The pandemic has decimated thousands of lives and livelihoods in the last few months, impacting society everywhere at a very fundamental level. The business dailies repetitively narrate stories of yet another industry failing and stories of pathos in which hundreds more struggle to feed their family with the closing of each business.
Among this gloom and despondency, every industry did what it could to survive the period. However, the banking and financial services industry, or BFSI as it is called, took it to a different level altogether. The BFSI used the pandemic as an opportunity to reinvent itself, accelerating its own evolution as a digital avatar. The execution of documents, KYC, security creation and recovery of dues — all basic processes of lending underwent a sea change because of compulsions set by the pandemic. It would be tempting to conclude that this progress was due to the entrepreneurial spirit of the BFSI sector alone, but the fact is that the scale and pace of change are also in a large measure due to the regulators and the judicial system.
As any person who has ever availed a loan from a lender will testify, the process of doing so is very paper-intensive. It was customary to sign reams of paper, application forms, agreements, declarations, etc, and then more for identification (KYC) and security creation. Paper-intensive processes obviously have their challenges, not just for the borrower, but also for the lender who has to collect, process and secure every sheet of paper signed or collected. The human capital employed to collect or manage this paperwork also adds its own cost, making the historic processes sub-optimal.
The onset of the pandemic changed the game for lenders. Bank staff could no longer physically obtain signatures on loan agreements. Stamping and registration before the relevant authorities being in public spaces were no longer considered safe, and no employee would agree to travel all over a city only to collect documents, at a risk to themselves and their families. The announcement of the moratoriums by the Reserve Bank of India was a temporary breather for some borrowers, but routine collection activities of sending notices, following up and collecting payments from borrowers, and litigation were severely impacted as postal and courier deliveries stalled.
Against this backdrop of systemic issues nationwide, owing to the fact that stopping lending activities for the duration of the pandemic was neither feasible nor practical, digitization of the processes with all its innovations grew in scale and popularity. The first and most obvious touchpoint was the execution of loan documents where the manual intervention of a borrower signing the loan documents physically was replaced by the use of an Aadhaar-based e-signature facility introduced by the government and administered by NSDL. E-Sign is an online electronic signature service which permits an Aadhaar cardholder to sign a document after his or her Biometrics/One Time Password authentication is carried out, thus requiring no paper-based application forms or documents. Lenders have started using this e-signature facility instead of obtaining physical signatures on loan documents to provide loans to borrowers in need during the pandemic, providing muchneeded succour to them.
At the heart of any financial transaction is a process called KYC, or to use its full form, Know Your Customer. As the name itself suggests, every banker and lender needs to “know” their customer before offering products and services to them. The process is not one where someone merely collects the identification documents of a customer, but one where they crosscheck and verify every bit of the data and documentation they obtain from a customer, including the place of business, residence, etc. This is often a tedious activity inasmuch as it calls for multiple visits to collect the papers, seeking attestations, clarifications and additional paperwork to really get to know the customer, and complete the statutory requirements. In a series of moves predating the pandemic, the Reserve Bank of India had, in tandem with the government, sought to create repositories of borrowers’ data through CKYC and information utilities. In effect, a borrower’s details recorded across the entire network of banks and financial institutions was sought to be securely stored and used as per the borrower’s explicit consent for the borrower’s needs using CKYC. The information utilities, on the other hand, seek to track loans of all kinds so that lenders make an informed choice before offering and loading customers with financial liabilities, which they could ill afford. To these far-reaching initiatives, the Reserve Bank added video KYC, a process that would allow the verification of the antecedents of a customer over a live video feed, thus reducing the regulatory burden on both the customer and also the banks and institutions. As on date, banking majors such as ICICI and Kotak have already launched their video KYC offerings, with press reports suggesting that HDFC Bank is expected to do so soon too and count itself among the early adopters.
