Editorials - 19-04-2021

There is still some confusion about the extent and nature of the powers that are available to the Election Commission

Elections bring the Election Commission of India (ECI) into sharp focus as this constitutional body superintends, directs and controls the conduct of elections. It is the constitutional duty of the ECI to ensure that the elections held are free and fair.

It is an interesting aspect of the ECI’s history that before T.N. Seshan came on the scene as the Chief Election Commissioner, no one in the country ever knew or felt that the ECI had any powers. Seshan discovered the ECI’s powers hidden in Article 324 of the Constitution which was then used to discipline recalcitrant political parties which had till then believed that it was their birth right to rig elections. Thus there was a very high level of confidence in the minds of Indian citizens about the ECI’s role restoring the purity of the elected legislative bodies in the country.

It became rather easier for Seshan to locate the powers of the ECI after the Supreme Court held inMohinder Singh Gill vs Chief Election Commissioner(AIR 1978 SC 851) that Article 324 contains plenary powers to ensure free and fair elections and these are vested in the ECI which can take all necessary steps to achieve this constitutional object. All subsequent decisions of the Supreme Court reaffirmed Gill’s decision and thus the ECI was fortified by these court decisions in taking tough measures.

The model code

The model code of conduct issued by the ECI is a set of guidelines meant for political parties, candidates and governments to adhere to during an election. This code is based on consensus among political parties. Its origin can be traced to a code of conduct for political parties prepared by the Kerala government in 1960 for the Assembly elections. It was adopted and refined and enlarged by the ECI in later years, and was enforced strictly from 1991 onwards.

There is absolutely no doubt that elections need to be properly and effectively regulated. The Constitution has clothed the ECI with enough powers to do that. Thus, the code has been issued in exercise of its powers under Article 324. Besides the code, the ECI issues from time to time directions, instructions and clarifications on a host of issues which crop up in the course of an election. The model code is observed by all stakeholders for fear of action by the ECI. However, there exists a considerable amount of confusion about the extent and nature of the powers which are available to the ECI in enforcing the code as well as its other decisions in relation to an election.

Since it is a code of conduct framed on the basis of a consensus among political parties, it has not been given any legal backing. Although a committee of Parliament recommended that the code should be made a part of the Representation of the People Act 1951, the ECI did not agree to it on the ground that once it becomes a part of law, all matters connected with the enforcement of the code will be taken to court, which would delay elections.

Unresolved question

The position taken by the ECI is sound from a practical point of view. But then the question about the enforceability of the code remains unresolved. Paragraph 16A of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 (https://bit.ly/3ttbbUl) says that the commission may suspend or withdraw recognition of a recognised political party if it refuses to observe the model code of conduct.

But it is doubtful whether this provision is legally sustainable. The reason is that withdrawal of the recognition of a party recognised under these orders seriously effects the functioning of political parties. When the code is legally not enforceable, how can the ECI resort to a punitive action such as withdrawal of recognition?

There are two crucial issues which need to be examined in the context of the model code and the exercise of powers by the ECI under Article 324.

Transfer of officials

One issue relates to the abrupt transfer of senior officials working under State governments by an order of the commission. It may be that the observers of the ECI report to it about the conduct of certain officials of the States where elections are to be held. The ECI apparently acts on such reports and orders the transfer on the assumption that the presence of those officials will adversely affect the free and fair election in that State. Transfer of an official is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the government. It is actually not clear whether the ECI can transfer a State government official in exercise of the general powers under Article 324 or under the model code.

The code does not say what the ECI can do; it contains only guidelines for the candidates, political parties and the governments. Further, Article 324 does not confer untrammelled powers on the ECI to do anything in connection with the elections. If transfer of officials is a power which the ECI can exercise without the concurrence of the State governments, the whole State administration could come to a grinding halt. The ECI may transfer even the Chief Secretary or the head of the police force in the State abruptly. In Mohinder Singh Gill’s case (supra), the Court had made it abundantly clear that the ECI can draw power from Article 324 only when no law exists which governs a particular matter. It means that the ECI is bound to act in accordance with the law in force. Transfer of officials, etc is governed by rules made under Article 309 of the Constitution which cannot be bypassed by the ECI under the purported exercise of power conferred by Article 324. Further, to assume that a police officer or a civil servant will be able to swing the election in favour of the ruling party is extremely unrealistic and naive. It reflects in a way the ECI’s lack of confidence in the efficacy of politicians’ campaigns.

