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How PM Modi’s labour code bills are transforming India

Sanju Verma

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Parliament, in the Monsoon Session last year, passed three labour code bills—the Industrial Relations Code, Social Security Code and the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code. Meanwhile, the Wage Code Bill, 2019 had been passed by the Parliament in 2019. The Wage Code Bill replaced four related legislations – the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965 and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. Addressing the Rajya Sabha after the passage of the Bill, Minister of State for Labour and Employment Santosh Kumar Gangwar had said in 2019, “The Code on Wages will ensure statutory protection for minimum wages and timely payment of wages to approximately 500 million workers in the organised and unorganised sectors. It will also do away with regional imbalances and wage variations with a floor wage to be determined by a “Tripartite Committee” comprising representatives of trade unions, employers’ organisations and state governments.”

Key provisions like making all categories of workers eligible for minimum wages, as against only 30% of the workforce being eligible at present, are indeed path-breaking. Minimum wages would be extended to the entire services sector, to domestic workers, unorganised workers and teachers, among others, to mainstream the informal sector. The Narendra Modi government pushed through these unprecedented reforms to make India a globally competitive manufacturing hub by passing the aforesaid labour codes to simplify India’s archaic and labyrinthine central and state-level labour laws. This would make it easier for foreign and Indian companies to conduct business activities in India without compromising on workers’ welfare in any way.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done what none before him could even dare to attempt. India’s labour market reforms will herald the dawn of a new era in making businesses more efficient, cutting down extra flab and allowing flexibility in hiring and retrenchment, making industrial strikes difficult, removing multiple licensing and paperwork and, of course, getting rid of disguised unemployment. Disguised unemployment is a scenario where employees are underutilised and therefore underpaid, as there is not enough work that can be allocated to them for various reasons.

India jumped 14 places to the 63rd position in the ease of doing business (EODB) rankings last year and by 79 positions in five years (2014-19). The Covid-19 situation has made the lives of both the employer and employee relatively difficult. Under these circumstances, these new labour codes are bound to make new enterprises investor friendly, increase ease of doing business and make it attractive to invite foreign entities which want to exit China. A key element of the proposed Social Security Code is to clearly define migrant workers and also enlarge the scope of the current scheme to cover the gig economy and those outside the organised sector, while recognising the emergence of online platforms and aggregators that provide access to workers. The bill has mandated the registration of all unorganised and gig and platform workers and the provision of insurance, maternity, creche and old age protection benefits. Industries and workers are two sides of the same coin and these three bills have tried to balance the rights and obligations of both employers and employees.

Besides, it has been proposed that companies with up to 300 workers be allowed to hire and fire workers without seeking prior government permission, as part of the Industrial Relation Code Bill, 2020. The earlier threshold had been up to 100 workers. Companies with more than 300 workers need to apply for approval, but if authorities do not respond to their request, then it will be deemed approved. Besides, as per the IR Code, a notice period of 60 days will have to be given by trade unions or employees before going on a strike. During the pendency of proceedings before a Tribunal or National Industrial Tribunal, and even 60 days after the conclusion of such proceedings, workers cannot go on a strike. Strike conditions have been applied to all industries. Currently, it is between two weeks and six weeks. This is a game-changing move that will discourage flash strikes and enhance productivity significantly.

Together, these four labour codes consolidate and reconcile more than 40 central labour laws and over 100 state laws on the subject that hitherto often contradicted each other, making labour compliance a nightmare for businesses operating across the country. For example, there was no universally accepted definition of “wage” across the country. This resulted in differences in interpretation, frequent litigation and a perverse incentive for industries to stay small to avoid onerous provisions that kick in with higher labour counts. The new labour codes, however, incentivise both small and large businesses and disincentivise the deliberate need to stay small.

Going forward, however, these four codes will replace the welter of federal and provincial laws. One of the major factors impeding India’s global competitiveness and hindering the entry of large global manufacturing companies looking for alternatives to China is India’s rigid, stringent and outdated labour laws. But successive Congress-led governments that ruled India for decades together never mustered the political will or courage to carry out the long overdue labour reforms, blinded by the jaded and outdated Nehru-Mahalanobis model, that was steeped in an incompetent, socialist mindset. Most Indian governments over the years have also shied away from trying to reform the labour markets because of opposition from labour unions and the political parties with which these labour unions are affiliated.

India, till recently, ranked 103rd out of 141 countries, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), on the competitiveness of its labour market. The new labour codes address all labour related issues without cutting back on worker benefits in any way. Interestingly, a research paper by University of Kent economist Amrit Amirapu and Pennsylvania State University’s Michael Gechter found that India’s restrictive labour regulations are associated with a 35% increase in a company’s labour costs. Several onerous procedures apply to companies with 10 or more employees, which have given rise to the practice of businesses incorporating several companies, often benami and shell companies, just to report under 10 employees. This was amongst the main reasons for the high cost of compliance with India’s labour laws, including costs emanating from corruption. However, thanks to the tremendous determination, reformist mindset and courage of conviction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the new labour codes will curb corruption and cut through the swathe of unnecessary paperwork and compliances, thereby, incentivising entrepreneurship, among other things.

India under an inept Congress had watched from the sidelines as many contract manufacturers and western MNCs in China set up factories in the Philippines and Vietnam and even Bangladesh as India›s labour laws made it globally uncompetitive. For example, these countries have several export-oriented factories employing 10,000-plus workers each, in sectors such as garments, footwear, toys and jewellery. But investors were reluctant to set up such large factories in India, because labour law compliance costs alone would make them globally uncompetitive. The Modi government›s new labour codes, however, are expected to address these decade-old concerns to make India globally competitive and get the Indian industry, both domestic and foreign-owned, ready for a post-Covid world.

Another oft-repeated complaint against India was the prevalence of the so-called Inspector Raj—intrusive inspections by government officials that had become a tool to harass businesses and extract rent from them. The new codes address all these issues without cutting back on any worker benefits.

As part of its Aatmanirbhar Bharat push, the government has decided to encourage medium enterprises to grow in size. The bill also reflects the changing nature of the economy; the growth of the gig sector and the vulnerability of sections of workers, from migrant labourers to house helpers, who despite playing a crucial role did not fit into the traditional definition of a “worker”, will finally get their due now. The new proposed labour laws will amalgamate 29 existing labour laws and pave the way for simplifying laws and take welfare measures to India’s 50 crore workers, spanning the organised and unorganised sectors.

