Editorial 1: Waiting for democracy in Jammu and Kashmir
- Three years to the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, and the presidential order to divide the State of Jammu and Kashmir and demote its two new units to Union Territory status on August 5, 2019.
- These measures, Prime Minister Modi said, would extend the rights and benefits of Indian democracy to the people of the State.
Article 370 and its provisions :
- Article 370 of the Indian constitution was a 'temporary provision', which allowed Jammu & Kashmir to draft its own Constitution and restricted the Indian Parliament's legislative powers in the state.
- The Constituent Assembly of Jammu & Kashmir was empowered to recommend which articles of the Indian Constitution should apply to the state,
- The J&K Constituent Assembly was dissolved after it drafted the state's constitution. Article 370 gives the President of India the power to amend its provisions and scope.
- Article 35A stems from Article 370 and was introduced through a Presidential Order in 1954, on the recommendation of the J&K Constituent Assembly. It empowers the Jammu & Kashmir legislature to define the permanent residents of the state, and gives them some special rights and privileges regarding buying property in the state, public employment etc.
The presidential order of 5th August 2019:
- The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 2019 has replaced the Presidential Order of 1954.
- Subsequently, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, passed by Parliament, bifurcated the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two new Union Territories (UTs): Jammu & Kashmir, with an assembly, and Ladakh, without an assembly.
- Several hundred of those arrested in 2019 are still in jail without trial. Fresh arrests of dissidents and human rights defenders have become routine. The media continues to be muzzled, and the few journalists who brave silent censorship suffer from the ‘vicious circle’ of repeated arrests that the Supreme Court of India criticised in the case of Mohammed Zubair.
- Despite the completion of the delimitation commission’s exercise, Legislative Assembly elections have still to be announced. Jammu and Kashmir has been under President’s rule and then Lieutenant Governor’s rule for four years now.
The promises of 5th August 2019:
The Modi administration’s initial rationale for the actions of 2019 was that security would improve and militancy would be eradicated; that the former State would integrate with the Indian economy and its people would prosper; that Kashmiri Pandits who have been internal refugees for over three decades would be able to return; and that a new era of non-dynastic politics would emerge.
- Security has clearly not improved. According to Home Ministry figures, the number of civilians killed between 2019 and 2021 was higher (87) than during 2014-19 (177). Civilian fatalities did decline between 2021 and 2022, as did the number of security personnel killed, partly because India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire in February 2021.
- The numbers have, however, begun to rise again, and suggest a worrying pattern of targeting Kashmiri Pandits, elected officials of local government (panches) and the Jammu and Kashmir police.
- Alienation and insurgency Military and police experts talk about ‘hybrid militants’ — and, more recently, ‘faceless militants’ —while the public support for insurgency is touching the heights of the 1990s.
- According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 437 Kashmiri youth joined insurgent ranks between 2019 and 2021. While counter-insurgency operations have eliminated the known militant leadership, they have not been able to interdict the small arms that are in circulation or identify those in possession of them.
- Union Home Ministry’s distrust of local police — while putting them on the front line of conflict — has disabled a key source of intelligence.
- Recently elected panches suffer the same fate. 12 panches have been shot since 2019, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference.
- The delimitation commission’s report is equally worrying. The new constituencies it has carved out appear to consolidate Hindu and Muslim majority constituencies. The most likely result will be to cement the chasm that already yawns between the two communities. That, incidentally, is a goal that terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar- e -Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed have long worked towards.
- The democratic impulse in the valley now is no better than before 5th August 2019.
- Kashmiri Pandits have once again become targets of militant attack, as they were during the 1990s. Four Kashmiri Pandits were shot in 2021, along with 10 Hindus, including migrant workers, and one this year.
- According to the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, around 100 Pandit teachers who had returned to the Valley under the 2008 Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan fled. The rest demanded relocation to safer areas, a demand that the administration refused.
- Economic decline Between 2019 and 2021, the former State’s economy tanked, first due to a security lockdown and then a year and a half of COVID- 19 lockdowns. From being in the top performing States of the Indian Union, according to the NITI Aayog, Jammu and Kashmir was ranked among the bottom last year.
- A record tourist inflow this year might help some recovery but has to be set off against losses in the fruit, manufacturing, carpet and handicrafts industries. Local supplier complaints abound: that government agencies commission them on projects but do not pay the agreed amount.
Way forward: Role of Parliament:
- The Assembly elections are the first step towards democratisation of the valley, which should be taken immediately. If they could be held under the earlier delimitation and the commission’s present report be put to the new Assembly for consultation, it would be in the spirit of ‘cooperative federalism’.
