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NCLT has no jurisdiction to examine legality of action taken under MPID Act: Bombay HC

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In a fresh and significant development, the Bombay High Court in a latest, landmark and laudable judgment titled The State of Maharashtra Through the Deputy Collector & Competent Authority (NSEL) V/s Anil Kohil in Writ Petition No. 3396 of 2019 With Civil Application No. 29 of 2020 delivered recently on 9 November 2020 has pronounced in most certain terms that the National Company Law Tribunal has no jurisdiction to examine the legality or validity of action taken under Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (In Financial Establishments) Act, 1999 (MPID Act) and it is only the designated Court constituted under Section 6 of the said Act that will have exclusive jurisdiction to deal with the same. The Division Bench of Justice SC Gupte and Justice Madhav Tamdar quashed and set aside the order dated January 28, 2019 passed by the Member (Judicial), National Company Law Tribunal, Mumbai Bench directing the de-freezing of bank account in the name of Dunar Foods Ltd, which was freezed in relation to the National Spot Exchange Limited (NSEL) payment default crisis. This certainly has to be complied with now.

To start with, it is first and foremost enunciated in para 1 that, “In the present case a very interesting question arises as to whether action taken under the provisions of the Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (In Financial Establishments) Act, 1999 (hereinafter referred to as “MPID Act”) against a “Financial Establishment”, as contemplated under the MPID Act, can be challenged not before the Designated Court under the MPID Act but before the National Company Law Tribunal (hereinafter referred to as “NCLT”) by resorting to the remedy provided under the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (hereinafter referred to as “I.B. Code”). On the application of a “Financial Creditor” as contemplated under I.B. Code, an Interim Resolution Professional (hereinafter referred as “IRP”) is appointed by NCLT by exercising power under section 7 of the I.B. Code against the Corporate Debtor as contemplated under I.B. Code, which is also the Financial Establishment under the MPID Act and de-freezing of the corporate Debtor’s account attached in MPID proceedings is ordered. This order is the subject matter of challenge in this petition.”

While setting the background, it is then put forth in para 4 that, “The State of Maharashtra through the Deputy Collector and Competent Authority (NSEL), by the present Writ Petition filed under Article 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India , has approached this Court challenging the legality and validity of the order dated 28/01/2019 passed by the Member (Judicial), National Company Law Tribunal, Mumbai Bench in M.A.No.1372/2018 in CP(IB)-1138(MB)/2017. By the said order, National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) directed de-freezing of bank account No.1952320006245 in HDFC Bank, Karnal, Haryana, (hereinafter referred to as “said account”) in the name of Dunar Foods Ltd.”

While dealing with factual aspects, it is then laid down in para 5 that, “Some of the factual aspects set out in the petition are as follows :

(i) An FIR being C.R.No.216/2013 was registered against Financial Technologies (India) Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “FTIL”) now known as “63 Moons Technologies Ltd.”, the National Spot Exchange Ltd. (hereinafter referred as “NSEL”), the Directors and key management persons of FTIL and NSEL, 25 borrowers/trading members of NSEL, some brokers of NSEL, and others, under sections 120B, 409, 465, 467, 468, 471, 474, 477(A) of the Indian Penal Code, by the M.R.A. Marg police station on 30/09/2013. In the said FIR, the first informant had alleged that NSEL had caused wrongful loss of about Rs.2.2 crores to himself, and wrongful loss of approximately Rs.5600 crores to more than 13000 investors. On the same day, i.e. on 30/09/2013, the investigation into the said case was transferred to Economic Offence Wing, Mumbai (hereinafter referred to as “EOW”), who registered EOW C.R. No.89 of 2013. The EOW applied the provisions of the MPID Act to the said C.R. in October 2013.

(ii) NSEL is a company registered under the Companies Act, 1956 having its registered office at Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The NSEL provided an electronic platform for spot trading in commodities, and used to operate from 16 States across the country. The NSEL was promoted by FTIL, now known as “63 Moons Technologies Pvt. Ltd.”, which holds 99.99% of the share capital of NSEL. The balance 0.01% of the share capital of the NSEL is held by the National Agricultural Co-operative Marketing Federation of India Ltd. (hereinafter referred as “NAFED”).

(iii) In the petition, a reference has been made to notification dated 05/06/2007 and further notification dated 06/02/2012 issued by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Government of India (hereinafter referred as “DCA”) by which exemption was granted to NSEL from the operation of the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1952 (hereinafter referred as “FCRA”) for all forward contracts of one day duration for sale and purchase of commodities traded on its platform subject to certain conditions.

(iv) In the Writ Petition, the manner in which NSEL was working has been set out in detail.

(v) As per the FIR, during the initial contracts, member companies squared off the contracts on the dates of maturity. However, later on, these companies did not honour their commitments and caused wrongful loss of about Rs.5600 crores to about 13000 investors. The members of the NSEL fraudulently obtained huge funds from the NSEL against non-existent stocks of commodities. There was a semblance of trading, which was actually being done in non-existent goods, by issuing forged warehouse receipts. Further, the warehouses, which were an integral part of the NSEL as the commodities were required to be deposited in the exchange designated and certified warehouses as part of the pay-in obligations, lacked capacity and some of them had no stocks.

(vi) The NSEL vide their circular dated 14/8/2013 announced a settlement schedule. According to this schedule, NSEL had to make payouts of Rs.5,574.31 crores to its members. The settlement calendar announced by NSEL was spread over 30 weeks for pay-out on pro-rata basis to 148 members. The NSEL subsequently defaulted in all the payouts since the announcement of the settlement plan.

(vii) The investigation revealed that the mode of transaction that the NSEL was allowed by the Government of India was not followed by the NSEL, and that the NSEL had promised attractive returns to persons who had traded on the NSEL platform. The NSEL had assured them that if they entered into a contract on T+2, they would get an attractive return of 14% to 16% on the completion of the contract on T+25.”

