Editorials - 24-03-2021

In the rain of promises in the political manifestos there is no evidence of the wherewithal

The two political fronts of Kerala, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the United Democratic Front (UDF), have now presented their manifestos to the electorate. They are joined by distributivism, competing with one another in offering welfare payments. Almost no section has been left out — the old, the youth, the housewife.

First off the mark with its manifesto was the ruling LDF. Among its 900 promises reported in the Malayalam language press was the gradual enhancement of the current monthly pension of Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 2,500 by the time its term ends. Not to be outdone, the UDF has in its manifesto promised a pension of Rs. 3,000 and a monthly payout of Rs. 6,000 per household to Below Poverty Line families. These are only a part of the rain of promises.

Kerala Model is unsustainable

The manifestos have been received with scepticism by the public, for they could not but have wondered how the fresh expenditures will be funded. Kerala today has one of the highest levels of public debt per capita among India’s States. Without fresh resource mobilisation — of which intent there is no indication in either party’s manifesto —enhanced public expenditure assures higher levels of public debt in the future. The economics profession globally agreed that during the novel coronavirus pandemic the level of public debt ought not to hold back necessary public expenditure to aid relief and recovery. However, in the case of Kerala, we are talking of the structural feature of expenditures being elevated in relation to revenue.

It is in this sense that the so-called ‘Kerala Model’, in which the State focuses on welfare, has been identified as unsustainable by economist K.K. George several decades ago. The State’s political parties have not addressed this issue and conduct themselves as if this is not important. Inter-generational debt shifting, i.e., leaving debt incurred by us to be paid by future generations, is not a trivial issue. It is justified when the borrowing creates capital assets that generate revenues into the future, but when the borrowing is undertaken to finance our own consumption, leaving behind nothing but the debt for them is unconscionable. Actually, even if physical assets are created, they should generate adequate revenue. A blanket refusal to turn in a surplus by charging for public services is, therefore, problematic.

It is this consideration that leaves the public particularly sceptical of the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) initiative. Perhaps the Kerala government has done due diligence that demonstrates its financial viability but it has an obligation to lay the facts of the business model, in particular the forecast stream of revenues, on the table.

A different welfarism here

Individual well-being enabled by public action is a perfectly legitimate aspiration in a democracy. However, what distinguishes the decades’ long practice in Kerala is that it is a form of welfarism far from what is generally understood when we speak of a welfare state. Though originally imagined by the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, it was in western Europe that the welfare state achieved fruition. Its distinguishing feature is the provision of health and education by the state. There are pensions too. So, it is not as if the provisions in Kerala are improper in any way.

What distinguishes a genuine welfare state from the Kerala Model is that in a genuine welfare state, benefits are financed by taxes. There were two considerations underlying this design in the original. The first was the crucial issue of financial viability. The second was to give citizens a sense of ownership of the programmes, signifying that the welfare state is not some sort of munificence extended to them by the political class but something they had contributed to themselves. Thus, the British institution of the National Health Service, the envy of richer countries which not even Margaret Thatcher dared dismantle, has eventually been paid for by that country’s workers. The tax to national income ratio in the United Kingdom is among the highest in the world, and has remained consistently over 40%. Kerala’s is not just much lower but has often been lower than in the other southern States.

Point of coverage

Before moving on, it is worth noting that in Kerala, there is also the question of coverage. The State has one of the highest percentages of children in private schools and out-of-pocket expenditure on health in India. Whether this is due to inadequate provision or the poor quality of service in the public sector is to be ascertained, but at least as far as schooling is concerned, it is difficult to believe that the government cannot provide schooling of the highest quality. The feature is more likely related to inflexible and shoddy governance.

The issue of funding is not irrelevant either. For political parties, the temptation to be seen to be handing out welfare payments is too great to resist, which, in the absence of a will to mobilise resources, can only mean that there will be less for health and education. The meagre resources mobilised end up being spread thin, across innumerable government schemes.

