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India–Canada discuss ways to integrate economies across sectors in fifth meet on trade

The Ministers agreed to work closely to provide sustained momentum to building linkages and strengthen cooperation across sectors to harness full potential of the trade and investment relationship between India and Canada.

Tarun Nangia

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India and Canada held the fifth Ministerial Dialogue on Trade & Investment (MDTI) here today. Minister of Commerce and Industry, Consumer Affairs and Food, and Public Distribution and Textiles, Piyush Goyal and Ms. Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, Government of Canada co-chaired the MDTI.

The Ministers agreed to formally re-launch the negotiations for India-Canada Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and also consider an Interim Agreement or Early Progress Trade Agreement (EPTA) that could bring early commercial gains to both the countries. The Ministers highlighted the existing trade complementarities between India and Canada and emphasised that the trade agreement would help in expanding bilateral trade in goods and services through unlocking the potential across sectors. The Interim Agreement would include high level commitments in goods, services, rules of origin, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, and dispute settlement, and may also cover any other areas mutually agreed upon.

A range of other bilateral trade and investment issues were discussed during the meeting. Both countries agreed to undertake intensified work with respect to the recognition of Canada’s systems approach to pest risk management in pulses and market access for Indian agriculture goods such as sweet corn, baby corn and banana etc.Canada also agreed to examine expeditiously the request for Conformity Verification Body (CVB) status to APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority) for facilitating Indian organic export products.

The Ministers acknowledged the significance of establishing resilient supply chains in critical sectors and exchanged views on collaboration in this area. They emphasised enhancing cooperation in sectors such as pharmaceuticals and critical and rare earth minerals as well as in areas like tourism, urban infrastructure, renewable energy and mining. They also noted the role of strong people-to-people ties between the two countries, including movement of professionals and skilled workers, students, and business travellers, in strengthening the bilateral economic partnership.

The Ministers agreed to work closely to provide sustained momentum to building linkages and strengthen cooperation across sectors to harness full potential of the trade and investment relationship between India and Canada.

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Policy & Politics

SC SENTENCES NAVJOT SINGH SIDHU TO ONE YEAR’S RIGOROUS IMPRISONMENT IN 1988 ROAD RAGE CASE

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While sending a very loud, strong and clear message to one and all that no one can be above the law, the Apex Court most recently on May 19, 2022 in a latest, learned and landmark judgment titled Jaswinder Singh (Dead) Through Legal Representatives vs Navjot Singh Sidhu and others in Review Petition (Crl.) No.477 of 2018 in CRL.A. No.60 of 2007 with Review Petition (Crl.) No.478/2018 in CRL.A. No.58/2007 Review Petition (Crl.) No.479/2018 in CRL.A. No.59/2007 (Arising out of impugned final judgment and order dated 15-05-2018 in Crl.A. No. No. 60/2007 passed by the Supreme Court of India) and cited in 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 498 has enhanced the sentence of senior Congress leader and former Indian cricket team member Navjot Singh Sidhu to one year rigorous imprisonment in a 1988 spontaneous road rage accident in which a 65-year-old person named Gurnam Singh had died. The untoward incident actually occurred on December 27, 1988 at a traffic junction in Patiala when a dispute pertaining to the right way of vehicles led to altercation with Navjot Sidhu pulling out the deceased from his vehicle and assaulting him with fist blows in a fit of rage. Even Sidhu himself could not have believed that the person whom he beat would die as everything happened suddenly without any preparation or past enmity. This alone explains why the Bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice AM Khanwilkar rejected the plea for fastening culpable homicide not amounting to murder charge under Section 304A of the IPC. Very rightly so!

We know that Sidhu was earlier let off with a fine of Rs 1000 and the court spared him a jail term. In 2018, the top court had convicted Sidhu for the offence of “voluntarily causing hurt” but had acquitted him in connection with the culpable homicide charges as Sidhu had no intention to murder. But now the maximum possible sentence under Section 323 of the IPC has been awarded to the former Punjab Congress President and former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu as the victim’s family filed a review petition before the top court while pressing for enhancement of punishment. Sidhu will now be taken into custody by Punjab police to serve out the sentence.

The key points of this judgment are as follows:

1. When a 25 year old man, who was an international cricketer, assaults a man more than twice his age and inflicts, even with his bare hands, a severe blow on his (victim’s) head, the unintended consequence of harm would still be properly attributable to him as it was reasonably foreseeable – The indulgence was not required to be shown at the stage of sentence by only imposing a sentence of fine and letting him go without any imposition of sentence.

2. The hand can also be a weapon by itself where say a boxer, a wrestler or a cricketer or an extremely physically fit person inflicts the same. This may be understood where a blow may be given either by a physically fit person or to a more aged person. (Para 24)

3. Even though any harm might not be directly intended, some aggravated culpability must be attached if the person suffers a grievous hurt or dies as a result thereof. (Para 32)

4. While a disproportionately severe sentence ought not to be passed, simultaneously it also does not clothe the law courts to award a sentence which would be manifestly inadequate, having due regard to the nature of the offence, since an inadequate sentence would fail to produce a deterrent effect on the society at large – A long period had lapsed by the time the appeal was decided cannot be a ground to award the punishment which was disproportionate and inadequate. (Para 25 -32)

