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STATESMAN, JAN 4, 2017
The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything in retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways. -- John F Kennedy
The development paradigm has traditionally treated agriculture as the prime mover, the engine to sustain people, a promoter of property and power, the launching pad for development as well as the foundation on which the economic edifice can and does rest. The agricultural commodity market remains at the heart of agricultural development and is an important element in achieving the farmers well being. The availability of the market is as important as irrigation. It relates to the quantity that has to be grown, the method of cultivation, and the method of profitable sale.
The importance of this crucial aspect has largely been ignored by the agricultural policy makers and mainstream economists. Since independence, the major problem that confronts small and marginal farmers is the lack of proper marketing. In spite of several attempts to reform, agricultural markets largely suffer from poor competitiveness, fragmentation, inefficiency, presence of middlemen, and frequent price manipulations. Indeed, agriculture in India has now become a relatively unrewarding and hopeless profession due to the unfavourable price regime.
Farmers are on a treadmill in which the downward pressure on the price that they receive -- and/or the upward pressure on inputs needed for production -- force them to adopt new technologies to enhance the scale of production in an attempt to continue in the farming profession. But farming is one of the few enterprises that pays retail prices for inputs and sells its produce at wholesale prices. As the financial returns of farmers decline per unit of output, in order to reap the same returns as before the farmers are generally advised that they must expand operations. The treadmill that it creates is indicated by the adage, We grow more corn to feed more cows, to make more milk, to buy more land, to grow more corn. Those who survive under the process of scale enlargement usually have large enterprises, a good education, and enormous working capital. They are highly organised and enjoy a premium for the commodities they sell because of their large quantity. They pay less for inputs as also interest on borrowed money, and are in a position to earn a profit through the use of hired labour.
But as regards small and marginal farmers, a mere increase in production with improved farming techniques is not the panacea for the problems that they face. Indian agriculture is dominated by small holders, with 85 per cent of all operated holdings being marginal or small and 63 per cent being just marginal. Adoption of technology enables them to produce more, but their produce is sold for less. The scenario can aptly be described with the words of Joannes Stobaeus, Farming is a most senseless pursuit, mere labouring in a circle. You sow that you may reap, and then you reap that you may sow. Nothing ever comes of it. A similar trend has been noticed in livestock farming as well.
The share of farmers in the total retail price has declined and the marketing/trader share has increased. The average farmers are so poor and indebted that they are not in a position to wait for better prices. A recent survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) revealed that nearly 50 per cent of Indias 90 million farmers were indebted to either banks or money lenders. They are compelled to dispose of their products immediately after harvest to clear their dues, so that they can borrow again. The prices remain low at the time of harvest. Thus the semi-feudal tenure-based relationship and the interlocked contracts lead to forced commerce or distress sales in Indian agriculture. Immediately after the harvest, the supply consists of the completely unrewarding sales of indebted farmers. Worse still, contracts for agricultural commodities are interlocked with credit in order to depress commodity prices below those which would result from unconstrained transactions, and raise interest rates above those of the market.
The policies on procurement and Minimum Support Price (MSP) for some agricultural commodities, intended to plug distress sale, have been of little help to farmers. The MSP fixed by the government has not been regulated effectively and it remains on paper due to lack of a proper marketing system, regulations, policies, awareness, punishment etc. As a result, while the traders and rich farmers profit from MSP, poor and marginal farmers are victimised by exploitative prices.
There are many ways by which farmers can dispose of their surplus produce. Commodities are sold to village money-lenders, the rural markets, and cooperative marketing societies. According to one estimate, around 85 per cent of the wheat, 75 per cent of oilseeds and 35 per cent of cotton in Punjab are sold by farmers in the villages. Often the money lenders act as commission agents of the wholesale traders. The chain of middlemen in agricultural marketing is so large that the share of farmers is reduced substantially. For instance, a study has revealed that farmers get only about 53 per cent of the price of rice, 31 per cent being the share of middlemen and the remaining 16 per cent being the marketing cost. In case of vegetables and fruit the share is even less -- 39 per cent in the first and 34 per cent in the latter. The share of middlemen in the case of vegetables was 29.5 per cent and in case of fruit 46.5 per cent. Some of the intermediaries in the agricultural marketing system are village traders, brokers, wholesalers and retailers, money-lenders, and so on. The number of unregulated markets in the country is substantially large. Brokers, taking advantage of the ignorance and illiteracy of farmers, use unfair means to cheat the peasantry both in terms of weight and quality.
The Government of India introduced major reforms by implementing the Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation) Act (APMRA) during the 1960s and Seventies. This has been a major driving force behind the achievements of the Green Revolution. But the gains brought about by APMRA have been diluted over time. Markets are not adequately regulated. Under the APMRA, the prices are determined and driven by Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC). The monopoly rights enjoyed by APMCs on the first sale of commodities have been disappointing. However, political will is required to dismantle this centralised monopoly and make it compete with other players such as big retailers. Integrating fragmented agricultural markets can ensure a better deal for farmers and also help consumers who suffer frequent price increases on account of local shortages.
Small holders have to contend with the risk of high market-price fluctuation risk. Many are unaware of the daily prices and often depend on middlemen, who exploit them. There is a marginal presence of modern channels like retail (supermarket) buyers, food processors, and wholesale cash n carry players. The supermarkets procure only A grade produce, offer APMC market-based prices and do not buy regularly with pre-committed orders. The contracting agencies still do not attend fully to the market risk, let alone the production risks of the growers. Indian agriculture is largely an unorganised sector and the root cause of the crisis is the income-deficit. This calls for marketing extension, not just production extension. This would mean better product planning at the farmers level, provision of market information, securing/accessing markets for farmers, provision of alternative markets and market orientation in terms of improved practices. To safeguard farmers from exploitation by middlemen the plan called ulavar santhal (farmers market), where the farmers can directly sell their products at reasonable prices to consumers, can be introduced.
The writer is a retired IAS officer.
BUSINESS LINE, JAN 3, 2017
Blame the bureaucracy
The demonetisation drive was an epic miscalculation; and the crooks stayed ahead of the Government
Too many spokes And a government machinery that failed to deliver Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury
Demonetisation has come and gone. The travails of the common man have not ended by the promised date, and no one quite knows how long it might take for cash to be available on tap.
The countryside has been hit the hardest. Banks have little money to dispense and plastic is slow to penetrate. I tried explaining to people in my village that with an ATM card and a POS swipe, money can be moved from buyer to seller without either of them so much as seeing a currency note. They looked bewildered.
Everyday life has been hit, but people have accepted these privations with fortitude. Privation is not new to our people. This time round at least it is privation with a purpose. People believe that at the end of it all, moneybags would be cut to size and life would be better for everyone.
While people have kept their faith, the bureaucracy has failed to deliver. The government has been let down by the steel frame.
The bureaucrats ought to have known that there are enough people in this country who, for a few hundred rupees, will stand in front of a bank all day to exchange money for others.
They should have expected the high and mighty to use the bank accounts of their underlings to launder concealed wealth. They should have anticipated that a good portion of the new currency put into circulation would stay put in purses and wallets. In an atmosphere of scarcity, people would naturally be reticent to spend what little cash they have.
Too much confusion
It has so far been a case of bolting the stable after the horses have fled. Not a day has passed without the finance ministry announcing a recalibration of the rules.
Thanks to these miscalculations, the cash crunch has lasted longer than it should have.
Even more importantly, the expectation that a big chunk of the scrapped notes would never make it back into the system has been belied. The crooks have been ahead of the Government.
Having failed to devise foolproof rules, the Government is now hoping that data analytics would salvage the situation by separatingmala fideexchange of banned notes from thebona fide.
While the political leadership would have egg on its face if demonetisation comes a cropper, it is the bureaucracy that should be held to account. When reform of this magnitude falters it is time to ask what went wrong. Why has the blue-blooded bureaucracy been so repeatedly wrong-footed?
Perhaps it is the blue blood. The bureaucracy does not have a finger on the pulse because it has little identification with common people. Ensconced in power and surrounded by privilege, it has lost its empathy for the people it is supposed to serve. Elitism is at the root of the problem.
I would like to narrate my experience with the bureaucracy as a farmer, and let the reader judge.
