The HINDU Notes – 15th June 2020 - VISION

Material For Exam

Recent Update

Monday, June 15, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 15th June 2020

📰 India looks to deploy naval liaisons at Madagascar, Abu Dhabi for information exchange

This will be in the overall realm of improving linkages and become repository for all maritime data

•After joining the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) as Observer in March, India is looking to post Navy Liaison Officers at the Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centre (RMIFC) in Madagascar and also at the European maritime surveillance initiative in the Strait of Hormuz for improved Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).

•“We are working closely with France who is a pre-eminent member of IOC to post a Naval LO at the RMIFC in Madagascar. We are also working on posting a Naval LO at the European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH) in Abu Dhabi,” a defence source told The Hindu. “This will be in the overall realm of improving linkages of the Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) in Gurugram with other IFCs and become the repository for all maritime data in the IOR,” the source said. The LOs are expected to be posted in the next few months.

•The RMFIC functions under the aegis of the IOC of which India became an Observer in March 2020 along with Japan and the United Nations. The IOC is a regional forum in the southwest Indian Ocean, comprising five nations — Comoros, France (Reunion), Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles. China and the European Union (EU) have been Observers in the IOC since 2016 and 2017, respectively.

•The Navy LO is expected to be posted at EMASOH by July and at the RMIFC by September or October, the source said. India has an LO at the IFC in Singapore for over four years now.

•The EMASOH headquarters is composed of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and French officers and based at the French naval base in Abu Dhabi. The aim is “to monitor maritime activity and guarantee freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.” On February 5, the initiative was declared operational by the French Ministry of Armed Forces.

•The Navy set up the IFC-IOR in December 2018 within the premises of the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) in Gurugram to track maritime movements in the region. France became the first country to deploy a Liaison Officer at the IFC-IOR followed by the U.S. and several other countries including Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom have announced their intention to post LOs. Currently, infrastructure is being built to house the foreign officers. Pre-fabricated structures are being built and are expected to be ready by the end of the year, a second source said.

•Of late, India has signed a series of white shipping agreements, Logistics Support Agreements (LSA) and maritime cooperation agreements with several countries. For instance, at the virtual summit, India and Australia announced a joint declaration on a shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific in which they agreed to “deepen navy-to-navy cooperation and strengthen MDA in the Indo-Pacific region through enhanced exchange of information”.

•As reported by The Hindu in October last, the IFC-IOR is coordinating with similar centres across the globe. These include Virtual Regional Maritime Traffic Centre (VRMTC), Maritime Security Centre- Horn of Africa(MSCHOA), Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery (ReCAAP), Information Fusion Centre-Singapore (IFC-SG), and International Maritime Bureau - Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC).

📰 Behind the curve

The Centre must help States tide overthe pandemic crisis by giving GST dues

•Meeting for the second time since the pandemic took hold in the country, the GST Council, last Friday, decided to relax late fees and interest payable for those taxpayers failing to file returns on time. For businesses with no tax liabilities under the indirect tax regime, the late fees were completely waived. This is in line with similar relaxations announced by the Centre in March, before the lockdown was declared, to ease compliance deadline worries of small businesses in particular. Since the full lockdown lasted longer than initially envisaged, and only began to unwind this month, the forbearance on offer was a necessary step. But given the extent of economic damage as well as the States’ fiscal positions in the period between these two meetings of the Council, its decisions are far from sufficient. In March, GST collections had slipped to Rs. 97,597 crore after surpassing the Rs. 1-lakh crore mark over the previous four months, and the numbers for April and May will not be known before July. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has told State representatives in the Council that just 45% of the indirect tax target had been met in the past two months. Although aware of the dwindling tax kitty during the lockdown, States have had their hands full managing the pandemic.

•It is for this reason that several States have been urging the Centre to extend emergency fiscal support and release past GST compensation dues enshrined in the pact that allowed the new tax regime to take off three years ago. In its stimulus package, in May, the Centre enhanced States’ power to borrow, but only part of that was completely unconditional, and a large chunk was contingent on States undertaking specified reforms. These reforms may be long-pursued ideals, but whether this is the right time for prioritising them has been questioned. GST compensation (for revenue shortfalls in the first five years of GST) due to States for December 2019 to February 2020 was only released on June 4. Perhaps, it was timed to pre-empt discontent in the Council’s meeting. Yet, Centre-State ties could turn more fractious, especially in the GST Council where things have usually evolved with consensus so far — thanks to the failure to finalise the way forward for paying States the compensation. One of the ideas on the table, officially discussed for around two months, is to raise loans against future GST cess accruals in order to recompense States. Any decision on this front, along with proposed GST rate rationalisations in the textiles, footwear and fertilizers sectors that were on the Council’s agenda, can now only be expected at a special meet in July. Procrastination is not an appropriate response at this arc of the curve — be it the pandemic or the economy.

