Editorials - 11-06-2021

The restrictions in place must be based on operational calculations

Last week, the Government of India prohibited retired officials of security and intelligence organisations from publishing anything about their work or organisation without prior clearance from the head of the organisation. Serving civil servants are barred from expressing their personal opinion on policy matters and criticising the government. But once they retire, many of them take part in public debates and enrich our conversations. In a conversation moderated byVarghese K. George, G.K. Pillai and Syed Akbaruddin discuss whether there should be any restrictions on the freedom of expression of a specific category of retired government officials. And if yes, what the limits of such restrictions should be. Edited excerpts:

Mr. Pillai, do you think the restrictions imposed on retired officials of intelligence and security organisations are justifiable?

G.K. Pillai:We have the Official Secrets Act [of 1923]. Officers of intelligence and security organisations and other departments are privy to a lot of sensitive information. So, all of us in the service take into account the fact that the government needs some control over that information leaking into the public.

The issue is whether it is all information on which there is not yet much clarity or whether it is sensitive information. Who decides what is sensitive and what is not? The government would like to have some control so that existing intelligence security operations are not affected by such leakage of information. But there is this fine balance which has to be struck and we have so far been managing that. Many retired officers who are in these sensitive organisations actually informally get their draft vetted by the current head of the security services, so that there is no information which is of operational nature and could get compromised. The government has now put it down in a formal manner and we have to see how it goes.

So, you are in favour of some kind of restrictions. The recent announcement makes this restriction lifelong, and the word ‘sensitive’ is left open to subjective interpretations...

GKP:I would put a time limit — say, five years from the time you retire. It is the operational information which is actually more sensitive. In five years, it won’t be of concern in most cases.

Unlike in the U.S., for instance, books by former intelligence officials are infrequent in India. Given that, how do you see the move, Ambassador?

Syed Akbaruddin:The tradition of understanding history through eyewitness accounts is not new. That tradition, unfortunately, in the past, as far as India is concerned, has been weakened. We gain and the public is better informed of activities, including those taken for the benefit of our own country’s interests, when information is shared from different perspectives. And that should be the broad theme.

Increasingly, a large number of people at different levels have returned to the tradition. The former Leader of the Opposition, L.K. Advani, has written an excellent book about his own experiences, for instance. There is always tension between the government’s desire to keep information secret on national security grounds and the public’s right to information held by public authorities. But there is a near-universal consensus among decision-makers, not only in India but elsewhere too, that some measure of secrecy is necessary to protect authorised national security activities such as intelligence gathering, military operations, sometimes confidentiality of deliberations and sometimes personal privacy.

So, in a democracy, the public has a right to know. Questions related to national security are considered holy. We have ongoing debates on how best we can ensure democratic accountability of security agencies. Is our problem one of too much of information being in the public domain or too little transparency in the functioning of our national security apparatus?

GKP:One way in which information is actually given to the public is through the declassification of files. In the U.S., at the end of 30 years, after a rigorous examination, they declassify most files and make them available in the public domain. In India, we don’t declassify information enough. For example, the Henderson Brooks report on the 1962 conflict with China. It’s been more than 60 years and I really don’t think there’s anything in that report which we should be worried about now. Copies of it are on the Internet. So, why are we keeping it a secret? Similarly, as Home Secretary, I had suggested that we declassify the Justice Mukherjee report on Subhas Chandra Bose and send it to the National Archives.

In democracies like the U.S., there is a challenge that the public will have no way of verifying independently what security agencies put out as information. There is a strong case for increasing transparency, but the direction that democracies in general are taking is the opposite — they want to be in control of more and more information.

SA:Reconciling these divergent interests of national security and the right of the public to know is an ongoing challenge. A stable security policy is always hard to achieve since the boundaries of official secrecy cannot be clearly articulated. And national security issues keep evolving, sometimes dramatically. So, you will always have an unsatisfactory situation regarding this.

That said, I will go back to where Mr. Pillai mentioned declassification. Now, declassification is an important tool in raising public awareness after a specified period. In our case, there are two issues. One is that we are sometimes less than forthright about declassification. We also over-classify things which perhaps need not have been classified at all. For example, five years ago or maybe less than that, we contested many elections in the UN and one was a very tough election. At that time, we sent some messages, cables, etc. All of that was classified then. But today, everybody knows what happened, the success was ours. Do we still need to keep that classified?

