Amid a standoff between the Bengal State Election Commission and BJP over the withdrawal of a notification that had extended the last date for nominations in panchayat polls, Indian Express explains an SEC’s role and powers.
What is a State Election Commission’s mandate? How is it different from that of the Election Commission of India?
- The SECs, which were appointed in each state more than four decades after the EC was set up, supervise municipal and panchayat elections
- The SEC in Bengal draws it powers from the West Bengal State Election Commission Act, 1994. It has nothing to do with the Representation of the People Act, which lays down the EC’s powers
- Each SEC is governed by a separate state Act.
Why were the SECs established decades after the EC?
- Under the Constitution, establishment of local self-government institutions is the responsibility of the states (entry 5, List II, Seventh Schedule)
- However, experience showed that not all state governments were serious about empowering Panchayati Raj institutions as elections were not being conducted regularly
The Constitution was amended in 1992 to define the term (five years) for these institutions.
- Simultaneously, another provision was made for setting up a constitutional authority, the SEC, on the lines of the EC to conduct regular panchayat elections. The SEC was to be appointed by the respective state governments.
The ECI and SECs have a similar mandate; do they also have similar powers?
- SECs enjoy the same status as the EC.
- For example, like the removal of a Chief Election Commissioner, the State Election Commissioner can only be removed via impeachment — except that the latter’s removal will be passed by the state Assembly and not by Parliament
- In 2006, the Supreme Court emphasised the two constitutional authorities enjoy the same powers.
In Kishan Singh Tomar vs Municipal Corporation of the City of Ahmedabad, the Supreme Court directed that state governments should abide by orders of the SECs during the conduct of the panchayat and municipal elections, just like they follow the instructions of the EC during Assembly and Parliament polls.
How far can courts intervene?
- Courts cannot interfere in the conduct of polls to local bodies and self-government institutions once the electoral process has been set in motion
- Article 243-O of the Constitution bars interference in poll matters set in motion by the SECs; Article 329 bars interference in such matters set in motion by the EC
- Only after the polls are over can the SECs’ decisions or conduct be questioned through an election petition
- This powers enjoyed by the SECs are the same as those by the EC
- This is also the reason why the Supreme Court this week refused to issue any directions to the West Bengal SEC in response to the BJP’s plea to extend the last date of nomination.
How far do the SEC and EC collaborate for an election?
- They operate independently
- In fact, in a letter to all states in 1996, the EC had clarified that its chief electoral officers, who represent the EC in each state, should not be entrusted with any work related to preparation of electoral rolls for municipal or panchayat polls
- The EC, however, has shared its electoral rolls with the SECs in the past
- Initially it would also lend its electronic voting machines to SECs for municipal polls, until the latter bought their own. But this is where the cooperation ends
- The EC has no role in the actual conduct of local body elections
In practice, are the SECs as independent as the EC?
Although state election commissioners are appointed by the state governors and can only be removed by impeachment, in the last two decades many have struggled to assert their independence.
Judgment in Hadiya case is a robust defence of the individual’s rights against the writ of clan, community, family
The court had annulled the marriage of a 24-year-old adult, Hadiya, arguing that a girl her age was “weak and vulnerable,” and that “marriage being the most important decision in her life, it can also be taken only with the active involvement of her parents”
SC overruled this judgement
- Strongly reaffirmed the individual’s inalienable right to choose her way of life, her religion and the person she wants to marry
- It was no part of the jurisdiction of the High Court to decide what it considered to be a ‘just’ way of life or ‘correct’ course of living for Hadiya
- Choices of faith and belief as indeed choices in matters of marriage lie within an area where individual autonomy is supreme
- They form the essence of personal liberty under the Constitution
Devise a viable Cauvery scheme soon,stop disruptive protests
What has happened?
The Centre cannot continue to evade its legal obligation to create a mechanism to implement the Supreme Court’s final verdict in the Cauvery dispute. This was the broad message conveyed by the court on Monday when it admonished the government for failing to frame a scheme within the six-week time limit given earlier.
SC: Centre evading from its responsibility
- The Court reprimanded the Govt on its failure to frame a scheme within the prescribed timeline.
- It also ordered the govt. to provide a draft scheme to prove its bona fides (intentions)
Centre: probably concerned about Karnataka assembly elections
- It clearly fears that framing a scheme may adversely affect its prospects in Karnataka, which goes to the polls next month
- In the conflict between duty and electoral considerations, the BJP has chosen the latter.
What has happened?
Noting that the usages like ‘legitimate State interest’ and ‘larger public interest’ mean one and the same, the UIDAI on Tuesday argued that linking of PAN card with Aadhaar does not amount to a violation of fundamental right to privacy.
Arguments presented by UIDAI counsel
- Supreme Court itself had formerly upheld the constitutional validity of Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act which mandates Aadhaar-PAN linkage
- The linkage promoted the legitimate fight against crimes such as black money, money laundering
- Citizens have already submitted their demographic details and even biometrics like fingerprints for PAN, which was introduced way back in 1989. They cannot now seek exemption on the sole ground of privacy.
Govt. departments must follow Indian rules in contracts
What has happened?
The Central Vigilance Commission has drawn up a new set of guidelines for projects funded by international agencies such as the World Bank, IMF and Asian Development Bank
Govt departments to follow Indian rules
- The new guidelines will put an end to existing practice of government departments and agencies adhering to the guidelines of foreign donors, while ignoring Indian government rules, in concluding contracts for projects funded by them
- The new guidelines also draw a distinction between grants-in-aid and loans.
Question that might arise
Whether Indian guidelines that insist on the lowest financial tender to be selected, even if quality questions remain, is better than standards followed by the international agencies?
