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RCEP: Why PM Modi stayed out

Those who push for joining the RCEP forget that the economic pillar is not more important than the security pillar. Security consideration will always be, and indeed should always be, more important. Economic consideration can only come into play if it does not contradict security interests.

Sanju Verma

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India is one of the top countries in Asia with maximum number of FTAs (free trade agreements) either in operation or under negotiation or proposed. According to the Asian Development Bank Institute, as of now, India has 42 trade agreements (including preferential agreements) either in effect or signed or under negotiation or proposed. The major FTAs that India has signed and implemented so far include South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), India-ASEAN Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), India-Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and India-Japan CEPA.

While India has gained substantially in terms of exports from its FTA with SAFTA countries, CEPA with Korea and CECA with ASEAN have been more beneficial to those economies. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar put it very succinctly when he said: “If we are to grow by leveraging the international situation, then you have to exploit the opportunities out there. Either you are in the game or you are not in the game. I would say that the era of great caution and a very much greater dependence on multilateralism, that era is to a certain extent behind us. We need to create those structural linkages between us and our neighbours so that they take care of political cycles and any volatility their politics may produce.” What Jaishankar implied was that while we as a nation need to build closer ties with our neighbours, blanket multilateralism is not necessarily the answer in the altered scheme of things globally.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was signed into existence by 15 countries led by China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the 10-state ASEAN grouping, creating one of the world’s largest trading blocs. India had been a part of negotiations for almost nine years till it pulled out in November 2019, stating that inadequate safeguards and lowering of customs duties will adversely impact its manufacturing, agriculture and dairy sectors. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s politics and his policies have always been driven by the “India First” motto and hence, the decision to withdraw from the RCEP was the right decision.

Many have opined that by staying out, India has blocked itself from a trade bloc that represents 30% of the global economy and world population, touching over 2.2 billion people. Did India do the right thing by pulling out of the RCEP? The answer is a firm yes. India has a bilateral trade deficit with most of the member countries of RCEP. India has already signed an FTA with all the countries of RCEP, except China. Trade data suggests that India’s deficit with China, with which it does not have a trade pact, is higher than that of the remaining RCEP constituents put together. This trade deficit is the primary concern for India, as after signing RCEP, cheaper products from China would have flooded the Indian market. Further, from a geopolitical perspective, RCEP is China-led and is intended to expand China’s influence in Asia. To deal with the imminent rise in imports, India had been seeking an auto-trigger mechanism. Auto-trigger mechanisms would have allowed India to raise tariffs on products, in instances where imports cross a certain threshold. However, other countries in the RCEP were against this proposal. Hence, India was absolutely right in withdrawing from the RCEP.

India had also reportedly expressed apprehensions on lowering and eliminating tariffs on several products like dairy, steel, etc. For instance, the dairy industry is expected to face stiff competition from Australia and New Zealand. Currently, India’s average tariff for dairy products is, on an average, 35%. The RCEP binds countries to reduce the current level of tariffs to zero, within the next 15 years. This would have clearly harmed India›s position, had India joined the RCEP. India was also concerned about a “possible circumvention” of what is called the “rules of origin”. Rules of origin are the criteria used to determine the national source of a product.

Current provisions in the deal reportedly do not prevent countries from routing, through other countries, products on which India would want to maintain higher tariffs. Hence, to join the RCEP, without the much-desired clarity on how “rules of origin” could be strengthened to prevent dumping by member countries, would have been against our national interests

You don’t get into FTAs merely to provide your market to your partner countries. While you accommodate your partner countries, your objective is also to increase the presence of your products in the markets of your partners. What is the option for India? Well, India, as an original negotiating participant of RCEP, has the option of joining the agreement without having to wait 18 months, as stipulated for new members in the terms of the pact. RCEP signatory countries said that they plan to commence negotiations with India once it submits a request of its intention to join the pact “in writing”, and it may participate in meetings as an observer prior to its accession. If indeed, RCEP resolves the thorny issues raised by India, given India’s economic clout today, then of course, India can always join the RCEP at a later date. But till those issues are ironed out to India’s competitive advantage, Prime Minister Modi has decided not to blink and, rightfully so.

India also wanted RCEP to exclude most-favoured nation (MFN) obligations from the investment chapter, as it did not want to hand out, especially to countries with which it has border disputes, the same benefits it was giving to strategic allies. India felt that the agreement would force it to extend benefits that it gives to some key allies, for sensitive sectors like defence, to all RCEP members. RCEP also lacked clear assurance over market access issues in countries such as China and non-tariff barriers on Indian companies.