Coming to the issue of democracies. Now, we need to understand that we don’t want an explosion of deep throats. If you block all avenues of information, or gradually reduce them, you will have to resort to deep throat-kind of activities, which is not good for any society. So, the U.S. itself moved long beyond deep throat. But I think after 9/11, there have been concerns about national security. That’s why a lot of issues relating to national security are being tightened up. So, the phenomenon of non-disclosure of information can be traced back to almost two decades ago. Once you are in that space, it is difficult to roll back because that’s the nature of the beast — that once there is a status quo, you find it difficult to pull back. So, until those are addressed, I would say that this individually will not be addressed so easily.

I think both of you broadly agree that the restrictions that you are favouring must be based on operational calculations. Both of you seem to be okay with the sharing of more information...

GKP:Yeah, I think so. During the 1971 War, every time Pakistan said India was interfering in Bangladesh, we denied it. Once the war was over, a number of books were written on the topic by top Army Commanders, Border Security Force [personnel] and others on how they operated inside Bangladesh. I don’t think the Official Secrets Act has been invoked against anybody who has written about that.

So, we can afford to be much more liberal in terms of declassifying information?

GKP:Declassification is an area where everybody plays safe. I think at least 50% of the top-secret files in the Government of India can be declassified straightaway. Thousands of files were declassified when I was in the Home Ministry, but we still have thousands more which can be declassified. This is not a priority for the department. And that is why I’m also in favour of a time limit.

Do you think compared to other democracies, India is stricter when it comes to sharing official secrets?

SA:If you look at the tradition of these transparency efforts, the first such effort actually goes back to Europe, and by centuries, when parliaments wanted access to the executive authority. However, it was only towards the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century that this proliferation of what we call the right to information in the Indian context took place globally. There are, I think, 95 to 200 countries today which have these disclosure arrangements in place. They still haven’t covered the entire expanse, because there are, of course, caveats to this. But if you see it in the historical context, the availability of information is certainly much more now than it was, say, 25-30 years ago. Whether it is adequate, my answer would be no. Whether it should be expanded — yes. Whether it should be absolute — again, my answer would be no, because no rights to freedom of expression can be absolute; they will always be restricted in certain contexts. It will be best for all of us if these are clarified from time to time, because these circumstances keep evolving and clarification and enunciation of this is a part of the growth of transparency, whether in India or elsewhere.

Both of you are custodians of quite a few official and national secrets which you have accumulated through your careers. I assume that both of you will write books soon. How much will you be willing to reveal and what will be your consideration when it comes to how much to tell? How will you balance public interest and the existing regulations and your own intellectual honesty?

SA:Your assumption is not wrong; I am working on something. As a citizen of a free and democratic country, which is based on the free flow of information and the right of the public to be aware about situations, I would start from the premise that as much as is feasible can be revealed without, of course, revealing national secrets or difficult situations. In policy debates, you may have differences of opinion. Those differences can be reflected without indicating where individuals are involved. I would come from the proposition that greater transparency, greater public awareness, and the tradition of eyewitnesses providing factual perspectives of their own should be my pathway.

P.V. Narasimha Rao once told an interviewer that a lot of secrets will perish with him. How much of the secrets that you know can be shared, Mr. Pillai? More than 50%?

GKP:I think about 80% can be shared. Some 20% can’t be shared partly because the people involved are living contemporaries. And especially if they are in the political sphere, you don’t want either their opponents or them to take advantage of what you have written. So, those are some of the reservations we have. Insofar as general administration, governance issues, policy, etc. are concerned, I don’t think there is much of a problem in trying to put some of those things down. Many IAS officers have done it.

In India, we are sometimes less than forthright about declassification. We also over-classify things which perhaps need not have been classified at all.

Syed Akbaruddin

More than the biological virus, civilisation is experiencing a pandemic of barriers and barricades across the world

The more I see images of racist violence, of the dispossessed sea of humanity travelling hundreds of miles by foot to reach their homes, of migrants being turned back by xenophobic immigration policies at the Mexican border, of vulnerable hungry people moving from Somalia to Jordan, or Bangladesh to India, or of a white policeman suffocating an African-American with his knee pressed into his neck, the more I am compelled to think that the world needs to rise above the frenzy of labels of race, gender, caste, religion and political bias, and begin, instead, to address as one people the issues that are far more crucial to humanity. More than the biological coronavirus, civilisation is indeed experiencing an excruciating world-wide pandemic of barriers and barricades, a disease that since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has jumped from a little more than a dozen border walls to over 60.