While elaborating further, it is then set out in para 6 that, “As set out hereinabove, the FIR was registered on 30/09/2013, and after investigation, the EOW filed charge-sheet on 06/01/2014 in EOW. C.R. No.89/2013 in MPID Court, Mumbai. EOW thereafter filed supplementary charge-sheets from time to time including on 04/06/2014, 04/08/2014 and 27/12/2018. It is set out in the petition that as provisions of MPID Act were made applicable, the Government of Maharashtra vide notification dated 28/08/2014 issued under section 4 of the MPID Act attached several properties of several companies including Lotus Refineries Pvt. Ltd., White Walter Foods Pvt. Ltd., Shree Radhey Trading Co., Vimladevi Agrotech Ltd., Mohan India Pvt. Ltd., Tavishi Enterprises Ltd., Brinda Commodity Pvt. Ltd., Ark Import Pvt. Ltd., P..D.Agroprocessors Pvt. Ltd., Aastha Minmet India Pvt and Juggernaut Projects Ltd., White Water Foods Pvt. Ltd., Swastik Overseas, MSR Foods, Loil Continental, Loil Health Foods Ltd., Loil Overseas Foods Ltd., Spin Cot Textiles Pvt. Ltd., NCS Sugars Ltd., Metkore Alloys and Industries Ltd., Yathuri Associates, Namdhari Food Internation Pvt. Ltd., Amdhari Rice and General Mills and of Dunar Foods Ltd. It appears that during investigation, as and when the Investigating Agency got knowledge about properties of various companies/persons to which the provisions of MPID Act in relation to said FIR could be applied, necessary notifications under section 4 were issued by Government of Maharashtra attaching immovable and movable properties. By the notification dated 19/10/2018 various properties belonging to various parties were attached including of M/s.E.D. Agro Procedures Pvt. Ltd. and Dunar Foods Pvt. Ltd. including the said account. In this petition, we are concerned with defreezing of the said account which is subject matter of the impugned order dated 28/01/2019.”

Going forward, it is then put forth in para 7 that, “When the said investigation by EOW was going on and when the authorities were taking action under MPID Act, simultaneously on 27/06/2017, the State Bank of India, a Financial Creditor of M/s. Dunar Foods Ltd., invoked the jurisdiction under section 7 of the I.B. Code for the defaulted financial debt of Rs.758,73,62,546/- outstanding against the Corporate Debtor M/s.Dunar Foods Ltd. In the said proceedings, by the order dated 22/12/2017, the said petition was admitted by the NCLT and Mr. Anil Kohli was appointed as IRP and directed to comply with provisions of sections 13 and 15 onwards of the I.B. Code. It was further directed that as the petition was held fit for “admission”, hence as a consequence Moratorium as prescribed under section 14 of the I.B.Code would commence. It was further directed that on enforcement of Moratorium, certain prohibitions were applicable, such as institution of any Suit before a Court of Law, transferring of any Asset of the Debtor, encumbering any rights over the assets of the Debtor. However, it was also clarified that the supply of essential goods of services to the Corporate Debtor shall not be terminated during Moratorium period. It shall be effective till completion of the Insolvency Resolution Process or until the approval of the Resolution Plan as prescribed under section 31 of the I.B. Code. Accordingly, the said petition stood admitted. The Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process commenced from the date of the order.”

In hindsight, it is then mentioned in para 8 that, “It is significant to note that on 20/02/2018, M.A.No.237/2018 was filed by Dunar Foods Ltd. through IRP under section 9 of MPID Act before the Designated Court under MPID Act, seeking direction to defreeze the bank accounts of Dunar Foods Ltd. attached pursuant to the notifications issued by the Home Department of Government of Maharashtra under the MPID Act from time to time and seeking further direction to the Competent Authority designated under MPID Act to forthwith handover all assets of Dunar Foods Ltd. to the Applicant. By the order dated 28th December, 2018, passed by the learned Special Judge (MPID Act) City Civil and Sessions Court for Greater Bombay passed below Exhibit-1 in Miscellaneous Application No.237 of 2018, the said application was rejected, however, it was clarified that IRP was at liberty to raise objections before the Court under section 7 of the MPID Act.”

Of course, what cannot be ignored is then stated in para 9 that, “In the meanwhile, on 12/11/2018, M.A.No.1372 of 2018 in C.P.No.1138/I & BC/NCLT/MB/MAH/2017 was filed by IRP for Dunar Foods Ltd. under section 60(5), 14(1a) and 74(2) of I.B. Code before the NCLT, seeking direction to de-freeze the said account of the corporate debtor attached pursuant to the notifications issued by the Home Department, Government of Maharashtra under MPID Act from time to time and consequential directions to the Respondent, being the Competent Authority designated under MPID Act, to forthwith handover all assets of Dunar Foods Ltd. to the Applicant. It is further prayed that action be directed to be initiated under section 74(2) of the Code against the concerned officers of the corporate debtor for deliberate and willful violation of section 14 of the Code. A detailed reply dated 15/01/2019 was filed by the Deputy Collector and Competent Authority (NSEL) to M.A.No.1372/2018. By the impugned order dated 28/01/2019, passed by the learned Member (Judicial) NCLT, Mumbai Bench, M.A.No.1372/2018 was partly allowed by directing defreezing of the said account. The said order is challenged by the State of Maharashtra through Deputy Collector and Competent Authority, (NSEL) in the present writ petition.”

To put it succinctly, it is then pointed out in para 28 that, “The Respondents have also relied on the judgment of the Designated Court under the MPID Act at Bombay City Civil and Sessions Court, Mumbai in Roofit Industries Limited Vs. The State of Maharashtra in MPID Special Case No. 34 of 2004. A perusal of said order dated 18.08.2017 passed by the Special Judge, MPID Act clearly shows that provisions of I.B. Code were pointed out to the Court and after giving hearing to Competent Authority, depositors, objectors and others, Competent Authority and EOW were directed to hand over certain properties to the Applicant in the said case who claims to be an Interim Resolution Professional appointed by the NCLT for Roofit Industries Ltd. The operative portion of said order dated 18.08.2017 is reproduced herein below:-

“ORDER

1. Application is allowed.

2. Competent Authority and EOW is directed to hand over to applicant/intervener the custody and charge of the immovable properties mentioned at Sr. No. 8,10, 12,16,17,18,19, 20 and 23 of the notification dtd. 06.05.2016 alongwith all documents, record etc., within two weeks from today. They are further directed to handover to applicant office equipment, computers, furnitures and fixture in premises at Sr.5 and 24 of the notification.

