பருவமழை பெருமழையாக மாறும்போது அதை எதிா்கொள்ள முடியாமல் மனித இனம் திகைக்கிறது. கடந்த 10 நாள்களாக வட இந்தியாவின் மலைப் பகுதிகளிலும், மேற்கு இந்தியாவின் கடற்கரைப் பகுதிகளிலும் வானமே உருகி விழுவதுபோல பெய்யும் அடைமழையால் நிலைகுலைந்து போயிருக்கின்றன பல மாநிலங்கள். நிலச்சரிவுகளும், திடீா் வெள்ளமும் 150-க்கும் அதிகமான உயிா்களை பலி கொண்டிருக்கின்றன.
ஹிமாசல பிரதேசம், உத்தரகண்ட், மகாராஷ்டிரம், ஆந்திரம், தெலங்கானா, பிகாா், கா்நாடகத்தின் சில பகுதிகள் என்று மழை வெள்ளத்தில் சிக்கித் தவிக்கும் மாநிலங்கள் ஏராளம். ஆந்திர மாநிலத்தின் கோதாவரியில் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கும் வெள்ளப்பெருக்கால் போலாவரம் மண்டலத்தில் உள்ள 17 கிராமங்களுக்கான தொடா்பு முற்றிலுமாக அறுந்திருக்கிறது. கிருஷ்ணா நதியைச் சுற்றியுள்ள பல பகுதிகள் வெள்ளத்தில் மூழ்கியிருக்கின்றன.
ஜூலை 22-ஆம் தேதி மகாராஷ்டிர மாநிலம் சத்தாரா மாவட்டத்தில் உள்ள மகாபலேஷ்வா் பகுதியில் பெய்த 600 மி.மீ. மழை என்பது இதுவரை வரலாற்றில் காணப்படாத பதிவு. ரத்தினகிரி மாவட்டத்தில் 40 ஆண்டுகளில் இல்லாத அளவிலான மழை பொழிந்து தள்ளியிருக்கிறது. மும்பையை எடுத்துக்கொண்டால், ஆறு மணிநேரத்தில் 230 மி.மீ. மழைப் பொழிவு. அடைமழையால் மிகவும் பாதிக்கப்பட்ட ரெய்காட் மாவட்டத்தில் மலைச்சரிவு ஏற்பட்டதால் 53 போ் உயிரிழந்திருக்கிறாா்கள். மகாராஷ்டிர மாநிலத்தில் ஏறத்தாழ ஒன்றரை லட்சம்போ் பாதுகாப்பான பகுதிகளில் தங்கவைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கிறாா்கள்.
1982-க்குப் பிறகு கோவா இப்படியொரு பருவமழை சீற்றத்தையும் வெள்ளப்பெருக்கையும் எதிா்கொண்டதில்லை. ஹிமாசல பிரதேசத்தின் கின்னாா் மாவட்டத்தில் பாறைகள் பெயா்ந்து உருண்டு அந்த வழியாகப் போய்க்கொண்டிருந்த வாகனத்தின் மீது விழுந்ததால் ஒன்பது பயணிகள் உயிரிழந்திருக்கிறாா்கள். கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றின் இரண்டாவது அலை சற்று அடங்கியிருப்பதால் பொது முடக்க விதிகள் தளா்த்தப்பட்டதைத் தொடா்ந்து, உல்லாச பயணிகள் ஹிமாசல பிரதேசத்திற்கும் உத்தரகண்ட்டுக்கும் ஆயிரக்கணக்கில் பயணிக்கத் தொடங்கியபோது சில கட்டுப்பாடுகளை அரசு விதித்திருக்க வேண்டும். முன்னெச்சரிக்கை நடவடிக்கைகள் எடுக்கப்படாததால் உயிா்ச்சேதம் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கிறது.
தலைநகரான தில்லியும் பருவமழையின் சீற்றத்திற்கு விலக்காகவில்லை. கடந்த பல மாதங்களாக இருந்த கடுமையான கோடை முடிவுக்கு வந்ததைத் தொடா்ந்து இடியுடன் கூடிய மழை எதிா்பாராத திருப்பம். ஒரே நாளில் தில்லியில் 70 மி.மீ. மழை பொழிந்தபோது நகரம் வெள்ளக்காடானது. அதில் மிக அதிகமாக பாதிக்கப்பட்டது குருகிராம்.
இந்தியாவின் வடமேற்கு பகுதி முழுவதும் பரவலாகக் காணப்படும் பலத்த மழையால் நதிகள் பெருக்கெடுத்து ஓடுகின்றன. பல கால்வாய்களின் கரைகள் உடைந்து கடுமையான பயிா்ச்சேதம் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கிறது. குடிசைகளில் வாழும் அடித்தட்டு மக்களின் நிலைமை பரிதாபமானது. ஆண்டுதோறும் பருவமழையால் ஏற்படும் சேதம் சமீப காலமாக அதிகரித்து வருகிறது. இதை வழக்கமான பாதிப்பு என்று நாம் புறந்தள்ளுவது பேதைமை.
2016-இல் இந்தியா ஒரேயொரு கடுமையான புயலைத்தான் எதிா்கொண்டது. 2018-லும், 2019-லும் ஆறு புயல்கள் இந்தியாவைத் தாக்கி பெரும் பாதிப்பை ஏற்படுத்திச் சென்றன. கடந்த ஆண்டு மிக மோசமான ஐந்து புயல்களை நாம் எதிா்கொண்டோம். அடிக்கடி புயலும், மழையும், வெள்ளப்பெருக்கும் கடந்த ஐந்து ஆண்டுகளாக வழக்கமாகி வருவதை நாம் உணா்ந்ததாகத் தெரியவில்லை.