On employment generation

It is difficult to imagine that Kerala will be able to permanently fund its welfare schemes through borrowing. At least, that would only be possible at ever rising interest rates, leading to a higher fiscal burden, if not actually a debt trap. At that stage, the welfare schemes would have to end, or a Herculean effort to raise revenues would have to be initiated. In other words, there is no alternative to funding welfare schemes via higher taxation or some other source of public funding (such as oil revenues in Saudi Arabia). Funding can also be through contributions made by workers, as in the case of Europe’s welfare states. However, this will be possible only if everyone is employed for at least some stage of their lives.

For this, economic policy must ensure that levels of employment remain high. There is little awareness of this in Kerala at the level of either state or civil society. Seen from the manifestos in this forthcoming Assembly election, the political parties have no programme for employment generation.

To place the enormity of the challenge in perspective, on the occasion of the presentation of the last Budget, the government stated in the Legislative Assembly that the unemployment rate for youth in Kerala is 36%. This is much higher than the national average.

Broaden the tax net

While it is clear that public resource mobilisation in Kerala falls short of its welfarist ambition, it is not widely known that even this reluctant mobilisation is skewed in its impact. Jose Sebastian, an independent observer of the State’s public finances, has pointed out that the State’s taxes largely derive from four sources: levies on liquor, lotteries, petrol and motor vehicles, respectively. These are items of mass consumption, implying that it is the working class that contributes most to resource mobilisation.

This implies, that as the revenue goes to the provision of public services, it is the working class that financially supports the welfarist economic policy stance of the political class, with the middle class benefiting disproportionately. In Kerala, the tax net needs to be broadened from the point of view of both equity and buoyancy. This could start with a focus on the conspicuous consumption underlying the rampant construction of often unused luxury houses in the State. Steeply progressive taxation of property stands out by its absence. It was once understood to be the hallmark of socialism.

Pulapre Balakrishnan teaches at Ashoka University, Sonipat, Haryana

Parliament has sidestepped the law laid down by bringing in thoughtless amendments to the NCT Bill

“At the bottom of all tributes paid to democracy is the little man [and woman], walking into a little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper [now EVMs] — no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of the point.” These were the memorable words of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, which the Indian Supreme Court endorsed. The court added that “the little large Indian shall not be hijacked from the course of free and fair elections by mob muscle methods, or subtle perversion of discretion by men dressed in little brief authority”.

Contents of the Bill

If the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which has been passed by the Lok Sabha, is enacted, the little large Indians of the national capital may as well keep off the polling booths, for their vote will be rendered meaningless. The popular government they have elected will not be able to act on matters which the Constitution vests in it the competence to do. This Bill is an extraordinary legislative misadventure. It states the opposite of what the apex court said when it interpreted Article 239AA of the Constitution. Strangely, however, the Bill proclaims that it seeks to give effect to the interpretation.

First, the Bill says the expression “Government” referred to in any law to be made by the Legislative Assembly in Delhi shall mean the “Lieutenant Governor”. Second, it vests in the Lieutenant Governor the power to refuse assent and reserve a Bill passed by the Legislative Assembly for the consideration of the President, if, in his opinion, the Bill incidentally covers any of the matters which fall outside the purview of the Assembly’s powers. Third, and most drastically, the Bill says before taking any executive action, the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor shall be obtained on such matters as may be specified.

The Supreme Court has the last word on the interpretation of the Constitution. That constitutional provision (Article 239AA) remains unamended. Any legislation which speaks to the contrary would be plainly illegal. The basis of the judgment remaining the same, the attempt in the Bill is to legislatively overrule a judgment. That would be an exercise of judicial power, which Parliament does not possess. All that the Bill does is to regurgitate the rebuffed arguments of the Central government by the court. The court stated inGovt. of NCT of Delhi v. Union of India(2018): “The respondents... highlight that by the constitutional amendment, introduction of the 1991 Act and the Rules of Business, the Lieutenant Governor functions as the administrator in the truest sense... They would submit that though Delhi has been conferred a special status, yet that does not bring any new incarnation. The submission, as we perceive, destroys the fundamental marrows of the conception, namely special status. It, in fact, adorns the Lieutenant Governor with certain attributes and seeks to convey that NCT of Delhi remains where it was.”