BACKGROUND

To start with, this notable judgment authored by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul for a Bench of Apex Court comprising of himself and Justice AM Khanwilkar sets the ball rolling by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “The original controversy emanates from an FIR dated 27.12.1988 under Section 304/34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘IPC’) registered by the Sub-Inspector of P.S. Kotwali of Patiala District, Punjab on the basis of the information given by one Shri Jaswinder Singh (Informant) about an occurrence around 12:30 p.m. at the traffic light of Battian Wala Chowk. The Informant and one Avtar Singh (PW-3 and PW-4 respectively) were travelling with the deceased, Gurnam Singh in a Maruti Car driven by the deceased. Apparently, a dispute arose on the right of way between the accused and the deceased and respondent No.1 (the first accused) came out of his vehicle, pulled out the deceased from his vehicle and inflicted fist blows. As per the Informant his endeavour to intervene resulted even in the second accused (respondent No.2) (not mentioned in the FIR) getting out of the vehicle and giving fist blows to the Informant. It was alleged that the car keys of the deceased’s car were removed by the accused and they fled from the scene of occurrence. PW-3 and PW-4 took the deceased in a rickshaw to the hospital where the doctors announced that Gurnam Singh was dead.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 2 that, “A post-mortem was conducted by Dr. Jatinder Kumar Sadana (PW-2), who recorded that the injuries were ante-mortem in nature and caused by a blunt weapon though he reserved his opinion on the cause of death as it could apparently be given only after receiving the report of the pathologist. The Pathologist’s report dated 09.01.1989 noticed a large number of abnormalities in the condition of the deceased’s heart and did not notice any pathology insofar as the brain is concerned. Even after the Pathologist’s report, PW-2 did not give a definite opinion regarding the cause of death of Gurnam Singh. Thereafter, PW-2 wrote to the Civil Surgeon, Patiala on 11.01.1989 requesting that the case be referred to Forensic Expert, Government Medical College, Patiala, as a result of which a Medical Board was constituted consisting of six members. Two of these members were examined as PW-1 and PW-2 but a very cryptic opinion was given by PW-1 with disinclination to give any further clarification when sought for by the prosecution.”

As it turned out, the Bench then enunciates in para 3 that, “A chargesheet dated 06.03.1989 was filed on 14.07.1989 under Section 304 of the IPC against respondent No.2, exonerating respondent No.1. During the course of trial, the Sessions Court exercised its powers under Section 319 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Cr.P.C.’) and after recording the statement of the Informant summoned respondent No.1 to stand trial. The Informant also filed a private complaint against both the accused for commission of offences under Sections 302/324/323 read with Section 34 of the IPC. Both the cases were consolidated and on 20.08.1994 charges under Section 304 Part I were framed against both the accused arising from the FIR. While in the complaint, charges were framed under Section 302 of the IPC against respondent No.1 and under Section 302/34 of the IPC against respondent No.2. Charges under Section 323/34 of the IPC were framed against both the accused for causing hurt to the Informant.”

As we see, the Bench then states in para 4 that, “The trial court post trial acquitted both the accused vide judgment dated 22.09.1999. In terms of the judgment of the trial court, the death was not caused by subdural haemorrhage and the deceased suffered sudden cardiac arrest under stress because of which he fell and received two abrasions leading to subdural haemorrhage. The death was caused due to violence but it was not certain as to when precisely Gurnam Singh had died.”

Furthermore, the Bench then mentions in para 5 that, “The State and the complainant both moved the High Court vide separate appeals. The High Court in terms of the judgment dated 01.12.2006 opined that the cases of the two accused were to be considered separately. The High Court convicted respondent No.1 under Section 304 Part II of the IPC based on the testimony of the doctors, PW-1 and PW-2. As per their testimony, the cause of death was cardiac failure and all that they had stated was that the cardiac condition of the deceased was very weak. On the opening of the skull, subdural haemorrhage was present over the left parietal region and brain. It was the haemorrhage which caused the death of the deceased and not the cardiac arrest. Insofar as respondent No.2 is concerned, he was held guilty under Section 304 Part II read with Section 34 of the IPC as well as Section 323 of the IPC.”

Simply put, the Bench then states in para 6 that, “Three criminal appeals were filed before this Court by the two accused and the Informant.”

To be sure, the Bench then postulates in para 7 that, “The High Court judgment was analyzed by this Court, wherein it was opined that the testimony of the witnesses was trustworthy. Merely because there was a relationship between the Informant, Avatar Singh and the deceased, and more witnesses were not examined, could not have led to a conclusion that the case had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.”

Adding more to it, the Bench then mentions in para 8 that, “The post-mortem report was examined closely which indicated only two external injuries – one on the temporal region and another on the left knee of the deceased, and both were abrasions. The doctors had opined that the second injury could be the result of the fall and, thus, it is most unlikely that a person would simultaneously aim at the head and also the knees of the victim while giving fist blows. Respondent No.1 possibly delivered more than one fist blows while only one of them landed on the head of the deceased and others missed the target. This Court did not agree with the observations of the High Court that the death was caused by subdural haemorrhage and not cardiac arrest. There was stated to be uncertainty regarding the cause of death of Gurnam Singh and no weapon had been used, nor was there any past enmity between the parties, and what happened was the result of an instant brawl.”

Still adding more, the Bench then notes in para 9 that, “The case against respondent No.2 was held not to have been proved and mere presence of respondent No.2 with respondent No.1 was not sufficient to result in a conviction based on common intention. Even for the offence under Section 323 of the IPC, respondent No.2 was held not guilty.”

In hindsight, the Bench then recalls in para 10 that, “The Court recognized that there were lapses in investigation but then people are not convicted on the basis of doubts. Respondent No.1 was held not guilty of causing the death of Gurnam Singh, and the only conclusion which was found acceptable was of the respondent No.1 causing voluntary hurt to Gurnam Singh which is punishable under Section 323 of the IPC. It was noticed that respondent No.1 was an international cricketer and a celebrity at the time of the incident and at times there was an endeavour to turn a blind eye to the violations of law committed by celebrities. On the question of sentence, a fine of Rs.1,000/- alone was imposed vide order dated 06.12.2006, since the incident was 30 years old at the time, there was no enmity between the parties and no weapon was used.”

It deserves mentioning that the Bench after hearing both sides then observes in para 24 that, “We have given our thought to the matter. In our view, some material aspects which were required to be taken note of appear to have been somehow missed out at the stage of sentencing, such as the physical fitness of respondent No.1 as he was an international cricketer, who was tall and well built and aware of the force of a blow that even his hand would carry. The blow was not inflicted on a person identically physically placed but a 65 year old person, more than double his age. Respondent No.1 cannot say that he did not know the effect of the blow or plead ignorance on this aspect. It is not as if someone has to remind him of the extent of the injury which could be caused by a blow inflicted by him. In the given circumstances, tempers may have been lost but then the consequences of the loss of temper must be borne. In fact, this Court to some extent had been indulgent in ultimately holding respondent No.1 guilty of an offence of simple hurt under Section 323 of the IPC. The question is whether even on sentence, mere passage of time can result in a fine of Rs.1,000/- being an adequate sentence where a person has lost his life by reason of the severity of blow inflicted by respondent No.1 with his hands. The hand can also be a weapon by itself where say a boxer, a wrestler or a cricketer or an extremely physically fit person inflicts the same. This may be understood where a blow may be given either by a physically fit person or to a more aged person. Insofar as the injury caused is concerned, this Court has accepted the plea of a single blow by hand being given on the head of the deceased. In our view, it is this significance which is an error apparent on the face of the record needing some remedial action.”