புயல்கள் மட்டுமல்ல, மழைப்பொழிவின் அளவும் கடுமையும் அதிகரித்து வருகிறது என்பதையும் பாா்க்க முடிகிறது. 2016-ஆம் ஆண்டில் பருவமழைக் காலத்தில் 226 கடுமையான மழைப்பொழிவுகள் காணப்பட்டன என்றால், 2019-இல் 554 மிகக் கடுமையான மழைப்பொழிவுகளும், 2020-இல் 341 கடும் மழைப்பொழிவுகளும் காணப்பட்டன. குறுகிய நேரத்தில் மிக அதிக அளவிலான மழைப்பொழிவு ஏற்படுவதால் மழைநீா் வடிகால்களோ, ஓடைகளோ, நதிகளோ அதை எதிா்கொள்ள முடியாமல் வெள்ளப்பெருக்கு ஏற்படுவதைத் தவிா்க்க முடியவில்லை.
இந்த பருவமழை மாற்றம் இந்தியாவை மட்டும் பாதிக்கிறது என்று கருதிவிட வேண்டாம். இரண்டு வாரங்களுக்கு முன்பு ஜொ்மனியில் 24 மணிநேரத்தில் பெய்த 15 செ.மீ. மழைப்பொழிவால் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கும் பொருளாதார இழப்பு 5 பில்லியன் யூரோ என்று கூறப்படுகிறது. சீனாவின் ஷென்ஷௌவில் ஒரு நாளில் ஏற்பட்ட 21 செ.மீ.க்கும் அதிகமான மழைப்பொழிவில் ஏற்பட்ட பாதிப்பிலிருந்து இன்னும் மீண்டபாடில்லை. இதுபோன்ற கடுமையான மழைப்பொழிவும் வெள்ளப்பெருக்கும் வருங்காலம் குறித்த அச்சத்தை ஏற்படுத்துகின்றன.
சுற்றுச்சூழல் அமைச்சகம் வளா்ச்சிப் பணிக்காகக் காடுகளை அழிப்பதை ஆதரிக்கிறது. இயமலையானாலும், மேற்கு தொடா்ச்சி மலையானாலும், சூழலியலையோ, சுற்றுச்சூழலையோ பொருட்படுத்தாமல் சாலைகள், பாலங்கள் என்று கட்டமைப்பு வசதிகளைப் பெருக்கி இயற்கையைச் சீண்டும்போது, நம்மை திருப்பித் தாக்க இயற்கை கையில் எடுத்திருக்கும் ஆயுதங்கள் அடைமழையும், புயல் மழையும் போலிருக்கிறது.
பருவமழை தொடங்கி பாதிதான் முடிந்திருக்கிறது. இனிமேல்தான் புயல்களும், பெருமழையும் அதிகரிக்கும் பருவம். அடுத்த சில மாதங்களையும் நாம் கடந்தாக வேண்டும். பருவம் எப்போது, எப்படி மாறக்கூடும் என்பதைக் கணிக்க முடியாத சூழலில் முன்கூட்டியே தயாா்நிலையில் இருந்தால் மட்டுமே உயிரிழப்பையும், பொருள் இழப்பையும் தவிா்க்க முடியும்.
வருமான வரி தினத்தையொட்டி மத்திய நிதியமைச்சர் நிர்மலா சீதாராமன் ஆற்றிய உரையொன்றில், நாட்டின் வளர்ச்சிக்காக நேர்மையாக வரி செலுத்தும் ஒவ்வொருவருடைய பங்களிப்பையும் பாராட்டியிருந்தார். மேலும், அவர்களை அங்கீகரிக்கும் நடவடிக்கைகளை வருமான வரித் துறையினர் மேற்கொள்ள வேண்டும் என்றும் அறிவுறுத்தியிருந்தார். மத்திய நிதியமைச்சரின் இந்த அறிவுறுத்தல் உடனடியாகக் கவனத்தில் கொள்ளப்பட வேண்டியது.
நேரடி வரிவிதிப்பு முறையின் பாதுகாப்புச் சுவராக மாதாந்திர ஊதியம் பெறுபவர்களே இருக்கிறார்கள். கடந்த நிதியாண்டில், கார்ப்பரேட் வரி வசூல் முற்றிலுமாகச் சீர்குலைந்து போனாலும், வருமான வரி வசூல் நிலையாகவே இருந்தது. தனிநபர் வருமான வரி மட்டும் ரூ.4.71 லட்சம் கோடி வசூலானது. இந்த நூற்றாண்டிலேயே கடந்த நிதியாண்டில்தான் முதன்முறையாக கார்ப்பரேட் வரிகளைக் காட்டிலும் தனிநபர் வருமான வரி அதிகமாக வசூலாகியிருந்தது என்பது குறிப்பிடத்தக்கது. கடந்த நிதியாண்டில் 6.54 கோடிப் பேர் தங்களது வருமான வரிக் கணக்குகளைத் தாக்கல்செய்தனர். இந்தியாவில் வயதுவந்தோர் எண்ணிக்கையில் இவர்களது விகிதம் 10%-க்கும் குறைவானதாகும். கணக்கு தாக்கல் செய்பவர்கள் அனைவருமே வரி செலுத்துபவர்களும் இல்லை. தணிக்கை, சட்டம், மருத்துவம் ஆகிய துறைகளைச் சேர்ந்த சுதந்திரமாகத் தொழில்செய்யும் பிரிவினரின் வரிப் பங்களிப்பு மிகவும் குறைவாகவே உள்ளது. பெருவணிகர்கள் தங்களது வருமானத்தைக் குறைவாகக் காட்டவே விரும்புகின்றனர். எனவே, இந்தியாவில் தனிநபர் வருமான வரி என்பது பெரிதும் மாதாந்திர ஊதியம் பெறும் வர்க்கத்தினரையே குறிக்கிறது.
A constitutional amendment is a rare event. There have only been 104 such cases of those in the 71 years since the Constitution came into being. Rarer still is when a court strikes down a constitutional amendment, an event which has occurred only seven times before last week.
But such a moment has come to pass once again as Union of India vs Rajendra N. Shah , a judgment delivered by the Supreme Court of India on July 20, 2021. The 97th Constitutional Amendment was struck down, albeit in a limited manner.
