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FIXED TIMELINE FOR THE APPOINTMENT OF HIGH COURT JUDGES

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Last week, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India headed by Chief Justice S. A. Bobde, and comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and, Surya Kant laid down a timeline for the Central Government to approve the appointments of the High Court judges within a prescribed time in the case of M/S PLR Projects Pvt. Ltd. v. Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. & Ors. This is an admirable initiative that will be helpful to avoid the problem of delay in judicial appointments that had become a headache for the collegium. It will protect the independence of the judiciary and will also strengthen the primacy of the Supreme Court collegium in judicial appointments. Before this order, the Central Government had made it almost a norm to delay the appointments of judges recommended by the High Court and Supreme Court collegiums, and the collegiums had no option but to wait for months and years. After this order, it will be very difficult for the Central Government to delay the appointments of judges as the new timeline fixed by the Supreme Court becomes the law of the land as per Article 141 of the Constitution, and now the Central Government will be duty-bound to follow it as per the mandate of Article 144 of the Constitution. In case of violation of these directions, the Court will have an option to initiate the contempt proceedings against the violators.

After three landmark judgments of the Supreme Court on the issue of judges’ appointments delivered in 1993, 1999, and 2015 respectively, now the Supreme Court collegium headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and consisting of his senior-most colleagues has the conclusive power to appoint the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts. There are two kinds of compositions of the Supreme Court collegium. For the appointment of a Supreme Court judge, the collegium includes five senior-most judges including the CJI and for appointing a High Court judge, the collegium comprises three senior-most judges including the CJI. As per this practice, the Central Government has limited power and it is bound to act on the recommendation of the Supreme Court collegium. For appointing a judge of the High Court, the High Court collegium headed by the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court and consisting of the two senior-most judges of the High Court initiates the proposal and sends its recommendations to the Union Law Minister, concerned State Government, and the Supreme Court collegium for further process. Thereafter, the Central Government checks the antecedents of the recommended persons and sends its inputs to the Supreme Court collegium which takes a final decision by consensus. If the Supreme Court collegium approves the recommendation of the High Court collegium, it sends the recommendation to the Central Government to issue the formal warrant of appointment as per the constitutional provisions mentioned under Article 217. The President of India issues the warrant of appointment on the advice of the Prime Minister who gets inputs from the Union Law Minister.

As no timeline was prescribed in any judgment of the Supreme Court relating to the judges’ appointments, the Central Government had some scope to delay the appointment process to complete certain formalities like collecting necessary information through the Intelligence Bureau and other intelligence agencies. The government did not hesitate to delay the appointments of some persons who did not fall in line with its ideology or thinking. As a result of this tendency, the vacancies could not be filled up on time. Admittedly, around 416 vacancies of judges are lying vacant in the different High Courts in the country today. Due to this shortage of judges, many High Courts are facing huge arrears of cases and are unable to give speedy justice to the people. As per the data submitted to the Supreme Court, 45 recommendations for High Court judges’ appointments are pending with the Central Government for more than six months. Surprisingly, six names reiterated by the Supreme Court collegium a second time are also awaiting appointment. In addition to this, 196 recommendations are received that are under process with the Central Government for judges’ appointment to the different High Courts in the country. Around 220 recommendations for existing vacancies need to be made by the High Court collegiums soon. The Chief Justices of the respective High Courts have been asked to initiate the process to fill up these vacancies soon. In another case, the Supreme Court has also asked the Chief Justices of the High Courts to appoint ad-hoc judges to clear the arrears of pending cases till the regular appointments take place.

Notably, the issue of vacancies of judges in the High Courts came up before the Supreme Court during the hearing of a petition seeking transfer of a case from the High Court of Orissa due to the lawyers’ strike there. Finally, the Court gave the following directions to expedite the appointment process of the High Court judges: (1) the Intelligence Bureau (IB) should submit its report/inputs within 4-6 weeks from the date of recommendation of the High Court collegium, to the Central Government. (2) It would be desirable that the Central Government forward the file(s) recommendations to the Supreme Court within 8 to 12 weeks from the date of receipt of views from the State Government and the report/input from the IB. (3) It would be for the Government to thereafter proceed to make the appointment immediately on the aforesaid consideration and undoubtedly if Government has any reservations on the suitability or in the public interest, within the same time it may be sent back to the Supreme Court Collegium with the specific reasons for reservation recorded. If the Supreme Court Collegium after consideration of the aforesaid inputs still reiterates the recommendation(s) unanimously (Cl. 24.1), such appointment should be processed and appointment should be made within 3 to 4 weeks.

