The Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill was passed by the State’s Legislative Council on Monday, February 8. The Bill had already been passed by the Legislative Assembly where the State government enjoys a majority. But the prospect of the Bill passing the Upper House was doubtful as the Opposition parties — the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) — have a majority in the Council; and both were opposed to the Bill. But the law was passed by the Council despite the lack of a majority. Instead of having a division vote based on actual voting as is usual and as the Opposition members had demanded, the presiding officer just declared the Bill passed by voice vote without any division.
New legislative template
If this sounds rather familiar, it is because an uncannily similar process was followed to pass the controversial farm laws (by the Rajya Sabha) in September 2020. Here too, the government seemed to lack a majority to pass the bills in the Upper House. And instead of a division vote, a voice vote was deemed to be adequate by the Deputy Speaker of the House. In both cases, the pandemonium in the House caused by heated interventions by the Opposition was used as a pretext to resort to a voice vote. In the last few months, while there has been extensive discussion of the farm laws, they have largely been about the merits of the laws and the need for reforms in the agrarian sector. But the fact that the legislative process followed for these laws did away with actual voting in the Upper House has not been given the prominence it deserves. The government has repeatedly invoked the multiple consultations around these laws over the years to justify them, but the fact that the pieces of legislation were passed without an actual legislative majority voting for them does not seem pivotal. These two sets of laws passed with a voice vote seem like a new template for bypassing the constitutionally envisaged legislative process. Indeed, both were first passed as ordinances; such was the urgency felt for enacting them. And once they were tabled in the legislature, the governments insisted on the Bills not being referred to the legislative committees in either case, even though the Opposition repeatedly raised the demand.
The Money Bill ruse
The voice vote subterfuge supplements the other technique repeatedly deployed over the last few years to bypass the Upper House of Parliament — the Money Bill route, utilised increasingly in instances even where the laws concerned would not easily fit within that definition. Most notoriously, the Aadhaar Bill was passed in this manner. But other controversial laws such as those pertaining to electoral bonds, retrospective validation of foreign political contributions and the overhaul of the legal regime relating to tribunals have also been carried out through the Money Bill ruse. A majority of the Supreme Court in the Aadhaar case upheld such use, though the dissenting judge called such use of the Money Bill as nothing less than “a fraud on the constitution” (https://bit.ly/2NNgwpy). A later constitutional Bench of the Court has since noted the problem with the majority position and has referred the issue of interpreting the Money Bill provision to a larger Bench.
The Rajya Sabha’s role
The fact remains that even if all these laws were actually unquestionably desirable and necessary, the dubious mechanisms followed for their enactment would surely mean they are unjustifiable. That is precisely why the justification for such subterfuge to pass these laws is so revealing. The increasing use of the Money Bill route was defended by the then Leader of the Rajya Sabha when he deplored the repeated questioning by the indirectly elected Rajya Sabha of the wisdom of the directly elected Lok Sabha. Underlying this common sentiment is a tendency to devalue bicameralism itself. The Lok Sabha is seen as directly representing the will of the people, and the Rajya Sabha as standing in its way. And since democracy itself is seen purely in terms of parliamentary majority in the Lower House, the countervailing function of the Upper House is rarely seen as legitimate.
The Rajya Sabha has historically stopped the ruling party from carrying out even more significant legal changes. The notorious Emergency-era 42nd Constitutional Amendment could not be repealedin totoby the post-Emergency Janata regime because the Congress continued to have a strong presence in the Rajya Sabha. The Rajiv Gandhi government’s proposed 64th Constitutional Amendment Bill on Panchayati Raj was narrowly defeated in the Rajya Sabha, even though it enjoyed the highest ever majority in Lok Sabha. But neither of these governments resorted to constitutional subterfuge or attacked the Rajya Sabha’sraison d’être. Indeed, the Rajya Sabha is undoubtedly imperfect, partly because of constitutional design. And partly because obviously undesirable practices, such as members representing States they have no affiliation to, have been allowed to flourish. But forms of constitutional fraud that reduce it to a cipher cannot be condoned, and it is important to understand the crucial constitutional role that such a body plays.
