — and the Indian State — have a long history of unwarranted interference in the private lives of individuals. One of the most egregious examples of this is the Special Marriage Act (SMA). It requires couples to notify marriage officers one month in advance of their marriage, and for marriage officers to publicise such a notification. SMA also allows for any person to “object” to the marriage on the basis that it (allegedly) violates provisions of the Act. It has been seen — repeatedly — that these provisions have allowed hostile families, as well as other groups, to interfere with the decision of individuals to marry, and pressure, browbeat, and coerce them to change their minds. This has been especially true of inter-faith marriages.



The basic issue is straightforward. If two individuals have taken the deeply personal — and intimate — decision to marry each other, it is not for anyone else — and especially not for vigilante groups — to interfere with that choice. But it is precisely this kind of extra-legal interference that is facilitated, and indeed, encouraged, by laws with reporting requirements of this kind.


However, in this context, a recent judgment of the Allahabad High Court, in Safiya Sultana v State of UP, assumes great significance. It was specifically contended in the case that because of ongoing issues surrounding the implementation of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversions Ordinance (popularly known as the “love jihad law”), the provisions of SMA required authoritative interpretation.



Justice Vivek Chaudhary observed that as SMA had been passed in 1954, it was important for the court to examine whether the social and legal landscape had changed in the intervening years. Relying on a Law Commission Report that had observed that SMA’s notice requirement led to “high handed or unwarranted interference”, which often took the form of social boycotts and harassment, and on numerous Supreme Court judgments that had emphasised the importance of individual autonomy and privacy in questions of marriage, he held that it was clear that the Constitution mandated “personal liberty and privacy to be fundamental rights including within their sphere right to choose partner without interference from State, family or society”.


In this context, given the social interference that was facilitated and sanctioned by the notice requirements of SMA, Justice Chaudhary held that those requirements would have to be read as voluntary, not mandatory. In other words, if a couple marrying under SMA did not want their details to be made public, they could not be compelled to do so.



As a significant number of marriages under SMA are inter-faith, the impact of this judgment cannot be understated.


The judgment of the Allahabad High Court represents an important judicial pushback against the dominant ideology of State interference in questions of marriage, including by empowering social and vigilante groups.


SMA’s notice requirements, of course, are not new. As the court observed, they were present at the very beginning, when the original SMA was introduced in 1872. However, arguably, it is these notice requirements that have formed the baseline of further intrusions (the infamous “love jihad” ordinance also has a similar notice requirement, and indeed, goes further by empowering the police to investigate into the “genuineness” of a religious conversion).


What is most important is what they signify — notice and reporting requirements convey a message to the world that decisions of the most intimate character are not for the individual to make, but must be ratified by society (which, in practical terms, means the dominant members of society). In practice, they leave individuals and couples with a stark choice — face the possibility of social persecution and violence, or give up your freedoms. These are not choices that a constitutional democracy should be asking its citizens to make.


Gautam Bhatia is a Delhi-based advocate The views expressed are personal.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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