The court was loath to centralise the power in the Lieutenant Governor and went only thus far to say that the Council of Ministers should keep the Lieutenant Governor informed of its decisions. This would enable any decision on which there was a difference of opinion between the Lieutenant Governor and the government to be referred to the President. It said the power to refer to the President was an exception; that the Lieutenant Governor need not in a mechanical manner refer every decision; and most important, he will be guided by the concept of constitutional morality and the question of prior concurrence was out of question, since that would set at nought the ideals of representative governance and democracy.

The idea was twofold. The earlier judgment inSamsher Singh v. State of Punjab(1974) had ruled against the deification of any individual like the Lieutenant Governor, for it had warned that elections would then become but “Dead Sea fruits”. Second, the voice of the citizen could not go unrecognised. “This is only possible if the agency enacting and enforcing the law comprises of the elected representatives chosen by the free will of the citizens,” thundered the court inGovt. of NCT of Delhi v. Union of India. The elected representatives and the Council of Ministers, being accountable to the voters of Delhi, must have the appropriate powers so that they can perform their functions effectively and efficiently, the court emphasised. Any other interpretation, felt the court, would nullify the concepts of pragmatic federalism and collaborative federalism.

Administrative chaos

Sidestepping the law laid down, and in a manner as to herald administrative chaos, by these thoughtless amendments, the Lieutenant Governor has been made synonymous with the Government. The government, a product of the beautiful democratic process, is replaced by one individual, a nominee of the Central government, who will occupy office at its pleasure. Not stopping there, the Bill vests in that individual enormous powers to refer all and sundry matters to the President. Now it is so well settled in constitutional law that what is to be seen is the pith and substance and not incidental aspects, while testing the competence of a legislature. That is why the referral power was to be an exceptional power and a confrontational attitude was to be abhorred. The further mandate in the Bill that before taking any executive action, the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor needs to be taken is in the teeth of the court’s interpretation, which only wanted the Lieutenant Governor to be kept informed.

The majestic institutions that adorn Lutyens’ Delhi and the embassies of foreign nations that punctuate it symbolically convey a lot. Delhi cannot afford administrative breakdowns. To the outside world, Delhi is India’s face. It will reflect very poorly on the Central government if administration comes to a standstill in the capital. In any case, the little large Indian voter in Delhi cannot be hoodwinked. The Prime Minister should step in and immediately abort the Bill in order to uphold the principles of participative democracy, cooperative federalism, collective responsibility to the House and, above all, constitutional morality, which we deeply cherish.

K.V. Viswanathan is a Senior Advocate, Supreme Court, who also advises the Delhi government

India’s new trade rules are political and an irritant; instead, New Delhi should be planning a stable institutional model

India has released new rules governing the trade of electricity across its borders (https://bit.ly/3lG5oIb). They define the contours of the South Asian electricity market, placing clear limits on who can buy from and sell into India. This has ramifications for the electricity markets of Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal, which, to varying degrees, have aligned their energy futures with the Indian market. The new rules show that India’s approach is unmistakeably political. It attempts to balance China’s growing influence in the region with developmental aims, both its own and the region’s.

Rules on ownership

Of central importance is the ownership of power plants wishing to sell to India. In masterful legalese, the rules strongly discourage the participation of plants owned by a company situated in “a third country with whom India shares a land border” and “does not have a bilateral agreement on power sector cooperation with India”. Chinese companies hoping to establish plants in Nepal, Bhutan, or Bangladesh will presumably have a hard time making good on their investments with the Indian market cut off. The rules place the same security restrictions on tripartite trade, say from Bhutan to Bangladesh through Indian territory. To make things even more airtight, the rules establish elaborate surveillance procedures to detect changes in the ownership patterns of entities trading with India.

With this, it seems South Asia’s electricity politics has hit a holding pattern after several years of unpredictability. In the months after the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, India used the framework of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to make historical moves towards liberalising electricity trade. China soon began to make its presence felt in the region, and India responded by walking back its free-market impulses.

