The HINDU Notes – 22nd January 2020 - VISION

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 22nd January 2020

πŸ“° Time to resolve ‘pending issues’ with India: Oli

Nepal PM says disputes should be resolved through dialogue by the governments of both countries

•Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli on Tuesday said bilateral disputes with India should be dealt with dialogue by the majority governments of both countries, indicating Kathmandu’s political willingness to resolve the row over the Kalapani territorial issue with New Delhi.

•“The time has come to resolve all pending issues through dialogue in the lasting interest of our two countries. A stable and majority government in both countries is an opportune moment. My government remains committed to working closely with the Government of India towards this end. Our Ministers and respective officials will meet to sort out differences and advance the partnership agenda,” said Mr. Oli over a video-link before the inauguration of the Integrated Check Post at Jogbani-Biratnagar that has been built with Indian assistance.

Row over new map

•The Kalapani issue was reignited after India published a new political map in November 2019 that displayed its continued position over the territory as part of Uttarakhand. Following this, protests and comments poured in from the Nepali side, though high-level Nepali diplomats maintained that New Delhi and Kathmandu should resolve the issue through dialogue. In response, India maintained that the political map depicted India’s sovereign territory “accurately”.

•Mr. Oli also invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit Kathmandu. He said he looked forward to receiving the Indian leader. Both leaders referred to India’s contribution for the earthquake relief and rebuilding work in Gorkha and Nuwakot districts of Nepal.

•expressing satisfaction over the way houses had been built with Indian assistance in Gorkha and Nuwakot districts, Mr. Modi said, “The earthquake of 2015 was a painful incident. Natural disasters like earthquakes test human determination. Every Indian is proud about the way our Nepali brothers and sisters have dealt with the challenge with courage. As the nearest neighbour and friend this assistance was our duty.”

πŸ“° SC for curbs on powers of Speaker to disqualify

•The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked Parliament to amend the Constitution to strip Legislative Assembly Speakers of their exclusive power to decide whether legislators should be disqualified under the anti-defection law.

•An independent tribunal ought to be appointed instead to determine the fate of an MP or an MLA who has switched sides for money and power, the court said.

•This is the second time in as many months that the court has highlighted the issue of taking away the disqualification power under the Tenth Schedule from Speakers.

•In a 109-page judgment by a three-judge Bench, led by Justice N.V. Ramana in the Karnataka MLAs’ disqualification case, the court had held that a Speaker who cannot stay aloof from the pressures and wishes of his political party does not deserve to occupy his chair. This judgment of November last also urged Parliament to “reconsider strengthening certain aspects of the Tenth Schedule, so that such undemocratic practices are discouraged”.

•On Tuesday, in a 31-page judgment, a three-judge Bench led by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman questioned why a Speaker, who is a member of a particular political party and an insider in the House, should be the “sole and final arbiter” in the disqualification of a political defector.

•“It is time Parliament had a rethink on whether disqualification petitions ought to be entrusted to a Speaker as a quasi-judicial authority when such Speaker continues to belong to a particular political party either de jure or de facto,” the court said.

•The Tuesday judgment came on an appeal filed by Congress legislator Keisham Meghchandra Singh against the Manipur Assembly Speaker for the disqualification of Minister T. Shyamkumar, who after contesting on Congress ticket, switched sides to favour the BJP.

πŸ“° India, Brazil to sign Strategic Action Plan

President Bolsonaro to be the chief guest of the Republic Day celebrations

•India and Brazil will upgrade their strategic partnership with an “action plan” and sign a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) when Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visits as the chief guest of the Republic Day celebrations from January 24 to 27.

•According to officials involved in the planning of the visit, the two countries hope to take their partnership to “the next level” and build on the relationship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Bolsonaro, who met twice in 2019.

•“Our bilateral relations are based on a common global vision, shared democratic values, and a commitment to foster economic growth of both countries. Bilateral relations were elevated to a Strategic Partnership in 2006, heralding a new phase in India-Brazil relations,” said an External Affairs Ministry statement announcing Mr. Bolsonaro’s visit.

First BIT since 2015

•According to the officials, the Strategic Partnership action plan will serve as an “umbrella agreement”, for plans between the two countries to increase defence cooperation, technology sharing and a logistics agreement.

•The bilateral investment treaty (BIT) will be one of the first that the Modi government will sign since 2015, when it decided to scrap all existing treaties with 83 countries, and brought in a new “Model BIT”. Brazil and India will also exchange a Social Security Agreement (SSA), first signed in March 2017, to allow investments in each other’s pension funds, to help business processes and encourage the flow of investment. In 2018, Indian investments in Brazil were around $6 billion and Brazilian investments in India are estimated at $1 billion, the Ministry said, adding that bilateral trade stands at about $8 billion.

