Resilient India fights back! Call it the first silver lining emerging in India’s fight against coronavirus pandemic, the sharp rise in recovery cases (over 4,250 and counting) is the first feel-good positive news for us. Else, our eyes were always glued to the TV sets counting the Covid-19 positive tally and the death toll. Today, the rising recovery rate gives a new confidence to all those involved in defeating the deadly virus. From the healthcare workers, doctors and security officials, who sacrificed personal safety to save lives, to every individual at home waiting for the pandemic to peter out, the country has shown a remarkable unity, perseverance and courage.
What’s even more heartening is the fact that the recovery rate, in days to come, will only improve. Kudos to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government for immediately going for “prevention through an information blitz”, followed by a national lockdown, an unprecedented public exercise which helped delay the virus from entering the “danger zone”. It’s the decisiveness of the current dispensation, both at the Centre and the states, that has ensured this nation of 1.3 billion people doesn’t enter the “community transmission stage’’. India may avoid entering the danger zone if we remain disciplined and maintain social distancing.
The authorities need to take lessons from some of the mistakes that inadvertently happened during the lockdown. The nation simply cannot afford to have another Tablighi-like blunder, and we need to be better prepared to deal with the plight of migrant labourers in several states. Had a complete discipline been practised by keeping politics and religion on the backburner, India’s tally would have been much less. It’s high time we look back at those mistakes and make a renewed vow not to repeat them. It’s time to fight coronavirus resolutely and as one nation.
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ANALYSING INDIA’S ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL AND GOVERNANCE GOALS
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues concern and impact every company, irrespective of where the company operates. Environmental issues range across climate change, carbon emission concerns, waste management, pollution (air and water). Social issues range across labour issues, modern slavery, under-the-table sourcing practices, product liabilities, privacy concerns, data security. Governance issues range across business ethics, corporate culture that shapes how a company functions and its organisational practices, board impact, enterprise risk framework, and the granularity of the organisation disclosures.
The term ESG was first coined in 2005 in a landmark study initiated by United Nations, titled ‹Who Cares Wins.” Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) refers to the three core themes in measuring the sustainability and societal impact of an investment in a company. These criteria also help in determining the future financial performance of companies.
In recent years, investing in sustainable companies has been associated with ‘doing good’ investors. ESG is no more just that or about ‘investing plus sustainability’. It is now the way of responsible investing. It is no more a ‘nice to have’ special project in a firm; it is rather a ‘must make it part of the organisational DNA’ culture and board imperative.
The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the importance of social commitment, environmental championing, and governance values of companies. Many companies have taken up the cause of social impact, as a spontaneous response to the suffering all around. These showcase the companies’ true values and commitment to a mission.
SUSTAINABILITY AND SOCIAL LICENSE
Sustainability is specific to a company, or an industry, and a country. Companies need to measure their positive and negative impacts, identify the baselines, and disclose in a transparent and consumer-friendly manner. Regulatory requirements of such disclosures have compelled the act of disclosures, but not necessarily the spirit and details of such disclosures. To really achieve sustainability, it has to be a top-down, company-wide cultural effort.
A social licence simply refers to the acceptance of an organisation by the community in which it operates. In other words, an organisation can carry out its business, simply because of the confidence the (local) society has that it will behave well respecting all rules and traditions, with accountability, and in a socially and environmentally responsible way. The ‘social license to operate’ is made of these three elements:
• Legitimacy: the extent to which an organisation operates by the ‘rules of the game’ (the norm of the community, even if they are informal or not coded as law).
• Credibility: the organisation’s ability to provide true and detailed information to the community and fulfil all its commitments on time, without reminders.
• Trust: this aspect of highest quality of a relationship takes time and effort to nurture and sustain.
Organisations that think that social licence is something that they can ‘pay for’, end up with issues of their credibility at stake. Companies with questionable processes often try and buy such credibility by giving out community grants (in the form of social funds). This kind of transactional nature of the behaviour would break the trust that the community has with the organisation.
