APRIL 21, SUNDAY

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

Former staff writes to SC judges, alleges sexual harassment by CJI





Former staff writes to SC judges, alleges sexual harassment by CJI

Justice Gogoi denies charge, suspects ‘bigger force’ at work to ‘deactivate his office’

Krishnadas Rajagopal

Ranjan Gogoi

NEW DELHI

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Saturday presided over an urgent special hearing of the Supreme Court, called at a moment’s notice, to reject allegations of sexual harassment published against him by some online news portals. He asserted that the “judiciary cannot be made a scapegoat” and said “things have gone too far”.

Chief Justice Gogoi even wondered aloud whether a “bigger force” might be at work to “deactivate the office of Chief Justice of India”.

“There has to be a bigger, bigger force behind this. There are two offices — one of the Prime Minister and one of the CJI. They [people behind this controversy] want to deactivate the office of the CJI,” Justice Gogoi said, adding, “This is the reward a CJI gets after 20 years of service.”

Early Saturday morning saw a sudden rush of events soon after the news websites published the allegations of a former Supreme Court employee. She accused the top judge of making sexual advances towards her while she was working as a lower division clerk at his official residence last year.

Complainant dismissed

The woman, reportedly in her mid-thirties, complained of subsequent police harassment after she raised her voice about it. She was also dismissed from service.

The former employee, the reports said, had written to 22 Supreme Court judges on April 19 about her allegations. One of the websites reported that the Secretary-General of the court had denied her claims and called them “completely and absolutely false and scurrilous”.

“This is unbelievable… I should not stoop low even in denying it,” the CJI said.



Poll panel orders producers to pull web series on PM





Poll panel orders producers to pull web series on PM

Decision on biopic on Monday

Special Correspondent

A billboard of the web series in Mumbai.REUTERSREUTERS

NEW DELHI

The Election Commission (EC) on Saturday directed the producers of a web series on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to immediately stop its online streaming and remove all the connected content till further orders.

Taking cognisance of the complaints against the ongoing web series Modi-Journey of a Common Man, the EC wrote to the producers, Eros Now, citing its April 10 order banning any biopic that has the potential to disturb the level playing field during the elections, till further directions.

Violation of MCC

On viewing its trailer, the EC found that the web series showcased different stages of Mr. Modi’s life, from his childhood to becoming a national leader.

The EC received complaints alleging that the series violated the model code of conduct and amounted to influencing the voters.

Panel set up

In the case of Mr. Modi’s biopic PM Narendra Modi and complaints against a movie on TDP founder N.T. Rama Rao Laxmi’s NTR and Udyama Simham on TRS leader K. Chandrashekar Rao, the EC had earlier issued orders putting off their release, pending a final decision.

It also set up a committee for examining the content of such films to determine whether they violated any election rule.

Producers of the biopic on Mr. Modi then approached the Supreme Court, which asked the EC to watch the movie and review its decision.

Subsequently, a committee of officials watched the biopic and gave a hearing to the producers. It is expected to submit the findings to the court on Monday.


* Nation

Ethnic equation matters most in Assam’s Kokrajhar





Ethnic equation matters most in Assam’s Kokrajhar

Poll battle often boils down to Bodos versus non-Bodos

RAHUL KARMAKAR

Kokrajhar Lok Sabha constituency has suffered decades of extremism and communal violence. file photo

GUWAHATI

Urkhao Gwra Brahma, a former Rajya Sabha member and the United People’s Party (Liberal) candidate for the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha constituency in western Assam, says the story of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) is 5% development and 95% unemployment.

But lack of development and jobs have seldom mattered in Kokrajhar, straddling 10 Assembly segments within BTC and beyond, that has suffered decades of extremism, a statehood movement, and communal violence.

The electoral battle has thus often boiled down to a contest between the Bodos and non-Bodos, more intensely since the 2014 Lok Sabha election when a conglomerate of 19 non-Bodo organisations propelled Independent candidate Naba Kumar Sarania to Parliament.

Non-Bodo winner

Mr. Sarania, a former leader of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom, won the Kokrajhar seat in 2014 by a margin of 3,55,779 votes over Mr. Brahma.

He is the first non-Bodo to have won the seat since 1957 and hopes to retain it with a similar margin “because the oppressed non-Bodos” are behind him.

Though Bodos are the single largest community in Kokrajhar, the non-Bodos, including migrant Bengali-speaking Muslims —the second largest group — account for more than 70% of the population.

“I will deliver a knockout punch to my rivals this time. My supporters, who are neglected in the BTC, know Assam would have been fragmented had I not been in the picture,” said Mr. Sarania, referring to the Bodoland statehood movement which has its genesis in the “divide Assam 50-50” call in the 1960s. But more than Mr. Brahma, Mr. Sarania has trained his guns on the State’s Social Welfare Minister and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) candidate Pramila Rani Brahma.

The BPF, headed by Hagrama Mohilary, has been ruling the BTC since its creation in 2003 and is part of the Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP government in Assam.

The 69-year-old Ms. Brahma and Mr. Mohilary are former extremists like Mr. Sarania. Their outfit, Bodo Liberation Tigers, was disbanded soon after the BTC was born. “Our focus is on development and ensuring peaceful co-existence among all the communities that enrich BTC and other areas under Kokrajhar,” said Ms. Brahma, confident of succeeding where her predecessor — fellow Minister in the Assam government Chandan Brahma, also a former extremist — failed to by finishing third in 2014.

But the non-Bodos are wary of her controversial statement after the 2014 election that led to the killing of 32 Muslims, mostly women and children in BTC areas. She had allegedly accused the Muslims of not voting for the candidate of her party that year. The BTC areas were witness to ethnic violence earlier too. More than 500 people were killed between 1993 and 2012 in communal attacks that claimed the lives of Muslims and Adivasis, besides Bodos.

The 2012 violence displaced more than 1,00,000 Muslims most of whom did not return. “Whether it is a Bodo or a non-Bodo who wins, all we want is an end to living in fear,” said Hareswar Nath, a farmer in the constituency’s Sorbhog area.