The real image

But a different image comes to mind when you visualise a borderless earth from far away in space. The arsenal of concertina wires and checkposts are not visible. You do not see the barriers of language, culture or distance from here. And you do not see the blockade of Gaza where two million Palestinians “caged in a zoo” that could easily be a toxic slum with negligible access to medicines, food, electricity or drinking water. The landmass or the seas and oceans stretch across the globe interspersed with rivers and mountains. The mind begins to wander across the mountains, an eternal tranquil stretch across the face of the earth.

Absorbed in the landscape, I begin to imagine a world undivided by race, gender, religion or nationalities, a global consciousness unabashedly pro-diversity that is like the white cloud moving freely or the blue sky stretching far into the horizon, a peaceful land that gives you a deep sense of belonging. The cloud is not fenced in like many threatened by death behind a razor-sharp fence that is reproduced globally, in every continent, in every nation, in every state. However, at the back of my mind, I can feel the hidden bazooka-like cameras revealing sorrowfully the apprehensive face of a mother crossing the border from Mexico to Arizona to reunite with a lost child. Cold-blooded xenophobic immigrant laws, threats and detentions clash with the deep sense of peace that I experience from the placid landscape before my eyes, resonating a flash of some utopian borderless world that might someday become a reality.

Rights for all

But as a river bursts out of a dam that its gushing waters find irksome, fences too are broken by rebels incarcerated for no crime but the love of freedom or a happier tomorrow. How long can you keep a human being locked up when the crime is struggling for the human rights of all? The insatiable desire to breakout becomes the carnival of the oppressed, an iconic symbol of that ray of hope that sustains the power of imagination and reclaims the space for freedom and the dream of reality where the past meets the future in the present.

The wandering cloud or the effortless river is a souvenir of rebels dancing on the edge of chaos, between the broken and the built, each telling her untold story that profoundly surpasses in its intensity the single overriding story that is always ideologically frozen in its linearity and intransigence. Their action is the action of life, powerful as the winds converging into a whirlwind, distinct, and yet a reflection of the many alliances uniting to target the rich and the powerful in their palaces and in the government buildings gradually beginning to feel insecure.

Tyranny of the majority

The fence is a testimony of death and terror of race and ultra-nationalism, something Mexicans or Palestinians or we in India can very well realise, cut off as we are from the rest of the world lest we infect it with an unsurpassable wave of death and human suffering. We stand fractured by not only borders but political and economic and social and ethnic differences. Surveillance, lockdowns and military vigilance at the borders are a lame excuse of self defence camouflaging the tyranny of the majority aiming at the expulsion of the “other”.

Between the rich and the poor, between the business class and the tourist class travelling in the same plane, reaching the same destination or crashing together, between an upmarket gated community and the suburbia of poverty and hunger, between the mosque and the temple, there is the jarring sense of imbalance, screaming out in a burlesque of the inordinate magnificence of bigotry and self-indulgence.

An onslaught

Sorrowfully, racism now seems to be embedded in the very idea of the fence. The world overflows with stern vigilantism, the cold and heartless bureaucracy, the secret agents and the terrorising state apparatus. The onslaught is on the people, jobless and homeless, with no choices in their own land. They leave their homes seeking a better way of life as well as serve the host country supplying it the labour that it so desperately needs to uphold its economy. Migration occurs owing to the unbearable suffering in war-torn homelands lacking social security, or the construction of mega-dams that drive out the native farmers from their land, the only means of their subsistence. As the author Naomi Klein says, they “are increasingly treated like cargo, with no rights at all”. Rich nations who believe in free trade do not realise that the migrants who have come to their shores in the face of death are not their “clients but sellers” of their labour, their blood, sweat and tears. How long will they remain silent?

