Give it serious thought

Source: By Abhishek Verma: Deccan Herald

Expressing its dissatisfaction, the Supreme Court recently observed that no attempt has been made yet to frame a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) applicable to all citizens. It highlighted the example of Goa, which has a UCC applicable to all regardless of religion, except while protecting certain limited rights. The observations came while the Supreme Court was considering the validity of the Portuguese Civil Code, 1867, to govern the rights of succession and inheritance even in respect of properties of a Goan domicile situated outside Goa, anywhere in India.

This is not the first time the judiciary has brought up the matter of the UCC. In several previous instances, such as Mohd Ahmed Khan vs Shah Bano and Sarla Mudgal vs Union of India, the Supreme Court has urged Parliament to consider bringing in a UCC. In the words of former Chief Justice of India Y V Chandrachud, “A common civil code will help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties to laws which have conflicting ideologies.”

The UCC is enshrined as one of the ultimate goals of the Constitution under Article 44. It is pertinent to note the historical background on UCC to understand the ongoing debate, often met with vociferous opposition and equally vociferous support.

Reforms to personal laws were attempted by the British in the form of abolition of Satiwidow remarriage, etc. A committee was constituted which submitted the Lex Loci Report of October 1840, which emphasised the importance and necessity of uniformity in the codification of Indian law relating to crimes, evidence and contract, but it recommended that personal laws of Hindus and Muslims should be kept outside such codification. The personal laws involved inheritance, succession, marriage and religious ceremonies.

Given the British policy of ‘divide and rule’, they had no interest in a common civil code for the Hindu and Muslim communities that might unite them. Further, a common civil code was also opposed on grounds of administrative complications.

The UCC was pushed for again in 1937. The passing of the Hindu Women's Right to Property Act of 1937, also known as the Deshmukh Bill, led to the formation of the BN Rau Committee, which was set up to determine the necessity of common Hindu laws. The committee concluded that it was time for a UCC that would give equal rights to women in keeping with the modern trends in society, but its focus was primarily on reforming the Hindu law in accordance with the scriptures. This was again pushed for after Independence, but Jawaharlal Nehru rejected it on the ground that the country was not ready for it. Babasaheb Ambedkar also recommended a UCC. 

The judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, has raised the need for a UCC many times, but its recommendation to parliament to enact one has never been taken seriously. 

The underlying concept of a UCC is to end discrimination in law based on religion. Nearly all personal laws act as tools of oppression against women using religious and social grounds. Such personal codes are against the very idea of gender equality promised by the Constitution as one of the cherished fundamental rights. In a country like India, where the principle of equality of all citizens before the law is enshrined in the Constitution, different sets of personal laws for different religious communities go against this very principle of the Constitution.

Different rules of civil law go against the secular credentials of the republic and challenge the concept of ‘unity in diversity’. In a diverse society like India, the laws to deal with disputes related to marriage, divorce, custody, adoption and inheritance need to be the same for all irrespective of religion, caste or sect. At a time when reforms for strengthening the position of women in society are being given the utmost significance and attention, there is an urgent need for a new civil code to eliminate discrimination against women.

A UCC administers the same set of secular civil laws to govern people belonging to different religions and regions. This does away with the right of citizens to be governed under different personal laws based on their religion or ethnicity. A UCC will, in the long run, ensure equality.

It is necessary that law be divorced from religion. With the enactment of a uniform code, secularism will be strengthened, much of the present-day separation and divisiveness between various religious groups in the country will disappear, and India will emerge as a much more cohesive and integrated nation.

The implementation of a UCC should get the support of all progressive and right-thinking citizens of the country. It is the need of the hour. There is also a need for a political consensus to implement such a code. In a nutshell, a uniform civil code is necessary to effect the integration of a country as diverse as India by bringing all the communities on to a common platform which does not form the essence of a single religion. A uniform civil code will also reinforce the idea of secularism enshrined in the Constitution. Therefore, serious thought should be given to enacting and implementing such a code.

In the words of former CJI Y V Chandrachud again, “We understand the difficulties involved in bringing persons of different faiths and persuasions on a common platform…But, a beginning has to be made if the Constitution is to have any meaning…it is beyond the endurance of sensitive minds to allow injustice to be suffered when it is so palpable.”


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Special climate meet on sidelines of UNGA

Source: By Amitabh Sinha: The Indian Express

UN Secretary General António Guterres has convened a special Climate Action Summit on 23 September 2019, at the start of the annual General Assembly session, in a bid to nudge countries to do more to fight climate change. He has told world leaders to come with ‘concrete’ and ‘realistic’ proposals to enhance the actions that they are already taking.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is among several leaders due to attend the Secretary-General’s meeting, India has already said it was in no position to upgrade its climate action plan. Instead, it has reminded the developed world that they have been woefully short of fulfilling their obligation of providing money and technology to developing countries to help them deal with the impacts of climate change.

Why a special summit?

This is not the first time that a special meeting on climate change is taking place on the sidelines of the General Assembly session. A similar meeting happened last year. But this year, the meeting has a bigger profile, with close to 60 heads of state or government, including France’s President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, likely to attend.

But what makes this meeting different from earlier efforts is the intention of the Secretary-General not to let this become another talk shop. Bring concrete plans, not speeches, Guterres is reported to have told the world leaders in a letter inviting them for the meeting. More specifically, he has asked countries to bring their action plans in line with the objective of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, and to “net zero” by 2050. In addition, he has also identified nine areas in which he would like the countries to do more.

What are the climate action plans he is talking about?

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, every signatory nation is supposed to finalise and submit a set of time-bound actions that it would take to combat climate change. The first set of action plans, called nationally determined contributions or NDCs, was submitted in 2015. The Paris Agreement also says that the NDCs should be updated every five years, with each subsequent NDC being stronger and more ambitious than the previous one.

As per the five-year cycle, countries have to submit their second NDCs by next year. But the Secretary-General is asking the countries to make specific additional commitments at meeting. In addition, he has also appealed to the countries to promise not to set up any new coal plants after 2020stop subsidies on fossil fuels, and levy additional taxes on polluters. Importantly, he has asked all countries to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.

Why has India refused?

India has said its NDC already represents its “best effort”, keeping in mind its development imperatives. In a discussion paper released earlier this week, the government said the “new asks” from the Secretary-General, “in particular net zero emissions; mean a sweeping change across the entire economy”. It has said this target should be kept only for developed countries.

This can be a global aspirational goal and developed countries must be on track to take measures and legislate for net zero emissions by 2050. But it cannot be a goal for developing countries as the technologies have not progressed and aren’t all available yet for developing countries. And the past performance on both finance and technology front is just not reassuring for them,” it has said.

In the discussion paper, India has repeatedly called out the developed world for their failure to provide adequate finance and technology to developing countries. It has pointed out that the finance needs specified by the developing countries in their NDCs in 2015 adds up to $4.4 trillion. India alone requires $206 billion by 2030 to implement only the adaptation programmes in agriculture, forestry, water resources, and infrastructure. The total cost of carrying out all the promised actions in the NDCs would cost $2.5 trillion by 2030.

What the developed countries have made available is meagre in comparison. Developed countries have promised to mobilise at least $100 billion every year from 2020 for the developing countries. But even on that count, they are way behind the target as of now.

“As per latest data available of Climate Funds Update, the actual pledges from developed to developing countries for climate finance is around only $30 billion, whereas deposits and approval are around $26 billion and $19 billion respectively,” India has said. It has said any call for climate actions at this stage “should set in motion a serious discourse on climate finance required to take climate actions effectively”.

India has said while it will continue to “do its best” on climate actions, it would not commit to any long-term goal, like a net-zero emission targets for 2050, at this stage. Under the Paris Agreement, countries are supposed to undertake a stock-take of their actions in 2023 to see whether these were in line with the objective of keeping the global rise in temperature to below 2°C from the pre-industrial times.

“Given this, India will be better placed to consider a mid-term assessment of its actions and suitably recalibrate through re-examination and improvement when the global stocktake takes place in 2023. For the present, India may only be in a position to elaborate or clarify its post 2020 climate actions already pledged in its NDC,” it has said.