Altogether 12 candidates are vying for the Kokrajhar seat that goes to polls on April 23.




Harassment pushes Dalit family to the brink





Harassment pushes Dalit family to the brink

Attempt to end life leaves wife dead, husband, daughter critical

Anuj Kumar
Meerut

Alleged constant humiliation by some upper caste people forced a Dalit family in Paltupuri village under Hastinapur police station to attempt ending their lives, leading to the death of one, while two are battling for life at a private hospital in Meerut.

The police said they were not approached but the victims’ relatives alleged that the family had lost faith in the local police after their previous complaint bore no fruit. This time, the daughter had dialled the 1090 number of the U.P. Police but did not get any help. Humiliated and threatened, Satyapal Singh* consumed poison with his wife, Shivrani, 50, and daughter Rita. Shivrani died, while Satyapal and Rita are in a “critical condition”.

“They are not on ventilator support but their blood pressure continues to be low,” said Dr. Rahul Kathuriya of Sushila Jaswantrai Hospital in Meerut.

When The Hindu visited Paltupuri, around 40 km from Meerut, on Friday, Sher Singh, elder brother of Satyapal, said that on April 15, Shivrani was walking down a lane when she was hit by the bike of one of the boys of the Kashyap family, part of the dominant group in the village. The Kashyaps are dhimars who come under the OBC category. “She retaliated, which led to an attack by the Kashyaps. They abused her with casteist slurs and tried to molest her. When my brother intervened, he was beaten up. The attackers threatened to kill his son Rohan.”

Sher Singh alleged that his brother’s family was facing repeated harassment at the hands of the Kashyaps because Satyapal was a graduate in agriculture and his children were “doing well academically” — Rita, 22, studies B.Sc. at Delhi University and Rohan, 20, is a BCA student. The brother-sister duo were also taunted and harassed, said Sher Singh. “The latest was when Rita visited the village to cast her vote. Being of modest physique, Rohan could not take them on.”

Rohan told The Hindu that in 2016 there was an attempt to molest his sister. “She was being stalked by Ravi [the main accused] for the last four years. When we complained, the accused’s family colluded with the police and faked injuries. They made a case against us. We were left with no choice but to compromise at the behest of the local Nagar Palika chairman.”

No help from kin

In the latest case, Rohan said, his father approached a court in Meerut directly under Section 156/3 of CrPC on April 16. “When he told his brothers and other family members about his decision, they refused to stand by him. He was left with no choice. We are educated, we could not stoop to their level. My father called my sister home from Delhi. On April 17, they consumed poison when I went out to take an exam in Mawana.”

Sher Singh admitted that they had developed cold feet. “We told Satyapal that he could shift out of the village as his children were well-educated but we had to live with them [Kashyaps]. He went into a shell after that.”

The police have registered an FIR against eight accused under Sections 147, 323, 452, 354, 352, 306 of the IPC and Section 3(2)5 of SC/ST Act.

Five accused held

“Five of the eight accused, including Ravi, have been nabbed. The rest would be arrested soon,” said Avinash Pandey, SP (Rural), Meerut. “I don’t know about the past, but had the local police been approached this time we would have taken action,” he said.

Mr. Pandey said the District Magistrate has initiated action against the village chowkidar. “I have sought a report from Circle Officer, Mawana, about the previous complaints. 100 number was not dialled. The daughter dialled the Women Power Line 1090, where the process is graded. First, a warning is sent to the accused. We will spread awareness that in serious cases, people should call 100 or CUG (Closed User Group) numbers of police officers. The girl has recorded her statement with the SDM. We are providing security to the family,” he said.

The male members of the accused’s family have left the village and the female members are avoiding the media.

(*All names have been changed in the copy.)

Suicide prevention helpline: Sanjivini, Society for Mental Health, 011-4076 9002, Monday-Saturday (10 a.m.-7.30 p.m.)



The man who loved Madras, and Chennai loved back





The man who loved Madras, and Chennai loved back

“I am not a historian. I am a chronicler of the facts that have been recorded in the records,” said Chennai’s most famous chronicler

, B. Kolappan

A file picture of S. Muthiah. The historian turned the spotlight on the nooks and corners of Chennai.V. GANESAN

CHENNAI

S. Muthiah, who died on Saturday, after a period of ill health, made no secret of his love for the nooks and corners of this city, and the city loved him back, possibly in equal measure.

Once, in an interview to Frontline, he defined the work he did thus: “I am not a historian. I am a chronicler of the facts that have been recorded in the records as well as in numerous books written by authors who have had access to the earliest records of the city. To this day, I collect every scrap of information I can find about Madras in newspapers, magazines, books, etc.” Mr. Muthiah has worked hard to save a number of heritage monuments in Chennai, and is among the key personalities instrumental in organising ‘Madras Week’ celebrations every year.

“He led the way for many of us to become aware of, and contribute to, heritage issues. In these last 25 years, it was to him that we turned to when historical information about buildings was needed. He was a man of the colonial era till the end and this reflected in his interest and knowledge in the architecture, people and events of those times,” said Tara Murali of the INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), who first worked with Mr. Muthiah in 1995 to save the DGP Police Headquarters building.

She noted how he participated regularly in events held by INTACH, even when he was ailing. Ms. Murali recalled what he had said to planning officials during one workshop: “What will you turn to when you have provided money and material comforts for people? It’s history and culture that they will seek and, therefore, it is important to preserve this wealth even as you develop the city.” She added that his passing was a great loss to Chennai, friends, and scores of admirers.

Born in Pallathur, one of the Chettinad villages in Tamil Nadu, he came from the Nagarathar community in Chettinad, who are ardent lovers of the Tamil language and pioneers in the field of Tamil publishing. He inherited the community’s passion for publishing and history. Mr. Muthiah co-authored a coffee-table book The Chettiar Heritage with Meenakshi Meyappan and Visalakshi Ramaswamy. He wrote over 40 books, including his books on Madras’ history and heritage. His magazine Madras Musings provided a lot of information on Madras, laced with his characteristic sense of wry humour, and clear writing. He always publicly acknowledged the support extended by N. Sankar of the Sanmar Group, who ensured the survival of the magazine through corporate sponsorship.