The collector decided to visit my farm. The Government was interested in promoting bamboo as a source of biomass and I was one of the few to plant this crop. I was asked by his subordinates to clear the pathway to the bamboo grove, spruce up my farm, bathe my cows, and do whatever else is necessary to receive a VIP.
Having spent much of my life at the Delhi School of Economics which has scant regard for VIPs, I refused.
Gone, in a jiffy
The collector came, anyhow. A cavalcade of white SUVs raced through the narrow dirt track inside my farm, lights blazing and horns blaring. The collector was surrounded by his minions the moment he stepped out. Neither he nor his staff knew much about the species of bamboo I was growing.
I was the only person who knew anything, but it didnt matter because he did not condescend to look at me. All he did was stand at the edge of the bamboo grove and listen to the people he met every day. Then, quite abruptly, they trooped into their SUVs and sped away.
Robert Clive may be dead, but he has left behind a dubious legacy.
I dont know if the bureaucracy was ever interested in ordinary folk. Perhaps this is too much to expect from an elite cadre.
The problem is that the present government has come up with a host of initiatives that count on the support of people like you and me. Is this bureaucracy capable of delivering what the political leadership wants?
Seeing the way they have messed up demonetisation, we have reason to be sceptical.
We have, for the first time, a government that has the stomach for gutsy initiatives. After all, it was able to send the Planning Commission packing. We must hope that it shows the same courage when it comes to the civil service.
Surely, we are not short of talent. There are plenty of professionals in NGOs, micro finance institutions and FMCG firms whose job is to read the pulse of the people. It is this kind of talent that can help usher in the cataclysmic changes the Government wants to see.
The writer is a labour relations and HR consultant
HINDUSTAN TIMES, JAN 2, 2016
A battle between the government and unaccounted cash holders
People stand in a queue outside an ATM in Shimla. With restrictions on cash withdrawal , a substantial portion of peoples transactions should be carried out through cashless transactions, which would force them to become tax-compliant in the future. (HT Photo)
It is now clear that about 90% of the demonetised currency found its way back to banks (both by over the counter transfer and deposits in bank accounts), the expectation of windfall profit for the RBI and hence the government that could accrue from unreturned demonetised currency would remain unfulfilled. The unreturned demonetised currency connotes 100% taxation on the same for the RBI and government. Does this mean that the entire exercise of demonetisation failed miserably? Let us discuss it in detail.
The currencies that found its way back to the bank accounts are of four categories. The first category is accounted money. This category essentially belonged to the personal savings with an upper limit of 2.5 lakhs per account holder, irrespective of how much was exchanged over the counter or deposited in the bank account. For instance, if a family has three bank accounts and deposited demonetised currencies worth of 7.5 lakhs together from their savings, it would still be considered as accounted cash. However, with restrictions on cash withdrawal from banks, a substantial portion of their transactions either for their economic or personal activities henceforth should be carried out through cashless transactions, which would force them to become tax-compliant in the future, especially if their income exceeds the minimum slab of income tax.
The second category is those who managed to convert their whole or part of their unaccounted cash over the counter fraudulently with the connivance of some bank officials and mercenaries during the window period of November 10 and November 25 2016. The total currency that were issued over the counter was about I35000 crores, which would be about 2.3% of the total demonetised currency. Had the government not introduced inking and subsequent stopping of over the counter exchange, the money laundering would have reached newer heights and would have become the most-sought-after avocation and made the demonetisation a failure even before December 30. The new 2000 currencies worth of INR hundreds of crores that were seized by the IT department in the last one month essentially came from this. Among 35000 crores that were exchanged over the counter, it is not known till now how much currencies were exchanged over the counter fraudulently. It is also a million-dollar question whether the IT department could trace all such fraudulent transactions in the shortest possible time, given the limited bandwidth of IT department in consolidating umpteen tips they receive on hoarding of both demonetised and new currencies and acting upon the same. The raids and associated unearthing of undisclosed wealth may add to the kitty of IT department, when the cases of unaccounted wealth are adjudicated.
The third category is the currency that were deposited beyond the upper limit of 2.5 lakhs per account. It was already reported that demonetised currencies worth of about 7 lakh crores was deposited in 60 lakh bank accounts, which is almost about half of the demonetised currency that returned to the banking system. Individual bank account deposits were about 3 lakh crores to 4 lakh crores and the rest is of companies and institutions. This amounted to about 11.66 lakhs on average in an account, although the distribution of deposits is not known. With proper justification on the deposited currency, the depositor would be allowed to use his money with no penalty. Even then, he will be forced to become tax-compliant from the financial year 2016-17, if he has not been in the tax net so far and may have to pay more income tax if he has paying less than what he was supposed to pay. In the absence of justification, if the depositor voluntarily discloses his unaccounted income, he will be charged with 50% tax on the deposited amount beyond 2.5 lakh, 25% of the deposited amount beyond 2.5 lakh in Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) account with no interest and locking period of four years and the remaining 25% will be given back to the depositors. If the IT department caught hold of unaccounted income subsequently, the unaccounted income will be penalised with 85% on the deposited amount beyond 2.5 lakh. It is too early to predict how much the government could get in the form of tax, penalty and PMGKY fund from this category of deposits.
The fourth category is those who decided to deposit old unaccounted currencies beyond the limit of 2.5 lakhs in the accounts of other people who agreed to use their account to park unaccounted money for a commission. For instance, if a person holding 1 crore unaccounted demonetised currency may deposit the same in 200 Jan Dhan accounts, each INR 50000/, as no PAN card is required for deposits up to 50000. This kind of deposits is essentially a benami currency. This is a tricky case for IT department unless they get solid information on this fraudulent practice and act in a time bound manner before the cash is withdrawn from the accounts. By hugely incentivising people to share the information with the IT department on money laundering that includes people who allowed the unaccounted money holders to park their money in their own accounts, IT department may be able to collate information on the same. The third and fourth category of people may constitute the Missing Middle as defined by IT department, who incessantly avoid tax net or pay much less than what they should be.
The question that haunts is that how the expectation that at least 2 lakh crores would not return is belied by the hoarders of unaccounted cash. Apart from money laundering and over the counter fraud, by depositing the huge unaccounted income in bank accounts, it looks as if, the unaccounted cash holders have opened Pandoras box for themselves as the entire wealth, both accounted and unaccounted, will be under the scrutiny of IT department henceforth. Still, they have decided to go ahead with depositing their unaccounted cash, which means that there are still some loopholes available for them to show such deposits as their legitimate cash. Or they may strongly believe that the government machinery and IT department does not have the capability and bandwidth to book tens of lakhs of unaccounted money holders and penalise them in a time-bound manner. More than demonetisation, this belief of unaccounted cash holders is indeed a challenge for the government. Although the window for demonetisation comes to an end by December 30, 2016, the battle of nerves between the government and the unaccounted cash holders does not seem to end soon.
STATESMAN, JAN 1, 2017
PM warns of tough action against dishonest, announces sops
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday set out a stern warning of tough action against the "dishonest" people even as he announced a slew of sops for senior citizens, farmers, rural housing, women and small entrepreneurs to soften the blow of demonetisation.
He also assuaged the honest people that the government will act as a friend to them so that their difficulties are eased.
Among the sops announced in his address to the nation at the end of 50-day demonetisation period, Modi said senior citizens will get 8 per cent interest on deposits of upto Rs.7.5 lakh for 10 years and deposit of Rs.6000 into accounts of pregnant and lactating women in rural areas to meet medical expenses.
For farmers, he announced that banks will not charge interest for 60 days on loans taken from district cooperative central bank and primary societies for rabi crop.
For construction or expansion of a rural house, 3 per cent interest will be waived on loan of upto Rs.2 lakh.
Announcing two new schemes under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, he said 4 per cent interest subvention on loans upto Rs.9 lakh and 3 per cent on loan upto Rs.12 lakh.
"The law will take its course with full force. The government will help the honest and protect them and see their difficulties are eased. How honest will gain from the government. This government is a friend of good people and wants to build on the good environment for the people to return to goodness," he said.
Acknowledging that "serious offences" have been committed by some bank and government officials taking advantage of situation, he said "they will not be spared".