It would have been better if the Court could also have said something about the working of the High Court collegiums that start the appointment process of the High Court judges. This was very important to expedite the entire process. Ad-hoc judges cannot substitute the permanent judges. The High Courts should initiate the proposals well in advance before the retirement of judges. The Apex Court has timely laid down these directions to expedite the appointment process of the High Court judges in the country. It was much needed given the state of vacancies and arrears of cases in the High Courts. The Central Government had ignored this issue badly and the judicial intervention was the need of the hour. People need timely justice and both the judiciary as well as the executive should help people to get speedy justice. This is a collaborative process that should be undertaken to protect the collective interests of the judiciary. Now, the Central Government should include these directions in the Memorandum of the Procedure that guides judicial appointments. The timeline will also minimize the executive’s interference in judicial appointments. However, the collegium should also bring some more transparency and accountability in its decision-making process. No public authority can exercise powers without accountability.

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Policy & Politics

Pradhan flags off used cooking oil-based biodiesel from Indian Oil’s Tikrikalan terminal

Tarun Nangia

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Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas and Steel, Dharmendra Pradhan, remotely flagged off the first supply of UCO (Used Cooking Oil) based Biodiesel blended Diesel under the EOI Scheme from IndianOil’s Tikrikalan Terminal. Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas Tarun Kapoor and Chairman, IndianOil S M Vaidya, were also present on the occasion.

To create an eco-system for collection and conversion of UCO into Biodiesel and developing entrepreneurship opportunities, Hon’ble Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas & Steel, along with Hon’ble Minister of Health & Family Welfare, Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, had initiated Expressions of Interest (EoIs) for “Procurement of Bio-diesel produced from Used Cooking Oil (UCO)” on the occasion of World Biofuel Day on 10th August 2019. And such “Expression of Interest” is being periodically released by Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs). In the first phase, 11 EoIs were floated between 10.08.2019 to 09.11.2020 for 200 locations. Publication of EoIs has been extended for one more year up to 31.12.2021, for 300 locations across the country.

Under this initiative, OMCs offer periodically incremental price guarantees for five years and extend off-take guarantees for ten years to prospective entrepreneurs. So far, IndianOil has also issued 23 LOIs for Biodiesel plants with a total capacity of 22.95 Cr Litres (557.57 TPD). Under this initiative, IndianOil has received 51KL of UCO-Biodiesel at its Tikrikalan terminal in Delhi as of 31.3.2021.

Speaking on the occasion, Dharmendra Pradhan complimented the Oil industry on the stellar role they have played to keep the fuel lines running despite the stiff challenges of the pandemic. He also lauded the OMCs for going beyond the usual business imperatives by extending support for medical oxygen supply to the nation in this crisis. Mr Pradhan also appreciated IndianOil’s leadership role in smoothening the Liquid oxygen logistics in the country through various initiatives.

Referring to the flag-off of the first supply of UCO-based Biodiesel from IndianOil’s Tikrikalan Terminal, Mr Pradhan said, “This is a landmark in India’s pursuance of Biofuels and will have a positive impact on the environment. This initiative will garner substantial economic benefits for the nation by shoring up indigenous Biodiesel supply, reducing import dependence, and generating rural employment”. He appreciated the proactive role played by OMCs in this direction and shared that 30 LOIs have already been issued.

Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, Tarun Kapoor, while delivering his address, said, “With this flag off, a new era of Bioenergy has been ushered in that will revolutionize the Indian petroleum sector. Feedstock availability in Biodiesel is a challenge, and leveraging UCO can be a major breakthrough that will enable us to reach the target of 5% Biodiesel blending. It will also help divert the unhealthy used oil from the food chain to a more productive purpose”. Mr Kapoor also complimented IndianOil for their focused drive on UCO based Biodiesel and for the concerted efforts undertaken to promote the benefits of Biodiesel.

Earlier, Chairman IndianOil S M Vaidya, while welcoming the gathering, said, “IndianOil is committed to contributing to this remarkable drive to retrieve the unhealthy Used Cooking Oil and usher in a revolution through “Randhan se Indhan”. We aspire to trace even the last drop of UCO and ensure its conversion to Biodiesel, thereby contributing to a more energy secure, greener and healthier India. This event is yet another significant step towards a Swachh and Aatmanirbhar Bharat”. He also shared that IndianOil has started constructing eight Biodiesels plants across Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh.