Mr. Muthiah was a passionate teacher and for many years he taught reporting for the students of journalism run by the Bharthiya Vidya Bhavan in Myalpore, and students looked forward to his classes on Tuesdays. He encouraged his students to buy books, and read them. “You won’t mind spending ₹200 for eating biriyani or a masala dosa with your friends, but think twice before buying a book,” he would chide when they complained about the prices of books.

He was interested in every aspect of the city’s history, and his knowledge of the city’s past was breathtaking. He maintained that the history of north Chennai was richer than the south’s, and delighted in presenting nuggets from that part of the city in his columns. Mr. Muthiah would pepper his conversations with references to, and anecdotes about, famous murders that took place in the city, and the gangsters whose names caused fear, the advocates who appeared on behalf of them in the court, writer R.K. Narayan’s knowledge of the publishing industry, and royalty and famous cricket writers like K.N. Prabhu and N.S. Ramswami who wrote about the city.

Mr. Muthiah was educated in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where his father worked and even served as the Deputy Mayor, according to his associates. He also studied in India and the United States. After completing a B.Sc. degree in Engineering and an M.A. in International Relations, Mr. Muthiah began his journalistic career with the Times of Celyon and worked for the paper between 1951 and 1968. He was its Foreign News Editor and then Features Editor and was later in charge of its Sunday Times and magazines. From 1954 to 1968, he represented, in Sri Lanka, first News Chronicle of London and then Daily Mail. He also represented The Observer, London, and its Foreign News Service from 1959 to 1968, besides working for two other British features services.

After he returned to India in 1968, he joined the TTK group and was in charge of T.T. Maps in Madras, which published maps, atlases and tourist guide books. He was also an eminent cartographer. The first publication of T.T. Maps was a map of Madras and the need to prepare text about the city got him researching for information on the city, which then went on to become a life-long passion. The rest, as they say, is history. Mr. Muthiah’s close associates informed that the public would be able to pay their respects to Mr. Muthiah at his home on Vijayaraghava Road, in T. Nagar, after 10 a.m. on April 22 (Monday), and the funeral will be held at the Mylapore Crematorium after 4 p.m.



Maoists losing sway in erstwhile stronghold?





Maoists losing sway in erstwhile stronghold?

Lack of senior tribal leaders puts ultras on backfoot in Agency area of Vizag

Sumit Bhattacharjee

On alert: Greyhounds personnel combing the Agency area in Dumbiriguda mandal in Visakhapatnam district.K.R. Deepak

VISAKHAPATNAM

The banned Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) appears to be losing ground in the vulnerable Agency area of Visakhapatnam district, with tribals voting in large numbers in the April 11 election, despite a boycott call.

Polling in the Araku region stood at over 70%, while in Paderu it was over 66%. Tribals from interior pockets where Maoists are known to hold sway, such as Killamkota, Darakonda, Jerella, Puttukota, Busuputtu, Injari, Annavaram and Balapam, also turned up in large numbers to vote.

“This is an indication that the Maoists are losing their grip and that the tribals are defying their diktat,” said a senior officer from the State Intelligence Bureau.

A close reading of the situation points to a few reasons for the decline of the Maoists’ influence. A major factor is the prolonged absence of Maoist Central Committee member Akkiraju Haragopal alias R.K. from the Andhra-Odisha Border (AOB) region, say senior police officers.

R.K. is believed to be in poor health, needing assistance to walk. He was reportedly shifted out of the AOB region a few months before the election and was reportedly brought back around a month ago, but it was too late for the ultras to have any serious impact.

Knowledge of terrain

According to another officer, R.K. is highly-regarded in the area and commands respect among tribals. “He is not only a top strategist, but is also well-connected to the tribals, and knows the terrain of the Agency like the back of his hand. He is accepted by the tribals, despite being a non-tribal, unlike younger leaders such as Gajarla Ravi alias Uday and Aruna,” the officer said.

Another contributing factor to the decline in the influence of the Maoists is the absence of senior tribal leaders. Kudumula Venkata Ramana alias Ravi was a State-level secretary, who died of jaundice in April 2016. This was followed by the killing of Bakuri Venkata Ramana alias Ganesh in the Ramaguda encounter in October 2016, and Gemmeli Narayan Rao alias Jambri, in an exhange of fire in February 2017.

The present leaders, such as Uday, Chalapathi and Aruna, are all non-tribals and their acceptance is low. They prefer using force over ideology to exert influence over the tribals, which is leading to disillusionment, said Attada Babujee, Superintendent of Police, Visakhapatnam.



Over one lakh Olive Ridley turtles enter sea in Odisha





Over one lakh Olive Ridley turtles enter sea in Odisha

Eggs that were laid in March began hatching on Thursday

Staff Reporter

Journey begins: Olive Ridley turtles enter the Bay of Bengal from the Kalam Island off Odisha coast. Special Arrangement

Bhubaneswar

The idyllic Kalam Island off the Odisha coast has become lively with lakhs of baby Olive Ridley turtles crawling towards the Bay of Bengal after emerging from eggs.

The Odisha Forest and Environment Department said baby turtles had emerged from approximately 1.25 lakh nests. Eggs started hatching from Thursday night.

“We expect the process to continue for another two days as 4.5 lakh turtles had arrived on the beaches under the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary to lay eggs this year. We hope millions of baby turtles would make their way into the sea in the next two days,” said Bimal Prasanna Acharya, Divisional Forest Officer of Rajnagar Mangrove (Wildlife) Forest Division.

The unmanned island, located close to the Wheeler’s Island defence test range centre, a prohibited territory, is one of the largest rookeries in the world.

Except Forest Department officials, no one has had the chance to witness the spectacular sight. After breaking the eggs, the turtles crawled seawards almost immediately without their mothers. Eggs laid in March were incubated under natural process.