If you listen carefully, you can hear the whispering of the voices from below, the voices the rich and the powerful refrain from hearing. How long will they ignore the farmers, the artisans, the builders? How long will they turn a deaf ear to the demands of those who want to break out of the confines of chauvinism or racial fanaticism? How long will their voices go unheard from across the fences, voices fortified with the words of resistance not for rewards but for the vision of peace and freedom, of human rights and dignity that await people of all races, of all colours of all ethnicities, of all genders?

These voices cannot submit to the powerful and the rich. They cannot because they are on the other side of the fence opposing the rich nations which meet annually in sickeningly opulent venues, discussing and adjudicating on the poor and the deprived on whose land they now exercise their will and their right. Armed policemen keep the hungry and the deprived out, and if ever they dare to cross over, the unfortunate wither away in detention centres behind the impenetrable walls of the hawk-eyed state. The fence keeps them at bay from vast stretches of land preventing thousands from cultivating on the land that rightly belongs to them. Surely, clean air, drinking water, health care, land and shelter and food are their birthright.

The power of peace

The only option left is to peacefully send across the fences their messages and songs of resistance that reverberate across the world with the ideas of revolution and hope, of emancipation and freedom from the tyranny of the handful who rule the world. The rebel voices, sooner or later, will remember their poets and the songs of their past that will penetrate the fences, tear them down in globally interconnected social movements when the extremes of wealth and poverty will no longer be endured. The language of diversity and dignity would soon engulf the unilateral predatory game plans of the rich and the mighty.

Shelley Walia is Professor Emeritus at Panjab University, Chandigarh and is the author of ‘Humanities at the Crossroads’

The controversy in West Bengal, over political and administrative issues, is an aberration in the federal polity

The Centre-West Bengal controversy on the conduct of Bengal’s former Chief Secretary, Alapan Bandyopadhyay in the final days of his tenure, in May, has thrown up several political and administrative issues that deserve our attention for the future health of our federal polity.

In the overall context, there are two elements which need to be kept in mind while discussing this subject. First, India is a ‘union of states’ and in this union, the State governments are not subordinate agencies of the central government. There are, no doubt, matters enunciated in our Constitution, where the Centre’s decisions have primacy over those of the State governments, but this does not extend to holding of meetings, even if these are called by the Prime Minister. A State’s functionaries — both political and administrative — are requested or advised to attend such meetings and this necessitates courtesy and consideration on the part of both sides. It is possible that due to the no-holds-barred electoral campaigns in the recently held Assembly elections, which included West Bengal, these considerations were given a go-by; the result is an unseemly controversy which is best avoided for healthy Centre-State relations.

Relief and the third tier

Second, the meeting that became a flashpoint was the one called by the Prime Minister on May 28 to review cyclone relief work — in connection with cyclone Yaas — in West Bengal. The allegation is that Mr. Bandyopadhyay reached the meeting late and then left abruptly along with West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, to visit the cyclone-affected areas in her State. In real life, most relief and rehabilitation work in the event of a natural calamity or management of a disaster is of a local nature and is carried out by the district, sub-divisional and village level officials working under the State governments. Over time, the States have conceded space to the Centre for disaster management for getting financial, technical and logistical support. Even then, the comprehensive framework under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (https://bit.ly/3ivdlAd) operates mainly at the State, district and local levels.

The conduct of Mr. Bandyopadhyay, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, must be seen in this overall context along with the central government’s reactions which together raise issues regarding the norms of civil service conduct, political and administrative arrogance and revengeful behaviour. New Delhi has sent showcause notices and a charge sheet for Mr. Bandyopadhyay’s failure in fully and properly participating in the meeting called by the Prime Minister in West Bengal for cyclone relief review. He has since replied to the Centre.

The services and fine balance

The All-India Services, that includes the IAS, were conceived by the makers of our Constitution to provide uniformity and high standards of public service in both the Centre and the States, and to provide a measure of administrative unity in our diverse and plural society. The architecture has been exquisitely designed. To ensure quality and as a measure of convenience, IAS officers are recruited by the Union Public Service Commission and formally appointed by the President of India. But they are ultimately borne in State cadres which makes them subject to the control of the respective State governments as well, especially when they are in the employment of their States. To that extent their position is somewhat different from that of the central services who go through similar recruitment procedures but are under the Centre’s total control.