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel similar to conventional or ‘fossil’ diesel. It can be produced from vegetable oil, animal fats, tallow and waste cooking oil. A significant advantage of Biodiesel is its carbon-neutrality, i.e. the oilseed absorbs the same amount of CO2 as is released when the fuel is combusted in a vehicle. Also, Biodiesel is rapidly biodegradable and completely non-toxic.

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INDIA BEGINS EXPORT OF ORGANIC MILLETS GROWN IN HIMALAYAS TO DENMARK

Tarun Nangia

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In a major boost to organic products exports from the country, first consignment of millets grown in Himalayas from snow-melt water of Ganges in Dev Bhoomi (Land of the God), Uttarakhand would be exported to Denmark.

APEDA, in collaboration with Uttarakhand Agriculture Produce Marketing Board (UKAPMB) & Just Organik, an exporter, has sourced & processed ragi (finger millet), and jhingora(barnyard millet) from farmers in Uttarakhand for exports, which meets the organic certification standards of the European Union.

UKAPMB procured millets directly from these farmers which have been processed in the state-of-art processing unit built by mandi board and operated by Just Organik.

“Millets are unique agricultural products from India which have significant demand in the global market. We will continue to carry out export promotion for the millets with a special focus on products sourced from Himalayas,” said by Dr M Angamuthu, Chairman, APEDA. He stated that Indian organic products, nutraceuticals and health food are gaining more demand in overseas market

In Uttarakhand, many of the common varieties of millets are the staple foods in the hills. The Uttarakhand government has been supporting organic farming. UKAPMB, through a unique initiative has been supporting thousands of farmers for organic certification. These farmers produce mainly millets such as ragi, barnyard millet, amaranthus etc.

The exports of millets to Denmark would expand exports opportunities in European countries. The exports would also support thousands of farmers that are getting into organic farming. Millets are gaining a lot of popularity globally because of high nutritive values and being gluten free also.

Meanwhile, India’s export of organic food products rose by more than 51% to Rs 7078 crore ($ 1040 million) during April-February (2020-21) compared to the same period in the previous fiscal (2019-20).

In terms of quantity, the exports of organic food products grew by 39% to 888,179 metric tonne (MT) during April-February (2020-21) compared to 638,998 MT shipped in April- February (2020-21). The growth in organic products have been achieved despite logistical and operational challenges posed by the COVID19 pandemic.

Oil cake meal is a major commodity of the organic product exports from the country followed by oil seeds, fruit pulps and purees, cereals & millets, spices, tea, medicinal plant products, dry fruits, sugar, pulses, coffee, essential oil etc. India’s organic products have been exported to 58 countries including USA, European Union, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Switzerland, Israel and South Korea.

At present, organic products are exported provided they are produced, processed, packed and labelled as per the requirements of the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP). The NPOP has been implemented by APEDA since its inception in 2001 as notified under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulations) Act, 1992.

The NPOP certification has been recognized by the European Union and Switzerland which enables India to export unprocessed plant products to these countries without the requirement of additional certification. NPOP also facilitates export of Indian organic products to the United Kingdom even in the post Brexit phase.

In order to facilitate the trade between major importing countries, negotiations are underway with Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Australia, UAE, New Zealand for achieving Mutual Recognition Agreements for exports of organic products from India.

NPOP has also been recognized by the Food Safety Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) for trade of organic products in the domestic market. Organic products covered under the bilateral agreement with NPOP need not to be recertified for import in India.

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Policy & Politics

BAD BANKS: A WAY FORWARD FOR ASSET RECONSTRUCTION?

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INTRODUCTION

A bad bank is generally a financial entity set up to buy a non-performing asset (NPAs) or bad loan from the bank which eases the burden of the bank in its core functioning, also known as ARC (Asset Reconstruction Company). After acquiring a bad loan from the bank, a bad bank commissions some amount to the bank, and the rest may share with the investor who is interested to purchase. The idea of the bad bank was pioneered in the US in 1988 by the Mellon bank which was further fostered amid the financial crisis of 2007-08. The bank transferred $1billion of its bad loans to a newly created subsidiary and the subsidiary was resolved in 1995 after meeting all its objectives. However other experiments in Indonesia and Japan have shown that the government might have to do some hand-holding.

Initially, the idea of the bad bank in India was floated in January 2017 when the economic survey of India proposed the introduction of PARA (Public Sector Asset Rehabilitation Agency) and the central bank also suggested forming entities PAMC (Private Asset Management Company) and NAMC (National Asset Management Company) in tackling the problem of bad loan concerning the public sector bank.