Some experts allege that the blanket exemptions to industries through various provisions will lead to social and economic unrest, promote contractualisation and take away job security and wage security. These allegations are baseless as, in many areas, fixed-term workers and regular workers will enjoy equal benefits. The Social Security Code also aims at universalising social security by bringing informal workers under its ambit. Henceforth, companies with less than 20 workers can voluntarily join EPFO to get social security benefits and internal workers will be free to voluntarily join the employee state insurance (ESI) scheme for getting healthcare benefits. The Code also talks about platform companies employing gig workers to make a provision of 1% to 2% of their profits for the social security needs of their workers.

People need not work continuously for five years to get gratuity benefits, according to the new Social Security Code bill. The Code has removed the mandatory minimum gratuity threshold of five years, while introducing a different threshold structure for various categories of workers. Regular and permanent employees will now have to work for at least five years to become eligible, while fixed-term or contractual workers will have no such limit. Instead, their gratuity payment will be linked to their tenure of work. For working journalists, the Code makes a provision to avail gratuity benefits after three years of service, and for seasonal workers, gratuity payments equivalent to the salary for seven days will be provided for every season of work. Earlier, the five-year gratuity payment was mandatory, which meant that millions of workers used to forfeit their gratuity deposits, the salary for 15 days for every year of work, if they resigned or lost their jobs before the stipulated period. However, the bill makes provisions such that if an employee is involved in damaging activities and/or has damaged property, his gratuity payment can either be adjusted against the damage or forfeited.

The new labour codes also do away with multiple licenses required under different central and state laws and provide for a single licensing mechanism and will, thus, improve the ease of doing business in India. The new Code also revamps outdated laws on industrial disputes by simplifying the adjudication procedures. This is expected to lead to early resolution of labour disputes.

Opposition parties like the Congress and the Left and leftist trade unions have objected to this Code, saying it will make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers but the law addresses this issue by providing for a reskilling fund to help train workers who may lose their jobs. This Code lays down the safety standards that have to be followed by different sectors and mandates the number of hours that employees can be made to work, specifies their leaves and other entitlements. More importantly, it recognises the rights of contract workers, also called fixed-term employees, and gives them the same benefits as regular workers in terms of social security benefits and wages.

The Code lays down an eight-hour work day for all workers and a maximum of six working days a week. Businesses wanting their employees to work more than eight hours a day will have to pay them overtime wages at twice the regular rate. This will be applicable to all units, regardless of size. By mandating companies to provide social security to contract workers, the law gives them an ample level of security. This will especially help the gifting, toy and furniture sectors. These sectors typically see a spike in demand in the run-up to the festive season and allow Indian companies to service the Christmas market in the US and in Europe and other parts of the world, without having to take on board workers for the full year. This crucial reform will allow Indian companies to henceforth hire fixed-term employees depending on seasonal demand.

The new labour codes specifically mandate the equality of women employees, who can now be engaged in all types of work in all businesses and are subject to health and safety considerations. They can work before 6 am and beyond 7 pm, but only with their express consent. In another woman-friendly measure, the law says that no business can employ a woman for six weeks following the delivery of a child, miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy. In a path-breaking provision, this Code also mandates businesses to provide separate toilets and locker rooms for male, women and transgender workers. The fact that this law specifies safety standards that have to be followed by different sectors and mandates the number of hours that employees can be made to work is hugely empowering for workers. The new Social Security Code will replace nine Social Security laws, including the Employees’ Provident Fund Act, Employees’ Pension Scheme, Employees’ Compensation Act and Maternity Benefit Act, among others.

This Code brings workers in the unorganised sector as well as freelance workers, who are sometimes called gig or platform workers, into the ambit of social security coverage and mandates companies such as Uber, Ola, Zomato and others, to set aside 1-2% of their annual turnover in a social security fund, to be administered by the Government of India, for their workers. It also extends social security cover for agricultural workers for the first time and eases the conditions for payment of gratuity to employees, including those on fixed term contracts.

All employees will now have an offer letter and both the Centre and the States will create a database on migrant workers and offer them several benefits including the portability of the public distribution system and construction cess benefits. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s groundbreaking labour laws have been envisaged by recognising the changes in the global scenario in a post-Covid world. The new labour codes seek to transform India and rid it of outdated technologies and methodologies. The reduction in compliance burden would also facilitate the expansion of establishments, helping to create jobs on a large-scale, across a plethora of segments and sectors, giving Prime Minister Modi’s transformational ‘Make in India’ vision a huge boost.

The writer is an economist, national spokesperson of the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

AGRA HOSPITAL WHERE 22 PATIENTS DIED SHOULD BE CHARGED WITH MASS MURDER

Pankaj Vohra

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In a shocking revelation, the owner of a hospital in Agra has claimed on a video that went viral, that he had directed the oxygen supply to some patients to be discontinued for some time to determine, who all could survive without it. As a consequence of this ‘mock drill’ 22 patients died both in the Covid and non-Covid areas of the medical institution. Although the Uttar Pradesh authorities have ordered an inquiry to go into the claim and have suspended the licence of the hospital, yet a strong case is made against those responsible for this gross callous behaviour. If the inquiry establishes any kind of wrongdoing, the owner and all those involved in this brainless exercise should be charged with mass murder, and their case should be put before fast-track court to dispense justice.

These kinds of drills should only be carried under normal circumstances and with adequate precautions and close monitoring by the authorities. In any case, before embarking on this misadventure, the owner and others should have at least kept the district administration posted so they could have also deployed a backup plan.

The entire episode is bizarre and insane and if it had happened in a developed country, lawsuits would have ensured that the hospital authorities would have gone out of business for a long time. In any case, mock drills or real-time things do not mostly work when the actual situations occur. In the early 1980s, the Delhi Fire department learned for the first time that its equipment was inadequate to handle multi-storey fires after a huge blaze at the Gopala Towers at Rajendra Place broke out.

Helicopters that were deployed to pour water from above made things worse since the rotors fanned the fire further. It was in June and the Fire hoses could only go up to a particular height which was not sufficient to bring things under control. The Fire department did not have the requisite equipment to deal with the situation. It was only later that Snorkels and Turn Table ladders were acquired.

Even now, the Fire services in the NCR, particularly in Gurgaon need to be strengthened. With so many multi-storied structures, one shudders to think what would happen if some major untoward incident was to take place. The Disaster Management Committee and the Crisis Management Group, have meetings and plans which need to work when something actually happens.

One can recall that when the Indian Airlines aircraft was hijacked to Kandahar, the telephone numbers at the crisis management office were all found to be outdated. The preparations should factor in various aspects including the presence of multiple authorities that call the shots in the country. Delhi appears to be better prepared than most cities but its contradictions do not seem to be evident to the authorities.

There is an urgent need to review all the plans that have been put in place for any kind of emergency so that things don’t backfire at the apt time. Prevention is the best cure for most situations.