It imposed stringent restrictions that dissuaded everyone other than Indian and government entities from participating. That threatened to undermine private sector participation and promising joint ventures across the region. Nepal and Bhutan protested for years, leading to new guidelines in 2018 that tried to find a middle ground; these rules formalise that balancing act. They allow private sector participation but exclude Chinese investments.

India-centricity no advantage

The institutional structure that has emerged through this churn over the last decade is India-centric. The Government of India, through ministries, regulators, planning bodies and utilities, determines the rules of the road. India’s geographic centrality combines with its economic heft to give it a natural advantage in determining the shape of the market; all electrons must pass through it and most electrons will be bought by it. The prospect of an independent regional body governing trade, championed by theorists, is thus unlikely to begin with. It is nearly impossible to fathom in the context of an ailing South Asian project characterised by low levels of trust. India will thus enjoy pre-eminent rule-setting powers, but continually attract the ire of its smaller neighbours who feel their economic growth is being stunted by decisions in Delhi.

Mega solar project

These rules provoke some larger questions that must be tackled soon. India’s ambition of anchoring a global super-grid called One Sun One World One Grid, or OSOWOG (https://bit.ly/3f4lcDj) needs an institutional vision. It aims to begin with connections to West Asia and Southeast Asia and then spread to Africa and beyond. The South Asian lesson, contained in these latest rules, is that political realities will constantly collide with, and damage, expansive visions of borderless trade. Impartial institutions for planning, investments and conflict resolution are crucial to multi-country power pools.

Managing the needs of three relatively small neighbouring economies in South Asia has consumed large amounts of time and political capital for the better part of a decade. Papering over the cracks of a power pool of a dozen countries or more will be much harder. Anad hocdesign also makes the Indian project less attractive to countries looking to sign up to a power trading project.

The logic underpinning OSOWOG is sound. Renewable energy transitions benefit from grids that cover vast areas and diverse geographic conditions. Multi-country grids allow for the unpredictable outputs from renewable energy plants to be balanced across countries, thus avoiding expensive country-specific balancing technologies such as hydropower and gas plants.

Countering China

It is quite likely, though, that India’s plans will be one among many in a soon-to-be competitive space. China, for example, has its own power pool ambitions. An attractive institutional model can lock countries into the pool by setting standards that investors and utilities plan towards and profit by. Once locked in, countries are thus unlikely to defect to other pools. The likely first battle will be in Southeast Asia, where China presently holds sway. A considered, stable institutional model will likely surpass anything China has to offer. It is worth considering releasing the vice-like grip on South Asia, aimed at countering China, by creating a rule-based regional institution that can counter Chinese offerings in other theatres.

Aditya Valiathan Pillai is an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research

The implementation of an integrated digital platform for the criminal justice system would ensure speedy justice

Vishnu Tiwari, 43, was recently acquitted by the Allahabad High Court in a rape case after spending 20 years in prison. His story is illustrative of the tragic consequences that can follow from cases falling through the cracks of a bloated legal system.

In 2003, Mr. Tiwari was sentenced to life imprisonment for rape under the Indian Penal Code and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. His appeal before the Allahabad High Court was pending for 16 years as a defective matter. These defects are usually in the nature of missing documents or documents in the wrong format and are remedied by the lawyer, and the case gets listed. Mr. Tiwari’s lawyer had no interest in pursuing the case, and the appeal stayed defective. During his incarceration, his parents and two brothers died. The High Court pointed out in its judgment that the State government did not consider commuting his life sentence after 14 years. Shweta Singh Rana, a legal aid lawyer, was handed the case in 2019 when the jail authorities requested the High Court to provide a lawyer to Mr. Tiwari. The process of getting the ‘paperbook’, a compilation of the lower court’s records, took nearly two years. The fact that Mr. Tiwari is now a free man and his case was heard by the High Court is a consequence of fortuitous circumstances and the presence of a few good individuals in the system. A sincere lawyer and vigilant family members, luxuries that only prisoners with economic means have access to, have become essential to secure justice.