On 1st February, FM minister Nirmala Sitharaman revived the idea of a bad bank in India in her budget proposing to set up an asset reconstruction company to tackle the increasing hazard of bad loans in the banking sector. COVID-19 has further impacted the asset quality of Banks and this proposal can act as a potential catalyst that the sector badly needs and IBA (Indian Bank Association) also endorsed the FM Nirmala Sitharaman’s idea of creation of ‘bad bank’ during the pandemic when the banking sector was expecting a hike in bad debts.

WORSENING OF ASSET QUALITY

The issue of bad loans is a perpetual one in the Indian banking sector which has been worsened by the impact of COVID-induced measures on the economy. According to the figures by the Reserve Bank of India the size of the bad loan in the Indian banks was around 9 lakh crores as of March 31, 2020, which in contrast to the figure of two years ago, the size of the bad loan was decreased significantly because of the larger write-offs by Indian to the bad bank. Furthermore, due to the lockdown, the non-performing asset of the bank as per the Financial Stability Report of RBI 2021 is going to rise sharply from 7.5% of gross advances in September 2020 to at least 31.5% of gross advances in September 2021 under the baseline scenario which indicates a need to take more proactive steps to ameliorate the deteriorating assets crisis.

Last year, IBA presented a proposal for the establishment of a composite or hybrid type of bad bank comprising stake from government and bank in dealing with the issue of a non-performing asset but the same was rejected by the government which prefers the market-oriented process but now due to the lockdown Indian banks are vouching for the concept of the bad bank to tackle the rising crisis of NPAs.

RATIONALIZING THE NEED

The issue of bad loans is prevalent in the Indian banking sector especially triggered to rise during the lockdown. The setting up of the bad bank entity comprising the experts dealing with non-performing assets can help in countering the problem of bad loans by creating a single entity to deal with the matters which will ease the burden of the banks. Besides this, it helps in cleaning the balance sheet of the bank and making them financially healthy, and aids them in focusing more on their core function of lending, and also have a positive impact on the bank history

Two important instruments currently in use for dealing with NPAs are the SARFAESI Act 2002 and the IBC 2016, both of which provide a framework for various stakeholders to deal with such assets. The SARFAESI Act was enacted by the parliament after the recommendations of the Umerjeee Committee for countering the rising NPAs and improving the financial health of the banks but now in these extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic, there is a need to amend the act as recently on April 2021, the Monetary Policy Committee of RBI constituted a committee to review the working of the ARCs and pointed out that the true potential of the ARCs is yet not realized and which is not sufficient enough to counter the deteriorating financial health amid the pandemic in the Indian banking sector. So, the committee should not turn a blind eye on a bad bank which is a viable option amid a pandemic to counter a sharp rise in NPAs.

However, the mere transfer of bad assets from one entity to another will not resolve the perennial problem of NPA’s. This requires long-term reforms in the Banking industry, especially in the public sector banks. This may also lead to the creation of a moral hazard as it enables banks to continue their current reckless lending practices and might hamper accountability within the system. The ARC might also have to be further financed by the government which will further create pressure on the government treasury.

CONCLUSION

While COVID continues to threaten the financial growth of developing countries like India, this is perhaps the opportune time for a hard reset on certain corporate practices. The idea of Bad Banks provides the government, the banking sector, and the business community a way out in these tumultuous times. However, the measure must be backed by reforming the sector and bringing more accountability and transparency. The structure and financing of such an entity remain unclear and both the public and the government must proceed with caution. The creation of a Bad Bank opens up more questions for the banking industry as bankruptcy cases rise and new bad assets are discovered, and it is important to remember the fundamentals while applying this much-needed idea.

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Policy & Politics

A TRIBUTE TO MAJOR BIKRAMJEET KANWARPAL

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Major Bikramjeet Kanwarpal succumbed to COVID-19 on May 1

After retiring from the Indian Army, the major became a successful actor in films and television.

An old friend salutes a wonderful human being.

Some people never go.

They live with you even after death has unkindly taken them away from you.

Major Bikramjeet Kanwarpal – more than a good friend, a lighting guide, and known to the world as a famous Bollywood actor – was one of them.

An ex-army major and son of an army officer, his friends, colleagues and seniors dearly called him Bizzu.