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Opinion

HOW MODI GOVERNMENT IS EMPOWERING FARM ECONOMY

It is time for India’s Opposition and pressure groups to wake up, smell the coffee and change their mindset because the agriculture reforms by the Narendra Modi government are pro-farmers and the new farm laws are indeed India’s ‘Glasnost’ moment, as these reforms will usher in greater transparency in the country’s farm sector. For this government, ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’, is not just a slogan.

Sanju Verma

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What has the Modi government done for the well-being of India’s farm community? This is a question that is often asked. Well, for starters, the government has been transferring cash directly to farmers. Over Rs 1.35 lakh crore has been paid (via PM-KISAN, since its inception, in December 2018) to over 12 crore farmers. From just 255 million tonnes in 2012-13, under an inept Congress regime, to 297.5 million tonnes in 2019-20 and 303.34 million tonnes of foodgrain production in 2020-21, is a vindication of how India’s self-sufficiency, with an exportable surplus in the foodgrain space, has added to India’s economic heft. The latest data available with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) shows wheat procurement crossed 418 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) till May 29, 2021, in the ongoing rabi marketing season (RMS), higher than 390 LMT in RMS 2019-20. The current year’s wheat procurement figure is the highest ever in post-independent India. This is also the first time that wheat procurement has crossed the 400 LMT mark. The record wheat procurement comes just after the all-time high procurement of paddy. In the 2020-21 Kharif marketing season (KMS), paddy procurement crossed 789 LMT, compared to 773 LMT in KMS 2019-20, according to FCI data.

Given the hue and cry over Minimum Support Price (MSP), it is only apt to ask, what has been the track record of the Modi government? Without an iota of doubt, the track record on MSP has been exemplary. Minimum Support Price (MSP) is a form of market intervention by the Central government, to insure agricultural producers against any sharp fall in farm prices. For the 2021-22 crop year, the Modi government raised the MSP of paddy (common variety) by Rs. 72, to Rs 1940 per quintal from Rs 1868 per quintal in the year-ago period. The MSP of Grade A variety of paddy has also been increased by Rs. 72 to Rs. 1960 per quintal this year from Rs. 1888 per quintal last year. Among coarse cereals, the government increased the MSP of jowar (hybrid) by Rs 118 to Rs 2738 per quintal from Rs 2620 per quintal last year.

A similar increase has been made in support price of jowar (Maldani) to Rs 2,758 per quintal for the 2021-22 crop year. The government increased the support price of bajra by Rs 100 to Rs 2,250 per quintal from Rs 2,150 per quintal last year, while ragi support price has been increased by Rs 82 to Rs 3,377 per quintal from Rs 3,295 per quintal last year. The support price of maize has been increased marginally by Rs 20 to Rs 1,870 per quintal for the 2021-22 crop year from Rs 1,850 per quintal last year. The government has made concerted efforts over the last few years to realign the MSPs in favour of oilseeds, pulses, and coarse cereals to encourage farmers to shift to the larger area under these crops and adopt the best technologies and farm practices, to correct the demand-supply imbalance. The added focus on Nutri-rich, Nutri-cereals is to incentivise their production in the areas, where rice-wheat cannot be grown without long-term adverse implications for groundwater table.

To boost pulses and oilseeds’ production and reduce the country’s dependence on imports, the government increased the support price of tur and urad dal by Rs 300 to Rs 6,300 per quintal each. Moong support price has been increased by Rs 79 to Rs 7,275 per quintal for the 2021-22 crop year.

Among Kharif-grown oilseeds, the government increased the support price in the case of sesamum by Rs 452, to Rs 7,307 per quintal and that of groundnut by Rs 275 to Rs 5,550 per quintal for the 2021-22 crop year. Sunflower seed MSP has been increased by Rs 130 to Rs 6,015 per quintal from Rs 5,885 per quintal. For oilseeds, the government has approved an ambitious plan for the free distribution of high-yielding varieties of seeds to the farmers for the Kharif season 2021 in the form of mini-kits.

The special Kharif programme will bring an additional 6.37 lakh hectare area under oilseeds and is likely to produce 120.26 lakh quintals of oilseeds and edible oil amounting to 24.36 lakh quintals. On fertilisers, retail prices of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) recently rose in line with global markets, but the government increased the subsidy portion to ensure farmers continue to get the key soil nutrient at Rs 1,200 per bag. In effect, subsidy on DAP was raised by a massive 140% from Rs 500 to Rs 1,200 per bag.

Coming to the Modi government’s track record, the numbers speak for themselves. MSP payment to farmers for paddy rose by 2.4 times to Rs 4.95 lakh crore between 2014 and 2019 under the Modi government, as against only Rs 2.06 lakh crore, under the previous, Congress-led regime, between 2009 and 2014. MSP to farmers for wheat increased by 1.77 times during 2014-19, to Rs 2.97 lakh crore, compared to Rs 1.68 lakh crore in the 2009-14 period. MSP payment for pulses surged by a whopping 75 times under the Modi government to Rs 49,000 crore from 2014-19, compared to a measly Rs 645 crore, under the Congress-led UPA-2. Payment to farmers for Oilseeds and Copra also surged 10 times under the Modi government, to Rs 25,000 crore, during the last five years, in comparison to MSP payment of just Rs 2,460 crore, in the period from 2009 to 2014, under the Congress-led, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) establishment.

Has the Modi government been fair to farmers in Punjab? Well, the straight answer to that is a loud and clear, ‘yes’. In April and May 2021, a little over Rs 21,000 was paid to wheat-growing farmers as MSP, of which a solid Rs 8,200 crore was paid to farmers in Punjab alone. Do the farm bills dismantle the existing ‘APMC-Anaj Mandi’ structure? No, they do not. Going forward, farmers will have the choice and freedom to sell their produce either at APMC designated wholesale Mandis or in ‘Trade Areas’. There will be no taxes or levies of either State or Central government, on trade conducted in these ‘Trade Areas’, thereby reducing the cost of transaction in the entire food chain, from farm to fork. Hence, the whole narrative that ‘Trade Areas’ are anti-farmer is false.

Talking of farm infrastructure, the Modi government launched a new Agriculture Infrastructure Fund worth Rs/ 1 lakh crore, meant for setting up storage and processing facilities, which will help farmers get higher prices for their crops. The government launched the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana – a flagship scheme for focused development of the fisheries sector in the country, with an estimated investment of Rs. 20,050 crore during a period of the next five years. The Modi government also launched a Rs. 15,000 crore Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund with an interest subsidy scheme to promote investment by private players and MSMEs in dairy, meat processing, and animal feed plants, a move which is expected to create 35 lakh jobs. So the government has been working at strengthening farm infrastructure. This, along with the new Farm Laws (in abeyance temporarily), will boost the productivity of the agrarian sector to areas beyond just growing traditional crops like paddy or wheat.