A time of deep turmoil for the Supreme Court





A time of deep turmoil for the Supreme Court

It has violated the principle of ‘no man shall be a judge in his own case’

Dushyant Dave

Speaking for the Gauhati High Court in 2006, Justice Ranjan Gogoi said in the matter of Ganesh Electric Stores vs. State of Assam & Ors: “Law will reach its most glorious moment when ‘men’ can be made wholly free from the shackles of arbitrary and despotic power, however subtle the exercise of such power may be…However, over the years, two basic principles have been recognised as fundamental in the doctrine of natural justice. The first is ‘nemo judex in causa sua’, that is, ‘no man shall be a judge in his own case’; the second is ‘audi altarem partem’, that is, ‘hear the other side’.”

In 2018, speaking for the Supreme Court of India in Lok Prahari v. State of U.P. & Ors., Justice Gogoi recognised the seven principles of public life in the report by Lord Nolan and recapitulated them as “Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty, and Leadership.”

Disturbing development

But what happened in the Supreme Court of India on the morning of Saturday is just the opposite. The constitution of the bench, of course in the exercise of the power of the Master of the Rolls, Chief Justice Gogoi himself styling it as ‘a matter of great importance touching upon the Independence of Judiciary’, and permitting mention by the Solicitor General are all acts done by the CJI contrary to ‘nemo judex in causa sua’.

The proceedings of the court, or rather the Bench, are even more disturbing. There was no cause, no matter, no petition, and no reason for the court to take upon itself the perceived duty to protect its reputation.

More puzzling

The order issued thereon is even more puzzling. If the Bench comprised three judges, how in God’s name did the order come to be issued in the name of only two judges? Was it to get over the salutary principle referred above? Surely it could not have been, after all that happened in the open court hearing.

Under no circumstances could and should the Supreme Court have done what it did on Saturday morning. It is an institution to uphold the majesty of law, not to undermine it. It is a temple of justice, not an instrument to cater injustice. It is the highest court of this great land to protect the basic human values and fundamental rights. It has to protect the most cherished of those rights, the freedom of speech and expression and protect the true guardians of democracy, the media. It has no power to stop them from doing their duty, much less to advise them “to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them and accordingly decide what should or should not be published as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of Judiciary.” Saying that, the court kindly requests the media “to take off such material which is undesirable.”

Surely the Supreme Court of India does not have any advisory jurisdiction except on a Presidential Reference. In fact, time and again, judges are heard telling lawyers and litigants when requested to advise on what to do while matters are being dismissed: “it is no part of our function to advise you.”

The order so made has itself seriously damaged the reputation of the Supreme Court of India. Judges so concerned about the reputation of the court should have refrained from undertaking this slippery exercise.

My Lords, you have acted against every known judicial norm and practice. You have acted against your law which you have brilliantly and rightly declared over decades. Please remember, the law so declared binds Your Lordships too.

Government’s hand

The entire set of events seeks to overpower independent media and discourage reporting on a matter which I consider to be of a far greater ‘importance touching upon [the] survival of democracy.’ Involvement of the government through its top law officers to initiate the process when the government is the biggest litigant before the court (including in some cases like Rafale, and the CBI Director’s matter besides matters involving virtually all opposition leaders) is certainly objectionable and negates the court’s independence by itself.

In present times, the government and the party in power would like to muzzle whatever little independent media that is left out. So was the court right in allowing itself to be protected at the instance of a law officer? I don’t think so.

What is even sadder is that the Chief Justice of India has done what was objected to by four senior judges of the Supreme Court of India, including Justice Gogoi himself, on January 12, 2018, and that is constituting a bench in the most selective way (and that too on a Saturday morning, during holidays).

There have been repeated wrong moves in this regard by previous Chief Justices of India, and that too in their own ‘causes’. Whether you like it or not, My Lords, you have seriously eroded the independence of the judiciary from within by such acts. It does not need outsiders to do it, it seems.

Let me make one thing clear, citizens, including lawyers who stand up to defend the underdogs, respect the institution the most. They do nothing to damage its reputation. In fact, they help in building it by their own courage, which results in courageous judgments by the courts.

The judiciary comprises outstanding judges and its reputation remains intact despite odd judicial conduct from time to time. It does not need self-serving individuals or the government to enhance it. But then those good judges must also be aware that the institution belongs to all and each of those within it, judges and lawyers alike, must work to protect it from attacks from within. If they fail, the institution will fail, and it appears to be failing.

Public confidence

Remember what the Court said in the K. Veeraswami case: “The judiciary has no power of the purse or the sword. It survives only by public confidence and it is important to the stability of the society that the confidence of the public is not shaken.” What prompted the court to hold such an extraordinary hearing in more extraordinary fashion is a mystery. Surely, the court is not constituted by the framers of the Constitution to protect one of its own. It is not my purpose to go into allegations that have surfaced against the Chief Justice of India — I earnestly hope they are proved to be wrong upon fiercely independent inquiry. But that definitely is not the matter touching upon the judiciary, much less its independence or reputation. There can be no doubt that Saturday’s proceedings have shaken public confidence, and quite badly so.

(The author is a Senior Advocate and a former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association)




CJI’s presence on Bench raises eyebrows





CJI’s presence on Bench raises eyebrows

The half-hour hearing in open court saw the CJI orally pass remarks about the woman in question

Krishnadas Rajagopal

Indira Jaisingh, left, and Vrinda Grover.

NEW DELHI

The participation of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on the Supreme Court Bench, which heard the “extraordinary” session on Saturday into the online publication of sexual harassment allegations levelled against him by a former apex court employee, raises two pertinent questions.

One, did the Chief Justice of India (CJI) become a judge in his own cause by being part of the Bench? After all, the allegations directly pertain to him. Two, is there a formal procedure to deal with allegations of sexual harassment against the CJI?

In interest of fair play

Senior advocate Indira Jaising said the CJI should have “absolutely not” been part of the Bench.

In her response, senior lawyer Vrinda Grover said it was the “cardinal and basic rule of fair play that a person cannot be judge in his own cause”.