Many people will remember that in the not too distant past, procuring stamp paper for documents, be it for availing loans or even making a simple affidavit, would be an onerous task. Horror stories about stamp vendors would abound, overcharging was rife, and the availability of the required denominations was always a challenge. The fact that we do not face such issues today is a tribute to the governments of the day, both central and state, making changes in the law allowing franking, and also creating infrastructure where people of certain states can pay stamp duty from the comfort of their homes and print out the stamp paper certificate. In Maharashtra, one can simply obtain a challan by paying the stamp duty and affixing it to the document. Initiatives of this kind have a huge impact in terms of convenience and cost for people, more so when a person is seeking to avail a loan during the pandemic. The borrower and even the lender is no longer dependent on a stamp vendor to deliver the requisite quantity of stamp paper, and financial assistance is not held up on this count.
This is not all, of course. As far back as 2013, the government of Maharashtra took a landmark step when it enacted the Maharashtra e-Registration and e-Filing Rules 2013, permitting online registration of documents using a special module developed by the office of the Inspector General of Registration. Anyone who has ever purchased property or gotten any document registered would remember the serpentine queues at the registration offices all over the country, often located inconveniently, and requiring one to take off from work. The 2013 Rules provide a credible alternative as they allow people to register their documents online. Imagine the difference this step alone would make to the housing finance industry where people who want to complete the formalities for loans required urgently for their dream home but have been justifiably wary of approaching an office during a pandemic where hundreds of people come for their work. Registrations of leases for properties on rent, new purchases of land and residential property would no longer be dependent on when the office opens for business but can be done safely and securely without endangering the parties. For every lender seeking to create security on newly purchased property, transaction execution would be so much simpler, safer and efficient.
It is fairly well known by now that the banking and financial services industry is expecting a significant amount of defaults and non-performing assets in the months to come. Communication with borrowers, including following up to collect past dues and initiate legal action, was impacted when the lockdowns began. The unavailability of postal and courier services meant that notices requiring a defaulter to either pay on time or to respond to a demand made or take cognisance of a court hearing could not be delivered physically. A common problem which occurs even when there is no pandemic is that defaulting borrowers often change their residence and disappear without a forwarding address with the intention of avoiding their creditors. The fact that not just recovery activity was carried out, but various notices and documents related to court proceedings were also delivered to their recipients, was actually due to a series of measures initiated by the Supreme Court of India and implemented by the High Courts and the rest of the judiciary. While the use of email for sending out notices was mandated by the Supreme Court long before the pandemic arrived, the use of instant messaging services such as WhatsApp was formally blessed by the highest court in the country and immediately put into practice in July 2020.
The aftermath of the pandemic will probably be felt in the immediate future as well. The only saving grace seems to be that human ingenuity and innovations like the e-sign, the changes in stamping, registration and use of technology in communicating with borrowers look like they are here to stay.
Joydev Sengupta is a practising lawyer, specialising in laws relating to supply chain financing, digital lending and payment systems. The views expressed are personal.
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It’s tough for players to stay in a bio bubble: Murali Kartik
Murali Kartik, former Indian cricketer and a popular figure in commentary, is well-known for his slow left arm orthodox bowling. Having charmed cricket lovers across the world with his bowling skills, Murali Kartik recently got recognised by NewsX India A-List for excellence in Cricket. Joining us for an exclusive conversation, he spoke about his lockdown experiences, how he felt being part of the IPL in a bio bubble and much more.
Speaking about his emotions and experiences during the 2nd wave of Covid-19, in the wake of which IPL was first postponed and later stopped in middle, Murli said, “Pandemic has been a tough one for everyone but more so for people on ground. We were actually much protected as a commentary team. With that point of view we didn’t had many problems but I can imagine teams traveling and engaging in contracts would have been tougher amid the pandemic.”
“Since last year, I got the feeling that as soon as a little bit unlocking starts people got careless. It is our responsibility to make sure that we don’t go out till the time we aren’t needed to go out. Most important of all is we should all be happy in our homes and not feel entrapped into it. We can only control the controllable,” he added.
When asked about the concept of bio bubble, especially in cricket, which is a contact game, Murali responded, “People in bio bubble is never easy. We need to return to normalcy. We all are missing luxuries of life which is not to go around in expensive restaurants but to simply move around with freedom and without mask; meet our people without the fear of either contacting with the virus or passing it to someone else. That is the normal luxury. From sports point of view, it’s tough for players to stay in a bio bubble. There’s a life beyond a sport. Hopefully we come back to normalcy soon.”
