The HINDU Notes – 12th December 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 12th December 2019

πŸ“° After a heated debate, Rajya Sabha clears Citizenship (Amendment) Bill

After a heated debate, Rajya Sabha clears Citizenship (Amendment) Bill
No provision to ‘snatch’ citizenship, says Home Minister Amit Shah; AIADMK, Janata Dal (U) and BJD play a key role in helping push bill through.

•The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, with 125 votes in favour and 99 against. The Bill for the first time allows citizenship on the basis of religion to six communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The current strength of the Upper House is 240.

•The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955, and for the first time, will grant citizenship on the basis of religion to non-Muslim communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. It was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday.

•The debate saw fiery exchanges, with Opposition members accusing the government of violating the provisions of the Constitution. The Opposition also added that the legislation could be challenged on legal grounds. Several members also flagged the violent protests against the Bill in Assam and Tripura.

•Replying to the debate, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said, “The Bill has no provision to snatch citizenship from anyone but to grant citizenship to the refugees. There is no need for Indian Muslims to live in fear. India has given respect to its Muslim population. This Bill does not discriminate against them. India will never be Muslim mukt (free).” 

•He said Muslims need not worry. However, he added, “...If you expect that Muslims from all over the world would be accommodated here, then you are mistaken. This country will not function like this.” 

•He said he was mindful of the concerns of people in the Northeast, and all the (Hindu Bengalis) refugees from the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) who came to West Bengal will be given citizenship.

•The votes of the AIADMK, the Janata Dal (United) and the Biju Janata Dal were key in helping the BJP-led government push the Bill through in the Upper House. Members of former BJP ally Shiv Sena participated in the debate but did not vote. 

•Two MPs of the Nationalist Congress Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party were absent.

Claims on numbers

•Mr. Shah said “lakhs and crores” of people would benefit from the Bill. However, he did not explain how he had arrived at the numbers. 

•Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress mentioned that the Director of the Intelligence Bureau had said in a report that around 31,000 people would be the immediate beneficiaries.

•Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government did not have authentic records on the number of persecuted people from the three countries. “While the Home Minister has been counting crores and lakhs of far only 4,400 people have cited religious persecution as grounds to get citizenship,” Mr. Azad said.

•The Congress’s Kapil Sibal asked how the government would differentiate between illegal migrants and those persecuted on religious grounds. 

•He said the government was forcing people to lie that they had come from Bangladesh as they always claimed they are Indians.

•To this, Mr. Shah said, “If you ask someone if they are illegal, they will say ‘No’. But we will tell them that you will be granted citizenship from the date you entered.”

•“Had they disclosed earlier they would have been arrested, lost jobs, marriages would have broken. Earlier they couldn’t declare they are illegal; can’t you (Opposition) hear their pain,” the Home Minister said. 

•Strongly opposing the Bill, DMK MP Tiruchi Siva asked the government why only one religion had been excluded for according citizenship to illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Participating in the debate in the Rajya Sabha, he said the Bill was polarising and that the government was targeting only one religion.

•Mr. Shah said the statements given by Congress MPs were similar to that of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, leading to sharp retort from the party. Mr. Shah said any Muslim could apply for citizenship through the usual channels and in the past five years, 566 persons from Pakistan were granted citizenship.

•He said anyone could move a legal challenge to the Bill but he was confident that it will pass the test of law.

•He asked Congress to stop fooling the minorities adding that during Congress regime more than 13,000 Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan became Indian citizens.

πŸ“° Testing judicial reforms

Experimental research is necessary for the Indian judiciary to deal with issues such as high pendency rate

•The media has given extensive coverage to experimental research in social sciences in the recent months following the Nobel Committee’s decision to award the Economics prize to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer. The three economists’ work is premised on evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) designed to isolate the effect of an intervention on an outcome or event by comparing its impact on a ‘treatment group’ that gets the intervention with a ‘control group’ that does not get the intervention. Testing interventions in pilot settings thus prevents the state from pursuing ineffective courses of action.

•However, there is a conspicuous lack of experimental work in the field of legal research in India. Rigorous RCTs are indeed difficult to carry out in legal settings, given the complexity of the legal system and the need to ensure that any such studies do not hinder people’s access to justice. But there is a great opportunity to incorporate some of these methods from RCTs into legal policymaking. The Indian judicial system is plagued with problems of delay and backlog. Currently, 3.5 crore cases are pending across the country’s high courts and district courts.

•The long-term consequence of such high pendency is an erosion of faith in the institution of the judiciary. Justice delivery is the monopoly of the state but delays and the cost of litigation have led to people approaching non-judicial bodies outside the formal court system such as khap panchayats, religious leaders and politicians for dispute resolution. The problem of judicial delay, however, stubbornly persists.