Even a broken relationship can be mended or healed by carefully rebuilding that trust. Trust assumes that all parties involved would nurture the relationships, based on mutual respect and highest levels of probity.
The social license of profit-making entities has to be a full-time engagement. Organisations, that champion their community initiatives, usually have their best and senior resources overseeing those initiatives. Such organisations ensure that their boards are appraised regularly of the initiatives, however small the projects could be in their balance sheet. It is the guiding principles of those initiatives which matter and not the project-cost-outlay!
Boards usually have governance expertise on business matters. At the beginning of this millennium, climate change became a global debate.
It took time for it to percolate to the corporate world as a serious topic that could impact their ‘future business as well as ‘future of business’. With ESG standards gaining momentum across stakeholder groups, Boards are discussing the following things :
• Societal changes and evolving expectations of the society
• Adapting the corporate brand promise in alignment with ESG objectives
• Various risks including Global risks, country risks, and corporate risks.
• Reputational issues
• Disruptive elements in their industry/geography
• Global momentum on ESG and expectations.
Conversations around ESG need to move out of specialist journals, multilateral institutions› annual summits, and corporate board rooms to classroom debates, panchayat discussions, and populist mass media across various languages!
A productive ESG thinking depends on building initiatives that are authentic, inclusive, actionable, and focused on driving a real-world result, not just an ESG rating or award.
ESG is not a revolution, but more a mindset evolution. This might be a good starting point for you to think of your ESG journey ahead:
• Do all your stakeholders know your ESG goals? Are all of them aligned in the mission ahead?
• How do you improve the existing ESG standards?
• Do you know of the parameters that make up your firm’s ESG score or ratings?
• How do you improve on the existing processes that impact the ESG performance of your firm?
• How do you compete with the global benchmarks?
• How strong is your social licence to operate, in the locations your firm operates and serves customers?
• How do you communicate about your ESG initiatives— both to your internal stakeholders and the external world? After all, perception is a new reality.
• You might have ‘goodness’ as a value. Is it reflected in each of the stakeholder behaviour and processes within your firm?
In this transformational journey to make the world ‘good’, every voice counts, and every positive act matters. Capital, human capital, and social capital have to come together for sustainable and impactful ESG outcomes.
GEO-ECONOMIC RELEVANCE OF THE HISTORIC STILWELL ROAD
The Stilwell Road, originally known as Ledo Road, is named after American General Joseph Warren Stilwell, who undertook the responsibility of constructing the project in December 1942, to open communication links for the Allied forces from India to send reinforcements to Kunming in Yunnan province of China and subsequently free Burma from the clutches of Japanese forces.
The Stilwell Road which was lost in geostrategic calculus during the Cold War period gained geo-economic relevance in the backdrop of India’s Act East policy under the canopy of neoliberal architecture. The road was considered a prime mover for cross-border trade and economic integration with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) having wider implications for India’s Northeastern states as well. The Stilwell Road, originally known as Ledo Road, is named after American General Joseph Warren Stilwell, who undertook the responsibility of constructing the project in December 1942, to open communication links for the Allied forces from India to send reinforcements to Kunming in Yunnan province of China and subsequently free Burma from the clutches of Japanese forces.
Stilwell Road in 2015 (Nampong section)Stilwell Road during World War II. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)
During its completion in 1944, the road was used as a major supply route for the transportation of arms, troops, and other essential materials for the Kuomintang Army of China in its war against Japan. The road covering a distance of 1726 kilometers starts from Ledo in Assam (India) and goes across Nampong in Arunachal Pradesh (India) and Shindbwiyang, Bhamo, and Myitkyina in Kachin (Myanmar) and further links Ledo-Burma roads junction to the city of Kunming in China. The road covers 61 km in India, 1033 km in Myanmar, and 632 km in China respectively.