•Of particular interest will be any discussion held on climate change cooperation between the leaders, given Mr. Modi’s stated commitment on combating global warming, and the Brazilian President’s stand rejecting scientific studies on climate change. Last year, Mr. Bolsonaro decided not to host the COP-25 UN climate talks.

•While Mr. Bolsonaro is known internationally for other controversial “far-right” beliefs on gender and orientation, and rights for indigenous tribes, he could face protests in India over Brazil’s complaint at the World Trade Organisation against New Delhi’s subsidies to sugar cane farmers. Brazil, the largest producer and exporter of sugar, says Indian subsidies are inconsistent with trade rules.

πŸ“° ‘It’s unclear how Coronavirus is transmitted’

More cases expected in China and possibly other countries in the coming days, says WHO official

•As six deaths were reported in China due to the Novel Coronavirus, Dr. Roderico Ofrin, Regional Emergency Director, World Health Organisation (WHO) South-East Asia Region, has said much remains to be understood about the virus.

•In an interview to The Hindu, he said an emergency meeting of the WHO will assess the situation on Wednesday. It will decide whether the situation constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and what recommendations should be made, he said.

Confirmed cases

•The death toll from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday as new cases surged beyond 300. Thailand has reported two cases and South Korea one, all involving Chinese travellers from Wuhan. Japan and Taiwan also confirmed one case each.

•Stating that not enough is known to draw definitive conclusions about how the virus is transmitted, the clinical features of the disease, its severity, the extent to which it has spread, or its source, Dr. Ofrin said, “Based on previous experiences with respiratory illnesses and in particular with other Coronavirus outbreaks and our analysis of data shared by China, human-tohuman transmission is likely occurring.”

•“More cases could be expected in other parts of China and possibly other countries in the coming days,” he said.

•Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. A Novel Coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

•“An animal source seems the most likely primary source of this outbreak, with limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts. WHO’s guidance to countries and individuals includes the possibility of the disease spreading through contact with animals, contaminated food, and/or person to person,” said Dr. Ofrin.

πŸ“° The right to protest in a free society

In a democracy, people participate politically not only during but between elections

•We are witnessing unprecedented public protests in India. Thousands continue to assemble on the streets to demand that the government rethink the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens. Such public protests are the hallmark of a free, democratic society, whose logic demands that the voice of the people be heard by those in power and decisions be reached after proper discussion and consultation. For this, the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are necessary. Any arbitrary restraint on the exercise of such rights — for instance, imposing Section 144 — shows the inability of the government to tolerate dissent. It shows not the propensity of people to riot but rather the incapacity of the government to discuss, deliberate or listen. An unreasonable limitation on protest is an affront to the very people in whose name a government is allowed to temporarily govern.

Two interpretations of rights

•One must be grateful to the courts for having reiterated that the right to protest is a fundamental right. An innocent student of the Constitution may examine it and find that the word ‘protest’ is missing. He may read the relevant articles of the Constitution, particularly Article 19, altogether non-politically. For example, the right to free speech and expression may be taken to mean that everyone has a right to express their personal opinion on, say, a film, or on the condition of the city they inhabit; the right to associate to mean the right to form self-regulating clubs, professional associations or societies; and the right of peaceful assembly to mean the right to have a picnic in a park or to participate in a religious festival such as the Kumbh Mela. Important as these rights are — in authoritarian, illiberal states, even these rights are not guaranteed — this view is too narrow because in a democracy each of these embodies active not passive citizenship. They constitute our political freedoms. The right to free speech and expression transforms into the right to freely express opinion on the conduct of the government. The right to association becomes the right to associate for political purposes — for instance, to collectively challenge government decisions and to even aim, peacefully and legally, to displace the government, to not merely check abuse of power but to wrest power. This is the basis of our multiparty system where Opposition parties are valuable adversaries, not enemies, and compete healthily for political power. Finally, the right to peaceably assemble allows political parties and citizenship bodies such as university-based student groups to question and object to acts of the government by demonstrations, agitations and public meetings, to launch sustained protest movements. In short, each of these rights has two interpretations. On the first, these are exercised largely by people for private purposes, free from government interference, in a classically liberal, non-political public space. On the second, rights are strongly associational, exercised to influence or gain power, and are therefore fundamentally political rights basic to a democratic society.

•The constitution of any country gets its substance not just from the letter but from the historically distilled lived experience, referred to as its spirit. The second interpretation, therefore, flows directly from our history. Undoubtedly, the background of the Indian Constitution is formed by its anti-colonial struggle, within which the seeds of a political public sphere and democratic Constitution were sown. The Indian people fought hard and long to publicly express their views on colonial policies and laws, to dissent from them, to shape minds and form public opinion against them, to speak to and against the government, to challenge it. People not only signed writ petitions but staged dharnas, held large public meetings, peaceful protests and demonstrations and even, for instance in Gandhi’s satyagraha, launched civil disobedience movements. None of these are literally found in the Articles of the Constitution but are presupposed by it. That is why the Preamble states that India is a democratic republic.