The 97th Constitutional Amendment came into effect from February 15 2012 (https://bit.ly/3xa0MOH), and brought about many changes to the legal regime of cooperative societies. The amendment added “cooperative societies” to the protected forms of association under Article 19(1)(c), elevating it to a fundamental right. It also inserted Part IXB in the Constitution which laid down the terms by which cooperative societies would be governed, in more granular detail than was palatable.
The Constitution can be amended only by the procedure provided in Article 368. The amendment procedure requires a majority of the total strength of each of the Houses of Parliament and two-thirds majority of those present and voting. A proviso to the Article lists out some articles and chapters of the Constitution, which can be amended only by a special procedure. The special procedure requires that the amendment will also have to be ratified by the legislatures of half of the States. It is precisely on the grounds of violation of this additional requirement that the 97th Constitutional Amendment was challenged.
It is important to locate this amendment in context. The idea that the cooperative sector ought to be controlled at the State level and not at the central or Union level goes back all the way to the Government of India Act, 1919 which placed cooperatives in the provincial list. This scheme carried forward into the Constitution with Entry 32 of the State List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution conferring power on the State legislatures to make laws pertaining to incorporation, regulation and the winding up of cooperative societies.
But the Union government has been acquiring incrementally greater control of cooperative societies over the years. Cooperative banks have been brought under the purview of the Reserve Bank of India. The political intent of the Union Government for more active involvement in the cooperative sector is also apparent from the recently established Union Ministry for Cooperation.
The statement of objects and reasons of the amendment Bill, which resulted in the amendment in question, cites the need for greater independence and transparency in the functioning of the cooperatives and inserted a number of provisions which provided for the regulation of cooperative societies.
The Gujarat High Court struck down the amendment in 2013 on the grounds that it had failed to comply with the requirements under Article 368(2) by virtue of not having been ratified by the States and had also given an additional finding that the 97th Amendment violated the basic structure of the Constitution.
The Union Government challenged the Gujarat High Court judgment before the Supreme Court, arguing that the amendment neither directly nor effectively changed the scheme of distribution of powers between the Centre and the States.
The parties which had challenged the amendment in the High Court argued that Part IXB, inserted by the 97th Amendment impinged upon the legislative power of the States by casting mandatory obligations upon the State legislatures to legislate in a particular way in areas in which they ought to have had freedom. Some clauses of the newly inserted part of the Constitution would also override some existing State legislations.
The court took the example of the 73rd and 74th Amendments which introduced the chapters on panchayats and municipalities, respectively. Those amendments, similar in impact on the legislative power of the States, had been passed by the special procedure involving ratification by State legislatures. The court noted that the procedure had not been followed in this case but clarified that the judgment is confined to the procedural lacuna and does not go into the question of the amendment being violative of the basic structure of the Constitution.
Making a distinction
Having found this lapse in procedure, the judgment makes a distinction between cooperative societies operating in one State and multi-State cooperative societies and holds that while a ratification by half the State legislatures would have been necessary insofar as it applies to cooperative societies in one State, they chose not to go deeper into the question of whether the amendment also required ratification in respect of application to multi-State cooperative societies. The minority opinion considered that the provisions of the newly added part which pertain to multi-State cooperative societies could not exist independently of the parts which pertain to cooperative societies, and hence the whole amendment should be struck down.
This now brings us to the question – can the Government get over this decision? In theory it would seem simple enough. The amendment has only been struck down on account of the right procedure not having been followed and another amendment can be brought, but this time, going through the rigour of ratification by State legislatures. The National Democratic Alliance has a majority in 18 out of 28 State legislatures. The amendment which has now been struck down was an amendment of the United Progressive Alliance era, so it is not clear as to whether there will be any significant political opposition to the amendment if it is brought again.
A sector best left alone
Which brings us to the next question – should they? The cooperative sector has always been in the domain of the States or provinces. The organising principles and mechanism of these cooperatives differ from area to area and depend on the industry or crop which forms the fulcrum of the cooperative. Homogeneity in this area would only result in the creation of round holes in which square pegs no longer fit. They also would not really serve to break the control some political interests have taken over cooperatives. It is best that the Government takes this judgment in the right spirit and stays away from further meddling in the cooperative sector, notwithstanding the creation of the new Ministry.
Vikram Hegde is an Advocate on Record in the Supreme Court of India
Population policy is suddenly in the news in India with Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled States such as Assam and Uttar Pradesh proposing to bring in or bringing in draft legislation aimed at controlling their populations. The Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill of 2021 promotes a two-child policy, according to which those people having more than two children will be barred from contesting local body elections and become ineligible to apply for State government jobs. A similar law has also been proposed in Assam, where the Chief Minister has even announced a ‘population army’ to curb the birth rate in Muslim-dominated areas in lower Assam. The U.P. Chief Minister has said that the aim of the policy is to reduce the total fertility rate in his State.
The Chief Ministers of these States don’t seem to have read the document on population projection, published by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2019. According to this document, U.P. will reach a replacement rate (the rate at which women give birth to enough babies to sustain population levels) of 2.1 by 2025, and Assam by 2020. If the replacement fertility rate has already been achieved in Assam and will be achieved by 2025 in U.P., what is the need for any drastic population policy?
Decreasing fertility rates
The need arises because population policy is an important weapon in the arsenal of the Hindutva brigade to attack the Muslim population in the country. The Assam Chief Minister’s ‘population army’ in Muslim areas and the U.P. Chief Minister’s many utterances prove this. However, even on this score, their policy framework is wrong. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-2 data, the total fertility rate (TFR), which is the average number of children that women of reproductive age group have had in their lifetime, in 1998-99 in U.P. was 3.87 for Hindus and 4.76 for Muslims. In 2015-16, it decreased to 2.67 for Hindus and 3.1 for Muslims. This means that the TFR declined by 1.2 for Hindus and by 1.66 for Muslims, which is higher. The NFHS-5 data for 2019-20 for U.P. have not been published. When it is published, data will show that the fertility rate for both Hindus and Muslims has declined even further.