Administrative moves

Another issue relates to the ECI’s intervention in the administrative decisions of a State government or even the union government. According to the model code, Ministers cannot announce any financial grants in any form, make any promise of construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities, etc or make anyad hocappointments in the government. departments or public undertakings. These are the core guidelines relating to the government. But in reality, no government is allowed by the ECI to take any action, administrative or otherwise, if the ECI believes that such actions or decisions will affect free and fair elections.

A recent decision of the ECI to stop the Government of Kerala from continuing to supply kits containing rice, pulses, cooking oil, etc is a case in point. The State government has been distributing such free kits for nearly a year to meet the situation arising out of the pandemic, which has helped many a household. The decision to stop the kit distribution was reportedly on a complaint from the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. The question is whether the ECI could have taken such a decision either under the model code or Article 324. The model code does not provide any clue. As regards the use of Article 324, the issue boils down to whether distribution of food items to those in need in a pandemic will affect free and fair elections.

The Supreme Court had inS. Subramaniam Balaji vs Govt. of T. Nadu & Ors(2013) held that the distribution of colour TVs, computers, cycles, goats, cows, etc, done or promised by the government is in the nature of welfare measures and is in accordance with the directive principles of state policy, and therefore it is permissible during an election. If colour TVs, computers, etc can be promised or distributed during an election and it does not influence the free choice of the people, how can the distribution of essential food articles which are used to stave off starvation be an electoral malpractice? Further, Section 123 (2)(b) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 says that declaration of a public policy or the exercise of a legal right will not be regarded as interfering with the free exercise of the electoral right.

Insightful words

There is no doubt that the ECI, through the conduct of free and fair elections in an extremely complex country, has restored the purity of the legislative bodies. However, no constitutional body is vested with unguided and absolute powers. Neither citizens nor the ECI is permitted to assume that the ECI has unlimited and arbitrary powers. It would be useful to remember the insightful words of Justice S.M. Fazalali, inA.C. Jose vs Sivan Pillai(1984): “if the [Election] Commission is armed with such unlimited and arbitrary powers and if it ever happens that the persons manning the commission shares or is wedded to a particular ideology, he could by giving odd directions cause a political havoc or bring about a constitutional crisis, setting at naught the integrity and independence of the electoral process so important and indispensable to the democratic system.”

P.D.T. Achary is Former Secretary General, Lok Sabha

Its tenure was a missed opportunity to develop the home-grown jurisprudence on patent law

The demise of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), India’s specialist tribunal for determining disputes relating to intellectual property (IP) rights, is symbolic of its tenuous life. For an organisation that was created in haste and managed in haste, the end came about, unsurprisingly, in haste.

The patent system is notorious for its bipolar nature. Ever since its inception, public opinion has been divided about the usefulness of the system. There have been regular calls for its abolition. The lack of unanimity about the system here was seen in the way Indian parliamentarians deliberated on patent bills in the past.Most of the significant amendments to the Patents Act since 1970 came through, not by way of an Act passed by Parliament, but through an ordinance. Just as we pushed through amendments to the Patents Act through ordinances in 1994 and 2005, we have now accorded the IPAB a similar burial. On April 4, the President of India signed the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, shutting down the IPAB and many other tribunals for good.

Troubled life

Ever since its creation, the IPAB has been treated like an unwanted child. Perennially understaffed and underfunded, it always looked like a jugaad fix for the problems in the innovation system. Established under the Trade Marks Act of 1999, its jurisdiction was later extended to hear patent cases after the Patents (Amendment) Act of 2002. Historically, appeals from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), rectification and revocation applications were heard by the various High Courts. However, the Patents (Amendment) Act of 2002 divested these powers from the High Courts and extended it to the IPAB. Though the patents side of the IPAB existed in theory since 2002,the Central government notified its functioning only in April 2007 after a rebuke from the Madras High Court. The court was then hearing an appeal from the IPO regarding Novartis’ Glivec patent application which ought to have been heard by the IPAB. After the notification, the High Court transferred Novartis’ petition and subsequently all other pending patent cases to the IPAB.

