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The Hindu Editorial Analysis | PDF Download

Date: 01 August 2019

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  • Brazil must recognise that the Amazon rainforest is a universal treasure
  • It is a matter of global concern that deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil is increasing rapidly since January, when Jair Bolsonaro took office as President. Satellite images show that about 4,200 sq km of forests have been destroyed up to July 24 under the new government. While most nations tend to view their land and forests through the narrow prism of short-term economic gain, climate science data show that they play a larger environmental role. The Amazon basin, spread across millions of hectares in multiple countries, hosts massive sinks of sequestered carbon, and the forests are a key factor in regulating monsoon systems. The rainforests harbour rich biodiversity and about 400 known indigenous groups whose presence has prevented commercial interests from overrunning the lands. Much of the Amazon has survived, despite relentless pressure to convert forests into farmlands, pastures and gold mines, and to build roads. That fragile legacy is now imperilled, as Mr. Bolsonaro has spoken in favour of “reasonable” exploitation of these lands. Although the forest code has not been changed, his comments have emboldened illegal expansion into forests. Armed gold-hunting gangs have reached tribal areas and the leader of one tribe has been murdered in Amapa in an incursion. These are depressing developments, and the Brazilian leader’s criticism of satellite data and denial of the violence are not convincing at all.
  • As the custodian of forests in about 5 million sq km of Amazon land, Brazil has everything to gain by engaging with the international community on meeting the opportunity cost of leaving the Amazon undisturbed. Mr. Bolsonaro lost a valuable opportunity to seek higher funding for forest protection by refusing to host the annual convention of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change this year, but he has been wise not to exit the Paris Agreement. Abandoning that pact would jeopardise Brazil’s access to the important European Union market. Globally, there is tremendous momentum to save the Amazon forests. Brazil must welcome initiatives such as the billion-dollar Amazon Fund backed by Norway and Germany, which has been operating for over a decade, instead of trying to shut them down. Remedial funding, accounting for the value of environmental services, is the most productive approach, because forest removal has not helped agriculture everywhere due to soil and other factors. One estimate by the World Bank some years ago noted that 15 million hectares had been abandoned due to degradation. Brazil’s President must recognize that rainforests are universal treasures, and the rights of indigenous communities to their lands are inalienable. The international community must use diplomacy to convince Mr. Bolsonaro that no other formulation is acceptable.

Beyond Talaq

  • India needs a non-sectarian, gender-neutral law that addresses desertion of spouses
  • Both Houses of Parliament have passed a Bill making instant triple talaq a criminal offence, amidst persistent doubts whether it ought to be treated as a crime or just a civil case. It is true that the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, is a diluted version of the Bill as it was originally conceived. Earlier, it did not specify who could set the law in motion. Now the offence is cognizable only if the affected wife, or one related to her by blood or marriage, files a police complaint. A man arrested under this law may get bail, after the Magistrate grants a hearing to the wife. Thirdly, the offence is compoundable, that is, the parties may arrive at a compromise. The government says its main objective is to give effect to the Supreme Court’s 2017 verdict declaring instant triple talaq illegal. It claims that despite the court ruling, several instances have been reported. Making it an offence, the government says, will deter further resort to triple talaq, and provide redress for women in the form of a subsistence allowance and custody of children, besides getting the erring husband arrested. However, the core question regarding the necessity to criminalise the practice of talaq-e-biddat has not been convincingly answered.
  • In the light of the Supreme Court ruling on its validity, there is really no need to declare instant triple talaq a criminal offence. The practice has no approval in Islamic tenets, and is indeed considered abhorrent. Secondly, once it has been declared illegal, pronouncing talaq obviously does not have the effect of “instantaneous and irrevocable divorce” as this Bill claims in its definition of ‘talaq’. The provisions that allow a woman to claim a subsistence allowance from the man and seek custody of her children can be implemented in the event of the husband abandoning her, even without the man’s arrest. If triple talaq, in any form, is void, how the questions of children’s custody and subsistence allowance arise while the marriage subsists, is not clear.