“In the circumstances of this case, where the charge of sexual harassment, victimisation and intimidation has been made against a person holding the highest judicial office of the country, it is imperative that for the credibility of the institution, and confidence of the people in the judiciary as well as for the right to justice of the woman complainant, no hearing presided by the CJI ought to have been held,” Ms. Grover said.

A Supreme Court notice announced the Bench would hear a “matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary”. The case was taken up as a suo motu writ petition. The court order said the Supreme Court had exercised its “inherent jurisdiction”.

A reading of the in-house procedure applicable to Supreme Court and High Court judges, the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act and the guidelines formed under the Supreme Court Sexual Harassment Regulations do not contemplate a public hearing on the judicial side, that too, without due notice to the complainant.

The half-hour hearing in open court saw the CJI orally pass remarks about the woman in question, including that there were criminal complaints against her. The hearing mainly imputed that the allegations were meant to make the judiciary a “scapegoat”.

“Curiously, after the CJI had placed his own ‘defence’, and on this occasion aspersions were cast on the veracity and integrity of the complainant, he recused himself, and the judicial order does not reflect his name,” Ms. Grover pointed out. Usually, a judge puts his signature on the order even if he has recused from the case. Both Ms. Jaising, who was India’s first woman additional solicitor general, and Ms. Grover said there was no formal procedure to deal with sexual harassment allegations against the CJI.

‘Glaring lacuna’

“This is a glaring lacuna. In the absence of a credible mechanism that would provide a forum of inquiry to the former employee complainant, she had no option but to appeal to the Justices of the Supreme Court to create a Special Inquiry Committee comprising of retired judges of the Supreme Court. The present Supreme Court Internal Complaints Committee mechanism or the 2014 judgment in Additional District and Sessions Judge ‘X’ vs Registrar General High Court of Madhya Pradesh, are inadequate for an inquiry into the alleged misconduct by the CJI himself,” Ms. Grover said.

In the in-house procedure for dealing with complaints against Supreme Court and High Court judges, it is the CJI who “examines” whether a particular complaint is frivolous. There is no word in it on how to deal with a complaint against the CJI.

Under the Gender Sensitisation and Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), Regulations of 2013, it is again the CJI who sets up the Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee.



In the deadly backwash of Pulwama





In the deadly backwash of Pulwama

Simmering discontent and travel curbs are likely to mar polling next week

Peerzada Ashiq
Anantnag

Bulletproof, anti-mine bunker vehicles line the roadside at regular intervals. Several roads connecting parts of Pulwama, Tral and Awantipora in the Lok Sabha constituency to the 300-km Srinagar-Jammu National Highway have been dug up for security reasons. The vehicles of security forces outnumber those of the contesting parties.

With just three days to go for the polls, unease and disinterest among the voters is palpable in south Kashmir.

Asha Begum, 58, of Kumar Mohalla on the highway lives close to the spot at Lethpora where a local Jaish-e-Muhammad suicide bomber detonated a vehicle to kill 40 CRPF jawans on February 14.

The blast damaged around 20 houses.

“We still have gaping holes on our roof and cracks on windowpanes. I have never heard such a blast or seen carnage. The memory is haunting me. People are dying in south Kashmir. Can elections happen when a place is in a state of mourning and shock,” Ms. Begum asks.

Rising casualties

Anantnag is going to the polls amid a grim upward graph of militancy. Over 80% of the 169 people killed so far this year, were from Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian and Anantnag districts falling within the Lok Sabha constituency.

The numbers include 22 civilians, 87 security personnel and 66 militants, including several “commanders” like Al Badr’s Zeenat-ul-Islam who carried considerable clout in the area.

For the first time, the Election Commission has decided to split polling into three phases for the one Lok Sabha seat — Anantnag district will vote on April 23, Kulgam district on April 29 and Shopian-Pulwama districts on May 6.

Alienation, anger

The recent ban on civilian traffic twice a week on the national highway to ensure safe passage for movement of security forces in south Kashmir has further angered and alienated local people, only adding to the chances of a boycott.

“I have over ₹10 lakh worth of apples in a cold storage. They are waiting to be shipped. The highway ban has put my produce on the verge of perishing. The ban was aimed to destroy our economy,” said Ashraf Ganai, an orchard owner from Shopian.

Anantnag is witnessing a triangular battle between Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, 59; Ghulam Ahmad Mir, 55, of the Congress; and National Conference’s new entrant Hasnain Masoodi, a retired judge.

Mr. Mir, who is the Congress State president, was among the leaders who opposed a joint candidate with the National Conference. He is banking on a likely boycott in PDP bastions to sail through the polls.

In 2014, the Congress’s Hilal Shah had emerged the runner-up with 5,600 votes and the party is hoping to build on this.

Pockets of possible high voter turnout such as Dooru-Shahabad, Kokernag, parts of Kulgam, Devsar and Pahalgam are strongholds of the National Conference or the Congress. The Congress has sharply focussed on the PDP’s disastrous alliance with the BJP to woo voters.

“Anantnag will teach the PDP a lesson for the loss of precious lives and injuries to thousands of youth. People will never forgive the PDP for ensuring inroads of BJP and RSS in lieu of the Chief Minister’s post,” Mr. Mir said.

Ms. Mufti, a two-time MP for Anantnag, her home town, is banking on regionalism and soft separatism to make up for the dent in her image following the tie-up with the BJP. She has already visited the families of militants — both those killed in encounters or those arrested in Pulwama — to seek justice in a hostile security environment. Her every tweets attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches or policies.

Jamaat factor

Several pockets such as Kudwani, Tral, Shopian town and Qaimoh are bastions of the now-banned socio-religious group Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). It’s believed that a section of the JeI favoured the PDP in the 2002 Assembly polls to dislodge the NC from south Kashmir.

Ms. Mufti is using the ban to galvanise support. In her rallies, she has spoken against the ban, and described the JeI’s contributions to education as “unparalleled”. However, the JeI’s anger over the PDP alliance with the BJP and unprecedented operations and damage to property during her tenure in Jamaat-dominated areas is unlikely to win her much backing.

