The Lok Sabha Speaker should consider the leader of the largest pre-poll alliance
After the election of the Lok Sabha Speaker, the question of a formally recognised Opposition party and Leader of the Opposition (LoP) of the Lok Sabha under the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977, will arise. The Act extends to LoPs in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha the same official status, allowances and perks that are admissible to Cabinet Ministers. In the case of the Lok Sabha, however, this is subject to recognition of the leader by the Speaker. In the 16th Lok Sabha, the largest party in the Opposition, the Congress, had 44 seats. After careful consideration, it was decided not to recognise the party’s leader as LoP. Now, the matter needs to be revisited in the context of the 17th Lok Sabha.
The election to the 17th Lok Sabha was the most fiercely and bitterly fought one in the history of the Republic. The decisive victory of the ruling alliance and its leadership has been widely welcomed as being in the best interests of the polity and the people. Above everything, the nation needs a stable government and a strong leader capable of taking firm decisions to ensure security, development and good governance within the rule of law. However, for the success and survival of democracy, an effective Opposition is also a categorical imperative. It is said that if no Opposition exists, one may have to be created. Also, if there is no Opposition outside, there is every danger that it may grow within.
Leaders of Opposition over time
Historically, the first officially designated Opposition party in Parliament emerged from the break up of the all-dominant Congress party in power. In 1969, when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, the Congress split to form the Indian National Congress (Requisitionists) and the Indian National Congress (Organisation). The Leader of INC(O), Ram Subhag Singh, became the first person to be formally recognised as LoP in the Lok Sabha.
In the 6th Lok Sabha, the Congress sat in the Opposition. Following splits in the Congress as well as the Janata Party, Yashwantrao B. Chavan, C.M. Stephen and Jagjivan Ram were successive LoPs.
Until 1977, there were no emoluments and perks attached to the position of LoP.
There is no provision in the Constitution or even in the Lok Sabha Rules of Procedure in regard to the recognition of the LoP. Right from the first Lok Sabha, the practice has been to recognise the leader of the largest party in Opposition as the LoP provided that party has a strength that is enough to constitute the quorum for a sitting of the House, or one-tenth of the total membership of the House — at present that comes to 55 members. From the 9th to the 15th Lok Sabhas, since the requirement of having a minimum strength of 55 members was fulfilled, the Lok Sabha had duly recognised Opposition parties and LoPs, including Rajiv Gandhi, L.K. Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Sharad Pawar, Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj.
The 1977 Act defines LoP as that member of the House who is the “Leader in that House of the party in opposition to the Government having the greatest numerical strength and recognised as such by the Chairman of the Council of States or the Speaker of the House of the People, as the case may be.” The Speaker’s decisions in this regard have so far been determined by Direction 121(c) which laid down one of the conditions for recognition of party or group as having “at least a strength equal to the quorum fixed to constitute a sitting of the House, that is one-tenth of the total number of members of the House”.
The Leaders and Chief Whips of Recognised Parties and Groups in Parliament (Facilities) Act, 1998 also refers to a recognised party in the Lok Sabha as a party that has not less than 55 members.
In the recently concluded election to the Lok Sabha, the Opposition was decimated, but thankfully not obliterated. In fact, the largest party in Opposition, the Congress, has improved its position from 44 in 2014 to 52 now. It is short of only three members to reach the magical number of 55. Given the level at which ground-level politics has been operating in recent decades, it should not be difficult for the Congress leadership to augment its party strength by three members. At the same time, the ruling dispensation is expected to show magnanimity at this hour of its splendid victory, and the new occupant of the office of Speaker, realising the importance of an effective and respected Opposition in a democracy, may reconsider the content of Direction 121(c) suitably.
The Speaker’s discretion
Since there is no constitutional provision, the 1977 law does not provide for the requirement of 55 members as an essential pre-requisite.
As it all depends on the Speaker’s directions and discretion, it may be hoped that rightful action will be taken. The simple way out is to substitute ‘pre-poll alliance’ for ‘party’ or say ‘party or pre-poll alliance’. In any case, pre-poll alliances are a fact of our political life and are already being extended credibility and legitimacy in the matter of the President and Governors deciding on who to call first for forming the government in cases where no party secures a clear majority support in the House.
Incidentally, what is decided in the matter of recognition of the LoP, and in treating prepoll alliances at par with parties, may hold tremendous potential for the growth of a sound two- or three-party (or alliance) system. It could end the present system, a preposterous one, of more than 2,000 parties being registered with the Election Commission. If and when the much-awaited law for political parties is enacted, it may provide for candidates of an alliance contesting on a common symbol and an agreed common minimum programme with only national alliances or parties contesting for the Lok Sabha. These aspects, however, call for separate in-depth analysis, consideration and debate.
Recently, the Supreme Court expressed its growing concern over the award of tenders being challenged in writ proceedings almost as a matter of routine. In anguish it added, “It however appears that the window has been opened too wide as almost every small or big tender is now sought to be challenged in writ proceedings almost as a matter of routine.”