Since its inception, the institution has been involved in controversies. Even though the IPAB has not been performing its adjudicatory function on the patent side regularly due to administrative reasons, it certainly has been the subject matter of judicial review before the various High Courts. These cases include a challenge to the constitutionality of the IPAB, petitions seeking filling up of vacancies before the High Court in Delhi and Chennai, and even a petition to the Supreme Court for extension of the term of the chairperson.

After remaining headless for almost two years, in January 2018, the IPAB was given a head. The then chairperson of the Appellate Tribunal for Forfeited Property was given additional charge. However, there was a substantial delay in the start of hearing of patent cases due to a technical reason. The appointment of the technical member for patents, with whom the chairperson sits while deciding cases on patents, who brings the much-needed technical expertise that patent cases usually demand, was delayed. The appointment of the technical member finally came last year after the government was sued by the Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association.

IPAB’s end was foreseen by the leaders who ran it. One of the former chairpersons had publicly raised concerns regarding the judicial and institutional independence of the IPAB, and called for closing it. Not only was the IPAB understaffed, with its administrative staff often being on deputation, it was also underpowered, at times quite literally. The tribunal had to bear the brunt of the summer power cuts in Chennai. Imagine the highest authority on protecting technology and innovation working through the scorching Chennai summer during power cuts without any viable backup. One lasting memory of the IPAB will be the image of a dimly lit court hall with the presiding judges poring over patent specifications covering high technology using two emergency lights and the counsel arguing the case using the flashlight on his phone. For those who had the misfortune of walking into the tribunal in Guna Complex in Chennai, where the IPAB was housed during those punishing power cuts, this image would have been a teaser of what was to follow.

The IPAB’s jurisdiction of cases was split between trademarks, patents, copyright, and geographical indication, where the predominant business pertained to trademarks. Thus, the workload of the IPAB was typically split between trademarks and patents with the former consuming much of the time. Not only did the IPAB juggle its time with the different forms of IP, but it also had sittings in five different cities, with just one chairperson who had to fly between them at times. The chairperson had to summon parties and papers to all these cities, which came at a substantial cost to the public.

The patents bench of the IPAB would have probably taken longer to constitute had it not been for the limelight brought by the Novartis case. In any case, the disposal rate for patents at the IPAB did not justify its continuance. Patent disputes owing to their technological complexity were the IPAB’s predominant time-consuming business after trademarks. In our study of the first decade of operation of the patents bench, we saw a paltry disposal rate of about 20 patent cases a year. Nearly 70% of the patent cases filed were either pending at some stage or yet to be taken up for hearing. After the IPAB was set up, not more than 15 cases were transferred from all the High Courts to the IPAB. Going by this disposal rate, it would have taken another decade to dispose of the pending applications, leave alone the new ones. The irony was that tribunals were established with the primary aim of speedy disposal of cases by specialised experts.

The functioning of the IPAB is critical for the innovation ecosystem. Every patent granted by the Patent Office is a potential subject matter in appeal before the IPAB. An unjustified patent grant at the Patent Office, by error or oversight, can only be corrected in appeal. While we know the number of cases filed and disposed, we will never know the number of unjustified patents that went unquestioned for lack of an effective appellate mechanism.

Missed opportunity

India stands as a shining example for what it has done legislatively in patent law. Be it the retraction of product patents for pharmaceuticals and chemicals between 1970 and 2005, the anti-evergreening provisions or the robust compulsory licensing regime, it has offered the world a host of TRIPS-compliant flexibilities in its statute. But when it came to developing a jurisprudence around these provisions – case laws from the highest courts on how these provisions will be worked – it has failed. Barring a few bright spots, there has been a reluctance to extend the flexibilities in the Patents Act through judicial interpretation that expands the law. The tenure of the IPAB will be remembered as a missed opportunity to develop the home-grown jurisprudence on patent law that is much lacking in India.

Feroz Ali is a visiting professor at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore and Roshan John is a Delhi-based lawyer

Bangladesh waits to see whether the poll result in West Bengal impacts its identity as an inclusive, progressive society

As the high-profile contest in India’s State elections in West Bengal is under way, Bangladeshis are curious onlookers not only because of the geographic proximity and strong socio-cultural ties between the two Bengals but also on account of the ramifications the electoral outcome may have on India-Bangladesh relations.