From all accounts, the Nepali PM’s visit went well but it will take pragmatism and patient nurturing on both sides to restore the trust and confidence
Shift in Nepal
PM of Nepal is shrewd enough to realise that his campaign rhetoric of Nepali nationalism with overt shades of anti-Indianism needed to be modified, and by observing the tradition of visiting Delhi, he was signalling the shift
Rethink in Delhi too
- There is a realisation in Delhi that cultural and historical ties between the people in both countries are important but just as for India, globalisation offers new openings to Nepal too.
- China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative offers Nepal an option that may end up carrying unacceptable baggage but at least appears attractive at first.
Slow pace of project implementation
Integrated Check Posts (ICP)
- The idea of four Integrated Check Posts (ICP) on the India-Nepal border to facilitate movement of goods, vehicles and people was mooted 15 years ago and an MOU signed in 2005.
- While preparation of surveys and project reports moved slowly on the Indian side, acquisition of land by the Nepali authorities got held up leading to delayed construction.
Result: Only the Raxaul-Birgunj ICP has been completed and was inaugurated last week. During this time, the cost of the project went up fourfold
Motihari-Amlekhgunj cross-border petroleum products pipeline
- A project for which the MOU between the two governments was signed in 2004.
- It took another three years for the Indian Oil Corporation and the Nepal Oil Corporation to sign the follow-up MOU, eight years to convert it into an agreement and three more to begin the works
- Its implementation within the 30-month timeframe will require proper project monitoring by both sides.
Hydel sector lagging behind
- Misperceptions about the unequal agreements relating to the Kosi barrage (1954) and Gandak barrage (1959) have grown over the years preventing any development in this sector
- Nepal’s installed hydel capacity is less than 700 MW while it sits on a hydel potential of over 80,000 MW and has to import electricity from India during the lean season
Way forward: Effective delivery in the pending projects
- What is now needed is effective delivery on the pending projects, the remaining ICPs, the five railway connections, postal road network in the Terai and the petroleum pipeline so that connectivity is enhanced and the idea of ‘inclusive development and prosperity’ assumes reality.
The draft National Forest Policy identifies threats to forests, but does not provide systems for public involvement.
How much forest cover does India actually have?
Data: State of Forests report
Forest cover had increased in India by 0.21% in 2017 from 2015 but at the same time between 2014 and 2017, India lost, or legally diverted, 36,575 hectares of forest area towards 1,419 development projects
Losing new forests
Even if forest cover is being increased, it is also simultaneously being lost, and new forest may also be subsequently lost.
Questionable claim of new forests creation
There is a need to create mechanisms to calculate our actual forest cover and natural wealth, and this should form the basis for a forest policy e.g. tea estates and commercial plantations, have been counted as forests
Biodiversity Management Committee
- The Biological Diversity Act, 2002, calls for setting up a Biodiversity Management Committee in each local body
- The Committee will prepare People’s Biodiversity Registers (PRBs), with tribals as members or people living in natural areas not classified legally as forest
- The Registers entail a complete documentation of biodiversity in the area — plants, food sources, wildlife, medicinal sources, etc
- They are meant to enable the creation of local biodiversity funds for conservation, and aid in decision-making.
Benefit of PBR
- A good PBR will not just be a powerful text, it can also help to trace how habitats are changing, and to understand and estimate parts of our forests
- Being a bottom-up exercise, it is also a means of understanding the overlap of cultural and natural biodiversity
- Outside protected forest areas which are under immediate threat, PBRs will help identify forests that require conservation
Draft Forest Policy should include:
- The draft identifies threats to forests but does not provide systems for community involvement
- A move towards decentralisation of forest wealth which is beyond commerce and embraces cultural values and oft-forgotten knowledge will provide transparency as well as an actual and felt recognition of our heritage.
What has happened?
The central bank has issued new rules to ensure faster recovery of bad loans, as banks could recover only Rs 7,106 crore of written-off loans till December 31, 2017 while a total of Rs 84,272 crore worth of bad loans were written-off during the same period.
RBI’s 12 Feb circular
- As soon as there is a default in the borrower entity’s account with any lender, all lenders — singly or jointly — shall initiate steps to cure the default
- The resolution plan (RP) may involve any actions / plans / reorganisation including, but not limited to, regularisation of the account by payment of all over dues by the borrower entity, sale of the exposures to other entities/investors, change in ownership, or restructuring
Reasons for issuing new rules by RBI
- The RBI announced the revised framework to align it with the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), which is now a key resolution platform for the lenders
- The RBI now requires banks to implement a resolution plan within 180 days and in case of non-implementation, lenders are required to file an insolvency application.
- The central bank has issued new rules to ensure faster recovery of bad loans, as banks could recover only Rs 7,106 crore of written-off loans till December 31, 2017 while a total of Rs 84,272 crore worth of bad loans were written-off during the same period
Key issue now
- The Key bone of contention is the RBI’s instruction to recognise loan default from day one and to initiate steps for resolution
- Bankers argue that recognition of default from day one and initiation of resolution steps immediately may affect loan accounts especially in the infrastructure and core sectors
RBI withdrew all earlier instructions
- While issuing the revised framework for resolution of loans, the RBI withdrew all its earlier instructions on resolution of stressed assets such as Framework for Revitalising Distressed Assets, Corporate Debt Restructuring Scheme, Flexible Structuring of Existing Long Term Project Loans, Strategic Debt Restructuring Scheme (SDR), Change in Ownership outside SDR, and Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets (S4A)
- The Joint Lenders’ Forum as an institutional mechanism for resolution of stressed accounts has also been discontinued.
What has happened?
The Union government on Tuesday announced that it would be rolling out the e-waybill system for intra-State transport of goods in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh on April 15
The GST Council had said it would roll out the system for the intra-State movement of goods in four phases. The April 15 roll-out will mark the first of these phases.