Initially, Myanmar was skeptical about re-opening the Stilwell road, because it ran across the insurgency-infested Kachin region upon which the Military Junta did not have any control. Later, Myanmar Government assigned the contract to Yunnan Construction Engineering Group of China and the military-backed Yuzana group in 2010 to reconstruct 312-kilometer road from Myitkyina in Myanmar to Pangsau pass at the India-Myanmar border. India has renovated its portion of Stilwell road through two-lane highways, while China has renovated its own segment through six-lane Highways. The experts working in this field opined that rebuilding of Myitkyina-Pangsau Pass would reduce the cost of transport by about 30 percent benefitting India, Myanmar, and China for bilateral as well as multilateral trade. Generally, goods from India’s Northeast are brought through road and railways of narrow Siliguri corridor to Kolkata covering near about 1,600 km and then transshipped through the Strait of Malacca to South East Asia and China. The present route takes about seven days for the landing of cargo whereas the same consignment through the Stilwell route can land in Myanmar and China in less than two days. In my opinion, if the Myanmar segment is completed, then the Ledo-Nampong corridor could be connected to Muse, Lashio, Mandalay, and Yangon (Myanmar) through Asian Highway (AH14); Ruili, Wanding and Kunming (China) through AH3 and Bangkok (Thailand); Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and Singapore (Singapore) through Asian Highway 2(AH2) and further to Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Hochi Minh city (Vietnam) of grater Mekong sub-region through Asian Highways 1(AH1). It is envisioned that such type of transnational-connectivity corridors would help in strengthening free trade architecture eventually pave the way for regional and sub-regional cooperation.
In this context, the opening of the Stilwell road at the India-Myanmar border would create scope for cross-border trade and economic collaboration in the region involving India’s Northeastern states. It is pertinent to mention here that the Nampong Land Custom Station (Arunachal Pradesh) notified since 1951 has largely remained non-functional and the border trade was limited to informal channels. At present, Indian nationals are allowed to visit the Pangsau market (Myanmar side) on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of every month. Likewise, Myanmar’s nationals living 16 km from its borer are permitted to visit Nampong every Friday to purchase their necessary items. In case of any formal border trade, there would be a rush forward in both imports and exports, and as a consequence, it would strengthen the pace for cross-border collaboration involving both hardware and software resources for the benefit of all the stakeholders in the region.
India’s prime apprehension is that in case ‘We Act East’ through the Stilwell Road, then India’s Northeast will be swamped with cheap Chinese goods. This kind of economic threat perception cannot be denied given the nature of the easy overflow of Chinese goods into the Indian markets including the Northeast. Equally, it is pertinent to mention that China has already spread its tentacles in our neighbouring South/ South East Asian countries through several infrastructural projects, the most touted, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) posing it as the economic hegemon of the continental corridor. Since India enjoys added advantages over China due to multiplicity of geo-economic, cultural, and strategic factors, New Delhi can drag the ASEAN very well in its favour by forging a closer partnership with the latter through transnational connectivity projects and deeper economic linkages. In this context, Stilwell road could be a game-changer, and set the momentum for the economic engagement of Northeast with ASEAN, subsequently balancing India’s national interest vis-à-vis China.
The writer is an Associate Professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.
The road covering a distance of 1,726 km starts from Ledo in Assam and goes across Nampong in Arunachal Pradesh and Shindbwiyang, Bhamo, and Myitkyina in Myanmar and further links Ledo-Burma roads junction to the city of Kunming in China.
BEIJING IS WATCHING BIDEN-PUTIN MEETING
It’s quite telling that the communiqué issued by Nato heads of state and government at the end of the summit in Brussels on Monday, 14 June, made around 10 references to China, and around 60 references to Russia, primarily in negative terms. One paragraph in the communiqué read: “Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security; terrorism in all its forms and manifestations remains a persistent threat to us all… China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance. We will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the Alliance.” This can be interpreted as Nato striving hard to stay focused on the “Russian threat”—the raison d’être of the North Atlantic alliance—at a time when it is actually China that is trying to rewrite the international order with Chinese Communist characteristics that are essentially malign in nature. Even though the centre of gravity of geopolitics has shifted from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indo-Pacific, Nato countries, all of whom have deep economic ties with China, and are aware of China’s imperialistic ambitions, would rather talk about Russia.