While mentioning relevant US Apex Court judgments, the Bench then states in para 34 that, “The US Supreme Court has also moved in the same direction in Payne v. Tennessee 501 US 808 (1991) while examining the aspect of the “victim impact statement” in a case of capital offence at the time of sentencing. The court considered the aspect from the dissenting judgment in the case of Booth v. Maryland 482 U.S. 496 (1987) which emphasized on “reminding the sentencer that just as the murderer should be considered as an individual, so too the victim is an individual whose death represents a unique loss to society and in particular to his family.” The words of Justice Benjamin Cardozo in Snyder v. Massachusetts 291 US 97 (1934) bring out that “justice, though due to the accused, is due to the accuser also. The concept of fairness must not be strained till it is narrowed to a filament. We are to keep the balance true.””

To put it differently, the Bench then observes quite forthrightly in para 35 that, “Thus, a disproportionately light punishment humiliates and frustrates a victim of crime when the offender goes unpunished or is let off with a relatively minor punishment as the system pays no attention to the injured’s feelings. Indifference to the rights of the victim of crime is fast eroding the faith of the society in general and the victim of crime in particular in the criminal justice system. (Shri P. Babulu Reddy Foundation Lecture, Victims of Crime – The Unseen Side by Dr. Justice A.S. Anand, Judge, Supreme Court of India (as he then was) (1998) 1 SCC (Jour) 3. Delivered at Hyderabad on 28th September 1997.).”

For clarity, the Bench then stipulates in para 36 that, “We noticed the aforesaid judgments to repel the contention of learned senior counsel for the respondent that the victim should have no say in the matter of enhancement of sentence.”

It is worth noting that the Bench then clearly states in para 38 that, “We are not setting forth much about how the investigation proceeded initially, how the court had to intervene to see that the relevant people are charged, the manner of leading of evidence, the hesitancy of doctors all of which weighed in this Court opining that a case beyond reasonable doubt could be only of one under Section 323 of the IPC. We do believe that the indulgence was not required to be shown at the stage of sentence by only imposing a sentence of fine and letting the respondent go without any imposition of sentence.”

Quite significantly, the Bench then holds in para 39 that, “The present case is not one where two views are possible such that review should not be exercised. It is a case where some germane facts for sentencing appear to have been lost sight of while imposing only a fine on respondent No.1 and, therefore, no question of choosing between two possible views arises.”

CONCLUSION

Finally and far most significantly, the Bench then concludes by directing in para 40 that, “The result of the aforesaid is that the review applications/petitions are allowed to the aforesaid extent and in addition to the fine imposed we consider it appropriate to impose a sentence of imprisonment for a period of one year rigorous imprisonment to be undergone by respondent No.1. The parties are left to bear their own costs.”

In essence, the Apex Court has made it indubitably clear that there is merit in the review petition of victim’s family. We thus see that the punishment for Sidhu is enhanced from just Rs 1000 fine to one year rigorous imprisonment in jail. It is really a fine gesture on the part of Navjot Singh Sidhu to humbly accept the Supreme Court verdict without any ifs and buts and he tweeted saying clearly that, “Will submit to the majesty of law…” No denying it!

“The High Court judgment was analyzed by this Court, wherein it was opined that the testimony of the witnesses was trustworthy. Merely because there was a relationship between the Informant, Avatar Singh and the deceased, and more witnesses were not examined, could not have led to a conclusion that the case had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.”

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Policy & Politics

COVID VACCINE: POLICY AND LAW

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Vaccine

INTRODUCTION

On 12 th May,2022, the Supreme Court of India delivered a significant judgement in which it held that the directive of the State Governments and Union Territories to make vaccination compulsory was unreasonable. Justice Nageshwara Rao delivered the judgement ( also on behalf of Justice Br Gavai) and also directed the Central Government to release the data of clinical trials subject to the privacy of the individuals.

REASONING OF THE COURT

Coming to the substantive part of the judgement which struck down the policy of mandatory vaccination, it becomes essential to bring to the notice of the readers how the Court arrived at its reasoning. The Apex court has held that vaccine mandates do not satisfy the test of proportionality as laid down in the landmark case of K.S. Puttaswamy v. UOI (2017). The test of proportionality as elucidated by the court seeks to measure whether the object and the need that is desired to be fulfilled are proportional to the measures adopted in the law to achieve them. It also measures whether the law imposed is disproportionate to the fundamental right that is infringed by the law in achieving the objective.

The Supreme Court while deciding the proportionality of the vaccine mandates has come to the conclusion that the restrictions imposed by the rules of vaccine mandates are not proportionate to the restrictions imposed on the unvaccinated persons. The court found that there is no demonstrable data to prove that the coronavirus spread only from the unvaccinated persons and not from the vaccinated persons. This is significant considering the fact that a huge misconception exists in the society where it is generally considered that those who are not vaccinated pose a virus threat to the society. The apex court held that the vaccine mandate that infringes Article 21 of the Petitioner is not in proportionate as “both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals presently appear to be susceptible to the transmission of virus at the similar level.”, thus, there is no reasonable ground for the restrictions to be continued on the unvaccinated persons.

