Editorials - 05-01-2021

This is an agenda all political parties, and not just the Makkal Needhi Maiam, could incorporate in their manifestos

In the context of the forthcoming State Assembly election in Tamil Nadu, the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), led by veteran actor Kamal Haasan, has made an eye-catching election promise that is evidently targeted at a large constituency of voters — women who are full-time homemakers. The party has promised to recognise housework as a salaried profession by paying homemakers ‘hitherto unrecognized and unmonetized’ for their work at home.

A recent political entrant in the electoral fray, the MNM’s promise to directly pay women a monthly amount may be viewed as a strategy to grab attention in an over-crowded, highly competitive electoral landscape. Nonetheless, the promise bears close examination as it flags off an important issue and one that has had an interesting, if chequered significance in the history of women’s movements.

Origins of the demand

The demand for ‘wages for housework’ arose in the context of struggle and consciousness-raising associated with the Second Wave of the women’s movement in North America and Europe. Alongside other demands for social and political equality, women’s rights campaigners made visible and also politicised women’s everyday experience of housework and child care in the ‘private’ realm of the household. In doing this, they challenged the assumption that a ‘natural’ affinity for housework was rooted in the essential nature of women who were performing a ‘labour of love’. For leading women’s rights activists of the 1960s and 1970s, it was important to bust the myth that women’s work at home was a personal service with no links to capitalist production. In a concrete sense, this meant linking the exploitation of the worker in the factory to women’s work at home.

As Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James wrote in their seminal piece in 1972 (https://bit.ly/2X6cU3B), the woman working at home produced ‘the living human being — the labourer himself.’ From the nine-month period of gestation in the womb, women’s daily chores of cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing clothes, preparing lunch boxes and so on produced the labour power that was daily consumed in the shop-floor or the assembly line and had to be reproduced afresh every day. By providing free services in the home,women made possible the survival of working-class households at subsistence-level wages, with obvious benefits for industry and capital.

Despite the links between the ‘housewife’ and the factory worker, the unwaged status of the former accounted for crucial differences between them. As feminist scholar and writer Silvia Federici wrote (in 1975), in “Wages against housework”, it was possible for wage-earners to bargain around the terms of their paid work and the quantity of the wage. ‘But exploited as you might be, you are not that work’, she pointed out (https://bit.ly/38UShNm). Housework, on the other hand, had come to define the very nature of a woman. This disallowed women from seeing it as ‘real work’ or as a social contract. And,therefore, the women who sought to negotiate housework with their partners were seen as ‘nagging b******’ and not as workers in struggle’. For the advocates of ‘wages for housework’, the wage that the state ought to pay women would make them autonomous of the men on whom they were dependent. More fundamentally, the very demand for a wage was a repudiation of housework as an expression of women’s nature. It was a revolt against the assigned social role of women. Therein lay the radical nature of the demand for wages, not in the money itself.

An unresolved issue

There was disagreement among the women ideologues of the Second Wave on what payment of a wage would actually mean for women. The sociologist, Ann Oakley, who studied the history of housework in her path-breaking books published in the 1970s, was among those who believed that ‘wages for housework’ would only imprison women further within the household, increase their social isolation and dissuade men from sharing housework.

Others too argued that the goal of the women’s movement must be, to not ask for wages, but to free women from the daily drudgery of routine domestic chores and enable them to participate fully in all spheres of social life, including paid employment outside the household. The debate around monetary remuneration for housework remained unresolved within the women’s movement, even as the tools to measure the value that women’s unpaid work adds to national economies have grown more sophisticated.

However, the underlying issue, which is the disproportionate share of women’s responsibility for the work that sustains human life and reproduces labour power, remains as pressing as ever. A report published by the International Labour Organization in 2018 (https://bit.ly/2Xbiim1) shows that, globally, women perform 76.2% of total hours of unpaid care work, more than three times as much as men. In Asia and the Pacific, this figure rises to 80%.

Defining this constituency

To return to the MNM’s election promise, would the payment of a wage by the state to homemakers redress the situation? This raises the tricky question of how this constituency is to be defined. Is it to be only women who are full-time homemakers? Many women earning a wage outside the home also perform the bulk of household work. On what ground are they to be excluded? What about women workers who earn an income from home by stitching clothes, selling cooked meals or are engaged in petty trade? They often self-identify as ‘housewives’ given the meagre and variable wages they earn and periods of seasonal unemployment.