3. The Competent Authority and EOW are directed to hand over amount of Rs.40 Lakhs alongwith accrued interest, if any to the applicant, within two weeks from today.

4. The Competent Authority is directed to the represent all depositors/investors before the applicant/intervener and to file the claims on their behalf. CA shall do all acts necessary for safeguarding and protecting the interest of depositors in Roofit Industries.

Date: 18.08.2017 A. S. Kaloti

Special Judge, M.P.I.D. Act & Addl. Sessions Judge,

City Civil & Sessions

Judge At Bombay.

Thus, even the said order, on which reliance is placed by the Respondents, shows that the IRP in that case approached the Designated Court under the MPID Act and after hearing all the parties, an order was passed and certain directions in the interest of depositors as contemplated under the MPID Act were also issued.”

For the sake of clarity, it is then clarified in para 29 that, “The learned counsel for the Petitioner has also relied on the judgment of NCLAT in the case of JSW Steel Ltd.(supra) wherein it has been held that the action of Directorate of Enforcement did not meet the criteria under Section 32-A (1) (b) of I.B. Code. However, in the present case, the Designated Court under MPID Act will examine the said aspect and therefore, the said judgment is not applicable to the present case.”

In the ultimate analysis, the Bench then holds in para 30 that, “Thus, in view of the above discussion, we hold that the NCLT has no jurisdiction to examine legality or validity of action taken under MPID Act and it is only the Designated Court constituted under Section 6 of the MPID Act that will have exclusive jurisdiction to deal with the same. Therefore, the impugned order passed by the NCLT is without jurisdiction and therefore, amenable to a challenge in our writ jurisdiction.”

Quite significantly, it is then held in para 31 that, “Thus, it is clear that the only remedy for Respondent-IRP is to approach the Designated Court under Section 7 of the MPID Act. Therefore, the impugned order passed by NCLT by which the said account was directed to be de-freezed, is without jurisdiction. The learned AGP has rightly relied on the judgments in Whirlpool Corporation (supra), Harbanslal Sahnia (supra), Committee of Management(supra) and Godrej Sara Lee Ltd. (supra) wherein it is consistently held that the power to issue prerogative writs under Article 226 of the Constitution is plenary in nature and is not limited by any other provision of the Constitution. This power can be exercised by the High Court not only for issuing writs in the nature of Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari for the enforcement of any of the Fundamental Rights contained in Part III of the Constitution but also for “any other purpose”. Under Article 226 of the Constitution, the High Court, having regard to the facts of the case, has a discretion to entertain or not to entertain a writ petition. But the High Court has imposed upon itself certain restrictions, one of which is that if an effective and efficacious remedy is available, the High Court would not normally exercise its jurisdiction. But the alternative remedy has been consistently held by this Court not to operate as a bar in at least three contingencies, namely, where the writ petition has been filed for the enforcement of any fundamental right or where there has been a violation of the principle of natural justice or where the order or proceedings are wholly without jurisdiction or the vires of an Act is challenged.”

Now coming to the concluding paras. Para 32 states that, “In view of above discussion, we quash and set aside the order dated 28/01/2019 passed by the NCLT in M.A.No.1372/2018 in C.P.No.1138/I & BC/NCLT/MB/MAH/2017 by which the said account was directed to be de-freezed. The Respondents can approach the Designated Court under section 7 of the M.P.I.D. Act seeking appropriate reliefs. We have not dealt with the merits of the case and the contentions in that behalf are expressly kept open. Rule is made absolute in above terms with no order as to costs.” Finally, it is then held in the last para 33 that, “In view of disposal of the Writ Petition, Civil Application No.29 of 2020 does not survive and is disposed of as such.”

Quite rightly, the two Judge Bench of the Bombay High Court comprising of Justice SC Gupte and Justice Madhav Tamdar have substantiated this notable judgment with logical and learned reasons rightly while also noting that the only remedy for the IRP now is to approach the designated court under Section 7 of the MPID Act and set aside the NCLT’s order. It has rightly held that NCLT has no jurisdiction to examine the legality or validity of action taken under MPID Act. It has to be now complied with. There can certainly be no ever denying or disputing it!

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Opinion

RACIAL ABUSE MUST END IN AUSTRALIA

Pankaj Vohra

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The spectators’ behaviour at the Gabba in Brisbane during the fourth Test match between India and Australia needs to be condemned in the strongest words. It is evident that the Australians refuse to learn and in every series that has been held Down Under, some incident or the other always takes place. Mohammad Siraj, the upcoming bowler who has left his impact on the Tests, is the latest target. He has been subject of racial comments as well as abuse, and unless the Australian authorities act in a stern manner and initiate action against the guilty persons, nothing is bound to change.

Any team that has visited the continent has been a victim of sledging since that is the way the game is played there. However, since the past few years, the Indians have been as aggressive, and have retaliated in their own manner. The animosity amongst players has come down, largely because many leading cricketers from around the world play together in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and have thus established cordial relations amongst themselves. This does not mean that the players do not compete with each other fiercely since as professionals, they are expected to play the game, both in its spirit and with the objective of winning. Even the England team has had some forgettable experiences there and the episode involving two former captains, Ian Chappel and Ian Botham, is often quoted in cricket circles as an example of distasteful comments that get generated in the heat of the moment.