Speaking on what the players have missed out in almost past 2 years of time is very evident now, he said “Unfortunately, it’s same for everyone. People who had to write exams are unable to do it and are sitting home. For sports people, Olympics has been postponed and rescheduled. So, imagine all the athletes, who worked so hard for it. We come back to same thing that it’s for everyone. Now it is about mental strength and controlling the controllable. We need to be surrounded by positive people and thinking. We need to look inwardly because the easiest thing in these days is to get despondent.”
When asked about something new or novel he has picked up in last few days, he shared, “To be honest, I have caught up in a lot of sleep these days at home. I am not someone who’ll sleep a lot. I have been the happiest being at home. The only thing I did in my 1st lockdown was to read Sai Suchadutta. I read it 6-7 times. I have read books but apart from that I haven’t done any specific thing.”
He ended the interview on a humorous note by stating that he have been a couch potato watching many fun OTT programs during the lockdown. He added a funny but a profound thing that we teach a dog to sit and stay but we are not able to do it ourselves as being the human beings.
Whichever OTT platform you go to, you can find me: Arjun Kapoor
Arjun Kapoor, who is basking in the success of Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar and Sardar Ka Grandson, recently joined NewsX for an exclusive conversation as part of NewsX India A-List. Overwhelmed with the love and appreciation coming his way for the two films, Arjun expressed, “Thank you to everyone who has liked both the films. I think it is nice to be interviewed post film releases. That’s always a healthy and encouraging side.”
Speaking about the critical acclaim received by latest release Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar despite multiple delays, Arjun said, “Firstly, it is overwhelming to know that the audience latches on to a film sometimes, regardless of being able to create hype around. We are living in unfortunate times because the circumstances are not in control of any of us. The most privileged people are in the most difficult condition. Sadly, even the least privileged people are in the same boat eventually.
He added, “We are living circumstantially day to day hoping that Covid doesn’t raise ugly head time and again. It happened last year when our film was at the cusp of release and it happened again this year when it was at the cusp of release. Both the months of March turned out to be quite detrimental eventually for our country. What can you do as an actor? Just keep your head down and believe that that the film will connect with the audience. What i am happy about is regardless of how much we try to hype it or we try to market it, we couldn’t because of unforeseen circumstances. The audiences caught on to it. They caught the film, understood the nuances and understood the film. The energy of the film just connected with a lot of people who, i think, at that point of time were sitting at home and watching the film without judging it. When people watch a film, they forget all the baggage that we put on it as media, as actors and as production. The audiences are forgiving to unforeseen circumstances as much as they are unforgiving to you taking them for granted. I think, in this case, we didn’t take the audience for granted. It is a very intelligent and sensible film. The audience was willing to let go of the so-called baggage that comes with a film being delayed due to circumstances.”
Expressing how the film has been a personal milestone for him, Arjun expressed, “I am glad because, for me, personally, it is a milestone to be able to, 9 years down the line, have a film release on OTT. Starting out with Ishqzaade, and reconnecting with certain people, where it reignites a fire and passion within the audience to watch more of your work, you get more motivated and encouraged by this.”
When asked if this can be deemed as his second debut as he paves his way into the OTT space, Arjun said, “Yes, I have had a film called Sardar Ka Grandson on Netflix and a film called Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar on Amazon. I have been all over. Whichever OTT platform you go to, you can find me. It is heartening to know that 9 years down the line, your material is relevant enough to be playing at a time when theatres are shut and get an audience. Sardar Ka Grandson was made for a family audience. It was made for all those people who are not in the mood for darker, grittier stuff. The family audience, the ones who want to sit together on a Sunday afternoon and watch a film, without having to stress too much. Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is made for an audience that wants to question life, that wants to question what is going on in our country, what is going on in our society. Two different ends of the spectrum for me as an actor. 9 years down the line, if i can do 2 films of different realms and still get a positive reaction, it is very very heartening.”
Watch the entire interview here:
‘Vibe just attracted the tribe’: Manasi Scott on her latest song ‘Kitthe Chali’
Manasi Scott is a well-known singer and actor. She is one of the most loved voices on fashion show ramps. She recently joined NewsX for an exclusive conversation as part of NewsX India A-List. In the exclusive conversation, she spoke to us about her recent award winning performance in ‘Kitthe chali’ music video.