However, Ms. Mufti only trick to win the seat will lie on how she galvanises voters from her former bastions like Pulwama, Pampore, Rajpora, Tral, Shopian, Wachi, Bijbehara, Anantnag and Shangus, where other parties have less clout.

Mr. Masoodi is known for his unflinching stand on J&K’s special status with several articles in local newspapers on the systematic erosion by the Centre of the privileges granted under Article 370.

With a Master’s in Law from Harvard, Mr. Masoodi has emerged as a champion of human rights in the conflict zone and could cut into Ms. Mufti’s waning support.

Though the NC has no credible faces to campaign in many pockets, where the contest has always been between the PDP and the JeI, Mr. Masoodi hopes to build on his son Yawar Ali Abbas Masoodi’s foray in the 2014 Assembly polls.



* Foreign

Foreign Secretary visits Beijing for ‘bilateral consultations’





Foreign Secretary visits Beijing for ‘bilateral consultations’

Vijay Gokhale to hold talks with Chinese Minister Wang Yi

Atul Aneja

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale.REUTERSAdnan Abidi

Beijing

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale will arrive in on Sunday for “bilateral consultations”, amid signs that China may review its position on lifting its “technical hold” on listing Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Masood Azhar as an international terrorist.

Mr. Gokhale is arriving ahead of the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) — a mega event hosted by China that begins on April 25, in which 37 heads of state or government are participating.

The Foreign Secretary will hold talks with China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday.

On Friday, Mr. Wang said at a briefing on the BRF that the two countries were preparing for a second edition of a leadership summit as a follow-up to last year’s informal summit at Wuhan.

India has been pressing China to designate Azhar as a global terrorist after his outfit claimed responsibility for the February 14 Pulwama attack, in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed.

On March 13, China placed a “technical hold” on designating Azhar in the 1267 committee of the United Nations Security Council, despite stating that it was engaged in “mediation efforts” to ease tensions between India and Pakistan that spiked on February 27 following the Indian cross-border air strike on Balakot in Pakistan.

Consensus emerging

Since April 1, China has been saying that a consensus was emerging within the 1267 committee on designating Azhar, after rejecting a parallel initiative by the United States, backed by Britain and France, to seek a ban on him through a separate resolution in the Security Council plenary.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the Azhar issue was “moving towards the direction of settlement”.

Analysts point out that it is unlikely that China will lift its “technical hold” on Azhar before the BRF concludes on April 27, so as not to embarrass Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who will be participating in the international event.



Two men arrested over killing of Northern Ireland journalista





Two men arrested over killing of Northern Ireland journalist

McKee was killed during attack by Irish nationalist youths

Reuters

A plaque and flowers are left in tribute to Lyra McKee near the scene of her shooting in Londonderry.Getty ImagesCharles McQuillan

Londonderry

Two men have been arrested in Northern Ireland over the killing of a journalist during a riot, police said, with politicians calling for calm after the shooting added to concerns about the stability of the region’s 21-year-old peace deal.

Lyra McKee was shot dead on Thursday as she watched Irish nationalist youths attack police following a raid. Her death, which follows a large car bomb in the city in January, raised fears that small marginalised militant groups are trying to exploit political tensions caused by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

Northern Ireland’s political parties issued a joint call for calm. “Lyra’s murder was an attack on all the people of this community, an attack on the peace and on the democratic processes,” leaders of the main six parties said in a statement. “This is a time for calm heads.”

McKee was watching with a crowd of bystanders as local youths attacked police with petrol bombs and set cars on fire, video footage showed. Police said she was hit when a gunman opened fire in the direction of officers. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said on Saturday that two men, aged 18 and 19, had been arrested under the Terrorism Act in connection with the murder.


* FAQ

Is the EC free enough to play fair?





Is the EC free enough to play fair?

The Model Code of Conduct has been violated by several candidates during campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections. Does the Election Commission of India have the power to act?

K. Venkataramanan

The story so far: The run-up to the 2019 general election has seen several violations of the Model Code of Conduct. The Election Commission of India (EC) admitted to the Supreme Court that it was “toothless”, and did not have enough powers to deal with inflammatory or divisive speeches in the election campaign. On April 16, it imposed campaign bans, ranging from two to three days, on some political leaders, including Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. On Friday, April 19, the EC put a 48-hour ban on Himachal Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party president Satpal Singh Satti for his derogatory remarks against Congress president Rahul Gandhi. What exactly are the EC’s powers to ensure a free and fair election?

From where does the EC derive its powers and what is its extent?

The Election Commission of India is a creation of the Constitution. Article 324 says the superintendence, direction and control of all elections to Parliament, the State legislatures, and the offices of the President and Vice-President shall be vested in the EC. The Article has been interpreted by courts and by orders of the EC from time to time to mean that the power vested in it is plenary in nature. It is seen as unlimited and unconditional in the matter of holding elections. In other words, the EC can take any action it deems fit to ensure that elections and the election process are free and fair.

The independence of the EC is preserved by clauses in the Constitution that say the Chief Election Commissioner cannot be removed from office except in the manner provided for the removal of a Supreme Court judge and that the conditions of his service cannot be varied to the incumbent’s disadvantage after appointment.

Has the EC always been a multi-member body?

No, the Election Commission was helmed by a single Chief Election Commissioner for decades since the body was set up in 1950 based on the provisions of the Constitution. It was on October 16, 1989, that two more Election Commissioners were appointed to expand the panel’s composition. Their tenure ended in 1990. Thereafter, two Election Commissioners were appointed in 1993. Since then, the EC has been a three-member panel, with a Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners. Decision-making within the panel is by majority. While the CEC can only be removed in the manner set out for a Supreme Court judge, the other two Commissioners may be removed on the recommendation of the CEC. In 1995, the Supreme Court held that the Election Commissioners are on a par with the CEC and the latter is not superior in standing with the other Commissioners. The EC has been demanding that the protection and safeguards given to the CEC under the Constitution should also be extended to the other Election Commissioners.

What kind of control does the EC have over civil servants during an election?

