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06 Feb 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) Course correction for the Speaker’s office

  • CONTEXT: Recently, the SC while adjudicating upon the matter relating to the disqualification of MLAs in the Manipur Legislative Assembly under the Tenth Schedule made a significant suggestion. 
  • It recommended that Parliament should rethink as to whether disqualification petitions ought to be entrusted to a Speaker as a quasi-judicial authority when such a Speaker continues to belong to a particular political party either de jure or de facto.
  • Given how India’s electoral system and political conventions shadow the office, a major revamp is necessary.

  • OPINION OF THE SC: It was of the opinion that Parliament may seriously consider a Constitutional amendment to the constitutional post of the Speaker.
  • Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies should be substituted with a ‘permanent Tribunal headed by a retired SC judge or a retired Chief Justice of a HC, or some other outside independent mechanism. 
  • This is to ensure that such disputes are decided both swiftly and impartially, thus giving teeth to the provisions contained in the Tenth Schedule, which are so vital in the proper functioning of India’s democracy’.
  • More than such advice, what is interesting is the underlying reasoning which revolves around the nature of functions exercised by the Speaker.
  • SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SPEAKER: The nature of duties of the Speaker, technically as an “arbiter” or a “quasi-judicial body” should not be limited exclusively to matters under the Tenth Schedule. 
  • Rather, it should extend it to a range of its functions. 
  • While facilitating the business of the House and to maintain decorum in the House, the Speaker has ‘extensive functions to perform in matters regulatory, administrative and judicial, falling under her domain. 
  • She enjoys vast authority under the Constitution and the Rules, as well as inherently’.
  • She is the ‘ultimate interpreter and arbiter of those provisions which relate to the functioning of the House. 
  • Her decisions are final and binding and ordinarily cannot be easily challenged. She decides the duration of debates, can discipline members and even override decisions by committees. 
  • She represents the collective voice of the House and is the sole representative of the House in the international arena’.
  • Nehru, one of the chief architects of our freedom and a moving force behind its Constitution, describes the position as: 
  • “The Speaker represents the House. She represents the dignity of the House, the freedom of the House and because the House represents the nation, in a particular way, the Speaker becomes a symbol of the nation’s freedom and liberty. 
  • Therefore, that should be an honoured position, a free position and should be occupied always by persons of outstanding ability and impartiality.”
  • UNDERLYING REASONING FOR REVAMP: However, on several occasions, the Speaker’s role has been questioned on the allegation of bias. The office has been criticised for being an agent of pernicious partisan politics. 
  • Notably, the SC observed in Jagjit Singh vs State of Haryana: “…Without meaning any disrespect for any particular Speaker in the country, but only going by some events of the recent past, certain questions have been raised about the confidence in the matter of impartiality on some issues having political overtones which are decided by the Speaker in his capacity as a Tribunal.” 
  • The reasons behind the counterproductive machinations of the Speaker are not too far to seek. 
  • Justice J.S. Verma in Kihoto Hollohan vs Zachillhu & Ors observed: 
  • “The Speaker being an authority within the House and his tenure being dependent on the will of the majority therein, likelihood of suspicion of bias could not be ruled out.” 
  • Currently, the extent of the Speaker’s political commitment often depends on the personality and character of the person holding the office. 
  • Howsoever desirable the proposition of neutrality may be, in the present circumstances, it would be unrealistic to expect a Speaker to completely abjure all party considerations while functioning as;
  • there are structural issues regarding the manner of appointment of the Speaker and her tenure in office.
  • ISSUES WITH THE EELCTION OF THE SPEAKER: Since the electoral system and conventions in India have ‘not developed to ensure protection to the office, there are cogent reasons for Speakers to retain party membership. 
  • A member is appointed to the office of the Speaker if a motion nominating her is carried in the House. 
  • Elections are not always by consensus and there have been cases when different parties have fielded their own candidates. 
  • All political parties campaign in the constituency of the Speaker. Even if the Speaker is re-elected to the House, the office of the Speaker in India is still open for elections.
  • Therefore, what is required is not merely incidental changes in the powers of the Speaker; rather a major revamp in the structure of the office itself is necessary. 
  • It is suggested that a scheme should be brought wherein-
  • Speakers should renounce all political affiliations, membership and activity once they have been elected, both within the Assembly and in the country as a whole.
  • UPHOLDING NEUTRALITY: Reference can be sought from the United Kingdom where the ‘main characteristic of the Speaker of the House of Commons is neutrality. 
  • In practice, once elected, the Speaker gives up all-partisan affiliation, as in other Parliaments of British tradition, but remains in office until retirement, even though the majority may change. 
  • She does not express any political views during debates and is an election candidate without any ticket’, says an IPU report. 
  • Impartiality, fairness and autonomy in decision-making are the hallmarks of a robust institution. 
  • It is the freedom from interference and pressures which provide the necessary atmosphere where one can work with absolute commitment to the cause of neutrality as a constitutional value.
  • INDIA'S CASE: At a time when India’s fall in ranks in the latest Democracy Index has evoked concern, it is expected that Parliament will pay heed to the reasoning of the Supreme Court and take steps to strengthen the institution of the Speaker.