Historical bonds

During Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971, West Bengal played an important role by sheltering most of the 10 million refugees. Political leaders were also accommodated with the provincial government of Bangladesh setting up headquarters in Kolkata. On June 15, 1971, the late Pranab Mukherjee suggested in the Rajya Sabha that India should recognise the Bangladesh government in exile. In 2013, Bangladesh conferred the Liberation War Honour on Pranab Mukherjee who endearingly called himself a “son-in-law” of Bangladesh. The late West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu also played a pivotal role in forging the Ganges water treaty between the two countries in 1996.

Given the shared history, language, culture and cuisine between the Bengals, there is interest on both sides to foster good relations through increased trade, improved connectivity, and cultural exchanges. For Bangladeshis, West Bengal is a popular destination for medical treatment and shopping.

Water sharing

The relationship between the Bengals is not without its challenges, one of the main factors being the failure to sign the Teesta water-sharing treaty. More than two crore Bangladeshis are dependent on the river for their livelihood. In the dry seasons, West Bengal diverts water for irrigation in the north which causes a severe water shortage in Bangladesh. During the monsoon, large volumes of water are released from the Teesta Barrage causing large-scale flooding and riverbank erosion in Bangladesh.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s flip-flop on this vital issue has had an impact on the relationship between the two Bengals and also at the India-Bangladesh state level. The closest the two countries came to signing a water-sharing treaty for Teesta was in 2011 during the visit of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh.

Ms. Banerjee was set to be a part of the entourage to sign the water-sharing treaty but her last minute withdrawal led to a stalemate in signing it. Such moves could prove costly to India and even push Bangladesh to China which has agreed to fund the nearly $1billion “Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration project”.

CAA and the NRC

In contrast, Ms. Banerjee’s stance regarding the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) have been largely appreciated in Bangladesh. In an interview in 2020, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that though the CAA is India’s “internal matter”, she added, “We don’t understand why [the Indian government] did it. It was not necessary.”

Though India has assured Dhaka that the NRC and the CAA are domestic issues not affecting Bangladesh, Dhaka’s concern is natural as Bangladesh is at the heart of the foreign nationals’ issue spreading across India from Assam to West Bengal. Certain remarks by India’s Home Minister, Amit Shah, about immigrants from Bangladesh, referring to them as “termites”, have added to these concerns.

Vote politics across border

The enactment of the CAA and the NRC has widespread support from Matua community leaders in West Bengal who have been demanding citizenship for Matua refugees from Bangladesh. The community, organised under the umbrella of the Matua Mahasangha, is an influential group with a significant voter base spread across several districts in West Bengal. The support from the Matua community yielded large dividends for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Historically, the Matua community was not a vote bank in the West Bengal elections. In the run-up to the Trinamool Congress’s campaigns in the 2000s, Ms. Banerjee reached out to the community to challenge the clout of the Left in Bengal. Now, the BJP is emulating the TMC’s success with the Matua community. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Bangladesh, he visited the community’s sacred temple at Orakandi and referred to the elected representative of the community Shantunu Thakur’s demand to implement the CAA in West Bengal. Many interpreted it as influencing Matua community voters in West Bengal, with even an allegation by Ms. Banerjee of violating the election code of conduct by involving a foreign country in India’s internal matters.

India’s Home Minister’s recent comments about poor Bangladeshis going to India have also drawn sharp reactions from Dhaka. Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen remarked; “There are many wise people in this world [like Amit Shah] who don’t want to see even after looking, they don’t want to understand even after knowing about it.” In the Global Hunger Index 2020, India ranks 94 and Bangladesh 75. In 2019, the population below the poverty line in Bangladesh was 9.2% compared to India’s 10.7%. During the pandemic, Bangladesh maintained a GDP growth of 3.8% in 2020 while India had a negative GDP growth.

So, do Bangladeshis have a stake in what happens? Ms. Banerjee’s claims of having close ties with Bangladesh do not carry much weight given her political whims and opportunism. On the other hand, being a moderate, progressive Muslim majority country, the concern on this side of the border is whether a BJP win will divert the course of history and dilute West Bengal’s core identity as an inclusive, tolerant, and progressive society.

Whatever may be the election’s outcome, there is no apparent reason to feel either euphoric or optimistic on this side of the border.