He did his schooling from the prestigious boarding school in Kasauli, Lawrence School, Sanawar, and from those days itself, the brilliant student was loved by his teachers and classmates.

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Bizz was passionate about acting since his childhood and used to participate in school plays and drama.

Though a ‘brat’, a term used for the children of army officers, Bizz never took academics lightly.

After completing his education, Bizz joined the Indian Army.

He was commissioned as an officer in Hodson’s Horse, (also called the 4th Horse) a prestigious regiment of the Armoured Corps raised in the British era.

As a second generation soldier, 4th Horse was another home for Major Bikramjeet since the very inception of his career.

Soon after joining the regiment at Nabha, Punjab, Bizz became the blue-eyed boy of not only of his regiment. But of the entire brigade.

And this is where I met him for the first time.

After migrating from Woodstock Mussoorie, I was studying at the Punjab Public School Nabha as my father Colonel A S Ghumman was the BSTO 1 Armoured Brigade.

I remember how was handsome, stunning, well-read and jovial Bizz was.

He loved listening to country and soft music. Elton John and Bryan Adams were his favourites. We would often exchange music CDs with each other.

The officers would finish their work during the day and we kids our school, and in the evenings, we would all meet at the officers’ club which hosted many indoor activities like billiards, badminton and table tennis. It had a library with books on the Indian Army as well as fiction. Most importantly, it had a bar which had premium liquor and the world’s best nimbu pani made by its bartender, ‘Pie’, as we called him.

Here, Bizz, Colonel Vivek, a very dear friend and three months senior to Major Bikramjeet, and Colonel Feroze Khan, who was a national squash player, used to get together with the officers.

They used to play tug-of-war on the badminton court and Major Bikramjeet was undoubtedly our leader.

One could witness the best Queen’s English between Bizz and and Colonel Vivek whereas Colonel Feroze used to onslaught all the officers with his power game.

We kids would pick up the key to Bizz’s bike and take it for a spin, only to come back after two hours and give the keys to the bachelor’s room, called the Stallion Den. It accommodated all the bachelor officers of the regiment.

After the fun days at Nabha, my father got posted as camp commandant Babina, Uttar Pradesh.

As luck would have it, 4th Horse was also posted at Babina within months, and we were together again.

My brother Captain Ruminder Singh Ghumman and Major Bikramjeet became best buddies as they were gym partners too.

In the evenings, all of us would gather at Major Bikramjeet’s room to listen to music, chat and play the guitar.

Country Roads Take Me Home was our favourite song.

Bizz was instrumental in teaching us how to dance, including jive. He was always full of life.

I remember putting on his favourite perfume before going to a party and he would guide me by saying, ‘Buddy, put on this one for occasions.’

Then came a time when we parted ways to set out for a new journey to fulfill our dreams.

Major Bikramjeet resigned from the Indian Army and went to Bollywood where he worked in films like Paap, Platoon, Ghazi Attack.

He was a part of popular television serials and became a loved celebrity in Bollywood.

I declined to join the army and became a lawyer instead.

My brother Captain Ruminder would be in regular touch with Bizz when he was in Bombay.

It was through him that I got in touch with Bizz again, and we relived our childhood memories.

Bizz loved his brother Mr Vishwajeet Kanwarpal a lot.

We often used to talk about his brother and parents, who would spend their holidays at their summer cottage in Solon.

The last time I spoke to Bizz was when he was shooting for a film in Lucknow. It was just a few days ago.

Never in my worst nightmare did I realise that would be my last conversation with him.

He was in the midst of writing a movie script based on the Indian Army.

When Colonel Feroze Khan informed me about Bizz’s sad demise, my world was shaken to its core.

A feeling of emptiness crept inside me.

Bizz was the most free-spirited, lively gentleman I knew and he left us too soon.

He was a man of his word, someone who lived life on his terms.

He knew how to live life not only on the big screen, but also in real life, with the same passion.

Will miss you a lot Bizz, you will always be with us.

Your memories are gold to us and even God can’t take them away, forget Death.

Adv. Rubinder Ghumman practices at Delhi High Court

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Policy & Politics

WOMEN, PATRIARCHY AND PANDEMIC

Tamanna Chandan Chachlani

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Being in a patriarchal setup, women have been the subject of various laws in our country and on the sidelined watch of the society. Law and society are inseparable in more ways than one, they work together to create harmony and ensure a co existence between various elements. However, the dichotomy is evident when it comes to Women. One of the primary reasons for the same is that the position of women has been unstable in the patriarchal setup. Beginning from the role of being the “supporter” and moving towards the “provider” in today’s time presents a remarkable shift, both in ideation and structuring of the society.