2) Healing Old Wounds in NorthEast

  • CONTEXT: In resolving long-pending issues pertaining to minorities and ethnic conflicts in the Northeast, Union Home Minister signed two significant accords to end the 50-year old Bodo problem and the 23-year old issue of the rehabilitation of the Bru-Reangs in Tripura.

  • OUTCOME OF THE AGREEMENT: PERMANENT SOLUTION:  As per a historic agreement between the Government of India, Government of Assam and Bodo representatives, the Centre has committed itself to a Rs 1,500-crore package to develop specific projects in the Bodo areas. 
  • In return, 1,500 armed cadres will abjure violence & join the mainstream. 
  • The govt has said that a comprehensive & final solution has been found for the demands put forth by the Bodos. 
  • Now, after long years of conflict, the Bodo factions will leave the path of violence, surrender weapons and disband their organisations. 
  • The Centre and the Assam government will take steps to rehabilitate these cadres.
  • This agreement enables the permanent settlement of the Bru-Reangs in Tripura and the rehabilitation package will cost Rs 600 crore.
  • As per this agreement, each of the Bru families living in Tripura will be given a plot of land, a fixed deposit of Rs 4 lakh, Rs 5,000 cash per month for two years, free ration for two years and another Rs 1.5 lakh to build their house. 
  • The land will be provided by the Government of Tripura.
  • ORIGIN OF THE REFUGEES CRISIS: The issue of the Bru-Reang refugees had its origin in the tensions that erupted in Mizoram in 1997 when around 5,000 families comprising around 30,000 persons fled that state and took refuge in Tripura. 
  • These people were housed in temporary camps in North Tripura. As the problem of the displaced tribals persisted, some efforts were made since 2010 to rehabilitate the Bru-Reangs.
  •  Out of the 5,000 families, about 1,600 families were sent back to Mizoram and the Union government took the initiative to assist the Tripura and Mizoram governments. 
  • The NDA government’s first major initiative came in July, 2018 when the governments signed an agreement which resulted in enhancing the assistance given to these families.
  •  Subsequently, 328 families comprising 1,369 persons returned to Mizoram. 
  • However, thereafter, the Bru tribals wanted a solution which would enable them to settle permanently in Tripura. They felt they would be more secure in that state.
  • The latest agreement will benefit about 34,000 Bru-Reangs who are living in six camps in Tripura.
  • MIGRATION OF THE REANGS: According to the Tribal Research and Cultural Institute, Tripura, the Reangs are the second largest tribal community in Tripura and are recognised as one of the 75 primitive tribes in India. 
  • It is said that the Reangs came from the Shan state of Myanmar, first to the Chittagong Hill Tracts and then to Tripura. 
  • There was also another group which came to Tripura via Assam and Mizoram during the 18th century.
  • The institute says the Reangs have a population of 1.88 lakh and are divided into two major clans, Meska and Molsoi. 
  • They are still a nomadic tribe and a large number of them depend on jhum cultivation. Their language is known as Kaubru. A good percentage of them are followers of Vaishnavism. 
  • The Reangs’ folk life and culture have outstanding cultural components. The most popular of which is the Hozagiri dance.
  • CONCLUSION: Both these agreements show the keenness of the NDA government to resolve long-pending issues in the Northeast to take those states on the high road to development. 
  • However, oblivious of these positive initiatives in the Northeast, a minority of malcontents continue to agitate over non-issues.