Syed Munir Khasru is Chairman of the international think tank, The Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG). E-mail: munir.khasru@ipag.org

The acrimonious social media space is not encouraging dialogue but is instead generating new forms of silos

Unlike India, the United States has an empirical approach to measure the decline in trust in the media. A recent study by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, shows two phases of decline. The slide started in the pre-Internet decades between 1972 and 2000. It seems rather ironic as this period was dominated by some of the finest investigative reports such as the Watergate investigations byThe Washington Postand the Pentagon Papers byThe New York Times. The impact of these journalistic endeavours went beyond the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The second phase of an accelerated decline happened between 2000 and 2020. The confidence in the media fell by 11 percentage points, from 51% to 40%.

Key findings

The interesting element here is that the decline in trust is high among those who support the march of the political right but there is a surge in trust among the liberals. The study reveals that among the Republicans, the decline is steep from 47% to 10% and it pulled down the national average despite a surge in trust among the Democrats from 53% to 73%.

The study provides new insights that help us understand trust in the media and raises many fundamental questions about the core values of journalism. Though it is a stretch to do a direct comparative analysis between the behaviour of Americans and Indians, the study does provide more than a clue to the challenges facing Indian journalism. In India, too, we are witnessing the decline in trust in the news media among the privileged right.

The key finding is the disjunction created by partisan considerations where people do not even endorse key journalistic values. The study focuses on five key journalistic values and sought citizens’ response to each one of them. The five core values, which themselves were distilled from the idea of peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic society, are oversight, transparency, factualism, giving voice to the less powerful, and social criticism. The study reveals that while journalists consider all the five values to be universal, non-journalists do not share that world view. It reveals that only 11% of the public supports all five of the core journalism values unreservedly. While the majority endorse factualism (67%), values such as oversight, transparency and social criticism do not get a resounding endorsement.

When I became a journalist in 1985, my editors were almost unequivocal in their faith in social criticism. They were convinced that shining a spotlight on problems is the best way for society to solve them. But the study reveals that most people do not endorse this idea; only 29 % of Americans support it.

A fundamental problem

Though I do not have the empirical richness of the American Press Institute, I do have the advantage of reading feedback from readers on specific issues. When this newspaper flagged issues regarding the shortcoming in the management of COVID-19 that led to the present second wave, there were voices that did not endorse the newspaper’s position to shine light on the failures. This poses a fundamental problem, and it is not limited to the U.S., where the study was conducted, or to India, where I am a witness to cynicism about the act of scrutiny.

The study argues that rather than tying distrust towards the media only to the perception of partisan bias, it is possible that at the heart of the media trust crisis may be scepticism about the underlying purpose and mission that journalists are trying to fulfill in the first place. It succinctly points out the existential irony that is governing journalism today: “When journalists say they are just doing their jobs, the problem is many people harbour doubts about what the job should be.”

Herein lies the conundrum. Why are people not accepting the arguments put forth by journalists? At what point did the core values of journalism lose their universal appeal and get reduced to a mere professional creed? When did the dialogue between journalists and citizens become a concurrent monologue? Why do people look at journalists’ averments that they are doing their jobs as proof of dishonesty?

The acrimonious social media space is not encouraging dialogue but is instead generating new forms of silos. We need imaginative silo-breakers to create an inclusive public sphere.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

How corporations can cut down emissions

The increasing concerns about climate change once again point to the need for enhanced efforts towards achieving sustainable growth goals in India. While the massive levels of production, consumption and disposal of goods and services have their own set of benefits in a post-industrial society, they have also slowed down the replenishment cycle of limited resources.

As both consumers and corporations reap the benefits of large-scale manufacturing and services, they must equally share the responsibilities relating to the loss of resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While much has been discussed on the operational ways of cutting down carbon emissions, this article focuses on how Indian corporations can be a major character in the country’s story of sustainable growth. Some corporations contribute a fair share to building a clean and sustainable future. But here we discuss how they can contribute to cutting down emissions through the process of green contracting.

What are green contracts?

