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The Hindu Editorial Analysis | PDF Download

Date: 12 October 2019

RTI violations go unpunished, says study

  • T.N., Sikkim, Mizoram and Tripura panels did not impose any penalties for denying information
  • As the RTI Act marks its 14th anniversary on Saturday, a report card analyzing its performance showed that government officials face hardly any punishment for violating the law by denying applicants the legitimate information sought by them. The State and Central Information Commissions, which are the courts of appeal under the Act, failed to impose penalties in about 97% of the cases where violations took place in 2018-19.
  • “The failure of the commissions to impose penalties in clearly deserving cases, sends a signal to the PIOs [Public Information Officers] that violating the law will not invite any serious consequences,” says the report card, which assessed cases between January 2018 and March 2019. “This destroys the basic framework of incentives and disincentives built into the RTI law, promotes a culture of impunity and exasperates applicants who seek information at a high cost and often against great odds.”
  • The ‘Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India’ was prepared by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan and the Centre for Equity Studies. It analyzed information from 22 commissions, which disposed of almost 1.17 lakh cases in that period. Using previous analyses showing that 59% of cases record one or more of the violations listed in Section 20 of the RTI Act, it can be estimated that penalties should have been imposed in 68,900 cases. But penalties were only imposed in 2,091 cases, that is 3% of the cases where violations took place, and less than 2% of the total cases disposed.
  • Overall, penalties worth ₹3.15 crore were imposed on officials. The State Commissions of Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Mizoram and Tripura did not impose penalties in any cases at all. The commissions also have the power to recommend disciplinary action against officials for persistent violations. Only 10 states invoked these powers.

 Rising pendency of cases

  • “The laxity in imposing penalties allows PIOs to take liberties with the RTI Act, at the cost of the public. It leads to many unanswered applications and an equal number of delayed or illegitimately refused ones, resulting in a large number of appeals and complaints to the commission, and the consequent long wait before appeals come up for consideration,” the report’s authors wrote. “By not imposing even the legally indicated and mandatory penalties, information commissions are increasing their own workload and encouraging delays and illegitimate denials for the public.”
  • The commissions have an increasing workload, which is leading to a huge pendency of cases. The report showed that there were 2.18 lakh cases pending with the commissions in March 2019, in comparison with 1.85 lakh pending cases a year earlier.
  • As of October 11, 2019, the Central Information Commission alone had over 33,000 pending cases. Any new appeal would have to wait more than one-and-a-half years for resolution. The backlog is exacerbated by the fact that four out of 11 CIC posts are yet to be filled.
  • The Central Information Commission (CIC) set up under the Right to Information Act is the authorised body, established in 2005, under the Government of India to act upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests to a Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer due to either the officer not have been appointed, or because the respective Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer refused to receive the application for information under the RTI Act.
  • The Commission includes 1 Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who are appointed by the President of India. The first Chief Information Commissioner of India was Wajahat Habibullah. The present Chief Information Commissioner of India is Sudhir Bhargava
  • CIC and members are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
  • There are two woman who became CIC till now first is Ms Deepak Sandhu (4th CIC) and Second Ms Sushma Singh(5th CIC)

Arunachal NGO seeks ‘one man, one wife’ norm

  • A women’s organization in Arunachal Pradesh has sought a ‘one man, one wife’ policy for ending polygamy among rich tribal people in the State.
  • The Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Welfare Society (APWWS) has also suggested the implementation of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules in the State to stop polygamy and adultery by government employees, besides denial of tickets to men with “multiple wives” for rural and Assembly elections.
  • The APWWS submitted a memorandum to the Arunachal Pradesh State Commission for Women chairperson Radhilu Chai Techi at its foundation day event on Thursday. APWWS outgoing president Dipti Bengia Tadar said rich and well-qualified officers had been indulging in polygamy, causing distress to many tribal families.
  • The State has 26 major tribes and scores of sub-tribes. Traditional tribal laws allow polygamy among certain tribes.
  • Every government will have to factor in three geopolitical constituents while setting its broader foreign policy trajectory — immediate neighbourhood, extended neighbourhood and great powers. Realistically, an emerging power should stay focussed on building capacities while maintaining good ties with the neighbours, deep engagement with the extended neighbours and balancing between great powers. India’s current government has sent mixed signals on this. It has a hostile relationship with Pakistan, but has cultivated strong partnerships with the other neighbouring countries. It has deepened engagement with the extended neighbourhood, which, for India is both a source of energy and a transit to the rest of the world. Though there’s a pro-American tilt in its foreign policy, New Delhi has been wary of not disturbing the equilibrium between the great powers and rising great powers.
  • Of this, relations with Beijing are doubly critical for India as China is both a neighbour and a rising great power. To be sure, there are structural problems in ties — the boundary dispute, the Pakistan factor, and historical mistrust. The conventional understanding of the India-China relationship is centred around these challenges. These factors were more or less at play in the run-up to the second “informal summit” between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mamallapuram on Friday and Saturday. An Indian military exercise in Arunachal Pradesh had irked the Chinese. And China hosted Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in the same week that Mr. Xi is visiting India. However, India-China ties have hardly been unidimensional. That both leaders went ahead with the planned summit despite the bad optics itself points to their quest to deepen the engagement.