The IAS officers work for the central government on “deputation” from their respective State cadres and during their central deputation, their loyalty is of course to the central government. IAS officers will face acute trust-deficit, if while working for a State government, they show preferential allegiance or loyalty to central government functionaries by reason of the fact that they were initially appointed by the President of India.

High-handed approach

As a measure of the vindictive assertion of its rights and power, Mr. Bandyopadhyay was initially called to the Centre on ‘deputation’ and asked to report in New Delhi on the day he was to superannuate. It is a different matter that he chose to retire on that day instead of availing himself of the three-month extension given to him earlier. Several commentators have pointed out that the “concurrence” of the relevant State government is required before an officer of its cadre is deputed to the Centre. Also, there must be prior consultation between the Centre and the State for the latter’s viewpoint to be overruled. The Central government did not exactly cover itself with glory by violating these requirements.

Further, action has been initiated against Mr. Bandyopadhyay under Section 51(b) of the Disaster Management Act for failing to comply with the Centre’s direction to attend the review meeting taken by the Prime Minister.

This is an absurd interpretation of the provision that is meant to deal with cases of defiance of the lawful orders or action of the competent authorities (handling disaster management) under the Act. Besides, Mr. Bandyopadhyay was with the Chief Minister, his administrative boss. It is obvious that in the performance of his official duties, an All-India service officer, or any officer for that matter, will have to act under the direction of his official superior. Obviously, Mr. Bandyopadhyay listened to his boss; this is what it should be when IAS officers work for a State government or any other government; otherwise, there will be chaos and indiscipline in administration.

It is very unfortunate that for some inexplicable reasons, a mountain has been made of a molehill, as the cliché goes. In these circumstances one misses the sagacity, wisdom and sophistication of some of our tall political leaders who steered the destiny of our nation in the past.

Niranjan Patnaik, a former Minister of the Odisha Government, is presently the President of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee

A decade of protecting and reviving the ecosystem will help India in various ways

There has never been a more urgent need to restore damaged ecosystems. The COVID-19 pandemic is a direct result of the degradation of natural areas, species loss, and exploitation. Zoonotic pathogens are more frequently jumping from wildlife to humans, creating public health emergencies. Healthier ecosystems and a healthier respect for the wild spaces of our world will give us a healthier planet and healthier people.

It is time to change how we cultivate our land, use our soils, exploit coastal and marine ecosystems, and manage our forests. The damage has been done over decades and the destruction cannot be reversed overnight. But we need to start somewhere. That’s why this World Environment Day, the UN Environment Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization launched the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean.

India must participate actively in this decade of restoration. Ten years of sustained action to protect and revive the country’s ecosystems will help India to end poverty by enhancing livelihoods, combat climate change by reviving natural carbon stores, and halt the collapse of biodiversity by rebuilding homes for wildlife. Ecosystem restoration benefits people and nature.

Path towards restoration

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already set India on this path. In 2019, he announced that India would raise its ambition for restoration, promising an increase in restored degraded land from 21 to 26 million hectares by 2030. There are several steps we can take to build on this commitment. First, there must be a concerted effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Climate change is dangerous to humans, but also to the fragile ecosystems that sustain all life on earth. Globally, we must reduce net carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010. And we must reach net-zero emissions by 2050 to have a hope of achieving the 1.5°C Paris Agreement target. India needs to work towards this by transforming energy systems, land use, agriculture, forest protection, urban development, infrastructure, and lifestyles. Crucially, this has to be aligned with conserving and restoring biodiversity and minimising air and water pollution and waste. Given the interconnectedness of nature, all problems have to be dealt with simultaneously. We already have the goals, targets, commitments, and mechanisms under international environmental conventions that can direct this ambition. Let us use them.

Second, we need to transform our economic, financial and production systems towards sustainability. Including natural capital in decision-making, eliminating environmentally harmful subsidies, and investing in low-carbon and nature-friendly technologies are key elements of this. By making investments in sustainable development financially attractive, we can shift the financial flows and investment patterns towards sustainability. We already have the knowledge base, the scientific expertise, and the policymaking know-how through national and international scientific bodies that can guide this process. Let us use it.

Finally, the power to revive our environment lies with us as individuals. For a better future, India must work towards creating food systems that work with nature, reduce waste, and are adaptive to change and resilient to shocks. Empowering small-scale farmers and women farmers, changing patterns of consumption and challenging social norms and business practices are key. This can be achieved through capacity building and education. We already have the power to effect change through cooperation and collaboration, and through changing how we consume, travel and use energy. Let us not shirk this responsibility. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres has stated, making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century.

