Download the compilation of all summaries of all the news articles here
Twenty-five years after decentralised democratic governance was introduced, a look at why it has failed
- While the economic reforms that were launched almost simultaneously with the decentralisation reforms made tremendous headway, making India the fastest-growing economy in the world today, local democracy has not much to write home about
- The village panchayats have not succeeded in enhancing the well-being, capabilities and freedom of citizens.
Reasons for a systemic failure
While the economic reforms were championed by the political class and received support from the bureaucracy, there was no perceptible hand-holding and support by the States to foster decentralised governance.
- There was no institutional decentralisation except in Kerala
- The roles and responsibilities of local governments remain ill-defined despite activity mapping in several States.
- States control funds, functions and functionaries, making autonomous governance almost impossible.
- Most States continue to create parallel bodies (often fiefdoms of ministers and senior bureaucrats) that make inroads into the functional domain of local governments.
- For example, Haryana has created a Rural Development Agency, presided over by the Chief Minister, to enter into the functional domain of panchayats.
- Legislative approval of these parallel bodies legitimises the process of weakening decentralised democracy.
- Increasing allocations to Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme, or MPLADS, which started in 1993, and their State-level counterparts, known as the MLALADS
- There is no mandate to create a DPC tasked to draft a district development plan that takes into account spatial planning, environmental conservation, rural-urban integration, etc.
- In States like Gujarat, the DPC has not been constituted. A potential instrument to reduce growing regional imbalances is left to rot.
- There is no credible fiscal data base and budget system among local governments now
- The Terms of Reference of the 15th Finance Commission, which sought to abolish Article 275 and ignore an integrated public finance regime, do not seem to opt for continuity
- Despite the reservation of seats for Adivasis, Dalits and women, these categories remain on the periphery, often as victims of atrocities and caste oppression rather than as active agents of social change
- Involving women’s agencies and the marginalised to lead social transformation at the grass-roots level remains an uphill task.
- Even after 25 years, local government expenditure as a percentage of total public sector expenditure comprising Union, State and local governments is only around 7% as compared to 24% in Europe, 27% in North America and 55% in Denmark
- The own source revenue of local governments as a share of total public sector own source revenue is only a little over 2% and if disaggregated, the Panchayat share is a negligible 0.3% (several States like Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana have abolished property taxes and others do not collect taxes). This speaks of the fiscal weakness of village panchayats.
Local democracy in India is in deep disarray. Will the Prime Minister take time to look into this pathology and take remedial action in the interest of democracy, social inclusion and cooperative federalism?
The opposition of the government to the elevation of Justice K.M. Joseph is on specious grounds
What has happened?
The government’s opposition to the elevation of the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court, Justice K.M. Joseph, to the Supreme Court, as recommended by the Supreme Court collegium as far back as January 10, 2018, is per se unprincipled. Its logic is faulty, both statistically and otherwise.
Centre targeting the judge. Why?
- Justice Joseph pronounced a historic judgment in April 2016 when he struck down the imposition of President’s rule in Uttarakhand
- Justice Joseph’s request to be transferred to the Andhra Pradesh High Court on health grounds since he had undergone a bypass surgery was ignored
- In May 2016, the collegium had cleared his transfer to the Andhra Pradesh High Court. For inexplicable reasons, the recommendation was not forwarded for approval to the then President of India
The reasons listed by the Union government
- Reason: Seniority
In the All India High Court Judges Seniority List, Justice Joseph is placed at serial number 42 and that 11 Chief Justices of various High Courts in the said list are otherwise senior to him
- Justice Joseph was, obviously, elevated as Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court on account of his qualities as a judge over other judges who might otherwise have been senior
- Seniority among High Court judges has never been the only benchmark for appointment as Chief Justice of a High Court or elevation to the Supreme Court.
Ever since 2014, the government of the day has never considered seniority as the only basis for elevation
When Judges Deepak Gupta and Navin Sinha were appointed in February 2017 to the Supreme Court, there were 40 High Court judges across India senior to them etc.
- Reason: Regional Representation
Several High Courts including smaller high courts are not represented in the Supreme Court at present
- Justices K.G. Balakrishnan, Cyriac Joseph and K.S.P. Radhakrishnan were all from the Kerala High Court despite the Law Minister calling it a relatively small High Court.
- This was at a time when the strength in the Kerala High Court was less than 40 judges
- Justices K.S. Paripoornan and K.T. Thomas were also elevated to the Supreme Court from the Kerala High Court when its strength was just 21.
- So, a small High Court such as Kerala’s has had a slew of elevations perhaps because of the outstanding quality of individual judges
- The reason given by the Law Minister that in elevating Justice Joseph there would then be two judges from the Kerala High Court —which he considers inconsistent with the concept of adequate regional representation — is clearly specious.