PRUDENT MENTION OF FOREIGN JURISDICTIONS

The court also took note of the developments around the world in which the Courts stepped up in order to defend the rights of the individuals. For example, the Court has cited the case of New York where the city was divided into various zones such as red and orange on the basis of the Covid threat. By the majority,the Supreme Court had held that the said restrictions were violative of the first amendment of the Constitution. Significantly the Court had also explicitly stated that fundamental rights cannot be put away even in time of a pandemic.The Court in detail also dwelt on other foreign jurisdictions such as New Zealand and New South Wales( a state in Australia) in order to show how active judiciary was in times of Covid 19 to safeguard personal liberty of the citizens of the country. The examples of these countries were likely given in order to lead to the inference that the courts all over the world in leading constitutional democracies have played a significant role in stepping up in order to ensure that basic fundamental rights of the citizens of the country remain intact.

CONCLUSION

The judgement definitely comes as a big relief for the citizens of the country since those who were still unvaccinated had been put at a disadvantageous position due to the fact that they were being denied benefits of various services . It is hoped that various State Governments will take back their directive of mandatory vaccination in light of the judgement pronounced. At the same, there is no more discretion left for the Government to decide on which data it wants to release and which not. Overall, the judgement serves a good purpose for ensuring that the executive is held accountable for its unjust and arbitrary policies.

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Policy & Politics

Sedition law: How to interpret the recent developments

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In an unprecedented development apex court recently passed an interim order to put section 124 A commonly known as Sedition Law of the Indian Penal Code in the dormant state till Either the Union Government comes with amended provisions regarding the said law or the Hon’ble Court final adjudicatesthe issue. It is pertinent to note here that the Sedition law is 152 years old colonial law and many of our freedom fighterslike Annie Besant, VD Savarkar, Bal Gangadhar Tilak (Queen Empress V. Bal Ganga 1898) & Mahatma Gandhi were convicted under the same law during India’s Struggle forfreedom. This provision was extensively used to curb the political dissent during the Independence movement. 

The Sedition Law has been originated in England, where King was considered the pre-eminent, and anything said or done against the king tantamount to his insult, hence England lawmakers drafted provisions regarding dealing with such acts.  

When India was under British Control, IPC was drafted by Thomas Macaulay, and Sedition was not introduced initially under the legislation, later it was included as an offense through special Act XIV. This law was introduced specifically for anything done against the king but after India got independence our lawmakers mix up provisions of treason and defined Sedition under IPC as, “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India” shall be punished with imprisonment for either description of 3years which may be extended for life or fine or both. It is a Non-Bailable offense and the Government is entitled to seize the passport of the convicted under this section and shall not be eligible for any government job.

The provisions contained under 124A explicitly provide that one is free to criticize the government in power but the said criticism shall not be attempting to excite hatred, contempt, or dissatisfaction.

In a significant amendment to Criminal Law Amendment 26 of1955, the previous punishment Under 124A IPC replacedTRANSPORTATION FOR LIFE with IMPRISON LIFE. The said amendment has been criticized by eminent law professionals. After the independence, we came across many cases under this section and some of the most important ones are discussed hereunder;

Romesh Thapar V State of Madras (950 CRILJ 1514, [1950] 1 SCR 594, AIR 1950 SC 124, (1950) 2 MLJ 390, LQ/SC/1950/24the Supreme court liberally interpreted the provisions of the sedition law in this case and held that any criticism of Government exciting dissatisfaction feeling towards the government shall not be regarded as justifying ground for restricting the freedom of speech and expression of any individual unless said dissatisfaction may undermine national security. It can be safely concluded that in this case Supreme court promotes freedom of speech & expression and narrowed the scope of Sedition law for the general good.

TARA SINGH GOPI CHAND V. STATE 

The Punjab & Haryana High Court asserted that section 124A was used as a tool to curb the freedom of speech & expression by the Britishers during their regime and it has no role to play in independent India, hence held is Unconstitutional. 

Allahabad High Court asserted the same view in Ram Nandan V. State of Uttar Pradesh (AIR 1959 All 101, 1959 CriLJ 1) promoting freedom of speech and enabling government criticism.

Meanwhile, the most important Judgement about this issue came in 1962 in Kedarnath Singh V State of Bihar (1962 AIR 955, 1962 SCR Sulp. (2) 769) where a Supreme 5 judges Constitutional bench where all the previous judgments were overruled in this case and it ultimately upheld the Constitutionality of Section 124A. meanwhile, it was suggested that Government should not invoke this section in every case to curb the freedom of any individual and its scope was defined. The court explicitly held that ‘criticizing the Government is itself would not fall under the category of Sedition unless the said criticism is accompanied by incitement to promote hatred against the government established by the law. Seven guidelines were put forth by the Supreme court to define sedition.

The most recent case involving the said provision is Vinod Dua V Union of India (LL 2021 SC 266) where an FIR was registered against renowned Journalist Vinod Dua for criticizing the Government for the mismanagement during the Covid, the FIR was quashed by the Apex Court. Further Apex Court suggested Government amend the Sedition Law.

It is pertinent to note here that cases registered by invoking section 124A were not recorded in National Crime Record Bureau before 2014, currently, we have approx. four hundred cases invoking the said section out of which only 144 charge sheet U/S 173 of Criminal Procedure Code 1973 has been filed by the police after investigation. The conviction rate of the said section is negligible. 

The reason behind the low conviction rate can be traced to the fact that most of the cases U/S 124A of the Indian Penal Code are politically motivated. Recently we have seen how GehlotGovernment invoked the Sedition cases against their MLAs and said the decision of the Rajasthan government was widely criticized. Even Maharashtra Government invoked Sedition charges against MLAs which were ultimately quashed by the High Court.

The government has categorically asked for some time for the amendment in the Section 124A, petitioners argued in the present petition that we already have UAPA and other laws to deal with the law and order situation in the country and an Independent Democratic Country like India doesn’t need any such colonial law to curb the freedom of speech and expression of its citizens. This section is used against the journalist for curbing the criticism. If the Apex court decides to hold it unconstitutional that would result in overruling KedarNath’s judgment. The next hearing in the case would take place in the month of July and it is expected that Union Government would dilute some provisions of the said law, till then-No fresh case would be registered against any individual invoking this section and any person charged U/S 124A can approach to competent courts to get remedies.