Atul Bagai is Head, UN Environment Programme India and Shoko Noda is UNDP Resident Representative, India

Global powers should not stay away fromthe growing threat posed by Islamists in Africa

The massacre of at least 160 people in a border village in Burkina Faso over the weekend is a grim reminder of the threat the Sahel region faces from Islamist terrorism. Nobody has claimed responsibility, but Burkinabe authorities have named the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), which has carried out hundreds of terror strikes in recent years. The security situation in Burkina Faso, which saw its first major Islamist terrorist attack in 2015, has deteriorated steadily, especially along the borders with Niger and Mali. This has been the case with much of the Sahel region, a 5,900-km-long semi-arid territory. It has seen terrorist groups expanding their networks and stepping up attacks on civilians and soldiers. The Burkina Faso attack occurred after 137 people were killed by jihadists in Niger, in March. In Nigeria, Islamists control swathes of territories and have carried out abductions and attacks, including gunning down 27 people in a village on Sunday. Mali has been fighting terror groups since 2013.

Four main terror outfits operate in the region — the ISGS, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), the Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, the local al-Qaeda branch in Mali, and Boko Haram. Of these, the ISGS and Jama’at Nasr are reportedly in alliance to expand their influence in the Burkina-Mali-Niger border region, where they shoot down anyone who does not declare their loyalty to the jihadists. Boko Haram and the ISWAP are fighting each other but control territories in northeastern Nigeria. France has deployed troops in the region for counter-insurgency operations and is helped by the U.S., which has a drone base in Niger. The regime change policies of the U.S. and France are partly to be blamed for the problems the Sahel countries are facing today. When a NATO invasion removed Muammar Gaddafi from power in Libya in 2011, the region lost a stable bulwark against militias and jihadists. Libya, having fallen into anarchy and civil war, became a jihadist breeding ground. When trouble spread to Mali, France made a military intervention in 2013. But it did not defeat the insurgency, which spread beyond Mali’s borders. Now, jihadists find safe havens in the lawless deserts of the Sahel. When the IS-militant infrastructure was destroyed in Iraq and Syria, their foot soldiers fled to Africa, regrouping themselves in the region. The recent attacks should serve as a warning to all stakeholders. Major global powers, which worked together with regional players to defeat the IS in West Asia, should not stay away from the growing threat from Africa. They should, along with the UN, help the Sahel countries build capacity and institutions, offer stable governance and adopt sustainable counter-insurgency strategies.

A mechanism for CMs to cooperateon issues of Centre-State relations is welcome

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s call for cooperation among non-NDA counterparts in other States to support farmers agitating against three controversial laws made in June 2020 seems part of a larger political project. It is meant to go beyond aiding the farmers, who fear that these laws could make them more vulnerable to market fluctuations. But the focus on farm laws, which the Government says would make farming more competitive and remunerative, is an important start. While the Government reiterated this week that MSP for various crops would continue, the fact remains that regardless of the merits of these laws, they were made without adequate consultations with parties, States and the stakeholders. After a meeting with farmer leaders from Uttar Pradesh, Ms. Banerjee said she accepted their request to speak to other Chief Ministers who are not in the NDA. While reiterating her demand to repeal the three laws, she has proposed a virtual conference of CMs with the farmers and a joint letter to the Centre on the issue. Many CMs are likely to agree with her, despite political rivalries among them. At least two other CMs who were elected along with her in the recent Assembly elections share her position on the farm laws — Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan and Tamil Nadu’s M.K. Stalin. In Kerala, the previous Assembly had in December 2020 passed a unanimous resolution seeking the repeal of these laws.