Talking about how the origin of the idea of her recent hit song ‘kitthe chali’ and the kind of response it’s generating, Manasi said “Being half Sardarani Punjabi is like 1st nature to me. Every day I used get up, put make up and do a show on Insta live. It was heart-warming for number of people who connected. At that time, ‘twisted bass’ sent me the basic skeleton of the song. I was sitting, applying lipstick and listening to the track when the idea clicked about ‘Kitthe chali kudiye’. It formed the basis of the song. It started there and when lockdown opened, Gaurav came home to hear it and said keep it, this is the way he wanted the song to be. I felt this is amazing. So the idea is our frustration in lockdown.
Sharing of her upcoming projects she said “I think beside the birth of this beautiful song, it was like a vocal master class for me. There’s lot more coming out with 9XM and many others and hopefully an international project as well.” Moreover, she beautifully hummed few lines of ‘Kitthe chali’ for the audience.
On being asked about her transition from software engineer to a popular singer and actor, she shared “I have to thank 9xm and spotlamp. They made me remember all this from the past because it’s been so long in the business that you don’t think about it. I am not only a software engineer graduate but I topped. I have 70% scholarship to a very elite engineering school in America. My dad has this dream of being a drummer and I was there on every stage singing and winning, though I never learned singing. Born to two super achievers, engineering was the way to go. My father asked me not to waste my life and go into the arts. I think he’s the only father in the country that pusher his daughter from engineering to arts. I own this transition to my dad, fashion industry and people who believed in me.
On being given the option to choose one between singing and acting, she said “For me my first love is musical theatre. It’s about getting a chance to do it right the first time and not get a chance to do it again on 2nd take. I have done a lot of amateur theatre in the early years. For me it’s about performance – singing, dancing and acting all together. For me, just to see that joy, connect and unite with the audience for those few minutes of performance means all.
Talking about the music video of ‘Kitthe chali’, she gave full credit to the choreographer director of the video and her friend for all the looks. She believes “the good look and idea of presentation is half the battle won because by that time you have already believed in the song. Song video success was a result of collective hardworking of a lot of people. I think people just came out of a lockdown and the vibe just attracted the tribe.”
She wrapped her interview on a very positive note. “I hope the rest of the world moves forward in the same way. I think this video has come to life, whichever way it goes, it’s going to be a hit because of people and their energy, kindness and connectivity.”
China seeks to consolidate hegemonic control in Africa
Beijing is deploying strategic activities, employing aggressive propaganda efforts with sharp objectives to establish a positive image and consolidate a hegemonic control in Africa, this is being done despite Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tall claims of promoting ‘soft power’ in Africa,
Jianli Yang for National Review writes that amid the criticism that China is pursuing an exploitative strategy in Africa, with its increasing soft-power projections including Covid-19 vaccines, propaganda efforts have intensified to portray China as a positive, benign development partner. The increasing investments in media, the growing number of Confucius Institutes, the organisation of grand cultural festivals, and the generous giving of scholarships have all been embraced to establish China’s strong foothold on the continent. Meanwhile, resentment amongst the African populace toward the Chinese diaspora on the continent has emerged, fueled by incidents such as the recent ill-treatment of Africans in Guangzhou. In the absence of strong linguistic and cultural affinities between the two, interactions between Chinese and Africans remain quite restricted.
Despite this, Chinese media is gaining a deeper presence on the continent, at a time when Western media have largely retreated from the African landscape, according to National Review.
Beijing has also been actively pursuing its dream of gaining control over local sports markets and securing access to major sports events in Africa. The initiative is aimed at both control and economic gains. The Chinese scheme involves advancing and flooding its own low-grade domestic products into local African markets to demonstrate its ability to match international brands.
At the same time, to nurture demand, Chinese authorities have been constructing sports facilities in many poor African countries that were severely lacking sports infrastructure, including stadiums and the requisite training facilities for sports.
Yang writes: “It is time that African nations, and those in other parts of the world, realise the Chinese method of debt-trap diplomacy, which, beyond hitting them economically, is capable of enslaving them in a neocolonial setup, this time with China at the helm.”