It is in this context that the Wednesday meeting between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva has to be seen. It’s interesting, that in spite of all that focus on Russia, the President of the most important Nato nation chose to sit down with Nato’s biggest “enemy”—in fact a “killer” as Joe Biden described Vladimir Putin not too long ago. Globally, eyes are focused on how this meeting will revive US-Russia relations, and the talk is all about Putin’s alleged interference in US elections, his annexation of Crimea, his Syrian adventure, the treatment meted out to Alexei Navalny, etc. But these are crucial but more legacy issues than anything else, considering the long history of animosity between the US and Russia. But there is another way of interpreting the meeting—a feeble, or perhaps not so feeble, attempt to wean Russia away from China. Biden’s instincts seem to be right, in that he realizes that it’s better to mend ties with Putin than shove him into China’s lap, when the question is about confronting China. That Putin too decided to meet Biden could be an indicator of the willingness to mend fences, reeling as his country is from western sanctions, one of the reasons why he has been driven into China’s arms. As this writer has pointed out earlier too, China is gradually taking over Russia. Shunned by the West, Russia is funds starved and has no option but to be dependent on China. This level of dependency is obvious from the fact that China alone accounted for over 15% of Russia’s total trade in 2018, while Russia accounted for less than 1% of China’s total trade. The Chinese have flooded Russia with their technology; Russia’s manufacturing is coming under the control of the Chinese; Russia is going for Huawei for its 5G rollout; their defence ties are burgeoning. However, in spite of the apparent bonhomie between Russia and China, there have been hiccups in the relationship over China claiming Vladivostok or getting active in Central Asia, which Russia considers to be its area of influence, or by “carving” out a Polar Silk Route. There is a belief that Russia, one of the two most important global powers during the Cold War—the other being of course the US—does not like being a Chinese appendage. Hence, this meeting can perhaps be interpreted as Putin opening a door, however partially to “overtures” from the US. But then the burden of history sometimes can be too big to bear and there is too much trust deficit between the two enemies. For every step that President Putin takes, President Biden will have to walk two steps if he is serious about mending ties with Russia. If the Geneva meeting leads to a thaw in US-Russia ties, then geopolitics may take a new turn, which may not be to China’s liking. There is no doubt that Beijing is watching the meeting intently.
World needs more ‘no-meat’ days
Around 80 billion animals are slaughtered for food in a year. And to keep this savage business running, most of the precious primary resources of the environment such as water and land are diverted in bulk to the meat industry.
On reading my friend’s latest article in a leading national newspaper, ‘Food Choice in Crisis: Forced Vegetarianism in Gurugram’, I felt a bit sympathetic towards people demanding access to whatever they wish to eat. The argument given against a Tuesday ban on meat supply to markets was that a religious argument should not be pushed to obstruct choice of those who wish to consume meat. Fair enough, if religion comes to the rescue of animals even if it is for a day. Enlightened people exposed to global discourses on slaughterhouse cruelties and climate change imperatives should welcome this move and not refurbish their armoury unnecessarily. The better side of all religions is to gradually do away with all forms of cruelties on the weak and create an Arcadian Bliss where all species are able to live in harmony with nature.