  • And then, there is the practical question of how a man can provide a subsistence allowance while he is imprisoned. It has been argued by the Bill’s proponents that dowry harassment and cruelty towards wives are treated as criminal offences even while the marriage subsists. It is a patently wrong comparison, as those acts involve violence and cruelty and are rightly treated as criminal offences. The same cannot be said of a man invoking a prohibited form of divorce. The BJP projects the passage of the Bill as a historic milestone in the quest for gender justice. Such a claim will be valid only if there is a nonsectarian law that addresses abandonment and desertion of spouses as a common problem instead of focusing on a practice, which is no more legally valid, among Muslims.
  • At a time when India is reeling under hate lynching, it is sobering to remember that it took the United States Senate 100 years to approve a bill to make lynching a federal crime. Over 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress since 1918, but all were voted down until the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 introduced by three Senators of African-American descent including Kamala Harris was approved unanimously in the winter of 2018.
  • The U.S. bill describes lynching as “the ultimate expression of racism in the United States”. Senator Cory Booker said the bill recognised lynching for what it is: “a bias-motivated act of terror”. When will Parliament here recognise, similarly, that lynching is “a bias-motivated act of terror” and “the ultimate expression of communal hatred in India”?
  • Tool of fear
  • Some may dispute this description, citing the relatively small numbers of such mob crimes. They miss the point that hate lynching is designed as an act to terrorise an entire community. The number of lynch murders in the U.S. mentioned in the bill averages around 55 annually, but despite these small numbers, these performative acts of violence succeeded in instilling intense fear among all African-Americans for decades.
  • The same purpose is being served by lynching in India; again performative acts of hate violence, but now using modern technology, video-graphing of mob lynching, widely circulating these images through social media, and celebrating these as acts of nationalist valour. These have similarly instilled a pervasive sense of everyday normalized fear in the hearts of every Indian from the targeted minority community. It is this which indeed makes lynching an ultimate act of terror.
  • The Supreme Court of India recently asked the Union government and all the major States to explain what action has been taken to prevent these growing incidents of lynching, including passing a special law to instil a sense of fear for law amongst vigilantes and mobsters. Kunwar Danish Ali, a first term Bahujan Samaj Party MP from Amroha, raised the same question in Parliament, describing mob lynching as “an assault on democracy”. His inquiry was met with noisy disruptions, but he got no answer.
  • Significant statutes
  • The Uttar Pradesh Law Commission (UPLC) earlier last month took the initiative, unprompted by the Uttar Pradesh government, to recommend a draft anti-lynching law. It commends a law which closely follows in almost every major detail the first law against lynching passed in this country, a remarkable ordinance introduced by the Manipur government late last year, indeed the most significant statute against religious hate crimes in the country.
  • A noteworthy observation in the text of the United States bill is that it records that at least 4,742 people were lynched in the U.S. between 1882 and 1968, but 99% of all perpetrators remain unpunished. It is significant to remember that the first anti-lynching legislation proposed as far back as in 1918 in the U.S. targeted state officials for failing to provide equal protection under the laws to anyone victimised by a mob. Impunity characterises lynching in India as well. Addressing this squarely, both the Manipur statute and the UPLC draft create a new crime of dereliction of duty by police officials, holding a police officer guilty of this crime if he or she “omits to exercise lawful authority vested in them under law, without reasonable cause, and thereby fails to prevent lynching”. Dereliction also includes the failure to provide protection to a victim of lynching; failure to act upon apprehended lynching; and refusing to record any information relating to the commission of lynching. This crime carries the penalty of one to three years and a fine. The UPLC goes further to include also a new crime of dereliction of duty by District Magistrates.
