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The Hindu Editorial Analysis | PDF Download

Date: 07 October 2019
  • The Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC, /ˌməʊˈzɛɪɪk/) expedition is a one-year-long expedition into the Central Arctic, planned to take place from 2019 to 2020. For the first time a modern research icebreaker will operate in the direct vicinity of the North Pole year round, including the nearly half year long polar night during winter. In terms of the logistical challenges involved, the total number of participants, the number of participating countries, and the available budget, MOSAiC represents the largest Arctic expedition in history.
  • During its one-year-long journey, the central expedition ship, the research icebreaker Polarstern from Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), will be supported and resupplied by the icebreakers Akademik Fedorov and Admiral Makarov (Russia), Oden (Sweden) and Xue Long II (China). In addition, extensive operations involving helicopters and other aircraft are planned. In total, during the various phases of the expedition, more than 600 people will be working in the Central Arctic. The international expedition, which will involve more than 60 institutions from 19 countries, will be conducted by the AWI and is led by the polar and climate researcher Markus Rex.
  • MOSAiC's main goals are to investigate the complex and still only poorly understood climate processes at work in the Central Arctic, to improve the representation of these processes in global climate models, and to contribute to more reliable climate projections

India starts sharing maritime data

  • Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) was set up last year
  • The Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) set up last year has started functioning as an information sharing hub of maritime data and “cuing incident responses” to maritime security situations through a collaborative approach, Navy sources said.
  • At the just concluded Goa Maritime Conclave (GMC), National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had offered countries in the IOR use of the facility to track movement of vessels on the high seas.
  • “The centre is actively interacting with the maritime community and has already built linkages with 18 countries and 15 multinational/maritime security centres,” one official said.

Major centres

  • The major centres with which regular exchange of maritime security information is being undertaken include Virtual Regional Maritime Traffic Centre (VRMTC), Maritime Security Centre-Horn of Africa(MSCHOA), Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery (ReCAAP), Information Fusion Centre-Singapore (IFC-SG), and International Maritime Bureau-Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC).
  • “The centre is administering a website to undertake collation and dissemination of information on a daily basis and also hosts the Monthly Maritime Security Update (MMSU) highlighting analysis on incidents, warnings and advisories in IOR,” the official added.
  • The IFC-IOR was inaugurated in December 2018 within the premises of the Navy’s Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) in Gurugram.

New joiners

  • Several Indian Ocean littoral states have joined the coastal radar chain network.
  • Addressing the GMC hosted last week by the Navy and attended by 10 Indian Ocean littoral states, Mr. Doval stated that India aspires to be a “major contributor” to maritime safety in the region with active cooperation of all and “we would like our neighbours to draw upon it, consider it as their own facility” he stated and added that rather than “duplicating it” we can augment it further by their cooperation. His comments on avoiding duplication are important in the context of reports that Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are considering setting up similar fusion centres.
  • The IFC has been established at Gurugram, India and is collocated with Information Management and Analysis Centre which is jointly administered by the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard. IFC-IOR is established with the vision of strengthening maritime security in the region and beyond, by building a common coherent maritime situation picture and acting as a maritime information hub for the region considered as the economic highway that drives global commerce. With over 75% of the world’s maritime trade and 50% of daily global oil consumption passing through the region
  • The recent order of a Bihar court directing the filing of an FIR against 49 eminent persons who signed an open letter to the Prime Minister expressing concerns over mob lynching is shocking, disappointing, and completely disregards the true meaning of the law. The FIR was lodged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including sedition, public nuisance, hurting religious feelings, and insulting with intent to provoke breach of peace. But many would agree that the writers of the letter were doing precisely what every citizen ought to do in a democracy — raise questions, debate, disagree, and challenge the powers that be on issues that face the nation.
  • It is evident that if you take the letter as a whole, leave alone sedition, no criminal offence is made out. Surely, this court decision warrants an urgent and fresh debate on the need to repeal the sedition law, for it has no place in a vibrant democracy.