Watchdogs of the government

•This cluster of inter-related political rights (expression, association, assembly, petition and protest) is meant to ensure that even when the government works in our interests, we don’t sit back and allow it to conduct business as usual. We act as watchdogs and constantly monitor its acts, for even such governments can falter and then it is up to us, through consultation, meetings and discussion, to recognise and rectify its mistakes. However, another serious situation can easily arise. An elected government may stray from the constitutional course, go against the interests of the people, become unresponsive and refuse to listen. Here pressure against the government must be built by still stronger public methods. Protests may take the form of street assemblies — the occasional, temporary gathering of a group to parade or demonstrate or become a sustained movement, necessary to complement or reinforce more conventional forms of politics. Remember Potti Sreeramulu starving himself to death in order to draw attention of the Madras State government to the urgency of creating a new Telugu-speaking state of Andhra or the Chipko movement in which Gaura Devi, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and others began to hug trees to prevent the then U.P. government from awarding contracts to commercial loggers? Such movements are particularly important for those outside the mainstream, or those not educated formally. After all, any disaffected person, no matter how illiterate or powerless, can shout a slogan, hold up a placard, go on a silent march and oppose the government. Meetings around a table rarely involve as many people as street protests do. It is not for nothing that Abraham Lincoln called “the right of the people to peaceably assemble, a constitutional substitute for revolution”.

•Democracies everywhere are founded on two core political rights. The first, the right of every citizen to freely elect their government and when dissatisfied with its performance, to vote it out of power in a legitimately held election (Article 326). This remains the only proper constitutional procedure to get rid of a government and rightly so. Indeed, peaceful transfer of power is one of the great strengths of democracies. But short of displacing it, and as long as it is done peacefully, any form of public action to challenge the government’s proposals or decisions is also constitutionally legitimate, forming the second core political right: to politically participate not only during but between elections.

•The right to protest, to publicly question and force the government to answer, is a fundamental political right of the people that flows directly from a democratic reading of Article 19. If so, one is left speechless at the way in which the current government sidesteps issues, ducks questions, and wilfully obstructs any attempt to discuss. It has become a habit with it to take decisions secretively, foist them on an unprepared people and then, when challenged, to campaign in order to retrospectively justify its opaque, midnight decisions. Will a government that promised ‘ sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas’ demonstrate its legitimacy by really listening to everyone, especially its critics, or will it continue to vilify all opponents as traitors or anti-nationals?

πŸ“° Return of bonds

The Supreme Court must give an expeditious decision on the validity of electoral bonds

•In declining to stay the operation of the Electoral Bonds Scheme (EBS), citing the fact that the plea for stay had been heard and refused last year itself, the Supreme Court is taking a narrow and technical view. In an order in April 2019, a Bench of the Supreme Court headed by the then Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, had asked political parties to disclose to the Election Commission of India (ECI), in sealed covers, details of the donations they had received through the anonymous bonds. Given the “limited time” available then and “the weighty issues” involved in the matter, it declined to grant a stay. However, it is quite disappointing to note that nine months on, the court remains unmoved by submissions that a fresh window for purchase of bonds is set to be opened soon, coinciding with the Delhi Assembly election and that the scheme itself was being frequently opened so that the ruling party would stand to benefit. Fresh revelations suggest that the Reserve Bank of India and the ECI had voiced their reservations about the scheme, which was enabled by provisions of the Finance Act, 2017, and introduced in 2018. The Association for Democratic Reforms, the petitioner, has disclosed that an overwhelming majority of the donations made through electoral bonds had gone to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Further, the ECI has already made clear its strong opposition to the various amendments to the law on contributions to political parties.

•In particular, the ECI, in its response filed in the court, said the provisions would enable the creation of shell companies for the sole purpose of making political donations and no other business, that the abolition of the clause that says firms must declare political contributions in their profit and loss accounts would compromise transparency, and the amendments to the law on foreign contributions would mean that there would be unchecked foreign funding of political parties, leading to foreign influence on India’s policy-making. Overall, it had recorded its unequivocal position that the EBS would help the use of black money for political funding. In this backdrop, it is quite intriguing that the top court has given the ECI a fortnight to reply to the petition for stay when its position is quite clear. The least the court can do now is to expedite the final hearing of the petitions challenging the scheme. There are indeed strong grounds for putting an end to the system of anonymous bearer bonds being used to fund parties. Such anonymity gives a clear and unfair advantage to the ruling party of the day. It must be remembered that the failure to have an early hearing has already led to the scheme being opened ahead of every major election. It may not be possible to assess the adverse impact that such opacity can have on the electoral process. This is a matter crying for an early and expeditious decision.

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