That said, all non-NDA CMs may not be willing to be part of a joint platform because of their individual calculations and expediency, and the fear of retribution by the Centre. Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal, for instance, had sought the support of other CMs against unilateral actions by the Centre that curtailed the powers of his government. Ms. Banerjee had vociferously supported him, but Mr. Kejriwal was not reciprocative when she raised concerns of overreach by the Centre. The recent joint efforts by some CMs to persuade the Centre to withdraw its previous vaccination policy did not get wholehearted support from others. The CMs of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, Naveen Patnaik and Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, have sought to keep the Centre in good humour. Nevertheless, the joint efforts by CMs did lead to a change in the vaccination policy. Joint strategy on farm laws could be more difficult as their impact is uneven across States. But a broader point raised by Ms. Banerjee, about the Centre’s tendency to ignore the States while formulating policy, is salient. She has also called for a continuing mechanism for CMs to cooperate on issues of Centre-State relations. Turning this into a combative platform could do more harm than good, but it is a suggestion worth pursuing. Cooperative federalism, a concept that Prime Minister Narendra Modi advocates, can be pursued more meaningfully through continuous and harmonious communication with CMs. A conversation on farm laws could be a good beginning.

Schools reach out to the media for publicity but are averse to scrutiny of any kind

As a reporter covering school education forThe Hindu’s Chennai city bureau, my work entailed speaking to teachers and school heads — of both public and private institutions — regularly. Some of them have given me crucial tip-offs about policy changes, and shared valuable insights on trends that only they, as practitioners, would understand.

Many of these schools, especially those privately run, consider themselves ‘top brands’ in education. They believe every event held on their premises — be it the annual day, sports day, science project, literary club inauguration, or some Rotaract club activity — is worthy of publicity. In their view, some coverage, any coverage, is justified for their effort and “innovativeness”. “Even a few lines would be an encouragement for our children,” the charismatic school principals would say.

All the same, these schools proved thin-skinned when their institutions were in the news for the wrong reasons. Some of the reactions following the recent, troubling allegations of sexual harassment in city schools reminded me of that aversion to any scrutiny or criticism. Responses from the school managements and many alumni reflected a staunch belief that their school could not err. Past pupils’ loyalty to their alma mater seemed to trump reason.

It took me back to two important stories from a decade ago, whose coverage invoked similar reactions at the time. One was a swimming pool accident in 2012 at a famous city school, in which a nine-year-old boy tragically drowned. A subsequent police case meant the issue, while taking its legal course, received wide coverage, and rightly put the spotlight on children’s safety in schools – a concern that is never redundant.

Another story I covered was in 2011, two years after the historic Right to Education Act was passed. One of its clauses mandated that private schools reserve 25% of their seats to children from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups in the neighbourhood, and provide them free and compulsory elementary education, for which the government would bear the cost.

Some schools reacted in telling ways — from terming the rules “very damaging to the class and the entire school”, to asking parents to protest against the Act through letters that said: “Your child’s quality of education will suffer seriously as the teachers will have a very difficult time managing and educating a few children who are not qualified for the particular class or who are very difficult to manage.”

The institutions barely hid their class bias. Their pride and brand consciousness outweighed everything else, including any sensitivity to the Act’s thrust on fairness or social justice. A few school heads even casually threw in the “I’ll speak to your editor” line when we sought a reaction. Clearly, they did not appreciate the media asking them questions.

As far as our reporting requirement goes, we need to establish the facts, give the context, with the perspective of those affected, as well as the reaction of the said schools to the concerns raised. But invariably, these private schools suggested that they were beyond public scrutiny. If critical thinking and a spirit of inquiry is at the heart of education, it is ironic that schools are so averse to questions, let alone the slightest introspection.

Tokyo, June 10: A political crisis is developing in Japan over Article 9 of the Constitution, under which the nation renounces war forever. While the Japanese Government slowly and cautiously reviews the country’s Constitution — in contrast to the current constitutional convention fever in the Philippines — a strong rightist bloc, headed by the former Prime Minister, Mr. Nobusuke Kishi, is seeking to legalise a five-year plan to expand Japan’s “self-defence” forces by doing away with Article 9 completely. Japan’s forces now total 1,80,000 men. Despite the large support which Mr. Kishi has in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (L.D.P.), the government is reluctant to provoke parliamentary opposition and Japan’s largely pacifist public opinion into a repetition of the anti-war frenzy which overwhelmed the country in 1950 when the Japan-U.S. mutual security treaty was signed. A Constitutional Review Council, under Mr. Osamu Inaba, is quietly working out a consensus between the Kishi partisans — numbering 264 out of the 540 L.D.P. — and the anti-revisionists within the party who are reluctant to rock the ship of state at this particular time.