‘Green contracts’ refer to commercial contracts which mandate that contracting parties cut down greenhouse gas emissions at different stages of delivery of goods/services, including design, manufacturing, transportation, operations and waste disposal, as applicable to the industry. The process of implementing a green contract may commence at the bidding stage itself, when various interested companies participate in the tender process. In such a scenario, a ‘green tender’ may prescribe necessary ‘green qualifications’, which can be considered when awarding the contract to a bidder. These green qualifications can range from using a pre-defined percentage of ‘green energy’ in service delivery to adequate on-site waste management, reducing carbon emissions by a certain level over period of time, etc. Once such a bidder is chosen, the contracting agreement between the parties can prescribe the ‘green obligations’ in detail, thus making the obligations binding and enforceable in the eyes of the law. It is this obligatory nature of green contracts which sets the tone for the parties to cut down emissions. This can be achieved by contractual clauses providing for the use of good quality and energy-efficient infrastructure for production of goods/services, efforts in day-to-day operations such as reducing noise, air and water pollution and ensuring eco-friendly means of transportation like bicycles on site, establishing and maintaining a sustainable waste management system, and so on.

Meeting obligations

One effective way to make sure that the service providers adhere to these contractual obligations would be to provide for measurement criteria and audit of the performance of the contractor with regard to these obligations. An organisation may also choose to contractually highlight non-performance of such obligations as a ground of contractual breach, with penalty prescriptions. Another way to make sure that these obligations under the green contracts resonate far is to make sure that they flow down to all levels of the supply chain engaged in the delivery of goods and services.

Naturally, the degree of effecting a green contract will depend on the type of contract and the industry to which it relates. However, in the absence of any mandatory rules in this respect, it is the confidence and consideration of India Inc. towards green contracting which can aid the attainment of sustainable growth goals. The service recipients can also themselves undertake thorough assessments on their current standing on greenhouse gas emissions, and initiate relevant processes to contribute their share in India’s green sustainable future.

Having said that, it is but natural to bear in mind the economic efficiency in awarding and executing green contracts. The economic cost of executing green contracts may be greater than a normal brown contract, but global entities operating in a changing environment need to take into consideration the greater environment costs at stake.

Aradhana is an In-House Counsel at an IT multinational corporation. Views are personal

The best chance of ensuring continuity is pushing through political, economic changes

The retirement of Raul Castro as the first secretary of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party brings to an end the six-decade-long rule of the “historic generation”, who, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, captured power in 1959 through an armed revolution. Fidel remained at the helm of affairs in the island, in the face of growing hostility from the U.S. until he fell sick in 2006. Two years later, he handed the party to his younger brother, who had fought alongside him in the guerrilla war against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s. Under the younger Castro, Cuba started taking baby steps towards opening up the state-controlled economy. He had also overseen rapid improvement in relations with the U.S., when Barack Obama eased some restrictions on the Cuban economy, travelled to Havana and opened an American Embassy. In 2018, Mr. Raul stepped down as President, handing government responsibilities to his hand-picked next generation leader, Miguel Díaz-Canel. Now when the 89-year-old leader retires, leaving “a foot in a stirrup ready to defend socialism”, Mr. Díaz-Canel, 60, is expected to succeed him as the new party chief.

The Castros built a closed, socialist economy that worked for many for decades. Cuba’s achievements in the fields of education and health care are inimitable. But many critics of the Cuban model feel that the historic generation was slow to open up the economy, generate growth and create more opportunities — something that China, another communist party-ruled country, did. Mr. Raul took small steps and Mr. Díaz-Canel is continuing them, with a long-promised currency reform having been implemented in January. But the transition comes at a painful time. When Soviet assistance ceased in the early 1990s, Fidel asked Cubans to tighten their belts for a “special period”. Eventually, Cuba came out of those hardships, and the pink tide in Latin America that propelled leftist leaders to power, from Venezuela to Ecuador, helped Havana both politically and economically. But now, the pink tide is in reverse. Venezuela, which offered cheap oil to Cuba, is itself in an economic and political mess. The Obama-era concessions were unmade by Mr. Trump. The coronavirus pandemic practically shut down Cuba’s vital tourism sector, causing an 11% economic contraction last year. The crisis has triggered food shortages, bringing back memories of the early 1990s. There are also calls for more political freedoms. Unlike in the past when the flow of information was controlled, the expansion of the Internet and social networks is allowing critics of the government, including U.S.-based dissidents, to amplify their voices. Mr. Raul’s successor cannot stay away from addressing these challenges as the revolution ages. The party always bets on continuity. But the contradiction it faces is that continuity is intrinsically linked to reforms.