Will the decision cost India and what will that cost be, if any? Well, India is one of the few countries where today we have to give our own industry a level-playing field at home. Building on national capacity doesn’t make you anti global. On the contrary, if you don’t have local capacities, you only end up as a market for other peoples› goods. If you want to actually participate more vigorously in the global economy, you must build stronger domestic capacities, and do what it takes for the gaps to be closed, as a result of years of disadvantage, thanks to inept and corrupt Congress led regimes, which ruled India for decades. Hence, the decision to pull out of RCEP will only strengthen India’s standing both economically and geopolitically, instead of it being an economic disadvantage, as is wrongly being bandied about. In the name of openness, we have allowed subsidised products and unfair production advantages from abroad to prevail. Those who say India should have joined RCEP, fail to realise that RCEP is not just about economic consequences, but political and geopolitical ones too. When India chose to stay out of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2017, there was much rabble-rousing commentary that India might be isolating itself. Three years later, India’s position has been recognised by like-minded democracies and, many have said that Prime Minister Modi’s decision was so prescient and correct, in hindsight, given that BRI as an initiative is tottering today and has failed.

Some analysts who argue in favour of RCEP have said that “if you don’t want to be on the menu, you have to be at the table”. Well, India’s seat at the table as an “observer” is an important development, where New Delhi can make sure that it is not on the “menu”. Plus, India has enough financial heft to not become a part of the “menu”. Under the new Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative aimed at self-reliance, we have a goal of making the share of manufacturing, 25% of our GDP. That is possible if we truly act on the “Vocal for Local” concept. It does not mean we have to be inward looking or simply resort to import substitution. Equally, we have to be cautious about where and whom we are building trade linkages with.

Those who push for joining the RCEP forget that the economic pillar is not more important than the security pillar. Security consideration will always be, and indeed should always be, more important. Economic consideration can only come into play, if it does not contradict security interests. The RCEP, if it works as designed, will make the countries of the region even more vulnerable to China’s economic and political coercion. Hence, India under Prime Minister Modi should actually be applauded for refusing to get bullied by an expansionist China that honey trapped many nations into, say, the BRI initiative. Today, many of those nations are ensnared in the Chinese debt trap, with no way out.

Indeed, it is China’s constant use of trade as a political weapon, and its unfair trading practices, that has led many countries to actively explore alternative supply chains. Yes, things will not change overnight but a beginning had to be made and by calling out China›s bluff on the RCEP, fair and square, Prime Minister Modi did what a lesser leader would not have even dared to attempt.

China represents a direct security threat to most of the countries in the region. That is one reason why Japan and Australia are understandably deepening their bilateral security engagement, why the Quad grouping has strengthened and why India welcomed Australia to the Malabar naval exercise. Joining a China-led trade arrangement simply because many others are doing it would be equal to cutting your nose to spite your face. Security is primary because it is impossible to pursue either economic well-being or any other value in its absence. Ignoring this comes at a cost.

Recent experiences with China itself should serve as a warning to most nations. China is a bully, with scant regard for territorial sovereignty of other nations. To expect China to become “a responsible stakeholder”, as US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick wanted China to become, by simply engaging in robust trade ties with the Chinese Dragon, is an illusion and a fallacy. China’s natural urge is to usurp and encroach. Why should India offer one of the biggest and fastest growing markets to RCEP on a golden platter, without concomitant economic and geopolitical benefits? Beijing never plays to the international script because its worldview is based on a fundamentally misguided assumption of international politics, in which conflicts and confrontation are the way forward. Consensus is an anathema to CCP. China has always felt and decided that others must listen to it. There is no mystery here. What Xi Jinping, however, never anticipated is the fact that Prime Minister Modi is not a pushover. PM Modi is an extraordinary leader who does not like being told what he should do, and rightfully so. Why should the leader of the world’s largest democracy be beholden to a trade arrangement that has the stamp of an authoritarian Chinese regime, with no concrete benefits for India?

Trade will increasingly become the new political weapon in the post Covid era, with global protectionism on the rise. India under PM Modi has always been an open, liberal democracy that believes in pluralism and inclusivity. Hence Prime Minister Modi’s decision to reject the RCEP in its current form is absolutely the right thing to do.

Thankfully, be it RCEP or BRI, PM Modi has never been mesmerised by the Chinese illusion. Currently, 127 countries and 29 international organisations are part of BRI, through which China has reportedly made investments of more than $90 billion to these countries and regions. In 2017, China imported intermediate goods worth $943.12 billion, with $302.31 billion coming from these countries and regions. What a China-friendly, Left-leaning global media will never tell you is the fact that Chinese banks are reeling under a debt burden of over $103 billion after being forced to indiscriminately lend to financially unsound BRI projects. What the leftist media has also not admitted to is the fact that most of the BRI countries together owe a debt in excess of $380 billion to China and that number is rising rapidly, every minute. China shares a border with at least 14 countries and has territorial disputes with over 21 countries. Given the aforesaid, unless a China-centric RCEP is amended, to ensure tariffs, cross-border flows and anti-dumping laws are calibrated to cater to India, which commands huge economic clout, thanks to Prime Minister Modi’s towering stature, staying out of RCEP, is more beneficial than staying in for the moment.