But, has this shift created a change in outlook, both in terms of law and society? It’s debatable. I say this because, despite being 48.04% of the current population, having so many laws to “protect” us, seems like we still have a long road which is rather less travelled. The pandemic has been a testing time for the entire nation, but more so for the women of this country.

INCREASE IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND THE LACK OF ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY AND MOBILE PHONES:

Law aims at providing a workable solution to the perils of the society. Domestic violence is one such by product of peril created by the setup we live in. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is a legislation that aims at providing effective protection to women who are victims of violence. However, the lockdown saw an increase in domestic violence cases by a significant number. The National Commission of Women reported an increase by twofold in the lockdown period of 2020. The Commission received almost 23,722 cases from March to September, 2020. These numbers are those which have been reported, most of the go rather unreported due to fear, not wanting to destroy the family structure, the social and economic status, financial dependency and a lot more social stigmas. However, with rise in awareness through social media, women have actively started to report these cases. The NCW also launched a WhatsApp helpline for women. Apart from this, various NGOs, Organizations helped women to get the necessary help.

The lockdown also created a loophole in the system with most police officers being busy as frontline workers in maintaining law and order, women were left further helpless. Since, most women in our country especially from the unorganized sector remain unaware about the law that exists to protect them, a last resort is reporting to a nearby police officer or their employer but both of these havens were non-existent or barely existent during the lockdown period.

However, the various High Courts took suo motu cognizance of the rising crisis and asked the State as well as Central Government to make effective guidelines and help the victims at the earliest.

The United Nations Chief Antonio Guterres called for a global “ceasefire” against the increasing numbers of domestic violence cases across the world. UN Women termed it as the “shadow” pandemic. According to the report by UN Women, 1 in 3 women faced either sexual or physical violence mostly by their partner.

In India, the Delhi State Legal Services Authority announced specific measures such as collaboration with Mother Dairy booths (Milk Booths), pharmacists and chemists for information on survivors of violence and also launched an app to deliver legal aid to these individual

The Government also shared National Legal Aid Services Authority’s (NALSA) directory of Legal Service Institutions functional across the country along with NALSA Legal Aid Helpline and online portal with all the One Stop Centers and Women Helplines to facilitate legal aid and counselling to women facing violence.The State of Odisha came out with an initiative through which police officers will contact women who had earlier reported domestic violence to enquire about their condition over phone during the ongoing lockdown.

Coming to the aspect of access,The Mobile Gender Gap Report, 2020 of Groupe Speciale Mobile Association states that only 21% of women in India have access to the Internet. Moreover, a study conducted by John F Kennedy School highlighted that only 38% women in India own a mobile phone as compared to 71% men. Another recent study conducted by the University of Oxford concluded that women are 25% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. A study conducted by Mohan Diwakar also highlights that marginalized women have the least mobile phone access. These studies also liked the access of mobile phones to the health of women. With the second round of lockdown being imposed in cartons states across the country, the reality seems to be more grim for many women who have been in abusive Joel’s for too long, feeling trapped and unable to seek help.

With this being a reality, it is important to strengthen other measures apart from helplines, social media outreach. We need to act like an active community, develop a mechanism which allows women to seek help from their surroundings in case of lack of access to technology, internet and/or mobile phones.

We need a stronger nationwide policy especially addressing issues like domestic violence during a pandemic. For instance, Europe declared domestic violence assistance as an “essential service”. In Argentina, France and Spain, chemists are helping women report domestic violence cases with the codeword “Mask 19”. Canada and Australia also announced special funds for violence against women as a part of their action plan against the pandemic. These are measures that go beyond technology and assist women at ground zero.

EFFECT ON MENSTRUAL HEALTH AND THE LINK TO EDUCATION:

The CARE report on menstrual hygiene states that the availability of menstrual care products ha seven severely affected by lockdowns across the globe. 1.8 billion of the global population are menstruators but this could not garner the attention of lawmakers globally. Menstrual hygiene products were deemed nonessential and were absent from most hospitals. A report by FSG released in 2020 reveals that 500 million women worldwide lacked the essential resources to go through menstruation. More importantly, 70% of the global healthcare workforce are women and the pandemic has been an especially tough time for them while fighting Covid as well as catering to their own menstrual needs.