The cricket and sports associations in Australia need to be held accountable like they were several decades ago in South Africa. Despite being the best team of its time, the South Africans were banned from competing in Tests. For sports lovers, it would have been a dream to watch them pitted against the West Indies, by far the most successful side for a long period. Thus, Dr Ali Bacher, Barry Richards, Eddie Barlow, the Pollock brothers, Proctor and many talented and gifted players of their era, never got to display their cricketing prowess on an international platform. It is another matter that subsequently, the South Africans after relaxing their one-sided racial laws, became a cricketing power under Hansie Cronje and are regarded as amongst the toughest competitors of the game.

Racialism has existed in sports for a long time and what prompted Olympic gold medallist Cassius Clay to become Mohammad Ali is a story that shall never be forgotten. The Mexico Olympics in 1968 witnessed unusual scenes when two American Black athletes after their victory flashed the Black power sign while on the Podium. Indians have never rubbed anyone the wrong way on the sports field except when Harbhajan Singh was accused of making fun of Andrew Symonds, leading to the Monkeygate affair. Fortunately, the issue was sorted out.

The Australian government must not allow the Indians to be made victims of any further abuse and should enforce their laws if there is any infringement. Australia may enjoy the advantage of wresting the Border-Gavaskar trophy, but it would be of no use if they have violated the spirit in which cricket should be played. 

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Heralding Sweet Revolution

The National Honey Mission is aimed at creating harmony between the environment, economy and society. By achieving its primary goals of protecting bees and increasing the production of honey in India, it is generating employment and income among rural populations and furthering the visions of a self-sufficient and sustainable economy.

Vinai Saxena

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“That land is barren, whose air falls silent of the buzz of the bees.”

Small things affecting our world in a big way is not a new perception. We know how micro-nutrients in ever small quantities influence biomass production, how mosquitoes and insects can cause and spread pandemics and how the accumulation of small amounts of carbon in the atmosphere over time has resulted in the gigantic phenomenon of climate change. Similarly, the relevance of the honey bee to the life system on the planet is critically important.  And even great minds like Albert Einstein have said that if honey bees disappear, it could threaten the very survival of humanity.

The fact that honey bees can pollinate flowers and effectively author agricultural production makes the interdependence of man and nature a sustainable characteristic of organic evolution.  So, simply put, as many have done in the past, if bees exist, we exist.  And if they don’t, it will not be too long before the life system’s sustainability begins to crumble.

India has not been an exception to this global appreciation of the bee.  In a general sense, what is said about the world is what applies, in a very critical manner, to highly productive tropical systems like the kind in India. Bees pollinate 90% of the flowering plants and over 70% of the main agricultural crops on which we sustain ourselves. India forms about 18% of the world’s population, and about 60% of the Indian population is engaged in agriculture and rural enterprises. With this fact in the picture, it does not require much imagination to assume that the spiral of eventualities caused by a decline of bees in India alone can affect human welfare around the world significantly. In fact, the industrial economies of the world owe it to the agricultural economies when it comes to survival and prosperity.  And as such, bees must be seen as a potential single-point failure system in which, if we fail them, they could fail an entire civilisation.

India has a National Honey Mission, executed by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission, functioning under the auspices of the Ministry of MSME, Government of India. This National Honey Mission became necessary due to a few critical factors of global importance as they unfolded around us in the decade between 2000 and 2010. 

First, climate change-related warming was suspected to have shifted the niche domain of both forest and agricultural ecosystems to some extent, which not only displaced the biodiversity to newer landscapes, but also exacerbated species loss and productivity loss.  Although not well recorded in terms of numbers, it became very noticeable that tribal communities that traditionally harvested honey from well-known trees, groves and locations had to move to newer micro-climates in the forests in search of honeycombs.  The bumblebee had already been listed as endangered and several honey bee species came under watch.  India is known to have some 796 species of bees and 40% of them are endemic to our geography.  However, the species conservation debate largely focused on big cats, elephants and rhinos but the overarching importance of these creatures was underestimated.  And hugely important ecosystems, apart from farmlands, like the Sundarbans, Western Ghats and the verdant Northeastern landscapes, remained fragile with the possibility that the effect of climate change on bees could disrupt their integrity in the long run.

Second, the last decade saw an increasing incidence of ‘colony collapse disorder’ (CCD) concerning bees, especially the four or five species in India which have high relevance to bee farming. Being in the middle of a communication revolution, with mobile phone networks as well as television channels booming and enlarging national signal footprints, the CCD was suspected to be the handiwork of invisible electromagnetic signals. No conclusive evidence is available on this, but the CCD is a recorded fact and large populations of Indian bees of high commercial importance for beekeeping as well as agriculture have witnessed sharp declines in several geographic locations.

Third, the enormous increase in the application of insecticides in agriculture, especially the neonicotinoids, has been blamed for destroying honey bee populations to a very large extent in India in the past. 

With these, the bee situation, over a period of time, had come to be a really complex consideration. The desire to increase agricultural productivity, however, did not come with the desire to conserve and protect the diversity and population of bees in India, especially in the first decade of this century, spilling into the middle of this decade till about 2015. The policy horizon on agricultural development in the first decade did not include the importance of restoring and increasing bee populations.

By the middle of the current decade, India’s ranking on the food security index and global hunger index were not too impressive. India’s position among the biggest honey producers in the world was just the 8th and there was a need to explore the issue, if it could be raised. 

The Government of India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had begun to work on several areas of resurgence of India in a very focused manner, and the fields of agriculture, environment, biodiversity and sustainable development as a mutually linked quartet had already emerged as a significant direction of development. Among many other priorities, the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) was encouraged to take up the Honey Mission as an important programme. By then, the Honey Mission was a point of focus for the National Bee Board of the Ministry of Agriculture as well, along with the sporadic efforts by the state governments.