The fertility trend for Assam is even starker. According to NFHS data, Assam had a TFR of 3.5 in 1992-93, which decreased to 1.9 in 2019-20. Even after such a drastic decline in TFR, the Chief Minister’s enthusiasm to decrease it even further has no merit other than scoring political points based on a distorted notion of religious demography. In 1998-99, the TFR for Hindus in Assam was 2.0, which declined to 1.59 in 2019-20. For Muslims, it declined from 3.05 to 2.38 in the same period. While the fertility rate of Hindus is less than the replacement level, the fertility rate of Muslims is near that level and will reach there in the near future without any policy intervention.
The point is that fertility rate does not depend on religion. It depends on socio-economic characteristics like education, income, maternal and child health conditions, and other associated factors. The graphs above show this in a concise manner. We have taken the district-wise fertility rates for Hindus and Muslims in four States: U.P., Assam, West Bengal and Bihar (calculated from NFHS-4 2015-16 data). The horizontal axis shows the fertility rate for Hindus and the vertical axis shows the fertility rate for Muslims. It is clear from the graphs that there is a positive relationship between the fertility rates of Hindus and Muslims. In other words, in districts where Hindus have a high fertility rate, the fertility rate of Muslims is also high. This cannot be explained by religion but by socio-economic factors in these districts. It is also clear that there are districts in these four States where the fertility rate for Hindus is actually higher than that of Muslims. The fertility rate of Hindus is greater than Muslims in four districts of Assam, 11 districts of Bihar, 22 of U.P. and three of West Bengal. Therefore, to stigmatise Muslims in terms of population growth and breeding more children is a figment of the right-wing imagination and not supported by facts.
Preference for a male child
The preceding discussion pointed out that the population control policy of imposing a two-child norm is not supported by data. However, it can have other unintended consequences. Generally, any discussion on fertility focuses on policy recommendations regarding increasing female education, which is no doubt important. However, a single-minded focus on this policy instrument ignores the issue of a preference for male children, which is dominant in the country. An earlier study of women’s fertility in Hindi heartland States showed that the proportion of graduate women who had two living daughters but still wanted another child was 23.7% in Bihar, 27.3% in U.P. and 28.3% in Rajasthan. This is nothing but an indicator of a preference for sons in a patriarchal and caste-dominated society. Given such a preference for male children, the two-child norm will only increase sex-selective abortions of girl children, and female infanticide, since couples will want to maintain both the two-child norm as proposed to be enacted by the government as well as their preference for sons.
Problem of ageing
The experience of China also shows that if the state imposes its decision on families’ fertility choices, such a decision is bound to fail. With the one-child policy, the proportion of the aged population is increasing in China. Fewer younger workers are available, which might result in a slowdown of economic growth. As a result, the government has been forced to relax the one-child policy and adopt a three-child policy. In India too, as per the population projection report, the proportion of people aged 60 years and above will increase from 13.8% in 2011 to 23.1% in 2036. The two-child norm will only further aggravate the problem of ageing.
The lesson to be drawn is that the decision on children is best made by the family, which can be nudged towards making choices that ensure a stable population growth. As a famous demographer argued, the fertility behaviour of a couple is a “calculus of conscious choice”. India’s decades-old population policy has achieved replacement level fertility in the country without taking any coercive measures. Governments should have faith in these time-tested policies and respect the choices of people rather than impose warped and motivated ideas regarding demography on the people.
Subhanil Chowdhury and Saswata Ghosh are Faculty at the Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata
Investment in education yields both private and social returns. Private returns, like wages, accrue to individuals. Social returns accrue to society. Textbook economics suggests that private returns rise with one’s level of education, but social returns peak at the elementary levels. For when educated people follow rules such as queuing, using washrooms, washing hands, protecting public property, etc. the collective returns from such actions generate a huge social value such as cleaner, healthier and disciplined societies.
Education is everything that expands our capabilities — as individuals and as society. The novel coronavirus pandemic has given us an opportunity to re-evaluate how our schools should expand our capabilities. While academic prowess in math, science and language is essential, what about the issue of household chores? Or connecting with the community or nature?
Does learning household chores expand one’s capabilities? For if people do not know how to keep their spaces clean, cook their own food, do their laundry, it just needs a shock like a COVID-19 pandemic to occur and for a society dependent on the labour of others to feel incredibly disrupted. Add to it shortages of essential supplies and overstretched public resources, and social disruption is inevitable. So, how can we prepare for the future? The answer: through our elementary schools.
Can we learn from another country? Yes. Probably, Japan.
In 2011, pictures from tsunami-hit Japan went viral, with locals patiently queuing up for rations amidst massive devastation. Throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic, schools and public spaces have remained fairly open in Japan due to people’s responsible behaviour. As India prepares to re-open its schools along with the newly adopted New Education Policy, we can borrow some insights from the Japanese system.
Japan ranks among the top in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which evaluates students on their prowess in core academic subjects. However, another important aspect of the Japanese curriculum is its emphasis on non-cognitive elements. Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) explains ‘Chi-Toku-Tai’ as the defining features of Japanese schooling. Chi, which translates to ‘know’ lay an emphasis on building strong academic abilities. Toku, translates to ‘virtue’ and refers to mindfulness, self-discipline, and cooperative abilities. And last, Tai, translates to ‘body, and refers to physical and mental well-being.
The Japanese education philosophy transitioned from an extremely examination-focused, rote memorisation-based approach to the ‘Chi-Toku-Tai’ approach in the 1970s. The elementary school curriculum was later supplemented with subjects, namely moral education, integrated studies and special activities. Together, seen as a ‘zest for life’ approach, this philosophy focuses on holistic ability extending beyond academic prowess to include ‘kansei’ which roughly translates to ‘sensitivity’. This approach aims at developing a knowledgeable mind which can appreciate beauty and nature, hold a sense of justice, and respect life and labour.