STATESMAN, JAN 1, 2017
RBI to announce facility for NRIs to exchange old notes
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Saturday said that it will introduce a facility for exchange of old specified bank notes for Indian residents and NRIs, who were abroad from November 9 to December 30.
According to a RBI notification, Indian residents, who were abroad during November 9 to December 30, 2016 can avail the new facility up to March 31, 2017, while NRIs can avail it up to June 30.
"While there is no monetary limit for exchange for the eligible resident Indians, the limit for NRIs will be as per the relevant FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) regulations," said the RBI notification.
"They can avail this facility in their individual capacity once during the period on submission of ID documents, such as Aadhaar number, Permanent Account Number (PAN) etc, and on submission of documentary evidence showing they were abroad during the period and, that they have not availed the exchange facility earlier."
The country's central bank elaborated that third-party tender will not be accepted under the new facility.
"On fulfilment of the terms and conditions and the genuineness of the notes tendered, admissible amount will be credited to the tenderer's KYC (know your customer) compliant bank account," the notification said.
"The facility will remain open for residents from January 2, 2017 to March 31, 2017 and for NRIs from January 2, 2017 to June 30, 2017. This facility will be available through Reserve Bank offices at Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, and Nagpur."
The notification added that Indian citizens residing in Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and Bangladesh cannot avail this facility.
ECONOMIC TIMES, JAN 6, 2017
After IAS officers outbursts against CBI, AAP targets Narendra Modi
We are a democratically elected government and the BJP, in its actions, is suppressing democracy. They have not been able to accept their defeat in Delhi, said Manish Sisodia.
NEW DELHI: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah a day after after Delhi bureaucrat Rajendra Kumar sought retirement from government service, alleging that the CBI was pressurising him to implicate Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Deputy Chief Minister and AAP leader Manish Sisodia alleged that this was Modis and Shahs attempt to dislodge the Delhi government.
Referring to the CBI raid conducted in Health Minister Satyendar Jains office last week, Sisodia said that the CBI will target him next. They have filed some nine cases against the AAP government and Jain and I will be their next target, Sisodia said. We are a democratically elected government and the BJP, in its actions, is suppressing democracy. They have not been able to accept their defeat in Delhi, Sisodia added.
In a letter written to Delhis Chief Secretary MM Kutty on Wednesday, IAS officer Rajendra Kumar, Kejriwals former Principal Secretary, has said that he wanted to take a voluntary retirement from service claiming officials were pressurising him to name the Chief Minister.
Kumar was principal secretary to Kejriwal until his suspension following his arrest by the CBI last year. The CBI had first raided Kumars office in connection with a corruption case on December 15, 2015. In December last year, the CBI filed a chargesheet against Kumar.
He has been charged with alleged criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery under the IPC, besides provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act, along with eight others and a private company.
The CBI alleged that Kumar and the others entered into a criminal conspiracy and caused a loss of Rs 12 crore to the Delhi government in award of contracts between 2007 and 2015. Its FIR also claimed that officials had taken undue benefit of over Rs 3 crore while awarding the contracts.
In the letter, Kumar has further alleged, Not just this, just to force CBI to implicate me and the chief minister of Delhi, the interrogators have beaten dozens of people and some of them sustained permanent major injuries, Kumar alleged in the letter.
According to sources in the government, as per procedure, the chief secretary will forward the letter, with request of voluntary retirement, to the Union home ministry for further action.
HINDU, JAN 4, 2017
Over 4 lakh Gujarat govt. employees threaten agitation
Fixed pay for five years seen as unconstitutional and exploitative
: More than four lakh employees hired by the Gujarat government on a fixed pay for five years, for various positions in the police, education and revenue departments, and in other clerical positions, have threatened a mass agitation if the Gujarat government does not stop their exploitation and pay them a regular salary along with other perks.
On Sunday, thousands of employees held a rally in the State capital Gandhinagar, demanding that they be regularised by January 7, or else they would launch an agitation to disrupt the forthcoming Vibrant Gujarat Summit, scheduled to be held from January 10 to 13.
The Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) headed by Hardik Patel, who spearheaded the quota agitation; Jignesh Mewani, who led the Dalit agitation; and Alpesh Thakor, who represents the Other Backward Class (OBC) communities, also supported the cause of the fixed pay employees and accused the State government of exploitation of youth in the name of fixed pay.
The Gujarat government is exploiting youth by hiring them on fixed pay, which is unconstitutional, said a youth activist Pravin Ram, who launched a State-wide forum to organise the employees to raise their voice. According to him, their main demand is to abolish the system of fixed pay.
Pulled up by the HC
In 2012, the Gujarat High Court had slammed the State government for its policy and asked it to regularise all employees and pay them their arrears from the date they were recruited. However, the then government headed by Chief Minister Narendra Modi challenged the HC ruling in the Supreme Court, which is currently hearing the case.
After Sundays rally by employees in Gandhinagar, the Gujarat government on Monday announced that the State government would soon take a major decision in favour of employees hired on fixed pay.
Affidavit in SC
The State government will file an affidavit in the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear the case on January 10. The government is committed to resolve the issue, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel told the media on Monday.
Since 2006, the Gujarat government has been recruiting its staff on a fixed pay for five years, after which the person hired is regularised, but the five-year period is considered a probation so most of the employees, after serving for five years on fixed pay, are subsequently paid according to a junior scale salary with commensurate benefits.
To disrupt the forthcoming Vibrant Gujarat Summit if they are not regularised by Jan 7
TIMES OF INDIA, JAN 3, 2017
LG asks top officers to ensure timely service
NEW DELHI: Pitching for "time-bound delivery of services", lieutenant governorAnil Baijalon his first working day met top bureaucrats of the Delhi government, including chief secretary MM Kutty, the commissioners of all three corporations and the NDMC chairman.
Assured of full cooperation by Kutty, Baijal also made it clear that work would be done in keeping with the rule book, said sources. He asked the officers to come up with "innovative ideas" and focus on environment and sanitation.
In a statement, the LG's office said Baijal met all principal secretaries/secretaries/department heads. "TheLGexhorted the officers to ensure that there is timely delivery of services to the people of Delhi," it said. "He directed all officers to address their (common people's) issues promptly. He also assured the officers thatRaj Niwaswould extend all cooperation to the government in this regard." The officers were also told to make the city clean and green.
According to the statement, Kutty assured the LG that the government would "continue to strive to do its best to ensure that public services are provided in a time-bound manner".
The meeting gains significance considering the ongoing tussle between the Delhi government and the Centre. On Saturday, after taking oath, Baijal was non-committal on his probable ties with theAAPgovernment. "I don't know the answer to whether the relationship will improve, how it will improve or why. What I can say is that we will sit together and we will talk," he had said.
ASIAN AGE, JAN 5, 2017
5 states to vote in February-March; results on March 11
Punjab, Goa on February 4, Uttarakhand February 15, UP February 11, 15, 19, 23, 27, March 4, 8; Manipur March 4, 8.
At a high-level meeting with the Election Commission, top officials of the Ministry led by Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi conveyed that it would provide around 750 companies of paramilitary forces.
New Delhi:The Election Commission (EC) of India announced on Wednesday the schedule for Assembly elections in five states. Politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur will go to polls between February 4 and March 8.
The polls are considered significant as their outcomes are likely to reflect the peoples verdict on Prime Minister Narendra Modis demonetisation move implemented late last year.
While Uttar Pradesh will see polling in seven phases, it will be a one-day affair in Uttarakhand, Punjab and Goa; and a two-day exercise in Manipur.
Counting of votes will be taken up together in all states on March 11, the EC said.
Making the announcement, chief election commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi said that the EC would keep a watch on the use of black money, which is expected to come down due to demonetisation.
Steps will be taken to ensure that other illegal inducements are not used to influence voters, he said.
In Uttar Pradesh, which has a 403-member House, polls will be held on February 11 (73 constituencies), February 15 (67), February 19 (69), February 23 (53), February 27 (52), March 3 (49) and March 8 (40 constituencies).
Unlike the last elections, Manipur, which recently witnessed violence raising questions whether elections would be possible now, will have polling on March 4 (38 constituencies) and March 8 (22 seats). Here, the Congress seeks to retain power.
Polling will be held in Punjab and Goa together on February 4, and in Uttarakhand it will be held on February 15.
