The Hindu Editorial Analysis
06 April 2021

1) The pillars of an equitable post-COVID India

 

In the post-pandemic world, addressing inequality is key to sustaining growth and well-being

GS 2: Social Justice


CONTEXT:

  • A recent Pew Research Report shows that India’s middle class may have shrunk by a third due to the novel coronavirus pandemic while the number of poor people earning less than ?150 per day more than doubled.

Pew Research Report:

  • The report is based on an analysis of World Bank data and itself mentions that there are multiple assumptions in the report. This includes the assumption on-base years for income/consumption also. In India, the base year was 2011.
  • Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world.
  • The Pew report also warned that the situation may actually be worse than estimated because of worsening inequalities.
  • International organisations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the International Labour Organization have also warned about rising inequalities in several countries including India due to the pandemic.

Causes of Inequalities in India

The economic shock due to the pandemic has been much more severe for the country for two reasons.

  • First, pre-COVID-19, the economy was already slowing down, compounding existing problems of unemployment, low incomes, rural distress, malnutrition, and widespread inequality.
  • Second, India’s large informal sector is particularly vulnerable. Inequalities were increasing earlier also but the pandemic has widened them further.

But the informal sector and workers have suffered a lot with loss of incomes and employment in the last one year.

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Recovery In Economy:

  • The economy recovered in the third quarter of FY21 with a positive GDP growth of 0.4% as compared to minus 24.4% in the first quarter and minus 7.3% in the second quarter.
  • For the year FY21, the economy would contract by 8%. GDP growth is likely to increase by 10%-11% in FY22. But the levels of GDP show that it will grow only around 1.1% in FY22 as compared to FY20 levels.
  • According to the Centre For Monitoring Indian Economy, the employment rate is still 2.5 percentage points lower now as compared to the level before the lockdown last year.
  • Women lost more jobs and many are out of the workforce. Inequalities have increased in health care and education.

A three-step plan for reducing inequalities:

1)  Focus on employment and wages

2) Raising human development

3) Quasi-universal basic income and other social safety nets.

1)  Focus on Employment and Wages: 

  • At the macro level, the investment rate which declined from 39% in 2011-12 to 31.7% in 2018-19 has to be improved.
  • Investment in infrastructure including construction can create employment.
  • In the recent Budget, the central government has rightly focused on capital expenditure for infrastructure.
  • Seven challenges in employment:
    • creating productive jobs for seven to eight million per year
    •  correcting the mismatch between demand and supply of labour (only 2.3% of India’s workforce has formal skill training as compared to 96% in South Korea, 80% in Japan, and 52% in the United States
    • Structural change challenge (manufacturing should be the engine of growth. Here, labor-intensive exports are important and manufacturing and services are complementary)
    • Focusing on micro, small & medium enterprises and informal sectors including rights of migrants
    • Getting ready for the automation and technology revolution
    • Social security and decent working conditions for all
    • Raising real wages of rural and urban workers and guaranteeing minimum wages.

2) Raising Human Development:

  • Increasing public expenditure on health and education is another form of redistributive measure. Public expenditure on health is only 1.5% of GDP.
  • Education and health achievements are essential for reducing inequality of opportunities.
  • We also have the experience of a digital gap in education during the pandemic. One has to fix this dichotomy in health and education.

 

 

3) Quasi Universal Basic Income and other Social Safety Nets:

  • For example, C. Rangarajan had suggested three proposals on minimum income for the poor and the vulnerable in the post-pandemic period. These are:
    • Cash transfers to all women above the age of 20 years
    • Expanding the number of days provided under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act
    • A national employment guarantee scheme for urban areas.

Increasing Farmers’ Income:

  • Especially for small and marginal farmers is needed to reduce inequalities and create demand.
  • Farmer producer organisations should be strengthened.
  • States have to be given a bigger role in Agri-marketing reforms.

Tax base, budgets

  • Enhancing tax and non-tax revenues of the government is needed to spend on the above priorities.
  • The tax/GDP ratio has to be raised, with a wider tax base. Richer sections have to pay more taxes.
  • Similarly, the inequalities between the Centre and States in finances should be reduced.
  • State budgets must be strengthened to improve capital expenditures on physical infrastructure and spending on health, education and social safety nets.