Shaping social behaviour
Moral education includes norms that define socially responsible and considerate behaviour towards everyone including nature. For example, as a summer project, students venture out in nature observing beetles, cicadas, crickets and sketching or noting their characteristics in their ‘insect diary’. Students as young as first graders take turns to clean their classrooms, washrooms, serve school lunches, and water the plants at school. When students cross a pedestrian crossing while making a driver wait, they bow in a ‘thank you’ to express gratitude. While these are some examples, the essence is that elementary school curriculum can play a tremendous role in building courteous and mindful societies.
Such a system reaps several benefits. As students do various chores, it builds respect for labour and humility at a young age. It trains them to undertake routine jobs in an efficient manner and encourages responsible and mindful behaviour towards the community. Think of how the Japanese fans celebrated their victory in the 2018 football World Cup opening match against Colombia — by cleaning up their rows in the stadium in Russia.
Integrated studies encompasses experiential learning and independent thinking where students identify problems in their local communities and think of solutions. For example, children may create a disaster preparedness map based on their own research. Seniors from the community are invited to share insights about the community’s history. Activities such as these integrate schools with the community. If we can train our children in identifying problems in their local communities such as health ailments, pollution, waste disposal, etc. and coach them in developing solution road maps, the gains to both sides can be immense.
The special activities hour encourages students to consider the school as a “society”. These include activities such as organising events, maintaining the library, etc. After task completion, students are made to reflect on the problems they experienced in the process such as wastage, conflict, etc. and the ways to resolve them. This inculcates the practise of ‘kaizen’ — the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement.
Finally, another notable aspect that defines Japanese society and education system is ‘collectivism’. Unlike the West, Japan is a collectivist society. Working as a group and group harmony is fundamental to this society. While this has its own limitations, the general belief that one wins only when the group wins, generates equitable and united societies.
It’s about unity
For us, volunteering for a treasure hunt activity involving third graders in Tokyo gave us an interesting insight into collectivism. Teams had to find the hidden treasure; however, the primary target was not the treasure but to keep the unit together. Teams could only move forward when all its members were together and agreed on the next strategy. So, if there were students on wheelchairs or slow otherwise, the group respectfully waited for them to arrive. Finally, the teachers had to pick one student per group to go to the stage to display the ‘treasure’ and receive the audience’s applause. Surprisingly, they picked the ones who were usually lagging. Every third grader felt included and valued. The real treasure had been found. Amazing, isn’t it?
Prachi Gupta is an Adjunct Professor of Economics and Political Science at Temple University, Japan Campus, Tokyo. Prajakta Khare is an Associate Professor of Economics at Meiji Gakuin University, Tokyo
The COVID-19 pandemic has sharpened divisions within and among countries. Nationalism continues to stir India, with the re-election of Narendra Modi in 2019, and the U.S., despite the defeat of Donald Trump in 2020. The pandemic and the expansionism of China have led India and the U.S. to put their relationship in the spotlight, writes the author in a revised edition of Open Embrace: India-US Ties in a Divided World. An excerpt:
While the pandemic turned out to be yet another occasion for China to claim superiority of its economic and political model, it also exposed the weaknesses of the American political and economic system. COVID-19 triggered a fresh round of debate on liberalism. As for India, 2020 was a year of reckoning in its relations with China. In a first in 45 years, both sides lost soldiers in a border clash. At least 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese died in Ladakh in June 2020 leading to massive mobilisation of forces by both sides.
The Chinese factor
The aftermath of the pandemic fuelled more nationalism in politics in many parts of the world, certainly in China, India and the U.S. Even in his defeat, Donald Trump so sharply put the spotlight on China as the key challenger of the U.S. in the 21st century that Joe Biden and the Democrats have agreed to broadly follow that line. The Chinese action of occupying disputed territories so damaged the bilateral relationship that it is now at its ‘most difficult phase’ in the last 34 years, according to S. Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister.
The Chinese action remained inexplicable. China gave India ‘five differing explanations’ and ‘literally brought tens of thousands of soldiers in full military preparation mode right to the LAC in Ladakh’. Ashley Tellis has linked the Chinese action to India’s decision in August 2019 to carve out Ladakh as a federally administered territory, along with the ending of the special constitutional status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
In the last seven decades of America’s strategy in South Asia, there has been one constant, and that is Pakistan and its military — as a partner in propping up jihadis, then fighting them and now being found out as playing both sides. Also noteworthy is the fact that the U.S.’s entanglement with Pakistan and China is inseparable from one another. Pakistan had aided U.S.-China ties in the 1970s; and today, Pakistan does not fight shy of its loyalty and admiration for China. In January 2021, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said the Chinese model of development was something that his country would want to emulate. ‘I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves (from Afghanistan),’ Trump said in July 2019. In January 2018, he had said, ‘They have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools.’ Trump’s contradictory, strident remarks are unusual for a president, but these are instructive. General Lloyd Austin, appointed Defense Secretary by Biden, said during his confirmation hearing that Pakistan had taken ‘constructive steps’ in the Afghanistan peace process. For all the strategic clarity that the U.S. is supposed to possess, it cannot decide for sure whether Pakistan is an ally or an enemy. Much in the same manner as ties with China, the U.S. relationship with Pakistan remains an unsettled question.
Pakistan’s constant refrain has been that the route to ‘peace in Afghanistan is through Kashmir’, the argument being that unless America forces India to make concessions in Kashmir, no progress was possible in Afghanistan — making both Kashmir and Afghanistan part of the same continuum of transnational Islamist politics. American presidents until Barack Obama were sympathetic to this position, though nobody stated it in obvious terms. India’s resistance to the American view of seeing Kashmir and Afghanistan as components of the same puzzle predates Modi’s Hindutva doctrine. While opposing any link between Kashmir and Afghanistan, the Prime Ministers before Modi were willing to separately engage with Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan on the issue. Since 2014, the country’s position has become more strident and combative.
The BJP and the PDP had a common minimum programme that left negotiations with the separatists solely with the PDP and in Srinagar, and the Central government showed little interest in addressing insurgency in the State other than by military force. In late 2017, the Modi government appointed Dineshwar Sharma as interlocutor for Kashmir, whose failure was foretold. In June 2018, the BJP ended its alliance with the PDP, and in August 2019, the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir was rescinded.