The model code of conduct will come into immediate effect, and will apply to political parties and state governments concerned, besides the central government in terms of announcements in these states, Mr Zaidi said.
The electoral process will begin with notifications for polls in Punjab and Goa on January 11. The family feud and the split in the ruling Samajwadi Party have injected a new dimension in politics in Uttar Pradesh where the BJP hopes to capture power after 14 years on the back of a sweep in Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The BSP and the Congress, the other main challengers, hope to make it a quadrangular fight but for some alliances being made.
Punjab, which has a 117-member Assembly, promises to be a three-way contest between the ruling SAD-BJP combine, the Congress and the new entrant AAP.
After sensational political developments in Uttarakhand in 2016, where the Congress was temporarily dislodged from power due to defections, the party and the BJP are set for a virtual direct fight on 70 seats.
In Goa, where the BJP seeks to retain most of the 40 assembly seats to remain in power, the AAP is being seen as a new player which plans to topple the applecart of the Congress and the BJP.
Over 16 crore people will participate in these polls for 690 constituencies in five states, for which the EC has set up 1.85 lakh polling stations, up by 15 per cent from the number during the 2012 polls.
The CEC said candidates would have to open a bank account for all election expenditures, and expenses above R20,000 will be made through cheques from the new accounts.
He added that donations above Rs 20,000 would also be accepted through cheques.
The maximum limit for expenses for each candidate in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand is R28 lakh, while that in Goa and Manipur is Rs 20 lakh, he said. The CEC said as part of reforms, the candidates would have to submit a no-demand certificate from agencies providing amenities and government accommodation. The certificate will come from agencies dealing with electricity, water, telephone services, and also the rent certificate of government accommodation which these candidates may have occupied in the past 10 years.
Defence personnel posted away from their home constituencies can vote through one-way electronic transmission of ballot in. But the facility may not be available in all constituencies this time, and could be extended in select seats.
The EC had first experimented the initiative in a Puducherry bypoll recently.
Asked about suggestions that the EC waited for PM Modis Lucknow rally before announcing the poll schedule, Mr Zaidi said the poll panel has its own mind. It does not make its schedule according to the request of political parties, he said.
The EC will issue photo voter slips to voters ahead of polls and will, for the first time, also distribute a colourful booklet that will guide voters on dates and timings of polls and locations of polling stations, besides dos and donts for them.
To encourage more participation of women in election management process, the EC will also have some all-woman polling stations this time around, besides making all polling stations friendly for differently-abled persons.
The tenure of Punjab, Goa and Manipur Assemblies are ending on March 18, while that of Uttarakhand on March 26 and Uttar Pradesh on May 27. To ensure full secrecy of a voter and that facial expressions dont indicate their choice of candidate, the poll panel had decided to increase the height of the shield that covers EVMs to 30 inches.
STATESMAN, JAN 5, 2017
EC names 'Dos and Don'ts' for state polls
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi on Wednesday announced a number of new measures for the upcoming assembly elections in five states.
Zaidi announced putting up of four posters at each polling station, informing the voters of locations of booths, and other Dos and Don'ts.
The posters were a statutory requirement at all polling stations, he said.
A voting assistance booth would also be kept at the polling stations.
Taking note of complaints received by the Election Commission (EC) in previous elections, the CEC announced that the height of the voting compartment would also be raised to 30 inches this time.
This was done to conceal the upper part of the body of the voters, the movement of which might giveaway the button they were pressing.
"This measure is being taken to maintain secrecy," Zaidi said.
The five states going to polls this year were Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur.
TRIBUNE, JAN 4, 2017
Unemployment dole: Why make a perilous promise?
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh must have caught his fellow politicians in poll-bound states on the wrong foot when he termed unemployment allowance to youth as utopian and impractical. The Himachal CM's views are against the grain of the political discourse in poll-bound Punjab and other states followed by Himachal and Gujarat later in the year. In Punjab, all the three fronts are vigorously competing against each other for the affection of the youth who forms the biggest chunk of the electorate. What better than to offer wild promises of jobs and doles for them? But as the veteran politician from Himachal reminds us, doles will be counter-productive as they will encourage sloth and kill initiative.
The bar for this unattainable dream was set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his promise of 25 crore jobs. The Congress in Punjab has taken the lead in selling this pipedream. It has registered a million youngsters under the Har Ghar Ton Ik Captain scheme and promised a job per household. The alternative you guessed it monthly unemployment allowance of Rs 2,500 for three years. The estimated outgo will be Rs 10,000 crore in a state where the growth in government revenue has missed the target by 5 per cent. The Aam Aadmi Party is talking of 25 lakh jobs. It might offer unemployment allowance as well considering that its Goa unit has already made it a poll promise.
The BJP in Goa and the Akali Dal-BJP alliance in Punjab restrained themselves from taking the plunge. The reason is not hard to find. The 2012 poll promise of Rs 1,000 unemployment dole in Punjab has a miserable record. In Mansa there were only three recipients last year. It is the same story in Goa. This explains the Akali Dals preference for focus on 1.13 lakh more government jobs. AAP thankfully also talks of skilling centres. That is the realistic course to making jobless youth more employable. Virbhadra Singh also makes this point. But his views are honed by the experience of his party in Himachal being unable to fulfill its pre-poll promise!
TELEGRAPH, JAN 5, 2017
Playing second fiddle- The RBI's loss of independence has harmed the economy
One of the most powerful and important institutions in any modern economy is its central bank or the monetary authority (as it is often referred to). In India, the central bank is the Reserve Bank of India. The central bank of an economy creates liabilities in the form of money, which the rest of the economy holds as assets. It controls the supply of money, and regulates a large part of the financial sector, particularly the commercial banks. Amongst its many functions the two most important ones are price stability, and influencing the cost of funds. It does this through what is called monetary policy. It attempts to control the rate of inflation and interest rates. In doing so it obviously affects macroeconomic variables like the level of prices, aggregate investments, gross domestic product growth, foreign exchange rates and the flow of international capital. In its functioning, the central bank is not accountable to the polity of the nation. For instance, the RBI can announce monetary policy measures without getting approval of Parliament. All things that are to do with the supply of money in the economy are the exclusive domain of the RBI. This is quite unlike the fiscal policy of the government, where taxes and expenditures need the approval of Parliament. Indeed, this is one area of economic policy that is delinked from the political process. It is important that the central bank retains its independence from the political agenda of any government.
In India, the RBI has been one of the most respected institutions that have carried out their tasks with competence and generally a fair degree of success over the years. However, over the past two or three years, the RBI has been under pressure to reduce interest rates and stimulate the economy even when inflation rates were reasonably high. The RBI, in asserting its independence, made it clear that controlling inflation in the current context of the economy's health was more important than rate cuts. The finance ministry on the other hand, had been suggesting that since the management of the fiscal deficit was important, there was no room for expansion of government expenditures, which is often the alternative way of stimulating demand and growth in the economy. Therefore, an expectation was being built up that it was the duty of the RBI to stimulate the economy. The RBI had held on to its independence quite firmly. Perhaps not happy with this situation, the government made changes in the making of monetary policy where a committee would take the decision and people appointed by the finance ministry would occupy three positions in a group of six. The RBI governor would have the casting vote if it came to a tie. With this change, and a new governor at the helm, a rate cut came immediately. Then the big shock of demonetization of 500 and 1,000 rupee notes arrived.
Since this would directly affect the money supply, the announcement ought to have come from the RBI. It could have been later backed up by the government, justifying the decision. In November, the announcement came from the prime minister himself in an open address to the nation. This, in less than a minute, devalued the position of the RBI as an independent institution. The RBI officials did go through the motions of a press meet a little later, but it appeared that the officials were not very confident of what was happening and what the economic implications would be. The bulk of the talking was done by a senior civil servant, who was not an RBI official.