These are issues that cannot be easily resolved. It would be better to strengthen the demand for a universal basic income for income-poor households and make sure that the cash transfer to the family reaches women directly, whether or not they combine household work with paid work.

Struggle for legislation

However, the demand that the state recognise housework is significant and its radical core must not be missed, as the historical experience of the women’s movement shows us. In this context, it is worth mentioning that an important campaign on the question of household labour has been taking place in India. This is the ongoing struggle for national legislation for domestic workers. These are predominantly women who perform ‘women’s work’ but in other people’s homes. They are, therefore, uniquely positioned to make this work visible and demand that its conditions be regulated, minimum wages guaranteed, and the workers’ status and rights protected.

The question of how to measure and account for the value of housework has been seriously addressed by women domestic workers and their trade unions in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. Their demands include an hourly minimum wage, a weekly day-off, an annual bonus and the protection of their bodily autonomy in the workspace.

This is an agenda that all parties, and not just the MNM, could incorporate in their election manifestos, should they take seriously the mandate of ‘recognizing and monetizing’ housework. If domestic workers emerge as a strong force that succeeds in asserting the dignity of housework and making it a visible and valued form of labour, this can only be a good thing for all women performing housework in the long run.

Kalpana Karunakaran teaches in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras. The views expressed are personal

India has squandered an opportunity to build trust in COVID-19 vaccines

The two COVID-19 vaccines — Covishield and Covaxin — tested and manufactured in India by the Pune-based Serum Institute and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, respectively, could have played a vital role in ending the pandemic in the country. However, the regulator’s haste and lack of transparency in approving the vaccines for “restricted” use do not inspire confidence. The regulator did not wait for sufficient safety and efficacy data to be collected and did not share information about the clinical trials before granting approval.

Transparency is vital for gaining people’s trust so that they don’t hesitate to take the vaccine. However, the conduct of the Indian regulator in no way helps in building trust in vaccines. If there is already some degree of apprehension about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, given the rushed manner in which the trials have been conducted, the opaque nature of the approval process has done little to mitigate such concerns.

Contrast this with the manner in which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.K. regulator approved COVID-19 vaccines. The FDA had a live telecast of the advisory committee’s examination of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccine data before granting emergency use authorisation (EUA). It also made the detailed briefing document of the clinical trial of each vaccine and its assessment public. The U.K. regulator also made the assessment of the two vaccines — by Pfizer and AstraZeneca — publicly available.

No efficacy data

The phase-2/3 trial of Covishield was carried out on 1,600 participants and was intended to study only safety and immunogenicity, as the details available on the clinical trial registry indicate. According to the informed consent document made available to trial participants, safety was to be tested on 1,200 participants and immunogenicity on 400 individuals. The trial did not study the efficacy of the vaccine. Approving Covishield based on safety and immunogenicity data from the trial in India and efficacy data from the U.K. might be sufficient for emergency use. But it is imperative that Serum Institute collects efficacy data from the Indian trial before seeking full approval.

Though no published data are available, the U.K. regulator has found some evidence that efficacy improves when the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is delayed. Accordingly, it has recommended that the second dose be administered 4-12 weeks after the first. Serum Institute has wasted an opportunity to test the protection offered by the first dose and determine the efficacy of a delayed second dose and the best time to administer it. It is now for the government to decide, without evidence, the timing of the second dose.

In the case of Covaxin, the phase-3 trial began in mid-November 2020. Since the second dose is administered 28 days after the first, the median follow-up after the second dose would have been just a few days and that too from a very small number of participants. In short, the approval for “restricted” use granted to Covaxin was not based on any efficacy data. What level of protection is offered by the vaccine and whether it protects against severe disease and prevents infection and transmission are all not known.

By giving approval to Covaxin without data on its efficacy, the Indian regulator has joined the ranks of China and Russia. When the Chinese regulator approved CanSino Biologics’s vaccine that had not undergone a phase-3 trial, it at least limited its use for the military. In mid-November, three months after approval, Russia’s claim of 92% efficacy for Sputnik V was based on a review of just 20 COVID-19 cases.