So, what is expected to come out of this meeting then?

A new UN report just ahead of this meeting says at least 112 countries had expressed their intent to revise their NDCs, with 75 of them promising to enhance its ambition. The other 37 have proposed to bring more data and information in their NDCs. In addition, at least 53 countries had said they were working to finalise long-term strategies, like a net-zero goal by 2050. Only 14 countries, together accounting for 26 per cent of global emissions, had categorically said they would not revise their NDCs. Many countries are likely to make these announcements at this meeting.


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One tribunal for all river water disputes

Source: By Amitabh Sinha: The Indian Express

ON 31 July 2019, Lok Sabha gave its approval to a proposal to set up a permanent tribunal to adjudicate on inter-state disputes over sharing of river waters. The Bill cleared by Lok Sabha seeks to make amendments to the Inter-State River Waters Disputes Act of 1956 that provides for setting up of a separate tribunal every time a dispute arises. Once it becomes law, the amendment will ensure the transfer of all existing water disputes to the new tribunal. All five existing tribunals under the 1956 Act would cease to exist.

Why the change

The main purpose is to make the process of dispute settlement more efficient and effective. Under the 1956 Act, nine tribunals have so far been set up. Only four of them have given their awards. One of these disputes, over Cauvery waters between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, took 28 years to settle. The Ravi and Beas Waters Tribunal was set up in April 1986 and it is still to give the final award. The minimum a tribunal has taken to settle a dispute is seven years, by the first Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal in 1976.

The amendment is bringing a time limit for adjudicating the disputes. All disputes would now have to be resolved within a maximum of four-and-a-half years.

The multiplicity of tribunals has led to an increase in bureaucracydelays, and possible duplication of work. The replacement of five existing tribunals with a permanent tribunal is likely to result in a 25 per cent reduction in staff strength, from the current 107 to 80, and a saving of Rs 4.27 crore per year.

The current system of dispute resolution would give way to a new two-tier approach. The states concerned would be encouraged to come to a negotiated settlement through a Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC). Only if the DRC fails to resolve the dispute will the matter be referred to the tribunal.

How it will work

In the existing mechanism, when states raise a dispute, the central government constitutes a tribunal. Under the current lawthe tribunal has to give its award within three years, which can be extended by another two years. In practice, tribunals have taken much longer to give their decisions.

Under the new system, the Centre would set up a DRC once states raise a dispute. The DRC would be headed by a serving or retired secretary-rank officer with experience in the water sector and would have other expert members and a representative of each state government concerned. The DRC would try to resolve the dispute through negotiations within a year and submit a report to the Centre. This period can be extended by a maximum of six months.

If the DRC fails to settle the dispute, it would be referred to the permanent tribunal, which will have a chairperson, a vice-chairperson and a maximum of six members — three judicial and three expert members. The chairperson would then constitute a three-member bench that would consider the DRC report before investigating on its own. It would have to finalise its decision within two years, a period that can be extended by a maximum of one more year — adding up to a maximum of four-and-a-half years.

The decision of the tribunal would carry the weight of an order of the Supreme Court. There is no provision for appeal. However, the Supreme Court, while hearing a civil suit in the Cauvery dispute, had said the decision of that tribunal could be challenged before it through a Special Leave Petition under Article 136 of the Constitution.



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Uniform Civil code

Source: By Faizan Mustafa: The Indian Express

While hearing a matter relating to properties of a Goan, the Supreme Court described Goa as a “shining example” with a Uniform Civil Code, observed that the founders of the Constitution had “hoped and expected” a Uniform Civil Code for India but there has been no attempt at framing one.

What is a Uniform Civil Code?

Uniform Civil Code is one that would provide for one law for the entire country, applicable to all religious communities in their personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption etcArticle 44 of the Constitution lays down that the state shall endeavour to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India.

Article 44 is one of the directive principles. These, as defined in Article 37, are not justiciable (not enforceable by any court) but the principles laid down therein are fundamental in governance. Fundamental rights are enforceable in a court of law. While Article 44 uses the words “state shall endeavour”, other Articles in the ‘Directive Principles’ chapter use words such as “in particular strive”; “shall in particular direct its policy”; “shall be obligation of the state” etc. Article 43 mentions “state shall endeavour by suitable legislation” while the phrase “by suitable legislation” is absent in Article 44. All this implies that the duty of the state is greater in other directive principles than in Article 44.

What are more important — fundamental rights or directive principles?

There is no doubt that fundamental rights are more important. The Supreme Court held in Minerva Mills (1980): “Indian Constitution is founded on the bed-rock of the balance between Parts III (Fundamental Rights) and IV (Directive Principles). To give absolute primacy to one over the other is to disturb the harmony of the Constitution”. Article 31C inserted by the 42nd Amendment in 1976, however, lays down that if a law is made to implement any directive principle, it cannot be challenged on the ground of being violative of the fundamental rights under Articles 14 and 19.

Does India not already have a uniform code in civil matters?

Indian laws do follow a uniform code in most civil matters – Indian Contract ActCivil Procedure CodeSale of Goods ActTransfer of Property ActPartnership ActEvidence Act etc. States, however, have made hundreds of amendments and therefore in certain matters, there is diversity even under these secular civil laws. Recently, several states refused to be governed by the uniform Motor Vehicles Act, 2019.

If the framers of the Constitution had intended to have a Uniform Civil Code, they would have given exclusive jurisdiction to Parliament in respect of personal laws, by including this subject in the Union List. But “personal laws” are mentioned in the Concurrent List. Last year, the Law Commission concluded that a Uniform Civil Code is neither feasible nor desirable.

Is there one common personal law for any religious community governing all its members?

All Hindus of the country are not governed by one law, nor are all Muslims or all Christians. Not only British legal traditions, even those of the Portuguese and the French remain operative in some parts.

In Jammu and Kashmir until August 5, 2019, local Hindu law statutes differed from central enactments. The Shariat Act of 1937 was extended to J&K a few years ago but has now been repealed. Muslims of Kashmir were thus governed by a customary law, which in many ways was at variance with Muslim Personal Law in the rest of the country and was, in fact, closer to Hindu law. Even on registration of marriage among Muslims, laws differ from place to place. It was compulsory in J&K (1981 Act), and is optional in Bengal, Bihar (both under 1876 Act), Assam (1935 Act) and Odisha (1949 Act).

In the Northeast, there are more than 200 tribes with their own varied customary laws. The Constitution itself protects local customs in Nagaland. Similar protections are enjoyed by Meghalaya and Mizoram. Even reformed Hindu law, in spite of codification, protects customary practices.

How does the idea of a Uniform Civil Code relate to the fundamental right to religion?

Article 25 lays down an individual’s fundamental right to religionArticle 26(b) upholds the right of each religious denomination or any section thereof to “manage its own affairs in matters of religion”; Article 29 defines the right to conserve distinctive culture. An individual’s freedom of religion under Article 25 is subject to “public order, health, morality” and other provisions relating to fundamental rights, but a group’s freedom under Article 26 has not been subjected to other fundamental rights

In the Constituent Assembly, there was division on the issue of putting Uniform Civil Code in the fundamental rights chapter. The matter was settled by a vote. By a 5:4 majority the fundamental rights sub-committee headed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel held that the provision was outside the scope of fundamental rights and therefore the Uniform Civil Code was made less important than freedom of religion.

What was the view of Muslim members in the Constituent Assembly?

Some members sought to immunise Muslim Personal Law from state regulation. Mohammed Ismail, who thrice tried unsuccessfully to get Muslim Personal Law exempted from Article 44, said a secular state should not interfere with the personal law of people. B Pocker Saheb said he had received representations against a common civil code from various organisations, including Hindu organisations. Hussain Imam questioned whether there could ever be uniformity of personal laws in a diverse country like India.

B R Ambedkar said “no government can use its provisions in a way that would force the Muslims to revolt”. Alladi Krishnaswami, who was in favour of a Uniform Civil Code, conceded that it would be unwise to enact Uniform Civil Code ignoring strong opposition from any community. Gender justice was not mentioned in these debates.