  • The creation of this new crime was also the key recommendation of the Prevention of Communal & Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, proposed by the National Advisory Council of the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance government (full disclosure: Farah Naqvi and I were co-convenors of the working group which drafted this proposed bill, which however was never even introduced in Parliament). We were convinced that it is only the creation of such a crime that will compel public officials to perform their duty with fairness, in conformity with their constitutional and legal duties, to ensure equal protection to all persons, regardless of their faith and caste.
  • Some recommendations
  • Both the Manipur law and UPLC recommendations also lay down elaborate duties of police officials in the event of lynching. These include taking all reasonable steps to prevent any act of lynching including its incitement and commission; to that end making all possible efforts to identify instances of dissemination of offensive material or any other means employed in order to incite or promote lynching of a particular person or group of persons; and making all possible efforts to prevent the creation of a hostile environment against a person or group of persons.
  • Both sensitively and expansively lay down official duties to protect victims and witnesses. They state that a victim shall have the right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any court proceeding and shall be entitled to be heard at any proceeding in respect of bail, discharge, release, parole, conviction or sentence of an accused, and to file written submissions on conviction, acquittal or sentencing. They also explicitly require the Superintendent of Police to inform the victim in writing of the progress in the investigation. The victim shall have the right to receive a copy of any statement of the witness recorded during investigation or inquiry and a copy of all statements and documents.
  • Where the UPLC goes further than the Manipur statute is in laying down the right to compensation. It places the duty squarely on the Chief Secretary to provide compensation to victims of lynching within 30 days of the incident.
  • It states that while computing compensation, the State government must give due regard to bodily, psychological and material injuries and loss of earnings, including loss of opportunity of employment and education, expenses incurred on account of legal and medical assistance. It also lays down a floor of ₹25 lakh in case lynching causes death.
  • The Congress government of Madhya Pradesh has announced its resolve to pass legal provisions against lynching. It chooses curiously to not do this by an anti-lynching law, but instead by amendments to the Madhya Pradesh Cow Progeny Slaughter Prevention Act 2004 (which would effectively limit its scope only to cow-related lynching, and not lynching triggered by other charges).
  • Its proposed amendments do not include any provisions to punish dereliction of duty, protect victim rights or secure compensation. All that it proposes is punishment for any act by a mob which indulges in violence in the name of cow vigilantism from six months to three years of imprisonment and a fine. It is unclear what deterrence such amendments would instil, since existing laws contain much greater punishments for murder and aggravated attacks. In its present form, it appears a weak, half-hearted and poorly thought-out measure. The Ashok Gehlot-led government in Rajasthan has also tabled an antilynching bill. This prescribes higher punishments, investigation by senior police officers, and mandatory compensation but not the critical elements of dereliction of duty or victim rights. Without these, they will make little difference on the ground.
  • Home Minister Amit Shah now heads a committee to propose action against lynching. The question remains: do we expect Mr. Shah, or indeed Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to propose a law against lynching which punishes public officials who fail in their duties, protects victims and witnesses, and ensures comprehensive reparation, as proposed by the UPLC and provided in the Manipur statute?
  • “Someone is finally recognizing our pain,” said the great-granddaughter of Anthony Crawford, an African American, who was lynched in 1916. I wonder how long survivors of lynching who lost their loved ones to merciless mob hate in India will have to wait for a government which will recognize their pain.
  • Size of the court
  • Initially the Constitution of India provided for a supreme court with a chief justice and 7 judges. In the early years, a full bench of the supreme court sat together to hear the cases presented before them. As the work of the court increased and cases began to accumulate, parliament increased the number of judges(including CJI) from the original 8 in 1950 to 11 in 1956, 14 in 1960, 18 in 1978, 26 in 1986 and 31 in 2009 (current strength). As the number of the judges has increased, they sit in smaller benches of two or three (referred to as a division bench)—coming together in larger benches of five or more (referred to as a constitution bench) when required to settle fundamental questions of law. A bench may refer a case before it to a larger bench, should the need arise.