However, KVIC had the unique advantage of being the lead agency under the government for the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) and it was envisaged that beekeeping is best suited as an entrepreneurial activity, benefiting under the PMEGP and other related initiatives.  The urgency before the nation in the context of the mandate of the National Honey Mission for KVIC was about increasing honey production, bee population, conservation of bee biodiversity and building related advantages for agricultural productivity. Further, reining in the rising unemployment rate, increasing the income of small farmers, building entrepreneurial spirit, ensuring self-sufficiency as well as increasing the export of honey were all equally required objectives. With this background, the KVIC established the National Honey Mission in 2017-18.

The National Honey Mission at KVIC thus came with significant expectations, such as increasing the production of honey, promoting the vocation of beekeeping, employment generation and assistance to agricultural development. Alongside, India has been addressing other highly relevant issues, so that there is a comprehensive approach to improvement in food security, biodiversity, environmental protection and entrepreneurship among the rural populations. Twenty-seven pesticides were also seriously reviewed to be banned from agricultural use in the country, which was a very good supporting legislation for the Honey Mission by the Government of India. The Paris Declaration on climate change had been signed too, so that the incidence of CFC was being controlled as per India’s international obligations, protecting fragile ecosystems from stress and directly helping bee populations to thrive. The Prime Minister of India and the Indian Finance Ministry also began emphasizing on Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), whereby the proliferation of the benefits of the Honey Mission would be possible. More recently, the Aatmanirbhar Bharat programme, emphasizing on self-reliance, has given further impetus to these efforts.

With an all-round support system being evolved in the national mainstream flow of policy horizon, the KVIC launched the Honey Mission during 2017-18 with the simple goal of training people in beekeeping, providing bee boxes with hives, giving technical support till full establishment, developing cluster facilities of honey extraction and processing infrastructure and creating marketing facilities for the sale of honey products. The KVIC also evolved a gender equality policy and particularly encouraged women to take up entrepreneurship. As for pan-India equality in development as well as for strengthening the provisions of the social justice framework, special emphasis on Northeastern and northern hilly states of India and other socio-culturally underprivileged communities were prioritized and given higher access to the benefits of the Mission.

In the past three years, the National Honey Mission of KVIC has distributed about 150,000 bee boxes with live colonies across the country.  With each trained individual receiving a hamper of 10 bee boxes, a tenth of that number is the quantum of apiaries established.  If each of these 15,000 apiaries employs even three or four local people and two or three people for sales and distribution of honey, the wider employment opportunities will keep expanding. Further, through the associated national programmes of cluster development and assistance, the KVIC has established dozens of infrastructure pools, where entrepreneurs can avail facilities for honey extraction, processing, bottling, ancillary product development and knowledge exchange.

The National Honey Mission of KVIC is an aggressive nationwide programme, which has already resulted in the increase of bee populations by around 7,500 million individuals and is helping the nation take honey production to the level of $400 million. 17 classes of pesticides have been banned by the Government of India in recent months, out of a list of 27 under consideration, which will lead to the retention of the bee population that KVIC’s Honey Mission has generated. Skill development, training in beekeeping, marketing of honey and cluster-based infrastructure development have increased self-reliance in the sector to a large extent. Due to the increasing abundance of pure honey within the country, the contamination of honey by profiteers by way of adding imported rice syrup from neighbouring countries has been largely checkmated. During the current financial year, it is estimated that the food grain production would be about 300 million tonnes, which is a gradual increase at the rate of 2-3% in the past two financial years during the operation of the National Honey Mission.

The National Honey Mission of the KVIC is an integrated effort for multi-goal achievement, directly contributing to several national priorities like increasing bee population, enhancing food security, developing skill sets, establishing nationwide infrastructure, employing rural youth and women, ensuring self-sufficiency in honey and subtly build robustness into environmental systems across the geographies of the country for climate change adaptation and sustainability of resource dependent society.

The Prime Minister has called this the “Sweet Revolution” of the century and holds this as an important initiative, gradually strengthening the core competence of India. The KVIC has been expanding its efforts, year after year, and the National Honey Mission is evolving as a harbinger of harmony between the environment, society and economic system. It has also become a leading example of rural entrepreneurship and sustainable development through multiple indicators tagged to international programmes like UN-SDGs.

The writer is Chairman, Khadi and Village Industries Commission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

DECLINING CHILD SEX RATIO IN THE COUNTRY IS A SILENT EMERGENCY

Dr Anahita A. Bhatt

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For years, the Indian census has shown a marked difference between the number of males and females. It has been common wisdom in Indian society that a son should be preferred because he provides for financial and emotional support to the family, especially when the parents get old. Another idea which has been cultivated is that a son adds to the wealth and property of a family while daughters drain out the same. India’s skewed sex ratio is a consequence of this discrimination. In a country where females are worshipped in the form of idols, considering daughters a burden is paradoxical. 

Following the Census of 1991, a rapid decline in sex ratio due to pre-natal abortion of girl children was reported. To check this issue of illegal termination following pre-natal sex determination and misuse of technology, the Parliament enforced a special act in 1994. In accordance to various directions issued by the Supreme Court, the Parliament further amended the act in 2003, which is now called The Pre-conception and Pre-natal  Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act). According to this Act, genetic clinics are banned from directly or indirectly revealing the gender of the foetus. Only genetic abnormalities or sex-linked diseases are to be revealed. Although the rules and regulations of the act are sharply in place, a decline in the sex ratio was again observed in the 2011 Census. As per the 2011 Census reports, the child sex ratio in India declined to 919 females per 1,000 males, which is the lowest since Independence.    

On the occasion of the 68th Independence Day on 15th August 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech emphasized the critical issues of female infanticide, protection of the girl child and the declining sex ratio in the country. On 22nd January 2015, PM Modi’s extensive vision led to the launch of the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ scheme. During the launch of this campaign, PM Modi said that “for every 1,000 boys born, 1,000 girls should be born”. The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Scheme (BBBPS) is a Government of India campaign that aims to generate awareness and improve the efficiency of services intended for girls in India. The vision of BBBPS is to promote social and economic empowerment of women and create an environment free from violence and discrimination against women.