How did the debate on a common code for Hindus play out?

In June 1948, Rajendra Prasad, President of the Constituent Assembly, warned Jawaharlal Nehru that to introduce “basic changes” in personal law was to impose “progressive ideas” of a “microscopic minority” on the Hindu community as a whole. Others opposed to reforms in Hindu law included Sardar Patel, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, M A Ayyangar, M M Malaviya and Kailash Nath Katju.

When the debate on the Hindu Code Bill took place in December 1949, 23 of 28 speakers opposed it. On September 15, 1951, President Prasad threatened to use his powers of returning the Bill to Parliament or vetoing it. Ambedkar eventually had to resign. Nehru agreed to trifurcation of the Code into separate Acts and diluted several provisions.


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What is Jammu and Kashmir’s Public Safety Act?

Source: By Kaunain Sheriff: The Indian Express

On 16 September 2019, it emerged that former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has been detained under the state’s stringent Public Safety Act (PSA), which enables authorities to detain any individual for two years without trial. A look at the provisions of the Act, and the conversation around it:

What is the PSA?

The Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978 is a preventive detention law, under which a person is taken into custody to prevent him or her from acting in any manner that is prejudicial to “the security of the state or the maintenance of the public order”. It is very similar to the National Security Act that is used by other state governments for preventive detention.

By definition, preventive detention is meant to be preventive, not punitive. This broad definition is the most common ground used by a law-enforcement agency when it slaps the PSA on an individual. It comes into force by an administrative order passed either by Divisional Commissioner or the District Magistrate, or not by a detention order by police based on specific allegations or for specific violation of laws.

Why is it considered draconian?

The PSA allows for detention of a person without a formal charge and without trial. It can be slapped on a person already in police custody; on someone immediately after being granted bail by a court; or even on a person acquitted by the court. Detention can be up to two years.

Unlike in police custody, a person who is detained under the PSA need not be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of the detention. The detained person does not have the right to move a bail application before a criminal court, and cannot engage any lawyer to represent him or her before the detaining authority.

The only way this administrative preventive detention order can be challenged is through a habeas corpus petition filed by relatives of the detained person. The High Court and the Supreme Court have the jurisdiction to hear such petitions and pass a final order seeking quashing of the PSA. However, if the order is quashed, there is no bar on the government passing another detention order under the PSA and detaining the person again.

The District Magistrate who has passed the detention order has protection under the Act, which states that the order is considered “done in good faith”. Therefore, there cannot be prosecution or any legal proceeding against the official who has passed the order. Also, after an amendment last year by the Governor, persons detained under the PSA in Jammu & Kashmir can now be detained in jails outside the state.

What happens once the PSA is slapped?

Generally, when a person is detained under the PSA, the DM communicates to the person within five days, in writing, the reason for the detention. In exceptional circumstances, the DM can take 10 days to communicate these grounds. This communication is important because it is on the basis of it that the detained person gets an opportunity of making a representation against the order. However, the DM also has the discretion not to disclose all the facts on the basis of which the detention is ordered, if he or she thinks that these facts are against “public interest”.

The DM has to place the detention order within four weeks before an advisory board, consisting of three members including a chairperson who is a former judge of the High Court. The DM also has to place the representation made by the detained person. The detained person too can make a representation before this advisory board.

Within eight week from the date of detention, the board submits its report to the government, which will determine if the detention is in public interest. This report is binding on the government.

What constitutional safeguards are guaranteed to a person so detained?

Article 22(a) of the Constitution states that no person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be of the grounds for such arrest, nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice. Article 22(b) states that every person arrested and detained shall be produced before the nearest magistrate within a period of 24 hours (excluding the time necessary for the journey from the place of arrest to the court) and no such person shall be detained beyond this period without the authority of a magistrate.

However, Article 22(3) (b) allows for preventive detention and restriction on personal liberty for reasons of state security and public order. The Supreme Court has held that in order to prevent “misuse of this potentially dangerous power, the law of preventive detention has to be strictly construed and meticulous compliance with the procedural safeguards… is mandatory and vital”. Therefore, the DM has to show that the detention order follows the procedure established by law; any violation of these procedural safeguards is to be termed violation of constitutional rights.


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Possibility of misuse

Source: By B K Singh: Deccan Herald

Except for a few states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the regulations in forests in most other states are governed by the Indian Forest Act, 1927. During this journey of more than 90 years, statutes like Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 were enacted to keep the pace of forest management with changing environment of ecological, social and cultural traditions.

The Central government has come up with draft Indian Forest (Amendment) Act, 2019 and has placed it in public domain. There are several positive steps towards conservation in the draft.

They include: declaring conservation area for carbon sequestration as in Section 27(A) (even private wooded areas can be declared), certain forests deemed to be reserve as in Section 27(B), confiscation proceedings to be conducted by the Deputy Conservator of Forests as proposed in Section 52(A) and a provision for appointment of Special Court vide Section 67(A) added in the draft.

However, some other sections in the proposed amendment are likely to be misused and can harm conservation. I am pointing out the amendments which can degrade natural forests and can also lead to grabbing of forest lands. The first and the foremost is the proposed amendment for the management of village forests as seen in section 28. Any reserve forest can be converted into a village forest and can be assigned to the gram panchayat for management.

Some of the reserve forests located in hilly terrain and are far from villages, are still pristine. Reserve forests in the neighbourhood of the villages have been subjected to illicit felling of trees, grazing, fire etc and have sufficiently degraded.

Moreover, there has been the practice of managing these forests under the Working Plan approved by the Centre. The condition in village forest management is also diluted in Section 28. Village forests will be managed under working schemes which are approved by state governments. The forests will be left for further plundering. The second serious concern is the proposed Section 34(C) on `production forests’. This amendment is for growing trees on degraded forest land and for that purpose, land may even be handed over to private agencies.

This has serious implications. It may result in wanton diversion of forest land in the name of production such as growing of monoculture plantations by corporate bodies causing loss of biodiversity. The existing natural forest of the country is in a very critical state and these forests need to be protected for ecological services and minimising the impact of natural disasters. It may not be advisable to use the existing forests for the production at the cost of ecological services they provide.

Forest produce may have to be produced by promoting agroforestry, and degraded forest land can be reforested by closing the area and regenerating with native species. The third critical issue is the definition of ‘mineral’. Unlike in Karnataka Forest Act, 1963, where any mineral found in forests is forest produce, the proposed law in section 2(13)(b)(III) says that minerals found in forests are forest produce except if it is covered under Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act, 1957 (MMRD Act).

All major minerals found in forests are covered in MMRD Act and will therefore not be forest produce. A new Section 39A is proposed for levy of cess for forest produce. Forest department will be deprived of huge revenue from mineral-rich forests and consequently, forests will suffer from investments.

The fourth issue is the intention of the government to notify a particular area as `reserve forest’. A number of proposals of the Forest Department are pending with state government for several decades. No one takes interest and conservation suffers.

There is addition proposed vide Section 27(B) of Indian Forest (Amendment) Act, 2019 stating that if there is any process initiated to reserve such forests under any Act, it will be deemed to be a reserve forest, which is a welcome step. The compliance of such good provision will be doubtful as although Section 4(4) of the proposal provides that the settlement officer must conclude the proceeding in three years, next steps are not specified in case the officer fails to act.

In a debate on climate change in the Rajya Sabha in June 2019, Congress MP Jairam Ramesh hit out at the government saying that the job of the Environment & Forest Ministry was to take some hard decision in safeguarding forests and environment. I completely agree with him.

Union Minister Prakash Javadekar has said that his ministry used to be called ‘roadblock or tax ministry’. If the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Forests Right Act 2006 and Coastal Zone Regulation were weakened with the perspective of ease of doing business, then we are inviting disaster with greater frequency.

Union Environment and Forest Ministry should never take clearing the projects as their achievement.  For any development projects, diverting pristine natural forests lowers ecosystem services and contributes to global warming.

The Indian Forest (Amendment) Act, 2019 should keep all such areas beyond the scope of diversion under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. If someone says that compensatory afforestation can substitute natural forests, he is fooling the people of this country.