An insistence on ‘food choice’ comes from an overfed population controlling markets of opulence. Growing up in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh where denying a culinary star meat dish was almost heretical in the early decades, most meat eaters would mock such intruders to a dining table as ‘grass-eating people’. My father, on an official tour with Jawaharlal Nehru to China and Burma, had to live on a potato diet for almost a month or more. He was often mocked by his fellow officials on his irrelevance for these tours, but Nehru was relatively respectful and would never forget to sympathetically ask him if he got something to eat. It was in 1971 when the book Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé first appeared to answer many such arguments on food choice. By this time almost 15% of the Amazon forest had already been replaced by pastures for cattle which had prodigiously increased from 5 million to 80 million in factory farming for British and American food companies such as McDonald and Big Boy companies. The rare Andean Amazonian rainforest ecosystems from eastern to southern Brazilian Amazon covering its key states of Maranhão, Pará, Tocantins, Mato Grosso and Rondônia including the high value rainforest ecosystems of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela were bulldozed for meat industry. This area gradually acquired the title of the dreadful ‘Arc of deforestation’ ready to push the planet into many improbable disasters. However, these countries supplied meat to foreign markets but back home witnessed the worst hunger as the food animals munched all their grains.
I must confess that many of us are encumbered by the power of endurance of so many animals, minced and grilled in the food industry where technical advancement for meat shredding and de-robing pretty birds goes on without guilt just to serve their bodies on plates as this is considered progressive. Ecology offers us a new way of thinking. Most of the precious primary resources of the environment such as water and land are diverted in bulk to the meat industry. Almost 70% of human consumption of water takes place in the global agriculture sector including the agri-meat industry. To produce one kg of wheat only 1,500 litres of water is consumed, while it takes ten times more to produce the same amount of beef. For making 20-30 chapatis or a kilogramme of rice only 2,497 litres or less of water is used but for producing the same amount of beef 15,415 litres and for chicken meat 4,500 litres of water is used. One hamburger alone sucks 212 litres of water and by that standard an average American who consumes around 280 lbs of meat in a year may require 232,000 litres of water per year just to eat a hamburger.
The land statistics of meat consumption may also be disconcerting to many. It takes 1.8 acres to feed a cow for a year. The size of an average landholding in India is 3.7 acre per family which suggests that their inclination for rearing animals for the meat market may divert food and water from family members to the animal. Yet, there is another argument on slaughterhouse animals as sentient beings. As Peter Singer the legendary author on planetary ethics, questions, ‘Why the basic moral principle of equal consideration of interests be arbitrarily restricted to members of our own species?’ It has been a powerful world of meat eaters since meat was power, sophistication and opulence. In 1990, I was exposed to a new direction of arguments from Carol J. Adams whom I met at a women’s conference at Hunter College of New York. She had already gained a huge following from students and intellectuals from many countries and most people were walking around with her much in demand book The Sexual Politics of Meat. During those five days of this global meet I was introduced to a male language of meat eating in which vegetable becomes a symbol of feminine passivity and meat of patriarchy. Her provocative feminist-vegetarian critical theory found ‘the rape of animals and the butchering of women’ synonymous with crimes as products of power hierarchies. In India an ideal subservient vegetarian wife would still be expected to cook, serve and feed meat to her husband and son to increase their masculine sturdiness and she in turn expects the same from her son’s wife.
Lately, Indian television media is going berserk on advertisements from meat companies. These ads get on to prime time popular slots to show disturbing images of animal bodies as delicious food products. For this reprehensible display which blatantly disparages smaller species is aggressively splashed through popular Bollywood stars. These advertising companies hurt sentiments of animal respecting people with brazen thoughtlessness as if the world was all theirs and a rampant demonstration of animal bodies carelessly put on fire was an ideal planetary ethics with men in driving seats. In reality, it is this brute force of a callous Anthropocene which has disturbed the balance of life on our planet.