The author also said that Beijing claims to deploy ‘soft power’ in Africa, but in reality is deploying ‘sharp power’, which refers to the use of manipulative, subversive methods by authoritarian regimes to gain influence in other countries.
SANJAY GANDHI’S TRAGIC PLANE CRASH: THE DAY THE COURSE OF POLITICS CHANGED FOREVER
It was exactly 41 years ago, when at 8.40 in the morning of 23 June 1980, my father woke me up and told me that the Police PRO was on the line. I had reached home late the previous night after finishing my day’s assignments at the National Herald daily where I had in January started working. I walked up to the phone placed near the door of my father’s official residence (he was the Medical Superintendent of the LNJP hospital) in my groggy state and with visible irritation in my voice asked why the urgency had come up. A.N. Sharma, the then police spokesman, was on the other end, and in his characteristic casual manner informed me that a glider had crashed near the Willingdon Crescent (Mother Teresa Crescent). When I shot back demanding to know why the furore, he retorted, “Sir, aaisi jankaari mili hai ki usme Sanjay Gandhi bhi tha.” (We have received information that Sanjay Gandhi was in the glider that had come down.) With a parched throat, I enquired from Sharmaji whether Sanjay was safe while instantaneously waking up fully from my slumber. He informed me that the injured had been taken to the Ram Manohar Lohia hospital.
I banged the receiver, went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth and rushed out after washing my face and changing my clothes. I called up the taxi stand located on the other side of the roundabout near our house, adjacent to the office of the DCP, Central. I reached the Lohia hospital wondering what could have happened to Sanjay, for whom I had great admiration during my college and university days, believing that he was a man ahead of his times. As I was entering, I bumped into Anil Sharma, my classmate in our post-graduate programme. He was accompanying senior Congress leader, C.M. Stephens. Seeing me in a hurry, he told me in chaste Punjabi, “Sanjayji da kam ho gaya hai” (Sanjay has passed away). I could not believe it and raced towards the Nursing Home section where he had been rushed post the crash. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was paying his tribute while talking to some reporters and Chandra Shekhar stood a short distance away. I went straight outside the room where Sanjay was said to have been taken. Indira Gandhi was standing outside, and one could see her devastated grief even though she was wearing dark sunglasses. She was constantly biting her lower lip trying to hold back her tears. Maneka stood nearby, totally dazed and unable to come to terms with the tragedy that had struck her at such a young age. (She was only 23 years old.)
It was confirmed that Sanjay was no more amidst us even as reality was refusing to sink in. I moved towards the administrative block of the hospital and as I reached the Medical Superintendent’s room, Yashpal Kapoor, a close aide of Indira Gandhi and the Chairman of National Herald, saw me and asked me to come in. I had known Kapoor for several years and he yelled, “Kaka andar aaja” (Young man, come inside.)
Kapoor went on, “Aaj se 20 saal pehle, main iske baap ki laash ko yahan se leke gaya tha, aaj mujhe isse bhi lejana padega.” (Twenty years ago, I carried his father’s body from here, and now I have to carry his body as well.) Kapoor was referring to the late Feroze Gandhi, who had died in the same hospital. His words sent a chill up my spine. I decided then and there that they could be part of the opening sentence of a report I would do for the next morning’s paper. I came out and ran into Coomi Kapoor, then the Chief Reporter of Indian Express. She asked me what was going on and I shared whatever information I had. I was thinking on my feet. National Herald had opened up after a lockdown and had no resources. I had little money on me as well. The only way of reaching the spot would be to hitch a ride in the Indian Express Matador which was with Coomi. She was kind enough to accommodate me in it and we drove to the Chanakyapuri area and turned right after the Indonesian Embassy towards the Vishwa Yuvak Kendra and the Circular Road leading to a drain on the rear of the Willingdon Crescent Bungalows.
The vehicle was stopped after some distance and we walked towards the drain where the plane carrying Sanjay and his co-pilot, Captain Subhash Saxena had crashed. The supreme irony is that the brand-new Pitts-2 aircraft had come down, very close to the rear entrance of 12, Willingdon Crescent, the official residence allotted to Indira Gandhi during the Janata Party rule. The mangled remains of the plane bore testimony to the violent crash that had taken place. People had gathered there and the police had a tough time cordoning off the area. The Police Commissioner, Pritam Singh Bhindar, who had been hand-picked by Sanjay to head the Delhi Police, superseding several of his seniors in the process, was present there. We were informed that another Sanjay appointee, Lt Governor Jagmohan, was at the spot earlier but had left by then.
