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21 Dec 2019: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) On Citizenship Amendment Act protests: Net loss

  • The shutting down of the Internet in Delhi and several States as a response to growing protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, is unsophisticated and deeply damaging to social life and the economy. 
  • Meghalaya, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh were entirely cut off, and parts of Assam, West Bengal, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh were deprived of Internet access, in clumsy attempts to quell demonstrations. 
  • Such ham-handed interventions have won for India a place at the head of the table among intolerant countries that routinely shut down the Internet to block criticism of the government. 
  • Jammu and Kashmir is now acknowledged globally as a dark spot on the Internet, with service there blocked since August 4. After protests against the CAA began, other States are also experiencing shutdowns.
  • The fate of connectivity is being decided by officers empowered by the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, or Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. 
  • A disruption is an extreme measure, and should be countenanced only for a specific threat, and as an interim measure as official communications fill the information vacuum. 
  • A case in point is the spreading of rumours on child lifters on social media, which resulted in several lynchings. The net blackout of the kind being witnessed now, however, has little to do with rumours, and is clearly aimed at muzzling the protests.
  • The Prime Minister, who has fashioned himself as a digital first leader, issued a Twitter appeal to people in Assam on the CAA, but they did not get it as they had no net. 
  • The NDA government should also be aware that the connectivity chokehold applied on J&K is proving lethal to entrepreneurship, crippling a new generation running start-ups and promoting women’s employment. 

  • A disrupted Internet is dealing a blow to digital financial transactions across several States, to e-governance initiatives, and economic productivity. It affects education and skill-building, as the Kerala High Court affirmed in an order holding access to the net a fundamental right that could not be denied arbitrarily. 
  • The court pointed out that the apprehension of a gadget being misused is not a legitimate ground for denial of service, and the government should act on specific complaints. 
  • Yet, since 2015, shutdowns have been rising - 134 in 2018 - and the NDA seems unwilling to change course. It seems to matter little that blunt interventions make the ambitious goal of growing into a $5-trillion economy even more unrealistic. 
  • Disruption of connectivity should be resorted to only in the face of specific threats. India is losing face as a democracy because it chooses to sit with authoritarian regimes. That is the wrong road to take. Reform and progress vitally need the net.


2) On three capital cities for Andhra Pradesh: Whither Amaravati?

  • Sometimes ideas can sound good, but when it comes to implementation they need to be tested for feasibility and, importantly, timing. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy hinted on Tuesday that the South African model of three capitals was best suited in his State and that his government would work towards this. 
  • In South Africa, the administrative capital is in Pretoria, its national legislature in Cape Town and its judicial capital in Bloemfontein. 
  • Mr. Reddy’s idea seems to stem from the reasoning that a distribution of executive, legislative and judicial governance across Visakhapatnam, Amaravati (the current capital) and Kurnool would allow for “a decentralised development of the State”. 
  • The location choices are in the upper, central and lower geographical regions. Such an arrangement follows the recommendations of the expert committee appointed by the Home Affairs Ministry in 2014 to study alternatives for a new capital. 
  • Chaired by K.C. Sivaramakrishnan, the panel had argued against the need for a greenfield capital city and to instead focus on distributing locations of governance beyond the Vijayawada-Guntur-Tenali-Mangalagiri urban area, while utilising the time period of 10 years to continue functions from Hyderabad after bifurcation. 

  • The Chief Minister’s idea has got support from the government-appointed G.N. Rao committee; it has recommended that the Assembly’s location be retained at Amaravati, with the Secretariat and High Court moved to Visakhapatnam and Kurnool, respectively.
  • Despite the expert committee’s recommendations, the A.P. government led by the Telugu Desam Party had decided to build a grand capital in Amaravati, and had acquired large parcels of land from farmers. 
  • The Secretariat and Legislative Assembly were shifted to Amaravati in 2016, while the High Court began functioning in the beginning of 2019. Amaravati, which still requires significant development, has become a functioning State capital for all purposes now. But it is no surprise that many farmers. 
  • Who had agreed to give up fertile land for the expansion of the capital as part of a land pooling scheme and were to have received residential and commercial plots among other forms of compensation, have protested the decision to decentralise capital functions. 
  • If the government limits Amaravati to hosting only the Assembly, it must take into account the concerns of affected farmers. 
  • That said, the fact that considerable work has been completed in Amaravati to utilise the fledgling city as a functioning capital must be taken into account before embarking upon the “decentralisation” idea, which was best served before the works in Amaravati began. 
  • Abandoning the plan that is already in place will render the grand city an unviable one. As in politics, in governance, timing is everything.