The Farm Laws also allow for contract farming, whereby farmers can enter into contracts, at a predetermined price, even before the crop has been harvested, with private companies, aggregators, food processors, and exporters. This is an unprecedented reform, as it allows farmers to lock in a good price for their harvest and insulates them from any post-harvest, product-related, or price volatility. The formation of 10,000 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) is on track. These FPOs are largely clusters or groups of farmers who are brought together so that credit and other assistance can be extended to them. There are already about 5000 FPOs in India, of which only a handful are private. More than 3900 FPOs are affiliated to NABARD or small farmers’ agri-business consortium (SFAC). Hence allegations of corporatisation and blanket privatisation of Indian agriculture are baseless.

Huge growth has been seen in the export of cereals with the export of non-basmati rice growing by 136.04% to $4794.54 million, wheat by 774.17% to $549.16 million, and other cereals (millets, maize, and other coarse gains) by 238.28% to $694.14 million in FY21. India’s agriculture exports (including marine and plantation products) have beaten the pandemic, registering a growth of 17.34% to $41.25 billion in 2020-21. In Rupee terms, the increase in agri exports is 22.62%, with exports during 2020-21 amounting to Rs 3.05 lakh crore as compared to Rs 2.49 lakh crore during 2019-20.

India’s agricultural and allied imports during 2019-20 were USD 20.64 billion and the corresponding figures for 2020-21 are $20.67 billion. Despite Covid, the balance of trade in agriculture has improved by 42.16% from $14.51 billion to $20.58 billion.

For agriculture products (excluding marine and plantation products), the growth is 28.36% with exports of $29.81 billion in 2020-21 as compared to $23.23 billion in 2019-20. India has been able to take advantage of the increased demand for staples during the Covid period. Huge growth has been seen in the export of cereals with the export of non-basmati rice growing by 136.04% to $4794.54 million; wheat by 774.17% to $549.16 million; and other cereals (millets, maize, and other coarse gains) by 238.28% to usd 694.14 million.

The organic exports during 2020-21 were $1,040 million as against $689 million in 2019-20, registering a growth of 50.94%. Organic exports include oil cake/meals, oilseeds, cereals and millets, spices and condiments, tea, medicinal plant products, dry fruits, sugar, pulses, coffee, etc. Exports have also taken place from several clusters for the first time. For instance, the export of fresh vegetables and mangoes from Varanasi and black rice from Chandauli has taken place for the first time, directly benefiting farmers of the area. Exports have also taken place from other clusters viz. oranges from Nagpur, bananas from Theni and Ananthpur, mangoes from Lucknow, etc. Despite the pandemic, export of fresh horticulture produce took place by multimodal mode, and consignments were shipped by air and sea to Dubai, London, and other destinations from these areas. Hand holding by the Modi government, to build market linkages, post-harvest value chains, and an institutional structure such as FPOs, enabled North East farmers to send their value-added products beyond the Indian borders. Cereal exports have done well during 2020-21. The country has been able to export to several countries for the first time. For example, rice has been exported to countries like Timor-Leste, Puerto Rico, Brazil, for the first time. Similarly, wheat has been exported to countries like Yemen, Indonesia, Bhutan, and other cereals have been exported to Sudan, Poland, Bolivia.

Sugarcane-growing farmers too have benefitted in a big way, via an export subsidy of Rs. 3500 crore that was announced last year. The FRP of sugarcane at Rs 285 is 175% if the cost of production. The decision to increase ethanol blending to 20% by 2025 and increase procurement and capacity build-up of ethanol from 38 crore litres in 2014 to 195 crore litres, are big moves. In-principle approval was given last year to 185 sugar mills and standalone distilleries to avail Rs. 12,500 crore of loans for capacity addition of about 468 crore litres of ethanol per annum, as part of Modi government’s efforts to achieve 20% blending with petrol. In the last two years alone, 70 ethanol projects were sanctioned loans of Rs 3600 crore. Under the ethanol interest subvention scheme for molasses-based distilleries, the government in September 2020 also opened a window for 30 days to invite more applications from sugar mills and distilleries. In the normal sugar season, about 320 lakh tonnes of sugar is produced against domestic consumption of 260 lakh tonnes.

This 60 lakh tonnes of surplus sugar which remains unsold, blocks funds of sugar mills to the tune of about Rs 19,000 crore every year, thereby affecting liquidity positions of sugar mills resulting in accumulation of cane price arrears of farmers, the ministry said.

To deal with surplus sugar stocks, the government is providing financial assistance to mills for the export of sweeteners.

However, India being a developing country can export sugar by extending financial assistance for marketing and transport only up to 2023 as per WTO arrangements. For long-term solution to deal with surplus sugar, the government has therefore been encouraging diversion of excess sugarcane and sugar to ethanol for supplying to Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) for blending with petrol. The move would not only reduce import dependency on crude oil but will also enhance the income of sugarcane farmers.

Financial assistance is being extended by way of interest subvention for 5 years at a 6% rate of interest against the loans availed by sugar mills and distilleries from banks, for setting up their projects. The existing installed capacity of molasses-based distilleries has reached a massive, 426 crore litres. In 2020-21, the target has been to supply 325 crore litres of ethanol to OMCs for achieving 8.5% blending. In the next few years, with 20% ethanol blending with petrol, the Modi government will be able to reduce the import of crude oil, a step towards being Aatmanirbhar in the petroleum sector and this will also help in increasing the income of farmers and creating additional employment in distilleries.

To cut to the chase, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, famously said, “Mind is never a problem; Mindset is”. Well, it is time for India’s hapless opposition and pressure groups to wake up, smell the coffee and change their mindset, because the agri-reforms by the Modi government are pro farmers and the Farm Bills are indeed India’s “Glasnost” moment, as these reforms will usher in greater transparency, in India’s farm economy. For the Modi government, ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’, is not a mere slogan. The journey of the “Bharatiya Kisan” from being the “Annadata”, to also becoming the ‘Urjaadata’, is at the core of Modinomics.

The writer is an economist, national spokesperson of the BJP, and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. Views expressed are her personal.

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Opinion

HAS SECOND COVID-19 WAVE OPENED THE DOORS FOR OPPOSITION?

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s expertise at using strategic electoral cards to win elections has received a setback in the recently-held West Bengal Assembly elections. Ironically, while the second wave of the pandemic may be held accountable for diminishing the appeal of what was once projected as a Modi-wave, the West Bengal results convey a different message.

PM Modi needs to be on guard against strong state leaders. Voters have conveyed this by choosing to support Mamata Banerjee’s party in these polls. Clearly, regional parties with a firm base in their respective states and headed by popular leaders cannot be easily defeated and cornered by however strong national parties and their respective leaders are.