Who are these animal respecting people (ARP)? Adams’ curt response that the world is divided into intellectually superior meat eaters and inferior plant eaters account for conquering other cultures such as the rice-eating Hindu and Chinese and the potato-eating Irish peasant by a well-fed beef eating English. Russell Baker’s account of the second World War highlights what he calls the ‘beef madness’ when American soldiers were force fed richly fatted beef to win the war. The result is everyone’s knowledge. This has also been a pet argument to promote meat by markets across the benign plant-based agrarian communities. The decades of 1960s and 1970s had shown animal respecting people as aggressive animal liberators who would break through laboratory cages or slaughterhouses to liberate suffering animals and that’s when in 1975 Peter Singer’s formidable Animal Liberation, a true story of slaughterhouses, was published. This book had many editions but in 2009 the author was still found face to face with the untold cruelties in slaughterhouses. He begins the new edition with the story of an undercover video on evening news reported from the Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse in California that shocked Americans. The world watched in horror as cattle too sick to even walk were being kicked, shocked with electric prods, jabbed in the eye with a baton and pushed around with a forklift all so that they could be driven near enough to the ‘kill box’ to be slaughtered and processed into meat. Yet, people can still cry for their right to eat Kebabs from their choice shops.
Ironically, the liberation movement for animals did not come from religious communities across the world spread around the Hindu, Jain and the Buddhist terrains but from the Western educated scientifically trained professional communities in the Western world. A realisation was writ large on the rising new generation that compassion cannot be left to the mercy of scientists in labs or those high tech 40 categories of butcher knives to dig out intestines of a dying animal in slaughterhouses. The meat eaters were now restraining themselves from mocking plant eaters at least in public. The KFC and McDonald ads on American TV showing a meek half-starved vegetarian playing his sad violin in the midst of energetic, smart and happy meat eating youngsters were being withdrawn silently. This movement was led by the People for Animals group of Maneka Gandhi in India. It picked up intimidating personalities such as former Chief Election Commissioner late T.N. Sheshan for his tough and straightforward administrative leadership reflecting high integrity. Sheshan would brutally cut a carrot between his teeth to say he does the same to the corrupt, was an act which brought a brilliant change of image for vegetarians who could come out from their self-proclaimed guilt of not being the mainstream people. I was also handed over a stupefying video film by animal activist Camelia Satija in 1992, shot by much driven braveheart animal activists in India›s best known slaughterhouses. This film was then shown in an exhibition organised at Kamala Nehru College and animal activists from St Stephens in Delhi, titled by students as ‘Leave Meat, Be Compassionate to Animals’. The impact was a series of street plays and a massive number of students taking public pledge to follow a vegetarian path.
The word vegetarian is a bit out of place as a visibly different lot of people. This word did not even exist till 1847 when the English Vegetarian Society was inducing moral and philosophical arguments to life. The Oxford English Dictionary was comfortable with the idea that the word represented centuries of protest against the killing of animals. The world currently has around two billion vegetarians by choice, a number that is growing gradually with increasing affluence combined with education and realisation. The other 1.5 billion are vegetarians of necessity. They will start to eat meat as soon as they can afford it or if health permits. Rising incomes in this latter group which lacks appropriate exposure to global environmental or political discourses adds numbers to meat eaters. India tops the number of vegetarians by choice to be around 40% or more, with Mexico following it with 20%. It is interesting to note that the percentage of vegetarians in UK, Brazil, Israel and Australia is fast rising to go beyond 15% but to add to this, countries which knew little beyond meat in their food like Scandinavian countries, Vietnam, New Zealand, Japan and Germany also show a rising graph of people with complete ‘no meat food’ simply as a response to anti-cruelty movements.
This meat industry as any other market encounters problems of demand and supply management. While around 80 billion animals are slaughtered for food in a year, almost 30% of them are wasted for lack of demand. This suggests that like any other capitalistic market the cumulative surplus comes from animals’ lives butchered unnecessarily. Amy Fitzgerald, a criminology scholar, had indicated in her 2009 writings that those who work in slaughterhouses are much more vulnerable to violent crimes, arrests for rape and other sex offenses in comparison with other industries. Mind is dreadfully affected as workers are hired to kill animals, such as sheep, goats, pigs and cows that are largely tender and gentle creatures. A disconnect with suffering and with pleading eyes of a helpless creature deadens their behaviour as they become numb towards domestic violence, rape, killing on trifling incidents, alcohol abuse and are easily pushed sometimes to devilish outbursts.