Sanju Verma is an economist, national spokesperson for the BJP and bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’

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Opinion

SELF-RELIANCE THROUGH THE USE OF INDIAN LANGUAGES ​​IN AI

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Indian knowledge tradition is a broad concept. It helps in developing a broader dimension and approach. Artificial intelligence, which is prevalent in today’s time, if defined by understanding it in the real sense, is the cloning of the human brain. The machine itself is non-living, but the resultant output of the input that the human brain provides to it through software and programming is visible to us in the form of applications of artificial intelligence. It is, as much as its creator, intelligent. If the scientists of this field understand the functioning of the brain via emotional manifestations, then the robot made by them can also be emotional. The artificial intelligence that is being talked about nowadays has some limitations, such as a robot can do as much work as its program or software will command it to do.

Generally, these programs are built based on many facts, applications, and examples. If the conditions are changed, then these machines or robots will work to the extent that the situations have been programmed in them. It is to be noted here that the ideas come to us originally in our languages. There may be any other language, but in the abstract or latent state, the conceptual process is relative to the native language of the person. It is to be noted here that while moving from one linguistic level to another in the form of expression of ideas, they gradually become less in terms of their intensity and originality. More linguistic transfer destroys their original feeling. From this point of view, it will be possible to make more efficient machines using artificial intelligence using the original language of thoughts. People learn from their experiences, the wider their experiences, the more will be their thinking power.

There are three main components of artificial intelligence— thinking power, software, hardware. Wherever work is going on, on this subject all over the world, all three components work separately. The main component of this work is to clone the thinking power or mental emotions.

The work of software can be done by any skilled software engineer, and the work of hardware can be done by any company. Therefore, its core lies in cloning mental impulses. The data of a person’s thoughts or thinking acts as a raw material or main component in it. There is no match of countries like India, China, Japan all over the world in the efficiency of behavior and quick diagnosis of situations. China is famous to copy a product immediately. Thinking power and inclination to the knowledge of India and the technological brains of Japan is also noteworthy. Therefore, the main component of artificial intelligence is most available in countries like India, China, Japan.

India is not able to use it fully, because it is not aware of the importance of its knowledge in an integrated way, and unorganized Indian talent. With the desire to earn more money through migration, that knowledge is continuously being given to the country which is very advanced in terms of software. It can be explained to a nonprofessional through an example as if food is the need of every person, but the process till the food is made is a complex set of components. The farmer does the farming, the agent buys it from the market, the agent retails it, sells in the market, the customer buys it from the retailer and prepares food. The agent has the system, which is necessary for the management between the customer and the farmer. Therefore, neither the farmer earns the profit equal to his hard work, nor the customer. The middleman, the highest-earning agent, and the customer suffer the impact of inflation. The same tendency is with any technology in the world, technology is lobbying for the one who benefits the most. Therefore, by developing a system through our languages, by stopping the drain of the brain, a speedy pace can be made towards self-reliance.

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Opinion

Revealed: Secret US government psychic research programmes

In order not to rock the foundations of contemporary civilization, and also to hold fast to any applicable uses of the transcendent discoveries of military intelligence, the concerned authorities in the USA kept their investigations and insights secret and at times formally denied their existence or validity.

COME CARPENTIER DE GOURDON

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When I first entered the United States in June 1983, for a long sojourn I have recounted in my book of a few years ago, A Shining City on a Hill, I did obviously not know that on that same day a 29-page classified technical report was submitted to the US Army Intelligence and Security Command (USAISC) at Fort Mead, (Army Operational Group Commander DET 0) on the secret CIA research programme codenamed Gateway and dedicated to investigations about consciousness and their potential scientific and military applications.

McDonnell’s report (CIA-RDP96—00788R001700210016-5) confirmed the validity of the research into para-psychological and sophrological phenomena and their reality, generally deemed as inexistent and related to “magical mind tricks” or misleading erroneous impressions. The report, integrating the experiments of Israeli-American inventor and yoga/TM practitioner Itzhak Bentov (who had died in a plane crash in 1979), was not made accessible to the public as it contained challenging claims which partly overturned many current scientific theories and observations about the nature of reality and life. It was only released under FOIA on the 10th of September 2003, with the exception of page 25 which was withheld for reasons that will be alluded to in this article.

Much of the research done under the GATEWAY/STARGATE protocols was related to the work of Robert Monroe, the founder and director of the Monroe Institute in Virginia whose discoveries I discovered back in the eighties and describe summarily in my aforementioned book. The findings of Monroe and the CIA-sponsored teams are more or less the same as they collaborated in their research. Several members of the US Armed Forces were sent to the Monroe Institute’s secluded facilities to undergo the tests and experimental processes designed to achieve paranormal insights by raising the level of consciousness according to methods derived from Carl Jung’s psycho-analytical therapies and more broadly from yoga, TM and other “eastern” meditational techniques.