Yet, PM Modi’s native land of Gujarat seems to be moving rearward with regard to the Beti Bachao campaign. The city of Surat, known as the diamond city all across the globe, tops the list of all cities in India for the widespread misuse of pre-natal diagnostic tools to determine foetal sex.  The literacy rate in Surat is exceptionally high (87.89%) – in fact, it is the highest among all districts of the state. Normally, according to the principle of population, wherever there is an increase in literacy rates, a rise in the child sex ratio (number of females born per 1000 males born) is evident. However, the contrary is seen in Surat. The child sex ratio in Surat, according to the 1991 Census, was 944, which declined to 871 during the 2001 Census and further declined to 835 during Census 2011. This decline in female births directly points towards the exploitation of modern science and technology for pre-natal sex determination and selective abortion of a female child.  Ironically, Surat is also among the other cities of Gujarat which worship and celebrate Goddess Amba during the nine days of Navratri in full swing. 

Surat is now steadily emerging as the IVF (in-vitro fertilization) hub of India. At present, a large number of cases have been registered against such centres in Surat for the illegal usage of technology under the PCPNDT Act. Out of the 17 cases decided so far, only two have found people guilty, while the others have been either acquitted or dismissed and no appeals have been lodged by authorities. This clearly is in violation of Rule 18 (A) of the said Act, which also mandates appropriate authority to file appeals immediately. It is a matter of pity that some of these clinics are making a fortune out of the ruthless killing of unborn girl children and hiding their misdeeds by organizing activities under the banner of the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao mission.  

In-vitro fertilization(IVF), pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and pre-implantation genetic screening technologies, if misused, pose a challenge to PM Modi’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme and his vision of ‘1,000 girls born per 1,000 boys born’. With the rise in the number of IVF centers and genetic clinics, the inclination of Indian society towards having a male child also seems to be on a rise. As per data released by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) for 150 countries over 40 years, India and China are the only two countries in the world where female infant mortality is higher than male infant mortality. The data shows that an Indian girl child aged 1-5 years is 75% more likely to die than an India boy, making this the worst gender differential in child mortality for any country in the world.

In a world where women represent over 40% of the global labor force, 43% of the world’s agricultural force and more than half of the world’s university students, a declining sex ratio in India is worrisome. The declining sex ratio in India is a silent emergency which needs to be brought to light. The persistence of this crisis presents serious implications on the future of society as well as humankind. This is happening despite legal provisions, government schemes and social media messages. The artificial alteration of the demographic landscape has adverse effects on not only gender justice and inequality but also on overall social progress.

Decades of policy efforts have not achieved any positive change with regard to the preference for sons. In fact, the declining sex ratio indicates that the situation is worsening. Many families in India continue to consider boys as an asset and girls as a liability. It is equally important to address the parental motivation than to just reduce sex-selective abortions. Female foeticide and excess female mortality are important manifestations of the preference for sons, but so is discrimination against living girls. Besides the misuse of technology, patriarchy in India has translated its prejudice and bigotry into a compulsive preference for boys and discrimination against the girl child.

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Sending chocolate to the soldier at Siachen

It is no secret that the Indian Army is dedicated to protecting the nation fiercely. But it is a lesser known fact that the Army also takes great care of its own, especially troops deployed in the most harsh and remote locations, providing them with both ‘bullet’ and ‘chocolate’ with precision and determination.

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The Siachen Glacier has attracted global attention for being the highest battlefield in the world where the Indian Army has been in a state of fierce conflict with the Pakistani Army since 1984. The Siachen Glacier, a remote location in Jammu and Kashmir, has become a household name because of the harsh climatic conditions in which the Indian Army has been conducting operations for more than three decades. It is no secret that sheer survival in glaciated terrain at such an altitude can be the biggest challenge for human beings. Fighting a battle pushes soldiers to the limits of their mental and physical capacities.

The Indian Army has done the nation proud by exhibiting the highest levels of professionalism, dedication, bravery and selflessness against all odds. A lot has been covered by the media, both print and electronic, about the fighting prowess of the Indian Army deployed on the glacier, but little has been discussed about how the frontline soldier on the glacier is cared for. We stand to salute those who have served on the Siachen Glacier and convey our gratitude to those who have made the supreme sacrifice of their lives while upholding India’s honour and defending this remote part of the country.

Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw, which was presented as a play, is set in the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885. The author talks of two soldiers, one of them had romantic ideas about love and war, and the other took pride in calling himself a ‘chocolate cream soldier’ because he felt that keeping survival ration in his pouch was as important as carrying ammunition. He believed in living to fight another day. He believed that he would rather fight and live for his country than just die for his country. This book is part of the curriculum at the National Defence Academy—probably to make a young cadet learn his soldiering lessons in a light-hearted manner because the girl in the book ultimately prefers the ‘chocolate cream soldier’ over the flamboyant one.

The Indian Army prides itself of being one of the most professional armies in the world, where soldiers are trained to fight as a cohesive whole, looked after by their commanders, and the logistic echelons contribute to maintaining them in the highest state of morale. As a tradition, the frontline troops are always made to feel cared for and are accorded the highest priority while providing stores, food and other facilities. Everything within the powers of the formation commanders and higher authorities is done to help the troops overcome the vagaries of nature, difficult living conditions and the hardships which come with operating in the conflict zone, away from their families. The soldiers deployed in difficult areas are always made to feel special and rightly so. A rule of thumb for logistical support is that fighting troops should never have to look over their shoulders for any item of operational logistics support.

The famous saying by Napoleon Bonaparte, “An army marches on its stomach”, still holds true. Resultantly, the Indian Army gives due priority to the aspect of food and rations for the troops, especially those deployed in high altitude areas and difficult terrain. It may be news to some that a special committee periodically reviews the scale of rations that soldiers need to consume in different operational environments which is then sanctioned by the government. Keeping in mind the effect of terrain, troops are authorised different scales of ration.