The reason behind the low conviction rate can be traced to the fact that most of the cases U/S 124A of the Indian Penal Code are politically motivated. Recently we have seen how GehlotGovernment invoked the Sedition cases against their MLAs and said the decision of the Rajasthan government was widely criticized. Even Maharashtra Government invoked Sedition charges against MLAs which were ultimately quashed by the High Court.

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Policy & Politics

High Court can’t terminate services of District Judge or impose any punishment of reduction in rank under Article 235: Chhattisgarh HC

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In an extremely significant judgment with far reaching consequences, the Chhattisgarh High Court has as recently as on May 13, 2022 in a brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment titled Ganesh Ram Berman v. High Court of Chhattisgarh & Anr. in Writ Petition (S) No. 825 of 2017 held unambiguously that under Article 235 of the Constitution of India which provides control to the High Courts over subordinate courts, the former cannot terminate the services of a District Judge or impose any punishment of reduction in rank. This power belongs to the Governor being the appointing authority under Article 311(1) of the Constitution. However, the word “control” in the Article gives the High Court power to make inquiries and disciplinary control and recommend imposition of such punishment. No doubt, this is a very progressive, powerful and pragmatic judgment.

To start with, this extremely refreshing, remarkable, robust and rational judgment authored by a single Judge Bench comprising of Justice Sanjay K Agrawal of Chhattisgarh High Court sets the ball rolling by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “This petition is directed against the order dated 6-2-2017 (Annexure P-5) by which the State of Chhattisgarh exercising the power under sub-rule (4) of Rule 9 of the Chhattisgarh Higher Judicial Service (Recruitment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2006 (for short, ‘the HJS Rules’) and on the recommendation of the High Court of Chhattisgarh, terminated the services of the petitioner with immediate effect.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 2 that, “The petitioner was appointed as District Judge (Entry Level) by order dated 30-10-2014 (Annexure P-2) and he was posted as Additional District Judge, Raipur. It is the case of the petitioner that during the continuance of the period of probation, he was served with a memo dated 26-8-2016 by the Registrar (Vigilance) along with memo dated 31-8-2016 issued by the District & Sessions Judge, Raipur with a copy of anonymous complaint making certain allegations against him and two other judicial officers. The petitioner was directed to submit his explanation on the anonymous complaint and on the inspection report of the Registrar (Vigilance) which he submitted on 24-9-2016 vide Annexure P-4, but he was not informed anything further and he was served with the order of termination dated 6-2-2017 in terms of sub-rule (4) of Rule 9 of the HJS Rules. It is the further case of the petitioner that the order of termination is stigmatic / punitive in nature, once the order of termination is stigmatic and punitive, it must have been followed by a full-fledged departmental enquiry which has not been done, as such, the impugned order of termination is liable to be quashed. It is also the case of the petitioner that the inspection report of the Registrar (Vigilance) along with the explanation of the petitioner was submitted to the Standing Committee and the Standing Committee in its meeting dated 24-1-2017 took a decision and resolved to recommend the termination of services of the petitioner under sub-rule (4) of Rule 9 of the HJS Rules. The Standing Committee was not empowered to recommend the termination of the petitioner’s services to the State Government and it was only the Full Court of the High Court which was authorised to recommend for termination of the services of the petitioner in view of the provisions contained in Article 235 of the Constitution of India. It is also the case of the petitioner that the Full Court has never authorised the Standing Committee as contained in terms of Rule 4-C under Chapter I-A of the High Court of Chhattisgarh Rules, 2007 (for short, ‘the Rules of 2007’) read with Rule 9(4) of the HJS Rules to recommend the termination of a probationer. As such, the termination of the petitioner is liable to be quashed on the aforesaid two grounds.”

As it turned out, the Bench then points out in para 3 that, “Return has been filed by respondent No.1 / High Court stating inter alia that the order of termination of the petitioner, who is a probationer, is strictly in accordance with Rule 9(4) of the HJS Rules. It has been pleaded that an anonymous complaint dated 3-12-2015 and another complaint dated 18-1-2016 was made by Shri J.P. Agrawal, Civil Court, Raipur, which were placed before the Portfolio Judge for consideration and pursuant to the order of the then Portfolio Judge, records of criminal cases including bail, criminal appeal and criminal revision decided by the petitioner as Judicial Officer were called for and ultimately, the Registrar (Vigilance) conducted enquiry and submitted report and in the enquiry, no apparent irregularity was found in the sessions case, criminal appeals and criminal revisions for the period from August, 2015 to January, 2016 decided by the petitioner and two other judicial officers, however, certain irregularities were found in respect of four bail applications decided by the petitioner which shows the inability of the petitioner to act as a Judicial officer and his working was found not to be satisfactory. Ultimately, inspection report dated 15-6-2016 submitted by the Registrar (Vigilance) was placed before the Portfolio Judge, Raipur for consideration and it was placed before the Standing Committee and the matter was ultimately considered by the Standing Committee vide resolution dated 16-8-2016 which called for explanation of the petitioner after furnishing the copy of report and in compliance of resolution dated 16-8-2016, memo dated 26-8-2016 was issued to the petitioner seeking his explanation. Ultimately, decision was taken to terminate the services of the petitioner and his services were recommended to be terminated which was accepted by the State Government and the impugned order was came to be passed.”

While continuing in same vein, the Bench then states in para 4 that, “Thereafter, the petitioner filed rejoinder on 15-2-2018 followed by additional rejoinder on 13-7-2018 stating inter alia that recommendation for his termination was not made by the Full Court, but was made by the Standing Committee. The petitioner also filed copy of information obtained with regard to composition of Standing Committee dated 6-2-2017 vide Annexure P-6.”

As we see, the Bench then notes in para 5 that, “On 2-5-2019, additional return was filed by respondent No.1 – High Court stating that the Standing Committee has only made recommendation in contemplation of Chapter I-A of the Rules of 2007 and final decision was taken by the Full Court, and not taken by the Standing Committee as alleged by the petitioner.”