Absence of legislation
The court’s observations fail to appreciate the fact that these challenges, exasperating as they may be to constitutional courts, are the unfortunate effect of inadequacies in our national public procurement laws. Therefore, one is tempted to respond to the court’s laments using the words of Portia in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: “Tarry a little. There is something else.”
The rude fact is that India has still to enact parliamentary legislation to comprehensively deal with public procurement. Consider this. Procurement by the government accounts for 30% of the GDP; yet notwithstanding such fiscal significance, there is no comprehensive parliamentary legislation till date to regulate such public procurement by the Central government. Instead there is a maze of regulations, guidelines and rules.
In the past, instances of charges of corruption in public procurement have brought down elected governments. It is therefore nobody’s case that existing processes are squeaky clean or enviably efficient. Given such a scenario, parliamentary legislation to regulate public procurements which provide adequate means for aggrieved parties to challenge inequities and illegalities in public procurement needs to be put in place. The government is also well aware of this inadequacy. For example, the United Progressive Alliance introduced the Public Procurement Bill in the Lok Sabha in 2012, “to regulate public procurement with the objective of ensuring transparency accountability and probity in the procurement process”. The sad fact is that it was not passed by Parliament. The National Democratic Alliance, in 2015, revamped the provisions of the earlier Bill to come up with the Public Procurement Bill, 2015; it was a significant improvement to the 2012 Bill. Unfortunately, this Bill too is floundering. The significant point is that both versions had provisions for robust internal machinery for grievance redress arising out of public procurement. Sadly, they never became reality. Against such a background, it is hardly surprising that the award of tenders is being challenged in constitutional courts.
Existing constitutional provisions are themselves no great help in this area. While Article 282 provides for financial autonomy in public spending, there are no further provisions that address any guidance on public procurement principles, policies, procedures or for grievance redress.
Article 282 in The Constitution Of India 1949
Expenditure defrayable by the Union or a State out of its revenues The Union or a State may make any grants for any public purpose, notwithstanding that the purpose is not one with respect to which Parliament or the Legislature of the State, as the case may be, may make laws
Inadequacies in State law
While this is the position with regard to public procurement by the Central government, laws to regulate State public procurement are not any better in providing effective alternate dispute resolution mechanisms. State public procurement is regulated by a State Act only in five States: Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Assam. The grievance redress mechanisms provided in these Acts are not confidenceinspiring as they are neither independent nor effective.
They fall woefully short of the prescriptions set out by the Supreme Court in Madras Bar Association v. Union of India, in which the court spelt out the requirements that tribunals must possess to qualify them as being “efficacious alternative remedy” — a phrase so wisely provided in Article 226 by our founding fathers. The emphasis being on the word “efficacious”. The Madras High Court, in a judgment, while testing the efficacy of these mechanisms, denounced them as mere “Caesar to Caesar appeals”.
Further, getting back to the issue of tenders being challenged, courts have imposed such stringent self-imposed restrictions in the area of judicial review vis-à-vis tenders that the power to interfere is very sparingly exercised, if at all. The procuring officer is empowered by judicial principles such as “Government must be allowed a play in the joints”. Given such a feeble legal framework which demands so little accountability, the award of tenders can become a happy hunting ground for the unscrupulous.
While such restraints imposed on courts by themselves would be admirable if alternative efficacious remedy is available, they, unfortunately, would only encourage the growth of other negative aspects of public procurement, in the absence of an alternate efficacious remedy to redress grievances.
In such a depressing legal scenario, it is no surprise that public procurement tender awards are often challenged in constitutional courts. Till such time as a robust efficacious alternative remedy is provided, one would only appeal to the constitutional courts using the words of the Bard of Avon: “Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper sprinkle cool patience.”
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is becoming vital to India’s Eurasia policy
Terrorism, regional cooperation and the future of Afghanistan were major themes at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Heads of State summit in Bishkek. The grouping, led by Russia and China, which includes Afghanistan and the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, inducted India and Pakistan in 2017, and has become an important forum for India’s Eurasian neighbourhood. In a world riven by geopolitical contestations, SCO membership provides India a vital counter to some of the other groupings it is a part of, balancing out its stated policy of pursuing “multi-alignments”. It is a platform also for alignments on issues such as energy security, connectivity and trade.
With India indicating that it sees little use for SAARC, the SCO provides the only multilateral platform for it to deal in close proximity with Pakistan and Afghanistan. While the failure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan to hold substantive talks at the summit was marked, the occasion provided a setting for them to exchange what India called the “usual pleasantries” at the least.
Beyond the summit, the two countries are committed to engaging at several other levels, including the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure. Pakistan leads the effort to coordinate between the SCO and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. In a paragraph on Afghanistan and the SCO-Afghanistan contact group, the Bishkek declaration stressed on an inclusive peace process led by “Afghans themselves”. SCO countries committed to strengthening economic cooperation and supporting the World Trade Organisation structure, while building more people-to-people ties, tourism and cultural bonds within the grouping.