As the superintendence and control over all aspects of the election process is vested in the EC, it exercises direction and control over civil servants deployed for election-related work. This means that bureaucrats engaged in the administrative aspects of elections, including police officers with law and order duties, are also amenable to the EC’s jurisdiction. This power enables the EC to monitor both the manner in which civil servants perform their election-related duties, and prevent activities which may be seen as partisan. The EC often cites its vast powers under Article 324 to transfer or suspend officials during election time, even though they normally come under the disciplinary purview of the government of India or the State governments. There have been instances of the EC transferring not only Returning Officers, but also Commissioners of Police and Superintendents of Police. On April 5, the EC transferred Kolkata Police Commissioner Anuj Sharma and three other top police officers. The normal reasons cited are to prevent these civil servants from aiding any political party and to ensure a level-playing field for all contestants.

What are the possible actions it can take against candidates and parties?

The EC monitors the adherence of political parties and candidates to the ‘Model Code of Conduct’. The code is a set of norms laid down by the EC, based on a consensus among political parties, spelling out the dos and don’ts for elections. However, it does not have statutory value, and it is enforced only by the moral and constitutional authority of the EC. If the violations are also offences under election law and the criminal law of the land, the EC has the power to recommend registration of cases against the offenders.

However, for some violations — such as canvassing for votes during a period when electioneering is barred, making official announcements while the MCC is in force, and making appeal to voters on sectarian grounds — the EC has the power to advise or censure candidates, in addition to directing registration of cases. In some cases, as recent incidents would show, the EC may bar candidates or leaders from campaigning for specified periods. Asking individuals to leave a constituency or barring entry into certain areas are other powers that the EC may exercise. These powers are not necessarily traceable to any provision in law, but are generally considered inherent because of the sweeping and plenary nature of the EC’s responsibility under the Constitution to ensure free and fair elections.

Its powers extend to postponing elections to any constituency, cancelling an election already notified, and even to abrogate or annul an election already held. While postponement on the grounds of rampant bribery of voters has been done on a few occasions, the resort to the grave action of rescinding the notification for a Lok Sabha constituency happened in Vellore in the current general election. Earlier, by-elections had been called off on similar grounds. In March 2012, the Election Commission cancelled a Rajya Sabha election in Jharkhand after polling was completed, following the emergence of evidence that candidates were bribing voters.

What are the limitations of the EC’s powers?

The EC does not have the power to disqualify candidates who commit electoral malpractices. At best, it may direct the registration of a case. The EC also does not have the power to deregister any political party. However, the Constitution empowers the EC to decide whether a candidate has incurred disqualification by holding an office of profit under the appropriate government, or has been declared an insolvent, or acquired the citizenship of a foreign state. When a question arises whether a candidate has incurred any of these disqualifications, the President of India or Governor has to refer it to the EC. The poll panel’s decision on this is binding.



What went wrong with debt MFs?





What went wrong with debt MFs?

Why did fixed maturity plans of some funds fail to fully mature? What are the risks involved?

Suresh Seshadri

The story so far: Earlier this month, Kotak Mutual Fund informed investors in its Fixed Maturity Plans (FMPs) that it would not be able to fully redeem investments made in two series of the FMPs. Separately, HDFC Mutual Fund also announced the extension of one of its FMP schemes, which was due for maturity on April 15, by 380 days.

What are FMPs?

Debt mutual funds, unlike equity MFs, invest in debt securities issued by companies (both publicly listed and privately held) and governments. FMPs, in turn, are a class of debt funds that are close-ended: one can only invest in them at the time of a new fund offer and they come with a specified maturity date, much like a fixed deposit (FD). However, in contrast to deposits, FMPs don’t offer a guaranteed return but only pitch an indicative yield that the investor then takes a bet on. What the investor forgoes in terms of liquidity compared with an FD, she hopes to make good via the marginally higher returns that the fund’s investments in higher-yield debt instruments such as commercial paper, corporate bonds and non-convertible debentures (NCDs) could potentially earn it. Additionally, investments in FMPs are more tax-efficient, since there are indexation benefits linked to capital gains, as opposed to tax on interest income in the case of an FD. FMPs, however, like other debt funds come with their own set of risks: the most significant ones are interest rate risk and credit risk.

How did Kotak’s and HDFC’s FMPs end up stuck?

Both the mutual funds’ investment managers had invested (as part of their portfolios) in debt securities issued by some of the Subhash Chandra-promoted Essel Group’s listed and unlisted companies.

Specifically, Kotak had invested in debentures of Konti Infrapower & Multiventures Private Limited, a Mumbai-based provider of accounting and consulting services, and Edisons Utility Works Private Limited, also based in Mumbai and reportedly operating in the construction industry. These debentures, which carried a coupon interest rate of 11.1%, were rated A+(SO) — putting them in the middle of the scale for investment grade ratings and indicating that the issuer had stable financial backing. The debt had also been secured by a pledge of Zee Entertainment Enterprise Limited’s shares.

While the exact purposes for which the borrowed funds were utilised is not known, Mr. Chandra’s group firms did make some investments in infrastructure projects and also sought to acquire Videocon’s D2h business. “In retrospect, disastrous investment decisions,” was how investment advisory services provider Morningstar Inc. described the group’s investments, in an April 12 note on their website.

In November 2018, the Essel Group announced that the promoter group planned to sell up to 50% of its stake in Zee Entertainment. This announcement, coupled with market speculation about financing difficulties at the group, prompted some lenders to start looking for ways to minimise their losses in the eventuality of a ‘credit event’ such as the announcement of a default on repayment of the borrowings.

On January 25, some lenders sold about ₹200 crore worth of Zee Entertainment shares, resulting in a sharp fall in the stock’s price from its previous close of ₹434 on the BSE, to ₹319 per share.

At this point, the remaining lenders including Kotak MF and HDFC MF opted to not convert the notional loss on their holdings into a real one and instead reached a standstill agreement with the Essel Group.

As per the agreement, the creditors agreed to give Mr. Chandra and the Essel Group time up to September 30, 2019, to conclude the strategic stake sale in Zee Entertainment and use the proceeds to repay the borrowings with interest.