Eye witnesses stated that the plane was in the air and the pilot (Sanjay) was trying his hand at advanced aerobatics. It had taken one loop and as another was being attempted, it did not gain the required altitude and smashed near to the nallah. The injured occupants were rushed to the hospital where they were declared dead. Indira Gandhi also reached the pummeled site and appeared to survey the tragic scene while combating her bottomless sorrow. Soon after she left, there were rumours that she was searching for something, probably a bunch of keys or a watch, which perhaps were missing. This turned out to be inaccurate, though the deceased’s detractors used it to spread the canard that the keys and watch were linked to Sanjay’s bank accounts and other dealings.
By then, the place was swarming with newsmen and I decided to go to 1, Safdarjung Road, the Prime Minister’s residence to take in what was happening. In the meantime, I had informed my Chief Reporter, D.K. Issar that I was at the spot and covering the unfolding story. Arrangements to seat people had started, and Durrees were being spread in the lawns outside the house. Spiritual singers, belonging to various faiths, had also started arriving. It was an excessively hot day and the task of covering the event had become even more difficult as I had not consumed even a morsel since morning. My own personal grief was overwhelming as well. A few months earlier, Issar had assigned me the task of covering the birth of Sanjay and Maneka’s son, Feroze Varun, on 13 March at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The very thought that the child may grow up without a father, made me immensely sad. And what about Maneka? What would she do now? Many questions crossed my restless mind and I started recollecting whatever memories I had of Sanjay, the foremost being my visit to Amethi in March, 1977 along with my late friend, Deepak Malhotra, and the then Indian Youth Congress president, Ambika Soni. I was with the NSUI that time and we had gone to assist Sanjay in his maiden election from this underdeveloped area adjacent to Rae Bareilly, Indira Gandhi’s constituency. Sanjay was contesting against Ravindra Pratap Singh who had extensive support in the region and RSS cadres were leaving no stone unturned for his victory. It was at Amethi where I had first met Kamal Nath, then a party activist. It was there that I also came to know about Akbar ‘Dumpy’ Ahmed, Sanjay’s great buddy. Both Kamal Nath and Dumpy were in the Doon School with Sanjay and were amongst his closest confidants.
I had first seen Sanjay at the IYC office, then located at 10, Janpath where he had come to address a press conference in support of his Five Point Programme. This was during the Emergency and my friend, Prem Swarup Nayyar who was attached to Ambika Soni and was also president of the New Delhi Youth Congress, had facilitated my entry into a room which I think is now the meeting point of those who go to meet Sonia Gandhi. I had met Sanjay several times later, mostly with Mohammad Shamim of the Times of India, who was extremely close to the Gandhis, and subsequently became my mentor in Political reporting. Shamim Saab had ready access to the Gandhi household, and both Sanjay and Rajiv were most fond of him. Both would address him as “Sir’’ and he was undoubtedly, a person in whom Indira Gandhi reposed immense faith. From the sidelines, had also watched Sanjay outmaneuver seasoned politicians like Raj Narain, the man who had defeated Indira in 1977 and who was primarily responsible for the fall in 1979 of the Morarji Desai government. The meetings would take place at 46, Pusa Road, the residence of Mohan Meakin boss, Kapil Mohan. Sanjay would always be accompanied by Kamal Nath who had emerged as his right-hand man.