Furthermore, the Bench then specifies in para 6 that, “On 27-1-2022, the petitioner filed documents along with copy of the extract of the Minutes of the Meeting of the Standing Committee dated 24-1-2017 obtained under the Right to information Act to demonstrate that his termination was recommended by the Standing Committee and on the same day, the matter came up for hearing before this Court and time was sought and granted to counsel for respondent No.1 to file additional return, and ultimately, additional return has been filed on behalf of respondent No.1 on 18-2-2022 stating that the petitioner’s matter was placed for consideration before the Standing Committee and the Standing Committee taking into account the fact that the petitioner was on probation, recommended for termination of his services and pursuant to the recommendation of the Standing Committee, the Government of Chhattisgarh, Law and Legislative Affairs Department has passed order dated 6-2-2017 terminating the services of the petitioner. No further pleadings have been filed by the parties.”

Be it noted, the Bench then postulates in para 11 that, “Upon hearing learned counsel for the parties, following two questions posed for consideration: –

1. Whether the Standing Committee constituted by notification dated 4-7-2015 would have competence and jurisdiction to recommend the termination of the petitioner’s services (probationer) to the State Government in terms of sub-rule (4) of Rule 9 of the HJS Rules read with Article 235 of the Constitution of India?

2. Whether the termination of the petitioner’s services from the post of District Judge was punitive / stigmatic warranting holding of full-fledged enquiry against him into the allegations of misconduct?

Answer to Question No.1: –

Quite ostensibly, the Bench then stipulates in para 12 that, “In order to answer the question, it would be appropriate to notice Article 235 of the Constitution of India, which states as under: –

“235. Control over subordinate courts.—The control over district courts and courts subordinate thereto including the posting and promotion of, and the grant of leave to, persons belonging to the judicial service of a State and holding any post inferior to the post of district judge shall be vested in the High Court, but nothing in this article shall be construed as taking away from any such person any right of appeal which he may have under the law regulating the conditions of his service or as authorising the High Court to deal with him otherwise than in accordance with the conditions of his service prescribed under such law.””

Of course, the Bench then hastens to add in para 13 that, “A focused glance of the aforesaid provision would show that while the posting and promotion of District Judges shall be in the hands of the Governor acting in consultation with the High Court,—the posting and promotion and granting of leave to officers of the State Judicial Service other than District Judges shall be exclusively in the hands of the High Court, subject, of course, to such appeals as are allowed by the law regulating conditions of the service.”

It cannot be glossed over that the Bench then mentions in para 32 that, “A careful perusal of the additional return filed by the High Court on 18- 2-2022 would show that it is the Standing Committee which has recommended the case of the petitioner for termination to the State Government and on that basis, the State Government passed order dated 6-2-2017 terminating the services of the petitioner.”

It is worth noting that the Bench then holds in para 33 that, “From the aforesaid factual position on record, it is quite vivid that the competent authority to make recommendation for termination of the petitioner’s services on the ground that his services were not satisfactory, was the Full Court of the High Court in view of Article 235 of the Constitution of India and in view of the judgments of the Supreme Court noticed herein-above, however, in the present case, admittedly, the Full Court had not made any recommendation for termination of the petitioner’s services and it is the Standing Committee that has made such recommendation for dismissal of his services which the Standing Committee was neither empowered nor authorised in terms of notification dated 4-7-2015 to make recommendation to terminate the services of the petitioner. Since the power to make recommendation to the State Government to terminate the services of the petitioner is vested with the Full Court of the High Court by virtue of Article 235 of the Constitution of India, the Full Court would only be the competent authority to exercise such power, but, in the instant case, no such recommendation has been made by the Full Court of the High Court to terminate the services of the petitioner in terms of Rule 9(4) of the HJS Rules. Since the High Court has not made any recommendation in terms of Rule 9(4) of the HJS R les to terminate the petitioner’s services, the order of termination passed by respondent No.2 on the basis of recommendation of the Standing Committee is ipso facto unconstitutional, non est and without authority of law, and deserves to be quashed.”

Answer to question No.2: –

It merits mentioning that the Bench then expounds in para 34 that, “Since this Court has already held herein-above while answering question No.1 that the order of termination passed by respondent No.2 State Government is ipso facto unconstitutional, non est and without authority of law, the question as to whether the impugned order terminating the services of the petitioner is punitive or stigmatic in nature, in my considered opinion need not be gone into as the impugned order was passed on the basis of recommendation made by incompetent authority.”

While citing a very recent and relevant case law, the Bench then states in para 35 that, “Very recently, the Supreme Court in the matter of Sunny Abraham v. Union of India and another 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1284 at para 11 while deciding that any decision not having the authority of law would be non-est explained the doctrine of non-est in the following words: –

“… The term non-est conveys the meaning of something treated to be not in existence because of some legal lacuna in the process of creation of the subject-instrument. It goes beyond a remediable irregularity. That is how the Coordinate Bench has construed the impact of not having approval of the Disciplinary Authority in issuing the charge memorandum. In the event a legal instrument is deemed to be not in existence, because of certain fundamental defect in its issuance, subsequent approval cannot revive its existence and ratify acts done in pursuance of such instrument, treating the same to be valid.””

Quite palpably, the Bench then maintained in para 36 that, “Since the impugned order of termination has already been held to be unconstitutional, non-est and without authority of law, this question though placed for consideration, is not being gone into as held hereinabove and question No.2 is answered accordingly.”

Most significantly, the Bench then holds in para 37 that, “As a fallout and consequence of the aforesaid discussion, question No.1 is answered in favour of the petitioner and question No.2 is answered in the terms stated herein-above. In view of the above stated analysis, impugned order dated 6-2-2017 (Annexure P-5) terminating the petitioner’s services is liable to be and is hereby quashed. However, this will not bar respondent No.1 to proceed in accordance with law. The petitioner is directed to be reinstated in service forthwith along with all consequential service benefits except back-wages. The question of back-wages will be considered by the competent authority. However, the petitioner may make representation to the competent authority within 30 days from today claiming back-wages which shall be considered by the competent authority within next 60 days in accordance with law keeping in view the relevant rules and regulations.”

Finally, the Bench then concludes by holding in para 38 that, “Accordingly, the writ petition is allowed to the extent indicated hereinabove leaving the parties to bear their own cost(s).”