Other arguments against the regional representation
- Justices Shantanagoudar and Abdul Nazeer, were elevated on the same day. If two judges can be elevated from Karnataka, especially in light of the fact that Justice Kurian Joseph, also from Kerala, is going to retire in the course of this year, the logic of not having two judges from the Kerala High Court is clearly manufactured only to oppose Justice Joseph’s appointment.
- The Allahabad High Court, which has a sanctioned strength of 160, should have many more than two judges
- This logic also applies to the Punjab and Haryana High Court as well as the Bombay High Court. While the Allahabad High Court has two judges in the Supreme Court, the Bombay High Court has three
- Therefore, the opposition to Justice Joseph’s elevation on the basis of inadequate regional representation is a bogey.
- Reason: Inadequate representation of the Scheduled Castes (SC) and the Scheduled Tribes (ST) in the Supreme Court
- The total sanctioned strength of the Supreme Court is 31 judges.
- At the moment, there are 25. Six judges are to retire this year. Consequently, its strength, if no judges are appointed, will be reduced to 19. There will be 12 vacancies.
- If the government so chooses, it can give representation to the SCs and STs consistent with its logic.
- But this logic cannot be advanced in opposing Justice Joseph’s elevation. Such an argument only betrays the real intent behind the opposition
Malafide intent of the government
- It is crystal clear that the opposition to Justice Joseph is mala fide
- The executive is seeking to blatantly interfere in the appointment process.
- If the government’s stand is legitimised, such incursions on the independence of the judiciary will become routine
- We want our judges to be immune to extra-constitutional pressures.
- That immunity is the only way to protect our citizens
A judiciary that capitulates (yields, surrenders) is the greatest danger to democracy.
What has happened?
Elected representatives should face “serious consequences” for not taking the oath of office within a specified time, the Supreme Court urged State Legislatures in a judgment
The case concerned a no-confidence motion against Uttar Pradesh’s Kshettra panchayat pramukh. The pramukh said some of the elected members had not taken oath and their votes were invalid.
- Measures should be taken to videograph the swearing in or oath taking so that no dispute arises in the future
- Such disputes would erupt unless State legislatures provide provisions specifying consequences against elected members who do not take their oath of allegiance
- An unimpeachable record of the elected representatives taking the oath of office should be maintained by officials of the State government
The stage is set for a truly historic meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump
What has happened?
The summit between the leaders of the two Koreas is perhaps the most significant step in decades towards securing peace on the peninsula. Kim Jong-un on Friday became the first North Korean leader since the 1953 armistice to step on South Korean soil
End of Hostilities
- Both North and South Korea desire for peace in a “nuclear-free” peninsula
- They declared that there would be no more war on the peninsula
- There are plans to transform the existing armistice into a peace treaty with the help of the U.S. and China, to formally end the Korean war by year-end
- The 2007 joint declaration after an inter-Korean summit had expressed almost similar goals as in the latest declaration, including on the nuclear issue
- Yet relations deteriorated, with the international peace process failing to make any progress and the North going back to its nuclear weapons programme.
The Difference now
- This time the inter-Korean summit is to be followed by a meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump
- North Korean leader announced a freeze on further nuclear tests and said North Korea’s main test site would be shut down, all aimed to show his seriousness of purpose.
North Korean agenda
Despite his promises, Mr. Kim is unlikely to give up his nuclear weapons unless he gets credible guarantees from the U.S., China and other countries
He is likely to also press the U.S. to withdraw its nuclear umbrella from the South
NASA’s first-ever mission to study the deep interior of Mars is on schedule to launch this week
InSight & MarCO
- InSight: The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) is the first planetary mission to take off from the West Coast of U.S. It is the first outer space robotic explorer to study in-depth the “inner space” of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core
- Studying Mars’ interior structure answers key questions about the early formation of rocky planets in our inner solar system – Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars – more than 4 billion years ago, as well as rocky exoplanets
- InSight also measures tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars today
- MarCO: Launching on the same rocket is a separate NASA technology experiment known as Mars Cube One (MarCO), which consists of two mini-spacecraft and will be the first test of CubeSat technology in deep space. The lander will study the deep interior of Mars to learn how all rocky planets formed, including Earth and its Moon
CubeSats are a class of spacecraft based on a standardized small size and modular use of off-the-shelf technologies. Many have been made by university students, and dozens have been launched into Earth orbit using extra payload mass available on launches of larger spacecraft
Olive Ridley turtles
What has happened?