By then, Sanjay had become a legend in his own right. While in Opposition, the Janata party attempted to implicate him in several cases. However, he fought back and with the help of his Youth Congress storm troopers led by Nayyar and Lalit Maken, paved the way for the return of the Congress to power in 1980. He possessed an indomitable spirit and astounding energy which he used for out of the box thinking to counter his countless enemies who had been fed on false propaganda concerning the Family Planning programme by jealous politicians and over-zealous bureaucrats wanting to be on the right side of the establishment. Sanjay was certainly ahead of his times, and all his programmes, from the need to have a small family, to ecology preservation to literacy were reflective of his vision and approach to politics. His entrepreneurship was evident when he launched the Maruti project with very little support from the established companies. His understanding of human nature enabled him to choose leaders who till today form the backbone of the Congress. It is Sanjay’s team that has served the party beyond four decades, and it is only leaders from his stable, who can perhaps provide the future leadership to the party where the sagging morale of its workers has put a huge question mark over its future. There have been attempts to rewrite the history of the Congress and if they have not succeeded it is solely because people and genuine supporters of the party have not allowed distortion to take place. Sanjay was clearly the heir apparent to Indira Gandhi and a deserving one at that. Her legacy belonged to him and his family more than to anyone else. Rajiv was his brother, but a reluctant politician on whose shoulder the party’s weight rested following Indira Gandhi’s brutal assassination. He was a gentleman who was let down by his own friends; this, however, was not the case with Sanjay, whose loyalists continue to swear by him. Ironically, Sanjay’s wife and son are today a part of the BJP, a party he would have whole-heartedly opposed, yet sometimes circumstances determine the course of future.
However, in 2009, when Feroze Varun contested his maiden election from Pilibhit/Bareilly, the Congress launched an all-out attack on him. At that time, I had met some of the old Youth Congress activists during a round of western UP. They categorically told me that while they were in the Congress, they would ensure the victory of Feroze Varun, who was the “son of their leader”. “How can he lose from our region?” was their war cry. This was Sanjay’s charisma and till today, many decades after he has been gone, his supporters continue to believe that only a leader like him could have led the country in the hour of crisis. His many facets emerged as time has passed and more details regarding him slowly started trickling into the public domain. Sanjay was truly a leader, a man with great conviction and a person who was never shy of initiating action. He was vilified yet he had the strength to overcome and hold his own ground. This is how he was made.
Throttling environment to push growth agenda
Environmental concerns are once again trapped in a scrimmage but interestingly it’s not between people and the government but this time, it’s the government that is treating the judiciary as a suspect. The government’s pet organisation ‘NITI Aayog’ appeared to be wary of judicial speed-breakers to its environmental oversights in developmental policies. This was considered an obstruction to NITI Aayog’s central role as per its standing for National Institution for Transforming India that would stimulate economic growth, promote development rather than hang its head before the judiciary which on most occasions emerged as a shield around forests, water bodies, and wildlife in the country.
A non-governmental organisation CUTS International, becomes a powerful vehicle to allude to a contract for research from NITI Aayog. The research study undertaken by CUTS International aims to examine some of the recent judgments by the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal, handed over to them by NITI Aayog’s CEO. The research study highlights that the judgements delivered do not take into account a calibrated approach while delivering justice. The brief highlights that “some of the recent judgments/orders of the SC and NGT indicate that the economic impact analysis of judicial decisions is yet to gain broader acceptance. The absence of ex-ante analysis of the economic costs associated with a decision is further exacerbated when judicial activism by courts and tribunals is also in play.” This brief put up by CUTS International is part of the study that has been funded by NITI Aayog to study the unintended economic impact and reverberation of judicial activism.
The research study has undertaken an examination of five cases out of which three have been decided by the SC and the other two by the NGT. While the SC cases deal with the suspension of the construction of Mopa Airport in Goa, suspension of iron-ore mining in Goa, and shutdown of Sterlite copper plant in Thootukudi, the NGT judgments deal with sand mining ban case and halt on the construction activities in Delhi NCR. This turns tables of the government’s commitment to achieving targets of the Sustainable Development Goal and the Paris Pact by 2030.