  • Eligibility of a judge of the Supreme Court
  • A citizen of India not exceeding 65 years age as per Article 124 of the constitution who has been
  • a judge of one high court or more (continuously), for at least five years, or
  • an advocate there, for at least ten years, or
  • a distinguished jurist, in the opinion of the president, power conferred by clause(2) of article 124 of the Constitution of India
  • is eligible to be recommended for appointment, a judge of the supreme court.
  • The Minister said though the original Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, enacted in 1956, was amended 17 years ago to make five years the maximum period within which river water disputes need to be resolved, the reality had been different.
  • The new Bill proposes that the final award will be delivered in two years and whenever it gives the order, the verdict will be notified automatically.
  • The new Bill provides for the constitution of a single tribunal with different Benches, and the setting of strict timelines for adjudication. A retired Supreme Court judge will head the tribunal and Benches will be formed as and when required. The States can approach the tribunal for resolution of their disputes and once resolved, the Bench would wind up.
  • Giving a background of the history of tribunals, the Minister said only four of the nine water tribunals could submit their report. And these too came after a seven- to 28-year delay. Engine First stage: solid fuel rocket booster Second stage: liquid-fueled ramjet Both manufactured indigenously by the Indian Ordnance Factories Operational range Surface/Sea Platform - 450 km (280 mi; 240 nmi) (original/export) To be upgraded to 600 km (370 mi; 320 nmi) Air Platform - 400 km (250 mi; 220 nmi) Flight ceiling 15 km (49,000 ft) Flight altitude Sea skimming, as low as 3–4 meters Speed Mach 4 (4,900 km/h; 3,000 mph; 1.4 km/s) Guidance system Mid-course guidance by INS Terminal guidance by active radar homing GPS/GLONASS/GAGAN satellite guidance Accuracy 1 m circular error probable Launch platform Ship, submarine, aircraft (under testing), and land-based mobile launchers. Mass 3,000 kg (6,600 lb) 2,500 kg (5,500 lb) (air-launched) Length 8.4 m (28 ft) Diameter 0.6 m (2.0 ft) Warhead 200 kg (440 lb) conventional semi-armourpiercing and nuclear 300 kg (660 lb) (air-launched) Both manufactured indigenously by the Indian Ordnance Factories

  • The BrahMos (designated PJ-10) is a medium-range ramjet supersonic cruise missile that can be launched from submarine, ships, aircraft, or land. It is the fastest supersonic cruise missile in the world. It is a joint venture between the Russian Federation's NPO Mashinostroyeniya and India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) who together have formed BrahMos Aerospace. • It is based on the Russian P-800 Oniks cruise missile and other similar sea-skimming Russian cruise missile technology. The name BrahMos is a portmanteau formed from the names of two rivers, the Brahmaputra of India and the Moskva of Russia.
  • It is the world's fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation. The missile travels at speeds of Mach 2.8 to 3.0, which is being upgraded to Mach 5.0. The land-launched and ship-launched versions are already in service, with the air and submarine-launched versions currently in the testing phase. An air-launched variant of BrahMos appeared in 2012. A hypersonic version of the missile, BrahMos-II, is also presently under development with a speed of Mach 7-8 to boost aerial fast strike capability. It is expected to be ready for testing by 2020.
  • India wanted the BrahMos to be based on a mid range cruise missile like the P-700 Granit. Its propulsion is based on the Russian missile, and missile guidance has been developed by BrahMos Aerospace. The missile is expected to reach a total order US$13 billion.
  • In 2016, as India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), India and Russia are now planning to jointly develop a new generation of Brahmos missiles with 600 km-plus range and an ability to hit protected targets with pinpoint accuracy. In 2019, India upgraded the missile with a new range of 500 km
  • The BrahMos has been developed as a joint venture between the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) of India and the Federal State Unitary Enterprise NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPOM) of Russia as BrahMos Aerospace via an inter-government agreement. The company was established on 12 February 1998 with an authorized share capital of US$250 million. India holds 50.5% share of the joint venture and its initial financial contribution was US$126.25 million, while Russia holds 49.5% share with an initial contribution of US$123.75 million