History of the sedition law

  • A century ago, debates around sedition were about how the British abused it to convict and sentence freedom fighters. Today, unfortunately, Indians face the same question, except that instead of a foreign government, the country’s own institutions appear to be misusing the law. This decision strangely coincided with Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary. The soul of Gandhi’s philosophy lay in the right to dissent, which is today being systematically destroyed. Now, anyone, be it university students or civil society activists, who utters even a single critical phrase is instantly targeted, without any introspection on why such criticism was voiced at all.
  • Sedition laws were enacted in 17th century England, when lawmakers believed that only good opinions of the government should survive, as bad opinions were detrimental to the government and monarchy. This sentiment (and law) was borrowed and inserted into the IPC in 1870.
  • The law was first used to prosecute Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1897. That case led to Section 124A of the IPC (which deals with sedition) being amended, to add the words “hatred” and “contempt” to “disaffection”, which was defined to include disloyalty and feelings of enmity. In 1908, upon conviction for sedition in another case, and imprisonment, Tilak reportedly said, “The government has converted the entire nation into a prison and we are all prisoners.” Gandhi, too, was later tried for sedition for his articles in Young India, and famously pleaded guilty.
  • Twice in the Constituent Assembly, some tried to include sedition as a ground for restricting free speech. But this was vehemently (and successfully) opposed for fear that it would be used to crush political dissent.
  • The Supreme Court highlighted these debates in 1950 in its decisions in Brij Bhushan v the State of Delhi and Romesh Thappar v. the State of Madras. These decisions prompted the First Constitution Amendment, where Article 19(2) was rewritten to replace “undermining the security of the State” with “in the interest of public order”.
  • However, in Parliament, Jawaharlal Nehru clarified that the related penal provision of Section 124A was “highly objectionable and obnoxious and …[t]he sooner we get rid of it the better.”
  • In 1962, the Supreme Court decided on the constitutionality of Section 124A in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar. It upheld the constitutionality of sedition, but limited its application to “acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence”. It distinguished these from “very strong speech” or the use of “vigorous words” strongly critical of the government.
  • In 1995, the Supreme Court, in Balwant Singh v State of Punjab, acquitted persons from charges of sedition for shouting slogans such as “Khalistan Zindabaad” and “Raj Karega Khalsa” outside a cinema after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Instead of looking at the “tendency” of the words to cause public disorder, the Court held that mere sloganeering which evoked no public response did not amount to sedition, for which a more overt act was required; the accused did not intend to “incite people to create disorder” and no “law and order problem” actually occurred.
  • This same lens must be used to examine the present letter. The law and its application clearly distinguishes between strong criticism of the government and incitement of violence. Even if the letter is considered hateful, or contemptuous and disdainful of the government, if it did not incite violence, it is not seditious. Unfortunately, Indian courts have, especially recently, repeatedly failed to appreciate this distinction.
  • The broad scope of Section 124A means that the state can use it to chase those who challenge its power, and the mere pressing of sedition charges ends up acting as a deterrent against any voice of dissent or criticism.

Challenging the law

  • Even the threat of sedition leads to a sort of unauthorized self-censorship, for it produces a chilling effect on free speech.
  • This misuse must be stopped by removing the power source itself. The law must go, as has happened in the U.K. already. No government will give up this power easily, and logically, one would turn to the courts for help.
  • Unfortunately, although I have been part of it, the judiciary seems less and less of a protector of our rights, having let us down on civil liberties often lately.
  • Arguably, it is time for the people, for civil society, to challenge the law directly. There needs to be a concentrated movement from the ground up. What form such a direct challenge should take cannot be said, but we must protect our right to dissent as fiercely as we protect our right to live. If we fail to do so, our existence as a proudly democratic nation is at risk.
  • Last week, while speaking about implementing a National Register of Citizens in West Bengal, Home Minister Amit Shah said, “I want to assure Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Christian refugees, you will not be forced to leave India by the Centre.” These words sparked an immediate backlash as Mr. Shah had evidently omitted one religious community, Muslims, from his statement. But his statement was not merely a communal dog-whistle: he was echoing the provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which the previous National Democratic Alliance government introduced in Parliament before the last election, but was unable to enact because of widespread protests in the North-east Indian States. Mr. Shah made it clear, however, that the new government would reintroduce, and pass, the Bill in the next parliamentary session, or soon thereafter.