Of course, the coming year—with seven states heading for Assembly elections—may spell a different political scenario. Uttar Pradesh (UP), Punjab, and Gujarat are three of these states. While it is as yet too early to consider the prospects of BJP in UP and Gujarat, the return of Congress to power in Punjab cannot be ruled out.

In UP, a lot is dependent on how BJP’s rival parties play their cards. It may be recalled, during 2017 Assembly polls in UP, in a notable number of seats, total votes won by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) exceeded those secured by BJP by more than 20,000 votes. While BJP won 312 seats, BSP and SP managed to get only 19 and 47 respectively. Yet, it cannot be missed, BSP won around 22% votes, SP- 21%, while BJP secured 39% votes. This hard reality apparently prompted SP and BSP to align during the 2019 parliamentary elections. While BJP retained its lead in 2019, it won 62 seats, nine lesser than it had secured in 2014; BSP won 10, SP five, and the Congress only one seat. Perhaps, had its two rivals not remained divided in the 2014 parliamentary elections and 2017 Assembly polls, BJP’s fate may have been decided by a lesser number of seats.

Undeniably, the impact of the Modi wave cannot be ignored in deciding the BJP’s luck; the Modi wave doesn’t seem to be at the peak currently. This has suffered substantially because of Covid-19. It has certainly limited the electoral appeal of master cards exercised by PM Modi while campaigning. This also includes his ‘Ayodhya card’. Success on this front helped him dominate headlines for some time. The same may be said about his government’s decision regarding Jammu & Kashmir’s status, Triple Talaq, and also the more controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Yet, the second wave of the Covid-19 may have left a majority of Indians too tensed to be distracted by these issues

But, PM Modi and his team are least likely to give up on their master card. This is partly suggested by the repeat telecast of the once highly popular serial Ramayana. Indians are as religious as they were when this serial was first telecast during the late eighties on government channel Doordarshan. Ninety percent of the Indian population, which includes non-Hindus also, sat glued to their TV screens to watch this serial. There were also reports of some devout persons viewing the serial as a religious exercise. Some groups would indulge in violence, if due to some reason, there was a powe-cut, disrupting the serial’s telecast.

That was in the eighties, more than three decades ago, when the communication boom had not hit India. Compared to several hundred channels now, there was only one channel in the eighties, and that too for select hours. Now, viewers have the option to switch on channels round the clock. Besides, several religious programmes, including serials, are available now but the question of each and/or all being given the ‘religious’ importance that Ramayana-serial was in the late eighties is as good as non-existent.

In addition, the mobile era had not yet entered the scene then. Nor had the computer followed by the Internet. So people had no access to various means of communication that they now have. From one angle, Narendra Modi has the advantage of using multiple means of communication to spread ‘news’ about his accomplishments. The same may be used to increase negative campaigns against his rivals. Unfortunately, for him, the Covid phase has substantially derailed the expected positive impact of these electoral strategies.

During his UP campaign, BJP leaders may well be expected to talk of BJP winning all the 403 assembly seats. But as suggested, a lot may be decided by rival parties’ nature of aligning and campaigning. It would be sensible of Congress to maintain a low profile in UP in the way it seems to have done in West Bengal. This once-dominant party needs to focus more on retaining its base in Punjab, as it has a long way to go in UP. Congress won only seven seats in 2017 and 6.25% votes. There is a view that in Bihar assembly polls, the political results may have been different had Congress not insisted on contesting from 70 seats. It won 19 seats. At present, Congress needs to give more importance to respecting the strength of BJP’s rivals and aligning with them accordingly, rather than displaying over-confidence about its reach

Covid’s phase 2 has caught the BJP off-guard and there may be fewer chances of much-tried strategic electoral cards bearing the same relevance for voters. Prime Minister Modi’s recent national address is an indicator of him acting so as not to let his mastery of over communication strategies go off-track and get derailed by the effects of the pandemic.

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THE ETERNAL LEGACY OF INDRA DEVI

In the late 1930s, Eugenie Peterson, aka Indra Devi, launched her yoga school in Shanghai and became the first person in modern history to bring the ancient Indian practice to China. Her compassionate efforts made yoga accessible to everyone. Today in many nations, Indra Devi remains a name synonymous with contemporary yoga.

Bhuvan Lall

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On a splendid morning in March 1948, Marilyn Monroe stepped into the studio at Columbia Pictures where a photographer awaited her arrival. Just a year earlier she had made her Hollywood debut with The Shocking Miss Pilgrim. Her screen-time was so short that if one blinked one would miss her part. Five more insignificant roles later, Columbia Studio boss Harry Cohn spotted potential in the youngster and decided to offer her a six-month contract. At the studio, Oscar-winning still photographer Edward Cronenweth, renowned for publicity shots of Hollywood’s biggest stars adjusted his lenses. As he looked through the viewfinder, he saw a woman more beautiful than most stars with cobalt blue eyes and golden blonde hair. That day, he didn’t realize that the black and white photographs he shot for Columbia would be prized by private collectors and museums for decades. For Marilyn Monroe effortlessly posed for him in a sequence of body postures and twisted like a pretzel. It was Yoga– an import from India that was gently conquering Hollywood.

In another part of Los Angeles, at 8806 Sunset Boulevard, in a room filled with Americans, an amazing woman stood on her head. Her acquired name was Indra Devi and she demonstrated ‘shirshasana’ or headstand. Then the woman, responsible for figuratively turning Hollywood upside down in a picture-perfect move, stood back on her feet. Diminutive in stature but not in grace she explained to her enthusiastic students, some of whom were celebrities, “Yoga is an art and science of living. Yoga in Sanskrit means union, in all its significances and dimensions. Through a certain amount of physical and mental disciplines, we can learn how to stay healthy, alert, receptive and to improve our perception of the external world to feel internally harmonized, with a better life condition and spiritual balance.” Indra Devi fashioned Yoga as India’s most prominent export to the world before information technology.

Indra Devi’s fascinating life story commenced on 12 May 1899 in Riga, Latvia. She began her life as Eugenie Peterson. She was the daughter of Vasili Pavlovich Peterson, a Swedish Banker, and Sasha Zitovich, a Russian aristocrat. Her parents divorced when she was one and in her youth, she enrolled in a drama school in Moscow. Then the ten days of October 1917 shook the world and wrecked Eugenie’s life. The Communist takeover forced Eugenie and her mother to flee Latvia overnight. Along with thousands of refugees, her family too was deprived of their wealth. To make ends meet, she employed her formal drama training and became a stage artist in Berlin’s theatres. After the unforeseen devastation of the Russian Revolution and the First World War, European nobility partly inspired by George Gurdjieff, the Greek-Armenian mystic, seriously turned towards eastern philosophies. In her early years, Eugenie stumbled upon 14 Lessons in Yogi Philosophy and Oriental Occultism, by American author William Walter Atkinson. From that moment onwards, her heart was set on discovering India. In 1926, Eugenie heard the charismatic Indian sage, Jiddu Krishnamurthy singing sacred Sanskrit hymns at Ommen, Holland. There was no turning back. She sold all her jewels, bid farewell to a fiancé, and on 17 November 1927, boarded a ship in Italy destined for India.