The value of bicameralism
Legal philosopher Jeremy Waldron has explained the virtues of bicameralism, especially when the two Houses are chosen by different processes of representation and elected on a different schedule. The very questioning of the monopoly of the Lower House to represent the ‘people’ makes bicameralism desirable, he argues. In India, the fact that the Rajya Sabha membership is determined by elections to State Assemblies leads to a different principle of representation, often allowing different factors to prevail than those in the Lok Sabha elections. John Stuart Mill had warned in his classic treatise on representative democracy that “a majority in a single assembly, when it has assumed a permanent character—when composed of the same persons habitually acting together, and always assured of victory in their own House — easily becomes despotic and overweening, if released from the necessity of considering whether its acts will be concurred in by another constituted authority.” Now that judicial review is hardly practised in India, the second chamber’s performance of such a role becomes particularly important as it offers the opportunity for a second legislative scrutiny. The other merit of bicameralism for Waldron is especially significant in a Westminster system like India, where the Lower House is dominated by the executive. The Rajya Sabha holds the potential of a somewhat different legislative relation to the executive, making a robust separation of powers possible.
Taking legislature seriously
Arguably though, the malaise that allows such legislative humiliation to be tolerated in India runs even deeper, evident in the contempt for the legislature that has been shown by the executive in this country since the mid-1970s. Never though has it been more apparent than during the pandemic. While the British Prime Minister was being taken to task on ‘Prime Minister’s Questions’ every Wednesday in the House of Commons even during the pandemic, Parliament in India was not even convened until it became necessary, and that too after suspending Question Hour. The legislature’s role here is seen as only to pass legislation — the faster the better. But in a country where judicial procedure is perceived as an obstacle to justice by judges themselves, it should not surprise us that legislators view legislative procedure as dispensable so that laws can be enacted by hook or by crook.
Anuj Bhuwania is a Professor at the Jindal Global Law School. He is the author of ‘Courting the People: Public Interest Litigation in Post-Emergency India’
It is heartening to note that journalist Priya Ramani, against whom a defamation charge was filed by former journalist and Bharatiya Janata Party leader M.J. Akbar, has been acquitted by a Delhi court and her right to dignity has been upheld. Dignity is a simple word, but it bears the imprint of resistance and struggle.
Years ago, in the late 1990s, while discussing amendments to the existing legislation on sexual assault, feminists wondered if they ought not to come up with a different definition for the act, and one that does not focus on the woman as a victim, but on what is at stake for her as she struggles to seek justice. We came up with the idea that rape is a crime against ‘bodily integrity’, a term that can perhaps encompass other struggles against what the American philosopher Cornel West refers to as ‘ontological wounding’. Small wonder then that dignity is claimed by a range of persons who endure such hurt on a daily basis: Dalits, the queer community and transpersons, and minorities.
Ms. Ramani fought for over two years, and those years must not have been easy ones, as is the experience for most people who have sought justice for the impairment of their dignity. As far as justice goes, the balance sheet of the #Metoo movement is still in deficit. But occasions like these also help puncture the self-satisfaction we see all around when a woman's complaint is dismissed: to admit that she might be telling the truth is to admit to what a lot of people like to conveniently ignore, that for all the grand ideas handed out in our epics, ours is a culture that routinely belittles women and blames them for all that happens to them.
The consequences of disbelief can prove consequential. In the Mathura rape case, the victim was not believed as the court held that because she was habituated to sexual intercourse, her charges against the policemen were untrustworthy. Bhanwari Devi was told that she could not have been subjected to a gang rape because the men that she claimed assaulted her were of a caste higher than hers. The Adivasi women of Vachathi in Tamil Nadu were not taken at their word for years. And lest we forget the Hathras case, where the facts of assault were disputed in ways that could only be termed sickening. But experiences like these are not unusual — Dalit women and other minority groups who seek justice in sexual assault cases routinely face such circumstances.
In an everyday sense, when women complain about predatory men, they are told not to be over-fussy, and that it’s a man’s world, after all. A Tamil serial that is currently aired on primetime television has gone one step further: in an episode, a drugged man assaults a woman. But we are told that her perception of what has happened to her is not as important as the man’s intent. He did not mean to rape her and was a victim of cruel circumstances. He feels awful about what he has done and earns the victim’s grudging sympathy. In fact, she turns his accomplice, and together they decide to hush up matters to save his marriage. Never mind her dignity, or the fact that off-screen, often the converse happens: women may be drugged and assaulted.