The Italian website Omega Click has commented on some of the vast amount of documentary material created under the auspices of the GATEWAY/STARGATE programmes. Omega Click interviewed Professor Raffaele Renna, a psychologist, astronomer and expert on the subject. Renna highlights that, among the major conclusions drawn from that research, the mapping of cerebral functions has uncovered the virtually infinite powers of the mind to visualize all things beyond space and time and shown that the “brain capital” (which is actually outside the brain) survives death as it is located in non-local, entangled space-timelessness whereas “everything is omnipresent” and time is only a measurement for the motion of energy. In that light the brain is a receptor that decodes and interprets signals or algorithms originating in universal consciousness and produces the appearances that our senses make us regard as Reality,

All this may be regarded as a mere reiteration in contemporary scientific vocabulary of the “mystical’ teachings of ancient sages in many parts of the world. However, the salience of the GATEWAY report lies in the fact that it does not simply enunciate theories. It documents a scientifically tested method to reach elevated states of out-of-body “non-local consciousness” (more than twenty years before quantic interpretations of consciousness were first publicly ventured). Instead of psychedelic drugs or “spiritual” exercises the means used under the GATEWAY programme were specific sounds beamed to human subjects in isolation chambers through earphones at a different frequency for each ear, which leads the brain to syntonize them to produce Delta waves (4 Hertz), denoting deep meditational states. At a specific vibrational wavelength the brain exits “our” spacetime to access other dimensions or other worlds, so to speak. Physiologically this state amplifies fourfold the resonance of the heartbeat and generates a recurring sinusoidal wave ranging between 6.8 and 7.8 Hz. which echoes the earth’s own vibrational frequency.

The resulting condition is called “syntony” of the individual with the planet at wavelengths of 40,000 kilometers amplitude (corresponding to the earth’s diameter) and confers extraordinary powers (clairvoyance, remote viewing, telekinesis, time travel, ecstatic bliss) which ancient traditions called Union with the Divine, Moksha, Sunya, Satori, Tao, Illumination, Salvation and many other such names. This mapping of supramental ascent, described by Sri Aurobindo was experientially arrived at by Itzhak Bentov who described the phenomenon in his 1977 book Stalking The Wild Pendulum. On the Mechanics of Consciousness as summed up by Marc Seifer in Transcending the Speed of Light: Consciousness, Quantum Physics, and the Fifth Dimension. Inner Traditions – Bear & Company 2008. p. 49: “During normal breathing, the reverberations in the aorta are out of phase with the heartbeat and the system is inharmonious. However, during meditation and when the breath is held, the echo of the bifurcation of the aorta (where the aorta forks at the pelvis to go into each leg) is in resonance with the heartbeat and the system becomes synchronized, thus utilizing a minimum amount of energy. This resonant beat is approximately seven cycles per minute, which corresponds not only to the alpha rhythm of the brain but also to the low-level magnetic pulsations of the Earth.”

Monroe claimed that between the “normal” state of human awareness (comparatively the lowest) and the highest or “absolute” one there are innumerable degrees of consciousness inhabited by beings who are not perceptible through our physical senses but who can be interacted with at higher levels.

This last revelation concerns the “Aliens” of many types reported by millions of witnesses for centuries and now generally known as ETs and their “astral vehicles” classified as UAPs or “Alien Visitation Craft” in military parlance. Many of them at least appear to operate in other dimensions from which they enter our “universe” and to which they return at will.

The GATEWAY study seems to have corroborated Monroe’s contention that about 5% of all people are able to reach the highest state of realization by means of repeated use, over more or less lengthy periods of training, of the audio-sensorial process described above.

It was stated earlier that page 25 of the McDonnell report was missing until last April when it was released by the Monroe Institute to an investigator from the Canadian Vice magazine. The contents of that page are indeed of critical importance because it lays out the “cosmic design” behind reality. It talks about a “cosmic egg” as a hologram, of which everything is a projection and which is itself a reflection of the undefinable Absolute “one step removed from it”. That hologram is also called in the text the Torus or spiral of Creation and identified as the “Holy Spirit” of the Christian Esoteric Trinity, The Adam Kadmon or Tree of Life of Kabbalah. In Vedic terminology we may equate it with the Viraj or Hiranyagarbha (from which the report under review here apparently borrowed the image of the “cosmic egg”) or the Vedantic Paramatman. For the Saktas and Shaivaites it is Mahadevi while the Greek Ephesians worshipped it as Artemis-Diana (Magna Mater) and the Middle Eastern Gnostics alluded to it as Sophia.

Another striking inference reached by the report is that western science is so far unable to attain this realization because of its left-brain controlled approach which ignores and rejects the right-brain’s influence guiding the so-called “spiritualists” since thousands of years of philosophical quest, at the root of the religions followed in most parts of the world. The “Gateway Experience” as it is called in the report, “releases the subject from the prism (and prison) of subjective perception and analysis. It is “a portal through which the individual may pass in his search to find himself”, an echo of the mantra Tat twam asi and of the universal sophic commandment: “know thyself” as our Self is indeed the mirror or hologram of the Whole.

The conclusion in a few lines is that Intelligence and military sponsored research led, four decades ago to the confirmation of the ageless teachings of Indian psycho-physical Knowledge (paravidya), shared with many other more or less esoteric or occult traditions all over the world. Presumably in order not to rock the foundations of contemporary civilization and also to hold fast to any applicable uses of this transcendent discovery military Intelligence, the concerned authorities in the USA kept their investigations and insights secret and at times formally denied their existence or validity. However it may well be that many scientific and technological breakthroughs that are transforming our lives and conditions like never before are outcomes of this accession by a few “initiates” to the higher reaches of the mind on the trail blazed by Bentov, Monroe, Puharich and others. The very Internet created in the last thirty some years is an electronic clone of the cosmic web of energy and life that binds all things and makes up the universe.