In India, Eugenie traveled across the country as a backpacker. Deeply immersed in Indian culture, she learned to wrap a sari, eat without tableware, relish vegetarian cuisine and speak Hindi. India was in the middle of the tumultuous freedom movement, and she paid homage to the leading lights of the period including Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu and corresponded with Jawaharlal Nehru. Two years later on her second trip to India, she took lessons in classical dance. She performed in Bombay (Mumbai) the home of the nascent Indian film industry. In those early years besides finances, the filmdom was severely short of female actors. A major filmmaker Bhagwati Prasad Mishra witnessed the dance performance of Eugenie. He instantly cast the blue-eyed Russian girl as the heroine in his silent film, Sher-e-Arab (The Arabian Knight). Eugenie accepted the role since she had a history in theatre and needed money. Mishra gave her a screen name— Indra Devi (heavenly goddess). Later, she found herself on a film set in a gypsy skirt with a long, dark, braided wig and turban. Across from her was the hero of the film, the handsome rising star Prithviraj Kapoor. The success of Mishra’s Sher-e-Arab established her as the new star of the Indian cinema. Six films later, Eugenie’s tryst with stardom ended with the introduction of sound. Nonetheless, the brief star status automatically provided her with a brand name for the rest of her life.

Subsequently, Eugenie was courted by Jan Strakati, the middle-aged Commercial Attaché at the Czechoslovak Consulate in Bombay and soon they were husband and wife. In 1937 Eugenie bored of the predictable routines of a diplomat’s spouse experienced panic attacks that demanded medical attention. Later the couple was guests of Maharaja Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV, the philosopher-king of Mysore where the legendary yoga guru Tirumalai Krishnamacharya was the yogi-in-residence. Krishnamacharya was a remarkable man, who had vast knowledge of several disciplines and had studied Yoga from a master in Tibet. In 1935 with a ram-rod straight posture he openly demonstrated his ability to stop his heartbeat to a baffled French cardiologist Thérèse Brosse who certified it. At fifty, he had singlehandedly resurrected the millennia-old practice of Yoga. His most famous disciples were two teenagers, B.K.S. Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois, who later established the Iyengar and Ashtanga schools. Eugenie keen to recover from her illness expressed a desire to learn Yoga from Krishnamacharya. But the Grand Master stood on the threshold of the Mysore yogashala (school) at the Jaganmohan Palace, and didn’t let her step in as he had never taught a female student or a westerner. The Maharaja of Mysore in an attempt to unify the East and the West intervened and Krishnamacharya ultimately relented. As the first foreigner and a woman to be admitted to the yogashala, Eugenie observed its strict discipline and severe lifestyle protocol. Krishnamacharya customarily denied his students meals if their performance was deemed inadequate. Eugenie later told the Yoga Journal, “He was very strict with me, thinking that I would not keep up with the regime that he imposed on me”. But even though she was in her late thirties she was equal to every challenge Krishnamacharya set for her. She gave up coffee and turned into a strict vegetarian. Krishnamacharya taught her about the importance of breathing properly, relaxation, diet, and the significance of fasting. The Yoga training was designed to strengthen her body with a series of poses, shoulder stands, headstands, breathing exercises in the Lotus pose, and meditative practice for quietening the mind. The year-long punishing schedule helped her regain her health and the panic attacks vanished. After Strakati was posted to Shanghai, Krishnamacharya directed Eugenie to take Yoga to the world and trained her to be a yoga teacher. With an appetite for adventure, she sailed for Shanghai and to her surprise remained calm right through the stormy journey. She now accepted her life’s mission to be the global ambassador of Yoga.

In the late 1930s, Eugenie in a sari boldly launched her Yoga school in Shanghai and became the first person in modern history to bring the ancient Indian practice to China. Her style of teaching Yoga was characterized by compassion that made it accessible to everyone. Americans and Russians stationed in Shanghai along with the curious Chinese population were her initial trainees. Gradually her Yoga classes in the Chinese language multiplied, and she relocated from modest apartments to the spacious bungalow of Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Then the World War Two interrupted her life and the Japanese army ordered her to teach the staff of the American Consulate who were incarcerated. After enduring the desolation of the war, the emotionally exhausted Strakati returned to Czechoslovakia. Eugenie traveled to India again. She lived in the Himalayas and published her first book on Yoga. Subsequently, Eugenie sought a new direction in her life. At almost fifty she recognized that teaching Yoga was her only pursuit. Globally it was viewed as a mystical journey, however, she perceived it as India’s invaluable gift to humanity. Deeply influenced by Swami Vivekananda’s sensational Chicago address at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893, Eugenie intuitively boarded the troop carrier USS General W. H. Gordon in Shanghai and crossed the Pacific. She was poised to be one of the twentieth century’s most influential women in the world of Yoga.

Americans were drawn towards Indian spiritual traditions for decades. After Vivekananda’s awe-inspiring lecture tours, Vedanta Centres sprung up across America with one located in Hollywood. In the 1920s Swami Yogananda Paramahansa arrived in California and declared, “I have always considered Los Angeles to be the Benares of America.” He created three Self Realization Fellowship Temples in the Los Angeles area with two at either end of Sunset Boulevard. Even Jiddu Krishnamurti established his home eighty miles northwest of Los Angeles in Ojai. Eugenie disembarked at San Francisco on 21 January 1947 and one year later unveiled her business on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood in Los Angeles. A modest billboard placed outside the Yoga studio stated “Indra Devi Yoga Classes”. It wasn’t easy initially. Still, the former Indian star persevered. As an accomplished practitioner, she judiciously presented Yoga on American soil as a defense against illness and aging. She also restructured the ancient discipline to appeal to American sensibilities with moderately challenging poses. The articulate teacher elegantly dressed in a light sari brought an exceptional freshness to the Yoga scene of the youth-obsessed and anxiety-driven Hollywood community. Regular saleswomen, factory workers, and famous stars with their perfectly coiffed hair flocked to her studio to embrace Yoga. She clarified in slight Russian accent that her reasonably priced classes were resolutely free of religion, and added, “Yoga has a very illuminating and practical message for our restless, insecure and spiritually forlorn world of today”. Soon her clients benefitting significantly from Yoga sat in lotus poses and did headstands at homes, offices, factory floors, on the beaches, and the film sets, to restore their energy and vitality. Over time Indra Devi became a Hollywood celebrity.