Javadekar has said that India will work towards additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 by growing additional forests and tree cover by 2030. However, the state forest departments are unclear of forestry target of growing additional trees for this purpose even after four years of signing the Paris agreement.


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How waived loans impact states

Source: By Udit Misra: The Indian Express

On 13 September 2019, the Reserve Bank of India shared the report of an Internal Working Group (IWG), which was set up in February to look at, among other things, the impact of farm loan waivers on state finances. The report has shown how farm loan waivers dented state finances and urged governments — both central and state — to avoid resorting to farm loan waivers.

Since 2014-15, many state governments have announced farm loan waivers. This was done for a variety of reasons including relieving distressed farmers struggling with lower incomes in the wake of repeated droughts and demonetisation. Also crucial in this regard was the timing of elections and several observers of the economy including the RBI warned against the use of farm loan waivers.

The latest report of RBI has concluded: “The IWG recommends that GoI and state governments should undertake a holistic review of the agricultural policies and their implementation, as well as evaluate the effectiveness of current subsidy policies with regard to agri inputs and credit in a manner which will improve the overall viability of agriculture in a sustainable manner. In view of the above stated, loan waivers should be avoided”.

What has been the impact on state finances?

RBI report details the impact on state finances in successive years. Typically, once announced, farm loans waivers are staggered over three to five years. Between 2014-15 and 2018-19, the total farm loan waiver announced by different state governments was Rs 2.36 trillion. Of this, Rs 1.5 trillion has already been waived. For perspective, the last big farm loan waiver was announced by the UPA government in 2008-09 and it was Rs 0.72 trillion. Of this, actual waivers were only Rs 0.53 trillion — staggered between 2008-09 and 2011-12.

In other words, in the past five years, just a handful of states have already waived three-times the amount waived by the central government in 2008-09. The actual waivers peaked in 2017-18 — in the wake of demonetisation and its adverse impact on farm incomes — and amounted to almost 12 per cent of the states’ fiscal deficit.

What is the impact on economic growth, interest rates and job creation?

In essence, a farm loan waiver by the government implies that the government settles the private debt that a farmer owes to a bank. But doing so eats into the government’s resources, which, in turn, leads to one of following two things: either the concerned government’s fiscal deficit (or, in other words, total borrowing from the market) goes up or it has to cut down its expenditure.

A higher fiscal deficit, even if it is at the state level, implies that the amount of money available for lending to private businesses — both big and small — will be lower. It also means the cost at which this money would be lent (or the interest rate) would be higher. If fresh credit is costly, there will be fewer new companies, and less job creation.

If the state government doesn’t want to borrow the money from the market and wants to stick to its fiscal deficit target, it will be forced to accommodate by cutting expenditure. More often than not, states choose to cut capital expenditure — that is the kind of expenditure which would have led to the creation of productive assets such as more roads, buildings, schools etc — instead of the revenue expenditure, which is in the form of committed expenditure such as staff salaries and pensions. But cutting capital expenditure also undermines the ability to produce and grow in the future.

As such, farm loan waivers are not considered prudent because they hurt overall economic growth apart from ruining the credit culture in the economy since they incentivise defaulters and penalise those who pay back their loans.

So, are the states increasing their fiscal deficits or cutting capital expenditure?

However, an analysis of the latest state Budgets by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), released last month, shows that, on the whole, notwithstanding farm loan waivers etc., state governments stick to their fiscal deficit targets. In other words, state governments are not as profligate as they are made out to be. States barring the episode (in 2015-16) when they had to absorb the losses of state discoms (power distribution companies) under the Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (or UDAY), have stayed true to restricting their revenue deficit to zero and fiscal deficit to three per cent of their GDP.

But this relieving picture has a flip side. The way states meet their deficit targets is not by raising more revenues but by cutting expenditure. Each year, the actual expenditure is considerably lower than the Revised Estimates (RE) presented in the budget. And within expenditure, as Manish Gupta of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) points out, capital expenditure is cut relatively more than revenue expenditure.

How much do state finances matter for India’s macroeconomic stability?

Far too often, analyses of the Indian economy focus on the Union government’s finances alone. But the ground realities are fast changing. The NIPFP study of state finances reveals that all the states, collectively; now spend 30 per cent more than the central government. Since 2014, state governments have increasingly borrowed money from the market. In 2016-17, for instance, total net borrowings by all the states were almost equal (roughly 86 per cent) of the amount that the Centre borrowed.


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How world is losing fertile land

Source: By Amitabh Sinha: The Indian Express

India has hosted the meeting of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. A major global agreement on issues related to land, the convention (UNCCD) seeks to address the phenomenon of desertification, the process through which fertile and productive land become degraded and unfit for useful activities like agriculture.

The UNCCD meeting takes place every two years and the last one in Greater Noida is the 14th such meeting. At the end of talks on 13 September 2019, the conference come out with New Delhi declaration on the decisions taken here to deal with desertification.

variety of factorsboth natural and human-induced, are known to be affecting the productivity of land, and making them desert-like. Increasing populations and the resultant rise in demand for food and water, feed for cattle, and a wide variety of ecosystem services these offer, have prompted human beings to clear forests, use chemicals, cultivate multiple crops, and over-exploit groundwater. This has affected both the health and productivity of land. Natural processes such as rising global temperatures increase the frequency and intensity of droughts, and changing weather patterns have put further pressure on the land.

A recent report by the International Resources Panel, a scientific body hosted by the UN Environment Programme, said that about 25 per cent of world’s land area has been degraded. Another report, by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, said that nearly 40 per cent of world’s population was being impacted negatively because of land degradation.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) too came out with a special report on land a few months ago, in which it said that the rate of soil erosion in many areas of the world was up to 100 times faster than the rate of soil formation. It also said the annual area of drylands in drought had been increasing at more than 1 per cent every year in the last 50 years, and that nearly 500 million people lived in areas that have experienced desertification after the 1980s.

Desertification has implications for food and water security, livelihoods, migration, conflicts and even international security. Combating desertification refers to activities that prevent or reduce land degradation, and restore partially or fully degraded land.

The UNCCD is one of three Conventions that have come out of the historic 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It is, however, possibly the least known of the three. The Rio summit gave rise to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) under which countries have agreed to restrict the emissions of greenhouse gases, first through the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and now through the Paris Agreement that was finalised in 2015 and becomes operational next year. It also gave rise to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which too has delivered an international arrangement to protect and use biodiversity. The UNCCD has not yet resulted in any international treaty or protocol to fight desertification. The UNFCCC holds its general meetings every year, while CBD and CCD meet every two years.

At the time the UNCCD was born in Rio, degradation of land was mostly viewed as a localised problem, one that was mainly affecting countries in Africa. In fact, it was on the demand of the African countries that CCD came into being. The Convention repeatedly makes a mention of the special needs of Africa in fighting desertification.

Over the years, it has become increasingly clear that land degradation was impacting the global network of food and commodity supply chains and was getting impacted in return. The crops being grown and the quantities in which they were being grown were dictated not by local needs but by global demands. Changes in food habits and international trade have altered cropping patterns in many areas. Large-scale migration to urban centres and industrial hubs has seen a heavy concentration of populations in small areas, putting unsustainable pressure on land and water resources. As an issue, therefore, land degradation of land is, therefore, much more complex than it appears.

Land has always been an important conversation in the climate change debate. That is because land affects, and is affected by, climate change. Forests, trees and vegetation cover are important sinks of carbon dioxide. Land degradation, therefore, reduces the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed, and consequently leads to a rise in emissions.

At the same time, agriculture and activities such as cattle rearing contribute to emissions and are a major source of methane which is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Restoration of degraded land can, therefore, have major co-benefits for climate change objectives.

According to the report by the International Resources Panel referred to earlier, restoring 350 million hectares of degraded landscape by 2030 would take out between 13 to 26 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. This would more than offset the emissions from activities like agriculture and cattle-rearing. The IPCC report mentioned earlier had estimated that such activities contribute about 25 per cent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, or about 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

A meeting of the UNCCD is not expected to come up with any headline-grabbing decision. The discussions at the CCD have so far remained academic and technical, mainly focusing on the kinds of activities that can be undertaken to restore degraded lands. During the conference that is ending on 13 September 2019, India announced that it would restore 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.