📰 No longer special

India and Nepal need to move quicklyto reverse the recent setback to ties

•After months of brinkmanship, India and Nepal have brought their relations to the edge of a precipice. The Oli government’s decision to pass the constitutional amendment ratifying a change in its maps that include Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura, territories that India controls, marks a decidedly new phase in ties. While the issue is an old one, it resurfaced in 2019 when New Delhi published new political maps to reflect the changes following the decision on August 5 to reorganise the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and Nepal objected to the depiction of disputed territory. In 2000 and 2014, India and Nepal agreed to hold talks about Kalapani and Susta, without much success. Matters snowballed when India’s Defence Minister inaugurated a surfaced road over the territory; when Nepal protested, Indian Army Chief, General Naravane, suggested it was at the “behest” of China. At the base of the rift is the lack of diplomatic manoeuvring to allow a step back from the brink. While New Delhi contends that it was willing to discuss matters “at a mutually convenient date”, Kathmandu says the MEA has rejected two dates suggested by the Nepal MoFA, and has routinely dismissed requests from the Nepal Ambassador for a meet with the Foreign Secretary. That the MEA said Kalapani talks could wait until both countries had dealt with the coronavirus pandemic first, further enraged the Oli government, which has pointed out India’s participation by videoconference in bilateral and multilateral meetings. Meanwhile, Mr. Oli’s purposeful manner in pursuing the amendment at exactly the same time as the India-China border stand-off bolsters the belief among some in New Delhi that he is speaking with confidence borne from Beijing’s backing.

•Regardless of the truth of those accusations, or who is more responsible for the downslide in ties, the speed with which the constitutional amendment was passed has left little space for diplomacy now. That the vote was unanimous should also inform New Delhi of the futility of casting Mr. Oli alone as the ‘villain’ of the piece. It is necessary the two nations resolve their issues through dialogue lest they face more serious consequences. The Modi government has in the past not flinched from taking tough measures, including the 2015 blockade that severely affected India’s land-locked neighbour. The Oli government, which seeks to build its legacy by overturning what it calls “unequal” agreements made by the monarchy, could also cause a security nightmare for India if it opens up other parts of their long boundary, and reverses old commitments on open and unsecured border posts. Both sides moved quickly this week to manage the fallout of border firing by Nepali police on a group of Indians that left one dead. The same alacrity is needed to manage the fallout of Saturday’s amendment vote, on the once celebrated “special” relationship between the two countries.

📰 The need for an anti-discrimination law

India is unique among democracies in that a constitutional right to equality is not backed by comprehensive legislation

•Sport is often a microcosm of society. Much as we might sometimes see it as a leveller, it invariably tends to underscore more endemic inequities. Recent revelations made by the former West Indies cricket captain Darren Sammy, therefore, must awaken us to a problem that goes far beyond the cricket field and its narrow confines, of a society replete with racism.

Voices in sport

•In our country, this problem is only exacerbated by other historically ingrained forms of discrimination, along the lines of caste, class, gender, and religion among other things. Indeed, in reacting to Mr. Sammy’s statements, the former Indian cricketer Irfan Pathan pointed not only to how players from the south of India routinely faced abuse from crowds in the north — something which the Tamil Nadu and India opener Abhinav Mukund too attested to — but also to another form of prejudice even more entrenched in society. On June 9, Mr. Pathan said, in a tweet, that racism in our country goes beyond the colour of our skins, that enforcing embargoes on people seeking to buy houses based on their faith ought to equally be seen as a feature of prejudice.

•Predictably, Mr. Pathan faced a volley of abuses for his tweet. A number of people told him that India had given him everything — love, fame and money — and that he should check with Pakistan on how they were doing. But, if anything, these responses only reinforced his argument. Here was a cricketer, who had represented India on the world stage with some distinction, being asked to prove his loyalty all over again, simply on account of his faith. So vitriolic were some of the responses that Mr. Pathan was eventually forced into clarifying that his opinions “are always as an Indian and for India”. He did not need to do this, not least because his judgment had captured the kernel of the debate: that more than 70 years after Independence, our society remains rife with structural discrimination.

