The lack of internal decentralisation and rising centralisation of penal action have bitten into the trust in the government. It is a tough time for the judiciary which might have to prepare for another bout of litigation on the farm Acts and issues of constitutional morality.

Bad governance overburdens the judiciary with unnecessary and avoidable litigation. Within a fortnight, two Supreme Court benches—the first led by Justice Nageshwar Rao and the second headed by Justice Sanjay K. Kaul—indicted the government for repeatedly ignoring directions given to it by constitutional administrative bodies like the CAT on providing promotional, retirement and other pensionary service-related benefits to school and university teachers as well as personnel from the armed forces, but more for framing rules contrary to the directions issued by the court. The court also indicated a disturbing trend of the blatant defiance of courts by the government. There is no denying of the fact that the government’s inaction, obduracy and insensitivity have changed the nature of governance, which is currently so bold and graceless that the task of justice dispensation appears not just scuttled but also trivial. Regular notices on contempt proceedings are being overlooked. Does the government want to be an advocate and a judge of its actions at the same time? It is this statecraft which is applied for seeking compliance to the new farm acts.

Democratic deficit is reduced through decentralising power and honouring an independent judiciary within the principle of separation of power. But in current times, the governance lacks substance for both principles. It is not just the Central government which is defying judicial directions and contempt notices but even state governments are following this new style of governance. The Yogi government of Uttar Pradesh crossed all constitutional boundaries in slapping notices upon agitating citizens, with the latest being a Rs 50 lakh notice upon farmers who are agitating in UP against the new farm Acts (later withdrawn as a clerical error). Such notices have previously been unsuccessfully imposed in November 2019 and October 2020 upon protestors against the CAA and against police in the Hathras rape case, respectively. Protestors have been alleged to be seditionists and surreal links have been discovered to link agitators with jihadis, Khalistanis and the “tukde-tukde gang”. This has been happening even though Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Ramesh Sinha warned the UP government in a suo motu cognisance of the matter right in the beginning, that the state’s action violated Article 14 of the Constitution and was an “unwarranted interference in privacy of people”, was “highly unjust”.

This new trend of governance brings a complete lack of trust towards the government, a situation which hardens boundaries and increases litigation in courts. A 2009 Delhi High Court report had found that the Indian judiciary has the highest number of pending court cases in the world and, to clear this backlog, it needs 466 years with judges working all seven days. Yet, the government has only added to avoidable litigation by ignoring decisions which could have been taken at its end by its own merit and experience. Some of the latest ones ignored and defied by the government are decisions taken by administrative institutions like the Central Administrative Tribunals (CAT) and by the courts in connection to cases on seniority, promotion and retirement and pensionary claims of school and university teachers and even serving officers of the Indian Armed Forces. One can observe the reduced functioning of institutions which have been sentinels of democracy such as the Parliamentary Committees, Environment Impact Assessment Committees, Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in both Houses of Parliament, the courts and institutional decentralisation. With the vigorous Constitution of India, the government has still been able to walk over these normative guardians through statecraft and not through governance.

The first casualty was the principle of decentralisation and separation of power. In the second Council of Ministers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019, current Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar was given charge of three overloaded ministries, i.e., Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Rural Development and the Ministry of Panchayati Raj. After the resignation of Akali Dal Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, he was also given charge of the Ministry of Food Processing Industries. The first three ministries have entirely different objectives and, if under different leaders, can open scope for analysis and dialogue. The Ministry of Rural Development has the fourth highest ministry-wise allocation in the Union Budget 2019-20, of Rs 1,19,874 crore. Its Department of Rural Development, which implements major developmental schemes in villages towards poverty reduction, basic services, employment generation, rural infrastructure, etc, has an allocation of Rs 1,17,647 crore, which is almost 98% of the allocation to the ministry and has a wide mandate. The only other department of this ministry which shares its balance of 2% of the funds is the Department of Land Resources, which aims to increase the productivity of degraded land and an integrated land information management system. The Ministry of Panchayati Raj, with a budget allocation of Rs 900 crore, provides the largest national grassroots platform for maintaining transparency and accountability of officials. It is the strongest voice of democracy and the only platform with 33% elected women officials who lend equity in gender rights, including the Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme, Panchayat Mahila Evam Yuva Shakti Abhiyan, Rural Business Hubs as well as for Centrally Sponsored Schemes such as the Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Yojana, Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan, etc. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Food Processing Industries has a Rs 1,233 crore budgetary allocation for expenditures related to food storage and warehousing, the National Mission on Food Processing, etc. These post-harvest warehousing industries, which claim to provide a resilient food chain supply, have seen a sudden increase of 54% since the new farm laws have come, and have been steadily borrowing from the Rs 1 lakh crore agri-infrastructure fund launched by the Prime Minister on 9 August this year.

However, the main ministry under Tomar is the Ministry of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare, with a whopping budget of Rs 1,42,762 crore for 2020-21. This ministry has two departments, the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare and the Department of Agricultural Research and Education, which received 94% and 6% of the allocation in 2020-21, respectively. More than 78% of the ministry’s budget is proposed to be spent on three schemes under this Department: PM-Kisan (53%), launched in 2019, the Interest Subsidy Scheme (15%) and Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (11%). For PM-Kisan, only 6.2% of the allocated budget was spent. For the second scheme, only 36% of the approved allocation was actually disbursed and, for the third scheme, the Reserve Bank of India pointed out that, due to the lack of an institutional mechanism in settling claims and raising awareness, most farmers could not avail its benefits. The PM-Kisan scheme was originally meant for only marginal and small farmers which constituted more than 82%, but within two months, the scheme was opened to all categories of farmers, irrespective of the size of their landholdings. Also, the scheme does not cover landless agricultural labourers who constitute more than 55% of the agricultural workforce and include cultivators and labourers working in the agriculture sector. The UP and MP governments may be projecting them as poor farmers but, in reality, they are not. The official records mentioned a drastic increase of landless agricultural workers in the total agri-workforce within the last two years. The Farm Acts have kept their eyes wide shut on many of these institutional issues which needed reforms and the NITI Aayog had recommended them too.

It was easy for a minister heading four key ministry offices and holding the key to a huge amount of funds disbursed and workable facilities under other departments to seek compliance to the farm Acts. The Covid-19 experience does not allow the rural terrain to encounter any more turbulence or fear of scheme closures under many of these ministries. Irrespective of his capacity and understanding, the minister has been given control of the strings to the purses of several running schemes in villages. The lack of internal decentralisation and rising centralisation of penal action have bitten into the trust in the government. It is a tough time for the judiciary which might have to prepare for another bout of litigation on the farm Acts and issues of constitutional morality. But can this statecraft win trust?

The writer is president, NAPSIPAG Disaster Research Group, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms & Emergency Governance, JNU. The views expressed are personal.


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