A jawan deployed at altitudes up to 9,000 ft should consume about 3,500 calories in a day, those deployed between 9,000 and 12,000 ft should have an intake of 3,900 calories and those above 12,000 ft need upwards of 4,000 calories. It has been scientifically proven that a human being needs to consume food with higher calorific value to survive in higher altitudes due to the lack of oxygen and other factors. The irony is that there is a loss of appetite due to several factors such as the rarified atmosphere, inability to exercise and lack of movement. Soldiers deployed at such altitudes crave to eat fresh ordinary vegetables than the most exotic tinned or dehydrated items of food which they normally get because of being cut off from the bases.

The Indian Army caters for special rations for the soldiers deployed at altitudes above 12000 ft. The ration scale has provisions to purchase some items as per the choice of the troops deployed in that area. It can vary from chocolate to chikki (brittle) to gur (jaggery) or even pre-cooked idli, primarily for the palate.

Provisioning these rations for troops deployed in high altitude areas is a very elaborate exercise every year. Due to snow, most of the difficult posts are cut off from the rest of the world for a period varying from 180 to 365 days. Hence, the rations which are procured need to have a shelf life of more than a year in many cases and must be sent up to the forward posts last among all the stores, forming part of the ‘Advanced Winter Stocking’, so that the items stay edible till the road reopens the following April or May. The dates of procurement are so fine-tuned that production by the factories, food inspection by the Army and transportation from the hinterland is precisely timed. It is evident from this exercise that operations and operational logistics of the Indian Army are so intricately meshed that the outcome can only be excellence. There is no room for failure because “a war has no runners up’.

There is no substitute or comparison to the hardship faced by the fighting soldiers but the synergy between the various arms and services of the Indian Army has to be seen to be believed and the results are for the nation to see. The Indian Army caters both the ‘chocolate’ and the ‘bullet’ for its soldiers with equal precision in planning and execution. It makes us feel extraordinarily proud to have been part of such a professional army where commitment is a prerequisite and challenging situations get the best out of them. And the lessons learnt here hold good for life.

During 39 years of military service, Lt Gen Balbir Singh Sandhu secured the apex appointment of Director General of Supplies & Transport of Army, headed a force of approximate 75,000 officers, JCOs, jawans and civilians deployed across India. He also served as the Director General of Information Technology of the Army. He is actively involved with think tanks such as USI, CLAWS, IDSA and ORF. The views expressed are personal.

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WORLD MUST PAY HEED TO JAISHANKAR’S ACTION PLAN AGAINST TERRORISM

Joyeeta Basu

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External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, while speaking at a United Nations Security Council open debate on threats from terrorism on Tuesday, laid down an eight-point “action plan” to counter terror worldwide. The speech was aimed not only at Pakistan but also saw references made to China, even though neither of the two countries were mentioned. The minister wanted double standards discarded in the battle against terrorism, so that no distinction can be made between “good terrorist” and “bad terrorist”. He talked about reforming the “working methods of the Committees dealing with Sanctions and Counter Terrorism” and demanded that the “practice of placing blocks and holds on listing requests without any rhyme or reason must end”. This can be seen in the context of China repeatedly using its veto power to block all attempts to get Pakistani Masood Azhar designated as a global terrorist, even though his terrorist organisation, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), was already on the list of a UNSC sanctions committee. It took India around a decade to get Azhar designated as a “global terrorist” because of China’s repeated objections to lift the hold on the blacklisting of Azhar.

Incidentally, the sanctions committee that had designated Azhar as a global terrorist in 2019 was the UNSC’s 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee. As it happens, just a few days ago, news came that India, which has become a non-permanent member of the UNSC from 1 January, did not get to chair the 1267 committee apparently because of Chinese objections. India, during its two-year stint at the UNSC, will head the Taliban sanctions committee, the counter-terrorism committee and the Libya sanctions committee, but not the 1267 Al Qaeda committee. It is more than a coincidence that Pakistan, with China’s backing, tried to use the 1267 committee to get four Indian nationals sanctioned as global terrorists, but its efforts went in vain as other UNSC members blocked Pakistan’s move. Considering this is the sanctions committee that is likely to handle the cases of Pakistani terrorists—especially those operating on Pakistan’s eastern border, against India—it should not come as a surprise that China would block India from chairing it. China and Pakistan are likely to make the 1267 committee their playing field and India will have to be on its toes to pre-empt any anti India moves made there. Not that chairing the Taliban committee is any less significant, given the strategic importance of Afghanistan for India to ensure a quiet neighbourhood, and also, given the quantum of investments—a few billion dollars—made by India in that country. Pakistan has been trying to elbow India out of Afghanistan, even as it leads the United States up the garden path with the promise of peace with the Taliban. We also need to factor in the matter of Taliban-linked terrorist groups such as the Haqqani network targeting Indian assets in Afghanistan, and we know why the Taliban committee matters for India.

The bottom line is, China’s actions against India in the UNSC are mala fide in nature. Also, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Chinese are hand-in-glove with Pakistan when it comes to sponsoring terrorism against India. There were reports last year that China was working with Pakistan to revive the terror group Al Badr to incite acts of terrorism against India. This was being done as the terror groups directed against India, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and JeM, are designated as international terrorist groups, and Al Badr could stay under the radar at a time when Pakistan is trying to come out of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF’s) grey list. In fact, there have been reports that China has been cutting deals with other Pakistani terror groups as well, so that they do not attack Chinese assets in Pakistan, especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Let’s also not forget China’s active involvement in instigating trouble in the Northeast by funding different militant groups there. It is a different matter that all of China’s Frankenstein monsters will come back to haunt it sooner or later.