Apart from well supported rumors about the existence of hitherto undisclosed technologies for unlimited “free energy” generation from the “zero point” quantic field and for biological age reversal, instant healing and other “miraculous” uses, there are several reports about secret space missions conducted to other planets of the solar system and perhaps beyond it, made possible by the technologies developed in that “transcendental” frame of reference. One of the latest credible sources on this score is no other than General Haim Eshed, the veteran astrophysicist who was for thirty years the chairman of the space committee of the Israeli Council for Research and Development and the Director of the Space Programme of the Defence Ministry. He made these “extraordinary claims” in his 2020 book: Universe beyond The Horizon: Conversations with Professor Haim Eshed.

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Opinion

STAY OUT OF KASHMIR, SUPERMAN AND WONDER WOMAN

Renowned Justice League icon Superman apparently destroying Indian Air Force F/A-18D Hornets over Kashmir. India does not have any such aircraft. (Screengrab from Injustice)

Joyeeta Basu

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Something bizarre has happened in the DC Universe—for the uninitiated, DC Comic Universe where fictional characters such as Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Aquaman dwell. Suddenly, out of the blue, in an animated movie by DC, Injustice, Superman and Wonder Woman are seen to be fighting the Indian military in Kashmir and disabling their aircraft and missiles to make the place an “arms free zone”. Moreover, Kashmir is mentioned as a “disputed region” in the film. Curiously, while the animated movie shows the superheroes fighting for peace in different fictional places, a real name has been inserted in between, that of Kashmir. In another clip, an Israeli flag has been used to show an Israeli leader signing a peace deal with someone behind whom there is a green flag. If the film has to be believed, the Indian military bombs civilians in Kashmir—an outrageous fiction. In fact, it is Pakistan, which regularly bombs its own people in the name of countering insurgents. Since we do not know how geopolitical experts such as Superman and Wonder Woman have come to the conclusion that Kashmir is a “disputed” area and the Indian military bombs its own civilians, we can only speculate about the invisible hands at work here. It could be a case of a direct Pakistani or Chinese intervention, or both, and/or could be the handiwork of some very woke pseudo-liberal-types who derive their knowledge about India from the very-woke Western legacy media, which takes a rather Orientalist view of this country. While some will say it’s better to ignore such drivel, the problem is, some very malign forces seem to have been able to introduce an anti India element in a medium that is highly popular and thus also influential. The matter cannot be ignored, for it may get bigger in future.

However, when it comes to China, Hollywood takes a problematic stand. It whitewashes all PRC crimes, including turning a blind eye to the oppressive and authoritarian rule of the Communists in Tibet and Xinjiang. Not too long ago, one of the big studios faced immense international anger after filming certain parts of Mulan—an ancient China story—almost next door to the concentration camps that PRC has built for the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. The studio also actively engaged with the publicity department of the Communist Party during the filming. China is a big market for Hollywood. Much Chinese money is floating in Hollywood, with the Chinese funding films, buying up theatre chains, and with Chinese production companies teaming up with their Hollywood counterparts. As a result, concerns are being raised about Chinese propaganda and censorship making their way even into Hollywood blockbusters. US soft power adds to its superpower status, and it is this soft power that the Chinese are using to their own benefit as they conduct their political warfare at a very subliminal level. Amid this, it is but natural that in the DC Comic case, the finger of suspicion will be raised at China and its “iron brother” Pakistan.

The Kashmir insertion in the DC film is insidious and dangerous because anti-India propaganda is thus sought to be normalized and influence young minds. Around three years ago, a Hollywood series, Quantico, starring Priyanka Chopra had shown Hindu nationalists planning to carry out a nuclear attack in Manhattan and frame Pakistan for it, to scuttle US-Pakistan talks. The plotline was so outrageous that it led to a huge hue and cry, forcing the television studio ABC to apologise to Indian viewers. All this has to be seen in the context of the huge campaign going on in the West by the left-pseudo-liberal section to paint India as an electoral autocracy, an authoritarian country, because it is headed by a right of centre government. As a result, people unaware of the ground reality in India are falling for this fake narrative. This has to be countered. Public pressure needs to build up on DC Comics to remove the mention of Kashmir from the film. India has a lot of economic muscle and a market, which Pakistan does not. If a campaign builds up, Superman and Wonder Woman will lose many more fans and business here than in a broken and bankrupt country such as Pakistan. Hence, DC needs to drop the offending reference and let superheroes do their super-jobs, without meddling in world affairs about which they do not have any clue.

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Opinion

What ails Uttarakhand’s governance?

Uttarakhand region had never been well governed. Till 2000 it was part of Uttar Pradesh where the predatory leadership sucked its wealth and labour. After being carved as a separate state it was expected to progress and many things improved such as schools, colleges, universities, technical institutions, roads and hospitals.