Also, the assertion that Covaxin will protect people against the new variant of the virus is not backed by evidence. No efficacy data against any SARS-CoV-2 virus strain are currently available.

What makes the approval for Covaxin all the more galling is the explicit permission to administer the vaccine in a “clinical trial mode”. This is nothing but a large-scale phase-3 clinical trial carried out on people belonging to the four priority groups consenting to receive the vaccine. The following remain unknown: how informed the informed consent will be, who is going to inform the recipients about the intricacies of the “trial”, how well the “participants” are going to be monitored, and how the efficacy will be determined in the absence of a control arm.

Nine global vaccine manufacturers issued a joint pledge last September that they would not seek premature approval from regulatory authorities. Bharat Biotech’s haste in seeking approval stands in contrast. The Indian regulator had earlier stipulated that at least 50% efficacy is necessary to grant EUA.

Compare this with the manner in which the FDA upheld the sanctity of the approval process. Despite pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to make vaccines available before election day, the FDA made it clear that it would require phase-3 data with a “median follow-up duration of at least two months after completion of the full vaccination regimen to assess a vaccine’s benefit-risk profile”. The FDA also said EUA would be granted only “based on data from a phase-3 trial that demonstrates the vaccine’s safety and efficacy in a clear and compelling manner”.

A lost opportunity

While daily fresh cases and deaths have been increasing sharply in the U.S., the new variant that has been spreading rapidly in the U.K. has been causing havoc. In India, on the other hand, the number of daily fresh cases and deaths has been steadily dropping since mid-September. The companies and the regulator should therefore have taken advantage of the situation here to ensure that EUA is backed by data.

Not only has India squandered a great opportunity to collect robust data and build trust in COVID-19 vaccines but has also set the stage to potentially reverse decades of hard work in building vaccine confidence. In 2019, a single mistake in preparing the measles, mumps, and rubella injection that led to the deaths of two infants in Samoa led to a sharp drop in vaccine uptake and a measles outbreak there.

In India, a December 2018 study in 121 districts that have higher rates of unimmunised children found that 24% of children did not get vaccinated due to apprehension about adverse effects. If there is vaccine hesitancy among the four high-risk groups which will get vaccinated on priority, the companies and the regulator have themselves to blame.


With no urban equivalent to the NREGA as yet, there must be a focus on supporting new forms of employment

With the Indian economy gradually finding its feet after a historic contraction of negative 23.9% in the April-June quarter, economic commentators have busied themselves with debating the need for fiscal expansion and the viability of a “V-shaped recovery”. These debates, however, have shifted focus away from the employment question, considered resolved after a sharp rally following the collapse in employment numbers in April. More recent data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (https://bit.ly/3hEnl7Z), however, point to a gradual slowdown in employment recovery from the month of July, with the latest numbers pointing to a sharp rise in the national unemployment rate from 6.51% in November to 9.06% for the month of December.

NREGA outlay

For labour flocking back to rural India, employment support came in the form of an increased outlay for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA), which witnessed a 243% increase in person workdays. This increased dependency on NREGA, has seen the Rural Development Ministry spend nearly 90% of its increased Rs. 86,4000 crore allocation by the month of November, while still being unable to fulfil demands for nearly 13% of the 75 million households that demanded work.

In several Indian cities however, shuttered businesses have meant that millions of workers have either had to leave or have had to take up new forms of work, with some finding the burgeoning gig economy to be their only source of employment. It is here that the Fairwork Foundation’s annual review of platform labour gains prominence.

The metrics used

The report (https://bit.ly/2X5nZSu) evaluates the well-being of gig workers on 11 digital platforms and does so by evaluating them on five metrics of Fair Pay, Fair Conditions, Fair Contracts, Fair Management and Fair Representation. In its findings however, only two firms (Urban Company and Flipkart) score greater than five (out of a maximum of 10) while seven score only 2 or less. Most concerning perhaps, is the fact that the bottom of the rankings are rounded off by India’s four largest platform giants, namely, Uber, Ola, Swiggy and Zomato.

With no urban equivalent to the NREGA on the horizon, there must be an increased impetus on evaluating, regulating and supporting new forms of employment that may currently be serving as an informal safety net for those desperately in search of work.