It may be noted that the first time when the prime minister announced that the two types of currency notes would cease to be legal tender from midnight of November 8, 2016, he mentioned three reasons for the action - unearthing of black money, stopping fake notes from being printed, and snapping the link between the first two kinds of money and terrorism. The control of none of these three objectives is the duty of the RBI. There are specialized institutions and policy mechanisms that can control the problems. It was a failure of governance if these had been unsuccessful in the past. Overnight, the RBI and the commercial banks became crime-control machines made to work on the assumption that every citizen was guilty until proven innocent. To make matters worse, the benchmark of innocence kept changing every few days as announced by the government. It even came down for a day to the level of having Rs 5,000 in old currency notes. The complete subservience to the government and the continuous but random changes in the procedures of replacing old notes have made the RBI a virtual department of the government, where RBI senior officials behave like mid-level minions in the civil service whose vocabulary seemed to have become limited to exactly three words: Yes, prime minister. This erosion of the independence of the RBI will have long-term effects on the economy; especially how the rest of the world perceives policymaking in India. Confidence in the financial sector and in how it is regulated has taken a serious beating. The economic literature on public policymaking has contributed to the emergence of a conventional wisdom that claims discretionary policies are unambiguously worse than those based on transparent rules known to all. What one is witnessing today is discretionary randomness at its worst being touted as responsive governance.
There is another technical aspect of the sanctity of the monetary liabilities created by the RBI. If even 100 rupees of the older notes do not come back to the banking system, then the monetary liabilities of the RBI would go down to that extent. Adjustments would have to be made on the asset side of the balance sheet. Hence, there was speculation that these 'extra' assets could be used to recapitalize banks, or given to government for budgetary use. The RBI governor, in one of his very infrequent statements, claimed that he would not change the balance sheet after the swapping time-window closed. Currency notes that did not come back to the banking system would continue to be the liability of the RBI. Hence, as far as one can understand, it would have to stick to the promise made on the note "I promise to pay the bearer the sum of ...". Yet the notes have ceased to be legal tender. This means that one cannot settle debts with such notes, but the RBI retains its promise to give one the sum of 500 rupees or 1,000 rupees as the case may be.
The narrative of demonetization has shifted far away from black wealth and terror. It changed to ushering in a cashless India with electronic payments only. Now it is about a less cash India, going by the advertisements being recently put up. We are far away from coming even close to a developed market economy in terms of IT infrastructure. Forcing the issue would undermine not only confidence but create major disruptions in production and demand. Who knows what the next shift in the prime minister's narrative might be? It is, however, evident that the RBI in playing second fiddle to the government has for the first time in its illustrious career actually hurt the economy by its policies.
It is often being heard that the prime minister may have had long-term political objectives in mind, which he himself has more than once indicated. Pains are therefore an essential part of this transition to the long term. Very few Indians understand the importance of the central bank and the role it is supposed to play. Most have not even heard of the RBI. Hence any political gamble can safely rely on this assumption and give the signal that all disruptions are for the greatest common good for the greatest number. The prime minister might be correct in his gamble. The poor may not be affected much. After all, how much more can one hurt a person living below the poverty line.
The point, however, is that even if many have not heard of the RBI or do not understand its important functions, the fact will remain that one more important institution succumbed to the pressures of government and surrendered its independence. It is about reinforcing big government and poor governance, contrary to the electoral promise of the prime minister. Above all, it signifies the arrival of big government and even bigger whimsy conducted by one individual with a large and growing fan following.
The author is former professor of Economics, IIM Calcutta
HINDUSTAN TIMES, JAN 5, 2017
DDA plans new housing project to build 16,000 bigger, better flats for next draw
Out of 16,584 flats, to be built in Vasant Kunj, Dwarka, Rohini, Preet Vihar, Phazulpur, Mandawali and Khichdipur, almost 33% will be in the HIG category (HTFile Photo)
The Delhi Development Authority is ready with its next housing plan under which it will build more than 16,000 homes, 33% of which will be for high-income groups.
The project to build 16,584 flats in areas such as Vasant Kunj, Dwarka, Rohini, Preet Vihar, Phazulpur, Mandawali and Khichdipur had got all the clearances, sources said. The work will begin as soon as the plan is passed by senior DDA officials.
On offer will be one -bedroom flats for economically weaker sections and the low-income group (LIG), two-bedroom houses for the middle-income group (MIG) and three-bedroom units for the higher income group (HIG). The cost of these houses is yet to be decided, a senior DDA official said.
The new project comes close on the heels of the citys land developers getting the nod for 13,000 flats that are expected to go on the market in the coming months.
While 90% of these flats are in the LIG category, the new scheme will have around 33% HIG flats, most of which will come up in Vasant Kunj in south Delhi, Dwarka in Southwest and Rohini in Northwest.
Bulk of the 5,000 EWS houses and 5,000 LIG houses will come up in the east and Rohini zone while some are also planned for Dwarkas sectors 14 and 19.
The DDA has not set any deadline for the project as it is in the planning stages but sources expect it to be completed in two to three years.
Officials have been asked to prepare a detailed project report and initial estimates, sources said.
DDAs new housing project
Total in every zone
TRIBUNE, JAN 4, 2017
Justice Khehar sworn in as 44th Chief Justice of India
Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar (64) was on Wednesday sworn in as the 44th Chief Justice of India by President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan here. He succeeded Justice Tirath Singh Thakur and is the first CJI from the Sikh community.
Justice Thakur demitted office yesterday, and had last month recommended the name of Justice Khehar, the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, to be his successor.
Justice Khehar assumed office as an apex court judge on September 13, 2011. He will head the Indian judiciary for a little less than eight months before retiring onAugust 27.
Justice JS Khehar has headed two Constitution Benches of the apex court, one that had revived the Collegium system of appointing higher judiciary judges and the other that restored the Congress government headed by Chief Minister Nabam Tuki in Arunachal Pradesh.
He was associated with the impeachment proceedings of apex court Justice V Ramaswami and Karnataka HC Chief Justice PD Dinakaran.
He appeared as counsel to defend Justice Ramaswami, who survived the impeachment proceedings in the Lok Sabha in the 1990s, before the Judges Inquiry Committee headed by Justice PB Sawant of the apex court. As an apex court judge, he was part of the judges inquiry panel that had gone into complaints of misconduct against Justice Dinakaran.
Born on August 28, 1952, Khehar graduated in science from Government College, Chandigarh in 1974. He was awarded the LLB degree by Panjab University, Chandigarh, in 1977 and LLM in 1979.
He was enrolled as an advocate in 1979 and practised mainly in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Himachal Pradesh High Court and Supreme Court.
Justice Khehar was appointed as Additional Advocate General, Punjab, in January 1992, and then as Senior Standing Counsel, Union Territory, Chandigarh.
He was elevated to the bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court on February 8, 1999. Justice Khehar was appointed as Acting Chief Justice of the High Court twice.
He was elevated as Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court on November 29, 2009 and thereafter he was transferred as Chief Justice of High Court of Karnataka, where he assumed his office on August 8, 2010.
On appointment in the Supreme Court, he assumed office as SC judge on September 13, 2011. With agency inputs
HINDU, JAN 2, 2017
What readers want 1
Over the last five years, this column has discussed the many strands that make up the wonderful fabric called journalism. From the importance of verification, accuracy and fairness, to the perils of excessive use of adjectives in reporting, and dependency on anonymous sources, all these were closely scrutinised. These essentials of journalism indeed miss one element that constantly brings young men and women to this profession: passion.
Twenty years ago, Gabriel Garcia Marquez explained this process: Journalism is an unappeasable passion that can be assimilated and humanized only through stark confrontation with reality. No one who does not have this in his blood can comprehend its magnetic hold, which is fueled by the unpredictability of life. No one who has not had this experience can begin to grasp the extraordinary excitement stirred by the news, the sheer elation created by the first fruits of an endeavor, and the moral devastation wreaked by failure. No one who was not born for this and is not prepared to live for this and this only can cling to a profession that is so incomprehensible and consuming, where work ends after each news run, with seeming finality, only to start afresh with even greater intensity the very next moment, not granting a moment of peace. After being a journalist for well over three decades, I realise that the foundation for this passion is the precious human attribute: hope.
Processing the wish list
When passion and hope are channelled in a responsible and responsive manner to the needs of citizenry, journalism becomes the public sphere for democratic mediation of ideas and policies. A good news organisation derives its strength not only from adhering to its stated values but also from actively listening and responding to the readers. This column has been the listening post that collects, processes and passes on to the editorial team the voices of readers. In my earlier column, Should news give way for views? (September 26, 2016), I had solicited readers views about what they want to see in this newspaper. I promised to share their views in the year-end columns. But, the views from the readers were as varied as the diversity of this country; it took some more time to process their wish list. Given the level of engagement, I am compelled to paraphrase their views. I also refrain from attributing ideas to specific readers as in most cases more than one reader suggested identical ideas.