While one cannot disagree with CUTS International suggesting training for judges that has also been a repeated demand by many scholars across the country since new challenges of transdisciplinarity in environmental concerns is also a potentially powerful hurdle generating major deficits in justice delivery. For example, judges have failed to link environmental preparedness to disasters or ensuring time and space factors while ordering displacement of the poor from their unauthorised slums. The deficits of governance are mostly linked to a tendency of treating individuals in isolation to their ecosystem, creating silos of solutions for each one of them notwithstanding a million distortions in the process. A recent column that caught my attention ‘Is Law Enough to protect Environment?’ by Amita Singh where she has argued that law and the protectors of justice have always been complacent in protecting the denizens of the environment which are smaller nationalities linked together but not understood by the conceitful eyes of humans. The issues of ethics, integrity, and accountability are as much a need for the judiciary as it is for the administrators of the country. The voice of the voiceless has always been antagonised by the superior and the mighty living being in the garb of stimulating progress and economic development. To understand the dichotomy agonising the conundrum between environmental and development, CUTS International appears to be holding hands of its funding agency the NITI Aayog for endorsing that judicial concerns for the environment have led to major economic losses. CUTS International and NITI Aayog surface as organisations in primary need of training in issues of environment, development, and commitment to sustainable progress.
As the SC raises its head on some occasions to address calls for environmental protection, some of the aggressively pursued policy decisions by the government face a setback nonetheless, many still sneak through the crevices of courtrooms as major disasters to the citizens of this country. One such decision waiting to be addressed is that of the 2019 auction of Bakshwaha forest by the Madhya Pradesh government to the Aditya Birla Group Essel Mining and Industries Limited for undertaking diamond mining for a 50 years lease period for 342 million carats of diamonds. This catastrophic mining project will lead to the wreckage of 382.131 hectares of forest land. As per the forest department estimates, 2,15,875 trees include some precious and medicinal trees in the forest area. The Bakshwaha forest in Chhatarpur district adjoining Panna in Madhya Pradesh is an ecologically fragile region with forest natural resources that provides for the livelihood of ST population inhabiting the forest area. This project also poses a great danger to wildlife.
In the ‘Geological Report on the Exploration of Diamonds’ in the Bakshwaha forest that was submitted in May 2017 by the Directorate of Geology and Mining, Madhya Pradesh, it has been reported that there are plenty of jungle cat, sloth bear, jackal, striped hyena, Indian fox, and wild dog among others. In contrast, a more recent report submitted by the forest department shows no evidence of wildlife found in the area. A PIL has been filed in the SC to stop this ecological destruction and awaits its due diligence in the court of law. Will the NITI Aayog conduct another research to assess economic losses due to ‘judicial activism’ if the court declares it environmentally destructive? Why environmentally sound decisions by the apex court are being treated as ‘judicial activism’ by the CEO of NITI Aayog.
Government is a ‘public trustee’ as affirmed clearly in the Kamal Nath case of 1992. The notion of public trust as envisaged by Joseph Sax (1970) can be defined as an affirmation of the duty and responsibility of the state to protect all common property resources — streams, lakes, marshlands, rivers, land, tidelands, and mountains held in public trust. It is a basis to ensure inter-generational equity that affirms that common resources are to be preserved by the government for use by current and future generations. The NITI Aayog has been the flag carrier to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 as laid out by the UN has contradicted its aim by supporting a research study that seeks to undermine the tenets of environmental justice. As per the report by Shreegireesh Jalihal of ‘The Reporters Collective’, it has been found that the NITI Aayog didn’t follow the specified norms and regulations of inviting competitors through open tender and instead commissioned CUTS International to do the research for Rs 24.8 lakh. By supporting such a research study for examining the economic cost of judicial decisions is neither eligible as research nor a study in national interest. So on what grounds was this work allocated to CUTS International? This demands accountability for public money spent for personal ambitions by government servants at the NITI Aayog.
This year the ‘World Environment Day’ theme suggested by the UN is ‘Ecosystem Restoration’. The danger caused by deforestation is irrepressible and its impact on public health is even more alarming. David Wallace-Wells’ book ‘The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming’ says that “every sq km of deforestation produces 27 additional cases of malaria, thanks to what is called vector proliferation when the trees are cleared out, the bugs move in.” Covid- 19 has ensured some wisdom to homo sapiens that despite a unilateral assumption of being at the top of the environmental or bio-species, it is not only ‘not the mightiest’ but also an extremely weak creature knocked out by an invisible, microscopic zoonotic virus ruling the race now for many months and still going strong. The top priority of the government should be environmental conservation and anything that stands against it should be treated as a sacrilege even if this lasso drops from a window at NITI Aayog.
The writer is a research scholar in Centre for the Study of Law & Governance, JNU, Delhi & Consultant, Center for Land Governance.
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