Blow against race-neutrality

•These prejudices, which pervade every aspect of life, from access to basic goods, to education and employment, are sometimes manifest. But, on other occasions, the discrimination is indirect and even unintended. The latter, however, is just as pernicious. The forms that it takes were perhaps best explained by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Griggs vs. Duke Power Co. (1971). There, the court held that an energy company had fallen foul of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which made racial discrimination in private workplaces illegal — by insisting on a superfluous written test by applicants for its better entry-level jobs. Although, on the face of it, this requirement was race-neutral, in practice it allowed the company to victimise African-Americans.

•In a memorable judgment, invoking an Aesop fable, Chief Justice Burger wrote that “tests or criteria for employment or promotion may not provide equality of opportunity merely in the sense of the fabled offer of milk to the stork and the fox.” On the contrary, the law, he said, resorting again to the fable, “provided that the vessel in which the milk is proffered be one all seekers can use.” That is, that it wasn’t merely “overt discrimination” that was illegal but also “practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation”.

State and private contracts

•Both direct and indirect forms of discrimination militate against India’s constitutional vision of equality. The verdict in Griggs was notably applied by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat in the Delhi High Court’s 2018 judgment in Madhu vs. Northern Railway . There, the Railways had denied free medical treatment to the wife and daughter of an employee which they would otherwise have been entitled to under the rules. The Railways contended that the employee had “disowned” his family and had had their names struck off his medical card. The court held that to make essential benefits such as medical services subject to a declaration by an employee might be “facially neutral”, but it produced a disparate impact, particularly on women and children.

•But while this case concerned discrimination by the state, entry barriers to goods such as housing, schools and employment tend to function in the realm of private contracts. The Constitution, though, is markedly vocal on this too. Article 15(2) stipulates that citizens shall not on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth be denied access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment. Yet, on occasion, this right, which applies horizontally, inter se individuals, comes into conflict with the rights of persons to associate with others, often to the exclusion of certain groups. This is why every time a case of discrimination is brought, the party that discriminates claims that he possesses a liberty to do so, that he must be free to act according to his own sense of conscience.

•The Supreme Court, in 2005, in Zoroastrian Cooperative Housing Society vs District Registrar Co-operative Societies (Urban) and Others , endorsed one such restrictive bond, when it ruled in favour of a bye-law of a Parsi housing society that prohibited the sale of property to non-Parsis. This right to forbid such a sale, the Court ruled, was intrinsic in the Parsis’ fundamental right to associate with each other. But in holding thus, the judgment, as Gautam Bhatia points out in his book, The Transformative Constitution , not only conflated the freedom to contract with the constitutional freedom to associate, but also overlooked altogether Article 15(2).

•At first blush, Article 15(2) might appear to be somewhat limited in scope. But the word “shops” used in it is meant to be read widely. A study of the Constituent Assembly’s debates on the clause’s framing shows us that the founders explicitly intended to place restrictions on any economic activity that sought to exclude specific groups. For example, when a person refuses to lease her property to another based on the customer’s faith, such a refusal would run directly counter to the guarantee of equality.

•An overruling of the verdict in Zoroastrian Cooperative , while desirable, is unlikely, however, to serve as a panacea. India is unique among democracies in that a constitutional right to equality is not supported by comprehensive legislation. In South Africa, for example, a constitutional guarantee is augmented by an all-encompassing law which prohibits unfair discrimination not only by the government but also by private organisations and individuals.

Attempts at change

•In India, there have been a few efforts to this end in recent times. Shashi Tharoor introduced a private member’s bill (drafted by Tarunabh Khaitan) in 2017, while the Centre for Law & Policy Research drafted and released an Equality Bill last year. These attempts recognise that our civil liberties are just as capable of being threatened by acts of private individuals as they are by the state.

•Ultimately, our rule of law must subsume an understanding that discrimination partakes different forms. Any reasonable conception of justice would demand that we look beyond the intentions of our actions, and at the engrained structures of society. This does not mean that we need to live under an illusion that a statute will resolve our systemic biases, that we will somehow magically transform ourselves into the kind of nation that B.R. Ambedkar envisioned. But, now more than ever, as we look to reset our societal arrangements in the wake of COVID-19, a rededication to our original constitutional commitment could be worthwhile. To that end, the idea of enacting a law that will help ameliorate our ways of life, that will help reverse our deep-rooted culture of discrimination, is worth thinking about.