One of the suggestions that came from different parts of India was the creation of a dedicated weekly page to cover individual States. Readers felt that some States get much bigger space than others. Small States like Delhi get a big play in the media because they are in the centre. But we do not have enough stories from States in the periphery like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and the various Northeastern States. These States are relegated only to reporting natural disasters or acts of insurgency. We appreciate the new long form reportage Ground Zero. A weekly in-depth section on the States that generally miss the media radar would help us to understand this sub-continent size country better, said a reader. The regime change games played out in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand were cited to prove a point. The developments in these States came in as a surprise for many because the media did not cover the events that led to change of governments in these States.
Stamp of authenticity
A vast section of readers feel that news is important despite the fact that most read them as developing or breaking news in various 24x7 platforms. The reportage inThe Hinduhelps them to confirm that it was indeed news because of the trust factor. However, they feel that the news can be brief if it is accompanied by an insightful analysis. They feel that articles in the Lead section and the Comment sections are mostly from people who have a clear political affiliation or economic orientation. In order to contextualise these views and to make sense of the news, readers prefer an explainer of major developments providing the facts and figures to explain the rationale, or the lack of it, by policy makers. We need to sift facts from rhetoric and an informed fact file would be of immense help when there is a surfeit of opinion sans rational analysis, said another reader.
Special interest pages
Some readers wanted a few sections to be moved to the magazine to provide a sense of thematic symmetry to the newspaper. For instance, they wanted Weekend Reading to be a part of literary review. They felt that this section should be expanded to a four-page weekly supplement and include a section on writings in Indian languages. They also felt that Weekend Being on Sundays should be part of the Sunday Magazine. Issues and topics that have a longer shelf-life should be in the magazine section as we tend to read them at leisure unlike news and current affairs, opined readers. In their wish list of sections to be shifted from the main paper to magazines are Open Page and Education Plus, and they want the Science and Technology page to brought back to the news section. Readers from centres where not all the supplements such as Metro Plus, the Friday Review and Cinema Plus are available expect a curated supplement featuring some of the best features from these magazines.
(To be continued)
One of the suggestions was having a dedicated weekly page to cover individual States
HINDU, JAN 9, 2016
What readers want -2
Readers made an interesting observation about the mix of reports from the staff and those from news agencies. They feel that the newspaper online carries more stories from agencies than from staff reporters. [An] agency copy tends to give the bare-bones of a story, whereas a staff reporters copy tends to have greater depth and context, a reader said. He cited a few examples ofThe Hindus legal correspondents reports from the Supreme Court that captured the nuances of judgments better than most agency reports did. When platforms multiply and sources of information are abundant, many readers firmly believe that inThe Hindu,staff reporting should largely replace agency reports in national and regional stories. They feel that agency reports are fine for international events, be it politics or sports. It is a matter of trust a copy produced and processed exclusively byThe Hindustaff has greater resonance with them.
The other elements in the readers wish list are varied in their emphasis, but are linked by a common thread, which is thatThe Hindushould continue to play a role in enforcing accountability of all institutions. For instance, a reader wanted a series of stories on the status of implementation of various welfare measures. He wanted to know why many schemes exist only on paper, not on the ground. The newspaper, in readers opinions, should be able to name the persons accountable for lapses that adversely affect the livelihood of millions.
The task of scrutiny
Readers want to see more investigative reporting on corruption. For many, it seems as though the media has left the task of financial probity, integrity, and meeting targets to institutions such as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the Supreme Court, and various statutory bodies. One of the readers said that the independent media should retain the responsibility of scrutinising the Union and State governments, primarily because some individuals, despite honourable exceptions, who wield power in statutory bodies tend to convert their official findings to post-retirement job applications. A detailed story on the number of officials from statutory bodies who got a post-retirement job would reveal the inherent limitation of giving the task of scrutiny to only these bodies, said some readers. In fact, a qualitative analysis of their investigations, findings and recommendations could be a basis for evolving a code for the appointments to crucial watchdog bodies.
One of the first suggestions that came this year was for a weekly news feature that not only provides the context but also looks at precedents, best practices and worst examples. For instance, in the wake of a petition by political parties to the Election Commission (EC) seeking a directive to postpone the Union budget from being tabled on February 1, some readers wanted to know the exact sequence of events that led to the postponement of the budget in 2012. Which parties demanded the postponement? What were the reasons cited by them? Was there an EC directive that led to the postponement or was it the decision of the government itself to defer the budget till the elections for the five States were completed? Under the Model Code of Conduct, what elements in the budget would be considered a violation of the Code and what concessions or programmes permissible? Is there a legal binding? Can the apex court intervene in the election process if the Model Code violation raises questions about free and fair elections? What are the similarities and differences between the 2012 and the 2017 elections to these five States? Are there compelling reasons that make the date for the budget non-negotiable for the government? Readers would like an extended explainer of one complex issue every week to make sense of our polity and economy.
While many readers came up with suggestions for content, only one wrote at length about the design of the newspaper. Vijay S. Raghavan from Mumbai wrote extensively about the need for a redesign and for improvement in the printing quality across editions. He said there is unevenness in the quality of printing while it is excellent in some centres, it is not so in others. Any newspaper design will be liked by readers only for a few years, he said. They would like a change in the products presentation after every few years. When [Mario] Garcias design was introduced in 2005, it was stimulating for the readers. But after so many mutilations of that original design,The Hinduhas lost its charm. Font sizes at present are not good as they are small and not pleasing to the eyes. [The] layout is very congested.
This was one of the most exciting exercises for me as the Readers Editor. Readers comments and their level of engagement reaffirm our faith in an informed public sphere. Most of their proposals and ideas were not personal preferences or whims but manifestations of their deep understanding of what they want in a newspaper. I would like to assure the readers that the Editor and his team are amidst a consultative process to arrive at a new look as well as a new mix of content for this legacy newspaper that was launched in 1878. Your voices are central to this consultative process.
Proposals and ideas from readers were not personal preferences but manifestations of their understanding of what they want in a newspaper
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
TRIBUNE, JAN 4, 2017
Undesirability of mixing religion and politics
The Supreme Court of India recently prohibited politicians from using peoples' religion or caste to garner votes. The verdict has been described as one that could force political parties to change their strategy for the coming Assembly elections. It is our failure to erect a wall between religion and state that has led to ambiguity.
GOD is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms, said Nietzsche. India is a secular country with religion occupying centre stage. Accordingly, religion and religious propaganda are used in every election in spite of the fact that an appeal for votes in the name of religion or religious symbols is a corrupt electoral practice.What to say of religion, ultra-nationalists may be shocked to know that appeal to even national symbols such as the National Flag or the national emblem in electoral battles is also prohibited by the Representation of People's Act,1951.(RP Act).
India's failure in erecting much-needed wall of separation between religion and the state was the first blunder of our Republic.BJP should forever remain indebted to Jawaharlal Nehru. Even in the 2014 elections, the Har Har Modi slogan was all over even though the development was the main plank of the party. After the results, the Vishva Hindu Parishad President Ashok Singhal declared that a proud Hindu is in power in New Delhi after 800 years.
Gandhiji did not favour even the continuance of political parties and advocated the dissolution of the Indian National Congress so that people vote on the merit of the candidates. Though the bench did not agree to reopen the erroneous Hindutva judgment of 1995, authored by J.S. Verma, on the technical ground that such a question was not referred to the seven-judge bench.
In retrospect, all is well that ends well as in the view of the three judges disagreeing with the majority on the limited question of the meaning of the pronoun his. Had the Hindutva judgment been reconsidered, the decision could have gone either way. In any case, since the BJP governments, as Justice MadanB.Lokur rightly said surprisingly favoured a narrow construction of the prohibition of appeal in the name of religion.