Umbrella Bill

  • So, what is the Citizenship Amendment Bill? As its name suggests, it makes an amendment to the Citizenship Act, the umbrella law that sets out the elements of Indian citizenship. The Amendment stipulates that “persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan... shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of that Act”. These individuals are made eligible for naturalization as Indian citizens, and furthermore, the normal precondition for naturalization — having spent 12 years in the country — is halved to six years.
  • In simple language, therefore, the Citizenship Amendment Bill does two things: it shields a set of individuals from being declared illegal migrants (and, by extension, shields them from detention or deportation); and it creates a fast-track to citizenship for these individuals. The problem, of course, is that it does so on an explicitly communal basis: it categorically excludes Muslims from its ambit. The implications are clear: if the government goes ahead with its plan of implementing a nation-wide National Register of Citizens, then those who find themselves excluded from it will be divided into two categories: (predominantly) Muslims, who will now be deemed illegal migrants, and all others, who would have been deemed illegal migrants, but are now immunized by the Citizenship Amendment Bill, if they can show that their country of origin is Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan.
  • The last bit is important, because it shows that non-Muslims who are left out of a hypothetical nation-wide NRC will not immediately receive legal immunity, but will have to jump through further hoops before they are protected. That apart, however, the fact remains that by dividing (alleged) migrants into Muslims (but also, as we shall see below, Jews and atheists) and nonMuslims, the Citizenship Amendment Bill explicitly, and blatantly, seeks to enshrine religious discrimination into law, contrary to our long-standing, secular constitutional ethos.
  • Of course, neither the Bill nor the government directly admits that it is targeting Muslims. Both the text of the Bill and its ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ refers to “minority communities” from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The logic appears to be that as these three countries are Muslim-majority, they may be subject to persecution on account of their faith, and, therefore, need refuge in a country such as India.
  • Flawed logic
  • If that is the logic of the Bill, however, then it is so evidently flawed that it borders on irrationality. First, as the PRS Legislative Research website points out, if the objective is the protection of minorities, then there is no explanation for why Jews and atheists (to take just two examples) have been left out. Second — and more importantly — there are Muslim religious minorities within these countries who are subjected to grave and serious persecution: the classic example is that of the Ahmadis in Pakistan. And third, there is no explanation for why only these three countries have been singled out. Lately, the Rohingya community in Myanmar, another neighbouring country, has been subjected to prolonged persecution, ethnic cleansing, and potentially genocide. However, the government has been openly hostile towards the Rohingyas and has even argued for their deportation before the Supreme Court.
  • It is therefore evident that the protection of minorities is not the genuine objective of the Citizenship Amendment Bill: the gap between that stated objective and the actual text of the Bill is wide enough that a ship can sail through it. But if that is not the objective, then there remains no conceivable justification for the language of the Bill: it is religious discrimination, plain and simple.
  • Violating the Constitution
  • Now, some people have argued that even if this is true, Article 15 of the Constitution — that bars religious discrimination — applies only to citizens. But what these arguments forget is Article 14 of the same Constitution, which guarantees to all persons equality before the law, and the equal protection of law. Discriminatory treatment and especially, discrimination that is arbitrary, and classifications that are unreasonable violate the essence of the equal treatment clause. A state that separates individuals and treats them unequally on palpably arbitrary grounds violates the prescription of Article 14, and the heart and soul of the Indian Constitution: respecting the dignity of all.
  • Beyond issues of strict constitutionality, there are other disturbing issues raised by the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The first is how it dramatically seeks to alter the basis of citizenship in India. During the framing of the Indian Constitution, it was agreed that the primary basis for Indian citizenship would be jus soli — or, citizenship by birth (in the territory of India). Over the years this principle has been diluted to an extent, with citizenship by descent replacing jus soli in certain respects. The Bill, however, will be the first time that religion or ethnicity will be made the basis of citizenship. That would do grave damage to the very idea of India as an inclusive and diverse polity, where religion has no bearing on who can become a full member of society.
  • Second, the Citizenship Amendment Bill is closely linked to plans for a nationwide National Register of Citizens. The link was explicitly drawn by the Home Minister: that the Citizenship Amendment Bill is required to protect (predominantly) non-Muslims who are excluded from the NRC.
  • Argument and reality
  • However, apart from the now-public knowledge of how flawed the NRC process has been in Assam, there is a key question: why do we need to have a national NRC? Mr. Shah has stated that it is required for national security, and that India cannot “run smoothly under the weight of so many intruders”. However, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there is a huge influx of illegal migrants into India: in fact, recent evidence suggests that the rate of migration has been declining. The Assam NRC arose out of a very specific historical experience, and Assam’s own position as a border State; however, for the rest of India, Assam’s own experience shows that an exercise such as this — flawed and riddled with errors as it is — will only lead to misery and exclusion on a national scale, with no reason whatsoever to justify it.
  • The coming months, therefore, will present a serious challenge to fundamental constitutional values. A nationwide NRC will replicate the flaws of the Assam NRC on a much larger scale; and for those who find themselves on its wrong side, the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Bill will protect some — but only some — based on their religion. Both exercises, therefore, need to be urgently challenged, at the level of popular movements, in the domain of Parliament, and of course, before the sentinels charged with guarding our fundamental rights — the courts.
  • One of the world’s fastest growing economies, India, is now facing sluggish growth, with the Reserve Bank of India sharply cutting GDP growth forecast to 6.1% for 2019-20, which is lowest in last six years; there has been a sharp decline in the performance of key sectors.
  • While some economists feel this slow pace is also a stage to bounce back and is cyclical, others (policy pundits) see this as a gross failure of economic reforms and even a colonial legacy, which only time will tell. Whatever the reason for the slowdown, the opportunity to speed up must accommodate a diverse body of opinion and options for sustainable and inclusive growth.
  • The conventional approach of fiscal and monetary stimulus options to address the relics of a slow pace would only give immediate relief and not an enduring solution. Hence key policy measures as they exist now must reach out to emancipate that which is dragging growth while stimulating key sectors.