The first and most critical task at hand remains evaluation. Our current understanding of gig work and workers remains constrained to the limited disclosures made by the platforms themselves. Furthermore, with very few independent studies evaluating the scale and impact of these platforms, most regulators continue to remain in the dark on basic questions surrounding platform labour. As of now there exists no authoritative estimate on the total number of gig workers in India, though the centralised nature of the platforms, and the larger platform labour market should make the collating of this data relatively straightforward for the Labour Ministry.

Issue of regulation

The next step is significantly more sensitive and involves regulation. The reason for the sensitivity primarily revolves around the varied nature of gig work. While some workers use these platforms as a “side hustle”, for others it continues to serve as a primary source of employment. This dynamic is further complicated by the risk of a one-size-fits-all regulatory strategy unintentionally hurting the similar, yet distinct, market for highly skilled (and highly paid) freelancers, that continues its rapid growth due to pandemic related full-time staff layoffs.

Perhaps a more viable strategy then would involve conditional government partnerships with platforms under some of its flagship schemes. Here, the successful pilot (https://bit.ly/3pMNggC) of Swiggy’s Street Food Vendors programme under the PM SVANidhi, or PM Street Vendor’s Atma Nirbhar Nidhi scheme, may prove to be an illustrative example. While Swiggy has announced the onboarding of 36,000 street food vendors onto the platform under the scheme this month, it has also looked to ensure that each vendor is registered and certified by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. The simultaneous creation of jobs, alongside the voluntary adoption of quality standards is an example of a mutually beneficial partnership between the state and a platform that creates jobs while incentivising greater levels of compliance.

Urban employment

Similar collaborations on urban employment, that require labour platforms to comply with disclosure norms and worker compensation standards to access government support, could be one way for the government to kill two birds with one stone. Current proposals for an Urban Employment Guarantee peg daily worker wages at approximately Rs. 300 (https://bit.ly/2Mt1moR), at a cost of Rs. 1-lakh crore to the exchequer. Collaborating with platforms to employ workers, would not only bring down costs significantly (for both the state and their partners) but it would also create an environment where firms would be more likely to cooperate with the state, as opposed to adopting an antagonistic position in what could prove to be a long-winded legal battle.

Symbiotic ties

As the new year rolls in, and India looks to convince the world that it has turned the corner on its economic woes, it must look to step outside the box to tackle the challenge of urban unemployment. Limited fiscal space and a growing need to fuel the country’s consumption base, must push the government to build symbiotic relationships with new partners. With Industry 4.0 platforms absorbing increasing numbers of the urban workforce, evaluation, collaboration, and regulation must be the government mantra. As the pandemic forces India to define its own understanding of the future of work, it falls upon the state to ensure that this future is defined not only by the quantity of jobs it creates but also by the quality of livelihoods they provide for .

Vineet John Samuel is a German Chancellors Fellow based out of the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin. The views expressed are personal

We need a vaccine but not at the cost of the safety of study participants

Last year, a study participant sent Serum Institute of India a legal notice after experiencing neurological impairment following administration of Covishield, the COVID-19 vaccine being produced by the company in partnership with AstraZeneca. In response, the company, the largest producer of vaccines in the world, hit back with a threat to counter-sue the study participant in excess of Rs. 100 crore, calling the allegations “malicious and misconceived”.

While the recent results of successful vaccine trials are a cause for celebration, these successes ought to be coupled with transparency in information and communication for vaccine production to translate into vaccination. The legal counterclaim and lack of transparency by Serum Institute coupled with silence from AstraZeneca and other stakeholders in this deal fuels the notion that facts are being suppressed. Considering the difficulty of implementing effective non-pharmaceutical interventions, primarily physical distancing and mask use, finding a silver bullet remains the most attractive option to combat COVID-19. However, despite the major contribution of vaccines in eliminating the infectious scourge of our age, the anti-vaccine undercurrent still runs strong. This particular incident only furthers these sentiments.

What clinical trials do

Clinical trials employ various scientific methodologies to test novel drugs and vaccines on human participants and ascertain whether such drugs are safe and effective against a particular disease. They are probably the most important inventions that help us develop drugs and vaccines against diseases. Furthermore, it is the human subjects who are at the heart of these trials more than the trial investigators or sponsors. It is because of clinical trials that we know now that hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma do not reduce mortality due to COVID-19, and that steroids save the lives of COVID-19 patients.