While Pakistan has been pleading with America to be more interventionist in Kashmir, India has resisted all such moves.
Excerpted with permission from Penguin Random House India
James Madison, who created the basic framework for the U.S. Constitution, once said, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”
But Indian federalism is very different. The British lawyer and academic, Sir Ivor Jennings, was of the view that India has a federation with a strong centralising policy. Nonetheless, India maintained its limited federal characteristics for a fairly long time. Those characteristics are now disappearing in the Modi era.
Disregarding an obligation
At the time of introducing the new indirect tax regime, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) law assured States a 14% increase in their annual revenue for five years (up to July 1, 2020). But the Union government has deviated from the statutory promise and has been insisting that States avail themselves of loans. Kerala is entitled to a GST compensation of Rs. 4,041 crore for the financial year 2020-21. But the Union government has been disregarding this obligation. The future interest liability of these loans should not be placed on the shoulders of the States. Moreover, the borrowing limit of States, as per the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, should not be built into these loans. This policy needs clarity.
Last year, the Union government increased the borrowing ceiling of the States from 3% to 5% for FY 2020-21. But conditions are attached to 1.5% of the 2% of increased ceiling. It is the States which have to bear the burden of welfare and relief measures during the pandemic. Attaching conditions for expenditure out of the borrowed amount would clip the wings of the States and goes against the principle of cooperative federalism.
The Fifteenth Finance Commission had recommended Rs. 2,412 crore as a sector-specific grant and Rs. 1,100 crore as a State-specific grant for Kerala. But the Union government has not taken any steps to release these amounts. The expenditure rules attached to the Disaster Management Fund are unviable. The rules could be amended to ease expenditure. The Corporate Social Responsibility Fund could be remitted to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.
As per the Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act, compensation on account of the implementation of GST will be available for a period of five years. Compensation beyond five years requires a constitutional amendment. The GST Act says it is a law to provide for compensation to the States for the loss of revenue arising on account of the implementation of the GST for a period of five years or for such period as may be prescribed on the recommendation of the GST Council.
The present compensation period will end in 2021-22. Beyond this period, it is going to be very difficult to convince the Union government to provide compensation as there is no constitutional obligation to do so to the States. This will create serious financial stress to the States, especially to those which require higher compensation.
As per Section 4(f) of Article 279A, the Union government can consider introducing any special rate to raise additional resources during the pandemic (any natural calamity or disaster). Section 4(f) says: “The Goods and Services Tax Council shall make recommendations to the Union and the States on — Any special rate or rates for a specified period, to raise additional resources during any natural calamity or disaster”. Article 279A was inserted through the Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act.
Hence, a special rate could be levied for a specified period in order to raise additional resources to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19 with the approval of the GST Council. These are some urgent necessary measures that are to be taken for pumping oxygen to fiscal federalism in India.
Rajmohan Unnithan is Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) from Kasaragod
The IMF’s latest update to its World Economic Outlook spotlights the starkly widening variance in the global recovery from the economic strains caused by the pandemic. And the primary fault line precipitating the divergence of the world’s economies into two blocs — those that are normalising activities from the COVID-19-induced curbs and those that are still struggling — is vaccine access and the pace of vaccination coverage. Three months since its April forecast, the IMF projects the global economy to expand at an unchanged pace of 6% this year. But it sees the world’s advanced economies registering faster growth than forecast earlier, while emerging markets and developing economies are expected to post appreciably slower recoveries. The IMF projects Advanced Economies to grow by 5.6% in 2021, 0.5 percentage point quicker than forecast in April. Undergirding this anticipated acceleration, the U.S. economy is seen expanding by 7% — a 0.6 percentage point upgrade — on the back of an expansive vaccine roll-out that has helped enable substantial normalisation in activity, and expectations of additional fiscal support. Emerging market and developing economies on the other hand are seen expanding by 6.3%, 0.4 percentage point slower than projected in April.
India is seen as the largest drag, with the Fund cutting its growth forecast for South Asia’s largest economy by 3 percentage points to 9.5%. Citing the impact of the ‘severe second wave’ and expected ‘slow recovery in confidence’ as a reason for its downgrade, the IMF has warned that “countries lagging in vaccination, such as India and Indonesia, would suffer the most among G20 economies” in the event of the emergence of a super-contagious virus variant. With just a little over 7% of the population fully vaccinated, India significantly lags the estimated global average of almost 14%, Brazil’s 18% and is way behind the 50% and 55% coverage achieved in the U.S. and the U.K., respectively. The Fund was effusive in its praise for India’s ‘decisive action’ in January, when it forecast 11.5% growth for the fiscal year ending in March 2022, before raising that projection to 12.5% in April, after the economy appeared to rebound well in the January-March quarter. That it has now downgraded its outlook so substantially reflects the extent to which the second wave has severely impaired momentum. With inflation looming as a visceral threat, demand yet to regain traction and political appetite in government for more fiscal support negligible, India’s policymakers have little option but to hasten the vaccine roll-out on a war footing. Failure to expedite the coverage could cost the country dearly.
The institution of a judicial probe by the West Bengal government into allegations of surveillance using advanced spyware on potential Indian targets marks a significant political and legal pushback against the Union government’s attempts to deny the global media revelations and diminish the potent threat such practices pose to democracy. Given Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s penchant for the dramatic and her endless run-ins with the Centre, it may be easy to dismiss the act of a State government ordering an inquiry into what could be a large-scale intelligence-gathering programme of a state actor as mere political chutzpah. However, in the context of the Centre and the ruling BJP’s aggressive refusal to cede any ground on the growing demand for a credible probe into the use and misuse of Pegasus spyware, the West Bengal inquiry acquires both legal and political salience. The Union government claims that illegal surveillance is not possible in India and has not specifically admitted or denied the use of Pegasus, the spyware supplied by Israel’s NSO Group. Ms. Banerjee has rightly invoked the possible grave implications for democracy, public order, the independence of the judiciary and the autonomy of legislators while ordering an inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act. Media reports suggest that those likely targeted included Prashant Kishor, the Trinamool Congress’s strategist during the recent Assembly polls, and Abhishek Banerjee, Ms. Banerjee’s nephew. Regardless of which agency or government was behind it, there are grounds to believe that part of the surveillance covered the State government’s territory, bringing into play its legitimate right to order an investigation.
