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1 Oct 2019: The Hindu Editorial Summary

1) On Sikkim CM's disqualification: Dangerous precedent

  • The Election Commission (EC)’s order of reducing the period of Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang’s disqualification from electoral contest is morally wrong and a dangerous precedent that may end up reversing the trend towards decriminalising politics.
  • Under Section 11 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the EC indeed has the power to remove or reduce the disqualification attached to a conviction.
  • However, this has been used rarely, and seldom in a case involving a conviction for corruption. Mr. Tamang was convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act for misappropriating ₹9.50 lakh in the purchase of milch cows for distribution in 1996-97.
  • His one-year prison term was upheld by the High Court and the Supreme Court. He went to jail and was released on August 10, 2018.
  • He was controversially - and in brazen disregard of the Supreme Court’s 2001 ruling in the case of late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa - appointed Chief Minister by the Sikkim Governor earlier this year.
  • Mr. Tamang did not contest, but was elected legislature party leader by the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), which won the election. His appointment as Chief Minister was challenged in the Supreme Court.
  • Meanwhile, he approached the EC for removing his disqualification. His main argument was that the law prevailing at the time of his offence entailed disqualification only if the sentence was for a term of two years or more; and that the amendment in 2003, under which any conviction under the anti-corruption law would attract the six-year disqualification norm, should not be applied to him.
  • Disqualification from contest is a civil disability created by electoral law to keep those convicted by criminal courts from entering elected offices. It is not a second punishment in a criminal sense.
  • Mr. Tamang cannot argue that disqualification for a one-year term amounts to being given a punishment not prevalent at the time of the offence. The EC decision also goes against the grain of a series of legislative and judicial measures to strengthen the legal framework against corruption in recent years.

  • The apex court has described corruption as a serious malady and one impinging on the economy. In 2013, the protection given to sitting legislators from immediate disqualification was removed.
  • Further, common sense would suggest that disqualification should be more strictly applied to those convicted for corruption. Legislators handle public funds, and there is good reason to keep out those guilty of misusing them.
  • Mr. Tamang, even by virtue of the order reducing his disqualification to one-year-and-a-month, was not eligible to be sworn in, as his disqualification continued till September 10.
  • Yet, he is now eligible to contest a byelection and retain his post. The EC is already battling a perception that its actions are partisan. The EC’s order on Sikkim CM’s disqualification goes against the anti-graft current in law.
  • Its order in favour of Mr. Tamang, coming just a day after the BJP struck an alliance with the SKM for bypolls to be held on October 21, is bound to further strain its credibility.


2) On link between jobs, farming and climate

 ‘Are we heading for an economic crisis?’

  • Growth has slowed for the past few quarters - the past two-and-a-half years, if we go by annual growth rates.
  • Those who heard the address to the United Nations climate change summit by the teenager Greta Thunberg earlier this month may not be as worried about economic growth as the government is.
  • Globally, industrial growth driven by mindless consumption is the cause of climate change, now unmistakably upon us. But India does need some growth as income levels here are still very low.
  • The problem of low incomes can, however, be tackled even with less growth so long as it is of the appropriate type. So, the slowing of growth in India cannot reasonably be termed a crisis.

  • Rural unemployment: Figures reported in the report of the last Periodic Labour Force Survey point to a dramatic rise in the unemployment rate since 2011-12, when the previous survey on unemployment was undertaken.
  • Apart from the category of ‘Urban Females’, the most recent estimate of unemployment shows that it is the highest in the 45 years since 1972-73. But even for ‘Urban Females’, it is double what it was in 2011-12.
  • For the largest cohort, namely ‘Rural Males, in 2017-18, it is four times the average for the 40 years up to 2011-12. These figures should convince us of the existence of a grave situation, if not crisis, with respect to employment in the country.

  • In the average country of the OECD, an increase in unemployment of such magnitude would have triggered a nationwide debate, not to mention agitation on the streets.
  • The government has responded to the slowing of growth by announcing a range of measures, the most prominent of them being the reduction in the corporate tax rate. While this may have a positive effect, the move is not based on the big picture.
  • The tax cut is meant to be a remedy for stagnant corporate investment. But if the level of corporate investment itself reflects some underlying reality, it is only by tackling the latter that we can get to the root of the problem.
  • A large part of corporate sales is driven by rural demand, reflected in the reported lay-offs by biscuit manufacturers. We do not hear their voices or, more importantly, the government does not, as they are less organised than some other sections of the corporate world, the automobile industry being one such.
  • The rural picture matters not only because the largest numbers are located there but also because of their low incomes. This means that the future growth of demand for much of industrial production is likely to come from there.
  • After all, how many more flat-screen televisions can an urban middle-class household buy once it already possess one? The high unemployment rate for ‘Rural Males’ does suggest that we have zoomed in up to a reasonable degree of precision on the site of low demand.
  • Production decline: We must now answer the question of why rural incomes are growing so slowly. The recent history of crop agriculture points towards one reason. In the nine years since 2008-2009, this activity has recorded zero or negative growth in five.
  • Put differently, in the majority of years, it has shown no growth. The economy has very likely not seen anything like this since 1947. When growth fluctuations include production decline, a particular feature emerges.

  • Households incurring consumption debt in bad crop years would be repaying it in the good ones. This implies that consumption does not grow appreciably even in good years.
  • Recognising the record of agricultural production is sufficient to grasp what we see in India today. This does not imply that other factors do not matter, and we could imagine several, ranging from low export growth to the state of the banking sector.
  • This does suggest that poor agricultural performance is a significant explanation of slack domestic demand. Unstable agricultural production first lowers the demand for agricultural labour and, subsequently, its supply, showing up in greater unemployment.
  • It has been pointed out that the investment rate has declined. This is indeed correct but this may well be a reflection of the poor agricultural performance.
  • When non-agricultural firms observe slow agricultural growth, they are likely to shrink their investment plans and may not revise their decision till this growth improves.
  • Private investment follows output growth and leads it. Thus, attempting to influence the private investment rate is to only deal with a symptom.
  • The rural income generation is the main problem. It is imperative to focus on agricultural production in devising a long-term solution to the problem of unemployment.