The Rajiv momentum

  • India-China ties have seen a turnaround over the past three decades, since Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit to Beijing, to be specific. Since then, the countries have decided to strengthen ties in areas that were not constrained by structural issues. Economy was the chosen field, as in the early 1990s, India, following China’s footsteps, started liberalising its economy. Trade ties between the two countries boomed over the years (it touched $95 billion last year), though it’s largely skewed towards China as the latter was fast emerging as an industrial and technological powerhouse. The border has been largely peaceful during this period.
  • Even when the Chinese and Indian militaries were in a standoff in Doklam at the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction in the Himalayas in 2017, both governments were careful enough not to let the situation spiral out of control. That the Doklam incident was followed by the first informal summit in Wuhan in 2018 between Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi, with an aim of dialling down tensions and rebooting ties, showed how New Delhi and Beijing look at each other. They don’t share the antagonism of conventional wisdom. The Mamallapuram summit should be seen against this background.

Tactical engagement

  • Arguably, India and China are still in a tactical engagement, not in a strategic partnership. But it’s a tactical engagement with depth, not a short-term foreign policy adjustment. The challenge before Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi is to deepen this further, and for that they should not allow strategic glitches dictate terms for a bilateral partnership. In this, they face fresh challenges today. India and China warmed up to each other in a different world. The U.S. and China were in a better relationship. Beijing’s focus was entirely on economic development and “peaceful rise”. It was also the beginning of the golden age of globalisation and free trade that softened borders between big trading and investment partners. Now, U.S.-China ties have turned hostile at a time when India is steadily enhancing its strategic partnership with Washington. China under Mr. Xi is also a more assertive and confident power. Both the U.S. and China see India as “a swing power”.
  • Washington wants India to swing to its side and join its Indo-Pacific strategy, the undeclared aim of which is to contain China’s rise. Beijing, obviously, doesn’t want India to swing to the other side. Second, the Pakistan factor looms large over ties. With Mr. Modi’s hyper-nationalist government taking an aggressive approach towards Pakistan and cracking down on Kashmir, Beijing’s Pakistan card is now stronger. Third, the border disputes remain unresolved, and are unlikely to be resolved in the near future.
  • So it’s a complex relationship, which is what Shivshankar Menon, India’s former National Security Adviser, called “a bivalent relationship”. But it doesn’t mean that China and India are hostile powers or a threat to each other.