Strakati passed away in Czechoslovakia in early 1953 and Indra Devi married Dr. Siegrid Knauer who advocated preventive medicine instead of antibiotics. Four years later she received her American citizenship in her new legal name— Indra Devi. As the new-age power couple in Hollywood, Indra Devi and Dr. Knauer entertained many Californians interested in the eastern way of life at their Nichols Canyon home and Yoga Studio. These included Aldous Huxley, Greta Garbo, Igor Stravinsky and Jennifer Jones. In January 1955, she published the bestseller Forever Young Forever Healthy, and her biggest celebrity client, the film star Gloria Swanson’s endorsement asserted, “In her book, Indra Devi reveals her splendid path to wellbeing.” Indira Devi dedicated her second book Yoga for Americans (1959) to Swanson, and Yehudi Menuhin wrote the Foreword. Her books about Yoga as toolkits for work-life balance received nationwide acclaim. Marilyn Monroe who owned a copy claimed that Yoga improved her legs. Elizabeth Arden introduced Yoga elements in her fashionable saloons. Even superstar Elvis Presley sang, ‘Yoga is as yoga does.’ Till the arrival of gifted Indian yogis to American shores in the 1960s, Indra Devi was the practice’s cover girl nationwide.

Soon Indra Devi’s fame as an amazing yoga trainer reached the rest of the world. In 1960 she returned to her motherland Russia and Indian Ambassador K.P.S. Menon facilitated her meeting with the Soviet leadership at the Kremlin. Speaking fluent Russian at the reception, she assured Andrei Gromyko and Anastas Mikoyan that Yoga was not a religious practice but a method of holistic development. After her thought-provoking talk, Gromyko proposed a toast: “To Indra Devi… who opened our eyes to Yoga”. Eventually, Kremlin removed the ban on Yoga. Dr. Knauer died on 21 December 1984, and Indra Devi once again followed her inner voice and relocated to Argentina in February 1985. The rest of her years were spent zealously propagating Yoga through the ‘Fundacion Indra Devi’, in Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Egypt, Germany, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Russia, Spain, Uruguay, and the Philippines. In 1990, her appearance in a lotus pose while defining Yoga on a popular Russian TV show made her an instant celebrity and the next day she was mobbed on Moscow’s streets. Indra Devi celebrated her century on planet earth on 12 May 1999 in Buenos Aires with three thousand of her fans in attendance. By now, millions of her students worldwide affectionally called her Mataji (mother) and for Argentina, the Spanish-speaking teacher was a national treasure.

The global ambassador of Yoga lived through some significant moments of the twentieth century on four continents and acquired twelve tongues. Indra Devi passed away in Argentina on 25 April 2002, just short of 103. Right through her extraordinary life, Indra Devi leveraged her high-profile friendships to teach the world the form of Yoga she had mastered in the modest Mysore yogashala. Today in many nations, Indra Devi remains a name synonymous with contemporary Yoga.

Bhuvan Lall is the biographer of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Lala Har Dayal. He can be contacted at writerlall@ gmail.com.

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WHAT NEXT, NOW THAT INDIAN STUDY FINDS HCQ EFFECTIVE?

Joyeeta Basu

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A malaria drug widely used in India, hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), has been found to be highly effective in preventing SARS-CoV2 depending on the dosage used for treatment. A study to this effect was published in Journal of The Association of Physicians of India last week. Media reports say that the prophylactic study was conducted in May to September 2020, at a time when the drug was being prescribed by the Union Ministry for Health and Family Welfare as a prophylactic for Covid-19. This is the same drug that the then US President Donald Trump was talking about as a cure for the virus last year, the same drug that India exported to the US after Trump requested for a lift on the ban of exports. Interestingly, hydroxychloroquine is no longer a part of the treatment protocol of India’s health ministry. Along with ivermectin and favipravir, this drug was dropped from the treatment protocol for Covid this Sunday, 6 June. This has to be seen in the context of how “controversial” the word hydroxychloroquine became last year, with questions being raised about it by the face of US’ fightback against Covid, Dr Anthony Fauci himself. Fauci found the drug to be lacking in evidence in its fightback against Covid. In fact, the World Health Organization too did its bit in ensuring that enough aspersions were cast on HCQ, and even as curiosity continued to exist about this anti-malaria drug, it has issued enough statements to say clearly that it does not recommend the use of hydroxychloroquine to prevent Covid-19. Apparently, several studies overaseen by WHO did not find the drug to be an effective prophylactic, that is preventive treatment. However, the Indian study, conducted on 12,000 healthcare workers at risk of getting Covid-19 found it to be just the opposite. So can the Indian study be dismissed just because WHO has debunked HCQ?

According to media reports, the study says that “vaccine has its own limitations, and therefore an alternative strategy of prophylaxis such as HCQ is important, especially in low resource settings”. This can be interpreted as, if vaccinating India’s whole population, or at least a substantial percentage is both time and resource consuming, the option of using HCQ as a preventive medicine should not be ruled out.

The problem with a “new” infection such as Covid-19 is that a proper treatment protocol is yet to evolve and has been changing too often and too fast. Also, the pressure from WHO has been on vaccination and not on prophylaxis or therapeutics, because of which a country such as India has been following WHO guidelines scrupulously, instead of posing some faith in its own doctors and researchers. But as this writer has pointed out earlier as well, the global scientific community has got politicized to the extent that a zoologist, Dr Peter Daszak can, with the help of a group of gain-of-function researchers and a medical journal—all of them with close Chinese links—can shift the narrative on the origin of Covid-19 from a possible lab-made virus to a naturally occurring virus. When scientists are so compromised, perhaps the question that needs to be asked is, what role has been played by interest groups—and there are several, including Big Pharma—in influencing WHO to give greater stress on vaccination than to prevention or therapy.

In this context, it’s not clear how the WHO approved the Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use, with such speed, even when countries that have used that vaccine, such as Seychelles and UAE have discovered that even two doses are not giving their residents enough immunization. UAE is offering a third booster dose to those who have been given Sinopharm, while Seychelles, apparently the world’s most vaccinated nation, with 60% of its citizens vaccinated, found to its peril that more than 30% of those fully vaccinated have contracted the virus. Several questions have been raised about the Chinese data, which, however, has been accepted by WHO, the same organization which is taking its time—some will say, rightly so, because data has to be fool-proof—to give clearance to India’s homemade Covaxin for emergency use. Is it just a matter of coincidence that Sinopharm, with WHO’s backing is being picked up by many poorer nations? Without getting into the realm of conspiracy theories, there is no doubt that some questions need to be raised about the global scientific community as well as WHO.