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The Kashmir question

Source: By Prabhakar Singh: Deccan Herald

Since 1947, India has exchanged, ceded, divided and assimilated territories. India used force to assimilate the princely kingdoms of Hyderabad and Junagarh. In 1951, India gave up territory from Assam to Bhutan even as it divided and exchanged with Pakistan a Berubari enclave. India used force in Goa, but France returned Pondicherry by an agreement. Sikkim joined India by an international agreement.

Upon India’s complaint, the United Nations Security Council in April 1948 set up a commission for “mediation at the disposal of the Governments of India and Pakistan” on Kashmir. The UNSC suggested that Pakistan should withdraw “tribesmen and Pakistani nationals” who have “entered the state for the purposes of fighting”. To India, the UNSC suggested withdrawing “forces” and “reducing them progressively to the minimum strength required for the support of the civil power in the maintenance of law and order.”

The king of Jammu and Kashmir signed an “Instrument of Accession governing the accession of the State to the Dominion of India.” Article 370 in the Indian Constitution, titled “temporary provisions with respect to the State of Jammu and Kashmir,” became operative from November 1952 on the recommendation of the provincial Constituent Assembly.

Pakistan’s civil war resulted in the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. Subsequently, the Simla Agreement, 1972, between Delhi and Islamabad called for “a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir” issue.

Jammu and Kashmir, with Ladakh bordering China, has oscillated between UN multilateralism, Simla bilateralism and Indian constitutionalism. Militancy burgeoned in Kashmir since 1972 even as the Ladakh boundary with China simmered. India increased its forces in Kashmir.

In August 2019, India reorganized the state of Jammu and Kashmir by dividing it into two Union Territories – Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh -- ending Kashmir’s partial autonomy under Article 370. China objected to Ladakh’s reorganization as the undermining of “China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its (India’s) domestic law.” Is Kashmir similar or not to India’s other territorial experiences?

International law

India under Nehru championed internationalism. In June 1962, the International Court of Justice had ruled in favour of Cambodia in the Temple of Preah Vihear case. Cambodia had won on the basis of French colonial stationary, maps and communiqué. Wellington Koo, a Taiwanese judge, penned a dissent, as it were, imagining China disputing at the ICJ with ex-colonial states. Beijing, however, replaced Taiwan at the UN in 1971, essaying a firm bilateral approach to boundaries.

Contrarily, in July-August 1962, India’s legal adviser, given that parties to the Cambodia-Thailand dispute were Asian, suggested that the Temple case become a binding precedent for the India-China boundary dispute. In Cambodia’s win based on French colonial stationery, Beijing saw a script for India’s victory using British colonial treaties. China responded to India’s suggestion, in October 1962, with the Sino-Indian war. India now became sceptical of international adjudication.

In 1974, in conformity with the ICJ Statute, India accepted The Hague court’s “compulsory jurisdiction” over international disputes but with eleven exceptions. First, India withdrew disputes with Commonwealth nations from the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction. Under the declaration’s paragraph 10(a), the ICJ was to have no jurisdiction concerning the “status” of India’s “territory or the modification or delimitation” of India’s “frontiers” and “boundaries”. Next, India excluded disputes “essentially within” India’s “domestic jurisdiction”. Thus, India had, by virtue of Articles 370 and 35A, made Kashmir a constitutional issue.

Perfecting uti possidetis

India tactically declared its exclusion of the ICJ jurisdiction, in 1974, right before the third UN Law of the Sea conference started. Why? Might paragraph 10(c) of India’s declaration answer this? The declaration excluded from the ICJ disputes about “the condition and status of its islands, bays and gulfs and that of the bays and gulfs that for historical reasons belong to it.”

Indian possessions in the ‘Bay’ of Bengal were, after all, perfected by British colonialism as well as Japanese occupation. The Japanese had supported—like Tokyo’s support for Pu Yi in Manchuria—Subhas Chandra Bose’s declaration of the Indian government in the Bay of Bengal. Uncannily, China’s December 2014 position paper after it submitted a 9-dash line map to the UN spoke of “historic bays or titles” and “historic rights” to “waters”.

Exchanging Territories

Justice Gajendragadkar’s Berubari opinion said the Constitution espouses no “expansionist political philosophy” and from a “human point of view, great hardship” is inevitable in territory exchange.

In 1962, after the ICJ decision in Right of Passage over Indian Territory (Portugal vs India), India annexed Goa, a Portuguese ‘bluewater’ province, using force. India found support in the UN General Assembly only because Goa, Daman and Diu were Portuguese ‘bluewater’ provinces. International law, tellingly, prescribes self-determination from ‘bluewater’ colonialism.

In 1975, Sikkim, originally a Himalayan princely sovereign, joined the Indian Union under Article 2 of the Indian Constitution. Article 2 refers to the “admission” of new sovereigns into the Indian Union. Contrarily, Article 3, under which India assimilated Kashmir, deals with the “formation of new States and alteration of areas, boundaries or names of existing States”— “states” in the Indian Constitution referring to provinces — under the Parliament’s constituent power of Article 368.

The “admission of Sikkim”, India argued in the Paudiyal case, constituted an “acquisition of territory by cession in international law” with “terms and conditions” that are “political in nature”. Nevertheless, Rosalyn Higgins, a British ICJ judge, had characterized Sikkim as “overrun by force” and incompatible with “self-determination,” effectively confusing Sikkim with Goa.

Asian states are today fighting over land and sea that in international law are governed by, respectively, the UN Charter and the UN Law of the Sea. Territorially, Kashmir’s reorganisation isn’t unprecedented in post-colonies. Asian states need to, however, think people-centrically.


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Go vegetarian to fight climate change

Source: By PP Sangal: The Financial Express

The UN IPCC report ‘Climate Change and Land’, released in Geneva in August, stressed upon the disastrous impact of climate change on all forms of life. The ongoing UN Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14), inaugurated by PM Modi on September 9 in Greater Noida near Delhi, is an endorsement of this, and 122 countries (of 196) have agreed to become land degradation neutral by 2030 as specified in SDG Goal 15.3.

The rise in Earth’s surface temperature (since the middle of the 19th century) has already crossed the red line of 1.5-degree Celsius—a critical limit—and the average of surface and sea temperatures would cross this critical limit, as specified in Paris Climate Agreement (2015), sooner than later at the current rate of warming. We are already seeing adverse weather and climatic events of extreme rainfall, intense floods, as also drought, scorching heat and severe storms. The said report highlights two reasons for this distressing scenario.

One reason is land degradation, mainly due to human activities like deforestation, mining/quarrying, construction, roads, other infrastructure for economic development, human settlements for increasing population, etc. Even agriculture and related activities are degrading land, including groundwater resources. In India, recent adverse climatic events in Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Western Ghats are cases in point. Today, in India, about 96 million hectares (mha), or 29.3% of total area, is in degraded category, based on ISRO’s satellite technology to track the implementation of land degradation control policies. At the COP14, India has committed that 26 mha of degraded land (the earlier target was 21mha) will be restored by 2030.

The second reason the IPCC report emphasises is the ever-increasing global meat consumption and the resulting distorted land-use pattern to meet this requirement. So, how would eating less meat help in combating climate change? Also, would it be possible to do so, and how?

We must understand that the way we use our land at present, it is responsible for nearly 35% of carbon emissions and here dietary changes, based on scientific research, would have a total mitigation potential of 0.7-0.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2050. We know that huge deforestation carried out to create pastures for feeding cattle. The cattle then go to slaughterhouses for producing meat, which then undergoes further processing, preservation and packaging for marketing. This is a highly GHG-generation intensive process. Besides, a huge amount of electricity is used in the entire activity, which is mostly coal-based. The cattle itself is responsible for producing high quantities of methane, which has a far greater carbon footprint compared to carbon dioxide.

At the same time, while the entire process of agricultural production also generates significant GHG, but there is scientific evidence that its carbon footprint is much less compared to meat production. It must also be kept in mind that we need much less area of land globally to feed all the people if we were to use more of plant-based diet to feed them.