- Home Minister has repeatedly promised the restoration of statehood. Parliament is currently in session and could easily amend the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. The return to basic elements of electoral democracy in Jammu and Kashmir alone would lead to an improvement in human rights on the ground. It would be a fitting conclusion to the 75th year of Independence.
UPSC Main Exam Question:
Q. For restoring true democracy in Jammu and Kashmir, it is important to involve people’s representatives, officials and people at the grassroots level along with implementing the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019.
(GS Paper 2: Indian Polity) (150 words)
Editorial 2: Dialling right
India’s latest auction of telecommunications spectrum, including bands ideally suited for offering fifth generation (5G) technology services, drew bids exceeding a record ₹1.5 lakh crore in a clear sign that the industry is on the path to recovery.
Outcomes of the auction:
- Reliance Jio emerged as the top bidder, cornering 48% of the airwaves.
- Bharti Airtel bid just under half that amount for 39% of the spectrum sold, while the most debt-laden Vodafone Idea came in a distant third by committing for about 12% spectrum.
- Adani Group made its first foray into the telecom space by successfully bidding for a very small but targeted quantum of the spectrum — ostensibly for captive use — in the highly sought-after 26 GHz band that is considered ideal for 5G services.
- While the Government has netted just over a third of the ₹4.3 lakh crore reserve price it had set for the spectrum on offer, the fact that 71% of the airwaves on the block won bids is a testament to the improvement in the industry’s health.
Adjusted gross revenue (AGR) :
- Telecom operators are required to pay licence fee and spectrum charges in the form of ‘revenue share’ to the Centre. The revenue amount used to calculate this revenue share is termed as the AGR.
- According to the Department of Telecommunication, the calculations should incorporate all revenues earned by a telecom company – including from non-telecom sources such as deposit interests and sale of assets.
- Telecom companies, however, insist that AGR should comprise the revenues generated from telecom services only and non-telecom revenues should be kept out of it.
- The Centre’s move last year to ease regulatory norms around payment of dues, including a four year moratorium on outstanding payments and the redefinition of AGR to prospectively exclude non telecom earnings, allowed service providers a breather and helped them attract investor interest as also spread liabilities over a staggered period.
Health of Indian telecom industry:
- Industrywide increases in tariffs also helped lift average revenue per user at the telecom service providers, boosting margins.
- The Government’s policy decision to return bank guarantees to telcos must have helped improve their eligibility for debt crucial for capital expenditure. And with spectrum usage charges also removed, the enhanced flexibility likely allowed enthusiastic participation from all three private players.
- However, the auction also offers crucial lessons.
Issues with the spectrum sale:
High reserve price:
- It likely dampened enthusiasm for certain spectrum bands. While the 3.3 GHz and 26 GHz were snapped up at the reserve price in several service areas, the 600 MHz was left untouched, and 60% of the 700 MHz spectrum remained unsold.
- The latter is ideal for rural connectivity as well as signal penetration inside buildings in urban areas.
Non-realisation of spectrum revenues:
If spectrum is seen as a precious national resource, the Government would do well to not let it lie unused and instead price it in an optimal manner so as to ensure that both the exchequer and the public at large, including in remote rural corners, benefit.
Issues of Indian telecom industry:
- With the arrival of behemoth Reliance Jio which offered deep discounts to Indian telecom users, the telecom industry has seen the playing field become less even.
- In the 2000s, multiplicity of telecom operators and service providers led to a competitive decrease in call tariffs. However, the service providers were operating on razor-thin profit margins and could not invest in infrastructure required for long-term operation.
- Here the role of the government and Competition Commission of India would have been to promote competition while allowing the service providers to also raise investment for capex. But the failure to do so has resulted in the survival of only 3 major players in the market. Even among them, Reliance Jio has more market presence than the other two. Many commentators have alleged strategies similar to market capture by a leading service provider which ideally CCI is mandated to prevent.
- However, others have pointed out the fact that in any industry in an open market, market forces automatically eliminate relatively inefficient firms and it is only natural. The Indian telecom industry is also in dire need to boost its investment in capital or infrastructure in order to remain profitable over a long period. In this context, the recent 5G spectrum sale is an indication of the industry moving towards the same.
While the Indian telecom sector is recovering, the government must also ensure that both the public exchequer and the people benefit from future spectrum auctions.
UPSC Main Exam Question:
Q. What are the issues plaguing the Indian telecom sector? Briefly enumerate the steps taken by the government in this regard.
(GS Paper 3) (150 words)