To sum up, the Chhattisgarh High Court has been most forthright and firm in holding that High Court can’t terminate service of District Judge or impose any punishment of reduction in rank under Article 235 of Constitution. No denying it! The process which the High Court follows in such cases has already been discussed hereinabove.

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 2 that, “The petitioner was appointed as District Judge (Entry Level) by order dated 30-10-2014 (Annexure P-2) and he was posted as Additional District Judge, Raipur. It is the case of the petitioner that during the continuance of the period of probation, he was served with a memo dated 26-8-2016 by the Registrar (Vigilance) along with memo dated 31-8-2016 issued by the District & Sessions Judge, Raipur with a copy of anonymous complaint making certain allegations against him and two other judicial officers.

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My brush with the PMO: Part I

Anil Swarup

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We were all happy when National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rode to power. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had really messed it. I was personally thrilled when I got to know that Mr Nripendra Mishra would be the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and would head the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). I had worked with him as Director, Information and Public Relations when he was Secretary to Kalyan Singh. Chief Minister of the largest State, Uttar Pradesh during 1991-92. Mr Mishra was sharp with grasp and ability to get to the bottom of most complex issues (there were indeed many of them). It was a period of enormous learning to me. He was always available to guide. Much later, he was instrumental in pushing me to come to Delhi on deputation despite my reluctance. It transformed my career path.

When Mr Mishra took over as Principal Secretary in PMO, I was still looking after the Project Monitoring Group (PMG) created by the previous government to fast-track projects. Though UPA itself was floundering, the PMG seemed to be doing well. In the 15 months of its institution, it had managed to facilitate clearance worth Rs 5 lakh crore. Both the Apex Industry organizations, FICCI and CII had appreciated its working in their letters to the previous PM. When I went to meet Mr Mishra for the first time at the PMO, I was extremely surprised to find that he appeared very distant. Very unlike the Mr Mishra I knew, he continued to be engaged with is papers when he spoke to me. He had doubts about everything that was being done at the PMG, even questioning the outcomes. I was perplexed and the conversation did not last very long. It was much later that he recognized the role played by the PMG in fast tracking of projects and considering its utility, the PMG was shifted from the Cabinet Secretariat to the PMO.

I wasn’t aware that I was being considered for the post of Coal Secretary to clear the mess in the sector. One of my batchmates approached me to convey that I should meet the Coal Minister. As a matter principle, I didn’t meet the Minister. One day even the Mr Mishra asked me why I wasn’t meeting the Coal Minister. I politely told him that I had not met any Minister before being posted (this included my posting as Secretary to Mr Kalyan Singh during his second tenure as Chief Minister) and I had no intention on “calling on” the Minister before being posted. I was none the less posted as Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in the rank of Secretary on the 16th of October, 2014, a fortnight before my predecessor superannuated.

***

The initial forays at the PMO weren’t very smooth

The focus of the government was the auction of coal blocks that had been cancelled by the Supreme Court. There was no precedent available anywhere in the world and the whole process had to be developed from scratch. The process being evolved for the auction of coal blocks was complicated. Not many were convinced that it would withstand scrutiny and the expectations associated with it. It was too sensitive a matter to be left entirely to the officials of the Coal Ministry.

Mr Vinod Rai had been responsible for pointing out the irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks in his role as Comptroller and Auditor General. It was suggested that a committee be constituted under his Chairmanship to oversee the coal block auctions in the hope that he would give his judicious ‘rai’(advice) to the Coal Ministry in the conduct of coal block auctions. Ironically, perhaps aware of the risks entailed in such a sensitive sector, he was not keen to give any decision on his own!

The atmosphere was charged. Discussions were held in the room of the Mr Mishra’s room at the PMO. It was his suggestion that there should be a committee to oversee coal block auctions. I was taken aback as I deemed this as a lack of confidence in me. Hence, I did something that was not normally done in the context of a very powerful PMO. I opposed it.

I was not willing to have any such committee breathing down my neck. I was clear that the task of carrying out the auction was that of the Coal Ministry. Therefore, we were prepared to take all the responsibility associated with it. A heated debate ensued as I continued to resist. Normally no one argued with the PMO. The PMO was the final arbiter in all sensitive issues. Everyone was heard but the final writ came from this office. In this case, it was the Principal Secretary himself. However, even at the risk of being considered too impertinent, I stuck to my guns. I was clear that if I was to be in charge, I would lead the way. I was not opposed to seeking advice or consulting those around. But there was no way in which a formal consultative, supervisory or advisory committee was acceptable to me.

Having worked with me in the past, he perhaps knew that I would not relent easily. After a lot of fireworks, bordering on unpleasantness, the idea was shelved. We were spared the structured council of the ‘Rai Sahebs’ though we continued to benefit from informal advice right through the process of auctions.

In retrospect, it turned out to be a masterstroke as we had a lot of freedom in evolving the process without someone telling us to go strictly by the rule book. The process required that flexibility. There were a number of meetings at the PMO to assess how the auction process was going. We did arrive at a broad agreement on the process. The problem was that in the absence of any precedence, the process was always evolving. It was difficult to keep the PMO posted all the time. There were decisions taken at the Ministry itself. However, had the auctions been a failure or had something gone wrong, I would have been sacked. It was a crucial call that I had to take on the spur of the moment. I had taken a huge risk.

***

The Coal Block Auctions were a resounding success. All the newspaper sang praises about the transparent manner in which the entire exercise had been accomplished. Extensive use of technology also came in for praise. When the call from Mr Mishra came, I had expected a few words of praise from him as well. He was, however, upset. His complaint was that the PMO was not kept informed. I tried to explain to him that a note had been sent to him which he may not have seen do far. This conversation was late in the evening. Hence, I sent across yet another note to Mr Mishra, enclosing copy of the note that I had sent to him earlier. He immediately called up to compliment me and the entire team for the wonderful work we had done.