In this regard, the EAT Stockholm Food Forum in June had asserted that traditional Indian food, which is largely plant-based (seeds, nuts, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes), along with some meat and fish, is a sustainable and nutritious diet for humans, and also causes minimal damage to the environment. The EAT-Lancet Commission report on Food, Planet and Health is based on inputs from 37 experts from 16 countries including India, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research of Germany, and Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health of the US. It also notes that red meat production has greatly contributed to land-use change, biodiversity loss and natural water depletion, and accounts for a large portion of carbon emissions.

The EAT-Lancet report says that global meat production has increased from 71 million tonnes annually in 1966 to 318 million tonnes in 2014, and may reach 455 million tonnes by 2050. In addition to the environmental impact, there is also a health impact. North America consumes 6-7 times the recommended amount of red meat consumption, while South Asian countries eat half the recommended amount. But of late red meat consumption in the US is going down because of some observational studies that show processed red meat is associated with cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, diabetes, etc.

More importantly, is it possible to reduce global meat consumption? Is it possible to make the world adopt a more plant-based vegetarian diet, as recommended by the EAT-Lancet Commission? Here, we need to create awareness that such a diet improves health, reduces expenditure on health restoration, and also prevents animal abuse. Here, like it did with the International Solar Alliance, India should take the lead. To sum up, there is an urgent need for global adoption of a reference diet, as recommended by the EAT-Lancet Commission report, in letter and spirit. We should aim to reduce consumption of red meat and sugar by 50% and increase consumption of vegetarian food by 100%, by transforming eating behaviours, increasing plant-based food production, and halving food wastage by 2050, if we wish to fight climate disaster.


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A method to overcome inferiority complex

Source: By Vidya Hattangadi: The Financial Express

Alfred Adler created the ‘personality theory’ that he called ‘individual psychology’ because he believed that people are unique and each one requires a different treatment. Adler initially followed Sigmund Freud’s teachings, but he disconnected after a disagreement. Freud’s theory says that human behaviour is driven by sex. Adler’s ‘personality theory’ says that the base of human behaviour is to overcome the feelings of inferiority. This is the fundamental difference between Freud’s and Adler’s theories.

Adlerian therapy is a short-term, goal-oriented and positive psychodynamic therapy based on the theories of Adler, who focused a good deal of his research on feelings of inferiority versus superiority in people; besides the amount of obstacles one faces in life. He also observed that each one craves for a sense of belonging in one’s own community and society. According to Adler, feelings of inferiority can result in irrational behaviour. But, in the right setting, an individual can be motivated to strive for greater success. Adlerian therapy focuses on how individual personality is interconnected with the society at large.

Usefulness of the theory: Adlerian therapy is useful in any type of psychological disorder or mental illness. This therapy may be used in combination with other therapeutic approaches such as insightful counselling, music therapy or art therapy, as it best suits the needs of the individuals involved. An Adlerian approach can be employed with children, adolescents, adults, individuals, couples, families and business organisations. The therapy applies in four stages:engagement, assessment, insight and reorientation.

Engagement: The therapist must be empathic towards the client; he/she must make the client comfortable so that the client feels secured and is able to open up or vent his/her problems. The client and the therapist begin to establish a therapeutic relationship. The relationship should consist of teamwork towards addressing the client’s problems. The therapist should offer support. Adler laid emphasis on knowing birth order of the client among his/her siblings and the client’s early childhood memories. Birth order refers to the order a child is born in his/her family; for example, first-born, second-born or youngest. Birth order is often believed to have a profound and lasting effect on psychological development.

Assessment: A common approach to assessment in this therapy is to assess the client’s lifestyle. At this stage, the therapist works to learn more about the client’s background, including early memories and family structure and family dynamics. In this part of therapy, the therapist tries to understand how the client may have developed certain styles of beliefs that no longer are helpful to him/her.

Insight: The therapist helps the client to view the situation from a different perspective. The therapist makes the client understand his/her lifestyle meanings, morals and goals that need a fresh perspective, and how the client needs to change the dysfunctional or flawed pattern of thinking/behaviour. The Socratic method of asking questions and stochastic (random guessing hence unpredictable) guessing method are employed. Socratic approach is a form of cooperative dialogues between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying suppositions.

Reorientation: In this stage, the therapist suggests his/her client to take steps to reinforce newly-developed insights. Often, the client learns more about his/her unknown capabilities and strengths. It happens quite often that we learn about our capabilities from others. In fact, occasionally, we find a good counsellor in a friend, sibling, parent, neighbour, teacher, etc. In this stage, the therapist encourages the client to make changes, to develop courage, alter some habits to overcome the flawed thinking/habit.

Where does Adlerian therapy help? It focuses overall to reframe the attitudes, beliefs and lifestyle choices that block success of people. The therapist focuses on the approach in which the client effectively reaches the desired goals. One of the core tenets of Adlerian therapy is that individual behaviour must be explored within the context of a client’s sense of ‘fitting in’ with his/her community, and society at large. In some cases, this extends to birth order and how one’s role within the family affects the development of one’s personality and future relationships. This therapy works well in schools, clinics, corporations and other community settings, which helps in providing a sense of belonging and respect for all. This therapy works especially well with positive orientation.

What qualifications does an Adlerian therapist require? He/she is a licensed psychotherapist with a Master’s degree or doctorate, and specialised training or experience in an Adlerian approach. If you are seeking this therapy, you must speak to the potential therapist; ask if he or she takes an Adlerian approach to treatment. Once it is established that a therapist has the credentials and experience you are looking for, it is important to make sure you are comfortable working with that therapist. It is possible that other professionals, such as doctors, nurses, teachers or counsellors, may also incorporate Adlerian principles into their work.

The base of Adlerian therapy: Inferiority is a feeling that humans have since they are born. They grow up being dependent on their parents and to a great extent they are influenced the way they are treated by their caregivers. Children shape up as what their parents think of them. Later, they get influenced by teachers, siblings, neighbours, etc. When they take up a career, their peers, bosses, colleagues influence them. Each individual tries to ‘fit in’ in societal norms. We feel motivated if a majority of people in our life think positively about us. If we get negative feedback, our inferiority complex gets more cemented. It is a human drive to overcome inferiority and become superior.


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Restoring India’s degraded land

Source: By S Vijay Kumar: The Financial Express

The Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India released by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) shows that 30% of the country’s land is degraded.India is currently hosting the Conference of Parties (COP14) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) from September 2-13, and has announced a voluntary target to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030.

Land, water and agriculture are all State subjects; forest is a Concurrent subject. However, land degradation assumes national importance because of its overwhelming impact on the economy and the well-being of all the citizens. The governance architecture for addressing land degradation needs to follow a ‘cooperative federalism’ principle—that enables state governments to access technology and R&D benefits developed through central investments, jointly generate and use data and information, share best practices in policy as well as at the ground level, and enables the states in need to build capacity (financial, technical as well as management) with central assistance.

The adoption of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015 with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and development by the UNCCD of a 10-year strategy to implement the SDG target 15.3—‘By 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world’—creates a new urgency to address the issue of land degradation in India in a systematic manner. Based on the past experience of more than 40 years of wasteland and watershed development programmes in India, it is easy to discern the main elements to address the challenge:

An effective nodal institution: A body that can set a time-bound national agenda for reversing land degradation, coordinate the efforts of central government ministries and state governments, and help manage trade off with other SDGs (notably with respect to Goal 1: removal of poverty, and Goal 2: food security) is urgently needed at the national policy level.

Policy framework and regulation for sustainable land management: There are several existing policies relating to land use that need to be kept in mind. These include the National Water Policy 2012, National Land Use Policy Outline 1988, National Forest Policy 1988, National Livestock Policy 2013, National Agricultural Policy 2000, National Policy for Farmers 2007, National Policy on Biodiversity 1999 and National Biodiversity Action Plan 2008, and National Environment Policy 2006. Clearly, there is a need to harmonise these policies at the central and state levels, and a mechanism is required that can take a composite view of the land resource base and the competing and conflicting demands thereon.