In India, 366 million women excluding gender non binary persons menstruate. The pandemic put the menstrual health and hygiene on a stand by. Firstly, because the Government of India didn’t include the production of menstrual products in the essential category leading to stall age in production, which was later rectified after public outcry. India has a Menstrual Hygiene Scheme, which allows rural adolescent girls to access sanitary napkins at a subsidized rate.

However, a scheme that has taken a big hit is the Kishori Shakti Yojna, as the scheme allows for distribution of sanitary napkins to adolescent girls via government schools. Due to the consistent spread of virus pan India, these schools have remained shut hence cutting off one crucial source of accessing these products. Various newspapers like The Hindu, Wire also reported on these aspects and how the young girls have been left with no recourse in sight. More importantly, this has further widened the gap between social stratas of the society, with women from the less privileged backgrounds suffering more than ever.

In a study conducted by SWACH organization, it was revealed that 23 million women drop out of schools annually once they start menstruating. Legally speaking, the Constitution of India has guaranteed the right to health, the right to equal treatment for everyone irrespective of their gender,the right to education, the Government has been encouraging education of the girl child by introducing various incentivizing schemes. But, the problem lies in implementation, in harmonizing these schemes and laws with the society and most importantly the lack of awareness amongst people of the society. Most people still consider “Menstruation” as a taboo topic and it goes undiscussed in most households and institutions like schools.

The pandemic has made it further difficult to bridge the gender gap especially in the semi urban and rural settings of India. There were various NGOs and organizations that distributed sanitary napkins in the lesser privileged areas, but these measures are only temporary and most importantly they are not run nationwide.

The Right to Education Forum in its 2020 policy report stated that around 10 million girls in India are on the verge of dropping out of schools due to the pandemic. While the report has a detailed portrayal of how schools are not inclusive enough, it also sheds light on the fact that patriarchal setup encourages gender discrimination, leading to discrimination right inside the schools. One of the core reasons for girls dropping out is poverty, which evidently has increased during the pandemic. Girls are being trafficked or they are being married off at a young age creating a further vicious loop of problems associated with female health altogether, which cannot be addressed by law alone.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS:

Although, the Government has taken various measures, we still have a long way to go. These issues cannot be looked at in isolation, they are a part of the larger patriarchal setup and hence the society. This is one area where we require harmonization of law as well as ideologies which is very difficult to achieve but never impossible. There are some measures that can be taken:

● Although schools cannot be opened for providing sanitary napkins, the Government can allocate certain funds for setting up distribution of sanitary napkins under the schemes, for effective realization of the same. Recently, the Karnataka High Court also asked the State Government to allocate proper funds to the Shuchi scheme for providing sanitary napkins.

● Actively educating and spreading awareness to chemists, grocers who can act as a source point for these women to report domestic violence.

● The UNICEF report on Gender Based Violence Service provision during pandemic specifically outlines the various measures that can be taken when the women do not have access to mobile phones. The report suggests that there should be installation of phone booths at various places to facilitate connection in times of need, creation of “safe spots” for women and an alert system with the help of local community.

● Citizens can help by being a part of the alert system and reporting cases.

Spreading awareness and working towards the goal of increasing education for girls more so after the pandemic. The Government and variousNGOs are working in this direction, but the gap will increase significantly once the country recovers from the virus.

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Policy & Politics

WILL MAMATA BE THE FACE OF NATIONAL POLITICS?

Political forces together failed to knock Mamata Didi out… The results of Assembly elections in five states have given several clear indications. Mamata Banerjee’s victory in West Bengal has rekindled a new hope within the Opposition at the national level that the BJP can be challenged provided the strategy is right. So the moot question is: Will Mamata become the face of national politics now? The poll results have given a clear message to Congress to appreciate public sentiment and respect the grassroots leaders.

Vijay Darda

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A midst tall claims about the West Bengal Assembly elections, I was constantly telling my BJP friends that Mamata Banerjee will score a hat-trick. BJP will not be able to cross double digits despite all its efforts. I was saying all this not as a politician but as a journalist based on my analysis. I have always analysed Mamata Didi’s politics in depth. She is a grassroots leader and has a first-hand experience of overthrowing the Left from power. She has suffered lathi blows and knows how to break through the opposition’s defense.