Apart from Mr Nripendra Mishra there was another Mishra, Mr P K Mishra in the PMO. As Additional Principal Secretary he was tasked to handle the human resource matters. As allocation and posting of all the officers in the rank of Joint Secretary and above required clearance of the PM in his capacity as the Chairman of Appointment Committee of Cabinet, I witnessed that Mr P K Mishra’s room was full of files. However, despite the pressure of work, I always found him smiling and ready to lend his ears. During the first year as Coal Secretary, I visited him on a number of occasions to discuss and seek assistance on personnel matters. He was always forthcoming. On a few occasions I even made requests to Mr Nriprendra Mishra for a few officers to be posted in the Ministry little realising that he had virtually no role to play in such matters. I discovered this incidentally when on when one occasion while sitting in his room. He was browsing through the papers when he came across an order regarding transfer of a Secretary in a crucial Department. The expression on his face revealed it all. He wasn’t aware that the concerned Secretary had been shifted out.

{Excerpts from “No More a Civil Servant”}

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But for gold, India would have become Sri Lanka

India had also faced a Sri Lanka-like crisis three decades back, but the leadership saved the country.

Vijay Darda

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Introduction

During the rule of demon king Ravana, his palace in Sri Lanka was made of gold. But today there is not an ounce of gold in Sri Lanka’s treasury to save it from bankruptcy! But quite amazingly, when India was on the verge of bankruptcy some three decades back, we saved ourselves by selling 20 tonnes of gold, and subsequent rapid economic recovery helped bolster the economy. Very few people of the present generation of the country would be aware of this story. Before examining the situation in Sri Lanka and its causes, it is pertinent to briefly learn about the then situation!

The Gulf War broke out in 1990 and the price of petroleum products skyrocketed in the international market. India’s petroleum imports suddenly increased from $2 billion to $5.7 billion in 1990-91. During this period, political instability was at its peak. In 1989, Rajiv Gandhi kept the Congress away from forming a coalition government.

Vishwanath Pratap Singh became the PM but he too had to resign in 1990. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in May 1991. The situation turned so bad that the NRIs started withdrawing their money. India’s foreign exchange reserves went down to less than one billion dollars. There was so little money that only essential imports could be paid for and that too only for 20 days. There was no money to do business with the world! The foreign debt on India had shot up to $72 billion. There were only two countries in the world above India in terms of debt – Brazil and Mexico.

India would have gone bankrupt had it not paid the debt. Chandrashekhar was the Prime Minister at that time. He got India out of a balance of payment crisis by selling 20 tonnes of gold, regardless of domestic politics and criticism. Meanwhile, the IMF gave a loan of $1.27 billion, but improving the situation was a big challenge. However, in June 1991 P V Narasimha Rao became the Prime Minister and he brought about a lot of changes in India’s economy through the then finance minister Manmohan Singh. Imports were curtailed, government spending was drastically cut, and the rupee was devalued by up to 20 per cent. Banks increased interest rates. This is how India survived!

Had India’s political leadership and administrative machinery not shown alertness, our story would not have been any different from Sri Lanka. The political leadership is largely to blame for the condition of Sri Lanka today. Until last month, the all-powerful Rajapaksa family dominated the island nation. The unbridled nepotism ensured the presidency for Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Mahinda Rajapaksa was the Prime Minister, Chamal Rajapaksa was the minister for irrigation, Basil Rajapaksa was the finance minister and Namal Rajapaksa was the sports minister. Thus, 75 per cent of the budget of Sri Lanka was grabbed by the Rajapaksa family. The Rajapaksa family ran Sri Lanka as their own private company. The children of the Rajapaksa family were roaming around in the world’s most expensive and customised luxurious cars. They behaved as if the country’s money was their own money. The Rajapaksa family ran the country according to their whims and fancy. It is not known why the use of fertilizers in farming was banned, leading to a sharp decline in yields. The export of tea and rice, which were prime sources of foreign exchange for Sri Lanka, declined drastically.

Tourism accounts for about 20 per cent of Sri Lanka’s revenue. Sri Lanka’s finances were already in the doldrums in the aftermath of the years of the civil war resulting from the LTTE insurgency. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic further worsened the situation. In the meantime, Sri Lanka went on seeking loans left, right and centre. When China dangled the carrot of Hambantota Port, the experts had cautioned that Sri Lanka does not need it but eventually Sri Lanka walked into China’s debt trap. Now the rumour mills are churning out the stories of how the Chinese financiers benefitted the Rajapaksa family for this. I don’t know how much substance these stories hold, but one thing is clear that Sri Lanka unnecessarily took a loan of billions of dollars from China. What is the condition today? China has got Hambantota Port on a lease for 99 years. Actually, the rulers of countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan run the country like a private limited company. They use the public money to feather their own nests but we are proud that neither any party nor any prime minister has ever done this in our country. For us, our country is supreme.

The burden of foreign debt on Sri Lanka has now exceeded $50 billion. The Sri Lankan government has clearly admitted that it is not in a position to pay even the interest on the loans. It simply means that Sri Lanka has gone bankrupt. The value of one dollar has crossed 360 Sri Lankan rupees. Traditionally, it is believed that any country should have at least 7 months’ worth of foreign exchange reserves to import, but Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves are not enough to pay for imports even for a few days. The situation is so bad that there is a complete power outage throughout the island nation. Petrol and gas are being supplied under the protection of the army. Essential goods are missing from the market and the poor have nothing to eat. There is no money for paper and hence newspapers have stopped publishing. Sri Lanka is burning in the fire of discontent. Meanwhile, the post of prime minister has been taken over by Ranil Wickremesinghe. He is considered very close to India. India has helped Sri Lanka a lot even during Rajapaksa’s reign, but how much can any other country help? The health of Sri Lanka will have to be restored by its own political leadership. Let us all pray for Sri Lanka!

The woeful plight of Sri Lanka is an eye-opener for the world that it is very risky to fall into the debt trap. An old saying in our Indian families says, stretch your legs no bigger than the coverlet. And there is another saying that there must be some money in hand for rainy days. This is the proverbial lesson for every family and also for the political setup and government! No one can say for sure when and where any calamity will strike!

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

The crisis which the island nation of Sri Lanka is facing can be described as an extremely dreadful time for any country. Three decades back, India was on the verge of facing a similar situation, but our leaders took a bold and visionary decision to save the country by selling gold. It is the Sri Lankan leadership which has pushed the people on the brink of starvation.

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