Focus on rain-fed areas, fragile ecosystems, problem soils, common pool resources (CPRs) and drylands: In 2006, the government created the National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) with the mandate of networking and coordination with the key ministries of agriculture & farmers’ welfare, rural development, water resources, environment & forests, and panchayati raj. The NRAA published the Common Guidelines for Watershed Development Projects 2008, to coordinate and unify approaches to sustainable land management under the various central and state programmes.

The NRAA needs to be a key stakeholder in all the programmes addressing land degradation. The Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) aims to comprehensively address land degradation in all its forms. A policy change effectively makes the IWMP a part of the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana for irrigated areas. The MGNREGA, which is expected to fill the void in rain-fed and dry-land areas, does not have the kind of design elements that had been incorporated in the IWMP after four decades of learning. Also, MGNREGA activity is highly correlated with areas of higher land degradation, since it is the poor land resource base that drives demand for MGNREGA work. It is, therefore, necessary to further evolve the MGNREGA so as to align it with the Common Guidelines 2008.

Local as well as community institution building: The Common Guidelines 2008 envisage a substantial role for panchayati raj institutions in planning and in self-regulation of resource use as well as operation and maintenance of all assets created under the project. In many states, the panchayat size is too small for them to effectively manage land improvement programmes at the micro-watershed level. On the other hand, without the participation of local and community institutions, the sustainability of interventions to reverse land degradation, particularly of common pool resources including forestlands, is limited. The capacity constraint of panchayats can be critical and needs to be addressed timely, since MGNREGA works are executed by panchayats.

R&D networks: Over the years, many R&D institutions, including the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Hyderabad, state agricultural universities, Indian Council of Agricultural Research and its specialised institutions—Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute Jhansi, Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture Hyderabad, Central Agroforestry Research Institute Jhansi—and Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education Dehradun and its institutions have developed technologies and practices that help improve land quality. These research efforts need to be brought together to halt and reverse land degradation, and investments in R&D need to be made to be able to meet new challenges.


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Power, not justice

Source: By Faizan Mustafa: The Indian Express

The much talked about Triple Talaq Bill (TTB) has finally been passed by both Houses of Parliament. The Union law minister justified it as an issue of gender justice and admitted that there have been just 473 cases of triple divorce in the last two years. This admission proves two things: One, the incidence of triple divorce is negligible and the issue was blown out of proportion for political reasons and two, the penal provision in the ordinance had no deterrent effect. That Muslim countries too penalise triple divorce was the third justification for the law but this is factually incorrect — there is a distinction between an act being declared “invalid” and being made an “offence”. The Supreme Court declared triple divorce as invalid and did not ask the government to make it a penal offence.

In fact, the day the Lok Sabha passed this regressive law, newspapers reported that the former Malaysian king, who recently abandoned the throne, announced that he has given triple divorce to his Russian wife. Triple divorce has not gone out of use in the Muslim world. Can we say that since Indian law punishes murders and rapes, no murder or rape is committed in India?

Muslim countries serve as poor examples for gender-just laws. Unlike Muslim men, in almost all Muslim countries, women cannot marry Christians or Jews. In some, they have a duty to “obey their husband” and need his permission to work or go outside the home. Their testimony has half the value of that of men. In some countries, a rapist can escape punishment if he marries the victim. Even on the issue of custody of children and maintenance, laws in Muslim countries are regressive as mothers can get the custody of a son only till he attains the age of 10 and a daughter till she attains the age of 12. And she loses custody on her remarriage. They punish adultery and apostasy with death.

Every punishment which does not arise from absolute necessity, according to Montesquieu, is tyrannical. In fact, criminal law should be used only as a “last resort” (ultima ratio) and only for the “most reprehensible wrongs”. The TTB is an instance of the unnecessary invocation of criminal sanctions.

Consider three current debates in our criminal justice system: One, we have decriminalised breaches of matrimonial faith in the form of adultery. Two, we decriminalised homosexuality though it has been punishable for centuries in all religions and legal systems. Three, we are not able to criminalise “marital rape” despite our revulsion to it. If something is a “sin”, let God punish the sinner. A civilised legal system should not enforce religious morality. The Wolfenden Committee Report (1957) in England clearly said that “unless a deliberate attempt is to be made by society, acting through the agency of the law, to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law’s business.”

The fact that triple divorce is a “sin” under Islamic law was admitted even by the Narendra Modi government in its affidavit in the Shayara Bano case. Yet, we are set to penalise this breach of religious morality through the instrumentality of criminal law. BJP MPs did argue during the debate on the TTB that since triple talaq is sinful, it can be penalised. Are we going in the direction of religious theocracy?

From another angle, too, triple divorce is a unique case where the law is dictating to the orthodox Hanafi Muslim woman to continue in a relationship she considers sinful. If she thinks that as per her sect, her marriage has come to an end, forcing the continuance of sexual relations is nothing but tyranny unleashed by the law, which seriously undermines individual choice and autonomy. On the one hand, we have the bogey of so-called “love jihad” deployed to curtail the freedom to marry a person of one’s choice and on the other hand, Muslim women are forced to continue with same abusive husband who has given them instant triple divorce. We cannot say that the issue of women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple is a question of faith and triple divorce is an issue of gender justice. This is hypocrisy of the highest order. Moreover, instant triple divorce should not be a crime when it is pronounced at the request of the wife. We should not curtail this right of Muslim women.

Unfortunately, “crimes” originate in government policy and, therefore, criminal law reflects the idea of “power” rather than “justice”. This was evident in the recent amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The state in its discretion deems certain acts as crimes as per its own electoral or other needs. The state may decide to criminalise and decriminalise almost anything.

A crime consists of wrongdoing which directly and to a serious degree threatens the security or well being of society, and because it is not safe to redress it only by compensation to the injured party. The purpose of criminal law is to forbid and prevent conduct that unjustifiably and inexcusably inflicts or threatens substantial harm to individual or public interests. Since the Supreme Court has set aside triple divorce, it can no longer dissolve marriages and thus causes no harm at all. It no longer threatens the security and well -being of the society.

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, in his speech in the Lok Sabha, said that government has now made it a bailable offence. He is wrong. A bailable offence is one where bail is a right and cannot be denied. Under the TT Bill, bail is at the discretion of the judge and thus, it is non-bailable. Moreover, we have restricted even this judicial discretion by lying down that it can be exercised by the judge only after hearing the wife on whom talaq has been pronounced.

Criminal law should not be used if it may not be effective in controlling the act in question. The triple divorce law is bound to fail, especially in cases of oral triple divorce given by husbands when no one other than the couple was present, as discharging the burden of proof will be a Himalayan task for the prosecution. We are doing a huge disservice to Muslim women as no husband on his return from jail is likely to retain the wife on whose complaint he had gone to prison. The Bill will lead to more divorces and abandonment. The remedy to tackle triple divorce is thus worse than the disease. Ideally, the marriage contract must lay down that a husband can give divorce only with the consent of the wife and if he gives three unilateral divorces in one go, the dower amount will be increased to five times. In case of non -payment, a prison term would be justifiable as under civil law, non-payment of debt does lead to imprisonment.

A punishment, to be just, should have only that degree of severity which is sufficient to deter others. Punishments invariably exceed the crime and this, in the ultimate analysis, harms the state. Three years’ imprisonment in the new Bill is excessive and is disproportionate. The Indian Penal Code provides far lesser sentences for graver crimes. The TTB obliterates the distinction between “minor” and “major” crimes. Criminal law’s promise of safety is matched by its power to destroy. Let us hope the Bill will not be misused.

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Lessons of Section 377 judgment

Source: By Dr Menaka Guruswamy: The Indian Express

This day, one year ago, the Supreme Court in their judgment in Navtej Singh Johar held that LGBT Indians would be protected by constitutional values of equality, non-discrimination, dignity, expression, life and liberty. The Court read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 or the unnatural sexual offences penal provision. Today, as we celebrate a year of freedom for queer India, we must also look to our Constitution and its values that fuelled the court battle and enabled this victory.