3) On draft notification on RO systems: Purifying water

  • The Environment Ministry’s draft notification to regulate the use of membrane-based water purification systems primarily concerns the manufacturers of reverse osmosis (RO) water filters but effectively bars domestic users from installing RO systems. 
  • The notification is the culmination of a legal dispute before the National Green Tribunal, which had banned RO water filter use in Delhi as the purification process wastes water. 
  • The association of water filter manufacturers challenged this order and the litigation led to this pan-India notification, where the intent is to conserve water and cut waste. In RO, the total dissolved solids (TDS) in water - which covers trace chemicals, certain viruses, bacteria and salts - can be reduced, to meet potable water standards. 
  • Home filters waste nearly 80% of the water during treatment. Second, some research has shown that the process can cut the levels of calcium and magnesium, which are vital nutrients. 
  • The resort to prohibition (to restrict home filters) may cause consumer apprehension but it is unlikely that they will be taken to task for using such water filters. For one, the notification implies, these filters are only prohibited if the home gets water supply that conforms to Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for Drinking Water. 
  • Although several State and city water boards claim BIS standards, the water at homes falls short of the test parameters. The BIS, last year, ranked several cities on official water supply quality. Delhi was last and only Mumbai met all the standards. 
  • In the 28 test parameters, Delhi failed 19, Chennai 9, and Kolkata 10. The BIS norms are voluntary for public agencies which supply piped water but are mandatory for bottled water producers. Moreover, most of the country does not have the luxury of piped water. 
  • The Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) of NITI Aayog says that 70% of water supply is contaminated. India is ranked 120th among 122 countries in an NGO, WaterAid’s quality index. The case for restricting people’s choices on the means they employ to ensure potable water is thus weak. 
  • The notification mainly deals with rules for commercial suppliers and for integration of systems that inform consumers about TDS levels - a major determinant of water quality. This is envisaged both before water enters filtration systems and after it has been filtered. 
  • The aim is also to ensure that after 2022, no more than 25% of water being treated is wasted, and for residential complexes to reuse the residual waste water for other activities, including gardening. 
  • When implemented, the notification’s primary aim should be to persuade authorities to upgrade and supply BIS-standard water at the consumer’s end. This should be done without additional costs, particularly on millions who now lack access to protected supply.