Hundreds of thousands of Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings were found buried alive after four days of persistent thundershowers in Odisha’s Gahirmatha Sanctuary compacted their sand-pit nests
Loose sand is helpful
The emergence of hatchlings depends on how loose the sand is. Thundershowers that occurred in the afternoon and evening for four days compacted the sand and baby turtles could not come out
Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary is a marine wildlife sanctuary located in Odisha and is a very popular tourist attraction of Odisha in India. It extends from Dhamra River mouth in the north to Brahmani river mouth in the south
- This sanctuary boasts of possessing the world’s largest known rookery (breeding place) of Olive Ridley sea turtle
- Olive Ridley is classified as Vulnerable according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature And Natural Resources (IUCN), and is listed in Appendix I of CITES
Report – “Freshwater biodiversity in the Lake Victoria Basin” by IUCN
Observations made in the report
- Three quarters of freshwater species endemic to East Africa’s Lake Victoria basin face the threat of extinction, conservationists said on Monday, warning the biodiversity there was being “decimated”
- A full 20% of these species were threatened with extinction
- Freshwater species are important sources of food, medicine and construction material for the millions of people living in the area surrounding the lake
- African Lungfish, a long eel-like fish, has seen its numbers dwindle due largely to overfishing, poor fishing practices and environmental degradation as wetlands are converted to agricultural land
The lake, stretches into Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and its catchment also touches Burundi and Rwanda, is known for its high-level of unique biodiversity
- Largest lake in Africa
- 2nd largest freshwater lake in the world
Pollution is a challenge to developing countries which try to achieve rapid economic development without adequately managing the environment. In recent years, the pollution load has increased, sometimes beyond the carrying capacity of the environment. Though various measures have been adopted to manage pollution, significant progress has not been achieved
Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) hypothesis
It suggests that as per capita income grows, the increase in environmental impact hits the maximum and thereafter declines
- Why this happens? According to the hypothesis, in the initial stages of economic growth, when more resources are used, there is greater waste generation and more emissions. But when a country has achieved a certain level of development, pollution reduces with greater protection of the environment, technological improvements, diversification of the economy from manufacturing to services, and increasing scarcity and prices of environmental resources, leading to lower consumption
- Where is India? India is on the upward part of the EKC
India must not wait for the next stage. It can’t ignore the environmental consequences of its rapid growth
Impact of the pollution
- The economic loss on account of pollution includes the cost of treatment and wage loss during sickness. Pollution impacts ecosystems and related economic activities like agriculture and livestock
- Air pollution causes climate change. Hence, pollution leads to the real and potential loss of the overall development opportunity in an economy. Generally, pollution impacts the socially vulnerable and poor communities more due to their weak coping options
- When traditional drinking water sources get contaminated, the rich can buy packaged water. But the poor cannot afford it and are hence compelled to use contaminated water. They are also less aware of the health hazards caused by pollution
- Natural resources management agencies have centralised structures and function without the consultation of multi stakeholders
- Emission-based standards have not been very effective so far, since they are rarely monitored and only occasionally enforced
- The ‘polluters pay’ principle is not in force
- Pollution is also neglected by funding agencies worldwide and by governments in budgets
There should be
- Public awareness about consequences of pollution
- Adequate pollution-linked databases
- Integration of pollution prevention policies into the development sector
- Strict enforcement of pollution control policies
- Eco-friendly inputs in production, reliance on renewable energy
- Introduction of market-based/economic instruments (charges/taxes/levies, tradable permits, subsidies and soft loans)
- Increase in ecosystem resilience through the conservation of biodiversity
What has happened?
The government had in September 2017 launched the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya), aimed at covering the last-mile connectivity of taking electricity to the household level. The target for the scheme is March 31, 2019.
Village is declared electrified if at least 10% of its households have electricity connection
A village is deemed to be electrified if basic infrastructure such as a distribution transformer and distribution lines are in place in the inhabited locality, electricity is provided to public places like schools, panchayat office, health centres, dispensaries, community centres, and at least 10% of the households in the village are electrified.
- According to data from the Ministry of Power and the Central Electricity Authority, so far 84.3% of households have been electrified.
- The Saubhagya scheme defines the electrification of a household as including a service line cable, energy meter, and single point wiring
- For unelectrified households in remote areas, electrification will involve the provision of power packs of 200 to 300 W (with battery bank) with a maximum of 5 LED lights, 1 DC Fan, and 1 DC power plug
Ground reality different?
While several villages were deemed to be electrified in the official data, the on-ground engineers had registered complaints that key components such as transmission wires had been stolen, leaving the village unelectrified.
What has happened?
Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said AFSPA, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, will continue in Nagaland as it is a “special case” and the “peace agreement” hasn’t been finalised there yet.
State to renew plea
Nagaland’s Deputy Chief Minister Y. Patton said the State government would reiterate its request to the Centre to revoke AFSPA
- NSCN-IM signed a framework agreement with the Government of India on August 3, 2015 to find a solution to the Naga issue.
- The NSCN-IM has been fighting for ‘Greater Nagaland’ or Nagalim — it wants to extend Nagaland’s borders by including Naga-dominated areas in neighbouring Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, to unite 1.2 million Nagas.