It is significant to see that where the group has failed to find consensus, such as on India’s opposition to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the declaration has mentioned only the other countries in a paragraph praising the project. On the sidelines, Mr. Modi held bilateral meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. This month, Mr. Modi will meet U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka. While the current India-U.S. trade impasse and plans for Indo-Pacific military cooperation will take centrestage there, it is likely that the U.S.’s specific demands on curbing defence deals with Russia, including on the S-400 anti-missile system, and denying access to Chinese telecom major Huawei for India’s 5G network bids will also come up. India’s strategy of balancing and straddling the competing interests of these emerging blocs will be tested. But the SCO collective and the bilateral meetings in Bishkek are an important indicator early in the Modi government’s second tenure of the foreign policy arc it is attempting.
Drugs of 18 pharma firms found substandard since 2018
Bureau bars firms from supplying to Janaushadhi scheme
The Bureau of Pharma PSUs of India (BPPI), which implements the Centre’s flagship affordable medicine scheme PMBJP, has found 25 batches of drugs of 18 pharmaceutical companies to be of substandard quality since January 2018, according to an official document.
While 17 out of the 18 companies are private, one is a public sector unit (PSU), the Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited (IDPL), according to the document.
Both the BPPI and the IDPL work under the Department of Pharmaceuticals of the Central government.
Once the affordable generic drugs are procured from the pharmaceutical companies by the BPPI, they are supplied to various Janaushadhi Kendras that are managed under the Pradhan Mantri Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PMBJP).
There are 4,677 Janaushadhi Kendras functional in the country, as on December 31, 2018.
Sachin Singh, Chief Executive Officer, BPPI, said, “Stringent action has been taken against the suppliers whose products were declared ‘Not of Standard Quality’.” He gave a list of companies debarred or blacklisted for selling “not of standard quality” products.
Seven companies — Overseas Health Care, Hanuchem Laboratories, Legen Healthcare, AMR Pharma India Private Limited, Jackson Laboratories, Mascot Health Series and Terrace Pharmaceuticals — have been blacklisted for two years.
Doklam (in Standard Bhutanese), Zhoglam (in Standard Tibetan), or Donglang (in Chinese), is an area with a plateau and a valley, lying between Tibet's Chumbi Valley to the north, Bhutan's Ha Valley to the east and India's Sikkim state to the west.
It has been depicted as part of Bhutan in the Bhutanese maps since 1961, but it is also claimed by China. To date, the dispute has not been resolved despite several rounds of border negotiations between Bhutan and China.
The area is of strategic importance to all three countries.
In June 2017 a military standoff occurred between China and India as China attempted to extend a road on the Doklam plateau southwards near the Doka La pass and Indian troops moved in to prevent the Chinese. India claimed to have acted on behalf of Bhutan, with which it has a 'special relationship’.
Bhutan has formally objected to China's road construction in the disputed area
India is a major stakeholder in the Rs 4000 crore worth green power project that is planned to supply mammoth amount of energy to India at a favorable price.
India is a major stake holder in Mangdechhu project as it is one of the ten Hydroprojects planned by Bhutan to generate 10,000MW hydropower by 2020 with support from the Government of India.
The 720 MW project, comprising four units of 180 MW each, is expected to export 3 billion units of green power to India every year at mutually agreed per unit tariff of Ngultrum 4.12, equivalent to INR 4.12.
Indo-Bhutan bilateral agreement for the project on Himalayan river Torsha with its origin in Tibet was signed in April 2010.
Following that the actual construction began in 2012. As per its detailed project report (DPR), cost of Mangdechhu project was around INR 2900 crore that was revised to over 4500 crore afterward.
Lion’s share of that is funding from India in the form of 30% as grant and 70% loan. The project is estimated to generate 2,923GWh of green electricity while contributing 2.2 million ton of CO² offset per year from atmosphere.
The spotlight is on innovations in energy. Japan is focusing on hydrogen and carbon capture storage and use (CCS/CCUS). It signed agreements with the European Union and United States of America to partner on research and innovation in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.
Japan, the current chair of the G-20, is of the view that virtuous cycle of environmental protection and growth will be driven by the breakthrough innovations. Given this understanding, the G-20 ministerial on energy and environment is being gheld together and is being chaired by Japan’s Minister for Economy, Trade, and Industry Hiroshige Seko and Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada. At the meeting, India is being represented by power and renewable energy minister RK Singh.
The black softshell turtle or Bostami turtle (Nilssonia nigricans, previously placed in genus Aspideretes) is a species of freshwater turtle found in India (Assam) and Bangladesh (Chittagong and Sylhet). It was long believed to be inbred individuals of the Ganges softshell turtle (A. gangeticus or N. gangeticus) or the Indian peacock softshell turtle (A. hurum or N. hurum), but while it is a close relative of the latter, it is a distinct species
As of 2002, the IUCN classified the species as Extinct in the Wild