It’s our moving away from plant-based diets that a bowl of food today needs ten times more energy for its production than it did in the 1960s. As India moves towards the 2030 deadline for achieving sustainable development goals and also commitments made under the Paris Pact for energy sustainability, governments may have to inspire, encourage and motivate populations to reduce consumption of animal-based diets. It is not the right time for aggressive advertising of meat products as above arguments establish that a ‘food choice’ is not absolute as it is limited by the carrying capacity of planet earth and the rights of animal respecting people.
So what is the harm if the much sullied side of human life, as described by Tillie Olsen in Yonnondio, ‘Geared, meshed: the kill room: knockers, shakles, pritcher-uppers, stickers, headers, rippers, leg breakers, breast and aitch sawyers, caul pullers, fell cutters, rumpers, splitters, vat dippers, skinners, gutters, pluckers’, are all sent on a one-day holiday to rest so that vibrations on the earth’s atmosphere are not disrupted by the loud and deafening screams of animals from slaughterhouses. Hope environmentalists and animal-respecting people should demand more ‘no-meat’ days in cities.
The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.
Analysing the fundamentals of governing a state
In the case of United States vs Wunderlich, 1951 SCC Online US SC 93:96 L Ed 113: 342 US 98 (1951), Justice Douglas (US Supreme Court) observed: “Law has reached its finest moments when it has freed man from the unlimited discretion of some ruler… Where discretion is absolute, man has always suffered.”
Therefore, if any Chief Minister or a Minister in any state leaves no discretion to the senior functionaries of the state and makes a senior bureaucrats, subservient to the ruler of the state, it can easily be said that rule of law in that state has broken down.
Appointing Ministers against whom there are serious allegations of corruption and senior ministers indulging in dharnas where such Ministers are questioned by investigating agencies, is a matter of great concern. It has been observed of late that people who are in power, sit in dharnas and create serious law and order problems for the state.
In the case of K. Prabhakarn vs. P. Jayarajan, the Supreme Court elucidated upon the scope and purport of Section 8(3) of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951 which provides criteria for disqualification. It was observed that the purpose of enacting disqualification under Section 8(3) of RPA is to prevent the criminalisation of politics and those who break the law should not make the law.
Interestingly, the Constitution bench of Supreme Court, in the case of Manoj Narula vs Union of India Writ Petition (Civil) No.289 of 2005expressed to then Prime Minister “Will any reasonably prudent master leave the keys of his chest with a servant whose integrity is doubted? Corruption is an enemy of the nation. As a trustee of the constitution, the PM is expected not to appoint an unwarranted person as ministers.”
On 1 October 2007, the Supreme Court bench of Justice B.N. Aggarwal and P. Sathasivam pulled up the Dravida Munnerta Kazahagam government in Tamil Nadu for going ahead with a state-sponsored bandh in the state over the Sethusamudram issue and observed that “if there is no compliance with our order, it is complete breakdown of constitutional machinery. If this is the condition, we might then have to direct the government to impose President’s Rule in the state.” But, in a different context where the High Court had passed an order after the government filed an application seeking recusal of the judge stating that he had prejudged the issue even without hearing the government, the Supreme Court, the bench comprising of Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian observed the situation as ‘disturbing’ and stayed the operation of the order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court that had castigated the Legislature, the Government, the Chief Minister and lawyers representing the State.
It is noteworthy that in the path-breaking judgement of the Supreme Court, in the case of Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225, held that the rule of law is an essential or basic feature of our Constitution.