A poorly designed system

An effective justice system should not depend on a few individuals’ goodness and should be robust enough to ensure justice for everyone, irrespective of the individual in charge. Many of the hiccups in Mr. Tiwari’s case do not reflect deliberate malice but result from poor design and the absence of an integrated digital platform for the criminal justice system. This poor design can have enervating effects on individual freedom. While digitisation has transformed the delivery of certain public services like passports, the criminal justice system is still beset with archaic procedures and paper-based processes. Although the eCourts project has made significant progress in digitising the works of courts, there remain substantial lacunae. These are especially glaring in the criminal justice system.

Sharing information seamlessly

Criminal cases involve various institutions such as the police, prosecutors, legal services authorities and forensic labs. Coordination and communication between these institutions are far from seamless. A criminal case’s smooth movement involves several ‘rubbing points’ where progress depends on one institution securing information from another. For example, the prosecutor needs to get the FIR from the police; the police have to submit the FIR and chargesheet to the court; the forensic labs need to submit reports to the prosecutors and the courts; etc. Allowing these various elements of the system to ‘talk’ to each other through a digital platform that standardises the format and content of data across all the systems will allow for seamless communication and will help avoid duplication of data entry and analyses. If such a platform can track cases from when an FIR is filed till the stage of appeal, it is unlikely that a case would fall through the cracks as Mr. Tiwari’s did.

Such a system would have alerted the registry that defects in a particular appeal had been left unrectified for an extended period and would have alerted the accused person in prison that his lawyer was not pursuing his case diligently. Simultaneously, the legal services authority would have been informed of the case so that the lawyer could have been replaced. The digital platform would have been able to monitor the quality of representation of the lawyer provided by the legal services authority. Once the prisoner had served 14 years of his sentence, the system would have alerted the State government that he was eligible for commutation of his sentence. The documents from the lower court would have been transmitted electronically to the accused person’s lawyer and the High Court eliminating the endless wait for the ‘paperbook’.

Although the Interoperable Criminal Justice System is on the anvil to integrate the information systems of the various institutions in the criminal justice system, it is far from being fully implemented. A critical factor holding back implementation is that these institutions have already created their own information systems that work in silos and are not interoperable. Priority must be given to speeding up the implementation of such a system that provides transparent, real-time access to criminal justice information to all stakeholders, including accused persons.

Leah Verghese is a lawyer working at DAKSH, Bengaluru

Helping Taiwan navigate the regulatory and cultural landscape in India will strengthen relations

India and Taiwan are celebrating 25 years of their partnership. However, the growing relationship has been a low-key affair as India has been hesitant to acknowledge the improving ties in public. Though mutual efforts between Delhi and Taipei have enabled a range of bilateral agreements covering agriculture, investment, customs cooperation, civil aviation, industrial cooperation and other areas, the time has come to recalibrate India-Taiwan relations.

Cultivating political framework

Creating a political framework is a prerequisite to doing this. Both partners have increasingly deepened mutual respect underpinned by openness, with democracy and diversity as the key principles for collective growth. The shared faith in freedom, human rights, justice, and rule of law continues to embolden their partnership. To make this relationship more meaningful, both sides can create a group of empowered persons or a task force to chart out a road map in a given time frame. Political will is the key.

India’s has been in the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. Likewise, Taiwan’s handling of the pandemic and its support to many other countries underlines the need to deepen healthcare cooperation. India and Taiwan already collaborate in the area of traditional medicine. The time is ripe to expand cooperation in the field of healthcare.

Maintaining air quality has become a mammoth challenge for the Indian government and stubble burning is an important reason for severe air pollution. Taiwan could be a valuable partner in dealing with this challenge through its bio-friendly technologies. Such methods are applied to convert agricultural waste into value-added and environmentally beneficial renewable energy or biochemicals. This will be a win-win situation as it will help in dealing with air pollution and also enhance farmers’ income. Further, New Delhi and Taipei can also undertake joint research and development initiatives in the field of organic farming.