The primary question in this case was whether appeal in the name of religion or other three prohibited grounds must be confined to just the religion, language, caste or the community of the candidate contesting an election or the prohibition extend to appeals in the name of religion etc. of his election agents, any other person or even voters. Those who have been the primary beneficiaries of use/misuse of religion or religious symbols such as rightist parties naturally argued that the Section 123 (3) of the RP Act as amended in 1961 be confined just to the appeals in the name of the religion of the candidates. They further argued against a broader interpretation on three grounds: First, the consequences of being found guilty of corrupt electoral practice are too severe which include not only the election being declared void but also being further disqualified for six years; secondly, freedom of expression is not to be curtailed by the election law during the election campaign and thirdly the court should not unsettle the legal position as to the meaning of his which is settled for decades whereby appeal cannot be made in the name of religion of the candidate.
The Supreme Court did not accept the narrower interpretation argument of the BJP-ruled states and favoured purposive interpretation of the expression his. Justice Lokur, with whom Justice Nageshwar agreed, held that in the interpretation of law both text of law as well as social context in which the law in question was enacted are to be taken into account. The amendment to Section 123(3) was made to control communalism as the requirement of systematic appeal in the name of religion etc. was too heavy and people making stray statements were escaping from the prohibition of the use of religion. He rightly said that the task of the court is to give effect to the Parliaments purpose. Words are to be given their meaning but let us not make a fortress out of the dictionary. Every statute does have some purpose or object to accomplish. On the basis of simultaneous addition of Section 153A in the Indian Penal Code to control misuse of religion in creating enmity or hatred amongst citizens, mischief which 1961 amendment to Section 123(3) o by deleting the expression systemic appeal, statement of objects and reasons clause, Justice Lokur concluded that pronoun his would include not only the candidate but his election agent and even voters if such an appeal had the consent of the candidate or his agents. Thus no candidate can escape from the bar simply on the ground that the appeal to vote or refrain for voting was not made in the name of his religion.
Justice S.A. Bobde went a step further and held that even textual interpretation of expression his in Section 123(3) would lead to the same conclusion. Chief Justice TS Thakur, in his concurring opinion reiterated that India is a secular state is no longer res integra and religious activity cannot be mixed with secular activity. Mixing of religion with the state power is not permissible. He conceded that secularism is not only the basic structure but the core constitutional objective. Those who have been arguing that secularism was not there in the original Constitution and was just inserted in 1976 by Indira Gandhi would naturally be hugely disappointed to read his judgment.
The dissent has been authored by Justice DY Chandrachud,with whom Justice AK Goel and UU Lalit agreed. There was no disagreement on the issue of secularism. Justice Chandrachud favoured literal interpretation and held his in Section 123(3) refers to the person who is the real beneficiary of the appeal and, therefore, it must be confined to just the candidate. He also made a reality check by asserting that religion cannot be obliterated from public life. If there have been some injustices faced by a group, they should be entitled to indulge in social mobilisation and prohibition of expression of their legitimate concerns in an election would reduce democracy to an abstraction. Asad Owaisi's reaction to the judgment does give an idea about the anxiety of dissenting judges.
With this judgment there is now an urgent need to specifically overrule the Hindutva judgment of 1995. Otherwise we would be in strange situation as no appeal can be made in the name of any other religion. The Shiv Sena and the BJP may continue to polarise elections in the name of Hinduism and Hindutva, which the court had held are just ways of life not religion. In fact, this interpretation is patently discriminatory and is violative of equality of religions which is the very essence of our secularism. If Hinduism is not religion, can a law made by the state favouring Hindus be upheld under Article 15(1) which prohibits discrimination only on the basis of religion?
The writer is the Vice Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.
TELEGRAPH, JAN 1, 2017
A journey in reverse- The emerging world disorder
Ashok Sekhar Ganguly
As the year, 2017, begins its journey, many recent events provide the sum total of a series of political, social and economic shifts of a magnitude probably last witnessed soon after the end of World War II. The last seventy years, especially the period between 1980 and 2007, witnessed some of the more significant changes, in the history of human kind. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of Communist China as an economic and military power, the end of white rule in South Africa, several multinational trade pacts and dominance of Social Democrats in politics created and sustained a long period of enabling environment defined by the term, globalization.
Progressively, however, it is becoming evident that all is not really well with the progress of globalization. Although innovation, productivity and wealth generation have grown at unprecedented rates, there were simultaneously, signals that every aspect of globalization was not necessarily positive. For example, while the economic growth rates in the countries belonging to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development continued to be impressive, other than in Japan, the liberalization of banking regulations, especially in the United States of America and to some extent in Europe, generated a sense of unnatural exuberance. An environment bordering onlaissez-faireled to the banking crisis in 2008.
It was also during that period, that the term, BRICS, was coined as a symbol of the arrival of some emerging economies on the global stage. Subsequent events have exposed some serious flaws in the topology of globalization. Climate change and global warming alarms began to sound loudly by the 1990s with the appearance of the expanding ozone hole in the stratosphere caused by the increasing use of chlorofluorocarbons. The refusal by many countries to acknowledge climate change as a threat to our civilization created a major crisis, which has taken a very long time to reach a fragile consensus.
In the advanced countries, the unprecedented growth of wealth primarily rewarded a small fraction of the already well-to-do segment of the population, while the bulk of the people were thrown the dregs. The dynamics of economic growth in the emerging countries also disproportionally rewarded those who were already well off, without a significant impact on the health, nutrition and poverty of a very large section of the people.
It was during the heyday of globalization that the world also witnessed a number of other alarming events - for example, the so-called 'Arab Spring' beginning to turn into an 'Arab Nightmare' and the terrorist attacks in New York and on the Pentagon. These were followed by the war in Iraq in search of the non-existent weapons of mass destruction and unleashing of the Sunni and Shia violence. In addition to horrendous death and destruction in the Arab world, Afghanistan has become almost permanently debilitated by the rise of the Taliban. Historically, this period also witnessed unprecedented advances in digitization, the emergence of artificial intelligence and the spread of mobile telephony, while significantly conquering disease and starvation. Yet, during these past two decades, we seem to have ignored signals that some serious dangers were lurking round the corner. There were some loud and visible signals suggesting that the world may be slipping from the lofty goals of globalization into a period of disorder and uncertainty.
The year, 2016, has sent out clear signals that can be best described as breaking the silence with the anguished cry of "Enough is enough" from those who had been left untouched by the gains of globalization. The most visible of these were the frequent social, economic and political upheavals - for example, the rise of ISIS in Syria and Russia's entry into the war to protect the Assad regime as a result of the vacuum created by a hesitant Nato alliance. The gradual reordering of global politics was also triggered by the Russian annexation of Crimea, its strengthening links with Turkey, Iran and now Pakistan, among others. These trends have been followed by the return to power of authoritative regimes in some important East European countries that happen to belong to the European Union. Similarly, the United Kingdom's referendum to exit the EU, and the uncertain political scenario in Italy, France and Greece have been complicated by the overwhelming flow of refugees into Europe from Syria and the African nations. The tensions in Europe have been exacerbated by a series of terrorist attacks in France, Belgium and Germany.
The more recent and uncertain environment is now being magnified by the almost daily utterances by the American president-elect. The issues range from global trade agreements and Nato to damaging statements about international relations, which leave very little to the imagination and provide the most disturbing piece in the global jigsaw puzzle of emerging disorder. The intention of the president of Turkey to establish a monolithic regime constitutes, amongst other things, a significant threat of pushing the next wave of refugees into the EU, the decimation of the Kurds as well as those Turkish citizens who are branded as opponents of the State. The events in the countries of South America and Africa should be viewed with equal concern, shifting from glimpses of hope and promise towards fast-receding expectations and growing disorder.
Closer home, Communist China looks more menacing every day. This is natural, given its spectacular economic progress and success of communist rule, which have convinced China that its centralized, authoritative government is a preferred alternative, compared to democracies. Its ambition to overtake the US as the global power is growing menacingly by the day. China's reclamation of offshore land and its territorial claim over the whole of South China Sea pose an existential threat to the Southeast Asian nations and Japan. The claims have been probably further buttressed by the shape of the foreign policy scenario in the US under its next president.
India's historic differences over its borders with China remain static. The China-Pakistan-Russia axis and development of the new Silk Route pose major economic and security challenges for India. China's inroads into India's traditional allies in the neighbourhood - Bangladesh, Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan - are not without ulterior motives and pose grave threats for India.