In this context, the verdict for Ms. Ramani allows us to relish a moment of quiet satisfaction that in some contexts, at least the victim’s speech may be granted the legitimacy that is often denied. However, it might be useful to ponder over a few related matters. First, one may face the trauma of repression and speaking out long after they have experienced harassment or violence. How can we engage with complaints or confessions made years later, in institutional contexts, if due procedural methods do not allow us to do so? In what ways can we exercise ethical discretion in listening to complainants and seeking redressal?
Second, sexual harassment exists as part of a wide spectrum of acts, which may range from casual demeaning speech to sexual threats and actual acts of assault. What needs to be addressed forthrightly is the heterosexual male’s sexual prerogative and the culture of impunity that supports and protects it. Law can do only so much in these matters — we need a robust culture of open speech and the right to defend our claims to dignity and justice in public, without being threatened with defamation or more.
Third, the vulnerability of being sexually exploitable appears to be part of the working conditions that bind women in all sectors, and more so in so-called informal work: in brick kilns, quarries, garment factories, and in various service situations. To date, neither the Vishaka judgment nor the Act for sexual harassment at workplaces has been helpful in any of these contexts.
Here, I am reminded of B.R. Ambedkar’s words regarding the trade-offs involved for a worker: “How many have to relinquish their constitutional rights in order to gain their living? … The fear of starvation, the fear of losing a house, the fear of losing savings, if any, the fear of being compelled to take children away from school, the fear of having to be a burden on public charity, the fear of having to be burned or buried at public cost are factors too strong to permit a man to stand out for his Fundamental Rights…”
The challenge is to not lose sight of this stark truth that holds good even after years. It is important to build feminist jurisprudence on the subject and think about local support systems that can enable women to stand up for their rights. Women’s groups, civil rights groups and trade unions, all have roles to play in this enabling.
Lastly, there is the question of restorative justice that some are interested in, and how that might apply in matters where bodily integrity is at stake. Where no legal justice has been possible, is social boycott an adequate response? If so, should it be of a certain duration? Should there be arbitration in cases where there is still some space left for dialogue? And what about remorse and reflection? Should we think of protocols so that expressions of regret are actually useful and relevant, and not just hollow talk?
V. Geetha is a feminist historian and writer
The world is presently grappling with the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the social, economic and political spheres. India can be counted among those nations that have been impacted severely.
COVID-19 has affected all sectors. However, there are areas where countries such as India should be more worried about. One of them is education, especially education of the girl child. Around 300 million children across all age groups are reported to be out of school in India now (the number is of the period when all schools were closed) . And as and when schools finally reopen in the country, the number of children returning to class has to be closely scrutinised. The education sector faces the challenges of delivery, especially of pedagogical processes, classroom assessment frameworks, students’ support and teacher-student engagement.
Realistic assessment is key
More than just the numbers, the authorities have to realistically assess the level of understanding of students who have returned to schools after ‘digital learning’ at home. This is crucial as studies conducted on government-run schools in various States indicate poor performance — a majority of children, especially girl students, have missed out much on the various e-mail platforms offered. Apart from poor access to digital data, the children were burdened with household/farm work; girl students in particular were apprehensive of being given away in marriage. There is credible evidence that students, parents and teachers were unprepared for the pedagogic shift.
A challenge and the response
School closures have had a significant impact on both students and their families, more in the case of the vulnerable and underprivileged sections. The lockdown happened during the last quarter of the academic year which led to the postponement of examinations and the curtailment of the prescribed syllabi. On their part, governments tried to put in place measures to address the situation. The basic strategy was to give a push to the digital distance learning method. The focus was on the use of text/video/audio content through SMS, WhatsApp, radio and TV programmes to reach out to students and engage them.