Which are the funds affected by Essel woes?

The cumulative amount at stake for FMPs is estimated to be more than ₹1,400 crore with over 40 schemes maturing later this year. More importantly, about 14 schemes, with an exposure of almost ₹475 crore, were set to mature this month.

In the case of Kotak, besides the FMP Series 127 and 183, which matured on April 8 and April 10, respectively, and whose investors did not receive full redemption proceeds on account of the funds’ exposure to the Essel group firms, four other FMPs viz. Series 187, 189, 193 and 194 as well as the Kotak Credit Risk Fund have exposure to the Essel group firms.

According to Morningstar Inc.’s analysis of FMP fund portfolio statements as of December 2018, the cumulative exposure of close-ended funds like FMPs to the Essel group’s debt was pegged at ₹1,670 crore (see graphic).

What else is at stake for MF investors?

Kotak’s note to investors from earlier this month is revealing. Besides the Essel group exposure, the fund house has acknowledged that four of the FMPs viz. Series 183, 192, 193 and 194 had also invested, in May 2016, in NCDs issued by the IL&FS Transportation Networks Limited, a unit of the financially distressed IL&FS.

Kotak said it had made a 100% provision by February 12, 2019, for this investment as the recovery would now depend on a resolution plan agreed to by a new board at the beleaguered parent and the National Company Law Tribunal.

Also, the troubles at both the Essel group and IL&FS point to the woeful inadequacy of credit ratings as a means to assess the most crucial element for fixed income investing: credit risk.

A look at Kotak’s own breakdown of the overall portfolio holdings of Assets Under Management (AUM) for its debt schemes reveals that only about 46% of the overall funds are parked either in sovereign (almost 13%) or AAA-rated (22.9%) securities.

The rest of the AUM are spread across fixed income securities rated below AAA, while still invested in investment grade assets.

The industry’s mandatory disclaimer: “Mutual fund investments are subject to market risk”, couldn’t be more germane than in this case.




Inside Notre-Dame





Inside Notre-Dame

Why rebuilding the famous Gothic cathedral in France will be a big challenge

Stanly Johny & G. Ananthakrishnan

The story so far: A fire that broke out in Paris’s Notre-Dame cathedral on April 15, last Monday, caused enormous damage to the over eight-centuries-old church, which is known for its religious and historical significance as well as architectural beauty. The fire — the cause is still unknown — raged through the cathedral’s lattice of huge wooden beams (known as “the forest”) and roof and brought down its famous spire. The French government has vowed to rebuild the cathedral, with pledges of support pouring in from around the world.

What is its historical significance?

It took 182 years to complete the construction of the Notre-Dame de Paris. According to the official cathedral history, Paris Bishop Maurice de Sully started the construction of the cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1163. The church had been a centre of attraction for pilgrims for centuries as it had priceless artefacts in its possession such as the Holy Crown of Thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus before the crucifixion, a piece of the “True Cross” upon which he was said to be crucified, and a nail from the crucifixion. It’s believed that King Louis IX of France, who was later venerated as a saint, brought the Crown of Thorns and the fragment of the cross from the Latin Empire of Constantinople to Paris in the 13th century.

Notre-Dame, which housed several statues of kings, had attracted the anger of protesters during the French Revolution in 1789. They ransacked the cathedral, destroyed the royal statues and brought down the original spire. When Catholicism was banned in France during the Revolution, Notre-Dame was turned into a Temple of Reason. But in 1801, after a reconciliation agreement was signed between Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII, the cathedral was returned to the Catholic Church. Napoleon chose the damaged church for his coronation as Emperor of France in 1804. The crumbling cathedral remained a venue for imperial events for years. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, the 1831 classic by Victor Hugo, in which the protagonist — the one-eyed and deaf Quasimodo — is the bell-ringer of Notre-Dame, rekindled the interest of Paris’s elite in the dying Gothic building. In 1844, King Louis Philippe ordered its renovation. Architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and his team started the ambitious project and in 20 years, he restored it, with a new spire. The church Viollet-le-Duc rebuilt would survive till this month’s inferno.

What makes its architecture special?

Two distinct features of Notre-Dame are its flying buttresses and gargoyles. The flying buttresses are arching supporting structures providing stability to a roof or vault of the main hall, and they connect with a vertical support outside. This Gothic design feature allowed for the creation of familiar high ceilings in churches of that era, and has endured in several churches worldwide. A second intriguing feature is its gargoyles. One of the more iconic ones immortalised in numerous pictures and films came to be called le Stryge, or the vampire, sitting with its hands on the chin, tongue protruding, staring down at the city. He does not, however, serve the classic gargoyle function of a drain pipe for rainwater that is usually found in cathedrals. Viollet-le-Duc used the expression of “chimeres” or “chimeras” for the many frozen stone monsters. In some of his writings, he felt that the intense fascination with the past, surrounding structures such as Notre-Dame, reflected the despair with the present. A restored Notre-Dame with its strange creatures led to the creation of a balustrade. Historian Michael Camille says many visitors frequented it, one of the more famous being Sigmund Freud, in the late 19th century.

What is in store?

French officials have said that while the blaze has destroyed the cathedral’s roof and spire, its structure remains sound “with some vulnerabilities”. Most of the relics, including the Crown of Thorns, were rescued from the blaze. The cathedral’s famed rose windows appear to be safe and its 8,000-pipe Great Organ, with some pipes dating to before the 1730s, is intact. French President Emmanuel Macron has said that the cathedral will be rebuilt in five years, and at least $1 billion have been pledged for its restoration from around the world within days of the tragedy. But repairing the over 850-year-old structure is a long road ahead. The original roof and the beams were wooden and rebuilding them exactly as they were before the fire needs hundreds of trees, which itself is a challenge. The restoration cost is yet to be decided as the extent of the damage is still being assessed. France might get donations for the restoration, but large-scale spending on the cathedral could also cause social tensions, especially at a time when the economy is going through a tough phase and the country is grappling with large-scale protests.


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