Increasing the number of judges

•The most common solution proposed using a simplistic input-output model is to increase the number of judges. This suggestion conveniently masks the deeper systemic flaws in the judicial system that cause such high pendency. Further, despite the seriousness of the issue, there has been no empirical study on the effect of increasing the number of judges on judicial pendency. Using the experimental method will allow researchers to test a causal relationship between an independent variable (say increasing judge strength) and possibly dependent variables (say judicial pendency). Experiments such as these will give policymakers insights into how certain interventions work at a smaller scale before deciding on large-scale implementation. One of the most famous controlled experiments in the U.S. was the Manhattan Bail Project, where accused persons applying for bail were put into a control group and a treatment group. Researchers assessed if those in the experimental group should be released without a bail bond, using factors like employment history, local family ties, and prior criminal record. Around 60% of the accused in the experimental group were released without bond, out of which only 1.6% failed to show up for subsequent trials for reasons within their control.

•In a study published in 2007, researchers David S. Abrams and Albert H. Yoon studied the random assignment of government attorneys to suspects in felony cases in Las Vegas. They found that on average, those represented by Hispanic attorneys received sentences that were 26% shorter than those received by defendants represented by black or white public defenders.

Resistance in the system

•Given the importance of judicial independence, members of the judiciary are resistant to outsiders doing experimental work on their functioning. Though there is widespread acknowledgement of the problem of judicial delay, there is only limited effort within the judiciary to understand through research the nuances of the problems and motivations of the various stakeholders. An exception is the ‘Zero Pendency Courts’ project in Delhi. The Delhi High Court carried out a pilot project between 2017 and 2018 with the assistance of DAKSH to assess the impact of ‘no backlog’ on judicial pendency and to devise ideal timelines for different types of cases. Eleven judges with no backlog were compared with 11 judges with the regular backlog. The study found that since pilot courts had fewer cases listed per day, they could spend more time per hearing. On an average, pilot sessions judges dealing with murder cases took approximately 16 hours to dispose sessions cases over 6.5 months, while pilot fast-track judges (dealing with rape cases) took 4.4 hours over three months. Studies such as these provide policymakers with evidence to implement targeted and effective solutions.

•Experimental research in the Indian legal system is an idea whose time has come. Judicial reforms are far too important to be implemented without the rigorous backing of such research.

πŸ“° 50th PSLV launch carries radar satellite

RISAT-2BR1 will be used for national security.

•India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) marked its ‘Golden Jubilee’ launch on Wednesday by injecting India’s advanced radar imaging satellite RISAT-2BR1 and 9 other customer satellites from Japan, Italy, Israel and the U.S.A. into their intended orbits. 

•The PSLV, which has a history of successful launches of payloads that include Chandrayaan-1, Mars Orbiter Mission and the space recovery mission, soared into clear blue skies at 3.25 p.m. from the refurbished first launchpad, marking the 50th launch for the vehicle. 

•“Today’s launch was a historical mission,” ISRO Chairman K. Sivan, said from Mission Control after the successful launch. 

•“We also achieved a major milestone of 75 launches from our spaceport today. Initially, the PSLV had a carrying capacity of 850 kg, and over the years it has been enhanced to 1.9 tonnes. The PSLV is very versatile having various mission options,” Mr. Sivan added.

•The PSLV had helped take payloads into almost all the orbits in space including Geo-Stationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), the Moon, Mars and would soon be launching a mission to the Sun, the ISRO chief noted.

•Mr. Sivan observed that in the last 26 years, the PSLV had lifted more than 52 tonnes into space, of which about 17% were for commercial customers.  “Clearly, this vehicle has done wonders,” he said, while commending the work of all the scientists who had built the workhorse vehicle from ground up and brought it to its current status. He also released a book commemorating the 50 launches and the scientists involved in them.

•The PSLV has failed only twice in its history — the maiden flight of the PSLV D1 in September 1993 and the PSLV C-39 in August 2017.

•S. Somanath, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre said while it had taken ISRO 26 years to achieve 50 launches, the next 50 would likely be done in the coming five years.

•The RISAT-2BR1 will be used for agriculture, forestry, disaster management support and national security. ISRO will launch the next version of RISAT within the next two months, said P. Kunhikrishnan, Director, UR Rao Satellite Centre (URSC).

πŸ“° The not-so bright idea of selling the family silver

The Government may not be striking pay dirt in privatising public sector undertakings, especially the profitable BPCL

•When we examine the proposed stake sale of profit-making public sector undertakings (PSUs), a few strategic issues of national importance need to be considered. The first is an ideological one — that Government must get out of business. The second is the need to bring the fiscal deficit down. The third is a long-term financial one: which option, public- or privately-owned, is better for the Government treasury? A fourth is about national security and self reliance: can India be under pressure if we do not have full control over petroleum? Why do the United States, China and other superpowers have control over their petroleum reserves?