The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development in March 2020 started sharing free e-learning platforms. They included the Diksha portal which has e-learning content aligned to the curriculum, and e-Pathshala, an app by the National Council of Educational Research and Training for Classes 1 to 12 in multiple languages. SWAYAM hosts 1,900 complete courses including teaching videos, computer weekly assignments, examinations and credit transfers, aimed both at school (Classes 1 to 12) and higher education. SWAYAM Prabha is a group of 32 direct to home channels devoted to the telecasting of educational programmes. While this looks fairly impressive, there are many pitfalls.
Studies indicate that the rapid transition to digital learning has been very challenging. The initiative failed to take into account existing divides — spatial, digital, gender and class. A recent UNICEF report points out that the massive school closures exposed the uneven distribution of technology that is needed to facilitate remote learning. The chances for an education-enabled social and economic mobility appear to be grim in the country.
The impact is multi-fold
Following closure of schools, boys became inattentive to studies while girls, with lesser opportunities, were more involved in household chores. With their educational routine having been disrupted, children, in many cases, have also forgotten what they learnt earlier. Again, the decision to postpone the board examinations and to allow automatic promotion to the higher classes is bound to affect the quality.
A survey promoted by the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (https://bit.ly/2ZDCzSy), in July 2020, of 3,176 households of Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Delhi, found that in families which faced cash and food shortages, only 50% of the boys and girls were confident of returning to school. The abilities of the families and communities concerned to support the educational journeys of the children have been found to be affected.
One should remember that attending schools is not about learning alone. The long closure of schools has also meant the disruption of a range of activities such as the mid-day meal scheme, the school health programme and pre-metric scholarships to girl children. These activities in the past have had a lot to do with the enrolment as well as regular attendance. As for the digital initiative, it was taken up in a haphazard manner. Many States lacked adequate digital infrastructure and even teachers were poorly equipped to teach. Also, they were not consulted before the initiative. Now, the biggest complaint of the authorities concerned seems to be that teachers have been drawing their salaries doing precious little.
The case of Rajasthan
In States such as Rajasthan, the education of girl children is still a challenge. The State is positioned precariously — the second worst in overall literacy rates in India and the lowest literacy rate among the females (NSS,2017-18); 20% of girls in the age group 15-16 were out of school against the national average of 13.5 (Annual Status of Education Report 2018). Despite pioneering initiatives in education such as the Lok Jumbish and Shiksha Karmi projects, Rajasthan continues to flounder in systemic issues of education that relate to quality, equity and gender (https://bit.ly/3aDAM5X).
A study by the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur and Development Solutions, Delhi in September-October, found that most girls in Rajasthan (between 13-16 years) were keen to return to school. That as many as 97% of them in the districts surveyed — Tonk, Dausa, Karauli and Udaipur — had been enrolled in schools before the COVID-19 lockdown itself was a positive finding.
However, the much touted online education plan of the State government did not work. In Rajasthan, the access of girls to education during the COVID-19 period was limited to 11%. Girls who had online access reported links through WhatsApp (92%) and YouTube (12%). The reasons for the inability of students to access online education were: lack of devices, poor or no Internet connectivity, and also girls’ preoccupation with household activity (https://bit.ly/3s8gibw).
NGO activities as a contrast
Interestingly, schools run by the non-governmental organisation sector did fairly well during the interregnum. Catering mostly to the poor and backward segments, these schools did not go online. Instead, teachers visited individual students at home. They also taught children in small groups.
There seems to be consensus that online classes are not comparable to actual classroom education. The attempts at digital learning have only exposed the wide digital divide between the rich and the poor and the urban and rural areas. Education planning has to be context specific, gender responsive and inclusive. Enabling measures should include access to online education, removal of barriers in pre-metric scholarships and ensuring the provision of mid-day meals, iron and folic acid tablets and provision of personal hygiene products to girl students even when schools are closed.
Once schools reopen finally, the authorities should establish the re-enrolment of children as mandated by the National Education Policy 2020. Mass outreach programmes should be developed with civil society to encourage re-enrolment. Remedial tuitions and counselling are advisable, along with scholarships, targeted cash transfers and other entitlements to retain the poorest at school. It is also apt to consider making secondary education for girls free. Given the seriousness of the situation, one expects the governments to keep the budgetary share of education to 6% of GDP, as emphasised by the President of India.