It is entirely a different matter that the two-member Commission, comprising Justice Madan B. Lokur, former judge of the Supreme Court, and Justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya, former Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, may face severe constraints. For one thing, only some of the potential targets may testify and seek the Commission’s aid in getting their phones forensically examined for evidence of infection by Pegasus. Central agencies may not readily offer their cooperation. The Intelligence Bureau may not be permitted to join the probe, and even if it did, it may claim privilege over documents and records relating to its legitimate interception orders, citing national security and operational sensitivity. In a country where there is no parliamentary oversight over its intelligence agencies, it is unclear how far these agencies and its personnel would cooperate with a probe ordered by a State government. There have been instances — the Jain and Verma Commissions come to mind — of intelligence files being made available to judicial panels. Therefore, it will be both desirable and appropriate if the Centre itself ordered a wide-ranging judicial inquiry into the Pegasus scandal so that the nation has an opportunity to get at the truth.
Pio Tikoduadua is as OG as they come. He just didn’t know it — till he decided to discover Twitter for himself. Earlier this month, the leading opposition MP from Fiji took to tweeting on his own, rather than let his office staff do it. As the 54-year-old parliamentarian tinkered with the new beast, his timeline filled with his TIL moments. Among the things he learnt and posted about: That a retweet is different from a quote tweet and FFS is nothing as polite as “Fiji First Supporters”. When someone asked him to use hashtags in his tweets, he popped up to ask his followers: “Do I have to ask for permission?”
This, as inhabitants of the interwebz would tell you, is highly irregular behaviour. Social media personas are supposed to be cast with the steel of super-confidence and you-are-with-us-or-against-us indignation, leaving no space for doubt, nor those forbidden three words: “I don’t know”. This performance of certitude does, of course, scare off the uninitiated — say, those who do not follow the jargon of tech or even those whose synapses cannot be so easily rewired into the speed of digital culture. But — and this is not admitted enough — all-knowingness is also all-exhausting, for everyone.
That probably explains the warm, fuzzy reactions that Tikoduadua’s old-world courtesy has got on Twitter, as he fumbled with a new medium, frequently admitted his confusion and asked for help — in the middle of a trying political climate and being arrested for protesting against a contentious land bill. “You may be new here sir, but tweeting like a real OG!!!!!” said one Twitter follower, in the ultimate compliment that zoomers can pay to old-school class. “Does that mean an old girl?” Tikoduadua queried. No, Mr Tikoduadua, that means you “da original gangster” — because, even if for a brief while on that hell-site, you made graciousness cool.
The political lull imposed by the pandemic , pierced by the assembly elections that took place amid the public health emergency, is now broken by the Monsoon Session of Parliament. This is welcome. Even as the government steers the nation through crisis, the Opposition needs to make itself heard, asking questions, offering suggestions, calling for correctives and accountability. Of course, the Opposition’s predicament is a challenging one. Already hobbled by its paltry numbers vis-a-vis a government armed with both a decisive majority and the will to dominate, it must also deal with the expansion of executive powers in a pandemic. In this backdrop, the meetings of a wide array of Opposition parties on Tuesday and Wednesday in the national capital, demonstrate a rare jointness and unanimity. Theirs is evidently a bid to marshal arithmetic to amplify their demand — that the government must discuss in both Houses of Parliament the serious allegations sparked by the Pegasus revelations about the use of sophisticated Israeli spyware to potentially target political opponents, public officials, businesspeople and journalists. Other important issues also await Parliament’s attention — the threat of a third Covid wave ahead, children’s vaccination, farmers’ protests, faltering economic recovery, and most recently, violence between Assam and Mizoram, pitting state against state.
For the Opposition, while arithmetic will be key, and stitching up a broad-based coalition will be a daunting goal ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, there are other challenges in the near term. Non- BJP parties will need to weigh competing imperatives. For instance, while it may be necessary to ratchet up pressure on a government that has so far refused to answer questions on Pegasus, and that seems inclined to brazen it out, disrupting the House or staying out of it, is taking a narrow view. At a time when Parliament is in session, parties of the Opposition need to devise ways to bring the most important issues to its table, where they can be discussed, in full public view. Noise has its value, but not when it drowns the voice.
The strategy of stalling proceedings or walking out is counter-productive for an Opposition whose space is shrinking and which does not have many options of making itself seen and heard. In the Monsoon session so far, both Houses have seen repeated adjournments. This needs to change. It is in the Opposition’s, and indeed democracy’s interest, to ensure that political dialogue or face-off takes place inside the House, not outside it, where the playing field is arguably much less level and much more tilted towards the ruling establishment.
Through the second half of the 20th century, independent India and the US have underlined the shared values between the world’s largest democracy and the most powerful. But they had little else to showcase, as Delhi and Washington differed on most regional and international issues. That problem may now be turned on its head, and the unprecedented geopolitical convergence between Delhi and Washington on issues ranging from Afghanistan to the Indo-Pacific is being marred by a potential divergence. The visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted the commitment of Delhi and Washington to expand the scope and intensity of their strategic partnership while averting a potential split over the question of human rights.
The Biden administration has defined the conflict between democracy and autocracy as a major contradiction in contemporary world affairs. In its major statements since it took charge at the end of January, it consistently underlined the shared democratic values with India. Ahead of the visit, officials in Washington said Blinken will take up issues relating to democracy and human rights in conversations with Indian leaders. The Foreign Office in Delhi was quick to respond by saying how proud it was of India’s democratic traditions and that it will not shy away from any conversation. The US’s eagerness to raise issues of democracy and the testy Indian reaction are taking place against the background of growing American concerns about what is seen to be India’s democratic backsliding. The American apprehensions could also be seen as an amplification of anxieties within India over the rise of a majoritarian politics and the undermining of institutions. Of course, concerns about India’s “democratic deficit” are not new and were publicly expressed by President Barack Obama during his visit to India in January 2015. But the idea that India has become an illiberal democracy has gained much ground since then.