The Bharatiya Janata Party was determined to oust the Mamata Banjerjee-led Trinamool Congress out of power in this Assembly election. For that, it had started the groundwork around two-and-a-half years back. All the big-time leaders, all the outfits associated with the BJP and the RSS deployed all the power and resources at their disposal. They polarised the Hindu vote. Star campaigners were fielded and they worked day and night for this purpose. The Sangh undertook a door-to-door contact programme to woo the voters. The ‘Chanakya Neeti’ of ‘Saam-Daam-DandBhed’ was fully utilised. As the election season approached, several political developments took place that took everybody by surprise. Many leaders who had gained political stature, thanks to Didi, crossed over to BJP. An atmosphere was created that indicated that Didi was all set to lose power this time..! But was Didi the one to give up so easily? She responded to each and every attack with her own firebrand counter-attack. She left her constituency and went to Nandigram and contested against her once confidante and now BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari, who had left her and was contesting on a BJP ticket. The BJP’s strategy was successful. Mamata lost the election in Nandigram. Mamata Banerjee met with an accident during the election. Her movement became restricted. But Didi once again proved that she is a grassroots leader in West Bengal. No matter how many allegations of corruption and hooliganism have been levelled against her and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, the people’s mandate went in her favour. Rather, Didi has emerged more powerful than before. Had Didi got the full support of the Congress, the situation would have been even more better. The Congress stopped campaigning in the fifth round, but by then the Congress had inflicted whatever damage it could on Mamata. Due to these initial mistakes, the possibility of division of Muslim votes increased. The BJP got its clear advantage too. The Congress and the Left suffered a humiliating defeat. Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary knew this. But it is clear that people have voted for Mamata to keep the secular forces strong

This election result of West Bengal can prove to be a big game changer in national politics. But before discussing this aspect, let us take a look at what happened in other states. Political analysts say that people have clearly told the Congress to appreciate the public sentiments and treat them accordingly. The Congress should respect the grassroots leaders who are closely connected with the people and let them take over the reins in the party. Kerala is a state where no party came to power for the second time in a row. This is for the first time that the Left retained power. The reason for this is that the Congress replaced those who were grassroots leaders and the high command handed over the leadership to K C Venugopal. Rahul Gandhi is an MP from Kerala. Analysts are saying that the Congress imposed Narayan Sami in Puducherry due to which they lost Puducherry. There was a lot of resentment against Sami due to which they lost power. Despite this, the Congress did not learn any lesson. The BJP’s strategy was successful in that they had already sacked the government of Puducherry.

In Assam, the Congress contested jointly with Badruddin Ajmal’s party All India United Democratic Front, but the strategy the latter had devised failed. Hemant Biswa Sarma was a grassroots leader, but after he joined the BJP, the Congress was in tatters and the result was that despite taking Ajmal along, the Congress could not get the desired results.

As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, I had a conversation with Stalin and also those close to him. When I went there, it was clear to me that Stalin would come to power because he had been working at the ground level for years. After Jayalalithaa’s departure, Palaniswami’s government was facing serious allegations of corruption. Stalin took full advantage of it. Despite the BJP’s help, the AIADMK could not do anything there. As far as the Congress is concerned, it was clearly at Stalin’s mercy. Stalin was not happy with the Congress, but considering Sonia Gandhi, he had allotted 25 seats to the Congress but the party lost the high-stake political battle there too.

Let us now return to West Bengal where Didi has shown amazing power. She has not only retained power in West Bengal, but also ignited a ray of hope in the opposition politics of the country. Now it is to be seen how the secular forces in the country come together and what strategy Soniaji adopts. Will she adopt the strategy like when she went to Mayawati’s house on foot? Will she adopt the same strategy and move forward with the veterans of every state..? Or become a part of UPA-2 in which Sharad Pawar succeeded in bringing everyone under one flag by becoming its convener? It is difficult to say anything right now but it is crystal clear that the fight ahead is not going to be BJP vs Secular Force but Narendra Modi vs all. In this scenario, it will be interesting to watch what Mamata Didi’s stand will be!

BEFORE I CONCLUDE

Elections are over but what is worrying is how many people might have got infected with the coronavirus as a result of their participation in election gatherings, rallies and congregations and what the virus will do to them. It is reported that coronavirus is most widely spread in Maharashtra, but the data dished out by the Government of India is very shocking. In the states where Assembly elections or panchayat elections were held, Covid-19 cases have increased exponentially due to rallies and meetings. In April, the number of Covid-19 patients increased by 5412 per cent in Assam, 1266 per cent in West Bengal, 1229 per cent in Kerala, 1227 per cent in UP, 563 per cent in Tamil Nadu and 359 per cent in Puducherry. This is something called a gross negligence!

The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha

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