India and Taiwan need to deepen people-to-people connect. Cultural exchange is the cornerstone of any civilisational exchange. It not only helps one appreciate another culture but also helps in overcoming prejudices and cultural misunderstanding. Tourism is the key tool in this exchange. However, Taiwanese tourists in India are a very small number. The Buddhist pilgrimage tour needs better connectivity and visibility, in addition to showcasing incredible India’s diversity. This will accelerate the flow of Taiwanese tourists. With the Taiwan Tourism Bureau partnering with Mumbai Metro, Taiwan is trying to raise awareness about the country and increase the inflow of Indian tourists.

Deepening economic ties

Trade relations have grown. India’s huge market provides Taiwan with investment opportunities. Taiwan’s reputation as the world leader in semiconductor and electronics complements India’s leadership in ITES (Information Technology-Enabled Services). This convergence of interests will help create new opportunities. India’s recent strides in the ease of business ranking not only provide Taiwan with lucrative business opportunities but also help it mitigate its over-dependence on one country for investment opportunities.

The signing of a bilateral trade agreement in 2018 was an important milestone. There are around 200 Taiwanese companies in the field of electronics, construction, petrochemicals, machine, Information and Communications Technology and auto parts operating in India. Despite the huge potential, Taiwan investments have been paltry in India. Taiwanese firms find the regulatory and labour regime daunting with stray incidents such as the incident in the Wistron plant last year creating confusion and mistrust.

Policymakers need to coordinate better with the business community to help them navigate the regulatory and cultural landscape for better ties.

Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy is an Adjunct Senior Associate Fellow, Asian Confluence; and Kingshuk Saha is a Bengaluru-based researcher

Impartial probe of allegations of extortion against Maharashtra Minister is a must

Former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh’s allegations against Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh are sensational, and threatening for the State government. The nexus between crime, politics, policing and business is an old story. In that sense, Mr. Singh’s charge that the Minister was forcing police officers to extort money from businesses is not surprising; it is nevertheless an extremely serious one that needs serious investigation. However, Mr. Singh’s credibility is hardly inspiring, and he raised the allegation only after he was removed as Commissioner. The circumstances leading to his removal were inglorious. Sachin Vaze, an officer arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with the discovery of explosives near industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s house, was perceived to be close to Mr. Singh. The Minister sought to put Mr. Singh on the mat over the case, who made a retaliatory move by accusing the former of trying to use Mr. Vaze as a henchman. Mr. Singh approaching the Supreme Court for a CBI inquiry against Mr. Deshmukh is intriguing and self-implicating. As Commissioner he could have — and should have — acted upon the allegations that he is now raising.

The muckraking by Mr. Singh cannot be seen disconnected from the ceaseless political manoeuvering in the State. The formation of the unlikely coalition of the Shiv Sena, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in 2019 was a setback to the storied managerial skills of the BJP. Speculation of an impending collapse have loomed over the Maha Vikas Aghadi government since its formation. The BJP, with the active help of Central agencies, has been trying to unsettle the State government. In the tug of war, Mr. Singh has been an active instrument of the MVA, and the Shiv Sena sprung up to his defence immediately after he was removed. Now the leaders of all three parties have termed his allegations as a conspiracy to topple the State government. After the initial panic, the parties have closed ranks behind the embattled Minister. The lure of power is universal, but in Maharashtra, which is home to India’s economic capital Mumbai, it is even more intense. The ideological mismatch of the alliance partners is evident, but the State government has matched up to the BJP’s challenge several times in political combat. All three parties are united by a strong survival instinct in the face of the BJP onslaught. The BJP’s impatience to reclaim power in Maharashtra is more than usual considering the bruised egos involved. The chances of a politically motivated investigation are high, given the context. Only an independent, transparent investigation can separate the wheat from the chaff in this sordid tale. Unfortunately, a probe by either the State police or a central agency is not a reassuring option.