Amita Singh

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It is a known fact that quality of governance indicates capacity to be resilient against disasters. The hurricane Katrina of USA that caused over 2000 deaths and US$ 125 billion in damage in late August 2005 exposed the pathetic governance of Louisiana. People had bad health, houses were weak, high rate of drug addiction, unsterilized city animals, uninsured citizens, unemployed youth and all this because of a highly corrupt leadership and unresponsive state administration. Uttarakhand’s unstoppable exposure to some of the most heart-rending disasters every year from floods to earthquakes to glacial lake outbursts and to landslides bring provoking questions about its governance. As data reveals decisions have been taken in defiance of limits that nature sets in the form of carrying capacity of any terrain. As causes of disasters, Corruption comes first and climate change later.

Uttarakhand region had never been well governed. Till 2000 it was part of Uttar Pradesh where the predatory leadership sucked its wealth and labour. After being carved as a separate state it was expected to progress and many things improved such as schools, colleges, universities, technical institutions, roads and hospitals. The villagers basked in the new found Panchayat power after the 73rd Amendment in 1992 which brought many silent communities into focus as repositories of power. It brought power but not the right to govern. From Sundarlal Bahuguna and Chandi Prasad Bhatt the early Gandhian environmentalists till late Prof. G.D.Agarwal and woman seer of Haridwar Padmavati the Ganga crusaders have only asked for a share in governance. While the memory of Uttarakhand’s disaster victims begging for food and clothes in big cities of Uttar Pradesh like Lucknow and Bareilly still remains, it is not yet a thing of past. Local village communities are still seen begging with unattended medical conditions and little hope for sustainable livelihood. As per Census of India (2011) Uttarakhand has a population of 101 million with a pathetic sex ratio of 886 women per thousand men and a much higher infant mortality rate (IMR) at 38 in 2020 which is higher than the India average IMR of 29.07. With female literacy at 70 and the male literacy at 88 the state has nothing to rejoice about. What ails Uttarakhand’s governance?

The Uttarakhand government could rarely defend itself after Dhauliganga disaster that washed away the Rishi Ganga hydropower project at Raini village after a glacier broke off in Joshimath. The massive floods caused by glacial outburst in the Dhauli Ganga river in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand washed away houses and many people. The village Panchayats of this area had been an alert group against environmental injuries as the legendary Gaura Devi, leader of Chipko Movement hails from here and had kickstarted action in March 1973 from this village. These villagers had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Uttarakhand High Court in summer 2019 which issued directions to the state government to check what was going on in Raini village of Chamoli concerning the construction of the hydel project. The government was not concerned till the dam broke off. Similarly, Naveen Chandra Pant and many others residents of village Ganwa Sirmoli, District Bageshwar raised voice through a PIL against illegal mining in village Panchayats of Ganwa Sirmoli, Tehsil kanda in District Bageshwar, the court issued directives to the state government but instead of introspection to protect mountain topograpgy for survival of people’s habitat, many decisions were taken in contravention of the judicial directives. Some of them are as discussed here.

In Feb 2020, the district magistrate was authorized to issue permits for commercial mining on private land and permission for River Bed Mineral (RBM) Mining. This brought havoc to the terrain as gravels, boulders and sand excavation for construction work started in full speed. In a Cabinet meeting headed by the Chief Minister in the same year, more than 10 such projects were approved which not only deepened mining into river bed but also changed boundaries of eco-sensitive zones around national parks. To deepen this process of mining the Uttarakhand Minor Mineral Concession Rules 2001 were changed to allow digging as deep as 3 meters. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change only participated to facilitate this process. None of the political executives found anything wrong into it despite the Judicials warnings from the Nainital Court and the National Green Tribunal. Same year, the state government brought in a new Stone crushing policy which endangered a large part of pristine national reserves. If this was not enough, the state government also attempted to remove Radio Frequency Identification Chips (RFID) on vehicles engaged in regulated mining as per court orders so that this could become a free for any vehicle coming to mining area. The brutal breaking down of hills which balance each other and the felling of trees that are water recharge-shed for land has already disturbed the equilibrium beyond repair. The greed for land and minerals has devastated rivers of Uttarakhand and made them flood prone. The increasing temperatures are related to the activities being promoted by government over the hills.

Is the state government prepared for managing disasters? The Policy and the Plan for disaster management has not been updated since 2016. The Policy and the Plan document repeatedly refer to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, need for an evacuation plan, organizational structure of disaster management(only posts not names),hazards and vulnerabilities of India and the state per se but nothing in particular to offer to an administrator who has to look back and take action in a calamitous situation. Interestingly, these documents look like a student’s examination answer sheet where he fills up as many sheets writing the same irrelevant answers with the hope that more pages would earn him better marks. The key points that enable pre-emptive action for an administrator, key collaborators and friends or partners in need and with rural population being thrice the urban there is an intensive need to identify trained and willing panchayats to come on call for disaster prevention. Uttarakhand loses roughly 20 thousand crores to disasters every year. Does it invest this amount in development that gets washed away due to disasters? Therefore the argument of refining quality of governance led by educated and sensitive people who are grassroot connected and speak the language of their land, is the only alternative to the current chaos and sorrow.

