03 Jan 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) On Swachh ranking of cities: A weak test
- The NDA government’s Swachh Survekshan, the ranking system for clean cities, was rolled out four years ago as the answer to a problem that municipal law failed to solve.
- Sanitation and public health are responsibilities of State governments, and it is no secret that they have spectacularly failed at managing growing volumes of municipal and hazardous waste.
- The problem has only been compounded by the absence of plans that take a holistic view of housing, sanitation, water supply, waste management and transport.
- Ahead of the launch of Swachh Survekshan 2020, the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs is once again trying to stir up competition among cities, by pre-ranking them for their performance during 2019 and assigning points to be added this year.
- As an idea, unleashing the competitive spirit among States may seem appealing, but in reality, the problems confronting urban India require large-scale infrastructure creation, full adherence to legal requirements on waste management, and transparent technical audits.
- Many cities remain clueless on handling their waste, one shocking example being the rising mountain of garbage at the Ghazipur landfill in Delhi.
- Ironically, Bhopal, which figures among the top five cleanest cities under the just-released list, continues to live with the effects of the gas disaster of 1984. Ranks and prizes clearly cannot solve the national waste management crisis.
- Looking ahead to the next edition of the Survekshan, the Urban Affairs Ministry has identified ambitious targets: “100% processing and safe disposal of waste, complete faecal sludge and septage management, and wastewater treatment and reuse.” These are major tasks.
- The Ministry has also sanctioned funds under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) to help States set up facilities necessary to manage waste.
- States should ask for extended funding under such schemes to create the infrastructure for a future-focused clean-up and, simultaneously, institute measures to reduce waste.
- The emphasis worldwide is on creating a circular economy centred at the principle of material recovery from all kinds of waste, reuse, recycling and reduced pressure on natural resources.
- A sound ranking of cities and towns would naturally give the highest weightage to this dimension of sustainable management, replacing symbolism with an environmentally sound approach.
- Such rigour in policy formulation can make the Centre’s goal of eliminating single-use plastic by 2022 seem more realistic, and industry would find a compelling reason to switch to alternatives.
- Retooling Swachh Survekshan 2020 to go beyond perception management and adopt sustainability is essential to make it a genuine contest.
2) On Defection, when it is a mere detour for an MLA
- It is possible to avoid Karnataka-like incidents if MLAs jumping ship are completely disqualified for six years. They defected, re-contested, and became members again, all in six months. Some are even likely to become Ministers soon.
- The Karnataka byelection results have widely put to display the ineffectiveness of the Anti-Defection Law. Of the 17 defecting Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs, 11 were re-elected on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket.
- Not only did this set of events lay down a well-structured framework to sidestep the law, it even set a dangerous precedent for neutralising the consequences of the law altogether.
- The phenomenon of defections is not new to Indian politics. It has been plaguing the political landscape for over five decades. The most prominent case was that of Haryana’s Gaya Lal, originally an independent MLA who, in 1967, juggled between the Congress and Janata Party for two weeks, during which he switched his loyalty thrice.
- The recurrence of this evil phenomenon led to the 1985 Anti-Defection Law, which defined three grounds of disqualification of MLAs - giving up party membership; going against party whip; and abstaining from voting.
- Resignation not a condition: Resignation as MLA was not one of the conditions. Exploiting this loophole, the 17 rebel MLAs in Karnataka resigned, their act aimed at ending the majority of the ruling coalition and, at the same time, avoiding disqualification.
- However, the Speaker refused to accept the resignations and declared them disqualified. This was possible as the legislation empowers the presiding officer of the House (i.e. the Speaker) to decide on complaints of defection under no time constraint.
- The law originally protected the Speaker’s decision from judicial review. However, this safeguard was struck down in Kihoto Hollohan v. Zachillhu and Others (1992).
- While the SC upheld the Speaker’s discretionary power, it underscored that the Speaker functioned as a tribunal under the anti-defection law, thereby making her/his decisions subject to judicial review.
- This judgment enabled judiciary to become the watchdog of the anti-defection law, instead of the Speaker, who increasingly had become a political character contrary to the expected neutral constitutional role.
- The same could be witnessed in Shrimanth Balasaheb Patel & Ors vs Speaker Karnataka Legislative Assembly & Ors (2019), where the three-judge SC bench upheld the then Karnataka Speaker’s decision of disqualification of the 17 rebel MLAs.
- However, it struck down his ban on the MLAs from contesting elections till 2023, negating the only possible permanent solution to the problem. The Supreme Court played the role of a neutral umpire in this political slugfest.
- But, the spectacle of MLAs hoarded in a bus, and being sent to a resort, openly exposed not just the absence of ideological ties between a leader and his party, but also her/his weak moral character.
- It was also upsetting to see public acceptance of such malpractices as part of politics, with some even calling it Chanakya niti! Exit, and swift return: The Anti-Defection Law provided a safeguard for defections made on genuine ideological differences.
- It accepted “split” within a party if at least one-third of the members of the legislative party defect, and allowed the formation of a new party or “merger” with other political party if not less than two-thirds of the party’s members commit to it.
- The 91st Constitutional Amendment introduced in 2003 deleted the provision allowing split, also it barred the appointment of defectors as Ministers until their disqualification period is over or they are re-elected, whichever is earlier.
- But, obviously, such laws have not put to rest the trend of defections. The main issue, as witnessed in Karnataka, is that the defectors treat disqualification as a mere detour, before they return to the House or government by re-contesting.
- This can only be stopped by extending the disqualification period from re-contesting and appointment to Chairmanships/Ministries to at least six years. The minimum period limit of six years is needed to ensure that the defectors are not allowed to enter the election fray for least one election cycle, which is five years.
- Of course, MLAs can still be bought from the ruling dispensation to bring it to a minority by being paid hefty sums, simply to stay at home for six years. Almost every political outfit has been party to such devious games, with hardly any political will to find a solution.