Another facet of rule of law is its incompatibility with absolute unfettered discretion. This law was laid down by the Supreme Court in Jaisinghani Case S.G. Jaisinghani vs Union of India, AIR 1967 SC 1427: (1967) 2 SCR 703, wherein it was observed, “it is important to emphasise that the absence of arbitrary power is the first essential of the rule of law upon which our whole constitutional system is based. In a system governed by rule of law discretion, when conferred upon executive authorities must be confined within clearly defined limits”
In the case of B.P. Singhal vs Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No.296 of 2004, the Supreme Court held that an implied limitation was read into the pleasure doctrine concerning the removal of the Governor of a State by the President in terms of Article 156 of the Constitution. It was held that the pleasure doctrine as originally envisaged in England gave unfettered power to the authority at whose pleasure a person held an office. However, where the rule of law prevails, the “fundamentals of constitutionalism” cannot be ignored, meaning thereby that the pleasure doctrine does not enable an unfettered discretion to act arbitrarily, whimsically, or capriciously. It does not dispense with the need for a cause for withdrawal of the pleasure, which can only be for valid reasons.
Recently, the Supreme Court, the bench of Justice R.F. Nariman and Justice S.Ravindra Bhat, invoked its plenary power under Article 142 by removing a Manipur Minister and restrained from entering the legislative assembly of Manipur till further orders.
In few states in India, the situation is not very different but graver. The chief secretary of the state, who is supposed to be in, complete know of, the entire state with regard to damage caused by severe storm “yaas” remained elusive to brief Prime Minister when he especially visits the state to gauge the gravity of the situation, it is totally unheard of and against all rules and protocols of governance. This might lead to disruption of well laid down principles of conducting of public affairs and management of public resources.
The Constitution of India is above any political party or a minister, and even Prime Minister/Chief Minister, and thus, the majesty of the system of governance must be preserved at all cost.
The writer is a senior advocate. Views expressed are his personal.
WILL THERE BE A CABINET RESHUFFLE?
While no one has been able to second guess Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there is no denying that the buzz of a reshuffle is certainly in the air. There have been a series of meetings presided over by either the PM himself or Home Minister Amit Shah with various members of the Union ministry. Yes, it could be a routine stock taking on the eve of the Monsoon session but there is no denying that the Council of Ministers is in dire need of a face lift.
Without going into specific names, the Modi cabinet lacks bench strength. During his first stint as Prime Minister, the focus was more on building his own team rather than continuing with A.B. Vajpayee’s cabinet. That did ruffle some feathers as seniors like L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were marginalised in the now infamous Marg Darshak Mandal, while others like Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha turned rebels. Fresh faces like Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman, Prakash Javadekar and Smriti Irani were drafted in and the general expectation was that they were being groomed to play a heftier role in PM Modi’s second stint. That made sense as Modi wanted to shape his own team rather than inherit one. All of the above-mentioned names have been included in PM Modi’s second term as well.
Yet, there is a perception that the Modi cabinet lacks bench strength. The performing ministers remain those inherited from the Vajpayee regime—Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh and the late Sushma Swaraj and the late Arun Jaitley. The second generation talent though inducted hasn’t been given much room to manoeuvre. It is still the PMO that takes all the key decisions. Will the PMO decentralise and give ministers more elbow room? If yes, then this can be done even without a reshuffle.
The second concern regards crucial sectors that have seen some ups and downs as a fallout of certain policy decisions taken by the government. Such as agriculture and education. There have also been concerns that in a Covid continuous world there is a need for an able administrator, rather than a medical professional to head the health ministry.
The third compulsion is what any Prime Minister faces, balancing regional compulsions and allies. Ever since the SAD walked out of the government and Ram Vilas Paswan’s demise there has been no ally in the cabinet. It is expected that token concessions will be given to the JD(U) in this regard.
But whether there is a reshuffle or not, the political buzz has certainly distracted the headlines from Covid and China and that itself would have come as a relief for the party’s headline managers!
There is a perception that the Modi cabinet lacks bench strength. The performing ministers remain those inherited from the Vajpayee regime—Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh and the late Sushma Swaraj and the late Arun Jaitley. The second generation talent though inducted hasn’t been given much room to manoeuvre.
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