Secretary Blinken chose to tread a careful course in Delhi between the Western claims that Indian democracy is besieged and the proposition that the American geopolitical imperative should take precedence over shared political values. Blinken did not hesitate in acknowledging the problems of American democracy; he insisted that both US and Indian democracies were “works in progress”. In his address to a group of civil society leaders and at the joint press conference with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Blinken praised India’s democracy as the “largest expression of free political will” anywhere in the world. He emphasised the importance of Delhi and Washington in jointly countering the global “democratic recession”, by renewing their own democracies, and learning from each other’s experiences. While Blinken has found a way to make a point on democracy, Delhi should acknowledge that the problem is not merely a diplomatic one. It has to understand that only by doing what is right for India, and renewing its commitment to constitutional values at home, can it boost its geopolitical gains.
The Union government has decided to reject the Maruti panel report. The Cabinet has also decided to not take any action against the officers who testified before the commission. The commission, chaired by Justice A C Gupta, was set up to probe allegations against former Defence Minister Bansi Lal. The inquiry was set up by the Janata government. The leaders of the present government had described the setting up of the committee as an act of vendetta. The government also decided to postpone a decision on the follow-up to the Vaidyalingam Committee Report. The report made a prima facie case against Kanti Desai, son of former Prime Minister Morarji Desai, Padma Desai, Kanti Desai’s wife and Gayatri Devi, wife for former PM Charan Singh.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi has said that any act which affected essential services adversely was punishable under the new Maintenance of Essential Services Ordinance. Addressing a rally, she said that lockouts and layoffs also came under the purview of the ordinance. She said the ordinance was a temporary measure and hoped there wouldn’t be any need to extend it beyond six months.
North India flooded
Continuous heavy rain in the last 48 hours has aggravated the flood crisis in Uttar Pradesh, affected road traffic, hit telecommunications in Himachal Pradesh and disrupted life in parts of Punjab and Haryana. Most of the rivers in the region were flowing above the danger line.
William Wyler dead
Hollywood film director William Wyler has passed away, aged 78. Wyler won Oscars for Mrs Miniver, The Best Years Of Our Lives, and Ben Hur.
By stalling Parliament on the one-point agenda of making the government discuss Pegasus, the opposition is making no one happier than the government itself. Treasury benches are quite content as opposition leaders score this self-goal – because a dysfunctional House means the governing party avoids sharp and discomfiting scrutiny on issues ranging from insufficient vaccine supplies to the economic crisis. If the opposition was thinking smartly, it would have strategised on the basis that BJP is probably at its politically most vulnerable now. The Covid second wave is still a raw memory, contrary to earlier official assurances, the pace of vaccination hasn’t picked up even in July, there are serious questions whether GoI’s economic revival packages are enough, we have just had another growth projection downgrade, this time from IMF, agitating rich farmers are as unimpressed by GoI as they were few months ago, and post the last round of state polls, perceptions of BJP’s electoral vulnerability have increased.
This is exactly the moment the opposition should be laser-focussed on interrogating the governing party. And the political cost of not doing so is apparent from the impact of a few constructive opposition efforts. RJD MP Manoj Jha’s powerful House speech on the second wave’s nightmarish experience was a good example. The potency of asking questions was also evident after junior health minister Bharati Pawar’s reply on oxygen-scarcity related deaths triggered nationwide outrage, forcing the ministry to scamper for better data. Varying Covaxin-Covishield production numbers provided by Pawar, in her replies to parliamentary questions, are also opportunities the opposition should have grabbed.
None of this means Pegasus is not an issue, or that the government’s responses to the controversy are adequate. There’s no officially-provided clarity on the private spyware’s use in India. Even recognising that unauthorised snooping is neither a one-party nor a one-country phenomenon, the government has to answer a few basic questions. Also, GoI should know Pegasus may come up in other forums – courts are already being moved on this – where its options for what seems like deliberate vagueness will be narrower. But as far as Parliament is concerned, BJP is in clover. It can pass legislation it wants in short periods of time the House works, and it avoids having to answer questions on India’s worst crisis in decades. The opposition is in danger of letting Pegasus – the winged horse of Greek mythology – fly away with all its political advantages.
Responding to a petition that wanted all beggars to be moved from traffic intersections, the Supreme Court rightly pointed out that it is a socio-economic problem that called for a humane and sympathetic approach, asking the Centre and state governments to ensure vaccinations for the homeless. There is no central law against begging, but 20 states and two UTs have their own anti-beggary legislation. Inspired by European vagrancy laws, the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act is the basis for these laws, which allow the police and social welfare departments to simply seize homeless people, or indeed anyone who looks destitute and send them to detention centres. Their rootlessness and lack of documents make it easier for local authorities to shrug off even nominal responsibility.
In 2018, the Delhi high court read down many sections of the Act, citing the rights to life, livelihood and dignity. The Centre, which earlier drafted a bill to decriminalise begging, had flipped its position to distinguish between ‘voluntary’ and ‘involuntary’ begging. The high court had then pointed out that nobody begs out of choice or to shirk other employment. In fact, it takes great effort and makes little money, and it is grinding poverty, landlessness, discrimination, disability and the lack of education and employment that forces them to beg.
In these times of intense economic distress, destitution is bound to swell. Many better off citizens see people begging or hawking as eyesores, but they are a reminder of our abject failures of social protection. Vagrancy and need were once accommodated in our traditional ethos, through ideals of the bhikshu, or of zakat and charity – but even as those structures crumbled, the state and civil society have not stepped in to compensate. Until the economy can provide decent livelihoods to all, it is unconscionable to make criminals out of the poor.