Conclusion:

  • Apart from economic factors, non-economic factors such as deepening democracy and decentralisation can help in reducing inequalities.
  • Unequal distribution of development is rooted in the inequalities of political, social, and economic power.
  • We have to find opportunities and spaces where the power can be challenged and redistributed.
  • In the post-COVID-19 world, addressing inequality is important for higher and sustainable economic growth and the well-being of the population.

     

2) Free and unhindered justice

                                                       

Access to the Supreme Court has been made easier with virtual hearings, but more needs to be done

GS 2: Social Justice, Indian Judiciary


CONTEXT:

 

  • SC e-Committee Proposes Live-Streaming And Sharing Of Digital Transcript of Court Proceedings Immediately With The Order.
  • While the lockdown limited people’s movements, it opened new vistas for litigants and lawyers across India to approach, through technology, the country’s highest court with relative ease.

 

Background: 
 

  • Last Year, in the wake of Coronavirus Pandemic, the Supreme Court (SC) has passed directions for all courts across the country to extensively use video-conferencing for judicial proceedings.
  • The Supreme Court exercised its plenary power under Article 142 to direct all high courts to frame a mechanism for use of technology during the pandemic.

e-Courts Project

  • The e-Courts project was conceptualized by e-Committee, Supreme Court of India with a vision to transform the Indian Judiciary by ICT enablement of Courts on the basis of the “National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian Judiciary – 2005” submitted.
  • The e-Courts Mission Mode Project, is a pan-India Project, monitored and funded by the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice, for the District Courts across the country.
  • Objectives of the Project
  • To provide efficient & time-bound citizen-centric services delivery as detailed in e-Court Project Litigant's Charter.
  • To develop, install & implement decision support systems in courts.
  • To automate the processes to provide transparency and accessibility of information to its stakeholders.
  • To enhance judicial productivity, both qualitatively & quantitatively, to make the justice delivery system affordable, accessible, cost-effective, predictable, reliable and transparent.

 

Increasing reach

  • Even at the time the Constitution was being debated by the Constituent Assembly, geographical access to the Supreme Court was flagged as a concern.
    •  The B.R. Ambedkar-led Drafting Committee was nevertheless of the view that the Court must have a specified place of sitting and that litigants should “know where to go and whom to approach”.
    • Accordingly, in recognition of the same, the Constitution empowered the Chief Justice to hold sittings of the Supreme Court through Circuit Benches in places other than Delhi as well.
    • However, despite an increasing caseload and repeated pleas by litigants and governments, successive Chief Justices have refused to invoke this constitutional power for reasons best known to them.
  • In India, given the unified, single-pyramidal structure of the judicial system, all types of cases can potentially make their way to the Supreme Court, irrespective of the place or forum of the original institution.
  • It is the effective exercise of that right, however, that is curtailed by the court assembling exclusively in Delhi.
  • According to a report by the Centre for Policy Research, a disproportionately high number of cases filed in the Supreme Court originated in High Courts closer to Delhi.
    • For instance, cases from States like West Bengal, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, which collectively account for around a fifth of India’s total population, contribute to less than 10% of the court’s docket.
    • On the other hand, almost 18% of all cases in the Supreme Court originate from Punjab and Haryana, with less than 5% of the total population share.
  • Geographical constraints have also meant that appearing before the Supreme Court has inescapably become the domain of a select few lawyers in and around Delhi.

A Court for everyone

  • Thus, the pandemic, although for different reasons, has compelled the Supreme Court to attempt to overcome physical constraints in an effort to increase access, albeit virtually.
  • Over the past year, with virtual hearings, what was seen as the exclusive domain of a limited number of lawyers in Delhi has opened up to advocates from all over India, most of whom could only ever have dreamt of addressing the Supreme Court in their lifetimes.
  • Litigants now have the option to engage a local lawyer of their own choice and convenience, including the same lawyer who argued their case before the lower court.

Conclusion

  • Indeed, virtual hearings may not be the perfect alternative, but such imperfections must be preferred over a denial of the right to access justice itself.
  • It is only when each person in India is provided unhindered access to its corridors can the Supreme Court be said to have fulfilled its constitutional promise.
  • More than one Law Commission and Parliamentary Committee have recommended Circuit Benches of the Supreme Court to be set up around the country.
  • Nonetheless, till the judiciary acts on such proposals, virtual hearings should be allowed to continue, if not as a matter of right, then at least as a matter of just and equitable policy.