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

In Feb 2020, the district magistrate was authorized to issue permits for commercial mining on private land and permission for River Bed Mineral (RBM) Mining. This brought havoc to the terrain as gravels, boulders and sand excavation for construction work started in full speed.

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Opinion

WHY IS RAHUL GANDHI RELUCTANT TO TAKE THE ACTUAL JOB?

Priya Sahgal

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Hours before the Congress Working Committee met there was a hashtag trending on Twitter clamming, #YehDilMangeRahul. And true to the script, the usual suspects (AK Antony and Ashok Gehlot) raised the question of leadership, asking Rahul Gandhi to take over as party president. Rahul replied: “I will consider it.” No one asked the obvious follow-up— What is there to think about and consider? It’s not as if it came as a `Breaking News’ for him that his party wanted him to step up. Despite Sonia Gandhi claiming that she is not an interim arrangement but a full-time, hands-on working president the fact of the matter is that she has been stepping back for a while now and letting her children, especially Rahul take all the crucial decisions. The theatre in Punjab was scripted by Rahul and Priyanka as was the rather successful show of opposition strength in Lakhimpur Kheri. Again it was Rahul Gandhi who met and admitted Kanhaiya Kumar to the party; when Navjyot Singh Sidhu threw on his sulks, it was Rahul who met him before the CWC meet and placated him. Again during the meeting, while Sonia handled the discipline issues by sending a stern message to the G 23, it was Rahul who laid out the party’s agenda i.e we are a party for the downtrodden and so we should reiterate the message by promoting backward caste leaders like Charanjit Singh Channi, that we should not let media dictate our narrative, etc (am paraphrasing the gist of his comments as told to me by sources).

So, if Rahul is taking all the important decisions, why is he still reluctant to take the actual job?

One reason for this could be that he is still wary that catapulting him to the post of the party chief will put him in direct confrontation with the Prime Minister in the next Lok Sabha polls. As the leader of the largest national party in opposition, he cannot fight the polls under the leadership of another opposition leader even someone like Mamata Bannerjee who may be feisty but she is still a regional leader (and yes I know her party is national but she still has to extend her appeal outside West Bengal).

The opposition fight will have to be spearheaded by Congress with the support of Mamata, Sharad Pawar, etc. Rahul Gandhi has done a lot to improve his image but his real test will be the next round of assembly polls to establish his credibility. Uttar Pradesh is not the only state going to the polls and if Congress shifts its focus to the low-hanging fruit of Uttarakhand, Punjab, and Goa then it could win 3 of the 5 states in the next round. That will blunt the edge of losing Uttar Pradesh (despite Priyanka’s Lakhimpur Kheri intervention I still think the UP fight is between the BJP and SP while the Congress will at best improve its tally). Some Congress leaders claim that this is the plan and the Lakhimpur Kheri was as much as sending a message to the farmers of Punjab, as it was about Uttar Pradesh.

Well, let’s watch this space over the next few months. Because the main problem with the Gandhi siblings has always been consistency.

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Opinion

Lok Sabha without the Deputy Speaker

A petition has been filed in the Delhi High Court alleging inaction in filling the constitutional post of the Dy Speaker, Lok Sabha. Obviously, the petitioner is, arguably, well concerned as there has been an unconscionable delay of over 28 months in the election of the Deputy Speaker.

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The Vedic literature refers to ‘Sabha’, ‘Samiti’, and ‘Sabhapati’. A hymn of Yajurveda says, ‘Salutations to the Assembled and salutations to the President’. An Assembly cannot transact business without electing its Sabhapati or the President. The makers of our Constitution, therefore, made specific provision for the election of the Speaker and Dy Speaker. Article 93 of the Constitution casts an obligation that “the House of the People shall, as soon as may be, choose two members of the House to be respectively Speaker and Deputy Speaker thereof, and so often as the office of Speaker and Deputy Speaker becomes vacant, the House shall choose another member” to fill the vacancy.

The expression used is ‘shall’ and not ‘may’ which, as per the cardinal principle of statutory interpretation, leaves no shred of discretion left with the House. The posts are considered so important that the makers of the Constitution provided not only for choosing the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker as early as possible but made it mandatory for the House to choose another Speaker or Deputy Speaker, as the case may, if any of the post becomes vacant.

The expression, ‘as soon as may be’, cannot be construed that these constitutional posts remain vacant for years indefinitely. The House consists of members and it is for the Government, commanding majority in the House, to hold election to these constitutional posts so as to avoid any constitutional void.

It is in this backdrop that a petition has been filed in the Delhi High Court alleging inaction in filling the constitutional post of the Dy Speaker, Lok Sabha. Obviously, the petitioner is, arguably, well concerned as there has been an unconscionable delay of over 28 months in the election of the Dy Speaker. It may take still longer as the Winter Session of Parliament is yet to convene.