Point number seven in EAM Jaishanker’s “action plan” on terrorism says that “combating terrorist financing will only be as effective as the weakest jurisdiction” and in this context how the “Financial Action Task Force (FATF) should continue to identify and remedy weaknesses in anti-money laundering and counter-terror”. The problem with “jurisdictions” such as Pakistan is that its cooperation with FATF is only in name—a few arrests are made ahead of FATF plenary sessions and groups are banned, but the same groups are allowed to operate under different names and the arrested terrorists continue to be “free” while in prison and are released soon after the plenary session gets over. Now that an FATF session is coming up in February, forget about Pakistan going into the black list, we should be concerned about it coming out of the grey list, because according to FATF’s October meeting, Pakistan had only six of 27 conditions to fulfil to be a part of the white list. If Pakistan comes out of the grey list, it will be a travesty and will prove how ineffective bodies such as FATF are. There are too many weaknesses in the international systems that are supposed to counter terrorism and both China and Pakistan are adept at gaming these systems. As EAM Jaishankar said, the need of the hour is for the UN to “credibly address the menace of terrorism” and to “ensure effective action”. For this to happen, the international bodies first need to reform themselves.

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Centre needs to introspect amid farmers’ agitation

The Human Development Report 2020 should alert the government as India has fallen to the 131st position out of 189 countries, even though it was at the 129th position in 2018. In its Rule of Law score, India stands at the 69th position out of 128 nations and stands at the 3rd position among countries of the region. Corruption eradication has been the key highlight of PM Modi’s governance, but the country is stagnating at the 80th position on the global corruption perception index.

Amita Singh

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Early this month, a US firm ‘Morning Consult’ gave the highest approval rating to Prime Minister Narendra Modi amongst all world leaders. PM Modi’s leadership skills are unmatched but this evaluation needs to transcend online surveys by citizens on the ground who see and hear the Prime Minister all the time.

  SWOT analysis of the present government may pick up five key policy initiatives in the last five years which define the performance of the present regime—demonetisation, GST, CAA, Article 370 and the farm laws.

Demonetisation was introduced on 8 November 2016 with an assurance to get black money back into circulation. Most of the currency in circulation was recovered but the claim for recovering black money drew a blank. The RBI spent Rs 21,000 crore in managing the whole process of demonetisation, printing notes, etc. Its dividend to the government was reduced by half, from Rs 65,876 crore to Rs 30,659 crore, and after so many years is yet to reach the pre-demonetisation stage. Demonetisation also traumatised the country’s vibrant unorganised labour market which fed the welfare state through its resilience and self-sustenance of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). Added to this, the harsher and more obstructive regulations over non-government organisations flattened Community-Based Organisations (CBO) and Self-Help Groups (SHG) which acted as a circulatory system of equity and inclusive employment in an otherwise elite-driven economy.

he Goods and Services Tax (GST) had come as a much-awaited policy measure. Interestingly, P. Chidambaram, the Finance Minister of the UPA, had proposed the implementation of GST in 2006 which would be implemented by 1 April 2010. PM Modi implemented what the UPA could not.

I was surprised to be invited to a meeting of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) under its chairperson, late Isher Judge Ahluwalia, wife of Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the economic advisor to Manmohan Singh, where the NDA’s Finance Minister as the chief guest won applauds for GST from many economists. It was not the GST, but the haste and uncertainty it brought, which generated criticism. MSMEs contribute approximately 37% of the national GDP and GST brought an adverse or negative impact upon them, especially at a time when a large majority of them were in need of help due to repeated floods, disasters and a global slowdown; the GST only added to dual control and compliance burden.

The aim of increasing exports through GST implementation has shown a slight return but, as the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) fears, the decline in exports in 2020-21 may be not less than 20%. The implementation of the GST needed to be more insightful and patient, in consideration of enterprises struggling for credit, smaller traders being demotivated and states being robbed off their ability to generate revenue for their local initiatives.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019seeks to amend the definition of illegal immigrants and grant fast-track Indian citizenship in six years instead of 12 years for Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The cut-off date for citizenship is 31 December 2014. The Bill also proposed to incorporate a sub-section (d) to Section 7, providing for cancellation of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) registration where the OCI card-holder has violated any provision of the Citizenship Act. The Act seemed draconian and bereft of the genuine sentiments of ‘fraternity’ enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution as it consciously avoided mentioning ‘Muslims’. The result was the Shaheen Bagh sit-in.

6 August 2019 marked the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A to settle forever the temporary feature in the Constitution about the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and further conversion of the erstwhile state into two Union Territories—Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. The step was a bold political change and needed a multi-dimensional arrangement and confidence building on many fronts. It was sudden and took recourse to an unprecedented use of force. There could have been some confidence building, an understanding on a carrot and stick policy. Most Kashmiris are not jihadi Muslims. Since they have been my students at JNU and many of their families have closely interacted for many years, I can say that with confidence. A few strong statements made in a whip of anger by those who governed Kashmir should not be construed by a seasoned government as them being Pakistan supporters. Elections today may not salvage the wounded hearts of Kashmiri leaders.

Lastly, PM Modi’s initiative that closed 2020 is the farm laws. The government once again bypassed the major stakeholder—the farmer—and hammered down the three laws. The manner was much like the British implementing the Cattle Trespass Act, 1911 to control fertile grazing grounds by strangely declaring them ‘wastelands’ while later the Royal Commission of Agriculture in 1928 disregarded the agrarian economy of a village. A simple fact that the government economists ignore is the guarantee against failure to deliver as per the contract may be nothing else but farmers’ land. Isn’t that alone a big price that the government is failing to see?

The Human Development Report 2020 should alert the government as India has fallen to the 131st position out of 189 countries, even though it was at the 129th position in 2018. In its Rule of Law score, India stands at the 69th position out of 128 nations and stands at the 3rd position among countries of the region. Corruption eradication has been the key highlight of PM Modi’s governance but the country is stagnating at the 80th position on the global corruption perception index. It’s time that the present regime be more focused on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for the country in tandem with the Sendai Framework that alerts on limitations to haste. Instead of celebrating a high rating by a six-year-old online survey startup company with a high capital investment from media baron James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems, the government needs to introspect, especially in the wake of the ongoing farmers’ protests.

The writer is a professor (retired), Administrative Reforms & Emergency Governance, JNU, and president of NAPSIPAG Disaster Research Group. The views expressed are personal.

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