4) On Fashioning the framework of a New India

  • The Indian economy is going through a severe crisis: a slowdown as well as a structural crisis. In the words of the former Chief Economic Adviser, Arvind Subramanian, it is headed towards the ICU. 
  • Almost all sectors of the economy are in decline: the rate of growth of the national GDP has declined to 5.0%, and may go down further; the construction sector, one of the fastest growing sectors so far, is growing at 3.3% this year; agriculture is growing at 2.1% while the auto sector is declining continuously in absolute terms.
  • The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector too has declined, in turn raising the burden of non-performing assets of the banking sector as well as non-banking financial institutions. 
  • Also, exports have been declining in recent years, raising the crisis of current account deficit. Credit from banking and non-banking sectors has been declining in the last few years; the Financial Stability Report of the Reserve Bank of India (2019) says that it is unlikely to increase in the next nine months.
  • Impacting the poor: These developments have had an adverse impact on the bottom 30%-40% of the population. The incidence of absolute poverty, which has been falling since 1972-73, has increased to 30% (4% jump). 
  • As the Human Development Report (2019) has shown, more than 44% of the Indian population is under the multi-dimensional poverty line. The poorest 50% population at present owns only 4.1% of the national wealth, while the richest 10% people own 73% of the total wealth in India (Suisse Credit 2019). 
  • India has 15.2% population malnourished (women 15%) as against 9.3% in China. And 50% of the malnourished children in the world are in India. India’s global hunger rank has gone up to 112 while Brazil is 18, China is 25 and South Africa, 59. 
  • In the field of education as per a UN report (2015), overall literacy in India is 74.04% (more than the 25% are totally illiterate) against 94.3% in South Africa, 96.6% in China and 92.6% in Brazil. Almost 40-45% population is either illiterate or has studied up to standard 4. 
  • Given the quality of education in India, the overall population is very poorly educated, with the share of ‘educated unemployment’ rising by leaps and bounds. It needs to be realised that when exports are declining, the economy will have to depend on domestic demand for growth. 
  • It is no more feasible for the top 20-25% population to continue growing without depending on the demand from the bottom 40-45% population. There is thus a strong reason now for the economy to increase effective demand of this bottom 40-45% population at least to continue growing - to reach a $5-trillion economy by 2024.
  • Sub-optimal use of labour: However, this crisis needs to be viewed differently: a major reason for the crisis is that the growth process has marginalised the bottom 40-plus% of the population in the sense that they do not get a fair share of the economic growth, and are more or less deprived of productive employment with a decent income. 
  • These people have been treated as beneficiaries to whom some cash/kind grants are thrown at, but they have not been used as active participants in the growth process. Their potential has not been promoted.
  • Though the bottom population depends on the government for basic health and elementary education (and also for access to higher educational opportunities), the government spends just 1.4% of GDP on health (against the norm of 4-6% of GDP) and 3% of GDP on education (against the norm of 6-8% of GDP). 
  • As a result, these people are left hardly literate and sick, with poor nutrition and high morbidity. They are incapable of acquiring any meaningful skills or participating actively when new technology is spreading in the rest of the economy. 
  • This sub-optimal use of the labour force in the economy is not likely to enable India to achieve optimal growth with proper use of the national resources - the labour force.
  • All-encompassing growth: One important lesson for policymakers is this: a major solution to the present crisis is to go in for inclusive growth. Here, inclusive growth does not mean only including all sections of the population in the growth process as producers and beneficiaries; it also means “shared prosperity”. 
  • Since India has already committed to sustainable and inclusive growth at the UN General Assembly, India is definitely obliged to implement inclusive growth. This should be our “New India”.
  • Under the “New India” the main requirements are as follows: To start with, to improve the capabilities of the masses as well as their well-being by expanding productive employment opportunities for them. 
  • The main steps to expand productive employment for all in the economy should be made up of: a process of inclusion - expanding quality of basic health for all and ensuring quality education to all, which will by itself generate large-scale employment in the government. 
  • For having a well-educated and healthy labour force will ensure high employability; such people will be able to participate actively in the development process; having a well-educated labour force will help start-ups and MSMEs, in turn triggering a cycle of more productive employment in the economy.
  • This will also improve the global competitiveness of our production units. Employment guarantee schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) will also increase employment. 
  • Following the economic logic of R. Nurkse and A.O. Hirschman, assets generated under MGNREGA will expand capital formation in the economy, thereby raising the labour-absorbing capacity of the mainstream economy.
  • Such a strategy has multiple advantages: First, it will raise incomes and the well-being of those who need it most urgently. Second, it will raise effective demand rapidly, which is so badly needed in the economy today to raise economic growth. Third, growth will be equitable and sustainable.
  • The discussion had important implications for the Union Budget: Unfortunately, these steps are missing in the recent national Budget.
  1. need to raise expenditure on health to at least 5% of GDP and expenditure on education to at least 6% of GDP
  2. to push up infrastructural development to enhance capabilities and opportunities of the masses and not just to promote corporate units 
  3. to promote agriculture by raising investment in agriculture and not just cash transfer (cash transfer provides relief to them no doubt, and does not raise productivity of agriculture which needs large public investment)
  4. to facilitate credit flow particularly continuous working capital, to labour intensive sectors.
  • Public investments: Finally, how does one raise resources to increase new public investments in the selected sectors mentioned above, especially when public revenue is declining and the claims on public resources are rising? One major strategy is to raise direct taxes, both capital tax and wealth tax. 
  • Our experience in the past has shown by following crony capitalism, i.e. providing tax cuts and extra incentives and concessions to the corporate sector, exports increased and also our national GDP no doubt. But this growth does not much percolate to the poor. 
  • This is because during the growth process due to special treatment to corporate sector, the political economy radically changed in favour of the rich who are never willing to be taxed to raise government revenue to a level that it is enough to promote the capabilities and the well-being of the marginalised and the excluded.
  • On the other hand, the unholy alliance between the government and the corporate sector also does not allow them to worry about the poor. Consequently, taxing the rich has to be a major strategy to raise government revenue. 
  • Second, if the public expenditure on raising capabilities is treated as social investment rather than social welfare, policymakers will be willing to spend on this capital formation. 
  • And, finally, there was no sound economic reason to control fiscal deficit ratio. Sound macroeconomics never supports this. Simply the major solution to the present economic crisis is to go in for inclusive growth; it also means shared prosperity.