The post of Deputy Speaker, as per well-established parliamentary convention, goes to the opposition. The foundation of this convention was laid way back in 1956 when Sardar Hukum Singh of the Akaali Dal was elected unapposed as Dy Speaker. The Deputy Speakers like G.G. Swell, Shivraj Patil, Mallikarjuaiah, Suraj Bhan, P. M. Syed, Charanjit Singh Atwal, Karia Munda, and Thambidurai too, did not belong to the ruling party.

During the Monsoon session, 2021, when the issue about prolonged delay in the election of the Dy Speaker was raised, the Speaker observed that it was not in his power. Let’s see what the Rule says. Under Rule 8 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha, ‘the election of the Deputy Speaker shall be held on such date as the Speaker may fix’. However, the fact of the matter is the date for holding election to the post of Dy Speaker is fixed at the initiative of the Government. As a parliamentary convention, the post, though elective, goes to the opposition. The Government plays a decisive role as it commands majority in the House. Government may have behind the curtain consultation and help in the election of a candidate who may be, though from the opposition but not from the principal opposition party. So, Government has the leeway by virtue of its numerical majority to contrive a situation in which the post of Dy Speaker may go to a mellowed-in-tuned-opposition rather than the dominant opposition.

The Deputy Speaker discharges the functions of the Speaker in his absence. He is not subordinate to the Speaker. He holds an independent constitutional post and is answerable to the House and can be removed by the House only. He has the same powers as of the Speaker when presiding over the sitting of the House and no appeal lies against his rulings given in the House and cannot be reopened by anyone. He is, like the Speaker, as the Speaker of the British House of Commons pleaded with King Charles who had stormed the House in 1642 thus, ‘Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here..’

In the absence of the Speaker or due to vacancy in the office of the Speaker, Dy Speaker performs the duties of the office of the Speaker. In 1956, when Speaker G. V. Mavalankar died, Dy Speaker, M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar filled the void, and later he was elected as Speaker. In 2002 due to the demise of G. M. C. Balayogi, P.M. Syed, Dy Speaker discharged the functions of the Speaker. It was P. M. Syed, the Dy Speaker belonging to the Congress party who presided over the joint sitting of Parliament convened to pass The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002 by the Vajpayee Government. When G. S. Dhillon resigned from the post of Speaker in December, 1975 on being sworn as Minister, Dy Speaker discharged the functions of the office of the Speaker. Similarly, when Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy contested in two different terms the election of the President of the republic, he resigned from the post of Speaker and the Dy Speaker discharged the functions of the Speaker.

Since the matter is sub-judice, the moot question is whether the High Court can direct the Lok Sabha to elect the Dy Speaker. The High Court is empowered to issue appropriate direction to do complete justice in a matter before them. In any case, the Speaker Lok Sabha is on record that it is not his job to appoint the Dy Speaker but of the House to choose one. However, the well-established parliamentary practice is that a motion is moved by the parliamentary affairs minister and duly seconded by the treasury benches or by the opposition, which is carried by the House. With the unanimous election of Sardar Hukum Singh of the Akaali Dal as Dy Speaker in 1956, it has become a sound convention that the ruling party, despite its majority, offers the post to the opposition. When the Dy Speaker is elected, he is duly conducted to his seat by the parliamentary affairs minister and the leader of the opposition. There are instances when prime ministers, namely, Deve Gowda, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Dr Man Mohan Singh personally conducted the newly elected Dy Speaker to his seat. Notably, Atal Bihari Vajpayee conducted the Dy Speaker to his seat during the 12th and the 13th Lok Sabha.

Another fascinating aspect is that the post of Deputy Speaker never remained vacant. Even the Britishers, when the central bicameral legislature was set up in 1921 under the GoI Act,1919, the post of Vice President was held by Sachidanand Sinha with Sir Frederick Whyte as the President of the Central Legislative Assembly. The Constituent Assembly, tasked with the responsibility of framing the Constitution, had two Vice Presidents- H.C. Mookherjee and T.T. Krishnamachari. The Provisional Parliament too had a Dy Speaker- Ananthasayanam Ayangar. The Constitution makers therefore rightly made a mandatory provision to have the posts of Speaker and the Dy Speaker filled without any delay, when the new House is constituted and as and when any one of these posts fall vacant. It is the fundamental duty of every citizen and constitutional body to abide by the Consitution and respect its ideals and institutions. The Constitution, more than the citizens, binds the State and, more so, the constitutional bodies, must be exemplar in discharging their constitutional obligation. Minimum government and maximum governance cannot obliterate in its sweep a constitutional provision. If gold rusts, what shall iron do?

The author is ex Addl Secretary, Lok Sabha, and member Delhi Bar Council. Views expressed are personal.

The Deputy Speaker discharges the functions of the Speaker in his absence. He is not subordinate to the Speaker. He holds an independent constitutional post and is answerable to the House and can be removed by the House only. He has the same powers as of the Speaker when presiding over the sitting of the House, and no appeal lies against his rulings given in the House, and cannot be reopened by anyone.

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