The IMD must continue to widen its focusto aid business and services sectors

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecast a ‘normal’ monsoon for this year. In the agency’s parlance, normal implies that the country will get 96% to 104% of the 88 cm that it gets from June-September. This quantity, called the Long Period Average (LPA), is a mean of monsoon rainfall from 1961-2010. The IMD, for over 20 years now, follows a two-stage monsoon forecast system. After the prognosis in April, it gives an updated estimate in late May or early June. This includes an estimate of how much rain is likely in: northwest India, northeast India, central India and southern peninsula. Numbers are also given for July and August, which see two-thirds of the monsoon rains and are the most important months for sowing. This year, there will be forecasts for June and September too, to be given in May and August, respectively. Historically, predicting rain for June and September is challenging as it corresponds to the monsoon’s entry and exit. There will also be forecasts for what is called the monsoon core zone, which represents most of the rainfed agriculture region in the country. All of these updates are an extension of the IMD’s increasing reliance on dynamical monsoon models. Unlike the traditional statistical models, which are based on a fixed set of meteorological variables that have historically been correlated with variations in monsoon rainfall, the dynamical models generate forecasts based on evolving weather patterns. The IMD has been testing such models for many years but it is only in the last few years that it is finding use for practical weather forecasts.

A ‘normal’ monsoon forecast this year is primarily predicated on ‘neutral’ surface temperatures in the Central Equatorial Pacific. In 2019 and 2020, the IMD forecast normal rains but India ended up with 110% and 109% of the LPA. This year, a warming El Niño is unlikely, and another ocean parameter closer home, the Indian Ocean Dipole, too is expected to be unfavourable for excess rains and so the IMD seems more confident that its calculations are not going to be as wrong. However, the models already show a good chance of ‘above normal’ rain in central and southern India. While forecasts are a critical aspect of India’s disaster preparedness, there should also be more focus on incorporating these forecasts down to municipal and block-level planning. The monsoon forecasts were primarily evolved to assist with agriculture and it is only now getting more urban-focused because of the natural disasters that accompany even ‘normal’ monsoons. Several business and service sector industries need weather products and in terms of science and infrastructure, few have the resources the IMD has. The IMD must continue to aid on all these fronts.

Whether science helped the detection of crime more than it promoted the criminal’s end was the subject of an interesting discussion before a large gathering of experts connected with the investigation of crime at a meeting of the Society of Arts in mail week. Mr. Ainsworth Mitchell, who opened the discussion with reading a paper, showed how the development of science and its many branches had narrowed down the criminal’s chances of escape, since the early days of last century, when anyone who committed a secret crime had an even chance of evading capture. Mistakes of identity, he suggested, had been a more fruitful source of miscarriages of justice than all other causes put together. The world contained some 4,00,000,000 of people, and notwithstanding the infinite variety of human features, there was hardly anybody alive today who could not be mistaken for somebody else. Mr. Mitchell then dealt with the finger print and poison test methods and pleaded for co-ordination among scientific workers.

Air-India’s first Jumbo jet “Emperor Ashoka” touched down at the Santa Cruz airport at 8-23 this morning [Bombay, April 18]. More than half a lakh people who gathered in and around the airport clapped and cheered as the jetliner swung to a perfect landing, slowed down and shut off its engines as it came near the shamiana. Earlier three Indian Air Force M.I.Gs rendezvoused with the Jumbo, 50 kms. south of Bombay and escorted it to Santa Cruz. The “Emperor” flew over the city to enable the citizens to have a look at Air-India’s new acquisition.

The 346-seater Boeing 747 which was piloted by Capt. D. Bose covered the distance of 11,002 statute miles from Seattle to Bombay via New York, London and Rome in about 20 hours and 50 minutes. Also in the plane were 25 other crew including 12 air-hostesses and 120 special invitees.

Mr. J.R.D. Tata, Air-India Chairman, and the Governor of Maharashtra, Nawab Ali Yavar Jung, were present at Santa Cruz to receive the Jumbo jet. A priest performed “Ganesh” pooja and the oldest employee of Air-India, Mr. Fernandez, broke a coconut in the traditional way.

The Governor congratulated Air-India on maintaining its efficiency and wished it all success in the years to come.