Number crunching

•Let us look at the long-term financial issue. The Burmah Shell (Acquisition of Undertakings in India) Act 1976 enabled the Government of India to take ownership by paying ₹27.75 crore. One estimate of that amount in today’s terms is to use the inflation factor, which is about 22.42 (between the year 1976 and now). This means that the Government would have paid ₹622.06 crore today. The current market value of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) varies between ₹85,000 crore and ₹115,000 crore. The government’s share at present is about 53.3% (which it is contemplating selling), that is worth between ₹45,000 crore and ₹61,500 crore. We got the company for a song.

•How much has the Government earned meanwhile? Since 2011, the total dividend it has earned is about ₹15,000 crore, which is several times the present value of the investment of ₹622 crore. Let us estimate the present value of all future incomes that the Government would earn. One way is to use inflation and calculate what the value of all future flows would be, based on the present value of all future incomes. The average inflation in the last three years has been 4.5%, 3.6% and 3.48% in 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively, or an average of 3.86%. If the Government sells its entire stake, it would forego future income of about ₹78,589 crore. In addition the BPCL has also paid taxes of about ₹25,000 crore to the Government since 2011. No doubt the Government will continue to get taxes from the private sector as well. However, the effective tax rate on profits before tax for the BPCL is about 34%, whereas for the private sector player it is between 25% and 28%. So there will be a loss in tax revenue for the Government after any privatisation.

•In summary, financially, we as a nation are worse off by selling such a profitable venture. As the case of the BPCL and several other PSU ‘Navratnas’ show, they have given super normal returns to the public exchequer. Instead of selling such high performing PSUs, should we not be selling the loss-making ones?

Issue of fiscal deficit target

•Another issue underlying the disinvestment is the fiscal deficit target of 3.4%, now reduced to 3.3%. There are many ideological debates among economists about the importance of reducing the fiscal deficit, but we leave that to the experts. Given that revenue collections are not enough, the Government is perhaps planning the sale of well-running PSUs to meet the fiscal deficit target. If the Government does meet its fiscal deficit target by the stake sale of various PSUs including the BPCL this year, how would it meet that target next year? Note that in spite of the huge one-time dividend from the Reserve Bank of India, we are far from meeting the deficit target. Nothing much will change in terms of the expenditure or revenues in the coming years. These strategic sales and dividends cannot be repeated every year. We will be back to the same levels of fiscal deficit. The real way of meeting this target is to cut out wasteful Government expenditure, most of which is on salaries and pensions, and ensuring that the bureaucracy delivers. Unfortunately, the cuts will be in the social sector.

On national security

•The ideological issue of Government versus private ownership is related to the strategic issue about national security. Natural resources, especially oil, are a strategic national resource. The United States maintains such an underground crude oil reserve to mitigate any supply disruptions. Some comparative figures for such reserves are: the U.S. over 600 billion barrels, China 400, South Korea 146, Spain 120 and India 39.1. India does have a target to substantially increase its reserves. At today’s prices to reach Chinese levels of reserves we will need nearly ₹2 lakh crore, which is 10% of the Central Budget. Even if we spread this out over several years, it is still a lot of money. There are two (state-owned) Chinese companies in the top five oil companies; in fact Sinopec is the world’s second largest, just behind Aramco. While China sticks to state-owned national resources, we are moving in the opposite direction. National security also depends on the economic power that a Government has. We do have plans to build perhaps the world’s largest refinery in India, with the help of Saudi Arabia, but ownership and control will be in foreign hands. Meanwhile with the strategic disinvestments, we will lose Government control over both crude and refining. Nothing prevents China or any other country for that matter from buying up refining capacity in India.

•Is this strategic disinvestment akin to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs? Financially we are worse off, and strategically the nation finds itself in a vulnerable situation. We need to see through the ideological narrative coming from the developed nations. They embraced free trade when it suited them and are now trying to embrace protectionism. China adopted a market system but does not allow this to cloud its thinking when it comes to strategic national issues; the control then remains with the Government. India too needs to re-think its strategy.

πŸ“° New social security Bill tabled in Lok Sabha

It gives option to lower PF contribution

•Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar on Wednesday introduced the Code on Social Security, 2019, in the Lok Sabha. The Bill seeks to amend and consolidate laws relating to the social security of employees, subsuming eight Central laws.

•The eight Central Labour Acts, namely Employees' Compensation Act, 1923; Employees State Insurance Act, 1948, Employees Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952; Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972; Cine Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1981; Building and Other Construction Workers Cess Act, 1996 and Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008, are to be subsumed under the new law.

•The new code will give the option for the reduction of Provident Fund contribution by employees in some sectors from 12% to 10%. The reduction will not apply to employers and has been done solely to increase the take-home pay of employees.

•The Bill also proposes to set up a social security fund using the funds available under corporate social responsibility, to provide welfare benefits such as pensions and death and disability benefits. The Bill also has a clause to make fixed-term contract workers eligible for gratuity on a pro-rata basis.