Sunny Sebastian is Former Vice-Chancellor, Haridev Joshi University of Journalism and Mass Communication, Jaipur, Rajasthan
The year 2020 was one that only a few of us will forget. While the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have played out unevenly across Asia and the Pacific, the region has been spared many of the worse effects seen in other parts of the world. The pandemic has reminded us that a reliable and uninterrupted energy supply is critical to manage this crisis.
Beyond ensuring that hospitals and healthcare facilities continue to function, energy supports the systems and coping mechanisms we rely on to work remotely, undertake distance learning and communicate essential health information. Importantly, energy will also support cold chain systems and logistics to ensure that billions of vaccine doses make their way to the people who need them the most.
The good news is that our region’s energy systems have continued to function throughout the pandemic. A new report, titledShaping a Sustainable Energy Future in Asia and the Pacific: A greener, more resilient and inclusive energy system, released on Monday by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) shows that energy demand reductions have mainly impacted fossil fuels and depressed oil and gas prices. Renewable energy development in countries across the region, such as China and India, continued at a healthy pace throughout 2020.
As the Asia-Pacific region moves towards clean, efficient and low-carbon technologies, the emergence of the pandemic raises some fundamental questions. How can a transformed energy system help ensure our resilience to future crises such as COVID-19? Can we launch a ‘green recovery’ post COVID-19 that simultaneously rebuilds our economies and puts us on track to meet global climate and sustainability goals?
By emphasising the importance of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a guiding framework for recovering better together, we must focus on two critical aspects. First, by making meaningful progress on SDGs, we can address many of the systemic issues that made societies more vulnerable to COVID-19 in the first place — health, decent work, poverty and socioeconomic inequalities, to name a few.
Second, by directing stimulus funding to investments that support the achievement of SDGs, we can build back better. If countries focus their stimulus efforts on industries of the past, such as fossil fuels, we risk not creating the jobs we need, or deflecting from the right direction for achieving the global goals that are critical for future generations. The energy sector offers multiple opportunities to align stimuli with clean industries of the future.
Evidence shows that renewable energy and energy efficiency projects create more jobs for the same investment in fossil fuel projects. By increasing expenditure on clean cooking and electricity access, we can enhance economic activity in rural areas and support modern infrastructure that can make these communities more resilient and inclusive, particularly for the well-being of women and children.
Additionally, investing in low-carbon infrastructure and technologies can create a basis for the ambitious climate pledges we need to fulfil to reach the Paris Agreement target of a 2-degree global warming limit. On this note, several countries have announced carbon neutrality. Phasing out the use of coal from power generation portfolios and substituting it with renewables, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and implementing carbon pricing are some steps we can take.
The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to change many aspects of our lives. It has shown that we are more adaptive and resilient than we may have believed. But we should not waste the opportunities this crisis presents. It should not deflect us from the urgent task of making modern energy available to all and decarbonising the region’s energy system through a transition to sustainable energy. Instead, it should provide us with a renewed sense of urgency.
Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP
A pair of balanced scales representing the Union of India and the States, the cover visual of the Fifteenth Finance Commission’s report for the period 2021-22 to 2025-26, seeks to highlight the Commission’s endeavour to maintain an equitable approach at a time when the Centre and States are facing unprecedented revenue stress and fiscal demands. The Centre has accepted much of the Commission’s broad recommendations, including giving States a 41% share of the divisible pool of taxes and revenue deficit grants of nearly Rs. 2.95-lakh crore for 17 States over the next five years. It has also acceded to the Commission’s suggestion to make grants towards urban and rural local bodies conditional upon States setting up their own finance commissions and publishing online the accounts of local bodies. And 60% of these grants will be further linked to these bodies’ providing sanitation and water services. There is an ‘in-principle’ nod to the panel’s suggestion to set up a non-lapsable dedicated fund to support defence and internal security modernisation — a response to the Centre’s belated request to examine if such a fund can be considered for funding defence capex beyond normal Budget allocations. While the panel has suggested moving Rs. 1.53-lakh crore out of the Consolidated Fund of India over five years to partly finance this, the Centre has said the funding nitty-gritties will be examined later. States would monitor how the modalities here evolve, even as they have reason to fret about the Centre’s non-committal response to the Commission’s recommendations of sector-specific and other grants for them adding up to about Rs. 1.8-lakh crore.