Effect on primary sectors

  • The ripples of the slowdown are gradually moving to the primary sectors which is already reeling under an unprecedented confluence of pressure. Real agricultural and allied gross value added (GVA) grew by 2.9% during 2011-12 to 2017-18, while in the National Agricultural Policy (2000), it should have been around 4%, to attain an overall economic growth of 8%. A highly skewed and unprecedented monsoon, erratic rainfall, and extreme natural events are creating havoc as far as farms and farmers are concerned which in turn are likely to disrupt supply chains, fuel inflation and have a negative impact on consumption, all of which can further dampen the prospects of revival of the economy.
  • In addition, the current growth rate in the farm sector is less than adequate to take on developmental challenges originating from the Sustainable Development Goals, mainly zero hunger, no poverty, life on land, and gender equality. Hence any key reforms packages in improving the economy should also take cognizance of the crisis in the agricultural sector.
  • The key to addressing the slowdown lies in a selective group of reforms in the key sectors.
  • As always the push must start with the primary sector. First, there is a great need to accept the role of agriculture in invigorating crucial economic segments. The sector is a potential enabler and employer for more than 50% of the population; it also has the potential to revive “animal spirits” by ensuring farm viability: increasing the ratio of farm to non-farm income to 70:30 by 2022-23 from the present 60:40.
  • According to the agriculture census 2015-16, the real income of farmers doubled in almost 20 years from 1993-94 to 2015-16. As the target to double farmers’ income by 2022 is nearing, there must be fast-lane options and swift actions to ensure curated reforms on land, market, price, and ameliorate supply side constraints. As reiterated in the past, the Agricultural Developmental Council (ADC) in line with the GST Council is a dire need to make agricultural reforms more expressive and representative.
  • For better income distribution, there is also a need to revisit regional crop planning and the agro-climatic zone model at the highest possible level so as to make agriculture the engine of sustainable economic growth in India 2.0 by 2022.
  • Second there is a strong case to believe that deindustrialization 2.0 and creative destruction is under way from the decreasing growth rate, and that slowly fading reform to stimulate the traditional sectors is adding to unemployment and job loss. There is immense need to promote occupations which are less influenced by the slowdown such as farming, handloom, handicrafts and others. Investment and jobs
  • Third in the Economic Survey 2018-19, the working age population will continue to rise through 2041. Therefore, there is urgent need to increase the job-to-investment ratio which is currently very low. Some estimates say that ₹1 crore investment in India can create only four formal jobs. What has been less noticed and assessed in any survey is that inter-State migration has a huge impact on personal consumption expenditure.
  • Giving a policy nudge to in-situ employment creation is a must for a stable income and spending. Also, there must be efforts to have an accurate picture of unemployment data in order to have policy that is closer to facts.
  • Fourth, there is a need to reconsider the few distorting reforms that are often stated to revive the short-term chaos in the long run. Finally, the sweet spot created by low oil prices in the past is slowly taking its turn to hit the economy to further cut down aggregate demand.
  • The occasional dip in growth due to various reasons will slow the pace to achieving a $5- trillion economy by 2024. This is the right time to execute a slew of doable agricultural reforms as the role of agriculture in reversing the slowdown is immense in the light of its nearly 20% contribution to a $5-trillion economy. Therefore, a blend of efforts from a range of sectors, agriculture and allied sectors is warranted to enable overall growth.