Since it’s a matter of life and death, it’s time to start asking the questions.

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Analysing law, ethics and mischiefs of politics

The judgement on Central Vista opens the door for marauding governance eyeing prized locations to build their monuments and inscribe names on it.

Amita Singh

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Politics has been currently moving at an unstoppable speed, leaving most citizens behind. The sudden announcement on demonetisation and then replacement of a mighty Planning Commission with a naïve cousin Niti Aayog, now appear to be a bit interwoven activity. Nonetheless, these decisions were the gravest shocks on the journey to ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’. The political script was then onwards, heading towards a much expected upheaval in the governance of India. Yet, projects that were most successfully completed without a whimper were those of statues, self-named stadiums and that of the Central Vista which could roguishly wade through the courtrooms of justice without an itch. It’s time for courts to discern more appropriately the relationship between law and ethics gasping for breath in an ambitious political dispensation.

My experience of the JNU Academic Council of the last five years where Deans of various schools kept pleading boisterously for a hearing while the Vice Chancellor and his team heedlessly galloped on approving one agenda after another or the experience of the Executive Council where the putrefying silence of interests kept the despotic ineptitude kill a university. As I looked behind while stepping out on my last day in the university, I could see ‘nothing’ remaining but the stench reaffirmed the congregations that occupied the once beautiful land. Are we heading towards governance where institutions could deceptively bypass ethical standards of governance and yet be treated legitimate enough to be rewarded with a position or a promotion?

It’s all about perceptions which a leader sermonises through his seat while pushing a project. The new current of acuities is something that one needs to understand by visiting the Delhi main branch of State Bank of India. There are two statues of women that welcome you at the gate, which are made out of waste material. The body is beautifully engraved but the face is disgracefully a locker keyhole. An SBI employee shared in confidence that they wanted to make a Lakshmi but desecrated her by turning her face into a locker keyhole. Is that the perceived single-most important role of a Lakshmi, which is revered more as a goddess of restraint and balance than that of money perceived by the foolish? I learnt that SBI installed these 12-ft-tall ‘manasvi’ statues in 2017. JNU also installed a Vivekananda statue in a vehement consistency of eliminating Nehru legacy from this university and in doing so got one of the most unaesthetically chiselled statues. It’s a saying which is not a law, that vengeance is ugly, respect is beautiful. We need court rooms so well sensitised to these games of the outside world that could discern the mischiefs of law which in the modern technological world are here to stay stronger.

Courts were called upon by petitioners to ‘undertake a comprehensive and heightened judicial scrutiny regarding the permissibility of the Central Vista Projectof the Government of India. Those belonging to this habitat understand how the face of this regal city is seen in its India Gate lawns. Many of us during childhood had sneaked out through the windows in peak summer of June from parent’s watchful control just to collect jamuns carpeting the floor of the linking passages to India Gate. This is where many Delhi families had seen Nehru’s convoy in the 1950s being driven by and then it dramatically halts, as standby crowd watched the Prime Minister of India stepping out of a car to hold a playful baby in the park, lift him up in the air, cuddle and return waving the cheering people behind. Many of our generation of kids brought up in Delhi have adored the heritage value of this place. The families walked out of Princes Park Hostel and the National Stadium to stand at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, a remembrance of the immortal soldier with reversed L1A1 Self-loading rifle, a war helmet and four urns from compressed natural gas flames. India Gate with an enriching heritage of emerging India lives through the hearts of a Delhi-ite whether one calls it Lutyens’ Delhi or urban Naxals! This face is about to be subjugated to buildings where aesthetics, singing of the birds, whistling of squirrels and communitarian city hang out joint would soon be replaced by the stink of sarkari files, mega air-conditioning (something that the court had not even attended to in environmental clearance), glasses all around right on the beautiful face of this historic city.

The issues brought out before the court were addressed by the court as ‘diverse’ such as the change in land use, grant of statutory and other permissions, environmental as well as heritage clearances, etc. They are actually not many but one single issue but lack of exposure to the outside world leads to a form of ‘perceptional decay’ which surfaces in judgements in a form of ‘judicial oversight’. Governance which acts as a ‘public trustee’ as mentioned in the Kamal Nath Case, would be a public trustee for the land and everything related to it. The ethical lens would have enabled the courts to see these many problems as a holistic one, not diffracted pieces of problems crying for segregated attention. The judiciary while treating the nature of the project as of high political significance differentiated between the “Rule of Law” which according to it lies on a higher pedestal than the governance by “Rule by Law”. The documentation, Committee minutes, need for experts, quorum, agenda approval and environmental clearances which came with explanations approved by the court have questionable ethics. The petitioner’s claim of non-application of mind to consider the viability and need of a new Parliament building was carried in undue haste and this is an open fact. The consultative processes with the Heritage Conservation Committee, Delhi Urban Arts Commission and the Central Vista Committee were minimised or marginalised but since they did exist, the court treats them as sufficient compliance and the procedures get legal approval. The court on its own initiative could have attended to the massive environmental hazard this project would have on the city by shrinking free spaces and then increasingly reducing greens as most of the trees removed were more than 60-80 years old which raises their value in terms of water and soil recharging combined with many times more oxygen release in the atmosphere. Sadly, the court did not even attempt to ask anything about that.

The court, however, explains the rule of law having four universal tenets, i.e.; a system of laws, institutions, norms and community commitment. This ensures accountability and protection of fundamental rights. It also ensures open government and accessible justice. None of these requirements were adhered to as the chosen time for such a project that demolishes the face of a heartful city was a lockdown period during a pandemic. As the city was grappling with hospital beds, ventilators and oxygen, the government acted with double speed on the project and the government could not or did not wish to resonate with the citizens of this city. The onus was on the judiciary as citizens expected a reasonable judgement where courtrooms would reflect a determination and sensitivity akin to the judgement which demolished the four high-end apartment complexes in Maradu municipality in Kochi for violating Coastal Regulation Zone notifications. This determination is needed to prevent a tendency not a project as alternatives are immense if architectural and environmental experts around the country were given time.

The judgement on Central Vista opens the door for marauding governance eyeing prized locations to build their monuments and inscribe names on it. Ironically, the court in its judgement had nothing to offer to the coming generations as the face of the city is now a locker keyhole!

The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.

Many of us during childhood had sneaked out through the windows in peak summer of June from parent’s watchful control just to collect jamuns carpeting the floor of the linking passages to India Gate. This is where many Delhi families had seen Nehru’s convoy in the 1950s being driven by and then it dramatically halts, as standby crowd watched the Prime Minister of India stepping out of a car to hold a playful baby in the park, lift him up in the air, cuddle and return waving the cheering people behind. Many of our generation of kids brought up in Delhi have adored the heritage value of this place.

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