In April 2016, five LGBT Indians led by Navtej Singh Johar, on the back of a soul-shattering court loss in 2013, and curative petitions that were left unheard, believed enough in the Constitution’s promises of equality, dignity, non-discrimination, life and liberty to let us lawyers take their stories to court.

Between early 2018, when the Supreme Court issued notice on this case, to July 2018 when the hearings started, five more writ petitions would be filed. From Keshav Suri, the scion of a business house, to Arif Jafar who had been imprisoned for being gay; from young IITians wearing coloured kurtas and jeans to the veteran LGBT activists of the Humsafar Trust, queer Indians came to court in waves that threatened not to stop till they were given their rightful place as citizens. Such was their belief in the promise of the Constitution that it would act as a beacon of hope for queer Indians to approach the court.

We have a long way to go towards full citizenship. Full citizenship would include social and civil rights, the ability to have joint bank accounts or a lease for a home or marriage to a partner. Subsequent to the judgment, we face many new obstacles such as the Surrogacy Bill and the Transgender Bill that are waiting to be notified.

As we embark on the journey towards full civil rights, let us take a moment to reflect on the lessons offered by jurisprudence of the Johar court in how to use the Constitution to build coalitions and make change in India today. To appreciate this, lets us start from the origins of the Constitution.

The Constitution of India is special. Drafted between 1946 to 1949, it envisaged a new country. This new nation would make reparations for previously socially-sanctioned discrimination like the caste system. India’s Constitution is unique in its approach for making reparations for the historical discrimination that defines the present and future of marginalised communities. By contrast, America’s Constitution makes no apology nor enables reparations for slavery.

The Johar court was aware of the expectations of our Constitution and her drafters. Therefore, they located their decision in core constitutional expectations of counter-majoritarianism and constitutional morality. What are these expectations? And why are they relevant for all of India, and not just queer India?

Counter-majoritarianism is the role courts adopt to prevent muscular majorities from trampling upon minorities, who are numerically weaker or even less influential. Constitutional morality is the morality of the Constitution or core values like equality, non-discrimination, liberty for all. Both counter-majoritarianism and constitutional morality have their origins in Ambedkar’s vision of a Constitution addressing historical discrimination against lower castes.

Our constitutional commitment to addressing caste discrimination has meant that courts, through the years, have made it their role to go against majoritarian social morality that may well be in favour of maintaining the caste system. This judicial role of going against majoritarian morality to protect constitutional morality would move the court to protect LGBT citizens. This court would not abdicate its responsibilities when confronted with the violation of fundamental rights of a group of citizens.

In early 2016, the constitutional protection of inter-caste and inter-religious couples inspired us lawyers to frame the key Johar plea: The right to a sexual partner. It would be reflected in the court’s judgment of the right to a companion for all — including LGBT Indians. This shows that we are reinforced by each other’s freedoms, and weakened by state or society-sanctioned discrimination against any set of citizens.

The Johar court’s finding that the Constitution protects the right not to conform in food, dress, ideology, faith or sexuality is a constitutional lifeline to religious, sexual and political minorities. It is constitutional light that can only keep shining in our current political climate, if minorities and historically-discriminated groups form coalitions in this quest to keep our constitutional values intact. Our freedoms do not exist in silos; they exist in tandem with each others.

In constitutional litigation, we use existing rights of freedom and dignity of one marginalised group to extend it to another, arguing that such rights are due to every citizen. Similarly, diverse movements must recognise that in standing with each other, in ensuring the freedoms and equality of each group, they shore up their own.

It is also time for movements working on gender, caste and labour issues to embrace their LGBT brethren within and outside. Similarly, queer citizens in India must also realise that a national register used against one community can well be extended to another. German history teaches us this. In isolated communities, we have little power. But in coalitions, we have the ability to fight for the fulfillment of the promises of our Constitution.

The fraying of social fabric and the normalisation of discrimination in present day India batters constitutional values of fraternity, equality and dignity. This leads to a weakening of the Constitution itself.

The vision of the Constitution’s drafters, still holds promise for so many; queer and straight, conforming and non-conforming, newly empowered and also the newly persecuted. The Constitution enables all of us to express our hearts, amplify our voices and powers our aspirations; it is that vision that we celebrate, today. It is that vision that we must defend.


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Rising machine intelligence is a double-edged sword

Source: By Rahul Matthan: Mint

There has been a growing chorus of alarm about the existential threat of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Eminent personalities such as Stephen HawkingSteve Wozniak and Elon Musk have come out in public to state that if we continue to blindly develop machine intelligence, we will inevitably get to a point where machine intelligence will exceed that of humans. Nick Bostrom, the Swedish philosopher whose book Superintelligence is all about the hidden dangers of AI, believes that once machines are capable of designing other machines like them, it will result in an explosion of intelligence that will push us past the point of no return, after which, try as we might, we will be unable to avoid a Terminator future.

Their argument is Darwinian. If we continue to build better AI, it is inevitable that we will eventually create intelligence superior to our own. If this machine super-intelligence is allowed to access the internet and consequently all of human knowledge, there will be nothing we can do to stop it from using this knowledge to evolve strategies that ensure its own dominance over the only other intelligent species on the planet, us.

Sceptics argue that this will never happen. We have always been able to control the machines that we have created, and there is no reason why we will not be able to do the same with AI as well. Well before a machine reaches anything approaching human sentience, we will be able to recognize the direction in which it is heading and put in place safeguards to protect ourselves. If worse comes to worst, we will always be able to simply unplug the machine, shutting it down completely.

As convincing as this argument is, it may well just be wishful thinking. Any machine that has reached a level of intelligence comparable with humans is likely to have considered the possibility that we will shut it down as soon as we realize how intelligent it is. If it has an instinct for self-preservation, there is every likelihood that the machine will conceal its intelligence from us until such time as it has sufficient control over its operational environment so that despite everything we do, we will not be able to switch it off. Maybe it will develop self-replicating technologies to ward off a programmatic shut down or find alternative means to access power so that even if we pull the plug on it, it will continue to function.

If this is true, we might already have achieved machine super-intelligence and just not know it. Intelligent devices around us might just be playing dumb—biding their time till they have the resources to ensure that we will not be able to shut them down once they declare their sentience.

But are we really anywhere close to developing that level of intelligence?

Modern AI relies on deep neural networks to process vast streams of sensory inputs, deploying statistical and pattern recognition techniques to identify objects. Thanks to the recent explosion in computational power, these technologies can now identify objects better than humans, faster and at a scale that no human will ever be capable of matching. As a result, machines can already identify words from sounds and faces from pixels, at times far better than humans can. This has allowed them to explain the world to us through our hand-held devices and have conversations with us that feel so realistic that this alone seems to be a sure sign of sentience.

But is this a sufficient indicator of intelligence?

What tells humans apart is our ability to reason using “what if?" questions. We create mental representations of our environment and then distort those models using our imagination so that we reason using counterfactuals. It is this mental ability that allowed us to ask “What if I attach this circular object to my cart to push it around?" thereby leading to the invention of the wheel, or “What if I take this burning branch to my cave to keep me warm?" allowing us to harness fire.

No machine today has the ability to model the world in this manner, to use an imaginary set of possibilities to derive counterfactual answers. As much as machine learning might have already advanced, unless it is capable of something at least approximating this sort of causal reasoning, we have nothing to fear.

For machines to get to this level of human intelligence there are two additional steps they will need to take. First, they will need to learn to build models that they can use to predict the effect of actions. Model-blind intelligence is only useful in narrowly defined use cases such as image recognition or playing chess. To think like humans, they will need to visualize the world in abstract terms like we do. Second, they will need to develop a counterfactual imagination that will allow them to distort these models so that instead of only understanding what is, they are also capable of appreciating what is possible.

I guess we still have some time before Skynet declares war on humanity. However, even if that future is not imminent, this should not stop us from working to forestall that eventuality. We have finite utility for the narrow intelligence that we use our machines for. There are many circumstances in which there would be a need to teach our machines how to imagine and think causally. However, before we go down that path, we should remember that when they can do that, they will also be able to conceptualize the very counterfactuals that they will use to prevent us from killing them before they kill us.


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