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27 Aug 2019: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) On Amazon's rainforest fire: Earth’s burning lungs

  • The Amazon rainforest, the largest of its kind in the world, is ablaze (afire), with over 9,500 distinct fires burning through its main basin since August 15. Brazil’s attitude to the destruction of large areas of the Amazon rainforest is worrying.
  • Overall, Brazil has seen more than 76,000 fires ravage (burn out) the Amazon in 2019, of which around 10,000 have been started in the past few weeks, mainly by loggers and farmers seeking, as they do during the summer months, to clear vast tracts for agricultural or industrial use.
  • However, this annual exercise of planned deforestation appears to have crossed a tipping point this year. There has been an increase of at least 80% in the number of recorded fires compared to the same period in 2018.
  • According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). This week, images of darkening skies above Sao Paulo, more than 2,700 km away from the fires, went viral. The number and intensity of the fires are closely linked to the rate of deforestation.

  • Some reports estimate that in July 2019, the Amazon shrunk by 1,345 sq km, up 39% from the same month last year, and a historical record. The flames are not confined just to Brazil either.
  • In neighbouring Bolivia, deadly blazes are devastating forests and farmlands, so much so, that its President, Evo Morales, has put his re-election campaign on hold over the weekend, and, unlike his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro, was quick to welcome foreign aid to help fight the fires.
  • The distinctly political undertones of the crisis in Brazil sets it apart. Mr. Bolsonaro’s critics say that his economic and environmental policies have virtually set the stage for intensifying degradation of the Amazon’s rich biodiversity.
  • They argue that since he came to power this year, he has chipped (scrapped) away at the protections that the rainforest enjoyed, including by weakening the environment ministry when he made Ricardo Salles, found guilty of administrative improprieties for altering a map to benefit mining companies.
  • The Environment Minister; by driving away Norway and Germany, principal donors who have backed protections for the Amazon; by sacking (removing) the head INPE over absurd allegations that he was disclosing how rapidly Amazon deforestation was happening.
  • By attacking both environmental charities, alleging without proof that they started fires to serve certain foreign interests, and indigenous Amazon dwellers. Under intense global pressure, including from the ongoing G-7 meetings of world leaders.
  • Mr. Bolsonaro, a right-wing climate-change sceptic (individual), appears to have relented (given) to an extent, and has authorised 44,000 military troops to help with the firefighting efforts.

  • Even if they succeed, and the Bolsonaro administration ultimately bends to global outrage over the destruction of a critical global ecosystem, the discernible (evident) shift in Brazilian public institutions responsible for guarding the future of the Amazon rainforest is a worrying sign of worse things to come.

2) On Indian Judicial System: Time to strike the gavel

  • The judiciary needs to dispel (turn back) the perception that its standing as the guardian of constitutional rights is faltering (dwelling).
  • The biggest blow to the people of India was delivered by the Supreme Court of India on April 28, 1976. five-member Constitution Bench (the Chief Justice of India, A.N. Ray + 4) delivered its judgment in the Additional District Magistrate, ... vs. S.S. Shukla Etc. The scars it inflicted (imposed) on the Constitution, constitutional morality and constitutionalism are deep.
  • Emergency formulation: This was the judgment that allowed the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during Emergency.
  • Some of the points made were: “In period of public danger of apprehension (custody), the protective law which gives every man security and confidence in times of tranquility (quite) has to give way to interest of the State.” (CJI A.N. Ray);
  • Enforceability, as an attribute of a legal right, and the power of the judicial organs of the State to enforce the right, are exclusively for the State, as the legal instrument of Society, to confer or take away in the legally authorised manner.” (Justice Beg);
  • “Personal liberty is but one of the Fundamental Rights... therefore the suspension of the right to enforce the right conferred by Article 21 means and implies the suspension of the right to file a habeas corpus petition or to take any other proceeding to enforce the right to personal liberty conferred by Article 21.” (Justice Y.V. Chandrachud);
  • “The Constitution... if it says that even if a person is detained otherwise than in accordance with the law, he shall not be entitled to enforce his right of personal liberty, whilst a Presidential order under Article 359, clause (1) specifying Article 21 is in force I have to give effect to it.” (Justice Bhagwati).
  • This was an anti-constitutional and anti-people decision. But in the true spirit of Rabindranath Tagore’s words, Justice Khanna held: “If they answer not to your call, walk alone.
  • “But Article 21 cannot be considered to be the sole repository of the right to life and personal liberty. The right to life and personal liberty is the most precious right of human beings in civilised societies....”
  • Justice Khanna said, “The cases before us raise questions of utmost importance and gravity, questions which impinge not only upon the scope of the different constitutional provisions, but have impact also upon the basic, values affecting life, liberty and the rule of law...
  • What is at stake is the rule of law. If it could be the boast of a great English judge that the air of England is too pure for a slave to breathe, cannot we also say that this sacred land shall not suffer an eclipse of the rule of law and that the Constitution.
  • Indian laws do not permit life and liberty to be at the mercy of absolute power of the executive, a power against which there can be no redress in courts of law? Even if it chooses to act contrary to law or in an arbitrary and capricious manner.
  • The question is whether the laws speaking through the authority of the courts shall be absolutely silenced and rendered mute because of such threat.”

  • Rights in Kashmir: That was during the Emergency. Today, there is no Emergency, yet the constitutional and basic rights of scores (so many) have been suspended in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
  • Worse, the Supreme Court has virtually taken away their constitutional remedy to enforce those rights. Regrettably, the court has treated habeas corpus petitions in a most casual manner by justifying negation of the rule of law.
  • Two episodes — though not directly connected — have left us searching for answers as to functioning of the court. While adjourning for two weeks, a writ petition challenging the imposition of restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir, following the abrogation of Article 370.
  • A bench of the top court, on August 12, 2019, merely accepted the pleas of the Attorney General on behalf of Centre to the effect that, “we have to ensure that law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir is maintained and that it will take a few days to return to normalcy.”
  • It further observed, “the situation is such that nobody knows what exactly is happening there. Some time should be given for bringing normalcy”. In other words, the top court — the custodian of the right to life and liberty — handed over its duty to the Central government.
  • Subsequently, on August 16, another court bench hearing writ petitions on lifting the communication ban said, “let us give it a bit of time” and adjourned these matters to an unspecified date.
  • During the hearing, the Central government urged that “things will settle down in next few days” and that “these are security related issues that are best left to the government and armed forces”.
  • The court’s handling of these cases is a harsh reminder of the ADM Jabalpur case. More than a million people have been locked down in one of the biggest clampdowns by the Indian armed forces; and all under the cover of Section 144 of Cr.P.C.

  • Article 21 is about life and liberty, and all that the Supreme Court has done is to defer these crucial matters without taking the government to task. In the first instance, the state failed “to ensure normalcy” from the day it abrogated Article 370.
  • Now it has tried to buy more time from the top court to do so. The “situation is such that nobody knows what exactly is happening there”, but that is precisely why it is the duty to court to ascertain true facts. It cannot shy away from doing justice in the name of “security” and “law and order”.
  • “It is not suggested here that the security of the nation can be compromised; nor can one argue that law and order ought not to controlled. But preservation of both is the duty of the state”.


Source: The Hindu, Google Images