It is up to the Centre now to ensure that States do not feel short-changed from the new fiscal framework, given their frayed ties over GST compensation dues. States have also been steadily losing out, given the Centre’s penchant to raise more cesses and surcharges that do not have to be shared. This Budget has seen an encore with the agriculture infrastructure development cess. One wishes the Commission had at least noted its displeasure on this practice, like its predecessors did. Unlike them, however, the N.K. Singh-led panel had to cope with a tumultuous shift in the domestic and global macro-economic landscape. At home, the Planning Commission was dissolved and GST introduced. The panel’s tenure was extended by a year, requiring it to give an interim report first, with its work culminating in a virtual zero-visibility zone as the COVID-19 pandemic broke out months before its deadline. Given these pressures and the difficulties in projecting the economy’s path, the Commission has done well. It has resisted the Centre’s nudge to review what it felt was a too-generous 42% share granted to States by the previous Commission, and deftly dealt with most of the unusual terms of reference foisted on it. As N.T. Rama Rao said, India lives in the States. If the Centre takes them along, it might help attain the balance envisaged by the Commission, which is needed to drive the country onto a double-engine growth trajectory from the current nadir.
The possibility of life on Mars has excited the imagination. Among the scientific community, the current thinking is that life may have existed on the earth’s ruddy planetary neighbour a long time ago. Understanding this will enrich our studies of evolution and nurture of life outside the earth. The recent NASA mission, Mars 2020, that was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on June 30, 2020, landed on the Jezero Crater in Mars on February 18, to much celebration. Of special magnificence was the entry, descent and landing of the mission’s Perseverance rover, described as the ‘shortest and most intense part’. Entering the Martian atmosphere at about 20,000 km per hour, the mission had to bring the Perseverance rover to a halt on the surface in just seven minutes. Also, since it takes 11 minutes for a radio signal to reach the earth from Mars, the mission control could not really guide the landing, and the rover had to complete this process by itself. During the complicated landing process, using a camera eye, the rover checked the ground below to avoid hazardous terrain, all in a few breathtaking minutes.
NASA’s exploration of Mars has focused on finding traces and trails of water that may have existed, and relate it to finding evidence of ancient life. Its earlier Mars expedition which carried the Curiosity rover, landed on August 5, 2012. It identified regions that could have hosted life. Expected to last at least the duration of one Mars year, or about 687 earth days, the science goals this time are to look for signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples. Perseverance will take the inquiry made by Curiosity to the next level and search for signs of past life by studying the Jezero Crater. The crater was chosen for study as based on an earlier aerial survey, it was found to be home to an ancient delta. Clay minerals and carbonates were seen, making the crater a good place to search for life’s existence. Further, the rover will study the geology here and store samples in a place that can be accessed by a future mission which would return them to the earth. The rover will test out technologies that could help sustain the presence of humans there in the future. This includes an instrument to extract oxygen from the atmospheric carbon dioxide. The rover also carries a helicopter named Ingenuity that is specially designed to fly in Mars’s thin atmosphere; its sole purpose would be to demonstrate flight on Mars. Finally, to the question whether little green microbes did inhabit Mars in the distant past — only time and Perseverance can answer that.
[New Delhi, Feb. 21] The Indian Medical Association has decided to function as a trade union “to fight for and protect the rights and interests of the members of the medical profession as well as the community which the profession serves”.
This was announced here to-day by the new President of I.M.A., Dr. A.K.N. Sinha.
He said the I.M.A. will resort to “direct action” if the Government failed to accept its demand for higher capitation fee from Rs. 20 — recently fixed — to Rs. 30 for the panel of doctors of the Employees State Insurance Corporation.
Dr. Sinha said the Association had to function like a trade union if it was to survive. Even the British Medical Association, he added, was functioning as a “middle class union” for getting higher pay for doctors, and there was no reason why the I.M.A. should remain a body only for academic pursuits.
Some of the other demands of the Association include better pay and service conditions for those employed in Government service and more facilities for the private practitioners to serve the community.