More than being a scientific methodology, clinical trials are a method of human cooperation. The sanctity of this cooperation rests on a tacit understanding of trust; integrity; agreed upon ethical and moral norms; and, most importantly, care and respect for, consent of, and fair compensation to the participants. It is this cooperation that allows trials across countries and ensures that the results of a study in one part of the world can be reasonably applied to other countries. The coercive attempt to falsify a study participant’s claims and intimidate him or her violates the agreed upon rules of clinical trials, jeopardises the whole process, and puts a question mark on the validity of the particular trial.

In order to protect human subjects from harm in clinical trials, multiple checks and balances are put in place such as the formation of a data and safety monitoring board, institutional ethics committees, and regulatory bodies for clinical trials such as the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation in India. These same regulatory bodies had failed to protect the rights of HPV vaccine study participants in India in 2007, leading to the death of seven girls in the HPV vaccine study.

Maintaining silence

While the study sponsor, Serum Institute, which has financial interest in the COVID-19 vaccine, has made multiple statements about the neurological injury to the study participant, these regulatory bodies and committees have remained silent. By doing so, they give the impression that they are not independent and are failing in their duty of ensuring the safety of research participants. It is not only the bodies in India which have maintained a silence, but also other important international stakeholders. AstraZeneca, which has promised not to profit from the vaccine during the pandemic, is the original developer of the vaccine in association with Oxford University. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, leading advocates for all major vaccines across the globe, which had the vision of increasing both accessibility and availability of Covishield by funding and encouraging the U.K. group to set up an advance collaboration with Serum Institute, failed to make a statement. Likewise, it seems Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and the World Health Organization have also chosen to remain silent publicly.

The science of vaccines

Vaccination as a science has come a long way. We have been able to eradicate smallpox and we are close to eradicating polio simply due to the effective use of vaccines. Millions of lives are saved by the simple act of timely vaccination. However, vaccine hesitancy is on the rise, and diseases like measles and whooping cough are coming back in epidemic proportions as vaccination rates drop. The claims and counterclaims and lack of transparency around Covishield threaten public faith in a life-saving, simple, cost-effective intervention. The reputation or fiscal health of one institution is not worth a setback to the idea of immunisation even if the institution in question is one of the largest suppliers of vaccines across the globe.

The very act of developing and testing a vaccine in less than a year since the emergence of COVID-19, a novel viral pathogen, is revolutionary. This has changed the way we look at vaccine science, timelines, and policies. As responsible healthcare providers, we want a vaccine, we want this pandemic to end, and we want to return to a normal life but not at the cost of the safety of study participants. We want a vaccine which is rooted in integrity, transparency, respect for study participants, and agreed upon ethical standards.

We urge the regulatory bodies, ethics committees and international stakeholders to not overlook this as a singular event. Ignoring this one event is a slippery slope which may set us back in our fight against COVID-19.

Anup Agarwal is a physician at Rehoboth Mckinley Christian healthcare Services, Gallup, New Mexico, U.S.

Doing so can bring down household energy bills and reduce the financial stress of discoms

The Power Minister, R.K. Singh, recently announced the Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020. The rules lay down uniform performance standards for power distribution companies (discoms) and make them liable to compensate consumers in case of violations. The well-intentioned rules come at a time when Indian discoms are struggling to manage their finances. This is partly linked to drop in payment rates, as consumers are struggling to pay their bills amid rising consumption and tight finances. The Indian government has sanctioned liquidity relief to help discoms tide over this crisis, but these are just short-term fixes.

India’s residential electricity consumption is expected to at least double by 2030. As households buy more electric appliances to satisfy their domestic needs, concerns about the ability of discoms to provide reliable supply at affordable rates will also rise. Embracing energy efficiency can be a win-win solution as this can bring down household energy bills and reduce discoms’ financial stress.

Tryst with energy efficiency

In recent years, India has seen significant adoption of energy-efficient appliances, especially those covered under the mandatory labelling programme, according to the India Residential Energy Survey conducted by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water and the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy. The survey, covering nearly 15,000 households across 21 States, found that more than 75% of air-conditioners and 60% of refrigerators used in Indian homes were star-labelled. Further, nearly 90% of Indian homes used LED lamps or tubes.