Taking it to the next level

  • There are four constituents in the multidimensional India-China partnership that can take ties to the next level. The avenues of economic cooperation between the two countries are still wide open. China is keen to make investments in India, especially in building infrastructure and fifth generation technology architecture. India, on the other side, wants greater market access in China, and action by Beijing to address the trade imbalance. At the Wuhan summit, both Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi had, in principle, agreed to India-China cooperation in projects in third countries. They could perhaps come up with a plan to take economic ties to the next level, addressing mutual concerns. Take the example of the U.S. and China. In the 1950s and ’60s, the U.S. tried everything it could to weaken and isolate Mao Zedong’s China, a policy that mirrors its approach towards nuclear North Korea now. But it didn’t stop President Nixon from visiting China in 1972 that led to a remarkable turnaround in Sino-American ties.
  • Second, India and China are pillars of an emerging world order. Both countries see the unilateral world order in decline, and are champions of multilateralism. Security and stability in Asia, which is billed to be the 21th century’s continent, is in the common interests of both countries, and they are already cooperating on global issues like tackling climate change.
  • Third, China had shown in the recent past that when it comes to deal-making and tackling international pressure, the Pakistan card is negotiable. When India is patient, has the international opinion in its favour, and is cautiously bargaining for China’s action against Pakistan, Beijing has taken U-turns on its “iron friend”. Last year, it agreed to Pakistan being placed on the FATF grey list, after India offered support for China’s vicechair push at the FATF. Earlier this year, amid mounting international pressure, China removed its technical hold on the declaration of Masood Azhar as an international terrorist. If it’s driven by realism, India should actually engage with Pakistan, which will not only calm down its borders but also weaken China’s Pakistan card. But since it appears impossible with the current government in New Delhi, it’s critical for New Delhi to stay engaged patiently with Beijing on issues related to Pakistan.
  • Last, and most important, there has to be a doctrinal consensus in India’s foreign policy thinking. Should it compete with China for dominance of Asia or should it stay focussed on its own rise in which competition with China will be a part? India should perhaps learn from both China’s rise and its engagement with the U.S. post Nixon’s visit. For decades, China hid its strength, bid for time. It was building capacities without letting external strains to derail the process.
  • When a mightier U.S. reached out to China, Beijing knew that Washington was trying to exploit the rift within the communist bloc. China played along. Now it’s confidently challenging the U.S., at least in the sphere of the economy. India should also turn the focus to its rise and building capacities, not on conflicts and rivalries. If it’s driven by such a broader but a realist vision, India could expand the avenues of deep tactical engagement with a powerful China.
  • As the saying goes, a nation can pick its friends, but not its neighbours. China’s unique roadmap • Take China’s two centenary goals: eliminating poverty by 2021 and establishing an advanced socialist nation by 2049. The lesson the Chinese leadership drew from the collapse of the Soviet Union was that legitimacy will only come from continued growth in household incomes and that people must be rich before they get old. China’s concept of “stability” is very different from its ordinary English meaning.
  • So, what did China do? First, it defined growth in terms of both GDP, as the target for provincial heads, and per capita income, which the Communist Party monitored. We know that China is now the second largest economy and has foreign exchange reserves of over $3 trillion. What is less well known is from 1998 to 2008, middle-class income grew only 4% in the U.S. and 70% in China. That is why despite the trade headwinds and moderation of growth, the shift to a consumption-led economy is a success, and in 2018 China’s retail e-commerce exceeded that of the next 10 countries.
  • Second, China realised the importance of infrastructure in both supporting economic activity and well-being in cities. Construction accelerated from 2000. In three years China added cement capacity equal to what the U.S. added in a hundred years. It achieved saturation levels in cement, steel and electricity generation in 2013. By then more than half the population had moved to the cities and into the middle class. Their standard of well-being — education, health, municipal services and public transport — is comparable to the best in the world.
  • Third, China’s choice of development pathway used much less natural resources than the West and is remarkably carbon efficient, when the population is taken into account. Growth targets are no longer defined only in terms of GDP. Environmental concerns are very much on the agenda, and an emissions trading system has been instituted to curb emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants. Electricity consumption, car ownership and food waste remain one-tenth that of the U.S. This trend is not changing as incomes rise as it is based on civilizational values that are very different to Western values.
  • Fourth, the Chinese have become global technology leaders intelligently, not just stealthily. At a time when there was no demand for high-speed trains and nuclear plants, for example, China paid for the best technology and improved upon it. Its high-speed trains travel at 300 km/ hour. China is exporting nuclear power plants. Huawei is the global leader in 5G technology, and the cheapest. China’s national goal of global leadership in Artificial Intelligence and quantum computing is serious enough to cause a rift with the U.S.

The Party’s role

  • The Communist Party of China is unlike political parties in the West. You have to be invited to become a member and each department in the university has a party secretary to whom the dean reports. Yet students can ask for views on democracy and take the ubiquitous digital surveillance in their stride. China has noted that each Western country has its own variant of political organisation and has settled for election at the grass-roots level. Party schools conduct regular programmes on current concerns.
  • How China chose its leaders is the most interesting contrast with the West. They candidly admit that ‘Tiananmen Square’ was inevitable, as the generals did not anticipate popular concerns and then sent in the tanks. The next group of leaders were engineers and piloted the infrastructure push and now urban administrators are at the helm.
  • China is now less dependent on the world, and as it moves to a high-tech consumption-led economy it faces similar problems like the U. S. — children of the urban middle class now want middle class employment. Over the last couple of years students in Tsinghua are concerned that they are no longer getting the jobs they want. Wuhan in central China is currently setting up a new $30 billion hightech research centre with public-private partnership, as it sees the digital economy generating middle-class jobs. This explains in part the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) linking cities with other countries. This ‘thought’ for getting out of the ‘middle income trap’ is now in the party and national constitution, akin to ‘liberalism’ in the West.
  • The party permeates Chinese life keeping a laser-sharp focus on the two centenary goals and recognises China cannot dominate the U.S. with its size, population and technological prowess. With two-thirds of global GDP again to be in Asia, China’s foreign policy focus is really the Eurasian land mass, where it is not in direct clash with the U.S.

 The Modi factor

  • The new development in this scenario is not Donald Trump but the ‘Modi factor’. China recognises that it will achieve its goals only if there is an ‘Asian Century’ and needs to work with the other civilizational power, India, now talking of its own model of global order. The two orders can overlap in certain sectors and areas.
  • Further movement on maintaining the status quo at the border could be followed by a non-aggression pact. What about India buying 5G technology that Huawei wants to sell to jointly shape the future of digital innovation globally? Discussion could also begin on the conceptual frame of the ‘Asian Century’ with the two poles in peaceful co-existence, as has been the case throughout civilisation.