Two of the most populated neighbours - China lead by a monolithic and authoritarian communist regime and India, the world's largest multicultural, multilingual, multi-ethnic and multireligious democracy with its own challenges to social harmony and poverty - potentially represent one of the most critical global problems in the foreseeable future
The progress towards a cyber-secure and intimately connected world now faces a new set of bewildering challenges. These are compounded by the emergence of a flood of fake or 'post-truth' news being churned out almost every day. The latest tweets from the American president-elect of his resolve to increase America's nuclear arsenal has been matched by the equally ridiculous assertion to do likewise by Russia's Vladimir Putin. In the early 1990s, the presidents, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, signed a treaty to contain their respective nuclear stockpiles and prevented the potential of a mutually assured destruction. In the emerging nightmare, the cycle now seems to be in reverse, intensified by terrorism, the rise of authoritarian regimes and rightist political parties, and the spread of nuclear capabilities to signal the threats to globalization
Until recently, the world seemed to be moving towards a more caring and trusting civilization. It has not taken long to start reversing this journey. Courage, optimism, hope and care are rapidly giving way to fear, despair and a sense of defeat. Disorder is probably too mild to describe the unfolding scenario.
TELEGRAPH, JAN 1, 2017
Akhilesh is Samajwadi chief, Amar out
Lucknow, Jan. 1 (PTI):Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was anointed the Samajwadi Partypresident in place of his father Mulayam at a party national convention here on Sunday. The meeting also proposed the expulsion of outsider Amar Singh and removal of Shivpal Yadav from the post of state president of the party.
Minutes after Mulayamtermed the convention called by Ram Gopal Yadav as unconstitutional, the meeting unanimously decided to crown Akhilesh as head of the SP.
After a brief truce in the ruling Samajwadi Party on Saturday, the open war in the party was all out in the open with the national convention declaring Akhilesh Yadav as party president.
The proposal was met with a huge applause by party cadres gathered at the sprawling Janeshwar Misra Park amid chilly conditions.
Ram Gopal also moved a proposal to make Mulayam Singh, the founder president of the party, as party patron and removing Shivpal Singh Yadav from the state unit post.
Earlier this morning as soon as the national convention got underway at the Janeshwar Misra park, Mulayam Singh issued a letter declaring the convention as unconstitutional.
Today a so-called convention has been convened by Ram Gopal. This is against party constitution and discipline. This has been convened to damage the party, Yadav said in the letter.
Although Mulayam warned that participation in the convention will be taken as indiscipline and action will be initiated against those attending it, almost all the senior leaders who had been longtime associates of Mulayam shared dias with Ram Gopal and Akhilesh.
Soon after being proposed as the national president of the party, Akhilesh Yadav said his respect for his father was more than ever and that he would stand against those conspiring against the party.
Those who conspired against the party, damaged it and also posed problems before the national president...should know that my respect for the national president (Mulayam Singh) will be more than before, the chief minister said.
...People might raise questions and level allegations but I said this before and say it again that as his son if there is any conspiracy against the party and him it is my duty to stand against them, he said.
I had said that I was ready to step down as state unit president earlier too ...he had made me the CM and gave me a chance to work..., he said .
HINDU, JAN 2, 2017
State of the U.P. battleground
All parties in the fray are not just positioning themselves against each other they need to bring clarity on many issues before the Assembly elections
The Uttar Pradesh Assembly election of 2017 has become interesting for a variety of reasons. One, since 2007, people are giving clear mandate to a party, demanding that it own full responsibility for governance or otherwise and not shift responsibility on alliance partners. So, parties are expecting clear wins in coming polls. Two, the electoral threshold for legislative majority has been declining; Mayawati formed the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government in 2007 on 30 per cent vote and Akhilesh Yadav formed the Samajwadi Party (SP) government in 2012 on 29 per cent vote (lowest since Independence). That makes parties optimistic. Three, unlike bipolar competitions in Kerala, Tamil Nadu or Karnataka, the electoral battle in U.P. is being fought among two regionally dominant (SP, BSP) and two national (BJP, Congress) parties. That may fragment votes in such a way that a marginal vote shift could cause the victory or defeat of a party. It is against this backdrop that political parties are entering the fray in U.P. In doing so, they are not just positioning themselves against each other; rather, they have multiple fronts to attend to in the electoral battle.
In run-up to the 2017 Assembly polls, in-house turmoil is the prime concern of all parties. The SP suffered a virtual split when party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav expelled his son, and CM, Akhilesh Yadav from the party for anti-party activities for six years, along with his cousin Ram Gopal Yadav. Given the subsequent developments, many wonder whether it is a genuine tussle or has been choreographed by the father to brush up his sons image. But it has confused the people and may end up harming the party. Since the SPs vote share was very fragile in 2012, any loss of its traditional supporters among Muslims or Yadavs could be disastrous for the party.
The BSP had been through the same turmoil leading to some of its senior-most and trusted leaders including Swami Prasad Maurya (most-backward caste), R.K. Chaudhary (Pasi-Dalit) and Brajesh Pathak (Brahmin) exiting the party. That does not augur well for the BSP.
The BJP too had been battling to shun its traditional image of an upper-caste, urban-centric party of middle-class traders and merchants and become inclusive. In this, the upper-caste dominance in the party puts the brake on the leaderships efforts at constituency transformation. The BJPs reluctance to disclose its chief ministerial face in U.P. is probably dictated by its inability to solve this problem to the satisfaction of rival caste lobbies in the party.
The Congress had also been besieged with a party revamp though the importation of Sheila Dikshit from Delhi as a CM candidate did not work nor did the deployment of party strategist Prashant Kishor, which led to senior leaders like Rita Bahuguna Joshi to quit the party.
There has also been a withering away of traditional support bases of parties. Ms. Mayawati is attempting a transformation of her social engineering from a Dalit-Brahmin to Dalit-Muslim coalition. That was necessitated because (a) she had angered upper castes when BSP leader Naseemuddin Siddiqui made derogatory observations about the wife and daughter of BJP leader Dayashankar Singh after the latters objectionable remarks against Ms. Mayawati; (b) the BSP lost its grip over Dalits during last decade; and (c) Muslims and Dalits have much in common in social life.
The BJP too is positioning itself for a complete constituency revamp and is focussing on becoming representative of OBCs by appropriating greater space among more-backwards and most-backwards. The party made Keshav Prasad Maurya president of its State unit, inducted BSP leader Swami Prasad Maurya (both most-backward) and allied with the Apna Dal, making its MP Anupriya Patel (more-backward) a minister in the Modi government.
The BJPs efforts to appropriate the OBC space in U.P. were facilitated because the SP under Mulayam Singh Yadav neglected homogenisation of the OBCs, restricting itself to yadavisation only. As OBCs are the largest social group in UP, 41 per cent of the State population (NSSO data), any inroads could give the BJP a big handle in the coming electoral battle.
The SP also attempted to create a new constituency for itself by recommending to the Union government recently that 17 OBC sub-castes be transferred to the SC category. But that is a late move and also inappropriate as most sub-castes belong not to SC but to the ST category. Besides, only a parliamentary law could bring about the recommended change, so the SP may not reap any political advantage on that count.
The Congress does not know how to reach out to social groups, especially Dalits and Muslims, who were once the partys support base. However, a few weeks ago duringkisan yatrasandkhat-charchasin U.P., its party vice-president Rahul Gandhi did try to reach out to the poor and farmers by promising a loan waiver and subsidy on electricity. Since his party has been out of power in U.P. since December 1989, voters may not take his promises seriously.
Party leadership constitutes the third front of U.P.s electoral battle. The SP is badly divided on leadership though it still vests authority in the Yadav family. But if Akhilesh Yadav scores in this battle, he may become the real inheritor of samajwadi leadership and Mulayam Singh Yadavs legacy. The BJPs leadership contest remains under wraps though there are many aspirants for the CMs job belonging to different social denominations. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi happens to be the main face of the BJP in U.P., nominating someone as U.P. CM, if required after polls, may be easier. The BSP and Congress have, of course, no issues on this count as Ms. Mayawati remains the undisputed leader in the BSP, and the Congress is out of the reckoning.
The final front centres around the issues of demonetisation and development. The BJP on occasion appears