The SC did well to lay down guidelines for the judiciary in dealing with cases of sexual crime

While recognising society’s deep-rooted patriarchy and initiating a course correction in the way the judiciary itself views gender rights, the Supreme Court went back to Henrik Ibsen, a playwright known for his feisty women characters who break free of traditions of familial confines and notions of social propriety. Setting aside an absurdrakhi-for-bail order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court to a sexual offender, the Court issued a set of guidelines on March 18 to be followed by the judiciary while dealing with sexual crimes against women. The two-member Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and S. Ravindra Bhat used a quote from Ibsen to say that a woman ‘cannot be herself’ in an ‘exclusively masculine society, with laws framed by men’, and laid it down as a guiding force for all future judicial proclamations. The judiciary’s corrective voice is a welcome step in the aftermath of CJI S.A. Bobde’s reported remarks during a virtual hearing, when he asked an alleged rapist’s lawyer to find out whether his client would marry the victim. He later said he had been misquoted. The Khanwilkar-Bhat Bench asked all courts to refrain from imposing marriage or mandate any compromise between a sex offender and his victim. Powerful men seem to be reiterating misogyny besides carelessly linking sexual crimes to women being alone at night or wearing clothes of their choice.

Leaning on the ‘Bangkok General Guidance for Judges on Applying a Gender Perspective in Southeast Asia’, the Bench listed a host of avoidable stereotypes: women are physically weak; men are the head of the household and must make all the decisions related to family; women should be submissive and obedient. Women are battling society’s ingrained prejudices, and the judgment acknowledges this bitter reality, saying gender violence is most often shrouded in a culture of silence. Pointing to the entrenched unequal power equations between men and women, including cultural and social norms, financial dependence, and poverty, it said data may not reflect the actual incidence of violence against women. It is not the first time the Supreme Court is clamping down against gender stereotyping. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud (Secr., Ministry of Defence vs. Babita Puniya) had argued against treating women in the Army any differently from their men counterparts for they worked as “equal citizens” in a common mission, and inAnuj Garg, the Court had called out the “notion of romantic paternalism” as an attempt to put women “in a cage”. To break the silence on bias against women, everyone must take responsibility, especially institutions and those in important positions. The Court’s reiteration on where it needs to stand on women’s rights is a move in the right direction because the fight for gender equality is far from over.

The President, Mr. V.V. Giri, stressed to-day [New Delhi, March 23] in his address to Parliament that the present Government had been returned to office on the clear pledge that the central objective of its policy must be the abolition of poverty. Mr. Giri said the people had asserted their sovereignty through the ballot box and given the Government a massive mandate for peaceful change which must swiftly and visibly alter the picture of poverty and alienation in our land. The President who was inaugurating a three-week interim budget session of Parliament gave the assurance that the Government will soon frame specific policies and programmes arising out of this mandate which will include a mid-term appraisal of the Fourth Plan. The President’s annual address to Parliament which is in the nature of a policy statement by the Government, has come to acquire special significance this time in view of the high expectations aroused by the ruling party’s election promises to usher in a more equitable social system.

We understand that Lord Willingdon has been assiduous in his attendance for sometime and in watching the way in which Mr. Kesava Pillai, the Deputy President, voted in the Council. Mr. Pillai, it would appear, voted sometimes against Government and sometimes remained neutral. The Governor seems to have noticed this and asked Mr. Pillai, whether he, as Deputy President, could vote against the Government. Mr. Pillai’s reply was the only proper and commendable one. It is reported to have been that he, as a people’s representative, must be left free to vote as he pleased and that, to retain his free vote, he was if necessary prepared to resign the post of Deputy President. There is a general rumour in the Council lobby that the situation has so developed that Mr. Pillai might be forced to resign. The immediate cause that gave rise to the issue was, presumably, Mr. Pillai’s giving notice of a motion to reduce a certain item of expenditure and remaining neutral instead of voting for Government in respect of the Russelkonda Saw mills scheme. Whatever that be, Lord Willingdon’s action in calling upon the Deputy-President, who as a non-official bound to support the interests of his constituency is entitled to freedom of voting, is absolutely unconstitutional and utterly indefensible.