However, there has been limited uptake of energy-efficient ceiling fans and televisions. While 90% of homes use fans, only 3% have efficient fans. Similarly, 60% of our television stock comprises the big old energy-guzzling CRT (cathode ray tube) models. Desert coolers, used by 15% homes, are not even covered under the labelling programme. Significant efficiency gains are also possible for other appliances like water pumps and induction cook stoves.

The way forward

First, we need to improve the availability and affordability of energy-efficient appliances. For instance, despite a voluntary labelling scheme since 2009, less than 5% of ceiling fans produced in India are star-rated. While the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) plans to bring ceiling fans under mandatory labelling from 2022, the high upfront cost will be another barrier. At present, the most efficient fans cost more than double the price of conventional models. We need innovative business models that can attract manufacturers to produce efficient technology at scale and bring it within purchasing capacity.

Second, India needs a nationwide consumer awareness campaign on energy efficiency. Only a fourth of Indian households are currently aware of BEE’s star labels. While awareness levels are high among residents of metros and tier-1 cities, the majority in small towns and rural areas remain unaware. To bridge this divide, we need a decentralised and consumer-centric engagement strategy. State governments, discoms and retailers need to be at the forefront of our renewed efforts to create mass awareness about energy efficiency.

Finally, we need to monitor supply quality and changing consumption pattern on a real-time basis. As discoms in India deploy smart meters, these must be used to measure actual savings and demonstrate the benefits of energy-efficient devices to build consumer confidence. The smart metering network would also be crucial for enforcing consumer rights rules.

India has tasted success in recent years by embracing energy efficiency. The government’s UJALA scheme transformed the market for LED bulbs, while also helping India reduce its annual carbon emissions by nearly 82 million tonnes. A similar focus towards other energy-efficient appliances would allow India to ensure 24x7 power for all.

Shalu Agrawal (shalu.agrawal@ceew.in) is a Programme Lead at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water

Pakistan’s actions against terrorists keep up appearances, but do not inspire confidence

The timing of Pakistan’s arrest of Zaki Ur Rahman Lakhvi, the LeT operations commander, and linked to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, just ahead of the next meet of global watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has been greeted with scepticism in India. Whenever Pakistan has faced a decision on its “grey list” status, it has carried out similar actions that appear to be aimed more at ensuring a better outcome for itself at the FATF. Its arrest and conviction of Hafiz Saeed and other LeT leaders in terror-financing cases, the passing of anti-terrorism and money laundering laws in the Pakistan Assembly to bring them in line with FATF-mandated international norms, and the publication of new lists of terrorists at various times, all timed before FATF reviews of Pakistan’s status, have been cited as more of the same. The FATF’s Asia Pacific Joint Group is to meet in January to prepare recommendations for a final decision on Pakistan’s status to be presented to the FATF plenary session in February. Pakistan was brought back onto the grey list in June 2018, and given a 27-point action plan list to be completed by October 2019. Since then, it received at least four reprieves, and was judged at last count to have completed 21 of 27 points, with six outstanding. The plenary session can choose one of three options therefore, in keeping Pakistan on the grey list, where it is subject to some financial restrictions, to downgrade it to the black list, where it will face stringent sanctions, or close the review and let Pakistan off the lists altogether. Pakistan will now hope that its progress in the action plan and having key terror figures in prison earn it a reprieve.

The fear for India is that if Pakistan earns that reprieve, it can reverse all its actions. India has watched the arrests of all these men and other terrorists on India’s “most wanted” lists in the past, only to find that they are released on bail, or let off over prosecutorial lapses once the world’s gaze is averted. Last month, a Pakistan court’s decision to overturn the conviction of al Qaeda leader Ahmed Omar Sheikh Saeed, a terrorist India was forced to release during the 1999 IC-814 hijacking, for the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, shows how Pakistan’s investigating agencies and judicial system treat terrorism. Hafiz Saeed has been convicted only of terror financing charges and faces concurrent sentencing of about six years at the most, as would Lakhvi, who faces similar charges, despite a long record in transnational terror attacks. Others like Masood Azhar continue to evade any kind of prosecution despite UN sanctions. For India and its battle to have Pakistan’s establishment held accountable on this issue, the FATF grey listing (from 2012-2015 and 2018-now) is a necessary lever to keep that process going.

Governors should not exceed constitutional duties to serve as agents of the Centre

The misuse of the Governor’s office to undermine duly elected State governments is a particularly mischievous disruption of federalism. Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan’s frequent use of his powerful oratory to defend the Centre and question the State on sensitive topics makes him partisan and undermines democratic processes. His refusal to convene a special session of the Kerala Assembly on December 23, as initially requested by the government, yet again proved this. He questioned the urgency of the special session, and thought the Assembly lacked “the jurisdiction to offer a solution” to the farmers’ protest, an issue which the Assembly wanted to discuss. This is an encroachment upon the powers of the legislature and the elected government and an abuse of his authority as a nominal head under the Constitution. His conduct was comparable to that of his counterpart in Rajasthan who refused to convene a session of the Assembly in July last year as demanded by the Chief Minister. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to Mr. Khan stating the Governor had no discretionary powers in the matter and that his actions were unconstitutional. This position was supported by the Opposition too. Thankfully, the government made an amended request for convening the session and the Governor accepted it. Mr. Khan had earlier questioned a resolution passed by the Kerala Assembly on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, besides making public statements supporting the CAA and the farm laws. To assume that an Assembly is acting unconstitutionally if it disagrees with Parliament is disingenuous. By lending himself and his office to such partisan conflicts, Mr. Khan is also besmirching his personal reputation as a fiercely fair-minded public figure. Such conduct by a Governor can weaken federalism.

In the event, the controversy overshadowed the one-day session on December 31, which sought the repeal of the central laws that are at the heart of the ongoing farmer agitation. A resolution passed with the support of the ruling LDF and the opposition UDF, and unopposed by the lone BJP member, raised procedural and substantive questions related to these laws. The resolution pointed out that agriculture was a State subject and “as a matter that seriously affects the States, the Bills should have been discussed in a meeting of the inter-State council”. The Bills were passed in haste without even referring them to the Standing Committee of the Parliament, which the Assembly termed “a serious matter.” It has become habitual for the Centre to overlook regional concerns, and the making of the farm laws without consulting States was in line with this trend. The Council of States (Rajya Sabha) has been systematically undermined by arbitrarily labelling bills as money bills. The use of central agencies to browbeat Opposition-ruled States is yet another strain on federalism.

“A Jew, I suppose?” This question, put by Sir Ernest Wild, K.C. to a witness at the Central Criminal Court, drew reproof from the Lord Chief Justice (Lord Reading) when the case came before the Court of Criminal Appeal. The question referred to a money-lender. “It creates on me,” said the Lord Chief Justice, “an unpleasant impression that it was not in the appellant’s favour that it was put.”

Sir Ernest Wild: - I did not intend to be insulting to Jews generally, but Your Lordship knows there are Jews just as there are Christians. Some Jew money-lenders are not people one would care to deal with if possible.

The Lord Chief Justice: - My experience is that that remark applies to all money-lenders. (Laughter.)

Mr. Justice Darling: - Only the other day in a case I was trying counsel asked a man whether he was not a Scotsman, obviously with the intention of discrediting him. (Laughter.) I took occasion to help him by saying, “Well so am I! (Laughter.)

The Lord Chief Justice: - I don’t think that question was understood in the same way as the question I am referring to. To ask a man if he is a Scotsman does not reflect on him, but there are people who imagine that when the question is asked, “Are you a Jew” it is intended to be prejudicial.

The President, Mr. V.V. Giri, told chief justices of the Commonwealth countries holding their third conference here to-day [New Delhi, Jan. 4] that they should not restrict themselves to a consideration of issues of technical justice but extend that consideration to “the larger canvas of problems which agitate the minds of men.” He said that problems connected with ensuring an “efficient and effective” legal system should receive their attention “in order to provide justice to the community it serves”. Mr. Giri, who was inaugurating the Commonwealth conference of Chief Justices, meeting in India for the first time, referred in particular to the Indian Constitution and said: “A constitution is not intended to be a static document. In a developing society, its provisions must lend themselves to meeting the changing needs and requirements of society.” The adaptability of constitutional provisions to the changing times gave them strength and also made “dubious” their appropriateness for judicial enforcement.